The Wires

Weekly Address

The President's Weekly Address

White House: "In this week’s address, the President reflected on the significant progress made by this country in 2014, and in the nearly six years since he took office":

The Ledes

Saturday, December 20, 2014.

New York Times: "The United States transferred four detainees from the Guantánamo Bay prison to Afghanistan late Friday, the Defense Department announced Saturday, fulfilling a request from the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, in what officials here characterized as a show of good will between the United States and the government in Kabul.The four men are not likely to be subjected to further detainment in Afghanistan, an Obama administration official said."

New York Times: "In an apparent targeted killing, two police officers were shot in their patrol car in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon by a man who later fatally shot himself in head, police officials said."

Reuters: "Dozens of protesters were arrested on Friday in Milwaukee when they blocked rush-hour traffic on a major highway to protest the killing of an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer this year. The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department took at least 73 adults and one minor into custody during the protest that blocked Interstate 43, which runs through the city, according to the department's Twitter feed."

Public Service Announcement

Surprise! December 19: Dr. Oz is a quack.

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 19

1:30 pm ET: President Obama holds a press briefing

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

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ABC News: "After more than 20 years together, music icon Elton John and his partner David Furnish are married!... A law passed earlier this year in England allow[s] same-sex marriage...."

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. ...

... Winger John Hinderaker of Powerline has never seen Colbert's show, but he's pretty sure it was an hour-long ad for the Democratic party. "I am not in favor of restricting anyone’s right to free speech, but if federal law is going to bar a businessman from contributing enough to buy more than a minimal amount of television time on behalf of his party or his candidates, why shouldn’t Stephen Colbert and Comedy Central be prohibited from airing millions of dollars worth of pro-Democratic Party propaganda?" CW: Evidently, Hinderaker has not heard of Fox "News."

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:

 

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Sunday
Dec212014

The Commentariat -- Dec. 22, 2014

Amy Chozick of the New York Times: "... , President Obama said he would 'review' whether to return North Korea to the list [of nations that sponsor terrorism], part of a broader government response to a damaging cyberattack on Sony’s Hollywood studio.... Republicans pushed back at Mr. Obama’s characterization of the attack as only cybervandalism. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, told CNN..." "blah, blah, war, blah." (Paraphrase.) ...

     ... You can watch excerpts of Candy Crowley's interview of President Obama here. ...

... CW: I wonder if Prince Rebus & the Republican party will still promote the film "The Interview" (see yesterday's Commentariat) when they find out President Obama made the movie. At least, that's what North Korea claims. I think maybe we've finally found someone who blames Obama for more stuff than the GOP does: Kim Jong-un. Congrats, GOP! You're better than a crazy-boy dictator. ...

... Jonathen Behr of CBS Moneywatch: "Big corporations tend to have insurance to protect them from nearly all imaginable risks. But Sony (SNE) may find it difficult to get its insurers to cover the $100 million or so it's reportedly losing from canceling the release of the film 'The Interview.'" ...

... Uri Friedman of the Atlantic suggests that Sony had other options in making the film; for instance, the main character could have been lightly fictionalized. ...

... Ditto David Carr of the New York Times: "... while I am all for bold creative choices, was it really important that the head being blown up in a comedy about bungling assassins be that of an actual sitting ruler of a sovereign state? If you want to satirize a lawless leader, there are plenty of ways to skin that cat, as Charlie Chaplin demonstrated with 'The Great Dictator,' which skewered Hitler in everything but name." In the end, Carr, like Prince Rebus, says he'll watch the movie when it airs as a way of doing his "bit for artistic freedom." ...

... CW: Personally, I do my for artistic freedom by not watching crap movies. Sony has a right to make them, & I have a right to ignore them. BTW, how surprising is it that someone who thought jokes about President Obama's race were funny also thought exploding an actual dictator's head was funny, too? (Although she apparently got the filmmakers to cut back a little on the gore)? This insensitivity is of a kind.

** A Note to Neocons from Paul Krugman: "War makes you poorer and weaker, even if you win.... There is a still-powerful political faction in America committed to the view that conquest pays, and that in general the way to be strong is to act tough and make other people afraid. One suspects, by the way, that this false notion of power was why the architects of war made torture routine — it wasn’t so much about results as about demonstrating a willingness to do whatever it takes."

Sari Horwitz of the Washington Post: "Sally Quillian Yates, a longtime prosecutor and the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia since 2010, is expected to be announced as the pick for deputy attorney general, the official who runs Justice Department operations day to day. Yates, who has served as the vice chair of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s advisory committee, is the first woman to serve as the U.S. attorney in Atlanta." ...

     ... CW: At his end-of-year news conference, President Obama called on female reporters only, ignoring the male reporters who had pressing questions about Cuban cigars. Now we find out the President wants to replace not only the male attorney general with a woman but also the male deputy AG. It's almost as if this President thinks women are at least as competent as men.

Mark Santora & David Goodman of the New York Times: "The man who shot and killed two police officers in New York City on Saturday afternoon, targeting them solely because of the uniforms they wore, boasted to two people about what he was about to do just moments before he opened fire on the officers as they sat in their patrol car. In a chilling and detailed account of the shooting, the police department’s chief of detectives, Robert Boyce, said that the gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, first walked past the patrol car, crossed the street and then approached the car from behind. He stood outside the passenger side window and fired four shots into the vehicle, killing the officers, Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40. Mr. Brinsley fled the scene but was followed by two Consolidated Edison workers whom the police called heroic. They alerted the police that Mr. Brinsley had headed down onto a Brooklyn subway platform, where he was confronted by police officers and killed himself with a single bullet." ...

Igor Volsky of Think Progress: Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani blames Obama, Holder & Al Sharpton for the officers' assassinations, because the leaders' "created an atmosphere of severe, strong, anti-police hatred in certain communities.... We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police." ...

... CW: Okay, maybe I'm not being completely fair to Kim Jong-un. ...

... Hudson Hongo of Gawker has more. ...

... So does T. Bogg of the Raw Story. ...

... Trevor Eischen of Politico: "On Sunday, Obama spoke out against the killing of the police officers Saturday, saying there is no justification for the slayings." ...

... Josh Lederman of the AP: "President Barack Obama is offering full support and federal assistance to the New York Police Department in the wake of the killing of two officers. The White House says Obama called New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton on Sunday from Hawaii, where the president is vacationing and offered condolences."

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Here's something I'm way late picking up, but it's worth knowing what kind of "independent journalism" Maureen Dowd practices. Matthew Zeitlin of BuzzFeed: "Leaked emails from Sony suggest that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd promised to show Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal’s husband, Bernard Weinraub, — a former Times reporter — a version of a column featuring Pascal before publication." Read the whole post. ...

... CW P.S. Do I feel guilty about linking to a story that relies on the Sony hacks? Yes. A teensy bit.

Saturday
Dec202014

The Commentariat -- Dec. 21, 2014

The winter solstice begins tonight at 6:03 pm ET.

Missed this the other day. Tim Egan on "Obama Unbound": "... the president who has nothing to lose has discovered that his best friend is the future."

CW: I wonder why Obama didn't make the final cut. He & Stephen Colbert rehearse "We'll Meet Again" (audio only):

Max Fisher of Vox has a helpful post on the history of U.S.-Cuba relations, going back to the days when Southern politicians wanted to annex the island as a slave state. Thanks to James S. for the link.

** Steve Watt of the ACLU, in Slate: "As bad as the stories in the Senate torture report are, there is a whole class of victims who aren’t even mentioned...: the 'extraordinary rendition' of prisoners to foreign custody for 'interrogation' by those countries’ intelligence services — with the full knowledge that the men would be tortured.... There is still no official accounting of what happened to these men and others like them, forcibly disappeared and handed over to foreign governments for torture. We don’t even know whether the practice was authorized — and if so, by whom — and who was subject to it." ...

... In Salon, Paul Rosenberg makes the case for trying Bush, Cheney, et al., for war crimes. "Through reflexivity, Bush and Cheney’s unhinged panic drove the entire [political] process off the rails. Yet, even today they and their defenders continue to pretend that they were the tough guys, the realists, the ones who protected us. They need to stand trial in part simply so that this lie can be publicly put to rest." Rosenberg argues that not just Bush & Cheney, but "America's entire elite infrastructure" is responsibile for the public's ignorance of facts re: the Bush-Cheney wars & torture. ...

     ... CW: While Rosenberg gets his facts right, he seems pretty naive about the effects a Nuremberg-type series of trials would have on "public education." It is unreasonable to think that the winner of the "War on Christmas" (see God News below) & his minions would learn during the course of a trial that torture doesn't work & Cheney is a lying, evil bastard. A trial would not "educate" the followers of Bill O'Reilly & Bill Kristol; rather, it would further harden them in their false beliefs. Not only do these people discount facts, Americans in general don't want to face their own complicity in electing -- & re-electing -- the Bush administration. Patriotism is pernicious.

Trip Gabriel of the New York Times: "... in an era of hyperpartisan gerrymandering..., Ohio took a step in the opposite direction last week. With the support of both parties, the Ohio House gave final approval Wednesday to a plan to draw voting districts for the General Assembly using a bipartisan process, intended to make elections more competitive."

Josh Lederman of the AP: "The United States is asking China for help as it weighs potential responses to a cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment that the U.S. has blamed on North Korea. A senior Obama administration official says the U.S. and China have shared information about the attack and that the U.S. has asked for China's cooperation. The official also says China agrees with the U.S. that destructive cyberattacks violate the norms of appropriate behavior in cyberspace." ...

... AP: "The GOP is calling on supporters to buy a ticket to the movie 'The Interview' if theater owners reverse their decision not to show the film amid threats of retaliation for its comedic take on assassinating North Korea's leader. The Republican Party chairman, Reince Priebus, says in a letter to theater chain executives that he's concerned that a foreign regime would be allowed to dictate the movies Americans can and cannot watch." CW: As I said several days ago, wingers will see the movie because Freeeedom. Now it's a party platform!

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. David Bernstein in Boston Magazine: "What the hell happened to Boston.com?... In Saturday’s Globe, [Boston Globe editor Brian] McGrory said that despite the multiple errors committed by Boston.com staffers, 'the standards and values of the Globe apply across all our sites.' That seems increasingly difficult to defend."

God News

CW: No doubt many Reality Chex readers will be celebrating Yule today. I will be thanking Mithras for pushing back the darkness.

Phil Zuckerman in Salon, "... for the many millions of Americans who have joined the ranks of the nonreligious, the causes are most likely to be political and sociological in nature." The rise of the religious right as a political force has alienated "a lot of left-leaning or politically moderate Americans from Christianity.... A second factor ... is the ... Catholic Church’s pedophile priest scandal.... A very important third possible factor ... is ... the dramatic increase of women in the paid labor force.... As women grew less religious, their husbands and children followed suit." Excerpted from Living the Secular Life. ...

     ... CW: Weirdly, Zuckerman doesn't mention formal education as a secularizing factor. Surely the percentage of Americans who believe in the literal truths of religious myths has plummeted in the past 50 years. In fact, major religions -- including the Roman Catholic Church -- no longer insist, for instance, on the historiocity of the Christmas story. It's pretty darned hard to get through a standard liberal arts education & come out buying the Adam & Eve & Noah & Moses stories.

Take 'er Easy There, Pilgrim. Bruce Feiler of the New York Times: "Pilgrimage ... is more popular than ever. At the First International Congress on Tourism and Pilgrimages in September, the United Nations released a study finding that of every three tourists worldwide, one is a pilgrim, a total of 330 million people a year. These figures include 30 million to Tirupati in India, 20 million to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, 15 million to Karbala in Iraq, and four million to Lourdes."

"Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani?" Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches: Christian Americans are more supportive of torture than non-religious Americans.

Jesus Is the Reason for -- Hanukkah. Sarah Larimer of the Washington Post: "Bud Williams, city councilor in Springfield, Mass., stood in the court square earlier this week and participated in a holiday tradition. 'Jesus is the reason for the season,' Williams said at a Tuesday ceremony, according to MassLive.com. His remarks wouldn’t really be notable, except that Williams was speaking at a menorah lighting ceremony, to mark the beginning of Hanukkah." In defense of his remark, Williams noted later to a reporter, "Jesus was Jewish." Via Steve Benen.

Patrick O'Donnell of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Gov. John Kasich's $10 million plan to bring mentors into Ohio's schools for students now has a surprise religious requirement – one that goes beyond what is spelled out in the legislation authorizing it. Any school district that wants a piece of that state money must partner with both a church and a business – or a faith-based organization and a non-profit set up by a business to do community service." CW: As Steve Benen remarks, "... sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen."

Onward, Christmas Soldiers. Bill O'Reilly agrees he "single-handedly" won the "War on Christmas." Thanks, Bill-O.

Friday
Dec192014

The Commentariat -- Dec. 20, 2014

... Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Obama on Friday rejected critics who say he should not have opened American relations with Cuba because of that nation’s human rights record, saying the historic thaw would give the United States more sway with the Cuban government." ...

... Dan Roberts of the Guardian: "US President Barack Obama has delivered his most sceptical remarks yet on the future of the Keystone oil pipeline, claiming its controversial extension from Canada to Nebraska would do little to reduce American energy prices and generate only a limited number of US jobs, but could add to the infrastructure costs of climate change." ...

... Katie Zezima of the Washington Post: "President Obama said Friday that Sony Pictures 'made a mistake' by pulling a movie that sparked North Korea to launch a cyberattack against the company. Speaking at a year-end press conference, Obama said that the movie studio should not have bowed to pressure after the attack." ...

... Michael Schmidt & David Sanger of the New York Times: "President Obama on Friday said that the United States 'will respond proportionally' against North Korea for its cyberattacks on Sony Pictures, and criticized the studio for giving in to intimidation and pulling the satirical movie that provoked the attacks.... His threat came just hours after the F.B.I. said it had extensive evidence that the North Korean government organized the cyberattack that debilitated the Sony computers, marking the first time the United States has explicitly accused the leaders of a foreign nation of deliberately damaging American targets." ...

    ... Here's the FBI's "Update on Sony Investigation." ...

... Erik Wemple of the Washington Post: "In his year-ending press conference today, President Obama called first on Politico reporter Carrie Budoff Brown.... The president decided to banter a bit with Brown, noting that she was headed to Europe. She confirmed that she was going to be working on Politico’s European venture in Brussels.... So the president had an opening to crack wise on a notable Beltway news mill: 'I think what Belgium needs is some, uh, version of Politico.' The deadpan delivery cracked up the rest of the media.” ...

... ** Barbara Morrill of Daily Kos: "What if the President held a press conference and it made men sad?" Thanks to James S. for the link. ...

     ... Paul Waldman: "Notably, all the reporters Obama called on today were women, which was really outrageous considering that there have only been 4,529 (or so) press conferences in which all the reporters the president called on were men. There was one as yet unidentified male reporter who managed to shout, 'Any new year’s resolutions?', while another shouted, 'Are you going to smoke a Cuban cigar, Mr. President?' as he was leaving. Sadly, America did not get answers to these vital questions."

... Frank Pallotta of CNN: "Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, denying that the studio had 'caved' by scrapping next week's opening of 'The Interview,' fired back Friday after President Obama said the studio had "made a mistake.'... Lynton said he would be 'fibbing' to say he 'wasn't disappointed' in Obama's remarks. 'The president, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,' Lynton said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. 'We do not own movie theaters. We cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theaters.'" ...

     ... CW Translation: We can make racist jokes about you, but you can't question our business decisions, which you are too ignorant to understand. ...

... Brian Stelter of CNN: "The hackers behind a devastating cyberattack at Sony Pictures have sent a new message to executives at the company, crediting them for a 'very wise' decision to cancel the Christmas day release of 'The Interview,' a source close to the company told CNN.... The hacker message is effectively a victory lap, telling the studio, 'Now we want you never let the movie released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy.' The message also says, 'And we want everything related to the movie, including its trailers, as well as its full version down from any website hosting them immediately.'"

Darlene Superville of the AP: "President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law a massive defense policy bill that endorses his plan to fight Islamic State militants, including air strikes and training Iraqis and moderate Syrian rebels. The law authorizes funds for basic military operations, from a 1 percent pay raise for troops to the purchase of ships, aircraft and other war-fighting equipment."

Matt Apuzzo & Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times: "A panel investigating the Central Intelligence Agency’s search of a computer network used by staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who were looking into the C.I.A.’s use of torture will recommend against punishing anyone involved in the episode, according to current and former government officials.... While effectively rejecting the most significant conclusions of the inspector general’s report, the panel, appointed by [CIA Director John] Brennan and composed of three C.I.A. officers and two members from outside the agency, is still expected to criticize agency missteps that contributed to the fight with Congres." CW: Surprise! A Brennan-appointed panel says following Brennan's orders is pretty cool. Here's some additional helpful information: "The panel’s chairman is Evan Bayh, a former Democratic senator from Indiana...."

Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor: "The White House needs a much taller fence to protect the president and first family. That’s the headline recommendation from an independent panel convened to assess the Secret Service in the wake of a series of embarrassing agency failures this fall."

Annals of "Justice," Ctd.

Matt Apuzzo & Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "F.B.I. agents in every region of the country have mishandled, mislabeled and lost evidence, according to a highly critical internal investigation that discovered errors with nearly half the pieces of evidence it reviewed. The evidence collection and retention system is the backbone of the F.B.I.’s investigative process, and the report said it is beset by problems. It also found that the F.B.I. was storing more weapons, less money and valuables, and two tons more drugs than its records had indicated. The report’s findings, based on a review of more than 41,000 pieces of evidence in F.B.I. offices around the country, could have consequences for criminal investigations and prosecutions."

** Nicky Woolf of the Guardian: "Some witnesses who appeared before the grand jury investigating the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown were 'clearly not telling the truth,' according to the St Louis county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch.... The admission came just days after The Smoking Gun, an investigative site which publishes government, police and other documents, claimed to have identified a key grand jury witness and raised serious questions about the credibility of her testimony.... McCulloch, in his interview, appeared to corroborate The Smoking Gun’s investigation.... He added that he had allowed [obviously false witnesses] to testify anyway because he had felt 'it was much more important to present the entire picture'." ...

... CW: This is the most preposterous excuse for malfeasance I've heard in a long time. Even an idiot knows "the entire picture" does not include elements that aren't in it. But to mislead the grand jury, Mc Cullouch is now claiming it is good legal practice to present testimony without, apparently, even challenging it. McCullouch should be disbarred, not just removed from office. ...

     ... Update. Mike Hayes of BuzzFeed: "According to Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct, RULE 4-3.3, 'A lawyer shall not knowingly offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.' The law also says that a lawyer 'may refuse to offer evidence, other than the testimony of a defendant in a criminal matter, that the lawyer reasonably believes is false.' 'A lawyer should not present testimony that he believes to be false,' Steven Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University, told BuzzFeed News. 'That is especially true in a proceeding that lacks all of the usual safeguards, such as opposing counsel and a judge.'” CW: That's funny. A young BuzzFeed reporter knows more about Missouri law than the St. Louis County D.A.


Robert Barnes
of the Washington Post: "The Supreme Court on Friday cleared the way for same-sex marriages to commence in Florida, meaning such unions will soon be allowed in five of the nation’s six most populous states. The court, without comment, turned down a request to block gay marriages in Florida while the state appeals a judge’s order that its ban is unconstitutional. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said they would have granted the motion, but did not explain their reasons."

Sabrina Siddiqui of the Huffington Post on "how the NRA lost its battle to defeat Vivek Murthy." CW: Let me just add that this is a battle that should never have taken place. Murthy's remarks on gun violence, as Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) has pointed out, are accurate & no different from what experts & others have acknowledged.

Ed Kilgore: GOP staffers-turned-lobbyists "are rushing back to Congress like — well, choose you own infestation metaphor, recognizing these are actual human beings with virtues as well as vices.... It’s all part of the career-long climb up the slippery pole in the permanent ruling class, with its own rough justice: at any given moment, top-level staff types may be helping run Congress, or run the country in the executive branch, or failing any direct power, getting rich. It all works out in a satisfying manner." Read to the end.

Capitalism Is Awesome, Ctd.

Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times: "The National Labor Relations Board announced on Friday that its general counsel had brought 78 charges against McDonald’s and some of its franchise operators, accusing them of violating federal labor law in response to workers’ protests for higher wages around the country. The general counsel’s move immediately drew outrage from a variety of national business groups because the labor action deemed McDonald’s a joint employer, a status that would make the fast-food titan equally responsible for actions taken at its franchised restaurants."

Richard Bilton of BBC Panorama: "Poor treatment of workers in Chinese factories which make Apple products has been discovered by an undercover BBC Panorama investigation. Filming on an iPhone 6 production line showed Apple's promises to protect workers were routinely broken. It found standards on workers' hours, ID cards, dormitories, work meetings and juvenile workers were being breached at the Pegatron factories. Apple said it strongly disagreed with the programme's conclusions." ...

... BBC News: "An online petition, signed by 155,000 people, has called on Apple to do more to ensure its Chinese factory workers are treated better. The campaign, on Change.org, follows reports of poor working conditions in factories that make Apple products. A separate SumOfUs petition, with more than 43,000 signatories, calls for the iPhone 5 to be made 'ethically'."

AP: "Staples Inc. says nearly 1.2 million customer payment cards may have been exposed during a security breach earlier this year."

Presidential Election

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "Two of the Republican Party’s top White House hopefuls clashed sharply Friday over President Obama’s new Cuba policy, evidence of a growing GOP rift over foreign affairs that could shape the party’s 2016 presidential primaries. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), who backs Obama’s move to normalize relations with communist Cuba, accused Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) of being an 'isolationist' with his hard-line opposition to opening up trade and diplomatic engagement with the island nation. Paul suggested that Rubio 'wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat.'... The feud is the loudest public dispute so far between potential GOP 2016 candidates and lays bare the divergent world views of traditional hawks — including Rubio and past Republican presidents and nominees — and the emerging, younger libertarian wing represented by Paul."

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." ...

... Simon Romero & William Neuman of the New York Times: "... Latin American leaders have a new kind of vocabulary to describe [President Obama]: They are calling him 'brave,' 'extraordinary' and 'intelligent.' After years of watching his influence in Latin America slip away, Mr. Obama suddenly turned the tables this week by declaring a sweeping détente with Cuba, opening the way for a major repositioning of the United States in the region." ...

... 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." (See also Presidential Election, below.) ...

     ... 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." (See also Presidential Election below.) ...

... 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." ...

... Charles Pierce, along those same lines, but way funnier. With a special shoutout to the Washington Post & "Fred Hiatt's Big House o' 'Ho's." ...

... Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast: "In his aggressive anti-Obama play on Cuba, [Marco] Rubio is pandering to a constituency that barely exists now -- and he looks cowardly doing it.... He is not reflecting here the views of the Cuban-American community of South Florida as they've been repeatedly expressed in polls. He is instead representing the views of only the most reactionary (and rapidly aging and, to be blunt about it, dying off) portion of that community. If he somehow finds himself running against Hillary Clinton in 2016, he -- some 25 years her junior -- will have masterfully turned the neat trick of being on the side of the past while she speaks to the future." ...

... Gene Robinson, who has written a book of Cuba, makes mincemeat of the arguments against the U.S.-Cuba detente, including those of his own editorial board. ...

... 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).

Welcome Back, Lobbyists. Anna Palmer of Politico: "As Republicans take control of Congress, they are bringing in veteran influence peddlers to help them run the show. Nearly a dozen veteran K Streeters have been named as top staffers to GOP leaders or on key committees as lawmakers prepare to take the gavel in January.... There is a notable increase in the pace of K Streeters making the move back to Congress this month."

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."

Commenters in yesterday's thread pointed to two NYT articles about how the high cost of healthcare is hurting Americans:

     ... Elisabeth Rosenthal: "... in an increasingly common practice that some medical experts call drive-by doctoring, assistants, consultants and other hospital employees are charging patients or their insurers hefty fees. They may be called in when the need for them is questionable. And patients usually do not realize they have been involved or are charging until the bill arrives." ...

     ... Elisabeth Rosenthal: "While the Affordable Care Act has expanded insurance to millions of Americans, including those with existing conditions, it does not directly address cost. And cost is becoming increasingly problematic.... Newer insurance plans -- including policies under the Affordable Care Act -- are designed to make sure patients have 'more skin in the game,' so they will be more discriminating users of health care. Fixed co-pays, say $20 for a visit to a doctor, are being replaced by requirements that patients contribute a percentage of charges, which often ends up costing them far more."

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."

Your Elected Ambulance Chasers. Eric Lipton of the New York Times: There is "a flourishing industry that pairs plaintiffs' lawyers with state attorneys general to sue companies, a collaboration that has set off a furious competition between trial lawyers and corporate lobbyists to influence these officials.... Plaintiffs' lawyers working on a contingency-fee basis have teamed up mostly with Democratic state attorneys general to file hundreds of lawsuits against businesses.... Private lawyers, who scour the news media and public records looking for potential cases in which a state or its consumers have been harmed, approach attorneys general. The attorneys general hire the private firms to do the necessary work, with the understanding that the firms will front most of the cost of the investigation and the litigation. The firms take a fee, typically 20 percent, and the state takes the rest of any money won from the defendants."

In Austin, Texas, male cops think rape is pretty funny. And this: "You want to go fight in combat and sit in a foxhole? You go right ahead, but a man can't hit you in public here? Bulls--t! You act like a whore, you get treated like one!" That wasn't just guy talk; the said that to a female reporter. The officer who made that comment is "retiring."

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." ...

... CW: It may come as a shock to you to learn that the Masters of the Entertainment Universe are sniveling cowards. Mike Fleming of Deadline: Actor/director George Clooney circulated a petition supporting Sony & "The Interview," and nobody would sign it. "The most powerful people in Hollywood were so fearful to place themselves in the cross hairs of hackers that they all refused to sign a simple petition of support that Clooney and his agent, CAA's Bryan Lourd, circulated to the top people in film, TV, records and other areas. Not a single person would sign." And Chait wants me to support these guys with my tax dollars. Double no-thanks. ...

... Putin's Response. Reuters: "The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has invited the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to Moscow next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in the second world war, the Kremlin's spokesman said on Friday." CW: No doubt Rudy Giuliani approves. (See Krugman.)

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 Holland of Reuters: "Potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton knows a political gift when she sees one. She was quick to embrace the step this week when President Barack Obama ... relaxed U.S. policy toward Cuba." (See also Josh Rogin's report & Zandar's commentary, linked above.)

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."

Ken Vogel & Tarini Parti of Politico: "... affluent Cuban American donors [are] already talking about spending big sums to challenge politicians who side with Obama, and to support rivals who oppose normalization. That cash rift could widen further if the presidential election pits a Democrat who favors normalization, such as Hillary Clinton, against a Republican who opposes it, such as Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio -- both of whom hail from Florida, a key swing state with a very politically active population of Cuban expatriates."

I would love to see Elizabeth Warren in this race. I think it would be fantastic. I think that it would help the quality of the debate and she may win, but even if she doesn't, I think she'll make Hillary Clinton a better candidate. -- Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus

News Ledes

Los Angeles Times: "Lowell Steward, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew more than 100 missions during World War II, died Wednesday, according to Ron Brewington, former national public relations officer for the Tuskegee Airmen. Steward was 95."

NBC News: "The Army has concluded its lengthy investigation into the disappearance of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in eastern Afghanistan and must now decide whether Bergdahl should face criminal charges. Bergdahl reportedly walked away from his base into the hands of the Taliban and was held hostage for five years. Based on the investigation, the Army must now decide whether Bergdahl should be charged with desertion or a lesser charge of being 'absent without leave,' AWOL."

New York Times: "The Pakistani military said on Friday that it had killed 62 militants in clashes near the border with Afghanistan, stepping up operations against insurgents after the Pakistani Taliban carried out an attack at a school that left 148 students and staff members dead."

New York Times: "Mandy Rice-Davies, a nightclub dancer and model who achieved notoriety in 1963 in one of Britain's most spectacular Cold War sex scandals, died on Thursday after a short battle with cancer, her publicist said on Friday. She was 70."

Denver Post: "James Holmes, the man who killed 12 people inside an Aurora movie theater two years ago, is 'a human being gripped by a severe mental illness,' his parents write in a letter that pleads for him to be spared from execution.'" The letter is here.