Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blaming the Victim: Republicans and America's Rape Culture

by Nomad

Recent remarks by a Wall Street Journal commentator reveal that there are still people who are confused about the subject of rape. A high level of intoxication of both the victim and the rapist, he claimed, makes them both responsible for the crime. 

The Sheikh and the Outrage

Let us start in another country and another culture, not to pass judgement but to reveal a widespread mentality in its most obvious expression.

For hundreds of years, the West has always held a peeve with the way strict Islam deals with its female followers. This is particularly true when it comes to the burka or the scarf-like hijab.
When a prominent Muslim scholar Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly made a remark about immodestly dressed women were inviting trouble. During a Ramadan sermon in a Sydney mosque, Sheik al-Hilali implied that a group of Muslim men recently jailed for many years for gang rapes were not entirely to blame. 
There were women, he said, who 'sway suggestively' and wore make-up and immodest dress "and then you get a judge without mercy and gives you 65 years. But the problem, but the problem all began with who?" he said, referring to the women victims.
"If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred."Women, he told his followers,  who do not cover themselves are like 'uncovered meat' who attract sexual predators.
So, by the Sheikh's reckoning, it is the men who are prey to those predatory temptresses with their pretty naughty traps. Women, the Sheikh also stated,  were 'weapons' used by Satan to control men.
"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside... and the cats come and eat it... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat."
As soon as these words hit the tabloids, there was the predictable outrage throughout Australia and eventually the globe. It was tainted with that kind of attitude we often hear when discussing other cultures.
It runs something like: "It's an outrage! At least, we are better than that!"

In any case, it also sold lots of newspapers. And while the Sheikh eventually apologized but it's hard to believe he thought what he said was absolutely wrong. And why should he apologize, it is after all a standard teaching of the religion.
(It is normally not stated in such graphic terms.)
In the Islamic publication, "Could Not Answer" it says:
The harm given to youngsters, to people and to the State by women who go about naked, and with strong smells of perfume, and wanton ornaments is worse and more threatening than that of alcohol and narcotics. Allah has commanded that women and girls to cover themselves lest His born servants fall into disasters in this world and vehement torments in the hereafter.
Many Islamic scholars have an elaborate (some would say labored) rationale. Women, they would say, are precious that they must be protected. Putting their bodies on display for all the world to see is a form of disrespect for women. 
For example, another cleric in Copenhagen created his own storm by carrying the teaching to the next level when he told his followers:
Women are not entitled to respect when they walk around without a Hijab. They are to blame for it when they are attacked”
He also said:
“All the crimes that occur against women is because they are not covered. When they are not covered, you have no respect for them.”
It is the West that disrespects women by allowing them to prance around, swaying and all, revealing their bare midriffs, or wrist, or chins. 

It is probably not all that shocking to learn that this particular cleric was reportedly later arrested for sexual assault, accused of pulling his penis out and chasing a 23-year-old woman around in a park in Sweden. I wonder how this woman brought this attack upon herself. (That's sarcasm, by the way. )

In any case, according to this line of thinking, women who do not cover themselves reduce themselves to irresistible temptations for hapless men who are unable to control themselves.
As I said, that's another culture and does not represent mainstream Muslim culture. But what about American culture? Are there really some people who still hold women responsible when they become victims of rape?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Project Yosemite

by Nomad

Photographer Colin Delehanty and filmmaker Sheldon Neill spend 45 days over 10 months in Yosemite National Park to capture this beautiful timelapse. Hiking over 200 miles in total to see everything the park has to offer, this is the sum of their work.
It's a world worth saving, don't you think?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan Loses his Voice

by Nomad

Besieged by charges of corruption, the Prime Minister of Turkey has been campaigning non-stop for his party in Sunday's local election. Under the strain, Erdogan lost his once- authoritative voice, much to the astonishment of crowds at today's rally in the east of the country.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan has had better days. With municipal elections coming up on Sunday, there has been furious often mean-spirited campaigning going on for the last few weeks. For all of the top four candidates, this is includes two, sometimes three whistle-stop speeches every day, and an interview with one of the many friendly TV channels in the evening. 

That's only half the story. Added to that, there have been a series of leaked audio recordings seeming to show all kinds of  scandalous activity. In desperation he ordered the closure of Twitter- on grounds of privacy.  The courts did not agree and ordered that Twitter be un-banned. 
The government's reaction? To ban YouTube on grounds of national security. And there's some truth in that since today's tape reportedly reveals audio details of an attempted false flag operation to launch a war with Syria. 

Whatever the truth, the leaks have shaken his party to the core. Clearly his party's image has been severely damaged. Nevertheless, Erdogan has remained unflinching, denying the authenticity of the tapes. 

Today things took a turn for the surreal when, after a week of voice problems, Erdogan's voice finally left him. No doubt the crowds gathered to listen to his speech in Van, Turkey were stunned to hear the leader of the nation sounding unlike anything they'd heard before. It was as if the man who wanted to become a sultan had transformed into the harem eunuch.

Mother Arrested for Coming to Aid of Special-Needs Son at School

by Nomad

Sometimes you heard stories that defy belief and here's one dandy example.

Missouri resident Niakea Williams was called by Walnut Groves Elementary School to let her know that her son, Micheal, was having a medical emergency. Her son suffers from Asperger''s Syndrome and suffers from periodic panic attacks. 

Arriving at the school, Williams was buzzed in- since school staff recognized her- and immediately went to her son's aid. Williams then proceeded to help her child, calming him down from his episode. 
You might think this alone is every parent's nightmare but then things took a rather surreal turn. One source explains:
The principal entered the classroom and informed Williams that she had violated the school policy by not signing the guestbook. Indeed, Williams was in a rush to help her child and did not sign the guestbook, so she told the principal that she was willing to sign the guestbook. But that didn’t satisfy the principal.
Unbelievably, Julia White, the principal for Walnut Grove Elementary decided to call the police and put the school in lockdown for 12 minutes. A strange decision since the situation was under control and there was no threat to any of the pupils, teachers or staff.
When the police arrived, Williams was told that, since she had not been authorized to enter the building, she was therefore trespassing and would be arrested. This, despite the fact that the school had themselves allowed her entry. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Hunt For Vladimir Putin's Troll Nest

by Nomad

In Vladimir Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg, journalists uncovered one of the Russian leader's covert operations. Paid by the Kremlin, online trolls are paid to blog and comment, praising Putin and vilifying his opposition and all things American.

Reporters for the St. Petersburg Times recently infiltrated a covert online operation which acts as pro-Putin mouthpiece. Employees, the report alleged, were being paid to write  "pro-Kremlin postings and comments on the Internet, smearing opposition leader Alexei Navalny and U.S. politics and culture."

Professional Comrades
In August of 2013, journalists received a tip from the public. It seemed plausible enough. The insider described her interview with a company called St. Petersburg Internet Research Agency. She described the location as a “posh cottage with glass walls” in Olgino, a village in St. Petersburg’s Kurortny District.
She told the reporters:
The office occupying two rooms reminded her of an “internet club with lots of computers and people.” Employees in one room wrote blog posts for social networks, while those in the other room specialized in comments.
The unsuspecting interviewer was quite upfront about the technical details, about what to write and which political party to support. According the tip:
Each commenter was to write no less than 100 comments a day, while people in the other room were to write four postings a day, which then went to the other employees whose job was to post them on social networks as widely as possible.

Employees at the company, located at 131 Lakhtinsky Prospekt, were paid 1,180 rubles ($36.50) for a full 8-hour day and received a free lunch...
The employment ad- which has since been deleted- invited “goal-oriented people who like to surf the Internet” to join its “successful team.” “Now you’ll be able to surf the Internet and receive money for it,” it said.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Miscarriage of Justice in Mississippi: The Michelle Byrom Case

by Nomad

The decision to execute Michelle Byrom has been called "gravely inhumane." As the date of her execution approaches, people have begun to ask how the state of Mississippi can justify the judicial murder of an innocent woman.

Fifty-six year old Michelle Byrom would become the first woman in 70 years to be put to death in Mississippi but that's not why her case deserves a closer look.  By any standards, this case represents a clear-cut case of miscarriage of justice. A writer for The Atlantic describes the situation like this:
This woman was horribly abused her whole life, up to and including her life with the murder victim. She was rendered mentally ill by this abuse. For 15 years, prosecutors and judges have known that it was her son who shot his father. And yet still the state relentlessly has sought to impose the death penalty. Mississippi wants its pound of flesh. But why from Michelle Byrom? What would it prove?
That moral outrage was echoed by The Natıonal Coalıtıon To Abolısh The Death Penalty. The organization has cataloged the multitude of problems with the Byrom murder trial. 

Michelle Byrom was charged with hiring her son’s friend, Joey Gillis, to kill her abusive husband in June 1999. She certainly had enough of a motive. After being sexually abused by her stepfather, Michelle was in many respects the perfect victim for a man like Edward Byrom, Sr. They had begun their relationship when she was only 15 and for 40 years, the often savage abuse became a regular feature of her life. In many ways, it was the only life she had known. 
Nevertheless, despite this motive, Michelle did not kill her abusive husband. 
It is clear now that her son killed his abusive father. Her son confessed in letters to her and to a court-appointed psychologist that he committed the crime. Byrom’s son is free on parole, and the man she supposedly hired is free.... Edward Byrom Sr. was shot in his home, with his own gun.
Michelle was in the hospital with double pneumonia at the time of the murder. Even though Michelle was heavily medicated and in the hospital, the police pressured her to confess to the murder to save her son from "taking the rap." The pressure continued on this mentally ill woman until she confessed and added details about the supposed murder-for-hire.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

FATCA: Why New Tax Haven Laws are a Disaster in the Making

by Robert Morris

Here's a guest post with some further insight on a controversial piece of legislation called FATCA. Robert Morris explains why this law on tax havens is a really really bad idea. 

First off, I would like to thank Nomad Politics for bringing up this issue, and also for reaching out to seek an opposing viewpoint to its FATCA coverage. This is the kind of open-mindedness that we could all use more of.

In that spirit, let's start by laying out a positive aspect of FATCA, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

Some Facts about FATCA
This US law was largely introduced in response to a Swiss banking scandal. A significant number of Swiss banks were revealed to have been colluding with US citizens to hide their earnings from the US government. FATCA has, in fact, severely disrupted the Swiss banking industry. Switzerland’s “too big too fail” banks, like UBS, have settled with the US government for sums that are eye-watering, but will not severely disrupt their business. Medium-size and smaller Swiss banks are being forced to pay proportionally much larger sums, whether or not they knew their clients were from the US. Many are going out of business. The small Swiss banks that survive this reckoning will certainly think twice before they ever deal with US clients again.

Judging from the fact that my anti-FATCA video has been viewed by about a 50th of the entire population of the Cayman Islands, the legislation has been having the desired effect in other tax haven jurisdictions as well. We should admit that in this one respect, FATCA has been having the desired consequence. Tax avoidance by Americans has become more difficult, and that is a good thing.

This one positive result, however should not distract the public from FATCA’s truly mind-boggling scope. FATCA is a sledgehammer that is being used where a toothpick was necessary. FATCA does not just go after Switzerland and Cayman. It fundamentally re-orders the business of banking for every country, and in every country.

Poetree: An Environmentally-Friendly Way to be Remembered

by Nomad

 John Kennedy once said,
 "Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."   
With thoughts of mortality come thoughts about how we would like to be remembered after we are gone. The costs of funerals are astounding and, for some people, the whole idea of burial in cement vaults and steel coffin is offensive and absurd. 
More and more cemeteries require  tombstones to be flush to the ground to expedite the maintenance. Those beautiful sculptural monstrosities that the Victorians loved are long gone. Now all that's left to remember you is a flat square tile in the ground. That's it.
But all of us want to be remembered- at least to some extent- after we're gone.

I recently saw one product that neatly addresses this while touching upon each of the points Kennedy mentioned. It's called "Poetree" and it's a simple but wonderful idea.

Ashes of the deceased are placed in a biodegradable urn. The urn doubles as a planter for a tree. (The picture shows boxwood but I can't see why there couldn't be a selection. Personally I'd prefer a willow or maybe an olive tree.)
At the base of the tree, there is a ceramic ring with the name and dates of the "loved one" and again, I suppose it could be further personalized as well. For urban dwellers, the boxwood tree could be decorative, I guess, but knowing my friends, it would end up being a handy ashtray or trash can.

Eventually, the tree could be moved to some open location and planted into the ground and, as time passes, form forests.
The minimalist concept comes from the mind of French designer Margaux Ruyan from DSK ISD International School of Design (India).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Junk Science? Questions about Expert Testimony in Michigan's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Trial

by Nomad

The testimony of the state's expert witness challenging Michigan's same-sex marriage took an amusing turn when he admitted that he believed gays would suffer eternal damnation in the depths of hell. But that's only half of the story. 
Read more to learn the rest.

Last week, the testimony in a federal court challenge on Michigan's same-sex ban took an unusual turn. In order to show a clear bias in what was supposed to be pure science- the plaintiff's attorney asked Professor Douglas Allen, a Canadian economist about his personal views on homosexuality.

The Monkey Trial Trick
As the state's expert, Professor Allen had warned the court that, after reviewing 60 same-sex parenting studies over a 15-year period, he recommended that the state uphold its ban. On the surface, the testimony seemed persuasive.
Then, Attorney Ken Mogill asked Allen:
“Is it accurate that you believe the consequence of engaging in homosexual acts is a separation from God and eternal damnation? .. in other words, they’re going to hell.”
“Without repentance, yes,” answered Allen.
This courtroom technique is straight out of the historic "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925 in which Tennessee attempted to ban the teaching of evolution in the state's public schools. Those bans came after lobbying from by World Christian Fundamentals Association whose president also happened to be a state representative. (In the same-sex marriage debate, it's a bit more camouflaged and involves a few politically-active Christian groups.)  The climax of the Scopes trial had one legendary attorney the great William Jennings Bryan, taking the stand and being quizzed about his religious views. The defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, in effect, publicly humiliated the state's attorney. 

(However, it should be recalled too that the Tennessee court found that the teaching of evolution could be banned and the Supreme Court upheld that decision. It was a victory for fundamentalists though it is usually portrayed as victory for progressives, a victory of science over superstition.
In any event, the same-sex marriage bans have not met with the same Supreme Court approval, In fact, the decision by the high court has been the key to overturning the discriminatory laws on a state-by-state basis.
Douglas' answer suggested that his pure science might not be quite as pure as he suggested. Naturally, the courtroom exchange made all the headlines but it was only half of the story. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Putin's Power Play in Crimea Exposes a Long-Held Russian Hypocrisy

by Nomad

Russia's decision to annex Ukraine's Crimean region has sent a shudder throughout the international community. Vladimir Putin's decision was part and parcel of Russian policy, one that has been shaped by both its tsarist past as well as its Soviet years under Stalin. How does this controversial decision reveal an underlying hypocrisy of Russian policy?

Empire Rebuilding?
Monday saw Russian President Vladimir Putin annexing the Crimean peninsula for the Motherland, in the name of protecting the Russian ethnic minority in Ukraine. While the Russian-speaking minority forms about 17 percent of the Ukrainian population, they do make up the majority in Crimea. A majority of region but a minority of the nation.
This act, which the international community has soundly condemned as treaty-breaking and in breach of international laws of state sovereignty, has many of Russia's neighbors- with similar minorities- extremely worried. Their greatest fear can be summed up with two questions: Is Putin actually attempting to revive the Soviet Empire? If not, where will he draw the line?

As The Washington Post found Putin's speech  was riddled with false statements about the events. One interesting misleading statement:
“Crimeans say that in 1991, they were handed over like a sack of potatoes, and I can’t help but agree with it. And what about the Russian state? What about Russia? It humbly accepted the situation. This country was going through such hard times then that realistically it was incapable of protecting its interests.”
Putin's re-writing of history supplies the Kremlin with all the justification it needed for what some have called "a land grab." In fact, the 1991 decision to join Ukraine was a democratic one, with a vote of 54% in favor. Buried in the quote, Putin makes the suggestion that now Russia is prepared to use force to protect its interests.
Even if that means defying the West.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Confidence Trick: What Flim-Flamming Con Artists and Fox News Have in Common

by Nomad

Con artists target the elderly as "marks" for a number of reasons. While the motives differ slightly, Fox News targets the same demographic for exactly the same reasons.

According to Webster's Dictionary:

..." the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person; also - ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause"...

Over the years many critics of Fox News have called it a conservative propaganda machine, whose goal seems to be to divide the nation. But maybe that's missing the point.

The Fox News- Con Artist Connections
The average Fox News viewer, studies have found, is over 65 (and keep in mind that's the average). It's no coincidence that the number one target of confidence tricksters just also happens to be the elderly. Instead making off with their life savings, the Fox News con artists have been used to foment division and affect elections through near constant disinformation. (Indirectly, savings are being drained from senior bank accounts in support for groups like the Tea Party.)

Nothing is accidental when it comes to Roger Ailes, president of Fox News. A wit could say Ailes put the "con" in conservative politics. As a diligent flim-flammer, he has chosen his victims well and has learned how to exploit characteristics of the human psyche such as prejudice, loneliness, naivety, and ignorance.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Importance of Impeachment: How the Tea Party is Abusing Constitutional Procedure

by Nomad

Since the first presidential impeachment in 1868,  the procedure has proved to be a terribly imperfect tool. However, even when not applied, its existence is essential for the Republic. 

David Stewart's book, Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy is a fascinating study of a constitutional crisis. The book is set against the period immediately after the war of rebellion when the nation was attempting somehow to put the country back together. Just to show you how easily things can go terribly wrong, Lincoln's best intentions turned out to be a colossal misjudgment.

Not many historians have pointed out that Lincoln was, in fact, neither Republican nor Democrat in this second term. He was the candidate for the National Unity Party and he chose as his vice-president, Andrew Johnson, was a Southern Democrat. (Imagine that? A single ticket made of both parties?) 

Had Lincoln not been murdered, the constitutional crisis of presidential impeachment would have been avoided. However, the new president's suspected loyalty to the defeated South, his position that states had the right to their sovereignty- even after what most saw as outright sedition- were too much for some in Congress to bear. When faced with an unyielding Republican minority (every bit as querulous and uncompromising as today's Tea Party) determined to unseat the president by hook or crook, the 17th President's arrogance and stubbornness made impeachment unavoidable. 

It's a good read. And the story of how and why the Radical Republicans attempted to use the process of impeachment to remove President Johnson gives a lot of insight into the ways elected representative under partisan stress can lose track of their primary mission.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Huckabee: Connecting End-of-Life Issues with Abortion Reveals Republican Weakness

by Nomad

Mike Huckabee in an attempt to garner attention, has managed to connect the abortion debate and end-of-life matters. Although Huckabee appears unaware of it, that connection actually highlights the problem with the Republican stand on abortion. On top of that, both subjects are toxic to winning the 2016 election.

The other day, while making a speech at the Susan B. Anthony List, a 501 (c)4 anti-abortion organization, former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee attempted to play the "Scare the oldies" card. (It's been Fox News' bread and butter since its inception.)
As reported by Politico,
The former Arkansas governor and one-time presidential candidate said women typically cite hardship or inconvenience as their reason for getting an abortion — the same reasons that he said could be used to justify ending the lives of the elderly.
The same technique of scaring the senior voters was used by Sarah Palin in her death panel nonsense. Huckabee told the audience:
“If we teach the generation coming after us that it’s okay to terminate a human life because it represents a financial hardship or social disruption, what are we telling them?”
Huckabee is the kind of politician that doesn't fear to tread the paths where other GOP angels tend to slither away from.    
In this speech, Huckabee chided his compatriots for shying away from the subject of abortion which he sees as a sure-fire election-winning issue. (Somebody should have told him that according to a 2013 poll, seven in ten Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade)
Huckabee ironically is attempting to connect a pair of unpopular positions and is expecting some kind of political gain.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lebanon Suddenly Became More Gay-Friendly than 14 US states

by Nomad

Despite its myriad problems, (such as marketplace suicide bombings, factional divisions and refugees), the Middle-Eastern nation of Lebanon appears to be more progressive when it comes to equality rights for its gay minority than, say, Texas or Oklahoma.

According to Victoria Kim writing for PolicyMic:
LGBT rights activists in Lebanon are celebrating a historic ruling that reversed the criminalization of gay sex in Lebanon.
The recent case was highlighted a quarterly magazine called Legal Agenda, published by an NGO of the same name.
Judge Naji El Dahdah, of Jdeide Court, Beirut, threw out the case, in which the Lebanese state accused a transgender woman of having a same-sex relationship with a man, on January 28. The verdict relied on a December 2009 ruling by Judge Mounir Suleiman that consensual homosexual relations were not "against nature" and could therefore not be prosecuted under article 534 of Lebanon's penal code, which prohibits sexual relations that are "contradicting the laws of nature," and makes them punishable by up to a year in prison. "Man is part of nature and is one of its elements, so it cannot be said that any one of his practices or any one of his behaviors goes against nature, even if it is criminal behavior, because it is nature's ruling," Suleiman said.
This latest development comes after what some saw as last years' crackdown of a very discreet underground gay scene.

Compare that to the states in the US that  still have anti-sodomy laws on their books. Despite a 2003 Supreme Court decision  to invalidate an earlier ruling in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, fourteen states have yet to abolish the laws. The Supreme Court ruled that this private sexual conduct is protected by the liberty rights implicit in the due process clause of the United States Constitution. 

And yet, Alabama,  Florida, Idaho,  Kansas,  Louisiana,  Michigan,  Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia all have retained the unconstitutional laws. While these states have no way to enforce the laws, they have also not been repealed at a state level. Although obsolete, the laws have been used have been used to stop gay Americans from adopting and fostering children and gaining custody of their own kids.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

History's Echo: Mr. Flower and His Warning Against Corporations

by Nomad

Let's take a glance back over a hundred years ago to an era suspiciously like our own. 

I'd like you to meet Mr. Flower, a now forgotten progressive journalist with a word of warning about the growth of corporations.

History is full of surprises and hidden secrets. One such surprise is how epochs and eras often repeat themselves at regular intervals- never quite the same, but the same echoes vibrate through our own time.

Take the Progressive Era which started in the late 1800s and lasted to about the 1920s.  Ever wonder why this important time of American history gets so little attention? 

To answer that, we can peer into Arena Magazine, Volume 19, dated 1898. In it, we discover an article written by the magazine's editor, B.O. Flower which is entitled "The Corporation Against The People." The article warns its readers about an encroaching menace- the monopolies of corporations:
Monopoly in money, monopoly in transportation, monopoly in all public utilities... and monopoly in commodities essential for man's life, comfort or well-being are the offspring of corporate control, ... in which great profits of the few are acquired at the expense of the many.
Against this evil.. all reformers, all friends of liberty, freedom and justice should unite.

The forces of freedom and the forces of oppression are being rapidly marshalled, the lines of battle are being drawn. The tendencies of the opposing theories are no longer vague or doubtful. If corporations are to continue, a popular government cannot live, any more than liberty can exist under the rule of absolutism.
Over a hundred years have passed and the subject- and the Flower's viewpoint  - is just as important as it was then.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Conscience and Priorities: A Ray of Light for the Homeless in Arizona

by Nomad

Arizona has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. From legislative attempts to tear down national educational standards or bills targeting gays under the shield of protecting religious freedom, Arizona seems like a real mess. However, it's important to recall that there is another side to report. 

Due to a few Tea Party radicals, Arizona has received a lot of bad press lately. However, as Kennedy once said that "no government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue." This wise reminder holds true for the people of the "Grand Canyon State".
Here's one small example of the pang of conscience leading to action.

Parker Olson for Arizona Public Radio, reports how a group of students at Northern Arizona University came up with one way to reduce waste while feeding the homeless. According to sources, university meal plans offer flexibility to students when it comes to when and how much they eat. This flexibility however comes at a cost. Every week, thousands of meal vouchers at colleges across the country go unused. This means a lot of prepared food is wasted.
NAU's voucher plan allows students to buy a certain number of meals each week. If they don't use them all by Saturday night, the vouchers expire.
One freshman student, Caitlin Fagan decided to put the wasted food to good use. With the help of like-minded friends, his group collects the food on campus and redistributes to people in need around Flagstaff. Some volunteers head out along Route 66 looking for the homeless and the hungry.  
The article explains one case:
That's where they meet Clark Reber, who's down on his luck and staying at a local shelter. "It's awesome," Reber tells the students. "You guys are doing great work here. You're uplifting to people that are down and out and bringing food which everyone needs."
Admittedly it's a small project but it could easily be expanded and combined with similar waste-reduction efforts.
In the month since the student-run program started, organizers estimate they've fed about 100 people. If there's any food left after their Saturday night runs, they donate it to a local rescue mission. The group hopes to keep growing and become another reliable source for feeding Flagstaff's hungry and homeless.
Certainly the down and out need all the help they can get. It all boils down to priorities and responsibilities to help without judgement.

Why Does Anybody Care What John McCain Thinks?

by Nomad

Once again, Arizona Senator John McCain is telling us what he thinks about foreign policy. Again he is criticizing the Obama efforts at avoiding an unnecessary war. But the real question is why is anybody in their right mind even listening to McCain?

A couple of days ago, it was reported that John McCain has pushed out Mitch McConnell as being the most unpopular incumbent politician in the United States. in his home state, McCain is unpopular with Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike.When you think about how low the opinion is of Congress at the moment, that's quite an achievement. 
When one considers the constant propaganda from Fox News and how short the attention span is of the average American, it's even more shocking. 
"Saddam Hussein is on a crash course to construct a nuclear weapon"
Still worse, he kept misleading the public all through the war. In March 2003, he stated that the conflict would be “relatively short." A few months later, as things went from bad to worse, he said, 
"I would argue that the next three to six months will be critical."
 By December of 2005 he was still repeating the same things, 
"We will probably see significant progress in the next six months to a year."
Two years later he went on a carefully choreographed stroll around an Iraqi market and declared that
"Things are better and there are encouraging signs. I've been here many times over the years. 
For reasons (which are totally inexplicable), nobody has asked him to explain how he could have been so wrong, so often. None of the TV interviewers have requested McCain to "man up" and to take responsibility for his reckless statements. And nobody- not even the families of lost soldiers, nor the families of innocent victims in Iraq, nor the permanently disabled veterans, none of them have demanded an apology from John McCain, the war hawk.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Musical Sanity Break: Glasvegas

by Nomad

I heard this song yesterday- though it isn't new (2008)- and I thought I might share it with you. The idea that personal salvation can come from something mundane as snowfall and as fleeting as a snowflake appeals to me. 
Besides it's a great song.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ohio Police Assist Christian Pastors to Make Religious Propaganda Film

by Nomad

What could be better for a phony war on Christianity than a series of mock arrests of innocent preachers? And even better than that? Why, video taping the staged event- without bothering to tell the congregation- and uploading them to YouTube without any explanation. 
Best of all, the local sheriff and his deputies were more than ready to assist in the making of this propaganda.

During last Sunday's sermon, parishioners  at Greater Bethel Baptist Church in Akron Ohio must have been stunned and outraged as armed deputies from the Summit County Sheriff's office marched into their church.
The members of the congregation were told that the police- with a camera crew in tow- had come to arrest their pastor, Reverend Melford Elliott. Other churches in the area were scenes for more arrests, which included the Rev. Robert Golson, pastor at Prince of Peace Baptist Church; and the Rev. Vincent Peterson, pastor at Providence Baptist Church. In the video, sheriff deputies are shown handcuffing the pastors who continued to preach before placing them in the backs of patrol cars.

Little did any of the church-goers know that they were actually unpaid extras in a staged event, the making of a film, part of a project called "Defending the Faith." The website says that the goal of the dramatization is to make people more aware of what it takes for pastors to defend the Christian faith beyond preaching on Sundays. According one source:
A seven-minute YouTube video created by the KAZ radio television network documents each arrest, with the theme song to the reality legal series "Cops" playing in the background. In each arrest, sheriff's deputies enter the church with the KAZ film crew in tow, approaching the pulpit during the pastor's sermon and telling him he is under arrest for "defending the faith." The pastors go willingly, but often respond by saying they will continue defending their Christian faith until they die.
After the mock arrests, Edra Frazier, marketing coordinator for the project explained to members of the church that the whole thing had been the making of a marketing tool.
Sheriff Steve Barry and his deputies had agreed to participate. Deputies on the video gave realistic interviews, portraying themselves as conflicted about arresting the pastors. It' all very authentic and convincing.
One thing they had forgotten to mention to the police. As part of the marketing, however, the video of the arrests were immediately uploaded with any explanatory information that the events were simulated arrests. 

WTF: Spiderman Unleashes Butterfly Attack on Bulgarian Parliament

by Nomad

A odd bit of news from Bulgaria.

Now if this news story doesn't convince you that the world of politics is a strange place, nothing will.
A man wearing a Spiderman mask released five boxes of butterflies in a corridor of Bulgaria’s Parliament on March 6 2014. Reporters in Parliament said that the man refused to answer questions about his actions as he tried to leave the building. He was held by security guards.
According to Bulgarian media, it was probably more related to a promotional stunt related to a television show rather than a political statement
The man apparently gained access with the proper permission from Socialist Party MP Petar Kurumbashev. The Parliament member denied knowing anything about the butterfly stunt.
Snezhana Dukova, an MP for centre-right opposition GERB, expressed outrage at the incident, saying that Parliament was not a terrarium.
Krassimir Velchev, also of GERB, said that “I also love animals, they are very beautiful, but every animal should know its place. I love lions and pumas too, but does this mean that someone should bring them to Parliament?”
And most Americans think the law of the jungle only applied to the US Congress. If the same thing happened in Washington, it would be up to Rep. Darrell Issa to launch another expensive but pointless investigation to find out how much did Obama know about the butterfly scandal and when did he know it. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cure for Hepatitis C: The Politics and Profits behind a Breakthrough

by Nomad

A breakthrough in curing a silent killer, Hepatitis C, should mean that patients will have a new lease on life. But unless they are extraordinarily wealthy or they  live in a state that expanded Medicaid in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, these people will be at the mercy of the profit-driven free market. So for most of the uninsured or under-insured Americans, it will mean no cure at all.

Good News 
Even for researchers who are loathe to use the word "cure," there's no question that the news is very good,

The Denver Post is reporting of a breakthrough drug for hepatitis C in clinical trials at the University of Colorado Hospital. This new anti-viral is being called the blockbuster cure for patients who have long had to endure debilitating treatment for this liver-destroying disease.

Astoundingly, Sovaldi, a daily-dose pill manufactured by California-based Gilead Sciences Inc., has cured about 90 percent of patients in only 12 weeks when used with older drugs, studies nationwide have found.
In other words, it's a very nearly the cure for a killer. Not life-long treatment like the HIV drug therapy, but an actual eradication of the affliction. 
A big big deal.

Silent Killer of the Baby Boomers
This is a disease that infects an estimated 150–200 million people around the world. In the US the majority of the estimated 3.2 million people with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) are baby boomer adults. Seventy-three percent of hepatitis C deaths were reported among those 45 to 64 years old.
For every 100 people who contract the virus, 75 will develop chronic infection. About 5 to 20 will develop cirrhosis over the next 20 to 30 years. Between 1 and 5 will die of cirrhosis and liver cancer. Meaning, more than 350 000 people die every year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases. The disease is found worldwide with some countries having chronic infection rates as high as 5% and above.

One of the particularly dangerous aspects of the disease is its insidious nature. Most of those infected with the virus do not know that they have it, which means they could easily be spreading it to others via exposure to blood—or, occasionally, sexual contact. The main mode of transmission in countries with infection rates above 5% is attributed to unsafe injections using contaminated equipment.

"In almost every country it is a significant public health problem, points out Charles Gore, president of the World Hepatitis Alliance, "and, in some, such as Egypt, which has 10% to 15% of its population living with hepatitis C, and Vietnam, where the prevalence of hepatitis B is 15% to 20%, it is simply overwhelming."
So curing this disease is unquestionably a great triumph for science. It's something that the researchers should be proud of. 
There is however one problem.

Now...The Bad News
Sovaldi was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last December, but it won't be cheap. Sovaldi costs $1,000 a day and that adds up to staggering $84,000 for a 12-week supply.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Flying the Flags: Is Support for a Hate Group Protected Free Speech?

by Nomad

A Boca Raton man flies the flags of the Confederacy and the KKK over his home. A recruitment sign along with a noose are also features in his front yard. Is this really free speech, protected by the Constitution or symbols meant to intimidate black Americans and other minorities?

Does freedom of speech include the freedom to demonstrate open support for a racist hate group? According to one west Boca Raton Florida man, it certainly does.  "Mr. Hayes" - the only name he would give-   hoisted both the KKK and confederate flag over his mobile home a couple weeks ago. He has also posted a sign recruiting new members.  
Hayes told  the reporter that he had moved to Florida from New York about four years ago.  Although the KKK has always had a violent history against blacks and other minorities, Hayes says he doesn't condone such acts. Nevertheless, he does think his right to free speech allows him to hang a noose in his front yard.

Sarah Palin vs. Albert Einstein

by Nomad

I saw Palin was criticizing Obama's dress sense the other day.  
“People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” she told Sean Hannity Monday night. “They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Victoria Woodhull: The Fascinating Story of America's First Female Presidential Candidate

by Nomad

Does the name Victoria Claflin Woodhull ring many bells? Probably not, but she was without argument one of the most talked-about women of the 19th century. Although something of an eccentric with a slightly unimpressive background, her biography, with its ups and downs, is a fascinating one. Her outspoken opinions about women's rights put her far ahead of her time.

Most of us think of the Victorian era as a time when women, like children of that time, generally were seen but not heard. A woman's place was in her home and any adventure outside of that realm could bring infamy.
Not altogether true.
Take the story of Victoria Woodhull.  As we shall see, her life contradicts that conventional wisdom. It's only surprising that Hollywood hasn't made a film about her tumultuous life; there's a lot of material there.

The Rise of A Radical

Her early life was hardly promising. Victoria Claflin and her sisters were raised by parents who used the girls as  "spiritualist mediums and faith healers in the family’s traveling medicine." They eventually married her off to Dr. Canning Woodhull when she was only 15. It must have come as a salvation to her since she stayed married to him for 11 years. ( As one source tells us, she would subsequently remarry three times and divorce twice more, in an age when divorce was unusual and socially disapproved.)

Eventually, she and her sister moved to New York City and became famous for giving financial advice from the spirit world to rich investors. In a twist of fate, despite her radical thought, her name was on the lips of many influential capitalists who took her stock tips.

Among her radical thoughts, Woodhull was most famous for being an early advocate for the right of women to vote. At heart, Woodhull was a social reformer. She was an advocate of free love- which despite its tantalizing name- actually only proposed marriage reforms. At that time, The Free Love movement's initial goal was to separate the state from sexual matters such as marriage, birth control, and adultery. These issues, proponents claimed, were personal matters and need not be legislated by others. Her opponents claimed she was simply promoting promiscuity and scandal.
That was to be expected, These were radical ideas for that time and even today we are still struggling with the same issues.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Comparing Justice: Breivik, Manning and Calley

by Nomad

Let's take a look at three very different crimes and three very different forms of justice. What can we learn from the comparisons between a mass murderer, a whistleblowing soldier and a soldier that committed war crimes? How does justice reflect a society's values and what does it say about a nation's values?

How a nation hands down justice and who it punishes and how it punishes reveals a lot about its values and its people. In fact, I would say that it's a defining benchmark. Where the courts are corrupt is where civilization ends. And where it is justice prevails is where fairness and civilized society flourishes. The law of the jungle was not after all intended to be a model for humanity.

As George Washington reminds us:
The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government.
With this idea in mind, I thought I'd explore three very different cases to examine how justice was administered and what could be learned about how values change from country to country and over time. 

Breivik in Norway

In the summer of 2011, Anders Behring Breivik conducted a carefully-planned attack on government buildings in Oslo, Norway, which killed eight. While police sifted through the rubble looking for clues, Breivik traveled to camp on the island of Utøya. There he systematically hunted down and murdered 69 victims, mostly teenagers.

According to his 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, Breivik's apparent motive for his acts of terrorism revolved around his far-right militant ideology which included hatred for Islam, feminism, and Zionism.
The tone of the national response to the painful events was set by the prime minister Jens Stoltenberg in his address at the memorial service in Oslo cathedral two days after the tragedy:
"We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values," Stoltenberg said. "Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity." Norway, he suggested, would not seek vengeance as America had done after the 9/11 attacks." We will answer hatred with love," he said.