Monday, July 21, 2014

A Century Old Historical Mashup: Malaysian Flight MH 17 and the RMS Lusitania

by Nomad

They often say history repeats itself but that's not actually true. Usually some elements of past history are re-formed to create something vaguely familiar.

The downing of Malaysian Flight MH 17 bears some strange and ominous similarities to the sinking of the RMS Lusitania nearly one hundred years earlier.

Last month marked the 100-year anniversary of the advent of World War I. On 28 June 1914, a seemingly regional event, the Sarajevo assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife by a Serbian nationalist, set off a chain of unexpected events that led to global war. 
It seems, historians tell us, that no nation was prepared to back down. The inescapable gravity of war pulled nations into a conflict that would eventually lead to the deaths of millions of lives. 

That conflict also marked the first use of poison gas on the battlefield.  In January 1915, the German military fired shells of a lethal gas, xylyl bromide, at Russian troops near the Polish village of Bolimów on the eastern front. More than 1,000 were reportedly killed as a result of this frightening new weapon. Had it not been for the cold weather, the number of fatalities could have been far higher. 

Yet as dreadful as that was, it turned out to be just a preview of things to come.

On April 22, 1915, German forces shocked Allied soldiers along the western front by firing more than 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas against two French colonial divisions at Ypres, Belgium.

The release of the gas formed a gray-green cloud that drifted across positions held by French Colonial troops from Martinique. The soldiers were terrified and fled, abandoning their trenches and left the front line exposed. In spite of that "success", the German army was unable to seize the advantage. They too were terrified of the effects of the gas.

This was a red line that no other nation had yet dared to cross.
When Allied armies claimed the gas was a clear violation of international law, the Germans simply argued that technically it was not. That ban, they claimed, cover chemical shells. The lethal gas in this battle was released through gas projectors, (or spraying mist projectors similar to those used in neighbors mosquito eradication.)

The Dangerous Illusion of Security 
As horrible as the escalation was, it too, only a month later, the world would be shocked speechless into abject revulsion.
On May 15, 1915, the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat  while  en route from New York to Liverpool, England. Warnings from the German Embassy had been published in newspapers about the risks of traveling into a war zone.

In February of that year, the German navy had adopted a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare and ,had decided to up the ante by blockade the British shipping lanes (Later investigations proved that the Germans were correct in their assumptions that munitions were being shipped via the passenger ship. That did not make the sinking of an unarmed passenger liner any less of an atrocity, of course.)

To the travelers, however,  that risk was thought to be exaggerated. The very idea of any civilized nation daring sink a huge commercial liner filled with innocent victims.
It was unthinkable.
And yet, tragically, the unthinkable sometimes happens.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Oklahoma's Same Sex Marriage Ban Overturned: Learning American Civics the Hard Way

by Nomad

When federal judges overturned the same-sex marriage ban in Oklahoma, the state's governor was fighting mad. She claimed that the judges had "trampled" on states rights. Perhaps Fallin needs to remember this isn't Russia.
The American system isn't based on mob rule.

After a federal appeals courts- in keeping with a nationwide trend- ruled that Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage was a violation of the Constitution, Republican politicians in the state were predictably outraged. AP reports:
The decision by a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upholding a federal judge's ruling is the latest in a decade-long legal battle. That fight was launched by two couples - Sharon Baldwin and Mary Bishop, and Gay Phillips and Susan Barton - shortly after 76 percent of Oklahoma voters backed the ban in 2004.
What is interesting - and somewhat depressing- was the response by conservative leaders to the news. The courts, they claimed, had overstepped its bounds. They believe that It should be up to the populations of the states to decide, not activist judges.  
The article quotes the governor of Oklahoma, the quite contrary Mary Fallin:
"Today's ruling is another instance of federal courts ignoring the will of the people and trampling on the right of states to govern themselves..In this case, two judges have acted to overturn a law supported by Oklahomans."
In typical rabble-rousing fashion, she told reporters that the decision would hopefully be overturned. That seems quite unlikely given the Supreme Court's' decision on this subject. Fallin pledged to "fight back against our federal government when it seeks to ignore or change laws written and supported by Oklahomans."

Those are provocative words, especially in a state that has already seen what happens when people "fight back against the federal government." They blow up federal office buildings and kill innocent victims including pre-school children.
It was an extremely insensitive and irresponsible thing for a governor to say when politics are already so heated.

In any case, it isn't just the federal government that people like Fallin want to take duke it out with. 
They want to overturn over nearly two hundred and fifty years of constitutional law. They literally want to outlaw the principles of the founding fathers.   

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Threats and Poison Letters to the President Lands Texas Actress in Prison for 18 years

by Nomad

A Texas Court threw the book at a woman for plotting to kill the president and other with poison letters in order to blame it on her husband. Politics may have had little to do with this case but threatening the president's life has become all too common.

Shouldn't the Secret Service and the courts be doing more to make this a less attractive way to get attention?

Straight from the "But.. I'm a victim too" category.

The Poison Post Plot
Shannon Guess Richardson, a 39-year-old actress from Texas, was sentenced to 18 years in prison this week for sending a trio of poison letters to politicians, including the President.
At her trial, Richardson threw out every stop to win the heart of the judge. She might have hoped to win a reduced sentence by pleading guilty to the charge of possessing and producing a biological toxin. If so,the legal ploy wasn't too successful.  
At the sentencing phase, Richardson explained that she "never intended for anybody to be hurt," and added that she was  "not a bad person; I don't have it in me to hurt anyone."

Judge Michael H. Schneider was unconvinced and gave her the maximum sentence and ordered her to pay restitution of around $367,000. He also noted that Richardson had put many lives in danger and threatened public officials.

Shannon Richardson's acting career was limited to minor roles in TV series, such as "The Walking Dead"  (Third zombie from the right.) But, due to her poorly-thought-out and very dangerous plotting,  that is all gone now. 

Tea Party Accuses Catholic Charities of Conspiracy with Obama over Immigrant Children Issue

  by Nomad

With ignorance on full display, a Tea Party Leader in Texas has accused Catholic Charities for conspiring with the Obama Administration. How? By sheltering and caring for the flood of immigrant children.

What does this say about our self-image as a nation, as a "City on the Hill"? What does the reaction by some in the Tea Party about their Christian credentials ?

Bud Kennedy, columnist for the Ft.Worth Star-Telegram, has recently called out an East Texas Tea Party leader for jumping on the  bandwagon and promoting nationwide yet another baseless conspiracy.  Their suspicions have targeted  Catholic Charities for trying to help with the influx of immigrant children.

Misguided Suspicions
One right-wing website,, broke the story that the Obama administration had advanced knowledge of, as its writer put it, the planned invasion. This conspiracy, it seems, was based solely on what Kennedy calls, one East Texas Republican’s "misguided suspicions."

So what is she basing this allegation on? The Longview Republican Terri Harris Hill points to federal records that show that the local Catholic Charities received $350,000 last year for immigration services.

LibertyNews also noted that:
Between Dec 2010 and Nov 2013, the Catholic Charities Diocese of Galveston received $15,549,078 in federal grants from Health & Human Services for “Unaccompanied Alien Children Project” with a program description of “Refugee and Entry Assistance.
Based solely on this information, LibertyNews has accused Catholic Charities in Texas of conspiring in “the invasion currently underway.”

Kennedy quotes Hill telling a phone interviewer:
“I think there is something suspicious because the government started awarding grants before the surge. I mean, how did they know?”
How indeed? 
The answer is remarkably easy to explain, according to the columnist.
Tens of thousands of foreign children each year come to the United States without a parent or legal permission. Under a quirk in a 2008 law, children from Mexico are returned, but Central American children stay in shelters or with families until a court rules if they are refugees or trafficking victims. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The GOP and Reparative Therapy: Why the Tea Party in Texas Just Opened a New Can of Worms for 2016

by Nomad

Thanks to a Supreme Court's decision, the idea of Reparative or Conversion therapy- attempting to convert gay people, including young adults, to happy heterosexuals, has been dealt a devastating blow. That's not a surprise. The medical community has largely rejected the pseudo-science and warned of its psychological hazards.
So why did the Texas GOP 2014 platform come out strongly in support of it?

When No Comment is a Relief
So is this how far the Supreme Court has sunk?
A recent headline in ThinkProgress proclaims  the Supreme Court's decision not to rule on a controversial case involving a gay rights issue as a victory- a good thing. That says a lot about how much public trust remains with the High Court when the best news of the day comes when the Supreme Court stops making decisions. 

In this case, we can all breath a sigh of relief that the Court refused to intervene in the case, challenging California’s ban on ex-gay therapy for minors. That leaves the ban in place. And some conservatives were naturally peeved.

The case stems from a conservative challenge by the Pacific Justice Institute and ex-gay group NARTH and the Liberty Counsel to a California law banning such therapy. The lower courts had dismissed the conservative groups' claim that- wait for this- a ban violated the free speech of therapists.
As the article notes:
California was the first state to pass a law protecting minors from being subjected to therapies that attempt to de-gay their sexual orientations in 2012. Conservative groups promptly sued on behalf of ex-gay therapists who felt the ban infringed on their freedom of speech with clients. After two conflicting lower court rulings, the Ninth Circuit ruled last summer that the ban is constitutional. The conservative groups appealed to the Supreme Court, but its decision not to hear it means that the cases are over and the ban remains in place.
 For example, here is an excerpt from an article on the California law
It bans a form of medical treatment for minors; it does nothing to prevent licensed therapists from discussing the pros and cons of SOCE [sexual orientation change efforts ] with their patients....
 Treatment is not a form of free speech, the court decided and therefore deserves no protection.  
Because SB 1172 regulates only treatment, while leaving mental health providers free to discuss and recommend, or recommend against, SOCE, we conclude that any effect it may have on free speech interests is merely incidental.
What a relief: No therapist's free speech was injured in the making of that ruling.