The Ledes

Sunday, March 29, 2015.

New York Times: "Rescue workers recovered two bodies on Sunday in the wreckage of the explosion and fire that happened last week in the East Village, the police said. One of two bodies was identified by family members as Nicholas Figueroa, 23. The second body was not yet identified.... Officials said the fire was most likely set off by a gas explosion. The explosion blew off the facade of the building, before spreading to four neighboring ones. Three of the buildings — 119, 121 and 123 Second Avenue — were reduced to rubble."

AP: "Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen will continue until Shiite rebels there 'withdraw and surrender their weapons,' a summit of Arab leaders decided Sunday, as they also agreed in principle to forming a joint military force. The decision by the Arab League puts it on a path to potentially more aggressively challenge Shiite power Iran, which is backing the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis."

Baltimore Sun: Protesters show up outside Bill Cosby's Baltimore performance, and one interrupts his show.

The Wires

Weekly Address

The President's Weekly Address

White House: "In this week’s address, the President highlighted the progress made protecting American consumers since he signed Wall Street reform into law five years ago, including an important new step taken by the independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau earlier this week toward preventing abuses in payday lending":

The Ledes

Saturday, March 28, 2015.

Washington Post: "Arab leaders vowed Saturday to back the embattled Yemeni president as a Saudi Arabia-led coalition intensified airstrikes on Shiite rebel targets across Yemen, escalating a conflict that many residents fear could lead to a land invasion.... The Saudis and their allies think that the Shiite rebels are backed by Iran and that Tehran is trying to exert control over a country that had been an ally of Riyadh and Washington."

Telegraph: "A close media aide to Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, has sought political asylum in Switzerland after travelling to Lausanne to cover the nuclear talks between Tehran and the West.Amir Hossein Motaghi, who managed public relations for Mr Rouhani during his 2013 election campaign, was said by Iranian news agencies to have quit his job at the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA). He then appeared on an opposition television channel based in London to say he no longer saw any 'sense' in his profession as a journalist as he could only write what he was told."

Public Service Announcement

Reuters: "Scientists believe they may have found a new weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease – not in the form of a drug but in focused beams of ultrasound. While the approach has only been tested in mice, researchers said on Wednesday it proved surprisingly good at clearing tangles of plaques linked to Alzheimer’s in the animals’ brains and improving their memory, as measured by tests such as navigating a maze."

White House Live Video
March 26

4:10 pm ET: President Obama speaks about the economy in Birmingham, Alabama

Go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

***********************************************

In Case You Were Wondering... Megan Garber of the Atlantic examines multiple theories on why "men’s dress shirts have their buttons on the right, while women’s have them on the left (to the wearer)."

Oliver Knox of Yahoo! News: "Inside the elaborate, surprisingly unglamorous world of presidential hotel stays." Or Why President Trump Would Resign Shortly after His Inauguration.

New York Times: "After three days of viewing by thousands who lined up for hours to file past the bier in Leicester’s Anglican cathedral, Richard’s skeletal remains, in a coffin of golden English oak with an incised Yorkist rose and an inscription giving the sparest details of his life — 'Richard III, 1452-1485' — were removed overnight from beneath a black cloth pall stitched with colorful images from his tumultuous times. With the solemn ceremony laid down for monarchs through the ages, the coffin was borne to a marble tomb adjacent to the cathedral’s altar by a party of 10 British Army pallbearers...." ...

... The Guardian has a full page of stories about Richard III.

Twenty percent more people trust Bill O'Reilly now than trusted O'Reilly before the press reported he was a serial liar:

East Wing Mystery. Washington Post: "There’s still no official comment on why [White House head florist Laura] Dowling is no longer at the White House, but according to a source with close ties to current residence staffers, she was escorted from the building on Friday Feb. 13." ...

     ... UPDATE. Thoroughly Modern Michelle. "Dowling ... left because her 'fussy style' was not in line with the first lady’s emerging modern and clean aesthetics, several sources said.... Recently the first lady has debuted a different aesthetic at the executive mansion. Last month, the White House revealed the newly refurbished and now decidedly modern Old Family dining room.... Mrs. Obama unveiled her 'thoroughly modernized' mark on the White House, featuring a custom-made 1950s-inspired rug and bold artwork, to surprised tourists on Feb. 10. Dowling is said to have been escorted from the White House three days later." ...

Reuters: "Whether it's the earnest Josiah Bartlet from 'The West Wing' or the manipulative Frank Underwood in 'House of Cards,' Americans prefer television presidents to their real-life POTUS, President Barack 'No Drama' Obama.'"

Washington Post: Scientists believe they've found the world's largest asteroid impact zone in Australia.

Washington Post: "King Richard III may have been buried quickly and without pomp the first time, but 530 years later, England is reveling in a final farewell to its long-lost monarch. On a sun-kissed Sunday afternoon on the battlefield where Richard III fell in 1485 — he was the last English king to die in battle — throngs of well-wishers, some dressed in medieval costume and blowing trumpets, gathered to honor England’s last Plantagenet king."

Out of the Parking Lot & into the Cathedral. Guardian: England is preparing to (re)inter a king today (Sunday, March 22). "... the coffin will be transferred to a horse-drawn hearse, to lead the way to a service of compline, with a sermon from a Roman Catholic archbishop, Vincent Nicholls. It will then lie in the cathedral, guarded night and day, until the reburial service on Thursday."

Politico: "The Federal Aviation Administration announced that it has granted Amazon Logistics, a subsidiary of the Internet retail giant, approval for a drone design that the company plans to use for research, development and training."

David Rackoff: "Things people say that irritate Republicans." Click thru. CW: I'll have to try to remember these. So I can say them. To Republicans. I hope I drive them all Rumpelstiltskin. Then I will ask the Flying Spaghetti Monster to forgive me for being so mean.

Prince Charles & the Duchess of Cornwall are in Washington, D.C., & environs.

President Obama hosts a St. Patrick's Day reception:

... CW: Somebody explain to me why apparently-intelligent people don't actually participate in events they attend but instead spend their time taking crappy cellphone videos, even when they know said events will be recorded by professionals & posted online. I get why a person would want to record some side-conversation with, say, the President, but the main event? It baffles me.

Patrick LaForge of the New York Times: "Welcome to a parallel universe. It is a world of tired news language where the verb 'stir' is bound to be followed by 'debate,' where those debates are always 'heated' or 'bitter.' In this world, anything newsworthy is automatically 'controversial,' and a 'hike' involves taxes, not a trail up a mountain. It is often a 'hardscrabble' place, sometimes 'densely wooded,' sometimes graced with 'manicured' lawns and 'leafy' streets. 'Landmark' agreements are 'hammered out' there, while adversaries are 'lambasted' and 'assailed.'” Meet journalese: a strained and artificial voice more common to news reports than to natural conversation." LaForge cites numerous examples of NYT reporters' use of these cliches.

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Sunday
Jan202013

Inauguration Day 2013

The Capitol Building this morning. Getty image.C-SPAN will cover inaugural events, beginning at 7:00 am ET. If you must watch it on the Intertoobz, you can supersize the picture.

Here's the New York Times' guide to today's inaugural ceremony.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times has borrowed some of "fascinating facts" about inaugurals from the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. The comprehensive guide, prepared by the committee, is here (pdf). ...

... Carrie Dann of NBC News has a list of fairly funny &/or macabre stories of past inaugural "festivities." The slideshow of drawings & photos of earlier inaugurations, available on the page, is good, too; nothing funny, though.

I think this Senate site is the official inauguration site. It's not all that helpful. Here's the Washington Post's inauguration page. it's not all that helpful. This About.com page on the inauguration includes the schedule of events.

The Washington Post is liveblogging the inauguration.

The Obamas & Bidens arriving at St. John's Church, across the street from the White House, this morning:

David Nakamura & Robert Barnes of the Washington Post: President "Obama, who has confessed to feeling bruised by the partisanship in Washington, aims to use his remarks to underscore the importance of seeking common ground in Washington and encourage Americans to engage in the political process, White House senior adviser David Plouffe said." ...

... A lot of good that will do. There won't be many Republicans listening to any inspirational calls for consensus, Jackie Kucinich of USA Today reported.

Michelle & Barack Obama spoke at an inaugural reception last night:

Brett Zongker of the AP: "Latinos are taking a more prominent role in President Barack Obama's second inauguration, from the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice swearing in the vice president to a star-studded concert celebrating Latino culture. Eva Longoria, a co-chairwoman for Obama's campaign, hosted 'Latino Inaugural 2013: In Performance at the Kennedy Center' as a salute to the president Sunday evening ahead of his public swearing-in Monday."

Paul Krugman: "... if progressives look at where we are as the second term begins, they’ll find grounds for a lot of (qualified) satisfaction."

The Oath -- a Re-enactment:

Robert Barnes of the Washington Post: "The next legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act is moving quickly to the high court, and bringing potent questions about religious freedom, gender equality and corporate 'personhood.' The issue is the health-care law's requirement that employers without a specific exemption must provide workers with insurance plans that cover a full range of birth-control measures and contraceptive drugs. Inclusion of the no-cost contraceptive coverage for female workers has always been a controversial part of the legislation. It has now sparked more than 40 lawsuits around the nation involving more than 110 individuals, colleges, hospitals, church-affiliated nonprofits and private companies."

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "Senate Democrats will draft a budget blueprint for the first time in four years and use it to fast-track an overhaul of the tax code that is intended to raise significant revenue over the next decade, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York said on Sunday."

Come on Down, Y'all. Manny Fernandez of the New York Times: "Last week, the day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York approved a broad package of gun-control measures that made New York's tough gun laws even tougher, the Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, began running Internet advertisements in Manhattan and Albany asking New York gun owners to consider moving to Texas.... In a speech last year, [Abbott] described his job this way: 'I go to the office. I sue the federal government. And then I go home.' Mr. Abbott has been laying the groundwork and raising millions of dollars for a possible run for governor in 2014, regardless of whether Gov. Rick Perry, his ally and fellow Republican, decides to seek re-election."

Noam Cohen of the New York Times on how M.I.T. caught Aaron Swartz hacking the university's computer system.

Thomas Erdbrink of the New York Times: "In recent weeks, public executions [in Iran] have been stepped up, and in several large cities the police have been rounding up what they call thugs and hooligans." The article describes the public hangings of two young men caught on camera robbing & knifing a man. The victim survived.

January 21 News Ledes

Reuters: "The global jobless queue will stretch to more than 200 million people this year, the International Labour Organization said in its annual report on Tuesday, repeating a warning it has made at the start of each of the last six years. The U.N. jobs watchdog estimates unemployment will rise by 5.1 million this year to more than 202 million, and by another 3 million in 2014, following a rise of 4.2 million in 2012."

AP: "Retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and other top Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles officials maneuvered behind the scenes to shield molester priests, provide damage control for the church and keep parishioners in the dark, according to church personnel files. The confidential records filed in a lawsuit against the archdiocese disclose how the church handled abuse allegations for decades and also reveal dissent from a top Mahony aide who criticized his superiors for covering up allegations of abuse rather than protecting children." ...

     ... Update: New York Times story here. Los Angeles Times story here. Documents, via the L. A. Times, are here.

Washington Post: "Germany's center-left opposition won a wafer-thin victory over Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition in a major state election Sunday, dealing a setback as she seeks a third term at the helm of Europe's biggest economy later this year."

AP: "The hostage-taking at a remote Algerian gas plant was carried out by 30 militants from across the northern swath of Africa and two from Canada, authorities said. The militants, who wore military uniforms and knew the layout, included explosives experts who rigged it with bombs and a leader whose final order was to kill all the captives. The operation also had help with inside knowledge -- a former driver at the plant, Algeria's prime minister said Monday." ...

... New York Times: "The known death toll from the bloody four-day hostage siege in Algeria rose on Monday after Algerian officials said that security forces combing the scene had discovered many more corpses, some badly burned, at a gas-production complex deep in the Sahara."

AP: "Nehemiah Griego, 15, was arrested following ... shootings at the residence in a rural area southwest of downtown Albuquerque, the sheriff's department said. He was charged with two counts of murder and three counts of child abuse resulting in death.... Investigators ... found several guns believed used in the shootings, including one assault rifle...." CW: please, NRA, keep telling us it's a good idea to keep a lot of weapons around the house for "protection."

Reuters: "Bangladesh's war crimes tribunal sentenced a popular Islamic televangelist to death on Monday, the first verdict by the controversial body set up to probe abuses during the country's bloody struggle for independence. Abul Kalam Azad, a former member of Bangladesh's biggest Islamist party, was found guilty of torture, rape and genocide during the war for independence from Pakistan in 1971. Police believe he fled to Pakistan last April and he was tried in absentia."

BGR News: "Google (GOOG) chairman Eric Schmidt is back from his adventure in North Korea and he's penned a post on his Google+ page detailing the current state of the country's current technological capabilities and the way it allows citizens to have limited access to the Internet. In short, North Korea isn't anywhere close to matching the technological capabilities of its rival South Korea, and the country is incredibly restrictive of the information it allows its citizens to access."

Repression Aggression. AP: a harsh anti-gay "bill is part of an effort to promote traditional Russian values as opposed to Western liberalism, which the Kremlin and [Russian Orthodox C]hurch see as corrupting Russian youth and by extension contributing to a wave of protest against President Vladimir Putin's rule."

Saturday
Jan192013

The Commentariat -- Jan. 20, 2013

I think this Senate site is the official inauguration site. It's not all that helpful. Here's the Washington Post's inauguration page. it's not all that helpful. This About.com page on the inauguration includes the schedule of events.

The Washington Post is liveblogging the inauguration.

Brian Knowlton of the New York Times: "President Obama was quietly sworn into office for a second term just before noon in a brief and intimate ceremony, ahead of Monday's far showier public inaugural celebrations. The ceremony satisfied the Constitutional requirement that the president's swearing-in take place by noon on the Jan. 20 after an election.... The chief justice administered the oath faithfully and Mr. Obama repeated it accurately....":

President Obama & Vice President Biden laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery this morning. New York Times photo.Carrie Dann of NBC News: "Joe Biden was sworn in to a second term as the Vice President of the United States on Sunday morning, taking his oath from Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor -- the first Hispanic in American history to administer an oath of office. Biden personally selected Sotomayor, who is also the fourth woman to administer an oath, to conduct the brief ceremony at the vice president's residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.":

Jodi Kantor of the New York Times on how Barack & Michelle Obama have changed over the past four years.

Jeff Black of NBC News: "For the first time since Ronald Reagan’s second term, a president will take the oath of office in a private ceremony at the White House.... Obama's swearing-in Sunday will be a brief private affair at noon in the Blue Room of the White House, an ornate oval room often used to receive official guests. Only Obama's immediate family and a few reporters will attend, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney. The ceremony will be televised live, and streamed live on the Internet." ...

... Oh, God! The oath, as specified in the Constitution, reads, "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." BUT Cathy Grossman of Religion News Service reports, "When President Obama rests his hand on two historic Bibles to take his second-term oath of office Monday (Jan. 21), he'll add a phrase not mentioned in the Constitution: 'So help me God.' ... The first proof [the phrase] was used in a presidential oath of office came with Chester Arthur's inauguration in September 1881. Every president since, including Obama, has followed suit."

Adam Liptak of the New York Times: President Obama & Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts -- who will administer the President's oath of office today & tomorrow -- have been at loggerheads since 2005 when Obama not only voted against Roberts' confirmation, he made a Senate floor speech explaining why: "'He has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak,' Mr. Obama said, accusing the nominee of not having done enough to fight race discrimination and what he called the unfair treatment of women in the workplace."

The President & Vice President will take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery at 9:00 am today.

Darlene Superville of the AP: "Monday's inaugural may be President Barack Obama's big day, but Martin Luther King Jr. will loom large over the festivities.... The president has said King is one of two people he admires 'more than anybody in American history.' President Abraham Lincoln is the other. In a nod to that admiration, Obama will take his ceremonial oath of office Monday using Bibles owned by both men. Lincoln's Bible, which Obama also used in 2009, will rest on top of King's, which is larger." ...

... Wil Haygood writes on the same theme for the Washington Post.

Jocelyn Noveck of the AP: "... a ballroom full of lucky kids got to rock out with Sasha and Malia Obama at Saturday's Kids' Inaugural Concert, a star-studded event that honors America's military families." Politico has a photo gallery.

Nick Anderson & Annie Gowan of the Washington Post: "President Obama stained a school bookshelf and Vice President Biden helped assemble care packages for troops, joining volunteers in Washington and elsewhere Saturday in a National Day of Service to start the inauguration weekend and commemorate the life of Martin Luther King Jr." ...

... The Obamas at a National Day of Service event:

The Washington Post has an interactive feature that has details about each president's inauguration ceremony(ies). It includes links to their full inaugural addresses.

Andy Borowitz: "Fox News Channel announced today that it would shut down for what it called 'routine maintenance' Monday morning at 11:30 E.T. Fox News president Roger Ailes explained the timing of the shutdown, which will be the first in the history of the network: 'We wanted to pick a time when we were positive nothing would be happening that our viewers would want to see.'"

Ross Douthat previews President Obama's inaugural address. Not hilarious, but a few high points.


Thom Hartmann
in TruthOut: "The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says 'State' instead of 'Country' (the Framers knew the difference - see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia's vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that ... and we all should be too. In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the 'slave patrols,' and they were regulated by the states." CW: Scalia's claim that the Founders referred to the individual right to own arms is nonsense. Some originalist! And Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to you, Nino. Thanks to Barbarossa for the link. It is appropriate, isn't it, that there is likely tremendous overlap between assault weapons enthusiasts & white racists.

Byron Tau of Politico: "Former President Bill Clinton warned a group of top Democratic donors at a private Saturday meeting not to underestimate the passions that gun control stirs among many Americans. 'Do not patronize the passionate supporters of your opponents by looking down your nose at them,' Clinton said."

Will Weissert of the AP: "Gun advocates -- some with rifles slung across shoulders or pistols holstered at the hip -- have rallied peacefully in state capitals nationwide against President Barack Obama's sweeping federal gun-control proposals. Summoned via social media for the 'Guns Across America' event, participants gathered Saturday for protests large and small against stricter limits sought on firearms. Only a few dozen turned out in South Dakota and a few hundred in Boise, Idaho. Some 2,000 turned out in New York and large crowds also rallied in Connecticut, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington state."

Dorothy Wickenden of the New Yorker speaks with Jeff Toobin & Jill Lepore re: Roe v. Wade:

... Jill Lepore writes a (very) brief history of abortion rights. CW: One thing I didn't know -- Richard Nixon, on the advice of Pat Buchanan, was the guy who politicized abortion because he thought his taking a stand against abortion would put Ed Muskie -- a Roman Catholic -- between a rock & a hard place. Remind me never to say again that Barack Obama is to the right of Nixon. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

CW: House Republicans have said they would pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling for three months with a requirement that both houses passed a budget in that time. I'm not sure how that will work out. Here's why: for those of you who would like to spend your Sunday studying arcane Congressional parliamentary rules (and who wouldn't?!), reader Chris M. found an explanation in the Economist of why the "Democrat-controlled Senate" hasn't passed a budget in three years. The bottom line: "the Senate could pass a budget resolution, but without the cooperation of the house or 60 votes, that resolution would not take effect; it would be an empty gesture." So the only way the Senate to pass a budget that has any meaning is if Republicans in one house or the other cooperates.

Maureen Dowd: Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York is really focussed. So he gets stuff done. ...

... Frank Bruni is interested in Andrew Cuomo's marital status -- not married, living with a celebrity cook -- & Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's marital status -- married but separated. So he hopes their marital statuses won't hinder their ability to run for president. ...

... CW: it is apparently quite difficult to be a New York Times political columnists when you don't give a fig about politics. ...

... Nicholas Kristof writes about endocrine disruptors -- which are factors in weight gain. He at least knows what his job is: "Why should an op-ed columnist write about scholarship published in scientific journals? One answer is that obesity is an important national problem...."

Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times: "Richard W. Fisher, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas..., laid out a compelling proposal for shrinking financial giants in order to protect taxpayers. He suggested that megabanks be chopped into pieces, so that no one of them could endanger the financial system if it ran into trouble."

** Douglas Dalby of the New York Times: "A well-known Irish Catholic priest plans to defy Vatican authorities on Sunday by breaking his silence about what he says is a campaign against him by the church over his advocacy of more open discussion on church teachings. The Rev. Tony Flannery, 66, who was suspended by the Vatican last year, said he was told by the Vatican that he would be allowed to return to ministry only if he agreed to write, sign and publish a statement agreeing, among other things, that women should never be ordained as priests and that he would adhere to church orthodoxy on matters like contraception and homosexuality."

Lolita Baldor of the AP: "Sex ... [is] among the chief reasons that senior military officers are fired. At least 30 percent of military commanders fired over the past eight years lost their jobs because of sexually related offenses, including harassment, adultery, and improper relationships...." CW: sex is among the chief reasons for everything.

Right Wing World

Brian Tashman of Right Wing Watch: "The right-wing group Gun Owners of America has for the past few years been pushing the debunked conspiracy theory that the health care reform law will be used to collect information on gun owners, information that will later be used as part of a gun-confiscation scheme. Speaking with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) echoed that theory, claiming that President Obama's new executive actions have 'language in there talking about doctors being required to report on patients and ask patients if they own guns or not.' He warned that President Obama's 'going to use Obamacare apparently to have doctors informing on their patients to whether or not they have guns' and will put the information into 'government databanks.'"

News Ledes

New York Times: "The outcome of a regional election in the state of Lower Saxony remained a neck-and-neck battle between Chancellor Angela Merkel's party and its main rivals that was too close to call Sunday night, according to projections made hours after the polls closed."

AP: "A teenage boy fatally shot two adults and three children at a home near Albuquerque, authorities said Sunday.... Investigators also were seeking to determine who owned several guns that were found at the home, one of which was a semi-automatic military-style rifle."

AP: "Algerian bomb squads scouring a gas plant where Islamist militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage found 'numerous' new bodies on Sunday as they searched for explosive traps left behind by the attackers, a security official said, a day after a bloody raid ended the four-day siege of the remote desert refinery. The official ... said the bodies were badly disfigured and difficult to identify." ...

... AP: "President Barack Obama said Saturday the U.S. stands ready to provide whatever assistance Algerian officials need in the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attack at a natural gas complex in the Sahara." ...

... Reuters: "Three British nationals have been confirmed killed during a hostage crisis at a gas plant in Algeria, and a further three Britons along with a resident of Britain are believed to have died, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Sunday."

AP: "Burned out vehicles and scattered bullets dotted the streets of a central Malian town after radical Islamists retreated following days of French airstrikes, according to video obtained Sunday. The Malian military announced late Saturday that the government was now controlling Diabaly, marking an important accomplishment for the French-led offensive to oust the extremists from northern and central Mali."

Reuters: "More than 10 suspected al Qaeda operatives were killed by an explosion in a house in south Yemen where they were making bombs and at least three others died in a drone strike, tribal and official sources said on Sunday."

Reuters: "The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board ruled out on Sunday excess voltage as the cause of a battery fire on the Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner jet operated by Japan Airlines Co (JAL) at Boston airport this month. Last week, governments across the world grounded the Dreamliner while Boeing halted deliveries after a problem with a lithium-ion battery on a second 787 plane, flown by All Nippon Airways Co (ANA), forced the aircraft to make an emergency landing in western Japan."

Reuters: "Venezuela's government is open to improving troubled ties with Washington and is considering a U.S. proposal for the return of anti-drug agents kicked out of the country eight years ago by President Hugo Chavez, a senior official, [Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) Roy Chaderton,] said."

Friday
Jan182013

The Commentariat -- Jan. 19, 2013

The President's Weekly Address:

     ... The transcript is here.

My column in the New York Times eXaminer, linked yesterday, is on Paul Krugman's takedown of Tom Friedman.

To find out how you can participate, CLICK ON THE IMAGE.Today is a National Day of Service honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Click on the image to get to a site that will help you find a place to serve locally. There's more information at serve.gov

If you're looking for something patriotic & fun to do on Monday, the National Park Service is waiving entrance fees to all national parks across the country on the official holiday commemorating Dr. King's birthday.

How to Nickel-&-Dime a Trillion-Dollar Deal. Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "Backing down from their hard-line stance, House Republicans said Friday that they would agree to lift the federal government's statutory borrowing limit for three months, with a requirement that both chambers of Congress pass a budget in that time to clear the way for negotiations on long-term deficit reduction. The agreement, reached in closed-door negotiations at a party retreat in Williamsburg, Va., was a tactical retreat for House Republicans.... House Republicans will include a provision in the debt ceiling legislation that says lawmakers will not be paid if they do not pass a budget blueprint." The Washington Post story, by Rosalind Helderman & Lori Montgomery, is here. ...

... Natalie Jennings of the Washington Post: "The White House is 'encouraged' by House Republicans' decision to hold a vote next week to raise the debt ceiling for three months and wants to see a 'clean debt limit increase,' Obama administration spokesman Jay Carney said Friday." ...

... The Markets Are Encouraged. Rita Nazareth & Sarah Pringle of Bloomberg News: "U.S. stocks rose, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a five year-high, as House Republicans plan to vote next week on a temporary increase in the debt-limit and investors watched corporate earnings." ...

... Darrell Issa, Not So Encouraged. Igor Bobic of TPM: "Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on Friday poured cold water all over the GOP's newly announced plan to raise the debt ceiling. 'That's unconstitutional,' Issa told Roll Call's Jonathan Strong." ...

     ... Update. More Encouraged than He Was an Hour Earlier. Sahil Kapur of TPM: Constitutional scholar & "House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), after initially declaring the GOP's debt limit plan 'unconstitutional,' clarified to TPM late Friday that he 'strongly support[s]' the proposal, which would withhold lawmakers' pay if their chamber does not pass a budget." Thanks to Jeanne B. for the links to this hilarious story. ...

     ... Well, Constitutionality Is Optional. Jonathan Chait: "Also, the part about making Congress go without pay turns out to violate the Constitution ('No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened'). The Constitution used to be a really big theme to the House Republicans, who have been regularly accusing Obama of violating their oddball interpretations of it and even, as recently as last week, reading it aloud on the House floor to demonstrate that they are its sole vigilant guardians, but whatever. The 27th Amendment is obviously not a real part of the Constitution, like the 2nd Amendment or the three-fifths clause." ...

... What's the "Logic" Here? David Firestone of the New York Times: "If forcing the nation into financial chaos is a terrible political option now -- as Republicans have obviously come to recognize -- then it will remain so in 90 days. Following through on this threat will always be impossible, so postponing its use, instead of abandoning it, makes little strategic sense.... Until the Republicans formally reject the use of chaos as a governing technique, it will be hard for Democrats to negotiate seriously with them." ...

... Still Crazy. James Downie of the Washington Post: "... underneath the gestures toward less brinkmanship, Republicans remain committed to the same extreme policies. It would be silly, of course, to expect Republicans to cave to all Democratic demands, but to continue to refuse to raise revenue in any meaningful amount means that any talk of moderation remains just that." ...

... David Atkins of Hullabaloo: "... the momentum of negotiation is now ... with Democrats [who are] now demanding a clean debt ceiling hike with no funny business attached. This would force Boehner to come up with at least a Hastert Rule majority of Republicans for the three-month extension, which will be no easy task with the rabid Tea Party faction demanding immediate default absent spending cuts. After the Plan 'B' fiasco, it's not clear that Boehner could achieve that. The two major concerns at this point are 1) whether Boehner can maintain his leadership position while constantly undercutting the Tea Party crowd; and 2) what sort of concessions Democrats will be tempted to make in order to take the sequester off the table."

... Paul Krugman: "When you're wrong, you're wrong. I thought that by ruling out any way to bypass the debt limit, the White House was setting itself up, at least potentially, for an ignominious cave-in. But it appears that the strategy has worked, and it's the Republicans giving up. I'm happy to concede that the president and team called this one right." CW: I still love the coin. ...

... However, I must concede that Michael Cohen of the Guardian is right: "... while liberals, mostly, have been pushing for Obama to mint a platinum coin, or invoke his executive powers to raise the debt limit, these scenarios would be dreams come true for Republicans: they wouldn't have to vote on the debt limit, and they could launch a political attack on Obama for making a power grab and bypassing Congress." This worked:

Molly Hooper & Russell Berman of The Hill: "Coming off what many viewed as a defeat in the fiscal cliff deal, and with Obama adopting a hardline position on fiscal matters, Republicans have diminished hopes of what they can force Democrats to accept."

Joe Nocera exposes a number of public pension funds which invest in Cerberus, "the fund that bought Bushmaster Firearms, the company that made the assault weapon used by Adam Lanza to massacre 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., last month. It bought Remington Arms, the maker of the pump-action shotgun that was among the guns James Holmes used to kill 12 people and wound 58 in Aurora, Colo. It bought a handful of other firearms companies, which it then merged into a new parent company, Freedom Group. At which point, Cerberus was the largest manufacturer of guns and ammunition in the country." When he called "these investors to ask their rationale for investing in a fund that financed a gun 'roll-up,' as the Cerberus strategy is called," they came up with a bunch of lame excuses." CW: I was not happy to see that one of the funds that has a chunk o'Cerberus is TIAA-CREF, my husband's major pension fund. ...

... Andrew Kaczynski of BuzzFeed finds that the false claim in the extended NRA ad "of armed guards at Obama's school ... came from the Weekly Standard's blog. CW: Are we surprised that the NRA gets is "facts" from right-wing blogs?

Erik Wemple of the Washington Post: "The Journal News has taken down its controversial gun databases, which carried the names and addresses of gun-permit holders in Rockland and Westchester counties. The move represents a reversal of its position that the databases provide a public service, as well as a capitulation to weeks and weeks of negative publicity, threats and pressure from gun owners, lawmakers and media types over the maps."

"Days Before Housing Bust, Fed Doubted Need to Act." Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times: "... the transcripts of the 2007 [Federal Reserve] meetings, released after a standard five-year delay, provide fresh insight into the decisions made at the outset of its great intervention [in the economy]. They show that [Fed Chair Ben] Bernanke and his colleagues continued to wrestle with misgivings about the need for action, because at the time there was little evidence of a broader economic downturn. Several officials worried that the economy would instead overheat, causing inflation to rise. By December, as the Fed began to act with consistent force, the economy was already in recession." ...

... Neil Irwin of the Washington Post: with a few exceptions, Tim Geithner among them, members of the Fed showed little or no foresight or "understanding the possibility that the entire financial system had become a house of straws built on mortgage securities that were anything but secure...." ...

... CW: the release of the transcripts are really good for Geithner's career prospects. It's almost as if he planned to leave government service just as the meeting minutes became public & showed him to be the sharpest tack in the box. (True, he reportedly wanted to quit his job earlier.) ...

... AND we see here why Wall Street considers Geithner to be "Our Man in Washington": Alister Bull of Reuters "In the summer of 2007, as storm clouds gathered over the world's financial system, then-New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner allegedly informed the Bank of America and other banks about the possibility the U.S. central bank would lower one of its critical interest rates, according to a senior Fed official, [Jeffrey Lacker, head of the Richmond, Virginia, Fed].... Private disclosure of confidential, market-sensitive information by the central bank would be highly unusual, but it was not immediately clear if it would be illegal."

Danielle Douglas of the Washington Post: "Starting next January..., brokers' and loan officers' compensation will no longer be based on the terms of the mortgages they originate, according to new guidelines released Friday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.... In the past eight days, the agency has handed down a series of guidelines that include requiring mortgage servicers to provide struggling homeowners with options to avoid foreclosure and curtailing harmful practices such as interest-only payments.."

Buh-bye.Ron Nixon of the New York Times: "After years of complaints by passengers and members of Congress, the Transportation Security Administration said Friday that it would begin removing the controversial full-body scanners that produce revealing images of airline travelers beginning this summer. The agency said it canceled a contract, originally worth $40 million, with the maker of the scanners, Rapiscan, after the company failed to meet a Congressional deadline for new software that would protect passengers' privacy."

Brian Sonenstein of Firedoglake: "Former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who helped expose the Bush administration's torture program, recently plead guilty to sharing the name of a colleague to journalists to use as a source. He is expected to receive a sentence of 30 months in prison. It's a cruel irony that the first agent connected to the CIA torture program to go to prison is the whistleblower who spoke out against the heinous practices of our government."

"The Girl of My Dreams." Gail Collins on the Manti Te'o fake girlfriend thing.

Joshua Prager in Vanity Fair: Norma McCorvey, a/k/a "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade "is a phony." Prager traces the life of McCorvey & provides evidence that she has long been an opportunist. A cynic might conclude that McCorvey converted to the anti-abortion cause because it paid better. Thanks to contributor MAG for the link.

Congressional Race

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "Stephen Colbert may have 'run for president,' but his sister is actually going to run for Congress. Elizabeth Colbert-Busch's soon-to-be-official campaign has informed South Carolina Democratic Party executive director Amanda Loveday that it will file Tuesday for the special election for appointed Sen. Tim Scott's (R-S.C.) old House seat, Loveday has told the Washington Post."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Stan Musial, one of baseball's greatest hitters and a revered figure in the storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals -- the player they called Stan the Man -- died Saturday. He was 92."

New York Times: "The four-day hostage crisis in the Sahara reached a bloody conclusion on Saturday as the Algerian Army carried out a final assault on the gas field taken over by Islamist militants, killing most of the remaining kidnappers and raising the total of hostages killed to at least 23, Algerian officials said." ...

... AP: "Faced with international outrage over the killing of hostages at a sprawling gas plant in the middle of the Sahara desert, Algeria was under pressure to bring an end to a four-day standoff with Islamist extremists that has killed at least 12 captives and left dozens unaccounted for. The standoff has put the spotlight on militancy plaguing the region and al-Qaida-linked groups roaming remote areas from Mali to Libya, threatening vital infrastructure and energy interests." ...

... Reuters: "Algerian special forces on Saturday found 15 burned bodies at the desert gas plant attacked by al Qaeda-linked fighters, a source familiar with the unfolding hostage crisis there said." ...

... The Guardian has a liveblog here.

AP: Part 2 of "Confessions of Lance," wherein Lance Armstrong says stuff to Oprah Winfrey, who is hoping to get even richer off Lance's saying stuff. ...

... Reuters has "key quotes" from among the stuff Armstrong said.

Thursday
Jan172013

The Commentariat -- Jan. 18, 2013

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on Paul Krugman's takedown of Tom Friedman.

To find out how you can participate, CLICK ON THE IMAGE.President Obama in a Yahoo! op-ed: "Each January as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are called not just to pause and reflect, but to act.... This Saturday, we're continuing that tradition with another National Day of Service. Michelle, the girls and I will be volunteering in our community, and we're asking all Americans to join us."

Michael Cooper & Dahlia Sussman of the New York Times: "The massacre of children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., appears to be profoundly swaying Americans' views on guns, galvanizing the broadest support for stricter gun laws in about a decade, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.... The poll found that a majority of Americans -- 54 percent -- think gun control laws should be tightened, up markedly from a CBS News poll in April that found that only 39 percent backed stricter laws. The rise in support for stricter gun laws stretched across political lines, including an 18-point increase among Republicans. A majority of independents now back stricter gun laws." ...

Michael Cooper: "... as mayors from around the nation gathered [in Washington, D.C.,] on Thursday for the 81st winter meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, many said they were heartened by President Obama's call for new laws to curb gun violence, which included several measures that the conference had sought for decades. Many said they planned to urge Congress to enact them."

... Dave Weigel of Slate: "Gun massacre trutherism isn't tied to election results. It bubbles over after every massacre.... The theories ... spread in part because of the confirmation bias of worried gun owners. And that's actually been egged on, multiple times, by the National Rifle Association.... The idea that the government is one short step away from a gun ban is actually integral to the lobby's pitch."

Susan Eisenhower in the Washington Post: "For the eight years that my grandfather, Dwight Eisenhower, was president of the United States, I had Secret Service protection.... These armed agents protected my sisters, brother and me from potential kidnappings or other targeted attacks.... Any thinking person has to be disgusted by the National Rifle Association ad ... suggesting that the president is an 'elitist hypocrite' because his children have the benefit of armed protection at school and the nation's children as a whole do not. This is absurd. The nation's children are not individually at risk the way the Obama children are.... The NRA's attack ad should be condemned for exacerbating the dangers faced by the president and his family...." ...

"The Dwindling Deficit." Paul Krugman: "Even without [taking specific action to reduce the deficit], however, the budget outlook for the next 10 years doesn't look at all alarming. Now, projections that run further into the future do suggest trouble, as an aging population and rising health care costs continue to push federal spending higher. But ... why, exactly, should we believe that it's necessary, or even possible, to decide right now how we will eventually address the budget issues of the 2030s?"

Navel-Gazing, GOP Edition

Rosalind Helderman & Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post: "House Republicans are cloistered at a tony golf resort [in Williamsburg, Virginia,] for three days hoping to resurrect their battered political brand, as they prepare for what could be another damaging confrontation with President Obama over federal spending.... Although there was some urgency for a change, the consensus was that the change was about how to communicate, not about rethinking core policy positions." CW Trans.: "We are still greedy, misogynistic, sociopathic martinets, but we're looking at ways to Stockholm-Syndrome you into liking it."

The Vote No/Hope Yes Caucus. Ashley Parker of the New York Times: the Vote No/Hope Yes Caucus is "the small but significant number of Republican representatives who, on the recent legislation to head off the broad tax increases and spending cuts mandated by the so-called fiscal cliff, voted no while privately hoping -- and at times even lobbying -- in favor of the bill's passage, given the potential harmful economic consequences otherwise.... The Vote No/Hope Yes group is perhaps the purest embodiment of the uneasy relationship between politics and pragmatism in the nation's capital and a group whose very existence must be understood and dealt with as the Republican Party grapples with its future in the wake of the bruising 2012 elections."

Actually, They're All Wingers. Ed Kilgore: "I would object to the neat characterization of House GOPers as falling into three equivalent baskets of 'moderates, pragmatic conservatives, and hard-core conservatives.' ... Calling any House Republican in a competitive district a 'moderate' is both dangerous and wrong.... As for the 'pragmatic conservatives' (presumably led by John Boehner), exactly how much pragmatism can be attributed to the decision not to blow up the economy? ... The temptation to treat the two parties as composed of balanced groups of ideologues and 'pragmatists' or 'moderates' is at the very center of the false-equivalency meme.... There is an extremist ideology that unites most Republican pols...." ...

Charles Pierce. Paul "Ryan has a brand-new shiny idea that he's out in the yard playing with. It's called 'prioritization,' and it's the latest thing in zombie-eyed granny starving. By this theory, which is the brainchild of Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, himself an economic extremist..., we hit the debt limit and then the government 'prioritizes' its spending, beginning with interest on the debt, because that's what most Americans are sweating in their shoes about, and then skipping right to veterans benefits, because cutting them would cause actual political problems for hacks like Toomey and Ryan.... It seems to me that the American people gave Ryan a 'crystal clear' indication what they thought of his ideas..., but that's just me.... It really is time to stop taking this guy seriously." ...

     ... UPI Update: "U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Republicans may back a short-term debt-ceiling increase -- a notion the White House immediately rejected.... White House spokesman Jay Carney rejected the notion of raising the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling in the short term, saying postponing Congress' responsibility would create drama in Washington that will hurt the U.S. economy." ...

     ... Steve Benen on the debt ceiling war: "It would probably be an overstatement to say Republicans are already surrendering, but let's just say they've taken the white flag off the shelf, even if they're not yet ready to wave it."

Jamelle Bouie, in the Washington Post: "On issues that don't obviously relate to the party's long-term survival, [Sen. Marco] Rubio [RTP-Fla.] is a conventional conservative, responding to a base that remains far to the right of the average American. To wit, Rubio's response to President Obama's gun safety measures -- which are modest in scope and broadly popular -- is nothing short of hysterical.... Republican lawmakers -- even so-called reformers -- must still respond to their supporters. And by and large, the GOP remains committed to the values of its right-wing base."

Here's why Republicans have become ever so self-aware. Henry Decker of the National Memo: "According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, President Barack Obama's approval rating is near an all-time high, and the public is on his side in the upcoming debt ceiling debate. The poll finds Obama's approval rating at 55 percent, his highest level since November, 2009 (excluding a brief bump up to 56 percent after the president ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011) 61 percent view Obama as a strong leader -- his highest level in three years -- and 53 percent say they're optimistic about the policies he'll pursue in his second term. By contrast..., Congress has just a 19 percent approval rating; 37 percent approve of House Democrats, and 24 percent approve of House Republicans."

Jonathan Bernstein on the Separation of Powers That Isn't. "You won't hear it from House Republicans and other conservatives, who are talking impeachment over the prospect that Obama might use executive orders as part of his gun-safety initiatives (this notwithstanding that, by one count, Obama uses executive orders less frequently than most presidents), but executive orders save Congress from passing laws that would have to be far more detailed and complex than they currently are. Not only that: sometimes the easiest way to get a bill over the finish line is to leave the specifics up to the regulators over in the executive branch. So often the path of least resistance for Congress is to pass vague legislation and leave it to the executive branch to fill in the details."

Rigging the 2016 Presidential Election. Erik Loomis of Lawyers, Guns & Money: "Why this story isn't getting more attention, I don't know.... Rather than broaden their message to appeal to young and non-white voters, Republicans are looking to commit the greatest suppression of votes since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed.... It is entirely possible that a Democratic candidate could win 55% of the vote in 2016 and lose the election."

** "A Tale of Two Dead Girls & Notre Dame Football." Amanda Marcotte of Slate: "Lizzy Seeberg was a real person and she really did kill herself in 2011, at age 19, after accusing a football player of sexual assault." People harassed her, the campus police investigated her but not the accused, who -- once "investigated" after Seeberg's death, was immediately cleared. "Te'o's story has been all over the news today -- and with good reason. It's nuts. But what's also nuts is that the story of Lennay Kekua -- the dead girl who never lived -- is a bigger deal ... than the story of Lizzy Seeberg, whose real life ended in real tragedy.... Beautiful, selfless, perfect woman does not exist? Now that's a story. The horrors faced by women trying to find justice for sexual violence? Sorry, ladies, that's just boring old everyday life." ...

... ** Melinda Henneberger of the Washington Post: "... evidence that the University of Notre Dame covers up for sexual predators on the football team in hopes of winning some games has been mostly ignored.... We know for sure that Notre Dame collaborated with at least one story, on Charlie Rose's CBS morning show, that told the phony boohoo tale after the school knew no such woman had ever walked the earth." ...

... Tim Egan: "The Internet is the cause of much of today's commitment-free, surface-only living; it's also the explanation for why someone could tumble head-over-heels for a pixelated cipher. Online dating was only the start of what led us down this road."

Josh Gerstein of Politico: "President Barack Obama's Jobs Council hit a notable milestone on Thursday: one year without an official meeting. The 26-member panel is also set to expire at the end of the month.... Politico caused a stir last July by reporting that the panel had not convened officially for six months. The story noted some simmering tension between the slew of business executives on the board and a pair of labor leaders who are also members of the group. The report also said that some CEOs were reluctant to appear with Obama at the height of the presidential campaign...." CW: the less Obama talks to those scheming reprobates, the better.

"Les Insufferables." Nicholas Beaudrot of Donkeylicious: "There is plenty to mock in the Wall Street Journal's profile of some hypothetical households that will see tax increases.... A huge chunk of the tax increase on the fake single mom and fake single can be chalked up to the lapse of the payroll tax holiday [which Republicans demanded].... Perhaps the most laughable part ... is that all of these households realize a substantial portion of their income through taxable investment income.... Given the WSJ's insistence on including an absurdly large amount of investment income in their hypotheticals, it's quite possible that there are zero households that come close to matching these characteristics. They might as well be reporting on how the tax changes will affect Elvis Presley, JFK, and Sasquatch...." Via Jonathan Bernstein. CW: Here's some mockery, courtesy of Charles Pierce, which includes a comment from me.

News Ledes

New York Times: "C. Ray Nagin, the former mayor of this city who fulminated against the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina but became for many a symbol of the shortcomings of government himself, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Friday on 21 counts including conspiracy, bribery and money laundering." CW: presumed innocent, but, um, what a surprise.

** AP: "A federal appeals court on Friday upheld Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's contentious law stripping most public workers of nearly all of their collective bargaining rights in a decision hailed by Republicans but not undoing a state court ruling keeping much of the law from being in effect."

New York Times: "Gussie Moran, who as a ranked American tennis player in 1949 caused an international stir and gained worldwide fame for competing at Wimbledon wearing a short skirt and lace-trimmed underwear, died on Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 89."

New York Times: "... some of the hundreds of workers who managed to escape the national gas field on the eastern edge of Algeria that had been stormed by Islamist militants two days before" told "chilling tales" of their ordeal. "The gunmen, fighters with a group called Al Mulathameen, said they were acting to avenge the French intervention in nearby Mali, Algerian officials said. But there were indications that the attack had been planned long before the French military began its offensive to recapture the northern half of that country from Islamist insurgents." ...

... New York Times: "Britain said on Friday that an Algerian military operation against kidnappers in the Sahara was not over and the fate of some captives remained unclear a day after Algeria mounted an assault on heavily armed fighters holding American and other hostages at a remote gas field facility." ...

... Reuters: "Hundreds of workers from international oil companies have been evacuated from Algeria on Thursday and many more will follow, BP said on Friday following the al-Qaeda-linked attack on a major gas facility."

New York Times: "The discovery by American intelligence agencies that North Korea is moving mobile missile launchers around the country, some carrying a new generation of powerful rocket, has spurred new assessments of the intentions of the country's young new leader, Kim Jong-un, who has talked about economic change but appears to be accelerating the country's ability to attack American allies or forces in Asia, and ultimately to strike across the Pacific."

New York Times: "In a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong admitted to using banned substances but did not say how he did it or who helped him."

AP: "The former Century 16 [in Aurora, Colorado], now renovated and renamed the Century Aurora, opened its doors to victims of the July 20 attack on Thursday night with a somber remembrance ceremony and a special showing of 'The Hobbit.'"