The Ledes

Wednesday, March 4, 2015.

Boston Globe: "The trial of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev" begins today.

The Wires

Public Service Announcement

The Hill: "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden on Sunday [Feb. 1] warned that the U.S. could see a 'large outbreak' of measles.... There are at least 102 reported cases in 14 states, according to the CDC. Frieden said that the U.S. is 'likely to see more cases.'... The said the best way to prevent the spread of measles was vaccination.Frieden said despite the U.S.'s 92 percent vaccination rate, there is growing evidence more parents are not vaccinating their children."

Get Off Your Ass! Los Angeles Times (Jan. 19): "New research that distills the findings of 47 studies concludes that those of us who sit for long hours raise our average risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and early death."

White House Live Video
March 4

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

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


Way Cheaper Wi-Fi? Will Oremus of Slate: "Google isn’t talking details yet, but ...what it has in mind, according to industry rumors and sources, is something like what FreedomPop and Republic Wireless are already offering: a 'Wi-Fi first' service that could deliver adequate, if slightly spotty, coverage at a fraction of the prevailing cost. And that coverage is likely to get much better over time."

Woodwording Plagiarism?? Washington Post: "There’s no doubt that the first season finale of Ellen DeGeneres’s reality competition show was bizarre. But the questions it raises are even stranger, along with the weird and frustrating way the network chose to handle a controversial situation."

Adam Goodheart of the Atlantic reviews a book by historian Eric Foner that sheds new light on the Underground Railway that helped Southern black Americans escapes slavery, even though the participants were violating federal law -- openly, too: "It is a little-known historical irony that right up until the eve of Southern secession in 1860, states’ rights were invoked as often by Northern abolitionists as by Southern slaveholders."

CW: How I'll Spend My Weekend. Season 3 of "House of Cards" is up on Netflix now:

Deadline: ESPN suspends Keith Olbermann for engaging in an "inappropriate" "Twitter War" with some Penn State students. ...

... CW: Hard to believe something like this hasn't happened sooner.

Buzz Aldrin during a spacewalk, November 1966. Last year Aldrin described the photo as the "BEST SELFIE EVER." CW: I'd say he's right.

New York Times: "Hundreds of photographs from the early years of the space age are for sale. That includes the first image taken from space — from an altitude of 65 miles by a camera on a V-2 rocket launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on Oct. 24, 1946. (The boundary to outer space is generally placed at 100 kilometers, or 62.1 miles.) The prints are vintage — dating from that era, not modern reproductions — and come from the collection of a single European collector, said Sarah Wheeler, head of photographs at Bloomsbury Auctions in London."

** Charles Pierce comments on wingers' Twitter reactions to the Oscars.

Actor Patricia Arquette accepts her Academy Award & calls for women's wage equality:

... Which sparked outrage on the right. And dismay on the left.

#OscarsSoWhite. Soraya McDonald of the Washington Post: "Sunday was a study in contradictions; there was overwhelming emphasis on the visibility of black people in Hollywood, yet their peers hadn’t deemed their work fit for nomination in any of the major individual categories."

Common & John Legend accept the award for the song "Glory" from the film "Selma":

The Los Angeles Times' Academy Awards page is here. The main story is here. The list of winners is here.

Los Angeles Times: "A Palm Springs home built using Joseph Eichler’s original blueprints is under contract to sell for $1.29 million. The newly built Modernist design, considered the first true Eichler home developed in 40 years, came to market on Tuesday. According to real estate brokers and developers Troy Kudlac and Ross Stout of KUD Properties Inc., which handled the listing side, it sold that day for the asking price." With slideshow.

If you just can't get enough of the Academy Awards, the L. A. Times has a guide to Oscar-related TV shows. If you want to watch the Oscars online, here's where & how.

D. R. Tucker in the Washington Monthly: "... give [Jon] Stewart his props for the positive things he has done over the years. He has inspired a new generation of commentators who will continue to call out political perversity and media mendacity. However, the man was not without his flaws — and the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was a gigantic one. As Olbermann, Maher and Maddow have long argued, sanity has to defeat fear, not figure out some way to get along with it."

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The Commentariat -- Feb. 9, 2013

The President's Weekly Address:

     ... The transcript is here. The President begins his remarks with a huge lie: "Over the last few years, Democrats and Republicans have come together and cut our deficit by more than $2.5 trillion through a balanced mix of spending cuts and higher tax rates for the wealthiest Americans." (AND he doesn't get much better as he goes along, promising "sensible changes to entitlement programs.") How fucking balance is this? --

... (From the February 7 Commentariat) Greg Sargent: "Even if the parties reach a deal in the third round of deficit reduction to avert the sequester with something approaching an equivalent sum of spending cuts and new revenues, the overall deficit reduction balance would still be heavily lopsided towards Republicans. Yet they continue to insist on resolving round three only through cuts, anyway." There are more related links in the February 7 Commentariat. ...

... Tom Raum of the AP: "Trying to ratchet up pressure on Congress, the White House on Friday detailed what it said would be the painful impact on the federal workforce and certain government assistance programs if 'large and arbitrary' scheduled government spending cuts are allowed to take place beginning March 1. They include layoffs or furloughs of 'hundreds of thousands' of federal workers, including FBI agents, U.S. prosecutors, food safety inspectors and air traffic controllers, said White House budget officials at a briefing and in a fact sheet...." ...

... Here's the White House fact sheet. ...

... Jonathan Chait: Speaker Boehner is (1) standing pat on (2) the "horrible sequester," which is all President Obama's fault. "I don't understand the strategy of publicly declaring you don't mind the sequester and blaming it all on Obama. Don't you have to, you know, pick one?" CW: no, Jon, you do not, if you live in Right Wing World, where self-contradiction is the norm. ...

... Jed Lewison of Daily Kos has the best idea on how to handle the sequester: repeal it. CW: If you think this would lead to a lot of wasteful defense spending, you might be right. But maybe not: a budget authorization is just that: an authorization. It doesn't mean the Pentagon has to spend the money, though obviously the Defense Department would be under a lot of pressure from military contractors to let authorized contracts.

... This Huff Post interview of Paul Krugman is well-worth hearing. Krugman's questioner Marc Hill asks all the right questions, allowing Krugman to cover all the basics of what's wrong with Washington's (mis)management of deficits & spending. The interview comes to me via Chris Spannos, my editor at NYTX, who found it because the accompanying Huff Post story by Jack Mirkinson links one of my NYTX columns:

Pat Garofalo of Think Progress: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a bill this week that would eliminate the corporate "'deferral,' which allows U.S. corporations to avoid paying taxes on overseas profits until they bring that money back to the U.S., giving them every incentive to leave it overseas permanently [and other corporate giveaways].... According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, 'the provisions in this bill will raise more than $590 billion in revenue over the next decade.'" CW: good luck getting so much as a hearing on the bill, Bernie.

Kelsey Snell of Politico: "An investment Jack Lew made in the Cayman Islands has been flagged as an issue in the Treasury secretary nominee’s vetting by the Senate Finance Committee, according to multiple sources close to the confirmation process. The White House says the investment was previously disclosed and is already a public matter.... 'That Mr. Lew had an investment in the Caymans from 2007 through 2010 will likely draw questions during his nomination hearing,' said ... a spokeswoman for Finance Committee Republicans. Lew has been confirmed by the Senate three times in the past -- twice by unanimous consent." CW: so I guess it was okay that President Romney still had a slew of Caymen investments, but it's not okay if Treasury Secretary Lew had a Caymen investment in the past (he sold the investment, at a loss, i 2010). The real problem: "Republicans have been critical of Lew since his nomination was announced last month. Sens. Jeff Sessions and Orrin Hatch have questioned his role in Medicare policy decisions...." ...

... Sen. Carl Levin: "Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter today to Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, responding to a letter by Sen. Inhofe and other Republican senators insisting on additional financial disclosure information from secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel.... Sen. Levin outlines the Armed Services Committee's rules and practices for nominees and says the request by Inhofe and other Republican senators 'appears to insist upon financial disclosure requirements that far exceed the standard practices of the Armed Services Committee and go far beyond the financial disclosure required of previous Secretaries of Defense.' Levin intends to hold a committee vote on the Hagel nomination as soon as possible."

New York Times Editors: "... Harry Reid needs to remove [Sen. Bob Menendez {D-N.J.} from his position as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee], at least pending credible resolution by the Senate Ethics Committee of the swirling accusations of misconduct."

Ari Berman of The Nation: "In 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for another twenty-five years. The legislation passed 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate. Every top Republican supported the bill.... Seven years later, the bipartisan consensus that supported the VRA for nearly fifty years has collapsed, and conservatives are challenging the law as never before.... The current campaign against the VRA is the result of ... a whiter, more Southern, more conservative GOP that has responded to demographic change by trying to suppress an increasingly diverse electorate; a twenty-five-year effort to gut the VRA by conservative intellectuals, who in recent years have received millions of dollars from top right-wing funders, including Charles Koch; and a reactionary Supreme Court that does not support remedies to racial discrimination."

"Fitness for Office." Gail Collins considers the corpulence of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. ...

... Jason Volentine of KTVK Phoenix: "Dr. Connie Mariano was the White House doctor for nine years, encompassing parts of both Bush administrations and the entire Clinton presidency. She was recently asked her opinion of Gov. Chris Christie’s weight problem..." The doctor said she worried about his health if he didn't get his weight down before he ran for office. [Elsewhere it was reported she said he might die in office.] Christie did not take the criticism well, firing back at the doctor from a news conference he held in New Jersey.... Mariano said Christie called her and yelled at her. 'It was essentially the tone of the press conference only louder,' she said. 'It was hard to get anything across.' ... Mariano ... [said] it's common for medical experts to weigh in on the health concerns of potential presidential candidates.... Ironically, Mariano has been a Christie supporter and identifies herself as a Republican."

Matthew O'Brien of The Atlantic explains that -- contrary to claims by know-it-alls -- liberal arts majors are not having a hard time finding jobs because their majors are useless; it's because, um, there aren't many jobs out there. With charts!

Andy Borowitz: "Citing budgetary concerns, the United States announced today that it would discontinue regular Saturday drone strikes on U.S. citizens, beginning in 2014."

Oh, boy! Remember Pretend President Rubio, the Republican savior who is going to deliver the Republican response to the SOTU? Now there's also going to be Pretend President Rand Paul who will deliver the Tea Party response to the SOTU. Paul should be great because, as Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon notes, "Paul will try to do a better job of looking at the camera than Michele Bachmann."

News Ledes

Reuters: "Chinese welcomed the arrival of the Year of the Snake with raucous celebrations on Saturday, setting off a cacophony of firecrackers in the streets and sending fireworks blazing into the sky to bring good fortune. Celebrations will carry on into the early hours of Sunday, officially the first day of the Lunar New Year."

AP: "A Cairo court on Saturday ordered the government to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube for 30 days for carrying an anti-Islam film that caused deadly riots across the world."

AP: "After weeks of anxiety plodding through the opaque Russian legal system, two U.S. women have custody of their adopted Russian children and are preparing to take them home to start a new life together. Jeana Bonner of South Jordan, Utah, and Rebecca Preece from Nampa, Idaho, told The Associated Press on Saturday about the expenses, the confusion and emotional swings they've gone through since arriving in Moscow in mid-January, expecting to quickly leave with their children, both of whom have Down syndrome."

Bloomberg News: "Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt is adopting a plan to sell as many as 3.2 million shares in the operator of the world's most popular search engine. The planned share sales, worth about $2.5 billion, are for Schmidt's individual asset diversification and liquidity, Mountain View, California-based Google said in a filing yesterday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission."

New York Times: "A powerful nor'easter swept fast and furiously across the Northeast on Saturday, dumping mountains of snow, forcing hundreds of motorists to abandon their cars at the height of the blizzard and knocking out power for hundreds of thousands of people." Latest updates are here. ...

     ... AP Update: "New Englanders began the back-breaking job of digging out from as much as 3 feet of snow Saturday and emergency crews used snowmobiles to reach shivering motorists stranded overnight on New York's Long Island< after a howling storm swept through the Northeast. About 650,000 homes and businesses were left without electricity, and some could be cold and dark for days. Roads across the New York-to-Boston corridor of roughly 25 million people were impassable."

... Boston Globe: "Hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents have lost power because of the mammoth blizzard that lashed Massachusetts with hurricane-force winds and dumped more than two feet of snow in some areas overnight. The state is at a standstill, with residents hunkering down at home under a rare travel ban imposed by the governor on Friday, and the MBTA saying it will not be able to restore service today. Snowplows are out in force struggling to clear the roads, but the storm is expected to continue dumping snow into midday." ...

... Hartford Courant: "Roads across the state were impassable Saturday morning, with drivers, emergency responders and even highway crews stuck in 2 to 3 feet of snow. At 5 a.m., Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered all roads closed until further notice, according to spokesman Andrew Doba. Just before 7 a.m., more than 36,000 Connecticut Light & Power customers were without power, along with more than half a million households in Massachusetts and Rhode Island."

AP: "Secret Defense Department studies cast doubt on whether a multibillion-dollar missile defense system planned for Europe will ever be able to protect the U.S. from Iranian missiles as intended, congressional investigators say. Military officials say they believe the problems can be overcome and are moving forward with plans."

AP: "First lady Michelle Obama will join some of Illinois' most recognizable politicians and clergy Saturday to mourn a 15-year-old honor student whose death has drawn attention to staggering gun violence in the nation's third-largest city. But Hadiya Pendleton's family says her Saturday funeral service won't be about politics, but about remembering a girl who loved to dance, once appeared in an anti-gang video and died just days after performing at one of President Barack Obama's inauguration events." ...

     ... Update: "Hundreds of mourners and dignitaries including first lady Michelle Obama packed the funeral service Saturday for a Chicago teen whose killing catapulted her into the nation's debate over gun violence." The Chicago Tribune story is here.

New York Times: John "Karlin, who died on Jan. 28, at 94..., quietly yet emphatically defined the experience of using the telephone in the mid-20th century and afterward, from ushering in all-digit dialing to casting the shape of the keypad on touch-tone phones. And that keypad, in turn, would inform the design of a spate of other everyday objects.... Mr. Karlin, associated from 1945 until his retirement in 1977 with Bell Labs..., was widely considered the father of human-factors engineering in American industry."

New York Times: "India hanged a man on Saturday who had been convicted of involvement in the 2001 attack on Parliament that killed nine people. The hanging of Afzal Guru, a 43-year-old militant with the group Jaish-e-Mohammad, came more than a decade after the Dec. 13, 2001, suicide attack on India's Parliament in which five gunmen opened fire, killing nine people, including security officials and a journalist."

Washington Post: "Parking lot attendants at the Smithsonian Institution's air and space center in Chantilly" skimmed at least $1.4 million from the parking fees they collected. Two have been sentenced. A third attendant, charged with stealing $120,000, committed suicide before her case was resolved...."

Los Angeles Times: "An attorney representing two women who were delivering newspapers when they were shot by police during a massive manhunt for an ex-LAPD officer called the incident 'unacceptable,' saying his clients looked nothing like the suspect. Emma Hernandez, 71, was delivering the Los Angeles Times with her daughter, Margie Carranza, 47, in the 19500 block of Redbeam Avenue in Torrance on Thursday morning when Los Angeles police detectives apparently mistook their pickup for that of Christopher Dorner, the 33-year-old fugitive suspected of killing three people and injuring two others." CW: Hernandez & Carranza are odd names for "Asian" women, which was the initially-reported description of the women. I guess all non-white people look alike. Who wouldn't mistake a 71-year-old Latina for a 33-year-old black man?


The Commentariat -- Feb. 8, 2013

Mark Mazetti & Scott Shane of the New York Times: "In a tumultuous start to the confirmation hearing for John O. Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency on Thursday, protesters briefly disrupted his testimony and Mr. Brennan came under unexpectedly intense questioning from both Democrats and Republicans about drone strikes, leaks of classified information and his knowledge of the agency's former interrogation program." ...

... Greg Miller has the Washington Post report: "A Senate hearing on the nomination of John O. Brennan to serve as CIA director exposed deep skepticism of key aspects of the Obama administration's approach to fighting terrorism, including its unprecedented reliance on targeted killing and the secrecy it maintains around the exercise of that lethal power." ...

... Here's the "NBC Nightly News" report on the Brennan hearing:

     ... C-SPAN has video of the full public hearing here. ...

... Adam Serwer of Mother Jones: "... five key questions Brennan avoided [answering] throughout the course of the hearing: [1.] Did torture lead to the capture of Osama bin Laden? ... [2.] Did torture work? ... [3.] Will Brennan reduce the CIA's paramilitary role? ... [4.] Is waterboarding torture? ... [5.] Do American citizens have a right to know when they might be killed on suspicion of terrorism?" ...

... Marcy Wheeler: John Brennan, "who can't (or refuses to) say whether waterboarding is torture because he is not a lawyer, is entrusted every Tuesday to make far more difficult legal decisions, both on the subjective feasible and imminent questions, but also on specific international laws. In other words, according to the guy who has been acting as judge and jury for the last four years, the guy who has been acting as judge and jury is completely incompetent to act as judge and jury."

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "President Obama vowed Thursday to confront Republicans over the issue of closing tax loopholes, saying that he would relish a debate with those who insist that Congress has done all it should to get more tax revenue from wealthy individuals and corporations." ...

... Here are the President's remarks to House Democrats:

... Digby on sequester negotiations: "The President has already screwed the pooch on this with his statement that the Fiscal Cliff deal he offered is still on the table so there's really no point in pretending that the Democrats won't be offering up more cuts. Still, it could be useful if they at least tried to bluff a little bit before caving.... (Of course, that means that Cokie and Ruth Marcus might not give them plaudits for being grown-ups and that would be the worst thing that could possibly happen.) ... It's also a long term catastrophic error on the part of the Democrats to enthusiastically take credit for deficit reduction at exactly the wrong moment. They are cementing conservative economic ideology at their own expense. It's political malpractice.... It will be the 'grown-ups' who [are to blame for] fully [buying in[to] ... the economic ideology that destroyed the middle class." ...

... Paul Krugman: "While it's true that we will eventually need some combination of revenue increases and spending cuts to rein in the growth of U.S. government debt, now is very much not the time to act. Given the state we're in, it would be irresponsible and destructive not to kick that can down the road."

Robert Pear of the New York Times: "The nation's Roman Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the latest White House proposal on health insurance coverage of contraceptives, saying it did not offer enough safeguards for religious hospitals, colleges and charities that objected to providing such coverage for their employees." CW: In a statement, the bishops said they would continue fighting the federal mandate in court." The bishops also said that until HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius joins a convent & pledges her fealty to Rome, they will fight her every effort to accommodate their anti-woman agenda. (Okay, maybe I took liberties here.) ...

... NEW. Charles Pierce pens a note to the President re: the Clan of the Red Beanie: "You are attempting to compromise with people who simply do not want anyone to have access to birth control. You are attempting to compromise with people who do not accept your right to demand anything of them in return. It is time to be a secular political leader again and not give a damn."

Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times: "After decades of friction over immigration, the nation's labor unions and the leading business association, the Chamber of Commerce, have formed an unusual alliance that is pushing hard to revamp American immigration laws. These oft-feuding groups ... are also nearing common ground on a critical issue -- the number of guest workers allowed into the country -- that has deeply divided business and labor for years and helped to sink President George W. Bush's push for an immigration overhaul in 2007."

Shabnam Bashiri in Salon: "The housing recovery is largely a myth, as increases in home sale prices are the result of Wall Street firms buying up foreclosed homes & renting them out, sometimes to the former owners upon whom the banks have foreclosed. "After creating a massive bubble in home prices that eventually burst and caused our economy to go into a tailspin, these guys have decided to come back for more, and figured out a way to profit off their destruction -- by turning foreclosed homes into rentals and securitizing the rental income.... Many are claiming this is a 'private sector solution.'" Bashiri provides an example. CW: if she's right (and she's an expert), this is a further -- & horrendous -- instance of how Wall Street & Washington are collaborating to turn back the clock to the 19th century, in this case to a time when homeownership in the U.S. was quite low.

Alan Fram of the AP: "A bipartisan quartet of senators, including two National Rifle Association members and two with 'F' ratings from the potent firearms lobby, are quietly trying to find a compromise on expanding the requirement for gun-sale background checks.... The private discussions involve liberal Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who is the No. 3 Senate Democratic leader; West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, an NRA member and one of the chamber's more moderate Democrats; Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., another NRA member and one of the more conservative lawmakers in Congress; and moderate GOP Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois."

Kimberly Kindy, et al., of the Washington Post: "Shoddy practices and unsanitary conditions at three large-scale specialty pharmacies have been tied to deaths and illnesses over the past decade, revealing that the serious safety lapses at a Massachusetts pharmacy linked to last fall's deadly meningitis outbreak were not an isolated occurrence.... A Washington Post analysis found that state and federal authorities did little to systematically inspect and correct hazards posed by specialty pharmacies, which custom-mix medications for individual patients, hospitals and clinics. In the lightly regulated industry, pharmacies were rarely punished even when their mistakes had lethal consequences."

Troubles in Right Wing World

According to my two favoritest Politico reporters, Jim Vandehei & Mike Allen, the GOP is aiming to "marginalize the cranks, haters and bigots." ...

... But, inconveniently enough, Jon Chait of New York points out that "In order to purge a party of crankish and bigoted sentiments, you would need to identify what those sentiments are. Climate-change denial? Opposition to gay marriage? 'Self-deportation'? Railing against food stamps? Supply-side economics?" ...

... While we're thinking about that brilliant plan, along comes ...

(Just a reminder here that the first & only woman ever to be Speaker of the House & House Minority Leader has never, ever been on the cover of Time magazine.) That's convenient. Or maybe not. Steve Benen takes a tally (all the links that follow are Benen's: "Maybe now would be a good time to note the blurred line between GOP 'cranks, haters and bigots' and the rest of the party? Let's use Rubio, the Republican 'savior,' as an example. Rubio doesn't accept climate science, thinks the age of the planet is a theological question, and opposes marriage equality. Remember the Blunt Amendment that would have empowered employers to deny birth-control coverage to their employers? It was originally known as the 'Blunt-Rubio Amendment.' Rubio is part of a shrinking fringe that opposes the Violence Against Women Act, embraces strange conspiracy theories involving gun control, and thinks George W. Bush was a 'fantastic' president. Rubio tells teleprompter jokes while reading from teleprompters, has been caught lying about the basics of Republican budget policy, has suggested TARP recipients shouldn't have to repay bailout money, and in 2011, argued programs like Medicare and Social Security have 'actually weakened us as a people.' ... What happens when the party realizes it doesn't have a moderate wing and its cranks and rising stars believe in roughly the same far-right ideology?" ...

... Igor Volsky of Think Progress posts 8 reasons Rubio is not the Republican savior: "1. Refused to raise the debt ceiling.... 2. Co-sponsored and voted for a Balanced Budget Amendment.... 3. Signed the Norquist pledge.... 4. Backed Florida's voter purge.... 5. Doesn't believe in climate change.... 6. Opposed federal action to help prevent violence against women.... 7. Believes employers should be able to deny birth control to their employees.... 8. Recorded robo calls for anti-gay hate group." ...

... Ed Kilgore has more. "So if Rubio has been on the crazy fringe of his party on fiscal policy [he has], why exactly are we supposed to believe he's somehow the voice and face of a middle-class-friendly GOP? He was front-and-center late last summer in defending the Republican platform’s support for a flat ban on abortions even in cases of rape and incest. So why is he 'saner' than Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock? ... [Because] immigration is the only issue on which Republicans as a whole are actually considering a 'shift' in their policies (though not so much their ideology). Rubio is the front-man for that effort...." ...

... The Time portrait of Rubio, by Michael Grunwald, is pretty sympathetic and just barely hints at Rubio's policies on anything outside immigration. ...

... Don't worry too much about Right Wing World, though. Orwellian Logic still applies. Jon Chait of New York: "Rubio has managed to get conservatives to think of cooperating with Obama on immigration reform as a kind of triumph over Obama. Never mind that Obama has favored comprehensive reform all along, and Rubio opposed it until the last few weeks. The new partisan narrative presents Obama as a foe of immigration reform and Rubio as its long-standing champion.... So then finally, Rubio will be standing with his foot atop Obama's throat, having bested him by forcing him to sign a bill fulfilling one of his longtime legislative priorities. And then 2016!"

Matt Gertz of Media Matters: Fox "News" may have purged two of its more high-profile crazy people -- Sarah Palin & Dick Morris -- but it still has its share of loons, including birther Eric Bolling & truther Andrew Napolitano.

** Melissa Henneberger of the Washington Post: "For more than 30 years, psychologists Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald have been studying the unconscious biases that take root in our brains, coloring everything from hiring decisions to how doctors mete out medical care and judges pass sentence. If you don't think you harbor any such mental stowaways, tugging you in favor of white over black, straight over gay, or male over female ... then log onto Harvard's Project Implicit and prepare to be disappointed in someone you never knew held such appalling views: you."

Local News

Laura Bassett of the Huffington Post: "North Dakota has only one abortion clinic and has been rated the worst state in the country for women, but the State Senate passed two bills on Thursday will make it even more difficult for women in the state to access abortion care. [The state senate] passed a Personhood Constitutional Amendment initiative on Thursday that would amend the state's constitution to give legal rights and protections to human embryos. If the ballot initiative passes the House, North Dakota voters will decide on it during the 2014 elections." ...

Melissa Anders of M Live: Michigan "House Speaker Jase Bolger said the Michigan House will not approve legislation that mandates transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking an abortion. Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare, introduced a bill this week that would require an ultrasound at least two hours before an abortion is performed using the 'most technologically advanced ultrasound equipment available at that location.' Many have interpreted the bill to mean that it would require the controversial and more invasive transvaginal ultrasound, but Johnson said that's not his intent and that he's 'very open' to amending the bill to clarify that."

Firedoglake, re: the shooting in Torrance, California of newspaper carriers: "... the police ... have already shown themselves to be reckless cowards. Two Asian women delivering newspapers were shot by Torrance undercover Los Angeles police this morning simply because they were in a Nissan truck similar to that [Christopher] Dorner, [a suspected police murderer,] may have been driving.... Dorner is a 6'4″ black male. There's no way the cops could have made any sort of visual identification of the people in this truck and mistaken either of them for Dorner. And wouldn't a second person in the truck, who might have been a hostage, preclude them from using deadly force? Shouldn't the fact that the license plate was not Dorner's have kept them from emptying their guns into the back window of this truck? Or maybe the fact that the truck was the wrong color and model? Somehow, the two women escaped death; one was shot in the back twice and is expected to recover and the other was shot in the hand was injured by broken glass. A second shooting, which involved Torrance police firing at a vehicle which also turned out not to be Dorner's, miraculously did not cause any injuries." CW: maybe the Torrance police are worse shots than the LAPD.

News Ledes

Los Angeles Times: "With snow piling up in Big Bear, authorities continued searching cabins deep in the forest but have turned up no leads on ex-cop and suspected killer Christopher Jordan Dorner, police said Friday afternoon."

UPI: "Los Angeles County plans to fire seven sheriff's deputies for membership in a secret group called the Jump Out Boys, officials said. The clique's members allegedly have tattoos showing skulls with skeletal hands holding revolvers, the Los Angeles Times reported. Smoke on the tattoo indicates a deputy has been involved in a shooting."

New York Times: "Alice Boland, 28, who was charged in 2005 with threatening to assassinate President George W. Bush and members of Congress..., is again charged with plotting a violent attack. On Monday, after pacing in front of the school gates [of Ashley Hall, a private girls school in Charleston, South Carolina] during car pool and visibly swinging a gun, she tried to shoot two faculty members," but she didn't know how to unlock the gun. "She appeared to have bought the gun legally...."

New York Times: "The leader of a dissident Amish sect, [Samuel Mullet, Sr.,] was sentenced on Friday to 15 years in prison for a series of bizarre beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Ohio Amish that drew national attention.

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later. Los Angeles Times: "Two women who were shot by Los Angeles police in Torrance early Thursday during a massive manhunt for an ex-LAPD officer were delivering newspapers...."

Guardian: "An investigation has been launched [by the FBI???] into how a hacker managed to access the email accounts of the former US president George HW Bush and members of his family. A number of Bush family photographs and personal emails were posted online by the hacker, who goes by the name of Guccifer. According to the Smoking Gun website, the emails -- which were sent between 2009 and 2012 -- contain details about the state of the former president's health as well as the home addresses, mobile phone numbers and email addresses of dozens of members of the Bush family." The Smoking Gun story is here. ...

     ... Reuters Update: "The Secret Service is investigating the hacking of email accounts belonging to members of the Bush family that divulged correspondence, addresses [and] phone numbers...."

New York Times: "Hewlett-Packard, one of the world's largest makers of computers and other electronics, is imposing new limits on the employment of students and temporary agency workers at factories across China. The move, following recent efforts by Apple to increase scrutiny of student workers, reflects a significant shift in how electronics companies view problematic labor practices in China."

Guardian: "European leaders were inching towards a deal in the early hours of Friday morning that would see the first cut in the EU's budget in its 56-year history. [British PM] David Cameron, who had demanded a freeze in real terms in the near-€1tn budget, was planning to claim victory after the European council president proposed a €34.4bn cut over the next seven years." ...

     ... New York Times Update: "After a failed attempt to set spending targets at a summit meeting in November and in a 24-hour marathon of talks this week, European leaders finally agreed late Friday to a common budget for the next seven years."

Al Jazeera: "Tens of thousands chanted anti-Ennahda slogans in the streets of Tunisia's capital for the burial procession of a slain opposition leader [Shokri Belaid] whose murder plunged the country into a political crisis and fresh post-revolution violence." CW: Ennahda is Tunisia's ruling party. With video.

Reuters: "Turkey has spent more than $600 million sheltering refugees from the almost two-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria, Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said on Friday.... The United Nations said on Friday that refugee numbers have spiked, with around 5,000 people fleeing each day, 2,000 more a day than last year's figures."

Reuters: "Gunmen on motorbikes shot dead nine health workers who were administering polio vaccinations in two separate attacks in Nigeria's main northern city of Kano on Friday, police said. No one claimed responsibility but Islamist militant group Boko Haram - a sect which has condemned the use of Western medicine - has been blamed for carrying out a spate of assaults on security forces in the city in recent weeks."

AP: "The former American ambassador to Mali says France paid $17 million in ransoms to free French hostages and that the money ended up in the hands of the same al-Qaida militants the country is fighting now. In an interview that aired Friday on iTele, Vicki Huddleston said the money allowed al-Qaida's North Africa branch to flourish in Mali. Claude Gueant, who was French President Nicolas Sarkozy's chief of staff at the time, on Friday denied that France had ever paid a ransom and said intermediaries had been negotiating to free the hostages."

AP: "Lawyers for Sarah Ferguson, the former wife of Prince Andrew, say that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. has agreed to pay her for repeatedly intercepting her voicemail messages. The Duchess of York was one of a slew of phone hacking victims who settled on Friday with News Corp. over its campaign of illegal espionage by its British newspapers."


The Commentariat -- Feb. 7, 2013

Travis Waldron of Think Progress: to avert the impending sequester, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is introducing a bill that would balance spending cuts with revenue increases. CW: It's the only sensible proposal out there, which means it's never going to happen. ...

... This chart, which the CPC produced, shows what's happened so far:

... Greg Sargent: "Even if the parties reach a deal in the third round of deficit reduction to avert the sequester with something approaching an equivalent sum of spending cuts and new revenues, the overall deficit reduction balance would still be heavily lopsided towards Republicans. Yet they continue to insist on resolving round three only through cuts, anyway." ...

... Digby: "... at some point it would be nice if the president didn't open every negotiation, as he did again yesterday, by offering up a proposal that is, even if it's taken at face value with no further discussion, a GOP wet dream. He gives them a mile before the game has even started.... Since Democrats control one house of congress and the presidency, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense that it would be this lopsided if the Democrats weren't pretty much on the same page."

President Obama nominates Sally Jewell to be Secretary of the Interior:

Vice President Biden swears in John Kerry as Secretary of State (again):

Annie-Rose Strasser of Think Progress: when you stop receiving mail on Saturdays, think of Congress. It is their incompetence that caused the USPS to have to make severe cutbacks. "An analysis in July showed that the USPS, without [an unnecessarily over-funded] pension requirement [imposed by Congress, the Post Office] would have a $1.5 billion surplus." ...

... Actually, it's worse than Strasser lets on. John Tierney, writing in Salon, details the way the Cowardly Congress has been undermining the USPS for decades, ever since it pretended to make the Post Office an autonomous agency. "... when I see Postmaster General [Patrick] Donahue hold a press conference to announce that he intends to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, I cheer him on. He's aware that he probably doesn't have the legal authority to take this step without congressional approval. He probably wanted to stir up a fuss and get the public engaged on all this. After all, efforts to fix the Postal Service's main problems have been kicking around Capitol Hill for many months, with the House of Representatives failing to take any action."

Michael Shear & Scott Shane of the New York Times: "The White House on Wednesday directed the Justice Department to release to the two Congressional Intelligence Committees classified documents discussing the legal justification for killing, by drone strikes and other means, American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists.... The decision to release the legal memo to the Intelligence Committees came under pressure...." ...

... New York Times Editors: "John Brennan, the counterterrorism adviser most responsible for the program, faces a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday as President Obama's nominee as C.I.A. director. He should be questioned closely about the strikes: their purpose, legal justification and relationship to broader American foreign policy aims." ...

... ** C-SPAN will carry the Brennan hearings live, beginning at 2:30 pm ET. ...

... Lindsey Likes Barack. Ginger Gibson of Politico: "Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will offer a resolution next week commending President Barack Obama's use of drones and the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. 'Every member of Congress needs to get on board,' Graham said. 'It's not fair to the president to let him, leave him out there alone quite frankly. He's getting hit from libertarians and the left...,' Graham added.... Graham said the resolution will allow for a debate about who the nation is at war with and what proper action during times of war is." ...

... Alex Pareene of Salon: "And now you know, officially, that it’s awful, because Lindsey Graham is for it." ...

... Stephen Marche of Esquire: "... what the Obama administration is doing with their legal defense of targeted killing ... [is making] the president into a sovereign. Their language hides this basic fact: The president now gets to decide when the law doesn't apply.... Tens of millions of people are ferociously defending the Second Amendment..., and yet they utter not one peep when its basic principles are shaken to their foundation. And let's be honest about why the right doesn't attack Obama for this outrageous violation of the founding principles of the country: They don't want to look weak, and they think that it only affects people they don't mind seeing die anyway." ...

... Ian Millhiser & Zack Beauchamp of Think Progress write a thoughtful piece on the "white paper" NBC uncovered that provides a legal excuse justification for killing Americans suspected of being terrorists. They suggest 5 ways to rein in presidential powers in this regard. ...

... Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker on "what we don't know about drones": "The New America study found that between 2004 and 2010, the U.S. carried out a hundred and fourteen strikes, which the study's authors estimated killed between eight hundred and thirty and twelve hundred and ten people. Of those, the study found, between five hundred and fifty and eight hundred and fifty -- roughly two-thirds -- were probably militants." ...

... AND, as Al Jazeera reports, "a new report Living under drones released by human rights researchers at Stanford and New York universities says ... that the number of 'high-level' targets killed as a percentage of total casualties stands at two per cent." With video. CW: it's worth noting that the two reports -- Filkins' & the Stanford-NYU report rely on the same data.

... Colin Moynihan of the New York Times: "The Obama administration on Wednesday urged a federal appeals court to overturn a sweeping ruling by a district judge that blocked the government from enforcing a statute related to the indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects. Appearing before a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, Robert M. Loeb, a Justice Department lawyer, said a lawsuit challenging the statute should be dismissed because those who brought it -- including a former reporter for The New York Times, Christopher Hedges, who interacts with terrorist groups for his reporting, and several supporters of the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks -- had no real-world risk of being detained."

William Saletan of Slate: in the past two weeks the NRA has come up with eight "pathetic excuses" to oppose universal background checks. Saletan has the rundown.

Pretend President Rubio to Deliver Response to SOTU. Sarah Wheaton of the New York Times: "Senator Marco Rubio will give the Republicans' response to the State of the Union address, party leaders announced on Wednesday. Mr. Rubio ... will deliver his speech in both English and Spanish, according to a news release from Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, after President Obama appears before Congress on Tuesday."

It turns out it is not an inaccurate slur to say, "Most Republicans are racists." According to Tom Edsall, writing in the New York Times, an academic study found that 79 percent of Republicans manifest "racial resentment." Here's something I didn't know: 72 percent of voters in the 2012 presidential election were white. That would mean, I reckon, that the percentage of white voters during off-years is even greater.

Jessica Silver-Greenberg: "... documents [filed in a lawsuit] reveal that JPMorgan, as well as two firms the bank acquired during the credit crisis, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, flouted quality controls and ignored problems, sometimes hiding them entirely, in a quest for profit."

E. J. Dionne squints & sees a thin silver lining in Eric Cantor's speech. ...

... BECAUSE, as Dionne points out, contra Cantor's language about helping the middle class, out there in the hinterland, conservative Republican governors like Sam Brownback of Kansas & Bobby Stupid-Party Jindal of Louisiana are putting into practice a "Red State Model" of cutting taxes & services (& making taxes more regressive) which they claims will "spur economic growth." (The linked site is a firewalled Wall Street Journal story; if you can't get there from here, Google <wall street journal red state model>.

What About Bob? Carol Leonig & Jerry Markon of the Washington Post: "Sen. Robert Menendez [D-N.J.] raised concerns with top federal health-care officials twice in recent years about their finding that a Florida eye doctor -- a close friend and major campaign donor -- had overbilled the government by $8.9 million for care at his clinic, Menendez aides said Wednesday.... [Dr. Salomon] Melgen came to the attention of fraud investigators amid complaints from other local eye doctors alleging that his treatments were often unnecessary, a waste of money and sometimes harmful to patients' eyesight, the two former federal officials and several doctors said. CW: what I think puts Menendez on particularly shaky ground is that Melgen is not a constituent; Menendez could probably justify "constituent service," but the Menendez-Melgen Mutual Beneficial Society sounds is just an old-fashioned bribery arrangement.

Local News

Josh Israel of Think Progress: "Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William Howell (R) killed the Inauguration Day sneak attack by Senate Republicans who hoped to pass a massive mid-decade gerrymander. Howell ruled that the Senate's amendment to a House bill making minor technical corrections to the House legislative maps ... was a 'vast rewrite' and would 'stray dramatically' from the legislation's original purpose.... Virginia Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment blasted Howell's ruling Wednesday, saying: '... The Virginia Senate Republican Caucus remains committed to correcting the egregious hyperpartisan [2011] gerrymander that has resulted in the current tortuously drawn Senate districts.' The 'hyperpartisan' maps passed on a 32-5 bipartisan vote in 2011, with Norment voting for the maps."

Going Transvaginal. Jillian Rayfield of Salon: "A Republican legislator in Michigan has proposed legislation that would require women to go through an invasive procedure known as a transvaginal ultrasound before they could get an abortion. The bill, which was introduced by Republican state Rep. Joel Johnson and co-sponsored by 22 other lawmakers (including two Democrats), requires the 'performance of a diagnostic ultrasound examination of the fetus at least two hours before an abortion is performed.' ... NARAL Pro-Choice America grades [Michigan] an 'F'), and Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has recently signed into law a slew of measures that generally increase restrictions on abortions."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Eddie Ray Routh, accused of killing Chris Kyle, the author of 'American Sniper,' had been released from a hospital over his parents' objections just days before the shooting, his lawyers said."

New York Times: "An insurance company that paid Lance Armstrong millions of dollars in bonuses for winning the Tour de France sued him Thursday in a Dallas court, seeking its money back because Armstrong was stripped of his Tour titles and admitted using performance-enhancing drugs for all seven of his Tour victories."

AP: "A blizzard of potentially historic proportions threatened to strike the Northeast with a vengeance Friday, with up to 2 feet of snow feared along the densely populated Interstate 95 corridor from the New York City area to Boston and beyond. From Pennsylvania to Maine, people rushed to stock up on food, shovels and other supplies, and road crews readied salt and sand, halfway through what had been a merciful winter. Before the first snowflake had even fallen, Boston, Providence, R.I., Hartford, Conn., and other New England cities canceled school Friday, and airlines scratched more than 1,700 flights, with the disruptions certain to ripple across the U.S."

AP: "A fired police officer who threatened to bring 'warfare' to the Los Angeles Police Department went on a shooting rampage that left a policeman and two others dead and set off an extraordinary manhunt Thursday that put Southern California on edge, led hair-trigger officers to mistakenly shoot innocent citizens and forced police to guard their own. The search for Christopher Dorner had three states and Mexico on alert before shifting Thursday afternoon to the snowy mountains around Big Bear Lake, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, where police found his burned-out pickup truck." ...

... The Los Angeles Times story is here with links to related stories. The paper has a firewall, perhaps with a 5-article limit.

New York Times: "Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told Congress on Thursday that the Pentagon had supported a plan to arm Syrian rebels that was developed last year by David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director at the time, and backed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was then serving as Secretary of State.... The White House rebuffed the plan, rejecting the advice of most of the key members of Mr. Obama's national security team. The New York Times reported in its Sunday editions that as the fighting in Syria raged last summer, Mr. Petraeus developed the plan, which ... called for vetting rebels and training fighters who would be supplied with weapons."

AP: "President Barack Obama is promoting his second-term agenda to House Democrats, eager to keep them unified as a bulwark against a Republican majority on issues as diverse as the economy, immigration and guns. Obama was meeting with Democratic lawmakers Thursday during their retreat in Lansdowne, Va., a day after he held a closed-door session with Senate Democrats at their off-campus conference in Annapolis, Md."

Washington Post: "The shooter of an unarmed security guard at the Family Research Council headquarters last summer was on a mission to target organizations he viewed as anti-gay, and he obtained a gun days before he tried to carry out a plan to kill 'as many people as possible,' according to newly disclosed court documents."

New York Times: "The United States blacklisted several organizations in Iran on Wednesday, widening the American effort to pressure the government over its nuclear program and human rights abuses." ...

... AP: "Iran's supreme leader Thursday strongly rejected proposals for direct talks with the United States, effectively quashing suggestions for a breakthrough one-on-one dialogue on the nuclear standoff and potentially other issues."

Reuters: "Yemen's president has asked his Iranian counterpart to stop backing armed groups on its soil after coastguards seized a consignment of missiles and rockets believed sent by the Islamic Republic.... Iran has denied any connection to the weapons, found aboard a vessel off the coast on January 23 in an operation coordinated with the U.S. Navy."


The Commentariat -- Feb. 6, 2013

** Michael Kugelman, in a New York Times op-ed, on the global land grab: big corporations buying up massive tracts of land in impoverished & strife-torn countries, with no benefit & considerable devastation coming to indigenous people.

Frank Newport of Gallup: "At least two-thirds of Americans favor each of five specific measures designed to address immigration issues -- ranging from 68% who would vote for increased government spending on security measures and enforcement at U.S. borders, to 85% who would vote for a requirement that employers verify the immigration status of all new hires. More than seven in 10 would vote for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants now living in this country."

Julie Pace of the AP: "President Barack Obama on Wednesday will nominate business executive and former engineer Sally Jewell to lead the Interior Department, an administration official said. Jewell is the president and chief executive officer at the outdoors company Recreational Equipment, Inc., known as REI, which sells clothing and gear for outdoor adventures with more than 100 stores across the country. Prior to joining REI in 2000, Jewell worked in commercial banking and as an engineer for Mobil Oil Corporation." CW: why is it that I think a CEO & former oil company engineer might not be the best choice for secretary of the interior? ...

... Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post has more on Jewell. ...

     ... UPDATE. John Broder of the New York Times: "President Obama has selected Sally Jewell, the chief executive of Recreational Equipment Inc., to lead the Interior Department, White House officials said Wednesday."

Robert Worth, et al., of the New York Times: "... the [U.S.'s] clandestine war will receive a rare moment of public scrutiny on Thursday, when its chief architect, John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser, faces a Senate confirmation hearing as President Obama's nominee for C.I.A. director." ...

... Greg Miller & Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post: "President Obama's plan to install his counterterrorism adviser as director of the CIA has opened the administration to new scrutiny over the targeted-killing policies it has fought to keep hidden from the public, as well as the existence of a previously secret drone base in Saudi Arabia."

... James Downie of the Washington Post: "The summary memo is a chilling document, full of twisted definitions, gaping loopholes and hints that the White House still isn't sharing its full justification for killing citizens without due process.... Fortunately, the president's nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA gives the Senate an ideal opportunity to demand that the White House be more forthcoming.... If the White House doesn't hand over the memos, then the Senate should strongly consider delaying Brennan's confirmation."

... New York Times Editors: "... the newly disclosed 'white paper' offering a legal reasoning behind the claim that President Obama has the power to order the killing of American citizens who are believed to be part of Al Qaeda ... had the air of a legal justification written after the fact for a policy decision that had already been made, and brought back unwelcome memories of memos written for President George W. Bush to justify illegal wiretapping, indefinite detention, kidnapping, abuse and torture.... This dispute goes to the fundamental nature of our democracy, to the relationship among the branches of government and to their responsibility to the public."

Michael Shear & Jackie Calmes of the New York Times: "President Obama on Tuesday called on lawmakers to quickly pass a new package of limited spending cuts and tax changes that can head off the automatic, across-the-board reductions set to begin March 1":

... Lori Montgomery & Zachary Goldfarb of the Washington Post: "As Obama spoke, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office rolled out new projections showing that the spending battles of the past two years have helped shrink record budget deficits but have also hampered economic growth. The deficit — the annual gap between taxes and spending -- is projected to fall to $845 billion this year, the first time it has come in under $1 trillion since 2008." ...

... CW: yesterday the Cantor crowd accused President Obama of stepping on Cantor's speech when he (Obama) made brief remarks in the White House briefing room. However, I suspect Cantor's speech was itself an effort to cover up the CBO report to Congress. Why muzzle the CBO? How about this? -- Steve Benen: "The conversation on Capitol Hill is so ridiculous, it no longer resembles reality in any meaningful way. Congressional Republicans insist they want to improve the strength of the recovery. How? By cutting spending that undermines the strength of the recovery." Read Benen's whole post & you have to come away realizing it is not just the crop of House Tea Party Republicans who are crazy -- it's the "mainstream" leadership, too. (I originally typed that "meanstream"; shoulda left it. ...

... Kevin Drum of Mother Jones: "... debt reduction just isn't a five-alarm fire kind of problem, no matter how loudly the Pete Petersons of the world claim otherwise.... If we rein in healthcare spending, we're in good shape. If we don't, we have problems." ...

... AND Brian Beutler of TPM explains one reason not to rely on the CBO report: "... this particular budget and economic forecast is highly uncertain, even in the short term. Looming fights over the sequester, government appropriations, and the debt limit could dramatically alter the fiscal outlook and thus the economic forecast, for the year and coming decade. Similarly, deficits will be higher than projected if Congress, as it routinely does, extends expiring tax credits and overrides a 25 percent cut to Medicare physician reimbursement rates before the end of the year."

Peter Baker of the New York Times: "President Obama plans to travel to Israel this spring for the first time since taking office, as he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu try to move past the friction of the last four years now that both have won re-election."

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "Two Democrats and two Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced legislation that would create a dedicated federal anti-gun-trafficking law while further cracking down on people who buy firearms for someone else and lie about it on federal background check forms."

Eric Cantor's big speech. Text of remarks as prepared. ...

... Ed Kilgore has video of Cantor's "bad speech, poorly delivered." Still, Cantor had an experienced speechwriter -- Barack Obama:

... Jonathan Easley of Politics USA: "Eric Cantor wanted to attach the same stale Republican ideas to the language of Obama. A side by side comparison of the two speeches reveals the hollowness of this technique. Obama's speech in Topeka followed the language with examples and policy proposals. Eric Cantor's speech was full of attempts to relate to the common man and families, but specific ideas were mostly missing. This omission was intentional. Cantor is only interested in changing the tone of the Republican Party, not the policies." ...

... Ed Kilgore: "If Republicans are actually proud of this essay in policy minimalism..., then they are further away from any real reinvention of themselves than even hostile observers like me thought possible." ...

... Headline of the Week: "Eric Cantor Puts Old Whine in New Bottles." (Mark 2:22) Charles Pierce was not impressed with the "details." Because there weren't any. ...

... CW: one thing about this "rebranding" -- borrowing Obama's language without embracing any of Obama's policies -- is that in his borrowing, Cantor implicitly acknowledges that Obama won the election, & polls show he won because Americans like Obama's policies better than they liked the GOP's. Moreover, in this speech Cantor muttered what Republicans haven't said since Saint Ronald decreed "government is the problem": while the bulk of Cantor's speech was the usual boilerplate "get government out of the way of hardworking, self-sufficient Americans," Cantor also admitted that government does have a role to play beyond killing people in foreign lands, & even got semi-specific once; to wit: "There is an appropriate and necessary role for the federal government to ensure funding for basic medical research." One small step from a guy who last year wasn't sure he could vote for disaster aid. ...

... MEANWHILE, Dana Milbank can't help but notice the duplicity of a man who recites Emma Lazarus but claims he has no idea what Senate Republicans are doing about immigration & talks about the evils of ObamaCare without acknowledging that standard-issue Republicans like Gov. John Kasich of Ohio -- a former colleague of Cantor's -- were buying into ObamaCare. Maybe a better biblical reference would be Matthew 7:15: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." ...

... Perhaps Steve Benen best gets to the heart of Cantor's insurmountable problem: "Cantor seems to realize that another 'government is evil' speech is pointless -- for all the assumptions about the 'center-right nation,' he realizes that the American mainstream sees a role for a healthy public sector that promotes the general welfare. But the problem with this latest rebranding campaign is that Cantor wants to present a Republican agenda that will 'benefit families across the nation,' but he can't fill in the blanks. There's a reason for this, which the right generally prefers not to admit: conservatism isn't an effective governing philosophy when it comes to using government to make a positive material difference in the lives of working families."

Brian Beutler of TPM re: that recent Washington, D.C. Circuit Court decision nullifying President Obama's NLRB recess appointments: "The Congressional Research Service found a total of 329 intrasession recess appointments -- appointments that occurred when the Senate adjourned in the middle of a session -- since 1981. By the terms of Noel Canning v. NLRB, all of those appointments would have been invalid." CW: the D.C. court is so extreme, they claim every president in recent history -- including those who appointed them -- has routinely violated the Constitution while no one objected. Funny this never came up before.

Here's a news quiz from the Pew Research Center. CW: I missed the same question contributor P. D. Pepe missed. Fifty-seven percent of those who took the quiz got the right answer. So we're not so smart. Thanks to James S. for the link.

Nicole Perlroth for the New York Times: at "the Kaspersky Annual Summit in San Juan, P.R..., one of the scarier presentations was delivered by Ang Cui, a Columbia Ph.D. student, who demonstrated how to spy on calls made with Cisco's VoIP phone. Yes, that is the same phone ... President Obama [uses] aboard Air Force One." Cisco tried repeatedly to patch their system, but Cui found work-arounds every time. Cisco gave up. ...

... Perlroth: "Phil Zimmermann, the creator of the widely used Pretty Good Privacy e-mail encryption software, recently unveiled Silent Circle, which adds security features to phone, video and text messages sent by smartphones. The new service, which charges a monthly fee, could emerge as a more secure rival to Snapchat and Skype."

Right Wing World

Trouble in Roveland. Jed Lewison: Karl Rove's new SuperPAC to stop crazy Republicans from winning primaries boasts about have just re-elected the same crazy Republican they held up as the poster Boy of All Crazy Republicans: Rep. Steve King of Iowa. CW: if you think this makes absolutely no sense, remember that you're in Right Wing World where making sense is against the law.

Local News

Scott Shane of the New York Times: "Maryland appears likely in the next few weeks to join the growing list of states that have abolished capital punishment. Some longtime death penalty opponents say no one in the country has done more to advance that cause than [Kirk Noble] Bloodsworth. But ending executions in Maryland, the state that once was determined to kill him, would be a personal victory for him." CW: Bloodsworth, the first death-row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence, has a compelling story to tell, & Shane tells it.

America's Worst Governor Makes Plans for a Second Term. Alexander Burns & Maggie Haberman of Politico: "Rick Scott is preparing to defend his Florida governorship with the most expensive reelection campaign in state history, drawing up plans for a battleship-sized political operation aimed at overcoming the Republican's deep personal unpopularity. The anticipated price tag, according to sources familiar with Scott’s plans: $100 million." Scott's possible opponent -- Republican-turned-Democrat & former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS makes a pre-emptive strike against actor Ashley Judd, who has expressed an interest in running against Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014. Kevin Cerilli of Politico has the backstory:

News Ledes

Boy Scouts Not Prepared. AP: "... the Boy Scouts of America is retreating until May from a decision about whether to ease its policy of excluding gays. Whatever the organization eventually does, it's likely to anger major constituencies and worsen schisms within Scouting."

AP: "The U.S. Postal Service will stop delivering mail on Saturdays but continue to deliver packages six days a week under a plan aimed at saving about $2 billion annually, the financially struggling agency says. In an announcement scheduled for later Wednesday, the service is expected to say the Saturday mail cutback would begin in August."...

     ... New York Times Update: "Saying it needed to take drastic steps to stem billions of dollars in losses, the Postal Service announced on Wednesday that it would seek to stop Saturday delivery of letters, a sweeping change in the way the agency operates that immediately drew criticism from postal unions and some businesses."

Guardian: "The US Federal Reserve bank has confirmed one of its internal websites was broken into by hackers after the hacktivist group Anonymous was claimed to have stolen details of more than 4,000 bank executives."

New York Times: "A leading Tunisian opposition politician, [Chokri Belaid,] who had been critical of the Islamist-led government was fatally shot outside his home in Tunis Wednesday, the government news agency said." ...

... Reuters: "Thousands of protesters gathered in Sidi Bouzid, cradle of the Arab Spring uprisings, after a prominent secular opponent of Tunisia's moderate Islamist-led government was shot dead on Wednesday."

Reuters: "Britain's Royal Bank of Scotland will pay U.S. and British authorities $615 million and plead guilty to wire fraud in Japan to settle allegations it manipulated global benchmark interest rates."

AP: "As FBI and police negotiators sought for days to coax an Alabama man into freeing a kindergartner held hostage in an underground bunker, the captor was planning for violence.... He rigged the bunker with explosives, tried to reinforce it against any raid, and when SWAT agents stormed the shelter Monday to rescue the boy, Jimmy Lee Dykes engaged in a firefight that left the captor dead, the FBI and officials said."