Brian Schatz Tapped To Fill Vacancy Left By Late-Sen. Daniel Inouye |
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) has selected Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz (D) as Hawaii’s next senator following the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) earlier this month. Schatz, who had previously served in the Hawaii House of Representatives and as chair of the Hawaii Democratic Party, will be the youngest member of the Senate at 40 years old. Schatz is already boarding a flight to Washington D.C. tonight and plans to be sworn in sometime tomorrow.
During an appearance on CBS’s This Morning on Wednesday, GOP pollster Frank Luntz starkly admitted that the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) widely-panned proposal to put armed guards in public schools in the wake of the tragic shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School is out of touch with public sentiment and the American people.
“The public wants guns out of the schools, not in the schools… And they are not asking for a security official or someone else. I don’t think the NRA is listening. I don’t think they understand most Americans would protect the Second Amendment rights and yet agree with the idea that not every human being should own a gun, not every gun should be available at anytime, anywhere, for anyone. At gun shows, you should not be able to buy something there without any kind of check whatsoever.”
He added, “What they are looking for is a common sense approach saying those who law-abiding should continue to have the right to own a weapon, but don’t believe the right should be extended to everyone at every time for every type of weapon.”
A growingnumber of pro-gun Democratic and Republican lawmakers — including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) — have admitted that gun control laws should be revisited in the wake of the tragedy that left 20 children and six adults dead. Others, such as Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), have not signed onto more stringent gun control measures, but have dismissed the NRA’s proposition for armed guards in every American school as “Orwellian.”
U.S. To Hit Debt Ceiling In Five Days |
The United States will hit its borrowing limit on December 31st, according to a just-released letter from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. As a result, Congress must vote to raise the debt ceiling in the next five days or “extraordinary measures” will have to be taken to avoid defaulting on our debt, but this would only buy two months. Geithner’s letter also notes that if the so-called “fiscal cliff” is not avoided, the resulting spending cuts and tax increases would add a bit more wiggle room before hitting the debt limit. Last time the country faced a fight over raising the debt ceiling, the Tea Party’s intransigence and willingness to risk the full faith and credit of the United States caused our national credit rating to be downgraded.
Progressive veterans group VoteVets.org has received thousands of signatures from concerned citizens, veterans and military families rejecting “neocon smears” against former Republican senator Chuck Hagel.
Bill Kristol and his Weekly Standard magazine has led the campaign against Hagel’s potential nomination as the next Defense Secretary. They and other neocons claim the Nebraska Republican is anti-Semitic and anti-Israel and they have attacked Hagel for issuing caution about attacking Iran over its nuclear program.
We, the undersigned, strongly reject the neocon smears being launched against Vietnam Veteran and former Senator Chuck Hagel. We will strongly back his nomination for Secretary of Defense, should you choose to nominate him. In fact, we urge you to not be deterred from nominating him, simply because of the right-wing noise machine.
The reason they’re swiftboating Senator Hagel is clear. Chuck Hagel, as a Vietnam Veteran, would put troops first. He has a record of challenging neocon dreams of preemptive use of force – and winning that debate. He has a record of challenging wasteful Pentagon spending, taking on the military-industrial complex, to ensure our defense dollars are responsibly spent on equipment we actually need. As Defense Secretary, he would do the same, and thoroughly embarrass and expose Kristol and his neocon buddies.
It would be unfortunate for our Troops and our nation if we allowed neocons to rob us of a potentially great Secretary of Defense. We urge you to not give in to them.
In a statement released this afternoon, VoteVets.org says that more than 12,000 have signed the petition so far, including more than 8,000 veterans and military families. VoteVets says it and the petition’s signatories “are standing up for former Senator Chuck Hagel, and urging President Obama to stand up to right-wing swiftboating of him.”
The Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that remains one of the biggest obstacles to marriage equality today, has lost another supporter, this time a GOPer swept into Congress in the Tea Party wave of 2010.
Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) announced in a statement late last week that he has signed onto the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill to repeal DOMA. Since its passage in 1996, DOMA has defined marriage on a federal level as between one man and one woman, purposefully excluding gay and lesbian couples. DOMA also denies gay people who have legally wed in their states countless federal benefits and protections, such as Social Security survivor benefits if one partner dies.
However, the 16-year-old discriminatory law could be in its waning days. Though President Bill Clinton had signed the law, most Democrats now oppose it, and are gaining momentum in bringing Republicans on board. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) already opposes DOMA, and now Hanna becomes the 2nd GOPer to pull his support, as he detailed in an announcement Friday:
“New York State allows all its citizens the freedom to marry the person they love,” he said. “Under the Tenth Amendment, the federal government has a Constitutional responsibility to respect New York’s right to set its own laws. It’s my job to see that it does.
“It is right to extend equal protection under federal law to all couples who are legally married without infringing upon religious freedom and beliefs,” Hanna continued. “This legislation does not tell states who can be married or who must be treated as married, nor does it require any religious institution to violate their own convictions.
“I respect the deeply held beliefs on both sides of this issue,” he said. “The simple fact remains that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure all legally married couples are treated equally under federal law – and this bill would achieve that proper standard.”
An increasing number of Republicans are coming out in favor of equality. Perhaps most surprising is Newt Gingrich, a man who as Speaker in 1996 ushered in passage of DOMA, but reversed course last week and argued that Republicans should accept marriage equality. “The momentum is clearly now in the direction in finding some way to … accommodate and deal with reality,” said Gingrich.
Still, the entire debate in Congress over DOMA may be academic if the Supreme Court strikes it down next year. It will hear a challenge to DOMA in the first quarter of 2013 and issue a ruling in June.
“I, General Abdel Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, commander of Syrian military police, announce that I am defecting from the regime army, to join the people’s revolution,” he said in a publicly broadcast video recording. Shallal attributed his defection to his view that the Syrian military had abdicated its duty to protect the Syrian people and devolved into “gangs of killing and destruction.” There are also reports that the former general has taken shelter in Turkey, joining other military defectors who have sided with opposition forces.
Shallal is the highest-ranking military official to defect from the regime, joining a long line of military and civilian leaders — including the country’s prime minister — to break ties with Assad. In his statement, Shallal also asserted that, “there are other high-ranking officers who want to defect, but the situation is not suitable for them to declare defection.”
To date, thousands have died in the Assad regime’s crackdown and more than 500,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring countries. U.S. and other Western officials have repeatedly called on Assad to step down, and warned the embattled president against using chemical weapons against his people.
The past two years have not been kind to voting rights. Across the country, the Tea Party wave of 2010 led to new restrictive voting measures, including photo identification requirements and cuts in early voting. In total, these changes had the potential to disenfranchise more than 5 million Americans.
However, with progressive victories in the 2012 election and a renewed awareness of the need to protect the ballot box, 2013 could be a banner year for voting rights.
Rather than continuing to solely play defense, the Center for American Progress has released a report detailing 11 pieces of state legislation that voting rights advocates can use to go on offense in 2013:
1. Online voter registration. Less than 63 percent of Americans aged 18-34 were registered to vote in 2009, yet a Nielsen survey found that these young citizens were by far the most electronically connected, with 88 percent having an Internet connection at home. Modernizing the voter-registration process and allowing people to register online would be a boon for the overall number of voters in our country.
2. Election Day registration. Most states bar their residents from registering in the weeks just before an election—at a time when media coverage is at a fever pitch and less-engaged citizens are just starting to tune in. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, stop allowing people to register 30 days before an election. Election Day registration eliminates that barrier, helping a significant number of Americans vote. In 2008 alone, more than 1 million individuals registered on Election Day in these states. Studies have found that Election Day registration boosts turnout on average by 7-percentage points to 14-percentage points.
3. Require public schools to help register voters. Young Americans continue to vote at far lower rates than the rest of the citizenry. This year, for instance, only half of the voting-eligible population between the ages of 18 and 24 cast a ballot, compared to more than two-thirds of senior citizens. One simple way to encourage students to vote is for states to require that public schools provide voter-registration services.
4. Expand early voting. Early voting is one of the most important realms of voting rights over the past decade. It offers citizens more flexibility to vote at their convenience—not everyone can take off an hour or two from work on the first Tuesday of November—and allows election officials to spread the process of counting ballots over a number of days or weeks, rather than getting inundated all at once. It’s also a major boon for minority turnout. Many African American churches, for instance, participate in a “souls to the polls” voting drive on the Sunday before Election Day helping boost black early voting rates. Currently, 16 states don’t offer early voting. Read more
Four former national security advisers in a letter to the editor in the Washington Post published on Tuesday denounced what New York TImes columnist Tom Friedman described as “disgusting” attacks on former Republican senator Chuck Hagel and praised Hagel’s prior service to the United States.
Responding to a Dec. 21 Post story on Hagel’s potential nomination to be Secretary of Defense, the former national security advisers, James L. Jones (Obama), Brent Scowcroft (Ford, H.W Bush) , Zbigniew Brzezinski (Carter) and Frank Carlucci (Reagan), said they “strongly object…to the attacks on the character of former senator Chuck Hagel,” whom they called “a man of unshakable integrity and wisdom who has served his country in the most distinguished manner in peace and war”:
He is a rare example of a public servant willing to rise above partisan politics to advance the interests of the United States and its friends and allies. Moreover, it is damaging to the quality of our civic discourse for prospective Cabinet nominees to be subjected to such vicious attacks on their character before an official nomination.
This type of behavior will only discourage future prospective nominees from public service when our country badly needs quality leadership in government.
Scowcroft and 10 other retired senior U.S. military officials, including William Fallon and Anthony Zinni, signed a letter last week saying that Hagel would be “a strong leader at the Pentagon” and that he’s “eminently qualified for the job.” That letter came on the heals of one just days prior in which nine former U.S. Ambassadors, including Ryan Crocker, signed a letter praising Hagel’s qualifications for the top Pentagon job.
The high-level support for Hagel comes after the “neocon smear machine” recently began a campaign to tar Hagel as an anti-Semite and anti-Israel and not sufficiently militaristic toward Iran after news reports that he is President Obama’s top choice to succeed Leon Panetta.
Friedman defended Hagel against the backlash in his Times column today. “I think he would make a fine secretary of defense — precisely because some of his views are not ‘mainstream.’”
In its Dec. 21 article on Hagel, the Post quoted Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) calling the former Nebraska Republican an “excellent candidate” for Pentagon chief. “Most senators who served with Chuck would be favorable to his nomination,” Lugar said.
The Atlantic’s Robert Wright notes today that Hagel has now drawn wide ranging support from across the ideological spectrum. “[B]y and large this fight is between some neocons (plus a few reliable supporters) and everybody else,” he writes, adding: “So it’s in Obama’s hands. There’s a lot at stake here — not just whether McCarthyite smears will be allowed to succeed, but whether Obama, in the wake of the Susan Rice episode, will now get a reputation as someone who caves whenever he faces resistance.”
(Photo: Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski – Getty)
It was another year of incredible weather extremes unparalleled in American history during 2012. Eleven billion-dollar weather disasters hit the U.S., a figure exceeded only by the fourteen such disasters during the equally insane weather year of 2011. I present for you now the top ten weather stories of 2012, chosen for their meteorological significance and human and economic impact.
Video 1. Hour-by-hour animation of infrared satellite images for 2012. The loop goes in slow-motion to feature such events as Hurricane Sandy, the June Derecho, Summer in March, and other top weather events of 2012. The date stamp is at lower left; you will want to make the animation full screen to see the date. Special thanks to wunderground’s Deb Mitchell for putting this together!
1) Superstorm Sandy Hurricane Sandy was truly astounding in its size and power. At its peak size, twenty hours before landfall, Sandy had tropical storm-force winds that covered an area nearly one-fifth the area of the contiguous United States. Sandy’s area of ocean with twelve-foot seas peaked at 1.4 million square miles–nearly one-half the area of the contiguous United States, or 1% of Earth’s total ocean area. Most incredibly, ten hours before landfall (9:30 am EDT October 29), the total energy of Sandy’s winds of tropical storm-force and higher peaked at 329 terajoules–the highest value for any Atlantic hurricane since at least 1969, and equivalent to five Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.
At landfall, Sandy’s tropical storm-force winds spanned 943 miles of the the U.S. coast. No hurricane on record has been larger. Sandy’s huge size prompted high wind warnings to be posted from Chicago to Eastern Maine, and from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Florida’s Lake Okeechobee–an area home to 120 million people. Sandy’s winds simultaneously caused damage to buildings on the shores of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore, and toppled power lines in Nova Scotia, Canada–locations 1200 miles apart!
Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City, NJ on October 29, with sustained winds of 80 mph and a central minimum pressure of 946 mb–the lowest pressure on record along the Northeast coast. The Battery, in New York City Harbor, had an observed water level of 13.88 feet, besting the previous record set by Hurricane Donna in 1960 by 3 feet. Sandy also brought torrential rainfall to the Mid-Atlantic, with over 12 inches of rain observed in parts of Maryland. In addition, Sandy generated blizzard conditions for the central and southern Appalachians with more than a foot of snow falling in six states from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, shattering October snow records. Over 130 fatalities were reported and over 8.5 million customers lost power–the second largest weather-related power outage in U.S. history, behind the 10 million that lost power during the Blizzard of 1993. Damage from Sandy is estimated at $62 billion.
Figure 1. Cabs lie flooded on October 30, 2012, in Hoboken, NJ, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. AP photo: Charles Sykes.
2) Warmest Year on Record
Spring, March, July, and the annual temperature were all warmest on record in the contiguous U.S. July was the warmest month of any month in the 1,400+ months of the U.S. data record, going back to 1895. The spring temperature departure from average was the largest on record for any season, and March temperatures had the second largest warm departure from average of any month in U.S. history. All-time hottest temperature records were set over approximately 7% of the area of the contiguous U.S., according to a database of 298 major U.S. cities maintained by wunderground’s weather historian, Christopher C. Burt. Given the very warm December temperatures so far, the final 2012 annual temperature is likely to break the previous warmest year on record (1998) by at least 0.7°F–a colossal margin to break an annual record by. It is likely that 15 states will end up with their warmest year on record in 2012, and 42 states will have a top-ten warmest year.
Figure 2. One of 2012′s incredibly hot days: high temperatures on August 1 in Oklahoma from the Oklahoma Mesonet. It was the hottest day in Oklahoma since August 1936, with more than half of the state recording temperatures of 110° or higher. Oklahoma City hit 112°, tied for the city’s 3nd highest temperature since record keeping began in 1890. The only hotter days occurred two days later–on August 3, 2012–and back on August 11, 1936 (113°.)
3) The Great Drought of 2012
The Great U.S. Drought of 2012 may well turn out to be the biggest weather story of 2012, since its full impacts have not yet been realized. The area of the contiguous U.S. in moderate or greater drought peaked at 61.8% in July–the largest such area since the Dust Bowl drought of December 1939. The heat and dryness resulted in record or near-record evaporation rates, causing major impact on corn, soybean and wheat belts in addition to livestock production. Drought upstream of the Lower Mississippi River caused record and near-record low stream flows along the river in Mississippi and Louisiana, resulting in limited river transportation and commerce. Crop damages alone from the great drought are estimated at $35 billion. As the total scope of losses is realized across all lines of business in coming months, this number will climb significantly.