Monthly Archives: January 2015

Video of Kristiana Coignard’s Summary Execution

As I posted a few days ago, police in Longview, Texas, tragically shot and killed a 17-year-old girl last week.  Her name was Kristiana Coignard.

In the newly released video, it’s clear that her shooting death was completely and totally avoidable.

After speaking with officers and roaming around the lobby of the police station for ten minutes, Kristiana, who was struggling with mental illness, was subdued by an officer in the lobby until two additional officers entered.

After Kristiana clumsily charges at the original officer, he shoots and kills her instantly.  We’ve been told she was “brandishing” a knife.  I don’t see it, but (for now) we’ll take the officers word on that.

Even then, a lot of questions come to mind: Why did he not handcuff her earlier in the minutes he had her subdued? Why did he not search her for weapons earlier? Why did he not Taser her with a stun gun? Why did he not use pepper spray? Why did he not simply grab her and subdue her again? Why did he not throw a chair at her, run from her, ANYTHING?

This cannot and should not be the best practice for police officers.  Firing your weapon should be the LAST RESORT.  I’m pretty sure it used to be. If this is all our officers are trained to do, it’s insufficient.

From The No Shit Sherlock Research Files

I know that having lots of guns around means that we’re all safer. So obviously, there is something wrong with a new study out that says that states with more guns and lax gun laws have more gun deaths than states with fewer guns and stricter gun laws:

The five states with the highest per capita gun death rates in 2013 were Alaska, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Wyoming. Each of these states has extremely lax gun violence prevention laws as well as a higher rate of gun ownership. The state with the lowest gun death rate in the nation was Hawaii, followed by Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Each of these states has strong gun violence prevention laws and a lower rate of gun ownership.

Fun fact: The study uses 2013 data compiled by the Center For Disease Control. Since the mid-nineties, the NRA has successfully lobbied Congress to pressure the CDC not to collect or distribute gun violence data (I wonder what the NRA is worried about). The NRA has been successful for the most part, so it’s a big deal that this data even exists.

Dartmouth Bans Hard Alcohol, Starts Sexual Violence Program

I can’t say if the sexual violence problem is worse now than when I went to college, or not.  I suspect, sadly, that it was just as bad in the 1980s.  We just didn’t know about it and/or didn’t do anything about it.

Still, it’s sad that it has come to this, but I give props to Dartmouth for taking this bold step.  Perhaps, with luck, other colleges will follow:

HANOVER, N.H. — Dartmouth College students are prohibited from drinking hard alcohol on campus and required to learn about sexual violence prevention each year under reforms announced Thursday by the school’s president. President Philip Hanlon, who has led the Ivy League school since mid-2013, created a “Moving Dartmouth Forward” steering committee last April to study problems he said were “hijacking” its promise: high-risk drinking, sexual assault and a lack of inclusion.

The plan he outlined Thursday includes banning hard alcohol for students on campus; implementing a mandatory, four-year sexual violence prevention program; ending pledge or probationary periods for all student groups; and creating new residential communities. “Our aspirations will never be realized if we fail to address a vital component: the environment in which our students live and learn,” he said in a speech to students, faculty and staff. “We must recognize a moment in time when change is necessary in order to reach our potential, and now is such a moment.”

Sexual assault on college campuses has been in the spotlight as students and the federal government demand stricter policies and stronger enforcement. Dartmouth recently overhauled its policies to include harsher sanctions and a trained external expert to investigate allegations. It will expand on that work with the new mandatory program, an online “consent manual” to reduce ambiguity about acceptable behavior and a smartphone app to allow students to easily seek help if they feel threatened, Hanlon said.

Obama’s Tax Proposal

 

So here it is in one graphic:

SOTU-tax-provisions-3.0

 

Basically, the bottom 20 percent would see their after-tax incomes grow by around 1.2 percent, while people in the top 20 percent would receive -0.7 percent less.

But by dollar amounts, the differences between the bottom and the top are much bigger. The bottom 20 percent would receive $175 more per year on average, while the top 20 percent would lose out on $1,800 per year. Things get steeper among higher-income Americans — the top 1 percent would get $29,000 less in after-tax income than they do now, and the top 0.1 percent would get $168,000 less. In the very middle 20 percent, meanwhile, there would be virtually no change — an increase of $7 on average.

Now, get prepared from some complaining about “unfairness”.

And then ask yourself one question: Who would you rather be — a person who makes $15,000 a year suddenly making $15,175 per year, or a person make $10,000,000 a year making only $9,832,000?  Me?  I would rather be the second guy.

But that’s not the REAL question, is it.  The real question is — given that capitalism necessarily has winners and losers (after all, if we’re ALL millionaires, who is going to do the crap jobs), then who within our capitalist system has benefited most from it and should therefore pick up the tab for the government services that protect and provide for us all?

Yup, the second guy.

The one who is probably going to whine about socialism.

P.S.:  Maybe this goes without saying, but this proposal will never pass. The tax proposal is mostly important for two reasons at this point. One is as a piece of the White House budget, which will be released next week (and the center will revise its figures once the budget is out). This tax reform proposal, together with all of the administration’s other spending proposals, will give a sense of the administration’s proposed priorities for the federal government.

But the tax reform proposal, like the president’s budget (which itself will never pass Congress, either), is also a political statement. The tax reform proposal is a way for Obama to emphasize what he believes is wrong in the US economy — that is, that work just isn’t paying the way that it used to. Wages are stagnant, but workers are seeing so many incomes at the top pull away from the bottom 99 percent, thanks in part to income from capital gains (that is, income that doesn’t come from a paycheck).

RT @nonsequiteuse: I call on @MollyWhiteTX to deounce Christian terrorists who target abortion clinics with glue, bombs and guns. #MollyWhi…

One week ago, a 17 year ago girl suffering from mental and emotional problems walked into a Texas police station a… ift.tt/18za7UY

Palin’s Nail In The Coffin

Palin has no friends, including Matt Lewis, who supported her before you even heard of her:

You Betcha I Was Wrong About Sarah Palin

It’s time to admit that, whatever their motivation was at the time, the Alaska governor’s critics always had a point.
Has conservative genuflection at the altar of Sarah Palin finally come to a halt?

In case you missed it, her speech in Iowa this week was not well received on the right. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York called it a “long, rambling, and at times barely coherent speech” and National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke said she slipped into self-parody. And there’s more. The Examiner’s Eddie Scarry, for example, contacted several conservative bloggers who were once Palin fans, but have since moved on.

But here’s my question… what changed?

Yes, in 2008, Sarah Palin delivered one of the finest convention speeches I’ve ever heard (trust me, I was there), but she hasn’t exactly been channeling Winston Churchill ever since. Remember her big speech at CPAC a couple of years ago? You know, the one where she took a swig out of a Big Gulp and said of her husband Todd: “He’s got the rifle, I got the rack.” Not exactly a great moment in political rhetoric.

So why is anyone surprised when, this weekend, she said: “‘The Man,’ can only ride ya when your back is bent?”

Demosthenes, she is not, but there’s nothing new about Palin’s penchant for populism or lowbrow rhetoric. What does feel new is that she has finally gotten around to roundly losing conservative opinion leaders. (OK, this has been a long time coming. In 2011, Conor Friedersdorf noted that the hard right was skewering Palin, and that Kathleen Parker had been vindicated. And as recently as this past April, I wondered whether it was finally safe for conservatives to criticize her publicly. But it does feel like we have finally reached a tipping point where criticizing Palin isn’t only acceptable for conservative opinion leaders, it’s now almost expected.)

***

In fairness, Palin was once a reform-minded governor who enjoyed an 88 percent approval rating. But something happened on the way to Des Moines. I suspect the most vicious attacks (especially the “Trig Truther” stuff) radicalized her and embittered her, but I also suspect she also took the easy way out. Instead of going back to Alaska after the 2008 defeat, boning up on the issues, continuing her work as governor, and forging a national political comeback, she cashed in with reality-TV shows and paid speaking gigs.

***

Palin has contributed to this phenomenon by playing the victim card, engaging in identity politics, co-opting some of the cruder pop-culture references, and conflating redneck lowbrow culture with philosophical conservatism.

And this makes me wonder if I might have contributed to this by boosting her—and by publicly chastising her conservative critics.

My harshest criticism was directed at conservative writers whom (I felt) prematurely attacked her during the months of September and October in the 2008 presidential campaign—and possibly even contributed to her radicalization. (In my mind, Palin changed after the 2008 loss, a shift that correlates closely with the election of Obama and the rise of the Tea Party.)

But you could argue that the conservatives who went after Palin back in ’08 have now been vindicated—regardless of their motivation. And my counterfactual argument (that Palin might have turned out better had everyone had cut her some slack in 2008) feels increasingly tenuous.

Is it possible that Kathleen Parker saw something I didn’t when she attacked Palin? I saw it as strangling the conservative baby in the crib; Parker probably saw it as snuffing out a monster.

Such is the plight of a writer; I got some stuff right, and my position was justifiable at the time, but in hindsight I regret contributing to the premature deification of Sarah Palin.

 

Goodbye To The Dish

The term “weblog” was coined in December 1997.  The short form, “blog,” was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May 1999.  Back then, blogs were a very small and largely unknown part of the Internet.

Political blogs starting appearing in 2001, and went mainstream after 9/11 (although the majority of people in the United States wouldn’t know what a “blog” was for another few years).

But one of the earliest political blogs was Andrew Sullivan’s AndrewSullivan.com — eventually entitled “The Daily Dish” and now, simply, “The Dish” — launched in October 2000. It gained readership during 2001, especially in the wake of the September 11 attacks.  His standalone blog eventually became part of The Atlantic Monthly for a while, and then Time.  Sullivan himself was lofted to television pundit (on Bill Maher’s show, for example).

And on one day in 2007, he pointed to something I wrote on THIS blog (regarding Pat Tillman) sending over 4,000 people to this blog in a matter of hours  This is what his post looked like:

Tilllman and the Right « The Dish

That was it, but the spike in traffic was scary AND funny.

Less than an hour ago, Andrew “Sully” Sullivan announced that he will be giving up blogging after a nearly 15-year run.

“There comes a time when you have to move on to new things, shake your world up, or recognize before you crash that burn-out does happen,” Sullivan wrote in a post entitled, “A Note To My Readers.”

I wasn’t a huge fan; he was an apologist for Bush and the war, and a bit of a misogynist.  Progressive on gay rights issue, but he was, you know, gay — so it was kind of self-serving.  Still, this is the end of an era I suppose.

Oh for crying out loud.

These people don’t know the meaning of “We won, you lost, t’was ever thus.” ift.tt/1v5VbIn

War On The Mentally Ill

As if having bipolar disorder isn’t difficult enough, you now risk being a target for overzealous cops.  Last Thursday, a 16 year old girl with a knife was shot by three cops in the lobby of the police station:

When Officers arrived they were confronted by a white female who threatened them. The suspect brandished a weapon, made threatening movements toward the officers and was shot. The suspect was transported to Good Shepherd Medical Center where she were pronounced dead by a Justice of the Peace. The Texas Rangers have been called in to investigate this shooting.

Coignard had been living with her aunt, Heather Robertson, who told ThinkProgress that the girl struggled with depression and bipolar disorder and had previously attempted suicide several times. “I think it was a cry for help,” said Robertson about her niece’s actions. “I think (police officers) could have done something. They are grown men. I think there is something they are not telling us.”

kristiana-coignard2Yes, there is undoubtedly something else they could have done. This was a mentally disturbed teen-age girl with a knife. They could have retreated, called for some help to try to talk her down or even used a taser if they really felt afraid for their lives. But why should they bother? This is easier.

Remember, these cops have very tough jobs. We can’t second guess their actions even when it might seem obvious to anyone with half a brain and the tiniest common sense that there might be other options besides opening fire on a disturbed teenage girl inside a police station.  (Not!)

Look, I get that mentally disturbed people can pose a serious threat to the public.  A 2013 joint report by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association found that while no national data is officially collected on fatal police shootings of the mentally ill, “multiple informal studies and accounts support the conclusion that ‘at least half of the people shot and killed by police each year in this country have mental health problems’”

A third of “justifiable homicides”, the study found, could be characterized as “suicide-by-cop”, and many victims were not taking their medications nor under close supervision by mental health agencies.

But again, this was a girl with a knife.

For what its worth, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) strives to increase awareness and understanding of the mentally ill through its partnership with the University of Memphis Crisis Intervention Training Program.

But within the law enforcement population, much is still to be done.

Crisis Intervention Training (CIT)—with a 40-hour curriculum—is the most comprehensive police officer mental health training program in the country. According to Laura Usher, CIT program manager at NAMI headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, there are crisis intervention training programs in 45 states as well as the District of Columbia. (States without programs are Delaware, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, and Rhode Island.)

While there are multiple CIT programs within some counties, many states are barely on the map in terms of the number of counties within each state that have programs. Most states only have CIT programs in only one or two counties.

Most law enforcement agencies can’t afford to train everyone.  They’d have to pay someone else overtime, and that can be a big expense.  As a result, many police departments prefer to train only a few specialized officers to deal with crisis issues, rather than making mental health training mandatory.

And that’s how 16 year old girls who need help. end up getting shot by government employees.

UPDATE: The hacking group known as Anonymous, in a video posted on Saturday, cited Coignard’s death as the impetus for a new operation called Stop Lethal Force on Children.

“In 2014, we watched as police killed children and it started a army [sic] of angry Americans,” the group said. “This teen girl’s death just put fuel on that fire.”

The under-Inflated football story (I won’t call it DeflateGate) is getting into Rosemary Woods territory. Perso… ift.tt/1BteM4s

Blizzard ’05 SnowCams

You’re welcome:

Cams no longer up.

UPDATE: It missed New York City.  That’s good for NYC but….

For the record, the GFS was right.  Meteorologists largely depend on three major forecast models: the NAM (North American Mesoscale), the GFS (Global Forecast System), and the ECMWF (European Center for Medium Rage Forecasting). Meteorologists will look at all of these and, using their own expertise, local knowledge, etc., formulate a forecast. In this case, the NAM and the ECMWF both showed 2 feet of snow or more for New York City, while the GFS (which has just been upgraded this winter) showed a more conservative six to 12 inches.

So we should rely on the GFS from now on?  Nope.  In 2012, the ECMWF was the media-darling model for properly forecasting Superstorm Sandy to a ‘t’ while the GFS got it wrong. Now it is the opposite.

Sigh.

Palin’s Speech This Weekend Was So Painfully Bad That Even Conservatives Lament

Falll-out continued for former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin following her speech at the Freedom Summit in Iowa this weekend, that one commentator called “bizarro,” with others calling it “rambling” and “painful.”

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough lamented  Palin’s decline from the candidate who once wowed a national audience with her speech at the Republican  nominating convention in 2008.

“I think it’s a tragedy, too. We all remember that night she spoke in 2008 at the convention,” Scarborough said. “I will say, it remains one of the most electrifying performances I’ve seen in the last four or five conventions I’ve been to. Nobody expected her to do well. She delivered the lines well; she hit it out of the park.”

Following Palin’s Saturday speech, Washington Examiner columnist Byron York — described by former Palin adviser Nicolle Wallace as one of her “staunchest supporters” — spoke with conservative activists who attended the speech, few of whom had anything good to say about the one-time GOP star or her speech.

Sam Clovis, a conservative Iowa college professor and radio commentator who recently lost a primary campaign to Palin-endorsed, now-Senator Joni Ernst, claimed it is now hard to take Palin seriously.

“I know she is popular, but it is hard to take her seriously given that performance,”  Clovis said. “Palin was a sad story Saturday. With every speech she gives, she gets worse and worse. If one were playing a political cliche drinking game, no one would have been sober after the first 15 minutes of an interminable ramble. It was really painful.”

Another attendee, described by York as “a well-connected Iowa Republican” was less impressed, saying Palin has reached the end of “shelf-life.”

“Calling Gov. Palin’s remarks bizarre and disjointed would be charitable,” he said. “Her shelf-life, even with the most conservative voters in our party, seems to be near the end. In a day filled with strong performances from likely candidates ranging from Scott Walker to Ted Cruz, her remarks were a distraction.”

Writing on the Iowa Republican blog, Craig Robinson said he had a hard time finding anyone who reacted positively to Palin’s speech.

“Of all the people I talked to about Palin’s speech, only one person didn’t have a negative reaction. That person basically said it was a typical Sarah Palin speech. It was received poorly by everyone else I spoke with, ” he wrote. ” I’m not comfortable sharing everything I heard about the speech — it was that bad.”

Robinson concluded “No offense to Gov. Palin, but I do think it is problematic to have someone give a speech like that in the midst of a string of serious speeches by people who are seriously thinking about running for president. Palin made a guy like Trump look like a serious presidential candidate today. Incredible.”

Why was the speech so awful?  Talking about the 2016 campaign, Palin babbled, “It is war. It is war for the future of our country, for the sovereignty and solvency of the United States of America. The other side, the far left, they see a need for change. It is by offering real change, again. Coronation, rinse, replay. Clinton, rinse, repeat. These leftists promoting these ‘Ready for’ campaigns. Ready for Hillary. Well, these hopey-changey DC businesses disguised as grassroots, don’t you wonder what the White House thinks of them out there, prancing around, squealing they are ready for someone else? They have to admit it even.”

You think that was nonsense? You think that was incomprehensible? Oh, wait. As the gears in her tiny, fucked-up mind started to break down, Palin’s synapses misfired and she lost the ability to complete a thought. On the national debt (maybe? who can tell?), she rambled on, “From debt, when you are in a hole, you don’t want to be in the first thing they stop digging. I don’t know what is wrong with the leaders in this country who understand we are in a hole we don’t want to be in and they keep digging. From debt to energy, proving the inherent links between American-made energy and prosperity, and energy insecurity to solutions like the tax that we need, to stop this unhealthy obsession that we are hearing about, even on our side of the aisle, the subjective income gap we are supposed to be obsessed with. We don’t have to be obsessed with it.”

Now to be fair, the teleprompter went down and the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee flipped through a binder of notes and strung together a series of one-liners – and some of them made little sense.  But isn’t being teleprompter-reliant HER criticism of Obama?

Here’s a brief painful excerpt:

Star Wars just might become awesome again. ift.tt/15oyzq5

The Transportation Security Administration’s blog is disconcerting for a couple of reasons:

(1) It’s “powered … ift.tt/1D0nN4U

The American Sniper Controversy

bradley-cooperI don’t expect “historical” movies to be documentaries.  I have no problem with some artistic license for dramatic purposes.

I saw “American Sniper” recently, not knowing that it was based on the real life events of Chris Kyle, known as “The Legend” for his abilities during the Iraq War.  It was clear from the end of the film (which cut to actual footage of Chris Kyle’s funeral, instead of Bradley Cooper) that he was a real guy.

I didn’t mind that the film, directed by Clint Eastwood, was very pro-war.  I didn’t mind that Chris Kyle (in the movie as well as in real life) basically held contempt for anything Iraqi. including innocent civilians.

And I didn’t mind that Kyle went to Iraq as a result of 9/11, thereby cementing the false link between Iraq, on the one hand, and al Qaeda/9-11 on the other hand.  Some people are going to think that no matter what.  The politics of the movie were wrong and stupid, but I have to open myself up to the reality that many people, including quite possible the actual Chris Kyle and Clint Eastwood, are wrong and stupid about the Iraqi War.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

And in Clint Eastwood, at least acknowledged that there was other views of the war.  He had some soldiers (including Kyle’s younger brother) question the reason for the war itself.  It was a tip of the hat.

So on the whole, I didn’t mind that movie neglected to expose the lies of the Iraq War.

My biggest gripe, however, is that the movie made much of the fact that the Iraqis had put a $20,000 bounty on Kyle’s head.  Didn’t happen that way.  They put a $20K bounty on every American sniper’s head.

And the movies climax, where — spoiler alert — Cooper-as-Kyle takes out “Mustafa”, the number one Iraqi sniper with a single shot from over a mile away?  That’s BS, too.  Kyle’s biography only mentions Mustafa once, in a single paragraph, in passing.  Kyle never took him out, period.

That was taking it too far.  That’s kind of like making MLK march across the Pettus Bridge in Selma and take out Sheriff Clark with laser beam eyes.

Love him or hate him, Kyle was an excellent marksman.  If you have to make shit up to show how good he was, then maybe we shouldn’t be making movies about him.

But other than that, I will take the movie on its face.  I like what it says about the struggle that soldiers and their families go through, and I like how it addresses the mental health aspect of returning soldiers.

Read more fact-vs-Hollywood fiction re: American Sniper here.

SOTU Review

I don’t mean to get all Aaron Sorkin on y’all, but this interactive analysis — compiled by Twitter and showing what people were tweeting about during the speech — tells me absolutely nothing about anything related to the speech or the United States or anything.  It just seems to be social media technology for the sake of social media technology.

The White Male Oscars

selmaI will do my Oscar predictions in the weeks to come, but in case you haven’t heard, not a single actor or actress of color was recognized by the Academy this year, despite a number of acclaimed films featuring non-white casts and directors. The last time there was no non-white in any of the four acting categories, and directing category, was in 1998, making this year the “whitest” Academy Awards in over 15 years.  Many prominent industry figures, including George Lucas and Spike Lee, blasted the Academy for ignoring Selma director Ava DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed Martin Luther King, Jr. in the widely praised film.

I saw Selma.  It was a very well-done film.  Unlike many movies that cover historical events, it does not overwhelm the viewer with maudlin orchestrations to hype the situation.  It just lets the events play out, and the characters speak for themselves.

But I don’t know what to make of the controversy.  Are we to believe that the Academy which last year awarded 12 Years A Slave as Best Picture and Lupita Nyong’o as Best Supporting Actress is suddenly racist?

The president of the Academy dismissed the idea that Selma was snubbed, saying, “It’s nominated for the Oscar for best picture. It’s an award that showcases the talent of everyone involved in the production of the movie ‘Selma.’”

The president of the Academy, by the way, is Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a black woman.

And she’s right.  Selma was a great movie of ensemble acting.  That’s why it was among the pictures nominated this year.  As for Oyelowo, he was very good, but I can’t say he was hands down better than the actors who did get nominated for Best Actor.  (I’ve only seen nominee Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, and I thought his performance was more demanding and better).

So I’m not prepared to say this is a real controversy invoking a real problem.  If there is a race problem within the movie industry at all, it is that most prominent films featuring African-Americans are almost universally about the downtrodden black man throughout history — movies like Selma12 Years A Slave, Glory, Ray, etc.  Other than Denzel Washington in Training Day and Flight, and Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball, I struggle to think (without researching it) of the last time someone black was nominated for a role that had nothing to do with slavery, the civil rights movement, prejudice, etc.  And that’s a problem that might need looking at.

But as for the “white male” controversy, I’m inclined to think of this year as an outlier, and not representative of an actual problem.

2015 SOTU Preview

They’re called “Democrat pipe dreams” by some.  I’m referring to Obama’s plans which he will raise in his 2015 State of the Union speech tonight.

Top among those plans is his $60 billion pitch for free two-year community college tuition and $175 billion in new tax benefits for the middle class.  How to pay for that?  In a very West Wing-ish way: he would raise $320 billion over the next 10 years through a capital gains tax hike and new bank fees.

Of course, legislation of this sort is DOA when it comes to the Republican-controlled Congress.  Republicans will want to cut taxes (for the rich) because the economy is good.  Just like the wanted to cut taxes (for the rich) when the economy was bad.

Since Obama surely knows his plans will go nowhere, many say this is just a ploy for 2016 — to get Republicans on the record as being against tax hikes for the rich and education for the middle class.  In other words, they don’t care about income inequality.

incomeinquality

 

Distribution_of_Annual_Household_Income_in_the_United_States_2012.0

A cynical ploy by Obama?  Maybe, although when Republicans in Congress vote over 50 times to repeal Obamacare (which also has no chance of becoming a law in the Obama administration), nobody seems to mind.  And they do this even though Obamacare is clearly working.

obamacareworks

Still, Obama should take a victory lap with this State of the Union.  The crisis that overwhelmed the economy in 2008 has largely passed. Unemployment is down to 5.6 percent. This has been the longest period of sustained private-sector job growth on record. The economy is growing at a rate we haven’t seen since 2003.  Obama’s approval ratings are up, people are more satisfied with the economy than they have been for the past decade, and just seven percent say jobs are the most important problem facing the country, the lowest number since October 2008.

Even a Republican pollster declared that America was busting out of its Recession Era slump.

We are, at this moment, far and away the strongest major economy in the world.  By far.

In much of the country, you can buy gas for less than $2 per gallon, which is, honestly, ridiculous.

oilprices

Unfortunately, while the state of the union is strong, the political climate sucks.  We’re just too polarized to get things done.

polarizednation

daily-cartoon-141027-goptalkingpts-small-690-694

Oh, well.

P.S.  Not really relevant to the SOTU, I suppose, but we’re moving westward and slightly southward.

westwardnation

Thank you, Republicans in the NC state legislature.

[Wilmington Mayor] Saffo said TV and film inquiries are dow… ift.tt/1C2Zxka

Free Speech Or Picking Sides In An Ideological Battle?

The march in Paris on Sunday, attended (sort of) by world leaders, was about free speech.

Ostensibly.

But it seems that it is not only the terrorists who can’t take a joke:

Anti-semitic French comedian Dieudonné was arrested after he seemingly compared himself to the terrorist who murdered four people at a kosher supermarket in Paris last week.

Dieudonné M’Bala M’bala, 48, who was being held for questioning at a Paris police station, could face possible charges of “apology for terrorism“.

Paris state prosecutors opened a formal investigation on Monday night into remarks made by the comedian on his Facebook page after the vast “Republican march” in Paris on Sunday.

After mocking the media superlatives about the march, the comedian declared: “As for me, I feel I am Charlie Coulibaly”.

Amedy Coulibaly was the man who took hostages and killed four people at the Jewish supermarket in eastern Paris last Friday before being killed by police.

Dieudonné’s comments generated a wave of fury on the internet – including many angry reactions from his own fans on his Facebook page. His statement was withdrawn after less than an hour.

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, called the comment “abject” and asked his officials to investigate whether the comedian should be prosecuted for breaching a French law which forbids “apology for” or encouragement of terrorism.

Asked why Dieudonne was a criminal and the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were not, French Prime Minister Valls explained that the terrorists attacked the weekly for blasphemy, which is not a crime in secular France, while hate speech is.

That’s a fine distinction which also has the virtue of being untrue.  Charlie Hebdo definitely engaged in hate speech.

The GOP Nominees: Paul Out, Romney In (Probably)

Third time is a charm, Romney hopes as The Washington Post is reporting that Romney is reassembling his campaign apparatus and has told a senior Republican he “almost certainly will” run. The news came on the same day that Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate in 2012, said in an interview that he wouldn’t run for president.

Romney is entering an already crowded field.  Normally, one can think of the GOP candidate as lying somewhere on a left-right linear spectrum, but Nate Silver suggests that it is more complicated than that.  It is, he says, a five-ring circus, with each candidate being pulled (or not) by five distinct forces of righty politics.  Thus, we get this Venn diagram:

silver-datalab-candidate-venn

 

I dare say that Romney has the least appeal to anyone outside the GOP establishment, and particular the most vocal and boisterous arms of the party (the Christian Conservatives, the Tea Party, and the Libertarians).

It’s getting harder and harder to justify keeping cable. ift.tt/1z6ZzHZ

None Of The World Leaders At The Paris Demonstration Were At The Paris Demonstration

As American media goes into all-out concern troll mode because President Obama didn’t join other world leaders at the demonstration in Paris, it should be pointed out that those world leaders weren’t actually at the demonstration either.

They were in a separate isolated area, under heavy security. This was a staged photo op, made to look like they joined the marchers spontaneously.

20BF4E13

US Military Gets Hacked By ISIS

That’s actually the headline here, but it is a little misleading.

The twitter account of the CENTCOM got hacked.  It’s not like ISIS broke into CENTCOM’s computers.  And that’s a big difference.  Hacking a Twitter account is not some grand feat.  Same with Youtube accounts (which also got hacked by ISIS).

I Can’t Help It — I Have To Review “Boyhood”

Boyhood-poster-1It’s not unusual that I disagree with some movie critics.  It is unusual that I disagree with, apparently, ALL of them.

And I have to speak out, because Boyhood won the Golden Globe last night for Best Dramatic Film, and many consider it an Oscar contender.

For those not aware, Boyhood is the latest from writer-director Richard Linklater.  It was filmed over the course of 12 years. Unlike Michael Apted’s “Up” series (documentaries checking in with the same people every seven years) or Linklater’s “Before” trilogy (following the same characters every eight or nine years), Boyhood filmed a little bit with its cast for more than a decade. We don’t just meet Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as an elementary schooler. We see his voice change and watch his rites of passage, like sucking at bumper-free bowling, peer pressure to drink and lying about his sexual experience.  We see him trying to find himself, which is not as exciting as it sounds.

Filming a slice-of-life movie over the course of 12 years — it is a film endeavor grand in scale yet tiny in scope.

It is also…. quite bad.

Much of the praise is about the making of the film itself.  I won’t call the use of the same-actors-over-time a “gimmick” – it is not.  It is innovative and clever.  And it might have made for a good movie in the end.  But it didn’t.  You see, when Ellar Coltrane was 5 years old Linklater chose him as his star. Linklater was banking that Ellar (as Mason) would develop into an interesting, expressive and verbal person. He also chose his daughter Lorelei (as Mason’s sister Samantha) as the co-star – hoping as well that she – growing up in Linklater’s film world – would learn how to act or at least be interesting (since a great deal of the dialogue was to be improvised). Unfortunately for Linklater, Ellar and Lorelei are not fascinating to look at and have little to contribute to the scenes.  Ellar hides behind a flop of hair over his face. As he grows older and taller, he hunches over and tries to hide himself.  And Lorelei, particular in the later scenes, looks like she would rather be anywhere than on her dad’s movie set.

Despite Linklater’s hopes, Ellar grew up to be rather bland (thanks to homeschooling in real life, I would say), so what the film ends up being was an almost-three-hour portrayal of a very boring child maturing into an introverted and kind of surly young man.  It’s like watching paint dry, and then coming back every year to see it dry even more.

Throughout the film, Ellar’s character, Mason, experiences minimal joy, sadness or surprise. Perhaps that’s because Linklater wants to show that our lives are made up of the mundane, not the peaks and valleys. That may be true, but when charting significant experiences between 6 and 18, it’s ridiculous not to include the most resonating sorrow and elation that shape who we become.  Linklater seems to be saying, “Hey, the characters go through no arc here”.  Okay, but that means that we’re just watching staged home movies of non-events.  For three hours.

And even when the film tries to introduce a little bit of drama and plot — like when Mason’s mom marries a college professor who turns out to be an abusive, alcoholic jerk — Boyhood becomes cartoonishly melodramatic.  In those moments, it feels like the work of a freshman film student.

Don’t get me wrong — it is fun to watch Mason and his sister grow physically from scene to scene.  It’s fun to watch Mason’s mom (Patricia Arquette) ride the rollercoaster of weight gain and weight loss over the course of twelve years.  But that’s not a movie.

You get the sense, as the project was ending, that the director and actors knew they had a dull movie on their hands, and were striving to find the narrative — the glue that held the whole thing together.  You can imagine them sitting around the table and suddenly realizing that the movie is disjointed and just a bunch of random scenes.  “Wait!” someone perks up “Maybe that’s what we are trying to say!  That life is just a series of mundane unrelated moments“.  And so, towards the end of the movie, you get father-son scenes between Ethan Hawke (Dad) and Ellar Coltrane (Mason) where father says to son that life is just a bunch of improvised moments that you make up as you go along and there is no big answer or theme or mystery.

Well, maybe the movie is that way, but no, life isn’t that way.  MOST of it might be, but even as children we are occasionally faced with events that shape us.  There is an arc to all of our stories.  It just might not be an interesting one.

It certainly wasn’t an interesting one in Boyhood.

The one moment I liked was this: in one scene, the mom praises a helpful Puerto Rican worker who has been fixing a leaking water pipe. “You’re very smart,” she tells him and urges him to go to community college to learn (among other things) English as a second language.  It’s a throwaway line in a throwaway scene, said to one of dozens of throwaway characters who appear in the movie.  Years later, the same Puerto Rican character appears again, this time as the manager of his own restaurant in which the mom is eating.  He comes up to her, introduces himself (“You don’t remember me but….”) and explains how he took her advice, and she changed his life.  Now that was pretty cool — how we all have the potential to touch and effect each other, even in small random ways.  I wish we had followed that minor character’s story.  It would have been far more entertaining.

UPDATE:  Here’s a page from the script of Boyhood, and it’s the mom’s big scene in which she sums up her life.  And she closes by saying, “I just thought there would be more.”

Indeed.

boyhood_script

“Where’s The Moderate Muslim Outrage?”

Fox’s Monica Crowley: “I Haven’t Heard Any Condemnation” Of The Paris Attack From Muslim Groups.While discussing reactions to the Charlie Hebdo attack on the January 7 edition of Fox News’ The Real Story, contributor Monica Crowley argued that Muslims “should be condemning” the attack and that she hadn’t “heard any condemnation.” [Fox News, The Real Story, 1/7/15]

Fox Guest: “You Don’t See Denunciations Of Radical Islam … By Mainstream Islamic Groups.” In a discussion of the Paris attack on the January 7 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, guest Steve Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, claimed that “you don’t see denunciations of radical Islam, by name, by mainstream Islamic groups.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom1/7/15]

Fox Host Bob Beckel: Muslim Groups Like CAIR Keep “Their Mouth Shut When Things Happen.” While discussing the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris during January 7 edition of Fox News’ The Five, host Bob Beckel criticized Howard Dean for suggesting that the terrorists were like a cult, and claimed that Muslims as a whole are “being quiet.” He went on to accuse the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of keeping “their mouth shut when things happen.” [Fox News, The Five, 1/7/15]

Hmmmmm….. let’s help Fox News out, since (apparently) they don’t have investigative reports to uncover… uh, what’s it called… facts.  Here we go:

1. CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations:

We strongly condemn this brutal and cowardly attack and reiterate our repudiation of any such assault on freedom of speech, even speech that mocks faiths and religious figures. The proper response to such attacks on the freedoms we hold dear is not to vilify any faith, but instead to marginalize extremists of all backgrounds who seek to stifle freedom and to create or widen societal divisions.

We offer sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed or injured in this attack. We also call for the swift apprehension of the perpetrators, who should be punished to the full extent of the law.

2. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA Spokesperson Qasim

When we study Islam, we see clearly that the Quran condemns this kind of violence categorically. That Prophet Muhammad said that a Muslim is one from whom all others are safe…. This is not about religion. This is about political power, this is about uneducated, ignorant youth who are being manipulated by clerics and extremists. And this is why it’s all the more important for us, as the moderates, regardless of faith, to stay united and combat this.

3. Muslim Council of Britain: 

The Muslim Council of Britain condemns this attack. Whomever the attackers are, and whatever the cause may be, nothing justifies the taking of life…. Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “Nothing justifies the taking of life. Those who have killed in the name of our religion today claim to be avenging the insults made against Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace. But nothing is more immoral, offensive and insulting against our beloved Prophet than such a callous act of murder.  Our thoughts, prayers and solidarity go to  the families of the victims and the people of France.”

4. French Muslim Council (CFCM)“This extremely grave barbaric action is also an attack against democracy and the freedom of the press.” It also called on “all those committed to the values of the Republic and democracy to avoid provocations that only serve to throw oil on the fire,” and on French Muslims to “exercise the utmost vigilance against possible manipulations from extremist groups.”

5. Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF)“The UOIF condemns in the strongest terms possible these criminal attacks and horrible deaths. The UOIF offers its condolences to the families and all employees of Charlie Hebdo.”

6. Arab League [a regional organization representing 22 Arab countries, all of which have a majority Muslim population]: “Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi strongly condemns the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris.”

7. Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association: “The sanctity of human life is central to our faith. That lives could taken in this manner for any cause is appalling and unjustifiable.”

8. Muslim Advisory Council to the NYPD:

Regardless of motive or rationalization or evidence or excuse, killing twelve innocent people to avenge Prophet Muhammad has no justification and must be condemned without citing any victimhood. At this moment of national grief we ask the French people not to allow this senseless violence perpetrated by three terrorists to put a wedge between peaceful French Muslims and the broader public. We call upon the authorities to swiftly apprehend the perpetrators who should be punished to the full extent of the French law.

9. Birmingham [Alabama] Islamic Society:

This attack in no way represents the teachings of our beloved prophet Muhammad. There are many examples from the life of prophet where he could have responded physically to those who mocked him. On the contrary, he wished them well and prayed for them. Our heart goes out to those who were brutally murdered in this cowardice terrorist attack by the so called defenders of Islam.

10. Dalil Boubakeur, imam at the mosque of Paris: “This is a thunderous declaration of war. The times have changed. We’re entering a new phase of this confrontation… we are horrified by the brutality and the savagery.”

11. Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of the Drancy mosque in Paris’s Seine-Saint-Denis suburb: “These are criminals, barbarians. They have sold their soul to hell. This is not freedom. This is not Islam and I hope the French will come out united at the end of this.”

12. The Islamic Cooperation Organization (ICO): “OIC hopes that the culprits would soon be apprehended and presented to justice in France, conveying condolences to the families of the victims, the French government and people and wishing the injured quick recovery.”

13. The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM):  

We are absolutely shocked and horrified by what happened. It is an absolute tragedy and it is a crime….We are shaken up by what happened in Paris today. Our hearts and thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and the injured. We are hoping that whoever did this – the perpetrators of this crime – are quickly brought to justice.

14. Dr. Mohammad Iqbal AlNadvi, chairman of the Canadian Council of Imams. “We denounce [the attacks], and we don’t think it is the right away to express anything… We hope all groups will maintain order and allow proper authorities to deal with it and that no violent action will be taken against Muslims.”

15. Farhan Khokhar, vice president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Canada:

I was literally horrified and shocked. It was beyond disbelief to see such carnage and killing of the innocents…. [O]ur hearts went out to the innocents — people who died and their families… [L]oss of innocent life is always tragic… always brings tears to people’s eyes. Just as you’re starting the New Year, this is not how you want to start the New Year…. [W]e want every perpetrator not only to be caught as quickly as possible, but that the full force of law should be laid against these people. Not only those that perpetrated the act, but people behind them as well, or people who supported them.

16. Muslim Canadian Congress: “MCC condemns barbaric Islamist attack in Paris on Freedom of Expression.”

17. Al-Azhar [a thousand-year-old seat of religious learning respected by Muslims around the world]:  “Islam denounces any violence.”

In addition to organizations, At least 10 Muslim leaders of governments of largely Muslim countries have condemned the attacks.

18. Saudi Arabia: The country expressed “deep sorry” in response to “this cowardly terrorist attack which is incompatible with Islam religion.”

19. Qatar’s Foreign Ministry: “these actions that targets civilians contravene all values and principles, moral and humanitarian.”

20. United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministry: “such appalling criminal acts require cooperation and solidarity at all levels to eradicate this menace.”

21. Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak: “Malaysia condemns in the strongest terms all acts of violence. We stand in unity with the French people. We must fight extremism with moderation.”

22. Morroco’s King Mohammed: [He], ‘‘strongly condemned the odious, cowardly terrorist attack.”

23. Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry:  [Indonesia] “condemns the attack” and “sends condolences to the government and people of France.

24. Egypt’s Foreign Minister: “Egypt stands by France in confronting terrorism, an international phenomenon that targets the world’s security and stability and which requires coordinated international efforts to eradicate.”

25. Turkey’s Foreign Minister: “We, as Turkey, condemn with hatred any kind of terror… We are against any form of terror regardless of where it comes from and what its motives are.”

26. Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry: It expressed its “sympathies and full solidarity with the French government and people in their fight against terrorism,” and urged international cooperation against terrorism so “its shrapnel won’t hit the innocent anywhere else in the world.”

27. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham:

Such actions are a continuation of radical waves and physical aggressions which have spread throughout the world in the past decade, and incorrect policies and double standards in confronting extremism and violence have unfortunately given way to a spreading of such undertakings.

And Muslim individuals took to social media to denounce the violence:

28. Iyad El-Baghdadi 

As a Muslim, killing innocent people in the name of Islam is much, much more offensive to me than any cartoon can ever be. #CharlieHebdo

— Iyad El-Baghdadi (@iyad_elbaghdadi) January 7, 2015

29. Mustafa Akyol 

30.   Sabbiyah Pervez 

31. Ali Gokal

32.  Mirnes Kovac

33. #NotInMyName

34.  Arsh Mirzary

— Arsh Mirza (@ArshMirza2) January 7, 2015

36.   Sarah Mushir

37.  Almis A. Amanry

38.  Memz Dogi

39.   Sheheryar Ahmad

40.  Arbaaz khanar

As a #muslim and #human i condemn the killing of #innocents in#CharlieHebdo attack of paris

41.  Hend

42. Bilal Lashari

43.  Farran Nehmery

44.  Asma

45. Mohammed Al-Binateej

46. Sabina

Why I Am Not Charles Hebdo

Referring to the Charles Hebdo massacre, Jonathan Chait writes this:

The right to blaspheme religion is one of the most elemental exercises of political liberalism. One cannot defend the right without defending the practice.

Oh, but one can.  One can defend free speech without having to publish, let alone embrace, the offensive ideas being targeted.  And I will in a moment.

But first let me say this: defending free speech is always easy when you like the content of the ideas being targeted, or aren’t part of (or actively dislike) the group being maligned.

And the great right-wing defenders of American values who are touting “Je Suis Charles Hebdo”  are going to find themselves in conflict. After all, the shoe was on their religious feet not that long ago:

Friday, September 24, 1999

NEW YORK, Sept. 23—He’s particularly outraged, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has said, by a collage of the Virgin Mary dotted with elephant dung. He isn’t impressed by the pickled pig carcasses, either. And he’s taken dead aim at the Brooklyn Museum of Art: It will lose $7 million in city funds, he warns, unless it cancels a “sick” exhibit of British works scheduled to open next week.

How about this?

Vatican’s fury over Madonna ‘blasphemy’

Rome’s Catholic, Muslim and Jewish leaders have united to condemn pop star Madonna’s decision to stage a mock-crucifixion when she performs in the Italian capital on Sunday a stone’s throw away from Vatican City.

The lapsed-Catholic diva’s latest irreverent performance sees her wearing a fake crown of thorns and descending on a suspended, glittery cross as part of her worldwide “Confessions Tour”.

Having already been criticised in the United States, Catholics priests from across the Eternal City have gone one further saying the act is blasphemy.

Cardinal Ersilio Tonino, speaking with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI said: “This time the limits have really been pushed too far.

“This concert is a blashphemous challenge to the faith and a profanation of the cross. She should be excommunicated.”

In an unusual show of religious solidarity, Muslim and Jewish leaders added their condemnation of the self-styled Queen of Pop, famous for peppering her concerts and videos with controversial religious and sexual imagery.

“I think her idea is in the worst taste and she’d do better to go home,” Mario Scialoja, head of Italy’s Muslim League said.

People get upset about things people say and often condemn them for saying it because it’s offensive to them or others. It’s certainly not an exclusively liberal thing unless you think that fundamentalist Islam is liberal or that conservative Catholics like Rudy Giuliani and Pope Benedict are left-wingers.

Now with that in mind, let’s start the thought experiment: Imagine if a writer who specialized in overtly anti-black or anti-Semitic screeds had been murdered for their ideas.  Would there would be widespread calls to republish their trash in “solidarity” with their free speech rights?  I think we all can agree that the answer is “no”.

So I can defend the right, and not defend the practice.  There is a difference — a huge one — between what we have the right to do, compared to what is the right thing to do.  A legal right versus a moral right.  And Chait essentially says that in defending freedom of speech you must give up your own right to free speech lest you help the terrorists — which is a bit strange.

What we must defend is the principle under which people are allowed to say what they said, period. That is inviolable. And that principle also allows people to condemn Islam or Charlie Hebdo  — or both in the very same breath. Once you start policing what people say — or SHOULD say — in the name of free speech you’ve already lost the argument.

And furthermore, changing your twitter avatar to a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad is a racist thing to do, even in the face of a terrorist attack – period. The attitude that all  Muslims need to be ‘punished’ is xenophobic and distressing — period.  Sadly, the statement, “JE SUIS CHARLIE” works to erase and ignore the magazine’s history of xenophobia, racism, and homophobia.  For us to truly honor the victims of a terrorist attack on free speech, we must not spread hateful racism blithely, and we should not take pride in extreme attacks on oppressed and marginalized peoples..

In summary:

(1) Nobody should have been killed over those cartoons.

(2) Fuck those cartoons.

Is that so complicated a message to convey at this time?

Strongest Year for Job Growth Since 1999

Not bad for a Muslim president who hates America:

Continuing a trend of solid job gains, the U.S. economy added 252,000 jobs in December, and the unemployment rate fell to 5.6%.

The job gains were stronger than analysts had expected, and the unemployment rate is now 0.2% lower than in the previous month. Overall, 2014 marked the strongest year of job gains since 1999, adding 2.95 million new jobs total and an average monthly gain of 246,000.

“Although job gains did not match the tremendous November increased, they were nonetheless strong and indicative of momentum in the labor market that is expected to continue in 2015,” said Sophia Koropeckyj, senior economist and managing director for Moody’s Analytics. The firm expects monthly job gains to pick up and exceed 300,000 by the end of the year.

But December’s report also pointed to the underlying weaknesses of the economic recovery: stagnant wages and low participation in the labor force. Average wages fell 0.2% in December, after seeing a 0.4% rise the previous month, driving down 2014’s overall wage gains to just 1.7%.

Unfortunately:

The story on wages is less encouraging. The widely touted November jump in wages was almost completely reversed, with the December data showing a 5-cent drop from a downwardly revised November figure. The average over the last three months grew at a 1.1 percent annual rate compared with the average of the prior three months, down from a 1.7 percent growth rate over the last year. This may be due in part to a shift to lower paying jobs in restaurants, retail, and the lower-paying portions of the health care industry. However, it is also possible that we are just seeing anomalous data.

Paris Standoffs

Two intense standoffs with gunmen are underway in and around Paris now — one involving the two brothers wanted in the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the other a hostage situation at a kosher grocery store

The two situations are apparently related to each other as well as Wednesday’s killing of 12 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.  The 12 victims included a Muslim police officer who was murdered at point-blank range in the street.  (Nice one, guys)

The latest unfolded near Porte de Vincennes in eastern Paris, where the city prosecutor’s office reported a shooting and hostage situation hours ago. Police anti-terror units raced to the scene, while ambulances blared as they moved away from it.

At least one man — suspected to be Amedy Coulibaly, 32, one of two people wanted in Thursday’s deadly shooting of a policewoman south of Paris — is thought to be holding six people in the kosher store, police union spokesman Romain Fabiano told CNN affiliate BFMTV. Authorities haven’t said how many are being held, or if anyone has been killed

Meanwhile, law enforcement officers hours earlier surrounded a building about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast in the town Dammartin-en-Goele.

UPDATE: 1/9/15 at 11:45 am EST – In what appears to be a coordinated effort, it seems that both situations have been neutralized.  The Charlie Hebdo suspects have been killed in a police raid on their compound in Dammartin-en-Goele, and unnamed French officials have also reportedly confirmed that Parisian brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi were killed when armed officers stormed the building.  AFP and others are reporting that, at the kosher supermarket in the east of Paris, several hostages have been released following a police operation. 

UPDATE (12:10 pm EST) – Amedy Coulibaly, one of the two people holding hostages at the kosher supermarket was also killed in the simultaneous raids.  His accomplice, a female named Hayat Boumeddienne, 26, reportedly was able to escape and is at large.  Reuters is reporting that “at least” four hostages were killed by the terrorists.

UPDATE (5:00 pm EST) – Graphic video of kosher deli raid is below the fold….

The Hebdo attack was religiously motivated.  During the attack, the gunmen said, “Allahu akbar” — which translates to “God is great” — and that they were avenging the Prophet Mohammed, the prosecutor told reporters.

Charlie Hebdo has a controversial history of depicting Mohammed, often in an unfavorable light, which has angered many Muslims around the world.

koran-is-22shit22Earlier cartoons depicting Mohammed spurred protests and the burning of the magazine’s office three years ago.

Its last tweet before Wednesday’s attack featured a cartoon of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi offering festive greetings with the words, “And, above all, health!”

In response to the Hebdo attacks, a lot of people have been holding signs and tweeting, “Je suis Charlie” (or “I am Charlie”) to show their unity with the satirical magazine.  But I, like others, am NOT Charlie.

I’m not Charlie for several reasons: Charlie Hebdo for many people of color in France, particularly in Paris, that don’t benefit from mixed or proximity-to-White French- privilege is extremely racist. It’s a particular brand of French racism and xenophobia sheltered under the grey tent of “satire”. It’s belittingly. It’s demeaning. And it’s a larger, published example of the explicit forms of aggression that many people of color in Paris live with, daily.

Now, I agree with Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you are saying, but I will defend with my life your right to say it.”  Somehow, this has come to mean — in this particular instance — I have to agree with what you say, in order to defend it.  And the fact is, I don’t.  So shame on places like The Daily Caller, for criticizing media outlets that refuse to publish offensive and racist cartoons from Charlie Hebdo.  It has nothing to do with cowardice, Daily Caller — it has to do with respect.  (I put a Charlie Hebdo cover here not to praise Charlie Hebdo, but to show just how offensive the publication was).

Of course, this does not excuse in any way the horrific massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s offices.  Nothing mitigates that monstrosity. There will be time to analyze why the killers did it, time to parse their backgrounds, their ideologies, their beliefs, time for sociologists and psychologists to add to understanding. There will be explanations, and the explanations will be important, but explanations aren’t the same as excuses. Words don’t kill, they must not be met by killing, and they will not make the killers’ culpability go away.

To abhor what was done to the victims, though, is not the same as to become them.  And I am not Charlie Hebdo.

Eight years ago today in the NY Times….. ift.tt/1eg3yCe

Curious about what people think about this. For those who don’t click through, the daughter was diagnosed with … ift.tt/1wyaC6T

2015 Dead Pool

Link to 2014 Dead Pool

Link to 2013 Dead Pool

Link to 2012 Dead Pool

Link to 2011 Dead Pool

There are two “dead pool” lists.  One is just a random list of people who I think will pass in the upcoming year. The other is a competitive list where you pick ten (and only ten) people-to-die, and you score your points by subtracting their age-at-death from 100.  For example, Amy Winehouse was in my 2011 Dead Pool list, and she indeed did die that year.  Since she was 27, I received 73 points (100 minus 27).

So, let’s see how I did with my 2014 Dead Pool(s).

First, the generic list of people I thought might die:

  • Zsa-Zsa Gabor – still alive
  • Olivia de Havilland – still alive
  • Billy Graham – still alive
  • Eli Wallach – died 6/24/2014
  • Norman Lear – still alive
  • Yogi Berra – still alive
  • Lauren Becall – died 8/12/2014
  • Mickey Rooney – died 4/6/2014
  • Fidel Castro – still alive
  • Pete Seeger – died 1/27/2014
  • Nanette Fabray – still alive
  • Sid Caesar – died 2/13/2014
  • Rose Marie – still alive
  • Don Pardo – died 8/18/2014
  • June Lockhart – still alive

Not too bad, certainly compared to other years I’ve done this.  I guess I was due.

But I did pretty bady in my 2014 Competitive Dead Pool list:

  1. Eli Wallach (born 12/07/1915) – died 6/24/2014 at age 98
  2. Zsa Zsa Gabor (born 2/06/1917)
  3. Billy Graham (born 11/7/1918)
  4. Abe Vigoda (born 2/24/1921)
  5. Bob Barker (born 12/12/1923)
  6. George Bush (born 6/12/1924)
  7. Fidel Castro (born 8/13/1926)
  8. John McLaughlin (born 3/29/1927)
  9. James Garner (born 4/7/1928) – died 07/19/2014 at age 86
  10. Valerie Harper (born 8/22/1940)

So, two points for Wallach and 14 for James Garner, meaning I scored a total of 16 points.  That’s terrible, but not as bad as last year.

2013 points: 13
2012 points:  38
2011 points:  113 (thanks to the deaths of Amy Winehouse and Jeff Conaway)

Let’s see if I can do better.  For my 2015 general list, I’m just going to keep what I had, minus a couple of names:

  • Zsa-Zsa Gabor
  • Olivia de Havilland
  • Billy Graham
  • Leonard Nimoy
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Fidel Castro
  • Nanette Fabray
  • Dick Cheney
  • Michael Douglas
  • Pele
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Dick Van Dyke

And as for my competitive list, I’m tweak it a little and go a little younger.  I mean, even if Zsa Zsa Gabor dies, she’s only going to get me 2 or 3 points now.  So she’s off the list.

  1. Billy Graham (born 11/7/1918)
  2. Abe Vigoda (born 2/24/1921)
  3. George Bush (born 6/12/1924)
  4. Harper Lee (born 4/28/1926)
  5. Fidel Castro (born 8/13/1926)
  6. Roger Moore (born 10/14/1927)
  7. Jim Nabors (born 6/12/1930)
  8. Valerie Harper (born 8/22/1940)
  9. Pele (born 10/23/1940)
  10. Muhammad Ali (born 1/17/1942)

Speaking Of Falling Oil Prices….

The plummeting price of oil is still the biggest energy story in the world right now. It’s bringing back cheap gasoline to the United States while wreaking havoc on oil-producing countries like Russia and Venezuela.

Why does the price of oil keep falling? The short version of the story goes like this: For much of the past decade, oil prices were high — bouncing around $100 per barrel since 2010 — because of soaring oil consumption in countries like China and conflicts in key oil nations like Iraq. Oil production couldn’t keep up with demand, so prices spiked.

But beneath the surface, many of those dynamics were rapidly shifting. High prices spurred companies in the US and Canada to start drilling for new, hard-to-extract crude in North Dakota’s shale formations and Alberta’s oil sands. At the same time, demand for oil in places like Europe, Asia, and the US began tapering off, thanks to weakening economies and new efficiency measures. On top of that, countries like Iraq began producing more oil.

By late 2014, world oil supply was on track to rise much higher than actual demand.

As prices slid, many observers waited to see whether OPEC, the world’s largest oil cartel, would cut back on its production to prop prices up. (Many OPEC states, like Saudi Arabia and Iran, need high prices to balance their budgets.) But at its big meeting in November, OPEC did nothing. Saudi Arabia didn’t want to give up market share, and it hoped that lower prices would help throttle the US oil boom. That was a surprise. So oil went into free-fall.

The oil price crash is now upending the global economy, with ramifications for every country in the world. Low prices are excellent news for oil consumers in places like Japan or the US, where gasoline is the cheapest it’s been in years. But it’s a different story for nations reliant on oil sales. Russia’s economy is facing a potential meltdown. Venezuela is facing serious unrest. Even better-prepared countries like Saudi Arabia could face heavy pressure if oil prices stay low.

And today, another ramification.  The price of oil, traditionally around $100 per barrel before the freefall, dipped below $50 per barrel today, and there is no end in sight.  Some experts say it can go as low as $30 per barrel in the weeks to come.  As a result, the Dow dropped more than 300 points just after midday.

“We’re starting a new year with a bit of trepidation; it’s difficult for equities to get any traction when one of the asset classes is in a free fall,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, referring to crude’s ongoing decline. Exxon Mobil, Chevron and other oil producers fell with the price of crude.

“Clearly we haven’t found a bottom in the commodity,” said Hogan of oil’s ongoing decline.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, U.S. light crude, also known as West Texas Intermediate, fell 4.7 percent, with futures for February delivery falling as low as $49.95, and lately down $2.49 at $50.20 a barrel.

Just after midday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 312.97 points, or 1.8 percent, to 17,520.02, with Chevron leading blue-chip declines that included 28 of its 30 components. The S&P 500 declined 36.16 points, or 1.8 percent, to 2,022.04. The Nasdaq dropped 62.02 points, or 1.3 percent, to 4,664.81.

Michelle Celebrates Gasoline Under $2 Which She Promised

Michele Bachmann Gave You Your  2 Gas

Retiring Congressdipshit Michele Bachmann has been doing a peculiar version of the Minnesota Long Goodbye, except instead of the usual arrangement, where a host follows a departing guest out to the car asking if they’re really sure they don’t want to take a little hot dish home with them, Ms. Bachmann has it a little backwards.

Having given a farewell speech and received a loving farewell tongue-bath from WND, and packed up the U-Haul with all her Furry paraphernalia, she now keeps coming back from her idling getaway car to knock on the door and ask us if maybe we’d like to make her another pot of coffee and look at slides from her trip to Bemidji all night.

Like this twitter picture.  Yup. Gas prices are below $2, just like she promised in August 2011 when she was running for President:

“The day that the president became president gasoline was $1.79 a gallon. Look at what it is today,” she said at an event in Greenville, South Carolina. “Under President Bachmann, you will see gasoline come down below $2 a gallon again. That will happen.”

I’m not sure if this tweet means she’s taking a victory lap or not.  If so, it’s pretty hard to see how anything she did contributed to low gas prices.  I guess she was reminded of that fact when her picture was retweeted hundreds of times with the hashtag #thanksObama.

Add Florida To The List

A few minutes ago, Florida became the… I’ve lost count… state to recognize gay marriage.

Check out this infographic (which doesn’t reflect the change in Florida):

Same sex marriage

That’s pretty amazing.  Only the South and parts of the midwest remain holdouts.

UPDATE:  Some backlash

Generally, when a couple heads to their local courthouse or county clerk’s office, they can both receive a marriage license and have their marriage officiated. That is no longer true in 14 Florida counties that have changed their policies anticipating the arrival of marriage equality this week.

Clerks in those counties have offered various justifications to the Tampa Bay Times for ending their courthouse wedding services, including cramped offices, staff limitations, and shrinking budgets. Others admitted that same-sex marriage was a contributing factor.

Pasco County Clerk of Court Paula O’Neil said that most of her staff were “uncomfortable” officiating same-sex weddings, and ending the practice was the only way to avoid discriminating or transferring them all to different departments. Okaloosa County Clerk J.D. Peacock II told his staff in a memo, “I do not want to have members of our team put in a situation which presents a conflict between their personal religious beliefs and the implementation of a contentious societal philosophy change.”

As Joe Jervis points out, almost all of the counties that have ended the practice are in the traditionally more-conservative panhandle region of Florida. Couples of any gender seeking to wed in those counties will have to find another officiant willing and able to marry them. It’s unclear what they’ll be expected to do if they can’t find an alternative.