Weekly Address

The President's Weekly Address

White House: "This week, President Obama called on Republicans in Congress to take action and vote to fund the Administration’s response to the Zika virus. In February, the President asked Congress to fund emergency resources, including mosquito control, fast-tracking diagnostics tests and vaccines, tracking the spread of the virus, and monitoring women and babies with Zika. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have failed to take action on this issue. So the President continues to direct his Administration do what it can without help from Congress, with the primary focus of protecting pregnant women and families planning to have children'":

The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post: (August 2): "Federal health authorities on Monday urged pregnant women not to visit a South Florida neighborhood where new cases of the Zika virus have emerged, the first time officials have warned against travel to part of the continental United States due to the outbreak of an infectious disease.” -- CW

... Guardian: "The search for life outside our solar system has been brought to our cosmic doorstep with the discovery of an apparently rocky planet orbiting the nearest star to our sun. Thought to be at least 1.3 times the mass of the Earth, the planet lies within the so-called 'habitable zone' of the star Proxima Centauri, meaning that liquid water could potentially exist on the newly discovered world." -- CW 

Guardian: "A fisherman in the Philippines has kept what might be the largest natural pearl ever found hidden in his home for more than 10 years. The enormous pearl is 30cm wide (1ft), 67cm long (2.2ft) and weighs 34kg (75lb). If it is confirmed to have formed within a giant clam, as has been reported, it would likely be valued in excess of US$100m." CW: Looks like there will be a fight on this: when he moved house, the fisherman entrusted it to his aunt for safekeeping. "With his permission, she offered the pearl to the mayor, Lucilo R Bayon, to serve as new tourist attraction of city." -- CW 

"Giovanni della Robbia’s 'Resurrection of Christ,' made for an entrance gate to the villa of the Antinori family outside Florence." Brooklyn Museum photo. CLICK ON PHOTO TO SEE LARGER IMAGE.New York Times: "One of the most innovative art-as-advertising firms in late-15th- and early-16th-century Florence was the della Robbia workshop, a family concern that prospered for three long-lived generations. Its specialty was a brand of glazed terra-cotta sculpture that was physically durable, graphically strong and technologically inimitable. (The exact methods for producing it remain a mystery to this day.)... The Museum of Fine Arts [in Boston is mounting] “Della Robbia: Sculpting With Color in Renaissance Florence”..., a show of ideal size and scholarly weight that includes among 46 pieces one of the tenderest Renaissance sculptures in existence — 'The Visitation' by Luca della Robbia — on first-time American loan from its Tuscan church."

Michelle & Barack -- The Movie. Richard Brody of the New Yorker reviews “Southside with You,” "a drama about Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson’s first date." Brody calls the film "a fully realized, intricately imagined, warmhearted, sharp-witted, and perceptive drama, one that sticks close to its protagonists while resonating quietly but grandly with the sweep of a historical epic." -- CW 

Washington Post: "Requiring longer passwords, known as passphrases, usually 16 to 64 characters long, is increasingly seen as a potential escape route from our painful push toward logins that only a cryptographer could love."

The New York Times features photos of the exteriors of Bill & Hillary Clinton's residences over the years.

Brian Hickey of the Philly Voice: When Leroy Black died at age 55, he got two obituaries in the Press of Atlantic City: " In the first obit, his 'loving wife, Bearetta Harrison Black' gets top survivor billing. In the second, however, Bearetta is nowhere to be found, but 'his long-tome (sic) girlfriend, Princess Hall' appears in her place. A man answering the phone at Greenidge Funeral Homes told PhillyVoice that the obituaries were placed separately because 'the wife wanted it one way, and the girlfriend wanted it another way.'" ...

... CW: Kinda reminds me of the headstone a widow placed on her husband's grave in the Key West cemetery: "Harry, I Know Where You're Sleeping Tonight."

New York Times: "A surprisingly specific genetic portrait of the ancestor of all living things has been generated by scientists who say that the likeness sheds considerable light on the mystery of how life first emerged on Earth. This venerable ancestor was a single-cell, bacterium-like organism. But it has a grand name, or at least an acronym. It is known as Luca, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, and is estimated to have lived some four billion years ago, when Earth was a mere 560 million years old."

Ian Crouch of the New Yorker: "For a few days, at least, [Stephen] Colbert abandoned the political equanimity that he’d adopted when he started his 'Late Night' job." BTW, here's Laura Benanti's segment:

Washington Post: "Benny" (for Ben Franklin), the mystery philanthropist of Salem, Oregon, has given away more than $55,000 in $100 bills, which s/he hides in odd places like "pockets of clothing, in diapers, in baby wipes and in candy." -- CW 

Jumping Jupiter! New York Times: "Ducking through intense belts of violent radiation as it skimmed over the clouds of Jupiter at 130,000 miles per hour, NASA’s Juno spacecraft finally clinched its spot on Monday in the orbit of the solar system’s largest planet. It took five years for Juno to travel this far on its $1.1 billion mission, and the moment was one that NASA scientists and space enthusiasts had eagerly — and anxiously — anticipated. At 11:53 p.m., Eastern time, a signal from the spacecraft announced the end of a 35-minute engine burn that left it in the grip of its desired orbit around Jupiter." -- CW ...

... Rachel Feltman of the Washington Post has more on the importance of the mission. CW: This, BTW, is another fine example of your government actually at work.

New York Times: "Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” signed off the air for good on Saturday evening [July 2], after 42 seasons, as millions of listeners, many in their cars on a holiday weekend, tuned in via public radio. With the exception of a telephone call from President Obama, the show, which was recorded Friday at the Hollywood Bowl in front of 18,000 people, ambled along the way it always has. There were pretty country-folk songs; an ad for Powdermilk Biscuits; a clippety-clop 'Lives of the Cowboys' skit; a heartfelt version of 'Every Time We Say Goodbye.'”

Washington Post: Gay Talese disowns his forthcoming book, 'The Voyeur’s Motel,' after he learns some of the incidents in the supposed true story are certainly fictional. The narrative “chronicles the bizarre story of Gerald Foos, who allegedly spied on guests at his Colorado motel from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s.... 'I should not have believed a word he said,' the 84-year-old author said after The Washington Post informed him of property records that showed Foos did not own the motel from 1980 to 1988.... The book, which will be published July 12, was excerpted in the New Yorker magazine in April. The story attracted widespread media attention and led producer-director Steven Spielberg to buy the movie rights to the book. Spielberg has lined up Sam Mendes...." ...

     ... Update. CW: For a day, I thought maybe Talese had developed a smidgen of ethics in his old age. Guess not. Here's the story now, from the WashPo: "Upon reflection, author Gay Talese says he’s disavowing his earlier disavowal of his own work."

Dan Shaw of New York writes a lovely remembrance of New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham.

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Saturday
Apr052014

The Commentariat -- April 6, 2014

Edward-Isaac Dovere of Politico: "Problems getting judges confirmed by the Senate have been a constant complaint for this White House -- but this week, President Barack Obama's aides are celebrating a confirmation count that outpaces President George W. Bush's. They've had that goal on their minds for over a year, ever since chief of staff Denis McDonough and counsel Kathy Ruemmler reprioritized judicial nominations for Obama's second term. John Owens, confirmed Monday to the Ninth Circuit, along with Edward Smith and Gerald McHugh, who confirmed to the district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania last week, put them over the top." ...

... What's the Matter with Pat Leahy? Ian Millhiser of Think Progress explains the "blue slip" tradition that is forcing President Obama to nominate conservative Republicans to the bench. "As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has the unilateral ability to eliminate the blue slip today if he chose to, though he has thus far refused to do so. Indeed, one of Leahy's Republican predecessors, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), largely did just that when he was Judiciary Chair and George W. Bush was president."

** David Cole in the New York Review of Books: "One Dollar, One Vote."

Benjamin Goad of the Hill: "Members of the Federal Election Commissioners are lashing back at the Supreme Court's decision this week to strip away a key campaign finance restriction, contending the ruling will only add to the influence of 'megadonors.' In a scathing statement, FEC Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel and commissioner Ellen Weintraub said they were [troubled' about the high court's decision to do away with overall individual contribution limits. 'This decision will not increase the number of voices able to participate in the political debate,' the Democratic commissioners said. 'Instead, it amplifies the voices of the few to the detriment of the many.'"

** Missed This. You're Hitler; I'm Not. Paul Krugman: "Billionaires really are feeling vulnerable despite their wealth and power, or perhaps because of it. And the apparatchiks serving the .01 percent are deeply insecure, culturally and intellectually, so that ridicule cuts deep.... When great power goes along with fragile egos, seriously bad things can happen."

I think there is a gay mafia. I think if you cross them, you do get whacked. -- Bill Maher, on his show "Real Time" ...

... Mark Stern, in Slate, explains to conservatives (and to Bill Maher, et al.) the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. CW: Sorry, Mark, they're not listening.

You Pay Taxes So Megarich Televangelists Don't Have To. John Burnett of NPR: "Today, television evangelists are larger, more numerous, more complex, richer, with bigger audiences than ever before and yet they are the least transparent of all nonprofits." Also, so they can get away with being crooks & liars. Via Steve Benen. ...

... CW Question: Is the IRS violating the establishment clause when it establishes a teevee network as a religion? Or indeed if it establishes the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Or the Roman Catholic Church?

Congressional Races

Jeremy Peters & Carl Hulse of the New York Times: "By drawing public attention to layoffs by subsidiaries of Koch Industries across the country -- a chemical plant in North Carolina, an oil refinery in Alaska, a lumber operation in Arkansas -- Democrats are seeking to make villains of the reclusive billionaires [Charles & David Koch], whose political organizations have spent more than $30 million on ads so far to help Republicans win control of the Senate. The approach should seem familiar. President Obama and his allies ran against Mitt Romney in 2012 by painting a dark picture of Bain Capital ... as a company that cut jobs and prized the bottom line over the well-being of its employees":

Catalina Camia of USA Today: "In a new campaign ad in Georgia's U.S. Senate race, [Rep. Jack Kingston] apparently hired an impersonator who sounds like [President] Obama to give him a fake phone call.

Presidential Race

Not only can Chris Christie not win [the GOP presidential primary], I think he may have trouble finishing out his term [as governor].... There's absolutely no chance that he didn't know this was going on if he didn’t order it or OK it. So I think he's not a factor. -- Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D)

Beyond the Beltway

And on the Sixth Day, God Created the Wooly Mammoth. Steve Benen on a South Carolina bill to establish a state fossil.

Jim Avila, et al., of ABC News: "The U.S. Attorney in New Jersey has convened a grand jury to investigate the involvement of Governor Chris Christie's office in the George Washington Bridge scandal, ABC News has learned. Twenty-three jurors convened in a federal courthouse in Newark [Friday] to hear testimony from a key staff member, Christie press secretary Mike Drewniak, whose lawyer, Anthony Iacullo, said Drewniak was not a target of the investigation."

John Hanna of the AP: "Kansas legislators gave final approval Saturday to a bill that would nullify city and county gun restrictions and ensure that it's legal across the state to openly carry firearms, a measure the National Rifle Association sees as a nationwide model for stripping local officials of their gun-regulating power. The House approved the legislation, 102-19, a day after the Senate passed it, 37-2. The measure goes next to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. He hasn't said whether he'll sign it, but he's a strong supporter of gun rights and has signed other measures backed by the NRA and the Kansas State Rifle Association."

Dick Junior

I'm a safety guy. Gosh, I'm as safety as I can be. I was so mad at myself for even thinking about shooting the bird in this direction where I knew he was down in there. -- Oklahoma State Rep. Steve Vaughn, (R), a gun-rights advocate, about shooting a fellow hunter in the head

Rachel Huggins of the Hill: "'I just felt horrible about it. I just was sick,' said Rep. Steve Vaughan, who wounded the man in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun as he was aiming at a pheasant." CW: Apparently "as safety as you can be" is knowingly shooting into a group of hunters & hoping you'll bag a bird.

Missed This, Too. What Goes Up Must Come Down. Michael Van Sickler of the Miami Herald: Unaware that the laws of gravity supersede man-made laws, "the [Florida] state Senate passed a bill Thursday that grants immunity to people with clean criminal records who fire a warning shot or threaten to use deadly force in self-defense. It also seals court records of those charged with firing a weapon but later have those charges dropped. Already passed by the House, the measure next goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who 'supports the 2nd Amendment and Florida's self-defense laws (and) looks forward to reviewing this legislation,' said a spokesman." CW: I can't get out of this state soon enough. Thanks to Barbarossa for the lead.

News Lede

AP: " Crowds of pro-Russian demonstrators stormed government buildings Sunday in several major cities in eastern Ukraine, where secessionist sentiment has sparked frequent protests since Ukraine's Russia-friendly president was ousted in February."

Friday
Apr042014

The Commentariat -- April 5, 2014

** Larry Lessig in the Daily Beast: "The Supreme Court decision ending aggregate limits on political donations was made possible by a dangerous, narrow definition of 'corruption' the Framers themselves wouldn't recognize." Thanks to P. D. Pepe for the link. Also read Pepe's ecellent comment today on the Roberts confirmation hearing. Makes me think more of Chuck Schumer, too. ...

... Peter Beinart of the Atlantic: "The astonishing concentration of wealth among America's super-rich, combined with a Supreme Court determined to tear down the barriers between their millions and our elections, is once again shifting the balance of power between politicians and donors.... The media, for the most part, still treats elected officials as the key players in our political process.... Mega-donors, by contrast, are permitted a substantial degree of anonymity. Now that must change.... The press has an obligation to follow power...." ...

... Jim Fallows of the Atlantic: "It is very hard for me to find a non-cynical interpretation of the growing gap between the way [John Roberts] presented himself [at his confirmation hearing] and the way he writes decisions now":

... Jonathan Alter in the New Yorker: What Sheldon wants, & how the Supremes help him get it. "Reformers like to complain about the malign influence of money in politics. The real problem is big money in politics...."

Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic: "As of the end of February, the number of Americans on Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was 3 million higher than it was at the beginning of the Affordable Care Act's open enrollment period. It's one more sign that the health care law is reducing the number of Americans without insurance significantly.... It's also one more window into our growing geopolitical divide -- between the part of America where officials are trying aggressively to help poor people get health insurance, and the part where officials are not." ...

By the New Republic.

... Republicans, Always on the Wrong Side of History. Theda Skocpol in TPM: "Not until the mid-1950s did Eisenhower-era Republicans finally accept Social Security; and it took until the early 1970s for generous benefits to make it widely popular." ...

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says in a new interview that it would be too costly for Republicans to reinstate some of the more popular provisions of Obamacare if and when the law is repealed, but that Republicans should look for alternatives." CW: An admission from the GOP Numbers Guru & former vice-presidential candidate that Republicans want to repeal the ACA & replace it with (a) nothing or (b) next to nothing. Millions of people vote for these nasty bastards. ...

     ... Charles Pierce: "He really doesn't know what he's talking about. He hasn't had to live in the real world away from the government trough for 10 minutes since he entered high school. Biggest fake in American politics." ...

White House: "In this week's address, President Obama highlights the important differences between the budget he's put forward -- built on opportunity for all -- and the budget House Republicans are advocating for, which stacks the deck against the middle class":

... ** Brian Beutler of Salon: "... the Koch brothers actively participate in, and benefit from, a healthcare system in which the government subsidizes private insurance; carriers are prohibited from discriminating against the sick; the young cross-subsidize the old; and qualified beneficiaries who opt out suffer a big financial hit.... As employers, they can and do compensate their employees with tax-exempt health insurance benefits, their employees are all part of one risk pool, and everyone contributes the same amount for equal coverage." So why do they oppose ObamaCare? it's all about the money. Beutler explains. ...

... Paul Waldman in the Washington Post: "... there's a new misleading [ObamaCare] 'horror story' on its way: the worker whose hours are being cut back so their boss won't have to comply with the ACA's employer mandate. Watch out for it, because it's coming. Just as before, the decisions of private companies to attempt to screw over ordinary people are going to be blamed not on those companies, but on Obamacare.

Alan Ota of Roll Call: Some House Republicans are urging their leadership to bring up for a vote an unemployment benefits extension.

James Surowiecki of the New Yorker: "The real mystery ... is not why [Brendan] Eich stepped down [as Mozilla CEO] but why he ever got hired in the first place. His unquestioned technical ability notwithstanding, this was a candidate who divided the board, who had already been controversial, and whose promotion was guaranteed to generate reams of bad publicity. I

Congressional Races

Gail Collins: "... Mike Rounds, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, came up with a debut video in which he tells prospective voters that the rest of the nation 'could learn a lot from the people of South Dakota.' Meanwhile, the viewer is treated to pictures of folks building houses, having meetings, playing with the family -- doing all sorts of positive things that presumably exemplify the state's wholesome lifestyle. Unfortunately, it turns out that they are stock photos from parts unknown. Except we did learn that the fetching woman holding her pen at that meeting is actually in Paris.... Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky recently released a video about the glories of his home state that featured what was supposed to be a triumphant local basketball team but was in fact hated Kentucky rival Duke." And so on. Hilarious. ...

... ** Still, Collins does not top Jake Rush/Chazz Darling, who is running in the primary to the right of Tea Party Rep. Ted Yoho (Fla.). Unbelievable. And scary. Adam Weinstein of Gawker has the details. Via Charles Pierce.

Beyond the Beltway

Ann Thompson of WVXU Cincinnati: "Federal Judge Timothy Black says he will issue a ruling by April 14 striking down Ohio's gay marriage ban passed by voters in 2004. Attorney Al Gerhardstein, representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit about birth certificates, amended his request to ask Black to declare all aspects of Ohio's gay marriage ban unconstitutional. In federal court Friday morning, the judge said he would do that. The ruling will only apply to the marriage recognition ban. The lawsuit did not seek to allow same-sex partners to get married in Ohio, just the recognition of marriages from other states."

Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times: "The United Automobile Workers has seized on leaked documents from Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee in its efforts to persuade the National Labor Relations Board to order a new unionization election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. The union, which lost a vote in February, plans to argue in a hearing later this month that Mr. Haslam and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, both Republicans, frightened VW workers at the plant with anti-union statements that made a fair vote impossible.... In the documents, revealed earlier this week, Mr. Haslam proposed nearly $300 million in incentives to help the VW plant add a second production line, contingent on the unionization effort's 'being concluded to the satisfaction of the state.' The documents, including the outlined incentives, were made public Monday by WTVF, a Nashville television station."

News Ledes

Guardian: "Against the backdrop of Russia's takeover of Ukraine's Crimean region, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Saturday that a key message he will deliver to leaders in Tokyo this weekend is that the US is strongly committed to protecting Japan's security."

Reuters: "NATO will strengthen its presence in Poland within weeks, [Polish] Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Saturday, a move that could help allay fears in eastern European states for their security after Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region."

New York Times: "A Chinese vessel that is part of a multinational search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane in the southern Indian Ocean reported on Saturday that an underwater sensor had picked up a 'pulse signal' of the same frequency used by locator devices on planes, China's official news agency reported."

AFP: "Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet jointly Sunday with US envoy Martin Indyk, as attempts continue to prevent the collapse of peace negotiations, officials close to the talks said."

Washington Post: "As polls opened amid threats of violence and lingering memories of fraud, Afghan voters turned out on Saturday morning to choose a president who will lead them into the post-American era in Afghanistan." The New York Times story is here. ...

... AP: "Several issues are at the top of Afghans' minds as they go to the polls Saturday. High among them is deteriorating security as the country undergoes its first democratic transition of power in history. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term in office." ...

     ... Washington Post UPDATE: "Conducted under armed guard, the country's third presidential election since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 unfolded without the large-scale attacks or major disruptions that many Afghans had feared, although scores of minor attacks were reported. As the process moves to a vote count that could take weeks and, potentially, lead to a second-round runoff, voters and observers expressed relief that the day had ended in relative peace." ...

     ... AP UPDATE: "President Barack Obama says Afghanistan's presidential election marks another milestone in the effort by the Afghan people to take full responsibility for their country as the United States and its allies gradually withdraw their forces."

Washington Post: "A spontaneous argument among soldiers in the same transportation unit at Fort Hood, Tex., touched off the mass shooting in which Spec. Ivan A. Lopez killed four people, including himself, and wounded 16 others, Army officials said Friday. Witnesses and relatives of the wounded said Lopez's fury was apparently sparked by a simple dispute over paperwork. They said the 34-year-old military truck driver became exasperated after he walked into a human-resources office Wednesday afternoon and asked for a leave-of-absence application, but was told to come back the next day. Lopez left, but returned moments later with a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol and opened fire on soldiers in his unit, the 49th Transportation Battalion, killing two of them. Lopez ... then walked outside and indiscriminately shot at other soldiers...."

CNN: "Two of the world's best-known public figures, Pope Francis and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, met for the first time Thursday in Rome. The Queen, accompanied by husband Prince Philip, is paying a one-day visit to Italy at the invitation of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano."

Thursday
Apr032014

The Commentariat -- April 4, 2014

Manny Fernandez & Eric Schmitt of the New York Times: "... nearly five years after the deadly shooting rampage there, it remained easy for a soldier and even a visitor to bring in a firearm. Fort Hood's weapons rules for soldiers who are not police officers rely in large part on the honor system." ...

... David Fahrenthold, et al., of the Washington Post: "Army Spec. Ivan A. Lopez -- who killed three people and wounded 16 others in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood -- was a father of four and had spent 10 years as a police officer in his native Puerto Rico before he joined the Army. The shooting spree at the sprawling Army post in central Texas ended about four minutes after it began, authorities said, when Lopez, 34, was confronted by a military police officer. The officer opened fire, officials said, and Lopez killed himself with a shot to the head." ...

... Will Weissert & Paul Weber of the AP: "The soldier who killed three people at Fort Hood may have argued with another service member prior to the attack, and investigators believe his unstable mental health contributed to the rampage, authorities said Thursday." ...

... Russell Berman of the Hill: "Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday said there's 'no question' that mentally ill people should be prevented from buying guns, a day after a soldier with a history of mental illness killed three people at Fort Hood in Texas. 'There's no question that those with mental health issues should be prevented from owning weapons or being able to purchase weapons,' Boehner said at a Capitol event.... Boehner and House Republicans have resisted the push by Democrats and President Obama to enact stricter gun laws in the wake of prominent mass shootings, including a 2009 massacre at Fort Hood." ...

... Philip Bump of the Atlantic: "... if Boehner is willing, at last, to support dramatic gun control efforts, there are almost certainly people on the other side of the aisle who'd be happy to work with him." Bump notes, however, "Those suffering the same diagnosed illnesses as the shooter -- depression and anxiety -- might be surprised by Boehner's willingness to take away their Second Amendment rights."

Jeremy Herb of the Hill: "The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday voted to declassify parts of its controversial report on Bush-era interrogation tactics, paving the way for the report's public release. The Intelligence panel voted 11-3 to make public the report's 400-page executive summary and its conclusions and findings, as well as the dissenting view from Republicans. The report will now be sent to the CIA for redactions before it is released to the public."

"Rube Goldberg Has Survived." Paul Krugman: The success of the Affordable Care Act is "a big political victory for Democrats. They can point to a system that is already providing vital aid to millions of Americans, and Republicans -- who were planning to run against a debacle -- have nothing to offer in response. And I mean nothing. So far, not one of the supposed Obamacare horror stories featured in attack ads has stood up to scrutiny." ...

... Clara Ritger of the National Journal: "A new study finds 5.4 million uninsured Americans have gained health coverage since September, the first estimate of how many of the nation's uninsured are benefiting from Obamacare. The percent of uninsured Americans fell to 15.2 percent in March from 17.9 percent in September, the study says." ...

     ... CW: Kinda shoots down the GOP talking point that the only people who signed up on Healthcare.gov were those who previously had fabulous insurance but lost it because of freedom-killing ObamaCare. ...

... "The Missing Millions." Sophie Novack of the National Journal: "Blue Cross Blue Shield is adding nearly 2 million to the tally of customers buying insurance outside the Obamacare exchanges, a group that has been largely overlooked in the debate over enrollment numbers.... Off-exchange enrollment -- directly with insurance companies or through private brokers and online sites -- allows consumers to bypass the sometimes-troubled exchange websites to purchase coverage. They are not using the new enrollment vehicle, but they are often buying the same plans, and are part of the same risk pools, with the same impact on premium costs." ...

... Evan McMorris-Santoro of BuzzFeed: "White House officials sought valuable primetime air for a rare, impromptu Tuesday night address to tout the accomplishment of signing up more than 7 million people under the Affordable Care Act. But network officials refused to make the kind of accommodation they did previously for the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, for instance...." ...

... Karyn Bruggeman of the National Journal notes that -- unlike in Congressional races -- in gubernatorial races anti-ObamaCare attacks are not a GOP standard. She explains why.

Reuters: "The Obama administration announced Thursday that same-sex married couples can qualify for Medicare hospital and physician benefits for the first time." The Medicare.gov site explains.

Sarah Mimms of the National Journal: "The Senate once again agreed to cloture on a five-month extension of unemployment-insurance benefits Thursday, but this time with even fewer Republican votes than before.... The cloture agreement sets up a vote on final passage for Monday, when Democrats will only need support from 51 of their own members to pass the measure.... [Sen. Dean] Heller [R-Nev., who helped write the bill,] plans to speak with [House Speaker John] Boehner next week about the extension, dismissing the speaker's claims that the Senate legislation is 'unworkable.'"

Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast: His newest budget proves that "Paul Ryan is still a total jerk.... At least we won’t have to read any more 'Paul Ryan loves poor people' stories."

Frank Rich: "It looks like 2016 is going to be another bloody chapter in the GOP's ongoing civil war." ...

     ... CW: For what it's worth, it's just as likely 2016 will be another bloddy chapter in the Democratic Party's ongoing civil war. I, for one, am not feeling giddy about Hillary. If a viable candidate (sorry, Bernie) to her left emerges, I'll be there.

Peter Beinart of the Atlantic thinks McCutcheon v. F.E.C. could come back to haunt the Republican Party. "For the contemporary GOP, the danger of looking like the plaything of America's super-rich outweighs the benefits of increased support from America's super-rich. Even in the age of the Roberts Court, winning elections generally requires more than just raising more money. It requires winning more votes."

Nick Bilton of the New York Times: "A little over a week after becoming chief executive of Mozilla, Brendan Eich is stepping down after an intense debate over his belief that gays should not be allowed to marry. After his appointment as the company's new chief, Mr. Eich came under heavy fire from employees and the public for making a $1,000 contribution in 2008 to support a ban on gay marriage in California under Proposition 8." ...

... CW: A good example of why I don't think much of Andrew Sullivan. ...

... Steve M. Cue wingers to wail about the "Gaystapo," etc., the same gang of wingers who thought it was quite all right to pressure a right-wing religious organization to ban the hiring of gay employees & to demand the CEO step down....

     ... CW: An essential component of the rite of passage into Right Wing World is the Hypocritic Oath. I think taking the oath comes near the top of the RWW induction ceremony.

Katha Pollitt of the Nation: "It's one thing to say sex workers shouldn't be stigmatized, let alone put in jail. But when feminists argue that sex work should be normalized, they accept male privilege they would attack in any other area."

Karen DeYoung & Anne Gearan of the Washington Post: "... as his tireless efforts to broker Israeli-Palestinian negotiations hit bottom Thursday, with Israel's cancellation of prisoner releases that were considered crucial to keeping the talks alive, there are some around [Secretary of State John] Kerry -- including on his senior staff and inside the White House -- who believe the time is approaching for him to say, 'Enough.' ... Speaking in Rabat, Morocco on Friday, Kerry said U.S. patience and involvement are not indefinite, but he did not declare his signature effort dead. 'We are not going to sit there indefinitely. This is not an open-ended effort,' Kerry said. 'It's reality check time."

News Ledes

Bloomberg News: "Employers in the U.S. boosted payrolls (NFP) in March and the unemployment rate held at 6.7 percent even as more Americans entered the labor force, showing steady progress that may prompt Federal Reserve policy makers to continue reducing stimulus while keeping interest rates low. Payrolls rose 192,000 after a 197,000 gain in February that was larger than first estimated...."

New York Times: "A Pulitzer-prize winning photographer for The Associated Press was killed and a reporter from the news agency was wounded in eastern Afghanistan on Friday by an Afghan police officer. Anja Niedringhaus, 48, a renowned photographer who had covered numerous conflicts, and Kathy Gannon, 60, the reporter, were shot in Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan where they had traveled to cover preparations for the country's presidential election on Saturday. Both had spent many years covering the war in Afghanistan and knew the country well."

Wednesday
Apr022014

The Commentariat -- April 3, 2014

Noah Rayman of Time: "The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote Thursday to declassify its 6,300-page report detailing the CIA's controversial interrogation and detention program."

They Have No Shame

Lyle Denniston of ScotusBlog: "The Supreme Court pressed ahead on Wednesday with the majority's constitutional view that more money flowing into politics is a good thing -- even if much of it comes from rich donors. By a five-to-four vote, the Court struck down the two-year ceilings that Congress has imposed on donations to presidential and congressional candidates, parties and some -- but not all -- political action groups. The main opinion delivered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., said confidently that corruption in politics will be kept in check by caps -- left intact -- on how much each single donation can be." ...

... Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will change and very likely increase the already large role money plays in American politics." ...

... Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times: "The ruling most empowers two groups of people: those with the wherewithal to spend millions of dollars on campaign contributions, and those with access to them, including party leaders, senior lawmakers and presidents." ...

... Ian Millhiser of Think Progress: "... wealthy donors now have a broad new power to launder money to political candidates...." ...

... Gail Collins: "The downside to the decision is pretty clear, unless you are of the opinion that what this country really needs is more power to the plutocrats." ...

... Jesse Wegman of the New York Times: "McCutcheon, another blow to democracy." ...

The only type of corruption that Congress may target is quid pro quo corruption. -- John Roberts, in McCutcheon v. F.E.C.

... Charles Pierce: "Justice Stephen Breyer takes up ... in his dissent ... the majority's laughably narrow definition of what political corruption actually is -- that political corruption exists only if you buy a specific result from a specific legislator. But it hardly matters.... Four days after almost every Republican candidate danced the hootchie-koo in Vegas to try and gain the support of a single, skeevy casino gazillionnaire, the majority tells us that there is no 'appearance of corruption' in this unless somebody gets caught putting a slot machine in the Lincoln Bedroom on behalf of Sheldon Adelson." ...

... Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker: "Every Chief Justice takes on a project. Earl Warren wanted to desegregate the South. Warren Burger wanted to limit the rights of criminal suspects. William Rehnquist wanted to revive the powers of the states. It increasingly appears likely that, for John Roberts, the project will be removing the limits that burden wealthy campaign contributors -- the 'whole point' of the First Amendment, as he sees it. So far, that project is doing pretty well." CW: Yes, and such a noble project. ...

... Rick Hasan in Slate: "... this is ... a subtly awful decision.... The court seems to open the door for a future challenge to what remains of the McCain-Feingold law: the ban on large, 'soft money' contributions collected by political parties.... This opinion promises more bad things to come for money in politics, and soon." ...

... Good piece by Josh Gerstein of Politico on Roberts' Rules. ...

... Kevin Drum: "The cringe-inducing spectacle of Republicans trekking to Las Vegas this weekend to kiss Sheldon Adelson's ring in hopes of becoming his fair-haired child and sole recipient of his millions, shows that the horse is truly out of the barn on the role of the super-rich in political campaigns. It's possible that McCutcheon will strengthen party machinery and provide a slight counterweight, but more likely it will simply give billionaires even more control over the electoral process. ...

(... Betty Cracker of Balloon Juice: "The ways of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are mysterious, but if He could see fit to, as a BJ commenter once suggested, smite a certain corpulent jurist via Fettuccine Alfredo within the next year or so, it would be an exquisitely well-timed deus ex pastana." ...)

Kevin Bogardus of the Hill: "A collective groan went up on K Street Wednesday as the Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits on donations to candidate and party committees.... The ruling means that a common K Street excuse for brushing off fundraising requests -- that they've already 'maxed out' their donations under the cap -- is now moot." ...

... Ari Berman of the Nation: "The Court's conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination. These are not unrelated issues -- the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote."

... Chris Cillizza says you're addicted to Koch, too:

... ** Jonathan Chait: "The Wall Street Journal's editorial page owns the deluded self-pitying billionaire screed genre, and today, it brings us Charles Koch." CW: Short piece, handily dispenses with Koch.

Linda Greenhouse: During oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, "... no one sought to discuss the question that was almost surely on the justices' minds, Justice Kennedy's in particular: how the Hobby Lobby case relates to gay rights. By an exquisite coincidence of timing, the court, at the exact moment it begins to sort out the Hobby Lobby case, also has before it a case illustrating how readily a claim of religious conscience can, if upheld, become a license for discrimination against gay men and lesbians.... I hope ... the court sees the two [cases] joined together as a kind of early warning system of the dangers of, as Justice Kennedy said, allowing religion to 'just trump.'" ...

... Charles Lane of the Washington Post: "We wouldn't have to [worry about Hobby Lobby executives' objections to contraceptive coverage] if nearly 150 million Americans weren't covered through employer-paid health insurance." CW: Lane appeals to Republicans to embrace health insurance exchanges on which individuals obtain insurance directly, but we know a better answer: single-payer.

Mark Berman of the Washington Post: "The Fort Hood military installation in Texas is locked down after a shooting that left at least four people dead and injured an unknown number, according to authorities. Four people were killed, according to government officials. It's unclear at this moment if the four dead includes the shooter, who officials have confirmed was killed, but that number is believed to include the shooter." ...

     ... Update. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, et al., of the Post: "An Iraq war veteran who was grappling with mental health issues opened fire at Fort Hood, Tex., in an attack that left four people dead and 16 wounded Wednesday afternoon, according to preliminary law enforcement and military reports. The gunfire sent tremors of fear across a sprawling Army post still reeling from one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history." ...

     ... Lindsey Bever of the Post: "Authorities at Fort Hood have launched an aggressive investigation into the circumstances which led an Iraq war veteran to open fire and kill three soldiers Wednesday." ...

... President Obama remarks on the shooting. The transcript is here:

Annie Lowrey of the New York Times: "... there is increasing evidence that a stronger recovery alone might not significantly aid the country’s long-term jobless. Even before the latest monthly job figures are released on Friday, short-term unemployment has fallen to its prerecession level, but long-term unemployment remains more than twice as high as it was in 2007." Yet the federal & state governments are doing little to help the long-term unemployed.

Ben Protess & Michael Corkery of the New York Times: "Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation into a recent $400 million fraud involving Citigroup's Mexican unit, according to people briefed on the matter, one of a handful of government inquiries looming over the giant bank. The investigation, overseen by the F.B.I. and prosecutors from the United States attorney's office in Manhattan, is focusing in part on whether holes in the bank's internal controls contributed to the fraud in Mexico. The question for investigators is whether Citigroup -- as other banks have been accused of doing in the context of money laundering -- ignored warning signs. The bank ... also faces a parallel civil investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement unit...."

David Ignatius of the Washington Post: "The latest official to be caught in the Benghazi shredder is Michael Morell, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.... Morell responded Wednesday by doing something unusual in Washington: He answered the charges [against him] in open testimony to the House Intelligence Committee.... Morell also took a rare public shot" at former CIA director David Petraeus.... The real significance of Morell's testimony was that he directly rebutted the GOP charge that the CIA, in concert with the White House, 'cooked the books' on Benghazi with manufactured talking points that Morell knew were wrong, and then covered it up."

Read this short post by Charles Pierce.

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "After months of pummeling by Republicans and with a grim election season approaching, Democrats on Tuesday had a rare bright day. President Obama's announcement that the new health care plan had enrolled 7.1 million Americans coincided with the release by Representative Paul D. Ryan of a new Republican budget that proposes changes in Medicare and deep cuts in spending.... For the first time in a while, Democrats this week found themselves talking up a contrast between their agenda -- protecting the newly insured, raising the minimum wage and renewing unemployment benefits -- and a Republican plan that would cut health care and education spending deeply, and move Medicare toward private insurance.... Some Republican members of Congress are showing a newfound willingness to negotiate changes in the [ACA] rather than demand its repeal. "

Tim Alberta of the National Journal: "House conservatives unloaded on their Republican leaders in two closed-door meetings Wednesday, a response to last week's maneuver to extend the so-called doc fix with an unexpected voice vote. Nevertheless, most members said they would not seek retribution by voting against Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal next week. Tensions flared initially at Wednesday morning's Republican Conference meeting over what conservatives called a 'sneaky' decision by GOP leadership last Thursday to patch the sustainable growth rate requirement in the Medicare program with a simple voice vote, thereby avoiding a potentially disastrous roll-call vote." CW: So the wingnuts are against paying medical personnel fair wages??? All part of their plan to kill Medicare, I guess. ...

... Andrew Taylor of the AP: "A budget plan stuffed with familiar proposals to cut across a wide swath of the federal budget breezed through the House Budget Committee on Wednesday, but its sharp cuts to health care coverage for the middle class and the poor, food stamps and popular domestic programs are a nonstarter with President Barack Obama."

E. J. Dionne: "The fact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hit its original goal this week of signing up more than 7 million people through its insurance exchanges ought to be a moment of truth -- literally as well as figuratively. It ought to give everyone, particularly members of the news media, pause over how reckless the opponents of change have been in making instant judgments and outlandish charges.... Given how many times the law's enemies have said the sky was falling when it wasn't, will there be tougher interrogation of their next round of apocalyptic predictions?"

The World According to Beck. Kyle Mantyla of Right Wing Watch: "These days, Glenn Beck's TV and radio programs are little more than exercises in projection and hypocrisy, so it was no surprise to see him have a complete meltdown on his radio program today over President Obama's remarks [Tuesday] hailing reports that more than seven million people had signed up for health insurance under Obamacare. Declaring that the seven million figure was obviously phony, Beck flew into a rage against Obama and the 'rat bastards' in the media who refuse to hold him accountable for his pathological lying. 'This guy,' Beck said of Obama, 'you put him in a military uniform, I'm not kidding you, you put him on a balcony in a military uniform, this guy is a full-fledged dictator. He's a sociopath!,' Beck proclaimed, later in the broadcast."

News Ledes

Chicago Tribune: "... federal authorities announced that billionaire Ukrainian industrialist Dmytro Firtash and five other foreign nationals have been charged in Chicago with participating in an international racketeering conspiracy involving at least $18.5 million in bribes to government officials in India to allow the mining of titanium minerals.... Firtash, who has long allied himself with leaders friendly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.... Prosecutors, though, said the charges were filed under seal last June in Chicago and have nothing to do with recent events in Ukraine."

Houston Chronicle: "Serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells -- a drifter who has been linked to the deaths of more than a dozen people, including a 9-year-old San Antonio girl -- was executed Thursday evening.... The execution came despite last-minute litigation by attorneys for Sells and another death row inmate seeking to have the U.S. Supreme Court intervene because Texas prison officials have refused to disclose details about a new batch of lethal drugs."

Chicago Tribune: "Sears will close the doors of its State Street department store on Sunday, ending a long chapter of poor sales for the flagship Loop location and highlighting a growing trend away from brick-and-mortar shopping. Sears first opened the store in 2001, after an 18-year break from downtown. Sears opened its first store in the Loop in 1932; that store was open for 50 years."

NPR: "There were 326,000 first-time claims filed for unemployment insurance last week, up by 16,000 from the week before.... While they rose, claims remained at the lower end of the range they've been in for the past year and were running at a pace close to where they were before the economy sank into its last recession in December 2007."

Washington Post: "Acknowledging that Mideast peace talks he has shepherded for a year are teetering, Secretary of State John F. Kerry appealed directly to Israeli and Palestinian leaders Thursday not to miss a fleeting 'moment' to make peace."

AFP: "The Kremlin confirmed Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has finalised the divorce from his wife of 30 years Lyudmila following the couple's sudden split last summer." CW: Cause of the split: Vlad spending too much time at Black Sea resorts.