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Image: Obama And Romney Spar In Final Debate Before Presidential Election

McCain blasts new Cuba policy as illegal

12/22/14 09:50AM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made the latest in a series of Sunday show appearances yesterday, and CNN's Candy Crowley noted that he seems to agree with President Obama about closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. "How can you help this president close Guantanamo Bay?" the host asked.
 
Listening to McCain's response, he may have misunderstood the question.
"Well, first of all, the president continues to violate the law. He did in the Bergdahl case, which required notification of Congress. He just did on Cuba, that he continues to act in the most imperial fashion. And this was the president who ran on an open and transparent presidency. It's very disappointing."
I listened to this a few times, trying make heads or tails of it, but it's just bizarre.
 
Even the most irate critics of the White House's new Cuba policy haven't accused the president of "violating the law." McCain appears to have just made this up in a pique of partisan fury. Indeed, one hopes the senator will talk to his Republican colleagues -- including his own home-state partner, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) -- who've already endorsed Obama's policy. Apparently they haven't heard about its illegality.
 
It's also odd to hear McCain use this as an example of Obama walking away from an "open and transparent presidency." Obviously, sensitive international diplomacy requires a degree of secrecy, but the White House notified Congress of the president's plans, and leading lawmakers knew about the shift in policy before the public.
 
So what in the world is McCain talking about? I think there are two things going on here.
Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, wipes his brow as he speaks during a discussion on the American family and cultural values." at Catholic University on July 23, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Rubio dismisses the power of American engagement

12/22/14 09:10AM

If Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) goal was to position himself as the top critic of President Obama's new policy towards Cuba, he's largely succeeded. The far-right Floridian, after several days of near-constant media interviews, appeared on three Sunday shows yesterday morning. Most of the Republican's arguments were predictable, but there was one comment that seemed especially noteworthy.
 
On ABC, George Stephanopoulos reminded Rubio that the United States already has diplomatic relations "with all kinds of countries that don't meet our democratic standards." So why isolate Cuba? The senator replied:
"That's exactly my point. We have those policies of normalization toward Vietnam, for example, toward China. They're not any more politically free today than they were when that normalization happened. They may have a bigger economy, but their political freedoms, certainly I would not hold up China or Saudi Arabia or Vietnam as examples of political freedom, proving my point -- that engagement by itself does not guarantee or even lead to political freedoms."
When Stephanopoulos asked whether a United States Embassy might "help further that cause of openness," Rubio rejected the idea out of hand.
 
There are a couple of key problems with his take on this. The first is that Rubio's perspective doesn't offer much in the way of direction -- if 54 years of isolation doesn't improve political conditions in Cuba, and the senator is convinced that engagement also won't produce positive results, what exactly is the United States supposed to do to have a positive effect?
 
From Rubio's vantage point, ignoring Cuba hasn't worked and talking to Cuba won't work. That leaves ... well, it's not at all clear what's behind Diplomatic Door #3.
 
The second angle to keep in mind is the degree to which Rubio is rejecting his own party's orthodoxy about the power and influence of American exceptionalism. Indeed, Rubio's own staff has said, in conjunction with the senator's recent trip to China, that United States engagement "is sometimes necessary in helping advance our advocacy on a host of foreign policy issues."
 
It's been a staple of Republican thinking for many years: the more the United States engages with the rest of the world, economically and diplomatically, the greater the degree of American influence. Rubio is so eager to reject engagement with Cuba, he effectively argued yesterday that U.S. influence isn't all it's cracked up to be.
In this photo reviewed by the U.S. Department of Defense, towers overlooking a U.S. detention facility are silhouetted against a morning sunrise at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012.  (AP Photo/Toronto Star, Michelle...

Obama administration advances Guantanamo goal

12/22/14 08:35AM

Towards the end of Candy Crowley's interview with President Obama yesterday, the host asked, simply, "Will Guantanamo Bay prison be closed down by [the] end of next year?" The president didn't offer a yes-or-no answer, but Obama said he continues "to do everything I can to close it."
"It is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values, and it is wildly expensive. We're spending millions for each individual there.
 
"And we have drawn down the population there significantly. There are a little less than 150 individuals left in this facility. We are going to continue to place those who have been cleared for release or transfer to host countries that are willing to take them."
The president's comments about drawing down the population were well timed -- we learned over the weekend of a new round of transfers from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. David Taintor reported Saturday:
Four Afghan detainees were transferred from the prison at Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of Defense said Saturday, the first transfer of prisoners to the Middle Eastern country since 2009.
 
The prisoners released were Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani and Mohammed Zahir, according to the Pentagon. The Guantanamo Review Task Force reviewed the case and unanimously approved the transfer of the detainees, and Congress was notified of the move. "These guys, at worst, could be described as low level but that's even a stretch," a senior administration official told NBC News.
The accelerated pace is hard not to notice. Adding this weekend's transfers to the tally, there have been 23 prisoners moved from Guantanamo this year, 17 of which have been transferred since early November.
 
A total of 132 prisoners remain, and transfers for 64 of them have already been approved.
Former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani speaks at the Cisco Connect 2013 conference in Warsaw, Poland, November 26, 2013.

The unfortunate rush to politicize the NYPD murders

12/22/14 08:01AM

Saturday's murder of two New York police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, was as brutal as it was heartbreaking. There wasn't even a violent confrontation -- the gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, simply approached the officers' squad car in Brooklyn and opened fire, before fleeing to a nearby subway station and killing himself.
 
We also continue to learn more about the murderer, including his criminal background, the fact that he shot his ex-girlfriend, Shaneka Thompson, on Saturday morning, and his brazen boasts before he targeted two NYPD officers.
 
And while many were still trying to come to terms with such a senseless tragedy, the effort to inject partisan politics into the calamity was almost immediate. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) helped lead the way, appearing on Fox News early yesterday, connecting "four months of propaganda starting with the president" to the slaying.
Giuliani went out of his way to be clear that he's not blaming a handful of bad apples. He thinks the culprits are everyone protesting police misconduct everywhere.
 
"The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, even the ones that don't lead to violence -- a lot of them lead to violence -- all of them lead to a conclusion: The police are bad. The police are racist," said Giuliani. "That is completely wrong. Actually, the people who do the most for the black community in America are the police."
He was hardly alone. Former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), who last week talked up a possible presidential campaign, lashed out at NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Attorney General Eric Holder. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) pointed fingers at Obama, among others.
 
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blamed the shooter, but only after saying Holder and de Blasio use a "tone" that "incites crazy people." Even former Sen. Scott Brown (R), fresh off his latest failed campaign, was quick to point fingers at the Oval Office. "I'm not sure what this country will look like with two more years of divisive rhetoric from the White House," the Republican said, just hours after the slaying.
 
Assorted far-right voices and media outlets spent much of yesterday condemning their perceived foes; many urged the New York mayor to resign as if de Blasio were directly responsible for the violence of a madman.
 
I can appreciate how difficult it is to understand such mindless, cold-blooded violence. It's tempting to find someone else to blame, especially when the gunman himself cannot face justice. But there is no moral justification for using a tragedy like this to score points in a partisan game.

Cops Killed and other headlines

12/22/14 08:00AM

Police hope Maryland shooting victim can provide clues in NY officers' killings. (Baltimore Sun)

Obama outraged over 'senseless murders,' he tells police. (USA Today)

So who is blaming NYC Mayor deBlasio and protesters for the deaths of two NYPD officers? (New York Magazine)

Police officer killed, allegedly by a parole violator, in Florida. (USA Today)

AP sources: Yates tapped for deputy Attorney General. (AP)

"Dreamers" can apply for drivers licenses in Arizona starting today. (Arizona Republic)

Tea partier in Senate braces for primary challenge from the establishment. (Politico)

U.S. sends 4 Afghans back home from Guantanamo. (AP)

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City lights shine brighter during the holidays in the United States when compared with the rest of the year, as shown using a new analysis of daily data from the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite.

Week in Geek: Holiday lights change the view from space

12/21/14 04:17PM

NASA's Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite has been orbiting Earth since October, 2011 collecting remote-sensing and atmospheric data for global climate studies and sending back fascinating images. The satellite is tracking data that includes atmospheric and sea surface temperatures, land and ocean biological productivity,  and cloud and aerosol properties.

Suomi NPP (and other Earth-observing satellites with similar missions) are in sun-synchronous orbits, which allows them to remain in a somewhat fixed position over Earth as seen from the Sun. These orbits are ideal for imaging Earth's surface because they allow for the fraction of Earth in sunlight to be held constant (i.e., full illumination, half illumination, crescent illumination, no illumination). Different angles of sunlight are required depending on what we want to study. An example you are probably already familiar with is the composite image of the Earth at night. In December 2012, Suomi NPP released an updated version of this famous view of our planet at night made with data taken over 22 days. Suomi NPP also released an updated version of the "Blue Marble".

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This Week in God, 12.20.14

12/20/14 09:08AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a closer look at public opinion as it relates to Americans, religion, and acceptance of torture.
 
Back in May 2009, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted surveys and found that the more religious an American is, the more likely he or she is to support torture. More than five years later, not much has changed. Sarah Posner reported this week:
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that Americans, by a 59-31% margin, believe that CIA "treatment of suspected terrorists" in detention was justified. A plurality deemed that "treatment" to be "torture," by a 49-38% margin.
 
Remarkably, the gap between torture supporters and opponents widens between voters who are Christian and those who are not religious.
Right. While many might assume that the faithful would be morally repulsed by torture, the reality is the opposite. When poll respondents were asked, "Do you personally think the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists amounted to torture, or not?" most Americans said the abuses did not constitute torture. But it was non-religious Americans who were easily the most convinced that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" were, in fact, torture.
 
The results in response to this question were even more striking: "All in all, do you think the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists was justified or unjustified?" For most Americans, the answer, even after recent revelations, was yes. For most Christians, it's also yes. But for the non-religious, as the above chart makes clear, the torture was not justified.
 
In fact, looking through the poll's crosstabs, non-religious Americans were one of the few subsets that opposed the torture techniques -- and that includes breakdowns across racial, gender, age, economic, educational, and regional lines. The non-religious are effectively **alone in their opposition to torture.
 
This is, as Posner noted, only one poll, and we'd need more data before drawing sweeping conclusions, but the Post/ABC results are generally consistent with the Pew Research Center data from 2009.
 
And they serve as a pretty interesting starting point for a discussion about faith, morality, the law, and the limits of human decency.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Americans reject intimidation from abroad

Americans reject foreign efforts at intimidation

12/19/14 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow compares the threats and intimidation made against booksellers over Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" and the hacker threats that drove Sony Pictures to cancel the release of a movie about assassinating North Korea's leader. watch

Ahead on the 12/19/14 Maddow show

12/19/14 07:03PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Xeni Jardin, editor and tech culture journalist at BoingBoing.net
  • April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks

Check back soon for a preview of tonight's show

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Friday's Mini-Report, 12.19.14

12/19/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Retaliatory strikes: "Pakistani jets and ground forces killed 77 militants in a northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border, the army said Friday, days after Taliban fighters killed 148 people -- most of them children -- in a school massacre."
 
* It's come to this: "Officials in Moscow confirmed Friday that North Korean despot Kim Jong Un may attend ceremonies next year commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It would be Kim's first public foreign visit since coming to power in December 2011."
 
* ISIS: "Kurdish forces, backed by a surge of American airstrikes in recent days, recaptured a large swath of territory from Islamic State militants on Thursday, opening a path from the autonomous Kurdish region to Mount Sinjar in the west, near the Syrian border."
 
* An important (and familiar) debate in Kenya: "Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has signed into law a controversial security bill which saw MPs trade blows in parliament. It was passed on Thursday during a chaotic parliamentary session, with opposition MPs warning that Kenya was becoming a 'police state." The government has said it needs more powers to fight militant Islamists threatening Kenya's security."
 
* Bergdahl: "The Army has concluded its lengthy investigation into the disappearance of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in eastern Afghanistan and must now decide whether Bergdahl should face criminal charges.... Based on the investigation, the Army must now decide whether Bergdahl should be charged with desertion or a lesser charge of being 'absent without leave,' AWOL."
 
* I know a few folks on the right who won't be pleased: "House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today sent a letter to President Obama formally inviting him to fulfill his duty under the Constitution to report to Congress on the state of the union. A Joint Session of Congress will be held to receive the president's address on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 9:00 pm ET."
 
* According to Gallup, the U.S. Economic Confidence Index has now reached its second-highest point since the start of the recession in 2007.
President Barack Obama responds to a question at his end of the year press conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 19, 2014. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Obama on Sony: 'Yes, I think they made a mistake'

12/19/14 05:00PM

Given the White House's policy ambitions since the midterm elections, there's been ample talk lately about President Obama's newly liberated style. The Beltway expectations may have been that the president would have no choice but to accept a lesser, conciliatory status, but in the wake of Democratic defeats, Obama has adopted an unbowed posture.
 
As it turns out, that's reflected in his rhetorical posture, too. At his year-end press conference, the president seemed about as relaxed and upbeat as I can remember seeing him. Some of the highlights from his unguarded presser:
 
Asked about Sony Entertainment's decision to pull distribution of "The Interview," the president was willing to acknowledge his opinion on the studio's move.
"Sony's a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.
 
"In this interconnected digital world, there are going to be opportunities for attackers to engage in cyber assaults, both in the private sector and the public sector.... We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don't like or news reports that they don't like.
 
"Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don't want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended."
The president added that he's sympathetic to a private company worried about liabilities, but he wishes "they had spoken to me first. I would've told them, 'Do not get into a pattern in which you're intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.'"
 
As for North Korea's responsibility to the cyber-crime, Obama went on to say the United States "will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we'll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose. It's not something that I will announce here today at a press conference."
 
Incidentally, the first question came from Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown, who's soon leaving for Europe. The president acknowledged her looming departure, adding, "I think there's no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico."
 
OK then.

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