Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Islamists Grow Bolder In Northern Mali, Stoning Unwed Couple To Death

A couple who had sex outside marriage has been stoned to death by Islamists in the town of Aguelhok in northern Mali, according to reports.  The man and woman were buried up to their necks, then pelted with stones until they died.

The northern half of Mali has been overrun by rebels-- Tuareg and Islamist-- following a coup in Mali's capital. The town of Aguelhok was one of the first to be captured by Tuareg separatist rebels. The execution came as interim President Dioncounda Traore finalized a unity government which is under pressure by foreign partners to take decisive action against the jihadists who have cleaved the nation in two. As politicians grappled for solutions in Bamako and west African capitals, the Al-Qaeda linked Islamists grew bolder, executing the couple in the center of town. In Timbuktu, Islamists have also implemented strict Islamic law and destroyed ancient World Heritage sites which they consider idolatrous.

The Islamists in Aguelhok stoned the couple to death in front of about 200 people, officials said. "I was there. The Islamists took the unmarried couple to the center of Aguelhok.  The couple was placed in two holes and the Islamists stoned them to death," a local government official told the AFP news agency. "The woman fainted after the first few blows," he said, adding that the man had shouted out once and then fallen silent.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Newsweek Plays The "Wimp Card"

From Michael Tomaskey's devastating piece on Mitt Romney:

It should be the easiest thing in the world for a presidential nominee: a trip to England . . . And yet, Mitt Romney managed to alienate just about every living Briton.   The Sun even went so far as to dub him “Mitt the Twit.”  It was an astonishing faux pas—one of many packed into his brief visit.

The episode highlights what’s really wrong with Romney. He’s kind of lame, and he’s really ... annoying. He keeps saying these ... things, these incredibly off-key things. Then he apologizes immediately—with all the sincerity of a hostage.

In 1987, this magazine created a famous hubbub by labeling George H.W. Bush a “wimp” on its cover.  In hindsight, Poppy looks like Dirty Harry Callahan compared with Romney, who spent his war (Vietnam) in—ready?—Paris. Where he learned ... French. Up to his eyeballs in deferments.  And did you notice that his wife Ann was the one driving the Jet Ski on their recent vacation, while Mitt rode on the back, hanging on, as Paul Begala put it to me last week, “like a helpless papoose”?

Romney is the genuine article: a true wimp. Oh, there are some ways in which he’s not—a wimp lets himself get kicked around, and Romney doesn’t exactly do that. He sure didn’t during the primaries, when he strafed Rick Perry and carpet-bombed Rick Santorum (but note that they were both weaker than he).

In some respects, he’s more weenie than wimp—socially inept; at times awkwardy ingratiating, at other times mocking those “below” him, but almost always getting the situation a little wrong, and never in a sympathetic way. The evidence resonates across too many years to deny. What kind of teenager beats up on the misfit, sissy kid, pinning him down and violently cutting his hair with a pair of school scissors—the incident from Romney’s youth that The Washington Post famously reported (and Romney famously didn’t really deny) back in May?

And what kind of presidential candidate whines about a few attacks and demands an apology when the going starts to get rough? And tries to sound tough by accusing the president who killed the world’s most-wanted villain of appeasement? That’s what they call overcompensation, and it’s a dead giveaway; it’s the “tell.” This guy is nervous—terrified—about looking weak. And ironically, being terrified of looking weak makes him look weaker still.

He’s the most risk-averse major politician to come along in ages. He accepted the job at Bain Capital only after wringing out of Bill Bain a promise that, if the venture failed, Mitt would be welcomed back to Bain & Co.—at his old levels of compensation and seniority—and that the press and public would be fed some happy talk about how it had all gone as intended. And why didn’t he leave Bain in 1999 to go run the Olympics, as he always said he had, but instead take his now-famous “leave of absence”? To have the option of coming back; to minimize the risk. Even his flip-flopping, his taking of positions all over the map, is a form of risk aversion, being all things to all people, able to placate any audience, never stuck out on a limb unable to satisfy.

Politicians change positions for three main reasons: financial ambition, political ruthlessness, and political cowardice. Romney already has the big money, so that’s out. Ruthless? Not really—a ruthless change of position is one designed to please one group of people but equally to piss off another group. Romney’s flip-flops are solely about making a group of highly suspicious voters like him. That, folks, is door No. 3.

In a similar vein, it was breathtaking, and a meaningful window into his thinking, that he thought denouncing “Obamacare” to the NAACP constituted courage. That was the opposite of courage—an easy shot aimed at people who aren’t voting for him anyway.

But if Romney is elected? Be nervous. A Republican president sure of his manhood had nothing to prove. Reagan was happy with a jolly little shoot-up in Grenada, and eventually he settled down to the serious work of arms control, consummating historic treaties with Mikhail Gorbachev. But a weenie Republican—look out. He has something to prove, needs to reassert that “natural” advantage. That spells trouble more often than not.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fly Ball Into Far Right Field Goes Way Foul

Words like "offensive," "abhorrent," and "pathetic" are being used to describe a billboard in Caldwell, Idaho, that compares President Barack Obama — unfavorably — to James Eagan Holmes, the suspect in the shooting deaths of 12 people in a Colorado movie theater last week.

 The billboard attempts to equate the actions of the president's foreign policies to the cowardly acts of Holmes.   Of Holmes, it says: "Kills 12 in a movie theater with assault rifle, everyone freaks out." Of Obama, it says: "Kills thousands with foreign policy, wins Nobel Peace Prize."

The libertarian group that owns the board, The Ralph Smeed Foundation, says it wants to draw attention to military men and women dying overseas.  "This billboard is offensive to all those lives lost and affected by the shooting," wrote a commenter on the Facebook page of KBOI-TV of Boise, which first reported the story. "Just pathetic, even if this is their expression of the 1st amendment."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Disappointing NBC Olympic Opening Ceremony

NBC's broadcast of the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics was a miss for me.  I have to give director Danny Boyle a big thumbs up for the opening segment which portrayed England's transition from an agrarian society to an industrialized economy-- stunning images and very cinematically portrayed.

But the rest of the ceremony was lackluster and the middle section on rock and pop music came across as especially insipid and almost incomprehensible-- something about a boy and a girl meeting on the subway, a lost phone, hooking up at a party-- not sure.  The section was heavily reliant on pre-filmed segments and on-screen graphics . . . to the live audience, all that could be seen were a bunch of randomly-costumed teenagers dancing haphazardly around a house that served as essentially as a big-screen TV.

NBC's coverage and editorial decisions, however, completely ruined it for me.  One of the major sections of the ceremony was a homage to Britain's National Health Service-- and Costas, Lauer and Vieira were strangely silent on the subject-- only one or two sentences saying what the segment was about and what "NHS" stood for.  Their reticence on the subject was in marked contract to the rest of the broadcast, which featured incessant running of the mouth about even the most obvious on-screen events.  In my opinion, it was a deliberate editorial call in favor of political correctness and to avoid saying anything that would be criticized by the right wing.

Not seen on American TV: Tribute to 7/7 bombing victims
Another shocking omission was the complete elimination (from the tape-delayed broadcast) of the moving tribute to the victims of the London 7/7 bombing.  Scottish singer Emeli Sande performed a moving rendition of "Abide With Me" in memory of the bombing victims, but the song was edited out of NBC's coverage in favor of an inspid Ryan Seacrest interview with Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. It appeared that Phelps actually started to laugh out loud at Seacrest's opening question.

Another black mark on the NBC broadcast was their coverage (or lack thereof) of the Saudi Arabian team's entrance during the Parade of Nations.  Costas mentioned that this was the first Olympics where every country had female athletes, but not only did the cameras not show any of the Saudi women, but Costas and crew also failed to mention that the Saudi team forced all the team's female members to march behind the male counterparts. Guess NBC doesn't want to risk pissing off the IOC or losing General Electric business to the Saudi princes.

Nevertheless, I will give Costas props due to his honoring Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics.   The International Olympic Committee had declined a request to hold a moment of silence during the ceremony to acknowledge the 11 slain Israeli athletes and coaches-- but Costas called that decision insensitive during an interview this month and during the broadcast had these words: "Still, for many, tonight with the world watching is the true time and place to remember those who were lost and how and why they died."  After a five-second pause, NBC cut to a commercial.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Does The Government Own Sunshine Too?

A rural Oregon man has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and over $1,500 in fines because he has three reservoirs on his property to collect rainwater.

Gary Harrington of Eagle Point, Oregon, says he plans to appeal his conviction for violating a 1925 law for having what the state has called “three illegal reservoirs” on his property – and for filling the reservoirs with rainwater and snow runoff. “The government is bullying,” Harrington said in an interview. “They’ve just gotten to be big bullies and if you just lay over and die and give up, that just makes them bigger bullies. So, we as Americans, we need to stand on our constitutional rights, on our rights as citizens and hang tough. This is a good country, we’ll prevail,” he said.

The court has given Harrington two weeks to report to the Jackson County Jail to begin serving his sentence.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Open Mouth, Insert Mitt

Mitt Romney, in his first trip abroad as the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, is in the middle of a diplomatic disaster. The trouble began Romney, who ran the 2002 Salt Lake City games, said there were "disconcerting" signs in the days before this year's games. "The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials -- that obviously is not something which is encouraging," he said.

Should I shut up now?
 U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron soon shot back at Romney. "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course, it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere," he said.

At a boisterous pre-Olympic rally, London's mayor, Boris Johnson, ridiculed Romney for his remarks questioning the city's readiness for the games. "There are some people who are coming from around the world who don't yet know about all the preparations we've done to get London ready in the last seven years," he said. "I heard there's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready. Are we ready? Yes we are!"

Mitt Romney's disastrous British trip continued the next day when he "caused amusement" by saying he had spent a great day in the "backside" of Downing Street, rather than the back garden. In yet another faux pas, Romney announced his meeting with MI6, the U.K. Secret Intelligence Service who never acknowledges or comments on its dealings with public officials.

And if you think that's bad enough, here's a quote from his book "No Apology":
“England is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn’t been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler’s ambitions.”

Nice job, Mitt.  Maybe you can secretly baptize the late Queen Mother while you're at it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Six Women Rape Nigerian Man To Death

Uroko Onoja's fame and financial success allowed him to enjoy the patronage of the most beautiful girls in the Nigerian village of Ugbugbu Owukpa, Ogbadibo.  However, it also led to his untimely death at the hands of his six jealous wives, according to a local report

Trouble started at 3 am Tuesday morning, when Uroko returned from Ochanja, a popular joint in the small community of Ugbugbu and headed to the room of his youngest wife. According to the youngest wife, the other wives then invaded her room with knives and sticks, demanding that their husband have sex with all of them at once. Uroko was overpowered by the women and ordered that the sex marathon being with the youngest wife and to continue in that order to the oldest.

Uroko stopped breathing as the fifth woman was making her way to the bed. “Suddenly, my husband stopped breathing, and they all ran out, still laughing, but when they saw that I could not resuscitate him, they all ran into the forest," said the youngest wife.

When contacted, village chief Okpe Odoh affirmed that the matter had been reported to the police and investigation was ongoing even as the youth of the community were helping the police in search of the escaped wives.  At the time the report was filed, two of the wives had been arrested.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Skype Change Allows Eavesdropping Of Calls

The video calling service Skype recently made a change to how it routes calls. Hackers and bloggers are saying the changes, which push some of the video calling process onto Skype's own computers ("supernodes") instead of onto random machines on the Internet, could help the app spy on users' calls, presumably at the request of a court or government. "Reportedly, Microsoft is re-engineering these supernodes to make it easier for law enforcement to monitor calls," Tim Verry, from the website ExtremeTech, wrote last week. "In this way, the actual voice data would pass through the monitored servers and the call is no longer secure. It is essentially a man-in-the-middle attack, and it is made all the easier because Microsoft -- who owns Skype and knows the keys used for the service's encryption -- is helping." Skype, which grew out of the peer-to-peer downloading network Kazaa and how has 254 million "connected" users per month, has a long reputation for guarding the privacy of its callers. Skype calls usually are routed from one caller to another, rather than through a middleman. Chaim Haas, Skype's spokesman, refused to say if the update actually enabled the company to tap into and record Skype calls. He also would not answer questions about when the update took place or whether wiretapping was a motive.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Figure Involved In Salt Lake City Bribery Scandal Is Tied To 2012 Olympic Ticket Scandal

The biggest overseas ticketing agency for the London 2012 Games has been besieged by complaints after hundreds of buyers were forced to wait in lines for more than six hours and others received groups of tickets that were not seated together.

CoSport, which is the official overseas ticketing partner for the United States, Australia and Canada, was the subject of complaints in the U.S. last week after it told hundreds of purchasers they would not be receiving their tickets in the mail as promised and that they would have to collect their tickets in person from a box office in London instead.

By lunchtime, more than 200 people were waiting in line at a Paddington ticket office in temperatures of up to 90 degrees.  Some customers had to leave without collecting their tickets, while others found out that they had bought a group of tickets that were scattered in different locations at the same event.  One buyer from Toronto said three of four sets of tickets ordered for him and his 10-year-old daughter had come back with the seats a long way apart. "Having her sitting sections away and rows removed from me  is simply unacceptable," he said.

Another visitor from Northern England said it took CoSport staff at least 15 minutes to process each person in line.  He returned to his home in Harrogate empty-handed, with a promise from CoSport that his tickets would be couriered to him.  "I'm very nervous about this but still had [to wait] over two hours queuing and then a train to catch back to Harrogate. So, a wasted day, almost [$240] spent on train and food, and still no tickets," he said.

A London 2012 spokeswoman shirked any responsibility for the fowl up, saying that CoSport would have to deal with the fallout, and advised purchasers to contact the company directly.

The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) gave CoSport the exclusive contract to handle distribution of tickets and hospitality packages for the London Games. The company is owned by the controversial Seattle millionaire Sead Dizdarevic, a well-known figure in Olympic circles for almost three decades.  Dizdarevic was implicated in the fallout from the 1999 Salt Lake City scandal, which rocked the Olympic movement to its core.   The IOC was forced to implement wholesale reforms after it emerged that large bribes had been paid to IOC members to bring the 2002 Winter Olympics to the city.

But this is not the first ticketing scandal involving tickets from CoSport at the 2012 games.  Last week, it emerged that the firm was sending out tickets to members of the public that were originally intended for Games sponsors.  IOC rules strictly prohibit reselling of tickets originally issued to Olympic sponsors. Recipients of Olympic tickets bought from CoSport (at a premium) reported that the tickets they received were stamped as having been originally issued to Dow Chemical and General Electric.  

The IOC suspended the sales process for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games while it investigates allegations that Olympic officials and agents representing 54 countries offered London 2012 tickets on the black market.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Best Buy Employee Joins The Peek Squad

A female Best Buy customer says an employee who promised to transfer her contacts and photos to a newly purchased iPhone burned a CD of her racy photos and invited her to his home to retrieve them.

Sophia Ellison says she hired a Geek Squad employee at the Fair Oaks Best Buy, in Fairfax, Va., to transfer her photos, phone numbers and email addresses when she replaced an older iPhone in April.  A day later, she realized her new iPhone 4s didn't have any of her 900 photos, including suggestive personal photos and a video taken by her young children of themselves, joking after getting out of the shower.

"I felt sick. I felt violated. I felt so embarrassed," Ellison said.  Ellison called the Best Buy to complain, and asked a manager to call her.  Instead, the Geek Squad employee called her, promising to retrieve her photos. "A few days later, he called back to tell me he'd made a CD at his house with all my photos, and said I could pick them up at his house," Ellison said.

Ellison hung up the phone. She's distraught that someone else has her very personal property.  "I'm a woman. I love to model. I'm not a model, but I love to model. I have some pretty racy photos of myself, for me."

Paula Baldwin, public relations director for Best Buy Services says the employee has now been fired.  "We can confirm that an employee at this store has been terminated for making a personal transaction with a customer while on duty at the store. We're continuing our investigation and assure you that we will continue to act promptly to address any inappropriate employee behavior."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Insenstive NRA Tweet After Aurora Shootings

Getting Your Story Straight

All we've been hearing from the GOP is the government spending doesn't create jobs. But now that automatic sequestration is looming, we are hearing the cuts in government spending will result in a loss of jobs-- which means that government spending does result in jobs, right?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Leona Helmsley Moment

 Money quote from a GOP supporter at a recent Mitt Romney fundraiser in Los Angeles:

"My college kid, the babysitters, the nails ladies - everybody who's got the right to vote - they don't understand what's going on. I just think if you're lower income - 1) you're not as educated; 2) they don't understand how it works, they don't understand how the systems work, they don't understand the impact."


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