The Ledes

Friday, January 20, 2017.

Washington Post: "The world’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán, was extradited to the United States on Thursday night, whisked away from the country where he built an empire that delivered tons of heroin, cocaine and marijuana to the world." -- CW ...

     ... New York Times Update: "While most Americans were turned toward Washington and the inauguration of Donald J. Trump..., prosecutors in the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn held a news conference on Friday morning detailing the charges against Mr. Guzmán, who was flown out of Mexico on Thursday afternoon and arrived that night at MacArthur Airport on Long Island.... The government’s detention memo also gave an early glimpse of the case against Mr. Guzmán. It said that prosecutors planned to call several witnesses who would testify about the staggering scope of Mr. Guzmán’s criminal enterprise: including its multi-ton shipments of drugs in planes and submersibles and its numerous killings of witnesses, law enforcement agents, public officials and rival cartel members." -- CW 

The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Safety/Irony Alert. CNBC (December 25): Your new home security system may be an open invitation to hackers to make you, and perhaps many others, unsafe.” -- CW

New York Times: "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus announced on Saturday night that after 146 years of performances, it was folding its big tent forever. In a statement on the company’s website, Kenneth Feld, the chief executive of Feld Entertainment, the producer of Ringling, said the circus would hold its final performances in May. He cited declining ticket sales, which dropped even more drastically after elephants were phased out from the shows last year." -- CW 

The Washington Post publishes a series of photos of the Vice President's residence.

Los Angeles Times: "Perhaps fittingly for an industry that has been trying to console itself in the wake of a presidential election result few saw coming, the 74th Golden Globes, held at the Beverly Hilton, proved a big night for the fizzy romantic musical 'La La Land,' a love letter to Hollywood itself that is widely considered the film to beat in this year’s best picture race." -- CW ...

Marisa Kashino of the Washingtonian: "... multiple real-estate sources say [Ivanka] Trump and husband Jared Kushner will move into 2449 Tracy Pl, NW, in Kalorama. That will put the couple less than two blocks from the Obamas, who will reportedly move here post-White House." Realtors' photos of the Kushner-Trump house are here. The six-bedroom house ... sold on December 22nd for $5.5 million, though it is unclear whether Trump and Kushner bought it, or will rent it from the recent buyer." -- CW 

Daniel Politi of Slate: "Los Angeles residents got a little surprise when they woke up on the first day of the year and realized one of the city’s most famous landmarks had been vandalized to read 'HOLLYWeeD' — at least for a few hours. Police say the vandal used tarps to change the sign’s O’s into E’s. Security cameras caught the vandal — likely a man — changing the sign between midnight and 2 a.m. but police can’t tell the person’s race or height from the footage, reports KTLA. If caught, the vandal could face a misdemeanor trespassing charge." -- CW 

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

Washington Post: "The Kennedy Center Honors showcased the breadth of American music Sunday night [Dec. 4] with emotionally charged performances celebrating the gospel roots of Mavis Staples, the honeyed vocals of James Taylor and the Southern California harmonies of the Eagles. The 39th annual celebration of lifetime achievement in the performing arts also honored actor Al Pacino and pianist Martha Argerich in a three-hour party that offered a wistful goodbye to Barack and Michelle Obama, who were hosting their last Honors tribute. The sold-out audience stood and cheered for several minutes when the president and first lady were introduced."

A Night at the Opera. Los Angeles Times: "The curtain rose on Act 2 of 'The Daughter of the Regiment,' revealing the figure of a tiny woman barely visible in a large dome chair with her back to the audience. Suddenly, she swiveled around — and there was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.Cheers and prolonged applause rang out from the crowd at the Kennedy Center on Saturday night even before Ginsburg, a life-long opera lover who was making her official operatic debut, opened her mouth to speak as the imperious Duchess of Krakenthorp.... Her biggest laugh came when — in apparent reference to the bogus 'birther' campaign against President Obama — she asked whether [the character] Marie could produce a birth certificate and added: 'We must take precautions against fraudulent pretenders.' Ginsburg herself wrote her dialogue, in collaboration with ... [the] dramaturge for the Washington National Opera...." -- CW 

Bruce Springsteen performs at Hillary Clinton's rally in Philadelphia, November 7:

Washington Post: "Paul Beatty won the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday evening in London, becoming the first American ever to take home the prestigious award. His satirical novel 'The Sellout' beat five other finalists for the $60,000 prize, which also essentially guarantees substantial new sales and interest around the world. Amanda Foreman, chair of the Booker judges, called 'The Sellout' 'a novel for our times. . . . Its humor disguises a radical seriousness. Paul Beatty slays sacred cows with abandon and takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and a snarl.' Originally published last year in the United States, 'The Sellout' is an outrageously funny satire of American race relations. The protagonist, a black man whose father was killed by police, wants to reinstitute segregation in his California town. He eventually lands before the Supreme Court in a bizarre case involving slavery. 'The Sellout' also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in March." -- CW 

Washington Post: "Comic actor, movie star and America’s best friend Bill Murray tried to sum up the emotions of being honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday night [Oct. 23] at the Kennedy Center. 'My theme tonight is what is it like to be beloved,' a straight-faced Murray told the crowd at the end of the two-hour salute. 'It’s hard to listen to all those people be nice to you. You just get so suspicious.'”

Hill: Actor Bill Murray "spoke with President Obama, who congratulated him for winning this year’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, a White House official said. Asked by reporters in the Oval Office if he met with Murray, Obama said 'absolutely,' but didn’t reveal what else they discussed."

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Saturday
Dec202014

The Commentariat -- Dec. 21, 2014

The winter solstice begins tonight at 6:03 pm ET.

Missed this the other day. Tim Egan on "Obama Unbound": "... the president who has nothing to lose has discovered that his best friend is the future."

CW: I wonder why Obama didn't make the final cut. He & Stephen Colbert rehearse "We'll Meet Again" (audio only):

Max Fisher of Vox has a helpful post on the history of U.S.-Cuba relations, going back to the days when Southern politicians wanted to annex the island as a slave state. Thanks to James S. for the link.

** Steve Watt of the ACLU, in Slate: "As bad as the stories in the Senate torture report are, there is a whole class of victims who aren’t even mentioned...: the 'extraordinary rendition' of prisoners to foreign custody for 'interrogation' by those countries’ intelligence services — with the full knowledge that the men would be tortured.... There is still no official accounting of what happened to these men and others like them, forcibly disappeared and handed over to foreign governments for torture. We don’t even know whether the practice was authorized — and if so, by whom — and who was subject to it." ...

... In Salon, Paul Rosenberg makes the case for trying Bush, Cheney, et al., for war crimes. "Through reflexivity, Bush and Cheney’s unhinged panic drove the entire [political] process off the rails. Yet, even today they and their defenders continue to pretend that they were the tough guys, the realists, the ones who protected us. They need to stand trial in part simply so that this lie can be publicly put to rest." Rosenberg argues that not just Bush & Cheney, but "America's entire elite infrastructure" is responsible for the public's ignorance of facts re: the Bush-Cheney wars & torture. ...

... CW: While Rosenberg gets his facts right, he seems naive about the effects a Nuremberg-type series of trials would have on "public education." It is unreasonable to think that the winner of the "War on Christmas" (see God News below) & his minions would learn during the course of a trial that torture doesn't work & Cheney is a lying, evil bastard. A trial would not "educate" the followers of Bill O'Reilly & Bill Kristol; rather, it would further harden them in their false beliefs. Not only do these people discount facts, Americans in general don't want to face their own complicity in electing -- & re-electing -- the Bush administration. Patriotism is pernicious.

Trip Gabriel of the New York Times: "... in an era of hyperpartisan gerrymandering..., Ohio took a step in the opposite direction last week. With the support of both parties, the Ohio House gave final approval Wednesday to a plan to draw voting districts for the General Assembly using a bipartisan process, intended to make elections more competitive."

Josh Lederman of the AP: "The United States is asking China for help as it weighs potential responses to a cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment that the U.S. has blamed on North Korea. A senior Obama administration official says the U.S. and China have shared information about the attack and that the U.S. has asked for China's cooperation. The official also says China agrees with the U.S. that destructive cyberattacks violate the norms of appropriate behavior in cyberspace." ...

... AP: "The GOP is calling on supporters to buy a ticket to the movie 'The Interview' if theater owners reverse their decision not to show the film amid threats of retaliation for its comedic take on assassinating North Korea's leader. The Republican Party chairman, Reince Priebus, says in a letter to theater chain executives that he's concerned that a foreign regime would be allowed to dictate the movies Americans can and cannot watch." CW: As I said several days ago, wingers will see the movie because Freeeedom. Now it's a party platform!

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. David Bernstein in Boston Magazine: "What the hell happened to Boston.com?... In Saturday’s Globe, [Boston Globe editor Brian] McGrory said that despite the multiple errors committed by Boston.com staffers, 'the standards and values of the Globe apply across all our sites.' That seems increasingly difficult to defend."

God News

CW: No doubt many Reality Chex readers will be celebrating Yule today. I will be thanking Mithras for pushing back the darkness.

Phil Zuckerman in Salon, "... for the many millions of Americans who have joined the ranks of the nonreligious, the causes are most likely to be political and sociological in nature." The rise of the religious right as a political force has alienated "a lot of left-leaning or politically moderate Americans from Christianity.... A second factor ... is the ... Catholic Church’s pedophile priest scandal.... A very important third possible factor ... is ... the dramatic increase of women in the paid labor force.... As women grew less religious, their husbands and children followed suit." Excerpted from Living the Secular Life. ...

... CW: Weirdly, Zuckerman doesn't mention formal education as a secularizing factor. Surely the percentage of Americans who believe in the literal truths of religious myths has plummeted in the past 50 years. In fact, major religions -- including the Roman Catholic Church -- no longer insist, for instance, on the historiocity of the Christmas story. It's pretty darned hard to get through a standard liberal arts education & come out buying the Adam & Eve & Noah & Moses stories.

Take 'er Easy There, Pilgrim. Bruce Feiler of the New York Times: "Pilgrimage ... is more popular than ever. At the First International Congress on Tourism and Pilgrimages in September, the United Nations released a study finding that of every three tourists worldwide, one is a pilgrim, a total of 330 million people a year. These figures include 30 million to Tirupati in India, 20 million to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, 15 million to Karbala in Iraq, and four million to Lourdes."

"Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani?" Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches: Christian Americans are more supportive of torture than non-religious Americans.

Jesus Is the Reason for -- Hanukkah. Sarah Larimer of the Washington Post: "Bud Williams, city councilor in Springfield, Mass., stood in the court square earlier this week and participated in a holiday tradition. 'Jesus is the reason for the season,' Williams said at a Tuesday ceremony, according to MassLive.com. His remarks wouldn’t really be notable, except that Williams was speaking at a menorah lighting ceremony, to mark the beginning of Hanukkah." In defense of his remark, Williams noted later to a reporter, "Jesus was Jewish." Via Steve Benen.

Patrick O'Donnell of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Gov. John Kasich's $10 million plan to bring mentors into Ohio's schools for students now has a surprise religious requirement – one that goes beyond what is spelled out in the legislation authorizing it. Any school district that wants a piece of that state money must partner with both a church and a business – or a faith-based organization and a non-profit set up by a business to do community service." CW: As Steve Benen remarks, "... sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen."

Onward, Christmas Soldiers. Bill O'Reilly agrees he "single-handedly" won the "War on Christmas." Thanks, Bill-O.

Friday
Dec192014

The Commentariat -- Dec. 20, 2014

... Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Obama on Friday rejected critics who say he should not have opened American relations with Cuba because of that nation's human rights record, saying the historic thaw would give the United States more sway with the Cuban government." ...

... Dan Roberts of the Guardian: "US President Barack Obama has delivered his most sceptical remarks yet on the future of the Keystone oil pipeline, claiming its controversial extension from Canada to Nebraska would do little to reduce American energy prices and generate only a limited number of US jobs, but could add to the infrastructure costs of climate change." ...

... Katie Zezima of the Washington Post: "President Obama said Friday that Sony Pictures 'made a mistake' by pulling a movie that sparked North Korea to launch a cyberattack against the company. Speaking at a year-end press conference, Obama said that the movie studio should not have bowed to pressure after the attack." ...

... Michael Schmidt & David Sanger of the New York Times: "President Obama on Friday said that the United States 'will respond proportionally' against North Korea for its cyberattacks on Sony Pictures, and criticized the studio for giving in to intimidation and pulling the satirical movie that provoked the attacks.... His threat came just hours after the F.B.I. said it had extensive evidence that the North Korean government organized the cyberattack that debilitated the Sony computers, marking the first time the United States has explicitly accused the leaders of a foreign nation of deliberately damaging American targets." ...

     ... Here's the FBI's "Update on Sony Investigation." ...

... Erik Wemple of the Washington Post: "In his year-ending press conference today, President Obama called first on Politico reporter Carrie Budoff Brown.... The president decided to banter a bit with Brown, noting that she was headed to Europe. She confirmed that she was going to be working on Politico's European venture in Brussels.... So the president had an opening to crack wise on a notable Beltway news mill: 'I think what Belgium needs is some, uh, version of Politico.' The deadpan delivery cracked up the rest of the media." ...

... ** Barbara Morrill of Daily Kos: "What if the President held a press conference and it made men sad?" Thanks to James S. for the link. ...

     ... Paul Waldman: "Notably, all the reporters Obama called on today were women, which was really outrageous considering that there have only been 4,529 (or so) press conferences in which all the reporters the president called on were men. There was one as yet unidentified male reporter who managed to shout, 'Any new year's resolutions?', while another shouted, 'Are you going to smoke a Cuban cigar, Mr. President?' as he was leaving. Sadly, America did not get answers to these vital questions."

... Frank Pallotta of CNN: "Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, denying that the studio had 'caved' by scrapping next week's opening of 'The Interview,' fired back Friday after President Obama said the studio had "made a mistake.'... Lynton said he would be 'fibbing' to say he 'wasn't disappointed' in Obama's remarks. 'The president, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,' Lynton said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. 'We do not own movie theaters. We cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theaters.'" ...

     ... CW Translation: We can make racist jokes about you, but you can't question our business decisions, which you are too ignorant to understand. ...

... Brian Stelter of CNN: "The hackers behind a devastating cyberattack at Sony Pictures have sent a new message to executives at the company, crediting them for a 'very wise' decision to cancel the Christmas day release of 'The Interview,' a source close to the company told CNN.... The hacker message is effectively a victory lap, telling the studio, 'Now we want you never let the movie released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy.' The message also says, 'And we want everything related to the movie, including its trailers, as well as its full version down from any website hosting them immediately.'"

White House: "In this week's address, the President reflected on the significant progress made by this country in 2014, and in the nearly six years since he took office":

Darlene Superville of the AP: "President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law a massive defense policy bill that endorses his plan to fight Islamic State militants, including air strikes and training Iraqis and moderate Syrian rebels. The law authorizes funds for basic military operations, from a 1 percent pay raise for troops to the purchase of ships, aircraft and other war-fighting equipment."

Matt Apuzzo & Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times: "A panel investigating the Central Intelligence Agency's search of a computer network used by staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who were looking into the C.I.A.'s use of torture will recommend against punishing anyone involved in the episode, according to current and former government officials.... While effectively rejecting the most significant conclusions of the inspector general's report, the panel, appointed by [CIA Director John] Brennan and composed of three C.I.A. officers and two members from outside the agency, is still expected to criticize agency missteps that contributed to the fight with Congress." CW: Surprise! A Brennan-appointed panel says following Brennan's orders is pretty cool. Here's some additional helpful information: "The panel's chairman is Evan Bayh, a former Democratic senator from Indiana...."

Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor: "The White House needs a much taller fence to protect the president and first family. That's the headline recommendation from an independent panel convened to assess the Secret Service in the wake of a series of embarrassing agency failures this fall."

Annals of "Justice," Ctd.

Matt Apuzzo & Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "F.B.I. agents in every region of the country have mishandled, mislabeled and lost evidence, according to a highly critical internal investigation that discovered errors with nearly half the pieces of evidence it reviewed. The evidence collection and retention system is the backbone of the F.B.I.'s investigative process, and the report said it is beset by problems. It also found that the F.B.I. was storing more weapons, less money and valuables, and two tons more drugs than its records had indicated. The report's findings, based on a review of more than 41,000 pieces of evidence in F.B.I. offices around the country, could have consequences for criminal investigations and prosecutions."

** Nicky Woolf of the Guardian: "Some witnesses who appeared before the grand jury investigating the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown were 'clearly not telling the truth,' according to the St Louis county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch.... The admission came just days after The Smoking Gun, an investigative site which publishes government, police and other documents, claimed to have identified a key grand jury witness and raised serious questions about the credibility of her testimony.... McCulloch, in his interview, appeared to corroborate The Smoking Gun's investigation.... He added that he had allowed [obviously false witnesses] to testify anyway because he had felt 'it was much more important to present the entire picture'." ...

... CW: This is the most preposterous excuse for malfeasance I've heard in a long time. Even an idiot knows "the entire picture" does not include elements that aren't in it. But to mislead the grand jury, McCullouch is now claiming it is good legal practice to present testimony without, apparently, even challenging it. McCullouch should be disbarred, not just removed from office. ...

     ... Update. Mike Hayes of BuzzFeed: "According to Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct, RULE 4-3.3, 'A lawyer shall not knowingly offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.' The law also says that a lawyer 'may refuse to offer evidence, other than the testimony of a defendant in a criminal matter, that the lawyer reasonably believes is false.' 'A lawyer should not present testimony that he believes to be false,' Steven Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University, told BuzzFeed News. 'That is especially true in a proceeding that lacks all of the usual safeguards, such as opposing counsel and a judge.'" CW: That's funny. A young BuzzFeed reporter knows more about Missouri law than the St. Louis County D.A.


Robert Barnes
of the Washington Post: "The Supreme Court on Friday cleared the way for same-sex marriages to commence in Florida, meaning such unions will soon be allowed in five of the nation's six most populous states. The court, without comment, turned down a request to block gay marriages in Florida while the state appeals a judge's order that its ban is unconstitutional. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said they would have granted the motion, but did not explain their reasons."

Sabrina Siddiqui of the Huffington Post on "how the NRA lost its battle to defeat Vivek Murthy." CW: Let me add that this is a battle that should never have taken place. Murthy's remarks on gun violence, as Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) has pointed out, are accurate & no different from what experts & others have acknowledged.

Ed Kilgore: GOP staffers-turned-lobbyists "are rushing back to Congress like -- well, choose you own infestation metaphor, recognizing these are actual human beings with virtues as well as vices.... It's all part of the career-long climb up the slippery pole in the permanent ruling class, with its own rough justice: at any given moment, top-level staff types may be helping run Congress, or run the country in the executive branch, or failing any direct power, getting rich. It all works out in a satisfying manner." Read to the end.

Capitalism Is Awesome, Ctd.

Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times: "The National Labor Relations Board announced on Friday that its general counsel had brought 78 charges against McDonald's and some of its franchise operators, accusing them of violating federal labor law in response to workers' protests for higher wages around the country. The general counsel's move immediately drew outrage from a variety of national business groups because the labor action deemed McDonald's a joint employer, a status that would make the fast-food titan equally responsible for actions taken at its franchised restaurants."

Richard Bilton of BBC Panorama: "Poor treatment of workers in Chinese factories which make Apple products has been discovered by an undercover BBC Panorama investigation. Filming on an iPhone 6 production line showed Apple's promises to protect workers were routinely broken. It found standards on workers' hours, ID cards, dormitories, work meetings and juvenile workers were being breached at the Pegatron factories. Apple said it strongly disagreed with the programme's conclusions." ...

... BBC News: "An online petition, signed by 155,000 people, has called on Apple to do more to ensure its Chinese factory workers are treated better. The campaign, on Change.org, follows reports of poor working conditions in factories that make Apple products. A separate SumOfUs petition, with more than 43,000 signatories, calls for the iPhone 5 to be made 'ethically'."

AP: "Staples Inc. says nearly 1.2 million customer payment cards may have been exposed during a security breach earlier this year."

Presidential Election

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "Two of the Republican Party's top White House hopefuls clashed sharply Friday over President Obama's new Cuba policy, evidence of a growing GOP rift over foreign affairs that could shape the party's 2016 presidential primaries. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), who backs Obama's move to normalize relations with communist Cuba, accused Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) of being an 'isolationist' with his hard-line opposition to opening up trade and diplomatic engagement with the island nation. Paul suggested that Rubio 'wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat.'... The feud is the loudest public dispute so far between potential GOP 2016 candidates and lays bare the divergent world views of traditional hawks -- including Rubio and past Republican presidents and nominees -- and the emerging, younger libertarian wing represented by Paul."

News Ledes

New York Times: "The United States transferred four detainees from the Guantánamo Bay prison to Afghanistan late Friday, the Defense Department announced Saturday, fulfilling a request from the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, in what officials here characterized as a show of good will between the United States and the government in Kabul.The four men are not likely to be subjected to further detainment in Afghanistan, an Obama administration official said."

New York Times: "In an apparent targeted killing, two police officers were shot in their patrol car in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon by a man who later fatally shot himself in head, police officials said."

Reuters: "Dozens of protesters were arrested on Friday in Milwaukee when they blocked rush-hour traffic on a major highway to protest the killing of an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer this year. The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department took at least 73 adults and one minor into custody during the protest that blocked Interstate 43, which runs through the city, according to the department's Twitter feed."

Thursday
Dec182014

The Commentariat -- Dec. 19, 2014

Julie Davis & Michael Gordon of the New York Times: "President Obama will move as soon as next month to defang the 54-year-old American trade embargo against Cuba, administration officials said Thursday, using broad executive power to defy critics in Congress and lift restrictions on travel, commerce and financial activities. The moves are only the beginning of what White House officials and foreign policy experts describe as a sweeping set of changes that Mr. Obama can make on his own to re-establish commercial and diplomatic ties with Cuba even in the face of angry congressional opposition." ...

     ... CW: So the Prez is going with the infallible pope over bad-ass altar boys Boehner & Rubio, et al. The baby Jesus in his swaddling clothes is smiling. And Santa is marking who's naughty & nice. Sorry, fellas. Look for lumps of coal under the tree. Feliz Navidad. ...

... Jim Yardley of the New York Times: "... if the Vatican has long practiced a methodical, discreet brand of diplomacy, what has changed under Francis — or has been restored -- is a vision of diplomatic boldness, a willingness to take risks and insert the Vatican into diplomatic disputes, especially where it can act as an independent broker. Even as the Vatican has spent decades building trust in Cuba, and working steadily to break down the impasse with the United States, it was Francis who took the fateful risks -- writing secret letters to President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba, and then offering the Vatican for a secret and critical meeting between both sides in October." ...

... Simon Romero & William Neuman of the New York Times: "... Latin American leaders have a new kind of vocabulary to describe [President Obama]: They are calling him 'brave,' 'extraordinary' and 'intelligent.' After years of watching his influence in Latin America slip away, Mr. Obama suddenly turned the tables this week by declaring a sweeping détente with Cuba, opening the way for a major repositioning of the United States in the region." ...

... Josh Rogin of Bloomberg View: "Although President Barack Obama is taking the credit for Wednesday's historic deal to reverse decades of U.S. policy toward Cuba, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she was the main architect of the new policy and pushed far harder for a deal than the Obama White House. From 2009 until her departure in early 2013, Clinton and her top aides took the lead on the sometimes public, often private interactions with the Cuban government." (See also Presidential Election, below.) ...

     ... Zandar in Balloon Juice: "If there was any doubt that President Obama's move on Cuba is a massive foreign policy legacy point for the history books that will stand the test of time, please note the blinding speed at which the credit for the deal is being given to someone else. Also, if there was ever any doubt that Hillary Clinton was not going to have trouble earning the trust of Obama 2008 primary voters, well, please note the same goddamn thing." ...

... Karen DeYoung & Carol Morello of the Washington Post: "In the wake of President Obama's historic decision to mend diplomatic ties with Cuba, U.S. business and potential tourists scrambled to figure out what new opportunities will be available on the island and to position themselves at the head of the line." ...

... The Losers. Katie Zavadski of New York: "... for one particular group of people, this development could mean the end of a long-held island refuge where they were able to escape the reach of American law.As many as 70 Americans are currently fugitives in Cuba, part of a tradition that dates back decades. Among them are some of the most-wanted Americans ever, including suspects in the deaths of law enforcement agents." ...

... Ken Thomas of the AP: "Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday the lengthy U.S. economic embargo against Cuba 'just hasn't worked' and voiced support for opening trade with Cuba in the aftermath of the Obama administration's policy shift regarding the communist island. Paul became the first potential Republican presidential candidate to offer some support for President Barack Obama's decision to attempt to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba." (See also Presidential Election below.) ...

... Digby: "... you have to wonder if [Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, et al.] have the slightest bit of self-awareness.... Just a week ago they were condemning our own government for releasing a report that documented America's own human rights abuses[.] It's absolutely true that the most notorious prison camp on the planet is in Cuba -- but it's run by the U.S. government.... Ted Cruz's lugubrious hand-wringing over the Cuban government holding people without due process would certainly be a lot more convincing if Americans hadn't been holding innocent people for years in Cuba with no hope of ever leaving. To think that just last week the man [Rubio] who is preaching today about America's commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was exhorting us all to thank the people who used torture techniques like 'rectal feeding' on prisoners in American custody.... When you endorse torture, the least you can do is have enough shame not to sanctimoniously lecture others about morality and high ideals of civilized behavior." ...

... Charles Pierce, along those same lines, but way funnier. With a special shoutout to the Washington Post & "Fred Hiatt's Big House o' 'Ho's." ...

... Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast: "In his aggressive anti-Obama play on Cuba, [Marco] Rubio is pandering to a constituency that barely exists now -- and he looks cowardly doing it.... He is not reflecting here the views of the Cuban-American community of South Florida as they've been repeatedly expressed in polls. He is instead representing the views of only the most reactionary (and rapidly aging and, to be blunt about it, dying off) portion of that community. If he somehow finds himself running against Hillary Clinton in 2016, he -- some 25 years her junior -- will have masterfully turned the neat trick of being on the side of the past while she speaks to the future." ...

... Gene Robinson, who has written a book of Cuba, makes mincemeat of the arguments against the U.S.-Cuba detente, including those of his own editorial board. ...

... Kevin Drum of Mother Jones: "It's been quite the whirlwind month for our bored, exhausted, disengaged president, hasn't it? All of these things are worthwhile in their own right, of course, but there's a political angle to all of them as well: they seriously mess with Republican heads. GOP leaders ... are going to have to deal with enraged tea partiers insisting that they spend time trying to repeal Obama's actions. They can't, of course, but they have to show that they're trying. So there's a good chance that they'll spend their first few months in semi-chaos, responding to Obama's provocations instead of working on their own agenda."

** Ryan Cooper of the Week: "It is now obvious that what the CIA did was illegal, brutal torture. Claims that it kept the nation safe are all that Cheney has left. But Cheney is wrong: Torture doesn't work and never has.... Over 12 years of research, [Darius] Rejali examined the use of torture in the U.S., Great Britain, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, South Vietnam, and Korea. He looked at torture inflicted during the French-Algerian War, as well as at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay. His research found that there is no record of any successful use of torture to gather intelligence, not even in totalitarian states."

Ali Younes, et al., of the Guardian: "US counter-terrorism officials backed a high-stakes negotiation involving two of the world's most prominent jihadi clerics as well as former Guantánamo detainees in an [unsuccessful] attempt to save the life of an American hostage [-- Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig --] held by Islamic State, the Guardian can reveal." CW: Cue up the Fox "News" Outrage Machine (not that it isn't always in the "on" mode).

Welcome Back, Lobbyists. Anna Palmer of Politico: "As Republicans take control of Congress, they are bringing in veteran influence peddlers to help them run the show. Nearly a dozen veteran K Streeters have been named as top staffers to GOP leaders or on key committees as lawmakers prepare to take the gavel in January.... There is a notable increase in the pace of K Streeters making the move back to Congress this month."

Benjamin Weiser, et al., of the New York Times: "Federal prosecutors plan to sue New York City over widespread civil rights violations in the handling of adolescent inmates at Rikers Island, making clear their dissatisfaction with the city's progress in reining in brutality by guards and improving conditions at the jail complex, a new court filing shows. The decision to go to court comes more than four months after the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, issued a blistering report that cited a pervasive and 'deep-seated culture of violence' directed at teenage inmates at Rikers."

Commenters in yesterday's thread pointed to two NYT articles about how the high cost of healthcare is hurting Americans:

     ... Elisabeth Rosenthal: "... in an increasingly common practice that some medical experts call drive-by doctoring, assistants, consultants and other hospital employees are charging patients or their insurers hefty fees. They may be called in when the need for them is questionable. And patients usually do not realize they have been involved or are charging until the bill arrives." ...

     ... Elisabeth Rosenthal: "While the Affordable Care Act has expanded insurance to millions of Americans, including those with existing conditions, it does not directly address cost. And cost is becoming increasingly problematic.... Newer insurance plans -- including policies under the Affordable Care Act -- are designed to make sure patients have 'more skin in the game,' so they will be more discriminating users of health care. Fixed co-pays, say $20 for a visit to a doctor, are being replaced by requirements that patients contribute a percentage of charges, which often ends up costing them far more."

Reid Wilson of the Washington Post: "Members of the Wyoming legislature will debate a measure to expand Medicaid during next year's session...."

Luke Brinker of Salon: "Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Wednesday that he was dropping plans for a government-provided health insurance system in the state, citing the measure's cost. The decision comes three years after Shumlin, a Democrat, signed into law legislation that paved the path for a single payer health system, called Green Mountain Care, by 2017. Under the law, state officials needed to come up with a financing plan by this year. But Shumlin missed two deadlines for developing a financing plan before determining this week that paying for Green Mountain Care would have required drastic tax increases. According to the governor's financial models, financing the system would have required an 11.5 percent payroll tax on all businesses in Vermont and a sliding-scale, income-based premium assessment of up to 9.5 percent."

Neighbors v. the Stoner State. Jack Healy of the New York Times: "Two heartland states filed the first major court challenge to marijuana legalization on Thursday, saying that Colorado's growing array of state-regulated recreational marijuana shops was piping marijuana into neighboring states and should be shut down. The lawsuit was brought by attorneys general in Nebraska and Oklahoma, and asks the United States Supreme Court to strike down key parts of a 2012 voter-approved measure that legalized marijuana in Colorado for adult use and created a new system of stores, taxes and regulations surrounding retail marijuana."

Your Elected Ambulance Chasers. Eric Lipton of the New York Times: There is "a flourishing industry that pairs plaintiffs' lawyers with state attorneys general to sue companies, a collaboration that has set off a furious competition between trial lawyers and corporate lobbyists to influence these officials.... Plaintiffs' lawyers working on a contingency-fee basis have teamed up mostly with Democratic state attorneys general to file hundreds of lawsuits against businesses.... Private lawyers, who scour the news media and public records looking for potential cases in which a state or its consumers have been harmed, approach attorneys general. The attorneys general hire the private firms to do the necessary work, with the understanding that the firms will front most of the cost of the investigation and the litigation. The firms take a fee, typically 20 percent, and the state takes the rest of any money won from the defendants."

In Austin, Texas, male cops think rape is pretty funny. And this: "You want to go fight in combat and sit in a foxhole? You go right ahead, but a man can't hit you in public here? Bulls--t! You act like a whore, you get treated like one!" That wasn't just guy talk; the said that to a female reporter. The officer who made that comment is "retiring."

Paul Krugman: "The kind of crisis Russia now faces is what you get when bad things happen to an economy made vulnerable by large-scale borrowing from abroad -- specifically, large-scale borrowing by the private sector, with the debts denominated in foreign currency, not the currency of the debtor country. In that situation, an adverse shock like a fall in exports can start a vicious downward spiral. When the nation's currency falls, the balance sheets of local businesses -- which have assets in rubles (or pesos or rupiah) but debts in dollars or euros -- implode. This, in turn, inflicts severe damage on the domestic economy, undermining confidence and depressing the currency even more.... A more open, accountable regime -- one that wouldn't have impressed [Rudy] Giuliani so much -- would have been less corrupt, would probably have run up less debt, and would have been better placed to ride out falling oil prices. Macho posturing, it turns out, makes for bad economies."

Pamela Brown, et al., of CNN: "U.S. used signal intelligence and other means to trace the [Sony hack] attack to North Korea, finding digital footprints that pointed to North Korea. The statement to be issued as early as Friday morning will provide some of the evidence behind the U.S. government's conclusion, but not all. Though officials say they are planning to lay blame on Friday, they haven't yet decided how to respond to the attack." ...

... Jonathan Chait: "Sony is a for-profit entity, and not even an American one, that effectively has important influence over American culture. We don't entrust for-profit entities with the common defense. And recognizing that the threat to a Sony picture is actually a threat to the freedom of American culture ought to lead us to a public rather than a private solution. The federal government should take financial responsibility." ...

     ... CW: Sorry, Chait. I feel no compulsion whatsoever to kick in a nickel for Sony, even though the company is a victim here. Sony insures their stars. Maybe they should have taken out hack-attack insurance. ...

Frank Rich on the Sony hack -- and Mitt Romney's proposal. ...

... CW: Although the hack is pretty terrible & surely a harbinger, Sony is garnering from it an incredible level of publicity for a stupid movie. When "The Interview" does make it into theaters or onto the small screen, as I expect it will, anybody who can stand a Seth Rogen movie will be sure to watch it. Wingers will consider watching the flik a right-of-passage. Because freeeedom. ...

... Daily Beast: "Three movie theaters say Paramount Pictures has ordered them not to show Team America: World Police one day after Sony Pictures surrendered to cyberterrorists and pulled The Interview.... (No reason was apparently given and Paramount hasn't spoken.) Team America of course features Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il, as a singing marionette." ...

... CW: It may come as a shock to you to learn that the Masters of the Entertainment Universe are sniveling cowards. Mike Fleming of Deadline: Actor/director George Clooney circulated a petition supporting Sony & "The Interview," and nobody would sign it. "The most powerful people in Hollywood were so fearful to place themselves in the cross hairs of hackers that they all refused to sign a simple petition of support that Clooney and his agent, CAA's Bryan Lourd, circulated to the top people in film, TV, records and other areas. Not a single person would sign." And Chait wants me to support these guys with my tax dollars. Double no-thanks. ...

... Putin's Response. Reuters: "The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has invited the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to Moscow next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in the second world war, the Kremlin's spokesman said on Friday." CW: No doubt Rudy Giuliani approves. (See Krugman.)

Presidential Election

... Obama Unbound. Greg Sargent: "... it increasingly looks like a good deal more of the Obama agenda than expected -- in the form of all these unilateral actions -- may be on the ballot in 2016 to motivate [Democratic] voter groups. Republicans delighted in arguing that Obama's policies were soundly rejected in the last election. But we're now playing on a presidential year field, and Obama's new approach appears to be only getting started." ...

... Steve Holland of Reuters: "Potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton knows a political gift when she sees one. She was quick to embrace the step this week when President Barack Obama ... relaxed U.S. policy toward Cuba." (See also Josh Rogin's report & Zandar's commentary, linked above.)

Steve M. writes an excellent post that examines what is certainly part of Rand Paul's rationale in backing President Obama's Cuba move: "Farmers want to do business with Cuba, more than they want to cling to Cold War-era ideological purity. So I think, at least with regard to Iowa, Rand Paul is making a very smart move."

Ken Vogel & Tarini Parti of Politico: "... affluent Cuban American donors [are] already talking about spending big sums to challenge politicians who side with Obama, and to support rivals who oppose normalization. That cash rift could widen further if the presidential election pits a Democrat who favors normalization, such as Hillary Clinton, against a Republican who opposes it, such as Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio -- both of whom hail from Florida, a key swing state with a very politically active population of Cuban expatriates."

I would love to see Elizabeth Warren in this race. I think it would be fantastic. I think that it would help the quality of the debate and she may win, but even if she doesn't, I think she'll make Hillary Clinton a better candidate. -- Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus

News Ledes

Los Angeles Times: "Lowell Steward, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew more than 100 missions during World War II, died Wednesday, according to Ron Brewington, former national public relations officer for the Tuskegee Airmen. Steward was 95."

NBC News: "The Army has concluded its lengthy investigation into the disappearance of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in eastern Afghanistan and must now decide whether Bergdahl should face criminal charges. Bergdahl reportedly walked away from his base into the hands of the Taliban and was held hostage for five years. Based on the investigation, the Army must now decide whether Bergdahl should be charged with desertion or a lesser charge of being 'absent without leave,' AWOL."

New York Times: "The Pakistani military said on Friday that it had killed 62 militants in clashes near the border with Afghanistan, stepping up operations against insurgents after the Pakistani Taliban carried out an attack at a school that left 148 students and staff members dead."

New York Times: "Mandy Rice-Davies, a nightclub dancer and model who achieved notoriety in 1963 in one of Britain's most spectacular Cold War sex scandals, died on Thursday after a short battle with cancer, her publicist said on Friday. She was 70."

Denver Post: "James Holmes, the man who killed 12 people inside an Aurora movie theater two years ago, is 'a human being gripped by a severe mental illness,' his parents write in a letter that pleads for him to be spared from execution.'" The letter is here.

Wednesday
Dec172014

The Commentariat -- Dec. 18, 2014

>Jim Yardley & Gaia Pianigiani of the New York Times: Pope "Francis is being credited for helping bridge the divide [between the U.S. & Cuba] by first sending letters to President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba, and then having the Vatican host a diplomatic meeting between the two sides in October.... Vatican spokesmen declined to provide any details about Francis's letters, other than that he encouraged the two sides to resolve 'humanitarian questions'; resolve the release of political prisoners, including an American held by Cuba, Alan P. Gross; and 'initiate a new phase in relations.'" ...

... Carol Morello & Adam Goldman of the Washington Post: The release of Alan Gross "started with an American overture to Cuba and a series of meetings in third countries, mostly in Canada beginning in June 2013, according to senior administration officials. It also involved an unusual intervention by the pope, who wrote personal letters to President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, calling for both countries to release their prisoners and restart relations." ...

... Adam Goldman: "The Cuban government on Wednesday freed a U.S. spy whom President Obama described as one of most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in the Communist country and who helped unravel several long-running Cuban espionage operations. U.S. officials said the release of the spy, a native of Cuba who has not been publicly identified, was a major priority for the intelligence community as part of any deal with the Cubans. That agreement, Obama said, also included the exchange of three Cuban spies by the United States and the release of former U.S. aid worker Alan Gross by Cuba on humanitarian grounds." ...

... Frances Robles & Julie Davis of the New York Times on the "Cuban Five," three of whom were released to Cuba in the spy swap Wednesday. The other two had previously served out their sentences & returned to Cuba. ...

... Taylor Berman of Gawker: "Cuban president Raul Castro announced the agreement at a press conference held the same time as Obama's. 'This expression by President Barack Obama deserves the respect and recognition by all the people and I want to thank and recognize support from the Vatican and especially from Pope Francis for the improvement of relations between Cuba and the United States,' Castro said.... As the two presidents announced the changes, church bells began ringing in Havana." ...

... The Bells Toll Not for Thee, Marco. Judd Legum of Think Progress: "In a press conference, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) ... -- who is Catholic and a Cuban-American -- directly criticized the Pope for his role. Rubio said that he would 'ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy.' Rubio added that he thought 'the people of Cuba deserve to have the same chances at Democracy as the people of Argentina have had, where he's from.'" ...

... Dana Milbank: "Rubio's emotional -- and at times inaccurate -- response to the policy change shows why Obama's move to normalize ties to Cuba after more than half a century is both good policy and good politics. It's good policy because it jettisons a vestigial policy that has stopped serving a useful purpose, and because it is a gutsy move by Obama that demonstrates strong leadership and will help revive him from lame-duck status. It's good politics because it will reveal that the Cuban American old guard, whose position Rubio represents, no longer speaks for most Cuban Americans."

Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom -- and not one second sooner. -- House Speaker John A. Boehner

I just want to say to those who say that this is a concession to the Cuban regime, these moves that are being made today, I think that that is the wrong way to look at this.... [The long-standing U.S.-Cuba restrictions had] done more, in my view, in many's view, to keep the Castro regimes in power than anything we could have done. So I am just pleased that these actions have been taken. -- Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Az.)

We agree with President Obama that he is writing new chapters in American foreign policy. Unfortunately, today's chapter, like the others before it, is one of America and the values we stand for in retreat and decline. It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America's influence in the world. Is it any wonder that under President Obama's watch our enemies are emboldened and our friends demoralized? -- Sens. John McCain & Lindsey Graham [R], in a statement

Pro tip: any time someone criticizes a foreign policy decision on the grounds that it 'emboldens our enemies,' it's a sign they have no substantive argument to make. -- Paul Waldman

The idiotic Cuban boycott has isolated the Cuban people from the greatest weapons in our soft power arsenal, and I renew my longstanding call for Major League Baseball to put a team in Havana at the earliest opportunity.... I will not be completely satisfied until I rise for both the Cuban and American National Anthems in my own luxury box at Minute Maid Venceremos Stadium, after which Luis Tiant will throw out the first pitch, and I will light one of them stogies up. Capitalism triumphant, baby! -- Charles Pierce ...

... Maybe Not Such a Pipedream, Pierce. Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "Baseball officials, team executives, scouts, agents and fans all began to speculate how soon major league teams might be able to sign players in Cuba. Some even wondered whether Major League Baseball might be tempted to relocate a team like the Tampa Bay Rays, who have a feeble fan base, to Havana, where they would most likely be a sensation." ...

... Pro. New York Times Editors: "The Obama administration is ushering in a transformational era for millions of Cubans who have suffered as a result of more than 50 years of hostility between the two nations." ...

... Contra. Washington Post Editors: "Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life." ...

... Lauren French of Politico: "Just hours after Obama announced that a prisoner swap with the Cuban government for two Americans was the start of a new relationship with the communist country, Republicans began informally kicking around ideas to stop any changes to the U.S.-Cuba relationship." ...

... Ashley Parker & Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: "For more than a generation, Republicans have taken a hard line against [Cuba], endearing themselves to the politically potent bloc of Cuban-Americans who have been crucial in deciding elections in the state. But those animosities have given way with a generational shift, and younger voters who have family ties to Cuba but no direct memories of the island under Fidel Castro have been more willing to support Democrats.... The changing Hispanic demographics in Florida have reshaped the state's political map. The state's Hispanic population is increasingly multidimensional, with a large number of former residents of Puerto Rico and others from Latin and South America for whom the issue of Cuba is not paramount." ...

... "The End of an Error." John Cole of Balloon Juice: "At this point, Obama is just trolling wingnuts. Tomorrow he will rename Reagan Airport to Alinsky-Ayers-MalcolmX airport." Read the whole post. Cole captures the essence of the GOP, trapped forever in its cold-war panties. ...

... Paul Waldman: "The approaching end of his term and the loss of both houses of Congress seem to have liberated [President Obama].... Who knows how many other surprises Obama may have in store."

Clark Mindock of Roll Call: "President Barack Obama granted clemency to 20 people Wednesday in a relatively rare show of leniency from him -- with the administration promising more to come. Obama cut short prison times for eight people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses and vacated the convictions of 12 others, the White House announced. The commutations are the result of an April 23 initiative by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole with the direction of President Obama encouraging qualified inmates to petition for clemency."

Jennifer Bendery of the Huffington Post: "If there's one thing from 2014 that will define President Barack Obama's legacy after he's left the White House, it's the number of lifetime judges he put on the federal bench. In its final act of the year, the Senate blew through a dozen U.S. district court nominees on Tuesday night. That puts Obama at a whopping 89 district court and circuit court confirmations for the year, and means he'll wrap up his sixth year in office with a grand total of 305 district court and circuit court confirmations -- a tally that puts him well beyond where his predecessors were by this point in their presidencies."

Lawrence Hurley of Reuters: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked the state of Arizona from enforcing a policy that denies driver's licenses to young immigrants granted legal status by President Barack Obama in 2012.... The Supreme Court's brief order noted that three conservative members among the nine justices - Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito - would have granted Arizona's request."

Erin Dooley of ABC News: "The actions of hackers who released a trove of e-mails stolen from Sony Pictures executives indicates the U.S. has not done all it can do to prevent enemies from exploiting 'vulnerabilities' in our technology, President Obama said [Wednesday]. 'We've made progress,' Obama said in an exclusive interview with ABC 'World News Tonight' anchor David Muir. 'But what we just saw with Sony shows a lot more progress needs to be done. That means, by the way, that Congress also needs to take up cyber security legislation that's been languishing for several years now.'" With video of interview. ...

... David Sanger & Nicole Perlroth of the New York Times: "American intelligence officials have concluded that the North Korean government was 'centrally involved' in the recent attacks on Sony Pictures's computers, a determination reached just as Sony on Wednesday canceled its release of the comedy, which is based on a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader." ...

... Kim Zetter of Wired says "the evidence that North Korea hacked Sony is flimsy." ...

... Update. Terrence McCoy & Anna Fifield of the Washington Post: "Despite the reports and media hype, as of Thursday morning, there was still no definitive evidence made public linking North Korea to the hack nor to this week's threats that caused numerous theaters to pull out of screening 'The Interview.' Neither Sony nor the FBI have found any proof. And some experts are more than a little skeptical." ...

... Saba Hamedy & Richard Verrier of the Los Angeles Times: "Sony Pictures Entertainment has canceled the Christmas Day release of 'The Interview' after the nation's major theater chains said they would not screen the film. The studio said 'we respect and understand our partners' decision' and 'completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theatergoers.'" ...

... digby: "Fox News pundits are calling this an act of war that requires a military response. Of course.
This is wrong. We should not surrender to blackmailers, blah,blah, blah. Free speech, Danish cartoons all that. But really it's almost surely a stupid movie so I can't care all that much." ...

... Mike Fleming of Deadline: "The chilling effect of the Sony Pictures hack and terrorist threats against The Interview are reverberating. New Regency has scrapped another project that was to be set in North Korea. The untitled thriller, set up in October, was being developed by director Gore Verbinski as a star vehicle for Foxcatcher star Steve Carell.... Insiders tell me that under the current circumstances, it just makes no sense to move forward. The location won't be transplanted. Fox declined to distribute it...."

** Neil Irwin of the New York Times: "Some of the highest employment rates in the advanced world are in places with the highest taxes and most generous welfare systems, namely Scandinavian countries.... More people may work when countries offer public services that directly make working easier, such as subsidized care for children and the old; generous sick leave policies; and cheap and accessible transportation. If the goal is to get more people working, what's important about a social welfare plan may be more about what the money is spent on than how much is spent."

E. J. Dionne: Sen. Chuck "Schumer [D-N.Y.] is right in identifying the biggest problem facing our country. Restoring broadly shared prosperity is not just a good political issue. It's the cause on which every other cause depends."

Tom Edsall of the New York Times: "The traditional European social democratic left and the [U.S.] Democratic Party are both struggling to address the often conflicting interests of a socially liberal elite and an economically pressed lower class.... It may be that democracies are not at present equipped to solve the problems advanced nations face."

Matthew Goldstein of the New York Times: "A former Countrywide Financial executive who became a whistle-blower is collecting more than $57 million for helping federal prosecutors force Bank of America to pay a record $16.65 billion penalty in connection with its role in churning out shoddy mortgage and related securities before the financial crisis."

Thomas Kaplan & Jesse McKinley of the New York Times: "Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration announced on Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State because of concerns over health risks, ending years of uncertainty over the disputed method of natural gas extraction. State officials concluded that fracking, as the method is known, could contaminate the air and water and pose inestimable dangers to public health." Thanks to NiskyGuy for the link.

Molly Redden of Mother Jones: "A Missouri Republican is pushing a bill that would allow a man who gets a woman pregnant to stop her from having an abortion. The measure would force a woman who wants an abortion to obtain written permission from the father first unless she was the victim of 'legitimate rape.' Rick Brattin, a state representative from outside Kansas City, filed the bill on December 3 for next year's legislative session.... 'Just like any rape, you have to report it, and you have to prove it,' Brattin tells Mother Jones. 'So you couldn't just go and say, "Oh yeah, I was raped" and get an abortion. It has to be a legitimate rape.'" See Akhilleus's comment in yesterday's thread. ...

... Anna Merlan of Jezebel: "... this isn't [Brattin's] first brainwave: he made headlines last year when he launched a bid for anti-evolution lessons in science classes.... In January of this year, he filed a bill calling for Missouri to bring back execution by firing squad. This month, he also filed a bill suggesting that any federal law be deemed unenforceable in Missouri if lawmakers there don't like it (something expressly forbade in the Constitution, but, um, okay, Rick. Give that one a shot.)"

Karen McVeigh of the Guardian: "More than seven decades after South Carolina executed 14-year-old George Stinney, a judge has thrown out his conviction and cleared his name. Stinney was accused of killing two white girls, Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, seven, who were found dead in a ditch on the black side of the racially segregated town of Alcolu, South Carolina, in March 1944. In the Jim Crow era of the South, Stinney was tried, convicted and executed within 83 days in the small mill town. The case has cast a long shadow over South Carolina." ...

... Ed Pilkington of the Guardian: "... if 2014 is anything to go by, as capital punishment becomes less common, it also appears to be growing more extreme and arguably inhumane."

Neil MacFarquhar & Andrew Roth of the New York Times: "President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Thursday delivered an acidic message of defiance and anger at the West at an annual news conference in Moscow, showing no sign of softening his position on Ukraine despite the financial turmoil that has gripped the country."

Presidential Election

Greg Sargent: "Two possible GOP candidates -- Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, both from Florida -- have already come out against Obama's push for normalization, both arguing against expanded engagement with a repressive regime.... [Hillary] Clinton has not publicly weighed in yet. But it turns out that in her memoir, Hard Choices, she wrote that as Secretary of State, she asked Obama to consider lifting the embargo. Clinton also made a very similar argument to the one we heard from the President today, that the best way to spur human rights change in Cuba is through engagement that will increasingly expose the Cuban people to outside ideas and weaken the Castro regime's grip."

If you want a government that's gonna intrude on your life, enforce their personal views on you, then I guess Jeb Bush is your man. -- Michael Schiavo, whose wife Terri Bush tried to force under his custody to prevent Michael's decision to remove her feeding tubes after she had been in a vegetative state for 15 years

Jeb Bush made a family tragedy into a family horror. He willingly put the power of his office behind lunatics who were jumping fences, calling bomb threats into elementary schools, putting bounties on Michael Schiavo's head, and endagering great people doing wonderful work at a hospice. This episode shouldn't be an obscure part of his past. It should define him as a politician, and as a man. -- Charles Pierce

November Election

Cathleen Decker of the Los Angeles Times: "The long 2014 political campaign whimpered to an end Wednesday as Republican Martha McSally claimed the last official victory in an Arizona congressional contest whose results were delayed six weeks by a required recount. McSally entered the recount earlier this month with a 161-vote lead over Democratic incumbent Ron Barber, and had been expected to hold on to it. In the end, she emerged with a 167-vote margin of victory in results released by the Maricopa County Superior Court."

News Ledes

New York Times: "The stock market began the week burdened by geopolitical worries, but by the close of trading on Thursday it had bounced back to achieve one of its biggest upswings in recent years. Soothing words from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday, saying that it would be 'patient' on raising interest rates, drove the surge, analysts said. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index jumped 2.4 percent on Thursday, to 2,061.23 -- its biggest one-day gain since January 2013. That came on the back of a 2 percent rise on Wednesday."

CNN: "U.S. airstrikes have killed two top-level and one mid-level ISIS leader, a senior U.S. military official tells CNN. Haji Mutazz was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's deputy in Iraq; Abd al Basit was his military emir in Iraq; and Radwan Talib was his Mosul emir. Their deaths resulted from multiple strikes going back to mid-November -- it has taken until now to determine conclusively they were killed."

AP: "Average U.S. long-term mortgage rates fell this week, with the benchmark 30-year loan rate reaching a new low for the year. The rates' historically low levels could be a boon to potential homebuyers. Mortgage company Freddie Mac says the nationwide average for a 30-year mortgage dropped to 3.80 percent this week from 3.93 percent last week. It is now at its lowest level since May 2013."

New York Times: "A federal judge on Thursday refused to release Don E. Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, from prison as he continues to appeal a prosecution that Republicans say exposed pervasive corruption in state government but Democrats regard as a case pursued for political retribution."

Boston Globe: "Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev stood in federal court in Boston this morning for a brief pretrial hearing, which was punctuated by an interruption in Russian and English from a woman in the gallery. Several journalists reported she exclaimed 'stop killing innocent people' in English as she was escorted out for yelling in Russian. The woman identified herself to reporters as a relative of Ibrahim Todashev: a friend of Dzhokhar's brother who was killed by an FBI agent during an incident that arose from the investigation of a Waltham triple homicide."

AFP: "Two owners and 12 former employees of a US pharmacy were arrested Wednesday in connection with a 2012 outbreak of meningitis that killed 64 people across the country, prosecutors said. Barry Cadden and Gregory Conigliaro owned the New England Compounding Center (NECC), which lost its license in 2012 after inspectors found it guilty of multiple sanitary violations. the pharmacy, located in the city of Framingham, Massachusetts in the US northeast, voluntarily shut down and recalled all products following the unprecedented outbreak of fungal meningitis."