The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Safety/Irony Alert. CNBC (December 25): Your new home security system may be an open invitation to hackers to make you, and perhaps many others, unsafe.” -- CW

Washington Post: "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus took a final, bittersweet bow Sunday, staging its last three shows [in Uniondale, N.Y.,] after 146 years of entertaining American audiences with gravity-defying trapeze stunts, comically clumsy clowns and trained tigers." -- CW 

Guardian: "Pippa Middleton [sister of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge --] has married James Matthews in what has been called the society wedding of the year, in front of royalty, family and friends." -- CW

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

CW: No idea why the picture is teeny-tiny.

Washington Post: "Two months before Monday’s [May 8] announcement that Sinclair Broadcast Group would pay $3.9 billion for Tribune Media and add to its dominance as the nation’s largest owner of local TV stations, a top executive at Sinclair beamed a short commentary piece to many of the company’s 173 stations.In the segment, which looks like it belongs in a newscast, Sinclair vice president for news Scott Livingston stands before a wall of video monitors and warns that 'some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.' He accuses the national media of publishing 'fake news stories' — a direct echo of President Trump’s frequent complaint — and then asks viewers to visit the station’s website to share 'content concerns.' The piece was a 'must-run,' meaning news directors and station managers from Baltimore to Seattle had to find room for it.... While partisan coverage is a familiar staple of cable networks — Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left — it remains mostly unheard of in broadcast TV, where it has generally been accepted that public airwaves should be used in the difficult-to-define public interest.” -- CW 

CNN: "21st Century Fox and the private equity firm Blackstone are in talks to launch a bid for Tribune Media, one of the nation's largest television broadcasting companies, a source with knowledge of the matter said Sunday. The deal currently under discussion would see Blackstone and Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox forming a joint venture. Blackstone would provide the cash for the acquisition while Fox would add all its owned-and-operated television stations to the joint venture." -- CW 

New York Times: "Prehistoric humans — perhaps Neanderthals or another lost species — occupied what is now California some 130,000 years ago, a team of scientists reported on Wednesday. The bold and fiercely disputed claim, published in the journal Nature, is based on a study of mastodon bones discovered near San Diego. If the scientists are right, they would significantly alter our understanding of how humans spread around the planet." -- CW 

If you're curious as to how realistic the New York City apartments of TV sitcom characters are -- in terms of what the characters could reasonably afford -- the Washington Post checks out several of the hovels & dream rentals of a number of shows. Kinda fun. CW: My husband & I (he paid the rent) had a fairly spacious two-bedroom with a galley kitchen (dishwasher included!) & dining room plus teensy closets on Washington Square in the 1980s & '90s. NYU owned the building & helped considerably with the rent.

Politico: "Comedian Hasan Minhaj will be this year's entertainer for the White House Correspondents' Dinner later this month, the association's president announced on Tuesday. Minhaj is a stand up comedian and senior correspondent on 'The Daily Show,' where he has performed caustic bits on ... Donald Trump, liberals and others in between. Minhaj has Washington experience already, having performed as host of last year's Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner." -- CW 

AFP: "After months of uncertainty and controversy, Bob Dylan finally accepted the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature at a jovial, champagne-laced ceremony on Saturday, [April 1,] the Swedish Academy announced. The academy, which awards the coveted prize, ended prolonged speculation as to whether the 75-year-old troubadour would use a concert stopover in Stockholm to accept the gold medal and diploma awarded to him back in October." -- CW 


The Hill: "Arnold Schwarzeneggar says his first season as host of NBC's 'Celebrity Apprentice' is also his last. In remarks Friday, the former California governor cited President Trump, who has repeatedly mocked the ratings of his reality TV replacement, as his reason. 'Even if asked [to do it again] I would decline,' Schwarzenegger told Empire magazine.... 'With Trump being involved in the show people have a bad taste and don’t want to participate as a spectator or sponsor or in any other way support the show. It’s a very divisive period right now and I think the show got caught up in all that division.'" -- CW 

New York Times: "Penguin Random House will publish coming books by former President Barack Obama and the former first lady Michelle Obama, the publishing company announced Tuesday night, concluding a heated auction among multiple publishers. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but publishing industry executives with knowledge of the bidding process said it probably stretched well into eight figures." -- CW ...

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The Commentariat -- Feb. 19, 2015

We must never accept the premise that they put forward because it is a lie. They are not religious leaders. They are terrorists. And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam. -- President Obama, Wednesday ...

... Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Obama on Wednesday outlined his administration's efforts to counter what he calls 'violent extremism' in a speech to law enforcement, community and religious leaders gathered to discuss how to prevent groups like the Islamic State from recruiting disaffected young people to their ranks. The sessions on Wednesday -- part of a three-day meeting here -- focused on government-backed community pilot programs in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Los Angeles and Boston in which law enforcement and civic and religious leaders have worked together to counter extremist influences":

Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "President Obama on Wednesday appointed Joseph P. Clancy, who had guided the Secret Service on an interim basis for the last four and a half months, to be the agency's permanent director. In picking Mr. Clancy, a former head of Mr. Obama's security detail, the president rejected calls by critics on Capitol Hill and members of a special Department of Homeland Security panel, who said that a string of embarrassing personnel and security episodes had made it clear that the agency should be run by an outsider." ...

... The Washington Post story, by Carol Leonnig & David Nakamura, is here.

A few days ago, contributor JJG suggested the Department of Homeland Security, which is about to lose its funding because John Boehner, should be abolished anyway. Comes now Dara Lind of Vox: "... why does the department even exist? The answer is that it shouldn't, and it never should have. DHS was a mistake to begin with. Instead of solving the coordination problems it was supposed to solve, it simply duplicated efforts already happening in other federal departments. And attempts to control and distinguish the department have politicized it to the point where it can't function smoothly -- and might be threatening national security."

** Gail Collins raises the alarm about a Senate bill, introduced by the Other Senator from Texas, "that would allow people from states with lax gun laws to carry their concealed weapons all around the country." If you aren't sure why this isn't a lovely federalist, cooperative idea -- "like drivers' licenses,' as Sen. Cornyn puts it, allow Collins to explain. Here's an exemplary data point: "In 2007, The Sun Sentinel in Florida found that in a six-month period, more than 1,400 people who had pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies had been awarded concealed carry permits, along with 216 people with outstanding warrants, 28 people with active domestic violence injunctions against them, and six registered sex offenders."

Carol Morillo of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration on Wednesday accused the Israeli government of misleading the public over the Iran nuclear negotiations, using unusually blunt and terse language that once again highlighted the rift between the two sides." ...

... Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post: "... Israel's prime minister is aligning himself with one of America's two camps. It's not the camp that commands -- or even can command -- the support of most American Jews. That will pose a problem for Israel."

Carl Hulse of the New York Times: "Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by the conservative Koch brothers, and the [Center for American Progress], a Washington-based liberal issues group, are coming together to back a new organization ... [which] plans a multimillion-dollar campaign on behalf of emerging proposals to reduce prison populations, overhaul sentencing, reduce recidivism and take on similar initiatives. Other groups from both the left and right -- the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Tea Party-oriented FreedomWorks -- are also part of the coalition, reflecting its unusually bipartisan approach.... Organizers of the advocacy campaign, which is to be announced on Thursday, consider it to be the largest national effort focused on the strained prison and justice system."

Evan Perez & Alexandra Jaffe of CNN: "The Justice Department is preparing to bring a lawsuit against the Ferguson, Missouri, police department over a pattern of racially discriminatory tactics used by officers, if the police department does not agree to make changes on its own, sources tell CNN.... The Justice Department action would ask for court supervision of changes at the Ferguson Police Department to improve how police deal with the minority communities they are supposed to protect. [AG Eric] ​Holder hinted at plans to announce the outcome of the dual investigations during an appearance at the National Press Club on Tuesday."

Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "A Chicago detective who led one of the most shocking acts of torture ever conducted at Guantánamo Bay was responsible for implementing a disturbingly similar, years-long regime of brutality to elicit murder confessions from minority Americans.... Richard Zuley, a detective on Chicago's north side from 1977 to 2007, repeatedly engaged in methods of interrogation resulting in at least one wrongful conviction and subsequent cases more recently thrown into doubt following allegations of abuse.... Zuley's tactics ... would be supercharged at Guantánamo...."

Nicholas Kristof comes late to the party: Union "abuses are real. But, as unions wane in American life, it's also increasingly clear that they were doing a lot of good in sustaining middle class life -- especially the private-sector unions that are now dwindling. Most studies suggest that about one-fifth of the increase in economic inequality in America among men in recent decades is the result of the decline in unions. It may be more."

"Be Wary of Humanitarian Intervention." Joel Gillen of the New Repubic: "In the fourth anniversary of the February 17 revolution, the prospects for peace and stability in Libya seem more remote than ever. The beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by a local branch of the Islamic State (ISIS)-- to which Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi swiftly responded with airstrikes -- is the most recent example of the instability and complete lack of security that has followed the NATO-backed overthrow of former President Muammar Qaddafi. Jon Lee Anderson of The New Yorker, who visited Libya earlier this winter, has written that '[t]here is no overstating the chaos of post-Qaddafi Libya.' Indeed, many see the country as the world's next failed state. There are now effectively two competing governments in Libya."

"Opportunistic Activism." Jay Michaelson of the Daily Beast: Judge Andrew Hanen's 123-page temporary injunction against the Department of Homeland Security's new immigration policies is packed with right-wing talking points & rhetoric & its legal reasoning is "sketchy."

Linda Greenhouse writes a fairly fascinating column on the University of Texas affirmative action case which the Supremes may take up again, fascinating because she includes some insider insights, & valuable because, without saying so, she reminds us why diversity on the Court is essential. ...

... CW: And I have some news for that brat Amanda Fisher: life isn't always fair & usually doesn't present you with just what you want. Nearly everybody who has planned a college education has received a rejection letter -- I got more than one -- even though she may have the potential & prove to be a good university student. Get over it. Of course, this case, as Greenhouse points out, Fisher isn't even the prime move of the case brought in her name: she "is the recruited face of a powerful social movement that opposes affirmative action in college admissions." I don't know who the individuals in this "powerful social movement" are, but I know they're privileged white racists.

Capitalism Is Awesome, Ctd. Natasha Singer of the New York Times: "Would you pay an extra monthly fee just to avoid seeing some online ads based on your web browsing history? That's the premise behind a staggered-pricing option offered by AT&T's ultrafast fiber optic network, called GigaPower, which the company introduced in the Kansas City area on Monday."

Jonathan Chait: "... Stephen Moore, chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, mak[es] his case, such as it is, that Obamacare has failed to meet its cost targets. Perhaps the most revealing aspect of Moore's column is the fact that, five years after its passage, the chief economist of the most influential conservative think tank in the United States lacks even a passing familiarity with its fiscal objectives." However, Moore is pretty good at making up "facts."

Hand Signals of Truth. Travis Gettys of the Raw Story: "President Barack Obama has moved beyond the 'terrorist fist jab' with another hand gesture that conservatives believe proves he is, in fact, a Muslim. Writing for The American Thinker website, the blogger and Islamophobic author F.W. Burleigh closely examines a photograph of Obama taken in August during a meeting with African dignitaries. 'It shows Barack Hussein Obama flashing the one-finger affirmation of Islamic faith to dozens of African delegates,' claims Burleigh...." ...

... Steve M. searches Google images & finds that secret Muslims have even infiltrated Right Wing World. Some top secret Muslims: Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Scott Walker. ...

... Speaking of Crackpots.... I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.... What's wrong with this man that he can't stand up and say there's a part of Islam that's sick? ... I've never felt [love] from him. I felt that from [George] W. [Bush]. I felt that from [Bill] Clinton. I felt that from every American president, including ones I disagreed with, including [Jimmy] Carter. I don't feel that from President Obama. -- Rudy Giuliani, Wednesday

Rudy has been watching the hand signals. -- Constant Weader

This code-word racist crap is all they have now, and it's all they ever had against him in the first place. It's also why they lost. -- Zandar, in Balloon Juice

Giuliani used to be a respected figure in this country and now he's just another embarrassing right wing freakshow like Ted Nugent or one of those Duck Dynasty guys. -- digby ...

... Scott Shane of the New York Times: "Obama aides say there is a strategic logic to his vocabulary: Labeling noxious beliefs and mass murder as 'Islamic' would play right into the hands of terrorists who claim that the United States is at war with Islam itself. The last thing the president should do, they say, is imply that the United States lumps the world's 1.5 billion Muslims with vicious terrorist groups. But Mr. Obama's verbal tactics have become a target for a growing chorus of critics who believe the evasive language is a sign that he is failing to look squarely at the threat from militant Islam." CW Note: "evasive language." Scott?

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Ed Kilgore: "Politico makes case for just declaring Jeb Bush president right now." ...

Presidential Race

Mistakes Were Made. Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: "Jeb Bush pointedly sought to distance himself from his brother's presidency on Wednesday, declaring himself 'my own man' and acknowledging that 'there were mistakes made in Iraq' even as he used his first major foreign affairs speech to call for an assertive American presence that recalled President George W. Bush's approach to international relations." ...

... Philip Bump of the Washington Post: "If Bush's goal is to present himself as his 'own man,' that list of advisers undermines the point somewhat: 19 of the 21 people on it worked in the administrations of his father or brother":

... OR, as Igor Volsky of Think Progress puts it, "The Same People Who Lied To You About Iraq Are Now In Charge Of Jeb Bush’s Foreign Policy."

... Rosie Gray of BuzzFeed sums up the speech: "His prescription: Hit ISIS, arm the Ukrainians, keep NSA surveillance, chuck the original justification for getting into Iraq in 2003. Broad strokes, but few details." ...

... Accidentally Forgets, Criticizes Brother's Foreign Policy. Igor Volsky: "During a wide-ranging speech on foreign policy matters at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Wednesday, Bush criticized the Obama administration for staking out a negotiating position that, he claimed, would endanger Israel and the world by merely managing the Iranian nuclear program rather than eliminating it altogether.... But 'managing' Iran's nuclear capabilities, as Bush puts it, isn't a position that originated in the Obama administration. As the New York Times points out, George W. Bush officials eventually conceded during his presidency that 'there was no way to reach a deal without Iran retaining at least a face-saving amount of enrichment capability.'" ...

... Another Way to Explain Jeb's Iran Gaffe. The more I get into this stuff, there's some things you just go, you know, "holy schnikes." This is, like, serious stuff. -- Jeb Bush, on Iran policy

I see Bump left Chris Farley out of his chart there of Bush foreign policy advisors. -- Constant Weader

... Zack Beauchamp of Vox found six more "cringeworthy moments" in Jeb's speech. CW: Yo, Jeb, if you're confusing Iran with Iraq maybe your 20 excellent advisors aren't so excellent. ...

... A Chip Off the Old Blockhead. Dana Milbank: "Try though he did to differentiate himself from George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, John Ellis Bush's delivery gave him away." ...

... Tom McCarthy of the Guardian: "Former Florida governor Jeb Bush delivered a full-throated defense of government surveillance programs on Wednesday, expressing a resounding faith in techniques pioneered by his brother, George W Bush, and staking out a position in sharp contrast with other prospective 2016 presidential candidates."

Paul Waldman on Bill & Hillary Clinton & that '60s thing: "The divides we have now are still between the squares and the cool kids, the buzzcuts and the longhairs, the upright and the pot smokers and, perhaps most importantly, the group that looked on in disgust and envy at the other group that was getting laid and having all the fun." ...

... Larry Mishel of the New Republic, however, is more concerned with HRC & that '90s thing: namely, Robert Rubin & Co., & their stale -- and discredited -- idea, which they're pushing anew, that technological change is what led to income inequality & the one-&-only way to reduce the gap is education. CW: It should be obvious that the Rubin prescription is designed to make Rubin & his Wall Street buddies feel good: see, wealth & income inequality is not the result of high-earner greed but of poor workers' failure to get a proper education.

Beyond the Beltway

Natasha Korecki & Jon Seidel of the Chicago Sun-Times: "... Gov. Bruce Rauner finally laid his cards on the table Wednesday, calling for a staggering $6.7 billion in cuts to Illinois' budget. The Republican governor's first proposed budget called for slashing money for human services, including $1.5 billion in Medicaid funding, $82 million in mental-health services and the elimination of a slew of programs for those living with special needs." ...

... Max Brown of the Sun-Times: "Everywhere you look, Rauner's budget looks to reduce spending in ways that will likely cause harm to real people rather than just 'trimming the fat,' as many would prefer to imagine."

Oregonian: "Kate Brown became Oregon's 38th governor Wednesday morning."

... Greedy Girl. Nigel Jaquiss of the Willamette (Washington) Weekly: "... before Kitzhaber's resignation and the investigations, Hayes had even grander plans for herself -- in terms of influence and money -- for the governor's final term in office. Newly obtained emails reveal Hayes told Kitzhaber in late 2013 that she wanted to further leverage her access to his office into 'lucrative work,' including an official state position, paid speaking appearances and book contracts. The first lady proposed her expansive plans to Kitzhaber, even as the governor's staff searched for ways to narrow Hayes' official role and make sure she wasn't violating state ethics laws." ...

... Laura Gunderson of the Oregonian: "Former Oregon first lady Cylvia Hayes plans to go to court to block a state order requiring her to turn over emails related to her public service." ...

... CW: It's always about money or sex. Sometimes it's about money AND sex.

Sarah Kaplan of the Washington Post: "A Washington state florist who refused to provide flower arrangements for a gay wedding 'because of [her] relationship with Jesus' violated the state's anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws, a judge ruled Wednesday. 'Religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law,' Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom said in his 60-page opinion."

Gene Robinson in the Daily Beast: Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback "wants to fire all the gays." Brownback has rescinded an executive order, put in place by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), which protected LGBT state workers.

News Lede

Guardian: "A polar vortex may deliver the coldest weather in 20 years to the United States on Friday, as the weather system yet again sends a high-pressured shot of arctic air into the the country, threatening dangerous conditions and record-breaking temperatures."

Los Angeles Times: "The manufacturer of the medical scopes at the center of a deadly bacterial outbreak at UCLA Medical Center is under investigation by federal officials for possible violations of laws that ban improper payments to doctors and other customers. Olympus Corp. of Americas, the U.S. subsidiary of the Japanese manufacturer, said earlier this month that the Justice Department had been investigating its medical business since November 2011." ...

... Washington Post: "California public health authorities are tracking down 179 patients who may have been exposed to a 'superbug' bacteria at Ronald Reagan Medical Center at the University of California at Los Angeles after two people died following infection from contaminated medical scopes. Seven patients may have been infected with the drug-resistant superbug called CRE, or Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae, during 'complex endoscopic procedures' to diagnose and treat diseases in the pancreas between October and January at the hospital, UCLA's Health System said Wednesday...."

New York Times: "Greece on Thursday requested a six-month extension of the country's loan agreement with its European creditors. But Germany immediately indicated that it did not find the proposal acceptable. The head of the Eurogroup, the group of eurozone finance ministers, scheduled a Friday afternoon meeting in Brussels to consider the proposal, as Athens sought to break a deadlock in debt talks amid fears of Greek insolvency."


The Commentariat -- Feb. 18, 2015

Michael Shear & Ashley Parker of the New York Times: "Just one day before undocumented immigrants were set to begin applying for work permits and legal protections, the administration announced on Tuesday that it would delay carrying out President Obama's executive actions on immigration, saying a federal judge's last-minute ruling had tied the White House's hands. Jeh C. Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, vowed to appeal the court ruling...." ...

... David Nakamura & Juiet Eilperin of the Washington Post: "The effects of [District Judge Andrew] Hanen's procedural ruling rippled through Washington and underscored a broader challenge to the president as he seeks to solidify the legacy of his administration. Along with the immigration action, the fate of two of Obama's other signature initiatives -- a landmark health-care law and a series of aggressive executive actions on climate change -- now rests in the hands of federal judges. It is a daunting prospect for a president in the final two years of his tenure...." ...

... Kate Linthicum of the Los Angeles Times: "A large crowd of pro-immigrant activists and politicians gathered Tuesday outside L.A. City Hall to send a message to the Texas judge who one day earlier ordered a stop to President Obama's executive actions on immigration. 'Shame on you!' the protesters shouted in unison. 'Shame on you!'" ...

... Alan Yuhas of the Guardian: "A Texas judge's freeze on Barack Obama's plan to shield millions of immigrants from deportation likely won't last long, legal experts say, meaning Republicans who oppose the executive action will have to look away from the courts for help.... Few disagree that the president has the authority to defer deportations, even among those inclined to condemn Obama&'s decisions.... The 'narrow' scope of Hanen's ruling means the Obama administration may not have to rely on another round of judicial boxing to begin giving young migrants quasi-legal status. ...

... Lyle Denniston of ScotusBlog, however, seems to suggest Judge Hanen's ruling is strong on the merits. ...

... AND Dara Lind of Vox sees this ruling as Hanen's opening salvo: "... while the rhetoric of this opinion is often fiery, the actual legal scope of the ruling -- the part that matters going forward -- is much more limited. That's because this is the very beginning of a very, very long court battle, and everyone involved in the case understands that. From now on, the ruling stopping the deferred action programs will move up through the courts while Judge Hanen continues to consider the underlying questions." ...

... Josh Gerstein (one of a few reliably accurate, nonpartisan Politico reporters): "The current dispute could wind up at the high court on an emergency basis within days, but administration officials were not specific about whether they will immediately demand that Obama's immigration actions be allowed to resume." ...

... Stephen Legomsky provides quite a good explanation of the legal issue. CW: I found the whole "PBS News Hour" segment helpful:

The Contenders.... Brian Beutler of the New Republic: "... even if the legal challenge ends up bailing out Republicans this time around, the dynamics that brought the party to this brink will persist. The DHS funding impasse is symptomatic of tendencies in the Republican congressional majorities that presage more shutdown threats, debt limit fights, and other high-wire acts. These are precisely the kinds of reckless legislative politics party leaders hoped to avoid. Writing at Forbes, budget veteran Stan Collender argues that the incompatible imperatives facing Republican congressmen and Republican senators has transformed an executive-legislative branch showdown into an intraparty war." ...

... Jonathan Chait: "Poll Confirms the Republican Immigration Shutdown Plan Is Their Worst Idea Ever. (Subhead on the front-page link: "John Boehner dials political suicide hotline.") ...

... Charles Pierce: "Once we all calm down again, if that ever happens, we can look seriously at whether DHS is worth it. But, as long as it is, and as long as the country feels it's necessary -- and the country will feel that way as long as politicians gin up the fear the way they do -- then it should be funded without these kind of shenanigans. The country is smarter than John Boehner -- and I include the country's rocks as well as its people." ...

... The New York Times Editors get to the crux of the problem: "However the appellate courts come down on the case, Mr. Obama is finding himself once again dealing with a familiar sort of Republican intransigence. With his humane and realistic immigration policy, he is trying to tackle a huge and long-running national problem: what to do with more than 11 million undocumented people who are living, working and raising families here, when the government cannot possibly apprehend or deport all of them. To the contrary, bringing some of these people out of the shadows of illegality would be an economic boon, as noted by the 12 states and more than 30 cities around the country (including Brownsville, Tex.) that are defending Mr. Obama's actions. On immigration, the Republicans seem to want only to savage the president's efforts to address a pressing nationwide crisis, just as they have on health care reform. They are good at unleashing rage against Mr. Obama's supposed lawlessness, but they have no meaningful solutions of their own."

Lydia Wheeler of the Hill: "Attorney General Eric Holder called Tuesday for a national moratorium on the death penalty until the Supreme Court weighs in on the issue later this year. Holder went on to say he disagrees with Justice Antonin Scalia, who has said the U.S. has never executed an innocent person."

Missy Ryan of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration will permit the widespread export of armed drones for the first time, a step toward providing allied nations with weapons that have become a cornerstone of U.S. counterterrorism strategy but whose remotely controlled power to kill is intensely controversial. The new policy, announced Tuesday after a long internal review, is a significant step for U.S.arms policy as allied nations from Italy to Turkey to the Persian Gulf region clamor for the aircraft."

Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Obama on Wednesday will outline his administration's efforts to counter what he calls 'violent extremism' in a speech to law enforcement, community and religious leaders gathered to discuss how to prevent groups like the Islamic State from recruiting disaffected young people to their ranks. The White House said the plans were a vital nonmilitary way to counter extremism of all kinds, a task that has taken on greater urgency after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen." ...

... President Obama, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, on the fight to stop ISIS & other violent extremists by winning over "hearts & minds." What can you do to join the battle? Don't be a hateful, ignorant dick. (Paraphrase.) ...

... Your Fake Controversy of the Day. Matt Wilstein of Mediaite: "'We cannot kill our way out of this war,' State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told MSNBC's Chris Matthews 'We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it's a lack of opportunity for jobs.' Ever since, she has been getting hammered by conservatives on Twitter and elsewhere across the web. Tonight, she joined Wolf Blitzer on CNN's The Situation Room and attempted to clarify her point." ...

... Steve M. responds.

Sarah Ferris of the Hill: "This year's ObamaCare enrollment officially beat expectations with at least 11.4 million Americans signing up in the second year, the White House announced late Tuesday." ...

... Jason Millman of the Washington Post: "Up to 6 million Americans are expected to pay a penalty for not having [health insurance] coverage in 2014, according to recent Obama administration projections. The 2014 penalty for this tax season is $95, or 1 percent of family income -- purposefully on the weaker side to let people adjust to this new coverage scheme. Most of the uninsured won't actually face the penalty because they'll qualify for an exemption, either related to their inability to afford coverage or some other hardship. But it's likely that a lot of people who will have to pay don't know it yet.... Nearly half of uninsured Americans weren't aware of the penalty, and almost as many don't realize the law offers financial help to purchase coverage, according to a Harris Poll survey in the fall."

Ryan Cooper of the Week: "Congressional restrictions on presidential power are only as good as Congress' willingness to act when the restrictions are breached. And right now there is approximately zero reason to think that Congress gives a crap about illegal war.... Obama is basically asking for the authority to start war against anyone who's watched an Islamic State video. Indeed, the main axis of debate is whether the proposed authority is broad enough. Except for Sen. Rand Paul, Republicans are basically fine with Obama being able to make war wherever he wants."

Nicholas Bagley, the Incidental Economist, suggests what the Supreme Court should do to clear up the standing issue in King v. Burwell. Bagley writes that "the Court can't just ignore standing. Without standing, the federal courts lack jurisdiction -- the power -- to resolve the dispute. That's why the courts must consider standing on their own, whether or not any party has objected."

Batsheva Sobelman of the Los Angeles Times: "In a scathing report with potential political and criminal repercussions, Israel's state comptroller sharply criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday for excessive spending of public funds in his official and private residences. The highly anticipated report, which came just four weeks before Israeli elections, faulted Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, for using public funds to spend lavishly on a variety of personal goods and services, including cleaning, clothing, water and grooming, between 2009 and 2012.... In addition, the report pointed to improprieties in management of finances, human resources and external contractors." ...

... Alexandra Jaffe of CNN: "A large majority of Americans believe that Republican congressional leaders should not have invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress without consulting the White House, according to a new CNN/ORC survey.... Even Republicans are split on whether it was a good idea for leadership to invite Netanyahu without alerting the White House, with a slight majority --52% -- backing the move. Just 14% of Democrats say it was the right thing to do, and just over a third of independents support the move."

Hadas Gold of Politico: "Attorney General Eric Holder criticized Fox News on Tuesday for its obsession with the administration's characterization of the Islamic State."

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Evan McMurry of Mediaite: "Adding to the list of 'things Obama has been called in the past week,' which already included the Antichrist, the Seventh King, and a rape suspect, we now have 'assclown.' Kevin Cusick, a sports producer for the Pioneer Press, apologized Monday for using the term to refer to President Barack Obama in a slideshow that included Obama's selfie-stick moment from a BuzzFeed video.... 'After further review, it's a poor choice of word,' Cusick told local news station KMSP."

CW: If you're a little unsure of how perverted the right wing is, here's a helpful benchmark: they give prizes for hate speech. Paul Bond of the Hollywood Reporter: "Fourteen months after he sparked a major controversy for making remarks widely perceived as anti-gay, Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson has been named the recipient of a free-speech award from Citizens United, an organization routinely disparaged by Hollywood liberals. Robertson will receive the 'Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award' at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, which is better known as CPAC and is one of the biggest annual events for prominent movers and shakers on the right."

Presidential Race

Maggie Haberman & Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: "Hillary Rodham Clinton held a private, one-on-one meeting with Senator Elizabeth Warren in December at Mrs. Clinton's Washington home, a move by the Democrats' leading contender in 2016 to cultivate the increasingly influential senator and leader of the party's economic populist movement. The two met at Whitehaven, the Clintons' Northwest Washington home, without aides and at Mrs. Clinton's invitation. Mrs. Clinton solicited policy ideas and suggestions from Ms. Warren, according to a Democrat briefed on the meeting, who called it 'cordial and productive.'" ...

... Hanna Rosin of the Atlantic: "When the 2016 presidential campaign was just a glimmer in the distance, at least a dozen conservative organizations had already dedicated themselves to Hillary Clinton's defeat. They are a combination of opposition-research shops, media outlets, and grass-roots activist groups. A couple have stationed staff in Little Rock to rifle through files in search of something new -- or even something old that can be framed in a newly relevant way.... If she runs for president ... Hillary Clinton will face something more like a vast right-wing conglomerate. This time around, the groups will be well funded, solidly professional, and thoroughly integrated into the party establishment."

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "Senator Rand Paul is eyeing April 7 as the day he will announce his plans to run for president, people close to him said, a step that would position him ahead of his potential Republican rivals as a declared candidate and allow him to begin raising money directly for his campaign 10 months before the Iowa caucuses."

Sahil Kapur of TPM: Jeb Bush makes a "mysterious" response to the judge's order on the ACA. But since he won't state any actual policy positions, he relies that handy fallback position: blame Obama! ...

... Catalina Camia of USA Today has a preview of Bush's foreign policy speech, scheduled for later today. Totally surprising nub of it: Obama & Clinton don't know what they're doing. ...

... Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post: "Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is considering a 2016 presidential campaign, is seeking to distinguish his views on foreign policy from those of his father and brother, two former presidents. But he's getting most of his ideas from nearly two dozen people, most of whom previously worked for George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush." ...

... "Jeb Bush & the Ghost of W." Steve Kornacki of MSNBC: "The model for Jeb Bush’s campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is obvious: his brother.... But there are already signs that what worked so brilliantly for W may be futile for Jeb. The former Florida governor faces fiercer competition on his right and far stiffer resistance from the base; the mood of the party is far less pragmatic today; and even an obscenely fat bank account may not be enough to save him." ...

... Fred Flintstone for President. Jonathan Chait: " as part of his plan to win the Republican nomination, [Jeb Bush] is ... eschewing all foods unavailable to his caveman ancestors. In fact, the Paleo diet is pure pseudoscience.... The whole appeal of the Paleo diet is a primal fantasy that appeals to men enchanted with some vision of primitive brute strength. All this is to say that perhaps Jeb Bush will fit into the Republican primary just fine."

Senate Race

Marc Caputo in Politico: "Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, is strongly considering a bid for U.S. Senate, calculating that having Hillary Clinton at the top of the 2016 ticket would help lift her candidacy in a year-of-the-woman campaign. Driving Wasserman Schultz's interest: the increasing likelihood that Sen. Marco Rubio will run for the White House and that he ultimately won't seek reelection in 2016, Democratic insiders familiar with her thinking say."

Beyond the Beltway

Driftglass on Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (RKoch): "And so, one hire at a time, one policy decree at a time, our new governor works the Koch Brothers's playbook, line by line."

Judd Legum of Think Progress: "An Oklahoma bill banning Advanced Placement U.S. History would also require schools to instruct students in a long list of 'foundational documents,' including the Ten Commandments, two sermons and three speeches by Ronald Reagan.... [The] bill was approved by the Education committee on an 11-4 vote." ...

... Margaret Hartmann of New York has more.

Emily Le Coz of the Jackson, Mississippi, Courier-Ledger: "State Rep. Gene Alday, R-Walls, publicly apologized Tuesday for controversial statements he made in a Clarion-Ledger article that had sparked outrage among legislators. Addressing the House of Representatives, Alday acknowledged he made a mistake without repeating his original comments.... The comments in question refer to African-Americans in his hometown of Walls.... Alday, 57, told Clarion-Ledger investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell that he comes 'from a town where all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call "welfare crazy checks." They don't work.' He also said that when he went to the emergency room one time, 'I liked to died. I laid in there for hours because they (blacks) were in there being treated for gunshots.' Alday later said the statements, which were published Sunday, appeared out of context and didn't accurately portray his feelings. He denied being racist and said he has supported civil rights." CW: Yes, because proper context would have rendered such remarks acceptable//

Hudson Hongo of Gawker: "Krispy Kreme's whimsical spelling has long straddled the line between 'friendly Southern grandma' and 'racist country grandpa,' but this week a UK branch of the donut chain accidentally went full hoods and crosses with an ad promoting 'KKK Wednesdays.' Apparently short for "Krispy Kreme Klub Wednesdays," the store responsible for the sign says they didn't realize the initials had already been taken another, more famous KKK.... On Tuesday, Krispy Kreme finally recognized their food-grade fuck up, removing the sign and issuing a formal apology." CW: The could make special donuts topped with cute little white icing hoods. Idiots.

News Ledes

Washington Post: "The coldest air of the season is surging south this week, leading up to what could be historic cold for parts of the eastern United States. Thursday and Friday's polar outbreak could set all-time February low records from Tennessee to Virginia." ...

... The Weather Channel describes the systems & how they likely will affect portions of the U.S.

Washington Post: "Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Wednesday for an international peacekeeping mission in his nation's war-torn east, a stark admission that his nation can no longer fend off pro-Russian rebels after a major battlefield defeat. Any international force on the ground would harden the battle lines after 10 months of fighting, forcing Ukraine to give up for now its attempts to reunify the nation. But it would also halt Russian-backed rebels from pushing onward toward Kiev." ...

... New York Times: "President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine said on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces were withdrawing from the embattled town of Debaltseve, a strategically important transportation hub where intense fighting has raged in recent days despite a cease-fire agreement signed last week." ...

... Guardian: "The US has accused Russia of violating the ceasefire in Ukraine, amid reports that some Ukrainian troops are pulling out of the key strategic rail hub of Debaltseve. The US joined other UN security council members in lining up to pour scorn on a resolution drafted by Moscow approving the truce. Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, said it was 'ironic to say the least' that Russia produced the motion at the same time as it was 'backing an all-out assault' in Ukraine despite the ceasefire."

New York Times: "Local prosecutors in Switzerland conducted a search of the offices of HSBC's Swiss private bank in Geneva on Wednesday as part of a new investigation into potential money laundering. The Geneva prosecutor's office said in a statement on Wednesday that it had opened a criminal inquiry into possible aggravated money laundering against HSBC Private Bank (Suisse), but it did not provide additional details."

Guardian: "Police in Paris and London have launched investigations after Chelsea supporters were filmed singing a racist chant and preventing a black man from boarding the Paris métro."


The Commentariat -- Feb. 17, 2015

Julia Preston of the New York Times: "A federal judge in Texas has ordered a halt, at least temporarily, to President Obama's executive actions on immigration, siding with Texas and 25 other states that filed a lawsuit opposing the initiatives. In an order filed on Monday, the judge, Andrew S. Hanen of Federal District Court in Brownsville, prohibited the Obama administration from carrying out programs the president announced in November that would offer protection from deportation and work permits to as many as five million undocumented immigrants. The first of those programs was scheduled to start receiving applications on Wednesday. Judge Hanen, an outspoken critic of the administration on immigration policy,found that the states had satisfied the minimum legal requirements to bring their lawsuit.... The president's supporters have said that Texas officials, who are leading the states' lawsuit, were venue shopping when they chose to file in Brownsville.... Some legal scholars said any order by Judge Hanen to halt the president's actions would be quickly suspended by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans." Bush II appointed Hanen. ...

... The Washington Post report, by Fred Barbash, is Nicole Perlroth & David Sanger of the New York Times: "The United States has found a way to permanently embed surveillance and sabotage tools in computers and networks it has targeted in Iran, Russia, Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and other countries closely watched by American intelligence agencies, according to a Russian cybersecurity firm. In a presentation of its findings at a conference in Mexico on Monday, Kaspersky Lab, the Russian firm, said that the implants had been placed by what it called the 'Equation Group,' which appears to be a veiled reference to the National Security Agency and its military counterpart, United States Cyber Command."

David Ignatius of the Washington Post: "Mistrust between the Obama administration and Benjamin Netanyahu has widened even further in recent days because of U.S. suspicion that the Israeli prime minister has authorized leaks of details about the U.S. nuclear talks with Iran." ...

... CW: If this is true, even John Boehner should have the sense to turn his back on Bibi. ...

... Luke Baker of Reuters: "The head of Israel's election commission acted on Monday to limit any pre-election boost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may get from a March 3 speech to the U.S. Congress, in which he will warn of the threat from Iran's nuclear programme.... Following complaints from opposition parties, election chief Salim Joubran decided that Netanyahu's address should be broadcast with a five-minute delay in Israel, giving news editors time to cut any statements deemed partisan."

... Paul Waldman: "... on the whole, Boehner is managing to combine legislative incompetence with PR incompetence. He's already sure to be known as one of the weakest speakers in American history, for at least some reasons that are out of his control."

Tim Devaney of the Hill: "President Obama's pick to serve as the next attorney general is having a hard time finding Republican supporters. To be confirmed by the Senate, attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch only needs four Republicans to support her nomination. But it is unclear where those votes will come from. Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) is the only Republican so far who has signaled his intention to vote for Lynch, though several others have spoken favorably about her. But many Republicans are expressing concerns about Lynch's stance on immigration and what they suggest is a lack of 'independence' from the White House." ...

... CW: "Independence" is almost as good a phony excuse as "freeeedom." It's true that on one occasion, John Ashcroft famously didn't let the Bush White House roll him, but generally speaking, it's a good idea for a Cabinet member to have a working relationship with the White House. (See Reno, Janet.) Also, I just can't help suspecting that Republicans' concern about Lynch's "independence" stems from their belief that black people constitute a vast left-wing conspiracy against Truth, Justice & the American Way. All other things being equal, they would probably find more acceptable a white nominee.

Steve M.: Major right-wing media seem to know that there's no separation issue involved in ministers' urging their parishioners to take advantage of government programs, but these news outlets are calling attention to churches who are promoting ObamaCare in hopes that winger audiences will be too ignorant to know that these churches & faith-based organizations are not violating the First Amendment separation-of-church-and-state requirement. And, sure enough, Steve finds a prominent dopey-winger (redundant) blogger who takes the bait. CW: Also, the whole church-ObamaCare outreach is part of that vast left-wing conspiracy thing, this time aimed at getting "free stuff" for "blah (a/k/a "urban") people."

Comes the Apocalypse. Graeme Wood of the Atlantic explains the ideology & methodology the Islamic State: "... their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of -- and headline player in -- the imminent end of the world." CW: I have no idea if Wood's take is accurate, but it makes sense given what we know. ...

... CW BTW: If you read Wood's piece & conclude the Koran must be the blood-lusty treatise your right-wing brother says it is, also read some of the OT Bible, say, Ezekiel, & the NT book of Revelations. Horrible stuff. ...

... Democracy Now! on the network of American billionaires who finance "experts" who promote Islamophobia. Video & transcript. Via karoli of Crooks & Liars.

Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today: "The decision to discharge transgender soldiers from the Army would be made by a top, senior civilian official under a plan outlined in a draft document obtained by USA Today. The move would make it more difficult to remove such troops from the service. Instead of being made by lower-level Army officers, the memorandum says, the decision to discharge transgender soldiers would be made by the assistant secretary of the Army for personnel. In all services, transgender troops can be automatically dismissed from service on medical grounds once they are identified."

Professor Quashes GOP 2016 Talking Point. David Leonhardt of the New York Times: "The notion that income inequality has continued to rise over the past decade is part of the conventional wisdom.... No question, inequality is extremely high from a historical perspective -- worrisomely so. But a new analysis, by Stephen J. Rose of George Washington University, adds an important wrinkle to the story: Income inequality has not actually risen since the financial crisis began.... The wealthy have indeed received the bulk of the gains since the recovery began, but they still haven't recovered their losses. Meanwhile, the steps that the federal government took in response to the crisis, including tax cuts and benefit increases, have mostly helped the nonwealthy." ...

... CW: Let's hope potential Democratic candidates read the Times online today. In their new pretend-interest in the middle class & the poor, the go-to line for Republicans is that income inequality has increased under President Obama. Jeb Bush is making what turns out to be falsehood a centerpiece of his campaign. Mitt Romney has had a latter-day conversion, too. So have Rand Paul & Ted Cruz. ...

... Sean McElwee of Salon: "Princeton University’s Larry Bartels has two studies on politics and income distribution, and together they encompass almost a century. His finding: under Republicans, the poor and middle class see almost no income growth, while under Democrats, they see dramatic growth (see charts). As he notes elsewhere, even after numerous controls, these partisan differences remain. 'Every Republican president in the past 60 years has presided over increasing income inequality, including Dwight Eisenhower in the midst of the "Great Compression" of the post-war decades,' Bartels writes. 'And every Democratic president except one (Jimmy Carter) has presided over decreasing or stable inequality.'" Thanks to Julie L. for the link.

David Chen of the New York Times: "... a growing number of homeowners ... suspect that their engineering reports [of property damage] were ... rewritten as part of an effort to minimize insurance payments to flood victims in New York and New Jersey after the 2012 hurricane. In November, allegations of altered reports prompted a federal judge overseeing more than 1,000 hurricane related lawsuits in the New York City area to order all drafts of the engineering reports be turned over, saying he believed such revisions could be 'widespread.'" CW: I'm shocked to learn that insurance companies are better at collecting premiums than they are at paying out claims.

YOLO! Kali Holloway of AlterNet, in Salon, picks last week's Worst Moments in Right-Wing media. ...

... Paul Krugman: "I've been behind the curve on the Vox interview with President Obama. But the reactions to that interview — not just from the right, but from centrists -- are remarkable. Jack Schafer compares it to a Scientology recruitment film; Rich Lowry compares it to Leni Riefenstahl.... Yes, the charts are generally supportive of what Obama is saying, but only because the facts he alludes to are indeed facts.... It's a generally friendly, sympathetic interview -- but that's hardly unusual, and it's nothing like the actually fawning interviews that were standard in the Bush years.... But what seems to offend the critics is the very idea of covering a politician's policies, and the facts relevant to those policies, rather than making it about personalities.

Presidential Race

Chuck Todd! "There are two big takeaways from our new NBC/Marist polls of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina that we released yesterday. First, with less than a year before the first nominating contests, the Republican presidential field is wide open -- seven different possible GOP candidates get double-digit support in at least one of the states. Second, only two potential candidates (former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker) are in double digits in ALL three states. So call Bush and Walker your very early 2016 Republican frontrunners."

Texas Comes to New Hampshire:

A Rap on the Knuckles. Margaret Hartmann of New York: Scott Walker's former teacher scolds him for not answering the evolution question: "Answer the question when they ask you!" Serpe told Time. "He could have manned up a bit.... We taught the theory of evolution, and human evolution, as a prerequisite to understanding biological classification.... I do recall that Scott was very accepting of everything in science class. He had a good sense of it," said Ann Serpe, Walker's high-school science teacher.

Julie Bosman of the New York Times notices that Gov. Scott Walker "accidentally" deleted the venerated "Wisconsin Idea" from his budget -- along with a lot of state university funding. CW: I didn't know how all those years ago I managed not to stumble on the granite boulder that enshrines a version of the Wisconsin Idea on Bascom Hill. Now I see that it is most likely because the boulder & plaque were placed there in 2012. ...

... Christine Evans, a UW-Milwaukee history professor, writes an impassioned plea in the New York Times for the legislature to ignore Scott Walker's budget & continue to fund the university system at levels that make classes affordable. She tries to explain why the liberal arts are important to teach critical thinking. Thanks to P. D. Pepe for the link. ...

... Robert Samuels of the Washington Post: "Walker drew a direct line between his 2011 battle against his state's public-sector unions, which sparked mass protests and made him a national GOP star, and his new quest to transform higher education.... Whether or not he succeeds in transforming the universities [in to expensive trade schools], the battle itself, coming in the midst of Walker's effort to rise above a crowded field of prospective Republican presidential candidates, is likely to play well with conservative voters who see universities as elite institutions and hotbeds of left-leaning activism.

... Ed Kilgore on the anti-intellectual right: "Like an awful lot of things, educational credentials are a data point, and to that extent, conservatives touting Walker should admit not finishing college (after all, if elected Walker would be the first president born after 1884 to have no college degree) isn't some sort of positive accomplishment. If it was, then maybe Republicans should find a candidate who didn't finish high school, or who is illiterate...." ...

... Besides, a college degree or two doesn't make you smart:

Our military needs to know that they're not gonna be prosecuted when they come back, because somebody has, said 'You did something that was politically incorrect.' There is no such thing as a politically correct war. We need to grow up, we need to mature. If you're gonna have rules for war, you should just have a rule that says no war. Other than that, we have to win. Our life depends on it. -- Dr. Ben Carson, who has two college degrees, each from a major university

Senate Race?

Cameron Joseph of the Hill: "Controversial former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) is talking up a Tea Party challenge to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)." ...

... Steve M.: "The GOP deserves to have this clown running in the general election in 2016. I feel like sending him money."

Beyond the Beltway

Julie Turkewitz & Richard Oppel of the New York Times: The police shooting-death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, Washington "has drawn condemnation from the president of Mexico and multiple investigations, including inquiries by a task force of local police agencies, by the county coroner and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation." Zambrano-Montes was unarmed but was throwing rocks at cars & police officers. "In Pasco, a city of 68,000 that is 56 percent Hispanic, the public killing has pierced the immigrant enclave, spurring protests that have attracted hundreds and highlighting a division between the city's increasingly Latino populace and its power structure -- the police, the city government -- which remains largely white."

Michelle Price of the AP (Feb. 13): "A hotly contested proposal that resurrects Utah's use of firing squads to carry out executions narrowly passed a key vote Friday in the state's Legislature after three missing lawmakers were summoned to break a tie vote. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 39-34 Friday morning to approve the measure, sending it to an uncertain fate in the state's GOP-controlled Senate. Leaders in that chamber have thus far declined to say if they'll support it, and Utah's Republican Gov. Gary Herbert won't say if he'll sign it."

News Ledes

New York Times: "In what could be an important diplomatic breakthrough in the Syrian conflict, a senior United Nations envoy said Tuesday that he had persuaded President Bashar al-Assad to stop bombing and shelling as part of a proposed six-week truce."

New York Times: "Robert E. Herzstein, who successfully sued on behalf of historians and journalists to prevent former President Richard M. Nixon from removing and even destroying his White House papers and tapes after his resignation, died on Thursday at his home in Washington. He was 83."

New York Times: "A battle for a railroad town in eastern Ukraine escalated sharply on Tuesday, with both the Ukrainian Army and Russian-backed militants saying that their soldiers were engaging in pitched street battles. By midday, the separatists said they had captured the town, Debaltseve, a separatist news agency reported. The Ukrainian military denied the claim, saying its soldiers were repelling the attacks."

BBC News: "Jihadist militants from Islamic State (IS) have burned to death 45 people in the western Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi, the local police chief says."

Reuters: "A French prosecutor has asked a court to acquit the former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of a pimping charge for his role in what investigating magistrates argued was an organised sex ring using prostitutes."


The Commentariat -- Feb. 16, 2015

George Washington, with some of his "property," a/k/a human being Billy Lee. Portrait by John Trumbull, 1780. Lee was the only one of Washington's slaves whom Washington freed outright in his will.Erica Dunbar, in a New York Times op-ed on George Washington's sordid history as slaveowner, scofflaw, slavery promoter & slave-catcher. Happy Presidents' Day! ...

... As Henry Louis Gates wrote in the Root a few years back, Ona Judge was not the only one of Washington's slaves to escape nor the only one Washington hired a slave-catcher to re-enslave. ...

... CW: It is true that Washington's views on slavery changed over the course of his lifetime, but his actions, including signing the Fugitive Slave Act, do not recommend him.


Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post: "Thousands of businesses could receive clearance to fly drones two years from now under proposed rules that the Federal Aviation Administration unveiled Sunday, a landmark step that will make automated flight more commonplace in the nation's skies. Meanwhile, the White House on Sunday issued a presidential directive that will require federal agencies for the first time to publicly disclose where they fly drones in the United States and what they do with the torrents of data collected from aerial surveillance." ...

... Scott Shane of the New York Times: "In an attempt to bring order to increasingly chaotic skies, the Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday proposed long-awaited rules on the commercial use of small drones, requiring operators to be certified, fly only during daylight and keep their aircraft in sight. The rules, though less restrictive than the current ones, appear to prohibit for now the kind of drone delivery services being explored by Amazon, Google and other companies...." ...

... Dan Roberts & Ed Pilkington of the Guardian: Amazon doesn't like the proposed new rules, which "would prevent it from operating [drones to make air deliveries] in the US and could force it to develop the technology overseas instead."

Weapons of Mass Destruction. C. J. Chivers & Eric Schmitt of the New York Times: "The Central Intelligence Agency, working with American troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former American officials. The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation Avarice, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the American military deemed it a nonproliferation success.... These munitions were remnants of an Iraqi special weapons program that was abandoned long before the 2003 invasion, and they turned up sporadically during the American occupation in buried caches, as part of improvised bombs or on black markets.... The C.I.A. declined to comment."

The War on Terror Redux. Paul Waldman, in the Washington Post: "... the increasingly complex situation with ISIS is moving America toward a return to the days of fear and loathing, when no threat was too minimal to hype and no policy response was too ill-considered."

Isabel Kershner of the New York Times: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Sunday that his government was encouraging a 'mass immigration' of Jews from Europe, reopening a contentious debate about Israel's role at a challenging time for European Jews and a month before Israel's national elections.... 'Jews have been murdered again on European soil only because they were Jews,' Mr. Netanyahu said Sunday in Jerusalem.... But expressing the unease felt by many Jews abroad over such comments, Jair Melchior, Denmark's chief rabbi, said he was 'disappointed' by Mr. Netanyahu's call." ...

... Caitlin MacNeal of TPM: When "Fox 'New'" Sunday" host Chris Wallace asked House Speaker John Boehner why he asked Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., not to tell the White House about the joint meeting with Netanyahu, Boehner said, 'Because I wanted to make sure that there was no interference. There's no secret here in Washington about the animosity that this White House has for Prime Minister Netanyahu. I frankly didn't want that getting in the way, quashing what I thought was a real opportunity.'" CW: So sedition. Excellent. Thanks to Victoria D. for the link. ...

... Keith Laing of the Hill: "Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Sunday that he is 'certainly' willing to let federal funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expire this month if a congressional standoff that is threatening the agency's appropriation continues."

Keith Laing: "Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald said Sunday that he is holding employees of his agency more responsible for their treatment of veterans after a scandal that engulfed the department last year. 'Nine-hundred people have been fired since I became secretary ... so we're holding people accountable,' McDonald said during an interview on NBC's 'Meet The Press.'"...

... Cristina Marcos the the Hill: "Hard-line House GOP conservatives aren't worried about a looming Department of Homeland Security shutdown as the deadline for congressional action draws near. Many of the conservative lawmakers who most want to aggressively challenge President Obama's executive actions on immigration think that if push comes to shove, a shutdown will be worth the fight. And at this point, they don't think there will be any electoral consequences if there is a shutdown."

Peter Baker of the New York Times: "Perhaps no other unelected Democrat has shaped his party as much over the last two decades [as has John Podesta]. As Mr. Clinton's chief of staff, as founder of the left-leaning Center for American Progress and most recently as Mr. Obama's counselor, Mr. Podesta has pushed his party toward a more aggressive approach to both policy and politics.... Mr. Podesta will need that competitive streak if he becomes chairman of Mrs. Clinton's presidential campaign, as expected."

E. J. Dionne contrasts the views on race of two FBI directors: J. Edgar Hoover & James Comey.

Paul Krugman sees direct parallels between post-World War I Europe & today's economic crisis. Greece is the new Germany.

Alice Robb of the New Republic: Jon Stewart has made us more cynical. CW: I'm pretty sure this is the facts-are-bad argument. Ah, if only it were Morning in America again. ...

... Emily Nussbaum of the New Yorker: "For young viewers in particular, 'The Daily Show' provided a more trustworthy daily news summary than almost any show on Fox News or CNN (a low standard, admittedly). But Stewart's series also provided a psychic salve, especially during the worst parts of the past few elections and the run-up to the Iraq War."

Presidential Race

Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times: "... Republicans haven't quite worked out what their foreign policy ought to be, beyond 'not Obama.' That's partly because it's still early in the [presidential] campaign and the GOP boasts a bumper crop of potential candidates, some of them governors who never needed a foreign policy until now.... Ever since President George W. Bush's long misadventure in Iraq, his Republican successors have been struggling to refashion conservative foreign policy in a way most voters would embrace.... The potential candidate in the most intriguing position is his brother Jeb.... He hasn't spelled out his foreign policy yet, but he's scheduled to give a speech on the subject this week in Chicago. On national security, Jeb Bush is the candidate to watch."

I have a biology degree, okay? -- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in remarks Feb. 12, 2015

We'd be more inclined to brush this off if Paul had not made this assertion twice in one day.... Paul studied biology (and English) at Baylor, but he didn't earn a degree. There's no excuse for resume-inflation.... -- Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post

CW Note: Paul has a medical degree from Duke University.

Beyond the Beltway

Mississippi, Where Every Day Is Robert E. Lee Day. Kay Steiger of Think Progress: Mississippi State Rep. Gene Alday (R) "said he opposed putting more money into elementary schools because he came from a town where 'all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call "welfare crazy checks." They don't work.'... Alday stated his opposition to a push to increase funding to improve elementary school reading scores. Alday implied that increasing education funding for children in black families would be pointless.... Alday ... said that when he was mayor of Walls, MS, that the times he'd gone to the emergency room had taken a long time. 'I laid in there for hours because they (blacks) were in there being treated for gunshots.'..." ...

... As I Was Saying.... Kate Royals of the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger: "Nine months after a Madison County Justice Court judge was accused of striking and yelling a racial slur at a mentally challenged young man, a grand jury served an indictment for simple assault on a vulnerable adult. Justice Court Judge Bill Weisenberger turned himself in to the Madison County sheriff Thursday, according to a spokeswoman with the Attorney General's office. He was released on $10,000 bond. According to witnesses, Weisenberger struck 20-year-old Eric Rivers, an African American, and yelled 'Run, n-----, run' at the Canton Flea Market on May 8 of last year.... Last month, Weisenberger qualified to run for re-election for his same position."

David Edwards of the Raw Story: Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore told Chris Wallace that he had a First Amendment right to defy federal judges' orders were "changing our Constitution by defining words that are not even there, like marriage ..." and changing God's "organic law." CW: At least I think that's what he said. Evidently Moore has supernatural connections who have very definite ideas about marriage.

Politically Correct, South Carolina Definition. Luke Brinker of Salon (Feb.13): "A Republican state senator in South Carolina called women 'a lesser cut of meat' and suggested that they belonged barefoot and pregnant, the libertarian-leaning blog FITS News reports. Chauvinist in any context, [Tom] Corbin's remarks occurred during a legislative dinner this week to discuss domestic violence legislation. Sources present at the meeting told FITS that Corbin directed his comments at fellow GOP state senator Katrina Shealy, the sole woman in the 46-member chamber. 'I see it only took me two years to get you wearing shoes,' Corbin told Shealy, who won election in 2012. Corbin, the site explains, is said to have previously cracked that women should be 'at home baking cookies' or 'barefoot and pregnant,' not serving in the state legislature." CW: Sorry I missed this one. Thanks to Akhilleus for the lead.

Evan McMurry of Mediaite: "Paper Issues Super Important Correction on Whether Obama's the Antichrist."

Kirk Johnson & Michael Paulson of the New York Times review the elements of the scandal that led to the resignation of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. ...

... David Jarman of the Daily Kos wrote what is possibly a sensible synopsis of John Kitzhaber's Bad Week.

Today in Responsible Gun Ownership. Emily Shapiro & Clayton Sandell of ABC News: "Tammy Meyers, a nurse and mother of four, who was shot outside her house after what Las Vegas[, Nevada,] police said was a 'road range incident with another vehicle' died tonight, a family member said." After someone in the other vehicle shot Meyers, her son "came out of the house and fired back at the other vehicle."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Lesley Gore, who was a teenager in the 1960s when she recorded hit songs about heartbreak and resilience that went on to become feminist touchstones, died on Monday in Manhattan. She was 68."

Houston Chronicle: "Houston arson investigators have made an arrest in the early morning fire Friday at an Islamic center on the city's southeast side, fire department officials said late Monday. Darryl Ferguson, 55, of Houston, has been charged with felony first degree arson for the fire, according to HFD investigators."

AP: "An arbitration panel ordered Lance Armstrong and Tailwind Sports Corp. to pay $10 million in a fraud dispute with a promotions company for what it called an "unparalleled pageant of international perjury, fraud and conspiracy" that covered up his use of performance-enhancing drugs."

NPR: "Just four hours after they started, talks between Greece and the European Union collapsed. The two sides were trying to hammer out an agreement that would allow Greece to continue receiving bailout help from its Eurozone partners. But both sides walked out of the talks and reiterated their hard lines...."

Guardian: "Egyptian warplanes bombed sites in Libya early on Monday, a day after Islamic State (Isis) militants released a video depicting the apparent mass beheading of 21 Egyptian hostages. Libya's air force commander, Saqr al-Joroushi, told Egyptian state TV the air strikes were coordinated with the Libyan side and had killed about 50 militants."

Reuters: "The US and its coalition partners have conducted three air strikes against Islamic State (Isis) militants in Syria and eight in Iraq since Saturday, according to the US military."

New York Times: "Two men suspected of helping the 22-year-old gunman responsible for killing a documentary filmmaker and a guard in Copenhagen in a rare outbreak of terrorism have been arrested, the Danish police said on Monday."

Guardian: "The fighting in east Ukraine dropped in intensity on Sunday, but the first day of a ceasefire deal still saw fighting, especially around the contested town of Debaltseve."