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US torture a current matter, not yet history

US torture a current matter, not yet history

12/10/14 11:03PM

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse talks with Rachel Maddow about why he believes the Senate report on Bush-era CIA torture had to be released and what should be done as so much of the report pertains to current policy and personnel.  watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 12.10.14

12/10/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Will the spending bill pass? As the day progressed, assumptions shifted: "A day before funding for the government runs out, opposition on both left and right emerged Wednesday to a bipartisan spending bill to keep the lights on, leaving the legislation's fate uncertain and raising the specter of a government shutdown."
* NDAA: "Retiring Sen. Tom Coburn ... is refusing to allow the Senate to swiftly take up the House-passed defense authorization bill over objections to a lands package that expands resource development in some states and also creates several new national parks."
* Colorado voters may have walked away from Udall, but Udall is not walking away from his principles: "The CIA's torture problem is a long way from being resolved, Sen. Mark Udall said Wednesday in a blistering speech that called the agency to account more directly than any Washington lawmaker so far."
* Weiss appears to be in real trouble: "Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) added his name to the list of senators agreeing with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in opposition to Lazard banker Antonio Weiss for undersecretary of the Treasury for domestic policy."
* Poor oil companies: "Oil greased the way for U.S. stock markets to put in their worst performance in over a month on Wednesday. The Dow industrials shed 1.5 percent, or nearly 270 points, for the index's worst session since Oct. 9. The broader S&P 500 also lost more than 1.5 percent, as did the tech-heavy Nasdaq. They were all dragged lower by plunging oil prices as concerns are growing that supply is far outstripping demand."
* Pensions: "A measure that would for the first time allow the benefits of current retirees to be severely cut is set to be attached to a massive spending bill, part of an effort to save some of the nation's most distressed pension plans."
* Detroit: "This city emerged from court protection on Wednesday, officials here said, bringing a close to the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history after about 17 months. Yet, the end of the bankruptcy also was to be the start of what may be a still more difficult, lengthy test -- of Detroit leaders' ability to chart a new, sustainable course for a city rescued from financial collapse but still struggling."
Peter King

Peter King defends torture as prisoners 'in awkward positions'

12/10/14 04:54PM

Even among House Republicans, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.)' has never exactly been a meek wallflower. But just over the last few months, the New York Republican seems to have taken an alarming turn.
When Americans were concerned about Ebola, King suggested the public should no longer trust public-health officials. When Americans were concerned about ISIS, he made up a story about an attempted 2011 attack that didn't exist. After the Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, King complained that President Obama hadn't shown enough support for Michael Brown's killer. Last week, King blamed Eric Garner's death, not on the chokehold, but on his weight.
And just when it seemed the Republican congressman couldn't possibly make matters any worse, Andrew Kaczynski uncovers KIng's most gut-wrenching comments to date.
Rep. Peter King says the 525-page Senate report on the CIA's interrogation and detention techniques does not detail torture, but instead just procedures which create what King described as "tremendous discomfort."
Speaking with both local radio and NewsMaxTV's America's Forum Wednesday, the New York Republican added it would be a crime if we didn't take these actions and that those who support the release of the Senate's scathing report have an attitude of "hate America first," "self-loathing," and "self-hatred."
In one of the interviews, King said of waterboarding and related abuses, "I don't believe these are torture at all... We're not talking about anyone being burned or stabbed or cut or anything like that. We're talking about people being made to stand in awkward positions, have water put into their nose and into their mouth. Nobody suffered any lasting injuries from this."
I've seen a lot of Republicans this week express support for torture. Pete King's absurdities are arguably the most depressing.
Image: Walker delivers remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland

Scott Walker, lost in translation

12/10/14 01:56PM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), the son of a Baptist preacher, frequently talks about his Christian faith. But his familiarity with other religions, especially in a state in which minority faiths represent a tiny percentage of the population, appears to be rather limited.
Occasionally, that can be a problem.
The Capital Times in Madison reports today, for example, on an unfortunate incident from Walker's tenure in Milwaukee, before he was elected governor.
In an undated letter unearthed by the liberal group One Wisconsin Now during the August release of documents from the first of two John Doe investigations related to the governor, Walker responded to a letter from Milwaukee attorney and chairman of the Wisconsin Center District Franklyn Gimbel.
Walker told Gimbel his office would be happy to display a menorah celebrating "The Eight Days of Chanukah" at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, and asked Gimbel to have a representative from Lubavitch of Wisconsin contact Walker's secretary, Dorothy Moore, to set it up.
The letter is signed, "Thank you again and Molotov."
Oh dear.
Sam Brownback

Brownback scrambles to clean up his mess

12/10/14 12:57PM

In his first term, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) launched an economic "experiment," involving massive tax breaks his state obviously couldn't afford. The result was something of a disaster: state finances are in shambles, the state's debt rating has been downgraded (twice), and the promised economic boom never materialized.
Brownback was re-elected anyway.
But as the far-right governor gets ready for a second term, he's left in the awkward position of trying to clean up his mess, which includes a $279 million budget shortfall in 2015, and a projected $436 million gap in 2016. Brownback could scale back some of his lavish tax breaks, which aren't working anyway, and which would alleviate the problem.
That's not, however, the governor's plan. The Kansas City Star ran this report yesterday:
Gov. Sam Brownback plans to transfer $95 million from the state highway fund and cut the budgets of state agencies by 4 percent to help plug a budget deficit.
State agencies will see their budgets reduced by 4 percent from January through June, resulting in about $79 million in savings. The state will also transfer $201 million from dedicated funds, including the highway fund, into its general fund.
Hmm. Given a choice between highway spending, which creates jobs and helps commerce, and tax breaks that aren't working, Brownback has decided to prioritize the latter.
The Kansas Republican has also decided to divert funds from public pensions to the general fund, which doesn't seem to be going over well.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.10.14

12/10/14 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* With no debate at all, Republicans included a provision in the so-called "Cromnibus" spending bill that "dramatically" expands the amount of money wealthy political donors can give the national parties: "Top donors would be allowed to give three times the annual cap on national party donations to three additional party committees set up for the purposes of the presidential conventions, building expenses and election recounts."
* Remember that weird Maine state Senate race I mentioned last week? It's been resolved: "A review of ballots from Long Island revealed Tuesday that a simple counting error caused a discrepancy in the state Senate District 25 election results, ending weeks of intrigue and swirling speculation about ballot stuffing and election fraud."
* This seems important: "The Koch brothers and their allies are pumping tens of millions of dollars into a data company that's developing detailed, state-of-the-art profiles of 250 million Americans, giving the brothers' political operation all the earmarks of a national party."
* An alleged bribery scandal forced Jesse Benton to resign this year as Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R) campaign manager, but Benton, a longtime ally of the Paul family, will apparently still be welcome in Sen. Rand Paul's (R) 2016 political operation.
* In Vermont's gubernatorial campaign, Scott Milne (R) may have come in second to Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), but because neither candidate got 50% of the vote, Milne is taking advantage of a quirky state law and pushing the race into the state legislature, where he's likely to lose.
* Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) may not have a major national profile, but he's about to become much better known outside his home state: Bullock will serve as the new chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
* With Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) curtailing her fundraising, it's widely believed she'll retire in 2016. California Democrats are already tripping over each other to prepare for a possible statewide campaign.
Rep. Steve King speaks with reporters as he leaves the House Republican Conference meeting, Oct. 4, 2013.

Chris Christie's pal, Steve King

12/10/14 11:29AM

Over the summer, Peter Hamby, a political reporter for CNN, joked, "You can't imagine Chris Christie hanging out with Steve King." It seemed like a fair point -- Christie has cultivated an image as a national, mainstream figure within the Republican Party, while King, best known for his aggressively anti-immigrant posture, is on the right-wing fringe.
And yet, it's actually not hard to imagine Chris Christie palling around with Steve King after all. Aliyah Frumin reported yesterday:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is heading back to Iowa next month for a conservative summit co-hosted by GOP Rep. Steve King and Citizens United -- stoking further speculation that the Republican is all but certainly running for president in 2016.
The appearance at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24 will be Christie's first visit to the state -- which kicks off the presidential nominating process -- since the midterm elections.... Christie also headlined King's annual pheasant hunt fundraiser back in October.
And as long as we're on the subject, Christie also campaigned for King in 2012, headlining a luncheon on behalf of the extremist congressman.
The obvious takeaway from this is that Christie, to the surprise of absolutely no one, is gearing up to launch a presidential campaign, which necessarily means pandering to radical figures within his party. In New Jersey, the governor has occasionally been comfortable condemning the "crazies," in his words, within the GOP, but when looking ahead to the national landscape, Christie apparently has far fewer qualms about cozying up to radical figures.
But Christie may very well come to regret his alliance with Steve King.
The ACORN office in Las Vegas, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008.

The war on ACORN must never die

12/10/14 10:46AM

Remember the community group called ACORN? Rest assured, congressional Republicans do.
As regular readers know, I've occasionally marveled at the right's preoccupation with the organization, which permanently closed its doors several years ago. As recently as two years ago, Public Policy Polling found that nearly half of Republican voters believed President Obama only won re-election because of ACORN's interference -- even though ACORN didn't exist at the time.
Such paranoia has been especially common in Congress, where Republicans continued to insist on provisions in spending bills that blocked ACORN from receiving public funding, despite its non-existence.
All of that changed, however, over the summer, when GOP lawmakers seemed to realize it was time to move on. House Republicans finally appeared to be "throwing in the towel" in its campaign against the organization, dropping the anti-ACORN language from their spending bills. It was a bright, new, reality-based day.
And now that day is over. Zach Carter reports that the nonsense is back with a vengeance.
Fear not, America. House Republicans have resumed their war on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, an anti-poverty nonprofit staffed by low-income people, a scant 4 1/2 years after the organization officially folded. [...]
On Tuesday, House negotiators unveiled a bill to fend off a looming government shutdown that included the following ominous provision: "None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors."
Remember, at present, there is no ACORN. Denying it funding is about as sensible as cutting off unicorn research.
All of which leads to the larger issue of Republicans tackling imaginary problems.