Sun 21 December, 2014

21:30 Open Thread - ICYMI - Conan Season 4 Supercut!» Latest from Crooks and Liars

Conan goes there with the weirdness. Open thread below...

21:00 Open thread for night owls. Zornick: How bad can Rubio and Congress muck up the Cuba shift?» Daily Kos
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland March 14, 2013. Two senators seen as possible candidates for the 2016 presidential election will address a conservative conference wh
The guy who said his family fled the Castro regime three years before there was a Castro regime
says the U.S. should continue the half-century embargo against the island nation.
At The Nation, George Zornick writes How Bad Can Marco Rubio and Congress Muck Up the Cuba Shift?. An excerpt:
Even if Congress doesn’t lift the embargo, the degree of opposition on Capitol Hill will significantly affect Obama’s attempted policy shift. Senator Marco Rubio openly threatened during a press conference Wednesday that the Senate would not confirm an ambassador to Cuba, and he also promised to work against any funding for a new US embassy. Senator Lindsey Graham joined in that threat.

Rubio, who is of Cuban heritage, jumped to the front of the Republican response to the new policies and seems to be leading the charge. […]

Rubio also attempted to frame it as a populist issue, with a twist of animus towards liberal elites: “While business interests seeking to line their pockets, aided by the editorial page of The New York Times, have begun a significant campaign to paper over the facts about the regime in Havana, the reality is clear,” his statement said.

No doubt some on the left will share Rubio’s ostensible concerns about free-market exploitation of Cuba, if not for entirely different reasons. […]

So will Congress lift the embargo? Will it go so far as to block an ambassador? On the one hand, the opposition of the House Speaker and the (soon-to-be) ranking Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations is a bad sign. Rubio also chairs a key Foreign Relations Committee on the Western Hemisphere. And “no, Congress won’t do anything” is a safe bet, generally speaking. But members of both parties also support normalized relations—Republican Speaker Jeff Flake flew to Cuba to see imprisoned American Alan Gross home on Wednesday—and Americans favor lifting the embargo. […]

Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2010Steve King Is Nuts:

Apparently the daily-dose of teabagging has amped up Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) cognitive dissonance:

"It's thousands of times bigger than Watergate because Watergate was only a little break-in by a couple of guys," said King. "By the time we pull ACORN out by its roots America's going to understand just how big this is."

The House Judiciary Committee member described the ACORN saga as "the largest corruption crisis in the history of America."

So, we had secret slush funds, the involvement of the White House, Justice Department, FBI and CIA in the crime and/or the cover-up, the "Saturday Night Massacre," the prison sentences, and the resignation of a President ... versus allegations of voter fraud that has never been proven and a couple of conservatives dressing up like a pimp and a prostitute.

You make the call.

Tweet of the Day
This I would like to see. http://t.co/...

Every Monday through Friday you can catch the Kagro in the Morning Show 9 AM ET by dropping in here, or you can download the Stitcher app (found in the app stores or at Stitcher.com), and find a live stream there, by searching for "Netroots Radio."

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21:00 C&L's Late Nite Music Club With Tiny Tim» Latest from Crooks and Liars

However, I'd say that most music is probably a good substitute for all that background noise that gets pumped into malls and elevators. Holidays or not, I like Tiny Tim, and I think we'd all be better off if more artists were as lighthearted as him and didn't take themselves so seriously.

What are you listening to tonight?

20:31 Obama to Blame for Hurricanes, Disease -- and Everything Else» Politics - The Huffington Post
Rudy Giuliani is blaming President Obama for the murder of two NYPD officers. Says Rudy, "We've had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police. I don't care how you want to describe it -- that's what those protests are all about."

Rudy claims specifically that the propaganda against the police started with the president. Yet at no time has the president ever said anything about hating the police. Instead, he urged calm and peace. What he said immediately after police tear-gassed protestors in St. Louis:

We've got to make sure that we are able to distinguish between peaceful protesters who may have some legitimate grievances and maybe long-standing grievances, and those who are using this tragic death as an excuse to engage in criminal behavior.

Here is what Obama said to protestors in Ferguson bent on punishing the police:

That won't be done by throwing bottles. That won't be done by smashing car windows. That won't be done by using this as an excuse to vandalize property. And it certainly won't be done by hurting anybody.

Read Obama's actual words; and then Giuliani's accusation. I challenge anybody to say that what Rudy claims is simply not ridiculous. Where did Obama imply he hated police or that others should? Yet this is a pattern set over the past eight years: the right wing has blamed Obama for everything bad, no matter how far removed from Obama in reality; and given him credit for nothing good, independent of how directly his actions led to that good. No leap of logic or time or reason is too great for them to link Obama with something unpleasant; and no cause and effect no matter how obvious or self-evident is too strong for them to dismiss, reject or ignore. This political strategy is tiresome, childish, insular and counter to the interests of the American people. And frankly my dear, I'm damn tired of it. Let us set the record straight.

The Economy

If you believe that a president's ability to impact the economy is limited, that is fine, but it works for all presidents and for when the economy is doing well and declining. You can't reasonably claim that a president you like is responsible for good economic news, but dismiss such news for a president you don't by falling back differentially on the idea that a president's influence is limited. Similarly, you can't on this same argument of limited influence rationally dismiss bad news under a president you support but blame a president you oppose. Yet the GOP embraces this horribly hypocritical path, as we will see below.

For all of those who think Democrats in general or Obama in particular is a big spender: the deficit at the end of Bush's term was a whopping 9.8 percent of our GDP, while under Obama it is now 2.8 percent. Obama inherited a shrinking economy in freefall, a banking system near collapse, a housing market imploding, the auto industry in disarray, and the world at the precipice of a catastrophic global depression. All sectors of the economy have recovered from that nightmare. Our economy is now growing at a positive rate of 3.9 percent. Examine the positive outlook for 2015 and 2016 from mainstream economists, for example Kiplinger's: "Hiring is on the rise, job openings are at a near-record level, and layoffs are scarce (indicated by a very low rate of initial unemployment claims since May)."

But we hear no praise for Obama for any of this, even though Republicans fought his every move, going so far as to shut down the government in protest of the very policies that brought us back from the brink of disaster. He saved the auto industry in the midst of howls of conservative remonstration. These advances are the direct consequence of Obama's policies in spite of rabid GOP opposition. Yet we only hear that he is to blame for the murder of NYPD officers.

And let us not forget the insane Republican scare-mongering about hyperinflation. Remember that? Here is Paul Ryan:

Unless we change course, we will have a debt crisis. Pressed for cash, the government will take the easy way out: It will crank up the printing presses. The final stage of this intergenerational theft will be the debasement of our currency. Government will cheat us of our just rewards. Our finances will collapse. The economy will stall. The safety net will unravel. And the most vulnerable will suffer.

So the GOP is free to make the weirdest, craziest, most insane accusations and predictions, but bears no responsibility when said utterances prove to be ridiculous. No apology or mea culpa for being an idiot. So with jaw-dropping, surreal, outrageous, unbelievable hypocrisy probably never before matched in scope and breadth, by the first week of March 2009, just over one month into the Obama presidency, Republicans were blaming Obama for the dire economic news. For eight years under Bush any bad news was Clinton's fault; just one month into Obama's presidency, Bush was innocent of all blame. And now Obama gets no credit for any of the good economic news after seven years in office; blame him before he even takes office, but give him no credit after nearly two terms. We do not have a vocabulary that can capture the deep absurdity of this assault on reason. In my lifetime this claim of relative responsibility between Obama and Bush for the failing economy when Obama took office is unmatched in raw cynicism and total detachment from reality.


Here is the report from the Department of Labor:

Total non-farm payroll employment rose by 288,000, and the unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage point to 6.3 percent in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment gains were widespread, led by job growth in professional and business services, retail trade, food services and drinking places, and construction.

When Obama took office, unemployment was at 7.8 percent, and climbing rapidly. The economy was losing 700,000 jobs per month. Unemployment now is 5.8 percent, and the economy is growing. This is real growth: in September, 44 percent of Americans rated the economy as good, the highest mark since 2007. In November, companies hired 321,000 more workers, the largest one-month gain in nearly three years. Gains were widespread across nearly all industries.

But wait: remember the embarrassing episode when prominent Republicans, the right-wing press and the nut-wing echo chamber accused Obama of manipulating unemployment numbers prior to the election when unemployment rates fell below 8 percent? This stuff is cringe-worthy; and where are they now; now that unemployment is in the 6 percent range? Obama was to blame for the high numbers (but oddly was able to manipulate them); but he is given zero credit for the healthy employment figures now. Is this not tiring? How can conservatives face themselves in the mirror?

Stock Market

The DJIA was at 3310 on Bill Clinton's first inaugural day. The market was 6813 when he was next inaugurated. At the end of Clinton's second term, on the day Bush took office, the DJIA was at 10,578; that is the market Bush inherited from Clinton. When Bush left the Oval Office on January 20, 2009, the Dow was at 7,949, a decline of 25 percent over the eight years Bush was president. By March the DJIA had completed its tumble to bottom out with a 12-year low at just over 6500. Republicans blamed Obama for the continuing decline from 7,900 to 6,500 during his first month in office, but not Bush for the loss from 10,600 to 7,900 in eight years as president. A year later, Dow hit 11,000. The stock market doubled in value during Obama's first 14 months in office; it is now well into the 17,000s. Republicans no longer mention talk about the stock market.

Republican statements about Obama in early March 2009 are stunning in their duplicity. Obama is to blame after five weeks but George Bush is free of any responsibility after eight years. Let's take a quick look at right-wing publication headlines at as the new Administration settles in:

Bloomberg.com (March 6): "Obama Bear Market Punishes Investors as Dow Slumps." In this article the claim is further advanced with, "President Barack Obama now has the distinction of presiding over his own bear market."

Wall Street Journal (March 6): "Obama's Radicalism is Killing the Dow." Author Michael Boskin prognosticates that, "It's hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president's policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy, not just mitigate the recession and financial crisis."

Let's look at the headlines about Obama as Dow hits 17,000: Bloomberg.com: nothing; Wall Street Journal: nada; Drudge report: zilch.

Listen to the loud roar of silence. Cup your ears and you will hear nothing about the DJIA more than doubling from its low from early 2009; no screaming headlines that say, "This is the Obama stock market" when it hit 17,000. Obama was blamed for a declining stock market before he even assumed office; but now that he has been president for seven years, Obama gets no credit. All aboard! All aboard the crazy train.

Gas Prices

Remember high gas prices? Well the far-right wants you forget, and forget what they said about their cause. Mitt Romney said that "Obama is to blame for high gas prices." To bolster his point, Romney noted that Obama does not allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), and his refusal to build the Keystone pipeline from Canada to Texas. Romney said of Obama, "His policies are responsible for not having America using the energy that we have in this country." Romney is not alone; I have documented dozens of Republican leaders on record saying Obama is specifically and personally to blame for high gas prices.

So what happened when the price of gas fell? What now that the price has declined into the low $2 range? Silence. Total, complete, deafening, maddening, huge, gaping, mind-bending silence. Where was Obama's commitment to making prices higher? Where were the impacts of Obama's failed energy policies? Where were the disastrous consequences of delaying the Keystone pipeline? Where were the catastrophic energy shortages due to overzealous EPA regulations? Yet not a single word from the right praising Obama for lower energy prices. He was responsible for them going up, but not coming down. Everything prominent Republicans and wing-nut pundits said about gas prices and Obama's policies proved to be wrong.

And then the Republicans finally broke their silence, with the claim that "Obama deserves no credit for fall in gas prices." This is absolute proof of my thesis; Republicans blatantly admit it. Read this logic and weep for our country: Representative Allen West (R-FL) said:

If you're the chief executive officer of the United States of America, you should take responsibility for anything that's occurring in this country, and you should not want to seek to get praise. This is what the military taught me: Leaders don't take credit, leaders take responsibility.

Um, OK. So, you blame Obama for rising gas prices; but then give him no credit for falling prices because it is unseemly for a leader to accept credit for effective policies -- the very policies you were blaming for failure earlier. My head hurts. My heart aches for this great land.

War on Terror

During George Bush's re-election campaign, a constant refrain was that we should "not change horses mid-stream" during a war or in times of peril. We will for now ignore the fact that the most horrendous terrorist attack on our soil happened under George Bush. We heard that after all, following 9/11, we had no more terrorist attacks, and that was due to George Bush and his team protecting us. We had to re-elect him to keep us safe. Funny how we do not now hear that same argument from the right in support of Obama and the Democrats after nearly two terms of domestic security.

Even a clear victory like killing bin Laden has to be given GOP spin to diminish Obama. At best, conservatives could offer only faint praise to Obama for killing Osama bin Laden while taking some credit for the task. Cheney said killing bin Laden was the result of a "continuum" spanning three administrations.

Obama managed to remove all or nearly all weapons of mass destruction from Syria without the loss of a single American life. The GOP pummeled him for his actions there, but now gives him no credit for the result they said would never happen.

The GOP's twisted logic goes even further down the road of insanity. Not only do they ignore Obama's accomplishments and claim his successes as their own, they ignore completely their own tragic failures. Let us remember what our fearless conservative leaders said about Iraq as we prepared for what turned out to be the longest most expensive war in U.S. history:

Donald Rumsfeld (Nov 2002): "I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that." Could any one person be more wrong about so much?

Dick Cheney (Mar 2003): My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." Dick, tell that to every American soldier wounded and killed there. No, go ahead.

Bill Kristol (Mar 2003): George Bush is not fighting this like Vietnam... it's not going to happen... this is going to be a two-month war, not a 10-year war." It was a 10-year war. Of course Kristol has been wrong about everything of importance: he said Sarah Palin would pave the way to the White House; that Obama would not beat Hillary Clinton in a single primary; and incorrectly predicted Obama's choice for the Supreme Court. And people still listen to this guy. If I was that wrong about that many things I'd just stay in bed.

So let us review: the GOP was spectacularly, outrageously wrong about war in Iraq; failed to kill bin Laden, did nothing to stop the nuclear program in Iran, and allowed Syria to continue to mass WMDs. Bush and team undermined our own values by torturing prisoners (and from that got no actionable intelligence), some of whom were later proved to be innocent of any crime at all.

How does this record compare to Obama's? Obama in contrast ended the war in Iraq, drew down troops in Afghanistan, killed bin laden, toppled Moammar Gaddafi in Libya, reversed Bush's policy on torture, increased support for veterans, and tightened sanctions on Iran (while leaving open the door to prevent Iran form going nuclear without military intervention). But after all these significant successes after nearly two terms in office, all we hear from the right about Obama is that he is responsible for the death of two policemen.

Health Care

In spite of the intense, unyielding, never-ending opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, nobody can deny that Obama has tackled the problem of health care costs growing out of control when nobody before him would. And all the early signs point to success: Health care spending grew at 3.9 percent in the last three years, the lowest growth rate in 50 years.

Although the economic downturn contributed to that slow growth, ACA provisions that incentivize providers to be more efficient while improving the quality of care, such as Accountable Care Organizations, medical homes and value-based purchasing, are helping to drive these encouraging trends, too. Some cost savings are even higher than expected. Before the ACA, Medicare spending was expected to grow 6.8 percent over the next 10 years, but new projections show a dramatic slowdown in spending growth to 4.8 percent. That 2 percent drop in spending will result in cost savings of $751 billion over the ACA's first 10 years.

But Republican and Democrats alike ran away from Obamacare during the mid-term elections; nobody gave him any credit at all. And he alone has stood firm in his support of real health care reform, even when his own party abandoned him.


When half of our country accepts the huge steaming pile of feces from the GOP that Obama deserves credit for nothing, our future does not look bright. But make no mistake: Democrats are also to blame for this bleak outlook. They deserved to lose the Senate and House because they ran away from Obamacare and the president's amazing record of success; instead of embracing his policies they distanced themselves as fast as their pathetic legs could run. Democrats have fully ceded the territory of reality to Republican fantasy. Need a specific example? The media not long ago touted the story of "Obama's dropping approval ratings" noting that his "approval ratings have plunged to record lows" and have "plummeted" and are "sinking to historic lows." Only one problem with this narrative: it is factually and demonstrably false. Here is the verifiable truth: from January 1, 2014 to October 30, 2014, Obama's approval rating fell from 42.6 percent to 42 percent. The year's peak was 44 percent, and the low of the year was 41 percent. A drop of about one-half of one percent does not constitute numbers that are "plummeting" or "sinking" or even "dropping." Yet the Democrats sit by and let this nonsense flow forth with no fight. And so it goes.

This inability or unwillingness on the part of the Democrats to demand that our political debate be based on fact and reason has given the GOP the odd ability to deny Obama's many and significant successes, or more perversely, take credit for them when they cannot be denied. Our political landscape has been permanently altered by this pull away from reality.

If the Democrats fought, if they supported Obamacare, if they rallied behind the president and his outstanding record of success, if they had demanded reason over false despair, they would likely still control the Senate. But instead they bought into the bogus narrative of the GOP in which Obama is to blame for all our ills and is responsible for none of our gains. I am confident history will treat Obama well; but we should not have had to wait for that verdict when the obvious is right before our very eyes.
19:00 Happy days are here again» Daily Kos
Democrats still have a lot to learn from FDR about politics.
In 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for a second term and, just like four years earlier, the campaign featured the song, "Happy Days Are Here Again." In 1936, the unemployment rate in this country was 16.9 percent. How did FDR dare trumpet the return of "happy days," with so many still suffering the effects of the Great Depression? Because an unemployment rate (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) of 16.9 percent was a significant improvement from the 24.9 percent unemployment rate in 1933, the year he took office, and because, as bad as the economy remained in 1936, the New Deal policies he implemented had made things much better than they would otherwise have been. This, in a nutshell, is the lesson Democrats are ignoring right now.

Rep. Steve Israel, who ran the (cough) highly successful 2014 midterm campaign for House Democrats, noted that the party is in a "message knot" over how exactly to talk about the economy:

"On the one hand, when we talk about the progress in the economy, most middle-class voters don’t feel that progress, and they believe we’re out of touch," Mr. Israel said. "On the other hand, if we don’t talk about progress on the economy, we cede the narrative to Republicans and lose."
Could you for a minute imagine FDR allowing his party to get tied in a similar "knot?" It's true that midterm elections are different from presidential elections. However, the Republicans successfully "nationalized" the recent midterms, which meant that Democrats needed to address those national issues and neutralize the Republican arguments, even as they also encouraged each candidate to talk about local matters. Ignoring the president or running as "not really Obama" proved to be a disaster, as we know.

What else can FDR teach today's Democrats? Follow below the fold for more.

18:54 Don't Let North Korea Win» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Releasing The Interview should be an easy decision.
18:48 Scenes from Putin's Economic Meltdown» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Russian shoppers are buying everything they can--before the ruble collapses completely.
18:43 What's next for Cuba?» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The economy is in tatters, but on the whole a peaceful transition is expected.
18:14 I fought (and lost) the battle against Christmas» Salon.com
I've had no luck getting my half-Jewish son to care about Hanukkah. Meanwhile, he can't stop singing about Jesus

17:29 2014 candidates versus the expectations game» Daily Kos
Final Senate Race Ratings
The 2014 election is, thankfully, in the books and fading in the rearview mirror. For the truly devoted elections nerds, though, the work's just beginning, slicing and dicing the results to see what happened, and where our strengths and weaknesses are. For starters, let's take a look at how the various candidates did individually, and how those candidates did when compared to the expectations that were set for them.

While Daily Kos Elections experimented this year with a quantitative predictive model (which turned out well, narrowly beating all the other models), we also stuck with our tried-and-true qualitative race ratings that we've used every cycle since 2008, using the same "Likely/Lean/Tossup" framework that anyone who follows along with the Charlie Cooks and Larry Sabatos of the world is familiar with. So here's our chance to look back at how those predictions (the final version of which you can see here) panned out.

Most races, of course, are entirely predictable from the very start; they're in a very red or very blue state or congressional district, with an entrenched incumbent and a little-known, underfunded opponent. So that means that by cycle's end, there are usually only a dozen or so Senate races, and under 100 House races, where there's any doubt whatsoever about the result; as for true tossups, those are only a small fraction of the total.

This exercise doesn't just help us know how we did, but also gives us some targeting information for the 2016 elections (and help us as we start thinking about 2016 ratings). It can help us pinpoint Republicans who were supposed to be safe but barely squeaked by, who might have some previously unknown glass jaw that we might exploit next time. It can also help us find which Democrats are at risk of underperforming again.

We'll look at the individual races over the fold, starting with the Senate:

17:20 Terrorism's Tour de Farce: Sony and Cheney» Politics - The Huffington Post


By Mark Green

Shrum and Lowry discuss North Korea's film fatwa and Cheney's eagerness to become Mr. Torture. Then: If Nixon recognized China 25 years after its Communist Revolution, why shouldn't Obama do so with Cuba 50 years later? And can the third Bush beat the first woman?

*On Obama and Cuba. Bob thinks it ridiculous to balk at recognizing Cuba after 50 years of a failed policy. "We recognize Communist China but not Cuba? Saudi Arabia but not Cuba?" In any event, "the Castro regime is not going anywhere and the economy has been liberalizing."

Rich distinguishes between Nixon's China opening, "which was a strategic play with the Soviets," adding that: "while people can disagree about the embargo and isolation of Cuba, what did we get in return for recognizing Cuba? Nothing. If the Castros are so popular, why not win an election?"

Rich's phrasing jogged my memory. The Host recalls eight hours of talks with Fidel in Havana in 1987 with a human rights delegation. MG: "El Presidente, if you're so popular, why not allow these human rights groups to publish a newsletter?" FC: "Why waste the paper?" We all prefer elections but apparently authoritarian revolutionaries think differently.

Aren't Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz et. al. like those 1957 De Sotos on the streets of Havana, relics sticking to their heritage and base, which puts them on the wrong side of history in 2016? Rubio even chided the Pope for his role in brokering the deal. Somewhere Hillary is smiling.

Q: After Climate-China, Immigration, now Cuba (and Putin's economic distress), isn't the conservative trope that Obama's a lead-from-behind foreign policy weakling harder to argue? Bob thinks that commentators who wrote Obama off after the Mid-term elections are now being proven wrong. "He's bending the course of history." Rich counters that on other major matters, he has dithered "but after failing at public persuasion and twisting arms on Capitol Hill, he's found something that he is good at -- just issuing unilateral orders."

*On Sony and North Korea. When Jon Stewart last Thursday asked Chris Rock about his new film "Top Five", Rock replied, "First of all, it's very Korean-friendly." Funny... but the problem of North Korea's cyber-terrorism shutting down a Hollywood studio and film is deadly serious.

Bob thinks that a) it was pretty stupid "for Sony to originally green-light a movie about the assassination of an actual head-of-state and not fictionalize it;" but b) once major theater chains refused to show it, "there wasn't much Sony could do." We recall how 23 years ago The Catholic League complained to the Weinstein brothers about a movie "The Pope Must Die", which successfully got a title change to "The Pope Must Diet". Truly.

Rich says Catholic League criticism is one thing, but the hackers ability to destroy the hard drives of Sony and use threats of terrorism to censor the film quite another. He hopes that the company will now figure out a way to distribute it online, losing the $40 million investment but at least taking a principled stand. The audience might exceed Ali-Frazer.

What about the Sorkin-Boies complaint that media outlets should not be publishing stolen emails of non-public people, unlike The Pentagon Papers or Wikileaks? Shrum says that's a fair but irrelevant point. "Once this stuff is out, it will be printed" and distributed. The larger issue now is what the U.S. does to retaliate against the North Koreans and what happens in the future when an adversary hacks into and takes down, say, the Social Security system or a major bank? We three assume that somewhere there are experts figuring out cyber-war protocols for what happens when something beyond a movie is electronically attacked.

*On Cheney on "Meet the Press". In what the Host thinks the greatest example of stonewalling on steroids since Baghdad Bob, what does our panel think of Cheney's defense of the CIA "enhanced interrogation" program? Do we deplore or admire his unflinching willingness to go down in history as Mr. Torture?

Rich is no fan of the Feinstein Report but agrees that, at the margins, the program may have gone too far. But overall, he thinks that basically Cheney is on solid ground and that there's popular support for a program that used these techniques on suspected terrorists after 9/11.

Bob condemns Cheney "for lying us into a war and now lying about torture, since, for example, we did execute Japanese generals for only waterboarding." He doubts recent polling on this since the questions presume that torture worked to get useful information "when we know that it did not, that some information was obtained before any torture occurred and that if polling supported Slavery [in the 1800s], that wouldn't have made it right."

... Not to mention that a) torture is as likely to get bad intel as good; b) its use damages our national reputation and interests around the world; and c) exactly why did we not torture British soldiers in 1781 or Nazis in 1943 but now should do so to suspected terrorists? Are they worse than an enemy in a position to deny all Americans their freedom and an enemy gassing people to death by the millions? The former VP's blithe unconcern in response to Chuck Todd's questions was a near perfect example of how, in the name of patriotism, the means can undermine the goal of keeping America exceptional.

*On Jeb Bush's presidential prospects. Can his strategy of not pandering to the far right in primaries enable him to win the nomination and general election? Bob answers, "I don't know. Until now, the more establishment candidate has won nominations -- Dole, both Bushs, McCain, Romney -- but we may be getting to a tipping point given the Tea Party so that even a Paul or Cruz could be the nominee."

Rich and Bob agree that, other than Immigration and Common Core, Jeb is very conservative and that the string of more "moderate" Establishment nominees may end next time. Rich acknowledges that Jeb has vulnerabilities because he's been out of the game since 2006 (Host: on the "rusty" scale, during this same time one Hillary Clinton ran for Senate, ran for President, and served four years as Secretary of State) and as a major businessman, he's no middle class champion. Then there's no getting around the reality that the Clinton brand beats the Bush brand by 20+ points. "Another President Bush? How'd the last one work out?"

*On Colbert and 2014 "bests." As Colbert ends his nine-year run as a bloviating, smug TV talker, why has he been so phenomenally successful? And while right-wing talk dominates talk radio, why do liberal comics (Colbert, Stewart, Maher, Rock) dominate political comedy? Rich cites his incisive wit, Bob adds that younger audiences on cable skew left. Neither will touch the Host's observation that, since political comedy has to be based on something true so that everyone gets the joke (e.g., O'Reilly is a smug bloviator and climate change and white privilege exist), there's less material for conservatives to play with.

Finally, best books and movies of 2014? Shrum goes with Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century because of its thesis on growing inequality and its wide impact, and then the brilliant Birdman. Lowry loved Daniel Hannon's Inventing Freedom and Rory Kenney's Last Days in Vietnam and Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel.

Then, a miracle consensus. Asked what was the biggest news story of 2014, Rich resisted Jonathan Gruber and Obama once saluting left-handed but instead said it was the fracking boom that would make America shortly energy independent "changing the world's geopolitics of oil"... and Shrumie agreed with him!

On that note of harmony, best for the holidays all. See you next year.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

Send all comments to Bothsidesradio.com, where you can also listen to prior shows.



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17:12 Valerie Plame: Most female spies in pop culture are gun-wielding eye candy» Salon.com
Salon spoke to the former CIA agent about spy fiction, being a mom, and intelligence-gathering in the age of ISIS

17:00 Fox Pulls Channels From Dish Network» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Fox Pulls Channels From Dish Network

For just a minute, Dish Network improved greatly. After failing to come to an agreement with Fox News, Fox yanked Fox Business and Fox News from the Dish network lineup.

Dish has more than 14 million satellite TV customers. Fox is urging viewers with emails and tweets to switch to another TV provider.

Both sides in the latest spat are blaming each other. Englewood, Colorado-based Dish Network Corp. said in a statement that 21st Century Fox, Inc., was blocking access to the two chancels as part of contract negotiations. New York-based Fox said Dish shut down the server at 11:50 p.m. Saturday, 10 minutes before the contract ended.

Dish blamed Fox for introducing other channels into negotiations despite those not being included in the contract up for renewal.

"It's like we're about to close on a house and the Realtor is trying to make us buy a new car as well," Warren Schlichting, Dish's senior vice president of programming, said in a statement "Fox blacked out two of its news channels, using them as leverage to triple rates on sports and entertainment channels that are not in this contract."

Fox said Dish was to blame for prematurely shutting down the network "in an attempt to intimidate and sway our negotiations."

Yes, for a moment I had hope. Then I noticed what Dish substituted for Fox News. Do you see it in that image?

read more

16:57 That’s rich! Why so many wealthy Americans think they’re middle class» Salon.com
Recent remarks from Treasury Secretary Jack Lew help shed light on a troubling phenomenon

16:16 'So You Lost Your Dick?': Inside an Ivy League Transphobia Nightmare» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Meredith Talusan thought her liberal college would be a safe space for a trans student.

In some ways, Meredith Talusan is what intolerant fools call the “good” type of minority. A first-generation immigrant from the Philippines, Talusan is a doctoral student in comparative literature at Cornell University. She has an undergraduate degree from Harvard and two arts degrees — one in photography from the California College of the Arts and another in creative writing from Cornel

But Talusan, who is transgender, is also an activist, which makes her what intolerant fools call the “bad” kind of minority, the loudmouth type who “makes a big deal about it.”

Earlier this month, Talusan was asked to leave her home at Telluride House, a cooperative living community loosely affiliated with Cornell that seeks to foster “self-governance and intellectual inquiry.”

Her crime? Protesting alleged harassment from a fellow resident, who at various points referred to her as “a man dressed as a woman” and as having “lost [her] dick.” A Change.org petition with more than 1,200 signatures has called on the Telluride Association, which oversees the House, to remove the alleged harasser and compensate Talusan for expenses she’s incurred finding alternate accommodations.

“I’m in a comparably better position, both politically and financially, than someone who is economically bound to the institution,” says Talusan, who transitioned from male to female ten years ago. “But I’m scared the [Telluride] administration would treat similar complaints of discrimination in the same way.”

The Telluride Association is one of those hippie-dippie, social-justice/educational organizations full of well-meaning liberal folks. But the way it has failed to protect its first transgender resident is an object lesson in the ways those on the left can actually be even more unsympathetic — and in this case, vicious — as those who don’t even pretend to care about minority rights.

The affiliation between Telluride House and Cornell is a bit murky — in the several days since I’ve asked, the Cornell University Press Office hasn’t been able to clarify the relationship. It seems to operate a bit like a fraternity house — if you replaced all the rowdy frat boys with lefty intellectuals, idealists, and activists from various backgrounds. The House is known as the “Cornell branch” of the Telluride Association, and serves as a residence for undergraduate and graduate students attending the university as well as faculty. Its alums include Michel Foucault and queer theorist Eve Sedgwick.

Full disclosure: Talusan and I are friends; we met when I was a graduate student at Cornell. Because of this, I have made extra effort to allow the Telluride House’s members and the Telluride Association, its leadership, to respond. I’ve invited the accused, whom I’ve reached out to several times, to speak with me either on or off the record multiple times. None of my requests were answered. (Another account of Talusan’s story, written by someone who apparently does not have this kind of relationship with her, can be read here.)

But over the course of reporting this piece, it became clear to me that members of the leadership have employed “confidentiality” as a tactic to try to stop this story from being told. The House’s administration (comprised of members self-governing the facility) has threatened residents, both explicitly and implicitly, with losing their scholarships (i.e., free room and board), at the House, for taking a stand. Meredith even had publication privileges suspended on a community blog she herself created in an attempt to stop her from speaking out. Michael Barany, head of the Telluride committee that has been the decision-maker on behalf of the Association (and himself a Cornell alum and former resident of Telluride House), asked me multiple times not to write this story.


The alleged harasser, whom out of an abundance of caution I will call Susan, is an international exchange student. Along with 22 other residents, Talusan and Susan both reside at Telluride House.

On several occasions over the last few months, Susan asked Talusan, who has written publicly and widely about transgender issues, why she “makes such a big deal” about her gender. “So you lost your dick?” Susan asked during one of these conversations. In another, Susan referred to Talusan as a “man dressed as a woman.”

“At first, I approached it from a place of education instead of conflict; I tried to absorb the line of questioning as coming from a cultural and language gap,” Talusan says.

But the more the pair spoke, the more clear it became clear to Talusan that the brusqueness of Susan’s remarks didn’t stem from lack of linguistic or cultural familiarity: Meredith says Susan had little interest in learning about transgender identity. “She is the type who insists that she is who she is, which in this case is casually transphobic,” Talusan says.

The situation escalated when Susan, who is in charge of overseeing guests at the House, began hosting strangers from Couchsurfing.org, a social-networking site that pairs travelers with free sleeping spaces.

I think it’s difficult for cisgender people to understand how important issues of personal safety and space are to transgender people — and it is here that I think all the good liberals who run the organization have an empathy gap.

Minorities, ethnic or sexual, are routinely subjected to violence and discrimination. But no other group is the target of this type of violence and discrimination to the degree that transgender women are, especially trans women of color. Despite making up a significantly smaller slice of the queer community than gay men or lesbians, in 2013 transgender women accounted for 72 percent of all anti-LGBT homicides according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.

Talusan had transgender friends who have been murdered and has faced threats of violence because of her gender identity in the past. For transgender people space and safety issues are a matter of life and death.

“Despite how many degrees I have, how rich I am or not, or how much of a media profile I have — and all of these things have been used against me,” Talusan says. “When I walk in the street at night I’m afraid that someone who is transphobic is going to identify me as trans and hurt me.”

Talusan felt the practice of inviting strangers into the House, which violated the associations’ policy on guests, endangered her safety, but sought to address the situation without the involvement of the House administration comprised of residents. She confronted Susan, who in a meeting with other House-members promised she would not invite strangers into the shared residence again.

A week or so later, Talusan checked Susan’s profile on Couchsurfing.org. There was a new review from someone who had recently stayed in the House. Susan had given this person the key.

“I felt like I was living with somebody who not only did not care at all about my well-being, but, in light of her saying deeply transphobic things, but was an active threat who could potentially harm me,” Talusan says. “After that, I could no longer perceive the transphobic comments as neutral.”

Talusan lodged a complaint with the Telluride Association and asked that Susan be offered alternative housing while mediation took place.

The Telluride Association collected written witness statements from a number of House members (Talusan said she has no idea how many or what they said). After two weeks during which Talusan heard nothing from the administration, the organization issued a decision: Susan had not violated the House rules. She was ordered to undergo sensitivity training. The decision was final and could not be appealed.

To Talusan, the decision did nothing to address her concerns about personal safety. She moved out of the House and wrote up a narrative of her experience and set up a petition at Change.org. “I do not feel that the Telluride Association has taken my needs seriously, even though they have an explicit policy that excludes discrimination based on gender identity,” she wrote. “It is clear to me that if, for example, [Susan] were male and I were a non-trans female being harassed, they would handle this situation very differently.”

Supporters — mostly Cornell and Telluride alumns but others, too — flocked to the petition’s comments section to express outrage at the organization’s failure to protect Talusan. More than a hundred supporters signed a letter to the association asking that Susan be removed from the House. The House president quit in solidarity with Meredith.


In response to the petition, the Telluride Association issued a statement with boilerplate language about its commitment to gender inclusivity. “We appreciate the public’s respect for all of our students’ and community members’ safety and privacy,” it concluded.

Talusan also sought the intervention of Cornell’s disciplinary office, which issued its version of a no-contact order between Talusan and Susan that required them to be 25 feet apart at all times. With the order in place, Talusan returned to the House, where she continued her protest by wearing a cap she had knitted with “you lost your dick” emblazoned across the top in public areas of the House. She posted regular updates on the petition and on her Facebook profile.

In every revolt there are accommodationists, which in this case included the House’s incoming president, who sought to institute an anonymous review of Talusan. When Talusan refused to comply, saying this amounted to victim-blaming, some House members tried to initiate a vote to evict her, but the vote fell through when a number of House-members ripped up their ballots, preventing a quorum.

Talusan posted an update about the situation to the Telluride Association website, which she had helped create, and included a peer review as a testament to her credibility. The post was taken down and Talusan’s posting privileges were suspended. They, along with the post, were restored after Talusan pointed out that this act of censorship was against the university’s code of conduct.

One anonymous commenter on Talusan’s petition, who calls him- or herself “Concerned Citizen,” revealed Talusan’s original name, a tactic known as “deadnaming” that is often used to question the truth of a trans person’s gender. He or she claims Talusan has “misrepresented and selectively portrayed this situation” and says that “[b]eing trans is not a guarantee against also being mentally ill.” But like her other detractors, Concerned Citizen does not say what Talusan’s misrepresentations have been; the critique that follows is about whether Talusan has been too extreme in her response to the alleged harassment.

The Telluride Association’s most questionable move has been to suspend Talusan and the president who resigned House privileges, including meals, and attempt to evict her for an alleged incident of bullying. While the Telluride Association has been tight-lipped about addressing the incidents of harassment against Talusan (see its statements here and here), its commitment to privacy didn’t seem to extend to what by all accounts was a screaming match at the dinner table. From its December 9 statement, which seemed to accuse Talusan of incitement:

We received several eyewitness reports that on December 5 unidentified individuals entered the Branch, on the invitation of at least one current resident, and harassed our students, guests, and faculty scholars. Several students reported being approached, being cursed at violently, and watching in alarm as strangers slammed fists on dining tables and screamed into their faces. In addition to the physical and verbal attacks, we have received multiple reports of a systematic, targeted campaign of email and verbal harassment, threatening defamation against other residents, associates, staff, and trustees.

Talusan says she had been trying to talk about her website posting privileges having been suspended when Susan, seated at the other end of the table, and a few other House-members laughed and raised their voices in an apparent attempt to stop Talusan from speaking. In response, several guests Talusan had invited to the dinner indeed shouted obscenities in an attempt to shut them up. The incident concluded with Talusan and her guests banging their fists on the table and chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!”

Talusan does not know who is alleging she bullied them, and unlike her alleged harasser, she and the former House president were asked to leave immediately. Their scholarship is suspended while a review takes place.

Talusan, who lived in the Philippines during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, issued a response on her petition:

I am willing to go to prison for these rights, or to stay in the living room for an indefinite period until these rights are restored, through Winter Break and beyond. I am willing to endure all manner of physical and psychological pain for these rights because to not do so would be to dishonor the legacy of the thousands upon thousands of Filipinos who gave up their lives so that we can live in a country where we can speak freely, and where laws are not applied selectively to target those who oppose the despots in power.

In all the back-and-forth discussions on Facebook and the petition between Talusan and her detractors, no one seems to be repudiating her account of the events that have transpired over the last few months. The questions seem to be whether she overreacted, whether she should have sought to further educate her alleged harasser, and whether her behavior is “unstable” or “aggressive.”

On December 8, Talusan says the Ithaca Police were called to remove her from Telluride House, and that after some investigation, the police concluded that they had no grounds for doing so. Meanwhile, Talusan continues to reside at Telluride House, but the Telluride Association can initiate eviction proceedings against its first transgender resident as soon as tomorrow, December 20.



Related Stories

16:11 Hollywood's fickle friend» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Barack Obama's criticism of Sony Pictures Entertainment is perhaps his sharpest rebuke of Hollywood yet.
16:06 Robert Reich: Insider Traders are Hosing Us All» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
The former secretary of labor examines how deregulation under Reagan and Bush spawned savage inequalities.

A few years ago, hedge fund Level Global Investors made $54 million selling Dell Computer stock based on insider information from a Dell employee. When charged with illegal insider trading, Global Investors’ co-founder Anthony Chiasson claimed he didn’t know where the tip came from.

Chiasson argued that few traders on Wall Street ever know where the inside tips they use come from because confidential information is, in his words, the “coin of the realm in securities markets.”

Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which oversees federal prosecutions of Wall Street, agreed. It overturned Chiasson’s conviction, citing lack of evidence Chaisson received the tip directly, or knew insiders were leaking confidential information in exchange for some personal benefit.

The Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 banned insider trading but left it up to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the courts to define it. Which they have – in recent decades so broadly that confidential information is indeed the coin of the realm.

If a CEO tells his golf buddy that his company is being taken over, and his buddy makes a killing on that information, no problem. If his buddy leaks the information to a hedge-fund manager like Chiasson, and doesn’t tell Chiasson where it comes from, Chiasson can also use the information to make a bundle.

Major players on Wall Street have been making tons of money not because they’re particularly clever but because they happen to be in the realm where a lot of coins come their way.

Last year, the top twenty-five hedge fund managers took home, on average, almost one billion dollars each. Even run-of-the-mill portfolio managers at large hedge funds averaged $2.2 million each.

Another person likely to be exonerated by the court’s ruling is Michael Steinberg, of the hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors, headed by Stephen A. Cohen.

In recent years several of Cohen’s lieutenants have been convicted of illegal insider trading. Last year Cohen himself had to pay a stiff penalty and close down SAC because of the charges, after making many billions.

SAC managed so much money that it handed over large commissions to bankers on Wall Street. Those banks possessed lots of inside information of potential value to SAC Capital. This generated possibilities for lucrative deals.

According to a Bloomberg Businessweek story from 2003, SAC’s commissions “grease the super-powerful information machine that Cohen has built up” and “wins Cohen the clout that often makes him privy to trading and analyst information ahead of rivals.”

One analyst was quoted as saying “I call Stevie personally when I have any insight or news tidbit on a company. I know he’ll put the info to use and actually trade off it.” SAC’s credo, according to one of its former traders, was always to “get the information before anyone else.”

Insider trading has also become commonplace in corporate suites, which is one reason CEO pay has skyrocketed.

CEOs and other top executives, whose compensation includes piles of company stock, routinely use their own inside knowledge of when their companies will buy back large numbers of shares of stock from the public – thereby pumping up share prices — in order to time their own personal stock transactions.

That didn’t used to be legal. Until 1981, the Securities and Exchange Commission required companies to publicly disclose the amount and timing of their buybacks. But Ronald Reagan’s SEC removed these restrictions.

Then George W. Bush’s SEC allowed top executives, even though technically company “insiders” with knowledge of the timing of their company’s stock buybacks, to quietly cash in their stock options without public disclosure.

But now it’s normal practice. According to research by Professor William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts, between 2003 and 2012 the chief executives of the ten companies that repurchased the most stock (totaling $859 billion) received 58 percent of their total pay in stock options or stock awards.

In other words, many CEOs are making vast fortunes not because they’re good at managing their corporations but because they’re good at using insider information. It’s the coin of their realm, too.

None of this would be a problem if the only goal were economic efficiency. The faster financial markets adjust to all available information, confidential or not, the more efficient they become.

But profiting off inside information that’s not available to average investors strikes many as unfair. The “coin of the realm” on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms is contributing to the savage inequalities of American life.

If Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission wanted to reverse this and remove one of the largest privileges of the realm, they could. But they won’t, because those who utilize those coins also have a great deal of political power.



Related Stories

16:00 You won't believe what happens in a manual recount» Daily Kos
I Voted sticker
You think you voted. But we'll confirm that in a hand count.
Spend enough time working campaigns, and you'll eventually be a a part of a race that's so close that isn't decided on election day. This is especially true of states like California and Washington, where vote-by-mail and provisional ballots continue to be processed for weeks afterward. Spend even more time working campaigns, and you just might be lucky enough to be part of a race that's so close that even when all the ballots have been counted and the election is certified, the result is so close—just a handful of votes separating the two candidates—that no matter how accurate the machine count may be, the only way to know for sure who won is to count every single ballot by hand.

I'm a relatively seasoned campaign professional, and I've been lucky enough (unlucky, perhaps?) to have already been part of two manual recounts in California. And while election and recount laws vary from state to state (hint: they really shouldn't), the process is instructive, and provides insights into how we could make our entire voting systems better serve the people they're intended to: the actual voters.

More below the fold for an inside look at how manual recounts work. It's not all hanging chads and lizard people.

16:00 Ohio Officer Wishes For Slavery And The 'Extermination' Of All Blacks -- Then Blames 'Immaturity'» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Ohio Officer Wishes For Slavery And The 'Extermination' Of All Blacks -- Then Blames 'Immaturity'

An auxiliary officer with the Fairview Park Police Department, who had written that black people should be "exterminated," resigned from the force last week.

The Cleveland Scene first reported that Aaron McNamara had a position as a volunteer officer as he finished his college degree and prepared for a full-time job on the force. But those plans were derailed when comments he had made on the Internet over the last two years came to light.

According to the Scene, McNamara like to hang out in the YouTube comment area, where he was caught "regularly dropping racial and gay slurs, unambiguously expressing hatred towards minorities and anyone who dare not comply with what police say."

For example, "jungle monkeys" and "spooks" were some of the milder slurs the officer used for African-Americans.

"Abolishing slavery was the worst thing we could have done," McNamara opined. "These people should be exterminated.. Unbelievable."

On a video of a man on a bicycle being tackled by officers, McNamara wrote that the suspect deserved it "BECAUSE THE FEMININE FAGGOT WAS ELUDING THE POLICE AND FAILING TO STOP! DUMB ASS GENERATION!"

In late November, the auxiliary cop argued that it was "absolutely ridiculous that the police are criticized" for killing Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was holding a toy gun.

read more

15:52 Cecil won't manage Clinton 2016 campaign» POLITICO - TOP Stories
His statement comes as the contours of Clinton's likely campaign will begin to take shape early next year.
15:40 Zoella’s fall from grace: Why we demand so much authenticity from our YouTube stars» Salon.com
Teen fans feel betrayed by a YouTube star whose bestselling novel was revealed to be ghostwritten

15:21 Obama To Nominate Sally Yates To Be Deputy Attorney General» Politics - The Huffington Post

(Corrects outgoing deputy attorney general's plans in third paragraph)

By Julia Edwards

HONOLULU, Dec 21 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce on Monday that U.S. Attorney Sally Yates will be his nominee for deputy attorney general, the No. 2 position at the Justice Department, a U.S. official said.

Yates currently serves as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia where she has made a name for herself by prosecuting several high-profile cases. She is known as a close ally of outgoing U.S. Attorney Eric Holder's Justice Department.

If confirmed by Congress, Yates will replace outgoing Deputy Attorney General James Cole who is leaving the Justice Department in January and has not announced future plans.

The choice of Yates signals that little may change at the Justice Department after Holder leaves the post.

Yates currently serves on Holder's advisory committee of U.S. attorneys under the leadership of Loretta Lynch, Obama's pick to be the next attorney general.

"Their very effective partnership leading the U.S. attorney community will be taken to a whole new level," said U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman, who previously led the committee. (Editing by Eric Walsh)
15:15 Bill Kristol Expects Liberals To Have Same Mass Protests For Dead Cops As Unarmed Black Teens » Latest from Crooks and Liars
Bill Kristol Expects Liberals To Have Same Mass Protests For Dead Cops As Unarmed Black Teens

Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol on Sunday suggested that liberals should start a movement to protest against the killing of two slain police officers in New York City in the same way that they had reacted to the ongoing trend of unarmed black teens being killed by law enforcement.

On Saturday, NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos died after being ambushed and shot to death in their police car. The suspect, who later took his own life, had expressed anti-police sentiments on social media.

During a discussion panel on Sunday, Kristol echoed the sentiment of people like former New York City Police Commissioner and convicted felon Bernard Kerik, who said that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had "blood on his hands" for trying to reform the NYPD.

"Well, it's terrible what happened," Kristol remarked. "And I hope liberals show as much concern about Officer Ramos and Officer Liu as they did as they did about Mr. Garner and Mr. Martin. We'll see."

"I think de Blasio said some really foolish things," he continued. "I'm not blaming him obviously for the killing. But he really now needs to not just say, 'I'm for everyone coming together.' He needs to say, 'I was wrong, I was wrong when I attacked the police in such a general way.'"

read more

15:13 My Take on Ferguson» Politics - The Huffington Post
Many protests have taken place and much has been said in the past weeks about Ferguson and race relations in America. Meanwhile, the recent shooting of African-American teenager Akai Gurley in the stairwell of his East New York housing project has been qualified and downplayed because it happened at the hands of a "nervous rookie cop" (see press coverage of event) who entered the stairs with a cocked gun -- as if being a rookie excused gunning down a young black man. This last police-perpetrated homicide hit home particularly strongly with me, because I had read some of my poetry once with a young writer who lived in the same East New York projects--a talented guy with energy, verve and literary flair. I wondered to myself--could he not have been the young man gunned down instead?

While we have made some progress in race relations in this country, the judicial and police systems lag. African-Americans in particular continue to be arrested, sentenced and incarcerated at rates that dwarf those of their white counterparts--even when members of these two groups have committed similar offenses. That such things can go on in 2015 in a country that acquired much of its wealth from the appropriation of Native American wealth and on the back of African-American slaves is simply a disgrace. I don't know that there is much I can add to what has already been said in general terms, except that I felt ashamed listening to President Obama, whom I voted for twice and whose campaign I worked on (and himself an African-American!) when he half-heartedly condemned these events at a press conference, recalling the progress that had been made in race relations "in his own lifetime." No doubt he is right, but that does not excuse the present state of affairs. We have not come far enough.

I had the opportunity of spending a few hours several years back in the downtown Manhattan "tombs" , where people who are arrested are kept before appearing before a judge. This experience was an eye opener as there were literally hundreds of mostly young African American men there. I saw three, perhaps four Caucasians in the whole place. Whites don't commit crimes??? I was able to question two young black men there. Both were clean-cut and well-dressed. I asked simply: why are you here? One came from an immigrant Caribbean family. The police had conducted a search of his apartment looking for pot: they simply knocked on the door and his mom, not knowing that they needed a search warrant, let the police in. They ransacked his room and eventually found a bit of marijuana. I attended a leading mostly white private school on New York's Upper West Side growing up and I can assure you that half the school would have been jailed had their homes been searched in such a way. But the police would never dare attempt to illegally search the homes of affluent whites living on the Upper East Side or in Tribeca or wherever, especially when they might have lawyers for parents or know their rights (not that African Americans don't necessarily know their rights--you get my drift.) The other youth was a tall Ethiopian teenager with an Orthodox cross hanging over a Ralph Lauren/A & F type cardigan. He was rounded up in front of his housing project on the Upper East Side because he was out thirty minutes past curfew kissing his girlfriend. What a crime.

I realize that many factors play a role in the examples I cite above, including the judicial system itself; official versus real life police attitudes, not to mention the law and recent questionable policing techniques implemented in New York City and elsewhere. Some people will tell me that if I was indeed surprised by what I saw that evening in the tombs, then I was naïve beforehand. Perhaps I was. It's not that I didn't know that there were still appalling double standards in how whites and blacks are treated in this country--I just didn't quite realize how crushing the inequality still is. Two or three years later then, I wasn't surprised to hear about Ferguson and other similar recent events. I hope that this short piece contributes in a small way to helping the brave people of all races who are fighting for a freer and fairer America--one where equality and justice exist for all. Amen.
15:00 In Memoriam December 21, 2014» Latest from Crooks and Liars
In Memoriam December 21, 2014

This Week brings news of two American deaths in Afghanistan. Allied forces casualties now number 3485.

SFC Ramon S. Morris, 37, US Army, New York

SPC Wyatt J. Martin, 22, US Army, Arizona

14:51 Starting Families 'Late' was Common a Century Ago» LiveScience.com
The shift towards late motherhood – commonly defined as motherhood after 35 – is often presented as a story of progress and technological liberation from the biological clock.
14:50 Chris Christie Wants Obama To Demand That Cuba Return Cop Killer To U.S.» Politics - The Huffington Post
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie disagrees with President Obama's decision to normalize relations with Cuba and wants the president to demand the immediate return of a convicted cop killer from the country "before any further consideration of restoration of diplomatic relations with the Cuban government."

In a letter sent to the White House Friday and made public by his office Sunday, Christie pressed for the return of Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 during a gunbattle after being stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike. Chesimard was found guilty but escaped from prison and eventually fled to Cuba, where she was granted asylum by Fidel Castro. She is now living as Assata Shakur and is the first woman placed on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List.

Christie said Cuba's decision to grant Chesimard asylum "is an affront to every resident of our state, our country, and in particular, the men and women of the New Jersey State Police, who have tirelessly tried to bring this killer back to justice."

Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council, said it will "continue to press in our engagement with the Cuban government for the return of U.S. fugitives in Cuba to pursue justice for the victims of their crimes."

Christie expressed "profound disagreement" with the president's decision, but he said the moment marked an opportunity for Cuba to prove it's serious about change.

"I do not share your view that restoring diplomatic relations without a clear commitment from the Cuban government of the steps they will take to reverse decades of human rights violations will result in a better and more just Cuba for its people," Christie wrote. "However, despite my profound disagreement with this decision, I believe there is an opportunity for Cuba and its government to show the American people it is serious about change."

Christie has generally been reluctant to weigh in on contentious foreign policy issues as he mulls a run for president in 2016.

Other potential Republican candidates, most notably Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have been publicly disputing one another's opposing stances.
14:40 Clint Van Zandt Blames Protestors For NYPD Shootings On MSNBC» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Clint Van Zandt Blames Protestors For NYPD Shootings On MSNBC

After the tragic shooting of two NYPD officers, the right wing is quick to blame the rhetoric of the peaceful protestors who object to police brutality. People have exercised their Constitutional right to free speech, and thus we have created a climate for violence, at least according to a frequent contributor to MSNBC.

Clint Van Zandt tells how he would personally feel after carrying a badge and a gun (guns are never the problem you see) for twenty-five years. It would be like a target on his back. Rudy Giuliani was even brought up vis a vis his "black on black crime" rhetoric, which the right wing loves so much. He was in quite a state of agitation as Alex Witt tried futilly to get him off the Fox News talking points.

He blamed the black community in general, for requesting additional officers.

The reason two police officers were stationed in that particular neighborhood in Brooklyn is because we have such high crime in that area, we need more of a police presence. If I was out there right now, and a rhetoric that's out there of hating police officers when maybe what they do obviously in some cases could be wrong...communities are committing crimes against themselves. We are creating a tremendous riff...because people are inspired by what they hear in the community.

read more

14:30 Cuba and 50 years of other foreign policy failures, brought to you by a willfully ignorant media» Daily Kos

While watching The Rundown with José Díaz-Balart recently, it became obvious to me why bad American foreign policy can continue without much public objection. What many Americans fail to see is how it hurts the country’s credibility. Many times what Americans perceive as hate, indifference, disrespect, lack of appreciation, or downright hostility is simply blowback from policies foreign to the average American citizens. Why are these policies foreign to the average American citizens? They are foreign because of bad, biased, or coerced reporting.

The media went into hyperventilating mode after President Obama announced the path to normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba last week. The reality is that while this is a big step, it was not a necessarily courageous step—Americans, including Cuban Americans, have long supported more positive relations with Cuba. Many in the older exile Cuban community have long had much too much sway over American foreign policy towards Cuba.

Chuck Todd was interviewed by José Díaz-Balart about the president’s change in Cuban policy. Instead of laying out the facts about why this change is overdue after a 50-plus year failed policy, Todd decided to discuss platitudes. He had dinner with friends while in Florida. Chuck Todd said that while these friends understood the intellectual argument for relations based on America's relations with China and Vietnam, the tone of the president’s presentation of the new policy was not sufficiently deferential to the exile community in Florida.

Are you kidding? How deferential was President Nixon to Chinese expats? Or any president for that matter to Vietnamese refugees?

Follow below the fold for more.

14:30 Chuck Todd Gives Breitbart News A Big Wet Kiss» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Chuck Todd Gives Breitbart News A Big Wet Kiss

Chuck Todd is hastening the inevitable slide of Meet the Press into oblivion and certain death. When it finally dies, the pallbearers will be writers from The Daily Caller, Breitbart 'News', and The Blaze.

Chuck Todd actually introduced Breitbart "News" as "a conservative news organization" for his Meet the Press panel this morning. The day Breitbart "News" is considered a legit news organization will be the same day the right-wing takeover of broadcast and online news is complete, and not one day sooner.

Once again, Chuck and his bookers could have figured this out in advance, had they any desire to live in fact-based reality. If Chuck reads this post (and I doubt he will), he could have discovered lots and lots of Breitbart-style "news" all on his own.

For example, there was the misidentification of Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General. That misidentification took over 24 hours for them to fully retract. This same "news" organization also elevated Benghazi trutherism to an art form, smeared Norman Lear, and proposed that Congress bar President Obama from delivering the State of the Union address.

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14:24 Giuliani condemns anti-police 'propaganda' he says Obama started» POLITICO - TOP Stories
His remarks come after two NYPD police officers are murdered in Brooklyn.
13:36 From “I Want to Marry Harry” to the entire Lifetime network: The worst TV of 2014» Salon.com
Oh, sure, best-of lists are great. But here’s the television that amazed us with just how bad it was

13:15 Two NYPD Cops Get Killed and 'Wartime' Police Blame Protesters. Have We Learned Nothing?» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Nobody, including police officers, should have to live with even the threat of violence.

Is violence threatened still violence?

America’s nightmare of violence and racism got upended in New York City on Saturday with the shooting of a woman in Baltimore, the shooting of two cops in Brooklyn and the suicide of their suspected fleeing killer.

This time, the bloody violence was clear, and the social-media threat appears real, but the racial and power dynamics are as confusing as they are telling: A black man, Ismaiiyl Brinsley, apparently shot his ex-girlfriend (race unknown), then traveled to New York, where he “assassinated” an Asian officer and a Hispanic officer of the New York Police Department in their squad car. In between, an Instagram photo: a gun, revenge and references to the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. You will believe what happened next – white head of the police union declares war on protesters within hours – but it shouldn’t have to be this way.

Violence executed is definitely violence enacted.

This kind of moment requires dynamic leadership, but beyond a brief statement, President Obama was no more going to re-route Air Force One from Honolulu to New York than he would ever direct it to Ferguson. And Mayor Bill de Blasio has such little credibility with his own force that cops turned their back on him when he arrived at the hospital where officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were declared dead.

One person offering clear directives to the cops: Patrick Lynch, their union president, who asked them to sign an emotionally manipulative letter banning de Blasio from their hypothetical future funeral, and who actually said on Saturday night that there was “blood on their hands [of] those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest … [blood] on the steps of city hall, in the office of the mayor”.

Yes, the cops blamed the protesters. (So did Rudy Giuliani, but don’t get me started on him.) Even more chilling, the police union declared that the NYPD has “become a ‘wartime’ police department. We will act accordingly.”

Violence threatened is also violence enacted.

Wartime? These are the marching orders to the 35,000 armed members of the biggest police department in the United States. This is the message now sent to protesters around the nation who have been finding novel and peaceful forms of expression to resist oppression – who have been protesting in reaction to police violence, not causing it.

For the state and its agents, “the ultimate expression of sovereignty resides, to a large degree, in the power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die,” the postcolonial scholar Achilles Mbembe wrote of his term necropolitics, which describe who, exactly, wields the power to kill. The fear inside that police union boss is not just about the actual violence which may befall his members; it’s a fear that the NYPD is in danger of losing its monopoly on the threat of violence. To Patrick Lynch (and to all of us), a cop’s killing is unacceptable. But to Patrick Lynch (and to too many white people), a cop acting as judge, jury and executioner is somehow acceptable.

Now the necropolitics have flipped, and the armed cops are in a position where they feel as vulnerable as the unarmed folks saying, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” And trust me: that’s when things get ugly. On Friday night, I went to a rally in support of the NYPD, which has been under increased pressure since a grand jury’s decision not to indict in the killing of the unarmed black father Eric Garner in a chokehold. You had almost all white pro-police supporters on one side, and non-white police critics on the other. The non-white people would chant, “Hands up, don’t shoot” – and the white people would respond, “Hands up, don’t loot.” Many of the white protesters invoked 9/11, and they sung “God Bless America” … and they wore t-shirts that read I CAN BREATHE.

Is violence threatened violence experienced?

Six years ago, I went for a run in New York City. I’d left my watch and phone at home, so when I saw two NYPD cops on a corner, I stopped and said, “Excuse me, officers, can you tell me the time?”

One officer reached for his gun, pulled it out of his holster, and – when he saw the terror in my eyes – started laughing.

“Just kidding,” the white cop said as he put away his gun. “Gotcha!”

What little faith I had in the most powerful police force in America died in that moment, too. I felt “social death” in the humiliation and shame of being too frightened to go back and get his badge number. I felt powerless when I tried to report the cop’s threat to a civilian accountability board and was told there was nothing they could do.

A cop pointing a gun at me as a “joke” and a cop getting a bullet in his head are no parallel, to be sure, but no one – cops included – should have to live even under the threat of violence, which is a form of violence itself.

So we must not let these brutal cop killings stop an honest movement built on affirming justice and peace.

We must not allow more police departments to adopt a ‘wartime’ mentality, just when we thought we were getting somewhere after the War on Terror military reenactments in Ferguson this summer.

We must not let protesters become labeled “domestic enemy combatants”, and we must not allow episodes where the script gets flipped to become an excuse to surveil black man even more.

And we must not give in to our most base anxieties, especially by indulging the fears of those who have guns and who are still, even after everything this year, expected to “serve and protect” us.

All of this violence is connected. We owe it to those taken from us too early – from the woman in Baltimore, to young black men in Ferguson and Ohio and beyond, and certainly to those two NYPD cops in their squad car in Brooklyn and their families – to break the American cycle of violence, even when it starts spinning in reverse.


Related Stories

13:15 Sen. Lindsey Graham: Obama's Moves On North Korea, Cuba Will Embolden Iran» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Sen. Lindsey Graham: Obama's Moves On North Korea, Cuba Will Embolden Iran

Sen. Lindsey Graham used the recent Sony hacking incident and President Obama's change in Cuba policy as en excuse to beat the war drums with Iran once again. We're all shocked, right?

Graham never misses an opportunity to attack President Obama's foreign policy as "weak" while stomping his feat and pounding his fists about which country he'd like for the United States to attack next and this Sunday's interview on Face the Nation was no exception:

SCHIEFFER: Now let's talk a little about this Cuban surprise that we got from President Obama to resume relations with Cuba. You were very much against that.

Some people would argue, Senator Graham, that this is a good place for Americans to be selling American products. We sell a lot of grain down there already. We sell medical products under the heading of humanitarian aid.


SCHIEFFER: Why do you think it's such a bad idea to do that?

GRAHAM: Well, North Korea would be great place to sell products. They don't have anything.

read more

13:00 Living in the zombie apocalypse» Daily Kos
Zombie Lincoln
Zombies aren't just on TV. And they're not just shambling across the pages of low rent fiction. They're really here... only they're bigger than you might have expected.

Because it's not individual humans who have succumbed to a mystery virus that leaves them rotting but upright—it's institutions. It's state agencies. It's police departments. Federal departments. It's whole nations. We're living in the sagging shadows of institutional zombies, of twitching, mindless shells that still carry some resemblance to the thing they used to be. They're... representational. Metaphorical. Propped up by memories and animated by platitudes. Only they're dead. Or worse than dead.

In a lot of zombie movies, the monsters appear by mistake. It's a disease out of space, or an unanticipated side effect of some sincere, but careless, science experiment. Our zombies don't have such a relatively innocent origin story. The decay of major social institutions into lurching heaps didn't happen that way. Their effectiveness, their intent, their brains... were surgically removed.

Come on in (under the shadow of this red rock) and lets see who was wielding the scalpel...

12:35 Inside the “furries” craze: Why animal suits are the perfect fetish for our times» Salon.com
In a culture of cat memes and role-playing games, it's no shock that some people think their true form isn't human

12:32 A Startling Admission By The Ferguson Prosecutor Could Restart The Case Against Darren Wilson» ThinkProgress
12:20 California Still Needs 11 Trillion Gallons Of Water To End Its Drought» ThinkProgress

That's 16 million olympic swimming pools, still needed even after a month of tropical jet stream moisture extreme enough to be dubbed an atmospheric river, #hellastorm, and the Pineapple Express.

The post California Still Needs 11 Trillion Gallons Of Water To End Its Drought appeared first on ThinkProgress.

12:10 North Korea Threatens To Attack U.S. If Obama Retaliates Over Sony Hacking» Politics - The Huffington Post
A top North Korean defense committee threatened attacks on "the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland" if President Barack Obama retaliates over last month's cyberattack on Sony Pictures, according to a statement posted Sunday to the country's official Korean Central News Agency.

"The army and people of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the U.S. in all war spaces including cyber warfare space to blow up those citadels," said the statement, which was attributed to North Korea's top policymaking institution, the National Defense Commission. The statement did not provide further details of the threatened attacks. Pyongyang has a long history of issuing ominous warnings to other nations.

The statement said that President Obama is 'recklessly' spreading rumors about North Korea's involvement in the recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures.

North Korean officials on Friday denied having a part in the Sony hack after the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation released a statement concluding that "the North Korean government is responsible for these actions." Obama said he was considering a proportionate response, including adding North Korea back to the United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Sony canceled its Dec. 25 release of "The Interview," a comedy directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, after hackers threatened to attack screenings of the film, prompting major theater chains to pull it. The movie concerns a fictional assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and reportedly includes a graphic depiction of Kim's head exploding.

In Sunday's statement, the National Defense Commission said it had "clear evidence" that the U.S. government was involved in the making of the film, with the intention of undermining Kim's regime. It's not clear what evidence, if any, exists to support that claim.

The commission praised the hackers for their "righteous action," but added that the hackers acted independently of the regime.

"We do not know who or where they are but we can surely say that they are supporters and sympathizers with [North Korea]," the statement read.

Pyongyang could not resist bragging about the "tremendous losses" to Sony caused by the data breach, in which confidential Sony emails and unreleased movies were posted online. The attack is believed to be one of the most expensive corporate hacks in history.

"One may say this is the due price incurred by wrong deed, the evil act of hurting others," the statement said.
12:04 Homeless Persons Memorial Day Honors Dignity, Worth Of People Without Shelter Whom We've Lost» Politics - The Huffington Post
Sunday marks National Homeless Person's Memorial Day, commemorated on the longest night of the year.

The event and awareness day honors the thousands of homeless people who have died and serves as a reminder of the innumerable hardships and risks people living without shelter face.

Advocates hope that the designated memorial day will encourage health care providers, community organizations, and social service agencies to combine forces in order to more effectively address the needs of this population.

At the same time though, supporters see declaring the names of the dead of equal importance, to remind society of their dignity and worth.

While homelessness is on the decline in the U.S., the more than 578,000 homeless people living without permanent shelter face critical challenges. Homeless individuals face violent attacks and, compared to the general population, are at greater risk for chronic illness, poor mental health, and substance abuse, according to the CDC.

Last year, homeless people experienced a 23 percent surge in targeted attacks compared to the number of assaults in 2012, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH).

One of the drivers of these assaults, experts say, is the criminalization of homelessness.

"Cities continue to crack down on the homeless population by enforcing laws and creating a hostile attitude toward the homeless population," Michael Stoops, NCH director of community organizing, told The Huffington Post in March when the preliminary figures were released.

Now that winter has set in, homeless people are also at a heightened risk of developing hypothermia and freezing to death.

Though hypothermia can set in anywhere between 32 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, many emergency shelters don’t open their doors until well after the thermometer drops to that point, a NCH survey released in February found.

Winter shelters in Des Moines, Iowa, for example, don’t open until the thermometer plummets to 20 degrees.

But people aren't freezing to death just in characteristically frigid places.

In one week last winter, seven homeless people died on the streets in California from possible hypothermia, according to ABC7.

One of those casualties was Joe White, 50, who didn’t want to burden his mother and couldn’t get a spot at a shelter, ABC7 reported.

After waiting for months, the Hayward, California man finally climbed to the second spot on a list for permanent housing.

But he was found dead, likely from hypothermia, before he could get his chance to move indoors.

Several hundred people commemorated their own local version of Homeless Persons Memorial Day on Thursday night in Philadelphia to remember 149 people who were homeless or formerly homeless and died in the last year, Philly.com reported.

“[When movie stars die, their passing is] ‘mourned by millions,’ The Rev. Domenic Rossi said, according to Philly.com. “[As for the homeless], ‘God remembers them, and in God's name, so do we.’”

Find out more about Homeless Person's Memorial Day and what you can do here.

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12:03 12 foods and drinks to keep away from your pet this holiday season» Salon.com
Chocolate is an obvious no-no, but don't let your dog or cat get into that leftover fruitcake either

12:01 Tucker Carlson: Al Sharpton Helped Kill NYPD Cops By 'Whipping Up Race Hatred' » Latest from Crooks and Liars
Tucker Carlson: Al Sharpton Helped Kill NYPD Cops By 'Whipping Up Race Hatred'

Fox News host Tucker Carlson declared on Sunday that MSNBC activist host Al Sharpton and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder were guilty of inciting the murder of two police officers in Brooklyn over the weekend.

On Saturday, NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot to death while sitting in their patrol car. The suspect eventually turned the gun on himself after police caught up with him at a subway station. Messages posted to his social media accounts indicated that the suspect intended to commit violence against law enforcement officers in retaliation for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

"The murders took place out of the blue in the context of a lot of political agitation," Carlson explained on Sunday. "You don't want to start speculated about why this happened or casting blame unfairly. Again, we know who pulled the trigger, he is ultimately responsible."

"But it's such an emotional thing, it's so wrong, immoral, unfair, that it's almost hard not to point at some of the people who have been whipping race hatred in this country for the past couple of months, and saying they do bear some responsibility for this."

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11:30 When the war on women meets the war on drugs» Daily Kos
Aerial view of Central California Prison
Central California Women's Facility
Often used as a political football, the war on women has been going on for a very long time. It is not just reflected in the battle for a woman's right to control her own body, but also in efforts to gain financial parity. Neither battle seems to be going particularly well.

Women make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers, and the same percentage serve as primary or co-breadwinners of families. The poverty rate for female-headed families with children is 40.9 percent, compared to 22.6 percent for male-headed families with children, and 8.9 percent for families with children headed by a married couple. According to the American Association of University Women, the gender pay gap, as of 2013 is 78 percent overall. Both the poverty rate for female heads of household and the pay gap are worse for women of color:

Poverty rate female head of household with children Women's earnings as ratio of white male earnings
Native American 56.9% 59%
Hispanic 48.6% 54%
Foreign born 47.1% NA
Black 46.7% 64%
White, non-Hispanic 33.1% 78%
Asian 26.3% 90%
Women are poorer than men. A woman is two and a half times more likely than a man to be a single head of household. And women are more likely to have been victims of domestic abuse.

There is another area in which the women exceed men, and that is the increase in the rate of incarceration. Over the last thirty years, our prison population has exploded, going from 300,000 in 1980 to over 2.3 million today. The increase is due largely to the war on drugs that has targeted people of color and applied discriminatory mandatory minimum sentences, even for first-time offenders.

Not widely known however, is the fact that the number of women incarcerated over this period increased at nearly 1.5 times the rate of men.

Who they are and why they are in prison, below the fold.

11:05 Ray Kelly: Bill De Blasio Ran 'Anti-Police Campaign'» Politics - The Huffington Post
Former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had contributed to police officers turning against him by running an "anti-police campaign" for mayor in 2013.

Kelly appeared on ABC's "This Week" Sunday to discuss the killing of two NYPD officers. When asked by host George Stephanopoulos if it's fair for critics to partially blame de Blasio for the death of the two cops, Kelly said the mayor had set off a "firestorm" by raising concerns over his son's safety.

“Obviously, there's a lot of emotion involved when two police officers are killed," Kelly said. "When the mayor made statements about how they had to train his son, who is biracial, to be careful when he’s dealing with the police, I think that set off this latest firestorm."

On Saturday, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot dead in their squad car by a gunman identified by police as 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley. Brinsley had reportedly posted on social media boasting of his plan to kill two cops in revenge for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police.

The head of the largest police union in New York City, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, accused de Blasio and those protesting the deaths of Brown and Garner of inciting violence that led to Saturday's shooting.

"There's blood on many hands tonight," NYC PBA president Pat Lynch said Saturday. "That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor."

Kelly served as police commissioner from 2002 to 2013, and is a staunch defender of the city's stop and frisk policy -- which de Blasio promised to reform during his mayoral campaign.

"Quite frankly, the mayor ran an anti-police campaign last year when he ran for mayor,” Kelly told ABC.

"You're talking about his opposition to stop and frisk," Stephanopoulos asked. "Is that what you think was anti-police?"

“I think a lot of the rhetoric was -- at a time when the police had a 70 percent approval rating," Kelly replied. "Obviously that’s not the case now."

Kelly's remarks echoed those of former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), who disparaged both the mayor and Attorney General Eric Holder:

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani also criticized de Blasio, accusing him of "allowing protests to get out of control" following a grand jury's decision to not indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for using a fatal chokehold on Garner.

"If I was in the situation that Mayor de Blasio is in, and I feel sorry that he's in this situation, I would give a speech to the police department and I would explain that maybe I was wrong about a few things," he said during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday."

Giuliani also blamed the murder of the two officers on anti-police propaganda.

"We've had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police," Giuliani said. "I don't care how you want to describe it -- that's what those protests are all about."

Giuliani said that protests across the country after the deaths of Brown and Garner, even if they were peaceful, had led people to think that the police were bad.

"That is completely wrong. Actually, the people who do the most for the black community in America are the police," he said.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, de Blasio praised the slain officers and strongly condemned the "heinous individual" responsible for the attack.

"When a police officer is murdered, it tears at the foundation of our society," he said. "It is an attack on all of us. It’s an attack on everything we hold dear."

Read more on the NYPD shooting here.
11:01 The propagandists have won: What Fox News and the pornography revolution have in common» Salon.com
Truthiness has replaced truth. Now that we all have our own facts, we may rue the day we personalized the news

10:59 Adorable Animal Holiday Stories That Will Make You Jolly» LiveScience.com
'Tis the season to be jolly, and what could be more jolly than amusing animal stories? Here are some of our favorite holiday critters.
10:54 Cuba Announcement 'A Truly Historic Moment'» Politics - The Huffington Post
Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic driving headlines around the world. Today, we look at the future of U.S.-Cuba relations.

The United States and Cuba announced on Wednesday that they will start talks to restore ties, a landmark announcement given the decades-long hostile relations between the countries.

The announcement came alongside a prisoner swap that includes a Cuban who was arrested on the island while working for American intelligence more than twenty years ago, and the three of the "Cuban Five" who remained jailed in the United States. Cuba also released Alan Gross, an American aid worker who was arrested in Cuba five years ago.

The WorldPost spoke with Julia E. Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations about this week's developments.

Wednesday's announcement was hailed as "historic." But how much does the announcement really change? And how quickly will we start to see change?

The announcement truly was a historic moment, not only for the Americas, but also for Obama’s legacy. The executive action is fairly comprehensive in terms of what he has the power to make happen. It expands general licenses for travel to Cuba, allows travelers to use American credit and debit cards, significantly eases restrictions around remittances, make it easier for Americans to provide support to and help grow the emerging private sector in Cuba, expands commercial sales and exports, and initiates new efforts to increase access to the internet and other telecommunications services, among other important changes. Obama and Castro are also going to convert the existing interest sections into embassies in Havana and Washington and name ambassadors.

On the travel end, which I think has been the most confusing part for a lot of people, American visitors to Cuba will no longer have to go through cumbersome bureaucratic processes prior to their travel to the island. All they have to do is sign a document saying what they’re going to be doing in Cuba and then go. And that is a huge difference. It does not lift the travel ban because it doesn't permit tourism, but it does streamline travel and will help it grow quite substantially.

As far as how quickly these changes will take root, I think diplomatic ties will move fairly rapidly. The assistant U.S. secretary of state for Latin America, Roberta S. Jacobson, is leading a delegation to Cuba in January for immigration talks and to further conversations about diplomatic relations. However, the implementation of new economic openings is going to take some time. Various agencies will have to write and roll out regulations, which, of course, means bureaucracy and at least some politics. Though, I suspect that, given the Summit of the Americas in April and the upcoming shift in Congress, a lot of the regulatory framework that is needed to ease trade and travel restrictions is probably close to complete if not fully ready for primetime. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker already seems to be organizing a business delegation to Cuba, and I suspect Barack Obama and John Kerry will both make it to the island over the next two years. Can’t get more historic than that.

Will the embargo be lifted as well? And if so, when do you think that will happen?

Implementation of the steps the president announced Wednesday will create their own political momentum, not only in the United States and Cuba, but also in the U.S. Congress. However, officially lifting the embargo is an entirely different process that has to go through Congress due to the Helms-Burton Act signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996. Though we are on the verge of having a Republican majority in Congress, pollsters now see that 60 percent of Americans, including those in Florida, support the kinds of changes Obama announced on Wednesday. Staunchly supporting the embargo is getting less politically tenable, and both parties, yes even the GOP, are beginning to recognize that.

I think the expectation with Obama’s executive order is that it will help grow certain kinds of trade and investment in, for example, construction, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and telecommunications. This kind of investment, restoring diplomatic lines of communication, getting more Americans down to Cuba, and allowing banking services and credit cards – sort of laying the scaffolding to ultimately shift opinion inside Congress – will help create the political space to push for a full nullification of Helms-Burton to lift the embargo. Though, I do think that will take some time.

What concessions did the U.S. and Cuba have to make respectively to make this agreement happen?

I think the biggest negotiation that compelled these talks was the Alan Gross situation and the imprisonment of the remaining three of the Cuban Five, the intelligence officers who penetrated into the United States in the 1990s and were imprisoned in American jails. For Raul Castro, and even before his presidency, getting the rest of the Cuban Five back was a huge foreign policy priority. On the other hand, U.S. government officials repeatedly warned that if anything ever happened to Gross, reestablishing relations would be near impossible. I think a breakthrough in negotiations came when the Cuban government agreed to release Gross on humanitarian grounds, and exchange Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, an intelligence officer who the Cubans had been holding for the last twenty years or so, for the remaining three of the Cuban Five. It unlocked the policy changes the president announced on Wednesday.

There were also a number of other areas of compromise to get to where we are now. Raul agreed to release 53 political prisoners, all of whom were given the choice of staying in Cuba or leaving, rather than being given exile as their only option, and the Cuban government agreed to allow American telecommunications providers to help build the infrastructure that they need to increase broadband access, which is very low, perhaps even the lowest in Latin America. The Cubans also agreed to allow ICRC visits to the island, and they haven’t been there since the late 80s I believe.

Of course, a number of outstanding issues were not agreed upon during these conversations. For example, the U.S. government would not end its democracy promotion programs – a la the infamous Cuban Twitter – despite Cuban protest and did not include negotiation of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in the conversations.

How have Cubans reacted to the announcement?

As far as I’ve seen, across Cuba, the reaction has been very favorable. Even sharp critics of the government -- like dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez -- view the changes with a degree skepticism, but also as potentially beneficial to the country. In her editorial the other day in the New York Times she wrote, “For everyone, a new era has begun. We cannot confirm that it will be better, but at least it will be different.” There seems to be euphoria around the island, a lot of expectations, and the Cuban blogosphere is full of fascinating analysis about what this will mean for the country. I think most Cubans on the island are at least relieved, and definitely filled with anticipation for what’s to come.
10:42 Rudy Giuliani Accuses Obama, Black Leaders Of Stoking 'Anti-Police Hatred'» Politics - The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON -- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) blamed this weekend's killing of two NYPD officers on anti-police "propaganda," for which he said President Barack Obama bears some responsibility.

"We've had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police," said Giuliani during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday." "I don't care how you want to describe it -- that's what those protests are all about."

Giuliani cited the nationwide protests against institutional racism and police brutality that followed the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York, and that flared up anew after the respective grand jury decisions not to indict the officers responsible in either case. Giuliani said those demonstrations, and the ongoing criticism of police tactics and the criminal justice system, were part of what led to the shooting of two NYPD officers in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon. Police say the alleged shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, traveled to New York from Baltimore with the intention of killing police officers.

"The protest are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, even the ones that don't lead to violence -- a lot of them lead to violence -- all of them lead to a conclusion: The police are bad, the police are racist," said Giuliani. "That is completely wrong. Actually, the people who do the most for the black community in America are the police."

The former mayor accused black commentators of creating "an atmosphere of severe, strong anti-police hatred in certain communities."

Giuliani also accused New York Mayor Bill de Blasio of "allowing protests to get out of control." But he said it was not the time to call for de Blasio's resignation, as "a lot of other police officers were killed under a lot of other mayors."

"If I was in the situation that Mayor de Blasio is in, and I feel sorry that he's in this situation, I would give a speech to the police department and I would explain that maybe I was wrong about a few things," said Giuliani. "Maybe I was wrong about putting too much emphasis on, you know, police misconduct, when in fact police misconduct is a minor part of the problem. Community, serious violent crime, is a much bigger part of the problem."

"I think I would say to them, and I have said this to the police, 'You know, the people who are saving black lives in this city are you, the New York City Police Department.' I'm not doing it. President Obama is not doing it. Mayor de Blasio is not doing it," Giuliani went on. "He's not out at night walking up and down housing developments and trying to save children from being killed. The police officers are doing the most, right now, in these very, very poor communities."

The advocacy group Black Lives Matter, which has organized several protests against police misconduct, issued a statement on Sunday condemning the shootings.

“An eye for an eye is not our vision of justice,” the group's statement read. “We who have taken to the streets seeking justice and liberation know that we need deep transformation to correct the larger institutional problems of racial profiling, abuse, and violence.”
10:40 Fox News Seizes On NYC Cop Killing To Bash Obama» ThinkProgress

Fox argued that African American leaders created an anti-police environment that motivated the killing.

The post Fox News Seizes On NYC Cop Killing To Bash Obama appeared first on ThinkProgress.

10:28 Blowing Up Heads» Politics - The Huffington Post
This game is becoming infectious.  Last week the People's Republic of North Korea managed to close down a Sony feature called The Interview by hacking a number of computers and threatening the US with another 9/11. The film climaxed with the head of the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, being blown up. (So much art imitates life these days. Is it possible that Kim Jong-un's striking haircut--close-shaven from ear to ear, with tufts of hair above--influenced the popular tonsorial style of the Irish TV series, Peaky Blinders?).

Thursday, according to Peter Marks in the Washington Post, a number of American heads were also being blown up. The Jewish Community Center in D.C. cancelled a whole program of Israeli-Palestinian plays at Theatre J called "Voices From a Changing Middle East," and fired Ari Roth, who had founded the institution eighteen years ago. Worse, Roth was charged with "insubordination" for refusing to lie about the reasons for this action, and "escorted" out of the building forthwith . I wonder if the escorts were goose-stepping down the stairs, wearing those fashionable high-brimmed military hats common to the Pyongyang officer class.

United by their common distaste for free expression, many Asian, African, European, and now American nations are finding ways to bond these days in the manner in which they banish artists and muzzle intellectuals. Of course, this has been going on for a very long time: most famously, Salman Rushdie in the Muslim world, Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn in Russia, Lung Ying Tai in China, etc, all suffered from having put bureaucratic noses out of joint with heretical pens. So, of course, did radical artists during the McCarthy era, and, more recently, Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano in the age of Jesse Helms.

The Jews, however, traditionally known as the people of the Book, have hitherto allowed considerably more open privileges to the literate and the informed--that is, until the state of Israel, and its more right-wing followers in the U.S., began to define itself as a closed militant theocracy rather than a peaceful liberal democracy. I can think of no more powerful reflection of the change in this country than the JCC's treatment of Roth. For refusing to have his season schedule determined by a governing board, and, worse, for failing to lie about the reasons for his departure, he was accused of "insubordination," as if he were a military recruit refusing a sergeant's order, and summarily dismissed.

Clearly, the tensions between Roth and his Board concerned not only ideology but funding. The JCC depends on generous contributions from its primarily Jewish community. Roth's new program threatened to complicate that hitherto dependable source of support by arousing anger over the nature of its offerings. The responsibility of a Board Chairman under those conditions is not to fire the artistic staff, but to encourage precisely the kind of debates being stimulated by the plays.

It has become more and more evident that the mechanism powering the arts and humanities in our country today is not visionary inspiration but financial comfort, wealth, and greed. But with figures such as Ari Roth willing to jeopardize his job rather than desert his principles (he plans to stage the banned Middle East Program in another Washington theatre), we still have hopes that artists of conviction and courage will continue to exercise at least some minimal influence on our deteriorating culture. They will certainly leave a more lasting impact than all those heads being blown up around the world in fantasy and fact.
10:15 No, Putin doesn’t know how to fix Russia’s economy» Salon.com
In his latest marathon news conference, the Russian president again blames the West for his country's troubles

10:00 It's time to end America's global isolation over Cuba» Daily Kos
There's an old saying that the United States is always fighting the last war. If so, then the apoplectic assortment of Cuban-American irredentists, aging anti-Communist crackpots and knee-jerk, Cro-Magnon conservatives opposing the normalization of relations with Havana are several conflicts behind.

Simply put, the exigencies of the Cold War and the Monroe Doctrine no longer apply. Castro's Cuba long ago ceased being a dangerous client of the Soviet empire, one that ended up on the dustbin of history. There are no Russian intermediate range nuclear missiles and no combat brigades in Cuba. There is no Marxist dictatorship in Jamaica, and no "red menace" in Central America. There aren't thousands of Cuban troops fighting in Angola. (There are, however, Cuban doctors in West Africa, fighting Ebola.)  And the thousands of Cubans who land on American beaches or cross over from Mexico aren't met with gunfire, but with the guarantee of a path to citizenship. Yet 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States maintains its anachronistic embargo that helps keep the Cuban people in tatters and Americans alone on the world stage.

Nevertheless, the usual suspects among the shrinking Cuban exile community and the conservative commentariat are still calling for regime change. Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose father Rafael fought alongside Castro's force against the Batista dictatorship before fleeing the island in 1957, called President Obama's diplomatic opening to Havana "a tragic mistake." His fellow 2016 GOP White House hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL)—the same Marco Rubio who pretended his parents fled Cuba after Castro seized power—called Obama's move a "victory for oppression" and a "precedent" that "places a new price on the head of every American." (Apparently, Rubio was confusing Barack Obama with Ronald Reagan.)  Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, the face of the large Cuban community in New Jersey, echoed those talking points in his USA Today op-ed, as you can read below the fold:

09:50 Rubio Pushes Back On Obama, Rand Paul On Cuba Policy» Politics - The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blasted the Obama administration's recent decision to open up new ties to Cuba, arguing that the policy change "will not lead to freedom" for the Cuban people.

"I want closer ties with Cuba as well, but those closer ties have to come about as a result of a policy that will also ultimately lead to freedom," said Rubio during an appearance on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "I'm OK with changing policy toward Cuba. But it has to be a policy change that has a reasonable chance of achieving freedom -- freedom for the Cuban people."

Host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that the U.S. has relations with other countries that "don't meet our democratic standards," including China, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

"That's exactly my point. We have those policies of normalization toward Vietnam, for example, toward China," said Rubio. "They're not any more politically free today than they were when that normalization happened. They may have a bigger economy, but their political freedoms -- certainly I would not hold up China or Saudi Arabia or Vietnam as examples of political freedom, proving my point that engagement by itself does not guarantee or even lead to political freedoms."

Rubio, who is himself Cuban-American, also discussed recent criticism aimed his way from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) over Cuba policy.

"Senator Marco Rubio is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat," Paul wrote on Twitter Friday. "I reject this isolationism. This seems to be a preview of the debate of 2016."

Rubio offered a rebuttal on Sunday.

"Rand, if he wants to become the chief cheerleader of Obama's foreign policy, he certainly has a right to do that," said Rubio. "I'm going to continue to oppose the Obama -- Obama-Paul foreign policy on Cuba, because I know it won't lead to freedom and liberty for the Cuban people, which is my sole interest here."

Rubio was coy on the subject of whether he would be running for president in 2016. His fellow Florida Republican, former Gov. Jeb Bush, announced this week that he was actively exploring a primary run. Bush has served as a mentor to Rubio in the past, but Rubio didn't indicate that his history with Bush would keep him from exploring a presidential bid of his own.

"If I make the decision that the best place for me to do that is the presidency, then I'm going to run for president," said Rubio. "I think, ultimately, that first I have to make the decision that that's what I want to do, that that's the best place for me to serve the country at this time. And then, I think, that's why you have a primary."

"That's the greatness about our system of government," he continued, "in comparison to what they have in Cuba, for example, where they don't get to choose their leaders."

Update, 1 p.m. -- In a statement, Paul's office claimed that it is in fact Rubio, not Paul, whose approach to foreign policy resembles the president's.

"With all due respect, Senator Marco Rubio was captain of the GOP cheerleading team for Obama's arming of Syrian rebels, bombing Libya resulting in a jihadist wonderland, and illegally giving foreign aid to Egypt's military government," said Doug Stafford, a senior adviser to Paul, in an email to The Huffington Post. "The Rubio-Obama foreign policy has made the Middle East and North Africa less safe."
09:46 The False Choice of Protesting for Justice and Supporting Our Police» Politics - The Huffington Post
I'm one of the millions of New Yorkers who woke up heartbroken today thinking of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos who were shot dead yesterday while sitting in their car in Brooklyn by Ismaaiyl Brinsley.

As the news unfolded, we learned the briefest details of the two men's lives such as the fact that Liu was married just two months ago, and that Ramos has a wife and a 13 year old son who "couldn't comprehend what had happened to his father", according to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio who met with the families before a press conference last night. I offered prayers for the men, and their widows and son.

Liu and Ramos were not the only victims of Brinsley's deadly rampage yesterday. Earlier that day, the Atlanta resident had allegedly shot his former girlfriend in Maryland, who apparently now is in "serious condition". After killing the two police officers, Brinsley fled and apparently killed himself in a nearby subway station.

The assassinations come at a particularly tense moment in America. Recent deaths of black citizens at the hands of police in Ferguson, Cleveland and here in New York have sparked protests and calls for investigation of racism within our policing and criminal justice system. I have been part of those protests. One week ago, I was in Washington, D.C. along with thousands of other Americans of all ages, races and religions who came together in peaceful protest and to listen to the mothers and wives of those men whose lives had been lost.

Never once did I hear any suggestion of violence against the police either in the march or from the microphone. The consistent call was to work with our elected officials, courts and police departments to improve our criminal system. The goal of this movement is justice -- its means are non-violent, prophetic action. When I heard the news about the Ramos and Liu killings, I prayed that it was not linked in any way to the peaceful protests that I had been a part of.

But horrifically, the assassin made the connection himself.

He wrote on an Instagram account: "I'm putting wings on pigs today, They take 1 of ours, let's take 2 of theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGardner #RIPMichaelBrown".


When I saw that I felt sick. And even sicker because the post had 17 Likes, meaning that 17 people read this obviously violent post and supported it and urged him on. And now they have blood on their hands well.

Unfortunately, the person NYC Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch blamed was not Ismaaiyl Brinsley, or any accomplices that may have known about his alleged intention to kill his ex-girlfriend and two police officers. Instead, he, Pataki, Giuliani and and other pundits declared that the people to blame were Obama, Holder, de Blasio and all those who have been involved in the nation wide protests.

"There's blood on many hands tonight," Lynch said last night, "That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor." Lynch went on to blame those who "incited violence on the street under the guise of protest."

I guess he means me?

The response Lynch and some conservative commentators have had to the horrific killing of these two police officers and the alleged attempt to kill a woman is profoundly un-American. It is meant to chill any criticism or efforts to improve our country and only serves to divide an already deeply divided country and to increase tensions in an already tense time.

Instead of having the deaths of Liu and Ramos further tear us apart, could this serve as a moment of bringing us together? Liu and Ramos are reminders to any who would demonize the police, that our law enforcement is made up of people of all races and backgrounds, who have families and who feel called to this duty to protect and serve.

The families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown were among the first to condemn the killing of Ramos and Liu last night. The protests around the #BlackLivesMatter movement was never against the police, but it was a call to acknowledge that we can do better as a society that continues to bear the scars of racism.

That effort must continue; we can and must do better as a nation. But it will only be successful if everyone comes together and recognizes one another as human beings, deserving of respect, dignity and life.

Instead of pitting the deaths of Liu and Ramos against Garner and Brown, we can join them together, understanding them as martyrs whose inspire us on both sides of the blue line to work for a more just, safe and united America.


As Martin Luther King, Jr. preached in his Christmas Sermon in 1967: "This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without." - LISTEN:

09:44 Religion’s smart-people problem: The shaky intellectual foundations of absolute faith» Salon.com
Religious belief the world over has a strenuous relationship with intellectualism. But why?

09:41 Cuban Oil May Prove A Boon For U.S. Companies» ThinkProgress

With diplomatic relations warming between the U.S. and Cuba, oil and gas companies may train their sights on what's off Cuba's coast.

The post Cuban Oil May Prove A Boon For U.S. Companies appeared first on ThinkProgress.

09:29 Ismaaiyl Brinsley, Alleged Cop Killer, Had Criminal History, 'Estranged Relationship' With Family» Politics - The Huffington Post
The man whom police say murdered two NYPD officers as they ate lunch in their patrol car Saturday had a long criminal history.

Court documents show that Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, had been arrested in Ohio for theft and robbery, and in Georgia for robbery, shoplifting, carrying a concealed weapon, disorderly conduct and obstruction of a law enforcement officer, according to WABC.

The New York Times reports that Brinsley was convicted on weapons charges in Georgia in 2011 and served two years in prison there. He also had prior arrests in Brooklyn, where his family still lives.

"The family is grieving and they're still trying to cope with what's happening. It was an estranged relationship," Tony Lindsey, a friend of Brinsley's mother, told WABC. The suspect's sister, who lives in Georgia, told The New York Times that she had not seen her brother in two years.

Brinsley allegedly shot his girlfriend in Baltimore early Saturday morning, then traveled to New York with the intention of killing police officers, New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said in a press conference Saturday night.

A user believed to be Brinsley posted threats against cops on social media prior to the shooting. Those threats were relayed to the NYPD by Baltimore-area police shortly before the shooting, which Bratton and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio both described as an assassination.

The Associated Press reports that Brinsley asked people on the street just before the shooting to follow him on Instagram and told them to "watch what I'm going to do."

Brinsley allegedly walked up behind a squad car in Brooklyn on Saturday and fired shots inside, striking Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. He then ran to a nearby subway station and took his own life. The officers were pronounced dead at Woodhull Hospital.

NYPD detectives traveled to Baltimore Saturday night to look into Brinsley's past and investigate his alleged ties to a prison gang that has advocated violence against cops.

Groups critical of heavy-handed policing were swift to condemn the attack. Black Lives Matter, an organization that has staged protests in response to recent grand jury decisions not to indict officers in the deaths of black men, released a statement Saturday calling the shooting a murder.

"An eye for an eye is not our vision of justice," the statement said. "We know all too well the pain and the trauma that follows the senseless loss of our family members and loved ones."

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09:16 McCain Calls Sony Hack An 'Act Of War'» Politics - The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are at odds over whether the cyberattack on Sony Pictures, which the FBI has blamed on North Korea, should be considered an "act of war."

"I don't think it was an act of war," Obama told CNN Sunday. "I think it was an act of cybervandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionally."

But McCain, in a Sunday appearance on CNN's "State of the Union," advanced a different argument.

"The president does not understand that this is a manifestation of a new form of warfare," said McCain. "When you destroy economies, when you are able to impose censorship on the world and especially the United States of America, it's more than vandalism. It's a new form of warfare that we're involved in, and we need to react and react vigorously."

McCain suggested that the U.S. should begin by reimposing sanctions against North Korea that were lifted during the George W. Bush administration.

He also argued that the U.S. government should do more to engage people in Silicon Valley to help address cybersecurity issues.

"It's very hard to determine where national security ends and personal privacy begins," said McCain. "This is a continuing debate that we have. I've been to more meetings on cyber than any other issue in my time in the Congress, with less accomplished than any other, and it's time we sat down together."

North Korean hackers are believed to have targeted Sony Pictures over the film "The Interview," a comedy directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg that includes a scene of Korean leader Kim Jong Un's head exploding. "The Interview" was scheduled to premiere on Dec. 25. North Korean officials had deemed the film itself an "act of war" several months ago.

Sony canceled the film's release last week, citing security concerns.
09:13 Ted Hughes on Sylvia Plath: “For the last month I have lived about the strangest life I ever did live”» Salon.com
EXCLUSIVE: An amazing new look inside the courtship -- and early happiness -- of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath

09:13 Conservatives’ sick reaction to NYPD officer killings: Blame Obama and de Blasio» Salon.com
Right-wingers politicize deaths of two officers to condemn liberals and protesters against police brutality

09:06 Rubio’s New Foreign Policy: Engagement With The World Doesn’t Lead To Political Freedom» ThinkProgress

"I would not hold up China or Saudi Arabia or Vietnam as examples of political freedom, proving my point, that engagement by itself does not guarantee or even lead to political freedoms."

The post Rubio’s New Foreign Policy: Engagement With The World Doesn’t Lead To Political Freedom appeared first on ThinkProgress.

08:39 Rubio slams 'Obama-Paul' Cuba policy» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The Florida Republican chides Rand Paul for being "the chief cheerleader for Obama's foreign policy."
08:30 We are no better than our enemies» Daily Kos
Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney speaks about national security at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington in this file photo from May 21, 2009. Cheney, 69, was hospitalized in George Washington Hospital on February 22, 2010 after experienci
This man authorized torture. Never forget that.

Significant emotional events, a term learned in a Sociology class, are instances in your life that change you. They are events that once they occur, you cannot go back to being the person you were before that event. Some of the significant emotional events I have experienced in my life have been being bullied in elementary and grade school, going through Army basic training, becoming a father, seeing my parents age and pass away, and going to Dachau when I was stationed in Germany.

As a child I grew up watching the sanitized version of war that was available on the meager channel selection of early cable TV. My dad loved watching westerns and war movies. The Longest Day, The Sands of Iwo Jima, Rat Patrol, Combat, To Hell and Back, Battleground ... the list goes on and on. Men died, but there was no blood. The Japanese were portrayed as savages, the Germans/Nazis were portrayed as efficient, but not really evil. The only time I ever had a hint of how evil the Nazis were was during an episode of the Twilight Zone, Deaths-Head Revisited, and even that left a lot to the imagination for someone who did not live through that time.

Follow below the fold for more.

08:10 Santa Claus gets the “Serial” treatment on “Saturday Night Live”» Salon.com
Perfectly mimicking Sarah Koenig's mannerisms, Cecily Strong tries to get to the bottom of the question

08:10 Life in America’s cancer lands: The slow-motion tragedies of environmental disaster» Salon.com
In dozens of communities across the country, families are being exposed to dangerous levels of pollution

07:39 Kristen Wiig crashes Amy Adams’ monologue in epic return to “SNL”» Salon.com
The former "SNL" star shows up uninvited -- again

07:38 Rudy Giuliani: 2 NYC Cops Were Killed Because Obama Told Everyone To ‘Hate The Police’» ThinkProgress

"We've had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police," he said.

The post Rudy Giuliani: 2 NYC Cops Were Killed Because Obama Told Everyone To ‘Hate The Police’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

07:20 Obama: 'No justification' for killing of NYC police officers» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The president asks people to reject violence and focus on prayer.
07:08 The surprising reason why the animal rights movement is failing» Salon.com
The way we treat nonhuman animals has never been worse, say activists Lori Marino and Michael Mountain

07:00 Ignoring torture here at home» Daily Kos
black man bound - screen shot from The Outer Limits of Solitary Confinement
It is incredibly important that news headlines, pundits, bloggers, and activists are once again discussing heinous tortures perpetrated by our government—excused and explained away by the torturers—and applauded by a certain element of the public in the unholy name of "national security." Too often we hear that the end justifies the means—to keep us "safe." One can only hope that the national outrage being expressed around the murder of people of color by police will spill over into an in-depth examination of the ongoing torture, and death inflicted upon men, and women, and children—many of whom are also people of color—held in our nations jails, prisons, and juvenile detention facilities.

There are some small signs that this might, just might, be happening. But too many people who are willing to vociferously condemn torture and brutality that has taken place not on our soil remain silent when it comes to denouncing what is happening every day behind bars. There are no rebellions in the streets or massive marches. Strikes by inmates themselves tend to be ignored, and the retaliation for their resistance that takes place afterwards does not usually make the nightly news.

It's not a secret. These practices have been denounced by major civil, legal, and human rights organizations for many years now. For example, consider the case of Latandra Ellington:

A Floridian prison inmate wrote a letter to her aunt saying she feared a corrections officer might kill her while behind bars — and ten days later, she was dead. The body of Latandra Ellington, 36, was found Oct. 1 at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala. Now Daryl Parks and Benjamin Crump, the attorneys who represented Trayvon Martin's family, are calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the woman's suspicious death.

In the letter, written Sept. 21, Ellington expressed her fear that she might not make it out alive because of an officer she identified only as Sgt. Q, the Miami Herald reported."He was gone beat me to death and mess me like a dog,'' she wrote in the letter, obtained by the newspaper. "He was all in my face Sqt. Q then he grab his radio and said he was gone bust me in my head with it.''

A private autopsy paid for by the family shows that Ellington—who had seven months left to serve—died of blunt-force trauma to her stomach consistent with kicking and punching, according to the family's lawyer.

Had she not written that letter, one wonders if there would even be an investigation. Help came too late for Ellington, but that does not have to be the outcome for countless others.  

Follow me below the fold for more.

06:10 Obama: North Korean cyberattack no 'act of war'» POLITICO - TOP Stories
He says the hack against Sony Entertainment was "an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly."
06:06 Why rape is so intrinsic to religion» Salon.com
Stories like the virgin birth lack freely given female consent. It's telling how ready we still are to embrace them

05:04 The millennial job paradox: America’s next great generation loves the city — but can’t work there» Salon.com
More and more young people are living in America's downtowns. But quality jobs aren't following them.

05:04 Thomas Frank: First we kill all the diamond-class five-million milers» Salon.com
Airport nightmare time. Minimum-wage toilers clean platinum-class puke, the rest of us scramble for power outlets

05:04 The great American rip-off: How big-money corruption fuels racial inequality» Salon.com
More than ever, America's political fortunes are determined by a very wealthy — and very white — minority

05:00 Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Twas the week we use twas in a sentence edition» Daily Kos
Erik Kaplan is pro-Santa.
In 1897 the American Civil War correspondent and editor Francis Pharcellus Church wrote an editorial for the New York newspaper The Sun in defense of religious belief. The piece responded to a question by 8-year-old Virginia O. Hanlon and included what has become the famous catch phrase, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Church’s argument is double-barreled. First he argues we have no way of knowing if Santa is really there... there are some things our brains just aren’t capable of knowing. Maybe Santa is one of them.

But why does Church argue for making the leap to Santa belief, rather than standing pat with Santa agnosticism? Here Church brings in his second, pragmatic point. We should believe in Santa Claus because it will make our lives better if we do. Echoing Nietzsche’s defense of art, Church argues that we need poetry, romance and childlike faith to make life tolerable. Life without Santa is dreary and unromantic, and life with Santa is fun and magical. So we might as well believe in him. We also, according to Church, should believe in fairies dancing on the lawn, and an unseen world full of “supernal beauty and glory.”

As a war reporter, Church saw mass slaughter carried out in the name of unseen ideals. He needed to believe in fairies, but we may balk at his Victorian tone with its creepy veneration of childhood and high-toned glurge. So it’s worth restating his point about the benefits of a belief in Santa in more modern, prosaic terms.

'Scuse me a minute while I dig among the scraps of paper and left over bits of ribbon for my official Romper Room Magic Mirror. Ahh. I see teacherken, and skohayes, and greenbird, and I see a2nite, and xxdr zombiexx, and skillet, and el vasco, and I see dinotrac being grumpy, stop being grumpy, dinotrac, and I see all the other people who get up early on Sunday morning and read this series. And I see you too, Greg Dworkin, pretending like you're taking the day off then sneaking in here just because you think I'm going to screw up and forget to post the APR... like I did last week. Well I'm here. Go back to bed.

The rest of you go read Eric Kaplan's piece. And if I didn't get to your name, blame this mirror. It hasn't worked well since I stole it from Miss Judy fifty years or so back.

When you've finished your assigned reading, you can come inside. Otherwise I'm putting a check next to naughty...

03:46 Right-Wing Media Hide Obama And De Blasio Statements To Blame Them For Violence Against Police» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Conservative media figures hid statements from President Obama and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio condemning violent protests. Instead, they misleadingly suggested the politicians were to blame for December 20 murder of two New York City police officers by a gunman, who was reportedly retaliating against the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police.

Two NYPD Officers "Assassinated" In Apparent Act Of Revenge

Two Police Officers "Assassinated" By Gunman "Angered About The Eric Garner And Michael Brown Cases." According to The New York Times, NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot and killed on December 20 while on duty. The reported assailant, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, killed himself before being taken into custody, but had previously "made statements on social media suggesting that he planned to kill police officers and was angered about the Eric Garner and Michael Brown case." Both Brown and Garner were killed by police officers, and their deaths have sparked protests around the United States. New York police commissioner Bill Bratton stated that the officers had been "quite simply, assassinated -- targeted for their uniform." [The New York Times, 12/20/14]

Right-Wing Media Suggest Obama And De Blasio Inspired Anti-Police Hatred And Violence Leading To Murder Of Two NYPD Officers

Former Mayor Giuliani: "We've Had Four Months Of Propaganda Starting With The President That Everybody Should Hate The Police." On the December 21 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Sunday, former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani said that it "goes too far to blame the Mayor or to ask for the Mayor's resignation" over the shooting of the officers, but nevertheless claimed that "four months of propaganda starting with the president" encouraged the anti-police sentiments that were behind the shooting and the New York City protests that took place several days before:

GIULIANI: We've had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police. I don't care how you want to describe it, that's what those protests are all about. The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged, the protests, even the ones that don't lead to violence, and a lot of them lead to violence, all lead to a conclusion: the police are bad, the police are racists. That is completely wrong. Actually the people who do the most for the Black community in America are the police. [Fox News, Fox & Friends Sunday, 12/21/14]

Former Mayor Giuliani Attributes President Obama And Eric Holder's "Misinformation" And "Lying" To "Anti-Police Hatred" In New York City. During the December 21 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, Giuliani accused President Obama and Eric Holder of spreading "misinformation" and "lying" to stoke "anti-police hatred." [Fox News, Fox & Friends Sunday, 12/21/14]

Fox News Contributor Erick Erickson: President Obama And Mayor De Blasio "All But Encouraged Retaliation On The Police After The Eric Garner Situation." Fox News contributor Erick Erickson claimed that "Neither side should blame the other" for the deaths of the police officers, but wrote that Obama, Holder, and de Blasio's "repeated anti-police rhetoric ... all but encouraged retaliation on the police" and were transforming America with a "war on police":

Now, in New York City, a man has gunned down two police officers. He did so after repeated anti-police rhetoric from the President, Eric Holder, and New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio who, himself, all but encouraged retaliation on the police after the Eric Garner situation.

President Obama promised to fundamentally transform America. We just didn't expect that transformation to involve a war on police. [ErickOnTheRadio.com, 12/21/14]

National Review Online: Murder Suspect "Was Clearly Animated By The Racially-Charged, Rabidly Anti-Police Atmosphere" President Obama And Others "Promoted." A December 21 post by National Review Online contributor Andrew McCarthy suggested President Obama and "like-minded radicals" were in part to blame for the murder of the two NYPD officers, claiming their rhetoric signals "that savage acts against police and others are likely to be rationalized and tolerated":

Obama and his attorney general have joined the administration at the hip with notorious demagogue Al Sharpton. Together with like-minded radicals like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, they promote a lethally dangerous smear that police lack human regard for the lives of black Americans.

This has not only divided our society -- and Obama, like Sharpton, divides us out of the most shameful of political calculations. It has further signaled to a violent fringe Obama well knows is out there that savage acts against police and others are likely to be rationalized and tolerated -- and, indeed, that violent acts short of murder will be ignored or sugar-coated as "peaceful protest."

And now, two police officers have been murdered because they were sitting in their squad car wearing their uniforms -- by a violent criminal who was clearly animated by the racially-charged, rabidly anti-police atmosphere Obama, Sharpton & Co. have promoted. [National Review Online, 12/21/14]

President Obama And Mayor De Blasio Both Condemned Violence Against Police Before The NYPD Murders

De Blasio: Protest Organizers "Must Denounce Violence ... You Cannot Talk About Social Change And Then Commit An Act Of Violence Against A Police Officer." On December 17, Mayor de Blasio stated that protesters "absolutely... must denounce violence" if they hope to achieve progress in police-community relations. His statements strongly condemning violence against police were made in response to reports that two NYPD officers had been injured days before as thousands of protesters clogged the Brooklyn Bridge:

DE BLASIO: You cannot talk about social change and then commit an act of violence against a police officer. It makes no sense. It denigrates the cause. It undermines the legitimacy. It's illegal, it's wrong, it's immoral. [Capital New York, 12/17/14]

De Blasio: "We Cannot Accept Violence Against Our Police Officers." During a December 19 press conference after a meeting with community activist group Justice League NYC, New York mayor Bill de Blasio stressed the importance of peaceful organization "to bring [the] police and [the] community together" in the wake of several isolated acts of violence against police during city-wide demonstrations the weekend prior:

DE BLASIO: This is what our democracy respects. This is what our democracy allows for, is people to make their voices heard peacefully, in an organized way - and that's what this group and others have been doing. I made very clear that we cannot accept any violence against our police officers or against anyone. And they were very quick to affirm that they were appalled equally by the events on Saturday night. They find it unacceptable and they will work with the police to identify anyone who seeks to harm the police or harm anyone and undermine their non-violent peaceful progressive movement. [Office of the Mayor, 12/19/14 emphasis added]

President Obama's Response To Nov. 24 Michael Brown Grand Jury Decision: "There's Never An Excuse For Violence." During a November 24 press conference called in response to a St. Louis County grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer responsible for the death of Michael Brown, President Obama acknowledged that minority communities do face real problems with law enforcement, but made clear that "there's never an excuse for violence":

OBAMA: I also appeal to the law enforcement officials in Ferguson and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur. Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They've got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law. As they do their jobs in the coming days, they need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish the handful of people who may use the grand jury's decision as an excuse for violence


Those of you who are watching tonight understand that there's never an excuse for violence, particularly when there are a lot of people in goodwill out there who are willing to work on these issues. [White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 11/24/14]

President Obama Condemned Violence That Followed Grand Jury Decision. On November 25, President Obama condemned "criminal" violence that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case. The president condemned "burning buildings, torching cars, destroying property" and "putting people at risk" as inexcusable "criminal acts." [Agence-France Presse, 11/25/14]

00:53 Seals May Have 'Natural GPS'» LiveScience.com
Are seals using the Earth's magnetism to orient themselves under the ice?
00:39 Most Interesting Science News Articles of the Week» LiveScience.com
A million mummies in one cemetery and the chemistry of Christmas cookies, just a few of the cool stories we've found in Science this week.

Sat 20 December, 2014

22:00 Sunday Talk» Daily Kos
Meet The Press: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Others TBD.

Face The Nation: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC); Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Jeffrey Goldberg (The Atlantic).

This Week: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Roundtable: Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), Bill Kristol (Weekly Standard), Republican Strategist Ana Navarro and Cokie Roberts (ABC News).

Fox News Sunday: Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI); Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)'; Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD); Roundtable: George Will (Washington Post), Judy Woodruff (PBS), Sociopath Liz Cheney and Juan Williams (Fox News).

State of the Union: President Barack Obama; Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

21:55 How Wise is the Woolly Bear Caterpillar's Wintry Weather Prediction?» LiveScience.com
Long before satellites and weather models, people looked to nature for clues to predict the upcoming harshness of the coldest, darkest days of the year.
20:55 Police Union President Blames Protesters For Murder Of Two New York City Police Officers» ThinkProgress
20:00 U.S. has a record wealth gap between middle- and high-income families» Daily Kos
Man holding big piggybank, woman holding small piggybank
Income inequality in the United States is sky-high, but it's not just income inequality. Wealth inequality—the difference between the assets (after debts are excluded) that people have—is also at record levels:
Wealth gap between upper- and middle-income households at record high. Upper-income median net worth is currently 6.6 times greater than that of middle-income households.
The Pew Research Center categorizes middle-income families as having between two-thirds and twice the median income, adjusted for household size, while upper-income families have more than twice the median income.
The median wealth among upper-income families increased from $595,300 in 2010 to $639,400 in 2013 (all dollar amounts in 2013 dollars). The typical wealth of middle-income families was basically unchanged in 2013 — it remained at about $96,500 over the same period.

As a result, the estimated wealth gap between upper-income and middle-income families has increased during the recovery. In 2010, the median wealth of upper-income families was 6.2 times the median wealth of middle-income families. By 2013, that wealth ratio grew to 6.6.

Wealth is what ends up getting passed down to your kids, making it more likely that they will be able to accumulate wealth themselves. This record inequality, in other words, matters.
19:36 Two NYPD Officers Murdered in Brooklyn Before Gunman Shoots Himself» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the gunman's Instagram postings were “very anti-police” and were being investigated.

Two New York City police officers were shot and killed on Saturday afternoon, as they sat in their patrol car in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn.

In a Saturday evening press conference at Woodhull medical center in the borough, NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton, his voice cracking with emotion, named the two officers killed as Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

Bratton and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio both said the officers had been killed “execution style” and described their deaths as an “assassination”.

“There is no more emotional time for a police officer,” said Bratton. “A death of this nature, an assassination, it’s unlike any other type of emotion. It’s hard to deal with.”

Bratton named the gunman as Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, who he said had shot and wounded a woman believed to have been his girlfriend at 5.46am in Baltimore County, Maryland. Police in Baltimore County had sent a warning fax about Brinsley to the NYPD, based on information from the victim’s Instagram account, Bratton said. Tragically, he added, the warning came too late.

“Officer Ramos and Officer Liu never had time to draw their weapons,” Bratton said. “They may have also never had time to see their assailant.”

When they were ambushed, shortly before 3pm, Liu and Ramos were parked in a marked patrol car near the Tompkins Houses public development. The two officers were rushed to Woodhull hospital but, Bratton said: “Despite every effort to save their lies, both officers tragically succumbed.”

Liu had been a policeman for seven years, and Ramos almost three years.

“Our city is in mourning,” said de Blasio. “Our hearts are heavy. We lost two good men who devoted their lives to protect the city they loved. Our hearts go out to their families to their comrades in arms at the 84th precinct, to the family of the NYPD.”

De Blasio said he had met the families of the two officers immediately prior to the press conference, including the woman Officer Liu had recently married, and Officer Ramos’s 13-year-old son.

Bratton said that after the shooting Brinsley fled into the Myrtle-Willoughby G-train station, where, on the westbound platform, he shot himself before officers could reach him. He died from a gunshot wound to the head. A weapon was recovered at the scene. Subway service was partially suspended and police blocked off the streets where the shooting occurred.

Bratton said Brinsley’s Instagram postings, which he said were “very anti-police”, were being investigated. He denied, however, that the shootings were an act of terrorism.

“When a police officer is murdered,” de Blasio said, “it is an attack on all of us, and everything we hold dear.”

Relations between the NYPD and citizens have been tense following the death of a civilian, Eric Garner, who was put in an illegal chokehold by an officer. Last month, a grand jury voted not to indict the officer, sparking protests in the city against police violence in that and other incidents. In November, city police fatally shot Akai Gurley, an unarmed black 28-year-old who was walking down a stairwell.

De Blasio has attracted criticism from police over remarks about NYPD attitudes to people of colour, made in reference to such protests. On Saturday evening the Sergeants Benevolent Association, which comprises around 12,000 active and retired NYPD sergeants, posted to its Twitter feed: “The blood of 2 executed police officers is on the hands of Mayor de Blasio. May God bless their families and may they rest in peace.”

Local news television also showed police appearing to turn their backs on the mayor.

Questioned at the press conference about such tensions, de Blasio said: “I think this is a time to think about these [officers’] families. It’s not a time for politics or political analysis.”

Earlier on Saturday, in response to widespread speculation about the gunman’s motives, the civil rights campaigner the Reverend Al Sharpton said: “I have spoken to the Garner family and we are outraged by the early reports of the police killed in Brooklyn today.

“The Garner family and I have always stressed that we do not believe that all police are bad, in fact we have stressed that most police are not bad.”

Later the US justice secretary, Eric Holder, condemned what he called an “unspeakable act of barbarism”.

“This cowardly attack underscores the dangers that are routinely faced by those who protect and serve their fellow citizens,” Holder said. “As a nation we must not forget this as we discuss the events of the recent past.

“These courageous men and women routinely incur tremendous personal risks, and place their lives on the line each and every day, in order to preserve public safety. We are forever in their debt.”

The last NYPD officer fatally shot on duty was Peter J Figoski, who was killed in December 2011.

The governor of New York state, Andrew Cuomo, said in a statement: “This deplorable act of violence is the opposite of what New York is and what New Yorkers believe in.”

The New York City public advocate, Letitia James, said: “Today, the entire city mourns with the NYPD.”



Related Stories

18:33 Anonymous Threatens to Release Sex Tape Pics of Rapper Iggy Azalea Over Remarks» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
The hacktivist group called Azalea a "trashy bitch" for her attack on fellow rapper Azealia Banks.

Members of the hacktivist group Anonymous have threatened to release still photos from a reported sex tape made by white rapper Iggy Azalea unless the performer apologizes for recent remarks.

Jezebel reported that Anonymous is angry that Azalea — a blond, blue-eyed former Wilhelmina model who achieved chart success over the summer with the song “Fancy” — has attacked fellow rapper Azealia Banks in an ongoing online feud and made disparaging remarks about demonstrators across the U.S. who are protesting police brutality against African-Americans.

Azealia Banks is a black rapper from New York City who got her start releasing songs through MySpace in 2008. She gained a cult following and was poised, it appeared, for widespread mainstream success when a series of contentious feuds with other artists and journalists seemed to largely derail her ascent.

Earlier this year, Banks focused her ire on the Australian-born Azalea, attacking her on Twitter and accusing her of cultural appropriation and of putting an acceptable white face on a largely black art form.

“I just really want to know what your fascination with Black women is,” Banks tweeted at Azalea. “Why do you want to act like us? I need to know… Why do you imitate us in such a way that i feel like you are actually making fun of us? Why?”

Azalea responded by calling Banks a racist and “a miserable person.”

Anonymous stepped in on Saturday, posting a series of tweets chastising Azalea and demanding that she apologize to Banks and to the protesters demonstrating across the country.

They followed it with:

When the group began to get pushback from women, it tweeted:

Finally, the group leveled a threat against the Australian rapper:

Jezebel’s Isha Aran wrote, “Iggy’s ignorant as f*ck and a problematic figure in our current pop culture, but just because Azalea has leeched her style and persona off black culture does not give anyone the right to release any part of her sex tape.” “Even if her career is ruined, Iggy is a symptom of a much bigger problem in the music industry and our culture at large,” Aran said. “This whole thing will only make race relations and police brutality in the U.S. a spectacle, not the process it needs to be.” UPDATE: Anonymous has reaffirmed that they will not be releasing the video tape:


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18:23 My Night at the Cuddle Party» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
After seven years without a date, I was desperate to be touched. Desperate enough for weirdness like this.

It had been 10 years since I walked away from the seminary; seven since I’d had a date. I was 33, and had moved to New York only six months before. I read about a Cuddle Party in Hell’s Kitchen and I figured it would be a sideshow, but maybe a safe way to get back in action. I found the posting on Craigslist.


I copied the information, closed my laptop, showered and flossed in my Brooklyn studio sublet. Then I headed to the address where the party was to take place. I was excited, but I might have been delusional from not having been touched in so long.

“Welcome to Cuddle Party. I’m Harry,” said the man who opened the door. He was in his late fifties with a fading hairline, and wearing shiny blue silk pajamas with white piping, like Hugh Hefner. His voice was slow and creamy. Harry took me in his arms, swaying me back and forth, then whispered in my ear, “thirty bucks.”

I started feeling around his waist to see if he had anything on him, handcuffs, a gun or wireless mic. I actually hoped I was getting involved in something tawdry. I wanted  to be bad. Whenever I’d tried, I’d failed miserably. Harry didn’t have anything on him, but I couldn’t stop rubbing, I loved the feeling of his pajamas.

The “Center” was a basic two-bedroom apartment with a large living room. There was crown molding, a fireplace, dusty ferns everywhere and a sloping, worn-down hardwood floor covered with blankets. Ten people, split evenly between men and women, mostly in their forties, sat around a guy in front of the fireplace. Everyone looked very nice and very pathetic, which is par for the course when a group of single strangers hang out out in their pajamas. I’d mistakenly worn a two-button charcoal gray suit, trying to make a good impression.

I scanned their faces. I was worried nobody would want to be with me. I checked to see if anyone was looking my way. I didn’t know if it was because I was late or because of my attire, but they were all staring at me.

“I’m Jonathon,” I said and waved. They waved back.

“Thank you, Jonathon,” the man in the center said. “Welcome. I’m Reid.”

Reid sat, legs crossed, in front of the fireplace. He had shoulder-length blonde hair and strawberry lollipop lips. His pajama pants were dotted with little Garfield heads and his T-shirt read “Got your snuggle on?”

Reid was a relationship coach and lecturer who traveled the country giving workshops on sex. As I found a seat against the wall, out of the circle, he told us how he and a friend started these parties to create a safe environment for people to explore consensual, non-sexual touch, to learn limits and find their boundaries. Then he got down to business. The party would last for about three hours. The only rules were:

You don’t have to cuddle if you don’t want to.

No sex.


“We always start with an icebreaker,” Reid said, rubbing his hands together like he was rolling meat into a ball. “You’re back in college. You’ve been hitting the keg hard. The night’s coming to an end. What’d you do?”

“Everybody,” said Harry. Everyone laughed.

From going for milkshakes to buying lottery tickets, no one had the right response. Reid, frustrated, took a deep breath.

“After a night spent getting bombed, tanked, whatever you want to call it, you go cow tipping. OK?” he said, exasperated.

“Oh, yeah,” everyone agreed.

Reid asked us to get on all fours and start crawling around like cows. I loosened my tie and got down.

“Now say hi to the other cows you encounter with a hearty moo,” he said.

Religious people love icebreakers and Catholics have a long tradition with the genre. In preparing for the seminary, I’d been to enough retreats that I felt I’d mastered the art of the forced introduction. Yet the prospect of this one had me worried my desperation to be with someone had pushed me into an afternoon I was already regretting.

I looked around. Each person got into the face of whomever they crawled up on and belted out a moo.

“Moo… moo… moo.” The words echoed through the room. Each moo I heard made my heart close up a bit more. Whatever I had envisioned as a new understanding, I now saw as despair. How did I let myself get to this point?


I grew up in a poor Italian family in Chicago with my mom and three older brothers. We never learned about handshakes. In our house we hugged other people – for everything. Hugs were meant to be tight, last longer than it takes to fry up a neck bone, and leave an impression. When my brother’s actor friend Mandy came over, my mom always hugged her. “That hug took all the pain of my childhood away,” Mandy once said.

She was stoned, as were most of my brother’s friends, but I got the point. Human touch was important. It’d be nice to say I was lost when it came to intimacy, but that would imply I had a destination.

“Now pretend like you’ve been tipped and fall to the floor.”

We all fell on our sides at once.

“Isn’t this a great way to get to know someone? Okay. Cuddle time! Also, the snack bar is now open,” Reid said.

This was worse than trying to meet somebody at a bar. At least there you’re not forced to talk to anybody while pretending to be a cow.

A woman moved close to me. She had caramel hair pulled back in a bun, an adorable face and a sizable body.

“I’m Sue. Would you like to cuddle?” she asked.

I froze. What the hell was I doing? My emotional well-being aside, there was the sheer physicality of it all. Sue had at least four inches on me and weighed, I guessed, 250. I was 150 on a good day. How would it work?

“Jonathon?” she said again, tapping my shoulder. “Don’t you want to cuddle?”

My fear was overcome by the possibility of what might happen, of what I might find out. I had never been with someone so much larger than I was.

“I’d love to,” I said. Before I could strategize, she started rolling toward me. As she did this, I felt myself rolling away. Sue kept rolling toward me until I was pinned against the wall.

“You have nothing to worry about. You’re going to love it,” she said, taking her arms and grabbing my torso. “Roll over.”

Her touch frightened me and I elbowed her in the stomach. She had momentum and pressed on, maneuvering me so my back was to her chest. Then she pulled me in close, wrapped her right arm over my shoulder, startling me again as I swatted it away.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “It’s just, I’ve never done this.”

“Don’t worry,” she said and stuck her left arm under my head and gave me a squeeze.

As I settled in, I felt her soft breath against my ear. “I remember my first time. It was a Bon Jovi concert. I was standing next to this beautiful man. I don’t know how or why, but we locked eyes and he asked ‘what’s wrong?’ There was something about him because I just opened up. I told him men don’t understand me. He said, ‘Honey, I understand you. We speak the same language.’ Then he took me in his arms and said ‘You  need a cuddle.’ He held me right there in the middle of the concert. I’ll never forget it. They were playing ‘You Give Love A Bad Name.’ I’ve been cuddling ever since.”

For a moment we lay there in silence. Then her lips touched my neck and she started talking again.

“You know he sees himself as the Martin Luther of sex,” she said.

“Who?” I asked.

“Reid,” she said.

“Martin Luther?” I asked.

“Yes. The Martin Luther King, Jr. of sexual rights.”

Cuddling was exhausting.

“This was a treat, Jonathon,” Sue said, caressing my arm. “Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.”

We stood and hugged each other goodbye. I didn’t want to let go. She immediately went to cuddle with someone else. I went to the snack table and got some pomegranate juice.

A man eating a cookie introduced himself as Tom. He had a British accent and was wearing flannel pajamas.

“Are you into tantra?” he asked.

“Tantric sex?” I asked.



“Why don’t you come to a demonstration here?”

“Of tantric sex?”


“Is it like an exhibition?”

“More like a sample station at the supermarket.”

“To give people a taste?”

“Yes, but we don’t give anything away. It’s just a showing.”

“So an exhibition.”


“Where do you set up the station?”

“In the front of the room.”

“With the ferns?”


“On what?”

“A table.”

“Like a folding table?”

“No, it’s a massage table.”

“So there’s padding?”


Tom excused himself to go to the bathroom. In the corner by the window, I spotted a woman in her late twenties with thick, dark hair, who, for whatever reason, I hadn’t noticed before. I got on the floor next to her. We smiled at each other. She turned on her side and pushed her back into my chest, and I put my arms around her without saying anything. 

Her hair was the color of soy sauce and smelled like Febreze. I couldn’t stop sniffing. She started rubbing my thigh. The touch startled me and I pushed her hand away. I apologized.

“This is my first time,” I said, talking into the nape of her neck. “You can touch me wherever you want.”

As soon as the words came out I realized how stupid I sounded.

“Have you done this before?” I asked.

“Every chance I get,” she said. “It helps me get through the hard times.”

“Are you dealing with something difficult right now?” I asked.

“The last party I cuddled all the pain of Rwanda away,” she said.

“I’m so sorry. Were you involved with Rwanda?” I asked, tightening my embrace.

“No, but it hurt and this really helped.”

Shortly after, we got up.

“This just takes time,” she reassured me, giving me a hug.

“You’re a great hugger,” she told me.

“Thank you,” I said.

On my way out, Reid thanked me for coming and let me know he was in the process of developing some new projects – I was welcome to come back when they were finished.

“What kind of projects?” I asked.

“There’s a lot of issues on my mind but right now I’m really concerned with dildos.”

“Dildos?” I asked.

“Yes. They’re holding women back and I’m determined to stop it.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“Workshop. I’m gonna workshop the shit out of dildos and then I’m gonna go after threesomes. I swear to God, if it’s the last thing I do, I will workshop the shit out of threesomes. Believe me.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” I said. I thanked him and walked out the door.

On the way home I stopped at a coffee shop. I ordered a mocha, proud of myself.

I had done something about my life and that was enough for now.



Related Stories

18:11 Two NYC Police Officers Assassinated ‘Execution Style’» ThinkProgress

Fighting back tears, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio described the murders as "an assassination" that were carried out in "execution style."

The post Two NYC Police Officers Assassinated ‘Execution Style’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

17:57 New York Police Officers Shot and Killed in Brooklyn» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Local media said the shooter boasted just hours before the attack that he would kill police officers.

New York (AFP) - Two New York police officers were shot dead in broad daylight Saturday as they sat in a patrol car by an assailant who then killed himself, officials and reports said.

The shootings, just days before Christmas, follow weeks of protests condemning a series of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers and decisions by grand juries not to prosecute those responsible.

The two officers were shot at 2:50 pm (1950 GMT) at the corner of Myrtle and Tompkins avenues in Brooklyn's gentrifying neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, police spokesman Sergeant Lee Jones told AFP.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and police commissioner Bill Bratton were due to later hold a press conference at Brooklyn's Woodhull Hospital, where local media reported that the two officers died.

Police reserved further official comment until then.

But various city police precincts wrote messages on Twitter saying that the two officers had died, offering condolences and prayers for their fallen colleagues.

"My thoughts are with the families of the NYPD officers shot in the line of duty, in an act of horrific violence," wrote New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "We all mourn this tragedy."

The two officers were shot dead while sitting in their patrol car, local media reported. The assailant fled on foot before shooting himself in the head in a subway station. He was later pronounced dead.

"People are pretty shaken up," eyewitness Mike Isaacs told CNN.

"The mood is pretty freaked out, you know, a few people were saying it could be anyone."

- Social media boast -

New York Daily News named the attacker as 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, purportedly a gang member from Baltimore who first shot and wounded his girlfriend there before driving to Brooklyn.

Local media said the shooter boasted on his purported Instagram account just hours before the attack that he would kill police officers.

"They Take 1 Of Ours... Let's Take 2 of Theirs," read a comment next to a photo of a silver handgun, referencing the deaths at the hands of police of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Garner, an unarmed father of six, died after police held him in a chokehold while he was being arrested for selling illegal cigarettes in New York last July.

Brown, an 18-year-old in the Ferguson suburb of St Louis, Missouri, was shot dead by a police officer in August, sparking months of protests.

Grand jury decisions not to indict either white officer responsible triggered mass protests in New York and other US cities.

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who has used Garner and Brown's deaths to campaign for sweeping police reform, said he was outraged by Saturday's killings.

He said his National Action Network saw non-violence as the only way to fight for justice.

- 'Point-blank range' -

"An eye for an (eye) leaves the whole world blind. We all at NAN express our prayers and condolences to the families of the 2 NYC officers," he wrote on Twitter.

The New York Post said the officers were shot at point-blank range as they wore their uniforms and sat in their marked police car while working overtime as part of a counterterrorism drill.

"I heard shooting -- four or five shots," Derrick McKie, 49, told the Post. "It sounded like from a single gun," he said.

"I seen them putting the cop in the ambulance. He looked messed up," added McKie, a barber. "He took a high-caliber weapon to the face. He was lifeless.

Widespread dissatisfaction in relations between police and blacks have been inflamed not just by the Brown and Garner deaths.

Last month, a rookie police officer fatally shot Akai Gurley, an unarmed 28-year-old black man, in the stairwell of a Brooklyn apartment building.

A 12-year-old black boy holding a toy gun was also shot dead by police officers in a playground in Ohio in November.

"It's been sort of strange around here. Pretty tense since the protests have been occurring in New York City," said Isaacs, the witness.

"And so, you know, everyone's pretty shaken up and just trying to figure out what happened."




Related Stories

16:00 Open thread: Cuba, torture and zombies» Daily Kos

What's coming up on Sunday Kos ...

  • Ignoring torture here at home, by Denise Oliver Velez
  • We are no better than our enemies, by Mark E Andersen
  • You won't believe what happens in a manual recount, by Dante Atkins
  • It's time to end America's global isolation over Cuba, by Jon Perr
  • 50 years of other foreign policy failures, brought to you by a willfully ignorant media, by Egberto Willies
  • When the war on women meets the war on drugs, by Susan Grigsby
  • 2014 candidates versus the expectations game, by David Jarman
  • Happy days are here again, by Ian Reifowitz
  • Living in the zombie apocalypse, by Mark Sumner
14:00 Spotlight on green news & views: No fracking around in NY, Lima talks, chemical spill execs indicted» Daily Kos
mountain  1
Mount Baker. See OceanDiver's post.
Many environmentally related posts appearing at Daily Kos each week don't attract the attention they deserve. To help get more eyeballs, Spotlight on Green News & Views (previously known as the Green Diary Rescue) normally appears twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The most recent Saturday Spotlight can be seen here. More than 20,350 environmentally oriented diaries have been rescued for inclusion in this weekly collection since 2006. Inclusion of a diary in the Spotlight does not necessarily indicate my agreement with or endorsement of it.

[As we are on our vacation schedule, the Green Spotlight is only being posted on Saturdays for today, Dec. 27 and Jan. 3.]

How Some Really Smart NYS Fracktivists Beat Cuomo and Won the Fracking war—by lipris: "Something amazing happened in Albany today, something very few people thought possible just a few months ago. New York State will indefinitely extend it's moratorium and essentially ban fracking. We aren't kicking the can down the road for more studies. We're basically banning the process outright. That's a huge victory for many thousands of anti-fracking 'fracktivists' who have been fighting hard and smart, against really long odds, for years now. Here's how they did it. It wasn't that long ago, say 2007 or so, when fracking was an issue that wasn't really on anyone's radar, though there was enough concern for the state to place a moratorium on the practice in 2008. That began to change with the release of Josh Fox's 'Gasland' documentary in 2010. That film brought the issue into focus for many people across the country and especially here in New York. That footage of tap water catching fire opened many, many eyes to what was at stake and one could sense a movement beginning to build not long after the film's release."
green dots
Predators—by Desert Scientist: "I am not by nature a person who marches or demonstrates, but even my introverted personality can be inspired occasionally to take action.  So I found myself twice taking part in demonstrations supporting the Mexican wolf and its expanded reintroduction to the arid Southwest. At the public comment session organized by the Fish and Wildlife Service in New Mexico I found myself among the first to speak. Most of the speakers supported the Mexican wolf and I, like them, testified to the importance of expanding the program so that the wolves would have more territory. Then I listened as several people got up and stated flatly that even the few wolves that now exist in the Upper Gila are a danger to both livestock and human children. One man implied that the very idea of wolves had terrified the younger set along the Gila so much that they were afraid to wait for a school bus and that one town had erected cages so that the children could wait inside and be safe until the bus came. They had heard of Red Riding Hood and did not want to be eaten. This despite there being no records that anyone could point to of a non-rabid Mexican wolf ever attacking a human! On the stock predation they were on more solid ground, but then one
Great Horned Owl
rancher spoke in favor of the expanded introduction, saying that she could manage her stock to minimize losses. […]  Wild canids, such as foxes, coyotes and wolves are also not liked much in certain quarters. In my neighborhood we have occasional sightings of gray foxes, the most recent of which allowed me to get some closeup photos of both the mother and her kits. I have always liked the old folksong 'The Fox,' which starts out 'The Fox went out on the chilly night. Prayed for the moon to give him light….' It seems to embody the spirit of the wild."
green dots
Does your iPhone have an impact beyond the energy used to recharge it?—by citisven: "One of my beloved British pals proudly sent me a link to this encouraging news about UK energy use. New analysis of government statistics for BBC News shows that the average person in the UK is using 10% less electricity than five years ago. That is despite the boom in large TVs, computers, smartphones and tablets. I don't want to be the energy Grinch, but this sentence…'despite the boom in large TVs, computers, smartphones and tablets' begs another question. Namely, how much energy is used to manufacture all those new and frequently replaced devices Brits (and the rest of us in wealthy consumer nations) are enjoying? This is one of the key issues in (global) energy and greenhouse gas accounting, and one that once again almost tripped up the recent UN climate change negotiation process. Developed countries like the US, UK, EU, or Australia point to exactly the kind of energy savings mentioned in the article as a reason why they are doing their part, while developing nations insist they should be graded on a larger scale that also includes manufacturing & shipping footprints, as well as rich nations' historic burning of fossil fuels that made them wealthy enough in the first place to now invest in renewable energy grids."
green dots
It’s Raining in California – Is the Drought Finally Over?—by liberaldad2: "Ordinarily, a blog about the weather would be boring and inappropriate for DKos. However water is a political issue in California for 2 reasons. First is the history of water rights and the tactics used by the Metropolitan Water District to bring water to LA, which rankles many around the state and the West, but is not the subject of this diary. Second the extreme drought/deluge pattern we have been observing here may or may not be related to global warming and climate change, depending on who you ask. It’s been raining in Los Angeles this month. A lot. Through December 15, there have been 3 days with measurable rainfall, and 2 of them broke records at LAX (Dec 2 and 12). (Update: it is raining today, even as I write this—more good news.) Other parts of California have also seen similar weather patterns, with rainfall records broken in many places. For instance, Palmdale airport saw 1.18 inches on December 2, which shattered the previous record of 0.46 inches for that date. So, does that mean our 100 year drought is over? Well, not actually, but at least the news is good for a change."

You can find more rescued green diaries below the orange garden layout.

13:41 How Fear Of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross' Sandy Relief Effort» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.

In the days after Superstorm Sandy, relief organizations were overwhelmed by the chaos and enormous need. One group quickly emerged as a bright spot. While victims in New York's hardest hit neighborhoods were stuck in the cold and dark, volunteers from the spontaneously formed Occupy Sandy became a widely praised lifeline.  

Occupy Sandy was "one of the leading humanitarian groups providing relief to survivors across New York City and New Jersey," as a government-commissioned study put it. 

Yet the Red Cross, which was bungling its own aid efforts after the storm, made a decision that further hampered relief: Senior officials told staffers not to work with Occupy Sandy.

Red Cross officials had no concerns about Occupy Sandy's effectiveness. Rather, they were worried about the group's connections to the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.

Three Red Cross responders told ProPublica there was a ban. "We were told not to interact with Occupy," says one. While the Red Cross often didn't know where to send food, Occupy Sandy "had what we didn't: minute-by-minute information," another volunteer says.

The three spoke to ProPublica on the condition of anonymity because they continue to work with the Red Cross. One says the direction came from an official based in Red Cross headquarters in Washington. Another understood the direction came from Washington. A third was not sure who gave the instructions.

The government-sponsored study that praised Occupy Sandy 2013 written in 2013 for the Department of Homeland Security 2013 also cites a prohibition: A Red Cross chief of volunteer coordination recalledthat "he was told not to work with Occupy Sandy because of the affiliation with [Occupy Wall Street]," the study says.  

Fred Leahy, a veteran Red Cross responder who was a Community Partnerships Manager in Sandy's aftermath, recalled a meeting a week after the storm in which he and two other officials, one from Washington, discussed "the political and donor ramifications of associating with Occupy Sandy due to its outgrowth from Occupy Wall Street." He says the meeting was called after an inquiry from Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern.  

"Occupy Wall Street was not very favorably received by the political people in the city," Leahy says. Major Red Cross donors were from the same elite political circles "and they didn't understand Occupy Wall Street."

Red Cross responders says that many staffers and volunteers objected to the charity's stance on Occupy Sandy because among the Red Cross' fundamental principles is that aid must be delivered without regard to politics or ideology. "We are a neutral, humanitarian organization," one staffer says. "We don't take sides."

Leahy says Red Cross officials decided at the meeting to wait for Occupy Sandy representatives to come to them, rather than to approach the group. When a subordinate inquired about working with Occupy, Leahy says he told the person: "We really don't need to worry about them at this time. Because we've got more important concerns at the moment."

Nevertheless, Leahy denied there was a explicit injunction not to work with Occupy Sandy.

The Red Cross said in a statement that "there was never at any time a policy prohibiting Red Cross staff or volunteers from working with Occupy Sandy."

"We linked them with partners," the charity wrote. "We provided them with meals and other supplies 2013 to the point of providing them with an entire warehouse full of material in March 2013."

But Occupy Sandy organizers interviewed by ProPublica say the Red Cross did not take their calls in the early days and weeks after the storm hit in October 2012. Nathan Kleinman, an Occupy Sandy organizer, recalls a Red Cross employee telling him that "they couldn't be seen working with us." He says some Red Cross responders attempted to help Occupy behind the scenes with advice and occasionally supplies.

"I have no doubt we could have had a much more productive relationship with the Red Cross if they'd been willing to associate themselves with us out in the open," Kleinman says. "I have no doubt their failure to look past politics hurt the overall recovery."

Workers inside the Red Cross' Manhattan headquarters say they were furious with the delay, which hampered the ability to provide aid.

Indeed, some Red Cross responders were so troubled, they tried to work with people from Occupy covertly. They say they maintained a spreadsheet of Occupy contacts separate from the other contact lists to hide from senior Red Cross officials that they were working with the group.

Contemporaneous Occupy Sandy meeting minutes show some examples of fruitful cooperation. An Occupy Sandy volunteer described the Red Cross as being "our lifeline in terms of hot meals."

The minutes also record an incident in which two Red Cross employees showed up at an Occupy site in Brooklyn "asking if we could send them volunteers 2013 and their stipulations for that: they couldn't wear any Occupy stuff." Those conditions were rejected.

The Red Cross responders who say there was a clear ban on working with Occupy differ on how long it was in place. One person says the policy was rescinded in a matter of days, but that it took weeks to communicate to all the corners of the Red Cross relief effort.

A third Red Cross worker says that the policy was still in place in December, more than a month into the relief effort.

Read about how the Red Cross botched key elements of its mission after Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac in PR Over People: The Red Cross' Secret Disaster. And about how the Red Cross' CEO has been serially misleading about where donors' dollars are going.

Can you help us with our Red Cross reporting? Learn how to share a tip or email justin@propublica.org.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.




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13:17 7 Demented Right-Wing Moments This Week: Fox Wants a Royalty Check From Colbert?» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
And Antonin Scalia explains his stunning torture logic.

1. Antonin Scalia: Torturing convicts is a no-go, but torturing suspects is A-OK.

Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia was asked this week by the BBC about the CIA’s fully exposed use of torture in the years after the 9/11 attacks, and he found, shall we say, some rather interesting hairs to split.

“We have laws against torture,” Scalia said. (Whew.) But then he added, “The Constitution says nothing whatever about torture. It speaks of punishment; ‘cruel and unusual’ punishments are forbidden.”

“So torture is forbidden, in that case?” his interlocutor asked.

“If it’s imposed as a punishment, yes,” Scalia responded. “If you condemn someone who has committed a crime to be tortured, that would be unconstitutional.”

OK, good. But notice how it seems to leave a bit of an opening for torture. That’s not a mistake. When Scalia is asked about torture as a tool for interrogation, his tune changes: “We have never held that that’s contrary to the Constitution. And I don’t know what provision of the Constitution that would contravene.”

Uh oh.

“Listen, I think it is very facile for people to say, ‘Oh, torture is terrible.’ You posit the situation where a person that you know for sure knows the location of a nuclear bomb that has been planted in Los Angeles and will kill millions of people. You think it’s an easy question? You think it’s clear that you cannot use extreme measures to get that information out of that person? I don’t think that’s so clear at all.

“And once again, it’s this sort of self-righteousness of European liberals who answer that question so readily and so easily. It’s not that easy a question.”

There you have it, you European liberals always unreasonably saying never to torture people. It's fine to torture some people, sometimes. Just not convicts.

2. Fox Newsian: No fair. Colbert got rich off of our idiocy.

A shocking outbreak of truthiness and Christmas spirit occurred on Fox News on Friday. The Five gang was sitting around acknowledging that Colbert’s finale was pretty darn impressive. Among the things they marveled at was Henry Kissinger’s presence on the show and Kareem Abdul Jabar’s height.

“It was an epic send-off,” co-host Eric Bolling said amongst the sparkling commentary, “one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

“Very fun,” former Bush administration press officer Dana Perino agreed. “I thought it would have been great to have Bill O’Reilly on there.”

Yes, Papa Bear was sorely missed. Then again, he is probably licking his wounds over all the blows Colbert has landed over the years.

“It was fine,” said Greg Gutfeld. “But he should really write an eight-figure check to Fox News because all of our gaffes made that man’s career.”

Yupp. He said that. Interesting that he calls them “gaffes.” Guess that’s his word for a relentless, years-long campaign of hate-spewing, truth-distorting bile, racism, spiteful misinformation, victim-blaming, and anti-intellectualism that has done real and lasting damage to actual people and set the country back a few decades and deepened its divisions.

3. Ann Coulter: Women who are raped just want attention.

Ann Coulter says she does not know anyone who has been raped. Odd, isn’t it. You’d think she’d be the warm and fuzzy female friend many a woman would turn to after a traumatizing event. Last week, the conservative radio personality appeared on the Lars Larson Show and asserted that the whole campus rape thing is an invented problem, and the Rolling Stone story proves it.

“People know what rape is,” she said, “and to have girls trying to get attention, from Lena Dunham to this poor psychotic at UVA, Lady Gaga claiming she was raped but she didn’t admit it to herself for five years. What major crime do people say, ‘I didn’t admit it to myself?'"

Coulter is shocked, shocked I tell you, at this appalling fraud. “There are a few, very few,  percentage of actual rapists, and as I said on Hannity, but his idiot producer cut it, they’re usually Clintons or Kennedys.”

And a very merry Christmas to you, too, Ann.

4. Fox Business Newsian: Elizabeth Warren is the devil.

Melissa Francis needs to get a grip. The Faux Business host promised that Wall Street will devote all of its resources to defeat its arch nemesis Elizabeth Warren should the reform-minded Massachusetts senator decide to run for president. They will do this, Francis says, because bankers and traders believe Warren is “actually the devil.” Yes, actually. And she agrees with those bankers and traders. “I mean, without question, Elizabeth Warren is the devil,” she said.

It was all part of a very elevated discussion of 2016 presidential politics on Tuesday’s edition of Out Numbered, with America-is-awesome-even-though-it-tortures-people host Andrea Tantaros. This brain scientist noted that Hillary Clinton’s delay in announcing her candidacy is fueling Warren supporters.

“I think Elizabeth Warren is going to capitalize on not only her economic populism, but also the social justice aspect,” co-host Kennedy Montgomery said, pointing out that all of the senators who were potential presidential candidates had voted against a recent budget bill that weakened consumer financial protections.

“And she"—meaning she-devil Warren—“really came out smelling like a rose,” Francis said.

You know it’s bad when the devil wears her rose perfume.

5. Missouri GOPer: Women should get men’s permission for abortion.

This whole notion of a Republican war on women is pure poppycock. Amirite? You might have to ask a man because one super-enlightened Missouri legislator does not think women can make decisions about their own bodies.

This marvel of modern-day enlightenment thinking, state representative Rick Brattin, recently proposed a bill that says, “No abortion shall be performed or induced unless and until the father of the unborn child provides written, notarized consent to the abortion.”

There are exceptions for cases or rape and incest, but even those are limited, you know, to legitimate rape, "Just like any rape, you have to report it, and you have to prove it," Brattin tells Mother Jones. “So you couldn’t just go and say, ‘Oh yeah, I was raped’ and get an abortion. It has to be a legitimate rape.”

 Women are always doing that, “Oh yeah, I was raped," thing.

Also, Brattin’s use of the term “legitimate rape” should in no way be confused with former Mo. Rep. Todd Akin's use of the term.

"I’m just saying if there was a legitimate rape, you’re going to make a police report, just as if you were robbed," Brattin says. "That’s just common sense." He hastened to add that “legitimate rape” is the kind of rape you can easily prove. Because you’re either dead or badly beaten.

What’s next, legitimate incest?

6. Gordon Klingenschmitt recommends you pray for your healthcare.

It used to be that you could pretty much laugh off right-wing Christian lunatic Gordon Klingenschmitt’s every utterance. But the hate-spewing former Navy chaplain went and got himself elected to the state legislature in Colorado, giving him an unfortunate mantle of legitimacy.

Well, at least he’s wearing it responsibly. This week he turned his ample intellect to the problem of healthcare and came up with an answer: Jesus.

He was commenting on a Fox News poll (Yeah, so totally on the up-and-up) that showed 58 percent of respondents wanted to repeal Obamacare, reported Right Wing Watch.

“We ought to look to the Lord for our healthcare,” Klingenschmitt said during his PIJN News program.

It’s right there in Exodus, Klingenschmitt pointed out (the Old Testament book, not the Ridley Scott movie, you heathens).

‎‏‎‎‎‎‎‏‎‏‏‏‎‎‎‏‎‎‏‏‎‏‎‎‏‎‏‏‏‏‎‏‏‏‏‎‏‎‎‎‏‎‎‎‎‎‏‏‏‎‏‏‎‏‏‏‎‏‏‏‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‏‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‏‎“He said, ‘If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.’”

“Isn’t that inspiring? I personally prefer to look to almighty God as my healer and not to the government as a substitute god or substitute healer,” Klingenschmitt said.

And then he prayed. No, really.

7. Rick Santorum assures us he has had sex, not that we asked.

Rick Santorum is such a fun guy. He had a wonderful time joshing around about his sex (tee-hee-hee, he said that word!) life in a recent interview with the Daily Caller.

His interviewer said: "If you run [for the White House], lots of people are going to shriek about sex, Christianity and accuse you of being a wild-eyed social conservative. And that’ll shape the willingness of younger voters, urban voters, upper-income voters to pull the lever for you. What are you going to tell these guys?"

Santorum responded: “I’ve spoken on a lot of college campuses and a lot of high schools, and [I've got] seven kids, so obviously sex isn’t a real problem for me….”


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12:47 Cartoon: Animal Nuz #230 - Nuzes Buenas Edition» Daily Kos


12:13 This Week in Religion: Right-Wing Evangelists Eagerly Condone Torture» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Broadcast evangelists say God would approve of American torture techniques.

700 Club host Pat Robertson gave the Republican Party an early Christmas present this week: he has found the replacement for Obamacare they have been looking for. Robertson was asked by a viewer if he thought it would be all right if he decided to stop seeking medical attention, instead making a covenant with God to be his physician. 

Robertson told the ailing man, "There’s some people who think that doctors are God and they really aren’t. You’ve asked God to be your physician so stick with it and say ‘Lord, I’m asking you for it.’”

This is strange advice, especially coming from a man who chose heart surgery in 2009 instead of sticking with prayer, as he suggests. Though taking medical advice from a man who believes you can get AIDS from a hotel towel may not be the best advice.

Dr. God may be more than a medical expert; it seems he is a war strategist as well. Brian Fischer of the American Family Association—which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a hate group—wrote in a recent blog piece that God would condone American torture techniques. Wrote Fischer:

“Students of Scripture are well aware of some of the grisly things done by God’s warriors in the heat of battle. Ehud, for instance, arranged a private meeting with the king of Moab and ran him through the gut with a sword until the king’s fat folded over the hilt of the sword, which Ehud left as a calling card (Judges 3). He was both an assassin and a war hero at the same time.

“The left, if they had enough familiarity with the Bible to even know these stories, likely would be aghast at such behavior and be inclined to throw Ehud and Jael into Gitmo along with throat-cutting Muslims."

Fischer continued to claim that liberals today would try biblical heroes as war criminals. He insists God gives permission for such grisly acts because they are effective, claiming these techniques where not only legal but justified because, “They led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, for instance, and to the apprehension of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks.” A bold claim backed by zero evidence.

And if one religious leader advocating for inhumane treatment was not enough, for the third week in a row a Christian pastor has gone on a hate-filled tirade against homosexuality.

Pastor Donnie Romero, the leader of Stedfast Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, was caught on video telling his congregation: “I’m not gonna let any of these dirty faggots inside my church.” His comment comes a week after he suggested all gays should be “put to death.

Romero went on to conflate homosexuality with pedophilia.

"They are all pedophiles," he said, "They're always trying to rape and hurt other people. They're relentless. They are relentless. They are predators and given an opportunity to snatch one of your children, they would do it in a heartbeat.”

Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, an organization that opposes all marriage equality wrote in his blog that he imagines his daughter could be suspended from school for asking a transgender student to leave the women’s restroom. Brown also wrote that in 10 years, drug use, mass poverty and even the apocalypse could be the ultimate results of marriage equality and the allowance of gender fluidness. Brown continued:

“Kids these days are told that they can choose their own gender. In fact, gender is no longer particularly relevant in the public schools. A few years ago the school district adopted the Ontario, Canada construct of telling students there were six genders, but recently they’ve gone to the Facebook model and teach that there are dozens of genders. What is relevant these days is not gender, but 'gender identity.'"

Brown claims he read a study showing, “that even though marriage has been made available to any number or combination of people regardless of gender, there are fewer marriages taking place. A majority of children are now being born to unwed parents.”

Brown then cited another unnamed study claiming that “teenage drug use, criminality, truancy and suicide were on the rise, while educational attainment is declining. More people are living in poverty than any other time in my life.”

This of course led Brown to the only possible conclusion: “All of this — every bit and more — stems from the failure of our society to preserve marriage in the law and to promote a healthy marriage culture.”

Brown compares gender and marriage equality to the bullying of Christians throughout his piece, worrying that in 10 years Christians will be “shut down” for discrimination if they don’t follow the new rules. He is calling for immediate action from Christians to stop state and federal government laws protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination. This is similar to the Arkansas campaign that was supported by the Duggar family, of the television show, "19 Kids and Counting," to repeal a local ordinance outlawing discrimination against LGBT people.



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11:55 This week in the war on workers: $100 million in grants for the 'other four-year degree'» Daily Kos
Too often "job training" is used by Republicans as an excuse to take government assistance away from people who need it rather than as an investment in good jobs. But there is a right way to do it, as you can see in the video above and in a Department of Labor announcement of $100 million in grants for registered apprenticeship programs. The grants of $2.5 million to $5 million each will expand opportunities for "historically underrepresented populations including women, young men and women of color, people with disabilities, and veterans and transitioning service members."
"An apprenticeship is the 'other 4-year degree'. It is a tried and true job training strategy that offers a reliable path to the middle class, with no debt," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez who announced the grant opportunity during a visit to the Urban Technology Project's Information Technology registered apprenticeship program in Philadelphia. "I encourage everyone to apply for this federal grant so that we can significantly scale apprenticeships opportunities for many more Americans in new industries and occupations."
Continue reading below the fold for more of the week's labor and education news.
11:14 Wow! The Most Amazing Images in Science This Week» LiveScience.com
Ice melt in Greenland, disappearing reindeer and boulder-moving storms are just a few of the cool images this week.
11:01 4 Things that Should Happen Now That We Know the Truth about Witness #40, a White Supremacist» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
When Sandy McElroy was called before the grand jury, she had already been thoroughly discredited by the FBI.
No eyewitness testimony was more consistent with Darren Wilson's personal story of events the day he shot and killed Michael Brown than that of Witness #40—who we now know as white supremacist Sandy McElroy.

Not only did Sandy McElroy testify before the grand jury twice, she was allowed to show what she claimed was her journal from the day Brown was killed. In the journal she said she decided to travel to a black neighborhood so she could learn to no longer "call blacks niggers." In the transcript of her testimony, in her back and forth with members of the grand jury, members are recorded as actually stating that they believe she's telling the truth.

What's clear now, and what was actually clear to the FBI and the prosecutors before she ever testified, is that Sandy McElroy wasn't anywhere near Canfield Drive the day Brown was killed and made her entire story up. Not only that, but Sandy McElroy was on record with the St. Louis police as having lied and concocted fanciful stories in other murder cases in which she falsely claimed to be a witness.

Her inclusion in the grand jury pool of witnesses poisoned the well and her testimony is the most quoted testimony of conservative pundits; Sean Hannity alone has quoted her at least 21 times in various broadcasts. In addition to her calling African Americans "apes" and saying police should "kill the niggers" in the aftermath of Brown's death, she regularly posted comments on various social networks showing her affection for Darren Wilson weeks and weeks before she ever claimed to be a witness.

The FBI, in its interrogation of Sandy McElroy, completely tore apart her story and proved that she never drove onto Canfield Drive, never drove off of Canfield Drive, was never seen on Canfield Drive, and couldn't find one person or photo or message before or after the event to confirm that she was ever there. She claimed she told her ex-husband all about what she saw, but he swore she didn't and he has problems remembering things.

Please read below the fold for more on McElroy's faulty testimony:

After telling the FBI that she was there to meet a friend she hadn't seen since 1987, she admitted to the grand jury that she actually lied about that and no such person existed. She then explained that she was actually on Canfield Drive in a different town the exact moment Brown was killed, in the exact spot where he was killed, on a solo ethnographic expedition to ease her own racism. It's a lie so preposterous that it feels dirty even repeating it.

Here's the thing, though. When Sandy McElroy was called before the grand jury, she had already been thoroughly discredited by the FBI not just as being a poor witness whose recollection is fuzzy, but as someone who didn't witness anything at all and was making it all up for the worst possible reasons. That she was allowed to testify before the grand jury on two different dates and produce fake evidence on her second trip is a scandal of epic proportions. That her testimony has become so popular among conservatives says as much about them as it does about Sandy McElroy.

Knowing all that we know about her testimony, here are four things that should happen immediately.

1. Sandy McElroy should be immediately charged with perjury. She was clearly told by the FBI and the prosecutors that lying about being there was a crime and was given chance after chance to back down. Instead she doubled down and added very specific and destructive details about what she saw Mike Brown do that day.

Furthermore, Sandy McElroy is not at all like an eyewitness who was actually there and sincerely believed she saw the events unfold in a way that may be different than the facts of the case. In her back and forth with the FBI, they even went so far as to clarify that it was not a crime to recall something you actually saw and state it in a way that is slightly off from what truly happened.

2. Sandy McElroy should be charged with creating and submitting false evidence which is a felony in Missouri and in most states. She completely and totally fabricated a journal months after the murder, never mentioned it to the FBI, and was allowed to actually show it to the prosecutors and grand jury as a form of proof she was telling the truth.

3. Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, who undoubtedly will not resign until hell freezes over and pigs fly, should at the very least explain why Sandy McElroy was called to testify. Having taken months and months to run the grand jury system, McCulloch was well aware of who she was, but clearly believed she should remain anyway.

4. A special prosecutor should be appointed and a new grand jury convened immediately. Gov. Jay Nixon still has the power to do such a thing—as does a circuit court judge in Missouri. Typically this would only happen in cases in which it can be proven that the prosecutor went out of his or her way to support the defendant in a case and the evidence for that in this case grows daily.  



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10:48 CIA Panel Recommends Against Penalizing Officers Responsible For Hacking Into Senate Computers» ThinkProgress

A panel formed by CIA Director John Brennan will recommend against disciplinary action for the three CIA technology officers and two lawyers accused of snooping on the Intelligence Committee as it wrote its torture report.

The post CIA Panel Recommends Against Penalizing Officers Responsible For Hacking Into Senate Computers appeared first on ThinkProgress.

10:42 Google vs Hollywood on Sony hack» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Reports on hacked documents pull back curtain on continued tensions.
10:16 Anti-LGBT Pastor Arrested for Grabbing Man’s Genitals at Indiana Park» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
The southern Indiana minister preaches against homosexuality.

A southern Indiana minister who preaches against homosexuality was accused of soliciting gay sex at a park.

Gaylard Williams, pastor of Praise Cathedral Church of God in Seymour, was charged with battery after a man said he grabbed his genitals last week at Cypress Lake.

A man parked at the lake Dec. 12 said the 59-year-old Williams asked him to roll down his vehicle window, then reached in and squeezed his genitals and offered to perform oral sex.

The man told the pastor he was “barking up the wrong tree” and acted like he was reaching for a gun.

He said Williams fled, but he wrote down his license plate number and called police.

Officers said Williams had gay adult material in his vehicle when they stopped him later.

His church teaches that same-sex marriage is sinful and urges congregants to “glorify God in our body and which avoid the fulfillment of the lust of the flesh.”

Watch this video report posted online by WLKY News Louisville:


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10:10 Put the Evil Bastards on Trial: The Case for Trying Bush, Cheney and More for War Crimes» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
The evidence for the prosecution is clear. Human decency requires putting the Bush administration on trial.

“There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”


— Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, June 2008

We’ve seen it in Ferguson, Missouri, with Darren Wilson getting off scot-free for killing Michael Brown. And we’ve seen it again in Staten Island, with Daniel Pantaleo getting off scot-free for killing Eric Garner. So why shouldn’t scores of CIA agents, contractors, higher-ups and other government officials—including former President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney—get off scot-free for torturing hundreds of detainees, including some complete innocents?  That, apparently, is the reigning logic following the release of the Senate torture report.

But just as genuine legal experts have been appalled by the perversion of normal and normative legal process in the grand jury proceedings in St. Louis County and Staten Island, there’s been a sharp line drawn by human rights lawyers and advocates in response to the Senate torture report, calling for prosecutions to match the crimes.  A 2011 report from Human Rights Watch, “Getting Away With Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” argued, among other things, for the criminal prosecution of former President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet.  Nothing has changed since then, HRW executive director Kenneth Roth told Salon.

“We believe in 2011 and we believe just as strongly today that senior U.S. leaders have a case to answer for torture and war crimes,” Roth said. Although the Senate report’s focus is narrower than that earlier report—ignoring the issue of renditions and everything done by military as well—where it does focus, it has only reinforced what HRW has been arguing.

“I would say the evidence becomes even stronger for [prosecuting] the CIA leadership, because it’s clear that they were turning a purposely blind eye even to reports of torture,” Roth continued. “The report talks a lot about how the CIA lied and covered up, but it doesn’t change the fact that the basic practices were authorized, you know, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, things like that.” But also, “George Bush approved waterboarding by his own admission, he approved the CIA renditions program,”  while Cheney  “was the driving force behind many of the illegal detention and interrogation policies to begin with.”

As for the legal obligations involved, “The torture convention requires that acts of torture be referred to the competent authority for the purpose of prosecution,” Roth said. “The United States has an obligation to prosecute torture.” Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, agreed. “The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes,” he said.

Woven through such calls for the pursuit of justice, there’s a similar subtext: that the welter of information presented needs to be carefully and critically sifted through in the light of our highest values, as well as the principles of international law, which America has done so much to help create based on those same values.”What would it mean to be a nation committed to the rule of law, if we don’t hold people responsible for crimes of this magnitude?” ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer asked on MSNBC.

The need for such action is only made more urgent by the fact a new Pew poll shows 56 percent of Americans believe the lie that torture provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks, and relatedly that 51 percent think that “the CIA’s interrogation methods … were justified.”

As the Intercept’s Dan Froomkin tweeted, “If 56 percent of Americans think ‘CIA interrogation’ was effective, all that tells us is that they’ve been misled,” adding, “Just like 70 percent of Americans once though Saddam was behind 9/11, now 56 percent think torture worked. This is a massive indictment of the U.S. media.” But it’s not just the media. America’s entire elite infrastructure is indicted in this state of affairs, which is why America so desperately needs to have broad-based, high-profile torture trials on the model of the Nuremberg Trials following World War II—trials that will both hold those responsible accountable for what they’ve done, and force the whole nation to engage in a profound moral reorientation, on the order of what Martin Luther King Jr. once called for.  This is not an easy path, to be sure, but it’s far easier than decade after decade of endless war in which America’s moral purpose becomes increasingly lost in the shadows of our own unconfronted fears.

Al-Qaida’s whole aim with the 9/11 attacks was to draw the U.S. into a self-destructive conflict in the Middle East, and to expose and exploit our contradictions. And thanks primarily to the Bush/Cheney delusional response (and Obama’s limited willingness to alter direction), that’s exactly what has happened.  We did not narrowly focus on bringing those who attacked us to justice—we swiftly attacked Afghanistan, short-circuiting  any chance of negotiating to swiftly put bin Laden and his associates on trial, we then let bin Laden escape, while becoming enmeshed in Afghan internal conflicts, after which Bush said he was “truly … not that concerned” about bin Laden. We then invaded Iraq—which  had nothing to do  with 9/11,  and was profoundly hostile to al-Qaida—and set off a series of internal conflicts which eventuated in the creation of ISIL, which is far more dangerous and has far more international support than al-Qaida ever dreamed of.

In short, everything the U.S. has done since 9/11 has been seriously misguided at best, and Obama’s policy changes have merely trimmed around the edges of what Bush and Cheney started, because he has been obsessed with trying to quickly unify the country, papering over  profound differences, rather than facing up to the genuine deep difficulties of overcoming them. We saw this, for example, when he released a set of torture memos in response to a lawsuit in April 2009, and said:

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

Just how we were supposed to “move forward with confidence” without reexamining how we had gone wrong, Obama never bothered to explain.  It would be hard enough were mere mistakes involved, but we’re talking about grave crimes that undermine the very idea of America—just as al-Qaida intended when it attacked us on 9/11.

Those mistakes cried out for correction, but instead Obama invoked the shameful, discredited Nazi Nuremberg Defense (“I was only following orders”), when he said:

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.

Not only is this an insult to the real heroes, who spoke out against the barbarism they were tasked with, the Nuremberg Principles, which came out of the Nuremberg Trials, explicitly rejected this defense:

Principle IV

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

They also rejected the notion that those who give the orders are exempt:

Principle III

The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.

These two principles aren’t that hard to grasp, for anyone familiar with TV crime dramas. Both the hit man and the man who orders the hit are guilty of murder.  Street crimes, suite crimes, international war crimes—the same logic applies equally to all of them.

As already noted, earlier reports have already made it clear that crimes were committed.  The Senate report’s greatest value lies in the light it sheds on competing “theories of the crime”—explanatory accounts of what happened and why, which are also familiar from TV crime dramas, particularly ones like “Law and Order,” which got so much mileage out of shifting and competing theories of the crime, from the initial crime scene and eyewitness accounts to the final verdict and last comments made on it.  A theory of the crime creates a context for understanding how all the different pieces fit together. It has to make sense in a how-things-work kind of way, what I’ve referred to before as the explanatory mode of “logos,” but it also serves to make sense by giving them meaning, the explanatory mode of “mythos.”

When 56 percent of Americans say they believe that torture provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks, they’re making a claim that torture worked—which says something both about the real-world, logos-type effects that were produced, as well as about the mythos-type nature of what those engaged in torture were doing.  The need to believe in the mythos involved routinely trumps the logos side of the equation.  And yet, on five key points where arguments have been prominently pushed , evidence in the torture report and elsewhere clearly contradicts theories of the crime that would let torturers off the hook—along with those who gave the orders.  Evidence also suggests several neglected theories of the crime that provide a profoundly different view of what our recent history has been—and what our future could be, by way of contrast.

It Wasn’t About Getting Information

For example, the day before the Senate torture report was released, national securityblogger/journalist/author Marcy Wheeler pointed out it’s a mistake to assume that getting information was the primary aim of torture, by which it should be judged. This wasn’t just her opinion—it was actually a matter of record:

As the Senate Armed Services Committee Report on torture (released over five years ago, in far less redacted form than tomorrow’s summary will be) makes clear, the Bush regime embraced torture not for “intelligence” but for “exploitation.” In December 2001, when DOD first started searching for what would become torture, it was explicitly looking for “exploitation.”

The term “exploitation” includes intelligence-gathering, but it also includes spy recruitment and propaganda—politically useful, often false information, such as “the case of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, whose torture-induced claim al Qaeda had ties to Iraq’s WMD programs helped drag us into Iraq,” and “Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri [who] claimed his torturers told him he had to claim Osama bin Laden had nukes, among others. When you consider all these cases, she writes:

Then it raises the really horrible possibility that Cheney pushed torture because it would produce the stories he wanted told. It would be difficult to distinguish whether Cheney believed this stuff and therefore that’s what the torture produced or whether Cheney wanted these stories told and that’s what the torture produced.

Difficult, indeed. But either way, it reminded me of what George Lakoff told me about the concept of  “reflexivity”:

It has to do with the fact that thought is part of the world. That when you’re thinking, it’s not separate from reality, it’s part of reality. And if your understanding of the world is reflected in what you do, then that thought comes into the world through your actions. And then through your actions, if many people have the same ideas, those ideas are going to spread, and they’re going to come back and reinforce themselves, because they will change the world.

This adds another layer to the theory of the crime that Wheeler draws our attention to. Given that conservatives are much more sensitive to perceived threats in the world, it’s not surprising that reflexivity on their part creates a more dangerous world, even as they pound their chests and proclaim their superiority in dealing with the very dangers they create.  We see the same process at work with the killers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner—the mere presence of a black male sends them into a panic, even though they’re the ones who are actually armed and dangerous.  This sort of irrational fear places their behavior outside the standard of reasonableness on which a justifiable homicide theory of the crime depends, and the same can be said about the entire Bush/Cheney response to 9/11, of which the torture program was just one part.

The lack of discipline, oversight, reliability and candor that permeated the torture program, as revealed in the Senate torture report, has been seen by some as proof that Bush, in particular, was not in charge, ergo not responsible. But all that flowed directly from Bush and Cheney’s unhinged response to 9/11—they were in control by being out of control, because they couldn’t be otherwise. And—like the killer cops referred to above—they actively resisted normal processes that would have curbed their dangerous, deadly excesses.

In a similar abnormal fashion, Bush even tried to get Congress to authorize going to war against Iraq without bothering to have the CIA do a national intelligence estimate, the traditional formal document used to integrate all the available intelligence data into a single comprehensive analysis. “An intelligence official says that’s because the White House doesn’t want to detail the uncertainties that persist about Iraq’s arsenal and Saddam’s intentions,” USA Today reported on Sept. 10, 2002.

In that same forgotten blockbuster of a story, USA Today reported that the decision to invade Iraq had been made within weeks of 9/11, but without any formal decision process:

The decision to target Saddam “kind of evolved, but it’s not clear and neat,” a senior administration official says, calling it “policymaking by osmosis.”

“There wasn’t a flash moment. There’s no decision meeting,” national security adviser Condoleezza Rice says. “But Iraq had been on the radar screen — that it was a danger and that it was something you were going to have to deal with eventually … before Sept. 11, because we knew that this was a problem.”

This same mind-set of panic-driven deliberate carelessness characterized the Bush administration approach to every major aspect of the war on terror, making it exceeding difficult to pin down responsibility for anything—which is precisely the point. And yet, their responsibility is clear: Through reflexivity, Bush and Cheney’s unhinged panic drove the entire process off the rails. Yet, even today they and their defenders continue to pretend that they were the tough guys, the realists, the ones who protected us. They need to stand trial in part simply so that this lie can be publicly put to rest. But the same goes for five points mentioned  above, the five false theories of the crime, which need to be publicly replaced with their opposites.

The purpose of the sorts of trials we need is twofold: first, on the logos side, is to sort through competing theories of the crime, to which hold up and which do not, and to judge individuals accordingly. Second, on the mythos side, is to alter our collective understanding of the past, so that we can move forward having learned our lessons deeply, in ways that reshape us for the better forever.  With that in mind, let’s consider each of the different theories of the crime in turn.

First Theory of the Crime: There was a crime.  We tortured people.

The first theory of the crime in any case concerns whether one even occurred. Was something stolen, or lost? Was a person murdered, or did they commit suicide? Or die accidentally?  In this case, were people tortured in violation of U.S. and international law?  Many torture apologists say there was no crime, but there’s already an abundance of evidence to the contrary, even before the Senate torture report.  The most significant evidence it provides on this score includes:

  • New details about just how gruesome the treatment was. This is captured in a single summary paragraph from the committee’s finding No. 3 “The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others”:

At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. The CIA placed detainees in ice water “baths.” The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. One interrogator told another detainee that he would never go to court, because “we can never let the world know what I have done to you.” CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee's] mother’s throat.”

  • Evidence that CIA management and lawyers were aware that U.S. law said one thing, and they were doing another.  This began before they decided to break the law, but had recurring ripple effects afterward. In the early days after 9/11, CIA leadership clearly recognized the existence of legal limits, which would later be intentionally set aside [Ex  Sum, p 12]:

On September 27, 2001, CIA Headquarters informed CIA Stations that any future CIA detention facility would have to meet “U.S. POW Standards.”

… In early November 2001, CIA Headquarters further determined that any future CIA detention facility would have to meet U.S. prison standards and that CIA detention and interrogation operations should be tailored to “meet the requirements of U.S. law and the federal rules of criminal procedure,” adding that “[s]pecific methods of interrogation w[ould] be permissible so long as they generally comport with commonly accepted practices deemed lawful by U.S. courts.

There are others examples of the second sort, including one cited by Business Insiderhere. But these two passages are sufficient, from a logos-based point of view, to establish probable cause that a crime was indeed committed—and not just a single crime, but a widespread deliberate pattern of them. Of course there will still be strong mythos-based resistance, but that’s to be expected—and it’s precisely what a Nuremberg-style trial is for.

Second Theory of the Crime: Torture Was Not Effective

Despite widespread beliefs to the contrary revealed in Pew’s poll, this is the most thoroughly proven point of the Senate report. In her press release, Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote that “The study’s 20 findings and conclusions can be grouped into four central themes, each of which is supported extensively in the Executive Summary,” the very first of which was “The CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were not effective.” What’s more, the second finding was that we have been lied to about the effectiveness: “The CIA provided extensive inaccurate information about the operation of the program and its effectiveness to policymakers and the public.”  If the program really were effective, there would be no need to lie about it, so all the evidence of misleading the public and policymakers is further evidence of ineffectiveness as well.

Most significantly, Feinstein points out, “The committee reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism ‘successes’ that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques. Each of those examples was found to be wrong in fundamental respects.”

This is particularly true of one of the most widely known claims, that torture was vital in developing key intelligence about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, Osama bin Laden’s courier, the key figure in eventually locating Osama bin Laden. This is debunked in a section, “Information on the Facilitator that Led to the UBL Operation,” from page 378 to 400 in the report.

Feinstein makes several other key points demolishing the effectiveness claim:

  • There was never a ticking-time-bomb threat that was thwarted by the use of torture.
  • Torture “regularly resulted in fabricated information,” which misled the CIA.
  • CIA officers regularly questioned the effectiveness of torture.
  • The CIA never adequately reviewed the effectiveness of torture, “despite a recommendation by the CIA inspector general to do so and similar requests by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee.”

Remember, the pre-trial standard is probable cause, and with these points the report establishes probable cause for prosecuting crimes, and specifically refutes the theory of the crime that the effectiveness of the methods used justified them, regardless of how horrific they were.  Those accused may still want to argue otherwise—but they should do so at trial, not to avoid it.

Third Theory of the Crime: Torture Was Not Necessary

From a logos-based point of view, torture couldn’t be necessary if it were ineffective—unless, of course, the purpose of torture was something else entirely—as, indeed, we now know it was. But the naive, stand-alone claim that torture was necessary, regardless of whether it was effective in gaining accurate intelligence, cannot be sustained logically. So there’s really no logical need to discuss evidence related to this claim.

But because it’s a prominent part of the public debate, more is required. We need to consider the claim as a matter of pure mythos—in terms of what it may mean to people.  First, we should note that the claim can have significant psychological appeal, particularly to those who1) feel deeply threatened, 2) feel helpless and 3) are psychologically incapable of admitting their fearfulness and helplessness.  Torture may “work” psychologically for them, and the broader claim that it worked to stop terrorist attacks is simply an affirmation that, thanks to torture, they now feel back in control. Confronting and replacing this element of mythos in our national psyche is one of the key purposes that Nuremberg-style trials would serve.

Second, we should note that even if it were the case that “torture worked” in some cases (which hasn’t been shown) alternatives clearly were available, which means that it still was not necessary. As he has testified to Congress, then-FBI Agent Ali Soufan was getting valuable information using traditional interrogation techniques when Abu Zubaydah—the first high-value al-Qaida target—was first captured, before ineffective torture techniques were begun by the CIA. Thus, in this very first case, even if torture had been effective, it still would not have been proven necessary.

As already noted, there has never been a ticking-time-bomb threat that was thwarted by the use of torture—except of course, on Fox’s “24,” where it happens all the time. This is clearly an extremely satisfying fantasy for some, and it’s not hard to understand why.  But it is a fantasy—an example of mythos with no grounding in logos, and one of the main reasons for holding Nuremberg-style trials is precisely to force us to relinquish such enticing, but dangerously mistaken fantasies.

Fourth Theory of the Crime: Torture Was Carefully Calibrated

The claim of careful calibration is also, ultimately, logically dependent on the claim of effectiveness. Carefully calibrated futility is still futile, and the fact that it’s futile renders the careful calibration utterly meaningless, if not Monte Python-style absurd.  Still, one could at least argue for starting out with prudential guidelines of some sort, regardless of whether they could ultimately be grounded in any measure of effectiveness. Perhaps one could be right for the wrong reason … right?

The moral significance of this argument is that a calibrated approach to torture would be evidence of a morally serious purpose, as opposed to anything from boredom and incompetence to sadism.  Add to that a sincere—though misguided—belief in torture’s effectiveness, and you just might wriggle out of a criminal charge, claiming a lack of criminal intent.

All that is why it matters that the CIA’s torture program was not carefully calibrated—and that the CIA lied about it as well. Indeed, the third of Feinstein’s four main groupings of findings was that “The CIA’s management of the program was inadequate and deeply flawed” and one of the points under this heading specifically dealt with severe personnel inadequacies:

The CIA did not employ adequately trained and vetted personnel. The CIA deployed individuals without relevant training or experience. CIA also deployed officers who had documented personal and professional problems of a serious nature—including histories of violence and abusive treatment of others—that should have called into question their employment, let alone their suitability to participate in the sensitive CIA program.

What’s more, under Feinstein’s fourth main finding, that “The CIA program was far more brutal than the CIA represented to policymakers and the American public,” the report directly refutes the calibration frame:

Records do not support CIA representations that the CIA initially used an “an open, non-threatening approach,” or that interrogations began with the “least coercive technique possible” and escalated to more coercive techniques only as necessary. Instead, in many cases the most aggressive techniques were used immediately, in combination and nonstop. Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in painful stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box.

Of course, the accused should be free to dispute these findings. That’s what a trial is for. But the Senate’s findings clearly contradict the “carefully calibrated” theory of the crime, and constitute probable cause that criminal conduct was involved.

Fifth Theory of the Crime: Torture Was Carried Out in Good Faith

The good faith argument is not usually made by torture apologists, but it has been made by President Obama, as noted above.  Beyond running afoul of the Nuremberg Principles, there’s plenty of evidence in the Senate torture report that people were not acting in good faith.

As pointed out above, the CIA itself was aware from the beginning that there were standards for it to uphold—standards it would then go on to violate. There was also evidence of careless mistreatment of prisoners, gross mismanagement, lying to Congress, misleading the White House—the list goes on and on—all of which is simply incompatible with the notion of people “acting in good faith.” Again, there may be individuals who were acting in good faith—although this still doesn’t change the Nuremberg Principles.  But the proper place to sort that out is at trial.

This is yet another case in which the power of mythos is much stronger than logos. In particular, mythos often expresses a hunger for heroes, which is clearly at play here. In the message cited above, Obama said:

The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.

This may be so. Or it may be the case that our intelligence community is largely responsible for making it a much more dangerous world than it otherwise would be. They certainly made Iran and its environs more dangerous by helping to depose the lawfully elected Mosaddegh government back in 1953, and replacing him with the shah, for example. Still, there are surely many individuals who deserve the praise Obama offers, whatever our quibbles with the wording. The problem is, by protecting those who’ve betrayed our values, Obama is praising precisely the wrong “heroes.” At the Nation, historian Jon Weiner wrote a piece highlighting some of the real heroes of this era, who are mentioned in the Senate report. One I’ve already mentioned—Ali Soufan. Here’s  a bit of what Weiner said about some of the others:

Another hero: Alberto Mora. As general counsel of the Navy in 2004, Jane Mayer reported, he tried to stop the torture program. He told his superiors at the Pentagon that the Bush torture policy violated the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition of torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” He described the Bush program as “unlawful” and “dangerous”….

Some of the heroes were ordinary soldiers, like Sgt. Joe Darby, who first revealed the Abu Ghraib abuses. As a result,” Luban points out, he “had to live under armed protection for six months.” Others were high officials, like Philip Zelikow, an adviser to Condoleezza Rice, who, Luban reports, wrote an “anti-torture memo” that the White House “attempted to destroy”….

Finally we have the case of Guantánamo prosecutor Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, who refused to prosecute a teenager who had been abused in US detention in Afghanistan and Guantánamo. For that decision, Jameel Jaffer and Larry Siems report, Vandeveld was “barred from the prosecutors’ office, confined to his residence and threatened with dismissal from the Army.”

While there’s no doubt that Nuremberg-style trials would be difficult for us as a nation, those trials would not be all doom and gloom.  Heroes such as these would also play a part in the proceedings. Their voices would be heard, their stories would be told, their shining examples of fidelity to America’s highest values under the most difficult of conditions would provide us with exactly the sort of heroes that we need to write the next chapter of America’s ongoing quest for perfection.  They are the ones who will help us craft a mythos that’s in harmony with the logos of the underlying facts, not twisted and distorted in direct contradiction of them. They are one more powerful reason that we as a nation need to hold Nuremberg-style trials—not just to exorcise the demons we have allowed to grow in our midst, but also to affirm and empower those who fight against them—and to ensure that their numbers will grow in the days that lie ahead.



Related Stories

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"It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so," Sony said.

The post Sony Changes Its Mind About Releasing ‘The Interview’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

10:00 Time for some Made in America holiday shopping» Daily Kos
Gifts under Christmas tree.
Buying American-made products is a great way to support the American economy and jobs. According to the Alliance for American Manufacturing:
Americans will spend $720 on average for holiday gifts this year. But if each of us spent just $64 on American-made goods this season, we could create 200,000 new jobs, right here in the United States!
Of course, everyone doesn't necessarily have $64 to devote specifically to American-made goods—the sad fact is that it can be hard to find just what you want—but below the fold you'll find some places to do research, as well as gift ideas at different price points and from established manufacturers and tiny Etsy sellers alike.
09:00 This week at progressive state blogs: Part-time PA cops amount to 'militia,' Rick Scott barometer » Daily Kos
Progressive State Blog Banner #1
Just as states with progressive lawmakers and activists have themselves initiated innovative programs over a wide range of issues, state-based progressive blogs have helped provide us with a point of view, inside information and often an edgy voice that we just don't get from the traditional media. This week in progressive state blogs is designed specifically to focus attention on the writing and analysis of people focused on their home turf. Let me know via comments or Kosmail if you have a favorite state- or city-based blog you think I should be watching. Inclusion of a diary does not necessarily indicate my agreement or endorsement of its contents.

At Blue Virginia, lowkell writes Corruption of Dominion Power, Virginia Tobacco Commission Summed up in Political Cartoon:

Blue Virginia
The following political cartoon, sent to us by a talented artist, refers to this story on "Dominion's Strange Tobacco Money."

Dominion Resources, the powerful, Richmond-based utility with $13 billion in revenues, has strangely been getting $30 million public funds to bring a natural gas pipeline to a new generating plant in Brunswick County.

Odder still (or maybe not so) the public funds are coming from the GOP-controlled Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission which has figured in a wave of corruption since it was formed in 1999.

Even more bizarre, the tobacco commission made up of politically-appointed people arranged for Dominion to receive millions more than its own staff recommended,according to an intriguing report by the Associated Press.

Keep in mind, as the AP story points out, that "Dominion is without peer in terms of political sway in Virginia and routinely gets friendly legislation passed with broad bipartisan support." Not coincidentally, Dominion "is the single biggest donor to state-level politicians, as well as one of the biggest gift givers - often treating lawmakers to Washington Redskins games or paying for them to attend events like the Masters golf tournament in Georgia."> Oh, and "CEO Thomas Farrell II and McDonnell are childhood friends."

Also worth noting is that Farrell - pictured in the political cartoon - received $10.9 million in compensation in 2013, while his company earned $545 million in the third quarter of 2014 alone. Does this sound like a company that needs any taxpayer-funded corporate welfare at all, let alone $30 million?!?

Below the orange gerrymander you will find more excerpts from progressive state blogs.
08:44 Lawmaker Defends ‘Legitimate Rape’ Bill» ThinkProgress

“It's a child's life that's taken. The woman's life is not altered.”

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08:00 Upbeat Obama in weekly address: 'America's resurgence is real'» Daily Kos
The six years since the financial crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everyone’s part. But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve got to show for it. More jobs. More insured. A growing economy. Shrinking deficits. Bustling industry. Booming energy.

Pick any metric you want – America’s resurgence is real.

President Obama struck a near-jubilant note in this morning's weekly address, pointing to numerous successes in the past year—and since his first term began—from the economy to diplomacy to ending the war in Afghanistan.

On his lengthy list: deficit cut by two-thirds, affordable health care for millions of Americans, a rescued auto industry, job growth, rising wages, lower gas prices.

World leadership roles were on his mind as well:

Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading. We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. We’re leading the global fight to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We’re leading global efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China. We’re turning a new page in our relationship with the Cuban people.
He looked ahead, too, vowing to work to "reverse the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and income," and making sure "our economy, our justice system, and our government work not only for a few, but for all of us." He closed with a declaration:
We have set the stage for a new American moment, and I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure we seize it.
To read the transcript in full, check below the fold or visit the White House website.
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Martian methane sources
This image illustrates possible ways methane might be added to Mars’ atmosphere (sources) and removed from the atmosphere (sinks). NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has detected fluctuations in methane concentration in the atmosphere, implying both types of activity occur on modern Mars. A longer caption discusses which are sources and which are sinks. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SAM-GSFC/Univ. of Michigan)
Curiosity phones home with some interesting news on Mars that has some scientists scratching their heads: it detected methane. The substance is common in the outer solar system, but the methane detected on Mars came in "whiffs," apparently from the ground. And while that's not a smoking gun for life, it is consistent with the kind of microbes that might theoretically eek out a living under the cold, dry surface of the red planet in spots thought to be warmer and wetter:
The NASA scientists at AGU led by MSL project scientist Dr. John Grotzinger emphasized that they do not yet know how the methane is being generated. The process could be biological or not. There are abiotic chemical processes that could produce methane. However, the MSL SAM detections were daily spikes and represent an active real ongoing process on the red planet. This alone is a very exciting aspect of the detection.

The team presented slides to describe how methane could be generated. With the known low background levels of methane at ~ 1 part per billion, an external cosmic source, for example micro-meteoroids entering the atmosphere and releasing organics which is then reduced by sunlight to methane, could be ruled out. The methane source must be of local origin.

Speculation runs that a dozen or more meters below the surface, the overburden creates enough pressure for water to exist as a liquid. Because of the planet's eccentric orbit and/or residual heat, it's possible warmth flows through deep cracks in the crust created by impacts or that formed when the surface cooled dramatically billions of years ago. That warm water could provide a reservoir giving rise to either abiotic or biological processes that produce methane. It's not outside the realm of possibility that Mars is harboring a unique science-y gift, carefully wrapped in ancient layers of red soil and oxidized rock, just waiting for the next generation of wonder junkies to discover!
05:30 Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: A feisty Obama takes on the press» Daily Kos
(Reminder via @armandodkos): no one should ever forget this awful Richard Cohen column about @StephenAtHome http://t.co/... in 2006.
This time eight years ago, Barack Obama and his staff were in the final stages of preparing to launch a presidential campaign. So was pretty much everyone else. The midterms were done, the opposition party had ridden a wave to a wipe-out.
The political world was already looking past President George W. Bush. Obama was leading the charge.
The pivot isn’t necessarily about embracing the Real Barack Obama (that’s always been a pretty elusive persona) or even about aspiring to the Clintonian ideal of a second-term president leveraging executive power into political muscle. It’s not a matter of superficially emulating a campaign, as he’s done fecklessly in the past, by hitting the road for another round of low-impact speeches or Steve Kroft sit-downs. It’s a campaign between Obama’s ears — a competitor rediscovering his love of competition, the refocusing of a sedentary, atrophied presidency through the lens of a dynamic campaign – and winning.

“He needs to run, to compete – or more to the point, he needs someone to run against,” a former top Obama adviser told me.

He’s got that now, in a Republican-controlled Capitol Hill. Obama, a political counterpuncher who often needs a slap in the face to wake up, got a gut-shot in November. The Democrats’ staggering loss in the midterms – like his disastrous performance in the first presidential debate against Mitt Romney in 2012 – seems to have jolted him to the realization that he’ll have to act boldly to preserve what he’d assumed was a settled legacy. (The Supreme Court’s decision to scrutinize the funding mechanism of the Affordable Care Act, in particular, has sent a shudder through the West Wing and provided an unexpected challenge from another hostile branch of government.)

Whiplash! Hilarious to watch media pundits shift their take on POTUS. Old CW (six weeks ago) Obama dead.  New CW: Obama resurgent!  Wow.
More politics and policy below the fold.
04:23 6 Times Holiday Decorations Turned into Disasters» LiveScience.com
Every winter, people decorate their homes and offices with holiday lights, ornaments, trees and tinsel. But none of these holiday pastimes is risk-free, as people — and cats, dogs and owls — have learned over the years.
01:40 Before It's Too Late: An 'Interstellar' Lesson for Humanity's Future (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
The technology of the future can't wait.
01:21 When Counseling After a Tragedy is a Mistake (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
As the country reels from the Sydney siege and its unhappy end, many will be wondering what can be done for the hostages stuck for hours with the gunman in the Lindt café.
00:22 Princess Di and the History of Mass Grieving» LiveScience.com
The common thread in this public expression of grief is the untimely, unexpected deaths of people who are often in the prime of their lives; both the famous and the unknown.

Fri 19 December, 2014

21:00 Open thread for night owls: Stingy on the clemency and pardons again» Daily Kos
Hands resting on prison cell door.
At The Atlantic, Matt Ford writes The Limits of Obama's Clemency. An excerpt:
Few presidential powers are as unconstrained as the pardon. Neither Congress nor the courts need be consulted, and neither branch can override its application. President Lincoln, the pardon's most prolific wielder, liberally exercised the power of mercy. "Gen. Joseph Hooker once sent an envelope to the president containing the cases of 55 convicted and doomed deserters," wrote one historian. "Lincoln merely wrote 'Pardoned' on the envelope and returned it to Hooker."

Barack Obama has been more restrictive. On Wednesday, the president granted clemency to 20 individuals—eight commutations and 12 pardons—for crimes ranging from counterfeiting in 1988 to "possession of an unregistered distilling apparatus" in 1964. This will change the recipients' lives, but thousands of applicants are not so lucky.

Presidential pardons have declined since World War II, excluding cases of mass amnesty like Jimmy Carter and the Vietnam draft-dodgers, but Obama's sparing use still stands out: Until Wednesday, one in seven of his pardons had been issued for Thanksgiving turkeys. A 2012 investigation by ProPublica found that an applicant's chance of receiving a pardon under Obama was only one in 5,000, compared to one in 1,000 under George W. Bush and one in 100 under Ronald Reagan. […]

Even when pardons are made, they are susceptible to the same biases that plague the rest of the criminal-justice system. A 2o11 ProPublica investigation found significant racial disparities in the process. Although the pardon office's clemency recommendations to the White House do not mention race, all but 13 of the 189 pardons issued under the George W. Bush administration went to white defendants, including all 34 of those who had committed drug-related offenses. Black inmates constitute 38 percent of the federal prison population but only received an estimated 2 to 4 percent of the pardons issued. […]

Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2002Blix to US, UK: pony up evidence:

Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix challenges the US and UK to reveal evidence that Iraq has WMD.

"If the UK and the US are convinced and they say they have evidence, well then one would expect that they would be able to tell us where is this stuff," he told BBC radio.
Ain't gonna happen. I don't believe they have any evidence. Otherwise, what better way to rally world support than to prove once and for all to everyone that Iraq was lying? Give the inspectors the name of just ONE facility suspected of having WMD, have the inspectors swoop in, find the evidence, and reveal it to the world. Bush's invasion would get A LOT easier at that point.

But Blix gets nothing, while Bush and Blair rant on about Hussein's lies. This was tiresome from day one, and it hasn't gotten any better since.

Tweet of the Day
Forget top-down global agreements - 2014 has been the year of bottom-up action on climate and energy. http://t.co/... @nextgen_usa

On today's Kagro in the Morning show, A rare joint appearance by Greg Dworkin & Armando, featuring discussion of the Colbert finale, Cuba, the mess surrounding The Interview (on which even George Clooney weighs in). Why Planned Parenthood supported a CRapnibus full of abortion restrictions. More on the "nuclear option" & it's effect on the judiciary. Been committed to a mental institution but want your guns back? OK. A Rosalyn MacGregor update from Michigan. Republicans <3 judicial activism. The Ferguson grand jury's "Witness 40" is a bigger wacko than anyone originally thought. And the thing we didn't get to, but you should: Shaun King on what to do about it.

High Impact Posts. Top Comments

18:21 Why won't McCulloch charge Witness #40 with perjury? Time for a special prosecutor, new grand jury» Daily Kos
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announces the grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the August 9 shooting death on Michael Brown at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Missouri, November 24, 2
Under increasing pressure and scrutiny as the public learns that St. Louis prosecutor Bob McCulloch knowingly called a witness to testify on behalf of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson who was actually never even at the scene of the shooting, McCulloch came forward today to speak publicly for the very first time since a decision was announced not to indict Darren Wilson.

His full interview with St. Louis radio station AM 550, and a breakdown of that interview, are below.

18:00 Conservative journalism rides again, blows tire, faceplants. No survivors.» Daily Kos
President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Medicare Bill at the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. Former President Harry S. Truman is seated at the table with President Johnson. The following are in the background (from left to right): Senat
Journalist Charles C. Johnson (center), seen here signing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
We generally ignore the exploits of conservative "journalists" here, but when last we saw Charles C. Johnson I believe he was being arrested for his bold invasion of a Mississippi nursing home in order to expose—to be honest, I'm not sure we ever determined what he thought he was going to expose. Something about why Sen. Thad Cochran was bad. In true conservative "journalist" fashion, however, My Little Sherlock has continued to screw up everything he's touched since then.
Since Rolling Stone's disputed story on rape culture at the University of Virginia began to unravel, conservative writer Charles C. Johnson has made it his mission to [expose] "Jackie," the reported victim of a brutal gang rape at a campus fraternity house.

Last week, Johnson was widely condemned for publishing an unconfirmed photo and full name of Jackie on his website, GotNews.com. He also published a screenshot of Jackie's purported Pintrest account, followed by a post that pulled an image from that account and identified the woman in the picture as Jackie.

Alas, it turns out his picture of "Jackie" was a photo of an entirely different woman, a rather internet-famous photo that had gone viral years ago. You can't expect the masters of conservative journalism to know these things—they're too busy snooping through nursing homes and bringing fake props to their super-important "gotcha" journalism segments.
He's fallen for stories with viral potential before. Johnson once reported that a New York Times correspondent covering the Benghazi attacks, David Kirkpatrick, had posed for Playgirl. That information came from a satirical article in a spoof issue of the Princeton student newspaper. A story Johnson wrote on then-Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker not actually residing in Newark was debunked, and another on Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) soliciting underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic unraveled.
Ah, I see the problem here. We in the industry call this sucking. As in: You suck as a journalist. Alternate formulations are (1) You are a stain on your self-declared profession, (2) You have the investigative skills of a pork roast, (3) Your repeated and ongoing pattern of incompetence and failure evinces a great and all-consuming void within you that threatens to absorb all those you interact with in an ever-expanding event horizon of self-enforced stupidity from which none can escape.

Nonetheless, he does seem to have the magic required for a Fox News gig. I suggest a working title of "Things We Wish Were True." Get Steve Doocy to co-host and you've got yourself a solid morning show.

17:43 What does a cyber counterattack look like?» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Military action against North Korea is effectively off the table.
17:20 Seal's 'Magentic Sense' Leads Them To Breathing Holes? | Video» LiveScience.com
17:20 Cheers and Jeers: Cuba Libre FRIDAY!» Daily Kos
C&J Banner


Late Night Snark: "Mr. Obama, Tear Down This Embargo!"

"President Obama announced that he's going to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba. He wants to act before Seth Rogen makes a movie about Castro."
---Conan O'Brien

Jeb and George W. Bush graphic &nbsp;December 2014 as Jeb announces intention to explore running for president.
Via Democratic Underground
"Obama is not going to get away with this [Cuba deal] just because I'm going off the air! The minute my show ends, I am on a plane to Havana to personally investigate this travesty. I will go to every pristine beach. I will scout every rum distillery. And I don’t care how many 1957 Chevys I have to buy for 200 dollars! Until the job is done I will not rest…except in a hammock."
---Stephen Colbert

"Guess who's running for president? Jeb Bush. … I feel like Bush presidencies are like Godfather films. You should stop at two."
---David Letterman

"The Senate [Intelligence Committee] report shows that the CIA paid two psychologists 80 million dollars to design the torture program. Eighty million dollars? Were they waterboarding with Pellegrino? Also, you don’t have to use torture to get people to admit stuff. Just get 'em really drunk and log them into Facebook."
---Michael Che, SNL

"Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. Hanukkah lasts for eight nights...unlike Christmas, which lasts for two and a half months."
---Seth Meyers

What a week, huh. But now it's 4:20 on the west coast. Please gurgle gurgle responsibly. Your west coast-friendly edition of Cheers and Jeers starts below the fold... [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]
16:33 'I'm not done'» POLITICO - TOP Stories
"Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter. And I'm looking forward to it," Obama says.
16:16 How bad would an IRS shutdown be?» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The IRS chief warns that drastic budget cuts may force a shutdown.
15:20 Jawbone UP Move Fitness Tracker Review» LiveScience.com
Jawbone's new UP Move fitness trackers will track your steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned and hours slept, and can motivate fitness newbies to see whether their daily activities translate into lax or rigorous workout routines.
15:04 Flying Machines? 5 Da Vinci Designs That Were Ahead of Their Time» LiveScience.com
From humanoid robots to machine guns, here are five da Vinci inventions that were truly before their time.
15:01 Déjà Vu All Over Again: This Man Relived Every New Moment» LiveScience.com
A man's persistent déjà vu puzzles scientists who probed his brain to find an explanation.
13:59 What if the president held a press conference and it made men sad?» Daily Kos

On Friday afternoon, President Obama held a press conference and discussed Cuba, North Korea, Keystone XL, race relations in America ... but the really big news to come out of it?

All of the reporters who asked questions of the President today were women
No, really, it's true. It was confirmed:
Confirmed via @VespaDC: First all-women solo press conference by President Obama.
Twitter erupted, articles were written, comedy and whining ensued, and then this:
White Male reporters complaining about what wasn’t asked at this presser - as if all subjects are covered when the men are in charge LOLOL
Because, of course they did. After all, there were serious questions that needed answers, like this:
And to up the comedy, the only audible q from a man is “Any New Year’s resolutions?” #derp
And this:
"Are you going to smoke a Cuban cigar, Mr. President?" shouts one of the male reporters not called on
Inquiring minds and all that.

Really though, here's the bottom line:

If only the news networks would cover the questions asked at the #ObamaPresser - instead of the gender of the people asking.
But let's end this on a lighter note:
this press conference is sponsored by Male Tears
Suck it, boys.

4:41 PM PT: Here's the transcript of President Obama's press conference.

13:57 Obama Only Takes Female Reporters’ Questions In Last Press Conference Of The Year» ThinkProgress

Fox News didn't think the women asked very good questions.

The post Obama Only Takes Female Reporters’ Questions In Last Press Conference Of The Year appeared first on ThinkProgress.

13:45 ‘I Don’t Deserve To Die On The Street': Inside A Funeral For The Homeless» ThinkProgress

For the 25th year in a row, homeless people and their advocates around the country commemorated National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day on Friday.

The post ‘I Don’t Deserve To Die On The Street': Inside A Funeral For The Homeless appeared first on ThinkProgress.

13:30 EPA Will Not Declare Coal Ash A Hazardous Waste» ThinkProgress

Instead, coal ash will be regulated similarly to household garbage.

The post EPA Will Not Declare Coal Ash A Hazardous Waste appeared first on ThinkProgress.

13:27 Government Labor Board Brings Hammer Down On McDonald’s» ThinkProgress

This is no country for old methods of avoiding legal culpability for worker exploitation. New government charges could spell huge changes to how fast food companies do business.

The post Government Labor Board Brings Hammer Down On McDonald’s appeared first on ThinkProgress.

13:24 Apparently zombie TV shows need 'Do Not Try This At Home' warning labels: GunFAIL LXXXII» Daily Kos
Seven of the 56 guns discovered by TSA agents on the person of passengers boarding flights at airports around the country during the week ending Dec. 12.
It's been a few months since I started publishing the GunFAIL stories in lots of 100, and I've noticed that many of our regular categories reveal a remarkably consistent pattern from one post to the next. This time around, for instance, 39 of our 100 GunFAIL incidents involve people accidentally shooting themselves. In our last post, there were 41. This time, there were 17 fatalities. Last time, 15. This time, 22 kids accidentally shot. (Including the youngest in some time, but not the youngest of the year, a 9 month old shot and killed by his father while cleaning a still-loaded gun.) Last time, 20. This time, nine "home invasion" shootings. Last time, nine. This time, seven accidental discharges while cleaning guns. Last time, five. And so it continued on down the line. In other words, these accidents are regular and predictable.

The exact circumstances, though, are often varied and unpredictable. For instance, entry number 10 is one of nine accidental shootings among family members in this compilation (there were eight last time), but the individual circumstances set it apart. A 16-year-old boy was killed by his 24-year-old brother, because his brother likes to watch The Walking Dead while he fondles his gun. Presumably because it's a scary TV show, and he likes to fantasize about killing the zombie bad guys. Smart.

Have you ever wondered whether anybody accidentally shot themselves in their sleep, with a gun they kept under their pillow? We've seen it a few times, and we've got another one here, in item number 15. A plain vanilla "home invasion shooting" at home becomes a somewhat thornier political issue when, as in entry number 57, the shooter is a city councilman. On the other hand, while the whole world likely already has heard about former baseball player Jose Canseco having accidentally shot his finger off while cleaning his gun, here in GunFAIL world, it's merely entry number 71 out of 100.

Below the fold, 96 more stories.

13:20 Midday open thread: Media tout flawed gun poll, shippers promise prompt Xmas package delivery » Daily Kos
  • Today's comic by Mark Fiore is Citibank democracy:
    Cartoon by Mark Fiore -- Citibank democracy
  • What's coming up on Sunday Kos ...
    • Ignoring torture here at home, by Denise Oliver Velez
    • We are no better than our enemies, by Mark E Andersen
    • You won't believe what happens in a manual recount, by Dante Atkins
    • It's time to end America's global isolation over Cuba, by Jon Perr
    • 50 years of other foreign policy failures, brought to you by a willfully ignorant media, by Egberto Willies
    • When the war on women meets the war on drugs, by Susan Grigsby
    • 2014 candidates versus the expectations game, by David Jarman
    • Happy days are here again, by Ian Reifowitz
    • Living in the zombie apocalypse, by Mark Sumner
  • Media take gun poll out of context:
    Media outlets are heavily touting a poll from Pew Research Center supposedly showing "growing public support for gun rights," but Pew's polling question is flawed because it presents a false choice between regulating gun ownership and protecting gun rights. In response to the Pew poll, a prominent gun violence researcher said, "I could not think of a worse way to ask questions about public opinions about gun policies."

    On December 10, Pew released the results of a periodic survey that asks respondents whether it is more important to "control gun ownership" or to "protect the right of Americans to own guns." Since January 2013, support for the gun rights answer is up seven points to 52 percent, while support for regulating guns has fallen five points to 46 percent.

  • Fingers crossed:
    Shipping companies and major retailers have taken a number of steps to avoid a repeat of the debacle that struck the holiday shopping season last year, when more than 1 million packages weren’t delivered in time for Christmas.

    Delivery companies have hired more seasonal workers, added hubs around the country, and plotted with retailers to predict shopping patterns and limit the number of packages that will be shipped in the waning hours before Christmas.

  • 100 years ago, Santa looked a lot different, even a bit creepy:
    Santa a century ago
  • If we ever find super-intelligent extraterrestrials, they are likely to be robots:
    If and when we finally encounter aliens, they probably won’t look like little green men, or spiny insectoids. It’s likely they won’t be biological creatures at all, but rather, advanced robots that outstrip our intelligence in every conceivable way. While scores of philosophers, scientists and futurists have prophesied the rise of artificial intelligence and the impending singularity, most have restricted their predictions to Earth. Fewer thinkers—outside the realm of science fiction, that is—have considered the notion that artificial intelligence is already out there, and has been for eons.

    Susan Schneider, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, is one who has. She joins a handful of astronomers, including Seth Shostak, director of NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, program, NASA Astrobiologist Paul Davies, and Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology Stephen Dick in espousing the view that the dominant intelligence in the cosmos is probably artificial. In her paper “Alien Minds," written for a forthcoming NASA publication, Schneider describes why alien life forms are likely to be synthetic, and how such creatures might think.

  • These Daily Kos community posts were the most shared on Facebook December 18:
    How Some Really Smart NYS Fracktivists Beat Cuomo and Won the Fracking War, by lipris

    So was an innocent teenager executed?, by teacherken

    Sen. Rubio and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen: Change Cuba Policy or Give China Its Money Back, by Pakalolo

  • State Dept. delays release of study on 1953 CIA in Iran:
    The State Department is delaying the release of a volume from its U.S. foreign relations history that deals with the CIA-backed overthrow of an Iranian prime minister in the 1950s out of concern that publication could undermine nuclear diplomacy with the Islamic republic.
    The CIA's own evaluation of its role in the coup was brought to public notice in 2000 by The New York Times national security reporter James Risen.
  • Maybe you've said to yourself recently, I wonder what Bill O'Reilly thinks about all these "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts that NBA players have been wearing? Well, O'Reilly not only schooled America on racism, but he did it in a conversation with Martin Luther King III. His message? Stop getting pregnant at 14 and abandoning your community, black people. Team Blackness also discussed a St. Louis judge actually ruling in favor of protesters over police for once, the rise of sexual assaults in the military, and a cruel punishment for an 8-year-old blind child.
    Subscribe on iTunes | Subscribe On Stitcher | Direct Download | RSS
  • On today's Kagro in the Morning show: Greg & Armando on Colbert, Cuba & Sony. CRapnibus abortion politics. More "nuclear option" & the judiciary. 6th C. surprises on mental illness & guns. Rosalyn MacGregor's MI update. Gop <3s judicial activism. "Witness" 40.
13:10 Obama hits Keystone again but declines to threaten veto» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Obama poured cold water again on the alleged economic benefits of the pipeline.
13:09 'Illusion Coatings' Are Like Futuristic Camouflage» LiveScience.com
Instead of using invisibility cloaks to conceal objects from detection, "illusion coatings" could hide things by making them look like something else, researchers say.
12:53 Welcome To Machine Gun America, Where 13-Year-Olds Can Fire AK-47s» ThinkProgress

The new amusement attraction opens this week in Orlando, Florida — six miles away from Disney World.

The post Welcome To Machine Gun America, Where 13-Year-Olds Can Fire AK-47s appeared first on ThinkProgress.

12:46 Why Supporting The Fight Against Racist Police Killings Could Mean A New Chapter In Environmentalism» ThinkProgress

"It's not just about a post on Facebook or a blog entry or a series of supportive statements -- we're determined to engage on these issues over the long-haul."

The post Why Supporting The Fight Against Racist Police Killings Could Mean A New Chapter In Environmentalism appeared first on ThinkProgress.

12:39 Podcast: 2014 Year-in-Review ... a collective sigh of relief» POLITICO - TOP Stories
POLITICO Magazine's Glenn Thrush hosts a 2014 year-in-review roundtable discussion with congressional reporter John Bresnahan, senior White House reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere and media reporter Hadas Gold, plus a new interview segment featuring Time Magazine's Radhika Jones on the Person of the Year edition.
12:33 Garmin Vívosmart Fitness Tracker Review» LiveScience.com
Garmin's Vívosmart fitness band is part tracker, part smartwatch and part cheerleader.
11:22 Pope Francis Celebrates Birthday By Giving Sleeping Bags To Homeless People» ThinkProgress

Pope Francis goes out of his way to help the poorest in society. Again.

The post Pope Francis Celebrates Birthday By Giving Sleeping Bags To Homeless People appeared first on ThinkProgress.

11:17 The Health Crisis That’s Plaguing War-Torn Syria» ThinkProgress

A million people have been injured because of the war, and the country's medical systems are crumbling.

The post The Health Crisis That’s Plaguing War-Torn Syria appeared first on ThinkProgress.

11:03 Marco Rubio slams Rand Paul: 'He has no idea what he's talking about'» Daily Kos
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). REUTERS/Jason Reed
Hey look, the Republican primaries have started.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t mincing words when it comes to his Republican colleague Sen. Rand Paul’s support for the U.S.’s new Cuba policy.

“Like many people who have been opining, he has no idea what he’s talking about,” Rubio said Thursday on Fox News’ “The Kelly Report.”

For those of you who were wondering, Rand Paul noted that a half-century of embargo "doesn't seem to be working," and he's not allowed to say that because Sen. Mitch McConnell told Marco Rubio that he could be in charge of saying things about Cuba and Rand Paul is not Marco Rubio so therefore he's stupid and wrong and an example of all the world's ills, when it comes to people pointing out 50-year-old things that don't seem to be working. All three of these men are members of the U.S. Senate, after all, so they spend most of their days with fellow 50-year-old things that don't seem to be working.
Rubio pushed back on Paul’s claim, saying, “I would expect that people would understand that if they just took a moment to analyze that, they would realize that the embargo is not what’s hurting the Cuban people, it’s the lack of freedom and the lack of competent leaders.”
And we would all love competent leaders, but for most of us that's simply not in the cards. Whether you live in Cuba or in Texas or in a major Canadian city managed by an unrepentant crack fiend, competent leaders are in short supply. If we base all our policies around who does or does not have competent leaders, we wouldn't be on speaking terms with any nation on earth and New Hampshire would cease to exist. There are likewise a great number of nations that are notoriously sketchy in their concepts of freedom, and we invite their leaders to the White House and shake their hands and sign trade deals with them whenever we can manage it. Continuing the embargo because "freedom" is a slogan, not a policy. Like the people who insisted we invade Iraq for "freedom" but said nothing about invading North Korea for the same reason, you're going to have to do a little better there. Hastily assembled banalities don't cut it.

This would be an exceptionally fine time for Rubio and his fellow Republicans to articulate an alternative policy, something based on logic and rational arguments, about how they would deal with Cuba that would lead to any better result. They could do the same on immigration policy, or on any one of a dozen other things—it would all be welcome. Instead we get "leadership" from would-be presidents like Marco Rubio that consists of saying the exact same things his movement was saying back before Marco Rubio's young mind understood object permanence, and that is not a policy. That is just a speech.

Update: And like our great statesmen before him, Sen. Paul takes to Twitter for his responses:

Hey @marcorubio if the embargo doesn't hurt Cuba, why do you want to keep it?
Senator @marcorubio is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat. I reject this isolationism.
There ya go. It's like Lincoln-Douglas, if their debates were restricted to throwing pine cones at each other.
10:45 Daring Philae Comet Landing Named Top Breakthrough of 2014» LiveScience.com
The first-ever soft landing of a robotic probe the surface of a comet has just been named the top scientific breakthrough of 2014 by the journal Science.
10:40 Are You a Highly Sensitive Person? What You Need to Know About the Science of This Personality Type» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Up to 20 percent of the population exhibits a trait that sets them apart. Scientists are finding out why.

Psychologist Elaine Aron has pioneered the study of a category of human personality that is generating considerable buzz both in the media and in the scientific community: the highly sensitive person (HSP). People in this group look the same as everyone else, but they don’t respond to the world the same. The way they think, work, feel, and even love is distinctive. Tendencies like acute awareness of emotions, heightened response to loud noises and other stimuli, and the deep processing of information are all things that set HSPs apart.

Want to know if you’re an HSP? Take this online test developed by Aron and her husband, a fellow psychologist. Aron reckons that up to 20 percent of humans on the planet are highly sensitive, a trait that is found in animals, too. I spoke to Aron about what science has to say about HSPs, and how understanding how their brains are encoded may help society to better accommodate these people and make use of their considerable gifts.

Lynn Parramore: Research suggests that some people are genetically predisposed to high sensitivity. What scientific methods have been used to investigate?

Elaine Aron: There are two studies. One used was the more common method of looking for an association between a genetic variation and a personality trait. That is to take one candidate gene that we think is important for the personality variable; in this case, sensitivity. The candidate gene was a variation in the serotonin transporter gene, what is called the short-short variation, which refers to two short alleles, as opposed to one short and one long, or two longs. The short-short variation had been inconsistently associated with depression and other problems. It was seen as creating vulnerability. But many people with this genetic variation are not depressed, so researchers began to question their understanding of it, and found in numerous studies that it actually bestows many advantages. It only caused trouble when carriers had had a stressful or unsupportive childhood, or else, in some cases, were immersed in stressful life events.

This led, along with some other studies, to the whole subject of what is called differential susceptibility. People with this gene, or with certain behaviors, such as cautiousness or physical or emotional reactivity —all signs of sensitivity — do better than others in good environments and worse than others in bad ones. That’s an important concept for us. It’s mostly been studied in children, and if they have grown up in a supportive environment or there’s an intervention to help their parents raise them, they actually turn out better than other children in social competence, academic performance, health  — all kinds of variables have been looked at. It’s becoming a very popular thing to study. If children don’t have that supportive environment, then there’s depression, anxiety, and shyness and all of that. So sensitivity does not lead to vulnerability. It leads to differential susceptibility.

In the meantime, in China, some researchers were looking at sensitivity that other way, by looking at many genes at once to see which ones if any are associated with the variable of interest, in this case sensitivity. They chose high sensitivity because until then studies were finding unexpectedly low associations between genes and personality traits, such as introversion or neuroticism. That was surprising, because we know that a large percentage of personality overall is contributed by genes. We know that from comparing fraternal and identical twins. But we didn’t have a name for what those traits were that were encoded in the genes.

So these people in China looked at my Highly Sensitive Person scale and said, well, this seems to be deeply rooted in the nervous system. So they did the entire genome mapping of anything to do with dopamine. There are quite a few different dopamine genes, and they boiled it down to seven. And these gave a result more like what one would expect, given that we think personality is partly encoded in the genes. So what we are describing as high sensitivity is probably close to describing something that is actually genetically coded, in this case in seven variations of genes affecting the creation and transportation of dopamine.

We don’t know yet how those dopamine genes affect behavior. They’ve never come up before as being important for personality. These genes may reduce dopamine, or use it in a particular way that’s unusual. So the point is sensitivity is probably created by a number of genes, perhaps tending to be inherited together as a group. Or it may be that sensitivity has evolved along different routes, because if it’s a survival strategy — and it’s been found in over 100 species and probably exists in more —it may have landed in our species through several routes. Or there may be slightly different kinds of sensitivity, but not so different that the HSP scale [the test developed by Aron and her husband] doesn’t tap it.

LP: What evolutionary benefits might be associated with having this trait?

EA: Max Wolf, a scientist in Europe, did a computer simulation that did a very nice job of explaining why sensitivity had an evolutionary advantage. We knew that it had to because it’s found in such a large minority of people, 20 percent. It would have been eliminated long ago, or it would have been found in only a very small percentage of people, if it had no advantage.

Wolf did a computer simulation, kind of like a game, in which you had the choice of either noticing everything in every situation you encounter and using that information in the next situation you encounter, or basically assuming that your next encounter will be nothing like this one and not bothering to notice anything at all. In many situations, the next situation has nothing to do with the previous one at all. Other times there is a relationship. The simulation also assumes, rightly, that there’s a certain cost to having the more complicated nervous system of a sensitive person or a cost to using energy for paying attention to things. 

So there has to be a payoff at the other end.  Manipulating the payoffs and the costs in various ways demonstrated that it didn’t require much to make it pay to be highly sensitive.

But Wolf also made the interesting observation that the game doesn’t work if everyone is sensitive. His analogy is if there’s a patch of good grass, and every animal noticed it or smelled it or however they find it, then it wouldn’t be any advantage to any individual to carry this genetic variation. I joke that if I’m in a traffic jam and I notice a shortcut, it’s only useful to me as long as nobody else takes it. If all the other cars notice me turning and they follow me, then there’s no advantage to my noticing another way. There is now just as much traffic on my route as the other routes. The point is that we [HSPs] are invisible for a reason. All of us aren’t skinny. All of us don’t have curly hair or we’re not all left-handed or something that would make it easier to identify us.

Many people have thought about how it’s helpful to a particular species to have this trait. I think it’s kind of obvious in humans that some people spend more time reflecting — I use the term DOES: these people exhibit depth of processing (D), they are easily overstimulated (O), emotionally reactive and empathic (E), and sensitive to subtle stimuli (S). The only disadvantage is being overstimulated, which is the cost to us of being highly sensitive. But the rest of it has benefits. Yes, being emotionally reactive can be difficult, but it actually helps to motivate a person to think more!

LP: What implications does the science have for people who are highly sensitive?

EA: In the short run, HSPs need to see the research in order to believe the trait is real. Believing it is real can be difficult, because it is invisible and because the majority don’t have it, so we often grow up thinking, well, I should be behaving like everybody else. Or I shouldn’t be overstimulated right now. No one else is. I don’t know why I’m so tired. Why do I notice these things that other people don’t? Gee, I really have this great idea but nobody else really gets it. I’m pretty sure we should do this but nobody else seems to see why. Should I insist? No, I won’t, because I don’t want to make people mad. Now it turned out to be a mistake, and I knew it would be a mistake. So all of that self-talk makes us squash our sensitivity, especially men (there are equal numbers of highly sensitive men and women), and maybe not even think we have the trait.

Then when you also look at the research on the brain functioning, where we find that sensitive people have more activity in the neurons that have to do with empathy and just general consciousness, then we say, oh well, that’s not a bad thing to have.

The research also helps in a larger way, to help the rest of the world appreciate that the trait is real and has value. Most HSPs really do blend in, but a few with more problems—depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, health issues—are often the ones others notice, so that they think this is all there is to sensitivity. In fact, the majority is doing very well. I’m hoping that the research empowers sensitive people to be more themselves so that everyone can benefit from that — employers, spouses — everyone.

I’m also hoping that the research will help parents and teachers and pediatricians and also employers and policy-makers to create conditions that bring out the best in sensitive people because we see their differential susceptibility and we see how unusually well they can function in a good environment, and not so well in a bad one.

LP: What further research is needed for scientists to understand more about highly sensitive people?

EA: Well, with the children there has been considerable physiological research, but less of that has been done with adults. It might be interesting to see how sensitive people react in certain situations. Certainly we want to study the kinds of interventions that work for best for them. If they’ve had an unsupportive childhood, how can we alter the effects of that — in adolescence or whenever we can apply an intervention?

In terms of the brain studies, anatomical studies aren’t that helpful — looking at whether HSPs’ brains look different. What brain researchers look for is how do brains look different when they are doing a particular task. So we’ve given sensitive people and non-sensitive people a few tasks while having a brain scan (this is called functional magnetic imaging), but there are quite a few more that we could do.

Another interesting study would be would be to look at rejection or shame. We know the part of the brain that reacts to rejection or shame. We know that it’s the same part of the brain that reacts to pain. When we say someone has “hurt” feelings, we are literally talking about how it hurts in the brain. I’d like to see if that area is more easily stimulated in sensitive people, by subtle indicators. That would probably be helpful for seeing that this is normal for HSPs. Because when we do studies like this, we control for negative affect like depression or anxiety. So even if a person had a bad childhood, we’re sort of saying, OK, we’re going to take that piece out of your scoring on the test and then the brain scan and we’re going to see if you’re still that way in spite of taking that piece out.

If all sensitive people are more easily shamed than others, and I think they are, it would make evolutionary sense. We wouldn’t bother to study for a test if we weren’t afraid of being shamed for failing. So shame is another motivator. I want to do it right so that I’m not embarrassed or I don’t look stupid. Again, it makes sense that for a person to think deeply or notice subtleties, they would have to have emotional motivation of some kind to process things more carefully.

There are many other studies that could be done. I think it would be interesting to explore more how sensitivity is viewed in different cultures and different subcultures. Some has been done about this for men, but in general. The possibilities are vast, because this trait seems to affect almost all aspects of behavior in some way.  I even did a survey study of HSPs and non-HSP regarding their sexuality, and of course there were differences in what they liked and didn’t like, what life experiences they had had in this realm. The trait affects every sort of attitude and behavior.


Related Stories

10:38 FCC rejects petition asking it not to renew radio station's license for broadcasting 'R*dsk*ns' slur» Daily Kos
Protest at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Change the Mascot's anti-R*dsk*ns protest at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
The Federal Communications Commission audio division rejected a petition Thursday asking it not to renew the license of WWXX radio station for using "R*dsk*ns" in its broadcasts. The station is owned by Dan Synder, who is also owner of the Washington football team whose "R*dsk*ns" name has prompted many Indians and their allies to protest and take legal action without success over several decades.

The FCC petition was filed in September. It said the word should not be broadcast because it is a racial slur and indecent, and violates the FCC standards on obscenity and hate speech. No different according to petitioner John Banzhaf III than "broadcasting words like N*gg*rs, Sp*cs, W*tb*acks, Ch*nks, K*kes, C*nts, F*gs, etc. even as the name of a team or musical group," something the commission would, he said, never countenance. Banzhaf noted that the broadcasting of the name has “an adverse impact on impressionable young Indian as well as non-Indian children" and is “hate speech” that “keep[s] alive the spirit of inhumanity, subjugation and genocide.”

But the commissioners did choose to countenance "R*dsk*ns":

The FCC determined that the law defines profanity as sexual or excretory in nature, so it cannot find the word “Redskins” profane.

“We find that there have been no serious violations of the [Communications] Act or the rules involving the station or any other violations that, taken together, would constitute a pattern of abuse,” wrote Peter H. Doyle, chief of the Media Bureau’s audio division.

Three Indian groups still have active petitions with the FCC attacking the use of the name. In June the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a a ruling in the case of Blackhorse v. Pro-Football Inc. canceling the team's trademark registrations for being “disparaging to Native Americans.” That case is being appealed.

One frequent critique of those who object to the name is that it's merely the latest campaign by "self-righteous" white progressives and most Indians don't care. In fact, the oldest pan-Indian organization in the country, the National Congress of American Indians, has opposed the use of "R*dsk*ns" for team names since 1968. The militant American Indian Movement has opposed it since 1979.

There's more about this below the orange frybread.

10:29 Pew Admits Flaw In Poll Being Used To Attack Stronger Gun Laws» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

GunsThe research group whose misleading poll question was heavily touted by the media to suggest "growing public support for gun rights" has acknowledged that the question was flawed.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey that asked respondents whether it is more important to "control gun ownership" or to "protect the right of Americans to own guns." The poll showed increased support for the gun rights answer and a drop in support for regulating guns. The results were reported by numerous media outlets, especially by the conservative press.

But academics from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research criticized the poll question in statements to Media Matters, saying that the query forces respondents to choose between two options that are not mutually exclusive and pointing out that polls consistently show broad public backing for specific gun regulations, such as expanding the background check system to make it more difficult for felons and the mentally ill to obtain weapons. 

"Pew's question presents one side emphasizing the protection of individual rights versus restricting gun ownership. The question's implicit and incorrect assumption is that regulations of gun sales infringe on gun owners' rights and control their ability to own guns," the Center's director Daniel Webster explained. "The reality is that the vast majority of gun laws restrict the ability of criminals and other dangerous people to get guns and place minimal burdens on potential gun purchasers such as undergoing a background check. Such policies enjoy overwhelming public support."

Carroll Doherty, Pew's director of political research, has now reportedly "acknowledged the flaw" in the question. Mother Jones reported:

Carroll Doherty, PEW's director of political research, acknowledged the flaw. "Is it a perfect question? Probably not," he told Mother Jones. "This is in no way intended to say there's not support for background checks and some measures aimed at specific policies either [in Congress] or in the states. Mr. Webster is right to put it in context."

Doherty told Mother Jones that Pew "has asked that same question in surveys since 1993, with the aim of tracking general public sentiment on gun policy over time."

10:19 Operation Revenge» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Obama is back in his campaign comfort zone: Smiting political enemies.
09:59 Planned Parenthood supported spending bill despite anti-abortion provisions» Daily Kos
Planned Parenthood supporters.
This is what success looks like for Planned Parenthood in 2014: the spending bill passed by Congress included several restrictions on abortion funding ... but it didn't include any new attacks on choice, so it was a win. Passing a short-term bill to be followed by a longer-term bill crafted entirely by Republicans could have meant some extreme new anti-choice policies, like ones Republicans tried to get into the bill that passed:
A month ago, when lawmakers were still hashing out what to include in the bill, Republicans tried to shoehorn in a number of anti-abortion measures. One of those was the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, which would have allowed doctors, health insurance companies, and hospitals to decline to provide certain abortion services, and to refuse to give out information to women about abortion options. Another proposal would have prevented health insurance plans sold through the new Obamacare exchanges from covering abortion and would have nixed tax benefits for small businesses that buy health plans that cover abortion. Democrats managed to strip both provisions from the final bill.

Planned Parenthood and its allies feared that GOPers would force a reduction in funding for family planning programs next year. Here, again, Dems held their ground. The Title X Family Planning Program, which helps low-income women avoid unwanted pregnancies, got an appropriation of about $300 million, the same as last year. Congress doled out $101 million to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, and roughly $600 million for international family planning programs.

Additionally, Peace Corps volunteers will get the same limited abortion coverage as most federal employees already had. Planned Parenthood ended up actively supporting the bill.

When Republicans have power, keeping things from getting any worse really can be a win. This is also why it's so important to fight for forward progress in states and cities where that is a real possibility.

09:43 You Can’t Handle The Truthiness: Saying Goodbye To ‘Stephen Colbert’» ThinkProgress

Looking back at "The Colbert Report." Nation, we'll really miss this guy.

The post You Can’t Handle The Truthiness: Saying Goodbye To ‘Stephen Colbert’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

09:25 Meteor Radar? Solar Wind Could Help Predict Impacts» LiveScience.com
Near-Earth objects about the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor shower could potentially be detected by their interaction with solar wind as they travel through space.
09:20 Caramel Apples Linked with Listeria Outbreak in 10 States» LiveScience.com
Five people have died in a Listeria outbreak likely related to contaminated caramel apples, according to health officials.
09:04 Mmm! Unraveling the Chemistry of Christmas Cookies» LiveScience.com
Chemistry makes Christmas cookies possible, whether crispy, chewy or cake-like in texture. Here's how the combination of fat, flour and sugar can become complicated quickly.
08:25 Super Typhoon Shoved Car-Size Boulders Onto Philippine Beaches » LiveScience.com
Boulders the size of stretch limousines were moved by storm waves during Super Typhoon Haiyan.
08:21 Transgender public employees to get discrimination protections» Daily Kos
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks on stage during the annual meeting of the American Bar Association in San Francisco, California August 12, 2013. The U.S. Justice Department plans to change how it prosecutes some non-violent drug offenders, ending
Attorney General Eric Holder
The Obama administration once again moves America forward on protections for transgender workers. Months after President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the Justice Department has announced that the Civil Rights Act forbids public employers from discriminating on the basis of gender identity:
The department will no longer take the position that the "prohibition against discrimination based on sex does not encompass gender identity per se (including transgender discrimination)," Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said this week in a memo to U.S. attorneys.

It's a reversal of a position the department took as recently as 2006, the memo says.

This doesn't end the need for a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would prohibit discrimination by private employers, but since the incoming Republican Congress will certainly not be passing any such thing, it's an important step.
08:21 This Is Your Brain On Reading - Computer Model Developed | Video» LiveScience.com
08:17 10 Best Things About Being an Atheist on Christmas» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
When it comes to wrapping paper, travel and movies, the holidays can be a special time even for non-believers.

By now, most people who aren’t avid Bill O’Reilly fans know that the “war on Christmas” is nothing but the paranoid fantasy of conservatives and that most (though not all!) atheists and other assorted non-believers are perfectly happy with the continuing existence of Christmas. Sure, we may say “happy holidays,” to reflect the fact that this is an entire season with multiple holidays in it. We may object to using the holiday as an excuse to push overtly religious songs and prayers on kids in public schools. But the Christmas holiday, despite its religious origins, is accepted by most atheists as a secular holiday and many of us enjoy it as much as the Christians do. In fact, I’d argue there are many advantages to being an atheist, when it comes to celebrating the holidays. So much so that you can have them here, in checking-it-twice form.

1. Travel flexibility. If the religious significance of the holiday matters to you, being with your family on Christmas Day itself is paramount. In our modern era where families move all over the country, however, that means travel, often by plane. The problem is that everyone else is traveling when you are, too—and usually during the first seriously bad weather of the winter, no less. Flight delays, tears, tearing your hair out, wondering if you’re going to make it on time are pretty much guaranteed.

Thing is, for non-believers, the exact day itself feels kind of arbitrary, so it becomes a lot easier to blow off the entire struggle to be with family on December 25 and just do Christmas at home. I visit my family the next month, when it’s easier and cheaper. Sure, you miss out on a little of the holiday magic by staying put, but the tradeoff of not having to endure the holiday stress is often worth it. And for little kids whose parents are divorced, being able to have “Christmas” on December 26 or 27 or 31 takes a lot of stress out of figuring out your holiday visitation schedule.

2. No Christmas mass. Christmas Eve is a wonderful time for drinking eggnog and playing cards and opening just one present before bed. Having to spend that precious time kneeling and standing and sitting and singing and listening to a priest drone on about Jesus’ birth is a travesty. Luckily, we atheists feel zero obligation to show up for a semi-annual reminder to give a crap about our faith, as we don't have a faith to begin with.

3. Sex.“Is it a sin to have sex on Christmas day?” asked this poor fellow on Yahoo AnswersIt’s a concern many people have, it appears. This concern doesn’t even occur to non-believers, though some of us do worry, if we did make it back home to visit the parents, about getting caught doing it in our childhood beds.

4. Creative decorating. People who reject religion tend to be skeptical of the whole concept of “tradition.” When it comes to choosing how to adorn your home for the holidays, that can free you up quite a bit from the standard Nativity scene + angel/star on the tree business. Atheists are not the sort to get bent out of shape when someone suggests replacing old white man Santa with a penguin. Why not do your house up as an ode to Star Wars or Game of Thrones? Or honor the Satanists who get holiday displays up at state capitols by doing a devil-themed Christmas tree? Or perhaps one topped by the Flying Spaghetti Monster? How about creating a Nativity scene with superhero action figures? No need to worry that it’s blasphemy. In fact, the more blasphemous, the better.

5. Wrapping paper.An atheist friend of mine had holiday presents wrapped at the store recently. “Christmas or Hanukkah paper?” the cashier asked. “How about one of each,” my friend replied. “They don’t believe in either, so both are fine by me.” A small pleasure, but a satisfying one.

6. Give me the loot! While it’s faded some as conservative Christianity becomes increasingly beholden to capitalism, there is still a lot of anxiety in Christian circles that the holiday has become commercialized and has drifted away from its religious origins. This can make the question of how much to give at Christmas fraught: Will too many presents distract kids from Jesus? How many is too many? For atheists, it’s clear that buying a bunch of crap and laying around eating all day is the reason for the season, so these kinds of emotional crises about priorities don’t really factor. Sure, atheists may decide to put a budget on the gift-buying because showing love through material objects can spiral out of control. But if you want to give yourself a day just to be materialist and gluttonous, go for it. You’re not going to hurt Jesus’ feelings, as you don’t even believe in him.

7. No praying before the meal. Even in Christian families that don’t pray before every meal, there’s a tendency to feel you have to revive this tradition on the holidays. Worse, the duty is often handed off to the biggest blowhard in the bunch. And so there you are, your neck getting sore as you keep it politely bowed while your relative thanks God for everyone’s promotions, marriages and babies and for the football team’s winning streak. But when atheists are in charge of the meal, you sit down and get to eating, no preliminaries necessary.

8. “Happy holidays!”Once it was a completely non-controversial way to express a general feeling of goodwill to all during this time of year. Now this phrase has turned into a litmus test to see if the person hearing it is a frothing-at-the-mouth right-wing nut who hates atheists (and any non-Christians). It definitely helps you trim down your list of people you feel obligated to be nice to.

9. Better music. No need to worry about working some of those dull, religious songs into the mix this Christmas. You can fully admit that “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey is the best Christmas song, full stop, without feeling it’s somehow a slight to Jesus to elevate a cheesy pop song about romance to #1 status. Of course, if you don’t like Christmas music at all and the sound of sleigh bells annoys you, who cares? Open your presents to Motörhead, if you like. When the holiday is about people, putting what makes people happy first becomes much easier.

10. Better movies. Skipped out on rewatching It’s A Wonderful Life for the 8 millionth time a couple years ago (though I do like that movie) and went to see Django Unchained on Christmas Day instead. That was a memorable holiday.

The one big downside of being an atheist on Christmas: The eternal Santa debate.Most atheists have no intention of bringing their kids up to believe in God, but as many of them celebrate Christmas anyway, they don’t know what to do about Santa. Some atheists worry that teaching kids about a magical elf who flies around the world bringing presents to well-behaved children is wrong for the same reason they believe teaching about God is wrong: There’s no evidence it’s true. Others reasonably point out that since part of the Santa tradition is the great debunking, it’s a useful way to teach kids not to believe everything people tell them, even their parents. Which can perhaps inoculate them against religious claims. Everyone makes good points and there’s no research settling the question, so it just gets debated over and over again every year, with no real resolution. 

Clearly, the answer is to go ahead and enjoy hoodwinking your kids about Santa, but if they don’t figure it out by around age 5 or 6, tell them so they’re not embarrassed by being the last kid in the class to know the truth. Sadly, knowing atheists, odds are low that no one will care a verdict has been rendered and the debate will rage on anyway.


Related Stories

07:58 Busy lame-duck session means this Congress wasn't the least productive ever. Yay?» Daily Kos
The U.S. Capitol Dome is seen covered in completed scaffolding in Washington November 18, 2014. Wrought iron repairs will start soon on the structure that was originally completed in 1868. &nbsp;REUTERS/Gary Cameron &nbsp; &nbsp;(UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY TRAVEL BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION) - RTR4EM9Z
Thanks to a last-minute scramble to pass some bills, the 113th Congress managed to dodge the title of "least productive." That title will stay with the 112th Congress:
GovTrack's Josh Tauberer says that the House and Senate ran up the tally in the final days of the year: "In the first 23 months of the 113th Congress (2013-2014), Congress had sent just 201 bills to the President. Then in the first 16 days of December Congress passed another 96 bills."
That puts the 113th at 297, ahead of the 284 bills passed by the 112th. Some of the last-minute bills were even for things other than naming buildings and giving symbolic honors to dead people. Those include the Death in Custody Reporting Act, requiring police agencies that get federal money to report the deaths of people in police custody, including race and gender information, and the Achieving A Better Life Experience Act, allowing people with disabilities to have tax-advantaged savings accounts. But there was also a lot of resume-padding along the lines of issuing coins to commemorate a child care agency and a Congressional Gold Medal for golfing legend Jack Nicklaus. You know, the important work of governing.

Now, of course, we head into two years when almost anything Congress passes will be terrible, so here's hoping the 114th Congress gets that "least productive" trophy.

07:55 The Scary Truth About the Sony Hack» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
The recent Sony hacking has far greater implications than saber-rattling over a Seth Rogen comedy.

Even as U.S. officials appeared to confirm longstanding rumors that North Korea was behind the hack on Sony Entertainment and even subsequent terrorist threats against movie theaters showing its new film The Interview, pundits have argued whether the action constitutes an act of war or not, and how America should respond if at all.

The question is more profound than it at first seems. Those who dismiss this incident as an overblown kerfuffle over a low-brow Hollywood comedy mistake the seriousness of the precedent being set. If North Korea was indeed behind both the hack itself and the terrorist threats, it will mean that a nation-state has taken an action against a multinational corporation that would certainly be deemed an act of war if it were perpetrated against another nation-state. That sovereign nation will also have engaged in terroristic threats not just against a single enemy nation, but against all private companies anywhere in the world that sell a specific creative work produced by Sony, with chilling implications on free speech for people of all nationalities around the world.

It's an unprecedented situation, but one that will become increasingly common as the world grows more connected digitally, as multinational corporations continue to grow in power over nation-states, and as actions in any one corner of the globe have increasingly strong reverberations everywhere. Cyberattacks themselves are not new: the United States launched arguably the first major cyberattack with the Stuxnet virus, which was simply a new, digital version of the sort of sabotage that sovereign nations have commited against one another for centuries--and it can easily be argued that the United States had moral and legal legitimacy in hobbling Iran's nuclear program. Still, the escape of the Stuxnet virus and the economic damage it caused worldwide demonstrates again how digital conflicts between two parties can have disastrous implications globally. The alleged North Korean hack on Sony only increases the stakes.

How concerned should we be over this latest incident? Certainly, the world did not trivialize the threats made by the government of Iran against Salman Rushdie and his book The Satanic Verses. That The Interview is perhaps not of the same caliber of art is a matter of taste: ethically, the world's reaction should be same. Moreover, the perpetrators did not only threaten violence in an attempt to quell free speech--they also exposed the private information of thousands of Sony employees, including social security numbers and other sensitive information, in an attack that will likely cause hundreds of millions of dollars in economic damage.

Even so, many people will find the idea of rattling sabers over a Seth Rogen comedy to be absurd on its face. But consider a similar scenario with slightly higher stakes: a hacker group sponsored with plausible deniability by a former Soviet republic hacks the satellite of a private Russian corporate cell phone company, and threatens to collide it with a private French corporation's communications satellite, to get revenge on a Putin crony oligarch. If the satellites collide, it would create such a mess of space junk that it would seriously threaten global communications and GPS systems dependent on other satellites in orbit. Would that be an act of war? Against whom? It would a global threat, but the theoretical hack would be on a private Russian corporation. What level of responsibility would the government of the former Soviet republic have? How would NATO deal with it? How would Russia and China deal with it? Right now the United States official policy is that we would literally threaten the hypothetical offending nation-state with a nuclear attack in response. If that sounds like overreach, it's worth considering what the official response should be, not only from the United States but also the rest of the world. The North Korean case isn't actually that different from the above scenario--only a matter of degree, not of kind. 

The global community must have an institutionalized way of dealing with this sort of situation that is both credible and effective. The limitations of our existing sovereignty-based legal structures have already been laid bare for years by the international "War on Terror." The United States has asserted that because Al Qaeda and similar terrorist groups do not fight under a sovereign banner, they don't qualify for protection under the Geneva Convention and other international codes of conduct. Petty dictatorships have used the American example to justify a variety of horrors in the name of "fighting terror." But despite over a decade of legal wrangling and disagreements, there is still no accepted international protocol for dealing with non-state combatants. There is even less international protocol for nation-states that commit acts of war against multinational corporations with global implications for digital and free speech rights.

Ultimately, no individual nation-state or alliances alone can cope with these disturbing new geopolitical realities. Terrorism is not the only issue for which 20th century Westphalian structures are failing. Climate change is a clear and present danger to human civilization itself--but sovereign nations appear unable to muster the political will to take the necessary steps to combat it, either due to corruption from corporate fossil-fuel interests or fears that other nations might not keep up their end of the sustainability bargain. Rising wealth and income inequality is also a global phenomenon that developed democracies seem increasingly unable to keep in check regardless of their social safety nets or progressive tax structures due to the power of global wealth mobility that allows rich individuals and corporations to play nations off one another in search of tax advantages. The wealth mobility problem is so great that Thomas Piketty in his groundbreaking work Capital in the Twenty-First Century advocated for the seemingly radical step of a global wealth tax to prevent international cherry-picking by the jet-setting elite. Other global challenges also abound, including mass extinction crises, nuclear proliferation, water shortages, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and even eventual potential threats to the concept of employment itself due to artificial intelligence, 3D printing and mechanization of production. The convergence of all these issues points to the need for a much more potent international organization capable of dealing with global crises that fall beyond the reach or power of any one nation-state to rectify.

Obviously, that seems somewhat far-fetched given the comparative ineffectiveness of the United Nations. But history suggests that human beings do eventually adapt their political structures to meet the challenges of their day, and invent new ones if necessary. Civilization collapse is the only alternative. Our legal and economic systems are straining under the weight of outdated assumptions about power and the entities that wield it. International corporations now fight in the same weight class as sovereign nations, small non-state actors can deliver punches that can bring both of them to their knees, fights between competitors now invariably spill out of the ring and threaten everyone in the arena, and global challenges make the idea of pitting two combatants against one another almost an archaic sport.

Most of our non-dystopian science fiction about the future of our planet assumes some sort of supranational global federation, loosely based or otherwise. It only makes sense as the next step on the path of human political complexification, particularly once mankind begins to colonize other worlds.

Recent events show that it may be that for our own survival's sake, we may need to advance toward that reality faster than some had thought. When the history is finally written, children could one day learn that the world's reaction to North Korea's seemingly silly threat against the creators of an innocuous comedy helped precipitate significant advances in how we think about international law and political organization.


Related Stories

07:53 Stephen Colbert wraps up on a high note with an unbelievable line-up of guests» Daily Kos
Musical finale of The Colbert Report
Fare thee well, Colbert. Thanks for all the truthiness.
The Colbert Report finale is in the books. Stephen Colbert wrapped up his nine-year run as the host of The Colbert Report on a high note with star-studded musical finale. Guests included President Bill Clinton, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Gloria Steinem, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Willie Nelson, Tom Brokaw, Barry Manilow, George Lucas, Jeff Daniels, Keith Olbermann, Henry Kissinger, Bryan Cranston, Randy Newman, Cyndi Lauper, Big Bird and oh so many more.

Goodbye to one of the greatest satirical characters in television history. We'll miss you, Stephen. We'll miss your patriotism, your truthiness and your freakishly extensive knowledge of Lord of the Rings.

Watch the star-studded farewell below the fold.

07:50 Cartoon: Citibank democracy» Daily Kos

Now that the secret back room dealings are done and the latest budget bill passed Congress (of course, at the 11th hour), we can see the thumbprints of Wall Street once again. Actually, more than thumbprints, Citigroup actually wrote part of it. They managed to gut “Section 716” of  Dodd-Frank. Sounds obscure and weird so who cares, right?

Um, it actually reinvigorates the $700 trillion (yes, trillion) derivatives market that helped drive the economy over the cliff on the way to the Great Recession. Thanks to this bill, now taxpayers will once more be on the hook for the risky financial bets made by the likes of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and their pals. How did this all happen? Perhaps the over $1.2 billion in lobbying by the deep-pocketed Too Big To Fail crew had something to do with it.

In case you forgot how some of these silly financial instruments of doom work, here’s a cartoon that explains the way these guys create financial magic out of thin air. Thanks to hefty lobbying and campaign contributions, Citigroup and crew brought back these financial time bombs— and pulled it off by attaching language to a “must-pass” budget bill that threatened to shut down the government. Ain’t Cashocracy grand? You can dive deeper into the stories behind the cartoon here.

07:48 Obama says LeBron James 'did the right thing,' encourages more athletes to embrace social issues» Daily Kos
Lebron wearing an
In a recent interview with People Magazine, President Obama expressed his support for athletes being socially conscious and how he'd love to see more of it. Asked how he felt about Lebron James and other athletes wearing "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts to honor Eric Garner in their pre-game warmup, President Obama said:
"You know, I think LeBron did the right thing," Obama told PEOPLE two days after that Cavaliers-Nets game.

"We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness," the president continued.

"We went through a long stretch there where [with] well-paid athletes the notion was: just be quiet and get your endorsements and don't make waves," he also said. "LeBron is an example of a young man who has, in his own way and in a respectful way, tried to say, 'I'm part of this society, too' and focus attention."

"I'd like to see more athletes do that," he added. "Not just around this issue, but around a range of issues."

At a time where police unions across the country are calling athletes pathetic, ignorant, and demanding apologies for wearing these shirts, it's very refreshing to see our president stand up for the social consciousness of athletes and even give their actions some historical context.
07:37 Republicans welcome a flood of lobbyists to Capitol Hill» Daily Kos
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington June 17, 2014. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR3UAWO
Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the senators bringing lobbyists into government at high levels.
The revolving door between lobbying and government work has been set to spinning by the Republican takeover of the Senate. Lobbyists are taking big pay cuts to staff senators working on the issues they've been lobbying on; this work on the Hill will then set them up to go back to lobbying later on with their influence and networks solidified:
Nearly a dozen veteran K Streeters have been named as top staffers to GOP leaders or on key committees as lawmakers prepare to take the gavel in January.

For instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell named Hazen Marshall policy director earlier this week. Marshall, a former staff director for the Senate Budget Committee, has spent the last 10 years as a lobbyist at the Nickles Group representing dozens of clients like AT&T, Comcast and energy company Exelon.

Marshall in McConnell’s office is hardly alone. Mark Isakowitz, who has been downtown since the mid-1990s first at the National Federation of Independent Business and then at the boutique firm Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, is also making the transition to Capitol Hill. The Ohio native will be chief of staff to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Appropriations guru Jeff Shockey is taking another swing through the revolving door — he has done two previous stints working in the House — will this time be leaving S3 Group to become staff director to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on the House Intelligence Committee.

It's not that Democrats don't do this, too, though President Obama's stance against hiring lobbyists has put a damper on it. But Republicans are making a particular practice of it at this moment, bringing in lobbyists for some of the industries that have most aggressively sought to rewrite policy in their own favor and putting those lobbyists in a position to rewrite policy in favor of the industries they have lobbied for. In short, if you were outraged that Citigroup basically wrote the Wall Street bailout provision in the spending bill that passed last week, prepare for a lot more like that.
06:51 Thirty-six Senate and House Democrats join Obama in calling for true net neutrality» Daily Kos
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D - CA), Senator Ed Markey (D - MA)
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA)
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) , Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and 34 other Senate and House Democrats have released a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, calling for broadband internet access to be reclassified under Title II of the Communications Act II in order to ensure true net neutrality.

In July, Sen. Markey and 12 Senate Democrats asked for net neutrality.

Head below the fold to read the letter and to see who signed it. This doesn’t happen without the incredible effort of the netroots over the past year. Saving the internet is in sight.

06:36 Economics Daily Digest: Interest rates, tax inversions, the Scandinavian safety net» Daily Kos

By Rachel Goldfarb, originally published on Next New Deal

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Uncharted Interest Rate Territory (U.S. News & World Report)

Jason Gold points out that since interest rates have been declining for 33 years, none of today's lawmakers know quite what they're in for when the Fed begins to raise rates in 2015.

The Federal Reserve sent a clear signal about the strength of the U.S. economy on Wednesday, giving guidance suggesting it will “be patient in beginning to normalize the stance of monetary policy.” It is widely expected that the Fed will initiate an increase in historically low interest rates sometime in 2015, and in doing so will test a generation of lawmakers and policymakers who have never governed during a time of rising rates.

Many will refer to this rise as “interest rate normalization,” or rates settling in the 5 percent range. But that phrase gives people a false idea about the historic trends for interest rates: They've been declining for 33 years. So rising interest rates will be abnormal or new for most lawmakers. Interest rates did rise for 35 years from 1946 to 1981, but few of our current elected officials were in office then. For the handful that were, it was only for a very brief period before rates began falling.

In other words, this trend sends a message to nearly all lawmakers at the federal, state and local level: No matter how long you have served, you have never legislated or governed in an environment of sustained rising interest rates.

Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal says that raising interest rates is not the way to fight "financial instability."

Follow below the fold for more.

06:30 Daily Kos Radio is LIVE at 9 am ET!» Daily Kos
Daily Kos Radio logo
The last day in a week of Fridays. Many and varied stories are available for discussion today, so maybe nobody will do or say anything much of interest this morning, and we'll be able to talk about Witness 40, a little electronic spying, some crazy Republican judges, and just for a change of pace from Uber, we can talk about Lyft!

Listen LIVE at 9:00 ET, here: Click this Link to Listen on your iTunes, Winamp or Windows Media Player

Daily Kos Radio's Kagro in the Morning show podcasts are now available through iTunes.


Listen to Stitcher
Help support the show through Stitcher's revenue sharing program. Be one of 5,000 "active listeners" per month, and, well, they send us money. All you need to do, believe it or not, is listen to 30 seconds of a show, once in a month. Seriously! Choose any one of the shows at this link, listen to 30 seconds' worth, and you're on board!

Did you happen to miss our last LIVE show? You can catch it here:

We somehow allow ourselves to get caught up in the weird Sony/North Korea/The Interview story, even though we don't have any real idea what's going on. Even though there are more important stories, like cop push-back on the nationwide protests. Greg Dworkin willingly went along for a bit, then ran through his top APR headlines, focusing heavily on Cuba, including one throwback reference to 1998. Side note to the bizarre Sony story: Did Iran hack Sheldon Adelson? Hey, St. Louis cops didn't shoot this guy. Correction from yesterday, re: impeachment penalties. Plus, the 19th century impeachment case that could have saved us heartache in 1974. NYC police union leader invites discussion, let's say, on the confusion about and amongst cops, citizens, and our rights.

Need more info on how to listen? Find it below the fold.

06:29 Clintons' midterm travel expenses top $1.5M» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Questions about the Clintons' travel have emerged over the past year as Hillary Clinton has given paid speeches.
06:00 Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest: Blake Farenthold's problems may only be just beginning» Daily Kos
Texas Republican Blake Farenthold
Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold
Leading Off:

TX-27: On Tuesday, the news broke that Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold's former communications director was suing her former boss for sexual harassment. It also doesn't help Farenthold's situation that we just learned that he owned the domain name "Blow-me.org" for well over a decade (It's unclear if former Rep. Ben Quayle ever got the chance to guest-blog). Furthermore, on Thursday a collection of some of Farenthold's online writings from 2006 to 2010 were unearthed and they do nothing to help his reputation. Farenthold's travails don't look like they'll be going away anytime soon, and local Republicans are talking about a primary challenge.

According to The Texas Tribune, Debra Medina is being mentioned as a potential contender. The tea partier placed third in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, and she made news for showing some 9/11 truther tendencies. Earlier this year Medina ran for comptroller but again took a distant third. So far Medina is defending Farenthold, tweeting, "Remember innocent until proven guilty though even the accusation taints the office." She's unlikely to be the only name we hear though: Romney won this Corpus Christi-based seat 61-38, and there's no shortage of Republican office holders in the area.

Farenthold has actually been very lucky to avoid any real intra-party opposition up till now. The congressman was a virtual unknown in 2010 when he won a Democratic-held seat in a low-turnout fluke, and under normal circumstances he would have quickly faced a real challenge (see Bentivolio, Kerry). However, while a few serious Republicans talked about primarying him in 2012, it never happened. Farenthold's district was dramatically redrawn late in 2011, and evidently no one felt that they had enough time to organize a campaign. Farenthold easily won renomination in 2012 and 2014, and he looked likely to keep his accidental seat as long as he wanted it. But unless this story disappears, Farenthold's luck may finally have run out.

05:46 Abbreviated pundit roundup: The Sony hack, change in Cuba policy and more» Daily Kos
The New York Times editorial board takes on the latest developments in the Sony hack:
Even a movie studio aware of Mr. Kim’s megalomania could not have fully anticipated this crime and the threats that followed. Unfortunately, Sony’s capitulation sends a signal to Mr. Kim and other criminals that they can succeed in extortion if they are creative and devious enough. Corporate executives are now rightly fearing increased hacking attacks against their computer systems.

Corporations, even large ones like Sony, cannot stand up to a rogue state and shadowy hacker armies all by themselves. That’s why the Obama administration needs to take a strong stand on this and future attacks. Officials said on Thursday that they were considering a “proportional response.”

Retaliation by the Obama administration over this attack would risk escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and between North Korea and Japan, where Sony’s corporate parent is based. However, there are things the United States can do. Although there are already heavy sanctions on North Korea, there may be ways to inflict more economic pain.

USA Today:
If trailers are any indication, Sony Pictures' The Interview is like much that comes out of Hollywood these days: banal, superficial and unrealistic. [...]

But as insignificant as the movie may be, Sony's decision to cancel its release — in the wake of a cyber attack on its computers, release of embarrassing information and terror threats linked to North Korea — is anything but. The film's fate raises serious issues about Hollywood's spineless behavior and about America's vulnerability to cyber threats.

More on the day's top stories below the fold.
03:32 GOP goes on K Street hiring spree» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Lobbyists can come home again.
03:31 Cuba's cash boon for GOP» POLITICO - TOP Stories
"The Cuban-American community tends to be pretty quiet until you step on their toes."
02:08 Clarity on Antarctic sea ice.» RealClimate
I’ve always been a skeptic when it comes to Antarctic sea ice. I’m not referring here to the tiresome (and incorrect) claim that the expansion of sea ice around Antarctica somehow cancels out the dramatic losses of sea ice in the Arctic (NB: polar bears don’t really care if there is sea ice in Antarctica […]

Thu 18 December, 2014

22:51 From Ecstasy to Molly, What's in a Name?» LiveScience.com
Molly is one of the most popular party drugs in the US. But what a lot of people may not know is that molly is actually a form of ecstasy (MDMA), and this misunderstanding can put young people at risk.
21:55 Crashing the Old Boys' Science Club (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
Women are leading a new push to break down the obstacles they face in the science community.
21:00 Open thread for night owls. Time Machine: Senate drone report of 2019 » Daily Kos
MQ-9 Reaper drone
MQ-9 Reaper drone.
Tom Englehardt writes The Senate Drone Report of 2019: Looking Back on Washington's War on Terror. An excerpt:
It was December 6, 2019, three years into a sagging Clinton presidency and a bitterly divided Congress. That day, the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s long fought-over, much-delayed, heavily redacted report on the secret CIA drone wars and other American air campaigns in the 18-year-long war on terror was finally released.  That day, committee chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) took to the Senate floor, amid the warnings of his Republican colleagues that its release might “inflame” America’s enemies leading to violence across the Greater Middle East, and said:
“Over the past couple of weeks, I have gone through a great deal of introspection about whether to delay the release of this report to a later time. We are clearly in a period of turmoil and instability in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, that's going to continue for the foreseeable future, whether this report is released or not. There may never be the 'right' time to release it. The instability we see today will not be resolved in months or years. But this report is too important to shelve indefinitely.  The simple fact is that the drone and air campaigns we have launched and pursued these last 18 years have proven to be a stain on our values and on our history.”

Though it was a Friday afternoon, normally a dead zone for media attention, the response was instant and stunning.  As had happened five years earlier with the committee’s similarly fought-over report on torture, it became a 24/7 media event.  The “revelations” from the report poured out to a stunned nation.  There were the CIA’s own figures on the hundreds of children in the backlands of Pakistan and Yemen killed by drone strikes against “terrorists” and “militants.” 

 There were the “double-tap strikes” in which drones returned after initial attacks to go after rescuers of those buried in rubble or to take out the funerals of those previously slain.  There were the CIA’s own statistics on the stunning numbers of unknown villagers killed for every significant and known figure targeted and finally taken out (1,147 dead in Pakistan for 41 men specifically targeted).  There were the unexpected internal Agency discussions of the imprecision of the robotic weapons always publicly hailed as “surgically precise” (and also of the weakness of much of the intelligence that led them to their targets). 

There was the joking and commonplace use of dehumanizing language (“bug splat” for those killed) by the teams directing the drones.  There were the “signature strikes,” or the targeting of groups of young men of military age about whom nothing specifically was known, and of course there was the raging argument that ensued in the media over the “effectiveness” of it all (including various emails from CIA officials admitting that drone campaigns in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen had proven to be mechanisms not so much for destroying terrorists as for creating new ones). [...]

But while all of that created headlines, the main debate was over the “effectiveness” of the White House’s and CIA’s drone campaigns. […]

Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2011There's no great mystery: Tim Tebow is a great athlete:

The traditional media are agog over professional football player Tim Tebow. After he quarterbacked his team to another late comeback victory last week, the ESPN website's headline blared: How does he do it? The implication was that Tebow's athletic success somehow is unusual or surprising, and because Tebow very publicly displays his deep religious beliefs, his success on the field somehow makes him a miracle worker, if not himself a miracle.

Strange as it is, Tebow's religious beliefs have become the most prominent aspect of the reporting and commentary on his success at winning football games, and given how publicly and ostentatiously he flaunts those beliefs, that's obviously by intentional design. People love him for it or hate him for it.

Strange as it is, many in the traditional media hype Tebow's overt religious devotion as correlative if not causal of his athletic success, but the traditional media in this country seem to have a reflexive need to infuse religion into just about everything, so they must consider Tebow their very special gift. But stepping back from the hyperbolic shrill, all it takes is a quick perusal of the careers and lives of some other talented and successful athletes to reveal something more obvious working where some prefer to see their interpretations of intimations of the divine.

Tweet of the Day
Of course Republicans respect Putin. He tanked an economy, started an illegal war, and hates gays.

On today's Kagro in the Morning show, we somehow allow ourselves to get caught up in the weird Sony/North Korea/The Interview story, even though we don't have any real idea what's going on. Greg Dworkin willingly went along for a bit, then ran through his top APR headlines, focusing heavily on Cuba. Side note to the bizarre Sony story: Did Iran hack Sheldon Adelson? Hey, St. Louis cops didn't shoot this guy. Correction from yesterday, re: impeachment penalties. Plus, the 19th century impeachment case that could have saved us heartache in 1974. NYC police union leader invites discussion, let's say, on the confusion about and amongst cops, citizens, and our rights.

High Impact Posts. Top Comments

19:30 Who's been naughty and nice?» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Santa came to town and left a list of this year's bad and good. Check it out (twice if you want).
19:21 Should the government rate our colleges?» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Ratings could help students and families, but the data used to rate schools is already available, and far from complete.
19:21 When Is It Okay To Racially Profile?» POLITICO - TOP Stories
For the first time, the government has a clear answer.
18:08 The year Congress hit rock bottom» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Can the Hill climb out of its hole?
17:00 Can Ketamine Fight Depression?» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Also known as Special K, ketamine is not just a breakfast cereal and party drug.

Special K is not just a breakfast cereal and party drug.

Also known as ketamine, it has long been used as an anesthetic in short term diagnostic and surgical procedures. But Special K is now driving a significant debate in mental health circles because a growing number of psychiatrists in the United States and elsewhere are using it to combat depression.  

According to Andrew Pollack in the New York Times, “it is either the most exciting new treatment in years” or it’s a “hallucinogenic drug that is wrongly being dispensed to desperate patients.”

There is still a decided lack of data necessary for any rational, evidence-based decision. At this stage, the jury isn’t even out. Yet, leading medical centers, including the National Institute of Health, Yale, and Oxford are proposing that low-dose ketamine for major depression has tremendous potential.  It has become, according to Scientific American, a rising star in the world of depression research.

Patrick Cameron, from Toronto, would agree. In 2013-2014, he traveled to New York City on various occasions to visit private clinics for doses of ketamine, all in an effort to relieve his suffering from intractable depression. “This is the only thing that’s worked,” he noted. “I might have finally found the answer.”

However, the question of ketamine’s efficacy remains controversial and, as a result, it constitutes not only another drug in a long line of contested medicines for depression, but a further example of the struggle recreational drugs face in traversing the blurry line of stigmatization and legitimacy.

A 1960s Drug for a Predominant Problem

Originally synthesized in the 1960s, ketamine acted as an alternative to phencyclidine (PCP or “angel dust”) and users often found it produced altered physical, spatial, and temporal states. It grew as a recreational drug and, along with MDMA (Ecstasy) was bound up in rave culture.

By 2006, the National Institute of Mental Health had initiated the first controlled study of ketamine for treating depression. A virtual tidal wave of studies followed, many of which were promising. In the U.K., the lead researcher of an Oxford-based study of 28 people was effusive. “It really is dramatic for some people,” said Dr. Rupert McShane, “it’s the sort of thing that really makes it worth doing psychiatry.”

At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry has demonstrated interest in bringing ketamine products to the medical marketplace. AstraZeneca tried, and then dropped developing a drug, whereas Johnson & Johnson is in the midst of trials for a nasal spray containing esketamine, a ketamine derivative. There are other companies currently seeking to cash in on ketamine.

Yet, psychiatrists in the U.S. are waiting for neither the scientific community nor the pharmaceutical industry to act. Rather, some have begun to establish clinics. With the ability to use ketamine off-label, some American doctors are charging patients like Patrick Cameron $3,000 for six IV infusions of the drug.

With ketamine not yet available in Canada, Cameron, who has opted not to undergo Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), is stuck for options.  Canada may have adopted a universal healthcare model, but physicians – without a license from Health Canada – are restricted from offering ketamine as an alternative. So, when Zoloft or Lexapro fail and Canadian citizens choose to skip the electroshock route, they are forced elsewhere.

Much like HIV/AIDS activists in the 1980s, such as Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club, these Canadians have hard, very personal, and sometimes expensive choices to make as health consumers in the medical marketplace.

Debate Abounds

As in the case of LSD’s revival in mental health or the use of heroin as a therapeutic agent, there has been some resistance to psychiatrist’s administering ketamine.

For Stanford’s Alan F. Schatzberg, it is crucial to be wise about ketamine. “Until we know more,” he cautions, “clinicians should be wary about embarking on a slippery ketamine slope.”

More specifically, the warnings about ketamine clinic usually take three paths. First, severely depressed patients have trouble weighing the risks and rewards associated with experimental therapies. Second, many clinics are run by anesthesiologists, who offer limited psychiatric treatment. Third, the rise of ketamine has detracted from the well-understood Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), which has, in many psychiatrist’s view, a proven track-record of success.  

These criticisms, of course, have their merits and faults. But in a larger sense, the discussion about ketamine crystallizes how the public, scientific community, and regulatory bodies in the U.S., Canada, and beyond struggle to negotiate the line separating licit and illicit drugs.

Ketamine is not the same as medical marijuana, or LSD, or heroin as a treatment for addiction. Indeed, Special K does not come with all the baggage as these other drugs and, as an anesthetic, has actually been a valuable tool within mainstream medicine.

As Scientific American wrote earlier this year, “new thinking is desperately needed to aid the estimated 14 million American adults who suffer from severe mental illness.” The approach to ketamine in the United States and Canada is a useful place to start developing that fresh thought.



15:27 Chimp 'Personhood' Advocates Seek New Appeal in NY» LiveScience.com
Animal-rights advocates seeking "personhood" for chimpanzees want to take their case to the highest court in New York State.
14:59 NASA Satellite's 1st CO2 Maps of Earth Revealed» LiveScience.com
NASA scientists unveiled the first data sets from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2.
14:34 Jeb Bush (finally) quits bank that violated Cuba sanctions» Daily Kos
Jeb Bush
Oh, right. I'm supposed to have principles now.
The ambitious Jeb Bush takes an ill-timed pie to the face.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush blasted the Obama administration’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba in a Facebook post Wednesday, but in an example of why Bush’s ties to private equity and Barclays could provide fodder for opponents and critics, Barclays (which reportedly pays Bush more than a million dollars a year) had to settle criminal charges for violating sanctions that included Cuba. [...]

Bush’s ties to Barclays have caused some to raise the alarm about his potential candidacy.

“You saw what they did to me with Bain [Capital],” Mitt Romney said according to an article in Politico. “What do you think they’ll do to [Bush] over Barclays?”

Faced with the awkward problem of working for/with a corporation that violated the very sanctions he claims to hold dear, Bush the Newest has now done the expedient political thing: He's now quit.
former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will leave his position as a paid adviser to Barclays, the British bank, at the end of the year, according to a report.
Giving up a million dollar per year salary? Ah, crap, he's running. We're going to have a third Bush running for president. Whichever of you had the monkey's paw, I hope you're pleased with yourself.
14:34 Fitness Tracker Buying Guide: Use This Flow Chart to Pick the Right Device» LiveScience.com
There are a lot of fitness trackers out there to choose from, but which one is right for you?
14:02 Images: Carnivores of Europe» LiveScience.com
The large carnivores of Europe — such as bears, wolves, lynx and wolverines — are experiencing a resurgence, even in nonprotected areas.
13:51 The tortoise and the hare» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Bush's bold jump catches Clinton backers by surprise.
13:16 Starbucks CEO writes an open letter on race, justice, Ferguson, and open communication» Daily Kos
Howard Schultz
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz recently published an open letter sharing his thoughts on issues of race and injustice in America and his hopes for how Starbucks could facilitate open conversations about these issues across the country. His letter is below.
13:12 New England Journal of Medicine finds less racial disparity in hospital care» Daily Kos
Demographics of the the 4 million (in November 2014) not covered by ACA.
As of November, some four million poor adults were included in the national "coverage gap," a consequence of state decisions not to expand Medicaid. As the chart shows, Latinos and blacks make up a highly disproportionate share of these uninsured Americans.

These uninsured earn too much money to meet current Medicaid eligibility requirements but below the lower limit for Marketplace premium tax credits. If all the states had expanded their Medicaid programs, these four million would be newly eligible for coverage.

On a more positive note, the coverage gap has declined markedly in the past year. In three states alone—Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire—600,000 previously ineligible people have become insured since September 2013 because of Medicaid expansion. Again, this is a major benefit to all who meet the eligibility requirements, but blacks and Latinos especially gain because they are more likely to fall into the income eligibility parameters of the program.

In some other good news, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine indicates significant improvements are taking place in hospital care of Latinos and blacks, at least when it comes to heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia.

Most hospitals report their performance caring for patients suffering from these ailments, but they don't report the outcome based on race or ethnicity, making it difficult to determine whether there have been improvements in the quality and equity of care based on those characteristics. A team of researchers led by Dr. Amal N. Trivedi sought to find out.

They adjusted for 17 quality measures and found that "racial disparities were reduced in every category between 2005 and 2010. Importantly, they found hospitals were providing care more equally within hospitals, as well as between hospitals—meaning hospitals that serve higher rates of minority patients also saw improvements, the study authors wrote." Specifically, performance rates in the 17 categories improved by 3.4 to 57.6 percentage points in that five-year period for white, black, and Latino adults:

“Reviewing more than 12 million hospitalizations between 2005 and 2010, researchers set out to find whether hospital quality was improving—and whether minority groups were still being left behind. By 2010, angioplasty rates for all heart attack victims rose dramatically as the disparity gap also narrowed, according to the study. That year, 91.7 percent of white patients received the procedure within 90 minutes, compared to 86.3 percent of blacks and 89.7 of Hispanic patients—so the treatment gap between whites and blacks was cut by more than half in those five years.”
The closing of the gap is encouraging. It would be instructive to learn whether this improvement in care and equity when dealing with heart problems and pneumonia apply to other areas of care.
12:58 Pain Relievers May Offer Small Protection Against Skin Cancer» LiveScience.com
Ibuprofen and some other similar anti-inflammatory pain relievers may slightly lower people's risk of one common type of skin cancer, a new review of research shows, but experts find the benefits too small, especially for a cancer that is fairly curable.
12:53 New Leonardo da Vinci Film Reveals the Man Behind the Genius» LiveScience.com
Get ready to see Leonardo da Vinci as you've never seen him before. A new film about the Renaissance genius's life opens in select theaters on Friday (Dec. 19).
12:49 5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Leonardo da Vinci» LiveScience.com
The original Renaissance man had a few well-kept secrets.
12:49 Scott Walker doesn't see any reason to keep campaign promise for transparency» Daily Kos
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at CPAC 2013.
Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is not going to join fellow 2016 Republican presidential prospect Jeb Bush in transparency. Bush is releasing 250,000 emails from his time as governor of Florida. As for Walker:
"Governor Walker is focused solely on creating jobs for Wisconsin families and crafting a state budget that helps Wisconsin continue to move forward," said Tom Evenson, communications director for the Walker campaign.
And he can't delegate one staffer to work on those emails? What about walking and chewing gum at the same time? Walker himself later said "I don't see any reason why to do that." But here's one!
Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said he was not surprised by Walker's decision, noting that the governor had once vowed to run the most transparent administration "in the history of the universe."

"Why not make good on that promise and keep up with his Iowa primary rival all at the same time?" Tate asked.

I guess that was a campaign promise he was going to get around to after he finished creating the 250,000 jobs he promised back in 2010? And since he's still so far away from 250,000 jobs, he's just not worrying about any of the other promises he made? Boy, I wouldn't want to be married to him if he can only work on one promise at a time.

Of course, as No Quarter's Daniel Bice points out, "thousands of Walker's emails have already been made public as part of a secret criminal investigation of his aides and associates during his time as Milwaukee County executive."

12:39 Carnivore Comeback: Bears and Wolves Are Thriving in Europe» LiveScience.com
Despite a high human population density, Europe is seeing a resurgence of large carnivores such as wolves, lynx, bears and wolverines.
12:31 Fool's Gold Preserves Some of Earth's Oldest Fossils» LiveScience.com
Fool's gold helps preserve the bodies of some of the world's oldest animals. Sulfur-eating bacteria in the ocean helped the process of fossilization along.
11:44 Is This 158-Year-Old Redwood the UK's Oldest Living Christmas Tree?» LiveScience.com
A cultural agency in the United Kingdom says it's discovered the oldest living Christmas tree in all of Britain.
11:28 Will Reindeer Popularity Help Protect Their Wild Kin? (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
This Christmas, instead of wishing for reindeer on the roof, consider wishing for wild reindeer to get some much needed help.
11:21 Building Better Prosthetics - Engineers Work To Increase Efficiency | Video» LiveScience.com
10:42 Paul backs opening up to Cuba» POLITICO - TOP Stories
He says more trade with the country "is probably a good idea."
10:35 '4D Printing' Makes Shape-Shifting Structures» LiveScience.com
Using a new technique called 4D printing, researchers can print out 3D structures that are capable of changing their shapes over time.
10:03 Most of Alaska's Permafrost Could Melt This Century » LiveScience.com
The permafrost in most of Alaska's national parks could disappear by the year 2100, new research suggests.
09:20 What was the Worst #ScienceFail of 2014? (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
Four groups stood out as the worst for science in 2014.
08:22 Tampa Tribune Whitewashes Jeb Bush's Murky Business Record In Support Of Presidential Run» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Tampa Tribune editorial supporting former Gov. Jeb Bush's decision to explore the possibility of running for president claimed that his past business dealings, which include questionable investments, taxpayer bailouts, and failed ventures, "add to his qualifications" to be president.

The Tampa Tribune Claims Jeb Bush's Business Background Qualifies Him To Be President

The Tampa Tribune: Bush's Business Record "Only Adds To His Qualifications." According to a December 17 Tampa Tribune editorial positively highlighting Jeb Bush's decision to run for president, Bush's "sophisticated business deals" and the fact that he has "made a lot of money ... only adds to his qualifications" to be president:

The attacks on Bush, no doubt, will escalate, now that he has signaled he is serious about a presidential run.

A report in Bloomberg last week claimed "Jeb Bush has a Mitt Romney problem" because of his sophisticated business deals.

It detailed Bush's involvement with offshore private equity funds that some say act as a tax haven. He has business ties to Chinese companies.

Americans will decide if such matters are important to them, but there is nothing illegal or unethical about his investments.

That Bush, after his public service, became an enterprising businessman who made a lot of money, in our view, only adds to his qualifications.

It is hardly surprising that this champion of free enterprise would take advantage of financial opportunities. The nation might benefit from a president who is more enthusiastic, and astute, about capitalism. [The Tampa Tribune, 12/17/14]

Bush's Business Record Marred With Questionable Investments, Taxpayer Bailouts, And Failed Ventures

Bush Joined Lehman Brothers in 2007 After Leaving Governorship. After his tenure as governor of Florida, Bush joined the private-equity firm Lehman Brothers, whose 2008 bankruptcy is considered to have played a major role in the financial crisis that year. A Wall Street Journal article referring to Bush as "Lehman's Secret Weapon," reported on the firm's hiring the former governor:

In the arms race by private-equity firms to line up ever-higher profile "advisers," Lehman Brothers may have just taken the lead.

According to a small handful of reports Friday, including this one in Investment Dealers' Digest and another in Private Equity Hub, the investment bank has hired former Florida Governor and presidential son and brother Jeb Bush for its in-house investing arm.

No sign of an announcement from Lehman on the hire.

Private-equity firms hire politicos and former corporate honchos all the time to help them open doors to deals, as well as to manage government relations and the companies in their portfolios. [The Wall Street Journal, 8/27/07]

Tampa Bay Times: "Florida Stands To Lose $1 Billion Because Of Lehman Brothers' Bankruptcy." A Tampa Bay Times article explained that several months after Bush joined Lehman Brothers, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy which cost Florida "more than $1 billion":

A price tag is now emerging for what last year's collapse of investment giant Lehman Brothers could cost the state of Florida: more than $1 billion.

The losses could make Florida and its citizens among the biggest casualties in the biggest bankruptcy ever.

More than $440 million disappeared from the pension fund that pays benefits for some 1 million retirees and public employees.

Counties, cities and school districts face a loss of more than $300 million for roads, sewers and schools.

The state has $290 million less to pay for everything from hurricane claims to health care, community colleges and care for infants with disabilities.


The storied bank hired former Gov. Jeb Bush as a consultant in June 2007, five months after he left office. As governor, Bush also served as a trustee for the State Board of Administration, which invests public money.

Lehman was the dominant Wall Street broker that sold the SBA $1.4 billion of risky, mortgage-related securities that started tanking in August 2007.

Bush has said he had nothing to do with those sales.

"As Governor Bush has stated several times in response to your inquiries, his role as a consultant to Lehman Brothers was in no way related to any Florida investments,'' said his spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell.

"It is unfortunate the St. Petersburg Times continues to perpetuate this incorrect and baseless conjecture.'' [Tampa Bay Times6/4/09]

Company That Loaned Bush Money To Buy Office Building Failed, Causing Federal Government Bailout. According to an Associated Press article, a savings and loans company loaned Bush about half of the money needed for a $9-million office building, but when the company became insolvent, the federal government and taxpayers "ended up repaying most of the loan" exposing the "poor lending practices that led to the thrift industry's troubles":

A savings and loan became insolvent after lending President Bush's son Jeb and a partner about half the money toward purchase of a $9-million office building, and the federal government ended up repaying most of the loan, the New York Times reported.

Although it involved no criminal behavior, the loan is an example of the kind of poor lending practices that led to the thrift industry's troubles, the newspaper said.


The Miami deal involves Jeb Bush, 37, and his partner, Armando Codina, who own a partnership called 1390 Brickell.

In 1985, the two bought a Miami office building at that address for $9 million. They used a $7-million mortgage from an insurance company and a $4.6-million loan from Broward Federal Savings and Loan of Sunrise, Fla. The surplus money was to be used for improvements and a reserve account.

The loan from Broward Federal was obtained through J. E. Houston Financial Group, headed by J. Edward Houston, a former associate of Bush and Codina.

Broward Federal became insolvent in 1988, and the federal government paid more than $4 million to make good the loan on the Miami property as part of the bailout of the S&L industry.

Bush and Codina negotiated a settlement with regulators in which they repaid $505,000 and retained control of the building, the Times said.

It said Bush and Codina expressed surprise that the settlement could be interpreted as use of taxpayers' money to bail out the loan. Asked if they were aware that the money for the repayment came from taxpayers, both said no. [Associated Press, 10/15/1990; via Los Angeles Times]

Bush Was Member Of The Board Of Directors For Failed Construction Material Manufacturer InnoVida. According to The New York Times, Bush became a paid consultant and board member of InnoVida company in 2007. The company later filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and "had faked documents, lied about the health of the business and misappropriated $40 million in company funds" (emphasis added):

As it sought to recruit well-heeled investors, an untested and unprofitable Miami company named InnoVida brought aboard a trusted Florida figure in 2007: Jeb Bush, the former governor and the brother of a sitting president.

For potential stockholders, the imprimatur of Mr. Bush, who joined InnoVida as a paid consultant and a member of the board of directors, conferred credibility on the young start-up.

That credibility did not last long. It turned out that the leaders of InnoVida, a manufacturer of inexpensive building materials, had faked documents, lied about the health of the business and misappropriated $40 million in company funds, records show. The company went bankrupt in 2011, its founder eventually went to jail and investors lost nearly all of their money. [The New York Times, 4/20/14]

Think Progress: Bush Sat On The Board Of A Private Swiss Bank That Failed After His Tenure Ended. Think Progress reported that in 1986, Jeb Bush was a member of the board of the Swiss-owned bank The Private Bank and Trust which failed after federal regulators seized the organization and found that "it had been 'making investments contrary to client instructions and putting funds in companies affiliated with or managed by the bank.'" [Think Progress,11/21/14]

Bush Was Sued For Stock Manipulation After Serving On Board of Ideon Group. The St. Petersburg Times reported on September 20, 1998, that Bush served on the board of Ideon Group, a credit card fraud notification company. After Bush and seven other directors "agreed to sell Ideon to CUC International," the company was sued "for stock manipulation and weak oversight." Those suits were settled for $15 million. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/20/1998; via Media Matters, 12/16/14]

New York Times: Bush Was Named A Defendant In Law Suits Accusing Him Of "Insufficient Oversight" As Board Member Of Failed Soap Manufacturer. According to The New York Times, Bush was sued for his work as a board member of Swisher Hygiene after the company admitted to "unreliable financial statements":

Mr. Bush sat on the board of Swisher Hygiene, a soap maker, at a time when, its executives acknowledged, their financial statements were unreliable and their accounting practices inadequate. That admission contributed to a plunge in stock price that has wiped out more than three-quarters of Swisher's value and touched off a wave of shareholder lawsuits. Several have named Mr. Bush as a defendant, accusing him and fellow board members of insufficient oversight. [The New York Times, 4/20/14]

Think Progress: A Company Founded By Bush Was Accused Of Bribery And Fraud. A Think Progress report detailing Bush's involvement with the Bush-El Corporation explained that the company, which was founded to sell water pumps on foreign markets, was accused of bribery of a Nigerian official and later found liable in a suit that alleged the company made "knowingly false or fraudulent claims":

After helping elect his father president of the United States, Jeb Bush teamed in 1989 with then-Moving Water Industries, Corp. (MWI) president and CEO J. David Eller, to create Bush-El. The eponymous partnership aimed to market MWI's water pumps internationally. In 2002, the Miami Herald revealed that on one of Bush's trips to Nigeria to help sell them MWI pumps in 1991, that company's corporate pilot claimed he saw a suitcase full of cash -- an apparent bribe for Nigerian officials. The pilot did not implicate Bush and a Bush spokesman noted inconsistencies in the claims. "The governor was adamant he was not on an airplane with a suitcase full of cash," the spokesman said, adding Bush was "unaware of any plane he was on with luggage on it full of cash."

Bush has reportedly said his involvement in the Nigeria effort was conditioned on a private loan being secured (as his father was president at the time and he wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety). But the company instead went to the U.S. Export-Import Bank for the $74.3 million it needed for the deal. In 1998, after a whistleblower alleged "knowingly false or fraudulent claims" connected to that financing, the Department of Justice filed suit against MWI. The company has steadfastly denied the allegations, but was found liable by a jury last year and fined $580,000 (the MWI has appealed the verdict). Bush was not implicated and was never forced to testify in the case after a federal judge ruled him irrelevant to the case. [Think Progress, 11/21/14]

07:40 Fox News Can't Decide If There's Still A War On Christmas» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Last night on his Fox News show, Bill O'Reilly celebrated having "won the war" on Christmas. He continued the victory lap on NBC's Late Night, telling host Seth Meyers, "it's over, we won. Anybody can say Merry Christmas if they want to."  

But if the War on Christmas is over, someone forgot to tell O'Reilly's colleagues at Fox Nation, who are warning readers this morning of the supposedly ongoing "War on Christmas":

Jesse Watters, a correspondent for The O'Reilly Factor, serves as a managing editor for Fox Nation. 

06:38 Jeb Bush quitting Barclays» POLITICO - TOP Stories
He's also no longer listed as a client of his speaking agency.
05:34 Desert Mistletoe: Photos of 'Tree Thieves' in the American Southwest» LiveScience.com
This is the time of year when hanging mistletoe beckons loving couples to share a romantic moment. But, in the desert regions of northern Mexico and in the American Southwest, a very different type of mistletoe can be found.
04:48 8,000-Year-Old Olive Oil Found in Ancient Clay Pots» LiveScience.com
Ancient people pressed olive oil as far back as 8,000 years ago in Israel, a new study finds. Researchers found residues of the Mediterranean-diet staple on ancient clay pots dating back to the 6th century B.C.
04:46 Photos: Ancient Pottery Once Held Olive Oil» LiveScience.com
People living in ancient Israel used olive oil about 8,000 years ago, according to a chemical analysis of pottery shards and vessels found in the northern part of the country.
04:43 Close Call! Accidental Pufferfish Diners All Recover» LiveScience.com
The 11 Brazilians who mistakenly ate a poisonous pufferfish fillet have recovered and left the hospital, even two who had severe symptoms, including cardiac arrest and respiratory failure.
03:36 How Republicans could stop Obama's Cuba play» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Hill Republicans started making a to-do list immediately.
01:38 Media Erroneously Claim Obama Overstepped His Authority By Restoring Diplomatic Relations With Cuba» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Media figures are criticizing President Obama for the current diplomatic re-engagement with Cuba by falsely suggesting that taking executive action to ease some travel and trade restrictions is legally questionable. In reality, the embargo is a result of decades of executive actions under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and Congress has explicitly reaffirmed executive discretion of the type the president is taking to modify U.S. relations with Cuba.

Obama Announces Restoration Of Diplomatic Relations Between The U.S. And Cuba

New York Times: "U.S. To Restore Full Relations With Cuba, Erasing A Last Trace of Cold War Hostility." On December 17, Obama announced that he would take steps to improve ties with Cuba by lifting some travel and trade restrictions as well as reopening the U.S. Embassy in Havana. As the Times reported, the "historic deal" brokered between Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro "broke an enduring stalemate between two countries" that has lasted for decades:

President Obama on Wednesday ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to "cut loose the shackles of the past" and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.

The surprise announcement came at the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis and concluded by a telephone call between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro. The historic deal broke an enduring stalemate between two countries divided by just 90 miles of water but oceans of mistrust and hostility dating from the days of Theodore Roosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis.

"We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries," Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal, he added, will "begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas" and move beyond a "rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born." [The New York Times, 12/17/14]

Media Figures Suggest Obama Is Overstepping His Authority

Fox's Monica Crowley: "Now You Actually Do Have An Imperial Presidency Under Barack Obama." On the December 18 edition of America's Newsroom, Fox News contributor Monica Crowley argued that Obama's decision to improve relations between the U.S. and Cuba is further evidence of the president "setting some seriously dangerous precedents." Crowley also said Obama has "just acted on his own because he doesn't care about the rule of law, Congress, or public opinion." [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 12/18/14]

CNN's Ana Navarro: Deal Is A "Very Unilateral Change Of Policy." On CNN Newsroom, CNN political commentator Ana Navarro criticized the deal as a "very unilateral change of policy." She added that "there's only so much that the president can do through executive order. I'm sure there's much more he can do. But the U.S. embargo is codified in law. That means that it needs to be decodified in law." [CNN, CNN Newsroom, 12/17/14]

Fox's Kennedy: Obama Cannot "Touch" The Embargo "Without Congressional Approval." On Fox News' Outnumbered, co-host Kennedy said Obama "could not unilaterally lift the embargo" against Cuba. Kennedy continued, "you can't touch [the embargo'] without congressional approval." [Fox News, Outnumbered, 12/17/14]

Embargo Began With Presidential Action, But Was Later Signed Into Law

Kennedy Initiated Embargo Against Cuba Through Executive Action In 1962. On February 3, 1962, President Kennedy announced a total trade embargo of Cuba. The Associated Press described the decision as "the beginning of a comprehensive ban on U.S. trade with the island that has remained more or less intact ever since." [Associated Press, 2/7/12]

Federal Laws Formalized Embargo In 1992 And 1996. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act "bar[red] trade with Cuba by U.S. corporate subsidiaries in other countries." According to PBS NewsHour, the 1996 Helms-Burton Act "formalized the U.S. trade embargo of the island nation, in effect by presidential order since the Kennedy administration." [Sun-Sentinel, 10/24/92; PBS NewsHour, 7/16/01]

Bush Tightened Travel Restrictions In 2003. The BBC reported that in October 2003, "US President George Bush announce[d] fresh measures designed to hasten the end of communist rule in Cuba, including tightening a travel embargo to the island, cracking down on illegal cash transfers, and a more robust information campaign aimed at Cuba." [BBC News, 10/11/12]

Obama Is Not Lifting The Embargo, But Experts Have Long Agreed That The President Has Ample Discretionary Authority In Its Implementation

The Hill: "Neither The Trade Nor The Travel Embargo Is Being Lifted." As The Hill reported, while the president "has significant powers at his disposal" to make changes to trade and travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba, Obama's action does not lift the embargo entirely. Moreover, Obama's executive action is based in part on statutory authority already granted to him by Congress:

President Obama has significant powers at his disposal to make the U.S. trade and travel embargoes on Cuba meaningless, though action by Congress is required to formally lift the sanctions.

Six separate laws dictate the terms of sanctions on Cuba. They range from the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 to the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.

It was President John F. Kennedy who prohibited U.S. exports to Cuba under the Trading with the Enemy Act shortly after Fidel Castro took control of the island nation.

Since then, Congress has moved periodically to toughen the sanctions with legislation, and a series of presidents have also taken executive steps to tighten or loosen the screws on Cuba.

Experts agree that Obama, who with actions on healthcare and immigration has signaled a willingness to test the lengths of executive power, has significant discretion when it comes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

The six laws are written in a way to give the executive branch latitude in enforcing the law, and regulations are used to implement many of the sanctions.

"The laws were written in such a way that gave the executive branch a good amount of leeway," said John Kavulich, senior policy adviser for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "He has a lot of discretion, and it seems as though he's intending to use it.

Obama on Wednesday announced the U.S. will seek formal diplomatic relations with Cuba, and travel and trade restrictions will be eased.

Neither the trade nor the travel embargo is being lifted, but Obama's announcement will make it easier to get a license to travel to Cuba and will allow visitors to bring back goods to the United States. Americans also will be able to send up to $8,000 a year to Cubans and will no longer need a specific license to do so. [The Hill, 12/17/14]

Government Accountability Office: "The President Has Broad Authority To Modify" Embargo Regulations. The GAO has been asked repeatedly to analyze the president's executive discretion on diplomatic relations with Cuba within the bounds of "various laws, regulations, and presidential proclamations regarding trade, travel, and financial transactions." The GAO, an independent legislative agency charged with nonpartisan analysis of U.S. policy, has concluded that Congress has codified the power of the president to "ease regulatory restrictions" of the embargo and if certain conditions are met, and even end sanctions entirely:

The President has discretion to further ease regulatory restrictions such as those on travel, remittances, gift parcels, and trade with Cuba. For instance, the President can authorize travel under a general license for non-family travelers -- such as freelance journalists, professional researchers, and full-time students -- who currently must obtain a specific license; further increase the amount of cash remittances that travelers may carry to Cuba; and further expand the list of items eligible for gift parcels.

The President is authorized to suspend or end the embargo in the event of certain political changes in Cuba. Under the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996, on determining that a transition Cuban government is in power, the President may take steps to suspend the embargo, including its implementing regulations restricting financial transactions related to travel, trade, and remittances. He may also suspend enforcement of several legislative measures related to the embargo. LIBERTAD also requires that on determining that a democratically elected Cuban government is in power, the President must take steps to end the embargo, including the implementing regulations, and that once he has made such a determination, certain listed embargo-related legislative measures are automatically repealed. [Government Accountability Office, 9/17/09]

American University Professor Of Government: Congress Gave The President "Virtually Unlimited Licensing Authority To Tighten Or Loosen Sanctions." Although the legal authority for the embargo originated with the executive actions of former Presidents Truman and Kennedy during the Cold War, the ability to end it entirely has been curtailed by Congress. However, as American University School of Public Affairs professor William M. LeoGrande explained, bipartisan Congresses still "codified the president's authority to license exceptions to the embargo":

Although [the Trading With The Enemy Act of 1917 (TWEA)] was its original statutory foundation, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (aka Helms-Burton) wrote the embargo into law by stipulating that the economic sanctions in place at the time of passage would remain in place until Cuba underwent regime change. And other laws authorize various bits and pieces of the embargo: for example, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (§620(a)) gives the president the authority to impose a trade embargo on Cuba; the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 prohibits trade with Cuba by foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies; and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 prohibits tourist travel (§7209(b)). So the embargo would continue even without TWEA.

But the president's legal authority to change Cuba sanctions would become far more tenuous. The TWEA gives the president virtually unlimited licensing authority to tighten or loosen sanctions, authority that would disappear if the president failed to renew it. When Helms-Burton codified the Cuban sanctions regulations, it also codified the president's authority to license exceptions to the embargo, thereby loosening sanctions, since the regulations specifically refer to that authority (§515.201). But absent some statutory authority other than TWEA, it is not clear that the president could tighten sanctions.

A president who tried would be vulnerable to legal challenge by anyone sustaining damage as a result. In Regan v. Wald, the Supreme Court found that President Ronald Reagan was legally justified in tightening restrictions on travel to Cuba because of the broad authorities he retained under TWEA. [Huffington Post, 12/2/14]

Economic Sanctions Expert:  Presidents Have Repeatedly Modified The Embargo "Without Action Or Approval By Congress." In a legal analysis prepared for a 2011 Brookings Institution forum on relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Stephen Propst, an attorney specializing in export control law and economic sanctions, concluded that the "President retains broad authority to significantly modify and even ease specific provisions of the Cuba sanctions." Furthermore, as Propst explained in the analysis, multiple presidents -- including former President George W. Bush -- have unilaterally modified the regulatory enforcement of the embargo, providing precedent "to ease sanctions against Cuba" through executive action:

Through a complex series of federal statutes, Congress has codified the comprehensive U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba and restricted the President's authority to suspend or terminate those sanctions until a "transition government" is in power in Cuba. Notwithstanding these statutory requirements, the President maintains broad authority and discretion to significantly ease specific provisions of the Cuba sanctions regime in support of particular U.S. foreign policy objectives recognized by Congress, including the provision of humanitarian support for the Cuban people and the promotion of democratic reforms. In fact, since Congress codified of the Cuba sanctions in 1996, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have each exercised this authority to ease the scope of restrictions applicable to Cuba, without action or approval by Congress. This executive authority to modify the Cuba sanctions is grounded in Constitutional, statutory and regulatory provisions that empower the President and the responsible executive branch agencies to grant exceptions to the sanctions through executive actions, regulations and licenses. The authority is particularly broad in certain areas, such as telecommunications-related transactions and humanitarian donations, where Congress has explicitly granted discretion to the President under existing statutes. 


Notwithstanding this framework of successive federal statutes mandating sanctions against Cuba, the President retains broad authority to significantly modify and even ease specific provisions of the Cuba sanctions. This conclusion is supported by two separate reports prepared by the U.S. General Accounting Office ("GAO"), following detailed reviews of the statutory framework and regulatory actions taken by the executive branch since the enactment of Helms-Burton in 1996. Specifically, the reports prepared at the behest of Congress in 1998 and in 2009 concluded that (i) the President still maintains "broad discretion" to make additional modifications to the Cuba sanctions; and (ii) prior measures, implemented by the executive branch that have had the effect of easing specific restrictions of the Cuba sanctions, have been consistent with statutory mandates and within the discretionary authority of the President. ["Presidential Authority To Modify Economic Sanctions Against Cuba," 2/15/11]

01:36 Parents: How to Help a Shy Kid» LiveScience.com
Childhood shyness raises the risk of anxiety disorders later on, but only for kids who lack a secure attachment to their caregivers, a new study finds. Here's a look at how to foster a secure attachment.
01:29 Right-Wing Media Lash Out At Obamas For Talking About Personal Experiences With Racial Bias» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Conservative media lashed out at President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for recounting personal experiences with racism in an interview with People magazine, accusing the Obamas of playing the victim and even asking if the interview made race relations worse.

Obamas Share Personal Experiences With Racism In People Magazine

People: Even For Obamas, "Encounters With Racial Prejudice Aren't As Far In The Past As One Might Expect." In a December 17 interview with People magazine, the Obamas both recounted personal experiences with racism. Michelle Obama recalled a trip to Target as first lady when she was asked to help a woman "take something off a shelf," and another an episode when Barack was "wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee," or times he was mistaken for a valet outside restaurants. Obama noted "[t]he small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced." [People, 12/17/14]

Right-Wing Media Attack The Obamas' People Interview

Fox's Elisabeth Hasselbeck On Obamas: "Are They Not Making Things Worse?" On the December 18 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck acknowledged that the Obamas may personally feel "as though there has been bias placed upon them" and that "they have a right to express it," but argued, "As president and first lady, don't they have the responsibility to represent all Americans? Are they not making things worse?" [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/18/14]

Limbaugh Accuses Obamas Of "Going Full-On Victim" To "Diminish This Country." On the December 17 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh said the Obamas were "going full-on victim" in the interview, attempting "to diminish" the U.S.:

LIMBAUGH: So you have the president of the United States and the first lady going full-on victim, 101, six years into their presidency, nevertheless playing the victim card with events that supposedly happened six, seven, eight years ago. What is the point?


Why does he have to continue to diminish -- with pointed efforts to do so -- this country?


But anything, anything in the service of diminishing the United States. Anything that serves to illustrate this country as less than perfect, and less than what it should be. They will not miss those opportunities. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 12/17/14]

Laura Ingraham: Interview Reveals Obamas' "Condescending Attitude Toward The Working Person And Toward Americans." During her December 17 radio show, Laura Ingraham waved off the Obamas' accounts of racism, saying, "Just chalk this up to 'America's a rotten country' category." According to Ingraham, the interview revealed that the Obamas have "a condescending attitude toward the working person and toward Americans." [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show, 12/17/14]

TownHall Editor Tells Obamas To "Stop Scolding A Country That Gave Them So Much." In a December 17 column, TownHall.com finance editor John Ransom pointed to the People interview to claim, "Michelle Obama wants you to feel bad for her, and for Barack, because they are black," concluding that the Obamas "have received abundantly from this country because they are black. It's time for them to stop scolding a country that gave them so much." [TownHall.com, 12/17/14]

The Blaze's Dana Loesch: Helping Others Is Now "A Racist Act." On December 17, radio host and conservative commentator Dana Loesch scoffed at the Obamas' accounts of their experiences with racism:

[Twitter.com, 12/17/14]

Michelle Malkin Starts Hashtag Mocking Michelle Obama's Account Of Racial Bias. On December 17, conservative commentator and columnist Michelle Malkin wrote several tweets mocking an experience in Target Michelle Obama recounted in her People interview:

[Twitter.com, 12/17/14]

[Twitter.com, 12/17/14]

00:55 For Some, Less Radiation for Breast Cancer Makes Sense (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
In spite of "tradition," doctors need to adopt new approaches to breast cancer treatment.

Wed 17 December, 2014

23:16 Limbaugh Manages To Connect Sony Hack And Movie Cancellation To Benghazi Hoax» Media Matters for America - Latest Items
23:10 Why Media Shouldn't Glorify PA's Fracking Industry» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Frack No

Conservative media are praising Pennsylvania's fracking industry in order to criticize New York's recently announced ban on hydraulic fracturing, without mentioning the health impacts that it has had on Pennsylvania's drinking water and communities.

On December 17, New York became the first state in the country to officially ban the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The announcement by Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration came alongside a long-awaited health study on fracking in New York state, which found "significant public health risks" associated with the process. Cuomo officials also stated that allowing fracking would bring "far lower" economic benefits to the state "than originally forecast."

In response, conservative media have been holding up the economy in Pennsylvania -- where fracking has been in practice for decades -- to question the Cuomo administration's decision. Both the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Caller touted statistics from the American Petroleum Institute, which claimed Wednesday that Pennsylvania's fracking industry has generated $2.1 billion in state taxes that have allegedly supported new roads, bridges, and parks. And on the December 17 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, correspondent Eric Shawn reported, "[Fracking] has been allowed in Pennsylvania and helped that state's troubled economy enormously." Co-host Heather Nauert agreed, lamenting, "When you go upstate in New York you see just how badly the jobs are needed up there":

But Pennsylvania may actually be more of a testament to why New York's health concerns surrounding fracking are warranted. Oil and gas operations have damaged Pennsylvania's water supply over 200 times since 2007, according to an investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and a recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that the state's drinking water is at risk from poor wastewater disposal practices. One Pennsylvania town, Dimock, has been dubbed "Ground Zero" in the battle over fracking's safety by NPR. The town has seen particularly high rates of water contamination, with a methane leak causing a resident's backyard water well to explode, tossing aside a concrete slab weighing several thousand pounds in one instance. 

19:52 Still Fleeing Cuba» POLITICO - TOP Stories
My parents left more than 50 years ago. But the anguish remains.
18:16 The Democrats' risky Cuba bet» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Will Florida's changing demographics offset a backlash among Cuban emigres?
16:00 Pulled over for Playing the Wrong Song? Authoritarianism Is Creeping Up on America» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
We need to retrieve our values from the trash-heap of history where Bush and Cheney threw them.

Are we really the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On Thanksgiving Day, 26-year-old law student Cesar Baldelomar was pulled over by a police officer in northwest Miami.

So what was the reason for his stop?

He was playing the song "F**K Tha Police" by N.W.A on his radio.

According to the Miami New Times, police officer Harold Garzon confronted Baldelomar at a stop light, and reportedly said to him, "You're really playing that song? Pull over."

When Baldelomar pulled over, the officer claimed that it was illegal for him to being playing music that loudly within 25 feet of another person.

Being a law student, Baldelomar knew that wasn't the case. In fact, as Baldelomar told the Miami New Times, "In 2012 the state supreme court struck down any law banning loud music. I knew that because it was a case I had actually studied in law school."

Officer Garzon then reportedly issued Baldelomar a ticket for not having proof of car insurance (even though he did and offered it to Garzon) and tickets for not wearing a seatbelt and having an out-of-state license.

Cesar Baldelomar's Thanksgiving Day run-in with the police isn't just another example of abuse of power.

It's a symptom of a much larger problem in the US: growing levels of authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism is a disease. It moves and grows gradually, but inexorably.

Eventually, it grows to the point where it has completely taken over society.

The US is dangerously close to that point.

Think about it.

Authoritarianism rears its ugly head in the US every time a police officer uses excessive force.

It rears its ugly head every time we stop ourselves from saying jokes while waiting in airport security lines, and self-censor ourselves when interacting with police officers and figures of authority.

And it rears its ugly head every time we think twice about what to say in our emails and text messages, because we realize that someone might be reading them.

Fortunately, we can stop the spread of authoritarianism in the US, but first we must understand just how insidious it is, and how easily it can spread.

That's where the book They Thought They Were Freecomes in.

They Thought They Were Free was written back in 1955 by Milton Mayer, a longtime journalist who worked for the Associated Press, the Chicago Evening Post, and the Chicago Evening American.

The book details Mayer's journey to Germany, just seven years after Hitler's demise.

While in Germany, Mayer got to know, and even became friends with, 10 average German Nazis.

The book details his experiences, but also gives tremendous insight into how Nazi Germany came to be and into the nature of authoritarianism.

For example, Mayer writes that, "Now I see a little better how Nazism overcame Germany - not by attack from without or by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler. It was what most Germans wanted - or, under pressure of combined reality and illusion, came to want."

He goes on to say that,

"I came home a little bit afraid for my country, afraid of what it might want, and get, and like, under the combined pressure of reality and illusion. I felt - and feel - that it was not German Man that I met, but Man. He happened to be in Germany under certain conditions. He might be here under certain conditions. He might, under certain conditions, be I. If I - and my countrymen - ever succumbed to that concatenation of conditions, no Constitution, no laws, no police, and certainly no army would be able to protect us from harm."

The story of how the Nazis took over Germany, and much of Europe, is a classic example of how authoritarianism spreads.

Slowly but surely, the government begins to grow its police, surveillance and military power. People begin to accept it. They learn to live it. It becomes the new normal. And by then it's too late.

We can't let authoritarianism continue to grow and become the new normal in the US.

More importantly, we need to retrieve our own American values from the trash-heap of history where Bush and Cheney threw them.

We need to assert that we don't need to torture people, we don't need to spend more money on defense than every other country in the world combined, and we don't need to be the world's police.

As Mayer points out in his book, when Germans began to realize just how bad things had gotten in Nazi Germany, it was already too late to fight back.

But it's not too late for us.

It's time to stop living in fear, and turn the US back into the land of the free and the home of the brave.


Related Stories

15:46 Here's Your Holiday Guide to Avoiding Slave Labor» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
If you want a clearer conscience this Christmas, buy your gifts locally.

Pope Francis got into the holiday spirit this year by calling on shoppers not to buy products made by modern-day slaves.

This is, of course, excellent advice. Odds are, most of us — whether Catholic or not — would love to take it.

But how? Most products don’t come with tags specifying whether or not slave labor was used in their production.

There are a few agricultural products in particular — including many popular stocking stuffers — that are notorious for using slave labor. Fortunately, you can avoid buying them with a little bit of thought.

Take chocolate, for instance. In 2012, CNN reported that half-a-million child slaves work on cacao plantations in the Ivory Coast, which supplies nearly 40 percent of the world’s chocolate.

I did buy fancy truffles for a number of people on my gift list. Maybe you plan to as well.

The good news is that avoiding dubious chocolate sources is easy: Simply opt for Fair Trade-certified chocolate. The certification process ensures traceability and responsibility in the supply chain, and it means slightly better prices for cacao farmers.

Then there’s shrimp. Earlier this year, The Guardian reported on widespread modern-day slavery in the Thai shrimp farming industry. Shrimp sold in the United States comes from domestic and foreign sources, both farmed and wild, but Thailand is a major supplier.

You probably didn’t plan to put any shrimp under your Christmas tree, but if you’re considering serving shrimp cocktail at a holiday party, check the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide to find a responsible source. (Or just serve something other than shrimp, because many sources of this popular seafood are, quite frankly, disgusting.)

Another item that comes to mind is palm oil. And there’s a good chance — whether you realize it or not — that you’ve slipped a palm oil product into a loved one’s stocking.

Palm oil is found in a large number of processed foods, cosmetics, and even candles.

It can be produced ethically — and some brands, like Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, source their palm oil responsibly. But in far too many cases it comes from plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, where deforestation from palm oil production endangers orangutans, tigers, and a magnificent rainforest ecosystem.

Yet this is a haphazard and likely incomplete list of products to avoid. The easiest way to ensure that your gifts benefit your community and the workers who produced them is to buy locally.

That can mean purchasing handmade, unique products from Etsy, shopping at local stores or craft fairs, or giving loved ones experiences instead of things. A trip to see a musical or a sports game is a great gift, especially for a kid who already has more toys than he or she could ever play with.

One of the best gifts I’ve ever given was a set of “coupons from Santa” for my then-boyfriend’s kids to do things like stay up late, pick the movie the family would watch, or choose what we had for dinner. It cost nothing to write them up and drop them into the kids’ stockings, and they absolutely loved them.

As we thoughtfully buy gifts for our loved ones in festive stores this season, it’s hard to remember the people who make the products we buy — especially given the lack of transparency in the supply chain. But a bit of extra thought can help us take the Pope’s advice, without sacrificing the quality of gifts we purchase.


Related Stories

11:43 What Happened to Arab Liberalism?» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Four years after the Arab Spring, activists are trying to revive an enfeebled movement.
10:31 Wall Street firm where Chris Christie's wife works is pulling in New Jersey pension fees» Daily Kos
Governor Chris Christie and his wife Mary Pat Foster attend his inauguration service in Newark, New Jersey, January 21, 2014. &nbsp;REUTERS/Adam Hunger
Mary Pat and Chris Christie
Under Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Wall Street firms as management fees on the state's pension funds. Just a few hundred thousand dollars of that has gone to a firm called Angelo Gordon over the past couple years, but David Sirota makes the case that it's worth a closer look nonetheless. Why? Well, Angelo Gordon hired Mary Pat Christie—the governor's wife—in 2012, paying her $475,000 a year.

Mary Pat Christie's hire came the year after New Jersey stopped investing with Angelo Gordon. Yet the state continues to pay the firm hundreds of thousands of dollars because:

A spokesman for the New Jersey Treasury Department, Christopher Santarelli, said via email that while New Jersey “ended its investment” with Angelo Gordon in 2011, the payments were legitimate because the state continues to hold an “illiquid” investment in the firm. Christie officials declined to disclose details of what exactly that illiquid investment is and the justification for continuing to pay fees to Angelo Gordon. The governor, Mary Pat Christie and executives at Angelo Gordon all declined to comment.
The illiquid investment is valued at $6.6 million, and the fees going from New Jersey to Angelo Gordon are declining as time goes by. But still, why?
In all since 2006, state documents show New Jersey has paid more than $11.8 million in fees to Angelo Gordon -- more than the amount the state currently says it is projected to make on its investment in the firm. Former hedge fund manager Marshall Auerback told IBTimes that the outstanding illiquid investment is unusual.

"The obvious question here is, why is the Christie administration allowing fees to be paid to a financial firm for three years after the state terminated its investment?" Auerback, who is now an executive at the economic policy group Institute for New Economic Thinking, said. "This seems like a very one-sided deal for the manager. After three years, there doesn’t seem to be a time frame for selling the illiquid parts of the investment, and yet the manager gets to keep collecting fees. It's a great deal for Mary Pat Christie's firm, but a terrible deal for taxpayers and for the public employees whose pension money is being used to pay the fees."

The fact that Chris Christie does this kind of stuff openly while hoping to run for president really has to make you wonder what he'd do if he thought no one was paying attention.
09:51 America's Decay Into a Violent, Cruel Place» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
No civilization would tolerate what America has recently done.

It seems police can get away with anything: choking men who have surrendered; shooting unarmed teens; knocking pregnant women to the ground. While the issues involving race, civil rights and the relationship between law enforcement and communities are essential for examination and correction, few are talking about how all of this fits into the larger pattern of America’s cultural decline and decay. America has become a society addicted to violence and indifferent to the suffering of people without power. Whenever there is a combination of a culture of violence and an ethic of heartlessness, fatal abuse of authority will escalate, and the legal system will fail to address it.

Critics are right to condemn the criminal justice system for its embedded inequities and injustices, but they are hesitant to condemn the actual jurors giving killer cops get-out-of-jail-free cards. These jurors are representational of America: ignorant and cold. They hear testimony from eyewitnesses claiming Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown while he had his hands in the air, and set Wilson free without trial. They listen to reports of three officers choking Robert Saylor, an unarmed man with Down syndrome who wanted to see a movie without a ticket, and they send the police back to work. They watch video footage of police choking Eric Garner in New York, and of two police officers brutally beating Keyarika Diggles, a woman in Texas, and they decline to make them pay for it. 

Have they been programmed into cruelty and apathy by American schools, churches, families, politics, and pop culture?

There are practical demands that the sane minority of Americans can make as they march the streets of Ferguson, New York and Chicago. Body cameras on police officers is a technological aid to the people who live under military occupation from the blue army. Tougher requirements for entering the police force, and better training methods for those in the academy are essential, as is a sweeping and radical review, best led by the White House, of a racist and predatory criminal justice system.

Jesse Jackson has offered the excellent proposal that the Department of Justice begin investigating police departments to determine if they are following civil rights laws on hiring, employment issues and law enforcement policy. If they are not, as it appears with Ferguson, they should no longer receive any federal funding. Jackson’s idea to “fight civil rights violations with civil rights law" is a brilliant plan to punish police departments that obstruct justice, prevent further abuses by exerting financial pressure for compliance and strike a blow against the militarization of police. No more armored vehicles or special forces gear for police departments that do not hire minorities, or that systemically target Latinos and African Americans for arrest.

While this all seems unlikely to happen, let us pretend America magically transforms into a decent society and begins policing the police, moves toward fairness in criminal justice and actually prioritizes civil rights. There is still the cancer at the heart of a culture committed to venerating violence, celebrating selfishness and condemning compassion.

Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman wrote the classic Manufacturing Consent, about the manipulative and exploitative relationship corporate media has with the American public. What if the consent is not manufactured? What if, as historian Morris Berman contends, the plutocratic theft of American lives and treasure is not actually a robbery, but a transaction?

William of Ockham famously devised the problem-solving principle, Occam’s razor: Cut away the unnecessary complications and the simplest answer to a question is most likely the correct answer. After all the analysis of the normalized dysfunction of democracy in America, launched with the assumption that the political system fails to represent the will of the people, the question remains: what if it actually does represent the will of the people? That the system is actually succeeding in upholding its representational promise might be the simplest and most probable answer to the mystery of America’s comatose slumber in a nightmare of torment for the oppressed and treasures for the oppressors.

More optimistic liberals will identify the masses of protestors filling the streets with rage and disgust over the state-sanctioned murder of two unarmed black men, but the thousands of people protesting in major cities are only the sane minority. The sane minority fights against the “silent majority” of Richard Nixon’s delight. The disgraced president was right in 1969 when he pointed out that the majority of Americans were not part of anti-war demonstrations or countercultural movements; they were his voters, and their children became Reagan’s voters. From beyond the grave, he is still right.

The police officers who shoot teenagers for the crime of stealing cigarillos, the cops who choke men to death and beat women, along with the police administrators and county prosecutors who protect them, are not from Mars. They are not lizards in disguise, as some of the wildest conspiracy theorists suggest. They are Americans. They are products of American institutions and culture, and they staff and supervise the enforcement of our laws.

In all of the attacks on the “system” for endorsing the behavior of murderous cops, few critics actually condemn those most responsible for the decisions not to press charges: the jurors. No one reasonable can doubt that the county prosecutor, Robet McCulloch, in Ferguson, did his best to corrupt the process, but clearly no one marching in solidarity with Michael Brown’s family would have let Darren Wilson live comfortably with the $1 million his supporters raised to assist him through his financial difficulties. A large part of the problem lies with the jurors who accepted their roles as McCulloch’s toys and Wilson’s collective shield.

There is no imaginable defense of the jury in the Eric Garner case. They had visual evidence of the police murdering a man begging for his life. They, like the police they protect, are average Americans. They are not cyborgs. They are your neighbors.

Twelve more Americans in Texas felt no horror or sympathy when watching two police officers beat Keyarika Diggles in a police station. Perhaps they viewed it with the same amusement we when watching the destruction of lives on reality television. One thing that is for certain is that they did not watch as decent human beings.

There is no question that the criminal justice system is racist, and that the American political system is vicious. Black people have always suffered the worst beating and battering in America, because the mental disease of racism is too viral to quickly heal. African Americans were three-fifths human during slavery, and it seems that in 2014, with a biracial man in the White House, they are four-fifths human. America has made progress, but no one but the blind can believe that black life has equal value as white life.

These “systems,” however, are not giant computers. They are institutions run and powered by people. The people are the face of America. Darren Wilson, Robert McCulloch and the jurors who failed to punish police officers for killing, are part of the silent majority. They are the same silent majority of voters responsible for the election of officials who dismiss poverty as an unimportant issue, who assault public education, and who continually call for the enhancement of killing Muslims in the Middle East. They are the same silent majority, 66 percent according to polls, who support air strikes against Iraq, and they constitute the 40 percent, which will only grow if the propaganda campaign picks up again, that support a ground invasion.

For a particularly horrific glimpse into the creep show of American values of violence, consider that, according to a recent Pew Report, 51 percent of Americans believe that torture, such as rectal feeding, waterboarding and other gruesome methods described in the Senate Intelligence Committee report, is justified. Another 20 percent said that they have no opinion.

It seems the jurors in the Brown, Garner and Diggles cases were easy to deceive, and in the case of Ferguson, likely because they had little knowledge of American history or law. They are likely part of the 71 percent of Americans who never read a newspaper, the 80 percent of American families who bought no books last year, and the 70 percent who cannot name a single part of the Bill of Rights.

They are the natural products of a culture that has steadily mutated into embracing destructive hyper-individualism. The for-profit healthcare system, the prison-industrial complex, and the bitter segregation along race and class lines in the public education system are also natural products, along with deranged and violent police who face no consequences for shedding blood. The victims of this culture, whether they are the children caught in the crosshairs of drone strikes or the women beaten in police stations, are made invisible or insignificant by myths of American exceptionalism and benevolence.

Speaking to me about Michael Brown’s death and the racial divide in America, Jesse Jackson said, “We’ve removed the layer of skin—the epidermis—that separates us. So now we can vote together, work together, date each others’ sisters, but this thing is bone-deep. That’s what people don’t want to acknowledge. We know how to survive apart, but we must learn how to live together.”

The acknowledgment of America’s need to learn to live together has a simplicity that masks its profundity. Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone, documented the extent of Americans’ isolation from each other. Mass shootings, rates of violent crime higher than the rest of the developed world and outrages like Garner's and Brown’s deaths demonstrate that the inability to peacefully coexist in America goes beyond race. It is a bone-deep dysfunction with social costs, political implications and spiritual disasters. Inequality will continue to grow and injustice will continue to worsen until America is made to actually deal with its levels of selfish indifference to suffering, from ordinary people on grand juries to those who occupy the highest thrones of power.

The sane minority might ostensibly protest the racism of the criminal justice system, but they are actually demanding that America become a civilized society. No civilization would tolerate what America has recently done, but it is that very concept —the idea of civilization—that the silent majority so fiercely seems to hate and reject.

09:22 Fox Host Missed Obama's Reassurance To Americans Over Film Threats» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Fox News host Martha MacCallum falsely claimed that President Obama failed to reassure Americans to continue movie-going after Sony's film The Interview prompted terror threats. However, Obama had encouraged Americans to "go to the movies" hours earlier. 

The Interview, a comedy that revolves around a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has been pulled from movie theaters and will not be released by Sony after terror threats were made against the theaters it was scheduled to be played in on Christmas Day. The threat referenced the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

On the December 17 edition of The Kelly File, MacCallum complained that the White House has been dead silent on the threats. MacCallum recalled that after 9/11, "the message was always 'Go on, live your life, do what you're going to do, go to the movies, go shopping'":

But hours before The Kelly File aired, Obama said these very words in an ABC News interview: "My recommendation would be that people go to the movies."

MUIR: Do you consider this a legitimate threat, and how concerned are you?

OBAMA: Well, the cyber attack is very serious. We're investigating it. We're taking it seriously. You know, we'll be vigilant. If we see something that we think is serious and credible, then we'll alert the public. But for now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies.

Before The Kelly Show aired, CNN also reported on President Obama's advice: 

09:14 New York Times Omits Key Facts To Fabricate Dishonest Clinton-Obama Fundraising Scandal» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

The New York Times omitted key facts it had previously reported to dishonestly accuse Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration of selling political favors to an Ecuadorean family in exchange for campaign donations. Excised from the Times reporting is the fact that prominent Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, have the exact same relationship with the donors that the Times is now portraying as a problem for Democrats.  

"Ecuador family wins favors after donations to Democrats," the Times headline claimed. The article detailed the decision to grant a travel visa to a "politically connected Ecuadorean woman," and argued that the decision to do so was connected to "tens of thousands of dollars" the family of the woman, Estefania Isaias, has given to Democratic campaigns.

According to the Times, "the case involving Estefania could prove awkward for Mrs. Clinton," based on the fact that she was Secretary of State when members of Congress were advocating for travel visa for the relative of two Florida residents seen as fugitives by the Ecuadorean government. 

The Times fixated on political donations given by the Isaias family to Democrats as if it were news, but the Times already reported on the money the Isaias family has given to elected officials in a March 11, 2014, article. Moreover, that prior article noted that potential Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio and Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had also aided the Isaias' at the same time their political campaigns received donations linked to that family -- facts absent from the more recent piece.

In March, the Times made clear that the family gave significant campaign contributions to Florida Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who "acknowledged trying to help the family with immigration troubles." The Republicans sent letters -- in one case directly to Clinton herself -- inquiring into the immigration issues surrounding members of the family or advocating on their behalf.

"The family gave about $40,000 to Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, whose district members live in," the Times reported then. "Last month, she acknowledged to The Daily Beast that while she was chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee she sent four letters to top American officials, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of state, advocating on behalf of three members of the Isaias family who had problems with their residencies. She called it 'standard practice' for constituents."

That detail is absent from this week's Times article. 

Here's the Times in March: "Mr. Rubio, whose political action committee received $2,000 from Luis Isaias, also made 'routine constituent inquiries' into immigration matters for two family members, his office said." In December, Rubio's advocacy vanished from the Times.

Additionally, while the article suggests in its opening paragraph that Estefania Isaias was given permission to enter the country in 2012 in direct response to the donations from her family, she reportedly received the same access on six prior occasions dating back to the first restrictions on her movement in 2007 under the Bush Administration. Indeed, the Times reported in the 23rd paragraph of its article that a spokesperson for Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said the senator's office had gotten involved with the Isaias case because "because Ms. Isaías had previously been allowed to travel to the United States six times despite the ban, and the decision to suddenly enforce it seemed arbitrary and wrong."

Conservative media are exploiting the Times' shoddy reporting -- reporting that doesn't stand up to basic scrutiny in light of what the Times itself has previously reported. 

"Clinton State Dept Pulled Strings for Menendez in Pay-to-Play Deal with Dem Donor," the Washington Free Beacon headline claimed. "Controversial Ecuadorian Family Donated About $100,000 to Obama ... and the State Department Returned the Favor," is the take over at The Blaze. The Daily Caller: "Sen Menendez Pushed Hillary Clinton To Grant Visa For Daughter Of Ecuadoran Bank Fugitive."

Taking The New York Times' lead, Rubio's and Ros-Lehtinen's advocacy on behalf of their donors is nowhere to be seen.

07:28 Bill O'Reilly: African-Americans Should Wear "Don't Get Pregnant At 14" On Their T-Shirts» Media Matters for America - Latest Items
00:50 8 Tips for the Discerning Cannabis Consumer» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
What to ask, what to pay, what to look for, and what to avoid when it comes to buying premium flower.

Most recreational marijuana stores now offer a Wonka-like wonderland of gourmet edibles, medicated topicals, ultra-potent concentrates and every imaginable cannabis-infused novelty – from hot-sauces to breath mints, toothpicks to suppositories.

But if you’re looking to purchase some good ol’ fashioned smoke-able flower and are relatively new to cannabis – or you are a connoisseur looking to raise your game – why not get a little expert advice to ensure a safe and pleasurable experience?

Solstice co-founder Alex Cooley, who has overseen both small and commercial-scale grows, opened and run medical marijuana access points, served as a consultant to patient-farmers – and bought and consumed cannabis the world over – recommends the following approach to buying quality bud.

Similar to a foodie’s ‘seed to table’ perspective, Cooley recommends bringing a working knowledge of the plant’s optimal growing conditions (provided below), and a few strategic questions about who grew it for your local Bud Tender, or shall we say, your ‘Cannabis Concierge.’

1)   Know Thyself.

“Come with some idea of what you are looking for and what has worked for you in the past. Take the time to communicate clearly about what you want. It is possible to slap twenty dollars on the counter and say, ‘Just give me whatever you like to smoke,’ and you might get lucky. But cannabis has a unique effect on every person – so ultimately you have to trust yourself.”

2) Take In Your Surroundings.

“Be aware of what kind of establishment you’re walking in to. Is it clean and organized? Are there 35 varieties or 10? This doesn’t mean you will find the best cannabis in the best looking stores; It is entirely possible to buy something great in a ‘seedier’ location. What really matters is a certain level of engagement from whoever is selling the flower. So much is dependent upon how present and knowledgeable they are.

“Ideally, they should have some knowledge about who grew the cannabis. Premium cannabis will often come with a great story. You can ask them, ‘What is organic? What was grown by a quality group of people?’”

3) Get Close.

“You’ll want to narrow your choices down to 2-3 different types of flower and then look closely at each. What you want is a solid flower structure and a very rounded smell.

How much space is between the buds? How much stem is present as opposed to actual flower? You’re paying by weight, after all, so you don’t want a lot of stem. The flowers should be fairly dense, depending on the variety. Are there abundant pistils or ‘hairs’ on the flower?  What you want is fully mature cannabis.”

4) Touch It If You Can.

"The cannabis you're holding is the culmination of a long, complex process that requires a lot of attention and care. If the grower didn't finish the curing, which is the last step of a four-month cycle, then what else have they not done? Was it grown in a clean, mold-free space? Was it grown with pesticides? All of these minute decisions are reflected in the final flower.

“If you’re able to touch the cannabis, then feel how brittle the stem is – does it crack or bend? Or is it spongy? Sponginess is an indication that it hasn’t been cured for the right amount of time, is typically a little wetter, and will therefore be a harsher smoke because it hasn’t had the right amount of chlorophyll sweated out of it. So if the grower didn’t cure it properly – what other corners might they have they cut?”

5) With Trichomes, Go For Quality Over Quantity.

 “Some retail stores and access points will have a microscope or a jeweler’s loupe, so ask for one and take a close look at the trichomes on the flower you have selected. [Trichomes are the tiny, mushroom-shaped glands that bristle on cannabis flowers, and more importantly, are what produce the psychoactive component THC] You want to pay attention to the maturity of the trichomes present, which fall into 4 categories:

1) The immature or young: Straight and clear, almost transparent.

2) Slightly mature: Cloudy, with a bendy stalk.

3) Fully mature: Amber colored, the stalk slightly crumpled and bendy.

4) Overly mature: Darker in color, often damaged, with broken stalks and missing heads.

“My ideal trichome snapshot would be 75% slightly mature with a cloudier color and no broken stalks, 10 – 15 % mature amber, and a maximum of 10% clear, or immature.

“It’s important to watch for broken trichomes; they indicate that the cannabis was handled roughly or aggressively. There was little care taken in the harvesting and processing process, which can affect your experience.

“Once you’re up to 25-30% amber trichomes, there are higher levels of CBN [a cannabinoid - or chemical compound found in abundance in the cannabis plant - that is an oxidative degradation product of THC] and lower levels of THC. CBN has sedative effect and heightens many of the negative experiences associated with cannabis consumption such as dizziness, a reduction in heart-rate, and general fogginess.”

6) Ask If the Cannabis is Hand-Trimmed.

“Once the cannabis has been cured, most of the extra matter – leaf, and stems, should be manicured away, ideally by a well-trained processing team.

"You're paying for the flower--not leaf, which when present, actually burns faster and ignites more easily, which makes for a harsher smoke. It's not only harder on your throat, but also contains higher amounts of chlorophyll. 

“There are three different kinds of trim:

1. The Lazy Trim: This is the bare minimum. They pull off the large fan leaves, but basically keep anything with trichomes on it, so there are often more leaves and fewer flowers.

2. The Machine Trim: This is a pretty aggressive trim, and can be expected from lower-cost cannabis. It basically cuts through everything, sometimes exposing the bud and breaking trichomes in the process. It’s a rougher process that releases higher levels of chlorophyll, and will sometimes damage the terpenes [volatile oils in the plant that produce its unique sensory profile] which results in a blander cannabis.

3. The Hand Trim: When done right, this is the gold standard. All you’re getting is flower, delicately trimmed, and handled with care to preserve the trichomes and the integrity of the terpene profile.”

7) Ask About the Grower.

"The same disconnect that we have collectively from our food and other consumables is present between those who buy cannabis and those who farm it. I believe it's important to know where these things come from. And today, more people who grow cannabis are totally out in the open and transparent, and are identifying themselves as 'brands.'

“So you can ask the bud tender, or do a little research online and find out about the company. If they’re a commercial grower you can ask if they use synthetic fertilizers, if they donate to other organizations or support their community, etc. Ultimately you vote with your dollar.”

8) So What Does It Cost?

 “The short answer is $8 – $15 a gram. On the high end that means it was trimmed by hand, there’s no stem or leaf, it’s perfectly manicured, there’s no question about the cure time, no sponginess, and a very strong, present smell. It could also be something that is very unique or hard to come by – perhaps is a new variety or recently created, and was grown with a lot of care.

“On the low end, if you don’t want to pay too much you can still expect quality. Just make sure it was cured properly – don’t buy wet cannabis – and that it has been broken down to mostly flower, as few stems and leaves as possible.

“On the whole it’s easier to find indica dominant hybrids because pure sativas are harder to grow and have a higher price point.

“That said, I’ve had some really great cannabis for $8 a gram. WA State has some of the highest quality cannabis for that price. I do some mystery shopping at access points around the state and buy three different grades of flower – low, middle and high. And I am often very pleasantly surprised at what I can get on the lower end. These are rarely organic, or have unique genetics, they don’t have the highest quality trim – but they’re quite good for the price.”


Related Stories

Tue 16 December, 2014

22:19 Texas police officer violently Tasers 78-year-old man» Daily Kos

It is definitely evident that there is a real problem with policing in America. Although police find themselves under scrutiny by cameras from the citizens, businesses, and their own, some continue undeterred with their brutality.

Officer Nathanial Robinson stopped Pete Vasquez purportedly for an expired inspection sticker. The seemingly ignorant officer did not understand that a dealer car with dealer plates did not require an inspection sticker. Instead of listening to Pete Vasquez explaining the cop's error, it was obvious from the video that the "Almighty Officer" was not interested in having Pete Vasquez speak. He should have.

ABC13 reported the following:

VICTORIA, TX -- A Victoria police officer has been placed on administrative duty after his dashboard camera caught him Tasering an elderly man.

In the video obtained by the Victoria Advocate, Officer Nathanial Robinson is seen arresting 76-year-old Pete Vasquez, when he suddenly throws Vasquez onto the hood of the car, pulls him to the ground and Tasers him.

Vasquez said the cop acted more like a pit bull than a police officer.

"I turn around and he pulled that Taser and he shot me with it, and you know it looked like he's enjoying that," Vasquez said.

Vasquez said the officer Tasered him a second time for failing to get up fast enough.

"He ordered me to get up and get up, so he could put the handcuffs on me and I couldn't get up, so he put his Taser and he did it again," Vasquez said.

The Victoria Texas police chief said that officer Nathanial Robinson is now under investigation both locally and by the Texas Rangers.

There are many components to police behavior. Most importantly is the lack of accountability. The reality is that while some police officers are the perpetrators of bad behavior in the punitive manner in which they deal with some citizens, it is the citizens who bear much of the responsibility for indicting them when they misbehave. The dereliction of citizen's civic duty embolden some police officers to exhibit an unchecked bullying behavior.

18:52 Ever wondered who's behind those Viagra emails?» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The dark and deadly world of pharma spam.

Sun 14 December, 2014

11:23 AGU 2014» RealClimate
Once more unto the breach! Fall AGU this year will be (as last year) …the largest Earth Science conference on the planet, and is where you will get previews of new science results, get a sense of what other experts think about current topics, and indulge in the more social side of being a scientist. […]
11:23 Ten Years of RealClimate: Where now?» RealClimate
The landscape for science blogging, the public discourse on climate and our own roles in the scientific community have all changed radically over the last 10 years. Blogging is no longer something that stands apart from professional communications, the mainstream media or new online start-ups. The diversity of voices online has also increased widely: scientists […]

Wed 10 December, 2014

18:12 How green is Barack Obama?» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Nineteen thinkers on which of his climate moves really matter.
18:10 Dianne Feinstein's Travesty» POLITICO - TOP Stories
It isn't an insult to call the CIA report partisan.
13:08 Ten Years of RealClimate» RealClimate
In the spring of 2004, when we (individually) first started talking to people about starting a blog on climate science, almost everyone thought it was a great idea, but very few thought it was something they should get involved in. Today, scientists communicating on social media is far more commonplace. On the occasion of our […]
13:07 Ten years of RealClimate: Thanks» RealClimate
As well as the current core team – David Archer, Eric Steig, Gavin Schmidt, Mike Mann, Rasmus Benestad, Ray Bradley, Ray Pierrehumbert, Stefan Rahmstorf – this blog has had input from many others over the years: The 90+ guest contributors and previous team members who bring a necessary diversity of experience and expertise to the […]
13:06 Ten years of Realclimate: By the numbers» RealClimate
Start date: 10 December 2004 Number of posts: 914 Number of comments: ~172,000 Number of comments with inline responses: 14,277 Minimum number of total unique page visits, and unique views, respectively: 19 Million, 35 Million Number of guest posts: 100+ Number of mentions in newspaper sources indexed by LexisNexis: 225 Minimum number of contributors and […]

Tue 09 December, 2014

20:30 Reid's new mission: Blocking 'crazy stuff'» POLITICO - TOP Stories
An interview with the Senate's incoming minority leader.
18:47 How the fastest-warming city in the country is cooling off» POLITICO - TOP Stories
In Louisville, it's one tree at a time.
11:18 Women leaders meet after historic year at polls» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Nearly a dozen lawmakers from both parties agree the progress has been positive, but not enough.

Mon 08 December, 2014

03:38 The most popular deceptive climate graph» RealClimate
The “World Climate Widget” from Tony Watts’ blog is probably the most popular deceptive image among climate “skeptics”.  We’ll take it under the microscope and show what it would look like when done properly. So called “climate skeptics” deploy an arsenal of misleading graphics, with which the human influence on the climate can be down […]

Thu 04 December, 2014

14:09 Recent global warming trends: significant or paused or what?» RealClimate
As the World Meteorological Organisation WMO has just announced that “The year 2014 is on track to be the warmest, or one of the warmest years on record”, it is timely to have a look at recent global temperature changes. I’m going to use Kevin Cowtan’s nice interactive temperature plotting and trend calculation tool to […]

Wed 03 December, 2014

06:30 Unforced variations: Dec 2014» RealClimate
This month’s open thread. Think history, Lima, and upcoming additions of a single data point to timeseries based on arbitrary calendrical boundaries.

Fri 28 November, 2014

06:04 A clearer picture how climate change affects El Niño?» RealClimate
I still remember the first time I was asked about how climate change affects El Niño. It was given as a group exercise during a winter school in Les Houghes (in France) back in February 1996. Since then, I have kept thinking about this question, and I have not been the only one wondering about […]

Thu 29 May, 2014

00:01 Prenatal Genetic Screening Tests: Benefits & Risks» LiveScience.com
Prenatal genetic testing may diagnose any complications or developmental issues.

Wed 19 February, 2014

22:34 Facts About Cobras» LiveScience.com
Cobras are large, venomous snakes with a trademark hood. They hiss and spit and can raise the upper part of their bodies high enough to look you in the eye.

Wed 27 November, 2013

07:51 Best Fitness Tracker Bands» LiveScience.com
Plan to buy a fitness tracker like the Basis Carbon Steel or Jawbone Up 24? Check out LiveScience's in-depth reviews before making a purchase.

Tue 15 October, 2013

Sun 22 September, 2013

06:34 The Last Post» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

The Oil Drum (TOD) was an internet energy phenomenon that ran for over eight years from April 2005 to September 2013. The site was founded by Prof. Goose (also known as Professor Kyle Saunders of Colorado State University) and Heading Out (also known as Professor Dave Summers formerly of the Missouri University of Science and Technology).

The site took off with the advent of Hurricane Rita in September 2005 and resulted in the first 200+ comment event, indicating that there was demand for a site where concerned citizens could gather round a camp fire to discuss events impacting their energy supplies and ultimately, their well being. In eight years, >960,000 comments have been posted. Two other energy linked disasters, the Deepwater Horizon blowout and the Fukushima Daiichi reactor melt downs would see readership soar to >75,000 unique visits per day.

These pages have hosted over 7,500 articles covering every aspect of the global energy system. It was not unusual for a post to attract over 600 comments, many of which were well informed and contained charts and links to other internet sources. The site would become known for a uniquely high level of discourse where armchair analysts of all stripes added their knowledge to threads in a courteous, and ultimately pro-social way that energy experts at hedge funds, corporations or universities might not have the freedom to do. It is this emergent property of smart people sharing knowledge on a critical topic to humanity's future that will be missed.

The site was built on twin backbones that would often pull the readership in opposite directions. Drumbeats, edited by Leanan (who remains anonymous to this day) provided daily energy news digest and a forum for debate. And articles, written by a legion of volunteer writers, that strove to provide a more quantitative analysis of global energy supplies and the political, social and economic events that lay behind them. All the content would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Super G, our site engineer, who maintained and updated software and hardware as the site grew and evolved for over eight years on a voluntary basis.

In the course of 2013, a decision was made to archive The Oil Drum and the main purpose of this Last Post is to provide some direction to new and future readers of the vast content it contains. The main contributors are listed below along with links to where their writings can be now be found. If you are looking for content there are two main options. The first is to look for author specific content where clicking on the live hyper linked name of the contributor will take you to a page giving access to all the content produced by that author. The second option is to use the Advanced Search facility at the top left of this page. Simply enter a few key words and this will return a page of the most relevant articles.

Editorial board

Arthur Berman (aeberman) Arthur E. Berman is a petroleum geologist with 35 years of oil and gas industry experience. He worked 20 years for Amoco (now BP) and 15 years as consulting geologist. He gives keynote addresses for energy conferences, boards of directors and professional societies. He has been interviewed about oil and gas topics on CBS, CNBC, CNN, Platt’s Energy Week, BNN, Bloomberg, Platt’s, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone and The New York Times.

He was a managing editor and frequent contributor of theoildrum.com, and an associate editor of the AAPG Bulletin. He is a Director of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, and has served on the boards of directors of The Houston Geological Society and The Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists. He has published more than 100 articles on petroleum geology. He has done expert witness and research work on several oil and gas trial and utility commission hearings.

He has an M.S. (Geology) from the Colorado School of Mines and a B.A. (History) from Amherst College.

Nate Hagens is a well-known speaker on the big picture related to the global macroeconomy. Nate's presentations address opportunities and constraints we face in the transition away from growth based economies as fossil fuels become more costly. On the supply side, Nate focuses on biophysical economics (net energy) and the interrelationship between money and natural resources. On the demand side, Nate addresses the behavioral underpinnings to conspicuous consumption and offers suggestions on how individuals and society might better adapt to the end of growth. He will be writing at themonkeytrap.us.

Nate has appeared on PBS, BBC, ABC, NPR, and has lectured around the world. He holds a Masters Degree in Finance from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. Previously Nate was President of Sanctuary Asset Management and a Vice President at the investment firms Salomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers. Nate is the former President of the Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future (non-profit publisher of The Oil Drum), is current US Director of the Institute for Integrated Economic Research, and serves on the Board of the Post Carbon Institute. Nate also served as the lead editor of the Oil Drum for several years.

Rembrandt Koppelaar has since 2010 been a Research Associate at the Swiss Institute for Integrated Economic Research (IIER), where he works on modelling of costs of resource and energy flows. Since June 2012 he combines this with a PhD research position at Imperial College London, to contribute to a spatial simulation of the resource flows of an economy at a micro-level using agent-based approaches. He joined the Oil Drum in 2006 first as a contributor and later as an editor, triggering by his concern in oil depletion. An interest that also led him to establish and become President of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas Netherlands from 2006 to 2010. He is author of the book “De Permanente Oliecrisis” discussing the end of cheap oil and its consequences (Dutch language, Nieuw Amsterdam publishers, 2008). Rembrandt holds a BSc and MSc in economics from Wageningen University, the Netherlands.

Brian Maschhoff (JoulesBurn) earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of New Mexico and a Ph.D in Chemistry from the University of Arizona. He has worked at several academic institutions and government laboratories, and currently engages in a wide variety of scientific and technical pursuits including web-based education, data visualization, and research on salmon recovery. His research on the oil fields of Saudi Arabia is also posted at Satellite o'er the Desert. He also blogs at Picojoule, and he might eventually be found @joulesburn on Twitter.

Euan Mearns has B.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in geology from The University of Aberdeen. Following an academic career in Norway and a business career in Scotland I took time off work in 2005 to help care for two sons and two dogs and to allow my wife's career to blossom. In 2006, wondering why the oil price and the value of my oil stocks kept going up I stumbled upon the The Oil Drum that provided unique insight, at that time, into The Earth energy system. Feeling the need to put something back I submitted a couple of articles and have since written roughly 100 posts and hosted many guest posts from worthy authors.

In 2009 I was appointed as Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Aberdeen and teach occasional courses there. For the last 7 years, writing and editing articles for The Oil Drum has consumed a fair portion of my time, but I have in return learned a huge amount. I also continue to work as a consultant for the oil industry. The focus of my interest is the importance of energy to society, society's response to the infrastructure and secondary impacts of energy provision and the political response. I plan to continue writing about Energy, Environment and Policy at Energy Matters.

New post, 8th October: UK North Sea Oil Production Decline
New post 18th November: Marcellus shale gas Bradford Co Pennsylvania: production history and declines
New post, 28th November: What is the real cost of shale gas?
New post, 9th December: OPEC oil production update July 2013
New post, 18th December: OECD oil production update July 2013
New post, 3rd January: Global Oil Supply Update July 2013
New post, 6th January: The Primary Energy Tale of Two Continents

Paul Sears was born in the UK, and did a Ph.D. in chemistry at Cambridge. Since first coming to Canada on a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Western Ontario in 1973, he has worked at the University of Toronto and in the Canadian Federal Government in Ottawa. Most of his work since the mid 1970s has been on the supply and use of energy in one form or another. His interest in the limitations to oil supply dates back to about 1962, when he was at school watching a promotional film from an oil company. The subject of the film was oil exploration, and this caused him to wonder about the dependence of our society on oil and the limits to supply. Other interests are canoeing, kayaking, skiing, hiking, camping, keeping planted aquaria and learning Mandarin Chinese. Sadly, Paul Sears passed away on September 13, 2012. You can read an obituary here.

Dave Summers who writes under the pen name, "Heading Out", comes from a family that for at least nine generations has been coal miners, and he started his working life, as an Indentured Apprentice, in 1961 shoveling coal on one of the last hand-won coal faces in the UK at Seghill, after a few weeks supplying that face with the help of a pit pony. With bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Leeds University in the UK he moved to Rolla, Missouri and Missouri University of Science and Technology (then UMR) in 1968. He was named Curators’ Professor of Mining Engineering in 1980 and for many years directed the Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center at MS&T. His main work has been in the developing use of high-pressure water for cutting, cleaning and demilitarization. As one of the quiet revolutions that has crept into industry during his career, his research group worked in nuclear cleanup, rocket motors, and surgical applications as well as developing tools to cut, drill and mine more mundane rock, coal and metals. The team carved the half-scale Stonehenge out of Georgia granite, using only water, and later cut Edwina Sandy’s Millennium Arch from Missouri granite, both of which are on the MS&T campus. They also used the technique in a demonstration excavation that resulted in creating the OmniMax theater under the Gateway Arch in St Louis.

He retired from the University, and was named Emeritus in 2010, and lives quietly with his wife Barbara, with occasional commutes to visit their children, located on the two coasts very far from rural America.

In 2004 he began to write a blog, and in 2005 teamed with Kyle Saunders to jointly found The Oil Drum, a site for “discussions on energy and our future.” He now writes on energy, the applications of waterjets, a little on the use of the 3D modeling program Poser, and occasionally on climate matters. His blog, where the Tech Talks continue, can be found at Bit Tooth Energy. He again thanks all those who have contributed to The Oil Drum over the years and wishes them joy and prosperity in their futures!

Dr. David Archibold Summers has written numerous articles, a textbook, Waterjetting Technology, and jointly holds several patents, the last two of which have been licensed and deal a) with the use of waterjets to remove skin cancer and b) for high speed drilling of small holes through the earth.

Gail Tverberg (Gail the Actuary) became interested in resource limits and how these affect insurance companies and the economy more generally in 2005. She began writing about this issue while working as a property-casualty actuarial consultant at Towers Watson. In 2007, she took early retirement to work specifically on the issue of oil limits.

Between 2007 and its suspension in 2013, Gail worked as a contributor and editor at TheOilDrum.com. She also started her own blog, OurFiniteWorld.com, where she continues to write on a regular basis. Her writings include Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis, published in the peer-reviewed journal Energy in January 2012. She has spoken at at many conferences on subjects related to oil limits, including both academic and actuarial conferences. She now plans to write a book, tentatively called "Discontinuity Ahead: How Oil Limits Affect the Economy."

Gail worked for CNA Insurance prior to joining Tillinghast (which eventually became part of Towers Watson) in 1981. She has a BA in Mathematics from St. Olaf College and an MS in Mathematics from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and a member of the American Academy of Actuaries.

Her Twitter feed is @gailtheactuary.

Chris Vernon originally graduated with a masters degree in computational physics before working for ten years in the field of mobile telecoms specialising in radio network architecture and off-grid power systems in emerging markets. He subsequently returned to university to take an MSc in Earth system science and a PhD in glaciology focusing on the mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet. Chris is a trustee at the Centre for Sustainable Energy, works for the UK Met Office and maintains a personal web page.

Selected contributors

Big Gav studied Engineering at the University of Western Australia in Perth. Since then he has travelled widely and worked in the oil and gas, power generation, defence, technology and banking industries. He has been blogging about peak oil for almost 3 years at Peak Energy (Australia) and is probably the most prolific example of a techno-optimist in the peak oil world. He may be alone in thinking that peak oil represents a great opportunity to switch to a clean energy based world economy, rather than the trigger for the end of industrial civilisation.

Jason Bradford is currently a Farm Manager in Corvallis, OR and a Managing Partner for a sustainable farmland fund, Farmland LP. Most of his writing for The Oil Drum occurred while he lived in Willits, CA, where he was instrumental in the founding of Willits Economic Localization, hosted a radio program called "The Reality Report," and was a board member of the local Renewable Energy Development Institute. He also founded and ran a small farm at a local elementary school with a lot of community support and the backing of The Post Carbon Institute, where he is currently a board member. His brief but enjoyable academic career began at Washington University in St. Louis and the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), where he taught courses in Ecology and from which he received a doctorate in Evolution and Population Biology in 2000. After graduation he was hired by the Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development at MBG, and between 2001 and 2004 secured grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society for multi-disciplinary research on issues related to species extinction and ecosystem function. His "aha moment" came during this research period where the connections between environmental decline, resource consumption, economic growth, belief systems and institutional inertia led to a dramatic change in the course of his life's work.

He continues to blog at Farmland LP.

David Murphy is an Assistant Professor in the Geography Department and an Associate of the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability, and Energy, both at Northern Illinois University. He serves also as an Environmental Policy Analyst for the Environmental Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory. Dr. Murphy’s research focuses on the intersection of energy, economics, and the environment. Recently, his work has focused on estimating how the extraction of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale has impacted the provision of ecosystem services from the local environment. In addition, he researches how the energy return on investment from oil is related to oil price and economic growth. Dr. Murphy's work for Argonne National Laboratory addresses the environmental impacts associated with energy development.

He tweets: @djmurphy04

Robert Rapier works in the energy industry and writes and speaks about issues involving energy and the environment. He is Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President at Merica International, a forestry and renewable energy company involved in a variety of projects around the world. Robert has 20 years of international engineering experience in the chemicals, oil and gas, and renewable energy industries, and holds several patents related to his work. He has worked in the areas of oil refining, natural gas production, synthetic fuels, ethanol production, butanol production, and various biomass to energy projects. Robert is the author of Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil. He is also the author of the R-Squared Energy Column at Energy Trends Insider. His articles on energy and sustainability have appeared in numerous media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, and Forbes.

Jeff Vail (jeffvail) is an energy intelligence analyst and former US Air Force intelligence officer. He has a B.S. in engineering and history from the US Air Force Academy and a Juris Doctor from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. His interests are in global energy geopolitics and the the "rhizome" theory of social and economic organization. He is the author of the political anthropology book A Theory of Power and maintains a blog at http://www.jeffvail.net.

Jérôme à Paris is an investment banker in Paris, specialised in structured finance for energy projects, in particular in the wind power sector. After graduating from the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, he wrote his Ph.D. in economics in 1995 on the independence of Ukraine, with a strong focus on the gas relationship between Ukraine and Russia, and he worked on financings for the Russian oil & gas industry for several years after that. He is the editor of the European Tribune, a community website on European politics and energy issues. He has written extensively about energy issues, usually from an economic or geopolitical angle for the European Tribune and for DailyKos where he led a collective effort to draft an energy policy for the USA, Energize America.

Rune Likvern After Rune's first time seeing The Oil Drum (TOD and Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future; ISEOF), in 2005 he created an account as nrgyman2000 and later got an invitation to become part of the staff of volunteer writers at what was then TOD Europe. In 2008 he started to post under his real name.

He is a Norwegian presently living in Norway and holding a masters degree from what is now the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. For more than two decades he was employed in various positions by major international oil companies, primarily Statoil, working with operations, field/area developments (in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea) and implementation (primarily logistics) of Troll Gas Sales Agreement (TGSA) which is about natural gas deliveries to European customers. This was followed by a period as an independent energy (oil/gas fields assessments, cash flow analysis, portfolio analysis etc.) consultant and as VP for an energy hedge fund in New York. In recent years he had a sabbatical to do more in depth research, reading and participating in discussions about energy, biology (what makes human {brains} what they are and why), and not least financial and economic subjects in several global forums as well as some advisory work.

Presently he is looking for gainful employment/engagements.

He also posts on his blog Fractional Flow
(primarily in Norwegian, but some future posts are planned for in English).

Phil Hart studied Materials Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne before spending five years with Shell UK Exploration and Production, based in Aberdeen, Scotland. He worked on two new North Sea oil and gas field development projects followed by a stint with the Brent field maintenance team as a corrosion engineer. In late 2006, Phil returned to Melbourne and was for a while an active member of the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil. He provided many briefings to government, business and community audiences and is still available for presentations around Melbourne and Victoria. Phil now works primarily in the water industry but consults as required for The Institute for Sensible Transport as well. He is also a keen astronomer and night sky photographer: www.philhart.com.

Luís Alexandre Duque Moreira de Sousa (Luís de Sousa) is a researcher at the Public Research Institute Henri Tudor in Luxembourg and a Ph.D. student in Informatics Engineering at the Technical University of Lisbon. Luís created the first Portuguese language website dedicated to Peak Oil in 2005 (PicoDoPetroleo.net); in 2006 he would be one of the founders of ASPO-Portugal and later that year integrated the team that started the European branch of The Oil Drum. Since then he has continuously written about Energy and its interplay with Politics and Economics, both in English and Portuguese. Luís is a regular presence at the collective blog European Tribune and writes on the broader issues of life on his personal blog AtTheEdgeOfTime.

Sat 21 September, 2013

14:34 The House That Randy Built» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

One of the nice aspects of the 7+ years I have been involved with The Oil Drum has been attending conferences and meeting with some of my cyber friends, who by and large figure among the nicest bunch of folks I ever met. In 2007 I attended the ASPO meeting in Houston and it was then that I met Randy Udall for the first time. Well you know what some Americans are like - you meet, you chat a while, discover you get along, down a couple of beers and before you know it you are invited to go visit. And so it was with Randy Udall....

The house that Randy built, sunk low in the Colorado terrain, provides shelter from winter storms and from exposure to summer sun. Photovoltaics, solar hot water (on the roof) and a single wood burner (chimney) provides all the energy needs.

Three years later, my wife and I had a trip planned to the States to go visit Dave Rutledge (another cyber mate) at his mountain lodge in New Mexico and I thought it would be cool to visit Randy en route. We exchanged a couple of emails, he warned that his wife Leslie was cautious about some of his friends coming to stay and that his son once claimed that the family lived in a "mud hut" and by now I was wondering if this was such a good idea. But plans were made and we went to stay with Randy in Colorado for a couple of days in August 2011; on arrival, any trepidation melted away.

A "mud hut", not quite. The stucco exterior finish covers thick foam insulation that in turn covers compressed earth (adobe) blocks. This provides protection from winter cold and summer heat, and thermal inertia from the large temperature swings prevalent in this part of the world.

At first sight Randy's house did indeed have the feel of a "mud hut" but upon entering the reality of a beautifully and lovingly crafted passive house unfolded. I was astonished to learn that Randy had designed and built every inch of this house himself, including the manufacture of every compressed earth brick and the hammering in of every nail - in neat serried ranks.

I wish I had recorded the vital statistics but the mass of bricks was carefully calculated to provide thermal inertia, keeping the house warm in winter but cool in summer. I was also very surprised to learn that all of the insulation was on the outside of the masonry structure which is the opposite of the way we build our houses in the UK. South-facing windows collect wintertime solar energy and the adobe block walls and brick floors soak up much of that heat energy, keeping the home warm through cold nights. During the summer, just opening the windows at night cools off the massive floors and walls, helping the house stay cool during hot days. Putting the insulation on the outside of the exterior walls is the only way to make this adobe wall strategy work effectively.

The house was set low in the terrain, providing protection from winter storms and from the worst excesses of summer heat. Outside you find a large solar PV array, providing a surplus of electricity and solar hot water arrays on the south facing roofs providing all the hot water required and, if my memory serves correctly, some interior heating during winter time.

The rather plain exterior gave way, inside, to simple, beautifully crafted, elegance.

Every timber cut and every nail hammered by one man. This is a masterpiece that will hopefully endure.

Inside, beautiful craftsmanship provides simple but elegant living space to match the view of Mount Sopris that dominated the surrounding landscape. Not many of us leave a lasting legacy. Randy has left memories of a wonderful and thoughtful teacher and a house that will hopefully stand as a testimony to his passion for sustainable living for centuries to come.

The view out of the front window wasn't that bad either. Mount Sopris (3,952 m /12,965 ft) offered Randy and his family fantastic walking, climbing and ski mountaineering opportunities.

Renewable energy and renewable transport. I am seldom pleased with the pictures I take, but there is something about this one I really like.

On the second evening of our visit, we dined with the local mayor and downed a few glasses of red. Randy may look pensive but he is actually looking at his lap top, has my credit card and is planning a road trip for us through Mesa Verde and Grand Canyon en route to New Mexico, one of the best trips my wife and I have ever made. He knew this area like the back of his hand.

To some, this house and lifestyle may seem fabulously exuberant. But the house, in fact, was built for a relatively tiny amount of money with most of the cost coming by way of blood, sweat, tears, knowledge and love of a vision for the future. These Udalls lived a simple life with a very strong sense of community involvement.

Most folks who read these pages will already know that in June of this year Randy died aged 61 of natural causes while hiking alone in the Wind River range of Wyoming, hunting for wild trout. The tragedy here is that he was snatched from his family and the sustainable living community he championed 10 to 20 years prematurely.

Thank you to Leslie Udall for consent to publish this article and to Steve Andrews for some useful editorial comments.

Thu 19 September, 2013

21:27 Twenty (Important) Concepts I Wasn't Taught in Business School - Part I» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

Twenty-one years ago I received an MBA with Honors from the University of Chicago. The world became my oyster. Or so it seemed. For many years I achieved status in the metrics popular in our day ~ large paychecks, nice cars, travel to exotic places, girlfriend(s), novelty, and perhaps most importantly, respect for being a 'successful' member of society. But it turns out my financial career, shortlived as it was, occurred at the tail end of an era ~ where financial markers would increasingly decouple from the reality they were created to represent. My skill of being able to create more digits out of some digits, (or at least being able to sell that likelihood), allowed me to succeed in a "turbo" financial system that would moonshot over the next 20 years. For a short time I was in the 1% (and still am relative to 'all humans who have ever lived'). Being in the 1% afforded me an opportunity to dig a little deeper in what was really going on (because I quit, and had time to read and think about things for 10 years). It turns out the logic underpinning the financial system, and therefore my career, was based on some core flawed assumptions that had 'worked' in the short run but have since become outdated, putting societies at significant risks.

Around 30% of matriculating undergraduate college students today choose a business major, yet 'doing business' without knowledge of biology, ecology, and physics entirely circumvents first principles of how our world really works ~ my too long but also too short summary of the important things I wasn't taught in business school is below.

The Blind men and the Elephant, by Rudyard Kipling

Business as usual as we know it, with economics as its guide and financial metrics as its scorecard, is in its death throes. The below essay is going to appear critical of finance and the nations (world's) business schools. But it is too, critical, of our entire educational system. However, physicists, plumbers and plowmen do not have the same pull with respect to our cultural goals and narrative that financial folk do - as such an examination of the central assumptions driving society is long overdue. But before I point out what I didn't learn in MBA school, I want to be fair - I did learn things of ‘value’ for the waters I would swim in the future: statistics, regression, how to professionally present and to facilitate meetings, and some useful marketing concepts. Of course, like any 20 something student, 1/2 of the value of graduate school is learning to interact with the group of people that will be your peers, and the relationships and contacts that develop. Plus the placement office was very helpful in getting us jobs as well.

The culture at Salomon Brothers impressed me the most and I landed in their Private Investment Department, where we were basically stockbrokers for the uber-rich - as a trainee I wasn't allowed to call on anyone worth less than $50 million (in 1993). After Salomon shut our department down I went to a similar job at Lehman Brothers. At Lehman I increasingly felt like a high paid car salesmen and after 2 years quit to go work for a client, develop trading algorithms on commodities and eventually started my own small fund. But increasingly, instead of trading or trying to grow my business I found myself reading about oil, history, evolution and ecological issues. It really bothered me that 'externalities' were not priced into our goods or profits. One day, on a hike, it struck me that what I was doing felt spiritually hollow and despite it ‘paying the bills’ I began to realize I was more interested in learning about how the world worked and maybe doing something about improving it. In 2002 I gave my clients their money back, embarked on basically a 2 year hiking trip with my dog, and a car full of books. Eventually I would obtain a PhD in Natural Resources, but like many of you my real degree was obtained on this site, interacting with the many and varied people I met and continue to call friends and mentors. I am continuing to work on, or at least think about, making the near and long term future better, despite the tall odds, while living on a small farm in Wisconsin. More on this below.

In the years that have passed, modern society has become a crazy mélange of angst, uncertainty and worry. Many of us intuitively recognize that we’ve constructed a ginormous Rube Goldberg machine which for a number of reasons may not continue to crank out goods and services for the next 30-40 years. We blame this and that demographic for our declining prospects – the Republicans, the environmentalists, the greedy rich, the lazy poor, the immigrants, the liberals, etc. We blame this and that country or political system – evil socialists, heartless capitalists, Chinese, Syrians, Europeans, etc. We watch TV and internet about the latest ‘news’ influencing our world yet are not entirely confident of the connections. But underlying all this back and forth are some first principles, which are only taught piecemeal in our schools, if at all. Below is a short list of 20 principles underpinning today’s global ‘commerce’. I should note, if I was a 25 year old starting business school, eager to get a high paying job in two short years, I wouldn’t believe what follows below, even if I had time or interest to read it, which I probably wouldn't.

20. Economic 'laws' were created during and based on a non-repeatable period of human history

"I found a flaw. I was shocked because I'd been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well." Alan Greenspan testimony to Congress, Oct 2011

Click image to enlarge.

The above graphic shows a three-tiered time history of our planet, starting with the top black line being geologic time. The tiny black sliver on the far right, is enlarged in the second line, and the sliver on its far right is again enlarged on the bottom line, where the last 12,000 years are shown. We, both our environment, and ourselves, are products of this evolutionary history. Our true wealth originates from energy, natural resources and ecosystem services, developed over geologic time. Our true behavioral drivers are a product of our brains being sculpted and honed by 'what worked' in all 3 eras of this graph (but mostly the top 2). The dark line on the bottom is human population, but just as well could be economic output or fossil fuel use, as they have been highly correlated over this period.

The economic ‘theories’ underpinning our current society developed exclusively during the short period labeled 'A' on the graph, on a planet still ecologically empty of human systems and when increasing amounts of extraordinarily powerful fossil energy was applied to an expanding global economic system. For decades our human economies seemed to follow a pattern of growth interrupted by brief recession and resumption to growth. This has made it seem, for all intents and purposes, that growth of both the economy and aggregate individual wealth was something akin to a natural law –it is certainly taught that way in business schools. The reality is that our human trajectory –both past and future - is not a straight line but more like a polynomial - long straight stretches, up and down, with some wavy periods in the middle, and ultimately capped. Our present culture, our institutions, and all of our assumptions about the future were developed during a long 'upward sloping' stretch. Since this straight line period has gone on longer than the average human lifetime, our biological focus on the present over the future and past makes it difficult to imagine that the underlying truth is something else.

Evidence based science in fields like biology and physics has been marginalized during this long period of 'correlation=causation'. This oversight is not only ubiquitous in finance and economics but present in much of the social sciences, which over the past 2 generations have largely conflated proximate and ultimate explanations for individuals and societies. In nature geese fly south for the winter and north in the spring. They do this based on neurotransmitter signals honed over evolutionary time that contributed to their survival, both as individuals and as a species. "Flying north in spring" is a proximate explanation. "Neuro-chemical cues to maximize food/energy intake per effort contributing to survival" is an 'ultimate' explanation. In business school I was taught, 'markets go north' because of invention, technology and profits, an explanation which seemed incomplete to me even though it has appeared to be valid for most of my life. Social sciences have made great explanations of WHAT our behavior is, but the descriptions of WHY we are what we are and HOW we have accomplished a vast and impressive industrial civilization are still on the far fringes of mainstream science. Economics (and its subset of finance) is currently the social science leading our culture and institutions forward, even if now only by inertia.

19. The economy is a subset of the environment, not vice versa

If people destroy something replaceable made by mankind, they are called vandals; if they destroy something irreplaceable made by God, they are called developers.
Joseph Wood Krutch

When you have to classify the very capacity of the Earth to support life as an "externality", then it is time to rethink your theory. --Herman Daly--

Click image to enlarge.

Standard economic and financial texts explain that our natural environment is only a subset of a larger human economy. A less anthropocentric (and more accurate) description however, is that human economies are only a subset of our natural environment. Though this may seem obvious, currently anything not influencing market prices remains outside of our economic system, and thus only actively 'valued' by government mandates or by some individuals, not by the cultural system as a whole. A landmark study in NATURE showed that the total value of 'ecosystem services' -those essential processes provided to humans by our environment like: clean air, hydrologic cycles, biodiversity, etc. if translated to dollar terms, were valued between 100-300% of Global GNP. Yet the market takes them for granted and does not ascribe value to them at all!!! Part of reason is that the negative impacts from market externalities aren't immediate, and with our steep discount rates (see below), the near term 'benefits' of GDP outweigh 'abstract' costs at some unknown future date.

Mankind's social conquest of earth has brought with it some uncomfortable 'externalities'. We are undergoing a 6th great extinction, which is no wonder given that humans and our livestock now outweigh wild animals by almost 50:1. Our one species is appropriating over 30% of the Net Primary Productivity of the planet. (One can ask, how can we use 30% of sunlight yet have 50x the weight of the other vertebrates and the answer, as we will see below, is our consumption of fossil carbon). A short list of deleterious impacts not incorporated into prices/costs includes: air pollution, water pollution, industrial animal production, overfishing (90% of pellagic fishes (tuna) in ocean are gone), nuclear waste, biodiversity loss, and antibiotic resistance. Perhaps the most ominous is the threat of climate change and ocean acidification, where humans, via burning large amounts of fossil carbon, are impacting global biogeochemical systems in profound and long-lasting ways.

Since GDP, profits and 'stuff' are how we currently measure success, these 'externalities' only measurement is the sense of loss, foreboding and angst by people paying attention. Such loss is currently not quantified by decision makers. In the past, only when there was a ‘smoking gun’ e.g. in the case of chlorofluorocarbons, DDT, unleaded gasoline, did society organize and require rules and regulations for the externalities, but these examples, as serious as they were, were not anathema to the entire human economy.

18. Energy is almost everything

Without natural resources life itself is impossible. From birth to death, natural resources, transformed for human use, feed, clothe, shelter, and transport us. Upon them we depend for every material necessity, comfort, convenience, and protection in our lives. Without abundant resources prosperity is out of reach.
— Gifford Pinchot Breaking New Ground (1998), 505.

In nature, everything runs on energy. The suns rays combine with soil and water and CO2 to grow plants (primary productivity). Animals eat the plants. Other animals eat the animals. At each stage of this process there is an energy input, an energy output and waste heat (2nd law of thermodynamics). But at the bottom is always an energy input. Nothing can live without it. Similarly, man and his systems are part of nature. Our trajectory from using sources like biomass and draft animals, to wind and water power, to fossil fuels and electricity has enabled large increases in per capita output because of increases in the quantity of fuel available to produce non-energy goods. This transition to higher energy gain fuels also enabled social and economic diversification as less of our available energy was needed for the energy securing process, thereby diverting more energy towards non-extractive activities. The bottom of the human trophic pyramid is energy, about 90% of which is currently in the form of fossil carbon. Every single good, service or transaction that contributes to our GDP requires some energy input as a prerequisite. There are no exceptions. No matter how we choose to make a cup, whether from wood, or coconut, or glass or steel or plastic, energy is required in the process. Without primary energy, there would be no technology, or food, or medicine, or microwaves, or air conditioners, or cars, or internet, or anything.

A long term graph of human output (GDP) is one highly correlated with primary energy use. For a while (1950s to 1990s) improvements in efficiency, especially in natural gas plants, complemented energy use as a driver of GDP, but most of these have declined to now have only minor contributions. Since 2000, 96% of our GDP can be explained by 'more energy' being used. (For more data and explanation on this, please see "Green Growth - An Oxymoron"). Some resource economists have claimed that the relationship between energy and the economy decoupled starting in the 1970s, but what happened was just an outsourcing of the 'heavy lifting' of industrial processes to cheaper locations. If one includes energy transfers embedded in finished goods and imports there isn’t a single country in the world that shows a disconnect between energy use and GDP. Energy it turns out, not dollars, is what we have to budget and spend. Quite simply, energy is the ability to do work. How much work, we'll see below.

17. Cheap energy, not technology, has been the main driver of wealth and productivity

Click image to enlarge.

The chemical potential energy available from the burning of things (e.g. wood) is rather astounding when compared with the energy which we supply our bodies in the form of food, and the fossil fuels of coal, oil, and natural gas burn even hotter while also being much easier to store and transport. We quickly learned that using some of this heat to perform work would transform what we could accomplish in massive ways. One barrel of oil, priced at just over $100 boasts 5,700,000 BTUs or work potential of 1700kWhs. At an average of .60 kWh per work day, to generate this amount of 'labor', an average human would have to work 2833 days, or 11 working years. At the average hourly US wage rate, this is almost $500,000 of labor can be substituted by the latent energy in one barrel of oil that costs us $100. Unbeknownst to most stock and bond researchers on Wall Street, this is the real ‘Trade’.

The vast majority of our industrial processes and activities are the result of this ‘Trade’. We applied large amounts of extremely cheap fossil carbon to tasks humans used to do manually. And we invented many many more. Each time it was an extremely inefficient trade from the perspective of energy (much more energy used) but even more extremely profitable from the perspective of human society. For instance, depending on the boundaries, driving a car on a paved road uses 50-100 times the energy of a human walking, but gets us to where we are going 10 times faster. The ‘Trade’ is largely responsible for some combination of: higher wages, higher profits, lower priced goods and more people. The average american today consumes ~60 barrel of oil equivalents of fossil carbon annually, a 'subsidy' from ancient plants and geologic processes amounting to ~600 years of their own human labor, before conversion. Even with 7 billion people, each human kWh is supported by over 90kWh of fossil labor, and in OECD nations about 4-5 times this much.

Technology acts as an enabler, both by inventing new and creative ways to convert primary energy into (useful?) activities and goods for human consumption and, occasionally, by making us use or extract primary energy in more efficient ways. Even such services that appear independent of energy, are not so- for example, using computers, iPhones, etc in aggregate comprise about 10% of our energy use, when the servers etc are included. Technology can create GDP without adding to energy use by using energy more efficiently but:

a) much of the large theoretical movements towards energy efficiency have already occurred and

b) energy saved is often used elsewhere in the system to build consumption demand, requiring more and more primary energy (Jevons paradox, rebound effect). Technological improvement thus does increase efficiency, but higher levels of resource consumption and a larger scale of resource extraction offset this advantage.

Despite the power in the Trade, its benefits can be readily reversed. Firstly, if we add very large amounts of primary energy, even if it is inexpensive, the wage increases/benefits start to decline. But more importantly, and has been happening in the past decade or so, as energy prices increase, so too do the benefits of the “Trade” start to wane. The graph to the right (source, page 18) shows that as the price of energy doubles or triples the benefits of this 'Trade' quickly recede. This is especially true for energy intensive transportation, like air travel, and for highly energy intensive processes, like aluminum smelting, cement manufacture- fully 30% of US industry falls into this category. The ensuing reduction in 'salary' from large energy price increases can only partially be offset by efficiency measures or lean manufacturing moves, because the whole 'Trade' was predicated on large amounts of very cheap energy. This is why the mainstream media touting increased oil production or the growth rate in solar/wind is missing the larger point - what matters are the benefits derived at the various cost points of energy extraction/harnessing. Even with large amounts of gross energy, if it is too costly, it is much less helpful or worse, the infrastructure, trade arrangements and expectations built upon continued $40 oil and $0.05kWh electricity will have to be changed. Basically, the benefits to human societies from the mammoth bank account we found underground are almost indistinguishable from magic. Yet we have managed, over time, to conflate the Magic with the Wizard.

16. Energy is special, is non-substitutable in the production function, and has an upward sloping long term cost curve

"Oil is a renewable resource, with no intrinsic value over and above its marginal cost... There is no original stock or store of wealth to be doled out on any special criterion... Capital markets are equipped to handle oil depletion...It is all a matter of money", M.A. Adelman, Professor of Economics, MIT Source

Physics informs us that energy is necessary for economic production and, therefore growth. However, economic texts do not even mention energy as a factor that either constrains or enables economic growth. Standard financial theory (Solows exogenous growth model, Cobb Douglas function) posits that capital and labor combine to create economic products, and that energy is just one generic commodity input into the production function - fully substitutable the way that designer jeans, or earrings or sushi are. The truth is that every single transaction that creates something of value in our global economy requires an energy input first. Capital, labor and conversions are ALL dependent on energy. For instance, the intro text by Frank and Bernanke (2d ed., 2004, p. 48) offers explanations for increased productivity: …increased quantity of capital per worker, increased # of workers, and, "perhaps the most important,...improvements in knowledge and technology." Nowhere in standard economic literature is there even a hint that the "improvement" in technology they refer to has, historically, been directly linked to the progression of displacing solar-powered human and animal muscle with larger and larger quantities of energy from oil, coal, and gas. Though energy is central (in that even more difficult ore grades require more overburden to extract, requiring more diesel fuel, etc), energy is not the only key limiter – other minerals and metals are finite and deteriorating in quality and cannot be (easily) replaced.

Since energy seemed the same as any other commodity economic models assumed that energy and resources would follow the same decreasing cost curve we have come to expect from gadgets like toasters and coffee cups, where the technology, outsourcing of parts to their lowest cost countries, and efficiencies of scale have generally formed a declining cost over time. For a while, energy too followed this curve, but given that high quality resources are finite, and require high quality processed resources themselves to extract and refine, eventually the cost curve of energy and other key minerals and ores, begins to rise again. This 'dual view' of energy vs regular everyday products is a key failing in economic texts. But for most of the past 60-70 years however this omission was perhaps understandable, as there WAS a continuing supply of cheap energy so its worth seemed to be just the dollar price of it. For most, this is still the dominant worldview – dollars are more important than energy.

Historical cost curves for oil, coal and natural gas for Europe - Graph source: Rune Likvern Click to enlarge

15. Energy has costs in energy terms, which can differ significantly than dollar signals

“It is appropriate to conclude that, as long as the sun shines brightly on our fair planet, the appropriate estimate for the drag on the economy from increasing entropy is zero. William Nordhaus

“ The laws of economics are like the laws of engineering. There's only one set of laws and they work everywhere. One of the things I've learned in my time at the World Bank is that whenever anybody says "But economics works differently here", they're about to say something dumb. Lawrence H. Summers

“ ... the world can, in effect, get along without natural resources ... at some finite cost, production can be freed of dependence on exhaustible resources altogether.... Nobel Laureate Robert Solow

In nature, animals expend energy (muscle calories) in order to access energy (prey). The return on this ‘investment’ is a central evolutionary process bearing on metabolism, mating, strength and survival. Those organisms that have high energy returns in turn have surplus to withstand the various hurdles found in nature. So it is in the human system where the amount of energy that society has ‘to spend’ is that left over after the energy and resources needed to harvest and distribute that energy are accounted for. Finite resources typically follow a 'best first' concept of resource extraction. As we moved from surface exploration based on seeps to seismic surveys showing buried anticlines, to deep-water and subsalt reservoir exploration, and finally to hydro-fracturing of tight oil formations , the return per unit of energy input declined from over 100:1 to something under 10:1. To economists and decision makers only the dollar cost and gross production mattered during this period, as after all, more dollars would ‘create’ more energy flowing through our economies. Net energy can peak and decline while gross energy continues to rise, and indeed can go to zero when there is still plenty of gross resource remaining. Everything we do will become more expensive if we cannot reduce the energy consumption of specific processes faster than prices grow. Yet, financial texts continue to view economic activity as a function of infinite money creation rather than a function of capped energy stocks and finite energy flows.

Left chart - western Majors price needed for cash flow break even in yellow, overlayed on OPEC vs non-OPEC crude oil production. Source IEA, Goldman Sach 4/13 report 'Higher long term prices required for troubled industry'. Right curve total oil production from Western Majors - source

Irrespective of the dollar price tag, it requires about 245 kilojoules to lift 5kg of oil 5 km out of the ground. Similar biophysical costs apply to every energy extraction/harnessing technology we have - but they are all parsed into financial terms for convenience. After all, isn't it dollars (euros, yen, renminbi) that our system is trying to optimize? But these physical input requirements will not vary whether the number of digits in the worlds banking system increases or shrinks or goes away. Though fossil fuels are our primary source of wealth, they were created a long time ago, and in drawing down their bounty we have not needed to pay the price of their generation, only their extraction. And, despite enormous amounts of sunlight hitting the earth everyday, real (and significant) resources need to be expended in order to harness and convert the sunlight into forms and at places where it can be used.

There is an enormous difference between ‘gross’ and ‘net’ which manifests in financial sphere via costs. Irrespective of our choice of nominal statistic measuring GDP (wampum or dollars or digits or gold), an increasing % of them will be allocated to the energy sector. If our objective is just to increase GDP, we can just keep growing gross energy by locating and exploiting deeper and deeper pockets of fossil hydrocarbons, but eventually our entire food, healthcare, entertainment infrastructure will be to provide for a giant mining operation. Few media outlets (none actually) handicap the new surge in gross USA oil production by a)capex requirements going up faster than oil prices, b) the enormous increase in diesel use in the shale plays and c) the higher API gravity oil (42 for Bakken, 55 for Eagleford) which exaggerate energy content per barrel between 3.5% and 10.7%. Under current trends, the implications of energy depletion is we will move from energy costing less than 5% of our economy to 10-15% or more. In addition to the obvious problems this will create, we will be using lower quality energy as well. As oil has become more expensive, we are increasingly going towards coal and wood to replace it. Already, in countries with a large drop in ability to afford (e.g. Greece) are cutting down forests to heat their homes in winter.
Net energy is what societies should be focused on, and most don’t even know what it is.

14. Money/financial instruments are just markers for real capital

Some material things make my life more enjoyable; many, however, would not. I like having an expensive private plane, but owning a half-dozen homes would be a burden. Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner. The asset I most value, aside from health, is interesting, diverse, and long-standing friends. Warren Buffet - The Giving Pledge

Some of my 'real capital': Natural capital - my backyard with trees, sun, water, Social capital Here 2 of my dogs, but equally my friends, contacts and family relationships, Built capital Our house, with solar hot water, chain saws, an aloe vera plant, and a deck, and Human Capital My health and skills (identifying edible mushrooms), my fathers health and skills (he's a doctor, and can grow vegetables, etc)

Growing a big bank account is like fat storage for animals – but it’s not, because it’s only a marker for fat – its caloric benefit stored for the future is intertwined with a sociocultural system linked to monetary and credit marker. In business school, (and on Wall St.) we were taught that stocks going up ~10% a year over the long run was something akin to a natural law. The truth turns out to be something quite different. Stocks and bonds are themselves ‘derivatives’ of primary capital - energy and natural resources – which combine with technology to produce secondary capital - tractors, houses, tools, etc. Money and financial instruments are thus tertiary capital, with no intrinsic value – it’s the social system and what if confers that has value and this system is based on natural, built, social and human capital. And, our current system of ‘claims’ (what people think they own) has largely decoupled from underlying ‘real capital’.

13. Our money is created by commercial banks out of thin air (deposits and loans are created at same time)

Though societies require ‘energy’, individuals require money in order to transact in the things energy provides. What is money anyways? I certainly didn't learn in business school (or any school for that matter). Quite simply, money is a claim on a certain amount of energy. When our economic engine kicked into gear in the early 1900s, money (not energy or resources) was the limiting factor. We had so much wealth in our natural resource bank account that we needed ways of turbocharging the broader economy so productive ventures could be undertaken by anyone with skill, products or ambition. It was around this time that banks came into existence - to increase the flow of money to match the productive output of our economies only made sense - too little money and we couldn't produce the 'power' needed by a hungry world. Creditworthy individuals/businesses could now obtain loans from commercial banks who were required to keep a small portion of their assets on reserve with a central bank. And it worked fabulously well. Correlation=causation and all that.

We were taught to view credit creation as a series of consecutive bank "intermediations", where some initial deposit rippled through the banking system and via a multiplier, created additional money. E.g. banks are unable to create credit themselves, but are just passing on some wealth already created. This is true for about 5% of money coming into existence. The reality for 95%+ of money creation is profoundly different. The standard concept of lending describes a transfer of an existing commodity to its exclusive use somewhere else. However, this new credit extended by banks does not remove purchasing power or claims on resources from anywhere else in the economy. Since banks are capital constrained, not reserve constrained they lend when (ostensibly) creditworthy customers have demand for loans, not when they have excess reserves. As such the ‘fractional reserve banking’ system taught in textbooks and demonized on the blogosphere is not the proper description. I didn't learn this until 2007 or so. Banks do not lend money, they create it. And this is why the focus on government debt is a red herring. All of our financial claims are debt relative to natural resources.

**(Edit - This new paper by Bank of England states precisely what I did just above -banks are not just intermediaries as taught in textbooks)

12. Debt is a non-neutral intertemporal transfer

The left graph, shows the disconnect between GDP and aggregate, non-financial debt. In every single year since 1965 we have grown our debt more than we have grown our GDP. The right graph shows the inverse - how much GDP we receive for each new dollar of debt - declining debt productivity. Source: FED Z.1 2013, NBER

(Note: I use the terms credit and debt interchangeably, though creditor and debtor are opposites)

Of the broad aggregate money in existence in the US of around $60 trillion, only about $1 trillion is physical currency. The rest can be considered, ‘debt’, a claim of some sort (corporate, household, municipal, government, etc.) If cash is a claim on energy and resources, adding debt (from a position of no debt) becomes a claim on future energy and resources. In financial textbooks, debt is an economically neutral concept, neither bad nor good, but just an exchange of time preference between two parties on when they choose to consume. (* we were taught in corporate finance, because of the deductibility of interest, choosing debt over equity is preferred in situations with taxes – but in the real world, when capital markets are open and credit is flowing, if a CEO has choice between financing a project with equity or debt, he/she will almost always prefer debt. And so they do.) However, there are several things that happen when we issue debt/credit that cause the impact of the convention to be much different than in the textbooks:

1) While we are issuing debt (especially on a full planet) the best and easiest to find energy and resources deplete making energy (and therefore other things) generally more expensive for the creditor than the debtor. People that choose to save are ‘outcompeted’ by people who choose to consume by taking on debt. At SOME point in the future SOME creditors will get less, or nothing. (the question now is ‘when’ and ‘who’)

2) We increasingly have to issue more debt to keep up with the declining benefit of the “Trade”, lest aggregate demand plunge.

3) Over time we consume more rather than adding productive investment capacity. This lowers debt productivity over time (debt productivity is how much GDP we get for an additional $ of debt, or the ratio of GDP growth relative to debt growth). If an additional dollar of debt created a dollar of GDP, or anything close, it would be more or less like the textbooks claim – a tradeoff in the temporal preferences of the creditor and debtor. And, when debt productivity is high, we are transforming and extending wealth into different forms of future wealth (energy into productive factories etc). But when debt productivity is low (or approaching zero as is the case now), new debt is really just an exchange of wealth for income. This is happening now in all nations of the world to varying degrees. E.g. since 2008, G7 nations have added 1 trillion in nominal GDP, but at a cost of increasing debt by $18 trillion – and this doesn’t include off balance sheet guarantees.

Debt can thus be viewed two ways – 1) from a wealth inequality perspective, for every debtor there is a creditor – a zero sum game, 2) all claims (debts) are relative to the energy and natural resources required to a) service them and b) pay off the principle. (So, think 2 Italians: Gini and Ponzi.)

11. Energy measured in energy terms is the cost of capital

The cost of finite natural resources measured in energy terms is our real cost of capital. In the short and intermediate run, dollars function as energy, as we can use them to contract and pay for anything we want, including energy and energy production. They SEEM like the limiters. But in the long run, accelerating credit creation obscures the engine of the whole enterprise - the ‘burning of the energy’. Credit cannot create energy, but it does allow continued energy extraction and much (needed) higher prices than were credit unavailable. At some point in the past 40 years we crossed a threshold of 'not enough money' in the system to 'not enough cheap energy' in the system, which in turn necessitated even more money. After this point, new credit increasingly added gross energy masking declines in our true cost of capital (net energy/EROI). Though its hard to imagine, if society had disallowed debt circa 1975 (e.g. required banks to have 100% Tier 2 capital and reserves) OR if we had some natural resource tether – like gold – to our money supply since then, global oil production and GDP would likely have peaked 20-30 years ago (and we’d have a lot more of the sub 50$ tranche left). As such, focus on oil and gas production numbers isn't too helpful without incorporating credit forecasts and integrating affordability for societies at different price tranches.

An example might make this clearer: imagine 3,000 helicopters each dropped a billion dollars of cash in different communities across the country (that’s $3 Trillion ). Citizens that get there first would stuff their backpacks and become millionaires overnight, lots of others would have significant spending money, a larger number would get a few random hundreds stuck in fences, or cracks, and a large % of the population, not near the dropzone, would get nothing. The net effect of this would be to drive up energy use as the new rich would buy cars and take trips and generally consume more. EROI of the nations oil fields wouldn’t change, but oil companies would get a higher price for the now harder to find oil because the economy would be stronger, despite the fact that those $3 trillion came from thin air (or next to it). So, debt went up, GDP went up, oil prices went up, EROI stayed the same, a few people got richer, and a large % of people got little to nothing. This is pretty much what is happening today in the developed world.

Natural systems can perhaps grow 2-3% per year (standing forests in USA increase their volume by 2.6% per year). This can be increased via technology, extraction of principle (fossil carbon), debt, or some combination. If via technology, we are accessing energy we might not have been able to access in the future. If we use debt, we are diverting energy that would have been accessible in the future to today by increasing its affordability via handouts/guarantees and increasing the price that energy producers receive for it. In this fashion debt functions similarly to technology in oil extraction. Neither one is 'bad', but both favor immediate consumption on an assumption they will be repeated in continued iterations in the future.

Debt temporarily makes gross energy feel like net energy as a larger amount of energy is burned despite higher prices, lower wages and profits. Gross energy also adds to GDP, as the $80+ per barrel oil extraction costs in e.g. Bakken Shale ends up being spent in Williston and surrounding areas (this would be a different case if the oil were produced in Canada, or Saudi Arabia). But over time, as debt increases gross energy and net energy stays constant or declines, a larger % of our economy becomes involved in the energy sector. Already we have college graduates trained in biology, or accounting, or hotel management, working on oil rigs. In the future, important processes and parts of non-energy infrastructure will become too expensive to continue. Even more concerning is that, faced with higher costs, energy companies increasingly follow the societal trend towards using debt to pull production forward in time (e.g. Chesapeake, Statoil). In this environment, we can expect total capital expenditure to keep pace with total revenue every year, and net cash flow become negative as debt rises.

In the last 10 years the global credit market has grown at 12% per year allowing GDP growth of only 3.5% and increasing global crude oil production less than 1% annually. We're so used to running on various treadmills that the landscape doesn't look all too scary. But since 2008, despite energies fundamental role in economic growth, it is access to credit that is supporting our economies, in a surreal, permanent, Faustian bargain sort of way. As long as interest rates (govt borrowing costs) are low and market participants accept it, this can go on for quite a long time, all the while burning through the next tranche of extractable carbon and getting reduced benefits from the "Trade" creating other societal pressures. I don't expect the government takeover of the credit mechanism to stop, but if it does, both oil production and oil prices will be quite a bit lower. In the long run it's all about the energy. For the foreseeable future, it's mostly about the credit

But why do we want energy and money anyways?

Continued in Part II

Wed 18 September, 2013

21:17 So, What Are You Doing?» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

It's September and we still have 7 more 'final' posts in the queue (myself, Joules, Jerome, Jason, Art, Dave Murphy, and Euan...) and will run them every 2 days until finished. Leanan will post a final Drumbeat later this week where people can leave website links contact details, etc.

For 8 years we read about what people think about energy related themes. I thought it would be a good idea to use this thread to highlight what people are actually doing in their lives given the knowledge they've gleaned from studying this topic, which really is more of a study of the future of society.

What do TOD members plan to do in the future? Herding goats, fixing potholes, creating web sites, switching careers, etc? I'll go first. Feel free to use my template or just inform others what you're doing. This might be interesting thread to check back on in a few/many years.....(Please no posting of energy charts etc. and let's not respond to others in this thread, just a long list of what people are doing w/ their time).

Ere we scatter to the ether, please share, anonymously or otherwise : what are people doing?

Thu 12 September, 2013

11:32 The Exponential Legacy of Al Bartlett» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

Dr. Albert Allen Bartlett, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Colorado, died September 7, 2013 at the age of 90. It is coincidental that, in the year that he "officially" retired from teaching (1988), I first heard his famous lecture Arithmetic, Population, and Energy (although I don't recall if that was the title at the time). I was in my last year in graduate school, and his talk was one of the keynote presentations (or perhaps during dinner) for a scientific conference. It was seemingly out of place given that the subject of the meeting was surface chemistry and physics, but it most certainly became stuck somewhere in my mind for reasons other than its novelty.

Most scientists are transfixed on interesting scientific details, some with relevance to technological problems, and perhaps buzz-worthy enough to attract funding. There has never been much money in solving problems with no real technological solution. I became reacquainted with this talk in 2006, probably via a link on The Oil Drum. TOD was by its nature dealing with limits to growth (of oil, if nothing else), and over the last few years, we have discussed the various ways in which we could perhaps keep the oil flowing or replace it with something else. Perhaps the implications of exponential growth was kept in the back room somewhere, like an embarrassing relative, while the latest "game changing" solution was bandied about. But we need to continually remind ourselves that, while important, finding the next energy source or improving efficiencies the keep the economy growing are not long-term solutions for a finite planet.

Below are some more reflections on Prof. Bartlett's legacy, from ASPO-USA (where he had long been on the advisory board) and from the University of Colorado.

Albert A. Bartlett: Ode to a Gentle Giant

Dr. Albert Allen Bartlett enjoyed 90 years of rich life on this earth; moreover, thousands of people have enjoyed and been touched by Al's life.

He is of course most widely known as a tireless, eloquent, and supremely caring voice for charting a sustainable path for humanity. With seemingly endless determination, he applied his training in math and physics and skills as a master teacher to focus attention on a simple but paramount idea--on a finite planet, "growth" is unsustainable. "Sustainable growth is an oxymoron", is how Al is sometimes quoted.

His most reknowned quote, however, is "the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function"--referring to the accelerating rate exhibited by anything growing as a constant percentage increase.

Al developed a now-famous lecture that illustrated the power and importance of this mathematical phenonomenon, and reportedly delivered that lecture more than 1700 times over the following decades. That one man would be compelled to devote much of his career to the understanding of a basic, unassailable fact of life speaks volumes about the world we live in, as well as Al's great character.

ASPO-USA is proud to have had Al as a longstanding member of our advisory board, and I was exceptionally fortunate to be acquainted with him in his latter years. While the nature of our relationship was professional, what I will always remember is the warmth, humility, and quiet joy that he brought to his work and his relationships with his colleagues and students.

For those that dare to concern themselves with the monumental issues that concerned Al, there is a risk of gloominess creeping into our outlook on life and humanity. Al is a beautiful reminder that need not be the case.

The note that Al wrote to us after he visited his doctor was filled with the peace and happiness of a man who had understood long ago what was important in life and had lived his own life accordingly. We should all be so blessed, and some of us were also blessed to know Al.

In honor to Al, inspired and informed by his life and his friendship, we re-commit ourselves to continuing and building on his legacy.

Click below to view Al's famous lecture - Arithmetic, Population, and Energy:


Jan Mueller Executive Director, ASPO-USA


CU-Boulder campus mourns death of longtime, celebrated physics professor Al Bartlett

excerpted from here

“Al Bartlett was a man of many legacies,” said CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. “His commitment to students was evidenced by the fact that he continued to teach for years after his retirement. His timeless, internationally revered lecture on the impacts of world population growth will live beyond his passing, a distinction few professors can claim. And we can all be thankful for his vision and foresight in making the Boulder community what it is today.”

Bartlett was born on March 21, 1923, in Shanghai, China. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Colgate University and spent two years as an experimental physicist at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico as part of the Manhattan Project before earning his graduate degrees in physics at Harvard. He then started his teaching career at CU-Boulder.

When Bartlett first delivered his internationally celebrated lecture on “Arithmetic, Population and Energy” to a group of CU students on Sept. 19, 1969, the world population was about 3.7 billion. He proceeded to give it another 1,741 times in 49 states and seven other countries to corporations, government agencies, professional groups and students from junior high school through college.

His talk warned of the consequences of “ordinary, steady growth” of population and the connection between population growth and energy consumption. Understanding the mathematical consequences of population growth and energy consumption can help clarify the best course for humanity to follow, he said.

The talk contained his most celebrated statement: “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” A video of his lecture posted on YouTube has been viewed nearly 5 million times.

This year, the world population is about 7.1 billion and the CU Environmental Center announced a program this summer in which 50 student and community volunteers received training in exchange for a commitment to give Bartlett’s talk at least three times in 2013-14.

Before his death, Bartlett requested that any memorial gifts be made to the University of Colorado Foundation Albert A. Bartlett Scholarship Fund, in care of the Department of Physics, 390 UCB, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, 80309.

Tue 10 September, 2013

06:59 Of Milk Cows and Saudi Arabia» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

Under the desert in eastern Saudi Arabia lies Ghawar, the largest oil field in the world. It has been famously productive, with a per-well flow rate of thousands of barrels per day, owing to a combination of efficient water injection, good rock permeability, and other factors. At its best, it set the standard for easy oil. The first wells were drilled with rather rudimentary equipment hauled across the desert sands, and the oil would flow out at ten thousand barrels per day. It was, in a sense, a giant udder. And the world milked it hard for awhile.

However, this article isn't just about a metaphor; it is also about cows, the Holsteins of Haradh. But in the end, I will circle back to the present and future of Saudi oil production.

I registered on The Oil Drum over seven years ago, and one of the subjects that fascinated me was the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. There was much discussion about the largest of these, Ghawar, and whether it might soon go into steep decline - taking the world with it. About that time, an application called Google Earth added some features which enabled users to mark up the globe with their own placemarks and such, and I set out to find Ghawar (or at least its footprints) in the vast sandscape that is the Eastern Province. Starting with published maps which could be overlaid atop the satellite imagery in Google Earth, I found some initial wells...and then a lot more...and kept going. An article authored by Saudi Aramco engineers showed well locations in northern Ghawar, and I noticed that many wells which I found yet were not on the map. I deduced that these were wells drilled after the map was drawn, and their locations seems to indicate intensive drilling in the center of the field, which was previously bereft of wells. I began publishing some of these findings on the blog Satellite o'er the Desert and was invited to contribute to The Oil Drum.

In my Google Earth-enabled virtual travels around Saudi Arabia looking for oil wells and such, I have come upon many strange sights. Some of these are of natural origin yet can only be appreciated from a satellite's perspective, as is the case for this tidal pool located near a gas oil separation plant for the Safaniya oil field:

Figure 1. My favorite Google Earth view, near Safaniyah oil field, Saudi Arabia

There are many crop circles scattered about eastern Saudi Arabia -- by which I mean circles of crops watered by central pivot irrigation (as opposed to circles of crops flattened by aliens). A line of such circles cuts across the southern tip of the Ghawar field, seemingly following the course of a dry river bed.

Figure 2. Irrigation along the southern fringe of the Ghawar Oil Field, Saudi Arabia. Arrows indicate location of features of interest.

Located on this line, just to the west of the field periphery, are three rather symmetrical structures:

Figure 3. Symmetrical objects of interest near Ghawar oil field.

Each of these is about 250 meters in radius. It took me awhile to discover what these were, as at the time, crowdsourced mapping was just getting started. It so happens that they are part of a huge integrated dairy operation, one of the largest in the world. Fodder crops are grown in nearby circles, cows are milked with state of the art equipment, and the milk is packaged and/or processed into cheese and other products before being shipped. All of this happens in the northernmost fringe of the Rub' al Khali desert, one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Start here to browse around Saudi Arabia's Dairyland on your own using Google Maps.

Turning Black Gold Into White Milk

Here is a glossy PR video describing the operations:

Although the original intent was to locally breed cows more suited to the Saudi climate, it seems they had to import them. Here is another video describing the transport of cows from Australia. A bit different than a Texas cattle drive.

They Built It, But They Didn't Come

Answering why and how these dairy farms came to be located here reveals some interesting history of Saudi Arabia. Although great wealth of the country results from its abundant store of fossil fuels, the necessity of diversifying the economy has long been recognized. The lack of food security was always a big concern. In addition, there remained the nagging problem of what to do with the Bedouins, nomadic peoples who resisted efforts to be integrated into the broader Saudi society. And since they now had it in abundance, they decided to throw money at the problems. What could go wrong?

As related in the book "Inside the Mirage" by Thomas Lippman, a problem with Saudi agriculture is that most of the private land was owned by just a few people, and they were wealthy aristocrats, not farmers, and there wasn't much local knowledge of modern large-scale agriculture in any case. One of the proposed solutions was to create huge demonstration projects by which modern techniques of farming could be learned and applied. As for labor, the goal was to provide individual farms, housing, and modern conveniences to the Bedouin, who would settle down for a life on the farm. The largest such project was the al-Faysal Settlement Project at Haradh, designed for 1000 families. It didn't work out as planned, though, because the Bedouins never came:

You know of the Haradh project, where $20 million was spent irrigating a spot in the desert where an aquifer was found not too far from the surface. This project took six years to complete and was done for the purpose of settling Bedouin tribes. At the end of six years, no Bedouin turned up and the government had to consider how to use the most modern desert irrigation facility in the world.

(From a 1974 Ford Foundation memo)

Eventually, the Saudi government partnered with Masstock, a Dublin-based industrialized endeavor run by two brothers. The Haradh project became the largest of their operations in Saudi Arabia at the time. Eventually, a new company called Almarai (Arabic for "pasture") was created which involved Prince Sultan bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Kabeer. In 1981, a royal decree created the National Agricultural Development Company (NADEC) for the purpose of furthering agricultural independence, and (for reasons I haven't discerned), NADEC gained control of the Haradh project. Almarai went on the become the largest vertically integrated dairy company in the world, and Al Kabeer is a hidden billionaire.

As a side note, NADEC sued Saudi Aramco a few years ago as a result of the latter using some NADEC property for Haradh oil operations, and a lower court ordered Saudi Aramco to vacate. The web links to those reports have disappeared, and one wonders how the appeal went. Separately, NADEC has reportedly obtained farmland in Sudan. Food security.

Speaking of Cash Cows

A half decade ago, much of The Oil Drum's focus was on possible problems with Saudi Arabian oil production. Was the flow from Ghawar tanking? Were all of their older fields well past their prime, and were their future options as limited as Matt Simmons suggested in Twilight in the Desert? My analyses and those of others here seem to suggest a rather aggressive effort to stem decline. With further hindsight, it is clear that Saudi Aramco was caught a bit off guard by decline in existing production. But over time, they were able to complete several decline mitigation projects as well as many so-called mega-projects with many million barrels per day of new production. With each project, the technological sophistication has grown - along with the expense. The Khurais redevelopment, which is reportedly producing as expected, features centralized facilities for oil, gas, and injection water processing. Water goes out, and oil comes back.

Figure 4. Left: map showing Saudi oil fields, Right: Khurais Project pipeline network (source: Snowden's laptop)

The most recent project, the Manifa field redevelopment is a logistical marvel. These have so far proven to be very successful projects (even though Manifa is not fully completed). But if one looks for the impact of the projects on their total output, one comes back somewhat underwhelmed. In the following graphic I show Saudi Arabian production with the theoretical (zero depletion) and official (as reported directly by Saudi Aramco) production capacities.

Figure 5. Saudi Arabian crude oil production increases from megaprojects since 1996, compared with actual crude production (source: Stuart Staniford). Cumulative increases are superimposed on the Saudi Aramco reported baseline value of 10.5 mbpd capacity in 1995. Blue dots denote values obtained from references 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Here are some conclusions one might draw from the above (including the references):

  • Saudi Aramco has generally been self-consistent when reporting spare capacity and total capacity in light of actual production
  • Production capacity increased subsequent to startup of megaprojects. However, the net production capacity increases were uniformly and substantially less than the planned increments. In total, 5 million barrels per day of production was added, but capacity increased by only 2 mbpd.
  • It is most unlikely that reported production capacities accurately reflected what was producible at any point in time, given the reported values as correlated with the timing of the increases from the megaprojects.
  • However, actual production did not generally increase immediately after projects were completed, indicating that production capacity was not completely exhausted beforehand. But there was certainly an impetus to add a lot of production quickly.

The gap between what might have been (red staircase) and what is reported as production capacity (blue dots) is explained by considering the net of two competing developments: 1) depletion of legacy fields (Ghawar etc.) as they are produced, and b) mitigation of this depletion by drilling new wells in these fields. Since Saudi Aramco does not release data for individual fields or new vs. old wells, we are left to speculate on the relative magnitudes of these. On the plus side, the 5 mbpd from the new projects will (hopefully) deplete less rapidly than older fields. On the minus side, only 2 mbpd capacity was added - and they have exhausted all of the major fields in the pipeline. On the double minus side (for the world, anyway), only 1 - 1.5 mbpd of actual production was added since 1995, and (according to BP) all of that increase went into internal consumption. So after nearly 20 years, though total world crude production (and population) has increased, Saudi Arabia exports the same amount of oil as before. And yet, there is still a lot of hydrocarbons under Saudi Arabia. And it seems they already realize the need for more, as there are reports of planned increases from Khurais and Shaybah totaling 550 kbpd by 2017 to "take the strain off Ghawar". I feel its pain.

Addendum: According to this news report, oil has not actually flowed yet from Manifa. The new Jubail refinery has reportedly no received any Manifa oil as of yet:

The refinery is configured to run on heavy crude oil. But two industry sources said the refinery had not received any of the heavy crude expected from Aramco's new Manifa field and that it was running instead on light crude. Aramco said in April that it had started production at Manifa.-Reuters

Still the One?

Despite all of the negativity emitted above, it is also evident that Saudi Arabia has had and will continue to have a role as the primary provider of spare capacity which can be deployed to buffer variability in world demand. It can do this because Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in the world, can effect oil prices by virtue of what it can put on or take off the world market. Contrast the Saudi production profile with that of the United States, shown below.

Figure 6. United States monthly crude oil production (source: EIA)

Aside from some minor month-to-month fluctuations and some notable downward spikes caused by Gulf of Mexico hurricanes in 2002 (Isadore), 2004 (Ivan), 2005 (Katrina and Rita), and 2008 (Gustav), production follows a smooth trend. Especially noteworthy is the contrast between Saudi and US production subsequent to the economic downturn in 2008, when oil prices collapsed: Saudi Arabia throttled back while the US kept pumping. Any individual producer in the US had little incentive to hold back oil. However, with the increased importance of Shale plays (Bakken and Eagle Ford) to US production, this might change the dynamics going forward. Since these wells deplete rapidly, any decrease in drilling caused by low prices will also throttle demand (although with a time lag).

The Hungry Cow

The other new "above ground factor" is the problem of growing internal consumption in Saudi Arabia, of just about everyting including oil. To air condition all of those cows, it takes a lot of electricity (and currently oil). And all of that milk feeds a growing, young population. But that milk is bound to get more expensive, since the aquifers from which those massive dairy operations get their water are being rapidly depleted.

Milk consumption in Saudi Arabia reached 729.4 million litres in 2012
The Kingdom has already depleted 70% of these sources of water and must now turn increasingly to desalinisation which when factored into the cost of producing fresh milk is very expensive. Experts have estimated that it takes between 500- 1000 litres of fresh water to produce 1 litre of fresh milk if one takes into around the irrigation required to grow the Rhodes grass or Alfalfa required to feed the cows.

It seems Saudi Arabia has cash flow problems, although it is hard to imagine why, given that they are currently producing as much oil as ever at $100/barrel. For one thing, their population keeps growing:

Figure 7. Saudi Arabia population growth (source: Thanks, Jonathan!)

and they need to spread around some money to maintain political stability. Their energy use is out of control, as is their water consumption. And for those segments of Saudi society into which much of the oil revenue flows, consumption is a happening thing. And nobody really knows where the all money goes.

Saudi Aramco is overseen by the Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ministry and, to a lesser extent, the Supreme Petroleum Council, an executive body. The company pays royalties and dividends to the state and supplies domestic refineries. Revenues go to the Finance Ministry, but the amounts are not published. There is no transparency in the national budgeting process, and it is unclear how oil revenues are used. Environmental impact assessments are required, but the results are not made public. Laws and decrees concerning the extractive industries are published and include guidelines for the licensing process in sectors other than upstream oil, but do not contain details on fiscal arrangements. Saudi Arabia has no freedom of information law.

Some ends up in London, where some Saudi tourists spend the entire summer. Of course, this was true in 2002 (and oil was $26/barrel then).

But they do seem to have money to throw around to garner political influence (note that the US does the same with money that it doesn't have). And they have grand plans for looking beyond their petro-heritage:

Best hopes for wise spending.

Au revoir. Au lait.

Sat 07 September, 2013

20:05 IEA Sankey Diagrams» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

The International Energy Agency has taken its share of abuse from The Oil Drum over the years for its rather optimistic forecasts. But it deserves a hearty shout-out for an invaluable resource it has on its web site: Interactive Sankey Diagrams for the World.

Sankey Diagram showing world energy flows (Click for larger view)

As long as you understand what a Sankey Diagram is, not much more introduction is needed here. You can look at individual countries, consumption patterns as well as production, and more. Click on individual flows and graph over time.

World energy use for steel production (Click for larger view)

One curiosity, though:

The world oil imports (2295) and oil exports (2218) don't match in the top graphic. "Statistical difference"?

As with data from the BP Statistical Review series, there might be occasional quibbles with the numbers. Also, I've seen prettier Sankeys. But if you've been wondering what to do with all of your time after The Oil Drum goes on hiatus, there you go.

Fri 06 September, 2013

21:13 My Last Campfire Post» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

I checked my user profile for this site and discovered that as of today I have been a member for 7 years and 37 weeks. Wow! So much has happened to me and my family over those years and a lot of it was shared on The Oil Drum. For reasons I’ll explain, I haven’t been around much lately. My most recent article was over three years ago.

My first writings for The Oil Drum were over six years ago as guest posts through Nate Hagens, and then as a staff contributor for the “Campfire” section of the site. I am not an energy expert so my role wasn’t about modeling depletion or providing context to the energy news of the week. What I did was consider the broader relationships between energy, resources and society, and explore the implications of more expensive and less energy to our consumer-oriented economy and culture. The most complete and succinct example of this role is probably my “Beware the Hungry Ghosts” piece, which includes this passage:

Several religious traditions describe what are termed “hungry ghosts.” These sad beings have insatiable appetites, with tiny mouths and huge stomachs. Modern society creates hungry ghosts among the living. We “have” more than ever, but are constantly bombarded with messages that it is never enough. The poor go to dollar stores, the middle class spend hours at Bed Bath and Beyond, the rich buy ever larger yachts, and city planners are always looking for more land and water in which to expand their urban sphere. Wants have become indistinguishable from needs. I anxiously walk among our nation of hungry ghosts, asking myself what these addicts will do when they can't get their fix?

What many of us found at The Oil Drum was a place to share our anxieties with those who share our anxieties. I am not being dismissive of this at all! Many here have points of view that place us outside of conventional wisdom, and this can be socially difficult. Where else can we go to have conversations that may be impolite, misunderstood and dismissed by the hungry ghosts we live among?

A fine example of thinking profoundly differently is in Kurt Cobb’s essay “Upside Down Economics” in which he gives a visual representation of U.S. GDP from the perspective of an Ecological Economist:

Figure 1

Many of my articles framed topics from an Ecological Economics perspective, where the economy is a subsidiary of the planet and functions by extracting resources and depositing wastes. Essential resources like energy, mineral ores, food and fiber can only be easily ignored when they are inexpensive to buy and reliably available. Many of us are alarmed because we see existential threats to the bottom of a top heavy pyramid and would like those situated higher up to pay attention and look below.

At the bottom of Cobb’s chart you see the economic sector “Agriculture & Forestry.” That is where I currently work, and where much of my writing here was about. I didn’t just explore the food growing sector, but also the so-called Food System, that includes transportation, processing and warehousing, retailing and end-use. Classic statistics discussed, and that devoted readers of The Oil Drum can probably rattle off at any cocktail party, include:

The U.S. Food System consumes several fossil fuel calories for each food calorie eaten.

The typical grocery store has about three days supply of goods on its shelves.

Each U.S. farmer (plus machines with fuel) feeds 100 people.

Figure 2. Graphic used in the post “Ecological Economics and the Food System

Two additional posts, “Save it for the Combine” and “Energy Descent and Agricultural Population” perhaps best capture the sense of the transformative change fossil fuels made in agricultural production and labor inputs, and offer some perspectives on adaptation to lower fossil fuel availability.

Figure 3. The percent agriculture population is plotted in relation to per capita energy use.  Nations with abundant use of exosomatic energy tend to have less of their population involved in agricultural production, presumably either because they can afford to import much of their food or employ labor saving devices in food production.  For example, only about 1% of the US labor force is involved in farming.  Data comes from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).  Original article containing figure is here.

The Campfire series was not only about exploring heterodox ideas, it was also meant to be a place where practical advice was shared. Many of us wanted to go beyond the talking stage and “do something” about the information and analyses presented on the site. This brings me to why I haven’t been writing here lately.

I went to the 2008 ASPO meetings in Sacramento not only to learn, but to network and hopefully meet someone who could help me with something. I wanted to farm at a significant scale to practice and demonstrate a form of agriculture that needs much fewer external inputs and is thus adaptive to our times. I met my eventual business partner (and TOD member) Craig Wichner in Sacramento. We were able to introduce our company, Farmland LP, at ASPO 2009 in Denver, where I gave two talks that eventually became posts (here and here). Over the past four years Craig and I have taken a heterodox idea and turned it into something substantial: Farmland LP currently owns and manages 6300 acres of cropland in California and Oregon.

So, I’ve been pretty busy. I am still writing on my company website but most of my posts are news related to the business. On occasion I do develop articles that look at the big picture and do in-depth analyses, such as “ The Many Benefits of Multi-Year Crop Rotations” and “Google Earth, Rotational Grazing and Mineralization, Part 1 and Part 2” but I won’t have time for more of that sort of writing until we are done with planting this fall.

This brings me to the end of my last Campfire post. In customary fashion I will pose some questions and ask readers to share their experience, wisdom, frustrations, and final thoughts for The Oil Drum.

Did any of you follow similar paths to mine, whereby the information and critical thinking shared on this site led to significant changes in your life path? (I never thought I’d be a farmer when I grew up.)

What barriers to making the changes you wanted did you encounter? Did they stop you from going on or did you overcome them somehow? (My wife gave me the foundation I needed to do this work. She had the income-earning job and the patience to allow me time to explore. Thank you Kristin!)

Thu 05 September, 2013

06:22 The Economic and Political Consequences of the Last 10 Years of Renewable Energy Development» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

I've been privileged to be an editor of TOD over the past several years, and am glad to have been invited to do a final post as the site moves to an archive status.

When I started writing about energy on the blogs in 2003/2004, I was writing mostly about Russia, gas pipelines and gas geopolitics. There were so many conspiracy theories abounding on topics like the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline or (a bit later) Russia vs Ukraine pipeline conflicts that I felt the need to put out a different version, given that I knew the inside story on many of these issues - and that got me invited to contribute these to TOD as well. In the meantime, my job (which was, and - full disclosure - remains, to finance energy projects) slowed moved from oil&gas work to power sector transactions and, increasingly, to renewable sector deals, and I started writing about the wind business, in my mind from the perspective of a banker wanting to make sure that these projects could be paid back over periods of 15 or 20 years.

While my work is now almost exclusively focused on offshore wind in Northern Europe, I still do not consider myself a 'wind shill'... but it does give me a different perspective on the debates currently going on about energy policy in various places, and on the changes to the power sector caused (among others, by renewables) that are underpinning such debates, and I thought it would be a useful complement, together with Big Gav's overview of the clean energy sector, to the other articles more traditionally focused on the oil&gas side of things.

I'll focus on Germany, where the transformation has been most advanced (and even has brought a new word to us: the Energiewende), and where the consequences of high renewable penetration are most visible.

A lot of rather unusual things have been happening in the Germany power sector lately, from negative prices, to utilities closing down brand new power plants and, naturally, a ferocious debate as to whether to cut support for renewable energy (as has already been done in Spain).

I've long described renewable energy producers as a price takers (i.e., they don't influence market prices in the short term and have to "take" market prices as set by other factors, unless shielded by specific regulatory regimes), but we are getting to the point, in a number of places, and in Germany in particular, where the penetration of renewable energy is such that it has a real macroeconomic impact on the prices of electricity, both at the wholesale and the retail levels, and thus on the way power markets run, and on the politics surrounding them. There's the additional factor that apparent spending on renewables is targeted by governments at a time of austerity in Europe, egged on by hardly disinterested utilities.

It is worth going through what's been happening in some detail.

:: ::

In the good old days, wholesale prices of power followed the price of natural gas, as gas-fired plants are the producer of the marginal kWh most of the time. This is still the case in the USA, and it looks like this:

Source: neutroneconomy

Retail prices tend to follow the average wholesale cost, plus a slice for distribution costs and taxes which can vary quite wildly from country to country:

Source: eurostat

But we've seen prices diverging across markets over the past two years, as shown in the following graphs:

  • gas prices diverging sharply across continents (notably as a result of the gas shale developments in the US and increased demand for gas in Japan following the Fukushima disaster, while European prices remain largely indexed to oil):

  • Source: Fidelity

  • wholesale power prices diverging from gas prices:

  • Source: Die Welt, via gwpf

    Note: the lines above represent long term break-even prices for, from the bottom, nuclear power plants, coal-fired plants and gas-fired plants

  • retail prices moving in the opposite direction to wholesale prices, and increasing:

Source: wikipedia (DE)

German wholesale prices have been trending down over the past several years, despite the closure of close to half of the nuclear plants of the country, and despite the persistently high natural gas prices on the continent, while retail prices have been going up, including due to contributions to pay for guaranteed fixed prices to renewable energy producers (the "EEG" component in yellow in the last graph).

The fall in wholesale prices means that most traditional power plants are not economical at current levels, as the second graph above shows.

There are some temporary factors to the current situation. One is the general economic woes of the eurozone, which are pushing demand downwards and thus prices as well. The other is the temporary higher use of coal-fired power plants, which itself comes from a combination of short term factors:

  • cheap imports from the USA (where coal use has been displaced for a while by cheap gas in power generation) made coal more profitable than gas, and
  • regulatory incentives mean coal plants have (under the (the Large Combustion Plants EU directive) a limited number of hours to run and operators have every reason to use these up quickly, and especially if the plants are profitable, or less unprofitable than gas ones (UK coal plants have the additional incentive that a carbon tax will be imposed on them from April 2013).

These factors have made it possible to claim that Germany was increasing pollution and carbon emissions because of wrongheaded policies (depending on your stance: closing nuclear plants or pushing renewables), but this looks like a temporary arbitrage between coal and gas.

:: ::

The real long term story is that the power spot markets are being completely upended by the increasing penetration of renewable energy. In Germany, new renewables represent around 50% of the overall installed capacity, and already provide close to 20% of all power generation (split in 2012 in 3 almost equal parts between wind (7%), biomass (6%) and solar (5%)), up from almost nothing 15 years ago, and on many days now they provide 50% or more of total output:

Source: Paul Gipe

This reduces demand for mid-load producers and peakers over more and more periods throughout the year. As the graphs below shows, on good days in the warm season the PV capacity almost eliminates altogether the need for intermediate load; in winter, wind takes over (in aggregate, although not with as regular a daily profile):

Source: DoDo on European Tribune


This was the slice of demand served by coal-fired and gas-fired plants and they are simply not being used as much as they used to, and certainly not as much as their owners expected.

And prices are being squeezed down not just for these producers, but for everybody else as well, in particular during the peak day time hours which used to be the most profitable for all power plants (because baseload plants also receive the more expensive peak hour prices even if they did not bid at such prices). This means that existing capacity is less and less profitable - not just the peakers or intermediate plants, but also the nuclear and other baseload workhorses of the system. Thus the few highly publicized plant closures, and the ongoing utility complaints about lost revenues. Moreover there currently is no business case to invest in any kind of power plant (other than renewables under specific revenue regimes), which utilities use to argue against renewable support.

But here's the thing: preventing new renewables will not eliminate the current existing capacity, which means that the economics of the sector will not recover even if no new renewables were built... The wholesale market as it was designed 20 years ago (de facto based on gas-fired plants of various efficiency targeted at different points of the merit order curve setting up the marginal price) is irreversibly broken. The system is now dominated by plants with very low marginal cost of production (but high upfront investment), which means that spot prices are systematically too low for everybody - you can't invest in plants with high upfront investments (like nukes), and you can't invest in plants with high marginal running costs (gas-fired plants) unless you are betting on persistently low gas prices into the future. That may explain the push for shale gas in Europe, but who believes that shale gas will bring low prices? Even in the US prices are trending up again (and forward prices even more so).

:: ::

In the meantime, retail prices have kept on increasing, and the fact that the contribution of the support regime (in Germany, the "EEG-Umlage") to retail prices has become visible has made it a target of lobbyists and thus a political topic, despite the fact that retail prices increases have been caused, to a large extent (and in particular until 2009) by increases in gas prices.

This leads us to an hidden truth: a large fraction of the massive increase in renewable energy production is not paid for by consumers, but by incumbent producers who see their revenues decline as the price they earn per MWh goes down. Utilities, which see their margins on the retail side increase, but have very little renewable energy production capacity of their own are caught between two conflicting trends, with their upstream business losing profitability, but their downstream business earning more. IPPS are suffering, but have less voice. Unsurprisingly, utilities are focusing public attention only on the first part, and are naturally blaming renewables - not hesitating to point fingers at their support regimes as the cause of rising power prices, in the hope that these regimes will be weakened. They claim they are victims of unfair competition from "heavily subsidized" sources which have priority over them and can dump power with no worry for consequences into the network. They use a mix of real arguments and weaker ones to push against renewables:

source: Goldman Sachs, via Zero Hedge

  • one of the true arguments is that the cost of supporting solar PV has become larger than expected and faster than expected. Just 5 years ago, a number of countries had tariffs in the 500-600 EUR/MWh range, and regulators were surprised by the volumes that managed to be installed - and capture the advantageous prices levels. when they dropped the price support for new projects, they were again surprised by how fast the industry was able to match the lower prices through new technology (and a brutal price war). The result has been an amazing drop in the price of solar panels (-80% in just a few years, as shown above), bringing them close to grid parity, and a rather large (multiple GWs in Germany, Italy, Spain) stock of solar PV capacity which is entitled to very high tariffs for many years, at a visible cost to consumers;
  • in some places, the regulatory regime allowed producers to capture the best of both worlds - the higher of the fixed tariff or the market price (whether wholesale or retail), thus preventing the network, and the public, from benefitting from the "cap" that a real fixed tariff would have provided;
  • in Spain, retail power prices were kept artificially low for political reasons), and the the gross cost of the fixed tariffs was not absorbed into the general cost base of the network and instead explicitly imposed on utilities, which used that as an obvious argument against renewables (even though a good part of the price increases were linked to increased gas prices before the merit order effect acted on wholesale prices); the government's U-turn on tariffs, which imposed negative tariff changes on already operational projects, alienated the utilities further (as they had, contrary to what happened in Germany, become significant operators of renewable capacity and lost money in the process) and created a precedent that also scared off lenders and investors and put the sector in disrepute;
  • in Germany, the renewable energy surcharge applies only to retail consumers, and large sections of industrial users (but not all) are exempted. That means that the gross costs is borne by a smaller fraction of the overall consumers, and that some industries are complaining that they are being treated unfairly. Meanwhile, those benefitting from the situation (the bug consumers who benefit from lower wholesale prices and do not pay the surcharge) are staying silent so as to avoid attracting attention (they failed - this quirk is likely to be corrected soon);

But what is not true is that wind has contributed in any meaningful way to retail price increases (most of Germany's wind capacity was installed before 2008 and the EEG component is all but invisible at that date), and not has offshore wind (which is indeed more expensive, but very little of which has been built to date). When you look at average costs, one sees that onshore wind is largely competitive on wholesale markets (and yes, that does take into account grid access and balancing costs - there is enough experience with large wind penetration in various networks to know that it can be done and that it has no meaningful impact on costs), that solar is already competitive against retail prices in many markets (the famous "grid parity"), and that other technologies are somewhere in-between. Offshore wind is still more expensive, but is expected to come down in price by the time it will reach significant capacity:

source: Goldman Sachs, via Zero Hedge

Note that these average costs of production, always include very political assumptions about the cost of money, and the future price of gas, to apply to such projects. The discount rate (at the time of investment) is the main driver of the cost of wind or nuclear whereas the cost of gas-fired power is only an estimate, based an assumptions about the cost of gas in the next 20 years. And that also means that the price of power from a wind farm or a nuclear plant is largely fixed and known once the plant is built, while the cost of power from a gas-fired plant in the future is essentially unknown. The cost of money is a fundamentally political decision (derived from investors' estimates of macro risks like inflation, of regulatory risks applying to the sector, and technology risk); the consensus on future gas price estimates is also influenced by many factors, including long term projections by public bodies like the IEA, the US EIA or private firms with their various agendas.

As an aside, the more renewables you have in the system, the less it is possible to take out the regulatory support regime, because spot prices tend to go towards zero - which makes investment in renewables (or in any other kind of power generation assets, for that matter) impossible. So "grid parity" is an illusory target, in a sense, because it is a moving target. Technologies with high variable costs (all fossil-fuel plants) cannot compete at any price when there is enough zero-marginal cost capacity in the system, and technologies with high upfront investment costs need comfort about price levels over a long period as they need such prices on a constant basis to amortize the initial investment. This is why the UK government is working on a "contract for differences" (essentially the same thing as a fixed tariff) for new nuclear plants.

:: ::

Altogether, the reality is that the consumers and the utilities is paying for a few expensive years of early solar PV technology (to the tune of a few cents per kWh, ie a few hundred euros per year and per household), and now the utilities are bearing almost in full the further impact on the system: they are no longer making (much) money on their current fleet - not on gas-fired plants, barely on their coal-fired plants, and they don't have much renewable energy capacity. They are stuck with a capital stock (including recent plants), which is increasingly uneconomic in today's markets, caught between high fuel prices and lower power prices. And that is the result of strategies over the past 10-15 years that willfully ignored policies to promote renewables pursued pretty consistently across Europe, and the likely impact they would have on power prices (the infamous "merit order effect" - which I discussed in detail at least 5 years ago, and which was already the topic of academic papers before that).

So it's not like they had no warning and no notice... In a sense, utilities have been consistent: one of their past arguments was that renewables would never reach critical mass and thus were not a serious solution to reduce carbon emissions. And they surely did not take recent investment decisions (mainly to build base-load or mid-load gas-fired plants) with the scenario of heavy renewable penetration in mind, otherwise they would not have been so surprised by the current situation...

:: ::

Utilities do make a legitimate point when they underline that the system still needs their capacity (because renewables are not available on demand, and do not provide the flexibility required in the very short term), and that this needs to be paid for (and, at some point in the future, existing capacity will need to be replaced, and they need to be able to make a business case for that, which is not possible today).

In the previous regime, where power prices were determined by gas prices, it was possible to pay for the flexibility in the form of price spikes that gave the right signal for mid-load and peaker gas-fired (or oil-fired, or hydro) plants to be used, and their frequency of use was relatively predictable over a year, allowing for a sound business model to be implemented. Now, with plenty of renewables, the price signal is completely different. There are many more periods of very low prices when renewables flood the system (and this is particularly the case in places with lots of solar, as it is available during the day, ie when demand is stronger and thus prices used to be higher). This has two consequences: gas-fired plants get much less use than in the past (and less than their business plans expected), and baseload plants like nukes or big coal-fired plants get lower prices during periods when they were cashing in more money. The latter earn less money (but still run); the former now run a lot less than expected , which has income implications but also consequences for gas consumption and storage - patterns of use become very different, moving from the usual "once a day" pattern (a few hour at peak demand times), to short bursts several times a day (as renewables drop out), or very long periods of use over multiple days when renewables are not available at all.

Given that the penetration of renewables will continue to change every year, it has become really hard to identify the business model to use for flexible plants - and even harder to know what it will be in 1, 5 or 10 years from now. These flexible plants will be needed, at least to some extent, and they need to be paid for, and that cannot really happen with today's regulatory regime (and as noted above, stopping support regimes for renewables won't change that now: the existing stock of wind and solar is already big enough in several countries to keep the current market arrangements broken). One solution, thankfully being considered in several markets, and which already exists in places like California, is to put in place a capacity market, where plants make themselves available for rapid changes in output, without actually producing anything most of the time, and get paid for that availability: ie a market for MW in addition to the market for MWh.

:: ::

The politics of this transition are messy. You can have articles saying (without any real argument) that "Too much green energy is bad for Britain at the very same time that you have record cold weather, with critical weakness in the gas supply infrastructure and wind actually coming to the rescue... (in the UK last March).

People are presenting capacity markets as another subsidy to renewables, whereas system security has always required a significant margin of unused capacity for safety: power demand varies from 1 to 2 or one to 3 every day, peaks can be more or less intense depending on weather, and even large plants can go offline on a scheduled or unscheduled basis. That safety margin was simply paid for in a different way, either by imposing capacity buffers on utilities, or through spot price peaks that were high enough to pay in a few hours for the peaker plants which are otherwise idle most of the time. There's naturally a lot of talk that policies to develop renewable have failed, being costly (only partly true, as shown above, and increasingly less so as time goes by), ineffective at reducing carbon emissions (not true, each MWh of renewable energy has, by and large, replaced a MWh generated previously by fossil fuel plants) and damaging to the system (obviously not the case). But the cat is out of the bag: once renewable energy reaches a critical mass, its impact on power systems is pretty much irreversible and no amount of lobbying by utilities is going to get them their previous business model back: wind turbines and solar panels are there and they will keep on cranking out zero-marginal-cost MWh for a very, very long time...

So utilities would be well advised to focus their lobbying on fixes to the system that actually solve problems (like capacity markets, or maybe new rules on grid access for "must-run plants), and to not cut the tree on which they are sitting (killing the support regime for offshore wind, the only sector in renewables which is "utility-scale" and where they have been able to take a leading share, and the only sector of the power sector where they can actually make money these days...)(I note here again, for full disclosure, that I work in the offshore wind sector and appreciate that this may sound rather self-interested).

The politics of power prices are rather volatile, and people have little sympathy for the big utilities, which are typically seen as profiteers anyway, so the focus on the high retail prices could end up damaging them more than it impacts renewable energy producers. Energy is a rather complex topic, not really suited for soundbites, and it is easy to confuse people or say outright lies without getting caught right away. But, by and large, Germans still support the Energiewende - both the move away from nuclear and the support for renewable energy - and are willing to pay for it. And for areas like Bremerhaven, all the manufacturing activity linked to wind and offshore wind is rather welcome.

:: ::

In summary:

  • Renewable energy is reaching the scale where it has an impact on the overall system; the effects are irreversible, and highly damaging to incumbents;
  • The net cost to get there has been relatively low, and largely paid for by utilities, which have constantly underestimated the ongoing changes, even as they were both (wrongly) dismissing them and (relatively ineffectively) fighting them;
  • there are legitimate worries about the way to maintain the fleet of flexible plants that was required in the past and will continue to be needed in the new paradigm, but can no longer pay its way under current market arrangements; the solution is not to fight renewables (it won't make the existing fleet go away) but to ensure that the right services (MW on demand) are properly remunerated;
  • the shale gas revolution will have a limited impact in this context (it had almost none in Europe, other than via some cheap coal exports from the US for a short period), and does not change the economics of gas-fired plants to the point that they can be competitive in a system dominated by renewable energy production capacity;
  • more generally, the future for gas suppliers is bleaker than for gas turbine manufacturers - there will be a need for a lot of gas-fired plants but they won't be burning a lot of gas (they will be selling MW rather than MWh);
  • overall, a future with high renewable penetration is not only possible but increasingly likely, and it's a good thing.

Part of the wind power series.

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