Weekly Address

The President's Weekly Address

White House: "In this week’s address, the President lays out why new, high-standards trade agreements are important for our economy, our businesses, our workers, and our values":

The Ledes

Saturday, April 25, 2015.

New York Times: "Pledging to shut down the city, thousands of demonstrators jammed the streets of Baltimore on Saturday to protest the death of a black man who sustained a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody." ...

... Baltimore Sun: "A day of peaceful rallies into the death of Freddie Gray turned violent as dark fell over Baltimore with protesters smashing the windows on police cars, blocking traffic near the Inner Harbor and shouting, 'Killers!' at officers dressed in riot gear." ...

     ... The Sun also is loveblogging the demonstrations.

New York Times: "An earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.9 shook Nepal on Saturday near its capital, Katmandu. People in the capital described scenes of panic and collapsed buildings, and the United States Geological Survey predicted severe damage to villages near the quake’s epicenter, about 50 miles from Katmandu." ...

     ... New Lede: "A powerful earthquake shook Nepal on Saturday near its capital, Katmandu, killing more than 1,300 people, flattening sections of the city’s historic center and trapping dozens of sightseers in a 200-foot watchtower that came crashing down into a pile of bricks." ...

... At 9 pm ET, the Washington Post has the death toll at 1,500. By midnight, the Post was reporting 1,800 dead. ...

... The Guardian is liveblogging developments. ...

... NEW. Washington Post: "An Indian army mountaineering team found 18 bodies on Mount Everest on Saturday, an army spokesman said, after a massive earthquake in Nepal unleashed an avalanche on the world’s tallest mountain at the start of the main climbing season." ...

Katmandu's historic Dharahara Tower, before & after the quake.... NEW. Washington Post: "The devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that violently shook Nepal on Saturday left more than human casualties in its wake. The country also saw a number of its iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites and most popular tourist attractions -- some dating more than 1,700 years -- reduced to piles of rubble."

AP: "The University of Florida suspended one of its fraternities on Friday after allegations that its members hurled drunken insults and spat at a group of disabled military veterans at a Panama City Beach resort."

The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Reuters: "Scientists believe they may have found a new weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease – not in the form of a drug but in focused beams of ultrasound. While the approach has only been tested in mice, researchers said on Wednesday it proved surprisingly good at clearing tangles of plaques linked to Alzheimer’s in the animals’ brains and improving their memory, as measured by tests such as navigating a maze."

White House Live Video
April 24

Sorry. This is yesterday's livefeed. Since the White House doesn't date their schedule (despite my repeated requests) I just can't tell. I probably won't have time to republish today's schedule, should the White House ever get around to publishing it.

10:00 am ET: President Obama makes a statement

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

2:00 pm ET: Vice President Biden speaks at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana campus (audio only)

2:15 pm ET: President Obama honors the Super Bowl champs

4:55 pm ET: President Obama speaks at the Organizing for Action summit

7:00 pm ET: Vice President Biden speaks at an Israel Independence Day ceremony (audio only)

Go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

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

Timothy Simon of "Veep" gets ready to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner, which is Saturday, April 25:

... Cecily Strong of “Saturday Night Live will headline the event.

MOOCS! Washington Post: For $45, anyone can become a freshman at Arizona State University. "Students can take classes online for a fee, then decide whether to pay reduced tuition for the credits."

The Sex Life of David Brooks is apparently intensely interesting to Villagers who do not participate in it.

Washington Post: "Gaioz Nigalidze’s rise through the ranks of professional chess began in 2007, the year the first iPhone was released. In hindsight, the timing might not be coincidental." During a competition in Dubai, the Georgian grandmaster allegedly hid an iPhone in the bathroom, then consulted a chess app during play.

CBS News: "'Face the Nation' Host Bob Schieffer announced Sunday that CBS News political director John Dickerson will become the new host of 'Face the Nation' this summer when he retires." CW: So "Face the Nation" is going to become even worse. Follows the well-established pattern of Sunday morning "news" shows.

New York Times: "Bob Schieffer, a television anchor who has worked at CBS for nearly half a century and interviewed every sitting president since Richard Nixon, announced Wednesday night that he was retiring this summer. Mr. Schieffer, 78, made the announcement while giving an address at Texas Christian University, his alma mater." CW: This will be a great disappointment to Charles Pierce, as regular readers of Pierce's posts will recognize.

I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years.... We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology.... We are not talking about little green men, Stofan said. "We are talking about little microbes. -- Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for NASA

It's definitely not an if, it's a when. -- Jeffery Newmark of NASA

... The L.A. Times story, from which the above citations come, is fascinating.

Washington Post: "The quote on the stamp originated with [Joan Walsh] Anglund.... 'Yes, that’s my quote,' Anglund said Monday night from her Connecticut home. It appears on page 15 of her book of poems 'A Cup of Sun,' published in 1967. Only the pronouns and punctuation are changed, from 'he' in Anglund’s original to 'it' on the stamp." CW: These are forever stamps. Maybe you should rush to the Post Office & buy a pane.

Guardian: "Allegations that a 17-year-old was forced to have sex with Britain’s Prince Andrew, which prompted a crisis at Buckingham Palace earlier this year, have been removed from a federal court case by a judge in the US. Judge Kenneth Marra ordered Virginia Roberts’s accusations about Andrew, the Duke of York, to be struck from the record and denied her attempt to join a lawsuit against Jeffrey Epstein, a friend of the prince and a convicted sex offender. 'At this juncture in the proceedings, these lurid details are unnecessary,' Marra wrote in his order, issued at the US district court in southern Florida on Tuesday morning.... Andrew and Buckingham Palace vehemently deny Roberts’s allegations."

Washington Monthly: "Today [April 7] marks the centennial of Billie Holliday’s birth."

Wild Things Interrupt President Obama's reading of "Where the Wild Things Are" at the White House's Easter Egg Roll:

... Don't Worry, Bee Happy. Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post: "The pint-sized guests Monday might not have listened to him, but the president’s National Pollinator Initiative will forge ahead. Last June Obama launched an inter-agency task force charged with developing a federal strategy to protect pollinators, which help sustain crops ranging from almonds to blueberries and broccoli, and it should be unveiling a detailed plan in a matter of months."

The Coolest First Lady in the History of the Nation:


Krissah Thompson of the Washington Post: "For her forthcoming book, “The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House,” Kate Andersen Brower managed to elicit stories from domestic staff who witnessed up close the loneliness of President Nixon as he faced impeachment, the weariness of Hillary Clinton as her husband’s sex scandal exploded and other surprisingly intimate moments involving the first families. Most of these stories — from Nancy Reagan’s tirade over three broken tchotchkes to the tearful hug Jackie and Bobby Kennedy shared with a favorite doorman in an elevator — are attributed to staffers by name, not wrapped in the cloud of anonymous sourcing that usually cloaks reporting about the inner workings of the White House." ...

Here's What $75MM Buys:

... Orange County Register: "President Richard Nixon's Western White House, an oceanfront San Clemente estate owned by retired Allergan CEO Gavin S. Herbert, is for sale at $75 million. Herbert, 83, is selling the 5.45-acre estate after owning the property for 35 years." Includes slideshow.

New York: "Here's a spoiler for people who haven't finished House of Cards season three yet: Frank Underwood doesn't die, because Netflix [April 2] announced that it had renewed Cards for a fourth season."

Los Angeles Times: "On Tuesday afternoon, just about lunch time, a 'flying saucer' was undergoing a spin test in a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The saucer is technically a 15-foot wide, 7,000-pound aerodynamic test vehicle. It is designed to help engineers try out new technologies for landing spacecraft, and someday people, on Mars."

Guardian: "Comedy Central is standing by its new Daily Show host Trevor Noah, after the 31-year-old South African comedian set to replace Jon Stewart was criticized for a series of controversial jokes he tweeted before his appointment." ...

... Jessica Winter of Salon: "Not since John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate have the vetting capacities of a powerful political force been cast into such doubt." Besides being a misogynist pig & an anti-Semite, Noah isn't even funny."

Andrew Sullivan says he quit his blog because blogging is difficult, time-consuming & dehumanizing. CW a/k/a the Blog Nazi: No kidding.

David Graham of the Atlantic: "Trevor Noah's ascent on The Daily Show has been steep — hired on as senior international correspondent four months ago, he'll take over the anchor's desk from Jon Stewart after just three appearances on the show, Comedy Central announced Monday."

If you thought a meerkat was something like a mongoose ... Global News: "Meet Meerkat, the live streaming video service that allows users to host a live broadcast from their smartphones. If you haven’t heard of this new app don’t feel too bad – it’s only been around for about two weeks. But that hasn’t stopped it from garnering an estimated 300,000 active users, US$12 million in funding and even a few controversies."

In Case You Were Wondering... Megan Garber of the Atlantic examines multiple theories on why "men’s dress shirts have their buttons on the right, while women’s have them on the left (to the wearer)."

Oliver Knox of Yahoo! News: "Inside the elaborate, surprisingly unglamorous world of presidential hotel stays." Or Why President Trump Would Resign Shortly after His Inauguration.

New York Times: "After three days of viewing by thousands who lined up for hours to file past the bier in Leicester’s Anglican cathedral, Richard’s skeletal remains, in a coffin of golden English oak with an incised Yorkist rose and an inscription giving the sparest details of his life — 'Richard III, 1452-1485' — were removed overnight from beneath a black cloth pall stitched with colorful images from his tumultuous times. With the solemn ceremony laid down for monarchs through the ages, the coffin was borne to a marble tomb adjacent to the cathedral’s altar by a party of 10 British Army pallbearers...." ...

... The Guardian has a full page of stories about Richard III.

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Saturday
Apr252015

The Commentariat -- April 26, 2015

President Obama speaks at the White House Correspondents dinner. The guy is a natural comedian; watch his timing:

Michael Schmidt & David Sanger of the New York Times: "Some of President Obama’s email correspondence was swept up by Russian hackers last year in a breach of the White House’s unclassified computer system that was far more intrusive and worrisome than has been publicly acknowledged, according to senior American officials briefed on the investigation. The hackers, who also got deeply into the State Department’s unclassified system, do not appear to have penetrated closely guarded servers that control the message traffic from Mr. Obama’s BlackBerry, which he or an aide carries constantly.... On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter revealed for the first time that Russian hackers had attacked the Pentagon’s unclassified systems, but said they had been identified and 'kicked off.'”

God News

William Eskridge in a New York Times op-ed: "... leaders in the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the official organizations of conservative and reform Judaism, and more than 1,900 theologians signed a brief urging the court to legalize same-sex marriage.... The faith traditions supporting marriage equality are telling the court that religions, like American families, are diverse. An increasing number of Bible-based faith communities have an inclusive attitude toward gay families and marriages.... The current Baptist view that God condemns 'homosexual behavior' and same-sex marriages comes from the same kind of broad and anachronistic scriptural readings as prior support for segregation.

Friday
Apr242015

The Commentariat -- April 25, 2015

Greg Miller & Julie Tate of the Washington Post: President Obama's revelation that a U.S. drone had killed two Western hostages in January "has revived questions about why the White House has been unwilling to provide similar information on dozens of other strikes over the past decade where there is abundant evidence that civilians were killed." ...

     ... CW: The linked article, like many recent WashPo online stories, may come with a repeating BP ad that plays over itself & causes the page to jump around. If you dump the link & try again, you may get a less intrusive ad. ...

... Dan Roberts & Alan Yuhas of the Guardian: "On Thursday, the White House conceded it did not specifically know whom it had targeted in the 'al-Qaida compounds' where US drones killed Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, as well as American-born militants Adam Gadahn and Ahmed Farouq and two others. The admission suggests that 'signature strikes' – lethal strikes launched without necessarily knowing who is in the crosshairs – have continued despite the president’s 2013 announcement that new rules would govern strikes. The order mandates that the CIA can authorize strikes only if it knows with 'near certainty that the terrorist target' is present." ...

... Steve Coll of the New Yorker: "... the President’s mea culpa masks an important and timely question: How exactly did this mistake at the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center happen, and who will be held accountable for it? By putting the President out front and withholding all but the broadest details about the failed operation, the Obama Administration apparently hopes to evade that question.... Obama must own up to the fact that the changes he ordered [in 2013] failed to prevent a tragic, consequential error. The best way for the President to accept responsibility would be for him to order greater transparency about what happened in January and why, and, more broadly, to accept that secret violence beyond public accountability, no matter its justification, cannot play such a central role in any democracy’s 'long war' strategy." ...

... William Saleton of Slate: "But these two deaths, tragic as they are, don’t change the fundamental truth: For civilians, drones are the safest form of war in modern history." ...

... W. J. Hennigan & Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times: "The White House is considering revamping its overseas hostage-rescue program after CIA drone strikes that mistakenly killed an American and an Italian held captive by terrorists in Pakistan.... A key proposal would create an interagency task force to better coordinate efforts by the FBI, the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies to find and free abduction victims...."

Dick Cavett remembers Vietnam, though he'd rather not. "Dick Cavett's Vietnam" will air on PBS Monday:

Greg Sargent: “On a conference call with a small group of reporters, President Obama significantly intensified his criticism of Elizabeth Warren and other opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, accusing them of being 'dishonest' about the secrecy around the TPP process, suggesting they were playing to their 'fundraising' lists, and arguing flatly that they were using 'misinformation that stirs up the base but doesn’t serve them well.'.... 'I’m not adverse to continuing to engage with members of Congress or unions or anybody else in the progressive community about how we can make sure this is the strongest agreement possible,' Obama concluded. 'But what I am adverse to is a bunch of ad hominem attacks and misinformation that stirs up the base but ultimately doesn’t serve them well. And I’m going to be pushing back very hard if I keep on hearing that.'”

Maybe Dana Milbank Missed the Call: Elizabeth "Warren is right: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an abomination — not because of the deal itself, and not because free trade in general is a bad idea. The TPP is an abomination because [President] Obama had a chance to protect American workers from the harm that would inevitably come from such a pact, and he didn’t take it, or at least he hasn’t." ...

... Greg Nelson of the White House contrasts the TPP with NAFTA. Charts! According to the White House, the TPP does a lot to protect workers everywhere. ...

... See also the President's weekly address. ...

... Ellen Brown, in Common Dreams, asserts the TPP will cause "the death of the Republic: The TPP would destroy our republican form of government under the rule of law, by elevating the rights of investors – also called the rights of 'capital' – above the rights of the citizens. That means that TPP is blatantly unconstitutional.... Neo-liberalism and corporate contributions seem to have blinded the deal’s proponents so much that they cannot see they are selling out the sovereignty of the United States to foreign and multinational corporations." CW: That doesn't seem good. ...

... Ryan Cooper of the Week says that U.S. negotiators added all those corporate goodies to the TPP in order to get Congress to pass it: "... corporate oligarchs ... have the money and lobbying muscle needed to get something through our jalopy legislature. So the administration slanted the deal heavily towards some key sectors, even allowing some corporate representatives access to the documents that were denied to members of Congress. And now the thing has built up so much momentum that Obama is invested in passing it if only so he doesn't look like he lost something big."

Sari Horwitz of the Washington Post: "During a farewell speech Friday at the Justice Department, where [Eric] Holder spent more than a quarter-century of his career, he highlighted the department’s accomplishments over the past six years, saying he took particular pride in his efforts to empower the powerless and protect civil rights."

Cecilia Kang & Brian Fung of the Washington Post: "By the time [Comcast CEO Brian Roberts called FCC Chair Tom Wheeler on Monday], Wheeler and his staff at the FCC had already decided to block the $45 billion megadeal, one of the largest ever to come before Washington regulators.... On Wednesday, Comcast executives were summoned to a meeting in a nondescript conference room at the agency to hear the verdict: No amount of concessions would save the deal. Comcast and Time Warner would simply be too big and threatening to an array of competitors, particularly online video providers." ...

... Eric Lipton of the New York Times: "The announcement Friday morning that Comcast was terminating its effort to take over Time Warner Cable, a plan that would have united the nation’s top two cable operators, ultimately collapsed because of clear signals that federal regulators were preparing to block it. But the warning signs were already present from the muted reception it had received on Capitol Hill." ...

... CW: One never knows what might have been, but my guess is that under a different POTUS, Brian Roberts would be popping champagne bottles. Also, thanks, John Oliver! ...

... Sam Thielman of the Guardian: "The $45bn Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, which would have been the biggest deal in cable history, is officially dead as of Friday morning. That outcome is due in no small part to consumers who managed to make their voices heard to regulators above the lobbying dollars of Big Cable who – in the last year alone – spent a combined $32m making sure they were heard in Washington." ...

... Alison Griswold of Slate thinks Comcast's famously horrible customer "service" played a part. And she doesn't even mention the company's habit of changing dissatisfied customers' names to "Asshole Brown" or "SuperBitch," or just randomly adding "Whore" as the prefix to a customer's name. 

Daniel Slotnik of the New York Times: "Bruce Jenner, the Olympic gold medalist and member of the Kardashian family, ended months of speculation on Friday night in announcing during an ABC television special that he identifies as a woman."

Will Sommer of City Desk: "A U.S. Senate staffer allegedly dabbled in drug importation, according to law enforcement. Fred W. Pagan, a staffer for U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) allegedly told law enforcement agents that he imported drugs from China in a plan to exchange them for sexual favors, according to new documents filed in U.S. District Court.... Pagan works as Cochran's office manager." ...

... Arturo Garcia of the Raw Story: "The 49-year-old suspect, who is registered to vote as a Democrat, reportedly began working for Cochran when he was 16 years old. He is currently Cochran’s office manager and personal assistant." CW: So, bipartisan meth-for-sex. Excellent.

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Ravi Somaiya of the New York Times: "An NBC News internal investigation into Brian Williams has examined a half-dozen instances in which he is thought to have fabricated, misrepresented or embellished his accounts, two people with knowledge of the investigation said. The investigation includes at least one episode that was previously unreported, these people said, involving statements by Mr. Williams about events from Tahrir Square in Cairo during the Arab Spring."

Presidential Race

Mark Hensch of the Hill: "Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Thursday said 'deep-seated … religious beliefs' have to be changed before the world's women will get full access to abortion. 'Far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth. All the laws we've passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced,' Clinton said. 'Rights have to exist in practice — not just on paper,' Clinton argued. 'Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will.'... Clinton’s remarks came during the sixth annual Women in The World Summit in New York." ...

... Steve M. on how wingers are taking Clinton's remarks out of context. "... that's how the right does it." ...

... Paul Krugman slams his own paper (without mentioning it by name): "If you are old enough to remember the 1990s, you remember the endless parade of alleged scandals, Whitewater above all — all of them fomented by right-wing operatives, all eagerly hyped by mainstream news outlets, none of which actually turned out to involve wrongdoing. The usual rules didn’t seem to apply; instead it was Clinton rules, under which innuendo and guilt by association were considered perfectly OK, in which the initial suggestion of lawbreaking received front-page headlines and the subsequent discovery that there was nothing there was buried in the back pages if it was reported at all.... So, is this time different? First indications are not encouraging...."

Tim Egan: "We are in the 'invisible primary,' an apt term for the age of oligarchs and dark money. It’s invisible, this suck-up campaign, because it’s happening behind the closed doors of a wealthy few, as a half-dozen or so Republicans audition to win the blessing of billionaires. It should be called the Plutocrat Primary.... At some point, you would think that average Americans would be appalled by a few rich guys trying to buy the next presidential election. And — hope alert! — you did see a great pushback against the Koches in red-state Montana this month. There, Koch-funded surrogates tried to keep poor people from getting health care, through the Medicaid expansion option of Obamacare. Koch agents were booed at one hearing. And they were shamed at another, for the stark cruelty of two people worth a combined $80 billion dollars trying to deny a basic human decency to people who earn $11,000 a year. Health care is on the way in Montana."

David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post: "Instead of a triumph, [Marco] Rubio’s involvement with the immigration bill became a cautionary tale about a gifted freshman who had miscalculated his capability. Now, as he begins a run for president, Rubio is left trying to run away from the most prominent item on his political résumé." ...

... Gail Collins reviews The Life of Marco, or whatever Rubio calls his autobiography. It turns out that at an early age, Little Marco made all the family's important decisions, including which faith to follow. (CW: This seems particularly hilarious inasmuch as Marco now attends two churches whose creeds seldom overlap.) Anyway, "God figures a lot in this story, and although Rubio says he knows 'God didn’t endorse candidates,”' he does make it pretty clear that he knows who would win if God had an absentee ballot." Also prominent: the Miami Dolphins.

Beyond the Beltway

Peter Hermann & Ovetta Wiggins of the Washington Post: "Top officials [in Baltimore] acknowledged Friday that Freddie Gray was not treated properly when he was arrested nearly two weeks ago but said they are still probing how he suffered the severe spinal injury that appears to have led to his death. Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said Gray was never seat-belted after being placed in a transport van, a violation of department policy. Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis said that Gray was not offered medical attention despite several requests and that officers should have called for an ambulance when they arrested him." ...

... Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times: "... police-involved killings [in Baltimore] are woven into Baltimore’s psyche, part of what Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake calls the 'broken relationship' between residents of this majority black city and a police department with a history of aggressive, sometimes brutal behavior." ...

... Doug Donovan & Mark Puente of the Baltimore Sun: Freddie "Gray is not the first person to come out of a Baltimore police wagon with serious injuries.... For some, such injuries have been inflicted by what is known as a 'rough ride' — an 'unsanctioned technique' in which police vans are driven to cause 'injury or pain' to unbuckled, handcuffed detainees, former city police officer Charles J. Key testified as an expert five years ago in a lawsuit over [Dondi] Johnson's subsequent death.

Thursday
Apr232015

The Commentariat -- April 24, 2015

Scott Shane of the New York Times: "By most accounts, hundreds of dangerous militants have, indeed, been killed by drones, including some high-ranking Qaeda figures. But for six years, when the heavy cloak of secrecy has occasionally been breached, the results of some strikes have often turned out to be deeply troubling. Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess." ...

... Greg Miller of the Washington Post: "... current and former U.S. counterterrorism officials said that Thursday’s disclosures [that U.S. drone had killed two Western hostages held by Al-Qaeda] undercut years of U.S. claims about the accuracy of the drone program and provided new ammunition for skeptics of administration policies that are supposed to require 'near certainty' that no civilians will be harmed. Despite [President] Obama’s equanimity in public, officials said that his reaction behind closed doors was considerably harsher. Obama’s advisers have for years told him that 'this would never happen, and now it did,' said a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 'It is going to be a big deal.'” ...

... Juan Cole: "... as many as a fourth of those killed by US drone assassinations are non-combatants. Death by drone is inherently lawless. There is no constitutional or legal framework within which the US government can blow people away at will. For a while in the 1970s through 1990s, assassination was outlawed. Now it is back, but has taken this freakish form where bureaucrats thousands of miles away fire missiles from large toy airplanes." ...

... Jim Newell of Salon: "You would have thought yesterday, upon hearing President Obama’s admission that a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed an American held hostage by al-Qaida, would rank among the most serious (and legitimate) scandals of his presidency. A disaster of this nature was bound to happen, given the White House’s loose standards for green-lighting drone strikes. Yet the reaction was fairly ho-hum. Media coverage of the event and statements from members of Congress, allies and critics of the president alike, were basically, Well isn’t that sad. Also: It’s al-Qaida’s fault." ...

... CW: Why is Benghaaazi! -- where Libyans murdered four Americans -- a scandal of such magnitude that it has engendered a small industry of political & media "investigations" & hyperbole, but the U.S.'s drone-killings of three Americans & an Italian is not?

An Odd CYA Bill. Sahil Kapur of TPM: "The Senate's top five Republican leaders have cosponsored legislation to extend until 2017 the Obamacare insurance subsidies that may be struck down by the Supreme Court this summer. The legislation, offered by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), one of the most politically vulnerable Senate incumbents in 2016, would maintain the federal HealthCare.gov tax credits at stake in King v. Burwell through the end of August 2017..... Such a move would seek to protect the GOP from political peril in the 2016 elections when Democrats would try to blame the party for stripping subsidies — and maybe insurance coverage — from millions of Americans in three dozen states.... The Johnson bill also contains sweeteners for conservatives which are non-starters for Democrats — it would repeal Obamacare's individual mandate and employer mandate, and remove federal rules requiring that insurance plans cover a minimum package of 'essential health benefits.'" ...

... Sarah Ferris of the Hill: "People who bought coverage through ObamaCare are generally more satisfied than those with other types of insurance, according to a new national survey." ... CW: That's funny, because Ron Johnson there says his bill as "a first step toward reversing the damage that Obamacare has inflicted on the American health care system." Because getting people coverage that they couldn't get before & that they like is pretty terrible.

Reuters: "Legislation to speed trade deals through the US Congress cleared a key [House] committee but low Democratic support signalled a looming battle over a Pacific trade pact central to President Barack Obama’s strategic shift toward Asia.... A companion 'fast-track' bill cleared a Senate panel on Wednesday and both are now ready for action in their respective chambers. Still, the way forward is likely to be treacherous with many of Obama’s fellow Democrats in opposition over worries that trade deals could harm jobs and the environment, leaving the White House to rely heavily on Republican support." ...

... David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "President Obama rallied his staunchest allies Thursday to support his free trade push in the face of stout Democratic opposition, arguing that his critics are wrong to say the deal will harm the middle class. Appearing before 200 members of Organizing for Action, the progressive advocacy group born from his campaign apparatus, Obama said the 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact his administration is pushing for is far superior to past trade deals that labor unions have blamed for job losses. Specifically, he cited the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993."

One year after the largest scandal in the Department of Veterans Affairs history, a congressman says he will introduce the VA Accountability Act, which would give the new VA secretary sweeping authority to fire corrupt or incompetent employees. Rep. Jeff Miller’s (R-Fla.) bill comes in response to increasing frustration from lawmakers and veterans service organizations over the slow pace of reform in holding VA employees accountable for a litany of problems, from patient wait times to delays in benefits."

Emily Steel, et al., of the New York Times: "Facing intense regulatory scrutiny, Comcast is planning to abandon its $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable, people briefed on the matter said on Thursday, ending a bid that would have united the country’s two largest cable operators and reshaped the rapidly evolving video and broadband markets.... Had the deal been approved, the combined company would have controlled as much as 57 percent of the nation’s broadband market and just under 30 percent of pay television." ...

... Jonathan Mahler of the New York Times: "At the end of the day, the government’s commitment to maintaining a free and open Internet did not square with the prospect of a single company controlling as much as 40 percent of the public’s access to it. All the more so given the accelerating shift in viewing habits, with increasing numbers of consumers choosing streaming services like Netflix over traditional TV. In this sense, it didn’t really matter if Comcast and Time Warner’s cable markets overlapped. The real issue was broadband." Oh, P.S. Thank you again, John Oliver.

Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post: "Loretta E. Lynch’s long wait to become U.S. attorney general ended Thursday, with the Senate voting to confirm the veteran New York prosecutor’s nomination five months after President Obama submitted it to Congress. Ten Republicans joined the Senate’s 44 Democrats and two independents in supporting Lynch’s confirmation, a margin slightly wider than expected ahead of the vote.... Twenty Republicans supported a procedural move earlier Thursday to close debate and proceed to Lynch’s confirmation. But only half of them voted to confirm her in the final vote: Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Rob Portman (Ohio). [Leader Mitch] McConnell joined them after expressing reservations in the weeks leading up to the vote." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... The New York Times story, by Jennifer Steinhauer, is here. ...

... Tom McCarthy of the Guardian: Democrats react to Lynch's confirmation.

Adam Goldman of the Washington Post: "David H. Petraeus, a retired general considered one of the greatest military minds of his generation, pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials he provided to his former mistress and biographer. Petraeus will be spared prison time but will face a two-year probationary period and a $100,000 fine.... The deal angered FBI agents who worked on the two-year investigation and who thought Petraeus should have been treated more harshly because of the information in the notebooks and what they considered his lack of candor while running the CIA. When FBI agents confronted him in his CIA office in October 2012, Petraeus said he had never provided classified information to [his lover Paula] Broadwell, prosecutors said. Making a false statement to a federal law enforcement agent during an investigation is a felony, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... The New York Times story, by Michael Schmidt & Matt Apuzzo, is here. "The sentencing was the end of a leak investigation that embarrassed Mr. Petraeus and created bitter disputes inside the Justice Department about whether he was receiving too much leniency from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.... Giving special treatment to Mr. Petraeus was a double standard, some argued, particularly when the Justice Department has led an unprecedented crackdown on leaks and prosecuted several low- and midlevel officials for disclosing secrets to reporters." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... CW: Pardon my conspiratorial musings, but I wonder if the delay in Lynch's confirmation had something to do with Holder's decision to go easy on the GOP's favorite general. Maybe they feared Lynch would throw the book at loverboy.

** Tom Donnelly, in Slate, on John Bingham, who edited the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to protect "any person."

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd.

Charles Pierce: "It appears that the 'exclusive' ratfking arrangement entered into by The New York Times and Washington Post has brought us all back to the Mena Airport again, and that it has done so by strict application of the Clinton Rules, first devised in the mid-1990's, as the nation's elite political press turned laundering oppo research into a smoothly running machine. The very first Clinton Rule, established by most of the original reporting into the Whitewater non-scandal, is that if you can blow enough smoke, you can say there's fire." Pierce raps the Washington Post story, linked here yesterday, about Bill Clinton's big speaking fees, some of which came from contributors to the Clinton Foundation WHILE HILLARY CLINTON WAS SECRETARY OF STATE. "Wealthy interests might use their wealth to 'build friendly relations' with politicians? In 2015? Has anyone told Anthony Kennedy?"

Susie Madrak in Crooks & Liars on the New York Times story, linked here yesterday, about Russians taking over a Canadian unranium company that operates in the U.S.: "This story (and the ones that will surely follow) has no solid evidence. It is nothing but innuendo. The Times has taken a book written by someone who is quite specifically paid to bring down Democrats, and has a long history of distorting and making up facts, and they're using it as a template -- adding no informed context (like the number of agencies who had to sign off on this deal) and no evidence that Hillary Clinton did anything to get this deal passed."

Presidential Race

Lauren Gambino of the Guardian: "Having pledged to be the champion of everyday Americans, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton came out swinging during a speech in New York on Thursday night that expanded her personal doctrine – 'women’s rights are human rights' – to the plight of mothers, fast food workers, immigrants, retirees, students, gay and transgender people and victims of sexual abuse. In her first big speech since declaring her presidential run, Clinton took jabs at Hobby Lobby for opposing employer-covered contraception, chided the World Economic Forum for not exactly being a 'hotbed of feminist thought' and slammed Republicans for stalling the nomination of Loretta Lynch, whom the US Senate confirmed on Thursday after a lengthy delay." ...

... New York Times Editors: "The increasing scrutiny of the [Clinton] foundation has raised several points that need to be addressed by Mrs. Clinton and the former president. These relate most importantly to the flow of multimillions in donations from foreigners and others to the foundation, how Mrs. Clinton dealt with potential conflicts as secretary of state and how she intends to guard against such conflicts should she win the White House." ...

... Jonathan Chait on "the disastrous Clinton post-presidency": "... the best-case scenario is bad enough: The Clintons have been disorganized and greedy. The news today about the Clintons all fleshes out, in one way or another, their lack of interest in policing serious conflict-of-interest problems that arise in their overlapping roles.... The Obama administration wanted Hillary Clinton to use official government email. She didn’t. The Obama administration also demanded that the Clinton Foundation disclose all its donors while she served as Secretary of State. It didn’t comply with that request, either.... The Clintons’ charitable initiatives were a kind of quasi-government run by themselves, which was staffed by their own loyalists and made up the rules as it went along.... Their experience running their own privatized mini-state has been a fiasco." ...

... Alan Rappeport of the New York Times: "Representative Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks, is pushing ahead with plans to make Hillary Rodham Clinton testify further about the attacks and her use of a private email account as secretary of state." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

** ... Zombies! Paul Krugman: "A deep attachment to long-refuted ideas seems to be required of all prominent Republicans.... In the world of Republican politics ... voodoo’s grip has never been stronger.... Pundits will try to pretend that we’re having a serious policy debate, but, as far as issues go, 2016 is already set up to be the election of the living dead."

Russell Berman of the Atlantic provides a handy list of billionaire donors & their favorite puppet presidential candidates. ...

... Digby, in Salon: "The only problem for the billionaires is that these candidates all have to eventually perform in a series of tryouts we call 'party primaries' where the audience, also known as voters, gets a chance to weigh in. They may not agree with the billionaires’ choice, no matter which lucky fella they anoint in their auditions. Democracy is such an inconvenience that way. These rich donors obviously believe that founder John Jay had it right when he said, 'Those who own the country ought to govern it.' Unfortunately for them, he was outvoted." ...

... The Two Faces of Marco. McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed: "Even as Rubio labors to publicly distance himself from the [immigration] legislation [which he initiated & is] so loathed by conservative primary voters, he and his aides have privately highlighted [his immigration reform initiative] in his resume when soliciting support from the deep-pocketed donors in the party’s more moderate business wing."

Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "Senator Ted Cruz has positioned himself as a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, urging pastors nationwide to preach in support of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, which he said was 'ordained by God.' But on Monday night, at a reception for him at the Manhattan apartment of two prominent gay hoteliers, the Texas senator and Republican presidential hopeful struck quite a different tone. During the gathering, according to two people present, Mr. Cruz said he would not love his daughters any differently if one of them was gay. He did not mention his opposition to same-sex marriage, saying only that marriage is an issue that should be left to the states." ...

... Digby: "I get why some rich gay people would be Republicans. They are clearly rich first and gay second. But why any of them would support a nutcase like Ted Cruz is beyond me.... It's not a problem for someone like Ted Cruz to do this, however, because his voters all know that he really truly hates gay people and they are happy for him to take their money to use against them." ...

... Colby Itkowitz of the Washington Post: "So far this year, Cruz has missed 25 percent of all Senate votes, according to data tracked by Congressional Quarterly. He has a voting participation score of 74.8 percent. By comparison, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who also has his eye on the White House, has voted 81.6 percent of the time. And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another presidential candidate, has managed to vote 98.9 percent of the time this year. If Paul can juggle both, why can’t Cruz?"

Walker Finds Another Way to Keep His Foot out of His Mouth. Jason Stein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that he won't discuss how to pay for federal programs for retirees unless and until he becomes a formally declared presidential candidate."

CW: As a result of my linking to stories on Li'l Randy's uncool Ray Ban eyegear, Ray Ban has latched onto me & is now e-mailing me promotional material. If libertarian Randy were really serious about freeeedom! he would not have let Ray Ban find & harass me.

Beyond the Beltway

Peter Hermann & Josh Hicks of the Washington Post: "Protests over the arrest and death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray continued for a sixth day on Thursday, with about 200 people circling the grassy plaza in front of a cordoned-off City Hall and then marching in the streets at the evening rush hour."

Elliot Hannon of Slate: "Marissa Holcomb, the five-months-pregnant manager of [a Popeyes franchise in Houston, Texas], was fired from her job this week for refusing to pay back money taken from the cash register during an armed robbery three weeks ago." Under public pressure, the franchisee later offered to un-fire her. CW: If only Popeyes were unionized.

Jenna Portnoy of the Washington Post: "Thomas K. Norment Jr., the majority leader of the Virginia Senate, has acknowledged a relationship with a lobbyist whose firm regularly pushed for legislation that  Norment voted for and, in two cases, sponsored directly. Norment ... admitted the relationship while defending himself against allegations of wrongdoing made by a former legal client who tried to blackmail him. The allegations prompted federal investigators to review the relationship, but they closed the matter without bringing criminal charges."

Way Beyond

Daniela Deane of the Washington Post: "This tidal wave of humanity landing in Italy, seeking shelter, is now a daily occurrence — and the country is struggling under the enormous weight. Italian officials are deeply concerned that the approaching summer, with its calmer weather, could bring tens of thousands more migrants to their beleaguered shores."

Wednesday
Apr222015

The Commentariat -- April 23, 2015

Afternoon News:

Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post: "Loretta E. Lynch's long wait to become U.S. attorney general ended Thursday, with the Senate voting to confirm the veteran New York prosecutor's nomination five months after President Obama submitted it to Congress. Ten Republicans joined the Senate's 44 Democrats and two independents in supporting Lynch's confirmation, a margin slightly wider than expected ahead of the vote.... Twenty Republicans supported a procedural move earlier Thursday to close debate and proceed to Lynch's confirmation. But only half of them voted to confirm her in the final vote: Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Rob Portman (Ohio). [Leader Mitch] McConnell joined them after expressing reservations in the weeks leading up to the vote." ...

... The New York Times story, by Jennifer Steinhauer, is here.

Adam Goldman of the Washington Post: "David H. Petraeus ... pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials he provided to his former mistress and biographer. Petraeus will be spared prison time but will face a two-year probationary period and a $100,000 fine.... The deal angered FBI agents who worked on the two-year investigation and who thought Petraeus should have been treated more harshly because of the information in the notebooks and what they considered his lack of candor while running the CIA. When FBI agents confronted him in his CIA office in October 2012, Petraeus said he had never provided classified information to [his lover Paula] Broadwell, prosecutors said. Making a false statement to a federal law enforcement agent during an investigation is a felony, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison." ...

... The New York Times story, by Michael Schmidt & Matt Apuzzo, is here. "The sentencing was the end of a leak investigation that embarrassed Mr. Petraeus and created bitter disputes inside the Justice Department about whether he was receiving too much leniency from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.... Giving special treatment to Mr. Petraeus was a double standard, some argued, particularly when the Justice Department has led an unprecedented crackdown on leaks and prosecuted several low- and midlevel officials for disclosing secrets to reporters." ...

... CW: Pardon my conspiratorial musings, but I wonder if the delay in Lynch's confirmation had something to do with Holder's decision to go easy on the GOP's favorite general. Maybe they feared Lynch would throw the book at loverboy.

Alan Rappeport of the New York Times: "Representative Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks, is pushing ahead with plans to make Hillary Rodham Clinton testify further about the attacks and her use of a private email account as secretary of state."

*****

Peter Baker & Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Obama on Thursday offered an emotional apology for the accidental killing of two hostages held by Al Qaeda, one of them American, in a United States government counterterrorism operation in January, saying he takes 'full responsibility' for their deaths.... Mr. Obama said he had ordered the incident declassified because the families of Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto 'deserve to know the truth":

Nahal Toosi of Politico: "U.S. counterterrorism operations aimed at Al Qaeda mistakenly killed an American and an Italian hostage earlier this year along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, while also killing two prominent American members of the terrorist network, the White House announced Thursday. In a statement, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that an operation aimed at an Al Qaeda-associated compound in January killed Warren Weinstein, an American held by Al Qaeda since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national held by the group since 2012." ...

... David Taintor of NBC News: "An American held by al-Qaida for four years, and two other U.S. citizens who fought for the terror group, were killed in U.S. strikes in January along the Afghan-Pakistan border, the U.S. government acknowledged for the first time Thursday. An Italian citizen held hostage since 2012 was also killed in one of the strikes on an al-Qaida compound, likely by a drone."

Jenny Staletovich & Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald: "President Barack Obama on Wednesday paid his first visit to the Everglades, delivering an Earth Day speech linking the threat rising seas pose to the imperiled River of Grass and South Florida's drinking water to wider climate change risks across the nation. His choice of a venue, Everglades National Park, also was clearly calculated to make political points. Voters will elect Obama's successor in 18 months, and the Republican field so far is teeming with would-be candidates, including two from Florida, who question whether climate change is man-made, despite significant scientific scholarship concluding that it is largely a result of carbon emissions." Here's a clip:

The President's full speech:

Jack Ewing of the New York Times: "Deutsche Bank will pay a $2.5 billion penalty to United States and British authorities to settle accusations that it helped manipulate the benchmarks used to set interest rates on trillions of dollars in mortgages, student loans, credit cards and other debt, American and British officials said on Thursday. The penalty is by far the largest in a yearslong investigation into whether large banks conspired to set the price of debt in ways that would be profitable for them. Until Thursday, the largest fine was the $1.5 billion the Swiss bank UBS agreed to pay in 2012. The fixing of interest rates by Deutsche Bank employees in London and Frankfurt from 2005 to 2009 was deliberate and the employees were aware that it was wrong, Benjamin M. Lawsky, the New York State superintendent of financial services, said in a statement on Thursday."

Yesterday, contributor P. D. Pepe linked this "fact sheet" by Sen. Bernie Sanders on "why the TPP must be defeated." I've put "fact sheet" in scare-quotes because Sanders doesn't back up his assertions with footnotes or other data. Like Pepe & others, I remain confused about the deal. I am aware that NAFTA was a disaster for American workers & a boon for certain corporations, & Sanders makes the TPP sound way worse even as he notes he doesn't really know what's in it because the insider parties to the deal are not revealing the details. But if this is so, as Victoria D. (I think it was) asked the other day, why is President Obama pushing it? ...

... Zach Carter of the Huffington Post: "The rift between President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats over trade policy deepened Wednesday as the administration opposed an effort to fully restore aid for American workers who lose their jobs to international trade.The conflict threatens to undermine Obama's repeated claim that he is revamping trade policy to fix problems Democrats have cited in prior trade pacts."

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Jonathan Chait: Ed Rogers, a Beltway GOP hack in good standing, writes in the WashPo about climate change without bothering to find out anything about efforts to abate it. "At some level Rogers is probably embarrassed by outright climate-science denial, but he wants to land on the conclusion that the Republican do-nothing stance is correct, and he also doesn't want to bother paying attention to anything that's happening with the issue."

Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post: "The Senate passed legislation on Wednesday aimed at combating sex trafficking, ending a delay that stretched more than six weeks amid partisan sparring about abortion restrictions embedded in the bill. In the end, the practical effect of the bill approved on a 99-to-0 afternoon vote was not discernibly different than the bill that came to the Senate floor in early March. But amendments adopted Wednesday under a bipartisan compromise allowed Democrats to claim that they had blocked a subtle expansion of long-term federal abortion restrictions.... With the anti-trafficking bill's passage, [Attorney General Nominee Loretta] Lynch is expected to win Senate approval Thursday afternoon."

WTF? Dave Philipps of the New York Times: "The nationwide scandal last spring over manipulated wait times at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals led to the ouster of the secretary of veterans affairs and vows from the new leadership that people would be held accountable. Then in February, the new secretary, Robert A. McDonald, asserted in a nationally televised interview that the department had fired 60 people involved in manipulating wait times.... In fact, the department quickly clarified after that interview, only 14 people had been removed from their jobs, while about 60 others had received lesser punishments. Now, new internal documents show that the real number of people removed from their jobs is much smaller still: at most, three." Three. Three. Emphasis added.

Missy Ryan & Adam Goldman of the Washington Post: "The Pentagon plans to move up to 10 detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, possibly in June, as officials scramble to reduce the prison's population before Congress attempts to stop future transfers and derail President Obama's plan to shutter the U.S. military facility." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post, who just won a Pulitzer for her reporting on Secret Service lapses, is still on the case: "The Secret Service took more than a year to replace a broken alarm system at former president George H.W. Bush's home, raising concerns within the agency about the safety of the Houston residence and the Bush family, according to a government report scheduled to be released Thursday."

Jennifer Steinhauer & Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "Responding to a series of computer security breaches, the House is expected on Wednesday to pass a bill, years in the making, that would push private companies to share access to their computer networks and records with federal investigators.... The cybersecurity bill, similar to a measure approved overwhelmingly by the Senate Intelligence Committee, would be Congress's most aggressive response yet to a burst of computer attacks...." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

In a New York Times op-ed, Newt Gingrich, of all people, makes sense, arguing that today's Congress, as did Congress back in Newt's day, should double the National Institute of Health's budget: "As a conservative myself, I'm often skeptical of government 'investments.'" But when it comes to breakthroughs that could cure -- not just treat -- the most expensive diseases, government is unique. It alone can bring the necessary resources to bear. (The federal government funds roughly a third of all medical research in the United States.) And it is ultimately on the hook for the costs of illness. It's irresponsible and shortsighted, not prudent, to let financing for basic research dwindle.

Thomas Edsall, in an antidote to Brian Beutler's claim that seniors' attitudes about the Affordable Care Act shouldn't matter (linked in the April 21 Commentariat), explains why seniors oppose ObamaCare & other social welfare programs: they're concerned the federal government will shift spending from Medicare & Social Security to programs for younger Americans/ "The Kaiser Family Foundation has data (see chart 2) that shows how even with Medicare, out-of-pocket health costs are larger for over-65 households -- both in dollar terms and as a percentage of income -- than for younger households: In other words, the data suggest that the elderly are right to be worried."

Bertrand Olotara in a Guardian op-ed: "Every day, I serve food to some of the most powerful people on earth, including many of the senators who are running for president: I'm a cook for the federal contractor that runs the US Senate cafeteria. But today... I'm on strike ... because I want the presidential hopefuls to know that I live in poverty.... I'm a single father and I only make $12 an hour; I had to take a second job at a grocery store to make ends meet. But even though I work seven days a week -- putting in 70 hours between my two jobs -- I can't manage to pay the rent, buy school supplies for my kids or even put food on the table. I hate to admit it, but I have to use food stamps.... My co-workers and I ... want the current president -- and those running to succeed him -- to make sure that federal contracts are preferentially awarded to good American companies that pay workers a living wage, offer decent benefits like paid leave and allow us to collectively bargain so that we don't need to strike to have our voices heard." ...

... CW: Unfortunately, Olotara's right to be paid a living wage conflicts with the policies & plans of these guys ...

... Koch America. Ken Vogel of Politico: "The Koch brothers' political machine is expanding into new states and recruiting new donors as it seeks to shape the Republican Party -- and its presidential field -- headed into 2016, according to interviews with multiple sources, as well as confidential donor briefing documents obtained by Politico. The documents detail plans to beef up the network's state-of-the-art data system, and pay hundreds of staff embedded in local communities across the country in preparation for get-out-the-vote efforts that are unprecedented from a third-party group." ...

... Joan McCarter of Daily Kos: "That they're moving into deep red states just demonstrates that they're ready to complete their acquisition of the Republican party. It's not enough to have allies among the GOP -- the GOP must be assimilated wholly into the Kochs' machine."

Ed Kilgore is still having fun. See George Packer's complaint, linked in yesterday's Commentariat. CW: As for me, I find the Clown Car continually amusing. See Randy's Ray-Bans, below. Or Carly Fiorina for POTUS, for pete's sake. ...

... Brad DeLong: "Does George Packer really think the purpose of American politics is to thrill him?"

Dana Milbank: "Michigan Republican Tim Walberg was a Christian minister before winning election to Congress in 2010 -- and he hasn't entirely changed jobs. In a rare Tuesday-night committee meeting at which House Republicans advanced a bill curtailing reproductive rights, Walberg took the even rarer step of lecturing his colleagues on Scripture.... Claiming Jesus in a political dispute is inflammatory, particularly when you accuse your opponents, as Walberg did, of 'a continued attack on religion.' The appeal to theocracy Tuesday night was even more incendiary because it was used to justify a bid to strike down a new District of Columbia law protecting women from workplace discrimination if they receive fertility treatments, use birth control or have abortions." ...

... CW: Walberg is one ignorant minister. The Scripture he cites -- "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and God what is God's" -- has zip to do with women or reproductive rights. It is, ironically enough, the gospel writers' argument for the separation of church & state, precisely the opposite of what Walberg was doing.

Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times: "In the summer of 2010, Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, began recording a secret audio diary, detailing his frustrations with a White House that he believed was too willing to listen to the military and too often mistook domestic political calculations for strategic thinking.... The notes are featured in 'The Diplomat,' a documentary about Mr. Holbrooke that will have its premiere on Thursday at the Tribeca Film Festival and will be shown on HBO in the fall.... The notes lay bare Mr. Holbrooke's doubts that President Obama's decision to send tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan would lead to an end of the war."

Sarah Bailey of the Washington Post: "Pope Francis, who has taken a public role in U.S.-Cuba relations, will visit Cuba on the way to the United States this fall, the Vatican announced Wednesday." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Presidential Race

Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times: "... this year, we're reaching new lows: The Republican race has devolved into a battle among headstrong billionaires, each with a pet candidate. David Koch, whose family made its money in coal, has Walker.... Norman Braman, who owns 23 car dealerships, has Marco Rubio. Robert Mercer, a New York hedge fund manager, has Ted Cruz. Foster Friess, an investment manager, has Rick Santorum. (Yes, Santorum is still in the running -- thanks in large part to the generosity of Friess.) The biggest mega-donor of them all, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, is still playing hard to get." P.S. Thanks, Supremes! (CW: for an update, see Alex Isenstadt's report below.) ...

... See also Ken Vogel's piece on Koch America, linked above, & related links, AND Digby's & Steve M.'s posts, linked below.

Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "Bill Clinton was paid at least $26 million in speaking fees by companies and organizations that are also major donors to the foundation he created after leaving the White House, according to a Washington Post analysis of public records and foundation data. The amount, about one-quarter of Clinton's overall speaking income between 2001 and 2013, demonstrates how closely intertwined Bill and Hillary Clinton's charitable work has become with their growing personal wealth." CW: Looks the WashPo has just published its first Breitbart News Special, although Helderman claims, "This article is based on reporting and documents collected independently from [Breitbart contributor Peter] Schweizer's book." ...

... Wait, Wait, There's More. Jo Becker & Mike McIntire of the New York Times catch up to Helderman: "As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One[, a mining & production company,] in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation.... Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal [to sell off to Russians what was a Canadian company d/b/a the U.S.] had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of United States government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed off was the State Department, then headed by Mr. Clinton's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton." ...

     ... CW: Becker & McIntire acknowledge, "Some of the connections between Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation were unearthed by Peter Schweizer...." Let's face it. Bill Clinton always has been a sleazy character, & his wife has always enabled or aided him. (I have reluctantly done so myself, twice, & I'll probably be forced to abet him again.) The particulars may be news, but the dynamics are not. The arrangement has served them well. Every GOP presidential candidate is just as sleazy as Bill; the difference is that they have been -- so far -- less successful than Bill (although in fairness, I have to admit their product line is a much tougher sell than his). ...

... Jonathan Allen of Reuters: "Hillary Clinton's family's charities are refiling at least five annual tax returns after a Reuters review found errors in how they reported donations from governments, and said they may audit other Clinton Foundation returns in case of other errors.... The charities' errors generally take the form of under-reporting or over-reporting, by millions of dollars, donations from foreign governments, or in other instances omitting to break out government donations...." ...

... Margaret Hartmann: "...so far, there's no smoking gun.... If the early reports are any indication, untangling the former (and possibly future) first couple's professional and charity work is going to be an arduous task for journalists, and the findings may test the limits of America's interest in Clinton scandals." ...

... Anne Gearan of the Washington Post: "Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign on Wednesday accused congressional Republicans of politicizing the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, by dragging out an investigation until the waning months of the 2016 election. The House Select Committee on Benghazi said its investigation would not be completed this year, as earlier planned.... The committee cited factors 'beyond the committee's control,' including what a spokesman characterized as delays and foot-dragging by the Obama administration, for being unable to complete its work until sometime in 2016." ...

... Joshua Green of Bloomberg defends Clinton Cash writer Peter Schweizer: "... he wrote a well-regarded book about the Bush dynasty and another, detailing insider trading in Congress, that led to a new law, the bipartisan STOCK Act of 2012.... Schweizer is working on a similar investigation of Jeb Bush's finances that he expects to publish this summer." ...

     ... CW: Sorry, Josh. A Breitbart/Hoover fellow "and the author of a hagiographic book about Ronald Reagan" who trashes Bushes & Clintons does not necessarily show bipartisan creds in the trashing.

Tim Alberta & Tiffany Stanley of the National Journal: Jeb Bush may not seem like the candidate of the Christian right now, but ".... powerful Christian conservatives are operating what amounts to a stealth campaign on Bush's behalf."

Nick Gass of Politico: "Marco Rubio runs best against Hillary Clinton among all Republican 2016 contenders, according to a new Quinnipiac University national poll released Thursday. Clinton has a clear lead over all potential Republican opponents in prospective match-ups, with the exception of Rubio, whom she leads by just 45 percent to 43 percent -- within the margin of error." ...

... Marco Takes Lead in Adelson Primary. Alex Isenstadt of Politico: "Before Iowa and New Hampshire, GOP candidates are competing in the Sheldon Adelson primary, and some will travel to his posh Venetian hotel in Las Vegas this in hopes of winning it. But one candidate -- Marco Rubio -- has emerged as the clear front-runner, according to nearly a half-dozen sources close to the multibillionaire casino mogul."

Digby, writing in Salon, posits that David Koch's sudden denial of his apparent endorsement of Scott Walker was the result of Walker's little chat with Glenn Beck, during which Walker suggested he was against even legal immigration "to protect American workers & American wages." "It's hard not to fall down laughing (or lose your lunch) over the most notorious union buster in America waxing on about protecting American jobs, but he's the last person to understand the irony of his comments." CW: Remember, too that Scottie seemed to think $7.25/hour-- or less -- was plenty to live on. ...

... Steve M., however, notes that another anti-immigration hardliner -- now-Texas Gov. Greg Abbott -- "earned" Koch money & speculates that Walker is counting on Koch support by serving their interests in other ways.

Randy Ray-Banned. Molly Hooper & Alexandra Oliveira of the Hill: "Ray-Ban has asked Sen. Rand Paul's presidential campaign to quit selling the brand’s Wayfarer sunglasses, which Paul had imprinted with the 'Rand' logo. The Rand-Ban sunglasses were for sale for $150 on Paul's website as recently as Tuesday. The website described the product as 'the intersection of politics and cool.' But the campaign didn't have Ray-Ban's consent, and the company didn't think that was cool." The campaign removed the purloined product from its site. Without comment. Thanks to Akhilleus for the lead. See also his comment in yesterday's thread. ...

... AP: "A son of Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul has been cited for driving under the influence of alcohol in Kentucky. Police in Lexington say William H. Paul was driving a 2006 Honda Ridgeline at 11:24 a.m. on Sunday when he crashed into the back of an unoccupied parked car. Some people nearby heard the crash and alerted authorities.... A campaign spokesman said Sen. Rand Paul does not comment on any private matters in regards to his family." CW: Sorry, Randy, this is a public offense, not a "private matter." And, no, your son's bad acts do not speak to your qualifications -- or lack thereof -- for high public office.

This is hilarious. Li'l Randy & his good buddy Tailgunner Ted (whom Paul Waldman suggests would fight to the death if Sheldon Adelson told them to) write a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal urging passage of a fast-tracking bill they claim would "put Congress in charge" of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, when in fact, as Steve Benen points out, fast-tracking would put the President in charge....

... Benen: "When Obama launches a military offensive against ISIS, congressional Republicans effectively tell the president, '... You wage war; we'll wait over here.' But when Obama negotiates an international nuclear agreement with Iran, Republicans switch gears, effectively telling the president, 'Congressional oversight is everything, and we demand multiple opportunism to derail a diplomatic solution.' And when Obama works on the TPP, suddenly Republicans switch back, this time effectively telling the president, 'Forget about that oversight stuff. Let us know when the deal's done so we can rubber-stamp it.'" ...

... CW: Being a Republican means never having to be truthful, consistent or embrace a coherent political philosophy. ...

... John McCain & Lindsey Graham coordinate their counterattack on Rand Paul, who called the two "lapdogs" for President Obama's foreign policy. The McCain-Graham line: Paul is the "worst possible candidate." McCain elaborated: "worse than Cruz." Note to Randy: Do not go out of your way to piss on lapdogs pitbulls.

Daniel Strauss of TPM: "Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina will launch her campaign for president on May 4, according to The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday."

CW: If you'd like to know why Bobby Jindal is "protecting" the faithful from the gays, go to the NYT front or opinion page & click on his op-ed. I could not be bothered.

Beyond the Beltway

Emma Fitzsimmons of the New York Times: "A federal judge in Manhattan on Tuesday ordered the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to display an ad from a pro-Israel group on buses after the agency declined to run it last year.... The ad shows a man with a scarf across his face next to the words, 'Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah,' attributed to 'Hamas MTV.' Below that, it reads: 'That's his Jihad. What's yours?' The judge, John G. Koeltl, of United States District Court, ruled that the ad qualified as protected speech and granted a preliminary injunction ordering the transportation authority to run the ad. He said the order would not take effect for 30 days so the agency could consider whether it would appeal the decision."

Oliver Laughland & Jon Swaine of the Guardian: "The Baltimore police supervisor suspended over the death of Freddie Gray was accused of threatening to kill a man as part of an alleged 'pattern of intimidation and violence' that led to a temporary restraining order.... [Lt. Brian] Rice, 41, was one of six officers suspended pending a criminal inquiry into the death of Gray, who died after his neck was '80% severed' by the breaking of three vertebrae, according to his family's attorney, who said Gray's voice box was almost crushed." ...

... Swaine & Laughland: "The Baltimore police officer who led the initial chase of Freddie Gray, the young man who died after being arrested and suffering a broken neck, has twice been accused of domestic violence and was temporarily ordered by a court to stay away from a second person. Lieutenant Brian Rice faced actions in Maryland's civil courts over alleged domestic violence in 2008 and 2013, according to public filings. In both cases, requests for protective orders were denied by the judge." ...

... Ashley Southall of the New York Times: "What happened to ... Freddie Gray, 25, when he was arrested by Baltimore police officers has been a mystery since his death on Sunday, a week after his arrest."

Jon Swaine: "The family of Michael Brown, the unarmed black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting by police led to months of unrest last year, are suing the city of Ferguson, Missouri, their lawyers said on Wednesday evening."

Scott Lemieux in LG&M: Florida Gov. Rick "Scott and his allies aren't opposed in principle to the federal government giving Florida money to cover health care for poor people. They're opposed to the federal government giving Florida money to cover health care for poor people if it's done via 'Obamacare.' It's pretty hard to argue that there's some sort of major liberty interest involved when you're literally making (idiotic) arguments that the state of Florida is constitutionally entitled to federal health care grants." ...

     ... Paul Waldman: "Written like someone who doesn't truly understand freedom."

News Lede

AP: "Frail and tired of leading a secret life for four decades, 66-year-old Clarence David Moore called police this week to surrender.... Moore escaped from police custody three times during the 1970s and eventually settled into a quiet life, living in Kentucky since at least 2009. His health is poor from a stroke late last year and he has difficulty speaking. When Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton showed up at Moore's house to make the 'arrest,' Moore was in a hospital bed. He broke down in tears. He told the sheriff he needed medical help." CW: Great. Now we can all pay for Moore's upkeep in his declining years.