Carrie Dann of NBC News: "President Barack Obama will hold his final press conference of 2013 on Friday, capping a year dominated by sagging approval ratings and controversies over his signature health care law and his administration's domestic surveillance programs."
Robert Pear of the New York Times: "Millions of people facing the cancellation of health insurance policies will be allowed to buy catastrophic coverage and will be exempt from penalties if they go without insurance next year, the White House said Thursday night. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, disclosed the sudden policy shift in a letter to Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, and five other senators." ...
... Ezra Klein looks at the implications of this move. His assessment is fairly dire.
Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "President Obama, expanding his push to curtail severe penalties for drug offenses, on Thursday commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates who were convicted of crack cocaine offenses. Each inmate has been imprisoned for at least 15 years, and six were sentenced to life in prison. It was the first time retroactive relief was provided to a group of inmates who most likely would have received significantly shorter terms if they had been sentenced under current drug laws, sentencing rules and charging policies." ...
... President Obama's statement is here.
Richard Clarke, Michael Morell, Geoffrey Stone, Cass Sunstein & Peter Swire in a New York Times op-ed: "The five of us came from diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.... Our recommendations, as members of the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, appointed in August, are designed to strengthen the protection of privacy and civil liberties without compromising the central mission of the intelligence community." ...
... David Sanger of the New York Times: "If President Obama adopts the most far-reaching recommendations of the advisory group he set up to rein in the much would change underneath the giant antennas that sprout over Fort Meade, Md., where America's electronic spies and cyberwarriors have operated with an unprecedented amount of freedom since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.... While few in the White House want to admit as much in public, none of this would have happened without the revelations by Edward J. Snowden.... While Mr. Obama has said he welcomes the debate about the proper limits on the N.S.A., it is not one he engaged in publicly until the Snowden revelations began." ...,
... Greg Miller & Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "From the moment the government's massive database of citizens' call records was exposed this year, U.S. officials have clung to two main lines of defense: The secret surveillance program was constitutional and critical to keeping the nation safe. But six months into the controversy triggered by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the viability of those claims is no longer clear. In a three-day span, those rationales were upended by a federal judge who declared that the program was probably unconstitutional and the release of a report by a White House panel utterly unconvinced that stockpiling such data had played any meaningful role in preventing terrorist attacks." ...
... CW: In keeping with what I think will be a continuing discussion on journo-crit, I should point out that this article, presented as a straight news piece, is geared more toward analysis & opinion than a straight report. Keep in mind, too, that the WashPo has a lot of skin in the Ed Snowden game -- the Post has published, arguably, the most pertinent relevations about NSA snooping. I think Miller & Nakashima's analysis is more-or-less valid; at worst, it's worthy of consideration, even if they may give more weight than is due to factors they claim have "upended" spying rationales. ...
... Gene Robinson: "... the eminences appointed by President Obama to review the out-of-control National Security Agency (NSA) have produced a surprisingly tough report filled with good recommendations -- steps that a president who speaks so eloquently of civil liberties should have taken long ago. But before even releasing the 308-page report by his Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, Obama rejected one of the proposed reforms: ending the practice of having one person head both the NSA and the Pentagon's Cyber Command." ...
... Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post: "Verizon said Thursday it will publish reports beginning early next year on the number of government requests it receives for customer data, setting a significant precedent for the telecommunications industry, which has kept that information private. Verizon, the nation's biggest wireless provider, has been under immense pressure from shareholders and privacy groups after revelations that the National Security Agency obtained mountains of private information from the company and other telecom firms, including AT&T. Those disclosures, in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have damaged the reputation of U.S. communications companies around the world." ...
... Terri Rupar in the Washington Post: "In his annual marathon news conference on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed support for President Obama's surveillance programs, a day after a review group recommended curbing the National Security Agency's powers. Putin previously defended the programs, calling them 'generally practicable' and 'the way a civilized society should go about fighting terrorism' during a June interview. Below are some of Thursday's choice quotes from Putin, himself a former KGB agent." He says he has never met Edward Snowden.
Donna Cassata of TPM: "The Senate will vote on the nomination of Janet Yellen to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve in January. Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Thursday night that Republicans and Democrats had worked out an agreement on votes for several of President Barack Obama's nominees, including Yellen. The Senate plans a test vote to move ahead on Yellen's nomination on Friday and will then vote Jan. 6 on her confirmation."
E. J. Dionne: The Republican civil war is not between conservatives & moderates because their are no moderates in the GOP. It is between the Washington establishment & "conservative fundraising behemoths (they include FreedomWorks, Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity).... The new establishment is bolstered by conservative talk show hosts who communicate regularly with Republican loyalists and have challenged the party's elected leaders for control over its message."
Paul Krugman on austerity policy and politics: "... the correlation is very clear: the harsher the austerity, the worse the growth performance.... I'm well aware that the austerians may win political points all the same."
** It's Your Fault that You're Poor. Tim Egan: Here are "two of the most meanspirited actions left on the table by the least-productive Congress in modern history. The House, refuge of the shrunken-heart caucus, has passed a measure to eliminate food aid for four million Americans, starting next year. Many who would remain on the old food stamp program may have to pass a drug test to get their groceries. At the same time, Congress has let unemployment benefits expire for 1.3 million people, beginning just a few days after Christmas. These actions have nothing to do with bringing federal spending into line, and everything to do with a view that poor people are morally inferior." ...
... CW: Hmmm. Wonder how Paul Ryan fees about that? McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed writes another, "No, really, Paul Ryan cares about the poor. He's the Pope Francis of the GOP. He's just as religious as Francis is, too." I'll believe it the day Ryan becomes a Democrat, burns a pile of Atlas Shrugged holy books & a makes a Jimmy Swaggart-style "I have sinned" speech.
Bradley Klapper of the AP: "More than a quarter of the Senate introduced legislation Thursday that could raise sanctions on Iran and compel the United States to support Israel if it launches a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian nuclear program, defying President Barack Obama and drawing a veto threat. The bill, sponsored by 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans, sets sanctions that would go into effect if Tehran violates the nuclear deal it reached with world powers last month or lets the agreement expire without a long-term accord." ...
... Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post: "In a remarkable rebuke to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), 10 other Senate committee chairs are circulating a joint letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, urging him to reject an effort by Menendez to tighten sanctions on Iran and warning that his bill could disrupt ongoing nuclear negotiations."
Annie Gowen & William Branigin of the Washington Post: "A major diplomatic row between the United States and India took a new turn Thursday as signs of a split emerged within the U.S. government over how to handle the case of an Indian diplomat and women's rights advocate who was arrested in New York on charges stemming from the alleged exploitation of her nanny. The Indian government, meanwhile, demanded that U.S. federal prosecutors drop their case against Devyani Khobragade, 39, India's up-and-coming deputy consul general in New York and the mother of two young daughters.... Secretary of State John F. Kerry made a conciliatory call to India's national security adviser Wednesday and 'expressed his regret' over the incident, according to the State Department. But the Justice Department appeared to be taking a harder line."
Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post: Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who is "in charge of nuclear weapons, repeatedly drank too much and behaved like a boor last summer during an official trip to Moscow, where he insulted his Russian hosts and hung out with two suspicious women he met at a hotel bar, according to an investigative report released Thursday.... Carey was reassigned in October from his job as commander of the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for maintaining and operating the country's intercontinental ballistic missiles."
AP: "New Mexico's highest court has legalized same-sex marriage, declaring it is unconstitutional to deny a marriage license to gay and lesbian couples. The state Supreme Court issued its ruling Thursday. New Mexico joins 16 states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage."
Matt Friedman of the New Jersey Star-Ledger: "Students who grew up in New Jersey but are in the country illegally will soon be able to pay in-state tuition at its public colleges and universities. After weeks of feuding between Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democrats who control the Legislature over the so-called 'DREAM Act,' the two sides ... today ... agreed to a compromise."
Tuck Chodd & Co. explain why appointing retiring Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to be ambassador to China could help Democrats hold the Senate in 2014.
Marisa Kendall of the Fort Myers, Florida, News-Press: "U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers, made clear tonight he has no intention of resigning, and plans to get back to work after spending some time with his family this holiday season. Tonight's news conference was the second Radel held at his Cape Coral[, Florida,] office since pleading guilty to possession of cocaine. Radel was more animated tonight than at the first press conference - he has finished just under a month of rehab, and had his wife beside him at the podium. Radel began by thanking his supporters." With video that unfortunately loads automatically.
First Amendment News
By People Who Don't Know What It Means
Nature Watch: Ducks & Loons. Matea Gold of the Washington Post has a pretty good overview of how conservative politicians -- especially those who hope to be president -- are using the "Duck Dynasty" controversy to mobilize Christian conservatives.
Dean Obeidallah of the Daily Beast: "Conservatives think people should be held responsible for their actions -- until one of their own, like Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson, has to pay a price for their bigoted views.... The First Amendment does not provide you immunity. [CW: This would be news to arah Palin. See Infotainment.] It simply means that the government can't prevent you from expressing yourself. But once you say something, you will be called to answer for it." CW: I remain mystified as to why anyone outside the Robertson family would spend as much as five minutes watching a show like "Duck Dynasty."
Here's how Red State winger Erick Erickson (late of CNN & now with Fox) sees the "Duck Dynasty" doodah: "Evil preaches tolerance until it is dominant and then it seeks to silence good." CW: Where "evil" equals liberals & homophobic slurs equal "good." From this premise, Erickson seques to the notion that Robertson was just expressing his honest-to-God Christian views. Ergo, "The world is at war with Christ and those who put their faith in Christ.... The Church, however, must show it will stand with those who stand with Christ...." That, I guess means, that Pope Francis should encourage Robertson & his "Christian" opinions. It's a shocking thing, really, that this type of distorted, perverted thinking attracts a national television audience.
The truth is it is a messed up situation when a governor rumored to have his sights on the presidency doesn't understand the breadth of the First Amendment. -- L. Z. Granderson, CNN contributor, on Bobby Jindal's comments
Zack Ford of Think Progress: "Free speech allows citizens to say things that are offensive and unpopular and it allows other citizens to disagree, as well as to choose whether to provide an ongoing platform for those remarks. If anything, the claim that Robertson's free speech has somehow been inhibited is just a straw man to avoid addressing the merits of what he actually said: that all gay people are going to Hell and that African Americans don't deserve a seat at the lunch counter."
See today's Comments:
... The film footage is from "The Laramie Project" HBO movie. The full film is here.
Al Jazeera: "Uganda's parliament has passed an anti-gay law that punishes 'aggravated homosexuality' with life imprisonment."
Washington Post: "Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D- Nev.) was hospitalized early Friday after not feeling well, according to his office.... Reid's hospitalization comes on the final scheduled day of the Senate for 2013 and after two weeks of late nights and early mornings amid a dispute over a recent change in Senate procedural rules...."
New York Times: "President Vladimir V. Putin issued a decree on Friday freeing Russia's most famous prisoner, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the former chief executive of Yukos Oil whose arrest and imprisonment 10 years ago punctuated an authoritarian turn in Russia's modern history."