Don't be surprised if Walker chooses not to address this at all in the next forty-eight hours. This isn't the sort of thing he wants to discuss, not now.[...]
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Here is the weekly posting of the Texas Progressive Alliance round-up. The TPA is a confederation of the best political bloggers in Texas. TPA members are citizen-bloggers working for a better Texas. (Above—The cast of the new Dallas. I watched the old Dallas. I’ll give the new Dallas a try. I’m not so confident though that [...]
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Here is the weekly posting of the Texas Progressive Alliance round-up. The TPA is a confederation of the best political bloggers in Texas. TPA members are citizen-bloggers working for a better Texas. (Above—The cast of the new Dallas. I watched the old Dallas, and I’ll give the new Dallas a try. I’m not so confident though [...]
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The good news was that we'd hit a jackpot. $630! Chump change by the standards of serious gamers, I know, but for us once-in-awhile gamblers it was still reason enough to cheer. The bad news was that our winnings came with none of the bells and whistles and other accoutrements we'd come to expect from the last time, long ago, we'd also hit it big.
No flashing lights to alert attendants. No man in the red coat to close out the machine, record House losses and deliver his grudging congrats. No assistant attendant with the money bag to re-stock the quarters.
In fact, there hardly seemed to be any people around at all. You put your money in the machine. The machine gave you a coupon for your winnings. You slid the coupon into another machine. And then you cashed out.
Efficient, I'll give it that. But sterile, bordering on antiseptic.
I used to look forward finding the cart lady with the quarters you fed manually into the slots, then listened, miser-like, as the machine spit them back out to you again. I also remember standing proudly (or miserably) in line with the buckets of boodle you handed to the "coin redemption" agent who emptied their contents into the counter that you watched while the digital readout tallied your winnings.
This was the whole casino "ritual" thing I missed most. Casino gambling used to be a labor-intensive communal experience. Now it seemed more like branch banking, with ATMs instead of tellers.
Thanks to James Surowiecki of New Yorker magazine I now have a fancy new word to describe what my wife and I experienced during our most recent duel with the one-armed bandits at Connecticut's Foxwoods Resort and Casino: "Hysteresis."
Hysteresis, says Surowiecki, is what happens when a sizable chunk of the workforce becomes permanently unemployed. It's what may have happened to many Europeans in the 1980s when governments did little to arrest the rise in joblessness as economies got stuck, leaving these countries with fixed unemployment rates of about 8 to 9%.
The fear is that something similar could be happening in America if long-term joblessness doesn't start to come down soon. This could create a new "natural" unemployment rate near double digits as joblessness drags down the economy and feeds economic stagnation as fewer and fewer workers become fewer and fewer consumers as well.
Today, 40% of the unemployed have been without a job for six months or more, says Surowiecki. And while the economic recovery is now officially three years old, "for millions of Americans it hasn't yet begun."
The most heated debate in policy circles today is whether unemployment in the United States is cyclical or structural.
If cyclical, says Surowiecki, joblessness is the result of this most recent recession that began in 2007 with the collapse of the capital markets and tightened business lending, which caused demand to plummet while subsequent consumer spending and government stimulus was insufficient to fill in the gap.
The case for structural change is more bleak. As Michael Lind describes it, after the Great Recession, the US may be afflicted by high levels of unemployment for years to come since those jobs that were shed are never coming back. Either they were jobs in sectors like finance, real estate, and construction already linked to the artificial, debt-enabled housing and dot-com bubble markets of the last 20 years. Or, they remain vulnerable to long-term trends in job off-shoring and automation.
I don't know if it was just the sluggish economy causing the high rollers to put on the breaks that did it, or whether mechanization was to blame. But I recently read that the Foxwoods Casino laid off 700 people - representing 6% of its workforce -- just months after opening a new MGM Grand expansion that promised to add 2,000 new jobs.
One part of this debate over the nature of our economy is empirical: Either the cyclical case is true and we are on the crest or trough of a normal business cycle. Or, the structural case is correct and the nature of our economy really has changed, with 9% unemployment the likely new normal.
But another part of the debate is also political, even moral. The writers of the Wall Street Journal editorial page who think our economy is undergoing a structural change, for example, argue that federal stimulus spending designed to jump-start the economy is not only pointless and futile but also counterproductive as well. The tides of change are relentless and irreversible, they say, and so classical Keynesians who think the government can restart the economy all by itself are like King Chanute on his throne ordering back the seas. Therefore, say conservatives, the prescription to the doldrums we are in is to let nature, and the markets, take their course.
Critics of austerity who think the rut we are in is cyclical in nature (the most prominent being Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman of the New York Times) argue that conservative claims about the economy's problems being impervious to conventional pump-priming emanate suspiciously from the very same ideological supply-siders who've wanted to cut taxes and slash government programs for the poor all along.
And so these free market ideologues now see the economy's purported structural adjustment downward as being the economic equivalent of Saddam Hussein's phantom weapons of mass destruction - a crisis that offers conservatives all the pretext they need for doing exactly what it is that they've wanted to do all along: Dismantle their own country's government in the very same way they once took down another's.
Zachary Karabell, President of River Twice Research, says there is a middle ground. He complains that the divisions between the "let the market decide" supply-siders at the Wall Street Journal and the austerity-demonizing Keynesians like Krugman offer both a false choice and a real impediment to solutions.
One can make the case that "massive dislocations in the nature of work" have been caused by technological revolutions and the globalization of production and finance without at the same time being an apologist for austerity or hostile to meaningful government intervention, claims Karabell.
One can argue on human and humane grounds, if not economic ones, that while government policy can affect no meaningful change in US unemployment rates given structural changes in the world economy, government must still address the short-term dislocations these economic changes have wrought.
Karabell says these are workers just like those "lost in transition" at the turn of the 20th century when the mechanization of farming began a process "that saw tens of millions displaced from farms." This was one of the main causes of the Great Depression and even today, as he points out, fewer than two million farmers produce far more food than 30 million did in 1900.
That same transition is occurring in manufacturing as robots replace real people, which was the carnage I witnessed at Foxwoods. It's a process that began in earnest the 1970s but whose debilitating consequences were partly obscured by the Fools Gold mined during the Internet, stock-market and housing bubbles of the last 30 years.
Yet even as Karabell seeks common ground, his compassion seems decidedly and disturbingly selective. He would construct a "solid" government-sponsored safety net for older workers "lost in the transition" whose lives and livelihoods have been rendered obsolete through no fault of their own. But for younger workers just coming up the ranks? Karabell says they're on their own.
Despite the role unregulated capitalism played in creating this mess, Karabell insists that while older workers do legitimately deserve our help "we do not owe that to the generation now emerging."
The younger generation had fair warning about the radical changes churning the economy and so they must take it upon themselves to acquire the skills and training necessary to prosper in a post-manufacturing world just "as surely as those farmers in 1900 needed new skills in a 20th-century manufacturing world."
This, of course, presumes that those jobs exist and that unemployment is simply a miss-match between the skills workers need to have and those most in demand by available work.
Judged by today's more parsimonious standards, I guess what Karabell endorses is what now counts as "compassionate conservatism." But he raises two important questions: The first about the nature of economies. The second about the nature of change.
John Maynard Keynes once said, half in jest, that if the world wanted to dig itself out of the Great Depression it could just pay people to dig up pots of money deliberately planted there for them to find.
Ludicrous as that might sound, it does illuminate an important truth about economic growth and vitality: That it is driven mostly by equilibriums between buyers and sellers, makers and takers, supply and demand, however those elements get balanced.
And so economic ideologies which focus obsessively on just one side of the ledger - whether demand-side but particularly supply-side -- are inherently one-sided. Just as the Chinese buy our debt so we can buy their products, taxing the rich to give money to the poor so they can buy the wealthy's products is not such a bad way to create a market.
Karabell's point about the Great Depression being tied to a free market system that mechanized agriculture, put millions of farmers out of work, but did not provide a suitable substitute, is a perfect illustration of Keynes' insight about equilibriums and the need to maintain them by whatever expedients available, even seemingly silly ones like digging up pots of gold.
Karabell also makes an important point about "progress."
Progress is a two step process. It begins with invention and innovation - what Joseph Schumpeter called the "creative destruction" of laissez faire or "free" market capitalism. If progress is to be sustainable the next step must be a process of society-wide adaptation as workers, businesses and government adjust themselves to these new way of making a living.
But workers are not the only ones who need retooling once the structure of economies change. A society's entire ethical system, including its religious and moral value system, need to adjust themselves as well to account for these changes, since justice and a fair distribution of riches and rewards are as much a part of any economic system as logistics and production schedules.
The American Work Ethic is called an "ethic" for a reason. The virtues we associate with the American Dream and the American Way of Life - assumptions about the rewards that are available for all who work hard and play be the rules -- are predicated on an economy in which work does in fact exist for everyone who wants it and are reasonably willing to put in the effort to get it.
But what if there are no jobs? What if the structural changes in the economy that conservatives are so eager to talk about are ones in which technology has not only rendered some jobs obsolete, but most work itself?
The values we associate with the American Work Ethic grow organically out of an economic environment in which people are in some meaningful way in control of their own destiny and fate.
Conservatives more than liberals seem interested only with Schumpeter's "creative" side of capitalism since it creates new opportunities for them. The "destructive" phase they leave to liberals to work out.
The free market may destroy people's livelihoods and communities, yet to conservatives the system owes them nothing in return -- except perhaps lip service about putting their lives back in order through education and job training programs which conservatives invariably underfund, or de-fund, whenever they get the chance.
It's necessary to align our moral values to the realities of our changing economic circumstances if only to protect ourselves against these cynical conservatives who disguise today's predatory capitalism behind the inventiveness of noble "entrepreneurs" or the integrity of the American Work Ethic.
The image of rags-to-riches inventors and hard workers methodically pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps is used to justify the behavior of multi-national corporations that are themselves nothing but creatures of the state and engaged in a species of global finance capitalism that is inconceivable without the complicity of the state or even its outright capture by the very interests it is the responsibility of the state to police.
Much of human history has been shaped by those landed or monied elites who have always been able to get other people to do their work for them, whether through the brute force of their armies and overseers or through the more sophisticated but equally brutal manipulation of capital which is the lifeblood of any modern economy.
Freed from the drudgery of work itself, these privileged elites form part of a "leisure class" that defines itself by high culture rather than labor. But what if the economy of the future frees entire populations from the drudgery of work -- as well as the incomes that go with it? What if the economy of future, because of advancements in technology, produces great wealth but no jobs?
It is not inconceivable as technology progresses that the world might find itself in more than just a post-agricultural world, or post-manufacturing one, but a "post-economic world" as well.
This would be a world in which millions of displaced workers can be gainfully employed creating value and leading productive and meaningful lives - just not marketable ones, or ones in which the fruits of their labors are important to anyone but them and so not profitable in an "economic" sense.
John Adams was certainly no stranger to hard work. But Adams may have anticipated just such a future when he said of himself and his fellow Founding Fathers: "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."
What if our economy developed in such a way that it allowed most of us to give up the 9 to 5 grind and study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain, just as John Adams said? What becomes of the fabled "American Work Ethic" then, and to the political, legal and value assumptions built up around such a work ethic when the definition of work is now antique?
Would our society evolve in ways that allowed the whole population to enjoy this miraculous bounty? Or, would we become society even more sharply divided between rich and poor than we are now, and justified by an ethic about rewards for work that was obsolete?
It turns out that this is not a new dilemma at all but one endemic to human societies. Questions about whether economic downturns are cyclical or structural -- as well as the problem of technology rendering huge sections of society obsolete -- are not unique to this generation but one imbedded in the nature of civilization, as archeologist Ian Morris reminds us in his recent book about the last 15,000 years of human history, Why the West Rules -- for Now.
"Development is the process whereby lazy, greedy, frightened people are constantly looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways to do things," says Morris. "Over time people constantly tinker, making their lives easier or richer or struggling to hold onto what they have and nudging social development forward."
The origins of agriculture, the rise of cities and states, the creation of empires, the industrial revolution - these were all "the result of desperate times calling for desperate measures," says Morris.
History repeats itself because it is the same old story, says Morris: "a single grand and relentless process of adaptations to the world that always generates new problems that call for further adaptations."
Yet, the more things change the more they are likely to stay the same unless societies find a way to combine technological virtuosity with political wisdom and spread the fruits of progress broadly. Progress, it turns out, creates the seeds of its own destruction in the form of ceilings that are hard, not glass, and which societies must break through if they are to escape the instability and disintegration that accompanies change.
This is what Morris calls "the paradox of development."
Social development and progress keep moving upward until the very process of development creates conditions that send societies into reverse - such as structural changes in the economy that alter the nature of work, says Morris.
Then, only truly transformative changes in society can prevent developmental stagnation and ultimate decline - such as a change in the way we think about work and the distribution of rewards.
An economy that has rendered marketable work obsolete by mechanizing it out of existence will need a new a new metric or ethic to measure the "economic" value of human beings in order to create a distributive system of rewards that allows us to say everyone has gotten their "just desserts."
Where there is no gainful work there can be no work ethic to justify why people should accept their lot in life.
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JON STEWART CRIED over it, because it put him agreeing with Tucker Carlson.
There is no doubt New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is correct on the facts.
It’s equally onerous on American society, because even without universal health care we all pay the price for the obesity and disease sugared drinks cause. You can count the sugar grams at sugar stacks. I’ve talked about sugar many times, including when Rep. Paul Ryan refused birthday cake from Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace, because Ryan doesn’t eat sugar.
But somewhere inside my libertarian veins Mayor Mike’s push is making me queasy.
There’s no doubt people who refuse to take responsibility for their own health, which includes overindulgence of sugar-packed sodas, are costing us all money.
What Mayor Mike is attempting to address can’t be solved quite this easily.
We were right, here at La Maison. It's shaping up as a $2,000,000,000 ad campaign (sorry, presidential election) at the very least. Politico (just the juicy bits; my emphasis):Republican super PACs and other outside groups shaped by a loose network of prominent conservatives ? including Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and Tom Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ? plan to spend roughly $1...
I'm not shocked. The administration was indeed between the proverbial rock and a hard place with this case, handicapped by the knowledge that, even though the case was weak, if they buried it the same way a Republican administration would do, the mighty Wurlitzer of the right-wing machine would blow it up into a major scandal.
But then again, making decisions in anticipation of right-wing reaction isn't exactly dealing from strength:
In the wake of John Edwards?s acquittal and mistrial this week, three Justice Department officials said that, although the department initially had concerns about the investigation begun by a North Carolina prosecutor, it eventually became full partners in the case.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, said that the Obama administration had inherited the investigation launched by former U.S. attorney George Holding of North Carolina?s Eastern District, who had been appointed by President George W. Bush.
One Justice official said that the case was considered politically sensitive and ?it would be seen as a bad thing if we protected John Edwards and interfered in the North Carolina investigation by a Republican U.S. attorney.?
As Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.?s Justice Department began appointing new U.S. attorneys across the country, he was urged by both senators from North Carolina ? Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Richard Burr ? not to replace Holding. The prosecutor was in the middle of the investigation into whether Edwards had violated campaign finance laws, as well as a second political probe.
Hagan, who had just been elected, called the White House to recommend that Justice officials leave Holding in place until the investigation was complete.
?It is of the utmost importance to me, as well as to the people of North Carolina, that we ensure this process is carried out as transparently and honestly as possible,? Hagan said in a statement at the time.
As the investigation proceeded, one Justice official said, ?people were squeamish about the theory of the prosecution but were reluctant to interfere with a U.S. attorney in the field.?
But by 2011, it was clear that high-ranking Justice officials were fully on board and had approved the indictment of Edwards.
?As this indictment shows, we will not permit candidates for high office to abuse their special ability to access the coffers of their political supporter to circumvent our election laws,? Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said in announcing the indictment in June 2011. A month later, Holding resigned to run for Congress.
At the time, an array of legal experts, including former prosecutors, questioned the wisdom of bringing the charges against Edwards, saying it was an aggressive interpretation of campaign finance laws.
by Donald Brown via Climate Ethics
For over a decade the coal industry has funded campaigns designed to convince Americans that coal can be burned without adverse environmental impacts. These campaigns raise troubling ethical issues. In fact, as we shall see, these campaigns have often been misleading and deceptive in several different ways.
This deception is classic propaganda because propaganda presents facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information presented. Although many entities on both sides of an issue who are trying to persuade the general public to think a certain way will frequently resort to the use of propaganda, as we shall see, deceptive propaganda is particularly morally odious when it engages in lying or lying by omission. A lie by omission occurs when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception. The clean coal propaganda has frequently engaged in propaganda that must be understood as lying by omission, if not outright lying. It is also lying by omission about something which is potentially very harmful, making the lies even more morally abhorrent
Given that academies of science around the world have concluded that climate change is a huge threat to millions of people around the world, that coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels currently used for electricity generation in regard to climate change, that there are no commercial scale coal-fired power plants in the United States now nor likely to be in wide-spread commercial operation for decades capable of actually removing heat trapping gases, a fact not revealed in TV commercials funded by the clean coal campaign, this campaign which implies that coal is “clean” is deeply misleading about likely harmful and dangerous human activities. In other words, this is deception with huge potential adverse consequences for life on earth and ecological systems on which life depends.
Some TV commercials funded through clean coal campaigns visually or verbally reference clean coal without acknowledgment that coal combustion could be considered clean only if new unproven technologies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal combustion are widely deployed. Other commercials contain often vague references to clean coal technologies that could in theory reduce greenhouse gas emissions if commercial scale of these technologies is determined through future research to be environmentally benign and economically feasible. None of these commercials, however, reveal that there are serious open questions about whether geologic carbon sequestration or other unproven greenhouse gas emission reduction technologies for use with coal combustion will be proven to be environmentally acceptable and economically viable at commercial scale. The New York Times reported this month that there is new evidence that carbon capture and storage, the technology most frequently considered to be the best hope for reducing greenhouse gases from coal combustion, may not be economically viable because of cheaper and abundant amounts of natural gas. (Wald, 2012)
Claiming that coal is clean because it could be clean if a new technically unproven and economically dubious technology might be adopted is like someone claiming that belladonna is not poisonous because there is a new unproven safe pill under development that sometime in the future might be economically affordable and that may be taken with belladonna to neutralize belladonna’s toxic effects.
Who has been behind this campaign? According to Source Watch, these campaigns were initially created by the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) in 2000. CEED also created Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign aimed at emphasizing the importance and downplaying the environmental impacts of coal-fired power production. CEED was founded by Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Southern Company, and DTE Energy (Source Watch, 2012a). ABEC’s members also have included mining companies, electric utilities, and railroad companies. The CEED was merged with Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) to form a new coal industry front group, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, on April 17, 2008 (Source Watch, 2012a).
In addition to funding misleading TV commercials, on May 25 Think Progress reported that the coal industry has also recently funded AstroTurf efforts, that is fake grass roots campaigns, to give the false impression at public hearings that ordinary citizens oppose proposed EPA regulations that would regulate CO2 from coal-fired power plants. (ThinkProgress, 2012). According to ThinkProgress: “Apparently unable to find real activists, the coal industry paid AstroTurfers $50 to wear pro-coal t-shirts at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing focused on the agency’s first-ever carbon standards for new power plants.”
The creation of AstroTurf groups around carbon energy issues has been a known tactic of the climate change disinformation campaign that began in the 1990s and a tactic which is itself ethically problematic because an AstroTurf group’s very purpose is to hide from the general public the real parties in interest.
The practice of using AstroTurf groups is expressly prohibited by the code of ethics of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA, 2012) This code requires that PR professionals expressly identify real sponsors of PR activities (PRSA, 2012). Because front groups and AstroTurf organizations usually are designed to hide the real parties in interest, an ethics advisory of the Public Relations Society on these practices proclaims that it is unethical for PR professionals to represent front groups and/or other deceptive or misleading descriptions of goals, tactics, sponsors, or participants. (PRSA advisory, 2012) This advisory specifically includes AstroTurf groups as an unethical front group activity covered by the ethics advisory. (PRSA advisory, 2012)
Defenders of the clean coal campaign will sometimes argue that the clean coal campaign is simply an exercise of the coal industry’s right to free speech. Although free speech is to be strongly protected, speech which tells untruths about very harmful behavior is morally odious. This is the moral basis for the understanding that people are not free to yell fire in a crowded theater. In fact, the clean coal campaign is more like someone in a theater shouting that there is no fire who has no factual basis for claiming that no fire exists when smoke first appears in the theater.
And so, the clean coal campaigns cannot be understood as a responsible exercise of free speech but as deeply deceptive disinformation. It is deceptive for two reasons as we have seen.
First, the implied claim that coal combustion is environmentally clean is not true. It is also not true that new technologies capable of sequestering CO2 from coal fired power plants will likely be in widespread operation in the near future according to a recent article in the New York Times that explained that coal combustion that relies upon carbon sequestration may not be economically viable given competition from other fuel sources and additional costs of geologic carbon sequestration (Wald, 2012) .
Second, the failure to disclose who the real parties in interest are behind front groups, AstroTurf campaigns, and those who show up at public events claiming that coal is clean are tactics meant to deceive.
Given what is at stake with climate change, these are deceptions about potentially very, very harmful human activities.
There would be no problem with coal industry calls for public support for research that could make coal combustion environmentally acceptable, yet even such campaigns should reveal that there are open questions about whether these technologies if developed can economically compete with other fuel options.
From the standpoint of climate change, new technologies that would allow coal combustion without greenhouse gas emissions would be an important positive step to achieve urgently needed greenhouse gas emissions reductions. However, as we have seen, there are very open questions about whether these technologies will be technically and economically feasible at commercial scale. There are no doubt places in the world that geologic carbon sequestration that traps heat-trapping gases will work, yet there are serious questions about whether these technologies are technically feasible in many places of the world that do not have the right geology needed to seal in the CO2 and prevent if from escaping into the atmosphere nor the large spaces needed to bury the huge volumes of CO2 that are created in coal combustion. However, probably a bigger barrier to widespread deployment of this technology is whether these technologies can be deployed at acceptable cost.
– Donald Brown is Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics, Science and Law at Penn State University. This piece was originally published at the Penn State Climate Ethics blog. It was reprinted with permission.
Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) (2012) Member Code of Ethics, http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/CodeEnglish/
Public Relations Society of America (PRSA advisory) (2012) Professional Advisory-07, Engaging in Deceptive Tactics While Representing Front Groups. http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/ProfessionalStandardsAdvisories/PSA-07.pdf
Source Watch (2012a) Clean Coal Marketing Campaign, http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Clean_Coal_Marketing_Campaign
Source Watch (2012b) CEED, http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Center_for_Energy_and_Economic_Development
Think Progress (2012) Coal Industry Pays Fake Activists $50 To Wear Pro-Coal Shirts At Public Hearing, http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/05/25/490340/coal-astroturfing-epa-hearing/
Wald, M. (2012) With Natural Gas Plentiful and Cheap, Carbon Capture Projects Stumble, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/19/business/energy-environment/low-natural-gas-prices-threaten-carbon-capture-projects.html
This morning, Chris Hayes did a segment on his show that examined President Barack Obama's reported "kill list," whether the number of civilians being killed by drones is being hidden from the American public, and whether the program is, in fact, legal[...]
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