Tuesday, October 21, 2014

French Oil Exec Christophe de Margerie Killed After Private Jet Is Struck By Drunk Russian Driver's Plow

French Total Exec Christophe "Big Moustache" de Margerie
It was only back on October 3rd that a Hollywood Reporter article reported about an indignant member of the Russian parliament who made the bold proposal to ban all foreign films that "demonize Russia and Russians".

Well-known Russian director Yuri Kara then publicly suggested using a ban on American films as leverage to pressure President Obama to lift sanctions levied against Russia for having invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in violation of international law.

Just before 12am Monday (Moscow time) French oil executive Christophe de Margerie, the highly-regarded head of France's second largest company, Total, was killed on the runway of Vnukovo International Airport south-west of Moscow along with three members of the crew when a Russian airport plow driver who was drunk at the time, veered into the path of de Margerie's private Falcon-50 jet.

The colorful and outspoken de Margerie, affectionately known within the French company he headed as "Big Moustache" for his distinctive mustache (pictured above)  had just met with Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev to discuss French investment in Russia; including a joint French-Russian venture to extract oil from Siberia; de Margerie's company Total is one of the top ten oil producers in the world.

Now to a degree, I can understand Russian concerns about the way Russian people are portrayed in Hollywood films. As the Hollywood Reporter article notes, there have been a number of recent films featuring Russian villains including 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit', 'A Good Day to Die Hard' and 'The Avengers'. But remember, those are just fictional characters.

The outraged Russians may have forgotten that Hollywood also has had many quality films featuring interesting Russian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian characters too. 'Enemy At the Gates', 'Dr. Zhivago', 'The Hunt for Red October', 'Reds', 'Gorky Park', 'Moscow On the Hudson' and 'The Russia House' are just a few of the Hollywood films to have featured an array of well-written, intelligent and multidimensional Russian characters of substance, complexity and depth. 

So that "outrage" over a handful of American popcorn movies featuring Russian villains struck me as a bit contrived; and opportunistic too given the beating Russia's public image has taken since President Vladimir Putin ordered Crimea annexed and put Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory.

And let's be frank, it's not like Russia has to wag it's finger at Hollywood's fictional depictions of Russian villains.

Russia, like many other nations including America, has it's own share of real-life villains. It was only this summer that a Malaysian Boeing 777 was shot down over Ukraine with Russian technology; including a Russian-built missile launcher that was quickly spirited back into Russian territory.

How about Josef Stalin? Historians and scholars agree that the former Soviet leader was estimated to have killed at least 20 million of his OWN people (some say 60 million) - far more than even Hitler's crazy-ass killed.

Then there's Andrei Chikatilo, the most prolific (known) Russian serial killer in Russian history, who plead guilty to 56 cases of rape, mutilation and murder of women and children after finally being caught. The story was told in the excellent HBO film 'Citizen X'.

Russia's problems with neo-Nazis and violent right wing nationalist hate groups are well-documented as well; just as they are here in the US and other European nations.

It's not my purpose to malign Russia, as I wrote about in this blog back in 2011, I visited the Soviet Union back in 1987 and got to personally experience the rich culture and history of the beautiful city of Leningrad / St. Petersburg; and the generosity and kindness of it's people. I hope to return there some day when the environment is less openly hostile to foreigners and people of color.

But the idea that the public image of Russians is being distorted by fictional villains in Hollywood films, is questionable at best.

The Russian government's actions in Crimea, their tacit support of Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, the trampling of human rights, censorship of journalists and outlawing of opposition political parties within their own borders and their complicity in the downing of the Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine make it more than clear that Russians themselves are responsible for distorting their own image around the globe.

It wasn't a fictional villain from a Hollywood movie that caused the death of Christophe de Margerie.

It was a drunk Russian plow driver at a mismanaged Russian airport who collided with a private jet on the runway; killing a respected international businessman who actually believed in the importance of doing business with Russia - even in the midst of international sanctions.

It's not Hollywood fiction that's demonizing Russians; that's just the reality in Russia today.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

UK Protesters March For Fair Wages - Elizabeth Warren Rallies Progressive Democrats in Minnesota

Thousands of Londoners took part in 'Britain Needs a Pay Raise' march [Photo Dominc Lipinski]
If you look at indicators like GDP or unemployment rates, both the United States and Great Britain are well into a sluggish but steady economic recovery.

The sobering reality? Only the top earners in each country are actually feeling the benefits.

Yesterday hundreds of thousands protesters representing a broad coalition of public sector workers, railway workers, nurses & health workers, postal workers, pensioners, climate change advocates and anti-nuclear activists took part in marches in cities from Glasgow, Scotland and Belfast, Ireland to London. Representative from firemen's and police unions took past as well.

Saturday's marches are part of ongoing efforts to protest austerity measures by the British government and the longest period of wage stagnation since the Victorian era 150 years ago. On Monday thousands of nurses and midwives represented by the Royal College of Nurses went on strike to demand a modest 1% pay increase by the National Health Service (NHS) - the UK's publicly funded national healthcare system. The 1% pay increase is still below rises in cost of living.

This week prison officers and hospital radiology technicians will strike as well. Back in July hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in England went on strike for a day to stage protests against stagnant wages, pension losses and flat wages for the working class - which have actually dropped 8% since 2007 when factoring in the corresponding increases in the cost of living.

The demands come as a British report shows FTSE 100 directors (the UK's version of Wall Street execs) have enjoyed a 21% increase in compensation and now make a staggering 120 times the average UK worker.

What gets me is that wage stagnation and inequality in pay is even worse here in America. The overall unemployment rate is shrinking, but far too many of these jobs don't pay a living wage, or don't offer healthcare or 401k packages. Why aren't there thousands of Americans out there protesting stagnant wages?

Case in point: I rent apartments for a living. The other week a woman in her late 60's, I'll call her "Julie" applied for a 1-bedroom. She lost her husband in the past couple years, lives on her own, kids are grown. She's got a pension and Social Security but her husband's pension shrank by half when he passed away so she still works part-time at Wal-Mart as a cashier to make ends meet. 

She told me not only does Wal-Mart not properly compensate workers for over-time and mandate an under-40 hour work week so they don't have to pay healthcare costs, they'll fire someone for missing a day for legitimate medical reasons. She said they fired a man in his 50's the other week who'd worked there for 15 years because he strained his back and couldn't move heavy pallets on the job - he could do everything else, just not the heavy pallets. Wal-Mart fired him.

Millions of Americans like "Julie" have been forced to take jobs that pay a fraction of what they were earning before the start of the Great Recession, so they're employed but haven't made up the losses in wages, 401k's, pension cuts or equity lost from home values that were lost in the mortgage crisis.

Major elections are coming up in November so you'd think there are plenty  of reasons for thousands of Americans to be out there marching as part of a coordinated effort to address the lack of good-paying full time jobs and wage stagnation. 

On the same Saturday that thousands were marching over in the UK, progressive Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren was in Minnesota rallying Democratic supporters to support the senate race of Minnesota Senator Al Franken, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton as well as other candidates. She's speaking up on issues including voting rights, student debt, a livable minimum wage and government investment in education and clean energy.

On Friday she was in Colorado to support the Senatorial campaign of Mark Udall; and she's in Iowa today to support the Senate campaign of Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley who's running for retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin's old seat.

Obviously there many Americans standing up the issues that can make a positive different for the poor and middle class, folks who've been watching the "economic recovery" from the outside. There are wealthy Americans actively supporting a progressive agenda too.

I guess I'd like to see more large scale organizational efforts for people to make the media and politicians on both sides of the aisle pay attention to the needs of people who want everyone to be able to participate in the economic recovery - regardless of what they make or what they do for a living.

The best thing we can do is simply vote this November. Or maybe take a page from the British playbook and get out there and march. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Was Hitler Really a Meth-Addict? - Stepping Out on 'The Gray Lady'

A young Hitler next to a photo of a Fuhrer-like cat (Photo - Atlas/London Media)
Confession: I've been cheating on my lady with an old flame since last month.

The media furor that erupted last month over New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley's article calling show runner/writer & producer Shonda Rhimes an "angry black woman" sparked a slew of well-written op-eds, articles and insightful reader responses.

The remarkably misogynistic tone of Stanley's piece and the casual reinforcement of ignorant racial stereotypes made me step back and take another look at the New York Times; and do some critical thinking about the make-up of their editorial staff, reporters and the content they produce.

The Time's response to the uproar was so tone-deaf and lackluster, I decided to divorce myself from "The Gray Lady" for awhile and select some other news outlets to "get my news on".

While I miss her, it led me back to an old flame: The Washington Post. Having grown up in Bethesda, Maryland, the Post was on our doorstep every morning (delivered by a neighbor's son from across the street who was a good friend of mine) and spread out about the house throughout the week.

I can still smell that combination of ink and paper. In the pre-cable days of the 1970's and early 80's in the suburban Washington area, the Post's weekly television guide was a highly-coveted and indispensable section of the fat Sunday edition of the Post in our house.

While the Post initially lagged behind the NY Times in developing a strong online presence during the digital transformation, these days the layout and functionality of the WaPo Website is much improved from just a few years ago and with Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos on board as the new owner, the online content and experience is bound to get better with time.

Now I'm something of a history buff; I'm currently slogging my way through "The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad", author Harrison Salisbury's 635-page meticulously-researched and exhaustive analysis of the three-year siege of the Russian city of Leningrad by the Germans starting in 1941 that eventually led to the deaths of some 632,000 Russians - including 4,000 from starvation and cold on Christmas Day 1941. Salisbury was also a long-time editor at the New York Times.

So when I visited the Washington Post's Website after work today to scan the headlines, the eye-opening title of Ishaan Tharoor's article, "High Hitler: Nazi Leader Was a Meth Addict" immediately caught my attention.

According to the WaPo article as well as a piece in The Independent, a new documentary on the UK's Channel 4 airing this weekend, "Hitler's Hidden Drug Habit", the Fuhrer had a quite a drug habit.

Including Pervitin pills containing meth-amphetamine (crystal meth), a barbiturate called Brom-Nervacit, and also morphine - three of the cocktail of 74 different drugs he took according to details from a 47-page American intelligence document.

At first glance such an article might seem gimmicky; after all I did capture the above photo of a young Hitler next to a cat that looks suspiciously like him from an article in Rupert Murdoch's The Sun (UK) entitled (wait for it...), "Mein Furrer" (really) about cats that look like Hitler, but I won't be posting a link to that tabloid jewel of the Murdoch empire. Even I have standards.

Some might consider an article about Hitler's drug use irrelevant given the current Ebola virus, the state of affairs in Syria and Iraq and the ongoing economic stagnation affecting the 99% in this country. But I think the insanity gripping this world (Boko Haram kidnapping school girls?) demands that we step back and reexamine history.

Plus, given renewed interest in the fascinating story "Is Paris Burning?", the book and 1966 film detailing Hitler's efforts to have his army completely destroy the city of Paris before the allied invasion could reach it (Salisbury's book "The 900 Days" also details how Hitler insisted his generals completely level the city of Leningrad as well), a better understanding of how extensively Hitler's mind may have been warped by his drug addiction may help historians gain new insight into the horrific loss of life and catastrophic destruction of World War II.

Maybe someone should drug-test Syrian leader Bashar al-Asaad? And Putin too while they're at it.

Perhaps a better understanding of the horrors of that war may help the world find ways to avoid slipping into another one in the mid-east.

I'll always love the NY Times. It's exceptional journalistic analysis, expansive coverage and insight have helped to expand my intellectual understanding of the world. But their handling of the Alessandra Stanley article (and the fact that they actually printed it) makes me and many others wonder if the editorial board may have gotten just a bit too cozy up on the pedestal.

Perhaps "The Gray Lady" has become a bit too gray. I'll come back to visit her for Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd but for now, I'm giving The Washington Post another chance; especially with the critical November elections coming up and the Nation's Capital once again preparing to take center stage.

Plus I've got a daily friends-with-benefits thing going on with the BBC and NPR too, so I won't lack for company or excellent content. Please don't tell the Gray Lady; she assumed we were exclusive.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mittens Checks In As GOP Tries to Deflect Media Attention From Despicable Voter Suppression Tactics

Failed 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney: back on the political trail
Our old friend Mittens (Romney) was back in the news again today, bringing his folksy, substance-free brand of conservatism to the great state of New York to fire off a couple of political cheap shots at incumbent Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The Republican gubernatorial opponent, West Chester County Executive Rob Astorino, isn't likely to make a dent in Cuomo's commanding double-digit lead, or overcome hizzoner's deep-pocketed backers, name recognition or mastery of Albany politics. Republicans know that.

They certainly couldn't have forgotten that Romney got his political clock cleaned during the November 6, 2012 presidential elections when President Obama took the state of New York by an overwhelming margin of 63.35% to Romney's 35.17% on the way to a decisive 2nd term victory.

So it's not like Mittens is some kind of political rock star in New York; aside from some sparsely populated upstate rural areas, the voting populace soundly rejected he and former vice-presidential candidate Congressman Paul Ryan's economic policies in 2012.

The real reason the GOP asked Mitt to pen an open letter to New York voters criticizing Cuomo as a "typical corrupt New York politician" was more likely just a calculated PR ruse designed to help deflect the pummeling the Republican brand took in the media last week.

And it wasn't just the media taking Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to task for the economic disaster resulting from his bizarre Tea Party-inspired "experiment" to use failed Reagan-era supply-side economic theories to jump start the Kansas economy.

Even Republicans have publicly criticized Brownback's combination of massive tax cuts (for guess who?) and huge cuts in state spending on things like education and job training programs for the current sad state of the Kansas economy. More than 100 Kansas Republicans fed up with the Tea Party's grip on power publicly backed Brownback's Democratic opponent for governor, statehouse leader Paul Davis.

As the members of the editorial board of the Washington Post observed back in late September:

"Mr. Brownback’s Kansas trial is rapidly becoming a cautionary tale for conservative governors elsewhere who have blithely peddled the theology of tax cuts as a painless panacea for sluggish growth. Most key indicators suggest that job creation and economic growth in Kansas are lagging those of its neighbors."
Romney's political cheap shots at Cuomo served the GOP's purposes by making media headlines and also temporarily serving to put a more moderate face on the Republican party. Plus it's valuable low-cost media attention; media focus that won't be turned on the Republican right wing's ongoing effort to sway the outcome of the upcoming November elections by actively violating the right to vote for many Americans.

Did you hear about 79 year-old Joy Dunn of Arkansas?

Check out the article on ThinkProgress.org. She's an African-American resident of Little Rock, AK who can recall the time when black citizens like herself had to pay a $2 poll tax in order to vote; a sum which could represent a week's wages for rural blacks in the south during the time of Jim Crow.

Ole' Jim is apparently alive and well in Arkansas as Ms. Dunn's recent vote in a March special election in Arkansas was returned to her in the mail along with a note saying it was not counted because she had not provided copies of her ID.

She's never had to provide copies of her ID to vote in the decades she's been voting - and of course, no state or local municipal agency ever contacted her directly, or informed her to notify her that she had to; even though she does have valid state ID's.

Ms. Dunn manged to have a friend take her ID's to the library to photocopy them so she can vote in the November elections; but how many elderly residents in rural areas found their votes returned and don't have someone to help them figure out how to comply with state ID laws in order to vote? How many just gave up?

Similar doings are still going on down in North Carolina. The weekly news roundup on the Friday October 10th edition of NPR's Diane Rhehm Show featured some interesting discussion on the status of voter suppression in America. A caller from NC called in to say that he'd worked as a voting monitor at a polling site in a NC community with a liberal arts college and a fairly large black population.

He claimed that many people had received information in the mail that intentionally gave them the wrong polling location for their address or district. When many of those who'd received the bogus info showed up at what they thought was their correct polling site, they were not permitted to cast a vote.

The GOP's ongoing efforts to undermine the fundamental right to vote as a campaign tool is a disturbing travesty that fundamentally violates the law and drags the nation backwards into a much darker era.

Thanks to the destructive influence of the Tea Party extremists who now control the Republican party at the behest of right-wing billionaire backers like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson (who seek to "reverse social engineer" the nation back into their own warped perception of a Democracy), the GOP is unapologetically ethically bankrupt at this point - lacking both scruples and a sense of decency and fair play.

The old joke about a politicians taking candy from babies has been replaced by a brutal reality where the GOP (literally) steals votes from the elderly, the poor and working class and students seeking to exercise their Constitutional right to vote.

Mitt Romney's cheap shots won't change that.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Profits for the Privileged - Sluggish Recovery for the 99% - Treasury Dept. Targets Inversion

Inversion as defined by the White House Website (Image - White House.gov)
Overall it was a pretty crappy day for Wall Street; and not just because the Dow, S&P 500 and NASDAQ were all off.

Perhaps it was a reaction to the 1,000-plus activists who were camped out at the famous statue of the bull calling attention to corporate America's role in blocking government action to slow climate change.

It got a bit ugly when many protesters tried to push past a barricade at Wall Street and Broadway and the NYPD ended up arresting 100 people; mostly for disorderly conduct.

The NYPD has yet to arrest anyone for the sub-prime mortgage crisis which originated on Wall Street and nearly collapsed the US economy, but they DID arrest a protester wearing a polar bear suit today.

While economic numbers and steady but tepid monthly job gains signal an ongoing US economic recovery, it's clearly an uneven one for most Americans. At the end of the day, what does a strong GDP really mean for the bulk of Americans living paycheck to paycheck?

The nation's wealthiest households have already recovered the bulk of any financial losses suffered during the Great Recession and last week's IPO for the Chinese Web giant Alibaba helps illustrate why.

While it was technically a "public" offering of stock (intended to raise capital for the company), only large institutional investors, mutual funds and a select group of connected high net-worth individuals were able to purchase the stock at the initial price of $68 a share.

As Judd Legum's ThinkProgress.org article points out, by the time the average investor was able to purchase the stock, the price had shot up to $92.70 a share, enabling a select and privileged group of investors to take a healthy 36% profit while Alibaba raked in over $21 billion in capital. Not bad for a day's "work".

If that sounds kinda sketchy it's because it is - the game is not only afoot, it's rigged from every possible angle. In his latest book "Flash Boys" author Michael Lewis' illustrates how technology makes it easier. Washington Post columnist Stephen Pearlstein sums up the book perfectly:

"Lewis reveals how a new crop of investment firms has conspired with the big banks and the stock exchanges to use high-speed computers and complex software algorithms to skim pennies from the real investors who provide equity capital to the economy."

Too bad the trigger-happy Ferguson police couldn't go after those crooks in pricey suits. (If they shot an unarmed teenager just for walking along the street, think how fast they could discourage hi-speed traders.)

Let's not forget the LIBOR scandal (London Interbank Offered Rate), which, according to MIT professor of finance Lawrence Lo, completely dwarfs any other financial scandal in history.

But take, heart. Despite these monumentally complex schemes to skim trillions of dollars from average people for which no one ever seems to go to jail, there is hope.

Today President Obama announced that the Treasury Department will take action to make it more difficult for US corporations to pretend they're not actually US corporations by using inversion; a totally sketchy Mitt Romney-esque tax maneuver where American companies purchase foreign companies then claim their "new" company is headquartered outside the US in order to avoid paying the 35% tax rate.

Is this going to change the growing inequality in this nation? No, but at least it can make it harder for corporations to increase their profit margins by shifting the tax burden onto middle-class Americans.

I applaud the Obama administration for at least taking some kind of action. Much more meaningful and comprehensive changes could be made if not for that fact that THE most unproductive Congress in US history has pledged to do nothing at all - and oppose virtually anything the President proposes.

Except of course for authorizing military action.

Even THEY got behind the President when it comes to authorizing air strikes, selling billions of dollars worth of weapons to foreign nations and perpetuating the "War on Terror" (year 16??) by killing Islamic extremists who worship violence and death rather than a Supreme Being.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Can a Sister Get a Break? Rihanna & Shonda Rhimes Wrestle With Big Media

Chris Brown's erie tattoo (L) Rihanna after being beaten by Brown in '09 (R) 
With flat wage growth, a hiring rate that is steadily inching up but still sluggish and millions of people chronically under-employed or stuck in jobs that don't pay living wages, the lingering after affects of the Great Recession are making these tough times for many average working class people in the US.

But Department of Labor statistics released two weeks ago show that black American women are a  particularly hard hit demographic when it comes to economic recovery.

The study shows that the unemployment rate amongst black women remains high at 10.6% - that hasn't changed since the same period 12 months ago. Compare that to the overall unemployment rate which has dipped to 6.2%. One reason?

The study suggests that as a percentage of employees, women of color were over represented in federal, state and local municipal jobs - so when Republican lawmakers began slashing government jobs across the nation, black women suffered disproportionately. The reality is that many working class sisters are finding it much more difficult to get back into the workforce; much more so than their white, Hispanic or Asian counterparts. Don't look for that on the Tea Party's agenda, it doesn't even seem to be on the Democratic Party's radar at the moment. 

Last week the media was also tough on some high profile black women at the top of the economic scale too.
The Website Color of Change.org launched an online petition demanding that the New York Times retract a controversial Op-Ed piece written by Alessandra Stanley that took highly successful television producer/writer Shonda Rhimes to task for writing characters that are "angry black women".

Rhimes is best known for television shows like Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal featuring strong female characters who are confident and outspoken, but also multidimensional, sensitive and compassionate. If Stanley had watched more than say, five episodes of Grey's Anatomy, she would realize Rhimes' characters are ethnically diverse and ALL of them deliver opinionated rants on a range of topics at various times - but only the black female characters are "angry"? Hmmm.

Rhimes took to Twitter on Friday to deconstruct Stanley's arguments in typically eloquent fashion and created something of an online backlash against Stanley, who obviously picked the wrong target and got called out for a sloppily-written Op-Ed.

Speaking of highly publicized Twitter responses, singer Rihanna also took to Twitter to express her anger at CBS for pulling the Jay-Z song "Run This Town", which features Rihanna's vocals, from the television intro for its Thursday Night Football broadcast.

The media dust-up began the week before last when CBS decided to pull the intro in light of the public outcry over the release of the elevator footage of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancĂ© in the face.

CBS pulled "Run This Town" from the televised intro prior to the September 11th national broadcast of the Baltimore Ravens - Pittsburgh Steelers game and replaced it with different theme music. Given that Ray Rice was the Ravens starting running back before he was suspended indefinitely by the NFL, the CBS decision to pull the song does make sense because of the potential risk to the brand.

The possibility of unforeseen media blowback from associating both the CBS and NFL brands (and their advertisers) with a celebrity who was herself a highly-publicized victim of domestic abuse could have very easily been taken in the wrong way and had unintended consequences.

While I respect Rihanna as an artist, global fame and stardom came to her at a very young age.

She's been ensconced within a retinue of managers, lawyers, handlers and publicists
(her own family has complained publicly of not being able to contact her at times) for years, so I'm not sure she actually realizes just how deeply shocked many people were by her decision to rekindle her relationship with Chris Brown in 2009 not long after the vicious beating he gave her. She also reunited with him again in 2011.

While one might certainly express a degree of admiration for her capacity to forgive someone as emotionally disturbed as Chris Brown, many people ultimately viewed her choice as immature and foolish; one reflective of an almost juvenile determination to date a "bad boy" and "fix him".

Rhihanna didn't catch heat because she tried to make her relationship with Chris Brown work, but because she came off as young and dangerously uninformed on the realities of domestic abuse.

Her decision flew in the face of volumes of credible data on the patterns of domestic abuse; one in four women has been a victim. She seemed unaware of the four phases of domestic abuse as described by Lenore Walker in 'The Dynamics of Domestic Violence - The Cycle of Violence' .

As documented on the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center Website, Phase 3 follows the actual physical violence that takes place in Phase 2 and is known as the "Honeymoon Phase" where the abuser expresses deep remorse, apologizes profusely and:

"Many abusers will buy gifts, flowers, etc. so that the victim will forgive the abuse. Oftentimes the abuser will promise to go into treatment voluntarily, that the violence will never occur again, and that he or she will "Change"." 

I read that quote and think back to the famous photos of her and Brown jet-skiing around Florida together not long after he'd pummeled her; look at the picture above, would you even consider going jet-skiing with some guy who did that to you?

Personally I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for Rihanna to be put into the position where she's still having to deal with the repercussions of being a victim of domestic abuse five years after her violent encounter with Brown.

But the reality is that she is also dealing with the repercussions of the message that her choice to reunite with Chris Brown sent to the public. On one hand she remains defiant about wanting her personal life to remain private. Yet, look at any issue of Rolling Stone in the past couple years.

I'm a subscriber and I can tell you that more often than not, the "Random Notes" section which features color photos of famous musicians, has a photo of Rhihanna in a swim-suit with a drink in her hand hanging out in Ibiza or some other exclusive sunny vacation spot hanging out.

For instance, look at page 34 of the September 25th issue of RS with Taylor Swift on the cover. There's Rhihanna (with a drink in her hand...) floating in the waters off the island of Ponza, Italy celebrating the end of her Monster Tour. The photo caption reads: "RiRi and her entourage snorkeled in old pirate caves on the island of Ponza."

Now I'm not judging her personal life at all. If Rihanna wants to party on a yacht off Monaco with her friends, hey more power to her. She's a successful adult artist who's entitled to recreational down time and she can do with her time and money whatever she wants. 

But you don't get to saturate the media with images of yourself to promote your career as an entertainer then complain about the public prying into your private life.

When CBS pulled the song from their national prime time broadcast, they were just trying to be sensitive to the issue of domestic abuse, because they couldn't predict how the public would react to Rihanna's voice promoting a game involving the Baltimore Ravens with video of Ray Rice punching his fiance in the face making headlines and overshadowing the game itself.

The images of Rihanna's beautiful face all bruised, battered and swollen after Chris Brown attacked her are stuck in the public sub-conscious; like it or not she always WILL be linked to the issue of domestic abuse.

I can understand Rihanna being angry at CBS for having distanced themselves from the trauma she suffered. But maybe she should remember that domestic abuse affects millions of people, and many of those people simply still have a hard time understanding why anyone would willingly go back into a relationship with someone who would hit, and bite you like that.

And then get a tattoo of the photo of what he did drawn on his neck? I don't even want to know what that is about.

Can Rihanna really blame CBS for not wanting any part of that? I don't think so; her being a victim of Brown's violence wasn't her fault but it certainly wasn't CBS's decision for her to get back in a relationship with him either.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tracking Down Anti-Gay Attackers or Shaming Pakistani VIP's Off Planes - Social Media's Evolving Cultural Impact

Surveillance footage of the attackers who beat two men in Philly on 9/11/14
Twitter's almost instantaneous ability to reach a vast online audience is rapidly evolving in ways that even founders Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass probably never imagined.

Like social media itself, co-founder Evan Williams has been quoted as saying Twitter has evolved from what the founders originally thought would function as a platform for "status updates and a social utility", to what has now become a legitimate organic "information network."

It's had a huge and lasting effect on journalism too; remember, the capture of Bin-Laden was first leaked when an IT professional working late looked out his window and started live-Tweeting about helicopters hovering over the compound where US Navy SEALs were in the process of a highly classified mission.

More recently in Missouri live Twitter feeds from reporters and citizens were able to circumvent un-Constitutional media blackouts by Ferguson police.

Now an interesting story I first read about on the BBC News Website on Wednesday sheds new light on a fascinating and innovative application for Twitter; the ability to help police track down people wanted in connection with crimes.

According to the article, last Thursday on the anniversary of 9/11 a large inebriated group of seemingly clean-cut men and women (see surveillance photo above) were out in Center City Philly when they confronted two men ages 27 and 28 on their way to dinner and began hurling homophobic insults at them.

At least two members of the group then physically attacked the two men; fracturing bones in the face of one of the men that will require surgery. When the Philly police posted surveillance video of the attackers on Youtube, a Twitter follower named Greg Bennett posted still photos of the attackers and another Twitter user from Philly reposted the photos to his followers leading someone else to identify the restaurant near where the incident occurred.

At least some of the attackers were then identified after their photos were ID'd on Facebook and the information was forwarded to the Philly police who were scheduled to interview some of the suspects today. That's essentially an investigation that took place on social media (via Youtube and Twitter) that actually led police to find these violent homophobic meat-heads.

For a much more lighthearted look at the evolving ways social media is impacting our culture we turn to Pakistan. Have you heard this hysterical story about former Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik being booted off a Pakistan International Airlines flight by the passengers because he was late?

The tardy Rehman Malik
Social inequality is a huge issue in Pakistan, just as it is around the globe; and that's no joke. Apparently a major source of irritation to average Pakistani travelers is when VIP's delay packed airline flights for up to two or three hours until they show up at the plane.

Can you imagine sitting on a plane at the gate at O'Hare for two hours waiting for Miley Cyrus or Paul Ryan to show up?

Understandably the good people of Pakistan have had just about enough of this inconsiderate phenomenon. So when ex-minister Malik recently showed up two hours late for flight PK 370 from Karachi to Islamabad, the passengers teed off on him.

In what was surely a symbolic eruption of rage against average folk being forced to wait until VIP's decide to show up, the crowd verbally accosted the surprised Malik as he approached the plane's entrance from the jet way.

In fact, one passenger videotaped the confrontation and posted it on the video sharing Website Daily Motion where it was viewed over 53,000 times as of Tuesday. Now it's on Youtube and the story is blowing up on the Web. Malik himself took to Twitter to claim he wasn't responsible for the flight delay. Riiiight.

You GO Pakistani air passengers! Maybe they can teach us something about the power of demanding social change.

Seriously, click the link above and give it a watch. All kidding aside, despite the myriad problems associated with social inequality, politicians around the globe have shown little interest in doing anything about it; being that the folks on the quality side of inequality are probably either sending them fat campaign checks or doing them favors of some kind.

Perhaps this viral video of the Pakistani passengers confronting inequality en masse is a sign of a new and more expansive function for social media - as an agent for much deeper and more meaningful societal change. 

Get to the gate on time; or else...