Reuters: "Russian president Vladimir Putin called Barack Obama on Friday to discuss a US diplomatic proposal for Ukraine and the US president told Putin that Russia must pull back its troops and not move deeper into Ukraine, the White House said. It was believed to have been the first direct conversation between Obama and Putin since the US and its European allies began imposing sanctions on Putin's inner circle and threatened to penalise key sectors of Russia's economy." ...
... ** Update: Peter Baker, et al., of the New York Times: "President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia reached out to President Obama on Friday to discuss ideas about how to peacefully resolve the international standoff over Ukraine, a surprise move by Moscow to pull back from the brink of an escalated confrontation that has put Europe and much of the world on edge. After weeks of provocative moves punctuated by a menacing buildup of troops on Ukraine's border, Mr. Putin's unexpected telephone call to Mr. Obama offered a hint of a possible settlement. The two leaders agreed to have their top diplomats meet to discuss concrete proposals for defusing the crisis that has generated the most serious clash between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War."
Scott Wilson of the Washington Post: "President Obama assured the Saudi king Friday that the United States is not pursuing naively a negotiated resolution to Iran's nuclear program, and he discussed ways of strengthening Syria's moderate rebel forces now being battered by extremist groups inside the movement and by the Syrian military. Obama and King Abdullah, along with senior advisers, spoke for two hours at the royal desert compound outside this desert capital, his last stop of a four-nation visit to Europe and the Middle East."
Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "With minimal reference to Edward Snowden..., General Keith Alexander ended his NSA directorship and his 39-year army career on Friday.... But Alexander's run at the NSA will be forever linked to the revelations of its global surveillance dragnets." ...
... Aw, shucks. Shouldn't Alexander's career be forever linked to this? --
Vice President Biden delivered this week's presidential address:
Alec MacGillis of the New Republic: "So: right now, we have passed a law meant to expand coverage to all Americans, and yet it does not reach the poorest of our fellow citizens in nearly half the states in the country. That, on its face, is a major policy failure. No one really wanted to say this during the law's drafting, but its underlying goal was to get coverage to people in red states where there was no local political will to address the problem. CW: An excellent piece. Thanks to P. D. Pepe for the link.
Mary Flaherty & Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post: "Maryland officials are set to replace the state's online health-insurance exchange with technology from Connecticut's insurance marketplace..., an acknowledgment that a system that has cost at least $125.5 million is broken beyond repair."
Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post: "The past couple of weeks have marked a turning point in American ugliness as the mob has turned its full fury on first lady Michelle Obama. From criticism of her trip to China to a recent 'tell-all' by former White House assistant press secretary Reid Cherlin in the New Republic about Obama's allegedly tyrannical behavior, the gloves have been removed."
AP: "General Motors is boosting by 971,000 the number of small cars being recalled worldwide for a defective ignition switch, saying cars from the model years 2008-2011 may have gotten the part as a replacement.... Of the cars being added to the recall, 824,000 were sold in the U.S."
The Guardian: "David Cameron has hailed the first same-sex marriages in England and Wales as sending a 'powerful message' about equality in Britain." ...
... Griff Witte of the Washington Post: "With the stroke of midnight, same-sex couples were, for the first time, permitted to marry in England and Wales, and many did in middle-of-the-night celebrations. The weddings united same-sex partners who have for a decade been allowed to form civil partnerships, but until now have been prohibited from tying the knot. The change is largely being taken in stride, with little rancor from opponents and a sense from supporters that same-sex marriage was long overdue."
Jonathan Chait on the question of whether or not there is such a thing as "a culture of poverty."
New Jersey News
** Salvador Rizzo of the Star-Ledger: "Gov. Chris Christie announced today that David Samson, whose chairmanship of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has come under fire in recent months, has resigned. Samson, a close ally of Christie and a former attorney general of New Jersey, is reportedly under investigation by the U.S. Attorney of New Jersey in the face of accusations that his law firm, Wolff & Samson, had enriched itself by lobbying for companies with business before the Port Authority." The New York Times story, by Mark Santora, is here. ...
... As Rachel Maddow pointed out some while back, "the annual budget for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is bigger than the entire budgets of 9 states." (CW: I don't think that's 9 states combined.)
New York Times Editors: "The only thing wrong with the resignation announcement on Friday of David Samson, Gov. Chris Christie's top appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was that it took so long."
Jason Grant of the Star-Ledger: Michael Critchley, "the lawyer for Bridget Anne Kelly, fired back today against allegations that largely blamed her for the George Washington Bridge lane closings, blasting the report commissioned by Gov. Chris Christie's office as containing 'venomous, gratuitous, and inappropriate sexist remarks.'" The Bergen Record report, by Michael Phillis, is here.
Gail Collins seems a tad unimpressed with Christie's complete exoneration & his pomposity & self-righteousness.
Kate Dries of Jezebel: It's all Bridget Kelly's fault because she's an emotional, incompetent girl & Bill Stepien dumped her or something. Dries lays out the "evidence" of Kelly's instability that for some unknown reason caused her to think dumping on Fort Lee drivers would make everything all better. ...
... CW: C'mon, people. No wonder those high-priced lawyers can't figure out the motivation for the bridge closings: the person who caused them is a hysterical female prone to acting out in bizarre ways. It's impossible to tell what such whack-jobs will do for no apparent reason.
Alec MacGillis of the New Republic picks out & analyzes some tidbits from the report. Interesting.
Elsewhere Beyond the Beltway
Zack Ford of Think Progress: "Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday that the 322 same-sex marriages that took place on Saturday in Michigan will be recognized by the federal government. A federal judge had ruled that Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional but had not stayed his ruling, so the marriages took place during the window when the amendment was unenforceable."
Josh Israel of Think Progress: "Once again, Ken Dentzer, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) handpicked Secretary of State, has unsuccessfully attempted to mount a massive purge of Florida';s voter rolls. And once again, he has been forced to abandon this effort due to his lack of an accurate list of who is and is not eligible to vote. In a memo, Dentzer told the state's local election supervisors that the purge would be postponed until 2015."
Patrick McGreevy of the Los Angeles Times: "Reeling from embarrassing bribery, corruption and voter fraud scandals, the [California] state Senate took the unprecedented action Friday of voting to suspend three Democratic lawmakers from office pending the resolution of criminal charges against them. The paid suspensions of Sens. Leland Yee, Ronald S. Calderon and Roderick Wright all but guarantee Democrats will not regain their supermajority in the Senate this session. And the controversies are expected to become anti-incumbent campaign fodder in other districts in this year's elections. The bipartisan 28-1 vote came two days after Yee was arrested in his hometown of San Francisco and charged by federal authorities with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and accepting campaign funds in exchange for political favors." ...
... Joe Coscarelli of New York: "After a federal indictment came down against him this week, [Leland] Yee instantly became one of the most insane political characters in recent memory, accused by the FBI of everything from taking donations in exchange for favors to palling around with a Chinatown gangster named Shrimp Boy and attempting to smuggle guns. Yee, a Democrat, just happens to be a vocal anti-gun and video-game-violence crusader."
Los Angeles Times: "More than 100 aftershocks have been reported since a magnitude 5.1 earthquake rattled Southern California on Friday night. Most of the aftershocks have been small, but some were strong enough to be felt in the areas around the epicenter in northwestern Orange County. Meanwhile, officials surveyed the damage, which for the most part was considered minor."
Los Angeles Times: "A Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft searching the South Indian Ocean reported Saturday seeing 'three suspicious objects' that could be debris from the long-missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The announcement came as China stepped into a more proactive role in the frustrating 3-week-old search for the plane. Beijing has been publicly critical of Malaysia's efforts to find the Boeing 777, which disappeared March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Out of 227 passengers, 153 were Chinese."