Tagged: Congress

Brutal torture by CIA as stupid as ever


Another almost-invisible supporter of human rights in the CIA

The CIA’s post-9/11 embrace of torture was brutal and ineffective – and the agency repeatedly lied about its usefulness, a milestone report by the Senate intelligence committee…concludes.

After examining 20 case studies, the report found that torture “regularly resulted in fabricated information,” said committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, in a statement summarizing the findings. She called the torture program “a stain on our values and on our history”…

The torture that the CIA carried out was even more extreme than what it portrayed to congressional overseers and the George W Bush administration, the committee found. It went beyond techniques already made public through a decade of leaks and lawsuits…

Contractor psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen played a critical role in establishing the torture program in 2002. A company they formed to contract their services to the CIA was worth more than $180m, and by the time of the contract’s 2009 cancellation, they had received $81m in payouts.

So much for “do no harm!”

The committee’s findings, which the CIA largely rejects, are the result of a four-year, $40m investigation that plunged relations between the spy agency and the Senate committee charged with overseeing it to a historic low.

The investigation that led to the report, and the question of how much of the document would be released and when, has pitted chairwoman Feinstein and her committee allies against the CIA and its White House backers. For 10 months, with the blessing of President Barack Obama, the agency has fought to conceal vast amounts of the report from the public, with an entreaty to Feinstein from secretary of state John Kerry occurring as recently as Friday.

CIA director John Brennan, an Obama confidante, conceded in a Tuesday statement that the program “had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes” owing from what he described as unpreparedness for a massive interrogation and detentions program…

Obama banned CIA torture upon taking office, but the continuing lack of legal consequences for agency torturers has led human rights campaigners to view the Senate report as their last hope for official recognition and accountability for torture.

Though the committee released hundreds of pages of declassified excerpts from the report on Tuesday, the majority of the 6,000-plus page classified version remains secret, disappointing human rights groups that have long pushed for broader transparency…

Republican members of the intelligence committee questioned the report in their own 100-page document. They wrote blah, blah, blah and blah.

Read the whole report summary over here.

James Clapper, director of (sic) national intelligence, is leading the ranks of apologists with what is becoming the party line of liberals who are patting themselves on the back because the report finally came out. “Only the heroic United States with our great history, blah, blah, blah, would do this, blah, blah, blah.”

It took over a decade of effort by hundreds of individuals dedicated to preserving our Constitution and what few standards remain in American politics to force our government to come out with this report. Our politicians spend more time hiding the corruption of standards of decency than, say, any criminal prosecutor in St, Louis county or New York City.

Trying to elicit praise for admitting we broke everything from international treaties to our own federal laws by torturing detainees is something thugs like Dick Cheney may demand from his creepy followers. Criminal practices are not praiseworthy even when finally admitting you committed the crimes.

Abandoned oil wells still spewing methane into the air we breathe


Just in the first oil boom state, Pennsylvania — 200K/1 million abandoned oil wells

Some of the millions of abandoned oil and natural gas wells in the United States are still spewing methane, marking a potentially large source of unrecorded greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study released on Monday.

Researchers at Princeton University measured emissions from dozens of abandoned wells in Pennsylvania in 2013 and 2014 and found they were emitting an average of 0.27 kg (0.6 lbs) of methane per day, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“These measurements show that methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells can be significant,” according to the study. “The research required to quantify these emissions nationally should be undertaken so they can be accurately described and included in greenhouse gas emissions inventories.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is mulling whether to issue mandatory standards for reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as part of President Barack Obama’s broad climate action plan.

Presuming Barack Obama isn’t interned at Gitmo by the incoming Republican-dominated Congress.

Environmental groups have told the EPA that directly targeting methane rather than secondary volatile organic compounds, which the agency currently regulates, is more effective and can help the United States make steeper greenhouse gas emission cuts.

The history of extractive industries – whether mining or well-drilling – is one of the worst serial crimewaves in the United States. Between abandoned mines, wells ignored because their production of crap hydrocarbons isn’t sufficiently profitable – it is a tale of poisonous dangers left to rot.

Do Nothing-Congress did all it could to protect Big Oil

A new report by Oil Change International…demonstrates the huge and growing amount of subsidies going to the fossil fuel industry in the U.S. every year. In 2013, the U.S. federal and state governments gave away $21.6 billion in subsidies for oil, gas, and coal exploration and production.

The value of fossil fuel exploration and production subsidies from the federal government have increased by 45 percent since President Obama took office in 2009 – from $12.7 billion to a current total of $18.5 billion – a side effect of his Administration’s “All of the Above” energy policy that promotes the U.S. oil and gas boom and amounts to nothing less than climate denial.

President Obama has repeatedly tried to repeal some of the most egregious of these subsidies, but these attempts have been blocked by a U.S. Congress that has been bought out by campaign finance and lobbying expenditures from the fossil fuel industry.

In addition to exploration and production subsidies to oil, gas, and coal companies, the U.S. government also provides billions of dollars of additional support to the fossil fuel industry to lower the cost of fossil fuels to consumers, finance fossil fuel projects overseas, and to protect U.S. oil interests abroad with the military.

Finally, while the fossil fuel industry enjoys record profits, U.S, taxpayers will pay the bill for external health and environmental costs from local pollution and climate change impacts.

Big Oil is an equal-opportunity purchaser of political loyalty. It doesn’t matter which of the two TweedleDee or TweedleDumber parties you belong to. Show the least inclination to favor fossil fuel anything and you will be awash in campaign contributions, “independent” supporters and PACs.

It’s the American Way.

Thanks, Mike

Republicans pass a bill banning scientists from advising on their own research

Congressional climate wars were dominated last week by the U.S. Senate, which spent the day debating, and ultimately failing to pass, a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. While all that was happening, and largely unnoticed, the House was busy doing what it does best: attacking science.

H.R. 1422, which passed 229-191, would shake up the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, placing restrictions on those pesky scientists and creating room for experts with overt financial ties to the industries affected by EPA regulations.

Here’s the lie:

The bill is being framed as a play for transparency: Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, argued that the board’s current structure is problematic because it “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” The inclusion of industry experts, he said, would right this injustice…

In what might be the most ridiculous aspect of the whole thing, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest. “In other words,” wrote Union of Concerned Scientists director Andrew A. Rosenberg in an editorial for RollCall, “academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”

Just in case you wondered what the next couple of years will be like with the looniest members of Bedlam in charge of the branch of government charged with advancing our economy, our freedoms and liberty via legislation.

“Hello, is there anybody in there?
“Just nod if you can hear me,
“is there anyone at home?”

Thanks, Mike

Solar and wind energy start to win on price


Click to enlarge — US Army base solar farm in White Sands, New Mexico

For the solar and wind industries in the United States, it has been a long-held dream: to produce energy at a cost equal to conventional sources like coal and natural gas.

That day appears to be dawning.

The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.

Utility executives say the trend has accelerated this year, with several companies signing contracts, known as power purchase agreements, for solar or wind at prices below that of natural gas, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest, where wind and sunlight are abundant.

Those prices were made possible by generous subsidies that could soon diminish or expire, but recent analyses show that even without those subsidies, alternative energies can often compete with traditional sources…

And there have never been conventional power plant build-outs that got off the ground without state or federal assistance of some kind.

…In Oklahoma, American Electric Power ended up tripling the amount of wind power it had originally sought after seeing how low the bids came in last year.

“Wind was on sale — it was a Blue Light Special,” said Jay Godfrey, managing director of renewable energy for the company. He noted that Oklahoma, unlike many states, did not require utilities to buy power from renewable sources.

“We were doing it because it made sense for our ratepayers,” he said.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the main trade group, the price of electricity sold to utilities under long-term contracts from large-scale solar projects has fallen by more than 70 percent since 2008, especially in the Southwest.,,

The price drop extends to homeowners and small businesses as well; last year, the prices for residential and commercial projects fell by roughly 12 to 15 percent from the year before.

The wind industry largely tells the same story, with prices dropping by more than half in recent years. Emily Williams, manager of industry data and analytics at the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, said that in 2013 utilities signed “a record number of power purchase agreements and what ended up being historically low prices…”

“We’re finding that in certain regions with certain wind projects that these are competing or coming in below the cost of even existing generation sources,” she said.

…Solar executives are looking to extend a 30 percent federal tax credit that is set to fall to 10 percent at the end of 2016. Wind professionals are seeking renewal of a production tax credit that Congress has allowed to lapse and then reinstated several times over the last few decades…

Where that effort will go now is anybody’s guess, though, with Republicans in control of both houses starting in January.

Mail me a penny postcard when you find some Congressional Republicans interested in saving money, aiding the environment, contributing to sound ecological principles that make a better life for workingclass folks.

RTFA for details. There are answers for a few of the non-political questions.

Republican leadership unveils their immigration plan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled his party’s long-awaited plan on immigration on Wednesday, telling reporters, “We must make America somewhere no one wants to live.”

Appearing with House Speaker John Boehner, McConnell said that, in contrast to President Obama’s “Band-Aid fixes,” the Republican plan would address “the root cause of immigration, which is that the United States is, for the most part, habitable.”

“For years, immigrants have looked to America as a place where their standard of living was bound to improve,” McConnell said. “We’re going to change that.”

Boehner said that the Republicans’ plan would reduce or eliminate “immigration magnets,” such as the social safety net, public education, clean air, and drinkable water…

Attempting, perhaps, to tamp down excitement about the plan, McConnell warned that turning America into a dystopian hellhole that repels immigrants “won’t happen overnight.”

“Our crumbling infrastructure and soaring gun violence are a good start, but much work still needs to be done,” he said. “When Americans start leaving the country, we’ll know that we’re on the right track.”

In closing, the two congressional leaders expressed pride in the immigration plan, noting that Republicans had been working to make it possible for the past thirty years.

I have nothing to add to such a complete description of the goals of Republican politics.

Thanks, Mike

Republican policy on immigration is — NO! You expected different?


Obama’s advantage is that he has an immigration policy. Republicans don’t.

There’s one way President Obama’s executive action on immigration has been a boon to Republicans. Instead of coming up with their own immigration policy, the’ve been able to just unite against Obama’s. But fury isn’t a policy. And, as is clear, fury isn’t going to stop Obama’s policy.

But there is a simple way out of this immigration mess for Republicans: pass a bill that President Obama can sign.

Not a bill, mind you, that Obama necessarily wants to sign. It doesn’t even have to be a bill Obama does sign. It can be a bill Obama will loathe. Republicans can propose the most militarized border this side of the DMZ. They can erase the Senate bill’s path to citizenship. They can electrify the fence. They can wall unauthorized immigrants off from social services. Hell, they can even pass a bill authorizing funds to deport all 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the US.

But one way or another, Republicans need to decide what to do with the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country now. They need to take away Obama’s single strongest argument — that this is a crisis, and that congressional Republicans don’t have an answer and won’t let anyone else come up with one.

Republicans aren’t just the opposition party anymore. They are, arguably, the governing party — they will soon control the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, most state legislatures, and more governorships. And the governing party needs to solve — or at least propose solutions — to the nation’s problems. And that means the Republican policy on immigration needs to be something more than opposing Obama’s immigration policies. It needs to be something more than vague noises about border security…

“To those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” Obama said on Thursday…

Obama has one solid advantage right now…at least he wants to solve the problem. Republicans remain stuck into their legislative mantra for the last six years – stop Obama from solving the problem. Any problem. That’s not a winning position. 2016 is six years closer and all the Republicans have achieved for these last six years is demonstrating to all Americans how little they care about problem-solving other than earning their paycheck as pimps for Big Oil, Big Coal – and saying “NO” to everything else.