Capitol Christmas Tree Is Lit, So You Should Probably Get It Together and Put Yours Up Too
When does the holiday season officially start? It seems to get earlier and earlier as stores opened their doors throughout the Thanksgiving holiday, proving that nothing is sacred. It’s up to personal discretion of course whether Black Friday or Cyber Monday kicks off the Christmas countdown. But, if you were still looking for an indication that the holiday season is on, the Capitol Christmas Tree went live on Tuesday evening. So, you can take this as de facto Congressional approval that it’s ok to untangle strings of lights and dust off the ornaments now. The Capitol Tree is, however, a mere warm up to the National Christmas Tree lighting in front of the White House later this week, according to Washingtonian magazine. Hard to argue that the National Tree is the head honcho in the tree department, after all, it has its own Twitter account.
Guardian Has Published Only 1% of Leaked Snowden Files So Far
On Tuesday, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, testified before a UK parliamentary committee on the paper’s handling of sensitive data and the “concerted pressure and intimidation” the paper has faced since its publication of the NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden. Rusbridger also told British lawmakers the Guardian had published 1 percent of some 58,000 files it was given by Snowden.
Here’s more on the hearing via the Washington Post:
Rusbridger faced more than an hour of questioning by Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee on counterterrorism, testifying in an occasionally combative public grilling of both the Guardian and its editor...
Earlier in the hearing, Labor lawmaker Keith Vaz questioned Rusbridger about testimony last month in which John Sawers, head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, told lawmakers that the Guardian’s decision to publish had the country’s enemies “rubbing their hands with glee.” Vaz then bluntly asked Rusbridger, “Do you love this country?” “I'm slightly surprised to be asked the question, but yes, we are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can in this country discuss and report these things,” Rusbridger responded.
...At the hearing, Rusbridger said that over the course of the Guardian’s publication of the Snowden material, the paper had consulted government agencies on both sides of the Atlantic more than 100 times.
Rusbridger’s testimony came as British police are looking into whether the Guardian staff should be investigated for terrorism-related crimes for their publishing of Snowden’s files, Reuters reports.
What Killed Yasser Arafat? New Report Rules Out Poison.
Since Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004, conspiracy theories circulated about whether the Palestinian leader was, in fact, murdered. Palestinians suspected Israel played a role in his demise, which Israel denies. The questions about the circumstances of his death grew loud enough that Arafat’s remains were exhumed last year to try to settle the matter. On Tuesday, a report by French scientists investigating Arafat’s death ruled out poisoning by radioactive polonium as the cause.
The French inquiry, which concluded that a “generalized infection” led to the leader’s death, contradicts an earlier Swiss investigation that concluded that Arafat was poisoned. The new forensic report presented to Arafat’s widow, Al Jazeera reports, showed “traces of the radioactive element polonium 210, but concluded that Arafat died of natural causes.” A Swiss university published a report last month, according to Al Jazeera, that found “between 18 and 36 times the normal background levels of polonium in Arafat’s rib and hips and in the surrounding soil stained by his body fluid.” A team of Russian scientists also conducted a forensic test, but the results were inconclusive.
After becoming ill in October 2004, Arafat was flown to a French military hospital in Paris where he died in November 2004. At the time of his death, the BBC reports, “Mr. Arafat's official medical records say he died from a stroke resulting from a blood disorder. French doctors were not able at the time to determine what had caused the disorder.”
Slatest PM: Obama Kicks Off a Three-Week Healthcare Sales Pitch
Obama's Healthcare Promise: Associated Press: "Seeking to regroup from his health care law's disastrous rollout, President Barack Obama on Tuesday insisted that the sweeping overhaul is working and warned Republican critics that he would fight any efforts to strip away its protections. 'We're not repealing it as long as I'm president,' Obama said during a health care event at the White House. 'If I have to fight another three years to make sure this law works, then that's what I'll do.' Earlier Tuesday, the administration released a 50-state report saying that nearly 1.5 million people were found eligible for Medicaid during October. As website problems depressed sign-ups for subsidized private coverage, that safety-net program for low-income people saw a nearly 16 percent increase in states that have agreed to expand it, according to the Department of Health and Human Services."
The Sales Pitch: Politico: "[T]he president ... [kicked off] a three-week drive to refocus the public on the law’s benefits.... The White House will take the lead in emphasizing a different benefit each day until the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for Jan. 1 coverage. The daily message will be amplified through press events and social media by Democratic members of Congress, the Democratic National Committee, congressional campaign committees and advocacy organizations, officials said. The fresh push is an attempt to get back to the game plan that Democrats wanted to pursue before the faulty website forced them into full-time damage control. The president needs to rebuild confidence in the law among the public and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, who have threatened to roll back aspects of Obamacare if the insurance marketplace didn’t improve quickly — and refocus attention on what would be lost if it were repealed. Now that the website appears to be mostly functional, the West Wing thinks it has the ability to return to sales mode."
Meanwhile: ABC News: "As pressure mounts on President Obama to fix problems that persist with his signature healthcare law, Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans are coming under pressure themselves to present an alternative set of reforms. ... Republicans have long voiced a preference for patient-centered reforms, but today Boehner was tight-lipped when pressed to vote to replace the president’s health care law next year. 'We’ll see,' Boehner answered when prodded for a commitment. 'When you look at Obamacare, what you see is a government-centered health care delivery system. That’s not what the American people want. The American people want to be able to pick their own type of health insurance; they want to be able to pick their own doctor; they want to be able to pick their own hospital. That’s what a patient-centered health care system looks like.'"
Walmart's Biggest Black Friday Seller? Towels.
Wondering what Walmart's top Black Friday seller was? NBC News has you covered:
The retailer announced it had sold 2.8 million towels during the shopping event, which this year started even earlier at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The textile sales outpaced the 300,000 bicycles, 1.4 million tablets, and 2 million televisions sold during the period, and also beat last year's towel sales by 1 million. For $1.74, bath towels and six packs of washcloths were available. That breaks down to $.29 per washcloth.
"We've seen at-home items like towels and sheets and even Rubbermaid Tupperware become popular on Black Friday at our stores," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Deisha Barnett. "A lot of people are either hosting guests for the weekend or preparing for guests for the holiday season."
Read more over at NBC News, which also has what it claims to be people scrambling to get their hands on the 29-cent washcloths. One small note: NBC's headline, which claims the store's "hottest Black Friday seller was a 29-cent towel," is a little misleading. The retailer sold 2.8 million towels, but the article itself makes it clear that figure covers more than just the pocket-change-priced washcloths.
Regardless, towels may have taken the top spot in terms of quantity, but more traditional doorbusters like TVs no doubt brought in more cash for the big box retailer.
Ariel Castro's Death Might Not Have Been From Auto-Erotic Asphyxiation After All
Convicted kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro was found hanging in his cell in early September, only weeks after being sentenced to life in prison (plus an additional 1,000 years for good measure). Given he was in protective custody and alone at the time, local officials and nearly everyone else leaped to the seemingly obvious conclusion that Castro's death was almost certainly suicide. The following month, however, a preliminary report from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction suggested a different conclusion, that Castro's death was actually the accidental result of auto-erotic asphyxiation.
Fast forward to today, and we're right back where we started, via the Associated Press:
Two corrections consultants have concluded that Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro committed suicide in his prison cell and didn't die by accidentally killing himself while attempting to achieve a sexual thrill. The nationally regarded consultants rejected a suggestion in a state prisons report last month that Castro's Sept. 3 hanging was not a suicide as originally believed.
The consultants' report released Tuesday says all available evidence, including a shrine-like display in Castro's cell and an increasing tone of frustration in his prison journal, point to suicide. ... Castro was found hanging in his cell from a sheet attached to a window hinge.
Elsewhere in Slate: How Do You Tell a Suicide from an Auto-Erotic Asphyxiation Accident?
Bob Dylan’s Comments Spark “Racism” Investigation in France
French officials announced on Monday that Bob Dylan is under investigation in the country for allegedly “racist” comments made by the singer last year where he equated Croatians to Nazis and the KKK. The comment, made in an interview, caused a Croatian association in France to file a complaint with French authorities last year. The Paris courts will hear the case and have asked Dylan to appear at the hearing, the Guardian reports.
The comments in question were made by Dylan in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2012, where he discussed race relations in America.
Blacks know that some whites didn't want to give up slavery – that if they had their way, they would still be under the yoke, and they can't pretend they don't know that. If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.
The reference, the BBC reports, is to the Croat Ustashe fascist movement during World War Two that killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Roma. The Croat association alleges that “the comments as carried in the French version of the magazine violated French racial hatred laws,” Reuters reports. Any complaint of racism is automatically investigated in France without consideration to the merits of the case.
Dylan was served with notice of the investigation last month when he was in Paris to received the Legion of Honour award. The Croat group said it is only seeking an apology.
UN Links Assad to War Crimes in Syria for First Time
The United Nations’ top human rights official for the first time linked Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in his country. On Monday, Navi Pillay, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights said that a UN panel investigating abuses in Syria found “massive evidence” of war crimes. Pillay said in a press conference, the New York Times reports, “they point to the fact that the evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state.”
Pillay’s frank remarks about Assad’s role in possible human rights violations were unusual, Al Jazeera reports, because they are “at odds with a policy of keeping the identity of alleged perpetrators under wraps pending any judicial process.” Syria’s deputy Foreign Minister responded to Pillay’s comments, telling the Associated Press: "she has been talking nonsense for a long time and we don't listen to her.” The UN panel has not been allowed to investigate inside Syria, according to the Los Angeles Times, and relies on information from interviews with refugees and Skype conversations with people in Syria.
Ron Burgundy Hosts a (Real) Local News Broadcast
In a case of, well, life imitating art imitating life, on Saturday night, Ron Burgundy (a.k.a. the “Anchorman”), climbed behind the anchor’s desk to do the news. The iconic (fictitious) news anchor, played by Will Farrell, left the (equally fictitious) KVWM news team behind in San Diego and headed to a slightly smaller market—KXMB in Bismarck, North Dakota.
The Saturday evening broadcast was real live local news with Ron Burgundy serving as co-anchor.
Slatest PM: New York Train Was Speeding When It Derailed
Two Black Boxes Recovered: Associated Press: "Two data recorders retrieved from the commuter train that veered off a sharply curved track by a river's edge, killing four people, may shed light on key factors including the train's speed and how brakes were applied, a National Transportation Safety Board member said Monday as the agency sought to ask the engineer and conductor what went wrong. The NTSB was downloading data from a recorder previously found in the rear locomotive in the Metro-North Railroad train that derailed Sunday in New York. A second recorder was found in the front car of the train and has been sent to Washington for analysis, NTSB board member Earl Weener said."
Late-Breaking: @NTSB: "Preliminary info from event recorders shows train was traveling at approx 82 mph as it entered the 30 mph curve."
Governor Blames High Speed: New York Times: "As investigators continued to search for clues as to why a Metro-North Railroad passenger train flew off the tracks, killing four people and injuring dozens more, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday morning that it appeared that the train was traveling too fast as it hit a curve in the tracks. 'I think it is going to be speed-related,' Mr. Cuomo said on the 'Today' show. 'It was a tricky turn on the system, but it is a turn that has been there for decades.' ...The train’s engineer, identified as William Rockefeller, was injured and has yet to be formally interviewed by investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, according to government officials. Mr. Rockefeller, who was released from the hospital late Sunday, was expected to be interviewed on Monday afternoon."