The Ledes

Tuesday, March 31, 2015.

The Unfortunate Death of a Fool. Washington Post: "What had first appeared to be an attempt to breach security at the [NSA] ... now appears to be a wrong turn by two men who police believe had robbed their companion of his vehicle and perhaps didn’t stop because there were drugs inside. A spokeswoman for the Baltimore office of the FBI, Amy J. Thoreson, said early in the investigation that authorities 'do not believe [the incident] is related to terrorism.' A law enforcement official said: 'This was not a deliberate attempt to breach the security of NSA. This was not a planned attack.'”

The Wires

The Ledes

Monday, March 30, 2015.

New York Times: "On Monday, the [U.S.] government charged that in the shadows of an undercover investigation of Silk Road, a notorious black-market site, two federal agents sought to enrich themselves by exploiting the very secrecy that made the site so difficult for law enforcement officials to penetrate. The agents, Carl Mark Force IV, who worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Shaun W. Bridges, who worked for the Secret Service, had resigned amid growing scrutiny, and on Monday they were charged with money laundering and wire fraud. Mr. Force was also charged with theft of government property and conflict of interest."

Guardian: "The personal details of world leaders at the last G20 summit were accidentally disclosed by the Australian immigration department, which did not consider it necessary to inform those world leaders of the privacy breach.... An employee of the agency inadvertently sent the passport numbers, visa details and other personal identifiers of all world leaders attending the summit to the organisers of the Asian Cup football tournament."

Washington Post: "One person was killed and another was injured Monday morning when police with the National Security Agency opened fire on a vehicle whose driver refused commands to stop at a security gate, according to a statement from the agency. The vehicle slammed into a police cruiser after shots were fired." ...

... ABC News: "Sources say the two inside [the vehicle] were men dressed as women. Preliminary information indicated the two men were partying at an area hotel with a third individual when they took that individual's car without permission. However, it's still unclear how or why they ended up at the NSA gate."

New York Times: "Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister who was forced from office under a cloud of corruption, was convicted on Monday of fraud and breach of trust in a retrial of a case involving an American businessman, whose sensational testimony in a Jerusalem court in 2008 was instrumental in Mr. Olmert’s downfall. The American businessman, Morris Talansky, said at the time that he had provided Mr. Olmert with about $150,000 over 13 years, mostly in cash stuffed into envelopes, an assertion Mr. Olmert vehemently denied. Mr. Talansky, known as Moshe, had said that much of the money was earmarked for election campaigns but that some was for Mr. Olmert’s personal expenses."

Public Service Announcement

Reuters: "Scientists believe they may have found a new weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease – not in the form of a drug but in focused beams of ultrasound. While the approach has only been tested in mice, researchers said on Wednesday it proved surprisingly good at clearing tangles of plaques linked to Alzheimer’s in the animals’ brains and improving their memory, as measured by tests such as navigating a maze."

White House Live Video
March 31

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

Go to


Andrew Sullivan says he quit his blog because blogging is difficult, time-consuming & dehumanizing. CW a/k/a the Blog Nazi: No kidding.

David Graham of the Atlantic: "Trevor Noah's ascent on The Daily Show has been steep — hired on as senior international correspondent four months ago, he'll take over the anchor's desk from Jon Stewart after just three appearances on the show, Comedy Central announced Monday."

If you thought a meerkat was something like a mongoose ... Global News: "Meet Meerkat, the live streaming video service that allows users to host a live broadcast from their smartphones. If you haven’t heard of this new app don’t feel too bad – it’s only been around for about two weeks. But that hasn’t stopped it from garnering an estimated 300,000 active users, US$12 million in funding and even a few controversies."

In Case You Were Wondering... Megan Garber of the Atlantic examines multiple theories on why "men’s dress shirts have their buttons on the right, while women’s have them on the left (to the wearer)."

Oliver Knox of Yahoo! News: "Inside the elaborate, surprisingly unglamorous world of presidential hotel stays." Or Why President Trump Would Resign Shortly after His Inauguration.

New York Times: "After three days of viewing by thousands who lined up for hours to file past the bier in Leicester’s Anglican cathedral, Richard’s skeletal remains, in a coffin of golden English oak with an incised Yorkist rose and an inscription giving the sparest details of his life — 'Richard III, 1452-1485' — were removed overnight from beneath a black cloth pall stitched with colorful images from his tumultuous times. With the solemn ceremony laid down for monarchs through the ages, the coffin was borne to a marble tomb adjacent to the cathedral’s altar by a party of 10 British Army pallbearers...." ...

... The Guardian has a full page of stories about Richard III.

Twenty percent more people trust Bill O'Reilly now than trusted O'Reilly before the press reported he was a serial liar:

East Wing Mystery. Washington Post: "There’s still no official comment on why [White House head florist Laura] Dowling is no longer at the White House, but according to a source with close ties to current residence staffers, she was escorted from the building on Friday Feb. 13." ...

     ... UPDATE. Thoroughly Modern Michelle. "Dowling ... left because her 'fussy style' was not in line with the first lady’s emerging modern and clean aesthetics, several sources said.... Recently the first lady has debuted a different aesthetic at the executive mansion. Last month, the White House revealed the newly refurbished and now decidedly modern Old Family dining room.... Mrs. Obama unveiled her 'thoroughly modernized' mark on the White House, featuring a custom-made 1950s-inspired rug and bold artwork, to surprised tourists on Feb. 10. Dowling is said to have been escorted from the White House three days later." ...

Reuters: "Whether it's the earnest Josiah Bartlet from 'The West Wing' or the manipulative Frank Underwood in 'House of Cards,' Americans prefer television presidents to their real-life POTUS, President Barack 'No Drama' Obama.'"

Washington Post: Scientists believe they've found the world's largest asteroid impact zone in Australia.

Washington Post: "King Richard III may have been buried quickly and without pomp the first time, but 530 years later, England is reveling in a final farewell to its long-lost monarch. On a sun-kissed Sunday afternoon on the battlefield where Richard III fell in 1485 — he was the last English king to die in battle — throngs of well-wishers, some dressed in medieval costume and blowing trumpets, gathered to honor England’s last Plantagenet king."

Out of the Parking Lot & into the Cathedral. Guardian: England is preparing to (re)inter a king today (Sunday, March 22). "... the coffin will be transferred to a horse-drawn hearse, to lead the way to a service of compline, with a sermon from a Roman Catholic archbishop, Vincent Nicholls. It will then lie in the cathedral, guarded night and day, until the reburial service on Thursday."

Politico: "The Federal Aviation Administration announced that it has granted Amazon Logistics, a subsidiary of the Internet retail giant, approval for a drone design that the company plans to use for research, development and training."

David Rackoff: "Things people say that irritate Republicans." Click thru. CW: I'll have to try to remember these. So I can say them. To Republicans. I hope I drive them all Rumpelstiltskin. Then I will ask the Flying Spaghetti Monster to forgive me for being so mean.

Prince Charles & the Duchess of Cornwall are in Washington, D.C., & environs.

President Obama hosts a St. Patrick's Day reception:

... CW: Somebody explain to me why apparently-intelligent people don't actually participate in events they attend but instead spend their time taking crappy cellphone videos, even when they know said events will be recorded by professionals & posted online. I get why a person would want to record some side-conversation with, say, the President, but the main event? It baffles me.

Patrick LaForge of the New York Times: "Welcome to a parallel universe. It is a world of tired news language where the verb 'stir' is bound to be followed by 'debate,' where those debates are always 'heated' or 'bitter.' In this world, anything newsworthy is automatically 'controversial,' and a 'hike' involves taxes, not a trail up a mountain. It is often a 'hardscrabble' place, sometimes 'densely wooded,' sometimes graced with 'manicured' lawns and 'leafy' streets. 'Landmark' agreements are 'hammered out' there, while adversaries are 'lambasted' and 'assailed.'” Meet journalese: a strained and artificial voice more common to news reports than to natural conversation." LaForge cites numerous examples of NYT reporters' use of these cliches.

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The Constant Weader Takes a Break

... To Do Some Serious Seasonal Research ...

In Her Annual Survey of

The Worst Christmas Songs Ever

She Keeps Finding Worse Ones

Nice outfits, Twisted Sister, but a little less percussion would have been more evocative of the carols we children used to sing in school back in the day schools had Christmas pageants:

This maudlin entry is Newsweek's nomination. The group is NewSong, a Christian "rock" group. One of the singers, Eddie Carswell, wrote the song all by hisself, based on a chain letter. Kevin Fallon of Newsweek has the story for anyone writing a paper on the history of shlock. I could not listen to the song all the way through:

BUT Patton Oswalt listened for me and explains the logic of the song's narrative. He includes this theological exegis: "I died for your sins, but those pumps are unforgivable":

... Sorry, John Denver, "Christmas Shoes" beat out your perennial favorite "Please, Daddy, Don't Get Drunk This Christmas."

Apparently Lady Gaga is an acquired taste. It's difficult to imagine a more salacious "Christmas carol":

Mariah Carey gives it the old college try, but doesn't come even close. The implied pedophilia is a nice touch, though:

Speaking of kids, in case you thought you were missing something by not knowing squat about boy groups -- this video should reassure you you're way better off. I keep forgetting how totally talentless these kids are. And they told us the lip-syncing Monkeys were bad:

Really, Madonna, how could you? (It's an awful song, but Eartha Kitt at least knew what to do with it):

Somehow I don't think Clarence Carter was really into the spirit of the season (out of an abundance of kindness, I'm not embedding Jon bon Jovi's version of "Back Door Santa":

Bob Dylan's "It Must Be Santa" is so bad I run it every year, & now I've come to enjoy it, albeit in a perverse way:

AND to make up for all that, the best bank commercial in history -- produced by the Banc Sabadell & performed in Plaça de Sant Roc in Sabadell, a town north of Barcelona. Thank you once again, Ludwig:

... Contributor James S. recommends ...

     ... That's Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters.


The Commentariat -- Dec. 24, 2012

NEW. Andy Borowitz forwards "A Holiday Letter from John Boehner."

The Deficit Cult. Paul Krugman equates deficit hawks with doomsday cult members: "... the prophets of fiscal disaster, no matter how respectable they may seem, are at this point effectively members of a doomsday cult. They are emotionally and professionally committed to the belief that fiscal crisis lurks just around the corner, and they will hold to their belief no matter how many corners we turn without encountering that crisis.... They've been hugely, absurdly wrong for years on end, and it's time to stop taking them seriously." ...

... Right on cue, Annie Lowrey of the New York Times profiles Maya MacGuineas, the "face of the Campaign to Fix the Debt." Lowrey reports, without so much as a "he said" for all the "she said"s, on MacGuineas & her "all-star cast" of debt & deficit hawks. Lowrey, who was a liberal writer just months ago, is married to Ezra Klein.

Economic Policy Institute: 250 Ph.D. economists & 50 Ph.D. social insurance experts write in a November 20, 2012 statement, "... we oppose proposals to reduce the Social Security COLA by tying it to a chained consumer price index that does not directly measure the actual expenditures of beneficiaries. Such a move would lower the COLA by an estimated 0.3 percentage points per year, translating into a 3 percent benefit cut after 10 years and a 6 percent cut after 20 years. The oldest beneficiaries, who are often the poorest beneficiaries, and persons receiving disability benefits for more than 20 years would see even larger cuts over time." (pdf) ...

... BUT, hey, everybody has to "compromise." Nancy Altman & Eric Kingston in the Huffington Post provide a "how-to" manual for politicians, etc., on the best ways to betray seniors & people with disabilities. The writes note that "Most [politicians], including President Obama and Speaker Boehner, have acknowledged that Social Security has not and cannot contribute a penny to the federal debt. Nearly all are on record as promising that they will never, ever cut the benefits of today's seniors and people with disabilities." CW: Altman & Kingston aren't so smart: I'm pretty sure they copied their "ideas" from actual politicians. Thanks to Jeanne B. for the link. A lump of coal, you faithless jerks.

E. J. Dionne: "... we know something important: The current Republican majority in the House cannot govern. Only a coalition across party lines can get the public's business done."

Amy Davidson of the New Yorker on why Republicans are attacking former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska), whom Obama may nominate for Secretary of Defense: "... what's becoming clearest in this fight isn't anything about Hagel, but the derangement of the Republican Party, to use what may soon be an obsolete term for a movement in a state of sour disorder."

NEW. Robert Parry in Consortium News on the Second Amendment, an attempt to preserve "domestic tranquility" while saving the cost of maintaining a standing army against insurrectionists.

... "Where Have You Been, Mr. President?" Philip Rucker & Sari Horwitz of the Washington Post: "It took the massacre of 20 children and six adults in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school this month to spur Obama to action. He vowed last week to push for immediate and concrete gun-safety proposals to prevent such carnage." ...

... David Gregory thinks of a few apt questions of ask the NRA's Wayne LaPierre, then actually follows up when LaPierre, unsurprisingly, says stupid stuff. CW: Bad news, Wayne. If you've lost Gregory, you've lost the country. ...

... Cory Booker on the "false debate" on gun control. The ads rotate on YouTube videos, but when I saw this particular video on the YouTube site, it was preceded by a 3-minute-plus ad of a guy showing you how to legally make your very own assault rifle (one that is illegal to purchase or sell) from parts you can buy -- legally again -- on the Intertoobz or elsewhere. He says of one component: "it's just a paperweight." (The same ad came up both times I clicked on the video -- if you run the video here, then click on the YouTube icon in the lower right-hand corner, you too may learn how to become a Ninja):

** Bill Keller: South Africa is way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to institutionalizing gay rights. In the U.S., the Supreme Court "apportions basic rights by putting its finger in the wind." So does the President: "As best I can tell, President Obama's position on same-sex marriage is that it should not be imposed on unwilling states." Eusabeius McKaiser, a gay South African writer asks, "What are the chances of Obama saying, 'Black people should be allowed to vote, ideally, but I'd let the states decide when they are ready.'"

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: Democrats and Republicans gathered in Honolulu "to pay tribute on Sunday to Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, a Democrat, who died last Monday at 88 after serving in the Senate for five decades." President & Mrs. Obama attended the ceremony; the President did not speak. ...

... Sen. Harry Reid delivers a moving tribute to Sen. Inouye:

Ann Telnaes of the Washington Post with a holiday greeting from the Obamas:

Taylor Berman of Gawker: "Crapo, [a Mormon,] has said in past interviews that he doesn't drink." (See today's Ledes.)

Presidential Race

Why Mitt Lost: He wanted to be president less than anyone I've met in my life. He had no desire to ... run.... If he could have found someone else to take his place . . . he would have been ecstatic to step aside. He is a very private person who loves his family deeply and wants to be with them, but he has deep faith in God and he loves his country, but he doesn't love the attention. -- Tagg Romney, claiming it was he & Ann Romney who convinced Mitt to run

Congressional Race

Hunk v. Hunk? Anjali Sareen of Mediate: in a Sunday show interview, actor Ben Affleck tells Bob Schieffer he hasn't closed the door on a Senate run for the Massachusetts seat John Kerry will almost surely vacate. This could pit him against current Sen. Scott Brown, who -- you might have heard -- lost his bid for re-election. CW: and they said Washington was Hollywood for ugly people. Ha!

News Ledes

AP: "Pope Benedict XVI marked Christmas Eve with Mass in St. Peter's Basilica and a pressing question: Will people find room in their hectic, technology-driven lives for children, the poor and God? The pontiff also prayed that Israelis and Palestinians live in peace and freedom, and asked the faithful to pray for strife-torn Syria as well as Lebanon and Iraq."

AP: "Thousands of Christians from the world over packed Manger Square in Bethlehem Monday to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the ancient West Bank town.... For their Palestinian hosts, this holiday season was an especially joyous one, with the hardships of the Israeli occupation that so often clouded previous Christmas Eve celebrations eased by the United Nations' recent recognition of an independent state of Palestine."

Reuters: "The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Monday to restart negotiations on a draft international treaty to regulate the $70 billion global trade in conventional arms, a pact the powerful U.S. National Rifle Association has been lobbying hard against. U.N. delegates and gun control activists have complained that talks collapsed in July largely because U.S. President Barack Obama feared attacks from Republican rival Mitt Romney before the November 6 election..., a charge U.S. officials have denied."

New York Times: "Jack Klugman, the rubber-mugged character actor who leapt to television stardom in the 1970s as the slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison on 'The Odd Couple' and as the crusading forensic pathologist of 'Quincy, M.E.,' died on Monday at his home in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles. He was 90."

New York Times: In Webster, New York, a town on Lake Ontario north of Rochester, a gunman shot a volley of bullets that hit four firefighters whom he had apparently called to the scene after setting fire to a car. Two firemen died in the ambush, and "an off-duty police officer from nearby Greece, N.Y., who was on his way to work, was wounded when he and his car were hit by shrapnel." The gunman, William Spengler, 62, later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had "a lengthy criminal record.... In 1981, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter for bludgeoning his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer. He was imprisoned until 1998." CW: if only the policeman had been armed, this would never have happened.

Reuters: "More than 48,000 people have signed a petition that they posted on the White House website demanding that British CNN talk show host Piers Morgan be deported over comments he made on air about gun control. Morgan last week lambasted pro-gun guests on his show, after the December 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman shot dead 26 people, including 20 children." CW: never thought I'd say, "I stand with Piers Morgan."

New York Times: "More than 250 religious leaders in Illinois have signed an open letter in support of same-sex marriage, which the legislature is likely to take up in January."

Miami Herald: "PortMiami administrators are on edge as the nation's 14,650 longshoremen threaten to shut down the giant gantry cranes used to ship containers at 15 major East Coast ports at midnight Saturday. The job action portends a potential blow of tens of millions of dollars a day to Miami-Dade County's economy.... Late Friday, Gov. Rick Scott got involved, sending a three-page letter to President Barack Obama asking that he invoke the Taft-Hartley Act if a strike occurs, which would mandate an 80-day cooling off period, and force mediation."

CBS News: "Sen. Michael Crapo, R.-Idaho, was arrested in Virginia early Sunday morning and charged with driving under the influence, Alexandria police say."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 23, 2012

An early holiday gift:

Paul Krugman: a citation in a Wall Street Journal story makes it appear "the president still believe[s] that failure to reach a Grand Bargain will cause an attack by the invisible bond vigilantes, and that this is the reason we should fear the fiscal cliff." Oh, dear. CW: it has been obvious for a long time that Obama listens to the Very Serious People. He is not good at choosing advisors. Tim Geithner. ...

... Brad DeLong: "If it is indeed the case that Obama does not understand the basics of the economic situation he is trying to manage, how likely is it that he can make good decisions? If, as Bob Woodward claims, Tim Geithner really is in there analogizing the U.S. to Greece, things are not good at all…" ...

When You Have a Bad Hand, Play It Badly. Ezra Klein: "... if Boehner had taken the White House's deal in 2011, he could've stopped the tax increase at $800 billion. If he took their most recent deal, he could stop it at $1.2 trillion. But if he insists on adding another round to the negotiations -- one that will likely come after the White House pockets $700 billion in tax increases -- then any deal in which gets the entitlement cuts he wants is going to mean a deal in which he accepts even more tax increases than the White House is currently demanding. Today, Boehner wishes he'd taken the deal the president offered him in 2011. A year from now, he might wish he'd taken the deal the president offered him in 2012." CW: poor people, seniors & anyone else who may rely on government safety-net programs should be mighty glad Boehner is such a poor poker player.

Sometimes Tom Friedman Is Right: "But if Republicans continue to be led around by, and live in fear of, a base that denies global warming after Hurricane Sandy and refuses to ban assault weapons after Sandy Hook -- a base that would rather see every American's taxes rise rather than increase taxes on millionaires -- the party has no future. It can't win with a base that is at war with math, physics, human biology, economics and common-sense gun laws all at the same time." (Italics original.) But Usually He Is Wrong: "... we could have had a grand bargain that would put the country on a sounder fiscal trajectory and signal to the markets, the world and ourselves that we can still do big hard things together."

Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times: "How [the] Party of Budget Restraint Shifted to 'No New Taxes,' Ever."

CW:contributor James S. recommends this excellent 20/20 segment which demonstrates how & why armed citizens are ineffective lines of defense against armed intruders.

Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post: "Thousands of criminal cases at the state and local level may have relied on exaggerated testimony or false forensic evidence to convict defendants of murder, rape and other felonies. The forensic experts in these cases were trained by the same elite FBI team whose members gave misleading court testimony about hair matches and later taught the local examiners to follow the same suspect practices, according to interviews and documents." CW: another reason the death penalty is morally criminal.

Molly Worthen, in a New York Times essay on the history of religious practice: "Rates of church attendance have never been as sterling as the Christian Right's fable of national decline suggests. Before the Civil War, regular attendance probably never exceeded 30 percent, rising to a high of 40 percent around 1965 and declining to under 30 percent in recent years -- even as 77 percent still identify as Christians and 69 percent say they are 'very' or 'moderately' religious, according to a 2012 Gallup survey."

News Lede

Al Jazeera: "Italy's president has dissolved parliament following Prime Minister Mario Monti's resignation. President Giorgio Napolitano signed the decree on Saturday after consulting with political leaders. The move formally sets the stage for general elections, now confirmed for February 24-25, in which Monti's participation remains unclear. The date of the election, widely expected to be February 24, will be decided by Monti's cabinet, which remains in office in a caretaker capacity."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 22, 2012

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is titled "Predicting David Brooks," & compares Real David Brooks' column in today's New York Times with Fake David Brooks' syllabus, which I "found" yesterday.

The President's Weekly Address:

     ... The transcript is here.

Cliff Notes

President Obama's statement late this afternoon on "fiscal cliff" negotiations:

Carrie Brown & Manu Raju of Politico: "The scope of a potential fiscal cliff deal narrowed dramatically Friday as President Barack Obama called on Congress to at least pass a scaled-down agreement that preserves the middle-class tax cuts and unemployment insurance.... Twenty-six Republicans [in the House] would need to back the bill for passage if every Democrat voted in favor." Plus, Senate Republicans would have to agree not to filibuster the bill. The good news: no chained CPI is envisioned in the proposal. So far.

LaTourette's Syndrome. [The idea that this episode has hurt Boehner's speakership is] like saying the superintendent of an insane asylum should be discharged because he couldn't control the crazy people. I mean that's nuts. -- Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), "who is close to Speaker Boehner

CW: It's encouraging that some Republican members of the House realize that their own caucus is best compared to the "crazy people" in an "insane asylum," even if "crazy people" and "insane asylum" are not the most politically correct term. Unfortunately, it definitely appears to be the case that the inmates are running this particular asylum. ...

... Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post: "Disarray is a word much overused in politics. But it barely begins to describe the current state of chaos and incoherence as Republicans come to terms with electoral defeat and try to regroup against a year-end deadline to avert a fiscal crisis." ...

LaTourette, Part 2. [The collapse of Boehner's tax effort] weakens the entire Republican Party. It's the continuing dumbing down of the Republican Party, and we are going to be seen more and more as a bunch of extremists that can't even get a majority of our own people to support policies that we're putting forward. If you're not a governing majority, you're not going to be a majority very long. -- Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), who is retiring ...

... Charles Babington of the AP: "The uncompromising conservatives who blocked Speaker John Boehner's tax bill were merely sticking to policies that Boehner and nearly all other GOP leaders have pushed, without reservation, for years: It's always wrong to raise tax rates on anyone, no matter how rich. The nation's big deficit is entirely 'a spending problem, not a revenue problem.' And in any deficit-reduction plan, spending cuts must overwhelm new revenues, by 10-to-1 if not more." CW: I hope every newspaper in the country prints this AP piece. Babington pulls no punches.

... Gail Collins: "We have seen the future, and everything involves negotiating with loony people." CW: Collins should not have picked on the seer (or seeer, as contributor Ken Winkes prefers) warning of the "dairy cliff." No, there will not be eggnog. There will be $8/gallon milk. I am stocking up on powdered milk, as any loony person would.

Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe. -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City, on Wayne LaPierre's statement ...

... Tracy Connor of NBC News: "Gun-control advocates responded with outrage and disbelief Friday after the National Rifle Association called for armed guards in every school and blamed the music, movies and video games for firearms violence." ...

... Here's the transcript of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre's statement, should you care to read it. ...

... Josh Barro of Bloomberg News: LaPierre's "colleague Asa Hutchinson, a former U.S. representative and Drug Enforcement Agency head, suggested the armed guards could be volunteers, to save money.... Schools are already safe, and increases in physical security should not be a policy priority.... We should find approaches to combating violence that don't send the message that school is a scary place where you need a cadre of men with guns to protect you -- because that's just not true." ...

... Jamelle Bouie in Salon: "In other words, the small-government NRA -- which shouts whenever politicians discuss the most modest new rules and regulations on firearms -- wants a new program of armed guards in every public school -- all 100,000 of them.... Watching the press conference, it's hard to understand why the NRA is so influential. LaPierre's statement -- his diagnosis of gun violence, his prognosis for solving the problem -- bears little relation to the world as it exists.... If there's anything to take away from this press conference, it's that politicians should not be afraid of the NRA." ...

... New York Times Editors: "... we were stunned by Mr. LaPierre’s mendacious, delusional, almost deranged rant. Mr. LaPierre looked wild-eyed at times as he said the killing was the fault of the media, songwriters and singers and the people who listen to them, movie and TV scriptwriters and the people who watch their work, advocates of gun control, video game makers and video game players.... A sheriff's deputy was at Columbine High School in 1999 and fired at one of the two killers while 11 of their 13 victims were still alive. He missed four times." ...

... Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon: "... there was an armed sheriff's deputy at Columbine High School the day of the shooting. There was an armed citizen in the Clackamas Mall in Oregon during a shooting earlier this month. There was an armed citizen at the Gabby Giffords shooting -- and he almost shot the unarmed hero who tackled shooter Jared Loughner. Virtually every university in the county already has its own police force. Virginia Tech had its own SWAT-like team. As James Brady, Ronald Reagan's former press secretary cum gun control advocate, often notes, he was shot along with the president, despite the fact that they were surrounded by dozens of heavily armed and well-trained Secret Service agents and police." Read the whole post. ...

... Charles Blow: "An analysis this year from the Violence Policy Center found that 'states with low gun ownership rates and strong gun laws have the lowest rates of gun death.' The report continued, 'by contrast, states with weak gun laws and higher rates of gun ownership had far higher rates of firearm-related death.' ... Another report this year by the Violence Policy Center, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that while gun deaths remained relatively flat from 2000 to 2008, the total number of people shot went up nearly 20 percent since 2001." ...

** Prof. Robert Spitzer in the Washington Post: "Five myths about gun control."

... Alec MacGillis of The New Republic: "LaPierre's rambling statement on the shootings wasn't really any more more far-out than anything else he's been saying the past few years.... But this was the first time many in Washington and across the country had actually focused squarely on him and his organization in a long time, and this newfound focus, combined with the post-Newtown context in which LaPierre was speaking, was enough to make the NRA seem utterly, surreally amateurish and out of touch.... [Democrats] simply ceded the field to the gun lobby, assuming a level of influence, savvy and popular support far greater than what it possessed in reality. Today, that reality was exposed for all to see, and it was hard to watch. Not least because it was, in a way, an indictment of us all." ...

... Case in Point. Jonathan Tamari of the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Sen. Bob Casey [D-Penn.], who has long opposed new gun laws, said Wednesday that he had changed his views in the aftermath of last week's shootings in Newtown, Conn., and would support bills to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips." ...

... AND Evan McMorris-Santoro of TPM: Rep. Mike Thompson, a pro-gun Democrat from California who has been asked by "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to lead a Democratic task force on gun violence" favors a strong assault weapons ban, which he said would be good for law-abiding, "mentally-stable" gun owners because assault weapons give gun owners a bad rep. ...

... PLUS Anna Palmer & Ginger Gibson of Politico: "The National Rifle Association didn't win many friends on Capitol Hill.... Democratic lawmakers, including some from Connecticut, condemned the idea outright. Republicans, meanwhile, were quiet Friday afternoon." CW: Palmer & Gibson quote half-a-dozen Democrats; no Republicans. ...

Dorothy Wickenden of the New Yorker talks with Jill LePore & Patrick Keefe about the possibility of gun control legislation:

... Joe Nocera has a very good column on "Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm run by the secretive financier Steven Feinberg," which owns Freedom Group, "a motley collection of gun and ammunition firms it had gathered together under one umbrella company." ...

... Amy Davidson of the New Yorker: "This is where gun advocacy ends: not with a right to bear arms, but with an insistence that the rest of us have an obligation to do so. In the name of a misreading of the Second Amendment, teachers and children are conscripted in a gunfight."

... Katie Zezima of the AP: "... new details emerged Friday about the [Newtown] gunman, Adam Lanza, who acquaintances said was able to take apart and reassemble a computer in a matter of minutes but rarely spoke to anyone."

Mike Allen
of Politico: "Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, seeking to preserve his viability for nomination as secretary of Defense, on Friday issued a strong apology for a gay slur in 1998 that turned some top Democratic activists against his potential selection. Hagel's statement is part of an extremely unusual campaign to bolster a candidate for a top job who has not yet been nominated. The White House this week took the extraordinary step of publicly defending Hagel against attacks by backers of Israel." ...

... Greg Sargent: "But in an interview this afternoon, the target of the 1998 slur, leading gay philanthropist James Hormel, told me he never received an apology from Hagel himself, questioned the sincerity of the apology, and said the incident should still raise questions about whether Hagel is the right man to oversee the repeal of don't ask don't tell."

Nate Silver looks at Sen. Scott Brown's (R-Mass.) chances of winning a special election now that Sen. John Kerry is almost certain to become Secretary of State. "One thing is certain: if Mr. Brown is the senator from Massachusetts in January 2015, he will have earned it, having run for office four times in less than five years."

Gen. Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans' Affairs, remembers Sen. Daniel Inouye (this takes a few seconds to load, but it's worth it):

Call Her "Irresistible" -- and Unemployed. AP: "The Iowa Supreme Court says a dentist did not commit sex discrimination when he fired an attractive female assistant he viewed as a threat to his marriage. The court ruled Friday that a boss can fire an employee he considers an 'irresistible attraction,' even if the employee has done nothing wrong. The decision is the first in Iowa, but in line with rulings elsewhere."

Russia's Legislators Are as Bad as Our Legislators. New York Times Editors: "Russian legislators looking to retaliate against a new American human rights law have settled on an exceptionally vulnerable target: Russian orphans. The proposal would bar American citizens from adopting them."

News Ledes

AP: "Authorities in central Pennsylvania are trying to determine why a man fatally shot three people along a rural road before being killed in a gunfight with police." CW: the dateline is "Hollidaysburg."

Al Jazeera: "Polling stations opened in Egypt in the second and final round of a referendum on a new constitution that was drafted by an assembly dominated by Islamists and that the opposition says is polarising the nation. After a first round vote last week, polls opened on Saturday in areas analysts expected would give another 'yes' vote." ...

     ... AP Update: "Egypt's Islamist-backed constitution received a 'yes' majority in a final round of voting on a referendum that saw a low voter turnout, but the deep divisions it has opened up threaten to fuel continued turmoil."

Al Jazeera: "Two rival rebel groups in Mali have agreed to stop fighting, a day after the United Nations Security Council voted on a French-drafted resolution authorising full military intervention in the west African country.... The two groups, who took control of large swathes of northern Mali earlier this year, met in the Algerian capital Algiers, where representatives signed the agreement."

Reuters: "Rigorous new sanctions against Iran's banking, shipping and industrial sectors took effect on Saturday, as part of the European Union's effort to force Tehran to scale back its nuclear program. The sanctions, agreed in October, entered EU law with their publication in the European Union's Official Journal on Saturday."

AP: "President Barack Obama and his family have arrived in Honolulu to spend Christmas in Hawaii.... Air Force One touched down in Honolulu minutes after midnight local time on Saturday. The first family departed the plane and traveled quickly to their vacation house in the beach town of Kailua, a scenic, sleepy beach town on the east side of Oahu."

AP: "Pope Benedict XVI granted his former butler a Christmas pardon Saturday, forgiving him in person during a jailhouse meeting for stealing and leaking private papers in one of the gravest Vatican security breaches in recent times. After the 15-minute meeting, Paolo Gabriele was freed and returned to his Vatican City apartment where he lives with his wife and three children. The Vatican said he couldn't continue living or working in the Vatican, but said it would find him housing and a job elsewhere soon."