Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sanford And Its Sons

Earlier this week, details of George Zimmerman's statement to the police surfaced.  The 29-year-old self-appointed watchman, who last month killed an unarmed teenager, claimed that he was in a life-or-death struggle with Trayvon Martin.  He said that the teenager tackled him on a sidewalk and started beating him up-- punching him in the nose and banging his head on the concrete.

A few days after that, surveillance video of his arrival at the police station hit the internet-- in the images you can clearly see that Zimmerman did not have blood coming from his nose; that there were no bruises or scratches on his face, neck or hands; nor was there any blood at all on his clothing.  There did not seem to be a wound on the back of his head, but that is inconclusive.

Tonight, CNN reported the story of a witness to the incident who says that he/she saw Zimmerman and Martin fighting on the grass, not the sidewalk-- which sows further doubt of Zimmerman's claim that his head was slammed into the sidewalk.

So even though we still don't know definitely what happened that fateful night-- in my eyes,  Zimmerman's credibility is slowing drifting away . . . .

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sweet Tweet From Shrill Bill

I almost overlooked a classic cheap shot Bill Maher took on Super Tuesday-- aimed squarely at GOP voters in Alabama and Mississippi.  With all eyes on Republican primaries in those states, Maher sent the following message via Twitter saying, "Toothless Tuesday too tight to tally!"

Monday, March 26, 2012

This Tiger Is Showing His Stripes

In a new tell-all book, Hank Haney, former golf coach to Tiger Woods, paints his student of six years as a tempestuous, rude, cheap, porn-watching superstar oblivious to those around him. Excerpts from the book ("The Big Miss") have been published in the New York Post.

Haney described Woods' relationship with his wife as 'distant' and 'cool'. Three months after the couple married, Nordegren apparently wanted to celebrate her husband’s victory at Torrey Pines. She suggested they throw a party like they used to when she worked as a nanny for fellow golfer Jesper Parnevik. But Tiger shot her down, saying: “E, that’s not what we do. I’m not Jesper. We’re supposed to win.’

Haney adds that the model’s smile ‘got smaller’ as their marriage continued. ‘In the future Elin would keep her emotions under wraps whenever Tiger won,’ he writes. ‘As life became more complicated, I thought Elin changed . . . She and Tiger developed a calm, almost cool relationship in front of other people, and conversations with them tended to be awkward and strained. ‘I never saw them argue, but they weren’t openly affectionate either.’

Haney depicts Woods as bad-mannered, cheap, and a lover of pornography and potty-humor. Haney writes that during their six years together, Woods showed little respect for those around him. Whenever they got takeout, Haney would have to pick up the food — and the tab. “He seemed to think it was funny to be cheap.”

Haney also recalls cringing when Tiger would completely ignore “little-kid autograph seekers who were begging him to stop.”

Before the 2006 Ryder Cup, several golfers, including devout Christian Zach Johnson, shared a hotel room with Woods. Tiger ‘immediately purchased the adult-move 24-hour package and turned it on,’ Haney said. Johnson had no choice but to ignore the adult programming. “It was so funny watching him acting like everything was normal,” Woods told Haney. “I got him pretty good.”

He was more mean-spirited when it came to rival golfer Phil Mickelson. Tiger would call him lazy and “make fun of his body.”

The ex-coach said Tiger let his fame go to his head. When he went out to eat with Nordegren, he’d get up and leave, expecting her to follow – even if she hadn’t finished her meal. ‘When he was done – and he habitually ate fast – you were done,’ he wrote.

Though Woods said he hated the ‘vultures’ in media for picking apart his personal life, he oddly loved his depiction in the animated comedy "South Park", in which he is seen calling Nordegren a ‘fat Swedish cow.’

Haney eventually split with Woods via text message in May 2010-- appropriately enough, since Tiger is well-known for ignoring people while glued to his smartphone. As it turned out, the golfer was texting his mistresses at the time.

Woods has written off the book, calling it ‘unprofessional and very disappointing.’

Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Hunger Games" A Book For Our Time?

The movie version of Suzanne Collins' 2008 book (the first in a trilogy of novels about a long counterinsurgency campaign, the costs it exacts, its moral traps, and the political use of violence) just hit theaters this weekend.

"Hunger Games" tells the story of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a country called Panem. She is a resident of District 12, the poor coal-mining remnant of Appalachia. There used to be a District 13, but it and its residents were destroyed 74 years ago after the districts rebelled against the central government in the Capitol. As punishment, each district has since then been required to send a girl and a boy every year to the Capitol city as “tributes.” The tributes are dressed up, paraded, and put in the "games", where they are forced to kill the other participants to ensure their survival. All money and luxury has been centralized in the Capitol, so winning the game (aside from survival) is important for getting more resources for your district. The children’s participation in the killing is designed to reinforce both the powerlessness of the districts and their role in supporting the central government.

In a New Yorker piece by Amy Davidson, Collins is quoted as saying she got the idea for the books from switching channels and seeing images of both the Iraq war and reality shows. Indeed, a fair number of the characters are broken by their own violent acts.



But aside from the various elements that make the books popular among adolescents, Davidson sees a larger social context at play. America has been at war for a decade now; is it really a coincidence that the biggest movie of the year is the first in a trilogy in which torture, terror, asymmetric warfare, and the manipulation of public opinion all play a role?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Santorum Tries To Pray The Gay Away

Sex columnist Dan Savage responded this week to Rick Santorum's statement that he was "praying" for him:

"Rick Santorum thinks that women who have been raped should be compelled—by force of law—to carry the babies of their rapists to term, he thinks birth control should be illegal, he wants to prosecute pornographers, etc., etc., basically the guy wants to be president so that he can micromanage the sex lives of all Americans...and I'm the one with issues? Because I made a dirty joke at his expense eight or nine years ago and it stuck? I'm the one with issues?"

If you'll recall, Dan Savage sponsored a 2003 contest in which his readers voted to redefine the term "santorum" as "the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes a byproduct of anal sex". Savage set up a website to spread the definition, which quickly led to a google-bomb on the former senator's last name.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Castrated By The Dutch Roman Catholic Church

And you couldn't imagine it could get any sicker.  Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad has identified Henk Heithuis, who in 1956, reported priests to the police for abusing him in a Catholic boarding home.  He was a minor at the time.  In response, the Catholic church labeled him a homosexual and had him castrated.

Joep Dohmen, the investigative journalist who uncovered the Heithuis case, also found evidence of at least nine other castrations. "These cases are anonymous and can no longer be traced," he said. "There will be many more. But the question is whether those boys, now old men, will want to tell their story."

Heithuis died in a car crash in 1958, two years after being castrated at the age of 20, while under the age of majority, which was then 21.  He had  accused Catholic clergy of sexually abusing him in his Church-run care home.  Two clergymen were later convicted of abuse but Heithuis, a victim, was nonetheless transferred by police to a Catholic psychiatric hospital.

He was later castrated "at his own request", despite no submission of his written consent. The surgical removal of testicles was regarded as a treatment for homosexuality and also as a punishment for those who accused clergy of sexual abuse.

Cornelius Rogge, 79, a well-known Dutch sculptor whose family knew Heithuis in the 1950s, reported the castration to an official inquiry into abuse within the Catholic Church. But his evidence was ignored.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Heads Roll Over Papal Visit In Mexico

Just days ahead of a visit by Pope Benedict, the severed heads of ten people have been found in Mexico in a suspected outbreak of drug violence, authorities said.  The heads were lined up on a street outside a slaughterhouse in Teloloapan, about 155 miles south of Mexico City.

The bodies have not been found, according to the Guerrero state attorney general's office.  Seven of the heads belonged to men and three to women, all aged between 20 and 35 years.

More than 50,000 people have died in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon launched an army-led crackdown on the cartels after taking office five years ago.  Teloloapan is in the Tierra Caliente region of Guerrero, where the La Familia cartel and its offshoot, Los Caballeros Templarios (The Knights Templar), are fighting for territory.

A statement from the Teloloapan police said the heads were left with a message that appeared to threaten the La Familia cartel.  The warning said: 'This is going to happen to all those who support the FM.'

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Still Think Online Piracy Is About Artists' Rights? Guess Again

For years, film and video content providers have been cracking down on internet pirates and private citizens in their efforts to maximize their bottom line. Through the use of lawsuits, criminal charges, congressional lobbying, corporate intimidation, and hostile software acquisitions, they have been methodically eliminating consumer options for backing up DVD's or transferring them from one platform to another.

What parent who has bought dozens of Disney DVD's would not want to make backup copies before they are totally scratched up in the minivan or left behind at their kids' sleep overs? If you shelled out over $250 for the complete Sopranos series, why wouldn't you want to easily (and without extra cost) be able to watch the shows on either your TV, your computer or on your iPod?

Hollywood has long been criticized for their seemingly anti-consumer initiatives, especially when they have not provided consumers with any viable alternative for streaming/sharing content themselves. But last week saw the high-profile unveiling of Hollywood's "UltraViolet" scheme-- available initially at Wal-Mart, it is marketed as an easier way to send movies and content to multiple devices. As always, we can count on CNET to give us the real deal-- and what is their verdict?

It stinks. Hollywood claims that Ultraviolet offers an easy-to-access digital library, "total freedom" to view your UV-enabled movies on any device, and future-proof DVD buying where every disc includes cloud backup.

The reality is less than promised, however. The Wal-Mart plan is that you can bring in your existing DVDs and, for a fee of between $2 and $5 per DVD, you can buy yourself digital streaming rights to those movies (even though you legally already have those rights-- but that's another discussion).  The streaming happens through Wal-Mart's Vudu service, which is available on only about 300 devices-- none of them Android devices.  It's available on iPad, but not in high-def.

You'll need to sign up for a free Vudu account for access, and you might end up needing to buy a new Blu-ray player, one of a handful of connected TVs that support the Vudu app, a Microsoft Xbox 360, or a PlayStation 3 to stream the content to your TV.

And if the Vudu catalog doesn't have a license for your movie, you might be out of luck-- in which case you'll have to go find and stream a digital copy of your DVD from a separate UltraViolet library, which requires a second sign-up process (and possibly more money). Cha-ching!

And by the way-- TV shows are excluded.  Oops!

And one more thing-- Wal-Mart's plan doesn't include Disney.  I mean, come on! What child-rearing family in the U.S. doesn't own at least one Disney flick? But that's OK . . . you can just re-purchase "Cars" or "Toy Story" on iTunes for an extra $14.99! Cha-ching!

But all of that doesn't seem what UltraViolet was promised to be-- right? UltraViolet is supposed to give you total freedom, access to your digital library everywhere, and the ability to watch on every device!

Wrong. The fine print from Hollywood allows retailers to determine the specifics of UltraViolet's implementation. Wal-Mart gets to decide what apps and what devices support the streaming. Best Buy could also decide. Amazon could make up its own terms whenever it starts selling UltraViolet movies.

OK, OK-- so maybe Wal-Mart is abusing the system, but UltraViolet is worth a few extra bucks (per DVD) for convenience, right?

Wrong again. Digital access bought using UltraViolet is limited to one year. The streaming benefits attached to a DVD you've already purchased have a finite expiration date.  Fees may be incurred if you attempt to stream content after that first year.  Fees may also arise if retailers and streaming services choose to require them (for any reason they desire).  Service fees could also apply if you want to download more than three of your UltraViolet files to various devices, and downloaded files can only be played on (at least right now) 12 compatible apps and devices. Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching . . . .

Back to Wal-Mart and Vudu for a second. Because Disney is not on board, Apple is obviously not on board, so your UltraViolet movie copies can't be backed up to iCloud, where you'll be storing other media if you own an Apple device. Still think this is convenient? Disney has also decided to turn its own digital movie locker, KeyChest, into a place to store and access all your Disney media. This is all starting to look like a hot mess, don't ya think?

To make matters worse, digital movies purchased on Amazon won't support UltraViolet (or iCloud, for that matter), so there's every chance you could end up with a minimum of two cloud libraries for movies. Three, once KeyChest launches. Maybe more!

Oh, and UltraViolet is region-coded-- meaning that whatever content your buy and store in the U.S. won't be playable while your vacationing in South America, Europe or Asia.  Can you give me one more big "Cha-ching"?!!

Monday, March 19, 2012

No Justice For Black Victims in Sanford, Flordia

Shot dead for carrying Skittles
17-year-old Trayvon Martin was visiting his father and the home of some family friends last month when he decided to head out for some snacks.  On the walk back home, he was confronted unexpectedly by 28-year-old George Zimmerman.  Within seconds, the unarmed teenager lay dead on the ground.  Zimmerman walked free that same night-- and, having shot an unarmed boy, still has not been charged with a crime.

The case has shocked people nationwide, taking on racial overtones and provoking cries of vigilantism gone amok in a case where an unarmed black teenager was shot by a white self-appointed "neighborhood patrol leader".  Zimmerman claims he was defending himself, but others say he was overzealous and lethally reckless.

What is known for sure is that Trayvon was on his way back home from a nearby 7-11 when he was spotted by Zimmerman, who called police to report a “real suspicious guy.” He told the dispatcher that Martin “looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.” He described Martin as having his hand on his waistband, carrying an object, and coming towards him. “And he’s a black male…Something’s wrong with him…These assholes, they always get away.”

Despite being told by the dispatcher not to chase him, Zimmerman went after Martin. According to several 911 calls from the neighborhood, the two wrestled and screams for help went out from one of the two. Then after a single shot, Martin lay on the ground, dead. The object in his hands was a bag of Skittles.

When police came to the scene, Zimmerman dropped his weapon and told them he shot Martin in self defense.  Sanford police did not press charges against Zimmerman, telling the slain teen’s family that he had a “squeaky clean” record. He is a licensed gun owner studying criminal justice.

Reports have surfaced that Zimmerman had called police 46 times in the two months leading up to the incident and that his volunteer patrols had an unremitting focus on black males. He had also once been arrested for battery on a police officer. His defenders have pointed out that has been responsible for thwarting several crimes.

Since the incident, a new controversy has risen over whether the Sanford Police Department is protecting Zimmerman, whether he acted appropriately under Florida’s concealed carry gun laws, and whether he acted properly under the state’s “stand your ground” laws, which allow residents to use deadly force against a threat without trying to retreat.

Suspicion was heightened by the fact that Zimmerman was not tested for alcohol or drugs, customary police procedure after a shooting. Moreover, several witnesses have come forward saying Martin could be heard on the 911 tapes screaming for help.  Also fueling criticism of the Sanford Police Department are prior instances of cronyism and racial profiling.

In July 2005, two parking lot security guards, one the son of a Sanford Police Department veteran and the other a volunteer for the department, shot a black teen, Travares McGill, in the back, killing him. The two white security guards claimed self-defense, and the case was dismissed.

Last year, then-police chief Brian Tooley was forced from office after the son of a lieutenant was caught on camera beating up an unsuspecting homeless black man, but whom the department declined to prosecute. After the footage went viral on YouTube, the Lieutenant's son was arrested.

Martin’s family is angered-- not only over his death, but also over police inaction toward Zimmerman. They feel the killing was racially motivated.

The Sanford police said they do not have enough evidence to refute Zimmerman's claims of self-defense. The case has since been turned over to the Seminole County State Attorney's Office, which has still not yet determined whether Zimmerman should face any charges in Trayvon's death.

Trayvon's parents and community leaders, enraged by Sanford and Seminole County handling of the case, have called on the FBI to take over the investigation-- saying they no longer trust the local police department.

After efforts by Florida A&M students to draw attention to the case, those calls have now been heeded.  The Department of Justice this evening announced that it would be dispatching officials to Sanford to investigate and "to address tension in the community."

"The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation," Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a written statement. "The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident."

Campaign Funnies

"I see that both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum now have Secret Service with them on the campaign trail. And in Santorum's case I think it's the first time he's actually ever used protection."

-- Senator Scott Brown, using a joke from Conan O'Brien.

Argentina Breaking Away From Religious Oppression

Argentina's Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that any rape victim can get an abortion, setting an historic precedent in a country where abortions are generally illegal.

Until now, it had been up to a judge to decide which rape victims could get abortions, and generally only women with mental disabilities were approved. In several well-publicized cases, even young girls who had been raped were forced to carry out their pregnancies.

The Supreme Court now says no rape victim can be punished for terminating a pregnancy. And those women no longer need a court order. All they need to provide to a doctor is a sworn declaration that they were raped.

The Roman Catholic Church condemned the ruling, saying abortions are wrong even in the event of a rape.

Let's hope that Americans will come to their senses as well, and refute the religious right's renewed attack on women in this country.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Testament To The Power Of The Internet

An Indian man who lost his family while begging as a child has been reunited with them after more than two decades -- after spotting his home village on Google Earth.

Twenty five years ago, Saroo Brierly (then known as Sharu) was begging at a railway station in Khandwa, India, with one of his older brothers. They boarded a train that, unbeknownst to them, was going the wrong way and fell asleep. Nine hundred miles and 10 hours later, Saroo woke up on the other side of the country. His brother was nowhere to be found. He was five years old at the time.

The little boy spent a difficult month trying to find his way back home. He almost drowned in the River Ganges and nearly got abducted by a man who wanted to sell him as a slave.

Saroo was placed in an orphanage run by an NGO after he was found begging on the streets of Kolkata and was later adopted by an Australian couple who brought him to Tasmania.

Saroo Brierly never forgot where he came from, and began his search for his hometown soon after graduating from college. "I kept in my head the images of the town I grew up in, the streets I used to wander and the faces of my family, I treasured those memories," The debut of Google Earth in 2005 proved to be the key to Brierly's quest.

From a vague memory of the Khandwa train station, he spent years using the satellite mapping tool to locate an area near the train station that fit in perfectly with this childhood memories-- the village of Ganesh Talai. He then joined a Facebook group for his home town Ganesh Talai and managed to piece together the details by exchanging emails with members of the group.

He booked his plane ticket three weeks ago and went to the town, scouring the streets searching for his family. Incredibly, he found them-- still very poor and living in the same slum of his birth 30 years ago.

Brierly learned that his mother, Kamla, and his eldest brother, Kallu, had searched endlessly for him and his brother after they went missing.  They had sought the comfort of fortunetellers who told them that they would one day be together again. The hoped-for family reunion turned out to be incomplete, however. The brother that had accompanied him that fateful day had later been found dead on the railroad tracks near Burhanpur.

"To this day, I still can't believe I managed to find my family, considering India's population size and how young I was when I lost them," Saroo told reporters. He has no plans to return to his hometown, but hopes to visit his family frequently. He says he plans to make a movie on his past and present which “will have everything”.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Diplomat's Daughter Shot Dead In Venezuela

The 19-year-old daughter of a Chilean diplomat in Venezuela has been killed by police at an unmarked road checkpoint.  Chilean Consul Fernando Berendique, speaking from the western city of Maracaibo, said his daughter Karen was shot early Saturday while riding with her brother and another young man to see some friends.

The trio ignored a command to stop at the checkpoint, fearing the officers might be robbers. Venezuelans have long been distrustful of the police--  violent crime is widespread in Venezuela,  which has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America.  Government officials have estimated that police are complicit in 20 percent of all kidnappings and murders.

The Prosecutor General's Office says in a statement that eleven police officers are under investigation for their roles in the death.  According to that statement, the victim after suffering three bullet wounds, including one to the head.  Judicial police chief Jose Humberto Ramirez condemns the shooting and what he calls "bad police practices."

Next Stop: End of the Rainbow

Open Mouth, Lose Election

Rick the dumb-ass prick
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum told Puerto Ricans this week they would have to make English their primary language if they wanted to pursue U.S. statehood. There's only one problem, however-- that's not what the U.S. Constitution says.

Santorum's stupidity doesn't stop there. He went on, saying that other states must do the same: "Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law. And that is that English has to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language such as Hawaii but to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language."

Sun-torum dreaming of exercise
Of course, that's not true either. But his idiocy went further when he said, “To me, it doesn’t make any sense to be in America and not want to be a state and have full rights as a United States citizen.” Puerto Ricans, of course, are already United States citizens. Oops!

Needless to say, many Puerto Ricans are pissed. One of Santorum's most prominent supporters, former Puerto Rican senator Oreste Ramos, was so upset he rescinded his endorsement that very day. Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's resident commissioner, also took issue, saying "Santorum's vision over what the U.S. should be is limited and close-minded."

Top of the Morning

Friday, March 16, 2012

Patriot Act Abuses Continue Under Obama

For more than two years, a handful of Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee have warned that the government is secretly interpreting its surveillance powers under the Patriot Act in a way that would be alarming if Congress and the general public knew about it.

Two senators — Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado — have now gone further. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, they say a recent top-secret intelligence operation that is based on the secret legal theory made possible by the Patriot Act is not as crucial to national security as executive branch officials have publicly maintained.

The senators wrote that it was appropriate to keep specific operations secret. But, they said, the government in a democracy must act within publicly understood law so that voters “can ratify or reject decisions made on their behalf” — even if that “obligation to be transparent with the public” creates other challenges.

“In recent months we have grown increasingly skeptical about the actual value of the ‘intelligence collection operation,’ ” they added. “This has come as a surprise to us, as we were initially inclined to take the executive branch’s assertions about the importance of this ‘operation’ at face value.”

The letter from Wyden and Udall also complained that while the Obama administration told Congress in August 2009 that it would establish “a regular process for reviewing, redacting and releasing significant opinions” of the secret court, since then “not a single redacted opinion has been released.”

So This Is "March Madness"

At an NCAA basketball game yesterday, Kansas State's point guard Angel Rodriguez went to the foul line to shoot free throws. In the background, a chant of "Where's your green card?" rang out through the crowd. (It can be heard at 2 and 17 seconds in the video.) Reporters on the scene identified it as having come from Southern Mississippi's band. Apparently, the seeds of bigotry are sown at an early age in Mississippi.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

With Obama's Help, BOA Too Crooked To Fail

Have you heard about the plot to rig global interest rates? The $137 million fine for bilking needy schools and cities? The ingenious plan to suck multiple fees out of the unemployment checks of jobless workers?  If not, you haven't been keeping up on Bank of America.

It's been four years since the government, in the name of preventing a depression, saved this megabank from ruin by pumping $45 billion of taxpayer money into its arm. Since then, the Obama administration has looked the other way as the bank committed an astonishing variety of crimes.

As thoroughly documented by Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, Bank of America has systematically cheated investors, insurers, depositors, homeowners, shareholders, pensioners and taxpayers.

BOA brought tens of thousands of Americans to foreclosure court using bogus, "robo-signed" evidence. It hawked worthless mortgages to dozens of unions and state pension funds, draining them of hundreds of millions in value. It also helped push insurance giants like AMBAC into bankruptcy by fraudulently inducing them to spend hundreds of millions insuring those same worthless mortgages.

But despite being the very definition of an unaccountable corporate villain, Bank of America is now bigger and more dangerous than ever. It controls more than 12 percent of America's bank deposits (skirting a federal law designed to prohibit any firm from controlling more than 10 percent), as well as 17 percent of all American home mortgages.

By looking the other way and rewarding the bank's bad behavior with a massive government bailout, we actually allowed a huge financial company to not just grow so big that its collapse would imperil the whole economy, but to get away with any and all crimes it might commit.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Secret Cache Of Emails Lift The Veil On Syria's Assad

Bashar al-Assad took advice from Iran on how to handle the uprising against his rule, according to a cache of  several thousand emails received and sent by the Syrian leader and his wife.

The Syrian leader was also briefed in detail about the presence of western journalists in the Baba Amr district of Homs and was urged to "tighten the security grip" on the opposition-held city in November.

The revelations are contained in more than 3,000 documents downloaded by activists from private accounts belonging to Assad and his wife Asma.  The documents, which emerge on the first anniversary of the rebellion that has seen more than 8,000 Syrians killed, paint a portrait of a first family remarkably insulated from the mounting crisis and continuing to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle.

As the world watched in horror at the brutal suppression of protests across the country and many Syrians faced food shortages and other hardships, Mrs Assad spent more than $15,000 on candlesticks, tables and chandeliers from Paris and instructed an aide to order a fondue set from Amazon.

Assad established a network of trusted aides who reported directly to him through his personal email account – bypassing both his powerful clan and the country's security apparatus.  Assad made light of reforms he had promised in an attempt to defuse the crisis, referring to "rubbish laws of parties, elections, media".  Assad sidestepped extensive U.S. sanctions against him by using a third party with a U.S. address to make purchases of music and apps from Apple's iTunes.

The emails appear to show that Assad received advice from Iran or its proxies on several occasions during the crisis.   "It is not out of our interest to say that al-Qaida is behind the operation because this claim will [indemnify] the U.S. administration and Syrian opposition," wrote Hussein Mortada, a Lebanese business with strong connections to Iran.  In another email Mortada advised the president that the regime needed to take control of public squares between 3pm and 9pm to deny opposition groups the opportunity to gather there.

The emails also offer a rare window into the mind of the isolated Syrian leader, apparently lurching between self-pity, defiance and flippancy as he swapped links to amusing video footage with his aides and wife. On one occasion he forwards to an aide a link to YouTube footage of a crude re-enactment of the siege of Homs using toys and biscuits.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cheney Won't Be Needing Passport Any Time Soon

Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, complicit in war crimes committed by the George W. Bush administration, canceled an upcoming Toronto speaking appearance due to "security concerns" over recent events in Canada.

In the last several weeks, Human Rights Watch had been urging the Canadian government to bring criminal charges against Cheney, due to his role in the torture of detainees.  His last visit to Vancouver had been marked by demonstrations as well.

Cheney was scheduled to speak at the Metro Toronto Convention Center next month, but spokesman Ryan Ruppert said Cheney had "decided it was better for [his] personal safety [to] stay out of Canada."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fox News Followers Prime New Depths In Hate

It shouldn't come as a surprise that right-wing websites have seen a surge of hate-filled comments in the wake of news reports on the rogue soldier who murdered 16 Afghans in Kandahar yesterday.   The worst site (of course) is Fox news-- and here's a sampling:


    This is nothing! Wait until you see what happens to the n!qqqers here in the US of A when the new civil war starts!

    …

    Obama just announced that he is personally going to provide fe la tio to every Afghani male to compensate for their loss.

    …

    This guy only did what the NewBIackPanthers promise to do to white babies.

    …

    I don’t see a problem here.

    …

    It’s perfectly okay for the Afghanistan military to mur der our troops, Obama dosen’t even flinch, however, condolences go out when it’s the other way around. I’ll be very glad when the loser-in-chief is on his way out. I hate muslums, big time, in a very big way! Right behind the muslums are the libtards, they’re just as bad.

    …

    What comes around goes around That soldier deserves a medal!!!!!

    …

    This soldier made a great point. You kiI I our family, we will kil l yours.

    …

    musIim civilians????? Yea Right…Blow Me

    …

    Just another day at the office, even up the score

    …

    Must have been one of those G a y soldiers they are letting in now. Probably emotionally distraught that his g a y lover was ki11ed by Taliban rebels in retaliation for Koran burning that the prisoners defaced to begin with. So what? No big deal. Obamao caused this by letting them in the ranks. Now libturds will blame it on our forces and personally attack us for saying so.

    …

    Our mus lum president is on their side

    …

    A dead Mus lim is a good Mus lim. Give the soldier a medal.

What really astounds me is how adept these assholes are . . . deliberately misspelling or inserting spaces where needed to get their comments past the auto-filters.  And of course, many of these slurs got many "likes" from Fox readers as well.  Sickening.  Absolutely sickening.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Maybe She Can Outsource Being A Mother

A Loudoun County mother whose three children were repeatedly tardy for school has been convicted of three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and fined a total of $3,000

Maureen Blake's three children attend Lincoln Elementary School in Purcellville, Virginia. They were late a total of 30 times between September 10, 2011 and January 19th, 2012.

Blake said she has been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which causes challenges for her. Blake has claimed that she has "outsourced" driving the kids to school, since she is prone at times to misplacing things like glasses, keys and her purse. She also hired a life coach two years ago to help her stay organized.

Despite these efforts, her kids are still late to school over 40% of the days Loudoun County schools were in session the first half of the year.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rush-ing For The Exits

The exodus continues.  Today, 17 more companies announced that they will stop advertising on Rush's radio show:  Bare Escentuals, Sensa Weight Loss, Vitacost, AccuQuote, ServiceMagic, Polycom, Hadeed Carpet, Thompson Creek Windows, stamps.com, Deere & Co., St. Vincent’s Medical Center (CT), Bethesda Sedation Dentistry, Cascades Dental, J.C. Penney, Netflix, Downeast Energy, and Capital One.

Geico, which has not been advertising on Limbaugh's show for several years, was so paranoid about folks thinking they supported his hateful crap that they released this statement:

In 2004, GEICO instructed our affiliates not to run our ads during Rush Limbaugh’s program. This week an ad was placed incorrectly on the show.

We do not place ads on Rush’s program. We do not sponsor the show. We have repeatedly alerted our partners that our ads are never to run during his program. If this does not change rest assured that we will remove all advertising from this radio network.
Sad to say, the Armed Forces Network continues to carry his show.  if you want to help with that, you can complain to DOD by sending an email here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Blimp Limbaugh Is Sinking Fast

Big, fat, and full of hot air . . . airship Limbaugh is not quite on fire,  but he is starting to sink fast.  As of today, thirteen sponsors have dropped his show in reaction to his calling a law student a slut for wanting life insurance to cover birth control.   Which sponsors have come to their senses?

Sleep Train
Sleep Number
LegalZoom
Citrix
Quicken Loans
Carbonite
ProFlowers
Allstate
Sears
Bonobos
Heart & Body Extract
Tax Resolution Services
AOL

And now comes word that individual stations are considering dropping his show altogether. First up? KPUA from Hawaii . . . from Chris Leonard, president and general manager:

"The most recent incident [Limbaugh's attack on Sandra Fluke] has crossed a line of decency and a standard that we expect of programming on KPUA, whether it is locally produced or a syndicated program like the Rush Limbaugh show.

While much of the national debate regarding this issue is now being framed in political terms, the decision for us is one of decency and responsibility. Regardless of one's political views on the issue being discussed, we feel the delivery was degrading and the continued comments over several days to be egregious. As a result, we are discontinuing the Rush Limbaugh program on KPUA effective immediately.”

You would think that such unwarranted and degrading treatment of a woman would cross the line with the Armed Forces network.   Well, maybe we need to bring that line a little closer-- if you want to help, you can complain to DOD by sending an email here.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Spendthrift Running As A Fiscal Conservative?

Newt Gingrich holds himself up as a model of fiscal discipline. "If the U.S. government was as debt-free as I am, everybody in America would be celebrating," he told reporters last year.  What may be true for Gingrich personally, however, has rarely been the case for organizations he runs.

Since 1984, Gingrich has launched 12 politically oriented organizations and initiatives based in Washington. Of those, five have been investigated by the Internal Revenue Service and the House Ethics Committee, another five closed down with debts totaling more than $500,000, and two were subject to legal action.

According to former colleagues and subordinates, Gingrich burns through money by repeatedly expanding his plans and ignoring warnings from staff about the finances of his projects. Now, the same pattern is threatening his presidential campaign.  If you don't have time to read the well-documented Huffpo piece, then check out their nifty graphic:

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