The Wires

The Ledes

Tuesday, May 4, 2016.

Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Prince was found dead one day before he was scheduled to meet with a California doctor in an attempt to kick an addiction to painkillers, an attorney with knowledge of the death investigation said Tuesday." -- CW

AP: "The entire population of the Canadian oil sands city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, has been ordered to evacuate from a wildfire that officials said destroyed whole neighborhoods.... The wildfire, whipped by unpredictable winds on a day of unseasonably hot temperatures, worsened dramatically in a short time and many residents were given little notice to flee." -- CW

Public Service Announcement

New York Times: "Taking a stance sharply at odds with most American public health officials, a major British medical organization urged smokers to switch to electronic cigarettes, saying they are the best hope in generations for people addicted to tobacco cigarettes to quit. The recommendation, laid out in a report published Thursday by the Royal College of Physicians, summarizes the growing body of science on e-cigarettes and finds that their benefits far outweigh the potential harms." -- CW

Washington Post: "More than a third of advanced-melanoma patients who received one of the new immunotherapy drugs in an early trial are alive five years after starting treatment -- double the survival rate typical of the disease, according to a new study."

Zoe Schlanger of Newsweek: "If you are eating fast food, you're probably also eating phthalates,... a class of chemicals that have been linked to everything from ADHD to breast cancer, ...[which] are common in food packaging, drink containers, the tubing used to transport dairy and the equipment used to process fast food." --LT

Politico: "Fox News chief White House correspondent Ed Henry will not be appearing on the channel for the time being, following a report in In Touch Weekly that he cheated on his wife with a Las Vegas hostess. 'We recently became aware of Ed’s personal issues and he’s taking some time off to work things out,' a Fox News spokesperson told Politico in a statement."

New York Times: “'Hamilton,' the groundbreaking hip-hop musical about the nation’s founding fathers, has been nominated for 16 Tony Awards, the most in Broadway history." ...

... Here's the full list of Tony Award nominees.

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

MIT News: "For the first time, an international team of astronomers from MIT, the University of Liège in Belgium, and elsewhere have detected three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star, just 40 light years from Earth. The sizes and temperatures of these worlds are comparable to those of Earth and Venus, and are the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the solar system. The results are published [Monday, May 2] in the journal Nature.... The scientists discovered the planets using TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope), a 60-centimeter telescope operated by the University of Liège, based in Chile."

Washington Post's Reliable Source: At an "afterparty hosted by MSNBC following the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner [Saturday, May 1]..., a scuffle broke out between Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters and Ryan Grim, the Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief.... The two flailed around a bit, upending a table and bumping into several people. 'Punches were definitely thrown,' said one witness. Before any damage was done, several bystanders, including Sean Spicer, communications director at the Republican National Committee, separated the two."

New York Times: "... a nearly 47,000-word journalistic series [by Walt Whitman] called 'Manly Health and Training,' were lost for more than 150 years, buried in an obscure newspaper that survived only in a handful of libraries. The series was uncovered last summer by a graduate student, who came across a fleeting reference to it in a digitized newspaper database and then tracked down the full text on microfilm.Now, Whitman’s self-help-guide-meets-democratic-manifesto is being published online in its entirety by a scholarly journal, in what some experts are calling the biggest new Whitman discovery in decades."

This is for safari:

... Via the New Yorker.

Washington Post: "Late last week, Comcast announced a new program that allows makers of smart TVs and other Internet-based video services to have full access to your cable programming without the need for a set-top box.  Instead, the content will flow directly to the third-party device as an app, including all the channels and program guide. The Xfinity TV Partner Program will initially be offered on new smart TVs from Samsung, as well as Roku streaming boxes.  But the program, built on open Internet-based standards including HTML5, is now open to other device manufacturers to adopt. As video services move from hardware to software, the future of the traditional set-top box looks increasingly grim. With this announcement, Comcast customers may soon eliminate the need for an extra device, potentially saving hundreds of dollars in fees."

BBC: "Dame Judi Dench and David Tennant have joined other stars at a gala marking 400 years since Shakespeare's death. Saturday's Shakespeare Live show in the playwright's birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon included play scene performances, dance and music." Then this:

New York Times: "The Pulitzers are in their centennial year, and the winners announced by Columbia University reflected in part the changes sweeping the media landscape." Here's the full list of the prize winners, via the New York Times.

CW: The AP produced this video in January 2015, but I just came across it:

New York Times: "James Levine, who transformed the Metropolitan Opera during four decades as its music director but has suffered from poor health in recent years, will step down from his post after this season to become music director emeritus, the company announced Thursday."

Politico: "Gabriel Snyder, editor in chief of The New Republic for the past 17 months, is leaving the magazine in the wake of its sale to Win McCormack.... The masthead change marks the first big move since McCormack, a publisher, Democratic booster and editor in chief of a literary journal called Tin House, bought TNR from Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes in February after Hughes was unsuccessful at turning around the money-losing magazine’s business during his four years of stewardship."

The Great Octopus Escape. Guardian: "An octopus has made a brazen escape from the national aquarium in New Zealand by breaking out of its tank, slithering down a 50-metre drainpipe and disappearing into the sea. In scenes reminiscent of Finding Nemo, Inky – a common New Zealand octopus – made his dash for freedom after the lid of his tank was accidentally left slightly ajar. Staff believe that in the middle of the night, while the aquarium was deserted, Inky clambered to the top of his glass enclosure, down the side of the tank and travelled across the floor of the aquarium."

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The Commentariat -- April 3, 2014

Noah Rayman of Time: "The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote Thursday to declassify its 6,300-page report detailing the CIA's controversial interrogation and detention program."

They Have No Shame

Lyle Denniston of ScotusBlog: "The Supreme Court pressed ahead on Wednesday with the majority's constitutional view that more money flowing into politics is a good thing -- even if much of it comes from rich donors. By a five-to-four vote, the Court struck down the two-year ceilings that Congress has imposed on donations to presidential and congressional candidates, parties and some -- but not all -- political action groups. The main opinion delivered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., said confidently that corruption in politics will be kept in check by caps -- left intact -- on how much each single donation can be." ...

... Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will change and very likely increase the already large role money plays in American politics." ...

... Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times: "The ruling most empowers two groups of people: those with the wherewithal to spend millions of dollars on campaign contributions, and those with access to them, including party leaders, senior lawmakers and presidents." ...

... Ian Millhiser of Think Progress: "... wealthy donors now have a broad new power to launder money to political candidates...." ...

... Gail Collins: "The downside to the decision is pretty clear, unless you are of the opinion that what this country really needs is more power to the plutocrats." ...

... Jesse Wegman of the New York Times: "McCutcheon, another blow to democracy." ...

The only type of corruption that Congress may target is quid pro quo corruption. -- John Roberts, in McCutcheon v. F.E.C.

... Charles Pierce: "Justice Stephen Breyer takes up ... in his dissent ... the majority's laughably narrow definition of what political corruption actually is -- that political corruption exists only if you buy a specific result from a specific legislator. But it hardly matters.... Four days after almost every Republican candidate danced the hootchie-koo in Vegas to try and gain the support of a single, skeevy casino gazillionnaire, the majority tells us that there is no 'appearance of corruption' in this unless somebody gets caught putting a slot machine in the Lincoln Bedroom on behalf of Sheldon Adelson." ...

... Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker: "Every Chief Justice takes on a project. Earl Warren wanted to desegregate the South. Warren Burger wanted to limit the rights of criminal suspects. William Rehnquist wanted to revive the powers of the states. It increasingly appears likely that, for John Roberts, the project will be removing the limits that burden wealthy campaign contributors -- the 'whole point' of the First Amendment, as he sees it. So far, that project is doing pretty well." CW: Yes, and such a noble project. ...

... Rick Hasan in Slate: "... this is ... a subtly awful decision.... The court seems to open the door for a future challenge to what remains of the McCain-Feingold law: the ban on large, 'soft money' contributions collected by political parties.... This opinion promises more bad things to come for money in politics, and soon." ...

... Good piece by Josh Gerstein of Politico on Roberts' Rules. ...

... Kevin Drum: "The cringe-inducing spectacle of Republicans trekking to Las Vegas this weekend to kiss Sheldon Adelson's ring in hopes of becoming his fair-haired child and sole recipient of his millions, shows that the horse is truly out of the barn on the role of the super-rich in political campaigns. It's possible that McCutcheon will strengthen party machinery and provide a slight counterweight, but more likely it will simply give billionaires even more control over the electoral process. ...

(... Betty Cracker of Balloon Juice: "The ways of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are mysterious, but if He could see fit to, as a BJ commenter once suggested, smite a certain corpulent jurist via Fettuccine Alfredo within the next year or so, it would be an exquisitely well-timed deus ex pastana." ...)

Kevin Bogardus of the Hill: "A collective groan went up on K Street Wednesday as the Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits on donations to candidate and party committees.... The ruling means that a common K Street excuse for brushing off fundraising requests -- that they've already 'maxed out' their donations under the cap -- is now moot." ...

... Ari Berman of the Nation: "The Court's conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination. These are not unrelated issues -- the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote."

... Chris Cillizza says you're addicted to Koch, too:

... ** Jonathan Chait: "The Wall Street Journal's editorial page owns the deluded self-pitying billionaire screed genre, and today, it brings us Charles Koch." CW: Short piece, handily dispenses with Koch.

Linda Greenhouse: During oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, "... no one sought to discuss the question that was almost surely on the justices' minds, Justice Kennedy's in particular: how the Hobby Lobby case relates to gay rights. By an exquisite coincidence of timing, the court, at the exact moment it begins to sort out the Hobby Lobby case, also has before it a case illustrating how readily a claim of religious conscience can, if upheld, become a license for discrimination against gay men and lesbians.... I hope ... the court sees the two [cases] joined together as a kind of early warning system of the dangers of, as Justice Kennedy said, allowing religion to 'just trump.'" ...

... Charles Lane of the Washington Post: "We wouldn't have to [worry about Hobby Lobby executives' objections to contraceptive coverage] if nearly 150 million Americans weren't covered through employer-paid health insurance." CW: Lane appeals to Republicans to embrace health insurance exchanges on which individuals obtain insurance directly, but we know a better answer: single-payer.

Mark Berman of the Washington Post: "The Fort Hood military installation in Texas is locked down after a shooting that left at least four people dead and injured an unknown number, according to authorities. Four people were killed, according to government officials. It's unclear at this moment if the four dead includes the shooter, who officials have confirmed was killed, but that number is believed to include the shooter." ...

     ... Update. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, et al., of the Post: "An Iraq war veteran who was grappling with mental health issues opened fire at Fort Hood, Tex., in an attack that left four people dead and 16 wounded Wednesday afternoon, according to preliminary law enforcement and military reports. The gunfire sent tremors of fear across a sprawling Army post still reeling from one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history." ...

     ... Lindsey Bever of the Post: "Authorities at Fort Hood have launched an aggressive investigation into the circumstances which led an Iraq war veteran to open fire and kill three soldiers Wednesday." ...

... President Obama remarks on the shooting. The transcript is here:

Annie Lowrey of the New York Times: "... there is increasing evidence that a stronger recovery alone might not significantly aid the country’s long-term jobless. Even before the latest monthly job figures are released on Friday, short-term unemployment has fallen to its prerecession level, but long-term unemployment remains more than twice as high as it was in 2007." Yet the federal & state governments are doing little to help the long-term unemployed.

Ben Protess & Michael Corkery of the New York Times: "Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation into a recent $400 million fraud involving Citigroup's Mexican unit, according to people briefed on the matter, one of a handful of government inquiries looming over the giant bank. The investigation, overseen by the F.B.I. and prosecutors from the United States attorney's office in Manhattan, is focusing in part on whether holes in the bank's internal controls contributed to the fraud in Mexico. The question for investigators is whether Citigroup -- as other banks have been accused of doing in the context of money laundering -- ignored warning signs. The bank ... also faces a parallel civil investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement unit...."

David Ignatius of the Washington Post: "The latest official to be caught in the Benghazi shredder is Michael Morell, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.... Morell responded Wednesday by doing something unusual in Washington: He answered the charges [against him] in open testimony to the House Intelligence Committee.... Morell also took a rare public shot" at former CIA director David Petraeus.... The real significance of Morell's testimony was that he directly rebutted the GOP charge that the CIA, in concert with the White House, 'cooked the books' on Benghazi with manufactured talking points that Morell knew were wrong, and then covered it up."

Read this short post by Charles Pierce.

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "After months of pummeling by Republicans and with a grim election season approaching, Democrats on Tuesday had a rare bright day. President Obama's announcement that the new health care plan had enrolled 7.1 million Americans coincided with the release by Representative Paul D. Ryan of a new Republican budget that proposes changes in Medicare and deep cuts in spending.... For the first time in a while, Democrats this week found themselves talking up a contrast between their agenda -- protecting the newly insured, raising the minimum wage and renewing unemployment benefits -- and a Republican plan that would cut health care and education spending deeply, and move Medicare toward private insurance.... Some Republican members of Congress are showing a newfound willingness to negotiate changes in the [ACA] rather than demand its repeal. "

Tim Alberta of the National Journal: "House conservatives unloaded on their Republican leaders in two closed-door meetings Wednesday, a response to last week's maneuver to extend the so-called doc fix with an unexpected voice vote. Nevertheless, most members said they would not seek retribution by voting against Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal next week. Tensions flared initially at Wednesday morning's Republican Conference meeting over what conservatives called a 'sneaky' decision by GOP leadership last Thursday to patch the sustainable growth rate requirement in the Medicare program with a simple voice vote, thereby avoiding a potentially disastrous roll-call vote." CW: So the wingnuts are against paying medical personnel fair wages??? All part of their plan to kill Medicare, I guess. ...

... Andrew Taylor of the AP: "A budget plan stuffed with familiar proposals to cut across a wide swath of the federal budget breezed through the House Budget Committee on Wednesday, but its sharp cuts to health care coverage for the middle class and the poor, food stamps and popular domestic programs are a nonstarter with President Barack Obama."

E. J. Dionne: "The fact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hit its original goal this week of signing up more than 7 million people through its insurance exchanges ought to be a moment of truth -- literally as well as figuratively. It ought to give everyone, particularly members of the news media, pause over how reckless the opponents of change have been in making instant judgments and outlandish charges.... Given how many times the law's enemies have said the sky was falling when it wasn't, will there be tougher interrogation of their next round of apocalyptic predictions?"

The World According to Beck. Kyle Mantyla of Right Wing Watch: "These days, Glenn Beck's TV and radio programs are little more than exercises in projection and hypocrisy, so it was no surprise to see him have a complete meltdown on his radio program today over President Obama's remarks [Tuesday] hailing reports that more than seven million people had signed up for health insurance under Obamacare. Declaring that the seven million figure was obviously phony, Beck flew into a rage against Obama and the 'rat bastards' in the media who refuse to hold him accountable for his pathological lying. 'This guy,' Beck said of Obama, 'you put him in a military uniform, I'm not kidding you, you put him on a balcony in a military uniform, this guy is a full-fledged dictator. He's a sociopath!,' Beck proclaimed, later in the broadcast."

News Ledes

Chicago Tribune: "... federal authorities announced that billionaire Ukrainian industrialist Dmytro Firtash and five other foreign nationals have been charged in Chicago with participating in an international racketeering conspiracy involving at least $18.5 million in bribes to government officials in India to allow the mining of titanium minerals.... Firtash, who has long allied himself with leaders friendly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.... Prosecutors, though, said the charges were filed under seal last June in Chicago and have nothing to do with recent events in Ukraine."

Houston Chronicle: "Serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells -- a drifter who has been linked to the deaths of more than a dozen people, including a 9-year-old San Antonio girl -- was executed Thursday evening.... The execution came despite last-minute litigation by attorneys for Sells and another death row inmate seeking to have the U.S. Supreme Court intervene because Texas prison officials have refused to disclose details about a new batch of lethal drugs."

Chicago Tribune: "Sears will close the doors of its State Street department store on Sunday, ending a long chapter of poor sales for the flagship Loop location and highlighting a growing trend away from brick-and-mortar shopping. Sears first opened the store in 2001, after an 18-year break from downtown. Sears opened its first store in the Loop in 1932; that store was open for 50 years."

NPR: "There were 326,000 first-time claims filed for unemployment insurance last week, up by 16,000 from the week before.... While they rose, claims remained at the lower end of the range they've been in for the past year and were running at a pace close to where they were before the economy sank into its last recession in December 2007."

Washington Post: "Acknowledging that Mideast peace talks he has shepherded for a year are teetering, Secretary of State John F. Kerry appealed directly to Israeli and Palestinian leaders Thursday not to miss a fleeting 'moment' to make peace."

AFP: "The Kremlin confirmed Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has finalised the divorce from his wife of 30 years Lyudmila following the couple's sudden split last summer." CW: Cause of the split: Vlad spending too much time at Black Sea resorts.


The Commentariat -- April 2, 2014

Amy Goldstein & Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post: "President Obama announced Tuesday that more than 7 million Americans have signed up for health plans under the Affordable Care Act, the most ambitious federal effort in nearly half a century to widen access to coverage. The tally, which signified a sharp turnaround from the troubled beginnings of enrollment last fall, was driven upward by a late rush of consumers seeking coverage in the days and hours before the deadline of midnight Monday to enroll in health plans for 2014." ...

... CW: It was a good speech, worth your watching:

... Shit-tastic. Edward-Isaac Dovere & Carrie Brown of Politico: "There was a word White House officials had for Monday, the final day of Obamacare enrollment: 'S--t-tastic.' 'S--t,' because they couldn't believe that the website had crashed again, and they couldn't get it back for hours. '-Tastic' because this time, the problems were actually because of traffic so high that it caught even the most optimistic people in the White House by surprise." ...

... Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic: "... the available data points offer hints about what is happening. And while they don't add up to a clear, definitive vindication of the law, they are enough to justify some real optimism -- the kind that hasn't been possible since October 1, the day launched, crashed, and nearly took the whole liberal cause into cyberhell with it." ...

I think they're cooking the books on this. -- Sen. John Barrasso (RTP-Wy.), on White House reports of ObamaCare sign-ups

Even by GOP standards, this was a rather extraordinary moment. A member of the Senate Republican leadership -- indeed, the chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee – went on national television to accuse the White House of perpetrating a fraud based on nothing but his own hopes. -- Steve Benen

... Brian Beutler of Salon: "Over the past several days we've been presented with a wealth of evidence that the conventional theory of the Affordable Care Act and the coming midterm elections is flawed.... Democrats and their allies are also, finally, defending the law in earnest.... Republicans don't have a good answer to the shifting on-the-ground reality, so they're denying it altogether.... And if Obamacare fatigue creates the space Democrats need to make the election about multiple policy issues, then Republicans will have a huge problem on their hands." ...

... Ed Kilgore is less optimistic than Beutler: "Let's face it: our friends on the Right have managed to keep the embers of Benghazi! glowing for a year-and-a-half. They will find ways to demonize Obamacare every day at least through November." ...

... Steve M. is not "doing the Snoopy dance" over ObamaCare sign-ups, either. ...

... Sahil Kapur of TPM: Conservative writers discover that ObamaCare helps a lot of people; elected GOP officials -- still pushing repeal. ...

... OR, as the Politico headline has it: "ObamaCare Critics: 'Homina, Homina, Homina." (A revision, oddly, from "Hubida, Hubida, Hubida."

... Steve M. changes his view: "... I've assumed that the media's national narrative on the health care law would just continue to be driven by Republicans, but I've been pleasantly surprised at this week's press -- Democrats actually seem to have changed the Obamacare story. It's now a triumph-over-adversity story...." ...

... CW: Steve & Ed Kilgore may have been right in the first place. One Politico story is not a sea-change. David Nather, the author of Politico story, is not one of Politico's wingers. He co-wrote a book on the ACA with former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle....

... Ferinstance, as Andy Borowitz "reports," "Accusing them of involvement in 'a widespread conspiracy to save President Obama's failed health-care program,' Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) today subpoenaed the approximately seven million Americans who have signed up for Obamacare so far." The beat goes on. ...

... AND a few days ago, Fox "News" explained in graphic detail, as it were, how ObamaCare sign-ups were falling W-A-A-A-Y short of their mark. Thanks to Akhilleus for sharing this data point:

... Arit John of the Atlantic picks the best & worst pundit predictions on the success/failure of ObamaCare. Guess what? The libruls wuz right. ...

... ** Hobby Lobby Hypocrites. Molly Redden of Mother Jones: "... while it was suing the government [over its owners' religious objections of contraceptive coverage], Hobby Lobby spent millions of dollars on an employee retirement plan that invested in the manufacturers of the same contraceptive products the firm's owners cite in their lawsuit. Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012 -- three months after the company's owners filed their lawsuit -- show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k)." Thanks to Akhilleus for the link. ...

... Speaking of hypocrisy, Driftglass reprises an amazing four-year-old letter from conservative Russell King begging his fellow conservatives to behave like sane adults. Apparently, conservatives had their eyes shut & their fingers in their ears & were shouting lalalalala.

Spencer Ackerman & James Ball of the Guardian: "US intelligence chiefs have confirmed that the National Security Agency has used a 'back door' in surveillance law to perform warrantless searches on Americans' communications. The NSA's collection programs are ostensibly targeted at foreigners, but in August the Guardian revealed a secret rule change allowing NSA analysts to search for Americans' details within the databases. Now, in a letter to Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the intelligence committee, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has confirmed for the first time the use of this legal authority to search for data related to 'US persons'."

Russell Berman & Bernie Becker of the Hill: "Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday unveiled a budget that proposes to cut $5.1 trillion over a decade in a bid to erase the federal deficit, setting the stage for another election-year battle over the size of government and the future of Medicare and Medicaid. The nearly 100-page blueprint will likely be the last formal budget proposal from Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, who wants to move to the more powerful Ways and Means Committee next year. [READ BUDGET HERE.]" ...

... Sy Mukherjee of Think Progress: Ryan's budget "contains many of the same cuts to social safety net and low-income assistance programs as his previous proposals -- including sweeping changes to Medicare that would turn the health care program for the elderly into a 'premium support' plan that forces American seniors to pay more for their coverage." CW: Apparently, Ryan thinks an excellent way to show his compassion for the poor is to make sure the elderly poor carry much of the load of his phony deficit reduction plan. Maybe the ex-altar boy should recommend his plan to Pope Francis. ...

... Charles Pierce: Ryan's budget "is going nowhere, obviously, but it once again illustrates that Ryan's devotion to zombie-eyed granny-starver does not arise from his profound concern about The Deficit, but, rather, is based in a nearly theological opposition to the government's efforts to do anything except raise an army and protect the prerogatives of the upper classes."

Ros Krasnyl of Reuters: "The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday advanced a bill that would require U.S. government weather agencies to focus more on predicting storms and less on climate studies. The chamber passed the measure, HR 2413, on a voice vote. Prospects in the Democrat-controlled Senate are uncertain, although the House version had 13 Republican and 7 Democrat co-sponsors." CW: Also, no more field studies on pots of gold at ends of rainbows, which the House deemed -- "like climate change, based on a nonscientific theory."

Pete Kasperowicz of the Hill: "The House on Tuesday passed legislation to provide economic assistance to Ukraine and sanction Russia, sending the package to President Obama a few weeks after Russia formally took control of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. In a 378-34 vote, members passed a bipartisan, bicameral bill to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine, as well as security aid. The Senate-amended H.R. 4152 also codifies sanctions against Russia in response to its military intervention into Ukraine."

Ben Clayman & Eric Beech of Reuters: "General Motors Co CEO Mary Barra on Tuesday called her company's slow response to at least 13 deaths linked to faulty ignition switches 'unacceptable,' but could not give U.S. lawmakers many answers as to what went wrong as she pointed to an ongoing internal investigation." The Washington Post story, by Michael Fletcher & Steven Mufson, is here.

Mary Walsh of the New York Times: "Officials of Caterpillar sparred with members of a Senate panel on Tuesday, defending more than a decade's worth of tax practices that put most of the company's profits out of reach of United States tax authorities. Members of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations came to a hearing on corporate tax avoidance armed with extensive evidence that since 1999, Caterpillar had been channeling its most profitable operations through a subsidiary in Switzerland, where it negotiated a tax rate of just a fraction of the American rate. They said the case exemplified ploys that American companies use to keep an estimated $2 trillion of profits offshore."

James Ball: "The new CEO of Mozilla, the not-for-profit organisation behind the Firefox web browser, declined on Tuesday to offer a rationale for his 2008 donation in support of California's gay marriage ban, insisting he would remain in post despite a backlash over his appointment. Giving interviews for the first time since he was announced as the new boss of Mozilla on 24 March, Brendan Eich repeatedly refused to be drawn on his stance on gay rights amid a widespread row over his $1,000 donation in support of the successful Proposition 8 ballot measure."

Dana Milbank: Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers "and other wealthy people, their political contributions unleashed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, are buying the U.S. political system in much the same way Russian oligarchs have acquired theirs." Meanwhile, Congress can't solve real problems for real people because they don't have billionaire backing.

Philip Bump of the Atlantic: "The source of black poverty isn't black culture; it's American culture."

Presidential Election 2016

Adam Edeson of the New York Daily News: "Chris Christie says he isn't letting the still-evolving Bridgegate scandal weigh down his potential 2016 plans. The embattled New Jersey governor told Fox News Channel's 'The Kelly File' that the political problems arising from the suspicious closures of multiple traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge last year won't affect whether he'll run for president. 'If you don't have baggage they'll create baggage for you. That's politics in America today,' Christie said." ...

... CW Translation: Actions have no consequences. "They" would try to do in Mother Teresa. ...

... Besides, Kate M. discovered a previously-unreported footnote in the Christie-commissioned Bridgegate report that conclusively proves Christie is totally innocent of any involvement in the scandal:

... So glad we've finally cleared that up.

Beyond the Beltway

Tony Merevick of BuzzFeed: "After simultaneous debate in both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature Tuesday, state lawmakers approved a religious freedom bill that some have argued could lead to discrimination against LGBT people and others. First in the House, the bill passed 79-43, and later, Senate lawmakers approved the bill with a wide majority. Gov. Phil Bryant [R] is expected to sign the bill into law." CW: Calling this crap "a religious freedom bill" is a crime against journalism.

Right Inside the Beltway

Mark DeBonis & Aaron Davis of the Washington Post: "Muriel E. Bowser, a low-key but politically canny District lawmaker, won the [Washington, D.C.] Democratic mayoral nomination Tuesday, emerging from a pack of challengers in a low-turnout primary to deny scandal-tarnished incumbent Vincent C. Gray a second term. The 41-year-old D.C. Council member triumphed in the latest in a string of District elections to reveal a city unsettled over the shape of its future. Bowser's win heralds many more months of uncertainty as she faces a substantial general-election challenger while a lame-duck Gray is left to steer the city amid the threat of federal indictment." ...

... Manuel Roig-Franzia of the Washington Post profiles Bowser. ...

... The Post's Robert McCartney calls the election "a vote for honest government."

News Ledes

USA Today: "The Supreme Court took another step Wednesday toward giving wealthy donors more freedom to influence federal elections. The justices ruled 5-4, in a decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, that limits on the total amount of money donors can give to all candidates, committees and political parties are unconstitutional. The decision leaves in place the base limits on what can be given to each individual campaign."

AP: "Charles H. Keating Jr., the notorious financier who served prison time and was disgraced for his role in the costliest savings and loan failure of the 1980s, has died. He was 90."

Guardian: "Workers at a scrapyard in Thailand's capital accidentally detonated a large bomb believed to have been dropped during the second world war, killing at least seven people and injuring 19 others, police said."

AFP: "Romania has approved an increase in American troops at its military airbase on the Black Sea as Washington continues to shift its main transit base for Afghanistan away from Kyrgyzstan, a report said Tuesday."


The Commentariat -- April 1, 2014

Greg Miller, et al., of the Washington Post: "A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years -- concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.... The report describes previously undisclosed cases of abuse...."

Dan Roberts of the Guardian: "President Obama's controversial effort to bring health insurance to the millions of Americans without coverage ended its first year's enrolment phase on Monday where it began: with a broken website, and postponed deadlines." ...

     ... Update. Amy Goldstein & Lena Sun of the Washington Post: "The first six-month window for Americans to gain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act closed on Monday with large numbers of consumers speeding to get coverage at the last minute. Some of them encountered obstacles as, the main enrollment Web site, faltered on and off throughout the day." ...

     ... Update. Robert Pear of the New York Times: "Administration officials, stepping up the push for enrollment in the final hours, said they were confident that they would reach their original goal of having seven million people sign up for private health plans through federal and state exchanges."

... Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic: "... New York officials told CNBC that 59 percent of people getting insurance through the state marketplace had no coverage before.... In Kentucky..., officials told the network that 75 percent of people selecting plans had been uninsured before. And ... officials in Washington ... believe that the overall effect of Obamacare has been to reduce the ranks of the uninsured by about 25 percent." Republicans, however, insist that only a small percentage of those getting coverage through the ACA are newly-insured. "... right now it's not the [Obama] Administration making the most preposterously definitive claims about the law's success or failure. It's [Sens. Ted] Cruz, [John] Barrasso, and all the other hard-core Obamacare opponents on the right." ...

... Igor Volsky of Think Progress: "On the final day of Obamacare's open enrollment, Fox News host Jenna Lee hammered Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about why Republicans have yet to offer a comprehensive alternative to the health law -- despite repeatedly voting for its repeal.... Graham agreed that his party should introduce a unified health care proposal. But Lee persisted, pressing him for more details":

... Don't Worry, Folks. Help Is on the Way. Daniel Newhauser of Roll Call: "House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., reiterated on Friday that the House plans to bring up a bill to replace President Barack Obama's health care law." ...

... Waiting for O'BoehnerCare. Ed Kilgore is such a wet blanket. He invokes Kierkegaard & Beckett to mock Cantor's claim. ...

... Juan Williams, in the Hill, with a little help from Jonathan Gruber, who helped design RomneyCare/ObamaCare, puts his finger on the real reason there's no O'BoehnerCare: "The reason congressional Republicans have no alternative to the federal Affordable Care Act is that the individual mandate and exchanges at the heart of the current reform are 'conservative, Republican ideas.'"

Laura Clawson of Daily Kos: GOP to women voters: forget women's issues ... because ObamaCare.

** David Firestone of the New York Times: "It's hard to imagine a political spectacle more loathsome than the parade of Republican presidential candidates who spent the last few days bowing and scraping before the mighty bank account of the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.... The ability of one man and his money to engender so much bootlicking among serious candidates, which ought to be frightening, has now become commonplace." ...

... Digby: "These politicians are all kissing the ring of this wealthy man because he will give millions to the one who agrees to do his bidding. It's called corruption." ...

... CW: Yes, it is. And it makes those petty thieves in the California Senate look like might small potatoes. Gunrunning with gangstas did not make them millionaires. Kissing the ass of an aged casino mogul, on the other hand....

... Andy Borowitz: "After hearing speeches by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and several others who were for sale, Mr. Adelson concluded that none of them are worth owning. 'I don't want to spend millions on another loser,' said Adelson, who purchased both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney in 2012. The casino magnate was scathing in his assessment of the candidates he declined to buy, calling them 'a third-rate grab bag of has-beens and dimwits.'" Thanks to Kate M. for the link. ...

... T. Bogg in the Raw Story has a lovely piece on the Resurrection of the Christie: "So Chris Christie is back (providing he didn't make the most fatal-est misstep a Republican can make short of hugging a black man) and everyone who flirted with Rand Paul or Marco Rubio will now come crawling back and kissing his ass because, when you piss off Chris Christie, he has the people who now how to get back at you even though he totally knows nothing about it."

Anne Gearan & William Booth of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration is considering the early release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as part of an effort to keep U.S.-backed peace talks from collapsing, according to U.S. and Israeli officials." ...

     ... Update. Jodi Rudoren of the New York Times: "Officials involved in the fraught Israeli-Palestinian peace talks said on Tuesday that an agreement was near to extend the negotiations through 2015 in exchange for the release of Jonathan J. Pollard, an American serving a life sentence for spying for Israel. The agreement would also include the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including citizens of Israel, and a partial freeze on construction in West Bank settlements. Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel hammered out details of the emerging deal in meetings here that began Monday night and continued early on Tuesday."

Barefoot AND Pregnant. Dana Milbank: The Heritage Foundation celebrated the final day of Women's History Month by encouraging women to quit working & get married. "This, they argued, also would have the felicitous effect of making women more Republican." Also, feminism sucks.

Coral Davenport of the New York Times: "A sweeping new study on the effects of climate change -- which the report says is already disrupting the lives and livelihoods of the poorest people across the planet -- creates a diplomatic challenge for President Obama, who hopes to make action on both climate change and economic inequality hallmarks of his legacy.... Climate policy experts say that the United States, as the world's largest economy, would be expected to provide $20 billion to $30 billion of that annual fund.... There is no chance that a Congress focused on cutting domestic spending and jump-starting the economy will enact legislation agreeing to a huge increase in so-called climate aid." CW: ??? "So-called climate aid." Is that something like "so-called climate change"? Links to the study, also linked in yesterday's Commentariat, are here.

Edward Wyatt of the New York Times: "The Federal Communications Commission approved measures on Monday that will free up more airwaves for Wi-Fi and wireless broadband. The agency also moved to help curb increasing cable rates for consumers, but in doing so cracked down hard on the ability of broadcast stations to negotiate jointly in competition with cable systems. Perhaps the most significant move by the commission was to allow a broad swath of airwaves to be used for outdoor unlicensed broadband, clearing the way for a new generation of Wi-Fi networks and other uses of freely available airwaves."

Keith Laing & Kevin Bogardus of the Hill: "General Motors CEO Mary Barra will step into the spotlight's glare Tuesday as she fields questions from lawmakers about why it took her company more than a decade to recall vehicles with a dangerous ignition switch problem. Barra, who is in her first year as GM's chief, is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee before heading to the Senate on Wednesday for another grilling." ...

... Danielle Ivory & Rebecca Ruiz of the New York Times: "Long before the Chevrolet Cobalt became known for having a deadly ignition defect, it was already seen as a lemon. Owners complained about power steering failures, locks inexplicably opening and closing, doors jamming shut in the rain -- even windows falling out."

Dan Roberts: Caterpillar, "one of the world's biggest manufacturing companies, diverted more than $8bn in profits to Switzerland in order to avoid US taxes, according to investigators working for the Senate."

Katie Zezima of the Washington Post: "President Obama's trip last week underscored one thing: He's more popular abroad than he is at home. Crowds lined the streets of Brussels, The Hague and Rome to catch a glimpse of Obama's motorcade. The crowd watching Obama's speech at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels was described as 'star-struck.'"

Tech News

CW: My Firefox browser has been acting up lately & just won't perform as well as Google Chrome, which I don't like for a number of reasons. Now I think I see why: the Firefox crew has been too busy worrying about buggery to work out bugs:

... Jeff Bercovici of Forbes: "The appointment of Proposition 8 supporter Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla has provoked howls of dissent within the company's ranks and on its board of directors. Now the broader tech community has begun to weigh in, starting with OK Cupid. Users of the IAC-owned dating site who access it through Mozilla's Firefox browser have started receiving a message asking them not to use software made by a company whose CEO has donated money to outlaw gay marriage in California."

Congressional Race

Jake Sherman & John Bresnahan of Politico: "Michigan Rep. Dave Camp, the chairman of the prestigious Ways and Means Committee, will not run for reelection in November, the veteran GOP lawmaker announced on Monday. Camp was first elected in 1990.... Democratic Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Israel said Monday that he viewed the district as within Democrats' reach.... Possible Republican replacements for Camp ... include state Sen. John Moolenaar of Midland and Peter Konetchy, a Roscommon businessman who announced last year that he would challenge Camp."

Way Beyond the Beltway

Alexander Stille of the New Yorker: "Sunday’s municipal elections in France offer at least three historical firsts: a historically poor result for the socialist party of President François Hollande; the best-ever results for the right-wing National Front party of Marine Le Pen; and a national record for low voter turnout. The left lost mainly because its own electorate -- discouraged by the disappointing performance of the Hollande government and a lacklustre campaign -- decided to stay home." Here's the AFP story on the elections.

News Lede

New York Times: "The fraught Mideast peace talks were thrown into confusion on Tuesday as a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority was canceled after Mr. Abbas moved to join 15 international agencies, a move vigorously opposed by Israel and the United States."


The Commentariat March 31, 2014 

Noam Levey of the Los Angeles Times: " President Obama's healthcare law, despite a rocky rollout and determined opposition from critics, already has spurred the largest expansion in health coverage in America in half a century, national surveys and enrollment data show. As the law's initial enrollment period closes, at least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gained coverage. Some have done so through marketplaces created by the law, some through other private insurance and others through Medicaid, which has expanded under the law in about half the states." ...

... Excellent Timing. Fredreka Schouten & Kelly Kennedy of USA Today: "The federal government's healthcare enrollment website -- -- went down briefly early Monday for extended maintenance as heavy traffic was building on the last day of open enrollment for 2014." CW: Really, could these programmers be any more clueless? Who scheduled a maintenance check on the last official day of sign-ups? ...

... Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker: "Republicans have mostly tolerated the portions of the [ACA] that benefit the middle class.... The real controversy, as with Medicaid five decades ago, centers on health care for the poor."

Justin Gillis of the New York Times: "Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world's oceans, scientists reported Monday, and they warned that the problem is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control. The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct."

Thomas Frank in Salon: Plutocracy is the norm. It will not dismantle itself. "That is our job."

Zombies! Paul Krugman: "... the belief that America suffers from a severe 'skills gap' is ... a prime example of a zombie idea -- an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die.... If employers are really crying out for certain skills, they should be willing to offer higher wages to attract workers with those skills. In reality, however, it's very hard to find groups of workers getting big wage increases.... Influential people move in circles in which repeating the skills-gap story ... is a badge of seriousness, an assertion of tribal identity.... Moreover, by blaming workers for their own plight, the skills myth shifts attention away from the spectacle of soaring profits and bonuses even as employment and wages stagnate."

CW: Brad DeLong has an opinion piece in the New York Times. I don't understand a word of it. If anyone wants to translate, thank you very much. If economists & other experts want to have influence, they have to learn to write for people with a high-school education. See Krugman above.

Speaking of lying brainiacs, as we do in today's Comments section, Driftglass has a lovely review of the expert guests commissioned to Tell Lies Using Big Words on the Sunday shows. ...

... Charles Pierce does the same. Turns out one of the healthcare experts was Rick Santorum -- so no Big Words. Except maybe "abstinence."

Ayn Rand Lives! Jonathan Chait: The funniest thing happened on the way to Paul Ryan's plan to show the poor some love. He drafted the House budget, & it slashes the hell out of poverty programs. Again. But hey, he's thinking about thinking about maybe doing some anti-poverty thingee sometime.

** Jamelle Bouie in Slate: "Nearly twice as many whites as blacks favor the death penalty.... There's no separating capital punishment from its role, in part, as a tool of racial control.... Not only [were] whites immune to persuasion on the death penalty, but when researchers told them of the racial disparity -- that blacks faced unfair treatment -- many increased their support.... If you needed a one-word answer to why whites are so supportive of the death penalty, 'racism' isn't a bad choice."

N. Montenegro of the USCCB: "The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, joined by bishops on the border, will travel to Nogales, Arizona, March 30-April 1, 2014, to tour the U.S.-Mexico border and celebrate Mass on behalf of the close to 6,000 migrants who have died in the U.S. desert since 1998. The Mass will be celebrated at 9 a.m. on April 1, followed by a press conference at 10:30 a.m." Via Greg Sargent. ...

... As Sargent points out, the USCCB is stepping up pressure on the Obama administration: in this letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the Most Rev. Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, rips the administration's immigration enforcement policies. ...

... Jackie Calmes of the New York Times: "Across the country, immigrant-rights advocates report mounting disillusionment with both parties among Latinos, enough to threaten recent gains in voting participation that have reshaped politics to Democrats' advantage nationally, and in states like Colorado with significant Latino populations." CW: Another good reason for Republicans to stall/fight immigration reform.

Matthew Wald of the New York Times: "... both G.M. and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than previously acknowledged, ignored or dismissed warnings for more than a decade about a faulty ignition switch that, if bumped, could turn off, shutting the engine and disabling the air bags. General Motors has recalled nearly 2.6 million cars and has linked 13 deaths to the defect." ...

... Christopher Jensen & Matthew Wald of the New York Times: "... the revolving door between the [National Highway Transportation Safety Administration] and the automotive industry is once again coming under scrutiny as lawmakers investigate the decade-long failure by General Motors and safety regulators to act more aggressively on a defective ignition switch that G.M. has linked to 13 deaths. When David J. Friedman, acting administrator of the highway safety agency, testifies before House and Senate panels on Tuesday and Wednesday, a central question will be why the agency failed to push for a recall."

Carol Leonnig, et al., of the Washington Post: "Military officials said they are investigating the conduct of a U.S. Marine who was on assignment for President Obama's trip to the Netherlands last week, after witnesses said he was talking in detail about his job and passing around his government security badge during a night of drinking at a bar.... Circulating an official pass that would allow someone to gain entry to the summit would be a serious security breach...." CW: I can't help feeling President Obama's security detail isn't all that interested in protecting him.

Beyond the Beltway

Jim Miller of the Sacramento Bee: "The ... FBI affidavit against [California state Sen. Leland] Yee and more than 20 other defendants says the San Francisco Democrat's focus on retiring a $70,000 campaign debt from his unsuccessful 2011 mayor's race and raising money for his 2014 candidacy for secretary of state led him to accept bribes in return for official favors and arrange overseas weapons deals.... Money is a never-ending concern of politicians facing campaign costs that run into the six and seven figures." CW: Another good reason for campaign finance reform -- it will free up candidates from the need to run guns, consort with gangsters & take bribes.

The Rich Are Different from You & Me. Cris Barrish of the Delaware News Journal: "A Superior Court judge who sentenced a wealthy du Pont heir to probation for raping his 3-year-old daughter noted in her order that he 'will not fare well' in prison and needed treatment instead of time behind bars, court records show.... [A] The lawsuit filed by [du Pont heir Robert] Richards' ex-wife accuses him of admitting to sexually abusing his infant son between 2005 and 2007, the same period when he abused his daughter starting when she was 3." CW: See, if you're rich, abusing & raping infants & toddlers is an illness; if you're not rich, it is naturally a crime; if you're black, it's a death-penalty crime (see Jamelle Bouie above). The American justice system is not that difficult to understand.

News Ledes

AP: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rushed to the Middle East on Monday for a surprise visit aimed at rescuing his Mideast diplomatic efforts, as peace talks approached a critical make-or-break point. Kerry landed in Israel late Monday before heading to Jerusalem for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and then to the West Bank town of Ramallah to meet the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas." ...

... Guardian: "Russia flaunted its grip on Crimea on Monday, with the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, flying in to the newly annexed territory for a cabinet meeting, cementing the sense of resignation in Kiev and the west that the seizure of the territory is irreversible. At the same time, Russian forces appeared to be pulling back from the border with eastern Ukraine. Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, said in a phone conversation with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, that he had ordered a 'partial withdrawal' from the border, according to Berlin. The developments came after a four-hour meeting on Sunday between the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, in which both sides put their visions for resolving the Ukraine crisis on the table. After the meeting in Paris, Lavrov said Ukraine should introduce federalisation of power."

AFP: "The United States criticized China as provocative Monday after its coast guard tried to block a Philippine vessel that was rotating troops in the tense South China Sea."

Seattle Times: The death toll from the Snohomish County mudslide climbed by three to 21 on Sunday, and searchers found four additional victims who are not part of that official count. The number of people still missing after nine days of searching stands at 30." ...

     ... Update: "The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office Major Crimes Unit Monday afternoon released a list of 22 people missing in the Oso mudslide."