The Wires

The Ledes

Monday, May 23, 2016.

Washington Post: "A wave of bombings in Syria killed at least 65 people Monday in a coastal area where Russian troops are based, Syrian state media reported. The attacks struck at one of the key strongholds for President Bashar al-Assad outside Damascus and the hub for Russian military operations backing his government." -- CW

Public Service Announcement

New York Times (May 22): "An outbreak of a life-threatening illness that has been linked to foods packaged by a processing plant in Washington State has prompted a large-scale voluntary recall of frozen fruits and vegetables marketed under 42 brand names. The scale of the recall reflects the severity of the outbreak of the illness, listeria, and of concerns about how the contaminated food might have “trickled down” into other products, said Brittany Behm, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." -- CW

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

... Washington Post: The White House goes Scandinavian for a state dinner for the leaders of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

New York Times: "Morley Safer, the longest-serving correspondent on '60 Minutes' who was known as much for his hard-hitting reporting as the quirky stories he covered, will formally retire this week after a career in broadcast news that lasted more than 50 years, CBS said on Wednesday. Mr. Safer, 84, served on '60 Minutes' for all but two of its 48 seasons. He started scaling back his appearances on the show after he turned 80; his last segment, a profile of the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, aired in March.... An hourlong program on Sunday, “Morley Safer: A Reporter’s Life,” will, among other highlights, recall an investigation by Mr. Safer that resulted in the freedom of Lenell Geter, a black man who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison in Texas. In an appearance on the special, Mr. Geter credited Mr. Safer with saving his life."

U.K. Telegraph: "A Canadian schoolboy appears to have discovered a lost Mayan city hidden deep in the jungles of Mexico using a new method of matching stars to the location of temples on earth....In hundreds of years of scholarship, no other scientist had ever found such a correlation.... Studying 22 different constellations, [William Gadoury] found that they matched the location of 117 Mayan cities scattered throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. When he applied his theory to a 23rd constellation, he found that two of the stars already had cities linked to them but that the third star was unmatched. William took to Google Maps and projected that there must be another city hidden deep in the thick jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The Canadian Space Agency agreed to train its satellite telescopes on the spot and returned with striking pictures: what appears to be an ancient Mayan pyramid and dozens of smaller structures around it."

Politico: "Fox News chief White House correspondent Ed Henry will not be appearing on the channel for the time being, following a report in In Touch Weekly that he cheated on his wife with a Las Vegas hostess. 'We recently became aware of Ed’s personal issues and he’s taking some time off to work things out,' a Fox News spokesperson told Politico in a statement."

New York Times: “'Hamilton,' the groundbreaking hip-hop musical about the nation’s founding fathers, has been nominated for 16 Tony Awards, the most in Broadway history." ...

... Here's the full list of Tony Award nominees.

MIT News: "For the first time, an international team of astronomers from MIT, the University of Liège in Belgium, and elsewhere have detected three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star, just 40 light years from Earth. The sizes and temperatures of these worlds are comparable to those of Earth and Venus, and are the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the solar system. The results are published [Monday, May 2] in the journal Nature.... The scientists discovered the planets using TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope), a 60-centimeter telescope operated by the University of Liège, based in Chile."

Washington Post's Reliable Source: At an "afterparty hosted by MSNBC following the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner [Saturday, May 1]..., a scuffle broke out between Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters and Ryan Grim, the Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief.... The two flailed around a bit, upending a table and bumping into several people. 'Punches were definitely thrown,' said one witness. Before any damage was done, several bystanders, including Sean Spicer, communications director at the Republican National Committee, separated the two."

New York Times: "... a nearly 47,000-word journalistic series [by Walt Whitman] called 'Manly Health and Training,' were lost for more than 150 years, buried in an obscure newspaper that survived only in a handful of libraries. The series was uncovered last summer by a graduate student, who came across a fleeting reference to it in a digitized newspaper database and then tracked down the full text on microfilm.Now, Whitman’s self-help-guide-meets-democratic-manifesto is being published online in its entirety by a scholarly journal, in what some experts are calling the biggest new Whitman discovery in decades."

This is for safari:

... Via the New Yorker.

Washington Post: "Late last week, Comcast announced a new program that allows makers of smart TVs and other Internet-based video services to have full access to your cable programming without the need for a set-top box.  Instead, the content will flow directly to the third-party device as an app, including all the channels and program guide. The Xfinity TV Partner Program will initially be offered on new smart TVs from Samsung, as well as Roku streaming boxes.  But the program, built on open Internet-based standards including HTML5, is now open to other device manufacturers to adopt. As video services move from hardware to software, the future of the traditional set-top box looks increasingly grim. With this announcement, Comcast customers may soon eliminate the need for an extra device, potentially saving hundreds of dollars in fees."

BBC: "Dame Judi Dench and David Tennant have joined other stars at a gala marking 400 years since Shakespeare's death. Saturday's Shakespeare Live show in the playwright's birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon included play scene performances, dance and music." Then this:

New York Times: "The Pulitzers are in their centennial year, and the winners announced by Columbia University reflected in part the changes sweeping the media landscape." Here's the full list of the prize winners, via the New York Times.

CW: The AP produced this video in January 2015, but I just came across it:

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The Commentariat -- Feb. 9, 2014

Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times: "The federal government will soon treat married same-sex couples the same as heterosexual couples when they file for bankruptcy, testify in court or visit family in prison. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was preparing to issue policies aimed at eliminating the distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex married couples in the federal criminal justice system, according to excerpts from a speech prepared for a Saturday event organized by a prominent gay-rights group."

David Sanger & Eric Schmitt of the New York Times: "Intelligence officials investigating how Edward J. Snowden gained access to roughly 1.7 million of the country's most highly classified documents say they have determined that he used inexpensive and widely available software to 'scrape' the National Security Agency's networks, and kept at it even after he was briefly challenged by agency officials. Using 'web crawler' software designed to search, index and back up a website, Mr. Snowden 'scraped data out of our systems' while he went about his day job, according to a senior intelligence official.... Mr. Snowden's 'insider attack' ... was hardly sophisticated and should have been easily detected, investigators found." CW: Fascinating. I liked the part about the NSA "granting anonymity" to the Times' sources.

Dana Milbank on "immoral" conservatism.

CW: This Washington Post story, by Sandhya Somashekhar, features two people who quit their jobs & are now getting subsidized health insurance. Somashekhar presents them as nice people who quit because of (1) a change of job duties & (2) a family illness. I'm just waiting for the Fox "News" stories about deadbeats & layabouts.

Sharon Begley & Julie Steenhuysen of Reuters: "Hundreds of people with HIV/AIDS in Louisiana trying to obtain coverage under President Barack Obama's healthcare reform are in danger of being thrown out of the insurance plan they selected in a dispute over federal subsidies and the interpretation of federal rules about preventing Obamacare fraud. Some healthcare advocates see discrimination in the move, but Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana says it is not trying to keep people with HIV/AIDS from enrolling in one of its policies under the Affordable Care Act...." ...

     ... CW: This seems like one of those inevitable glitches -- though obviously it doesn't feel like a mere glitch to the people affected -- that the bureaucrats & insurance companies should be able to work out. The question is, is there a mechanism for dealing with these kinds of problems? If so, it hasn't worked here yet.

Follow-up. Ha! Jia Lynn Yang of the Washington Post: "AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong told employees in an e-mail Saturday evening that he was reversing the company's 401(k) policy and apologized for his controversial comments last week.... The policy change would have switched 401(k) matching contributions to an annual lump sum, rather than being distributed throughout the year with every paycheck.... Armstrong tried to explain the changes Thursday but instead stirred up more bad publicity when he blamed the new federal health-care law and medical expenses associated with two 'distressed babies.'"

Slate has a world map showing Obama's 2nd-term nominees for ambassadorships which indicates how much many of the nominees contributed to Obama's campaign coffers.

Here's a reminder from George Will that George Will is creepier than David Brooks.

CW: This New York Times story, by Adam Nossiter, about the harsh treatment of gays in Nigeria, is hardly news (though a new, horrible anti-gay law just went into effect last month). I wonder why the U.N. & countries like, say, the U.S., don't sanction Nigeria in the same way we did South Africa during apartheid days. After all, the apartheid government didn't imprison or stone people for being black. According to the Nossiter story, a Pew Research survey found that 98 percent of Nigerians say homosexuality is "unacceptable." (Yeah, I guess they would say that or fear being "suspect.") You don't have to "accept" someone else's sexuality to treat him humanely. ...

     ... BTW, this story provides a good example of what happens when a country allows religious beliefs to trump human rights. Those self-righteous Little Sisters who won't even sign a form saying they object to contraception should give a little thought to the consequences of their fervor.

... Steve Benen argues that Republicans aren't necessary ignorant & loony; they just tell pollsters they hold ignorant & loony views because of "political tribalism in a period of stark polarization."

Kaitlynn Riely of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "A nun who worked for five years as a registered nurse at the Allegheny County[, Pennsylvania] Jail infirmary was fired last week for spearheading unionization efforts, an organizer for the United Steelworkers union said Monday. Sister Barbara Finch, a Sister of St. Joseph of Baden, had her security clearances revoked and was dismissed from her job Thursday after she expressed concerns about staffing, safety issues and patient care during meetings at the jail, said Randa Ruge, the union organizer.... The Steelworkers union on Friday filed an unfair labor practice charge against Corizon Health Inc., the Tennessee-based firm that manages county jail health services. The charge, sent to the National Labor Relation Board, is that Corizon dismissed her in retaliation for participating in union activities." Via Steve Benen. CW: Also, Finch appears to be another victim of privatization. This is not to suggest that Allegheny County loves public unions, but they have one. And another one.

Reuters: "A Tennessee judge who ordered a baby's name changed from Messiah to Martin, saying the former was reserved for Jesus Christ, has been fired, court officials said on Tuesday.... O. Duane Slone, presiding judge of the state's fourth judicial district..., did not give a reason in his order, but [Lu Ann] Ballew had previously been cited by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct for an inappropriate religious bias. A hearing is scheduled for March 3.... The parents appealed [Ballew's order], and another judge held that Ballew's ruling was unconstitutional." Also via Benen.

News Lede

CNN: "Two [Brooklyn] men behind bars for more than half their lives over a triple murder walked free this week after DNA evidence tore holes in their convictions. Antonio Yarbough and Sharrif Wilson were teenagers when prison doors clanked shut behind them."


The Commentariat -- Feb. 8, 2014

The President's Weekly Address:

Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "The National Security Agency is collecting less than 30 percent of all Americans' call records because of an inability to keep pace with the explosion in cellphone use, according to current and former U.S. officials. The disclosure contradicts popular perceptions that the government is sweeping up virtually all domestic phone data. It is also likely to raise questions about the efficacy of a program that is premised on its breadth and depth...." ...

... The New York Times report, by Charlie Savage, is here.

Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "The CIA has confirmed that it is obliged to follow a federal law barring the collection of financial information and hacking into government data networks. But neither the agency nor its Senate overseers will say what, if any, current, recent or desired activities the law prohibits the CIA from performing -- particularly since a section of the law explicitly carves out an exception for 'lawfully authorized' intelligence activities. The murky episode, arising from a public Senate hearing on intelligence last week, illustrates what observers call the frustrations inherent in getting even basic information about secret agencies into public view...."

David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "The president traveled to ... [East Lansing, Michigan] to tout the passage of a $1 trillion farm bill this week, a rare bipartisan achievement by Congress that the president was eager to highlight. Six congressional Democrats flew aboard Air Force One -- but none of the two dozen Republicans invited by Obama showed up.... House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was busy.... A day earlier, Boehner [said of Obama, 'He is running around the country telling everyone he's going to keep acting on his own. And he's feeding more distrust about whether he is committed to the rule of law.'" CW: Right. Boehner said this after refusing to "run around the country" with Obama at the President's invitation. Maybe he's afraid AF1 has cooties. More likely the ballless (hey, 3 L's!) wonder is petrified Fox "News" would run a segment showing the two leaders in the same room & pitchforkery would ensue.

Jonathan Weisman & Ashley Parker of the New York Times: Boehner couldn't introduce immigration reform legislation because all the Tea Party people were picking on him. CW: Weisman & Parker seem unimpressed with Boehner's claim that it's all Obama's fault. ...

... Gail Collins isn't buying it, either: "Listen, there's widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws,' [Boehner] told a press conference. 'And it's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.' ... Under this president, half of all federal crime prosecution involves immigration crime. The government now spends more on enforcing immigration laws than it spends on the F.B.I., Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives combined. We have more than 650 miles of fencing along the Mexican border. Plus, don't forget all the drones. And 21,391 border patrol agents." ...

... CW: I'll give President Obama credit for this: the bifurcation (or shattering) of the Republican Party. True, Obama succeeded mostly just by "being," but his being has been enough to turn the party into Rumpelstiltskin. Absent Obama, there probably would be no Tea Party to challenge every semi-normal member of the GOP and styme every effort to advance rational legislation. So when Republicans say they can't do this or they must do that because Obama, they're not entirely wrong.

Charles Blow: "The latest talking point is that the president is a 'lawless' 'dictator' hellbent on operating outside, and indeed above, the law.... This lawlessness talk is simply another iteration of the 'othering' of this president. Paint him as a criminal, an enemy to the rule of law, and by extension, to the construct of America. America is, after all, a nation of laws." ...

     ... CW: And a dangerous one. It suggests to the crazies that maybe someone should "take the law into his own hands" & do away with the President. The Secret Service should despise Republican leaders & Members of Congress who repeatedly encourage violent nut jobs.

Obama 2.0. Send in the "B" Team. Catherine Thompson of TPM: Noah Mamet, "a bundler for President Barack Obama who is nominated as the next U.S. ambassador to Argentina, [admitted to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing] Thursday that he's never actually been to that country.... But Mamet didn't have half as bad a time during his hearing as George J. Tsunis, a businessman and Obama donor nominated as the U.S. ambassador to Norway, did. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) skewered Tsunis last month for his lack of knowledge about the country -- he said Norway has a 'president' when it is actually a constitutional monarchy -- prompting a Norway website to describe his testimony as a 'jaw-dropping diplomatic blunder.'" ...

... Erik Loomis of Lawyers, Guns & Money: "... it would be nice if the appointees had marginal knowledge of the nation of appointment. Or you know, had been there before. I mean, does the fact that Norway feels insulted matter on a geopolitical level? No, not really. But it does reinforce stereotypes of Americans being insensitive clods who know nothing of the world."

Erik Eckholm of the New York Times: "Helping the terminally ill end their lives, condemned for decades as immoral, is gaining traction. Banned everywhere but Oregon until 2008, it is now legal in five states. Its advocates, who have learned to shun the term 'assisted suicide,' believe that as baby boomers watch frail parents suffer, support for what they call the 'aid in dying' movement will grow further."

Ann Marimow of the Washington Post: "A former State Department arms expert pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to disclosing national defense information to a Fox News reporter. Stephen Jin-Woo Kim admitted sharing information from a top-secret intelligence report on North Korea with Fox chief Washington correspondent James Rosen. Investigators in the case also targeted Rosen, calling him a possible 'co-conspirator' in order to obtain a search warrant for his personal e-mail. The law enforcement tactics used in Kim's case -- and in another case involving the phone records of Associated Press journalists -- led the Justice Department to tighten its policies last summer for pursuing unauthorized disclosures of classified information to journalists."

Your Tax Dollars at Play. Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post: "Amid a flurry of ethical scandals vexing the military comes a new transgression: The Navy has rebuked three admirals for taking a questionable trip to Britain and thereby flunking what was termed 'The Washington Post Test.' The admirals went on an official, seven-day trip to Britain in April 2012...." They were friends & took their wives. "In June, after a year-long investigation that resulted in a 68-page report and an intensive audit of every penny spent, the Naval Inspector General concluded that the admirals had flunked. It found that Rear Adms. Mark F. Heinrich, David R. Pimpo and Donald L. Singleton -- each of whom held important Navy supply and logistics jobs -- had violated federal travel regulations by staying at London hotels that cost more than $400 a night and booking unnecessarily expensive flights."

Jia Lynn Yang of the Washington Post: This week "AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong ... angered employees, insulted parents with sick babies and shined a light on a practice seeping its way into corporate America that threatens to rob workers of thousands of dollars in 401(k) savings.... The changes undercut a central virtue of the 401(k) system, which in theory should make it easier for employees to switch companies and take their savings with them.... Retirement experts say that the cut in benefits not only hurts those who leave the company midyear, but also those who stay put, because they lose the compounding benefits of having more money put into their accounts throughout the year.... There was no word on why a company with about 4,000 employees would not be able to absorb the expenses of two employees with abnormally high medical bills." See also yesterday' Commentariat.

Senate Races

Al Jazeera & the AP: "Montana's governor [Steve Bullock (D)] picked Lt. Gov. John Walsh on Friday to be interim U.S. senator, an appointment that could kick-start Walsh's election campaign and potentially allow Democrats to keep a seat in a typically Republican state, increasing their changes of retaining control of the U.S. Senate. Lt. Gov. John Walsh, 53, is to be sworn in Tuesday to serve the remainder of Democratic Sen. Max Baucus' term, who is leaving to become the U.S. ambassador to China. That will give Walsh nine months to build a record as an incumbent as he looks to a potential general-election campaign against a formidable opponent, Republican U.S. Rep Steve Daines."

Joseph Gerth of the Louisville Courier-Journal: "Former President Bill Clinton ... will come to Louisville this month for a campaign event for [Alison Lundergan] Grimes, who is running for the U.S. Senate and trying to topple Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.... According to a Bluegrass Poll published Thursday, Grimes leads McConnell 46-42 in a head-to-head matchup." ...

... Catherine Thompson: "Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is ratcheting up his criticism of former President Bill Clinton, suggesting Democratic candidates return any money he helped raise for them in protest of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. 'They can't have it both ways. And so I really think that anybody who wants to take money from Bill Clinton or have a fundraiser has a lot of explaining to do,' Paul said in a C-SPAN 'Newsmakers' interview set to air Sunday, as quoted by the Washington Times." ...

     ... CW: Yeah, and I suggest Republican candidates return any money Paul helped raise for them in protest of the Acqua Buddha scandal. Boinking the intern is pretty damned bad; kidnapping a college girl is worse.

He Got Outta Dodge. Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: Sen. Pat "Roberts [R-Kansas] is now desperate to re-establish ties to Kansas and to adjust his politics to fit the rise of the right in the state. But his efforts underscore the awkward reality of Republicans who, after coming of age in an era of comity and esteem for long-term service, are trying to remake themselves to be warriors for a Tea Party age. In an interview, the three-term senator acknowledged that he did not have a home of his own in Kansas. The house on a country club golf course [in Dodge City] that he lists as his voting address belongs to two longtime supporters and donors -- C. Duane and Phyllis Ross -- and he says he stays with them when he is in the area. He established his voting address there the day before his challenger in the August primary, Milton Wolf, announced his candidacy last fall...." ...

... Kindly Old White Senator from Kansas Invites Ethnic-Indian Surgeon General Nominee to Dodge City, "because we have a lovely doctor from India. She's in her mid-30s, and she's highly respected by the community..., and I think you'd be right at home." CW: Murthy is not "a doctor from India." He was born in England & grew up in Miami, Florida. This would be like Roberts calling Barack Obama a president from Kenya, something he'll probably do during his re-election campaign.) ...

... Beyond the Beltway ...

... Who Would Want to Live in Kansas Anyway? Sarah Posner in Al Jazeera: "If a bill approved by the Kansas House Committee on Federal and State Affairs Thursday becomes law, businesses and government employees could legally refuse service to citizens because of their sexual orientation or marital status, claiming it violates their religious beliefs. HB 2453, if passed, would permit 'any individual or religious entity' to claim an exemption, based on religious views.... Although the bill would require government agencies to make another employee available to provide the service if one employee objects, opponents of the bill say that arrangement could prove unworkable in small locales. The Kansas measure is an extreme permutation of a wave of new bills in state legislatures that purport to bolster religious freedom, but that opponents say constitute a troubling new trend to craft a license to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital or family status."

Suppress the Vote. Aviva Shen of Think Progress: "Gainesville, Florida, in an attempt to avoid the six-hour lines that characterized last Election Day, sought approval to use the University of Florida's student union as an early voting site. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner [R] denied the request, sparking outrage. Detzner justified the decision by claiming that the Reitz student union does not fit the list of eligible early voting sites, which was expanded last year to reduce lines. Now, municipalities can use fairgrounds, government-owned community centers, convention centers, stadiums, courthouses, civic centers, and county commission buildings. 'The terms "convention center" and "government-owned community center" cannot be construed so broadly as to include the Reitz Union,' the state's Division of Elections argued. Local officials contend that the Reitz Union qualifies as a government-owned community center, as it is part of a public university.... UF students will have to travel more than five miles off campus in order to cast their vote in the March special election -- a difficult trip for a mostly car-less population."

Meanwhile, in New Jersey

Another Thing Chris Christie Had No Idea Was Happening Right under His Nose. Maggie Haberman & Elizabeth Titus of Politico: "The memo from Gov. Chris Christie's office attacking former appointee David Wildstein's credibility ... was a striking and deeply personal broadside coming from a chief executive of a state, and even his allies called it a mistake. But one important person hadn't seen the missive ahead of time: the governor himself. Christie's aides did not run the document -- which took the extraordinary step of highlighting incidents from Wildstein's high school days -- by the governor before they sent it out, according to two people familiar with the matter. Instead, someone tucked the high school lines into a daily briefing email to the governor's supporters, and blasted it out earlier than planned." ...

... Fort Lee Mayor Changes His Story. Mike Kelly of the Bergen Record: "Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, in his most extensive comments yet, said Governor Christie's aides courted him for over two years with gifts from the Port Authority to his town -- like shuttle buses, pothole repair and emergency radios -- as well as a personal tours of the 9/11 Memorial in a effort to win his endorsement."

Jenna Pizzi of the Star-Ledger: "Although he has proclaimed his innocence since FBI agents raided his home and City Hall, Trenton[, New Jersey,] Mayor Tony Mack was found guilty [Friday]. A jury returned the verdict after seven and a half hours of deliberations, saying that the first-term mayor is guilty of all counts in his corruption trial. Mack stood trial beside his brother Ralphiel Mack who was found guilty of three of the six counts against him."

Presidential Election 2016

Bob Moser of the American Prospect has a very readable, short piece -- an appreciation, really -- on Joe Biden.

News Ledes

Washington Post: German Chancellor Angela Merkel is outraged by American diplomat's leaked "Fuck the EU!" comment.

AP: "The nation's largest electricity provider, state regulators and an environmental group issued differing data Thursday about the levels of toxins detected in a North Carolina river following a massive spill of coal ash. Test results released by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Duke Energy showed arsenic and other potentially harmful contaminates were detected in the Dan River, but at levels considered safe for both people and fish.... Water samples tested by a lab hired by the Waterkeeper Alliance contained levels of arsenic nearly nine times higher than the state's results, along with readings for other hazardous chemicals at levels far above state standards."

AP: "Former CIA Director James Woolsey says anti-Semitism could be a factor in the U.S. refusal to release a Jewish American jailed for spying for Israel. Woolsey told Israeli Channel 10 TV Saturday that Americans who spied for other countries including Korea and Greece were freed after short sentences, while Jonathan Pollard is still jailed after 25 years."

Reuters: "The United States on Friday issued a fresh travel alert for Americans attending the Sochi Winter Olympics, citing cybersecurity threats and warning them to have 'no expectation of privacy' using Russian communications networks. The U.S. State Department's alert - coming the same day that Turkish security forces in Istanbul seized a Ukrainian man accused of trying to hijack an airliner and redirect it to Sochi - updates one issued two weeks ago."

AFP: "US Department of Justice officials on Friday dropped an antitrust investigation into whether Samsung abused essential mobile gadget patents in its ongoing battle with Apple."

Guardian: "Seven months after the controversial acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, a case with some striking similarities has reignited debate over gun control, racism and self-defence laws. The jury in the trial of Michael Dunn, which began in Jacksonville, Florida, on Thursday, will hear how a 47-year-old software developer -- who is white -- grabbed a 9mm pistol from his glove box and fired repeatedly at 17-year-old Jordan Davis, a black student, during a November 2012 altercation that started as an argument over loud music blaring from the car Davis was sitting in at a Florida gas station."


The Commentariat -- Feb. 7, 2014

Lawrence Downes of the New York Times: "[Thursday] Speaker John Boehner cast doubt on the possibility of the House passing immigration legislation this year, probably dashing whatever slim hopes there were for a deal. The problem this time wasn't ... any of the ... familiar excuses Republicans have given over the years for doing nothing. It was that the Republicans can't fix immigration because: President Obama.... Lost in all the squalid electoral scheming is the moral dimension of this debate: Thousands of families are being torn apart and citizen children are suffering needlessly.... Mr. Obama should use his authority to slow that enforcement machinery down, as he did to wide acclaim in deferring the deportations of thousands of young immigrants known as Dreamers." ...

... Conservative Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson on Boehner & the Coca Cola ad. Immigrants get it: Republicans don't care about them. ...

... Steve M. "Nobody could have predicted...."

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "The Senate failed to move forward on a three-month extension of assistance for the long-term unemployed on Thursday, leaving it unlikely that Congress would approve the measure soon while undercutting a key aspect of President Obama's economic recovery plan. Fifty-nine senators, including four Republicans, voted to advance the legislation, falling one vote short of the 60 needed to break a Republican filibuster effort." ...

... Sarah Mimms of the National Journal: "For the fifth time this year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought an unemployment insurance extension to the floor on Thursday, even though several members of his party admitted that they didn't have the votes to pass it.... But ... they once again got Republicans on the record opposing assistance for the long-term unemployed.... With Republicans voting against the issue or avoiding it altogether, while simultaneously 'spending a full day debating new restrictions to women's health,' one national Democratic operative said, that fits in well with the party's broader electoral message."

Paul Krugman: "... the campaign against health reform has, at every stage, grabbed hold of any and every argument it could find against insuring the uninsured, with truth and logic never entering into the matter.... We had the nonexistent death panels. We had false claims that the Affordable Care Act will cause the deficit to balloon. We had supposed horror stories about ordinary Americans facing huge rate increases, stories that collapsed under scrutiny. And now we have a fairly innocuous technical estimate misrepresented as a tale of massive economic damage.... No, millions of Americans won't lose their jobs, but tens of millions will gain the security of knowing that they can get and afford the health care they need." ...

... E. J. Dionne: "The reaction to the CBO study is an example of how willfully stupid -- there's no other word -- the debate over Obamacare has become. Opponents don't look to a painstaking analysis for enlightenment. They twist its findings and turn them into dishonest slogans. Too often, the media go along by highlighting the study's political impact rather than focusing on what it actually says." ...

... ** This post by conservative Ron Fournier of the National Journal is shockingly on-point: "The biggest 'disincentive for people to work' is not Obamacare. It's the lack of jobs in a fast-changing, post-industrial economy that's leaving millions of Americans behind.... Republicans initially twisted the [CBO] analysis to suggest that Obamacare would throw 2 million people out of work. Quickly proven wrong, they shifted their attack. They warned that millions of lazy, unmotivated Americans would take advantage of the law to live on the government dole.... The GOP argument has more than a whiff of Reagan-era racial 'welfare queen' politics." ...

     ... Ross Douthat -- a purveyor of the "disincentive" argument -- heartily objects. He has some points, but he misses the main one: if aspects of the ACA do work as a disincentive to working more, then suggest a fix. Don't just whine about it.

... Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post: "Here's a remarkably constant factor to bear in mind in the debate over the federal health-care law: Most Americans say it hasn't really impacted them one way or the other. A new Gallup poll out this week shows that 64 percent of Americans say the law has not affected them or their family, even as many of Obamacare's features have been implemented. Among those who say they have felt an impact, 19 percent say it has hurt them and their family, while 13 percent say it has helped." ...

... Greg Sargent: "But who are those 19 percent? It turns out those telling Gallup the law has hurt them or their family are very disproportionately Republican and conservative." ...

... Igor Volsky of Think Progress: "AOL Chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong blamed the babies of two employees for increasing the company's benefit costs on Thursday, explaining in a conference call that AOL had to pay millions out in medical bills and alter its entire benefits package. The remarks came just hours after the company announced changes to its 401(k) plans and complained that Obamacare has increased costs by $7.1 million.... But health care experts ThinkProgress contacted questioned why a large self-insured company with more than 5,000 employees could not absorb the additional health care costs associated with the pregnancies. Large employers typically purchase reinsurance, which could cover a substantial share of big claims and ensure stability in cases of larger-than expected medical payouts. 'The Affordable Care Act is simply a convenient whipping boy for any decision an employer makes to cut benefits,' Tim Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee, said." ...

... Joe Coscarelli of New York: "Tim Armstrong should probably stop doing conference calls. The AOL CEO, who fired a guy during one for taking his picture, was perhaps too brash once again today, baldly telling his entire company that their benefits were being rolled back because two women went and got themselves pregnant.... The Huffington Post, which is owned by AOL, covered the comments in its business section, while some employees expressed their collective 'WTF' in public." CW: The HuffPo tweets are pretty good, & all this is another reminder of why I don't follow the HuffPo but respect its top reporters.

Annie Lowrey of the New York Times: "Here they go again. As of Friday, the Treasury will no longer have the authority to issue bonds as necessary to pay the government's bills. In a matter of weeks, the government could run out of cash and begin defaulting on some payments unless Congress acts to raise the official ceiling on the national debt.... In the past, the Treasury has managed to keep paying the bills for months after hitting the debt ceiling, using 'extraordinary measures' to move cash from pocket to pocket. But it is currently sending out billions of dollars of tax refunds, warning that Congress probably has only until the end of the month to act."

Infrastructure. Adam Edelman of New York Daily News: "Vice President Joe Biden, never one to hide what he's thinking, said Thursday that New York's LaGuardia Airport feels like it's 'in some third world country.' ... Officials from the Port Authority, which operates LaGuardia, did not comment."

Michael Shear of the New York Times: "President Obama will sign the $956 billion farm bill on Friday as he travels to Michigan State University to extol the benefits of a thriving agricultural sector on the nation's overall economy.... Last month, Gov. Cuomo announced plans for the state to take over a major rehabilitation project of the aging airport, from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to speed up the renovation process."

Every Single Senator Wants to Send Max Baucus to the Other Side of the World. Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post: "Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) will serve as the next U.S. ambassador to China after his colleagues confirmed him Thursday for the critical diplomatic position. Senators voted 96 to 0 to confirm Baucus; he voted 'present.' He replaces Gary Locke, who is stepping down...."

I'm going to predict that that interview that I did is going to go down in journalistic history as what should be done. It takes a certain skill to pose questions in a factual way and be persistent without being disrespectful. -- Bill O'Reilly on his interview of/attack on President Obama

Well, Bill, this will go down in 'journalistic' history. -- Constant Weader ...

I was not pleased with the disrespect he showed to the President, so that wasn't a warmer-upper. -- Nancy Pelosi, in response to an O'Reilly "reporter"'s insistence that she do an interview with O'Reilly

Ginger Gibson of Politico: "A reporter from Bill O'Reilly's television program attended House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's weekly press conference to confront her about why she won't sit for an interview with the Fox News anchor":

The Billionaires' Club

Andy Kroll & Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones: "There's one main rule at the conservative donor conclaves held twice a year by Charles and David Koch at luxury resorts: What happens there stays there.... But last week, following the Kochs' first donor gathering of 2014, one attendee left behind a sensitive document at the Renaissance Esmeralda resort outside of Palm Springs, California.... The one-page document, provided to Mother Jones by a hotel guest who discovered it, offers a fascinating glimpse into the Kochs' political machine and shows how closely intertwined it is with Koch Industries, their $115 billion conglomerate." CW: Likely the careless attendee is accustomed to having others pick up after her/him. Thanks to Barbarossa for the link.

The very rich are different from way more obnoxious than you and me. Billionaire Sam Zell is out to prove it. The worst part begins at about 2:45 min. in (Zell's attack on President Obama (and his ignorance of press reports), which precedes his One Percent hubris, is disgusting, too):

... Steve Benen: "... to say, out loud, on purpose, that the wealthy 'work harder' than everyone else is about the most elitist sentiment possible. It gives Romney's '47 percent' video a run for its money in the Obnoxious Snobbery Hall of Fame. And ... let's not forget that Zell didn't even bother making 'a perfunctory disavowal of the Nazi comparison.'" CW: Both of Zell's parents -- who were Jewish -- fled Poland just before Germany invaded it in 1939.

New Jersey

Michael Linhorst of the Bergen Record: "There were no public events. There were no public statements. There wasn't even a list of people he met with or how much money he raised. This was the life of Governor Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, on Thursday as he made his second fundraising trip since the George Washington Bridge scandal became national news."

Kate Zernicke of the New York Times looks into David Wildstein's career as political blogger "Wally Edge": "He loved stories about politicians caught in a lie, and nursed grudges with sources who had lied to him. And he had a rule: Do not attack political operatives for doing stupid things, because they do what they do for their bosses, the politicians.... He used his column to needle people with whom he had feuds -- mostly, politicians he thought had lied to him."

Star-Ledger Editors: "Nearly 2,000 Sandy victims were wrongly denied grants by the state. A full three-quarters of those who appealed the rejections won, and are now back in the program.... And those are just the people who appealed. What if there were others who were also wrongly rejected, but simply trusted the system? ... Federal officials are already auditing the Christie administration's use of $25 million in federal Sandy funds for television commercials starring the governor and his family during his re-election campaign. They should audit these rejections, too, as housing advocates and lawmakers have called for."

Old Russia

Paul Sonne, et al., of the Wall Street Journal: "Rooms without doorknobs, locks or heat, dysfunctional toilets, surprise early-morning fire alarms and packs of stray dogs: These are the initial images of the 2014 Winter Olympics that foreign journalists have blasted around the world from their officially assigned hotels -- and the wave of criticism has rankled Russian officials. Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, seemed to reflect the view held among many Russian officials that some Western visitors are deliberately trying to sabotage Sochi's big debut out of bias against Russia. 'We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day,' he said."

Alec Luhn, et al., of the Guardian, July 2013: Edward "Snowden praised Venezuela, as well as Russia, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador for 'being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless' and for 'refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation'."

Constant Weader: I'm looking forward to human rights activist Vladimir P.'s posting those YouTube videos of Ed in the shower, Ed taking a shit, Ed tweezing his nosehairs, etc. (See also yesterday's News Ledes.)

Presidential Election 2016

Kate Bolduan & Lindsay Perna of CNN: Vice President Biden will make a decision next summer about whether or not to run for president.

In the Washington Post, Liza Mundy reviews HRC, by Jonathan Allen & Amy Parnes, "a step-by-step recounting of Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state, but it's also a revealing window into the le Carré-like layers of intrigue that develop when a celebrity politician who is married to another celebrity politician loses to yet another celebrity politician, and goes on to serve the politician who defeated her."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Moody's Investors Service downgraded Puerto Rico's general-obligation debt to junk status on Friday, compounding the commonwealth's difficulties as it seeks fresh sources of cash. It was Puerto Rico's second downgrade to junk this week after Standard & Poor's took the same step on Tuesday."

New York Times: The tense Russian-American jockeying over the fate of Ukraine escalated on Thursday as a Kremlin official accused Washington of 'crudely interfering' in the former Soviet republic, while the Obama administration blamed Moscow for spreading an intercepted private conversation between two American diplomats." Here's the tape:


The Miserable Ones

Jean Vanjean* is alive and living in America. His real name is Tom Barrett.

Charles Pierce highlights a Human Rights Watch "report, 'Profiting from Probation: America’s ‘Offender-Funded’ Probation Industry,' [which] describes how

more than 1,000 courts in several US states delegate tremendous coercive power to companies that are often subject to little meaningful oversight or regulation. In many cases, the only reason people are put on probation is because they need time to pay off fines and court costs linked to minor crimes. In some of these cases, probation companies act more like abusive debt collectors than probation officers, charging the debtors for their services....

Human Rights Watch estimates that, in Georgia alone, the industry collects a minimum of US$40 million in fees every year from probationers. In other states, disclosure requirements are so minimal that is not possible even to hazard a guess how much probation companies are harvesting from probationers....

  • * In Augusta, Georgia, a man who pled guilty to shoplifting a US$2 can of beer and fined US$200 was ultimately jailed for failing to pay more than US$1,000 in fees to his probation company. At the time he was destitute, selling his own blood plasma twice a week to raise money.
  • * In another Georgia town, a company probation officer said she routinely has offenders arrested for non-payment and then bargains with their families for money in exchange for the person’s release.
  • * In Alabama, the town of Harpersville shut down its entire municipal court after a judge slammed the municipality and its probation company for running what he called a 'judicially sanctioned extortion racket.'


    This is not breaking news. Ethan Bronner of the New York Times wrote a story on these probation mills in July 2012. (If you're interested in the follow-up to the case brought by attorney John B. Long, mentioned in the story, here's what I found. The law is a long and winding road.)

    Pierce writes,

    This is yet another product of the immensely stupid notion of privatizing the proper functions of government, which is based on the colossally stupid notion that private industry is more honest and more efficient than the public sector, which is itself based on the transcendentally stupid decision by too many states that it is better to light their balls on fire than raise taxes in order to pay for anything anywhere at any time.

    But the problem is larger than even Pierce lets on. It goes to the heart of libertarian-conservative philosophy: the notion that, as Ronald Reagan infamously said, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." What these winger-philosophers want is to return us to the days of laissez-faire. Laissez-faire, in fact, will always suit those is power, because it is they who decide who has the privilege of being left alone, who has freeeedom! to act as s/he wishes. Those who do not belong to this privileged class -- which grows smaller and smaller with each success of the philosopher kings -- will necessarily lose some of their freedoms. Thus, poor people who run afoul of the law in the most minimal ways -- traffic violations, petty thefts, public drunkenness, jaywalking, public protests -- can and do lose their most basic freedoms. The idea that the punishment must fit the crime is abandoned. When the courts become cash cows, all manner of justice disappears. There is no redress.

    The privatization of the probation function is horrific, but it is the tip of the iceberg. What has made government relatively honest, if not always optimally functional, was civil service reform. Removing the patronage systems of Tammany Halls large and small meant that governments returned to functioning as servants of the people, and elections more closely reflected the will of the people. Privatization circumvents civil service & returns the levers of corruption to the powerful. We've seen this in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie has not only undermined public unions but also used his power to reward friends and family. As Paul Krugman wrote in June 2012,

    In 2010, Chris Christie, the state’s governor — who has close personal ties to Community Education Centers, the largest operator of [New Jersey's system of halfway houses], and who once worked as a lobbyist for the firm — described the company’s operations as 'representing the very best of the human spirit.' But The Times’s reports instead portray something closer to hell on earth — an understaffed, poorly run system, with a demoralized work force, from which the most dangerous individuals often escape to wreak havoc, while relatively mild offenders face terror and abuse at the hands of other inmates.

    Krugman sees the larger picture:

    As more and more government functions get privatized, states become pay-to-play paradises, in which both political contributions and contracts for friends and relatives become a quid pro quo for getting government business. Are the corporations capturing the politicians, or the politicians capturing the corporations? Does it matter?

    The full New York Times report on Christie's halfway house horrors is here. More recently, we've seen how Chris Christie's brother Todd has profited from a project approved by David Samson, Christie's top appointee to the Port Authority. (Samson also profited from the deal.) And the day after Hurricane Sandy left New Jersey, Chris Christie gave a no-bid contract for cleanup to a firm for which Christie mentor & former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is a lobbyist, even though local (private) firms offered to do the job for less.

    So privatization is really just one more way in which the haves take from the have-nots. That the philosopher kings do so under the pretense of better serving the public adds insult to injury.

    Meanwhile, none of this stops the libertarians from screaming about any perceived intrusion on their own freeedoms! Thus Rand Paul cited Ayn Rand in a screed against the "collective'"s plans to phase out energy-sapping incandescent light bulbs. Paul apparently does not know how to screw in those new-fangled coily things. Then he went on what ABC News called a "toilet tirade" because "Frankly, my toilets don’t work in my house. And I blame you [an Energy Department official] and people like you who want to tell me what I can install in my house, what I can do. You restrict my choices." Low-flow does not work for a big shit. Paul's concerns are for his choices. And what happened when Paul objected to a TSA patdown? As Politico reported in January 2013,

    For Paul, TSA reform is personal. He drew viral media attention for resisting a TSA pat-down in 2012, which caused him to miss a speech at the March for Life rally. Following that incident, Paul introduced TSA privatization and flier bill of rights legislation last summer.

    More recently, Paul has tapped into libertarian paranoia over NSA spying, & is suing the federal government to "protect the Fourth Amendment." Coincidentally, he is using his suit as a fundraising vehicle.

    None of this freeedom! philosophy stops its adherents from restricting the freedoms of women, particularly poor women. As Erin Ryan of Jezebel lays out, "Rand Paul also famously opposes giving low-income women any sort of aid in acquiring birth control, and is staunchly anti-abortion. Rand Paul should just come out and say it: he doesn't think unmarried low income women should be having sex." Charlotte Alter of Time writes: "Rand Paul ... co-sponsored the Life at Conception act to completely outlaw abortion and opposes the Obamacare birth control insurance coverage mandate." This is fine with Paul because the women he knows can afford to pay for their own contraception and abortions. In fact, he boasts about how successful his women friends are. “I’ve seen the women in my family and how well they’re doing. My niece is in Cornell vet school and about 85% of the people in vet school are women.” If there was a "war on women," women won, he says.

    Freeedom is not about you. It is all about Rand Paul and his privileged ilk.

    * In the novel Les Misérables, Victor Hugo's protagonist Jean Valjean is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread and sentenced to a five-year prison term (extended to 19 years for his attempts to escape).