The Ledes

Wednesday, November 30, 2016.

Washington Post: "The deadly wildfires that engulfed two Tennessee tourist towns leading into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park left at least seven dead and hundreds of buildings damaged or destroyed, officials said late Wednesday as the terrible toll of the fires began to take focus. At least 53 people were treated for injuries at hospitals, though their conditions were not known. Massive walls of flames spread down the mountains into Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge on Monday with shocking speed, said those who fled with little more than the clothes on their backs. The fires are estimated to have damaged or destroyed more than 700 homes and businesses — nearly half of them in the city of Gatlinburg. Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said late Wednesday afternoon that the fire was 'likely to be human-caused.'” -- CW

The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Guardian: (Nov. 3): "An Alzheimer’s drug has been shown to successfully target the most visible sign of the disease in the brain, raising hopes that an effective treatment could be finally within reach. A small trial of the drug was primarily aimed at assessing safety, but the findings suggest it effectively “switched off” the production of toxic amyloid proteins that lead to the sticky plaques seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.” -- CW

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

A Night at the Opera. Los Angeles Times: "The curtain rose on Act 2 of 'The Daughter of the Regiment,' revealing the figure of a tiny woman barely visible in a large dome chair with her back to the audience. Suddenly, she swiveled around — and there was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.Cheers and prolonged applause rang out from the crowd at the Kennedy Center on Saturday night even before Ginsburg, a life-long opera lover who was making her official operatic debut, opened her mouth to speak as the imperious Duchess of Krakenthorp.... Her biggest laugh came when — in apparent reference to the bogus 'birther' campaign against President Obama — she asked whether [the character] Marie could produce a birth certificate and added: 'We must take precautions against fraudulent pretenders.' Ginsburg herself wrote her dialogue, in collaboration with ... [the] dramaturge for the Washington National Opera...." -- CW 

Bruce Springsteen performs at Hillary Clinton's rally in Philadelphia, November 7:

Washington Post: "Paul Beatty won the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday evening in London, becoming the first American ever to take home the prestigious award. His satirical novel 'The Sellout' beat five other finalists for the $60,000 prize, which also essentially guarantees substantial new sales and interest around the world. Amanda Foreman, chair of the Booker judges, called 'The Sellout' 'a novel for our times. . . . Its humor disguises a radical seriousness. Paul Beatty slays sacred cows with abandon and takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and a snarl.' Originally published last year in the United States, 'The Sellout' is an outrageously funny satire of American race relations. The protagonist, a black man whose father was killed by police, wants to reinstitute segregation in his California town. He eventually lands before the Supreme Court in a bizarre case involving slavery. 'The Sellout' also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in March." -- CW 

Washington Post: "Comic actor, movie star and America’s best friend Bill Murray tried to sum up the emotions of being honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday night [Oct. 23] at the Kennedy Center. 'My theme tonight is what is it like to be beloved,' a straight-faced Murray told the crowd at the end of the two-hour salute. 'It’s hard to listen to all those people be nice to you. You just get so suspicious.'”

Hill: Actor Bill Murray "spoke with President Obama, who congratulated him for winning this year’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, a White House official said. Asked by reporters in the Oval Office if he met with Murray, Obama said 'absolutely,' but didn’t reveal what else they discussed."

New York Times: "The veteran television personality Jane Pauley will replace Charles Osgood as the anchor of the highly rated CBS show 'Sunday Morning.' Mr. Osgood, who is retiring, announced the news on his last show on Sunday. Ms. Pauley’s first day in the role will be Oct. 9, and she will become only the third anchor of the show, which started in 1979." -- CW 

New York Times: "Modern humans evolved in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago. But how did our species go on to populate the rest of the globe?.... In a series of extraordinary genetic analyses published on Wednesday, researchers believe they have found an answer. In the journal Nature, three separate teams of geneticists survey DNA collected from cultures around the globe, many for the first time, and conclude that all non-Africans today trace their ancestry to a single population emerging from Africa between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago.... All non-Africans are closely related to one another, geneticists found, and they all branch from a family tree rooted in Africa.... There are also clues that at least some modern humans may have departed Africa well before 50,000 years ago, perhaps part of an earlier wave of migration." -- CW ...

... CW Note to White Racists: You, too, are black. It's way past time to give up your quest for "racial purity"; it's genetically impossible. This, BTW, is something non-ignoramuses have known for a couple of decades. No wonder you hate science.

 

The Los Angeles Times has extensive coverage of the Emmy Awards here.

The video below will most likely be taken down for copyright infringement, so watch it while you can. It's pretty funny. Here's a WashPo report on Jeb!'s cameo on the opening bit for the Emmy Awards. Also, ABC may put up a video of it here, but they have nothing at all up on the awards ceremony as of 8:30 am ET, Monday, Sept. 19.

Chris Welch of the Verge: "Twitter is about to make a big change to the way that tweets work.... Beginning September 19th, the company will cut down on exactly which types of content count toward the platform's 140-character limit. Media attachments (images, GIFs, videos, polls, etc.) and quoted tweets will no longer reduce the count. The extra room for text will give users more flexibility in composing their messages."

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Thursday
Sep042014

The Commentariat -- Sept. 5, 2014

Matt Zapotosky & Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "A federal jury Thursday found former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of public corruption.... After three days of deliberations, the seven men and five women who heard weeks of gripping testimony about the McDonnells' alleged misdeeds ... found that they lent the prestige of the governor's office to Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in a nefarious exchange for his largesse.... The former governor was convicted of 11 corruption-related counts pending against him, though acquitted of lying on loan documents. The former first lady was convicted of eight corruption-related charges, along with obstruction of justice. Maureen McDonnell was acquitted of lying on a loan document.... [The McDonnells] face decades in federal prison, though their actual sentence could fall well short of that. U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer set a sentencing hearing for Jan. 6, 2015. The moment the first guilty verdict was read, Bob McDonnell closed his eyes tightly, shaking in his seat as he wept.... Defense attorney Henry 'Hank' Asbill, saying he 'didn't expect' this outcome, assured reporters the McDonnells would appeal." ...

... The New York Times story, by Trip Gabriel, is here. The Richmond Times-Dispatch story, by Frank Green, et al., is here. The paper's front page currently links to several related stories. ...

... Justin Jouvenal, et al., of the Washington Post interview three of the jurors. "Three jurors interviewed said their decision did not turn on any one piece of evidence or the testimony of any one of the 67 witnesses they heard, but the accumulated weight of evidence mounted by prosecutors day after day.... Defense attorneys argued that Robert and Maureen McDonnell's marriage was so broken they could not have conspired to use the governor's office to push the products of businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for gifts. But [juror Robin] Trujillo said that seemed implausible since the McDonnells were living together until a week before the trial and prosecutors produced numerous e-mails and other correspondence showing the pair had discussions about finances and regularly coordinated other plans." ...

     ... CW: That simple, common-sense observation makes you wonder how the McDonnells & their lawyers ever thought the "broken marriage" defense -- whether real or fake -- would work.

... Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post: Maureen McDonnell "took the role of long-suffering political wife to a new level. She was flayed, demeaned, belittled and besmirched in court. And she didn't say a word.... All that the McDonnells said they appreciated when they ran for office -- family values, honesty, transparency and that integrity -- was lost not just in their transactions with Williams, but, more important, in the way they acted in that courtroom." ...

... Rachel Maddow elaborates on Bob McDonnell's epic hypocrisy:

In Other Political Corruption News.... Peter Sullivan of the Hill: "The communications and financial statements of Jesse Benton, an operative with close ties to Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have been subpoenaed in the grand jury investigation into the alleged bribing on an Iowa state senator in 2012. Center for Responsive Politics' Open Secrets blog on Thursday posted part of the subpoena."

John-Thor Dahlburg & Julie Pace of the AP: "Seeking to counter Russian aggression, NATO leaders approved plans Friday to post several thousand troops in Eastern Europe who could quickly mobilize if an alliance country in the region were to come under attack. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the new unit would send a clear message to potential aggressors, namely Russia.... Confronting another pressing international crisis, Rasmussen said NATO stands 'ready to help' Iraq fight back against a violent militant group, but noted that the Iraqi government has not made any such request." ...

... Fred Kaplan of Slate: "... I'm baffled, even troubled, by the contradiction between what [President Obama is] saying and what he's doing [regarding Ukraine].... One could make a case for this week's lofty rhetoric or last week's realpolitik-infused restraint -- but not for both, simultaneously. And to speak of noble principles, while acting on narrower interests, only raises false hopes and sows deeper disillusionment once they're dashed."

Patrick Wintour of the Guardian: "The building blocks for a lengthy military and political assault on Islamic State (Isis) forces were being put in place on Thursday after Barack Obama and David Cameron agreed the principles of a campaign that will extend through Kurdish northern Iraq, Sunni Iraq and possibly into Syria itself. Cameron made clear that the campaign is dependent on the formation of a broad-based non-sectarian government in Baghdad, ideally by the Iraqis' own deadline of 14 September, as well as support from key countries in the region, including Jordan and Turkey." ...

** Peter Beinart on how the beheadings of James Foley & Steven Sotloff have changed the politics of U.S. Middle East policy. CW: What I don't know that Beinart explains well enough is that a single person who is usually realistic can become a "Jacksonian," at least momentarily, when s/he sees barbaric acts of violence committed against innocent people who might have been the neighbor kids. A good example: Vice President Biden, a highly-knowledgeable pragmatist, who this week promised to follow the jihadists to "the gates of hell." (Beinart claims Biden's rhetoric was strategic.) Yes, there are people who are consistently, even philosophically, aggrieved & vengeful, but I think most of us can be shocked into a retaliatory mood.

... Frank Rich: "... Obama's deliberateness in the face of ISIS’s provocations as well as Putin's -- his refusal to follow the trigger-happy foreign policy of the Bush-Cheney era -- is to be applauded. You will notice that the crowd of pundits and (mostly Republican) politicians insisting that Obama 'do something' about these horrors

... Rand Paul in Time: "Some pundits are surprised that I support destroying the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militarily. They shouldn't be. I've said since I began public life that I am not an isolationist, nor am I an interventionist. I look at the world, and consider war, realistically and constitutionally." CW: Paul's piece falls exactly into the frame Rich illuminates. It's a parody of itself. Paul also claims -- without offering an evidence other than to assure(/warn) us he's just like Ronald Reagan -- that he is not a flip-flopper. ...

... "Rand Paul's Epic Flip-Flop." Benjy Sarlin of msnbc: "The main reason 'pundits' may be surprised, however, is because of Paul's past statements, many of which seem to contradict the hawkish strategy the hypothetical Paul administration apparently would have implemented years ago to contain ISIS. When ISIS initially captured large swaths of Iraqi territory in June, Paul's response was mainly to criticize former President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for enabling ISIS's rise by launching the US. invasion of Iraq. In fact, Paul specifically argued that Obama didn't deserve scorn for failing to prevent the insurgent gains as a result. And while his new op-ed criticizes Obama for saying he still hasn't decided on a strategy to confront ISIS, Paul himself has made similar comments in arguing there might not be a viable strategy to defeat ISIS." ...

... Andy Borowitz: "Arguing that his motto 'Don't do stupid stuff' is not a coherent foreign policy, critics of President Obama are pressuring him to do something stupid without further delay." ...

... Christina Marcos of the Hill: "Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said Wednesday that he plans to introduce a bill when Congress reconvenes next week that would authorize the use of military force against terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)." ...

... Jim Newell of Salon: "Frank Wolf's [proposed bill] will codify the president's authority to basically bomb whomever he wants, wherever, and whenever, forever.... Wolf is a longtime Northern Virginia congressman whose district contains many defense contractors. He's retiring at the end of this term.... One could consider this AUMF Wolf's parting gifts to the military-industrial complex with whom he's had such a mutually beneficial relationship over the years."

Clifford Krauss & Campbell Robertson of the New York Times: "United States District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier ... ruled on Thursday that BP was grossly negligent in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout that killed 11 workers, spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and soiled hundreds of miles of beaches.... Judge Barbier also ruled that Transocean, the owner of the rig, and Halliburton, the service company that cemented the well, were negligent in the accident. But the judge put most of the blame on BP, opening the way to fines of up to $18 billion under the Clean Water Act." ...

... "The Law & the Profits." Charles Pierce: "Economic royalism, and the political infrastructure carefully designed to support it, took a beating Thursday in several courts, even if you don't count the one that convicted the McDonnells in Virginia."

Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times: "The Justice Department's civil rights investigation into the police department in Ferguson, Mo., will focus on whether officers there made discriminatory traffic stops, mistreated prisoners and used excessive force in the years before last month's fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white officer, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said on Thursday."

This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent. -- Justice Antonin Scalia, in re: Troy Davis (2009)

... Dahlia Lithwick: Justice Antonin Scalia has repeatedly cited the heinousness of Henry Lee McCollum's crime as justification for the death penalty. "Having shown that he never committed that crime, it seems high time to ask whether, in the view of some Supreme Court justices, that would have even made a difference had we executed him.... It never fails to astonish me that the same conservatives who argue that every last aspect of big government is irreparably broken and corrupt inevitably see a capital punishment system that is perfect and just." CW: To Lithwick's long list of what went wrong with the initial case against McCollum & Leon Brown, I'd add "racism."

Robert Barnes of the Washington Post: "A unanimous panel of federal judges in Chicago ruled Thursday that laws banning same-sex marriage in Indiana and Wisconsin are unconstitutional, becoming the third appeals court to rule that gay couples must be allowed to marry.... 'The grounds advanced by Indiana and Wisconsin for their discriminatory policies are not only conjectural; they are totally implausible,' wrote Circuit Judge Richard Posner, an influential jurist chosen for the bench by President Ronald Reagan."

Sarah Kliff of Vox: "In major cities across the country, Obamacare premiums are falling. That is not normal; health-insurance premiums nearly always go up and up and up. They rarely, if ever, decrease."

Ian Millhiser has a useful piece on the importance of the D.C. Court of Appeals' decision to re-hear Halbig v. Burwell, the case in which the plaintiffs are attempting to gut the ACA. ...

... Jonathan Chait puts the plaintiffs' chances before the full panel at zero. ...

... Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic: "The real significance of [the] announcement is how it affects the Supreme Court. The architects of the lawsuit had already petitioned the justices, asking them to take up the case and issue a final, authoritative ruling.... But the best pretext for the justices to take the case would be a split among Circuit Court rulings -- i.e., one decision upholding the lawsuit and one rejecting it. As of this morning, that split no longer exists." ...

... Brian Beutler: If the plaintiffs in Halbig prevail, "Millions of people would lose their health insurance in service of teaching Congress a lesson about the importance of legislative draftsmanship. That's not a very becoming political argument, though, so the Halbig supporters have stapled a grandiose claim to their core challenge. Because many of the people who would lose their insurance would also qualify for an exemption from the law's insurance coverage mandate, they frame it as a principled campaign for liberty.... The conspicuous thing about the Medicaid freedmen and those who would be freed from the individual mandate is that they're disproportionately black and poor. ACA rejectionism isn't enhancing their liberty at all."

Peter Shroeder of the Hill: "The gap between the nation's wealthiest and the rest of Americans has expanded in recent years.... A new study released Thursday by the Federal Reserve found that gains in income have been 'far from uniform' over the last few years, with those making the most doing significantly better than everyone else. Those at the bottom of the scale continued to see their real incomes shrink from 2010-2013, while those in the middle of the pack saw little change, meaning their paychecks still fell behind where they were before the financial crisis. Meanwhile, the nation's wealthiest saw broad income gains."

Paul Krugman: "Europe, which is doing worse than it did in the 1930s, is clearly in the grip of a deflationary vortex, and it's good to know that the central bank understands that. But its epiphany may have come too late. It's far from clear that the measures now on the table will be strong enough to reverse the downward spiral."

Benghaaazi! David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times: "Five commandos guarding the C.I.A. base in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012 say that the C.I.A. station chief stopped them from interceding in time to save the lives of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and an American technician during the attack on the diplomatic mission there.... The accusation that the station chief, referred to in the book only as 'Bob,' held back the rescue opens a new front in a fierce political battle over who is at fault for the American deaths."

Josh Gerstein of Politico: "Attorney General Eric Holder reaffirmed Thursday that the Justice Department will not seek to jail New York Times reporter James Risen in connection with a criminal case charging a former CIA officer with leaking national security secrets to the journalist."

NBC News: "Chuck Todd will interview President Barack Obama on 'Meet the Press' on Sunday. The exclusive interview, which marks Todd's debut as permanent moderator of 'Meet the Press,' will cover the threat of ISIS, U.S. relations with Russia and Ukraine, the Ebola virus outbreak, the coming midterm elections and other news of the day...." CW: Very disappointed Chuck didn't go with McCain. The old folks in Peoria are going to be awfully upset.

Carrying He-Said/She-Said Past Absurd. The Economist publishes -- then withdraws, with apology -- a review of a book about slavery in which "Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains." The reviewer complains, "This is not history; it is advocacy." Jonathan Chait comments on the review. Even though he hasn't read the book! he opines, with contemptuous understatement, "I can think of reasons other than ideological bias to explain why almost all the black people would be victims, and the white people villains, in a book about white people who captured black people and subjected them to torture, rape, murder, humiliation, and oppressive forced labor."

Senate Races

Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: "National Republicans on Thursday moved to take control of the campaign of Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas by sending a longtime party strategist to the state to advise him, a day after his hopes for re-election and those of his party for taking control of the Senate were threatened by the attempted withdrawal of the Democrat in the race. Also on Thursday, the Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach [RTP], ruled that the Democratic nominee, Chad Taylor, could not withdraw his name from the ballot, a move likely to set off further legal challenges in the race.... Mr. Taylor said in a statement on Thursday that the secretary of state's office had told him the day before that his letter requesting that his name be removed from the ballot 'was sufficient' for him to withdraw from the race." ...

... Here's Taylor's full statement regarding his interaction with Kobach's staff member, Brad Bryant, Director of Elections & Legislative Matters. This is important. Taylor withdrew his name according to instructions provided by the official whom Kobach put in charge of electionsSounds like Kobach, who is a colossal dick on every count (except maybe he likes puppies, I don't know), pulled a fast one. Taylor's statement, in part:.

I specifically asked Mr. Bryant if the letter contained all the information necessary to withdrawn my name from the ballotgain confirmed with Mr. Bryant that this notarized letter removed my name from the ballot. Mr. Bryant said 'Yes,' affirming to me & my campaign manager that the letter was sufficient to withdraw my name from the ballot.... [After a secretary of state employee notarized my notification] I again confirmed with Mr. Bryant that this notarized letter removed my name from the ballot. 'He again said "Yes.'"

... Dave Helling & Brad Cooper of the Kansas City Star: "Late Thursday, Taylor vowed to challenge [Kobach's] decision.... Wednesday afternoon, [Kobach's] office pulled Taylor's name from the list of candidates running in the state. Just hours later, it was back -- as legal questions swirled around the withdrawal announcement." ...

... Dylan Scott of TPM: "Kobach was asked about Taylor's statement after announcing his decision Thursday. 'At no time did Mr. Bryant state that the filing that Mr. Taylor gave was sufficient,' Kobach said." ...

He is partisan, and mean, and he has made an unmitigated mess of our electoral system. He ought to keep his hand out of this one. -- Joan Wagnon, Kansas Democratic Party Chair, on Kris Kobach

... Jed Lewison of Daily Kos: "Assuming Taylor is telling the truth -- and given Kobach's history as a bigoted right-wing lunatic I'd trust him over Kobach any day of the week -- then Kobach is going to have a hard time explaining what appears to be a nakedly partisan move." ...

... Here's a tiny bit of background on Kobach, courtesy of Kos.

Jamison Foser: "The Iowa Senate race between Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley offers the clearest example of a politician's hypocrisy you'll ever find: Today Ernst took the precise position on the Social Security retirement age that she criticized Braley for just hours before. Via Paul Waldman.

Beyond the Beltway

Laura Bischoff of the Dayton Daily News: "A GOP-backed law that eliminated 'Golden Week' -- a window when Ohioans could both register and vote in the same week -- and that curbed early voting is unconstitutional and can't be enforced, according to a ruling issued Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Peter Economus. Economus granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit filed by the NAACP of Ohio, League of Women Voters of Ohio and a host of church groups and voting rights advocates. The plaintiffs challenged Senate Bill 238, which Gov. John Kasich [R] signed into law in February, as well as directives issued by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted [R]. Economus said in his 71-page ruling that they were unconstitutional and a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965." Via Charles Pierce.

Living While Black. David Perry, in Daily Kos, on four incidents in which police tased black men for sitting, walking, hands-in-pockets, hands-in-air. In only one of the four cases is there an indication the black man had committed a crime -- fleeing from police. That man, tased 13 times, died.

News Ledes

AP: "U.S. employers added just 142,000 jobs in August, snapping a six-month streak of hiring above 200,000 and posting the smallest gain in eight months. The unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent from 6.2 percent, the Labor Department said Friday. But the rate dropped because more people without jobs stopped looking for one and were no longer counted as unemployed. Employers also added 28,000 fewer jobs in June and July than the government had previously estimated."

Guardian: "Hours before a ceasefire is expected to take effect in eastern Ukraine, after a significant breakthrough in the five-month conflict, heavy shelling has been heard east of Mariupol port. A commander of a Ukrainian volunteer militia based in Mariupol told Reuters: 'We were under fire all night but we are still keeping the rebels at bay. They are facing us with tanks and artillery.'"

Hill: "A hacker breached HealthCare.gov in July and uploaded malicious software, apparently intending to use the system in future cyberattacks against other websites. The break-in ... was discovered last week by federal health officials, who said no personal data was taken. It is the first successful, confirmed hack of the federal health insurance exchange that went through a rocky launch last year."

Wednesday
Sep032014

The Commentariat -- Sept. 4, 2014

Sahil Kapur of TPM: "The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered a rehearing of a three-judge panel's decision to invalidate Obamacare subsidies on the federal exchange. The decision on Thursday means the case, Halbig v. Burwell, will be heard en banc -- by all 11 active judges plus the two senior judges on the original panel. The order to vacate the ruling is good news for Obamacare supporters."

** Bruce Horovitz of USA Today: "Arrests began early Thursday morning outside a busy McDonald's in New York City as thousands of emboldened fast-food workers coast to coast put down their burger flippers and picked up picket signs in a national strike that included civil disobedience as the workers rally for $15 minimum wages and the right to form a union without retaliation. Strikers began to gather in more than 100 cities early Thursday, affecting major chains from McDonald's to Wendy's to Burger King. Shortly after 7 a.m. ET on Thursday, police reportedly arrested 19 workers who sat down in the street -- and refused to move -- outside the bustling McDonald's at New York's Times Square. There are unconfirmed reports of some striking fast-food worker arrests in Detroit, as well." ...

     ... Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times: "Organizers said the police arrested more than 50 workers in Detroit for such action on Thursday morning." CW: Congrats to the Times for actually covering the strike (even if Greenhouse gives a helluva a lot of space to the restaurant industry's POV). The Times editors usually aren't much interested in populist movements. It would be swell if some accounts of the strike mentioned that taxpayers are funding restaurateurs by providing necessary public assistance to underpaid workers. ...

... J. C. Reindl of the Detroit Free Press: "More than 100 demonstrators shut down an east-side Detroit intersection this morning as part of a labor-organized national fast food strike. Detroit police said they arrested 25 to 30 of the demonstrators, who officers said sat in the roadway at Mack and Moran and refused to leave. The protestors blocked traffic for about a half hour, police said." ...

... CW: Support the workers. Pack your lunch today.

Michael Birnbaum, et al., of the Washington Post: "The Kremlin on Thursday underscored Russia's opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine, warning that such a move could derail efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as leaders of the alliance gathered for a key summit in Wales. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also told the United States not to try to impose its own will on Kiev." ...

... Matthew Weaver of the Guardian: "Nato leaders have descended on the Welsh resort of Celtic Manor for a two-day summit, which formally starts with a meeting about Afghanistan but will be dominated by discussion on Ukraine and the threat of Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria." ...

... Peter Apps of Reuters: "... preparations are under way near [Ukraine's] western border for a joint military exercise this month with more than 1,000 troops from the United States and its allies.The decision to go ahead with the Rapid Trident exercise Sept. 16-26 is seen as a sign of the commitment of NATO states to support non-NATO member Ukraine while stopping well short of military intervention in the conflict." ...

... Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain have called on NATO to reject 'isolationist' impulses and confront the rising terrorist threat posed by Sunni militants in the Middle East, saying the United States and Britain 'will not be cowed by barbaric killers.' 'We will not waver in our determination to confront' the militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the two leaders wrote in a joint opinion piece published in Thursday's editions of The Times of London. 'If terrorists think we will weaken in the face of their threats they could not be more wrong.'" ...

... CW: The Times has seriously firewalled the Cameron-Obama opinion piece, but the British government has a copy here. ...

... Isabel Kershner of the New York Times: "The beheading of Steven J. Sotloff, the American journalist from Miami who had been held hostage by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, suddenly loomed larger for many Israelis on Wednesday when it emerged that he held Israeli citizenship and had lived and studied in the country for a few years.... The Israeli connection was kept well hidden ... [because of] fear that exposure of his Jewish roots and Israeli past could put him in further danger." ...

... ** Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker: "It's hard to watch the video of Steven Sotloff's last moments and not conclude something similar: the ostensible objective of securing an Islamic state is nowhere near as important as killing people. For the guys who signed up for ISIS -- including, especially, the masked man with the English accent who wielded the knife -- killing is the real point of being there." ...

... President Obama addressed the people of Estonia yesterday, making his strongest comments to date regarding Russian aggression in Ukraine:

... Conservative David Frum in the Atlantic: "The direct message [to Russia] came on Wednesday, in Tallinn, Estonia, in the sharpest language any U.S. president has used toward Russia since Ronald Reagan upbraided the Evil Empire. One by one, President Obama repudiated the lies Vladimir Putin has told about Ukraine: that the Ukrainians somehow provoked the invasion, that they are Nazis, that their freely elected government is somehow illegal.... Obama said, '[NATO's] Article 5 is crystal clear. An attack on one is an attack on all. So if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, who'll come to help, you'll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America, right here, present, now." This is the ultimate commitment, given by the ultimate authority, in the very place where the commitment would be tested -- and would have to be honored. There's no turning back from that. Today, for the first time perhaps, Eastern Europeans have reason to believe it." ...

... Jonathan Alter of the Daily Beast: "In a presidency of many 'critical junctures,' this time his foreign policy legacy is truly on the line — and if he can lead now on ISIS and Putin, we'll soon forget his recent history."

John Harwood of the New York Times: "Various new restrictions on voting, which range from more stringent identification requirements to fewer registration opportunities to curbs on early voting, have been put in place. A critical election variable is whether the new limits will tilt close races.... Eight states ... have narrowed early voting times, and three of them feature Senate races crucial to Republican hopes of capturing a majority.

Dave Philipps of the New York Times: "Thousands of Vietnam-era veterans barred from receiving benefits because of less-than-honorable discharges may be eligible for upgrades under a new set of guidelines released by the Defense Department on Wednesday. The new rules offer the first guidance to military discharge review boards on how to address post-traumatic stress disorder. Many experts and veterans' advocates assert that the disorder may have contributed to misconduct by veterans who were later kicked out of the military and stripped of benefits."

New York Times Editors: "The exoneration of two North Carolina men who spent 30 years in prison -- one on death row -- provides a textbook example of so much that is broken in the American justice system. And it is further evidence (as though more were needed) that the death penalty is irretrievably flawed as well as immoral.... Virtually everything about the arrests, confessions, trial and convictions of [Henry Lee] McCollum and [Leon] Brown was polluted by official error and misconduct.... Justice [Antonin] Scalia was prepared 20 years ago to allow the execution of a man who, it turns out, was innocent."

Campbell Robertson of the New York Times: "A federal judge [in New Orleans] upheld the state’s ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, going against what had been a unanimous trend of federal court decisions striking down such bans since the Supreme Court ruled on the matter last year. In his ruling, Judge Martin L. C. Feldman of Federal District Court said that the regulation of marriage was left up to the states and the democratic process; that no fundamental right was being violated by the ban; and that Louisiana had a 'legitimate interest ... whether obsolete in the opinion of some, or not, in the opinion of others ... in linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents.'" The plaintiffs will appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. CW: Feldman is a Reagan appointee. ...

... Garrett Epps of the Atlantic: "Unlike the recent similar opinion in a Tennessee state court, this is not an overmatched judge throwing up his hands in terror. Feldman's opinion represents a fundamental challenge, couched in terms of recent Supreme Court precedent, to the claim that United States v. Windsor requires states to allow same-sex marriage. And, I think not coincidentally, its heart is drawn from an opinion written earlier this year by Justice Anthony Kennedy -- whose vote will very likely determine the result when the marriage issue reaches the Court.... The outcome of that contest is still in doubt, and Feldman's opinion shows why."

Linda Greenhouse explains why the Supreme Court's 9-0 decision in N.L.R.B. v. Canning, viewed by most observers as a loss for President Obama, was actually "a major victory for the president" -- & for Justice Stephen Breyer. Also, as does so much, it really pissed off Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote a scathing (CW: everything he writes is "scathing" & contemptuous of those who disagree) "concurrence."

** Heather Richardson in a New York Times op-ed: "FOR all the differences between establishment Republicans and Tea Party insurgents, their various efforts to rebrand the Grand Old Party tend to start from a common premise: the belief that Ronald Reagan was the quintessential Republican, and that his principle of defending wealth and the wealthy should remain the party's guiding vision.... They would do better to look to earlier presidents, and model their new brand on the eras when the Republican Party opposed the control of government by an elite in favor of broader economic opportunity." CW: Richardson, who is an expert on the history of the GOP, is refreshingly candid in her assessment of the party.

Before there were former Sens. Trent Lott & John Breaux lobbying against U.S. sanctions on Russia's Putin-connected Gazprombank, there was the U.S. lobbying firm Ketchum giving Vladimir Putin & his top aides pointers on how to make a good impression on the West & encourage foreign investment in Russia. As Ravi Somaiya of the New York Times reported August 31, "The Russian officials, [according to former Ketchum consultant Angus Roxburgh], were initially convinced they could pay for better coverage, or intimidate journalists into it." Roxburgh told the Daily Beast that "Ketchum's aim ... 'means helping them disguise all the issues that make it unattractive: human rights, invasions of neighboring countries, etc.' ... In [State Department] filings, the company said it worked with Time magazine to have Mr. Putin named the magazine's Person of the Year in 2007." ...

... CW: Say what? Time uses PR firms to pick its Person of the Year? That explains a lot: like why Newt Gingrich has been Time's Man of the Year & on at least four other Time covers while Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, has never even made the cover. I believe I'll hire Macon-Peeples-Devine to see what they can do for me. Should come out something like this:

Jill Lepore of the New Yorker: "... there are three photographs I cannot delete from the album in my head: a nine-year-old girl in pink shorts, holding an Uzi at a firing range in Arizona; a police sniper perched on top of an armored tank in Ferguson, Missouri; and a black-masked terrorist in a desert, about to behead an American journalist. Gun, rifle, knife."

Andrew Sorkin of the New York Times: "Michael R. Bloomberg will reassume the leadership of his business empire only eight months after ending his final term as mayor of New York. Late Wednesday, Mr. Bloomberg told close confidants and senior executives of Bloomberg L.P., a financial data and media company, that Daniel L. Doctoroff, its chief executive and a longtime friend and lieutenant, would leave the company at the end of the year and that he would take over."

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Oh, Why Can't the U.S. Be More Like ISIS? CW: I couldn't think of any reason to link to a story about Sean Hannity's "exclusive" interview of "Duck Dynasty"'s patriarchal idiot, but Ed Schultz provides it:

Beyond the Beltway

Sari Horwitz, et al., of the Washington Post: "Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. this week will launch a broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department, according to two federal law enforcement officials.... The federal officials said the probe will look at not only Ferguson, but other police departments in St. Louis County.... The investigation is in addition to a Justice Department probe into whether Officer Darren Wilson, who fired the fatal shots, violated [Michael] Brown's civil rights." ...

... Radley Balko of the Washington Post: "Some of the towns in St. Louis County can derive 40 percent or more of their annual revenue from the petty fines and fees collected by their municipal courts. A majority of these fines are for traffic offenses, but they can also include fines for fare-hopping on MetroLink..., loud music..., zoning violations..., trespassing, wearing 'saggy pants,' business license violations, and vague infractions like 'disturbing the peace' or 'affray' that give police officers a great deal of discretion to look for other violations.... There are many towns in St. Louis County where the number of outstanding arrest warrants can exceed the number of residents, sometimes several times over.... If you were tasked with designing a regional system of government guaranteed to produce racial conflict, anger, and resentment, you'd be hard pressed to do better than St. Louis County."

... Kevin McDermott of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon lifted on Wednesday the state of emergency he declared in riot-torn Ferguson almost three weeks ago -- a move that effectively ends the possibility of a special prosecutor in the investigation of Michael Brown's death."

... Jeremy Kohler of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "As a child, Michael Brown was never found delinquent of the juvenile equivalents of Missouri's most serious felony charges and was not facing any at the time he died, a court official said Wednesday. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch filed a petition Aug. 22 asking a judge in the St. Louis County Family Court to open any juvenile records on Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old shot to death last month by a Ferguson police officer.... The petitions went to a hearing Tuesday with St. Louis County Family Court Ellen Levy Siwak, who took the case under advisement. But disclosures during and after the hearing on Tuesday put to rest claims by blogger Charles C. Johnson and others that Brown was facing a murder charge at the time he was shot to death." ...

... Laura Clawson of Daily Kos: "It can't be too hard to get a juvenile record in Ferguson, where in 2013 there were 10,000 more arrest warrants issued for nonviolent offenses than there were residents of the town. So you criminalize virtually everyone (or, you know, everyone black or brown or poor), then use their criminal records as your excuse for killing them in the street. It's appalling and shameful, and it's clearly the policy in Ferguson. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch should be ashamed of itself for seeking Michael Brown's juvenile records that may or may not exist; Charles C. Johnson is clearly beyond shame." (See also lengthy piece by Radley Balko linked above; citing poor people for minor offenses is a long-running scam in the St. Louis burbs.)

Patrick McGreevy of the Los Angeles Times: "A group representing 69 California mayors, including Los Angeles' Eric Garcetti, sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Jerry Brown, urging him to sign legislation that would make it easier to temporarily remove guns from individuals believed to be dangerous.... Meanwhile, some gun-rights groups, including Liberal Gun Owners Assn., have sent letters to Gov. Brown urging him to veto the bill.... Eric Wooten, president of the association..., said the bill, AB 1014, would provide an 'enormous disincentive' for gun owners to seek help by criminalizing mental and substance-abuse problems."

Shawn Boburg of the North Bergen Record on Port Authority officers' accounts of the GWB closing: "Several [officers] immediately heard gossip in a police break room that the closures were part of a dispute between Christie and Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who had declined to endorse the governor for re-election. The officers described the resulting traffic as 'horrible' and 'horrific,' and at least one urged a reversal of the operation, only to get warnings that his remarks over the radio were 'inappropriate,' according to his attorney. It's the first indication that police charged with patrolling the bridge recognized and notified superiors of the chaos being caused by the lane closures." The summary report of the officers' testimony, written for the legislative committee overseeing the investigation, is here.

Matt Zapotosky & Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "Jurors deciding the public corruption case of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, have begun their third day of deliberations."

Joe Coscarelli of New York: "A 36-year-old woman in Brooklyn has been arrested and charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime, plus aggravated harassment, for spray-painting PG-13 punk sentiments on police vehicles and a public school wall in Williamsburg. Her allegedly hateful messages included 'Nazis=NYPD' and 'a wrongful arrest is a crime.'"

Senate Races

Brian Lowrey of the Wichita Eagle: "In a stunning development, [Democratic] candidate Chad Taylor asked Wednesday that his name be removed from the ballot, paving the way for independent candidate Greg Orman to face U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts head-on in November.... Orman's candidacy, buoyed by television commercials and social media, has received national attention. Although he trailed both major party candidates in the polls, several analysts saw him as the candidate with momentum in the race. Taylor's decision to quit came the same day that more than 70 former Republican lawmakers endorsed Orman." ...

     ... Update Uh-Oh. Alexandra Jaffe of the Hill: "Two election law statutes have raised questions about whether Taylor gave sufficient cause to remove himself from the ballot, and, if so, whether Democrats must ultimately choose a candidate to replace him. Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Clay Barker told The Hill that Taylor is now back on the secretary of State's list of general election candidates, while a legal team analyzes the statutes. ...

... Manu Raju of Politico: "A Democratic candidate for the Senate seat in Kansas has withdrawn from the race, paving the way for a serious third-party contender against longtime Republican Sen. Pat Roberts -- and jolting Republicans' calculus for retaking the Senate." ...

... Nate Silver. Meh. This improves the Democrats' chances of retaining the Senate from 35 percent to 38 percents. He concedes to a 90 percent! margin-of-error on the Roberts-Orman race, as he found "a series of methodological problems" in the only poll to test an Orman-Roberts contest. ...

... This report by Silver, written before Taylor dropped out of the race, gives Republicans a 64 percent chance of taking control of the Senate. ...

... BUT. Sam Wang in the New Yorker: "During the past two weeks, polls in other states have moved even more in the Democrats' favor. It's safe to say that thanks to Chad Taylor's decision, the Democratic Party is now the odds-on favorite to retain control of the Senate."

James Hohmann of Politico: "Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn debated like the underdog in Georgia Thursday. After slipping behind in polls following last month's runoff, she came out swinging at Republican David Perdue during a 45-minute forum at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's annual Congressional luncheon in Macon.... Nunn also tried to distance herself from Barack Obama.... Perdue largely ignored Nunn. He discussed losing his own health insurance plan because of Obamacare and focused on the federal debt in nearly every answer. Nunn hammered him several times for backing last fall's government shutdown."

AP: "Sen. Kay Hagan [D] accused Republican challenger Thom Tillis [RTP] of shortchanging education as a leader of the North Carolina Legislature on Wednesday night, and he cast her as a rubber stamp for President Barack Obama in the first debate of a close and costly race with national stakes."

... The Charlotte Observer fact-checks the candidates' debate claims. Via Greg Sargent.

Gubernatorial Race

Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post: "A Democratic nominee [for governor of Alaska -- Byron Mallott --] and an independent candidate [-- Bill Walker --] are teaming up for a unity campaign bent on unseating Gov. Sean Parnell (R).

Congressional Race
(Alleged) Criminal Edition

Stephanie Clifford of the New York Times: "A woman who raised funds for Representative Michael G. Grimm [R-N.Y.] pleaded guilty on Wednesday to illegally funneling money to his 2010 campaign.... After the federal inquiry, which stretched beyond two years, prosecutors charged Mr. Grimm this year with 20 counts related to tax evasion on a health-food business he ran on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. On Tuesday, a judge set a Dec. 1 trial date for Mr. Grimm, who is campaigning for a third term in November." ...

... CW: Grimm, who represents Staten Island, is leading his Democratic opponent, Mark Murphy, by 5.4 points. Because who wouldn't want to vote for this guy?:

Presidential Race

Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post's wacky conservative blogger is shocked by Rand Paul's sudden transformation from isolationist to interventionist: "After declaring certain Christian defenders of Israel to be 'warmongers,' arguing we could not defeat the Islamic State without being an air force for Iran, opining we didn't have a national security interest in Syria or Iraq, accusing interventionists of abetting the Islamic State's rise and decrying Hillary Clinton as too hawkish, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has decided that if you can't beat the 'neocons' he might as well join them.... At some point Paul will be asked to explain this complete about-face -- and break the news to the UC-Berkeley kids that he's in favor of war.... The turnaround is so sudden and so at odds with all he has written and said in the past few months that the question will naturally arise: Is he jettisoning his worldview to revive a presidential campaign? If so, the libertarian extremists who followed Paul the Elder may need to find a new isolationist." ...

... Ed Kilgore: "WaPo neocon Jennifer Rubin is in full hooting, gloating triumph, luxuriating in Paul's sudden conversion to the faith community of Republican 'hawks' before reminding herself to make it clear the man's too erratic to be entrusted with power. Meanwhile, Rand-o-phile Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist, normally self-assured of her opinion about absolutely everything, conducts a defense of Paul that's as incoherent as the Kentucky senator's own statements of late."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Joan Rivers, the raspy loudmouth who pounced on America's obsessions with flab, face-lifts, body hair and other blemishes of neurotic life, including her own, in five decades of caustic comedy that propelled her from nightclubs to television to international stardom, died on Thursday in Manhattan. She was 81.... The State Health Department is investigating the circumstances that led to her death, a state official said Thursday."

Washington Post: "The death toll from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has surpassed 1,900 people, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday. More people have now died in this epidemic than in all previous Ebola outbreaks combined."

Tuesday
Sep022014

The Commentariat -- Sept. 3, 2014

Julie Pace of the AP: "Mounting a show of solidarity with NATO allies, President Barack Obama announced plans Wednesday to send more Air Force units and aircraft to the Baltics, as he sought to reassure nations on edge over Russia's aggression in Ukraine. With Moscow supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, NATO allies such as Estonia fear they could be the next target, and Obama's one-day visit to Estonia was designed to emphasize the U.S. commitment to defending its allies and ramp up consequences for Russian President Vladimir Putin." ...

... Eli Lake of the Daily Beast: "With Russian forces entering into Ukraine, NATO is putting together a plan to place the alliance's troops in bases behind the former Iron Curtain.... Officially, however, the Obama administration has gone to great pains to explain that the proposed outposts in these eastern European countries are not bases, per se.... The debate over the bases -- or 'persistent rotational presence,' if you must -- is part of a larger discussion with the NATO alliance and the Washington policy-making establishment over how to deter Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. Also on the table: a new, NATO quick-reaction force and new legislation, being prepared by a leading U.S. senator [Mark Kirk (R-Ill.], that would amount to an economic nuclear bomb against the Russian federation." ...

... Julie Pace: "President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the United States will not be intimidated by Islamic State militants after the beheading of a second American journalist and will build a coalition to 'degrade and destroy' the group. Obama still did not give a timeline for deciding on a strategy to go after the extremist group's operations in Syria.... Obama's comments came after he said the United States had verified the authenticity of a video released Tuesday showing the beheading of freelance reporter Steven Sotloff, two weeks after journalist James Foley was similarly killed." ...

... Rick Gladstone of the New York Times: "The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has beheaded Steven J. Sotloff, the second American executed by the Islamic militant group, and posted a video of it on the Internet, the SITE Intelligence Group, a research organization that tracks jihadist web postings, said Tuesday. Mr. Sotloff's family issued a statement saying it believed he had been killed." ...

... Nina Golgowski of the New York Daily News: The terrorist who murdered Steven Sotloff appears to be the same person who killed James Foley. ...

... Burgess Everett of Politico: "Sen. Bill Nelson [D-Fla.] will introduce legislation that would give President Barack Obama congressional authority to bomb Islamic State forces in Syria." ...

... Azam Ahmed of the New York Times: "The siege of Amerli is thought to be the first time a town has managed to keep the militants at bay since the group, which now calls itself the Islamic State, began its march through wide areas of Iraq. By Monday, aid from the United Nations had begun reaching the starving residents.... It took an odd coalition of Iraqi and Iranian militias backed by American air support to drive off the ISIS fighters. But for long weeks before, the minority Shiite Turkmens who live here held the line, waging a desperate campaign for survival as they took up arms to protect the estimated 15,000 residents.... The fact that American air power had helped was not as celebrated. Some of the militiamen had fought the Americans after the invasion of Iraq in 2003." CW: Read to the end. ...

... Michael Cohen in the New York Daily News on "how the constant chorus of 'do something' Obama foreign policy critics gets it wrong." Includes rules to fun-&-easy game the Very Serious People have devised & perfected. Cohen asserts that actually conducting foreign policy is not a game. Spoilsport. ...

... ** David Ignatius of the Washington Post: "Even by Washington standards, the Senate Republicans have hit a new low for hypocrisy. They denounce President Obama's inaction on foreign policy -- and simultaneously refuse to confirm his nominees for U.S. ambassadors to such hot spots as Turkey, on the front lines against the Islamic State, and Sierra Leone, epicenter of the Ebola outbreak. Let's say it plainly: This is how nations lose their power and influence, when they are unable to agree even on basic matters such as diplomatic representation."

Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "Federal judges pointedly questioned a Justice Department lawyer on Tuesday about the National Security Agency's bulk collection of US phone data, in the opening day of case thatrepresents a major step toward a supreme court ruling on the constitutionality of the program. A three-judge panel from the second circuit court of appeals aimed skeptical questions at assistant attorney general Stuart Delery about the scope and breadth of the call-records dragnet, reported last year by the Guardian thanks to leaks from Edward Snowden."

Mark Guarino of the Guardian: "After 14 months of intense legal wrangling, a public relations battle, late night mediation sessions and intense number crunching, Detroit finally entered a federal courtroom on Tuesday for a trial that will determine whether or not it can emerge from the nation's largest municipal bankruptcy to become a smaller, more economically nimble city." ...

... The Detroit Free-Press story, by Nathan Bomey & Matt Helms, is here. The page also contains links to live updates & related content.

Alexander Cohen of Public Integrity: "Gazprombank GPB (OJSC), a Russian bank targeted with sanctions by President Obama over the Ukraine crisis, has hired two former U.S. senators [-- former Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) & former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) --] to lobby against those sanctions, according to a new disclosure filed with the Senate. Gazprombank is controlled by Russia's state-owned energy company Gazprom, the country's largest gas producer; it supplies about a third of Europe's natural gas." Thanks to safari for the link. See also safari's comment in yesterday's thread....

     ... CW: It will be interesting to see if any MoCs speak out for or against Lott & Breaux. Maybe Chuck Todd will ask permanent green-room occupant John McCain what he thinks about his former colleagues. Nah. Breaux & Lott sell their souls inside the Beltway. Dissing the distinguished gentlemen would be bad form.

Blame It on Reagan. Devin Fergus, in a Washington Post op-ed: "Today's student aid crisis has its roots in the 1980s. In 1981, the Reagan administration, with a coalition of congressional Republicans and conservative Democrats, pushed through Congress a combination of tax- and budget-cutting measures.... Spending on higher education was slashed by some 25 percent between 1980 and 1985.... Effectively, these changes shifted the federal government's focus from providing students higher education grants to providing loans.... [The view was that] students were 'tax eaters ... [and] a drain and drag on the American economy.' Student aid 'isn't a proper obligation of the taxpayer,' Reagan's OMB Director David Stockman told Congress.... Elected officials up-and-down the ballot took notice ... that there would be no electoral consequence for cutting higher education spending."

Virgil Dickson of Modern Healthcare: "... Indiana, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming may be next in line among GOP-led states in seeking a federal green light for their conservative-oriented [ACA Medicaid] expansion proposals." ...

... Dylan Scott of TPM: "Medicaid expansion is making progress.... But a handful [of GOP-dominated states] remain hardened in their opposition. They are largely contained to the South, and that means that the people being left out of Obamacare's safety-net expansion are disproportionately poor blacks." ...

... CW: White people can think up so many inventive ways to be racists while pretending they're not. In the particular Dylan Scott illuminates, let's give a special shout-out to Secret Racist Chief Justice John Roberts, who in his majority opinions, has (a)expressed the need for colorblind policy & (b) decided the unconstitionality of the "coercive" Medicaid expansion provisions of the ACA.

digby: Ted Cruz's father Rafael, an "ignorant creep," lectures African-Americans on history. "I don't know if they're idiots or think everyone else is an idiot but the idea that black people don't understand that the parties switched places-- due to civil rights! -- in the 1960's and 1970's is mind-boggling." AND, as Daniel Strauss of TPM points out, contrary to Father Cruz's assertion, Democrats controlled the Senate when major civil rights legislation passed.

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Karen Tumulty, et al., of the Washington Post profile their new boss, Fred Ryan. He's a great guy! And dresses impeccably! The image of a Very Serious Person! (CW: Aye, there's the rub.)

Beyond the Beltway

Rosalind Helderman & Matt Zapotosky of the Washington Post: "Jurors opened deliberations in the federal corruption trial of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen on Tuesday, spending five-and-a-half hours discussing the case without settling on a verdict." In his jury instructions, presiding Judge James Spencer gave the jury a broad definition of "official acts" that is favorable to the prosecution."

Jonathan Katz & Erik Eckholm of the New York Times: "Thirty years after their convictions in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in rural North Carolina, based on confessions that they quickly repudiated and said were coerced, two mentally disabled half-brothers were declared innocent and released Tuesday by a Robeson County court. The case against the men, always weak, fell apart after DNA evidence implicated another man with a history of rape and murder.... The current district attorney, Johnson Britt, did not contest the motion to dismiss the charges [against Henry Lee McCollum, now 50, & Leon Brown, now 46] and said he would not attempt to reprosecute the men because the state 'does not have a case.'" ...

As recently as 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party put Mr. McCollum's booking photograph on campaign fliers accusing a Democrat of being soft on crime....

In 1994, when the United States Supreme Court turned down a request for review of the case, Justice Antonin Scalia described Mr. McCollum's crime as so heinous that it would be hard to argue against lethal injection.

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post: Iberia, Louisiana, police first claimed that Victor White, a young black man "with his hands cuffed behind his back in a patrol car, produced a gun that wasn't found in two previous searches and committed suicide by shooting himself in the back." Then the coroner, whose report was not released for six months, said White shot himself in the chest (with his hands tied behind his back). White's parents are calling for a federal investigation. The full msnbc report, by Hannah Rappleye, is here. ...

     ... Update. Emma Fitzsimmons of the New York Times: "The United States Justice Department said on Tuesday that it was investigating the death of Victor White III, 23, who died while in the custody of Iberia Parish sheriff's deputies in March."

Mark Santora of the New York Times: "The organizers of the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade said on Wednesday that they were lifting a ban on gay groups participating in the march, ending a policy that had sparked protests, court battles and bitter debate for decades. The decision, first reported by The Irish Voice, to allow a gay group to march under its own banner came as Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to once again boycott the parade and the organizers faced pressure from employees of NBC Universal, which broadcasts the festivities."

Congressional Races

Casino Mogul to Purchase U.S. Senate. Peter Stone of the Daily Beast: "Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is poised to donate close to $100 million this election cycle, with much of that total coming in untraceable 'dark money' to conservative groups -- a massive amount that could help decide which party controls the Senate next year. Several of the casino mogul's largest checks, in the mid-seven to low-eight figure range, are being sent to a quartet of conservative nonprofits that under IRS rules can mask donors' names, say three GOP operatives and donors familiar with his contributions." ...

... Nonetheless, the Huffington Post's poll-tracker model gives Democrats a 57 percent chance of retaining control of the Senate. (The figures change at least daily.)

Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declined Tuesday to discuss the resignation of his former campaign manager, Jesse Benton, who quit last week as questions swirled about his role in a federal bribery case in Iowa."

Greg Sargent: Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS has a big new ad buy attacking Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor for his support of ObamaCare. The ad is anachronistic: "This new spot shows Republicans running against this thing called 'Obamacare' they created years ago and still can't let go of."

Jed Lewison of the Daily Kos: Cory Gardner, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate & aggressive abortion foe, has been a long-time proponent of zygote personhood -- which he now says he's against, even though he's still co-sponsoring a personhood bill in the House. He has a good chance of beating Democratic incumbent Mark Udall, especially if he can convince Colorado women he's their new best friend. Now he's running an ad advocating for over-the-counter contraception -- probably so women, rather than their health insurance under ObamaCare, will have to pay for the pills. ...

... According to Sandra Fluke, it would take a minimum wage worker 6 days' pay to buy her monthly pill supply. (More on this here.)

Eric Levenson of the Boston Globe: New Hampshire U.S. Senate candidate & former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (RDoofus) apparently doesn't mind emphasizing his carpetbagger status. On a radio show last week, Brown jokingly invited residents of other states -- Vermont & Connecticut, "wherever" -- to come to New Hampshire & vote for him in the primary election. New Hampshire has same-day voter registration, so out-of-state resident who have a "domicile" in New Hampshire -- say, a vacation home like the Browns' -- could probably vote legally in New Hampshire.

Jose Delreal of Politico: "Gary Kiehne conceded Arizona's 1st Congressional District GOP primary on Tuesday, handing the party's nomination to state House Speaker Andy Tobin, the Republican establishment's preferred challenger for vulnerable Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.... Going into this week, Tobin held a 359-vote lead over Kiehne, though more than 3,000 outstanding ballots had yet to be counted."

Presidential Race

Rand Paul is a hawk, ready to destroy ISIS. OR he's equivocal. OR he's a dove. Maybe. It depends on the day of the week time of day. CW: I need to update my old Romney flip-flops.

News Ledes

Guardian: "John Kerry has called the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, amid a US effort to persuade Israel to reverse the go-ahead for the largest appropriation of land on the occupied West Bank since the 1980s. The secretary of state's call followed the disclosure that the US had officially requested Israel to reverse the decision, amid mounting criticism of the move both internationally and within Netanyahu's own cabinet."

Washington Post: "Andrew H. Madoff, who reported to authorities that his father and longtime Wall Street colleague, Bernard L. Madoff, had masterminded perhaps the largest Ponzi scheme in history, a multi-billion-dollar crime that Andrew described as a 'father-son betrayal of biblical proportions,' died Sept. 3 at a hospital in New York City. He was 48. His lawyer, Martin Flumenbaum, said in a statement that the cause was mantle cell lymphoma. Mr. Madoff was diagnosed in 2003 with lymphoma and suffered a relapse a decade later."

** New York Times: "President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine said on Wednesday that he and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had agreed on a cease-fire in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The announcement provided no details about the agreement, and there was no immediate reaction from the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine who have been battling government troops with assistance from Moscow." ...

     ... ** Reuters UPDATE: "Ukraine said on Wednesday its president had agreed with Russia's Vladimir Putin on steps towards a 'ceasefire regime' in Kiev's conflict with pro-Russian rebels, but the Kremlin denied any actual truce deal, sowing confusion on the eve of a NATO summit." ...

     ... ** UPDATE 2. The Times' new lede in the story linked above: "The office of President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine said Wednesday that he and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had a similar understanding about what was needed to achieve a cease-fire in southeastern Ukraine, but it retracted a statement it had made earlier in the day that said the two men had agreed to a 'lasting cease-fire.'" (Emphasis added.)

Monday
Sep012014

The Commentariat -- Sept. 2, 2014

** Your Think Piece for Today. Timothy Stanley & Alexander Lee in the Atlantic: "Twenty-five years ago this summer, Francis Fukuyama announced the 'end of history' and the inevitable triumph of liberal capitalist democracy.... Today, it's hard to imagine Fukuyama being more wrong.... If the liberty of each person is to be maintained and maximized, the principles of equity and the common good must be embedded in the structure of society. And since society is structured above all by law, the law must reflect these precepts." Read the whole essay. Stanley & Lee provide, among more important concepts, a good example of why I think Hillary Clinton is so yesterday.

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd.
OMG Edition

Craig Timberg of the Washington Post: "Washington Post owner Jeffrey P. Bezos is replacing Publisher Katharine Weymouth with Frederick J. Ryan Jr., a former Reagan administration official who was part of the founding leadership team of Politico, a primarily digital news organization that competes with The Post on political coverage, the company announced Tuesday. The departure of Weymouth, 48, ends eight decades of Graham family leadership of The Post, which her great-grandfather bought in 1933."

If I want to, I can take Kiev in two weeks. -- Russian President Vladimir Putin to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso, via La Repubblica ...

... Julie Davis & Steven Erlanger of the New York Times: "As Ukrainian leaders warned on Monday of 'a great war' with Russia, NATO leaders meeting in Wales this week were expected to endorse their most concrete response yet to increased Russian military intervention in Ukraine: establishing a rapid-reaction force capable of deploying quickly to Eastern Europe, officials of the alliance said.... The agreement is planned as the substantive centerpiece of the NATO meeting, which will take place Thursday and Friday and will be attended by President Obama...."

Matea Gold of the Washington Post: "... wealthy political contributors have more access than ever to candidates since the ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. More than 300 donors have seized the opportunity, writing checks at such a furious pace that they have exceeded the old limit of $123,200 for this election cycle, according to campaign finance data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization."

Cantor to Become Vulture Capitalist. Fred Barbash of the Washington Post: "Former House majority leader Eric Cantor is joining a Wall Street investment bank as vice-chairman and managing director, the firm announced this morning. The firm, Moelis & Co., said Cantor will be based in the New York office of the global company and will soon open an office in Washington. Moelis, with 500 employees, is known as fast-growing 'boutique' firm that advises companies and investors on mergers, acquisitions and risk."

Tom Bergin of Reuters: "A Reuters analysis of Burger King's regulatory filings in the U.S. and overseas, which was also reviewed by accounting experts, shows that it has been making major efforts to reduce its U.S. tax bill for some time. By massaging down U.S. taxable profits while maximizing the profits it reports in low-tax jurisdictions overseas, Burger King is able to operate one of the most tax-efficient businesses in the U.S. fast-food industry."

Caitlin Rathe of Salon on the history of the food stamp (SNAP) program -- a program pushed by U.S. grocers. CW: And yes, it continues to appall me that the biggest beneficiaries of social welfare programs are the Richest People in the World -- the Waltons, who benefit not only from the low wages paid by other businesses but also doubly benefit from the low wages WalMart itself pays. Thanks to Haley S. for the link.

Guantánamo Forever. Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "Although President Obama pledged last year to revive his efforts to close Guantánamo, his administration has managed to free just one low-level prisoner this year, leaving 79 who are approved for transfer to other countries. It has also not persuaded Congress to lift its ban on moving the remaining 70 higher-level detainees to a prison inside the United States."

As MAG noted in yesterday's Comments, Charles Pierce composed "a rollicking wicked read" on the sorry anachronisms that are the Village People's Gossip for Geezers Shows:

... on Labor Day weekend, with income equality on the rise, and with wages stagnant for decades, and the rate of unemployment officially normalized somewhere in the teens, and with all the roads full of holes and the bridges falling down, on the shows that a dead president once thought were highly influential, on which ISIS and Ukraine and Kirsten Gillibrand's book and the nine-year old with the UZI and the fundamental greatness of my man Chuck Todd were all considered worthy of discussion, there was not a single mention of an American worker because, I guess, rap music. Shazam.

... CW: For all the grandeur of its public buildings & its National Mall of the people, the Beltway encircles a smug, self-segregated community where the actual people who built the place are not only unwelcome but also not worth mentioning. Every couple of years we do get a virtual mention in "polling data," & I'm sure Chuck Todd will do a rootin'-tootin' job of describing us as data points. You have Andrea Mitchell's word on that.

Beyond the Beltway

Manny Fernandez of the New York Times: "On Tuesday, in a federal courtroom in Corpus Christi, Tex., Justice Department lawyers will try to persuade a judge to strike down the [Texas] voter ID law, the latest skirmish in a three-year legal battle over whether the law passed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011 discriminates against blacks and Hispanics. If Texas loses the trial -- which opens Tuesday and will last about two weeks -- it could again be required to seek federal approval before making changes to its voting procedures, a level of oversight it was freed from by the United States Supreme Court."

James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times: "Leading a Labor Day rally at a park in South Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed on Monday creating a minimum wage in Los Angeles that would reach $13.25 after three years. Garcetti was backed by billionaire businessman Eli Broad, County Federation of Labor chief Maria Elena Durazo and seven members of the City Council, who will have to approve the increase." ...

... Dominic Rushe of the Guardian: "America's fast food workers are planning their biggest strike to date this Thursday, with a nationwide walkout in protest at low wages and poor healthcare. The strike is the latest in a series of increasingly heated confrontations between fast food firms and their workers. Pressure is also mounting on McDonald's, the largest fast food company, over its relations with its workers and franchisees." ...

... Annie Lowrey of New York: "Connecticut has somehow managed to become both the richest and worst economy in America. And what's worse, America has started to look more and more like Connecticut.... Of late, its economy has expanded more slowly than that of any other state. It has the worst job creation record of any state, too, supporting fewer paying positions in 2010 than it did in 1990."

Steve Benen: "After [Texas Gov. Rick Perry] deployed National Guard troops for no particular reason, some of those troops reportedly reached out to a local food bank because the state hadn't fully planned for their deployment.... On Thursday, news accounts quoted a local food bank's executive director saying, 'We were contacted that 50 troops that are in the Valley don't have any money for food and gas and they need our assistance.' Apparently, the Guard troops were sent to the border on August 11, but weren't scheduled to be paid until September 5, and some needed local charity to bridge the gap." Texas officials are denying that any troops sought charitable assistance. CW: I suppose that food bank person is just another liberal liar making up stuff to make Rick Perry look idiotic.

There's Something Wrong with the Georgia GOP. Daniel Strauss of TPM: "Over the past week there's been something of a brouhaha surrounding a journalist being forcibly removed from a local Republican event in Georgia. The journalist was Nydia Tisdale, who went to Burt's Farm in Dawsonville, Georgia, to record video of speeches by David Perdue, the state's GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, as well as Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and others. Tisdale runs the website AboutForsyth.com." The Republican party advertised the event on Facebook, inviting the public to attend the rally. The speakers were public officials &/or were running for public office. The event was held on private property, & Tisdale claims that one of the propertyowners gave her permission to tape. That's all she was doing. She was not heckling, holding a sign or otherwise protesting or showing disrespect for the proceedings. Others attending the event also were recording it....

     ... Jim Galloway's Atlanta Journal-Constitution report is here. An earlier report, by Galloway & Greg Bluestein is here. The sheriff's deputy who made the arrest was not on duty at the time. You can see in the picture he's strapped with a gun, but is wearing street clothes. His shirt has the logo of the Dawson County Sheriff's Department on it. The sheriff, who cleared the officer of wrongdoing, said the officer also was wearing a badge. ...

     ... Everything Is Obama's Fault. Here the top of the lead comment on the story posted by Brian Pritchard of FetchYourNews.com. Pritchard, who attended -- and recorded -- the event, broke the story of Tisdale's arrest. "What a disturbing story. Are we still citizens of the United States or has Obama succeeded in leading us down the path of a socialist society where individual freedom is no longer valued?"

Rene Stutzman of the Orlando Sentinel: "Two friends were injured Sunday afternoon at Shoot Straight, a Casselberry[, Florida,] gun range, when one tried to unjam a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and wound up shooting himself in the finger and his friend in the thigh, police reported.... Several witnesses saw what happened and one described it as 'just a case of stupidity.'" ...

... According to this 2012 MinnPost story, "Nonfatal gun injuries occur at the average rate of 20 a day in the United States -- and that doesn't include pellet-gun injuries (which average 45 day) or injuries that don't involve a bullet wound (like powder burns and recoil injuries)." Whaddaya bet most of them are "just cases of stupidity"? ...

... ALSO from the report: "If you have a gun, everybody in your home is more likely than your non-gun-owning neighbors and their families to die in a gun-related accident, suicide or homicide. Furthermore, there is no credible evidence that having a gun in your house reduces your risk of being a victim of a crime. Nor does it reduce your risk of being injured during a home break-in." In other words, statistically, gun ownership is a lose-lose situation.

Michael Pearce of the Los Angeles Times: "Two online fundraising pages that raised more than $400,000 for the police officer who killed an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., were shut down this weekend so tax lawyers could decide how best to handle the money, an official told the Los Angeles Times." However, it appears the story is more complicated than that. CW: Also, too -- the site can't continue to collect funds at the same time its purported lawyers decide how to distribute them?

Gubernatorial Races

Dan Mihalopoulos of the Chicago Sun-Times: "... supporters of Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner ... are quietly working to ensure that no third-party candidate has the chance to tilt the outcome in a tight election." Gun-toting private investigators have intimidated at least one signer of a Libertarian ballot petition & one petitioner." CW: So, not so "quietly working." ...

... Dan Mihalopoulos: "Public records show there are strong ties between [GOP gubernatrial candidate Bruce] Rauner and those involved in the effort to knock the Libertarians off the ballot." Rauner's campaign & another Rauner-backed political campaign have paid $53,000 to the law firm that hired the pistol-packing PIs. "Rauner personally contributed $6,500 to" a Republican group headed by the owner of the PI firm. "A notary for the effort to knock the Libertarians off the ballot, Morgan Kreitner, is a salaried employee of the Rauner campaign." Thanks to Haley S. for the leads.

Thomas Kaplan of the New York Times: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will probably cruise to re-election victory in November, but nobody much likes Mario's boy.

Presidential Race

Patrick Svitek of the Houston Chronicle: "A tweet mischaracterizing Gov. Rick Perry's indictment was sent Sunday evening from his personal account, setting the social network abuzz and leaving his critics fuming. An hour later, the message was deleted, with his account calling it 'unauthorized.' ... The original tweet ... included a graphic mocking Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.... The text on top of the graphic read: 'I DON'T ALWAYS DRIVE DRUNK AT 3X THE LEGAL BLOOD ALCOHOL LIMIT ... BUT WHEN I DO, I INDICT GOV. PERRY FOR CALLING ME OUT ABOUT IT. I AM THE MOST DRUNK DEMOCRAT IN TEXAS.' Lehmberg did not indict Perry. She and other officials in solidly Democratic Travis County recused themselves.... Although the tweet came from Perry's personal account -- as opposed to the ones run by his staff -- it was unclear Sunday evening whether he actually sent it out." CW: How does he think he can run the country when he can't even manage his own Twitter account?

Michael Barbaro of the New York Times: After making a series of gaffes in which he showed his ignorance of foreign affairs, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is going to Mexico this week to show he's a "global guy." CW: I'm looking forward to seeing him insult all of Central America, not just Mexico.

News Ledes

New York Times: "With NATO leaders expected to endorse a rapid-reaction force of 4,000 troops for Eastern Europe this week, a senior Russian military official said on Tuesday that Moscow would revise its military doctrine to account for 'changing military dangers and military threats.'"

Guardian: "Syrian rebels have issued three demands for the release of 45 Fijian peacekeepers they've held captive for five days, Fiji's military commander has said. Brig Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga said the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front wants to be taken off the United Nations terrorist list, humanitarian aid delivered to the capital Damascus, and compensation for three of its fighters it says were killed in a shootout with UN officers."

AP: "U.S. military forces attacked the extremist al-Shabab network in Somalia Monday, the Pentagon said, and a witness described ground-shaking explosions in a strike that reportedly targeted the group's leader. Al-Shabab had attacked the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 67 people a year ago this month and the U.S. had targeted planners of the bloody assault."