From The New York Times:
Held for nearly two years in a prison run by an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Syria, an American freelance writer was unexpectedly freed on Sunday, following extensive mediation by Qatar, the tiny Gulf emirate and United States ally that has successfully negotiated the release of numerous Western hostages in exchange for multimillion-dollar ransoms.
The family of the freed hostage, Peter Theo Curtis, 45, said that no ransom had been paid.
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From Huffington Post:
Scientists at Michigan State University announced this week the creation of a “transparent luminescent solar concentrator” that could turn windows and even cellphone screens into solar-power generators.
This technology could mean that one day entire skyscrapers might be able to generate solar power without blocking out light or ruining tenants' views.
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From The daily Beast:
Dinesh D'Souza has a book to sell.
It was certainly with that in mind that in an interview with the conservative Newsmax TV, D'Souza offered his opinion on the unrest in Ferguson, following the killing by police of an unarmed, black teenager. D'Souza's smart take? Protesters in Ferguson are like ISIS in Iraq.
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Conservative reaction to a Secretary of State from more than sixty years ago provides lessons about today's terrorism.
Public Servants Representing Ordinary People (5:36) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
One detail of Washington life can explain why those we elect forget that we are here - - Why they can't help it.
Justice is needed. We need to think through what is needed for justice.
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News Corpse watches Fox News so you don't have to. In reaction to the murder of Jim Foley, President Obama addresses the nation with compassion, anger, and forceful resolve. Fox News offers the usual set of responses from the usual suspects.
PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, traces the rapid journey of a Fox News discussion from the killing of a journalist to Islamophobia in the form of violent fantasy. Death to all Muslims? Really? Well, look at the Fox transcript.
Jon Perr at Perrspectives responds to conservative demands that President Obama react to ISIS with harsh, decisive action. Jon looks at the actual Reagan record in hostage crises. My own thoughts on conservatives anger can be found here.
Norman Rampart at Mad Mike's America suggests that British police have been forced to conduct police protection with crazed restrictions.
At The Intersection of Madness and Reality, Mike Caccioppoli suggests the evidence is conclusive. The officer who fired the shots killing Michael Brown should be arrested now. My own thoughts differ. I don't think enough evidence is in for that judgment or any other.
Kevin Sorbo is best known as the star of some Hercules movie remake. He recently opined in what read like a liquor fueled internet post about Ferguson. Tommy Christopher finds the deleted post. It really is pretty bad.
Jonathan Bernstein, writing for Bloomberg, considers how one aspect of the Ferguson aftermath looks. How does it look? Ferguson protestors are told by community leaders to forget about protesting local government and police performance if they can't be bothered to vote. State Republicans react with rage suggestions that black people should vote. Bernstein suggests that is GOP dumb.
Last Of The Millenniums presents in brief graphic form the practical disconnect between conservative positions on gun safety and reproductive choice. Question: can a similar, not identical, contradiction be found on our side of that divide?
James Wigderson has attended many public meetings with angry fellow conservatives. These folks are, without exception, models of polite decorum. Gosh, I want to be like them when I grow up. Liberals on the other hand, sing at protest rallies. And their singing? They make hideous vocal sounds. I hope James one day journeys to St. Louis to join us at worship some Sunday. I will pray his judgment of my participation in our praise band is not so harsh. James is a wonderful writer. He really is. And he really did try to make this musing go somewhere.
Rumproast uses a Florida county as a case study in government endorsement of religion under the guise of freedom of religion. The county is carefully neutral until a non-Christian group applies for equal treatment.
Vincent at A wayfarer's Notes continues his spiritual/philosophical journey. He now travels beyond his interest in disinterest and explores making the most of what we have in building Jacob's ladder to heaven. Or something like that. I can't do him justice. You'll have to read this master of the written word (small w).
tengrain at Mock Paper Scissors posts the title of a devotional attempt to answer the central problem with the Christian faith. However, he seems to regard with a certain lack of reverence. Okay, I'm an active Christian and it made me laugh.
Infidel 753 decides to give up on polite and respectful disagreement when an intolerant bigot expresses hatred in the name of Christ Jesus. Although Infidel does not say so explicitly, there seems an implicit recognition that, just as the hatred is wrong, so is the bigot's claim to represent our faith.
- Ask Michael J.W. Stickings about Pink Floyd and you just might get a wild burst of enthusiasm. Ask him about Pink Floyd covers? Not so much.
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President Truman's Secretary of State, as the Cold War began in the middle of the century, was Dean Acheson. Like everyone, Acheson was surprised at the tactics of the Soviet Union after World War II ended. Expanding into buffer countries, taking them over, was out of the norm, at least what had been normal up to that point.
Acheson presided over a debate within the State Department. The prevailing sentiment following the war was, in a couple of words, never again. Never again to genocide. Never again to appeasement. Those lessons were pressed into American consciousness.
But so was the possibility of nuclear war. The issue among policy makers became one of alternatives. How could we escape war that could come from confrontation. How could we prevent war that could come from a lack of response?
Acheson's group came up with a plausible answer. Strength was to be used to threaten, but also to lift up. Strong arming the Soviet menace while pulling up allies required different expressions of the same resolve.
Acheson's group called it containment. The combination of cautious brinkmanship and economic aid followed a strategic theory. If the Soviet Union could be constrained, kept within boundaries, the entire empire would eventually fall victim to its own contradictions.
Conservatives were outraged at the moral ambiguity. That rage mingled with opportunism as a Senator from California attacked Dean Acheson in personal terms. Senator Richard Nixon went after Democrats running for an assortment of offices using the same alliteration. Each was a quisling, "holding a Ph.D. from Dean Acheson's Cowardly College of Communist Containment."
The cowardly containment rhetoric was more than bluster. It was the clarion call of true believers. We were at war, and there ought to be no limits. Conservatives were angry beyond words at the rejection of emotional impulse. The substitution of thoughtful strategy was infuriating.
Turning away from intellect during crisis is a predictable emotional response. But acting on rage can have unintended results.
As was the case back then, Conservatives today have much to be angry about.
The United States insists that substantial continuation of aid to Iraq depends on changes in Iraq's treatment of its people. Otherwise, weapons will continue to fall into the hands of murderous ISIS militants.
Military aid to rebels in Syria is restricted to weapons that cannot be later used against the United States or our allies, until a clear division develops between those fighting an oppressive regime and terrorist militants who join them.
I was thinking of the days of Nixon's cowardly containment verbiage as I read a joint statement from Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Their demand for massive arms to Iraq and to the Syrian resistance contained some of the same desperate fist clenching anger.
A policy of containment will not work against ISIS.
We need to get beyond a policy of half measures.
... none of this should be contingent on the formation of a new government in Baghdad.
The tone is familiar. We need to do something decisive, massive, and we need to do it now.
In fact, we don't need to do something. We need to do the right thing. We don't need to make a move, we need to make the smart move. We don't need to act now, unless now is the right moment.
The visceral reaction often expressed is, at its heart, emotional. We should recognize and understand that. But we should also understand, and we should reject, the true nature of that central demand.
Just as their forefathers did two thirds of a century ago, true believers reject thought itself.
From the Atlantic:
A little more than a decade ago, a company called Stanley Works was considering moving to Bermuda in order to save some money. Stanley, a tool-manufacturing company, had done some calculations, and figured out that it could save about $30 million per year in U.S. taxes by ditching its Connecticut headquarters. The decision seemed fairly clear-cut, as they’d be lowering their costs.
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I suppose it was kind of gimmicky. The Democratic challenger to an incumbent Republican Congressional Representative pledged, if elected, to give back a tenth of his paycheck. Brad Ashford, the Nebraska Democrat, would keep doing that until members of Congress cut their own paychecks by 10 percent.
There are lots of good reasons to reject a proposal to cut Congressional salaries. Corruption is a lot more tempting when you kind of need the money. Junkets to foreign lands, lavish free dinners, implied future career opportunities, none are really illegal. Sometimes officials who have developed a part-time business of raking it in can cross ethical lines into outright criminality.
At some point, attacking the pay of politicians, however emotionally satisfying - and truly, truly, it does provide a buzz - might not be good public policy.
The incumbent Republican, Lee Terry, did not disagree with cutting the pay of Congress because it's bad policy. His indignation was more personal. It seems Congress has already gone too long without a raise, and enough is enough.
What he's not telling you is that Congress hasn't had a cost of living increase since 2006, when I led the charge for a freeze.
- Representative Lee Terry (R-NE), Comments on KMTV, Omaha, August 11, 2014
Those bringing home considerably less than the $174,000 a year paid to their representatives in Congress might not be completely sympathetic.
Why would anyone in elective office say such a thing?
One possibility is a mere slip of the tongue. The pressure of live debate, the relentless presence of news outlets, can capture momentary lapses.
The problem with that theory is Representative Lee Terry has a bit of a history. It is not the first time he has complained about the financial hardship associated with public service. He was forced to apologize for similar comments during the Republican shutdown of government last year.
Federal workers and those working for companies doing business with the government were going without paychecks. Shouldn't members of Congress give up their pay during the time they were forcing other families to live without?
...you know what? I've got a nice house and a kid in college, and I'll tell you we cannot handle it. Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That's just not going to fly.
Similar stories surface from time to time. It is usually taken as evidence that some politicians are clueless, out of touch with the economic suffering endured by those they ought to be representing. In the case of Representative Terry, the seeming lack of concern is aggravated by his tireless opposition to any increase in the minimum wage.
Such incidents do illustrate a disconnect from life as it is experienced by those living with a significant level of financial anxiety. Comments like those for which Lee Terry is becoming known also illustrate an important part of human nature, a part most of us share.
I close my eyes and try to picture ordinary people. I find myself thinking of friends, co-workers, neighbors, worshipers at Sunday service, shoppers I meet in line at the pharmacy. And I find I'm thinking of people I meet and associate with. Ordinary people.
That is who most of us think of as ordinary, everyday people. Those we see and talk with. They are part of our daily routine. That's human nature, and that's part of the problem. What we see and who we see every day define what we know as ordinary.
As a young student studying government several decades ago, I participated for a few months in a special program that put me in Washington, DC.
I was impressed by one detail that I do not recall ever being reported. Senators and members of Congress do not open doors. Unless they deliberately look for doors, they probably never notice them. It's part of a larger pattern.
As they walk the corridors, even walking the sidewalks near the Capitol Building, they are continuously surrounded by a circle of staff. Papers are passed and glanced at. Conversations continue. Schedules are changed. Decisions are made. It is all done without missing a step. Each elected official is surrounded by a moving, busy office.
The circle is sometimes broken by other office holders and by ever present money flashing lobbyists. Away from the traveling office, officials live near wealth. They shop and worship with the rich and powerful. It affects, it has to affect, what they think of as normal, daily routine, and who they regard as average, everyday folks.
In Congress, most work very hard, doing what they came to the nation's capital to do.
They represent ordinary people.
As another long night in Ferguson begins, the National Guard is on the scene, but so too are the local police, who continue to demonstrate great judgment and a keen grasp on how they're coming across to the outside world. A few minutes ago, police tried to shut down CNN anchor Don Lemon's live broadcast as he stood on a sidewalk in the middle of a group of protesters.
"I think we're about to be arrested because we're standing on a sidewalk," Lemon told a studio anchor in New York, sounding quizzical.
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Police in Ferguson were caught on camera Sunday night threatening to mace one reporter and shoot another. At least two other journalists also claim they were arrested while following police orders.
Shortly after 10 pm Sunday night, police began launching tear gas at protesters and demanded that reporters turn their cameras off.
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From KCTV Independence, MO:
INDEPENDENCE, MO (KCTV) -
A woman used text messages to convince a thief to give her back her stolen van.
"I'm just happy to have my van. I mean who does this, I can't believe this, it is my life, this is real," Megan Bratten said.
When Bratten walked out of the Kmart store near U.S. Highway 24 and Missouri Highway 291, her van was gone.
"An older gentlemen was like, ‘Are you OK?' and I said ‘No, I think my car just got stolen,'" she said.
It was her work van. The van Bratten uses for her business to provide for her five children.
"I just got angry and then I remembered that phone was in there and I thought ‘Let me text them a message' and I did," Bratten said.
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When Scottie McCown died ten years ago, it did not cause a nationwide stir. Maryland paid little notice. There was not much attention paid in Baltimore, where Officer McCown had shot and permanently disabled a local teenager decades before.
The Baltimore protests in 1980 paralleled those we see today here in Missouri to one more deadly incident. Young black teenagers in America seem to continue as routine casualties. So it was in Baltimore three decades ago.
Riots had been massive in Miami at the acquittal of police officers who had beaten to death a motorcyclist after an eight minute chase. The cyclist was driving on a suspended license and likely had been trying to escape a fine.
I was living in the Baltimore area at the time. Like most area residents, I paid little attention to details. A 17 year old black kid had gone into a sub shop with a friend. He was unarmed. As he stood before the counter, he was shot in the back three times by a Baltimore city police detective.
There were raucous press events. Non-violent protests provided an outlet for rage. Baltimore authorities were mindful of the violence in Miami. They wanted to avoid similar racial conflict in Baltimore. A brief hearing was held. Officer McCown was fired, later sued for a million dollars by the young man and his parents.
Civil hearings quoted the conclusions of the lightning fast police review hearing. The officer had options:
He did not "identify himself as a Police Officer to the owner or employee of the Pizza shop and request they telephone for a back-up unit" or "accost the suspects, identify himself as a Police Officer, and conduct a stop and frisk." Finally, "there existed insufficient facts and circumstances to warrant reasonable belief of imminent danger to himself."
Mitigating details were unimportant at the time. Nobody, myself included, had time for mitigation. An unarmed kid would never walk again. What could justify that?
A decade later, author David Simon briefly reviewed the case.
In the area of Erdman Street where the shooting occurred, robberies had been committed in which a small chrome pistol had been used. The detective had noticed a couple of young men in a familiar pattern, looking through the storefront window. The pattern was repeated several times. Were they casing the place? Only when most customers had left did they enter.
Detective McCown readied his own revolver, just in case. As one of the young men suddenly faced the shop owner, McCown saw the metallic flash. The shop owner had not yet noticed the mortal danger facing him. The detective fired three times, screamed at the accomplice to stand still, and yelled at the shop owner to call police emergency.
Then he saw the metallic flash had been from a lighter. There had been no robbery, no accomplice, no mortal danger.
Simon makes the case that we, members of the public, are trapped in a fictional world in which no bad shooting can happen at the hands of a good police officer. Ambiguity is seldom a reality after the fact. But a lack of certainty is a fact of life in each professional moment of a fallible human. What Simon calls "the myth of perfection" haunts every incident.
It doesn’t matter that a shouted warning concedes every advantage to the gunman, that death can come in the time it takes for a cop to identify himself or demand that a suspect relinquish a weapon. It doesn’t matter that in a confrontation of little more than a second or two, a cop is lucky if he can hit center mass from a distance of twenty feet, much less target extremities or shoot a weapon from a suspect’s hand. And it doesn’t matter whether a cop is an honorable man, whether he truly believes he is in danger, whether the shooting of a black suspect sickens him no less than if the man were white.
- David Simon, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, 1991
The young man in Baltimore did not deserve to be shot. He did not deserve a life of partial paralysis. The officer did not deserve the public censure that became a part of his life.
A few miles from my home here in Missouri, 34 years later, a new police shooting has aroused community anger. Local resident Michael Brown has been killed on a residential street in Ferguson. He had just graduated from High School.
The demands for justice, to the extent that the demands are specific to this case, are premature. Justice without process is not justice. Judgment that comes before evidence is not justice.
My friend, liberal Michael J. Scott, is a former police officer. He makes a brief point: "... we don’t yet have the facts so I’m going to reserve judgement."
As those facts slowly dribble out, it has become difficult to compose a case that would justify the shooting. Was there an assault on the officer? Was Michael Brown sufficiently provoked by insult - Get the f*** out of the street - to react with violence? Did the young man decide that apprehension for an earlier forceful robbery was worth attacking a uniformed officer? Was there some other perceived threat?
What is known so far obstructs the search for a reasonable explanation. The number of shots fired, the distances involved, the accounts of a young man with arms raised in surrender, all join to strain the imagination. The slow motion revelation of those details has not helped. The absence of evidence has itself become evidence.
And so there has been outrage. The initial reaction by police authorities to community anger leaves little to the imagination. The lack of distinction between legitimate protests on one hand, and attacks on police, or destruction or looting on the other, has been beyond justification. The relentless march of military level force, the armament and equipment, the early disproportionate response did little to help.
These were not the decisions of individual police officers. Those in charge seem to have achieved a complete disconnect from the consequence of their actions. What are we to expect when protest is necessary and peaceful protest is made impossible?
Mercifully, authority seems to have shifted to more responsible command.
Separating the actions of authorities from the initial shooting is not an easy emotional leap. But it is a necessary leap. In the fullness of time, as evidence bleeds forth, the truth surrounding the death of young Michael Brown will unfold.
Official ineptitude should not be part of that evidence.