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Dick Cheney's Misleading Torture Spin

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-12-16 19:44

The following post first appeared on FactCheck.org.


Former Vice President Dick Cheney offered a spirited defense of CIA interrogation tactics used in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and denounced a recent Senate report, which criticized those techniques, as a “crock.” But in presenting his case, Cheney often gave a one-sided and misleading account of the facts.

  • Cheney claimed the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on captured members of al Qaeda and the Taliban did not violate international agreements, citing opinions from the Justice Department. But the Supreme Court later ruled that detainees were entitled to minimum protections under the Geneva Conventions.

  • Cheney said he “believed” that rectal rehydration or feeding of some detainees was done “for medical reasons.” But the Senate report concluded otherwise, citing CIA officials who said the practice discouraged hunger strikes and resulted in “total control over the detainee.” Several physicians also have rejected the medical necessity of the practice.

  • Cheney wrongly claimed that the U.S. prosecuted Japanese soldiers “for a lot of stuff” but “not for waterboarding.” While they weren’t solely prosecuted for waterboarding, Japanese soldiers were prosecuted for torturing American prisoners, including the use of “water torture.”

  • Cheney repeated an old, exaggerated claim that Saddam Hussein “had a 10-year relationship with al Qaeda.” While there were sporadic contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda in the 1990s, the CIA and independent government reports concluded there was no evidence of a working relationship between the two regimes.

  • Cheney overstated the number of former Guantanamo detainees who had returned to terrorists activities. Cheney put the figure at 30 percent, but the confirmed number is closer to 17 percent.

  • Cheney said the Senate Intelligence Committee investigators failed to interview key CIA officials. That’s true, but committee investigators were deferring to Justice Department investigators who were pursuing possible criminal charges. And Senate staff did have access to transcripts of dozens of interviews with CIA officials.


In interviews with Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Dec. 14 and Jake Tapper on CNN on Dec. 12, Cheney blasted the Senate report, released in early December, as partisan and “flawed.” He defended the Bush administration’s backing of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and other CIA practices that Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein called torture “under any common meaning of the term.”

Violation of Geneva Conventions?

Cheney relies on since-discredited opinions from the White House’s Department of Justice legal team to contend the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA on captured members of al Qaeda and the Taliban did not violate international agreements generally and the Geneva Conventions specifically. The Supreme Court has since ruled that the detainees were entitled to minimum protections provided under the Geneva Conventions, including prohibitions against torture and humiliation.

In recent interviews, Cheney has twice claimed the techniques used by the CIA did not run afoul of international agreements.

On “Meet the Press” on Dec. 14, Cheney denied that the CIA techniques could be defined as “torture” and said the administration “did not want to cross that line into where we were violating some international agreement that we’d signed up to.”

Cheney, Dec. 14: We were very careful to stop short of torture. The Senate has seen fit to label their report torture. But we worked hard to stay short of that definition.

Chuck Todd: Well, what is that definition?

Cheney: Definitions, and one that was provided by the Office of Legal Counsel, we went specifically to them because we did not want to cross that line into where we were violating some international agreement that we’d signed up to. They specifically authorized and okayed, for example, exactly what we did. All of the techniques that were authorized by the president were, in effect, blessed by the Justice Department opinion that we could go forward with those without, in fact, committing torture.

Two days earlier, on Fox News, Cheney made a similar comment in response to a question asked by Chief Political Anchor Bret Baier:

Baier, Dec. 12: Is there anything to the Geneva Convention, to the world rule of law on this?

Cheney: Sure there is. But remember, the terrorists were not covered by the Geneva Convention. They were unlawful combatants. And under those circumstances, they were not entitled to the normal kinds of courtesies and treatment you would accord to those.

Cheney is correct that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued memos in 2002 that provided legal arguments that support Cheney’s position that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to detainees captured in the war in Afghanistan. For example, in a Jan. 9, 2002, memo, John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney general, concluded that international treaties did not protect members of al Qaeda or the Taliban militia. White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales also issued a memo about two weeks later to President George W. Bush backing up the Justice Department’s opinion, and recommending Bush declare captured members of al Qaeda and the Taliban outside Geneva Convention protections.

But those opinions did not go unchallenged, either inside or outside the administration.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, for example, wrote a memo to the White House on Jan. 26, 2002, arguing that such a posture would “reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice in supporting the Geneva conventions and undermine the protections of the law of war for our troops, both in this specific conflict and in general.” He also warned it would spark a “negative international reaction” and “undermine public support among critical allies.”

Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law and an expert in military law, told us via email that Cheney’s comments “oversimplified one of the most complex legal issues that arose out of our military response to 9/11.”

Corn says Cheney’s argument that detainees were not entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions rests on a Department of Justice interpretation that was “considered highly dubious by many government experts, including military legal experts who had devoted years to the study of this law,” and “opened up abusive treatment options that were fundamentally inconsistent with longstanding Department of Defense and national policy.” And ultimately, he said, it is an interpretation that was “repudiated by the Supreme Court in the 2006 decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.”

In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court concluded that the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3 — which requires humane treatment of all captive combatants — applied to the detainees at Guantanamo.

As our fact-checking colleagues at PolitiFact noted, while it is accurate that the detainees may not have been entitled to the full measure of protection afforded under the Geneva Conventions to combatants in traditional international conflicts, that doesn’t mean they weren’t protected by minimal levels of protections afforded to everyone.

As the International Committee of the Red Cross puts it, Common Article 3 “requires humane treatment for all persons in enemy hands, without any adverse distinction.” Among those minimal protections are prohibitions against “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture” and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.”

Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame Law School who has written extensively on international law and the use of force, told us in an email that Cheney is “quite wrong in saying the U.S. violated no law in employing coercive measures of interrogation.”

“The Geneva Conventions absolutely forbids coercive measures in interrogation,” said O’Connell. “A number of human rights treaties forbid torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. The self-serving memos produced by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel were simply wrong — which had to be obvious to anyone reading them.”

In an opinion piece she wrote for the American Society of International Law, of which she is a member, O’Connell listed the various international treaties that forbid torture and humiliation of prisoners or detainees (see point 3).

“In non-international armed conflict, common Article 3 to the four Geneva Conventions also prohibits torture as well as other violence to life and person, including cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity,” O’Connell wrote. “These are absolute prohibitions; there are no exceptions.”

Cheney accurately describes a position that was based on legal opinions provided by Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel at that time. But legal experts say that opinion was dubious then, and has since been repudiated by the Supreme Court.

Rectal Rehydration/Feeding for ‘Medical Reasons’?

One of the most unnerving findings in the Senate report was that “[a]t least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity” (page 4).

When he was asked about those specific practices on “Meet the Press,” Cheney challenged the findings of the report, stating, “I believe it was for medical reasons.”

Here’s the full exchange with “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd:

Todd, Dec. 14: Let me go through some of those techniques that were used, Majid Khan, was subjected to involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration. It included two bottles of Ensure, later in the same day Majid Khan’s lunch tray consisting of hummus, pasta, sauce, nuts and raisins was pureed and rectally infused. … Does that meet the definition of torture?

Cheney: That does not meet the definition of what was used in the program …

Todd: I understand. But does that meet the definition of torture in your mind?

Cheney: In my mind, I’ve told you what meets the definition of torture. It’s what 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11. What was done here apparently certainly was not one of the techniques that was approved. I believe it was done for medical reasons.

In an interview on CNN on Dec. 11, former CIA Director Michael Hayden was even more explicit in saying the procedures were medically motivated.

“That was a medical procedure,” Hayden said when asked by host Jake Tapper about rectal rehydration/feeding. “That was done because of detainee health — that the people responsible there for the health of these detainees saw that they were becoming dehydrated. They had limited options in which to go do this. It was intravenous with needles, which would be dangerous with a non-cooperative detainee; it was through the nasal passages.”

He went on to say that it was “not part of the interrogation program, not designed to soften him up for any questioning.” Hayden claimed the Senate report’s conclusion was based on “one email with one very bad-taste comment.”

But there’s more. Let’s review the half-dozen references to this activity in the Senate report, outlined for us by Feinstein’s office.

  • Page 73: “At one point, al-Nashiri [a detainee] launched a short lived hunger strike that resulted in the CIA force feeding him rectally.” (Source: CIA cable, May 23, 2004.)

  • Page 82: CIA’s chief of interrogations “ordered the rectal rehydration of KSM [detainee Khalid Shaykh Mohammed] without a determination of medical need, a procedure that the chief of interrogations would later characterize as illustrative of the interrogator’s ‘total control over the detainee.’ ” (Source: CIA cable, March 5, 2003; interview by the CIA inspector general, March 27, 2003.)

  • Page 83: In March 2003, Khalid Shaykh Mohammed was also subjected to additional rectal rehydration (Source: CIA cable, date redacted), which a CIA officer from the Office of Medical Services “described as helping to ‘clear a person’s head’ and effective in getting KSM to talk.” (Source: CIA email, March 6, 2003, names of sender and recipients redacted.)

  • Page 100, footnote 584: According to CIA records, listed in this footnote, the CIA rectally rehydrated and/or rectally fed al-Nashiri, Khalid Shaykh Mohammed, Majid Khan, Abu Zubaydah and Marwan al-Jabbur. Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khallad bin Attash and Adnan al-Libi “were threatened with rectal rehydration … CIA medical officers discussed rectal rehydration as a means of behavior control. As one officer wrote, ‘[w]hile IV infusion is safe and effective, we were impressed with the ancillary effectiveness of rectal infusion on ending the water refusal in a similar case.’ ” (Source: multiple CIA cables, dates redacted; the last quote was from a CIA email, February 2004, names of sender and recipients redacted.)

  • Page 100, footnote 584: “The CIA’s June 2013 response to the study does not address the use of rectal feeding with CIA detainees, but defends the use of rectal rehydration as a ‘well acknowledged medical technique.’ CIA leadership, including General Counsel Scott Muller and DDO [Deputy Director for Operations] James Pavitt, was also alerted to allegations that rectal exams were conducted with ‘excessive force’ on two detainees at DETENTION SITE COBALT.” A CIA attorney “was asked to follow up, although CIA records do not indicate any resolution of the inquiry.” (Source: multiple CIA emails, dates and names of sender and recipients redacted.)

  • Pages 114-115: Beginning in March 2004, one of the detainees, Majid Khan, “engaged in a series of hunger strikes and attempts at self-mutilation that required significant attention from CIA detention site personnel. Medical personnel implemented various techniques to provide fluids and nutrients, including the use of a nasogastric tube and the provision of intravenous fluids. CIA records indicate that Majid Khan cooperated with the feedings and was permitted to infuse the fluids and nutrients himself. After approximately three weeks, the CIA developed a more aggressive treatment regimen ‘without unnecessary conversation.’ Majid Khan was then subjected to involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration, which included two bottles of Ensure. Later that same day, Majid Khan’s ‘lunch tray,’ consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins, was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused. Additional sessions of rectal feeding and hydration followed.” (Source: two CIA cables on Sept. 23, 2004.)

Cheney and Hayden both pointed out that rectal rehydration/feeding was not part of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, that critics say amounted to torture. In at least three cases, the procedure was initiated in response to a hunger strike. And so the primary goal was not interrogation, but to keep the detainees alive.

However, the comments from CIA medical officers suggest the method used — rectal rehydration or feeding as opposed to intravenous feeding or hydration — was viewed as a way to discourage others from engaging in hunger strikes or dissuading those who were on a hunger strike from continuing it. It may not have been part of the prescribed interrogation program, but the comments highlighted in the report show the CIA’s chief of interrogations at least saw the side benefit of it exhibiting “total control over the detainee,” while a CIA officer from the Office of Medical Services noted that it helped to “clear a person’s head.”

Moreover, the question of whether it amounted to torture or abuse does not depend on it being part of the prescribed interrogation program, or even being used as an interrogation technique at all.

The New York-based Physicians for Human Rights, for example, has condemned the use of rectal rehydration/feeding described in the report as “sexual assault masquerading as medical treatment.”

“Contrary to the CIA’s assertions, there is no clinical indication to use rectal rehydration and feeding over oral or intravenous administration of fluids and nutrients,” Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s senior medical advisor, stated in a press release. “This is a form of sexual assault masquerading as medical treatment. In the absence of medical necessity, it is clear that the only purpose behind this humiliating and invasive procedure is to inflict physical and mental pain.”

In a Washington Post story, Thomas Burke, a Harvard Medical School professor and emergency physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, contested the argument that IV hydration or feeding would be, as Hayden put it, “dangerous with a non-cooperative detainee.” Every day in the United States, he told the Post, health workers encounter uncooperative, belligerent or mentally disturbed patients who need hydration or sustenance. “And [in] none of them do we put a tube in their bottom,” he said.

Dr. Steven Miles, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School and board member of the Center for Victims of Torture told the International Business Times that the procedure was “a variation on a medieval form of torture in which the intestines were swollen up with fluid in order to cause pain. You can’t feed somebody this way. And so, for the U.S. government to claim that this is some sort of feeding technique, that’s just totally bizarre. Because there is no physiological way for any nutrients to be absorbed in the colon, any medical participation in this rectal feeding procedure is medical participation in torture.”

Japanese Prosecutions for Waterboarding

Cheney also wrongly claimed that the U.S. did not prosecute Japanese soldiers for waterboarding, as Chuck Todd had said.

Todd: When you say waterboarding is not torture, then why did we prosecute Japanese soldiers in World War II for waterboarding?

Cheney: For a lot of stuff. Not for waterboarding. They did an awful lot of other stuff. To draw some kind of moral equivalent between waterboarding judged by our Justice Department not to be torture and what the Japanese did with the Bataan Death March and the slaughter of thousands of Americans, with the rape of Nanking and all of the other crimes they committed, that’s an outrage.

Perhaps not solely for waterboarding, but Japanese soldiers were prosecuted for torturing American prisoners, including committing acts akin to waterboarding.

In his 2007 essay “Drop by Drop: Forgetting the History of Water Torture in U.S. Courts,” Circuit Judge Evan J. Wallach, writing for the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, documented cases from 1947 in which Japanese defendants Yukio Asano, Seitara Hata and Takeo Kita were each charged by a U.S. Military Commission with violating the laws and customs of war for committing torture, including “water torture.”

“The so-called ‘water treatment’ was commonly applied” by the Japanese, according to an International Military Tribunal for the Far East report. “The victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach until he lost consciousness.”

And such “water torture,” Wallach wrote, “loomed large in the evidence” presented in the cases against Asano, Hata and Kita.

Hata, a first lieutenant surgeon, was specifically accused of torturing Morris O. Killough, an American prisoner of war, by “beating and kicking him, by fastening him on a stretcher and pouring water up his nostrils.” He was also accused of beating three others as well as “forcing water into their mouths and noses, and by pressing lighted cigarettes against their bodies.”

Asano and Kita were also accused of forcing water into the mouths and noses of prisoners.

All three men were eventually convicted. Hata was sentenced to 25 years confinement at hard labor, and both Asano and Kita received 15-year sentences.

The late Sen. Ted Kennedy actually mentioned the case involving Asano during a speech on the Senate floor on Sept. 28, 2006. That was before Wallach’s essay was published in 2007.

Saddam Hussein’s ‘Relationship’ with al Qaeda

In stating the Bush administration’s case for going to war with Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, and warned of a “sinister nexus between Iraq and the Al Qaida terrorist network.” Powell specifically cited Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as the link between Iraq and al Qaeda, mentioning Zarqawi no fewer than 20 times in his speech. “Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,” Powell said.

History has proven Powell wrong. As we will explain shortly, there was no working relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Nevertheless, Cheney said in his interview on “Meet the Press” that he did not regret attacking Iraq and repeated the claim that Hussein “had a 10-year relationship with al Qaeda.”

During the interview, Todd played a 1994 video clip of Cheney defending President George H.W. Bush’s decision not to remove Saddam Hussein from power during the Gulf War in 1991. In that clip, Cheney said the region is “very volatile” and an attack on Iraq’s central government would have been “a quagmire” for the U.S.

Todd then asked Cheney whether he regretted the decision to attack Iraq in 2003 under the second President Bush.

Cheney, Dec. 14: No, a lot has happened. A lot has happened between that time, 9/11, for example, happened. We got to the point where we were very concerned about the possible linkage between terrorists on the one hand and weapons of mass destruction on the other. Saddam Hussein had previously had twice nuclear programs going. He produced and used weapons of mass destruction. And he had a 10-year relationship with al Qaeda. All of things came into play.

However, the CIA, the inspector general of the CIA, the Senate Intelligence Committee (controlled at the time by Republicans) and the bipartisan 9/11 Commission all came to the conclusion that there was no evidence of a working relationship between Hussein and al Qaeda.

There were sporadic contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda in the late 1990s, as described in a 2004 report by the 9/11 Commission, which was chaired by Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey. But that report concluded that there was “no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”

Two reports issued by the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee came to the same conclusion.

A heavily redacted July 2004 committee report concluded (on page 346) that the CIA “reasonably assessed that there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and al-Qa’ida throughout the 1990s, but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship.” The committee (on page 4) said its conclusions were based in part on a year-long review of 10 years of intelligence community assessments.

In its second report, which was released in September 2006, the Senate Intelligence Committee cited further evidence that there was no working relationship between the two regimes. In fact, the committee report described the two as wary rivals, citing a June 2002 CIA report titled “Iraq and al-Qa’ida: Interpreting a Murky Relationship” that said “the ties between Saddam and bin Laden appear much like those between rival intelligence services, with each trying to exploit the other for its own benefit” (page 64 of the committee report).

In a section titled “Iraqi Links to Al-Qa’ida,” the committee report cited these high-level sources to refute the Bush administration’s claim of a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda:

  • An Oct. 25, 2005, CIA report titled “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the Former Iraqi Regime” contradicted Powell’s claim in his U.N. speech that al-Zarqawi was the link between Iraq and al Qaeda. The CIA report said prior to the war “the [Iraqi] regime did not have a relationship, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates” (page 92).

  • A Dec. 6, 2005, interview with the “lead” Defense Intelligence Agency analyst “who follows the issue of possible connections between the Iraqi government and al-Qa’ida.” The analyst was quoted as saying the DIA “continues to maintain that there was no partnership between the two organizations” (page 63).

  • A Dec. 21, 2005, report by the inspector general of the Central Intelligence Agency that said: “The data reveal few indications of an established relationship between al-Qa’ida and Saddam Hussein’s regime before Sept. 11, 2001″ (page 62).

Former Detainees ‘Back on the Battlefield’

The former vice president was also wrong when he discussed former Guantanamo detainees who have returned to terrorists activities.

Cheney, Dec. 14: Of the 600 and some people who were released out of Guantanamo, 30 percent roughly ended up back on the battlefield.

The number of former Guantanamo detainees confirmed to have re-engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities is actually 107, according to the most recent semi-annual report by the Director of National Intelligence. That’s 17.3 percent of the 620 detainees who have been released or transferred. The figure is current as of July 15.

Cheney arrives at his 30 percent rate by adding in 77 former detainees who are now “suspected” of re-engaging, even though those suspicions can be based on unverified reports, or reports from a single source.

Cheney has been doing this for years. We first noted his habit of ignoring the distinction between “confirmed” and “suspected” recidivists in May 2009.

He also failed to mention this important fact: Many of the 107 former detainees confirmed to have returned to terrorist activities are either dead or back in custody. The DNI report says 23 of them are dead and 25 are in custody.

Also worth noting is that nearly all those who Cheney says have “ended up back on the battlefield” were released during the Bush administration. Only six “confirmed” and one “suspected” recidivist were released from Guantanamo under President Obama.

CIA Interviews

Cheney also told only part of the story on “Meet the Press” when he said the Intelligence Committee’s investigators failed to interview key CIA officials, a point raised often by other critics of the report.

Cheney, Dec. 14: The report is seriously flawed. They didn’t talk to anybody who knew anything about the program. They didn’t talk to anybody within the program.

That’s true as far as it goes. What Cheney failed to mention, however, is that the committee investigators were deferring to Justice Department investigators who were pursuing possible criminal charges, and that the Senate staff had access to transcripts of dozens of interviews with CIA officials conducted by the agency’s own inspector general and others.

A Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, explained that in the same “Meet the Press” program just before Cheney’s appearance:

Wyden, Dec. 14: The report and the Justice Department inquiry went on at the same time. So we weren’t able to interview the C.I.A. … Suffice it to say, I’ll speak for myself and my colleagues, we would be happy to have talked to them.

Another member of the committee, Sen. Angus King of Maine, made the same point in a Dec. 9 interview on CNN:

King, Dec. 9: [T]he reason the interviews weren’t done was that the Justice Department was preparing whether or not to charge people in the CIA, and the committee was forbidden to conduct these interviews. They couldn’t do it. However, the committee did have access to 150 interviews done by the CIA’s inspector general, plus the transcripts of the many times that CIA officials came and testified before the committee. So there were, in effect, interviews. We just didn’t ask the question. But the interviews were there, plus 6 million pages of documents. And it’s chilling.

King is an independent, but sits with Democrats in the Senate.

– by Robert Farley, Brooks Jackson, D’Angelo Gore and Eugene Kiely


NBC. “Meet the Press Transcript – Dec. 14, 2014.” 14 Dec 2014.

FoxNews.com. “Cheney defends CIA interrogation techniques, calls Senate report ‘deeply flawed.’ “ 11 Dec 2014.

Yoo, John. Deputy Assistant Attorney General. Memo sent to William J. Haynes II. 9 Jan 2002.

Gonzales, Alberto. Attorney General. Memo sent to President George W. Bush. 25 Jan 2002.

Powell, Colin L. Secretary of State. Memo sent to Counsel to the President and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. 26 Jan 2002.

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. No. 05-184. Supreme Court of the U.S. 29 Jun 2006.

Jacobson, Louis. “In wake of Senate report, Dick Cheney says terrorists ‘not covered by the Geneva Convention.’ ” PolitiFact. 14 Dec 2014.

International Committee of the Red Cross. “The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols.” 29 Oct 2010.

International Committee of the Red Cross. “Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field. Geneva, 12 August 1949, Article 3.” Accessed 16 Dec 2014.

O’Connell, Mary Ellen. “The ASIL Centennial Annual Meeting Adopts a Resolution on the Use of Armed Force and the Treatment of Detainees.” American Society of International Law. 19 May 2006.

Powell, Colin L. “Remarks to the United Nations Security Council.” New York City. United Nations. 5 Feb 2003.

Timeline of Major Events in the Iraq War.” New York Times. 21 Oct 2011.

The 9-11 Commission Report. Chapter 2, Foundation of the New Terrorism.” National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. 22 Jul 2004.

Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” Senate Committee on Intelligence. 9 Jul 2004.

Summary of the Reengagement of Detainees Formerly Held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” Director of National Intelligence. 5 Sep 2014.

FactCheck.org “Cheney’s Gitmo Recidivism Claims.” 14 May 2009.

Wallach, Evan. “Drop by Drop: Forgetting the History of Water Torture in U.S. Courts.” Columbia Journal of Transnational Law. 2007.

Wallach, Evan. “Waterboarding Used to Be a Crime.” Washington Post. 4 Nov 2007.

International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Judgment of 4 November 1948.

Congressional Record. Sen. Ted Kennedy floor speech. 28 Sep 2006.

Transcript. “New Day.” CNN. 9 Dec 2014.

Wemple, Eric. “On CNN, former CIA director Michael Hayden defends a ‘medical procedure.’ ” Washington Post. 11 Dec 2014.

Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program.” Senate Committee on Intelligence. 9 Dec 2014.

Press release. “CIA Torture Report Highlights Unnecessary Medical Procedure.” Physicians for Human Rights. 10 Dec 2014.

Dennis, Brady. “Senate report: Uncooperative terrorism suspects faced rectal rehydration, feeding.” Washington Post. 9 Dec 2014.

Adams Sheets, Connor. “What Are ‘Rectal Feeding,’ ‘Rectal Hydration’? Doctors Call CIA Tactics Torture.” International Business Times.

Top 10 U.S. Conflict Prevention Priorities Going Into 2015: Survey

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-12-16 19:39

The intensification of the crisis in Iraq due to advances by the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the top

conflict prevention priority for U.S. policymakers in 2015, according to leading experts who took part in the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) seventh annual Preventive Priorities Survey.

This fall, CFR's Center for Preventive Action (CPA) solicited suggestions from the general public on potential conflicts that could erupt or escalate next year. CPA narrowed down the nearly one thousand suggestions to the top thirty and invited more than 2,200 government officials, academics and foreign policy experts to rank them by their potential effects on U.S. interests and likelihood of occurring in 2015. CPA then categorized the scenarios into three tiers, in order of priority for U.S. leaders.

Of 10 high-priority contingencies, respondents rated only one -- the Iraq crisis -- as both highly probable and highly consequential. Participants considered this scenario more important to U.S. interests than they did last year, when it was ranked as a having a moderate impact on U.S. interests.

One high-priority contingency -- an armed confrontation in the South China Sea -- was upgraded in likelihood from low to moderate this year.

Two new scenarios on this year's survey were also ranked high-priority: the intensification of the Ukraine-Russia crisis and escalation of Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Both were deemed highly likely to occur, but with moderate effects for the United States.

Two conflicts were downgraded from high- to mid-level priority this year -- violence and instability in Pakistan and in Jordan. Respondents considered each less likely, though still moderately important for U.S. interests.

The Top 10 U.S. Conflict Prevention Priorities in 2015:
  1. 1. the intensification of the conflict in Iraq due to ISIS

  2. 2. a large-scale attack on the U.S. homeland or ally

  3. 3. a cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure

  4. 4. a severe North Korean crisis

  5. 5. the renewed threat of Israeli military strikes against Iran

  6. 6. an armed confrontation in the South China Sea

  7. 7. the escalation of the Syrian civil war

  8. 8. rising violence and instability in Afghanistan

  9. 9. increased fighting in eastern Ukraine

  10. 10. heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions

CPA's Global Conflict Tracker plots the results of the survey, as well as other ongoing conflicts, on an interactive map paired with background information, CFR analysis, and news updates.

This article first appeared at CFR.

Small-scale solar desalination system aims for affordable water independence

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Tue, 2014-12-16 18:52
By combining solar PV, solar thermal, and a heat exchanger, Desolenator has developed a low-cost portable water purifier and desalination device powered by renewable energy.

A Tortured Path: Is This Who We Are, Who We Want To Be?

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-12-16 00:03
For anyone who has been even remotely paying attention over the past dozen years the conclusions released today in the Senate Intelligence report on torture are old news. The United States has used torture, has lied about its effectiveness, and protected those who prosecuted its use with vigor, so why the big deal about the report? Well, the big deal is the corrosive effect it has had upon a growing crisis of confidence many Americans have with respect to government leaders and institutions. And that cuts to the very core of the dysfunctional funk that breeds distrust, mistrust, and alienation in a system designed as a representative democracy.

When authority figures can operate with impunity and seemingly make up the rules as they see fit with no fear of accountability or penalty the seeds of autocracy, oligarchy, fascism, and yes royalty take root. Today we as a society struggle with this in matters as large as foreign affairs and wars, to matters as localized as our experiences with out of control law enforcement agencies and the legal system.

Who among us does not have a horror story or two about mistreatment and/or the simple lack of humanness when dealing with the local meter maid, traffic enforcement officer, state trooper or judge? If you are a minority it is difficult to find someone in your community who has not suffered the indignity of profiling or the fear of a random interrogation. If you are an undocumented immigrant you live in constant fear for your family of imminent deportation. And the most recent examples of Ferguson, Staten Island, and Cleveland underscore the deadly seriousness that accompanies a wholesale and collective acquiescence in swapping civil liberties for public safety.

In the wake of 9/11 we as a society surrendered many of the bedrock values and convictions that were the heart and soul of America. The overreaction to that tragedy masterminded by the heartless and vile Dick Cheney and Okayed by a clueless George W. Bush set the stage for a ruthless repudiation of the Geneva Conventions by a country that prided itself on its adherence to the principles of justice and freedom. I have written on many occasions over the years that Cheney and his henchmen should have been tried as war criminals. But over the years he has continued to defend his tortured decision-making and shamelessly bashed opponents, even in the face of evidence that they had not worked.

Obama decided early on not to prosecute these blatantly illegal tactics. Even under the most generous terms his failure to do so reinforced the cynical narrative that a lack of moral authority only serves to bolster the real evildoers. So financial industry titans who were directly responsible for perpetrating economic warfare that nearly brought the economy and financial system to its knees were not only not brought to justice, but were rewarded for their nefarious deeds through bailouts and severance packages.

Quite simply: torture is wrong; financial misconduct is wrong; murder is wrong; and war under false pretenses is treason. These are immutable truths or at least they should be. When an already suspicious and scared populace is slapped in the face with double standards and lack of a clear outline of what is right and what is wrong (especially when the rules for the rich are different from those who are not), cynicism, anger, frustration and irrational behavior are the beneficiaries.

The extreme polarization in our society today is a direct result of the lack of conviction, both as a set of principles or prosecution for committing crimes. In my book, The Evolution of a Revolution, I lay out six general principles for setting the country on an appropriate course for redemption. They include: reinstituting the value of public service, making government work, long-term thinking, balancing public and special interests, statesmanship, and removing the corrupting influence of money in politics.

If we do not recalibrate our conceptions of what we are and should be we will continue to drive a stake into the heart of the American experiment. We must hold people accountable for transgressions against common sense, intellect, and personal dignity lest we are crushed under the weight of our own greed and ignorance. The report issued today has long tentacles indeed and reminds us that all actions have consequences and many are unforeseen.

Congress Urges Obama To Sign Bill That Slaps New Sanctions On Russia, Gives Assistance To Ukraine

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 22:48
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans and Democrats spoke with one voice on Monday in pressing President Barack Obama to sign legislation that would slap new sanctions on Russia while providing weapons and other assistance to Ukraine.

The widely popular legislation cleared Congress late Saturday, but the White House has remained non-committal about whether Obama will sign it into law. Administration officials say the president is evaluating the measure, which would target Russia's energy and defense industries. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement saying the bipartisan bill underscores Congress' "strong moral commitment to the cause of the Ukrainian people" and he called on Obama to sign it immediately.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said lawmakers "stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the Ukrainian government and its people against the aggression of Vladimir Putin who continues to upend the international order."

The legislation would require the president to impose penalties on state-owned arms dealer Rosoboronexport and other Russian defense companies tied to unrest in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Syria. The sanctions would be extended to individuals and entities that help the companies.

The bill also would give the president the authority to provide lethal and non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine. This includes anti-tank weapons, counter-artillery radar and tactical surveillance drones. The bill also authorizes $350 million over two years to cover the cost.

Russia annexed Crimea earlier this year and has given support to pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, angering Western nations.

Visiting NATO headquarters in Brussels on Monday, Ukraine's prime minister asked for help for his country's military as it tries to tamp down pro-Russian insurgents and pleaded for more financial aid from the European Union.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk said it was difficult to fight a nuclear Russia that is "armed to the teeth," and he accused Putin of trying to eliminate an independent Ukraine.

"In the face of aggression and intimidation, they have had two successful elections," Boehner said of Ukraine. "In the face of subterfuge, they have shown restraint. And in the face of cynicism from those who are not immediately facing the threat, they have defied expectations."

The legislation is a rare example of unanimity in a divided Congress as the measure passed the House and Senate by voice vote. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke to a joint session of Congress in September and was received warmly.

Menendez said: "The territorial integrity of Ukraine must be restored and President Putin must understand that his destabilizing actions have serious and profound consequences for his country."

Cleveland Police Union Refuses To Back Down From Criticism Of NFL Player For Tamir Rice Shirt

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 22:43
The president of the Cleveland Patrolmen's Association on Monday refused to back down from criticizing a Cleveland Browns player as "pathetic" for wearing a shirt calling for justice for two unarmed black men who were killed by police officers in Ohio.

Cleveland Patrolmen's Association President Jeffrey Follmer on Sunday issued a statement criticizing Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins for wearing a shirt saying, "Justice For Tamir Rice and John Crawford," before the team's game. Tamir Rice, 12, was shot to death by Cleveland police last month while carrying a pellet gun. Crawford, 22, was killed by police officers in August while holding a toy rifle in a Walmart in Dayton, Ohio.

"It's pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law," Follmer said on Sunday. "They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology."

After Hawkins explained on Monday that he wore the shirt thinking of what could happen to his 2-year-old son, Follmer refused to back down.

"It's not a call for justice, they were justified," Follmer said during an interview on MSNBC Monday evening. "Cleveland police officers work with the Cleveland Browns hand-in-hand, and when he disrespects two of our police officers, he disrespects everybody else."

Follmer said video shows police officers were justified opening fire on Rice within two seconds after pulling up on him in a park. He said that the 12-year-old, who police thought was 20, "wasn't unarmed," even though he had a gun that could fire non-lethal pellets.

A grand jury will consider whether to indict the officer who killed Rice. In September, a grand jury decided not to indict the officers who killed Crawford.

Follmer expressed little sympathy for parents who worried that their unarmed children might be killed.

"How about this? Listen to police officers commands, listen to what we tell you, and just stop," Follmer said. "I think that eliminates a lot of problems. I have kids too, they know how to respect the law. They know what to do when a police officer comes up to them.

"I think the nation needs to realize that when we tell you to do something, do it, and if you're wrong you're wrong, and if you're right, then the courts will figure it out."

Some Pension Checks Vulnerable Under New Law

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 21:33
Are you expecting a monthly pension check during retirement? If so, better check again. If you are covered by a multi-employer pension plan -- typically administered by unions that cover workers in a single industry -- some new rules passed by Congress as part of the omnibus spending bill may lead to cuts in your promised retirement benefits.

Under these new rules, the benefits you've been promised in multi-employer plans can actually be cut if your plan is in jeopardy of failure within 15 years and is less than 80-percent funded. (Retirees age 80 years old and older would be protected from cuts.) This is a huge change from longstanding federal rules that prohibit scaling back pension benefits.

It's no secret that many pensions are "underfunded," having promised more future benefits than the current investments can provide. Even with the stock market at all-time highs, some of those promises are in jeopardy since the appropriate contributions were not made in time to create the growth needed to pay the pensions.

The amount of pension jeopardy depends on the employer: private, multi-employer/union, or public/government. In each case, your retirement security depends on how those pension trustees acted on your behalf over the years.

Maybe it's time for you to look into the future security of your own pension -- and start saving more just in case it can't keep up with its promises. Getting the numbers for your plan is relatively easy. Every pension plan must give participants an annual written notice about the funding status of the plan.

Future generations will rely more on 401(k)-type plans, which have replaced traditional pensions at many companies. In these plans, the payout is dependent on each individual's own investment contributions and decisions.

Some Pensions Are Insured -- Up to a Point

Some pensions have an extra degree of retirement income security -- sort of. Company and multi-employer/union pensions are protected by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), which is a government agency created by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. It insures about 26,000 pension plans, covering about 44 million American workers in "defined benefit" pension plans -- plans that promise a specific benefit at retirement, perhaps adjusted for inflation in future years.

About 10 million of those insured employees work for multi-employer plans in various industries, such as construction, trucking, or coal-mining. The amount of their benefits is typically negotiated by unions representing the workers. This multi-employer coverage was designed many years ago to allow workers to move more easily between jobs at different companies without losing pension benefits. A big issue for these plans is that now they have an average ratio of two retirees for every worker. (The Central States Teamsters plan has five retirees for every worker!)

The PBGC is funded by insurance premiums collected from employers that sponsor pension plans. It does not insure government retirement plans or military or religious association pension plans. And it does not insure 401(k) plans and other "defined contribution" plans.

So if your employer files for bankruptcy or its plan becomes insolvent, the PBGC becomes the trustee of your pension pla and stands behind your promised pension -- up to a point. If you were a highly paid worker expecting a big monthly retirement check, you may be out of luck when it comes to getting your full pension.

In 2014 the top monthly payout from the PBGC is $4,943.18 per month ($59,318.16 per year) for workers who begin receiving payments from PBGC at age 65. And the PBGC payments do not come with a cost-of-living increase, nor do they cover promised retiree health benefits or life-insurance benefits.

Even worse, the PBGC itself is in doubtful financial shape, with a long-term deficit of $62 billion, according to its latest annual report. And it has warned that its multi-employer program has a 90-percent chance of running out of money within 10 years -- especially if some large covered plans fail in the next few years, as projected.

The New Deal for Pensions

That's why employers and union representatives got together to help pass the new pension provisions that are part of the omnibus spending bill and will be the law of the land when that bill is signed by the president.

These new federal rules apply only to multi-employer pension funds, but this landmark legislation may point the way toward a solution for hugely underfunded state and municipal pension problems. It is estimated that public employee pension funds (cities and states) have total deficits exceeding $1 trillion -- and an average funding level of only 72 percent. (That masks huge deficits such as in Illinois, where the funding level is only 39 percent!)

Under state laws -- many currently being challenged in court -- those promised benefits cannot be cut now or in the future. Some municipalities facing dire situations have recently come to terms with future retirees for a cut in benefits and COLAs, including Detroit. But until now there's been an impasse in addressing most state and municipal pension issues, with little incentive for municipal workers and their employers to sit down and negotiate any changes.

The state/municipal pension crisis is upon us. The only alternatives in the future will be cutbacks in services, or payment defaults, or huge tax increases. And since most workers reside in the communities that will be affected, the benefits they do receive will likely be offset by those higher taxes.

Perhaps now, with the new federal law actually encouraging cuts in benefits for those in multi-employer plans, there will be precedent for altering state and municipal pension promises. That issue will soon be vigorously debated in the courts. And that's the Savage Truth.

Undocumented Immigrants Flock To Get Driver's Licenses Under New California Law

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 21:16
California Department of Motor Vehicles locations, often the bane of a driver’s existence, will be exciting places for more than 1 million Californians next month.

Effective Jan. 2, undocumented immigrants in the state will be able to obtain driver’s licenses and car insurance for the first time, following a decades-long push by the state legislature’s Latino caucus to address problems caused by so many unlicensed, uninsured motorists.

"While undocumented immigrants form the backbone of many key industries in California, exclusion from the ability to apply for a license has meant a simple trip to work or school can easily morph into a nightmare," Jon Rodney, a spokesman for the California Immigrant Policy Center, told The Huffington Post. "Folks have faced discriminatory car impounds, costing working families untold thousands of dollars, and even arrests."

With more than 33,000 traffic fatalities recorded in the U.S. in 2012, state officials said it’s vital to prioritize road safety over policing immigrants.

“It has nothing to do with if they’re in the country legally or illegally,” Julie Powell, a spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol, told The Sacramento Bee. “Our main concern is that the people of California are safe, and one way to assist in accomplishing that mission is to make sure California drivers are tested, trained and insured.”

The new law requires the state to provide driver’s licenses to applicants, regardless of whether they can prove their presence in the U.S. is federally authorized, and requires applicants to provide satisfactory proof of their identity and California residency.

This is the tenth state to legalize driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. But the landmark move is especially powerful in California, said to be home to the nation’s largest population of undocumented immigrants.

A spike in DMV appointments suggests strong demand for licenses. Since Nov. 12, when undocumented immigrants were first able to schedule license appointments, nearly 400,000 people have signed up, double the number during the same period in 2013, a DMV spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times.

To prepare for the influx, the department has opened four additional locations, hired 900 new staffers and has been budgeted an extra $141 million to handle the estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants who will apply for licenses over the next three years, the newspaper reported.

While the Sacramento Bee reports California Assemblyman Luis Alejo authored a second bill ensuring the DMV wouldn't share information with other agencies, Rodney said some immigrants still have concerns that obtaining a license may make them a target for immigration officials.

"Given the Obama administration's painful deportation record, there are definitely concerns in immigrant communities about this," Alejo told HuffPost. "While California has enacted privacy and confidentiality protections on its end, license-holders' information will go into a database along with all other license holders. ... We are continuing to urge the federal government to commit to respecting the privacy and confidentiality of all applicants."

Some Internet Activists Say Obama Didn't Go Far Enough

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 20:48
When Barack Obama came out publicly for the reclassification of the Internet as a public utility, his announcement indicated that the decades-long battle to maintain neutrality on the Web had entered a new high-profile stage.

From a wonky side discussion found mostly in the technology sections of major newspapers and on computer blogs, net neutrality had suddenly morphed into a national obsession, filling up late-night TV and social-media feeds with one meme after another and finally crashing the FCC's website with 4 million public comments.

The deliberations of agency chair Tom Wheeler, a former cable and wireless lobbyist appointed by a Democratic president, became a public drama, as one half-baked compromise proposal after another bit the dust in the face of public outrage.

As the battle heats up again, some Internet activists are saying net neutrality is important but isn't the only game in town. They say the intensity of the fight over net neutrality has diverted attention from other steps that can be taken to keep the Internet consumer-focused and equally accessible to all, instead of a prioritized toll road that not everyone can afford to drive on. Particularly, they point to the idea of structural separation.

So what is structural separation?

David Isenberg, a technology expert and a fellow at the Institute for Global Communications, says:

Structural separation means that providers of an Internet connection can't have a financial interest in what's carried on that connection. This ensures that when the Internet connection provider does network management, it's not motivated to discriminate in favor of one content or service provider at the expense of another. Enforcement of neutrality is easy when there's a bright line between conduit and content.

Such a policy, had it been in place, might have stopped the Comcast/NBC-Universal merger dead in its tracks, as vertical integration of content carriers and content providers would have been forbidden.

Though a consistent element in conversations abroad, the subject has been largely off the table domestically since the last time something like it occurred, the 1984 breakup of AT&T. In the ensuing period of time, voluntary structural separation occurred or is in process in Australia and New Zealand and was forcibly applied in 2007-08 in Mongolia.

Considering the obvious benefits of the 1984 antitrust action against AT&T, it is a bit of mystery why it isn't a part of today's conversation about paid prioritization on the Web. With their ownership separate from AT&T, the Baby Bells no longer had an incentive to favor AT&T over long-distance competitors. All long-distance competitors obtained access to local telecommunications services on similar, nondiscriminatory terms.

The 1984 version of paid prioritization in telecom. Stopped.

Sounds good, right?

Could something like that work on the 21st-century Internet? Can we even talk about it?

Isenberg adds:

The enemies of net neutrality describe Title 2 as "the nuclear option," but it is actually a moderate compromise. Structural separation would be better way to get net neutrality than Title 2. It would be simpler, more effective and easy to enforce. But it would mean that Internet access providers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable would need to spin off some major business assets. Title 2 is like medicine. Structural separation is like surgery. The disease we need to cure is Internet discrimination. If medicine won't cure it, maybe surgery will.

It's not unusual for Beltway conversations about economic policy to restrict the scope of the conversation to just a few middle-of-the-road options.

It's also not unusual for options that are on the table in countries across the world to be dismissed as lunatic socialist fringe here at home.

But if the telecoms think reclassification into Title II is "too harsh a tool" to rein in unreasonable network practices and the threat of slow lanes on the Internet for everyone without big bucks in their pockets, they may not be seeing the whole picture.

Kevin Yoder MIA After Tucking Wall Street Bailout Into Government Spending Bill

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 20:45
WASHINGTON -- For all the anger among progressives about a Wall Street bailout provision that made its way into the just-passed $1.1 trillion government spending bill, there's been little attention on the person who put it in there.

Meet Congressman Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas).

Yoder, a second-term congressman whose largest contributors are in the finance industry, introduced the provision last summer. It was literally written by Citigroup executives, but Yoder took their language and rolled it into an amendment to a spending bill in a House subcommittee meeting. It got swept into the year-end spending package because it "was within the scope of negotiations" on it, according to an Appropriations Committee aide.

The provision, which prompted a fiery speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), undoes a rule that prevents big banks from relying on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to bail them out if things go sour when they trade risky assets. The rule was put into place as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, which overhauled the financial regulatory system after the 2007-2008 financial crisis stemming from banks making extremely risky bets and losing. The government had to bail them out with taxpayer money, and Yoder's provision paves the way for another possible bailout.

Yoder has been mum about the spending package since it passed the House. His office hasn't responded to multiple requests for comment on why he slipped the Citigroup language into it. The press statements on his website say nothing about the provision or the spending bill. There are no posts about it on his Facebook page. He's said nothing in his Twitter feed.

But a look at the comments on Yoder's Facebook page shows that some people, including Kansas voters, are catching on that he was the one behind the Wall Street provision. And they're not happy.

"I have always voted for you, Congressman Yoder, but I am disappointed with your yes vote on the Omnibus bill and we, your constituents, deserve an explanation as to why," writes Dianne Lavenburg, who lives in DeSoto, Kansas. "[P]lease clarify your involvement regarding the taxpayer bailouts for risky bank investments also included in the Omnibus bill."

"How much did Citi donate in exchange for you inserting their requested verbiage?" asks Kevin West, who studies at Kansas State University.

"Why is there a Wall Street giveaway in the Continuing Resolution? Did you learn nothing during the last cycle of collapse and bailouts? Plain ignorance, or willful ignorance?" says Rich Reavis, who plays in a band called Rail Dog that performs around Kansas. "Did you speak out against putting that crap in the CR?"

Scott Gregory of Roeland Park, Kansas, which falls in Yoder's district, says, "I'm sure the good folks of the 3rd District were just beating down the door to get CITI favored treatment. You are a sell-out to Wall Street lobbyists."

Citibank maintains the rule change is good for everyone. Asked for comment on the provision being included in a must-pass bill, a company spokeswoman pointed HuffPost to a recent blog post by Ed Skyler, executive vice president for global public affairs, outlining why banks back the provision being repealed.

"Citi is strongly committed to the safety and soundness of the financial system. We also support a regulatory framework in which U.S. companies can be as competitive as possible," Skyler writes. "This correction to the 'swaps push-out' provision supports both goals."

COP20: Rounding the Turn on the Road to Paris

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 20:20
COP20, the United Nations climate conference held here in Lima, Peru, was dramatically unlike its predecessors. It opened amid confidence that progress toward a major new agreement in Paris next year would continue -- and closed with a weak but formally adequate agreement that keeps the process rolling. Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, was uncharacteristically beaming. While the formal negotiating sessions rehashed old, tired arguments, mayors, business leaders and civil society rolled up their shirtsleeves and moved forward. Some dared suggest that the formal negotiations might not be the most important thing happening here.

This was first climate summit of the post-Kyoto Protocol world; a new and genuine, if inadequate, global climate architecture has been teed up for next year in Paris. But whether Paris serves as the foundation for steadily more ambitious climate progress or is the marker of the reality that that world will not break the back of fossil-fuel dominance, whatever the costs and however great the opportunities, is going to be determined by how the world community and the climate movement react to five new realities:

  1. The Kyoto-era distinction between rich Annex 1 and poor Annex 2 countries no longer dominates. The bilateral U.S.-China announcement of carbon-reduction commitments, and the subsequent U.S.-India-China agreement to eliminate HFCs as a climate threat, shattered -- correctly -- the Kyoto-era presumption that the climate crisis could be solved with the initial participation of only historically important carbon-emitting nations.

  2. A fossil-fuel-based economy and a low-carbon economy are now equally plausible development models, with a clean economy the better long-term bet. Globally, the costs of renewable energy have plummeted. Turkey would pay no more for renewables than for coal electrons. Solar power in India costs less than imported coal. More-efficient cars and trucks helped drop the price of oil from $100 per barrel to $60 per barrel. Wind and solar power plants are hugely less risky and volatile than coal. Driving on electrons, not gasoline, will cost less for the rest of this century.

  3. New players will dominate climate policy. Increasingly assertive businesses and cities across the globe are forcing their way into the conversation. They see climate as an opportunity and want their share of the new pie.

  4. The conflict between rich and poor countries has shifted from the feared costs of clean energy -- a fading issue -- to questions of who pays for the climate disruption that's already occurring. That question -- who will pay this bill -- was the real conflict in the negotiating halls, but the world is about to find out that shifting to clean energy can also finance the losses and damages that 20 years of deadlock have left us to manage. (See below.)

  5. The accelerating (if temporary) collapse in the global price of coal and oil creates a powerful crosscurrent. If countries are once again lulled into shifting their focus off speeding up the clean-energy transition away from coal and oil, on the belief that coal and oil monopolies have now found the key to providing cheap fuel for sustained global development, the climate, security and economic price will be staggering. But if we realize that now is the time to double down on our investments in clean energy, the climate and development benefits will be exhilarating.

We're not home free yet. Abraham Lincoln cautioned against "changing horses in mid-stream." But I pointed out to the World Climate Summit that solving the climate crisis depends on precisely such a shift: from an old, exhausted carbon economy to a new, dynamic clean-energy future.

The most critical feature of next year's Paris agreement will be the short-term, pre-2020 clean-energy initiatives that nations, cities and businesses bring to the table, not the longer-term (and inevitably inadequate) national emission pledges that get most of the attention. What we do long-term will be determined not by national promises but by our collective actions before 2020.

We can afford boldness. For the next several years energy importers will harvest a staggering $1.1-trillion annual windfall -- the difference between imported oil at $110 per barrel and $70 per barrel. Much will flow to the U.S. and Europe, giving us the revenues to pay our accumulated climate debt. But regardless of what we do with our share of the dividend, other major beneficiaries of that windfall include poor oil importers like India, Kenya, Pakistan, China and the Philippines. India's share alone equals 2.4 percent of its GDP.

At the same time, collapsing fossil-fuel prices will scare off investors. Hundreds of billions of dollars that would have been invested in seeking new oil, gas and coal fields will be freed up. The temporarily oversupplied oil market is already stranding overpriced oil projects in places like the Caspian and Alberta's tar sands.

This price slump is temporary. But we can make it permanent. The biggest factor in the price collapse is not 3.5 million barrels a day of U.S. shale oil but 7 million barrels a day in lowered global demand. About half that reduction is competition from biofuels, more-efficient vehicles and reduced reliance on driving. (Slow economic growth drained another 3.5 million barrels a day from demand.)

Monopoly enabled producers to charge exorbitant prices. Clean energy is creating competition. More competition -- greater clean-transportation market share -- could keep oil and coal prices affordable while we phase fossil fuels down through 2050 -- but only if we foster it in the face of cheaper gasoline.

The danger is that we -- and our leaders --- will look at cheaper oil and coal and say, "We can relax and build markets for low-carbon energy later." If we do, oil will hit $140 in a few years, and this moment of affordable energy, potential prosperity and climate hope will be only a squandered memory.

Let's switch horses before the old one we have been riding founders.

A veteran leader in the environmental movement, Carl Pope spent the last 18 years of his career at the Sierra Club as CEO and Chairman. He's now the principal advisor at Inside Straight Strategies, looking for the underlying economics that link sustainability and economic development. Mr. Pope is co-author -- along with Paul Rauber --of Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress, which The New York Review of Books called "a splendidly fierce book."

With Just 40 Gun Murders In Australia In 2012, Sydney Hostage Crisis Looms Large

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 20:13
Australia was rocked by a rare episode of gun violence on Tuesday, when a tense hostage siege in Sydney came to an end after police pushed into a downtown cafe and exchanged gunfire with the suspect. The gunman, reportedly armed with a pump-action shotgun, was killed by police, who entered the store after gunfire was heard inside. Two hostages also died, though it was unclear whether they were killed by the hostage-taker or by police who sought to free them.

The battle at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in the heart of Sydney initially looked more complicated than a "damaged goods individual" with a gun, as the gunman's former lawyer recently described him. There were reports of possible explosives, an ominous display of a flag with an inscription of the Islamic declaration of faith, and rumors that the gunman may have ties to other terror suspects.

Some of the early suspicions appear to have been debunked. However, Australia is nevertheless reeling from something the country seldom sees: people killed by guns.

"We have lost some of our own in an attack we never thought we would see here in our own city," New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said at a news conference Tuesday.

In 2012, Australia saw 40 murders by firearm, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This was a five-year high. Australia's gun homicide rate for the year was .20 per 100,000 residents, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC.

Compare that to the United States, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saw 11,622 homicides by firearm in 2012. The U.S. gun homicide rate for the year was 2.2 per 100,000 residents, according to UNODC.

Australia and the U.S. have drastically different relationships with guns and gun control, and Australia has historically had substantially less gun violence. In 1996, a shooting spree claimed 35 lives in Port Arthur, Tasmania, leading to an ambitious package of gun control legislation. It banned all automatic and semi-automatic weapons, imposed strict licensing, background check and waiting-period rules for new purchases, and implemented a massive gun buyback program.

There hasn't been another mass shooting since. The number of homicides by firearm has fallen over the past 15 years. Still, recent reports suggest gun ownership is becoming more commonplace and the market for illegally imported or stolen weapons is growing, leading to disturbing outbreaks of gun violence -- though not necessarily deaths -- in certain areas.

Tuesday's hostage crisis in Sydney showed the two nations still respond to gun violence quite differently. Before full details of the siege had even been released, Australian politicians were rushing to make statements championing the nation's steadfast resolve in the face of the violence. Media in Australia and around the world blanketed the airwaves with minute-by-minute updates. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott called the ordeal "profoundly shocking." On Tuesday afternoon, flags at government buildings in Australia were flown at half mast and residents lay flowers near the cite of the standoff in a makeshift tribute to the victims.

Meanwhile, more than 9,000 miles away, in the Philadelphia suburbs, a manhunt was ongoing Monday night for a gunman accused of killing six people in a spree of three shootings. The motive appears personal, with authorities saying the suspect is related to all of the victims.

Still, the Pennsylvania violence has so far played out without much notice from elected officials or international media. Perhaps that's not surprising. If U.S. leaders and the world turned their attention to American gun violence every time people were shot to death, there would be little time to focus on much else.

Jeb Bush's Pros and Cons

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 20:10

The 2014 midterms are over. The lame-duck Congress is wrapping things up and preparing to flee Washington. The holiday season is in the air. So, naturally, it is now time to turn our attention to the 2016 presidential contest.

I know, I know: It's still way too early for this stuff. We have over a year before the first primary will be held, and then almost another full year until the general election happens. Nonetheless, over the weekend a flurry of speculation broke out over Jeb Bush's possible candidacy. Bush made some moves that strongly indicate that he may indeed become the third Bush to make a run for the presidency.

If Jeb does run, he may face Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side. Now, a "Clinton vs. Bush" contest doesn't exactly thrill many people who are looking for perhaps a little more variety (and a little less dynasty) in our presidential choices, but it is indeed worth contemplating at this point, at least if Jeb is serious about running.

Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are both somewhat tame and moderate politicians, driven more by political consultants and polls than by any burning personal ideology. Both are familiar with the concept of "triangulation" in politics. To put this another way, we might wind up with a 2016 race of "the bland leading the bland." Still, it's hard to see either one of them not instantly becoming the frontrunner in their respective party's field on name recognition alone. How good a candidate will either prove to be, though? It's worth taking a look at the pros and cons each will bring to the race, in an early look at what their campaigns will likely have to overcome. Today I'll be weighing Bush's pros and cons, and later in the week I'll do the same for Hillary Clinton.

Jeb Bush's Positives

The biggest positive Bush will bring to the table is a whole lot of money. The big Republican donors have made no secret of the fact that they're looking for a reasonable candidate and not a firebrand. The "electability factor" drives much of this money. (Who wants to bet millions on a losing candidate?) Bush could lock up the biggest donors fairly early and squeeze out any other moderates (from the establishment wing of the Republican Party) from even deciding to run.

The biggest positive Bush has as a Republican candidate is his family. No, not his father or his brother or even his mother but his more immediate family. Bush's voice within the Republican Party on the subject of immigration is pretty unique, because he married a Mexican woman (the mother of his three children) and speaks fluent Spanish. That right there could earn him millions of votes that other Republicans could never even hope to get. There are two prominent Latino Republicans who will also likely run, but both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz aren't exactly seen as prominent voices for the Latino community. Both Rubio and Cruz are of Cuban descent, which (because of Cubans' unique and favored immigration status) doesn't carry a whole lot of weight with Latinos outside Florida. This is before even touching upon their political positions. Bush actually lives up to his father's concept of "compassionate conservatism" when it comes to immigration (he married a foreigner who became an immigrant, so this is no surprise), while Cruz and Rubio are fighting to stake out the harshest possible position on the issue. Rubio tried being somewhat reasonable on immigration in the Senate, but when he heard the outcry from the base, he quickly denounced his own immigration bill and decided to take a more absolutist position. To put it another way, Cruz and Rubio aren't going to manage much in the way of Latino outreach in 2016, but Jeb Bush certainly could.

Bush presents himself as more of a "sunny optimist" than many Republicans these days. While the memory of Ronald Reagan has reached epic proportions among today's Republican Party, what most of them ignore in their sanctification of Reagan is how cheerful he always appeared. It's pretty hard to see many of the other possible 2016 Republican candidates as "cheerful" (with the possible exception of Mike Huckabee, who can indeed be cheerful when he tries). Bush might be able to offer voters a much more positive version of conservatism than other possible Republican candidates, most of whom appear downright angry, to one degree or another.

The final big positive in Jeb's column is where he hails from. Jeb was the governor of Florida, a state that will be absolutely crucial to any Republican's chance of winning the general election. Barack Obama won Florida twice and would have won the presidency even if Florida had gone Republican. On the Republican side, however, it is almost impossible to reasonably put together 270 votes in the Electoral College without Florida's 29 electors. Republicans may have more than one make-or-break state in 2016, but Florida will likely be the biggest. Bush would have a clear and obvious advantage in the Sunshine State, one only Marco Rubio could also possibly claim. Indeed, this may be Jeb's most convincing selling point to Republican voters at large.

Jeb Bush's Negatives

Bush is already aware of the tightrope he's going to have to attempt to walk if he seeks the Republican nomination. He was recently quoted saying that a winning Republican candidate would have to be willing to "lose the primary to win the general election." To some this seemed ridiculous (because how can a candidate even make it to the general if he loses all the primaries?). Many in the media reported it as Bush saying a candidate would "need" to lose the primaries, but what he accurately said was that a candidate would have to be willing to lose a primary to win the general election. That's a nuance that makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Republican candidates, to paraphrase Jeb, have to be willing to take stances that not every primary base will agree with, rather than pandering to the most rabid primary voters everywhere. To use another political metaphor, Bush is saying he won't be tacking too far to the right in the primaries, so that he won't have to tack too far back to the center in the general.

What he's really doing is preparing the ground for the expected backlash against his compassionate position on immigration. He cannot suddenly renounce his wife, after all. He cannot even attempt to outflank people like Ted Cruz on the right on immigration. Because he knows this, he's most likely softening people up now for how he's going to run. And immigration is not even the only issue where Bush has a stance that is not going to be appreciated by the far right. He's said nice things about undocumented immigrants, and he's also a fan of federal testing standards for education, for example, which is not very popular among the Republican base. So he's going to have to stand on a debate stage at some point and defend several positions against attacks from pretty much all the other Republican candidates. He'll be running on his authenticity instead: "This is my position, I think it's right, and I'm not going to change it to pander to the voters of Iowa (or any other state)." But if he does lose primary after primary as a result of these stances' unpopularity with the base, then he'll never make it to the general election.

Jeb faces a further problem with the base, because whether he uses the word or not, a large part of his candidacy is going to be based upon his electability. In early polling he is the only Republican -- out of a very wide field -- who would have any real chance against Hillary Clinton in the general election. This could always change, but it will be Bush's strongest argument: "Nominate me and have a chance at the Oval Office, or nominate some purist who will lose spectacularly." The only problem with this argument is its history within the Republican Party. Mitt Romney was supposed to be the electable one, and, to a certain degree, the same charge could be made against John McCain. The base is fed up with what they perceive as candidates who are insufficiently conservative, because they've been burned by that argument at least twice before. (Some even go back as far as Bob Dole on that list). Primary voters may be more inclined to elect a fire-breathing candidate this time around, even if he goes down in a Goldwateresque defeat in the general election. Maybe not, though; the tea party's rage seems to have died down somewhat, so it's impossible to tell at this point.

One minor negative for Bush is that he's been out of politics for quite a while. He hasn't been a candidate since 2002, and the Republican Party (especially the Republican Party outside Florida) has shifted considerably rightward since then. It remains to be seen whether he'll be rusty as a candidate, but he'll likely have enough money to see him through any early stumbles, so this probably won't be an issue by the time the primary season really heats up.

Jeb's biggest negative, however, is something it would be impossible for him to change: his last name. The country doesn't exactly have fond memories of either his father's presidency or his brother's. I seriously doubt you'd see George W. Bush stumping for his brother out on the hustings, to put this another way. Call it "Bush fatigue." Throughout the whole election many will be asking, "Isn't there another family out there worth electing?" But, like I said, there's nothing Jeb can do about this factor. He might already have to legally change his name to appear on the ballot as "Jeb Bush" (his full name is actually John Ellis Bush; "Jeb" is a nickname taken from his initials, not his first name), but I can't really see him changing his last name at the same time.

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Economic Policy Myths of 2014: Dead and Enduring

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 20:07
With the holiday season upon us, the time for end-of-year lists is fast approaching. To beat the rush, today I give my list of the top dead and enduring myths of 2014.

The good news is that two myths that caused great confusion over the last several years are now headed to the trash bin of history. While many prominent pundits may still repeat them to demonstrate that prominent pundits really don't have to care about reality, everyone in the reality-based community now knows them to be nonsense.

The first is the myth of the young invincibles and Obamacare. The story was that the success of Obamacare depended on getting healthy young people to sign up. Supposedly we needed the healthy young'uns to subsidize the rest of the population.

This led to endless stories about whether young people were signing up for insurance. The Obama administration made special outreach efforts to the young. In an effort to undermine the program, the right-wing group Freedom Works even sponsored Obamacare-card-burning rallies (there are no Obamacare cards, so they had to create them) in order to discourage young people from getting insurance.

The problem with the story is that we really didn't need the subsidy from healthy young people to make the program work. While healthy young people subsidize less-healthy people in the program, healthy older people subsidize them even more. The ratio of premiums of the people in the oldest age group (55 to 64) to premiums of the youngest is roughly 3 to 1. And plenty of older people, just like younger people, are in good health and have low medical bills.

This means that if the age distribution of the enrollees skewed toward older people, it really didn't matter much, as the Kaiser Family Foundation showed in a short study. It makes a much bigger difference if there is a skewing toward people in bad health.

The other big myth that got killed in 2014 was that we needed to fear deflation. This was not only silly -- sorry, folks, but there is no magic to crossing zero -- but it had important policy implications. The deflation-scare story implied that as long as inflation was positive, we didn't have to worry.

In fact, the problem of low inflation makes it difficult to boost the economy through monetary policy, since central banks can't have negative nominal interest rates. It also makes it harder for real wages to adjust, since workers rarely get cuts in nominal pay. This is true even at low positive inflation rates. The problem gets worse if the inflation turns negative, but that is because the inflation rate has gotten lower, not because there is any special importance to zero.

Some of us had been trying to make this point since the early days of the downturn, but the pundits and many economists who should know better kept expressing concerns about deflation. The good news in 2014 was that the IMF weighed in to point out that the problem is "lowflation," an inflation rate that is too low.

So now it is official. We all should be very worried about the low inflation rates in the Eurozone, Japan, the United States, and elsewhere. If the inflation rate falls further, that is worse news, but things don't just become bad when the inflation rate turns negative.

Unfortunately, many of our great national myths have survived 2014. We still have the story that the financial crisis, as opposed to the collapse of the housing bubble, caused the Great Recession. The point here should be straightforward. The financial sector is working again, but we are still far from having recovered. That's because we have nothing to replace the demand that had been generated by the housing bubble.

This matters both to understanding policy going forward and to assigning blame. Financial crises can get complicated. The housing bubble was pretty damn simple, and almost all our economists blew it.

Along the same lines, we continue to see the "second Great Depression" myth. This is very important for those in policy positions, because it allows them to say that no matter how bad things are, at least we avoided a second Great Depression.

Sorry, folks, but we know how to get out of a depression. It's called spending money. Even if the dominoes had been allowed to fall and all the Wall Street banks had collapsed, we still could have picked up the pieces and avoided a depression. And we would be freed of the albatross of a bloated financial sector.

Then we have the twin myths of the mystery of a weak recovery and slow wage growth. Every week or two we will get an in-depth story in a major news outlet asking why we still haven't recovered from the downturn or why wages aren't growing.

This one goes right back to the collapsed housing bubble. We need some source of demand to replace the $1 trillion or so in construction and consumption demand that we lost when the $8-trillion bubble burst.

Demand doesn't come from heaven. It comes from consumption, investment, government spending, or net exports. No one has a story as to why we should expect any of these components of demand to be higher than they currently are. Thus the only mystery is why anyone thinks there is a mystery.

And the story with wage growth is equally unmysterious. Wages will start growing when the labor market gets an awful lot tighter than it is now, given that we are still close to 7 million jobs below trend.

We should be glad that we put to death two very silly myths about the economy and economic policy in 2014. Let's see if we can kill these other four fantasies in 2015.

Terry Branstad Wants To Get Rid Of The Iowa Straw Poll

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 19:43
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is pushing to end the state's Republican straw poll, but the state party chairman says the event may still go on next year.

Branstad said Monday that the poll — traditionally held in Ames the summer before a contested presidential caucus — is a turnoff for many candidates and could diminish the power of the state's caucuses. "I believe that a number of candidates have chosen not to participate because they don't think it's necessarily representative," Branstad said. "The most important thing is to keep the Iowa precinct caucuses first in the nation and the first real test of strength of candidates."

But State Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said he thinks there's interest in continuing the tradition, provided it's permissible under Republican National Committee rules.

First held in 1979, the Iowa straw poll has grown from a county GOP fundraiser stop to a large event on the Iowa State University campus, where candidates spend heavily to entertain and bus in supporters. The poll, which draws a small percentage of would-be caucus attendees, is one early test of campaign organization.

The Republican Party of Iowa runs the poll. Kaufmann said the State Central Committee, which governs the party, will meet next month and he expects a vote on whether to hold a straw poll.

Kaufmann has sought a written opinion from the RNC in response to concerns that Iowa could jeopardize early voting status by holding a voting event before the caucuses.

"If we did not have this RNC issue, I have a strong hunch that the current State Central Committee is in favor of a straw poll," Kaufmann said.

The RNC is reviewing the issue, spokesman Michael Short said in a statement.

In 2011, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann won the straw poll and eventual GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney chose not to participate. About 17,000 turned out for that poll, far less than the roughly 120,000 who voted in the January 2012 caucus.

"My view is that the straw poll had its time and its purpose, but again it really doesn't provide a cross sample of primary voters in Iowa," said GOP strategist Phil Musser. "I suspect many candidates in 2016 will make the choice Romney made in 2012."

Musser served as an adviser to former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out of the 2012 race after a third-place finish in the poll.

Guantanamo Hearing For Alleged 9/11 Mastermind Canceled After Release Of Torture Report

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 19:39

(Adds quotes, details, byline)

By Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON, Dec 15 (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Monday canceled a pretrial hearing for the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, an al Qaeda figure prominently mentioned in last week's Senate report on the CIA's harsh Bush-era interrogation program for terrorism suspects.

The military commission at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was supposed to discuss allegations the FBI tried to infiltrate legal defense teams, according to the court's docket.

No reason was given for canceling the hearing for Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who according to the Senate Intelligence Committee's report was subjected repeatedly by his U.S. interrogators to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.

But attorneys representing Guantanamo prisoners say evidence of torture mentioned in the Senate report means prosecuting suspected terrorists has suddenly become more difficult.

"The most significant revelation from the Senate report is the conclusion based on entries into the CIA record that many of the statements the CIA made are simply lies," said Jim Cohen, an attorney representing two Guantanamo detainees.

"That is going to be hard to resist by fact-finders in connection with the Guantanamo prosecutions," Cohen said.

CIA evidence that is potentially important to the prosecution could be thrown out, he added.

Defense lawyers raised issues of mistreatment of prisoners in previous Guantanamo hearings but the judges presiding over the hearings largely ignored them, saying they were irrelevant to the guilt or innocence of the defendants.

"If the prosecution tries to use evidence of statements that were gained through torture, then torture is relevant," said Martha Rayner, a law professor and attorney for Guantanamo detainee Sanad Al-Kazimi.

Lawyers for Mohammed and four other suspects had wanted this week's hearing to go forward so that Judge James Pohl, an Army colonel, could determine the extent of FBI contact with defense team members.

Pohl had ruled in July that no conflict of interest arose for defense attorneys from the FBI approaching a security officer for a defense team.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone, Bill Trott and Tom Brown)

Republicans Are Mad At Ted Cruz For Doing Democrats A Big Favor

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 19:38
WASHINGTON (AP) — Unhappy Republicans say Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has given President Barack Obama a present this holiday season — a gift certificate good for confirmation of 12 judicial appointments, not long after the voters had delivered the Democrats a lump of coal in midterm elections.

Cruz, a tea party favorite and potential 2016 presidential contender, disputed the claim through his spokesman on Monday. But there was no dissent that Democrats, who must turn over power to Republicans in January, were in position to confirm not only the judges, but 11 other appointees before the Senate wraps up work for the year.

Among them are nominees that Republicans have sought to block for two relatively high-profile posts. They are Vivek Murthy, confirmed late in the day as surgeon general, and Sarah Saldana to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that will oversee the new administration policy on immigration that Cruz wants to defund.

At the root of the dispute lay a combination of the Senate's all-but-indecipherable rules, Cruz's attempt to use their murky corners to his advantage, and a bipartisan desire of many lawmakers to finish work for the year and return home for the holidays.

"My concern about the strategy he employed is that it has a result he didn't intend," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said of Cruz' maneuverings on Friday night, when he sought to force a vote on Obama's immigration policy. Among the consequences, she said, would be confirmation of a number of appointees who are controversial, including some to "lifetime judicial" posts.

Some officials said Cruz was personally informed by GOP aides that Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid was primed to take advantage if he went ahead.

Under the Senate's rules, Cruz's maneuver allowed Reid to begin the time-consuming process of confirming nominations on Saturday at noon — when lawmakers had been scheduled to be home for the weekend.

Had Cruz not made his move when he did, according to officials in both parties, Reid would have had to wait until Monday night — more than 48 hours later. Disgruntled Republicans said they felt confident that Reid's rank and file would not have been willing to remain in Washington in that case, and only four or five nominees would be confirmed instead of 23.

Other Republican lawmakers were far more forceful than Collins in their judgment of Cruz on Monday. They declined to speak on the record, possibly feeling they had already done so enough during the unplanned, 12-hour Senate session on Saturday.

"You should have an end goal in sight if you're going to do these types of things, and I don't see an end goal other than irritating a lot of people," Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said then.

Particularly galling to one Republican was that Reid was now in position to win confirmation even for judicial nominees who had been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee since the midterm elections in which Democrats lost power. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Saturday evening that was a violation of precedent "and of course, I object."

Others said Cruz' maneuvering was reminiscent of his role in a showdown two years ago that led to a partial government shutdown that most Republicans warned him would be a mistake.

Cruz's stated goal this time was to force a vote on Obama's new immigration policy, which is removing the threat of deportation for an estimated 5 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

He made his move Friday evening, after senators already had been informed they were free to go until Monday without fear of missing any votes. In response to Cruz, Reid ordered a Saturday session. Some senators who had left for home drove back hastily to avoid black marks on their voting records.

Far more important, in the minds of Republicans, was that Reid responded by launching an immediate effort to confirm the judicial and agency appointees, some of them long stalled. One of them, Christopher Smith, has been awaiting Senate confirmation to an Energy Department post since January.

Cruz's office swiftly disputed the claim. "Everyone knows Harry Reid planned to jam forward as many nominees as he could," Phil Novack, a spokesman for Cruz, said by email. "Unfortunately, there are many on both sides of the aisle who would rather stoke stories about Ted Cruz to distract from the more important debate over the President's unilateral action to grant amnesty."

It wasn't the only surprise Cruz delivered to incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In remarks on the Senate floor, he suggested the Republican leader and House Speaker John Boehner might not be entirely trustworthy when they promised to force a showdown with Obama over immigration early in the new year.

"We will learn soon enough if those statements are genuine and sincere. We will learn in just a few weeks," he said.

McConnell has yet to respond.

9 Absurd Justifications For Police Killings Of Unarmed Black Males

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-12-15 19:37

In recent weeks, protests have spread across America in response to multiple grand juries declining to indict police officers responsible for the deaths of unarmed black men. Those decisions have led to an outpouring of grief, anger and anxiety over a criminal justice system that seems to operate with little accountability, especially where the deaths of people of color are concerned.

It's not clear exactly why grand juries rarely choose to indict police officers involved in the deaths of unarmed black men. But we do hear the excuses made on their behalf.

Here are some of the explanations and justifications we've been offered:

1. Health complications.

Eric Garner's July 17 death at the hands of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo was captured on film and circulated on the Internet. Garner's last words, "I can't breathe," later became a rallying cry during demonstrations made in his name. Pantaleo, who placed Garner in a chokehold prohibited by the police department, was not indicted for the death. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said shortly after the grand jury's decision that Garner would have survived the fatal chokehold had he not been "obese."

2. Standing in a stairwell.

Akai Gurley, 28, was fatally shot by NYPD Officer Peter Liang in the Louis Pink housing projects in Brooklyn last month. New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton defended the shooting as an "accidental discharge" in a "dark" stairwell by a cop who had been on the force less than 18 months.

3. Resembling someone's idea of a "thug."

In August, 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson, Missouri, by Officer Darren Wilson following a daytime altercation in the street. During a recent segment on NewsMaxTV, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee insisted that Brown would still be alive "if he behaved like something other than a thug," an apparent reference to disputed witness testimony that Brown was reaching for Wilson's gun before he was shot. (Most of the witnesses who testified before the grand jury said that Brown had his hands raised when he was killed.)

4. Wearing a sweatshirt.

Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teen whose death in February 2012 led to protests across America, was blamed for his own death for wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Trayvon, 17, was gunned down by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer. Shortly after Trayvon was killed, Fox News host Geraldo Rivera said, "I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was." (Zimmerman, it should be noted, was a civilian neighborhood watch officer, not a policeman.)

5. Being the child of someone with a troubled past.

Tamir Rice, 12, was gunned down by Cleveland police while holding a toy gun at a public park last month. The Northeast Ohio Media Group then ran a story about Tamir's father, Leonard Warner, and Warner's history of domestic violence -- because, author Brandon Blackwell explained, "people from across the region have been asking whether Rice grew up around violence."

Warner was not present when Tamir was killed. Blackwell's story on Warner offered no background information on Officer Timothy Loehmann, who was deemed unfit for policing two years before he shot Tamir.

6. Taking your medication.

A Phoenix police officer fatally shot 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon earlier this month after mistaking a pill bottle in Brisbon's pocket for the handle of a gun.

7. Asking for help after being in a car accident.

Jonathan Ferrell, 24, was shot in Charlotte, North Carolina, in September after surviving a car accident. Ferrell crawled through a window of his car and began banging on the door of a nearby home to get attention. When officers arrived at the scene in response to the homeowner's report of an attempted break-in, they shot Ferrell 10 times as he approached them with empty hands.

8. (Possibly) dressing up as a character from a TV series.

This is what Hunt was wearing when he was killed. Compare to the character from Samurai Champloo. Was he cosplaying? pic.twitter.com/TlFS49OTYJ

— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) September 15, 2014

Darrien Hunt, 22, was fatally shot in September when Utah officers responded to a call of someone walking around with a "samurai-type sword." Cops said that Hunt lunged at them with the toy sword, but witnesses claimed to have seen him running from the officers, and an independent autopsy showed that Hunt was shot in the back.

9. Complying with a police officer's command, immediately.

Levar Edward Jones was shot by South Carolina trooper Sean Groubert in September. As Jones stood next to the open door of his vehicle, Groubert asked him to retrieve his wallet. Jones reached into his car to do so. Groubert then demanded that Jones get out of the car, and opened fire as Jones complied. Jones asked: "Sir, why was I shot? All I did was reach for my license." Groubert responded: "Well, you dove headfirst back into your car."

Unlike the other black men and boys on this list, Jones survived his encounter with the police -- which was lucky, because more often than not, cops shoot to kill.

New app measures and rewards your transportation CO2 fitness

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Mon, 2014-12-15 13:56
This sustainable mobility app tracks your transport CO2 emissions and helps you balance your travel footprint, using a virtual green currency.

Rooftop solar could be just a spray away

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Mon, 2014-12-15 07:00
A new cheaper and simpler technique for spraying on solar cells could mean solar roofs for everyone.