The Ledes

Sunday, February 7, 2016.

New York Times: "Robin Chandler Duke, a rags-to-riches grande dame who married an ambassador and became one of America’s best known advocates for women by championing reproductive rights and international family planning, died in Charleston, S.C., on Saturday. She was 92."

New York Times: "Defying warnings of tougher sanctions from Washington, North Korea launched a rocket on Sunday that Western experts believe is part of a program to develop intercontinental ballistic missile technologies."

The Wires

Weekly Address

The President's Weekly Address

White House: "In this week’s address, the President discussed climate change and how the most ambitious climate agreement in history is creating private sector partnerships that are advancing the latest technologies in clean power.":

Hill: "President Obama will send a budget to Congress that increases the amount of funding toward clean energy research and development by about 20 percent, he said Saturday."

White House Live Video
February 5

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

Go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

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

Public Service Announcement

New York Times (February 4): "Pregnant women whose male sexual partners have spent time in a country with confirmed transmissions of the Zika virus should either abstain from sex or use condoms during intercourse for the duration of their pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced.'

USA Today: "Women of childbearing age should avoid alcohol unless they're using contraception, federal health officials said Tuesday, in a move to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome. 'Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,' said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 'About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking.'"

New York Times (January 14): "Federal health officials are debating whether to warn pregnant women against travel to Brazil and other Latin American and Caribbean countries where mosquitoes are spreading the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in newborn babies. Officials say it could be the first time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises pregnant women to avoid a specific region during an outbreak." ...

     ... NYT Update (January 15): "Federal health officials on Friday advised pregnant women to postpone traveling to 13 Latin American or Caribbean countries and Puerto Rico where mosquitoes are spreading the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in babies." ...

... The Washington Post reports on the crisis in Brazil.

Washington Post: "Media mogul Sumner Redstone has resigned as board chairman at CBS Corp. after a court battle raised questions about the 92-year-old executive’s mental competence. He was replaced by Leslie Moonves, the longtime CBS president and chief executive, CBS announced Wednesday. The transition took effect Tuesday when Redstone was appointed to the role of CBS chairman emeritus, CBS said."

... New York Timess: "A small 16th-century oil on panel largely kept in storage at a Kansas City, Mo., museum is a work by the Dutch Renaissance master Hieronymus Bosch, researchers [in the Netherlands] said on Monday, a finding that, if accepted by other scholars, would add to the tiny list of about 25 recognized Bosch paintings in the world. The painting, 'The Temptation of St. Anthony,' dated 1500-1510, had previously been attributed to the workshop of Bosch or to a follower of Bosch, known for his comic and surreal images of heaven and hell and the earthly moral purgatory in between."

Radio host Diane Rehm discusses her "retirement" plans with Karen Heller of the Washington Post.

Washington Post: "A lost story by famed British children’s author Beatrix Potter — the Tale of Kitty-in-Boots — has been discovered among her memorabilia and will be published this year more than a century after she wrote it. Jo Hanks, a publisher with Penguin Random House who made the discovery at London’s Victoria & Albert museum in 2013, called the story the biggest Potter discovery in generations and almost certainly the last, the London Times Newspaper reported Tuesday."

Boston Globe: "Late Night host (and New Hampshire native) Seth Meyers stars in this trailer for his fake movie, Boston Accent, which just laughs at all the devices used in every movie ever made in Boston":

Tim Egan's Confession: "I can no longer wait in a grocery store line, or linger for a traffic light, or even pause long enough to let a bagel pop from the toaster, without reflexively reaching for my smartphone."

Planet Nine. Caltech: "Caltech researchers have found evidence of a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system. The object, which the researchers have nicknamed Planet Nine, has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than does Neptune (which orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles). In fact, it would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the sun. The researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, discovered the planet's existence through mathematical modeling and computer simulations but have not yet observed the object directly." ...

... CW: Planet Nine, my ass. I will never abandon Pluto! But this is a mighty thrilling development. ...

... UPDATE. Rachel Feltman of the Washington Post interviews Mike Brown, one of the discoverers of Planet Nine. It turns out, as certainly every astronomer knows, that Mike Brown was also the guy who killed Pluto! Even his daughter is mad at him for that.

New York Times: "Five planets will parade across the dawn sky early Wednesday[, January 20,] in a rare celestial spectacle set to repeat every morning until late next month. Headlining the planetary performance are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. It will be the first time in more than a decade that the fab five will be simultaneously visible to the naked eye, according to Jason Kendall, who is on the board of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York."

Los Angeles Times: "The backlash against this year's Academy Award nominations escalated Monday with announcements by director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith that they would boycott the Feb. 28 Oscars ceremony, citing the absence of people of color in all four acting categories for the second year in a row. If other prominent entertainment industry figures join the boycott, it has the potential to spoil Hollywood's annual showcase event."

Donald Trump playing Donald Trump in movies & on teevee shows:

New York Times: "#OscarsSoWhite, that damning hashtag that made the rounds last year, can again, unhappily, be revived for this year’s Oscar nominations, which were announced Thursday morning.... The only Academy nods for two of the year’s biggest films about African-American characters went to white people.... In all the lead categories — best director, picture, and all four acting categories — only Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the Mexican auteur who won best director and picture last year, for 'Birdman,' adds a note of diversity. This year he was nominated for 'The Revenant.'”

Los Angeles Times: "Nominations for the 88th Academy Awards have been announced, and 'The Revenant' is leading with 12, including for best picture. Other nominees for best picture are 'The Big Short,' 'Bridge of Spies,' 'Brooklyn,' 'Mad Max: Fury Road,' 'The Martian,' 'Room,' and 'Spotlight.' All the snubs, surprises and reactions from nominees coming below." Full coverage via the linked page.

Christian Science Monitor: "... thanks to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Purdue University, the lowly incandescent bulb is getting a jolt of new life. The six-researcher team says it has found a way to boost the bulb's efficiency twenty-fold, which would leave today's favored compact fluorescents (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in the dust, according to a paper published Monday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology." ...

     ... CW: If these bulbs go into production, it should make Rand Paul very, very happy. If only MIT could do something about his big-shit problem. Science does have its limits.

Los Angeles Times: "A 21-year odyssey came to an end Tuesday when National Football League owners voted to allow the St. Louis Rams to move to Los Angeles for the 2016 season and gave the San Diego Chargers an option to join the Rams in Inglewood."

** Washington Post: "In a paper published in the open-access journal eLife this week, researchers say they have pinpointed what may well be one of evolution’s greatest copy mess-ups yet: the mutation that allowed our ancient protozoa predecessors to evolve into complex, multi-cellular organisms.... Incredibly, in the world of evolutionary biology, all it took was one tiny tweak, one gene, and complex life as we know it was born." The paper is here. ...

... CW: Sorry, fundies, this is a lot more exciting than a trip to the Noah's ark amusement park or whatever it is.

The Los Angeles Times' Golden Globe coverage is here.

New Yorker: More Pluto!

New York: "Lumosity is one of these 'brain training' programs, and yet, according to the Federal Trade Commission, many of those claims aren’t backed up by science. On Tuesday, Lumos Labs — the company behind Lumosity — agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission for $2 million for misleading consumers on claims that playing these mental games would help with cognitive performance and prevent mental decline as we age. 'Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,' Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. 'But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.'”

New York Times: "Twitter is experimenting with introducing a longer form of tweet, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans, in what would be another gradual move away from the simplistic design sensibility that the service was originally founded upon. The project, which internally has been referred to as 'beyond 140,' is still in its testing phase and is not set to be introduced until at least March...."

Washington Post: "Four newly discovered elements managed to squeak their way in[to the periodic table] just before the end of 2015, filling up the table's seventh row and marking the first additions since 2011." CW: Since I know squat about chemistry, let me say here -- in the fullness of my ignorance -- that the periodic table should stick with elements that occur in nature. If chemists want a "sub-periodic table" to show off their lab-created, unstable elements, let 'em have it. I don't see how an "element" can be artificial. Anyone who knows what s/he's talking about is free to set me straight.

TPM: "Twitter announced Thursday it's bringing back Politwoops, the popular gaffe-tracking transparency tool that tracked politicians' deleted tweets, after unceremoniously killing off the service earlier this year.... Twitter revoked developer API access for the project, a venture of The Sunlight Foundation and The Open State Foundation, in August 2015."

If you are interested in what George Lucas thinks about the "Star Wars" series & other stuff, you can find out here, presuming Charlie Rose doesn't monopolize the conversation (okay, silly presumption). ...

... Later Lucas said he was sorry he said some of those nasty things.

... Hank Stuever of the Washington Post: The "final episodes of 'Downton Abbey' are among the show’s best since the first season — and they’ll reassure those hoping for the happiest possible endings for nearly every character."

BBC News: "A monument from a temple in the ancient city of Palmyra destroyed by so-called Islamic State (IS) is to be recreated in London's Trafalgar Square. The 2,000-year-old arch is all that remains of the Temple of Bel, part of the Syrian Unesco World Heritage site, captured by militants in May. It will be recreated from photographs, using a 3D printer. The institute behind the project hopes the arch will draw attention to the importance of cultural heritage." ...

... John Brennan & Sarah Knapton of the (Irish) Independent: "Ireland's saints and scholars were descended from farmers and bronze metalworkers from the Middle East and modern-day Ukraine, scientists have found. Researchers have sequenced ancient Irish human genomes for the first time. They discovered mass migrations to Ireland thousands of years ago resulted in huge changes to the ancient Irish genetic make-up. A team of geneticists from Trinity College Dublin and archaeologists from Queen's University Belfast made the findings, which show a massive shift in our genetic mix over the course of just 1,000 years. They believe the genetic influxes brought cultural change such as moving to settled farmsteads, bronze metalworking - and may have even been the origin of western Celtic language." ...

... CW: One trouble with denigrating certain ethnic groups: we're all cousins. Sorry, "white" people.

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-- Constant Weader

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Wednesday
Oct232013

The Commentariat -- Oct. 24, 2013

This is a huge undertaking and there are going to be glitches. My goal is the same as yours: Get rid of the glitches. -- Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas)

No matter what one does in life, when it is something new in learning the ropes of it, it is going to take a little adjustment. -- Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.)

See, Republicans can be patient & reasonable about healthcare reform, even partisan dopes like Joe Barton. Uh, when they're talking about the Bush administration's very shaky rollout of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. -- Constant Weader

Sandhya Somashekhar, et al., of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration said Wednesday night that it will give Americans who buy health insurance through new online marketplaces an extra six weeks to obtain coverage before they risk a penalty. The announcement means that those who buy coverage through the exchange will have until March 31 to sign up for a plan.... Administration officials said the new deadline is unrelated to the many technical problems that the marketplace's Web site, HealthCare.gov, has had in its first three weeks of operation. Instead, they said, the change is designed to clear up confusion about when people would face a penalty under the 2010 health-care law." ...

... ** Topher Spiro and Jonathan Gruber of the Center for American Progress: "The Affordable Care Act is already working: Intense price competition among health plans in the marketplaces for individuals has lowered premiums below projected levels. As a result of these lower premiums, the federal government will save about $190 billion over the next 10 years, according to our estimates. These savings will boost the health law's amount of deficit reduction by 174 percent and represent about 40 percent of the health care savings proposed by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform -- commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles commission -- in 2010. Moreover, we estimate that lower premiums will lower the number of uninsured even further, by an additional 700,000 people, even as the number of individuals who receive tax credits will decline because insurance is more affordable. In short, the Affordable Care Act is working even better than expected, producing more coverage for much less money." CW: Investigate that, GOP. ...

     ... David Atkins of Hullabaloo: "... there is an entire political party and pundit class out there that professes to believe that deficits are the scariest thing ever, and we need to do something about them right now. They also happen to be the same people who are the most opposed to the Affordable Care Act. How does that work, exactly? It works because most of the deficit fetishists never actually cared about the deficit, per se. The deficit is just a symbol to them of a moral laxitude about a culture of dependency that can only be fixed by slashing social spending and forcing people to pull themselves up by the bootstraps." ...

... Reed Abelson, et al., of the New York Times: "While competition [among health insurers] is intense in many populous regions, rural areas and small towns have far fewer carriers offering plans in the law's online exchanges. Those places, many of them poor, are being asked to choose from some of the highest-priced plans in the 34 states where the federal government is running the health insurance marketplace...."

... Frank Newport of Gallup: "Despite the highly publicized technical issues that have plagued the government's health insurance exchange website that went live on Oct. 1, Americans' views of the Affordable Care Act are slightly more positive now than they were in August. Forty-five percent now approve of the law, while 50% disapprove, for a net approval score of -5. In June and August, net approval was slightly lower, at -8." ...

... Josh Lederman of the AP: "Frustrated Democrats lamented Wednesday that persistent problems with new health care exchanges have inflicted damage on the public's perception of the already unpopular 'Obamacare' — with some lawmakers insisting President Barack Obama should ensure those responsible lose their jobs. Emerging from a closed-door briefing with health officials from the Obama administration, House Democrats appeared to have at least as many questions as answers about how and when the beleaguered website will be fixed. Although they resolved not to let setbacks with one aspect of the health law outshine the parts that are working, they griped that the shoddy website had given Republicans an opening to do just that." ...

... Ana Marie Cox of the Guardian: "ObamaCare is not President Obama's 'Iraq War.'" ...

Jennifer Steinhauer & Robert Pear of the New York Times: "Emboldened by the intense public criticism surrounding the rollout of the online insurance exchange, Republicans in Congress are refocusing their efforts from denying funds for the health care law to investigating it." ...

... Robert Pear: "Contractors that built President Obama's health insurance marketplace point fingers at one another and at the government, but each insists that it is not responsible for the problems that infuriated millions of Americans trying to buy insurance on the Web site, according to testimony prepared for a Congressional hearing on Thursday." ...

... ** SNAFU. Michael Scherer of Time: "The basic architecture of the site, built by federal contractors overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, was flawed in design, poorly tested and ultimately not functional." ...

... Norm Ornstein in the National Journal: "... the failures in vision and execution, in the face of clear and blunt warnings of problems ahead, are striking and troubling.... The stark internal warnings from tech experts of deep-seated problems in the programs came months ago and went unheeded.... I view the problem in a broader way. It is the larger failure of public administration that has been endemic in the Obama White House, and is probably the president's most significant weakness." ...

... This Too Shall Pass. (Whereas a Legislative Delay in the Individual Mandate Should Not.) Jonathan Chait: The Democratic freakout over the Healthcare.gov debacle is an overreaction. "... a legislative delay in the individual mandate can do plenty of harm and no potential good. It's a pure political maneuver by vulnerable Democrats to insulate themselves from an unpopular national story." ...

... From the Strange Twists Department. Ben Jacobs of the Daily Beast: "... the movement [to oust Kathleen Sebelius] was sparked by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) who called on the former Kansas governor to resign on October 11 -- just three days after Milton Wolf, a second cousin of Obama's, announced a primary challenge to Roberts as a Tea Party candidate. What was so surprising and news-making about Roberts’s demand for the secretary's scalp is that the two have what the senator once called 'a special relationship.' Roberts got his start in politics working for Sebelius's father-in-law, Keith Sebelius, who was a six-term Republican congressman from western Kansas. When Keith Sebelius retired from the House, Roberts succeeded him."

The Cruz Obstruct-&-Bully Machine Never Sputters. New York Times Editors: "Senator Ted Cruz ... has a new target for his obstructionism: the Federal Communications Commission. Last week, Mr. Cruz blocked the Senate from considering the nomination of Tom Wheeler to lead the commission -- a candidate who leaders from both parties had agreed would be put up for a vote without delay.... Mr. Cruz knows that Congress will not repeal federal laws granting the F.C.C. power to require disclosure, so he is trying to bully Mr. Wheeler into agreeing not to exercise the agency's authority.... Neither [Cruz] nor supporters of Republican candidates and conservative causes want disclosure of spending on commercials by groups like Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the billionaire Koch brothers." CW: Ah, Ted heard his masters' voice. ...

... Ashley Parker of the New York Times, MoDo's protegee, profiles Heidi Cruz.

Tal Kopan of Politico: "The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Dick Durbin, said in a Facebook post that a House Republican leader told off President Barack Obama during a negotiation meeting, and that GOP leaders are so disrespectful it's practically impossible to have a conversation with them. But Wednesday afternoon, both the White House and House speaker's office denied his claims. In a "negotiation" meeting with the president, one GOP House Leader told the president: "I cannot even stand to look at you,"' Durbin wrote in a post on his Facebook page over the weekend."

Illustration by the Daily Beast."RINO Hunting Season." David Freedlander of the Daily Beast: "... before Republicans can defend their majority, they first must stave off a slew of primary challengers who are targeting incumbent members of Congress. The new spate of primaries mostly target those Republicans who failed to toe the Tea Party line during the recent budget standoff.... On the day the government shutdown began, J.D. Winteregg, a high school French teacher and founder of a group called The Ohio Accountability Project, announced a primary run against [Speaker John] Boehner." Via Driftglass, who notes, "Gathering the ignorant, paranoid, hateful dregs of society into one political party and then giving them real power has some downsides." ...

... ** Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast: "It's not 'moderates' vs. 'conservatives.' The two opposing Republican sides, if they really are opposing, are 'radical' and 'conservative.' And only one side is fighting. The other is rolling over.... The only really important votes on which these two sides disagree are the votes that threaten fiscal calamity. So that's all the conservatives stand for. Elect me, and at five minutes 'til midnight, I'll stand courageously against global economic cataclysm!"

Ben Protess & Jessica Silver-Greenberg of the New York Times: "Federal authorities are preparing to take action in a criminal investigation of JPMorgan Chase, suspecting that the bank turned a blind eye to Bernard L. Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The Madoff case, coming on the heels of a tentative $13 billion settlement over JPMorgan's mortgage practices, poses another major threat to the reputation of the nation's largest bank." CW: Yup, Jamie Dimon is a "savvy businessman," Mr. President.

Dan Frosch of the New York Times: "... a Tesoro Logistics pipeline had ruptured, spreading more than 865,000 gallons of oil across seven acres of [Steven] Jensen's farm [near Tioga, North Dakota]. The spill is one of the largest inland oil pipeline accidents in the United States. State officials ... said the oil posed no immediate environmental risk. Fortunately, they said, the accident occurred in a remote area, away from water and homes. But the rupture has raised fresh concerns about the ability of pipeline companies to detect problems before it is too late. Such fears have been heightened as the Obama administration nears a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry a type of Canadian crude to American refineries on the Gulf Coast that is especially difficult to clean if spilled."

Alison Smale of the New York Times: "The diplomatic fallout from the documents harvested by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden intensified on Wednesday, with one of the United States' closest allies, Germany, announcing that its leader had angrily called President Obama seeking reassurance that her cellphone was not the target of an American intelligence tap. Washington hastily pledged that Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of Europe's most powerful economy, was not the target of current surveillance and would not be in the future, while conspicuously saying nothing about the past. After a similar furor with France, the call was the second time in 48 hours that the president found himself on the phone with a close European ally to argue that the unceasing revelations of invasive American intelligence gathering should not undermine decades of hard-won trans-Atlantic trust."

Greg Miller & Bob Woodward of the Washington Post: "Despite repeatedly denouncing the CIA's drone campaign, top officials in Pakistan's government have for years secretly endorsed the program and routinely received classified briefings on strikes and casualty counts, according to top-secret CIA documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos obtained by The Washington Post."

David Ignatius of the Washington Post praises James Clapper for integrating the intelligence agencies & cajoling the NSA into being a teensy-weensy bit for transparent. CW: I have no idea if any of this is true, but it's interesting to me, mostly because I've had a hard time figuring out where the Director of National Intelligence fit into the org chart. Apparently, so has everybody else, including previous DNIs.

David Nakamura, et al., of the Washington Post: "... the lengths to which White House officials went to find [tweeter Jofi] Joseph reveal how much of an embarrassment his Twitter feed had become inside the West Wing and across the street at the stately Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where Joseph worked alongside his NSC colleagues while secretly skewering them online."

Local News

Excuse Me for Voting. Aviva Shen of Think Progress: "A Texas district judge who has been voting for the past five decades was almost barred from the polls Tuesday, thanks to the state's newly implemented, stricter voter ID law. The law kicked in on Tuesday as early voting in Texas' November 5 election began. As she told local channel Kiii News, 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts was flagged for possible voter fraud because her driver's license lists her maiden name as her middle name, while her voter registration form has her real middle name. This was the first time she has ever had a problem voting in 49 years.... Watts worried that women who use maiden names or hyphenated names may be surprised at the polls." CW: What a perfect law! Not only does it discriminate against minorities, the poor & college students, it also discriminates against women. Just about every group that leans Democratic. Why not flat-out revert to "first principles" & allow only white, propertied men to vote? It appears the real fraud these laws are targeting is all that emancipating and franchising that's been going on since the days of our beloved Founders. Minorities, the poor, young people & women have corrupted the system envisioned by the Founding Fathers. ...

... Steve M. of NMMNB: "If they can't fix the technical problems of voter ID, shouldn't it be defunded? Shouldn't the legislature shut down the government, if necessary, to make sure that happens? At the very least, shouldn't implementation be suspended and all mandates and penalties be delayed?"

Tuesday
Oct222013

The Commentariat -- Oct. 23, 2013

... Steve Benen: "I put together the chart above..., which should terrify Republican officials. By a nearly four-to-one margin, Americans believe GOP lawmakers in Congress aren’t concerned with the nation’s best interests. That’s just astounding."

Annie Lowrey of the New York Times: "The Internal Revenue Service plans to delay the start of tax-filing season by a week or two because of the government shutdown, the agency said on Tuesday. But taxpayers will still have to turn in their 2013 returns by April 15 as usual."

Catherine Rampell of the New York Times: "A Labor Department report showing lackluster hiring in September — 148,000 jobs — is expected to further put off the Federal Reserve’s decision to reduce its stimulus efforts."

"Falling Behind." New York Times Editors: "A particularly alarming report on working-age adults was published last week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.... The research focused on people ages 16 to 65 in 24 countries. It dealt with three crucial areas: literacy..., numeracy..., and problem solving.... Americans were comparatively weak-to-poor in all three areas.... Americans who are 55 to 65 perform about average in literacy skills, but young Americans rank the lowest among their peers in the 24 countries surveyed.... The United States ... has yet to take on a sense of urgency about this issue. If that does not happen soon, the country will pay a long-term price."

** Greg Botelho of CNN: "President Barack Obama didn't know of problems with the Affordable Care Act's website -- despite insurance companies' complaints and the site's crashing during a test run -- until after its now well-documented abysmal launch, [Kathleen Sebelius] told CNN on Tuesday." ...

... Denver Nicks of Time: "In an interview with CNN's Sanjay Gupta, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered platitudes but few answers on what's wrong with HealthCare.gov.

She has the president’s confidence. And she knows that. -- Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff

Really? Why? -- Constant Weader

... Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times: HHS Secretary Kathleen "Sebelius, the former Kansas governor and onetime insurance commissioner who is the public face of Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul, is facing a barrage of criticism over the problem-plagued rollout of its online insurance exchange. For Republicans, still reeling from their failed 'defund Obamacare' strategy and the resulting government shutdown, she has proved a convenient target.... Even her Democratic defenders agree that the secretary did not help herself with a fumbling appearance earlier this month on 'The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.'” (Parts 1 & 2 of the October 7 interview are here.) ...

Jon Stewart reviews Healthcare.gov (October 21):

... Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times is appalled "that the government and its army of private contractors made incredibly elementary errors in building the exchange.... [It’s] like creating a newspaper site without knowing whether you can show articles.... The federal government has computer experts who can track every phone call every American makes every day, but it couldn’t manage to get this right?" ...

... Thank the Fates! Darrell Issa Is on the Case! Jonathan Easley of the Hill: "Republicans on the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday charged that the federal ObamaCare site is floundering because federal officials tried to hide the 'sticker shock' of insurance premiums. In a letter to two top technology officers at the Office of Management and Budget, Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) accused the administration of making the 'political decision' to mask the costs of insurance premiums online, which he says contributed to the botched website development.... Oversight ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said Issa’s letter 'mischaracterizes the briefing we received and omits key information that directly contradicts [Issa's] accusations.'” CW: That Rep. Cummings. He's so hung up on facts. ...

... Brian Beutler of Salon: "Let’s stipulate that the conservatives crying crocodile tears for uninsured Americans who’ve been badly inconvenienced by broken Obamacare websites are engaged in a world-historical performance of organized concern trolling. If you’re a reporter or a news junkie or a constituent, you should be absolutely clear that these people don’t want Healthcare.gov to work and are making wild, unsupportable claims to discourage people from becoming insured." ...

... Igor Volsky of Think Progress: Gov. Steve Beshear (D-KY) says "his state-operated exchange, Kynect, is working well.... Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) dismissed the state’s progress, however, insisting that Obamacare has 'completely failed' and arguing that the governor is praising the program for political purposes:

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel diagnoses the problems with Healthcare.gov & suggests how the administration should go about fixing it. CW: They don't seem to be following doctor's orders.

Jerry Markon of the Washington Post: "When the new health-care law was being cobbled together, Congress decided to establish a network of nonprofit insurance companies aimed at bringing competition to the marketplace, long dominated by major insurers. But these co-ops, started as a great hope for lowering insurance costs, are already in danger.... One co-op ... has closed, another is struggling and at least nine more have been projected to have financial problems, according to internal government reviews and a federal audit. Their failure would leave taxpayers potentially on the hook for nearly $1 billion in defaulted loans and rob the marketplace of the kind of competition they were supposed to create. And if they become insolvent, policy holders in at least half the states where the co-ops operate could be stuck with medical bills."

Quit Disrespecting Us! Elise Viebeck of the Hill: "House Republicans demanded a briefing on ObamaCare's rollout after news broke Tuesday that the administration would huddle on healthcare reform with House Democrats. 'This snub is all the more offensive after [Health] Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius declined to testify at a House hearing this week,' spokesman to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) Brendan Buck said in a statement." ...

For months now, House Democrats have held briefings on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and tomorrow’s Caucus meeting is yet another in this series of discussions. While we appreciate House Republicans’ newfound interest in the implementation of health reform, it is clear they are not interested in anything other than continuing their desperate drive to sabotage this law, which so far has included shutting down the government. -- Nancy Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill, responding to the GOP complaint

Josh Rogin of the Daily Beast: "A White House national security official was fired last week after being caught as the mystery Tweeter who has been tormenting the foreign policy community with insulting comments and revealing internal Obama administration information for over two years Jofi Joseph, a director in the non-proliferation section of the National Security Staff at the White House, has been surreptitiously tweeting under the moniker @natsecwonk, a Twitter feed famous inside Washington policy circles since it began in February, 2011 until it was shut down last week. Two administration officials confirmed that the mystery tweeter was Joseph, who has also worked at the State Department and on Capitol Hill for Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Joe Biden. Until recently, he was part of the administration's team working on negotiations with Iran." The article includes a few of his tweets. CW: So, um, it took the NSA & the White House national security staff two years to find one of its own inside the White House? WTF??? Make that the National Stupid Agency & the National Ignoramus Administration.

CW: Not sure who wins the HeckuvaJob Brownie Award, but Sebelius & James Clapper are falling all over each other to take the prize. For those of you who think only Republican administrations are incompetent, think again.

NEW. Dan Bilefsky of the New York Times: "James R. Clapper, the United States director of national intelligence, late Tuesday disputed reports in a French newspaper that American spies recorded data from 70 million phone calls in France in a single 30-day period, calling the reports 'misleading.' ... Mr. Clapper did not address additional allegations in Le Monde that the National Security Agency had monitored 'French diplomatic interests' at the United Nations and in Washington."

Gubernatorial Race

Rasmussen Reports, the right-leaning, unreliable polling outfit, reports: "Democrat Terry McAuliffe has jumped to a 17-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia gubernatorial race following the federal government shutdown that hit Northern Virginia hard and Hillary Clinton’s weekend visit to the state. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Virginia Voters finds McAuliffe with 50% support to Cuccinelli’s 33%. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis is a distant third with eight percent (8%) of the vote. Three percent (3%) like some other candidate, while five percent (5%) remain undecided." ...

... David Atkins of Hullabaloo: "Terry McAuliffe isn't exactly the most attractive candidate, either, and he's practically a symbolic embodiment of establishment Washington. If the shutdown were creating a universal distaste for Washington establishment politicians and a craving for straight-talking outsiders (as many in the media are suggesting), then Cuccinelli should be doing much better. But no. It appears that the shutdown fiasco is almost unilaterally hurting conservatives and Republicans at this point. And that's as it should be." ...

... James Hohmann & Maggie Haberman of Politico: "Michael Bloomberg’s pro-gun-control super PAC will drop $1.1 million on ads for Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the final two weeks of the Virginia governor’s race. The billionaire New York City mayor’s money will be siphoned through Independence USA PAC into broadcast television commercials in the D.C. market, according to two sources tracking the air war."

Local News

The 47% Downeaster.About 47 percent of able-bodied people in the state of Maine don’t work.... About 47 percent. It's really bad. -- Gov. Paul LePage (RTP-Maine), a/k/a America's Worst Governor ...

... Mike Tipping of the Bangor Daily News: "The quote is stunning, both for how ridiculous it is on its face as well as how closely it mirrors a comment made by 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who also took aim at 47% of the population.... LePage’s statistic is completely wrong. Currently, around 65% of Mainers over the age of 15 are working or are unemployed and actively seeking work. Of the remaining 35%, almost all are retired, are caring for children or other family members, are pursuing education or training or have a disability that prevents them from working."

Monday
Oct212013

The Commentariat -- Oct. 22, 2013

Michael Shear & Robert Pear of the New York Times: "In remarks in the Rose Garden, Mr. Obama acknowledged serious technical issues with the Web site, declaring that 'no one is madder than me.' He offered no new information about how many people have managed to enroll since the online exchanges opened on Oct. 1." CW: Shear (who is a Fox "News" contributor), & Pear couldn't seem to write a positive sentence about the President's remarks. Looks as if "crummy Website" is going to be the Big News till Darrell Issa dredges up something else:

... Ah, here's Joan Walsh of Salon: "As predictably as night follows day, on Monday the media establishment pivoted away from obsessing about GOP extremism and the party's alleged 'civil war' to the 'train wreck' that is, allegedly, the Affordable Care Act." ...

... William Saletan of Slate: "Blocking affordable health care. Denying coverage under Medicaid. Shutting down the government. Harming the economy. That's an all-out indictment of the opposition party. Even Republican criticism of the Web site debacle -- which everyone acknowledges -- has become, in Obama's words, 'rooting for failure' at the expense of middle-class families. Obama may not win this fight. But he has certainly entered it swinging." ...

... ** Alec MacGillis of the New Republic: House Republicans are preparing to hold hearings to probe why Healthcare.gov doesn't work; no matter that they don't want it to work. "Unspoken in all of those questions [MOCs will be asking HHS officials] is something that Republicans have simply shut out of their assault on Obamacare until now: That there are people out there, millions of them, who do not have coverage and will be helped by the law if it can be made to function properly.... Despite themselves and without fully realizing it, Republicans are perilously on the verge of becoming advocates for expanded health care coverage." CW: So maybe the Healthcare.gov fiasco has a silver lining. ...

... Single Payer! Ezra Klein: "The core problem for the GOP is that they're complaining about problems they don't actually want fixed. So the criticisms have an oddly self-negating quality: Republicans are furious that more people can't sign up for this law they want to repeal altogether.... The case that can be made against the difficulties of implementing a system this complex isn't a case for the status quo. Nor is it a case for Republican health-care ideas, insofar as they exist. After all, Rep. Paul Ryan's health-care plan -- and his Medicare plan -- would also require the government to run online insurance marketplaces. It's a case for a much simpler, government-run health-care system." (Related: Humor Break below.) ...

... Dave Weigel of Slate: Republican calls for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's firing over the botched Healthcare.gov rollout means she can keep her job. CW: I wish I could say I thought she was a great secretary, but this isn't her first Big Mistake. Obama& had to step in & rescue her when she mishandled the religious exception provisions of the ACA. He stepped in again -- and stepped in it -- when Sebelius overruled the FDA on over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill (a fabulous Reagan-appointed judge later ruled against the administration). ...

... Lydia DePillis of the Washington Post: Why all the problems with Healthcare.gov? Because the government doesn't know how to structure bids for software contracts, which leads to a style of development & coding that builds in fundamental errors & does little testing until it's too late. ...

... Guaranteed Failure. Lean Sun & Scott Wilson of the Washington Post: "Days before the launch of President Obama's online health-insurance marketplace, government officials and contractors tested a key part of the Web site to see whether it could handle tens of thousands of consumers at the same time. It crashed after a simulation in which just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously. Despite the failed test, federal health officials plowed ahead. When the Web site went live Oct. 1, it locked up shortly after midnight as about 2,000 users attempted to complete the first step." ...

... Humor Break. Sarah Sees a Conspiracy! She Can See Canada from Her Porch. Travis Gettys of the Raw Story: "The former half-term Alaska governor and failed vice presidential candidate suggested Sunday in a Breitbart.com column that design flaws were intentionally implemented to make the system more difficult to use and drive Americans to accept a government fix. President Barack Obama admitted Monday that the site needed to be overhauled and announced a 'tech surge' to make those repairs, but Palin said the eventual fix would be a Canadian-style socialized health care system." ...

... Jonathan Chait: "Liberals admit ObamaCare's failures while conservatives refuse to concede its successes.... The coverage of the Obamacare website debacle is a helpful illustration of the epistemic imbalance between left and right.... Only the negative liberal coverage has pierced the conservative information bubble.... The imbalance in honesty has magnified the impact of bad Obamacare news and blunted the impact of good Obamacare news."

... Jim Siegel & Catherine Candisky of the Columbia (Ohio) Dispatch: Gov. John Kasich [a conservative Republican] forced implementation of the Medicaid expansion in Ohio, after the GOP-controlled state senate refused to ratify it/ (The general assembly had voted for it.) Kasich transferred the decision-making process from the senate to an oversight board, then packed the board with pro-expansion members. State senators plan retaliatory moves.

** Sam Stein & Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post write a fascinating piece on how President Obama & Speaker Reid worked together to fend off Republican demands. CW: As often is the case, I have to wonder why Leader Pelosi gets almost no mention. This is the story smarmy Bob Woodward probably wished he'd got.

If CNN did sports reporting, every game would be a tie. -- Cenk Uygur

... Here's one for Akhilleus. Paul Rosenberg, in Salon, applies logical & rhetorical constructs to Tea Party "reasoning" & MSM reporting. He concludes, "Our politics are a disaster because the media -- and the president -- pretend conservatives are dealing with facts." ...

... CW: Notice how Rosenberg's piece relates to Chait's discussion of the liberal & conservative criticism of the ObamaCare rollout. What I think this all demonstrates is that conservatives are for the most part extremists while only some liberals are extremists. Liberals are tethered to reality; conservatives are tethered to ideology & refuse to accept reality; when reality hits them in the face, they deny it & turn to "beliefs." Thus, as contributor Nancy wrote in yesterday's thread, there was no way to convince her neighbor that Obama hadn't shut down the government & that he could not raise the Social Security eligibility age by fiat. The neighbor just "believed" that was the case because she doesn't like "that Obama." Contra Pat Moynihan, Nancy's neighbor feels entitled to her own facts. Note to Nancy: I did stop a conservative neighbor of mine cold by pointing out that he was basing his opinions on impressions, not on facts. It hadn't occurred to him that his impressions were inferior to my facts. I think he got it. Momentarily, anyway. ...

... Dan Balz & Scott Clement of the Washington Post: "The budget confrontation that led to a partial government shutdown dealt a major blow to the GOP's image and has exposed significant divisions between tea party supporters and other Republicans, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The survey highlights just how badly the GOP hard-liners and the leaders who went along with them misjudged the public mood. In the aftermath, eight in 10 Americans say they disapprove of the shutdown. Two in three Republicans or independents who lean Republican share a negative view of the impasse. And even a majority of those who support the tea party movement disapprove." ...

... Good News for Republicans! Thanks to Democratic Messaging. Todd Lindberg of the New Republic: "To the extent the GOP's internal struggle is understood as a contest between conservatives and radicals, in which the conservatives prevail, it will likely help the party regain some of the ground it has been losing at the center.... So long as the Tea Party is losing, division might be just what the GOP needs" because it makes non-Tea Party Republicans seem moderate & reasonable. ...

... Steve M. of NMMNB adds a cogent point: "What has to happen before voters decide the GOP can't be trusted at all? Does the party actually have to push us into default and start a global depression...? That's the difference between the majority of the U.S. electorate and the voters of Wingnuttia. You edge a millimeter toward a slope that's a hundred miles away, and isn't the slightest bit slippery, and wingnut voters immediately foresee a cataclysmic slide. Propose firearm background checks that aren't even truly universal, and wingnut voters think mass gun confiscation is imminent within weeks. Pass a market-based, Heritage Foundation-developed health care plan, and they think we're living under the Khmer Rouge.... But if Republicans take us nearly to the brink of disaster, a disaster from which we're rescued at the last second, centrist voters still don't develop a sense of alarm about the party." ...

... AND right on cue, as if he might be in the employ of Prince Rebus, Obama's former speechwriter Jon Favreau, now penning his bright ideas for the Daily Beast instead of the POTUS, writes a piece titled, "The Tea Party, Not Democrats or Republicans, Is the Problem. Blah blah blah." Favreau doesn't see red states & blue states; he sees the United States of America. Rah rah rah. ...

... Not irritated enough yet? Why, let's check in with Alan Greenspan. That should help. BBC News: "Mr Greenspan confessed to sympathies with the aims of the Tea Party, the Republican faction that fought the government during debt ceiling talks. But the former central banker said the movement's tactics were 'undemocratic'.... 'What Britain has done with its austerity programme has worked much better than I thought it would,' Mr Greenspan said. 'As far as I can judge, it [the economy] is coming out pretty much the way they [the coalition government] had expected.'" Ayn Rand lives!

Declan Walsh & Ihsanullah Mehsud of the New York Times: "... a new Amnesty International investigation ... found, among other points, that at least 19 civilians in ... North Waziristan had been killed in just two of the drone attacks since January 2012 -- a time when the Obama administration has held that strikes have been increasingly accurate and free of mistakes. The study is to be officially released on Tuesday along with a separate Human Rights Watch report on American drone strikes in Yemen.... On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a vocal critic of the drone campaign, is to meet with President Obama in the White House. And on Friday, the drone debate is scheduled to spill onto the floor of the United Nations, whose officials have recently published reports that attacked America's lack of transparency over drones."

Local News

This Is a Big Deal. Salvador Rizzo of the Star-Ledger: "Gov. Chris Christie dropped his legal challenge to gay marriage in New Jersey [Monday], only hours after same-sex couples began exchanging wedding vows throughout the state. Christie's unexpected decision to withdraw his appeal of a major case at the state Supreme Court marks the end of a decade-long legal battle. It means that a lower-court ruling allowing gay couples to marry in New Jersey stands as the law." ...

... Darrell Isherwood of NJ.com: "... some national social conservative leaders lashed out at the governor." CW: Here's an example of the "purity fallacy" Rosenberg wrote about:

Do we have any illusions, given the nature of the decision, that there was a high likelihood that his appeal would succeed? No. But that's irrelevant. You do what's right regardless of the cost. -- Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage

Monday
Oct212013

Freeeedom!

It comes as a surprise to me that many liberals oppose self-determination, especially since home rule is the central theory on which this country was founded. Remember the Declaration of Independence?:

 

That to secure these [inalienable] rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness….

 

It should be obvious that vast swaths of the country, emanating from the South and creeping westward and northward, do not now nor did they ever want to adhere to laws imposed by representatives of the majority of U.S. citizens. Moreover, those Southerners and others believe it is their inalienable right to ignore – or nullify – majority rule. In 1830, Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina wrote to a friend,

 

The truth can no longer be disguised, that the peculiar domestick institution of the Southern States [i.e., slavery], and the consequent direction, which that and her soil and climate have given to her industry, have placed them in regard to taxation and appropriations in opposite relation to the majority of the Union; against the danger of which, if there be no protective power in the reserved rights of the States, they must in the end be forced to rebel, or submit to have their permanent interests sacraficed, their domestick institutions subverted by Colonization and other schemes, and themselves & children reduced to wretchedness.

 

Two years later, South Carolina’s legislature formalized Calhoun's theory in an Ordinance of Nullification:

 

We..., the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain ... that the several acts and parts of acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting to be laws for the imposing of duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities..., are unauthorized by the constitution of the United States, and violate the true meaning and intent thereof and are null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this State, its officers or citizens....

 

This is the same theory under which the Southern states seceded in 1860 and 1861, and under which they imposed Jim Crow laws in violation of the post-Civil War Constitutional Amendments. Nearly two hundred years later, many states have passed laws that nullify federal laws and Supreme Court decisions: they violate Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Pennsylvania and the Voting Rights Act. States and communities have passed laws and put into common practice violations of the First Amendment, laws and court decisions imposing the separation of church and state. In today's New York Times, the editors point out that four states – Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Louisiana – are violating an order from the Defense Department – based on a Supreme Court decision – to provide equal protection to same-sex couples in the military. As the editors note, “The [national] guard units say they are merely adhering to state constitutions that ban same-sex marriages and do not recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed in other states.... Under the Constitution’s supremacy clause, federal law takes precedence.” The editors are absolutely right about U.S. law, but the powers that be in those states don't see it as the New York Times does. Those Southern National Guard units stand today with the South Carolina nullifiers of old.

 

At least one writer in yesterday's comments thread suggested a sort of Rodney King solution – we should all just get along. That is a lovely thought, similar to one expressed by Barack Obama in his 2004 Democratic convention speech. Now President Barack Obama has found out the hard way that his lovely image of “one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America” is illusory. Legislators in and from red states have done all they can to nullify laws passed during his administration, most notably of course the Affordable Care Act. They have done this, as Paul Krugman notes today, out of “sheer spite – the desire to sabotage anything with President Obama’s name on it,” and to the disadvantage of their neediest citizens. Southerners do not believe Barack Obama is the legitimate President of the United States; as Garry Wills writes, they say they “object to Obama because he is a 'foreign-born Muslim'” but “they really mean 'a black man.'” Public Policy Polling found that

 

49% of GOP voters nationally say they think that ACORN stole the [2012] election for President Obama. We found that 52% of Republicans thought that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama, so this is a modest decline, but perhaps smaller than might have been expected given that ACORN doesn't exist anymore.

 

Almost 200 years after the South Carolina legislature passed the Nullification Act, 150 years after Southern states seceded from the Union and Northern states forced them to return – Southerners and some Westerners continue to hold the views that inspired these early acts of nullification. Today's Southerners are not going to try to “get along” with “Northern aggressors.” Laws imposed by the representatives of the majority of Americans did not adhere to Southern views then or now. Southern conservatives think the federal government is illegitimate – a fraud perpetrated by liberal election cheats.

 

I don't agree with any of those Southern conservative views. I believe in a woman's right to choose, in everyone's right to vote, in everyone's right to equal protection, in the separation of church and state, and in the legitimacy of the elections of Barack Obama. But I also believe in the principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence: that governments derive their power from the “consent of the governed.” It is clear that Southerners do not consent to certain Constitutional provisions and laws deriving from them. Perhaps the majority of Southerners do not “consent” to the U.S. government. They live in a country that has for two centuries deprived them of self-determination.

 

That is why I propose secession – not to punish Southerners but to free them to make their own constitutions and their own laws. For most of the history of our country, the North has aggrieved the South. Northerners have forced Southerners to live in a country whose values they eschew. We should give them a way out. It has happened before, and it has happened on a massive scale during my lifetime. The break-up of the Soviet Union came in the form of a “Velvet Revolution,” one in which nary a shot was fired, but the “inalienable right” to self-governance was restored to millions of Europeans and Asians. Is it likely to happen here? No. But until it does, this country will be crippled by a fundamental and unbreachable divide. You can suppress people, but you cannot suppress their beliefs. Attempts to suppress beliefs and values serve only to solidify those beliefs and to give them exaggerated importance. After 200 years, let us not insist upon prolonging this noble experiment. It failed when we forgot why we started it in the first place.