Sunday, April 19, 2015

Geothermal works

From Parade Magazine for Earth Day 2015:

Earth Day Across America


Minnesota’s Blue Earth County Justice Center (jail, plus office and courts) is kept warm by a geothermal heating system that consists of 48 miles of tubes under the facility. In the middle of the Minnesota winter, water in the tubes absorbs ground heat, which can be converted to air that heats the prison.

Land of the free and home of the weapons purveyors to the world

Sale of U.S. Arms Fuels the Wars of Arab States

APRIL 18, 2015

WASHINGTON — To wage war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is using F-15 fighter jets bought from Boeing. Pilots from the United Arab Emirates are flying Lockheed Martin’s F-16 to bomb both Yemen and Syria. Soon, the Emirates are expected to complete a deal with General Atomics for a fleet of Predator drones to run spying missions in their neighborhood.

As the Middle East descends into proxy wars, sectarian conflicts and battles against terrorist networks, countries in the region that have stockpiled American military hardware are now actually using it and wanting more. The result is a boom for American defense contractors looking for foreign business in an era of shrinking Pentagon budgets — but also the prospect of a dangerous new arms race in a region where the map of alliances has been sharply redrawn.

Last week, defense industry officials told Congress that they were expecting within days a request from Arab allies fighting the Islamic State — Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt — to buy thousands of American-made missiles, bombs and other weapons, replenishing an arsenal that has been depleted over the past year.

(More here.)

Obama set to utter term 'climate change' in Florida on Earth Day trip

@MartinPengelly, The Guardian
Last modified on Saturday 18 April 2015 12.56 EDT

Announcing an Earth Day trip to Florida on Saturday, President Barack Obama used his weekly address to say “climate change can no longer be denied – or ignored”.

Attitudes to climate change among Republicans and in Florida recently made national news, after it was reported that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection had issued an unwritten policy to forbid state workers from using the term.

“We were instructed by our regional administrator that we were no longer allowed to use the terms ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ or even ‘sea-level rise’,” a former DEP employee was quoted as saying in a report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. “Sea-level rise was to be referred to as ‘nuisance flooding’.”

The Florida DEP and the office of the Republican governor, Rick Scott, denied that such a policy existed.

(More here.)

Serving All Your Heroin Needs


FATAL heroin overdoses in America have almost tripled in three years. More than 8,250 people a year now die from heroin. At the same time, roughly double that number are dying from prescription opioid painkillers, which are molecularly similar. Heroin has become the fallback dope when an addict can’t afford, or find, pills. Total overdose deaths, most often from pills and heroin, now surpass traffic fatalities.

If these deaths are the measure, we are arguably in the middle of our worst drug plague ever, apart from cigarettes and alcohol.

And yet this is also our quietest drug plague. Strikingly little public violence accompanies it. This has muted public outrage. Meanwhile, the victims — mostly white, well-off and often young — are mourned in silence, because their parents are loath to talk publicly about how a cheerleader daughter hooked for dope, or their once-star athlete son overdosed in a fast-food restaurant bathroom.

The problem “is worse than it’s ever been, and young people are dying,” an addiction doctor in Columbus, Ohio — one of our many new heroin hot spots — wrote me last month. “This past Friday I saw 23 patients, all heroin addicts recently diagnosed.”

(More here.)

How Israel Hid Its Secret Nuclear Weapons Program

An exclusive look inside newly declassified documents shows how Israel blocked U.S. efforts to uncover its secret nuclear reactor

April 15, 2015

For decades, the world has known that the massive Israeli facility near Dimona, in the Negev Desert, was the key to its secret nuclear project. Yet, for decades, the world—and Israel—knew that Israel had once misleadingly referred to it as a “textile factory.” Until now, though, we’ve never known how that myth began—and how quickly the United States saw through it. The answers, as it turns out, are part of a fascinating tale that played out in the closing weeks of the Eisenhower administration—a story that begins with the father of Secretary of State John Kerry and a familiar charge that the U.S. intelligence community failed to “connect the dots.”

In its final months, even as the Kennedy-Nixon presidential race captivated the country, the Eisenhower administration faced a series of crises involving Cuba and Laos. Yet, as the fall of 1960 progressed, President Dwight D. Eisenhower encountered a significant and unexpected problem of a new kind—U.S. diplomats learned and U.S. intelligence soon confirmed that Israel was building, with French aid, a secret nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert. Soon concluding that the Israelis were likely seeking an eventual nuclear weapons capability, the administration saw a threat to strategic stability in the Middle East and a nuclear proliferation threat. Adding fuel to the fire was the perception that Israel was deceitful, or had not “come clean,” as CIA director Allen Dulles put it. Once the Americans started asking questions about Dimona, the site of Israel’s nuclear complex, the Israelis gave evasive and implausible cover stories.

A little anecdote about an occurrence sometime in September 1960 sheds light on the development of U.S. perceptions that Israel was being less than honest about Dimona. That month, Addy Cohen, then the young director of the Foreign Aid Office at the Israeli Finance Ministry, hosted U.S. ambassador to Israel Ogden Reid and some of his senior staff for a tour of the Dead Sea Works—a large Israeli potash plant in Sdom, on the Dead Sea coast of Israel. The Israeli Air Force provided a Sikorsky S-58 helicopter to fly the American group from Tel Aviv to Sdom. As they were returning on the helicopter, near the new town of Dimona, Reid pointed to a huge industrial site under heavy construction and asked what it was.

(More here.)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Oil Firms, Nations Agree to End Gas Flaring

Group agrees to end practice of routine flaring of natural gas by 2030

By Amy Harder, WSJ
April 17, 2015 11:13 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON—Twenty-five major oil companies, oil-producing nations and development institutions agreed Friday to end the practice of routine flaring of natural gas by 2030 at thousands of oil production sites around the world.

Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil, Kuwait Oil Co., Russia, Norway and the Asian Development Bank are among those making the commitment, which was announced by the World Bank and United Nations at an event in Washington Friday. No U.S.-based companies have signed onto the initiative.

Many producers regularly burn off natural gas as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when producing oil for a variety of reasons, including lack of infrastructure to move the gas and low economic incentive to use the gas.

Andrei Lushin, World Bank Group Executive Director for Russia, said in remarks at the event that the country flares the most gas associated with oil production in the world. “That is a problem of course, but this is also a potential to achieve large gains in reducing gas flaring,” Mr. Lushin said. “The government sees petroleum gas flaring as a waste of valuable resource and a very harmful practice for global climate.” Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of both oil and natural gas.

(More here.)

Why We Let Prison Rape Go On


ORANGE, Conn. — IT’S been called “America’s most ‘open’ secret”: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, around 80,000 women and men a year are sexually abused in American correctional facilities. That number is almost certainly subject to underreporting, through shame or a victim’s fear of retaliation. Overall, only 35 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to the police in 2010, and the rate of reporting in prisons is undoubtedly lower still.

To tackle the problem, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003. The way to eliminate sexual assault, lawmakers determined, was to make Department of Justice funding for correctional facilities conditional on states’ adoption of zero-tolerance policies toward sexual abuse of inmates.

Inmates would be screened to identify possible predators and victims. Prison procedures would ensure investigation of complaints by outside law enforcement. Correctional officers would be instructed about behavior that constitutes sexual abuse. And abusers, whether inmates or guards, would be punished effectively.

But only two states — New Hampshire and New Jersey — have fully complied with the act. Forty-seven states and territories have promised that they will do so. Using Justice Department data, the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that from 2003 to 2012, when the law’s standards were finalized, nearly two million inmates were sexually assaulted.

(More here.)

The making of Dr. Oz

How an award-winning doctor turned away from science and embraced fame

by Julia Belluz on April 16, 2015,

It's a dark and biting March morning on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Lilly is standing outside ABC's brick studio building, waiting to be let in to watch a live taping of Dr. Mehmet Oz's television show.

"I've been here since 7 am," she says.

Though the sun is barely out, her phone is buzzing with text messages from nearly every member of her family — all Oz-lovers excited about her peek behind the curtain.

They're not alone. Dr. Oz is arguably the most influential health professional in America. The Dr. Oz Show, which started in 2009, has an average audience of more than 4 million people each day in 118 countries. He has his own magazine (The Good Life) and syndicated columns that have run in the most widely read periodicals in North America. He has radio segments, about a dozen books, and the show's website — a go-to resource on medical questions for millions. He has millions of followers on his Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube accounts, and a starring role on the new medical reality show NY Med. Across all these channels, he preaches the same message: you can take control of your health with simple tricks and natural remedies.

(More here.)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Rubio-backed insurance market covers 80 people

Obamacare, which Rubio wants to repeal, covers 1.6 million in Florida alone

By Rachana Pradhan
4/17/15 5:45 AM EDT

In 2008, while Democrats were declaring that the time was right for national health care reform, Marco Rubio, the speaker of the Florida House, had a ready response: Florida should build a market-based system that would help contain the cost of insurance and make it more available.

Rubio pushed his no-mandate health insurance exchange, dubbed Florida Health Choices, through the state Legislature that year. “It’s about competition, it’s about choice, and it’s about the marketplace,” he told The Palm Beach Post at the time.

Florida Health Choices, which finally opened last year, now covers 80 people.

Obamacare, which Rubio wants to repeal, covers 1.6 million in Florida alone. And 93 percent of them are subsidized.

Rubio started pushing his vision well before Barack Obama entered the White House and began work on what would become the Affordable Care Act. But by the time Florida Health Choices launched post-Obamacare, the response by Floridians was tepid. The newly declared GOP presidential candidate didn’t include it in his campaign’s vision for how to repeal and replace the federal law. Nor did he mention it in a recent Fox News op-ed headlined “My three part plan for the post-Obamacare era.”

(More here.)

The GOP's Voter ID Problem

As the 2016 cycle begins, a new study documents Americans' Democratic leanings

By Charlie Cook, National Journal

One of the more interesting changes in U.S. politics in recent years has been the increasingly parliamentary nature of voting behavior. Fewer people are straying beyond their party affiliations, we are seeing more straight-ticket voting, and the characteristics of individual candidates mean less than ever. Entering this 2016 presidential cycle, the phenomenon presents a real challenge to Republicans, who are lagging behind in party affiliation—a fact of no small importance, given that roughly 90 percent of voters cast their ballots for the party that they personally identify with.

Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center drew on its vast storehouse of national polls and released a survey of the state of Americans' party affiliations that is well worth looking at. Pew examined 25,100 interviews conducted in monthly surveys over 2014; that's important, because aggregating massive samples like this allows closer examination of smaller blocs of voters than the usual sample of 1,000 or so.

Some findings are unsurprising, including which groups tilted most heavily Republican in identification (which means they either identified outright as Republican or said they were independent but leaned Republican). The party has a 48-percentage-point edge among Mormons; 46 points among white evangelical Protestants; 21 points among both white Southerners and white men with some college or less; and 9 points among all whites and members of the Silent Generation (ages 69 to 86). No one will be surprised by the top Democratic / Democratic-leaning groups, either: The party has a 69-percentage-point edge among blacks; 36 points among the religiously unaffiliated; 30 points with both Jews and Hispanics; and 16 points among millennials (ages 18 to 33).

(More here.)

150 cops for 300 residents: the Michigan town running 'pay-to-play' policing

A lawsuit is attempting to force transparency from village leaders about the scheme. Photograph: Brad Devereaux/The Saginaw News/AP
Rapper Kid Rock among many prominent people said to have joined Oakley’s army of reserve police officers – often in exchange for large donations

Tom Dart in Houston, The Guardian

Oakley, Michigan, is not a hotbed of crime. But if that should change, it seems well placed to cope, because the village is believed to have a police force numbering almost 150 people, or one officer for every two residents.

One, Robert James Ritchie, does not live in Oakley. A Detroit-area native better known as the rapper Kid Rock, he applied to join the village’s small army of reserve police officers, according to an attorney, along with many prominent Michigan professionals and businesspeople and a football player for the Miami Dolphins.

“A small blip on the map, the little village of Oakley, with less than 300 residents, has got dozens and dozens of no-show secret police officers,” said Philip Ellison, a lawyer who is representing the family who own Oakley’s tavern in lawsuits attempting to force transparency from village leaders about the scheme.

Ellison said the singer was one of the names on a document released to him which he is not allowed to make public in full.

“None of the reservists, with the exception of one, live within an hour and a half of the village of Oakley,” said Ellison. He and others say the police force is in effect running a “pay to play” scheme with parallels to the controversy in Tulsa, Oklahoma that erupted after a wealthy white 73-year-old reserve deputy with close links to the sheriff shot dead a black man during a botched sting operation after apparently mistaking his gun for his Taser.

(More here.)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

President Vladimir Putin’s Dangerous Moves

APRIL 16, 2015

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has added new, chilling nuclear threats to his aggression in Ukraine, where 6,000 people have been killed in a war with Russian-backed separatists. Mr. Putin wants to expand his country’s influence and standing, but his alarming behavior has estranged Russia from most other major powers, damaged its economy and narrowed its future options.

Even for Mr. Putin, the recent nuclear threats have set a new benchmark for hostility in the conflict he has ignited with the West. Two weeks ago, The Times of London reported on a meeting between Russian generals and American officials in which the Russians threatened a “spectrum of responses from nuclear to non-military” if NATO moved more military forces into the Baltic States.

Last month, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, warned that Danish warships “will be targets for Russia’s nuclear weapons” if Denmark follows through on its expressed interest in joining NATO’s missile defense system.

And in remarks aired on March 15, Mr. Putin said he was ready to bring nuclear weapons into a state of alert last year when Russia was in the process of invading and annexing Crimea. Some Russian officials have also hinted at the possibility of reintroducing nuclear weapons to Crimea, which has been free of them for two decades.

(More here.)

Mining's big price tag is down the road for the public to absorb

Don’t burden Minnesota taxpayers with PolyMet cleanup costs

By John Gappa | 04/15/15

John Gappa serves as the chief financial officer for a Minnesota-based company and has 30 years of experience as a financial executive. In 2011, Gappa was named CFO of the year by the Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal.

Too frequently, the debate about PolyMet’s proposal to build a copper-nickel, or sulfide mine, in northern Minnesota is portrayed as a debate between conservationists and business, between jobs and the environment. On tax day, April 15, I want to bring a different perspective from my 20 years of experience as a chief financial officer. If Minnesotans are not careful, we could end up footing a future tax bill enlarged by publicly funded cleanup costs.

As a CFO, I have reviewed hundreds of millions of dollars of investments creating over 1,000 jobs. My role in these investments was to develop the business case, project costs and revenues over a 20-year period, and evaluate the returns and associated risks.

While most of these investments were successful, some were not. Over the years, I learned the hard way that failed projects all have two problems: overestimated benefits and underestimated costs and risks.

(Continued here.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Vladimir Putin’s Secrets and Lies

By Adrian Karatnycky 4/15/15 Newsweek

Over the past several years, President Vladimir Putin has consolidated power in Russia by marshaling an assertive nationalist ideology, creating an alternative reality through total media dominance and prosecuting a hybrid war in Ukraine.

Yet for a leader who speaks boldly, his preferred mode of action is clandestine—a style shaped by his years in the USSR’s state security service, the KGB.

Secrecy, however, is a problematic mode of behavior for his propaganda-driven regime. And clandestinity is not the best way to burnish an image of a strong, pitiless leader—a tough guy, ready to use force to advance Russia’s influence in the world. Hanging with motorcycle gangs, riding horses bare-chested and taking part in judo exhibitions simply won’t cut it.

To deal with this discrepancy, Putin has developed a highly articulated set of signals used in communicating with Russia’s public and its elites, as well as the international community. This Putin code was on display in several notable ways in Moscow in recent weeks.

(More here.)

Al Qaeda Is Beating the Islamic State

Get ready for the clash of caliphates

April 14, 2015

The Islamic State’s lightning offensive through Iraq and Syria last year has dominated the headlines, but the jihadist group that has won the most territory in the Arab world over the past six months is Al Qaeda. On balance, the Islamic State has lost territory during this period—though it still controls more overall than Al Qaeda—most prominently, Tikrit and the southern half of the Salah al-Din province.

What we are likely to see now is a titanic war of ideology and tactics between two vicious, radical groups that together probably command more prestige among Arab peoples than the weak, often delegitimized governments they have outsmarted and outfought. Perhaps the ultimate irony is that, in an era when the threat of terrorist violence is arguably worse than it was on the eve of 9/11, it is Al Qaeda—a decade ago, the scourge of Sunni governments—that may come to be seen as the more acceptable of the two by these same governments.

Here is a snapshot of the two groups’ current territorial holdings, though these are changing all the time. In the past year, all of the Islamic State’s geographic gains have been minor, such as the town of Baghdadi in Iraq’s Anbar province and the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, and they have also been contested, with control of these areas fluctuating between the Islamic State (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) and its enemies. In contrast, Al Qaeda’s affiliated organizations have made striking gains, in particular in Syria and Yemen.

(More here.)

The 'invisible' victims of Edomex, Mexico's most dangerous place to be female

Mothers with missing daughters accompany to Maria Eugenia Fuentes and his family at the funeral of her daughter Diana. Photograph: Ginnette Riquelme
Grief-stricken families plead with Mexican authorities to stop the violence that experts say is associated with gender hate crimes

Nina Lakhani in Ecatepec, The Guardian
Last modified on Wednesday 15 April 2015 07.03 EDT

Sobbing mourners released a cloud of tiny white butterflies as a coffin holding the remains of 14-year-old Diane Angelica Castañeda Fuentes was lowered into the ground, 18 months after she disappeared on her way to a friend’s house in Ecatepec, a dusty suburb on the northern fringes of Mexico City.

Diana’s skull and feet had been found in a plastic bag dredged from a foul-smelling waterway known as the Great Canal, which runs through the State of Mexico – the country’s most densely populated state.

The schoolgirl, a devoted fan of One Direction and Justin Bieber, was the first to be positively identified after the remains of dozens of people were recovered last year from the black waters of the canal.

Her funeral on 26 March was attended by members of several other families whose own missing daughters are among the thousands of young women to have disappeared in the past decade from the state, known in Spanish as Edomex.

The mourners’ sorrow was shot through with anger as they called on the country’s authorities to stop the violence which has made Edomex the most dangerous place in Mexico to be female.

(More here.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How Vladimir Putin’s skewed view of World War Two threatens his neighbors and the West

Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall to attend a meeting dedicated to the organisation of upcoming events and celebrations on Victory Day, marking the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany during World War Two on May 9, at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 17, 2015. REUTERS/Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool
By Lucian Kim, Reuters
April 13, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin stands smiling between George W. Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as the U.S. president reaches out to shake hands with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. It was a photo-op that couldn’t be missed: the military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2005, marking the 60th anniversary of the Nazis’ capitulation. Despite widespread outrage over the U.S. invasion of Iraq, everybody could agree that the end of World War Two was worth celebrating together. Even Viktor Yushchenko, the first Ukrainian president who openly defied the Kremlin, came.

This May 9, Putin will be lucky if a couple of European presidents show up for the 70th anniversary. The annexation of Crimea and Russia’s support for militants in eastern Ukraine have made Kremlin invitations toxic. Few Western leaders will want to be seen at a Victory Day parade featuring 15,000 soldiers and 200 military vehicles, including the BUK anti-aircraft missile system believed to have shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine last summer.

Just five years ago, U.S. and other Allied troops marched in the Victory Day parade to commemorate the coalition that defeated Nazi Germany. Now Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is blaming “the Americans and the European Union’s aggressive core” for sabotaging the Kremlin’s party plans. The foreign dignitary likely to attract the most attention this year is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who is expected to make his first official trip abroad to attend the Moscow parade.

(More here.)

Her Majesty’s Jihadists

More British Muslims have joined Islamist militant groups than serve in the country’s armed forces. How to understand the pull of jihad.


He was a dreamer, with Che Guevara looks — a jet-black beard and eyes — who built a new persona online, as a Muslim warrior riding into battle in the back of an open-bed truck, dressed in black, his long hair blowing in the breeze, with an AK-47 hanging from his shoulder, strapped to his back. He had just turned 22 — the product of British private schools, a computer aficionado working in customer service at Sky News — when he decided to turn his dream into reality.

In May 2013, Ifthekar Jaman left his comfortable home in Portsmouth, England, explaining to his parents, who emigrated years earlier from Bangladesh, that he wanted to learn Arabic in the Middle East. Instead, he booked a one-way ticket to Turkey. The next time his parents, Enu and Hena, heard from him, he had crossed the Turkish border into Syria and joined the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham — also known as ISIS or ISIL — the most brutal, and now the most powerful, of a dozen or so militant Sunni Islamist groups arrayed against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his equally brutal Alawite government.

Ifthekar was part of the first wave of foreign fighters, whose motives were primarily humanitarian. Everyone — not just Muslims — was outraged by the atrocities of the Assad regime. Both the U.S. and the British governments were calling for Assad to step down. So were France, and Turkey, and a number of nations in the Middle East.

The foreign fighters were arriving by the hundreds to join one of the various rebel groups challenging Assad’s military-backed dictatorship. Many were as naïve and inexperienced as Ifthekar was. Some recruits were fervent believers; others showed scant knowledge of Islam. Ifthekar was pious, though not doctrinaire. He embraced his Bengali traditions, but he appeared well integrated into British life and was popular among his classmates and his non-Muslim friends. As a boy, he spent hours immersed in the tales of “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings.” As a teenager, he played the guitar and was a member of the Portsmouth Dawah Team, which, on weekends, distributed free copies of the Quran. He had a cat, Bilai, that he adored and that, on occasion, would follow him to dawn prayers at the Portsmouth Jami mosque.

(More here.)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hillary who?

It Takes a Party

Paul Krugman, NYT
APRIL 13, 2015

So Hillary Clinton is officially running, to nobody’s surprise. And you know what’s coming: endless attempts to psychoanalyze the candidate, endless attempts to read significance into what she says or doesn’t say about President Obama, endless thumb-sucking about her “positioning” on this or that issue.

Please pay no attention. Personality-based political analysis is always a dubious venture — in my experience, pundits are terrible judges of character. Those old enough to remember the 2000 election may also remember how we were assured that George W. Bush was a nice, affable fellow who would pursue moderate, bipartisan policies.

In any case, there has never been a time in American history when the alleged personal traits of candidates mattered less. As we head into 2016, each party is quite unified on major policy issues — and these unified positions are very far from each other. The huge, substantive gulf between the parties will be reflected in the policy positions of whomever they nominate, and will almost surely be reflected in the actual policies adopted by whoever wins.

For example, any Democrat would, if elected, seek to maintain the basic U.S. social insurance programs — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — in essentially their current form, while also preserving and extending the Affordable Care Act. Any Republican would seek to destroy Obamacare, make deep cuts in Medicaid, and probably try to convert Medicare into a voucher system.

(More here.)

You won't see Hillary Clinton in the same light ever again

From DailyKos
by BlankBeatFollow
Fri Oct 18, 2013

Read Meryl Streep’s introduction of Hillary Clinton during the recent 2012 Women in the World conference:

Two years ago when Tina Brown and Diane von Furstenberg first envisioned this conference, they asked me to do a play, a reading, called – the name of the play was called Seven. It was taken from transcripts, real testimony from real women activists around the world. I was the Irish one, and I had no idea that the real women would be sitting in the audience while we portrayed them. So I was doing a pretty ghastly Belfast accent. I was just – I was imitating my friend Liam Neeson, really, and I sounded like a fellow. (Laughter). It was really bad.

So I was so mortified when Tina, at the end of the play, invited the real women to come up on stage and I found myself standing next to the great Inez McCormack. (Applause.) And I felt slight next to her, because I’m an actress and she is the real deal. She has put her life on the line. Six of those seven women were with us in the theater that night. The seventh, Mukhtaran Bibi, couldn’t come because she couldn’t get out of Pakistan. You probably remember who she is. She’s the young woman who went to court because she was gang-raped by men in her village as punishment for a perceived slight to their honor by her little brother. All but one of the 14 men accused were acquitted, but Mukhtaran won the small settlement. She won $8,200, which she then used to start schools in her village. More money poured in from international donations when the men were set free. And as a result of her trial, the then president of Pakistan, General Musharraf, went on TV and said, “If you want to be a millionaire, just get yourself raped.”

But that night in the theater two years ago, the other six brave women came up on the stage. Anabella De Leon of Guatemala pointed to Hillary Clinton, who was sitting right in the front row, and said, “I met her and my life changed.” And all weekend long, women from all over the world said the same thing:

"I’m alive because she came to my village, put her arm around me, and had a photograph taken together."

"I’m alive because she went on our local TV and talked about my work, and now they’re afraid to kill me."

"I’m alive because she came to my country and she talked to our leaders, because I heard her speak, because I read about her."

(More here.)

More evidence that Americans are really dumb (cont'd)

What Americans Think About Climate Change in Seven Maps

by Eric Roston, BloombergBusiness

Researchers at Yale have unveiled a new interactive map that estimates public opinion on global warming right down to the county level.

As a nation, 63 percent of Americans believe that the globe is warming. (Note: It is.) But that single statistic reveals little about what people in different states, local communities, and congressional districts think. The research, which was published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, makes estimates for those geographies and asks:
  • Whether people believe humans are causing most of the warming (Note: They are.)
  • If people are aware that scientists understand the world is warming. 
  • What implications of the warming may be: Are people afraid? For themselves? For people in developing countries? For the future? Should we fund renewables, regulate carbon, or do something else? 
The research is primarily based on data from 12 surveys conducted between 2008 and 2013 by the Yale Project on Climate Communication and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication. The results were analyzed using a relatively new statistical technique developed by political scientists that allowed the team to project public opinion on climate change from demographic and geographic data. The results were then compared with independent state and local surveys to make sure they held up.

(Continued here.)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

When Cops Cry Wolf

Police have been setting up suspects with false testimony for decades. Is anyone going to believe them now when they tell the truth?

April 10, 2015

I call it “testi-lying.” It has been a regular practice in police forces across the United States, at least since I served on the NYPD: official testimony that is made part of a police after-action report but is a pure lie, an invention. In the old days police would carry a “drop gun” or a “drop knife”—an inexpensive weapon cops would bring along on patrol to drop onto or next to a suspect they had taken out so they could say he had threatened them. Today you don’t even need to do that; all you have to do to justify the use of deadly force if you are a police officer is to say that you feared for your life, for whatever reason. If the victim dies, that just means there will be one less witness around to contradict the testi-lie.

In the case of former Officer Michael Slager of the North Charleston police, it appears he was being extra-careful to cover his tracks. Probably he could have gotten away with simply declaring, as he did in his radioed report, that Walter Scott “took my Taser,” and in the after-action report he would have said simply that he had felt threatened by Scott. That probably would have sufficed to exonerate him. But Slager, having shot Scott eight times in the back—as everyone can plainly see in the now-famous video—perhaps felt that he needed a little help explaining what he was up to. So he apparently dropped his Taser next to Scott’s body, which would obviously help to make the case that Scott “took my Taser.”

If you think that what happened in North Charleston is a unique case, it is not. Only recently, in another case, a policewoman in Pennsylvania first Tasered a black man, then shot him twice in the back as he lay face down in the snow. She was chasing him for an expired parking sticker. There were five seconds between shots. She said she feared for her life. It was captured on her own Taser camera.

I’ve been saying this for a long time, ever since I spoke before the Knapp Commission investigating corruption in the NYPD more than 40 years ago: Unless we create an atmosphere where the crooked cop fears the honest cop, and not the other way around, the system will never change. Unless honesty is rewarded more often than corruption, the police will lose credibility altogether. I wrote a letter to President Bill Clinton in 1994 addressing this very issue, saying that honest cops have never been rewarded, and maybe there ought to be a medal for them. He wrote back, but nothing changed.

(More here.)

More proof that Americans are really dumb

[Vox Verax note: This article was first published by National Public Radio on Feb. 14, 2014. We doubt that Americans have gotten any smarter since, judging from the election results of November of 2014 and the ongoing political debate in the nation's capital and nearly all state capitals.]

1 In 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes Around The Earth, Survey Says

A quarter of Americans surveyed could not correctly answer that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, according to a report out Friday from the National Science Foundation.

The survey of 2,200 people in the United States was conducted by the NSF in 2012 and released on Friday at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.

To the question "Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth," 26 percent of those surveyed answered incorrectly.

In the same survey, just 39 percent answered correctly (true) that "The universe began with a huge explosion" and only 48 percent said "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals."

Just over half understood that antibiotics are not effective against viruses.

(Continued here. Thanks to RealClearScience for alerting us to this article.)

Thousands dead, few prosecuted

Among the thousands of fatal shootings at the hands of police since 2005, only 54 officers have been charged, a Post analysis found. Most were cleared or acquitted in the cases that have been resolved.

Story by Kimberly Kindy, Kimbriell Kelly, WashPost
Published on April 11, 2015

On a rainy night five years ago, Officer Coleman “Duke” Brackney set off in pursuit of a suspected drunk driver, chasing his black Mazda Miata down rural Arkansas roads at speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour. When the sports car finally came to rest in a ditch, Brackney opened fire at the rear window and repeatedly struck the driver, 41-year-old James Ahern, in the back. The gunshots killed Ahern.

Prosecutors charged Brackney with felony manslaughter. But he eventually entered a plea to a lesser charge and could ultimately be left with no criminal record.

How the analysis was done: The 54 criminal prosecutions were identified by Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip M. Stinson and The Washington Post. Cases were culled from news reports, grand jury announcements and news releases from prosecutors. For individual cases, reporters obtained and reviewed thousands of pages of court records, police reports, grand jury indictments, witness testimony and video recordings. Dozens of prosecutors and defense attorneys in the cases were interviewed, along with legal experts, officers who were prosecuted and surviving relatives of the shooting victims.

Now, he serves as the police chief in a small community 20 miles from the scene of the shooting.

Brackney is among 54 officers charged over the past decade for fatally shooting someone while on duty, according to an analysis by The Washington Post and researchers at Bowling Green State University. This analysis, based on a wide range of public records and interviews with law enforcement, judicial and other legal experts, sought to identify for the first time every officer who faced charges­ for such shootings since 2005. These represent a small fraction of the thousands of fatal police shootings that have occurred across the country in that time.

In an overwhelming majority of the cases where an officer was charged, the person killed was unarmed. But it usually took more than that.

(More here.)

The Pope apparently is not planning to visit Turkey anytime soon

Pope Francis Calls Armenian Slaughter ‘First Genocide of 20th Century’: Pronouncement is likely to rile Turkey

Associated Press
April 12, 2015 3:41 a.m. ET

VATICAN CITY—Pope Francis on Sunday remembered the 100th anniversary of the slaughter of Armenians by calling it “the first genocide of the 20th century,” a politically explosive pronouncement that will certainly anger Turkey.

The pontiff, who has close ties to the Armenian community from his days in Argentina, defended his pronouncement by saying it was his duty to honor the memory of the innocent men, women, children, priests and bishops who were “senselessly” murdered.

“Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,” he said at the start of a Mass Sunday in the Armenian Catholic rite in St. Peter’s Basilica honoring the centenary.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Turkey, however, denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying that the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Turkey’s embassy to the Holy See canceled a planned news conference for Sunday.

Several European countries recognize the massacres as genocide, though Italy and the U.S. have avoided using the term officially given the importance they place on Turkey as an ally.

(More here.)

What it's like to attend a modern day 'gold digger academy' in Russia

In this excerpt from British journalist of Russian heritage Peter Pomerantsev's book "Nothing is True and Everything is Possible," he describes what it's like to attend a modern day "gold digger academy" in Russia.

“Business theory teaches us one important lesson,” says the instructress.

“Always thoroughly research the desires of the consumer. Apply this principle when you search for a rich man. On a first date there’s one key rule: never talk about yourself. Listen to him. Find him fascinating. Find out his desires. Study his hobbies; then change yourself accordingly.”

Gold Digger Academy.

A pool of serious blonde girls taking careful notes.

Finding a sugar daddy is a craft, a profession.

(More here.)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A New Phase in Anti-Obama Attacks


It is a peculiar, but unmistakable, phenomenon: As Barack Obama’s presidency heads into its twilight, the rage of the Republican establishment toward him is growing louder, angrier and more destructive.

Republican lawmakers in Washington and around the country have been focused on blocking Mr. Obama’s agenda and denigrating him personally since the day he took office in 2009. But even against that backdrop, and even by the dismal standards of political discourse today, the tone of the current attacks is disturbing. So is their evident intent — to undermine not just Mr. Obama’s policies, but his very legitimacy as president.

It is a line of attack that echoes Republicans’ earlier questioning of Mr. Obama’s American citizenship. Those attacks were blatantly racist in their message — reminding people that Mr. Obama was black, suggesting he was African, and planting the equally false idea that he was secretly Muslim. The current offensive is slightly more subtle, but it is impossible to dismiss the notion that race plays a role in it.

Perhaps the most outrageous example of the attack on the president’s legitimacy was a letter signed by 47 Republican senators to the leadership of Iran saying Mr. Obama had no authority to conclude negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Try to imagine the outrage from Republicans if a similar group of Democrats had written to the Kremlin in 1986 telling Mikhail Gorbachev that President Ronald Reagan did not have the authority to negotiate a nuclear arms deal at the Reykjavik summit meeting that winter.

(More here.)

Would New Borders Mean Less Conflict in the Middle East?

The region is living with the combustible legacy of states artificially carved from the remains of the Ottoman Empire

By Yaroslav Trofimov, WSJ
April 10, 2015 11:46 a.m.

Shortly after the end of World War I, the French and British prime ministers took a break from the hard business of redrawing the map of Europe to discuss the easier matter of where frontiers would run in the newly conquered Middle East.

Two years earlier, in 1916, the two allies had agreed on their respective zones of influence in a secret pact—known as the Sykes-Picot agreement—for divvying up the region. But now the Ottoman Empire lay defeated, and the United Kingdom, having done most of the fighting against the Turks, felt that it had earned a juicier reward.

“Tell me what you want,” France’s Georges Clemenceau said to Britain’s David Lloyd George as they strolled in the French embassy in London.

“I want Mosul,” the British prime minister replied.

“You shall have it. Anything else?” Clemenceau asked.

In a few seconds, it was done. The huge Ottoman imperial province of Mosul, home to Sunni Arabs and Kurds and to plentiful oil, ended up as part of the newly created country of Iraq, not the newly created country of Syria.

(More here.)

North Korea’s Real Lessons for Iran


PRESIDENT OBAMA’S defense of his emerging nuclear deal with Iran as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” reminds his critics of an earlier landmark agreement, intended to end the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and others have argued that the eventual collapse of that agreement, resulting in North Korea’s building nuclear weapons, proves that a deal with Tehran is a big mistake. Those of us who negotiated the North Korea deal know that important lessons can be learned from that experience. But they are not the ones based on the critics’ fundamental misreading of history.

Faced with the prospect of a hostile, nuclear-armed North Korea in 1994, the Clinton administration reached a deal that required the North to give up its weapons program in return for energy assistance, the lifting of sanctions and better relations with the United States. In the late 1990s, however, we caught the North Koreans cheating and, early in the George W. Bush administration, the agreement collapsed. Today, the North’s reinvigorated bomb program may be poised, as Mr. Netanyahu pointed out in his recent speech to Congress, to produce as many as 100 nuclear weapons over the next five years.

Although our policy ultimately failed, the agreement did not. Without the 1994 deal, North Korea would have built the bomb sooner, stockpiled weapons more quickly and amassed a much larger arsenal by now. Intelligence estimates in the early 1990s concluded that the North’s nuclear program was so advanced that it could produce 30 Nagasaki-size nuclear weapons a year by the end of the decade. More than 20 years later, that still hasn’t happened.

(More here.)

The G.O.P. presidential field looks chaotic — it’s [s]not

The 2016 Republican candidates can already be sorted into roles that tell us a lot about their chances of winning the nomination

Nate Cohn, NYT
APRIL 9, 2015

The Republican primary battle has been called a wide-open contest — the “deepest” and “strongest” field in many cycles. It is full of the party’s rising stars and hopefuls, like Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal, alongside the most formidable name in Republican politics: Bush.

But the campaign is not nearly as open as it looks. Many of the candidates who have received the most news media attention have little or no chance of winning the nomination. Instead, two figures — Jeb Bush and Mr. Walker — have quickly moved to the head of the pack. Perhaps only Mr. Rubio has a good chance to join them at the top.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Walker could implode, of course, with a Rick Perry-esque “oops” or an unexpected scandal. But if they avoid such mistakes they will be difficult to dislodge, even with strong fund-raising by rivals like Mr. Cruz.

The contest is closer to becoming a true two-way race — if one candidate falters, the likeliest outcome is that the other wins — than the wide-open race that pundits describe and polls imply.

(More here.)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Three Pinocchios for Rand Paul: The Campaign Season Begins!

Rand Paul’s claim that Reagan’s tax cuts produced ‘more revenue’ and ‘tens of millions of jobs’ equals three-fourths of a ‘whopper’

By Glenn Kessler April 10 at 3:00 AM, WashPost

“The last president we had was Ronald Reagan that said we’re going to dramatically cut tax rates. And guess what? More revenue came in, but tens of millions of jobs were created.” – Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, April 7, 2015

Rand Paul’s quote is emblematic of some of the mythology that has sprung up around Reagan’s tax policies — specifically what he did and its impact. Economists will forever debate the impact, and Paul is certainly entitled to his opinion that Reagan’s tax cuts led to a booming economy.

But certainly his numbers can be checked. First, did the tax cuts lead to more revenue? And were tens of millions of jobs created?

The Facts

When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, individual tax rates were as high as 70 percent. His first tax cut, the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, slashed the top rate to 50 percent—and then a 1986 tax overhaul brought the top rate down to 28 percent. Those were certainly dramatic changes, though as we shall see, Reagan also raised taxes repeatedly.

The jobs part of our query is easy to answer. As readers know, The Fact Checker frowns on attributing job gains to a single president; the business cycle, the Congress, the Federal Reserve and the ingenuity of private enterprise are all important factors. But with that caveat in mind, let’s look at job creation during presidential terms.

(More here.)

Anti-vaccine protesters howl and heckle as California urges focus on the facts

Legislators advance bill to tighten immunisation laws in the face of protest from small band of activists who believe parents should be allowed to opt out

Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles, The Guardian
Last modified on Friday 10 April 2015 08.42 EDT

Four months after a measles outbreak at Disneyland, state legislators seeking to tighten immunisation laws across the country are running the gauntlet of anti-vaccination activists who have bombarded them with emails and phone calls, heckled them at public meetings, harassed their staff, organized noisy marches and vilified them on social media.

Three states blindsided by the activists’ sheer energy – Oregon, Washington and North Carolina – have either pulled back or killed bills that would have ended a non-specific “personal belief” exemption for parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children.

Now the battleground is California, which bore the brunt of the measles outbreak at the beginning of the year and saw school closures, extraordinary quarantine measures and a vigorous public debate lamenting the fact that a disease declared eradicated 15 years ago is once again a public health threat.

A health committee meeting in Sacramento, the state capital, on Wednesday turned into a tense showdown between lawmakers seeking to argue that the science is unequivocally on the side of universal vaccination, and activists accusing them of being in the pocket of unscrupulous big pharmaceutical companies.

(More here.)

Is Iran rational?

By Fareed Zakaria, WashPost, April 9 at 8:05 PM

At the heart of the concerns surrounding the deal with Iran is a simple question: Is Iran rational? For many critics, the answer is self-evident. The Iranians are “apocalyptic,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often said, warning that you can’t “bet on their rationality.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has declared, “I think they’re crazy.” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon restated his opinion recently that the Iranian government is a “messianic and apocalyptic regime.”

And yet, these same critics’ preferred policy is one that relies on Iran’s rationality. The alternative to the deal forged by Iran and the six great powers is not war, they insist, but rather to ratchet up pressure and demand more concessions from Tehran. So, this crazy, apocalyptic band of mullahs, when faced with a few more sanctions, will calmly calculate the costs and benefits and yield in a predictable way to more pressure. Or, as J.J. Goldberg writes in the Jewish Daily Forward, “Apparently they’re irrational enough to welcome nuclear Armageddon, but rational enough to yield to economic punishment.” (This point is also well made by’s Max Fisher.)

In his thorough book, “Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy,” Kenneth Pollack carefully reviews decades of Iran’s foreign policy and shows that it has been not just rational but prudent, pushing forward when it sees an opportunity, backing off when it sees dangers. He quotes a former Israeli armed forces chief of staff who said: “The Iranian regime is radical, but it’s not irrational.”

(More here.)

Thursday, April 09, 2015

When Debating Iran's Nuclear Program, Sort Fact from Fiction

Scott Ritter, HuffPost
Posted: 04/09/2015 12:12 pm EDT

(TM Note: Scott Ritter was an UNSCOM weapons inspector in Iraq. He is knowledgeable about nuclear issues but has a rather erratic history. Posted for what it's worth.)

American policy makers have made it a point, expressed consistently over time, to emphasize that intelligence estimates do not, in and of themselves, constitute policy decisions, and are useful only in so far as they inform policy makers who then make the actual decisions. The logic of this argument allows for the notion of detached decision-making on the part of the policy makers, and includes a built-in premise that the estimates they use are constructed in such a manner as to allow for a wide range of policy options. This model of decision-making works well on paper, and within the realm of academic theory, but in the harsh reality of post-9/11 America, where overhyped information is further exaggerated through a relentless 24-hour news cycle that encourages simplicity to the point of intellectual dishonesty, it is hard to imagine a scenario where such a pattern of informed, deliberate decision-making has, or could, occur.

This is especially true with regard to Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, an issue that has been projected front and center to the American public as a result of the ongoing debate over the viability of the recently concluded nuclear framework agreement. The technical aspects of that agreement will be the subject of intense negotiations scheduled to take place through June 30, when a final accord is expected to be reached. The details of any such accord will provide the grist for expert analysis by those equipped to engage in such. For the most part, the American public is not. However, the role of the American public is critical in determining the level of political support generated for any nuclear agreement with Iran, especially given the contentious debate ongoing between Congress and the White House over this issue. While the technical minutia of nuclear enrichment and the means to effectively monitor such may elude most Americans, the concerns over a nuclear-armed Iran do not. A meaningful debate and dialogue over Iran's nuclear program is essential in a democracy such as the United States, but it is likewise essential that any such discussion be done responsibly, and be based upon facts, not fiction.

America's decade-long experience in the post-9/11 Middle East has conditioned the American public, and by extension the American body politic, to embrace hyperbole and sensationalism over fact and nuance. In doing so, decisions are being made which do not reflect reality, and as such not only fail to rectify the situation at hand, but more often than not, exacerbate it. America's experience with Iran stands as a clear case in point, where analysts have failed to accurately depict the true nature of Iran's military capability, among other issues, and policy makers have, as a result, failed to formulate policies which deal with the issues arising from decades of American-Iranian animosity fueled by post-9/11 emotions, which continue to run high to this day. Getting it wrong on Iran has become an American institution, one which may have far-reaching detrimental consequences.

(More here.)

The Iran Deal and Its Consequences

Mixing shrewd diplomacy with defiance of U.N. resolutions, Iran has turned the negotiation on its head

By Henry Kissinger And George P. Shultz, WSJ
Updated April 7, 2015 7:38 p.m. ET

The announced framework for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program has the potential to generate a seminal national debate. Advocates exult over the nuclear constraints it would impose on Iran. Critics question the verifiability of these constraints and their longer-term impact on regional and world stability. The historic significance of the agreement and indeed its sustainability depend on whether these emotions, valid by themselves, can be reconciled.

Debate regarding technical details of the deal has thus far inhibited the soul-searching necessary regarding its deeper implications. For 20 years, three presidents of both major parties proclaimed that an Iranian nuclear weapon was contrary to American and global interests—and that they were prepared to use force to prevent it. Yet negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years.

Mixing shrewd diplomacy with open defiance of U.N. resolutions, Iran has gradually turned the negotiation on its head. Iran’s centrifuges have multiplied from about 100 at the beginning of the negotiation to almost 20,000 today. The threat of war now constrains the West more than Iran. While Iran treated the mere fact of its willingness to negotiate as a concession, the West has felt compelled to break every deadlock with a new proposal. In the process, the Iranian program has reached a point officially described as being within two to three months of building a nuclear weapon. Under the proposed agreement, for 10 years Iran will never be further than one year from a nuclear weapon and, after a decade, will be significantly closer.

(More here.)

Lee Surrendered, But His Lieutenants Kept Fighting

By Elizabeth R. Varon, NYT
April 9, 2015 7:00 am

“If the programme which our people saw set on foot at Appomattox Court-House had been carried out … we would have no disturbance in the South,” testified the former Confederate general (and future senator) John Brown Gordon in 1871. Speaking before a congressional committee investigating the widespread anti-black violence in the former Confederacy, Gordon was accusing Radical Republicans of bad faith – specifically, of breaking the “Appomattox Compact.”

Some Northerners might have been surprised by the idea that anything resembling a “compact” came out of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865. But Gordon, along with other prominent veterans of Lee’s army, believed that the agreement at Appomattox was more two-sided than many in the North believed.

The notion of the compact was rooted in two points: that the Union military victory was illegitimate, a triumph of might over right, and that Lee had negotiated a deal with Grant at Appomattox containing the promise that “honorable” Southern men would not be treated dishonorably. This position might have seemed incongruous, were it not for the fact that Gordon and a cadre of influential former Confederate officers – including the former generals Henry A. Wise, Armistead L. Long, William N. Pendleton and Edward Porter Alexander, along with other senior officers like Charles Marshall and Walter Taylor — spent decades advocating it, long after the North grew tired of arguing about the war. And to a large extent, they won, not only undermining Reconstruction, but distorting its memory.

(More here.)