The Ledes

Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

AP: "Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday that an American serviceman has been killed near Irbil in Iraq. 'It is a combat death,' Carter said at the outset of a news in Stuttgart, Germany where he has been consulting with European allies this week."

New York Times (May 2): "A historic Serbian Orthodox church in Manhattan that plays an important role in New York’s Serbian community was gutted by flames on Sunday, just hours after parishioners had filled its pews for Easter services. The New York Fire Department said it received the first report of the blaze at the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava, on West 25th Street between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas in the Flatiron district, shortly before 7 p.m.... The church, which has served for decades as the backbone of New York’s Serbian Orthodox community, was previously known as Trinity Chapel, an Episcopal church that was sold to its current owners in 1943." ...

... CBS/AP: "Investigators in three cities are looking into large fires at Orthodox churches that occurred around the religion's Easter celebrations and caused widespread damage. The blazes in New York City, as well as Melbourne and Sydney in Australia, caused only minor injuries, according to multiple reports."

The Wires

Public Service Announcement

New York Times: "Taking a stance sharply at odds with most American public health officials, a major British medical organization urged smokers to switch to electronic cigarettes, saying they are the best hope in generations for people addicted to tobacco cigarettes to quit. The recommendation, laid out in a report published Thursday by the Royal College of Physicians, summarizes the growing body of science on e-cigarettes and finds that their benefits far outweigh the potential harms." -- CW

Washington Post: "More than a third of advanced-melanoma patients who received one of the new immunotherapy drugs in an early trial are alive five years after starting treatment -- double the survival rate typical of the disease, according to a new study."

Zoe Schlanger of Newsweek: "If you are eating fast food, you're probably also eating phthalates,... a class of chemicals that have been linked to everything from ADHD to breast cancer, ...[which] are common in food packaging, drink containers, the tubing used to transport dairy and the equipment used to process fast food." --LT

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

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:

New York Times: "James Levine, who transformed the Metropolitan Opera during four decades as its music director but has suffered from poor health in recent years, will step down from his post after this season to become music director emeritus, the company announced Thursday."

Politico: "Gabriel Snyder, editor in chief of The New Republic for the past 17 months, is leaving the magazine in the wake of its sale to Win McCormack.... The masthead change marks the first big move since McCormack, a publisher, Democratic booster and editor in chief of a literary journal called Tin House, bought TNR from Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes in February after Hughes was unsuccessful at turning around the money-losing magazine’s business during his four years of stewardship."

The Great Octopus Escape. Guardian: "An octopus has made a brazen escape from the national aquarium in New Zealand by breaking out of its tank, slithering down a 50-metre drainpipe and disappearing into the sea. In scenes reminiscent of Finding Nemo, Inky – a common New Zealand octopus – made his dash for freedom after the lid of his tank was accidentally left slightly ajar. Staff believe that in the middle of the night, while the aquarium was deserted, Inky clambered to the top of his glass enclosure, down the side of the tank and travelled across the floor of the aquarium."

... Charles Pierce: "One of the best biographies I've ever read was Scott Berg's brilliant, National Book Award-winning account of the life of Maxwell Perkins, the editor at Scribner's who was responsible for bringing out the best work in Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner, and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.... I'm going to be first in line to see [the film "Genius."] OK, so there won't be a line, but I'll be there nonetheless."

Michael Cavna of the Washington Post on the artistry in the film "All the President's Men."The real Woodward & Bernstein weigh in.

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Sunday
Jan192014

The Commentariat -- Jan. 20, 2014

** 'A Time to Break the Silence' Sermon delivered at Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967. Text & audio. ...

... John Blake of CNN: " Why it's important: This was King's most controversial speech. Even some members of his own staff warned him not to give it. With this sermon, King decisively came out against the Vietnam War at a time when many Americans still supported it. People were furious. President Lyndon Johnson stopped talking to him. Civil rights leaders criticized him, and major newspapers told him to stick to civil rights.... One year later to the day he gave this speech, King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee." ...

... Joan Walsh of Salon: "Some of King's closest living allies have been trying hard to right the reverend's record. 'There have been and continue to be efforts to "neuter" or "de-radicalize" the Dr. King who delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in August, 1963,' says his longtime lawyer and speechwriter Clarence B. Jones. Though the dream speech, which Jones helped write, was itself radical, he sees King's April 1967 'Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break the Silence' speech at Riverside Church as 'the ideological turning point for King.'" ...

... The New Yorker opens up Renata Adler's "Letter from Selma," published April 10, 1965. ...

... Sean McElwee interviews Ian Lopez for Salon about the GOP's use of racist dogwhistles to attack all liberal policies. Lopez says, "... the central point here is that race is being used to wreck the middle class. This has been the way conservatives have found that they can attack commitments to education, commitments to a social safety net, commitments to infrastructure, commitments to job programs, commitments to progressive taxation that taxes the most wealthy to help the rest of society." ...

There's no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don't like the idea of a black president. Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I'm a black president. There is a historic connection between some of the arguments that we have politically and the history of race in our country, and sometimes it's hard to disentangle those issues. You can be somebody who, for very legitimate reasons, worries about the power of the federal government -- that it's distant, that it's bureaucratic, that it's not accountable -- and as a consequence you think that more power should reside in the hands of state governments. But what's also true, obviously, is that philosophy is wrapped up in the history of states' rights in the context of the civil-rights movement and the Civil War and Calhoun. There's a pretty long history there. -- Barack Obama, to David Remnick ...

... David Remnick of the New Yorker has a long piece (18 pages!) on President Obama. Remnick interviewed Obama for the magazine. ...

... What most pundits (in this case, Jordan Sargent of Gawker) picked up from Remnick's interview was this: "Obama said just about everything he should be saying about weed."

"Influence in Paradise -- Destination Fundraisers." Eric Lipton of the New York Times: "... members of Congress ... hit hot spots like the Napa Valley wine country, famed golf courses and hunting preserves, as well as five-star hotels in Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, South Florida and even Bermuda. Congress, after a corruption scandal that involved golf trips to Scotland and other getaways paid for by lobbyists, passed legislation in 2007 prohibiting lobbyists from giving lawmakers gifts of just about any value. But as is the norm in Washington, the lawmakers and lobbyists have figured out a workaround: Political campaigns and so-called leadership PACs controlled by the lawmakers now pay the expenses for the catering and the lawmakers' lodging at these events -- so they are not gifts -- with money collected from the corporate executives and lobbyists, who are still indirectly footing the bill."

Paul Krugman clocks David Brooks: "... for the past three decades and more the main obstacle facing the poor has been the lack of jobs paying decent wages. But the myth of the undeserving poor persists, and so does a counterpart myth, that of the deserving rich.... I know that these realities make some people, not all of them hired guns for the plutocracy, uncomfortable, and they'd prefer to paint a different picture. But even if the facts have a well-known populist bias, they're still the facts -- and they must be faced.".

Eyder Peralta of NPR: "Rep. Mike Rogers made some strong allegations against former NSA contractor Edward Snowden on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday. Rogers, a Republican from Michigan, implied that Snowden received helped from Russia's security service both to steal the highly classified documents and then to travel to Russia, where he received temporary asylum.... These are some of the strongest allegations levied against Snowden...."

... The New York Times story, by Eric Schmitt & David Sanger, is here.

New York Times Editors: "If the Air Force cheating scandal disclosed last week were a singular event, it would be easier to accept Pentagon assurances that America's nuclear deterrence and military readiness have not been compromised. But it is the latest in a series of breaches that have raised alarms about discipline and competency in the Air Force.... The scandals should force America to think more broadly about the purpose of its vast and increasingly obsolete nuclear arsenal, and how the nation could be safer with far fewer weapons."

Local News

Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: Dawn Zimmer, "the mayor of Hoboken, N.J., met with federal prosecutors Sunday to provide information about her allegations that top aides to Gov. Chris Christie threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy recovery money from her city if she did not approve development projects the governor favored. The meeting is a sign of the broadening scope of the federal investigation.... In a statement, Zimmer said Sunday evening that she had met in the afternoon with prosecutors at the U.S. attorney's office for several hours. She said the meeting came at prosecutors' request and she provided them with documents, including a personal journal entry she said was written in May in which she described the encounters." ...

... Angela Delli Santi of the AP: "On Sunday, [Mayor Zimmer] went a step further and said on CNN's 'State of the Union with Candy Crowley' that [New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim] Guadagno told her that the request 'was a direct message from the governor. The lieutenant governor pulled me aside and said, essentially, "You've got to move forward with the Rockefeller project. This project is really important to the governor." And she said that she had been with him on Friday night and that this was a direct message from the governor,' Zimmer recalled Guadagno saying."

... Dominic Rushe of the Guardian: "On Sunday, the New Jersey assemblyman John Wisniewski [D] said his special legislative panel -- one of a number of investigations looking into the actions of Christie's administration – would look into Zimmer's claims as well as those regarding the George Washington bridge." ...

... Jonathan Chait: "... this is the main reason why I think Christie's presidential aspirations are basically dead. He's genuinely corrupt. There are numerous allegations swirling around him, and at this point it would require an implausible series of coincidences to believe he's not implicated in some nasty and quite likely straight-out illegal behavior."

... Michael Barbaro & Bill Carter of the New York Times: Christie breaks up with MSNBC. ...

... Paul Krugman: Chris Christie's "most devoted fund-raiser and loudest cheerleader," billionaire Home Depot founder Ken Langone, is also a guy who "recently tried to bully -- the Pope.... Yep. Stop criticizing the rich or we'll take it out on the poor. Nothing at all like punishing the residents of Fort Lee -- and, apparently, in what may be a much worse story, Hoboken -- because you're annoyed at their mayor."

Steve Szkotak of the AP: " Almost overnight, Virginia has emerged as a critical state in the nationwide fight to grant gay men and women the right to wed. This purple state was once perceived as unfriendly and even bordering on hostile to gay rights. That's changed after a seismic political shift in the top three elected offices, from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats who support gay marriage. Two federal lawsuits challenging the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage are moving forward, and a hearing on one of the cases is scheduled for Jan. 30."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Otis G. Pike, a longtime congressman from New York who spearheaded an inquiry in the 1970s into accusations that the intelligence establishment had abused its power, died on Monday in Vero Beach, Fla. He was 92...."

One of his memorable achievements was when he thwarted a bill with a single comical speech on the House floor. The bill would have awarded $14 million in flight pay to admirals and generals who spent their time not in cockpits but sitting at desks. Standing up on the House floor to criticize the legislation, Mr. Pike spoke with his arms spread and swaying like the wings of a plane, as if he were flying. He brought up the worrisome perils of an admiral spinning in his chair and soaring out a window of the Pentagon into air-traffic patterns. The speech drew laughter and applause. The bill was defeated.

More from the Washington Post's obituary:

'If the in-basket is continually loaded on the starboard, or right-hand, side of the desk, and the out-basket is continually empty on the port, or left-hand, side of the desk,' said Mr. Pike, who flew 120 missions as a Marine pilot in World War II, 'wood fatigue sets in, the landing gear tends to buckle and the whole fuselage crashes down on your feet.'

New York Times: "Under intense American pressure, the United Nations on Monday withdrew an invitation to Iran to attend the much-anticipated Syria peace conference, reversing a decision announced a day earlier."

New York Times: "The first orchestrated rollback in Western antinuclear economic sanctions against Iran took effect on Monday under Tehran's temporary agreement with world powers, as all sides reported that the steps initially promised had been fulfilled. Under the temporary agreement, Iran began suspending most advanced uranium-fuel enrichment and halted other sensitive elements of its nuclear program. In exchange, it received what the United States called 'limited, targeted and reversible sanctions relief for a six-month period.'"

AFP: "A new threat to the upcoming Winter Olympics surfaced Sunday as US lawmakers worried about attacks at the Games to be hosted by Russia. In a video posted on a well-known jihadi forum, two men believed to have been suicide bombers in last month's deadly bombings in Volgograd speak of them -- and warned of more." ...

... AP: "Members of Congress expressed serious concerns Sunday about the safety of Americans at next month's Olympics in Russia and said Moscow needs to cooperate more on security."

AP: "Iran halted its most sensitive uranium enrichment work on Monday as part of a landmark deal struck with world powers, easing concerns over the country's nuclear program and clearing the way for a partial lifting of sanctions, Tehran and the U.N. said."

AFP: "Opposition protesters were Monday locked in a tense standoff with Ukrainian security forces in Kiev after hours of unprecedented clashes deep into the night left dozens wounded and parts of the centre resembling a battlefield."

AP: "An American missionary who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year appeared before reporters Monday and appealed to the U.S. government to do its best to secure his release. The missionary, Kenneth Bae, made the comments at what he called a press conference held at his own request. He was under guard during the appearance. It is not unusual for prisoners in North Korea to say after their release that they spoke in similar situations under duress."

Saturday
Jan182014

The Commentariat -- Jan. 19, 2014

Ellen Nakashima & Greg Miller of the Washington Post: "President Obama's intention to end the government's controversial practice of amassing the phone records of millions of Americans faces a tangle of technical, logistical and political problems that defy ready solutions and are largely beyond the president's control. Among the challenges is stiff resistance from phone companies that do not want to be told how long to hold their customers' data if the government does not collect it, especially if that means longer than they do now." ...

... ** Jeffrey Rosen of the National Constitution Center, in a New York Times op-ed: "Now that Google and AT&T can track us more closely than any N.S.A. agent, it appears that the Madisonian Constitution may be inadequate to defend our privacy and dignity in the 21st century." ...

... ** David Cole, a law professor writing in the New York Review of Books, takes a balanced look at Chelsea Mannings' & Edward Snowden's leaks.

Jamie Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, focuses on growing income inequality in this documentary film, "The One Percent":

 

... Wherein Paul Krugman explains elementary statistics to David Brooks. Thanks to Nisky Guy for the link. See, if you say, "The top 5% ate all the cookies," but it turns out the top 1% ate 100 times as many cookies as did the next 4%, you might not be exactly lying, but you'd be mighty misleading. ...

... Wherein Krugman explains (to an unnamed person who is David Brooks) why sociological explanations don't account for income inequality. See also yesterday's Commentariat.

Elisabeth Rosenthal of the New York Times: "Specialists earn an average of two and often four times as much as primary care physicians in the United States, a differential that far surpasses that in all other developed countries.... That earnings gap has deleterious effects: Only an estimated 25 percent of new physicians end up in primary care, at the very time that health policy experts say front-line doctors are badly needed.... More specialists mean more tests and more expensive care.

Trip Gabriel, et al., of the New York Times take the West Virginia chemical leak national, fingering Senator (& former coal magnate) Joe Manchin (FakeD-W.Va.), among others, for promoting coal & other energy interests over health & safety.

In a New York Times op-ed, Greg Grandin equates today's Tea Party racists with Amasa Delano, the protagonist in Herman Melville's novella Benito Cereno, and President Obama to Babo, the leader of a slave revolt aboard the foundering slave ship Delano visits.

Eric Lyman of the Washington Post: "Pope Francis on Wednesday (Jan. 15) took his biggest step yet at cleaning house at the scandal-ridden Vatican Bank, replacing most of the institution's advisers with fresh faces."

Congressional Race

CW: A few weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Times published a longish story on former Rep. Bill Young's first marriage & family. According to the family, Rep. Young, who died last year, left his wife Marian & married his second wife Beverly in the messiest of ways. Reporter Andrew Meacham picked up on the story as the result of Bill's first family coming forward after his death. ...

... All of this mightily pissed off Beverly Young, who wrote a scathing, ungrammatical entry on FaceBook, where she posts a scathing, ungrammatical letter she says she sent to the St. Pete Times. Although Beverly Young reserves most of her invective for the Times & Meacham, she claims Democrat Alex Sink, who is running for the open seat, is complicit: "The fact that Alex Sink is a widow disgusts me that she can't show an ounce of compassion for what I and my family are going through at this time, but instead, she has chosen to participate in these hateful attacks on Bill to attempt to hurt the Republican Party."

Local News

... By Ruben Bolling in Daily Kos. Please click on the site. I like to give artists their due. Thanks.

"Follow the Money." Steve Kornacki of NBC News: "Two senior members of Gov. Chris Christie's administration warned a New Jersey mayor[, Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken,] earlier this year that her town would be starved of hurricane relief money unless she approved a lucrative redevelopment plan favored by the governor, according to the mayor and emails and personal notes she shared with msnbc. With video. Thanks to contributor Victoria D. for the link. ...

... CW: I figured Bridgegate was much ado about little & that it could hurt Christie only if he tried to cover it up. Now it looks as if Bridgegate could hurt him, & Christie's attempts to distance himself from it will prolong the story, giving reporters time to dig up other examples of Christie & his team's strongarming officials & maybe doing more serious stuff. The Hoboken story, like the Fort Lee story, looks especially bad because the people who really got hurt were ordinary citizens -- in this case storm victims. Governors play favorites all the time, but most have the sense to be more subtle about it & not use federal money for bribes &/or retribution. After all, Nixon's undoing began with news of a "two-bit burglary." ...

     ... Update. Ezra Klein agrees with me: " These stories are beginning to build. Each new revelation makes the past scandals more believable -- and more damaging. And each new story intensifies the media's efforts to find more. The problem for Christie isn't what his aides did. It's what they thought he wanted them to do." ...

... MEANWHILE, Michael Barbaro, et al., of the New York Times, demonstrate that Republican "leaders" remain clueless (or completely cynical): "Party leaders are urging the governor to let go of a trademark Christie trait: his fierce loyalty to old friends and high school classmates who have risen with him in state government. It is time, they counsel, for him to recruit a more nationally savvy political team that can take him beyond Trenton to Washington." CW: Yeah, the real problem is Christie's "fierce loyalty." That's what I thought all along; Christie's superhuman virtues are the cause of his troubles. Life is so unfair.

... Martin Longman in the Washington Monthly: "... even though it's nothing new for a New Jersey governor to throw his weight around to smooth a redevelopment project, holding up disaster relief funding is unconscionable, showing again that the Christie administration has taken traditional Jersey corruption to a whole new level." Read the whole post. Longman notes, among other helpful observations, "It's significant that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is implicated in this scheme because she would succeed Chris Christie in the governor's office if he felt it necessary to resign." ...

... digby: "This strikes me as a bigger deal than the traffic snarl. Hurricane Sandy is Christie's bipartisan boy scout badge, the big story that made him a national figure. If it turns out he was actually using it for nefarious purposes I think it permanently damages his image." ...

... Carol Leonnig, et al., of the Washington Post: "... many [New Jersey] Democratic mayors ... made clear that they thought endorsing Christie's reelection bid likely directly benefited their towns in the pursuit of Sandy recovery aid and other state support." ...

... Jeanne B. points to this helpful Wall Street Journal chart, which shows the key players in the Christie scandal. As Jeanne suggests, the chart, published Friday, is already outdated; it doesn't include Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer who has alleged -- with evidence -- that the Christie machine deprived her city of Hurricane Sandy funds because she wouldn't totally acquiesce to a development scheme Christie favored.

Frank Bruni: a cruel Texas law forces a hospital to keep a brain-dead pregnant woman on "life" support because she was 14 weeks pregnant at the time she suffered a pulmonary embolism that effectively ended her life. The chances of her bearing a healthy child are slim.

Right Wing World

This Was Inevitable. Kyle Mantyla of Right Wing Watch: "On his radio show [Tuesday, popular fundamentalist preacher] Bryan Fischer called for ending Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, as well as the elimination of the minimum wage ... all in order to help the poor and those struggling to make ends meet, of course. So logically this discussion resulted in Fischer eventually calling for a return to an electoral system in which only people who own property can vote." With video.

... Steve Benen: "Let's also not forget that Fischer is a fairly high-profile figure in conservative media -- in recent years, a wide variety of Republicans from the U.S. Senate and U.S. House have appeared on Fischer's program. In advance of the 2012 presidential race, roughly half the Republican candidates in the field cozied up to Fischer, despite his extremist views."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said on Sunday that he had invited Iran to an international peace conference to end the war in Syria. The announcement drew immediate objections from American officials, who suggested that Iran had not met all the conditions for attending and that the invitation might need to be withdrawn."

Los Angeles Times: "Air Force officers responsible for safeguarding and operating nuclear-armed missiles at a base in Montana cheated for years on monthly readiness tests, but rarely faced punishment even though some commanders were aware of the misconduct, according to three former officers who served at the base. Their assertions shed new light on a cheating scandal involving 34 officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, who are under investigation for improperly sharing information about exam questions and failing to report the alleged misconduct.... The cheating scandal came to light when Air Force investigators looking into drug possession involving two Malmstrom officers came across text messages in which dozens of officers allegedly shared details about a test last September...."

Friday
Jan172014

The Commentariat -- Jan. 18, 2014

White House: "In this week's address, President Obama says 2014 will be a year of action, and called on both parties to help make this a breakthrough year for the United States by bringing back more good jobs and expanding opportunities for the middle class":

The President's Speech Outrages Pundits

Glenn Greenwald: "Obama is draping the banner of change over the NSA status quo. Bulk surveillance that caused such outrage will remain in place.... Obama never hid the real purpose of this process. It is, he and his officials repeatedly acknowledged, 'to restore public confidence' in the NSA. In other words, the goal isn't to truly reform the agency; it is deceive people into believing it has been so that they no longer fear it or are angry about it."

Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "Barack Obama's rhetoric in his big surveillance speech on Friday was pleasing to privacy advocates. But the substance of his proposals for the future of mass data collection amount to a gift for the National Security Agency."

Anthony Romero of the ACLU: "... the president's decision not to end bulk collection and retention of all Americans' data remains highly troubling.... The president should end -- not mend -- the government's collection and retention of all law-abiding Americans' data. When the government collects and stores every American's phone call data, it is engaging in a textbook example of an 'unreasonable search' that violates the Constitution. The president's own review panel recommended that bulk data collection be ended, and the president should accept that recommendation in its entirety."

Charles Pierce: "This is not balance. This is the government, in the person of this president, telling you what you have to give up in order to be safe. (As near as I can tell, the NSA is not being asked to stop doing much of anything, and the president's Bush-standard apocalyptics doesn't give me a lot of faith in whatever oversight he says he's put in place.)"

Mike Masnick of TechDirt: "... he is ordering changes that go slightly beyond the expectations his own staffers leaked earlier this week ... but stopping way short of actually fixing the problems. And, even with his changes, he leaves many of the details to Congress and the DOJ to sort out for themselves, which is not particularly encouraging, considering how both have acted for decades when it comes to surveillance."

The New York Times Editors produce a string of criticisms, the least of which is Obama's failure to blow a big kiss to Edward Snowden.

... On the Other Hand ...

Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker: "Obama has sided with his fiercest critics on two of the most important reforms that have been demanded since Snowden's first revelations: the N.S.A. should no longer collect this data and the spy agency should generally be required to have court approval when it wants to search Americans' phone records."

John Cassidy of the New Yorker has a pretty balanced assessment: "Politically, the White House's strategy is not lacking in cunning. As the President knows all too well, many senior Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, including the heads of the intelligence committees, don't think any big changes are necessary. In asking for their coöperation and putting them in the firing line, he is clearly hoping to defuse some of the criticisms that he has faced."

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. -- Authorization for the Use of Military Force

... Gregory Johnson in BuzzFeed: "Written in the frenzied, emotional days after 9/11, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force was intended to give President Bush the ability to retaliate against whoever orchestrated the attacks. But more than 12 years later, this sentence remains the primary legal justification for nearly every covert operation around the world. Here's how it came to be, and what it's since come to mean." CW: Charles Pierce calls Johnson's article required reading. It's long.

Justin Sink of the Hill: "President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion omnibus bill Friday night at the White House before a small gathering that included his budget team. In a small auditorium across the street from the West Wing, Obama penned his name on the 1,500-page legislation, which piled nearly a foot off the ground."

... Gail Collins comments on the bill.

Jonathan Chait: "... now that Republicans have discovered, nearly four years after the passage of the law, that Obamacare has a provision that they can spin as a 'bailout,' it has whipped the party into a frothy mix of genuine outrage and hand-rubbing opportunism, with repentant immigration reformer Marco Rubio leading the charge with a bill in Congress to repeal the 'Obamacare bailout.' There is no Obamacare bailout.... Of course, the 'Obamacare bailout' bill is ... an election-year message bill designed to let Republicans use the words 'Obamacare' and 'bailout' consecutively, and Republican Party advisers ... see it as their job to provide intellectual cover for useful messaging strategies, however demagogic. This is also another sign of the slow thematic turn of Obamacare opponents from arguing that the law is collapsing to arguing that it is surviving only as a result of devious scheming. 'Obamacare is collapsing' is a battle they will have to surrender eventually. 'Obamacare is a scandal' is a fight they can keep waging in the right-wing jungles for decades to come."

Erik Eckholm of the New York Times: "A federal judge on Friday declared unconstitutional the state's ultrasound requirement for women seeking abortions, saying it violated the First Amendment by requiring doctors to display a fetal image and describe it even to women who covered their eyes and ears." CW: The judge, Catherine Eagles, is an Obama appointee.

AP: "A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a judge's ruling granting a taxpayer-funded sex change operation for a transgender inmate serving a life sentence for a murder conviction, saying receiving medically necessary treatment is a constitutional right that must be protected 'even if that treatment strikes some as odd or unorthodox.'"

BTW, David Brooks is upset that "suddenly the whole world is talking about income inequality" because "it introduces a class conflict element to this discussion." CW: Brooks' argument mirrors Mitt Romney's 2012 dictum that income inequality should be discussed only in "quiet rooms."

Erica Goode of the New York Times: "... at a time when the drugs once routinely used in executions are in short supply and states are scrambling to find new formulas, the execution [of Dennis McGuire] is stirring intense debate about the obligations of the state toward those it kills.... [McGuire's children] plan to file a federal lawsuit next week alleging that the execution violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment."

Elizabeth Harris, et al., of the New York Times: "Entering through a digital gateway, [Eastern European hackers] discovered that Target's systems were astonishingly open -- lacking the virtual walls and motion detectors found in secure networks like many banks'. Without those safeguards, the thieves moved swiftly into the company's computer servers containing Target's customer data and to the crown jewel: the in-store systems where consumers swipe their credit and debit cards and enter their PINs."

Matt Volz of the AP: "A former Montana judge who was being investigated for forwarding a racist email involving President Barack Obama sent hundreds of other inappropriate messages from his federal email account, according to the findings of a judicial review panel released Friday. Former U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull sent emails to personal and professional contacts that showed disdain for blacks, Indians, Hispanics, women, certain religious faiths and some with inappropriate jokes about sexual orientation, the Judicial Council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found." CW: Cebull is a Bush II appointee. Read the whole story.

AP: "Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests in just two years, for molesting children.... The statistics for 2011 and 2012 show a dramatic increase over the 171 priests removed in 2008 and 2009, when the Vatican first provided details on the number of priests who have been defrocked."

Local News

Certainly a vague concern about voter fraud does not rise to a level that justifies the burdens here. Therefore this court does not find in-person voter fraud a compelling interest the voter ID law was designed to serve. -- Judge Bernard McGinley

** Rick Lyman of the New York Times: "In a strongly worded decision, a Pennsylvania state judge on Friday struck down Pennsylvania's 2012 law requiring voters to produce a state-approved photo ID at the polls, setting up a potential Supreme Court confrontation that could have implications for other such laws across the country. The judge, Bernard L. McGinley of Commonwealth Court, ruled that the law hampered the ability of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians to cast their ballots, falling most heavily on elderly, disabled and low-income residents, and that the state's reasons for the law -- that it was needed to combat voter fraud -- was unsupported by the facts." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, by Karen Langley, is here. ...

... Rick Hasan comments on the decision.

Michael Wines of the New York Times: "Freedom Industries, the West Virginia company whose chemical spill last week tainted the drinking water of more than 300,000 residents in and around Charleston, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday." The Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette story, by Kate White & David Gutman, is here. ...

... Joshua Holland of Bill Moyers & Co.: "Asked about the spill of thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into a West Virginia river ... Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters that he is 'entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the books to protect the health and safety of the American people.' ... The facility hasn't been inspected since 1991 because, unlike other states, West Virginia requires it only of chemical manufacturers and emitters, not storage facilities.... It's becoming clear that it's also a tale of how shady businesses can prosper in an environment where regulatory capture by an industry is so deeply entrenched. Even the history of Freedom Industries is murky. It was co-founded in 1992 by Carl Kennedy and Gary Southern -- who during a Friday press conference sipped bottled water and told reporters that he'd had a really trying day.... Carl Kennedy's history reads like that of a character in an Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen novel." ...

... CW: Earlier reports that Speaker Boehner received campaign contributions from a Freedom Industries principal now appear to be erroneous.

New Yorker: "John Cassidy and Hendrik Hertzberg join host Dorothy Wickenden on this week's Political Scene podcast to discuss the New Jersey governor's political future":

John Reitmeyer of the Bergen Record: New Jersey "Assembly Democrats confirmed Friday the names of 18 people who have been served with subpoenas, including Port Authority Chairman David Samson and Governor Christie's incoming chief of staff Regina Egea, as the legislative investigation into the September lane closures at the George Washington Bridge continues. The Assembly committee that formed and met on Thursday also subpoenaed the governor's office itself for documents, as well as Christie for Governor, Inc., Christie 2013 campaign organization, according to a spokesman for the Assembly Democrats." ...

... Shawn Boburg of the Record: "The Port Authority is raising concerns that the law firm chosen to represent the Christie administration amid several investigations into the George Washington Bridge scandal has a conflict of interest. The firm is representing the Port Authority in a lawsuit lodged by the motorist group AAA over the agency's controversial toll hikes in 2011. Christie jointly steers the Port Authority.... The interests of the Port Authority and the Christie administration in both the toll hike lawsuit and the George Washington Bridge probes could diverge, presenting potential complications if the same law firm is representing both simultaneously, some within the Port Authority believe."

Presidential Election 2016

McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed: "In interviews with more than a dozen party officials, fundraisers, and strategists in New York and Washington over the past 10 days, Republicans described a palpable sense of anxiety gripping the GOP establishment in the wake of Christie's meltdown, and an emerging consensus that the once promising cast of candidates they were counting on to save the GOP from the tea party -- and the nation from Hillary Clinton -- is looking less formidable by the week." ...

... Ken Vogel of Politico: Romney backers are loving Bridgegate. "The sniping is not insignificant. Christie is not well-liked among tea party activists and leaders, where he is seen as a big-government moderate. So, in order to build a coalition that could give him a chance at the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, he'll most likely need strong support from Republican establishment types, like those who formed the core of Romney's formidable operation."

News Ledes

Washington Post: "Security firm IntelCrawler said Friday that it has identified a Russian teenager as the author of the malware probably used in the cyberattacks against Target and Neiman Marcus, and that it expects more retailers to acknowledge that their systems were breached. In a report posted online, the Sherman Oaks, Calif., company said the author of the malware used in the attacks has sold more than 60 versions of the software to cybercriminals in Eastern Europe and other countries."

Guardian: "Two Britons and two Americans were among at least 21 people killed when a suicide bomber and gunmen attacked one of Kabul's most popular restaurants. The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and three other staff of the UN were also killed in the attack on Friday evening, along with the Lebanese restaurant owner, several Afghanis, and two Canadians."

Thursday
Jan162014

The Commentariat -- Jan, 17, 2014

Mark Landler & Peter Baker of the New York Times: "President Obama will require intelligence agencies to obtain permission from a secret court before tapping into a vast database of telephone data, but he will leave the data in the hands of the government for now, an administration official said. Mr. Obama, in a much-anticipated speech on Friday morning, plans to pull back the government's wide net of surveillance at home and abroad, staking out a middle ground between the far-reaching proposals of his own advisers and the concerns of the nation's intelligence agencies." ...

     ... New Lede: "President Obama, declaring that advances in technology had made it harder 'to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties,' announced carefully calculated changes to surveillance policies on Friday, saying he would restrict the ability of intelligence agencies to gain access to telephone data, and would ultimately move that data out of the hands of the government."

... The Washington Post story, by David Nakamura & Ellen Nakashima, is here. ...

... David Lauter & Ken Dilanian of the Los Angeles Times: "The president's objective today is not to fundamentally change what the NSA does, but rather to make Americans and U.S. allies more comfortable with it." ...

... Here is the full text of the President's speech. ...

... James Ball of the Guardian: "The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents. The untargeted collection and storage of SMS messages -- including their contacts -- is revealed in a joint investigation between the Guardian and the UK's Channel 4 News based on material provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The documents also reveal the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search the metadata of 'untargeted and unwarranted' communications belonging to people in the UK." ...

... Shorter Peter Baker (linked in yesterday's Commentariat). Digby: "Basically [President Obama] was shocked and upset that the people didn't trust him to keep the NSA from being out of control --- and then learned that the NSA was out of control." Read Digby's whole post, as she goes on to worry about Keith Alexander's extraordinary (or as James Banford put it, Strangelovian) power. ...

... Charles Pierce: "It is clear now that the all-too-human, but curiously error-prone heroes of our intelligence community believe quite profoundly that there is no piece of information that does not essentially belong to them, anywhere in the world, ever." ...

... Benny Johnson of BuzzFeed: "As the American intelligence community struggles to contain the public damage done by the former National Security Agency contractor's revelations of mass domestic spying, intelligence operators have continued to seethe in very personal terms against [Edward Snowden]...." Some fantasize about killing him.

Paul Lewis of the Guardian: "Democratic and Republican lawmakers are introducing a bill to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act, six months after the supreme court controversially knocked down a pillar of civil rights-era legislation that prevented discrimination at the ballot box." ...

... Ari Berman of the Nation elaborates. ...

< ... Rick Hasan: "I am very pessimistic about the legislation passing out of the House."

Pete Kasperowicz of the Hill: "The Senate approved the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill Thursday, sending it to the White House for President Obama's signature and sparing the government from another government shutdown. Senators voted 72-26 in favor of the bill, and all 'no' votes came from Senate Republicans, including GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn (Texas). That followed a 72-26 vote to end debate, which needed 60 votes."

New York Times Editors: "The latest report on the 2012 debacle in Benghazi, Libya..., reflects a bipartisan consensus about the tragedy that is broadly consistent with the findings of previous inquiries. Even so, it contributes to a better understanding of what happened and why and what must be done to mitigate the chances of its happening again." ...

... Steve M.: Winger upset that left-wing media don't name Obama for causing Benghaaazi! when covering Senate report that doesn't name Obama.

Dylan Byers of Politico: "Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain harshly criticized The New York Times on Thursday over a recent report which concluded that Al Qaeda was not involved in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. In remarks on the Senate floor, Graham said 'journalism has died at this paper,' while McCain called the paper 'an ever-reliable surrogate for the Obama administration.'" ...

... Hadas Gold of Politico: "New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson is hitting back at harshly critical comments made by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on the Senate floor Thursday about a Times's report on the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. In a statement to Politico, Abramson called David Kirkpatrick's reporting on Benghazi 'unassailable.'"

Juliet Eilperin & Lenny Bernstein of the Washington Post: "A group of the nation's leading environmental organizations is breaking with the administration over its energy policy, arguing that the White House needs to apply a strict climate test to all of its energy decisions or risk undermining one of the president's top second-term priorities. The rift -- reflected in a letter sent to President Obama by 18 groups including the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and Earthjustice -- signals that the administration is under pressure to confront the fossil fuel industry or risk losing support from a critical part of its political base during an already difficult election year."

Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic: "Conservatives used to say Obamacare is socialized medicine. Now they say it is a 'government bailout' of insurers. The new claim is just as misleading and cynical as the old one." Cohn explains why.

I'm Rubber, You're Glue...

Tom Kludt of TPM: "In his memoir 'Duty,' [Robert] Gates recalled his disgust after [Harry] Reid said in 2007 that the Iraq war had been 'lost.' 'I was furious and shared privately with some of my staff a quote from Abraham Lincoln I had written down long before. 'Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled or hanged,' " Gates wrote. (Lincoln didn't actually say that.)" ...

... AP: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is out to make a buck with a book denigrating other senior officials. Reid was one target of Gates in his book, while President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also came in for criticism." ...

... Philip Ewing of Politico: "Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired back at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday night, quipping that 'it's common practice on the Hill to vote on bills you haven't read, and it's perfectly clear Sen. Reid has not read the book.'"

Paul Krugman: "... Europe's ongoing economic woes can't be attributed solely to the bad ideas of the right. Yes, callous, wrongheaded conservatives have been driving policy, but they have been abetted and enabled by spineless, muddleheaded politicians on the moderate left."

** "I am Cyrus." John Judis of the New Republic has a fascinating look back at President Truman's vascillating policies toward the formation & support of Israel.

Local News

Steve Kastenbaum & Chris Frates of CNN: "Give him a position at the top of the agency; he's a good friend of the governor. That's how David Wildstein was introduced to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2010, according to a former employee with extensive knowledge of the agency's hiring practices. Soon after, Wildstein was named the director of Interstate Capital Projects, a title that previously had not existed at the bi-state agency...." ...

... Kate Zernicke of the New York Times: "As the New Jersey Assembly voted Thursday to authorize what Democrats and Republicans alike called a historic investigation into abuses of power by Gov. Chris Christie's administration, Mr. Christie seemed to be maneuvering against the inquiry, hiring a high-powered defense lawyer and resisting questions about whether he would cooperate with the Legislature's efforts.... Mr. Christie's administration announced that it had hired Randy M. Mastro, a longtime associate of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York City, to conduct an internal review...." ...

... Shawn Boburg of the Bergen Record: "Twenty subpoenas rained down on Governor Christie's office and the Port Authority on Thursday, demanding documents related to the George Washington Bridge controversy be turned over to a legislative panel investigating the origins of a traffic jam apparently manufactured out of spite. Among those who were sent subpoenas, according to a source: Christie's former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and his former campaign manager Bill Stepien, as well as spokesman Michael Drewniak, Director of Communications Maria Comella, chief counsel Charles McKenna, chief of staff Kevin O'Dowd, and director of the authorities unit Regina Egea." ...

... Christopher Baxter of the Star-Ledger: "A separate state Senate committee formed today to investigate the scandal plans to subpoenas records from David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, agency Commissioner William 'Pat' Schuber, and Regina Egea, Christie's incoming chief of staff, said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the panel's chairwoman." ...

... Herb Jackson of the Record: "A Port Authority response to a [U.S.] Senate committee's inquiry about lane closures on the George Washington Bridge contains 'zero evidence' of a legitimate traffic study, the committee's chairman said today. 'The Port Authority's response provides zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to conduct a legitimate traffic study,' said Sen. John 'Jay' Rockefeller, D-W.Va." ...

... Tim Egan: "There's a reason 'Nixonian' is moving up the Google search-pairing chart with Christie; he's vindictive, and never forgets a slight. His world is divided between enemies and loyalists. And you look at the way he talks to people in public with far less power than he -- teachers, students, lowly constituents at town hall meetings. They're idiots, morons. Ha ha ha. I've got the microphone, fool."

New Senate Race

Dana Ford of CNN: "U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of the current congressional session, ending his six-year term two years early. The Oklahoma Republican, 65, has been battling cancer."

News Ledes

Reuters: "Up to 15 people, mostly foreigners, were killed on Friday when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a popular Lebanese restaurant in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul, police said. Islamist Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack in the upscale Wazir Akbar Khan district, which hosts many embassies and restaurants catering for expatriates. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said its representative in Afghanistan was one of the dead, and the United Nations said three of its staff were killed as well."

Reuters: "A former detainee at the U.S. naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has failed to persuade a federal appeals court to let him sue the U.S. government for damages stemming from his treatment during seven years of detention."

Washington Post: "President Vladimir Putin said Friday that gay people have nothing to fear in Russia as long as they leave children alone."

AP: "West Virginia inspectors visited the site of last week's chemical spill in 2010, when a nearby resident complained about a strong odor of licorice, the same smell that led officials to the spill Jan. 9, according to documents released Thursday.... One of the inspectors said in an email that the odor was not strong enough to merit a citation." CW: The official "Can't Smell a Thing" West Virginia inspection protocol.

Guardian: "Syria's foreign minister said on Friday that his country is prepared to implement a ceasefire in the war-torn city of Aleppo and exchange detainees with the country's opposition forces as confidence-building measures before a peace conference next week in Switzerland." ...

... New York Times: "However, residents and rebel officials in some of the communities described in interviews a disturbing pattern in which the government has used the cease-fires as cover for an operation intended to attain a victory it could not achieve any other way."

New York Times: "Hiroo Onoda, an Imperial Japanese Army officer who remained at his jungle post on an island in the Philippines for 29 years, refusing to believe that World War II was over, and returned to a hero's welcome in the all but unrecognizable Japan of 1974, died Thursday at a Tokyo hospital, the Japanese government said. He was 91." CW: Big deal. What about all those American Southerners who refuse to believe the Civil War is over many generations later?