The Ledes

... Thanks to Akhilleus for the link. (This video tends to start near the end. If it does that for you, cursor back to the beginning.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015.

Guardian: "The Federal Reserve on Wednesday continued to pave the way for an increase in interest rates as early as September. The US central bank left its key interest rate unchanged at near zero – where it has been since the 2008 financial crisis – but once again signalled that rates will rise later this year. While the Fed chair, Janet Yellen, has left little doubt that rates will rise this year, the Fed left itself wiggle room as it has set no timetable and said rates would only be raised if the economy continues to improve and unemployment continues to fall." ...

... The Fed's statement is here.

New York Times: "A large object that appeared to be an airplane part washed up Wednesday on the shore of Réunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean, prompting speculation that it might be debris from Flight 370, the Malaysia Airlines jetliner that disappeared in March 2014."

New York Times: "After months of speculation, Afghan officials announced Wednesday that they were now certain that the Taliban’s reclusive leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, died in Pakistan in 2013."

Guardian: "Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has approved the immediate construction of hundreds of settlement units in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in an effort to stave off a growing threat posed by pro-settler parties in his rightwing coalition government. The issue was brought to a head on Wednesday by a supreme court ruling that two buildings in the West Bank settlement of Beit El – built on private Palestinian land without permits – should be destroyed, despite Netanyahu’s opposition."

Washington Post: "An Albuquerque 911 dispatcher has resigned after audio was released of him hanging up on a 17-year-old as she tended to a friend who was shot at the party. The victim, 17-year-old Jaydon Chavez-Silver, later died.... Emergency responders had already been dispatched to the house before [the dispatcher] hung up." Includes 911 audio.

Minneapolis Star Tribune: "A big-game hunter from the Twin Cities found himself at the center of an international firestorm Tuesday over the death of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe, but said he regrets killing the animal and believed his guides were leading him on a legal hunt.... Earlier Tuesday, the Telegraph newspaper of London identified [dentist Walter] Palmer as the hunter who shot Cecil and reported that he paid $54,000 for the hunt. The Telegraph said the lion was illegally lured out of Hwange National Park, where it had protected status, and onto a neighboring game farm, where Palmer was on safari." ...

... Salon: Yelp contributors are whacking Palmer.

The Wires

The Ledes

Tuesday, July 28, 2015.

Guardian: "Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, has been sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli. Saif, once seen as his father’s heir apparent, was condemned to death along with eight other figures from the former dictatorship, including the former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi and Gaddafi’s last prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi."

Reuters: "FIFA boss Sepp Blatter deserves a Nobel Prize for his stewardship of soccer's governing body, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview aired by Swiss broadcaster RTS on Monday."

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post: "A novel data-mining project reveals evidence that a common group of heartburn medications taken by more than 100 million people every year is associated with a greater risk of heart attacks, Stanford University researchers reported Wednesday."

AP: "Federal health advisers on Tuesday[, June 9,] recommended approval for a highly anticipated cholesterol drug from Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, but with the caveat that more data is needed about its long-term ability to reduce heart attacks. The expert panel recommended by a 13-3 vote that the Food and Drug Administration approve the injectable drug, called Praluent."

Washington Post (June 4): "The first-ever 'female Viagra' came one step closer to coming to market, as a key advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration voted Thursday afternoon to recommend that the FDA approve the drug with conditions. The committee voted 18-6 to recommend that the FDA approve flibanserin, a drug designed to boost the low sexual desire of otherwise healthy women."

White House Live Video
July 29

1:00 pm ET: Press briefing by Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz

Go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

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

Fuck off! I’m done with you. -- Jon Stewart, to Wyatt Cenac

... Alex Jung of New York: Jon Stewart repeatedly yelled at Wyatt Cenac when Cenac questioned a "Daily Show" segment meant to be a defense against Fox "News" allegations that Stewart's Herman Cain imitation was racist. ...

... Maron's WTF podcast of his interview with Cenac is here. ...

... CW: Here's the thing, black people. When you confront white liberals with accusations of racial bias, WE WILL NEVER ADMIT IT. We will remind you that we have been fighting for black civil rights for 50 years (Bernie Sanders). We will tell you all lives matter (Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley). We will tell you that white people are responsible for expanding your rights (Hillary Clinton). We will deny your accusations (Every one of us). And all the while, we will be highly insulted, even if we don't tell you to fuck off. Because white people's feelings matter. And, after all we've done for you, we can't believe you would accuse us of racism.

Even when they're only lip-syncing, some entertainers are pretty damned talented. I'm not much of a fan of Tom Cruise's, but ...

Tech Crunch: "It’s no secret that Google+ didn’t quite work out the way Google envisioned and now, after already moving Google Photos out of the service, it’s starting to decouple Google+ profiles from its regular Google accounts."

Stupid Pet Tricks, Reptile Edition:

Lloyd Grove of the Daily Beast: NBC News Chairman Andy Lack is replacing MSNBC's Ed Schultz with -- Chuck Todd. [CW: Excellent decision! Let's change "MSNBC" to "VPN" -- "Village People's Network."] "The only programs that appeared safe from disruption were Morning Joe..., hosted by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski; Hardball ... with Chris Matthews; and The Rachel Maddow Show at 9 p.m. Those programs have performed respectably...." ...

We live in a time when much of the corporate media regards politics as a baseball game or a soap opera. Ed Schultz has treated the American people with respect by focusing on the most important issues impacting their lives.... I am very disappointed that Comcast [the parent company of NBC & MSNBC] chose to remove Ed Schultz from its lineup. We need more people who talk about the real issues facing our country, not fewer.... At a time when a handful of large, multi-national corporations own our major media outlets, I hope they will allow voices to be heard from those who dissent from the corporate agenda. -- Sen. Bernie Sanders

Washington Post: "The latest update from NASA's Kepler space telescope — designed to spot distant exoplanets — adds more than 500 new possible planets to the fray. That's in addition to the 4,175 planets already found by Kepler. And of those 500 new potential planets, scientists say, a dozen could be remarkably Earth-like. That means they're less than twice as large as Earth, are potentially rocky and are at the right distance from their host stars to harbor liquid water." ...

... Guardian: "Scientists on the hunt for extraterrestrial life have discovered 'the closest twin to Earth' outside the solar system, Nasa announced on Thursday."

Worst Person Ratings in the World. Andrew Kirell of Mediaite: Rumors are a'flyin' that MSNBC is headed for another line-up shake-up, which could include the Return of Dr. Olbermann, who is departing ESPN -- again. Because their third place in cable ratings wasn't as bad as their third place is now (sometimes 4th, behind Al Jazeera). And because the New Olbermann is now a suits-licking pussycat, unlike the Old Olbermann from way last week.

Some Would Be Heroes. Washington Post: Coast Guardsman Darren Harrity swims a mile in choppy, fuel-slicked sea to save four men in a leaky lifeboat.

New York Times: "What Pet Should I Get?" -- an aide to Dr. Suess's widow found the manuscript in a box. Dr. Suess -- Theodore Geisel -- died in 1991.

     ... Via BuzzFeed, for the fun of it.

Washington Post: "On Monday, famed physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian tycoon Yuri Milner held a news conference in London to announce their new project: injecting $100 million and a whole lot of brain power into the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life, an endeavor they're calling Breakthrough Listen." ...

... CW: What a waste. You know all they'll find is angels hovering around a pantheon of some sort & maybe, if they're lucky, their long-dead pooches floating around Pet Heaven, which is real & wonderful.

New York Times: "In a pair of legal filings on Friday, two nuns who object to [singer Katy] Perry’s proposed purchase of their order’s convent on eight acres [in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles] disclosed an email describing any sale to the saucy pop singer as a breach of their sacred vows.... The court papers include claims by several of five surviving nuns in the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary that the archdiocese is betraying them and bullying them into supporting a sale other than their preferred transaction with [another buyer]."

NASA: "In the latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named 'Tombaugh Regio' (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930."

Hill: "President Obama is making a final 'Daily Show' appearance before host Jon Stewart leaves the political comedy program after 17 years. Obama will sit down for his final chat with Stewart on Tuesday, the White House confirmed Friday."

For an actual feel-good moment, Lindsey Bever of the Washington Post tells the story of 16-year-old small-plane crash survivor Autumn Veatch. Veatch, who was injured in the crash that killed her grandparents, walked untold mild through rough terrain until she came to a public road & parking area.

Washington Post: "Nearly two months after a molestation scandal prompted TLC to pull reruns of the popular reality program '19 Kids and Counting' from the air and online, the network announced that it has officially canceled the program."

Washington Post: "Filmmaker George Lucas, singer-songwriter Carole King and dancer-actress Rita Moreno are among an unprecedented six honorees to be saluted at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors. Seventies rockers the Eagles, actress Cicely Tyson and conductor Seiji Ozawa will also be honored at the Dec. 6 event, Kennedy Center officials said Wednesday. A major fundraiser for the arts center, the gala celebration will be televised on CBS on Dec. 29."

Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker reviews Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. ...

... Laura Marsh of the New Republic: "Scolars have been pointing out Atticus Finch's racism for years."

New York Times (July 15): "It was the last day of business at F. A. O. Schwarz on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan."

New York Times: "A day after its successful flyby, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft sent back the first close-up photographs of Pluto, revealing a young surface dotted with ice mountains. The piano-size spacecraft traveled nine years and three billion miles to study the dwarf planet and its five moons." Includes one close-up photo from 25 miles out. More on NASA's site.

New York (July 14): "We're halfway through July, but until this morning, there was still snow on the ground in Boston. The last of the city's historic snowfall, a disgusting frozen mass of dirt, snow, and trash, was officially pronounced melted this morning"."

Here are time-lapse photos of the long melt:

Sean Hollister of Gizmodo: "The Mozilla Firefox web browser now blocks Flash by default. And when I say “blocks,” I don’t mean it asks you nicely if you’d really like to use Flash. I don’t mean it automatically pauses Flash videos like Google Chrome. I mean Mozilla has decided that Flash is going down.... Why such a hard-on for Flash? Why now? Well, it could be that the world just rediscovered just how prone Flash is to nasty, nasty vulnerabilities. When the Hacking Team — an Italian security company that sold intrusive spy tools — got hacked, one of those tools got out into the wild. A nasty hole in Flash that Adobe has yet to patch.... It’s probably worth noting that [Monday July 13], Mozilla’s Facebook’s chief security officer publicly asked Adobe to kill off Flash once and for all.... Update: Adobe has already released a newer version of Flash, 18.0.0.209, which Firefox doesn’t block by default. You’ll want to manually download it."

Contributor Nisky Guy takes us back in time to February 2006, when Lewis Black complained, "I can't wait that long":

Washington Post: "On its approach to Pluto, the spacecraft [New Horizons] obtained the most arresting image yet of the dwarf planet. Pluto is not a bland and featureless ball of ice, but rather a complex, variegated, mottled world with broad snowfields, structures that look like cliffs or fault lines, and a strikingly bright heart-shaped area that could be the eroded remnant of a giant impact crater."

Contact the Constant Weader

Click on this link to e-mail the Constant Weader.

Constant Comments

Anyone with a cheap computer can become a columnist or a pundit. -- Dennis Ryerson, Editor, Indianapolis Star

About Me: I have a cheap computer.
-- Constant Weader

Follow CONSTANTWEADER on Twitter... for breaking news. I update several times a day & tweet only the big deals.

Friday
May172013

The Short Life of Umbrella-Gate

An Investigative Report

President Obama & PM Erdogan of Turkey at a joint presser Thursday.

Mr. President, when it rains it pours, but most Americans hold their own umbrellas. -- Sarah Palin

Rachel Weiner of the Washington Post elaborates on conservative outrage over President Obama's elitist, unamerican activity. (The true challenge of the conservative life is that one must exist in a perpetual state of outrage. It seems likely that the only reason liberals are liberals is that they are too lazy & irresponsible to live in a constant cloud of fury and existential indignation.)

Hawaii, Birthplace of Umbrella-Gate. Not surprisingly, then-Vice President Richard Nixon began the tradition of having retainers hold the umbrellas of Presidents & presidential hopefuls. Nixon began this practice in Hawaii, of all places, a year before President Obama was allegedly born there. The obvious similarities between the Nixon & Obama scandals are stunning & incontrovertible:

Update. Contributor Dan Sheerin adds this excellent image of President Gerald Ford one-upping the guy who handed him the top job. Ford's umbrella-holding serviceman is Lt. Col. Robert Blake, a military aide with a chestful of medals. AND, as Sheerin points out, you can purchase the photo on ebay. Buy It Now for $23.88! Like Obama, Ford was hosting foreign dignitaries, among them West German President Walter Scheel. Unlike Obama, who called for the umbrellas specifically for the benefit of PM Erdogan, Ford did not bother to protect his distinguished guests from the rain. A shocking diplomatic catastrophe made all the more curious by Scheel's apparent indifference (he's smiling in the photo) to the affront. Not to mention, Col. Blake, the Umbrella Man, looks pretty content, too.

President & Mrs. Reagan greet guests while scandalously standing under an umbrella which a retainer holds:

Carrying on the grotesque tradition which Nixon & the Reagans firmly established, Reagan's successor George H. W. Bush stands beneath an umbrella held by a marine. Note how the marine has to hold his arm WAY UP because the upper-crusty Bush has placed himself on a pedestal. Not surprisingly, Bush lost his re-election bid. Later, combat veteran Sgt. Randolph C. Bumbershoot told reporters that holding an umbrella for a tall guy standing on a pedestal was the most difficult mission of his military career.

     Update: Commenter DTA1401 has assumed that Marine means "U.S. Marine." As s/he says, "those are not American military uniforms." I think Sgt. Bumbershoot is a Maltese Marine.

Campaigning in 2008, Palin's hapless running-mate John McCain stands under an umbrella which an aide is holding:

When asked why he couldn't hold his own umbrella, McCain apologized, explaining he has difficulty raising his arms as the result of injuries sustained while in captivity during the Vietnam War. But his real reason was likely a fear of looking like this:

Update. Commenter American Vet -- one of those perpetual-state-of-outrage people -- observes, "Not one picture you posted, shows any American Military Personnel holding an umbrella for any leader. Investigative report indeed, big difference." Howz this? The man to the left of Bush Pere appears to me to be an "American Military Person" as does the man to the right of Bush Fils. Each of these apparent American Military Personnel is holding an umbrella for the President. (Note also that the populist Democratic president appearing in photo with Bush I is holding his own umbrella, & perhaps coincidentally, looks like the happiest guy in the crowd):

OOPS! Palin herself is not like "most Americans" who "hold their own umbrellas":

Ever:

-30-

Friday
May172013

The Commentariat -- May 18, 2013

The President's Weekly Address:

     ... The transcript is here.

... Christi Parsons of the Los Angeles Times: " President Obama said Friday he wanted to put more Americans to work by slashing the amount of time it takes to grant federal approval for big job-creating projects. But Obama's choice of venue for his remarks -- a Baltimore company that makes mining and pumping equipment -- provided fodder for Republicans. They noted that the company president had, just the day before, testified on Capitol Hill in support of the Keystone XL pipeline, which the Obama administration has delayed for years over environmental concerns. Ellicott Dredges President Peter Bowe said the pipeline ... would pour money into his business. 'For us, it's all about jobs,' Bowe told members of the House Committee on Small Business on Thursday." ...

... CW: this is a good example of how second-term controversies develop. Odds are that if President Obama faced a re-election bid, his crack staff would have vetted Bowe & his business and would not have sent the President to Ellicot Dredges. Whether this oopsie was the result of B-team incompetence, laziness or political staff attrition, it is representative of second-term carelessness. ...

Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post: "Two senior military officers ... Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the service's top commander ... said for the first time Friday that they were 'open' to proposed legislation that would overhaul military law in response to an epidemic of sexual assaults, acknowledging that victims lack faith in commanders to handle the problem.... A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced Thursday that they support a bill from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would force the most significant changes in military law in 30 years by giving prosecutors, instead of unit commanders, the power to open investigations into serious crimes and send the cases to trial.... The Pentagon has resisted taking such power away from military commanders.... Ten days earlier, [Welsh] testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was opposed to the idea.... Although neither Dempsey nor Welsh endorsed the proposal, their comments aligned them with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has said he is willing to discuss it with lawmakers."

Brendan Nyhan, in the Columbia Journalism Review: "... media scandals are a 'co-production' of the opposition party and the press.... Reporters [should take] more responsibility for their role in creating and sustaining the media narratives that they are covering."

It's They're Obama's Watergate! Or Worse! Steve Benen makes a list of some of the nothingburgers Republicans have compared to Watergate. (Links are Benen's):

* Benghazi is "worse than Watergate." [Update: this argument comes up quite a bit.]

* The IRS controversy carries "echoes of Watergate."

* National security leaks are "worse than Watergate."

* A job offer for former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) might be "Obama's Watergate."

* "Fast and Furious" might be "Obama's Watergate."

* Solyndra "makes Watergate look like child's play."

* The White House's relationship with Media Matters might be "Obama's Watergate." ...

... Overreach? What Overreach? Dana Milbank on "Thursday morning's circus on the east lawn of the Capitol, where Republican lawmakers gathered with tea party leaders to declare their thoughts on the IRS scandal." CW: do read the quotes. And check out Ted Cruz's "sourcing." Milbank calls Cruz the "leader of the neo-McCarthyite wing of the GOP," a moniker that is precisely accurate. ...

Gail Collins reprises Friday's Congressional hearing on the IRS in which all the members of the committee expressed outrage. CW: maybe some of them will explode. ...

... For a more detailed retelling of the hearing, here's the final effort of Jonathan Weisman & Jeremy Peters of the New York Times. Also, Republicans are expanding the IRS scandalette into an attack on -- ObamaCare! ...

... John Cassidy of the New Yorker: "If there are any conservatively minded Inspector Clouseaus out there who would like to take the probe further, I suggest you get in touch with Committee chair Dave] Camp's office, or with [Paul] Ryan's. They need your help." ...

... Nice to see AP stories like this one by Ken Thomas & Steve Peoples. I hope a lot of local newspapers pick it up: " There's an irony in the Internal Revenue Service's crackdown on conservative groups. The nation's tax agency has admitted to inappropriately scrutinizing smaller tea party organizations that applied for tax-exempt status. But the IRS largely maintained a hands-off policy with the much larger, big-budget organizations on the left and right that were most influential in the 2012 elections and are organized under a section of the tax code that allows them to hide their donors.... Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity were among those that spent tens of millions of dollars on TV ads and get-out-the-vote efforts to help Republicans. Democrats were aided in similar fashion by Priorities USA, made up of former Barack Obama campaign aides, and American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, an opposition research group led by a former adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid." ...

... The Stupidest Part of the IRS Story. Bernie Becker of the Hill: "Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner, said Friday that last week's revelation that the IRS gave special scrutiny to Tea Party groups came from a planted question. Lois Lerner, an IRS official with oversight of tax-exempt groups, disclosed the scrutiny at an American Bankers Association conference last Friday after a question from a lawyer who has served on IRS advisory boards." ...

... David Kay Johnston calls on Lois Lerner to resign for multiple offenses. ...

... Garance Franke-Ruta of the Atlantic points out another lie Lerner told. ...

... Good piece by Lisa Rein & Dan Zak of the Washington Post: IRS personnel in Cincinnati -- the center of controversy -- are mystified by claims they are Nixonian political hacks out to get honest, law-abiding, tax-averse yahoos in tricorns. ...

... Nate Silver: Peggy Noonan is of the impression that the IRS is targeting conservatives for audits because she heard of four -- that's right, four -- conservatives who were audited last year. Noonan's storied "impressions" are absolute bunk. She doesn't have the barest understanding of the difference between an anecdote & statistical significance. CW: Here's the "logic": My rich Uncle Moe got audited right after he gave $2,500 to the Romney campaign. I don't vote & didn't get audited. Ergo, the IRS is targeting Republicans. So Obama can take away our guns & become dictator for life.

Greg Sargent: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is increasingly focused on the month of July as the time to exercise the so-called 'nuclear option' and revisit filibuster reform, and he has privately told top advisers that he's all but certain to take action if the Senate GOP blocks three upcoming key nominations.... Reid is eyeing a change to the rules that would do away with the 60-vote threshold on all judicial and executive branch nominations." Read the whole post. ...

... Jonathan Bernstein: "... Reid is doing an excellent job at this complex game; leaking this threat now and generally upping the ante on nominations in general seems to be exactly the way to go." ...

... Kevin Drum: "I think it's unlikely that Republicans will allow [Richard] Cordray's nomination [to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] to go forward, since they're blocking him mainly as a way of blocking the operation of the CFPB itself. More than likely, then, they'll call Reid's bluff. Then we'll find out just how serious he is." ...

... Justin Green of the Daily Beast: "... there's something not quite right about requiring a 3/5 majority for a duly elected President to appoint a cabinet. In a perverse way, if Republican intransigence on appointments finally persuades Reid to embrace filibuster reform on the limited scale Sargent describes, they'll have done the entire country a favor. I strongly believe in the filibuster for the legislative process. Permanent changes to law should not be able to sail through on a majority vote. But a circuit court judge and the head of the EPA are not permanent legislative decisions, and they deserve a simple majority vote." (Green favors the 60-vote rule for Supreme Court justices.)

Jed Lewison: Congressional Republicans are changing their debt-ceiling/hostage-taking strategy: now, instead of trying to convince voters that raising the debt ceiling is the end of civilization as we know it, they'll try to convince voters that their way of raising the debt limit is a must-do -- a tactic that clearly undercuts their ability to wage "economic terrorism."

Jeffrey Nugent, formerly the head of Revlon, says in a Washington Post op-ed that his wacko little brother Ted & the NRA are wrong about gun registration: "I believe strongly that expanding and improving mandatory background checks will keep a lot of people who aren't entitled to Second Amendment rights from having easy access to guns. As of today, a convicted felon can find a gun show or a private seller and buy a firearm without a background check. That loophole should be closed.... Why would responsible gun owners want to protect people who threaten not only our safety but our gun rights? The NRA has it wrong: Irresponsible gun owners are bad for everyone."

Unbelievable. No, Really. Unbelievable. Will Englund of the Washington Post: "All that low-tech equipment that Russian security officers displayed for the TV cameras after detaining Ryan Fogle, American diplomat and alleged spy, made it look as though he stepped right out of the annals of 1980s Cold War espionage. Now, the Interfax news agency is reporting that the wigs he allegedly had with him match a wig seized from Michael Sellers, a U.S. diplomat kicked out of the Soviet Union back in 1986. That wig is in the archives of the FSB, Russia's Federal Security Service.... It all looked a bit goofy. A compass? A street atlas? And the whole sequence of events is reminding some Russians of a popular Cold War miniseries here, about KGB agents dramatically thwarting Western spy plots...." ...

Local News

Rosalind Helderman & Laura Vozzella of the Washington Post: "While it's illegal for [Virginia] politicians to accept a gift in direct exchange for official acts, gifts often arrive from those who have sought or will seek some benefit from state government. In addition, the wording on the disclosure forms is so vague that it's difficult to discern any details about what the gift is for and about.... In Virginia, many members of the state legislature take gifts from people or firms with something to gain from government action. [Gov. Bob] McDonnell's predecessors, former Democratic governors Mark R. Warner and Timothy M. Kaine, took similar gifts.... But McDonnell's $19,000 gift [from the Redskins] last year was by far the largest reported by a Virginia governor in recent years." The Redskins' gift directly followed McDonnell's decision -- which was opposed by the state legislature -- to give the team $4 million of public money. Also, Virginia AG & former Kate Madison ward Ken Cucchinelli -- who is running for governor -- has taken large gifts that suggested a direct conflict-of-interest, at least one of which he failed to disclose.

Erik Eckholm of the New York Times: "A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked enforcement of one of the country's most stringent abortion laws, an Arkansas ban on the procedure at the 12th week of pregnancy, saying the law was likely to be declared unconstitutional."

News Ledes

ABC News Denver: "Witnesses tell police a Federal Heights woman was killed when the new assault rifle she was showing to friends accidentally fired on Tuesday night. Witnesses and the husband told police the group had been drinking in the garage of the couple's home at 10024 Elliot St. when 22-year-old Anastasia Adair, a new gun enthusiast, went upstairs to a bedroom to get her recently purchased assault rifle."

AP: "Two commuter trains packed with rush-hour commuters collided in an accident that sent about 70 people to the hospital, severely damaged the tracks and threatened to snarl travel in the congested Northeast Corridor."

AP: "French President Francois Hollande has signed a law authorizing gay marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, after months of nationwide protests and wrenching debate. His signature means the first gay marriages may be celebrated in France within about 10 days. Hollande's office said he signed the bill Saturday morning, a day after the Constitutional Council struck down a challenge to the law."

AP: "North Korea fired three short-range guided missiles into its eastern waters on Saturday, a South Korean official said. It routinely tests such missiles, but the latest launches came during a period of tentative diplomacy aimed at easing tensions."

Chicago Tribune: "Siding with patients who say cannabis is the only drug that can safely ease their chronic pain, the Senate sent Gov. Pat Quinn a measure Friday that would make Illinois the 19th state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes."

Thursday
May162013

The Commentariat -- May 17, 2013

Your Daily Scandal Sheet

Mark Landler of the New York Times: "President Obama, seeking to regain his footing amid persistent questions over last September's attack in Benghazi, Libya, called on Congress on Thursday to take action to bolster security at American Embassies. Mr. Obama made his appeal during a midday news conference with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. He also urged lawmakers to fully finance the State Department's budget request for diplomatic security."

Here's the presser:

** "He Is Not a Crook." Washington Post Editors: "Republicans and conservative media obsessed with what they regard as the Obama administration's scandalous coverup of the nature of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, last Sept. 11 have offered a shifting series of allegations [none of which has panned out]. By focusing on the phony issue of the talking points, Republicans are missing the opportunity to press for needed reforms at State and a more active U.S. policy in the Middle East. They should also be spurring a sluggish FBI investigation to determine who really organized and led the attacks in Benghazi.... Instead, with their bigger-than-Watergate rhetoric, the GOP's scandal-pushers are making themselves look small-minded, hyperpartisan and foolish." CW: read the whole editorial for a look at Chicken Little Government. ...

... Josh Marshall of TPM sees it as "pretty epic" that Major Garrett (previously of Fox "News") told Scott Pelley on the CBS Evening News that Republicans had leaked doctored "quotes" from the Benghazi e-mails in order to mislead reporters as to the White House's culpability in massaging the Benghazi talking points. Garrett concluded, on-air, "There is no evidence, Scott, the White House orchestrated these changes."

... Steve Benen: "Maybe this was just an innocent mistake, rather than a deliberate attempt at deception? Nope: "On Monday, Mother Jones noted that the Republicans' interim report included the correct version of the emails, signaling that more malice and less incompetence may have been at play with the alleged alterations. So, it appears there's a Benghazi scandal after all. It's not the wrongdoing Republicans alleged; it's the wrongdoing Republicans committed. The question for Darrell Issa is pretty straightforward: when does the investigation begin as to which Republicans lied to journalists and when?" ...

... Joe Strupp of Media Matters has a very good report on Jonathan Karl's sloppy reporting. It was his ABC News story that started the latest Benghazi eruption, when he "quoted" administration e-mails, "suggesting that he had personally reviewed the original documents," when in fact his reporting relied on a GOP source who gave him "summaries" of the e-mails. CW: Karl really had a responsibility -- in his original report -- to tell the public how he came by his information. All he had to do was write, "according to a Republican source, blah-blah," allowing readers to decide whether or not to believe the story. Why didn't he? Because then his "exclusive" would not have been so "explosive." It wasn't just Karl's Congressional friend who misled the public; it was Karl himself.

Asparagus. Probably not Louie's. No aspersion intended.There's just so much Louie Gohmert News I can take, so yesterday I avoided his claim that AG Holder cast aspersions on his asparagus, but if you can't believe a Congressman said that during a hearing, he does so near the end of this video, in which -- as Charles Pierce points out -- Louie takes such pride he has posted it on his Website.

NEW. Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: J. Russell George, "the Treasury Department's inspector general, told senior Treasury officials in June 2012 he was investigating allegations that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative groups, disclosing for the first time on Friday that Obama administration officials were aware of the matter during the presidential campaign year.... Steven T. Miller, the acting I.R.S. commissioner who has resigned, called the agency's actions 'obnoxious,' but told the House Ways and Means Committee they were not motivated by partisanship. And in testy exchanges, he said he had not misled Congress, even though he did not divulge the targeting efforts of a Cincinnati unit examining 70,000 applications for tax exemption." ...

... NEW. William Branigin & Zachary Goldfarb of the Washington Post: Sander "Levin [D-Mich.] asked Miller and George whether they found any evidence of political motivation by the IRS employees who reviewed the applications for tax-exempt status. 'We did not, sir,' each or them replied." ...

... Michael Shear of the New York Times: "President Obama appointed Daniel I. Werfel, the controller of the Office of Management and Budget, to be the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, the White House announced Thursday." ...

... Zachary Goldfarb of the Washington Post: "More changes in the IRS leadership team were announced Thursday as well, with Joseph Grant, Commissioner of Tax Exempt/Government Entities Division, planning to retire on June 3, according to an IRS statement." ...

Goldfarb: "Senior lawmakers investigating what went wrong at the Internal Revenue Service are planning to focus on whether IRS officials misled Congress about a policy that targeted conservative groups for extra screening when seeking a tax exemption...." ...

... Here's David Kay Johnston talking about the IRS brouhaha. See also his CJR article linked yesterday. Thanks to James S. for the link:

** Margaret Talbot of the New Yorker on the AP subpoenas.

Steve Benen: "... in this case, the critiques [of President Obama] are especially incoherent since the so-called 'scandals' generating so much chatter about 'a White House in crisis' don't actually relate much to the White House. None of the stories -- Benghazi, the IRS, AP subpoenas -- points to a tyrannical dictator or a hapless onlooker." ...

... Ron Brownstein of the National Journal: "Republicans could find that stoking the flames of scandal may sear not only Obama's hopes but also their own." ...

These are all different agencies of government. This administration owns the failures, but not necessarily the direct blame ... we're looking at each individual case so it's very different than what you view historically as a target where it [was] always about President Clinton. This isn't about President Obama. -- Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) ...

Molly Hooper of the Hill: "House Republicans say they will not overreach on probing the Obama administration, having learned lessons from investigating the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the Clinton administration." ...

... Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "The most pressing question for Congressional Republicans is no longer how to finesse changes to immigration law or gun control, but how far they can push their cases against President Obama without inciting a backlash of the sort that has left them staggering in the past." Love the accompanying photo of MoCs looking pensive:

... Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker states the obvious: "The larger problem with the scandal culture in D.C. is that, because each example of government wrongdoing quickly morphs into a partisan effort to attack the White House (the same was true when a Republican was President), the actual remedies for the problems uncovered become almost beside the point. A U.S. congressman will probably go farther in his party hierarchy by roughing up Obama than he will by helping to pass legislation to ensure that all diplomatic posts have adequate security. Likewise, the I.R.S. abuses suggest the need for both major tax reform and changes to campaign-finance laws, while a future dragnet of news media phone records could be prevented if a strong federal shield law were in place. Don't hold your breath waiting for any of these policy changes." ...

Dorothy Wickenden of the New Yorker speaks with Lizza, Talbot & Steve Coll about This Week in Scandals:

Ezra Klein has a very good rundown on the scandals that weren't.

Frank Rich on the scandals: "... fully a third of House committees are now devoted to investigating the Obama administration."

Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle on -- everything. Also thanks to James S.

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "Democrats say that Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, in recent days has been trying to gauge whether there is sufficient support among Democrats to force a rule change that would limit the filibuster on presidential nominees. He could conceivably try to enact a rule change with a simple majority -- a tactic known as 'the nuclear option.' Any revisions to Senate rules usually require 67 votes.... Republicans insist they are only standing in the way of nominees who merit more scrutiny and pointed to the advancement of two more Obama administration choices on Thursday: Sri Srinivassan, whose unanimous approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee sends him to the full Senate for confirmation to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and Ernest J. Moniz, the president's pick for secretary of energy, who was confirmed on a 97-to-0 vote ... on Thursday afternoon." ...

... Charles Pierce: because President Obama is not nice enough to them, Senate Republicans continue to keep the National Labor Relations Board from functioning.

Thom Shanker & Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "President Obama summoned the Pentagon's senior leaders to the White House on Thursday, telling them that the levels of sexual assault across the armed services were a disgrace that undermined the trust essential to carrying out the military's mission effectively.... Also on Thursday, Senator Kirsten e. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, continued to gain support for a measure that would give military prosecutors rather than commanders the ability to decide which sexual assault cases to try. The goal is to increase the number of people who report crimes without fear of retaliation...."

Lisa Rein of the Washington Post: "... 'Peer-2-Peer' awards, which cost taxpayers $160,000 between fiscal 2009 and 2011, are among several flaws and violations of federal regulations the General Service Administration's inspector general found in a review of GSA's system of giving awards and bonuses and reviewing the performance of its top executives. The report, released late Thursday by Inspector General Brian D. Miller, found a system that lacked transparency and hid some of its practices from the Office of Personnel Management, the federal personnel agency. Executives' rights to appeal their performance reviews were not protected, many bonuses and cash awards were not properly vetted and they were made for questionable reasons, Miller found." CW: okay, could we please have some Congressional hearings on this outrageous $160K scandal? How about rolling some heads? How about jail time?

Richard Cowan & Rachel Younglai of Reuters: "Prospects for passage of a major immigration bill improved on Thursday when a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives declared they had reached a tentative deal, resolving disputes that had threatened to torpedo negotiations.... The final sticking point, according to congressional sources, was over whether illegal immigrants now in the United States who gain legal status under the bill could participate in the new healthcare law..., which Republicans want to repeal. None of the negotiators would comment on how the matter was resolved. Nor would they provide other details of the deal." CW: how refreshing to know that some members of Congress have been able to take time out of their scandalmongering duties to do some actual work.

AP: "The manager of the sexual harassment and assault response program at Fort Campbell, Ky., was arrested in a domestic dispute and relieved of his post, authorities said Thursday. Lt. Col. Darin Haas turned himself in to police in Clarksville, Tenn., late Wednesday on charges of violating an order of protection, and stalking, authorities said Thursday." CW: here's a question -- do the military pick out the worst Neanderthals on the base to be the top sexual harassment preventors, or do these guys just beg for the posts? Also, shouldn't female officers be in many of these jobs?

Carol Leonig & Peter Wallsten of the Washington Post: "Months after the FBI began probing allegations against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), investigators are looking at whether someone set out to smear him while he was running for reelection last year and then ascending to his new post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee...."

News Lede

Climate Change News. Reuters: "Six people were dead and seven missing after a powerful tornado ripped through a neighborhood that included housing for the poor in the north Texas town of Granbury, marking the deadliest severe storm outbreak in the United States so far this year."

Wednesday
May152013

The Commentariat -- May 16, 2013

Your Daily Scandal Sheet

Paul Waldman of the American Prospect: "It was often said of Bill Clinton that he was blessed in his enemies, and to a degree the same may be true of Barack Obama." ...

... Gail Collins: "It's been quite a week, what with the I.R.S. scandal, the Benghazi controversy and revelations about the Justice Department's sweep of The Associated Press's phone records. Plus, the Russians came up with an alleged American spy in a bad wig who they said was caught carrying a compass, an atlas of Moscow and a ridiculous traitor-recruitment letter." ...

... Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "President Obama announced Wednesday night that the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service had been ousted after disclosures that the agency gave special scrutiny to conservative groups. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., meanwhile, warned top I.R.S. officials that a Justice Department inquiry would examine any false statements to see if they constituted a crime. Speaking in the White House's formal East Room, Mr. Obama said Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew had asked for and accepted the resignation of the acting commissioner, Steven Miller, who as deputy commissioner was aware of the agency's efforts to demand more information from conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status in early 2012.... Mr. Holder's warning came as lawmakers stated unequivocally that I.R.S. officials had lied to them in failing to disclose the added screening despite being pressed repeatedly."

... Michael Hiltzig of the Los Angeles Times writes what for me is the definitive analysis of the IRS "scandal." I don't see why everybody else is having so much trouble with this. ...

... Joan McCarter of Daily Kos gets it: "... while the politics is heating up, some important context is emerging, like the fact that liberal groups were targeted as well, and in fact the only group to have its application denied was a liberal group." ...

... David Kay Johnston of the Columbia Journalism Review makes several salient points., including about how inaccurate some news reporting has been (New York Times). ...

... Eric Holder tells Darrell Issa that the way he conducts himself is "inappropriate" and "shameful":

... Igor Bobic of TPM: "Attorney General Eric Holder testified Wednesday that his recusal from a criminal investigation into an administration leak of classified information last year was not done in writing." CW: sounds a little like a convenient, retroactive recusal. ...

... Dana Milbank: "Recusal is no excuse." ...

... Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "Under fire over the Justice Department's use of a broad subpoena to obtain calling records of Associated Press reporters in connection with a leak investigation, the Obama administration sought on Wednesday to revive legislation that would provide greater protections to reporters in keeping their sources and communications confidential.... It is not clear whether such a law would have changed the outcome of the subpoena involving The A.P." ...

... Kevin Drum: "In 2010, such legislation was introduced, and died when it was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate. More generally, media organizations have been lobbying for a federal shield law for decades, and Congress has been resolutely unwilling to pass one.... Politically, Obama is basically daring Republicans to put their money where their mouths are. You want to make the DOJ leak investigation into an issue of executive overreach? Fine. Then rein it in. Pass a law making it clear what DOJ can and can't do in leak investigations."

Yeah, I Knew It: It's All David Petraeus's Fault. Michael Shear & Mark Landler of the New York Times: "E-mails released by the White House on Wednesday revealed a fierce internal jostling over the government's official talking points in the aftermath of last September's attacks in Benghazi, Libya, not only between the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, but at the highest levels of the C.I.A. The 100 pages of e-mails showed a disagreement between David H. Petraeus, then the director of the C.I.A., and his deputy, Michael J. Morrell, over how much to disclose in the talking points, which were used by Susan E. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, in television appearances days after the attacks.... The White House released the e-mails to reporters after Republicans seized on snippets of the correspondence that became public on Friday to suggest that President Obama's national security staff had been complicit in trying to alter the talking points for political reasons. While the e-mails portrayed White House officials as being sensitive to the concerns of the State Department, they suggest Mr. Obama's aides mostly mediated a bureaucratic tug-of-war between the State Department and the C.I.A." Here are the e-mails. Now you too can release snippets to suit your own purposes. ...

... ** Greg Sargent publishes an excellent response to the Benghazi hysteria from Tommy Vietor, former "spokesman for the National Security Council. He was intimately involved in coordinating the interagency debate over what to say publicly about the attacks." One thing Vietor explains is why the White House had its finger in the pie in the first place -- um, it's the law -- the law which of course Congress passed. ...

... Ain't Democracy Great? Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling: "PPP's newest national poll finds that Republicans aren't getting much traction with their focus on Benghazi over the last week. Voters trust Hillary Clinton over Congressional Republicans on the issue of Benghazi by a 49/39 margin and Clinton's +8 net favorability rating at 52/44 is identical to what it was on our last national poll in late March. ... 41% [of Republicans] say they consider [Benghazi] to be the biggest political scandal in American history to only 43% who disagree with that sentiment.... One interesting thing about the voters who think Benghazi is the biggest political scandal in American history is that 39% of them don't actually know where it is. 10% think it's in Egypt, 9% in Iran, 6% in Cuba, 5% in Syria, 4% in Iraq, and 1% each in North Korea and Liberia with 4% not willing to venture a guess." By contrast, in a PPP survey conducted in August 1998, 87% who said they considered the Monica Lewinsky affair the biggest political scandal in American history were able to pinpoint the location of President Clinton's penis. Another 10% pointed to Clinton's head (also a correct answer). Only 3% were not sure. PPP survey via Charles Pierce.

Business as Usual. Ben Protess of the New York Times: "Under pressure from Wall Street lobbyists, federal regulators have agreed to soften a rule intended to rein in the banking industry's domination of a risky market. The changes to the rule, which will be announced on Thursday, could effectively empower a few big banks to continue controlling the derivatives market, a main culprit in the financial crisis.... Just five banks hold more than 90 percent of all derivatives contracts." CW: Republicans on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission naturally wanted to water down the regs. The deciding vote came from a Democratic commissioner who went along with the Republican commissioners & the banks: his name is Mark Wetjen, & before he got his current sinecure, he was a staffer for Harry Reid. Read the full article; it's going to get worse when commission chairman Gary Gensler, whose term is up, leaves.

Harry Reid Is Still Dithering. Brian Beutler of TPM: "If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to change the Senate filibuster rules -- either broadly, or more narrowly to fast track presidential nominees -- he'll need a strong case. Part of that case will rest on whether Republicans make good on their threat to block confirmation of Richard Cordray -- President Obama's non-controversial nominee to direct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- unless and until Democrats agree to weaken his agency's regulatory power.To that end, he'll hold a vote on Cordray's nomination next week."

Paul Krugman on the "debt crisis" that isn't: "To the millions of Americans who are out of work and may never get another job thanks to premature fiscal austerity, the VSPs would like to say, 'oopsies!' ... Correspondents tell me that at VSP Central, aka The Washington Post -- where deficit panic has pervaded the news pages as well as the opinion section -- the stunning new [CBO] deficit report is buried as a small item deep inside the paper. And Bowles and Simpson, who are now 26 months into their prediction of fiscal crisis within two years, will continue to be treated as revered gurus." CW: I caught a bit of NPR coverage of the new CBO numbers. I was encouraged that they had Dean Baker on to explain the facts; then -- at their he-said/she-said best -- they had Pete Peterson's No. 1 hackess (isn't that the term for a girl hack?) on to explain why the debt is still a MAJOR PROBLEM which can only be resolved by killing old people. Or something.

Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "On Thursday, Mr. Obama will meet with senior Pentagon officials to discuss legislative responses to the sexual assault crisis. Also on Thursday, Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, the New York Democrat who has made this her signature issue this year, will introduce legislation that would give military prosecutors rather than commanders the power to decide which sexual assault cases to try. Ms. Gillibrand's goals are to increase the number of people who report crimes without fear of retaliation and to give legal power to military prosecutors. "

In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat. If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House. New York and California are for the foreseeable future unalterably Democrat. If Texas turns bright blue, the Electoral College math is simple.... The Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party. Our kids and grandkids would study how this used to be a national political party. 'They had Conventions, they nominated Presidential candidates. They don't exist anymore.' -- Ted Cruz. Yup, that Ted Cruz. ...

... Thomas Edsall, in the New York Times: "A group of Democratic operatives ... is determined to bring Texas back into the Democratic column. [The operation,] Battleground Texas, has put the fear of God into the Texas Republican Party."

Ken Ward, Jr., of the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette: "Today's Gazette story by Kate White about the Monday explosion that injured two workers at the Airgas facility in Putnam County included this bit of news: 'Members of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration arrived at the scene.' As best I can tell, this is the first time anyone from OSHA has ever visited this particular facility. OSHA data includes no record of the agency ever inspecting the site.... Unlike the nation's coal mines, other workplaces are not required to be inspected periodically by federal safety officials.... As the AFL-CIO explained in its latest Death on the Job report, at the current rate, it would take OSHA's small office in West Virginia -- they've got just 8 inspectors -- more than 100 years to inspect every workplace in the state." CW: Via Charles Pierce. Bear in mind, OSHA ignores these dangerous workplaces not because OSHA inspectors are lazy bureaucrats but because Congress limits the agency's funding (8 inspectors in the whole state of West Virginia). Employers are free to violate common-sense safety standards because that's the way Congress wants it.

Ashley Parker of the New York Times: Mark Sanford is back in Congress.

Maureen Dowd Dislikes Women & Democrats. I didn't link MoDo's column yesterday because I thought it was stupid. Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog does a nice job of explaining why.