"Russia shot down Santa Claus’s sleigh today in international airspace over the Arctic Ocean. According to local reports, the sleigh was beginning its annual Christmas Eve journey around the world when it was struck by a surface-to-air missile fired from the Russian island of Novaya Zemlya - just a few hundred miles from the North Pole. Santa and nearly all of his reindeer were killed instantly."
That evil Putin, he'd obviously stop at nothing to make the lives of little kids around the world miserable. First he downs passenger planes (maybe), and now Santa's sleigh (definitely!) Only, this time the kids managed to get their presents for the year. But next year? Sorry kids, there'll be no presents. Santa is dead. Thank you Putin!
This must be some new form of information war that we haven't heard before then, eh? Evil Putin is killing off fairy-tale anthropomorphic personifications that the innocent kids know and love. You bet the Santa-worshiping kids around the world are gonna hate evil Russia in their guts from now on (if they hadn't already).
Your move, Putin! You were supposed to be a great chessplayer? You thought you could outmaneuver the Western propaganda machine? Now what'cha gonna do, Putin? Attack the North Pole in retaliation? Send your agents to really find and kill the old man and deny kids around the world their joy? He must be stopped! THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN! :O
"United Nations officials are welcoming the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), hailing it as a new chapter in collective efforts to bring responsibility, accountability and transparency to the global arms trade."
This is a landmark piece of international legislation, a result of long and hard work by a number of countries, and is aiming to provide the much anticipated change in the way arms industries around the world are regulated. After two decades of preparation, this treaty was finally opened for signing about a year ago, potentially making global arms trade subject to international law. It has now been signed by over 130 states, and ratified by 60 of them, who in turn have adopted its stipulations into their own laws.
The initiative which gave the final push was launched by Amnesty International, which recruited several of the most prominent Nobel Peace Prize laureates lead by former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. Actually the most decisive breakthrough came in 2006 when the UN General Assembly passed a resolution instructing the Secretary General to explore a future arms trade treaty - curiously, out of 154 votes at the time, 153 were in favour, and the only one against was... wait for it... the USA.
Sorry Obama, America is just awesome. You hate that? Tough life, Obama!
"The United States of America is awesome. We are awesome, but we've had this discussion" about torture, Tantaros said. She lamented, "the reason they want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are;" rather, "this administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we're not awesome." This is because "they apologized for this country, they don't like this country, they want us to look bad. And all this does is have our enemies laughing at us, that we are having this debate again." (source)
I think Ms Tantaros has done a great job demonstrating her stunning intellect and insight on the peculiarities of international politics. No doubt, it's adjusted and tuned to perfectly match the Fox audience, and the general requirements for the "qualities" that Fox "News" a.k.a. Bullshit Mountain uses to recruit their hosts. I have no doubt she has found many people with whom her message of awesomeness would resonate. Because "It doesn't matter if we torture... cuz we're just awesome!" Take that, Obama!
Like millions of others, I was riveted to the This American Life spinoff podcast Serial. One longform journalistic story told over 12 episodes, the tale of Adnan Syed, convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend 15 years ago has become extremely popular and raised a lot of questions - not only about his guilt, but about how we litigate crimes, how police work works, and how prosecutors do their jobs.
As someone who has traditionally had a lot of skepticism surrounding policework, prosecutors, and how we handle criminal activity period, this was a podcast right down my alley. That a lot of the issues raised by the podcast also have some parallels with current events surrounding the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown got me thinking a lot more about it. This might end up being a pretty roundabout post, and I'm not sure if it will make a ton of sense but it will contain some spoilers if you're still catching up, but [let's run with it.]let's run with it.
If you're unfamiliar with the story of Serial, the quick and dirty is that Syed was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, after school on a Friday afternoon in January 1999. The first trial ended in a mistrial, the second resulted in Syed's conviction, and a few appeals went through and that was that. Sarah Koenig of TIL had this case brought to her attention about a year ago, and one of the best investigative journalism endeavors unfolded week by week in our media devices. Very quickly, we learn about some key points in the case that raise our eyebrows:
* Cell phone tower positioning that doesn't always fit. * An alibi for Syed that was never even raised in court. * The prosecution's chief witness, Syed's acquaintance and drug buddy Jay, having been interviewed for hours before the interview recording went on, and apparently getting a lawyer through the prosecution, something that never happens. (Jay, who by all indications was an accomplice if the Syed story is true, plea bargained out of jail time in exchange for cooperation) * DNA evidence that has sat for 15 years untested.
This is only scratching the surface of the story, really - you should listen to the podcast anyway, but with 7+ hours of content I'm sure I'm leaving really important details out. Point being? There's a lot of reasonable doubt here. A lot. Even discounting the fact that some of it was not raised in court, even the information that was should have been enough for a not guilty call, but there Syed sits in jail regardless. The Innocence Project is involved, and we may get some traction on a few key issues here in the new year if they're successful, but still.
During the height of Serial-mania, the lack of an indictment came down on the police officer, Darren Wilson, who killed Eric Brown during a confrontation earlier this year. The prosecutor has gotten heat from some circles for not bringing an indictment, even though there was really no concrete evidence supporting anything else than Wilson's story, and the statistics surrounding grand jury indictments popped up and caused some predictable outrage. While people rightly pointed out that this is what's meant by "a grand jury can indict a ham sandwich," what I didn't see a lot of is anger that grand juries perhaps indict too often, that cases like Wilson's or even George Zimmerman's, where evidence is clear-cut and there is no question regarding conviction by those who actually look at the information, shouldn't ever even go to trial. Too many people think death = indictable offense (or really just accusation = indictment), and maybe that's part of the problem. Truly, with Syed and others, it really feels more like too many people think prosecutors and grand juries should be sending more and more to trial instead. I don't see how that's a good idea as I've looked into this more over the last six months, and I think we might be sending more people to jail wrongly than I ever thought - not necessarily more innocent people, mind you, but just wrongly.
A lot of this is really the media's fault, though. I've railed in the past about advocacy media, but I'm actually wondering if the problem is with activist media, where the difference is not that the media or reporter has a point of view, but rather that the media or reporter is actively trying to enact change through its reporting and positioning as some sort of independent outlet. Take, for example, the difference between someone like Radley Balko, who has a long line of work regarding police militarization>/a> and Sabrina Rubin Erderly's abhorrent tale about a rape at the University of Virginia (and who has been caught in this sort of sitauation before). I had noted back when the Ferguson had originally occurred that I was traveling and had a pretty hard time sifting truth from narrative. Even now, we have Congresspeople and staffers doing the "Hands Up Don't Shoot" gesture even though there's nothing to support it. Are people misled or are they actively doing something consciously worse? And if people are misled, why? Is the activist media to blame, is it advocacy media, or does the Darren Wilson (or George Zimmerman or Eric Garner's officer) need a Balko or Keonig to tell it?
I don't pretend to know all the answers here. In the last six months, I've honestly ended up with more questions than answers, and the answers to those questions are not forthcoming. Talking to a friend about the Garner/Brown/Tamir Rice stores, I had mentioned that there doesn't seem to be room for people who think that the three aren't really equitable and that the police can be wrong when they go overboard on a twelve year old, but right when an assailant comes back for more. With the apparent execution-style killing of some NYPD cops earlier this weekend, I can't say I'm optimistic about finding more light than heat, or finding some sense of justice that everyone will accept, or getting the stories from the media to those who need to hear them the most.
We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces. - Carl Sagan
By now everybody has heard of the cyber attack on Sony Pictures, allegedly from North Korea in retaliation for the Seth Rogen and James Franco farce “The Interview”. The entire corporation was caught up in this including detailed and damaging information on celebrities, intellectual property, privileged corporate information, current employees and former employees. There were 10 terabytes (about 10 trillion bytes) of information that was stolen. The damage is estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Information can be restored from backups and insurance is covering at least some of the losses. Sony can still do business, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Despite the news media trying to assess the damage in digital information and dollar losses, there is something much bigger going on here. I am not going to compare it to the Hindenburg, the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center because no physical lives were lost. However, I think the malicious nature of this attack has shaped the composition of cyber war.
Security experts agree that there was nothing Sony could have done to mitigate this hack. The lives of those caught in the attack will forever be changed. We fell into an emotional and psychological paralysis as a result of this. There are innumerable questions that may never be answered, such as how is this information going to be ultimately used. Who is going to be getting this information? One of the most frightening is what is going to keep this from happening again?
I don’t think there is any better illustration of the psychological and emotional paralysis that has happened to us than the total abdication of leadership that occurred during this attack. Theater chains left the release decision to the theater owners, Sony left the release decision to the theater chains, and ultimately the POTUS claimed that the decision to pull the film from release by Sony Pictures was “a mistake”. This is unusual for me to say, but I think the decision by Sony Pictures was the most responsible under the circumstances and the administration from the Pentagon through the President was unprepared to respond to this attack.
Retaliation for this attack is going to be difficult, at best. North Korea has no civil internet structure so a counterattack would be useless. They are so isolated that sanctions would be ineffective. Bolstering South Korea’s military capabilities would be a somewhat mild response. About the only thing I can think of is to either beam “Team America: World Police” to every TV set in North Korea or electronically disable all of North Korea’s military defenses.
All I can imagine is that this is only the first volley in a series.
So what's the matter with this new Uber app that everyone keeps blabbering about? I'm seeing taxi drivers around the world having their knickers in a twist about this new "threat" to their business, and a hysterical campaign hyping up the several cases of passenger abuse (rape, mugging, to name but a few transgressions by illicit quasi-taxi drivers operating via the new app) being hyped up around the media. Even some governments have already banned using Uber.
I get the argument of the taxi drivers, I really do (some of my best friends are taxi drivers! heh). These new brand of self-appointed transporters are not paying any taxes anywhere, nobody knows who they are and what security they provide, they can't be tracked in case they do something bad to their passenger, etc. And there's also the home security rationale: essentially, you order a ride from your home to a restaurant, some unchecked driver turns up who now knows your home is empty for the next couple of hours. Bonanza!
And when you leave a bad review because you find your house ransacked after you get home, next day you've got three big blokes dressed in fancy suits knocking at your door wanting to have a chat with you. Because apparently they've found a way to exploit a vulnerability on the website of the ride-sharing Uber service, the cross-site scripting bug essentially being compromised via theft of cookies, personal details and authentification credentials.
I'mma just throw two pieces in here for starters, then we can proceed.
"The IMF has concluded that it was too optimistic when loaning Ukraine $17 billion at the end of April, and that the Ukrainian Government’s economic condition is far worse than the IMF expected, and also that the Government’s anti-corruption program is too weak to justify the planned loan-installments or “tranches” going to Ukraine. Therefore, “even providing the program of the next two tranches is open to question.”
"However, this only confirms an earlier assessment, made public on October 28, about which Reuters headlined at the time, “Ukraine unlikely to receive IMF loan tranche this year: finance minister.” And this was already “after warning in September that if Ukraine’s conflict with the separatists runs into next year, the country may need as much as $19 billion in extra aid.” Ukraine has made clear that it will continue the war, and so the additional $19 billion will also need to be paid to Ukraine in order for its war against the “separatists” to continue." (article)
"This loan demonstrates the degree to which the IMF is an arm of U.S. Cold War politics. Kiev used the loan for military expenses to attack the Eastern provinces, and the loan terms imposed the usual budget austerity, as if this would stabilize the country’s finances. Almost nothing will be received from the war-torn East, where basic infrastructure has been destroyed for power generation, water, hospitals and the civilian housing areas that bore the brunt of the attack. Nearly a million civilians are reported to have fled to Russia. Yet the IMF release announced: “The IMF praised the government’s commitment to economic reforms despite the ongoing conflict.”
"The IMF’s Articles of Agreement forbid it to make loans to countries that clearly cannot pay, prompting its economists to complain at last year’s October 2013 annual meeting in Washington that their institution was violating its rules by making bad loans “to states unable to repay their debts.” In practice, the IMF simply advances however much a government needs to bail out its bankers and bondholders, pretending that more austerity enhances the ability to pay, not worsen it. Ukraine looks like a replay of the Greek situation with an exclamation mark! One official last year called its Debt Sustainability Analysis, “‘a joke,’ a [European] commission official described it ‘a fairy tale to put children to sleep’ and a Greek finance ministry official said it was ‘scientifically ridiculous.’”" (article)
Yeah, we keep hearing catchphrases like "growing the economy", "preserving freedom", "the values that we stand for", etc. These tend to be repeated over and over to no end, until you get the feeling that these words have lost their meaning. So which is the political slogan, talking-point or soundbite that has annoyed you the most? Here are some suggestions that you may or may not like to pick up from...
I made a comment about the community in a prior post. The responses to it were certainly well placed, appropriate and accurate. One thing that attracted me to this forum, besides Livejournal being structured better for discussion than any other site I’ve seen, is because of the global diversity of the participants. It’s true. We don’t seem to be getting posts about America because those that used to post have left for some reason or other. I don’t think it is because of Facebook, Google+ or any other social media because those sites tend to shun political discussion. Maybe it’s because American politics has become an international embarrassment. The President is getting sued over a law that the Republicans have tried to repeal over 40 time and have shut the government down over. It’s not as embarrassing as South Korea, although I think a good fist fight in the House or Senate could raise CSPAN’s ratings.
On to the post at hand. I have always considered myself to be a left leaning centrist and supporter of Obamacare. Nancy Pelosi once said that the Patient Protection and (A)ffordable (C)are (A)ct has to pass in order to see what’s in it. I now finally understand, after 4 years, what she meant. The structure eluded me at first, but I am finally starting to see what it’s all about.
Americans, for the first time, are actually thinking about their healthcare. Provided everyone gets insured, there is no longer a deathly fear of illness or injury because of the catastrophic financial impact upon the afflicted family. Also, with the advent of high deductibles, healthcare plans are no longer being treated trivially. In order for the healthcare plan to work, the afflicted has to participate and become invested in the cost of the healthcare. I believe this is contributing, more than anything, to the reduction in the increase of healthcare costs in this country.
I’m hoping that the ACA will become ingrained as a “too big to fail” part of our government structure much like Medicare or Social Security before the next President comes into office. If necessary, modifications and improvements can be made without tearing apart the one healthcare policy this country has seen since its inception. Considering Republicans have offered no viable alternative, I don’t see any other way forward.
"We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests," Obama said. The president pointed out that the U.S. has relations with China as well as Vietnam, "where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation." The policy, he claimed, was "rooted in events that took place before most of us were born." He said that what had stood in the way for him doing more to change relations with Cuba was "the wrongful imprisonment" of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who was released from jail today after five years.
The president also said his administration will look into changing the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, which was applied by the Reagan administration.
On Tuesday, Obama spoke to Raul Castro for 45 minutes to discuss the historic announcement. It's the first phone call between the leaders of the U.S. and Cuba in decades.
edits to come
Edit 1: Pretty much drowning in feels over this Cuba issue. Once I started listening to the POTUS and understanding the depth of this policy shift, coupled with a a tacit admission of "colonialism", the onions started to peel themselves.
I am 59. I can remember when this all started, and even at that age, wondered why our country could be somean to someone else. None of it made sense, especially almost going nuclear over this island. Always one example to throw in apologists face about our 'human rights' walk, vs our 'Land of the Free' talk.
Right now, I am in absolute love with our President. This is the start of the change we have all been awaiting.
I want to go to Cuba. New bucket list item. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but from my understanding there's grown a real generation gap in Cuban-Americans. With an ageing old guard who are still stubbornly anti-Castro looking at an new generation that's not as concerned about old grudges.This was going to happen sooner or later. Most who supported the embargo just sent support to their families anyway, which kind of defeats the purpose of an embargo, eh?
The Turkish game in the Middle East continues to be unclear. As we know, the September 11 meeting in Jeddah between the foreign ministers of the US, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, plus the Gulf monarchies, ended with a declared intention to "uproot" ISIL. Shortly before that, on another meeting in Ankara hosted by Turkish PM Davutoglu it was decided taht Turkey would not participate with ground troops or direct military operations against ISIL in Iraq. In the meantime, the Turks announced that they'd be giving intel and logistic support to the new US-led coalition. However, the exact parameters of this support remained unclear. Which made John Kerry and then still secretary of defense Chuck Hagel attend the Jeddah meeting in order to get some clarifications.
But after their meeting with Erdogan, the press service of the Turkish president only issued one single message, stating that the cooperation between the two countries in the fight with terrorism in the Middle East was going to continue. Nothing specific. In the meantime, the intel that the Turkish services was supposed to be providing about ISIL's movement in Iraq and Syria has not been that significant for the US at all. What the US truly wants is access to the air base at Incirlik, but that facility remains blocked for the military alliance, and can only be used for humanitarian shipments to North Iraq - and certainly not for launching air strikes on ISIL positions. In other words, we've got a similar situation to 2003 when Turkey did not allow the US to use their territory for opening a northern front in their Iraq invasion.
Oh sure, not only did he not allow others to impose anything on him; he imposed (and keeps imposing) things on others. He must be an awesome individual indeed!
Well, being friends with Putin might be worth it after all, in every meaning of the word. That's what became evident from last month's revelation that the French far-right party Front National had taken a loan of 9 million euros from the First Czech-Russian Bank. The investigation was originally published in the French online newspaper Mediapart, and describes events from September.
Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. - Albert Einstein
In keeping with the Monthly Topic, an article I came across a couple months ago caught my eye. We’re all probably familiar with the stem cell controversy for religious and philosophical reasons regarding embryonic stem cells.
This controversy has resulted in an executive order ban by George W. Bush on creating new stem cells from human embryos. Fortunately, this ban was reversed by Barack Obama at the beginning of his administration. Contrary to the claims of many abortion opponents, no stem cells are created from induced abortions. They come from embryos that have been rejected in failed fertility attempts and cell lines that already exist.
Now, Harvard University researchers have discovered that they can effectively cure diabetes in rats with embryonic stem cells. The Harvard researchers claim:
“This dramatic result is particularly promising for victims of type I diabetes, a disorder in which the body’s immune system kills off all of its beta cells, but it also potentially offers relief to those suffering with type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes. Many laboratory discoveries take years or decades to yield therapies. The Harvard scientists are more optimistic. With partners at the University of Chicago, they are planning tests on primates, and they hope to begin human transplant trials within three years.”
Considering the pervasiveness and massive healthcare expense of diabetes in this country, I would say that this discovery is epic, to say the least. Like cancer, most people would say that they are familiar with someone in their family or social circle that has been touched by this disease, if not experiencing it themselves.
If there is no other reason than this to continue embryonic stem cell research, I believe this discovery should permanently remove the stigma associated with it. I support continuing adult stem cell research in order to make stem cell therapy more available to everyone, but I do not believe there is a good case to have it replace embryonic stem cell research
Here's a joke I recently heard. It's about the way the political rhetoric coming from the Kremlin is going to "evolve"...
Oil: $145 a barrel: "The world order needs an overhaul!"
Oil: $130 a barrel: "Moscow should become the world's financial center!"
Oil: $120 a barrel: "We're gonna launch the Eurasian Union!"
Oil: $110 a barrel: "Crimea is Russian!"
Oil: $100 a barrel: "East Ukraine is Russian!"
Oil: $90 a barrel: "We do not fear a new Cold War, we are not afraid of your sanctions!"
Oil: $80 a barrel: "No, there are no Russian troops in Ukraine!"
Oil: $75 a barrel: "Why is the whole world against us!?"
Oil: $70 a barrel: "We have a nuclear suitcase, our finger is on the red button!"
Oil: $65 a barrel: "We are prepared for peaceful negotiations with Ukraine..."
Oil: $60 a barrel: "We support Ukraine's NATO membership..."
Oil: $55 a barrel: "Putin has fled, Moscow is free!"
Oil: $50 a barrel: "Long live King Soros!"
The single idea that recurs again and again in the rhetoric of religious reactionaries is the notion that something is against nature. Prophylactic devices should not be used because they do violence to nature. People of the same sex should not be allowed to wed because their lifestyle is unnatural. These people claim to own a trademark on the definition of nature and they profess to know what is in favor of nature and what is against it.
Are these people opposed to all things artificial? Do they eschew wine made from grapes grown on grafted vines? Do they abstain from the use of optical prosthetics on the grounds that they are not natural? Do they harness a horse to a cart rather than employ an internal combustion engine or an electric motor? Do they carry their belongings on their heads rather than harness a horse to a cart? Do they refrain from opulent rituals on the basis of the artificial trappings of medieval bling? None of these things are considered "against nature" in the minds of these despots.
Margaret Sanger celebrated the fact that the Roman religion adopted the rhythm method as a birth control technique. It validated the essence of her mission. Romans claimed that the rhythm method did no violence against nature, but that other methods did. Why is one artificial means of contraception not against nature and all others are? It has something to do with the Roman hegemony over the definition of nature.
It could be said that there are two very distinct natures. One of them is under strict Roman control. The other is beyond the pale. One is a nature shrouded in darkness and the occult practices of Roman priests. The other nature is open and available to everyone outside of Roman control.
Yes, birth control techniques besides the rhythm method do violence to nature, but only the Roman nature. They do no violence to the other nature because the other nature does not exclude them. Yes, same-sex marriage is against nature, but only the Roman nature. The other nature does not exclude same-sex love.
...Even if your intentions are (allegedly) benevolent: protecting your people, countering extremism, ending terrorism, things like that.
Yeah, we've already heard about the Congress report on CIA's enhanced interrogation (fuck PC) torture. It doesn't tell us anything new, granted. It's just an official acknowledgement of what everyone had already known for quite a while: that the US has committed crimes against humanity and/or war crimes, while pretending to be a valiant defender of freedom and paragon of democracy.
We already knew all that - because secrets of this magnitude tend to leak through sooner or later, and a number of outlets had spread the news a long time ago. Curiously, back then these were declared traitors, criminals. Now, when Congress comes up with basically the same info, the tune has changed a little bit.
Offering various fantasy scenarios about the end of the world and making them sound science-y seems to have become the new fad these days, hasn't it? After Hawking went on a dire alarmist spree, now comes this summary:
Granted, some of these scenarios do look fascinating, like the digital universe story that those among us who've been paying attention to the "genre", might've heard about a long time ago already. If anything, it's quite thought-provoking indeed.
And then, there's the Terminator/Cylon or even the E.T.-invasion storyline, the technological singularity giving the tools to our mechanical creations to expand their AI capacities exponentially, and then suddenly decide that their creators are expendable, and turn against them.
Seemingly arbitrarily deciding what is nice sex and what is not nice sex, the board's ruling on 'content that is not acceptable' effectively bans the following acts from being depicted by British pornography producers:
Penetration by any object "associated with violence"
Physical or verbal abuse (regardless of if consensual)
Urolagnia (known as "water sports")
The final three listed fall under acts the BBFC views as potentially "life-endangering".
Well, one could argue that some of the stuff included in this new censorship list clearly reeks of misogyny, for example the ban on female ejaculation (squirting). Also the ban on spanking, caning, aggressive whipping, all activities that are predominantly used in female dominatrix situations where the woman is the active side, stinks of puritanical misogyny.