The Ledes

Wednesday, April 16, 2014.

AP: "A column of armored vehicles flying Russian flags drove into a Ukrainian city controlled by pro-Russia demonstrators Wednesday, dampening the central government's hopes to re-establish control over restive eastern Ukraine."

AP: "A multi-story ferry carrying 459 people, mostly high school students on an overnight trip to a tourist island, sank off South Korea's southern coast Wednesday, leaving nearly 300 people missing despite a frantic, hours-long rescue by ships and helicopters. At least three people were confirmed dead and 55 injured."

Boston Globe: "A shelter-in-place order on Boylston Street has been lifted and a 25-year-old Boston man is facing charges after police executed a controlled detonation of two suspicious bags left near the Boston Marathon finish line. Just after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, on the one-year anniversary of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, police said two backpacks had been found in the area and immediately ordered people to evacuate. Authorities said the backpacks were tied to a man who goes by Kayvon Edson. Edson was captured in several videos marching down Boylston Street in a black veil, wearing a backpack, and chanting 'Boston strong.'” ...

     ... UPDATE: "A man who was arrested after suspicious bags were found near the Boston Marathon finish line was arraigned today in Boston Municipal Court. Kevin Edson, 25, of Boston is being charged with possession of a hoax explosive, threatening battery, threats to commit a crime, disturbing the peace, disturbing a public assembly, and disorderly conduct, according to the Boston Police Department. Edson is being held on $100,000 bail and is being sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for an evaluation, the Associated Press reports."

Read more here:
The Wires

The Ledes

Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

Boston Globe: The Boston Marathon finish line has been evacuated after suspicious packages were discovered. ...

... Washington Post: "Boston and its surroundings braced for an emotional week that begins Tuesday with a large ceremony honoring the victims, first responders, medical personnel and others affected by [last years Boston Marathon bomb] attack. It will be a chance to mourn the dead and remember the bloodshed, but also to proclaim that what is perhaps the world’s most famous footrace will continue for a 118th year, and to marvel at the way events have brought this community together."

Los Angeles Times: "President Obama on Tuesday commuted the sentence of a drug convict, correcting a mistake that had extended his prison time by more than three years and could not be fixed by the courts."

Even in Canada. AP: "Five people were killed and the son of a police officer is in custody after multiple stabbings at a house party attended by university students near the University of Calgary, the police chief said, calling it the worst mass murder in Calgary's history."

CNN: "A new video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years. And the CIA and the Pentagon either didn't know about it or couldn't get a drone there in time to strike." With video.

Detroit Free Press: "Two members of General Motors’ senior leadership team are leaving the company three months after a transition to a new CEO and amid a crisis over the automaker’s failure to fix an ignition switch defect."

AP: "Federal authorities have lodged two criminal charges against a Phoenix woman accused of throwing a shoe at Hillary Rodham Clinton while she gave a convention speech at a Las Vegas Strip resort."

New York Times: "After days of failing to enforce its own ultimatums, the Ukrainian government on Tuesday began what the president called a military operation to confront pro-Russian militants in the east of the country." ...

... Washington Post: "... Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that Ukraine was descending into civil war." ...

    ... Update: "The Ukrainian government said its forces had repelled an assault by pro-Russian militiamen at a military airfield, hours after announcing the start of a staged counteroffensive Tuesday to reclaim control of the eastern part of the country."

BBC News: "Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi must do one year's community service over tax fraud, a Milan court has ruled. He was convicted of tax fraud last year in connection with TV rights purchased by his firm Mediaset in the 1990s. The alternative to community service had been house arrest. It is not yet clear what form his community service will take."

Public Service Announcements

Washington Post: "Researchers are reporting that injections of long-lasting AIDS drugs protected monkeys for weeks against infection, a finding that could lead to a major breakthrough in preventing the disease in humans."

New York Times: "General Motors will more than double the size of a recall issued this month for an ignition switch defect in some of its small cars, the automaker said in a news release Tuesday. The expansion brings the number of vehicles covered by the recall to nearly 1.4 million in the United States. The recall is aimed at vehicles with ignition switches that could inadvertently turn off the engine and vehicle electrical system – disabling the air bags – if the ignition key is jarred or the vehicle’s operator has a heavy key ring attached to it."

New York Times: "The essence of [a] disagreement [among experts] comes down to a simple question: Will e-cigarettes cause more or fewer people to smoke? The answer matters. Cigarette smoking is still the single largest cause of preventable death in the United States, killing about 480,000 people a year."

White House Live Video
April 16

3:45 pm ET: President Obama & Vice President Biden speak on the importance of jobs-driven skill training in Oakdale, Pensylvania


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


Whose Pulitzer Is It Anyway? Chris Hamby of the Center for Public Integrity was awarded the Pulitzer Prize this week for his multipart series on denials of benefits to black lung victims. ABC News, which used Hamby's work for a "Nightline" segment, now wants a piece of the Pulitzer, even though the Pulitzer Prize is given for print journalism. ...

... J. K. Trotter of Gawker has more: "Journalist-on-journalist carnage is rarely so open, or so bilious, especially when obituary-worthy awards are on the line. Then again, television news has never attracted, or rewarded, humble folk. According to Poynter, an ABC spokesperson repeatedly 'threatened [{Bill} Buzenberg {executive director of CPI}] and the Center saying they would make this very "messy" ... unless they got what they wanted.'” ...

... Dylan Byers of Politico has more on the feud. ...

... Capital New York: "Fresh off a Pulitzer win for his investigative work at The Center for Public Integrity, Chris Hamby is jumping ship to join Mark Schoofs' investigations desk at Buzzfeed...."

Washington Post: Investigative reporter Michael Isikoff is leaving NBC News, by mutual consent. Isikoff told Erik Wemple that "this was a situation that was no longer working out."

Soraya McDonald of the Washington Post: "Thursday night was a deft marriage of the best of the two Colberts: He didn’t break character, but the deference and affable nature that marks his out-of-character interviews was stamped all over the writing." With video. ...

... Dylan Scott of TPM: "Rush Limbaugh framed CBS's decision to replace retiring 'Late Show' host David Letterman with professional conservative skewer Stephen Colbert in some decidedly apocalyptic terms. 'CBS has just declared war on the Heartland of America," Limbaugh said Thursday on his radio show. 'No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values. Now it's just wide out in the open.'" ...

... Bill Carter of the New York Times: "CBS made its choice, quickly and definitively: Stephen Colbert is the successor to David Letterman as the star of 'Late Show,' the late-night franchise created by Mr. Letterman. CBS made the announcement Thursday, exactly one week after Mr. Letterman announced on his program that he would be leaving his post after one more year on the air."

Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times: "A faded fragment of papyrus known as the 'Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,' which caused an uproar when unveiled by a Harvard Divinity School historian in 2012, has been tested by scientists who conclude in a journal published on Thursday that the ink and papyrus are very likely ancient, and not a modern forgery. Skepticism about the tiny scrap of papyrus has been fierce because it contained a phrase never before seen in any piece of Scripture: 'Jesus said to them, "My wife..."' Too convenient for some, it also contained the words 'she will be able to be my disciple,' a clause that inflamed the debate in some churches over whether women should be allowed to be priests." ...

... CW: Sorry, purists. Followers (& non-followers) had all kinds of ideas about what Jesus was like. Married Jesus & sexy Jesus (Gospel of Thomas, "Lost" Gospel of Mark) were among them. The Roman Catholic Church decided, beginning late in the 2nd century what was canon & what was not. And every story, IMHO, is fictional. BTW, the Egyptologist in Goodstein's story who insists the fragment is a fake uses some extremely shaky -- i.e., bogus -- rationales for his opinion.

CW: I think it's my job to run this:

... The full "Today" show segment is here, & it's mildly interesting (CW: NBC's embed code is screwed up, so I can't run it here).

Josh Dickey of Mashable: "Stephen Colbert is CBS' top choice to replace the retiring David Letterman, and has indicated that he's willing to take over the Late Show when the time comes, people familiar with both sides of the discussions tell Mashable." Via New York.

Lauren Moraski of CBS "News": "David Letterman announced Thursday that he's retiring from CBS' 'Late Show' sometime next year. He made that announcement during the taping of his program Thursday afternoon at New York's Ed Sullivan Theater."

No News, All the Time:

Igor Bobic of TPM: "In its wall-to-wall coverage of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, CNN has raised the possibility of the supernatural, blackholes, and North Korea; it has interviewed a psychic, tried but failed to rent its own 777 jet, and finally settled on a flight simulator it is using to 'search' for the plane.On Tuesday the network finally turned its attention to garbage."

Washington Post: "Stephen Colbert and his writing staff were in fighting form Monday night, after a controversy stemming from an out-of-context tweet had hashtag activists calling for his head." ...

... This is kinda must-see TV:

AND Colbert dismantles his charity:

Michael Lewis in the New York Times Magazine on the whiz-kids of high-frequency Wall Street trading.

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The Commentariat -- February 12, 2012

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on Ross Douthat's riff on Charles Murray's book about the moral decline of working-class white Americans. It's a short-course in how conservatives mischaracterize liberal policies and hide their own true agendas behind policies that sound good or that contains appealing elements. The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute here.

James Fallows, in a long Atlantic article, "explains" President Obama & his presidency. CW: I think you're still going to come away asking, "How could Obama have made such mistakes -- of personnel and tactics -- that even I could see were mistakes?" There's not a chance, for instance, that I would have larded top-tier Cabinet & staff positions with Clinton leftovers, especially since the Clinton people were part of the problem in the first place.

"Kill the Pill." Rachel Maddow in a Washington Post op-ed on the right's war on birth control, one which all the GOP presidential candidates have pledged to lead or embraced "absolutely." ...

... Nicholas Kristof: "I had thought that Jesus talked more about helping the poor than about banning contraceptives.... The cost of birth control is one reason poor women are more than three times as likely to end up pregnant unintentionally as middle-class women.... Coverage for contraception should be a pillar of our public health policy — and ... of any faith-based effort to be our brother’s keeper, or our sister’s.... Every dollar that the United States government spends on family planning reduces Medicaid expenditures by $3.74.... We try to respect religious beliefs, and accommodate them where we can. But we ban polygamy, for example.... Your freedom to believe does not always give you a freedom to act."

** Binyamin Appelbaum & Robert Gebeloff of the New York Times: "... many ... residents who describe themselves as self-sufficient members of the American middle class and as opponents of government largess are drawing more deeply on that government with each passing year. Dozens of benefits programs provided an average of $6,583 for each man, woman and child in the county in 2009, a 69 percent increase from 2000 after adjusting for inflation.... The government now provides almost $1 in benefits for every $4 in other income. Older people get most of the benefits, primarily through Social Security and Medicare, but aid for the rest of the population has increased about as quickly through programs for the disabled, the unemployed, veterans and children.... Politicians have expanded the safety net without a commensurate increase in revenues.... In 2000, federal and state governments spent about 37 cents on the safety net from every dollar they collected in revenue.... A decade later..., spending on the safety net consumed nearly 66 cents of every dollar of revenue."

** Rod Nordland of the New York Times: The war in Afghanistan "is a war where traditional military jobs, from mess hall cooks to base guards and convoy drivers, have increasingly been shifted to the private sector. Many American generals and diplomats have private contractors for their personal bodyguards. And along with the risks have come the consequences: More civilian contractors working for American companies than American soldiers died in Afghanistan last year for the first time during the war. American employers here are under no obligation to publicly report the deaths of their employees and frequently do not."

Erik Eckholm of the New York Times: "Far from dissipating, [Occupy] groups around the country say they are preparing for a new phase of larger marches and strikes this spring that they hope will rebuild momentum and cast an even brighter glare on inequality and corporate greed.... Though still loosely organized, the movement is putting down roots in many cities. Activists in Chicago and Des Moines have rented offices...." With photos. CW: this article is pretty negative, but try to read past Eckholm's skepticism for the content.

New York Times Editors: "The $26 billion foreclosure settlement between the big banks and federal and state officials is a wrist slap.... The banks did not get the blanket release they originally sought from legal liability for all manner of mortgage misconduct. But the settlement still shields them from state and federal civil lawsuits for most foreclosure abuses.... The banks are not off the hook for criminal prosecutions ... or for private lawsuits. They are also not off the hook for wrongdoing in their aggressive pooling of mortgages into securities.... President Obama will need to press his own administration hard to deliver an unsparing follow-on investigation that results in more clarity, more money and more justice." ...

... New York Times Editors: "The [Obama] administration has put forth far-reaching proposals to help homeowners qualify for refinancing. But the proposals would be paid for, in part, by a new tax on banks. That requires Congressional approval, which Republicans are unlikely to provide. The White House needs to challenge Republicans to explain why they are more interested in protecting the banks than protecting homeowners.... Too much time has already been wasted."

** Adam Liptak, who reports for the New York Times on the Supreme Court, writes an important op-ed on the "high-tech war on leaks.... "It used to be that journalists had a sporting chance of protecting their sources. The best and sometimes only way to identify a leaker was to pressure the reporter or news organization that received the leak, but even subpoenas tended to be resisted. Today, advances in surveillance technology allow the government to keep a perpetual eye on those with security clearances, and give prosecutors the ability to punish officials for disclosing secrets without provoking a clash with the press." CW: technological surveillance is not only a threat to privacy; it is also a threat to a free press.

Sarah Lyall & Ravi Somaiya of the New York Times: "As dozens of investigators and high-powered lawyers converge on Rupert Murdoch’s News International in the phone hacking scandal, attention has focused on the printout of an e-mail excavated three months ago from a sealed carton left behind in an empty company office. Addressed to Mr. Murdoch’s son James, it contained explosive information about the scale of phone hacking at The News of the World tabloid — information James Murdoch says he failed to take in because he did not read the whole e-mail chain."

Stephanie Coontz in a New York Times Sunday Review article on the changing patterns of men's views on the qualities that make a desirable mate. It's good news all around for well-educated women who want to marry men. CW: Coontz doesn't say so, but obviously men's drastically changed attitudes are a result of the women's equality movement. So, you're welcome, young women, for all of the effort women of my generation made to make your life more fulfilling. And if you're married and your husband is "evolved," figure out a nice way to thank him, too!

Vanessa Thorpe of the Guardian: "A close-knit band of friends and colleagues around Bill Clinton at the time of the Monica Lewinsky affair will speak publicly for the first time of their disbelief and sense of betrayal this month in a much-anticipated four-hour documentary about the former US president." CW: the documentary will air on PBS's "American Experience" February 20 & 21. Here's an extended preview:

Right Wing World

Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post has a long piece on the GOP presidential nominating fiasco: "... what is happening to prevent the party from coalescing? GOP veterans say there are at least five forces at work: unsettled voters, lackluster candidates, muddled messages, an unprecedented inflow of money, and new rules that have prolonged the race."

Rick Santorum tells Sam Stein of the Huffington Post that health insurance should not cover contraception at all. ...

Cartoon by Drew Sheneman. In case you can't read it, the caption says, "Seriously? Him? First Gingrich, and now this? Is this a joke? Am I being punked?"CW: Willard may have won the Maine beauty pageant (nonbinding caucuses) yesterday & the CPAC poll, but Public Policy Polling reports, "Riding a wave of momentum from his trio of victories on Tuesday Rick Santorum has opened up a wide lead in PPP's newest national poll. He's at 38% to 23% for Mitt Romney, 17% for Newt Gingrich, and 13% for Ron Paul." Great. Because contraception is just wrong. *

* Economist Brad DeLong says the poll sample size is too small.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times on Mitt Romney's evolution from abortion rights supporter to anti-contraception, anti-abortion orthodoxy. CW: while Stolberg allows a surrogate to complain that Romney had not signed the "personhood pledge," she does not bother to tell the reader that Romney said he "absolutely" agreed with it.

News Ledes

Reuters: "Greek lawmakers looked set to agree to a deeply unpopular bailout deal on Sunday to avert what Prime Minister Lucas Papademos warned would be 'economic chaos,' and Germany demanded Athens dramatically change its ways to stay in the euro." ...

     ... New York Times Update: "After violent protests left dozens of buildings aflame in Athens, the Greek Parliament voted early on Monday to approve a package of harsh austerity measures demanded by the country’s foreign lenders in exchange for new loans to keep Greece from defaulting on its debt."

Here's the New York Times obituary of singer Whitney Houston, who was found dead yesterday. Story includes a photo slideshow & links to related stories. Links to the Los Angeles Times obituary and related content are here.


The Commentariat -- February 11, 2012

President Obama's Weekly Address. Text here:

Move Over, Clint Eastwood:

** "Obama Punks the GOP on Contraception." Amanda Marcotte of Slate: "The fun part of this is that Obama just pulled a fast one on Republicans. He drew this out for two weeks, letting Republicans work themselves into a frenzy of anti-contraception rhetoric, all thinly disguised as concern for religious liberty, and then created a compromise that addressed their purported concerns but without actually reducing women's access to contraception, which is what this has always been about.... What most people will remember is that Republicans picked a fight with Obama over contraception coverage and lost.... I expect to see some ads in the fall showing Romney saying hostile things about contraception and health care reform, with the message that free birth control is going away if he's elected. It's all so perfect that I'm inclined to think this was Obama's plan all along." ...

... Republicans Demur. Gail Collins: "National standards, national coverage — all of that offends the Tea Party ethos that wants to keep the federal government out of every aspect of American life that does not involve bombing another country. But that shouldn’t be a Catholic goal. The church has always been vocal about its mission to aid the needy, and there’s nobody needier than a struggling family without health care coverage. The bishops have a chance to break the peculiar bond between social conservatives and the fiscal hard right that presumes if Jesus returned today, his first move would be to demand the repeal of the estate tax." ...

... When It Comes to Women's Health Issues, Men Know Best. Thanks to Think Progress:


... I don't think we did anything wrong. -- Cardinal Edward Egan, on his handling of the sexual abuse scandal in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for which he initially apologized in 2002. More than 90 Bridgeport parishoners made abuse claims ...

... CW: I missed this one in all the brouhaha. Andy Newman of the New York Times: "In 2002, at the height of the outcry over the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests, the Archbishop of New York, Edward M. Egan, issued a letter to be read at Mass. In it, he offered an apology about the church’s handling of sex-abuse cases in New York and in Bridgeport, Conn., where he was previously posted.... Now..., in retirement, Cardinal Egan has taken back his apology.... He said many more things in the interview, some of them seemingly at odds with the facts. He repeatedly denied that any sex abuse had occurred on his watch in Bridgeport. He said that even now, the church in Connecticut had no obligation to report sexual abuse accusations to the authorities. (A law on the books since the 1970s says otherwise.)” CW: this might not have been the best week to remind Americans about priests having sex for fun with children, what with the rest of the Church hierarchy all puffed up in righteous indignation about ladies having sex for fun.

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "President Obamawill lay out a budget blueprint on Monday that amounts to an election-year bet that a plan for higher taxes on the rich and more spending on popular programs like infrastructure and manufacturing will trump concerns over the deficit. The new budget proposal contrasts with the deficit-cutting promises that attended the budget rollout last year and the debates that followed."

Mark Landler of the New York Times: "At a time when President Obamaand his opponents are blamed for shrinking from painful remedies for a sluggish nation, Michelle Obama is back on the road as a tireless, cheerful dispenser of them." ...

New York Times Editors: "Spain’s Supreme Court this week found the Judge Baltasar Garzón guilty of misapplying the country’s wiretap law and suspended him from the courts for 11 years. Judge Garzón has played an important role in Spain’s transition to democracy, as a scourge of corrupt politicians left and right and a powerful champion of international human rights law.... As this week’s miscarriage of justice plainly demonstrates, Spain still needs his help in keeping its judiciary fearless and independent." CW: Garzon also was the judge investigating Bush-era torture facilitators John Yoo & five others.

Right Wing World

Quote of the Day. Rick Santorum isn’t the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. He’s the conservative alternative to reality. -- Steve Stromberg of the Washington Post

 Runner-up. I know it seems like government doesn't like you. I love you. -- Mitt Romney, to 900 businesspeople. See, he is concerned about the wealthy, after all. ...

... Steve Benen lists the five top Romney lies of the week. ...

... "Severely Conservative." Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian: "Mitt Romney attempted to get his presidential campaign back on track Friday with a speech aimed at winning over conservatives at their mega-conference in Washington. Romney ... dispensed with his normal stump speech and instead set out his credentials as a conservative to a largely sceptical audience. He used the word 'conservative' more than 20 times in his speech and described himself, in an odd choice of words, as 'severely conservative'. [Rick] Santorum and Newt Gingrich also appeared before crowded rooms, each receiving standing ovations Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the biggest gathering of conservatives in the country." The New York Times story, by Jeff Zeleny, is here. Washington Post story, by David Fahrenthold, here. ...

... "Nattering Nabobs of Negativism." Dana Milbank went to CPAC, too, and he says Republicans have "an anger management problem." He does a nice job of gleaning the flavor of the rhetoric at CPAC.

** Prof. Molly Worthen in the New York Times: Rick "Santorum’s [string of bigoted] statements reflect not knee-jerk prejudice, but something much more powerful: philosophically reasoned prejudice, based on centuries of Roman Catholic natural law.... According to the tradition of natural law, every part of our bodies has a telos too. In the case of our genitalia, that natural end is heterosexual sex for the purpose of procreation. It follows that marriage between a man and a woman 'is fundamentally natural,' Santorum writes.... Natural law is a noble tradition that has shaped Western jurisprudence, but in the hands of conservative activists like Santorum it has become a dangerous cult of first principles." ...

... Since we're talking about the philosophy of wingers, Krugman has a good post on how Charles Murray -- author of Coming Apart -- uses one standard for poor people & another for the rich; to wit, if poor people earn less, they'll work harder; if rich people earn less (because the government taxes 'em at a higher rate), they'll quit working. ...

     ... A commenter to Krugman's post, skeptoeconomist, writes, "Different wage-effort slopes are quite common in all sorts of conservative politico-economic rhetoric, for example comparing the effects of rewards on the efforts of CEO's and physicians versus those on the efforts of teachers and other civil servants." CW: S/he's right; somehow millions in profits/shareholder dividends must be diverted to compensate (or even to fire) a CEO if a company wants to get (fire) a "good" CEO, but teachers take home way too much & get far too many benefits.

Peter Hart: New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel s Newt Gingrich as "the candidate of big ideas, hatched from a deep knowledge of politics and policy," etc. Hart begs to differ.

Local News

First Posted Late Yesterday. Pat Garofalo of Think Progress: "... Under the terms of the [foreclosure] settlement [see above], Wisconsin is set to receive $140 million, $31.6 million of which comes directly to the state government. And [union-bustin' man of the people Gov Scott] Walker is planning to use $25.6 million of that money to help balance his state’s budget." The underlying story, by Jason Stein & Paul Gores of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is here. CW: that jerk never quits. The big question is, will he be indicted before he's recalled? Thanks to reader AJT for the heads-up.

News Ledes

AP: "Whitney Houston, who reigned as pop music’s queen until her majestic voice and regal image were ravaged by drug use, erratic behavior and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, has died. She was 48."

     ... Los Angeles Times Update: "Singer Whitney Houston ... was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel room Saturday. Law enforcement sources told The Times that paramedics arrived at the Beverly Hilton hotel, where Houston was staying, and found her dead. Her cause of death was unknown...."

New York Times: "The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops have rejected a compromise on birth control coverage that President Obama offered on Friday and said they would continue to fight the president’s plan to find a way for employees of Catholic hospitals, universities and service agencies to receive free contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans, without direct involvement or financing from the institutions."

Washington Post: "Mitt Romney won the support of those attending Republican presidential caucuses in Maine Saturday.... Romney’s superior organization and dominating advantage with endorsements of top state Republicans had given him a significant edge in the low-turnout and nonbinding affair. But Texas Rep. Ron Paul had aggressively worked the state’s grass roots in hopes of snagging his first win of the presidential primary season in Maine. Romney won 39 percent of the votes...; Paul took 36 percent of the vote, while ... Rick Santorum captured 18 percent.... Newt Gingrich won 6 percent." New York Times: "... fewer than 6,000 votes were cast — about 2 percent of registered Republicans." CW: What enthusiasm gap? ...

... New York Times: "Mitt Romney won the annual straw poll of conservative activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, conference officials announced on Saturday in Washington. Mr. Romney received 38 percent of the 3,408 votes cast, compared to 31 percent for Rick Santorum, 15 percent for Newt Gingrich and 12 percent for Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who did not attend the meeting this year."

Washington Post: "The daylight assassination of a top general in a residential neighborhood of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Saturday underscored the growing militarization of the uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, and also perhaps its increasing militancy.... Brig. Gen. Issa al-Kholi was fatally shot by three gunmen waiting outside his home in the Rukn Eddin neighborhood...." New York Times story here.

New York Times: "British authorities arrested eight people on Saturday, including five employees of Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun tabloid, as part of an investigation into bribery of public officials by journalists, Scotland Yard and the parent company of the newspaper said. In addition to the Sun employees, those arrested included a serving police officer, a government official and a member of the British armed forces." ...

... Guardian: "The Sun has been plunged into crisis following the arrest of five of its most senior journalists, including the deputy editor, over allegations of inappropriate payments to police and public officials."

Reuters: "Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ... is under investigation by federal authorities, a source with direct knowledge of the probe said. The source told Reuters on Friday that several people linked to Nagin or the New Orleans city administration during his two terms as mayor ending in 2010 were cooperating with the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI."

Global Post: "Bradley Manning, the US army officer accused of linking information to WikiLeaks, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the group The Movement of the Icelandic Parliament."

AP: "A 49-year-old brigadier general died Friday in Afghanistan of apparent natural causes, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. soldier to die there, the military said Saturday. Fort Hood announced Brig. Gen. Terence Hildner's death in a statement posted on its website."

Reuters: "Syrian forces unleashed new tank and rocket bombardments on opposition neighborhoods of Homs on Saturday while diplomats sought U.N. backing for an Arab plan to end 11 months of bloodshed in Syria."

AP: "Thousands of cheering supporters swarmed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Saturday as the democracy icon took her historic campaign for a parliament seat to the southern constituency she hopes to represent for the first time."


The Commentariat -- February 10, 2012

My column in the New York Times eXaminer: "This year is the 20th anniversary of what was called the 'Year of the Woman' in the U.S. So far the anniversary year is not going well." The NYTX front page is here, and highlights quite a few excellent articles today. You can contribute here.

Robert Redford: "Joe Nocera's op-ed in the New York Times ... deserves a response and a reiteration of the facts surrounding the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. President Obama rejected the pipeline's permit last month when the GOP, in a political stunt, forced his hand to approve it without even the final route evident.... The Keystone XL pipeline doesn't deliver on jobs or national security, it jeopardizes public health and safety and the president was right to reject it. And tar sands are not just 'a little dirtier' than traditional crude as Nocera notes."

Paul Krugman openly smacks down Charles Murray & implicitly raps Our Miss Brooks: "So we have become a society in which less-educated men have great difficulty finding jobs with decent wages and good benefits. Yet somehow we’re supposed to be surprised that such men have become less likely to participate in the work force or get married, and conclude that there must have been some mysterious moral collapse caused by snooty liberals." And, I might add, Krugman is completely consistent here with the crux of my column in yesterday's NYTX on Kristof's turn with Murray's excuse for income inequality. ...

Krugman, in a blogpost: "one thing oddly missing in Murray is any discussion of that traditional indicator of social breakdown, teenage pregnancy. You can see why — because it has actually been falling like a stone." And crime is way down, too. "Maybe traditional social values are eroding in the white working class — but maybe those traditional social values aren’t as essential to a good society as conservatives like to imagine." ...

... Same blogger, same subject: "So we’ve created a society in which many young people see no chance of ever achieving middle-class status; then we look at their failure to adhere to middle-class values, and declare that there must be some mysterious force corroding our morality." ...

... Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times: "Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects.... The income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race. Now ... researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period."

President Obama, yesterday, on the foreclosure settlement agreement:

... Sarah Kliff, et al., of the Washington Post have a roundup of expert opinions on the foreclosure settlement agreement. Here's one:

Today’s settlement shows a significant commitment to helping struggling homeowners stay in their homes. But it needs to be the beginning, not the end, of efforts to hold the big banks accountable with meaningful penalties that demonstrate the rules and the law apply to everyone, no matter who your friends are or how many lobbyists and lawyers you can hire. -- Elizabeth Warren ...

... Massimo Calabresi of Time: "... overall, it’s a clear win for Obama and Democrats, a qualified win for the banks, and a minor, belated victory for homeowners.... The agreement releases the banks from claims tied to past servicing foreclosure, robo-signing claims and, most significantly, originating claims. The AGs argue that the originating claims — that is, claims against the banks for making massively irresponsible housing loans to begin with — are all out of date anyway."

... Prashant Gopal & John Gittelsohn of Bloomberg: "The $25 billion settlement with banks over foreclosure abuses may result in a wave of home seizures, inflicting short-term pain on delinquent U.S. borrowers while making a long-term housing recovery more likely."

John Harkinson of Mother Jones reproduces "mind-blowing charts from the Senate's income inequality hearing. 

Apple -- Worse Than You Knew. Arun Gupta of AlterNet: "... legions of vocational and university students, some as young as 16, are forced to take months’-long 'internships' in Foxconn’s mainland China factories assembling Apple products. The details of the internship program paint a far more disturbing picture than the Times does [in stories we linked last month] of how Foxconn, 'the Chinese hell factory,' treats its workers, relying on public humiliation, military discipline, forced labor and physical abuse as management tools to hold down costs and extract maximum profits for Apple.... Foxconn and Apple depend on tax breaks, repression of labor, subsidies and Chinese government aid ... to fatten their corporate treasuries." ...

... CW: The FBI report on Steve Jobs is here. It's 191 pages. I won't be reading it.

NEW: Greg Sargent, in response to the Obama administration's "accommodation" of objections to contraceptive coverage: "... it seems all but certain that the Conference of Bishops, which had previously insisted that the rule be scrapped altogether, will not be mollified in the slightest, and Republican officials and the 2012 GOP candidates will still continue attacking the Obama administration over this, pushing not only the 'war on religion' line but also the subtext, i.e., that Obama is forever looking to expand the reach of government. But the Obama team is betting that any further objections to this policy will unmask opponents primarily as hidebound foes of birth control at any costs, a politically difficult position to sustain, rather than as defenders of religious liberty." ...

... NEW. In a press release today, Catholics United called on Catholic bishops & women's health advocates to recognize that the Obama administration's solution values the religious liberty of Roman Catholic institutions while maintaining access to health care for all employees.

Ladies, the man in the miter is mightily irritated because you are having safe sex. His name is Timothy Dolan. Big Tim is the Archbishop of New York & president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. New York Time photo.Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times: "When after much internal debate the Obama administration finally announced its decision to require religiously affiliated hospitals and universities to cover birth control in their insurance plans, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops were fully prepared for battle." CW: this whole brouhaha has something to do with the child sex abuse scandal. I'm not sure quite how it works in the minds of these guys -- whether it's payback for various government prosecutors meddling with the bishops' "handling" of abusive priests or a PR initiative to show that the bishops' views on sex are totally upstanding -- but priests having sex with children and women having sex with men are intertwined in some way. What do you think? ...

... NEW. Jake Tapper of ABC News on the fierce White House internal debate on the rule. ...

... Jennifer Epstein of Politico: Vice President Biden, who is a Roman Catholic, "said Thursday that he thinks a solution can be found to the deepening controversy over birth-control coverage." ...

... Amy Sullivan, now of The Atlantic: "The question for Sister Keehan and Father Jenkins, for Senator Casey and Sister Campbell, is not whether lay Catholics disagree with the Church's teaching on birth control (a majority do) or whether nearly all Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lives (they do). It is not even whether some Catholic institutions already pay for employee health plans that include coverage for contraception (some do). The question is whether the federal government should be able to require a religious institution to use its own funds to pay for something it finds morally objectionable." CW: But, see Jonathan Cohn below. Whose funds are they? ...

... Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic: "... a key issue is the nature of health insurance -- in particular, whether it belongs to the employer or the employee.... The checks to your insurance plan may have the name of a religious institution on them. But, as a matter of economics and of principle, the money is (or should be) yours. The only reason employers are in the middle of health insurance is that companies started offering coverage in the 1930s and, somewhat inadvertently, became the primary source of coverage for working Americans.... The whole point of health care reform is to establish a minimum level of health insurance for every American. Basically, we’re turning health insurance into a right rather than a privilege."

Why Jonathan Chait of New York magazine is so mean: "There are just a lot of people out there exerting significant influence over the political debate who are totally unqualified. The dilemma is especially acute in the political economic field, where wealthy right-wingers have pumped so much money to subsidize the field of pro-rich people polemics that the demand for competent defenders of letting rich people keep as much of their money as possible vastly outstrips the supply. Hence the intellectual marketplace for arguments that we should tax rich people less is glutted with hackery." CW: think of me as a distaff Chait.

Right Wing World

NEW. Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times: the more the public sees of the GOP presidential candidates, the less they like 'em.

Sahil Kapur of TPM: "In his 2006 Massachusetts health care law, Mitt Romney embraced a virtually identical contraception coverage mandate as President Obama recently has, experts say, and as a result expanded access to birth control for hundreds of thousands of women. And Democrats really want you to know that. 'They are practically mirror images or each other,' John McDonough, a professor of public health at Harvard, said on a conference call organized by the Democratic National Committee.... Romney has embraced the shocked, shocked tone of leading Republicans on this issue in recent days, and Democrats have acted swiftly to flag up inconsistencies in his position." ...

Rick Santorum: ObamaCare is the first step in the left's plan to guillotine Americans. CW: Yup, the guillotine was my first thought.

     ... It's just not working out, Rick. We've decided to go another way. ...

... With Santorum, the hits just keep on coming:

Quote of the Hour -- Proposition PMS. I do have concerns about women in frontline combat. I think that can be a very compromising situation where — where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interests of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved. -- Rick Santorum ...

... Really, he said that:

Local News

Pat Garofalo of Think Progress: "... Under the terms of the [foreclosure] settlement [see above], Wisconsin is set to receive $140 million, $31.6 million of which comes directly to the state government. And [union-bustin' man of the people Gov Scott] Walker is planning to use $25.6 million of that money to help balance his state’s budget." The underlying story, by Jason Stein & Paul Gores of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is here. CW: that jerk never quits. The big question is, will he be indicted before he's recalled? I'll run this again in tomorrow's Commentariat. Thanks to reader AJT for the heads-up.

News Ledes

President Obama and Vice President Biden talk with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords & her husband Mark Kelly after the President signed H.R. 3801, the Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act of 2012, in the Oval Office today. This bill is the last piece of legislation that Giffords sponsored & voted on in the U.S. House of Representatives. White House photo.AP: Former Rep. "Gabrielle Giffords ... returned to Washington Friday for double honors. The Navy named a ship after her and she saw President Barack Obama sign the last piece of legislation she authored into law. In a ceremony at the Pentagon, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus unveiled an artist's rendering of the USS Gabrielle Giffords, a littoral combat ship. The craft is among the Navy's most versatile and can operate in shallower coastal waters than larger ships." ...

... New York Times: "Ron Barber, a top aide to retired Representative Gabrielle Giffords ... announced on Thursday that he would seek Ms. Giffords’s vacated Arizona House seat in a special election June 12." Giffords & her husband Mark Kelly have endorsed Barber, who also was injured in the shooting that nearly killed Giffords.

AP: "Seeking to allay the concerns of Catholic leaders, the White House is planning to announce an adjustment to its health care rule requiring religious employers to provide women access to contraception, a senior administration official said." ...

     ... ABC News: "The move, based on state models, will almost certainly not satisfy bishops and other religious leaders since it will preserve the goal of women employees having their birth control fully covered by health insurance." ...

     ... AP Update: "Senior administration officials tell The Associated Press that President Barack Obama on Friday will announce that religious employers will not have to cover birth control for their employees after all. He will demand instead that insurance companies will be the ones ultimately responsible for providing free contraception." ...

     ... Update: President Obama will speak to the press @ 12:15 pm ET. Live on Reality Chex. No link. ...

     ... Update @ 12:24 pm ET: President Obama just made what I thought was a masterful statement about what had better be the resolution of this brouhaha. Here's the Yahoo! News story. ...

     ... New York Times Update: "The administration’s move won an important endorsement from Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States.... Mr. Obama called her Friday morning — along with Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood — to inform her of the compromise." ...

     ... Update: Absolution Deferred. "The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sees initial opportunities in preserving the principle of religious freedom after President Obama’s announcement today. But the Conference continues to express concerns. 'While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them,' said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of USCCB."

Washington Post: "The Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee over possible violations of insider-trading laws, according to individuals familiar with the case. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who holds one of the most influential positions in the House, has been a frequent trader on Capitol Hill, buying stock options while overseeing the nation’s banking and financial services industries."

Los Angeles Times: "A consortium of utilities in the South won government approval Thursday to construct two new atomic energy reactors [in Georgia] at an estimated cost of $14 billion, the strongest signal yet that the three-decade hiatus of nuclear plant construction is finally ending."

New York Times: "Explosions in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo struck two targets associated with the military and police early on Friday, Syrian state television reported, as the central city of Homs was reported under siege with sporadic tank fire ripping into contested neighborhoods, pinning down residents in their homes.... State television quoted the Health Ministry as saying 25 people were killed and 175 injured in Aleppo in what seemed to be two car bombings."

AP: "Greek riot police have fired tear gas to disperse rioters throwing petrol bombs and stones, as thousands protest in Athens against new austerity measures. No injuries or arrests have been reported. Police said the clashes came as some 7,000 people marched peacefully Friday on the first day of a 48-hour general strike by the country's two main labor unions."

ABC News: "Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky will be back in court Friday morning, hoping to convince a judge to change the conditions of his house arrest so that he can see his grandchildren."


The Commentariat -- February 9, 2012

My column in the New York Times eXaminer is on Nicholas Kristof's riff on Charles Murray's book Coming Apart, etc. The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute to NYTX here.

Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post: The White House thinks the contraception battle is a political winner. Here's why:

... NEW. BUT Jessica Yellin & Brian Keilar of CNN: "... the White House is working on a way to thread the needle on a new health care policy which will require all employers-including religious institutions to cover contraception in their health insurance plans.... The administration is especially interested in the Hawaii model, in which female employees of religious institutions can purchase contraceptive coverage directly from the insurer at the same price offered to employees of all other employers." ...

... Gail Collins: "Okay.... The church is not a democracy and majority opinion really doesn’t matter. Catholic dogma holds that artificial contraception is against the law of God. The bishops have the right — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment — to preach that doctrine to the faithful. They have a right to preach it to everybody.... The problem here is that they’re trying to get the government to do their work for them. They’ve lost the war at home, and they’re now demanding help from the outside.... What happens if an employer belongs to a religion that forbids certain types of blood transfusions? Or disapproves of any medical intervention to interfere with the working of God on the human body?" ...

... "Whose Conscience?" Linda Greenhouse: The aggressive objections to requiring church-affiliated, quasi-public institutions to provide equal healthcare insurance for its female workers, "it’s important to be clear that the conscientious objection to the regulation comes from an institution rather than from those whose consciences it purports to represent."

Democracy in America at the Economist: "... nothing has made me as optimistic recently about the prospects for a broadly international, pro-human-rights, anti-authoritarian foreign policy that brings together America, the democratic world, and many of the emerging-market/non-aligned countries as what's happening right now around the Syria question. The complete isolation of Russia and China in the Security Council vote on sanctions last week is a watershed moment."

I know this goes in Infotainment, but the bigger the better:

Hayley Tsukayama of the Washington Post: "Steve Jobs, being considered in 1991 for an appointment under President George H.W. Bush, underwent a thorough background investigation by the FBI, according to newly released files from the agency. The FBI amassed a lengthy and often unflattering file on Apple’s co-founder, with more than 30 interviews of friends, neighbors, family, former business associates and Jobs, that revealed his early drug use and concerns that the then-head of NeXT was neglecting his daughter born out of wedlock with his high school girlfriend." Ned Potter of ABC News has a story here.

Right Wing World

Jonathan Martin & Manu Raju of Politico: "A day after Romney was convincingly defeated by Rick Santorum in non-binding contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri, high-profile Republicans voiced long-simmering worries that the would-be standard-bearer lacks a compelling message for conservatives — and must be bolder to capture the party’s nomination.... The admonition came from outspoken conservatives and members of Congress who typically stay out of party spats" like Jon Kyl & Jim DeMint.

Rick Santorum goes ballistic on Prop 8 decision. Santorum's take: The government should be more tolerant of bigots. I like the setting, too -- right in front of an altar. The stained glass windows add a nice touch. Thanks to Dave S. for the link:

Jake Sherman of Politico: "Three initiatives with wide, bipartisan support — banning insider trading on Capitol Hill, a massive tax cut for the middle class and rebuilding the nation’s roads — are staggering like a beaten boxer in the final round, with their ultimate fate uncertain. It raises an inevitable question on Capitol Hill: Can this Congress get anything done?"

If they can't run their own elections, no wonder they can't run the country (sorry, forgot to run this yesterday):

Drill, Baby, Drill. Travis Waldron of Think Progress: Economist Rick Santorum tells a Colorado audience that the real cause of the 2008 financial crisis and resulting recession was high oil prices. CW: luckily he has abandoned his alternate theory that the financial crisis was the result of Americans -- especially blah Americans -- having sex for the fun of it.

Greed Is Still Good. Think Progress: "House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has made several changes to the [Senate version of the STOCK Act] legislation which appear intended to at least weaken the final product, if not to kill it outright." The STOCK Act is supposed to prevent some insider trading by Members of Congress. CW: hey, what's the point of public "service" if not to enrich yourself with impunity?

Local News

What's happening in the NH legislature is a pretty good preview of what would happen if the Tea Party ran Washington. -- Michael Cohen (tweet) ...

... Republicans Do the Damndest Things. Pat Garofalo of Think Progress: a New Hampshire state representative, J. R. Hoell (RTP), has introduced a bill to repeal the law requiring employers to provide lunch breaks for employees. The rationale: aah, employers will do so anyway. Garofalo cites a bit of evidence to refute the notion that employers have goodwill toward all hungry employees.

News Ledes

New York Times: "After days of dramatic talks, Greek political leaders reached a deal on Thursday to support a package of harsh austerity measures demanded by Greece’s financial backers in return for the country’s latest bailout."

New York Times: "President Obama will waive central provisions of the No Child Left Behind federal education law for 10 states that have embraced his educational agenda and promised to raise standards, and improve accountability and teacher effectiveness, the White House announced on Thursday morning."

New York Times: "The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill on Thursday to ban insider trading by members of Congress and to impose new ethics requirements on lawmakers and federal agency officials. The 417-to-2 vote came less than three weeks after President Obama demanded such action in his State of the Union address. The Senate approved a similar bill by a vote of 96 to 3 on Feb. 2, but the lopsided votes concealed deep disagreements over the details of the legislation." Washington Post story here.

New York Times: "After months of painstaking talks, government authorities and five of the nation’s biggest banks have agreed to a $26 billion settlement that could provide relief to nearly two million current and former American homeowners harmed by the bursting of the housing bubble, state and federal officials said in Washington on Thursday." Here's a new government Website that is supposed to tell you how you might benefit from the deal.

AP: "The Pentagon is unveiling plans Thursday to allow women to serve in thousands of military jobs closer to the front lines, reflecting the realities of the last decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan."

New York Times: "Amid mounting tensions over whether Israel will carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, the United States and Israel remain at odds over a fundamental question: whether Iran’s crucial nuclear facilities are about to become impregnable."

Los Angeles Times: "A program that lets preapproved air travelers zip through faster security lines will be expanded this year to 35 of the nation's largest airports, Transportation Security Administration officials announced Wednesday. The pilot program, dubbed PreCheck, lets travelers who get TSA clearance avoid what have become the most annoying steps of post-9/11 screening: removing shoes, belt and coats."