TPM News

by Sasha Chavkin ProPublica, Dec. 14, 2010, 2:46 p.m.

As the damage claims process for the Gulf oil spill moves into its second phase--from issuing emergency payments to considering final claims--administrator Kenneth Feinberg yesterday unveiled a variety of improvements that he says will increase transparency and offer more options to claimants.

Feinberg said there had been "constructive criticism" about opaque decision-making and poor communications during the emergency payments process and promised to make several changes. (We reported on the lack of transparency several times, for example on claimants' struggles to get basic information about the status of their claims.)

Have you filed a claim for Gulf Spill damages? ProPublica's reporters want to hear from you.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened to keep the Senate in session after Christmas, all the way up to the beginning of next Congress if the GOP doesn't get out of the way and allow votes on Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal, the START treaty and other key Democratic initiatives.

"There's still Congress after Christmas. So if the Republicans think that because they can stall and stall and stall that we take a break we're through -- we're not through," Reid said. Congress ends on January 4."

That sets up a complicated and grueling schedule for the next two to three weeks, particularly if Republicans insist on using procedural maneuvers to keep the clock running. Currently the Senate is draining up to 30 hours of floor time because of GOP objections to holding an immediate vote on the tax bill, which is likely to nonetheless pass with overwhelming support.

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Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) voted to end debate on the Bush tax cut compromise yesterday, but he's not happy about it. In a strongly-worded statement sent to his supporters today, Franken pokes at President Obama for negotiating the deal, which he called "bad policy."

"A lot of people are unhappy that the President punted on first down, and I'm one of them," Franken wrote in the message to supporters. "Extending the Bush tax breaks for the super-wealthy will explode our deficit over the next two years without doing anything to help our economy."

Though Franken had harsh words for the president who created the tax cut deal, he was among the 79 Senators to vote for cloture on the plan, helping it move forward to almost assured passage in the Senate today. Franken's reasons for supporting the compromise are similar to the ones Obama has when selling the plan: without the deal, unemployed families would lose their government support, something Franken calls unacceptable.

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Remember a couple weeks ago how the religious right and the GOP got all up in arms about video feature at the Smithsonian depicting Jesus swarmed by ants, and the Smithsonian caved to their pressure and took the piece down?

Since then the Smithsonian's caught plenty of flack, and the piece they refudiated has become more famous than it ever would have if its critics had just stuffed their pie holes with candy canes. But now the Smithsonian appears to be stuck between the right and a hard place.

"The Warhol Foundation is proud to have been a lead supporter of Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, but we strongly condemn the decision to remove David Wojnarowicz's video A Fire in My Belly from the exhibition," reads a letter from the Warhol Foundation's president Joel Wachs. "After careful consideration, the Board voted unanimously to demand that you restore the censored work immediately, or the Warhol Foundation will cease funding future exhibitions at all Smithsonian institutions."

Emphasis mine. The Warhol Foundation's given hundreds of thousands of dollars to The Smithsonian over the years, so this has some bite. You can read the full letter below the fold.

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The Justice Department said Tuesday that they'll appeal a federal judge's ruling that the individual mandate contained in the health care law is unconstitutional and said the case shouldn't head straight for the Supreme Court.

"We intend to appeal the district court's ruling in Virginia to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals," Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler told TPM in a statement.

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Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin, an Army doctor who refused to deploy to Afghanistan because he questioned whether President Barack Obama was born in the U.S., pleaded guilty to one of two charges against him at a court martial proceeding on Tuesday.

Lakin pleaded guilty to a charge that included not meeting with a superior when ordered to do so and not reporting for duty at Fort Campbell, reported The Republic. He'll face up to 18 months in prison and dismissal from the Army, the newspaper reported.

Lakin pleaded not guilty on another charge that he missed a flight he was required to be on, and his court-martial at Fort Meade in Maryland is continuing on that count.

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Two House Democrats will propose a bill ending the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers today, bringing a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the lame duck session one step closer to reality.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD) and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) will sponsor the legislation, which will be introduced by Murphy today. Rumors of the bill popped up yesterday, but weren't confirmed until Hoyer announced it to reporters on Capitol Hill today. He said Defense Secretary Robert Gates is on board with the plan, which will create a legislative end to the nation's nearly two-decade old ban on openly gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.

"Secretary Gates has reiterated statements that he has made in the past, and so many other military leaders have made in the past, with reference to the importance of passing legislation," Hoyer said.

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Sometimes a cartoon vampire named Count Spirochete* is the only way to get sailors to use protection.

In 1973, the Navy made a 20-minute animated movie warning sailors -- in graphic detail -- about the dangers of venereal disease. The plot: The annual Communicable Disease of the Year Awards sees a huge upset when Venereal Disease, represented by the syphilis-carrying Count Spirochete, wins the coveted Fourth Horseman award over diphtheria and smallpox.

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Clinton Postpones Trip To Charlotte

In a statement released Friday evening, Hillary Clinton's campaign announced that the Democratic nominee…