The Ledes

Thursday, December 18, 2014.

New York Times: "The stock market began the week burdened by geopolitical worries, but by the close of trading on Thursday it had bounced back to achieve one of its biggest upswings in recent years. Soothing words from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday, saying that it would be 'patient' on raising interest rates, drove the surge, analysts said. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index jumped 2.4 percent on Thursday, to 2,061.23 — its biggest one-day gain since January 2013. That came on the back of a 2 percent rise on Wednesday."

CNN: "U.S. airstrikes have killed two top-level and one mid-level ISIS leader, a senior U.S. military official tells CNN. Haji Mutazz was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's deputy in Iraq; Abd al Basit was his military emir in Iraq; and Radwan Talib was his Mosul emir. Their deaths resulted from multiple strikes going back to mid-November -- it has taken until now to determine conclusively they were killed."

AP: "Average U.S. long-term mortgage rates fell this week, with the benchmark 30-year loan rate reaching a new low for the year. The rates' historically low levels could be a boon to potential homebuyers. Mortgage company Freddie Mac says the nationwide average for a 30-year mortgage dropped to 3.80 percent this week from 3.93 percent last week. It is now at its lowest level since May 2013."

New York Times: "A federal judge on Thursday refused to release Don E. Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, from prison as he continues to appeal a prosecution that Republicans say exposed pervasive corruption in state government but Democrats regard as a case pursued for political retribution."

Boston Globe: "Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev stood in federal court in Boston this morning for a brief pretrial hearing, which was punctuated by an interruption in Russian and English from a woman in the gallery. Several journalists reported she exclaimed 'stop killing innocent people' in English as she was escorted out for yelling in Russian. The woman identified herself to reporters as a relative of Ibrahim Todashev: a friend of Dzhokhar’s brother who was killed by an FBI agent during an incident that arose from the investigation of a Waltham triple homicide."

AFP: "Two owners and 12 former employees of a US pharmacy were arrested Wednesday in connection with a 2012 outbreak of meningitis that killed 64 people across the country, prosecutors said. Barry Cadden and Gregory Conigliaro owned the New England Compounding Center (NECC), which lost its license in 2012 after inspectors found it guilty of multiple sanitary violations. the pharmacy, located in the city of Framingham, Massachusetts in the US northeast, voluntarily shut down and recalled all products following the unprecedented outbreak of fungal meningitis."

The Wires

The Ledes

Wednesday, December 17, 2014.

New York Times: "Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan lifted a moratorium on the death penalty Wednesday as the government declared three days of official mourning and grappled with the aftermath of an attack on a school by the Pakistani Taliban that killed 145 people. The national flag was lowered to half-staff on all official buildings and prayer services were scheduled across the country." ...

... The Washington Post profiles "Mullah Radio," the leader of the Taliban attack on schoolchildren & teachers.

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post, November 21: Learn how to use your thermostat & save $$$.

New York Times, November 17: "For the first time since statins have been regularly used, a large study has found that another type of cholesterol-lowering drug can protect people from heart attacks and strokes."

White House Live Video
December 18

12:30 pm ET: Josh Earnest's press briefing

If you don't see the livefeed here, go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

***********************************************

A former resident of Somerville, Massachusetts, calls into outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick's last regular monthly radio call-in show:

Sixteen times Stephen Colbert broke character on his show. With videos.

Los Angeles Times: "A hashtag about asking police officers questions for a CNN panel turned extremely negative almost as soon as it was posted Tuesday. #AskACop was meant to be used by viewers who wanted to tweet questions to officers for the town hall segment "Cops Under Fire,” hosted by Don Lemon. There was an overwhelming response -- most of which were criticisms toward police." CW: Apparently CNN had no idea people were pissed at the police.

Bill Carter of the New York Times: "For nine years, Stephen Colbert has relentlessly maintained his pompous, deeply ridiculous but consistently appealing conservative blowhard character on his late-night show, 'The Colbert Report' — so much so that when he puts the character to rest for good on Thursday night, he may have to resort to comicide. The Grim Reaper is his last guest."

New York Times: "Life on Mars? Today? The notion may not be so far-fetched after all. A year after reporting that NASA’s Curiosity rover had found no evidence of methane gas on Mars, all but dashing hopes that organisms might be living there now, scientists reversed themselves on Tuesday. Curiosity has now recorded a burst of methane that lasted at least two months. For now, scientists have just two possible explanations for the methane. One is that it is the waste product of certain living microbes.... It could have been created by a geological process known as serpentinization, which requires both heat and liquid water. Or it could be a product of life in the form of microbes known as methanogens, which release methane as a waste product.... The scientists also reported that for the first time, they had confirmed the presence of carbon-based organic molecules in a rock sample. The so-called organics are not direct signs of life, past or present, but they lend weight to the possibility that Mars had the ingredients required for life, and may even still have them."

"Oh, God, It's Mom." Kelly Faircloth of Jezebel: "Oh my Lord, shut it down, here is the greatest moment in the history of C-SPAN: A (very Southern) mama called into one of their shows to yell at the guests. Not because she disagrees, but because the guests are brothers and both her sons and she is sick and tired of their shit":


Escape from Alcatraz. Live Science: "... on the night of June 11, 1962, three inmates left Alcatraz in one of the most mysterious prison breaks in American history. John Anglin, his brother Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris tucked dummy heads into their bed sheets and snuck into an unused utility corridor through holes they had crudely drilled through their cells. Then, from the prison roof, they shimmied down the bakery smoke stack and climbed over the fence. From the northeast shore of the island, they floated away from the prison on a small raft made from more than 50 stolen raincoats that were inflated with a musical instrument that was converted into a pump. Even the FBI still calls the plan 'ingenious' on its website. After a 17-year investigation, federal authorities concluded that the men most likely drowned during the escape...."

... BUT ...

... The linked story above has a better video, but it's not embeddable.

Rolling Stone: "David Letterman will retire from late-night television on Wednesday, May 20th. The Late Show host's production company Worldwide Pants announced the news, according to Deadline, with CBS Corp. President and CEO Leslie Moonves praising Letterman’s 'remarkable legacy of achievement and creative brilliance [which] will never be forgotten.'"

Washington Post: "New information from NASA's Curiosity Rover suggests that Mars may once have had large, long-lasting lakes above ground. That would challenge the more popular theory that water on the planet was only underground, or only appeared in a few areas for a short amount of time. The key to this latest theory is Mount Sharp, which stands 3 miles tall and sits in the red planet's Gale Crater. But Mount Sharp is a curious formation: The layered mountain is made of different kinds of sediment. Some layers were probably deposited by a surrounding lake bed, and other seem more likely to be the result of river or wind deposits." CW: Yeah, there was probably once a really well-developed life on Mars with flora & fauna & -- eventually -- little green men who didn't believe in climate change.

New York Times: "After weeks of planning, New York City welcomed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on Sunday for a three-day visit, greeting Prince William and his wife, Catherine, with the blend of enthusiasm, sarcasm and bemusing antagonism that tends to tail the urban celebrity tourist."

The Wrap: "Longtime CNN political anchor Candy Crowley is leaving the network."

December 6: Max Fisher of Vox: So two white guys -- guys who will have no trouble finding other jobs -- get fired, & half the New Republic staff walks out in protest. Where was the outrage when Marty Peretz was editor & writing racist screeds? The contrasting reactions speak "to a larger problem of how we think about racism in American society and particularly in the elite media institutions that have badly lagged in employing people of color." ...

... Scott Lemieux in LG&M: "For all its sins [of the past], I don’t see how turning the magazine into another traffic-chaser under the aegis of a CEO who speaks Meaningless Buzzword and apparently lacks the attention span to read more than 500 words at a time is a good thing." ...

... Charles Pierce: "... contra Chait, and even though the magazine unquestionably has regained a lot of its lost quality, especially in its actual reporting, I think the notion that The New Republic is 'an essential foundation of American progressive thought' is a ship that sailed a long time ago." ...

... Zandar in Balloon Juice: " The number of damns I give about TNR as a going concern at this point equals approximately the number of black voices writing for the magazine, which is to say zero, but YMMV."

... December 4 & 5: Dylan Byers of Politico: "Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier, the top two editors at The New Republic, quit on Thursday amid a shakeup that will relocate the Washington-based magazine to New York City, sources there told Politico on Thursday. Gabriel Snyder, a Bloomberg Media editor who previously served at The Atlantic Wire, has been tapped to replace Foer as editor. The magazine will also reduce its print schedule to 10 issues a year, down from 20." ...

     ... New York Times Update: "More than two dozen members of the staff of The New Republic, including several contributing editors, resigned on Friday morning, angered by an abrupt change of editors and what they saw as a series of management missteps. The resignations include the senior editors Alec MacGillis, Julia Ioffe and Isaac Chotiner, and the contributing editors Sean Wilentz and William Deresiewicz, according to several staff members who are leaving. A list compiling the names of those resigning was obtained by The New York Times." ...

     ... AND more from Jessica Roy of New York. ...

... Jonathan Chait: The New Republic has lost its way. ...

... Ezra Klein: "It's a bit early, I think, to write The New Republic's eulogy. Gabriel Snyder, the magazine's new editor, is a smart and web-savvy guy." ...

... Leah Finnegan of Gawker: "Indeed, an entire magazine is now doomed to fail because a white man has been fired and — gasp — an internet-savvy white man has been brought in to replace him! In TNR's 100-year history, I never would have imagined such a triage of injustice. It's clear that the new leadership of the magazine—with all their greasy Facebook money—is dead set on ruining a (historically racist) publication no one ever read in the first place, and was on the slow road to Irrelevance City. What will Chris Hughes do next? Perhaps the publication might even become interesting. Scream!"

Charles Pierce is completely taken with Ed Snowden. He's brave, credible & intelligent, blah-blah, & the film "Citizenfour" is bee-youtiful. For an antidote to starry-eyed Charles, see this review by Fred Kaplan of Slate.

This is quite cool:

 

Washington Post: "Scientists are 99.999 percent sure, in their most conservative estimate, that remains found in 2012 really do belong to King Richard III. These results, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, put a 529-year-old cold case to rest -- all thanks to some intense genetic detective work." CW: Let's hope one of the expert detectives wasn't Shaun Parcells. You may weigh in, Dr. Schwalb. ...

Welcome to Gramercy Park! -- "one of the most forbidden places in Manhattan." New York Times: Woody Allen couldn't get in to film, Robert De Niro couldn't get in, but Shawn Christopher, who was honeymooning in Manhattan, borrowed a key and "took three 360-degree panoramas using Photo Sphere, a Google app, and then uploaded them to the company’s ubiquitous Maps site. He had gotten into the park using another of his favorite technologies, Airbnb, where the room he rented included not only fresh linens and Wi-Fi but also one of the 383 coveted keys to the park. Mr. Christopher was unaware at the time that guests had to be accompanied by key holders on their visits and that commercial photography was prohibited." So take an insider's view of the park.

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Thursday
Dec182014

The Commentariat -- Dec. 19, 2014

Julie Davis & Michael Gordon of the New York Times: "President Obama will move as soon as next month to defang the 54-year-old American trade embargo against Cuba, administration officials said Thursday, using broad executive power to defy critics in Congress and lift restrictions on travel, commerce and financial activities. The moves are only the beginning of what White House officials and foreign policy experts describe as a sweeping set of changes that Mr. Obama can make on his own to re-establish commercial and diplomatic ties with Cuba even in the face of angry congressional opposition." ...

     ... CW: So the Prez is going with the infallible pope over bad-ass altar boys Boehner & Rubio, et al. The baby Jesus in his swaddling clothes is smiling. And Santa is marking who's naughty & nice. Sorry, fellas. Look for lumps of coal under the tree. Feliz Navidad. ...

... Jim Yardley of the New York Times: "... if the Vatican has long practiced a methodical, discreet brand of diplomacy, what has changed under Francis — or has been restored — is a vision of diplomatic boldness, a willingness to take risks and insert the Vatican into diplomatic disputes, especially where it can act as an independent broker. Even as the Vatican has spent decades building trust in Cuba, and working steadily to break down the impasse with the United States, it was Francis who took the fateful risks — writing secret letters to President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba, and then offering the Vatican for a secret and critical meeting between both sides in October." ...

... Josh Rogin of Bloomberg View: "Although President Barack Obama is taking the credit for Wednesday’s historic deal to reverse decades of U.S. policy toward Cuba, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she was the main architect of the new policy and pushed far harder for a deal than the Obama White House. From 2009 until her departure in early 2013, Clinton and her top aides took the lead on the sometimes public, often private interactions with the Cuban government." ...

     ... Zandar in Balloon Juice: "If there was any doubt that President Obama’s move on Cuba is a massive foreign policy legacy point for the history books that will stand the test of time, please note the blinding speed at which the credit for the deal is being given to someone else. Also, if there was ever any doubt that Hillary Clinton was not going to have trouble earning the trust of Obama 2008 primary voters, well, please note the same goddamn thing." ...

... Karen DeYoung & Carol Morello of the Washington Post: "In the wake of President Obama’s historic decision to mend diplomatic ties with Cuba, U.S. business and potential tourists scrambled to figure out what new opportunities will be available on the island and to position themselves at the head of the line." ...

... The Losers. Katie Zavadski of New York: "... for one particular group of people, this development could mean the end of a long-held island refuge where they were able to escape the reach of American law.As many as 70 Americans are currently fugitives in Cuba, part of a tradition that dates back decades. Among them are some of the most-wanted Americans ever, including suspects in the deaths of law enforcement agents." ...

... Ken Thomas of the AP: "Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday the lengthy U.S. economic embargo against Cuba 'just hasn't worked' and voiced support for opening trade with Cuba in the aftermath of the Obama administration's policy shift regarding the communist island. Paul became the first potential Republican presidential candidate to offer some support for President Barack Obama's decision to attempt to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba." ...

... Digby: "... you have to wonder if [Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, et al.] have the slightest bit of self-awareness.... Just a week ago they were condemning our own government for releasing a report that documented America’s own human rights abuses[.] It’s absolutely true that the most notorious prison camp on the planet is in Cuba — but it’s run by the U.S. government.... Ted Cruz’s lugubrious hand-wringing over the Cuban government holding people without due process would certainly be a lot more convincing if Americans hadn’t been holding innocent people for years in Cuba with no hope of ever leaving. To think that just last week the man [Rubio] who is preaching today about America’s commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was exhorting us all to thank the people who used torture techniques like 'rectal feeding' on prisoners in American custody.... When you endorse torture, the least you can do is have enough shame not to sanctimoniously lecture others about morality and high ideals of civilized behavior." ...

... Kevin Drum of Mother Jones: "It's been quite the whirlwind month for our bored, exhausted, disengaged president, hasn't it? All of these things are worthwhile in their own right, of course, but there's a political angle to all of them as well: they seriously mess with Republican heads. GOP leaders ... are going to have to deal with enraged tea partiers insisting that they spend time trying to repeal Obama's actions. They can't, of course, but they have to show that they're trying. So there's a good chance that they'll spend their first few months in semi-chaos, responding to Obama's provocations instead of working on their own agenda."

** Ryan Cooper of the Week: "It is now obvious that what the CIA did was illegal, brutal torture. Claims that it kept the nation safe are all that Cheney has left. But Cheney is wrong: Torture doesn't work and never has.... Over 12 years of research, [Darius] Rejali examined the use of torture in the U.S., Great Britain, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, South Vietnam, and Korea. He looked at torture inflicted during the French-Algerian War, as well as at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay. His research found that there is no record of any successful use of torture to gather intelligence, not even in totalitarian states."

Ali Younes, et al., of the Guardian: "US counter-terrorism officials backed a high-stakes negotiation involving two of the world’s most prominent jihadi clerics as well as former Guantánamo detainees in an [unsuccessful] attempt to save the life of an American hostage [-- Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig --] held by Islamic State, the Guardian can reveal." CW: Cue up the Fox "News" Outrage Machine (not that it isn't always in the "on" mode).

Benjamin Weiser, et al., of the New York Times: "Federal prosecutors plan to sue New York City over widespread civil rights violations in the handling of adolescent inmates at Rikers Island, making clear their dissatisfaction with the city’s progress in reining in brutality by guards and improving conditions at the jail complex, a new court filing shows. The decision to go to court comes more than four months after the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, issued a blistering report that cited a pervasive and 'deep-seated culture of violence' directed at teenage inmates at Rikers."

Reid Wilson of the Washington Post: "Members of the Wyoming legislature will debate a measure to expand Medicaid during next year’s session...."

Luke Brinker of Salon: "Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Wednesday that he was dropping plans for a government-provided health insurance system in the state, citing the measure’s cost. The decision comes three years after Shumlin, a Democrat, signed into law legislation that paved the path for a single payer health system, called Green Mountain Care, by 2017. Under the law, state officials needed to come up with a financing plan by this year. But Shumlin missed two deadlines for developing a financing plan before determining this week that paying for Green Mountain Care would have required drastic tax increases. According to the governor’s financial models, financing the system would have required an 11.5 percent payroll tax on all businesses in Vermont and a sliding-scale, income-based premium assessment of up to 9.5 percent."

Neighbors v. the Stoner State. Jack Healy of the New York Times: "Two heartland states filed the first major court challenge to marijuana legalization on Thursday, saying that Colorado’s growing array of state-regulated recreational marijuana shops was piping marijuana into neighboring states and should be shut down. The lawsuit was brought by attorneys general in Nebraska and Oklahoma, and asks the United States Supreme Court to strike down key parts of a 2012 voter-approved measure that legalized marijuana in Colorado for adult use and created a new system of stores, taxes and regulations surrounding retail marijuana."

Paul Krugman: "The kind of crisis Russia now faces is what you get when bad things happen to an economy made vulnerable by large-scale borrowing from abroad — specifically, large-scale borrowing by the private sector, with the debts denominated in foreign currency, not the currency of the debtor country. In that situation, an adverse shock like a fall in exports can start a vicious downward spiral. When the nation’s currency falls, the balance sheets of local businesses — which have assets in rubles (or pesos or rupiah) but debts in dollars or euros — implode. This, in turn, inflicts severe damage on the domestic economy, undermining confidence and depressing the currency even more.... A more open, accountable regime — one that wouldn’t have impressed [Rudy] Giuliani so much — would have been less corrupt, would probably have run up less debt, and would have been better placed to ride out falling oil prices. Macho posturing, it turns out, makes for bad economies."

Pamela Brown, et al., of CNN: "U.S. used signal intelligence and other means to trace the [Sony hack] attack to North Korea, finding digital footprints that pointed to North Korea. The statement to be issued as early as Friday morning will provide some of the evidence behind the U.S. government's conclusion, but not all. Though officials say they are planning to lay blame on Friday, they haven't yet decided how to respond to the attack." ...

... Jonathan Chait: "Sony is a for-profit entity, and not even an American one, that effectively has important influence over American culture. We don’t entrust for-profit entities with the common defense. And recognizing that the threat to a Sony picture is actually a threat to the freedom of American culture ought to lead us to a public rather than a private solution. The federal government should take financial responsibility." ...

     ... CW: Sorry, Chait. I feel no compulsion whatsoever to kick in a nickel for Sony, even though the company is a victim here. Sony insures their stars. Maybe they should have taken out hack-attack insurance. ...

Frank Rich on the Sony hack -- and Mitt Romney's proposal. ...

... CW: Although the hack is pretty terrible & surely a harbinger, Sony is garnering from it an incredible level of publicity for a stupid movie. When "The Interview" does make it into theaters or onto the small screen, as I expect it will, anybody who can stand a Seth Rogen movie will be sure to watch it. Wingers will consider watching the flik a right-of-passage. Because freeeedom. ...

... Daily Beast: "Three movie theaters say Paramount Pictures has ordered them not to show Team America: World Police one day after Sony Pictures surrendered to cyberterrorists and pulled The Interview.... (No reason was apparently given and Paramount hasn’t spoken.) Team America of course features Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, as a singing marionette."

Presidential Election

... Obama Unbound. Greg Sargent: "... it increasingly looks like a good deal more of the Obama agenda than expected — in the form of all these unilateral actions — may be on the ballot in 2016 to motivate [Democratic] voter groups. Republicans delighted in arguing that Obama’s policies were soundly rejected in the last election. But we’re now playing on a presidential year field, and Obama’s new approach appears to be only getting started."

Steve M. writes an excellent post that examines what is certainly part of Rand Paul's rationale in backing President Obama's Cuba move: "Farmers want to do business with Cuba, more than they want to cling to Cold War-era ideological purity. So I think, at least with regard to Iowa, Rand Paul is making a very smart move."

Wednesday
Dec172014

The Commentariat -- Dec. 18, 2014

Francis is being credited for helping bridge the divide [between the U.S. & Cuba] by first sending letters to President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba, and then having the Vatican host a diplomatic meeting between the two sides in October.... Vatican spokesmen declined to provide any details about Francis’s letters, other than that he encouraged the two sides to resolve 'humanitarian questions'; resolve the release of political prisoners, including an American held by Cuba, Alan P. Gross; and 'initiate a new phase in relations.'” ...

... Carol Morello & Adam Goldman of the Washington Post: The release of Alan Gross "started with an American overture to Cuba and a series of meetings in third countries, mostly in Canada beginning in June 2013, according to senior administration officials. It also involved an unusual intervention by the pope, who wrote personal letters to President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, calling for both countries to release their prisoners and restart relations." ...

... Adam Goldman: "The Cuban government on Wednesday freed a U.S. spy whom President Obama described as one of most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in the Communist country and who helped unravel several long-running Cuban espionage operations. U.S. officials said the release of the spy, a native of Cuba who has not been publicly identified, was a major priority for the intelligence community as part of any deal with the Cubans. That agreement, Obama said, also included the exchange of three Cuban spies by the United States and the release of former U.S. aid worker Alan Gross by Cuba on humanitarian grounds." ...

... Frances Robles & Julie Davis of the New York Times on the "Cuban Five," three of whom were released to Cuba in the spy swap Wednesday. The other two had previously served out their sentences & returned to Cuba. ...

... Taylor Berman of Gawker: "Cuban president Raul Castro announced the agreement at a press conference held the same time as Obama's. 'This expression by President Barack Obama deserves the respect and recognition by all the people and I want to thank and recognize support from the Vatican and especially from Pope Francis for the improvement of relations between Cuba and the United States,' Castro said.... As the two presidents announced the changes, church bells began ringing in Havana." ...

... The Bells Toll Not for Thee, Marco. Judd Legum of Think Progress: "In a press conference, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) ... — who is Catholic and a Cuban-American — directly criticized the Pope for his role. Rubio said that he would 'ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy.' Rubio added that he thought 'the people of Cuba deserve to have the same chances at Democracy as the people of Argentina have had, where he’s from.'” ...

... Dana Milbank: "Rubio’s emotional — and at times inaccurate — response to the policy change shows why Obama’s move to normalize ties to Cuba after more than half a century is both good policy and good politics. It’s good policy because it jettisons a vestigial policy that has stopped serving a useful purpose, and because it is a gutsy move by Obama that demonstrates strong leadership and will help revive him from lame-duck status. It’s good politics because it will reveal that the Cuban American old guard, whose position Rubio represents, no longer speaks for most Cuban Americans."

Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner. -- House Speaker John A. Boehner

I just want to say to those who say that this is a concession to the Cuban regime, these moves that are being made today, I think that that is the wrong way to look at this.... [The long-standing U.S.-Cuba restrictions had] done more, in my view, in many’s view, to keep the Castro regimes in power than anything we could have done. So I am just pleased that these actions have been taken. -- Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Az.)

We agree with President Obama that he is writing new chapters in American foreign policy. Unfortunately, today’s chapter, like the others before it, is one of America and the values we stand for in retreat and decline. It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America’s influence in the world. Is it any wonder that under President Obama’s watch our enemies are emboldened and our friends demoralized? -- Sens. John McCain & Lindsey Graham [R], in a statement

Pro tip: any time someone criticizes a foreign policy decision on the grounds that it 'emboldens our enemies,' it’s a sign they have no substantive argument to make. -- Paul Waldman

The idiotic Cuban boycott has isolated the Cuban people from the greatest weapons in our soft power arsenal, and I renew my longstanding call for Major League Baseball to put a team in Havana at the earliest opportunity.... I will not be completely satisfied until I rise for both the Cuban and American National Anthems in my own luxury box at Minute Maid Venceremos Stadium, after which Luis Tiant will throw out the first pitch, and I will light one of them stogies up. Capitalism triumphant, baby! -- Charles Pierce ...

... Maybe Not Such a Pipedream, Pierce. Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "Baseball officials, team executives, scouts, agents and fans all began to speculate how soon major league teams might be able to sign players in Cuba. Some even wondered whether Major League Baseball might be tempted to relocate a team like the Tampa Bay Rays, who have a feeble fan base, to Havana, where they would most likely be a sensation." ...

... Pro. New York Times Editors: "The Obama administration is ushering in a transformational era for millions of Cubans who have suffered as a result of more than 50 years of hostility between the two nations." ...

... Contra. Washington Post Editors: "Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life." ...

... Lauren French of Politico: "Just hours after Obama announced that a prisoner swap with the Cuban government for two Americans was the start of a new relationship with the communist country, Republicans began informally kicking around ideas to stop any changes to the U.S.-Cuba relationship." ...

... Ashley Parker & Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: "For more than a generation, Republicans have taken a hard line against [Cuba], endearing themselves to the politically potent bloc of Cuban-Americans who have been crucial in deciding elections in the state. But those animosities have given way with a generational shift, and younger voters who have family ties to Cuba but no direct memories of the island under Fidel Castro have been more willing to support Democrats.... The changing Hispanic demographics in Florida have reshaped the state’s political map. The state’s Hispanic population is increasingly multidimensional, with a large number of former residents of Puerto Rico and others from Latin and South America for whom the issue of Cuba is not paramount." ...

... "The End of an Error." John Cole of Balloon Juice: "At this point, Obama is just trolling wingnuts. Tomorrow he will rename Reagan Airport to Alinsky-Ayers-MalcolmX airport." Read the whole post. Cole captures the essence of the GOP, trapped forever in its cold-war panties. ...

... Paul Waldman: "The approaching end of his term and the loss of both houses of Congress seem to have liberated [President Obama].... Who knows how many other surprises Obama may have in store."

Clark Mindock of Roll Call: "President Barack Obama granted clemency to 20 people Wednesday in a relatively rare show of leniency from him — with the administration promising more to come. Obama cut short prison times for eight people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses and vacated the convictions of 12 others, the White House announced. The commutations are the result of an April 23 initiative by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole with the direction of President Obama encouraging qualified inmates to petition for clemency."

Jennifer Bendery of the Huffington Post: "If there's one thing from 2014 that will define President Barack Obama's legacy after he's left the White House, it's the number of lifetime judges he put on the federal bench. In its final act of the year, the Senate blew through a dozen U.S. district court nominees on Tuesday night. That puts Obama at a whopping 89 district court and circuit court confirmations for the year, and means he'll wrap up his sixth year in office with a grand total of 305 district court and circuit court confirmations -- a tally that puts him well beyond where his predecessors were by this point in their presidencies."

Lawrence Hurley of Reuters: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked the state of Arizona from enforcing a policy that denies driver's licenses to young immigrants granted legal status by President Barack Obama in 2012.... The Supreme Court's brief order noted that three conservative members among the nine justices - Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito - would have granted Arizona's request."

Erin Dooley of ABC News: "The actions of hackers who released a trove of e-mails stolen from Sony Pictures executives indicates the U.S. has not done all it can do to prevent enemies from exploiting 'vulnerabilities' in our technology, President Obama said [Wednesday]. 'We’ve made progress,' Obama said in an exclusive interview with ABC 'World News Tonight' anchor David Muir. 'But what we just saw with Sony shows a lot more progress needs to be done. That means, by the way, that Congress also needs to take up cyber security legislation that’s been languishing for several years now.'” With video of interview. ...

... David Sanger & Nicole Perlroth of the New York Times: "American intelligence officials have concluded that the North Korean government was 'centrally involved' in the recent attacks on Sony Pictures’s computers, a determination reached just as Sony on Wednesday canceled its release of the comedy, which is based on a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader." ...

... Kim Zetter of Wired says "the evidence that North Korea hacked Sony is flimsy." ...

... Update. Terrence McCoy & Anna Fifield of the Washington Post: "Despite the reports and media hype, as of Thursday morning, there was still no definitive evidence made public linking North Korea to the hack nor to this week’s threats that caused numerous theaters to pull out of screening 'The Interview.' Neither Sony nor the FBI have found any proof. And some experts are more than a little skeptical." ...

... Saba Hamedy & Richard Verrier of the Los Angeles Times: "Sony Pictures Entertainment has canceled the Christmas Day release of 'The Interview' after the nation's major theater chains said they would not screen the film. The studio said 'we respect and understand our partners' decision' and 'completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theatergoers.'" ...

... digby: "Fox News pundits are calling this an act of war that requires a military response. Of course.
This is wrong. We should not surrender to blackmailers, blah,blah, blah. Free speech, Danish cartoons all that. But really it's almost surely a stupid movie so I can't care all that much." ...

... Mike Fleming of Deadline: "The chilling effect of the Sony Pictures hack and terrorist threats against The Interview are reverberating. New Regency has scrapped another project that was to be set in North Korea. The untitled thriller, set up in October, was being developed by director Gore Verbinski as a star vehicle for Foxcatcher star Steve Carell.... Insiders tell me that under the current circumstances, it just makes no sense to move forward. The location won’t be transplanted. Fox declined to distribute it, per a spokesman."

** Neil Irwin of the New York Times: "Some of the highest employment rates in the advanced world are in places with the highest taxes and most generous welfare systems, namely Scandinavian countries.... More people may work when countries offer public services that directly make working easier, such as subsidized care for children and the old; generous sick leave policies; and cheap and accessible transportation. If the goal is to get more people working, what’s important about a social welfare plan may be more about what the money is spent on than how much is spent."

E. J. Dionne: Sen. Chuck "Schumer [D-N.Y.] is right in identifying the biggest problem facing our country. Restoring broadly shared prosperity is not just a good political issue. It’s the cause on which every other cause depends."

Tom Edsall of the New York Times: "The traditional European social democratic left and the [U.S.] Democratic Party are both struggling to address the often conflicting interests of a socially liberal elite and an economically pressed lower class.... It may be that democracies are not at present equipped to solve the problems advanced nations face."

Matthew Goldstein of the New York Times: "A former Countrywide Financial executive who became a whistle-blower is collecting more than $57 million for helping federal prosecutors force Bank of America to pay a record $16.65 billion penalty in connection with its role in churning out shoddy mortgage and related securities before the financial crisis."

Thomas Kaplan & Jesse McKinley of the New York Times: "Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration announced on Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State because of concerns over health risks, ending years of uncertainty over the disputed method of natural gas extraction. State officials concluded that fracking, as the method is known, could contaminate the air and water and pose inestimable dangers to public health." Thanks to NiskyGuy for the link.

Molly Redden of Mother Jones: "A Missouri Republican is pushing a bill that would allow a man who gets a woman pregnant to stop her from having an abortion. The measure would force a woman who wants an abortion to obtain written permission from the father first—unless she was the victim of 'legitimate rape.' Rick Brattin, a state representative from outside Kansas City, filed the bill on December 3 for next year's legislative session.... 'Just like any rape, you have to report it, and you have to prove it,' Brattin tells Mother Jones. 'So you couldn't just go and say, "Oh yeah, I was raped" and get an abortion. It has to be a legitimate rape.'" See Akhilleus's comment in yesterday's thread. ...

... Anna Merlan of Jezebel: "... this isn't [Brattin's] first brainwave: he made headlines last year when he launched a bid for anti-evolution lessons in science classes.... In January of this year, he filed a bill calling for Missouri to bring back execution by firing squad. This month, he also filed a bill suggesting that any federal law be deemed unenforceable in Missouri if lawmakers there don't like it (something expressly forbade in the Constitution, but, um, okay, Rick. Give that one a shot.)"

Karen McVeigh of the Guardian: "More than seven decades after South Carolina executed 14-year-old George Stinney, a judge has thrown out his conviction and cleared his name. Stinney was accused of killing two white girls, Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, seven, who were found dead in a ditch on the black side of the racially segregated town of Alcolu, South Carolina, in March 1944. In the Jim Crow era of the South, Stinney was tried, convicted and executed within 83 days in the small mill town. The case has cast a long shadow over South Carolina." ...

... Ed Pilkington of the Guardian: "... if 2014 is anything to go by, as capital punishment becomes less common, it also appears to be growing more extreme and arguably inhumane."

Neil MacFarquhar & Andrew Roth of the New York Times: "President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Thursday delivered an acidic message of defiance and anger at the West at an annual news conference in Moscow, showing no sign of softening his position on Ukraine despite the financial turmoil that has gripped the country."

Presidential Election

Greg Sargent: "Two possible GOP candidates — Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, both from Florida — have already come out against Obama’s push for normalization, both arguing against expanded engagement with a repressive regime.... [Hillary] Clinton has not publicly weighed in yet. But it turns out that in her memoir, Hard Choices, she wrote that as Secretary of State, she asked Obama to consider lifting the embargo. Clinton also made a very similar argument to the one we heard from the President today, that the best way to spur human rights change in Cuba is through engagement that will increasingly expose the Cuban people to outside ideas and weaken the Castro regime’s grip."

If you want a government that’s gonna intrude on your life, enforce their personal views on you, then I guess Jeb Bush is your man. -- Michael Schiavo, whose wife Terri Bush tried to force under his custody to prevent Michael's decision to remove her feeding tubes after she had been in a vegetative state for 15 years

Jeb Bush made a family tragedy into a family horror. He willingly put the power of his office behind lunatics who were jumping fences, calling bomb threats into elementary schools, putting bounties on Michael Schiavo's head, and endagering great people doing wonderful work at a hospice. This episode shouldn't be an obscure part of his past. It should define him as a politician, and as a man. -- Charles Pierce

 

November Election

Cathleen Decker of the Los Angeles Times: "The long 2014 political campaign whimpered to an end Wednesday as Republican Martha McSally claimed the last official victory in an Arizona congressional contest whose results were delayed six weeks by a required recount. McSally entered the recount earlier this month with a 161-vote lead over Democratic incumbent Ron Barber, and had been expected to hold on to it.  In the end, she emerged with a 167-vote margin of victory in results released by the Maricopa County Superior Court."

Tuesday
Dec162014

The Commentariat -- Dec. 17, 2014

... ** Peter Baker & Randal Archibold of the New York Times: "The United States will open talks with Cuba aimed at restoring full diplomatic relations and opening an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, American officials said Wednesday. President Obama plans to make a televised statement from the White House at noon about the breakthrough, which opens the door to a major international initiative that could help shape his legacy heading into his final two years in office. Alan Gross, the American contractor who has been serving a 15-year sentence in a Cuban prison for trying to bring Internet services to Cuba, was released and put on an American government airplane bound for the United States, officials said.... As part of the larger agreement, the United States is releasing three Cuban spies first arrested in Miami in 2001. American officials denied that they were being traded for Mr. Gross and said they were instead being swapped for another person imprisoned in Cuba who is believed to have worked for United States intelligence agencies." ...

     ... Story has been UPDATED. New Lede: "The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, American officials said Wednesday." ...

... This Was Predictable. Patricia Mazzei & Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald: "The political ground shook in South Florida on Wednesday when the Obama administration indicated it plans to restore full diplomatic relations with Communist Cuba. Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community, reacted with a collective shock. Hardline opponents of the Castro regime lambasted the president for what they called a betrayal." ...

... AND This Was Predictable. Katie Glueck & Seung Min Kim of Poltico: "Republican[s] reacted with outrage Wednesday over the Obama administration’s move to normalize relations with Cuba, with some lawmakers casting it as appeasement and the product of extortion by the communist Castro government. Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a likely 2016 presidential contender, was one of several GOP lawmakers from Florida to denounce the administration. He and other Republicans promised to try to derail the White House’s efforts through their leverage in Congress.... Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who is vocal on foreign policy, tweeted that the development is 'an incredibly bad idea.' He added later: 'I will do all in my power to block the use of funds to open an embassy in Cuba.'" ...

... Marcos Moulitas on the "crusty old fucks," neocons & various Republican presidential wanna-bes who oppose the President's (& the Pope's!) efforts to quasi-normalize relations with Cuba. (Also Bob Menendez [D-N.J.]. ...

     ... CW: Menendez's "hissyfit," as Kos put it, is strange. (Read hissyfit here.) His parents were Cuban immigrants, but they weren't among the wealthy exiles who lost everything in Cuba & fled the island after the Castro regime took over the government. Thus, it's difficult to know what sort of lore has cemented his brain synapses.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article4552516.html#storylink=cpy

Michael Memoli of the Los Angeles Times: "A turbulent lame-duck session of Congress came to a sudden end Tuesday as the Senate rushed to clear a lingering tax bill and some key presidential nominations in a late-night flurry of final votes. Lawmakers signed off on a deal to extend $45 billion worth of tax breaks through this calendar year, ensuring that businesses and individuals can claim the deductions in their next IRS filings. The 76-16 vote also approved what had been a separate bill to create new tax-free accounts that can be used for the care of disabled family members." ...

... Ed O'Keefe & Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post: "Democrats controlling the Senate also secured agreements from Republicans to confirm at least six dozen of President Obama’s nominees to serve as federal judges, agency bosses and on myriad government boards, a last-minute coup for the White House since most of the picks faced tougher odds next year once Republicans take full control of Capitol Hill." ...

... Coburn's Last Stand. Andrew Taylor of the AP: "A Republican senator Tuesday blocked a bill that would have renewed a government program credited with reviving the market for insurance against terrorist strikes after the Sept. 11 attacks. The objections of Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, who is retiring this year, dimmed chances for any action in the waning hours of the lame-duck session of Congress." ...

... Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "The Senate moved forward Tuesday with two more disputed nominations, confirming over Republican objections Sarah Saldaña, a federal prosecutor, as director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Antony Blinken, a former national security adviser to President Obama, to be deputy secretary of state. Neither received the 60 votes that would have been necessary under the old Senate rules, further demonstrating how Democrats have helped Mr. Obama reshape the federal bench and fill the executive branch with people of his choosing since they abolished the filibuster for all but Supreme Court nominations." ...

... Joan Lowy of the AP: "The Senate on Tuesday confirmed a new administrator to lead the government's auto safety agency, which faces complaints that regulators bungled two high-profile recalls involving faulty ignition switches and exploding air bags. Mark Rosekind, 59, a leading expert on human fatigue, was approved by voice vote to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a neglected but critically important agency that is widely considered to be understaffed and underfunded. The previous administrator, David Strickland, left in January." ...

... CW: Does it make sense that the adminstrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Admnistration requires Senate confirmation? I know it's an important job, but it's not exactly a high-level one.

... Manu Raju of Politico: "Ted Cruz privately apologized to GOP senators Tuesday for interrupting their holiday schedules by his surprise tactics that effectively brought the Senate into session over the weekend. According to five senators who attended Tuesday’s caucus lunch, Cruz offered the apology in unsolicited remarks, saying that he regretted if any of his colleagues’ schedules were ruined by his maneuvering. He didn’t say whether he would do something similar again, senators said.... Republican senators were furious, arguing that Cruz and [Mike] Lee [R-Utah] had effectively paved the way for the confirmation of controversial judicial and executive branch nominees, several of whom would have otherwise been blocked in a GOP-led Senate next year. And they were just as angry that they were blindsided by the move...." ...

... Evan Halper of the Los Angeles Times: "Tucked deep inside the 1,603-page federal spending measure is a provision that effectively ends the federal government's prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy. The bill's passage over the weekend marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana.... A separate amendment to the spending package, tacked on at the behest of anti-marijuana crusader Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), will jeopardize the legalization of recreational pot in Washington, D.C., which voters approved last month."

Josh Gerstein of Politico: "A federal judge in Pennsylvania has ruled President Barack Obama's recent executive actions on immigration unconstitutional, but the decision came in a criminal case, leaving its broader impact uncertain. U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Schwab[, a Bush II appointee,] issued the first-of-its-kind ruling Tuesday in the case of Elionardo Juarez-Escobar, a Honduran immigrant charged in federal court with unlawful re-entry after being arrested earlier this year in Pennsylvania for drunk driving. 'President Obama’s unilateral legislative action violates the separation of powers provided for in the United States Constitution as well as the Take Care Clause, and therefore, is unconstitutional,' Schwab wrote in his 38-page opinion (posted here).... A Justice Department spokesman rejected the judge's legal rationale and his decision to opine on the legality of Obama's actions. 'The decision is unfounded and the court had no basis to issue such an order,' said the official, who asked not to be named. 'No party in the case challenged the constitutionality of the immigration-related executive actions and the department’s filing made it clear that the executive actions did not apply to the criminal matter before the court. Moreover, the court’s analysis of the legality of the executive actions is flatly wrong.  We will respond to the court’s decision at the appropriate time.'”

... Ian Millhiser of Think Progress: "In an extraordinary opinion that transforms a routine sentencing matter into a vehicle to strike down a politically controversial policy, a George W. Bush-appointed judge in Pennsylvania declared President Obama’s recently announced immigration policy unconstitutional on Tuesday. Because the policy 'may' apply to a defendant who was awaiting sentencing of a criminal immigration violation, Judge Arthur Schwab decides that he must determine 'whether the Executive Action is constitutional.” He concludes that it is not.' Millhiser explains why the ruling is kinda stupid: "... Schwab’s legal analysis is thin. He spends nearly as much time making what appear to be political attacks on the president as he does evaluating actual legal matters. And what little legal analysis he does provide fails to cite key Supreme Court decisions that seem to contradict his conclusion." ...

... Elise Foley & Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post: "Schwab's decision, however, does not appear to carry any real-world consequences. The judge, who has a highly unusual history of being removed from cases due to temperament and charges of bias, was not asked to rule on the issue and instead inserted his opinion into a criminal case."

The Washington Post editors write a powerful editorial against evil torture advocate & apologist Dick Cheney. Read it. ...

... The Party of Torture. Paul Waldman: "Regular people take cues from the elites who represent them, and if you're an ordinary conservative, right now you're seeing all the elites you like ... telling you over and over again that the kind of torture the CIA engaged in was perfectly legal, morally unproblematic, and spectacularly effective. So it isn't unexpected that Republicans would become more and more pro-torture as the debate proceeds. That doesn't make it any less ghastly, though." ...

... CW: I don't think Ryan Cooper covers anything in this post that we haven't covered before, but he puts it all in one place, & all of it bears repeating: "Knowing as we do that torture does not work like [the way the media depict it], such depictions and polls are ethically monstrous. The American political and media elite have been, in effect, conducting a blatantly false, pro-torture propaganda campaign, one which, unfortunately, did not stay in the popular culture sphere. As Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate years ago, 'The lawyers designing interrogation techniques cited [24's Jack] Bauer more frequently than the Constitution.'"

... Ken Silverstein of the Intercept: "Matthew Zirbel’s home in Great Falls, Virginia is filled with oriental carpets, perhaps collected from his time spent working in countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. The million dollar home has 'LOTS of 'WOW!' You will 'Oooh & Ahhh', says this recent description on Zillow. This isn’t the first time Zirbel’s surroundings have wowed someone. Over a decade ago, Zirbel, then a junior CIA officer, was in charge of the Salt Pit, a 'black site' in Afghanistan referred to in the recent Senate torture report as 'Cobalt,' where detainees were routinely brutalized and which one visitor described as a 'dungeon.' A delegation from the Federal Bureau of Prisons was 'WOW’ed' by the Salt Pit’s sensory deprivation techniques, and a CIA interrogator said that prisoners there “literally looked like [dogs] that had been kenneled,” according to the report." ...

... Adam Weinstein of Gawker publishes more exterior & interior shots of the Zirbel house with commentary that relates the photos to Zirbel's career as "Torturer CIA Officer No. 1."

Sahil Kapur of TPM: "The Supreme Court will have another chance to cripple Obamacare in 2015.... But the Republicans who will run Congress next year may be unintentionally undermining their chances of a victory in King v. Burwell, by arguing that a defeat for the Obama administration would gravely damage the law and signaling they would not fix the language at issue in Obamacare.... The problem is that this message ... contradicts the message undergirding the lawsuit: that the challengers are simply trying to perfect the law's implementation, not harm it.... The GOP statements also undermine an argument that has benefited the legal challenge: that Congress can simply 'fix' the law if the courts determine that the letter of the law contradicts what its authors say they intended." ...

     ... CW: Of course Kapur's argument presumes conservatives on the Court -- especially Chief Justice John Roberts -- actually want to preserve the law, which is mighty questionable. It also presumes that the Court will take GOP chatter into account. Unless that chatter is presented in briefs, I don't see how Mitch McConnell's remarks, for instance, would even be part of the Court's consideration of the case. ...

... A report by outgoing Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) "finds that for the more than 13 million Americans that are expected to receive tax credits on the federal exchange in 2016, a total of approximately $65 billion in tax credits are at risk.  Citizens in 286 congressional districts in 35 states would lose tax credits if the Supreme Court rules against the availability of the tax credits provided by the ACA." As Paul Waldman points out, that's an average of $5,000 per taxpayer.

Laura Clawson of Daily Kos: "Last week, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that Walmart illegally intimidated workers. This week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a lower court verdict and ordered Walmart to pay $188 million to workers who sued because, they said, Walmart wasn't paying them for the full hours they worked and wasn't paying for rest breaks. About 187,000 people who worked in Pennsylvania Walmarts between 1998 and 2006 would be affected, but — surprise! — Walmart is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court."

Jim Tankersley of the Washington Post: "Wall Street is bigger and richer than ever, the research shows, and the economy and the middle class are worse off for it.... The financial industry has doubled in size as a share of the economy in the past 50 years, but it hasn’t gotten any better at its core job: getting money from investors who have it to companies that will use it to generate growth, profit and jobs. There are many ways to quantify how that financial growth-without-improvement hurts the economy.... America’s financial system has grown much larger than it should have, based on how well the industry performs.... Some of America’s growth was driven by Washington." CW: Emphasis added. Finally, Tankersley gets something right.

Sandra Westfall of People: "The protective bubble that comes with the presidency – the armored limo, the Secret Service detail, the White House – shields Barack and Michelle Obama from a lot of unpleasantness. But their encounters with racial prejudice aren't as far in the past as one might expect. And they obviously still sting.... 'There's no black male my age, who's a professional, who hasn't come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn't hand them their car keys,' said the president, adding that, yes, it had happened to him. Mrs. Obama recalled another incident: 'He was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee.'" CW: You have to subscribe to People to read the whole article/interview. ...

    ... CW: Weirdly, it appears Michelle Obama thinks a woman who approacher her in Target was racist: "I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn't see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn't anything new." I don't think the shopper-lady was racist. Whatever the woman wanted was probably on a top shelf, so the physical characteristic the shopper was looking for was "tall." Or else the item was heavy, so she was looking for "strong." Michelle Obama fits the bill on both. Strangers often ask me to help them (or I volunteer), & it has nothing to do with my race.

CW: Sorry, Lauren, I just don't believe that this nice family man (pictured here with a young lady who is not a Farenthold family member) ever made "sexually-suggestive comments" to you.AP: "A former staffer for Rep. Blake Farenthold is suing the office of the Texas Republican, saying she was sexually harassed and fired soon after she complained of a hostile work environment. Lauren Greene, a former communications director for Farenthold, filed the lawsuit last week in federal court in Washington. In a statement Tuesday, a spokesman for Farenthold — first elected in 2010 — said the congressman expected to be cleared of wrongdoing 'once all of the facts are revealed.' Greene alleges in her lawsuit that Farenthold made sexually suggestive comments to her, including some she says were designed to gauge her interest in a sexual relationship with him. She also says Farenthold disclosed to another staffer in the office that he had been having sexual fantasies about Greene." ...

... Andrew Kaczynski of BuzzFeed (Dec. 12): "The website Blow-me.org is registered to Republican Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, according to an Internet registration page. The website was registered by Farenthold when he owned a computer consulting business.... A spokesman told BuzzFeed News Rep. Farenthold would not be renewing the domain." CW: Yeah, probably not helpful to your sexual harassment defense.

Lauren Gambino of the Guardian: "Bill Cosby has implored the 'black media' to remain 'neutral' as he faces mounting allegations of sexual misconduct that have threatened his career. But some members of the 'black media', if such a monolithic entity can even be said to exist, say it’s not their job to protect the fallen star, despite what he has meant to the African American community." ...

... Alyssa Rosenberg of the Washington Post: "Yesterday, Bill Cosby’s wife, Camille, released a long and self-pitying statement urging the press to be inspired by the Rolling Stone case to dig more deeply not into the specifics of the stories women are telling about her husband but into the women who are making the allegations.... The Cosbys have benefited from preferential press treatment for a long time.... What makes her statement feel sad rather than purely cruel is the sense that Cosby is looking for reassurance that she has not been deceived." Camille Cosby's statement is here.

Michael Cieply & Brooks Barnes of the New York Times: "Sony Pictures Entertainment, the F.B.I., theater owners and competing film studios scrambled on Tuesday to deal with a threat of terrorism against movie theaters that show Sony’s 'The Interview,' a raunchy comedy about the assassination of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. The threat was made in rambling emails sent to various news outlets Tuesday morning. A version posted by The Hollywood Reporter said, in part: 'Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)'... On Tuesday night, Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema said it had canceled the film’s New York premiere scheduled for this week; its Los Angeles premiere was held Dec. 11 without incident." ...

...

Presidential Election

Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: "By announcing that he is considering a 2016 presidential bid and making official what has become increasingly apparent in recent weeks, [Jeb] Bush, 61, quickly reshaped a Republican race that had scarcely begun forming. Mr. Bush’s early move amounted to a pre-emptive strike on his most likely rivals for the blessing of establishment-oriented contributors and party officials." ...

... Here's Bush's Facebook entry annoucing he's thinking about announcing. ...

... Jim Newell of Salon: "There has been 'chatter' among the class of top establishment donors about trying to clear the field and rally around a single establishment, big-business Republican. Jeb Bush, by half-announcing in mid-December, is trying to tell them that he’s their guy." ...

... Anna Palmer, et al., of Politico: "In one swift move, Jeb Bush showed his fundraising prowess without raising a dollar.... Several donors said they are increasingly optimistic that Bush will launch an official campaign in early 2015, but until he makes an official announcement to form an exploratory committee there is nothing that they can do.... Bush is also looking to lock up top GOP talent and fill senior slots. Heather Larrison, who served as finance director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2014 cycle, is working with Bush on a 'volunteer basis,' his spokeswoman Kristy Campbell confirmed. Bush’s move toward the race could pose the most serious problems for a trio of prospective rivals who have assiduously courted major establishment donors — [Chris] Christie, [Rick] Perry and [Marco] Rubio."  ...

... Adios, Marco. Danny Vinik of the New Republic: "If there is one loser from Bush’s decision to explore a presidential run, it’s Senator Marco Rubio, also from Florida. Bush has deep connections to the donor base in Florida thanks to his eight years running the state. If Bush does choose to run and the signs clearly point that way now it will leave little room for Rubio to mount his own presidential campaign." ...

... Steve M. gives Jeb's run some thought: "I'm not sure the GOP can win the presidency with a candidate a lot of the base loathes." ...

... Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast makes a pretty good -- and funny -- argument against a Bush run. "It used to be frequently said back in 2000 that Jeb was 'the smart brother.' Given the tribulations that await him on the hustings versus the easy millions that dangle before him in the global aviation business, the choice that would prove he’s the smart one seems pretty clear." Thanks to Victoria D. for the link. ...

... Ed Kilgore: "As fate would have it, McLatchey put out a new national poll this very day showing Jeb running second to Mitt Romney (that other Establishment boyo, who will have extra time to think about a presidential campaign that could be unleashed if the field shapes up as a budding disaster) and taking the lead if Mitt stays out. This will be enough for many Establishment types, who can be expected to begin calling Jeb the 'frontrunner.' But truth is, he’s only running at 14% (16% if Mitt doesn’t run), and in a trial heat against Hillary Clinton, he’s trailing 53-40, which doesn’t exactly burnish the “electability” credentials he’d definitely need to convince conservatives to ignore his policy heresies and his family’s reputation for playing them for fools." ...

... Brian Beutler: "One of the predictable political consequences of Obama’s immigration actions was to set Republican presidential hopefuls into competition with one other to be anointed the most dependably anti-amnesty figure in the party.... [Bush] can’t ... demonstrate a commitment to principles, even when they conflict with the demands of the primary in the environment Obama just created.... Bush could just as easily retreat from his compassionate position on the issue. Other Republicans have executed a similar volte-face. But then he’ll just become another Romney-like figure who by his own lights can’t win the presidency." ...

... Matt Yglesias takes the opposite tack: he suggests that Obama's immigration action saved Bush's butt: now "Bush is free to denounce these actions as a gross abuse of presidential authority.... There's nothing in his record to suggest he's beyond the pale for a GOP nominee, and no real evidence that the Republican establishment that nominated his brother and his father has changed enough to sink his candidacy."

... Adam Weinstein: "The overpaid Beltway writerly class is busying itself with pats on its own back for amazing, oddball prognostications of a Bush-Clinton 2016 matchup months, even years ago, because who could have seen that coming? In the meantime, if he really is going to run for president, Bush has to convince Republicans to shy away from the divisive social politics and populist demagoguery to opt for a traditionally conservative Ivy League businessman with family ties to politics. Which would be a real break with recent history for the party, if you don't count 1988, 1992, 2000, 2004, and 2012." ...

... CW: I thought I'd just check in to see how the wingers were taking this news. Here's the PJ Tattler: "Oh, God, please no: Jeb Bush is running for president. Another Bush in the White House? ...

... AND here's AllahPundit of Hot Air: "Remember, Bill Clinton has become good friends with the Bushes, to the point where Dubya now kids that he’s a 'brother from another mother' and that Hillary is his 'sister-in-law.' Another Bush/Clinton race wouldn’t be a contest between two dynastic families. It would, effectively, be an intramural contest within one." ...

... EVEN David Frum, a speechwriter for Dubya & a fairly moderate Republican, whom you might think would therefore support Jebby, tweets, "In this magnificent land of opportunity, anyone can aspire to the presidency, provided only that an immediate relative had the job already." ...

... Dave Weigel of Bloomberg Politics rounds up some reactions from wingers. ...

... Here's a surprise: other likely GOP presidential candidates don't like a Jeb candidacy:

     ... Katie Glueck of Politico: "Texas Sen. Ted Cruz insists he’s a 'big fan' of Jeb Bush. But when asked Tuesday about the former Florida governor’s move toward a presidential run, Cruz suggested the Republican party would lose if they nominate another relative moderate. Cruz, a deeply conservative Texas Republican and likely 2016 candidate himself, called Bush a 'good governor in Florida,' before warning against nominating a centrist Republican. He didn’t specifically place Bush in that category, but the implication was clear...." ...

     ... Zeke Miller of Time: "Rand Paul is already running an ad against Bush.... Hours after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced he would 'actively explore' a run for the White House, the political action committee for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul ... took out a Google search ad on his name, with a not-so-subtle dig at the more moderate Republican. 'Join a movement working to shrink government. Not grow it,' the ad states, with a link to RandPAC, Paul’s longstanding federal leadership committee, and a page asking supporters to give their email address and zip code to 'Stand With Rand.'”

Jill Colvin of the AP: "Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday she's proud to have been part of an administration that 'banned illegal renditions and brutal interrogations' and said the U.S. should never be involved in torture anywhere in the world. Clinton spoke ... after receiving an award from The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights at a gala in New York.... The remarks marked Clinton's first on the subject since the release of a Senate report last week investigating the CIA's interrogation techniques after 9/11.... Clinton also addressed the recent protests that have raged across the country, and drew links between violence at home and abroad. She declared, 'yes, black lives matter,' a mantra of demonstrators around the country who have been protesting recent grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers involved in the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and in New York." ...

... The People Poll. Jaime Fuller of the Washington Post: "According to a report from AdWeek on Monday, the June 16 issue of People featuring ... [Hillary Clinton on the cover] was the magazine's worst selling of 2014...."

November Elections

Philip Elliott of the AP: "Shadowy outside groups broadcast an estimated $25 million worth of political ads on local TV stations with a goal of shaping state-level elections this year, and their full roster of donors is unlikely to ever be known, according to an analysis released Wednesday. While the $25 million is a small slice of the $850 million spent on ads in statewide races, the amount is still almost twice what outside groups shelled out during the last midterm elections in 2010. The Center for Public Integrity analysis also showed that the secretive outside groups were quite successful, exceeding the victory rates of groups that disclose their donors."

Way Beyond the Beltway

Jenny Anderson & Andrew Roth of the New York Times: "Trading in the Russian ruble was volatile early Wednesday morning, rallying briefly on news that the Finance Ministry was ready to sell some of its foreign currency reserves, and then weakening again." ...

     ... The Guardian is liveblogging the ruble (or "rouble") crisis. ...

... Henry Meyer & Ilya Arkhipov of Bloomberg News: "The foundations on which Vladimir Putin built his 15 years in charge of Russia are giving way. The meltdown of the ruble, which has plunged 18 percent against the dollar in the last two days alone, is endangering the mantra of stability around which Putin has based his rule. While his approval rating is near an all-time high on the back of his stance over Ukraine, the currency crisis risks eroding it and undermining his authority, Moscow-based analysts said." ...

... Matt O'Brien of the Washington Post: "A funny thing happened on the way to Vladimir Putin running strategic laps around the West. Russia's economy imploded.... It's a classic kind of emerging markets crisis. It's only a small simplification, you see, to say that Russia doesn't so much have an economy as it has an oil exporting business that subsidizes everything else. That's why the combination of more supply from the United States, and less demand from Europe, China, and Japan has hit them particularly hard.... And this is only going to get worse. Russia, you see, is stuck in an economic catch-22. Its economy needs lower interest rates to push up growth, but its companies need higher interest rates to push up the ruble and make all the dollars they borrowed not worth so much. So, to use a technical term, they're screwed no matter what they do." ..,

... "Putin on the Fritz." Paul Krugman: "It’s impressive just how quickly and convincingly the wheels have been coming off the Russian economy. Obviously the plunge in oil prices is the big driver, but the ruble has actually fallen more than Brent — oil is down 40 percent since the start of the year, but the ruble is down by half.... Well, it turns out that Putin managed to get himself into a confrontation with the West over Ukraine just as the bottom dropped out of his country’s main export, so that a financing shock was added to the terms of trade shock. But it’s also true that drastic effects of terms of trade shocks are a fairly common phenomenon in developing countries where the private sector has substantial foreign-currency debt: the initial effect of a drop in export prices is a fall in the currency, this creates balance sheet problems for private debtors whose debts suddenly grow in domestic value, this further weakens the economy and undermines confidence, and so on."

Tuesday
Dec162014

How to Embed Hyperlinks in Comments

I've had another request to explain how to code hyperlinks into reader comments.

It's pretty easy. You just can't make a typo.

Here's a benign sample text.

I think RealityChex.com is the best news website on the Internets.

The text you want to highlight is "RealityChex.com is the best" and the site you want to link is www.realitychex.com (Boldface type for ease of reading only; you don't have to use it!)

Immediately before the "R", you type  <a href="www.realitychex.com">  No spaces (except between the "a" & the "h" in href). Be sure to include the the "greater-than" & "less than" symbols < >

Of course, you don't have to actually type out the URL (Web address) you want to link. You just copy it from the source & paste it between the quotation marks in your code block. (Make sure you include all of the URL. If it begins with  http:// , assume that part of the URL is necessary.)

So the only bit you have to type to begin your linked passage is  <a href="">

To close the link, type  </a>  at the end of the text you want to highlight. In this case, you'd type </a> immediately after the "t" in "best".

At this point, then, your draft comment will look like this:

I think <a href="www.realitychex.com">RealityChex.com is the best</a> news website on the Internets.

You won't see the results of your coding till your comment appears on the site. Your published comment should look like this:

I think RealityChex.com is the best news website on the Internets.

I certainly don't require or even prefer commenters to use hyperlinks; I do it myself only because I work with rudimentary HTML code all the time, so it's easy for me.

Many other sites allow you to embed hyperlinks in their comments sections, using this same code. If there isn't a specific instruction on how to do so, I usually check other comments to see if anybody has embedded a hyperlink because not all sites accept HTML code in their comments sections.

If you think you'll forget how to do this by the time you have occasion to give it a try, you can bookmark this page. (Click on the header "How to Embed Hyperlinks in Comments". When the page comes up, click "Bookmark this page" on your toolbar [or wherever you keep your bookmark icon].)

Hope that helps.

Marie