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Rachel Maddow on Late Night with David Letterman

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

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A Continent Adrift

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times


I’m concerned about Europe. Actually, I’m concerned about the whole world — there are no safe havens from the global economic storm. But the situation in Europe worries me even more than the situation in America.

Just to be clear, I’m not about to rehash the standard American complaint that Europe’s taxes are too high and its benefits too generous. Big welfare states aren’t the cause of Europe’s current crisis. In fact, as I’ll explain shortly, they’re actually a mitigating factor.

The clear and present danger to Europe right now comes from a different direction — the continent’s failure to respond effectively to the financial crisis.

Europe has fallen short in terms of both fiscal and monetary policy: it’s facing at least as severe a slump as the United States, yet it’s doing far less to combat the downturn.

On the fiscal side, the comparison with the United States is striking. Many economists, myself included, have argued that the Obama administration’s stimulus plan is too small, given the depth of the crisis. But America’s actions dwarf anything the Europeans are doing.

The difference in monetary policy is equally striking. The European Central Bank has been far less proactive than the Federal Reserve; it has been slow to cut interest rates (it actually raised rates last July), and it has shied away from any strong measures to unfreeze credit markets....(Click for remainder)

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Bush Administration Engaged in a Conscious Policy of Torture

By Jason Leopold
The Public Record


As more pieces of a very ugly mosaic fall into place – including new details from a confidential 2007 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross about interrogations at CIA “black sites” – any remaining doubt that the Bush administration engaged in a conscious policy of torture is disappearing.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney may continue to say, as he did on Sunday, that the interrogation of “war on terror” suspects was “done legally; it was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.” But those assurances ring hollow.

The true story is coming into ever-sharper focus: high-ranking U.S. officials turning to what Cheney called “the dark side” after the 9/11 attacks and ordering the CIA to create a network of secret prisons. Determined to extract information from suspected terrorists, the White House then collaborated with Justice Department lawyers to find ways around anti-torture laws and American traditions.

Though the outlines of this story have been sketched out over several years, many chilling details are now getting filled in, including an article by author Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books about an ICRC report concluding that the abuse of 14 “high-value” detainees “constituted torture.”

“In addition, many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” according to the ICRC report cited by Danner. Since the ICRC’s responsibilities involve ensuring compliance with the Geneva Conventions and supervising the treatment of prisoners of war, the organization’s findings carry legal weight.

The ICRC report also found that there was a consistency in many details from the detainees who were interviewed separately and that the first “high-value” detainee to be captured, Abu Zubaydah, appeared to have been used as something of a test case by his interrogators. According to various accounts, he was transferred to a secret prison in Thailand and possibly elsewhere to be brutally questioned....(Click for remainder).

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White House may seek to bypass filibuster rule in Senate

By Steven Thomma
McClatchy Newspapers


WASHINGTON — A top White House official threatened Tuesday to use a congressional rule to force some controversial proposals through the Senate by eliminating the Republicans' power to block legislation.

Peter Orszag, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the Obama administration would prefer not to use the budget "reconciliation" process that allows measures to pass the Senate on simple majority votes.

Orszag said he wouldn't rule it out, however. The legislative tactic is being considered to push through Obama's global warming and health care programs, and perhaps his proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy.

"We'd like to avoid it if possible," Orszag told reporters at a luncheon in Washington. "But we're not taking it off the table."

Members of Congress are bracing for a political donnybrook should the Democrats use the reconciliation process to sidestep the Republicans and their power of the filibuster in the Senate. Under normal Senate rules, it requires 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to shut off debate and force a final vote. Democrats currently have 58 Senate votes. Under reconciliation, 51 votes can force anything through.

There is plenty of historical precedent of using it by both parties, including Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, who used it force through big tax cuts.

"Pretty much every major piece of budget legislation going back to April 1981, April '82, April 1990, April 1993, the 1990 act, the 2001 tax legislation, they were all done through reconciliation. Yet somehow this is being presented as an unusual thing," Orszag said.

"The historical norm as opposed to the exception is for a major piece of budget legislation to move through reconciliation."...(Click for remainder).

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Obama Names Judge to Appeals Court

Pres. Obama praised this guy as a moderate. A moderate? Is that code for pro-corporate/business? I think yes.

By Michael A. Fletcher
The Washington Post


President Obama yesterday made his first judicial appointment, naming U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton to the federal appeals court, a choice excoriated by some conservatives even as the White House touted him as the type of moderate who could cool the nation's long-simmering judicial battles.

The White House held out Hamilton as a prototype for the nominees Obama will seek as he reshapes the federal appeals courts -- and by extension, the laws governing contentious social issues such as abortion and affirmative action -- during his presidency. Currently, there are 17 vacancies on the nation's appeals courts, which are organized into 12 circuits across the country.

Meanwhile, with the oldest Supreme Court justice 89 and three others older than 70, it is widely expected that Obama will fill one -- if not more -- high court vacancies during his tenure.

Obama named Hamilton, 51, to a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, a choice administration officials said signals his intention to pick judicial moderates with diverse résumés and a record of what he considers good judgment and "empathy" for the people involved in cases before the courts.

"Judge Hamilton has a long and impressive record of service and a history of handing down fair and judicious decisions," Obama said in a statement. "He will be a thoughtful and distinguished addition to the 7th Circuit."...(Click for remainder).

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Obama to Sign UN Gay Rights Declaration

By Matthew Lee
Associated Press via Time


(WASHINGTON) — The Obama administration will endorse a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that then-President George W. Bush had refused to sign, The Associated Press has learned.

U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the declaration's French sponsors that the administration wants to be added as a supporter. The Bush administration was criticized in December when it was the only western government that refused to sign on. (Read: "Revisiting 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'")

The move was made after an interagency review of the Bush administration's position on the nonbinding document, which was signed by all 27 European Union members as well as Japan, Australia, Mexico and three dozen other countries, the officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Congress was still being notified of the decision. They said the administration had decided to sign the declaration to demonstrate that the United States supports human rights for all.

"The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world," said one official.

"As such, we join with the other supporters of this statement and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora," the official said....(Click for remainder).

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NAACP Pres. Julian Bond: Gay Rights Are Civil Rights

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NAACP Pres. Julian Bond: Gay Rights Are Civil Rights

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The Pope on Condoms and AIDS

By The New York Times

Pope Benedict XVI has every right to express his opposition to the use of condoms on moral grounds, in accordance with the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church. But he deserves no credence when he distorts scientific findings about the value of condoms in slowing the spread of the AIDS virus.

As reported on Tuesday by journalists who accompanied the pope on his flight to Africa, Benedict said that distribution of condoms would not resolve the AIDS problem but, on the contrary, would aggravate or increase it. The first half of his statement is clearly right. Condoms alone won’t stop the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Campaigns to reduce the number of sexual partners, safer-sex practices and other programs are needed to bring the disease to heel.

But the second half of his statement is grievously wrong. There is no evidence that condom use is aggravating the epidemic and considerable evidence that condoms, though no panacea, can be helpful in many circumstances.

From an individual’s point of view, condoms work very well in preventing transmission of the AIDS virus from infected to uninfected people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites “comprehensive and conclusive” evidence that latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are “highly effective” in preventing heterosexual transmission of the virus that causes AIDS. The most recent meta-analysis of the best studies, published by the respected Cochrane Collaboration, concluded that condoms can reduce the transmission of the AIDS virus by 80 percent....(Click for remainder).

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