The Wires

The Ledes

Friday, July 25, 2014.

** New York Times: "Russia has increased its direct involvement in fighting between the Ukrainian military and separatist insurgents, moving more of its own troops to the border and preparing to arm the rebels with ever more potent weapons, including high-powered Tornado rocket launchers, American and Ukrainian officials said on Friday."

New York Times: "Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed a two-stage plan to halt the fighting in the Gaza Strip that would first impose a weeklong truce starting Sunday, an official involved in the negotiations said on Friday. As soon as the truce took effect, Palestinian and Israeli officials would begin negotiations on the principal economic, political and security concerns about Gaza, with other nations attending." ...

     ... Update: "Israel agreed to halt its military offensive in Gaza for 12 hours starting Saturday morning amid intense international efforts to seal a broader cease-fire deal and a new explosion of violence in the West Bank.... The announcement by the military came early Saturday, hours after Israel’s security cabinet rejected Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal for a seven-day cease-fire in Gaza and further talks...."

... AFP: "Israeli fire Friday pushed the Palestinian death toll in Gaza to above 800, as Washington pressed Israel and Hamas to agree a week-long humanitarian ceasefire and thrash out a durable truce."

AFP: "The United States on Thursday said it had evidence Russian forces were firing artillery from inside Russia on Ukrainian troops, in what officials called a 'clear escalation' of the conflict. Moscow is also planning to 'deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers' to the pro-Russian separatist forces in Ukraine, US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said." ...

... AFP: "Ukraine's prime minister resigned after his governing coalition collapsed, plunging the former Soviet state into political limbo as it struggles to quell a deadly rebellion in the east.... Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he was stepping down over the "dissolution of the parliamentary coalition and the blocking of government initiatives" after several parties walked out on the ruling group. The collapse of the ruling coalition paves the way for early elections to be called by President Petro Poroshenko within 30 days."

New York Times: "As a detachment of French soldiers reached the crash site in Mali of an Air Algérie jetliner, officials in Paris said Friday that the accident was most likely weather-related and that the distribution of the wreckage over a limited area suggested that the plane probably hit the ground intact."


Guardian: "The Washington Post's correspondent in Tehran has been arrested along with his Iranian wife and two American photojournalists. Iranian judicial offficials confirmed on Friday that Jason Rezaian, who holds dual American and Iranian citizenship, had been detained and is under investigation."

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post, May 29:"The ongoing measles outbreak in the United States has reached a record for any year since the disease was  eliminated in this country 14 years ago, with 288 cases of the potentially deadly infection reported in 18 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday."

White House Live Video
July 25

1:00 pm ET: Josh Earnest's press briefing

If you don't see the livefeed here, go to


Washington Post: "On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth’s atmosphere.  These plasma clouds, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years. 'If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,' physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado tells NASA."

New York: "Governor Cuomo and CBS announced Wednesday that The Late Show will continue to be shot at New York's Ed Sullivan Theater, its home of 21 years, when David Letterman retires and Stephen Colbert takes over in 2015. While it had been assumed that the show would be staying put, CBS only made it official today, announcing that it had received $11-million in state tax credits and $5-million in renovation money for the theater in exchange for staying in NYC and guaranteeing the continuation of 200 jobs surrounding the show's production." ...

... Nice announcement, but not as long as Cuomo's 13-page response to a New York Times article that showed Cuomo is a pompous, corrupt, two-faced hypocrite.

Lunar Landing, Cable News Version. Slate: "In 2009, Andrew Bouvé imagined what it would be like if the moon landing happened today, unleashing cable news on the event.... This Sunday marks the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing."


New Yorker illustration.

The New Yorker has opened up its archives for the summer. An excellent opportunity to get in on some fabulous reading.


CW: Jordan Weismann of Slate presents this audio as an unusual customer service horror story. It is a nightmare, to be sure. But as someone who has had to deal with stopping & starting various utility & communications services recently, I can attest that it is par for the course for an American U.S. customer service rep. Dealing with non-Americans, who increasing represent U.S. companies, is worse. These reps all work from scripts, but the non-Americans don't understand my English, so their "responses" are even more non-responsive than are those of the Comcast guy there:


Airborne Dinosaur. USA Today: Paleontologists have discovered in China a new species of dinosaur that "had long feathers not just on its wings but also on its hind legs, making it one of only a handful of 'four-winged' dinosaurs. It also had big, sharp teeth and sharp claws, indicating it was carnivorous.... Scientists were surprised to find something so large that could take to the skies so early in the history of flying creatures." ...

     ... CW: Charles Pierce's take: "The Christianists have been wrong all these years. It's not Intelligent Design. It's Abstract Design. God The Dada."

Houston Chronicle: "The Palm Beach mansion known as President JFK's Winter White House has hit the market for a staggering $38.5 million. That price is even more gasp-worthy considering the same property sold for $4.9 million in 1995 and a mere $120,000 in 1933." More photos, including interior shots, at the linked page.

Heller McAlpin reviews Marja Mills' book The Mockingbird Next Door, a memoir of the writer's friendship with Harper Lee & her sister Alice Finch Lee, for the Washington Post.

According to this Daily Beast headline, the "World Awaits LeBron James' Decision." CW: Even though I so often do the sports report, it turns out I am not of this world.

Smart Girls Don't Swear. Vanity Fair "cleaned up, pored over, and painstakingly transcribed" some of the Nixon tapes, "many of which were muffled and, at times, indecipherable." The post excerpts a few: Nixon on gays, Jews, swearing.

New York Times: Hillary Clinton's "memoir, 'Hard Choices,' has just been toppled from its spot on the best-seller list by a sensational Clinton account by her longtime antagonist Edward Klein. It is a powerful statement about today’s publishing realities that Mr. Klein’s book, a 320-page unauthorized and barely sourced account full of implausible passages, including one about a physical altercation between Mrs. Clinton and President Obama, has landed atop the New York Times best-seller list, knocking 'Hard Choices' to No. 2." ...

... If by chance you believe the major media are the exclusive haunts of "elite leftists," here's evidence it ain't so. Klein, the Times story notes, is "a former editor at Newsweek  and The New York Times Magazine."

Eleanor Clift of the Daily Beast interviews Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times. Abramson still doesn't know what "management skills" means. Kinda makes you think maybe she doesn't have any.

Tim Egan: American children are too sheltered. The world isn't as scary as we think it is.

... Thanks to Bonita for the link. CW: I except you actually could purchase the materials at Hobby Lobby you'd need to make an IUD. However, Dr. Weader strongly advises against this do-it-yourself project.

New York Times: "The New Yorker is overhauling its website, making all articles it has published since 2007 available free for three months before introducing a paywall for online subscribers."

The New York Times Magazine publishes excerpts from a few of Warren Harding's love letters to Carrie Phillips. Also, he was a worse poet than he was a president. And Phillips was unfaithful to Harding; then she blackmailed him. Maybe it was because she was so turned off by all those letters where he personified his penis as "Jerry."

Guardian: A Princeton archaeologist has found what may be the world's oldest extant erotic graffiti on the Greek island of Astypalaia in the Aegean sea. Also, it is so gay.

Wherever in the U.S. you may live, if you missed your local news last night, we have it here. In fact, if you want to stay ahead of the curve, here's what will be on your local news tonight. Thanks to Bonita for the link:

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The Commentariat -- July 23, 2014

** Robert Pear of the New York Times: "Two federal appeals court panels issued conflicting rulings Tuesday on whether the government could subsidize health insurance premiums for people in three dozen states that use the federal insurance exchange. The decisions are the latest in a series of legal challenges to central components of President Obama's health care law. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, upheld the subsidies, saying that a rule issued by the Internal Revenue Service was 'a permissible exercise of the agency's discretion.' The ruling came within hours of a 2-to-1 ruling by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which said that the government could not subsidize insurance for people in states that use the federal exchange.... The White House rejected the ruling of the court [in D.C.] and anticipated that the Justice Department will ask that the entire appeals court to review it." ...

... Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times reviews the various possibilities of what could happen next. ...

... ** Ian Millhiser of Think Progress: "It's important to understand just who these two [D.C.] Republican [judge]s are. Judge [Raymond] Randolph is a staunchly conservative judge who spent much of the oral argument in this case acting as an advocate for the anti-Obamacare side.... Judge [Thomas] Griffith has a reputation as a more moderate judge, but it is not clear that this reputation is deserved." Millhiser then goes into a lengthy & informative explanation of how utterly fucking stupid the Randolph-Griffith "reasoning" is. Well-worth reading & not difficult to understand. It comes down to this: the only phrase that matters in all the gazillion pages of the ACA is this one-line error -- "an Exchange established by the State" -- which all by itself proves Congress was just kidding about providing healthcare subsidies to all eligible Americans. As one brief filed in support of the ACA put it, "Randolph and Griffith's decision presumes that 'Congress sought to legislate into existence a massive new social program that it understood would immediately fail.'" ...

... Here's Millhiser's analysis of the Fourth Circuit's three-person unanimous opinion. ...

... Tom Goldstein of ScotusBlog in the Washington Post: "... the courts are required to uphold the [administrative] rule if the law is ambiguous and the administration's position is reasonable. The Supreme Court will probably uphold the rule under that lax standard.... The parties can ask all the judges of both of the courts of appeals that issued today's rulings to rehear the case.... It may be that both courts will see that Supreme Court review is inevitable and stand aside to let the Justices decide the issue. ...

I think if you look at simple math, it does. -- Harry Reid, Tuesday, when asked if the D.C. court's decision vindicated his decision to employ the "nuclear option" ...

... Danny Vinik of the New Republic on how Harry Reid's finally imposing the "nuclear option" may have saved the ACA. CW: Credit here really should go to Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) & others who pushed Reid toward modifying the filibuster.

... Paul Waldman: The D.C. court's ruling "demonstrates just how willing Republicans are to lay waste to Americans' lives if it means they can strike a blow at Barack Obama and his health law.... Here, Republicans literally found a legislative drafting error in the ACA that they hoped could be used to deal a near-fatal blow to the law, and two Republican-appointed appeals court judges agreed with them.... If they succeed at the Supreme Court, people will die." ...

... Charles Pierce: "Millions of our fellow citizens have spent the last several months with a great weight lifted from their shoulders. Every ache and sudden twinge no longer felt like it could be the first step toward personal ruin.... They have been able to pursue happiness, like all of us have a right to do so, without feeling like they're running in leg shackles. All of these people have been tossed into uncertainty -- again -- because their government has been rendered dysfunctional by a political philosophy of nihilistic vandalism, which is being judged now by a judiciary fully politicized through a long game that has extended over decades." (Emphasis added.) ...

... Brian Beutler of the New Republic: "What the challengers have asked judges to do is to ignore the 'fundamental canon' and buy into the idea that the Democrats who passed the law unambiguously structured it to withhold premium subsidies from states that refused to set up their own exchanges, as some sort of high-stakes inducement. This is plainly false. It's the giant whopper underlying the entire theory of Halbig." Beutler sees the decision, if it should hold (& he doesn't think it will) as a huge problem for Republicans. CW Note: TNR has a new annoying subscription program that blocks access to the article. If the link doesn't work, copy & paste some of the quote into Google. Another work-around: open the page in a private window. ...

Another Sad Day for Paul.... Ha Ha. Jon Perr in the Daily Kos: "... as it turns out, the Paul Ryan budget that 95 percent of Congressional  Republicans voted for three years in a row depends on every single dollar Uncle Sam now raises to fund subsidies in all 50 states.... Obamacare reduces the U.S. national debt precisely because its savings and new revenues exceed the cost of the Medicaid expansion and health insurance subsidies that the New England Journal of Medicine found enabled 20 million Americans to get coverage. And without those revenues, the budget Paul Ryan and his math-challenged Republican colleagues in the House and Senate backed utterly falls apart." ...

... CW: So far all the liberal & moderate pundits I've read are in agreement that the D.C. ruling will be struck down. For example, Ezra Klein writes, "The Supreme Court simply isn't going to rip insurance from tens of millions of people in order to teach Congress a lesson about grammar."

     ... BUT Steve M. looks at the politics & predicts a horrifying scenario in which repeal of ObamaCare is inevitable. Given the nature of the Republican character, I find his prediction plausible if not necessarily likely. In another post, Steve explains why the optimistic views of Klein & others are "exceedingly naive." His rationale seems spot-on to me. ...

NEW. CW: Here's what I think conservative judges/justices will do to "justify" their reading of the phrase in question. At least a couple of commentators have suggested that even Justice Scalia would scoff at the D.C. circuit opinion. Why, just last month in an opinion he wrote that, "fundamental canon of statutory construction that the words of a statute must be read in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme." But Scalia also has said in interviews that legislation is the way to change the law, not judicial oversight. Ergo, he (& other conservatives) will put on their choirboy faces & argue that if the phrase is so inartfully put that it does not reflect the intent of Congress, then Congress should just change the law. Why, they need only omit or add a few words & the ambiguity would disappear! It is a perfectly logical argument, the intent of which, of course, is to blow up the ACA. ...

... How the "Intellectual" Wingers See It. This post in Forbes, by Michael Cannon, the Cato Institute "scholar" who has been the chief proponent of the case, is so full of illogical thinking you could write a thesis tearing it to pieces. But Cannon's big premise is this: Freeeedom! "Halbig Would Free More than 8 Million People from the Individual Mandate.... Halbig Would Free 250,000 Firms and 57 Million Employees from the Employer Mandate." If you tie Cannon's arguments to Steve M.'s scenario, you can see how Republicans will sell the chaos they've engendered & why Steve' prognostication isn't just a study in pessimism. ...

     ... Here's Cannon arguing that states "should be refusing to create exchanges." Via Dave Weigel:

      ... CW: It's hard to believe that a Koch-funded "intellectual" would be so duplicitous, arguing on the one hand that states should not establish exchanges & on the other that people in states who don't establish exchanges are ineligible for subsidies. Weigel describes Cannons' tactics as "Leninist."

... CW One More Thing. Blame Scott Brown. (Or Martha Coakley for being such a horrible candidate.) As you may vaguely recall, & as Adrianna McIntyre of Vox reminds us, "the law was passed through an unorthodox budgetary process and never went to conference committee, where messy drafting gets cleaned up." Why? Because Scotty's election deprived Senate Democrats of their 60-vote super-majority, so they had to pass the final version of the bill (to correspond with the House bill[s]) via the reconciliation process, which requires only a simple majority vote. (Oh yeah, & then Scotty lied about how the whole thing went down, making himself the hero/victim.) ...

     ... Update: Turns out that last year, law professor Abbe Gluck explained the Scott Brown factor just as I did above: "Because Senator Ted Kennedy died in the middle of the legislative process and was replaced by Republican Scott Brown, the statute never went through the usual legislative process, including the usual legislative clean-up process.... Because the Democrats lost their 60th filibuster-preventing vote, the version that had passed the Senate before Brown took office, which everyone initially had thought would be a mere first salvo, had to effectively serve as the final version, unchangeable by the House, because nothing else could get through the Senate." Gluck says skipping the conference process was the cause of the wording error & in general made the ACA "a badly drafted statute."

CNN: "More than half the public says Obamacare has helped either their families or others across the country, although less than one in five Americans say they have personally benefited from the health care law, according to a new national poll.... A CNN/ORC International survey also indicates that a majority of Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act.... [But] 'Not all of the opposition to the health care law comes from the right,' said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. 'Thirty-eight percent say they oppose the law because it's too liberal, but 17% say they oppose it because it's not liberal enough. That means more than half the public either favors Obamacare, or opposes it because it doesn't go far enough.'"

Tom Edsall of the New York Times: "The amount of money flowing into federal campaigns ... doubl[ed] from $3.1 billion in 2000 to $6.3 billion in 2012.... Spending by secretive political nonprofits, which do not disclose donors, has exploded 13-fold, from $24.9 million in 2000 to $335.7 million in 2012.... Just as the Republican Party and Republican candidates moved from reliance on small-to-medium publicly reported donations to large, often undisclosed, contributions, the party's platform position on campaign finance law began to change [from advocating disclosure to opposing it].... The Republican appointees to the Supreme Court are now unanimously opposed to constraints on large donors.... The three Republican appointees to the Federal Election Commission ... have used their power to block the F.E.C. from issuing rulings that would require disclosure of donors to 501c 'social welfare' organizations." ...

... Edsall concludes, "the inexorably rising costs of campaigns suggest that as long as this situation endures, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will be the party -- or represent the interests -- of the little guy." Here's an "honest political ad" that makes the same point. Thanks to Bonita for the link:

Stephanie Clifford of the New York Times: "... across the country, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners' emails to lawyers -- a practice wholly embraced in Brooklyn, where prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case. The issue has spurred court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers -- a question on which federal judges have been divided."

Jonathan Capehart (& President Obama) on "acting white."

Senate Race

Daniel Malloy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Businessman David Perdue stunned Georgia's Republican political establishment Tuesday by capturing the party's U.S. Senate nomination in his first run for office. The former CEO of Reebok and Dollar General toppled 11-term Rep. Jack Kingston by a narrow margin, setting up a battle of political newcomers with famous kin in the fall. Perdue's cousin, Sonny, was a two-term governor and Democratic nominee Michelle] Nunn's father, Sam, was a four-term U.S. Senator."

News Ledes

New York Times: "The United Nations Human Rights Council voted to establish an inquiry into human rights violations in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories at a special session on Wednesday in which the top human rights official, Navi Pillay, said Israel and Hamas had likely committed war crimes with indiscriminate attacks on civilians." ...

... New York Times: "As the death toll mounts and passions spike, the Foreign Press Association in Israel condemned on Wednesday what it called 'deliberate official and unofficial incitement against journalists' who are reporting on the fighting in Gaza. That includes 'forcible attempts to prevent journalists and TV crews from carrying out their news assignments,' the association said."

... New York Times: "Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise visit to Israel on Wednesday, as he pressed his effort to forge a cease-fire to bring a halt to the bitter fighting in the Gaza Strip. Mr. Kerry's plane touched down at Ben-Gurion International Airport just a day after the United States Federal Aviation Administration suspended American civilian flights to Israel." ...

... Guardian: "International airlines halted flights to and from Israel indefinitely on Tuesday citing security concerns in an unexpected twist to the two-week-old conflict in Gaza." ...

     ... CW: Guess that puts something of a damper on the Summer Vacation Insurance Theory of War. ...

... Washington Post: "As Israel pummels Hamas's infrastructure inside Gaza, it is also trying to prevent attacks originating from the West Bank and Israel -- by obliterating the houses of the relatives of Palestinians who allegedly have harmed Israelis. In doing so, Israel's military has returned to a controversial policy of punitive demolitions that has displaced thousands of Palestinians over the years."

Washington Post: "Two Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down Wednesday over rebel-held eastern Ukraine in the same vicinity as a Malaysian airliner that was downed last week, Ukrainian officials said." ...

... Time: "U.S. intelligence resources tracked the 'specific missile' that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a senior Administration official said Tuesday, saying intelligence adds up to a picture that 'implicates Russia' in helping to bring down the plane." ...

... Washington Post: "The Obama administration, detailing what it called evidence of Russian complicity in the downing of a Malaysian airliner, on Tuesday released satellite images and other sensitive intelligence that officials say show Moscow had trained and equipped rebels in Ukraine responsible for the attack."


The Commentariat -- July 22, 2014

Leslie Larson of the New York Daily News: "President Obama blasted Russia on Monday for failing to yield influence over separaists who have violated the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines plane shot down in eastern Ukraine. 'This is an insult to those who have lost loved ones. This is the kind of behavior that has no place in the community of nations,' Obama said Monday in remarks from the White House":

... Here's the official White House statement. The President took questions from the press after he delivered his remarks (not included in the video above). ...

... Gene Robinson: "The most important lesson U.S. policymakers should learn from this terrible event, I believe, is that sophisticated weapons, once given to combatants in a civil war, are virtually impossible to keep under control. This is true whether those given the arms are Russian-backed rebels or 'moderate' Syrian freedom fighters." CW: Yo, John McCain, are you listening? Nope. ...

As I turned, I was this close to him. I said, 'Mr. Prime Minister, I'm looking into your eyes, and I don't think you have a soul.' ... And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, 'We understand one another.' This is who this guy is! -- Joe Biden, recounting a 2011 meeting in the Kremlin with Vladimir Putin

... Julia Ioffe in the New Republic: "As the crisis surrounding the plane crash deepens and as calls for Vladimir Putin to act grow louder, it’s worth noting that they're not really getting through to Putin's subjects. The picture of the catastrophe that the Russian people are seeing on their television screens is very different from that on screens in much of the rest of the world, and the discrepancy does not bode well for a sane resolution to this stand-off." CW: Read the whole post. And we thought our media were mediocre. (Does the term "yellow journalism" come from "media-ochre"?) ...

... Alex Altman of Time: "Since a Malaysian jetliner crashed in a wheat field in eastern Ukraine last week, RT's pro-Putin packaging has been exposed in grim detail. In the aftermath of the tragedy, which killed all 298 souls on board, the outlet -- like the rest of Russian state media -- has seemed as if it were reporting on an entirely different crime. As the international media published reports indicating the plane was shot down by pro-Russian separatists, RT has suggested Ukraine was responsible, cast Moscow as a scapegoat and bemoaned the insensitivity of outlets focusing on the geopolitical consequences of the crime." ...

... Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post: "In the agonizing quest to pin down exactly what happened when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 went down over Ukraine last week, Web archivists and other digital sleuths are playing an unusual -- potentially pivotal -- role."

Jonathan Cook: "As we watch the horrifying slaughter unfold in Gaza, bear in mind the Israeli psychosis that fuels and justifies it.... Comments from three rightwing Israelis -- two leading politicians and a professor -- ... very much reflect a strain of mainstream thinking in Israel, one that the international media largely avoids noting. Each, in their different ways, is advocating a genocide of the Palestinians." Via Susie Madrak.

Paul Waldman: "Creative policy thinker Rick Perry has come up with a way to address the problem of those Central American kids coming to the border": he's sending 1,000 Texas National Guard to the border in a move he calls "Operation Strong Safety." "Why not just go ahead and call it Operation America Macho TestosteReagan? Perry seems unaware that the problem isn't one of insufficient strength -- as the head of the National Guard under George W. Bush has said, it's unclear what the Guard is supposed to do in this situation that others couldn't, particularly given the fact that these kids are walking up to Border Patrol agents to turn themselves in." ...

... CW: As you may recall, Fox "News"'s Britt Hume tried to explain this to Gov. Perry. His bumbling response: "It's the visuals." That's right, folks. Would-be President Perry needs "visuals" to convey to people that he is America Macho TestosteReagan. ...

... Manny Fernandez & Michael Shear of the New York Times: "The cost of deploying the National Guard was estimated at $12 million a month, a bill that he and other Texas Republicans vowed to send to the federal government." ...

... Christy Hoppe of the Dallas Morning News: "... sheriffs along the border said they have not been consulted and question the wisdom of sending military personnel who are not authorized to stop, question or arrest anyone." ...

... Jonathan Topaz of Politico: "Texas Rep. Joaquín Castro on Monday said Gov. Rick Perry is 'militarizing our border' with his reported decision to deploy state National Guard troops there. 'We should be sending the Red Cross to the border not the National Guard to deal with this humanitarian crisis,' the Democratic congressman said in an email. 'The children fleeing violence in Central America are seeking out border patrol agents. They are not trying to evade them. Why send soldiers to confront these kids?'"

Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times: "The increasingly costly and divisive border crisis is pushing federal investigators to crack down on money-laundering schemes they say are being used to smuggle thousands of Central American children into the United States.Agents from the Department of Homeland Security and the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, are targeting suspicious patterns of deposits and withdrawals through "funnel accounts" held at U.S. banks, according to two federal law enforcement officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the topic." CW: It might work, but it's not nearly as impressive as sending in armed soldiers to try to scare the kiddies. No "visuals."

Jonathan Topaz: "Vice President Joe Biden on Monday said the Obama administration would continue to press Congress on approving Veterans Affairs secretary nominee Robert McDonald and passing legislation to address problems at the VA. 'It's time to get it done now,' Biden, speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in St. Louis, said of legislation on Capitol Hill to reform the VA. 'Stop fooling around.'"

I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades. -- Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, on Joe Biden, in his memoir

Bob Gates is a Republican, with a view of foreign policy that is, in many fundamental ways, different from mine. Bob Gates has been wrong about everything! Bob Gates is wrong about the advice he gave President Reagan about how to deal with Gorbachev! That he wasn't real. Thank God the President didn't listen to him. Bob Gates was wrong about the Balkans. Bob Gates was wrong about the bombing. Bob Gates was wrong about the Vietnam War, for Christ's sake. You go back, and everything in the last forty years, there's nothing that I can think of, major fundamental decisions relative to foreign policy, that I can think he's been right about! -- Joe Biden

Mark Stern of Slate: "On Monday morning, President Obama signed an executive LGBT non-discrimination order, barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity among federal contractors.... Crucially, Obama did not include the broad religious exemption that some faith leaders had begged the White House for.... The executive order does, however, preserve a Bush-era exemption that allows religiously affiliated contractors to continue to preference workers of a certain religion":

CW: Kevin Drum disagrees with me (or, specifically, with Thomas Frank. See yesterday's Commentariat.): "Back in 2009, was Obama really the only thing that stood between bankers and the howling mob? Don't be silly. Americans were barely even upset, let alone ready for revolution.... Why were Americans so obviously not enraged? Because -- duh -- the hated neoliberal system worked. We didn't have a second Great Depression. The Fed intervened, the banking system was saved, and a stimulus bill was passed." Read his whole post. I'm not convinced, but since we can't know what might have been if Obama had asserted his inner LBJ, it's a moot point.

Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic: "Millions of Americans are getting health insurance because of Obamacare. But you're a lot less likely to be among them if you live in one of the 'red' states than if you live in one of the 'blue' states -- and there's no great mystery why. It's because the conservative officials who run most of the red states want it that way.... The states where officials are blocking expansion are the ones where residents need help the most, because they are poorer and more likely to have no insurance in the first place." ...

... Bruce Jaspen in Forbes: "While record numbers of Americans sign up for the larger Medicaid health insurance program for the poor, financial issues are emerging for medical care providers in the two dozen states that didn't go along with the expansion under the Affordable Care Act. The moves against expansion are 'beginning to hurt hospitals in states that opted out,' a report last week from Fitch Ratings said." CW: We know these redneck legislators & governors don't care about the poor. Let's see if they care about hospitals, which are businesses. ...

... Mario Trujillo of the Hill: "A federal judge in Wisconsin threw out Sen. Ron Johnson's (R-Wis.) lawsuit challenging an Obama administration rule that allows congressional staffers to continue to receive healthcare subsidies when signing up for ObamaCare. Judge William Griesbach did not rule on the merits of the case, instead dismissing the challenge because Johnson and another staffer on the suit lacked standing because they were not concretely injured by the regulation. The judge, appointed in 2002 by President George W. Bush, said not all disputes warrant a remedy by a federal court."

Maya Rhodan of Time: President "Obama will sign the first significant legislative job training reform effort in nearly a decade on Tuesday. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act passed by Congress on July 9 will streamline the federal workforce training system, trimming 15 programs that don't work, giving schools the opportunity to cater their services to the needs of their region, and empowering businesses to identify what skills workers need for success and help workers acquire them."

AP: "A Pennsylvania congressman's press secretary has pleaded not guilty to a weapons charge after Capitol police say he carried a gun into a federal office building in Washington. An attorney for Ryan Shucard says he entered the plea Saturday in D.C. Superior Court. Lawyer Jason Kalafat called the gun incident unintentional.... Shucard was charged with carrying a pistol outside a home or business, which is a felony." ...

     ... CW: Because if there's anything more responsible than carrying a Smith & Wesson (& ammo) into a restricted area, it's forgetting you're carrying a handgun & magazine into a restricted area. "Oh, I must have left my pistol in the cloakroom. Or maybe it fell out of my jacket when I dropped my daughter off at school."

When is "I have no idea" news? When it's about a Darrell Issa investigation. Here's another extremely useless IRS "scandal" story.

Thanks to P. D. Pepe for this link:

Senate Races

Chris Good of ABC News: "Two months of Republican-on-Republican badmouthing will finally come to an end in Georgia on Tuesday.  Either Rep. Jack Kingston or former Dollar General CEO David Perdue will become the GOP candidate for the state's open Senate seat, to be vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, kicking off what's expected to be one of the most hotly contested elections in the country." ...

     ... The Atlanta Journal-Constitution story, by Greg Bluestein & Dan Malloy, is here.

PetKoch. Kate Sheppard of the Huffington Post: Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who's running for Michigan's open Senate seat, takes on the Koch brothers, who already have run a massive ad campaign against him.

I think that, for both Joe and for Hillary, they’ve already accomplished an awful lot in their lives. The question is, do they, at this phase in their lives, want to go through the pretty undignifying process of running all over again. -- President Obama

Beyond the Beltway

The Poor Door Is Around Back, Jack. Even if you're not extremely wealthy, you too might be able to live in an upscale Manhattan condo! But you'd have to enter through the "poor door." And maybe you won't be swimming in the pool & working out on the gym equipment with your rich neighbors.

Brent Snavely & Matt Helms of the Detroit Free Press: "The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is suspending its water shutoffs for 15 days starting today to give residents another chance to prove they are unable to pay their bills.... The decision comes after the city has put into national spotlight for a policy that has been framed as a human rights issue for low-income residents who can't afford to pay their bills. It also was announced on the same day that a group of Detroit residents filed a lawsuit in the city's bankruptcy case asking U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes to restore water service to residential customers."

News Ledes

Washington Post: "The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday afternoon ordered U.S. carriers to stop flying to or from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, prohibiting them from traveling through Israel's largest airport after a rocket landed nearby."

Reuters: "Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and U.N. diplomats pursued talks on halting fighting that has claimed more than 500 lives. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in neighboring Egypt, while U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Israel later in the day. Both have voiced alarm at mounting civilian casualties."

New York Times: "A train carrying the bodies of victims from the Malaysia Airlines jet downed by a missile last week arrived Tuesday morning in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv after a 17-hour journey out of lawless territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels." ...

... New York Times: "A piece of wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 that was shot down in eastern Ukraine last week bears telltale marks of small pieces of high-velocity shrapnel that apparently crippled the jet in flight. Riddled with these perforations and buffeted by a blast wave as it flew high above the conflict zone, the plane then most likely sheared apart."


The Commentariat -- July 21, 2014

Peter Beaumont & Harriet Sherwood of the Guardian: "US President Barack Obama has called for an 'immediate ceasefire' between Israel and Hamas as the death toll among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip reached 508. Israeli continued its assault on the neighbourhood of Shujai'iya on Monday, where bombardment and fierce fighting on the ground between Israeli troops and Hamas militants on Sunday left shattered streets littered with bodies after Israeli forces subjected it to an intense bombardment.... Obama's appeal came as the United Nations security council opened urgent talks on efforts to strike a ceasefire deal...."

It's a hell of a pinpoint operation. We've got to get over there. -- John Kerry, speaking ironically to an aide, regarding the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in an Israeli operation that was supposed to target militants ...

... Open Mic. Brian Knowlton & Michael Gordon of the New York Times: "Secretary of State John F. Kerry strongly criticized Palestinian leaders on Sunday for rejecting a cease-fire plan, but he also appeared -- in comments captured by a live microphone -- to express exasperation with the high cost in civilian lives as Israel pressed its ground attack on Gaza. ...

... David of Crooks & Liars: "National Review Editor Rich Lowry asserted over the weekend that Israelis were not at fault for the deaths of four boys who were killed while playing on a Gaza beach last week because Hamas should have told them to move out of the way." ...

     ... digby awards Lowry her "Loathsome Wingnut o'the Day" award. He earned it.

Michael Gordon & Brian Knowlton: "Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that Russia had trained Ukrainian separatists in the operation of SA-11 antiaircraft missiles, the type of system that the United States said had been used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.... 'There's enormous amount of evidence, even more evidence than I just documented, that points to the involvement of Russia in providing these systems, training the people on them,' he said":

... E. J. Dionne: Obama should be more like Kerry. And Republicans should stop making "every foreign policy crisis about him." Also, Dionne reminds us of this gem:

[Putin] makes a decision and he executes it, quickly. And then everybody reacts. That's what you call a leader. President Obama [has] gotta think about it, he’s got to go over it again, he's got to talk to more people about it. -- Rudy 9/11 Guiliani, March 2014

Let's ask Rudy about this assessment now that Putin's "leadership" got nearly 300 innocent people murdered. -- Constant Weader

... MEANWHILES, Charles Pierce reflects on the reflections of wingers who took to the Sunday shows to call Putin a thug, rather than a leader. Either way, Obama is a weakling, sez they of the Cheney wing of the Republican party. (CW: Pierce is put out by the National Journal's top Republican apologist Ron Fournier's describing GOP hawks as the "Cheney wing of the party." I think it's fucking perfect.)

Ben Birnbaum & Amir Tibon have a long piece in the New Republic on Kerry's efforts to negotiate a peace agreement between Israel & Palestine.

David Nakamura, et al., of the Washington Post: "Nearly a year before President Obama declared a humanitarian crisis on the border, a team of experts arrived at the Fort Brown patrol station in Brownsville, Tex., and discovered a makeshift transportation depot for a deluge of foreign children.... In a 41-page report to the Department of Homeland Security, the team from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) raised alarms about the federal government's capacity to manage a situation that was expected to grow worse.... The administration did too little to heed those warnings, according to interviews with former government officials, outside experts and immigrant advocates, leading to an inadequate response that contributed to this summer's escalating crisis. ...

... Amy Davidson of the New Yorker on the GOP's dangerous anti-immigration stance(s). ...

... Ron Brownstein of the National Journal: "Regardless of how Congress handles his request for more border resources, President Obama is moving toward a historic -- and explosive -- executive order that will provide legal status to a significant number of the estimated 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.... Though the administration is still debating the reach of Obama's authority, some top immigration advocates hope he could legalize up to half of the undocumented population.... Such a move would infuriate Republicans.... They would likely challenge an Obama order through both legislation and litigation. Every 2016 GOP presidential contender could feel compelled to promise to repeal the order. Those would be momentous choices for a party already struggling to attract Hispanics and Asian-Americans."

Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "The Senate went three months this spring without voting on a single legislative amendment.... Senators say that they increasingly feel like pawns caught between Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose deep personal and political antagonisms have almost immobilized the Senate." ...

... CW: Kane's article is one of the worst cases of both-sides-do-it-ism I've ever read. After going on for paragraphs on how senators are all frustrated & how former leaders from both parties have tried to intervene to restore function to the Senate, blah-blah, we finally get to the nitty-gritty of the standoff:

If Reid allowed the free-flowing give-and-take that defined the Senate of the past, his endangered Democratic incumbents would be forced to vote on carefully crafted GOP amendments designed to hurt them in November. He refuses to do that. If McConnell were to work with Reid to allow the Senate to function more smoothly and effectively, he would undermine a key component of the Republican campaign argument this fall: that Democrats have mismanaged the Senate and the GOP must take over.

     ... Excuse me. Just who's fault is that? Is it Reid's? Hell, no. Kane has buried deep in his story that the cause of the friction is McConnell's obstructionism. Have I mentioned that the Washington Post sucks?

Paul Krugman: "... it's hard to escape the sense that debt panic was promoted because it served a political purpose -- that many people were pushing the notion of a debt crisis as a way to attack Social Security and Medicare. And they did immense damage along the way, diverting the nation's attention from its real problems -- crippling unemployment, deteriorating infrastructure and more -- for years on end." ...

... Thomas Frank, in Salon, imagines the themes of the Obama Presidential Library: "The Obama team, as the president once announced to a delegation of investment bankers, was 'the only thing between you and the pitchforks,' and in retrospect these words seem not only to have been a correct assessment of the situation at the moment but a credo for his entire term in office. For my money, they should be carved in stone over the entrance to his monument: Barack Obama as the one-man rescue squad for an economic order that had aroused the fury of the world." Thanks to James S. for the link. ...

... CW: Frank is pretty snide, but I think he's right. Obama's reliance on the failed policies of the Clinton economic team is his Vietnam. I don't know how much expert advice LBJ got to pull out of Vietnam, but Obama got plenty of expert advice -- even from inside his administration (Christina Romer)-- to go big on the stimulus & go hard on the banks, and he ignored it. Similarly, he should have had the guts to fight for some form of the public option in his healthcare bill (and beat the pulp out of Joe Lieberman & ConservaDems); instead, he knuckled under to big PHARma & the Max Baucus crowd. He had a choice -- and a mandate -- to radically change policies, & he never seriously considered it. This might have been understandable if he had implemented his programs with GOP support, but only Democrats voted for his bills. ...

... CW: Sort of contra Frank, MAG recommends this piece on American optimism by Jonathan Chait. I recommend it, too, but I don't agree with it. I'll explain why in the Comments.

Evan Osnos has a nice, longish piece in the New Yorker on Joe Biden.

News Ledes

Governor Grandstand. New York Times: "Gov. Rick Perry of Texas was expected to announce on Monday the deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops to the border with Mexico to bolster security as the Border Patrol faces an influx of Central American immigrants."

Guardian: "As Dutch forensic experts arrived at the scene of the Malaysia Airlines crash on Monday and promised that the train being loaded with the victims' bodies would be moved before the end of the day, heavy fighting broke out between the Ukrainian army and rebels on the outskirts of Donetsk, the main regional city and the hub of the insurgency." ...

     ... New York Times Update: "After days of obstruction, Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine permitted Dutch forensics experts on Monday to search the wreckage of the downed Malaysia Airlines jetliner destroyed by a surface-to-air missile, allowed bodies of the victims to be evacuated by train and agreed to give the plane's flight recorder boxes to the Malaysian government."

New York Times: "President Vladimir V. Putin issued a brief statement early on Monday saying that Russia would work to ensure that the conflict in eastern Ukraine moves from the battlefield to the negotiating table, and he again said that a robust international investigating team must have secure access to the Malaysia Airlines crash site. He also accused unspecified nations of exploiting the disaster in pursuit of 'mercenary political goals.' The statement posted on the Kremlin website came a day after mounting international criticism and anger against Russia and specifically Mr. Putin for the chaotic, unsecured condition of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site and what some nations said was the desecration of the victims' bodies."


The Commentariat -- July 20, 2014

Jim Fallows, in a New York Times op-ed: "... unless airspace is marked as off-limits, it is presumptively safe and legal for flight.... Therefore when [the Malaysia Airlines pilots] crossed this zone at 33,000 feet, they were neither cutting it razor-close nor bending the rules, but doing what many other airlines had done, in a way they assumed was both legal and safe.... Malaysia Airlines, its crew and passengers and the civil aviation system are the objects of this crime and tragedy. The finger-pointing should not be at them, but at the criminals."

Bloomberg View Editors: "U.S. conservatives make at least two arguments against action on climate change: We don't have enough conclusive evidence to prove it is happening, and even if we did, the cost of cutting our carbon emissions would be too high. The U.S. military has been quietly rebutting both those arguments.... The military frames [its] efforts in terms of saving money and reducing its dependence on vulnerable supply lines, not dealing with climate change, but the result is the same. The department's domestic greenhouse-gas emissions fell 9 percent from 2008 to 2012."

The Rev. William Barber's speech before Netroots Nation. Thanks to James S. for the link:

Alexander Nazaryan has a long piece in Newsweek (who knew there was a Newsweek?) on chemical dumps at military bases. "Maureen Sullivan, who heads the Pentagon's environmental programs, told me her office must contend with 39,000 contaminated sites (to be fair, a single base can have several, some as small as a single building)."

CW: Gail Sheehy's interview of former NYT executive editor Jill Abramson is mildly interesting. BTW, I don't buy Abramson's argument, which she has repeated numerous times, that her firing was sexist because former editor Abe Rosenthal was an SOB & he didn't get fired for it. Rosenthal was executive editor in the 1970s & early '80s, when being boss meant you could treat employees pretty much however you wanted. That is no longer true, at least in major corporations. Abramson might as well claim that Warren Harding was a better president than George Washington because Harding didn't keep slaves.

Maureen Dowd: "As Hillary stumbles and President Obama slumps, Bill Clinton keeps getting more popular."

Presidential Race

Dana Milbank illuminates a pretty good indicator that Elizabeth Warren won't be running for president anytime soon.

Beyond the Beltway

Yeah, Fundamentalist Sharia Is Extremely Cruel & Crazy. Daniel Kelly of Reuters: "Two men described as leaders of a Philadelphia mosque were accused of trying to cut off the hand of a suspected thief, whose wrist was sliced so deeply it required hospital treatment, police said on Friday. The 46-year-old victim said two officials in the mosque accused him of stealing jars of money from the house of worship after morning prayers on Monday. The officials, described in police reports as the mosque's imam and amir, dragged the victim to the rear of the mosque, and attempted to chop off his hand with a machete, according to a police statement." ...

... CW: Time for a Little Sharia Scaremongering. But, um, here's the thing. The police arrested one of the perps (the other was at large at the time of the report). The incident does not represent a takeover by radical Islamists. No U.S. government entities will impose Islamic law upon you. Get over it, you little nutcases.

News Ledes

New York Times: "After weeks of escalating conflict in Gaza, both sides reported death tolls that made clear Sunday was the deadliest day so far in the war. The Palestinian Health Ministry reported that 87 Palestinians had died, and the Israeli military said 13 soldiers were dead.... President Obama told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that he had 'serious concern' about the growing number of casualties on both sides in Gaza."

Los Angeles Times: "Actor James Garner, whose whimsical style in the 1950s TV Western 'Maverick' led to a stellar career in TV and films such as 'The Rockford Files' and his Oscar-nominated 'Murphy's Romance,' has died.... He was 86." ...

     ... UPDATE: The New York Times obituary is here.

New York Times: "Pro-Russian separatist militiamen have seized custody of the bodies of about 200 victims of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet that was blown out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile, Ukrainian officials said on Sunday, and rebels continued to limit access to the crash site in eastern Ukraine, blocking the work of experts even as hundreds of untrained local volunteers were picking through the wreckage with sticks." ...

... Washington Post: "The United States has confirmed that Russia supplied sophisticated missile launchers to separatists in eastern Ukraine and that attempts were made to move them back across the Russian border after the Thursday shoot-down of a Malaysian jet liner, a U.S. official said Saturday." ...

... Washington Post: "Russia said Saturday it supports a transparent international investigation of the downing of a Malaysian airliner, but U.S. and other Western officials said they saw no evidence Moscow was seeking to impose that message on its eastern Ukrainian allies.... In a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Secretary of State John F. Kerry 'underscored that the United States remains deeply concerned' that international investigators were denied access, and that victims and debris were reportedly being 'tampered with or inappropriately removed from the site,' a State Department statement said." ...

... The Guardian is liveblogging developments.

New York Times: "The Israeli military said on Sunday that it had expanded its ground activities in Gaza, increasing the number of forces and the areas in which they were operating, as eastern Gaza came under heavy shelling and as resistance from Hamas fighters appeared to intensify. Casualties grew on both sides...."