The Ledes

Wednesday, April 16, 2014.

AP: "A column of armored vehicles flying Russian flags drove into a Ukrainian city controlled by pro-Russia demonstrators Wednesday, dampening the central government's hopes to re-establish control over restive eastern Ukraine."

AP: "A multi-story ferry carrying 459 people, mostly high school students on an overnight trip to a tourist island, sank off South Korea's southern coast Wednesday, leaving nearly 300 people missing despite a frantic, hours-long rescue by ships and helicopters. At least three people were confirmed dead and 55 injured."

Boston Globe: "A shelter-in-place order on Boylston Street has been lifted and a 25-year-old Boston man is facing charges after police executed a controlled detonation of two suspicious bags left near the Boston Marathon finish line. Just after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, on the one-year anniversary of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, police said two backpacks had been found in the area and immediately ordered people to evacuate. Authorities said the backpacks were tied to a man who goes by Kayvon Edson. Edson was captured in several videos marching down Boylston Street in a black veil, wearing a backpack, and chanting 'Boston strong.'”

Read more here:
The Wires

The Ledes

Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

Boston Globe: The Boston Marathon finish line has been evacuated after suspicious packages were discovered. ...

... Washington Post: "Boston and its surroundings braced for an emotional week that begins Tuesday with a large ceremony honoring the victims, first responders, medical personnel and others affected by [last years Boston Marathon bomb] attack. It will be a chance to mourn the dead and remember the bloodshed, but also to proclaim that what is perhaps the world’s most famous footrace will continue for a 118th year, and to marvel at the way events have brought this community together."

Los Angeles Times: "President Obama on Tuesday commuted the sentence of a drug convict, correcting a mistake that had extended his prison time by more than three years and could not be fixed by the courts."

Even in Canada. AP: "Five people were killed and the son of a police officer is in custody after multiple stabbings at a house party attended by university students near the University of Calgary, the police chief said, calling it the worst mass murder in Calgary's history."

CNN: "A new video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years. And the CIA and the Pentagon either didn't know about it or couldn't get a drone there in time to strike." With video.

Detroit Free Press: "Two members of General Motors’ senior leadership team are leaving the company three months after a transition to a new CEO and amid a crisis over the automaker’s failure to fix an ignition switch defect."

AP: "Federal authorities have lodged two criminal charges against a Phoenix woman accused of throwing a shoe at Hillary Rodham Clinton while she gave a convention speech at a Las Vegas Strip resort."

New York Times: "After days of failing to enforce its own ultimatums, the Ukrainian government on Tuesday began what the president called a military operation to confront pro-Russian militants in the east of the country." ...

... Washington Post: "... Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that Ukraine was descending into civil war." ...

    ... Update: "The Ukrainian government said its forces had repelled an assault by pro-Russian militiamen at a military airfield, hours after announcing the start of a staged counteroffensive Tuesday to reclaim control of the eastern part of the country."

BBC News: "Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi must do one year's community service over tax fraud, a Milan court has ruled. He was convicted of tax fraud last year in connection with TV rights purchased by his firm Mediaset in the 1990s. The alternative to community service had been house arrest. It is not yet clear what form his community service will take."

Public Service Announcements

Washington Post: "Researchers are reporting that injections of long-lasting AIDS drugs protected monkeys for weeks against infection, a finding that could lead to a major breakthrough in preventing the disease in humans."

New York Times: "General Motors will more than double the size of a recall issued this month for an ignition switch defect in some of its small cars, the automaker said in a news release Tuesday. The expansion brings the number of vehicles covered by the recall to nearly 1.4 million in the United States. The recall is aimed at vehicles with ignition switches that could inadvertently turn off the engine and vehicle electrical system – disabling the air bags – if the ignition key is jarred or the vehicle’s operator has a heavy key ring attached to it."

New York Times: "The essence of [a] disagreement [among experts] comes down to a simple question: Will e-cigarettes cause more or fewer people to smoke? The answer matters. Cigarette smoking is still the single largest cause of preventable death in the United States, killing about 480,000 people a year."

White House Live Video
April 16

3:45 pm ET: President Obama & Vice President Biden speak on the importance of jobs-driven skill training in Oakdale, Pensylvania


If you don't see the livefeed here, go to



Washington Post: Investigative reporter Michael Isikoff is leaving NBC News, by mutual consent. Isikoff told Erik Wemple that "this was a situation that was no longer working out."

Soraya McDonald of the Washington Post: "Thursday night was a deft marriage of the best of the two Colberts: He didn’t break character, but the deference and affable nature that marks his out-of-character interviews was stamped all over the writing." With video. ...

... Dylan Scott of TPM: "Rush Limbaugh framed CBS's decision to replace retiring 'Late Show' host David Letterman with professional conservative skewer Stephen Colbert in some decidedly apocalyptic terms. 'CBS has just declared war on the Heartland of America," Limbaugh said Thursday on his radio show. 'No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values. Now it's just wide out in the open.'" ...

... Bill Carter of the New York Times: "CBS made its choice, quickly and definitively: Stephen Colbert is the successor to David Letterman as the star of 'Late Show,' the late-night franchise created by Mr. Letterman. CBS made the announcement Thursday, exactly one week after Mr. Letterman announced on his program that he would be leaving his post after one more year on the air."

Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times: "A faded fragment of papyrus known as the 'Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,' which caused an uproar when unveiled by a Harvard Divinity School historian in 2012, has been tested by scientists who conclude in a journal published on Thursday that the ink and papyrus are very likely ancient, and not a modern forgery. Skepticism about the tiny scrap of papyrus has been fierce because it contained a phrase never before seen in any piece of Scripture: 'Jesus said to them, "My wife..."' Too convenient for some, it also contained the words 'she will be able to be my disciple,' a clause that inflamed the debate in some churches over whether women should be allowed to be priests." ...

... CW: Sorry, purists. Followers (& non-followers) had all kinds of ideas about what Jesus was like. Married Jesus & sexy Jesus (Gospel of Thomas, "Lost" Gospel of Mark) were among them. The Roman Catholic Church decided, beginning late in the 2nd century what was canon & what was not. And every story, IMHO, is fictional. BTW, the Egyptologist in Goodstein's story who insists the fragment is a fake uses some extremely shaky -- i.e., bogus -- rationales for his opinion.

CW: I think it's my job to run this:

... The full "Today" show segment is here, & it's mildly interesting (CW: NBC's embed code is screwed up, so I can't run it here).

Josh Dickey of Mashable: "Stephen Colbert is CBS' top choice to replace the retiring David Letterman, and has indicated that he's willing to take over the Late Show when the time comes, people familiar with both sides of the discussions tell Mashable." Via New York.

Lauren Moraski of CBS "News": "David Letterman announced Thursday that he's retiring from CBS' 'Late Show' sometime next year. He made that announcement during the taping of his program Thursday afternoon at New York's Ed Sullivan Theater."

No News, All the Time:

Igor Bobic of TPM: "In its wall-to-wall coverage of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, CNN has raised the possibility of the supernatural, blackholes, and North Korea; it has interviewed a psychic, tried but failed to rent its own 777 jet, and finally settled on a flight simulator it is using to 'search' for the plane.On Tuesday the network finally turned its attention to garbage."

Washington Post: "Stephen Colbert and his writing staff were in fighting form Monday night, after a controversy stemming from an out-of-context tweet had hashtag activists calling for his head." ...

... This is kinda must-see TV:

AND Colbert dismantles his charity:

Michael Lewis in the New York Times Magazine on the whiz-kids of high-frequency Wall Street trading.

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David Brooks' One Percent Solution

Because of some unavoidable delays in posting at the New York Times eXaminer over the next several days, I've posted my column for today's NYTX here. I'll probably take this down after the column goes up at NYTX. I'll transfer any comments over; I'll give the commenters credit, naturally, but the comments willl have to go above my name.

New York Times
columnist David Brooks is disappointed: President Obama did not devote his State of the Union address to a “grand plan” to dispense with the old, the sick and the poor once and for all.

Brooks begins today's column pining for the good ole days when it appeared the deficit hawks on the Simpson-Bowles Commission would prevail upon the Congress and the President to slash the deficit by cutting spending on what the right characterizes as “entitlement programs.” As Robert Greenstein and James Horney of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities wrote, “Budget cuts account for 69 percent of the savings” in Simpson-Bowles' most recent proposal. Those cuts come largely, though not entirely, from “non-security discretionary spending”; that is, from social safety net programs. Worse,

The plan also relies on reductions in scheduled Social Security benefits for most of the changes it proposes to ensure the program’s long-term solvency. Those benefit cuts outweigh the proposed revenue increases by 2 to 1 over 75 years — and by 4 to 1 in the 75th year. This does not represent a balanced approach to Social Security reform.

Using the most conciliatory language possible, Greenstein and Horney write that Simpson-Bowles “raises question as to whether the funding for this part of the budget would be adequate to meet critical national needs in the decade ahead.”

Brooks also longs for the “big ideas” proposed by the fiscally-conservative Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a foundation funded by the multi-billionaire hedge-fund operator Pete Peterson. The foundation is devoted to scaring Americans about the “gargantuan” national debt and pressing the need to end Social Security and other social safety net programs, the better to protect the wealthy – like Peterson. “Peterson money is everywhere,” Eric Kingson, co-director of Social Security Works told Benjamin Sarlin of the Daily Beast. “They've managed to insinuate themselves as centrists when what we have in my mind is a really far-out anti-government conservative perspective.” Sarlin documents how Peterson influenced the Simpson-Bowles Commission and how he has used his money to insinuate his views into media coverage of the budget deficit. Economist Dean Baker asked, “Do you have to work for Pete Peterson to be cited on budget issues in the Washington Post?” The question is rhetorical. Post coverage, as Baker documents, suggests that the answer is “yes.”

Brooks complains that in President Obama's speech, “There was nothing big, like tax reform or entitlement reform,” He credits Republicans, by contrast, for speaking “with epic alarm about the nation’s problems. They are unified behind big tax and welfare state reforms that would purge Washington and shake things up.” Yes, they are. Never mind that the drumbeat of this epic alarm and the militant, anti-government unity of the GOP are what have forced the nation into the sorry state it is today. The Occupy Wall Street movement fingers Wall Street, of course, but bought-and-paid-for politicians are responsible for allowing Wall Street and other big corporate interests to tank the economy and turn the American dream into an impossible dream for ordinary Americans.

Brooks further complains that President Obama's SOTU speech contained “a series of modest proposals that poll well.” It's an election year, Mr. Brooks. In election years, first-term Presidents do not use their major speeches to promote policies that voters abhor. The U.S. Constitution requires that presidents “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Although not Constitutionally required to speak on the state of the union annually, all modern presidents have done so. Therefore, “necessary and expedient measures” would be those measures that the president could reasonably expect the Congress to enact in the course of the coming year. In any presidential election year, with any Congress, even one of the president's own party, it is only reasonable to expect the Congress to adopt “modest proposals” – ones that would carry the nation through to the next presidency and next Congress. When the House of Representatives is controlled by the extraordinary do-nothing, Republican Tea Party, as it is today, the President would be a blithering fool if he asked such a Congress to adopt the “sweeping proposals” that are indeed necessary to return the federal government to the sound fiscal policies of the post-World War II boom years. The Congress is not going to act on such proposals.

In general, modern first-term presidents have used their election-year State of the Union addresses to set the themes of their campaigns for a second term. Franklin Roosevelt used his 1936 SOTU speech “to attack critics of the New Deal.” The theme of Ronald Reagan's 1984 speech was “There is renewed energy and optimism throughout the land.” Bill Clinton used his 1996 address to announce that “the era of big government is over.”

Brooks concedes that President Obama also had “some big themes in the speech.” Brooks doesn't mention the big themes because President Obama's overarching views do not sit well with David Brooks. As Helen Cooper of the New York Times wrote in her report on the President's address, Obama called for “an economy 'built to last,'” a phrase that comes “from the auto industry he helped save.” The President, Cooper wrote, “sketched out, albeit vaguely, what he called a blueprint for economic growth in which the wealthy play by the same rules as ordinary Americans.” David Brooks does not want the wealthy to have to play by the same rules the rest of us do. He prefers, instead, the Simpson-Bowles-Peterson prescriptions to slash spending at the expense of the needy and maintain relatively low contributions from the wealthy and super-wealthy. Economic fairness, where “everybody gets a fair shot” – one of President Obama's “big themes” – is anathema to a Brooksian worldview.

President Obama's other “big themes” were national unity and “reclaiming the American values” that led to the post-World War II boom. As I outlined in a previous column titled “A History Lesson for David Brooks,” these are precisely the values – and government policies – that the conservative movement, of which Brooks is a part, has for decades fought tooth-and-nail and by every means possible to dismantle. President Obama used his bully pulpit to try to bully an obstreperous, calcified Congress into taking a few small steps for humankind toward a massive course change that will eventually undo the disastrous, decades-in-the-making policies that have moved us away from the “American promise” the President hopes to restore. David Brooks says he longs for “transformational..., ground-shifting” policies. So does President Obama. But Brooks wants the “transformation” to put the final nail in the coffin of fairness and equal opportunity for success.

Thanks largely to the influence of Occupy Wall Street, President Obama at long last wants the nation to shift again toward a set of policies that foster an environment in which “everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, “The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive.” It is an epic clash that pits President Obama against David Brooks and his ilk. It is Obama and Occupy vs. One Percenters like Pete Peterson who use their vast resources to set all the rules in their own favor. It is fundamental fairness vs. greed.

Is an epic clash big enough for you, Mr. Brooks?


The Commentariat -- January 27, 2012

David Roberts of Grist: The results of wiring up a focus group of swing voters who watched the State of the Union address were that they strongly favored two Democratic policies: clean energy & increasing taxes on the rich. It's worth reading the post, which leads the reader to believe maybe those low-info voters know a thing or two after all. ...

... Bernie Becker of The Hill: "Democratic leaders are embracing a new strategy for tax reform that leans on President Obama's State of the Union call for tax fairness and economic equality. The new strategy diverges from the 1986 formula, the last time Washington successfully tackled tax reform, and focuses on raising tax revenue from the wealthiest taxpayers and businesses that funnel jobs offshore. 'Tax reform after the president's speech now has a different definition,' Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday." ...

... Clusterfucked. Paul Krugman: in his SOTU rebuttal, Mitch Daniels lied about Jobs and jobs. To make his point, Krugman refers to the Duhigg & Bradsher article(s) linked yesterday on the Commentariat. "One side [Republican] believes that economies succeed solely thanks to heroic entrepreneurs; the other [Democratic] has nothing against entrepreneurs, but believes that entrepreneurs need a supportive environment, and that sometimes government has to help create or sustain that supportive environment. And the view that it takes more than business heroes is the one that fits the facts."

Here's a news item I missed from a couple of days ago. New York Times: "The publisher of The Atlanta Jewish Times resigned Tuesday after writing that Israel should consider assassinating President Obama. Andrew B. Adler stepped down after an outcry over a recent column in which he suggested that the Israeli military might 'take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel.' Adler owns the paper.”

Right Wing World

Quote of the Day. Willard Still Likes to Fire People. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I’d say, ‘You’re fired.’ -- Mitt Romney, on Newt Gingrich's moon colonization plan

Thursday GOP Debate Post-Mortems

Jim Rutenberg & Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times: "Mitt Romney, facing his greatest challenge of the campaign so far, relentlessly pressed Newt Gingrich on Thursday night in their final debate before the Florida primary, seeking to regain the offensive against an insurgent challenge that has shaken his claim to inevitability. On immigration, personal finances and the grand ideas that have been the trademark of Mr. Gingrich’s candidacy, Mr. Romney gave his rival no quarter, giving prime time voice to his campaign’s all-out, round-the-clock assault on Mr. Gingrich here." The Los Angeles Times story by Paul West & Seema Mehta is here. ...

Jonathan Bernstein in the Washington Post: "... for the second time this week, Newt showed that his debate skills are massively overrated, particularly his ability to attack an opponent with clear vulnerabilities. And Mitt Romney demonstrated exactly how to go about carving up an overmatched opponent. This time, not even having a noisy audience to appeal to could save the former Speaker. Several times over the course of the debate, Romney hit Newt hard, and Newt sputtered around and couldn’t find an effective response."

Glen Johnson wrote the Boston Globe's report on the debate. It is titled, "Mitt Romney’s attacks on Newt Gingrich’s record and credibility strain his own." That should give you a taste of the tenor of the debate. And here are the ...

... Biggest Liar Contest Results. Glenn Kessler fact-checks some of the candidates' remarks.

The DNC fact-checks Romney:

** Tim Egan: "When not holding forth from his favorite table at L’Auberge Chez François, nestled among the manor houses of lobbyist-thick Great Falls, Va., Dr. Newton L. Gingrich likes to lecture people about food stamps and how out-of-touch the elites are with real America. Gingrich, as he showed in a gasping effort in Thursday night’s debate in Florida, is a demagogue distilled, like a French sauce, to the purest essence of the word’s meaning. He has no shame. He thinks the rules do not apply to him. And he turns questions about his odious personal behavior into mock outrage over the audacity of the questioner." ...

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times: During his term in Congress, "Mr. Gingrich, Democrats and Republicans here agree, emerged as one of Washington’s most aggressive practitioners of slash-and-burn politics; many fault him for erasing whatever civility once existed in the capital. He believed, and preached, that harsh language could win elections.... Those same qualities are now on display as Mr. Gingrich, a Republican candidate for president, turns his caustic tongue against Republicans and Democrats alike." ...

... Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire’s challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic change in strategy will continue to fail.... President Reagan is clearly failing.... The burden of this failure frankly must be placed first on President Reagan [who is] ... pathetically incompetent. -- Newt Gingrich, 1986 ...

... The Blue Texan at Crooks & Liars: "The wingosphere is flipping out over an explosive Elliot Abrams piece in which he lambastes Newt Gingrich for his vituperative assaults on Ronald Reagan back in the '80s.... This is especially rich since Newt has been invoking St. Ronald of California more than any other GOP candidate."

"Winning Our Future," The pro-Newt superPac, presents "Blood Money" -- The Trailer:

Not to be outdone, the Romney campaign produces this ad, the entire premise of which is a lie:

A pro-Bama superPAC notices Romney was against the 99 Percent a few days before he was for the 99 Percent:

Blast from the Past. TPM: "Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) is blaming Newt Gingrich in part for the losses Republicans suffered in 1996, including his own presidential campaign against Bill Clinton. In a statement sent by the Mitt Romney campaign, Dole warns that Republicans this year could suffer the same fate as the candidates for office in 1996 if Gingrich is nominated." ...

... The Gingrich Reaction. It’s got to be on the top 10 list of the weirdest things he’s ever written. -- R. C. Hammond, Gingrich's spokesperson

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones: "It's sort of fascinating watching the Republican establishment finally go nuclear on Newt Gingrich. As near as I can tell, pretty much everyone who actually served with or alongside Newt in the 90s hates his guts.... Newt's tone and temperament are perfectly suited to the no-compromise-no-surrender spirit of the tea party-ized GOP, which is why he's so appealing to the base during debates. But the truth is that for all his bluster, Newt ... likes to think of himself as a world-historical figure, and that means getting world-historical things done.... That makes him doubly unreliable, since obstruction is the sine qua non of movement conservatism these days." ...

Ginger Gibson of Politico: Gingrich lays into Romney and the "Republican establishment" backing Romney. ...

... Robert Reich: "Even if the odds that Gingrich as GOP presidential candidate would win the general election are 10 percent, that’s too much of a risk to the nation. No responsible American should accept a 10 percent risk of a President Gingrich." ...

... Michael Shear of the New York Times: Mitt "Romney is now fully participating in his campaign’s efforts to attack Mr. Gingrich’s morals and raise doubts about his emotional stability." ...

... CNN: Gingrich is forced to admit he's a big fat liar. He repeatedly claimed he had provided "character" witnesses to ABC News re: their interview of Marianne Gingrich and called ABC News "dishonest" for denying it. However, a Gingrich staffer has now admitted the candidate's claims were untrue. CW: for once, CNN follows up.

When "Disclosure" Doesn't Mean "Disclosure." Matea Gold & Tom Hamburger of the Los Angeles Times: "Some investments listed in Mitt and Ann Romney’s 2010 tax returns – including a now-closed Swiss bank account and other funds located overseas – were not explicitly disclosed in the personal financial statement the GOP presidential hopeful filed in August as part of his White House bid. The Romney campaign described the discrepancies as 'trivial' but acknowledged Thursday afternoon that they are undergoing an internal review of how the investments were reported and will make 'some minor technical amendments' to Romney’s financial disclosure that will not alter the overall picture of his finances.... At least 23 funds and partnerships listed in the couple’s 2010 tax returns did not show up or were not listed in the same fashion on Romney’s most recent financial disclosure, including 11 based in low-tax foreign countries such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg."

** Jerry Markon & Alice Crites of the Washington Post on Ron Paul's racist, homophobic newsletters: Paul "has denied writing inflammatory passages in the pamphlets from the 1990s and said recently that he did not read them at the time or for years afterward.... But people close to Paul’s operations said he was deeply involved in the company that produced the newsletters ... and closely monitored its operations, signing off on articles and speaking to staff members virtually every day. 'It was his newsletter, and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product.... He would proof it,’' said Renae Hathway, a former secretary in Paul’s company" and a Paul supporter "A person involved in Paul’s businesses ... said Paul and his associates decided in the late 1980s to try to increase sales by making the newsletters more provocative. They discussed adding controversial material, including racial statements, to help the business, the person said."

Gene Robinson: "Republicans seem eager to double down on a 'greed is good' ethos that has more resonance when the economy is booming, real estate values are soaring and everybody feels rich. Obama, by contrast, envisions a return to an America where the successful and fortunate lend a helping hand to those down on their luck.... This seems much more in tune with the times.... The Republicans who are running the party laugh at the concepts of fairness and collective responsibility. Soon they may find the joke’s on them."

News Ledes

New York Times: French "President Nicolas Sarkozy announced on Friday that France would break with its allies in NATO and accelerate the French withdrawal from Afghanistan, pulling back combat troops a year early, by the end of 2013. Mr. Sarkozy also said that he and Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, would ask the NATO alliance for a similar speedup of the transfer of primary security responsibilities to Afghan troops."

New York Times: "... in a sort of coming-of-age moment, Twitter announced that upon request, it would block certain messages in countries where they were deemed illegal. The move immediately prompted outcry, argument and even calls for a boycott from some users. Twitter in turn sought to explain that this was the best way to comply with the laws of different countries. And the whole episode, swiftly amplified worldwide through Twitter itself, offered a telling glimpse into what happens when a scrappy Internet start-up tries to become a multinational business."

ABC News: "President Obama met with former president George H. W. Bush and his son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, at the White House this evening."

President Obama spoke to Democratic Members of Congress this afternoon:

Reuters: "President Barack Obama vowed on Friday to push back hard against Republicans who try to obstruct his election-year proposals on taxes and jobs, as he sought to rally congressional Democrats and move past a period of strained relations. Wrapping up a cross-country tour to promote a populist agenda laid out in this week's State of the Union address, Obama hammered home a reelection campaign appeal for greater economic fairness and called on fellow Democrats to close ranks with him."

Washington Post: "The Pentagon is rushing to send a large floating base for commando teams to the Middle East as tensions rise with Iran, al-Qaeda in Yemen and Somali pirates, among other threats. In response to requests from the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, the Navy is converting an aging warship it had planned to decommission into a makeshift staging base for the commandos. Unofficially dubbed a 'mothership,' the floating base could accommodate smaller high-speed boats and helicopters commonly used by Navy SEALs...."

Reuters: "Fitch downgraded the sovereign credit ratings of Belgium, Cyprus, Italy, Slovenia and Spain on Friday, indicating there was a 1-in-2 chance of further cuts in the next two years. In a statement, the ratings agency said the affected countries were vulnerable in the near-term to monetary and financial shocks."

Washington Post: In his speech in Ann Arbor, Michigan, "President Obama will offer a plan Friday to reduce the costs of higher education by increasing the amount of federal grant money available in low-interest loans and tying it directly to colleges’ ability to reduce tuition." New York Times story here.

Reuters: "The U.S. economy grew at its fastest pace in 1-1/2 years in the fourth quarter of 2011, but a strong rebuilding of stocks by businesses and a slower pace of spending on capital goods hinted at softer growth early this year."

AP: "Fresh violence erupted Friday in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, a day after armed forces loyal to President Bashar Assad barraged residential buildings with mortars and machine-gun fire, killing at least 30 people including a family of women and children, activists said Friday."

AP: "Costa Crociere SpA is offering uninjured passengers euro11,000 ($14,460) apiece to compensate them for lost baggage and psychological trauma after its cruise ship ran aground and capsized off Tuscany when the captain deviated from his route. Costa, a unit of the world's biggest cruise operator, the Miami-based Carnival Corp., also said it would reimburse passengers the full costs of their cruise, travel expenses and any medical expenses sustained after the grounding."

AP: "A Connecticut man will be formally sentenced to death for the home invasion killings of a Connecticut woman and her two daughters. Joshua Komisarjevsky will be sentenced Friday in New Haven Superior Court after a jury last month delivered a death verdict. Komisarjevsky is joining co-defendant Steven Hayes on death row for the 2007 killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters in their Cheshire home."

AP: "A shipment containing 16 kilograms of cocaine was seized last week at the U.N.'s mail intake center, a New York Police Department spokesman said Thursday.... There was no name or address on the shipment sent from Mexico City through Cincinnati."


Comment "Approval"

My site host Squarespace has a new forced feature which automatically throws some comments into an "awaiting approval" bin. I have no facility to disable this feature (actually, it IS disabled, but Squarespace has installed an override). I have asked Squarespace to change this. I don't think they will.

This is an equal-opportunity site, and I don't bar anyone from commenting. I apologize for this annoying, discriminatory "feature." I will "approve" comments as soon as I'm aware of them and before reading them. With the exception of some ad spam, I can count on one hand the number of comments I've had to remove in the past six months for offensive content. This approval system is a real pain for commenters, readers and me.

I do, BTW, read all the comments, though not necessarily timely. If I ever remove a comment for what I deem cause, the writer will know it & know why.

Update: a commenter has suggested that "the best solution is just not to comment." That's was not my goal in making readers & contributors aware of the approval process imposed by my host. Since I'm not going to read the comments as I "approve" them, it takes me only seconds to release the comments for publication. The delay is what is unfair to commenters: I don't sit at my computer waiting for comments to come in, so any comments that trigger the approval algorithm will be delayed, sometimes by hours if I'm not around. This delay severely limits commenters' ability to engage in an exchange of ideas, which is one of the purposes of the comments facility. Not only that, I think the approval process itself is insulting to contributors, who 999 times out of 1,000, write comments which falls within my so-called standards.

So keep on commenting, please. What annoys me is the approval requirement, not the comments.


The Commentariat -- January 26, 2012

Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post: "Google ... announced Tuesday that it plans to follow the activities of users across nearly all of its ubiquitous sites, including YouTube, Gmail and its leading search engine. Google has already been collecting some of this information. But for the first time, it is combining data across its Web sites to stitch together a fuller portrait of users. Consumers who are logged into Google services won’t be able to opt out of the changes, which take effect March 1. And experts say the policy shift will invite greater scrutiny from federal regulators of the company’s privacy and competitive practices." ...

... More from Hayley Tsukayama of the Washington Post. ...

... CW: Here are instructions on how to close your Google account. Unfortunately for me, and I'm sure for millions of others, I'm kind of locked in to Google. They know that, of course. ...

... Update: In today's comments section, contributor Dave S. has a couple of suggestions on how to evade Google and protect your privacy: bills itself as "the world's most private search engine." Details here. I tried it out, and it seems okay. In addition, the  Tor browser bundle claims it "protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location, and it lets you access sites which are blocked."

Most people would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from. -- Former Apple executive ...

CW: I linked this New York Times story by Charles Duhigg & Keith Bradsher about Apple's Chinese slave-labor factories in yesterday's NYTX column on Tom Friedman's latest pile of crap, but I don't think I linked it here.

... Duhigg & Bradsher's follow-up article is even more disturbing: "... the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions.... Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems. Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records.... Bleak working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others.... 'We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on,' said one former Apple executive.... Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice. If half of iPhones were malfunctioning, do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?'”

... Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post: "After decades of our leaders and sages assuring us that the United States would thrive as we moved beyond manufacturing, President Obama used his State of the Union address to officially declare post-industrial America an unqualified bust. Ours has become, he said, a land of 'outsourcing, bad debt and phony financial profits.' Reconstructing 'an economy that’s built to last,' by contrast, means revitalizing manufacturing, he said.... Obama has discovered his inner economic nationalist, just in time for the election.... Turning manufacturing jobs into middle-class jobs will require establishing the kind of advanced, ongoing vocational education that’s made German industry so successful, as well as reestablishing the right of U.S. workers to join unions."

Quote of the Day. Capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us. We have failed to learn the lessons from the financial crisis of 2009. -- Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum; i.e., Davos. Pretty astounding, considering the source.

Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker writes an excellent short piece on campaign finance law. He ends it with what we all know: "Most politicians who have been bought tend to stay that way." Thanks to Dave S. for the link.

E. J. Dionne on the SOTU address: "It is plain that, in the historic argument that will engage the country for the rest of the year, Obama, no less than the Republicans, is rooting himself in old American values. But in his case, they are the values of solidarity and fairness. And lest anyone miss his point, Obama ended his speech by referring to a flag he was given bearing the names of the SEAL team that undertook the bin Laden mission [CW: and I'll add, yesterday's rescue in Somalia]. The lesson Obama drew: 'No one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we built it together.... This nation is great because we get each other’s backs.' It was a long way from the imperatives of the private-equity market." CW: it was also ungrammatical ("No one .... their own."). But never mind. As we learned yesterday, the speechwriters wrote this one for 8th-graders.

Paul Krugman recommends this post by John Quiggin, who takes down right/libertarian economist Tyler Cowen's argument that social mobility isn't too important after all (yup, the right is teeing up defenses of aristocracy): "To sum up, Cowen’s post is an exercise in defending the indefensible, and its weaknesses reflect that. As Mitt Romney’s tax returns show, wealthy Americans have the rules rigged in their favor from day one. And that’s assuming they obey the rules. Unlike the poor, they can mostly cheat with impunity.... The only surprise is the suddenness with which the facts have become common knowledge." Thank you, Occupy; thank you, Willard; thank you, intransigent Republican-Tea Party Members of Congress.

David Dayen has a very good post on what he surmises is President Obama's means of neutering New York AG Eric Schneiderman, who has been the most penetrating thorn in the side of the coalition of AGs negotiating a sweetheart settlement favorable to big mortgage lenders: Obama made Schneiderman co-chair of a federal committee that is part of "a three year-old Financial Fraud Task Force which has done approximately nothing on Wall Street accountability outside of a few insider trading arrests.... Schneiderman may be trying to work from within, but he’s saddled with a panel full of co-chairs tied to banks with a history of obstructing accountability." ...

... Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism has a similar take, & a bit more info....  

... CW: This is how the guys who are supposed to be on "your side" do you in. See Elizabeth Warren videos below. As Jeff Toobin says (linked above), "Most politicians who have been bought tend to stay that way." ...

... The New York Times editors are a little less skeptical about the Schneiderman appointment than are Dayen & Smith, but they are not naive: "President Obama’s credibility is on the line. To restore public faith in the financial system, nothing less than a full investigation and full accountability will do."

Everybody in our office is paying a higher tax rate than Warren. -- Debbie Bosanek, Warren Buffett's secretary (linked page includes video)

If this is a war, my side has the nuclear bomb We have K Street.… We have Wall Street. Debbie doesn’t have anybody. I want a government that is responsive to the people who got the short straw in life. -- Warren Buffett, on Republican charges that the "Buffett Rule" represents class warfare

Washington does work! For drug companies, big oil & hedge fund operators. "Thirty of the largest companies in the United State are now paying more for lobbying than they are in federal taxes":

Jared Bernstein demonstrates why PolitiFact "just can't be trusted." ...

     ... Paul Krugman: "The criterion, according to Politifact, seems to be that a fact isn’t a fact if it helps a Democratic narrative." ...

     ... Krugman: "Politifact has lost sight of what it was supposed to be doing.... Fact-checking should be about checking facts — not about trying to impose some sort of Marquess of Queensbury rules on how you’re allowed to use facts. Aside from undermining the mission, this makes the whole thing subjective.... Politifact wasn’t even analyzing what Obama said, they were analyzing their impression about what he might have been trying to imply."

Compassionate Conservatives. Linda Greenhouse: the Supremes, curiously, render a humane decision. Except Thomas & Scalia -- what did you expect? They are two nasty bastards.

David Nakamura of the Washington Post: President Obama got into a verbal sparring match on the tarmac at Phoenix with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R). It seems to have been over her characterization of him and of a meeting she had with him. Obama walked away from Brewer while she was mid-sentence. ...

     ... Devin Dwyer of ABC News has more. ...

... Dana Milbank: Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, a Republican, blows off criticisms by GOP presidential candidatess: "'I’m not going to get involved in political rhetoric,' he said. 'I have a job to do.' In a sense, Bernanke didn’t need to rebut his critics; the facts already have."

Right Wing World

Bonus Quote. ... it’s an odd thing when a leading Republican candidate has the children of his first wife attacking his second wife for things she said about his third wife and this candidate is the one getting social conservative support. -- David Brooks

Bonus Quote. I was attacked the other night for being grandiose. I would just want you to note: Lincoln standing at Council Bluffs was grandiose. The Wright Brothers standing at Kitty Hawk were grandiose. John F. Kennedy was grandiose. I accept the charge that I am grandiose and that Americans are instinctively grandiose. -- Newt Gingrich. CW: Either Gingrich has no idea what "grandiose" means or he has a low opinion of Americans' "instincts." And of Lincoln, the Wright brothers & JFK. Jerk.

Bonus Quote. By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American. -- Newt Gingrich. CW: Grand. E. Ose.

Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner: "When he claimed victory in South Carolina on Saturday, Newt Gingrich declared that, 'The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.' But if any candidate is using Saul Alinsky's playbook in this campaign, it's Gingrich himself. In his seminal 1971 work, 'Rules for Radicals,' left-wing community organizer Alinsky laid out his method for instigating change. Many of the tactics he spoke about -- such as exploiting resentment and pitting oneself against the establishment -- have become a central part of Gingrich's strategy for securing the Republican presidential nomination."

Adios, Mofo. Chuck Lindell of the Austin, Texas American-Statesman: "Gov. Rick Perry's ill-fated presidential campaign left a sour taste with many Texans and damaged his standing with Republican voters, according to a new poll commissioned by the American-Statesman and other state newspapers. Almost 1 in 3 Texas Republicans said Perry's performance on the national stage dimmed their view of the governor, and 40 percent said he should not seek re-election in 2014.... The drop left Perry with a lower approval rating than President Barack Obama's 43 percent — in a state Obama lost by 11 percentage points in 2008 — though Perry did have a slim lead among registered voters, with 42 percent to Obama's 41."

Jack Sherman of Politico reports that some GOP House members are not satisfied with going home to campaign as representatives of the Do-Nothing Congress. I wonder who coule possibly be to blame for their predicament?

CW: I know racial discrimination is a serious, terrible thing, but I cannot help laughing at the bigoted mayor of East Haven, Connecticut, who, "being of Italian descent, is sometimes thought to be of ethnic background." Mayor Maturo (R) -- that's his real name, tho in no way a characterization of his views or demeanor -- criticizes the press for the camera, then takes a question about what he would do to help the Latino community in the wake of the arrests of four of his police officers for discrimination against & harassment of Latinos. His response: "I might have tacos when I go home. I'm not quite sure yet." Although he doubles down on his "taco" comment in the linked video, he later apologized for the "off-collar comment." (No, that's no typo. I believe "off-collar" is the short form for "off-the-cuff, off-color," especially when "color" refers to, you know, "ethnic background.")

Local News

Mary Spicuzza of the (Madison,) Wisconsin State Journal: "Two more former aides to Gov. Scott Walker have been charged in the ongoing John Doe investigation, and face charges linked to political fundraising while working on county time. Both worked for Walker while he was serving as Milwaukee County Executive, and both are accused of fundraising activities while at their taxpayer-funded day jobs." Thanks to Kate M. for the link. CW: when you read what the employees did, you'll have a hard time believing Walker had no idea they were campaigning onthe job.

News Ledes

There's another GOP presidential debate tonight, this one from Florida & hosted by CNN. CW: I find the New York Times live updates the least stomach-churning way to "watch" the GOP debates.

New York Times: "Bev Perdue, a Democrat who made history when she became North Carolina’s first female governor in 2009, will not seek re-election this year, a Democratic source with knowledge of her decision said on Thursday." Raleigh News & Observer story here.

He’s not going to ask me to stay on, I’m pretty confident. I’m confident he’ll be president. But I’m also confident he’s going to have the privilege of having another secretary of the Treasury. -- Tim Geithner ...

... Bloomberg News: "Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, the last member of the Obama administration’s original economic team, said he doesn’t expect to remain in office if the president is re-elected.”

AP: "President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran is ready for nuclear talks with the world powers amid toughening sanctions aimed at forcing Tehran to sharply scale back its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad, however, says sanctions won't force Iran to capitulate to Western demands."

Washington Post: "Two decades after evicting U.S. forces from their biggest base in the Pacific, the Philippines is in talks with the Obama administration about expanding the American military presence in the island nation, the latest in a series of strategic moves aimed at China."

New York Times: "The Egyptian authorities have blocked the son of a United States cabinet member and several other American employees of a Washington-backed nongovernmental organization from leaving Egypt in an apparent escalation of a politically charged criminal investigation into foreign-funded groups promoting democracy. Officials of the group, the International Republican Institute, said the Egyptian authorities had blocked its Cairo chief, Sam LaHood, from boarding a flight at the airport last week. His father is Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary and a former Republican congressman from Illinois."

Reuters: "Greece resumes tortuous negotiations on a debt swap with private creditors in Athens on Thursday, with the European Central Bank thrown into the mix after IMF chief Christine Lagarde said public sector holders of Greek debt may need to take losses too."

AFP: "French police on Thursday arrested Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of the PIP breast implant company that sparked a global health scare by using substandard silicone, as part of a manslaughter probe.... The arrest was made in connection with a manslaughter investigation opened by prosecutors in the southern port city of Marseille in December...; Mas could be held in custody for up to 48 hours."