From The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi:
Two Brandon women have pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges in connection with a series of racially-motivated assaults on African Americans, which culminated in the death of James Craig Anderson in 2011.
Shelbie Brooke Richards and Sarah Adelia Graves, both 21, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Jackson to one count of conspiracy to violate the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for their roles in a scheme to target African Americans in Jackson for violent assaults with dangerous weapons, including their roles in the murder of Anderson, who was run over by a Ford F250 truck driven by members of the conspiracy.
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Only the Democrats seemed able to wrest a modicum of enjoyment from the day’s proceedings.
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, said that it was “inconvenient to be here voting around the clock” but that he was “kind of pleased at how it’s working out.” Mr. Cardin said, “We will get these confirmations done, and we may not have gotten them done otherwise.”
And as Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, struggled to explain to a group of reporters just what Mr. Cruz was trying to achieve, Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, loped by and clapped him on the shoulder.
“Let me know if you need backup,” Mr. Booker said with a grin.
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From The Boston Globe:
Before she became a senator, Elizabeth Warren came to Capitol Hill and promised “plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor” if she did not get meaningful reforms of Wall Street. This week, she showed what she meant.
The Massachusetts Democrat brought Congress to the brink of yet another government shutdown in her effort to kill a provision that she said would have once again put taxpayers at risk of bailing out big banks. The provision was inserted by Republicans in a huge spending bill.
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I have always found the concept of atonement by substitution vaguely unsettling. Jesus sacrificed in our place, taking on horrible punishment for our sins, punishment that would more properly be our own. It is a lesson reinforced by scriptural symbolism, lamb sacrificed as a substitute. Dramas sometimes center on Barabbas, the insurrectionist in whose place, quite literally, Jesus died.
Another interpretation has been considered in some circles over the years. I heard it for the first time last week as our pastor spoke. In this interpretation, atonement is defined as consistent with at-one-ment, a pun-like breakdown of the word. Except it has some historical base to it. Olde Englishe use, and pronunciation, were more consistent with the pun. So is alternate, credible, translation from ancient Greek translations of scripture.
I am reminded of the early formulation of the independence movement in India. Mohandas Gandhi believed that truth force or soul force, Satyagraha, could overcome evil. A central tactic was the turning of human hearts away from injustice by demonstrating a capacity for suffering that was stronger than the capacity to inflict it.
In the later application of Gandhi's nonviolent resistance, Martin Luther King described the struggle this way:
We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you, but we will not obey your evil laws. We will soon wear you down by pure capacity to suffer.
The notion that the human heart can be turned away from substitutes for spiritual fulfillment by the suffering of another has some appeal. It may speak to the central issue faced by Christianity.
In ancient Israel, Jesus spoke, in part, against the literalism of the day. And we often encounter something similar today: the idea that we are saved because Jesus brought to us a better incantation to mutter to God. The veil was torn, morality was changed, we are now saved from God's wrath: but only if we view God with a precise degree of accuracy.
That God came to Earth, walked among us, suffered for us, all in order to help us begin the spiritual walk home, has its own issues. But God come to us as healer strikes me as a sounder view than God as vengeance seeker, creating mankind for an eternity of human suffering, prevented only by acceptance of a slender thread of belief. I will not pick the wings off the fly from now to the end of time if the fly worships me now in the correct way.
God is, in the final analysis, beyond any final analysis: beyond the farthest limits of human imagination. Defining God, as some are inclined to do, is a tricky business, bordering on idolatry. The Lord is in his holy box. Let all the earth keep silent before Him as I explain his dimensions.
Perhaps it is enough to know a small part of larger Truth. What we can grasp and hold close may be enough to set us free. If we are separated from God, then life has some potential for a homeward journey. If Jesus is here to heal, then perhaps that healing begins when his capacity to suffer overcomes our capacity to embrace the enemies of God and man.
At the core, Christianity is presented with a simpler proposition than the defined nature of God: that every soul has an incorruptible worth, that this hard core value remains no matter what we do or say.
We are worthwhile and loved. And there is nothing we can do about it.
Originally Published at Fair And UNbalanced
Rumproast is unimpressed with those who say the Senate report on torture compromises US security. Some details are now confirmed, but the fact that torture was used, that it is wrong, and that it didn't work has been known by pretty much everyone who doesn't rely on Fox News. Torture is not what exceptionalism ought to mean.
Jon Perr's analysis at Perrspectives would seem to suggest that Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush are confessed conspirators in directly ordering torture, that there is a second conspiracy to keep them from accountability, and that President Obama is at the heart of it.
Max's Dad presents the case for and against seeing the NYC choke hold as murder. One argument: The guy was choked to death because we saw it on camera and he is undeniably dead. The other argument: The guy wasn't choked to death because he could speak enough to say he was being choked to death.
Conservative James Wigderson has been doing his share of justifiable gloating since the election. His latest is that half the Senators who supported Obamacare are now gone. He may not realize that he inadvertently included those who retired, died, or ran for other offices. He may want to recalculate, including only those who were actually defeated, and whose support for universal healthcare was actually an issue.
Infidel 753 suggests that a "moderate" attack on religious beliefs is actually a moderate criticism of pure evil. Worth reading by those of us who hold those beliefs as well as those whose harsh attacks are uncompromising and those whose polite criticisms are moderate. The fact that we can listen, unoffended, by attacks on our faith, that we even appreciate the insights they offer, does not mean that we must embrace those views. We can learn something of ourselves from polite criticism, and sometimes more from harsh attack.
Chuck Todd's Analysis of President Obama Reveals Insulation (5:45) - Click for Podcast
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In his critique of Obama, Chuck Todd demonstrates insularity and isolation, but in a different way than anyone expected.
It's a contradiction to say we did nothing wrong and our wrongdoing should be secret. But I'm struck by a consistency.
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From NJ Advance Media:
Federal prosecutors investigating the Bridgegate scandal may bring charges under an obscure provision of a fraud law, sources told The New York Times for an article published Thursday.
The sources, who were not named but were identified as being close to the case, said that while prosecutors have yet to decide on any specific charges, they are considering invoking a statute that would allow the government to charge associates of Gov. Chris Christie with using the George Washington Bridge for something other than its intended purpose.
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From The New York Times:
The United States economy is firing on all cylinders as the year comes to a close.
That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from a blockbuster report on November retail sales released on Thursday, particularly when coupled with other recent readings on jobs, industrial activity and more.
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From The Hill:
Even if Republicans shut down the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) next year, President Obama could still carry out his executive actions giving legal status to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders have punted the funding fight over Obama’s immigration action to February, arguing their new majority will have more leverage to stop the plan dead in its tracks.
But it’s unclear how much weight the threat of withholding funding would carry.
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For well over 200 years, a strong reaction against torture was ingrained in our culture. The infliction of unbearable physical pain to obtain information was identified with totalitarianism. Even sleep deprivation was portrayed as an example of pure evil.
I remember watching one typical film as a kid. Otto Preminger himself stepped out of the role of director to play a stereotypically immoral Nazi. "I just want to sleep. I haven't slept in three days," an American prisoner moans as the Nazi sneers. That turns out to be a tame example indeed.
The Senate report on torture is still secret. Only the summary has been published. That summary is just detailed enough to be greatly alarming and a little sickening. It is just this side of an X rating.
Reactions, on the other hand, are predictable enough to be boring. At least most of them are. Those on the left, which is to say people like me, are disturbed by the revelations. We are joined by moderates and a few principled conservatives.
The report found that the CIA administered torture, then misled pretty much everyone about it. The torture did not result in much useful information that had not been gotten by other means, and the CIA lied about that as well.
It is not easy for me to maintain any superior feeling in looking through the horrors chronicled by the summary of the report. In the days and months following the 9/11 attacks, the desire for information seems to have combined with reckless disregard for our values.
Far from casting judgment, I'm speaking subjectively of what I felt at the time. What's a little torture, compared with what was done to us? I'd like to think that I would have behaved differently than those who administered the torture. In truth, I simply don't know. I do understand that American values do not mean much if they only count when they are easy to maintain.
Among Republicans in the Senate on this issue, John McCain represents a minority of one. But he does speak for many of us. He has a perspective few of us can imagine, having been subjected to interrogation himself that is euphemistically called "enhanced" during his years of captivity in Vietnam. He poses the question that should be submitted to the American people.
...whether those policies and the personnel who supported them were justified in compromising our values; whether they served a greater good; or whether, as I believe, they stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good.
- Senator John McCain (R-AZ), on the Senate floor, December 9, 2014
Others are disturbed, not at torture, but that revelations were made to begin with.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is about to become the Senate Majority Leader. He and Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) released a joint statement.
As we have both stated before, we are opposed to this study and believe it will present serious consequences for U.S. national security.
- Joint Statement, Senators Mitch McConnell and Saxby Chambliss, December 9, 2014
I was initially apprehensive about our allies: those countries who agreed to "extraordinary rendition," which is to say the transfer of detainees for "enhanced interrogation." We torture them there so we don't have to torture them here.
When other countries cooperate on condition of secrecy, it can rather devalue our word if our allies are subject to violent reprisal. And I think of Republican efforts in the 1990s to require Bill Clinton to provide the full names of any and all friends who were female. Nice.
When Edward Snowden became a puppet of Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks project, I remembered the carelessness that had characterized previous Assange releases. Some were frivolous, providing embarrassing assessments of the personal habits of foreign dignitaries. Some were harmful, providing identifying information about ordinary citizens of other nations who had, in secret, provided information preventing more massive terrorist attacks. Now those people were exposed and unprotected.
But the reaction of those allies mentioned in the Senate summary seems to be mostly political, indignation at the actions of past officials. Apparently a Senate supply had been found of careful judgment.
There has been some concern that the unity of Republicans on the Senate committee will now solidify in opposition to future reforms. That may be valid, although we have heard similar arguments so often in other contexts it is hard to keep rolling eyes in check. If we're nice enough to unreasoning opponents they will behave rationally. It didn't work in the early years of the Obama administration and the country suffered for it.
Conservatives are pulling out the big guns. Releasing sensitive information will help America's enemies by infuriating populations who now might turn against us.
The implied contradiction is not hard to see. On one hand, we did nothing wrong. On the other, it will hurt our image and provoke foreign opposition if the wrongdoing that we didn't do is exposed.
But I am especially struck, not so much by contradiction, as by consistency.
We abandoned our values in order to protect ourselves.
Now we must abandon truth for the same reason.
Bitter private fighting between a conservative Texas firebrand and a New York Democrat over a package to renew a terrorism insurance program has emerged as one of the last-minute hurdles Congress must clear as it averts a government shutdown and gets out of town for the year.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a frequent foe of big business who chairs the Financial Services Committee, is trying to use the negotiations over renewing the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act to enact changes to Dodd-Frank, the 2010 banking regulation law Republicans have tried to dismantle.
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From The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney offered a full-throated defense of the Central Intelligence Agency on Monday, arguing that its harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects a decade ago were “absolutely, totally justified” and dismissing a new Senate report criticizing them.
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From CNN Video as posted by "LoneWolf Sager":
From USA Today:
Four troopers drove an 87-year-old woman 180 miles across five Utah counties to see her ailing son in the hospital Friday, Trooper Jeff Jones of the Utah Highway Patrol told USA TODAY Network.
"She needed to get there," said Jones, who coordinated the effort.
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The reviews of the review by Chuck Todd of Barack Obama's experiences as President, The Stranger, are mostly positive although a little scattered in their praise.
The essential ethic of modern journalism places balance at a premium. So some reviews congratulate the author on his balanced approach.
Todd, the newly minted Meet the Press host and former NBC chief White House correspondent, provides an even-handed, concise, and thorough account of President Obama’s first six years in the Oval Office.
- Publisher's Weekly, September 15, 2014
Other reviews approvingly summarize the theme of the book, which is undeniably even handed. President Obama, from the very first day of his administration, faced unyielding opposition to everything he proposed. But he was equally at fault for the obstruction the occurred during his years in office.
The opposition part of the thesis has been well documented for years. The idea was to make certain the new President failed in everything he did, no matter what direction he took.
As Chuck Todd documents, that is not hyperbole. High level meetings are known to have been held on the day of the inaugural in 2009. Definitive decisions were made to uniformly oppose every possible proposal, even if programs coincided exactly with Republican ideals.
Mr. Todd's counterpoint, that President Obama is also to blame, is more subjective. The book argues that the President's personal style of unemotional aloofness has been amplified by the temptation toward isolation in a centralized, insular executive office. He has lived in a sort of hall of mirrors, seeking contact only with people who parrot back to him those views that reflect his own.
His insular nature, his lack of contact with the outside world, has hurt him in policy formulation, in effectiveness, and in politics. It is an assessment shared by many Washington insiders.
The overall picture that emerges here is that of a highly insular and centralized White House...
- The New York Times, reviewing Mr. Todd's book, November 6, 2014
One explanation for Mr. Todd's harsh assessment is the tendency of anyone in a powerful position to seek out those of like mind. To the aloof personality, voices that carry unpleasant views can become unpleasant voices. The insular mind will see those who articulate disagreement as disagreeable. Isolation from the real world breeds a reality of its own.
Those outside of our circle, those who hold opinions we avoid, become marginal. There is a circular method in human experience. We think of those we see every day as everyday people. The people we normally encounter are normal people. Those who live in a rarefied atmosphere of power are tempted to think of powerful voices as representative of America.
One remedy is to look for information at its source, to make a conscious attempt to make contact with those everyday people that might not fit in with the social circle that everyday work cycles demand. It can't be easy while hounded by threats and surrounded by security. It must seem almost impossible when each available minute is assigned by those responding to the pressures of worldwide responsibilities.
There have been attempts.
President Obama has often met with those most of us would consider everyday folks. He has sought out, and listened to, people not usually given access to the rich and powerful more frequently than any President during my lifetime.
In a working-class neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minn., the president shed his suit jacket and ducked into Matt’s Bar, a dimly lit restaurant, for lunch with Rebekah Erler, a 36-year-old accountant and a mother of two pre-school-age boys. Ms. Erler sent him a letter in March about her financial troubles.
- The New York Times, June 26, 2014
President Barack Obama feasted on working-class delicacies in Kansas City on Tuesday night as he sought to bond with people unaccustomed to having the ear of the most powerful man in the world.
- The Kansas City Star, July 29, 2014
President Obama met Monday with a 7-year-old brain cancer patient
- USA Today, April 29, 2013
Obama reads 10 letters a night from ordinary Americans culled from thousands he receives daily. His next "day in the life" trip will also involve meeting up with the author of one of those letters...
- Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2014
Chuck Todd was able to cite interviews with a phenomenal number of the most powerful people of both parties in his even-handed assessment of how President Obama could have accomplished even more than healthcare reform, economic revival, Wall Street responsibility, and consumer protection.
Mr. Todd ... has grounded his arguments in hundreds of interviews with Washington sources and his intimate knowledge of how that city works or (more often, these days) fails to work.
- The New York Times, November 6, 2014
President Obama might better have followed Chuck Todd's good example. Had he wasted less time with lower class people, and invested more effort brunching in exclusive restaurants with powerful politicians and highly paid lobbyists, he could have been less insulated from the real world.
Hundreds of ordinary folks in Washington have told Mr. Todd just that.