The Ledes

Friday, May 6, 2016.

Washington Post: "Police said three people have been shot at Westfield Montgomery Mall at 7101 Democracy Blvd. in Bethesda on Friday morning and that a suspect is at large. Soon after, a woman was fatally shot at a grocery store several miles away, and authorities are investigating whether the incidents are linked." -- CW 

New York Times: "After months of gravity-defying gains, the American jobs machine cooled slightly in April, as employers took their cue from other signs that economic growth was slowing by easing up on new hiring. The 160,000 increase in payrolls in April reported by the Labor Department on Friday comes after the best two-year stretch for the job market since the tech-fueled boom of the late 1990s. The unemployment rate stayed at 5 percent." -- CW

The Wires

The Ledes

Thursday, May 5, 2016.

AP: "A massive wildfire raging in the Canadian province of Alberta has grown to 85,000 hectares (210,035 acres) in size and officials would like to move south about 25,000 evacuees who had previously fled north. More than 80,000 people have emptied Fort McMurray in the heart of Canada's oil sands." -- CW

Guardian: "The local police investigation into the death of Prince is being beefed up with staff from the US attorney’s office and the Drug Enforcement Administration, as a California doctor who specializes in prescription drug addiction revealed the singer’s representatives reached out for urgent help the day before he died.." -- CW

Public Service Announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

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

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

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

This is for safari:

... Via the New Yorker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday
Dec112013

The Commentariat -- Dec. 12, 2013

CW: It's difficult not to notice that a good portion of today's political news is bad news for Republicans. People thrilled with ObamaCare, people signing up to vote on the ACA Website, Senate confirmation of a "liberal" judge, GOP's women troubles, internecine squabbles battles over the budget deal, no legacies from the Bush era, Staten Island, the Pope dissing their BFFs, & a top aide arrested for distributing child porn.

Health Care Apartheid. David Lieb of the AP: "Newly released federal figures show more people are picking private insurance plans or being routed to Medicaid programs in states with Democratic leaders who have fully embraced the federal health care law than in states where Republican elected officials have derisively rejected what they call 'Obamacare.' ... Even though many conservative states have higher levels of poverty and more people without health coverage, fewer of them may receive new insurance...." CW: This is exactly what one would expect, but it's still depressing. And, yes, I live in one of those "conservative" states. ...

... Why Republicans Hate ObamaCare, Part 1. Maggie Fox of NBC News: "It took two months, weekly visits to the jammed-up federal website and a half-dozen phone calls, but JoAnn Smith finally got health insurance Monday. It'll only cost her $3.19 a month to cover herself and her husband. 'I just instantly burst into tears,' she says.... Smith, a 60-year-old medical transcriptionist in Clearwater, Fla., must use the federal website to buy health insurance because Florida opted not to run its own.... Smith's employer doesn't provide health insurance.... [She] estimates she will earn $23,000 this year for her 40-hour a week job.... 'This morning the most loveliest of helpers answered the phone,' Smith told NBC News later Monday. 'She said there was a mistake on original application.... She re-did the whole thing in record time....' [After yet another Website fail,] her application took just seconds to complete. All she has to do now is confirm her payment and eligibility with Humana, her new insurance provider." ...

... Why Republicans Hate ObamaCare, Part 2.

A page on the Healthcare.gov site.... Anonymous Contributor to Daily Kos: "Right there, on that page, is everything the Republicans hate: a program designed to help people of modest means, run by the government - AND giving those same people an opportunity to exercise their franchise."

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: " The Senate confirmed Cornelia T. L. Pillard to the country's most powerful appeals court in an early-morning vote on Thursday, installing her over the objections of Republicans who, despite their inability to filibuster the nomination, are loudly protesting the way Democrats have stifled opposition." ...

... Alan Fram & Laurie Kellman of the AP: "The Senate began an around-the-clock talkathon Wednesday over some of President Barack Obama's nominees as embittered and outnumbered Republicans refused to let the Senate take a break given new, Democratic-driven curbs on the GOP's power. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened to hold the Senate in session through the night to deal with 11 nominations, most of them non-controversial. If Republicans refuse to give up their allotted debate time, the Senate could be in session continuously into Saturday -- or longer. 'If we have to work through Christmas, we're going to do that,' Reid said, repeating what has become one of his regular holiday season refrains."

** Gail Collins: "While American women have been winning rights and opportunities that were unimaginable only a few decades ago, the one thing that's gone in the opposite direction is the Republican Party, which is willing to train its members in how to talk to the ladies, but not open its doors to candidates who believe in reproductive rights. This is the party that used to be well ahead of the competition when it came to support for women's issues -- from the Equal Rights Amendment to family planning."

Vicki Needham, et al., of the Hill: "Several leading Democrats warned Wednesday that the budget deal worked out by House and Senate negotiators is on the verge of unraveling over the exclusion of federal unemployment benefits. The lawmakers are outraged by a GOP move to add the Medicare 'doc fix' to the deal but not a continuation of unemployment benefits -- a strategy they say could sink the entire package by scaring away Democratic votes." ...

... MEANWHILE. Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post: "House Republicans appeared Wednesday to be rallying around an $85 billion deal to avert ­another government shutdown.... GOP leadership aides confidently predicted that the deal ... would sail through the House when it comes to a vote Thursday."...

... For a rational assessment of the budge deal, Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities is the go-to guy: "The budget agreement ... represents an improvement over current law, albeit a modest one. Congress should approve it, but lawmakers should make every effort to accompany it with an extension of federal emergency unemployment benefits that will otherwise expire the week after Christmas." ...

... Charles Pierce on the proposed budget deal: "... the idea that Paul Ryan gave up anything of substance in these talks just because he has decided to be more patient in his long war to dismantle the safety net that coddles the takers is positively laughable." ...

... Yes, Paul Ryan Is Still an Ass. New York Times Editors: "... details of the agreement show that Republican loathing of taxes and domestic spending continue to dominate the budget debate. The full domestic and military sequester should have been eliminated, not just part of it. Even more important, a balanced and fair agreement would have compensated for the new domestic spending with tax increases on the wealthiest Americans by closing unnecessary loopholes.... To save money for those at the very top, new federal workers will have to pay more for their pension plan. The cost-of-living increase on pensions for military retirees younger than 62 will be reduced."...

... BUT. Man-Crush. Jonathan Weisman, in a supposedly straight New York Times news report, portrays Ryan as a "conservative wunderkind" who put party "over his own self-interest" to cut the budget deal. Weisman cites Newt Gingrich & others applauding Ryan as brilliant & "marvelous," etc. "... it is a testament to Mr. Ryan's stature with conservatives that even the most vocal opponents of the deal are reluctant to criticize the man who negotiated it." See also today's Presidential Race news below. ...

... Reid Wilson of the Washington Post: "The emerging budget deal announced Tuesday night represents a potentially defining moment for a party [-- the Republican one --] divided between those who believe the party needs to prove it can govern, and those who believe in purity at all costs.... Crafting the bipartisan deal may turn out to be the easy part. The harder row to hoe begins now: Selling the deal to a House Republican caucus that includes members who will see anything short of a total conservative victory as a capitulation, and members for whom voting against their own leadership is in their political interest." ...

... Lori Montgomery: "After a briefing for the GOP rank and file behind closed doors Wednesday morning, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) blasted groups that he said came out in opposition to the deal before having seen what was in it. 'They're using our members, and they're using the American people for their own goals,' Boehner told reporters. 'This is ridiculous. If you're for more deficit reduction, you're for this agreement.'" ...

... Sahil Kapur of TPM: "Moments earlier, during a closed-door meeting, Boehner told House Republicans that the well-funded and influential organizations 'aren't acting out of principle, and they're not trying to enact conservative policies. They're using you to raise money and expand their own organization'" he said, according to a source in the room." ...

... Paul Waldman: "Boehner, who spent the entire period of the shutdown (and the weeks leading up to it) stepping gingerly around his party's right wing..., now feels free to attack the likes of Heritage Action, obviously without concern that they can make him pay for his insolence.... For the moment ... it does appear that the shutdown provided everyone in the GOP a valuable lesson: there's only so far you can follow your extremists before they lead you off the cliff, and once you've plunged to the bottom, you don't much want to climb back up and hurl yourself off again." ...

... Kapur: Outside right-leaning groups are firing back [same story linked above] at Speaker John Boehner after he attacked their intentions and questioned their commitment to conservative principles on Wednesday." ...

... Jake Sherman, et al. of Politico: "The conservative Republican Study Committee, the bastion of right-wing strategy on Capitol Hill, has fired its longtime executive director Paul Teller, accusing him of leaking conversations with lawmakers.... If there were any staffer on Capitol Hill that were nearly as powerful as a member of Congress, it was Teller. He has been involved in conservative strategy for more than a decade, helping drag legislative debates to the right." ...

... Jake Sherman, et al.: "The simmering feud between House Republicans and movement conservatives is finally an all-out war. The tension exploded on Wednesday morning when Speaker John Boehner and outside conservative groups traded sharp barbs over the budget deal.... It only escalated later in the day when the leader of the right-wing Republican Study Committee forced out its long-time executive director...."

Rachel Maddow in the Washington Post: "The unpopular presidency of George W. Bush has proved to be a blackball on the résumés of a generation of Republican leaders. Maybe Cheney's daughter Liz will break the pattern next year with a successful Senate bid in Wyoming, but if you made it through that sentence without spitting coffee out your nose, you're in rare company.... Inside the White House, the task of growing one's own successors must seem like one of the less pressing items on the president's long daily to-do list. But the previous administration's trail of scorched earth and exiles ... is a cautionary tale that Democrats and the Obama White House should heed sooner rather than later. Grow your successors, nurture your legacy."

Ian Austen of the New York Times: "Canada's postal service said Wednesday that it would cease home delivery over the next five years, and substantially increase postal rates.... Canada would become the first Group of 7 country to end all residential mail delivery in cities and older suburbs...." CW: This seems like an omen for U.S. residents.

Philip Pullella of Reuters: "Pope Francis said in the first peace message of his pontificate that huge salaries and bonuses are symptoms of an economy based on greed and inequality and called again for nations to narrow the wealth gap. In his message for the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Peace, marked around the world on January 1, he also called for sharing of wealth and for nations to shrink the gap between rich and poor, more of whom are getting only 'crumbs'." CW: Pope Francis: one conservative Rush Limbaugh can't intimidate.

Congressional Race

** Carl Campanile of the New York Post: "Republicans are so nervous about Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm's re-election chances that they've quietly reached out to former GOP Congressman Vito Fossella -- who quit five years ago after confessing to having a secret second family.... Grimm is currently the subject of an ongoing Justice Department probe that centers on whether his campaign solicited illegal donations from foreigners during his 2010 campaign. Fossella, who is married to childhood sweetheart Mary Pat and has three children, was engulfed in scandal after a DWI arrest in the D.C. area in May 2008." Fossella said he won't run. CW: So the GOP is trying to decide which would be the better candidate: the incumbent being investigated by the DOJ or the former rep who had a secret second family & a DWI arrest. How could Congress possibly be anything but a criminal enterprise with members like these?

Presidential Race 2016

Beth Reinhard of the National Journal: "Unlike some conservative voices, the potential Republican presidential contenders had the courtesy to wait until after the budget deal was unveiled to declare their opposition. But they didn't wait long. Swiftly came the denouncements from Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul. Conservative groups piled on the agreement negotiated for their side by Paul Ryan, calling it 'a huge Republican cave-in' and 'surrender.' Ryan -- also a possible presidential candidate -- now finds himself in the awkward position of trying to sell an agreement blessed by President Obama to a conservative base that reflexively opposes anything with a whiff of bipartisanship. It's a spot Rubio knows all too well...."

Local News

Curt Anderson of the AP: "Prosecutors say they will not file domestic violence charges against George Zimmerman after his girlfriend said in a sworn statement she did not want to pursue the case. State Attorney Phil Archer in Seminole County said in a statement Wednesday that Samantha Scheibe's decision not to cooperate and the lack of other corroborating evidence made a successful prosecution unlikely." ...

... Rebecca Leber of Think Progress: "Because the charges were dropped, there are no legal barriers preventing Zimmerman from getting his firearms back. At the time of his arrest, Zimmerman had five guns and 100 rounds of ammunition. The guns included an AR-15 assault rifle, Keltec shotgun, and three handguns.... In addition, Zimmerman's aggravated assault charge, a felony, meant Florida was required by law to suspend his concealed carry license. If officials suspended his license, Zimmerman can petition for it back now that he does not carry a felony charge."

Sleazy News

Morgan Little of the Los Angeles Times: "A senior aide to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of possessing and distributing child pornography. Law enforcement officials took Ryan Loskarn, chief of staff in Alexander's Washington office, into custody after seizing evidence in his home. Loskarn was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday. Alexander said he was 'stunned, surprised and disappointed.' ... Loskarn was placed on leave without pay. Loskarn, 35, became Alexander's chief of staff last year. He previously had served as communications director for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and a staff assistant for former Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.)." CW: Yeah, I'm stunned, surprised & disappointed, too. Hard to believe a nice conservative fellow could have a sideline trafficking in disgusting stuff which also happens to be illegal. Blackburn must be having the vapors. ...

... CW: From April 2012 through September 2013, Loskarn earned $84,500; from February 2012 thru February 2013, he received an additional $14,000 for work on a Senate Committee. This is quite modest pay for those working in the D.C. area. Maybe Loskarn needed the extra cash when the Committee gig ended & just couldn't think of a better line of moonlighting.

Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times: "A second city employee has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against ex-Mayor Bob Filner. The allegations of Stacy McKenzie, 50, a manager in the Park and Recreation Department, are similar to those made by more than 20 women during the frenzied six weeks that led to Filner's Aug. 30 resignation.McKenzie accuses Filner of 'placing her in a headlock, rubbing his body against hers, rubbing his elbow against her breasts, [and] rubbing her arm' after asking for a date. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, alleges two other city employees witnessed the incident at a public event in April at the De Anza Cove on Mission Bay." ...

...Trent Siebert of the San Diego Union-Tribune: "With the lawsuit comes an animated reenactment of her version of events when Filner approached her in a city park and put her in the 'Filner headlock,' as it has come to be known. The video showing the alleged encounter between Filner and veteran park's employee Stacy McKenzie was commissioned by her attorney, Dan Gilleon." CW: Looks like those Taiwanese animated re-enactments of salacious U.S. news events:

Nonsense "News"

Jonathan Capehart explains to wingnuts the context of the "nontroversial" "selfie" photo: British PM David Cameron asked for the photo at the request of former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. Kinnock is the father-in-law of selfie photographer/Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who took the three-shot. Roberto Schmidt, the professional photographer who took the AFP photo which Getty Images distributed, said, "In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.... I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium. For me, the behaviour of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural." ...

     ... Update. Here's Schmidt's full post on the photo. ...

     ... CW: In fairness, it ain't only the wingers who need a lesson about context. From Roxane Gay for Salon, who could use a lesson herself, BTW: "At the Washington Post: 'The first lady looks stern -- dare we say disapproving? -- throughout.' In the New York Daily News Michelle Obama 'sat at a distance, as if in disapproval of the digital display.' Someone at Business Insider quipped, 'That stare can kill.' The headline at The Huffington Post boldly declares 'Michelle Obama is having none of it.' Over at D.C. political blog Wonkette, 'Michelle Obama Pissed Y'all.'"

     ... A Gawker contributor writes, "I refuse to judge until we get the official sign language interpreter's account." See December 11 News Ledes for context.

Arlette Saenz of ABC News: "Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, walked out of former South African President Nelson Mandela's memorial service Tuesday when Cuban President Raul Castro gave a speech, a spokeswoman for Cruz said." ...

... CW: You might think this was an understandable, principled stand by a man whose father was tortured by the Castro regime, as Cruz often suggests in his claims about his heritage. In fact, Rafael Cruz -- who makes Ted look halfway sensible -- fought on Castro's side & fled Cuba after being "imprisoned & tortured" by the U.S.-backed Batista regime before Fidel Castro came to power, or so Ted tells it when pressed. So, principled? My ass. Ted's exit from the grandstands was just grandstanding, literally & figuratively.

News Ledes

Washington Post: "An American man who disappeared in Iran more than six years ago had been working for the CIA in what U.S. intelligence officials describe as a rogue operation that led to a major shake-up in the spy agency. Robert Levinson, a retired-FBI agent, traveled to the Iranian Island of Kish in March 2007 to investigate corruption at a time when he was discussing the renewal of a CIA contract he had held for several years. He also inquired about getting reimbursed for the Iran trip by the agency before he departed...."

Washington Post: "A senior law enforcement agent accused of taking bribes in a Navy corruption scandal has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with investigators, a major break in a case that has ensnared half a dozen Navy officers and threatens to tar more. John B. Beliveau II, a supervisory special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, is scheduled to enter a guilty plea Tuesday in federal court in San Diego.... Beliveau was arrested in September and charged with helping a Singapore-based Navy contractor ... dodge multiple criminal investigations by leaking inside information about NCIS probes in exchange for prostitutes, cash and other favors."

AP: "North Korea said Friday that it had executed Kim Jong Un's uncle as a traitor for trying to seize supreme power, a stunning end for the leader's former mentor, long considered the country's No. 2 official."

New York Times: "Chemical weapons were used repeatedly in the Syria conflict this year, not only in a well-documented Aug. 21 attack near Damascus but also in four other instances, including two subsequent attacks that targeted government soldiers, United Nations experts concluded in a report released Thursday."

New York Times: "JPMorgan Chase and federal authorities are nearing settlements over the bank's ties to Bernard L. Madoff, striking tentative deals that would involve roughly $2 billion in penalties and a rare criminal action. The government will use a sizable portion of the money to compensate Mr. Madoff's victims. The settlements, which are coming together on the anniversary of Mr. Madoff's arrest at his Manhattan penthouse five years ago on Wednesday, would fault the bank for turning a blind eye to his huge Ponzi scheme...."

AP: "Allen Nicklasson once recalled the 'euphoria' he felt after fatally shooting a kindly businessman who stopped to help when he saw Nicklasson's car stalled on Interstate 70 near Kingdom City, Mo., in 1994. Late Wednesday night, Nicklasson was put to death for Richard Drummond's killing -- nearly 23 hours after he was originally scheduled to die."

AP: "Australia's highest court struck down a landmark law on Thursday that had begun allowing the country's first gay marriages, shattering the dreams of more than two dozen same-sex newlyweds whose marriages will now be annulled less than a week after their weddings. The federal government had challenged the validity of the Australian Capital Territory's law that had allowed gay marriages in the nation's capital and its surrounding area starting last Saturday."

AFP: "The sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's funeral has said a schizophrenic episode was to blame for accusations that he was an imposter who gesticulated nonsense during the entire service.... The interview with The Star did not address the fact that[Thamsanqa] Jantjie's competence had been called into question before the memorial furore erupted."

Tuesday
Dec102013

The Commentariat -- Dec. 11, 2013

NEW. Robert Pear of the New York Times: "The number of people selecting health insurance plans in the federal and state marketplaces increased in November at a brisk pace, bringing the total to date to nearly 365,000, or more than triple the number who signed up in October, the Obama administration said on Wednesday.... The new data became available as Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, prepared for another confrontation with Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who called a hearing Wednesday to investigate the rollout of President Obama's health care law." ...

... Sebelius Shuts Barn Door; Horse Long-Gone. NEW. Sandhya Somashekhar of the Washington Post: "... Kathleen Sebelius has launched an internal review to determine what department policies and management failures might have contributed to the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov...."

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "House and Senate budget negotiators reached agreement Tuesday on a budget deal that would raise military and domestic spending over the next two years, shifting the pain of across-the-board cuts to other programs over the coming decade and raising fees on airline tickets to pay for airport security.... Democrats gave up their demand that the deal extend unemployment benefits that expire at the end of the month...." ...

It's a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done. -- President Barack Obama, shortly after the agreement was announced

... Ezra Klein runs down the major provisions of the deal. ...

... Sarah Binder of the Monkey Cage in the Washington Post: "Breaking the cycle of budgetary brinkmanship does not yet seem to have resolved bicameral differences elsewhere on the Hill.... More likely, the mini-deal is emblematic of legislative battles in polarized times: Parties come to the table only when the costs of blocking an agreement are too great to shoulder. And even then, parties will give up as little as necessary to avoid the sometimes painful consequences of stalemate."

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "The Senate slowly began working its way through a backlog of presidential nominees on Tuesday now that Republicans are virtually powerless to block confirmations, approving a once-stalled judge to a powerful appeals court and a new director for the agency that oversees federal home lending. But Republicans, still seething over a power play last month by Democrats to curtail the filibuster significantly, have settled on a strategy for retribution: Make the confirmation process as time-consuming and painful as possible for Democrats." ...

... Ramsey Cox of the Hill: "The Senate voted 56-38 Tuesday to confirm Patricia Millett to the D.C. Circuit Court, making her the first nominee of President Obama's to clear the Senate since Democrats unilaterally changed the rules in a vote last month. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) voted with Democrats." ...

... Ed O'Keefe & Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "Later, senators confirmed Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) 57 to 41 to serve as the next head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency,which regulates mortgage giants Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and federal home loan banks."

Ben Protess & Peter Eavis of the New York Times: "Five federal agencies approved the final [Volcker] rule, bolstering some provisions but leaving others open to loopholes...." President Obama & Treasury Secretary Jack Lew pressed the agencies to finalize the regulatory framework.

Dana Milbank finds signs Republicans & other conservatives are the rejecting the Tea Party. Leading conservatives back Texas Sen. John Cornyn over Tea Party loon Steve Stockman who announced his challenge to Cornyn Monday night. Paul Ryan negotiated a budget deal which would permit increased spending. "Senate Republicans are stepping up their efforts to help each other beat back primary challenges." And John Boehner may bring an immigration bill to the floor after filing deadlines for primary challenges. ...

... Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post runs down Steve Stockman's "qualifications." This would be much funnier if Stockman weren't an elected official. ...

... Josh Barro of Business Insider on Stockman's derpitude. "I am guessing that Texas Republicans are not about to nominate a candidate whose sole 2011 and 2012 income came from a shady nonprofit and who has been refusing to make legally-required financial disclosures. Cornyn is safe, for now." ...

... Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "More than half of Senate Republicans facing reelection next year face potentially viable tea party challenges -- a historically large threat to the GOP establishment that could, once again, kill the party's chances of taking back control of the chamber."

Jeff Mason & Roberta Rampton of Reuters: "Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a new push to increase access to mental health services with $100 million in new government funding nearly a year after a school shooting rampage in Newtown, Connecticut. Biden, who spearheaded a failed Obama administration campaign for stronger gun control measures following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, met with families of the victims and mental health advocates." ...

... New York Times: "In the 12 months since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., almost every state has enacted at least one new gun law. Nearly two-thirds of the new laws ease restrictions and expand the rights of gun owners. Most of those bills were approved in states controlled by Republicans. Those who support stricter regulations won some victories -- mostly in states where the legislature and governorship are controlled by Democrats -- to increase restrictions on gun use and ownership." Report consists of interactive graphs charting state legislation.

Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times: "A new congressional report criticizes the federal government for awarding tens of billions of dollars in contracts to companies even though they were found to have violated safety and wage laws and paid millions in penalties. Issued on behalf of the Democratic senators on the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, the report cited examples over the past six years." CW: Report includes one reason I don't buy mass-produced chicken.

Independent researcher Ashkan Soltani, with Washington Post reporters Andrea Peterson & Barton Gelman: "The National Security Agency is secretly piggybacking on the tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, using 'cookies' and location data to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance.... The agency's internal presentation slides, provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, show that when companies follow consumers on the Internet to better serve them advertising, the technique opens the door for similar tracking by the government. The slides also suggest that the agency is using these tracking techniques to help identify targets for offensive hacking operations." CW: So if the gummit is looking for terrorists seeking out silverplated turkey domes, I am high on their watch list.

Mark Landler & Michael Gordon of the New York Times: "With Iran threatening that any new sanctions would scuttle its interim nuclear deal with the West, the Obama administration is fighting a fierce battle to convince skeptical Senate Democrats not to pass any new measures against Tehran." ...

... Edward-Isaac Dovere of Politico: "Secretary of State John Kerry managed to convince the Senate. But he didn't have much success in pressing the case against new Iran sanctions in the House, where Republicans and Democrats alike made clear how deep the resistance to the Iran deal runs in Congress."

Fidel Castro & Richard Nixon, 1959.

Neville Chamberlain shook hands with Hitler. -- Sen. John McCain, expressing his disapproval of President Obama's shaking hands with Cuban President Raul Castro

Questions for Sen. McCain: Did you know that Obama & Castro met at Nelson Mandela's memorial service? Do you have any idea what Mandela stood for & why he is so beloved around the world? What did Obama mean when he said during his eulogy, "It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well. While I will always fall short of Madiba's example, he makes me want to be a better man"? Can you be a "better man" & apologize for your asinine Chamberlain-Hitler analogy?

Rule Sen. McCain Forgot: If you must invoke Hitler, you've already lost the argument.

Right Wing Rule No. 1. If Obama does it, it's wrong.

Corollary to RW Rule No. 1. If conservative Republicans do it, they're heroes spreading American democracy around the world. Media Meteor Blades of Daily Kos posts pix of Republican presidents & other GOP leaders shaking hands with ruthless dictators.

CW: I'd add this grainy snap to Media Meteor Blades' gallery:

John McCain shakes hands with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2009. Gaddafi had accepted responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, in which 270 people -- many of them American students -- died over Lockerbie, Scotland. At the time McCain was bowing & scraping & promising Gaddafi military aid, Gaddafi successfully negotiated the release of the only convicted Lockerbie bomber.The RW parental units were probably too busy advising their litters on the fine points of spitting angrily while talking, keeping the race pure and most importantly lying as second nature. -- Contributor Diane, on why wingers don't understand international diplomacy & polite behavior

One more thing. While the U.S. backed the apartheid regime, Fidel Castro helped Mandela fight for racial equality. When you've come to a service to honor a man, you don't spit on his benefactors. -- Constant Weader

In Time's "Person of the Year" contest, Sen. Ted Cruz (RMegalomaniac-Texas) is Fourth Runner-Up. In his brief post, David Von Drehle suggests Cruz is insane, though of course he doesn't use that word & merely points out that Cruz is out of touch with reality. CW: Congratulations, Ted. You deserve it. ...

... Beating out Ted are, in ascending order, Syrian President Bashir Assad, DOMA litigant Edith Windsor, NSA leaker Edward Snowden, AND ...

... Time's Person of the Year -- Pope Francis.

CW: Maureen Dowd fancies herself a dime-novel writer. With a cast of character ripped from Capitol Hill! Awful stuff. There are just so many times I can write, "Her worst column yet," & maintain any credibility.

Congressional Race

Alex Isenstadt of Politico: "Democratic state Sen. Katherine Clark won Tuesday's special election for a Massachusetts congressional seat, easily defeating Republican attorney Frank Addivinola. She will succeed Democrat Ed Markey, who vacated the suburban Boston-area 5th District seat earlier this year after he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Markey had held the seat since 1976."

November 2013 Election

Markus Scmidt of the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "The lawyer representing Republican Mark D. Obenshain in the pending statewide recount in the attorney general race on Monday for the first time openly raised the issue of contesting the election in the General Assembly if the tally does not sway the result in the Republican's favor." CW: That is, Obenshain could ask the Republic-led General Assembly to decide the election. Wonder how that would work out. Oh. Bush v. Gore.) ...

... As Charles Pierce wrote yesterday, "This could be one roaring, screaming debacle.... World's greatest democracy strikes again."

President Kennedy Assassination

Castro once told an Associated Press correspondent at the Brazilian Embassy in Havana that if you U.S. leaders didn't stop their attempts to kill Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe -- a threat of retaliation. Having followed the assassination of President Kennedy since 1963, I have come to a conclusion. Lee Harvey Oswald may have read the AP interview. And when he shot Kennedy, he may have done it as a self-appointed avenger of his hero, Fidel Castro. -- Daniel Schorr, on NPR, 2008

News Ledes

New York Times: "A day after the world's leaders, celebrities and royalty gathered ... to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela in a pomp-filled ceremony, Wednesday was the people's turn. They came by the thousands, black and white, frail and spry, from gated golf estates and tin-shack squatter camps, waiting to pay their final respects to the last and most beloved of a generation of leaders who liberated South Africa from apartheid. The lines, which snaked through the capital for miles, were reminiscent of the endless queues that South Africans endured in 1994 to vote for Mr. Mandela's African National Congress in the nation's first fully democratic elections." ...

... USA Today: "The sign language interpreter used at Tuesday's memorial service for Nelson Mandela, and whose image was broadcast around the world as he shared a stage with world leaders including President Obama, was being called a 'fake' by the Deaf Federation of South Africa." ...

     ... More from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

New York Times: "The United States has suspended the delivery of nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition in northern Syria after concluding that some of it has fallen into the hands of extremist Islamic fighters, American officials said on Wednesday."

Monday
Dec092013

The Commentariat -- Dec. 10, 2013

Lydia Polgreen, et al., of the New York Times: "In an outpouring of praise, memory and celebration, scores of leaders from around the world, including President Obama, joined tens of thousands of South Africans in vast rainswept soccer stadium on Tuesday to pay common tribute to Nelson Mandela. Huge cheers greeted Mr. Obama as he rose to speak." ...

... ** President Obama is introduced at about 20 min. into the video:

     ... Here is the text of Obama's remarks, as prepared. ...

... The Washington Post has a photo gallery of those honoring Mandela today.

... Michael Shear of the New York Times: "For more than 16 hours, Mr. Obama hosted former President George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton aboard Air Force One -- part of a global pilgrimage that is expected to bring as many as 100 world leaders to South Africa." ...

... Anthony Castellano & Mary Bruce of ABC News: "President Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro today at a memorial service for the late Nelson Mandela in South Africa." CW: That deafening roar you hear is not cheers for Mandela or Obama but wingnuts winging out at the handshake. ...

... Steve M. of NMMNB: "The right is going to howl, but all that means is that the right will have temporarily substituted 'Obama Kowtows to Commie' for 'Obama Wants to Kill Us All with Socialized Medicine and Benghazi.... The problem is the middle -- not the Fox/Limbaugh audience, but the audience for Washington Post pundits and CNN bloviators. This will be discussed Very, Very Seriously for a day or two by all of these people."

Ben Protess & Peter Eavis of the New York Times: "Federal regulators are poised to approve a tougher-than-expected version of the so-called Volcker Rule, adopting a harder line in recent weeks against Wall Street risk-taking.... The rule, which comes to a vote on Tuesday, is a symbol of the Obama administration's post-financial-crisis crackdown on Wall Street. In particular, it bans banks from trading for their own gain, a practice known as proprietary trading. In doing so, the Volcker Rule takes aim at the sort of risk-taking responsible for a $6 billion trading blowup last year at JPMorgan Chase."

Jonathan Weisman & Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "House and Senate negotiators reached a final agreement Monday on a Pentagon policy bill that would strengthen protections for military victims of sexual assault and keep the prison facility at Guantánamo Bay open over President Obama's strenuous objections, as Congress rushed to wrap up work in its last full week of the year.... It was a loss for champions of a more sweeping response to sexual assault in the military, a group led by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York."

Redistribution! Socialism! Communism! Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic: "Republicans aren't wrong when they say Obamacare amounts to redistribution. But they seem to have a distorted view of how that redistribution works.... It's certainly fair to say that a majority of people getting money from Obamacare are in the lower half of the income scale. But that includes an awful lot of people that qualify as 'working class' or 'middle class.... The majority of funding in the law is money paid by -- or given up by -- either the wealthy or parts of the health care industry.... In the old days, before Obamacare, just about anybody could end up without health insurance, which meant just about anybody could end up ruined because of medical bills. The simplest way to describe Obamacare is as a transfer from the lucky to the unlucky. And when it comes to health, you don't have to be poor to be unlucky." ...

... Ryan Cooper of the Washington Post: Congressional Republicans "are shocked to discover the health care system sucks." CW: This is not a Borowitz report; this is wealthy members of Congress suddenly "discovering that premiums are higher than they would have expected, having previously enjoyed the protection of government benefits that essentially shielded them from reality.... Five decades of skyrocketing health price inflation didn't inspire so much as a peep when Republicans held all three branches of government. But now that Republicans have derped themselves onto the exchanges, they're shocked, shocked at how expensive things have gotten." ...

... Kelli Kennedy of the AP: Insurance agents say the ACA & Healthcare.gov are stiffing them because of both software glitches & purposely built-in barriers. CW: I'd guess the ACA is still a bonanza for agents, even with the glitches & limits the law places on commissions. Nonetheless, If the anecdotal tales are true, it seems the agents have a real beef. If they help a consumer obtain coverage, they should get a commission.

Lourdes Medrano of the Christian Science Monitor: "Facing intense pressure from immigrant advocates who want the president to do more to limit deportations, the Obama administration has quietly issued a directive [on November 15] to help undocumented immigrants who are closely related to military personnel stay in the country. The effort is called 'parole in place,' and it aims to end rampant confusion among immigration officials about how to treat the parents, spouses, and minor children of those in active duty as well as veterans and reservists. Under parole in place, these relatives no longer have to leave the country to apply for legal US status -- a situation that often resulted in the applicants being barred from reentering the US for years."

Obama 2.0 Fixer? Jackie Calmes of the New York Times: "President Obama, after a rocky year that leaves him at the lowest ebb of his presidency, is bringing into his White House circle the longtime Democratic strategist John D. Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton."

Paul Lewis of the Guardian: "Senior figures behind efforts to curtail the powers of American spy agencies have seized on the decision by the world's largest tech companies to call for radical surveillance reform, saying the unexpected intervention is a potential 'game-changer'.... Tech giants usually leave public lobbying to the dozen or so industry associations in Washington. It is unprecedented for the major tech giants to put their names to a single political statement of this kind." ...

... Matthew Taylor & Nick Hopkins of the Guardian: "More than 500 of the world's leading authors, including five Nobel prize winners, have condemned the scale of state surveillance revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and warned that spy agencies are undermining democracy and must be curbed by a new international charter.... They have urged the United Nations to create an international bill of digital rights that would enshrine the protection of civil rights in the internet age."

CNN: "The Senate voted unanimously on Monday to renew a 10-year ban on guns that cannot be picked up by metal detectors commonly found in airports, court houses and government buildings. The law, which prohibits firearms made mostly of plastic, was set to expire at day's end.... The House acted last week, and now the measure goes to President Barack Obama for his signature. A White House official said the President is expected to sign the legislation. But the Obama administration and congressional Democrats had been pushing for an extension to also deal with potential loopholes for 3-D-printer guns, which the congressional legislation does not do."

Monica Potts of the American Progress on David Vitter's mean-spirited amendment: denying food stamps to ex-offenders. The amendment to the farm bill "applies retroactively, meaning it would kick poor senior citizens who have served their time in prison, and who may not have committed violent crimes in years, off assistance. The amendment also prohibits these ex-offenders from being counted as members of their families when benefits are determined.... If that ex-offender has a job, however, his or her income is counted and reduces his family's benefits accordingly. States can't opt out of this provision." The Senate voted for the amendment by voice vote & there's similar language in a House bill, tho the House version is not retroactive. Potts runs down the reasons this provision isn't just nasty; it's counterproductive. ...

... Because there's nothing that makes America safer than a bunch of starved ex-criminals roaming the streets. -- Jason Sattler of the National Memo in the Huffington Post

... CW: Potts is too nice to say so, but I would add that there's a sickening irony in all this. The Vitter amendment "bars anyone who has been convicted of murder, sexual assault or sexual abuse, child pornography, and similar state offenses from receiving food stamps." Vitter himself famously engaged in criminal sexual behavior -- repeatedly soliciting prostitutes -- but, as David Dayen of Salon noted parenthetically in May. when Vitter introduced the amendment, "(cannily, the crime of soliciting prostitutes is exempted from this ban)." Dayen also wrote.

The amendment was clearly created as a wedge issue, a perennial Republican effort to get Democratic senators to vote for something that can get used against them later in attack ads.... No senator would vote to 'give' violent offenders federal benefits, and in this case they didn't have to. Rather than put the amendment up for a vote, the manager of the farm bill, Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow, merely accepted the amendment into the base bill. The amendment was agreed to by unanimous consent, which is to say that nobody objected to it on the floor. In reality, it's unlikely that most senators even knew the amendment's contents.

... CW: Vitter, BTW, was never convicted for his crimes, nor was he even prosecuted, though when exposed, so to speak, he admitted to the solicitations, which he described as "a sin." Yeah, & a crime.

... Dylan Scott of TPM: "The emerging deal on food stamp spending, part of the House and Senate's ongoing negotiations over the farm bill, would include dollar savings, but would not kick anybody off the program -- a far cry from the bill passed by the House GOP this fall. The framework of the deal is a dramatic comedown for Republicans, especially in the House, which already passed $40 billion in cuts to the food stamp program in September. The total cuts in the new deal would likely come in less than $10 billion -- Roll Call reported $8 billion as a possible figure Monday. It's a slight come-up for Senate Democrats, who passed a bill with $4 billion in cuts in the summer. The bulk of the spending cuts would come from an administrative fix, according to sources familiar with the talks." CW: Really? What about Vitter's ex-felons?

Tom Krishner of the AP: "The U.S. government ended up losing $10.5 billion on the General Motors bailout, but it says the alternative would have been far worse. The Treasury Department sold its final shares of the Detroit auto giant Monday, recovering $39 billion of the $49.5 billion it spent to save the dying automaker at the height of the financial crisis five years ago.... The company now is sitting on $26.8 billion in cash and is considering restoration of a dividend." CW: Seems to me the Obama administration could have cut a better deal. ...

... Jon Perr in Daily Kos: "... the $10.5 billion loss on paper obscures the massive total return on investment for the U.S. economy overall and American taxpayers in particular. As a new analysis from the Center for Automotive Research found, had GM and Chrysler failed altogether, the result could have been 4.1 million jobs lost across the U.S. economy in 2009 and 2010, with federal transfer payments and $105 billion in lost income and payroll tax revenue for the U.S. Treasury." CW: Yeah, yeah, I get that. I'd still like my $10.5 billion back. ...

... Matt Yglesias explains why, from a macroeconomic POV, how much the government makes or loses from its loans is irrelevant. CW: But I still want GM to pay for the incompetence that almost caused the loss of a million-plus jobs.

Tal Kopan of Politico: "Rep. Sander Levin said Monday that Sen. Rand Paul's position that extending unemployment benefits does a 'disservice' to Americans looking for work is wrong, and said letting those benefits expire would be a 'disservice to humanity.'"

Alex Seitz-Wald argues in the National Journal that the Newtown massacre of last December "set in motion a cascade of events that led the White House to burn through its only real window to accomplish its goals."

Part 2 of the New York Times series by Andrea Elliott on Dasani, a preteen homeless girl.

** Stanley Fish attends three Noam Chomsky lectures.

John Bresnahan of Politico: "... House Democrat Alan Grayson lost $18 million as part of a criminal scheme run by a Virginia man that bilked more than 100 investors out of more than $35 million, according to federal court documents. William Dean Chapman, 44, of Sterling, Va.,was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison on Friday. Chapman pled guilty to one count of wire fraud in May, according to the U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which oversaw the case.... It appears from the court documents that Grayson's losses occurred several years ago, around 2007." CW: Kind of explains why Grayson went into a new line of work -- politics.

Senate Race

CNN: "Republican Rep. Steve Stockman is launching a primary challenge against fellow Texan Sen. John Cornyn.... Stockman, a tea party favorite, told WND that he decided to challenge Cornyn in part because he 'undermined' fellow Texan Sen. Ted Cruz's fight to derail Obamacare." CW: Stockman belongs to the Impeach Obama wing of the party & is generally horrible or "weird," as the Houston Chronicle once put it.

Local News

Craig Gustufson & Greg Moran of the San Diego Union-Tribune: Former San Diego Mayor Bob "Filner completed a stunning fall from grace Monday when a judge sentenced him to three months of home confinement and three years of probation, closing the criminal probe into the inappropriate sexual behavior toward women that ended his brief stint as San Diego's 35th mayor. His legal woes will continue as he and the city still face a civil lawsuit from a former aide."

Steve Bousquet of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times: Florida "Gov. Rick Scott has staked his political future on his ability to bring jobs to Florida, but the first comprehensive review of his efforts shows few successes and hundreds of unfulfilled promises." ...

     ... Charles Pierce: "The Tampa paper has some terrific anecdotal evidence of how well this works. Over and over, we see one truth clearly demonstrated -- that governments should be more skeptical of business interests than they are of their citizens who happen to be on public assistance. Over and over, we decline to learn from this.

James Hohmann of Politico: "Three Democratic state lawmakers called Monday for the state chairman of Virginia's Republican Party to resign over comments he made attacking President Barack Obama and Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe.... The chairman, Pat Mullins..., at a weekend GOP retreat ... on Saturday ... he accused Obama of lying to the American people on [a number of] issues.... 'Our president was elected on a series of lies,' Mullins said. 'The American people are finally seeing the emperor without his clothes ... Obama is so close to death (emphasis added) that Terry McAuliffe is about to buy a life insurance policy on him.' The latter part of the comments, which drew laughs and scattered applause, referred to the revelation in the home stretch of the governor's race that the Democratic nominee received $113,000 from an investment in a death-benefits scheme that preyed on the terminally ill." A party spokesman said Mullins "misspoke" & meant to say "ObamaCare," not "Obama" was close to death. CW: If that's true, Mullins' remark is a classic Freudian slip. I'd like to see the Secret Service question Mullins in a most uncordial way.

Jeff Weiner & Rene Stutzman of the Orlando Sentinel: "George Zimmerman's defense lawyer has asked a judge to allow him to see his girlfriend, who has recanted the domestic violence allegations which led to his arrest last month, new court documents show. The apparent about-face by Zimmerman's girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe, throws his latest criminal case into doubt, leaving prosecutors to reassess whether or not to pursue charges. 'I want to be with George,' Scheibe says in a sworn statement which accompanies a new motion.... Chris White, lead prosecutor in Seminole County, said he learned of Scheibe's change of heart Monday. He said his office would evaluate her affidavit and decide later this week whether to push forward with the case or abandon it." CW: I'm so surprised that someone idiotic enough to hook up with Zimmerman would pull such a stunt.

News Ledes

AFP: "Uruguay is to give a green light Tuesday to making marijuana legal, in a social experiment that countries plagued by drug-related crime worldwide will watch."

Washington Post: "Hundreds of heavily armored police swarmed past barricades into [Kiev's] Independence Square ... early Wednesday morning, breaking up the encampment of protesters who have defied President Viktor Yanukovych for more than two weeks."

Reuters: " Israel's parliament has moved to ensure African migrants who enter the country illegally can be held without charge, despite a Supreme Court ruling that had struck down a previous detention law. Legislation approved late on Monday set a maximum detention period of one year for new illegal migrants, a change from a term of up to three years stipulated in a previous law annulled by the court in September." CW: Guess the Knesset didn't get the "spirit of Mandela" message. ...

... Time: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled plans to attend memorial events for the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, citing travel and security costs, Israeli media reported Sunday." CW: Seems appropriate.

Sunday
Dec082013

The Commentariat -- Dec. 9, 2013

Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post: "House and Senate negotiators were putting the finishing touches Sunday on what would be the first successful budget accord since 2011, when the battle over a soaring national debt first paralyzed Washington. The deal expected to be sealed this week on Capitol Hill would not significantly reduce the debt, now $17.3 trillion and rising. It would not close corporate tax loopholes or reform expensive health and retirement programs. It would not even fully replace sharp spending cuts known as the sequester, the negotiators' primary target. After more than two years of constant crisis, the emerging agreement amounts to little more than a cease-fire." CW: Still up-in-the-air: extended unemployment benefits, but it doesn't look good. ...

... Erik Wasson of the Hill: "Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that he hopes extended jobless benefits will be part of the budget deal, but Democrats are not at this point insisting on it.... Durbin's soft position echoes that of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who appeared last week to say no deal would be possible without the extension of jobless benefits expiring Jan. 1, but then walked the ultimatum back." ...

... Test Question. Explain Rand Paul's logic. Kevin Robillard of Politico: "Democratic attempts to extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million workers were a 'disservice' to the unemployed, Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday. Paul said a study had shown employers were less likely to hire the long-term unemployed like those who have been on 99 weeks of benefits." ...

     ... Paul Krugman takes a stab at the test question: "... the G.O.P. answer to the problem of long-term unemployment is to increase the pain of the long-term unemployed: Cut off their benefits, and they'll go out and find jobs. How, exactly, will they find jobs when there are three times as many job-seekers as job vacancies? ... Employment in today's American economy is limited by demand, not supply.... The odds, I'm sorry to say, are that the long-term unemployed will be cut off, thanks to a perfect marriage of callousness ... with bad economics. But then, hasn't that been the story of just about everything lately?" ...

     ... Digby: "It's this twisted Randroid sanctimony that really gets to me. It's bad enough that this creep thinks the unemployed are parasites and moochers. But he has the brass balls to adopt a disgustingly unctuous 'compassionate' tone to suggest that he's following Christian teachings by throwing them out on the street." ...

... Khalil AlJajal of Mlive: "Democrats responded in a variety of ways to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul's Friday visit to Detroit. The Kentucky Republican was in town helping the GOP effort to start reaching out to minorities in Michigan and to introduce his 'Economic Freedom Zones' plan. Paul plans to introduce legislation next week that would turn zip codes with unemployment rates over 1.5 times the average into zones where federal income taxes would be reduced to 5 percent, capital gains taxes would be eliminated and other incentives would be offered to potential residents and entrepreneurs." ...

... Heather of Crooks & Liars: "Is there anyone out there who honestly believes that Sen. Rand Paul wasn't going to continue his father's racket of pretending he actually wants to be president in order to raise lots of money from their gullible followers?"

"It's a Godsend." Abby Goodnough, et al., of the New York Times interview Americans who are glad to be getting insurance under the ACA. "... for all those problems, people are enrolling. More than 243,000 have signed up for private coverage through the exchanges, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and more than 567,000 have been determined eligible for Medicaid since the exchanges opened on Oct. 1. For many, particularly people with existing medical conditions..., the coverage is proving less expensive than what they had. Many others are getting health insurance for the first time in years, giving them alternatives to seeking care through free clinics or emergency rooms -- or putting it off indefinitely."

** Ta-Nehisi Coates: On Nelson Mandela, Newt Gingrich gets it right & challenges wingers who are attacking Mandela in death. And not for the first time. Here's Newt's full post. CW: This might be the first time I've embedded remarks by Newt Gingrich with which I agree:

... Worth keeping in mind, of course, is the point Nicole Belle of Crooks & Liars makes: "... I might be more willing to accept [Newt's alleged shock at conservatives' hateful remarks about Mandela] if Newt didn't play into racist dogwhistles all the time."

Thomas McGarity, in the New York Times: "... there's a crucial dimension the president left out [of his speech on inequality]: the revival, since the mid-1970s, of the laissez-faire ideology that prevailed in the Gilded Age.... It's no coincidence that this laissez-faire revival -- an all-out assault on government regulation -- has unfolded over the very period in which inequality has soared to levels not seen since the Gilded Age." ...

... Case on Point. Matthew Goldstein & Ben Protess of the New York Times: "Even as five regulatory agencies prepared to vote Tuesday on a regulation that seeks to rein in risk-taking on Wall Street -- an effort known as the Volcker Rule -- lawyers and lobbyists were gearing up for another round of attacks against it. In recent letters and meetings with financial regulators, lobbyists for Wall Street banks and business trade groups issued thinly veiled threats about challenging the Volcker Rule in court, people briefed on the matter said. The groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are hinting that they could use litigation to either undercut or clarify the rule, which is intended to bar banks from trading for their own gain and limit their ability to invest in hedge funds."

Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies conducting criminal investigations collected data on cellphone activity thousands of times last year, with each request to a phone company yielding hundreds or thousands of phone numbers of innocent Americans along with those of potential suspects. Law enforcement made more than 9,000 requests last year for what are called 'tower dumps,' information on all the calls that bounced off a cellphone tower within a certain period of time, usually two or more hours, a congressional inquiry has revealed. The little-known practice has raised concerns among federal judges, lawmakers and privacy advocates who question the harvesting of massive amounts of data on people suspected of no crime in order to try to locate a criminal.... The inquiry, by Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), into law enforcement's use of cellphone data comes amid growing scrutiny of the bulk collection of geolocation data overseas and of Americans' phone records in the United States by the National Security Agency." ...

... Mark Mazzetti & Justin Elliott of the New York Times: "American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents.... The spies have created make-believe characters to snoop and to try to recruit informers, while also collecting data and contents of communications between players, according to the documents, disclosed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden." ...

... Edward Wyatt & Claire Miller of the New York Times: "Eight prominent technology companies, bruised by revelations of government spying on their customers' data and scrambling to repair the damage to their reputations, are mounting a public campaign to urge President Obama and Congress to set new limits on government surveillance." The Guardian story, by Dan Roberts & Jemima Kiss, is here. ...

... Ryan Lizza has a lo-o-o-ng piece in the New Yorker on NSA overreach. CW: The bit of it I've had time to read is excellent. ...

... NSA-Speak. Amy Davidson of the New Yorker gives a short lesson on how to tell when NSA leaders are lying.

Saymour Hersh, in the London Review of Books, points to intelligence evidence that the Syrian government was not necessarily responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on August 21. "... in recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the [Obama] administration's assurances of Assad's responsibility a 'ruse'."

Andrea Elliott, in the New York Times, explores the life of Dasani, an 11-year-old Brooklyn girl, whose family is homeless. With photographs. This horror story has received some extra attention because the Las Vegas Sun, apparently inadvertently, ran it before the Times uploaded it on its own site.

Katherine Boyle of the Washington Post: "This year, the Kennedy Center honored actress Shirley MacLaine, opera singer Martina Arroyo, musician Carlos Santana -- who beamed while sitting next to first lady Michelle Obama -- and two piano men: Herbie Hancock and Billy Joel. If the honorees had performed together, it would have been a dream collaboration -- but as is the 36-year custom, they sat, smiled and watched others pay tribute to lives lived on stages and screens." ...

... The Post has extended profiles of the recipients: MacLaine, Arroyo, Santana, Joel and Hancock. There's a photo gallery here and short videos here. ...

Now, when you first become President, one of the questions that people ask you is what's really going on in Area 51. When I wanted to know, I'd call Shirley MacLaine. I think I just became the first President to ever publicly mention Area 51. How's that, Shirley? -- Barack Obama, at the reception for Kennedy Center honorees

... White House: "President Obama delivers remarks at a reception celebrating the 2013 Kennedy Center Honorees":

CW: This is predictably awful, & therefore smile-inducing. And at least it's accurate:

Local News

Gallop Asian Bistro, Bridgewater New Jersey: Dayna "Morales and Gallop Asian Bistro have made a joint decision that Ms. Morales will no longer continue her employment at our restaurant. We wish her well in the future." CW: The comments are withering.

News Ledes

New York Times: "Bill Porter, an Oregon door-to-door salesman who plied his trade for decades despite having severe cerebral palsy, and whose story inspired an Emmy-winning television film starring William H. Macy, died last Tuesday in Gresham, Ore. He was 81."

Washington Post: "Eleanor Parker, an actress of patrician beauty nicknamed 'the woman of a thousand faces' for the range of parts she played, from a terrified prisoner in 'Caged' to the icy baroness in 'The Sound of Music,' died Dec. 9 at a medical facility near her home in Palm Springs, Calif. She was 91." ...

     ... Update: The New York Times obituary is here.

Reuters: "China expressed 'regret' on Monday that South Korea had extended its air defense zone to partially overlap with a similar zone declared by Beijing two weeks ago that has raised regional tensions."

Reuters: "Cuba has temporarily reopened consular services in the United States after its bank postponed closing the accounts of its diplomatic missions in Washington and New York, it said in a statement released to media on Monday."

AP: "A plodding storm that dumped heavy snow on the unsuspecting Mid-Atlantic region threatened to make roads dicey in the northeast corridor for Monday's commute while travel disruptions continued to ripple across the country days after the same system first began wreaking havoc in the skies. The seemingly never-ending storm that coated parts of Texas in ice struck with unexpected force on the East Coast, blanketing some spots in a foot of snow and grinding highways to a halt." ...

     ... Reuters Update: "A deadly winter storm kept a tight grip on much of the United States on Monday as cold, snow and ice spread across the East Coast, snarling traffic and knocking out power to thousands. As much as 5 inches of snow were forecast for Monday night into Tuesday as much of the area from Virginia to coastal New England were under winter weather advisories...."

New York Times: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the country's top military officer Monday, hoping to improve one of Washington's most complicated relationships -- one marked by agreement on the dangers of terrorism but also by deep differences over how to counter the threat."

Reuters: "Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament on Monday and called a snap election, but anti-government protest leaders pressed ahead with mass demonstrations in Bangkok seeking to install an unelected body to run the country. Police estimated about 160,000 protesters converged on Yingluck's office at Government House, but there was none of the violence and bloodshed seen before the demonstrations paused last Thursday out of respect for the king's birthday."

Guardian: "Cordons of riot police moved into central Kiev early on Monday afternoon in what appeared initially to be preparations by the Ukrainian government to regain control of Independence square and Kiev city hall, occupied by anti-government protesters for the past week."

Santa Cruz Sentinel: American Merrill Newman said he was well-treated during his North Korean detention.