The Ledes

Wednesday, April 23, 2014.

Guardian: "The Oklahoma supreme court has dissolved its stay of the executions of two men who challenged the state's secrecy about its source of lethal injection drugs. The court reversed the decision of a district court judge who said the law that keeps the source secret is unconstitutional. The turnaround heads off a potential constitutional crisis sparked by the state's Republican governor, Mary Fallin, who had tried to override the stay by issuing an executive order to go ahead with the sentences.... The court's reversal on Wednesday came hours after a resolution by an Oklahoma House member to try to impeach some of its justices."

New York Times: "The latest accord between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization appeared more serious than past attempts, experts said, and came as hopes faded for a resolution to peace negotiations with Israel."

New York Times: "Russia continued Wednesday to ratchet up pressure on the government in Kiev, warning that events in eastern Ukraine could prompt a military response and again accusing the United States of directing events there."

Not All Fish Are Created Equal. Time: "Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed President Barack Obama to Tokyo Wednesday by taking him to the greatest sushi restaurant in the world, the three Michelin star Sukiyabashi Jiro."

Reuters: "Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine said on Tuesday they were holding an American journalist in the city of Slaviansk and the online news site Vice News said it was trying to secure the safety of its reporter Simon Ostrovsky."

AP: "When armed men seized the police station in this eastern Ukrainian city, mayor Nelya Shtepa declared she was on their side. She changed her story a few days later. Then she disappeared — the victim of an apparent abduction by the man who now lays claim to her job. On Tuesday, she resurfaced, expressing support once again for the pro-Russia insurgents — but possibly no longer as mayor."

AP: " A senior Canadian diplomat was expelled from Canada's embassy in Moscow in retaliation for Canada expelling a Russia diplomat as tensions grow over the Ukraine, Canadian officials said Tuesday."

AP: "A Moscow judge on Tuesday left open the possibility of jailing President Vladimir Putin's main critic for years, a sign of Putin's increasingly hard-line rule against opponents. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was fined $8,400 on Tuesday for slandering a lawmaker. His second trial starts Thursday, and prosecutors who previously secured his house arrest are widely expected to ask for jail for him pending trial, with Tuesday's verdict making him a recidivist. If there's a guilty verdict at that trial, he could get a prison term."

AP: "A Kansas judge will on Wednesday consider Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning's petition to legally change her name from Bradley, as she serves a 35-year sentence for passing classified U.S. government information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks." ...

     ... Washington Post Update: "An Army soldier convicted of leaking classified military and diplomatic records persuaded a Kansas judge Wednesday to legally change her name from Bradley Manning to Chelsea Elizabeth Manning."

Time: "President Barack Obama paid a visit to the small community of Oso, Wa., on Tuesday, exactly one month after a massive mudslide there claimed at least 41 lives. He promised survivors that the entire country will be on hand to help for 'as long as it takes'”:

The Wires

The Ledes

Tuesday, April 22, 2014.

AP: "In the most high-level visit of a U.S. official since crisis erupted in Ukraine, [Vice President] Biden told leaders from various political parties that he brings a message of support from President Barack Obama as they face a historic opportunity to usher in reforms." The Guardian story is here.

CNN: "The first American man to win the Boston Marathon since 1983 crossed the finish line Monday, triumphant in a storied race that has become a national symbol of resiliency and determination. Meb Keflezighi, 38, won the men's division with an official time of 2:08:37, according to the Boston Marathon's Facebook page. With video.

AP: "Although [a] 15-year-old [airplane stowaway] apparently wanted nothing more than to run away, his success in slipping past layers of security early Sunday morning made it clear that a determined person can still get into a supposedly safe area and sneak onto a plane.... In San Jose, airport officials said they were reviewing how the boy slipped through security that includes video surveillance, German shepherds and Segway-riding police officers."

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post: "The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday took the rare step of urging doctors to stop performing a surgical procedure used on tens of thousands of women each year to remove uterine growths, saying the practice risks spreading hidden cancers within a woman’s body. The procedure, known as power morcellation, has long been used in laparoscopic operations to remove fibroid tumors from the uterus, or to remove the uterus itself. It involves inserting an electric device into the abdomen and slicing tissue in order to remove it through a small incision. The surgery is far less invasive than traditional abdominal operations."

White House Live Video
April 23

The White House has no scheduled live feeds for today.

Jon Stewart on the Cliven Bundy story:

... AND on Sean Hannity's support for Bundy:

... AND Hannity is pissed off. Apparently, it upsets him to hear his own blatant hypocrisy ridiculed.

New York Times: "David Letterman introduced his successor, Stephen Colbert, on his 'Late Show With David Letterman' Tuesday night on CBS with a monologue joke and some cordial conversation — but no measuring of the drapes":

HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa. Paul Fahri of the Washington Post: The ratings for "Meet the Press" are so bad that NBC hired a psychologist to analyze Greggers. ...

     ... CW: Here's the rub. Fahri writes, "The impossible burden for Gregory, of course, has been to follow the beloved Russert. As one NBC colleague describes it, Russert is a 'ghost' who still haunts Gregory’s tenure at 'MTP' six years into his run." This is strictly VSP bull. Russert was a mediocre interviewer, who continually let politicians get away with evasive answers. He left big shoes to fill only because he had big feet.

MoDo loves her '65 Mustang.

USA Today: "Chelsea Clinton announced Thursday that she's pregnant with her first child."

New York Times: "It is a bit bigger and somewhat colder, but a planet circling a star 500 light-years away is otherwise the closest match of our home world discovered so far, astronomers announced on Thursday. The planet, known as Kepler 186f, named after NASA’s Kepler planet-finding mission, which detected it, has a diameter of 8,700 miles, 10 percent wider than Earth, and its orbit lies within the 'Goldilocks zone' of its star, Kepler 186 — not too hot, not too cold, where temperatures could allow for liquid water to flow at the surface, making it potentially hospitable for life."

Jason Zinoman of the New York Times argues that the real king of late-night comedy is Jon Stewart.

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."

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Saturday
Feb182012

The Commentariat -- February 19, 2012

In 2009, a Russian satellite hit an Iridium communications satellite. Here, Iridium satellite orbits and collision debris clouds. Photo by D. S. Kelso, via the New York Times.Kenneth Chang in a New York Times op-ed: the U.S. should clean up its space debris.

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer takes a look at Tom Friedman's latest "great idea." The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute here.

** Please read today's comments. Mae Finch has a doozy.

Michael Cooper of the New York Times: "The nation has lost 668,000 state and local government jobs since the recession hit — more than in any modern downturn.... On the national level, the steady loss of public sector jobs has reduced the effects of recent job gains in the private sector and has slowed economic growth. But in cities and states around the country, the loss of those jobs has made it harder to provide services and has upended the lives of thousands of workers who had thought their government jobs were safe." ...

... Paul Krugman wrote a related woulda, coulda shoulda post last week. ...

... Jonathan Tasini of Playboy interviews Krugman. ...

... Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post has an interesting piece on Modern Monetary Theory, centered on the views of Jamie Galbraith.

CW: yesterday I linked to a rebuttal to a major New York Times story which claimed "Politicians have expanded the safety net without a commensurate increase in revenues, a primary reason for the government’s annual deficits and mushrooming debt." It doesn't hurt to reinforce that rebuttal (and Democrats seriously need to get the word out to the teeming masses longing to be free of "entitlements"): James Kwak of Baseline Scenario writes,

The idea that politicians have expanded the safety net is just not true, with the exception of the Medicare prescription drug benefit and an expansion in Medicaid that hasn’t taken effect yet. Spending on social programs has increased for a few obvious reasons: the baby boomers have started taking Social Security benefits, increasing that program’s expenditures; the recession boosted unemployment benefits, disability claims, and eligibility for poverty programs; and most importantly, health care has gotten much more expensive.

Joanne Kenan of Politico on contraception as a 2012 political issue. How did this happen? "Rick Santorum said states ought to have the right to outlaw the sale of contraception. And Susan G. Komen for the Cure yanked its funding for Planned Parenthood. And the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops teed off on President Barack Obama’s contraception policy. And House Republicans invited a panel of five men — and no women — to debate the issue. And a prominent Santorum supporter pined for the days when 'the gals' put aspirin 'between their knees' to ward off pregnancy."

"Voting Rights Act under Siege." Josh Gerstein of Politico: "In a political system where even the most trivial issues trigger partisan rancor, the Voting Rights Act has stood for several decades as a rare point of bipartisan consensus. Until now. An intensifying conservative legal assault on the Voting Rights Act could precipitate what many civil rights advocates regard as the nuclear option: a court ruling striking down one of the core elements of the landmark 1965 law guaranteeing African Americans and other minorities access to the ballot box. At the same time, the view that states should have free rein to change their election laws even in places with a history of Jim Crow seems to be gaining traction within the Republican Party."

Geov Parrish of the Booman Tribune: back in 2004, Judy Miller of the New York Times carried water for the Bush administration & wrote up its phony claims about Iraqi aggression; today's media, including the Times, seems even more interested in pursuing war with Iran than is the Obama administration.

Right Wing World

Richard Oppel of the New York Times on Wingnut Patrol: "... Rick Santorum< on Saturday criticized the public education system and questioned whether President Obama’s agenda sprang from a 'phony theology.' At one appearance here [in Ohio], he said the idea of schools run by the federal government or by state governments was 'anachronistic.' ... It was the latest in a series of comments ... suggesting that he takes a dim view of public schooling.... At another stop in Ohio on Saturday, Mr. Santorum waded into what he called the 'phony theology' of Mr. Obama’s agenda. 'It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology,' he said. 'But no less a theology.' ... Mr. Santorum has passed up ... opportunities to correct misstatements about the president’s background. Last month, a woman at one of Mr. Santorum’s campaign stops in Florida declared ... that Mr. Obama was Muslim.... Mr. Santorum did not correct the woman’s statement, and he later said it is not his job to correct such statements.” ...

    ... Update: Jake Tapper of ABC News: "Obama campaign strategist and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum this morning, saying he was 'well over the line' for questioning President Obama’s Christian faith. 'It’s wrong, it’s destructive and it makes it virtually impossible to solve the problems we face together as Americans,' Gibbs told me in an exclusive interview Sunday on 'This Week.' 'It’s just time to get rid of this mindset in our politics that if we disagree we have to question character and faith.'”

Dan Nowicki of the Arizona Republic: "Embattled Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who is facing explosive allegations that he and his attorney tried to intimidate a former lover by threatening to have him deported, on Saturday quit his position as an Arizona co-chairman of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign." ...

... Monica Alonzo of the Phoenix News Times has the backstory: "Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu — who became the face of Arizona border security nationally after he started stridently opposing illegal immigration — threatened his Mexican ex-lover with deportation when the man refused to promise never to disclose their years-long relationship, the former boyfriend and his lawyer tell New Times."

News Ledes

Reuters: "Riot police shielded Greece's national parliament Sunday as demonstrators gathered to protest against austerity measures on the eve of talks in Brussels on a 130-billion-euro ($171 billion) bailout needed to avert bankruptcy."

Guardian: "Iran announced on Sunday that it had stopped selling crude oil to British and French companies, in a move that may put further pressure on the price of oil amid heightening political tensions."

Reuters: "Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in cities across Russia in support of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Saturday in a show of force two weeks before a March 4 presidential election that is expected to return him to the Kremlin."

Friday
Feb172012

The Commentariat -- February 18, 2012

CW: I submitted my New York Times eXaminer column late, so I'm not sure when it will be published. In the meantime, if you read Joe Nocera's column today, take it with a mountain of salt. I'll be getting back to you on that, sooner or later. ...

     ... Update: here's my NYTX column. It's titled "Fire Joe Nocera." The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute to NYTX here. ...

... Laurence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute explains to New York Times reporter/analysts why we are not "becoming an entitlement society."

President Obama's Weekly Address:

     ... The transcript is here.

Jason DeParle & Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times: "After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage."

"Did the Stimulus Work?" Michael Linden of the Center for American Progress:

** Thomas Frank in a TruthOut interview: "... what is really spectacular is how [the 2008 financial meltdown] ... got processed through the right's upside-down machine and came out as the story of how power-hungry leftists tried to 'transform America' by force during a crisis: Rather than Hank Paulson and Co. bailing out their friends, it was Big Government trying to get its fingers around the throat of free enterprise.... Barack Obama had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take the financial oligarchy apart ... because that was what democracy requires -- and despite the right's perception of him as Robespierre reincarnated, he didn't do it."

"A Better Way to Buy Politicians." Lindsay Mark Lewis, a former DNC finance director, urges repeal of what's left of McCain-Feingold, which would put mega-donors' money under the control of the politicians they back & make politicians responsible for the ads they run. CW: maybe, but hardly a substantial improvement. ...

... CW: Besides, Andy Rosenthal inadvertently points out an advantage to keeping SuperPACS independent of candidates: "... under the law, broadcast stations cannot censor, edit or refuse ads by candidates for federal office.... But ... independent groups are not guaranteed the same access to airwaves as candidates for federal office. TV stations have every right to reject third-party ads." Rosenthal doesn't see TV stations turning down ad revenues, but he says they should "insist on edits for the sake of accuracy." ...

... Here's Annenberg's FlackCheck.org  One thing you can do is click on "Stations" (upper left) to e-mail your local stations & urge them to stop running deceptive ads.

Michelle Dammon Loyalka, a journalist living in Beijing, in a New York Times op-ed: "... while China’s industrial subsidies, trade policies, undervalued currency and lack of enforcement for intellectual property rights all remain sticking points for the United States, there is at least one area in which the playing field seems to be slowly leveling: the cheap labor that has made China’s factories nearly unbeatable is not so cheap anymore." ...

... Reuters: "Foxconn Technology Group, the top maker of Apple Inc's iPhones and iPads whose factories are under scrutiny over labour practices, has raised wages of its Chinese workers by 16-25 percent from this month, the third rise since 2010."

Via the Wall Street Journal.Prof. Jeffrey Sachs in the Huffington Post: "One of the unshakable myths of the punditariat is that the federal government is going bankrupt because of entitlements spending, especially spending on Medicare and Medicaid.... The most frequently quoted forecast is that of the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO's long-term forecast assumes that health care costs will continue to rise steeply during the next 70 years, though at a diminishing rate.... [But] healthcare costs are already vastly over-priced now compared with what other countries pay for the same services.... New information technologies ... lower the costs of health-care delivery and administration.... Let's therefore fight the right-wing hysteria demanding immediate and harsh cuts in Medicaid and other health outlays." Thanks to Victoria D. for the link. Since the post is in the HuffPo, I never would have found it. ...

... OMG! Even J. D. Kleinke of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute agrees: "... the growth rate of national health expenditures ... has been moderating since 2002." Of course he thinks the way forward is in the "free market" where everybody gets to shop for their own policies. He would. Because, you know, individual insurance consumers have so much power.

VatiLeaks! Boys in Beanies Behaving Badly. Elisabetta Povoledo of the New York Times: "... the Vatican has become embroiled in an embarrassing scandal in which a number of leaked documents have drawn back the curtains on the church’s inner workings. The internal church squabbling, predictably dubbed 'VatiLeaks' by the Italian news media, became public about three weeks ago with the disclosure on television and in newspapers of confidential letters written by a top Vatican official who had denounced alleged corruption and financial mismanagement in Vatican City."

Kathleen Hennessey & Christi Parsons of the Los Angeles Times: President Obama raised $6,000 a minute on his Western trip -- and criticism from Republicans & those inconvenienced by traffic congestion he caused.

Right Wing World

Viva America! Quote of the Day: This sounds like some third-world county governed by colonels in mirrored sunglasses in which he dictates, 'I, the supreme leader, dictate that something will be provided free when we know the cost of that will have to be borne by everybody else in society that's not getting the free good.' -- Karl Rove, on contraceptive coverage (pssst! somebody tell Bush's Brain that contraception saves both public & private money; in fact, insurance policies that don't cover contraception cost more than those that do)

Once again, Steve Benen lists Mitt Romney's five top lies of the week. It is astounding that it is possible, week after week, to find five or ten lies that a major candidate has made during any given week.

Protestants Are Not Christians. We all know that this country was founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic but the Judeo-Christian ethic was a Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic; sure, the Catholics had some influence, but this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism, and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it. -- Rick Santorum, in a 2008 speech at conservative Catholic Ave Maria University. More here -- this is really remarkable stuff ...

... Charles Blow: in Detroit, the city with the highest poverty rate in the U.S., "Rick Santorum praises income inequality." Blow writes a pretty good takedown of Santorum.

Gail Collins writes about Republicans -- including Santorum -- running afoul of residency requirements. "Rick Santorum’s political career was built on an upset victory against a Democratic House member who, Santorum claimed, had ... moved his family to the Washington suburbs. When Santorum moved his own family to the Washington suburbs, he claimed that promises he made when he was in the House didn’t count for the Senate."

Laura Strickler of CBS News: "Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson plans to give another $10 million to the outside group backing [Newt Gingrich]...."

Katharine Seelye of the New York Times: so they're not through voting in the Maine caucuses. Washington County is caucusing today, & since Romney beat Ron Paul by less than 200 votes last week, his victory could be overturned. "The party’s decision about how to count the vote has touched off a political storm and raised questions about the whole caucus system. Caucuses in other states have been plagued with problems this year, and doubts have been raised about their fairness and the ability of state parties to manage them." CW: Kinda turns the tables on Will Rogers' famous remark, "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." ...

... Tim Mak of Politico: "Maine Republican Party chairman Charlie Webster has admitted that the state party made numerous clerical errors in counting the state’s caucus results — even omitting some votes because emails reporting tallies 'went to spam' in an email account. However, Webster insisted that the errors did not change the outcome."

Local News

AP: "A judge on Friday denied Gov. Scott Walker's request for a two-week extension to review recall petition signatures, saying the election is likely to proceed. Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess' ruling was a victory for recall organizers who had said there was no good reason for another extension and that Walker's request was an attempt to delay the inevitable." Thanks to Kate M. for the link.

News Ledes

New York Times: "Egypt will begin criminal proceedings on Friday against 19 Americans and two dozen others in a politically charged investigation into the foreign financing of nonprofit groups that has plunged relations between the United States and Egypt to their lowest point in three decades, state news media reported Saturday."

New York Times: "... speaker after speaker at the funeral of Whitney Houston on Saturday afternoon kept coming back to her strong attachment to New Hope Baptist Church [of Newark, New Jersey], where her prodigious talents were first recognized and where the funeral was held."

Washington Post: "Two Supreme Court justices suggested Friday that the court reconsider its controversial 2010 decision that allowed unlimited corporate and union spending in elections. The suggestion came as the court blocked a Montana Supreme Court decision upholding a century-old ban on corporate campaign spending in the state.... In Friday’s order, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer said the upheaval in the world of campaign finance since the Citizens United decision does not bear out the majority opinion."

New York Times: "The full details of recent experiments that made a deadly flu virus more contagious will be published, probably within a few months, despite recommendations by the United States that some information be kept secret for fear that terrorists could use it to start epidemics."

Reuters: "An Egyptian court will start the trial on February 26 of activists from mostly American civil society groups accused of working illegally in Egypt, in a case which has strained U.S.-Egyptian ties. A judicial source told Reuters that the 43 accused, including around 20 Americans, would go on trial next Sunday, charged with working in the country without proper legal registration."

Reuters: "Syrian security forces fired live ammunition to break up a protest against President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus Saturday, killing at least one person, opposition activists said." ...

     ... New York Times Update: "Hundreds and hundreds of antigovernment protesters braved scattered gunfire from Syrian soldiers to march through a middle-class neighborhood in Damascus on Saturday, the biggest demonstration witnessed close to the heart of the capital since the country’s uprising started 11 months ago."

New York Times: "Pope Benedict XVI created 22 new cardinals on Saturday, including Timothy M. Dolan of New York, in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica rich in pageantry and resonant with ancient tradition."

New York Times: A new federal law, signed by the president on Tuesday, compels the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drones to be used for all sorts of commercial endeavors — from selling real estate and dusting crops, to monitoring oil spills and wildlife, even shooting Hollywood films. Local police and emergency services will also be freer to send up their own drones."

Washington Post: "A half-dozen members of the House Ethics Committee have recused themselves from the troubled investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and been replaced by a new team, a sign that the stalled probe is set to restart.... Kenneth Gross, an ethics attorney..., said the mass recusal appeared to be 'unprecedented' in a congressional investigation."

Reuters: "China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping on Friday swiped away fears that his country's economic growth could stumble, and turned to courting American companies, film-makers and governors hungry for a slice of that growth on the final day of his U.S. visit." ...

... Los Angeles Times: "Before catching a late-night flight to Europe, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping made one last stop in Los Angeles: Staples Center [to watch the fourth quarter of the Lakers game].... The Chinese delegation has been greeted with protests by Tibetans and other groups at virtually every stop of their five-day tour of the United States. The Lakers game was no different."

Houston Chronicle: "About 40 investors who lost savings in accounts with accused swindler R. Allen Stanford packed the courtroom where he's on trial Friday, noting the third anniversary of the government lawsuit that shut down his operations. To date, investors have recovered nothing."

Reuters: "Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is to be questioned next week by police investigating an alleged prostitution ring in Lille, northern France, a police source said."

Los Angeles Times: "Whitney Houston's funeral is invitation-only and attendance will be limited to family and friends, but Saturday's services are set to be seen around the world: They will stream online and be shown on a number of TV networks. Houston's funeral is slated to begin at 9 a.m. Pacific [12 noon ET] at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J. -- the late pop titan's childhood church."

Thursday
Feb162012

The Commentariat -- February 17, 2012

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer will not be a favorite with sports fans. But maybe you sports fans who don't care for David Brooks will enjoy it anyway. The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute here. ...

The NYT eXaminer represents an essential dimension of any hope for the renewal of democracy in this country. -- Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur

"Government Moochers Against Welfare." Paul Krugman: "... pundits who describe America as a fundamentally conservative country are wrong. Yes, voters sent some severe conservatives to Washington. But those voters would be both shocked and angry if such politicians actually imposed their small-government agenda." CW: Krugman highlights an issue contributor Trish Ramey reminded us of in the February 15 Commentariat -- that people who get Social Security & Medicare have no idea they are recipients of "government handouts." Democrats would get a lot more votes if they educated these yahoos.

Zachary Goldfarb of the Washington Post: "On Friday, President Obama is slated to tour a Boeing factory in Everett, Wash. ... and press his plan for building a stronger economy. Key elements include tax breaks to spur domestic manufacturing and a drive to increase exports — in part by helping foreign companies buy American products. But, experts say, Obama’s activist approach to the economy could put him in the position of picking winners and losers." Goldfarb cites as a prime example the U.S.'s making "cheap loans backed by American taxpayers" to Air India to purchase Boeing 777s. The planes allowed Air India to launch nonstop service between New York City & Mumbai, a move that forced out the only other nonstop carrier on the route: U.S.-owned Delta Airlines.

The only problem was that the competition on that route was Delta, which says it was forced to abandon the nonstop daily service it had pioneered two years earlier.

They're Still Doing It. And You're Still Paying for It. Bob Ivry, et al., of Bloomberg News: "Four years after rotten mortgages helped trigger a global financial crisis, Sherry Hunt said her Citigroup Inc. quality-control team was still finding flaws in new loans that included altered tax forms, straw buyers and borrowers who listed fictitious employers. Instead of reporting the defects to the Federal Housing Administration, the bank saddled the agency with losses by falsely declaring the loans fit for its federal insurance program, according to a complaint filed yesterday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Citigroup agreed to pay $158.3 million to settle the claims, and admitted that it certified loans for FHA backing that didn’t qualify. Hunt, who filed a sealed lawsuit against ... Citigroup in August that the government joined, will collect $31 million of that sum -- before taxes and attorney’s fees -- as a whistle-blower...."

Quit Looking for the "Real Romney." Brendan Nyhan in the Columbia Journalism Review: "... the idea that reporters or commentators can discover a candidate’s 'true' self is deeply flawed. This approach falsely privileges hidden or private information as especially revealing of a person’s true nature or motivations. More fundamentally..., people do not have one true self but instead behave differently in different social contexts — a human tendency that is likely to be especially strong in any successful politician.... When a candidate acquires a reputation for inauthenticity, journalists often engage in a pathological search for further evidence of his of her phoniness." ...

... Paul Waldman of the American Prospect: "... what they often value more than anything else is not authenticity itself, but the most convincing portrayal of the authentic (see Bush, George W.). All this isn't to say Mitt isn't a phony. But we should be careful about what we take as proof that he is, and how much importance we place on that judgment."

Tim Geithner's silly little smirk.CW: I finally found something about Tim Geithner to like. Damien Paletta of the Wall Street Journal: "Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner seemed to enjoy the back-and-forth with Republicans more than he has in recent hearings.... 'You can smile and laugh about it all you want,' Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) bristled at Mr. Geithner during a House Budget Committee hearing. Mr. Chaffetz then intoned he was getting sick of the Treasury secretary’s 'silly little smirk.' ... At one point, he suggested that Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.) had an 'adolescent perspective' on how the economy worked."

Adam Serwer of Mother Jones: "While Republicans failed to overturn Obama's executive order banning torture, [the] arrest [of "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] led to a bipartisan effort in Congress to force federal agents to ask permission from the military to investigate terrorism cases where the suspect is believed to be a member of Al Qaeda. While the administration managed to force changes to last year's National Defense Authorization Act that make its provisions 'mandating' the military detention of noncitizen terror suspects apprehended on US soil almost meaningless, there is now a presumption in the law that the military has a domestic role in counterterrorism."

Adele Stan of AlterNet: "In offering the bishops an 'accommodation' they refused to accept on a contraception provision of the new healthcare law, the Obama administration effectively exposed the powerlessness of the bishops when the rest of the church rose to accept the offer.... The bishops, who now stand marginalized in their own church, as major Catholic organizations, most of them led by clergy -- the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the Catholic Health Association (which represents Catholic hospitals), the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Sisters of Mercy -- signed onto the administration's plan over the bishops' objections."

Peter Nicholas of the Wall Street Journal: "President Barack Obama's re-election campaign has begun discussing whether to attack Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and try to define him for a general-election audience, potentially breaking from its focus on Mitt Romney."

Right Wing World

New York Times Editors: Rick "Santorum’s solution for all of the country’s problems, from manufacturing to its moral climate, boils down to one very small idea: get government out of the way.... He says the nation’s civil laws must comport with God’s laws. But not the laws of all religions.... Unlike his main rivals for the nomination, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, Mr. Santorum has held these kinds of views for many years, and is a far more authentic representative of the Republican Party’s angry base. But he does not represent the American mainstream, or its tradition of confronting big problems with big ideas."

Rick Santorum's sugar daddy Foster Freiss on the efficacy of Bayer aspirin as a contraceptive device:

     ... Update. Liz Goodwin of Yahoo! News: "Rick Santorum's billionaire backer Foster Friess wrote on his blog Friday morning that he 'deeply' apologizes to anyone who thought he was telling women to use aspirin instead of birth control in a Thursday segment on MSNBC. Meanwhile, Santorum was on the defensive Friday, calling his supporter's joke 'stupid.'" ...

... Republican presidential candidates sure have nasty backers. Glenn Greenwald profiles billionaire Romney finance co-chair Frank VanderSloot, a Idaho businessman who got rich on an Amway-style pyramid operation whose "chronic bullying threats to bring patently frivolous lawsuits against his political critics — magazines, journalists, and bloggers — that makes him particularly pernicious."

Sarah Posner, in Religious Dispatches, on Darrell Issa's congressional hearing featuring old men opposed to contraception: "Issa's committee elevated certain religious groups — meaning those who oppose the requirement that insurance cover birth control — to a status above everyone else's religious beliefs, including people of different religions who praised the requirement." ...

... "Where are the women?":

The testimony Sandra Fluke would have given had committee chairman Darrell Issa allowed her to speak. Via Steve Benen:

"I'm Running for President, for Pete's Sake." Anne Barnard of the New York Times: "Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign distanced itself on Thursday from Representative Michael G. Grimm of Staten Island, a charismatic freshman Republican who has stumped for Mr. Romney but is now facing scrutiny over his business dealings and campaign fund-raising." See also yesterday's Right Wing World.

For your listening pleasure, the Ballad of Seamus:

... Katy Waldman in Slate: "According to a piece on Politicker yesterday, Romney’s sons told reporters in an off-record conversation that the dog ran away when the family got to Ontario."

CNN: "Mitt Romney and Ron Paul told the Georgia Republican Party, Ohio Republican Party and CNN Thursday that they will not participate in the March 1 Republican presidential primary debate." So CNN is cancelling the debate, which means there will be only one debate, on February 22, before Super Tuesday, March 6. ...

... Romney, Dumber than Dubya. Steve Kornacki of Salon: "By any reasonable standard, the federal government’s auto industry bailout has been a smashing success, but to admit this Romney would be admitting that he was wrong in a big way. And not just on any issue. After all, Romney grew up in Michigan as the son of the president of American Motors, and he presents himself to voters as a turnaround specialist whose unique insight into the world of business and industry will translate into a booming economy if he’s elected president. But now it looks like Barack Obama (and George W. Bush, for that matter) knew better than him."

... DNC to Romney: "Don't Bet Against America"; intimations of an Obama-Romney contest:

** AND Jonathan Chait of New York magazine out-Borotwitzes Andy Borowitz in this post titled "Romney Straining to Get to the Right of Genghis Kahn."

Um, maybe the reason Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is backing Roy Blunt's draconian bill which would allow any employer to deny insurance coverage of any type of medical care is that he has no idea what's in the bill. You can watch Brown screwing up here; I can't embed the video because it plays automatically. Steve Benen has more. ...

... AND, as Charles Pierce puts it, "The one nagging problem Brown always has had is that he's basically a state legislator who won a fluke of an election and is now fighting well above his weight class. He'd largely put that behind him. Not any more."

Local News

AP: A Republican supermajority has muscled two of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in years through the Virginia House, including one that would all but outlaw the procedure in the state by declaring that the rights of persons apply from the moment sperm and egg unite. The bills passed over bitter yet futile objections from Democrats. And one GOP delegate caused the House to ripple when he said most abortions come as 'matters of lifestyle convenience.' The bills now go to the Senate." ...

... Dahlia Lithwick of Slate: "This week, the Virginia state Legislature passed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion. Because the great majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks, that means most women will be forced to have a transvaginal procedure, in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. Since a proposed amendment to the bill — a provision that would have had the patient consent to this bodily intrusion or allowed the physician to opt not to do the vaginal ultrasound — failed on 64-34 vote, the law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason.... That would constitute rape under state law."

News Ledes

CNN: "The Supreme Court has blocked enforcement of a ruling by Montana's highest court that upholds the state's century-long restrictions on independent political spending by outside groups in election campaigns. An order was issued late Friday."

New York Times: prosecutors dropped charges against 14 defendants charged in the Brooklyn Bridge Occupy protest of October 1. "So far, 174 of the 686 cases in which charges were brought have resulted in dismissals."

TPM: "To illustrate his frustration at the GOP's pattern of obstructing President Obama's executive branch nominees, Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on the Senate floor Friday that he'll ask President Obama to provide all of the nearly 100 stalled bureaucrats-in-waiting with recess appointments."

TPM: "The Obama Justice Department has concluded that legislation banning same-sex couples from receiving military and veterans benefits violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment and will no longer defend the statute in court, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in a letter to Congressional leaders on Friday."

New York Times: "The Maryland House narrowly passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage on Friday, delivering a major victory to Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, who had proposed it. But its implementation remained uncertain as its opponents promised to take it to voters in November.... The measure still faces a vote in the Senate, where it is expected to pass...." CW: actually, no; they passed a bill.

New York Times: "Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a newly passed bill on Friday that would legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey, setting a difficult path for advocates who vowed to fight 'with every last breath' to override him. The governor’s veto was conditional, asking the State Legislature to amend the bill, so that rather than legalizing same-sex marriages, it would establish an overseer to handle complaints that the state’s five-year-old civil union law did not provide gay and lesbian couples the same protections that marriage would. Mr. Christie also affirmed his call for the Legislature to put a referendum on same-sex marriage on the ballot in November."

Washington Post: "The FBI and the U.S. Capitol Police arrested a Moroccan man Friday in downtown Washington after a lengthy investigation into an alleged plot to carry out a suicide attack on the Capitol. Amine el-Khalifi, 29, was picked up while carrying an inoperable gun and a fake suicide vest provided to him by undercover FBI agents posing as al-Qaeda associates, U.S. officials said. They said he entered the United States when he was 16 and was living as an illegal immigrant in Arlington, Va., having reportedly overstayed his visitor’s visa for years."

New York Times: "The need for revenue to partly cover the extension of the payroll tax cut and long-term unemployment benefits has pushed Congress to embrace a generational shift in the country’s media landscape: the auction of public airwaves now used for television broadcasts to create more wireless Internet systems. If a compromise bill completed Thursday by Congress is approved as expected by this weekend, the result will eventually be faster connections for smartphones, iPads and other data-hungry mobile devices. Their explosive popularity has overwhelmed the ability, particularly in big cities, for systems to quickly download maps, video games and movies." ...

     ... Update: "With members of both parties expressing distaste at some of the particulars, Congress on Friday voted to extend payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits and sent the legislation to President Obama, ending a contentious political and policy fight. The vote in the House was 293 to 132 with Democrats, who are in the minority, carrying the proposal over the top with the acquiescence of almost as many Republicans. The Senate followed within minutes and approved the measure on a vote of 60 to 36."

New York Times: "Anthony Shadid, a gifted foreign correspondent whose graceful dispatches for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict and turmoil, died, apparently of an asthma attack, on Thursday while on a reporting assignment in Syria. Tyler Hicks, a Times photographer who was with Mr. Shadid, carried his body across the border to Turkey." The Times' obituary is here. Read this interview of Shadid by Adam Ross of Mother Jones, published just last month. Tributes from colleagues.

New York Times: "Next week, advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will recommend whether the agency should approve the first new prescription diet pill in 13 years. The F.D.A. rejected the drug under review, Qnexa, in 2010, amid safety concerns, and the drug’s manufacturer is now presenting additional data to argue its case. But thousands of people ... in central California, where Qnexa’s inventor ran a weight-loss clinic, and others across the country have not had to wait for the drug’s approval. Through a regulatory loophole of sorts, many obesity doctors prescribe two separate drugs that, when taken together, are essentially the same medicine."

New York Times: "President Obamaraised a total of $29.1 million for his re-election campaign and for the Democratic National Committee in January, he told supporters over Twitter early Friday morning, with most contributions coming in checks of $250 or less." ...

ABC News: "Before a backdrop of the newest American-made Boeing passenger jets, President Obama Friday will announce a series of steps aimed at boosting U.S. manufacturers, while harnessing their momentum for political gain. Obama, on the final stop of his three-day swing through California and Washington, will tour a Boeing production facility and speak to a crowd of several hundred workers inside the final assembly building for the company's new 787 Dreamliner."

New York Times: "Germany’s beleaguered president, Christian Wulff, announced his resignation on Friday after prosecutors asked Parliament to strip him of his immunity from prosecution over accusations of improper ties to businessmen."

Los Angeles Times: "A confrontation between federal law enforcement agents erupted in gunfire Thursday evening in Long Beach, leaving one dead and another seriously injured.... The incident was sparked by an unspecified dispute between Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in the Glenn M. Anderson Federal Building near the city's oceanfront, according to law enforcement authorities."

New York Times: "... Rupert Murdoch ... is scheduled to visit the London headquarters of his British newspaper arm, News International, where reporters and editors are said to be in a state of civil war against Mr. Murdoch and his executives." The Guardian is liveblogging the meeting and reactions. ...

     ... AP Update: "News Corp. chief executive Rupert Murdoch on Friday told staff at his scandal-hit British tabloid The Sun that executives will continue to give police any evidence of wrongdoing and won't protect reporters found to have broken the law."

Flying High. CBS News/AP: "Two Air Force F-16 fighters intercepted a privately owned Cessna airplane that entered the same Los Angeles airspace as Marine One on Thursday as the helicopter was ferrying President Barack Obama. Police discovered about 40 pounds of marijuana inside the plane after it landed at Long Beach Airport, a law enforcement official said. The official was not authorized to comment publicly on the drug investigation and spoke under condition of anonymity. The Secret Service said the president was never in any danger."

Wednesday
Feb152012

The Commentariat -- February 16, 2012

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is titled "Roma Locuta Est, Causa Finita Non Est" and discusses Gary Gutting's post in today's New York Times on "the nature and basis of religious authority." Despite the Latin title & Gutting's status as a philosophy professor, neither his post nor my column is heavy-lifting. Both put different perspectives on the contraceptive coverage issue. The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute to the NYTX here. Gutting's post, which is worth reading in full, is here. ...

... CW: I coulda told 'em this: Katie Thomas of the New York Times: "The Obama administration thought it had found a way to ease mounting objections to a requirement in the new health care act that all employers — including religiously affiliated hospitals and universities — offer coverage for birth control to women free of charge. It would make the insurers cover the costs, rather than the organizations themselves. But ... many religiously affiliated organizations choose to insure themselves rather than hire an outside company to assume the risk." Nationwide, 60 percent of workers with health insurance are covered by companies that self-insure; it's 82 percent for companies with more than 200 employees. (I didn't know the percentage was that high.) So it looks Obama solved about 20 percent of the problem, tops. ...

Where Are the Women?

... Susan Reimer of the Baltimore Sun: "In the extreme and ill-tempered debate over the availability of contraceptives for women, we have heard from the president, the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, the Republican presidential candidates, members if Congress and various talking heads on TV. All of them, so far as I can tell, are men. Men discussing the reproductive rights of women.... Where are all the women in leadership in this country — from small-business owners to presidents of corporations to Cabinet officers? Why are they not stepping forward to say that because they could control their family size they were able to go to college, or law school, or campaign for office?" Reimer notes that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (who is a Roman Catholic) has only two children. "Didn't she have any testimony to offer about what control of her reproductive life might have meant to her?" Thanks to reader Doug C. for the link. ...

... ** Igor Volsky of Think Progress: "This morning, Democrats tore into House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) for preventing women from testifying before a hearing examining the Obama administration’s new regulation requiring employers and insurers to provide contraception coverage to their employees.... Ranking committee member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) ... demand[ed] that Issa consider the testimony of a female college student. But the California congressman ... denied the request. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) walked out of the hearing in protest of his decision, citing frustration over the fact that the first panel of witnesses consisted only of male religious leaders against the rule. Holmes Norton said she will not return, calling Issa’s chairmanship an 'autocratic regime.'” ...


... Dana Milbank
writes a LOL column on Republican legislators (and one Democrat) who "marched before the cameras" to express their outrage at the contraception coverage ruling. Milbank is funny, by the MOCs are funnier. Oh, if you don't laugh, you'll cry. ...

... Erik Eckholm of the New York Times: both sides see the contraceptive coverage issue as a winning one. Oh, P.S. The bishops, besides running a media campaign, "are asking parish priests to raise the matter with congregations and to circulate petitions." CW: Never mind separation of church & state. If they go with this -- and the will -- the Church should lose its tax-exempt status.

Michael Lind of Salon argues that conservatives have lost the culture war. See if you agree with him. I mostly don't. Of course I suppose it's important to keep in mind that Congress itself is configured in such a way that low-population, conservative states are overrepresented.

Matt Miller in the Washington Post: time for Congress to impose the "Dimon Rule" -- for Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase CEO, who favors a higher tax rate for the super-rich, like him.

Steve Benen: "The latest New York Times/CBS News poll included a straightforward question on this: 'Do you support or oppose a recent federal requirement that private health insurance plans cover the full cost of birth control for their female patients?'

Support: 66%       Oppose: 26%       Don't Know: 8%"

      ... Self-identified Roman Catholics agree with Obama's line, 67% to 25%, and even a majority of self-identified Republicans feel the same way. By the reasoning of many congressional Republicans, nearly two-thirds of the country likes contraception access so much, they're willing to endorse an outrageous assault on religious liberty."

Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times: "An audit by San Francisco county officials of about 400 recent foreclosures there determined that almost all involved either legal violations or suspicious documentation, according to a report released Wednesday.... The detailed and comprehensive nature of the San Francisco findings suggest how pervasive foreclosure irregularities may be across the nation."

Justin Gillis & Leslie Kaufman of the New York Times: "Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation’s culture wars. The documents, from a nonprofit organization in Chicago called the Heartland Institute, outline plans to promote a curriculum that would cast doubt on the scientific finding that fossil fuel emissions endanger the long-term welfare of the planet." CW: Among the donors: Microsoft & Charles Koch. ...

... Brad Johnson of Think Progress elaborates on Microsoft's claim that it does not support Heartland's views on climate change, but donated software licenses, "just like [sic.] we do for thousands of other eligible non-profits every year."

No Surprise Here. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post: "Joseph Kennedy III, a scion of the famous political family, announced Thursday that [he] will run for the Massachusetts House seat being vacated by Rep. Barney Frank (D).... The grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and son of former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, the 31-year-old Kennedy was working as a prosecutor and before that as an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts." Here's Joe's announcement:

Right Wing World

** Juan Cole lists "the top ten Catholic teachings Santorum rejects while obsessing about birth control." Here's one: "The bishops want welfare for all needy families, saying 'We reiterate our call for a minimum national welfare benefit.... A decent society will not balance its budget on the backs of poor children.'” CW: Even for "blah" people, Rick. ...

... James Downie of the Washington Post: a national audience should hear Santorum & Gingrich explain their "cafeteria Catholicism." In the upcoming debates, questioners should ask them "whether they agree with [humanel] church doctrines, and if not, why not." Downie helpfully lists some papal decrees that Santorum & Gingrich ignore, like support for unions & universal health care & opposition to the death penalty.

Rachel Weiner of the Washington Post: "Mitt Romney and his allies at the super PAC Restore Our Future are spending $1,240,230 in Michigan this week, according to a Republican media buyer. [Rick Santorum] ... is spending $42,443 — not a typo — and none of his super PAC supporters have spent anything. That means there will be 29 times more Romney ads than Santorum ads on the air in the Wolverine state." ...

... BUT. Steve Kornacki of Salon argues that Romney's attacks on Santorum don't pack the punch his attacks on Gingrich did; after all, Gingrich is such a flawed candidate, some of the anti-Gingrich ads "wrote themselves." Includes sample ads. ...

... Massimo Calabresi of Time: "Mitt Romney’s making ... much of the dangers of government 'picking winners and losers' when they give subsidies to companies. But the private equity firm he founded and ran took full advantage of such government goodies." Calabresi lists a few deals Romney's Bain Capital put together that depended on government subsidies. ...

... Garrett Haake Of NBC News: "In back-to-back appearances before two separate audiences under the same roof here tonight, Mitt Romney made part of his Michigan strategy clear: Pick a fight with 'big labor' by labeling their support of President Barack Obama as 'crony capitalism.'" CW: this seems like a stupid move to me, since many union members vote Republican; however, it is at least consistent with the GOP policy of undermining unions whenever possible.

CW: Rasmussen, which is not the most reliable pollster, nonetheless reports that "The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters [emphasis added] finds Santorum with 39% support to ... [Romney]’s 27%. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich follows from a distance with 15% of the vote, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul runs last with 10%." ...

... Jed Lewison of Daily Kos: Mitt Romney can kiss his "electability" argument buh-bye. According to Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling, "Mitt Romney's electability advantage in PPP polling has disappeared in the wake of Rick Santorum's surge. Before the surge, Romney consistently outperformed his leading Not Romney rival in a hypothetical contest against President Obama by 7 points in July, 6 points in August, 7 points in September, 6 points in October, 3 points in November and 7 points in December. But in PPP's first post-surge poll, it's Santorum who fares better against President Obama."

AP: "Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum released four years of federal income tax returns on Wednesday night, showing a sharp rise in his personal wealth spurred by his growing work as Washington-based corporate consultant and media commentator." ...

... Maggie Haberman of Politico: "The [returns] can be found here, here, here and here. The returns are the most in number that have been released by any of the major GOP contenders." (Link to Haberman's post here.)

Los Angeles Times Editorial Board: "... we still can't help but be awe-struck by the mess the House of Representatives is preparing to make of the federal transportation bill.... On Tuesday, the House Republican leadership unveiled its version of the five-year bill. It isn't just that this bill is so thoroughly partisan that it has no chance of being approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate; it's that it is less a serious policy document than a wish list for oil lobbyists.... If it weren't already abundantly clear that this bill is intended simply to pander to the GOP base during an election year, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) seasoned the red meat by promising to attach a rider mandating approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline...."

Hypocrite of the Week: Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) who is celebrating an additional $3 million in annual funding he secured for the Richmond University Medical Center. The funding comes from the Affordable Care Act, a law Grimm vehemently opposes. Steve Benen writes, "Grimm is the same House member who rejected calls a year ago that he turn down government-funded health care, because of his ideological opposition to government-funded health care.... Two weeks later, he voted to take away health care coverage from millions of Americans. A year later, he celebrated hospital funding included in the law he's eager to kill." ...

... Oh, wait. It gets worse. Much worse. Read this report in today's New York Times which leads the reader to believe Grimm is a serial, small-time crook. Of course he's presumed innocent....

News Ledes

Wall Street Journal: Both Houses of the New Jersey state legislature have passed a bill allowing for same-sex marriage, but Gov. Chris Christie (R) says he will veto it. The bill passed the state Senate 24-15 & the Assembly 42-33. "An override vote ... would require 27 votes in the Senate and 54 votes in the Assembly."

Washington Post: "The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Thursday sought to bring debt collectors and credit bureaus under its purview, marking the first time the often controversial industries would be subject to federal supervision.... It is the first attempt by the watchdog agency to define which businesses in the vast swath of nontraditional financial institutions will be subject to the same examination process as banks." CW: It isn't clear to me from the article whether or not the CFPB needs authorization from Congress and/or the administration to do this. CW: according to the New York Times story: "The proposal now enters a 60-day comment period. The bureau expects to finalize the rule by July, the two-year anniversary of the agency’s creation." So I guess the CFPB can do it.

AP: "The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to the lowest point in almost four years last week, the latest signal that the job market is steadily improving. The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000. It was the fourth drop in five weeks and the fewest number of claims since March 2008." CW: Sorry, GOP!

New York Times: "Members of a House-Senate committee charged with writing a measure to extend a payroll tax reduction said Wednesday that their work was done, just shy of an hour before their deadline to get a bill ready for a Friday vote. After fighting until the very final hour over how to pay for parts of a $150 billion plan that would also extend unemployment benefits and prevent a pay cut for doctors who accept Medicare, leaders of both parties put together a bill that the majority of the committee could support." Washington Post story here.

AP: "General Motors earned its largest profit ever in 2011, two years after it nearly collapsed into financial ruin." CW: Sorry, Mitt!

New York Times: "President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan arrived in Pakistan on Thursday after saying he wanted to explore how Islamabad could help foster peace negotiations with his adversary, the Afghan Taliban. Mr. Karzai’s arrival came after he said Wednesday in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that his representatives had begun talks with the Taliban and the United States government, a potentially significant development suggesting that the Taliban were dropping longstanding objections to face-to-face discussions with his government."

Reuters: "A federal judge is set to decide on Thursday if the Nigerian man who pleaded guilty to trying to blow up a U.S. airliner bound for Detroit in 2009 will spend the rest of his life in prison. A bomb hidden in the underwear of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, now 25, caused a fire but failed to explode on a Delta Airlines flight carrying 289 people on December 25, 2009." ...

     ... Bloomberg News Update: "Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to bomb a Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas Day 2009 with explosives hidden in his underwear. The Nigerian-born defendant pleaded guilty in October to eight felony counts, including attempted murder and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds in Detroit today sentenced him to life in prison on five counts and 20 years on three counts."

New York Times: "The Japanese authorities arrested seven central figures in the huge accounting scandal at Olympus — including the camera maker’s former chairman and executive vice president — on Thursday as part of investigations into a decade-long cover-up that has prompted concern over what critics say is lax corporate governance at Japanese companies."