The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Safety/Irony Alert. CNBC (December 25): Your new home security system may be an open invitation to hackers to make you, and perhaps many others, unsafe.” -- CW

Washington Post: "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus took a final, bittersweet bow Sunday, staging its last three shows [in Uniondale, N.Y.,] after 146 years of entertaining American audiences with gravity-defying trapeze stunts, comically clumsy clowns and trained tigers." -- CW 

Guardian: "Pippa Middleton [sister of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge --] has married James Matthews in what has been called the society wedding of the year, in front of royalty, family and friends." -- CW

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

CW: No idea why the picture is teeny-tiny.

Washington Post: "Two months before Monday’s [May 8] announcement that Sinclair Broadcast Group would pay $3.9 billion for Tribune Media and add to its dominance as the nation’s largest owner of local TV stations, a top executive at Sinclair beamed a short commentary piece to many of the company’s 173 stations.In the segment, which looks like it belongs in a newscast, Sinclair vice president for news Scott Livingston stands before a wall of video monitors and warns that 'some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.' He accuses the national media of publishing 'fake news stories' — a direct echo of President Trump’s frequent complaint — and then asks viewers to visit the station’s website to share 'content concerns.' The piece was a 'must-run,' meaning news directors and station managers from Baltimore to Seattle had to find room for it.... While partisan coverage is a familiar staple of cable networks — Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left — it remains mostly unheard of in broadcast TV, where it has generally been accepted that public airwaves should be used in the difficult-to-define public interest.” -- CW 

CNN: "21st Century Fox and the private equity firm Blackstone are in talks to launch a bid for Tribune Media, one of the nation's largest television broadcasting companies, a source with knowledge of the matter said Sunday. The deal currently under discussion would see Blackstone and Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox forming a joint venture. Blackstone would provide the cash for the acquisition while Fox would add all its owned-and-operated television stations to the joint venture." -- CW 

New York Times: "Prehistoric humans — perhaps Neanderthals or another lost species — occupied what is now California some 130,000 years ago, a team of scientists reported on Wednesday. The bold and fiercely disputed claim, published in the journal Nature, is based on a study of mastodon bones discovered near San Diego. If the scientists are right, they would significantly alter our understanding of how humans spread around the planet." -- CW 

If you're curious as to how realistic the New York City apartments of TV sitcom characters are -- in terms of what the characters could reasonably afford -- the Washington Post checks out several of the hovels & dream rentals of a number of shows. Kinda fun. CW: My husband & I (he paid the rent) had a fairly spacious two-bedroom with a galley kitchen (dishwasher included!) & dining room plus teensy closets on Washington Square in the 1980s & '90s. NYU owned the building & helped considerably with the rent.

Politico: "Comedian Hasan Minhaj will be this year's entertainer for the White House Correspondents' Dinner later this month, the association's president announced on Tuesday. Minhaj is a stand up comedian and senior correspondent on 'The Daily Show,' where he has performed caustic bits on ... Donald Trump, liberals and others in between. Minhaj has Washington experience already, having performed as host of last year's Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner." -- CW 

AFP: "After months of uncertainty and controversy, Bob Dylan finally accepted the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature at a jovial, champagne-laced ceremony on Saturday, [April 1,] the Swedish Academy announced. The academy, which awards the coveted prize, ended prolonged speculation as to whether the 75-year-old troubadour would use a concert stopover in Stockholm to accept the gold medal and diploma awarded to him back in October." -- CW 


The Hill: "Arnold Schwarzeneggar says his first season as host of NBC's 'Celebrity Apprentice' is also his last. In remarks Friday, the former California governor cited President Trump, who has repeatedly mocked the ratings of his reality TV replacement, as his reason. 'Even if asked [to do it again] I would decline,' Schwarzenegger told Empire magazine.... 'With Trump being involved in the show people have a bad taste and don’t want to participate as a spectator or sponsor or in any other way support the show. It’s a very divisive period right now and I think the show got caught up in all that division.'" -- CW 

New York Times: "Penguin Random House will publish coming books by former President Barack Obama and the former first lady Michelle Obama, the publishing company announced Tuesday night, concluding a heated auction among multiple publishers. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but publishing industry executives with knowledge of the bidding process said it probably stretched well into eight figures." -- CW ...

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The Commentariat -- Dec. 27, 2014

Another Slow Gnus Day.





Getting Away with Murder. Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times: "... the scathing report the Senate Intelligence Committee delivered this month is unlikely to significantly change the role the C.I.A. now plays in running America's secret wars. A number of factors -- from steadfast backing by Congress and the White House to strong public support for clandestine operations -- ensure that an agency that has been ascendant since President Obama came into office is not likely to see its mission diminished...."

Just When We Don't Need Bipartisanship. David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "President Obama is preparing a major push on a vast free-trade zone that seeks to enlist Republicans as partners and test his premise that Washington can still find common ground on major initiatives. It also will test his willingness to buck his own party in pursuit of a legacy-burnishing achievement. Already, fellow Democrats are accusing him of abandoning past promises on trade and potentially undermining his domestic priority of reducing income inequality.

German Lopez of Vox: "Given the wave of protests and attention they received, it seems 2014 may end up a crucial turning point in discussions about race and the criminal justice system." ...

... Ryan Cooper of the Week: "Pat Lynch, the president of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association..., and Co. might try just respecting basic democratic legitimacy. It turns out that people have a First Amendment right to protest. And elected political leadership ought to have control over the exercise of state violence." ...

... Factoid via Cooper: "Being a cop is not even in the top ten most dangerous professions.... A fisherman is over six times more likely [than is a cop] to die on the job -- and a logger 7.5 times more likely."

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Steve M. Politico notices -- again -- that President Obama doesn't often attend church services. Somehow they never notice that the same was true of Dubya, & according to Steve, Reaganus Maximus never went to church (and he's been sainted!). But we do want to know in this season of Christian joy that the current POTUS is a heathen. ...

... Charles Pierce remarks on the same Politico article, but you'll have to cursor down to it because the link to the post doesn't work.

The Yahoo! News team picks the weirdest political stories of 2014.

CSI, Dog Shit. Karen Heller of the Washington Post: "Among the great unresolved conflicts between neighbors is determining the provenance of unwanted, unseemly and often unwittingly trampled dog detritus.... PooPrints, a self-described 'dog poop DNA matching service,' is the most successful product of BioPet Vet Lab in Knoxville, which specializes in canine genetic testing. Launched in late 2010, the company has on record the DNA of more than 30,000 dogs from Canada and 45 states, including Maryland and Virginia, and recently signed a deal to launch in Great Britain.... Currently, PooPrints is used only in multi-unit properties, although municipalities including Dallas; Hoboken, N.J.; and Gaithersburg, Md., have expressed interest." CW: I told you it was a slow news day.

Presidential Election

"The Smart Brother." Jason Millman of the Washington Post: Jeb Bush was against implementing the Medicaid expansion in Florida even though he had no idea how greatly it would have benefitted he state. He now has made a bundle of dough on it, but he's running away from that deal as fast as he can to burnish his nutball creds. CW: I guess he thinks from his gut just as his brother does. Great.

News Ledes

AP: "A protester who advocated for peaceful demonstrations in Ferguson was charged Saturday with setting fire to a convenience store in a neighboring suburb. A St. Louis County jail official said Joshua Williams, 19, of St. Louis, was being held on $30,000 bond. He is charged with arson, second-degree burglary and stealing less than $500.... Court records said Williams confessed in a videotaped interview, and that his actions were captured by surveillance video and by news media."

New York Times: "The turnout [for the funeral today of NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos] was extraordinary. Though no reliable count was made, it appeared that more than 20,000 police officers came to Queens, from as far away as Wisconsin and California and England, some driving through the night to make it.... Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., dispatched by President Obama, spoke movingly of the courage of policing." Many officers turned their backs when NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke. ...

... ABC News: "Hundreds of police officers turned their backs on a screen showing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as he spoke at the funeral of one of two officers killed last week in what has been called an 'assassination.'" ...

... New York: "In the week since the murders of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, people from New York and across the United States hav[e] been working to make sure that the NYPD officers' families are taken of financially."

NBC News: "North Korea's Internet and 3G mobile networks were paralyzed again on Saturday evening, China's official Xinhua news agency reported, with the North Korean government blaming the United States for systemic instability in the country's networks."

AP: "A leader with the Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab who had a $3m bounty on his head has surrendered in Somalia, a Somali intelligence official said on Saturday. Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi surrendered to Somali police in the Gedo region, said the intelligence officer, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.


The Commentariat -- Dec. 26, 2014

Christmas Eve Docu-dump. David Lerman of Bloomberg News: "The National Security Agency [Wednesday] released reports on intelligence collection that may have violated the law or U.S. policy over more than a decade, including unauthorized surveillance of Americans' overseas communications.... The heavily-redacted reports include examples of data on Americans being e-mailed to unauthorized recipients, stored in unsecured computers and retained after it was supposed to be destroyed, according to the documents. They were posted on the NSA's website at around 1:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. In a 2012 case, for example, an NSA analyst 'searched her spouse's personal telephone directory without his knowledge to obtain names and telephone numbers for targeting,' according to one report. The analyst 'has been advised to cease her activities,' it said." The NSA's link to the reports, released in response to an ACLU FOIA lawsuit, is here. ...

... Zandar in Balloon Juice: "... it's entirely possible to hold the position that both the NSA needs massive reform to prevent civil liberties abuses, and that Edward Snowden went about exposing these abuses in a way that damaged national security. The ACLU on the other hand requested this information through FOIA, and got it. No espionage or skulduggery was required, and the information clearly shows the NSA isn't following its own procedures. This was the right way to get evidence of these massive abuses and does so in a manner that's both responsible and powerful."

Oh, They Knew. Richard Oppel of the New York Times: "Long before revelations in the spring that the Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix had manipulated waiting lists to hide that veterans were facing long delays to see doctors, senior department officials in Washington had been made aware of serious problems at the hospital, according to filings before a federal administrative board.... Susan Bowers, the executive in charge of dozens of hospitals and clinics from West Texas to Arizona..., said that when she submitted a report stating that the Phoenix hospital was out of compliance, she was pressured by other officials to say that it was compliant. She also said that beginning in 2009, she briefed Eric K. Shinseki, then the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, and other top officials several times a year about the patient backlog and other problems in Phoenix.... When she briefed Mr. Shinseki about problems, she added, he would say, 'There's a process, and we need to follow through on the process.'" See also News Ledes in the December 24 Commentariat.

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux of the Washington Post: "Thousands of female veterans are struggling to get health-care treatment and compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs on the grounds that they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by sexual trauma in the military. The veterans and their advocates call it 'the second battle' -- with a bureaucracy they say is stuck in the past."

Liz Sly of the Washington Post: "The Islamic State's vaunted exercise in state-building appears to be crumbling as living conditions deteriorate across the territories under its control.... Services are collapsing, prices are soaring, and medicines are scarce in towns and cities across the 'caliphate' proclaimed in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State, residents say, belying the group's boasts that it is delivering a model form of governance for Muslims. Slick Islamic State videos depicting functioning government offices and the distribution of aid do not match the reality of growing deprivation and disorganized, erratic leadership, the residents say." ...

     ... CW: Who would have guessed that a band of rabid, murderous, fundamentalist revolutionaries would not make good bureaucrats? This does not suggest that the so-called Islamic state would naturally implode. Totalitarian states throughout history have maintained their control for decades even when their other social & economic policies were terrible failures.

Paul Krugman: "You'll never hear this on Fox News, but 2014 was a year in which the federal government, in particular, showed that it can do some important things very well if it wants to.... On multiple fronts, government wasn't the problem; it was the solution. Nobody knows it, but 2014 was the year of 'Yes, we can.'" ...

... CW: If Krugman is right -- that "Christmas seemed unusually subdued this year" because "All year Americans have been bombarded with dire news reports portraying a world out of control and a clueless government with no idea what to do" -- you can lay this somber holiday directly at the feet of a very effective Republican noise machine. The Party of Nope, with their constant stream of downers, many of them lies, trumped the Party of Hope. ...

... George Packer of the New Yorker on the same topic. Packer does manage to lay direct blame on Republicans -- & on Democrats "too spooked to utter the simple truth that government in competent hands can be a tremendous tool for advancing the good." ...

... "Let's Screw the 1 Percent." Paul Rosenberg in Salon: President Obama should raise the mandatory overtime salary to cover at least the adjusted-for-inflation salaries that were mandated in a 1975 law.... [The move] would not just make those workers better off, it's money that would fuel the rest of the economy as well.... Firing the supply-siders in his own administration -- would be the smartest thing President Obama could do right now, to ensure that the economy keeps on growing, regardless of what congressional Republicans try to do in the next two years." Unfortunately, Rosenberg asserts, Obama himself "thinks like Ronald Reagan." ...

     ... CW: This seems like such an obvious fix. It would specifically help the middle-class, & many would feel the positive effects with their next paycheck. Thus, as a political move, it's a no-brainer. Republicans might wail, but I doubt they'd be calling it ObamaPay. ...

... Erika Eichelberger of Mother Jones: "One often-overlooked  factor ... [contributing to wealth inequality] is that 16.7 million poor Americans don't have a bank account. Lack of access to this basic financial tool cramps poor Americans' ability to prove credit-worthiness and build assets, and forces them to rely on expensive alternative financial services, trapping them in a cycle of debt and instability."

Rebecca Leber of the New Republic: "Investigators have traced the gun Ismaaiyl Brinsley used to kill two New York City police officers and wound his ex-girlfriend to a Georgia strip mall 900 miles away. The Arrowhead pawn shop, which bills itself as a 'family-owned business dedicated to good prices, good customer service and good vibes,' as of 2010 was the fifth-largest source of guns used in crimes nationally and the number-one source of out-of-state guns seized by the New York Police Department.... Brinsley was barred from owning a gun because he had committed multiple felonies.... Weak federal laws and disparate state laws enable a black market where felons and domestic abusers can get their hands on guns. Georgia is among many southern states whose lax gun laws effectively supply firearms for criminal activity in states with stricter laws." ...

... CW: So if you're looking around for somebody to blame for the deaths of those policemen -- besides the shooter himself -- I'd say the NRA & their stable of cowardly politicians trumps people righteously protesting racially-biased policing.

Sam Eifling of the New Republic: "... 2014 was the year we learned that no matter what scandals befall individual players or even the front office of the country's most powerful sports league, fans don't really care -- at least, not enough to stop watching football. Americans were mad as hell, right until the Monday Night Football theme, that testosterone lullaby, coaxed them back onto the couch.... Pro football games weren't just the most-watched cable shows -- they were some of the most-watched cable shows ever."

Josh Lederman of the AP: "President Barack Obama marked the end of more than a decade of combat in Afghanistan by paying tribute to America's military, telling troops on Christmas Day that their sacrifices have allowed for a more peaceful, prosperous world to emerge out of the ashes of 9/11." ...

... Josh Lederman: President Barack Obama celebrated Christmas in Hawaii by singing carols at home before spending the afternoon on the beach."

British Queen Elizabeth's Christmas message is surprisingly touching -- and political:

Mark Bittman of the New York Times: This Christmas day marked "the 100th anniversary of the 'Christmas truce' of World War I, when soldiers from both sides left their weapons in the trenches and met in neutral territory to embrace, play soccer and no doubt drink to excess in the spirit of humanity. Although the acts were officially condemned, these 'live and let live' moments were repeated throughout the war.... If every day were Christmas, if we lived as if the golden rule mattered, if every day were a truce -- well, that is a reality we have never approached, but should aim for."

Here's a 1981 BBC documentary about the 1914 Christmas truce, with first-hand accounts:

Presidential Election

Anne Gearan of the Washington Post: "Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for president, is working hard to shore up support among liberals in hopes of tamping down a serious challenge from the left in the battle for the 2016 nomination." CW: In other words, one more fake Hillary. I can't keep up.

Joseph Tanfani of the Los Angeles Times: "... as he considers a run for president in 2016, [Jeb] Bush has begun to unwind some of his financial affairs, apparently to avoid the kind of criticism that hobbled fellow Republican Mitt Romney in his unsuccessful bid for the White House in 2012.... Bush is quitting Tenet Healthcare Corp. -- a company that has profited from Obamacare -- and is ending a consulting contract with Barclays Bank.... Aides say he also has stopped giving highly paid speeches.... Last year, he took a step into the rarefied world of private equity and offshore investments, joining with former banking executives and a Chinese airline company to make bets on natural gas exploration and shipping. One of the funds was set up in the United Kingdom, a structure that allows the company to shield overseas investors from U.S. taxes." ...

... Matea Gold, et al., of the Washington Post: "... all the e-mails [Jeb] Bush will release [from his terms as governor of Florida] have long been available through a records request to the Florida Department of State. What's more, the former governor is expected to release only documents already required to be made available under state law, which allows exemptions for legal communications and personnel matters, among others. And the e-mails that he will release show a somewhat filtered version of operations within his administration, in part because Bush was keenly aware that his correspondence could one day become public."

Nancy Benac of the AP: "There are more than 300 million people in America, yet the same two families keep popping up when it comes to picking a president.... It turns out that even though Americans profess to reject dynasties, in politics they're quite comfortable with familiar names.... Dynastic politics, in which multiple family members hold elected office, are more common than people might think in the U.S."

Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor: "n a hypothetical general election matchup Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton would crush Republican Chris Christie in his home state of New Jersey, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll."

Beyond the Beltway

** Adam Nagourney of the New York Times: Gov. Jerry "Brown [D-Calif.] is again seeking to remake [the California state supreme] court that to this day is viewed by legal scholars as among the most influential in the nation, with one study proclaiming it the state court most followed by other appellate judges. And once more, the ever-unconventional Mr. Brown is roiling the waters with a series of head-snapping ... choices for this tribunal.... Of the three people Mr. Brown has nominated to the seven-member Supreme Court -- the latest confirmed on Monday -- not one had a day of judicial experience: Two are law professors and the third is an associate attorney general in the Justice Department." ...

... Judy Lin of the AP: "Continuing a Christmas Eve tradition, Gov. Jerry Brown issued pardons to 105 people Wednesday, before retracting one to a man hours later after learning he had not disclosed recent discipline by financial regulators, a spokesman said."

AP: "Demonstrators took to the streets for a second night after a white police officer in Berkeley, Missouri, killed a black 18-year-old who police said pointed a gun at him."

Here's a detail I didn't know about the police killing of Antonio Martin in Berkeley, Missouri. Ed Pilkington of the Guardian: "An attorney for the police officer, Brian Millikan, confirmed that the officer was handed a body cam at the start of his shift but had been distracted and had not put it on. There was a second police recording device on the dashboard of his marked patrol vehicle, but that too was not turned on at the time of the shooting." CW: An officer too "distracted" to turn on either of two cameras is too distracted to be sent out on patrol.

News Ledes

Washington Post: "Security forces on Friday killed an alleged organizer of last week's school massacre, the latest sign that the government and military are stepping up their assault on the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamist militant groups."

New York Times: "Under intense pressure from the government of Sudan, the United Nations is planning to shrink its floundering peacekeeping force in Darfur, even though renewed fighting there has chased more people from their homes this year than during any other in the past decade. The withdrawal plans come right after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, announced that she had decided to suspend the genocide case against Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, because world powers have done nothing to secure his arrest."

Washington Post: "Revelers opening brand-new Playstation 4 or Xbox One video game consoles on Christmas Day were disappointed to find the gaming networks offline, due to an alleged attack. As of Friday morning, the situation has improved, but the problems are not completely over: XBox Live is mostly up and running, albeit with 'limited' functionality, according to its service status site. Playstation's network PSN, meanwhile, is still down for the count, according to its status page." See also yesterday's News Ledes.

New York Times (Dec. 24): "A blizzard of millions in cash paralyzed a road in Hong Kong on Wednesday afternoon, when a security van spilled bundles of Hong Kong 500 dollar notes, presenting onlookers with a Christmas Eve test of whether to be good for goodness' sake. The police estimated that the equivalent of about $2 million was missing, local news reports said...."


Worst Christmas Songs 2014 Edition

This year's effort is dedicated to the Grand Old Party.

Note: You may have to call up Reality Chex in Google Chrome to capture all the videos. In Firefox, I get a number of black boxes.

In this horrible original song, Stephen Colbert captures the GOP Christmas spirit:

Eat your heart out, Mitt. December 2012. Maybe they should have tried rehearsing:

December 2011:

Okay, sentiment aside, this is truly awful. I guess we shouldn't be surprised that Justin Bieber can't sing:

You have to give the First Family credit for sitting through this:

For some reason Maura Sullivan thinks "Christmas Eve in Washington" is wonderful. Her lyrics don't mention maybe that's because Congress is adjourned:

Apparently you have not won the "War on Christmas," Gen. Bill O'Reilly. Here's video, via the Epic Times, of a WalMart manager in Klamath Falls, Oregon, earlier this month threatening to call the cops on kids singing Christmas carols in the store.

"Eight Days of Hannukah," lyrics by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah):

Not exactly a Christmas carol, but still a classic: Nixon Piano Concerto No. 1:


This one's for Akhilleus. See yesterday's comments:

I suspect this is the most popular Christmas flash mob evah -- performers sing Handel's Hallelujah Chorus from "The Messiah" at a U.S. shopping mall:

I'm partial to this Spanish mob, performing the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's 9th, sponsored by Banc Sabadell:

This is as flash-mobby as the Air Force gets. "The USAF Band Holiday Flash Mob 2014 at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum":

Finally, here's the USAF band mobbing the Smithonian last December:

Merry Christmas, Everyone. Or whatever. Thank you for your continued readership. And a hearty Ho Ho Ho to contributors; no lumps of coal for you. -- Constant Weader

News Ledes -- December 25

USA Today: "Online game networks Xbox Live and PlayStation Network have been offline much of Christmas Day in an apparent DDos (distributed denial of service) attack. Taking credit for the takedown: a group called Lizard Squad, which previously claimed credit for August attacks on the PlayStation Network and online games World of Warcraft and League of Legends."

New York Post: "JetBlue airlines said Wednesday it will be offering free flights to police officers from around the country who wish to attend the funerals for the two slain NYPD cops killed over the weekend. The airline said it will allow up to two cops from each department to fly at no charge from anywhere across its route network to New York City."

Atlantic: "Russian President Vladimir Putin cancelled the extended New Year holiday for government ministers because of the ongoing financial crisis, informing the agencies they must work to help strengthen the economy and take protectionary measures in the face of a combination of governmental mismanagement, dropping oil prices, and economic sanctions that have caused considerable panic in Moscow in recent weeks."

AP: "Russia on Thursday offered sympathy to North Korea amid the Sony hacking scandal, saying the movie that sparked the dispute was so scandalous that Pyongyang's anger was 'quite understandable.'"

Weather Channel: "Winter Storm Eris will virtually guarantee a white Christmas in the Rockies, and not just over the higher elevations. Eris,(air-is; from Greek mythology: the goddess of discord) will bring snow to some valley floors of the Northwest, Great Basin and Rockies in time for the Christmas holiday. Parts of the Plains and Upper Midwest will also likely see a fresh blanket of mainly light snow from this system."

AP: "Former President George H.W. Bush will remain hospitalized through Christmas Day after experiencing shortness of breath two days ago."

AP: "Demonstrators took to the streets for a second night after a white police officer in Berkeley, Missouri, killed a black 18-year-old who police said pointed a gun at him." ...

... St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "By 7 a.m. Wednesday, police released surveillance footage showing the men approaching the police cruiser as soon as it pulls onto the lot. [Antonio] Martin can be seen walking away from the officer several times after the officer gets out of his car to talk to the men. Martin then turns toward the officer and appears to be pointing a gun at him. The officer fires and stumbles to the ground as he tries to back away." The three surveillance videos are here.

Washington Post: "Researchers studying Ebola in a highly secure laboratory mistakenly allowed potentially lethal samples of the virus to be handled in a much less secure laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, agency officials said Wednesday. One technician in the second laboratory may have been exposed to the virus and about a dozen other people have been assessed after entering the facility unaware that potentially hazardous samples of Ebola had been handled there."

AFP: "Pope Francis led Christmas Eve mass in the Vatican calling for 'tenderness' and 'warmth' after a violence-plagued year as millions of Christians began marking the holiday. The Argentine pontiff's brief homily was replete with Gospel references in his Christmas Eve mass, broadcast live in 3D for the first time."

Times of Israel: "A five-year-old Palestinian boy was severely injured when he was hit in the face by a rubber-coated bullet shot by Israeli troops Wednesday, Palestinian media reported."

Here's Google's announcement that the film "The Interview" is now available on Google Play & YouTube Movies. So, in the spirit of the season, you can gather your family around the teevee to watch Kim Jong-Il's head explode. Sweet. ...

... And on your Xbox, too.

Emperor, No. Princess, Yes. Politico: "White House photographer Pete Souza shared a photo on Instagram on Wednesday of the president donning a tiara with a group of Girl Scouts from the White House Science Fair earlier this year in May. In the caption, Souza wrote the girls from Tulsa 'convinced' Obama to join in on the fun."

At a Toys for Tots event, the Big Elf "breaks down gender stereotypes":


The Commentariat -- Dec. 24, 2014

Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times: "The American economy grew last quarter at its fastest rate in more than a decade, providing the strongest evidence to date that the recovery is finally gaining sustained power more than five years after it began. Bolstered by robust spending among consumers and businesses alike, economic output rose at an annual rate of 5 percent during the summer months, the Commerce Department said Tuesday, a sharp revision from its earlier estimate of 3.9 percent. The advance followed a second quarter where growth reached a rate of 4.6 percent after a decline last winter that was exacerbated by particularly harsh weather." ...

... Jeremy Herron & Joseph Ciolli of Bloomberg News: "U.S. stocks rose, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average rallying past 18,000 for the first time, after data showed the world's largest economy grew at the fastest pace since 2003 last quarter. Treasuries declined with gold, while the dollar and crude oil advanced." ...

... MEANWHILE, in Russia. Ksenia Galouchko & Olga Tanas of Bloomberg News: "After arresting a decline in the ruble, Russia is now trying to avert a banking crisis. Lawmakers rushed legislation through the lower house of parliament today allowing the Deposit Insurance Agency to buy stakes in banks before they face bankruptcy proceedings to keep the system stable. While the ruble strengthened for a third day as the government told state-run exporters to sell foreign currency, it's still down 30 percent in three months. Standard & Poor's said today it may cut Russia's credit rating to junk in part because of concern about the banking system." ...

... MEANWHILE, in the U.S. Presidential Race. Paul Waldman: "... if both growth and job creation remain strong for the next two years, it'll be somewhere between difficult and impossible for a Republican to win the White House in 2016, since the state of the economy swamps every other issue in presidential campaigns." ...

     ... Could Be One Reason Republicans greeted the outstanding economic news with -- total silence. Steve Benen made a search. ...

... AND This. Kevin Liptak of CNN: "Improving views of the economy have helped hike President Barack Obama's approval rating to a 20-month high, a new CNN/ORC poll showed Tuesday, as markets climbed to record levels at news of an economy in overdrive. More Americans still disapprove of the job Obama is doing as President. But at 48%, Obama's approval rating is at its highest point in CNN polling since May 2013. The gains were driven by newfound backing among women, independents and millennials -- groups where Obama's approval numbers jumped 10 percentage points from a month ago. Meanwhile, Obama's approval numbers ticked down among men, Republicans and Americans between 35 and 49 years old."

David Joaquim of the New York Times: "An 18-month congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service's mistreatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions has failed to show coordination between agency officials and political operatives in the White House, according to a report released on Tuesday." But outgoing chair of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) won't STFU. Still, "A representative of Mr. Issa, Caitlin Carroll, would not comment on the failure to find a link to the White House but noted that the investigation was not over. It will continue in the 114th Congress under the committee's new chairman, Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah...." ...

... But Never Mind. Over at the Daily Caller (and elsewhere in Right Wing World, Patrick Howley is calling the committee report a "bombshell" & cherrypicking some cherry bombs. CW: As Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), the ranking member on the committee, told the Times, "It is revealing that the Republicans -- yet again -- are leaking cherry-picked excerpts of documents to support their preconceived political narrative without allowing committee members to even see their conclusions or vote on them first." That's funny. Democrats didn't get a copy of the committee report but a "reporter" at the Daily Caller "obtained an advance copy." I wonder how that happened.

Three Stupid Republican Tricks

(1) Brian Faler of Politico: "Republicans are salivating at the chance to make radical changes in Congress' budgeting rules aimed at making it easier to cut taxes. It could blow up in their faces.... Republicans say ... the new rules, known in budget circles as 'dynamic scoring,' will provide a fairer picture of the impact of tax cuts.... The idea is that cutting taxes unleashes economic growth, which in turn produces additional revenue. Republicans want to count that [CW: imaginary] extra revenue against what the Treasury loses when Congress hands out tax cuts.... Incoming House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calls it 'reality-based scoring.' The effort, which Ryan is leading, aims to make it easier to finance what Republicans hope will be a once-in-a-generation overhaul of the Tax Code.... 'Any effort by Republicans to interfere with the professional integrity of the CBO by selecting someone to push their failed "trickle down" economic theory of tax cuts for the wealthy through dynamic scoring would undermine the credibility of CBO and the entire budget process,' said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee."

(2) Ezra Klein on Republicans v. ObamaCare. "... the biggest fight in American politics in recent years began with Democrats creating a law that was a giant subsidy from blue states to red states and has evolved into Republicans working to turn the law into a giant subsidy from red states to blue states. It's a strange spectacle." In addition, if the anti-ACA plaintiffs in King v. Burwell are "successful, then it will be possible for a state that opposes to Obamacare to withdraw from both the Medicaid expansion and the exchange subsidies -- that is to say, from pretty much all of Obamacare's benefits. But they will still pay all of its costs.... Obamacare will become a pure subsidy from the states that hate the law most to the states that have embraced it. It's like a fiscal version of reverse psychology."

(3) Kevin Drum of Mother Jones: "According to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, 64 percent of the American public supports establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. And even greater numbers want to get rid of the trade embargo.... Everyone supports an end to the embargo by wide margins, even Republicans.... The only subgroup that opposes it -- barely -- is conservative Republicans, who make up about 17 percent of the population. So naturally that means the embargo will stay in place. It no longer really matters what the other 83 percent of us think."

All I Want for Christmas Is an Exploding Head. Steven Zeitchik & Richard Verrier
of the Los Angeles Times: "Sony will give 'The Interview' a 'limited theatrical release' beginning Christmas Day, the company said Tuesday, releasing the movie in a handful of independent theaters across the country. The movie will screen at an unspecified number of locations in the 19-theater Alamo Drafthouse chain and the Plaza Atlanta in Georgia, owners confirmed shortly before Sony made its announcement. Other independent venues are expected to join them." ...

     ... Update. Ben Beaumont-Thomas of the Guardian: "Sony has confirmed that over 200 sites across the US will show The Interview, as well as possibly releasing it on-demand on Christmas Day -- reversing an earlier decision to withdraw the film from distribution entirely." ...

... Brian Stelter of CNN: "On Tuesday, a White House spokesman said 'the president applauds Sony's decision to authorize screenings of the film.'... In light of concerns about security at theaters, an FBI official said 'we are fully engaged with Sony on the decision' to release the movie."

We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police. -- Rudy Giuliani on "Fox 'News' Sunday"

... that is simply Four-Pinocchio false. -- Michelle Ye Hee Lee of the Washington Post

We've had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police. -- Rudy Giuliani, same show

Obama has continuously encouraged working with police to find solutions and make change. He has also repeatedly emphasized the importance of law enforcement in communities of color and the fact that police officers have a dangerous job. Giuliani's claim is an outlandish distortion of what Obama actually said. We rate this Pants on Fire. -- Lauren Carroll of PolitiFact

Steve M.: "Many right-wingers said there should have been an indictment in the Garner case. Are they guilty of cop murder, too? Read the whole post. ...

... Rocco Parascandola, et al., of the New York Daily News: "Slain Police Officer Wenjian Liu believed in leading a life of service -- and his dedication was evident on the day he was killed: He volunteered to work a fill-in shift when a fellow officer was late.... The family's statement thanked the emergency responders and medical staff at Woodhull Hospital who tried to save the mortally wounded officers. It thanked Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio 'for their condolences and their support.'... [Emerald Snipes,] the daughter of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man killed in an NYPD chokehold in July, placed a candle at the site -- and said she was touched by the heartrending message [slain Officer Rafael] Ramos' son [Jaden] posted online after his father's murder.... 'I know how it feels in this season to not have your father around,' she said." ...

... Ben Kamisar of the Hill: "Vice President Joe Biden will attend the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos, one of two New York City police officers shot this weekend in a grisly execution-style killing. President Obama asked Biden to attend the funeral service this Saturday, according to White House spokesman Eric Schultz. He will be joined by his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. The president is on vacation in Hawaii with his family." ...

... ** Michelle Conlin of Reuters: "... a number of black NYPD officers say they have experienced the same racial profiling that cost Eric Garner his life.... Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving. All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling.... The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.... All but one said their supervisors either dismissed the complaints or retaliated against them by denying them overtime, choice assignments, or promotions."

Jon Herskovitz of Reuters: "A grand jury in Houston decided on Tuesday not to indict a police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in a case that has been placed into a national debate about the role race plays in police interactions with the public." The Houston Chronicle story, by Cindy George, is here.

This Is Your Police Force. Joanna Rothkopf of Salon: "TMZ has obtained a video of a song performed at a charity event held at the Elks Lodge in Glendale, California which refers to Michael Brown as a 'roadkill dog.' The event was hosted by retired LAPD officer Joe Myers as part of a charity golf tournament. About half of the 50-60 guests were also officers, according to TMZ. In the video, Gary Fishell, a former federal investigator, sings a parody of the song 'Bad, bad Leroy Brown.'... In an interview with TMZ, Fishell's lawyer says that Fishell now realizes the song was 'off color and in poor taste.'... Myers was unapologetic...: 'How can I dictate what he says in a song? This is America. We can say what we want. This is a free America.'" Rothkopf publishes the lyrics (as does TMZ here). ...

     ... CW: According to the TMZ story, none of the guests objected to the song, which was not "off-color & in poor taste." It was horrifying. And no, Joe, the First Amendment is not a vehicle for condoning monsters. When someone says terrible things, you call him out. That is your First Amendment right AND your responsibility as a human being. Your job as an LAPD officer was to uphold the Constitution, not hide behind it, you depraved coward.

Julie Zauzmer of the Washington Post: "The Food and Drug Administration plans to lift its lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have had sex with other men, and will propose replacing it with a one-year ban after homosexual activity, the agency announced on Tuesday. Gay rights groups, which have long advocated for a change to the ban, largely decried the announcement, saying that expecting gay blood donors to remain celibate for a year is not reasonable or medically necessary." ...

... Here's the statement by FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.

Peter Sullivan of the Hill: "The Supreme Court will decide as soon as Jan. 9 whether to take up the issue of gay marriage in a potentially monumental case. An update to the court's schedule on Tuesday made clear that the justices will consider hearing appeals from rulings upholding bans on gay marriage at their Jan. 9 conference. If at least four justices vote to hear one or more of the cases, the court would be on track to hear arguments and issue a decision by June."

GOP Crime Blotter

Nate Raymond of Reuters: "U.S. Representative Michael Grimm of New York said he would not resign from Congress following his guilty plea on Tuesday to a federal felony tax charge.... Grimm, a Republican, pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court to aiding the preparation of a false tax return in connection with a health food restaurant, Healthalicious, that he co-owned before his political career.... As part of a plea deal, Grimm, whose trial had been scheduled for February, also signed a statement of facts, admitting to concealing over $900,000 in gross receipts from 2007 to 2010 and lying during a 2013 deposition.Grimm's defiant declaration that he will not resign could put U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders in a difficult position...." ...

... Scott Wong of the Hill: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is turning the heat up on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), urging him to call for Rep. Michael Grimm's (R-N.Y.) resignation. ...

... New York Times Editors: "Republican leaders — starting with House Speaker John Boehner -- should now do the right thing and persuade Mr. Grimm to go away. They could do this by threatening to ostracize him by denying him committee slots. Alternatively, the House could vote to throw him out, adding to his embarrassment and his party's. Mr. Grimm should do everyone a favor by packing his bags now."

Larry O'Dell of the AP:  "Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell should perform community service rather than serve prison time for his federal corruption convictions, an international relief organization said Tuesday. [Televangelist Pat Robertson's] Operation Blessing International said it offered McDonnell jobs heading its hunger relief program in Appalachia or working at its orphanage and fish farm in Haiti if U.S. District Judge James Spencer agrees to spare McDonnell prison time."

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. "Howie Kurtz Mansplains the News." (See also yesterday's Commentariat & commentary.) Simon Maloy of Salon: "This is Howard Kurtz taking it upon himself to explain 'basic' reporting to women who've been doing the job for years, clueing them in to trade secrets like 'quote Republicans.' Good job, Howard. Thanks for saving journalism."

Joanna Rothkopf: "In the spirit of the season (the spirit is harsh, blanket judgement), the website Mediaite conducted a survey of cable news hosts from CNN, Fox News and MSNBC which asked respondents to rank their colleagues from best to worst. Unsurprisingly (or, perhaps, surprisingly since Bill O'Reilly was nominated in the same category), Sean Hannity was voted Worst Host on Fox News. Hannity was really sad and mad about it and had to stomp around Twitter to cool off."

U.S. Census Bureau: "Florida passed New York to become the nation's third most populous state, according to U.S. Census Bureau state population estimates released today. Florida's population grew by 293,000 over this period, reaching 19.9 million. The population of New York increased by 51,000 to 19.7 million. California remained the nation's most populous state in 2014, with 38.8 million residents, followed by Texas, at 27.0 million. Although the list of the 10 most populous states overall was unchanged, two other states did change positions, as North Carolina moved past Michigan to take the ninth spot."

News Ledes

Washington Post: "The Obama administration is accelerating its efforts to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center, preparing to move dozens of inmates out of the prison in coming months in a step forward for President Obama's redoubled attempt to achieve a core national security objective before he leaves office."

New York Times: "Three digital distributors joined an expanding effort to save 'The Interview,' as Sony Pictures Entertainment disclosed the first deals to show the film online after a terror threat limited access to theaters. Among the partners named on Wednesday morning were Google Play, YouTube Movies and Microsoft’s Xbox Video. Sony also said it would show the film on a website of its own."

Weather Channel: "A pair of storms and a few other weather systems may make a mess of your Christmas travel plans.... In all, more than 5,600 flights were delayed and more than 500 cancelled nationwide Tuesday, according to Thirteen different U.S. airports each had more than 100 delayed or canceled flights."

New York Times: "The elder President George Bush was taken to a Houston hospital Tuesday night after experiencing shortness of breath, a family spokesman said. Mr. Bush, 90, would be held at least overnight at Houston Methodist Hospital as a precaution, said the spokesman, Jim McGrath. He is expected to be fine, Mr. McGrath said."

Reuters: "Alan Gross, the contractor freed last week after five years in a Cuban jail, will receive $3.2m from the US government as part of a settlement with his employer, the USAid agency announced on Tuesday. Gross was employed by Maryland-based company DAI as part of a USAid-financed project in Cuba. DAI had sought $7m for Gross...."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "A Berkeley[, Missouri,] police officer fatally shot a suspect who pointed a gun at him late Tuesday, St. Louis County police said early today. Police did not identify the person killed but Toni Martin, who was at the scene, said he was her 18-year-old son, Antonio Martin. Several protesters also arrived at the scene shortly after the shooting. Many stayed overnight.... The officer saw two people outside the station, got out of his vehicle and approached them. One of the suspects pulled out a handgun and fired at the officer. 'Fearing for his life, the Berkeley Officer fired several shots, striking the subject, fatally wounding him'" the release from the county police said. 'The second subject fled the scene.'" Berkeley is about two miles from Ferguson, Mo. ...

     ... CW: Let's see if the police story holds up. There are surveillance cameras which may have captured the confrontation.

New York Times: "A federal administrative judge has upheld the dismissal of the director of the Veterans Affairs health care system in Phoenix for accepting more than $13,000 in airline tickets and other gifts from a consultant for the health care industry, for failing to disclose some of the gifts and for placing a high-ranking doctor on administrative leave for providing Senator John McCain with information about patient suicides. The former director, Sharon Helman, had also been implicated in the falsification of the hospital's waiting lists for care, a problem at Phoenix and other veterans' hospitals that roiled the Department of Veterans Affairs this year and led to the resignation of the department's secretary, Eric K. Shinseki. But the administrative judge, Stephen C. Mish, concluded that the department had not provided sufficient evidence to justify firing Ms. Helman for the manipulation of waiting lists, which concealed delays in providing care to veterans."