Feed aggregator

Will The National Guard Really Help Keep Peace In Ferguson?

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-11-18 19:41
On Monday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) declared a state of emergency ahead of a grand jury decision that is currently determining whether to indict Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The action activated the use of the National Guard, which was met with widespread concern from community members who are on edge and fear police crackdown -- similar to the outcome from initial protests that occurred immediately following Brown’s death.

Meanwhile, the National Guard has been ordered to assist local and state police to quell any potential violence that may result from the grand jury’s decision.

The killing of Brown, who was black, and Wilson, who is white, has sparked large demonstrations speaking out against racial injustice and many protesters have criticized Nixon’s latest call and claim it to be unnecessary.

“We think it’s an overreaction by the governor. He’s already trained 1,000 officers to respond. We don’t think the national guard is necessary,” DeRay Mckesson, a key activist and organizer in Ferguson, told HuffPost Live’s Marc Lamont Hill Tuesday.

“Remember, we [protesters] haven’t done anything. Today is the 102nd day of protests, there have been two days of looting out of 102 days, so what it shows us is that Missouri is afraid of black bodies assembling.”

Mckesson and other activists have created critical infrastructure in planning peaceful protests in preparation for the coming days, including a newsletter and rules of engagement listing their expectations from police interactions with protesters. He has also helped to coordinate and write an open letter detailing the purpose of the movement along with other Ferguson protesters and allies.

Meanwhile, McKesson claims that the active demonstrators are in a different place in the protest than those held in August and he describes the latest movement in Missouri as “mature.”

“In August, we were emotional, angry, we were justifiable enraged. Now, we are all of those things, and strategic and thoughtful,” he said.

HuffPost Black Voices’ Editor Lilly Workneh joined the discussion and provided a historical context on the involvement of the national guard during some of America’s most notable race riots.

“I’ll put it in perspective - the last time this did happen, aside from Ferguson, was in 1992 during the Rodney King Riots. The first time it happened was in 1957 with Little Rock Nine and the integration of blacks in schools in Arkansas,” Workneh said.

Workneh went on to explain that the latest call for the national guard marks the 11th time such a declaration has been made in black history, with many of the prior instances often inciting further violence.

Patrisse Cullors, the executive director of Dignity & Power Now and the co-creator of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatters, was also a part of the discussion and shared her sentiments on the lack of faith she has in law enforcement maintaining the peace in Ferguson.

“Let’s be clear, law enforcement is only taught to escalate violence. Law enforcement doesnt actually know how to de-escalate violence. Riot gear, bullets, rubber bullets and tanks rolling down the street does not de-escalate violence,” Cullors said.

“This call for state of emergency is, to me, an actual threat to the community in Ferguson and St. Louis and a threat to black folks across the country. We’re watching.”

Check out more of the HuffPost Live discussion in the clip above.

Public Health as Political Prisoner

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-11-18 19:36

If a foreign government took the United States Surgeon General hostage, I'm confident we'd be pretty upset. I think we would be working on reprisals, and maybe even prepping a SEAL team.

I don't know if it's better or worse that we need no help from a foreign power to take our surgeon general hostage. Our own political system manages all on its own.

Admittedly, it's not quite the surgeon general who is hostage to our political system; it is the president's nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Dr. Murthy's nomination is in limbo, because Congress won't take up his confirmation. We'll get to why in just a moment.

Before that, however, it's worth noting that everybody who is anybody in public health and medicine supports Dr. Murthy as a highly-qualified candidate. I am pleased to be counted among them, and from a uniquely personal vantage point. Dr. Murthy was a medical student of mine at Yale quite some years ago, and I got to know him well during those formative years. We have remained close, and collaborated, ever since.

He is both an excellent candidate for the job, and a really good person.

But, as noted, his candidacy is, in essence, a prisoner of our political system -- or at least, of political discord.

Why? In some reports, Dr. Murthy is cited as having spoken in favor of various gun control measures long before he was a candidate for surgeon general. Naturally, we are talking about truly radical stuff here, like, for instance: background checks so we don't routinely arm deranged sociopaths. Or, perhaps, not everyone being entitled to semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines. Truly outrageous assaults on the second amendment, clearly.

But we needn't go nearly that far. The official reason for opposition to Dr. Murthy is a tweet dated 10/16/12 that states: "Guns are a health care issue."

If we reasonably take the full expanse of "health care" to encompass both patient care, and public health, I think the only possible reaction to this statement is a yawn, and: Duh!

What can possibly be controversial about this statement? For gun control advocates, there is clearly no cause for dissent. Those contending that guns foment murders and massacres certainly agree that a public health issue is in play.

But there can be no cause for dissent from the most ardent gun enthusiasts either. After all, the rationale for guns-for-all is so that we can defend ourselves, presumably against the harms to which we might succumb if unarmed. Self-defense against harm is, pretty self-evidently, an issue of both public justice, and public health.

And, of course, anything with the potential to involve emergency surgery and blood transfusions is pretty much, by definition, a health care issue.

And then there is the -- forgive the pun -- real smoking gun of the "guns are a health care issue" issue: suicide. I don't think anyone wants to refute the notion that suicide attempts are a health care issue. After all, we health care professionals are the first responders to them. This one, too, should be among those truths we hold to be self-evident.

So here's the thing: Guns are used far more often for suicide than for either homicide or self-defense. We don't have all the research we would like on the topic, mostly because the NRA spends pretty lavishly to ensure it won't get done, but what we have is rather compelling. A peer-reviewed paper from 1998 suggests that the ratio of gun use for suicide to use for self-defense is 11 to 1. CDC data from 2010 indicate that 60 percent of firearm deaths are suicides, and more than half of all suicides are by gunshot.

That second statistic is more compelling than it may seem. After all, most people who contemplate, and then attempt suicide, don't have guns. So what it means that more than half of all suicides are gun related is this: Most people who attempt suicide do NOT use guns, but those who use guns succeed much more often.

Guns don't kill, people kill -- even themselves. But guns make them a whole lot better at it.

And that's tragic, because suicide may result from uncompensated depression, or a moment of despondency that could be assuaged. A suicide attempt is an opportunity to identify the source of such anguish, and restore the chance to live. A completed suicide is: game over. Guns are strongly associated with the latter.

The simple, if sad, fact is that we are indeed all subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Maybe at one time or another most of us think at least fleetingly about taking arms against that sea of troubles, and by opposing, ending them. For most of us, it is just a fleeting thought. For some, it evolves into a plan, a gesture, or an attempt. For those with a gun handy, it results far more often in the need for a hearse rather than an ambulance. This is not ideology; it's just epidemiologic fact.

Suicide is a health care issue. If guns figure in it, as they irrefutably do, then guns are a health care issue, too. QED.

The surgeon general, whatever his or her views on gun control, has no political authority, and will do absolutely nothing about gun control in office. Even if the position did allow for that, why would that unsettle anybody? Even the president of the United States, openly in support of gun control legislation also supported by a decisive majority of us Americans, can't get much of anything done about it. Is the NRA really all that concerned about the profound ramifications of a public health physician's personal opinion? I'm impressed if so, because it must mean I have all kinds of power to which I am oblivious.

Far more likely, nobody actually is all that concerned about Dr. Murthy's totally predictable, completely uncontroversial position on this topic. It is all just political theater.

But it is bad theater. A public health physician stated -- before ever he was under consideration for surgeon general -- that guns are a public health issue. We may ignore the fact that he was exercising his first amendment rights at the time, and posed then -- as he poses now -- no threat to the second amendment rights of anyone else.

More importantly, he was speaking a truth, universally recognized as such. There should be no political agenda directed against universally recognized truths.

Cheer or lament it, public health is no threat to gun rights. But threats to public health that result from ideology over epidemiology, and resistance to statements of fact, are potentially ominous for us all.

However we may differ over guns, I suspect all of us like to live in a society where stating a fact does not bring reprisals. On that basis alone, please tell your members of Congress you would like Dr. Murthy freed from his political prison -- and confirmed as U.S. Surgeon General. Ideally, no SEALS will get involved.



Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.


David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP believes all sorts of radical things, like: no Uzis for certifiable sociopaths; the Second Amendment should not be defended at the expense of the First; and, oh yea, guns are a health care issue.

Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center; Griffin Hospital

President, American College of Lifestyle Medicine

Editor-in-Chief, Childhood Obesity

Follow at: LinkedIN; Twitter; Facebook

Read at: INfluencer Blog; Huffington Post; US News & World Report; About.com

Author: Disease Proof

Desperate Republicans Mired in Anti-Immigrant Attacks

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-11-18 19:14
Finally, President Obama is playing offense on immigration reform -- and it will pay dividends to both the country and his own political standing. Republicans who thought Obama would be a rug they could stomp on to 2016 are now on defense.

In spite of the hysterical cries from the GOP, the White House has made it clear that Obama will take consequential action to break the Republican-controlled House of Representatives' chokehold on immigration reform. The president will issue executive orders that will protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Much has been discussed of the supposedly dire consequences of such moves -- the end of ephemeral bipartisanship opportunities, a supposed general "poisoning of the waters," even the need to impeach the president -- yet little has been said of the positive outcomes.

The Tea Party-infused Republican majority, to begin with, will have been dealt a serious defeat -- a boon to all Americans, not just Democrats. Tea Party extremism -- for example, the bizarre threat last year to the full faith and credit of the United States in trying to block a raise of the debt ceiling; and the shutdown of the government, ostensibly to achieve the impossible goal of destroying the Affordable Care Act through such an action -- has been responsible for a slew of national self-inflicted wounds to all Americans. Such anarchistic actions had the effect of crashing consumer and business confidence at a time when the economy was gathering steam.

Obama's immigration actions will isolate the extremists. As that faction will propose ever-escalating responses to executive action, the GOP leadership will be faced with the unpalatable choice between surrendering to the far right -- and with that capitulation abandoning any hope of positioning the party as a serious, governing party for 2016 -- or acquiescing to Obama and alienating the GOP primary electorate, just as the 2016 horse race gets started.

Another outcome of the president's immigration executive actions will be an economic stimulus. The Congressional Budget Office and several studies have projected significant gains to the American economy from legalization of immigrants. Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and the author of "The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform," published in the Cato Journal, projects an incremental $1.5 trillion boost to the economy resulting from the legalization of undocumented immigrants.

Considering that the Republican Party is still pushing for a European-style federal budget of austerity, which has proven nothing short of a disaster for the European Union, we are going to need all the stimulus we can get to keep positive economic momentum, thereby growing our gross domestic product and continuing to drive down unemployment.

Finally, there is a social benefit that will pay dividends for many years. An unfortunate outcome of the Republican opposition to comprehensive immigration reform has been a slide by some Tea Party Republicans into reprehensible, clearly racist rhetoric that has besmirched every American Latino in the country.

In the last few weeks of the midterm elections, for example, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) accused immigrants of being both Ebola carriers and sleeper cells for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), entering the U.S. to behead Americans. Similar racialist rhetoric has been used by a variety of GOP figures and conservative commentators in recent years. There has been little or no pushback from the Republican mainstream for such denigrating speech from their most extreme members.

The president's immigration order will begin to normalize the status of immigrants, peeling away the animus and onus of the "illegal" label plastered on the whole Latino community by these kinds of attacks.

The rapid integration of currently undocumented immigrants into the American melting pot will restore comity and respect to the national discourse, rejecting once again that strain of American politics whose heart is still beating in Jim Crow.

President Obama's executive orders on immigration will, of course, cause a ruckus. But we need such a tumult to refocus the country on the real problems facing America. A shaky public education system, antiquated infrastructure and an inefficient and unfair tax code come to mind as issues with transcendent importance for the viability of America as the world's preeminent power.

Let's deal with immigration this year -- and get back to work on making America even stronger.

Senate Rejects Bid to Force Approval of Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-11-18 19:13
Despite strong lobbying by oil-industry allies, the U.S. Senate tonight defeated an effort to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The Senate vote reaffirms a commitment to fight climate change. Taking leadership sometimes means saying "no." This bill would have turned Congress into a permitting authority, overriding environmental law, and giving a green light to a pipeline project that would worsen climate change and threaten water quality. The Senate did the right thing to reject the misguided bill, and now the president should do the right thing and reject the tar sands pipeline.

Today was a good day for American leadership, showing that the big polluter agenda doesn't stand up. There are likely to be many attempts to undermine our health and environment in the coming months, and we will need the same kind of leadership we saw tonight to protect our air, climate, lands and water.

If we are to be serious about fighting climate change, we can't allow climate-busting projects like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to move forward. In this case, the decision on Keystone XL is where it belongs -- with the president. After reiterating the need to allow the State Department process the time to conclude, the President recently noted:
"I have to constantly push back against the idea that Keystone is either a massive jobs bill for the U.S. or is somehow lowering gas prices. Understand what the project is, it will provide the ability for Canada to pump their oil and send it through their land down to the Gulf where it will be sold everywhere else."
The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is all risk and no reward for America. The pipeline would carry Canadian tar sands oil across America's heartland to the Gulf coast, where much of it would be exported to foreign buyers. Once built, the pipeline would create fewer than fifty permanent jobs. It would take us backward at a time when many communities across our country are experiencing the impacts of climate change through severe weather, coastal storms and crippling droughts.

The fact that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would enable a significant increase in carbon intensive tar sands production is what makes it so undermining of American leadership to address climate change. Tar sands crude is significantly more carbon intensive than conventional crude. Just the additional emissions from the tar sands in Keystone XL -- above average emissions from producing non-tar sands oil -- are equal to Americans driving more than 60 billion additional miles every year. Meeting climate stabilization will be practically impossible if the tar sands resource is developed at projected rates and Keystone XL is critical to this expansion. With climate change already harming our communities and pocketbooks across America now is the time for clean energy, not expansion of dirty energy such as tar sands.

American leadership on climate comes in many forms. We saw it as 400,000 people turned out in New York City in September to march for climate action. We see it in President Obama's climate action plan. We see it in the US-China climate agreement. And we saw it as the Senate voted to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest. It's not a plan to help our country. It's about big profits for big oil -- and big pollution for the rest of us. It's a terrible idea, and it needs to be denied.


We Have a Dream: Improve Transparency and Accountability at the NYPD

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-11-18 19:02

In the aftermath of a traumatic summer of nonstop police brutality, LGBTQ youth -- from Ohio to Hong Kong, Staten Island to Ferguson -- are dreaming.

This summer, after watching the clock tick as Eric Garner lay dead on a Staten Island sidewalk, youth collectively dreamed of ending an era of discriminatory "broken windows" policing in New York City. This summer, after witnessing Michael Brown's body lying in the streets of Ferguson for hours, LGBTQ youth across the country dreamed of systemic changes to the culture of policing nationwide, praying that "#ThisStopsToday!"

In the wake of a summer of escalating brutality against black and brown bodies across the country, post-Ferguson, LGBTQ youth leaders and dreamers at Streetwise and Safe are uniting with communities across the country to call for change as a nonviolent way to channel our rage, hold elected officials and law enforcement accountable, and remove the bullseye target from our backs -- because black, brown, and queer lives matter.

We are uniting to defend the dreams of our father and mothers -- LGBTQ ancestors who have long been outspoken members of movements to challenge police profiling, militarization, excessive force and extrajudicial killing -- including Bayard Rustin, Sylvia Rivera, James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde. This pantheon of heroes dreamed of a world where our lives, our bodies, our autonomy and our rights would be respected by those sworn and funded to protect us. We are uniting to encourage silenced LGBTQ young people of color to dream aloud and "Get Yr Rights!" because we are tired of being stopped and searched, frightened and frisked, strip searched, body slammed, put in chokeholds, dehumanized, demoralized and criminalized.

On November 13th, we called on the New York City Council to remember that politics is the art of the impossible. We asked courageous council members to exercise their oversight power to help make our dreams a reality by passing the Right to Know Act. This trust-building act would strengthen police accountability and transparency by requiring officers who stop us to identify themselves. Much like an officer would read us our Miranda rights, officers who drive patrol vehicles famously emblazoned with the slogan of "Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect" would practice those tenets by introducing themselves to us and informing us of our constitutional right to say no to searches that have no legal basis other than our presumed consent.

Much of the tension in Ferguson and New York stems from people of color being constantly subject to discriminatory stops and searches. Much of the frustration in Ferguson stems from officers refusing to identify themselves even after the Department of Justice mandated that officers display their badges. African-Americans were targeted for 86 percent of the stops conducted in St. Louis, even though officers are more likely to find drugs and contraband on their white neighbors. Studies of policing in St. Louis also show that black women report endemic sexual harassment by police in addition to unconstitutional stops and searches.

Though the Freedom Tower rises and the Statue of Liberty looms, the racial disparities are the same in New York City: According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, 85 percent of NYPD searches are of black and brown New Yorkers. Similarly, women describe sexual harassment as a frequent component of police encounters with New York's finest.

Ferguson is not an isolated outlier. Ferguson is New York's cousin!

Because our safety, our quality of life, and our future are at stake, dream big with us and demand not only that the NYPD don't shoot us but that they also don't search us unless they have probable cause or a warrant or have obtained objective proof of voluntary and informed consent by us to search us.

Far too many people in Ferguson, in Ohio, in Staten Island, and in Brooklyn have been searched and humiliated during searches supposedly based on our consent but really based on lack of information, on patriarchy and on intimidation.

I will never forget moving to this city for safety only to be stopped and searched on my way from folding clothes in the laundromat on the baseless suspicion that my laundry bags had drugs in them. When officers forced me to hand over my bags, even though I knew my rights, I felt powerless to say no. Officers found nothing, and there was no charge. But even today I don't know who I would even complain about, because the officers didn't identify themselves. I have a right to know who they were.

If they insist on knowing who is behind the hoodie, we have a right to know who is behind the badge.

I will never forget being searched and humiliated with my friends in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem while we were dancing to Beyoncé. When an officer forced us to hand over our bags without any legal basis, despite knowing that I had the right to deny consent, I felt too outnumbered and outgunned to say no. Police officers have a right to know that we have the power to say no to searches lacking probable cause.

My friend and fellow SAS leader, Trina, will never forget being ordered to open her purse in the West Village during a stop after the officer found no other reason to detain her. She was booked on charges of loitering for the purposes of prostitution based on the condom the officer found during a search she didn't consent to. She has a right to know that the Constitution protects her denial of baseless searches.

Countless transgender and gender-nonconforming New Yorkers will never forget being ordered to lift up their shirts or skirts or forced to open up their pants so that an officer could satisfy their curiosity or, worse, assign them a gender -- only to find out later that the search was based on their "consent" because there is no other legal basis for a "gender search." They have a right to know that this practice is unlawful.

Ultimately, thousands of LGBTQ youth's lives will forever be ruined by an officer's order to empty their pockets without telling them that this was a "consent" search, bringing small amounts of marijuana into open view and into the realm of a disenfranchising misdemeanor that often leads to loss of employment, financial aid, custody of children, and housing. They have a right to know their power to say no.

During these nightmarish times, when LGBTQ youth of color are stopped and searched with no basis other than our presumed consent, we find ourselves feeling like the late Eric Garner and thinking in our heads what he said out loud: "Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I'm tired of it. This stops today!" We also ask ourselves the same question that Garner asked shortly before his death: "Why are you doing this to me?"

We have a right to know! We are not dreaming that big. We are not dreaming of streets paved of gold. We simply have a right know!

Help us make history by calling on New York City Council members to pass the Right to Know Act.

Paul Ryan To Chair Powerful House Ways And Means Committee

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-11-18 18:45
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republican leaders chose Paul Ryan on Tuesday to head the powerful House Ways and Means Committee for the next two years, giving him a high-profile platform if he decides to run for president in 2016 or beyond.

Ryan, the party's vice presidential nominee two years ago, has sidestepped questions about his plans for 2016. "One thing at a time, one step at a time," Ryan said Tuesday. "I'll deal with that later."

Republican leaders also chose Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah to head the House Oversight Committee and Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas to head the Armed Services Committee.

Thornberry said he will work to promote a strong military.

"A weak America — or the perception of a weak, indecisive America — means a more dangerous world," Thornberry said.

The Oversight chairman is traditionally the chief antagonist for a president from the opposing party. Chaffetz will replace Republican Darrell Issa of California.

Ryan's new job will give him a voice on the biggest economic issues facing the country — taxes, trade, Social Security, health care and social programs.

On Ways and Means, the next chairman is expected to lead House Republican efforts to overhaul the nation's tax code, which politicians of many stripes agree is too complicated. If House Republicans offer an alternative to President Barack Obama's health law, the Ways and Means Committee could play a key role.

Also, Congress will soon have to deal with Social Security's disability program, which is facing a potential financial crisis in 2016.

All these issues offer pitfalls as well as opportunities for the next chairman of the Ways and Means committee. And consensus will be hard to come by, especially in the current partisan atmosphere.

"We have a lot of work to do to get our economy back on track, and the Ways and Means Committee will be at the forefront of reform," Ryan said. "We will work together to fix the tax code, hold the IRS accountable, strengthen Medicare and Social Security, repair the safety net, promote job-creating trade agreements, and determine how best to repeal and replace Obamacare with patient-centered solutions."

House Republicans passed a rule last week that could complicate Ryan's plans if he decides to run for president. The rule says committee chairman must give up their gavels if they run for another office, such as Senate, president or governor.

Ryan, however, could apply for a waiver.

At 44, the Wisconsin Republican has time to continue building his resume in Congress before deciding whether to mount another run for national office.

Ryan is now chairman of the House Budget Committee, but he must leave that post at the end of the year because of term limits. As Budget Committee chairman, he has made a name for himself as the main architect of several conservative House Republican budgets.

In all, the House GOP steering committee chose a slate of 17 committee chairmen Tuesday. The entire House Republican conference is expected to approve the slate on Wednesday, the vote usually a formality.

In addition, House Speaker John Boehner chose six-term Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California to serve as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Boehner chose Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., to chair the House Ethics Committee.

Among the others chosen by the steering committee:

—Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, to chair the House Agriculture Committee.

—Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., to chair the House Appropriations Committee.

—Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to chair the House Budget Committee.

—Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., to chair the House Education Committee.

—Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

—Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, to chair the House Financial Services Committee.

—Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

—Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, to chair the House Homeland Security Committee.

—Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to chair the House Judiciary Committee.

—Rep. Bob Bishop, R-Utah, to chair the House Natural Resources Committee.

—Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, to chair the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

—Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, to chair the House Small Business Committee.

—Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., to chair the House Transportation Committee.

—Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., to chair the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.


Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.


Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap

Ex-CIA Agent Who Was Captured By China During Cold War And Held Prisoner For 20 Years Dies

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-11-18 04:29
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — John T. Downey, a former CIA agent who survived more than 20 years in Chinese prisons during the Cold War before becoming a Connecticut judge, died Monday. He was 84.

Downey was diagnosed with cancer a month ago and died at a hospice facility in Branford, according to his son, Jack Downey, of Philadelphia.

The elder Downey had graduated from Yale University and joined the Central Intelligence Agency a year before his plane was shot down during a botched cloak-and-dagger flight into China in November 1952. He spent the next 20 years, three months and 14 days in Chinese prisons. He was released in March 1973 shortly after President Richard Nixon publicly acknowledged Downey's CIA connection.

After returning to the United States, he graduated from Harvard Law School and was appointed to the Connecticut bench in 1987.

Jack Downey, 34, said his father's years of imprisonment shaped his life in every possible way.

"He could have very justifiably come out of this extremely bitter and cynical about human nature and all things. He miraculously wasn't," said Downey, whose mother was born in China and met his father in Connecticut.

John Downey, of New Britain, and another CIA paramilitary officer, Richard G. Fecteau, of Lynn, Massachusetts, were on their first overseas assignment when their plane was shot from the night sky in a Chinese ambush. Both survived, and Fecteau was kept behind bars for 19 years. Their pilots, 31-year-old Robert C. Snoddy of Roseburg, Oregon, and 29-year-old Norman A. Schwartz of Louisville, Kentucky, were killed in the crash.

The secret mission was smothered in U.S. government denials, but bits and pieces of the story emerged over the years, revealing a tale of personal triumph, tragedy and CIA miscalculations from the early years of the spy agency's existence.

Their mission was to recover a spy working for the CIA in the Manchuria region of northeastern China. Downey and Fecteau had been assigned to a covert program that airdropped noncommunist Chinese exiles into the area to link up with disaffected communist generals, but the agent they were picking up had betrayed the Americans.

Downey was well known to the Chinese operatives because he trained them. When Downey was captured, a Chinese security officer pointed at him and said in English: "You are Jack. Your future is very dark."

Downey and Fecteau were hauled off to prison, interrogated and isolated in separate cells. Each spent long stretches in solitary confinement.

After their release, Fecteau said they would visit occasionally during Downey's time in law school and split a pint of ice cream, because neither of them drank. He said he admired his friend's mental strength during their time in captivity.

"He never weakened. He never felt sorry for himself," Fecteau, 87, said Monday. "What happened happened and he lived with it as best he could, and I liked that."

A nephew of Schwartz, Erik Kirzinger, said he became friends with Downey in the 1990s as the pilot's family worked to have his remains repatriated to the United States.

"I can't exaggerate the high regard I hold him and Mr. Fecteau in for the example that they set for all of us," said Kirzinger, of Madison, North Carolina.

The CIA in 2011 released a film, "Extraordinary Fidelity," which blends documentary footage and re-enactments to tell the officers' story. The film details efforts by CIA officials in Washington, throughout the men's imprisonment, to keep their financial affairs in order and provide assistance to their families, who did not even know the men were alive until a show trial was held in Beijing two years after the crash.

In 2013, Downey and Fecteau received the CIA's Distinguished Intelligence Cross, the agency's highest honor of valor.


Associated Press writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this report.

Here's What Big Oil Has In The Pipes If Keystone Fails

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 22:41
WASHINGTON –- TransCanada Corp., the company seeking to build the Keystone XL pipeline, has teamed up with the world's largest public relations firm to promote a proposed alternative pipeline that's entirely in Canada.

Greenpeace Canada obtained documents that the U.S. public relations firm Edelman drafted for TransCanada that outline a campaign to promote Energy East, the company's proposed 2,858-mile pipeline that would transport crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to the east coast of Canada. The company filed an application to build the Energy East pipeline last month -- a project that has been described as an "oil route around Obama" amid political wrangling over Keystone XL in the United States.

Greenpeace says the documents show a company increasingly concerned about the fate of Keystone XL, which would connect the tar sands with Gulf Coast refineries. TransCanada's Energy East also faces increasing opposition, as does a proposed pipeline to the west, Enbridge's Northern Gateway. Enbridge got approval from the Canadian government to build Nothern Gateway, but work has been delayed, in large part because of opposition from First Nation communities along the pipeline route.

"TransCanada has been saying, 'If you don't let us build Keystone, we will build to the east,'" said Keith Stewart, the climate and energy campaign coordinator for Greenpeace Canada. "These documents show that they're clearly worried about the Energy East pipeline as well. It's going to face just as rough a ride as Keystone or Northern Gateway."

The Energy East documents outline plans to create a "grassroots" advocacy campaign on behalf of TransCanada, recruit outside voices backing the company, and investigate environmental groups seen as threats to the project.
Stewart said the documents show Edelman and TransCanada "systematically organizing what we'd call a dirty tricks campaign" typical in the U.S., but not in Canada. "We're nice, we don't do things like that," Stewart said.

A campaign organization document, dated Aug. 5, details what it calls a "Promote, Respond, Pressure approach" to "respond to allegations and protect the company." The plan includes typical public relations work, such as promoting the "positive message" on the project and responding to "unfavorable coverage, charges, or negative attacks." It also includes a plan to "work with third parties" to pressure opponents (emphasis theirs):

Add layers of difficulty for our opponents, distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources. We cannot allow our opponents to have a free pass. They will use any piece of information they can find to attack TransCanada and this project—attacks are part of a larger, modern oppositional effort to silence those on the other side … This point should particularly be made in communication to supportive third parties, who can in turn put the pressure on, especially when TransCanada can't.

The campaign organization document proposes a "research profile" of Canadian environmental groups, like the Council of Canadians, Equiterre, Ecology Ottawa, and David Suzuki Foundation, as well as the international group Avaaz. Another document on digital advocacy describes campaigns targeting labor groups, farmers, landowners, and people interested in national security in order to recruit "grassroots" supporters.

Many of the documents appear to be part of a pitch to get TransCanada to hire Edelman for the project, while others are action plans. TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline awaits a final decision in the U.S. after years of delays and strong pushback from environmental opponents.

Edelman spokesman Michael Bush declined to respond to questions about the firm's work for TransCanada. "We do not talk about the work we do for clients," he said via email.

Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, confirmed that the documents Greenpeace obtained were recommendations Edelman had prepared for TransCanada on Energy East. He said Edelman has not done work for TransCanada on Keystone XL.

"While the versions you have are not the latest, we have moved forward with implementing certain components of the strategy," said Howard. He pointed to the site EnergyEastPipeline.com and a pro-Energy East petition as part of that campaign (both of which are clearly labeled as TransCanada-sponsored).

"We have been working with Edelman for several months now and appreciate the support they have provided in helping us better engage in the public conversation, both in Quebec and the rest of Canada," said Howard. "Edelman was chosen because of their presence in Quebec and their ability to understand the culture. This is an important component for TransCanada’s communications outreach as we move forward with this project."

Howard said the company has not implemented all of the recommendations in the documents, but is "focused on the pieces that support a coordinated and organized communications program to ensure communities, landowners, First Nations and all Canadians have the facts to make an informed decision about Energy East."

This type of campaign work is not new for Edelman. A "Grassroots Advocacy Vision Document" dated May 15, 2014, describes Edelman's previous work on "mobilization" for energy interests. It includes the "Energy Citizens" campaign that Edelman ran on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute -- a campaign designed to look like it came from ordinary citizens, but was in fact run by oil lobbyists.

"Companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and Haliburton (and many more) have all made key investments in building permanent advocacy assets and programs to support their lobbying, outreach, and policy efforts," Edelman wrote. "In launching a program like this, TransCanada will be in good company with a strong roadmap to follow."

In a document focusing on its plan for the province of Quebec, Edelman outlines identifying and recruiting "third-party voices" that can help "build an echo chamber of aligned voices." That document notes that Edelman's general manager for digital public affairs, Mike Krempasky, would serve as the senior counsel for the TransCanada work. Krempasky, co-founder of the conservative blog Red State, was also involved in a previous Edelman campaign that enlisted bloggers to promote WalMart without disclosing that the company was paying them.

Edelman faced pushback earlier this year after The Guardian and Motherboard published stories pointing out that the company had done work for interests that deny climate change. In a blog post responding to those stories, CEO Robert Edelman wrote, "We do not work with astroturf groups and we have never created a website for a client with the intent to deny climate change."

While the TransCanada documents predate Edelman's August blog post, they include descriptions of work that some may consider "astroturf" work. "If astroturf is using artificial grassroots to support a corporate agenda, this is clearly it," said Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, which has been investigating the role of public relations firms in energy and climate campaigns.

Davies said the documents aren't that surprising, but it's not often you see the "full battle plan" for an industry PR effort. "This is a small window into the type of campaigns that oil companies and the American Petroleum Institute have been running for many years to try to affect the political arena."

Mark Begich Concedes To Dan Sullivan In Alaska Senate Race

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 22:18

Nov 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Mark Begich on Monday conceded defeat to his Republican challenger in a closely watched race that was part of midterm elections that gave Republicans control of the Senate and strengthened their grip on the House of Representatives.

Begich, a Democrat, said he called to congratulate Dan Sullivan, a former state attorney general and natural resources commissioner who claimed victory on Wednesday in the Nov. 4 race. As of Friday, election results showed Sullivan leading by roughly 7,700 votes.

"Alaska is a place unmatched by any other, and the opportunity to represent Alaskans and all of Alaska's communities in the U.S. Senate has been a tremendous honor for which I am eternally grateful," said Begich, a former Anchorage mayor.

His campaign had touted his deep Alaska roots, where he was born and raised, while it portrayed Sullivan, who was born in Ohio, as an outsider.

Begich was narrowly elected in 2008 a few weeks after a jury convicted his opponent, Republican Senator Ted Stevens, on federal corruption charges, a conviction that was later set aside by a federal judge who cited prosecutorial misconduct.

"I look forward to doing the job that Alaskans elected me to do, and to begin the process of turning our country around and building a brighter future for Alaska," Sullivan said in a statement on Monday in which he also thanked Begich for his service. (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle)

White House Reviewing Policy Toward U.S. Hostages Held By Militants

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 22:08

WASHINGTON, Nov 17 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has ordered a comprehensive review of U.S. policy governing efforts to free Americans being held by militant groups overseas, the White House said on Monday.

In recent months, Islamic State militants have beheaded three Americans, including Peter Kassig, an aid worker and former U.S. Army Ranger, whose death was announced in a video released by the group on Sunday.

"The administration's goal has always been to use every appropriate resource within the bounds of the law to assist families to bring their loved ones home," White House National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said in a statement.

"In light of the increasing number of U.S. citizens taken hostage by terrorist groups overseas and the extraordinary nature of recent hostage cases," added Baskey, "this summer President Obama directed relevant departments and agencies, including the Departments of Defense and State, the FBI, and the Intelligence Community, to conduct a comprehensive review of how the U.S. government addresses these matters."

The administration could not detail all the steps it was taking to free U.S. hostages, but Baskey said "we will continue to bring all appropriate military, intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic capabilities to bear to recover American hostages. Those efforts continue every day."

ABC News reported that a Pentagon official wrote last week to U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter that the review would include an emphasis "on examining family engagement, intelligence collection, and diplomatic engagement policies."

It added that a Nov. 11 letter to Hunter from Christine Wormuth, undersecretary of defense for policy, did not explicitly address the issue of ransom payments, which it is U.S. policy not to pay.

ABC News said Hunter wrote the White House in August after the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley by Islamic State, urging Obama "to guarantee we are maximizing our recovery efforts."

Islamic State previously killed U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Peter Cooney; Editing by Alan Crosby)

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon Won't Say Whether The Buck Stops With Him In Ferguson Protests

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 21:30
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) on Monday couldn't answer a question asking who's in charge of policing protests that may flare when a grand jury decides whether to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

St. Louis County has 90 municipalities, and none seemed accountable for the police response to often turbulent protests that followed Brown's shooting in August. As the grand jury nears a decision and activists prepare for new protests, Nixon on Monday ordered a state of emergency and activated the National Guard -- but didn't put state law enforcement in charge.

Missouri's most famous politician -- former President Harry Truman -- popularized the phrase, "The buck stops here." But in a conference call on Monday, Nixon fumbled when asked whether the buck stops with him on policing a new round of protests.

“Well I mean, we’re, um, it, uh, it, uh, you know -- our goal here is to, is to, is to -- you know, keep the peace and allow folks’ voices to be heard,” Nixon said on the call. "I don't spend a tremendous amount of time personalizing this vis-a-vis me.

“I’d prefer not to be a commentator on it,” he added.

Under the “unified command” announced in Nixon’s executive order on Monday, the Missouri State Highway Patrol will work with city and county police to respond to any protests. As in August, the National Guard will serve in a supporting role for police agencies. Ferguson’s small police force, meanwhile, will be relegated to ordinary calls for assistance away from protests.

The “dual pillars” of the police response to protests, Nixon said, will consist of respecting free expression rights while protecting public safety. Nixon has sought to emphasize that protesters' rights will be respected, after widespread complaints about the militarized police response to protests over Brown's death.

Nixon's order provides that St. Louis County police -- much-criticized for a heavy-handed response to the initial protests -- will have "command and operational control" over security in the city of Ferguson itself. But Nixon didn't give a clear answer on which agency or official was at the top of the chain of command for protests across the area.

“We've worked hard to establish unified command, to outline the responsibilities," Nixon said. "And now with the additional assets provided by my order today of the Missouri National Guard, we've worked through a number of operational issues the folks have."

The New GOP Congress Americans Do Not 'Wish They Had'

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 21:15
The man who lost the last (presidential) election round and who goes around talk shows trying to pretend he did not, has some advice for the man who beat him in 2012.

Appearing on Sunday's CBS Face the Nation, failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney told Bob Schieffer, when asked about the possibility of "Obama taking executive action to overhaul immigration policy," "The president has got to learn that he lost this last election round."

The man who lost the last (presidential) election round said so after lecturing his nemesis about how to fight ISIL ("what we should have done by now is have -- is have American troops staying by in -- in Iraq") and after implying that perhaps the President should just curl up in a fetal position, contrary to David Axelrod's and most Americans' expectations. "The President ought to let the Republican Congress, the Republican House and the Republican Senate come together with legislation that they put on his desk which relates to immigration," the man who lost the last (presidential) election round told Bob Schieffer.

This latest bit of GOP arrogance is very similar to Mitch McConnell's recent hubris: "We'd like for the president to recognize the reality that he has the government that he has, not the one that he wishes he had, and work with us," when a "very disturbed" incoming Senate Majority Leader lamented that the president was still the President and was still intending to use his executive powers.

Which, in turn, is very reminiscent of the effrontery of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld whose callous response to a soldier asking for better protection for our troops in Iraq was: "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

Memo to Messrs. Romney and McConnell -- and to the GOP:

Midterm elections are not intended to neuter a president. They are midcourse corrections intended to make government work better for the people who elect their representatives; to -- in fact -- transform the government we have into the government the people wish they have. On November 4, 2014, the American people gave Republicans another chance to stop the obstruction, stop the obfuscation, stop the gridlock, stop the arrogance, stop the raw partisanship and work with a man who is still President of the United States for the common good of all Americans, not just a few.

To do all this, congressional Republicans must disprove the disturbing allegation that they "have been sent to Washington with a mandate not so much to conduct business but rather to collect a bounty, to do what they promised and what their supporters expect: Stop Obama at any cost and at every turn, to erase his name or at least put an asterisk by it."

Or will they?

White House Threatens To Veto Bills That Would Require More EPA Reporting

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 21:08
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is issuing veto threats against House Republican legislation that places new reporting requirements on the Environmental Protection Agency. The White House says the measures could delay or prevent environmental decisions.

The veto threats target three bills. One would require the EPA to disclose scientific data behind proposed regulations. The White House says some data is not released to protect the privacy of test subjects or confidential business information. Another bill aims to reduce permit delays by requiring the EPA to update regulations whenever it revises air quality standards. The White House says that could create premature regulations without input from states.

A third bill would place restrictions on the EPA's Science Advisory Board that the White House says would hurt its ability to advise the agency.

White House Threatens To Veto Bills That Would Require More EPA Reporting

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 21:08
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is issuing veto threats against House Republican legislation that places new reporting requirements on the Environmental Protection Agency. The White House says the measures could delay or prevent environmental decisions.

The veto threats target three bills. One would require the EPA to disclose scientific data behind proposed regulations. The White House says some data is not released to protect the privacy of test subjects or confidential business information. Another bill aims to reduce permit delays by requiring the EPA to update regulations whenever it revises air quality standards. The White House says that could create premature regulations without input from states.

A third bill would place restrictions on the EPA's Science Advisory Board that the White House says would hurt its ability to advise the agency.

White House Threatens To Veto Bills That Would Require More EPA Reporting

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 21:08
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is issuing veto threats against House Republican legislation that places new reporting requirements on the Environmental Protection Agency. The White House says the measures could delay or prevent environmental decisions.

The veto threats target three bills. One would require the EPA to disclose scientific data behind proposed regulations. The White House says some data is not released to protect the privacy of test subjects or confidential business information. Another bill aims to reduce permit delays by requiring the EPA to update regulations whenever it revises air quality standards. The White House says that could create premature regulations without input from states.

A third bill would place restrictions on the EPA's Science Advisory Board that the White House says would hurt its ability to advise the agency.

The Problem of 'Stupid' in Economics

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 20:56
M.I.T. Professor Jonathan Gruber has inadvertently become a YouTube celebrity as a result of a video of him referring to the public as "stupid." The immediate point of reference was the complexity of the design of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which Gruber was describing as being necessary politically in order to deceive the public. With the right-wing now in a state of near frenzy after the Republican election victories, the Gruber comment was fresh meat in their attack on the ACA.

Apart from merits of the ACA, there is something grating about seeing a prominent economist refer to the American public as "stupid." After all, the country and the world have suffered enormously over the last seven years because the leading lights of the economic profession were almost completely oblivious to the largest asset bubble in the history of the world.

While it should have been easy to recognize an $8 trillion housing bubble in the United States, prices had diverged sharply from their long-term trend with no plausible basis in the fundamentals of the housing market. In particular, rents had only risen in step with inflation, indicating there had not been a sudden upturn in the demand for housing.

It also should not have been surprising that the loss of this wealth when the bubble burst would lead to a severe economic downturn and have a major impact on the financial sector. After all, it was easy to see that the bubble was driving the economy in the last business cycle. Residential construction had hit a record as a share of GDP and the ephemeral bubble wealth led to an unprecedented boom in consumption.

Since mortgages are a heavily leveraged asset even in normal times, and became considerably more leveraged during the bubble years, it should hardly have been a surprise that there were large numbers of defaults and foreclosures. And, given the leverage of the banking system, the fact that a large number of bad loans would put many banks in danger also should not have been a surprise.

In spite of the huge yellow warning lights flashing all over the sky, nearly all the world's top economists were caught by surprise by the collapse of the housing bubble. People in my profession should be very cautious in the use of the word "stupid."

There is some truth to Gruber's comment in that most people are ill-informed about major public policy issues, including health insurance. This is in large part due to the fact that, unlike Gruber, most people have day jobs. They put in their shift at work and then often have child care and other family responsibilities. Most of them probably don't have much time to read the Congressional Budget Office's latest report on the health care system.

But even worse, when people do take the time to get informed, the media let them down badly. Stories even in the best of outlets, like the New York Times and National Public Radio, often present information in ways that are misleading and often meaningless to nearly all readers.

The New York Times gave us a great example of misleading reporting this weekend in an article headlined, "Cost of Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act to Increase in 2015." The piece then highlighted a number of plans which are increasing premiums by large amounts in 2015.

Anyone reading this article would likely get the impression that most people are seeing big insurance price increases in 2015. This is 180-degrees at odds with reality. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average cost of benchmark plans in the ACA exchanges actually fell slightly in 2015. (The chart accompanying the New York Times article would show a story of declining prices or modest increases.) This is remarkable given the fact that insurance costs have been rising sharply for the last half century. Rather than highlighting the fact that for most people in the exchanges premiums are rising little or actually falling, the New York Times decided to highlight that some people will pay more, if they don't change plans.

In the same vein, the media routinely report huge numbers without giving any context that would make these numbers meaningful to their audience. AP gave us a great example of this practice when it reported that the Social Security Disability program paid out $2 billion in benefits, to people who should have not been eligible, over the last seven years.

This article likely gave people the impression that abuse in the program is widespread. Since the program paid out close to $900 billion in benefits over this period, the improper payments came to just over 0.2 percent of payments over this period. While it would be nice if no money was improperly paid (and that no proper claims were denied), no program will be perfect. If only 0.2 percent of payments were improper, that it would be an exceptionally good track record.

The amazing aspect to this manner of reporting is that no one will defend it with a straight face. Every reporter and editor knows that next to no one can make any sense of these big numbers without some context. Yet the practice continues.

Given the quality of reporting on major issues, it is not surprising that the public is often poorly informed. It is not clear who is being stupid in this picture.

Air Force Working To Open Last Jobs To Women

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 20:41
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (AP) — The Air Force's top boss said Monday she hopes to make all jobs in the service open to qualified women in the next year and a half.

Seven jobs in the service are closed to women, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters during a visit to Hawaii on Monday. James said the Air Force is working on establishing gender-neutral standards for the positions and opening them to whoever is qualified.

"That is to say, whatever the standard is, it would be the same for men and women," she said.

An April 2013 Air Force memo says there were 4,600 people in the seven jobs, which include combat rescue officer and enlisted combat controller.

In January 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted a ban on women in special operations and long-range reconnaissance units and told the armed forces to come up with detailed plans to open closed jobs.

The Air Force already has more jobs open to women than any of the services, James said. Most jobs closed to women are in the Army.

James, who became secretary in December 2013, said she also wants to boost the Air Force's retention of women, noting women at mid-career leave the service at twice the rate of their male counterparts.

"So we need to bore down and figure out why that is happening and how we can turn that around," she said.

James stopped in Hawaii as part of an 11-day tour of Air Force bases in the Asia-Pacific region. She's expected to go to Guam, Japan, South Korea and Alaska. It's her first trip to the region since becoming head of the Air Force.

Kamala Harris Speaks Out On 'Inevitability' Of Marijuana Legalization In California

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 20:02
California Attorney General Kamala Harris says she is "not opposed" to legalizing marijuana, but stopped short of endorsing efforts to do so in the Golden State.

With legal recreational marijuana use fully underway in Colorado and Washington -- and similar programs on the horizon in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. -- advocates are hoping to bring a legalization initiative to the California ballot in 2016. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 1996, but recreational use is still prohibited.

In an interview Monday with BuzzFeed, Harris said that while she has no "moral opposition" to the substance, she has concerns over the law enforcement implications of legalizing it:

"I am not opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I'm the top cop, and so I have to look at it from a law enforcement perspective and a public safety perspective,” Harris told BuzzFeed News in an interview in Washington, D.C. “I think we are fortunate to have Colorado and Washington be in front of us on this and figuring out the details of what it looks like when it’s legalized.”

“We're watching it happen right before our eyes in Colorado and Washington. I don't think it’s gonna take too long to figure this out,” Harris said. “I think there's a certain inevitability about it."

Read the full BuzzFeed interview here.

Earlier this month, Harris was elected to a second term, defeating pro-weed Republican Ron Gold. During the campaign, Harris largely evaded the issue, saying it should be left to voters to decide. (Recent polls have indicated that California voters support legalizing recreational pot.)

While California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) remains tepid on legal pot, the issue has found a champion in Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom, who has said he would back a legalization ballot measure in 2016. Harris, however, told BuzzFeed she feels it would be "irresponsible" for her to make a similar endorsement.

“It would be easier for me to say, 'Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,' and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop," she said.

Harris, seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, has already been floated as a potential replacement for California Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), who is rumored to be leaning towards retiring after her term ends in 2016. She was also eyed as a potential replacement for outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, but said she had no interest in the role.

"I am focused on key public safety issues including transnational gangs, truancy and recidivism," Harris said in a statement about the speculation.

When a Real Kansas Marriage Turns Into a Legal One

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 19:59

When Courtney and Denise asked me to marry them, I said, "Sure, but you know, I'm not legal to marry anyone."

"Duh," said Denise, giggling.

"Like it matters," added Courtney.

At the time, in early 2001, gay marriage was so small a glimmer of possibility, something we all thought might happen in our lifetime, maybe when we were passing around pictures of our grandchildren. Making do without being able to make up for this injustice was all we had.

We got to know Denise in her job at Free State Credit Union and through the Merc, and Courtney when she was a para for our oldest son when he was in fifth grade. Over the 1990s, we become close friends, the kind who can take naps on one another's couches or leave a dinner conversation to do something on the computer for work, no explanation needed. It was as if we had been family for decades before we actually met, and we hang out together, in I Love Lucy terms, not like Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel, but more like Ricky and three Lucys.

So on May 6, 2001, we gathered at Ken's and my house south of Lawrence and gleefully paraded with family and friends alongside the woods to the southeast corner of a field. Denise was crying and swirling in her wide-swinging white dress, while Courtney was laughing and rolling her eyes. They held hands, looked at each other, Denise giggling and crying at once, as they came to the exact place where I would marry them.

So of course I could be a pretend rabbi, acting in faith that this was a real marriage, and one day the world would catch up to Courtney and Denise. They had been together for years, and all of us had just been through Denise's thyroid cancer together when Courtney had to endure the insult of fighting to see her beloved in the hospital because they were both women.

The wedding happened at dusk in a slim gap of sunlight on an afternoon of rain. The whole wedding party stood in a circle around the bride and bride, my daughter Natalie excited to be ring bearer in her white pants and rainbow shirt, my sons and husband wrapped close, smiling and crying with joy like all the other guests there.

In the 13 years since the not-real real wedding, Courtney and Denise had a son, Marek, born during a very joyous if long labor at the Topeka Birthing Center. Denise decided to become a nurse, and after two years of prerequisite classes, she got accepted into the prestigious nursing program at Baker University, graduated with flying colors, and now works at Stormont-Vail Medical Center. Courtney was finally able to leave her job at the post office to throw her immense energy into Homestead Ranch, where they raise goats, chickens and other critters; grow immense amounts of vegetables; and handcraft the best goat-milk soaps and lotions on the planet. Marek is close to 10 years old and excels at karate and making holiday ornaments to sell at the farmer's market, and he plays a mean game of Apples to Apples. The whole family has run a booth at the farmer's market, waking in the dark and wee hours every Saturday from May through November, for years, and cater to a loyal following.

A family business and farm. A child and his education. A home full of dogs, cats and tree frogs. A rich life with plenty of bouts of Guitar Hero and other games to play together. Spectacular turkey dinners with all the trimmings on Thanksgiving and beyond. And now land where they plan to build their dream house in coming years.

Throughout the years, we've come to know each other's extended families and shared the sorrow of a close friend's sudden passing and the loss of fathers and mothers, birthday parties and bar mitzvahs, and an outrageous amount of spaghetti-and-meatball dinners. Those in our family who, at first, had complaints about a lesbian couple, like much of America, softened their position over the years, eventually dissolving away such complaints. Courtney and Denise effectively, simply by being who they are and being around, changed the minds of people in our extended families as well as people they met through work, kids' activities and the farmer's market, about gay rights.

Yet it took until July 2013 for Courtney and Denise to get legally married, and they had to travel out of state to Sidney, Iowa, for the ceremony because our home state doesn't recognize marriage between two women. They also had to work long and hard to get Courtney covered on Denise's health insurance, and they still can't file taxes jointly. Our dear friends live and love a lot like us, yet they have to wait in the background for the light of equality to slowly reach them and other-than-hetero-identified people.

The butt of most jokes in the '70s, when I was growing up, was either gay men or Poles, and the word "lesbian" was so exotic and hushed-up that it seemed utterly mythological. For years, I've watched gay, lesbian and, in the last decade, trans friends struggle with how much of themselves to hide, who not to tell, how to say it to those they felt they could tell, and, moreover, the damaging weight of our societal silencing and shaming of them.

The advancement of gay marriage has moved a million times faster than I ever dreamed when I was growing up, watching gay or lesbian friends or acquaintances cast as exotic at best, repugnant at worst. Yet when it comes to my friends and so many other Kansans who have waited years, decades, lifetimes, to be able to simply say "my wife" or "my husband" and reap other legal, economic, religious and social benefits, the wait is excruciatingly slow.

When it comes to my beloved and chosen home state of Kansas, where I've lived since 1983, in love with the big sky's parade of weather and color, I couldn't imagine marriage equality landing here until the end of its reign across the rest of America. Kansas is one of the reddest of red states, where so many very good people continue to vote into office extremist right-wing politicians who work against the needs, hopes and dreams of these good people, so it's no wonder that my friends and I would regularly joke about whether Kansas would be the 49th or 50th state to stand on the side of the love. Strangely and wonderfully enough, thanks to the court systems, an excellent marriage-equality campaign here, and the down-home common sense of most Kansans, here we are, gay and lesbian marriages happening in mid-November right here in the heartland.

Soon Courtney and Denise's marriage in Iowa will be recognized in Kansas, but for now, they, along with other couples, are battling to get the tax refund they are due from filing jointly last year. The courts in Kansas are also active with confusion and warring arguments about when to recognize the legal marriages of gay and lesbian couples who are marrying right now in Kansas or have already married out of state, such as Courtney and Denise. As has gone the way of marriage equality in all other states where it is now recognized, we know that in the next several weeks or months, Kansas will not be the 49th state to embrace marriage equality but probably the 30th-something state.

In the meantime, 13 years after Courtney and Denise vowed to love each other with all their heart and soul for their lifetimes, we're talking about a party, long unimaginable and longer overdue, to celebrate the love of justice and the justice of love.

Former CIA Director Warns Torture Report Release May Endanger Overseas Personnel

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-11-17 19:57
WASHINGTON -- As the nation’s intelligence communities brace for the Senate’s explosive report on the CIA’s now-defunct torture program to be made public, officials are warning that its release in the midst of the Islamic State fight could put American lives at risk, according to former CIA Director Michael Hayden.

“American embassies and other installations around the world have been warned to take defensive action in anticipation of this report being released,” Hayden cautioned Monday on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe." “That is somewhat troubling.”

Hayden's concerns follow public reports of other officials pointing to risks for overseas U.S. personnel since the Senate Intelligence Committee first voted in April to publicly release parts of its behemoth study on the post-9/11 program. The committee voted 11-3 to make public the 500-page executive summary of its five-year, $40 million study.

Since then, the release has been delayed by a protracted dispute over the report's declassification review, in which the White House and CIA are fighting to keep secret certain information that the Intelligence Committee wishes to release.

In April, two of the dissenting committee members, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and James Risch (R-Idaho), cited secret warnings to the committee from the State Department, which they said cautioned that the public identification of former CIA black sites and cooperative governments could foster anti-American sentiment overseas.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee today voted to send a one-sided, partisan report to the CIA and White House for declassification despite warnings from the State Department and our allies indicating that declassification of this report could endanger the lives of American diplomats and citizens overseas and jeopardize U.S. relations with other countries. Therefore, we could not support declassification of this product at this time,” the two senators said in a joint statement following the committee’s April vote, as reported by The Daily Beast.

On Monday morning, Hayden also vehemently defended the CIA’s actions. He said he understood if Democrats didn’t want to use so-called enhanced interrogation techniques -- which have been widely denounced as torture -- but he said there was no denying they were effective.

“These tactics, techniques and procedures actually worked in gaining valuable information. Whether or not they succeeded, that’s historical fact,” said Hayden, who led the CIA from 2006 to 2009. “The record at the agency shows quite clearly ... that they were [successful].”

But several Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have disputed such claims throughout the investigation and writing of the report. The study reportedly finds that no information was gained through enhanced interrogation techniques that could not have otherwise been acquired through other means and that harsh methods, including waterboarding, were ineffective.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also challenged Hayden’s concerns about the report’s release. Although he said Monday that he hadn’t yet seen Hayden’s interview, he suggested that the report’s public version will adequately shield the identities of American personnel involved in the interrogation program.

“I think it's very important that you use the pseudonyms and that you eliminate any identifying information about individuals,” he said.

Last month, Wyden told The Huffington Post that he takes protecting undercover operations very seriously and that the notion that the Intelligence Committee was carelessly putting lives at risk was untrue.

“I don’t take a backseat to anybody when it comes to protecting personnel,” he said in October.