Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Deadly Inaccurate

Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett died during a botched execution, minutes after a doctor had called a halt to the procedure, raising more questions about new death penalty cocktails used by the state and others.

Thirteen minutes had elapsed after officials administered the lethal injection when Lockett lifted his head and started mumbling. The doctor on scene immediately halted the execution.  Lockett however, unexpectedly died of a massive heart attack about 30 minutes after that. "We believe that a vein was blown and the drugs weren't working as they were designed to," state corrections department spokesman Jerry Massie said.

 "This might lead to a halt in executions until states can prove they can do it without problems. Someone was killed tonight by incompetence," said Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors capital punishment.

The incident comes on the heels of a new statistical study which concludes that about one in 25 people imprisoned under a death sentence is likely innocent. Which means it is all but certain that at least several of the 1,320 defendants put to death since 1977 were innocent, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Docs Hatch Snatch, Natch

Doctors have successfully implanted laboratory-grown vaginas into four teenage girls suffering from a rare birth defect, creating new organs with feel and function comparable to that of a "natural" vagina, according to reports.

In a process that took three to five weeks, doctors grew genital cells into larger tissue cultures that were then attached to a biodegradable "scaffold" hand-sewn into the shape of a vagina. The scaffolds were tailor-made to fit each patient and are made of the same type of material used in surgical sutures.

Once the new vaginas were ready, surgeons created a canal in each patient's pelvis and stitched the scaffold to the girls' reproductive structures. The girls' bodies proceeded to form nerves and blood vessels into the grafts, and gradually replaced the engineered scaffold with a new, permanent organ.

Tissue biopsies, MRI scans and internal exams using magnification all showed that the engineered vaginas were similar in makeup and function to natural tissue. Even doctors said they couldn't tell where the girls' natural tissue ended and the graft began.

Questionnaires the girls completed showed they test normal in all areas of female sexual function, including desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and painless intercourse.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Poor Are Persecuted In The "War Against Drugs" While Corporations Participate In Drug Trafficking With Impunity

A Wall Street bank accused of laundering money for drug cartels only had to pay a fine. Meanwhile, a man caught with a joint in his pocket had to spend 47 days in jail.

These were the simple facts pointed out by Matt Taibbi on the Jon Stewart show as he criticized the Justice Department for its failure to criminally prosecute HSBC after the bank admitted to laundering billions of dollars.

“[HSBC] admitted it. They did it,” Taibbi said. “If you have a malefactor who is admitting to laundering $850 million for the Mexican drug cartel and [someone's] not going to jail, you should be ashamed if you’re a prosecutor.”

To heighten his point, Taibbi went to a Manhattan courthouse and looked for a drug case being heard that day.  "They found a guy for me who'd been caught walking in the street with a joint in his pocket -- he got 47 days in [jail]," Taibbi recalled. "That's worse than anything that happened to anyone at HSBC, and they're at the top of the illegal drugs pyramid."  Matt Taibbi recently exposed the hypocrisy of the "drug war" in an essay for the Rolling Stone-- I'm sure going to miss his muckraking for that venerable magazine (why he hasn't won a Pulitzer for his Rolling Stone work is beyond me).

If the Supreme Court says that corporations are "people", then why can't someone go to jail if the corporation has committed a felony?  And if people from these soulless corporations don't go to jail for these crimes, they're emboldened to continue committing them.  And that's just what has happened with HSBC-- last year, HSBC agreed to a settlement with the Treasury Department for transferring funds on behalf of financiers for the militant group Hezbollah.   How soon do you think it will be until HSBC gets caught committing another felony?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why Walmart Should Pay A Living Wage

I stopped going to Walmart a long time ago-- got sick of their practice of shifting their labor costs to taxpayers (by not paying Walmart workers a living wage, workers are forced onto public assistance).

Did The NSA Know About or Exploit Hearbleed Bug?

Kim Zetter at Wired has asked whether the National Security Administration had used the "heartbleed" bug, citing the words of Matt Blaze, a cryptographer and computer security professor at the University of Pennsylvania:
 “It would not at all surprise me if the NSA had discovered this long before the rest of us had,” Blaze says. “It’s certainly something that the NSA would find extremely useful in their arsenal.” 

Michael Riley at Bloomberg went even further:
"The U.S. National Security Agency knew for at least two years about a flaw in the way that many websites send sensitive information, now dubbed the Heartbleed bug, and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence, two people familiar with the matter said.
The NSA’s decision to keep the bug secret in pursuit of national security interests threatens to renew the rancorous debate over the role of the government’s top computer experts. . . Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost. Millions of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations’ intelligence arms and criminal hackers."
 The NSA has not publicly responded to a query about whether these claims are true.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Getting Drone Operators To Face Humanity

The child pictured in the giant art installation above (whose name was not released) lost two siblings and both of her parents in a Predator drone strike.   The title of the work, Not a Bug Splat, refers to to a military slang terms for targeted victims of drone strikes.  Predator drone operators often refer to their kills as "bug splats", since viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.   But many of these disembodied "insects" are innocent victims-- people who were unluckily in the vicinity of the intended drone target.

A 2013 study conducted by a U.S. military adviser found that drone strikes in Afghanistan during a year of the protracted conflict caused 10 times more unintended civilian casualties than strikes by manned fighter aircraft.   These findings directly contradict claims by proponents of drone warfare who say that drone strikes are precise and only target terrorists.   But a study from Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute found that the number of Pakistani civilians killed in drone strikes is “significantly and consistently underestimated" and that as many as 98% of those killed by drone strikes are civilians.  As a result of 193 Pakistan drone strikes authorized by Obama between 2009 and 2013, only 22 Al-Qaeda officers were killed-- but over 800 innocent civilians were killed, including 97 children.

In light of those statistics, a group of artists-- using the printing technology utilized in street artist JR’s work-- placed a massive portrait of the anonymous drone victim in Pakistan’s Pukhtoonkhwa region, where drones have killed over 200 people.  Their hope is that remotely-operating pilots flying overhead might see her face and be reminded of their victims’ humanity.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Iran Vying To Unseat Saudi Arabia As Bastion Of Misogyny

Iraqi Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari has proposed a new law that would lower the country’s legal age for marriage to 9, legalize marital rape, ban women from leaving the home without the permission of their husbands, prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslims, and bestow automatic custody of the children on men in divorces.

The law does permit an exception to the inter-faith marriage ban, thankfully.   Muslim men can marry non-Muslim women for a few hours if they want to fuck them, then divorce them after they have sex.  It’s a wonderful concept called “temporary marriage,” and of course, it will be protected under the new law.  Muhammad would surely be proud.

The law, which only applies to the country’s Shia majority, is “optional” for the Shia population.   It should be noted that it’s not optional for 9-year-old girls.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Putin's Passport Ploy Presents Problems

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, recently wrote a WaPo piece about Russia’s long-term motives. In addition to arguing that Europe must provide immediate assistance to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, Ilves hits on Russia’s peculiar, and dangerous, practice of handing out Russian passports willy-nilly to any “ethnic Russian” who will take them:

The Russian Federation’s practice of instant citizenship, whereby Russian passports are distributed willy-nilly to ethnic Russians abroad so they can be “protected” in their current homeland, is unacceptable. Passports are travel documents, not a tool to justify aggression.

The first problem: Putin is using these freshly-minted passports to justify Russian invasions. (”We have to protect those Russian citizens – look, they even have Russian passports!”)  But a second problem is national security in the west.  Russian passports are no longer legitimate travel documents, and they should be met with skepticism at nations’ border crossings.

Ilves also raises the idea of reviewing Europe’s recognition of Russian passports as “trustworthy travel documents.” A key element of Moscow’s game plan in the territories it wants to take is “passportization”-- the cynical (not to mention illegal) distribution of Russian passports to citizens of other countries. That’s what it did in the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the run-up to the 2008 [invasion]. Earlier this month it did the same thing in Crimea. “If it were some other country that was a passport mill, there would be a reaction to that.”

Ilves says EU countries should “review” their entire approach to dealing with Russian passports. “This document is now being thrown all over the place, to everybody, it means nothing, and therefore we have to cease—until we come up with a new policy—recognizing this as a legitimate travel document.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Venezuela's Maduro Tries To Re-write History

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's New York Times op-ed last week was full of the usual bullshit--  his (so-called) commitment to labor organizing rights, the (non-existent) U.S. involvement in the 2002 coup, the (absence of) vitality of Venezuelan democracy, and a call for "peace and dialogue" (after his opponents have been killed or jailed, of course).  But according to Francisco Toro, the most bald-faced lies from Maduro are his claims that Chavez's Bolivarian revolution "created flagship universal health care and education programs, free to our citizens nationwide."

Free universal education was a stated aspiration of Venezuelan governments going back as far as the 1800's.  In 1946, however, Venezuela's first elected, social democratic government rode to power partly due to a commitment to make that vision a reality. Free education, including at the university level, was an ideological cornerstone of successive governments beginning in 1958. Under the leadership of the great educational reformer Luis Beltrán Prieto Figueroa, the government created one of Latin America's first adult education institutions-- INCE.  in the 1960's, Figueroa pushed to increase adult literacy through the famous ACUDE program.

in 1938, still in the era of dictatorships, landmark public hospitals were being built and treating patients free of charge. The 1961 constitution—the one chavismo insisted on replacing, seeing it as a vehicle for neo-imperial domination—guaranteed free public health care in article 76. Even today, virtually every major hospital in the country was built before the Bolivarian revolution, whose contribution was limited to a secondary network of outpatient clinics staffed by Cuban medics and located inside poorer areas that, in the view of many, ended up largely diverting resources that would have been better spent upgrading the increasingly ramshackle legacy hospital network.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Parsimonious Prelate Bounces Bishop of Bling

Pope Francis has formally accepted the resignation of a senior German Church leader suspended over his alleged lavish spending.  The Bishop of Limburg, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, was accused of spending more than $43 million on renovating his official residence.

Mockery on parade:  "Live Like God In Limburg"

German media reported that the Bishop's private quarters were fitted with a $20,000 bathtub, a conference table for $34,000 and a private chapel costing in excess of $4 million.  The bishop was also under fire for taking a first-class flight to India to visit the poor.  The profligate priest, dubbed the "bishop of bling" by the German media, offered to resign when the scandal broke last October.  Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed his disapproval of senior clerics whose lifestyles seem too lavish.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Swedes Freak Out Over Giant Rat

The appearance of a massive rat in a family's kitchen has made headlines in Sweden, where it is being dubbed "Ratzilla".  Measuring 16 inches plus tail, the creature terrified a family of six in Stockholm for almost a week.   Pest controllers were finally able to kill the intruder using an oversized spring-loaded trap. 

The family was tipped off to the intruder after the cat refused to enter the kitchen while the giant rat was in residence.   The creature was able to reach the kitchen via a ventilation pipe, having gnawed its way through both cement blocks and wood.   After devouring food leftovers stored in the kitchen cabinets , the creature sustained itself on a "Swedish smorgasbord" of waste in the bin, according to reports.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lap Dances To Replace Touchdown Dances

The National Football League is working to ensure that fans of losing teams will still go home with "happy endings"--  the league has now partnered with an app developer that will allow fans to get an in-seat visit from cheerleaders.

Three teams – the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks – used the app last year and Brian Lafemina, the NFL’s senior vice president of club business development, believes that number will increase substantially.  “They believe up to half the league will be deployed for the 2014 season,” he told Sports Business Journal.  The Atlanta Falcons said they sold about 800 "experiences" per game among its 3,000 season ticket holders.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Thanks To You, Asshole, Nobody Has Any Privacy Anymore-- Join The Club!

Thanks to Wonkette, we have a new reason to add to the endless list of why George W. Bush can fuck himself.  In the hardest-hitting interview since Sarah Palin was asked to name stuff she reads, Bush  slammed Guccifer, the hacker who intercepted the Bush family’s emails and revealed some of Bush’s paintings:
“I was annoyed. It’s an invasion of one’s privacy,” he said. “And yeah, I was annoyed. And nor do I want my paintings to get out.”

We'll leave the rest to Wonkette, in one of their classic screeds:
"See, back in oldey-time times, we have vague memories of Bush — who can fuck himself — not giving much of a damn about privacy. Like that time his administration spied on Quaker anti-war protesters, who were against his stupid war and therefore had surrendered their right to privacy because of how they were against his stupid war. He used this ridiculous thing called the Super Duper Jesus Bless America PATRIOT Act  to listen to phone calls and read email and spy on whatever American his administration deemed The Enemy, even though he’d already secretly ordered the NSA to do that anyway, without warrants, which are things you are supposed to obtain in order to do spying, but that’s just a dumb legal thing, and legal things ceased to matter under Bush because of 9/11 9/11 9/11 terrorist terrorist terrorist 9/11.  
He also signed the FISA Amendments Act, which allowed him to make phone companies turn over all their records so he could read your sexts and emails if he thought you were maybe trying to do terrorism. Maybe. Like, if he had a hunch. You know, like how he had a hunch we should invade Iraq, even though he was wrong about that, which is another reason Bush can fuck himself. 
The odds that we will ever know the full extent of Bush’s spying-on-Americans-but-just-the-terroristy-kind  program are, let’s see … carry the one, divide by never … ah, right, zero. But we know he invaded the shit out of the privacy of plenty of Americans, and he didn’t care. No one in his administration cared. None of his supporters cared. Why should you care if the president is listening to your conversations unless you have something to hide, hater? Besides, the security of America, as defined by the assholes who shrugged  at terrorist threats [before 9/11] and then lied us into a war in a country that had nothing to do with anything, trumps your petty little privacy concerns. Hater."

So that is why we (and many, many folks including Wonkette) don't give a flying fuck about Bush getting his privacy invaded.  He can take it like a champ-- just like all the rest of us law-abiding jerks have done since he kicked off a world-wide binge of spying, torturing and human rights abuse.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ted Cruz Facebook Fail

Ted Cruz thought he would stir up some negative shit on the anniversary of Obamacare by posting a quick poll on his Facebook page-- "Are you better off now than you were then?"   Looks like he didn't get the memo that the majority of Americans now favor health care reforms:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Putin Has Eyes On Finland

Russian President Vladimir Putin has his eyes on eventually reclaiming Finland and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, according to Putin’s former top economic adviser, Andrey Illarionov.

Illarionov’s warning was reported in an interview with the Swedish paper SvD Nyheter (Svenska Dagbladet), one of the most reputable papers in Sweden. Illarionov goes on to warn that “Putin claims to have ownership” of “significant parts of Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States and Finland.”

Illarionov laments that the West let Putin get away with invading and annexing parts of former-Soviet Georgia, and says more is to come. “The west let him do it with impunity, and now he has got Crimea,” Illarionov told Svenska Dagbladet. “And now, eastern and southern Ukraine are being destabilized so that the ‘self-defense forces’ can take power there. If the situation allows, it may mean a Russian military invasion. The goal is a pro-Russian puppet government in Kiev.”

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Texas Fans Join The Minor Leagues

Yesterday was opening day in Major League baseball.  This is the statue that the Texas Rangers erected for Shannon Stone, who fell to his death at a Rangers game in 2011, trying to catch a ball for his 6-year-old son, Cooper.   Former Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton tossed the ball toward the Stones, who were in the left-field stands, and Shannon lost his balance, landing headfirst. The Rangers honored Shannon, a firefighter of 18 years in Brownwood, Tx., with a statue unveiled in April 2012.  Stay classy, Texas fans.


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