Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Naked Japanese Men Get Lucky

With only a skimpy loincloth to protect their modesty, thousands of men brave freezing temperatures to fight for lucky charms that are thrown into the crowd by a priest at Japan's annual Naked Man Festival.

Hadaka Matsuri (translated as "Naked Man Festival") is a Japanese festival in which participants wear a minimum amount of clothing in the hope of gaining luck for the entire year.

Naked festivals are held in dozens of places throughout Japan every year, but the most famous one is the Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri held at Saidaiji Temple in Okayama, where the festival originated.

A writhing mass of sweaty worshipers wrestled for elbow-room inside Saidaiji Temple in Okayama, western Japan, in the hope of catching the sacred batons.

Around 10,000 hardy souls celebrating the religious festival stepped under ice-cold fountains to purify their bodies before risking life and limb in a mysterious ceremony dating back some 500 years.

"It can get very rough," said 62-year-old auto mechanic Kazuhiko Nishigami, bare-chested and ready to rumble.  "You have to write down your blood type on a form and tuck it into your loincloth in case you get seriously hurt."

Most who participated in the Naked Man Festival, suffered no more than a few bumps and bruises after scrapping over a pair of wooden sticks, measuring one and a half inches in diameter and eight inches in length, believed to bring good fortune to whoever catches them.

But revelers have been crushed to death in the past in a melee that makes Tokyo's infamous rush-hour trains look like a walk in the park.

And it's easy to see how fatalities could occur when the lights suddenly go off and priests drop the mystical charms from the temple's rafters into the heaving crowd below.

As holy water was splashed from above, camera flashes illuminated the sea of bodies like disco lights at a rave -- before all hell broke loose. 

In a scene reminiscent of Dante's "Inferno", steam rises as thousands of groaning men, faces contorted with pain, thrust their arms upwards from the suffocating pit below, as if begging for forgiveness -- or at least a pair of pants or a shirt to keep warm.

Those who snah one of the holy talismans tossed from above have to fight tooth and nail to keep hold of it as they come under attack by rivals desperate for the juju it bestows.

Fuelled by beer and sake, many festival-goers came to blows.  "I was lucky to escape," said firefighter Kosuke Yasuhara, clutching one of the talismans.  "It dropped right in the middle of our group," added the 38-year-old. "I had to quickly slip it into my loincloth to hide it and then force my way out.  This charm is a gift from the gods-- I believe it will deliver us a bouncing baby when it's born in April."

High priest Zenko Tsuboi insisted the festival was not an orgy of violence, even if ambulance sirens have provided an unwanted soundtrack in previous years.  "We want to remind people this is a religious festival so we have become much stricter these days about alcohol and rough behavior."

Monday, February 27, 2017

Brazen Border Officials Ramping Up War On Foreigners

A prominent French historian has said he was detained for more than 10 hours in Houston and threatened with deportation, in the latest of several examples of high-profile individuals being questioned extensively at U.S. airports before being allowed entry.

Henry Rousso flew from Paris to Houston last Wednesday to take part in a symposium at Texas A&M University, but was wrongly detained and almost sent back to France by an inexperienced border guard who didn't understand the rules that governed Rousso’s visa.

While he was held, Rousso contacted university officials who attempted to secure his release. “He was waiting for customs officials to send him back to Paris as an illegal alien on the first flight out,” according to Richard Golsan, a professor at Texas A&M.

Following scorn poured on Donald Trump by the French president and the mayor of Paris after the US president suggested in a speech last week that Paris is unsafe for American tourists, the incident has sparked fresh outrage in France.

Last week it was reported that border agents in Florida detained the U.S. citizen son of the boxer Muhammad Ali and asked if he was a Muslim, while the celebrated Australian children’s author Mem Fox said she “collapsed and sobbed like a baby” after being held at Los Angeles international airport for two hours, insulted and questioned about her visa status.

Rousso credited the intervention of the university officials with securing his release and said he did not know why he was singled out for special scrutiny, but doubted it was by chance.  "I cannot . . . stop myself from thinking of all those who have to suffer these humiliations and this legal attack without the protections which I was able to benefit from,” Rousso said.  “It is now necessary to face up to the total arbitrariness and incompetence [in the U.S.].”

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Shark Attacks On The Rise On Reunion Island

U.S. champion surfer Kelly Slater has called on the French government to cull the population of sharks crowding the seas off Reunion island in the wake of the death of a boogie-boarder.  26-year-old Alexandre Naussac was killed last week in the 20th shark attack since 2011 off the French island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar.  Eight of the attacks have been fatal.

Surfing competitions only returned to the Reunion last year after a five-year absence triggered by a shark attack on local surf champion Eric Dargent.  The area is known for world-class surfing waves but also as one of the globe’s deadliest spots for shark attacks. All of the island beaches but two are off limits to swimmers and surfers. The remaining two are protected by shark nets. Signs warning of shark attacks at the beach where Naussac entered the water had all been vandalized, so he may have had no idea what dangers he faced. Naussac bled to death when an attacking shark severed his femoral artery, according to reports.

“Honestly, I won’t be popular for saying this but there needs to be a serious cull on Reunion and it should happen everyday,” Slater wrote on Instagram. “There is a clear imbalance happening in the ocean there. If the whole world had these rates of attack nobody would use the ocean and literally millions of people would be dying like this. The French government needs to figure this out ASAP. 20 attacks since 2011!?”

Reunion has banned hunting sharks for food since 1999 because of concerns that their flesh is contaminated with a toxin. Slater, who has a reputation as a conservationist, later told reporters that  the Reunion attacks are “unprecedented.” “There’s no natural reason that many people should be getting attacked in such a small area,” he said. “Sharks are a healthy part of any ocean and when not interfered with, the ocean creates a good balance. People should feel safe in most situations to swim and surf but Reunion obviously has an out of control situation that we don’t totally understand.”

Friday, February 24, 2017

Waiting On Muslim Ban 2.0

A White House official told reporters on Wednesday that the new Muslim ban would come out "sometime next week’."  Twice already this month, Trump has made that same assurance to reporters, but nothing has yet been issued.

The Trump bunch continue to claim that this ban is the only thing standing between the United States and a horde of terrorists.  According to studies, all 12 jihadist terrorists who have killed people in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, were American citizens or permanent residents, and none had ties to the seven countries named in Trump’s executive order. Out of the nearly 400 non-deadly jihadist terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11, perpetrators were linked to Iran or Somalia in just three cases.

“Nothing was wrong with the first executive order,” said White House Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller, as he blamed a “flawed judicial ruling” that has held up implementation of the order.  “It’s still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country,” Miller said in an interview, without really giving any details on how it would change. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Trump Win Pays Off For Private Prisons

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has withdrawn an Obama-era Justice Department memo that set a goal of reducing and ultimately ending the Justice Department’s use of private prisons.

The Bureau of Prisons currently has 12 private prison contracts that hold around 21,000 inmates. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates has already concluded that private prisons compared “poorly” to BOP prisons. Her analysis followed a damning report from the Justice Department’s inspector general which found that privately run facilities were more dangerous than those run by BOP.

The two largest private prison companies in the U.S. have been salivating at the prospect of a new Attorney General, telling anyone who will listen that they have room to accommodate increased use of their prisons by federal or state and local authorities. 

Executives at GEO Group emphasized that their company has a total of 5,000 spots in its prisons that are presently either unused or underutilized.  OreCivic, formerly known as CCA, has told investors that the company has nine idle prisons that can hold a total of 8,700 people.   Moreover, CoreCivic is already holding more detained immigrants for the federal government than they had previously anticipated, and is looking at even more robust financial quarters, thanks to the upcoming "military operation" roundup of immigrants promised by Trump.

David C. Fathi, who directs the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said that giving for-profit companies control of prisons is “a recipe for abuse and neglect.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the Sessions memo was an example of “how our corrupt political and campaign finance system” works.

“Private prison companies invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and today they got their reward: the Trump administration reversed the Obama administration’s directive to reduce the Justice Department’s use of private prisons,” Sanders said in a statement. “At a time when we already have more people behind bars than any other country, Trump just opened the floodgates for private prisons to make huge profits by building more prisons and keeping even more Americans in jail.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hard at Work, or Hardly Working?

Trump made his sixth trip to the golf course last weekend, joined by professional golfer Rory McIlroy.  Trump's hypocrisy widely commented upon, as the Republican was a frequent critic of Barack Obama's fairway excursions.

"Can you believe that, with all the problems and difficulties facing the US, President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter," Trump tweeted in October 2014.

Ten days later, he tweeted: "President Obama has a major meeting on the NYC Ebola outbreak, with people flying in from all over the country, but decided to play golf!"

Trump also promised he would be too busy to hit the links if elected. "I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to go play golf," he said during his campaign last August.

According to an analysis of Washington Post pool reports of his first several weeks in office, the president has dedicated 25 hours to playing golf-- versus 21 hours to foreign relations, 13 hours to tweeting and six hours to intelligence briefings.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders has claimed that Trump had only "played a couple of holes" on Saturday, as well as on Sunday.   McIlroy later debunked that story, admitting that he had played a full 18 holes with the president.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Unregulated Fracking Poses Ongoing Threat To Environment

Up to 16% of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells spill liquids every year, according to new research from US scientists.

They found that there had been 6,600 releases from these fracked wells over a ten-year period in four states.

The biggest problems were reported in oil-rich North Dakota where 67% of the spills were recorded.

The largest spill recorded involved 26,000 gallons of fluid with most related to storing and moving liquids.

The key to the United States' energy production over the last 15 years has been the use of hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting fluids with chemical additives under pressure to crack underground rock and release the trapped resources.

However, environmental campaigners have long been troubled by the potential for this process to contaminate water supplies and the environment through leaks and spills.  Check out the BBC for more details.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Trump Administration As Dysfunctional As Ever

During his hastily arranged 77-minute press conference last week, Trump mystified many people, making several strange and patently false statements such as:
"They say Donald Trump rants and raves at the press-- I'm not ranting and raving!"
"[The] Russia [interference story] is a ruse" 
"It was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan”
“Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars” 
. . . and most incredulously of all:   "This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine."
That last statement is easily the most ridiculous, as his first four weeks in office have been nothing short of a disaster.  He can't get a large portion of his cabinet confirmed due to their lack of qualifications or incompetence.  His National Security Advisor was forced to withdraw due to his pre-election contacts with Russia.  His Muslim ban was blocked by the federal courts and despite his promise to "see you in court" he is quietly backing down and drafting a new executive order.  And he continues to make bizarrely untrue claims-- the latest of which was his announcement that immigrants were responsible for a terror attack in Sweden on Friday night (not true).

But even in more mundane matters, his administration continues to operate in a highly dysfunctional manner.  Over the past week, Trump foreign policy officials appeared at odds with each other, giving conflicting statements over key diplomatic issues.

United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley had to backpedal on behalf of he president after he said at a press conference that he was open to a Middle East peace agreement that didn't include a Palestinian state.    Just a day later, Haley said, "Anybody that wants to say that the United States doesn't support a two-state collation would be in error."  Ooops!

In Germany last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meeting his Russian counterpart for the first time, had very conciliatory words for Putin, saying "The United States will consider working with Russia whenever we can find areas of practical cooperation."

But Defense secretary James Mattis, at a NATO summit in Brussels the next day, expressed a different perspective than Tillerson (and even contradicted his boss, who still claims that Russian interference stories are a "ruse") by making it clear that the United States can't trust the Kremlin-- saying, "There's very little doubt that they have either interfered or attempted to interfere in a number of elections."  Get your stories straight, guys.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Bold Steps in Barcelona to Battle Traffic and Pollution

Faced with excessive pollution and noise levels, Barcelona has come up with a new mobility plan to reduce traffic by 21%. And it comes with something extra: freeing up nearly 60% of streets currently used by cars to turn them into so-called “citizen spaces”. The plan is based around the idea of superblocks (in spanish, "superilles"} – mini neighborhoods around which traffic will flow, and in which spaces will be repurposed to “fill the city with life”, as its tagline says.

Barcelona’s new plan consists of creating big superblocks through a series of gradual interventions that will repurpose existing infrastructure, starting with traffic management by changing road signs and bus routes. Superblocks will be smaller than neighborhoods, but bigger than actual blocks. This will first be applied to Eixample neighborhood and others like Sant Martí, which largely follows the same grid pattern.

In Eixample, a superblock will consist of nine existing blocks of the grid. Car, scooter, truck and bus traffic will then be restricted to just the roads in the superblock perimeters, and they will only be allowed in the streets in between if they are residents or providing local businesses, and at a greatly reduced speed of 5 mph.

Superblocks will be complemented by the introduction of nearly 300 miles of new cycling lanes (there are currently around 60 miles of them), as well as an orthogonal bus network that has already been put in place, whereby buses only navigate a series of main thoroughfares. This will ensure, says Salvador Rueda, director of the city’s urban ecology agency, that “anyone will be less than 2/10 of a mile from a bus stop at any time – and average waiting times will be of five minutes anywhere in the city.” Currently, average wait time for a bus is 14 minutes.   In addition, the city's goal to establish an equitable public transit network in which one could go from any point A to point B with just one transfer in 95% of the cases.

The superblock idea was first outlined in 1987, after noise mapping revealed that levels were too high, and the first superblock was tested in 2003 in Gràcia.  According to city councillor, Josep Maria Montaner, "Neighborhoods need to experiment with the concept and try the new spaces, little by little– and we hope many of the ideas for how to use them will come from them.”

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Utah Pays the Price For Opposing Public Lands

After a months-long standoff with Utah over its opposition to the creation of Bears Ears National Monument, Outdoor Retailer announced that it is canceling its biennial trade show in Utah and moving it to another state.

Outdoor Retailer, a trade association which represents over 1,200 companies such as Patagonia, North Face, and REI, has staged the world's largest outdoor retail show in Salt Lake City for the last two decades.   Each year, the show draws hundreds of brands and suppliers, and roughly 40,000 visitors. It generates $45 million for the Salt Lake economy.

In its announcement, the Outdoor Industry Association, stated that Republican governor Gary Herbert had a different perspective regarding the future of public lands-- one it feels is “bad for our American heritage” and its members.  The association went on to say, “It is important to our membership, and to our bottom line that we partner with states and elected officials who share our views on the truly unique American value of public lands for the people and conserving our outdoor heritage for the next generation.”

A spokesman for the Utah Governor said Outdoor Retailer’s decision is “offensive” and “reflects a gross ingratitude” for the city of Salt Lake.   “It perpetuates the false narrative that Utah . . . is somehow hostile to public lands.”

70% of Utah territory is made up of federally-owned land, and the state has a long history of opposing federal ownership of its territory and resisting the U.S. government's effort to regulate recreation and grazing rights on public lands.  In 2012, Utah passed legislation that sought to require the Federal government to grant the majority of public land in the state back to the state of Utah by 2014.  It is very likely that deadline will be forever ignored by the federal government, as even University of Utah legal scholars concluded that “Utah has no legal right to the land it demands, and the federal government has the constitutional authority to retain lands in federal ownership."

The American Lands Council (ALC), a leading group in the fight to take back federal lands, is headquartered in South Jordon, Utah.  The ALC was founded by Republican Utah State Representative Ken Ivory.  Ivory soon stepped down from the ALC to lead a new anti-public land group called Free the Lands.  The National Federal Lands Conference, which also opposes federal control of public lands, is headquartered in Ogden, Utah. 

In December, Republican Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes moved to sue the federal government after President Obama set aside nearly 1.4 million acres of federal land  to create Bears Ears National Monument.  After the presidential election Reyes and Governor Herbert urged Trump to undo it.

Major outdoor retailers vowed to take action if the Republican leaders refused to stop challenging the designation.  “It would be totally unprecedented to rescind a national monument and designated public lands,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said at the time. “That, to me, is frankly a horror that anyone would be considering that.”

Friday, February 17, 2017

Tales of Woe From Misguided Voters

Mother Jones recently talked to cops and firefighters who voted overwhelmingly for Republicans in Iowa and are now shocked  to learn that Republicans are anti-union. Hundreds of helmeted firefighters have flooded the Statehouse in the last week and police officers and sheriffs have lined up at committee hearings to speak against it. They don’t trust that this carve-out for their jobs will last long, nor do many of them feel it’s appropriate to deny the bargaining rights they have to fellow workers who have also had them for over 40 years.

The New York Times tells the story of farmers in the Central Valley of California who were counting on the election of Donald J. Trump.  His message of reducing regulations and taxes appealed to this Republican stronghold, one of Mr. Trump’s strongest bases of support in the state.

As for his promises about cracking down on illegal immigrants, many assumed Trump’s pledges were mostly just talk. But barely weeks into his administration,  Trump has signed executive orders that have upended the country’s immigration laws. Now farmers are deeply alarmed about what the new policies could mean for their workers, most of whom are unauthorized, and the businesses that depend on them.

CNN documented the story of Donna Coomer, who raised three children on a minimum-wage job and a lot of prayer. She voted for Obama but says she was "really disappointed" by him.  The fact that the unemployment rate in her small county in Kentucky dropped from 10.9% to 7.2% under Obama matters none. 

She thanks God daily that President Trump was elected. Her message to him is simple: Bring back jobs and raise the minimum wage.  Vast numbers of struggling works in Kentucky and Michigan like Donna voted for Trump in the hopes that he would help workers and raise wages.  Those hopes are fading fast. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dept of Education Flunks Spelling

The Department of Education, now led by one of Trump's most dimwitted cabinet secretaries, misspelled the name of NAACP co-founder (W.E.B. Du Bois) on Sunday:

It later tweeted an apology, making yet another spelling error:

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

National Security At High Risk Under Trump

Trump, who campaigned on keeping government information more secure (promising to punish those who fail to secure classified info)  is already racking up security violations at an alarming pace. 

Not only did he just have to fire his National Security Advisor for not disclosing conversations of sensitive nature with Russian officials prior to taking office, his White House has become an unprecedented hotbed of leaks.

Now come reports that last week, Trump left a secure documents bag open on his desk (with the key still in the lock) while photographers and private business engaged in a photo op in the oval office.  It is a violation of the law to leave a key in a classified lockbag in the presence of non-cleared personnel.
Classified Document Lockbag left open during Oval Office photo-op

It is ironic that Trump vilified Hillary Clinton for violating the same laws governing classified information.  In Clinton's case, it was never proven that any un-cleared personnel had access to her email server.  In Trump's case, photos prove that un-cleared personnel did, in fact, have access to the unlocked bag containing classified documents.

Newly-minted Mar-a-Lago "Situation Room"
Just days later, Trump was caught yet again failing to safeguard classified information.  Trump was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Abe when he was briefed (out in the open) on the classified details of the incident at the table in front of hotel staff and other diners. Members of the public interrupted their meals to take cell phone video (with sound) of the incident as it became obvious that something important was going down. Trump and Abe remaining in the public dining room while they discussed the incident and strategized how they would respond in a joint public statement issued shortly thereafter.

Now there are late-breaking details that Trump was aware of the Flynn allegations for three prior to his taking any action.   All of this kinda makes three emails on a secure private server seem like chump change, doesn't it?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Another Trump Douchebag Hits The Airwaves

"It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion."
  "The whole world will soon see . . . that the president’s executive powers . . . will not be questioned."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

St. Lousi Post Dispatch Slammed By Mayoral Candidate

The St. Louis Post Dispatch has been going after Mayoral candidate Tishaura Jones, casting doubts about trips she has taken as City Treasurer since 2013. Jones has been getting a lot of attention and is doing well in debates.  There isn't much to the story, and many have been speculating about the Post editorial board's motivations behind its decision to endorse an establishment-aligned candidate.  Ms. Jones came out swinging in a letter (bravely) published by the Post on its opinion page:

"Two weeks ago, you used some of your ink to outline what questions you would be asking of mayoral candidates. You complained that “decades of sustained, abject neglect by city leaders have allowed a bombed-out graffiti-covered, war-zone image to prevail.” You said you were afraid to walk your dog at night and you called for a plan to “address blight and abate the graffiti that’s killing our city.”

You just moved here. It isn’t your city, yet. And graffiti is not what’s killing it.

What is killing our city is poverty. Since you’re new and you live in a great neighborhood, you probably don’t know that the poverty rate doubled during Mayor Francis G. Slay’s 16-year tenure.

What is killing our region is a systemic racism that pervades almost every public and private institution, including your newspaper, and makes it nearly impossible for either North St. Louis or the parts of South St. Louis where African Americans live to get better or safer or healthier or better-educated.

St. Louis needs to change. I am not afraid to say that. And I don’t mean the polite incremental kind that Alderwoman Lyda Krewson promises. I mean change.

 I will look at every issue through a racial equity lens. I will ask if every decision we make helps those who have been disenfranchised, red-lined and flat-out ignored for way too long. I will look through each and every program in city government and make the changes necessary to ensure that government is working for those people.

From participatory budgeting to the modernizing of services, I will take steps to make city government easier to navigate, easier to participate in and easier to understand. I’ll ask police officers and firefighters what would make their jobs easier. I’ll put social workers into the police department so that trained practitioners will be doing the jobs police officers aren’t trained to do.

We do not need to invent new programs for much of what I plan to change. There are programs all over the country we can learn from and that we can adopt. I know this because I’ve traveled to see them. I know that galls your writer who wrote that I am “high-flying” and should be grounded. I suspect she meant that I was “uppity” or had a “bad attitude,” but didn’t have the honesty (or courage) to be that overt.

I plan to work hard as your mayor, but I do not plan to waste time ignoring things that are working well elsewhere. We have too much at stake in this community to do any differently, and we have too much to do.

It’s the same way I have run the Treasurer’s Office. When I was elected, I found an office that did a lot of things inefficiently, and I looked for ideas for how to improve. Over the past four years, I modernized parking and launched a major effort to change lives practically with the Office of Financial Empowerment. You described that as “just doing my job” and wrote that the white guy you endorsed would have done the same thing. At least two of you have lived in Texas, so you will understand what I mean when I call that bullsh*t.

As mayor, I’ll take the same approach.

 I’m not against using tax incentives for development. But, I want to make sure that we are using those incentives for blighted areas as intended and those we are coupling those tax incentives with community benefit agreements. Community benefit agreements can make sure there is a priority for those who are living in the area to get the jobs created by the development, that these jobs are living-wage jobs, and that they lead to real investment in the community. For decades, St. Louis has jumped around, investing here, giving tax breaks there, without any real reason for why or where. As a result, subsidy has often gone to the parts of the city that need it least. That practice needs to stop. We need a comprehensive plan for the entire city – one that recognizes that more needs to be outside the central corridor.

I will work to close down that rat hole of a Workhouse. Taxpayers spend millions of dollars a year to keep that place open to accommodate many people who do not need to be there, or be there so often. I’ll put the same resources into mental-health services, substance-abuse centers, re-entry programs, and job training. We also need to work with the rest of the region to ensure that they are doing their fair share around homelessness, not just dropping people off downtown or incarcerating them.

Too many people who live in North St. Louis have a hard time getting to centers of employment and recreation because we do not have transportation options that work for them. I’ll make that a priority, headlined with planning and development of a North-Side light rail system.

We need to protect our most vulnerable citizens by expanding access to responsible banking and credit, by insisting on a minimum wage that is a livable wage, by instituting paid family leave policies. We need to create a Tenant’s Bill of Rights so that renters across our city have the tools they need to ensure their housing is livable and safe. We need to do what we can as a City to make sure we are laying a foundation that allows all citizens to be successful and to thrive.

I think you were in Texas during Ferguson. If so, you may have missed what happened here: We woke up. Black people woke up. Allies stood up. Young people spoke up. Our best minds listened and produced a pair of remarkable documents, the Forward Through Ferguson report and the For the Sake of All report, that are blueprints for the next four years of a mayor.

I understand that the Post-Dispatch is hurting right now. I hear that soon you will have to lay off more employees. With readership down to below 100,000, it makes sense why you would resort to a more inflammatory news reporting style to boost readership.

There are some talented reporters at the Post who are very good at their jobs. I’ve had the privilege of talking with many of them. They have written about me fairly, objectively, and positively. I appreciate criticism when it’s due.

But what the editorial board and certain other reporters have done is nothing short of thinly veiled racism and preference for the status quo past. Something this city has had enough of. I think there might be enough city voters who are with me and are ready to vote for that change in March and April. After we do that, you and your dog will be safer. And maybe you will consider hiring an African-American editorial writer"

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Piers Morgan Gets Bitch-slapped on HBO

Not unexpectedly, there was hot exchange on last night's Real Time with Bill Maher.  When the disgraced former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan proclaimed that Trump’s executive order was “not a Muslim ban,”  Austrlian comic Jim Jefferies snapped back, “Oh, fuck off. This is what you do, Piers. You say ‘He hasn’t done this, he hasn’t done that, he’s not going to do all these things’. Give him a fucking chance mate – Hitler didn’t kill the Jews on the first day, he worked up to it.”

When Morgan called the analogy “ridiculous, hysterical over-the-top nonsense,” Jefferies got personal.  “You just like that you won The Apprentice and you have a famous friend, mate.”
Said Morgan, noting the crowd’s surprise, “You’re losing your audience because you’re sounding unpleasant…”

“Am I losing you?” Jefferies asked the crowd (who lustily cheered him on) then flipped off Morgan.

Friday, February 10, 2017


In a ruling that seemed to slam the lawyering put on by Trump's team, the 9th Circuit Court refused to lift the injunction preventing the implementation of Trump's muslim ban.   While largely refusing to weigh in on the merits of the case, the court (in several key passages) seemed to be highlighting the government's lack of basic understanding of the law:

"The Government indeed asserts that it violates separation of powers for the judiciary to entertain a constitutional challenge to executive actions such as this one.  There is no precedence to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy."
Read between the lines:  You should have learned in high school civics class the reason we have three branches of government is to place checks and balances on each other
 The Government asserts that "unlike the President, courts do not have access to classified information about the threat posed by terrorist organizations."  . . . But the Government may provide a court with classified information.  Courts regularly receives classified information under seal and maintain its confidentiality. Regulations and rules have long been in place for that.
Read between the lines: Courts are allowed to have secret information, too-- they've been doing that a long time.
The procedural protections provided by the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause are not limited to citizens.  Rather, they apply to all "persons: within the United States, including aliens, regardless of whether their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary or permanent."
Read between the lines: Another lesson from high school civics class
"The government has offered no authority establishing that the White House counsel is empowered to issue an amended order superseding the Executive Order signed by the President.  The White House Counsel is not the President, and he is not known to be in the chain of command for any of the Executive Departments.
Read between the lines:  No one can change an Executive Order other than the President himself.  That's why they call it an 'Executive Order'
Despite the district court's and our own repeated invitations to explain the urgent need for the Executive Order to be placed immediately into effect, the Government submitted no evidence.
Read between the lines: You need to give judges evidence-- they're not going to just take your word on it
The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.
Read between the lines: We're not going to fall for bullshit.  If you are going to say terrorists are coming from these countries, then give us evidence that this has happened at least once in the past.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Judge "No Such" Thing

Word is starting to build that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch may have lied about his commitment to "helping the less fortunate" while at Harvard.   About three dozen students who participated in the Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) and Harvard Defenders while Gorsuch was at Harvard Law School from 1988 to 1991 said they have no recollection of his involvement.

“If he was active in PLAP, I am sure I would remember him,” said Elizabeth Buckley Lewis, who attended Harvard at the same time as Gorsuch.

The Wall Street Journal was given the name of one Harvard Law School graduate who could allegedly corroborate Gorsuch's involvement with the Defenders, but that person declined to give any details of the judge’s participation.

Two people who broadly oversaw the Harvard students during the Judge's period there said they had no memory of Gorsuch’s involvement, and a third one declined to say anything on the matter. Other Harvard classmates and friends of Gorsuch say they have no recollection of him discussing either program.

According to the White House, Gorsuch said he participated in PLAP his first year of law school and the Defenders during the latter part of his time there. The White House referred The Wall Street Journal to Chris Edel, a New York County prosecutor who was Gorsuch's roommate and was a member of a social club with him.

“What I am prepared to do is corroborate that Neil Gorsuch was in the Harvard Defenders,” said Edel. “I have a specific recollection of talking to him about one case, but I don’t want to go into the details…I’d like to leave it there.”

Edel recalled one other classmate in the program-- David E. Nahmias, now a Georgia Supreme Court justice.  Nahmias said he didn’t remember whether Gorsuch was involved in the Defenders.

Gorsuch didn’t appear in any of the yearbook photos for either of the groups during his three years at Harvard, nor was he listed among other students as “not pictured.” John Salsberg, who served as a supervising attorney for the Harvard Defenders since the early 1980s, has said he can't answer the question of whether he remembered Judge Gorsuch or not.

Lisa Dealy, Harvard’s assistant dean for clinical and pro bono programs, and Boston criminal defense lawyer John “Jack” Cunha, who worked as a supervising attorney of the Defenders from 1985 to 1995, both said they also had no recollection of Gorsuch’s involvement in either program.

When asked about Judge Gorsuch's  involvement in the Defenders, Sarah Reed, an active member of the club and student president in 1991, replied, "Neil who?"

Stephen Weisbrod, a Washington, Dc trial lawyer was a participant in PLAP while he was at Harvard and confirmed that he and Gorsuch sat next to each other in one class and were friendly.  Weisbrod, however, cannot recall his classmate participating in PLAP.

The Wall Street Journal seems to have beaten the bushes quite thoroughly-- and if there was any truth to Gorsuch's claims of his philanthropic efforts at Harvard, you would think there would be much more evidence of it.   Gorsuch has so far refused to respond to questions on the matter.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Romanians Protest Attempts to Repeal Corruption Laws

Over half a million Romanians continue to protest against the government, with many calling on it to quit even after it scrapped the corruption legislation that triggered an outpouring of public outrage.

The last six nights of large, noisy protests in cities and towns around the country have been the largest displays of public anger since the toppling of the communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989.

The object of public anger was an emergency decree passed last week which relaxed many of the laws prohibiting public corruption.

On Sunday, Grindeanu’s cabinet repealed the decree, but this failed to satisfy protesters.  “They are corrupt. We want justice ... the government will still try something,” said Emma, 24, one of 300,000 people estimated to have gathered at Victory Square in central Bucharest.  “They are liars and bad people,” said her friend Nicole, 25. “The government has to go ... We are going to come back here every night.”

Almost 2,000 people were convicted for abuse of power between 2014 and 2016, and a serving prime minister, five ministers, 16 parliamentarians and five senators were put on trial.

Laura Fatu, another demonstrator, said people simply wanted an end to corruption. “Our money, our forests ... and future are being stolen. We have had enough,” she said.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Can The Trump White House Get Any Worse?

The New York Times is reporting that Trump signed the Executive Order putting Chief Strategist Steve Bannon on the National Security Council without realizing what he was signing.  After such an embarrassing blunder, Bannon remains Trump's dominant advisor, despite Trump's obvious anger that he was not fully briefed on the details of the order.  Many are saying that this incident has become a greater source of frustration for the president than the fallout from the Muslim travel ban.

As expected, Trump couldn't stand the embarrassment and lashed out on public media saying,  "I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it!"  Naturally, Twitter gleefully stepped in to rub salt in the womb:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Setback For Women's Rights in Russia

Russia's parliament voted overwhelmingly last week to decriminalize domestic violence in cases where it does not cause "substantial bodily harm" and does not occur more than once a year.

The move, which eliminates criminal liability in such cases, makes domestic violence punishable by a fine of roughly $500, or a 15-day arrest, provided there is no repeat within 12 months.

The law is expected to be rubber-stamped by the upper chamber, where no opposition is expected. It then must be signed by President Vladimir Putin, who has signaled his support.

Russian police are often reluctant to get involved in domestic violence cases, which many regard as meddling in family affairs.  The new law was passed in the wake of a widely-reported case last November, when prosecutors began investigating the case of a police officer who took a call from a woman complaining about her boyfriend’s aggressive behavior. Instead of offering help, the officer reportedly told the woman that the police would only come if she got killed. Shortly afterward, the man beat the woman to death.

Russia is one of three countries in Europe and Central Asia that do not have laws specifically targeting domestic violence.  Critics of the new measure warned it would encourage domestic violence and fuel crime.

“This bill would establish violence as a norm of conduct,” Communist lawmaker Yuri Sinelshchikov said during the debate.  Women's rights lawyer Mari Davtyan said that the new law is dangerous and "sends a message that the state doesn’t consider familial battery fundamentally wrong anymore.”

Surveys find that 1 in 5  Russians find it acceptable to hit one’s wife, husband or child.  In many ways, this reflects the thrust of an old Russian proverb: “If he beats you it means he loves you.”

According to Russian government statistics from the Interior Ministry, 40% of all violent crimes are committed within the family. The figures correlate to 36,000 women being beaten by their partners every day and 26,000 children being assaulted by their parents every year.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Trump Boycott Taking Effect

Looks like Grab Your Wallet's boycott is starting to take a deep bite.  Poor sales of the Ivanka Trump line caused Nordstrom to announce on Thursday that they were cutting their business ties with her.

The first daughter is seeing the clothing line she built for more than five years slowly fall apart, just weeks after her father was elected and masses started boycotting the family's products in protest. Following the Nordstrom news, Ivanka's jewelry line has completely disappeared from the Neiman Marcus website.

 Nordstrom denied partisanship in the decision to drop Trump's brand, insisting the move was made as a result of poor sales months after it was hit by a grassroots boycott started by a marketing specialist and a grandmother. The Grab Your Wallet campaign was launched on October 11 by Shannon Coulter and Sue Atencio after they 'simultaneously realized they could no longer in good conscience shop at retailers that do business with the Trump family'.

Other companies who have dropped her brand due to the Grab Your Wallet campaign include Shoes.com and interior decor store Bellacor. The Grab Your Wallet campaign is still underway, and continues to advocate boycotts of the following companies: Macy's,  L.L. Bean,  Bloomingdale's,  Dillard's,  Zappos,  Amazon,  T.J. Maxx,  and Lord & Taylor.

 Interested? Check out the Grab Your Wallet website for more details on how to participate.

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Healthy Respect For The Constitution?

This is the college yearbook photo for the person that is being considered for a seat on the Supreme Court.  What is most troubling is the quote that the 20-year-old selected to appear next to his name. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Birds On A Plane

No-- they're not on their way to the Super Bowl.  According to this reddit discussion, a Saudi Prince bought economy class seats for each of 80 falcons.  Apparently this is not an uncommon scenario, as Qatar airways publishes special rates for transporting falcons in economy class (although the limit is supposed to be six per cabin).  One would assume that each bird was limited to one carrion.

Arab culture is steeped in the sport of falconry-- hunting with birds of prey dates back to 8,000 BCE in Iran. Up to 50 percent of the world’s falconers today are located in the Middle East, and many travel across borders for hunting and competitions. in fact, the UAE issues falcon passports in order to combat smuggling. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Early Signs of Dementia?

 As if his out of control tweeting, juvenile disposition and poor decision making weren't enough, a recent news event has got folks thinking that President Chump is suffering from dementia, as he apparently can't recognize that Rudy Giuliani is sitting right in front of him:


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