Posts Tagged ‘usa’

Russian SU25s are in action in Iraq. Who is flying them or telling them what to attack is less clear.

Russian SU25s are in action in Iraq. Who is flying them or telling them what to attack is less clear.

The current emergence of the ISIS (Islamic State) insurgency in Syria and Iraq reveals the curious nature of the background diplomacy that goes on all the time, invisible to the man in the street, because you have to read the news stories BEHIND the news stories to work out what is really going on.

The ritualistic condemnation of Russia over the shooting down (most likely by separatist pro-Russian rebels) of MH17 near Donetsk (and the previous less violent kerfuffle over the Crimea) has led to mild sanctions being employed by the West, and a lot of publicly-expressed anger, at least some of which was undoubtedly sincere.

In return, Putin and his cronies have placed bans on certain imports from the West, such as Australian wheat, which are going to be virtually ineffective as we can’t produce enough wheat for world demand as it is, and the Russian business will be quickly replaced by delivering the wheat to countries like Indonesia, instead. Nevertheless, there has been a general chilling of the relationship between the West and Russia, or at least it appears so on the surface.

And as usual, the relationship between America and Iran seems pretty well stuck in deep freeze, although some very minor steps towards a rapprochement have taken place recently, and especially since the departure of the conservative idealogue Ahmadinejad and his replacement with the much more pragmatic and moderate Hassan Rouhani.

Ironically, though, America, the West in general, and Russia and Iran find themselves on the same side against the Sunni insurgents now slicing off the heads of those they disagree with – including, according to some sources, beheading children and putting their heads on display in a public park in Mosul – stoning so-called adulterous women, perpetrating the most horrific massacres, driving out religious minorities including Christians, and generally proving themselves to be the worst of the world’s current crop of uncivilised, idiotic savages.

In a shocking revelation, it has emerged that in the week-long Islamic State offensive in Sinjar, which began last Sunday, the militants killed at least 500 Christian Yazidis, according to Iraq’s human rights minister.

Several residents, including children, were buried alive, while around 300 women (believed to be from those Buried_aliveChristians who chose to pay a fine rather than leave the area or convert to Islam) have been kidnapped as slaves. The revelation was made by Iraq’s human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. In an interview al-Sudani alleged that the ISIS buried some of their victims alive, including women and children.

“We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar,” Sudani pointed out.

“Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar,” Sudani said.

In response to the Yazidi crisis, President Obama has authorised air drops of relief food to fleeing refugees and air strikes against the murderous ISIS, but interestingly recent air strikes have been claimed not to be by US jets. In which case, who is doing the bombing?

The most likely answer is almost certainly a mixture of Iraqi planes, flown and maintained by Russian and Iranian pilots and engineers, as the nascent Iraqi Shia government hasn’t got around to training its air force yet, and Iran has definitely bombed ISIS previously as their fighters neared the iranian border. Or it may have been Iraqis themselves, although this is considered unlikely. Or even Turkish fighters, as Turkey (especially the Turkish military establishment) is alarmed in the extreme about the pressure on the Kurds in the north (who, despite their antipathy towards Turkey, provide a useful buffer against the chaos further south) and their fears that the extremist Sunni ISIS could start to destabilise their secular democracy even more than it is already being notoriously weakened by the populist and increasingly authoritarian President Erdogan who was re-elected over the weekend in a poorly-attended poll.

This interesting article seeks to make sense of the conflicting signals coming out of northern Iraq currently.

What is certain is that behind the scenes, American, Russian, Turkish and Iranian diplomats and spooks are undergoing a much less antagonistic relationship than we see in public. Information sharing is the very least that’s going on – in all probability, “real time” battlefield intelligence is also being shared to make the fight against ISIS more effective.

Which is yet another modern example of the famous old adage Amicus meus, inimicus inimici mei or “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. This understanding has powered geo-politics since it was first expressed in Sanskrit in the 4th century BC by Kautilya, the “Indian Machiavelli”, so perhaps it’s unsurprising to see it happening again.

As the fiercely anti-Communist British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared during the Second World War, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons,” when speaking in support of British aid to Soviet forces.

So the next time you hear a politician thumping the table and weighing in against some other country, bear in mind the reality of what’s happening behind the scenes may be far different. Or to put it more simply, politicians frequently feed us bullshit.

Really, who knew?

 

Perth woman survives US shooting

Recovering: Amy Matthews. Picture: Facebook

As a father whose daughter just trailed round the world doing the gap year thing, this story made my blood run cold.

As the West Australian reports, a 21-year-old University of WA graduate from Mt Hawthorn has survived being shot in the face during a New Orleans shooting on Sunday. Amy Matthews was celebrating the end of her studies with her best friend from Stirling when she was caught in the middle of a firefight that injured 10 bystanders. After completing a bachelor of arts in March with majors in political science and economics, Ms Matthews and a friend had flown to the US for a gap-year holiday. They had made their way down the east coast from New York City to Nashville, Tennessee, where they hired a car and drove to New Orleans. Warning: Graphic Content Footage of the shooting

It was their third night in the historic French Quarter of the city and by 2.45am, it had stretched into their fourth morning. They were walking to the next neon-lit bar on Bourbon Street, barely halfway through their US road trip, when the crack of gunshots sent people running for their lives.

At some point in the chaos a partial or whole bullet entered Ms Matthews’ mouth through her right cheek and exited through her top lip, causing extensive injuries to her gums, teeth and palate.

At the time, she assumed a flailing hand had struck her in the face but when she stopped running, she realised her mouth was full of blood and teeth.

Speaking from her hospital bed at Interim LSU Hospital, Ms Matthews told  The West Australian that she felt lucky to be alive. “I have about 10 teeth left,” she said. “It shattered the top of my palate in four places and ripped my tongue in several places. “Because the bullet was so hot, it just ripped through my teeth and burnt a lot of my gums. They had to remove a lot of dead gum.

“I think I’m very lucky because I wasn’t the only person who got shot that night. There were two people who were critical and they think one of them is going to die. I can replace my teeth and my mouth will heal but if it had have been a few centimetres towards my brain or my jugular, who knows?”

The young male suspects in the shooting fled the scene, leaving two people fighting for their lives on a panic-stricken street.

Sitting together on the pavement, their dream holiday now a nightmare, the desperate Perth women found help from an unexpected source.

Two US marines kept Ms Matthews relatively calm for the 20 minutes until paramedics drove her to hospital. “One of the marines took his shirt off and used it for my mouth,” Ms Matthews said. “I was trying not to freak out too much and the marines were trained in that so they were keeping my mind off those thoughts. “They were making jokes and telling me how I was handling it better than most of their marine friends would have. They definitely helped.”

Over several hours in the emergency department, Ms Matthews had about 30 stitches put in her tongue and a metal support fixed to the roof of her mouth.

She has since had a visit from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and her mother Amanda has flown in from Perth to be by her side.

Ms Matthews lives with her parents in Mt Hawthorn and she hopes to fly home this weekend.

“I have to be on a liquid diet for six weeks until I get implants in my teeth,” she said. “Until the bone and the gum heal, they can’t do anything aesthetically about my mouth, so I’ll have no teeth for about six to eight weeks.”

Sunday’s shooting was the third major shooting in Bourbon Street in the past three years.

Gun Culture of the USA

Amy in happier times. We wish her a full and speedy recovery.

Amy in happier times. We wish her a full and speedy recovery.

Ironically, Ms Matthews wrote a thesis paper at UWA examining gun use in the US. But she said her traumatic experience would not stop her returning to the country.

“Because of last year and all the little kids who were shot, I thought something would definitely be done but it just shows you how embedded the whole gun culture is in the US,” she said.

“This won’t deter me from coming back but it makes me angry that the Government can’t be strong enough to say, ‘No, something needs to be done’.”

We can only agree, and wish Ms Matthews well. A very brave – and lucky – young lady.

Perhaps authorities could at least make it illegal to carry guns in places that serve alcohol, at least? This was the third such gun battle in Bourbon Street in recent times.

There was 2011 – when a 25-year-old was killed in a Bourbon Street shooting-spree that injured eight on Halloween night, including a tourist from France. Or the 2013 Mother’s Day Shooting, whose grainy video mirrors video captured Sunday morning: a celebrating crowd breaking up, sprinting away from the sudden shock of gunfire that left 20 injured. New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas described the shooting in a Sunday press conference as the act of “two cowardly young men trying to hurt one another,” who settled a dispute with “no regard to others.”

That disregard of others has marked a spate of New Orleans crimes, when passersby have been caught in the crossfire. Goyeneche, of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, cited a number of New Orleans incidents when young children were hit by stray bullets.

The shooters “get so caught up in their mission, which is to retaliate and send a message,” Goyeneche said. “That they don’t care who gets in the way.” Or maybe they actually seek to get others caught in the crossfire to amplify the effect. The disregard of human life, as a message, is a strategy used by terrorists, said criminologist John Penny, of Southern University at New Orleans. “That’s a terrifying and a terrorizing message.”

As we keep saying, only a “war on guns” will reduce the number circulating in the America community, and in a community where 200,000 guns a year enter the illegal marketplace stolen from law abiding homes.

To pretend, as some do, that nothing can be done about this problem, or that any restriction on gun ownership is an assault on Second Amendment rights,  is simply not good enough. Just ask Amy.

A sign near Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

We are on record as saying that we think there are far too many guns in circulation in America, and that the very prevalence of them both encourages and creates the appalling gun death and injury statistics that the country endures on a daily basis.

To us, the logical conclusion of the pro-gun National Rifle Associations’s position is very simple: it is that every American should carry a firearm, in almost every conceivable situation.

And to us, that’s as sensible as arguing that every state in the world should have nuclear weapons, on the basis that Mutual Assured Destruction appears to have kept the USA and Russia from going to war. (Which is an arguable issue in itself, but one for another day.)

Or to put it another way, in our opinion, “The right to bear arms is about as sensible as the right to arm bears.”

But we do welcome those on all sides of the debate who believe it should be conducted with civility, with deep thought, and with respect.

Which is why we find this article so encouraging. It questions the current pro-gun environment in America, but in a gentle, thoughtful way, and from the perspective of a pro-gun individual.

We recommend it. Do yourself a favour, and click the link.

Joseph Wilcox, with his mother, who died attempt to stop Jared Miller in the recent shooting in the USA. He was shot in the back by Amanda Miller. A hero? Very possibly. But what is also certain is that he is dead.

Joseph Wilcox, with his mother, who died attempt to stop Jared Miller in the recent shooting in the USA. He was shot in the back by Amanda Miller. A hero? Very possibly. But what is also certain is that he is dead.

http://gawker.com/its-really-hard-to-be-a-good-guy-with-a-gun-1588660306

There. aren’t you glad you did?

Whatever the solution to the situation with guns in America, one thing that should enrage us all is that facts so rarely seem to get produced in the debate.

And whatever the solution might be, the facts in the infographic below need dealing with.

Urgently.

gun related deaths

Why care? Why care about what happens in Georgia or Illinois or California from our neat suburban homes in Australia? Why get involved? Why stick our noses in, uninvited?

Well that’d be because we have many great friends in America, many of whom have had a close shave with gun-related violence.

And because national borders should not stop us from providing advice to friends. Especially when the price of the situation not being dealt with is the same ghastly roll call of dead innocents, and so many of them innocent women and children gunned down in family violence, or in what seems to be the uniquely bizarre and tragic “school shootings” that plague the country. Should we care less about a kid shot down in Sandy Hook that we would if it were down the road from us in Australia, France, Russia, Britain, Korea, Japan or anywhere else? No, we should not. A kid is a kid.

JohnDonneAs John Donne wrote in 1624:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

blackLarge numbers of African Americans
gathered together with handguns, shotguns
or maybe semi-black2automatic weapons on your street corner.

How about a bunch of Muslims, say in full Arabic cultural dress and regalia, outside your local Church?

At your local kids’ football game?

Perhaps your favourite local restaurant?

Is that something all you pro-gun people would feel comfortable about?

Or is the right to bear arms limited to whites? This is the question the NRA and pro-gun people consistently duck, and should be called to task over. Only takes five minutes to read this article: click it now.

 http://www.forwardprogressives.com/racism-ignorance-hypocrisy-confrontation-open-carry-activist/

Strongly recommended. Debate welcome.

ImageMany mental illnesses are as bad for you as smoking, research has suggested.

Life expectancy for people with mental health problems is less than for heavy smokers, experts have found.

Serious mental illness can reduce a person’s life expectancy by 10 to 20 years, when the average reduction in life expectancy for heavy smokers is eight to 10 years, according to researchers from Oxford University.

But critically, mental health has not been the same public health priority as smoking, they said.

The study, published in the journal World Psychiatry, analysed previous research on mortality risk for a whole range of problems – mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, dementia, autistic spectrum disorders, learning disability and childhood behavioural disorders.

The authors examined 20 papers looking at 1.7 million people and over 250,000 deaths. They found that the average reduction in life expectancy for people with bipolar disorder was between nine and 20 years, it was 10 to 20 years for schizophrenia, between nine and 24 years for drug and alcohol abuse, and around seven to 11 years for recurrent depression.

The loss of years among heavy smokers was eight to 10 years.

“We found that many mental health diagnoses are associated with a drop in life expectancy as great as that associated with smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day,” Dr Seena Fazel of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University said.

“There are likely to be many reasons for this. High-risk behaviours are common in psychiatric patients, especially drug and alcohol abuse, and they are more likely to die by suicide.

The stigma surrounding mental health may mean people aren’t treated as well for physical health problems when they do see a doctor.

Many causes of mental health problems also have physical consequences and mental illness worsen the prognosis of a range of physical illnesses, especially heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Smoking is recognised as a huge public health problem.

There are effective ways to target smoking, and with political will and funding, rates of smoking-related deaths have started to decline.

We now need a similar effort in mental health.”

Dr John Williams, head of neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust, which funded the study, added: “People with mental health problems are among the most vulnerable in society.

This work emphasises how crucial it is that they have access to appropriate healthcare and advice, which is not always the case.

We now have strong evidence that mental illness is just as threatening to life expectancy as other public health threats such as smoking.”

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, like most people, we have had a few run ins with mental illness in the family and friends coterie. Thankfully, the stigmas associated with mental illness is reducing – albeit achingly slowly. Especially as it is increasingly understood that mental illness does not betoken “weakness” or “badness” but rather chemical imbalances in the brain that are no more the sufferer’s “fault” than, say, diabetes.

We warmly welcome this research finding and trust it is widely studied at government level. A heap of misery can be lifted off the shoulders of sufferers and their families through early intervention, prompt care and adequate treatment with “talking therapy” and medication.

Assuming Government now longer feels itself morally bound to take action (it seems simple need is the least strong motivator for many Governments worldwide now, sadly, as you can see below) then what about this thought?

mental-illness-not-contagiousJust imagine the hurricane of productivity and wealth that would be released if mentally ill people became weller, faster, and more thoroughly well, and lived that way longer.

Yes, that’s something we’d like to see in our shiny new hard-headed neo-con austere world.

Meanwhile, here’s some additional reading on how Government in rich “advanced” countries consistently fails the mentally ill:

UK: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/cuts-send-rates-of-mental-health-disorders-among-young-soaring-9392996.html

UK: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/12/risks-deep-cuts-mental-health

Australia: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/mental-health-funding-cuts-spark-fears-of-social-mess-20140518-38hz9.html

Australia: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/these-two-budget-charts-show-how-much-money-joe-hockey-is-cutting-from-hospitals-and-schools-2014-5

USA (four stories): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/mental-health-budget-cuts/

USA: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2013/10/10/mental-health-loses-funding-as-government-continues-shutdown/

Mystery first-grader’s incredible poem about dancing goes viral

Mystery first-grader s incredible poem about dancing goes viral

When photographer Jason Gardner visited a US public school to photograph some of the students and their families this week, he ended up taking one picture he wasn’t planning to — a shot of a poem, written by a first-grader, which has now gone viral worldwide. We’re guessing you’re going to love it and share it, too.

The poem, penned at an after-school program in honour of National Poetry Month, which takes place in April, quickly became a hit. As a working poet, we simply love it. We love the idea of National Poetry Month, too.

But since Gardner took a picture of only the unsigned poem and not the student who wrote it, at this point the world has no idea of the young author’s identity. The poem reads:

We did the soft wind.

We danst slowly. We swrld

Aroned. We danst soft.

We lisin to the mozik.

We danst to the mozik.

We made personal space.

Forget the spelling, read the thoughts.

 

Although the poem doesn’t seem complicated at first glance, there’s a surprising depth in those simple words. And it comes with the endorsement of several high-profile writers and critics, including Michael Dumanis, a literature and poetry writing professor at Bennington College in Vermont.

“I loved it!” Dumanis told Yahoo about the poem. “It captured the truth about personal space. The mis-spellings make it more primal and deliberate. At the end there’s an epiphany about dancing and what that means.”

And Dumanis isn’t the only one with good things to say about the elementary student’s work. After Gardner posted the photo of the poem to his Facebook page, NPR’s radio show “Studio 360″ shared it with listeners and called the poem its favorite poem of National Poetry Month. (The story has since become the most shared on NPR’s website and has gotten more than 4000 likes.) Meanwhile, a headline on Gawker.com blared “This Talented First Grader Just Wrote a Better Poem Than You Ever Could.”

Though some poets and scholars don’t like the idea of a National Poetry Month, worrying that it will dis-suade people from being interested in poetry during the rest of the year, Dumanis disagrees with that idea.

“Anything that draws attention to an art form is ultimately a good thing. Because of National Poetry Month, more people encounter [poetry], more people write it and find a role for it in their lives. It becomes a long-term pursuit.” He hopes that once the student is identified, he or she will find out how much positive praise the poem has received. He also hopes that the student will continue pursuing creative endeavors and continue to read, study, and write poetry.

“This poem, to me, coming from a first-grader, has so much spark and originality,” he said. “Anytime you put a word on the page, you are making a choice.”

And it’s clear that, for this six-year-old, it was the right one. More power to his elbow.

(Yahoo and others.)

McConnell v Grimes: forgive our cynicism, but the look of both candidates isn't exactly going to hurt the Democrats either.

McConnell v Grimes: forgive our cynicism, but the look of both candidates isn’t exactly going to hurt the Democrats either. Hey, Kennedy beat Nixon because he was taller, right?

A round of new polls conducted by The New York Times and Kaiser Family Foundation have some good (and surprising, to some) news for a handful of Southern Senate Democrats in key seats. This news may hose down excitement in some GOP and fellow-traveller ranks that the Republicans could win control of the Senate: that now looks less likely, not that we ever thought it was.

The polls, released Wednesday, found Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) leading Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) by a comfortable 46 percent to 36 percent.

In Kentucky, controversial Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – long tipped as a very possible loser in the mid-terms by this blog – just barely leads Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) 44 percent to 43 percent, the poll found.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) is also neck-and-neck with House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC) in a hypothetical matchup with Hagan getting 42 percent while Tillis gets 40 percent.

Lastly, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has a commanding lead over Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and the rest of the field in the Louisiana Senate race.

(That finding deserves a caveat: Louisiana’s primary system is something called a “jungle primary” where there is no Republican or Democratic primary. Instead all candidates run together and if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates face each other in a runoff election. The poll found Landrieu with 42 percent followed by Cassidy with 18 percent. No other candidate managed to get double digits.)

The polls were conducted April 8 to the 15. The margin of error for each poll was plus or minus 4 percentage points for registered voters. In other words, despite “weeks of attacks ads” quoted by one source, Mark Pryor in Arkansas has pulled out to a winning lead (his biggest lead since polling started) and looks comfortable in what should still be a relatively tight race. The other races are all within the margin of error.

We believe incumbency will be a negative for all candidates in November, and even more than usual. On that basis we think McConnell looks doubly vulnerable. We shall see.

police

 

This story in today’s Age (and many other newspapers around the world) is very amusing. Click the link if you have ANYTHING to do with business, advertising, marketing or communications.

http://www.theage.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/nypd-social-media-campaign-backfires-20140423-zqy75.html

We keep trying to tell people, you cannot do one thing in social media (or any other type of communications) and another thing in “real life”. It will come back to bite you. Big time. Just like NYPD, who got their “hashtag” hijacked, very embarrassingly.

Remember: the best “social media” your business or organisation can use is the oldest one of all. It’s called “Word of Mouth”. People who want to say nice things about you to their friends, family and colleagues, and do.

You don’t got that, you don’t got nuttin’. And if you got nuttin’, don’t broadcast the fact to the world.

Incidentally, social media messages are often left to the least senior member of a communications department while the marketing manager and other important people focus on the sexy stuff like TV commercials and big colourful press ads.

That would be a mistake.

To enjoy the full list of “F*** Ups” we have spotted, reported or re-reported, just put F*** Up in the search box on the top left of our page. Enjoy :-)

I am all for peaceful protest. It doesn't usually involve AR-15s.

I am all for peaceful protest. It doesn’t usually involve AR-15s.

 

A question for all my America friends, especially those on the right of the political spectrum.

So, if irregular militia turn up and point semi-automatic guns at lawful officers who are simply trying to enforce multiple court orders to make a greedy rancher stop free-loading his cattle on public land, (which he’s done for 15+ years) how are those people not terrorists?

How is defending someone’s right to make money illegally about freedom?

Can you imagine the hoo-ha if the Occupy movement did anything remotely resembling this? Blocking a highway, defying lawful commands, ignoring court orders year after year, and threatening to shoot officers?

Please. Explain.

Seriously.

Never miss an opportunity to up the ratings, no matter where the truth lies.

Never miss an opportunity to up the ratings, no matter where the truth lies.

 

The appalling Murdoch-owned Fox News, various right-wing Senators and Congressmen, and other Tea Party types like Rush “Pig” Limbaugh and others, have relentlessly tried to stir up trouble for the Obama government about the attack on the American compound in Benghazi which saw four Americans killed.

9 September 2012, Benghazi

9 September 2012, Benghazi

There may, indeed, have been issues surrounding that event that warrant further cool-headed examination, and most likely in the area of how intelligence is handled in the chain of command, and many decent-minded Americans legitimately want those matters discussed.

But it is amazing how similar historical incidents worldwide failed to provoke anything like the froth and bubble surrounding Benghazi.

It surely couldn’t be that the GOP would do anything they can to stop then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton getting to the White House in her own right, could it?

This list of other incidents, including links to coverage, all happened under the previous Administration’s watch. They are reproduced from policymic.com and were originally compiled by Shwetika Baijal who is a PolicyMic columnist and writes for their Millenials and the Media column. She focuses on how the media frames policy and cultural issues, and how the media’s framing of events effects public opinion.

Article begins:

The incidents below include all kinds of attacks — gunmen on bikes, suicide bombs, car bombs, gunmen shooting outside, and terrorists storming Consulate compounds similar to what happened in Benghazi. During each of those incidents Fox News was only supportive of the administration’s reactions and there were no calls for the removal of Secretary Condoleeza Rice.

The GOP and Fox’s fixation on Benghazi is partisan propaganda. In some of these attacks the State Department had been forewarned about potential threats, unlike Benghazi. Instead of reporting the incident and the recent allegations from a whistleblower, Fox News is hacking together their own version of the events to further convolute the story’s reality.

Check out the timeline of attacks on embassies and consulate compounds during Bush’s tenure that received no similar fine-toothed-combing from Fox.

1.Jan. 22, 2002: Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami Attacks Indian U.S. Consulate

Five policemen were killed and 16 injured in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta because of an attack on the U.S. consulate by militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. American employees including the consul-general in Calcutta, Christopher Sandrolini, were unscathed, and those injured and killed were all Indians.

2.June 14, 2002: Suicide Car-Bomb Outside U.S. Consulate in Karachi

Twelve people died in an attack outside the U.S. consulate in Karachi when militants exploded a car bomb. A Taliban splinter group referred to as Al-Qanoon, or “The Law,” claimed responsibility for the attacks that also injured 51 people. Two hired guards, a Marine, and five Pakistani staff members were among the injured in the attack that followed then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to the country.

3.Oct. 12, 2002: String Of Bali Bombings Included U.S. Consulate

The U.S. consulate in Indonesia was attacked as part of the ‘Bali bombings’ on a devastating October night. While there were no fatalities at the consulate, seven Americans were among the 202 dead at the coordinated blasts inside a bar and outside a nightclub.

4.Feb. 28, 2003: Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, Attacked For the Second Time in One Year

Gunmen rode up on a motorbike to the U.S. consulate’s security checkpoints and rained gunfire killing two Pakistani police officers. One gunman arrested by paramilitary officers was found to have several rounds of ammunition prepared for what could have been a far more devastating attack.

5.May 12, 2003: 36 People Including 9 Americans Die After Terrorists Storm U.S. Compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The State Department had warned of a potential strike against the Saudi days before gunmen infiltrated the Al Hamra Oasis Village and two others killing 36 people and wounding 160. This was the most devastating attack on a State Department employees to occur under Bush. The Saudi government cracked down on terrorists group but that did not prevent another attack to occur a year later in Jeddah.

6.July 30, 2004: Islamist Attacks U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Two Uzbek security guards died in a bombing on the U.S. embassy in Tashkent days. Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan claimed responsibility of the bombing after 15 alleged Islamist militants went on trial.

7.Dec. 6, 2004: Five Staff and Four Security Guards Die in U.S. consulate attack in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Gunmen fought their way into the complex, reportedly taking 18 staff and visa applicants hostage for a short time before Saudi security forces stormed the building. The final dead counted four security guards, five staff, and three attackers. No Americans were among the dead.

8.March 2, 2006: Third Attack on Karachi U.S. Consulate Killed U.S. Diplomat

U.S. Diplomat David Foy was specifically targeted in the third attack in as many years on the Karachi consulate compound. He was one of four people killed. The bomb occurred two days before President Bush was to visit Pakistan and also targeted the Marriot hotel in an upscale neighborhood of Karachi.

This was a planned and coordinated attack that nobody covered as more than a news item.

9.Sept. 12, 2006: Four Gunmen Stormed the U.S. compound in Damascus, Syria

Gunmen yellingAllahu akbar ” – “God is great” – fired on Syrian security officers guarding the U.S. embassy. The gunmen used grenades, automatic weapons, car bombs, and a truck bomb and killed four people and wounded 13 others. Condoleezza Rice, then Secretary of State praised the Syrians that defended the U.S. employees: “the Syrians reacted to this attack in a way that helped to secure our people, and we very much appreciate that.”

10.Jan. 12, 2007: Greek Terrorists Fired a Rocket-Propelled Grenade at the U.S. Embassy

An antitank grenade was fired into the empty consulate building by leftist terrorist group Revolutionary Struggle angry at American foreign policy. Even though nobody was in the building at the time the attack was a blatant breach of security and showed enormous security loopholes.

11.March 18, 2008: A Mortar is Fired at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen

Similar to the Greek attack, a mortar was fired at the U.S. embassy building killing 19 people and injuring 16. This was the second attempt at a similar mortar attack on the embassy. The first one missed the embassy and hit a girls’ school next door.

12.July 9, 2008: Three Turkish Policemen were Killed When Gunman Fired on the U.S. Consulate Istanbul, Turkey

Four attackers drove up to the high-walled compound of the U.S. Consulate and started shooting the security guards. The gun battle took the lives of three of the attackers but the fourth one drove off. No Americans were injured or killed.

13.Sept. 17, 2008: 16 People Including 2 Americans Die in an Orchestrated Attack on the U.S. Embassy Sana’a, Yemen

An arsenal of weapons including rocket-propelled grenades and two car bombs were involved in the second attack on the embassy in seven months. Eighteen-year-old American Susan El-Baneh and her husband of three weeks died holding hands.

Yes. Hardly a stellar list of events.

Anyhow, since their initial flurry of coverage, Fox may be back pedaling just a tad, and so may the right in general. This AP report, from April 10, shows some of the heat coming out of the issue.

GOP chairman satisfied with military response to Benghazi attack.

The GOP chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday he is satisfied with how the military responded to the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Republicans are pressing ahead with multiple congressional investigations, but Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said the military did what it reasonably could during a chaotic night of two separate attacks on Sept. 11, 2012. The assault killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

“I think I’ve pretty well been satisfied that given where the troops were, how quickly the thing all happened and how quickly it dissipated, we probably couldn’t have done more than we did,” McKeon told reporters at a roundtable discussion. “Now, we’ve made changes since then. We’ve got more Marine fast teams that we built up security around the world.”

Republicans accuse the Obama administration of misleading the American people about a terrorist attack weeks before the presidential election by blaming the assault on protests touched off by an anti-Islam video. An independent investigation and a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report earlier this year blamed inadequate security and faulted the State Department.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Obama administration has not been forthcoming.

“They owe the American people the truth. And when it comes to Benghazi, we’ve got four Americans who are dead. And their families deserve the truth about what happened, and the administration refuses to tell them the truth,” Boehner told reporters at a separate news conference.

McKeon said five committees are investigating. His panel and members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee interviewed retired Gen. Carter Ham, who headed the Africa command, for nearly seven hours on Wednesday. McKeon said he was told lawmakers heard nothing new in the testimony by Ham, who has spoken to investigators at least six times.

“We have been working on this for a long time. We issued a preliminary report,” McKeon said. “At some point, when we run out of people to talk to, or we run out of people to talk to two or three times, at some point, we think we’ll have as much of this story as we’re going to get and move on.”

Democrats have called for an end to the investigations, arguing that Republicans are on a futile search for information to embarrass the Obama administration. Republicans reject those calls and insist there are numerous unanswered questions and that they owe it to the families of the dead Americans to investigate.

The Armed Services Committee’s interim report released earlier this year said the military’s response “was severely degraded because of the location and readiness posture of U.S. forces, and because of lack of clarity about how the terrorist action was unfolding. However, given the uncertainty about the prospective length and scope of the attack, military commanders did not take all possible steps to prepare for a more extended operation.”

The Senate Intelligence committee report described the military’s actions. One unarmed Predator drone was diverted for surveillance, a seven-man security team with two Defense Department members flew from Tripoli to Benghazi to evacuate Americans and then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered two Marine anti-terrorism security teams from their base in Rota, Spain, to Libya.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Panetta have testified to Congress that the lack of intelligence about what was happening on the ground in Benghazi made it difficult to send in jet fighters or other aircraft.

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

The mob is a dangerous thing. Excite it at your peril.

The mob is a dangerous thing. Excite it at your peril.

What we feel is really sad about events like Benghazi – beyond the tragic loss of life – is the way that partisan politics muddies the waters deliberately to whip up fury against those in authority, whoever they happen to be, before it is possible to parse exactly what may or may not have taken place.

We are all for clarity, and transparency. We would never argue that any administration, in any country, should be above scrutiny, and close scrutiny at that.

But neither should anybody seek, by the endless drumbeat of malicious mistrust, to inculcate the view in the general public that whoever is in power are automatically lying, mendacious  types who seek to rule without democratic oversight or who have something to hide. Sometimes, no matter who is in charge, “shit happens”. We need to be big enough to accept that.

The mob is universally poorly informed, easily excited, and it rarely serves any good purpose to stir them. There has been a lot of wanton stirring going on in the bloodsport that American politics has sadly become, where truth appears to be endlessly malleable, and where it seems nothing matters beyond pulling down the other guy to the lowest possible level of public respect.

The key point is that if our democratic institutions become too mistrusted, through continual howling and unreasonable attack, then they will be easily done away with by those who never believed in them anyway …

In our view, the only things that defends democracy from the mob is the endless and truthful repetition of facts; repetition that occurs in large enough doses that it can puncture the vested interests of those who seek to trivialise – and thus marginalise – democracy. You may care to share some of the facts you find in this article.

Every little helps.

stabbingIt is deeply distressing that an American student brandishing two knives stabbed 20 teenagers and a security guard in a bloody rampage in the classrooms and hallways of a Pennsylvania high school Wednesday.

At least four fellow students were critically injured in the assault at Franklin Regional High School, said Thomas Seefeld, chief of police in Murrysville, an outer suburb of Pittsburgh.

Stabbing is a hideous, violent, destructive act, causing terrible trauma and it is often deadly. The casual carrying of knives by “street kids” is a modern plague.

But it has to be asked: how many of those 20 would now definitely be dead if the assailant had been carrying guns, and especially a semi-automatic weapon. And how many more children might have been shot?

As Alfred Hitchcock once goulishly remarked, it is actually quite difficult to stab someone to death. You have to be next to your victim, the would is generally cleaner and more compact, and the blade needs to access a major organ or artery.

The pro-gun lobby often remarks “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. This event – tragic as it is –  nevertheless shows how hollow and disingenuous those remarks are. The nature of guns make them more deadly, and more in need of control.

The 16-year-old boy who has been charged with the attack was identified as Alex Hribal. He had allegedly made a threatening phone call to a fellow student the night before.

AFP incident report follows:

Hribal arrested.

Hribal arrested.

(Hribal) walked down a hallway wielding two knives eight to 10 inches (up to 25 centimeters) long, stabbing fellow pupils and the guard as they began arriving for the school day, police said.

Panicked students rushed for the exit and one reportedly set off the fire alarm, but 20 pupils and one male security guard were injured, mostly in the chest and stomach, officials confirmed.

The school principal and another member of staff overpowered the suspect, who was arrested within five minutes of police officers being alerted by radio, police said.

The motive of the attack was not immediately clear.

One student described the suspect as “shy” and told CNN that he was “very quiet” while carrying out the assault.

“He just was kind of doing it and he had this look on his face that he was just crazy and he was just running around just stabbing everyone who was in his way,” she told CNN.

She spoke of seeing at least two students gushing blood, one from his chest and a girl from the arm.

“I started hearing like a stampede of students coming down from the other end of the hall screaming, ‘Get out, we need to leave, go, there is a kid with a knife,'” she said.

The assailant, who sustained an injured hand, has not been named although Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said he would in all likelihood be charged as an adult.

FBI and state police have been drafted in to assist with what is now expected to be a lengthy investigation.

Peck outlined the possible charges as aggravated assault and, in cases of serious injury, possible criminal attempt to commit homicide.

Doctor Mark Rubino at Forbes Regional Hospital, which is treating eight of the victims, said he expected everyone to survive, despite what he called “deep penetrating” stab wounds.

The knife wounds caused significant injuries to internal organs, Rubino said.

“Three of the patients had severe injuries and are still in the operating room right now. And two of them are in critical condition, but they have stabilized,” Rubino said.

“The other five that we had are still being evaluated, of whom one or two may require further surgery.”

Praise for teachers

Dan Stevens, a spokesman for Westmoreland County emergency management, told AFP that the teenage victims were aged 14 to 17.

The incident lasted from 7:13 am to 7:45 am, he said.

They were attacked in “numerous classrooms and hallways” of the school, Stevens added.

Wednesday’s attack comes after a long and frequent line of US school shootings that have inflamed a nationwide debate over gun control in the United States.

But even the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 young children and six adults were shot dead, ultimately failed to tighten gun ownership rules.

The police chief Seefeld praised school staff, who worked in close coordination with police and who were well versed in emergency procedure.

“It is my opinion that today, as unfortunate as it is… I think that it could have been a lot worse if there was not immediate interaction that occurred,” he told reporters.

Franklin Regional High will be closed for several days.

obamaIt is easy to be cynical about our politicians, and especially about those from parties or causes which we do not support. But sometimes, events conspire to show us the human being behind the facade, the empathy of a husband and a father rather than the dignity of a President.

We could but wish we saw this side of Barack Obama a little more often.

This is an excerpt from the book, The President’s Devotional by Joshua Dubois, the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

He’s recounting the Sunday, two days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He had gotten word the day before that the President wanted to meet with the families of the victims.

I left early to help the advance team — the hardworking folks who handle logistics for every event — set things up, and I arrived at the local high school where the meetings and memorial service would take place. We prepared seven or eight classrooms for the families of the slain children and teachers, two or three families to a classroom, placing water and tissues and snacks in each one. Honestly, we didn’t know how to prepare; it was the best we could think of.The families came in and gathered together, room by room. Many struggled to offer a weak smile when we whispered, “The president will be here soon.” A few were visibly angry — so understandable that it barely needs to be said — and were looking for someone, anyone, to blame. Mostly they sat in silence.

I went downstairs to greet President Obama when he arrived, and I provided an overview of the situation. “Two families per classroom . . . The first is  . . .  and their child was . . . The second is . . .  and their child was  . . .  We’ll tell you the rest as you go.”

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat — for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.

The staff did the preparation work, but the comfort and healing were all on President Obama. I remember worrying about the toll it was taking on him. And of course, even a president’s comfort was woefully inadequate for these families in the face of this particularly unspeakable loss. But it became some small measure of love, on a weekend when evil reigned.

coupleWe heard coverage of this story on the radio a little while ago, and it struck us as terribly sad then – it’s good to see people with some clout taking it up.

We are forever depressed and angered by the way the poorest and least able to defend themselves are chewed up by “the system”, when these are the very people we should be looking after most intensively.

Regular readers will know that we are especially concerned about the fate of “vets” in particular, most obviously in the US, where 100,000+ of them languish in jail, usually for drug abuse and minor theft issues, but also in many other countries around the world including Australia. This is just one more especially tragic and completely avoidable case of a hero falling through the cracks once he’s been discarded by the services.

Homelessness is very often the result of family break-up (especially for young people), substance abuse, mental illness, (especially affecting people who were tossed out on the streets under the trendy move towards de-institutionalisation, but without anything like adequate provision for the de-institutionalised being put in place), post-traumatic stress, and other matters that a genuinely civilised system would deal with effectively.

Instead, we see an increasing reliance on anti-homelessness laws that are a weak and vindictive response that ties up the time of police who should be doing much more important work, and which victimises victims.

We must do better.

The UN Human Rights Committee says the U.S. should stop criminalising homeless people for being homeless.

Jerome Murdough, 56, a mentally ill homeless veteran, was just trying to stay alive during a New York City cold snap when he thought he found his spot: a stairwell leading to a roof in a Harlem public housing project. But that desperate act set in motion a nightmare ride through New York’s criminal justice system that would end with Murdough dying of heat stroke in a Riker’s Island jail cell. New York officials now say the system failed Murdough every which way.

When he was discovered, he should have been offered shelter.

When he was arraigned, he should not have been slapped with $2,500 bail.

When, unable to make bail, he ended up in jail, Murdough, because he was on medication for a mental condition, should have been monitored every 15 minutes, not left unwatched for at least four hours.

It was during that untended time that Murdough, as an official told the Associated Press, “basically baked to death.”

Now, as New York officials discuss the “tragedy” of last month and scapegoat one Riker’s Island guard for Murdough’s death — suspending him for 20 days — the United Nations has taken notice. Murdough is just the latest statistic in a series of needless deaths of homeless people while under arrest for “crimes” related to being unhoused, such as loitering or trespassing.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee in Geneva on Thursday condemned the United States for criminalising homelessness, calling it “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” that violates international human rights treaty obligations. It also called upon the U.S. government to take corrective action, following a two-day review of U.S. government compliance with a human rights treaty ratified in 1992.

“I’m just simply baffled by the idea that people can be without shelter in a country, and then be treated as criminals for being without shelter,” said Sir Nigel Rodley, chairman of the committee in closing statements on the U.S. review. “The idea of criminalising people who don’t have shelter is something that I think many of my colleagues might find as difficult as I do to even begin to comprehend.”

The Committee called on the U.S. to abolish criminalisation of homelessness laws and policies at state and local levels, intensify efforts to find solutions for homeless people in accordance with human rights standards and offer incentives for decriminalisation, including giving local authorities funding for implementing alternatives and withholding funding for criminalizing the homeless.

Those recommendations run counter to the current trends in the nation. Laws targeting the homeless — loitering laws that ban sleeping or sitting too long in one public spot, or camping in parks overnight — have become increasingly common in communities throughout the country as homelessness has skyrocketed.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP), a D.C.-based advocacy organization which monitors laws that criminalise homeless people and litigates on behalf of poor people regularly conducts reviews of cities criminalising homelessness and finds more and more laws banning such activities as sitting or lying in public places with each new survey.

“We welcome the Committee’s Concluding Observations and call on our government to take swift action to solve homelessness with homes, not jails and prisons,” said Maria Foscarinis, the NLCHP executive director, in a statement. The NLCHP had submitted a report to the U.N. Committee for review.

Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, an umbrella organization of advocacy groups in the Western U.S. that is hoping states will sign onto a Bill of Rights for homeless people, said that more and more homeless people are being arrested, prosecuted and killed for actions relating to their poverty. (See below.)

Article reproduced from Alternet.org

Meanwhile, in a tragic irony given the UN report, video has emerged in the last few days of yet another tragedy.

We warn you, this video is very distressing.

 

The shooting in Albuquerque of a homeless man dead has drawn attention to the city’s officer-involved shootings, especially those involving the mentally ill.

Since 2010, the city’s police have shot 37 people, The New York Times reports. The New Mexico Public Defender Department estimates that 75% of those shot had a mental illness, even though nationally about half of those shot by police have mental health problems.

The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has identified the man in the recently released video as 38-year-old James M. Boyd. The Albuquerque Journal reports dispatchers informed APD officers responding to the incident that Boyd was mentally incompetent and possibly had paranoid schizophrenia.

The disturbing video from March 16 shows officers aiming their weapons at Boyd, who was camping illegally. We later learn was holding knives, but he doesn’t appear to be threatening the officers.

At the beginning of the video, Boyd gathers his bags containing his belongings.

 

Police shooting James Boyd

 

One officer then says “do it” while another throws a flash grenade that explodes as officers and a police dog charge him.

 

Albuquerque police shooting James Boyd

 

The man drops his bags and scuffles briefly with the police dog before turning his back as if to retreat, but he is immediately shot in the back.

 

Albuquerque police shooting James Boyd

 

Officers then restrain the mortally wounded man and the video reveals he has a small knife in each hand, although it is unclear from the video when he pulled the knives out.

 

Albuquerque police shooting James Boyd

 

In a press conference held shortly after the March 15 shooting, APD Chief of Police Gorden Eden said he believed the shooting was justified. According to his version of events, the man threatened APD officers with knives after they approached while he was sleeping at his illegal campsite.

Eden said officers were attempting to use non-lethal means when they threw the flash grenade. But the man pulled out two knives and threatened an officer handling the police dog, according to the police. “The officers then perceived a directed threat immediately to the canine handler who was trying to redirect the dog towards the suspect, when the shots were fired,” Eden said.

While Boyd’s actions in the video appear non-aggressive, Eden said he had not obeyed officers’ demands. “The suspect did in fact make a decision not to follow the directions that were provided to him by the officers,” he said.

According to The Times, Boyd had a history of mental illness and may not have followed the officers’ directions because he believed he was a federal agent who shouldn’t be bossed around.

The APD has a history of allegedly using excessive force during confrontations with civilians, spurring the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an ongoing investigation into the matter in November 2012. Of the 37 people shot since 2010 more than 20 were killed, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

In 2013 a judge ruled that the 2010 fatal shooting of an Iraq War veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder was not justified.

This week, an attorney announced he intends to file a class-action lawsuit against the APD over repeated shootings of people with mental health problems. The lawsuit would seek to guarantee additional training for officers to peacefully end confrontations with mentally ill people.

The video recently sparked a large demonstration in Albuquerque streets against recent APD shooting deaths, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Some community members have criticised the APD for making arrests and resorting to riot gear and tear gas during that 12-hour demonstration sparked by the shooting. Another demonstration followed, and another is set for Friday.

However, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and Eden said the police actions were an appropriate response to some protesters who behaved like a mob committing illegal acts.

APD Chief Eden started at his position February 27. He previously spent eight years serving as the U.S. marshal for New Mexico in the same Department of Justice still investigating the APD. As the new ADP chief, Eden has vowed to begin improving the department before the investigation reaches its conclusion. He said his major priorities are community outreach, bolstering APD’s leadership structure and police retention. Eden also hopes to increase the department’s manpower, which currently stands at 900 officers although he said there is funding for 1,100 officers.

From Business Insider and others

Well, having viewed the video, we believe this is an unlawful or morally reprehensible killing, at best, and barefaced murder at worst. This man was clearly no threat.

The “flash-bang” is launched as he is complying with the police commands. He is further assaulted when he is clearly no threat whatsoever.

Even if he was initially considered a threat, (even though we cannot see why), why was force not used to disable him (shooting at his legs, for example) rather than to kill?

The police concerned are on “administrative leave”. In our opinion, they should be in court. As for the police chief believing the shooting was justified, well, if that’s what he calls “community outreach”, then words fail us.

This Target swimsuit model has been the victim of some shoddy airbrushing. Photo: Jezebel

Ah, it’s been a while since we had a “F*** Up” column, so we gellefully (and rather irritatedly) report that American retailer Target has come under fire for digitally altering an image of a swimsuit model to make it appear she has a ‘thigh gap’.

A young model wearing the Target ‘Xhilaration® Junior’s Midkini 2-Piece Swimsuit -Leopard Print’ swimsuit has been the victim of some over-zealous and very clumsy Photoshopping.

Shoddy airbrushing crudely removed a chunk of the model’s crotch area to create the ‘thigh gap’, a supposedly desirable – but evidently very difficult to attain – physical feature for young girls to have.

The model also lost part of her right hip and the area under her armpit on the same side.

The eagle eyes of “Ethical Adman” spotted the retailer’s attempts to slim down its swimsuit model.

Critics have questioned the need to digitally slim down the perfectly attractive model in the first place.

And it’s no surprise that the image has been taken down from Target’s website.

It isn’t the first Photoshop controversy to hit the headlines this year. In January the decision by US Vogue to airbrush Girls creator Lena Dunham’s physique had everyone discussing the merits of digitally altering images that are published in the media.

While the jury is out on that one, Target’s poor treatment of its young swimsuit model is a clear Photoshop fail.

We say? Sack the agency. Sack the marketing manager. Well … at least chastise them thoroughly with whips of blazing fire. Both for the dreadfully incompetent work, and also for yet another silly and unnecessary attempt to create a world that doesn’t really exist – an effort which, across the fashion industry and retailers worldwide – creates body-image problems in girls everywhere.

Just for God’s sake stop doing it.

(From Yahoo and others)

The accused

The accused

Why? Because the post-traumatic disorder being experienced by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is real. Combat, especially in wars with unclear goals, inadequate planning, lack of resources, and hopeless re-integration back into society, f**** with people’s minds, and it’s not their fault. And we argue it would be counterproductive to jail him because the treatment for such trauma in US prisons is woeful. Tens of thousands of veterans currently languish in American jails, forgotten and unaided.

They didn’t ask to go to war, and many US service people are simply desperate refugees from poverty and unemployment anyway.

In a civilised society, this man should be diverted into intensive psychological care and properly rehabilitated. At least given the opportunity to be rehabilitated. He is clearly suffering from trauma in his current life, not just when serving.

The quality of mercy is measured by how we treat those who think, say or do things we would find unconscionable, but whose responsibility is diminished by their mental state.

When that mental state is directly related to their efforts on behalf of the rest of us, for which they are inadequately rewarded, then we should be doubly careful in how we respond when they go off the rails.

The issues raised in the case apply equally to Australia, the United Kingdom, and many other countries …

From Raw Story:

kkk

 

An Alabama man is asking a judge for mercy after pleading guilty to hiring a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) hitman to murder his black neighbor.

Defense attorneys for Allen Wayne Morgan told U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre that their client — a veteran of over 175 combat missions in Iraq who struggled with post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and drug addiction — should not spend more than five years in prison. Judge Bowdre referred the matter to a government expert, who will review the report on Morgan’s mental health submitted by the defense.

On August 29, 2013, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Morgan at an Econo Lodge in Oxford, Alabama. He thought he was speaking with the KKK hitman he had hired to kill his neighbor, Clifford Maurice Mosley, a black man he believed had raped his wife.

He allegedly told an undercover agent that “I want this man hung from a tree like he is an animal. I want his penis cut off and I want him cut. You’re a hunting man right? I want him hung from a tree and gutted.”

Morgan is also alleged to have told the agent that he had recently confronted Mosley outside his house, firing several shots in his direction, but that he did not intend to kill him that day because there would be witnesses. He also said that he was certain Mosley had raped his wife, because when confronted, he did not attempt to stand his ground or reason with him.

He planned to check himself into a Veterans Administration hospital in order to provide himself with an alibi.

After being taken into custody, Morgan confessed to having tried to hire the hitman.

The previous year, Morgan had been profiled in a Birmingham News piece on Iraq veterans dealing with post traumatic stress disorder and depression via music.

“During times of my deepest abuse, I would try to cancel myself out chemically,” he said. “But even if we’re just jamming, it’s like time stands still. I’m not saying like all of my problems go away. But for that little bit of a moment, everything is OK. If it can make me feel like that, I know it can make others feel like that.”

He also said that when unexpected people arrive at his house, “I usually pull out a gun and run them off.”

[Image via Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed]

Read more of what we have to say on the appalling treatment of Veterans here: http://wellthisiswhatithink.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/the-country-who-failed-its-vets/

Alfred Wright was a 28-year-old physical therapist, a “man of great faith,” and father of three sons. He grew up in Jasper, Texas along with four siblings, and a father who was both the town’s pastor and gym teacher. Friends described him as ambitious, clean-living, hard-working, fun-loving, brilliant and a wonderful father. He went missing for 18 days.
He was found by volunteers and his father, stripped down to his shorts and one sock, with his throat cleanly slit and one ear missing.

The police recorded the cause of death as “accidental drug overdose.”

Alfred Wright was also a black man married to a pretty white woman…in small-town Texas.

Alfred Wright 3

Alfred’s truck broke down in a package store parking while he was on his way to see a patient. He called his wife Lauren, who called her parents; by the time they got there, he was gone. Lauren attempted to call him back, but all she heard when he picked up the phone was heavy breathing. The store clerk, who remembers Wright because he was dressed in scrubs, said he saw him tuck his phone into his sock (where it was later found) and take off jogging “of his own free will.”

Four days later, the Sherriff’s department called off the search for Alfred, saying they had “exhausted all of their resources.” His wife and family maintained that there was no way he’d just take off into the woods for no reason, especially in a town as racially tense as Jasper. Doubtless, they had in mind another incident that had taken place in 1998 about 45 minutes away, when a black man by the name of James Byrd was abducted, dragged behind a pickup, chopped to pieces and left in the Jasper cemetery — by three white men.

They found Alfred in the woods on November 13th, stripped down, with two missing teeth, a missing ear and a slit throat. When the local authorities performed an autopsy, the examiner said that there were methamphetamines and cocaine in his system. He recorded the cause of death as a drug overdose, and chalked up the injuries to animals scavenging on his corpse. The case was closed as far as the Jasper police were concerned.

But Wright’s family wasn’t buying it. For several reasons.

  • Even at the time, it was noted that Wright’s state of decomposition was nowhere near what it should have been for someone left in the woods for 18 days and exposed to the weather. This indicated that he had died much more recently, long after he’d disappeared.
  • Animals don’t just break front teeth and cleanly slit throats. the missing ear might have been the result of an animal, but Wright’s body was, if anything, notable for its LACK of obvious animal scavenging in this coyote-infested area.
  • The family reported that Wright was a sober and religious man who had no history of drug use, never showed the slightest interest in drugs and displayed no signs of drug addiction or use.

The family paid to have its own autopsy performed. Full results have yet to be released insofar as Wright’s blood tests, but the private examiner did say this:

“Wright’s cause of death was severe neck trauma and a slit throat. The kind of severe neck trauma you get from getting hit in the face with a blunt object, and the kind of slit throat you don’t get from a cocaine overdose.”

Sheila Jackson Lee, Democratic congresswoman and member of the House Judiciary Committee said:

“The Department of Justice will investigate and take appropriate action and will conduct a thorough and independent investigation into all the circumstances surrounding this tragedy and to take appropriate action necessary to vindicate the federal interest, protect the civil rights of all Americans, ensure that all persons receive equal justice under law.We are all better off when the facts are discovered, the truth is discerned and the family and the community are at peace.”

Savion Wright, Alfred’s mother, has set up a GofundMe account to allow others to make donations to help support the wife and three children Wright’s murderers left fatherless and without a means of support. The stated goal is $20,000, and she has to date raised $13,351 and change.

TimeFor Christmas this year, the Wellthisiswhatithink household bought itself a subscription to Time.

In years past, as a reflection of the household’s main occupation (advertising) we used to get a weekly complimentary copy.

But a few career excursions (including a year off to write a book of poetry) meant that our freebies declined proportionately.

It’s embarrassing to ring up and mutter “I used to be important, please can you put me back on your complimentary list?”, so we simply stumped up the dosh for a change like the rest of the population.

And a very good investment it has proven to be. This consistently excellent news magazine gives us a good overview of a week of world events, backed up by really good in depth reporting.

One such report in the February 10th issue contained, for us, a staggering statistic.

jail vets flagThere are about 200,000 veterans in jail in the USA, making up about 14% of the country’s prison population.

Contrary to public perception, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are actually less likely to be incarcerated than those who fought in earlier wars, but they are three times more likely to suffer the agonies of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, whether inside prison or out.

All told, around the country there are around 10,000 veterans of the two most recent conflicts imprisoned, and in an environment where mental health treatment is spotty at best.

Let us just pause and consider those two statistics slowly.

200,000 vets languish in American prisons

200,000 vets languish in American prisons

Two hundred thousand veterans in total. Ten thousand veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Psychiatrist Stephen Xenakis, a retired Army bridgadier general, remarked:

“We are throwing these guys away.”

One does not have to be a fan of American foreign policy or militarism generally to feel, very strongly, that this state of affairs is a disgrace. American society idolises its serving men and women, and a career in the forces is often held up as the most virtuous choice a young person can make. The very least that prevailing culture demands is that the resettlement back into civilian life and post-trauma care of people so seduced is proportionate to their sacrifice.

Perhaps equally significantly, the very large standing forces of the USA hoover up vast numbers of young people without better career prospects, keen to make a decent fist of their low-prospects life. These people, often turned loose like so much mincemeat from the end of a grinder at the end of one, two or even more periods in the military – and after they have seen service in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable – are often returning to backgrounds with poor employment opportunities and less-than-optimal social situations that make the drift to petty crime, substance abuse and mental illness depressingly obvious and sadly predictable.

By world standards America locks up a ridiculously high percentage of its population, anyway, and sentencing regimes are frequently savage.

Under the ludicrous “three strikes and you’re out” legislation that prevails in some states people end up incarcerated for life for the most minor felonies. In many states, “three strikes” and mandatory minimum sentences help politicians look “tough on crime” to their electors, but frequently lock up for ludicrously long periods people who the presiding judge would much rather set free and into a diversion programme.

The same legal excesses are now frequently demonstrated in other countries like Australia and the United Kingdom.

But locking people up and throwing away the key need not be the answer. In Sweden, for example, they are now closing jails because they haven’t got enough offenders requiring prison time to keep them open.

That the American jurisprudence system is sick is hardly revelatory commentary. The ludicrous obsession with petty and interminable legal wrangling in the civil arena is well-known, but more significantly the prison population is bloated way beyond anything that is necessary for public safety.

A concerted effort to free tens of thousands of people would reduce costs to taxpayers, and right many judicial wrongs. As the American economy picks up, there is work for these people to do. Of course, no-one would argue for violent or serious offenders to be prematurely released, but there is little doubt that the dominant factor in American sentencing, as elsewhere, is revenge for social non-conformity. Why, if it was otherwise, would we lock people up for years or decades for personal possession of small amounts of illict drugs?

The “war on drugs” has been comprehensively lost anyway, and the price paid by, in many cases, veterans, has been dis-proportionately high. Locking people up in their tens of thousands has become a fig leaf to cover the comprehensive failure of the American political system to tackle the problems of poverty, lack of social engagement, poor education, and more. That the matter is almost never mentioned by leading politicians and social commentators is a tacit admission that no-one has put any real thought into alternatives or has the will-power to devise them. A population that fails to engage with the problem – out of sight, out of mind – is equally to blame.

veterans court

Judge Mike Denton, who served in the Army, talks to a veteran in a new court where combat veterans who face nonviolent misdemeanor charges are eligible for special consideration.

Laudable efforts to stop veterans ending up in jail are underway.

Now, a determined attempt to free as many of those imprisoned veterans as possible, and to provide them with the appropriate support to re-make their lives, would be a good and honourable place to start fixing the bigger problem.

Vets do deserve special consideration, having served their country as volunteers, or, indeed, perhaps most poignantly, as conscripts, shipped overseas to fight in Vietnam for example, through the wrong-headed belligerence of politicians obsessed with empire building, and lacking the social connections or wealth to get out of the draft.

And anyway, if the only job you can get is to sign up to be a “grunt”, then really, what sort of life choice did you have anyway? Whether you’re conscripted by a law or by force of circumstance, the outcome is surely the same.

However they ended up in a trench, a humvee, or ducking behind a tree or a wall with armalite in hand, these are people – often young, terrified, and confused – who have given their lives, not by falling in battle, but by surviving it.

They deserve better.

Depending on your office, of course.

This is hilarious. Very, very funny. Totally politically incorrect. Do watch it, I urge you. We were crying by the end.

 

Meanwhile, we see that a petition – it calls for Bieber to be deported from the United States back to Canada – on the White House’s official petition site has now garnered more than 100,000 signatures, meaning that the Administration is legally required to take action and respond.

We await with bated breath the Canadian equivalent arguing they don’t want him back.

train-wreck

Meanwhile, Bieber has appeared been charged at a Toronto police station for allegedly assaulting a limo driver back in December.

A statement issued by police said the alleged incident occurred about 2.50am (local time) on December 30.

Police allege that:

“A limousine picked up a group of six people outside a nightclub …. (and) while driving the group to a hotel, an altercation occurred between one of the passengers and the driver of the limousine.

“In the course of the altercation, a man struck the limousine driver on the back of the head several times.

“The driver stopped the limousine, exited the vehicle and called police. The man who struck him left the scene before police arrived.”

2.50 am? Much too late for this lad to be up, surely? Anyway, apparently, Bieber is scheduled to appear in court on March 10.

Train. Wreck. Look away.

Obama state of the union

All the rhetorical flourish is still there, but has Obama, in reality, run out of puff?

The BBC commentator on Obama’s annual address to America mentioned him having had the idealism beaten out of him.

At the Wellthisiswhatithink outpost we find that perceptively accurate, and as a corollary  think that the speech was a lost opportunity to appeal over the heads of the Republican leadership and make a general appeal for genuine national unity and bi-partisanship.

Yes, any President has a perfect right to point to falling unemployment and so on, but Obama often tends to the triumphal in his commentary on current events and the performance of his administration, and in our opinion it’s always the wrong note to strike, and right now, especially so.

Despite having supported him in general since before the primaries, and still doing so, we think it’s fair to say that he has generally been a disappointment as a president, with some good marks for attempting things that matter (whatever one thinks of Obamacare seeking to extend health cover in the USA is laudable and productive – a healthier nation is not only morally correct it’s also good sense economically) but then again the expectations on him at the start were ludicrous, born of both his soaring rhetoric and the excitement of the country actually electing someone who was half black.

It is too early to write his political obituaries, and we think (others will disagree) that he will ultimately win praise for co-ordinating an effective response to the financial/Wall Street collapse. (The alternative, after all, was unthinkable.) But he has squandered his political capital, and a new style and approach would recover some of it and leave the refuseniks on the right blind-sided.

The problems America faces are very substantial, so it is questionable whether anyone would do a really “good” job at the moment – the weaknesses are structural and ingrained, not at surface level. We are not sure the American people are ready for the pain of a root-and-branch reform of the Government, though unquestionably the size of their Government, at all levels and under both parties, is vastly over-bloated. If the pain of restructuring was accompanied by less overt politicking, more transparency and more obvious progress towards recovery it might be welcomed. But we are not holding our breath.

In general, whilst a recovery is underway, it is weak, patchy, and it will do nothing to address the overall problem of Government (and private) debt. Congressional sabre-rattling cannot obscure the fact that besides cutting social programs there are no real solutions being offered. There seems no appetite at all on the right for increased taxes – an inevitable component of any long-term effort to solve the debt crisis that needs to accompany reducing expenditure – nor for cutting back the ludicrously large military budget. As always, political posturing wins out over simple commonsense.

As the website “Science Progress” pointed out three years ago, “As the debate in Washington pivots this week from deficit reduction to job creation, progressives and conservatives will be vying to convince the American people that they have the best plan to get America working again. But any jobs plan will fall flat if it doesn’t lay out a strategy for investing in innovation. Conservative proposals largely echo now-defunct Reagan-era thinking that tax cuts alone can spur the private sector to create jobs. Yet effective corporate tax rates are lower today than they were under President Reagan and are certainly much lower than many of our competitor nations. The same is true of the effective tax rate for top-, middle-, and low-income families. Tax cuts neither created the jobs of the past nor will they create the jobs of the future. Investing in innovation will.

Innovation is what has created the bulk of American jobs today and it will most certainly be the force that creates the jobs of tomorrow. America is home to the world’s best jobs and most prosperous economy quite simply because we’ve invented and made the things that the world wants to buy. And then we’ve invented ways to make those things better, faster, and cheaper.

The cotton gin, the trans-continental railroad, interchangeable parts, assembly line manufacturing, the automobile, the airplane, the personal computer, the photovoltaic solar cell, GPS technology, the Internet, the mapping of the human genome, the iPhone—these inventions and the companies that produce them have directly or indirectly supported millions of American jobs.”

President Barack Obama delivers a speech on innovation at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. But America needs to move beyond fine words and onto a national effort.

President Barack Obama delivers a speech on innovation at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. But America needs to move beyond fine words and onto a national effort.

Indeed, as President Barack Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address, “In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living.” Yet progress is painfully slow.

This goes neatly to the real issue behind everything, which is that whilst America will continue to be a vast and powerful player in world markets, it has really not wrestled with the growth of Asia and what it means, and it shows no real signs of doing so. As the middle class in Asia grows and provides adequate markets for its rulers to sell to, their desire/need to sell their goods cheaply to the West will fall, as will their appetite for bailing out the West with their profits to keep the overseas markets liquid. At that point, all economic hell breaks loose.

That’s why long-term solution for America has to be innovation. The country cannot compete with a vast Asian population producing run-of-the-mill goods more cheaply. Creating and manufacturing products that reflect the finest pinnacle of American ingenuity and forceful determination is really the only option available. Goods that the rest of the world want to buy, and are willing to pay a premium for. To his credit Obama did mention the need for new hi-tech industry hubs. But those remarks already seem to have disappeared without trace in the commentariat. Yet public investment in the human genome project, for example, had a return on investment of more than 14,000 percent in terms of economic output per federal dollar invested since 1988, and has led to the creation of millions of biotech jobs that could not have existed without it. Similarly, a seemingly tiny investment of the Defense Advanced Research Agency, or DARPA, spawned the Internet, giving rise to trillions of dollars in worldwide economic activity, new businesses, and, more importantly, new ways of doing business.

It seems so obvious, yet the political elite seem unable to bend their mind to the opportunity. Fort example, the response to the speech from Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers was timid, one might almost say “vapid”. One tweeted review of it read “We have a plan. The plan is to come up with a plan.” Quite.

In our view there is little doubt that the entrepreneurial flair for which the country is famous is flagging: running a business now seems as much about rapidly merging your firm with someone else’s, taking a big payoff and bonus tranche of shares, and heading off to enjoy your new found wealth – aided and abetted by so-called rain-maker brokers who exist merely to grease the wheels of deals that make little or no economic sense, as often as not, beyond enriching the participants – as it is about dreaming new dreams, innovating, creating markets, and selling to them.

One of the reasons is that many American businesspeople have spent their entire careers wallowing around managing businesses cautiously to avoid a loss rather than to create a profit – and doing so for so long that they have actually never experienced the sort of drive and courage needed to create real new wealth. They are risk-averse managers, not passionately-driven owners. There are honourable exceptions, of course, but not many, and their numbers decline.

All that stuff? That’s not capitalism. That’s corporate laziness. And the Republicans are as much to blame as anyone else, for markedly failing to use their cosy relationship with corporate barons to urge them to do something useful with their economic power instead of just lining their own pockets, for fear of the endless flow of donations into their re-election coffers drying up.

A President who dared to tackle all that nonsense? Who put the country’s problems squarely in front of the population, and dared Americans to recapture their brighter past?

Yes, we’d like to see that. No, we don’t expect it. Especially from a man who seems to have lost much of his appetite.

Incidentally, one curiosity. The speech is a constitutional tradition given in front of a joint session of all the members Congress each year. The exception is one “designated survivor” who remains separate in a secure location in case the Congress and President are wiped out in an attack on the Capitol. This year, it was Obama’s Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, who also happens to be an expert on nuclear weapons. Cheerful thought.

John McCainU.S. Sen. John McCain hasn’t decided whether he’ll run for a sixth term, but the former GOP presidential nominee said Tuesday that the Arizona Republican Party’s censure of him over the weekend may just have provided the motivation to seek office again.

The censure vote came during a meeting of state committee members who cited McCain’s voting record as being insufficiently conservative.

The members said McCain has lent his support to issues “associated with liberal Democrats,” such as immigration reform and funding President Barack Obama’s federal health care law.

In response Tuesday, McCain said he has a strong conservative voting record and led the fight in the Senate against Obama’s health care plan. He blames the censure on uninformed “extremist” party elements, and said, if anything, it only bolsters his consideration to run for a sixth term in 2016, the year he turns 80.

“If there’s such a thing as motivation to more seriously consider it, it’s what just happened,” McCain told The Associated Press.

Timothy Schwartz, the Arizona Legislative District 30 Republican chairman who helped write the censure resolution, said the vote showed that McCain was losing support from his own party. But McCain called the censure “ludicrous.”

“It shows that, again, a very extremist element of the party has taken over the party apparatus,” he said, adding that polling shows he maintains strong support in Arizona from Republicans, Democrats and independents.

“I’ve won every race I’ve run and I’m proud of my record, and if I run again, I am totally confident of re-election,” McCain said.

In a Facebook post this week, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and McCain’s 2008 running mate, defended the senator as “an American hero and a friend.”

Palin said McCain has helped lead the fight in Congress against the “far left agenda.”

McCain was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982 and won his Senate seat in 1986.

He unsuccessfully sought the presidency in 2008 then easily won another Senate term in 2010. He has challenged Obama on foreign policy but has worked with Democrats on immigration legislation, noting “70 percent of the people in Arizona want to see comprehensive immigration reform.”

(From AP)

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we have been warning for years that the GOP has made itself unelectable by refusing to rein in its wide-eyed Tea Party loons. This is just one more example. For America to prosper it needs a credible opposition, for the health of democracy in the most important democratic nation on earth we need America to have a credible opposition, and the disheartened rump of the old moderate GOP with a lunatic quasi-libertarian right grafted onto it is emphatically not it.

In short: the extreme right in America is seeking to take over the Republican Party because it knows it can never take control on its own. The fight against the Trotskyites in the British Labor Party in the 70s and 80s was an identical process which nearly killed that great party off, and the Republicans face a similar fight to reclaim their soul.

Like any long-term politician, McCain’s record in office is patchy, but there can be no doubt he represents a significant majority of the voters in his home state. He is also old enough and bold enough to tell it like it is. With luck, he and others will face down those who are determined to turn America into a “culture wars” battleground of religious v non-religious, men v women, employed v unemployed, and white v everyone else. America deserves better.

The world deserves better.