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Open thread for night owls: Excerpts from the Harper's Index

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 23:30
Here are some excerpts from the January edition of the Harper's Index:
• Estimated portion of black U.S. men who are ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction: 1/8
• Number of prison inmates per 1,000 people in China: 1.2
• In Russia: 4.8
• In the state of Louisiana: 13.4

• Percentage of the U.S. population that the average American says is Muslim: 15
• Percentage that actually is: 1

• Amount the U.S. Navy paid the brother of a Navy intelligence official in 2012 for 349 MK-15 silencers: $1,675,750
• Total amount the silencers cost in parts and labor: $10,000
• Number of the silencers that effectively silenced weapons: 0

• Percentage of Americans who believe economic conditions are getting worse in this country: 54


Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2012Fox News already peddling War on Christmas reruns. You suck, Fox News:
It's once again time to get your War on Christmas on, it seems. Fox News wants to beat that horse good and dead and pulpy, and if they can make the irritatingly non-Republican president look anti-Christian while doing it, so much the better. So bring on the excruciatingly forced outrage about how the 2012 White House cards are anti-Christmas because they feature a dog:

The 2012 White House “Holiday” card spotlights the Obama’s family Portuguese water dog — instead of Christmas. […]

The inside of the card reportedly reads, ”This season, may your home be filled with family, friends, and the joy of the holidays.” The card is signed by the entire First Family — along with Bo’s paw print.

Vanity Fair deemed this year’s Obama ‘Holiday’ card his best-ever in a posting titled, “Bo Obama: the True Meaning of Christmas.”

The 2012 card made no mention of any specific holiday nor did it include a Bible verse noting the birth of Christ.

Wait, didn't we do this exact same crap last year? Oh, right, we did. And it was even the same damn Fox News writer, Todd Starnes, only last year it even included snippets about how Obama Christmas ornaments were a secret homage to Chairman Mao, according to professional dim bulb and conspiracy hearer-abouter Sarah Effing Palin. Oh, and last year the dog was portrayed as inside the house. This year the dog is outside. That's right, the family dog has changed positions, necessitating a whole new story suspecting that Barack Obama and the entire professional White House staff hates Christmas. Tweet of the Day BREAKING EXCLUSIVE PIC Dick Cheney emerges to discuss torture http://t.co/...
@HaroldItz
On today's Kagro in the Morning show, we start the week with the Sydney hostage situation & the weird Uber angle on it. Greg Dworkin rounds up weekend news, including the procedural wrangling in the Senate, Obama's immigration move, the Lima climate change talks, the CRomnibus & Elizabeth Warren, Cheney on MTP & torture polling (a real thing), while even John Yoo backpedals. The Senate's weekend, explained. A look back at the 2009 torture "debate" shows little has changed, and prompts Armando to join the discussion. The media examines wages of torture. Cops want apologies for protest t-shirts. But have you ever seen cops' t-shirts?

High Impact Posts. Top Comments

The Hobbit: The ending is the beginning

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 22:00
Cate Blanchett as Galadriel in the last part of Peter Jackson's Hobbit adaptation. J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was once thought to be an unflimable novel. The movie rights to the story were sold shortly before Tolkien's death in 1973 and various studios and productions would struggle with trying to keep the complexity of themes, as well as the sheer number of characters, while at the same time trying to condense The Lord of the Rings to an acceptable length. And even though there were animated adaptations like Ralph Bakshi's, in the end it took more than three decades for a live-action movie to be released. Even though there is some dissent within the fanbase as to how well the films capture the story, Peter Jackson's Rings trilogy was a critical and financial success, winning 17 Academy Awards. The Return of the King was the first and only fantasy film to win a best picture Oscar.

However, the current Hobbit trilogy has been much more divisive, with some comparing them to George Lucas's Star Wars prequel trilogy. Originally intended to be two movies directed by Guillermo del Toro, lawsuits and production delays resulted in the expansion of the number of Hobbit movies to three and Jackson back in the director's chair. The decision to expand The Hobbit into a trilogy has always been a bit controversial, since the novel is only a 384-page book. If The Lord of the Rings presented a problem of how to create a cohesive narrative on screen with so much material, The Hobbit movies have to borrow from appendices, extrapolate situations hinted at by Tolkien and wholesale invent new characters and bits of story in order to fill out their running lengths.

There has been speculation as to whether The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will be Jackson's final foray into Tolkien's material, but as of now this is the culmination of six films, 13 years of work and over a thousand minutes of accumulated running time. And like The Return of the King, the movie ends its trilogy on a 144-minute, action-dominated note that is visually spectacular. But it is not nearly as an emotionally satisfying conclusion as The Return of the King, and suffers from trying to stretch 30 minutes of story out over two hours.

Follow beneath the fold for more.

Parents of Sandy Hook victims sue Bushmaster for role in their children's deaths

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 19:30
A banner bearing the names of the victims killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut hangs before family members arrive to give a statement about the formation of the website mysandyhookfamily.org just before the one year a Ten families who lost children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass murder are suing the gun manufacturer that they say made it possible:
“The number of lives lost in those 264 seconds was made possible” by the rifle that was “engineered to deliver maximum carnage with extreme efficiency,” according to the lawsuit against AR-15 manufacturer Bushmaster. [...]

Under the title “The Road to Sandy Hook,” the lawsuit painstakingly details the use of the AR-15 in other mass shootings, including those at schools. Yet Bushmaster continued to market the AR-15 as a weapon that would make others “bow down” and kept selling high-capacity magazines with it.

After recounting the individual lives taken by Lanza and his Bushmaster AR-15, the lawsuit says the defendants “knew, or should have known” that the sale of the AR-15 “posed an unreasonable and egregious risk of physical injury to others.” In addition, it should’ve known it would’ve been used in a mass shooting to inflict maximum casualties.

And of course that rifle is intended for killing people, and of course the high-capacity magazines are intended to help the shooter inflict maximum damage in the shortest amount of time. Good for them, and I hope a goodly chunk of the lawsuit goes toward examining how Bushmaster marketed the rifle implicitly as a way to threaten others—sorry, as a way to make those others bow down to you—whether they are politicians or your neighbors or classrooms full of elementary school children.

Cheney reprises his Iran-Contra role to defend Bush administration torture

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 19:26

"The bottom line, however, is that the mistakes ... were just that," Dick Cheney announced to the nation, "mistakes in judgment, and nothing more."

There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for ''the rule of law,'' no grand conspiracy, and no Administration-wide dishonesty or coverup. In fact, the evidence will not support any of the more hysterical conclusions the committees' report tries to reach. That confident proclamation didn't happen last week, but on November 18, 1987. And then Congressman Cheney wasn't defending a Republican president from charges of detainee torture, but from the unpunished criminality that was the Iran-Contra affair.

That's right. Swap Ronald Reagan for George W. Bush and replace "enhanced interrogation techniques" with "traded arms for hostages," and you'd have the minority Republican response to the congressional Iran-Contra investigation. Joined then and as now by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) among other GOP leaders, Cheney didn't just denounce the majority's findings as "clearly cast in such a partisan tone," but insisted President Reagan had the constitutional authority to ignore the congressional ban on aid to the Nicaraguan Contras:

"Judgments about the Iran-Contra Affair ultimately must rest upon one's views about the proper roles of Congress and the President in foreign policy. ... [T]hroughout the Nation's history, Congress has accepted substantial exercises of Presidential power -- in the conduct of diplomacy, the use of force and covert action -- which had no basis in statute and only a general basis in the Constitution itself. ... [M]uch of what President Reagan did in his actions toward Nicaragua and Iran were constitutionally protected exercises of inherent Presidential powers. ... [T]he power of the purse ... is not and was never intended to be a license for Congress to usurp Presidential powers and functions." Continue reading about Dick Cheney, Iran-Contrarian and torture defender, below.

David Koch: 'I'm a social liberal'

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 19:00
Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit celebrating the opening of David Koch wants you to know that he understands the little people.
“I’m basically a libertarian, and I’m a conservative on economic matters, and I’m a social liberal,” Koch told ABC News’ Barbara Walters during an interview for her special “The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2014″ Before you actually seek to take him up on the "social liberal" part, note that he continued by saying "as long as it doesn't interfere with the machinations of Plutus, god of wealth and king of all domains."
Koch, who supports abortion rights and gay marriage, said he isn’t concerned with candidates he supports who don’t share some of his views. He said his primary concern when choosing a candidate to support is their fiscal policies. I don't know if you can really call yourself "for" those things if your life's work consists of working against them because working against them just happens to have the better profit margins. But it might be interesting to see whether his declaration of being a "social liberal" angers any of the people whose lives and careers are dependent upon his monies.

Vivek Murthy confirmed as Surgeon General

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 18:23
U.S. Senate floor vote showing final 51 yes, 43 no vote to confirm Vivek Murthy as surgeon general By a 51-43 vote, the Senate has confirmed Obama nominee Vivek Murthy for the post of America's surgeon general. Democratic Senators Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin crossed party lines to vote against him; Republican Sen. Mark Kirk voted for him.

Murthy had waited over a year for the vote to take place, due almost entirely to opposition from the NRA. Murthy had called gun violence "an important public health issue," which is both a truism and utterly forbidden language.

3:41 PM PT: Obama's statement on the confirmation can be found here.


The death of overtime, and the plight of the middle class

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 16:30
Scale illustration, with wealthy fat cat outweighing a crowd of regular people Reprinted with permission—kos. By Nick Hanauer

If you’re in the American middle class—or what’s left of it—here’s how you probably feel. You feel like you’re struggling harder than your parents did, working longer hours than ever before, and yet falling further and further behind. The reason you feel this way is because most of you are—falling further behind, that is. Adjusted for inflation, average salaries have actually dropped since the early 1970s, while hours for full-time workers have steadily climbed.

Meanwhile, a handful of wealthy capitalists like me are growing wealthy beyond our parents’ wildest dreams, in large part because we’re able to take advantage of your misfortune.

So what’s changed since the 1960s and '70s? Overtime pay, in part. Your parents got a lot of it, and you don’t. And it turns out that fair overtime standards are to the middle class what the minimum wage is to low-income workers: not everything, but an indispensable labor protection that is absolutely essential to creating a broad and thriving middle class. In 1975, more than 65 percent of salaried American workers earned time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Not because capitalists back then were more generous, but because it was the law. It still is the law, except that the value of the threshold for overtime pay—the salary level at which employers are required to pay overtime—has been allowed to erode to less than the poverty line for a family of four today. Only workers earning an annual income of under $23,660 qualify for mandatory overtime. You know many people like that? Probably not. By 2013, just 11 percent of salaried workers qualified for overtime pay, according to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute. And so business owners like me have been able to make the other 89 percent of you work unlimited overtime hours for no additional pay at all.

In my defense, I’m only playing by the rules—rules written by and for wealthy capitalists like me. But the main point is this: These are rules that President Barack Obama has the power to change with the stroke of a pen, and with no prior congressional approval. The president could, on his own, restore federal overtime standards to where they were at their 1975 peak, covering the same 65 percent of salaried workers who were covered 40 years ago. If he did that, about 10.4 million Americans would suddenly be earning a lot more than they are now. Last March, Obama asked the Labor Department to update “outdated” regulations that mean, as the president put it in his memo, “millions of Americans lack the protections of overtime and even the right to the minimum wage.” But Obama was not specific about the changes he wanted to see.

So let me be specific. To get the country back to the same equitable standards we had in 1975, the Department of Labor would simply have to raise the overtime threshold to $69,000. In other words, if you earn $69,000 or less, the law would require that you be paid overtime when you worked more than 40 hours a week. That’s 10.4 million middle-class Americans with more money in their pockets or more time to spend with friends and family. And if corporate America didn’t want to pay you time and a half, it would need to hire hundreds of thousands of additional workers to pick up the slack—slashing the unemployment rate and forcing up wages.

(Continue reading below the fold, but first, join Daily Kos in asking President Obama to provide the same fair overtime protections for today’s middle class that were once enjoyed by our parents.)

Lawyers for Oklahoma's death-row inmates say botched execution left 'a bloody mess'

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 16:09
Huntsville Unit, the prison where Texas has executed all death row inmates since 1982. That Oklahoma execution at the end of April drew nation attention because it took Clayton Lockett 43 torturous minutes to die from an experimental death drug cocktail ordered to be injected into him. Lockett had been convicted of raping and murdering a 19-year-old woman during a robbery in 1992, when he also was 19.

Oklahoma and other states have had a hard time getting the drugs they previously used because no manufacturer wants to publicly supply those poisons. Whoever transported the batch of drugs used to kill Lockett showed up at the transfer in hoods and were paid double the usual price for being couriers in the matter.

The injection did not go well, something the public has known since not long after Lockett was declared dead. A new report issued in September offered some details, including the fact that Lockett had tried to preempt his execution by cutting himself with a razor blade and taking an overdose of anti-anxiety drugs he had hoarded.

Although it was for a while stated that Lockett had died of a heart attack, the autopsy said no. Cause of death was stated as lethal injection. The report also noted there had been several failed attempts inserting the IV to direct the state's poisons into Lockett's circulatory system. Several meaning 16, that being the number of puncture wounds counted. Finally, they hooked Lockett up with the IV inserted into the femoral vein of his groin. But the needle was an inch too short to do the job properly and it wound up in the femoral artery instead. Lockett spoke and tried to rise on the execution table nearly 10 minutes after he was supposed to be knocked out by the sedative and he writhed for a considerable period.

New papers filed on behalf of 21 Oklahoma death row inmates have now revealed still more details. Among them: The execution chamber was a bloody mess after Lockett was pronounced dead, the staff had been under pressure to get Lockett's execution and that of another inmate done on the same day. "[G]et it done, hurry up about it" was the tenor of the day, according comments in the filings by Michael Oakley, former general counsel for the Department of Corrections:
One witness said the execution “was like a horror movie,” recalling that Lockett kept bucking and trying to get off the gurney. […]

Although the prison lacked the right needles and had no backup drugs, the doctor attempted another femoral IV. No one was sure why. Blood backed up into the IV line, and the paramedic told the doctor he’d hit the artery, noting the doctor seemed anxious.
“We’ve got blood everywhere,” the paramedic recalled to investigators.

As Stephanie Memcimer wrote last May, botched executions aren't all that uncommon thanks to the incompetence of those carrying them out. There's an easy solution: eventually the United States will join the other civilized nations of the world and abolish the death penalty altogether.  

Five things we should demand from the Cleveland Police Department regarding Tamir Rice

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 16:08
Family photo of Tamir Rice It's now been nearly a month since Cleveland Police Department Officer Timothy Loehman shot, killed, and lied about 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

Below the fold are five things we should immediately demand from the Cleveland Police Department.

Incoming House Budget chairman already angling for debt ceiling showdown

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 15:36
U.S. Capitol building with storm clouds Sen. Mitch McConnell may have promised to govern responsibly but the GOP's incoming House Budget chair, Tom Price, is eager to once again use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip to exact deep budget cuts. From the Wall Street Journal:
Republican Tom Price, the incoming House Budget Committee chairman, said his party could demand steep spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling next year, the most provocative comments by a senior GOP member to date on how negotiations could play out.

The Georgia congressman, during an hour-long briefing with reporters Friday, said the expected mid-2015 debate over whether to raise or suspend the debt ceiling offered Republicans an opportunity to make a sizable imprint on government policy.

If by sizable he means obliterating the economy and disgracing America's standing in the global marketplace, yes, it could be sizable. Congress suspended the debt limit through March 15 of next year, but the Treasury Department has some wiggle room to continue making critical payments until about mid-summer.

McConnell, eager to establish Republicans as responsible stewards of the government in advance of 2016, had promised this would not be the GOP's M.O. upon assuming control of Congress next year.

‘‘There will be no government shutdown or default on the national debt,’’ he said, making clear he doesn’t agree with some tea party-backed lawmakers who have supported one or the other in the past — or may want to in the future. That proclamation came the day after Republicans trounced Dems in the midterms. But Price hasn't gotten the memo, and come 2015, he will be in a position as chairman of the House Budget Committee to cause considerable consternation on the Hill.

Of course, MSNBC points out what happened last time Republicans threatened not to approve a debt ceiling increase.

"[T]he problem with this ridiculously dangerous and politically violent scheme is that President Obama has already said he won’t play the GOP’s game. Indeed, earlier this year, Republican leaders suggested they would once again hold the debt ceiling hostage, but the White House called their bluff and refused to pay any ransom.

Soon after, Republicans backed down, and a new precedent was set.

Still, message received. We have no idea which Republican Party is going to show up in 2015: McConnell's or that of Rep. Tom Price and Sen. Ted Cruz.

Will Sen. Tom Coburn single-handedly block a suicide prevention program for veterans?

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 15:24
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) holds up a copy of the U.S. Constitution during the Senate nomination hearing of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito on Capitol Hill in Washington January 11, 2006. Roman Catholics would be the majority on the U.S. Supreme Court f I'd say he was the biggest jerk in Washington, but the competition is so steep Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn continues to single-handedly block the Clay Hunt SAV Act, otherwise known as the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act. His reason: it will cost $22 million, and that's $22 million he doesn't want to spend.

It's a bipartisan and very popular bill, and $22 million is, sadly, not a great deal of money when considered against the nearly $3 trillion-cost of the wars those veterans fought. There's been a push over the weekend to convince Coburn to get the hell out of the way.

“This is why people hate Washington. Senator Coburn is the only person stopping this bill from becoming law,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. “If Senator Coburn blocks the Clay Hunt SAV Act, an enduring part of his legacy will be killing an overwhelmingly supported bipartisan suicide prevention bill for our veterans. That has real implications. If it takes 90 days to revisit this issue in the next Congress, the statistics tell us that 1,980 additional veterans will die by suicide. Senator Coburn needs to think carefully about that number in addition to his concerns about the minimal financial costs of this bill.” Also by way of comparison, note that the United States paid over $80 million to two psychologists to assist in designing the American torture program. But a fifth of that for the vets, now that's where Tom Coburn draws the line.

You have to wonder where these people's minds are.

Midday open thread: South Dakota removes its wintry road slogan, gun ad blocks gun story

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 15:00
  • Today's comic by Tom Tomorrow is Tortured logic: Cartoon by Tom Tomorrow -- Tortured logic
  • What you may have missed on Sunday Kos ...
    Of all the torture defenses, 'because it works' is the most troubling, by Hunter

    Delta Airlines fires worker for saying Delta workers make under $15 an hour, by Mark E Andersen

    Christmas isn't Kirk Cameron's to Save, by Steven Payne

    Think ALEC is the only bill mill? Meet the AUL, by Susan Grigsby

    The evil of banality, by Jon Perr

    The United States tortures people, by Laurence Lewis

    "She's Beautiful When She's Angry," by Denise Oliver Velez

    The movement is spreading as Texas A&M University join nationwide "White Coat Die-in," by Egberto Willies

    Obama is right to emphasize progress and hope. If there's no hope, why bother fighting, by Ian Reifowitz

  • South Dakota officials pull out of sticky driving slogan: The slogan was "Don't Jerk and Drive." It was meant to warn people not to jerk the steering wheel on the state's wintry roads, a common problem when people skid and overcompensate. But there were complaints because of the innuendo of masturbation associated with "jerk." "The message is that we'd prefer drivers keep their cars out of the ditch and their minds out of the gutter," said Lee Axdahl, director of the office of Highway Safety. He was overruled and the slogan has been discontinued.
  • Research into 75-year-old "Gone with the Wind" reveals racial tensions: The movie, filled with deeply racist stereotypes and a sympathetic reading of the Lost Cause myth created sparks between film producers and leaders of segregated Jim Crow Atlanta. Emory University film studies professor Matthew Bernstein has conducted extensive research into the archives of the film's producer, David O. Selznick. His findings illustrate some of Selznick's concerns with the city's treatment of the film's black stars at the Dec. 15, 1939 premiere.

    "Producer David O. Selznick was upset that Hattie McDaniel would not be invited to the Atlanta premiere," said Bernstein. "He argued over and over that she should be allowed."

  • Advertising half buried ewspaper story on police shootings: The Louisville, Kentucky, Courier-Journal investigated police shootings in the city and published its findings on the front page. But an ad for a gun sale covered half the page. A publisher's note came later on the newspaper's website: This timing of the advertisement and the decision to run the story were independent actions within different departments of The Courier-Journal; however, we should have identified the inappropriate relationship and made an adjustment.

    We are reviewing our internal processes and will make adjustments to ensure we prevent this problem in the future.

  • Muslim leaders condemn Sydney hostage siege. Critics are always claiming that Muslims don't speak up enough when Islamic jihadis engage in extremist, often murderous acts. That's always been a charge without substance, but it ought to be finally put to pasture after the experience in Australia: Sunday evening, a gunman calling himself “The Brother” stormed a Sydney cafe and took several hostages, beginning an ongoing siege with local law enforcement and making several demands — including that officials bring him the black flag of ISIS, an infamously violent jihadist group in Iraq and Syria also known as the Islamic State. Within hours of the incident, however, a coalition of 50 Muslim organizations quickly released a statement condemning the militant’s actions and urging their fellow Australians not to conflate the attack with all of Islam.
    “We reject any attempt to take the innocent life of any human being, or to instill fear and terror into their hearts,” the letter read. “Any such despicable act only serves to play into the agendas of those who seek to destroy the goodwill of the people of Australia and to further damage, and ridicule the religion of Islam, and Australian Muslims throughout this country.”
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Fox & Friends uses Australia hostage-taking to justify American torture program

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 14:46
Fox and Friends cast discussing torture Fox & Friends continues to be the lead paint of news.
After her co-hosts gave an update on the hostage situation, [host Elisabeth Hasselbeck] said, “Meanwhile, the actual individuals here at home who have been looking into and trying to stop attacks like this and perhaps future hostage situations, as we are still at war indeed with ISIS and terrorism are the CIA, and they have been painted as the bad guys at home.”

Following a clip of Cheney’s face-off with Chuck Todd, Hasselbeck added, “When you see what’s happening in Australia, today, right now, in a chocolate shop and you understand the real war with ISIS that we’re in, and the sharp contrast with the CIA trying to do their job and keep America safe for the past 13 years, startles you, any day.”

If only we had more state-sponsored torture in the world. No doubt that would put a stop to all of this.

Midtown NYPD commanding officer posts, then immediately deletes, outrageous tweet

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 14:45
NYPD commanding officer Edward Winski decided to post something inspirational on Twitter for Motivational Monday, but quickly deleted it. The quote is from Jack Nicholson, playing Col. Jessup in the movie, A Few Good Men, a scene with Jessup testifying regarding two privates he ordered to kill another soldier. In the current climate of protests in New York City that the commanding officer chose to post this to the verified Twitter account of the precinct for motivation is just flat-out tone deaf and shocking, if not revealing.
Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to. Mind you, this quote is given by Col. Jessup just seconds before he admits that he did the unthinkable and ordered the "code red" to have a fellow soldier killed. What in the world was Edward Winski thinking?

More than a year later, Senate to vote on surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 14:04
Doctor Vivek Murthy stands among other bystanders during the first day of legal arguments over the Affordable Care Act outside the Supreme Court in Washington March 26, 2012. U.S. President Barack Obama's sweeping healthcare overhaul on Monday went before President Obama's nominee for surgeon general is expected to finally get a Senate vote Monday evening. It's been more than a year since his nomination:
President Obama nominated Dr. Vivek Murthy to be U.S. surgeon general on November 13, 2013. The Senate health committee signed off on him in February.

At that point, the nomination ran into an NRA roadblock. Murthy's confirmation has been held up because, as Hunter put it, Murthy "once opined that getting shot was, according to available medical evidence, bad for you." Even as Republicans fearmongered about Ebola in the run-up to November's elections, they continued to oppose Murthy. Because teaching at Harvard medical school and being an attending physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital are not good enough qualifications to overcome the position that high rates of gun violence are a public health concern.

After the NRA announced its opposition, Republican opposition hardened and some Democrats became scared to vote for him. On Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used a session forced by Sen. Ted Cruz' anti-immigrant crusade to advance Murthy's nomination, along with several others Republicans had been stalling.

If confirmed, Murthy would be the first Indian-American surgeon general.

Cruz shenanigans get chilly reception from fellow Republicans

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 13:55
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to the press after leaving the Senate Chamber after a marathon attack on Surprise, surprise—Sen. Ted Cruz still isn't making any friends in the Senate. From Politico:
Sen. Kelly Ayotte returned home to New Hampshire on Friday, planning to see “The Nutcracker” with her daughter this weekend. But there was an unexpected conflict: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Cruz, along with Utah Sen. Mike Lee, took to the floor Friday night to demand Republicans stop President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration and scuttled a bipartisan agreement to push back votes until Monday, effectively forcing the Senate to return for a rare weekend session and cast a marathon series of procedural votes.

Of course, the move might have curried favor among fellow Republicans, if there had been a lick of logic involved.
Senior Republicans say there’s a problem with Cruz’s strategy: The GOP lacks the votes to stop Obama on immigration now. In fact, the only senators who did welcome Cruz's grandstanding were Majority Leader Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats.
By dragging out the road to a Senate vote on funding the government, Sen. Ted Cruz inadvertently gave Democrats the time to get a few other things done. Including the potential confirmations of at least five Obama nominees, and maybe many more. Happy holidays, Democrats! Meanwhile, the Republican caucus isn't feeling any of Cruz's holiday cheer.
The fiasco has turned many of Cruz’s colleagues openly against him, a dynamic that might bolster his cred with the tea party wing of the party if he makes a run for the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2016, but could also leave him vulnerable to attacks that he’s more troublemaker than leader — able to shut down the government or stall votes but unable to advance a proactive agenda.

Lima climate talks: Optimism going in, skepticism coming out

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 13:29
Jennifer Morgan  WRI at United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Negotiations #COP20, Lima, Peru (December 1-14, 2014) | Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute on the big screen in Lima. The predicament the world finds itself in today is that we are international to the tune of 200 or so different countries. Which means, when unified global effort is required to make something happen, it's in the self-interest of each individual nation to put out the least effort and treasure.

That was at the crux of the negotiating battle at the climate talks—COP20—in Lima, Peru, these past two weeks: who should pay for reducing carbon emissions. That's actually been at the crux for decades. Should the bulk be contributed by the rich, developed nations that have built their modern economies on a century of vast emissions of greenhouse gases or should the poor, developing nations that have only recently started their ascent be forced to pay for most of this essential industrial makeover?

The rich nations, which have given lip service and a few billions of dollars to assist the poorer nations, required in Lima that everybody, poor nations as well, pledge to cut their carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels and pledge to provide measurements of what they are doing. It took four drafts before the delegates said okay.

The Lima Accord that finally emerged in the wee hours of the weekend's overtime sessions is being called "modest," "weak," "the bare minimum" by critics in the civil society organizations who attended the conference. Oxfam said "the decisions made in Lima do not foreclose the possibility of an agreement in Paris, but do little to improve the odds of success." Climate delegates are slated to meet in Paris late next year to complete a final global climate change pact.

Please read below the fold for more on this story.

Dick Cheney: 'I have no problem' using torture program against innocent persons

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 13:27
Former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney leaves after attending the funeral service of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher at St Paul's Cathedral, in London April 17, 2013. Thatcher, who was Conservative prime minister between 1979 and 1990, die Yesterday, the former vice president of the United States and one of the architects of the American torture program explained why he was unconcerned about the torture of innocent prisoners.
CHUCK TODD: Let me go to Gul Rahman. He was chained to the wall of his cell, doused with water, froze to death in C.I.A. custody. And it turned out it was a case of mistaken identity.

DICK CHENEY: --right. But the problem I had is with the folks that we did release that end up back on the battlefield. [...] I'm more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.

CHUCK TODD: 25% of the detainees though, 25% turned out to be innocent. They were released.

DICK CHENEY: Where are you going to draw the line, Chuck? How are-- [...]

CHUCK TODD: Is that too high? You're okay with that margin for error?

DICK CHENEY: I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.

A reminder: some of the most egregious torture cases took place during preparations for the Iraq War.
It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.

"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."

Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.

As for the innocent persons who found themselves in the CIA's torture programs, the effects were devastating.

It's difficult to understand how anyone could paint Dick Cheney as anything but a war criminal. Smugly advocating for torture of potential innocents; undertaking a torture program in major part to find "evidence" of an al Qaeda-Iraq link that did not exist—there are no possible legitimizing factors here.

Restrictive Arizona abortion law blocked as Supreme Court refuses to overturn ruling

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 13:01
Protesters against Susan G. Komen Foundation's undermining of Planned Parenthood Abortions induced through medications will remain legal in Arizona for now, reports the Arizona Capitol Times. The Supreme Court declined to overturn an appeals court ruling that blocked the law, which attempted to place restrictions on a drug used to induce abortions through the ninth week of pregnancy.
The U.S. Supreme Court this morning rejected a bid by attorneys for the state to overturn a federal appellate court ruling which had concluded the limits illegally infringe on the constitutional right of women to terminate a pregnancy. The justices gave no reason for their decision. But the fight may well continue since federal appeals court rulings in Texas and Ohio upheld similar restrictions, which may cause a showdown at the Supreme Court.
Those other rulings ultimately could force the justices to decide which legal approach is correct. The 2012 Arizona law relates to RU-486, or mifepristone, which is taken in combination with misoprostol 24 to 48 hours later in order to terminate a pregnancy. The combination is typically effective in the first nine weeks of pregnancy. But the law attempted to place more regulations on how and when the drugs could be administered.
The law, however, says any medication used to induce abortion must be administered “in compliance with the protocol authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” And the company’s FDA-approved labeling for the drug says RU-486 can be used only for the first seven weeks – and only when given in two doses on separate days, each one administered by a physician. While a federal judge originally determined the law to be legal, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found the restrictions overly burdensome.
The judges said there was evidence that the law would make medication abortions off-limits to hundreds of Arizona women a year – particularly those who do not discover they are pregnant until after the seventh week – forcing them instead to undergo more complicated surgical abortions. And here's another big surprise:
[T]he judges said attorneys for the state never provided any evidence to show the restrictions were necessary to protect the health of women.

Weekly Standard and a media hack attack Reid for family illness

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 12:48
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks at the Center for American Progress Action Fund in Washington July 15, 2013.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque As he tries to keep enough senators in town for long enough to hold confirmation votes for several of President Obama's nominees, Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed his sympathy for senators who want to go home, saying that "I haven't been home ... in such a long time," and that he has not even been able to sleep in a new home he bought in May. Cue Republicans trying to portray Reid as absent from his home state—the Weekly Standard jumped right on it—and hacky Beltway media types following suit:
Paging Brian Sandoval RT @mkraju: Probably not Reid's reelect message. Says on the floor: "I haven't been home in such a long time."
@TheFix Um, guys? You might want to check out some of Reid's reasons for not being able to go home more often. In addition to the work of being majority leader and trying to do things like get nominees confirmed despite Republican obstruction, Reid canceled one recent planned trip to Nevada because:
Reid flew back to Washington, D.C., to be with his adult daughter, Lana, who "unexpectedly became ill with a serious medical condition that requires surgery," according to the statement.

"She is receiving treatment in Washington D.C. so Sen. Reid flew back from Nevada to be with her," said spokeswoman Kristen Orthman. "The family asks for their privacy on this matter at this time."

So, you know, this might be an attack to research a little more before jumping on it too hard.

Also, note that Reid is talking about wanting to go home to a home he owns. It's not like his residence in Nevada is a time-share in a La-Z-Boy or anything like that.