The Ledes

Tuesday, December 1, 2015.

Washington Post: "A former wife of the Islamic State’s leader was released Tuesday after more than year in custody in Lebanon as part of a prisoner swap involving Lebanese security forces held captive by militants in Syria. Lebanese authorities handed over Saja al-Dulaimi, an Iraqi who was briefly married to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the presumed head of the Islamic State. Along with Dulaimi was a group of mostly Islamist detainees, according to officials in Lebanon’s military."

The Wires

White House Live Video
December 1

1:00 pm ET: World AIDS Day

8:30 pm ET: Vice President Biden speaks at the ONE Campaign's "A Night of Music at Carnegie Hall" (audio only)

Go to


Public Service Announcement

Washington Post (October 26): "A research division of the World Health Organization announced on Monday that bacon, sausage and other processed meats cause cancer, and that red meat probably does, too. The report by the influential group stakes out one of the most aggressive stances against meat yet taken by a major health organization, and it is expected to face stiff criticism in the United States."

New York Times (October 20: "The American Cancer Society, which has for years taken the most aggressive approach to [breast-cancer] screening, issued new guidelines on Tuesday, recommending that women with an average risk of breast cancer start having mammograms at 45 and continue once a year until 54, then every other year for as long as they are healthy and likely to live another 10 years. The organization also said it no longer recommended clinical breast exams, in which doctors or nurses feel for lumps, for women of any age who have had no symptoms of abnormality in the breasts."

New York Times: "Kathleen McCormack Durst disappeared from her home in Westchester County nearly 34 years ago.... On Monday, Ms. Durst’s mother, Ann McCormack, who is 101, and three sisters — Carol Bamonte, Mary Hughes and Virginia McKeon filed a $100 million lawsuit against the man who they have long suspected of killing her: Robert A. Durst, her husband. The lawsuit contends that Mr. Durst violated the McCormack family’s right to sepulcher, a rarely used New York law granting family members the immediate right to possession of a body for burial."

Washington Post: "Christmas in Washington" annual TNT special, in which presidents & their families regularly appeared, ends 33-year-run. Ah, must be because of Obama's War on Christmas. Wait, it isn"t!

Michelle Obama accepts delivery of the White House Christmas tree, November 27:

Boston Globe: Michael Dukakis loves leftover turkey. A turkey carcass makes great soup, he said, inviting people to drop off turkey carcasses at his home. So they did.

Domenico Montanaro of NPR with everything you never wanted to know about the strange tradition of presidential "pardons" of turkeys.

Frank Rich reviews "Carol," the film based on Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel The Price of Salt, published under a pseudonym. As usual, Rich goes deep.

New York Times: "Ta-Nehisi Coates won the National Book Award for nonfiction Wednesday[, Nov. 18,] night for “Between the World and Me,” a visceral, blunt exploration of his experience of being a black man in America, which was published this summer in the middle of a national dialogue about race relations and inequality.... The fiction award went to Adam Johnson for 'Fortune Smiles.'..."

Slate: Carly Simon told People magazine that "You're So Vain" is about Warren Beatty. CW: Somehow I think I knew that a long time ago.

Guardian: "Gawker, the gossip website..., is giving up on reporting gossip in order to refocus on politics and 'to hump the [2016 presidential] campaign'. The site, founded by British journalist Nick Denton in 2003, announced on Tuesday that Gawker was steering in a new direction that would “orient its editorial scope on political news, commentary and satire'.”

Washington Post: Actor "Charlie Sheen confirmed on Tuesday that he is HIV-positive, as rumored in recent days by an onslaught of tabloid stories. Sheen told Matt Lauer on the 'Today' show that he is going public with his illness for multiple reasons, including that he’s been blackmailed for upwards of $10 million since he was diagnosed four years ago."

... For about $880,000, you can purchase Julia Child's excellent little house in Provence; her kitchen is intact, except for the stove.

New York Times: "Archaeologists have over the years cataloged the rocks [forming Stonehenge], divined meaning from their placement — lined up for midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset — and studied animal and human bones buried there. They have also long known about the other monuments — burial chambers, a 130-foot-tall mound of chalk known as Silbury Hill and many other circular structures. An aerial survey in 1925 revealed circles of timbers, now called Woodhenge, two miles from Stonehenge." With slide show.


New York Times: "In an overheated art market where anything seems possible, a painting of an outstretched nude woman by the early-20th-century artist Amedeo Modigliani sold on Monday night for $170.4 million with fees, in a packed sales room at Christie’s. It was the second-highest price paid for an artwork at auction."

Artist's rendering of the main exhibition hall of the planned wing of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. CLICK ON PICTURE TO SEE LARGER IMAGE.New York Times: "In designing its $325 million addition on Columbus Avenue, the American Museum of Natural History has opted for an architectural concept that is both cautious and audacious, according to plans approved by its board on Wednesday. The design ... evokes Frank Gehry’s museum in Bilbao, Spain, in its undulating exterior and Turkey’s underground city of Cappadocia in its cavelike interior. The design, by the architect Jeanne Gang for the new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation, aims to unite the museum’s various activities, solve its notorious circulation problems and provide a multistory showcase for the institution’s expanding role as a hub for scientific research and scholarship.”

New York Times: "... Jon Stewart has signed a production deal with the premium cable channel HBO, the channel announced on Tuesday. As part of the arrangement, Mr. Stewart will work on some digital short projects that are expected to appear on HBO’s apps like HBO Now and HBO Go. Mr. Stewart could also pursue movie or television projects with the network. The contract covers four years."

Guardian: "Facebook has announced plans to water down its controversial 'real names' policy, after lobbying from civil liberties groups worldwide."

If you'd like to know whatever happened to former NYT food columnist Mark Bittman, the Washington Post has the answer.

Jennifer Senior of the New York Times reviews Notorious R.G.B., by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik: "It’s an artisanal hagiography, a frank and admiring piece of fan nonfiction."

Digital Globe photo, via NASA, republished in the New York Times. CLICK ON PHOTO TO SEE LARGER IMAGE.... New York Times: "Satellite pictures of a remote and treeless northern steppe reveal colossal earthworks — geometric figures of squares, crosses, lines and rings the size of several football fields, recognizable only from the air and the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old. The largest, near a Neolithic settlement, is a giant square of 101 raised mounds, its opposite corners connected by a diagonal cross, covering more terrain than the Great Pyramid of Cheops.... Described last year at an archaeology conference in Istanbul as unique and previously unstudied, the earthworks, in the Turgai region of northern Kazakhstan, number at least 260 — mounds, trenches and ramparts — arrayed in five basic shapes."

New York Times: "In a landmark study, scientists at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands reported that they had conducted an experiment that they say proved one of the most fundamental claims of quantum theory — that objects separated by great distance can instantaneously affect each other’s behavior. The finding is another blow to one of the bedrock principles of standard physics known as 'locality,' which states that an object is directly influenced only by its immediate surroundings. The Delft study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, lends further credence to an idea that Einstein famously rejected. He said quantum theory necessitated 'spooky action at a distance,' and he refused to accept the notion that the universe could behave in such a strange and apparently random fashion." CW: Everything is relative, Al.

Gizmodo: On Halloween, "a rather large asteroid — discovered less than three weeks ago — is set to to fly past the Earth at a distance not seen in nearly a decade.... NASA says that 2015 TB145 will safely pass by the Earth and continue to following along its exceptionally eccentric and high-inclination orbit — which may explain why it wasn’t discovered until only a few weeks ago. During the flyby, the asteroid will reach a magnitude luminosity of 10, so it should be observable to astronomers with telescopes."

For $299,000 you could buy the house where Bruce Springsteen wrote "Born to Run." It looks like a dump prone to flooding every time it rains, but it's a block-and-a-half from the Jersey shore beach.

New York Post: "During his time in the White House, President Richard Nixon — pug-nosed, jowly, irascible, charmless-yet-devoted husband to Pat — was known to awkwardly hit on middle-aged female staffers. In 'The Last of the President’s Men' (Simon & Schuster), veteran journalist Bob Woodward quotes Alexander Butterfield, Nixon’s deputy assistant, about the commander-in-chief’s sad seduction techniques."

CW: I've completely ignored the buzz about the film "Steve Jobs," so this was welcome:

... Sharon Shetty in Slate: "As the latest attempt to mine every last bit of meaning from the life of Apple’s late founder, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs will probably make lots of money and spark lots of debate. For those preemptively exhausted by that debate, there’s Conan O’Brien’s less controversial take on a tech biopic: Michael Dell":

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The Commentariat -- Oct. 28, 2013

... Buh-bye, ObamaCare Girl. Tal Kopan of Politico: the face of changes -- to an interactive graphic. ...

... The Slate staff imagine what might look like if the major tech companies had designed it, which many critics suggest is the way HHS should have gone. Here's Slate's take on the Google design; go to the link to see the other mock-ups:

... Paul Krugman: "Obamacare is an immense kludge -- a clumsy, ugly structure that more or less deals with a problem, but in an inefficient way. The thing is, such better-than-nothing-but-pretty-bad solutions have become the norm in American governance. As Steven Teles of Johns Hopkins University put it in a recent essay, we've become a 'kludgeocracy.' And the main reason that is happening, I'd argue, is ideology." ...

** Michael Lind in Salon: "... the worst features of Obamacare are the very features that conservatives want to impose on all federal social policy [i.e., Medicare, Social Security]: means-testing, a major role for the states, and subsidies to private providers instead of direct public provision of health or retirement benefits. This is not surprising, because Obamacare's models are right-wing models -- the Heritage Foundation's healthcare plan in the 1990s and Mitt Romney's 'Romneycare' in Massachusetts." CW: Krugman makes the same point about Paul Ryan's plan for replacing "Medicare as we know it" in his column today. Last week I read the Konczal piece to which Lind refers -- it's here -- & didn't link it because it's a bit hard to follow unless you read closely. However, you don't have to be a genius to read it. The bottom line of all three pieces -- Lind's, Krugman's & Konczal's -- is that what people won't like about ObamaCare is the part that conservatives imposed. ...

... Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic provides an honest, balanced look at how the ACA will affect health insurance premium rates -- a rundown you will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. ...

We nearly killed ObamaCare. It's not dead yet, but we're not done beating on it either. -- Rep. Steve King (RTP-Iowa)

... Heather of Crooks & Liars: "You hear it on the lips of every single one of the Republican talking heads on every single Sunday news show: President Obama promised that if you liked your healthcare, you could keep it and HE LIED!!! ... Millions of Americans found out that they've been dropped from their healthcare! ... David Gregory has never come across a Republican talking point that he didn't love, embrace and swallow up whole to faithfully regurgitate to the masses. So he dutifully confronts Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida CEO Patrick Geraghty about the news that 300,000 Floridians have found their policies dropped because they fall below the minimum standards of coverage set by Obamacare. Problem was, Geraghty wasn't going to play Gregory's gotcha game with people's healthcare:

We're not cutting people. We're actually transitioning people. What we've been doing is informing folks that their plan doesn't meet the test of the essential health benefits; therefore, they have a choice of many options that we make available through the exchange. And, in fact, with subsidy, many people will be getting better plans at a lesser cost. This really is a transition. In fact, the 300,000 figure is the entire year. So it's really 40,000 people for January 1, and we're walking them through that transition.

Steve Coll of the New Yorker on the decline of the Republican party: "The Tea Party's anti-intellectualism reflects a longer, deeper decline in the Republican Party's ability to tolerate a diversity of ideas and public-policy strategies, and to adapt to American multiculturalism." ...

... ** Greg Sargent makes an important point: Tea Party Republican's idea "is that the demand that Republicans enter into conventional policy discussions is itself a political trap! ... There is probably nothing that could result from normal governing compromises between Republicans and Democrats that the Tea Party wing can ever accept." CW: Calling Tea Party radicals the Crazy Caucus is not derogatory; it's a statement of fact.

Every Fucking Bad Thing Is Obama's Fault. Steve M. of NMMNB: "... I thought I'd share this response from a Free Republic commenter to the death of Lou Reed:

The ObamaCare Death Panels in New York wouldn't give him a liver transplant so he got it done in Ohio instead. Typical liberal hypocrisy. Death Panels for thee but not for me.

     ... "I'm not quite sure how 'ObamaCare Death Panels' could kill Reed given that (a) Reed was old enough for Medicare, (b) Obamacare hasn't been fully implemented, and (c) Ohio, like New York, is part of the United States, and Obamacare is federal law, but whatever."

ABC News & the AP: "U.S. officials responded Sunday night to a report that the National Security Agency ended a program used to spy on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders only after an internal Obama administration review started this summer exposed the operation. An unnamed senior official told The Wall Street Journal that the White House 'cut off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Ms. Merkel and some other world leaders. Other programs have been slated for termination but haven't been phased out completely yet.'" CW: So if the project to spy on Merkel began in 2002 & Obama ended it, then I guess this one is George Bush's fault. ...

... Sarah White & Emma Pinedo of Reuters: " The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) recently tracked over 60 million calls in Spain in the space of a month, a Spanish newspaper said on Monday, citing a document which it said formed part of papers obtained from ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden."

A Reminder from E. J. Dionne: "... here is the tea party’s greatest victory: It has made the wrong problem the center of policymaking. The wrong problem is the deficit. The right problem is sluggish growth and persistent unemployment.... By putting so much effort into negotiating a failed 'grand bargain' with House Speaker John Boehner in 2011 and subsequently agreeing to the sharp, across-the-board cuts of the 'sequester' to get out of a crisis, Obama contributed to the deficit chorus. Because of the fiscal tightening, our unemployment rate is probably a point higher than it would have been otherwise. We've done a heck of a job on the deficit, reducing it from about 10 percent of the economy in 2009 to 4 percent now. We've done badly by the jobless."

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post on the strong Clinton-McAuliffe friendship. "Bill and Hillary, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, are leveraging their popularity in an all-out push to help [Terry] McAuliffe win the governorship of Virginia. On Sunday, Bill kicked off a four-day, nine-city tour of Virginia with McAuliffe, while Hillary will raise money for him this week in California." CW: Hey, McAuliffe's opponent Ken Cuccinelli has Rick Santorum (who seems to be on the campaign trail to hawk a Christianist movie he produced or something).

Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker has a long piece on the assassination of President Kennedy: "An assassination should be significant for more than its atmospherics. Kennedy's should also matter for people who weren't there, because something happened in America that would not have happened had Kennedy lived."

Sarah Duggin of the National Constitution Center has a good piece on the Constitutional meaning of "natural-born citizen."

... More Fishing News from Wyoming, the State that Fined Liz Cheney for Lying about her Residence Status on Her Fishing License Application. Elise Viebeck of the Hill: "Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday that Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) lied about their relationship when he said that the two had gone fishing. Cheney's daughter, Liz Cheney, is challenging Enzi in the Wyoming Republican Senate primary." CW: How big was that fish you caught, Mike?

News Ledes

Politico: "The Obama administration is attributing Sunday outages on to technical failures by Verizon Terremark, the company operating the federal data hub."

AFP: "A South African court began sentencing Monday 20 right-wing extremists convicted of high treason for a plot to kill Nelson Mandela and drive blacks out of the country. The 'Boeremag' organisation had planned a right-wing coup in 2002 to overthrow the post-apartheid government. The trial lasted almost a decade until the organisation's members were convicted in August last year -- the first guilty verdicts for treason since the end of apartheid in 1994."

AP: "International observers gave their stamp of approval to Georgia's presidential election on Monday, characterizing it as 'clean' and 'transparent.' Sunday's election was won easily by Giorgi Margvelashvili, a 44-year-old former university rector with limited political experience." CW: The article of course is not about the U.S. state of Georgia, which has a voter ID law requiring photo identification.


The Commentariat -- Oct. 27, 2013

CW: There are a handful of stories out there like this one by Mike Dorning of Bloomberg News: "The rocky debut of the insurance exchanges at the heart of President Barack Obama’s health-care law poses risks to his political agenda and the activist role for government that he has championed for his second term."

When a small group of folks in Congress shuts down our government to try to shut down Obamacare, and we watch as our President stands strong, that's not just some political fight in Washington -- it is a battle about our most fundamental values and aspirations. -- Michelle Obama, speaking at the Women's Leadership Forum Conference in Washington, D.C.

... AND speaking of the First Lady, it seems she is totally responsible for the debacle because a former BLACK classmate of hers is a top executive at CGI, one of the companies that is responsible for coding the troubled Website & that, ah, gave more to Congressional Republicans -- Darrell Issa -- than to Democrats & whose executives gave twice as much to Mitt Romney as to Barack Obama. Steve M. of NMMNB seems less than impressed with the Daily Caller's big "scoop." Also, the CGI exec Michelle Obama may or may not know is still BLACK. ...

... A Tax the GOP Loves. Stephen Ohlemacher of the AP: "GOP senators balked when Democrats proposed delaying a new temporary fee on everyone covered by health insurance. So employers, insurance companies and other health plan sponsors are in line to pay $63 a person next year for everyone who has coverage.... The temporary fee on people with health insurance is designed to raise $25 billion over the next three years. The money will provide a cushion for insurers from the initial hard-to-predict costs of covering previously uninsured people with medical problems.... GOP senators complained the delay was basically a favor for labor unions...."

Darlene Superville of the AP: "The Obama administration is stressing that information submitted while signing up for coverage under the new health care law will not be used to enforce immigration law. That's always been the practice, but lingering fear among some immigrants that personal details could be used against them led the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to clarify."

Teabaggers Say the Darnest Things

There was absolutely no reason, whatsoever, for this administration to block access to the World War Two Memorial or the Lincoln Memorial. It's never ever been done in a government shutdown prior to this administration doing so. -- Rep. Paul Broun (RTP-Ga.), running for U.S. Senate *

* The Lincoln Memorial was closed in the last government shutdown (1995). The WWII was completed in 2004, 9 years after the last shutdown. Thanks to Barbarossa for the link.

GOP Tea Party Push-Back

Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "As he seeks a third term in the U.S. Senate, Lamar Alexander [R-Tenn.] is doing something few other incumbent Republicans have tried recently: Instead of running scared of the tea party, he's running hard against it.... Independent analysts and strategists in both parties think Alexander has a good chance of winning his primary against a low-profile state representative.... [Rather than following the usual GOP playbook of running away from his conservative votes,] he has mounted a vigorous defense of recent votes in which he joined with Democrats to approve a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws and a farm bill that spends billions on food aid for poor people and some cash payments for farmers and farming conglomerates...." ...

... Peter Wallsten of the Washington Post: "A Republican congressman from a heavily Hispanic district is breaking ranks from his party to join Democrats in an eleventh-hour push for a broad immigration overhaul before the end of the year. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) plans to sign on as the lone GOP member with 185 Democrats to co-sponsor a plan that would give millions of unauthorized immigrants the chance to attain citizenship."

Kim Barker of ProPublica, in Salon: "Two dark money groups linked to conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have paid a record $1 million in fines to California to settle allegations that the combined $15 million they spent on two ballot proposals in the state was not properly disclosed. The civil settlement, announced Thursday afternoon in Sacramento, caps a year of investigation into the activities of the two Arizona groups, Americans for Responsible Leadership and the Center to Protect Patient Rights."

... Judge Posner Regrets. Jealous's speech brings to mind this excellent piece by law professor Fran Quigley on Indiana's voter ID law, declared constitutional by the U.S. Seventh Circuit & upheld by the Supreme Court. Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the opinion in 2007 now says he was wrong. But Quigley says, rightly, that Posner is weaseling. Also weaseling, Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the decision to uphold the law & now says he was right then but wrong now (tricky!). Quigley makes the point, articulated in the Seventh Circuits dissent by Judge Terence Evans & in the Supreme Court dissent (begins on pdf page 31) of Justice David Souter, that "the right to vote is so fundamental that a new voting restriction should not be approved unless the government can show it is necessary to serve important governmental interests." Instead the courts placed the burden of proof on the ACLU to show harm, which, BTW, they did, as Souter recounts. This summary by Jesse Wegman of the New York Times is good, too. Also, here's Paul Smith of the American Constitution Society on the Posner weasel.

Alina Selyukh & Greg Savoy of Reuters: "Protesters marched on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday to protest the U.S. government's online surveillance programs, whose vast scope was revealed this year by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.... Estimates varied on the size of the march, with organizers saying more than 2,000 attended. U.S. Capitol Police said they do not typically provide estimates on the size of demonstrations." ...

Angela's Secrets. AFP: "US President Barack Obama was personally informed of mobile phone tapping against German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which may have begun as early as 2002, German media reported Sunday. Bild am Sonntag newspaper quoted US intelligence sources as saying that National Security Agency chief Keith Alexander had briefed Obama on the operation against Merkel in 2010.... The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported Saturday that Obama had told Merkel during their call that he had been unaware of any spying against her. It did not cite its sources." ...

... Gregor Schmitz of Der Speigel on Merkel's "delicate dance" re: U.S. spying on her & on other allies. ...

... Bryan McManus of AFP: "German spy chiefs will travel to the United States next week to demand answers following allegations that US intelligence has been tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone, as a row over US snooping threatened to hurt transatlantic ties."

Mark Landler of the New York Times: President Obama & National Security Advisor Susan Rice set a more modest U.S. agenda for dealing with the Middle East. "The president's goal, said Ms. Rice, who discussed the review for the first time in an interview last week, is to avoid having events in the Middle East swallow his foreign policy agenda, as it had those of presidents before him."

Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times: The pending $13 billion settlement between JPMorganChase & federal agencies "is a refresher course in how far-off the rails our largest financial institutions veered in the years leading up to the mess. It also stands as a reminder that not enough has been done to fix the flawed incentives in our sprawling and powerful financial system. This applies to both the private sector -- the mighty banks -- and their supposed minders, the regulators." ...

CW: Morgenson's "refresher course" & "lessons learned" are quite general. Matt Taibbi, on the other hand, tells it like it is. A very good read. ...

... Doing God's Work. Susan Craig of the New York Times: Goldman Sachs is "polishing its reputation" with charitable projects. ...

... Steven Perlstein of the Washington Post introduces Marty Sullivan, corporate tax policy wonk.

Steve Benen has the religious hits of the week in his post "This Week in God." ...

... AND there's this from Kerry Eleveld in Salon: "Evangelicals ... are fast becoming the fringe of the GOP, based on recently released research from focus groups conducted by Stan Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert for Democracy Corps.... Both moderate and Tea Party Republicans view the Evangelical agenda as a total distraction."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Syria submitted a formal declaration of its chemical weapons program and plans for destroying its arsenal three days ahead of the deadline, the international chemical weapons watchdog said on Sunday."

New York Times: "Lou Reed, the singer-songwriter and guitarist whose work with the Velvet Underground in the 1960s had an impact on generations of rock musicians, and who remained a powerful if polarizing force for the rest of his life, died on Sunday at his home in Southampton, N.Y., on Long Island. He was 71." Reed's Rolling Stone obituary is here. An "American Masters" program on Reed is here.

Mystery Barge. CNET: "Something big and mysterious is rising from a floating barge at the end of Treasure Island, a former Navy base in the middle of San Francisco Bay.... It's unclear what's inside the structure, which stands about four stories high and was made with a series of modern cargo containers.... Google did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But ... it's all but certain that Google is the entity that is building the massive structure that's in plain sight, but behind tight security." ...

     ... UPDATE. From the Oct. 23 Portland, Maine Press Herald: another Mystery Barge, this one in the Portland, Maine harbor, also speculated to be a Google site. Apparently Portland is not the barge's final destination. Thanks to Janice K. for the link. ...

AFP: "An Afghan soldier shot and injured two NATO coalition troops before being killed in a dispute at a flagship officer-training academy near Kabul that only opened a week ago, officials said Sunday. NATO officials confirmed the shooting at the British-run Afghan National Army Officer Academy, which has been set up to produce a new generation of professional military leaders as the Afghan army takes on the Taliban."

Reuters: "Iran has not halted its most sensitive uranium enrichment work, a senior Iranian parliamentarian said, contradicting a statement by another lawmaker last week."

AFP: " Social Democrats edged out a new populist party to win Czech elections on Saturday as voters angered by years of right-wing graft and austerity veered left, full results showed. However, the fragmented outcome of the two-day ballot leaves few options for a stable majority government, analysts warned, and the parties will have to embark upon coalition talks."

AFP: "Georgia voted in a presidential poll Sunday with a loyalist of billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili favourite to replace his larger-than-life nemesis Mikheil Saakashvili at the helm of the ex-Soviet state. The vote heralds the end of pro-Western Saakashvili's second and last term and a year of his painful political cohabitation with bete noire Ivanishvili, who has promised to also step down in the coming weeks." ...

     ... New York Times UPDATE: "Georgian voters chose a new president on Sunday, but with billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili planning to step down shortly in favor of an unnamed successor, it remained unclear who would hold the prime minister's post, now the most powerful political office in the country. In balloting to replace President Mikheil Saakashvili, who catapulted to fame as leader of the peaceful Rose Revolution in 2003, Mr. Ivanishvili's handpicked candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili, a former deputy prime minister and education minister, was headed to a decisive victory, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls commissioned by the country's two main television stations."


The Commentariat -- Oct. 26, 2013

The President's Weekly Address:

... Sandhya Somashekhar & Lena Sun of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration said Friday it will take until the end of November for the new federal health insurance Web site to be fully fixed, and that a private contracting firm would be managing the effort. Jeffrey Zients, the consultant brought in by the Obama administration this week to assess the problems plaguing the online health insurance marketplace, said in a conference call that his team had discovered dozens of problems but the site is 'fixable.'" ...

... Jonathan Chait: "... So basically the possibilities are:

1) They know what they're doing.

2) They have fooled themselves into thinking they know what they're doing, but don't....

3) A large meteor will destroy the world on or before November 30." ...

... Robert Pear & Sharon LaFraniere of the New York Times: "The Obama administration said Friday that it would fix problems in the federal health insurance marketplace by Nov. 30, just two weeks before the deadline to sign up for coverage to replace health insurance policies being canceled because they do not meet new federal standards.... Such a condensed time frame raises the question of how hundreds of thousands of people whose current policies do not comply with the health law will obtain new coverage in time, and how millions who may qualify for subsidies will enroll. Some experts predicted a groundswell of demands from Congress and elsewhere to delay the deadlines." ...

... Gail Collins on the rollout. ...

... Digging the Hole Deeper. Jake Sherman of Politico: "The House Republican with direct oversight of Obamacare hinted that the GOP might, once again, vote to delay a critical component of the health care law. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) hinted Friday that the House might vote to delay the sign-up date for Obamacare. The current enrollment period lasts through March." ...

... Please Don't Question My Talking Points. Igor Volsky of Think Progress: "On Friday morning, CNN anchor Carol Costello challenged Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to substantiate her claim that will endanger Americans' medical privacy. The host pushed the Congresswoman to specify which medical details enrollees would have to turn over to the federal government, causing Blackburn to become visibly uncomfortable and unsure as she strung together various buzzwords about privacy... [Blackburn] suggested that they were in violation of The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the law that guarantees 'federal protections for individually identifiable health information.' ... Deven McGraw, of the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology..., said, 'It does not violate HIPAA -- it's not even covered by HIPAA.'” With video. ...

... What's amazing about Blackburn's false claims is that she made them after the "monkey court" speech during Thursday's hearing by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NY), who helped write the ACA. Pallone completely destroyed the GOP talking point:

... Brian Beutler: "Because Obamacare makes preexisting conditions discrimination is a thing of the past, it effectively eliminates one of the most invasive aspects of applying for health insurance, and the risks the process once posed to your health information privacy. First-timers won't appreciate it, but for all of's problems, anyone who's ever applied for insurance on the individual market prior to Obamacare will marvel at its simplicity. It eliminates the most time-consuming, and often degrading, part of the process altogether." ...

... Steve Benen: "Republicans find themselves adrift with an unhelpful floatation device. They're not only attacking a health care law that's far more popular than they are, they're also relying heavily on a problem with a finite end." ...

     ... CW: The underlying problem is the Republican two-point agenda, which is their entire party platform: (a) Lower taxes on rich people & corporations (see Alan Pyke's piece below); (b) Oppose every government program that doesn't benefit military contractors. ...

... Scott Lemieux in Lawyers, Guns & Money: "I'm still amazed at the number of people who seem to think that we could have had a much better version of the ACA if it wasn't for [Harry] Reid's weak leadership. The correct answer, as seems even more obvious in retrospect, is that it's remarkable that Reid was able to get Bayh, Nelson, Lieberman, Landrieu et al. to vote for anything."

We're not sure we can chew gum, let alone walk and chew gum, so let's just chew gum for a while. -- Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), on why the House can't vote for immigration reform

... Eric Lipton & Ashley Parker of the New York Times: "With immigration re-emerging as the topic of focus in Washington, an unusual coalition of business executives, Republican Party activists and evangelical leaders will descend on Capitol Hill early next week to pressure House Republicans to pass their own legislation.... The debate threatens to create another schism in the Republican Party and to further alienate a major source of campaign contributions; several corporate executives interviewed this week said they were considering withholding donations from lawmakers who get in the way." ...

... Anna Palmer & Jake Sherman of Politico: "House Republican leadership has no plans to vote on any immigration reform legislation before the end the year. The House has just 19 days in session before the end of 2013, and there are a number of reasons why immigration reform is stalled this year.... Leadership also says skepticism of President Barack Obama within the House Republican Conference is at a high, and that's fueled a desire to stay out of a negotiating process with the Senate. Republicans fear getting jammed.... Other prominent immigration supporters like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have also backed off any deal, saying the Obama administration has 'undermined' negotiations by not defunding his signature health care law. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) went further, saying Obama is trying to 'destroy the Republican Party' and that GOP leaders would be 'crazy' to enter into talks with Obama." CW Translation: We can't vote for immigration reform because Obama won't defund ObamaCare. Also, he's mean. ...

... Ed Kilgore: "Hey, and those are the Republicans supporting immigration reform, including the senator most associated with the Senate bill that reform advocates are asking the House to take up. Just wait until the nativists weigh in."

Charles Blow has a good piece on the rich getting richer & the poor getting poorer -- as Congress prepares to cut food stamps. CW: What this should tell you is that the GOP is winning. ...

... Joshua Green of Bloomberg News: "Gene Sperling, director of the White House's National Economic Council, "dwelt at length -- and with some passion -- on the need for more stimulus, though he avoided using that dreaded word. He seemed to hint at a budget deal that would trade near-term 'investment' (the preferred euphemism for 'stimulus') for long-term entitlement reform. That would be an important shift and one that would certainly upset many Democrats." Green updates his piece with an update from White House spokesperson Amy Brundage: “Gene was reiterating what our position has been all along: that any big budget deal is going to have to include significant revenues if Republicans insist on entitlement reforms." CW: Gene Sperling can't leave soon enough for me. Another Stupid White House Trick -- making the needy pay forever for boosting the general economy today. The only upside I can see is that Democrats could some day change the "forever" part, while Republicans couldn't get back the stimulus they allowed now. This assumes that Republicans slink into oblivion. That can't happen soon enough, either. ...

... Paul Krugman on raising the Medicare eligibility age (see also yesterday's Commentariat): "... CBO has redone its analysis, and finds that raising the Medicare age would barely reduce federal spending.... Will people stop talking about raising the Medicare age? My prediction is that they won't -- because it wasn't really about saving money in the first place. Degrading the safety net and pushing people into more expensive private insurance weren't bugs, they were features. The usual suspects, I predict, will just keep pushing for the same thing, and dismiss the evidence."

Ted Cruz Pretends He's Not Getting a Big Tax Break. Dave Jamieson of the Huffington Post: "... a Cruz spokeswoman told the Times that the senator's Goldman [health insurance] plan 'comes at no cost to the taxpayer.' As with any family on employer-sponsored coverage, Heidi Nelson Cruz's health insurance essentially functions as untaxed income. Rather than pay her an additional $20,000 in salary, Goldman compensates her just as much through her health plan, which the Cruz family won't have to pay taxes on. Assuming the Cruz family falls into the highest tax bracket -- generally a safe assumption for a Goldman managing director -- ... the $20,000 Goldman plan amounts to about $8,000 in taxes that the general public won't see."

Leaders of the Two Major Political Parties Keynote Dueling Fundraisers

One of the things we accomplished in the fight over Obamacare is we elevated the national debate over what a disaster, what a train wreck, how much Obamacare is hurting millions of Americans across this country. -- Ted Cruz, at a Republican fundraiser in Des Moines, Iowa

... Thomas Beaumont & Catherine Lucey of the AP: " Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says this month's partial government shutdown and his key role in it were a success: They got people talking."

The shutdown was about more than just health care. It was about a contrast of visions, about what our obligations are to each other as fellow citizens. And we've got the better side of that argument. -- President Obama, Friday, at a fundraiser for House Democrats in New York City

... Josh Lederman of the AP: President "Obama launched a six-week burst of fundraising for Democrats with a pair of top-dollar events in New York. He told donors that the impasse, at its core, was 'a symptom of a larger challenge,' exposing how American politics, with its intense focus on ideology, have become detached from the problems ordinary Americans face." ...

... "At the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, President Obama says that we must finish building a new foundation for shared and lasting prosperity so that everybody who works hard has a chance to get ahead." -- White House:

Another Tea Party Senator Screws Wall Street. Steve Leisman of CNBC: "Sen. Rand Paul is threatening to put a hold on the nomination of Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve, a source close to the Kentucky Republican said Friday. Paul is insisting on a vote on his Fed transparency bill, and has informed Senate leadership of his intentions, the source said.... Paul intends to formally put the hold in place next week, once the Senate is back in session, the source added. Markets gave back some of their earlier gains on the report. [Emphasis added.] The senator's bill would mandate a complete audit of the Federal Reserve."

Ben Protess & Peter Eavis of the New York Times: The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which "helped forge a tentative $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase, split off with its own deal on Friday, extracting a $4 billion payout from the nation's biggest bank.... That $4 billion was initially seen as a crucial element of the preliminary $13 billion settlement that JPMorgan reached last week.... The settlement with the housing regulator would help JPMorgan put one of its costliest cases behind it."

Alan Pyke of Think Progress: "Among companies listed on the S&P 500, almost one in nine paid an effective tax rate of zero percent - or even lower - over the past year, according to an analysis by USA Today."

If It's Bad (or Might Be Bad), Obama Did It. Jennifer Hlad of Stars & Stripes: "The story is sweeping the Internet: President Barack Obama is trying to emasculate male Marines by making them wear a girly cover with their famed dress uniforms. The only problem? It's not true.... 'The president in no way, shape or form directed the Marine Corps to change our uniform cover,' according to [a] Marine Corps statement. 'We are looking for a new cover for our female Marines for one overriding reason: The former manufacturer went out of business.... The Marine Corps has zero intention of changing the male cover.'" CW: Here's a typical story from one of the usual suspects -- the Washington Examiner: "Marines are decrying a new look President Obama has planned for their uniforms -- namely, a unisex-style cap that they say looks more French than American, more 'girly' than hard-charging." Don't wait around for a retraction & apology.

The Evolution of Wingers

I didn't vote for him, but he's my president and I hope he does a good job. -- John Wayne, 1960, on the election of John Kennedy

I hope he fails. -- Rush Limbaugh, 2009, on the election of Barack Obama

... CW: You might be interested in the article from which I took this citation: Chris Mooney interviews psychologist Jonathan Haidt about "the science of Tea Party wrath." I happen to think Haidt's theories run to ivory-tower naive, but some people like his stuff. If you read the piece, try to apply Haidt's theory to Don Yelton. That will at least help you understand why I think Haidt is full of mush. ...

... Tim Molloy of the Wrap: "Don Yelton, the North Carolina Republican who lost a county precinct chairman position after deriding 'lazy blacks' on 'The Daily Show,' isn't exactly backing down. Reached by TheWrap for comment on the situation, he used the N-word, said his county party was out to get him because of old grievances, and stood by his comment that 'lazy blacks' shouldn't decide elections. He said lazy college students and lazy whites shouldn't, either.... Yelton said Republicans had lost an opportunity to use his statements as proof that they are open to all views." CW: Oh, Don, the GOP is open to your views; you have to use code words, the way Newt does. ...

... Shopping While Black. Dareh Gregorian of the New York Daily News: "Robert Brown, star of the HBO show 'Treme,' says he was 'paraded' through Macy's Herald Square in handcuffs and detained for an hour after an employee called the cops on him, suspecting the credit card he used to make a purchase wasn't legit."

News Ledes

Reuters: "Marcia Wallace, the star of 'The Bob Newhart Show' and "'The Simpsons,' died Friday at the age of 70 from complications related to breast cancer...."


The Commentariat -- Oct. 25, 2013

If you give a bully a dollar today, they ask for a dollar and a half tomorrow. It has taken a while for all my caucus to come to that understanding. And quite frankly, the president, wonderful man that he is, he doesn't like confrontation and he likes to work things out with people. I was too lenient. Don't blame it all on him. -- Harry Reid, on 2011 & 2012 negotiations with GOP bullies

Erik Wasson of the Hill: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) "ruled out the possibility that a budget conference committee convening next week will reach a 'grand bargain' that would cut entitlements, raise taxes and reduce spending. 'We are not going to have a grand bargain in the near future,' he said. Instead, he suggested negotiators should focus on a replacement for sequestration and forget 'happy talk' about a grand bargain." As contributor James S. says, "Bravo (and amazing). Maybe now the White House will wake up."

Robert Pear of the New York Times: " Federal officials did not fully test the online health insurance marketplace until two weeks before it opened to the public on Oct. 1, contractors told Congress on Thursday.... Lawmakers from both parties expressed anger during the hearing at the performance of contractors hired to build the online health insurance marketplace...." The Washington Post story is here. BTW, Joe Barton & Tim Murphy, whom we quoted yesterday as being completely unperturbed by the flawed rollout of the Bush administration's Medicare expansion, are cited in the articles as being highly critical of the ACA Website. Barton, typically, invents a supposed flaw in the ACA site which is totally false. ...

... Brian Beutler of Salon: "The GOP plan ... is to use's problems as a pretext for undermining the entire law, even in states where people are signing up by the thousands. And the goal now is to obscure the enormous differences between the two in order to fuse an attack on Obamacare with a post hoc effort to slither away from responsibility for the shutdown.... Republicans ... could have put the [] issue to real political use. Instead they're resorting to the same kind of outrageous, self-discrediting overreach that has defined every chapter of their campaign against Obamacare." ...

... Dana Milbank: "Fresh from a shutdown and almost a default over Obamacare, House Republicans' new legislative strategy is to investigate Obamacare. Is it any wonder this Congress, and congressional Republicans in particular, is held in such low public esteem?" ...

... Via Greg Sargent.

... Alex Rogers of Time: "Families USA has received a $1 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which it will use to collect and distribute to the media personal stories of those who have benefited from the new health insurance exchange rolled out by the Obama Administration October 1."

Sahil Kapur of TPM: "Raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 saves far less than previously projected, a revelation that makes the policy far less attractive in upcoming deficit reduction negotiations in Congress." CW: I'm so surprised. Paul Krugman said this years ago. Moreover, it isn't "savings" if the cost is passed on to the elderly -- AND at a premium --- individuals don't have the clout to negotiate healthcare costs the way Medicare does. In addition, raising the age would cause some 65-year-olds to put off treatment, thus becoming sicker & needing more care. Raising the Medicare eligibility age was always a stupid idea.

James Ball of the Guardian: "National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department, according to a classified document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The confidential memo reveals that the NSA encourages senior officials in its 'customer' departments, such the White House, State and the Pentagon, to share their 'Rolodexes' so the agency can add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems." ...

... Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "U.S. officials are alerting some foreign intelligence services that documents detailing their secret cooperation with the United States have been obtained by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, according to government officials. Snowden, U.S. officials said, took tens of thousands of documents, some of which contain sensitive material about collection programs against adversaries such as Iran, Russia and China. Some refer to operations that in some cases involve countries not publicly allied with the United States." ...

Thanks to contributor JJG for his brilliant observation. (See today's Comments.)... James Kanter of the New York Times: " The leaders of Germany and France offered on Friday to hold talks with the United States in an effort come up with mutually acceptable rules for surveillance operations, easing a trans-Atlantic spying dispute that has plunged relations between America and Europe to a low point." CW: Yes, spy rules should work. ...

... Peter Beinert of the Daily Beast: "In a world where other countries have more power relative to the U.S., it's increasingly dangerous to believe we can do things to them we would never tolerate them doing to us. Many decades ago, the man sometimes called Obama's 'favorite theologian' argued that the 'pride and self-righteousness of powerful nations are a greater hazard to their success than the machinations of their foes.' It would be nice if Obama remembered that, if even if Fox News won't." ...

... Brendan Sasso of the Hill: "... Edward Snowden on Thursday disputed Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) claim that the government's phone record collection program is not 'surveillance.' 'Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA's hands,' Snowden said in a statement Thursday. 'Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They're wrong.'" ...

... Here's the Advocate profile of Glenn Greenwald by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, which contributor Diane linked yesterday. Diane described Greenwald as "emotionally immature." As I read, I felt as if I was peeking at the private thoughts of a precociously well-spoken but otherwise average teenager.

Spies on a Train. Eric Schmitt of the New York Times: While traveling on the Acela, Tom Matzzie, a former Washington director of, overheard former NSA Director Michael Hayden talking to reporters on background. So Mattzie tweeted it in real time. The tweets are here. CW: Matzzie claims in the tweets that Hayden made disparaging remarks about the Obama administration, but since he never gives specifics, his tweets are pretty useless. ...

... Charles Pierce made something of Hayden's insistence -- as tweeted by Matzzie -- that he be IDed as "a former senior administration official," not to mention Hayden's monumental indiscretion.

Paul Krugman beats up on the usual suspects -- Simpson, Bowles & Greenspan -- & leaves them bloody pulps on the side of the road: "... the next time you see some serious-looking man in a suit declaring that we're teetering on the precipice of fiscal doom, don't be afraid. He and his friends have been wrong about everything so far, and they literally have no idea what they're talking about." Avoid the urge to be a good Samaritan. ...

... Shaun Tandon of AFP: "Secretary of State John Kerry warned Thursday that the greatest risk to the United States was its own dysfunction as he pleaded for no repeat of a government shutdown. Kerry said that the two-week paralysis triggered by lawmakers of the rival Republican Party had set back vital government functions and also cut into the credibility of the United States." ...

... Mario Trujillo of the Hill: "Hillary Clinton on Thursday night blamed lawmakers who govern by ideology for sending the country careening from crisis to crisis.... Specifically alluding to the government shutdown, Clinton derided the consequences when lawmakers use 'scorched earth' tactics and operate in an 'evidence-free zone.'" ...

... Think these are just Democratic talking points? Here's Ben White of Politico -- yes, Politico: "The latest round of fiscal drama has sputtered to a temporary close, but the routine crises have one clear victim: the U.S. economy, which is once again losing altitude. And for the third year in a row, Washington gets much of the blame." CW: Okay, White throws in the shoddy rollout & NSA spying to, you know, "balance" his piece, but the "balance" is not very convincing, especially on the Website issue.

Ben Terris of the National Journal profiles Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), focusing on her "evolution" from Blue Dog to sorta liberal.

A Festering Wound. I missed this report by Jane Mayer last week, but it's worth a read, as it concerns the CIA's continued defense of its Bush-era torture policies. ...

... Juan Cole sees a larger problem: "How corrupt our system has become is evident when even the New Yorker emphasizes that a secret Senate report found that torture in the Bush years was 'unnecessary' and 'ineffective.' Not that it was 'unconstitutional.'"

What Is Pete Sessions' Problem with President Obama?

You can say that I endorse Mitt Romney, but that's not just because I'm a white man. We all have things which we're for and ideas which we support. -- Pete Sessions, 2012

I know of not one Republican candidate that would not appear publicly with Mitt Romney and I know many Democrats that don't even want to be in the same city -- forget the same stage -- with President Obama. -- Pete Sessions, 2012

I cannot even stand to look at you. -- Pete Sessions, to President Obama, 2013

Do your own translations. It's easy! -- Constant Weader

Local News

Brett Logiurato of Business Insider: "A North Carolina county precinct GOP chair [Don Yelton] resigned on Thursday after an offensive interview that aired on 'The Daily Show' Wednesday, in which he said 'lazy black people' want 'the government to give them everything.'" Here's the segment. Aasif Mandvi is awesome:

... CW: I have finally figured out the difference between ObamaCare & RomneyCare. The percentage of blacks in Massachusetts, based on the 2010 census, is 7.9 percent. The percentage of blacks in the U.S. is 13.1 percent. The percentage of whites in Massachusetts is 83.7; in the U.S. it's 77.9. Moreover, the median income of blacks in Massachusetts is significantly higher than of blacks in the U.S., so fewer black Massachusetts residents need assistance in paying for health insurance. The rage against ObamaCare is rage against black people. Romney could have just said so during the campaign instead of going with those vague &/or nonsensical attempts to explain why RomneyCare = good & ObamaCare = bad. I guess the people who know the code figured out the real difference. I'm kinda slow.

News Ledes

Reuters: "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday recommended tighter restrictions on products that contain hydrocodone, an opioid painkiller present in commonly prescribed potentially addictive drugs such as Vicodin."

Reuters: "In reviewing Fukushima working conditions, Reuters interviewed more than 80 workers, employers and officials involved in the unprecedented nuclear clean-up. A common complaint: the project's dependence on a sprawling and little scrutinized network of subcontractors - many of them inexperienced with nuclear work and some of them, police say, have ties to organized crime. Tepco sits atop a pyramid of subcontractors that can run to seven or more layers and includes construction giants such as Kajima Corp and Obayashi Corp in the first tier. The embattled utility remains in charge of the work to dismantle the damaged Fukushima reactors, a government-subsidized job expected to take 30 years or more."