Ernie Chambers finally gets Nebraska to vote to end the death penalty

To my surprise, the legislature of the state of Nebraska just voted to abolish the death penalty. While sentiment against the death penalty has been slowly rising with time, it still has not reached a majority and Nebraska is a pretty conservative state. Republican governor Pete Ricketts, a strong supporter of the death penalty, is expected to veto the legislation but the margins by which it passed suggest that the veto will be over-ridden. If so, it would be the first conservative state to abolish the death penalty since 1973. 31 other states still have the death penalty.
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Review: 1971

Last evening I watched the documentary 1971 about the burglary in that year of an FBI office in the Philadelphia suburb of Media, PA by eight people who took away the files, separated out and sent to various people those files that exposed wrongdoing by the FBI, such as infiltrating and spying on peaceful groups and carrying out what were called ‘dirty tricks’ to try and destroy the lives of people that the government thought of as its enemies. The burglars were never caught and only revealed themselves a couple of years ago. (I wrote about this earlier.)
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Hands-free cell phone use should be banned

More and more jurisdictions are cracking down on the use of cell phones by drivers. To read or text while driving is of course insane, but talking on the cell phone is also bad and is being increasingly banned. Up to now, the use of hands-free devices has not come under much criticism and laws banning cell phone use have exempted them. Some new cars even have such a system built in, adding to the suggestion that its use is safe.
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John Fortune (1939-2013)

Somehow I missed the sad news that British comedian John Fortune had died on December 31, 2013. Michael Coveney provides a retrospective of his life. I came across Fortune only about a decade or so ago, when the brilliant improvisational sketches that he did with John Bird appeared online. These took the form of an interview in which one of them would question the other on the issues of the day. I love this kind of deadpan comedy, where the conversation takes an absurd turn but the speakers discuss it quite seriously.
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Even the CIA now admits that Dick Cheney lied about Iraq

One of the interesting things about the current presidential race is that the whole issue of the criminal act of taking the US to war against a country that had not attacked it has come front and center. Pretty much all Republicans are being asked about the Iraq war, with the question being framed as to whether, given what we know now (presumably that Iraq did not have any nuclear weapons), they would have made the decision to go to war.
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Twin Peaks may not be an allusion to the TV show

I learned a couple of interesting things about the tragedy that occurred in Texas when rival biker gangs started fighting that resulted in nine people being killed, 18 others injured, and over 150 arrests. One is that the media are shying away from calling it a ‘riot’ or the behavior of ‘thugs’, the language that comes easily to them if the perpetrators are black. Jenny Kutner says that much milder terms are being used in this case, such as ‘melee, fracas, brawl, fistfight, brouhaha, trouble, and chaos’ (CNN) and ‘shootout, fight, chaos, confrontation, problems’ (New York Times). Brouhaha? For something that resulted in such carnage?
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Review: Secrets, Politics and Torture vs. Zero Dark Thirty

Last night I watched the Frontline program Secrets, Politics and Torture: The secret history of the fight over the CIA’s controversial interrogation methods, widely criticized as torture that I alerted readers to. The show, broadcast last night on PBS, looked at how the US government has indulged in the most brutal acts of torture and lied about it. For those who missed it, these programs are usually later available online for at least a brief time and may be shown again on PBS. [Update: Thanks to reader lanir, the link to see the 54-minutes documentary is here.]
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Frontline TV documentary tonight: Secrets, Politics and Torture

I just learned about a Frontline documentary with the above title and the subtitle The secret history of the fight over the CIA’s controversial interrogation methods, widely criticized as torture that is being shown tonight on PBS stations at 10:00pm though your local station might have it at a different time. The description is:
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