The Wires

The Ledes

Thursday, May 21, 2015.

Washington Post: "California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County late Wednesday after an onshore pipeline burst, spewing thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean — blackening beaches and endangering West Coast wildlife. The area, a popular camping spot some 20 miles from Santa Barbara, known for its palm tree-lined seashore and pristine surf, has been “closed indefinitely.” The extent of the damage is not known."

New York Times: "Islamic State militants on Thursday solidified their rout of Syrian government forces in the historic desert city of Palmyra, moving to the outskirts to seize its airport and the notorious Tadmur Prison, according to residents and statements from the group. It was the first time that the ISIS militants seized an entire city from Syrian government forces; it won control of its first major city, Raqqa, from Syrian insurgents and the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front after the two became rivals."

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post (May 22): "A salmonella outbreak that’s probably linked to raw tuna from sushi has sickened at least 53 people across nine states — the majority in Southern California, health authorities said."

White House Live Video
May 22

10:00 am ET: Vice President Biden speaks at the U.S. Naval Academy commencement ceremony (audio only)

11:00 am ET: President Obama speaks at the Jewish American Heritage Month celebration

12:30 pm ET: Josh Earnest's press briefing

Go to


Washington Post: "One of the earliest known copies of the Ten Commandments was written in soot on a strip of goatskin found among the trove of biblical material known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, widely considered to be one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th century. Penned on parchment by an unknown scribe more than 2,000 years ago, the scroll fragment is ... so fragile that its custodians rarely permit it to be moved from the secure vault where it rests in complete darkness. But for 14 days over the next seven months, the Ten Commandments scroll, known to scholars as 4Q41, will make a rare public appearance at the Israel Museum as part of a new exhibit called 'A Brief History of Humankind,' a show based on the international best-selling book by Israeli polymath Yuval Noah Harari."

Erik Loomis of LG&M: "It looks like Maggie Gyllenhaal has had her Last Fuckable Day at the ripe old age of 37:

... Sharon Waxman of the Wrap: "Every time we think things are getting better for women in Hollywood, something comes along to remind us — naaah. Maggie Gyllenhaal ... revealed that she was recently turned down for a role in a movie because she was too old to play the love interest for a 55-year-old man."

Emily Nussbaum of the New Yorker: "Now that [David] Letterman’s a flinty codger, an establishment figure, it’s become difficult to recall just how revolutionary his style of meta-comedy once felt. But back when I was sixteen, trapped in the snoozy early eighties and desperate for something rude and wild, Letterman seemed like an anarchist."

     ... Here's the page for the property.

AP: "The suburban New York home where F Scott Fitzgerald is believed to have written The Great Gatsby is for sale. A spokeswoman for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage said on Wednesday that the asking price for the manor home on Long Island was just over US$3.8m (A$4.8m).... The home is in the village of Great Neck Estates, about 20 miles (32km) from Manhattan.

After years of signing "-BO" at the end of @BarackObama to signal the tweets he crafted himself from an account operated by the Organizing for Action staff, the President now has his very own handle @POTUS, tweeting for the first time: 'Hello, Twitter! It's Barack. Really! Six years in, they're finally giving me my own account.'... Per a statement from the White House, the @POTUS handle 'will serve as a new way for President Obama to engage directly with the American people, with tweets coming exclusively from him.'"

The $5MM Ankle. New York Post: "Shakedown artist Al Sharpton’s eldest child wants $5 million from city taxpayers after she fell in the street and sprained her ankle, court rec­ords show. Dominique Sharpton, 28, says she was 'severely injured, bruised and wounded' when she stumbled over uneven pavement at the corner of Broome Street and Broadway downtown last year, according to a lawsuit."

My friend Jan C. sent me a list of actual complaints made by dissatisfied travelers who had gone on excursions organized by the British Thomas Cook Vacations. An example: "It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair."

New York Times: "The most striking geographical pattern on marriage, as with so many other issues today, is the partisan divide. Spending childhood nearly anywhere in blue America — especially liberal bastions like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington — makes people about 10 percentage points less likely to marry relative to the rest of the country. And no place encourages marriage quite like the conservative Mountain West, especially the heavily Mormon areas of Utah, southern Idaho and parts of Colorado." ...

Matt Seitz in New York notes that the pilot for "Mad Men" repeatedly points to the series' conclusion. ...

Gabriel Sherman of New York: "Tomorrow morning [Wednesday, May 13], in what marks a tectonic shift in the publishing industry, the New York Times is expected to officially begin a long-awaited partnership with Facebook to publish articles directly to the social media giant.... According to people familiar with the negotiations, the Times will begin publishing select articles directly into Facebook's news feed. Buzzfeed, NBC News and NatGeo are said to be also joining the roll out, among others. The deal raises all sorts of knotty questions for the Times." ...

... New York Times Update: "— Facebook’s long-rumored plan to directly host articles from news organizations will start on Wednesday, concluding months of delicate negotiations between the Internet giant and publishers that covet its huge audience but fear its growing power. Nine media companies, including NBC News and The New York Times, have agreed to the deal, despite concerns that their participation could eventually undermine their own businesses. The program will begin with a few articles but is expected to expand quickly.... Most important for impatient smartphone users, the company says, the so-called instant articles will load up to 10 times faster than they normally would since readers stay on Facebook rather than follow a link to another site." ...

.... Here's Facebook's announcement.

Nell Scovell in New York: Dave Letterman' former writers reminisce about jokes they wrote & pitched but which Letterman rejected. Letterman comments.

Vermeil placecard holders, a favorite "souvenir" of White House guests.... Washington Post: Petty thieves show up at White House state dinner -- all the time. Many guests at state dinners & other functions just can't resist taking home mementos, some of them pricey. "While the chief usher’s office monitors exactly what goes out with each place setting when the first family entertains, there is no formal accounting of how much taxpayers must pay each year to replace items that are gone by the end of the night."

Washington Post: The law finally catches up with Frank Freshwater, who escaped from prison in 1959.

Washington Post: Tesla plans to market a home battery system that draws power from solar panels or the power grid to use during outages. It holds up to 10 kw-hours, about 1/3 of what it takes to power an average home for a day. Tesla plans to make the system avalable by the end of this summer.

Conan O'Brien in Entertainment Weekly: "Not one single writer/performer in the last 35 years has had Dave [Letterman]’s seismic impact on comedy.... In today’s’ world of 30 late night programs, it’s tempting now to take Dave for granted. Do not. Dave was a true revolution.... Like all revolutions, it was such a seismic shift that it was disorienting and a bit messy at first, and it has taken us time to realize the sheer magnitude of the shift."

White House: "For a new state china service, First Lady Michelle Obama wanted it to have modern elements, but also for it to be practical, in the sense that it would be complementary to the preceding historic state services. The Obama State China Service consists of eleven-piece place settings for 320":

Timothy Simon of "Veep" gets ready to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner, which is Saturday, April 25:

... Cecily Strong of “Saturday Night Live will headline the event.

MOOCS! Washington Post: For $45, anyone can become a freshman at Arizona State University. "Students can take classes online for a fee, then decide whether to pay reduced tuition for the credits."

The Sex Life of David Brooks is apparently intensely interesting to Villagers who do not participate in it.

Washington Post: "Gaioz Nigalidze’s rise through the ranks of professional chess began in 2007, the year the first iPhone was released. In hindsight, the timing might not be coincidental." During a competition in Dubai, the Georgian grandmaster allegedly hid an iPhone in the bathroom, then consulted a chess app during play.

CBS News: "'Face the Nation' Host Bob Schieffer announced Sunday that CBS News political director John Dickerson will become the new host of 'Face the Nation' this summer when he retires." CW: So "Face the Nation" is going to become even worse. Follows the well-established pattern of Sunday morning "news" shows.

New York Times: "Bob Schieffer, a television anchor who has worked at CBS for nearly half a century and interviewed every sitting president since Richard Nixon, announced Wednesday night that he was retiring this summer. Mr. Schieffer, 78, made the announcement while giving an address at Texas Christian University, his alma mater." CW: This will be a great disappointment to Charles Pierce, as regular readers of Pierce's posts will recognize.

I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years.... We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology.... We are not talking about little green men, Stofan said. "We are talking about little microbes. -- Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for NASA

It's definitely not an if, it's a when. -- Jeffery Newmark of NASA

... The L.A. Times story, from which the above citations come, is fascinating.

Washington Post: "The quote on the stamp originated with [Joan Walsh] Anglund.... 'Yes, that’s my quote,' Anglund said Monday night from her Connecticut home. It appears on page 15 of her book of poems 'A Cup of Sun,' published in 1967. Only the pronouns and punctuation are changed, from 'he' in Anglund’s original to 'it' on the stamp." CW: These are forever stamps. Maybe you should rush to the Post Office & buy a pane.

Guardian: "Allegations that a 17-year-old was forced to have sex with Britain’s Prince Andrew, which prompted a crisis at Buckingham Palace earlier this year, have been removed from a federal court case by a judge in the US. Judge Kenneth Marra ordered Virginia Roberts’s accusations about Andrew, the Duke of York, to be struck from the record and denied her attempt to join a lawsuit against Jeffrey Epstein, a friend of the prince and a convicted sex offender. 'At this juncture in the proceedings, these lurid details are unnecessary,' Marra wrote in his order, issued at the US district court in southern Florida on Tuesday morning.... Andrew and Buckingham Palace vehemently deny Roberts’s allegations."

Washington Monthly: "Today [April 7] marks the centennial of Billie Holliday’s birth."

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The Commentariat -- Feb. 25, 2013

At today's White House press briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is giving a great rundown of how House Republicans are making the U.S. less safe. "No amount of planning can mitigate the effects of sequestration." ...

... David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned Monday that her agency would be forced to furlough 5,000 border control agents under mandatory spending cuts, likely allowing more illegal immigrants into the country and potentially compromising national security. Napolitano said ... the sequester, would disrupt the Department of Homeland Security's ability to conduct customs inspections at ports, leading to increased waiting times for travelers and cargo shipments. Disaster relief funding would be reduced by $1 billion, she added...."

Jonathan Weisman & Ashley Parker of the New York Times: "With Congress unlikely to stop deep automatic spending cuts that will strike hard at the military, the fiscal stalemate is highlighting a significant shift in the Republican Party: lawmakers most keenly dedicated to shrinking the size of government are now more dominant than the bloc committed foremost to a robust national defense, particularly in the House. That reality also underscores what Republicans, and some Democrats, say was a major miscalculation on the part of President Obama. He agreed to set up the automatic cuts 18 months ago because he believed the threat of sharp reductions in military spending would be enough to force Republicans to agree to a deficit reduction plan that included the tax increases he favored." ...

... Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog: "As I see it, the [GOP's] intraparty dispute is between a crop of old-school posturers who think it's effective to demand lots of military spending all the time, in order to draw a contrast with evil peacenik Democrats ... and a new crop, who are focusing on cutting government spending (including military spending) right now, but who are also likely to attack Democrats as anti-military later, if and when these cuts take effect."

... Zachary Goldfarb & Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "The White House on Sunday detailed how the deep spending cuts set to begin this week would affect programs in every state and the District, as President Obama launched a last-ditch effort to pressure congressional Republicans to compromise on a way to stop the across-the-board cuts. But while Republicans and Democrats were set to introduce dueling legislative proposals this week to avert the Friday start of the spending cuts, known as the sequester, neither side expected the measures to get enough support to pass Congress. Lawmakers instead were planning for a lengthy round of political jostling ahead of another budget showdown in late March that could determine whether the $85 billion in cuts to domestic and defense spending this fiscal year stick."

How Do You Say "I Told You So" in Italian? Paul Krugman: "... even if the nightmare of a Berlusconi return to power fails to materialize, a strong showing by [the comical Silvio] Berlusconi, [actual comedian Beppe] Grillo, or both would destabilize not just Italy but Europe as a whole. But remember, Italy isn't unique: disreputable politicians are on the rise all across Southern Europe. And the reason this is happening is that respectable Europeans won't admit that the policies they have imposed on debtors are a disastrous failure. If that doesn't change, the Italian election will be just a foretaste of the dangerous radicalization to come."

George Stephanopoulos of ABC News: "House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said it was 'beyond a shadow of a doubt' that the Chinese government and military is behind growing cyber attacks against the United States, saying 'we are losing' the war to prevent the attacks."

Jindal Thinks Discrimination Against Gays Is Still a Winner for the Party. Igor Volsky of Think Progress: "Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) -- a possible Republican candidate for president in 2016 -- rejected former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's argument that conservatives must embrace marriage equality for gays and lesbians if they want to survive as a party and reiterated his support for 'traditional marriage.'" CW: Apparently discrimination against women, minorities & non-Christians are winners, too. I wonder if Jindal is aware that some people would think he belonged to a racial minority. ...

... Igor Volsky: Jindal also "is suggesting that President Obama delay health care services to millions of middle and lower-income Americans to offset the automatic across-the-board budget cuts that will go into effect on March 1 if Congress does not reach a spending deal." ...

Annie-Rose Strasser of Think Progress: "Jindal (R) ... on Sunday became the latest Republican to come out in favor of universal background checks on all gun sales." ...

... Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs: Jindal "might as well have ended his spiel with 'nudge nudge, wink wink,' because he's not fooling anyone."

... "Here's what [Alex Pareene] learned this morning on 'the Sunday shows,' the three network news panel programs that define the parameters of the national debate for elite Washington: No one wants the sequester to happen, if the sequester happens it will be because Barack Obama failed to show leadership, what we need is a 'balanced approach' to deficit reduction, the sequester should happen but in a smarter way, video games may not cause violence but they are gross, and 'Zero Dark Thirty' is the best film of the year in part because John McCain disliked it."

Ezra Klein: "I don’t agree with my colleague Bob Woodward, who says the Obama administration is 'moving the goalposts' when they insist on a sequester replacement that includes revenues. I remember talking to both members of the Obama administration and the Republican leadership in 2011, and everyone was perfectly clear that Democrats were going to pursue tax increases in any sequester replacement, and Republicans were going to oppose tax increases in any sequester replacement. ... It's worth remembering that the goalposts in American politics aren't set in backroom deals between politicians. They're set in elections. And in the 2012 election, the American people were very clear on where they wanted the goalposts moved to." ...

... Dave Weigel of Slate: Woodward's op-ed disagrees with Woodward's book. ...

... Kevin Drum: "I'm perplexed by Woodward these days. He really seems to have some kind of weird jones against the Obama White House." CW: maybe Woodward has a Boehner boner. I mean, who wouldn't? ...

... CW: Charles Pierce agrees with contributor Kate M., as do I: "Having done its Watergate thing, the Post slipped comfortably back into its place in the respectable D.C. power structure. Woodward went with it, producing periodically weighty doorstops filled with establishment stenography. He's no more a liberal than he is a member of Motley Crue. He's a courtier to all the right people, the scribe to powerful." CW: my recollection is that Woodward self-IDed as a Republican way back in Watergate days, but I might be wrong.

Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker has an extra-long piece about Eric Cantor. CW: I haven't read it, probably won't do more than skim it, but Lizza is a very good political writer. Right at the top I learned Cantor's wife Diana is a liberal Democrat. How can she abide him?

Jane Mayer of the New Yorker: Sen. Ted Cruz (RTP-Texas) defends his claim that Harvard Law was overrun by commie professors when he was a student there. ...

... There Will Be No Reboot. Steve Kornacki of Salon: "Cruz has treated all of the negative attention as noise generated by Democrats, the liberal media and impure Republicans who are uncomfortable with a conservative true-believer rocking the boat in Washington.... The thorough beating [Republicans] took at the polls last fall perhaps should have prompted rethinking on the right. But conservatives' appetite for Cruz shows that the GOP base’s animating spirit still hasn't changed: Loud, aggressive and reflexive hostility to President Obama, the Democratic Party and any Republican who would dare contemplate compromise is still how 'conservatism' is defined."

ABC News: "Two lawmakers are waging a little-noticed campaign to abolish the Selective Service System, the independent federal agency that manages draft registration. They say the millions of dollars the agency spends each year preparing for the possibility of a military draft is a waste of money. Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., say the Pentagon has no interest in returning to conscription due to the success of the all-volunteer force."

Sexcapades of the Red Beanie Boys, Ctd. Severin Carrell & Sam Jones of the Guardian: "Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the UK's most senior Roman Catholic cleric, has resigned with immediate effect after being accused of 'inappropriate acts' towards fellow priests. News that Pope Benedict had accepted the cardinal's resignation as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh came after the Observer disclosed a series of allegations by three priests and one former priest. O'Brien has denied the allegations and had been expected to continue in his post as head of the Scottish Catholic church until mid-March, when he was due to retire at age 75.... His unexpectedly early resignation means the cardinal will not now take part in the election for a successor to Pope Benedict." ...

... Catherine Deveney of the Guardian's "Observer" has the backstory. This part is the kicker: "O'Brien ... has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights, condemning homosexuality as immoral, opposing gay adoption, and most recently arguing that same-sex marriages would be 'harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved'. Last year he was named 'bigot of the year' by the gay rights charity Stonewall."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Italian voters delivered a rousing anti-austerity message and a strong rebuke to the existing political order in national elections on Monday, plunging the country into political paralysis after results failed to produce a clear winner."

ABC News: "The National Rifle Association is using a Justice Department memo it obtained to argue in ads that the Obama administration believes its gun control plans won't work unless the government seizes firearms and requires national gun registration -- ideas the White House has not proposed and does not support. CW : how to write a lead when one party is lying. The writer is not named. S/he should be instructing the rest of the MSM on how to tell the truth.

AP: "Nearly three years after a deadly rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico triggered the nation's worst offshore oil spill, a federal judge in New Orleans is set to preside over a high-stakes trial for the raft of litigation spawned by the disaster."

Swedish Horseballs. AP: "Swedish furniture giant Ikea was drawn into Europe's widening food labeling scandal Monday as authorities said they had detected horse meat in frozen meatballs labeled as beef and pork and sold in 13 countries."


The Commentariat -- Feb. 24, 2013

New York Times Editors: "... a focus on mass murder, while critical, does not get at the broader issue of gun violence, including the hundreds of single-victim murders, suicides, nonfatal shootings and other gun crimes.... Focusing on the mentally ill, most of whom are not violent, overlooks people who are at demonstrably increased risk of committing violent crimes but are not barred by federal law from buying and having guns. These would include people who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors including assaults, and those who are alcohol abusers. Unless guns are also kept from these high-risk people, preventable gun violence will continue."

Mark Felsenthal of Reuters: "The White House has moved to make the results of federally funded research available to the public for free within a year, bowing to public pressure for unfettered access to scholarly articles and other materials produced at taxpayers' expense. 'Americans should have easy access to the results of research they help support,' John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote on the White House website.... The White House move ... came some six weeks after the suicide of Internet openness activist Aaron Swartz, who was renowned for making a trove of information freely available to the public." Here's Holdren's response to a We the People petition. Here's a pdf of his memo on the subject to department & agency heads.

On a week when the White House called out David Brooks for making up stuff, Margaret Sullivan -- the Times' public editor -- writes on how much editing the Times' "star columnists" get. Let me just say that Sullivan was about as informative as Brooks, whose major boo-boo she didn't even hint at. What a bore! ...

... On the other hand, Paul Krugman writes today, apropos of absolutely nothing,

Suppose that some pundit who has spent his whole career calling for bipartisanship, a compromise between the extremes of left and right, were to admit the plain fact that Obama is very much a centrist, who is in particular proposing deficit reduction through exactly the kind of mix of tax hikes and spending cuts 'centrist' pundits demand -- and that the GOP, by contrast, is an extremist organization whose extremism is almost solely responsible for the bitterness of the partisan divide. A pundit making that admission would in effect be saying that everything he has said and done for the past several years was not just useless but harmful, actively misleading readers about the state of the debate. He just can't do it. ...

    ... Whoevah could he mean, Tom Friedman, David Brooks?

"Our Kind of Guy." Wherein Krugman Compares Alan Simpson to Bernie Madoff: "Simpson is, demonstrably, grossly ignorant on precisely the subjects on which he is treated as a guru, not understanding the finances of Social Security, the truth about life expectancy, and much more. He is also a reliably terrible forecaster, having predicted an imminent fiscal crisis -- within two years -- um, two years ago. Yet he remains not only respectable among the Beltway crowd; as Ezra says, he's lionized in a way that looks from the outside like a clear violation of journalistic norms.... And think about what it says about them that their kind of guy is this cantankerous, potty-mouthed individual, who evidently feels not a bit of empathy for those less fortunate."

Steve Peoples & Ken Thomas of the AP: "Governors from both parties are warning of the damaging economic impact if the White House and Congress fail to reach a deal to stave off across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect Friday."

One thing I didn't notice in reading Bob Woodward's "It's Obama's Fault" column -- linked yesterday -- is that Woodward also claims that "when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts." As Brian Beutler says more nicely, Woodward is an ignoramus: "Obama and Democrats have always insisted that a balanced mix of spending cuts and higher taxes replace sequestration. It's true that John Boehner wouldn't agree to include new taxes in the enforcement mechanism itself, and thus that the enforcement mechanism he and Obama settled upon -- sequestration -- is composed exclusively of spending cuts." Get that? The sequester, as written, in Boehner's baby. And, to reiterate, the only reason there ever was a sequester in the first place was that Boehner couldn't herd his cats -- the ones who were threatening to default on the nation's debt & cause worldwide chaos. ...

... Joe Wiesenthal, a Republican like Woodward, of Business Insider, calls Woodward's column "nonsense on stilts." BTW, he says, "the sequester was a great idea compared to a 2011 default." ...

... Update: Jackie Calmes of the New York Times has a fairly balanced report on the finger-pointing.

Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog has a summary of the government's brief in the DOMA case -- U.S. v. Windsor. If the Court buys the government's argument -- ha ha -- "some observers" say "not one of the state denials of marriage to same-sex couples can survive constitutionally. Such denials have come in thirty-nine states." ...

... Joan Biskupic of Reuters on the voting rights challenge before the Supreme Court. Conservatives on the Court are likely to gut the Voting Rights Act. CW: all this would be moot if U.S. citizens had a Constitutional right to vote. We don't. ...

... Ian Millhiser of Think Progress: "Gov. Tom Corbett (R-PA) was one of the earliest supporters of rigging the Electoral College.... Republican state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi was one of the leading supporters of election-rigging the and late this week, he -- along with a dozen other co-sponsors -- introduced a new plan to rig the Electoral College votes in ... Pennsylvania" making it effectively impossible for a Democratic presidential candidate to win the state, even though Pennsylvania has voted for the Democrat in every election since 1992.

Aviva Shen of Think Progress: "Though the Senate passed another bipartisan VAWA [Violence Against Women Act] reauthorization over a week ago, House Republicans may derail passage once again. On Friday, House GOP leaders released their own VAWA bill, stripping protections for LGBT individuals and adding a loophole for Native American victims." CW: Read the update. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is exactly right. And I would add, House Republicans are cruel SOBs.

** Tabassum Zakaria of the AP: "Former American diplomat Thomas Pickering said what struck him most during a review of last year's attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, were the frequent personnel changes, second-guessing on security upgrades, and dismissive attitude toward dozens of security incidents."

It takes Maureen Dowd a long time to get to it, but at the end of her description of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg's "cause," Dowd writes, "Sandberg may mean well, and she may be setting up a run for national office. But she doesn't understand the difference between a social movement and a social network marketing campaign. Just because digital technology makes connecting possible doesn't mean you're actually reaching people.... Sandberg has co-opted the vocabulary and romance of a social movement not to sell a cause, but herself. She says she's using marketing for the purpose of social idealism. But she's actually using social idealism for the purpose of marketing."

Best First Lady Ever!

Ali Soufan in a New York Times op-ed: "I watched 'Zero Dark Thirty' not as a former F.B.I. special agent who spent a decade chasing, interrogating and prosecuting top members of Al Qaeda but as someone who enjoys Hollywood movies. As a movie, I enjoyed it. As history, it's bunk.... The creators of 'Zero Dark Thirty' attempted to document the greatest global manhunt of our generation. But they did so without acknowledging that their 'history' was based on dubious sources. The filmmakers took the 'firsthand accounts' of a few current and former officials with an agenda and amplified their message worldwide -- suggesting to Americans in cinemas around the country, and regimes overseas, that torture is effective and helped lead to Bin Laden." CW: if you wonder why I didn't put Soufan's essay in Infotainment, read it.

Here's the Time article on medical bills by Steven Brill which contributor Calyban recommends. None of it is news to anyone who has ever read her/his hospital and doctor bills, but far down the story Brill does make a good case for lowering, not raising, the Medicare eligibility age. Contributor Janice's pithy observation on this topic is exactly right.

Local News

Okay, So Lex Luthor, True to Form. National Memo: Rick "'Scott's hospital company, Columbia/HCA, pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid a total of $1.7 billion in fines related to Medicare fraud,' according to PolitiFact. 'Even though Scott had resigned by the time the case settled, prosecutors said the widespread fraud occurred while he was at the helm.'This history would make many reluctant to let Scott anywhere near taxpayer money. However..., Florida will be allowed to privatize its Medicaid program that currently covers about three million residents. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agreed to this even though Scott and Florida's GOP had already been experimenting with Medicaid privatization to disastrous results. Nearly half of the 200,000 residents signed up to the program had been dropped by the private provider because they didn't offer a big enough profit margin." Thanks to Barbarossa for the link.

Ian Millhiser: "A bill introduced by Montana state Rep. Steve Lavin would give corporations the right to vote in municipal elections.... This bill was tabled shortly after it came before a legislative committee, so it is unlikely to become law.... According to the Center for Media and Democracy, Lavin was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) now defunct Public Safety and Elections Task Force. Last year, pressure from progressive groups forced ALEC to disband this task force, which, among other things, pushed voter suppression laws." CW: wonder if Lavin's bill included a special carve-out to suppress the vote of minority-own corporations. Thanks to James S. for the link.

News Ledes

AP: "Raul Castro announced Sunday that he will step down as Cuba's president in 2018 following a final five-year term, for the first time putting a date on the end of the Castro era. He tapped rising star Miguel Diaz-Canel as his top lieutenant and first in the line of succession." CW: or they could have an election?

New York Times: "The Afghan government on Sunday banned elite American forces from operating in a strategic province adjoining Kabul, citing complaints that Afghans working for American Special Forces have killed and tortured villagers in the area."

AP: "At least 33 fans were injured Saturday during a NASCAR race when a car flew into the fence at Daytona International Speedway, hurling a tire and large pieces of debris into the stands."

AP: "Police are seeking a 26-year-old man as the prime suspect in last week's pre-dawn shooting and crash on the Las Vegas Strip that killed three people and injured several others The black SUV used as a getaway car was found Saturday as police named Ammar Harris in connection with the shooting and six-vehicle chain-reaction carnage Thursday on the neon-lit boulevard near the Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Bally's and Flamingo resorts." Story includes a mugshot of Harris.

Reuters: "The United States condemned a Syrian army Scud missile attack that killed dozens of people on Friday in the city of Aleppo, and invited the Syrian opposition for talks on finding a negotiated settlement to the conflict."

Reuters: "Italians voted on Sunday in one of the most closely watched and unpredictable elections in years, with pent-up fury over a discredited elite adding to concern it may not produce a government strong enough to lead Italy out of an economic slump."

Reuters: "Cypriots voted on Sunday in a runoff to elect a president who must clinch a bailout deal before the island nation plunges into a financial meltdown that would revive the euro zone debt crisis."

Reuters: "Pope Benedict, speaking in his last Sunday address before becoming the first pope in some six centuries to step down, said he was following God's wishes and that he was not abandoning the Roman Catholic Church." ...

... Butt Out, Mahony. Reuters: "Roman Catholic activists on Saturday petitioned a U.S. cardinal to recuse himself from taking part in selecting a new pope so as not to insult survivors of sexual abuse by priests committed while he was archbishop of Los Angeles. The activists delivered a petition with nearly 10,000 signatures to the North Hollywood church where Cardinal Roger Mahony resides."

AP: Carl Pistorius, "the brother of Olympic star Oscar Pistorius, is facing a culpable homicide charge for a 2008 road death, compounding problems for the family after the double-amputee runner was charged with premeditated murder in the Feb. 14 shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp."


The Commentariat -- Feb. 23, 2013

The President's Weekly Address:

     ... Here's the transcript.

Since everyone, including the White House, was dissing David Brooks today, I thought I might as well pile on. My New York Times eXaminer column is here. ...

... MEANWHILE, Ed Kilgore takes on Peggy Noonan, which he admits is as easy as "shooting magic dolphins in a barrel." His whole post is funny. Here's the heart of it:

Allow yourself a few minutes of chuckling over the spectacle of Peggy Noonan wandering around a Walmart -- something she apparently does every few years to get in touch with the peasantry -- and focus on what she's saying here. Fiscal uncertainty has made the scene at Walmart 'tired' and 'frayed.'

Now there's a much less ethereal explanation for Walmart's troubles: the payroll tax increase that Republicans accepted without a peep on January 1 took a bite out of purchasing power, aside from the fact that Walmart shoppers tend to be folk struggling to get along. The overall phenomenon is called 'sluggish consumer demand,' which means low-to-moderate income families don't have enough money. That's a slightly more tangible and immediate problem than any emotional or spiritual crisis Walmart customers might experience from reflections on the failure of Barack Obama to reach out to Republicans for long-term federal spending cuts, which is what Noonan talks about in the remainder of her column.

Dorothy Wickenden of the New Yorker speaks with George Packer & James Surowiecki about income inequality, wage stagnation & the sequester:

Jonathan Weisman & Michael Shear of the New York Times: "Mr. Obama privately told Democratic governors that his public campaign against Republicans was not producing results.... In a session at the White House complex, the president and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. tried to enlist the Democratic governors to reach out to their Republican counterparts at a National Governors Association meeting this weekend to push Congressional leaders to the table.... On Friday, Republicans remained adamant that they would accept no tax increases to head off the cuts." ...

... Michael Cooper of the New York Times: "States are increasingly alarmed that they could become collateral damage in Washington's latest fiscal battle, fearing that the impasse could saddle them with across-the-board spending cuts that threaten to slow their fragile recoveries or thrust them back into recession." CW: here's a place where "uncertainty" actually is a factor; there's a certain irony, of course, that some of the states that will be hardest hit by the sequester cuts are those that vote Tea Party & hate President Socialist. ...

... Keith Laing of The Hill: "Airline passengers will face major delays if Congress allows across-the-board cuts to the budgets of agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned Friday. LaHood, speaking to reporters at Friday's White House press briefing, predicted chaos at the nation's busiest airports because thousands of FAA employees -- including air traffic controllers -- will be furloughed to save money. 'This is very painful for us because it involves our employees, but it's going to be very painful for the flying public,' LaHood said." ...

... Matthew Wald of the New York Times: "Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has told Congress that most of the Federal Aviation Administration's 47,000 employees would face a day of furlough per two-week pay period, meaning on average about 10 percent fewer workers on any given day.... To handle such a major staff shortage but still maintain safety, federal aviation officials said they would accept fewer airplanes into the system.... As a result, passengers may sit on tarmacs and endure delays as they wait for planes to push back from the gate.As a result, passengers may sit on tarmacs and endure delays as they wait for planes to push back from the gate." ...

... Stan Collender of Capital Gains & Games: "The Obama White House ... clearly is not reluctant in the slightest about making it clear that flights will be canceled or seriously delayed ... or both if the sequester happens.... This is why I keep saying that the politics of the sequester will change almost immediately after it starts. Slowdowns at U.S... airports, national parks closed one day a week, slower-than-usual tax refunds -- all of which are likely to happen starting on March 1 -- almost change how voters view the situation and the pressure on members of Congress to deal with it."

... Tracie Cone of the AP: "As America's financial clock ticks toward forced spending cuts to countless government agencies, The Associated Press has obtained a National Park Service memo that compiles a list of potential effects at the nation's most beautiful and historic places just as spring vacation season begins.... In Yosemite National Park in California, for example, park administrators fear that less frequent trash pickup would potentially attract bears into campgrounds." ...

... Gail Collins explains the sequester to dummies. Actually, her dummy sounds pretty smart. It's the answers that are dumb, dumb because the Congressional decisions she is describing are dumb. ...

... Wherein Bob Woodward Tries to Cover His Ass by Covering up an Inconvenient Fact. In today's Washington Post, Woodward writes a longish piece "proving" that the sequester was Obama's idea. Key points:

My extensive reporting for my book 'The Price of Politics' shows that the automatic spending cuts were initiated by the White House and were the brainchild of [Jack] Lew and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors.... Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011.... Key Republican staffers said they didn't even initially know what a sequester was....

     ... Well, maybe you're right, Bob. But then how is it that just 4 days later -- July 31 -- Boehner distributed a PowerPoint presentation, developed with the Republican Policy Committee, in which "it's clear as day in the presentation that 'sequestration' was considered a cudgel to guarantee a reduction in federal spending"? According to Lew's account, the sequestration idea was based on a 1984 Graham-Rudman plan, but Boehner's Power Point presentation says sequestration is the "same mechanism used in 1997 Balanced Budget Agreement." Moreover, Lew says he wasn't "pushing" it. It seems that both Boehner's & Obama's teams were trying to come up with a way to kick the can down the road -- on account of Boehner's inability to get his Tea Party members behind anything -- & they both hit on sequestration. Since the Tea Party caucus was Boehner's problem, Boehner "pushed" sequestration. (Boehner's office has since told Newsweek that his Power Point slide "was simply Boehner's attempt to explain the president's plan to the Republican caucus.") Woodward never mentions the Power Point presentation. Get over it, Bob.

Lawrence Hurley of Reuters: "The Obama administration outlined its argument on Friday why the U.S. Supreme Court should strike down a federal law that defines marriage as between a man and woman. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli filed a brief with the court saying that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, expanding on the administration's approach to the controversial 1996 law, which it has formally opposed since February 2011."

Friday Afternoon News Dump -- Drones R Us. Eric Schmitt & Mark Sayare of the New York Times: "Opening a new front in the drone wars against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, President Obama announced on Friday that about 100 American troops had been sent to Niger in West Africa to help set up a new base from which unarmed Predator aircraft would conduct surveillance in the region."

Tara Bernard of the New York Times: "... when it comes to paid parental leave, the United States is among the least generous in the world, ranking down with the handful of countries that don't offer any paid leave at all, among them Liberia, Suriname and Papua New Guinea. The American situation hasn't materially improved since the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law 20 years ago this month by President Clinton.... While the United States takes great pride in its family values, it is the only high-income country that does not offer a paid leave program.... The National Partnership for Women and Families..., together with the Center for American Progress, has been working with lawmakers to draft legislation that would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the arrival of a new child or for a parent's serious illness or that of a family member. The costs would be split between workers and their employers...."

"I Have Here in My Pocket...." Jane Mayer of the New Yorker: "Two and a half years ago, [Ted] Cruz gave a stem-winder of a speech at a Fourth of July weekend political rally in Austin, Texas, in which he accused the Harvard Law School of harboring a dozen Communists on its faculty when he studied there.... Cruz made the accusation ... at a conference ... sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit political organization founded and funded in part by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. Cruz ... soon launched an impassioned attack on President Obama, whom he described as 'the most radical' President 'ever to occupy the Oval Office.' Charles Fried, who taught Cruz at Harvard Law & "who served as Ronald Reagan's Solicitor General from 1985 to 1989," disputes all of Cruz's claims about the school." ...

... Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches: "Cruz's communist conspiracy theories pre-date his Tea Party associations; in 2009..., Cruz made the same accusation about Obama and Harvard" to Christian conservative professor & publisher Marvin Olansky. "In the WORLD interview, Cruz took care to point out that he 'was raised a Christian and came to Christ at Clay Road Baptist Church in Houston.'"

John Hooper of the Guardian: "A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom -- the report said -- were being blackmailed by outsiders. The pope's spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica." CW: Thanks to contributor Patrick Barbarossa for the link. (Oops Update: thanks to Patrick for "being there.") La Repubblica is probably the major Italian daily. I'm not saying La Repubblica is right, but I am saying it is not a sensationalist newspaper. In any event, it looks as if maybe Pope Noble the Resigner is not so Noble. ...

... Barbie Latza Nadeau of Newsweek : "The existence of a gay-priest network outside the fortified walls of Vatican City is hardly news, and many are wondering if it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of sex scandals." Sounds like something Ted Cruz would say. ...

... Nicole Winfield of the AP: "The Vatican lashed out Saturday at the media for what it said has been a run of defamatory and false reports before the conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI's successor, saying they were an attempt to influence the election. Italian newspapers have been rife with unsourced reports in recent days about the contents of a secret dossier prepared for the pope by three cardinals who investigated the origins of the 2012 scandal over leaked Vatican documents. The reports have suggested the revelations in the dossier, given to Benedict in December, were a factor in his decision to resign. The pope himself has said merely that he doesn't have the 'strength of mind and body' to carry on."

News Ledes

Reuters: "New England braced for its third snowstorm in three weekends on Saturday, putting crews to work sanding roads and trimming trees ahead of the snow, sleet and freezing rain moving in from the Midwest. The storm blanketed states from Minnesota to Ohio earlier this week, dumping more than a foot of snow in Kansas on Thursday, forcing airports to cancel hundreds of flights and leaving motorists stranded on highways." ...

... BUT meteorologist David Epstein writes in the Boston Globe: "The bottom line is that the big storm isn't going to happen. What we will have is a period of rain and snow that could accumulate up to a few inches, especially across the Worcester hills between tonight and Sunday night."

Reuters: "Days before resuming talks over its disputed atomic program, Iran said on Saturday it had found significant new deposits of raw uranium and identified sites for 16 more nuclear power stations. State news agency IRNA quoted a report by the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) which said the reserves were discovered in northern and southern coastal areas and had trebled the amount outlined in previous estimates."

AP: Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, "a key opposition leader, called Saturday for a boycott of [Egypt's] upcoming parliamentary elections, saying he will not take part in a 'sham democracy.' President Mohammed Morsi's Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood, shot back that the opposition was running away from the challenge and wants power without contesting elections."


Spams a Lot, Etc.

I don't know what's going on with Reality Chex hosting. I complained to my host this morning about the fact that commenters are getting spammed all the time; more than a third of the comments today went to the spam file. So maybe the host is working on it -- which so far means readers are apparently getting scary messages like "This site will destroy your computer, or something." I just notifed my host about this, so we'll see what happens next. ...

... UPDATE. ONE PROBLEM SOLVED (I think). Two readers wrote to me yesterday indicating they had got a message something like the one below -- I think that is probably the one they got. My guess, based on what my host wrote, is that they tried to open Reality Chex in hypertext-secure = https, instead of in plain ole http. So if you get a message like the one below in opening this or any other site, check your URL:

In Internet Explorer, the message would look like this:

AND in Google Chrome, like this:

Those are the only browsers I have loaded; I would assume if you're using another browser, it would produce a similar message. I suspect you might get a similar message if you had your security set at the highest level, either internally or in a virus protection add-on program.

The spam problem continues. I've suggested to my host that I at least get a notification when the spam filter snags a comment, so I'll see if they'll do that.

In the meantime, if you submit a comment that doesn't go up immediately, you can e-mail me at this link & write "spammed" either in the title or text. If I'm around I'll de-spamify the comment right away. I'm checking the spam file much more often now that it's such a problem, but still.

Sorry for the glitches.