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Pull Up a Chair — and putting your feet up

By: Elliott Saturday October 25, 2014 12:32 am

What do you do when you need to turn down life’s volume for a brief respite?

I find it difficult to turn off the newsfeeds, yet in a week like this one the news from around the world, and here at home, is overwhelming; seems like it’s getting worse, and worser. So stepping back for a couple hours will do me a world of good.

I like to watch nature documentaries (I miss George Page’s narration, but we still have David Attenborough!). Or maybe a symphony. Books. Movies.

I should make more time to read a good book, I don’t do that enough. I enjoy good mysteries, classics and the like. And I’m always open for suggestions (with regular thanks to dakine for posting books each weekend). Any reading suggestions?

What do you do when you turn off the outside world?

Right now, as soon as I schedule this post, I’m going to spend an hour going down the Shannon River, you can join me (also Netflix).

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Whistleblowers, Protests, Investigations, OH MY!

By: dakine01 Friday October 24, 2014 1:20 pm

I am a US Air Force veteran. After I served in the Air Force, I worked for a couple of years for the Defense Logistics Agency then another ten plus years as a support contractor within the Department of Defense acquisitions universe. All through my years, the one group of people that I have most admired are those individuals who become known as Whistleblowers. One of the things that got me in occasional trouble with my employers and clients was stating that I admired folks like Ernest Fitzgerald.

Here at Firedoglake, I am proud to be able to support Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, and Thomas Drake. I always hoped that if the situation arose, that I would have the courage to blow the whistle on wrong doing. These individuals have shown their courage and willingness to stand up for what is right, no matter the odds. Manning and Kiriakou have sacrificed their freedom for their willingness to do what is right.

Firedoglake has reported (sometimes all alone) on Chelsea Manning’s trial, the Occupy Movement, the Proposition 8 trial. Firedoglake readers have provided support for Occupy and have helped send Kevin Gosztola to report on Occupy, Deepwater Horizon, and Ferguson, MO.

One of the many things I have loved about Firedoglake is the issues advocacy rather than supporting individual politicians. I love that FDL is independent enough to believe that if something is bad when done by the Republicans, it is equally bad when done by Democrats.

I also like that Firedoglake recognizes that we need to have fun as a companion to the serious topics. I like to write Saturday Art diaries, for the past year and a half concentrating on various authors I have read and enjoyed over the years. The weekend Book Salons have brought a wonderful mix of timely topics, accomplished authors and hosts.

Unfortunately there are costs to all of the things that Firedoglake accomplishes. I think the DDoS attacks from last year that Jane mentioned are about the best indicator there can be of the impact that FDL makes. If FDL were not making a significant impact, there would be no need for those attacks to happen.

Can you help Firedoglake stay online? If Firedoglake’s coverage of the issues, advocacy for Marijuana legalization and Prison Reform, and willingness to afflict the comfortable while trying to comfort the afflicted means anything to you, please help as much as you can.

Can you make a donation to help Firedoglake defray the costs of coverage and upgrades to the system? Twenty dollarsTen dollars?

Setting Up The Students

By: anotherquestion Friday October 24, 2014 7:58 am

Our country needs well educated people.

The high cost of college tuition and the worsening penalties for student debt raise the question “Should you go to college?”.  Various disciplines are experiencing declines in enrollment, even areas like law schools.  Where are the good jobs and is the training worth the expense?

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are still portrayed an in-demand career choice despite reputable studies to the contrary (Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent by Michael Teitelbaum).  A virtual congressional hearing brought together a knowledgeable group concerned about this job market.  The four experts in this hearing have well respected academic credentials on this topic and had a consistent message that increasing the number of H-1B high skill guestworker visas will harm the STEM job market.

Schools, professional societies, and corporations are busy recruiting more students to STEM. A corporation that manages student loans is partnering with a university to encourage more minority students to pursue STEM majors.  The American Statistical Association decided to address falling funding for statisticians by recruiting more students through social media.  They are not lobbying the National Science Foundation, nor partnering with medical researchers, nor lobbying the US Congress.  Bill Gates and friends published an OpEd in the New York Times pleading to remove all limits on legal immigration for computer programmers because their companies are not able to recruit enough US programmers, even as Microsoft is in the process of laying off 18,000 employees.

The programming workforce has issues with diversity.  Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently got criticized for his comment that women should wait their turn for pay raises.  Is this gender bias a “bug or a feature”?  IEEE-USA has asked for more than two years how many H-1B guestworker visa hires are male and the White House claims it has too much old technology to answer the question, even though gender is already recorded for each H-1B visa application.

Minorities Earn Tech Degrees at Twice the Rate Top Companies Hire Them”.  So, why don’t they pursue tech jobs and why are tech employers allowed to mingle citizen and non-citizen diversity numbers?

Maybe the question about diversity in STEM is pushed by employers as another path to a cheap, compliant workforce in labor markets that are saturated or in decline.  For example, Facebook has been determined by the US Internal Revenue Service to be legally dependent on H-1B visas, meaning that at least 15% of their workforce are guestworkers on H-1B visas.  The top donors to code.org, a group that pleads for more US students to learn computer programming, helped found FWD.us, a political action committee promoting more H-1B high tech guestworkers.

Our country needs well-educated people.  We used to build bridges and repair roads.  We built skyscrapers during the Great Depression.  Students now usually need to take out loans, so the big question is whether the training is worth the cost.  The local salary for a BS in computer science or MS in statistics is around $35,000-40,000, probably more in industry with less job security.  Is college worth it?  What is it for graduates of nice liberal arts schools?  How are jobs for welders?  Congress is making it easier to get student loans for STEM degrees, but repayment and finding a job are still problems.

Factories got idled in our Great Recession.  Congress acts like we could just fill a bus with engineers and drive them to the factory with no rent money, no salaries, no tools, and no funding to buy raw materials to restart the factory.  There is another way.

So employers want cheap labor.  Colleges want full classrooms.  Professors want cheap labor.  And loan companies want to have more student loans because the rules on these loans have strong coercion to repay.  Will these loans become collateralized just like the junk mortgages?  We’re already seeing a bubble.

The issues are real and real people experience real harm, but be careful of who claims to be your friend.  “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, then they don’t have to worry about the answers.”

Over Easy: FDL is Friendships

By: msmolly Friday October 24, 2014 4:45 am

The primary mission and purpose of Firedoglake is political commentary and activism from a left-leaning “progressive” point of view. But Firedoglake is other things to many of us, and one of the most important is friendship and a sense of community, a shared experience despite our differing circumstances and backgrounds.

So come with me on a journey back in time, to the beginnings of Over Easy, which arose from Lakeside Diner after the sad passing of our beloved Southern Dragon. And Lakeside Diner in turn arose from Early Morning Swim. Many of us remember that Blue Texan hosted Early Morning Swim here at FDL for four years until November 18, 2011, when “real life” beckoned and he moved on. To continue the gathering place, Southern Dragon began hosting a morning thread titled Lakeside Diner, a name suggested by commenter Popyeye99 after reading references to “the biggest booth in the diner.” Here (thank you Elliott!) is the very first Lakeside Diner on November 28, 2011. It was a collection of links to newsworthy items, each accompanied by a few words of Southern Dragon’s incisive commentary. Many of us will never forget his daily “Off to swim in the great capitalist cesspool” when he had to leave to get to his job! Southern Dragon also founded Caturday, a weekly gathering of the many FDL cat lovers, and another way to foster a community of friends. He always closed Caturday posts with, “Saving one animal won’t change the world, but it will change the world for that animal.”

After our Southern Dragon passed away so suddenly, a group of us put our virtual heads together and decided to continue Lakeside Diner, but this time, nonquixote suggested the name Over Easy as a continuation of the “diner” theme. KrisAintX put up a preview the day before to get the ball rolling, and then kicked it off with a bang the next day! And to this day, Ruth Calvo tops her weekly Over Easy post with a picture of eggs prepared “over easy.” The pressures of real life have meant that a couple of our regular authors since have had to give up their weekly spots, but others have stepped up to take their places, and Over Easy remains the morning gathering spot.

In addition to all of the articulate voices, sharp opinions, timely news, progressive activism, and crisp commentary, Firedoglake has become a place for friends to congregate. Most of us have never met in person, although many of us have shared real names and email addresses and other parts of our private lives. We also cheer on the personal activism of Over Easy commenters who bring their political involvement to the local level, in Texas or New Mexico or Wisconsin. The Over Easy morning posts have become what Southern Dragon called “the biggest booth in the diner.” Many lurk and rarely comment, but we know they’re reading because they pop up in a thread when someone’s comment tweaks their desire to speak up.

We want to keep Over Easy, and FDL, strong and active and solid. Your contribution, whatever you can afford, can help make that a certainty.

Please donate $10 or more(!) today, so Over Easy (with eggs!) will continue to be a morning place for news, commentary, and friendships old and new!

Police Go Nuts Over Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Remote Speech in Vermont

By: williamboardman Thursday October 23, 2014 5:59 pm

 

By William Boardman – Reader Supported News   

 

Police Go Nuts Over Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Remote Speech in Vermont  

How a non-event becomes an “event” that ends in anti-climax

 

When Mumia Abu-Jamal was the pre-recorded speaker at a Goddard College commencement in Plainfield, Vermont, in 2008, almost no one outside the Goddard community paid any attention. This year, when Goddard announced that students had chosen Mumia to do a return engagement at their graduation, Philadelphia police, politicians, media, and Fox News went crazy with angry rhetoric aimed at curbing free speech.

 

In the end, this breakdown in civil society resulted in nothing worse than hundreds of police-instigated threats of violence to the Goddard community. For the sake of security, Goddard moved the graduation up three hours, with no public announcement, and the full-house ceremony for 24 students went forward with private security and without incident.

 

In the week between the announcement and the event, “Mumia Abu-Jamal” the symbol served once again as a triggering Rorschach blot exposing aspects of American character in 2014, reflecting and denying realities decades and centuries past. In a sense what Goddard students provoked with their commencement speaker choice was a weeklong confrontation between the symbolic “Mumia Abu-Jamal” and the actual Mumia Abu-Jamal, without much success in joining them in there single, complex reality.

 

What does “Mumia Abu-Jamal” actually mean, or should he just be? 

 

Understanding “Mumia Abu Jamal” in full requires more time and space that is available here. The man and the symbol and those who pillory him all have significant complexity, both real and unreal. There are at least two contexts that are fundamental to understanding the Mumia phenomenon itself and the mini-drama it produced at Goddard:

Russia Today Releases MH-17: The Untold Story

By: operationmindcrime Thursday October 23, 2014 4:56 pm

New RT documentary highlighting the Russian evidence and perspective. New video has also emerged of additional eyewitness testimony filmed by Paris Match. To this date the Dutch Safety Board has shown no interest in interviewing the numerous eyewitnesses who reported a fighter jet in the area nor has the DSB attempted to collect the wreckage to conduct a full investigation.

Link to Paris Match eyewitness testimony:

Paris Match witness states “the aircraft flew to the side and went below and then flew off in the direction of Rostov”.

Link to BBC eyewitness testimony:

Link to Russian radar presentation:

A Quick Whirl Around The Fracking World: 23 Oct 2014

By: KateCA Thursday October 23, 2014 1:14 pm

A Quick Whirl Around The Fracking World:

*Everywhere.  Are oil prices plummeting because of “increased US production, slowing economies in Europe and China and steady production from . . . Opec”?  Or an attempt to put the squeeze on Russia and Iran?  Or is Saudi Arabia sitting out the price drop until it proves too much for US oil frackers and they “move out of the business”?  Will falling prices lead to Venezuela defaulting on its debt, taking “painful steps” that will lead to more political instability?  Will Egypt’s former petroleum  minister’s prediction of $60/barrel pan out?  More, including a graph showing the “break-even” point for oil-producing countries, excluding US.

*Everywhere.  The sudden decrease in international oil prices—whatever the cause—is benefitting some countries, the oil importing ones.  That list used to be headed by the US;  this year  China surged to the top.

*Everywhere.  Eight conservation experts from several major universities say we have “significant ‘knowledge gaps’ as to how shale-gas operations impact ecosystems and wildlife.”  There’s  a huge data gap in reporting “on spills, wastewater disposal and the composition of fracturing fluids.” (Related item at WV below.)

*US-France.  Researchers claim they’ve figured out to “distinguish fracking wastewater pollution from other contamination that results from other industrial processes—such as conventional oil and gas drilling”.   Frackers are not required to disclose the chemicals they use, but the new process by-passes that problem.

*US.  Some frackers are reportedly “using 10,000 tons of sand for one well [which is] a mile long train of sand, to just frac one well”, says US Silica Holdings Chief Executive.   They’re anticipating producing 14 million tons of fracking sand by 2016.

*US.  Frackers have a way around federal law requiring “a permit before using diesel fuel in the drilling process.”  Diesel contains benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Why not just use benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene separately since there’s no law against them?  Not only that, but they can be obtained in an even stronger state when purchased separately.

War Culture

By: David Swanson Thursday October 23, 2014 8:52 am

Caunotaucarius

According to a book by George Williston called This Tribe of Mine: A Story of Anglo Saxon Viking Culture in America, the United States wages eternal war because of its cultural roots in the Germanic tribes that invaded, conquered, ethnically cleansed, or — if you prefer — liberated England before moving on to the slaughter of the Native Americans and then the Filipinos and Vietnamese and on down to the Iraqis. War advocate, former senator, and current presidential hopeful Jim Webb himself blames Scots-Irish American culture.

But most of medieval and ancient Europe engaged in war. How did Europe end up less violent than a place made violent by Europe? Williston points out that England spends dramatically less per capita on war than the United States does, yet he blames U.S. warmaking on English roots. And, of course, Scotland and Ireland are even further from U.S. militarism despite being closer to England and presumably to Scots-Irishness.

“We view the world through Viking eyes,” writes Williston, “viewing those cultures that do not hoard wealth in the same fashion or make fine iron weapons as child-like and ripe for exploitation.” Williston describes the passage of this culture down to us through the pilgrims, who came to Massachusetts and began killing — and, quite frequently, beheading — those less violent, acquisitive, or competitive than they.

Germans and French demonstrated greater respect for native peoples, Williston claims. But is that true? Including in Africa? Including in Auschwitz? Williston goes on to describe the United States taking over Spanish colonialism in the Philippines and French colonialism in Vietnam, without worrying too much about how Spain and France got there.

I’m convinced that a culture that favors war is necessary but not sufficient to make a population as warlike as the United States is now. All sorts of circumstances and opportunities are also necessary. And the culture is constantly evolving. Perhaps Williston would agree with me. His book doesn’t make a clear argument and could really have been reduced to an essay if he’d left out the religion, the biology metaphors, the experiments proving telepathy or prayer, the long quotes of others, etc. Regardless, I think it’s important to be clear that we can’t blame our culture in the way that some choose to blame our genes. We have to blame the U.S. government, identify ourselves with humanity rather than a tribe, and work to abolish warmaking.

In this regard, it can only help that people like Williston and Webb are asking what’s wrong with U.S. culture. It can be shocking to an Israeli to learn that their day of independence is referred to by Palestinians as The Catastrophe (Nakba), and to learn why. Similarly, many U.S. school children might be startled to know that some native Americans referred to George Washington as The Destroyer of Villages (Caunotaucarius). It can be difficult to appreciate how peaceful native Americans were, how many tribes did not wage war, and how many waged war in a manner more properly thought of as “war games” considering the minimal level of killing. As Williston points out, there was nothing in the Americas to compare with the Hundred Years War or the Thirty Years War or any of the endless string of wars in Europe — which of course are themselves significantly removed in level of killing from wars of more recent years.

Williston describes various cooperative and peaceful cultures: the Hopi, the Kogi, the Amish, the Ladakh. Indeed, we should be looking for inspiration wherever we can find it. But we shouldn’t imagine that changing our cultural practices in our homes will stop the Pentagon being the Pentagon. Telepathy and prayer are as likely to work out as levitating the Pentagon in protest. What we need is a culture dedicated to the vigorous nonviolent pursuit of the abolition of war.