The Ledes

Tuesday, April 28, 2015.

Washington Post: "Violence swept through pockets of a low-income section of West Baltimore on Monday afternoon as scores of rioters heaved bottles and rocks at riot-gear-clad police, set police cars on fire, and looted a pharmacy, a mall and other businesses. At least 15 officers were injured." ...

... The Post has live updates here. The Baltimore Sun's liveblog is here.

New York Times: "Two days after Nepal’s worst earthquake in 80 years, the official death toll rose to more than 4,000, and humanitarian aid was starting to flow to the capital. Katmandu’s airport had been so overloaded by aid and passenger planes that incoming flights sat for hours on the runway."

The Wires

The Ledes

Monday, April 27, 2015.

Washington Post: "Police on Monday clashed with protesters who tossed rocks and bricks at officers, looted stores and damaged police cruisers, injuring several officers. Police said that seven officers have been hurt in incidents that began near the Mondawmin Mall in the Reisterstown Road area. Some officers suffered broken bones and one officer was unresponsive, police said in an afternoon press conference.... On Monday evening, Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and announced he had activated the Maryland National Guard. The Baltimore Orioles announced they had postponed a game set for Monday evening against the Chicago White Sox." ...

... Baltimore Sun: "In a funeral service Monday that was both personal and political, family, friends and strangers alike said farewell on Monday to Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man whose death from injuries sustained in police custody has sparked a national furor."

... Here's the Sun's liveblog.

New York Times: Climbers at Mount Everest describe the earthquake & avalanche

New York Times: "Jayne Meadows, a glamorous redheaded actress who starred on Broadway, in the movies and on television, but who was probably best known for her 46-year role as Steve Allen’s wife, business partner and frequent co-star, died on Sunday at her home in Encino, Calif. She was 95."

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


White House: "For a new state china service, First Lady Michelle Obama wanted it to have modern elements, but also for it to be practical, in the sense that it would be complementary to the preceding historic state services. The Obama State China Service consists of eleven-piece place settings for 320":

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."

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The Commentariat -- February 7, 2015

White House: "President Obama highlights the progress our economy has made, with more than 3.1 million jobs created in 2014 -- the best year for job growth since the late 1990s. America has come a long way, and with the right policies focused on middle-class economics we can continue to grow our economy into one where those who work hard can get ahead":

Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times: "The economy barreled through the last three months with strong momentum, the Labor Department said Friday, as American employers added 257,000 jobs in January, wage growth rebounded and more people went looking for work in an improving labor market. With new figures on the last two months of the year, 2014 turned out to be the strongest year for job gains since 1999." ...

... Neil Irwin of the New York Times: "That uptick in the unemployment rate? It happened not because fewer people had jobs, but because the size of the labor force rose by a whopping 703,000 in January after annual population adjustments.... And finally -- finally -- there was meaningful evidence that an improving job market was translating into higher pay for workers.... For years, we've been waiting for evidence that wages will rise and that some of the millions of people who left the labor force in the last several years will return. And we got it on Friday, with all that implies." ...

... CW: Thank you, Mitch McConnell, for making all of this possible. ...

... Ben White of CNBC: "The January jobs report ... had no weak spots, leaving Republicans scrambling for a new angle to attack the economy under President Barack Obama. One Republican line is that the recent increase in job gains is a direct result of the GOP taking control of the Senate. This is a patently ridiculous argument.... [CW: You mean I shouldn't have thanked Mitch?] ... House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan ... us[ed] the jobs report as a pitch for both corporate tax reform and trade deals.... Ryan's main job now is convincing Republicans whose main operating ethos is to oppose anything Obama wants...."

"The Definition of Insanity." Gene Robinson: "At a moment of heightened concern that terrorists in the Middle East might stage or inspire attacks on U.S. soil, the GOP-controlled House and Senate are unable to agree on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security..... It was obvious from the beginning that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not have the 60 votes needed to get the bill through the Senate. Nevertheless, McConnell has dutifully brought the bill up three times -- and seen it rejected each time by Democrats.... 'Isn't that the definition of insanity? Voting for the same bill over and over again? [Sen. John] McCain asked. Indeed, the whole episode does seem pretty insane. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) knew the bill he sent to the Senate would be dead on arrival.... The GOP majority in the House continues to value symbolic posturing over pragmatic action." ...

By Contrast, A Modicum of Sanity. When you're talking about energy, I think there is a very legitimate discussion to be had about climate. How we might factor that into a bigger [legislative] package is something that obviously has yet to be discussed. The priorities I have placed on my view of a good energy policy for this country [are] that it's abundant, affordable, clean, diverse and secure. I don't just skip over the clean part. It's important to me. I think it should be important to all members. -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chair of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee (via Paul Waldman)

Mario Trujillo of the Hill: "The House Oversight Committee is investigating if the White House had any 'improper influence' on the Federal Communication Commission's net neutrality rules unveiled this week. Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler requesting all staff communications with the White House and other executive branch agencies about the issue, as well as internal documents discussing the White House recommendations and visitor logs of any meetings with administration officials."

Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "In a reversal of his campaign-trail assurances that the tide of war is receding, the final national security strategy of Barack Obama's presidency declares terrorism 'a persistent threat' amidst a 'generational struggle for power in the Middle East'. The 2015 National Security Strategy, released by the White House on Friday, resigns the US to an open-ended conflict against al-Qaida and now the Islamic State (Isis), as well as their undefined 'affiliates'. It does not significantly discuss Yemen or Pakistan, the two most active theaters of drone strikes against al-Qaida. While the document declares al-Qaida's core leadership 'decimated', the strategy forecasts a continued global conflict against a 'more diffuse' series of al-Qaida and Isis networks abroad...."

Rukmini Callimachi & Rick Gladstone of the New York Times: "The Islamic State claimed Friday that the Jordanian bombings in northern Syria intended to avenge its immolation of a captured pilot had killed an American woman held hostage by the group. An Islamic State message published by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadist activity, said the American woman, Kayla Mueller, was killed when the building where she was being held in the Raqqa area collapsed in an airstrike.... There was no immediate way to verify the claim...." ...

... Juan Cole: "Speaking of burning people alive, one technique the US used was the BLU-82B, a 15,000 pound bomb detonated near the ground with a blast radius of about 5000 feet, but leaving no crater. It was intended to intimidate by burning up large numbers of infantrymen or armored personnel.... It was retired in 2008 in favor of something even more destructive.... The purpose of the bombing was to terrify Iraqis into submitting. That is, it was a form of state terrorism. Iraq had not attacked the US.... We shouldn't forget that [what ISIS is doing] was also what Bush was going for in 2003 when he inadvertently started the process of creating Daesh [ISIS & ISIL] as a backlash to his own monumental ruthlessness." ...

... Ta-Nehesi Coates of the Atlantic: "People who wonder why the president does not talk more about race would do well to examine the recent blow-up over his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast.... That [the President's] relatively mild, and correct, point [about Christians using religion to "justify" slavery & Jim Crow] cannot be made without the comments being dubbed, 'the most offensive I've ever heard a president make in my lifetime,' by a former Virginia governor gives you some sense of the limited tolerance for any honest conversation around racism in our politics.... If you are truly appalled by the brutality of ISIS, then a wise and essential step is understanding the lure of brutality, and recalling how easily your own society can be, and how often it has been, pulled over the brink." ...

... Greg Sargent: "... to the degree that Obama is being criticized for 'offending Christians,' and departing from American 'values,' it's worth noting that his suggestion that Christianity has been pressed into service to justify some of the darker moments in American history is not at all controversial." ...

... ** Paul Waldman: "... of course awful things have been done in the name of many religions, and when Obama mentions the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the religious justifications given for slavery, he's talking about old history. You'd have to be nuts to find in that some kind of insult to Christians or to America. Or you'd have to be a Republican." CW: Waldman also calls out Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post, which I was too lazy to do yesterday. (I was tempted not to link her story at all because of her lede, but instead I just skipped the lede because down the page she provided some good examples of wingnuttery.) Waldman gives an excellent explanation of the perverted "thinking" of Obama's critics. ...

... CW: Notice, if you will, that I had no trouble connecting the dots between George Bush's "shock & awe" tactics -- as described by Juan Cole -- & critiques of confederates who criticized President Obama's mention of the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery & Jim Crow. Obama could have used the Bush administration as a contemporary example of the abuse of religion as a justification for terrorist acts. As reported in 2009, Dubya tried to sell the Iraq War to France's then-President Jacques Chirac. as a holy war prophesized in the Old Testament. In addition, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used to send Bush his daily briefings in scripture-wrapped folders. In the mind of its leader, or at least titular leader, the Iraq War was a holy war, waged under the auspices of the Christian god. And during the course of that war, our leader authorized atrocities in our name. ...

... CW: I've avoided embedding video of Obama's remarks, just because the whole prayer-breakfast thing doesn't sit well with me, but the objections to the speech outweigh my presidential-prayer willies, so here you go:

    ... The transcript is here.

Mr. Biden Regrets. Jeremy Diamond of CNN: Vice President "Biden will be traveling abroad when [Israeli PM Benjamin] Netanyahu comes to Washington to address a joint session of Congress on March 3, his office said Friday.... The Vice President's office declined to say which country he will travel to while the Israeli head of state is in Washington." ...

... CW: Worth noting. Biden will be missed. In a joint session, he would have been seated on the podium, behind the speaker & beside the Speaker. I suspect Mitch McConnell will get that seat now. OR maybe the administration will send an undersecretary of transportation to fill Biden's seat OR Boehner could expand the Clint Eastwood empty-chair meme. I wonder how many Democratic members of Congress will be traveling to undisclosed locations on the day of Netanyahu's affront now that Biden has given them cover.

NEW. Jimmy Williams of Blue Nation Review: "... the month before the 2012 elections, Congressman [Aaron] Schock [R-Ill.] sold his house to a major Republican donor who was also one of his campaign supporters for a price that appears to far exceed the market value at the time.... According to Zillow's home price index, Congressman Schock sold his house at the absolute rock bottom for the Illinois real estate market, also the worst month for housing prices in a decade." ...

     ... Schock wouldn't speak to Williams, but he told WLS News (Chicago), "The blog post the gentleman just wrote was very hurtful, you know, because it questions my business dealings, but when you're in this environment, all's fair." CW: I suppose it is "hurtful" when somebody outs you as a corrupt politician.

     ... CW: I"m having a hard time seeing the difference between Shcock's trick & stuffing your cash bribes in the freezer, although I suppose real estate-based bribes are a lot more "Downton Abbey"-classy than are frozen Benjamins. ...

     ... UPDATE: Now even the New York Times is taking note of the real estate deal, if in a small way.

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd.

Brian Williams, The Cover-up Investigation. Paul Farhi of the Washington Post: "NBC News launched an internal investigation Friday into statements made by its lead anchor, Brian Williams, about his reporting from Iraq in 2003, as well as his award-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The investigation, confirmed by NBC officials, represents a change in the network's attitude toward its popular anchor only a day after senior managers appeared to have accepted his apology for misstating the facts...."

Brian Stelter of CNN: "The pilot I interviewed on Thursday [linked here yesterday] about Brian Williams is no longer standing by his story. That pilot, Rich Krell, told me he was flying the helicopter Williams was on in Iraq -- an account now contradicted by several other soldiers.... On Thursday night, two others, Christopher Simeone and Allan Kelly, told The New York Times that they -- not Krell -- had piloted Williams' helicopter, and that 'they did not recall their convoy of helicopters coming under fire.' Simeone, Kelly and a third soldier, Joseph Miller, also spoke with The Omaha World-Herald.... Bottom line: this pilot is revising his story - and, because of that, I'm revising mine. What initially looked like an account that supported some of Brian Williams' war story -- that he came 'under fire' that day -- no longer appears to be true." ...

... Erik Wemple of the Washington Post: "The upshot [of Krell's recantation] spells renewed trouble for Williams and a minor bruise for CNN."

Chris Simeone, who says he piloted Williams' helicopter, in a New York Post op-ed: "Brian Williams' account is not true." Simeone provides his own account & notes discrepancies between his story & Williams'.

Michael Calderone of the Huffington Post: Former NBC News anchor Tom "Brokaw pushed back against a New York Post story [linked here yesterday, with caveats] claiming he wanted Williams fired, but notably didn't offer his own statement of support. 'I have neither demanded nor suggested Brian be fired,' Brokaw said in an email to The Huffington Post. 'His future is up to Brian and NBC News executives.'"

John Simerman of the New Orleans Advocate: "While doubters have noted correctly that the Quarter, New Orleans' original high ground, remained largely if not completely dry, photographs and news reports from the time indicate there was flooding around the Ritz-Carlton, where the network source confirmed Williams stayed."

Juan Cole: "Many of Williams's fiercest critics are conservatives, for whom network television news is a liberal conspiracy -- a charge that is wholly unfair and untrue (otherwise we on the left wouldn't risk a stroke every time we watch it). Worse, many of them think that Fox Cable News really is fair and balanced. The same conservatives, however, go on idolizing Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, both of whom much more egregiously made stuff up about their military service than Williams.... Ronald Reagan told visiting Israeli premier Yitzhak Shamir in fall of 1983 that he had helped liberate the Auschwitz concentration camp as a soldier in the European theater and had taken footage of the horrors of the camp.... Reagan was in uniform during WW II, but was detailed to Hollywood. He never left the United States.... Joe Conason sleuthed out George W. Bush's lies about his military service.... Bush lied about trying to volunteer for Vietnam (!) and then lied again when he said he 'continued flying with my unit' when in reality he was sloughing off on a civilian local GOP campaign in another state...." As Cole makes clear, both Reagan's & Bush's lies were far bigger whoppers than Williams' exaggerations. Cole makes a point that Akhilleus made in yesterday's commentary.

Sorry, came across this when I was looking for something else:

When people ask Justice Ruth Ginsburg how many women should be on the Supreme Court, she has an answer.

Presidential Race

Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register: "Joe Biden, the vice president and an underdog for the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, is scheduled to be back in Iowa next week. Biden will speak in Des Moines on Thursday, sources familiar with preparations for his trip told The Des Moines Register. His office later confirmed that he will deliver remarks at Drake University and do a roundtable at Des Moines Area Community College on college affordability. The news comes in the wake of the release this past weekend of a new Iowa Poll that shows Biden trails both Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren in the horse race for most popular presidential pick among likely Democratic caucusgoers."

Jonathan Bernstein of Bloomberg Politics on what Scott Walker's big "surge" in the polls (15% in Iowa; 21% in New Hampshire) means to his nomination chances: "Scott Walker now is still the Scott Walker of December ... but the polling surge may have real effects, even if it isn't 'real.' If the spike convinces John Kasich, Mike Pence or Bobby Jindal to drop out, that alone would increase Walker's chances for the nomination.... It certainly will bring in money and other resources for Walker; those, in turn, could buy him further success.... What matters, too, is that Walker entered this surge as a viable candidate; he's no Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich.... The latest polls tell us almost nothing about voters.... If these early polls are important, it is only because of the way the people who pay close attention to Republican Party politics react to them." ...

... "Drafting Error," Ctd. The New York Times Editors take the occasion of Scott Walker's not only decimating the U.W. system's budget but also striking its beloved mission statement -- "a trade school agenda ... substituted for the idea of a university" -- to label him an extremist. Plus they catch him out lying about it: "His office attempted the ridiculous excuse that the pernicious editing of the university's mission was simply 'a drafting error' in the budget text and that the Wisconsin Idea would be left intact after all. But a December email showed clear instructions from the administration to make the deletions."

The Excellent Jindal-Brownback-Generic-GOP Economic Plan. Tyler Bridges of Politico: "Gov. Bobby Jindal has a plan: Do for the country what he's done for Louisiana. Cut taxes and cut the government workforce and the economy will bloom.... It's a message he's peddling as he lays the groundwork for a presidential run. Indeed, as Jindal is quick to say, private-sector job growth and the economy in Louisiana have outpaced the national average during his tenure as governor.... But here's what Jindal doesn't say: Louisiana's budget is hemorrhaging red ink, and it's getting worse. He inherited a $900 million surplus when he became governor seven years ago, and his administration's own budget documents now show the state is facing deficits of more than $1 billion for as far as the eye can see. There are no easy solutions today because Jindal has increasingly balanced the budget by resorting to one-time fixes, depleting the state's reserve funds and taking money meant for other purposes." ...

... Blame It on Bobby. Campbell Robertson of the New York Times: "... in the Louisiana capital, there is mostly one topic on everyone's mind these days...: the fiscal reckoning the state is facing for next year and perhaps for multiple budgets to come. 'Since I've been in Louisiana I've never seen a budget cycle as desperate as this one,' said Robert Travis Scott, the president of the Public Affairs Research Council, a nonpartisan group based in Baton Rouge. Louisiana's budget shortfall is projected to reach $1.6 billion next year and to remain in that ballpark for a while. The downturn in oil prices has undoubtedly worsened the problem, forcing midyear cuts to the current budget. But economists, policy experts and lawmakers of both parties, pointing out that next year's projected shortfall was well over a billion dollars even when oil prices were riding high, turn to a different culprit: the fiscal policy pushed by the Jindal administration and backed by the State Legislature.

The Vaccinatingest Govenor. Our vaccination rate in Texas [in 2000] was 65 percent. When I left two weeks ago, it was 95 percent. -- Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) February 5

The vaccination rate went up about 14 percent, not 50 percent, and it stalled in the last half of his tenure of governor. This doesn't quite rise to Four Pinocchios, but it's close. -- Glenn Kessler, Washington Post

Gail Collins: "Today, we're going to talk about 'God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,' Mike Huckabee's entry into the presidential book-writing sweepstakes. These tomes are going to be piling up soon, and remember: We read them so you don't have to."

Beyond the Beltway

Why join the Democratic Party and run for lieutenant governor? I'll tell you: We are all Mississippians first. Elected officials should be in the business of helping all Mississippians, not picking out who to hurt.... The Republican Party leaders' actions against supporting Medicaid expansion and threatening our local hospitals was the final, deciding factor for me. -- Former State Sen. Tim Johnson (R-Miss.) ...

... Not a Hoax. Steve Benen: Former GOP Mississippi State Sen. Tim Johnson is leaving the Republican party to become a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor to help get Mississippians access to the Medicaid extension funds. "Note, Mississippi is one of only three states that will hold statewide elections this year." ...

... Rachana Pradhan & Sarah Wheaton of Politico: "Wyoming has become yet another state where a Republican governor's effort to expand Medicaid has been defeated by his own Legislature. On Friday, the Wyoming Senate shot down Gov. Matt Mead's expansion plan, and a House committee then pulled its bill. The double whammy effectively killed the state's chances of enacting the Obamacare option this year."

The Up Side of Rape. Tara Culp-Ressler of Think Progress: In a tweet, West Virginia Del. Brian Kurcaba (R) said "that abortion bans shouldn't have exceptions for women who became pregnant from sexual assault because 'what is beautiful is the child that could come from this.'... Kurcaba ... made the comments -- which were first reported by Charleston Gazette staffer David Gutman -- during a public hearing on Thursday. A health committee in the legislature was debating a proposed 20-week abortion ban. Kurcaba was explaining why he opposed a Democratic-sponsored amendment to add an exception for rape victims."

News Ledes

Slate: "With wind chills as low as 12 below zero Fahrenheit in Boston, Friday was one of the coldest mornings in New England history. At this rate, Bostonians can only cherish their few unfrozen tears, because winter's fury isn't leaving anytime soon. Friday's bone-chilling cold will kick off another brutal stretch of winter weather for New England, which just endured its snowiest week in history -- with four feet in 10 days in Boston.... That's a year's worth of snow just since late January."

New York Times: "Lizabeth Scott, a sultry blonde with a come-hither voice cut out for the seething romantic and homicidal passions of her Hollywood film noir roles in the late 1940s and early '50s, died on Jan. 31 in Los Angeles. She was 92."

New York Times: "André Brink, a towering South African literary presence for decades whose work in English and Afrikaans fell afoul of apartheid-era censors, died Friday, South African news reports said, citing his publisher, N.B. Publishers. He was 79."


The Commentariat -- February 6, 2015

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "Now that they control both houses of Congress, Republicans are beginning to learn the limits of their newfound power. For the third day in a row, Senate Republicans called a vote on a bill to keep the Department of Homeland Security funded. And for the third time, it failed to clear a Democratic filibuster.... The tactics that had served them well when they were in the minority were now being effectively exploited against them. Democrats were gleeful as, one by one, they flashed thumbs down to the Senate clerks and recorded their no votes.... [Republicans] promised voters positive movement when they crushed Democrats in the midterm elections. So far, inertia has prevailed." CW: Stupidest Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), explains why it's all Obama's fault. ...

... Burgess Everett & Jake Sherman of Politico: "Three weeks before the Department of Homeland Security's funding runs out, Congress is skipping town for a long weekend -- and GOP leaders in both chambers are pointing fingers at each other on who must find a way out of the logjam. Some on the Hill are predicting a 'prolonged fight' that may drag on even after the Feb. 27 funding deadline -- a date that Republican leaders insisted on setting but have no clue how to meet.... Meanwhile, neither the House nor Senate will vote on Friday, and they both plan to be in recess the entire week of Feb. 16."

Jason Millman of the Washington Post: "The GOP [healthcare] plan outlined by congressional aides Wednesday is similar to on that the senators offered last year, which the GOP never united around.... There's no actual timetable yet for when lawmakers could write a bill or hold hearings on the plan, and it's unlikely to move ahead of the Supreme Court's decision on subsidies in the King v. Burwell case." CW: As I've read elsewhere, Republicans have made no attempt to ask the CBO to "score" the "plan" because there really isn't any more that a rough outline, with no clue as to how it might be funded, so the "plan" gives the CBO nothing to score. ...

     ... Update: I may be wrong about the CBO's ability to score the Burr plan. Jeffrey Young & Jonathan Cohn of the Huffington Post suggest the CBO could plug the "plan" into its forecasting model. Young & Cohn's piece outlines the likely effects of this latest fake plan, should it be implemented. ...

... Scott Lemieux of LG&M: "Congressional Republicans are claiming to have a plan to replace the ACA. It is, first of all, not a 'plan' in the sense that Republicans have the slightest intention of enacting it. The point is to not to make health care policy but to give an excuse for five judges who may be ready to embrace absurd legal arguments to strip millions of people of their health insurance, and perhaps fool a few more gullible rubes into thinking the Republicans actually have an alternative to the ACA. In addition, this plan is not really 'new'; it's only a very minor variation from last year's Burr-Hatch-Upton Potemkin proposal. Which means that on the one hand it would ensure many fewer people, and on the other hand involve substantial middle class tax increases and utterly savage attacks on the poor...." ...

... A ruse, Scott? An excuse to cover the Supremes? How could you suggest that? ...

... Peter Sullivan of the Hill: "Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Thursday that Republicans might not be able to pass an alternative to ObamaCare until 2017.... Appearing ... on Fox News's 'Special Report with Bret Baier,' Burr said no single idea is likely to generate consensus. 'I don't think so,' he said. 'I think that there are going to be a lot of ideas not only in Congress but around the think tanks here in Washington and around the country.'" CW: Republicans have been "thinking about" a replacement for ObamaCare since Obama signed the ACA into law in 2010. They're going to keep "thinking" till the end of time. ...

... Jennifer Haberkorn: David M.King, 64, is the lead plaintiff on the Supreme Court case that challenges the government's right to grant tax subsidies to millions of Americans.... [He] isn't shy about telling the world that he thinks the president is an 'idiot,' posting altered images of the first lady in Middle Eastern clothing and expressing his hatred for the 'Democraps' who enacted the health care law.... He is skeptical of the media -- offering to let a reporter in only to 'get the chill off' a cold February morning -- and wouldn't discuss the origins of his case." CW: King will be eligible for Medicare next year.

Let No Good Prayer Go Unpunished. John Amato of Crooks & Liars: Wingers go crazy over President Obama's mention, at Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast, of the atrocities of the Christian crusades. ...

     ... Here's a Red State headline, which Amato linked: "Obama uses National Prayer Breakfast to compare Christianity to ISIS." And this one from Hot Air: "Obama: You know, Christians were just as bad as ISIS a few centuries ago." ...

     ... Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post finds more confederates who can't handle the truth. ...

     ... AND Steve M. finds more (because they just keep coming). Steve notes that, contra a wingnut claim, President Lincoln (or so the story goes) mightily questioned the notion of American exceptionalism -- and at the height of the American Civil War. ...

     ... Here are President Obama's full remarks at the breakfast. Very little in it about the brutal Simon de Montfort & his horrifying Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars. Such a disappointment.

German Lopez of Vox: "The federal government considers marijuana to have no medical value. But US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Wednesday said 'marijuana can be helpful' for some medical conditions and symptoms. And it seems like this wasn't a slip-up: the US Department of Health and Human Services appears to be promoting the comments on Twitter.... This is a big deal. In the past, these types of positive comments about pot have been walked back by public officials." ...

... Ezra Klein on the War on Pot:

A Win-Win Company Policy. James Surowiecki of the New Yorker: "... last month, Aetna's C.E.O., Mark Bertolini, announced that the company's lowest-paid workers would get a substantial raise -- from twelve to sixteen dollars an hour, in some cases -- as well as improved medical coverage. Bertolini ... said that it was not 'fair' for employees of a Fortune 50 company to be struggling to make ends meet. He explicitly linked the decision to the broader debate about inequality, mentioning that he had given copies of Thomas Piketty's 'Capital in the Twenty-first Century' to all his top executives. 'Companies are not just money-making machines,' he told me last week. 'For the good of the social order, these are the kinds of investments we should be willing to make.'" Read the whole post. Thanks to Victoria D. for the link.

Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post: Sony co-CEO Amy Pascal's "extraordinary rise ended Thursday as Sony Pictures Entertainment announced Pascal was stepping down as co-chair of the major studio, months after she endured a prolonged public relations disaster when hacked private e-mails showed her making racially charged jokes about the president."

He had, they said, tasted in succession all the apples of the tree of knowledge, and, whether from hunger or disgust, had ended by tasting the forbidden fruit. ― Victor Hugo, em> The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, description of Claude Frollo

... AP: "Harvard University has instituted a total ban on professors having sex with undergraduate students, strengthening language the school said did not reflect the faculty's expectations on appropriate relationships between students and faculty members. In a statement released Thursday, Harvard said the change came as part of a formal review of its Title IX policy, the federal civil rights law prohibiting sex discrimination in education." CW: Good luck with that!

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed: "A controversial professor on Wednesday revealed that Marquette University is trying to revoke his tenure and fire him for statements he made about a graduate instructor, with her name, on his blog. The university says his behavior was unprofessional and that he misled the public about what happened in a dispute between the graduate instructor and an undergraduate student. The professor, John McAdams, says he is being punished for his free speech. He also maintains that Marquette shouldn't be attacking him, given that he is defending an undergraduate's views against gay marriage that are consistent with Roman Catholic teachings. (Marquette is a Jesuit university.)" ...

... Scott Lemieux in LG&M: "The clause that Marquette is using to justify the firing -- 'should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others' -- would render academic freedom a nullity."

Tim Egan: "To understand how [fake dietary supplements are marketed in the U.S.], you have to go back to 1994, when Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah midwifed through Congress a new industry protected from all but minimal regulation. It is also an industry that would make many of his closest associates and family members rich. In turn, they've rewarded him with sizable campaign contributions." CW: Diogenes would come away shaking his head in disbelief after the trip through the halls of Congress.

Now for the Finger-Pointing. Dan Williams of Reuters: "A senior Israeli official suggested on Friday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been misled [by House Speaker John Boehner] into thinking an invitation to address the U.S. Congress on Iran next month was fully supported by the Democrats.... 'It appears that the speaker of Congress made a move, in which we trusted, but which it ultimately became clear was a one sided move and not a move by both sides,' Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told 102 FM Tel Aviv Radio on Friday." ...

     ... CW: Mind you, I don't buy this phony excuse for a minute. Because of this: New York Times (January 28): Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron "Dermer relayed the invitation to Mr. Netanyahu from Mr. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, without notifying top officials in Washington or Jerusalem. American and Israeli officials said that Mr. Dermer, in the course of a lengthy meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry just before Mr. Netanyahu’s speech was announced, never mentioned it."

Annals of "Journalism," Fog-of-War Edition

Brian Williams' Memoir Will Be Fabulous!

Margaret Hartmann of New York: Brian Williams' "stories about Hurricane Katrina have also come into question. Over the years, Williams has described seeing a body float by his hotel in the French Quarter, though the area was not heavily flooded like the rest of New Orleans, and made some other strange claims about his time reporting on the storm.... It does seem that the story about the body has shifted over the years." And more. It seems Williams "conflates" his stories on a regular basis & "misremembers" quite a bit. As Hartmann points out, Williams' coverage of the Katrina catastrophe is an important component of his career. CW: If his Katrina fame flames, too, he's just another guy in a bar telling war stories. ...

... John Simerman of the New Orleans Advocate covers much of the same ground Hartmann explores.

Emily Smith & Kenneth Garger of the New York Post: Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw "is furious that Brian Williams is still in the anchor chair after he sheepishly admitted he hadn't traveled on a helicopter hit by enemy fire. 'Brokaw wants Williams' head on a platter,' an NBC source said. "... a lesser journalist or producer would have been immediately fired or suspended for a false report.'" CW: Two things about this report: (1) It comes from the New York Post's gossip page; (2) Who gives a damn what Tom Brokaw thinks?

Jonathan Mahler of the New York Times: "On Thursday, [NBC News anchor Brian Williams'] real problems started. A host of military veterans and commentators came forward on television and social media, challenging Mr. Williams's assertion that he had made an innocent mistake when he spoke, on several occasions, about having been in a United States military helicopter that was forced down by enemy fire in Iraq in 2003. Some went so far as to call for his resignation. In his apology, Mr. Williams said that he had been on a different helicopter, behind the one that had sustained fire, and that he had inadvertently 'conflated' the two. The explanation earned him not only widespread criticism on radio and TV talk shows, but widespread ridicule on Twitter, under the hashtag BrianWilliamsMisremembers.... Mr. Williams just extended his contract with NBC in December, with terms reported to be as much as $10 million a year for as long as five years. At the time, Deborah M. Turness, the head of NBC News, called him one of 'the most trusted journalists of our time.'"

Brian Stelter of CNN: "If NBC and Brian Williams believed a Facebook post and an on-air apology were enough, they were wrong.... The executives in charge of the news division have declined to comment, perhaps out of a reluctance to advance the story. And following his apology on Wednesday, Williams said nothing more about it on his Thursday night newscast." ...

     ... HOWEVER, Jake Tapper talked to Rich Krell, the pilot of the helicopter in which Williams was riding, & Krell partially backs Williams' story. As Stelter reports, "Rich Krell, who was piloting the Chinook that Williams was on, tells a different story than the crew members who spoke to Stars and Stripes. Some of things he's said are not true. But some of the things they're saying against him are not true either,' said Krell.... All three of the helicopters were hit by small arms fire, Krell said, supporting Williams' past claims about that."

... Al Tompkins of Poynter summarizes Krell's remarks. This is key: "Krell told CNN the chopper was not 'crippled' even after being hit by a few rounds of gunfire. The small arms fire caused damage to the chopper's equipment but not enough to force an emergency landing. Krell said he landed in the desert because of an approaching sandstorm. Krell said it was right for Williams to apologize for saying wrongly that his chopper was hit by an RPG. But the other details of the story, he said, were correct." ...

... ON THE OTHER HAND. Travis Tritten of Stars & Stripes: "Krell’s version was at odds with the recollections of both [David] Luke [-- a ... flight engineer ... who was aboard a helicopter flying along with the one carrying Williams and his NBC crew --] and Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, who was the flight engineer on the aircraft carrying Williams and his crew. Miller and Luke insisted separately that aircraft in their formation did not take ground fire that day and landed in Iraq only because of the sandstorm, which paralyzed coalition operations for days. 'No, we never came under direct enemy fire to the aircraft,' Miller told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday."

Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times: "It may take 10 years to earn it, but trust in news anchors can be shaken in less than 10 minutes.... A public apology is just the first step, and Mr. Williams's mea culpa wasn't very humble. He made his fib sound like a one-time misguided effort to pay homage to veterans.... Those puffy NBC promos that tout Mr. Williams's 'battle scars' and 'integrity' don't help."

Rem Reider of USA Today: "Williams still doesn't get it. Being called out by the vets on Facebook, and the reporting by Travis Tritten of Stars and Stripes, have changed everything. When you are nailed like this, you need a forthright mea culpa, not lawyerly parsing of words. But it's doubtful even that would help, particularly now."

Erik Wemple of the Washington Post: "Why did it take pushback from 'some brave men and women in the air crews.'...? Do these folks have to fight our wars and fact-check NBC News?... The fact that [NBC News] personnel aside from Williams knew that his statements on these events were erroneous should prompt an internal probe as to how these falsehoods circulated so freely."

Andy Borowitz has a list Brian Williams' tales of harrowing experiences which the fact-checking department at NBC News has verified. Here's one of them: "In May of 2011, the elevator in my building suffered an equipment malfunction en route to my penthouse. I was stuck talking to a tax attorney for seven minutes before I was rescued."

We should take care before assuming deliberate deception here. As a memory researcher, I find it credible that Brian Williams had a genuine memory error. We all gradually change narratives about the past in a way that is not deliberate, but because we are under less scrutiny than national journalists, we never realize all the memory errors we make. -- Memory Expert Lawrence Patihis

A Lovely Story of "Misremembering":

Schocking Red, Day 2. Jeff Zeleny
interviews Rep. Aaron Schock [R-Ill.] about his lovely offices. Schock, contra reports yesterday, says he will be paying his decorator for her "Downton Abbey" salon knockoff:

...Katie Zavadski of New York: "... Benjamin Cole -- the aide who reprimanded a Washington Post reporter for capturing the period-drama-inspired office -- has resigned after ... ThinkProgress" found that in posts on his Facebook page, "Cole compared black people to escaped zoo animals.... 'I am extremely disappointed by the inexcusable and offensive online comments made by a member of my staff,' Schock said in a statement about the resignation to the Journal Star. 'I would expect better from any member of my team. Upon learning about them I met with Mr. Cole and he offered his resignation which I have accepted.'"

Paul Krugman, Short Version: "Germany to Greece: Nice banking system you got there. Be a shame if something were to happen to it. Greece to Germany: Oh, yeah? Well, we'd hate to see your nice, shiny European Union get all banged up."

Eve Fairbanks in the New Republic on the presidency of Uruguay's José Mujica. A good story to read -- all the way to the end.

Presidential Race

** Matt Yglesias of Vox: "Launching his not-quite-a-presidential-campaign in Detroit this week, Jeb Bush delivered what I think would be an incredible speech for a job that doesn't actually exist. Call it 'Mayor of America.' What Jeb didn't do was offer a speech that suggests he'd be a good president, or is even aware of what the president's job is.... It's crucial to recognize that in the United States, the federal government does not operate as a scaled-up version of a state or local government. The federal government is an insurance company with an army....They also tax differently. State and local governments collect regressive sales and property taxes, while the federal government collects progressive income taxes." ...

     ... CW: Read the whole post. In it, Yglesias explains as much about Congressional Republicans as he does about Jeb Bush. They think small; they think local. Ergo, they don't actually know how to govern a nation. Yglesias also helps explain why Republicans, especially, get away with fooling voters: voters think locally, too. Guided by shortsighted Republicans (and too many Democrats, including, on occasion our current POTUS), they accept their households & their communities as metaphors for a federal government which actually has quite different functions. ...

Brian Beutler: The difference between Jeb Bush & Scott Walker is rhetorical style. Both Bush & Walker "... see the country's economic challenges almost identically. To the extent that Bush believes inequality is a problem, he revealed on Wednesday that he has no intention of alleviating it by using federal power to distribute income downward, and, like Walker, he believes that the biggest structural force driving inequality is dependence on government."

Former Bushie Michael Gerson: "It has become the Rand Paul pattern: A few weeks paddling vigorously in the mainstream, followed by a lapse into authenticity, followed by transparent damage control, followed by churlishness toward anyone in the media who notices.... When Chris Christie commits a gaffe on vaccination and reverses himself, it indicates a man out of his depth. With Paul, it reveals the unexplored depths of a highly ideological and conspiratorial worldview.... While many prospective presidential candidates seek catchier ways to express their political philosophy, Paul must take pains to conceal the ambition of his ideals.... It is a difficult position for a candidate when every glimmer of authenticity is a potential blunder.... For all its flaws of length and cost, a presidential campaign strips away pose and pretense. And that is a particular problem for Rand Paul."

Claude Brodesser-Akner in "The reviews are in on Gov. Chris Christie's trip to the United Kingdom, and they are not good. 'I think the trip was an utter failure,' said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian.... 'It should have been a trip of "good behavior" instead of showing a short fuse, because by any time an American leader goes abroad, there's a diplomatic nature to the trip.' Brinkley said Christie then revealed a lack of control when he snarled at a Washington Post reporter who pressed him on the West's response to ISIS, 'Is there something you don't understand about "No questions"?'" ...

... Josh Margolin & Shushannah Walshe of ABC News: "Federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as well as members of his administration, a man at the center of the investigation told ABC News. The U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey has interviewed former Hunterdon County Assistant Prosecutor Bennett Barlyn, who claims he was fired because he objected to Christie officials dismissing indictments against political allies of the governor. Barlyn confirmed the investigation to ABC News." ...

... Lillian Shupe of the Hunterdon County Democrat has more. (The HCD is a weekly newspaper, not an organ of the Democratic party.)

Beyond the Beltway

AP: "The Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco has ... demand[ed] teachers lead their public and professional lives consistently with church teachings on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, birth control and other behaviours he describes as evil. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone plans to include the language in next year's faculty handbooks for four high schools owned and operated by the archdiocese.... Cordileone ... has proposed that the contract being negotiated identify all school employees as ministers of the church, a change gay rights groups said would put teachers who do not adhere to the beliefs in the handbook at risk of dismissal. The US supreme court has exempted churches and religious schools from having to abide by federal anti-discrimination laws for employees in 'ministerial roles'." Cordileone was a prime mover of Prop 8, the temporarily successful effort to outlaw same-sex marriage in California.

Tanzina Vega of the New York Times: "Malcolm A. Smith, the former majority leader of the New York State Senate, was convicted on Thursday of federal corruption charges including bribery, wire fraud and extortion. Mr. Smith, 57, a Democrat from Queens, had been accused of conspiring to pay Daniel J. Halloran III, a former Republican city councilman from Queens, and three Republican county leaders ... thousands of dollars in an effort to run for mayor of New York City on the Republican ballot in 2013."

News Ledes

Politico: "Mississippi Republican Rep. Alan Nunnelee has died from complications related to a brain tumor, his family announced on Friday. The Republican was diagnosed with cancer in May and was sent to home hospice last month after doctors discovered a second, untreatable tumor in his brain."

New York Times: "With fighting intensifying in eastern Ukraine and the White House weighing whether to send arms to bolster the government's forces, Western leaders embarked on a concerted diplomatic effort on Thursday aimed at ending a conflict that has strained relations with Russia."

Bloomberg News: "Employers in the U.S. added more jobs than forecast in January, capping the biggest three-month gain in 17 years, and workers' earnings jumped."

Washington Post: "Hackers gained access to the private data of 80 million former and current members and employees of Anthem in one of the largest medical-related cyber-intrusions in history. Authorities said the breach, which was discovered late last month and disclosed this week, did not involve private health records or credit card numbers but did expose Social Security numbers, income data, birthdays, and street and e-mail addresses. Investigators suspect Chinese hackers may be responsible for the breach, according to a person briefed on some aspects of the probe. There are also some indications that other health-care companies may have been targeted...."

Guardian: "Mass surveillance of the internet by the British monitoring agency GCHQ was unlawful until the end of last year, the UK's most secretive court has ruled. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled on Friday that the agency's access to intercepted information obtained by the US National Security Agency (NSA) breached human rights law."

Guardian: "The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, could be removed from office as early as next week after facing a revolt from within his own party. A backbench MP from Abbott's governing Liberal party announced on Friday that he would be moving a motion to have the leadership declared open. The move followed a series of mis-steps and political blunders by the prime minster, including the decision to award a knighthood to Prince Philip on Australia Day."


The Commentariat -- February 5, 2015

Nedra Pickler of the AP: "President Barack Obama condemned those who seek to use religion as a rationale for carrying out violence around the world, declaring Thursday that 'no god condones terror.' 'We are summoned to push back against those who would distort our religion for their nihilistic ends,' Obama said during remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.... Among those attending the annual gathering of politicians, dignitaries and faith leaders was the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. As with the Dalai Lama's past visits to Washington, his attendance at Thursday's breakfast drew criticism from Beijing...."

Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler in Wired: "After more than a decade of debate and a record-setting proceeding that attracted nearly 4 million public comments, the time to settle the Net Neutrality question has arrived. This week, I will circulate to the members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new rules to preserve the internet as an open platform for innovation and free expression. This proposal is rooted in long-standing regulatory principles, marketplace experience, and public input received over the last several months." ...

... Brian Fung of the Washington Post: "The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday proposed the 'strongest open Internet protections' the Web has ever seen. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said by placing broadband Internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon Wireless under a stricter regulatory regime, consumers would be ensured an open Internet. Under the new regime, broadband providers would be explicitly banned from blocking content or creating fast lanes for Web services that can pay for preferential treatment into American homes.... The proposed rules are much more aggressive than many had initially predicted. Just a few months ago, Wheeler appeared ready to side with cable providers. But after much prodding, including protests in his driveway and a public plea from President Obama, Wheeler said Wednesday that the industry needs strong oversight."

... Evan McMorris-Santoro of BuzzFeed: "The trade group representing the nation's biggest technology firms moved quickly to get behind proposed Net Neutrality rules announced by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday. The new rules, proposed by FCC Chair Tom Wheeler in a Wired op-ed, would regulate internet service providers like a utility, giving the government broad regulatory powers to ensure ISPs don't create preferred pathways for some websites while chocking off access to others." ...

... Joan McCarter of Daily Kos: "We spoke. He listened."

Craig Whitlock & Missy Ryan of the Washington Post: "Ashton B. Carter, President Obama's choice to become the next secretary of defense, promised lawmakers Wednesday that he would keep an independent voice and showed a willingness to differ with the White House over its strategy in several global hot spots. Carter, 60, a physicist who has held several senior posts at the Pentagon dating to the Carter administration, said he was 'very much inclined' to provide arms to Ukraine, would be open to reviewing U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan and would be cautious about releasing prisoners from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- in each case potentially putting him at odds with Obama." ...

... Dana Milbank: "Ashton Carter, President Obama's nominee to be the next defense secretary, gave the Senate Armed Services Committee every indication Wednesday that he would be a hard-liner at the Pentagon and a strong counterweight to administration doves -- and conservatives on the panel were besotted.... Carter's sweet nothings were just what the hawks wanted to hear. But will he break their hearts like all the ones before him?" Milbank argues that he will.

Dan Mangan of CNBC: "More than 10 million people have selected Obamacare insurance plans or been automatically re-enrolled in existing plans, with just 11 days of open enrollment in health coverage remaining this season, according to official data released Wednesday." ...

... If You Don't Like ObamaCare, Here Are Some Worse Ideas. Robert Pear of the New York Times: "Three influential Republican members of Congress unveiled a comprehensive proposal on Wednesday to replace President Obama's health care overhaul with an alternative that would halt the expansion of Medicaid and scale back subsidies for middle-income people to buy private insurance. The plan, drafted with encouragement from Republican leaders in the Senate and the House, would retain some consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act, but would reduce federal regulation of insurance policies. States would have more authority to specify the 'essential health benefits' that must be provided by insurance. As an example, the federal government would no longer require insurance policies to include coverage for maternity care. The proposal was devised by Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the chairman of the Finance Committee; Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee; and Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, a member of the Finance and Health committees." ...

... ** "Read the Briefs." Linda Greenhouse on King v. Burwell, which poses a statutory, not a constitutional challenge: "The court has permitted itself to be recruited into the front lines of a partisan war. Not only the Affordable Care Act but the court itself is in peril as a result.... The fate of the statute ... hangs in the balance today, but I mean more than that. This time, so does the honor of the Supreme Court." ...

... ** CW: In trying to psyche out John Roberts, as we do every time the Court takes on a case that matters to us, here's one possible motive that I don't believe anyone has considered: his purpose in King could be to do exactly what Greenhouse argues the justices must: preserve the honor of the Court. Roberts like 9-0 decisions; they demonstrate that he has gathered his flock of quasi-liberals & full-blown loons into one happy brood. Ergo, it is not inconceivable that (a) Roberts is using King as a high-stakes, high-publicity case to show he is a master of consensus-building; (b) the Court is using King to send a signal to flamethrowers of every persuasion that they should quit clogging the courts with nonsense; (c) we'll get a 9-0 decision in favor of the government. Indeed, I'll make that my far-out prediction. I'm not dumb enough to put money on it. Readers have every right, needless to say, to mock my starry-eyed optimism if the Supremes rule for the plaintiffs. On the other hand, if I turn out to be right -- or close to right (think Alito, Thomas) -- you're permitted to register kudos. ...

... Paul Waldman: on the Not-Ready-for-Primetime Players: "... after six years of waiting for the moment they'd take complete control, you'd think [Republicans would] have some kind of plan. If they do, it's hard to discern how it's supposed to work. Every conflict they have with the president only seems to make them look worse, and they seem to be lurching from day to day with no idea how to do anything but fall on their faces." ...

... Rachana Pradhan of Politico: Tennessee Gov. "Bill Haslam's [R] alternative plan to expand Medicaid under Obamacare was dealt a devastating blow on Wednesday, when a Senate panel rejected it on the third day of a legislative special session called solely for that issue. Tennessee was widely seen as the next Republican state that could expand Medicaid under Obamacare, with Haslam negotiating with federal officials for months on an approach that included conservative policy elements. But Insure Tennessee always faced significant obstacles in getting legislative approval, and it was killed even though hospitals had agreed to cover the state's share of the costs."

Edward-Isaac Dovere, et al., of Politico: "The combustible, complicated dynamics of American and Israeli politics collided Wednesday on Capitol Hill, with Democrats and Republicans holding separate meetings with Israeli representatives while addressing the fallout from the deepening tension between leaders of the two nations." ...

... Jim Fallows of the Atlantic, after revisiting the unprecedented treachery of John Boehner's invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu, writes, "The Israeli prime minister argues that the world of 2015 is fundamentally similar to that of 1938. Americans can give him a hearing, and then pursue a more reasonable policy based on less far-fetched comparisons."

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia with President George W. Bush, April 2005.Carl Hulse of the New York Times: "... new claims by Zacarias Moussaoui, a convicted former member of Al Qaeda, that he had high-level contact with officials of the Saudi Arabian government in the prelude to Sept. 11 have brought renewed attention to the [9/11 Commission]'s withheld findings, which lawmakers and relatives of those killed in the attacks have tried unsuccessfully to declassify.... White House officials say the administration has undertaken a review on whether to release the pages but has no timetable for when they might be made public.... Former Senator Bob Graham of Florida..., as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee was a leader of the [9/11] inquiry. He has called for the release of the report's Part 4, which dealt with Saudi Arabia, since President George W. Bush ordered it classified when the rest of the report was released in December 2002."

Annals of "Journalism," Bullshit Edition. Travis Tritten of Stars & Stripes: "NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a false claim that has been repeated by the network for years. Williams repeated the claim Friday during NBC's coverage of a public tribute at a New York Rangers hockey game for a retired soldier that had provided ground security for the grounded helicopters, a game to which Williams accompanied him.... The admission came after crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment's Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire told Stars and Stripes that the NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire. Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter.... 'I would not have chosen to make this mistake,' Williams said. 'I don't know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.'" ...

... CW: Yeah, me neither, Brian. Bet you were with Hillary Clinton when she & her party had to dodge sniper bullets in Bosnia, too. Williams had colleagues who died in Iraq, for Pete's sake. Did he really have to make up a story of his heroism? ...

... Here's the Washington Post story, by Paul Farhi, which is comprehensive. ...

... Hadas Gold & Dylan Byers of Politico: "On Friday night's broadcast, Williams cited 'a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG. Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.' One crew member responded to the story on Facebook the following day, writing to Williams, 'Sorry dude, I don't remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened.'... On Facebook, Williams ... apologized to the members of the crew." ...

... Lloyd Grove of the Daily Beast has a good post on the implications of Williams' fake war story. "The Brian Williams Apology Tour has begun...." ...

** NEW. Wherein Driftglass explains Glenn Greenwald's MO.

Nicky Wolfe of the Guardian: "Fox News has chosen to embed on its website the video of Islamic State burning a hostage to death, a move which makes them the only US media organisation to broadcast the video in full. The extremely graphic 22-minute video shows Muadh al-Kasasbeh, a Jordanian pilot, being set on fire and burned to death in a cage. Fox News did not post the videos of the killings of previous Isis hostages, and no other media company has hosted this video.... On Twitter, accounts associated with Isis supporters are sharing the video via the links to the Fox News site.... YouTube removed a link to the video a few hours after it was posted, and a spokesperson for Facebook told the Guardian that if anyone posted the video to the social networking site it would be taken down.... The television network's decision to host the footage drew criticism from terrorism analysts." ...

... Steve M.: "But Islamic State operatives also videotaped the executions of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Alan Henning, Peter Kassig, and Haruna Yukawa. Why didn't Fox solemnly declare the need to share those videos? I have to assume it's because those victims were all white, with the exception of Yukawa, who was Japanese.... [Fox] probably couldn't have handled outrage from the family of any of the white execution victims.... Fox presumes that Heartland America sees Muadh al-Kasasbeh as just some guy from the Middle East."

... Erik Wemple of the Washington Post: "Of all the networks, Fox News may stand to lose the most from any editorial decision believed to advance a terrorist agenda, given its hard-line audience that keeps coming back for denunciations of President Obama's alleged softness in this area."

Toni Clarke
of Reuters: "Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for almost six years has overseen public health initiatives ranging from tobacco control and food safety to personalized medicine and drug approvals, is stepping down, the agency said on Thursday."

Katie Zezima of the Washington Post: "Dan Pfeiffer, one of President Obama's closest and most trusted advisers, is leaving the White House within weeks. Pfeiffer is one of the president's longest-serving aides, having joined Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign. The White House said he will leave in early March." (See also the WashPo story linked under Presidential Race.) ...

... Juliet Eilperin & David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "The flurry of departures presents a challenge for the president, who has a limited window for action before the political center of gravity shifts toward the 2016 presidential campaign. The Pfeiffer departure means that nearly every member of the team who helped orchestrate Obama's rise to prominence has left the White House."

Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "Secret Service agents investigating the man who operated the drone that crashed on the White House lawn last week said they believed there was enough evidence to charge him with a crime, and they have presented the case to federal prosecutors, according to law enforcement officials. But the decision on whether to indict the man, Shawn Usman, has been a vexing one for the prosecutors because laws designed to protect the airspace around the White House were written for manned aircraft like planes, long before ... drones, became popular toys. There is also a question of whether Mr. Usman should face charges for something he contends happened because of a malfunction with the drone.... If the prosecutors decide against criminal charges, Mr. Usman may face civil charges from the Federal Aviation Administration." CW: Malfunction? I thought he was drunk.

Charles Pierce highlights an Indiana case which gives a glimpse into what the U.S. would be like post-Roe-v.-Wade, when abortion law would be "up to the states." CW: Let me just add that you can count on state prosecutors to bring cases in such a manner as to discriminate against the poor & minorities. Sweet little blonde upper-crusty girl? She made a "mistake." Poor young woman of color? She's a criminal.

Nicholas Kristof: 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist Bruce Jenner, who is apparently going through a cross-gender protocol which he will share in a television documentary, "seems to be preparing for a bold public mission involving something intensely personal, in a way that should open minds and hearts."

Rod Nordland & Anne Barnard of the New York Times: "There was one feeling that many of the Middle East's fractious clerics, competing ethnic groups and warring sects could agree on Wednesday: a shared sense of revulsion at the Islamic State's latest excess, its video showing a Jordanian pilot being burned alive inside a cage."

... Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) gets a schock when his decorator invites WashPo reporter Ben Terris into his "Downton Abbey"-inspired Congressional office, replete with "a drippy crystal chandelier, a table propped up by two eagles, a bust of Abraham Lincoln and massive arrangements of pheasant feathers." ...

... Evan Hurst of Wonkette: "... a New Development has occurred, because the interior decorator did that for free, and some liberals called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) have ... have gone and filed themselves an ethics complaint on the owner of Congress's sexy timiest Instagram account holder.... Ha ha ha, maybe if he would stop looking at his perfect body in the mirror for five seconds and read THE RULES, he would know that he is in direct violation of Congress's longstanding NO FREE SCONCES policy." And do read the snark in CREW's press release. It seems the Earl of Peoria has a history of violating the RULES & federal law. Thanks to Akhilleus for the links. ...

... CW: Oops! I would be remiss in failing to note that the Earl of Peoria there voted to defund public teevee, which, when it gets around to it, airs "Downtown Abbey" in these here United States. Also, I wonder at the wisdom of a red-blooded American Re-publican Congressman hiring a decorating establishment named "Euro Trash." Shouldn't the ladies have changed the name of their company to Mom's American Freedom Apple Pie or something before embarking on this (unpaid) commission?

Gail Collins looks for a positive moral in the film "American Sniper." I'd say that's putting a on it.

Alex Pareene, in Gawker, on that time Michael Bloomberg gave President Obama an unsolicited charm-school lesson.

Presidential Race

Juliet Eilperin, et al., of the Washington Post: "White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri will leave the administration this spring, according to individuals familiar with the decision, to serve as communications director for Hillary Rodham Clinton's likely presidential campaign.... Palmieri's departure comes the same day White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer announced he would leave in March."

The Cheese Stands Alone. Ben Kamisar of the Hill: "Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) holds a big lead among New Hampshire Republicans in the early primary state, drawing 21 percent support among likely voters in a poll by news network NH1 released Wednesday." Molotov, Scottie! ...

... Steve M.: "... there's a lot of effort going into the process of making Walker seem like the people's choice. And -- for now, at least -- it seems to be working." ...

... MEANWHILE, back in Wisconsin.... Scott Walker Can't Handle the "Search for Truth." Karen Herzog of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Scott Walker tries to limit the mission of the state's university system to jobs factory, then pretends it was a "drafting error," an excuse that Herzog disproves. CW: But never mind. Walker's fervent anti-intellectualism should be super-popular with the Cult-of-the-Stupid, a/k/a the Republican base. Fear of Thinking is a malignant gene that forever eats away at our national DNA.

Michael Bender of Bloomberg Politics: "Inside an expansive ballroom in one of America's most troubled cities [Detroit], Jeb Bush sketched a broad outline for his increasingly likely presidential campaign, saying the nation -- on the verge of another golden era -- could double its rate of economic growth and should welcome immigrants willing to embrace U.S. values." ...

     ... Philip Bump of the Washington Post: "In the first major policy speech of his basically-but-not-yet-formalized campaign for the Republican nomination in 2016, former Florida governor Jeb Bush established a very ambitious economic goal: 4 percent annual GDP growth. Over the last 30 years, that's been achieved seven times -- none of them under a president named 'Bush.'"

... Hey! A Compassionate Conservative! Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: "Jeb Bush used his first campaign-style speech on Wednesday to focus on the difficulties of low-income Americans, signaling that he intends to take a position on economic issues like income inequality that diverges with the approach traditionally championed by the Republican Party. Speaking in a city that was once synonymous with middle-class opportunity and stability but has been battered by the exodus of well-paying jobs, Mr. Bush framed the country's resurgent economy as a comeback for only the affluent." ...

... Alexandra Jaffe of CNN: "During a 'Family Reunion' conference hosted by the Hispanic Leadership Network in April 2013, Jeb Bush spoke freely on the promise immigrants hold for America and his views on reform. He said, during a discussion with Univision, that it was 'ridiculous' to think that DREAMers, children brought to the U.S. by their parents illegally, shouldn't have an 'accelerated path' to citizenship.... The comments Bush made several years ago weren't dealbreakers for him in a primary, multiple conservative operatives and lawmakers said." Other GOP operatives were far more negative. Jaffe provides multiple citations from the shocked & bewildered.

Frank Rich: "... Chris Christie was already a dead presidential candidate walking. So he doesn't have to worry about how his endorsement of 'choice' for vaccinations (but not for reproductive rights), or his previous public-health fiasco, incarcerating a nurse who'd treated Ebola patients, will play out in a national election. He's done. Rand Paul, on the other hand, has been a leading Republican contender, and he may have done himself serious political damage even within his own party ranks. The conservative columnist John Podhoretz has called Paul's musings on vaccinations among 'the most irresponsible remarks ever uttered by a major American politician." And more. ...

... Paul Waldman is pretty sure Rand Paul's past -- as his father's acolyte & surrogate -- is going to catch up with him. Waldman cites a case in which Paul the Younger was caught on tape espousing a crazy conspiracy theory that "they" were planning to build a "NAFTA superhighway" between Mexico & Canada, "the purpose of which is to unite the three countries in a single political entity known as the North American Union, under which American sovereignty will be lost and the dollar will be replaced with a currency known as the Amero." ...

... Well, There's This. Washington Free Beacon: "Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) said in& a 2009 interview with Alex Jones' InfoWars that mandatory vaccines for illnesses such as the swine flu could be an early step toward 'martial law,' and said the procedures have a long history of lethal side effects." CW: Remember, this guy is a medical doctor. ...

... CW: Also, too, he's not much of an arithmetician: He said in 2009 that "20 years ago my parents gave me smallpox vaccine." Paul was born in 1963. That would have made him about 26 years old when his parents got around to giving him the smallpox vaccination. This would, of course, have been after his becoming the Aqua Buddha. ...

... Jeremy Peters & Barry Meier of the New York Times have gotten around to highlighting Rand Paul's long association with the wacko Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which pushes theories -- including the link between vaccinations & various disabilities -- all rejected by research & mainstream doctors. Meanwhile, Dr. Randy invited "a New York Times reporter to accompany him to the Capitol physician's office to watch him receive a hepatitis A booster vaccination. During the visit, Mr. Paul said he believed that the science was definitive on the matter and that vaccines were not harmful. 'It just annoys me that I'm being characterized as someone who's against vaccines,' he said as he rolled up his T-shirt sleeve before the shot. 'That's not what I said. I said I've heard of people who've had vaccines, and they see a temporal association and they believe that.'" ...

... CW: Excuse me? Paul is an amazing liar. What he said -- two days ago -- was, "I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines." Dave Levitan of sets the record straight in USA Today. Read the whole post. Paul doesn't understand the purpose of the hepatitis B vaccine, either, & his advice on that, said pediatrics professor James Cherry "is stupid." Dangerous, too. ...

... ** David Fahrenthold & Tom Hamburger of the Washington Post look at Paul's missteps this week. Here's a bit of their report: "On the subject of vaccines, Paul struggled with what might be the first rule of presidential campaigning: try not to shoot yourself in the foot. And if you do, stop shooting.... After [his comments] raised a controversy, Paul reacted first with sarcasm: 'Well, I guess being for freedom would be really, uh, unusual? I guess I don't understand the point,' he said on CNBC.... Then he tried spin, saying he hadn't meant what he'd seemed to say about vaccines and mental disorders. Finally, he sought to play the victim. Paul posted a photo of himself getting a vaccine booster shot on Twitter, with a caption that included the line: 'Wonder how the liberal media will misreport this?' Paul's handling of the vaccine issue was one of several times recently where he seemed to struggle with the kind of high-pressure interactions that would become run-of-the-mill for a presidential candidate."

Beyond the Beltway

Jon Seidel of the Chicago Sun-Times on Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R-Ill.) state of the state address. CW: He sounds suspiciously like the governor of the state directly to the north of Illinois; i.e., a nasty piece of work. Fortunately, a Democratic legislature might not let him get away with much.

Nick Budnick of the Oregonian (Feb. 3): "Two longtime associates of Gov. John Kitzhaber [D] helped create jobs for first lady Cylvia Hayes with groups hoping to influence Oregon's state energy policy.... Hayes, the governor's fiancée, held the paying jobs even as her role inside Kitzhaber's office as an unpaid energy adviser geared up in 2011, her state calendar shows.... Greg Wolf, currently Kitzhaber's deputy chief of staff for field implementation, was key in creating [one] job [which paid Hayes $5,000 a month] and recommending Hayes for it just before he joined the administration.... Another paid her $118,000 over two years, a fellowship orchestrated by Dan Carol, a Kitzhaber campaign adviser. He joined Kitzhaber's staff the same month Hayes started collecting on her fellowship. Both arrangements involved foundations and organizations that had direct interests in influencing state policy in Oregon." ...

... Oregonian Editors: "John Kitzhaber must resign. 'I'm not going to consider resigning,' said Gov. John Kitzhaber at a disastrous press conference held Friday following revelations about the apparently borderless world of public policy and private gain in which he and fiancée Cylvia Hayes exist.... [Kitzhaber's] credibility has evaporated to such a degree that he can no longer serve effectively as governor. If he wants to serve his constituents he should resign.... The governor has not yet quibbled about the meaning of 'is,' but Friday's evasions were almost Clintonian."

No, you a USA citizen!.. Learn & understand the language!!!.

... Vermont Political Observer: When Vermont's Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning (R) received a letter from an 8th-grader suggesting the state adopt a Latin motto as well as its English-language one -- "Freedom and Unity" -- Benning thought it was a good idea & introduced a bill to adopt the Latin motto "Stella quarta decima fulgeat, English translation: "May the Fourteenth Star Shine Bright." But when Burlington station WCAX ran a feel-good story on Benning's move, angry stupid people didn't feel so good & protested on WCAX's Facebook page. Read some of their comments; nice to know there are plenty of idiots in blue Vermont. Thanks to P. D. Pepe for the lead.

News Ledes

Contributor MAG (today's Comments) & the Weather Channel Remind Us It's February. The Weather Channel forecasts "prolonged snow from Sunday through at least early Tuesday over a significant swath of the Northeast, in particular, much of New England, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey."

Reuters: "Health insurer Anthem Inc, which has nearly 40m US customers, said late on Wednesday that hackers had breached one of its IT systems and stolen personal information relating to current and former consumers and employees. The No. 2 health insurer in the United States said the breach did not appear to involve medical information or financial details such as credit card or bank account numbers."

AP: "Jordanian fighter jets have carried out new air strikes, the military said, a day after the country's king vowed to wage a harsh war against Islamic State (Isis) fighters who control parts of neighbouring Syria and Iraq. King Abdullah II pledged to step up the fight against Isis after the militants burned a captive Jordanian pilot to death in a cage and released a video of the killing. The images caused revulsion across the region. The army statement did not say which country was targeted."

New York Times: "With the White House weighing whether to send arms to Ukraine, Western nations intensified efforts Thursday to bring an end to the fighting. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President François Hollande of France are traveling to Kiev on Thursday to hold talks with President Petro O. Poroschenko of Ukraine, officials from the two countries said. On Friday, the German and French leaders are to continue to Moscow, where they are to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to discuss the situation in Ukraine. The German and French moves were announced as Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kiev for high-level talks. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. prepared for parallel consultations on Friday with European leaders in Brussels."


The Commentariat -- February 4, 2015

Marina Koren of the National Journal: "Like Loretta Lynch, Ashton Carter is not a controversial Obama administration cabinet nominee. And like Lynch, Carter presented himself as a partner to the Senate committee that will help determine whether he is confirmed as the country's 25th secretary of defense.... Members of the committee appeared to appreciate Carter's opening testimony, which focused on the need to combat terrorism abroad and end hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, to U.S. military funding.... But this confirmation hearing, like the one for Lynch for attorney general held last week, is not about Carter. It's about President Obama's handling of foreign policy in the late years of his presidency, and the Department of Defense that current secretary Chuck Hagel will leave behind."

Ashley Parker of the New York Times: "Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked Republicans from taking up a bill that would fund the Department of Homeland Security but roll back the President Obama's recent executive actions on immigration, setting up a showdown over the agency -- and the administration's immigration policies -- before money for the department runs out at the end of the month." ...

... Mike Lillis of the Hill: House "Republicans, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), are vowing to hold the line on tying funding for the Homeland Security Department to language reversing Obama's executive actions on immigration -- even after Senate Democrats blocked their bill from being considered in the upper chamber. 'There's not a Plan B, because this is the plan,' Scalise said minutes after the Senate vote, according to Fox News's Chad Pergram. Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) echoed that message, saying 'many of us agree that we should stand behind the one bill that we sent over there.' CW: Sure sounds like the House is threating a government shutdown."

Fifty-six: Let's see, that's two score and 16. It's 4.5 dozen. But no matter how you add it up, it has to be some sort of world record in political futility. -- Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) ...

... Dana Milbank: "In Tuesday's repeal effort by House Republicans -- their first of this Congress and their 56th overall -- it became clear that they had succeeded at one thing: They had bored even themselves into a slumber. For much of the debate Tuesday afternoon, no more than a dozen seats were occupied on the pro-repeal side of the House. More than once, the GOP had nobody available to speak.... Proponents of the law had the passion." ...

... Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times: The House's 56th vote to repeal ObamaCare Tuesday could have serious repercussions if the Supreme Court is paying any attention. If the Houses fails "to address in advance the consequences of the court's overturning ACA subsidies, a court majority may conclude that the consequences are just too dire, and uphold the subsidies." ...

... Never fear. The House is coming up with a plan this very minute:

"The House GOP's Most Awesomest Wish List For An Obamacare Replacement." Sahil Kapur of TPM: "House Republicans want a health care plan that lowers costs, covers pre-existing conditions, grows the number of insured and lets people keep their plans and doctors -- all while 'eliminating job-killing policies and regulations.' The extraordinary wish list is written into the House legislation to repeal Obamacare [passed Tuesday]. It's another sign of how far Republicans are from having a viable alternative to Obamacare even as they insist on it being repealed. The guidelines seem not to grapple with the difficult policy tradeoffs at play, such as raising spending versus letting Americans go uninsured or imposing mandates versus letting insurers refuse to cover sick people." ...

... CW: TPM tries to do serious reporting. It really does. But sometimes a writer just can't help but jot down "Most Awesomest Wish List." ...

... Robert Pear of the New York Times: "Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, acknowledged that 'there has not been a unified Republican position' on how to replace the health care law or respond if the Supreme Court upholds the challenge to subsidies in states using the federal insurance exchange.... If the Supreme Court rules in favor of plaintiffs challenging the subsidies -- a decision is expected this year -- 'it will destroy health insurance exchanges in 30-odd states in the blink of an eye,' Mr. Cole said...." (Emphasis added.)

... digby, in Salon: "With this week's insanity, it's time to call GOP's health care approach what it is: a death trap for the non-rich."

... Republican "Leaders" Are No Longer Pretending to Be Sane.

Zandar of Balloon Juice: "Newly minted North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis will see your ant-vaxxer nonsense and raise you the freedom from having to wash your hands....":

In Right Wing World, the Chef Will Piss in Your Soup. Brendan James of TPM: "In a week packed with news over concerns for public health, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) described his own history of opposing certain health and hygiene regulations, including those that require employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom." Thanks to Akhilleus for the lead:

... Digby: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the feces of patriots and tyrants." ...

... CW: It isn't often that New York Times editors weigh in on toilet practices, but the page's top dog couldn't help it today. ...

... Hunter of Daily Kos: "Thom Tillis is not, however, a true libertarian. He is a fraud, because he thinks maybe you should be able to serve food with occasional human feces on it so long as you post a sign somewhere saying so. That's not actually saving any regulation, that's just shifting the regulation from an anti-poop regulation to a poop-neutral regulation." ...

... Paul Waldman: "Sometimes, you have to put up with one onerous regulation -- mandating a posted sign -- to taste the sweet nectar of freedom -- not having to wash your hands between going to the bathroom and preparing food for others. This is the kind of nuanced understanding of liberty that only a tea party senator can offer to the country." ...

... CW: I shall be wanting Tillis's friend & colleague, the gentleman from Kentucky; to wit, Li'l Randy -- to weigh in on this. Tillis's support of awful offal in your coffee is the logical next step along the path of Paul's Freeedom Trail.

Edward-Issac Dovere & Jake Sherman of Politico: "Vice President Joe Biden won't commit to attending Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to a joint meeting of Congress next month. He's not the only one. Dozens of House Democrats are privately threatening to skip the March 3 address, according to lawmakers and aides, in what's become the lowest point of a relationship between the Israeli prime minister and President Barack Obama that's never been good.... 'We defer to Democratic members if they'd like to attend or not,' a White House aide said Tuesday." ...

... CW: Just Don't Go was my first visceral thought upon hearing of the Boehner-Netanyahu scheme. My second: Democratic MoCs won't have the guts. So we'll see.

We in the Democratic Party raised millions out of poverty into the middle class, and made them so comfortable they could become Republicans. -- the late Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill

... Ah, the Merely Affluent. Thomas Edsall: "Middle-class populism ... raises a host of problems for the Democratic Party. When the middle-class populist message is turned into actual legislative proposals, the costs, in the form of higher taxes, will be imposed on the affluent. Such a shift in the allocation of government resources threatens the loyalty of a crucial Democratic constituency: well-off socially liberal voters.... They are not eager to see their taxes raised.... If such a simple and straightforward proposal as the shift of government dollars from affluent families to far less advantaged families scraping to pay college tuition [the 529 college savings tax break] gets an instantaneous thumbs down from Pelosi, Schumer and Van Hollen, the realistic prospects for a middle-class agenda, if the Democrats return to power, are marginal at best."

William Baude, in a New York Times op-ed: The Supreme Court makes thousands of decisions every year that are issued in complete secrecy. "The court is in the spotlight more and more. Transparency in all its decisions is vital to its continued legitimacy."

Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post: "Judging from her e-mails, Jill Kelley was star-struck by the big-name military commanders rotating between the war zones in the Middle East and her home town of Tampa. And they were equally smitten with her.... Now, a glimpse into Kelley's relationship with military commanders has emerged from another, previously undisclosed batch of e-mails.... The Washington Post requested the e-mails in November 2012 under the Freedom of Information Act. More than two years later, after numerous unexplained delays, the Pentagon released 238 pages of heavily censored documents." ...

... CW: One does have to wonder what the government is censoring. If these are "innocent" e-mails between military personnel & a groupie, why would they contain any material -- other than perhaps references to others not involved in the scandal -- that had to be redacted for, um, national security reasons?

It Depends on What the Meaning of "Pandering" Is. Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Michael Calderone of the Huffington Post: Sarah Kliff of "Vox reported Monday afternoon that candidate Obama had 'pandered to anti-vaxxers in 2008' by questioning 'the validity of vaccines.'" Several other news outlets followed up with similar stories, even as other reporters were disproving the claim. But Ezra Klein of Vox is sticking to Kliff's misleading story. Kliff has updated her story. A little. But the "pandering" headline remains. ...

... CW: I get that reporters make mistakes, & Kliff was relying on Brendan Nyhan -- a reputable journalist as well as on an old (and shortly thereafter revised) Washington Post fact-check -- in issue her "pandering" charge. Other outlets tweaked their stories to get closer to the facts. Klein is embarrassing himself here by insisting Obama's willingness to be polite to a voter, while still disagreeing with him/her, amounted to "pandering."

Scott Shane of the New York Times: "In highly unusual testimony inside the federal supermax prison, a former operative for Al Qaeda has described prominent members of Saudi Arabia's royal family as major donors to the terrorist network in the late 1990s and claimed that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force One with a Stinger missile with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in Washington. The Qaeda member, Zacarias Moussaoui, has received a diagnosis of mental illness but was found competent to stand trial on terrorism charges. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2006 and is held in the most secure prison in the federal system, in Florence, Colo.... In a statement Monday night, the Saudi Embassy noted that the national Sept. 11 commission had rejected allegations that the Saudi government or Saudi officials had funded Al Qaeda."

The "Urban" Vote. Annie Karni & Celeste Katz of the New York Daily News: "President Obama was shocked and irritated by Mitt Romney's concession call in the 2012 presidential election and claimed Romney insinuated that Obama won only by getting out the black vote, according to a new book by presidential campaign strategist David Axelrod. Obama was 'unsmiling during the call, and slightly irritated when it was over,' Axelrod writes. The president hung up and said Romney admitted he was surprised at his own loss, Axelrod wrote. "'You really did a great job of getting the vote out in places like Cleveland and Milwaukee,' in other words, black people,'" Obama said, paraphrasing Romney. 'That's what he thinks this was all about.'" Romney is white. CW: He probably still thinks he lost the election to those free ObamaPhones.

Eliza Berman of Time: "Fifty years ago, the debate centered not on whether to vaccinate babies, but whether a pregnant woman infected with the virus should be able to decide whether to have the baby in the first place.... A growing movement calling for legalized abortion would declare victory with Roe v. Wade eight years later, but until then, women seeking abortions would either be denied or undergo the procedure in secrecy. A small number of doctors, however, chose to deliberately defy the law and perform abortions on women whose fetuses had been exposed to the German measles, also known as rubella." Thanks to Julie for the link. ...

... A great commentary by Akhilleus in today's thread on the libertarian's fetish for "freedom" to flout good public health practices.

Ishan Taroor of the Washington Post: "There's no Western statesmen -- at least in the English-speaking world -- more routinely lionized than Winston Churchill. Last Friday marked a half century since his funeral.... But there's another side to Churchill's politics and career that should not be forgotten amid the endless parade of eulogies. To many outside the West, he remains a grotesque racist and a stubborn imperialist, forever on the wrong side of history. Churchill's detractors point to his well-documented bigotry, articulated often with shocking callousness and contempt.... Churchill's racism was wrapped up in his Tory zeal for empire.... As a junior member of parliament, Churchill had cheered on Britain's plan for more conquests, insisting that its 'Aryan stock is bound to triumph.'" Read the whole article.

Presidential Race

The Anointed One. Part of me looks back and thinks that maybe God put me and my family through [union-bashing, leading to claimed death threats against him] all this for a purpose - and it wasn't just to get things done in Wisconsin, and it wasn't just to win all those elections in a state that normally doesn't go Republican. Maybe it was to set us to ... help get our country on the right track. -- Gov. Scott Walker, in an Iowa conference call Tuesday

... Ed Kilgore: "Walker's getting into a real groove in using the 'death threats' he and his family supposedly received as a sign of the martyrdom -- a sort of stigmata -- Christian conservatives are expected to confess these days. Sarah Palin couldn't do it better." ...

... Steve M. "Scott Walker has his script memorized." Looks like he can plug it in to any "conversation." "The key to beating Walker is going to be to knock him off script." ...

... CW: This was readily apparent when Martha Raddatz asked him about how to deal with ISIS. He used the word "aggressive" & attached it actually or implicitly to the phrase "around the world" three times in, what?, a one-minute exchange. That's his foreign policy in toto: "act aggressively around the world." Raddatz, in fact, did knock him off his limited script when she asked him what that meant. Because, he hadn't thought about that. If you don't hear Scottie repeating "act aggressively around the world" numerous times in the coming months, that means he got a new scriptwriter.

NEW. Amy Davison of the New Yorker: "There are so many people who consider Chris Christie a true friend, according to Chris Christie. This isn't just a matter of love but of legality, because New Jersey's ethics rules stipulate that the state's governor has more leeway in accepting gifts from his personal friends than from, say, businessmen with an interest in the Port Authority, or from the king of a Middle Eastern country." One wonders "whether Christie believes his own excuse -- that his wealthy hosts take disinterested pleasure in his company -- or is offering it cynically. The first suggests a delusional faith in his own charm (and that of his stepfather, mother-in-law, etc.), the other an openness to trading on his office. Neither is good, and both make him vulnerable."

Caitlin MacNeal of TPM: "Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Tuesday said he believes children should be vaccinated, but he said he supports exemptions for people with certain religious beliefs.... Cruz told reporters that the controversy over vaccines is 'largely silliness stirred up by the media,' according to Politico.... 'Nobody reasonably thinks Chris Christie is opposed to vaccinating kids other than a bunch of reporters who want to write headlines,' he said."...

... CW: Right, and the words flowing from the mouths of elected officials had nothing to do with it. Also, note that one has to have "certain" religious beliefs to be worthy of an exemption. I would guess Pastafarianism is not one of Ted's approved belief systems. And what about the religious beliefs of waiters whose faith eschews ritual handwashing? Any thoughts on that, Teddo? Ah, well maybe Thom Tillis's filthy extremism is nothing but silliness stirred up by the media.

Stump the Reader. The fellow on the left, who would never want to be referred to as "the fellow on the left," is likely to run for POTUS. This is his official portrait. Good luck guessing who he is. ...

... "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." Oh, crap, following is an update, via Politico, from Jindal's chief-of-staff Kyle Plotkin. Kendall Breitman of Politico: "Plotkin then began retweeting examples of what he described as 'liberals who are trolling me and think that the Governor looks insufficiently brown in the painting.' Jindal's office continued to accuse liberals of being 'fixated on race' on Wednesday." AND the newly-defined "official portrait" is such an excellent work of art:


CW: Re: a comment in today's thread, I found the two images to the right side-by-side in a Google image search. The painting on the left is a portrait of the guy on the right. I have to say, in Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner's (R-Wis.) defense, he is way better at choosing artists to paint his official portrait than is the fellow portrayed above:

Beyond the Beltway

Annals of "Justice," Ctd. "If You Can't Fix It, Hide It." Dahlia Lithwick of Slate: "Amid the recent rash of high-profile screw-ups in executions, new cover-up measures have been passed in more than a dozen states, allowing departments of corrections to increasingly refuse to disclose where their execution drugs come from, how and if they were tested, and whether corrections officers are qualified to administer them correctly. In response to these clampdowns on information about how tax dollars are being spent and how prisoners are being executed in their citizens' name, lawsuits have been filed by capital defense attorneys, civil liberties groups, and news organizations in Oklahoma, Ohio, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Arizona." ...

... Lithwick cites C. J. Ciaramella of the Daily Beast (January 2015): "America’s neurotic position of keeping the death penalty legal, while also requiring it to be as bloodless and sterile as possible, has led to a situation where states are relying on experimental combinations of drugs that are vetted by a quick glance at popular reference websites and purchased in secret from anonymous, barely regulated pharmacies with significantly less reliable products than major pharmaceutical companies." ...

... CW: Huh. In the view of Lithwick & Ciaramella -- & that busybody Sonia Sotomayor -- "a quick glance" at "WikiLeaks or whatever it is" or does not constitute "research." And I thought when I relied on "WikiLeaks or whatever it is" this morning to ascertain the meaning of "rotflmao," I was doing topnotch scholarly research.

Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "The question before Pennsylvanians is this: Is Kathleen G. Kane [D], the first woman to be elected as the state's attorney general, the victim of angry men who targeted her after she exposed their pornography habits? Or are Ms. Kane's problems -- she stands accused by a grand jury of a bevy of crimes -- the self-imposed travails of a political comet who rose from obscurity to eminence, only to be undone by her own temperament and inexperience?"

Richard Leiby of the Washington Post: "About a month after a white officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., the city's assistant police chief, Al Eickhoff, took to Google and searched under the words 'less lethal.'... Browsing a California company's Web site, Eickhoff found pictures and videos of a ... device docked on a normal handgun barrel. When a bullet fired, it melded with an attached projectile ... that flew with enough force to knock a person down, maybe break some ribs, but not kill him, the product's makers said -- even at close range.... This week, five Ferguson police instructors will train to use the device; the department plans to introduce it to the entire force of 55 officers."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Walter Liedtke, who served for 35 years as a curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was a renowned scholar on Vermeer and the Delft School, died on Tuesday, one of six victims of the crash of a Metro-North commuter train in Valhalla, N.Y. He was 69."

WFAA Dallas-Fort Worth: "One of the infamous 'Texas 7' fugitives was executed by the State of Texas Wednesday night. Donald Newbury was put to death for his role in the murder of an Irving police officer on Christmas Eve in 2000. He was declared dead by lethal injection at 6:25 p.m."

Washington Post: "Jordan's King Abdullah II vowed Wednesday that his military forces would hit Islamic State militants with 'relentless' strikes upon 'their own homes,' an escalation that could place Jordan in the middle of the Syrian civil war. The king huddled with his security cabinet and top generals Wednesday just hours after Jordan hanged two convicted terrorists in retaliation against the Islamic State, which posted a video Tuesday of its fighters burning alive a captured Jordanian pilot in a cage."

Bloomberg: "The founder of the Silk Road website faces life in prison for running an underground Internet emporium that catered to hackers and drug traffickers. Ross Ulbricht, 30, who used the moniker 'Dread Pirate Roberts,' offered people the chance to anonymously buy illegal merchandise and services by using bitcoins. On Wednesday, a jury took about three hours to find him guilty on all seven federal charges."

New York Times: "A crowded Metro-North Railroad train passing through Westchester County at the height of the evening rush on Tuesday slammed into a sport-utility vehicle on the tracks at a crossing, creating a fiery crash and explosion that killed seven people, injured a dozen and forced the evacuation of hundreds. On Wednesday, federal transportation safety officials were prepared to travel to New York to investigate the crash, the deadliest in Metro-North's history." See also yesterday's Ledes.