The Ledes

Monday, May 25, 2015.

New York Times: "Texas marked 24 counties as disaster areas on Monday as drenching rains and violent weather swept through that state and Oklahoma, forcing thousands of people from their homes and killing at least three."

The Wires

The Ledes

Thursday, May 21, 2015.

New York Times: "John F. Nash Jr., a mathematician who shared a Nobel Prize in 1994 for work that greatly extended the reach and power of modern economic theory and whose long descent into severe mental illness and eventual recovery were the subject of a book and a film, both titled 'A Beautiful Mind,' was killed, along with his wife [Alicia], in a car crash on Saturday in New Jersey. He was 86."

New York Times: "Anne Meara, who became famous as half of one of the most successful male-female comedy teams of all time and went on to enjoy a long and diverse career as an actress and, late in life, a playwright, died on Saturday in Manhattan. She was 85. Her death was confirmed by her husband and longtime comedy partner, Jerry Stiller, and her son, the actor and director Ben Stiller."

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post (May 22): "A salmonella outbreak that’s probably linked to raw tuna from sushi has sickened at least 53 people across nine states — the majority in Southern California, health authorities said."

White House Live Video
May 25

11:20 am ET: President Obama speaks at Arlington National Cemetery

Go to


New York Times: "Charter Communications is near a deal to buy Time Warner Cable for about $55 billion, people with direct knowledge of the talks said on Monday, a takeover that would create a new powerhouse in the rapidly consolidating American cable industry.... The potential acquisition of Time Warner Cable completes a lengthy quest by Charter and its main backer, the billionaire John C. Malone, to break into the top tier of the American broadband industry. If completed, the transaction would be the latest in a series of mergers remaking the market for broadband Internet and cable television in the United States."

Washington Post: "One of the earliest known copies of the Ten Commandments was written in soot on a strip of goatskin found among the trove of biblical material known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, widely considered to be one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th century. Penned on parchment by an unknown scribe more than 2,000 years ago, the scroll fragment is ... so fragile that its custodians rarely permit it to be moved from the secure vault where it rests in complete darkness. But for 14 days over the next seven months, the Ten Commandments scroll, known to scholars as 4Q41, will make a rare public appearance at the Israel Museum as part of a new exhibit called 'A Brief History of Humankind,' a show based on the international best-selling book by Israeli polymath Yuval Noah Harari."

Erik Loomis of LG&M: "It looks like Maggie Gyllenhaal has had her Last Fuckable Day at the ripe old age of 37:

... Sharon Waxman of the Wrap: "Every time we think things are getting better for women in Hollywood, something comes along to remind us — naaah. Maggie Gyllenhaal ... revealed that she was recently turned down for a role in a movie because she was too old to play the love interest for a 55-year-old man."

Emily Nussbaum of the New Yorker: "Now that [David] Letterman’s a flinty codger, an establishment figure, it’s become difficult to recall just how revolutionary his style of meta-comedy once felt. But back when I was sixteen, trapped in the snoozy early eighties and desperate for something rude and wild, Letterman seemed like an anarchist."

     ... Here's the page for the property.

AP: "The suburban New York home where F Scott Fitzgerald is believed to have written The Great Gatsby is for sale. A spokeswoman for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage said on Wednesday that the asking price for the manor home on Long Island was just over US$3.8m (A$4.8m).... The home is in the village of Great Neck Estates, about 20 miles (32km) from Manhattan.

After years of signing "-BO" at the end of @BarackObama to signal the tweets he crafted himself from an account operated by the Organizing for Action staff, the President now has his very own handle @POTUS, tweeting for the first time: 'Hello, Twitter! It's Barack. Really! Six years in, they're finally giving me my own account.'... Per a statement from the White House, the @POTUS handle 'will serve as a new way for President Obama to engage directly with the American people, with tweets coming exclusively from him.'"

The $5MM Ankle. New York Post: "Shakedown artist Al Sharpton’s eldest child wants $5 million from city taxpayers after she fell in the street and sprained her ankle, court rec­ords show. Dominique Sharpton, 28, says she was 'severely injured, bruised and wounded' when she stumbled over uneven pavement at the corner of Broome Street and Broadway downtown last year, according to a lawsuit."

My friend Jan C. sent me a list of actual complaints made by dissatisfied travelers who had gone on excursions organized by the British Thomas Cook Vacations. An example: "It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair."

New York Times: "The most striking geographical pattern on marriage, as with so many other issues today, is the partisan divide. Spending childhood nearly anywhere in blue America — especially liberal bastions like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington — makes people about 10 percentage points less likely to marry relative to the rest of the country. And no place encourages marriage quite like the conservative Mountain West, especially the heavily Mormon areas of Utah, southern Idaho and parts of Colorado." ...

Matt Seitz in New York notes that the pilot for "Mad Men" repeatedly points to the series' conclusion. ...

Gabriel Sherman of New York: "Tomorrow morning [Wednesday, May 13], in what marks a tectonic shift in the publishing industry, the New York Times is expected to officially begin a long-awaited partnership with Facebook to publish articles directly to the social media giant.... According to people familiar with the negotiations, the Times will begin publishing select articles directly into Facebook's news feed. Buzzfeed, NBC News and NatGeo are said to be also joining the roll out, among others. The deal raises all sorts of knotty questions for the Times." ...

... New York Times Update: "— Facebook’s long-rumored plan to directly host articles from news organizations will start on Wednesday, concluding months of delicate negotiations between the Internet giant and publishers that covet its huge audience but fear its growing power. Nine media companies, including NBC News and The New York Times, have agreed to the deal, despite concerns that their participation could eventually undermine their own businesses. The program will begin with a few articles but is expected to expand quickly.... Most important for impatient smartphone users, the company says, the so-called instant articles will load up to 10 times faster than they normally would since readers stay on Facebook rather than follow a link to another site." ...

.... Here's Facebook's announcement.

Nell Scovell in New York: Dave Letterman' former writers reminisce about jokes they wrote & pitched but which Letterman rejected. Letterman comments.

Vermeil placecard holders, a favorite "souvenir" of White House guests.... Washington Post: Petty thieves show up at White House state dinner -- all the time. Many guests at state dinners & other functions just can't resist taking home mementos, some of them pricey. "While the chief usher’s office monitors exactly what goes out with each place setting when the first family entertains, there is no formal accounting of how much taxpayers must pay each year to replace items that are gone by the end of the night."

Washington Post: The law finally catches up with Frank Freshwater, who escaped from prison in 1959.

Washington Post: Tesla plans to market a home battery system that draws power from solar panels or the power grid to use during outages. It holds up to 10 kw-hours, about 1/3 of what it takes to power an average home for a day. Tesla plans to make the system avalable by the end of this summer.

Conan O'Brien in Entertainment Weekly: "Not one single writer/performer in the last 35 years has had Dave [Letterman]’s seismic impact on comedy.... In today’s’ world of 30 late night programs, it’s tempting now to take Dave for granted. Do not. Dave was a true revolution.... Like all revolutions, it was such a seismic shift that it was disorienting and a bit messy at first, and it has taken us time to realize the sheer magnitude of the shift."

White House: "For a new state china service, First Lady Michelle Obama wanted it to have modern elements, but also for it to be practical, in the sense that it would be complementary to the preceding historic state services. The Obama State China Service consists of eleven-piece place settings for 320":

Timothy Simon of "Veep" gets ready to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner, which is Saturday, April 25:

... Cecily Strong of “Saturday Night Live will headline the event.

MOOCS! Washington Post: For $45, anyone can become a freshman at Arizona State University. "Students can take classes online for a fee, then decide whether to pay reduced tuition for the credits."

The Sex Life of David Brooks is apparently intensely interesting to Villagers who do not participate in it.

Washington Post: "Gaioz Nigalidze’s rise through the ranks of professional chess began in 2007, the year the first iPhone was released. In hindsight, the timing might not be coincidental." During a competition in Dubai, the Georgian grandmaster allegedly hid an iPhone in the bathroom, then consulted a chess app during play.

CBS News: "'Face the Nation' Host Bob Schieffer announced Sunday that CBS News political director John Dickerson will become the new host of 'Face the Nation' this summer when he retires." CW: So "Face the Nation" is going to become even worse. Follows the well-established pattern of Sunday morning "news" shows.

New York Times: "Bob Schieffer, a television anchor who has worked at CBS for nearly half a century and interviewed every sitting president since Richard Nixon, announced Wednesday night that he was retiring this summer. Mr. Schieffer, 78, made the announcement while giving an address at Texas Christian University, his alma mater." CW: This will be a great disappointment to Charles Pierce, as regular readers of Pierce's posts will recognize.

I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years.... We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology.... We are not talking about little green men, Stofan said. "We are talking about little microbes. -- Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for NASA

It's definitely not an if, it's a when. -- Jeffery Newmark of NASA

... The L.A. Times story, from which the above citations come, is fascinating.

Washington Post: "The quote on the stamp originated with [Joan Walsh] Anglund.... 'Yes, that’s my quote,' Anglund said Monday night from her Connecticut home. It appears on page 15 of her book of poems 'A Cup of Sun,' published in 1967. Only the pronouns and punctuation are changed, from 'he' in Anglund’s original to 'it' on the stamp." CW: These are forever stamps. Maybe you should rush to the Post Office & buy a pane.

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The Commentariat -- January 6, 2013

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on Ross Douthat's fantasy short-short story "Boehner, American Hero."

Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post: "On Friday, a top Senate Republican, [John Cornyn {Texas}] signaled that members of his party should be prepared to play hardball and be willing to accept the kind of consequences in each previous fight they've threatened but managed to avoid. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) likewise insisted that Republicans hold the line, telling his members they must demand that every dollar they raise the debt limit be paired with commensurate spending cuts. But other Republicans counseled caution, warning that pressure from the business community and the public to raise the $16.4 trillion federal borrowing limit renders untenable any threats not to do so and will weaken the GOP's hand if their stance is perceived to be a bluff."

Steve Peoples of the AP: "The Republican Party seems as divided and angry as ever. Infighting has penetrated the highest levels of the House GOP leadership. Long-standing geographic tensions have increased, pitting endangered Northeastern Republicans against their colleagues from other parts of the country. Enraged tea party leaders are threatening to knock off dozens of Republicans who supported a measure that raised taxes on the nation's highest earners."

Reed Abelson of the New York Times: "Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration's health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers. Particularly vulnerable to the high rates are small businesses and people who do not have employer-provided insurance and must buy it on their own.... Regulators are now required to review any request for a rate increase of 10 percent or more; the requests are posted on a federal Web site,, along with regulators' evaluations."

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "The White House is weighing a far broader and more comprehensive approach to curbing the nation's gun violence than simply reinstating an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition, according to multiple people involved in the administration's discussions. A working group led by Vice President Biden is seriously considering measures backed by key law enforcement leaders that would require universal background checks for firearm buyers, track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database, strengthen mental health checks, and stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors...."

"More Guns = More Killing." Elisabeth Rosenthal of the New York Times: "I recently visited some Latin American countries that mesh with the N.R.A.'s vision of the promised land, where guards with guns grace every office lobby, storefront, A.T.M., restaurant and gas station. It has not made those countries safer or saner. Despite the ubiquitous presence of 'good guys' with guns, countries like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Venezuela have some of the highest homicide rates in the world." ...

... Slipping into a Banana Republic. Steve M. of No More Mr. Nice Blog: ... "is it really surprising that plutocracy advocates want to hollow out America's middle class and create a class structure more like those in Latin America (where U.S. corporations have traditionally found cheap, willing workers), while their pro-gun allies want us seeing one another as (literally) mortal enemies, while we lose focus on what the plutocrats are doing to us economically? Is it unreasonable to see these as two aspects of the Third World-ization of America?"

Maureen Dowd writes an appreciation of Joe Biden. This comes, not surprising, at the expense of President Obama, & appropriately at the expense of John Boehner. ...

... Here's Biden swearing in Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) -- and his son:

... AND here is Joe being Joe during the mock swearing-in photo-op:

Read this Daily Caller headline & you'll understand why the denizens of Right Wing World are confused about the debt ceiling & think President Obama is going to write himself a "blank check."

Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian: "... at the very least, [Chuck] Hagel's confirmation [as Secretary of Defense] will be a much-needed declaration that some mild dissent on foreign policy orthodoxies and Israel is permitted. It will shatter AIPAC's veto power and dilute the perception of the so-called "pro-Israel community's" unchallengeable power. It will ensure that there is at least some diversity of viewpoints when it comes to debating endless war, belligerence v. negotiations, and MidEast policy. It will highlight the typically-suppressed differences within the GOP and the country about America's war posture." ...

... Fighting for Figs. On January 4, Michael Moore wrote, "... back in 2007, Chuck Hagel went totally crazy and told the truth about our invasion of Iraq. Here's what he said: 'People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are. They talk about America's national interest. What the hell do you think they're talking about? We're not there for figs.'" ...

... Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard responded with characteristic outrage. Let's let Moore explain in this open letter to Kristol: "Anyway, I see you're mad that back in 2007 former Sen. Chuck Hagel said that we were obviously 'fighting for oil' in Iraq. You explain this was 'vulgar and disgusting' and 'could be the straw that breaks the back of Hagel's chances' to be Obama's next Defense Secretary." So more goes on to highlight "four other prominent people [Friends of Bill's] who've said the same thing." Glenn Greenwald recommends you read the post. Read the whole post.

Art by Victor Juhasz for Rolling Stone.Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone: the bank bailouts of 2008-2009, and subsequent humungous gifts of cash from us to them "built a banking system that discriminates against community banks, makes Too Big to Fail banks even Too Bigger to Failier, increases risk, discourages sound business lending and punishes savings by making it even easier and more profitable to chase high-yield investments than to compete for small depositors. The bailout has also made lying on behalf of our biggest and most corrupt banks the official policy of the United States government." Thanks to contributor cowichan for the link. ...

... Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times: "A settlement [by federal agencies] reportedly in the works with big banks will soon end a review into foreclosure abuses, and it means more of the same: no accountability for financial institutions and little help for borrowers.... [The reported terms of the settlement reveal] it is another gift to the banks.... 'The O.C.C.-Fed review is just another flawed outreach program designed to fail,' said Ned Brown, a legislative strategist.... 'The servicers rolled the regulators.'"

Maggie Haberman of Politico: "President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign was fined $375,000 by the Federal Election Commission for campaign reporting violations -- one of the largest fees ever levied against a presidential campaign.... The fine -- laid out in detail in FEC documents that have yet to be made public -- arose from an audit of the campaign, which was published in April."

AP: "Speaking out for the first time since he resigned, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal takes the blame for a Rolling Stone article, and the unflattering comments attributed to his staff about the Obama administration, that ended his Afghan command and army career." ...

... Michael Gordon of the New York Times reads McChrystal's new book. CW: Sounds like a payback book, if a somewhat muted one.

Scott Shane of the New York Times, John C. Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, will be the first CIA employee to go to prison for leaking to reporters. Kiriakous was a source for Shane.

In the wake of the Newtown massacre, Susan Jacoby, in a New York Times op-ed, takes a stab at explaining atheism & urges atheists to speak out more. CW: One notion that Jacoby sidles up to, but doesn't write, is something that has been really irritating me -- the way the gun lobby tacitly uses faith in an afterlife to make gun crimes more palatable -- by promoting the notion that gunshot victims suddenly become "angels in heaven." As long as there's a perceived upside to the sudden death of a healthy person, then our "freedoms" and "right" to tote around assault weapons don't come at too high a price.

Alex Dobuzinskis of Reuters: "A planned yearlong centennial celebration of Richard Nixon's birth is due to kick off on Sunday at his presidential library in Southern California, with military honors and the laying of a wreath by the eldest daughter of the late 37th U.S. president.... The Richard Nixon Foundation plans to observe his complicated legacy with various events throughout the year, starting with the event on Sunday at the official Nixon library run by the foundation and the National Archives in Yorba Linda, California -- his birthplace."

News Ledes

AP: "Syrian President Bashar Assad has outlined a new peace initiative that includes a national reconciliation conference and a new constitution. Assad, however, says the initiative can only take roots after regional and Western countries stop funding what he called militant extremists fighting to overthrow him. Assad spoke Sunday in a rare speech addressing the nation, his first since June." Al Jazeera story here.

Reuters: "Venezuelan lawmakers re-elected [Diosdado Cabello,] a staunch ally of Hugo Chavez, to head the National Assembly on Saturday, putting him in line to be caretaker president if the socialist leader does not recover from cancer surgery.

Reuters: "A U.S. drone strike killed at least 10 people suspected to be Taliban fighters in Pakistan's northern tribal areas on Sunday, intelligence sources said, days after another drone strike killed a top militant leader in the area." The Al Jazeera story reports that the drone strikes killed at least 16 suspected Taliban militants.

AP: "The [National Hockey League] and the players' association said they reached a tentative agreement early Sunday to end a nearly four-month-old lockout that threatened to wipe out the season. A marathon negotiating session that lasted more than 16 hours, stretching from Saturday afternoon until just before dawn Sunday, produced a 10-year deal that still must be ratified by the players."

Al Jazeera: "Gerard Depardieu, the French actor who says he is quitting his homeland to avoid higher taxes for the rich, has received a Russian passport and met with President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has said."


The Commentariat -- January 5, 2013

The President's Weekly Address:

     ... The transcript is here. ...

... One thing I will not compromise over is whether or not Congress should pay the tab for a bill they've already racked up. If Congress refuses to give the United States the ability to pay its bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy could be catastrophic. The last time Congress threatened this course of action, our entire economy suffered for it. -- President Obama

Benjy Sarlin of TPM: "The White House and gun control supporters are gearing up for a whirlwind month, with plans to pass reform legislation before outrage over the Sandy Hook massacre has a chance to fade."

Annie Lowrey of the New York Times: "... the country's top earners now face a heavier tax burden than at any time since Jimmy Carter was president.... By some measures, the tax code might now be the most progressive in a generation, tax economists said, while noting that every American is paying a lower burden currently than they did then.... Over the last three decades the bulk of pretax income gains have gone to the wealthy -- and the higher up on the income scale, the bigger the gains.... [The fiscal] deal includes a host of tax increases on the rich. It raises the tax rate to 39.6 percent from 35 percent on income above $400,000 for individuals, and $450,000 for couples. The rate on dividends and capital gains for those same taxpayers was bumped up 5 percentage points, to 20 percent. Congress also reinstated limits on the amount households with more than $300,000 in income can deduct. On top of that, two new surcharges -- a 3.8 percent tax on investment income and a 0.9 percent tax on regular income -- hit those same wealthy households."

Robert Pear & Mary Pilon of the New York Times: "With the help of devoted Nascar fans in Congress and lobbyists in Washington, [auto race]track owners secured a one-year extension of an expiring tax break that allows them to write off investments in their property over 7 years, rather than the more typical 15 years." CW: because driving fast in circles is such a laudable athletic endeavor & cultural paradigm.

New York Times Editors: Raise the federal minimum wage.

Zachary Goldfarb of the Washington Post: "The White House is eyeing a return to elements of a 'grand bargain' it tried to reach late last year with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) as perhaps the best hope of defusing a fresh threat to the U.S. economy in just two months, according to people familiar with the discussions. As planning begins for the next phase of Washington's fiscal wars, attention is turning to a strategy for avoiding deep automatic cuts to domestic and defense spending and averting a government default -- which could all hit at the same moment." CW: I really could not stand to read the whole article.

Sahil Kapur of TPM: "Echoing President Obama's refusal to negotiate on the debt limit, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) warned Republicans on Friday that Democrats have no intention of giving in to any of their demands in exchange for lifting the nation's borrowing limit to pay its bills." ...

... Andy Rosenthal of the New York Times: "Mr. Obama should remember that if he makes any offer linked to the debt ceiling, he will have lost the war. He will end up negotiating with himself again, as he did over the fiscal cliff, and the debt ceiling nonsense will become a permanent part of budget talks." Includes a terrific citation from the Wall Street Journal editorial page. That's right, the WSJ is not liking the GOP prank. ...

... Alec MacGillis of The New Republic: "It is striking to what degree the Washington establishment has come to normalize Republican hostage-taking of the debt limit, to see it as a predictable and almost natural element of the political landscape.... If this perception starts to percolate out more broadly, the White House is in far weaker position heading into the next round than it would like to believe." ...

... Jamelle Bouie of the American Prospect: "Oddly, large swaths of the press is treating [the debt limit hostage-taking] as a routine negotiation, and not as an extraordinary and irresponsible threat to our national well-being.... There's something very wrong with Washington journalism when a threat to imperil the global economy is treated like a round of capture-the-flag." ...

... "At the Intersection of Recklessness & Stupidity." Steve Benen: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) gets the Recklessness Award for an op-ed he wrote in the Houston Chronicle. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gets the Stupidity Prize. "As a policy matter, [his remarks are] just gibberish, and the fact that the Senate Minority Leader doesn't seem to know what the debt ceiling even is, after already having threatened default in 2011 and planning an identical scheme in 2013, raises serious questions about how policymakers can expect to resolve a problem they don't seem to understand at a basic level." For the umpteenth time, Benen explains the debt ceiling to dummies. Here's Cornyn's Chron op-ed. ...

... Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has privately told other Democrats, including President Obama, that if the administration used its constitutional and executive authority to continue paying its debts in the face of House Republican opposition, he would support the approach, according to a source familiar with Reid's message to the president."

... Henry Blodget of Business Insider: "... the 'trillion-dollar coin' is a ridiculous idea. But no more so than threatening to force default." ...

... David Atkins of Hullabaloo makes this analogy: "... the Republican position is to go on a massive spending spree, quit their jobs by decreasing revenue, and then threaten to throw the bills they racked up into fire unless their spouse stops feeding the kids." His whole post is good. He pretty much explains the debt limit the way I explained it to my husband! ...

... Dorothy Wickenden talks with John Cassidy & Ryan Lizza about the tax-and-spending deal:

Elections Matter. New York Times Editors: "A small but important provision of the military budget bill just signed by President Obama ends a longstanding act of discrimination against women who serve in America's military. Offered by Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, the provision lifts a statutory ban on giving female service members insurance coverage for abortions in cases of rape and incest. Since 1988, military health plans have paid for abortions only when a pregnancy endangers a women's life."

Mark Landler of the New York Times: "Chuck Hagel appears to have weathered a concerted and vocal campaign to derail his chances for defense secretary, with President Obama likely to nominate him as early as next week, administration and Congressional officials said Friday." ...

... ** Jonathan Karl & Devin Dwyer of ABC News: "Meanwhile, the president is also eyeing a replacement for outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the longest-serving member of Obama's first-term economic team and one-time lead negotiator for the administration in the 'fiscal cliff' talks. Current chief of staff Jack Lew is all but certain to get the nod for Treasury, according to people familiar with Obama's thinking." CW: if true, this is quite good news. Lew is a liberal, really smart & sneaked some good stuff past the Republicans in last years debt ceiling fiasco. Last year, the scuttlebutt was that Obama would name the horrible Erskine Bowles to head Treasury. Cross thy fingers.

Brady Dennis of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration moved ahead Friday with the first major overhaul of the nation's food-safety system in more than 70 years, proposing tough new standards for fruit and vegetable producers and food manufacturers. The long-awaited proposals by the Food and Drug Administration are part of a fundamental change aimed at preventing food-borne outbreaks -- caused by everything from leafy greens to canteloupes to peanut butter -- rather than simply reacting to them. Every year, contaminated foods sicken an estimated 48 million Americans and kill 3,000. The rules, which span 1,200 pages, are aimed at creating safer conditions from farm to fork."

** Elections Sorta Matter. Ian Millhiser of Think Progress: "every single state except Hawai’i has finalized its vote totals for the 2012 House elections, and Democrats currently lead Republicans by 1,362,351 votes in the overall popular vote total. Democratic House candidates earned 49.15 percent of the popular vote, while Republicans earned only 48.03 percent -- meaning that the American people preferred a unified Democratic Congress over the divided Congress it actually got by more than a full percentage point. Nevertheless, thanks largely to partisan gerrymandering, Republicans have a solid House majority in the incoming 113th Congress." Read the whole post. ...

... Dana Milbank: "In theory, the Supreme Court could decide ... that this rigged system denies Americans fair and effective representation. But this won't happen anytime soon."

They're a bunch of jackasses. -- Former Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.) on the 67 Republicans who voted against even minimal aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy ...

... Kenneth Lovett, et al., of the New York Daily News: "The money will go strictly to the ailing federal flood insurance program to pay the legitimate claims of Sandy victims.... 'Every one of the 67 who voted no are nothing more than pawns of a philosophy that is not backed up by facts. The naysayers tried to punish people who dutifully paid their insurance premiums, [former Sen. Alphonse D'Amato] said, adding: 'This is not pork.' Even more galling, said D’Amato, many of these Republican refuseniks are from states that received billions of dollars in aid after Hurricane Katrina -- no questions asked." D'Amato, who lives on Long Island, says he & members of his family are still struggling in the aftermath of the storm. Thanks to Jeanne B. for the link. ...

... Hee-haw, Hee-haw. Erik Wasson of The Hill: "The conservative Club for Growth said Friday that it will punish House members who voted for a flood insurance measure aimed at helping pay for Hurricane Sandy's damage." ...

... Joe Conason of the National Memo highlights a few of the 67 jackasses who voted for help in their own home states but voted against aid to Sandy victims. Here's one name you might recognize: "Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chair from Wisconsin, who voted for the [auto] bailout and then, while running for vice president on the GOP ticket, pretended to have opposed it."

Jill Lawrence of the National Journal: Republicans don't seem to know what their party stands for these days. Luckily, David Brooks has a good idea! CW: as long as I can remember, the Republican party has -- in practice -- stood for the interests of the already-privileged. The culture war is a clever sideshow designed to appeal to the prejudices of the lumpenproletariat, but the GOP has always stood for Grand Old Patricians. It isn't so much about raw greed as it is about making sure the system continues to provide amply for them that has while keeping the rest of us in our place. The problem for the party now is that their clever sideshow worked too well, & some of the downstairs help climbed upstairs. The party of Edith Wharton novels (the Bushes) has been invaded by the descendants of John Steinbeck characters (Reagan, Santorum, Gingrich).

** Simon Romero of the New York Times: "José Mujica [is] the former guerrilla who is Uruguay's president. He lives in a run-down house on Montevideo's outskirts with no servants at all. His net worth upon taking office in 2010 amounted to about $1,800 -- the value of the 1987 Volkswagen Beetle parked in his garage. He never wears a tie and donates about 90 percent of his salary, largely to a program for expanding housing for the poor.... Quoting the Roman court-philosopher Seneca, Mr. Mujica said, 'It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.'"

Gail Collins publishes her New Year's pop quiz today. CW: I missed the one on Scott Brown, but guessed right on the pop culture questions & actually knew the answers to the rest of the political questions. If you want to get the Brown question right, read this first.


Nicole Guadiano of "Vice President Joe Biden will be sworn into office for a second term by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.... Sotomayor will administer the oath of office to Biden at a private ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 20, and at a public ceremony the following day on the west front of the U.S. Capitol."

News Ledes

Denver Post: "Four people were killed this morning including a gunman who held police at bay for several hours in an Aurora townhome. Aurora SWAT team members shot the gunman after he went to a second-floor window and fired a gun at police."

AP: "Northern Ireland police used water cannons to fend off brick-hurling protesters in Belfast on Saturday as violent demonstrations over flying the British flag stretched into a third straight day." Here's a report from the Belfast Telegraph.

New York Times: "A powerful earthquake struck the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Alaska around midnight Friday night, prompting tsunami warnings on the mainland and jolting some residents of Alaska. The warning was later canceled."

AP: "Just days before the second anniversary of a mass shooting that critically injured Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman was in Newtown meeting privately with families of those killed during last month's massacre at an elementary school."


The Commentariat -- January 4, 2013

Raymond Hernandez of the New York Times: "Under intense pressure from New York and New Jersey officials, the House on Friday adopted legislation that would provide $9.7 billion to cover insurance claims filed by individuals whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. The measure is the first, and least controversial, portion of a much larger aid package sought by the affected states to help homeowners and local governments recover costs associated with the storm. The House has pledged to take up the balance of the aid package on Jan. 15."

Jonathan Martin of Politico has an interesting piece on how Republican leaders are planning to head off their crazy base at the pass. Of course that's not how Martin puts it, but that's the plan -- trying to give potential Tea Party candidates the bum's rush.

Alexander Bolton of The Hill: "Most of the new class of Senate Democratic freshmen say filibuster reform should require senators to actually hold the floor and debate if they want to block legislation."

Speaker Squeaker. Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "House Speaker John A. Boehner narrowly won reelection Thursday to a second term overseeing a chamber that has proved difficult for him to manage, surviving a rebellion from the most conservative wing of the Republican caucus."

Weaker Speaker. Greg Sargent: Boehner's close victory "all but ensures that the only way the House will be able to pass solutions to our remaining problems ... will be with large blocs of Democratic support. This, in turn, risks weakening Boehner further, and means governing compromises will be very hard won in the months ahead."

The Orange Man & the Turtle Plan Ahead. Steve Benen: "... according to public comments from McConnell and Boehner, Republicans seriously believe President Obama must accept $2.7 trillion in cuts -- without raising taxes at all -- within the next two months. And if not, there will be an enormous crisis. And what is it, exactly, that GOP leaders expect to cut by $2.7 trillion? Oddly enough, they haven't said...." ...

... Benen again, on the same topic: "President Obama may not want to negotiate over the debt ceiling, but as far as the GOP is concerned, the president doesn't have 'any choice.' ... One of the things I worry about at this stage is a false sense of routinization -- much of the political world has already started to look at debt-ceiling fights as routine, which is the exact opposite of reality. It's a manufactured crisis -- and a legitimate national scandal -- that was largely unthinkable before 2011, which the GOP hopes to normalize with the media's help."

Kevin Drum: "Spending isn't our big problem. The recession spike of 2008 aside, it's about the same as it was 30 years ago. But instead of paying for that spending, we've repeatedly cut taxes, which are now at their lowest level in half a century. Tax revenue will go up as the economy improves, but even five years from now it will still be lower than it was when Reagan took office.So what's our real problem? That's simple: America is getting older and healthcare costs are rising. That means we'll need to spend more money in the future on Social Security and Medicare. There's simply no way around that unless we're willing to immiserate our elderly...."

The Petulance Plan. Oddly enough, Jonathan Chait thinks Boehner's plan to never, ever negotiate with President Obama is batshit crazy.

Mention of batshit crazy is apt to bring to mind Michele Bachman. Adam Peck of Think Progress: "The 112th Congress gaveled to a close on Thursday afternoon without passing a relief package for victims of Hurricane Sandy or reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, but [at 12 noon Thursday] Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) ... introduced the very first piece of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which states are now busily implementing. House Republicans have unsuccessfully voted 33 times in the last two years to eliminate health care reform and wasted at least 88 hours and $50 million...." ...

... Speaking of La Bachmann, you might enjoy a gander at her Twitter feed. Apparently, the teeming masses are not all that impressed with her legislative chops. ...

... Nonetheless, it turns out that it is to LaKook of the North -- & a few others who switched their votes at the last minute from abstain to Boner -- that the Weeping Wallower owes his job.

Art by DonkeyHotay.What is a Speaker to do
When he barely survives a House coup
And can't take the trauma
Of seeing Obama? --
Drink up & cry boo-fuckin'-hoo.

Sorry, couldn't help myself. Thanks to Kate Madison for the punchline.




Walter Shapiro: "For all the unnecessary pyrotechnics, for all the missed opportunities over the past 18 months, rationality triumphed over ideological extremism in Washington this week. And if this precedent helps prevent America from defaulting on its debts when the government runs out of borrowing power in March, so much the better.... Mitch McConnell and John Boehner deserve muted, but sincere, applause for bringing the anti-tax Republicans back from the brink."

Ian Millhiser & Annie-Rose Strasser of Think Progress have a lovely retrospective on "Ten People We Are Grateful Are No Longer Members of Congress."

Ezra Klein bids "Good Riddance to the Rottenest Congress in History." He includes the metrics of their abysmal failures.

Paul Krugman: "... in a tactical sense the fiscal cliff ended in a modest victory for the White House. But that victory could all too easily turn into defeat in just a few weeks [if Obama doesn't hang tough on the debt limit]."

Ta Ta, Timmy. Hans Nichols of Bloomberg News: "Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner plans to leave the administration at the end of January, even if President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans haven't reached an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, according to two people familiar with the matter. After giving in to Obama's previous entreaties to stay as long as needed, Geithner has indicated to White House officials and Wall Street executives that he is unlikely to change his departure plans this time, increasing pressure on the president to name his successor at Treasury...." ...

... Rachelle Younglai of Reuters: "Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's plans to leave near the end of January put the White House in a tricky spot...." ...

... Paul Krugman: "I hate to say this, but I find this reassuring. While I have no insider information here, I've had the sense that Geithner has consistently been a voice urging the president to cave in for fear of upsetting the markets, with no real concern for the dangers of giving in to blackmail."

Dana Milbank: Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) Thursday "morning pronounced himself placated with House Speaker John Boehner's offer to have the Hurricane Sandy relief bill passed in two pieces over the next two weeks. As for him [sic.] criticizing his fellow Republicans' 'indifference,' 'disregard' and 'cavalier attitude,' the lawmaker said, 'I stand by what I said at the time.' But he's revising and extending his remarks. 'John is really a voice of reason in our conference, despite some of the things I said yesterday,' King told [Matt] Lauer" of NBC News. ...

... CW: Yesterday I linked to a post by Alex Koppelman of the New Yorker on how our recidivist Congress won't do anything to give the nation a better future -- like prepare the East Coast to better withstand the growing incidence of hurricanes. Comes now Kevin Drum of Mother Jones with a long, fascinating piece on how children's exposure to even moderate levels of lead is a cause of violent criminal behavior later in life (I first heard about this only weeks ago, so it's still fresh info to me). But lead abatement is possible. Drum writes, "We can either attack crime at its root by getting rid of the remaining lead in our environment, or we can continue our current policy of waiting 20 years and then locking up all the lead-poisoned kids who have turned into criminals." You know, paint & gasoline no longer contain lead additives because previous Congresses said they couldn't. Now try to imagine this Congress taking Drum's advice. This is why it is so disheartening to have a Congress Full of Jerks.

Julia Preston of the New York Times: "Obama administration officials unveiled rules on Wednesday that will allow many American citizens -- perhaps hundreds of thousands -- to avoid long separations from immediate family members who are illegal immigrants as they apply to become legal residents." CW: revising Draconian rules like these is the kind of thing a Romney administration would never have done. Ever. People who think the parties are equally bad just don't know what they're talking about. ...

... David Nakamura & Tara Bahrampour of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration[s decision this week to ease visa requirements for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants represents its latest move to reshape immigration through executive action, even as the White House gears up for an uncertain political fight over a far-more-sweeping legislative package in the months ahead."

They're very upset about this over in Right Wing World:

     ... Please, Wolf, you have no right to tell our Tea Party golden boy he can't have everything his way.

One-Man Senate. CW: I meant to run this yesterday & forgot. Harry Reid on New Year's Day:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg discusses gun control on Jimmy Fallon's show:

American Injustice

** James Downie of the Washington Post: "The only reason for inaction [on the Violence Against Women Act] from [Eric] Cantor and others, frankly, is that many House Republicans simply do not truly care about women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence. Women, in turn, will rightly continue to shun the Republican Party."

** Ethan Bronner of the New York Times: "... laws are needed to remove [DNA] databases from the exclusive grip of prosecutors and law enforcement to make them available to defense lawyers." CW: couldn't agree more. In a system where an accused is presumed innocent, why shouldn't a convicted criminal be given access to information that might re-establish his innocence? Again & again, prosecutors have proved to be little dictators who will do anything to save a conviction, even when there is significant exculpatory evidence. Let's put a tiny bit more justice in our so-called justice system.


Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times: "President Obama's inaugural planning committee will announce this morning that -- surprise! -- Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will deliver the oath of office to Mr. Obama when he is sworn in for a second term later this month.... The president gets to pick who will swear him in, and Mr. Obama has selected the chief justice to deliver not one, but two, oaths to him: first in a small official ceremony at the White House at noon on Sunday, Jan. 20, the constitutionally mandated date and hour for the swearing-in, and again as part of the public inaugural festivities scheduled for Monday, Jan. 21." CW: let's see if Roberts can properly recite the oath this time.

Senate Race

Kevin Robillard of Politico: "Barney Frank, one day out of Congress, said on Friday that he has asked Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to send him back as an interim senator when Sen. John Kerry becomes secretary of state.... Frank said he wouldn't run for Kerry's seat in a special election, which would most likely take place this summer. Other names mentioned as a possible caretaker for Kerry's seat include former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and former Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Margaret Marshall -- who crafted the historic ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in the Bay State."

Regrets Analysis. Howard Schneider
of the Washington Post: "Consider it a mea culpa submerged in a deep pool of calculus and regression analysis: The International Monetary Fund’s top economist [Thursday] acknowledged that the fund blew its forecasts for Greece and other European economies because it did not fully understand how government austerity efforts would undermine economic growth." CW: when are people gonna figure out Krugman is (almost) always right?

News Ledes

Bloomberg News: "Employers added workers in December at about the same pace as the prior month, and the unemployment rate matched a four-year low, showing sustained gains in the U.S. labor market even as lawmakers were struggling to reach a budget deal."

New York Times: "The Securities and Exchange Commission has decided not to file insider trading charges against David L. Sokol, a onetime top lieutenant at Berkshire Hathaway, Mr. Sokol's lawyer said Thursday. Mr. Sokol came under scrutiny in 2011 after abruptly resigning as chairman of Berkshire's MidAmerican Energy Holdings, one of the many holdings of the investment conglomerate run by the billionaire Warren E. Buffett."

AP: "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is being treated for 'respiratory deficiency' after complications from a severe lung infection, his government said, pointing to a deepening crisis for the ailing 58-year-old president. Chavez hasn't spoken publicly or been seen since his Dec. 11 operation in Cuba, and the latest report from his government Thursday night increased speculation that he is unlikely to be able to be sworn in for another term as scheduled in less than a week."

AP: "A 15-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting girls' education has been released from a Birmingham, [England,] hospital to live with her family, doctors said Friday. Photographs released by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham showed Malala Yousufzai hugging nurses, waving and smiling shyly."

ABC News: "U.S. Sen. Michael Crapo is facing a hearing Friday in a Virginia court on a drunken driving charge. The Idaho Republican has said he doesn't plan to contest the allegations." CW: Crapo, a Mormon, has said he doesn't drink.

... Washington Post Update: "Sen. Michael Crapo (R-Idaho) pleaded guilty Friday to drunk driving following a December arrest in Alexandria, and issued a sweeping apology after a judge accepted his plea. Crapo, who appeared in Alexandria District Court, was sentenced to 180 days in jail, all of which was suspended. His license was suspended for a year, but he's eligible for a restricted license. Crapo must also pay a $250 fine and complete an alcohol program over the next year."


The Commentariat -- January 3, 2013

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on Maureen Dowd's fluff piece on Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

As of shortly after 1:00 pm ET today, all of the people pictured will be U.S. Senators.Gee, I've found them some swell dates for the sock-hop:

... Now, isn't that special?

C-SPAN: "At 1 p.m. [ET], Vice President Joe Biden will conduct a ceremonial swearing-in [of new Senators] with each member just outside the Senate Chamber, which can be attended by the Senators' families. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) returns to the Senate tomorrow after suffering a stroke in January 2012. After re-learning how to walk over the last year, the Senator plans to climb the steps of the Capitol building at 11:30 a.m. Vice President Joe Biden, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are expected to attend." CW: C-SPAN will have live coverage of both events.

Harry Reid Trick. Manu Raju of Politico: "He has a chance to go 'nuclear' Thursday, but instead Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to punt a decision on the filibuster until later this month.... Changing filibuster rules by 51 votes on the first day of a new session, circumventing the usual requirement in which at least 67 senators are needed to change Senate rules. Instead, he'll employ a circuitous procedure to technically keep the Senate in its first legislative day by sending the chamber into recess -- rather than adjourning. That move would keep the Senate in session, preserving his option of pushing forward with the so-called nuclear option at a later date." ...

... To help get Reid off the dime, you can sign Sen. Jeff Merkley's (D-Oregon) petition to reform the filibuster.

Michael Grynbaum of the New York Times: "Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, a Republican and possible presidential candidate with a reputation for take-no-prisoners bluster, attacked the House Republican leadership on Wednesday for its refusal to allow a vote on a Hurricane Sandy relief bill the night before." ...

... Gov. Christie, at a New Jersey State House press conference:

    ... You can watch the full presser here. "They [the House of Representatives] are so consumed with their own internal politics, that they have forgotten they have a job to do." ...

... Molly Ball of The Atlantic: "Christie's emotional diatribe seemed both utterly authentic and politically brilliant. There's basically zero political downside in campaigning against Congress, and particularly the House GOP, right now.... Christie is up for reelection this year in his very blue home state, and by turning his legendary temper on the GOP, he's helped turned his image from partisan ball-buster to nobly apolitical, equal-opportunity ball-buster."

..."Dereliction of Duty." New York Times Editors: "Mr. Boehner had promised to allow the House to vote this week on a $60.4 billion aid package [to states hit by Hurricane Sandy] that easily passed the Senate. But he reneged while trying to get out of the way of a final agreement on the fiscal cliff.... Whether Mr. Boehner can revive the Senate package in a few weeks, as now promised, is uncertain, because it's not clear whether he actually leads the right-dominated Republican caucus anymore.... The aid was overdue before Mr. Boehner tossed the Senate package aside on Tuesday." ...

... Dave Weigel of Slate: "Republicans allowed a familiar narrative -- oh, the bill's full of pork and waste! -- to creep out. [Here's an example on a site owned by severely winged-out Michelle Malkin of the creeps creeping. There are many more.] Christie mocks the narrative in the single boldest part of this rant. The 'pork,' he points out, was $600 million in a total $60 billion package -- one percent of the total. The Republicans who got angry about that, he says, are dupes. 'Those guys should spend a little more time reading the information we send and a little less time reading the talking points sent by their staff. That's quite an ask. Making fun of waste in an omnibus bill is one of the GOP's most effective tactics...." In an Update, Weigel notes that the Boner "now pledges a Friday vote on the smaller chunk of Sandy relief -- $9 billion for flood insurance -- then more votes on January 15." But since the new Congress will be sworn in today, the bills will have to go back to the new Senate for passage. ...

... ** Alex Koppelman of the New Yorker: "House Republicans didn't simply forget about the Sandy-relief legislation in the excitement of the fiscal-cliff deal. The bill stalled and died because many of them -- joined by key conservative activists and think tanks -- flat out opposed the version the Senate passed. They opposed it because, they said, half -- or more -- of the sixty billion dollars of funding contained in the bill was what they called 'pork.' A more accurate term would be 'foresight.' The legislation ... would have paid for ... forward-thinking measures, and that was the funding conservatives had a problem with." Read the whole post. CW: funny how the Luddites cry "Save our children from debts we incurred" but they oppose saving our children from floods or unsafe bridges or hazardous waste. Kinda makes you think just maybe they don't actually care about the kiddies.

NEW. Paul Krugman explains why the federal government can't just print money money or mint a giant platinum coin & deposit it at the Fed to get around the debt limit.

Michael Shear & Jackie Calmes of the New York Times: "Even as Republicans vow to leverage a needed increase in the federal debt limit to make headway on their demands for deep spending cuts, Mr. Obama --who reluctantly negotiated a deal like that 18 months ago -- says he has no intention of ever getting pulled into another round of charged talks on the issue with Republicans on Capitol Hill." ...

... A New Path to Progress? Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: McConnell + Biden + Reid, "Then both Senate leaders worked hard to deliver the votes of a vast majority of their reluctant members, isolating House Republican leaders, who found themselves with no way forward other than to put the bill before the House and let Democrats push it over the finish line. 'I think this is the fourth time that we've seen this play out, where Boehner finally relents and lets the House consider a measure, and Democrats provide the votes to pass it,' said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois [D]." ...

... Russell Berman of The Hill: "Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is signaling that at least one thing will change about his leadership during the 113th Congress: he's telling Republicans he is done with private, one-on-one negotiations with President Obama."

** Gail Collins: "... the bar is low [for the new Congress to be sworn in this week], since some people believe the departing 112th Congress was the worst in history, because of its stupendous lack of productivity and a favorability rating that once polled lower than the idea of a Communist takeover of America." Includes extended remarks on South Carolina.

Charles Blow on the dysfunctional Congress. Nothing new here, but this is a good bit:

As The Economist pointed out in November: 'The Democrats won 50.6% of the votes for president, to 47.8% for the Republicans; 53.6% of the votes for the Senate, to 42.9% for the Republicans; and... 49% of the votes for the House, to 48.2% for the Republicans (some ballots are still being counted). That's not a vote for divided government. It's a clean sweep.' Republicans control the House in part because of the geography of ideology -- cities tend to have high concentrations of Democrats and rural areas have high concentrations of Republicans -- and because of the way district lines were redrawn, in many cases by Republican-led state legislatures.

Cliff Notes -- Post Mortems

David Jackson of USA Today: "President Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, employed an autopen to sign the 'fiscal cliff' bill late Wednesday night, the third time he has used such a device. In a statement, the White House said officials received the bill from Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon, Washington time."

Ron Lieber of the New York Times: "The new rules [in the tax-&-spending bill] target two tax breaks: personal exemptions and many popular deductions like those for state and local taxes, mortgage interest and charitable contributions. For both breaks, single people with at least $250,000 in adjusted gross income and married people filing jointly with at least $300,000 in income are vulnerable. A hypothetical Texas couple could end up paying about $2,500 more in taxes, for instance." The New York Times provides a table showing how the tax might affect two hypothetical families with adjusted gross incomes of $400K.

Best Post Mortem. CW: I don't entirely agree with Jonathan Chait, but his use of "The Big Lebowski" to explain the tax-&-spending negotiations is damned clever. I do think House Republican leadership will blink on the debt ceiling. Sending the U.S. into effective bankruptcy is just too stupid even for them. Boehner, or whosoever should happen to be Speaker next month (see Right Wing World below), will let Democrats & the few non-crazy Republicans authorize raising the debt limit. (What they should do is dump the law permanently, & I'll be pleasantly stunned if that happens.) That said, see also Charlie Brown & Lucy below. ...

... Also, Noam Scheiber of The New Republic is expressing a general-consensus view here: "... here's what the fiscal cliff accomplished then: It affirmed to Republicans that Obama will do pretty much anything he can to avoid a debt default, regardless of what he says. It affirmed the White House anxiety that the GOP might not blink before we default. To put it mildly, that's quite an asymmetry. I want to believe the president can get through the next stage in this endless budget stalemate without accepting some of the more dangerous spending cuts conservatives are demanding. But at this point I'm having a hard time seeing it." CW: I'm with Scheiber on the 2nd part: Obama will give up half the farm (the half where the farmhands bunk), but I don't think it will be over the debt ceiling -- I think it will be on the sequester deal. To all you old ladies & gents, to all you hungry children, to all you college kids -- the President wishes you well, he'd like to help, but in the end, he expects you to tighten your little belts another notch.

Barack Robin Hood Obama. David Leonhardt of the New York Times: "For President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress, the fiscal deal reached this week is full of small victories that further their largest policy aims. Above all, it takes another step toward Mr. Obama's goal of orienting federal policy more toward the middle class and the poor, at the expense of the rich.... In the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama said that his top priority as president would be to 'create bottom-up economic growth' and reduce inequality. He has governed as such."

Most Optimistic Post Mortem. Here's a note my friend Barack sent me yesterday:

NEW. A Strong Contender for Most Pessimistic Post Mortem. Frank Rich on "the end of the 'Fiscal Cliff' crisis, Howard Schulz's bipartisanship fetish, and John Roberts's latest political play." CW: to my personal delight, Rich even takes a stab at his former colleague, "ostensibly moderate conservative David Brooks."

Chuck Mikolajczak of Reuters: "U.S. stocks kicked off the new year with their best day in over a year on Wednesday, sparked by relief over a last-minute deal in Washington to avert the 'fiscal cliff' of tax hikes and spending cuts that threatened to derail the economy's growth." CW: see my stock market widget in the upper right-hand column.

E. J. Dionne: "... we should at least consider the possibility that this week's Midnight Madness was actually a first step down a better road. This will be true if Obama hangs as tough as he now says he will; if he insists on more revenue in the next round of discussions; and if he immediately begins mobilizing business leaders to force Republicans off a strategy that would use threats to block a debt-ceiling increase to extract spending cuts. Real patriots do not risk wrecking the economy to win a political fight. Obama ... needs to move the discussion away from a green-eyeshade debate over budgets and foster a larger conversation over what it will take to restore broadly shared economic growth. His presidency really does depend on how he handles the next two months."

Wherein Lucy is Obama and we are all Charlie Brown.James Downie of the Washington Post on the pluses and minuses in the fiscal deal. Plus, "... soon, for the second time in two years, the GOP will threaten the country with economic ruin (via forcing the government to default on its bills) to advance its agenda. This is nothing less than the behavior of a party that has abdicated all responsibility for governing." Downie is the umpteenth pundit to make this point: "The legacy of this [tax-&-spending] deal almost entirely depends on whether Obama stands firm on the debt ceiling." CW: supporting Obama is like entering into a second marriage: it's "the triumph of hope over experience."

Steve Benen: the House GOP blocked reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which the Senate reauthorized, with bipartisan support, back in April. For the first time since 1994, the law has expired. ...

... Eric Dolan of the Raw Story has more.

Mark Follman of Mother Jones: "... the NRA's argument [that 'arming the good guys' would save lives] is bereft of supporting evidence. A closer look reveals that their case for arming Americans against mass shooters is nothing more than a cynical ideological talking point -- one dressed up in appeals to heroism and the defense of constitutional freedom, and wholly reliant on misdirection and half truths.... Not a single one of the 62 mass shootings we studied in our investigation has been stopped this way -- even as the nation has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of recent laws has made it easier than ever for ordinary citizens to carry them in public places, including bars, parks, and schools.

... CW: I seldom link letters to the editor, but here's a good one to the New York Times from psychiatrists Daniel Rosen & Steven Roth: "As psychiatrists, we place great value on the importance on preserving patient confidentiality. Despite this, we suggest the creation of a national database to help prevent individuals who have been involuntarily psychiatrically hospitalized (the constitutional basis for which is dangerousness) from acquiring guns."

Nicholas Kristof: "Tens of thousands of [Chinese] censors delete references to human rights, but they ignore countless Chinese Web sites peddling drugs, guns or prostitutes. Doesn't it seem odd that China blocks Facebook, YouTube and The New York Times but shrugs at, say, guns?"

Right Wing World *

* Where there is much breathless ado about sending the Orange Man back to his little desk on a back bench.

Ed Kilgore: "The Breitbartians are trying to stir up speculation that Boehner could be 'knocked out' of the speakership if he fails to win on the first ballot, but only if an alternative like Eric Cantor quickly emerges."

D. S. Wright of Firedoglake: "It’s being reported that there are 20 Republicans [which is all it takes] ... willing to band together to unseat John Boehner. The only real success of the 'fiscal cliff' vote may have been the destabilizing of the House Republicans."

News Ledes

Washington Post: "The Federal Trade Commission handed Google a victory Thursday when it ended its nearly two-year-long investigation of the search giant by finding that it had not unfairly promoted its own products over those of its rivals and accepting voluntary concessions from the company over display tactics and patent licensing. The negotiated settlement, which falls far short of what a coalition of competitors had demanded, will result in few if any visible changes in how hundreds of millions of consumers use the world's most popular search engine."

New York Times: "President Obama set aside his veto threat and late Wednesday signed a defense bill that imposes restrictions on transferring detainees out of military prisons in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But Mr. Obama attached a signing statement claiming that he has the constitutional power to override the limits in the law."

Reuters: "Private-sector employers shrugged off a looming budget crisis and stepped up hiring in December, offering further evidence of underlying strength in the economy as 2012 ended. While other data on Thursday showed an increase in the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits, the trend remained consistent with steady job growth."

AP: "More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, though the winter holidays likely distorted the data for the second straight week. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications rose by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 372,000 in the week ended Dec. 29. The previous week's total was revised higher."

New York Times: "An American drone strike killed a top Pakistani militant commander in a northwestern tribal region, security officials said on Thursday. The death of Maulvi Nazir was seen as a serious blow to Taliban fighters who attack United States and allied forces in neighboring Afghanistan."

Washington Post: "The Obama administration acted lawfully in refusing to disclose information about its targeted killings of terrorism suspects, including the 2011 drone strikes that killed three U.S. citizens in Yemen..., [Judge Colleen McMahon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York] ruled Wednesday. But the judge also described a 'veritable Catch-22' of security rules that allow the executive branch to declare legal 'actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.'"

Reuters: "Hundreds of the children [who attend the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut] ... head back to classes on Thursday for the first time since a gunman killed 20 of their schoolmates and six staff members.... Chalk Hill Middle School, closed about a year and half ago, has been hastily refurbished in the three weeks since the December 14 attack and renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School."

New York Times: "Rape, murder and other charges were filed on Thursday against five men suspected of carrying out the gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student who later died of her injuries in a case that has prompted outrage and protests across India."