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April 24, 2014 by  
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Follow your blogging bliss: Do what feels good

April 24, 2014 by  
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Follow your blogging bliss: Do what feels good and don't worry about the rest

It’s so easy, in a sea of Pinteresting and Tweeting and Facebooking businesses and bloggers, to feel overwhelmed, uneducated and lost FAST. Statistics whizzing by your head as you try to recall the right photo sizes and hashtags for each platform. Remembering to add value to opt-ins and post constantly, but only when you’ve got high quality content. Be an individual and stand out while still keeping up with trends. Tracking down the latest infographics on what to post and when to post and how to post it…is your heart racing a little yet? Feeling a cold sweat coming on? Don’t worry – I’ve been around the blogging block over and over for 17 years and I still have moments of panic thinking I just can’t keep up.

And so I’m here to tell you what I always tell myself in a moment of information overload.

You don’t have to keep up.

I know I talk about building a better blog and making sure posts are in order and your sidebar is clean and you’re hashtagging and interacting and adding value and SEO this and responsive that…but you don’t have to do everything. I don’t – I’ve given up Facebook, I don’t do Tumblr or Linkedin, I’ve skipped out on ads and sponsors, link parties and five days a week posting, and I’m over here straight chillin’.

I make things to help you get un-stuck or to keep you from tearing your hair out over that one damn piece of code that WILL NOT WORK. I tweet and Instagram and pin and write to help you make sense of all this internet and blogging stuff.

And sometimes I can’t figure out what to write or tweet or Instagram and I just give myself the day off and don’t worry about it because I know at some point (like now) the inspiration will show up and I’ll have something worthwhile to share.

And today that worthwhile thing is this – chill out, blogging is supposed to be fun! It’s not a race or a competition. Be inspired, be entertained, be connected. Get something out of it other than a load of stress. Learn the basics, figure out how everything works, and then do what FEELS GOOD. Do what makes you smile, what gets you excited, what’s FUN and don’t worry about the rest!

Click to tweet: Be inspired, be entertained, be connected. Get something out of #blogging other than stress! http://ctt.ec/UlZHe+ via @xosarahmorgan

Check out this 5K race on Belle Isle Grand Prix track

April 24, 2014 by  
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If you’ve been to Belle Isle lately you know the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix is right around the corner. Workers are readying the 2.3-mile track and beginning the process of turning this historic park, now a Michigan State Park, into a racing and entertainment center.

1525066_275364359308351_1631863852_nOn Saturday, May 24 you can take your own spin around the race track during the Grand Prix Shakedown 5K Run and Family Fun Walk. The Grand Prix cars can do it in about a minute but they don’t see the sights like you will during this unique opportunity to run (or walk) the track.

By participating you can also be part of the ongoing efforts to improve safety and security in Detroit. All proceeds from the race go to the Downtown Detroit Partnership’s Safety and Security Program, a private/public strategy and implementation plan that provides a sustainable, safe environment.

The Shakedown 5K Run and Family Fun Walk, now in its 21st year, has always been a community/charity event. Contributions from corporate sponsors and run fees have helped the Shakedown raise nearly $500,000 for charities and community efforts since it began. It is presented by Strategic Staffing Solutions (S3), the Downtown Runners and Walkers, the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix and Penske Corp.

Cindy Pasky cheers on the runners at the 2013 Shakedown

Cindy Pasky cheers on the runners at the 2013 Shakedown

“Safety in Detroit, above all else, is essential to our city’s continued transformation,” said Cindy Pasky, founder, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions.  “S³, like other Downtown businesses, is committed to making our Downtown and our neighborhoods safe and secure. The dollars raised by the Shakedown will help the Downtown Detroit Partnership provide residents, employees and visitors with that safe environment.  Our goal is make all of Detroit clean, safe, and inviting.”

One of DDP’s major safety initiatives is the Project Lighthouse, a courtesy patrol program Downtown. The Detroit Police Department and more than 30 businesses in the Central Business District are partners.  Each participating business – known as a lighthouse – has security personnel available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to assist those in need. Any business displaying a Project Lighthouse logo is considered a safe haven and is open to help 24/7. You can also call (313) 471-6490 if you are lost, separated from friends, have vehicle trouble or have other safety concerns.

By the way, DDP also runs the Clean Downtown program so if you see the Clean crew out on Belle Isle or Downtown say thank you. That group cleans up more than 500 tons for trash each year. Last year 100 tons of it came from the Grand Prix.

580417_166456936865761_1121691927_nSo please pick up any trash you have after you indulge in the pizza and beverages provided when you finish the race and, hopefully, pick up you award. There will be awards for 1st place open and master and male/female as well as awards for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards in 5-year age groups for the 5K. Participants will also have the opportunity to win two Delta Airlines tickets.  Each person in the 5k race will have his or her name placed in a drawing. At the end of the race one lucky name will be drawn. You must be present to win.

The Grand Prix Shakedown 5K Run and Family Fun Walk is Saturday, May 24. The walk starts at 8:30 a.m. The run starts at 9:00 a.m. What a way to begin Memorial Day weekend. You can register and get more information as well as ongoing updates by clicking here. The cost is $25.

FCC Plots Murder of Blogs on Behalf of Billionaire Media Lords

April 23, 2014 by  
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Breaking: FCC Will Announce the Death of Net Neutrality Tomorrow (via Americans Against The Tea Party)

If you thought corporations played a big role in your life already, just wait until tomorrow, when the FCC gives up on trying to find a way to enforce equal access to broadband and finally kills net neutrality. What does this mean? It means that the…

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Related Video:

APN | Net Neutrality

GOP: Giving CDC money to study Gun Violence would be “Funding Propaganda”

April 23, 2014 by  
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(By Lois Beckett via ProPublica).

After the Sandy Hook school shooting, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) was one of a few congressional Republicans who expressed a willingness to reconsider the need for gun control laws.

“Put guns on the table, also put video games on the table, put mental health on the table,” he said less than a week after the Newtown shootings. He told a local TV station that he wanted to see more research done to understand mass shootings. “Let’s let the data lead rather than our political opinions.”

For nearly 20 years, Congress has pushed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to steer clear of firearms violence research. As chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that traditionally sets CDC funding, Kingston has been in a position to change that. Soon after Sandy Hook, Kingston said he had spoken to the head of the agency. “I think we can find some common ground,” Kingston said.

More than a year later, as Kingston competes in a crowded Republican primary race for a U.S. Senate seat, the congressman is no longer talking about common ground.

In a statement to ProPublica, Kingston said he would oppose a proposal from President Obama for $10 million in CDC gun research funding. “The President’s request to fund propaganda for his gun-grabbing initiatives though the CDC will not be included in the FY2015 appropriations bill,” Kingston said.

Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), the vice chairman of the subcommittee, also “supports the long-standing prohibition of gun control advocacy or promotion funding,” his spokeswoman said.

CDC’s current funding for gun violence prevention research remains at $0.

As gun violence spiked in the early 1990s, the CDC ramped up its funding of firearms violence research. Then, in 1996, it backed off under pressure from Congress and the National Rifle Association. Funding for firearms injury prevention activities dropped from more than $2.7 million in 1995 to barely $100,000 by 2012, according to CDC figures.

After the Sandy Hook shootings, Obama issued a presidential memorandum “directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.”

Following Obama’s instructions, the authoritative Institute of Medicine put together a report on priorities for research on reducing gun violence. Among the questions that need answers, according to the report: Do background checks — the most popular and prominent gun control policy proposal — actually reduce gun violence? How often do Americans successfully use guns to protect themselves each year? And — a question that Kingston himself had raised repeatedly — what is the relationship between violence in video games and other media and “real-life” violence?

Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who led the CDC’s gun violence research in the 1990s, said that the National Rifle Association and other opponents of funding have often fueled a misconception: that Americans can be for guns or for gun research, but not both.

“The researchers at CDC are committed to two goals: one goal is preventing firearm injuries. The second goal is to preserve the rights of legitimate gun owners. They have been totally misportrayed,” Rosenberg said.

A long list of associations that represent medical professionals—including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics — signed a letter last year urging Congress to fund gun violence prevention research.

“If all we wanted to do was protect the rights of legitimate gun owners, we wouldn’t pass any legislation, and if we just wanted to reduce firearm injuries and death, we might say, ‘Take all guns out of civilian hands,’” Rosenberg said. “The trick is, we want to do both at the same time, and that requires research.”

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment. Last year, the NRA’s director of public affairs, Andrew Arulanandam, told CNN that more government gun research is not needed.

“What works to reduce gun violence is to make sure that criminals are prosecuted and those who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others don’t have access to firearms,” Arulanandam said. “Not to carry out more studies.”

Kingston has touted his A+ rating from the NRA. But in his opponents in the Senate primary race are also running on their gun-rights records. (One of them recently made headlines with an AR-15 assault rifle giveaway.)

The CDC is not the only source of federally funded research on gun violence. In response to Obama’s push for more research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which invests $30 billion in medical research each year, put out a call for new research projects on gun violence prevention last fall. While the first submission deadline has passed, it’s not yet clear how many projects will be funded, or how much money NIH will devote to the effort. An NIH spokeswoman said there is no set funding amount.

Congress also approved Obama’s request for additional CDC funding last year to broaden the reach of the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), a detailed database of the circumstances surrounding all kinds of violent deaths, including gun deaths. Obama has asked for $23 million this year, to expand the data collection to all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

A CDC spokeswoman said that while the agency “does not receive any dedicated funding for firearm related injury prevention research,” Congress does fund “research on a variety of related topics, including youth violence, child maltreatment, domestic violence, and sexual violence.”

“We remain committed to treating gun violence as the public health issue it is, which is why we need the best researchers in this country working on this topic,” a White House spokesperson said in a statement.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees CDC funding, successfully pushed for more NVDRS funding last year. He told ProPublica in a statement that investing in gun violence research is a “critical need,” but that it has to be balanced “with many competing priorities.”

Other Democrats in the Senate and House — including Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) — have continued to push for more funding.

Mirrored from ProPublica

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Sam Seder, “Ring of Fire” interviews Cliff Schechter on “America Drowning in Gun Violence”

Can Afghanistan’s Vibrant Democratic Press Survive?

April 23, 2014 by  
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(By Olof Blomqvist)

The presidential election has shown Afghanistan’s increasingly mature media scene at its best – hopefully not for the last time.

Afghanistan’s vibrant and diverse media scene is often held up as one of the few real success stories of the post-invasion years. While the Taliban notoriously banned television, strung up video cassettes from trees and only allowed one radio station, there has been an explosion in independent media since 2001.

The growing maturity and importance of the Afghan mediahas been evident over the past few months of campaigning for the 5 April presidential election. The coverage was breathless, around-the-clock and often both informative and critical. The candidates themselves were been forced to become more media savvy and open than in any previous vote. Recently, the largest private network ToloTV even hosted slick, western-style televised debates – the first ever held in the country.

But despite the many positives, there are dark clouds on the horizon for the Afghan media. Many outlets are dependent on international financing and fear what will happen if the aid money disappears. More worryingly, recent years have seen a growing pattern of government efforts to silence negative coverage. Officials have targeted critical journalists through legal harassment and attacks, and the administration has sought to tighten its control over independent media.

Since 2001, extremely lax licensing laws have meant that almost anyone with the means has been able to start an outlet. The state broadcaster Radio Television Afghanistan today competes with hundreds of radio and TV stations, print publications and online outlets, spread across the country and Afghanistan’s many languages. ToloTV is the most successful with its tens of millions of viewers, but many others, like the independent news agency Pajhwok, provide quality journalism under often very difficult conditions.

As violence has increased across Afghanistan over the past years, so have attacks against media workers. In Taliban-controlled areas, threats and beatings are facts of life for reporters, and there is little space for independent media. But it is not just insurgents targeting reporters – local officials and security forces have become more brazen in their attacks, in particular in the provinces outside the major cities.

Several emblematic cases last year highlighted the trend. In Badakshan province, policemen in April damaged the car of the owner of a local radio station after it had covered street protests against the local police. In July, a reporter with the Bokhdi news agency was allegedly badly beaten in a Kabul restaurant by a provincial governor, apparently because of an unfavourable book review. Videos of the bloodied journalist spread quickly on social media, causing widespread outrage.

The Afghan media watchdog Nai reported 56 violent incidents involving media workers in 2013, down slightly from 2012 but a significant increase from just a few years ago. According to Nai, security forces or government officials were the suspected attackers in more than half of the cases.

Equally worrying is that most of the violence has gone unpunished. Powerful individuals behind attacks are often able to pull strings to avoid prosecution in Afghanistan’s notoriously corrupt justice system. Last year, the newly-formed Afghanistan Journalists Center launched a campaign to highlight the near total impunity for attacks against media workers. Of the 23 targeted killings of journalists recorded over the past 20 years, perpetrators have only been held to account in two cases.

But Afghan authorities have also used more official channels to silence media it does not agree with. The attorney general’s office has often been called on to harass or even arrest reporters behind unfavourable coverage, in particular articles focusing on corruption. Many outlets have been reprimanded for what the current media law calls reporting “contrary to the principles of Islam”. This concept is poorly defined and open to interpretation, and often seems to be used to target critical media.

The Karzai administration has also moved to impose stricter institutional control over the media. In 2012, the government attempted to push through a new, widely criticised Mass Media Law. The law would have granted the Ministry of Information and Culture broad powers to set laws governing the media, as well as criminalise a long list of vaguely defined “media violations”. Tabled after almost no consultation with media professionals or civil society, the law caused an outcry and has yet to be enacted. Repeated calls by media rights groups for a freedom of information bill have also fallen on deaf ears.

The less tangible threat to media freedom is the self-censorship that many reporters feel is necessary to protect themselves. The risks of publishing a critical story often outweigh the rewards, in particular on issues around corruption or human rights abuses.

An example from this year’s election campaign is the lack of discussion about transitional justice. Addressing past war crimes is still very much taboo in Afghanistan, not least because so many individuals who face serious accusations of human rights violations still occupy influential government positions. Several of the candidates in this year’s elections are warlords or commanders with bloodstained pasts. Yet their backgrounds have hardly been raised by Afghan journalists, even as international outlets have covered the topic.

Last year, the Uzbek warlord and vice presidential candidate General Rashid Dostum offered an unprecedented apology “to all who have suffered on both sides of the wars” – an apparent precondition for him joining the ticket of Ashraf Ghani, one of the race’s frontrunners. This raised hopes that the door had opened for national media to ask more questions on the topic, but it does not seem to have happened – at least not yet. As the Afghanistan Analysts Network has pointed out, “soft” media coverage of the candidates’ pasts could well be part of a longer-term strategy: build up a relationship first, ask the tough questions later.

Whether or not Afghan media outlets manage to maintain their independence in the face of violence and censorship, many still face uncertain financial futures. The international aid money that much of the media is dependent on is already starting to dry up and will decrease even further after 2014.

Some networks, such as ToloTV, have managed to achieve a degree of financial independence, but there is a real risk that many others will not survive. Arguably, the Afghan media scene is already saturated and having fewer outlets is probably inevitable  the local Kabul government for example has reportedly run out of radio licenses due to a lack of available frequencies in the capital.

But as a recent BBC Media Action report noted, the outlets best placed to survive are those with wealthy, individual backers. Several of these are linked to local strongmen or politicians, and are often disparagingly referred to as “Warlord TV”. It would be a serious threat to press freedom if these outlets come to dominate at the expense of quality media like Pajhwok, which might struggle for funds and be forced to downsize.

Independent media that can challenge authority and inform the public will be crucial for Afghanistan’s fragile democracy after 2014. The past few months have shown Afghanistan’s increasingly mature media scene at its best – hopefully not for the last time.

Olof Blomqvist is a freelance writer focusing on South Asia. He spent last year in Afghanistan working on media projects in the humanitarian aid sector.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 licence.

Mirrored from Open Democracy

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Related Video:

Euronews: “Abdullah extends lead in Afghanistan election tally”

IRS Targeted Liberal Groups More Than Tea Party: Newly Released Records

April 23, 2014 by  
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New Records Show IRS Targeted Liberal Groups More Than Tea Party (via Liberaland)

Think Progress obtained a series of IRS documents via the Freedom of Information Act that contradict Republican claims that the IRS targeted only conservative Tea Party groups for scrutiny because of their political beliefs. The 22 “Be On the Look…



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The Young Turks: “The Dark Money Of ‘Social Welfare’ Groups Is The REAL IRS Scandal”

Israel, US Complain about not being able to Divide and Rule the Palestinians

April 23, 2014 by  
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(By Juan Cole)

This week the Fateh Party (secular Arab nationalist) of Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas met in Gaza with members of the Hamas Party (fundamentalist Muslim), seeking a reconciliation and a government of national unity.

The Ra’y News Service of Gaza wrote, “The Palestinian Government has welcomed the [reconciliation] delegation sent by President Mahmud Abbas. It also welcomed the arrival of Dr Musa Abu-Marzuq, member of Hamas Political Bureau, into Gaza. The Government further voiced its full support for the efforts exerted to achieve national reconciliation.” (trans. via BBC Monitoring)

The two sides agreed that in 5 weeks a government of national unity will be appointed by Mahmoud Abbas. There will then be new elections for a president and parliament, to be held no later than 6 months after the new government is sworn in.

Many observers are deeply skeptical that anything will come out of this diplomatic step. It seeks to reverse a 7-year-old political schism in the Palestinian movement. In January 2006, the fundamentalist Hamas Party won the parliamentary elections. This outcome was not acceptable to Israel and the Bush administration, and they connived with the secular Palestine Liberation Organization to overthrow the Hamas government in the West Bank, in which they succeeded. A similar attempt at a coup in the Gaza Strip failed, however. Gradually journalists and politicians have forgotten who was elected and who made the coup, so that you often see the Hamas government in Gaza described as the one that came to power by force. Rather, it is the remnant of the decision the electorate made in 2006.

In 2007 Israel put Gaza under a severe blockade, including its civilian population, which has destroyed the economy, created massive unemployment, and caused a majority of families to be food insecure. It is illegal for an Occupying power to impose collective punishment on a civilian population for which it has responsibility.

President Mahmoud Abbas’s formal term ran out a long time ago, but he has stayed on as president, and appoints a prime minister even though the 2006 Hamas-dominated parliament should be doing that. (The Israelis kidnapped about a third of those elected parliament members at one point, as well as many cabinet members; they consider Hamas a terrorist organization).

The “Gaza Agreement” of yesterday, Wednesday, consisted of 5 points: 1) The formation of a government of national unity, 2) the holding of elections, 3) the re-formation of the security forces, 4) implementing social reforms, and 5) the implementation of general liberties.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya announced the “end of the long political divorce” with a big smile.

But Fateh and Hamas fighters have gotten into firefights with one another over the years, and it will take more than a one-day piece of diplomacy to overcome the bitterness between the two.

Since Fateh has recognized Israel but Hamas has not, the US and the Israeli were upset by this attempt at national unity among the Palestinians, because any government of national unity would contain ministers from Hamas with whom their Israeli counterparts would not be willing to meet. A genuine government of national unity would be a death knell, they say, for the negotiations between Israel and Palestine, which anyway have collapsed.

But the hostility of Israel and the US to a Palestinian internal reconciliation also derives from their desire to divide and rule. A united Palestinian front would make that strategy much less salient. If the 4.4 million Palestinians in the Occupied territories could speak with a single voice, they would nearly have the weight of the 5.5 million Israeli Jews.

The US spokesperson said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a party that does not believe it has a right to exist. The hypocrisy and irony is thick. Israel doesn’t recognize the right of Palestine to exist. As for the demand that Hamas renounce violence, likewise, Israel has not renounced violent aggression toward the Palestinians, something it and its settler surrogates engage in daily. The fact is that parties to negotiations are often engaged in violence against one another (hence the negotiations) and often don’t recognize each other’s legitimacy at the start.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounced the Gaza Accord and said that Mahmoud Abbas’s move signaled the end of the Palestine-Israel negotiations.

Since Israel has settled thousands of squatters on Palestinian land in the West Bank since last August with the US-brokered talks began, it is difficult to see what the Palestinians gained from these negotiations, about which the ruling Israeli Likud Party was never serious (and its far right wing partners in the government were either less serious or were openly hostile to the talks). Mahmoud Abbas keeps demanding a final status map from Netanyahu, who declines to provide one.

What really dismays Washington and Tel Aviv, however, is the prospect of having to deal with the whole Palestinian people, not just a couple of hand-picked corrupt old warhorses who are easily bribed and intimidated. False flag tricks to separate the Palestinians again, which worked in 2007, are no doubt already in preparation. The sad thing is that they won’t even have to try very hard. The Palestinians, having been massively displaced and made stateless by the Israelis over several wars, are inevitably weak and divided. The US and Israel have long taken advantage of the victimization of the victims to further victimize them.

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Related video:

Euronews: “Hamas and Fatah agree on landmark Palestinian unity pact”

Reuters: “U.S. says ‘disappointed’ by Palestinian unity deal”

Through The Lens {April}

April 23, 2014 by  
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At the beginning of the year I decided to join my friends Greta and Alison and their year-long photography project called Through The Lens Thursday. You don’t need a blog to join in, just join our Flickr group and post each week! It’s great for practicing photography in a low pressure, fun way.

This month we had the prompts of Self, Books, Together, and Water.

These are my shots all taken with my fixed 50mm lens:

Self 1/400, f/4.5, ISO 100

Self
1/400, f/4.5, ISO 100

Books 1/150, f/1.8, ISO 100

Books
1/150, f/1.8, ISO 100

Together 1/80, f/2.2, ISO 100

Together
1/80, f/2.2, ISO 100

Water 1/600, f/1.8, ISO 100

Water
1/600, f/1.8, ISO 100

I was going to play with ISO this week, and I did, but the shots I ended liking best were all using 100 because I had such great natural light…yay! It’s about time!

Anyway, what do you think? Which is your favorite shot?

Need practice and want some weekly prompts? Come join us over on Flickr!

*************

Don’t forget about my book drive for my classroom library!

Rustic dinner with asparagus topped with ramps. W/…

April 23, 2014 by  
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Rustic dinner with asparagus topped with ramps. W/ @farmbrookdesign

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