Sister Megan Rice, freed, ready for more anti-nuclear activism

Megan Rice
Click to enlargeNicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
Sister Megan Rice at the Isaiah Wall near the United Nations

For more than a year, Sister Megan Rice, 85, a Roman Catholic nun of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, had caught occasional glimpses of the glittering World Trade Center from her living quarters: the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison on the Brooklyn waterfront.

So when the Volvo she was riding in one morning last week crested the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the skyscraper came into full view, it made a strong impression.

“Oh, my gosh,” Sister Rice exclaimed. Drinking in the scenery and the panorama of New York Harbor, she added, “We’re well on our way.”

It was her fifth day of freedom after two years behind bars for a crime for which she is boldly unapologetic. In 2012, she joined two other peace activists in splattering blood and antiwar slogans on a nuclear plant in Tennessee that holds enough highly enriched uranium to make thousands of nuclear warheads. All three were convicted and sent to prison. But on May 8, an appellate court ruled that the government had overreached in charging them with sabotage, and ordered them set free…

Now, dressed in a sweatsuit that fellow inmates had given her, the nun was traveling to the American headquarters of her order in Rosemont, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia. The agenda was to confer with her superiors about her future — one in which she plans to continue her antinuclear activism. One threat was that the federal government might challenge the recent ruling and try to have her thrown back in prison.

“It would be an honor,” Sister Rice said during the ride. “Good Lord, what would be better than to die in prison for the antinuclear cause?”…

Sister Rice, thin but seemingly healthy, was in high spirits and voluble as she talked about her religious order, her atomic radicalization, her life in prison and what may come next…

The pacifists belong to the Plowshares movement, a loose, mostly Christian group that seeks the global elimination of nuclear arms.

For now, at least, Sister Rice is a free woman.

Read the whole article. A tale of the kind of Catholic foot-soldier I occasionally shared a cell with back in the day.

I’m certain one or another of my kin who still are religious are Catholics like this. Or Congregationalists. Or Buddhists. Or non-religious like me, philosophical materialists, spinning the science-based reality dialectic. Before I left the Great Northeastern dynamo I could always find a couple of kindred spirits at annual get-togethers of my extended family. Philosophy didn’t matter as much as a quest for justice as strong as the quest for fire before we evolved into more sophisticated tool-makers.

It’s nice to see someone with liberal sensibilities and opposed to the insanity of nuclear weapons risk it all out of conscience. We have a president somewhere south of Megan Rice’s prison home who says he shares her ideals. Too bad he doesn’t match her courage.

Lawyer in Kenya offers Obama livestock for marriage to Malia

A Kenyan lawyer is offering President Barack Obama 50 cows, 70 sheep and 30 goats in exchange for first daughter Malia Obama’s hand in marriage.

The Nairobi lawyer, who identified himself as Kiprono, said he hopes to meet with the U.S. president during his scheduled visit to Kenya in July to discuss the possibility of bartering the farm animals for the hand of his 16-year-old daughter, who was dubbed one of Time magazine’s most influential teens of 2014…

“People might say I am after the family’s money, which is not the case. My love is real,” he said. “I am currently drafting a letter to Obama asking him to please have Malia accompany him for this trip. I hope the embassy will pass the letter to him. I will hand it over to the U.S. ambassador with whom we have interacted several times.”

The lawyer said his proposal to Malia would be “unique with a twist.”

“If my request is granted, I will not resort to the cliche of popping champagne. Instead, I will surprise her with mursik, the traditional Kalenjin sour milk. As an indication that she is my queen, I will tie sinendet, which is a sacred plant, around her head. I will propose to her on a popular hill in Bureti near my father’s land where leaders and warriors are usually crowned. The place is called Kapkatet, which means ‘victory.'”

Kiprono said Malia would not be living a life of luxury if she agrees to his proposal.

“Ours will be a simple life. I will teach Malia how to milk a cow, cook ugali and prepare mursik like any other Kalenjin woman,” he said.

First, I think this poor lad doesn’t stand a chance. I’m confident mom and pop are raising their daughters to make their own decisions about marriage. Hopefully, as educated, sophisticated, modern young women.

Second, I can’t wait to hear from the rightwing nutballs who will no doubt add this tidbit to the mythology they’ve already constructed in their dim little minds about the president and his national origins.

Here’s what corporations paid US senators to fast-track the TPP bill

A decade in the making, the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is reaching its climax and as Congress hotly debates the biggest trade deal in a generation, its backers have turned on the cash spigot in the hopes of getting it passed…

That vote, to give Barack Obama the authority to speed the bill through Congress, comes as the president’s own supporters, senior economists and a host of activists have lobbied against a pact they argue will favor big business but harm US jobs, fail to secure better conditions for workers overseas and undermine free speech online…

Fast-tracking the TPP, meaning its passage through Congress without having its contents available for debate or amendments, was only possible after lots of corporate money exchanged hands with senators. The US Senate passed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – the fast-tracking bill – by a 65-33 margin on 14 May. Last Thursday, the Senate voted 62-38 to bring the debate on TPA to a close.

Those impressive majorities follow months of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing by the world’s most well-heeled multinational corporations with just a handful of holdouts…

Out of the total $1,148,971 given, an average of $17,676.48 was donated to each of the 65 “yea” votes.

The average Republican member received $19,673.28 from corporate TPP supporters.

The average Democrat received $9,689.23 from those same donors.

The amounts given rise dramatically when looking at how much each senator running for re-election received.

Two days before the fast-track vote, Obama was a few votes shy of having the filibuster-proof majority he needed. Ron Wyden and seven other Senate Democrats announced they were on the fence on 12 May, distinguishing themselves from the Senate’s 54 Republicans and handful of Democrats as the votes to sway.

In just 24 hours, Wyden and five of those Democratic holdouts – Michael Bennet of Colorado, Dianne Feinstein of California, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Patty Murray of Washington, and Bill Nelson of Florida – caved and voted for fast-track.

Bennet, Murray, and Wyden – all running for re-election in 2016 – received $105,900 between the three of them. Bennet, who comes from the more purple state of Colorado, got $53,700 in corporate campaign donations between January and March 2015, according to Taylor Channing’s research.

RTFA if you need the details on Republican payoffs. Since only 2 Republican votes were in doubt you can be certain that everyone up to and including former presidential candidate, John McCain, received an appropriate chunk of silver dollars.

FIFA officials arrested on corruption charges

The world governing body of football, Fifa, was plunged into an unprecedented crisis on the eve of its congress in Zurich after Swiss authorities arrested a string of officials in a dawn raid and opened criminal proceedings over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

More than a dozen plainclothed officers descended on the five-star Baur au Lac hotel on Wednesday, where officials had gathered for Fifa’s annual meeting.

The arrests were made on behalf of US authorities, after an FBI investigation that has been ongoing for at least three years. The US Department of Justice said authorities had charged 14 officials, nine of whom are current or former Fifa executives. Those arrested in Zurich face extradition to the US…

Separately, Swiss federal prosecutors said they had opened criminal proceedings in connection with the award of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. These decisions have been shrouded in claims of bribery and corruption ever since the vote in December 2010.

The Swiss authorities seized “electronic data and documents” in a raid on Fifa headquarters. Bank documents had earlier been collected from various Swiss financial institutions. Police will question 10 members of the Fifa executive committee who took part in the World Cup votes. The 10, all still current members of Fifa’s ExCo, include senior vice-president Issa Hayatou of Cameroon and Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s sports minister who is head of the country’s 2018 World Cup organising committee. The others are Angel Maria Villar Llona (Spain), Michel D’Hooghe (Belgium), Senes Erzik (Turkey), Worawi Makudi (Thailand), Marios Lefkaritis (Cyprus), Jacques Anouma (Ivory Coast), Rafael Salguero (Guatemala) and Hany Abo Rida (Egypt).

In a statement, the Swiss attorney general’s office said the executives were being questioned on suspicion of “criminal mismanagement” and money laundering. It said the timing of the operation was deliberately co-ordinated with the arrests on behalf of the US authorities “to avoid any possible collusion” between suspects and because a large number of those involved in the voting for the two World Cups were present in Zurich, where Fifa president Sepp Blatter was expected to be re-elected for another four-year term on Friday.

At a later press conference at Fifa headquarters, spokesman Walter de Gregorio denied Blatter was in any way involved with either investigation and said blah, blah, blah, blah.

I shan’t wander off into the scumbag details, now. RTFA. The tale is global. Corruption, bribery, payoffs, money laundering, kickbacks and profit from all of the above fill in the broad strokes of an outline of FIFA history for the last couple of decades. Money remains the most useful tool of corruption.

I am no longer shocked. Cynicism is not a necessity, it is a result. It is derivative.

I recommend following The GUARDIAN through the coming days unraveling the corruption that is FIFA. No one in the world of journalism has struggled longer and harder to bring that sporting body to a principled change.

Supreme Court to weigh-in on “one person one vote”

The Supreme Court on has agreed to hear a case that will answer a long-contested question about a bedrock principle of the American political system: the meaning of “one person one vote.”

The court’s ruling, expected in 2016, could be immensely consequential. Should the court agree with the two Texas voters who brought the case, its ruling would shift political power from cities to rural areas, a move that would benefit Republicans.

The court has never resolved whether voting districts should have the same number of people, or the same number of eligible voters. Counting all people amplifies the voting power of places with large numbers of residents who cannot vote legally, including immigrants who are here legally but are not citizens; illegal immigrants; children; and prisoners. Those places tend to be urban and to vote Democratic.

A ruling that districts must be based on equal numbers of voters would move political power away from cities, with their many immigrants and children, and toward older and more homogeneous rural areas…

The Supreme Court over the past nearly 25 years has turned away at least three similar challenges, and many election law experts expressed surprise that the justices agreed to hear this one. But since Chief Justice John G. Roberts has led the Supreme Court, it has been active in other voting rights cases…

The case, a challenge to voting districts for the Texas Senate, was brought by two voters, Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger. They are represented by the Project on Fair Representation, the small conservative advocacy group that successfully mounted the earlier challenge to the Voting Rights Act. It is also behind a pending challenge to affirmative action in admissions at the University of Texas at Austin…

…Several judges have acknowledged that the Supreme Court’s decisions provide support for both approaches. The federal appeals court in New Orleans said the issue “presents a close question,” partly because the Supreme Court had been “somewhat evasive in regard to which population must be equalized.”

My view of the case, SCOTUS and what passes for the Republican Party nowadays is a tad more simplistic than all the arguments in the article. Today’s conservatives only want well-off, older, white men to vote.

Yes, that’s over-simplified. How about “they want the kind of results guaranteed if only well-off, older, white men can vote” but some of the rest of y’all are OK – if you can be trusted to agree?

I don’t base my analysis on anything ideological. Just look at who’s in charge of the Republican Party, the range of representation among Congressional Republicans, who they have populating political primaries.

Strange, sad and disturbing death of a child in Maryland

EP-150529523

Authorities in La Plata, Maryland, are trying to determine how a three-year-old boy died, after his mother was found pushing his dead body in a swing in a playground…

Officers responded to the scene after a resident phoned them to say that a young woman had been pushing a toddler in a swing “for an unusually long period of time”.

When officers arrived at the scene of the playground shortly before 7am on Friday, they found the toddler’s mother pushing him in the swing. Their first instinct was to administer CPR to the child as “it was clear something was wrong”, Diane Richardson, a spokesperson for the Charles County sheriff’s office, said.

But they almost immediately realized he was dead, and had been “for quite some time”, Richardson said.

Officials said it was possible the woman and her child had been at the park since the day before.

There were no obvious signs of trauma, the local sheriff’s office said, and results from an autopsy conducted over the weekend in Baltimore have so far been inconclusive, pending the return of toxicology tests, among other results…

The sheriff’s office is seeking to establish a timeline for the days leading up to the child’s death

Wills Memorial Park, where the mother and her son were found, is “a small park, nestled in a neighborhood, surrounded by homes and roadways in a quiet community”, Richardson said.

The mother was still believed to be in hospital Tuesday.

Like I said. Strange, sad and disturbing. Looks like the mother needed help. Now, her child is dead. And no one – yet – knows what happened.

Motherhood permanently alters your brain

motherhood

New research by Dr. Liisa Galea…suggests the form of estrogens used in hormone therapy and previous motherhood could be critical to explain why HT has variable effects. Research in women, and Dr. Galea’s research in animals, shows that one form of estrogens, called estradiol, which is the predominant form of estrogens in young women, had beneficial effects, while estrone, which is the predominant form of estrogens in older women, did not. Furthermore, the effects of estrone also depended on whether the rats had experienced motherhood: estrone-based HT impaired learning in middle-aged rats that were mothers, while it improved learning in rats that were not….

“Our most recent research shows that previous motherhood alters cognition and neuroplasticity in response to hormone therapy, demonstrating that motherhood permanently alters the brain” says Dr. Liisa Galea.

Dr. Liisa Galea is interested in how hormones affect brain and behaviour. Hormone therapy (HT) has been shown to have variable effects on brain function and Dr. Galea noted that one factor that had not received much attention was the form of estrogens used in HT. There are three forms of estrogens: estradiol, estrone and estriol. Estradiol is the most potent of estrogens, and it is the predominant form in young women, while estrone is a weaker estrogen and is the predominant form in post-menopausal women. A systematic review of the published scientific literature indicates that estradiol-based HT may have more beneficial effects, while estrone-based HTs may have more detrimental effect on cognition and dementia risk in women…

…Dr. Galea’s previous research had shown that motherhood causes changes in the architecture of connections in the hippocampus, so her team investigated whether the different forms of estrogens could have different effects on rats that had experienced motherhood once (primiparous rats) and on those who had not (nulliparous rats). They found that estrone-based HT improved learning in middle-aged nulliparous rats, but impaired learning in primiparous rats of the same age. These primiparous rats also showed a reduction in neurogenesis and zif268, a protein involved in neuroplasticity in the hippocampus.

As estrone is a component of the most common form of HT prescribed for women in the US, these findings could have implications for the treatment of age-related neurodegenerative disorders in women.

“Hormones have a profound impact on our mind. Pregnancy and motherhood are life-changing events resulting in marked alterations in the psychology and physiology of a woman. Our results argue that these factors should be taken into account when treating brain disorders in women” concludes Dr. Liisa Galea.

Questions relating to procreation are more scientific than social – just as the opposite is true of questions about religious belief, even though the hypothetical average individual has been taught otherwise.

I find it all interesting because I not only never had any interest in becoming a father, I had a vasectomy quite young. Of course, living, then, in a good Catholic state that simple out-patient procedure was illegal along with contraception. My urologist asked me to swear I would tell anyone who asked that I went to Rhode Island to have it done. :)

Apple and Google invited to debate a confidential summit for spies


Click to enlargeDownton Abbey for spies

At an 18th-century mansion in England’s countryside last week, current and former spy chiefs from seven countries faced off with representatives from tech giants Apple and Google to discuss government surveillance in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

The three-day conference, which took place behind closed doors and under strict rules about confidentiality, was aimed at debating the line between privacy and security…

According to an event program obtained by The Intercept, questions on the agenda included: “Are we being misled by the term ‘mass surveillance’?” “Is spying on allies/friends/potential adversaries inevitable if there is a perceived national security interest?” “Who should authorize intrusive intelligence operations such as interception?” “What should be the nature of the security relationship between intelligence agencies and private sector providers, especially when they may in any case be cooperating against cyber threats in general?” And, “How much should the press disclose about intelligence activity?”

The list of participants included:

Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director for law enforcement and information security; Verity Harding, Google’s U.K. public policy manager and head of security and privacy policy; Jane Horvath, Apple’s senior director of global privacy; Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s product security and privacy manager; Matthew Kirk, Vodafone Group’s external affairs director; and Phillipa McCrostie, global vice chair of transaction advisory services, Ernst & Young…

From the U.S.:

John McLaughlin, the CIA’s former acting director and deputy director; Jami Miscik, the CIA’s former director of intelligence; Mona Sutphen, member of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board and former White House deputy chief of staff; Rachel Brand, member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board; George Newcombe, board of visitors, Columbia Law School; David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist and associate editor; and Sue Halpern, New York Review of Books contributor…

The event was chaired by the former British MI6 spy chief Sir John Scarlett and organized by the Ditchley Foundation, which holds several behind-closed-doors conferences every year at its mansion in Oxfordshire in an effort to address “complex issues of international concern.” The discussions are held under what is called the Chatham House Rule, meaning what is said by each attendee during the meetings cannot be publicly revealed, a setup intended to encourage open and frank discussion. The program outlining the conference on surveillance told participants they could “draw afterwards on the substance of what has been said” but warned them “not under any circumstances to reveal to any person not present at the conference” details exposing what particular named individuals talked about…

Investigative reporter Duncan Campbell, who attended the event, told The Intercept that it was a “remarkable” gathering that “would have been inconceivable without Snowden,” the National Security Agency whistleblower.

“Away from the fetid heat of political posturing and populist headlines, I heard some unexpected and surprising comments from senior intelligence voices, including that ‘cold winds of transparency’ had arrived and were here to stay,” said Campbell, who has been reporting on British spy agencies over a career spanning four decades.

He added: “Perhaps to many participants’ surprise, there was general agreement across broad divides of opinion that Snowden – love him or hate him – had changed the landscape; and that change towards transparency, or at least ‘translucency’ and providing more information about intelligence activities affecting privacy, was both overdue and necessary.”

Since none of us were invited to the discussion we’ll have to rely upon “interpretations” leaked over coming weeks. Certainly, some of those attending were on the side of privacy and transparency. Not governed by government-level paranoia or bound by class-dependent arrogance.