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Elizabeth Warren was told to stay quiet, but she didn’t – and it’s paying off

Elizabeth Warren was told to stay quiet, but she didn’t – and it’s paying off

In her book released this year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren recounted a dinner she had with President Obama’s chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, in April 2009, when Warren was the outspoken chairman of a congressionally appointed panel probing the government’s response to the financial crisis.

Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice. ... He teed it up this way: I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule. They don’t criticize other insiders.

I had been warned.

Warren ignored the warning.

 
How cheap oil changes the world

How cheap oil changes the world

By David J. Unger

Consumers get lower heating bills and prices at the pump. Russia, Iran, and Venezuela face shrinking treasuries, while Saudi Arabia tries to still US drills.

The plunging prices are affecting the geopolitics of the Middle East, the cohesiveness of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the number of drilling jobs in North Dakota, and the cost of airline tickets for the holidays.

On one level, there is nothing unusual about this. It reflects the never-ending undulation of oil prices that has been going on since the dawn of the fossil fuel era. Prices rise, and prices fall. Oil markets self-correct.

But this time around, something fundamentally different may be happening. New oil is flowing from unexpected corners, while longtime petro states watch their grasp on markets slip. Traditionally oil-hungry countries have curbed their appetite, but once-sleepy economies now guzzle vast amounts more crude than they used to. Meanwhile, growing global alarm over the threat of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions has accelerated the development of alternative fuels and efficiency measures that displace oil demand across the board.

These and other structural shifts make it “increasingly clear that we have begun a new chapter in the history of the oil markets,” the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) wrote in its November Oil Market Report. Barring any unforeseen disruption in supply, most analysts believe short-term oil prices will remain well below the $100 to $110 per barrel range, around which prices had consistently hovered for three years. Depending on whom you ask, the world may continue to see oil at $60 to $50 per barrel, or lower, for months, a year – or even a decade.

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“We have seen a historic development in global energy markets in shale innovation in America in the last five or six years, which has led to staggering US oil and gas production,” says Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy and a former energy adviser to President Obama. “Having said that, when you look at the fundamentals in the global oil market, there continues to be a great deal of geopolitical risk in key producing areas. All of it is very promising, but there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

 
Why we blocked D.C.’s pot legislation

Why we blocked D.C.’s pot legislation

The House has a duty to uphold federal drug laws in the District.

Many have asked why Republican legislators who profess respect for self-government and democracy would step in to overrule D.C. residents who voted to legalize recreational marijuana use in the city. We would like to answer that question head-on. Simply put, we believe that Congress must defend the federal government and the U.S. Constitution by preventing marijuana legalization from moving forward in the District.

Federal policy on marijuana is neither arbitrary nor set in stone. Proper procedures exist for changing the way that marijuana is regulated in the United States, but a ballot initiative in the federal district is not one of them. If the city were allowed to proceed, it would create legal chaos.

The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance was made through a legal and scientific process established by Congress and administered by the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency. This classification means that the drug has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use and cannot be used safely even under medical supervision.

Marijuana use is far from benign, and the effect the drug has on users can ripple through a lifetime and touch both their families and society at large.

Many studies have shown that use of marijuana can have a wide range of negative effects on an individual’s brain, body and behavior. This includes short- and long-term effects on functions such as brain development, memory and cognition, motivation and lung health. Persistent marijuana users have shown a significant drop in IQ between childhood and midlife.

Marijuana is the illicit drug most frequently found to be a factor in car accidents, including fatal ones.
 
Ralph Lauren Creates His Clubhouse

Ralph Lauren Creates His Clubhouse

A Ralph Lauren Restaurant, the Polo Bar, Comes to New York

Ralph Lauren arrived at the Polo Bar, his first restaurant in New York City, looking as if he had just come from a fox hunt on the grounds of Downton Abbey. He wore a fitted suit of Scottish tweed, set off by a blue tie with red stripes. In a slit in his vest he carried an actual pocket watch (“It has an elegance to it,” he said) that was attached to a chain and marked with the insignia of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

He spied a corner table. “I have to figure out where I’m going to sit for the rest of my life,” he said.

Regardless of which leather banquette Mr. Lauren eventually settles into, his coordinates in American culture at large have remained pretty consistent for a half-century or so. At 75, he’s an emblem of and a catalyst for the New World’s longings for an Old World aristocracy.

“You’ve got to be someone who pays attention to the details,” he said, and he may as well have been channeling Jay Gatsby. The Polo Bar, which is scheduled to open this month — its doorway a few steps east of his company’s flagship store at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street — looks like a place where the Earl of Grantham might repair for a porterhouse and a brandy after a brisk woodland romp.

Mr. Lauren surveyed the room, paying attention to the details and speaking in a near-whisper that carried a trace of his childhood in the Bronx. “Can you tell me any restaurant that looks like this?” he asked.

Well, no — at least none of recent vintage. To call the Polo Bar clubby would be a meek understatement. Aglow with amber light and dense with equestrian paintings and trophies, it feels like a country club as staged by Steven Spielberg.

“It’s tradition with flair,” Mr. Lauren said, by way of encapsulating his ethos. “It’s not just tradition.”

Which is to say that the Polo Bar does not resemble any major restaurant to appear on the Manhattan scene for a generation or so, and that’s fine with Mr. Lauren.

“I’m about longevity, I’m about timeless,” Mr. Lauren said, sipping a cup of his own brand of coffee. “It was not my idea to be trendy. I don’t want to be the hot restaurant. I want to be the restaurant you want to go to twice a week.”

 
California drought: Storm gives bump to state water supplies

A pickup drives through a flooded section of Neeley Road as the Russian River flows over its bank in Guerneville, Calif. on Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

California drought: Storm gives bump to state water supplies

The pounding storm that shut down schools and inspired “hellastorm” hashtags on social media has California water managers, for the first time in a long while, talking about a possible dent in the drought.

Wet weather is filling and even flooding Bay Area rivers and streams, and most importantly, it’s putting more water behind the big dams in the Sierra.

The caveat, though, is that the state still needs a lot more rain and snow to make up for three years of depleted supplies — perhaps a half dozen or more really big storms, experts say.

Statewide, reservoirs remain only about 58 percent as full as they usually are at this point in the year, according to the state Department of Water Resources. While water levels are expected to rise as rainfall from the recent storm continues to trickle down hillsides into lakes, a wet January and February remain crucial to replenishing reserves.

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While the storm helped push Sierra precipitation to about 145 percent of average for this time of year, snowpack in the mountains remains sparse — about 40 percent of average for the date.

Snow is vital because it stores water outside the reservoirs and typically melts in the spring and summer when water demand is greatest.

“A lot of rain is falling. It’s good, but it’s not as good as snow,” Swain said.

Tahoe ski resorts on the lake’s west side reported some of the heaviest dumps with this week’s storm. Sugar Bowl saw 22 inches of snow and Boreal Mountain Resort saw 20 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe saw just 3 inches.

“The snow levels were fairly high,” said weather service meteorologist technician Jessica Kielhorn.

Water managers have speculated that the Sierra needs about 150 percent of average precipitation by Oct. 1 to normalize the water situation after three years of drought.

That would be roughly 75 inches of rain and snow, according to the state Department of Water Resources, though things would be better off if more of that precipitation comes as snow.

This week’s front brought precipitation levels to 18.3 inches.

 
The Key to Living a Happy Life Today

The Key to Living a Happy Life Today

By Robert Puff, Ph.D.

What we are exploring here is making sure that every day is a day worth living; that we’re not counting too much on living a life of “someday I’ll…” and that instead we live each day fully.

 
5 Ways to Combat Loneliness Over the Holidays

5 Ways to Combat Loneliness Over the Holidays

By Lisa Firestone, Ph.D.

No matter how many people are around you, it is NOT uncommon to feel lonely over the holiday season. Emotions can get stirred up in old settings, and there is a natural sadness that comes with the passing of another year. So, how can we keep our stress and loneliness levels down, so we can live in the moment and enjoy these final days of 2014... and beyond?

 
Adrian Peterson would consider leaving NFL after appeal fails

Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson would consider leaving NFL after appeal fails

Tom Lutz

Adrian Peterson’s appeal against his suspension from the NFL has been denied.

Harold Henderson, who was appointed by the NFL as an independent arbitrator, said there is no reason to think the suspension was unfair. “He was afforded all the protections and rights to which he is entitled,” Henderson said in a statement, “and I find no basis to vacate or reduce the discipline.”

Peterson is expected to take his appeal to federal court but said he would consider retirement if his suspension remains in place. He admits he has thought about running the 200m or 400m at the Olympics.

“I’ve considered retiring from the NFL,” Peterson told ESPN. “I still made $8m dollars this year. I’ve thought about getting back into the real estate I’m already in. That’s something I’ve been interested in, something I’m involved in. I’ve thought about getting back into that. I’ve thought about going after the Olympics – you only live once. It might be time for me to pursue that, as well. I love playing football, don’t get me wrong, but this situation is deeper than that. For me, it’s like, ‘Why should I continue to be a part of an organization or a business that handles players the way they do? Making money off the field anyway, why not continue to pursue that [Olympic] dream and pursue other dreams and hang up the cleats?’”

 
Untrained CIA Agents Were Just Making Up Torture Methods As They Went Along

Untrained CIA Agents Were Just Making Up Torture Methods As They Went Along

By Jenna McLaughlin

The untrained interrogators were quite literally "left to their own devices."

The CIA was "unprepared" to begin the enhanced interrogation program, the Senate report concluded. The agency sent untrained, inexperienced people into the field to interrogate Abu Zubaydah, the first important Al Qaeda suspect the US captured.

Within weeks of Zubaydah's arrival, while he was still in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound, CIA headquarters was planning to throw him in all-white room with no natural lighting, blast rock music 24/7, strip him of his clothes, and keep him awake all day. They did. Extreme interrogations like these, identified as "enhanced interrogation techniques," went on for more than three months before CIA officers received any sort of training in the new techniques from anyone.

 
Inside the Collapse of The New Republic

Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave the toast at The New Republic’s centennial gala in November. Last week, two-thirds of the people on the magazine’s editorial masthead resigned.

Inside the Collapse of The New Republic

By Ryan Lizza

Last Friday morning, Chris Hughes, the owner of The New Republic, and Guy Vidra, the magazine’s C.E.O., presided over a meeting at the publication’s Penn Quarter offices in Washington, D.C. It had been a busy twenty-four hours: a day earlier, Hughes had forced out the magazine’s editor, Franklin Foer, and Vidra had announced that the hundred-year-old opinion magazine, which was founded to “bring sufficient enlightenment to the problems of the nation,” would be reduced from twenty to ten issues a year and would move to New York, where it would be reinvented as a “vertically integrated digital-media company.” Minutes before the Friday meeting began, most of the magazine’s writers and editors had resigned in protest.

Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook with an estimated fortune of more than half a billion dollars, bought T.N.R. in 2012, and the Washington headquarters was a reflection of his ambitions. The office is bright, with an open floor plan for writers and a row of well-appointed editors’ offices with windows overlooking the National Portrait Gallery. Bound volumes from the magazine’s history line a long wall, and a small library decorated with photographs of T.N.R.s founders and early contributors serves as a retreat for quiet reading. Hughes signed a ten-year lease and told his writers that the magazine would stay in Washington for a long time.

As the remaining staff gathered around a long conference table, Vidra set up a computer with his notes on it. Hughes joined from New York via a video-conferencing system.

Vidra read from his laptop. Hughes had hired him in October from Yahoo, and he spoke in a Silicon Valley-inflected jargon that many of T.N.R.s journalists found grating and bewildering. As soon as he arrived, he embarked on a project to transform the modest-circulation journal of politics and culture into something more like a technology company. In conversations with Foer, he deemed it necessary to rid the staff of old-timers who he believed were ill-suited for the transformation.

That problem had now been solved. Foer, who spent fourteen years at T.N.R., was gone. Leon Wieseltier, the magazine’s literary editor, who worked there for thirty-two years, left with him. So did the executive editors Rachel Morris and Greg Veis, who were responsible for editing the magazine’s in-depth journalism; nine of the magazine’s eleven active senior writers; Jeffrey Rosen, the longtime legal-affairs editor; Hillary Kelly, the digital-media editor; and six of Wieseltier’s culture writers and editors (covering film, art, music, poetry, dance, and architecture). Thirty-six out of thirty-eight contributing editors, who are a mix of contract writers, semi-regular contributors, and T.N.R. alumni, resigned or asked to have their names removed from the masthead (including me: I am hardly an impartial observer). In all, two-thirds of the names on the editorial masthead were gone. “I wish I could have walked out, too,” a junior staffer who is still there and couldn’t afford to quit told me. In a letter to Hughes, twenty former writers and editors, including several who now work at The New Yorker, said that Hughes and Vidra had brought about the “destruction” of The New Republic.

At the meeting in the conference room, Vidra addressed the depleted staff. “I feel like there’s been a lot of misperception, and maybe some of that is my fault,” he said. “Undoubtedly a lot of it is.” He mentioned the incoming editor, Gabriel Snyder, who had previously worked as the editor of Gawker and the Wire. Snyder did not know many people on staff, and had never edited a magazine. But Vidra said that Snyder “was eager to get into the role, and he wants to meet with all of you.”

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Hughes bought T.N.R. two years ago in what was essentially a fire sale. The magazine has almost always lost money, and for the previous five years a small team of wealthy friends of the magazine had been sustaining it. But by the fall of 2011, the losses deepened and the owners were ready to sell. Richard Just, the editor at the time, had the unenviable choice of trying to find a savior for the magazine or watching it die slowly. Just, who now runs National Journal magazine, started as the online editor in 2004 and had worked his way up the print masthead to the top position, where he garnered T.N.R.s first National Magazine Award nomination for general excellence in twenty years. He was determined to find a new buyer and save the institution. A mutual friend connected Just and Hughes via e-mail. They had breakfast in New York, and when Just returned to Washington he told Wieseltier that he thought they had found their buyer. Just, Wieseltier, and Hughes spent the next four months discussing the details.

“In retrospect, it was too good to be true,” someone with knowledge of the talks said. “Chris said all the right things about not wanting to control.”

 
Artificial Intelligence Isn’t a Threat—Yet

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Artificial Intelligence Isn’t a Threat—Yet

Superintelligent machines are still a long way off, but we need to prepare for their future rise, Gary Marcus writes.

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”  —Stephen Hawking, Dec. 2

Does artificial intelligence threaten our species, as the cosmologist Stephen Hawking recently suggested? Is the development of AI like “summoning the demon,” as tech pioneer Elon Musk told an audience at MIT in October? Will smart machines supersede or even annihilate humankind?

As a cognitive scientist and founder of a new startup that focuses on “machine learning,” I think about these questions nearly every day.

But let’s not panic. “Superintelligent” machines won’t be arriving soon. Computers today are good at narrow tasks carefully engineered by programmers, like balancing checkbooks and landing airplanes, but after five decades of research, they are still weak at anything that looks remotely like genuine human intelligence.

Even the best computer programs out there lack the flexibility of human thinking. A teenager can pick up a new videogame in an hour; your average computer program still can only do just the single task for which it was designed. (Some new technologies do slightly better, but they still struggle with any task that requires long-term planning.)

A more immediate concern is that a machine doesn’t have to be superintelligent to do a lot of damage, if it is sufficiently empowered. Stock market flash crashes are one example: Hundreds of millions of dollars have been lost in minutes as a result of minor, difficult-to-completely-eliminate bugs.

The clear and present danger, if not the greatest long-term danger, is that mediocre computer programs can cause significant damage if left unchecked. What will happen, for example, when nearly perfect—but still imperfect—software controls not just stock trades but driverless cars? It’s one thing for a software bug to trash your grocery list; it’s another for it to crash your car.

 
Jeb Bush sending signals that he may be getting ready for 2016 presidential run

Jeb Bush sending signals that he may be getting ready for 2016 presidential run

Jeb Bush and his emissaries are sending increasingly strong signals that the former Florida governor is gearing up for a 2016 presidential campaign, with associates saying he could announce his intentions within a month.

Bush recently e-mailed major Republican donors asking them to, as several of them put it, “keep your powder dry.” His allies are urging would-be bundlers not to commit to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or other potential rivals. Bush’s top strategist, Mike Murphy, has also been telling potential campaign staffers not to sign up to work for another candidate and to expect Bush’s announcement soon.

Out of public office for eight years, Bush has a thicket of business interests — including massive overseas investment funds — that he is working to untangle himself from before a campaign begins. As one confidant said, “He says he knows he has to wrap it up.”

If Bush launches a presidential exploratory committee or otherwise declares his intentions in coming weeks, he would immediately increase the pressure on potential rivals in both parties to make their own decisions quickly. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the presumed Democratic front-runner, has signaled that she could wait until spring to launch a campaign, while many Republicans have been waiting for Bush to make a move.

For Bush, allies said, waiting until spring to decide on a campaign would carry serious risks. The competition is already underway among a dozen or so ambitious Republican hopefuls to woo donors and sign talented staff.

Some senior Republicans in communication with Bush said they have concluded he is almost certain to run. His family — once averse to a campaign — is now on board with a run. Bush also has slimmed down: He is working with a new personal trainer after a knee surgery, according to the Miami Herald, and lost 15 pounds in recent weeks.

 
Universities Sell 'Experiences' That Allow Fans to Connect Directly With Teams

Front Row? Too Far Away

Universities Sell 'Experiences' That Allow Fans to Connect Directly With Teams

When the Auburn football team emerged through a wall of smoke before its game against South Carolina in October, John Joyave was right beside the Tigers. When the Rutgers basketball team ate its pregame meal before a February game at Louisville, Jason Newcomb dug in with the players.

Mr. Joyave and Mr. Newcomb are not N.C.A.A. athletes. They are fans of the universities they attended, and they won online auctions for packages billed as “experiences.” Waiting around after a game to get a player’s autograph is passé for many modern fans. Now they can connect more directly with players and teams, sometimes by going on the field with them.

This year alone, winning bidders have watched from seats in the press box, sat behind the team bench or stood just outside the end zone for the final minutes of a football game. Some have toured arenas and broadcast booths. Others have arranged for their children to retrieve the tee after an opening kickoff or to serve as a ball girl or ball boy at a basketball game.

Some of the auctions have been won for less than $100, others for thousands of dollars. The record price on the site run by CBS Sports was $15,800, for sideline passes and entry to a party before Southern California’s 2008 football game against Ohio State.

“It’s irresistible,” Mr. Joyave, a 1986 Auburn graduate, said of the “game-day smoke entrance” experience he won. “You’re there as the stadium fills up and the band comes out, and you get in position with the fire extinguishers as the players come out — and you just let go.”

The market is not limited to top-ranked programs — a bidder paid $1,000 this year to play golf with Shane Davis, the men’s volleyball coach at Loyola Chicago — but it should come as no surprise that some of the nation’s most successful football programs are among the busiest participants.

Susan Staats Sidwell, a lifelong Alabama fan, said she could barely speak when she won the right to meet Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban on the set of his weekly radio show in 2011. “It sounded like I was crying,” she said.

She had won an auction to attend the show at the Tuscaloosa restaurant where it was broadcast and to ask Mr. Saban the first question from the audience. But Ms. Sidwell also saw the auction as an opportunity to learn more about Mr. Saban. His success as a leader, she said, inspires the way she runs her two methadone clinics.

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Prices for the experiences can fluctuate based on a team’s on-field performance, the number of bidders aware of the auction, and the particular experience and sport.

“What’s appealing to fans is they feel a part of the institution and the team, even if they don’t know the outcome of the game,” said Patty Hirsch, the general manager of CBS Interactive Advanced Media.

Ms. Hirsch conceded that “awareness of the auctions is not as high as it should be,” but she said the average number of experience auctions involving the most active colleges and universities had doubled from 2008 to 2013, to 15 annually.

The fine print of the auctions routinely cautions that winning bidders must be fans of the colleges whose experiences they are seeking, the equivalent of Sotheby’s telling potential buyers of a Warhol that they cannot bid if their real passion is for Matisse.

The disclaimer for the Alabama “press box fan experience” demands that winners be Alabama fans, but it bars them from proving it by cheering there. For the smoke entrance experience at Auburn — where the athletics staff sprays smoke at the Tigers’ football players as they run onto the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium — the winner and a guest “must be Auburn University fans and must dress and act in a professional and courteous manner.” Otherwise, their experience may be cut short, without a refund.

Mr. Joyave, who owns four pediatric clinics, also won auctions this season for the pregame Tiger Walk and for the gold-plated coin used for the Oct. 4 coin flip against Louisiana State.

 
Obama's left wing headache

Obama's left wing headache

Obama's left wing headache

By Brian Hughes

The White House is hardly celebrating after narrowly avoiding another government shutdown, as the federal funding fight has given way to a progressive revolt that is forcing President Obama to somehow appease liberals while not sacrificing prospects for bipartisan compromise in a Republican Congress.

This is uncharted territory for Obama, facing open rebellion from the same lawmakers who have backed the White House throughout his six years in office.

That so many Democrats were willing to risk being blamed for a government shutdown rather than bend to White House lobbying on the omnibus spending bill shows the degree to which Obama’s political clout has diminished — and how much he will struggle to contain progressive frustrations during the lame-duck phase of his presidency.

“This isn’t a one-time thing. This isn’t something the White House can just gloss over,” said a senior aide for a House Democratic lawmaker. “They gave away too much [in the spending battle], and this will embolden members to challenge them if they do so again. You wait and see.”

The president cannot pursue the types of reforms he wants in his final two years if Democrats abandon him. As the so-called "cromnibus" showdown proved, Obama is unlikely to ever secure enough Republican support alone for passage of big-ticket items.

But Obama is in a tough spot politically. He is being accused by his own party of sacrificing liberal values to secure badly flawed legislation, while facing accusations from the Right of overstepping his constitutional authority with unprecedented regularity.

In other words, the president risks turning off the bases of two political parties, leaving him to win over a shrinking pool of more centrist lawmakers to give the White House political cover on Capitol Hill.

“It’s something that has been there all along but is now surfacing,” said Charles Walcott, a Virginia Tech political scientist and an expert on the presidency. “It may not be as important to Obama now to keep the entire Democratic coalition together. What would he get — a united minority that loses?”

 
Nominees at issue as senators try to wrap up 113th Congress

Nominees at issue as senators try to wrap up 113th Congress

Nominees at issue as senators try to wrap up 113th Congress

By Alexander Bolton

Senate leaders are within striking distance of a deal to fund the government, extend expired tax cuts and wrap up the 113th Congress but a dispute over President Obama’s nominees remains a sticking point.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Friday evening that GOP senators are poised to agree to pass a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill and a package extending expired tax cuts.

“We’re very close to being cleared on this side to finish up and I want everybody to understand that it’s possible to finish tonight and very shortly we’ll be able to announce that there are no impediments toward getting to that goal on our side of the aisle,” he said on the floor.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said McConnell mischaracterized the situation. He pointed out that more work needs to be done, including on nominees.

 “We have some nominations that we have an obligation to the American people to do,” Reid told colleagues in response. “We can finish the omnibus tonight but we’re not finishing [everything] tonight.”

Two Republican senators and a Senate GOP aide said a group of executive and judicial branch nominees are the remaining sticking point.

“We’ve cleared everything on our side. Noms are the holdup,” said a senior GOP aide.

 
Happy 20th Birthday, Liz Hurley’s Safety-Pin Dress

Happy 20th Birthday, Liz Hurley’s Safety-Pin Dress

In 1994, Elizabeth Hurley sensationally wore a Versace safety-pin dress to her then-partner Hugh Grant’s film premiere. She hasn’t been out of the headlines since.

The strange thing, looking back 20 years, is that Elizabeth Hurley’s “safety pin” dress, designed by Gianni Versace, looks quite modest today. The delighted and lascivious tabloid outcry at the time was based around those safety pins, seemingly holding everything together where slashes in the material showed skin. It was sexy, silly, and—in those relatively modest times—sensational.

Today of course, compared to the barely there skeins of material adorning actresses on the red carpet, Hurley’s safety-pin dress looks like a nun’s habit.

She wore the dress to the London premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral, the British movie about a group of friends and Hugh Grant’s charmingly frustrated efforts to begin a romance with (dreary, dreary, dreary) Andie MacDowell. It was a massive hit, and the safety-pin dress a brilliant cartoonish cherry on top of it.

The dress is bawdy, dramatic, but playful rather than serious couture—Versace at his bombastic cock-a-snook best; and Hurley, head tossed back, her expression defiant and a little bit snarly, sets it off beautifully. The images suggested that if there was audio supplied with the images it would be of Hurley, seen on the arm of then-boyfriend Grant, purring.

The dress doesn’t look shocking now. Back then, when partners of stars melted into the background, it was a barnstorming stealing of the show.

141212-teeeman-hurley-embed

What makes the dress so memorable? Well, again unlike today’s young actresses, Ms. Hurley in 1994 looks voluptuous, not skeletal. She has curves. A Daily Mail writer, wearing a facsimile of the dress, said it was sculpted to her body, but not restrictively so. It made her feel sexy. The writer did add that, walking from one side of the building to the other where the photoshoot was, two girls giggled and muttered, “Russian prostitute.”

But the dress was its own unapologetic sonic boom—and was immediately much-copied. In wearing it, Hurley helped originate a wider revolution, too. Twenty years ago, the “red carpet” was yet to mutate into the loony-fest it became, and so Hurley’s dress has its own fashion and cultural significance: It’s one of the first showstopper red-carpet looks.

The dress conferred, not just an immediate fame upon Hurley, but also the first glint of her own celebrity identity, separate to being Grant’s partner. The following year their split and reunion, following him getting busted in L.A. with prostitute Divine Brown, was recorded as breathlessly by the tabloids as a romance novel, she retreating to the countryside behind big, dark glasses.

They split a few years later: She went on to have relationships with, among others, businessman Steve Bing, Arun Nayar, and most recently the cricketer Shane Warne, who—again gleefully recorded by the tabloids—immediately lost weight, started wearing bright colors. Warne looked—in the words of the Daily Mail—“like a spooky waxwork.”

 
Insufficient Childhood Sleep And Teenage Overweight

Insufficient Childhood Sleep And Teenage Overweight

By Dennis Rosen, M.D.

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics on December 11th 2014 found a strong connection between insufficient sleep in early childhood and overweight in adolescence.

Researchers in England studied more than 1800 children in Southern England and found that children who slept less than 10 hours/night at ages 4-6, according to parental report, were more than twice as likely to be overweight at age 15 than those children who slept more than 10 hours/night. For reference, most kindergarten-age children need between 10-11 hours of sleep/night.

 
Undercover police officer pulls gun on Oakland protesters after cover blown

oakland protest

Undercover police officer pulls gun on Oakland protesters after cover blown

Jessica Glenza in New York

Plainclothes California highway patrol officers have walked among demonstrators for weeks: report

An undercover California highway patrol officer who had infiltrated protests against police violence in Oakland pulled a gun on demonstrators after his and his partner’s cover was blown.

According to accounts in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Berkeley Daily Planet, a few dozen protesters remaining from larger demonstrations yelled that two men in plainclothes were police.

“Just as we turned up 27th Street, the crowd started yelling at these two guys, saying they were undercover cops,” the Chronicle’s freelance photographer Michael Short told the newspaper on Thursday.

The Berkeley Daily Planet reported that the two men tried to walk away, but the couple of dozen remaining protesters “persisted, screaming at the two undercover cops”. The Planet said that an officer “pushed a protester aside”. The demonstrator allegedly pushed back and was tackled and handcuffed.

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In a stunning admission, the patrol’s Golden Gate Division told the San Francisco Chronicle that officers had been dressing like and walking with protesters since the first demonstration on 24 November, attempting to gather intelligence to stop highway shutdowns.

 
Geraldo Doubles Down on His ‘Be a Better Father’ Comments

GeraldoRiveraSept2010.jpg

Geraldo Doubles Down on His ‘Be a Better Father’ Comments

by Andrew Desiderio

Following his comments on Thursday that LeBron James should wear a “be a better father” shirt instead of the “I can’t breathe” one the NBA star wore during pregame warm-ups earlier this week, Fox News host Geraldo Rivera has doubled down.

“I wondered to myself, what if LeBron James instead had a shirt … ‘Be a better father to your son,’ ‘Raise your children,’” Rivera said on Wednesday. “Those difficult issues are not being dealt with by the black community because they are so complex, they are so deep-rooted, they are really so profoundly troubling that they don’t want to try.”

In a Facebook post published Friday morning, Rivera did not walk back his comments, and instead criticized James for not addressing the correct issue.

“My beef with LeBron and the others is they have not in any meaningful way embraced the issue of the disintegration and dysfunction in the urban family, which is resulting in far more pain to the community than the cops are,” Rivera wrote. “Where is that tee-shirt?”

He also praised NYPD Chief Bill Bratton for embracing his idea of cops using non-lethal weapons such as tasers because, according to Rivera, “too many black men are dying in encounters with police that should not be fatal.”

 
CIA torture report sparks renewed calls to prosecute senior US officials

Ben Emmerson

CIA torture report sparks renewed calls to prosecute senior US officials

Mark Tran

UN special rapporteur on human rights Ben Emmerson says US attorney general has international obligation to reopen inquiries

A UN expert on human rights has repeated his call for the US to live up to its international legal obligations and prosecute senior officials who authorised the use of torture.

Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said Eric Holder, the US attorney general, is under an international obligation to reopen inquiries into senior officials alleged to have breached human rights.

Asked whether George W Bush should be prosecuted, Emmerson told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that as a head of state he enjoyed special immunity, but other senior officials should face charges.

“Certainly those at higher levels involved in the commitment of an international crime, a crime of universal jurisdiction, are liable to be charged,” he said.

In a previous statement, following the damning Senate report on the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) such as waterboarding, Emmerson pointed out that the UN convention against torture required states to prosecute acts of torture where there was sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. He pointed out that Barack Obama had already admitted five years ago that the US regarded the use of waterboarding as torture.

“There is therefore no excuse for shielding the perpetrators from justice any longer,” said Emmerson, a British international lawyer serving in the independent post since 2010. He made the comments immediately after the report was released by the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday.

 
What Bill Cosby's Crimes can Teach us About Sexual Predators

What Bill Cosby's Crimes can Teach us About Sexual Predators

By Azadeh Aalai, Ph.D.

Why are so many accusers coming forward at the same time against Bill Cosby? Could it be that a path is finally clear for victims of sexual assault to be heard and for their stories to empower others to do the same?

If ever there was a question as to the motives behind rape, the Cosby case brings to the forefront that sexual assault and rape is not about sex, it is first and foremost about power, and specifically for the perpetrators, about using force, both physical and psychological, to dominate their targets.

Interestingly, in the account that Johnson relays, it is her swift reaction to Cosby once she realizes he has drugged her coffee and her incessant repeating of “you are a motherfucker” that appeared to stop him from actually assaulting her once she became compromised (Johnson, 2014). In other words, she overturns the script by making it clear to Cosby before she loses consciousness that she knows what he is up to, and that she will go down fighting. Despite her being spared from assault, after attempting to confront Cosby once after their encounter, in the aftermath she ultimately remained silent. Johnson (2014) shares:

Still I struggled with how to reveal my big secret, and more importantly, what would people think when and if I did? Would they dismiss me as an angry black woman intent on ruining the image of one of the most revered men in the African American community over the last 40 years? Or would they see my open and honest account of being betrayed by one of the country’s most powerful, influential, and beloved entertainers? (page 2)

 
Charles Krauthammer: A travesty of a report

 A travesty of a report

The report by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding CIA interrogation essentially accuses the agency under George W. Bush of war criminality. Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein appears to offer some extenuation when she reminds us in the report’s preamble of the shock and “pervasive fear” felt after 9/11.

It’s a common theme (often echoed by President Obama): Amid panic and disorientation, we lost our moral compass and made awful judgments. The results are documented in the committee report. They must never happen again.

It’s a kind of temporary-insanity defense for the Bush administration. And it is not just unctuous condescension but hypocritical nonsense. In the aftermath of 9/11, there was nothing irrational about believing that a second attack was a serious possibility and therefore everything should be done to prevent it. Indeed, this was the considered opinion of the CIA, the administration, the congressional leadership and the American people.

Al-Qaeda had successfully mounted four major attacks on American targets in the previous three years. The pace was accelerating and the scale vastly increasing. The country then suffered a deadly anthrax attack of unknown origin. Al-Qaeda was known to be seeking weapons of mass destruction.

We were so blindsided that we established a 9/11 commission to find out why. And we knew next to nothing about the enemy: its methods, structure, intentions, plans. There was nothing morally deranged about deciding as a nation to do everything necessary to find out what we needed to prevent a repetition, or worse. As Feinstein said at the time, “We have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”

Nancy Pelosi, then ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, was briefed about the interrogation program, including the so-called torture techniques. As were the other intelligence committee leaders. “We understood what the CIA was doing,” wrote Porter Goss, Pelosi’s chairman on the House committee. “We gave the CIA our bipartisan support; we gave the CIA funding to carry out its activities.”

Democrat Jay Rockefeller, while the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked in 2003 about turning over Khalid Sheik Mohammed to countries known to torture. He replied: “I wouldn’t take anything off the table where he is concerned.”

 
Angelina gives Sony exec death stare after ‘spoiled brat’ emails

Angelina gives Sony exec death stare after ‘spoiled brat’ emails

This picture is worth more than a 1,000 words.

On Wednesday morning, Angelina Jolie and Amy Pascal crossed paths at The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment Power 100 Breakfast in perhaps one of the most awkward meetings ever.

The seemingly unfriendly meet-and-greet came two days after leaked emails between producer Scott Rudin and Sony executive Pascal labeled the “Unbroken” director, 39, a “minimally talented spoiled brat” from “Crazyland.”

In the photo, Jolie gives Pascal a death stare with icy eyes and no facial expression as her hand forms into a claw at Pascal’s elbow. The Sony executive, seemingly aware of the awkward tension, emotionally embraces Jolie around the shoulders.

It’s unknown what the women talked about or if a personal apology was given.

 
Chuck Todd on CIA report: 'You've got to remember the way things felt in the moment'

Chuck Todd on CIA report: 'You've got to remember the way things felt in the moment'

Chuck Todd on CIA report: 'You've got to remember the way things felt in the moment'

By Eddie Scarry

NBC's "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd said Friday Americans are likely to be "very forgiving" about a new congressional report that says the CIA has in the past used extreme interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists.

The report also alleges that CIA officials misled the public on the gruesome nature of the techniques.

"In the moment, it's one thing," Todd said, referring to initial public support for aggressive anti-terror methods. "Ten years later you look back and, 'Hmm, should we have thought about that better? Should we have thought about that differently?' And I think that's the fairest, sort of defense in all of this is ... you've got to remember the way things felt in the moment."

Todd added that, "Americans are very forgiving on this front. The thing that this report is damaging is relationships overseas."

 
White House Window

White House Window

The Stranger offers a deeper understanding of the actions and motivations of an enigmatic president.

By Charlie Cook

The Stranger neither worships nor damns. Those who love Obama will not care for it much; it is not a work of hagiography, which true believers tend to want. This book definitely chronicles the president's warts, miscues, and fundamental mistakes. At the same time, those who hate Obama—and, in this day and age, that does not seem too strong a word—will also care little for Todd's story. It does not portray the man as evil or corroborate his opponents' worst suspicions, let alone their conspiracy theories. In many cases, the motives of the president and his people may have been pure, even if they were mistaken in their views or if their actions mangled their intent.

The Stranger is not a salacious read. It's not about who slept with whom, or who, metaphorically speaking, stabbed whom in the back. It isn't snarky, as are so many other books by Washington journalists. Any presidency creates thousands of impressions that together create a mosaic, and each of us sees that president and administration through our own lens. While newspaper and magazine articles—and sometimes television—give us a running narrative with some useful nuggets, what really happened behind those doors and why is often not apparent for some time.

The Stranger reads like a collection of observations that made it into Todd's notebook but weren't reportable at the time. They are the observations of a very smart guy who was watching it all very closely and who had hundreds of sources in the White House, in the Obama campaign, on Capitol Hill, and strategically located throughout American politics. One can only speculate how Todd found out what the key players were thinking at any given time—whether the principals involved or those very close to them spilled the beans in the moment, or months or years later. The passage of time often loosens lips—particularly for those who have left the bubble of a campaign or the White House—and sometimes that results in a little less "us against them" and a bit more perspective. But Todd's reporting all rings very true.

 
The Complicity of Psychologists in CIA Torture

The Complicity of Psychologists in CIA Torture

By Roy Eidelson, Ph.D.

This week’s long-awaited Senate report provides gruesome details of the torture and abuse that took place at black site prisons as part of the CIA’s brutal post-9/11 detention and interrogation program. The key involvement of two psychologists in designing and implementing the program raises broad issues and unanswered questions for the profession of psychology.

Two names appear dozens of times in the committee’s summary: Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar. These are the pseudonyms that were given to James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. It has been known for several years that these two contract psychologists played central roles in designing and implementing the CIA’s torture program. Now we also know how lucrative that work was for Mitchell and Jessen: their company was paid over $80 million by the CIA.

Prior to their CIA contract work, Mitchell and Jessen were psychologists in the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program. Even though they had no experience as interrogators, spoke no Arabic, and had no expert knowledge of al-Qaeda, they were hired by the CIA in late 2001 to reverse-engineer SERE principles and transform them into a set of new and more aggressive interrogation techniques. Mitchell and Jessen arrived at the CIA black site in Thailand in April 2002 and applied those harsh techniques for the first time in their interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian national thought to be a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda. They kept Zubaydah naked for almost two months, with his clothes provided or removed depending on how cooperative he was judged to be. They deprived him of sleep for weeks at a time by painful shackling of his wrists and feet. And in August 2002 they waterboarded him at least 83 times.

 
Did torture stop UK terror attack?

The CIA said enhanced interrogations helped capture Dhiren Barot in 2004

Did torture stop UK terror attack?

By Tom McTague, Deputy Political Editor for MailOnline

Al-Qaeda terrorist captured in London after CIA spies interrogated Guantanamo Bay detainee.

Al Qaeda's top British terrorist was captured after CIA spies tortured former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, it was claimed today.

Crucial information provided by Mr Begg while he was being held helped identify 'dirty bomber' Dhiren Barot who was plotting terror attacks on London, according to the long-awaited publication of a report into CIA torture programmes in the wake of 9/11.

The report claims that drawings by Mr Begg – who claims to have been beaten and deprived of sleep in Guantanamo Bay – helped lead British security services to Barot, who had gone to ground in London.

Barot – also known as 'Issa al-Britani' or 'al-Hindi' – was tracked down in 2004 before being found guilty two years later of planning to detonate a dirty bomb and launch an attack on the Tube.

The revelation will prove highly controversial as it appears to contradict the findings of the Senate's intelligence committee report which found that the CIA's 'enhanced interrogation techniques' did not yield information crucial in stopping terror attacks.

 
Court rejects attempt to allow Edward Snowden into Germany

Edward Snowden

Court rejects attempt to allow Edward Snowden into Germany

Kate Connolly in Berlin

Opposition parties wanted Snowden to give evidence in person to a parliamentary committee investigating NSA espionage.

Attempts by opposition parties in Germany to bring Edward Snowden to Berlin to give evidence about the NSA’s operations have been thwarted by the country’s highest court.

The Green and Left parties wanted the whistleblower to give evidence in person to a parliamentary committee investigating espionage by the US agency, but Germany’s constitutional court ruled against them on Friday.

The government has argued that Snowden’s presence in Germany could impair relations with the US and put it under pressure to extradite him.

It has suggested sending the committee – which consists of eight MPs – to interview him in Moscow, where Snowden is living in exile. Snowden has said through a lawyer that he is prepared to speak to the panel only if permitted to do so in Germany.

Opposition MPs have been vocal about their wish for Snowden to be granted asylum in Germany, where anger towards the NSA and sympathy for the whistleblower has been particularly high.

If Snowden were to be allowed to enter Germany, the clamour for him to be able to stay would be strong and resistance from the government would be likely to be met with civil unrest.

Support for Snowden in Germany reached a peak after allegations came to light that Angela Merkel’s phone was bugged. But Germany’s top public prosecutor announced this week that an investigation had so far failed to find any firm evidence for the claim.

 
Did "24"prime Americans to accept torture as a necessary evil?

Did "24" Prime the Pump for Torture?

By Christopher Ryan

Did "24"prime Americans to accept torture as a necessary evil?

I’ve never made it through an entire episode of “24.” Just a couple of minutes of Jack Bauer’s sneering snarl is enough to break my resolve. Everyone breaks eventually, you know. The unabashed celebration of torturing foreign “terrorists” feels too much like brain-washing to me.

One of the show’s co-creators, Cyrus Nowrasteh, whose father was an advisor to the torture-happy Shah of Iran,[1] explained the show’s Cheney-esque rationale to Jane Mayer of The New Yorker: “Every American wishes we had someone out there quietly taking care of business,” he said. “It’s a deep, dark ugly world out there. . . .  It would be nice to have a secret government that can get the answers and take care of business—even kill people. Jack Bauer fulfills that fantasy.”

 
The Biggest Music Comeback of 2014: Vinyl Records

Pellets of raw vinyl are fed into record-pressing machines like this one, melted down under intense heat, pressed with stampers and cooled in a steel mold that gives the record its round shape. Here, a record comes off the press. QRP can make about 6,000 records a day on its six presses.

The Biggest Music Comeback of 2014: Vinyl Records

Sales of LPs Surge 49% but Aging Factories Struggle to Keep Pace

 By Neil Shah

Nearly eight million old-fashioned vinyl records have been sold this year, up 49% from the same period last year, industry data show. Younger people, especially indie-rock fans, are buying records in greater numbers, attracted to the perceived superior sound quality of vinyl and the ritual of putting needle to groove.

But while new LPs hit stores each week, the creaky machines that make them haven’t been manufactured for decades, and just one company supplies an estimated 90% of the raw vinyl that the industry needs. As such, the nation’s 15 or so still-running factories that press records face daily challenges with breakdowns and supply shortages.

Their efforts point to a problem now bedeviling a curious corner of the music industry. The record-making business is stirring to life—but it’s still on its last legs.

Robert Roczynski ’s dozen employees work overtime at a small factory in Hamden, Conn., to make parts for U.S. record makers struggling to keep abreast of the revived interest in LPs. Mr. Roczynski’s firm says orders for steel molds, which give records their flat, round shape, have tripled since 2008.

“They’re trying to bring the industry back, but the era has gone by,” says Mr. Roczynski, 67 years old, president of Record Products of America Inc., one of the country’s few suppliers of parts for the industry.

Many producers, including the largest, United Record Pressing in Nashville, Tenn., are adding presses, but there has yet to be a big move by entrepreneurs to inject capital and confidence into this largely artisanal industry. Investors aren’t interested in sinking serious cash into an industry that represents 2% of U.S. music sales.

 
Backers: Romney more open to 2016 run

Supporters of republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hold signs during a campaign rally. | Getty

Backers: Romney more open to 2016 run

He has sounded unimpressed with the emerging GOP field, associates say.

For most of the past year, Mitt Romney supporters have publicly said he should consider running again. And for most of the past year, Romney has seemed uninterested.

Until recently.

While some people close to Romney insist he hasn’t moved from saying he has no plans to run, the 2012 Republican nominee has sounded at least open to the idea in recent conversations, according to more than a dozen people who’ve spoken with him in the past month.

In his private musings, Romney has sounded less than upbeat about most of the potential candidates in the 2016 Republican field, according to the people who’ve spoken with him, all of whom asked for anonymity in order to speak freely.

He has assessed various people’s strengths and weaknesses dispassionately, wearing what one ally called his “consultant cap” to measure the field. He has said, among other things, that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, would run into problems because of his business dealings, his work with the investment banks Lehman Brothers and Barclays, and his private equity investments.

“You saw what they did to me with Bain [Capital],” he has said, referring to the devastating attacks that his Republican rivals and President Barack Obama’s team launched against him for his time in private equity, according to three sources familiar with the line. “What do you think they’ll do to [Bush] over Barclays?”

 
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