Category Archives: Politics

R.I.P. Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory

Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory
(12 October 1932, St. Louis, Missouri – 19 August 2017, Washington, D.C.)

Dick Gregory Lecturing at Wright State University, April 1973
Photo: Wilbur Norman

Dick Gregory, U.S. Army veteran, urbane comedian-turned-social activist and writer, actor, businessman and provocateur par excellence, died yesterday at the age of 84. I first met him in April 1973 when he spoke at Wright State University. I would then run into him at various events around the East Coast. I think the last time I saw him must have been in 1987 when he was arrested protesting apartheid in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, DC.

He could keep up a biting and satirical running commentary better than anyone I have ever met, no doubt from practice as a stand-up comedian in his early career. That career was given a big boost by his appearance on The Jack Paar Tonight Show in 1961.

After turning down invitations to perform on the show he was called by Paar to find out why. (Billy Eckstine had told Gregory no black performer was ever asked to sit on the couch after their act.) Gregory told Paar that the reason he was not willing to perform on The Tonight Show was “because a Negro has never been able to finish the act and walk to the couch.” The show’s producers changed this policy, making Gregory the first African American to take the couch and talk with Paar after a stage appearance!

Still the Greatest! RIP Mohammed Ali (1942-2016)

“It was his beauty that beat me.” – George Foreman

In a world where many noted personalities are famous simply for being… well… famous, Mohammed Ali was a giant, a man who not only had a skill and performed colossal feats with that skill (40 Sports Illustrated covers as of next week attest to this) but who stood for something, as well. Ali became a symbol of hope and aspiration for anyone trying to make something of a life begun in humble or deprived origins, for those forced by circumstance into a life of servitude and despair. How appropriate that he was recognized by both the United Nations and Amnesty International as a world ambassador for peace and justice.

I met Mohahammed Ali once. I had, of course, seen him many times on television, flashing that infectious smile and spouting his sing-song braggadocio. What do you say to the man who was once the world’s highest paid athlete and most recognized face and name on earth (as an American, everywhere I went in Africa in the late 1970s people who could not speak much English would raise their arms and shout “Mohammed Ali!”)? I managed to mumble something about it being a supreme pleasure to finally meet “The Greatest”.

What I was not prepared for was his handshake. Ali took both my hands in his and I still remember, and often mention, that my hands (I’m 6 foot, 1 inch tall) were engulfed in what seemed to me to be two catcher’s mitts enclosing my hand. I immediately thought of what it would be like to be hit by such huge fists and said so. He laughed and slowly threw one of his famous mock punches.*

“If you are still the same person at 50 as you were at 20 then you have wasted 30 years of your life.” – Mohammed Ali

When you are “The Greatest”, so you shall ever remain.

* In Philadelphia I belonged to the same club as Joe Frazier and his hands were similarly sized. Plus, Frazier was not that tall but his shoulders extended far beyond my own when we would stand face to face. He was built like a moving , giant cinder block.

Vote Down Veterans Benefits – But Send Them Into Harms Way

The Senators, listed below, complained Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ veterans benefits bill was too expensive. And they were upset that Majority Leader Harry Reid prevented a vote on a GOP amendment cutting the bill and adding sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.

No doubt these same, mostly old, rich, white men will be wanting to send U.S. ground forces (a slick, cosmetic way of saying our young gals & guys) back to Iraq as soon as yesterday to try and save the unsavable: the corrupt, intransigent regime of Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki, the country’s Prime Minister. Oh… and yes, he is also acting Interior Minister, acting Defense Minister, acting National Security Minister and the secretary-general of the Islamic Dawa Party.

                     plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

– from Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr,  24 November 1808 – 29 September 1890 and usually translated into English as, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

Senators Who Voted Against Veteran's Benefits This Past February
Senators Who Voted Against Veteran’s Benefits This Past February

 

The Buick Stops Here. A Chris-tastrophe Jams N.J.

Apologies for the puns but they are springing up everywhere. NY Daily News in their current headline (they must have been hoarding it) reads: Fat Chance Now, Chris.  Assuming Gov. Christie of New Jersey is telling the truth about not knowing his staff and a NY/NJ Port Authority appointee (and a best friend) purposefully closed lanes of eastward traffic on the George Washington Bridge, it’s going to be a bad time for the rising star of the GOP. The fact that it was traffic into New York City on, of all days, 9-11, will speak volumes to residents of the Big Apple.

If you at seated at the top, the culture surrounding you takes its cue from you.  If that culture shows itself to be mean-spirited, petty and vindictive … well… you get the idea. Further, if it is shown that the woman who died, because the emergency services could not get through, might have survived, it begins to sound like the kind of (justified) litigation that could drag on until the next presidential primaries.

I suppose many far-right Republicans are silently cheering more than the Dems as Gov. Christie is not exactly a darling of the most conservative wing. People love it when meteors plunk down as meteorites.

In the event you haven’t the slightest clue as to what this blog is  about: the allegation is that senior staffers of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie closed three of four east-bound lanes of the country’s most heavily used bridge — for four days in September 2013 — as retaliation for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, not endorsing Republican Christie in the governor’s re-election race – a contest where he was ahead in the polls by about 25%. The George Washington Bridge crosses the Hudson River connecting Fort Lee, NJ (and points west and south) to the northern section of New York City (and points east and north.) ALL traffic hugging the east coast of the United States crosses that single toll bridge. Delays during the four-day lane closures were as long as 4 hours.

Two damning emails have been unearthed by digging Democrats. One is: Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee (from Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs.) “Got it,” was the reply from David Wildstein, the Port Authority’s highest-ranking political appointee. Another, from Wildstein, regarding school buses stuck in bridge traffic: they are the children of Buono voters (Barbara Buono was Christie’s Democratic opponent for governor.)

Aside from the $60,000 reported as the cost for conducting the lane closures, there must be hundred’s of thousands of more dollars involved. How much overtime had to be paid out to freight drivers heading to New England? How many delayed shipments delayed yet other shipments? How much gasoline & diesel was consumed by stuck traffic? (320,00 cars per day, both ways on both decks. There are 4 lanes each way on the upper deck and another 6 lanes on the lower deck. I assume, from the photographs, the closures were on the upper deck, but have not been able to find out if this is correct.)

There is always a chain of consequences in such ill-advised stupidity. Or, perhaps, they just didn’t give a damn.

Other headline suggestions around the country were:

Bridge Set Me Up / Bridge To Nowhere / Payback’s a Bridge / Bridge Troll / A Bridge Too Far

 

R.I.P. Simon Hoggart

We  lost one of the planets most entertaining writers yesterday. Simon Hoggart (26 May 1946 − 5 January 2014), Parliamentary sketch writer for The Guardian Newspaper and wine columnist for The Spectator. He might well have become a tennis star but for serious injuries that led him to consider journalism. Tennis’ loss was the written word’s gain (and broadcasting’s, on both sides of the Pond, as well.) Always writing, he published about twenty books, the last two after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2010.
Hoggart’s insights and witticisms are legion. Herewith, a few:

Watching John Major run the country is like watching Edward Scissorhands make balloon animals.

I’m just back from a week in France. Naturally I took a case of non-French wine over on the ferry so as to have something decent to drink. The French are terrifically complacent about their wine, believing that the worst they produce is better than the best from anywhere else. They are wrong, and there are few sights more depressing than the parade of tired, ill-kept, dreary bottles on the shelves of French supermarkets. The humblest British high street off- licence has wines from a dozen countries, and frequently twice that; in France it is hard to find wine from outside the region, never mind abroad. It may cost i1 or so per bottle less, but that is no compensation for Chablis like acidulated chalk dust, or clarets which have finesse and backbone but no discernible taste. I know many older drinkers like only French wines, but this is force of habit; just as men over 50 tend to prefer stockings to tights, it’s a matter of how you started. — 19 April 1996, Diary.

I loved his testimony (before Parliament’s Public Administration Select Committee) in 2009 about the bleaching effects of politicians’ jargon when they seek to white-wash political acts. He began the hearings by re-stating one of Churchill’s war-time phrases as if it were re-written by a modern government wonk, turning “We will fight on the beaches” into “an ongoing programme of hostile engagement in littoral sectors.”

Gotta love it! He and his writing will be much missed.

Simon Hoggart  photograph courtesy © BBC 

The Bankrupt Vaults of Justice

“Insufficient Funds” still the by-words

The 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech has arrived (and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation) and commentators are tripping over themselves lauding the accomplishments springing from the speech, confusing ‘black faces in high places’ with economic progress of the poorest elements of society.

Conflating improvements in segregation/integration with progress in class mobility is not a mistake Rev. Dr. King would have made and neither should we.

This speech, incidentally, is consistently rated by scholars of American history as the country’s most significant 20th century political speech. Once he got talking King deviated from the original prepared speech. Many of his most eloquent passages were extemporaneous injections from prior speeches as comparison of the filmed speech to his original, printed version reveals. This is especially true toward what was supposed to be the end of the speech when the singer Mahalia Jackson blurted out, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.” After a few sentences and Mahalia’s repeated exhortation King moved his prepared lines aside. His training as a black minister came to the fore and the rest, as they say, is history. But, as all history, it is one where black and white Americans see and hear different ideas in the same narrative with identical words.

FBI assistant director William Sullivan, after the speech, noted “We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”

I rode my motorcycle from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to the 25th anniversary celebrations of the March. En route I joined a column of black bikers without knowing who they were, it was just company and a cushion of motor safety on the massively trafficked interstate. When we neared New York Avenue the column got off and, as I was going to the anniversary event, so did I. We all filed into the Mall area and parked. My companions were a biker club from Staten Island, NY. The president had been to the original March in 1963 and was returning with his club members for the 25th.  Very nice.

Trash Talk, Literally

City of London Tracked Mobiles/Cells Via Wi-Fi Trash Bins

How can the public stay ahead of Big Brother when there are so many ways to keep tabs on citizenry? In what has to rank as one of the most creative methods, the City of London has been able to track Wi-Fi enabled devices that pass within proximity of 12 of the 100 “bomb-proof” recycle bins installed just before the 2012 Olympics. One might have guessed these bins were capable of more sophisticated uses as they sport internet-enabled displays. The 12 sleuth bins were “developed by… “Presence Aware” which markets the technology as providing ‘a cookie for the real world.’” Once again commerce and the security state intersect.

Quartz first broke this story and here, four hours ago, recounted its supposed withdrawal, complete with maps.

Pop-Up Ideas: BBC Radio 4 has a new series. 1st up: Malcolm Gladwell on listening in Vietnam

“Listening is hard because the more you listen the more unsettling the world becomes”

4 Episodes
15 minutes each
First broadcast: Tuesday 09 July 2013

Tim Harford (the Financial Times‘ ‘Undercover Economist’ and presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less) has a new live-recorded, mini-series in Pop-Up Ideas, 15 minute programs exploring how prominent thinkers use “key ideas in anthropology and the social sciences to tell fascinating stories about how we – and the world – work.”

Program 1: New Yorker ‘Staff Writer’ Malcolm Gladwell describes how the U.S. war in Vietnam might have gone differently had the military listened to one of its own researchers, Konrad Kellen (family birth name Katzenellenbogen.) Kellen’s job was to debrief captured Vietcong guerrillas and describe their mind-set vis-à-vis the war. (Kellen’s life story is fabulous and fascinating.)

In one such debriefing he asked the captured senior officer if the officer believed the North Vietnamese could win the war. “No,” was the reply. Minutes later he asked if the Americans, then, would win the war? “No.”

This was interpreted by top U.S. Army brass as the answers of a demoralized enemy. Kellen, however, believed the answers were the responses of someone who did not think in terms of winning or losing at all — an entirely different view and one much more threatening to any eventual U.S. and South Vietnamese victory.

Listen to Gladwell’s interview here starting about minute time stamp 2:20.

The other programs (from the BBC Radio 4 website):

Program 2: One of the world’s most influential counter-insurgency experts, David Killcullen, whose ideas were described by the Washington Post as ‘revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West’, talks about how future instability will emanate from rapidly-growing coastal megacities.

Program 3: The financial journalist Gillian Tett describes how her background in anthropology led her to predict the financial crisis in 2008.

Program 4: Tim Harford explores the concept of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ – a term coined by the American ecologist Garrett Hardin in a hugely influential 1968 essay.

Malala Day at the United Nations

First Formal Public Remarks by the Pakistani Girl Shot by the Taliban

Malala Yousafzai gave a speech to the United Nations Youth Assembly yesterday morning. I would like to think of it as her western ‘coming out’ talk — hoping we will hear more from her in the future. (Although she is not a neophyte when it comes to presenting her views: she had a blog hosted by BBC Urdu when she was 11 years old, hand-writing her entries that were then transcribed and uploaded by a reporter.)

You may remember that she is the little Pakistani Pashtun girl shot (along with her friends) in the head and neck October 9, 2012 by the Taliban for saying that girls should have the right to go to school. As she stabilized, in critical condition, she was airlifted to England for rehab.

She is now 16 years old!

You can skip to time stamp 3:45 to get by the Introductions and Thank You comments.

The UN video

Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) Force-Fed Under Standard Guantánamo Bay Procedure

A Video of the Procedure

A leaked document sets out the military instructions, or standard operating procedure, for force-feeding detainees at Guantánamo. In this four-minute film made by Human Rights organisation Reprieve and Bafta award-winning director Asif Kapadia, US actor and rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), experiences the procedure. — The Guardian Newspaper

What are the alternatives for keeping the prisoners (100 hunger-strikers with 40 being force fed) alive? I do not know.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler has ruled that the court cannot make a ruling on whether the detainees can be force-fed by the military, adding “The President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has authority – and power – to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”

If you would like to read reporter Ben Ferguson’s eye-witness account of the making of the video, click here.

NOTE: This video is not for the faint of heart (nor, as you will see, was the procedure for Mos Def, a Muslim, born Dante Smith in Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Image Credit: Reprieve and Bafta



Weiner-Spitzer: Grilling the Candidates

Hot Dog! A Campaign Made for Jokes

I did not think the possibilities for puns and jokes could get any better when former NY Representative Anthony D. Weiner tossed his 10-gallon hat in the ring as a candidate for mayor of New York City.

But now we have former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer deciding to run for comptroller.

Politics. You just have to love a profession where there’s more forgiveness and second acts than we see in the church!

Read more at The New York Times

Filibuster vs. Cloture

Current Events & Things You Should Have Learned in School

Last week, just after the June 25th Texas senate debate when Wendy Davis filibustered Bill 5 for some ten plus hours, I heard someone say, “See Democrats in the U.S. Senate are always trying to do away with the filibuster but when it’s something they care about they resort to doing it themselves.”  Leaving aside the obvious apples & oranges comparison (Davis is a Texas state senator, not a U.S. Senator) it seemed to me that the person I overheard was conflating two separate, but connected, political processes: the filibuster and cloture.

 

What many U.S. Senate Democrats want to do is to require a senator who wishes to stop a bill to actually be present and talking, to filibuster by putting his body where his mouth is. Currently, senators do not even need to be present to stop movement on a bill. Most Americans still think of the filibuster as a senator holding the floor for hours talking and reading anything he/she can to take up time. That is not the case with the current U.S. Senate rules. Unless there is a call for cloture, and it passes, bills can be stalled, held in limbo with the objecting senator truly having no skin in the game.

 

Think back to the dim days of Mr. Moody’s 8th grade civics class. Civics, by and large, was a dull affair. It lacked the pizzazz of history and possessed all the charm of balancing a bank account.  Like health class, it was always taught by the coaches of our sporting teams. But I do recall our discussions around the process of cloture (from the French for closure.)

 

According to the U.S. Senate Glossary, in an attempt to curtail unlimited debate whose purpose was to block voting and adoption of a bill, “in 1917, senators adopted a rule (Rule 22), at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote, a device known as ‘cloture.’” If cloture passed, an up or down vote on the bill in question could then be taken after an additional thirty hours of debate, thus breaking a bottleneck. Wilson had called for enacting a cloture provision because he saw the senate as,

“the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action. A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.”

Wilson’s sharp talk was in response to a twenty-three day filibuster against his placing arms on merchant ships in World War I.

 

Southern senators filibustered against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for sixty days, proving that two-thirds of the Senate, 67 votes, can be a difficult thing to get.  Between 1917 and 1960 cloture was used only four times. In 1975 the number of senators needed for approval on a vote of cloture was reduced to 60 votes, with 16 members needed to bring the cloture question up for a vote. In the 110th Congress (2007-2008) cloture was enacted 61 times and then 63 times in the 2009-2010 congress. Yes, that’s correct, the 111th congress in one term voted cloture more than fifteen times the frequency it occurred in the first 43 years of its existence as a senate rule.

 

It is worth pointing out that the additional 30 hours of permitted debate after cloture is ruled, must be “on the measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate.” That is, you cannot read out your mother’s recipe for Derby pie or eloquently speechify on the entries in a dictionary (unless either of these is somehow relevant to the bill on the floor!)

 

Fortunately, the filibuster was eliminated from the U.S. House of Representatives’ rules as the assembly began to grow larger with the addition of new states. Could our already greatly deadlocked lower legislature be even less effective?

The Supremes

Lots of protest but no Protestants

Front row from left: Thomas, Born Catholic, appointed while Episcopalian, returned to Catholic Church in late 1990s/ Yale; Scalia, Catholic/ Harvard; Roberts, Catholic/ Harvard; Kennedy, Catholic/ Harvard; Ginsburg, Jewish/ Columbia. Back row, from the left: Sotomayor, Catholic/ Yale; Breyer, Jewish/ Harvard; Alito, Catholic/ Yale; Kagan, Jewish/ Harvard.
Front row from left: Thomas, Born Catholic, appointed while Episcopalian, returned to Catholic Church in late 1990s/ Yale; Scalia, Catholic/ Harvard; Roberts, Catholic/ Harvard; Kennedy, Catholic/ Harvard; Ginsburg, Jewish/ Columbia.
Back row, from the left: Sotomayor, Catholic/ Yale; Breyer, Jewish/ Harvard; Alito, Catholic/ Yale; Kagan, Jewish/ Harvard.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court is out of session for several months legal eagles can pick apart their decisions decoding for anything that suits their fancy. When I wrote my blog commentary a few days ago about a couple of their decisions I started thinking about how little our presidents and justices represent the mainstream demographics of the country’s population anymore…. perhaps they never did.

No matter how egalitarian we call ourselves as a nation, attendance at Princeton, Harvard and Yale gives you a pole starting position. More accurately, it flings you like the Starship Enterprise using a planet’s gravitational force to rocket you into the stratosphere of our country’s infrastructure.

Look at the law schools represented by the current sitting court: Harvard/ 5, Yale/ 3, Columbia/ 1. Although graduation from law school has been the norm in the last 60 years, historically, of the 112 justices appointed to the Court, only 47 have had law degrees, an additional 18 attended some law school but did not receive a degree, and 47 received their legal education without any law school attendance, mostly apprenticing to the trade as was the norm in the early years of our country. (Henry Julian Abraham, Justices, Presidents, and Senators: A History of the U.S. Supreme Court Appointments from Washington to Bush II. 2007, p. 49.)

Supreme Court justices also no longer get their hands ‘dirty’ as criminal defense attorneys: Thurgood Marshall is said to be the last justice to have represented a death penalty client. (Sherrilyn Ifill, Commentary: Break the mold for Supreme Court picks. CNN, May 4, 2009.) All current justices but one were working on the East Coast upon their nomination. Nineteen states have never had a justice hailing from their confines (yes, I know, some states did not exist until the 20th century.) But we have had a justice from Vienna, Austria (F. Frankfurter), David Brewer (now Izmir, Turkey) and others from abroad. There is, unlike with the presidency, no requirement that a federal judge be an American citizen.

More importantly for our country, justices no longer seem to pull their law clerks from across the board as they did in past Courts. The mental associations we bring to the word clerk make it sound like a relatively unimportant job but they have a huge importance in setting up the arguments and reasoning in cases. Justices Thomas, in selecting clerks with prior federal clerkship experience, so far as I can ascertain, has only pulled ones who worked for a judge appointed by a Republican President.

Why is this bad? Because it sets up a situation where you do not get a good, frothy, debate on points of law. I won’t go so far as to say that such clerks are “yes” men and women but how are they able to provide searing, pointed debate mounted from other views on legal questions during the closed-door discussions that lead to written opinions? Here are scores for the other justices with regard to their hiring clerks (with prior federal clerkship experience) in adherence to the ‘think-alike’ syndrome (2005 – 2010): Scalia (100%); Alito (91.7%); Roberts (88%); Sotomayor (87.5%); Kennedy (83.3%); Ginsberg (83.3%); Kagan (75%) and Breyer (54.1%). (Data current as of 2010.) It was not always so, even taking into account that the ratio of Democratic to Republic-selected federal circuit court of appeals judges has not been close to even since the end of President Clinton’s administration (67 Democrat to 67 Republican appointed.) The ratio is now incredibly lop-sided as Republicans in congress consistently stall votes on Democratic president’s nominations to judgeships.

A study published by the Vanderbilt University Law School Review (Nelson, et.al. The Liberal Tradition of the Supreme Court Clerkship: Its Rise, Fall, and Reincarnation? 2009) notes:

“Whatever the cause of this polarization, what seems significant – and arguably troubling – about the putative emergence of politically oriented practice groups is a tendency to reify the role of the Court as a super-legislature responding to ideological arguments rather than a legal institution responding to concerns grounded in the rule of law.” Justice Thomas has commented that selecting clerks is like “selecting mates in a foxhole.”

Small wonder our legislatures and courts make most Americans think we at war… with each other.

Justice Scalia Wants it Both Ways // 6 of the States Under Title 4 Impose a Voter ID Law in the Last 24 Hours

What’s good for the goose is NOT good for the gander?
Rapid Response Teams in Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Virginia

This yesterday from U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in United States v. Windsor, … et.al. [DOMA]:

“We have no power to decide this case and even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. The Court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America… It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive….”

However, the day before, he voted with the majority (Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, et.al.) in invalidating Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act that had been passed by both houses of the U.S. legislature (reauthorized three times, most recently in 2006 with voting 390 – 33 in the House and 98 – 0 in the Senate.) Section 4 contains the formula used by Congress to determine which states and local governments must receive federal pre-approval before changing their voting laws. The majority opinion argued that progress in voter registrations and turnout erased the need for Section 4, with Chief Justice Roberts, long a foe of the Act, referring specifically to gains in minority voting in the U.S. southern states

It would appear that Scalia is saying, “We, the conservative members of the Court, can overturn democratically adopted legislation if it goes against our principles and we can find a spurious reason, but we don’t believe the liberals on the Court ought to be able to do the same thing.”

**************************

Interestingly, 6 of the states that Title 4 was enacted for have, in the last 24 hours, enacted new Voter ID laws. Talk about quick reaction time! One, Arizona, had just had it’s previous law struck down by the Supreme Court (7 to 2) LAST WEEK! The state of Texas took only a few hours to pass a law REQUIRING a U.S. passport in hand as well as proof of state residency to vote.

In answer to these states reasoning that this will stop voter fraud (when the real reason for these laws is to hinder minority voting, and now, with Texas and its passport requirement, the elderly) several studies have found “that voter fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is nearly non-existent and much of the problems associated with alleged fraud in elections relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators.” – Brennan Center for Justice study (www.brennancenter.org/issues/voter-fraud). What has happened, in much more substantial numbers of cases, is election officials ‘misplacing’ ballots, voting machine irregularities, and other such incidents.

 

Supreme Court invalidates Voting Rights Act, Title 4, above.
Supreme Court invalidates Voting Rights Act, Title 4, above.

 

Supreme Court strikes down DOMA.
Supreme Court strikes down DOMA.

Where’s Waldo?

Edward Snowden flies to Moscow (probably) but not beyond (yet).

About 30 journalists rushed to book seats this morning, 24 June 2013, on the daily 12 hour Aeroflot #SU150 / CU6150 Moscow to Havana flight in anticipation of interviewing recently fired U.S. National Security Agency technical contractor Edward Joseph Snowden (b. 21 June 1983). Unfortunately, he was not on the flight, at least in the Business (34 seats) or Economy classes (207 seats). (No one sprung for the First Class!)

The Airbus A330/200 departed Sheremetyevo International at 14:23 hours (UTC +4:00), 18 minutes late, and is scheduled to arrive at Havana’s Jose Marti International at 18:45 local time. (UTC -4:00)

To add insult to injury, this flight does not serve ANY alcohol, a state of emergency for the Fourth Estate!

Photo of Snowden's empty, paid for/assigned seat on today's Moscow to Havana flight.
Photo of Snowden’s empty, paid for/assigned seat on today’s Moscow to Havana flight.
Photo, above, of car from the Ecuadorian Embassy at the curb of Moscow's International Airport about the time of Snowden's (supposed) arrival from Hong Kong. (photo by Dmitry Rozhkov)
Photo, above, of car from the Ecuadorian Embassy at the curb of Moscow’s International Airport about the time of Snowden’s (supposed) arrival from Hong Kong. (photo by Dmitry Rozhkov)

Edward Snowden, although he never completed high school, worked most recently for Booz Allen Hamilton as an IT contractor in a National Security Agency (NSA) office in Hawaii. He is accused, based on his own admission, of leaking to the press details of top-secret American and British government mass surveillance including the interception of U.S. and European telephone metadata and the PRISM and Tempora internet surveillance programs.

Matthew M. Aid, an intelligence historian in Washington, said disclosures linked to Snowden have “confirmed longstanding suspicions that NSA’s surveillance in this country is far more intrusive than we knew.” U.S. federal prosecutors made public their sealed charges against Snowden on June 21st, his 30th birthday.

Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) employ’s around 25,000 people of whom about half possess a “Top Secret” clearance. Three-quarters of its employees have government clearances at various levels. 99% of BAH’s $5.76 billion 2013 revenue is derived from government contracts. “About 70 percent of the 2013 U.S. intelligence budget is contracted out, according to a Bloomberg Industries analysis….” (Bennett and Riley, “Booz Allen, the World’s Most Profitable Spy Organization”, Business Week magazine, 20 June 2013.)

Alpinists on Mt. Nanga Parbat Murdered

Ten dead at 15,000 foot camp in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.

 

Nanga Parbat from Base Camp. Photo taken November 30, 2005.
Nanga Parbat from Base Camp. Photo taken November 30, 2005.

Back in my younger days I was a mountain climber. I still have all the stuff: the insulated boots; parkas; big-wall hardware; ice axes, hammers and screws; tents; down bags; metal-edged telemark skis, etc. But, as my life became more sedentary, with most days spent in front of the computer or at my gallery, I got soft. Now I just read about climbing.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. I came of age, as they say, in a time when I could trek almost anywhere and get out of most any trouble by flashing that all-important U.S. passport. There were hardly any mountains off limits except the Tibetan side of the Himalayas and some of the Soviet peaks. Sometimes even these were available for the right money.

The days of unfettered access have long been gone and highlighting this was today’s Taliban attack on an international climbing camp on Nanga Parbat, Pakistan’s second and the world’s ninth highest mountain. Locals call the mountain Diamir: “King of the Mountains”. It is located in Pakistan’s northwest Gilgit-Baltistan region and has resisted all attempts at a winter ascent. The area has had a lot of violence directed at the Shia minority but none toward foreigners as has occurred in more accessible regions. (The base camp, at a mountain elevation of 4200 feet, is roadless and difficult of access, requiring a two-day hike-in. The camp itself sits at 15,000 feet above sea level.)

“Spokesperson for the proscribed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Ehsanullah Ehsan, talking to Dawn.com from an undisclosed location claimed that the Janud-e-Hafsa faction of the [Taliban] had carried out the attack… dressed as Gilgit Scouts, a paramilitary police unit.” (The Muslim News, Middlesex, UK.) The reason given for the murders was to avenge recent U.S. drone attacks that killed the Taliban’s deputy leader on May 29.

The scene of the massacre at the Gilgit-Baltistan base camp - The Muslim News, UK.
The scene of the massacre at the Gilgit-Baltistan base camp – The Muslim News, UK.

One Chinese climber was wounded and escaped. The dead include an American of Chinese origin, the Pakistani guide, two Chinese, a Nepalese, two Slovakians, a Lithuanian and two Ukranians.