Wednesday Reads: 2014 Going Out With A Bang

165514928Morning All

I really don’t have anything to add to the picture on the left. That is pretty much how things seem to be going lately. Each day another bomb drops, and many of us sit here wondering will it stop? Will there be a moment when some decent shred of humanity will shine through the toxic stew of torture, police brutality, racism, sexism and all the rest of it…

Here are your links for this morning, many reactions to the CIA torture reports will come as no surprise.

I guess John McCain is the one GOP dude who we would expect had some words to say on the matter: McCain on Torture: A Stain on our National Honor, Produces Misleading Info | Informed Comment

“As the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report roiled Capitol Hill Tuesday, Sen. John McCain framed the argument as one of moral clarity, all the while bumping up against his party leaders.

“I rise in support of the release, the long-delayed release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summarized, unclassified review of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that were employed by the previous administration to extract information from captured terrorists,” the Arizona Republican said on the Senate floor. “I believe the American people have a right, indeed responsibility, to know what was done in their name, how these practices did or did not serve our interests, and how they comported with our most important values.”

McCain, who spent five-and-a-half years in a North Vietnamese prison during the Vietnam War and endured unspeakable torture, is virtually unassailable on the issue. His comments put him back in the maverick role, at least in relation to the chamber’s internal politics, that has long defined his congressional career.”

d79002a4d9795d36c23f422431ccbf3dVideo at the link.

In another link from Juan Cole’s blog: Psychologists, who Took mn. to Advise, Practice Torture, betrayed the Profession | Informed Comment

During the War on Terror, the CIA’s operations subjected hundreds of suspected terrorists to harsh interrogation techniques, which were often criticised as constituting torture. Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the operation has made it clearer than ever that the CIA used many forms of “enhanced interrogation” to elicit information – very harsh methods indeed that simply did not yield the intended results.

As a leaked State Department memo put it, the report “tells a story of which no American is proud”.

This is a matter of outrage for everyone, but as psychologists, we have a particular obligation to speak out. Many of the approaches the CIA used were developed by our discipline, and by individuals who will have known about the codes of conduct by which US psychologists are bound – which include beneficence and non-maleficence, and respect for rights, dignity and integrity.

It is profoundly disturbing to see that the CIA’s techniques included deprivation of basic needs (warmth, food, water), humiliation, threats and the repeated use of waterboarding.

Ironically, many of the methods adopted were based on psychologists’ previous work directed at training members of the military, intended to assist them in avoiding talking to interrogators should they be captured and tortured. This work was apparently reverse-engineered for use on terrorist suspects.

2a2130ec4f4c50723d90bf520b6784e0There is much more at that link, which is a guest post written by Laurence Alison, from the University of Liverpool.

Fox News…well, you know:

Fox Host: Forget Torture, ‘America Is Awesome’ — NYMag

After reading reports about how the CIA inadvertently killed someone during an interrogation and subjected others to repeated waterboardings, “rectal feedings,” and threats to rape and kill their family members, did you get the feeling that sometimes the United States is less than awesome? That’s exactly what the Obama administration wanted! This afternoon in the alternate reality that is Fox News, the hosts of Outnumbered explained that the report was only released to distract Americans from real problems, like the IRS scandal and Benghazi.

“The Bush administration did what the American public wanted, and that was do whatever it takes to keep us safe,” declared the particularly incensed Andrea Tantaros. “The United States of America is awesome, we are awesome,” she continued. “We’ve closed the book on [torture], and we’ve stopped doing it. And the reason they want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome” — mainly because they “don’t like this country” and “want us to look bad.”

Fox then returned to its regularly scheduled programming.

Alggpp0100nd Billy Boy: Bill O’Reilly: Torture Is ‘Morally Correct’ | Crooks and Liars

If you thought you heard it all from Bill O’Reilly, think again. Tonight he said that torture was a “morally acceptable” thing to do.

Meanwhile, across the pond: New Statesman | “Torture is always wrong”: David Cameron responds to the CIA report

David Cameron has responded to the alarming US report by Democrat senators on CIA interrogation activities in the wake of 9/11. Commenting on the shocking revelations about “brutal” techniques employed by the CIA on terrorism suspects, the Prime Minister said:

Let us be clear – torture is wrong, torture is always wrong.

For those of us who want to see a safer more secure world who want to see this extremism defeated, we won’t succeed if we lose our moral authority.

Now obviously after 9/11 there were things that happened that were wrong and we should be clear about the fact that they were wrong.

Clearly anticipating any questions emerging from this story that could drag Britain into the controversy, Cameron was keen to emphasise that he believes Britain has “dealt with” its position in relation torture policy. The United Kingdom appears on the list of countries that “facilitated CIA torture”.

Cameron referred to the Intelligence and Security Committee looking into questions raised by the Gibson Inquiry into the treatment of detainees post-9/11, and added that he has, “issued guidance to all of our agents and others working around the world about how they have to handle themselves”.

77374810001_693354346001_ari-origin06-arc-159-1291146682193The report itself has stunned the world following its release yesterday. It suggests America’s spies repeatedly lied to Congress and its foreign allies in an effort to cover up the scale and brutal nature of a secret global programme of torture.

Of course the UN has it’s own response: CIA torture: Calls to prosecute US officials involved in ‘brutal’ interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects – The Independent

The UN has called for the prosecution of those behind a ‘criminal conspiracy’ at the CIA that led to the ‘brutal’ torture of detainees.

Ben Emmerson, United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said those responsible for planning, sanctioning or carrying out crimes including waterboarding should not escape justice – even senior officials from George W Bush’s administration.

“It is now time to take action,” he said in a statement from Geneva. “The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy … must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.

“The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.”

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth also said that the CIA’s actions were criminal “and can never be justified”.

hqdefault“The Senate report summary should forever put to rest CIA denials that it engaged in torture, which is criminal and can never be justified,” he said.

“The report shows the repeated claims that harsh measures were needed to protect Americans are utter fiction.

“Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of officials, torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents.”

Now, over at Al Jazeera, they have an article that interviews surviviors:

Survivors of CIA torture, rendition speak out | Al Jazeera America

Survivors of alleged CIA torture and rendition programs praised the release of a damning, if heavily redacted Senate account of the agency’s “brutal” and “ineffective” practices but noted it was only a first step toward accountability — and it certainly wasn’t an apology.

article-0-11CC61E1000005DC-710_634x476“Publishing this shows the other side, that human rights apply to everyone,” said Abdelhakim Balhadj, a Libyan political dissident who the U.S. rendered back to Libya in 2004, where he was allegedly tortured over a six-year period without being charged with a crime. “The U.S. denied us our human rights. We wanted the American people to recognize this.”

After years of delay, the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released a 499-page executive summary of a more than 6,000-word report, which remains classified. It detailed a litany of apparently illegal methods employed by CIA officers to extract information from detainees — death threats, beatings, sleep deprivation, forced rectal feeding and other psychological torment — much of which had long since been leaked.

Significantly, the summary noted that so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques were “brutal and far worse than the CIA represented” and they were not nearly as useful in obtaining information vital to national security as the agency had previously said.

Though ex-detainees like Belhadj welcomed those findings, he was disappointed that his name had not been mentioned specifically. In a phone call from his home in Libya, Belhadj, now a prominent politician and military leader in Libya, told of how he and his pregnant wife Fatima were picked up by U.S. authorities as they were trying to leave China, where they had been living until 2004, to seek political asylum in the U.K.

750px-Castle_Bravo_(black_and_white)As well as the ex-CIA dudes…who have there side of the story: Ex-CIA officials say torture report is one-sided, flawed | Reuters

A group of former top-ranking CIA officials disputed a U.S. Senate committee’s finding that the agency’s interrogation techniques produced no valuable intelligence, saying such work had saved thousands of lives.

Former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden, along with three ex-deputy directors, wrote in an op-ed article published on Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal that the Senate Intelligence Committee report also was wrong in saying the agency had been deceptive about its work following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The rest of the links for today’s post are in dump format, and they are not pleasant. In fact they are much of the same kind of news we have been seeing the past few weeks.

Orlando, Florida police sergeant shoots unarmed man – World Socialist Web Site

The usual story with the usual players. The men in this case were in a stolen car…that said…read the rest at the link.

 

School Counselor Threatens to Shoot Mike Brown Protestors, Blames Kid

School Counselor Threatens to Shoot Mike Brown Protestors, Blames Kid

 

“He should have to stand trial”: Rep. Keith Ellison sounds off on Eric Garner’s killing and civil rights in America – Salon.com

As the American people continue to debate about — and organize over — the lack of consequences for the police who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown, some commentators (like yours truly) have urged national Democrats to be more directly and unapologetically supportive of their African-American supporters and the #blacklivesmatter movement in general. But while it’s much too soon to tell whether Hillary Clinton or other similarly well-known Democrats will heed the call, it’s clear that one Democratic congressman, Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, is listening. “The fact is, people have to demand [a] sense of justice: people in the streets are going to make the system more responsive,” he said recently on MSNBC.

atomic-bomb3New Statesman | Why Hollywood needs to listen to Chris Rock about its race problems

In a scathing editorial in the Hollywood Reporter, Chris Rock has confronted some issues that though obvious, are being blatantly ignored. He quite rightly points out that Hollywood is an exclusive, white industry that is terrible at giving opportunities to black and Latino people other than as the janitor. You only have to open your eyes to see this, but nobody, whether it be studio executives, producers, directors, other actors or critics, has been proactive in changing things. It’s OK to say it – Hollywood doesn’t care about black people.

In Arkansas, white town is a black mark | Al Jazeera America

Harrison, Arkansas billboard

Residents of Harrison try to fight off their reputation as the small town with the most hate groups in America

Thomas Robb lives 15 miles from downtown Harrison, Arkansas, past churches with signs speaking of God’s righteousness, a goat farm and a slew of rusted trailer homes. His home is a collection of nondescript white cottages that includes an office and a meeting place for the Christian Revival Center, where he serves as pastor. The buildings stretch across several acres — but don’t call the property a compound.

“It’s my home, not a compound,” Robb says, correcting a reporter with a smile. “The word ‘compound’ has such a negative connotation.”

Robb and his wife moved to the area 43 years ago from Tucson, Arizona: “You could see the handwriting on the wall of Arizona being a dumping ground for illegal aliens.” The stronger morals of people in Arkansas, he says, made the state a more attractive home for his Thomas Robb Ministries and the Christian Revival Center, which espouse a white-supremacist, “Christian-identity” theology. For the last 25 years, he’s also been the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the group founded by prominent Klan leader and former Louisiana politician David Duke. In that role, Robb has attempted to advance the white-nationalist movement by portraying the Klan, in the words of one journalist, as more “gentle, upbeat and friendly” — an approach that’s sometimes frowned upon by other Klan members for being too mainstream.

Protest Against Police Violence

In Georgia, there was an execution last night: Injustice in Robert Wayne Holsey’s Case – NYTimes.com

Even by the abysmal standards of lawyering that defendants in capital trials regularly endure, Robert Wayne Holsey’s case stands out.

In 1997, Mr. Holsey was convicted and sentenced to death for killing a Georgia sheriff’s deputy named Will Robinson, who had pulled him over for robbing a convenience store. Despite evidence that Mr. Holsey was intellectually disabled — which should have barred him from execution under the United States Supreme Court’s earlier rulings — his lawyer neglected to make that argument at trial. Mr. Holsey was executed on Tuesday evening after the Supreme Court declined to stay his execution.

The evidence of Mr. Holsey’s mental deficits included an I.Q. test score of 70 when he was 15. In school, his intellectual functioning did not move past a fourth-grade level. But under Georgia law, a defendant is required to prove his intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt — the strictest standard in the country and one unmoored from scientific reality.

Palestinian minister dies after confrontation with Israeli soldiers | Al Jazeera America

A Palestinian minister has died after clashes with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank. The circumstances of Ziad Abu Ein’s death have yet to be officially confirmed, but sources told Al Jazeera that it occurred after he inhaled large amounts of tear gas and was struck by security forces.

Abu Ein, who was head of the Anti-Wall and Settlement Commission, died in Ramallah Hospital on Wednesday following a protest against the separation barrier near the village of Turmusayya, northeast of Ramallah.

The 55-year-old is thought to have been hit in the chest by Israeli soldiers at the demonstration, according to an Israeli journalist and a Reuters photographer who were at the scene. Other witnesses said he was headbutted and then collapsed.

Activists said they were planting olive trees by the illegal settlement of Adei Ad when the soldiers attacked them and fired large amounts of tear gas at the group.

Pictures of Abu Ein, a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, knocked out and on the ground quickly circulated on social media sites.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas quickly condemned the death of Abu Ein, calling it a “barbaric act that cannot be tolerated.” He also said “all necessary steps” will be taken after an investigation into Abu Ein’s death is carried out.

More on the olive trees, and the significance here:

BBC News – Israel and the Palestinians: A conflict viewed through olives

Obama had a tough interview: Jorge Ramos Challenges President Obama On Immigration In Testy Interview – BuzzFeed News

Ugh….US Congressional Leaders Reach Accord on 2015 Spending Plan

Hey, this is a surprise: Police officer buys eggs for woman caught shoplifting to feed her family in Tarrant | AL.com

A woman caught shoplifting eggs in Tarrant Saturday didn’t leave with handcuffs and a court date. Thanks to a Tarrant police officer, she left with food for her family.

Officer William Stacy was called to the Dollar General on Pinson Valley Parkway when employees caught the woman trying to steal a dozen eggs, Tarrant Police Chief Dennis Reno said.

The woman had her young children in the car. She told Officer Stacy that she was only stealing because she was trying to feed her children.

Stacy talked with Dollar General, and they said they wouldn’t prosecute. So Stacy made an offer.

“He said, ‘If I give you these eggs, will you promise that you won’t shoplift anymore?'” Reno said. “He knew that she was telling the truth and that’s the reason he went in and bought the eggs.”

Stacy bought the eggs and gave them to her, Reno said. The woman then asked if she could give him a hug.

Sorry if I am cynical…but…

“Police officers do this all the time. Of course, these are the kind of stories that never get told,” Reno said. “Every police officer in Jefferson County has done this at one point in time.”

Reno said this is one way police deal with issues — not every incident ends with someone being hauled off to jail.

No, they don’t get hauled off to jail, they get hauled off to the morgue.

Video of hug at link. It just is…I don’t know. Maybe y’all have a better way of putting it into words than I do?

Sounds a little like staged bullshit to me.

But again, I am a cynical bitch.

I mean, when you have a Sgt with the Tarrant Police Department police stealing evidence and selling it to other cops:

Update: Former Tarrant Police Sgt. turns himself in. – ABC 33/40 – Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

 According to Tarrant Police Chief Dennis Reno, former Tarrant Police Officer, Sgt. Charles Higgins, has turned himself in to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

The Tarrant Police Department is asking a suspected criminal to turn himself in. But this criminal isn’t like the others.

“He was an extraordinary officer,” Police Chief Dennis Reno said.

That’s because Charles Kevin Higgins used to be a Sgt. with the department.

“Myself and every officer here feels betrayed,” Reno said.

Reno says a while back his department noticed items missing out of the evidence room, which is what Sgt. Higgins was in charge of. Higgins was confronted and was told an investigation would be happening.

“Rather than face an investigation, Sgt. Higgins rendered his resignation at that time,” Reno said.

Further investigation would show much more missing from the evidence room than anticipated.

Nine handguns were missing. Reno says Higgins told people he needed money. He sold six of them to citizens. But four of them were sold to closer friends.

“He sold them to some of his fellow police officers here at the station,” Reno said.

The serial numbers on the guns sold to the officers matched the numbers of those missing from the evidence room. Reno believes Higgins made nearly $3,500 on the guns. Reno says the officers who bought the firearms thought they were part of Higgins’s personal collection, as Reno says Higgins is a gun collector.

Reno says he could not comment whether more items were taken from the evidence room.

Or the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office being investigated for racial discrimination: JeffCo Sheriff’s hiring, firing practices under scrutiny for racial discrimiation

A federal judge wants to know what Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale is doing to deal with racial discrimination.

During a status hearing over the county’s consent degree involving hiring and firing practices, U.S District Judge Lynwood Smith said he will now be focusing on the sheriff’s office.

The county’s hiring and firing is currently under the supervision of court appointed receiver Ronald Sims.

During Thursday’s court hearing, plaintiffs in the case said it came to their attention that Sheriff Hale does not have an affirmative action officer to oversee any racial complaints or violations of discrimination law.

Jefferson County has affirmative action officers in place but the question now is whether Sheriff Hale, who is already facing a tight budget, hire another person for the job or use the county’s personnel.

Jefferson County commissioner David Carrington says it’s a matter that has to be studied.

“It would be a little cumbersome for the county’s AA officer to get involved with the sheriff’s office. We have a lot of issues we need to deal with. If the judge says it’s our responsibility we will accept it and go forward,” Carrington said.

Judge Smith told Sheriff Hale’s attorney in court to get more engaged and to research what the sheriff has done to deal with racial discrimination going back to 1982, when the original consent decree was signed by Hale’s predecessor Mel Bailey.

Federal judge turns focus to Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in 32-year-old discrimination order | AL.com

A federal judge, who last year installed a manager to oversee all Jefferson County personnel decisions to prevent discrimination against blacks and women, has now turned his focus onto the county sheriff’s office.

At a hearing this morning U.S. District Court Judge Lynwood Smith asked an attorney for Sheriff Mike Hale to determine what that office has done – or hasn’t – to ensure that it doesn’t discriminate against blacks or women in hiring, firing and promotions since a consent decree was signed by county officials 32 years ago.

Lynwood Smith.jpgFederal Judge Lynwood Smith. (Huntsville Times file)

Smith said he believes “it is past time to focus on the sheriff…  He (the sheriff) is under the same duties and obligations as the county commission.”

The 1982 consent decree was issued as part of lawsuits that contended the county and the City of Birmingham had discriminated against blacks and women. County officials, including former Sheriff Mel Bailey, signed the decree. Birmingham and the Jefferson County Personnel Board were ultimately released from their decrees.

About seven years ago plaintiffs in the lawsuits asked the judge to find the county in contempt for not abiding by the terms of its consent decree. After a lengthy process the judge last year found the county was in contempt and put in place a receiver, Ron Sims, over the county’s human resources department.

At today’s status conference Smith holds once a month to check on the county’s compliance, an attorney for the plaintiff’s, Rowan Wilson, told the judge about an issue that came up.

Hmmmm…go on…

Wilson said that Sims two months ago had appointed an affirmative action officer to review personnel complaints. Recently sheriff’s employees had come to the new officer with issues, which brought up the question as to whether the sheriff had an affirmative action officer, he said.

As part of the consent decree the county was to have an affirmative action officer, but didn’t, Wilson said. The issue came up during testimony in the contempt hearings.

Take a look at the comments….interesting to say the least.

This sounds a lot like Banjoville.

But seriously…to go back to the quote from Reno, the chief at Tarrant PD:

“Police officers do this all the time. Of course, these are the kind of stories that never get told,” Reno said. “Every police officer in Jefferson County has done this at one point in time.”

Oh yeah, I bet they do that act of kindness all the time….

That is it for me, y’all have a good day. So? What are you reading about?


Tuesday Reads: McCain Plays “Pretend President,” Pressure Cookers, Upcoming Zimmerman Trial, and Other News

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

Last night Josh Rogin reported that warmongering Senator John McCain had sneaked across the Syrian border from Turkey and talked to Gen. Idris Salem, head of the “Free Syrian Army.”

McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.

Idris praised the McCain visit and criticized the Obama administration’s Syria policy in an exclusive interview Monday with The Daily Beast.

“The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful especially at this time,” he said. “We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation.”

Apparently McCain decided to play Pretend President to celebrate Memorial Day. I haven’t been paying close attention to the news for the past few days, but I think I would have seen any reports that the White House or the State Department had requested Senator McNasty’s help in reaching out to opposition forces in Syria.

Prior to his visit inside Syria, McCain and Idris had separate meetings with two groups of FSA commanders and their Civil Revolutionary Council counterparts in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. Rebel military and civilian leaders from all over Syria came to see McCain, including from Homs, Qusayr, Idlib, Damascus, and Aleppo. Idris led all the meetings.

The entire trip was coordinated with the help of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit organization that works in support of the Syrian opposition.

john_mccain_syria_visit

More from Dan Roberts of The Guardian:

McCain’s office confirmed to the Guardian that he had slipped into the country in recent days but declined to comment on the outcome of his talks with the rebel groups or whether it had hardened his views on arming them.

The Arizona senator has been leading efforts in Congress in recent weeks to force Barack Obama to intervene in Syria following reports of alleged chemical weapons use by forces loyal to Assad.

As the most senior US politician to have visited Syria, his intervention is likely to strengthen the hand of hawks in Washington at a time when parallel efforts are being made by the French and British governments to persuade the European Union to lift the arms embargo.

At the same time, actual US Secretary of State John Kerry was working toward a different goal than loud-mouthed Obama critic McCain.

Meanwhile the US State Department continues to pursue diplomatic efforts to bring the civil war to an end, successfully encouraging the Russians to persuade Assad to take part in peace talks in Geneva next month.

Capping off an eight-day trip to the Middle East and Africa, secretary of state John Kerry flew into Paris on Monday to see Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and exchange updates on their respective diplomatic efforts.

No word yet on any reactions from the Obama administration to McCain’s attempt to influence its foreign policy decisions.

The EU is also pushing for intervention in Syria. CNN reports:

The EU lifted its arms embargo on Syrian rebels Monday, a move that could level the playing field and alter the course of Syria’s gruesome civil war.

While there are no immediate plans to ship weapons to rebels, the move sends a strong message to Syria’s defiant president: Negotiate or face consequences.

“It was a difficult decision for some countries, but it was necessary and right to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a written statement.

“It was important for Europe to send a clear signal to the Assad regime that it has to negotiate seriously, and that all options remain on the table if it refuses to do so.”

SCOTUS

In domestic news, CNN calls attention to the important rulings that could come from the Supreme Court in June.

Four weeks. Four major legal rulings. What the Supreme Court decides by the end of June could fundamentally change lives and legacies on a range of politically explosive issues.
The justices will meet in at least five public sessions to release opinions in its remaining 30 cases, among them some the most strongly-contested legal and social issues they have confronted in decades:

– Same-sex marriage: A pair of appeals testing whether gays and lesbian couples have a fundamental constitutional right to wed.

– Affirmative action: May race continue to be used as a factor in college admissions, to achieve classroom diversity?

– Voting rights: The future of the Voting Rights Act, and continued federal oversight of elections in states with a past history of discrimination.

– Gene patents: Can “products of nature” like isolated parts of the human genome be held as the exclusive intellectual property of individuals and companies, through government-issued patents?

For more detailed summaries of these cases from CNN, click here.

“It’s almost unimaginable the number of things that the Supreme Court is going to decide that will affect all Americans in the next month,” said Thomas Goldstein, a top Washington attorney and publisher of SCOTUSblog.com.

“What would surprise me this term is if the court upheld use of affirmative action or the (enforcement tool behind the) Voting Rights Act. And I think it would be a big surprise if the court did anything radical when it came to same-sex marriage — either saying there was a constitutional right to it, or rejecting that claim outright and forever. I think that’s something they’re going to try and tread that middle ground path.”

Meanwhile, two Democratic Congressmen, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Keith Ellison of Minnesota are proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would establish a right to vote for every American citizen.

“Most people believe that there already is something in the Constitution that gives people the right to vote, but unfortunately … there is no affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. We have a number of amendments that protect against discrimination in voting, but we don’t have an affirmative right,” Pocan told TPM last week. “Especially in an era … you know, in the last decade especially we’ve just seen a number of these measures to restrict access to voting rights in so many states. … There’s just so many of these that are out there, that it shows the real need that we have.”

The brief amendment would stipulate that “every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.” It would also give Congress “the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

After investigating the issue, Pocan said he and Ellison decided this type of amendment was the best way to combat measures to restrict voting access.

“Essentially, what it would do is it would put the burden on any of these states that try to make laws that are more restrictive that they would have to prove that they’re not disenfranchising a voter. Rather than, currently, where a voter has to prove they’ve somehow been wronged by a state measure,” said Pocan.

Of course that’s pretty much pie in the sky considering how difficult it is to pass a Constitutional amendment and get it approved by three-quarters of state legislatures.

California Senator Barbara Boxer is calling for the Justice Department to investigate whether Southern California Edison

deceived federal regulators about an equipment swap at the San Onofre nuclear power plant that eventually led to a radiation leak, The Associated Press has learned.

The California Democrat obtained a 2004 internal letter written by a senior Southern California Edison executive that she said “leads me to believe that Edison intentionally misled the public and regulators” to avoid a potentially long and costly review of four replacement steam generators before they went into service.

The twin-domed plant between Los Angeles and San Diego hasn’t produced electricity since January 2012, after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusually rapid wear inside hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water in the nearly new generators….

The letter [to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which manufactured the generators] goes to a central issue at San Onofre, where Edison is seeking federal permission to restart the Unit 2 reactor and run it at reduced power in an effort to halt tube damage.

The replacement generators were different than the originals — they were far heavier and hundreds of additional tubes were added as part of design changes, for example. Edison installed the equipment in a $670 million overhaul in 2009 and 2010 without an extended NRC review after concluding the new machines met a federal test to qualify as largely the same as the ones they replaced, requiring little or no changes to safety systems or components in the plant.

Just one more reminder that we have potential Fukushima disasters right here in the USA.

pressure-cooker

Police in Michigan are still freaking out over random pressure cookers after the common cooking utensils were used to make two bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon in April.

Police in Dearborn are trying to understand why a pressure cooker was left in the restroom of the Adoba Hotel, forcing the evacuation of guests until the early morning hours.

The evacuation also canceled Sunday night’s banquet of the University of Muslim Association of America….

The pressure cooker discovered at the hotel was detonated by police as a precaution, but contained no explosives.

Dearborn officers have determined that the pressure cooker had not been converted into any type of explosive device.

Meanwhile a Saudi man, Hussain Al Khawahir, is still in jail after being arrested at the Detroit airport for having a pressure cooker in his luggage–reportedly a gift for his nephew whom he planned to visit in the US. Al Khwahir is scheduled to be in court today.

A lawyer for Hussain Al Khawahir, arrested at Detroit Metro Airport on May 11 after a pressure cooker was found in his baggage, filed a request for release on bond Monday.
Al Khawahir was arrested by federal agents on suspicion of carrying an altered passport and making conflicting statements to Customs and Border Patrol agents about the pressure cooker….

Defense attorney James Howarth in the request for bond claimed Al Khawahir, a 33-year-old citizen of Saudi Arabia, was carrying one valid passport and one expired passport that contained a visa stamp for his entry to the U.S.

He also argued that the two statements Al Khawahir made about the pressure cooker were not much different.

(Read the motion here .)

“The passport that was purportedly ‘altered’ was the expired document,” Howarth wrote.

Zimmerman

We’re getting closer to the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. From The Orlando Sentinel:

SANFORD – With just two weeks remaining before his trial, George Zimmerman’s attorneys returned to court this morning for what may be his last pre-trial hearing, a session that could turn into a marathon with his attorneys asking for a trial delay and that an especially-damaging state audio expert be banned from testifying.

Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson will be asked to decide a long list of other issues, things that will determine how the trial plays out and what jurors will see and hear.

For example, defense attorney Mark O’Mara has asked that she take jurors to the scene of the shooting, a middle- to working-class gated townhouse community on Sanford’s west side where Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, Feb. 26, 2012.

Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense. His second-degree murder trial is to begin June 10.

Defense attorneys on Tuesday also will ask the judge to keep jurors’ names a secret, something prosecutors are not expected to oppose.

Read more at the link. I guess we’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the coming weeks. I can’t say I’m really looking forward to the publicly expressed racism that is likely to be unleashed during the trial.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Please post your recommended reads in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday!


The Melodramatic, Pearl-Clutching, Islamaphobic Senate Hagel Death Panel

I’ve been watching the Senate Committee that’s been grilling Hagel as party of his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense.  It’s difficult to hagel-mccain-hearing-sgspell out all the agendas going on here.  It seems to be a combination of revenge, neocon fantasy memes, and pro-Israel jingoism.  In short, it’s more hyped-up melodrama than substance.  It also has convinced me that it’s time for Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain to retire. So, I’m going to try to link to some of the more bizarre hyperventilating by the revenge and war-thirsty set of Senators.  Much of it is coming from the same folks that drug us into the Iraq mistake.  It appears that some of the criticism is based in the same kinds of hyped up Islamophobia and blood thirst that characterize the Cheney crowd.  Here’s an example of neocon drivel.

The latest example: neoconservative  Kenneth Timmerman writing today in the Washington Times that “the Iranian rulers love Chuck Hagel.” Timmerman also writes that he is “Tehran’s best friend in Washington.” That line is part and parcel of the larger smear campaign waged ever since Hagel’s name was floated. Neoconservatives like Bill Kristol have accused Hagel of being “pro-appeasement of Iran.”

Timmerman’s column offers no evidence for his assertions, as is to be expected. But it’s a useful window into how the right is trying to torpedo Hagel’s nomination.

The reason why Hagel is being smeared as an “appeaser” of Iran is because he has voiced mild skepticism over how U.S. policy towards the country has been conducted. In the past, he has been skeptical of unilateral U.S. sanctions on the country and has cautioned against hastily rushing into a military attack. But he has also backtracked on many of his heterodox positions. The backtracking is the price Hagel had to pay to get nominated in the face of vociferous opposition from neoconservatives like Timmerman.

The personal revenge scenario seems to revolve around John McCain who might as well be singing “He was my man, but he done me wrong” as he hammered away Hagel today.  He wants some one, any one, to vindicate him and his continual war drum beat for Iraq.  Evidently, the war came between the two BFFs.  (You can also view Hagel’s opening pitch at this WAPO/Cizilla link.)

The most obvious break in the McCain-Hagel relationship came in the early 2000s over the war in Iraq. While Hagel, like McCain, voted for the use of force resolution against Iraq, he was always wary of America going it alone in the conflict and, as time wore on, became a more and more outspoken critic of the war.

McCain, on the other hand, remained a stalwart defender of the necessity of the war and went on later in the decade to become the face of the surge strategy to put more troops in the country.  Hagel opposed that strategy and panned it repeatedly.

“Quite simply, the split began over the length and cost of the Iraq war and Hagel’s decision to not support the surge, which John took as a personal insult,” said one McCain ally granted anonymity to speak candidly about the relationship. “It’s very sad.”

While a disagreement over the right course of action in Iraq might have been the biggest factor in the dissolution of the friendship, politics also played a role in the split.

While Hagel was intimately involved in McCain’s 2000 presidential bid — he served as national co-chairman and was in New Hampshire the night the Arizona Senator won the Granite State presidential primary — by the time McCain ran for president again in 2008 Hagel was much less on board.

Not only did he not endorse McCain, but Hagel also didn’t entirely dismiss the idea of serving as then Sen. Barack Obama’s vice presidential nominee. (Hagel’s wife endorsed Obama in the 2008 race.)

Then, in 2012, Hagel endorsed the candidacy of former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) in the Cornhusker State’s open seat Senate race, a move that badly rankled McCain, who had endorsed Kerrey’s opponent — Republican Deb Fischer — and campaigned with her the day after Hagel made his endorsement of Kerrey public.

Adding to their policy and political disagreements, there was (and is) the fact that McCain and Hagel are similar enough in terms of their personalities — hard charging, irascible, certain that their deeply-held beliefs are correct — that they were always destined to be either best friends or the exact opposite.  Put simply: The very personality traits that made McCain and Hagel fast friends in the mid 1990s is what has driven them apart in the last few years.

Miss Lindsey has gotten the vapors over the nomination of Senator Hagel and appears to be worried he’s anti-Semitic.  He’s probably more worried about an evangelical/tea party candidate primarying him if he doesn’t support the so-called “holy land” and rebuilding of the temple that’s going to bring on the end times. He’s also probably playing the role of McCain henchmen too.  I have no idea why any one in a cabinet position has to take a loyalty oath to a foreign country given they’ll be enforcing the president’s policies anyway, but there it is.  He’s not loyal enough to Israel’s right to do anything it wants to without question.

Miss Lindsey even said he got “chills up his spine”.  Again, Lindsey appears to want some kind of loyalty pledge to an ally but, again, a foreign country.

The weirdest moment with Miss Lindsey came when he asked Hagel to name names.  This rather took me back to the days of black-listing but the right wing appears to find it a big win for the one with the chilled spine.   He also wanted Hagel to name the particular lobby and made sure to list the right-wing christian groups that are just dying for Israel to build that temple so the big war can get started.

Sen. Lindsey Graham grilled Hagel over a 2006 interview in which he said that the “pro-Israel lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Congress.

“Name one person here who’s been intimidated by the Jewish lobby,” Graham demanded. “Name one dumb thing we’ve been goaded into doing due to pressure by the Israeli or Jewish lobby.”

“I don’t know,” Hagel replied. “I didn’t have a specific person in mind.”

“So you agree that it was a dumb thing to say?”

“Yes,” Hagel admitted. “I’ve already said that.”

Right after characterizing this exchange as Lady Lindsey ‘crushing’ Hagel, we get this statement written by the article’s author Grace Wyler.  It seemed to me that Wyler just proved Hagel’s point.

Pro-Israel groups and Republican defense hawks have leveled harsh criticism against Hagel in recent week. In addition to the “Israel lobby” comment, their grievances include Hagel’s past opposition to multilateral sanctions on Iran and his support for open negotiations with Hamas.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why we just can’t be on the side of peace and human rights instead of blindly supporting any country.  But then, I don’t believe in any weird end times story that doesn’t come from scientific evidence and I don’t want to see perpetual war and human rights violations anywhere in the world.  I frankly don’t care who the perpetrator is, it’s freaking wrong.  I don’t know about you but I hold people I call my friends to higher standards than people I wouldn’t even want to talk to on the street.  Besides, the current Israeli government is a put-together coalition of a lot of neocon and right wing groups that doesn’t appear to really represent that many Israeli citizens who would like to see more diplomacy and negotiations.
John Avalon has an interesting post at CNN called “A reality check for Chuck Hagel bashers”.  It’s worth a read.

But let’s be honest: Hagel’s cardinal sin among neo-conservatives was his outspoken opposition to Bush-era foreign policy in Iraq and his decision to break Republican ranks and not support the 2007 Iraq surge.

Good people can disagree on policy and personnel; my wife and I disagree on the Hagel nomination. A confirmation hearing can usefully clear up any sincere questions. But a look at the facts, armed with a sense of perspective, suggests that it might be Hagel’s most vociferous critics who are outside the historic mainstream, not Hagel himself.

Hagel’s unvarnished independence is well-known in Washington, but his opposition to the quagmire of the Iraq war is not idiosyncratic. It is philosophically consistent with being a small government conservative and a Vietnam veteran, suspicious of calls to war by people who won’t have to serve in the combat zone.

He still carries shrapnel in his chest from being wounded in Vietnam. After his war service, he said, “I made myself a promise that if I ever got out of that place and was ever in a position to do something about war — so horrible, so filled with suffering — I would do whatever I could to stop it. I have never forgotten that promise.”

This doesn’t mean Hagel is some kind of pacifist. But as the first enlisted man to serve in combat to be nominated for secretary of defense, he does have a grunt’s-eye view of war and a commitment to making it a last resort, consistent with our national interest — hence his reasonable regrets about the invasion of Iraq and his caution about charging into a war with Iran.

Again, the beltway believes that this all started back in the Bush days.  One interesting right wing freak out mentioned by Avalon particularly disturbed me.

And yet, the accusation that Hagel is out of the mainstream on Iran and Israel percolates because it is in the talking points. An early broadside came from The Weekly Standard, which published an anonymous e-mail, allegedly from a Senate aide, reading, “Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.”This is a serious accusation and a transparent attempt to intimidate. Anti-Semitism is a rightfully toxic charge. Israel is America’s closest ally in the world, along with the UK. But in a recent interview with his hometown paper in Lincoln, Nebraska, Hagel said that his record demonstrates “unequivocal, total support for Israel.”

In his memoir, Hagel devotes an entire chapter to “The Holy Land: Israel and The Arabs,” full of calls for negotiated peace with statements like this: “There is one important given that is not negotiable: A comprehensive solution should not include any compromise regarding Israel’s Jewish identity, which must be assured. The Israeli people must be free to live in peace and security.”

For what it’s worth, five former ambassadors to Israel have endorsed Hagel’s nomination, and former Israeli Consul Gen. Alon Pinkas has clarified that Hagel is “not anti-Israel.”

This is another conversation that bothers me.  I have no idea what you can’t be critical of Israeli policies without being labelled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.  I think the best thing for Israel would be lasting peace in the middle east.  I don’t think everything they do works to that end.  This includes putting a huge prison-like wall around an entire populace, stopping humanitarian aid, and breaking agreements by allowing settlements in places that settlements should not be.  I think their current government is what we’d see if Dick Cheney were ever to creep into the presidency frankly.  Just because I think the Bush/Cheney years were basically indefensible does not mean I hate my country or myself as an American.

So, in some ways, this hearing is simply a replay of NeoCon trying to justify their actions that every one pretty much sees as misguided now with the exception of the right wing.  It’s another example of how the Republican party is not going to change and how many Democrats enable their silliness on so many issues.  Again, this display was a great argument for the people in Arizona and South Carolina to retire their senators and spare the rest of us this kind of reverse morality play.


Tuesday Reads, Part II: In Other News….

blues cycle

I’m back with more reads!!

Before I get started with the political news, here a very strange story from Chicago: Urooj Khan Homicide: Chicago Lottery Winner’s Death Re-Classified After Cyanide Poison Discovery

With no signs of trauma and nothing to raise suspicions, the sudden death of a Chicago man just as he was about to collect nearly $425,000 in lottery winnings was initially ruled a result of natural causes.

Nearly six months later, authorities have a mystery on their hands after medical examiners, responding to a relative’s pleas, did an expanded screening and determined that Urooj Khan, 46, died shortly after ingesting a lethal dose of cyanide. The finding has triggered a homicide investigation, the Chicago Police Department said Monday….

In June, Khan, who owned a number of dry cleaners, stopped in at a 7-Eleven near his home in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on the city’s North Side and bought a ticket for an instant lottery game.

Ashur Oshana, the convenience store clerk, told The Associated Press on Monday that Khan said he had sworn off gambling after returning from the hajj, a Muslim pilgrimage, in Saudi Arabia. Khan said he wanted to lead a better life, Oshana said, but Khan bought the tickets that day and scratched off the winner in the store.

“Right away he grabbed my hand,” Oshana said. “He kissed my hand and kissed my head and gave me $100. He was really happy.”

Not long afterwards, Kahn was dead. Now police will likely exhume his body and try to find out who killed him.

clinton
I’m sure you heard that Hillary Clinton went back to work yesterday, and her coworkers gave her a gag gift–a football helmet.

Cheers, a standing ovation and a gag gift of protective headgear greeted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as she returned to work on Monday after a month-long absence caused first by a stomach virus, then a fall and a concussion and finally a brief hospitalization for a blood clot.

A crowd of about 75 State Department officials greeted Clinton with a standing ovation as she walked in to the first senior staff meeting she has convened since early December, according to those present. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, noting that life in Washington is often a “contact sport, sometimes even in your own home” then presented Clinton with a gift — a regulation white Riddell football helmet emblazoned with the State Department seal, officials said.

She was also given a blue football jersey with “Clinton” and the number 112 — the record-breaking number of countries she has visited since becoming secretary of state — printed on the back. Aides said Clinton was delighted with the gifts but did not try either of them on and the meeting turned to matters of national security and diplomacy.

“She loved it. She thought it was cool. But then being Hillary Clinton, she wanted to get right to business,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

Did you hear about GOP Connecticut State Rep. DebraLee Hovey, who attacked Gabby Giffords for visiting Newtown? From the Hartford Courant:

In content and syntax, state Rep. DebraLee Hovey embarrassed herself, the General Assembly and the state.

Ms. Hovey, a Republican who represents Newtown and Monroe, blasted the visit to Newtown on Friday by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a Democrat, who met privately with local officials and families of victims of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“Gabby Gifford stay out of my towns!!” Ms. Hovey posted on Facebook over the weekend (misspelling the former Arizona congresswoman’s last name). In the comments thread, Rep. Hovey seemed to complain that she wasn’t invited (she was at a meeting in Florida at the time) and claimed the visit was political: “There was pure political motives [sic].”

How do these loony-tunes get elected? Hovey later offered a pathetic non-apologetic “apology.”

The remarks I made regarding Congresswoman Gifford’s visit were insensitive and if I offended anyone I truly apologize … My comments were meant to be protective of the privacy of the families and our community as we work to move on, and were in no way intended as an insult to Congresswoman Giffords personally. Our community has struggled greatly through this tragedy, and we are all very sensitive to the potential for this event to be exploited for political purposes. This is what I wish to avoid.

What a moronic asshole.
Read the rest of this entry »


Tuesday Reads: Hitchcock, Hearing Aids, and Republican Delusions

Good Morning!!

I’m really looking forward to seeing Hitchcock, the new movie about the making of Psycho. Unfortunately, the film may not come to Muncie, IN, so I might have to just hope it will still be playing in Boston when I get back home sometime in December. If you have a chance to see it where you are, let me know how you like it.

Last night the Wall Street Journal posted an interview with Helen Mirren, who plays the great director’s wife Alma Reville Hitchcock in the new film. Mirren is one of my favorite actresses!

Alfred Hitchcock once said that there were four people who helped make him who he was—one was a film director, one a script writer, one a cook and one the mother of his daughter. “Their names are Alma Reville,” he said of his wife of 44 years, who performed all four roles. In the new biopic “Hitchcock,” Helen Mirren rolls Reville’s many facets into a singular performance.

The movie, which opened in the city over the weekend, traces Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins) effort to make his 1960 classic, “Psycho,” from his struggle with Hollywood studios to finance the picture to Reville’s pivotal role in the movie’s—and her husband’s—success. “I was surprised to find out about the importance of Alma,” Ms. Mirren said recently.

Read what Mirren had to say at the link.

And here’s an interview with Anthony Hopkins, who plays Alfred Hitchcock at “Vulture.”

Do you remember the first time you saw Psycho?

When it first came out in Manchester on a wet September evening and I was knocked out by it. That was the most terrifying film I’d ever seen. I couldn’t believe it: Where’s Janet Leigh? She’s got to come back. She’s the star of the movie! I thought she perhaps escaped from the trunk of the car. So I’ve been watching these films over the years, long before I knew I was going to play him.

Did you talk to anyone who worked with Hitchcock? What insights did they share?

I met Janet Leigh in New York, and then later in Hollywood at a function. She said, “Mr. Hitchcock was one of the funniest men I’ve ever worked with. My ex-husband Tony [Curtis] and I used to go to his house in Bel-Air, and we’d laugh ourselves sick, because he was so funny, so wicked, a great practical joker.” She said he wasn’t an easy man to get to know, but she got on with him.

Read lots more at the link.

Psycho came out in 1960, when I was only 12 years old. My parents wouldn’t let me see horror movies, which is probably why I love them so much now. I don’t remember when I first saw Psycho–it must have been on TV, probably in the late 60s or 70s. By then the shock value wasn’t as huge as when the movie first came out.

Entertainment Weekly has a “look back at the mystique of ‘Psycho'” by Owen Glieberman

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was released in the summer of 1960, and in the half a century since, it has become the rare movie in which every image and detail and motif is now, more or less, iconic. Every moment in the movie is a piece of mythological Americana.

In a way that I couldn’t quite say about any other film, I feel as if I’ve spent most of my movie life thinking — and writing — about Psycho. Part of the film’s mystique is that no matter how many times you’ve seen it (and it may be the ultimate movie that you can watch over and over again), it keeps coming back to provoke and tantalize and haunt you. Its power of revelation never wears thin or gets old. It’s one of the only films in Hollywood history — the others, I would say, are The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, The Godfather, and Star Wars — that is so alive, its experience so vivid and immediate and larger-than-life, that it effectively transcends time….

In the infamous shower scene, when that big, fat kitchen knife, wielded by a mysterious Victorian shrew named Mrs. Bates, came slashing down, over and over again, into the body of Marion Crane, it was also slicing through years — decades, centuries — of popular expectation that the hero or heroine of a fictional work would be shielded and protected, or would at least die (usually at the end) in a way that made some sort of moral-dramatic sense. In Psycho, murder made no sense at all; the suddenness — and viciousness — of it tore at the fabric of our certainty. What it suggested is that none of us, in the end, are ever truly protected. Hitchcock seemed to be pulling the rug, the floor, and the earth right out from under the audience. He opened an abyss, exposing moviegoers to a dark side that few, at the time, could ever have dared to imagine.

Eeeeeeeeek!

In other news, I had a big day yesterday. I’ve had moderate hearing loss since I was pretty young–at least since my early 30s. When I first found out I had nerve damage, I was told there was nothing that could be done. My problem was that I had trouble making out words, and hearing aids would only make the garbled words louder.

Technology has advanced over the past 30 years, and yesterday I got some hearing aids, thanks to the generosity of my mother. Suddenly I can hear things that I never heard before. I can hear the words people are saying even if I’m not looking at them and watching their lips. I can hear people when they whisper–previously I couldn’t make out whispering even if the person’s mouth was right next to my ear. It’s just amazing. I hope you don’t mind me sharing that.

Now some national news. Republicans are still trying to figure out why they lost the presidential election and, as Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out last night, they still don’t want to give President Obama any credit for beating them. No, it’s all about demographics, fooling Latinos and women into thinking Republicans actually care about their issues. But what about Asian-Americans, another group that voted for Obama by a lopsided percentage?

Right wing racist Charles Murray argues that the problem (with both Latinos and Asians) is that the Republican Party has tied itself to socially conservative issues (no kidding!)

My thesis is that the GOP is in trouble across the electoral board because it has become identified in the public mind with social conservatism. Large numbers of Independents and Democrats who are naturally attracted to arguments of fiscal discipline, less government interference in daily life, greater personal responsibility, and free enterprise refuse to vote for Republicans because they are so put off by the positions and rhetoric of social conservatives, whom they take to represent the spirit of the “real” GOP….

Asians are only half as likely to identify themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative” as whites, and less than half as likely to identify themselves as Republicans. Asians are not only a lot more liberal than whites; a higher percentage of Asians identify themselves as “liberal” or “extremely liberal” (22%) than do blacks (19%) or Latinos (17%). And depending on which poll you believe, somewhere in the vicinity of 70% of Asians voted for Barack Obama in the last presidential election.

Something’s wrong with this picture. It’s not just that the income, occupations, and marital status of Asians should push them toward the right. Everyday observation of Asians around the world reveal them to be conspicuously entrepreneurial, industrious, family-oriented, and self-reliant. If you’re looking for a natural Republican constituency, Asians should define “natural.”

And so on… bla bla bla…

At the American Prospect, Jamelle Bouie explains to Murray How Not to Appeal to Asian Americans. Hint: cut out the racism.

As with Latinos, Asian American movement to the Democratic Party has a lot to do with with the explicitly anti-immigrant stance of the GOP, as well as the overwhelming sense that the GOP is a party for hidebound whites, and actively hostile toward nonwhites of all stripes.

There’s a policy component in this as well; the Asian American community is highly diverse (ethnically, economically, and otherwise), and there many who would benefit from the core Obama agenda of health care reform, stronger social services, and investments in education and other programs. Still, even with that in mind, it’s fair to say that Asian American support for Obama is as much about inclusion as it is about policy.

Which is why this piece, from conservative scholar Charles Murray, rankles. Rather than consider Asian American political preferences on their own terms—or even acknowledge the range of experience among different Asian American groups—Murray lumps them all into a single, undistinguished mass of model minorities, and then wonders why they don’t vote for Republican candidates.

But Murray’s argument is based on a false premise:

It’s worth noting the implicit contrast here. Entrepreneurism, industriousness, family-orientation, self-reliance—these are things that Murray sees as unique to Republican constituencies. Which must also mean that these are thing that go unvalued by Democratic constituencies, namely, African Americans, Latinos, young people, and single women.

Furthermore, as Bouie notes today’s Republicans actually are a bunch of fundamentalists who are anti-gay and anti-woman. That’s not just a perception, it’s the reality that Charles Murray doesn’t want to accept. It’s not that Latinos, Asians, and African Americans are deluded about the nature of the Republican Party. But what else would you expect from the author of the racist screed The Bell Curve?

Today Susan Rice will begin facing down her Republican critics on Capital Hill.

With congressional opposition softening, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice could find her name in contention as early as this week to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. It’s a step that may signal greater U.S. willingness to intervene in world crises during President Barack Obama’s second term.

As Obama nears a decision on who should be the country’s next top diplomat, Rice has emerged as the clear front-runner on a short list of candidates that many believe has been narrowed to just her and Sen. John Kerry, despite lingering questions over her comments about the deadly Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya.

According to congressional aides and administration officials, Rice will be making the rounds on Capitol Hill this week for closed door meetings with key lawmakers whose support she will need to be confirmed. Those appearances follow her first in-depth explanation of her Benghazi remarks that Republicans seized on as evidence of the administration’s mishandling of the attack that took the lives of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

Acting CIA Director Michael Morell will join Rice in her meetings with lawmakers.

Today Rice will meet with Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte. When asked about the meeting, McCain was his usual testy self:

McCain said he would ask Rice “the same questions I’ve been talking about on every talk show in America.” Asked whether he thinks she’s still unfit for secretary of state and what he was hoping for, McCain interrupted and said, “I’m not hoping for anything. She asked to see me and I agreed to see her.”

What a jerk. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that meeting.

I’ll end with this amazing artistic depiction of Republican delusion, Grover Norquist as the Wizard of Oz (via Buzzfeed).

Artist Michael D’Antuono has painted anti-taxi activist Grover Norquist as a Wizard of Oz-like disembodied head with Republican politicians bowing before him as an elephant burns, to symbolize Norquist’s powerful position in the Republican party.


Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today?


The Benghazi Witch Hunt Continues: A Rant

UN Ambassador Susan Rice

On Friday, former CIA chief and retired General David Petraeus testified about the Benghazi attacks at a closed Congressional hearing that included members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.

Petraeus testified that after the attack, he immediately suspected terrorism, but initially it was thought that a spontaneous response to an anti-Muslim video had provided cover for the terrorists. The CIA prepared a draft of talking points that were then circulated to other intelligence offices for vetting. At some point a line that named some groups allied with al Qaeda was removed from the draft. According to the NYT, the references to the groups were removed in order to “avoid tipping them off” to the investigation.

“The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack,” said a senior official familiar with the drafting of the talking points. “There were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly.”

Some intelligence analysts worried, for instance, that identifying the groups could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants — a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Justice Department lawyers expressed concern about jeopardizing the F.B.I.’s criminal inquiry in the attacks. Other officials voiced concern that making the names public, at least right away, would create a circular reporting loop and hamper efforts to trail the militants.

Democrats said Mr. Petraeus made it clear the change had not been done for political reasons to aid Mr. Obama. “The general was adamant there was no politicization of the process, no White House interference or political agenda,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California.

Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, said that Mr. Petraeus explained to lawmakers that the final document was put in front of all the senior agency leaders, including Mr. Petraeus, and everyone signed off on it.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice was designated as the White House spokesperson who would appear on Sunday morning shows five days after the attack and explain what was known thus far. Rice used the talking points she was given, explaining that the investigations was ongoing. She did not say what John McCain keeps insisting she said–that the attacks definitely arose out of a spontaneous demonstration triggered by the film and by numerous demonstrations in Egypt and other countries. Here are the talking points:

“The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.

“This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.

“The investigation is ongoing, and the U.S. government is working with Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens.”

Basically, Petraeus’ testimony exonerated Rice of Republican accusations that she deliberately covered up evidence that terrorists had attacked the consulate.

Why on earth would Rice have done that anyway? Who the hell didn’t consider an attack on a U.S. consulate and the murders of Ambassador Stevens and three other State Department employees to be terrorist acts? As Mitt Romney learned during the second presidential debate, President Obama referred to the attacks as terrorist acts the very next day in his Rose Garden speech. Why would the White House try to cover up a terrorist attack on a consulate? That makes no sense. There were many terrorist attacks on embassies during the Bush administration–did any of those lead to these kinds of accusations and conspiracy theories? This entire “controversy” is complete nonsense, and everyone knows it at this point.

But the witch hunt continues. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and other Republicans were invited on the Sunday shows so they could continue their bizarre accusations against the Obama administration and Susan Rice.

Yesterday, according to TPM, McCain

said that nothing he learned in a closed-door briefing Friday with former CIA Director David Petraeus would change his criticism of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s initial public statements about the Sept.11 Benghazi attack.

Asked Saturday at a press conference at the Halifax International Security Forum if anything he was told by Petraeus would change his assessment of what Rice knew and the statements she made, McCain said, “No, because I knew it was a terrorist attack from the beginning. People don’t go to spontaneous demonstrations with mortars and RPGs.”

Again, anyone with half a brain immediately knew that the attack was, by definition, terrorism. Duh! But we’re supposed to be impressed that McCain knew it too?

McCain reiterated that it should have been immediately apparent to the administration that the Benghazi attack was not triggered by Libyan demonstrators protesting an anti-Muslim YouTube video. “There were people who were at the consulate who flew to Germany the next day. They knew there was no spontaneous demonstration. They knew that. And they were interviewed. So there should have been no doubt whatsoever of that,” McCain said.

So? Why should we care about such a picayune point? President Obama has said that an investigation is needed and is ongoing. He has said that any and all information on the attacks and the investigation will be provided to Congress. Where is the beef here?

Yesterday Dana Millbank piled on, claiming Rice has a “tarnished resume” and that she’s “ill-equipped to be the nation’s top diplomat for reasons that have little to do with Libya.”

Even in a town that rewards sharp elbows and brusque personalities, Rice has managed to make an impressive array of enemies — on Capitol Hill, in Foggy Bottom and abroad. Particularly in comparison with the other person often mentioned for the job, Sen. John Kerry, she can be a most undiplomatic diplomat, and there likely aren’t enough Republican or Democratic votes in the Senate to confirm her.

Back when she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses. Colleagues talk of shouting matches and insults.

Among those she has insulted is the woman she would replace at State. Rice was one of the first former Clinton administration officials to defect to Obama’s primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. Rice condemned Clinton’s Iraq and Iran positions, asking for an “explanation of how and why she got those critical judgments wrong.”

That may well be. I know very little about Rice, and I do recall she was aggressive toward Hillary in 2008–but that was her job as foreign policy adviser to an opposing candidate. Rice also insulted McCain in 2008, according to Millbank.

Rice’s put-down of Clinton was tame compared with her portrayal of McCain during 2008, which no doubt contributes to McCain’s hostility toward her today. She mocked McCain’s trip to Iraq (“strolling around the market in a flak jacket”), called his policies “reckless” and said “his tendency is to shoot first and ask questions later. It’s dangerous.”

I’d say that’s a pretty good description of McCain and his policies, even though it may seem harsh to Millbank. McCain is a publicity hound and he tends to go off half-cocked, as his campaign against Rice clearly demonstrates. But perhaps this does provide a bit of insight into McCain’s hatred of Rice. Apparently he will soon lose his chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee, and he may simply be searching for away to remain relevant in the Senate.

This morning, Maureen Dowd claimed that Rice sought out the opportunity to speak for the White House on Beghazi.

Ambitious to be secretary of state, Susan Rice wanted to prove she had the gravitas for the job and help out the White House. So the ambassador to the United Nations agreed to a National Security Council request to go on all five Sunday shows to talk about the attack on the American consulate in Libya.

“She saw this as a great opportunity to go out and close the stature gap,” said one administration official. “She was focused on the performance, not the content. People said, ‘It’s sad because it was one of her best performances.’ But it’s not a movie, it’s the news. Everyone in politics thinks, you just get your good talking points and learn them and reiterate them on camera. But what if they’re not good talking points? What if what you’re saying isn’t true, even if you’re saying it well?”

OK, what if that were true? Does Rice deserve to be hunted down, tarred and feathered, and run out of Washington on a rail? Or should she be burned at the stake? What is the appropriate punishment for relying on unclassified talking points that didn’t reveal sensitive information five days after the attacks? Do tell, Maureen.

How much longer is this nonsense going to continue? Are we going to go through another “Whitewater” investigation, based on little or nothing of significance? It sure looks that way.

Let’s compare the reaction of the media and the Republicans to the Benghazi attacks and the reaction of the media and Democrats to the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks that killed about 3,000 people. The Bush administration had innumerable warnings that attacks were coming, and they did absolutely nothing to prevent them. They pooh-poohed warnings by the Clinton administration that terrorism was a vital concern. After the attacks, the Bush administration resisted having Congressional investigations for two years!

There were no specific warnings about the Benghazi attacks, although there were many vague warnings and threats. Four State Department employees were killed in Benghazi–a terrible tragedy.  But does anyone truly believe that John McCain cares about these murders? If he did, he wouldn’t be focusing on one supposed misstatement by Susan Rice or some minor disagreement about how talking points were prepared.

No, if McCain gave a shit, he’d be looking into ways to prevent attacks like the ones in Benghazi in the future. One way to do that might be to provide adequate protection for U.S. diplomats, right? But Republican refused to vote for increased funds for such State Department security needs.

Here’s an interesting piece at The Atlantic, in which David Rohde argues that both parties have ignored the “primary lesson” of Benghazi: Diplomacy Can’t Be Done on the Cheap.

One major overlooked cause of the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is we have underfunded the State Department and other civilian agencies that play a vital role in our national security. Instead of building up cadres of skilled diplomatic security guards, we have bought them from the lowest bidder, trying to acquire capacity and expertise on the cheap. Benghazi showed how vulnerable that makes us….

The slapdash security that killed Stevens, technician Sean Smith and CIA guards Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty started with a seemingly inconsequential decision by Libya’s new government. After the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s interim government barred armed private security firms – foreign and domestic – from operating anywhere in the country.

So the State Department was forced to cobble together inadequate protection for the Libyan embassy and its outposts, because they have become reliant on outside contractors instead of building their own in-house security corps. According to Rohde,

Resource shortages and a reliance on contractors caused bitter divisions between field officers in Benghazi and State Department managers in Washington.

One agent who served on the ground in Benghazi felt the compound needed five times as many Diplomatic Security agents, according to a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official singled out Charlene Lamb, the Diplomatic Security Service official who oversees security in Washington, for criticism — saying she rejected repeated requests for additional improvements in Benghazi….

Lamb’s superior, David Kennedy, has defended her. He argued that a handful of additional Diplomatic Security guards in Benghazi – or the Special Forces team in Tripoli – would not have made a difference.

To date, no evidence has emerged that officials higher than Lamb or Kennedy were involved in the decision to reject the requests from Libya. Both are career civil servants, not Obama administration appointees.

Now this issue would be well worth investigating and correcting! But it doesn’t involve political employees like Susan Rice who can be pilloried for the Republicans’ political purposes. I’ve always believed the use of contractors was a huge mistake, but the Bush administration even turned much of our war-making in Iraq and Afghanistan. So correcting this problem would be hugely expensive and would require bi-partisan cooperation.

Instead, Republicans will continue to focus on minor issues, hoping to build them into impeachable offenses. And Susan Rice may be the designated scapegoat if they can’t get to Obama himself.

This has developed into an overly long rant, so I’ll bring it to a close by saying that I’m no great fan of Susan Rice, and frankly I’d prefer John Kerry as Secretary of State. But the current nonsensical fight over the talking points Rice used on Sunday Shows is childish and ridiculous. I don’t know how much more of it I can stand.


Petraeus Absolves Rice on Benghazi; Republicans Still Obsessively Nitpicking

Disgraced General and former CIA Chief David Petraeus testified on the Benghazi attacks in a closed Congressional hearing early this morning. Unsurprisingly, Republicans remain unsatisfied, and Rep. Peter King (D-NY) is running around suggesting that for some bizarre, unknown reason, the White House conspired to hide any terrorist involvement in the Benghazi attacks.

From The Washington Post:

After avoiding a swarm of awaiting reporters and photographers, former CIA director David Petraeus testified behind closed doors Friday that he believes the Sept. 11 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya was an act of terrorism that did not arise out of a spontaneous demonstration, according to a lawmaker who heard the testimony.

“He now clearly believes that it [the Sept. 11 attacks] did not arise out of a demonstration, that it was not spontaneous and it was clear terrorist involvement,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said.

Of course that is what everyone now believes, but Republicans seem determined to find some way to impeach President Obama over Benghazi regardless of what actually happened.

Petraeus gave a 20-minute opening statement to the House panel and took about 70 minutes of questions, according to King, who said that Petraeus testified Friday that the CIA gave the White House and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice information on the Benghazi attack that differed from Rice’s public comments on the incident….

Apparently the talking points were vetted by a number of agencies and at some point a line referring to a group associated with al Qaeda was removed. Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have spent the past couple of days attacking U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for comments she made on Sunday shows soon after the attacks. Her comments were based on the final talking points she, the White House, and Congress received from intelligence community.

Feinstein also rose to Rice’s defense, saying that the ambassador was using talking points based on the best available intelligence just days after the attack.

“They were unclassified talking points at a very early stage,” Feinstein said. “I don’t think she should be pilloried for this. She did what I would have done, or anyone else would have done that was going on a weekend show. We would have said, ‘What talking points can I use?’ and you’d get an unclassified version.”

The WaPo story quotes several Republican Congressmen, including John McCain, who

…called the former general’s testimony “comprehensive, I think it was important, it added to our ability to make judgments about what is clearly a failure of intelligence. He described his actions and that of his agency, their interaction with other agencies and I appreciate his service and his candor.”

The AP managed to find some Democrats to talk to.

After the hearings, lawmakers said Petraeus testified that the CIA’s draft talking points written in response to the assault on the diplomat post in Benghazi that killed four Americans referred to it as a terrorist attack. But Petraeus told the lawmakers that reference was removed from the final version, although he wasn’t sure which federal agency deleted it.

Democrats said Petraeus made it clear the change was not made for political reasons during President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

“The general was adamant there was no politicization of the process, no White House interference or political agenda,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “He completely debunked that idea.”

Schiff said Petraeus said Rice’s comments in the television interviews “reflected the best intelligence at the time that could be released publicly.”

In addition, Petraeus made it clear that he and others at the CIA approved the final draft of the talking points that were given to Susan Rice.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said Petraeus explained that the CIA’s draft points were sent to other intelligence agencies and to some federal agencies for review. Udall said Petraeus told them the final document was put in front of all the senior agency leaders, including Petraeus, and everyone signed off on it.

“The assessment that was publicly shared in unclassified talking points went through a process of editing,” Udall said. “The extremist description was put in because in an unclassified document you want to be careful who you identify as being involved.”

….

Schiff said Petraeus said Rice’s comments in the television interviews “reflected the best intelligence at the time that could be released publicly.”

“There was an interagency process to draft it, not a political process,” Schiff said. “They came up with the best assessment without compromising classified information or source or methods. So changes were made to protect classified information.”

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said it’s clear that Rice “used the unclassified talking points that the entire intelligence community signed off on, so she did completely the appropriate thing.” He said the changes made to the draft accounts for the discrepancies with some of the reports that were made public showing that the intelligence community knew it was a terrorist attack all along.

And, as we all know, the day after the attacks President Obama referred to them as terrorist acts.

So that’s where it stands for now–until the next press conference by John McCain and his sidekicks Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte.