The Ledes

Monday, August 3, 2015.

New York Times: After being closed for five weeks, the Greek stock exchange reopened today, & prices plummeted.

AP: "Fire officials called for thousands of evacuations as numerous homes remained threatened by Northern California wildfires Monday, while more than 9,000 firefighters battled 21 major fires in the state, officials said. Wildfires were also burning in Washington and Oregon as the West Coast suffered from the effects of drought and summer heat."

The Wires

The Ledes

Sunday, August 2, 2015.

Los Angeles Times: "The Rocky Fire exploded overnight, burning 47,000 acres as of Sunday morning and threatening 6,000 structures in [California's] Lake, Yolo and Colusa counties. The U.S. Forest Service said "fire activity dramatically progressed"  late Saturday, forcing the closure of several state highways in the area. The fire is just 5% contained; about 12,000 people have been ordered to evacuate. Nearly 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze and more are coming into the area."

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post: "A novel data-mining project reveals evidence that a common group of heartburn medications taken by more than 100 million people every year is associated with a greater risk of heart attacks, Stanford University researchers reported Wednesday."

AP: "Federal health advisers on Tuesday[, June 9,] recommended approval for a highly anticipated cholesterol drug from Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, but with the caveat that more data is needed about its long-term ability to reduce heart attacks. The expert panel recommended by a 13-3 vote that the Food and Drug Administration approve the injectable drug, called Praluent."

Washington Post (June 4): "The first-ever 'female Viagra' came one step closer to coming to market, as a key advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration voted Thursday afternoon to recommend that the FDA approve the drug with conditions. The committee voted 18-6 to recommend that the FDA approve flibanserin, a drug designed to boost the low sexual desire of otherwise healthy women."

White House Live Video
August 3

11:10 am ET: President Obama speaks at the Young African Leaders Iniative

12:30 pm ET: Josh Earnest's press briefing with Energy Secretary Ernest Munoz

2:15 pm ET: President Obama speaks on the Clean Power Plan

Go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

***********************************************

New York Times: "Jason Fine, the editor of Men’s Journal, will take over as the managing editor of Rolling Stone as part of what the magazine’s publisher, Jann S. Wenner, described as a 'shake-up.'”

"Where Are My Pancakes?"

The Word Salad King. If Donald Trump's good friend & possible running mate Sarah Palin is the Word Salad Queen, it stands to reason that the Donald would be the king. Slate challenges you to diagram this "sentence." To help you out, Slate has transcribed the words in the order delivered. Not that the order delivered matters much:

Obama Slept Here

For a mere $22.5MM this Martha's Vinehard house on 10 acres can be yours. The Obamas stayed in the house for 8 days in 2013. The current owner bought the property, which has expansive views of the Atlantic & Chilmark Pond, in 2000 for about $3MM. So, hey, the price is negotiable. Slide show.

The Birth of Franklin. Washington Post: After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Glickman, a white California mother wrote to cartoonist Charles Schultz urging him to introduce a black character to his "Peanuts" cartoon strips. When Schultz demurred, saying he was afraid "it would look like we were patronizing our Negro friends," Glickman got two of her "Negro friends" who backed the idea to write to Schultz. A short time later, Schultz introduced Franklin. Oh, yes, & strips showing Franklin in an integrated! classroom upset Southern editors, according to Glickman.

Jane Hamshire of Firedoglake: "... I have decided to pass the torch on to Kevin Gosztola and Brian Sonenstein, who will launch their own media organization called Shadowproof that will build on the success of FDL."

Dylan Byers: "MSNBC has formally decided to cancel three programs -- 'The Cycle,' 'Now with Alex Wagner' and 'The Ed Show' -- as part of a larger effort to shift its daytime lineup away from opinion programming.... Alex Wagner and Ari Melber, a 'Cycle' co-host and MSNBC's chief legal correspondent, will remain with the network. Ed Schultz, the host of 'The Ed Show,' will leave the network, as will 'Cycle' co-hosts Abby Huntsman, Krystal Ball and Toure.... In September, MSNBC will add a 5 p.m. program hosted by 'Meet The Press' moderator Chuck Todd, while Brian Williams, the former 'Nightly News' anchor, will serve as the network's breaking news and special reports anchor."

If you can memorize & learn to use the University of New Hampshire's long list of "bias-free language," you can be the most politically-correct person in your neighborhood. Via Jonathan Chait. ...

... CW Etiquette Tip: calling out your friends for using outmoded terms like "overweight" & "rich" is not politically correct. Simply try to steer the conversation in a more "inclusive" direction. So if your friend says to you, "My rich neighbor got so overweight he has to use a wheelchair now," you say, "Oh, that person of material wealth has become a person of size who is wheelchair mobile? Wow! He's your neighbor? I remember him when he was a person experiencing homelessness who lacked advantages that others have." It sounds so natural, your friend will never realize you've corrected his biased, dated stereotypes. ...

     ... UPDATE: Turns out the university's president is biased against the bias-free language guide & he was unaware of its existence until this week. Also, a Republican state legislator is "outraged" & finds the guide a good excuse to cut funding for the state university. Naturally. Thanks to MAG for the lead.

Will Oremus of Slate likes Windows 10. CW: I haven't had the courage to try switching over yet. I'll lose EVERYTHING!

Fuck off! I’m done with you. -- Jon Stewart, to Wyatt Cenac

... Alex Jung of New York: Jon Stewart repeatedly yelled at Wyatt Cenac when Cenac questioned a "Daily Show" segment meant to be a defense against Fox "News" allegations that Stewart's Herman Cain imitation was racist. ...

... Maron's WTF podcast of his interview with Cenac is here. ...

... CW: Here's the thing, black people. When you confront white liberals with accusations of racial bias, WE WILL NEVER ADMIT IT. We will remind you that we have been fighting for black civil rights for 50 years (Bernie Sanders). We will tell you all lives matter (Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley). We will tell you that white people are responsible for expanding your rights (Hillary Clinton). We will deny your accusations (Every one of us). And all the while, we will be highly insulted, even if we don't tell you to fuck off. Because white people's feelings matter. And, after all we've done for you, we can't believe you would accuse us of racism.

Even when they're only lip-syncing, some entertainers are pretty damned talented. I'm not much of a fan of Tom Cruise's, but ...

Tech Crunch: "It’s no secret that Google+ didn’t quite work out the way Google envisioned and now, after already moving Google Photos out of the service, it’s starting to decouple Google+ profiles from its regular Google accounts."

Stupid Pet Tricks, Reptile Edition:

Lloyd Grove of the Daily Beast: NBC News Chairman Andy Lack is replacing MSNBC's Ed Schultz with -- Chuck Todd. [CW: Excellent decision! Let's change "MSNBC" to "VPN" -- "Village People's Network."] "The only programs that appeared safe from disruption were Morning Joe..., hosted by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski; Hardball ... with Chris Matthews; and The Rachel Maddow Show at 9 p.m. Those programs have performed respectably...." ...

We live in a time when much of the corporate media regards politics as a baseball game or a soap opera. Ed Schultz has treated the American people with respect by focusing on the most important issues impacting their lives.... I am very disappointed that Comcast [the parent company of NBC & MSNBC] chose to remove Ed Schultz from its lineup. We need more people who talk about the real issues facing our country, not fewer.... At a time when a handful of large, multi-national corporations own our major media outlets, I hope they will allow voices to be heard from those who dissent from the corporate agenda. -- Sen. Bernie Sanders

Washington Post: "The latest update from NASA's Kepler space telescope — designed to spot distant exoplanets — adds more than 500 new possible planets to the fray. That's in addition to the 4,175 planets already found by Kepler. And of those 500 new potential planets, scientists say, a dozen could be remarkably Earth-like. That means they're less than twice as large as Earth, are potentially rocky and are at the right distance from their host stars to harbor liquid water." ...

... Guardian: "Scientists on the hunt for extraterrestrial life have discovered 'the closest twin to Earth' outside the solar system, Nasa announced on Thursday."

Worst Person Ratings in the World. Andrew Kirell of Mediaite: Rumors are a'flyin' that MSNBC is headed for another line-up shake-up, which could include the Return of Dr. Olbermann, who is departing ESPN -- again. Because their third place in cable ratings wasn't as bad as their third place is now (sometimes 4th, behind Al Jazeera). And because the New Olbermann is now a suits-licking pussycat, unlike the Old Olbermann from way last week.

Some Would Be Heroes. Washington Post: Coast Guardsman Darren Harrity swims a mile in choppy, fuel-slicked sea to save four men in a leaky lifeboat.

New York Times: "What Pet Should I Get?" -- an aide to Dr. Suess's widow found the manuscript in a box. Dr. Suess -- Theodore Geisel -- died in 1991.

     ... Via BuzzFeed, for the fun of it.

Washington Post: "On Monday, famed physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian tycoon Yuri Milner held a news conference in London to announce their new project: injecting $100 million and a whole lot of brain power into the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life, an endeavor they're calling Breakthrough Listen." ...

... CW: What a waste. You know all they'll find is angels hovering around a pantheon of some sort & maybe, if they're lucky, their long-dead pooches floating around Pet Heaven, which is real & wonderful.

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Saturday
Apr272013

The Commentariat -- April 28, 2013

Unstable People. Both the Washington Post, here, and the New York Times, here, have long pieces examining the lives of the Tsarnaevs. Bottom line: things weren't working out all that well for them, even though they got a lot of public help, so they decided to bomb the place. I'm liking the crazy mother as a co-conspirator.

C-SPAN has live coverage of the White House Correspondents' Association dinner Saturday night, beginning at 6:15 pm ET, at which time everyone has the opportunity to see Mr. & Mrs. David Gregory waltz down the red carpet. Sadly, Tom & Mrs. Tom Brokaw will be no-shows. ...

     ... Update. President Obama's full remarks:

... If you don't watch Obama's entire remarks, at least watch this behind-the-scenes trailer for "Obama," the movie, wherein Steven Spielberg proves the old adage that a good director can get a fine performance out of any actor:

... Joel Achenbach & Amy Argetsinger of the Washington Post: "Washington, New York and Hollywood held their annual schmoozefest Saturday night, and the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner (#nerdprom on Twitter) showed new evidence of being completely overrun by red-carpet-posing actors, singers, sports superstars, models and other outsiders who couldn't possibly name the ranking Democrat of the House Ways and Means Committee, much less its chairman." *

Paul Krugman on why George W. Bush was a terrible president: he uses words like "lies," "fraud" and "con man." CW: I suspect he'd find worse words if he weren't writing in the New York Times. ...

... Wherein Maureen Dowd accidentally says something nice about President Obama: "For the first time, [Barbara Bush,] the 87-year-old former first lady acknowledged, in essence, that W. had worn out the family's welcome in the White House. W. and other Bush officials continue to say they could not possibly have known that Saddam had no W.M.D. But I'm now told that Saddam sent word through the Saudis to the Bushies over and over that he had no W.M.D. and was only blustering to keep his nemesis in the neighborhood, Iran, at bay. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld weren't looking for the truth, and they weren't hitting the pause button the way President Obama is with Syria right now, sensitive to the quicksand nature of the region.

Sorry, Nino, Sir Thomas More was smarter than you are. And he still lost his head.Prof. Gary May in a Washington Post op-ed: Antonin "Scalia is woefully ignorant of the [1965 Voting Rights Act]'s history.... The act protects all voters, especially in the states and districts covered by Section 5, from any obstacles that might be put in their way. That was true in 1966 and remains true today as efforts to suppress the minority vote continue. Scalia needs to do his homework before the court determines the act’s future."

Will Weissert of the AP: "Gov. Rick Perry is expressing 'disgust and disappointment' at a cartoon in a California newspaper that depicts him boasting about business booming in Texas just before a major explosion.... In a letter to the Bee's editor Friday, Perry said he wouldn't stand for 'someone mocking this tragedy.' He demanded an immediate apology for the newspaper's 'detestable attempt at satire.'" See yesterday's Commentariat for context. I stand with the cartoonist Jack Ohman. Ohman wasn't "mocking the tragedy"; he was mocking a clueless governor who has been lobbying on the very laissez-faire policies that allowed the owner of the fertilizer plant to operate in a highly-unsafe and careless manner. ...

... Here's Perry's letter, published in the Bee, and an apt response from editorial page editor Stuart Leavenworth.

Sometimes even Paul Ryan is right -- as when he blamed the Romney-Ryan loss on "the urban vote." Hope Yen of the AP: "America's blacks voted at a higher rate than other minority groups in 2012 and by most measures surpassed the white turnout for the first time.... Had people voted last November at the same rates they did in 2004, when black turnout was below its current historic levels, Republican Mitt Romney would have won narrowly, according to an analysis conducted for The Associated Press." Thank you, urban people. Keep up the good work. The vote suppressors, busy as they were in 2012, will try harder next time.

* Sander Levin (D-Mich.); Dave Camp (R-Mich.) CW: yeah, I hadda look it up.

Congressional Race

Kim Severson of the New York Times tries to get past the sleaze & find the candidates' positions on the issues in South Carolina's special Congressional race between Mark Sanford & Elizabeth Colbert Busch.

Right Wing World *

John Avlon of Newsweek: "... conservative state legislators and even congressmen [are] entertaining conspiracy theories that are creepy and unseemly coming from average citizen, but a sign of civic rot when they start getting parroted by elected officials.... [Last week] Republicans Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jason Chaffetz of Utah held a hearing 'to examine the procurement of ammunition by the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General.' Despite the innocuous language, the hearing represented a capitulation, if not an outright endorsement, of conspiracy theories ... that the Homeland Security Department is stockpiling ammunition to use against Americans in a massive imposition of martial law.... Perhaps the highest profile impact of conspiracy theories to date on national policy was the defeat of the universal background check bill -- specifically the widespread claims threat that closing existing loopholes would be a first step toward a national gun registry that would in turn bring Hitler-style confiscation to America." ...

... Tyler Hansen of Media Matters: "The [Jordan-Chaffetz] hearing ... inspired new legislation that's now before Congress. On April 26, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced bills in both chambers of Congress in order to limit federal agencies from stockpiling ammunition."

* The only thing we have is fear itself.

News Ledes

Reuters: "Gunmen surrounded Libya's foreign ministry on Sunday to push demands that officials who had worked for deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi's regime be banned from senior positions in the new administration. At least 20 pick-up trucks loaded with anti-aircraft guns blocked the roads while men armed with AK-47 and sniper rifles directed the traffic away from the building, witnesses said." Al Jazeera story here.

Reuters: "The owner of a factory building that collapsed in Bangladesh killing hundreds of garment workers was arrested on Sunday trying to flee to India, police said, as fears grew that the death toll could rise sharply with as many as 900 still missing. Mohammed Sohel Rana, a leader of the ruling Awami League's youth front, was arrested ... in the Bangladesh border town of Benapole...."

Al Jazeera: "The Taliban has claimed re[s]ponsibility for two bomb blasts have killed nine supporters of two Pakistani politicians at their campaign offices in the country's northwest, the latest violence ahead of polls next month. Violence has marred the campaign for the landmark May 11 general election, with more than 50 people dead in blasts and suicide attacks since April 11, according to a tally by the AFP press agency, including more than 20 in the past three days."

The New York Times has more on the 2011 phone calls between Tamerlan & Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, which the Russians intercepted. (The original AP story is linked in yesterday's Ledes.) ...

... Boston Globe: "U.S. officials say investigators have found no evidence that a conservative Muslim friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev ... known to the family as Misha ... had any connection to the Boston Marathon bombing.... Two U.S. officials close to the investigation say the FBI has identified an individual believed to be Misha. The officials would not say whether the FBI has spoken to him but say they've found no ties to the attack or terrorism in general." ...

... AP: " The father of the two Boston bombing suspects says he is postponing a trip to the United States because of poor health. Anzor Tsarnaev told The Associated Press on Sunday that he is 'really sick' and his blood pressure had spiked."

Friday
Apr262013

The Commentariat -- April 27, 2013

Making the Planes Run on Time

Convenient Desequestration. Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "The House gave quick and overwhelming approval Friday to legislation to give the secretary of transportation enough financial flexibility to bring the nation's air traffic control system back up to full strength and end the mounting flight delays that had become a political headache for Congress. The vote came despite objections from some lawmakers that the nation's air travel was being given special treatment. The 361-to-41 vote came less than 24 hours after the Senate reached accord on the measure, which effectively undoes one of the thorniest results of 'sequestration,' $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that took effect March 1. That is remarkable speed for an issue that has been brewing for more than a year, with ample warning of the consequences. Once signed, the law, which passed the Senate without objection Thursday night, will allow as much as $253 million to be moved from other parts of the Transportation Department to the Federal Aviation Administration." ...

     ... Update. New lede: "President Obama and Congressional Democrats on Friday abandoned their once-firm stand that growing airport bottlenecks would be addressed only in a broader fix to across-the-board spending cuts...." And atop the 3rd graf: "Republicans claimed victory." ...

... The President's Weekly Address, in which he declares he is not amused (but will sign the bill anyway):

     ... The transcript is here. Josh Lederman of the AP: "President Barack Obama chided lawmakers Saturday over their fix for widespread flight delays, deeming it an irresponsible way to govern even as he prepared to sign the legislation they hurriedly pushed through Congress. Wary of letting Republicans set a precedent he might later regret, Obama dubbed the bipartisan bill to end furloughs of air traffic controllers a "Band-Aid" and a quick fix, rather than a lasting solution to this year's $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester." ...

... . New York Times Editors: "Congress can't pass a budget or control guns or confirm judges on time, but this week members of both parties found something they could agree on, and in a big hurry: avoiding blame for inconveniencing air travelers.... Catering to the needs of people with money, such as business travelers, is the kind of thing the country has come to expect in recent years from Congressional Republicans. But Democrats share full responsibility for this moment of cowardice." ...

... Charles Pierce: "Did I miss a memo, or wasn't the whole point of the sequester to give Congress the choice of acting like adults on the budget, or visiting enough inconvenience on ordinary citizens so that they demand that same thing? Now, it appears, the point was to visit inconvenience only on those ordinary citizens who have no lobby to inconvenience you in return. Airport delays were what was supposed to happen." ...

... AND the Losers Are ... Democrats. Ezra Klein: "In effect, what Democrats said Friday was that in any case where the political pain caused by sequestration becomes unbearable, they will agree to cancel that particular piece of the bill while leaving the rest of the law untouched. The result is that sequestration is no longer particularly politically threatening, but it's even more unbalanced: Cuts to programs used by the politically powerful will be addressed, but cuts to programs that affects the politically powerless will persist. It's worth saying this clearly: The pain of sequestration will be concentrated on those who lack political power." ...

... Robert Reich: "Washington ... has now adopted the same kind of austerity economics that's doomed Europe -- cutting federal spending and reducing total demand. And the sequester doesn't end September 30. It takes an even bigger bite out of the federal budget next fiscal year. Earth to Washington: The economy is slowing. The recovery is stalling. At the very least, repeal the sequester." ...

... To Hell with Those People. Travis Waldron & Bryce Covert of Think Progress list "12 programs that have experienced devastating cuts because Congress insists on cutting spending when it doesn't need to -- and that have been ignored by the same lawmakers who leaped to action as soon as their trips home were going to take a little longer." Among them, long-term unemployment compensation, Head Start & cancer treatment. ...

... Bill Moyers & Michael Winship, in Salon: "If you want to see why the public approval rating of Congress is down in the sub-arctic range -- an icy 15 percent by last count -- all you have to do is take a quick look at how the House and Senate pay worship at the altar of corporations, banks and other special interests at the expense of public aspirations and need." CW: read it and weep. None of this will change without a Constitutional Amendment eliminating corporate financing of political campaigns. ...

... Dana Milbank: "This last weekend of April displays the very best and the very worst of Washington. The worst is the part most of the country sees most of the time in the capital: the triumph of money and power [at the White House Correspondents' dinner].... In Meadowbrook Park in Chevy Chase, just a few hundred feet from the D.C. line, about 500 people will assemble Saturday morning in a Race to End Poverty. Sponsored by the local nonprofit A Wider Circle, the race is a 4K -- a nod to the group's hope of furnishing 4,000 homes this year for people living in poverty in the Washington area." ...

... Paul Farhi of the Washington Post: "When all is said and paid for after all the parties surrounding the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner this weekend, some media organizations will drop as much as $200,000 each to entertain an elite list of guests." ...

... "The Annual Versailles Cotillion." Charles Pierce again: "These would be the same 'media organizations' that are laying people off by the carload, slashing the benefits of those they don't lay off, and making people do more work in less time for smaller salaries."

Katie McDonough of Salon: "President Obama addressed more than a thousand Planned Parenthood supporters at the organization's national conference on Friday, becoming the first sitting president to do so. After reaffirming his longstanding support of Planned Parenthood, the president denounced Republican efforts to turn the organization into a 'punching bag.' ... Despite his spirited defense of abortion rights, Obama did not use the word 'abortion' once during his remarks":

Andrew Higgins of the New York Times: "After years of insisting that the primary cure for Europe's malaise is to slash spending, the champions of austerity, most notably Chancellor Angela Merkel find themselves under intensified pressure to back off unpopular remedies and find some way to restore faltering growth to the world's largest economic bloc.... The flurry of activity comes after an influential academic paper embraced by austerity advocates as evidence that even recessionary economies should cut spending to avoid high debt levels, written by the Harvard scholars Carmen m. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff, has come under attack for errors that opponents of austerity say helped lead European policy makers astray." Thanks to MAG for the link.

Adam Serwer explains the federal rules of criminal procedure to law professor & torture-memo author John Yoo., who never met a Constitutional right he didn't want to trample.

Kevin Bogardus of the Hill: "Sen. John McCain on Friday pleaded with business leaders to rally behind the immigration reform bill that he negotiated as part of the Senate's Gang of Eight. Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's immigration reform summit, McCain (R-Ariz.) said the bill needs the full-throated support of industry to make it to President Obama's desk."

Sam Baker of the Hill: "Democratic leaders said Thursday they're not seeking an exemption from a central requirement of ObamaCare -- that members of Congress and their staff purchase healthcare coverage through insurance exchanges. Republicans spent the day hammering Democrats for allegedly seeking to carve themselves out of a requirement in the healthcare law."

Jack Ohman of the Sacramento Bee.... Joack Ohman of the Sacramento Bee: "Several readers wrote me ... expressing varying levels of concern about the cartoon depicting Gov. Rick Perry's marketing of Texas' loose regulations, juxtaposed with the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Their comments ranged from 'you are a sick human being' to 'insensitive and tasteless.' ... What I am trying to do is make readers think about an issue in a striking way.... What makes me angry, and, yes, I am driven by anger, is that it could have been prevented." CW: if those readers are looking for sick & tasteless, they should latch onto Rick Perry, who doesn't see anything wrong about lobbying for Texas on the very basis of Texas's willingness to look the other way at industries that compromise the safety of workers & neighboring citizens. ...

... Here's the ProPublica report, by Theodoric Meyer, which Ohman links in his post. It includes gems like this: "Has Congress introduced any new regulation legislation? Yes, but it would roll back regulations rather than strengthen them. Eleven representatives -- one Democrat and 10 Republicans -- sponsored a bill in February that would limit the EPA's regulatory authority over fertilizer plants. It has been endorsed by industry groups such as the Fertilizer Institute." ...

... "The Koch Brothers Bill." Tim Murphy of Mother Jones, in the Huffington Post: "In February, 11 congressmen ... joined some two dozen industry groups, including the Fertilizer Institute, the American Chemistry Council, and the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration, to back the General Duty Clarification Act. The bill is designed to sap the Environmental Protection Agency of its powers to regulate safety and security at major chemical sites, as prescribed by the Clean Air Act. 'We call that the Koch brothers bill,' Greenpeace legislative director Rick Hind says, because the bill's sponsor, GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo, represents the conservative megadonors' home city of Wichita, Kansas. (The sponsor of the sister legislation in the senate, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, represents the Kochs' home state of Kansas.) The brothers have huge investments in fertilizer production...." ...

... HOW did the Koch boys become "the world's largest producer of nitrogen the fertilizer? ... Thanks to the advent of fracking (hydrofracturing), natural gas is now the #1 source for ammonia (which is used to supply the nitrogen portion of most fertilizers) in the world."

Mark Landler & Michael Gordon of the New York Times: "President Obama said Friday that he would respond 'prudently' and 'deliberately' to evidence that Syria has used chemical weapons, tamping down any expectations that he would take swift action after an American intelligence assessment that the Syrian government has used the chemical agent sarin on a small scale in the nation's civil war." ...

Speaking of "deliberate" & "prudent," we now remember our former deliberator-in-chief ...

** Our Misunderestimated Former President. Do Watch. (If you listen closely, you'll hear Fugelsang take a crack at Al Gore, too):

Congressional Races

Thomas Beaumont of the AP: "Republicans are struggling to recruit strong Senate candidates in states that present the party's best opportunities to reclaim the majority, a sign that the GOP's post-2012 soul-searching may end up creeping into the midterm congressional elections." ...

... Scott Bland of the National Journal: "House Democrats now have candidates lined up in about half of the Republican-held seats that Obama also carried in 2012, part of the DCCC's concentrated effort to get an early start on recruiting this election cycle after redistricting kept potential candidates on the sidelines until relatively late in the process in 2012. Democrats would need to gain 17 seats to retake the House majority in 2012."

Gohmert Weekly News

This administration has so many Muslim brotherhood members that have influence that they just are making wrong decisions for America. -- Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)

... Jonathan Bernstein, in the Washington Post: "I don't care about condemning Gohmert -- but mainstream conservatives are making a big mistake, it seems to me, by allowing themselves to be defined by the worst Republicans out there."

News Ledes

AP: "U.S. officials say Russian authorities secretly recorded a conversation in 2011 in which one of the Boston bombing suspects vaguely discussed jihad with his mother. Officials say a second call was recorded between the suspects' mother and a man under FBI investigation living in southern Russia.... They say the Russians shared this intelligence with the U.S. in the past few days."

New York Times: "Ending a crushing two-month political stalemate that had spooked European leaders, Prime Minister-elect Enrico Letta formed a rare coalition government on Saturday uniting left and right -- and including a record number of women and Italy's first nonwhite minister -- to steer Italy, with the euro zone's third-largest economy, out of the doldrums."

AP: "A Mississippi man whose home and business were searched as part of an investigation into poisoned letters sent to the president and others has been arrested in the case, according to the FBI. Everett Dutschke, 41, was arrested about 12:50 a.m. Saturday at his Tupelo home by FBI special agents in connection with the letters...."

AP: "Police in Bangladesh took five people into custody in connection with the collapse of a shoddily-constructed building this week, as rescue workers pulled 19 survivors out of the rubble on Saturday and vowed to continue as long as necessary to find others despite fading hopes. At least 340 people are known to have died...." CW: meanwhile, in the U.S., Donald Adair, the owner of the West Fertilizer Company, is facing only private lawsuits. Well, shuck, Don is "a prominent member of the community." Suing him don't seem sportin'.

Reuters: "The economy regained speed in the first quarter, but not as much as expected, heightening fears it could struggle to cope with deep government spending cuts and higher taxes. Gross domestic product expanded at a 2.5 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department said on Friday, after growth nearly stalled in the fourth quarter. Economists had expected a 3.0 percent growth pace." ...

... Washington Post: "A steep slowdown in defense spending tied to the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is undercutting the country’s economic recovery, new government data released Friday revealed." CW: oh. Government spending has an impact on the economy.

AP: "North Korea announced Saturday that [Kenneth Bae,] an American detained for nearly six months, is being tried in the Supreme Court on charges of plotting to overthrow the government, a crime that could draw the death penalty if he is convicted."

Friday
Apr262013

Where Facts and Beliefs Collide

The Common Politicus Americanus. Would that he were a rarer bird.

When I look at the news and opinion pieces I've linked over the past couple of days, I am struck by the number of articles that speak to our intrinsic inability to “face facts.” It is easy enough to write off some of the actors in these stories as craven or crazy. Yesterday, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, the mother of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, claimed that that the bombing “was staged, that the bombing was fake.... There was no blood, she said. It was paint.” Tsarnaev may not be the typical mother of a miscreant (or, in her case miscreants) who claim their mass-murdering son “was always such a good boy”; she is allegedly something of a miscreant herself who fled to Russia, perhaps to escape the “2012 felony charges of shoplifting and property damage in Massachusetts.”

But what do we make of a President of the United States, one George W. Bush, who not only confused Sweden and Switzerland, but refused to even consider that he might be wrong? (Evidently a staff member privately corrected Bush because a few weeks later he admitted he was wrong.) Or how about Dubya's equally-brilliant successor in Texas? “Gov. Rick Perry said Monday that spending more state money on inspections would not have prevented the deadly explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant that was last investigated by Texas environmental regulators in 2006. Perry told The Associated Press that he remains comfortable with the state's level of oversight....” He added, “(People) through their elected officials clearly send the message of their comfort with the amount of oversight.” Or what about PretendDem Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who, when “asked about polls showing more than 90 percent of voters supporting expanded background checks, including back home..., doubted that was truly indicative of public opinion"?

 

As Paul Krugman has been pointing out for years now, it isn't just a few so-called leaders who can't get their heads around facts and fact-based data. As he remarked – again – in his column in today's Times, “... the dominance of austerians in influential circles should disturb anyone who likes to believe that policy is based on, or even strongly influenced by, actual evidence.” Krugman posits several likely motivations for politicians' unwillingness to accept reality, but once you get past their dubious claims about the immorality of public debt in a time of recession, it comes down to this: their reality is different from our reality: “The austerity agenda looks a lot like a simple expression of upper-class preferences.... The wealthy, by a large majority, regard deficits as the most important problem we face. And how should the budget deficit be brought down? The wealthy favor cutting federal spending on health care and Social Security – that is, 'entitlements' – while the public at large actually wants to see spending on those programs rise.”

 

Lawmakers' preference for policies that help the wealthy was demonstrated again yesterday when House members didn't believe economists “from across the political spectrum” who argued before them that the mortgage interest deduction “is wasteful and does little to spur home ownership.” Why refute the economists' expertise? For one reason, the mortgage deduction is popular among voters, and for a second, it most “helps those in the highest income brackets.” Now, I am not suggesting members of Congress should not challenge “experts.” They should. But here's what Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), a (former?) real estate agent, told the economists: “Never once did I have a client say to me, 'I want to buy this house because I can get a higher mortgage interest deduction.'” That's just stupid. Most people try to qualify for the highest mortgage they can get, even if they don't always decide to buy the priciest house. Their banks, in calculating their incomes, takes the anticipated mortgage deduction into consideration, and savvy home purchasers know this. Just like loan officers, these potential homeowners see the mortgage tax break as a boost to their annual disposable income. Because it is. So nobody told Tiberi this? I guess they thought he was smart enough to know. Their mistake.

 

Every one of us has experienced the cognitive dissonance associated with challenges to our long-held beliefs. For most of my life, I thought Tommy-guns were British-made and were so-named because British “Tommies” carried them. I only discovered, in writing about Tommy-guns as an aside to a long piece, that the Thompson submachine gun was American-made and named for its American inventor, Gen. John T. Thompson. This is a small thing, akin to Bush's confusion of Sweden with Switzerland, and it was easy to adjust my mistaken  belief in the origin of the Tommy-gun.

 

But we all also have experienced more substantial cases of cognitive dissonance – such as when a trusted friend, relative or spouse betrays us. Our first instinct is probably confusion. We're likely to blurt “I can't believe you did that.” But even with events that shatter our lives, we eventually do “believe you did that,” and we adjust, sometimes finding clues in past behaviors we ignored. That is, we “reduce dissonance,” as behavioral scientists would say, “by altering existing cognitions” or “adding new ones to create a consistent belief system.”

 

There is a third way to “reduce dissonance.” That is to “reduc[e] the importance of any one of the dissonant elements.” This is pretty much the crazy person's way of dealing with unpleasant realities that conflict with our beliefs, dreams and fantasies. People who take this approach “can't handle the truth.” So they don't. This is the methodology employed by our so-called leaders when they dismiss out-of-hand facts and fact-based assertions that conflict with their own preconceived notions. They are, for instance, amenable to Reinhart and Rogoff's thesis, so when Krugman says Reinhart and Rogoff got it wrong, they “reduce the importance of” Krugman. Their excuses are myriad. A while back I heard teevee blowhard Chris Matthews say, “We all know we have to reduce the deficit. Krugman is just an economist; he doesn't have to govern.” (Paraphrase.) Matthews' point was that Krugman lived in an ivory tower, not the real world – the Real World being the Washington of the Very Serious People – and therefore, Serious People were right to dismiss Krugman's fried-egghead musings. Charts and graphs? Pffft. We all know we have to reduce the deficit.

 

Frankly, there is little difference between Zubeidat Tsarnaev on the one hand, and politicians like Rick Perry on the other, when it comes to their methods for reducing their own cognitive dissonance. As Todd Robberson of the Dallas Morning News: wrote, "Perry made up, out of whole cloth, a supposed preference among Texans for freedom from regulation over being safe from industrial explosions and other disasters.... Never mind that the company had stored 540,000 pounds of highly explosive ammonium nitrate on the site without informing residents of the extreme danger and without informing the Department of Homeland Security – as required.” Really? Are Texans really “comfortable” with that? Even before the explosion that killed and injured so many, I doubt many Texans would agree that businesses should have the “freedom” to store huge amounts of explosives next-door to private homes, a school and a nursing home. The vaunted “free market” does not come with a license to kill.

 

Too many elected officials are operating under the same cognitive rules as the unstable mother of presumed terrorists. Now would be a good time for these political leaders -- and commentators -- to reacquaint themselves with reality. Now would be a good time for them to reduce their incidences of cognitive dissonance by "altering existing cognitions"; that is, by accepting, for instance, the vast scientific evidence on the man-made causes of climate change and the extensive sociological data on gun violence. As long as politicians routinely resort to insane denials of well-known facts, there is little hope we can reduce the problems we face.

 

We expect distraught mothers to be crazy. We should expect legislators and other political leaders to deal realistically with facts, however disturbing they find those facts.

 

Thursday
Apr252013

The Commentariat -- April 26, 2013

Jim Fallows argues, in an essay republished in the National Journal, that despite our "polarized and unequal" economy, the stagnation of the middle class, and our increasingly "stratified and rigid" society, it is still worthwhile to believe in the American dream because it's aspirational. CW: not sure I agree. ...

... Amy Sullivan of the National Journal on the downsizing of the American dream. ...

... Ron Brownsten of the National Journal: "After years of economic turmoil, most families now believe the most valuable -- and elusive -- possession in American life is economic security."

Eric Moskowitz of the Boston Globe interviews the Tsarnaev brothers' car-highjacking victim. ...

... Massimo Calabresi of Time highlights the remarks of Philip Mudd, a former top CIA and FBI terrorist hunter, who spoke at a Brookings conference on Wednesday:

At left, Roger Sterling, a/k/a John Slattery. See today's Comments for context.

 

... CW: according to reports of what Dzhokhar Tamerlan told investigators, the brothers cooked up the bombing plan about a week before the Marathon, & they had no outside assistance. Assuming these assertions are true (and I don't take them as fact), it would have taken pretty close surveillance to catch these two improvisational terrorists. If you think you want a country that catches & incarcerates in Guantanamo Grande every potential terrorist, ask yourself this: "Would I be considered a potential terrorist?" If you have been highly critical of the government, ferinstance, the feds might consider you -- not to mention most of the Congress and the press -- to be potential terrorists. Nixon had an enemies list. If Obama has one, millions of Americans would be on it.

Paul Krugman: "The austerity agenda looks a lot like a simple expression of upper-class preferences, wrapped in a facade of academic rigor. What the top 1 percent wants becomes what economic science says we must do.... The years since we turned to austerity have been dismal for workers but not at all bad for the wealthy, who have benefited from surging profits and stock prices even as long-term unemployment festers. The 1 percent may not actually want a weak economy, but they're doing well enough to indulge their prejudices."

Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, declared on Thursday that it was time to consider lifting a ban on repatriating low-level detainees to Yemen from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, amid rising desperation and a hunger strike among inmates there."

Desequestration, When Convenient. Ashley Halsey & Lori Montgomerey of the Washington Post: "The Senate took the first step toward circumventing sequestration Thursday night with a bipartisan vote that would put furloughed air traffic controllers back on the job. The House is expected to take up the measure as early as Friday, and the White House has promised to consider any bill which it receives.... The Justice Department had reversed a plan that would have required 116,000 workers to take 22 unpaid days off between now and Oct. 1. In a letter to his staff, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday that additional flexibility provided by Congress and 'aggressive steps' taken by the department to cut costs allowed him to eliminate the need for furloughs." ...

... The World's Greatest Deliberative Body Doesn't Always Deliberate. Steve Benen: "... when it really wants to, the Senate can move with lightning speed.... It appears that lawmakers are also mindful of which Americans are affected [by sequestration cuts] and what kind of inconveniences the political world is prepared to tolerate. Children being thrown out of Head Start centers is a shame, but wealthier air travelers waiting on the tarmac for a couple of hours is a travesty in need of swift congressional intervention." ...

... CW: I missed this, from Greg Sargent, which he published April 24: "Suddenly, the idea of temporarily turning off the sequester altogether is being seriously talked about by top Democrats. It required the outcry over sequestration-caused flight delays to bring it about, however. With Republicans complaining about the flight delays -- and attacking Obama as responsible for them, even as Republicans claim the sequester as a victory for themselves -- Harry Reid is now calling the GOP's bluff by suggesting we simply cancel the sequester temporarily, by counting war savings to reduce the deficit. The White House today endorsed Reid's idea...."

Emmarie Heutteman & Ashley Parker of the New York Times: "The House Judiciary Committee announced Thursday that it would introduce a series of bills beginning this week to overhaul the nation's immigration system. The move was designed to keep the committee in the middle of the debate over the issue, which is now percolating on Capitol Hill, and to press a bipartisan group in the House that has been working in private on its own broad legislation." ...

... BUT Greg Sargent: "At an event this morning, John McCain effectively boxed in House Republicans on immigration by stating flatly that reform is a complete nonstarter unless it includes a path to citizenship."

Kim Dixon of Reuters: "The popular U.S. tax deduction for mortgage interest is wasteful and does little to spur home ownership, economists from across the political spectrum said at a congressional hearing on Thursday, but many lawmakers mulling a tax code overhaul were having none of it."

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "Talks to revive gun control legislation are quietly under way on Capitol Hill as a bipartisan group of senators seeks a way to bridge the differences that led to last week's collapse of the most serious effort to overhaul the country's gun laws in 20 years." ...

... Alex Roarty of the National Journal: progressive groups are already targeting ConservaDems for their opposition to gun safety measures, & these progressives have "drawn a line in the sand" on "entitlement reforms."

Wherein President Obama & his researchers find some nice things to say about George W. Bush:

Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake, in Salon: "Each of the words in his speech were deliberately chosen. Each of the words had a purpose and meaning, and he believed each of them because today President Obama has more in common with former President George W. Bush than with Sen. Barack Obama, who decided to run for president in the 2008 election." ...

... Bill Clinton speaks at the dedication of the Bush library:

... ** "Yes, George W. Bush Was a Terrible President, and No, He Wasn't Smart." Jonathan Chait: "He oversaw a disastrous administration for precisely the reason his critics always grasped: Bush was an intellectual simpleton, a man who made up his mind in absence of the facts, who swatted away inconvenient realities as annoyances.... The failures of Bush's governing method -- the staffing of hacks and cronies, the disdain for evidence -- was perfectly reflected in the outcomes. The Bush presidency was a full disaster at home and abroad, and whatever small accomplishments that can be salvaged barely rate any mention in comparison with the failures." ...

... Gene Robinson: George W. Bush's policies just keep looking worse in hindsight than they did contemporaneously.

President Obama spoke at a memorial service for victims of the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion:

... AP: "The service opened with a photo slideshow set to country music and projected onto a movie screen. It showed images of the men from their childhood, their weddings and other moments throughout lives filled with children and friends. Mourners were given programs with full-page profiles of each of the victims, describing their lives, their values and their faith. Both the president and first lady Michelle Obama wiped away a tear as bagpipes sounded 'Amazing Grace.' ... After the service, the president and first lady were planning to visit privately with relatives and friends of firefighters killed in the explosion, the White House said."

Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon on the changing reports as to particulars in the Boston Marathon case.

Local News

Katie McDonough of Salon: "While Minnesota state lawmakers consider a measure to legalize gay marriage and an alternative civil unions bill for gay couples, Democratic state Rep. Kim Norton has signed on to a third option: universal civil unions. The bill would offer civil unions to gay and straight couples, getting the state government out of the marriage business altogether and making 'certain that every Minnesotan couple gets a civil union in the state of Minnesota,' Norton told ABC's KAALTV. The measure would leave marriage 'to the churches that are offering them,' she added." CW: this is an approach I suggested years ago (I thought I invented it, but probably other people invented it, too) when it appeared gay marriage wasn't going to be legalized. It made sense then; it's anachronistic now.

News Ledes

New York Times: "Thousands of garment workers rampaged through industrial areas of the capital of Bangladesh on Friday, smashing vehicles with bamboo poles and setting fire to at least two factories in violent protests ignited by a deadly building collapse this week that killed at least 304 workers." CW: the people of Texas should have as much gumption.

New York Times: "George Jones, the definitive country singer of the last half-century, whose songs about heartbreak and hard drinking echoed his own turbulent life, died on Friday in Nashville. He was 81."

Ultimate Ingratitude. Boston Globe: "The family of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev ... received food stamps and welfare when the brothers were growing up, according to a letter from the state Department of Transitional Assistance that was obtained by the Globe. In the letter, sent Thursday to the chairman of the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee, the department outlined the benefits that the brothers had received through their parents, Anzor and Zubeidat, as well as benefits Tamerlan Tsarnaev later received as a member of his wife's household." ...

... Boston Globe: "Authorities are investigating whether an MBTA Transit Police officer wounded during the shoot-out with the Boston Marathon bombing suspects was hit by friendly fire, State Police spokesman David Procopio confirmed Thursday. Richard Donohue Jr., 33, was struck in the leg by a bullet, which authorities said remained embedded there. He was listed in serious but stable condition Thursday night at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge."

... AP: "The surviving Boston Marathon bombings suspect has been released from a civilian hospital and transferred to a federal medical detention center in central Massachusetts." ...

... Washington Post: "Nine months before the Boston Marathon bombing, a U.S. counterterrorism task force received a warning that a suspected militant had returned from a lengthy trip to Russia, U.S. officials said.... But officials said there is no indication that the unidentified customs officer provided the information to any other members of the task force, including FBI agents who had previously interviewed the militant."