The Ledes

Tuesday, September 1, 2015.

Washington Post: "Overwhelmed by thousands of asylum-seekers, Hungarian authorities Tuesday briefly halted rail traffic from their nation’s main train station, the latest blow to borderless movement in Europe.... The asylum-seekers, many of whom are fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, hope to make it onward to Germany, which has promised shelter and sustenance for Syrians. By midday in Budapest, the train station had been reopened, but migrants were being kept away, Hungary’s state-owned news agency reported."

The Wires

The Ledes

Monday, August 31, 2015.

New York Times: "Former Gov. Marvin Mandel, whose record of modernizing Maryland’s state government was overshadowed by a messy divorce and a fraud conviction for helping associates profit from a racetrack deal, died on Sunday in St. Mary’s County, Md. He was 95." While in office, he left his wife for another woman. Of the other woman, whom Mandel married, his first wife Bootsie asked, “How can she be a first lady when she isn’t a lady first?” ...

     ... The Washington Post obituary is here. The Baltimore Sun's obituary is here.

NBC News: "Dr. Wayne Dyer, the self-help guru whose best-seller 'Your Erroneous Zones' was adopted by millions as a guide to better living, has died at 75, his family and publisher said Sunday."

New York Times: "Wes Craven, a master of horror cinema and a proponent of the slasher genre best known for creating the Freddy Krueger and 'Scream' franchises, died on Sunday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 76."

Public Service Announcement

New York Times [Aug. 20]: "As many as 60,000 American women each year are told they have a very early stage of breast cancer — Stage 0, as it is commonly known — a possible precursor to what could be a deadly tumor. And almost every one of the women has either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, and often a double mastectomy, removing a healthy breast as well. Yet it now appears that treatment may make no difference in their outcomes."

Washington Post: "A novel data-mining project reveals evidence that a common group of heartburn medications taken by more than 100 million people every year is associated with a greater risk of heart attacks, Stanford University researchers reported Wednesday."

AP: "Federal health advisers on Tuesday[, June 9,] recommended approval for a highly anticipated cholesterol drug from Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, but with the caveat that more data is needed about its long-term ability to reduce heart attacks. The expert panel recommended by a 13-3 vote that the Food and Drug Administration approve the injectable drug, called Praluent."

White House Live Video
August 28

12:00 noon ET: Josh Earnest's press briefing

Go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

***********************************************

New York Times: "Bloomberg News laid off as many as 90 journalists on Tuesday[, Sept. 1,] in its newsrooms in New York, Washington and across the world, part of a plan to refocus the organization’s coverage on business, finance, economics, technology and politics. The rationale for the dismissals was outlined in a lengthy memo to the staff from Bloomberg’s new editor in chief, John Micklethwait."

Maureen Dowd: Trump has got the best of Jeb! & Hillary: "Trump’s 'gusto,' as he likes to call it, has thrown into sharper relief the grinding-it-out, impatient entitlement, the overthinking and overcorrecting of Jeb and Hillary. Both campaign like they are owed, not because of their great national achievements, but because of their byzantine family dynamics."

The Oliver Brief. We do note, however, that the so-called 'Insular Cases,' which established a less-than-complete application of the Constitution in some U.S. territories, has been the subject of extensive judicial, academic, and popular criticism. See, e.g., Juan Torruella, The Insular Cases: The Establishment of a Regime of Political Apartheid, 77 Rev. Jur. U.P.R. 1 (2008); Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: U.S. Territories, Youtube (Mar. 8, 2015), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CesHr99ezWE. -- Footnote, Paeste v. Guam, Ninth Circuit Judge Marsha S. Berzon

Jordan Golson of Wired: "Boeing’s developed a laser cannon specifically designed to turn unmanned aircraft into flaming wreckage. The aerospace company’s new weapon system, which it publicly tested this week in a New Mexico industrial park, isn’t quite as cool as what you see in Star Wars — there’s no flying beams of light, no 'pew! pew!' sound effects. But it is nonetheless a working laser cannon, and it will take your drone down. People keep flying their drones where they shouldn’t.... Luckily, there haven’t been any really bad incidents — that is, no one has been killed by a civilian quadcopter or plane, yet."

"The cream cheese is too damn much." Scott Lemieux and I agree.

Sunday Morning Come-Down. Politico: "Al Sharpton is leaving MSNBC's weekday dayside lineup, and moving to Sunday mornings. Sharpton's last weekday 'PoliticsNation' will be Sept. 4. He moves to Sundays a month later on Oct. 4, according to a memo sent to MSNBC staff by the channel's president Phil Griffin Wednesday evening."

Washington Post: "Stephen Hawking believes he’s solved a huge mystery about black holes."

Washington Post: "The case for canonizing [Sister Blandina Segale,] the 19th century Italian-born nun, whose run-in with Old West outlaw Billy the Kid is the stuff of legend, was presented at a ceremonial 'first inquiry' in Albuquerque on Tuesday. If approved, her name will be sent to the Vatican, where it will head down the long (and somewhat secretive) path toward sainthood."

New York Times: Can't sidewalk scaffolding be attractive? Yes, it can.

Terror in Toledo! ABC News: "A man caught on video the moment a public art installation in Toledo, Ohio -- a giant, 250-pound red ball -- decided to run away and start rolling down streets lined with parked cars. Part of a Toledo Museum of Art exhibit, the RedBall Project had been wedged between Roulet Jewelers and Ice Restaurant in downtown Toledo when a thunderstorm and strong winds this past Wednesday evening knocked the ball loose and caused it to start rolling away, according to Kelly Garrow, the museum's director of communications."

... AP: "America’s two foremost Democratic families, the Obamas and the Clintons, mingled on Saturday[,August 15,] as politics mixed with summer repose on swanky Martha’s Vineyard."

Washington Post: "Offering such perks as 'free' bags and 'free' airline tickets, [some credit] cards are big on promises, but they often fall short on the delivery. And although these financial instruments are legal, experts say they are not always worthwhile."

Kori Schulman of the White House: "Today (August 14), the White House joined Spotify — and our inaugural playlist was hand-picked by none other than President Obama. When asked to pick a few of his favorite songs for the summer, the President got serious. He grabbed a pen and paper and drafted up not one, but two separate summer playlists: One for the daytime, and one for the evening." ...

... CW: If you're subscribed to Spotify, you can play the President's list from the linked story (at "Today".)

Washington Post: "Google, one of the best-known brands on the planet, on Monday[, August 10,] radically restructured itself under the corporate name Alphabet, an almost unprecedented shift that reflects the company’s far-reaching ambitions and the vast Web it helped evolve. The move represents Google’s biggest push yet to ... turn the company into a multifaceted General Electric for the digital age."

Bureaucracies Move in Mysterious Ways. New York Post: "The city [of New York] moved to fire an employee for missing about 18 months of work, even though he had the best excuse of all time — he was dead. Bureaucrats at the Human Resources Administration filed charges against Medicaid-eligibility specialist Geoffrey Toliver accusing him of going AWOL — even though his death by cancer was reported in an online obituary.... 'It is my understanding that . . . his employer was fully aware that he was not able to come back to work,' Toliver’s brother Anthony told The Post. 'It is my understanding that my brother’s family spoke directly to his supervisor during his long hospitalization and informed them of his death.'” ...

... CW: Doesn't surprise me at all. When I lived in Manhattan, my mother sent me a gift which came directly from the catalog company from which she had bought it. My father had died a few years earlier, but my mother was still getting these catalogs in his name. So my father's name, not hers, appeared on the package as the giftor. He had never lived in New York City. He was not the addressee on the package. The package didn't come from New York City. And my father was dead. But never mind all that. A few months after I received the gift, I got a letter at my New York home addressed to my father. It was a notification from the city ordering my father to show up for jury duty. Or else.

 

Josh Feldman of Mediaite: "For years and years, plenty of websites (Mediaite included) have written about the many times Jon Stewart has 'destroyed,' 'annihilated,' or 'eviscerated' anything from terrorism to race relations to Fox News. Well..., on his penultimate night, Stewart discovered that he didn’t actually do any of that":

Exit Laughing. John Koblin of the New York Times: "Since [Jon] Stewart started hosting 'The Daily Show' 16 years ago, the country’s trust in both the news media and the government has plummeted. Mr. Stewart’s brand of fake news thrived in that vacuum, and turned him into one of the nation’s most bracing cultural, political and media critics. With his over-the-top presentation of the news — his arms swinging wildly, his eyes bulging with outrage, followed by a shake of the head and a knowing smile — Mr. Stewart attracted a generation of viewers ready to embrace an outlier whose exaggerations, in their view, carried more truth than conventional newscasts." ...

...Stewart hasn't done any interviews prior to ending his run on the "Daily Show," but he did sit down with "Daily Show" producers for an "exit interview" on Episode 20 of the "Daily Show Podcast without Jon Stewart." You can listen to it here.

Los Angeles Times: "Donald Sterling filed for divorce Wednesday[, August 5] in Los Angeles Superior Court, almost a year after a contentious legal fight with his wife, Shelly, led to the sale of the Clippers.... However, the court later rejected Wednesday’s filing because it was incomplete, according to a spokeswoman. The matter is expected to be re-filed."

New York Times: "Jason Fine, the editor of Men’s Journal, will take over as the managing editor of Rolling Stone as part of what the magazine’s publisher, Jann S. Wenner, described as a 'shake-up.'”

"Where Are My Pancakes?"

The Word Salad King. If Donald Trump's good friend & possible running mate Sarah Palin is the Word Salad Queen, it stands to reason that the Donald would be the king. Slate challenges you to diagram this "sentence." To help you out, Slate has transcribed the words in the order delivered. Not that the order delivered matters much:

Obama Slept Here

For a mere $22.5MM this Martha's Vinehard house on 10 acres can be yours. The Obamas stayed in the house for 8 days in 2013. The current owner bought the property, which has expansive views of the Atlantic & Chilmark Pond, in 2000 for about $3MM. So, hey, the price is negotiable. Slide show.

The Birth of Franklin. Washington Post: After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Glickman, a white California mother wrote to cartoonist Charles Schultz urging him to introduce a black character to his "Peanuts" cartoon strips. When Schultz demurred, saying he was afraid "it would look like we were patronizing our Negro friends," Glickman got two of her "Negro friends" who backed the idea to write to Schultz. A short time later, Schultz introduced Franklin. Oh, yes, & strips showing Franklin in an integrated! classroom upset Southern editors, according to Glickman.

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-- Constant Weader

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Saturday
Aug032013

The Commentariat -- Aug. 3, 2013

CW: Pardon my ignorance. Yesterday I mentioned coming across Websites that claimed homosexuality was the cause of the fall of the Roman empire. (Akhilleus wrote a great rebuttal to that particular "historical theory" in yesterday's Comments.) I thought this was a novel -- and ludicrous, anti-historical -- theory, but it turns out not to be so novel:

The point that I make is that goddamit, I do not think that you glorify, on public television, homosexuality! You ever see what happened, you know what happened to the Greeks? Homosexuality destroyed them. Aristotle was a homo, we all know that. So was Socrates.... The last six Roman emperors were fags. You see, homosexuality, immorality in general, these are the enemies of strong societies. That's why the communists and the left-wingers are pushing it. They're trying to destroy us. -- President Richard Nixon, early 1970s, discussing the television show "All in the Family"

Peter Kasperowicz of the Hill: "The House voted Friday to prevent the IRS from enforcing any aspect of ObamaCare, a bill meant to exact revenge against an agency that Republicans say is incapable of neutral enforcement of the law. Members approved the Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act in a 232-185 vote. Four Democrats supported the bill along with every Republican.... Friday's vote was the 40th time the House has tried to fully or partially repeal ObamaCare. But it was also a chance to slam the IRS, which Republicans say has shown itself unworthy of neutrally enforcing the controversial law." ...

... Gail Collins: after doing nothing (well except for the Biblically symbolic 40th attempt to deny health insurance to millions of Americans), Congress has taken the month off. Too bad it isn't run by women, who can get something done & be polite about it.

** Dana Milbank: "Republican lawmakers seem to think that Americans have short memories and lack Internet connections, for their latest line of attack -- that Obama's health-care and tax policies favor the corporate elite -- directly contradicts their previous allegation that Obama was waging 'class warfare' with 'socialist' policies attacking these very same corporate elites.... Republicans need to make up their minds: Is President Obama a socialist or a corporate stooge?" Milbank's examples of GOP inconsistency are rich.

David Freedlander of the Daily Beast interviews Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). "House Republicans? Have done more damage to American competitiveness than al Qaeda ever could. 'What is happening is sabotage. Terrorists couldn't do a better job than the Republicans are doing.' The Tea Party? Defeat them the same way segregation was beaten. 'It is the same group we faced in the South with those white crackers and the dogs and the police. They didn't care about how they looked. It was just fierce indifference to human life that caused America to say enough is enough."

Speaking of White Crackers.... Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post: the Tea party astroturf organization "FreedomWorks believes it has identified a core weakness of Obamacare: the young adults who are crucial to keeping premiums in the Affordable Care Act's new coverage programs low, the same demographic the White House sees as crucial to the health law's success. Young adults tend to have lower medical bills, which would hold down premiums for the entire insurance market. If only the sick and elderly sign up, health costs would skyrocket. FreedomWorks wants to make that happen and, in so doing, doom the law." An associated astroturf group, Americans for Prosperity, founded & funded by the Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity, "has spent more advertising against the health law since President Obama signed it than they did during the legislative battle." ...

... Joan McCarter of Daily Kos: "... there's a flaw in the [FreedomWorks] plan. The money [the veep of FreedomWorks] is telling people to pay in fines will just go back into funding Obamacare for the not really stupid people who do get health insurance. But hey gang, knock yourselves out. Because nothing says Freedom! like spending hours in the emergency room waiting to see a doctor for the burn you got from torching a fake Obamacare card." ...

... Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic outlines six reasons young people will probably enroll in Obamacare insurance plans. ...

... Lori Robinson & Justin Cohen of FactCheck.org on some of the untrue claims the Republican National Committee & leading Republicans claim about healthcare & insurance costs under ObamaCare.

Niels Lesniewski of Roll Call: "Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy says Democrats should bring back the idea of changing the [Senate] rules with a simple majority if Republicans block nominees to a federal appeals court. 'I think that the rules change will come back on the table if it's filibustered because it is one thing if you had somebody who is not qualified. These people are extraordinarily well-qualified,' the Vermont Democrat said of three nominees pending to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in an interview that will air Sundayon C-SPAN's 'Newsmakers.' Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last month that his plan to change the Senate's procedures with a simple majority vote (the 'nuclear option') would have applied only to executive branch nominees, not judges."

Profile in Cowardice. At a town hall meeting, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) encouraged a member of the audience who called President Obama a "foreign-born, America-hating communist despot." Tim Murphy of Mother Jones has the video. ...

... Jed Lewison: "... when contacted by NBC about her answer, Roby's office put out a statement defending the questioner and the audience.... This kind of thing is so commonplace it's hard to get shocked or even outraged by it. But the fact remains that a good chunk of the GOP's activist base is totally and entirely delusional -- and elected Republicans are either too afraid to stand up to it, or are as delusional as their constituents."

Shmucks-in-Arms. CW: Steve Rattner is apparently one of the former Obama officials whom the White House has sent out to do Larry Summers' bidding. In a New York Times op-ed, we learn Larry is really a great guy! despite everything you have heard. As for Rattner himself, the former car czar settled that pension-fund corruption/kickback case for millions of dollars out of his own pocket & some loose change from his corporation. Also, he's a deficit hawk. So his recommendation vis-a-vis managing the national economy is worth a lot. Millions maybe.

Senatorial Race

The New York Times Editors endorse Newark Mayor Cory Booker among four solid candidates with progressive records for the Democratic nomination in the special U.S. Senate race in New Jersey. CW: isn't that something? -- four excellent primary candidates in New Jersey; Liz Cheney & Mike Enzi in Wyoming.

Gubernatorial Race

Tom Hamburger & Ben Pershing of the Washington Post: "An electric-car company co-founded by Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D) is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission over its conduct in soliciting foreign investors, according to law enforcement documents and company officials. In May, the SEC subpoenaed documents from GreenTech Automotive and bank records from a sister company, Gulf Coast Funds Management of McLean. The investigation is focused, at least in part, on alleged claims that the company 'guarantees returns' to the investors, according to government documents." ...

... Trip Gabriel of the New York Times characterizes the investigation as a cloud over McAuliffe's campaign in the vein of the gifts scandal that has dominated Republican rival Ken Cuccinelli's run.

Local News

Alex Dobuzinskis of Reuters: "A federal judge on Friday blocked a portion of a Wisconsin law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital near their practice. U.S. District Judge William Conley last month temporarily stopped the measure, days after Republican Governor Scott Walker signed it into law, and his latest ruling extends that indefinitely while a lawsuit proceeds against the provision. Planned Parenthood, which filed the suit, is challenging the requirement that doctors performing an abortion have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice."

Tom Brown of Reuters: "Florida lawmakers will hold hearings this fall on the state's 'Stand Your Ground' self-defense law, which has become a lightning rod for criticism following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. The announcement on Friday by Will Weatherford, the speaker of Florida's House of Representatives, marked the biggest concession yet by the state's Republican leaders to protesters' demands for a top-to-bottom review of the law, which allows people in fear of serious injury to use deadly force to defend themselves rather than retreat."

Monica Garcia & John Keilman of the Chicago Tribune: "... Gov. Pat Quinn signed the state's medical marijuana bill into law, with Illinois joining 19 other states and the District of Columbia that have legalized cannabis for patient use."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Robert Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since it threw off white rule in 1980, won another term as president after a hotly disputed election held on Wednesday, defeating his main challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, with 61 percent of the vote, the Zimbabwe Election Commission said Saturday."

AP: "Despite warnings from California officials, the nation's highest court is refusing to delay the early release of nearly 10,000 California inmates by year's end to ease overcrowding at 33 adult prisons. In its decision Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed an emergency request by the Gov. Jerry Brown to halt a lower court's directive for the early release."

Reuters: "Employers slowed their pace of hiring in July but the jobless rate fell anyway, a pair of mixed signals that could make the Federal Reserve more cautious about drawing down its huge economic stimulus program.... Gains in employment were enough to push the jobless rate down to 7.4 percent, its lowest level since December 2008."

Thursday
Aug012013

The Commentariat -- Aug. 2, 2013

Filibusted Again. Ted Barrett of CNN: "In yet another sign that Congress is headed for a clash in the fall over government spending, Senate Republicans Thursday blocked a transportation and housing bill, arguing it would break budget spending caps. It was a significant defeat for Democrats and a win for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who persuaded several Republicans who had previously voted to support the higher spending level to change their positions and vote to block the bill." ...

... All I can tell you is he has never worked harder against a member of his own party than he did against me today. -- Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the only Republican who voted for the transportation bill, when asked if Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's fear of his tea party challenger might explain why he pressured Republicans to vote no

P.S. In neon-red Kentucky, even McConnell's Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, is polling even with him. -- Constant Weader ...

... Ramsey Cox of the Hill: "The Senate confirmed President Obama's nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. On an 87-10 vote Wednesday, the Senate approved the nomination of Samantha Power. Nearly 30 GOP senators voted with Democrats to approve her nomination." CW: Power was not one of the seven nominees Senate Republicans agreed to confirm in a deal to avert a rules change that would eliminate the 60-vote threshold for administration appointees. ...

... Jeremy Herb of the Hill: "The Senate confirmed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey to a second two-year term by voice vote on Thursday. The Senate approved Dempsey's nomination as part of a large package of nominations that were approved by voice vote before the Senate kicked off its month-long August recess. The Senate also approved Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Adm. James Winnefeld and a host of other military nominations." ...

... Jonathan Weisman & Jackie Calmes of the New York Times: "Congress appeared at a dead end, unable to pass spending bills at the levels mandated by the across-the-board spending cuts, but unwilling to retreat to higher numbers set by the 2011 Budget Control Act before those cuts went into force." After the Senate bill failed, a [bipartisan??] bloc of eight Senators went to the White House to discuss Plan B (or X or whatever). CW: Worse news: Obama is still talking deficit reduction, & McConnell (who was not in the group of eight) still says the U.S. is about to become Greece.

Hastert Rule, Part 1. Greg Sargent: House "Republicans will obey the Hastert Rule until the end of time." In answer to a question posed in a town-hall meeting, Rep. Paul Ryan gave advocates some hope that immigration reform bills would come to the floor whether or not they had the support of a majority of Republicans; turns out he was lying. CW: Ryan has always been adept at lying directly to constituents' faces on matters he knows to be untrue. ...

     ... Steve Benen: "It's frustrating, but the fate of immigration reform largely comes down to one person: House Speaker John Boehner. And as of now, he's too weak, cowed, and confused to do much of anything." ...

Hastert Rule, Part 2. If You Thought We Were Cruel Last Week.... Erik Wasson of the Hill: "House Republicans are drafting legislation that would cut $40 billion from the federal food stamp program over 10 years. That's nearly double the $20.5 billion in cuts that were included in the farm bill legislation that failed on the House floor in June. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) ... wants to pass the food stamp bill with only GOP votes. [Emphasis added.] The deeper cuts are meant to attract conservatives who felt the $20.5 reduction was too low." ...

... Tim Egan: "Just now, a cell of several hundred people has been dispatched into the American summer, to picnics, town halls, radio stations, hospitals and Little League playing fields, with a mission to derail the economic recovery and drum up support for sabotaging federal law. They're not terrorists, nor are they agents of a foreign government. This is your United States Congress, the Republican House, on recess for the next five weeks. They even have a master plan, a 31-page kit put together by the House Republican Conference, for every member to follow...." ...

"The Grifter," Act II, Scene 1

Ted Cruz: Republicans should simply vote to fund all of federal government except for Obamacare.

Audience Member: What are the chances of that?

Cruz: The chances of that today are zero.

... Jed Lewison of Daily Kos: "So if Cruz was right when he said there was 'zero chance' of his plan actually working, then why is he pushing it? The most obvious answer is that he thinks it will help position him for 2016.... And why are outside GOP groups like Club for Growth and Heritage Action joining Cruz? Because there's a big portion of the GOP base that has no idea how absurd the defund Obamacare scheme is -- and they are ready, eager, and willing to keep on sending money to people who are willing to mislead them. So, yes, this is sort of a civil war. But at its core, what's really going on is hilarious mix of 2016 ambition and grift."

** Fareed Zakaria, in the Washington Post, on the root of all of Washington's ills: lobbyists. "The permanent government of the United States is no longer defined by party or a branch but by a profession comfortably encamped around the federal coffers.... The result is bad legislation." Zakaria draws a parallel with the fall of the Roman Empire when senators institutionalized corruption; hardly original, but apt. ...

... CW Note: I thought I might like a painting of the fall of Rome to illustrate Zakaria's column. So I Googled images for the "fall of Rome," & I found quite a few. Most of the pictures were used to illustrate sentiments like this one from someone named Paul Benedict, who describes himself as a libertarian: "... the fall of Athens and of the Roman Republic can be linked to evidence of rampant, institutionalized homosexuality." And so on & so forth. What's particularly discouraging is that Benedict (& writers at the other sites I visited) are articulate essayists.

NEW. Annie Lowrey of the New York Times: "Mr. Obama is now in the process of interviewing three candidates for the position at the helm of the central bank: [Lawrence] Summers; Janet L. Yellen, the vice chairwoman at the Federal Reserve, who had generally been considered the front-runner for the job; and a dark horse for the post, Donald L. Kohn, a former Fed vice chairman." Meanwhile, Summers' fans -- many of whom work in the White House -- are busily buffing his image, just as the President did in a closed-door meeting with Democrats this week. CW: I don't think our "Summers Sucks" tee-shirts are gonna work.

** Paul Krugman: "Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Fed's Board of Governors, is ... the best-qualified person in America to take over when Ben Bernanke steps down as chairman. Yet there are not one but two sexist campaigns under way against Ms. Yellen. One is a whisper campaign whose sexism is implicit, while the other involves raw misogyny.... Both campaigns have another problem, too: They're based on bad economic analysis."

Obama 2.0. AP: "Barack Obama has chosen [John Koskinen,] a retired corporate and government official with experience managing numerous organizations in crisis, to take over the Internal Revenue Service, which is under fire for screening of political groups." CW: The story doesn't say so, but the IRS post requires Senate confirmation. ...

... CW: now, in our educational series "The Hackery Chronicles," contrast the AP's lede with Politico's characterization, by Lauren French: "Obama said Thursday he plans to nominate Koskinen for a job that's never glamorous but has become all the more daunting after the IRS revealed in May that it subjected tea party groups to inappropriate scrutiny when they applied for a tax exemption. The pressure is only growing as Congress pummels the IRS over its role in enforcing Obamacare." (Emphasis added.)

      ... This is the second graf of the Politico story, & it contains at least two misleading statements, one suggesting that the IRS scrutiny was limited to right-wing groups & the other that "Congress" -- not "Congressional Republicans" -- were "pummeling" the IRS. In addition, it isn't clear that the scrutiny was "inappropriate" -- that's a controversial charge, not a fact. And there's no hint that the IRS "revelation" was a Darrell Issa Production, not the product of a spontaneous IRS audit. French goes on to write, "Fallout from the tea party targeting practice consumed the White House in the early months of the summer and though the administration has more recently dismissed the debacle — Obama lamented 'phony' scandals -- Republicans won't let go." Not a hint, mind you, as to the substantive reasons Obama dismissed the Tea Pity Party "targeting" as a "phony" scandal.

Andrew Miga of the AP: " The Postal Service takes pictures of every piece of mail processed in the United States -- 160 billion last year -- and keeps them on hand for up to a month. In an interview with The Associated Press, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the photos of the exterior of mail pieces are used primarily for the sorting process, but they are available for law enforcement, if requested. The photos have been used 'a couple of times' by to trace letters in criminal cases, Donahoe told the AP on Thursday, most recently involving ricin-laced letters sent to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 'We don't snoop on customers,' said Donahoe, adding that there's no big database of the images because they are kept on nearly 200 machines at processing facilities across the country. Each machine retains only the images of the mail it processes."

Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "President Obama told key members of Congress on Thursday that he was 'open to suggestions' for reforming the National Security Agency surveillance programs that have embroiled his administration in controversy. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who is among the Senate's leading critics of the NSA's bulk phone records collection, said he left a meeting at the White House confident that 'constructive' changes to the programs would soon take shape." ...

... Mark Landler of the New York Times: "President Obama is even less likely to go through with a visit to Moscow this fall after Russia's decision on Thursday to grant Edward J. Snowden temporary asylum. For Mr. Obama, though, the Snowden affair is only one of myriad reasons to beg off the scheduled meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin.... The decline in the American-Russian relationship has been remarkably swift since Mr. Putin's return to the presidency last year." ...

... Alec Luhn, et al., of the Guardian: "The White House expressed anger and dismay on Thursday after Russia granted temporary asylum to the American whistleblower Edward Snowden and allowed him to leave the Moscow airport where he had been holed up for over a month.... [White House press secretary Jay Carney said,] 'As we know he's been in Russia now for many weeks. There is a huge risk associated with ... removing that information from secure areas. You shouldn't do it, you can't do it, it's wrong.'" ...

... Alissa de Carbonnel of Reuters: "U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden will publish no more leaks but instead look to build a life in Russia where he has been granted a year-long asylum, his lawyer said on Thursday. Anatoly Kucherena, a Russian lawyer who is assisting Snowden, said the 30-year-old has found shelter in a private home of American expatriates after leaving Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.... A pledge not to publish more information that could harm the United States was the condition under which Russian President Vladimir Putin said the American could receive safe harbor." ...

... Julia Joffe of the New Republic has more on this new chapter in young Lord Snowden's adventuresome life: "Edward Snowden is already getting job offers and calls from Russian girls, says his laywer." Also, ironically, the government has almost certainly bugged the place he's living, wherever that maybe (maybe with U.S. spies), & Russian spooks are likely to stop by from time to time when he's not home. ....

... A Cautionary Tale. CW: Had I run these links earlier today, the caution would have been, "Don't Google 'backpacks' & 'pressure cookers' in the same time frame if you don't want a 6-person terrorist task force dropping by to grill you. Because, um, Ed Snowden was right." Or, as the Michele Catalano, the author of the original story wrote,

This is where we are at. Where you have no expectation of privacy. Where trying to learn how to cook some lentils could possibly land you on a watch list. Where you have to watch every little thing you do because someone else is watching every little thing you do. All I know is if I'm going to buy a pressure cooker in the near future, I'm not doing it online. I'm scared. And not of the right things. ...

Artwork by EastburyIllustration.com... BUT now it turns out the caution is, "Your employer is monitoring your every keystroke." Alexia Tsotsis of Tech Crunch: "Turns out the visit was prompted by the searches, but not in the way most speculation asserted -- by a law enforcement-initiated, NSA-enabled dragnet of the couple's web history. It turns out either Catalano or her husband were conducting these searches from a work computer. And that employer ... called the police on their former employee." ...

... CW: it was the husband of their son, & he's no longer working at the company. And that "terrorist task force" turned out to be the Suffolk County police. That employers monitor their employees' activities is not news, and it's (mostly) legal. ...

... "How a Paranoic Blogger Made Everyone Scared to Google Pressure Cookers." Adrian Chen of Gawker: "... the speed at which Catalano's post spread* shows the resonance of any surveillance stories, post-Edward Snowden. The scope of the NSA's revelations must have led journalists and Twitter-ers to ignore the fact that Catalano's story seemed fishy from the beginning."

... * For instance, the Guardian republished Catalano's post in its entirety. And as Chen's post illustrates with multiple examples, her claims engendered an instant "internet privacy shit-storm." ...

... Digby's take: "... it looks as though the 'Insider Threat' program is working quite well even in the private sector. Even if Big Brother isn't personally watching you, your employer is doing it on his behalf." ...

... CW: IMHO, the employer was wrong to snoop on the employee, but once s/he had done so, s/he was right to notify the cops if s/he had a real concern & wasn't just acting out of spite. AND, BTW, the nosy neighbor (or employer) is still more effective at highlighting suspicious activity than is the NSA -- unless you assume that the NSA is just smarter than the Suffolk police & "reasoned" -- via some algorithm -- that the husband/son wasn't a terrorist.

Benghazi! Jake Tapper of CNN: "Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground [the night four Americans were killed in Benghazi, Libya], and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret. CNN has learned the CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency's Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.... The lack of information and pressure to silence CIA operatives is disturbing to U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf [R], whose district includes CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.... Speculation on Capitol Hill has included the possibility the U.S. agencies operating in Benghazi were secretly helping to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels." ...

... Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog: "The right ... is now cackling in triumph.... But wait -- wasn't the scandal of Benghazi supposed to be that Obama, who hates America and wants our enemies to win, allowed the consulate to go undefended, then covered up what happened because he was running for reelection claiming to have Al Qaeda on the run...? Doesn't this kinda blow that narrative completely out of the water?"

Ben Protess & Susanne Craig of the New York Times: "A federal jury found the [former Goldman Sachs] trader, Fabrice Tourre, liable on six counts of civil securities fraud after a three-week trial in Lower Manhattan. The case had given both sides -- the government and Mr. Tourre -- a chance to repair their reputations. For the Securities and Exchange Commission, a regulator dogged by its failure to thwart the crisis, the case offered a shot at redemption following one courtroom disappointment after another, including two similar mortgage-related cases that crumbled last year."

Amy Chozick & Michael Grynbaum of the New York Times on how the Clintons try to protect Huma Abedin, the wife of Anthony Weiner.

News Ledes

Washington Post: "A suspected al-Qaeda threat prompted the United States to issue a rare worldwide travel alert Friday, just a day after it announced that it would shutter 21 U.S. embassies across the Muslim world this weekend. U.S. officials said the threat was tied to al-Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate, which previously has been linked to plots to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner and cargo flights. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC News that ... an exact target was not known, 'but the intent seems clear. The intent is to attack Western, not just U.S., interests.'"

Reuters: "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Pakistan Egypt's army had been 'restoring democracy' when it toppled [President Mohamed] Mursi. 'The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descendance into chaos, into violence,' he told Pakistan's GEO TV. 'And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgment so - so far.'"

Reuters: "A supreme court ruling upholding a tax fraud conviction against former center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi has left the fate of Italy's fragile ruling coalition in the balance, although his supporters said the government would not be brought down."

Wednesday
Jul312013

The Commentariat -- Aug. 1, 2013

BBC News: "US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has left the Moscow airport where he has been staying since June after being granted temporary asylum. He left unobserved after receiving, his lawyer said, the necessary papers to enter Russian territory from Sheremetyevo Airport's transit zone." ...

... The New York Times story, by Andrew Kramer, is here.

XKeyscore. Glenn Greenwald: "A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its 'widest-reaching' system for developing intelligence from the internet." Read this short presentation, & you can be an NSA analyst, too. It's easy. ...

If a 29-year-old school dropout could come in and take out massive, massive amounts of data, it's obvious there weren't adequate controls.... Has anybody been fired? -- Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Judiciary Committee Chair ...

... Amy Davidson of the New Yorker: "Officials from the President on down keep talking as if the only issue was whether the N.S.A. was listening in on phone calls. The XKeyscore presentation shows how empty those words are. The N.S.A., it appears, doesn't just turn to its metadata library to see who's been calling a terrorist; it uses it in a coördinated way as one of the magnets to draw people's identities from the Web and gather information about them.... The XKeyscore presentation, again, is five years old. The Administration ought to answer -- clearly -- questions about how much of this is still going on. The safeguards we have been told are in place are not here." ...

... Spencer Ackerman & Paul Lewis of the Guardian: "The bipartisan leaders of a powerful Senate committee questioned the truthfulness of the US intelligence community in a heated Wednesday morning hearing as officials conceded that their controversial bulk phone records collection of millions of Americans was not 'the most important tool' -- contradicting statements they previously gave to Congress. Two senators [Al Franken {D-Minn.} & Richard Blumenthal {D-Conn.}] said they now planned to introduce new legislation before the August recess that would significantly transform the transparency and oversight of the bulk surveillance program." ...

... Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "The Obama administration on Wednesday released formerly classified documents outlining a once-secret program of the National Security Agency that is collecting records of all domestic phone calls in the United States, as a newly leaked N.S.A. document surfaced showing how the agency spies on Web browsing and other Internet activity abroad. Together, the new round of disclosures shed even more light on the scope of the United States government's secret surveillance programs, which have been dragged into public view and debate by leaks from the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden." ...

     ... Story has been updated with a joint byline -- Savage & David Sanger -- & a new lede: "Senators of both parties on Wednesday sharply challenged the National Security Agency's collection of records of all domestic phone calls, even as the latest leaked N.S.A. document provided new details on the way the agency monitors Web browsing around the world." Plus: "Patrick J. Leahy ... accused Obama administration officials of overstating the success of the domestic call log program. He said he had been shown a classified list of 'terrorist events' detected through surveillance, and it did not show that 'dozens or even several terrorist plots' had been thwarted by the domestic program. 'If this program is not effective it has to end. So far, I'm not convinced by what I've seen,' Mr. Leahy said, citing the 'massive privacy implications' of keeping records of every American's domestic calls." ...

... Sari Horwitz & Ellen Nakashima write the Washington Post's story. ...

... Patricia Zengerle & Alina Selyukh of Reuters: "President Barack Obama scheduled a meeting for Thursday with Republican and Democratic lawmakers, including the leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives Intelligence Committees, to discuss programs under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a White House official said on Wednesday." ...

... Robert O'Harrow, Jr., of the Washington Post: Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, appeared before "a standing-room-only crowd Wednesday ... [at] Black Hat, the annual hacker conference. For a few days every year, it takes center stage in the topsy-turvy worlds of cyberspace, network computing and digital security. The conference serves as a platform for hacking seminars, partying and -- more and more -- policy discussions about what the government and corporate worlds ought to be doing to confront problems like cyber-espionage and cyberattacks, growing threats with no clear-cut remedies." ...

... New York Times Editors: "The Obama administration released narrowly selected and heavily censored documents and sent more officials to testify before Congress on Wednesday in an effort to defend the legality and value of the surveillance of all Americans' telephone calls. The effort was a failure."

Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times: "From New York to several Midwestern cities, thousands of fast-food workers have been holding one-day strikes during peak mealtimes, quickly drawing national attention to their demands for much higher wages.... The national campaign, underwritten with millions of dollars from the Service Employees International Union, aims to mobilize workers -- all at once -- in numerous cities at hundreds of restaurants from two dozen chains."

If you nominate someone who is a life-committed deregulator to be in a regulatory position, and if you believe regulation is necessary to prevent fraud, abuse, manipulation and so forth, then there's a lot of questions to be asked: Why is this person appropriate? -- Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), on Larry Summers' possible nomination to chair the Federal Reserve

Don't believe everything you read in The Huffington Post. -- President Barack Obama, to members of Congress who questioned Summers' fitness to chair the Federal Reserve

Peter Kasperowicz of the Hill: House "Members passed the Senate-approved the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, H.R. 1911, in a 392-31 vote. Only six Republicans and about two dozen Democrats voted against it.

Meredith Shiner of Roll Call: "Democrats and their allies lobbied Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for more than an hour Wednesday to change her vote on the nominee to head up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the pressure worked. Murkowski flipped and voted to advance the nomination of B. Todd Jones to be the ATF's new director. With her vote change, Murkowski both averted a filibuster, and perhaps more importantly, staved off Democratic threats to end the minority's ability to filibuster executive branch nominees.... The other GOP 'yes' votes were: [John] McCain, [Susan] Collins, Mark S. Kirk..., Lindsey Graham ... and Kelly Ayotte...." The vote was held awaiting the return of Washington of Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who said she would vote yes. ...

... Jonathan Bernstein, in the Washington Post: "... this one is a key test of whether the Senate deal will hold beyond the initial seven agreed-upon nominees.... So the deal holds.... As I've been arguing, everyone would be better off if the Senate simply switched to simple majority cloture, which could be done under the regular rules if all the Republicans who have joined the tag-team at least once combined with all the Democrats who were prepared to go nuclear. Without that, the Senate deal is a lot less stable than it could be."

Curtis Tate of McClatchy News: "Who needs a pipeline when you have a railroad? ... Until last month's deadly derailment of a crude-oil train in Quebec, pipelines dominated the debate about moving oil. But rail shipments of North American crude oil already have matched what Keystone XL was proposed to carry, and more is on the way. What started as a stopgap has become the go-to for transporting crude. 'A big part of the popularity of rail is that the president can't veto it,' said Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane University Energy Institute."

Quote of the Day. One of the least attractive legacies of Barack Obama will be the way he empowered freshman senators to believe they were only one or two good speeches away from the presidency. -- Gail Collins ...

Runner-Up. You know, Texas is a big, successful state. He's a long-term governor. I can't remember the third one, but, uh. -- Rand Paul, on Rick Perry's chances in a 2016 presidential run ...

Gail Collins on "the show horses of the United States Senate are Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. All preparing for a 2016 presidential bid. All making visits to Iowa. They're the new faces of the Republican Party. Really, really new. The three of them have an average age of 45 and an average tenure in Washington of 1.9 years." Droll, even as said show horses obligingly write her best lines. ...

... Jim Fallows on the he-said/she-said reporting on Tea Party debt-ceiling showdown: "... it's nihilistic; and to reduce it to gridlock amounts to 'defining deviancy down.' We're hearing that phrase, of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's, a lot these days in honor of Anthony Weiner. But it applies to current debt-ceiling threats as well." ...

... CW: I forgot to run a link to this yesterday, but if you want to know what John McCain thinks about these "wacko birds" & other stuff, Isaac Chotiner of the New Republic interviewed him. Most talked-about tidbit: McCain wouldn't say who he'd vote for in a Hillary Clinton-Rand Paul match-up. My guess: HRC - Her Royal Clintoness. ...

     ... Why, yesterday McCain even made a brief, and perhaps mistaken, appearance at President Obama's Wednesday meeting with Congressional Democrats. ...

... Nate Cohn of the New Republic on why the next GOP presidential nominee is screwed: "When asked [in a Pew Research survey] about the party's current stance on gay marriage, immigration, government spending, abortion, and guns, at least 60 percent of Republicans said they thought the party was about right or too moderate.... In the Pew poll, 49 percent of Republicans who participate in every primary support the tea party -- just 22 percent consider themselves moderate. In last year's primaries, evangelical Christians represented more than 40 percent of the electorate in just about every major contest, including relatively moderate Romney states like Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Florida." ...

... It's worse than Cohn suggests. Ed Kilgore: the survey participants include "Republican 'leaners,' who probably boost the number of self-identified 'moderates' in the survey, and also the number of those who don't regularly participate in Republican primaries." ...

... Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog: the Pew results show why it's smart for Ted Cruz to bash his own party. ...

... Dana Milbank: Ramblin' Randy is the anti-hero as Republicans battle it out on the Senate floor. ...

... Where Paul Ryan is the Voice of Moderation, Part 1. Scott Keyes of Think Progress: "... during a bilingual listening session on Friday, Ryan said he wanted all components of immigration reform to be brought up for a floor vote, regardless of whether they ultimately received majority Republican support or not. 'We don't know if we have a majority until we vote on it,' Ryan explained. He also said he'd been in close consultation with Speaker Boehner about how to proceed with the bill." CW: Speaker Boehner has said he won't bring up any bills (of any nature) unless they have the support of a majority of Republicans. ...

... Where Paul Ryan is the Voice of Moderation, Part 2. Scott Keyes: "... Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) ... have said they will try to undermine Obamacare by purposefully not helping constituents who come to them with questions about navigating Obamacare. However, Ryan ... isn't going along with this strategy. ThinkProgress ... asked [him] whether his office would be helping constituents who had questions about the program. 'We always help any constituent with any problem they have with the federal government,' Ryan declared." ...

... Well, the Voice of Moderation Except for that Budget Thingee. THUD! Russell Berman & Erik Wasson of the Hill: "Long-running Republican tensions over the Ryan budget's deep spending cuts boiled over Wednesday as the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee [Hal Rogers {R-Ky.}] accused his party of being unable to support them.... '... the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago,' Rogers said. 'Thus, I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration -- and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts -- must be brought to an end. And, it is also clear that the higher funding levels advocated by the Senate are also simply not achievable in this Congress.' ... 'The collapse of the partisan Transportation and Housing bill in the House proves that their sequestration-on-steroids bills are unworkable, and that we are going to need a bipartisan deal to replace sequestration,' Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, portrayed the move as the latest example of 'chaos' in the GOP-led House." ...

... CW: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor claimed the leaders pulled the THUG bill because they didn't have time for it. But -- ha ha -- Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post lists the nonsense bills the House did schedule for debate & votes on Wednesday. ...

... House of Cards. Brian Beutler of TPM: "... many close Congress watchers -- and indeed many Congressional Democrats -- have long suspected that [House Republicans'] votes for Ryan's budgets were a form of cheap talk. That Republicans would chicken out if it ever came time to fill in the blanks. Particularly the calls for deep but unspecified domestic discretionary spending cuts. Today's Transportation/HUD failure confirms that suspicion.... Ahead of the deadline for funding it, [Republicans'] plan was to proceed as if the Ryan budget was binding, and pass spending bills to actualize it -- to stake out a bargaining position with the Senate at the right-most end of the possible. But they can't do it. It turns out that when you draft bills enumerating all the specific cuts required to comply with the budget's parameters, they don't come anywhere close to having enough political support to pass." ...

... David Rogers of Politico (CW: one of the few Politico reporters I trust for analysis) has more on the sausage-making. ...

... Greg Sargent: "[Today] the Senate is set to vote on whether to end debate on the big transportation and housing bill that has been working its way through the Senate. The vote is a key test as to whether Mitch McConnell is truly losing control of his caucus as a bloc of Republican Senators indicates a willingness to break with the GOP leadership and join with Democrats in governing." ...

... Norm Ornstein argues in the National Journal that Speaker John Boehner's "passive-aggressive style heightens [the] risk of [a] government showdown.... By encouraging the extremists through his rhetoric, and by not looking to compromise spending at all in the House process, Boehner has bought some time and averted some criticism and any chance of a revolt. But that also means that if he endorses a compromise that will fund the Affordable Care Act, move spending levels back at least to the sequester numbers, and extend the debt limit without preconditions, a sizable share of his caucus will go ballistic. Can he do that before we face a shutdown for days, weeks, or months? Can he do it before we actually breach the debt ceiling and suffer the consequences of the destruction of American economic integrity?"

Democrats put together an excellent video on false GOP claims that the White House was behind IRS workers' political plot to target conservative groups. Via Greg Sargent:

Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post on how Republicans actually could derail ObamaCare. Includes a helpful map of where states stand on implementing Medicaid expansion, a key component of Obamacare & the one the Supreme Tenthers (including Justice Kagan) ruled could not be made mandatory.

Bozeman, Montana, gun-owner & veteran Bob Waters in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle: "We need Sen. Baucus to support Manchin-Toomey when it comes up again. I ask my fellow Montanans to join this gun owner in urging Sen. Baucus to join Sen. Tester in his support for universal background checks." (Baucus voted against Manchin-Toomey, false claiming that "Montanans saw the legislation as an infringement on their Second Amendment rights.") Via Greg Sargent.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) remembers former Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-Louisiana) in a Time column.

Gene Robinson in Time: "... a closer look at the Pope's statement reveals little change in the church's stance on being gay. When Francis says gay people should be forgiven their sins like other people, he means that acting on their feelings for someone of the same gender is still a sin that requires forgiveness -- a point the Vatican made clear shortly after his remarks. Francis' more open tone may mean the most for gay Catholic priests." Robinson was the Episcopalian Bishop of New Hampshire, & the first openly gay bishop of that denomination.

Local News

Prof. Charles Ogletree, in a New York Times op-ed, on the death sentence of Duane Buck in Harris County, Texas. Buck was sentenced to death based partly on a psychologist's testimony that blacks were more likely than whites to commit violent crimes. When he was Texas's attorney general, now-U.S. Senator John Cornyn "acknowledged then that Texas' exploitation of racial fears and stereotypes was unconstitutional and he promised that all six men -- including Mr. Buck -- [sentenced following race-based testimony by the same "expert"] would be given new sentencing hearings free of racial discrimination. Texas kept its promise in five of the six cases, but for no discernible reason it has reversed course and pursued Mr. Buck's execution." In addition, "at the time of Mr. Buck's trial, the Harris County district attorney's office was over three times more likely to seek the death penalty against African-American defendants ... than against similarly situated whites, and Harris County juries were twice as likely to impose death sentences on African-Americans...."

... CW: Texas is where the criminal justice system makes you feel sorry for murderers.

Washington Post Editors: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's strategy in the gifts-for-services scandal is "to obfuscate and split legal hairs while dodging responsibility for his role, and that of his wife, in what has become his administration's disgrace. Until he levels with Virginians about his actions and motives, the scandal will not go away."

Ed Kemp of the Hattiesburg (Mississippi) Clarion: "Johnny DuPree will remain mayor of Hattiesburg after Judge William Coleman declared a mistrial Tuesday night in the lawsuit filed by former City Councilman Dave Ware, who lost the election to DuPree by 37 votes." ...

... Alan Blinder of the New York Times: "Mr. DuPree's supporters have countered that Mr. Ware's efforts amount to little more than a courtroom campaign to disenfranchise black voters in the city, where 53 percent of 47,000 residents are black. Mr. DuPree is black; Mr. Ware is white."

Senate Races

Caitlan Huey-Burns of Real Clear Politics: Arkansas "Republican Tom Cotton plans to announce his bid for the [U.S. Senate], where he grew up on his family's cattle farm. The freshman congressman -- a 36-year-old Harvard law graduate and a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- is GOP recruiters' dream challenger to take on Democrat Mark Pryor, considered among the most vulnerable incumbents in the country."

Mead Gruver of the AP: "U.S. Senate candidate Liz Cheney and her husband were more than two months late paying property taxes on a $1.6 million home they bought last year in the tony northwest Wyoming community of Jackson Hole, according to Teton County records." CW: this sounds like an actual misunderstanding, but since Cheney is using this house as the basis for her pretense that she is a Wyoming resident, you would think she would be sure to pay her local taxes. In any event, the story again calls attention to the fact that Cheney just bought the house & hasn't lived in Wyoming since she was a child.

Gubernatorial Race

Alex Rogers of Time: "E.W. Jackson, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia, is a running mate without a visible partner.... Ken Cuccinelli, the GOP candidate for governor, has largely avoided public appearances with Jackson, and rarely discusses him on the record.... The reason for the Republican disunity can be traced to the litany of controversial statements Jackson has made that could hurt Cuccinelli's efforts to court moderate voters.... Meanwhile, the Democratic ticket, including Terry McAuliffe for governor, Norfolk state senator Ralph Northam for lieutenant governor and Loudoun state senator Mark Herring for attorney general, has been running as a single package." CW: also maybe Li'l Kenny doesn't want his Civil War re-enactors base to notice his running mate is black.

News Ledes

CNN: "A terror threat prompted the State Department on Thursday to direct its embassies in key Middle East nations, including Egypt and Israel, to close on Sunday with the possibility they could remain idle longer. A U.S. official not authorized to speak publicly on the matter called the threat 'credible and serious.'"

Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Ariel Castro went to prison for the rest of his life today insisting he is 'not a monster,' and that there was 'harmony' in the home where he imprisoned three women for more than 10 years. His sentencing by Judge Michael Russo followed emotional statements from Michelle Knight, the first person abducted by Castro in 2002, as well as family members of Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus." Includes video of Knight making her statement.

AP: " U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Pakistani counterpart, Sartaj Aziz, said Thursday that the two countries will resume high-level negotiations over security issues."

AP: "Three months after an Ohio woman kicked out part of a door to end nearly a decade of captivity, a onetime school bus driver [Ariel Castro] faces sentencing for kidnapping three women and subjecting them to years of sexual and physical abuse."

Yahoo! News: "Men are more than five times more likely to be killed by lightning strikes in the United States than women, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control." CW: could be because men are five lives less likely than women to know to come in out of a thunderstorm.

Wednesday
Jul312013

Online Sex and the Single Girl

In an essay for today's New York Times, feminist Susan Jacoby tries to fathom “why hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women apparently derive gratification from exchanging sexual talk and pictures with strangers.” She does not come up with much of an answer, but she does offer her view of what's wrong with virtual sex:

 

Sex with strangers online amounts to a diminution, close to an absolute negation, of the context that gives human interaction genuine content. Erotic play without context becomes just a form of one-on-one pornography.... Twentieth-century feminism always linked the social progress of women with an expanding sense of self-worth — in the sexual as well as intellectual and professional spheres. A willingness to engage in Internet sex with strangers, however, expresses not sexual empowerment but its opposite — a loneliness and low opinion of oneself that leads to the conclusion that any sexual contact is better than no contact at all.

 

I assume Jacoby did her homework for her Times piece and read some of the transcripts of the text messages between Anthony Weiner and Sydney Leathers. Having read the transcripts myself (okay, I skimmed them), what I found most striking was not the “diminution” or “loneliness” or “low opinion” Leathers might have of herself but of the numbing banality of the exchanges with Weiner.

 

I am sure there are millions of couples who have fulfilling sex lives in which verbal communication does not play a big part. They have, after all, other, physical ways to express themselves. But in an online relationship – beyond supposedly erotic photos – the word is all there is. So the word ought to be damned good. But the writings of Weiner and Leathers are just boilerplate pathetic: Weiner: “would you let me cum on those perfect tits? Leathers: “I would let you cum anywhere you want.”

 

I would guess that this kind of drivel is commonplace in online sexting. Right now, another couple is probably tweeting exactly what Weiner & Leathers wrote. Twitter is a perfect medium, because people who have little to say don't need more than 140 characters. Jacoby is troubled by the anonymous nature of sexting, which ignores the “specialness of individuals.” But it seems to me the real misfortune for women and men in online "relationships" is not so much the relative anonymity of the partners as it is the aridity of the exchanges. Weiner's and Leathers' fantasies are boring.

 

We all have sexual fantasies about people we don't know or aren't likely to actually hook up with, and those dreams are beyond anonymous. There's no there there except our own ability to conjure up a perfect partner (or partners, I guess). But if the fantasies are vapid, like those of Weiner and Leathers, then sex itself – the inspiration, the source, the lifeblood of our being – is a meaningless animal instinct. Thoreau wrote that “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Weiner and Leathers don't seem to have the song in them. They can't even hum a few bars.

 

Perhaps their failing is a reflection of modern society in which sex is relatively easy to come by – at least for people like Weiner and Leathers – and letter-writing has been reduced to thumb-callused texting and tweeting. I'm not sure which comes first – the chicken/insipid writing or the egg/shallow writers – but the result is wretched. No wonder people are miserable. In a world rich in stimuli, their imaginations are stunted.

 

Somewhere I have a file of love letters, and perhaps some of my old lovers do, too. The letters are long, and intricate and exciting. They are about who we were. We were thoughtful and hungry and real. The letters and the writers had substance. I thought they were probably not so much different in quality from what other couples wrote to each another. Okay, maybe they weren't Joycean, but they revealed in them the unique characters and longings of the writers. That millions of people live out their lives without knowing such intimacy, or experiencing such self-expression, may be the real tragedy of our times.