The Ledes

Sunday, March 29, 2015.

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.

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.

Monday
Jan072013

The Commentariat -- January 8, 2013

Obama 2.0

So here is the President, nominating Ahmadinnerjacket's right-hand-man & the Irish mafia guy to head up our national security team:

     The New York Times report, by Mark Landler, is here.

Tom Hamburger & Peter Wallsten of the Washington Post: "The nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel to lead the Pentagon has set in motion a highly unusual campaign-style brawl over a Cabinet post long considered above politics. Supporters and opponents are raising money and building political organizations in anticipation of a grueling and contentious Senate confirmation process." CW: every day in every way, right-wing obstructionism is unprecedented. Continually topping one's own outlandish audacity can't be easy. Maybe this is the Trumpification of the GOP.

Dana Milbank: "For the president, who has too often shied from forceful leadership, the Hagel nomination was a welcome sign that he is willing to pick a fight in his second term. And Hagel is worth fighting for." CW: of course it wasn't the President who picked the fight.

Hagel Is Not a "Real" Republican. Fred Kaplan of Slate: "Hagel seems to be the right choice. And that's what disturbs the most outspoken Hagel-resisters. These resisters ... fear that Hagel will cut the military budget. They fear that he'll roll over if Iran builds a nuclear weapon. They fear that he's too reluctant to use military force generally. And they fear he doesn't much like Israel; the extremists on this point claim he's anti-Semitic.... What Republicans seem to fear most is that by appointing Hagel as secretary of defense, Obama can claim a false bipartisanship in his national-security team."

     CW: what Kaplan is getting at is an aspect of the Republican purity test: if you get along with Obama, you aren't a real Republican. That is the real reason, for instance, that Boehner stamped his feet & walked out on Obama, never to return again. If he could agree with Obama on anything, then the crazoids in his caucus would assume he was a secret Democrat. (Yes, of course there's some racism in there, but remember how Republicans treated pasty-white Bill Clinton.)

David Sirota, writing in Salon, zeroes in on military spending: Hagel's "critics focus on his stances on Israel and Iran. They're really afraid he'd slash budgets and weapons systems." The loudmouths see Hagel "as a threat to the lucrative business of permanent war -- a business whose profit margins, employment footprint across America, campaign contributions and think-tank underwriting make it, by far, the most powerful pillar of that power structure."

Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg News: "President Barack Obama's anticipated nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary shows how the polarization of Obama's second term might differ from that of his first. His first term was polarizing despite Obama's efforts. His second could be polarizing because of them.... Unless opponents [of Hagel's nomination] can restrict the debate on Hagel to his views -- real or imagined -- on Israel, they risk litigating the disastrous [Bush] policies that Hagel rejected and his most vociferous critics embraced."

We Were for Him before We Were against Him. Sahil Kapur of Think Progress: "As Republicans plan their opposition strategy on Chuck Hagel's anticipated nomination as the next secretary of defense, Democrats are digging up and circulating examples of top GOP senators saying nice things about their former colleague in the past." Kapur includes some choice quotes. Were you lying then, Senator, or are you lying now? Thanks to Jeanne B. for the link. ...

... Here's another flashback from Hayes Brown of Think Progress: Bill Kristol, who is now leading the neocon attack on Hagel, touted Hagel for vice president in 2000, & accused Hagel's detractors of running a smear campaign.

Hagel talks to Don Walton of the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star.

I hope a few of you will read David Brooks' response to Hagel's nomination. It is unintentionally hilarious. In his column today, Brooks explains that Obama picked Hagel because -- Medicare costs are out of control. Really.

Scott Shane & Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times list some issues being raised by left & right (and nonideological) about John Brennan's qualifications & his past activities & positions. CW: could Brennan skate through confirmation hearings because all the Hagel noise?


Michael Cohen
of the Guardian: Mitch "McConnell is a man who appears to be very concerned about how the government spends its money – so concerned, it seems, that he wants someone else to tackle it. According to the Republican narrative, though, President Obama is exclusively responsible for this untenable situation -- and not the Congress that passed all those spending bills, or the last president 'whose name shall not be spoken'." But McConnell wants Obama to do the cutting because polls show Americans don't want most programs cut. "Obama should say that he will entertain a discussion about reducing the federal deficit via more spending cuts -- just as soon as Republicans lay out in fine detail exactly the cuts they'd like to make, with specific programs and policies they would like to enact....Once, they've laid out their cuts, then serious negotiations can occur." ...

... Here's a ferinstance: Dave Weigel of Slate: for Republicans "to criticize Democrats over the restored payroll tax is to slam them for something Republicans wanted. It's beautiful, sometimes, the lack of responsibility that comes with diminished powers."

CW: there seems to be a growing consensus among the tea-leaf readers (see Greg Sargent here) that the Republican leadership is bluffing about taking the Treasury hostage over the debt-ceiling. That might be, but what will Boehner do to get a "yea" vote through the House? Will he muscle his caucus? That takes some tea party-leaf reading. Or will he cooperate with House Democrats? If he means to get a debt limit increase, he'll have to do one or the other.

Jon Cohen & Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "In [a] new [Washington Post-ABC News] survey, conducted after the House followed up a Senate vote by passing the [tax-&-spending] measure, 53 percent of voters say they approve of the way Obama handled the matter, while 40 percent disapprove. The overall tally is clearly negative for Boehner's performance: 30 percent approval and 56 percent disapproval."

Bobby Cervantes of Politico: "Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has introduced a bill to specifically ban President Barack Obama from minting [trillion-dollar platinum] coins." CW: good thinking, Greg. I'm pretty sure Barack Obama will sign your bill & give you a commemorative pen, too.

David Firestone of the New York Times: "... default is very different and much worse [than just shutting down a few national parks or not cutting the grass on the Washington Mall], and only one political party is interested in making it happen."

** E. J. Graff of the American Prospect: "Sexual assault is a form of brutalization based, quite simply, on the idea that women have no place in the world except the place that a man assigns them -- and that men should be free to patrol women's lives, threatening them if they dare step into view.... 'Rape culture,' as young feminists now call this..., lives anywhere that has a 'traditional' vision of women's sexuality.... In that vision, women's bodies are for use primarily for procreation or male pleasure.... In this 'traditional' vision of sexuality, it's not rape if you've already had sex, ever -- except if you're married and another man violates his property.... I can only hope that the response to the attack in India includes outrage at congressional Republicans' astounding refusal to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act...." ...

... Novelist Sohaila Abdulali in a New York Times op-ed: "We have spent generations constructing elaborate systems of patriarchy, caste and social and sexual inequality that allow abuse to flourish.... We need to shelve all the gibberish about honor and virtue and did-she-lead-him-on and could-he-help-himself. We need to put responsibility where it lies: on men who violate women, and on all of us who let them get away with it while we point accusing fingers at their victims." ...

... Roxana Hegeman of the AP: "A federal judge has ruled that a trial is needed to determine whether a Kansas law restricting private health insurance coverage for abortions poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking to end their pregnancies. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson on Monday rejected a request by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri for a favorable ruling in their legal challenge of the law."

Ben Protess & Michael de la Merced of the New York Times: "Fresh from paying back a $182 billion bailout, the American International Group Inc. has been running a nationwide advertising campaign with the tagline 'Thank you America.' Behind the scenes, the restored insurance company is weighing whether to tell the government agencies that rescued it during the financial crisis: thanks, but you cheated our shareholders. The board of A.I.G. will meet on Wednesday to consider joining a $25 billion shareholder lawsuit against the government...." CW question: -- for audacity, does this beat the guy who murders his parents, then pleads for mercy on the grounds he is an orphan?

Julia Preston of the New York Times: "The Obama administration spent nearly $18 billion on immigration enforcement last year, significantly more than its spending on all the other major federal law enforcement agencies combined."

Julie Pace of the AP: "Facing an end-of-the-month deadline, the Obama administration is calling gun owner groups, victims' organizations and representatives from the video-game industry to the White House this week for discussions on potential policy proposals for curbing gun violence." ...

... Yeah, good luck with that ...

... Obama has been anti-gun rights along, he was just waiting for his second term to push this stuff. Unfortunately, Sandy Hook timed pretty perfectly with the start of this second term. This nutball really handed this one to the Obama administration and gave the Obama administration a chance to take the gloves off. -- Dave Workman, prominent gun rights advocate, expressing concern for gun violence victims ...

... Workman holds prominent positions in sponsors of the first Gun Appreciation Day. Rosie Gray of BuzzFeed: "A political ad agency is putting together the first ever Gun Appreciation Day" on January 19, two days before the inauguration and a little over a month after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School." CW: because of legal impediments in some sissy states, the organizations have scrapped their earlier plans for a national "Bring Your Gun to Work Day."

Photo via BuzzFeed.... Bob Christie & Brian Skoloff of the AP: "Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband launched a political action committee aimed at curbing gun violence on Tuesday, the second anniversary of the Tucson shooting that killed six people and left her critically injured. Giffords and Mark Kelly wrote in an op-ed published in USA Today that their Americans for Responsible Solutions initiative would help raise money to support greater gun control efforts." The USA Today op-ed is here. The Americans for Responsible Solutions Website is here.

Adam Estes of the Atlantic: "Alex Jones, the conservative radio talk show host who created the 'Deport Piers Morgan' petition..., straight up lost it on Monday night. Appearing on Piers Morgan's CNN show to talk about the petition and, consequentially, gun control, Jones quickly went from enthusiastic to out-of-control in the first two minutes of the interview, and he wouldn't even stop talking or pointing his finger as Morgan was closing out the segment almost 15 minutes later." ...

     ... You can watch the "debate" here. I didn't. ...

... The White House responds to all petitions that cross the threshold and we will respond to this one. In the meantime, it is worth remembering that the freedom of expression is a bedrock principle in our society. -- Jay Carney, White House press secretary

Eric Schmitt & David Sanger of the New York Times: In late November, "the combination of a public warning by Mr. Obama and more sharply worded private messages sent to the Syrian leader and his military commanders through Russia and others, including Iraq, Turkey and possibly Jordan, stopped the [Syrian government's] chemical mixing and the bomb preparation. A week later Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the worst fears were over -- for the time being. But concern remains that Mr. Assad could now use the weapons produced that week at any moment."

Inauguration

Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post: "President Obama has picked Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights icon Medgar Evers, to deliver the invocation at his public swearing-in later this month. It is believed to be the first time a woman, and a layperson rather than a clergy member, has been chosen to deliver what may be America's most prominent public prayer."

News Ledes

New York Times: "2012, the year of a surreal March heat wave, a severe drought in the corn belt and a massive storm that caused broad devastation in the mid-Atlantic states, turns out to have been the hottest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States."

New York Times: "Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, pushing New York to become the first state to enact major new gun laws in the wake of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., plans on Wednesday to propose one of the country's most restrictive bans on assault weapons."

Politico: "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will likely testify Jan. 22 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the deadly U.S. Consulate attack in Benghazi, the panel's top Republican said Tuesday."

Reuters: "Bank of America Corp is looking to sell collection rights on at least another $100 billion of mortgages after announcing similar deals for more than $300 billion on Monday. Any sale would be the latest example of a big bank deciding that collecting mortgage payments on some loans is too costly, and the cost of capitalizing the business was too high given new capital rules. Banks have been unloading these assets for years."

AP: "The description of [James] Holmes after the [Aurora theater] attack, given by police detective Craig Appel [during a preliminary hearing], seemed to undercut prosecutors' attempts to show Holmes as methodical, spending two months to assemble his arsenal."

New York Times: "New signs of deprivation plaguing Syria's war-ravaged civilians emerged on Tuesday, with the United Nations saying it is unable to feed a million hungry residents in combat zones and aid agencies reporting an outbreak of violence in a large refugee camp in Jordan, where a winter storm felled tents and left many frustrated inhabitants shivering in a cold rain."

Washington Post: "President Hugo Chavez, who has not been seen publicly in a month since undergoing a complex cancer surgery in Cuba, will not be back in Venezuela on Thursday to be sworn in for a fourth term, his government announced Tuesday."

AP: "Two years after a hostage video and photographs of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson raised the possibility that the missing American was being held by terrorists, U.S. officials now see the government of Iran behind the images, intelligence officials told The Associated Press. Levinson, a private investigator, disappeared in 2007 on the Iranian island of Kish. The Iranian government has repeatedly denied knowing anything about his disappearance...."

Sunday
Jan062013

The Commentariat -- January 7, 2013

My column for the New York Times eXaminer, posted late yesterday, is on Ross Douthat's fantasy column, "Boehner, American Hero." Anyone who thinks I might be agreeing with Douthat -- Welcome to Reality Chex!

Obama 2.0

Michael Schwirtz of the New York Times: "President Obama has selected a former Nebraska senator, Chuck Hagel, as his next defense secretary, a White House official said Sunday, turning to a prominent Republican to lead the Pentagon as it faces of the challenge of winding down the war in Afghanistan and possible reductions in military spending. But the nomination, which the White House official said would occur on Monday, has already encountered stiff opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike because of Mr. Hagel's views on Israel and Iran, and his comments about an ambassador who is gay." CW: if you didn't see Glenn Greenwald & Michael Moore on Hagel's nomination, they're linked in yesterday's Commentariat & are definitely worth your reading. ...

... ** Rosie Gray & Zeke Miller of BuzzFeed: "President Barack Obama's decision to nominate former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense Monday will shatter a fake consensus on American policy toward Iran and challenge what have increasingly become limits of Washington conversation about Israel." ...

... Peter Beinert of Newsweek has a long piece on Hagel & Middle East policy which Gray & Miller mention but don't link. "Obama's foreign policy -- while often operationally skillful -- has left unchallenged many of the assumptions made 'mainstream' by George W. Bush.... Unlike John Kerry, whose political caution has smoothed the way for a virtually uncontested secretary-of-state nomination, Hagel says in public what others only say in private." ...

... Ben Ambruster of Think Progress: "Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday attacked former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, reportedly President Obama's choice as the next Defense Secretary, calling him a 'controversial pick' and suggesting that Hagel is out of the mainstream.... [Graham] claimed Hagel is 'very antagonistic toward the state of Israel' (again, not saying how) and complained that Hagel said 'you should directly negotiate with Iran' (we're not sure why this is a bad thing." CW: Senators don't usually treat their former colleagues -- especially ones of the same party -- with such disdain. ...

... John Cole of Balloon Juice: "Maybe Graham isn't clear that we aren't nominating Chuck Hagel to be Israel's Secretary of Defense, but our own. That's how messed up this situation has become with us as Israel's client state. Senators can make completely asinine statements like the one above, and no one even flinches. Then, if you point out the overwhelming influence of the Israel lobby in the United States congress, you get tarred and feathered as an anti-Semite. And then they'll deny there is an Israel lobby." ...

... At the end of the day, Republicans will support a decorated war hero who was their colleague for 12 years and has critical experience on veterans' issues. It would be hard to explain a no vote just because he bucked his party on Iraq, a war most Americans think was a disaster. -- Anonymous White House Official

While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President's lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel -- on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran's nuclear program. -- National Jewish Democratic Council (via Greg Sargent)

Scott Wilson of the Washington Post: "The administration said early Monday that the president also would nominate counterterrorism adviser John Brennan as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency."

He Said. Sam Baker of The Hill: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Sunday said Republicans will demand steep spending cuts during the next round of budget negotiations. McConnell, in an interview with ABC's 'This Week,' said President Obama had won all he's going to get on taxes in last week's agreement to extend the Bush-era tax rates for most taxpayers."...

... She Said. Mike Lillis of The Hill: "Pushing back against the Republicans' deficit-reduction strategy, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said this weekend that more tax revenues -- not just spending cuts -- must be a part of Congress's effort to rein in deficits." With video. ...

... Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic: "... neither party's approach to deficit reduction is truly balanced: Each side is actually leaning more heavily on spending cuts. But Obama would rely on those cuts a lot less than the Republicans would.... Most sensible budget observers, even more conservative ones determined to enact substantial budget cuts, believe taxes must rise even more -- because the population is getting older and the government has, quite rightly, assumed so much responsibility for health and retirement benefits." ...

... Will Saletan of Slate: "Mitch McConnell ... wants Democrats to cut a lot of federal spending without raising any more taxes. Unfortunately, his party just lost the presidential election, failed to capture the Senate, and doesn't have enough support in polls or the business community to shut down the government or refuse to raise the national debt ceiling, which would trigger a default and another credit downgrade. So what does McConnell offer in lieu of clout? A lot of bluffing." CW: read the whole post -- except the last graf. Saletan has been captured by deficit hawks. Pardon by conspiracy theory, but I am beginning to think Pete Peterson, et al., are buying off pundits one-by-one, till there will be no one left to say "Whoa"! Yo, Pete, ya forgot me.

E. J. Dionne: "Will the establishment, including business leaders and middle-of-the-road journalistic opinion, stand by silently as one side in the coming argument risks cratering the economy in an effort to reverse the verdict of the 2012 election? Yes, I am talking about using the debt ceiling as a political tool, something that was never done until the disaster of 2011.... When it comes to health-care cost projections, there is so much we don't know that it is truly foolish to make decisions now for, say, 2040."

Paul Krugman on the continuing economic doldrums: "It's tempting to argue that the economic failures of recent years prove that economists don't have the answers. But the truth is actually worse: in reality, standard economics offered good answers, but political leaders -- and all too many economists -- chose to forget or ignore what they should have known.... We've just experienced a colossal failure of economic policy -- and far too many of those responsible for that failure both retain power and refuse to learn from experience."

Speaking of Krugman, my close personal friend Danny Glover sent along this petition urging President Obama to appoint Krugman as Treasury Secretary. It ain't gonna happen, of course, but wouldn't it be fun to see Krugman face off against Sen. Orrin Hatch & other yahoos on the Senate Finance Committee? ...

... Krugman: "By my reckoning..., an administration job, no matter how senior, would actually reduce my influence, leaving me unable to say publicly what I really think and all too probably finding myself unable to make headway in internal debates.... I'm flattered -- but I think I should stay in my current position as Mr. Outside, an annoying if sympathetic voice they can't ignore."

... "Mint that Coin." Krugman says John Boehner's face should go on that trillion-dollar platinum deficit coin, "Because without him and his colleagues, this wouldn't be necessary."

Jessica Silver-Greenberg of the New York Times: "A [measly, weasely] $10 billion settlement to resolve claims of foreclosure abuses by 14 major lenders is expected to be announced as early as Monday, several people with knowledge of the discussions said on Sunday."

David Kocieniewski of the New York Times: "The expansion of [a] tax break once intended to help farmers [to corporate giants] illustrates the challenges ahead and how special interests have learned to use the tax code to maximum effect."

Eileen Sullivan of the AP: "In Connecticut and Colorado, scenes of the most deadly U.S. mass shootings in 2012, people were less enthusiastic about buying new guns at the end of the year than in most other states, according to an Associated Press analysis of new FBI data. The biggest surges in background checks for people who want to carry or buy guns occurred in states in the South and West. The latest government figures reflect huge increases across the U.S. in the number of background checks for gun sales and permits to carry guns at the end of the year." ...

... Meanwhile NRA Senators Are on the Job. Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post: "Lawmakers kept up the renewed debate over the nation's gun laws Sunday, with the Senate's leading Republican, [Mitch McConnell] arguing that the matter must wait until pressing fiscal issues are addressed in Congress and one Senate Democrat [-- Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota --] warning against 'extreme' restrictions on guns."

** Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker: "... next month, [against the backdrop of Republicans’ systematic attempts to disenfranchise Democrats,] the Supreme Court will take up a challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the most effective law of its kind in the history of the United States. A century after the Civil War, the act, in abolishing many forms of discrimination employed by the Southern states, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, finally turned the legal right for African-Americans in those states to vote into an actual right to vote. Bipartisan congressional majorities have reauthorized the law four times, most recently in 2006. (It passed the House overwhelmingly and the Senate unanimously, and was signed into law by George W. Bush.) ... The Roberts Court, and especially the Chief Justice, has shown a marked animosity toward the Voting Rights Act.... It would be a sad irony if the Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act because it regulates too much in too many places, when the truth is that it regulates too little in too few."

Jonathan Strong of Roll Call: "A concerted effort to unseat Speaker John A. Boehner was under way the day of his re-election to the position, but participants called it off 30 minutes before the House floor vote.... A group of disaffected conservatives had agreed to vote against the Ohio lawmaker if they could get at least 25 members to join the effort. But one member, whose identity could not be verified, rescinded his or her participation the morning of the vote, leaving the group one person short of its self-imposed 25-member threshold." ...

... Boehner speaks to Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal. Short version: everything is Obama's fault. Via Margaret Hartmann of New York magazine.

NEW. Charles Pierce pens (or rather, keys) a lovely takedown of nearly every Sunday pundit -- from Maureen Dowd to Carly Fiorina (not much diff, BTW). He sees Heidi Heitkamp as the new Joe Lieberman. We really needed another Joe Lieberman. Thanks to MAG for the link.

Andy Borowitz: "Just hours after being sworn in at the U.S. Capitol, the freshman class of House Republicans said that they were disappointed that they failed to shut down the government on their first day in office." CW: this is satire, but as with all this Washington, it is often difficult to tell what is joke & what is fact. Borowitz probably would not have had to look hard to find a real freshman Congressman who was disappointed at not shutting down the government -- yet.

Our Friend from Kabul. Kevin Sieff of the Washington Post: "When Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington this week, he’ll bring with him a list of complaints he has enumerated for months in public speeches, including accusations that the United States has fomented corruption in Afghanistan and continues to violate the country's sovereignty."

Happy Birthday, Dick! CW: Since there was such enthusiasm for the news that we are celebrating the centennial of Richard Nixon's birth this year, allow me to regale you with the latest from Brandon Lowrey of Reuters: "At a ceremony commemorating the late U.S. President Richard M. Nixon's 100th birthday, politicians, a military official and Nixon's eldest daughter on Sunday remembered him as an underappreciated president and a foreign policy genius.... During Sunday's ceremony, the Watergate scandal was not mentioned."

Right Wing World

Alex Pareene of Salon: "As Rick Perlstein explained in the Baffler, some of the largest conservative media organs are essentially massive email lists of suckers rented to snake oil salesmen. The con isn't limited to a couple of newsletters and websites: The most prominent conservative organizations in the nation are primarily dedicated to separating conservatives from their money.... In addition to paying Dick Armey $400,000 a year for 20 years to stay away, FreedomWorks also apparently spent more than a million dollars paying Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to say nice things about FreedomWorks, in order to convince listeners to send FreedomWorks money that FreedomWorks would then give to Limbaugh and Beck.... The fact that there is a lot of money to be made in acting like Michele Bachmann is part of why the House seems poised to blow up the U.S. economy."

News Ledes

Ada Louise Huxtable. The caption on the pillow beside her: "Ada Louise Huxtable already doesn't like it," from a New Yorker cartoon described in the NYT obituary. Photo via Lee Rosenbaum.New York Times: "Ada Louise Huxtable, who pioneered modern architectural criticism in the pages of The New York Times, celebrating buildings that respected human dignity and civic history -- and memorably scalding those that did not -- died on Monday in Manhattan. She was 91."

CNN: in the opening day today of the preliminary hearing for James Holmes, Aurora, Colorado, police Officer Justin Grizzle testified about the scene he encountered at the theater & his taking victims to the hospital in his police cruiser. Detective Matthew Ingui also testified.

Aqua Buddha, Jr. Newsweek: "Sen. Rand Paul’s 19-year-old son has been arrested for underage drinking. William Hilton Paul was arrested Saturday at North Carolina's Charlotte Douglas International Airport following a flight from Kentucky. It is not clear if he was drinking on the plane or on the ground, but he was charged with disorderly conduct at an airport, being intoxicated and disruptive, and consuming alcohol underage." Thanks to a friend for the link.

New York Times: "Bank of America agreed on Monday to pay more than $10 billion to Fannie Mae to settle claims over troubled mortgages that soured during the housing crash, mostly loans issued by the bank's Countrywide Financial subsidiary. Separately, federal regulators reached an $8.5 billion settlement on Monday to resolve claims of foreclosure abuses that included flawed paperwork used in foreclosures and bungled loan modifications by 10 major lenders...."

AP: "Google's executive chairman is starting a visit to North Korea that has prompted controversy and fascination. Eric Schmidt of Google arrived Monday in a country considered to have the world's most restrictive Internet policies. He is part of a delegation that includes former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson." ...

     ... Reuters Update: "Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt began a controversial private mission to North Korea on Monday that will include an effort to secure the release of an imprisoned American.... Richardson's efforts to seek the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour guide who was detained last year will mark the latest in a series of high-profile visits over the years to free Americans detained by Pyongyang."

Reuters: "U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will resume her official duties on Monday, five days after being released from a hospital for treatment of a blood clot, the State Department said on Sunday."

AP: "Nearly six months after a bloody rampage in a Colorado movie theater left 12 people dead, prosecutors will go to court Monday to outline their case against the suspect, James Holmes." CW: the mugshot of Holmes, which accompanies the story, could not be creepier.

Reuters: "Pope Benedict on Monday urged the international community to end what he called the endless slaughter in Syria before the entire country became 'a field of ruins.' He made the appeal in particularly strong terms during a yearly "state of the world" address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican."

AP: "China's government is working on reforms to its system of imprisoning people in labor camps without trial, a senior judicial official said Tuesday. The comments were the firmest indication that after years of debate the government is preparing to revise but not abolish the system -- known as 're-education through labor' -- that critics say tramples civil rights and is prone to abuse."

AP: "President Barack Obama has returned to Washington after a winter vacation in Hawaii that was interrupted by the 'fiscal cliff' crisis. Obama arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Sunday morning after an overnight flight."

Saturday
Jan052013

The Commentariat -- January 6, 2013

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on Ross Douthat's fantasy short-short story "Boehner, American Hero."

Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post: "On Friday, a top Senate Republican, [John Cornyn {Texas}] signaled that members of his party should be prepared to play hardball and be willing to accept the kind of consequences in each previous fight they've threatened but managed to avoid. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) likewise insisted that Republicans hold the line, telling his members they must demand that every dollar they raise the debt limit be paired with commensurate spending cuts. But other Republicans counseled caution, warning that pressure from the business community and the public to raise the $16.4 trillion federal borrowing limit renders untenable any threats not to do so and will weaken the GOP's hand if their stance is perceived to be a bluff."

Steve Peoples of the AP: "The Republican Party seems as divided and angry as ever. Infighting has penetrated the highest levels of the House GOP leadership. Long-standing geographic tensions have increased, pitting endangered Northeastern Republicans against their colleagues from other parts of the country. Enraged tea party leaders are threatening to knock off dozens of Republicans who supported a measure that raised taxes on the nation's highest earners."

Reed Abelson of the New York Times: "Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration's health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers. Particularly vulnerable to the high rates are small businesses and people who do not have employer-provided insurance and must buy it on their own.... Regulators are now required to review any request for a rate increase of 10 percent or more; the requests are posted on a federal Web site, healthcare.gov, along with regulators' evaluations."

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "The White House is weighing a far broader and more comprehensive approach to curbing the nation's gun violence than simply reinstating an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition, according to multiple people involved in the administration's discussions. A working group led by Vice President Biden is seriously considering measures backed by key law enforcement leaders that would require universal background checks for firearm buyers, track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database, strengthen mental health checks, and stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors...."

"More Guns = More Killing." Elisabeth Rosenthal of the New York Times: "I recently visited some Latin American countries that mesh with the N.R.A.'s vision of the promised land, where guards with guns grace every office lobby, storefront, A.T.M., restaurant and gas station. It has not made those countries safer or saner. Despite the ubiquitous presence of 'good guys' with guns, countries like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Venezuela have some of the highest homicide rates in the world." ...

... Slipping into a Banana Republic. Steve M. of No More Mr. Nice Blog: ... "is it really surprising that plutocracy advocates want to hollow out America's middle class and create a class structure more like those in Latin America (where U.S. corporations have traditionally found cheap, willing workers), while their pro-gun allies want us seeing one another as (literally) mortal enemies, while we lose focus on what the plutocrats are doing to us economically? Is it unreasonable to see these as two aspects of the Third World-ization of America?"

Maureen Dowd writes an appreciation of Joe Biden. This comes, not surprising, at the expense of President Obama, & appropriately at the expense of John Boehner. ...

... Here's Biden swearing in Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) -- and his son:

... AND here is Joe being Joe during the mock swearing-in photo-op:

Read this Daily Caller headline & you'll understand why the denizens of Right Wing World are confused about the debt ceiling & think President Obama is going to write himself a "blank check."

Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian: "... at the very least, [Chuck] Hagel's confirmation [as Secretary of Defense] will be a much-needed declaration that some mild dissent on foreign policy orthodoxies and Israel is permitted. It will shatter AIPAC's veto power and dilute the perception of the so-called "pro-Israel community's" unchallengeable power. It will ensure that there is at least some diversity of viewpoints when it comes to debating endless war, belligerence v. negotiations, and MidEast policy. It will highlight the typically-suppressed differences within the GOP and the country about America's war posture." ...

... Fighting for Figs. On January 4, Michael Moore wrote, "... back in 2007, Chuck Hagel went totally crazy and told the truth about our invasion of Iraq. Here's what he said: 'People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are. They talk about America's national interest. What the hell do you think they're talking about? We're not there for figs.'" ...

... Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard responded with characteristic outrage. Let's let Moore explain in this open letter to Kristol: "Anyway, I see you're mad that back in 2007 former Sen. Chuck Hagel said that we were obviously 'fighting for oil' in Iraq. You explain this was 'vulgar and disgusting' and 'could be the straw that breaks the back of Hagel's chances' to be Obama's next Defense Secretary." So more goes on to highlight "four other prominent people [Friends of Bill's] who've said the same thing." Glenn Greenwald recommends you read the post. Read the whole post.

Art by Victor Juhasz for Rolling Stone.Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone: the bank bailouts of 2008-2009, and subsequent humungous gifts of cash from us to them "built a banking system that discriminates against community banks, makes Too Big to Fail banks even Too Bigger to Failier, increases risk, discourages sound business lending and punishes savings by making it even easier and more profitable to chase high-yield investments than to compete for small depositors. The bailout has also made lying on behalf of our biggest and most corrupt banks the official policy of the United States government." Thanks to contributor cowichan for the link. ...

... Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times: "A settlement [by federal agencies] reportedly in the works with big banks will soon end a review into foreclosure abuses, and it means more of the same: no accountability for financial institutions and little help for borrowers.... [The reported terms of the settlement reveal] it is another gift to the banks.... 'The O.C.C.-Fed review is just another flawed outreach program designed to fail,' said Ned Brown, a legislative strategist.... 'The servicers rolled the regulators.'"

Maggie Haberman of Politico: "President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign was fined $375,000 by the Federal Election Commission for campaign reporting violations -- one of the largest fees ever levied against a presidential campaign.... The fine -- laid out in detail in FEC documents that have yet to be made public -- arose from an audit of the campaign, which was published in April."

AP: "Speaking out for the first time since he resigned, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal takes the blame for a Rolling Stone article, and the unflattering comments attributed to his staff about the Obama administration, that ended his Afghan command and army career." ...

... Michael Gordon of the New York Times reads McChrystal's new book. CW: Sounds like a payback book, if a somewhat muted one.

Scott Shane of the New York Times, John C. Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, will be the first CIA employee to go to prison for leaking to reporters. Kiriakous was a source for Shane.

In the wake of the Newtown massacre, Susan Jacoby, in a New York Times op-ed, takes a stab at explaining atheism & urges atheists to speak out more. CW: One notion that Jacoby sidles up to, but doesn't write, is something that has been really irritating me -- the way the gun lobby tacitly uses faith in an afterlife to make gun crimes more palatable -- by promoting the notion that gunshot victims suddenly become "angels in heaven." As long as there's a perceived upside to the sudden death of a healthy person, then our "freedoms" and "right" to tote around assault weapons don't come at too high a price.

Alex Dobuzinskis of Reuters: "A planned yearlong centennial celebration of Richard Nixon's birth is due to kick off on Sunday at his presidential library in Southern California, with military honors and the laying of a wreath by the eldest daughter of the late 37th U.S. president.... The Richard Nixon Foundation plans to observe his complicated legacy with various events throughout the year, starting with the event on Sunday at the official Nixon library run by the foundation and the National Archives in Yorba Linda, California -- his birthplace."

News Ledes

AP: "Syrian President Bashar Assad has outlined a new peace initiative that includes a national reconciliation conference and a new constitution. Assad, however, says the initiative can only take roots after regional and Western countries stop funding what he called militant extremists fighting to overthrow him. Assad spoke Sunday in a rare speech addressing the nation, his first since June." Al Jazeera story here.

Reuters: "Venezuelan lawmakers re-elected [Diosdado Cabello,] a staunch ally of Hugo Chavez, to head the National Assembly on Saturday, putting him in line to be caretaker president if the socialist leader does not recover from cancer surgery.

Reuters: "A U.S. drone strike killed at least 10 people suspected to be Taliban fighters in Pakistan's northern tribal areas on Sunday, intelligence sources said, days after another drone strike killed a top militant leader in the area." The Al Jazeera story reports that the drone strikes killed at least 16 suspected Taliban militants.

AP: "The [National Hockey League] and the players' association said they reached a tentative agreement early Sunday to end a nearly four-month-old lockout that threatened to wipe out the season. A marathon negotiating session that lasted more than 16 hours, stretching from Saturday afternoon until just before dawn Sunday, produced a 10-year deal that still must be ratified by the players."

Al Jazeera: "Gerard Depardieu, the French actor who says he is quitting his homeland to avoid higher taxes for the rich, has received a Russian passport and met with President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has said."

Friday
Jan042013

The Commentariat -- January 5, 2013

The President's Weekly Address:

     ... The transcript is here. ...

... One thing I will not compromise over is whether or not Congress should pay the tab for a bill they've already racked up. If Congress refuses to give the United States the ability to pay its bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy could be catastrophic. The last time Congress threatened this course of action, our entire economy suffered for it. -- President Obama

Benjy Sarlin of TPM: "The White House and gun control supporters are gearing up for a whirlwind month, with plans to pass reform legislation before outrage over the Sandy Hook massacre has a chance to fade."

Annie Lowrey of the New York Times: "... the country's top earners now face a heavier tax burden than at any time since Jimmy Carter was president.... By some measures, the tax code might now be the most progressive in a generation, tax economists said, while noting that every American is paying a lower burden currently than they did then.... Over the last three decades the bulk of pretax income gains have gone to the wealthy -- and the higher up on the income scale, the bigger the gains.... [The fiscal] deal includes a host of tax increases on the rich. It raises the tax rate to 39.6 percent from 35 percent on income above $400,000 for individuals, and $450,000 for couples. The rate on dividends and capital gains for those same taxpayers was bumped up 5 percentage points, to 20 percent. Congress also reinstated limits on the amount households with more than $300,000 in income can deduct. On top of that, two new surcharges -- a 3.8 percent tax on investment income and a 0.9 percent tax on regular income -- hit those same wealthy households."

Robert Pear & Mary Pilon of the New York Times: "With the help of devoted Nascar fans in Congress and lobbyists in Washington, [auto race]track owners secured a one-year extension of an expiring tax break that allows them to write off investments in their property over 7 years, rather than the more typical 15 years." CW: because driving fast in circles is such a laudable athletic endeavor & cultural paradigm.

New York Times Editors: Raise the federal minimum wage.

Zachary Goldfarb of the Washington Post: "The White House is eyeing a return to elements of a 'grand bargain' it tried to reach late last year with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) as perhaps the best hope of defusing a fresh threat to the U.S. economy in just two months, according to people familiar with the discussions. As planning begins for the next phase of Washington's fiscal wars, attention is turning to a strategy for avoiding deep automatic cuts to domestic and defense spending and averting a government default -- which could all hit at the same moment." CW: I really could not stand to read the whole article.

Sahil Kapur of TPM: "Echoing President Obama's refusal to negotiate on the debt limit, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) warned Republicans on Friday that Democrats have no intention of giving in to any of their demands in exchange for lifting the nation's borrowing limit to pay its bills." ...

... Andy Rosenthal of the New York Times: "Mr. Obama should remember that if he makes any offer linked to the debt ceiling, he will have lost the war. He will end up negotiating with himself again, as he did over the fiscal cliff, and the debt ceiling nonsense will become a permanent part of budget talks." Includes a terrific citation from the Wall Street Journal editorial page. That's right, the WSJ is not liking the GOP prank. ...

... Alec MacGillis of The New Republic: "It is striking to what degree the Washington establishment has come to normalize Republican hostage-taking of the debt limit, to see it as a predictable and almost natural element of the political landscape.... If this perception starts to percolate out more broadly, the White House is in far weaker position heading into the next round than it would like to believe." ...

... Jamelle Bouie of the American Prospect: "Oddly, large swaths of the press is treating [the debt limit hostage-taking] as a routine negotiation, and not as an extraordinary and irresponsible threat to our national well-being.... There's something very wrong with Washington journalism when a threat to imperil the global economy is treated like a round of capture-the-flag." ...

... "At the Intersection of Recklessness & Stupidity." Steve Benen: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) gets the Recklessness Award for an op-ed he wrote in the Houston Chronicle. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gets the Stupidity Prize. "As a policy matter, [his remarks are] just gibberish, and the fact that the Senate Minority Leader doesn't seem to know what the debt ceiling even is, after already having threatened default in 2011 and planning an identical scheme in 2013, raises serious questions about how policymakers can expect to resolve a problem they don't seem to understand at a basic level." For the umpteenth time, Benen explains the debt ceiling to dummies. Here's Cornyn's Chron op-ed. ...

... Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has privately told other Democrats, including President Obama, that if the administration used its constitutional and executive authority to continue paying its debts in the face of House Republican opposition, he would support the approach, according to a source familiar with Reid's message to the president."

... Henry Blodget of Business Insider: "... the 'trillion-dollar coin' is a ridiculous idea. But no more so than threatening to force default." ...

... David Atkins of Hullabaloo makes this analogy: "... the Republican position is to go on a massive spending spree, quit their jobs by decreasing revenue, and then threaten to throw the bills they racked up into fire unless their spouse stops feeding the kids." His whole post is good. He pretty much explains the debt limit the way I explained it to my husband! ...

... Dorothy Wickenden talks with John Cassidy & Ryan Lizza about the tax-and-spending deal:

Elections Matter. New York Times Editors: "A small but important provision of the military budget bill just signed by President Obama ends a longstanding act of discrimination against women who serve in America's military. Offered by Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, the provision lifts a statutory ban on giving female service members insurance coverage for abortions in cases of rape and incest. Since 1988, military health plans have paid for abortions only when a pregnancy endangers a women's life."

Mark Landler of the New York Times: "Chuck Hagel appears to have weathered a concerted and vocal campaign to derail his chances for defense secretary, with President Obama likely to nominate him as early as next week, administration and Congressional officials said Friday." ...

... ** Jonathan Karl & Devin Dwyer of ABC News: "Meanwhile, the president is also eyeing a replacement for outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the longest-serving member of Obama's first-term economic team and one-time lead negotiator for the administration in the 'fiscal cliff' talks. Current chief of staff Jack Lew is all but certain to get the nod for Treasury, according to people familiar with Obama's thinking." CW: if true, this is quite good news. Lew is a liberal, really smart & sneaked some good stuff past the Republicans in last years debt ceiling fiasco. Last year, the scuttlebutt was that Obama would name the horrible Erskine Bowles to head Treasury. Cross thy fingers.

Brady Dennis of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration moved ahead Friday with the first major overhaul of the nation's food-safety system in more than 70 years, proposing tough new standards for fruit and vegetable producers and food manufacturers. The long-awaited proposals by the Food and Drug Administration are part of a fundamental change aimed at preventing food-borne outbreaks -- caused by everything from leafy greens to canteloupes to peanut butter -- rather than simply reacting to them. Every year, contaminated foods sicken an estimated 48 million Americans and kill 3,000. The rules, which span 1,200 pages, are aimed at creating safer conditions from farm to fork."

** Elections Sorta Matter. Ian Millhiser of Think Progress: "every single state except Hawai’i has finalized its vote totals for the 2012 House elections, and Democrats currently lead Republicans by 1,362,351 votes in the overall popular vote total. Democratic House candidates earned 49.15 percent of the popular vote, while Republicans earned only 48.03 percent -- meaning that the American people preferred a unified Democratic Congress over the divided Congress it actually got by more than a full percentage point. Nevertheless, thanks largely to partisan gerrymandering, Republicans have a solid House majority in the incoming 113th Congress." Read the whole post. ...

... Dana Milbank: "In theory, the Supreme Court could decide ... that this rigged system denies Americans fair and effective representation. But this won't happen anytime soon."

They're a bunch of jackasses. -- Former Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.) on the 67 Republicans who voted against even minimal aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy ...

... Kenneth Lovett, et al., of the New York Daily News: "The money will go strictly to the ailing federal flood insurance program to pay the legitimate claims of Sandy victims.... 'Every one of the 67 who voted no are nothing more than pawns of a philosophy that is not backed up by facts. The naysayers tried to punish people who dutifully paid their insurance premiums, [former Sen. Alphonse D'Amato] said, adding: 'This is not pork.' Even more galling, said D’Amato, many of these Republican refuseniks are from states that received billions of dollars in aid after Hurricane Katrina -- no questions asked." D'Amato, who lives on Long Island, says he & members of his family are still struggling in the aftermath of the storm. Thanks to Jeanne B. for the link. ...

... Hee-haw, Hee-haw. Erik Wasson of The Hill: "The conservative Club for Growth said Friday that it will punish House members who voted for a flood insurance measure aimed at helping pay for Hurricane Sandy's damage." ...

... Joe Conason of the National Memo highlights a few of the 67 jackasses who voted for help in their own home states but voted against aid to Sandy victims. Here's one name you might recognize: "Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chair from Wisconsin, who voted for the [auto] bailout and then, while running for vice president on the GOP ticket, pretended to have opposed it."

Jill Lawrence of the National Journal: Republicans don't seem to know what their party stands for these days. Luckily, David Brooks has a good idea! CW: as long as I can remember, the Republican party has -- in practice -- stood for the interests of the already-privileged. The culture war is a clever sideshow designed to appeal to the prejudices of the lumpenproletariat, but the GOP has always stood for Grand Old Patricians. It isn't so much about raw greed as it is about making sure the system continues to provide amply for them that has while keeping the rest of us in our place. The problem for the party now is that their clever sideshow worked too well, & some of the downstairs help climbed upstairs. The party of Edith Wharton novels (the Bushes) has been invaded by the descendants of John Steinbeck characters (Reagan, Santorum, Gingrich).

** Simon Romero of the New York Times: "José Mujica [is] the former guerrilla who is Uruguay's president. He lives in a run-down house on Montevideo's outskirts with no servants at all. His net worth upon taking office in 2010 amounted to about $1,800 -- the value of the 1987 Volkswagen Beetle parked in his garage. He never wears a tie and donates about 90 percent of his salary, largely to a program for expanding housing for the poor.... Quoting the Roman court-philosopher Seneca, Mr. Mujica said, 'It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.'"

Gail Collins publishes her New Year's pop quiz today. CW: I missed the one on Scott Brown, but guessed right on the pop culture questions & actually knew the answers to the rest of the political questions. If you want to get the Brown question right, read this first.

Inauguration

Nicole Guadiano of "Vice President Joe Biden will be sworn into office for a second term by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.... Sotomayor will administer the oath of office to Biden at a private ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 20, and at a public ceremony the following day on the west front of the U.S. Capitol."

News Ledes

Denver Post: "Four people were killed this morning including a gunman who held police at bay for several hours in an Aurora townhome. Aurora SWAT team members shot the gunman after he went to a second-floor window and fired a gun at police."

AP: "Northern Ireland police used water cannons to fend off brick-hurling protesters in Belfast on Saturday as violent demonstrations over flying the British flag stretched into a third straight day." Here's a report from the Belfast Telegraph.

New York Times: "A powerful earthquake struck the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Alaska around midnight Friday night, prompting tsunami warnings on the mainland and jolting some residents of Alaska. The warning was later canceled."

AP: "Just days before the second anniversary of a mass shooting that critically injured Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman was in Newtown meeting privately with families of those killed during last month's massacre at an elementary school."