Weekly Address

The Ledes

Saturday, April 19, 2014.

Washington Post: "Poland and the United States will announce next week the deployment of U.S. ground forces to Poland as part of an expansion of NATO presence in Central and Eastern Europe in response to events in Ukraine." ...

... Washington Post: "Pro-Russian­ militants, boasting that they do not take orders from diplomats in Washington or Moscow, refused to end their armed occupation of a dozen government buildings across eastern Ukraine on Friday, upending hopes for a quick end to the standoff."

Los Angeles Times: "The captain and two crew members of a ferry that capsized off the southern coast of South Korea were detained Saturday on suspicion of negligence in the accident that left at least 28 people confirmed dead and 274 missing, officials said.

The Wires

The Ledes

Friday, April 18, 2014.

Washington Post: "An avalanche swept the slopes of Mount Everest early Friday morning, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving three others missing, officials said, in what is now said to be the single deadliest disaster to hit the world’s highest peak.”

The New York Times outlines some of the shocking errors made after the Korean ferry began to list. ...

     ... UPDATE: "Prosecutors in South Korea on Friday sought to arrest the captain, third mate and another crew member of a ferry on charges of deserting their vessel and passengers after it capsized and leaving more than 270 people missing, many of them high school students on a trip to a resort island. Prosecutors asked the court to issue arrest warrants for Captain Lee Jun-seok, 69, and the 26-year-old third mate, who they said was steering the ship at the time of accident.... The vice principal, Kang Min-kyu, 52, of Danwon High School, who survived the ferry accident on Wednesday, was found hanging from a tree on a hill near a gymnasium where families of the missing had gathered. The police suspected Mr. Kang had hanged himself."

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/10/3772409/fbi-rescues-kidnapped-wake-forest.html?sp=/99/100/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post: "The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday took the rare step of urging doctors to stop performing a surgical procedure used on tens of thousands of women each year to remove uterine growths, saying the practice risks spreading hidden cancers within a woman’s body. The procedure, known as power morcellation, has long been used in laparoscopic operations to remove fibroid tumors from the uterus, or to remove the uterus itself. It involves inserting an electric device into the abdomen and slicing tissue in order to remove it through a small incision. The surgery is far less invasive than traditional abdominal operations."

White House Live Video
April 18

1:00 pm ET: Jay Carney 's press briefing

2:00 pm ET: President Obama presents the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy to the US Naval Academy football team

If you don't see the livefeed here, go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.


USA Today: "Chelsea Clinton announced Thursday that she's pregnant with her first child."

New York Times: "It is a bit bigger and somewhat colder, but a planet circling a star 500 light-years away is otherwise the closest match of our home world discovered so far, astronomers announced on Thursday. The planet, known as Kepler 186f, named after NASA’s Kepler planet-finding mission, which detected it, has a diameter of 8,700 miles, 10 percent wider than Earth, and its orbit lies within the 'Goldilocks zone' of its star, Kepler 186 — not too hot, not too cold, where temperatures could allow for liquid water to flow at the surface, making it potentially hospitable for life."

Jason Zinoman of the New York Times argues that the real king of late-night comedy is Jon Stewart.


Whose Pulitzer Is It Anyway? Chris Hamby of the Center for Public Integrity was awarded the Pulitzer Prize this week for his multipart series on denials of benefits to black lung victims. ABC News, which used Hamby's work for a "Nightline" segment, now wants a piece of the Pulitzer, even though the Pulitzer Prize is given for print journalism. ...

... J. K. Trotter of Gawker has more: "Journalist-on-journalist carnage is rarely so open, or so bilious, especially when obituary-worthy awards are on the line. Then again, television news has never attracted, or rewarded, humble folk. According to Poynter, an ABC spokesperson repeatedly 'threatened [{Bill} Buzenberg {executive director of CPI}] and the Center saying they would make this very "messy" ... unless they got what they wanted.'” ...

... Dylan Byers of Politico has more on the feud. ...

... Capital New York: "Fresh off a Pulitzer win for his investigative work at The Center for Public Integrity, Chris Hamby is jumping ship to join Mark Schoofs' investigations desk at Buzzfeed...."

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:

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The Commentariat -- January 20, 2012

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is titled "David Brooks v. the 99 Percent." I think it's a pretty good one (except -- arithmetically challenged as always -- I got my math wrong; I've asked to have the piece corrected). The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute here. ...

     ... Driftglass takes a similar, but funnier, whack at Brooks in "Blithering Heights."

... Comments, BTW, are open on today's Commentariat.

Can't Dance. Can't Act. Slightly Gray. Can Sing A Little (ref. Fred Astaire):

Dan Eggen of the Washington Post: "An array of liberal-leaning activist groups are marking the [second] anniversary [of the Citizens United ruling] by launching new efforts to overturn the decision, including calls for a potential constitutional amendment."

"Likudnik Paranoia." Joe Klein of Time: "Uh-oh, there’s another wave of attacks – both here and in Israel – on those of us who support Israel, but not in the mindless, aggressive way that neoconservatives do and not at the expense of America’s national interests. Over there, Bibi Netanyahu has proclaimed the New York Times and Haaretz the 'biggest' enemies of Israel.

Reid Wilson of the National Journal: "A lot of very qualified, potentially strong Senate candidates raised less than $1 million over the last three months. Massachusetts Senate contender Elizabeth Warren has raised that much in the last 24 hours. Warren's campaign said it had broken the seven-figure mark on its first money bomb around 9 p.m. [Thursday] evening. Just 20 minutes later, they're close to $1.1 million, according to a running tally on her website.... Almost exactly two years ago, when Republicans started to think they had a real shot at winning the seat, Sen. Scott Brown raised more than $1 million a day, three days in a row."

A fine rant from JurassicPork of Brilliant at Breakfast on how our democracy works -- partial answer: not too well because we're all selfish bastards.

Paul Krugman: Mitt "Romney’s tax dance is doing us all a service by highlighting the unwise, unjust and expensive favors being showered on the upper-upper class. At a time when all the self-proclaimed serious people are telling us that the poor and the middle class must suffer in the name of fiscal probity, such low taxes on the very rich are indefensible."

Right Wing World *

Quote of the Day. I’m tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans. -- Newt Gingrich, assailing CNN's John King for asking him about Marianne Gingrich's assertions about the breakup of their marriage (see video below). Alert to Media: It is totally unfair and unprofessional to ask Republican candidates embarrassing questions. Questions like "How much do you love your country?" and "How deep is your faith in Jesus Christ, your personal savior?" would be okay. Still, reporters should allow GOP candidates to prescreen all questions. Or let them submit their own questions for you to ask.

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post fact-checks 15 "dubious or interesting" claims made by the candidates in last night's GOP presidential debate. ...

... New York Times reporters fact-check a few of the statements made by candidates in the debate. ...

... Amy Walker of ABC News picks winner and losers in last night's GOP debate. I didn't see the debate, natch, but her analysis sounds plausible. ...

... NEW. But for a much more entertaining take, I recommend Charles Pierce's put-down of Newt & Willard... and John King.

Public Policy Polling: "Newt Gingrich led Mitt Romney 34-28 in PPP's South Carolina polling [Wednesday] night, the first of what will be three nights of tracking. Ron Paul at 15%, Rick Santorum at 14%, Rick Perry at 5%, and Buddy Roemer at 3% round out the field.... Just for fun on this poll we tested the alternative universe in which Stephen Colbert had been allowed on the South Carolina ballot and he gets 8%, putting him in 5th place and ahead of Perry's 6%. Perry joins Jon Huntsman as GOP candidates who have trailed Colbert in our South Carolina polling and then exited the race." ...

... PPP Update: "Thursday may have been one of the most eventful days of the Republican campaign so far, but the state of the race in South Carolina didn't change much. Newt Gingrich continues to lead Mitt Romney by 6 points, 35-29, with Ron Paul and Rick Santorum each tied for third at 15%."

** Elite Rich Guy Romney v. Elite Intellectual Obama. Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post: "The white working class may be a shrinking segment of the American electorate, but it’s still massive. Over time, as this group has become deunionized and downwardly mobile, and as GOP standard-bearers have learned to channel [segregationist Alabama Gov. George] Wallace’s appeal in less explicit ways, these voters have moved steadily into the Republican column.... In the faux populism of the right, [President Obama's] lack of affinity for certain blue-collar pleasures (He can’t bowl! He doesn’t hunt!), his concern for climate change and other supposed abstractions, are all depicted as signs of contempt for blue-collar lives. Add Rick Santorum’s attack on Obama’s remark that it would be a good thing if every American went to college — a comment, Santorum said, that reeked of hubris and elitism by denigrating workers — to Gingrich’s labeling of Obama as the food-stamp president, and it’s abundantly apparent how the right will go after Obama this fall." ...

... Gene Robinson: "... there’s a nasty edge to the discourse here [in South Carolina]. It’s striking that, in a state where unemployment is at 9.9 percent, the last message Romney decides to send voters before the primary is not 'jobs' or 'growth' — but rather, 'We’ve got to get rid of this guy [President Obama].' ... Romney and Gingrich, especially, have taken pains to create the impression that there is something alien and illegitimate about the Obama presidency. At Monday’s debate in Myrtle Beach, Gingrich doubled down on his language characterizing poor people as lazy and ignorant, then practically dared anyone to accuse him of race-baiting. He should consider himself accused."

Mark Maremont of the Wall Street Journal: "Mitt Romney’s campaign has attacked an ABC News report on the candidate’s offshore investments, saying his holdings in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere have no effect on the amount he pays in U.S. taxes. But the campaign’s assertions may be wrong or misleading. Tax experts said some of the offshore holdings are likely intended to help Mr. Romney avoid paying an obscure but hefty tax of as much as 35% on some of those investments, held in a tax-deferred retirement account. As The Wall Street Journal reported in Thursday’s paper, many of Mr. Romney’s offshore investments are held through his individual retirement account, which has grown to between $20.7 million and $101.6 million. IRAs are tax-deferred accounts, in which earnings accrue tax-free until the money is withdrawn during retirement." ...

The DNC puts up this Web ad:

"America's Right and You're Wrong." Romney loses it when a person on the rope line asks him what he'll do for the other 99 Percent:

... Steve Benen: "There are real issues that reflect real-world challenges facing Americans: rising income inequality, poverty, an unjust tax system, and wealth that’s increasingly concentrated at the top. For Mitt Romney, those who even consider this a legitimate area of debate prefer, in his mind, communism. This is nothing short of twisted. That the reflexive 'go back to Russia' attitudes are coming from a far-right politician who amassed a vast fortune after laying off thousands of American workers, wants to give himself another tax cut, owns multiple luxury homes, and stashes cash in the Caymans — all while pursuing an agenda that would make things tougher on American’s working class — makes me feel as if I’m trapped in a Dickensian nightmare." ...

... NEW. A stellar takedown by John Cole of Balloon Juice: "... even though Mitt is raking in millions at a tax rate lower than you, me, and virtually everyone in the country, he fails to realize that America he wants and has been working for more closely resembles the current Russian oligarchy, with a fantabulous concentration of wealth in the hands of a few people and corporations."

Walter Shapiro for The New Republic: Newt Gingrich, "the oft-derided and consistently under-estimated House speaker, has now bested Jesus in his sheer number of resurrections — an association that can only help as the South Carolina primary vote looms Indeed, with the South Carolina demolition derby moving too fast for pollsters to keep up, there is only one certainty before Saturday’s primary—virtually every GOP voter will have seen Gingrich’s confrontation with CNN moderator John King live or in TV clips." ...

... Dave Firestone of the New York Times: "The reason for [Newt Gingrich's] rising popularity is ... that no other candidate in the race expresses the kind of visceral, full-bodied disgust with President Obama that Mr. Gingrich does. The idea is ... to fully discredit him as a person, and play into the article of faith among many Republicans that he has no legitimate claim to the White House.... It also explains why Mr. Gingrich has played into racial animus more eagerly than any other candidate." ...

... The New York Times Editorial Board writes a good one on Newt Gingrich's -- and the party's -- hypocritical sermonizing. They can't run their own lives, but they tell other people how they must live theirs -- and write laws to force their own values on others.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times: "... a look at the arc of [Rick] Santorum’s political career, from his days as a fresh-faced College Republican to his bruising defeat for a third term in 2006, reveals a side of Mr. Santorum beyond that of reformer and abortion foe. He emerges as a savvy operator and sharp tactician, a climber who became a member of the Washington establishment that he had once railed against. ...

... ABC News's Brian Ross interviews Marianne Gingrich, Newt's second wife (this is the best-quality vid of the interview out there right now, but it may be "disappeared" soon, so if you ever want to watch it, now might be your only chance):

     ... Lloyd Grove of the Daily Beast on the interview: "It was ... a thoroughly damning presentation that is likely to repel some Republican voters (who also might be conflicted and feel sorry for Gingrich because the attack comes from 'the elite media'). Still, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million—and Nightline’s exposé is apt to depress Gingrich’s vote total during Saturday’s balloting."

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones: A new Public Policy Poll shows that "Republicans ... don't trust anyone except Fox News, who[m] they adore.... Liberals don't immediately dismiss as a conspiracy everything they hear from the news media that doesn't fit their preconceived notions.... Increasingly, conservatives ... want to believe the world is a certain way, and they're just flatly not willing to countenance anything that might challenge those beliefs. This is not a healthy development for a modern democracy." ...

... Paul Waldman of American Prospect: "If you are a consumer of conservative media, you get constant reminders -- every day, multiple times a day -- that you absolutely must not believe anything you hear or read in any news outlet that is not explicitly conservative.... Americans are not 'polarized' when it comes to the media, because that implies that both sides have drifted apart to similar degrees.... It's the conservatives who refuse to believe anything that anyone but Fox or conservative talk-radio tells them."

* Where only wingnut orthodoxy is tolerated.

News Ledes

Los Angeles Times: Etta James, the earthy blues and R&B singer whose anguished vocals convinced generations of listeners that she would rather go blind than see her love leave, then communicated her joy upon finding that love at last, died Friday. She was 73." New York Times obituary here. AND here is the Guardian page that includes 10 videos of James' classics, recommended by contributor Victoria.

New York Times: "Newt Gingrich angrily turned aside questions about his marital history at the outset of the final Republican presidential debate before the South Carolina primary, and then aggressively took on Mitt Romney and the other remaining candidates in a raucous confrontation on Thursday night about immigration, abortion, conservative credentials and electability." Washington Post story here. Real Clear Politics has a good summary, too.

AP: "In its budget submission next month, the Obama administration will urge lawmakers to revisit the failed attempt by a congressional supercommittee to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion, the White House says.... The White House plan, likely to reprise new taxes and fee proposals that are nonstarters with Capitol Hill Republicans, would turn off the entire nine-year, $1.2 trillion across-the-board spending cuts, referred to as a 'sequester.'"

Washington Post: French "President Nicolas Sarkozy said Friday that France was suspending training operations in Afghanistan after four French soldiers were killed and more than a dozen wounded by a renegade Afghan soldier who opened fire on his trainers. In a separate incident in southern Afghanistan, six NATO troops were killed in a helicopter crash, and a senior U.S. defense official said all the victims were U.S. Marines, the Associated Press reported."

New York Times: "Proposed changes in the definition of autism would sharply reduce the skyrocketing rate at which the disorder is diagnosed and might make it harder for many people who would no longer meet the criteria to get health, educational and social services, a new analysis suggests. The definition is now being reassessed by an expert panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, which is completing work on the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the first major revision in 17 years."

New York Times: "Greece and its private-sector creditors inched closer to a completed deal late Thursday over how much of a loss investors should take on just over 200 billion euros in Greek government bonds."


The Commentariat -- January 19, 2012

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on David Brooks' argument against asking Mitt Romney to release his tax returns & Nicholas Kristof's whitewashing of Bain Capital. The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute here.

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "President Obama comes out swinging at the Koch brothers, the wealthy conservative industrialists, in a new television ad designed to push back against a barrage of attacks on the president’s character."

I think Mr. Romney and the rest of the Republican field are going to be playing to their base until the primary season is over. Overall, I think it’s going to be pretty hard to argue that we have not executed a strategy over the last three years that has put America in a stronger position than it was than when I came into office. -- Barack Obama ...

... Fareed Zakaria of Time: "President Obama dismissed Republican rival Mitt Romney’s critiques of his foreign policy credentials Wednesday in an exclusive TIME interview, saying the GOP frontrunner’s attacks are little more than primary posturing that will wither under the glare of 'a serious debate.'” ...

... David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "President Obama will hit the road for a three-day, five-state tour after his State of the Union address Tuesday, stopping throughout campaign battleground territory that could be critical to his re-election chances."

NEW. Democracy Now! has a good video report on Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline permit with Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska and 350.org founder Bill McKibben, an expert on climate change who has led massive protests in Washington, D.C. against the pipeline.

... Glenn Thrush & Darrell Samuelsohn of Politico on the politics of President Obama's killing the Keystone XL pipeline project. Bottom line: it's a win-win.

Prof. Jonathan Turley in a Washington Post op-ed: "10 reasons the U.S. is no longer the land of the free."

... Paul Krugman: "... nothing in our history or experience says that unearned income [like capital gains] has to be taxed this lightly. It’s not a time-honored principle; it’s a Bush-era innovation, pushed through the Senate, by the way, using reconciliation." ...

... New York Times Editors: "If Mr. Romney has done one good thing with his partial disclosure — although it clearly wasn’t his goal — he has reminded Americans of the fundamental unfairness of the current tax code and of how determined Mr. Romney and his party are to keep it that way. Currently, the tax code imposes a top rate of 15 percent on investment income — generally, capital gains and dividends — that flows overwhelmingly to wealthy taxpayers. In comparison, top rates between 25 percent and 35 percent are applied to the wages and salaries for many working Americans. Worse, an egregious loophole in the law lets private equity partners pay the lower 15 percent rate on much of their income — known as “carried interest” — even though those earnings are not typically gains from investing their own money, but rather a share of profits from investing someone else’s money."

Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times: "Google and Wikipedia did everyone a big service, and the swift reaction of lawmakers was gratifying. Now, if [Sen. John] Cornyn [R-Texas] and [Sen. Marco] Rubio [R-Fla.] would pay as much attention to the Occupy protesters and the pain of the middle class, the country would be even better off." ...

... Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: The "formidable old guard was forced to make way for the new as Web powerhouses backed by Internet activists rallied opposition to the legislation through Internet blackouts and cascading criticism, sending an unmistakable message to lawmakers grappling with new media issues: Don’t mess with the Internet. As a result, the legislative battle over two once-obscure bills to combat the piracy of American movies, music, books and writing on the World Wide Web may prove to be a turning point for the way business is done in Washington. It represented a moment when the new economy rose up against the old."

A. G. Sulzberger of the New York Times: "Barring some unexpected act of salvation..., Boeing leaves Wichita, [Kansas,] after eight decades as one of its biggest employers and most prestigious brands: in a trail of broken promises and bitter recriminations. For most of the country, this is just one more plant closing, just 2,160 more lost jobs in a Midwestern city.... But the exit has been another painful blow to the city of Wichita and the airplane manufacturing industry that has sustained it, the sudden reversal of fortune only adding to the feeling of betrayal."

Penn State trustees speak to Pete Thamel & Mark Viera of the New York Times about how they decided to fire University President Graham Spanier & head football coach Joe Paterno as a result of their mishandling the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case.

Fareed Zakaria, frankly, doesn't know much about economics, but I think he might be right in this Washington Post op-ed: "When asked how they will create jobs, Republicans simply talk about cutting taxes and regulations and getting government out of the way. Yes, it is important to have competitive tax and regulatory policies. But the lessons from East Asia to Northern Europe suggest that government policy and investment can play a vital role in providing incentives for the private sector."

Right Wing World

Matthew Mosk, et al., of ABC News: "Although it is not apparent on his financial disclosure form, Mitt Romney has millions of dollars of his personal wealth in investment funds set up in the Cayman Islands, a notorious Caribbean tax haven." ...

     ... Update: Kasie Hunt of the AP writes a related story. ...

Nicholas Confessore, et al., of the New York Times: "The wealth that has helped underwrite [Mitt Romney's] career in politics remains shrouded in considerable secrecy, which now poses a major political risk on the campaign trail. Mr. Romney’s finances are complex and far-flung. He and his wife, Ann, have reported holdings in dozens of publicly traded companies, mutual funds and high-end investment partnerships, with much of their family wealth held in blind trusts that conceal their full size from public view." ...

Andrew Kaczynski of BuzzFeed throws "The Book" at Mitt Romney; that is, he has published John McCain's full 2008 oppo research book on Romney. If you'd like to read 200 pages of "Romney Is a Bad Dude," this is the place.

Brian Ross of ABC News: "Newt Gingrich lacks the moral character to serve as President, his second ex-wife Marianne told ABC News, saying his campaign positions on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family values do not square with what she saw during their 18 years of marriage." With video clip.

** Fools or Frauds. Paul Krugman: "... to be a good Republican right now, you have to affirm your belief in things that any halfway intelligent politician can see are plainly false. This leaves room for only two kinds of candidates: those who just aren’t smart and/or rational enough to understand the problem, and those who are completely cynical, willing to say anything to get ahead. What sort of things am I talking about? They range from the belief that Obama is a socialist who will destroy America with his dastardly Heritage Foundation devised health care plan, to the belief that unemployment is high because lazy people prefer their unemployment insurance checks. On budget matters, you have to claim to believe that we can cut taxes sharply, maintain high military spending, and eliminate the deficit — all without upsetting those Republican-voting Medicare recipients."

Philosopher Gary Gutting, in a New York Times post, exposes the inherent contradiction in conservative philosophy. (It would have been nice to read Gutting's views on Calvinism and "prosperity theology," but perhaps the contradictory nature of those "theologies" is self-evident.)

The Do-Nothing Congress, Con'd. Dana Milbank: "The House’s first legislative act of 2012 had been utterly pointless...."

News Ledes

New York Times: "A federal judge on Thursday blocked Vermont from forcing the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor to shut down when its license expires in March, saying that the state is trying to regulate nuclear safety, which only the federal government can do."

New York Times: "In what the federal authorities on Thursday called one of the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought, the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized the Web site Megaupload and charged seven people connected with it with running an international enterprise based on Internet piracy.... The hacker collective that calls itself Anonymous attacked the Web sites of the Justice Department and several major entertainment companies and trade groups in retaliation for Mega-upload’s seizure. The Justice Department’s site and several others remained inaccessible for much of Thursday afternoon." Gizmodo has a story & a copy of the indictment. The Rolling Stone story is here.

And then there were four (I think). CNN is livestreaming the GOP presidential debate here. The New York Times liveblog is here.

** CNN: Rick Perry is telling supporters that he will drop his bid Thursday for the Republican presidential nomination, two sources familiar with his plans told CNN." ...

     ... Politico Update: "Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to end his presidential campaign Thursday and endorse Newt Gingrich, two sources confirm to Politico." ...

     ... Update: New York Times post-statement report.

New York Times: "Mitt Romney’s eight-vote victory in the Iowa caucuses will be rescinded on Thursday, following a two-week review by the state’s Republican Party that found that Rick Santorum actually finished 34 votes ahead of Mr. Romney, two party officials confirmed. Matt Strawn, chairman of Iowa’s Republican Party, is set to announce at 9:15 a.m. Eastern time that an actual winner cannot be determined in the caucuses because results from eight of 1,774 precincts could not be located for certification.... Mr. Santorum moved quickly on Thursday to declare victory and dismissed the suggestion that a clear-cut winner could not be determined." ...

     ... Update: Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register has the details.

Bloomberg News: "Fewer Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, easing concern that post-holiday firings were on the rise. Jobless claims plunged by 50,000 to 352,000 in the week ended Jan. 14, the lowest level since April 2008, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington." ...

... BUT. Bloomberg: "Builders began work on fewer houses than forecast in December, capping the worst year on record for single-family home construction and signaling recovery in the industry will take time."

New York Times: "Eastman Kodak, the 131-year-old film pioneer that has been struggling for years to adapt to an increasingly digital world, filed for bankruptcy protection early on Thursday. The American icon had tried a number of turnaround strategies and cost-cutting efforts in recent years, but the company — which since 2004 has reported only one full year of profits — ultimately ran short of cash."

New York Times: "In the latest twist in Britain’s phone hacking scandal, the actor Jude Law and John Prescott, a former British deputy prime minister, were named Thursday in a list of 36 victims of alleged hacking who have reached out-of-court settlements with Rupert Murdoch’s media empire." The Guardian is running a liveblog on the story.

Washington Post: "David M. Rubenstein, the billionaire Bethesda philanthropist, will donate $7.5 million to help fix the shuttered, earthquake-damaged Washington Monument, government officials plan to announce Thursday.... It comes a month after he donated $4.5 million to the National Zoo’s cash-strapped giant panda program and seven months after a $13.5 million gift to the National Archives.

AP: "... a U.S. Army depot in Utah finished destroying the last of 1.3 million munitions filled with a witches' brew of toxins, blister and blood agents.... The Utah depot — which at its peak held 13,600 tons of chemical agents, making it the world's largest — expects to complete the job by the weekend when it incinerates bulk supplies of Lewisite, a powerful skin, eye and lung irritant. By then, the U.S. Army will have destroyed about 90 percent of its aging chemical weapons that accumulated through the Cold War."

New York Times: "Hedge funds ... [are] suing Greece in a human rights court to make good on its bond payments. The novel approach would have the funds arguing in the European Court of Human Rights that Greece had violated bondholder rights.... Many blame [these same funds] for the lack of progress so far in the negotiations over restructuring Greece’s debts."


The Commentariat -- January 18, 2012

My column in the New York Times eXaminer is on, oh, the banality of the Times op-ed writers. A huge chunk of it is by Akhilleus, which you wouldn't know to read it at this point (9 am ET), as most of the part he wrote is not indented. I'm working on getting that fixed.

Wikipedia is blacked out today. Go to this page to find out why. Also, if you try to call up any Wiki entry, you'll get this page, which guides you to contact your Representative. Do it. ...

     ... Update. Jenna Wortham of the New York Times: "With a Web-wide protest on Wednesday that includes a 24-hour shutdown of the English-language Wikipedia, the legislative battle over two Internet piracy bills has reached an extraordinary moment — a political coming of age for a relatively young and disorganized industry that has largely steered clear of lobbying and other political games in Washington. The bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate, are backed by major media companies and are mostly intended to curtail the illegal downloading and streaming of TV shows and movies online. But the tech industry fears that, among other things, they will give media companies too much power to shut down sites that they say are abusing copyrights." ...

     ... The Washington Post story, by David Fahrenthold, is here.

In a fascinating New York Times op-ed, historian Kevin Kruse explains how corporate leaders co-opted God in the 1930s & '40s in an effort to discredit "creeping socialism" & restore their own prestige. Their pet phrase: "One nation under God" was meant to be used as propaganda in exactly the way Mitt Romney used it the other day -- to protect the One Percent:

When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus 1 percent, you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. -- Mitt Romney

CW: As Kruse notes, Congress [at the behest of President Eisenhower] added "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. As a child, I found this change confusing, but our teacher instructed us to say the newly amended pledge, so I did. I don't anymore. I just pause while everybody else says the "under god" bit. I wish more of us would skip the addition. Or skip the pledge altogether. It's a pretty annoying piece of indoctrination, even if it was written by a socialist (who purposely left out the word "equality" because so many Americans were opposed to equality!).

If you read Andrew Sullivan's Newsweek cover story, which I linked a couple of days ago, do go and read Driftglass's response to it. Sullivan is Sullivan. Driftglass is in a class by himself.

Bob Reich: "Mitt Romney is casting the 2012 campaign as 'free enterprise on trial.'" It sure is, but he has it upside-down. "What Romney and the cheerleaders of risk-taking free enterprise don’t want you to know is the risks of the economy have been shifting steadily away from CEOs and Wall Street – and on to average working people. It’s not just income and wealth that are surging to the top. Economic security is moving there as well...."

Stewart & Colbert do this wonderful segment that shows you the total absurdity of pretending there is a "separation" between candidates & the superPACs that support them:

Right Wing World *

Paul Krugman: "Aha. Romney concedes that the estimates people have been making about his taxes are basically right:

At an event in Florence, SC, Mitt Romney told reporters that his effective tax rate is probably close to 15% because most of his income comes from investments, reports Bloomberg’s Julie Davis.

... "And an immediate question is, do you agree that unearned income should be taxed at a rate so much lower than earned income?" ...

Out. Of. Touch. Nicholas Confessore, et al., of the New York Times: "He also characterized as 'not very much' the $374,327 he reported earning in speaking fees last year, though that sum would, by itself, very nearly catapult most American families into the top 1 percent of the country’s earners.... As a candidate, Mr. Romney has also advocated for tax policies that would significantly benefit people who, like him, derive most of their income from investments." CW: These are tidbits from a feature article. Read the whole thing. ...

... Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post: "But that might not be the end of the issue for Romney. It’s likely he also benefited from related tax privileges during his time at Bain. While the lower rate on capital gains and dividend income is supposed to benefit investors, private-equity executives and hedge-fund managers who get paid by taking a share of their firm’s profits rather than a normal salary are also able to classify their income as a capital gain rather than a wage, and so they, too, pay a 15 percent tax rate — even when that money is, effectively, their salary. Ultimately, the private-equity tax loophole could become far more controversial than whether private-equity deals destroy or create jobs. Today, even the Wall Street Journal came out against the loophole...." CW: My tax rate is about double that of Romney's. And I resent it. Big time. ...

... More from Robert Reich on "The Romney Tax Loophole.... "Congress has vowed for years to close this loophole. But somehow it persists. Even when Democrats have been in charge, they haven’t been able to close it. Guess why. The managers and executives of private-equity funds are big donors to Republicans and Democrats alike."

... ** Richard Escow: "Taxing Romney under the same rules most of us follow would have put something in the neighborhood of $61 million more into the US Treasury." Escow lists some programs that just Romney's taxes (not people like Romney -- just Mrs. & Mrs. Willard) could have saved -- and hey, some of those programs actually do create jobs! Thanks to reader Bonnie for the link. ...

... Ruth Marcus: "Romney would spend hundreds of billions for a tax cut whose benefits flow overwhelmingly to the wealthiest Americans, even as he would cut even more from programs that help the most vulnerable. Those skewed priorities are hard to square with Romney’s stated concern, however heartfelt, for the poor. The man from Bain Capital needs to take another look at his figures." CW: Read Marcus' column to get a good overview of Romney's plans to make live easier for him & his super-rich friends & harder for everyone else.

How South Carolina Republicans Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Reader Haley S. sent me the link to this video. Listen to the crowd reaction -- if you can stand it. Never mind Gingrich; he is just playing to the crowd. It is they who make me weep:

... CW: I don't know how many cheering racists attended the debate, but assuming there were 2,000 there, that means than for every one of those bigots, 500 Badgers signed petitions to recall Scott Walker. On, Wisconsin! ...

... ** New York Times Editors: "In South Carolina, where a Confederate flag still waves on the front lawn of the State Capitol largely because of the efforts of the state Republican Party, it remains good primary politics to stir up racial animosity and then link it to President Obama. Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Santorum and the crowd that cheered them are following in a long and tawdry tradition, singling out a minority group for lectures while refusing to support policies that help all Americans." ...

... Dog-Whistling through Dixie. Charles Blow of the New York Times: "Gingrich seems to understand the historical weight of the view among some southern whites..., that blacks are lazy and addicted to handouts. He is able to give voice to those feelings without using those words. He is able to make people believe that a fundamentally flawed and prejudicial argument that demeans minorities is actually for their uplift. It is Gingrich’s gift: He is able to make ill will sound like good will." ...

... Ari Berman of The Nation: "This racially inflammatory rhetoric was on full display last night, as candidate after candidate auditioned to be the next George Wallace." ...

... Jon Stewart comments:

... This what that reprobate Gingrich -- I mean his non-coordinated superPAC -- thinks an Obama-Romney debate would look like. I hope he's -- I mean they are -- right:

* Where racial bigotry is a citizenship requirement.

Local News

John Nichols of The Nation on the Wisconsin recall effort: "No other gubernatorial recall drive in American history has gathered the signatures of so large a proportion of the electorate. The total number of signatures submitted Tuesday represents 46 percent of the turnout in the 2010 Wisconsin gubernatorial election." ...

... Think Progress: "The number of signatures comes close to the 1,128,941 votes Walker received, and was far more than the 540,000 needed." ...

... Charles Pierce on the Wisconsin recalls: "On the day that his state rose up and hocked a loogie in his general direction, Scotty Walker was in the Big Apple, raising money with [Maurice Greenberg,] the founder of AIG &mdash a guy with his own checkered history — the company which, if this were a just world, would have its corporate logo serve as the official collective mugshot of the criminals and grifters and dunces who almost wrecked the world's economy. The company that paid its executives $165 million in bonuses a year after all of us bailed their sorry asses out? I mean, what the fk, Scotty? Was the banquet hall in the old Enron building booked?"

News Ledes

Reuters: "The Obama Administration rejected the Keystone oil pipeline on Wednesday, a move that Republicans decried for sacrificing jobs and energy security in order to shore up the president's environmental base before elections. President Barack Obama said the administration denied TransCanada's application for the $7 billion Canada-to-Texas oil sands pipeline because there was not enough time to review an alternate route that would avoid a sensitive aquifer in Nebraska -- within a 60-day window set by Congress."

New York Times: "Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday threw his unequivocal support behind a $100 billion high-speed rail line that has come under fire here in California and across the country, embracing it in a strikingly optimistic State of the State speech in which he asserted that government should pursue ambitious ventures even during times of economic strife."

AP: "As details emerged Wednesday about the missing and the dead in the grounding of the Costa Concordia, the captain was quoted as saying he tripped and fell into the water from the listing vessel and never intended to abandon his passengers.... Capt. Francesco Schettino, who was jailed after he left the ship before everyone was safely evacuated, was placed under house arrest Tuesday, facing possible charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship."

Small Fry. New York Times: "On Wednesday, federal prosecutors announced criminal charges against [Sandeep] Goyal and six others, depicting a 'circle of friends' that together earned about $62 million in illegal gains in Dell stock."

Washington Post: "Four people were arrested as hundreds of protesters from the Occupy movement gathered Tuesday on the west lawn of the Capitol, chanting, singing, marching and disrupting congressional offices throughout the day. The demonstrators came from across the country for Occupy Congress, billed as the first nationwide gathering for the movement that began in September as a protest against corporate greed on Wall Street." ...

... ABC News: "While the Obamas were dining at one of Washington's finest steak houses, Occupy DC protesters gathered in front of the White House and for a couple of hours, drew dozens of police cars to Pennsylvania Avenue and briefly kept the press on lockdown inside the building. The cause of the commotion is unclear but may have been a smoke bomb or firecracker hurled by a protester over the White House fence from Pennsylvania Avenue."

New York Times: "With both parties largely in agreement on a yearlong extension of President Obama’s payroll tax cut, the fight in Congress over the coming weeks will boil down to how to pay for it, and Democrats appeared to hold the advantage as members of the House returned to Washington on Tuesday."

AP: "The Obama administration is providing senior state and local police officials with its analysis of homegrown terrorism incidents, including common signs law enforcement can use to identify violent extremists.... The conference Wednesday at the White House marks the first time this unclassified analysis will be presented to 46 senior federal, state and local law enforcement officials, many of whom are police chiefs and sheriffs."

New York Times: A Canadian naval officer who worked in some of the country’s key military intelligence centers has been charged with breach of trust and passing along government secrets to a 'foreign entity.' The officer, Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle, 40, remained in jail on Tuesday after his lawyer asked a court in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to delay a bail hearing to give him more time to study the government’s case."

New York Times: " China will expand nationwide a trial program that requires users of the country’s wildly popular microblog services to disclose their identities to the government in order to post comments online, the government’s top Internet regulator said on Wednesday." CW: See also stories above for more news on our own Internet freedom controversies.

ABC News: "Authorities in Italy suspended search operations today after the rough seas apparently shifted the grounded Costa Concordia cruise ship."


The Commentariat -- January 17, 2012

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on Joe Nocera's complaint that bank regulators are imposing too many complex and sometimes contradictory regs on Wall Street. Especially if you found Nocera's argument compelling, please take a gander at the caveats I've added to his "analysis." The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute here. ...

... Here's a terrific article by Russ Baker on how the Times slants -- or as he puts it, sugarcoats -- the news. He relies on just one day's main headlines. ...

... AND there's this from Gregory Harms: the New York Times is liberal (not leftist) on domestic social policies, but it is hawkish on American foreign policy, basically following Washington's lead. It defines and solidifies, in effect, "the liberal parameters of American political discourse: basically progressive on domestic issues; basically compliant on matters of statecraft and foreign policy." Well-worth a read.

Gene Robinson: "... capitalism means never having to say you’re sorry. Perish the thought that anyone would critically examine this ethos except in a 'quiet room' [according to Mitt Romney]. But to the horror of radical free-market ideologues, the myth of no-fault capitalism is under scrutiny.... What the ideologues ignore, however, is that workers also have 'capital' at risk — in the form of mind and muscle, creativity, loyalty, years of service. Why is this investment so casually dismissed?"

Robert Pear of the New York Times: "To head off medical conflicts of interest, the Obama administration is poised to require drug companies to disclose the payments they make to doctors for research, consulting, speaking, travel and entertainment. Many researchers have found evidence that such payments can influence doctors’ treatment decisions and contribute to higher costs by encouraging the use of more expensive drugs and medical devices."

Manu Raju of Politico: "Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren and Republican Sen. Scott Brown on Monday demanded a cease-fire of the third-party spending that’s certain to play a major role in this state’s pivotal Senate race. Senior officials from Brown’s and Warren’s campaigns will soon meet to try to craft an unusual pact to curtail the influence of so-called super PACs.... Whether the talk amounts to anything more than public posturing to distance themselves from the millions of dollars in negative attacks launched by the groups remains to be seen. Experts are skeptical that groups will unilaterally disarm knowing that this race could tip the balance of power in the Senate."

Right Wing World *

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post lists the 11 biggest whoppers and head-scratchers from last night's GOP presidential debate. ...

... Steve Benen elaborates on Romney's audacious lie that President Obama "doesn't have a jobs plan." ...

... Jordan Fabian of Univision on Romney's doubling-down on his opposition to measures favored by the Hispanic community. (Report is in English.) Read the whole story.

Major Garrett of the National Journal: "Republican front-runner Mitt Romney said Monday he might release his tax returns -- but not before South Carolina's primary on Saturday. Romney, who has said previously he had no intention of releasing tax returns, said if he becomes the nominee he may release them in mid-April." Romney didn't answer the question when Rick Perry posed it, but responded to the question when the Fox "News" panel asked it. ...

... The Democratic National Committee elaborates:

... Winners shoot big game:

... Losers shoot "varmints and small rodents." Here's Romney in 2007. He lost the primary race:

Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic: don't kid yourself, Mitt Romney is no moderate. "Romney's proposal to cap federal spending ... would result in harsher cuts to domestic spending than even Paul Ryan has embraced."

Jason Volack of ABC News: "Behind the scenes Campaign Manager Jesse Benton admits to ABC News that [Ron Paul's] team is plotting a back up strategy in case the congressman doesn't pull in enough delegates to become the nominee. If the campaign comes up short at the convention, Benton says the plan is to use all the delegates awarded to Paul as a bargaining chip to force the Republican Party to stick to its limited government platform."

The God Vote Gets Ugly. Ralph Hallow of the Washington Times: "In an evolving power struggle, religious conservatives are feuding about whether a weekend meeting in Texas yielded a consensus that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is the best bet to stop Mitt Romney’s drive for the Republican presidential nomination. A leading evangelical and former aide to President George H.W. Bush said he agreed with suspicions voiced by others at the meeting of evangelical and conservative Catholic activists that organizers 'manipulated' the gathering and may even have stuffed the ballot to produce an endorsement of Mr. Santorum over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich." CW: Sorry, I think preachers stuffing the ballot box is funny as -- hell. Isn't there some commandment against that? ...

... Speaking of Rick Santorum, he approved this message:

... Your Fun Scandalette of the Day. Nancy Hass of the Daily Beast: Before she was Karen Santorum, anti-abortion zealot, she was Karen Garver, and "her live-in partner through most of her 20s was Tom Allen, a Pittsburgh obstetrician and abortion provider 40 years older than she, who remains an outspoken crusader for reproductive rights and liberal ideals. Dr. Allen has known Mrs. Santorum ... her entire life: he delivered her in 1960."

Stephen Colbert drives Jon Huntsman from the GOP presidential race:

... AND Colbert figures out how to get on the South Carolina ballot. Sort of:

Tanya Somanader of Think Progress: Rep. Steve Womack (RTP-Ark.) is proud that the government paid for his college education (he served in the National Guard to get his grant) -- except that he doesn't seem to understand the government paid for his education -- but he voted to cut 100,000 low-income students from Pell Grant funding. And he was really nasty to a college student when she asked him about it.

* Where "I got mine; to hell with you," is the rule.

News Ledes

** Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: "Democrats and organizers filed petitions Tuesday afternoon with more than a million signatures as they sought to force a recall election against Gov. Scott Walker -- a massive number that seems to cement a historic recall election against him for later this year. It would mark the first such gubernatorial recall in state history and would be only the third gubernatorial recall election in U.S. history. Organizers Tuesday also handed in 845,000 signatures against Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch as well as petitions against four GOP state senators including Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau."

New York Times: "Mitt Romney withstood forceful attacks during a debate here on Monday evening, with his Republican rivals lining up to question his job-creation record, wealth and character, as they implored voters to scrutinize his candidacy more deeply before allowing him to sail to the party’s presidential nomination." The Washington Post story is here.

AP: "A French judge is seeking U.S. permission to visit the Guantanamo prison camp to investigate claims by former French inmates that they were tortured."

ABC News: "Search-and-rescue divers today blasted holes in the hull of the Costa Concordia cruise ship that ran aground off Italy's Tuscan coast as they accelerate a frantic search for 29 missing passengers and crew members, as well as a second black-box recorder."

AP: "Strikes and demonstrations against Greek austerity measures hit the capital Athens on Tuesday, as international debt inspectors returned to decide whether the country's reforms are strong enough for it to secure a vital bailout. The officials from the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, which are lending money to Greece to keep it from bankruptcy, are expected to press the government for faster cost-cutting reforms."

Los Angeles Times: "Israel's top justice authorities began a two-day hearing Monday for one of the government's top officials, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. The proceedings move a years-long legal case closer to the end and signal what could also be the end of the current chapter in Lieberman's politicalcareer -- and eventually the government too. For more than a decade, Lieberman has been under investigation for a wide range of suspicions."

Haaretz: "A recent string of cyber attacks against Israeli credit card companies, banks, and government websites was aided by thousands of Israeli computers operated by remote assailants, a top Israeli software security expert on Tuesday. Hackers shut down both the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) and El Al’s respective websites on Monday, one day after a hacker network threatened to carry out attacks on both sites."

AP: "British scientists have found scores of fossils the great evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin and his peers collected but that had been lost for more than 150 years. Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang, a paleontologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, said Tuesday that he stumbled upon the glass slides containing the fossils in an old wooden cabinet that had been shoved in a 'gloomy corner' of the massive, drafty British Geological Survey."