The Wires

The Ledes

Monday, May 30, 2016.

USA Today: "Six people died and at least two others were missing Sunday after heavy rains in Texas and Kansas caused severe flooding. In one case near Austin, which received nine inches of rain this week, a vehicle with two people was swept off a flooded roadway. Threats of floods prompted authorities to evacuate thousands of prisoners near Houston, and inmates in another prison on Saturday fought with correctional officers after flooding caused a power outage." -- CW 

AP: "Mexican police have rescued kidnapped soccer player Alan Pulido, who appeared with a bandaged hand at a brief press conference Monday to declare that he was fine. Police and other officials said Pulido, a 25-year-old forward with Greek soccer club Olympiakos, was freed in a security operation Sunday shortly before midnight in the northeast border state of Tamaulipas. Pulido had been seized by gunmen as he left a party Saturday night." -- CW 

Public Service Announcement

New York Times (May 22): "An outbreak of a life-threatening illness that has been linked to foods packaged by a processing plant in Washington State has prompted a large-scale voluntary recall of frozen fruits and vegetables marketed under 42 brand names. The scale of the recall reflects the severity of the outbreak of the illness, listeria, and of concerns about how the contaminated food might have “trickled down” into other products, said Brittany Behm, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." -- CW

Washington Post: "After an epic duel of word masters, an 11-year-old Texan and a 13-year-old New Yorker tied Thursday night [May 26] in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the third year in a row two victors shared the championship trophy."

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

... Washington Post: The White House goes Scandinavian for a state dinner for the leaders of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

New York Times: "Morley Safer, the longest-serving correspondent on '60 Minutes' who was known as much for his hard-hitting reporting as the quirky stories he covered, will formally retire this week after a career in broadcast news that lasted more than 50 years, CBS said on Wednesday. Mr. Safer, 84, served on '60 Minutes' for all but two of its 48 seasons. He started scaling back his appearances on the show after he turned 80; his last segment, a profile of the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, aired in March.... An hourlong program on Sunday, “Morley Safer: A Reporter’s Life,” will, among other highlights, recall an investigation by Mr. Safer that resulted in the freedom of Lenell Geter, a black man who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison in Texas. In an appearance on the special, Mr. Geter credited Mr. Safer with saving his life."

U.K. Telegraph: "A Canadian schoolboy appears to have discovered a lost Mayan city hidden deep in the jungles of Mexico using a new method of matching stars to the location of temples on earth....In hundreds of years of scholarship, no other scientist had ever found such a correlation.... Studying 22 different constellations, [William Gadoury] found that they matched the location of 117 Mayan cities scattered throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. When he applied his theory to a 23rd constellation, he found that two of the stars already had cities linked to them but that the third star was unmatched. William took to Google Maps and projected that there must be another city hidden deep in the thick jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The Canadian Space Agency agreed to train its satellite telescopes on the spot and returned with striking pictures: what appears to be an ancient Mayan pyramid and dozens of smaller structures around it."

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.

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:

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The Commentariat -- January 6, 2014

Most of the people I meet who are on unemployment are people who have had jobs for 25 years, lost them, they've been knocking on doors every week. I think it's a little insulting, a bit insulting to American workers when Rand Paul says that unemployment insurance is a disservice. They want to work, they don't want unemployment benefits. They're just hanging on with unemployment benefits, you cut them off, they may lose the house they paid for, take their kids out of college. So I would hope he would reconsider, past the three month extension. -- Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on ABC's "This Week" Sunday ...

... Mike Lillis & Vicki Needham of the Hill: "Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) remains open to an extension of emergency unemployment benefits even in the face of growing conservative opposition to such a move. The Ohio Republican maintains the position he expressed last month that Republicans would 'clearly consider' an extension of federal help for the long-term unemployed 'as long as it's paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again,' Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Friday." ...

... E. J. Dionne sees a United States of America. The majority of Americans favor unemployment compensation and other New Deal-y programs; it is Congressional Republicans who are out-of-step. ...

... Alec MacGillis of the New Republic on the Boeing machinist union's forced capitulation to Boeing's demands. "But to really address the underlying trends will also mean taking on the more fundamental forces that lead to an outcome like we just saw in the Puget Sound: strengthening labor laws and unions in right-to-work states...; raising taxes on upper incomes and capital gains to slightly rebalance the equation...; and, perhaps most difficult of all, changing the norms for acceptable behavior by corporate titans, even if they've been named to the presidential exports council." This is an excellent piece, which P. D. Pepe linked in yesterday's Comments. MacGillis asks a question which demands -- and will not receive -- a federal answer: strengthening unions nationwide.

Brian Knowlton of the New York Times: "A debate over whether Edward J. Snowden deserves lenience or the strict treatment the Obama administration has demanded for divulging a vast array of national secrets drew sharply opposing views on Sunday from two prominent senators. Senator Rand Paul ... said he disagreed with those who have argued for the most severe penalties for Mr. Snowden.... Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, took a directly opposing view. 'I disagree with Rand Paul that we should plea-bargain with him prior to him coming back,' Mr. Schumer said." ...

... Amy Davidson of the New Yorker disagrees with Fred Kaplan's required Reality Chex reading. Her major point sounds like a quibble to me: Kaplan wrote that Snowden "signed an oath ... not to disclose classified information, and knew the penalties for violating the oath." But Davidson says he did not sign an oath; instead, he signed "a contract in which the signatory says he will 'accept' the terms, rather than swearing to them." Her argument then is that breaking a contractual agreement is not as bad as breaking one's word. Okay. Of course, she writes much more than that. ...

... Gene Lyons, noted hyperbolist, takes down novice hyperbolist Ed Snowden. CW: Lyons get a lot right, but he gets some pretty important stuff wrong, too: ferinstance, Snowden is probably not -- by the Constitutional definition -- a traitor, as Lyons claims, unless Snowden has been sending stuff to Al Qaeda & North Korea. Thanks to Barbarossa for the link.

Matea Gold of the Washington Post: "The political network spearheaded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has expanded into a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors.... The resources and the breadth of the organization make it singular in American politics: an operation conducted outside the campaign finance system, employing an array of groups.... Members of the coalition target different constituencies but together have mounted attacks on the new health-care law, federal spending and environmental regulations." ...

... Matea Gold: "The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics identified a coalition of allied conservative groups active in the 2012 elections that together raised at least $407 million, backed by a donor network organized by the industrialists Charles and David Koch." Gold lists the coalition's current members. A graphic here shows how the organizations interact.

Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast: "On the 50th anniversary of LBJ's initiative, [the War on Poverty,] Marco Rubio says it failed.... But the policies did succeed -- Democrats are just afraid to say so.... We have not, of course, been fighting any kind of serious war on poverty for five decades. We fought it with truly adequate funding for about one decade.... By 1981, Ronald Reagan's government was fighting a war on the war on poverty. The fate of many anti-poverty programs has ebbed and flowed ever since. But at the beginning, in the '60s, those programs were fully funded, or close. And what happened? According to Joseph Califano, who worked in the Johnson White House, 'the portion of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in this century.' That's a staggering 43 percent reduction. In six years." ...

... Annie Lowrey of the New York Times: "Half a century after Mr. Johnson’s now-famed State of the Union address, the debate over the government’s role in creating opportunity and ending deprivation has flared anew, with inequality as acute as it was in the Roaring Twenties and the ranks of the poor and near-poor at record highs."

Larry Summers, in a Washington Post op-ed, uses terms like "secular stagnation" to say that if the economy keeps going as it is, bubbles will grow & burst, & one way to avert that is to have the federal invest in infrastructure. I don't know if the guy really cannot communicate with the average reading public or if he can't help showing off. In any event, he's a terrible writer.

Jessica Silver-Greenberg & Ben Protess of the New York Times: JPMorgan Chase "plans to reach as soon as this week roughly $2 billion in criminal and civil settlements with federal authorities who suspect that it ignored signs of Bernard L. Madoff's Ponzi scheme, according to people briefed on the case."

Linda Greenhouse on the Fair Sentencing Act: When new laws call for more leniency, shouldn't that leniency apply retroactively? ...

... CW: Luckily for me, my own excellent Congressman Trey Radel (RTP-Fla.) is as white as, well the driven snow, & he will be going back to doing the people's work today now that his cocaine bust is behind him.

Jordan Sargent of Gawker: "Republican congressman Aaron Schock -- who represents Illinois' 18th congressional district -- is known for one thing: being pretty and probably-almost-certainly gay. Schock is anti-gay on the record and he's frequently affirmed his straightness, but he may be feeling a gust of air this morning thanks to a sledgehammer wielded by journalist Itay Hod." ...

... Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic objects to Hod's methods, which are at best sophomoric.

Ashley Parker of the New York Times: "After a two-week vacation on the windward side of Oahu, ensconced with his family in a private beachfront rental, President Obama prepared on Saturday to return to the chillier clime -- both politically and weather-wise -- of the nation's capital."

Politico publishes an adaptation of a portion of a new book by CIA attorney John Rizzo. In this section, Rizzo recalls the decision-making process that allowed the CIA to use waterboarding & other "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" like sleep deprivation.

Another Right-Wing Senator Sues Instead of Legislating. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.): "On Monday, Jan. 6, I am filing suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin to make Congress live by the letter of the health-care law it imposed on the rest of America. By arranging for me and other members of Congress and their staffs to receive benefits intentionally ruled out by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the administration has exceeded its legal authority." ...

... ObamaCare is Doomed! ObamaCare Is a Scandal! Jonathan Chait: "... the nature of [Republican] opposition [to ObamaCare] will ... slowly morph. Gleeful predictions of imminent collapse will give way to bitter recriminations at the nefarious tactics used to make the law work. Obamacare will cease to be the something certain to destroy Obama and become something Obama has gotten away with." CW: Chait cites some recent Republican potshots at the law. Johnson's is another one. ...

... Noam Scheiber of the New Republic is optimistic: he says "ObamaCare actually paves the way to single-payer." CW: Despite the way Scheiber frames his post, he is actually saying pretty much the same thing Michael Moore said in a NYT op-ed; Scheiber is just providing more examples of how he thinks politicians will be forced to morph ObamaCare into a single-payer system.

A climate denier studies global warming.Eric Holthaus of the Daily Beast explains to climate deniers why scientists theorize that global warming is causing this week's (and others, of course) deep freeze. I don't think people who keep their ears covered in all weather conditions while yelling "La La La" & shutting their eyes tight will get this.

Here's Mitt Romney's response to the Melissa Harris-Perry segment. I think he did fine. Chris Wallace, however, couldn't let it go:

Bob Schieffer has had about enough of Peggy Noonan -- which does make you wonder why his producers book Our Lady of Las Contras:

... Lest you have forgot why Peggy Noonan should know who was a Sandinista & who was not, David of Crooks & Liars reminds you of why she should know. ...

... Save the Children! Charles Pierce recaps Sunday show highlights. It turns out that almost everybody on these shows -- with the exception of Republican Steve Schmidt -- is a David Brooks clone, as if you didn't already know. ...

... Save the Children! Driftglass recaps Sunday show highlights. It turns out that almost everybody on these shows is a David Brooks clone, & the evidence suggests Greggers has a contractual obligation to recite Brooks verbatim.

Senate Race

Buh-bye to a Daughter of a Dick. John King & Peter Hamby of CNN: "Liz Cheney, whose upstart bid to unseat Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi sparked a round of warfare in the Republican Party and even within her own family, is dropping out of the Senate primary, sources told CNN late Sunday." CW: Worth Noting: Enzi himself is a Son of a Bitch. ...

... Brent Logiurato of Business Insider: "There was little public polling conducted on the race, but each public and partisan poll showed Enzi with wide leads." ...

... Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: "Liz Cheney announced early Monday morning that she is withdrawing from the Wyoming Republican Senate primary, bringing an abrupt end to her unsteady challenge to the incumbent, Michael B. Enzi. 'Serious health issues have recently arisen in our family, and under the circumstances, I have decided to discontinue my campaign,' Ms. Cheney said in a statement. 'My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign and their health and well-being will always be my overriding priority.'" Cheney didn't say what the health issues were. ...

... Margaret Hartmann of New York: "On the plus side, thanks to her public feud with her lesbian sister over gay marriage, Liz now knows she's Dick and Lynne Cheney's favorite daughter."

Presidential Race 2016

Maggie Haberman of Politico: "Publicly, [Hillary] Clinton insists she's many months away from a decision about her political future. But a shadow campaign on her behalf has nevertheless been steadily building for the better part of a year -- a quiet, intensifying, improvisational effort to lay the groundwork for another White House bid. Some of the activity has the former first lady's tacit approval. Some involves outside groups that are operating independently, and at times in competition with one another, to prepare a final career act for the former senator and secretary of state, whose legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure." ...

... CW: Since Haberman's story is about a shadow campaign, not a shadowy candidate, this photo that accompanies the piece is a low blow:

AP photo.

Local News

** AP Brief: " The Supreme Court has put same-sex marriages on hold in Utah, at least while a federal appeals court more fully considers the issue. The court issued a brief order Monday blocking any new same-sex unions in the state."

     ... Update. Adam Liptak of the New York Times has a fuller story.

Alex Altman of Time: "The early success of pot's pilot program [in Colorado] was ushered in by a phenomenon almost as rare: a government working as it should."

News Ledes

Live Science: "A blast of Arctic air pushing south as far as Atlanta has caused air temperatures across the United States to plunge, creating a massive 140-degree Fahrenheit (77 degrees Celsius) temperature difference between the chilly Dakotas and balmy Florida yesterday (Jan. 5)."

New York Times: "Iran could improve its chances of playing at least a limited role in the upcoming peace conference on Syria if it persuaded President Bashar al-Assad to stop the bombardment of Aleppo and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged towns and cities, senior State Department officials said on Monday."


It Isn't Fair

He deserves to live in this country in as much peace as Orlando Bosch did, and with as many career opportunities as have been afforded Elliott Abrams and Ollie North, who did not release information for free but, rather, some missiles to terror states for money. – Blogger Charles Pierce, arguing that the U.S. should bring no charges against Edward Snowden, Friday

I suddenly had the thought that Snowden is the black guy caught for smoking pot while Cheney and his Bush, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz are the white pot smoking college students. Who of the above killed more people and who of the above faces the most severe penalties? I don't condone Snowden; I sure as hell don't think he should suffer worse than those guys. – Reality Chex Contributor Citizen 625, Saturday


“It isn't fair.” Every toddler has said it. If that toddler is not fully socialized, he will keep on making the same complaint all his life, insisting that he should have more as others have less. He will become a conservative. If, on the other hand, he is properly integrated into the community, he will be able to empathize with others who, for one reason or another, do not receive equal treatment. He will become a liberal who wishes to live in a society governed by laws and rules that treat everyone with impartiality and fairness.


“It isn't fair” is the sentiment that underlies Charles Pierce's and Citizen 625's analogies. I get that. I feel it myself. But the "reasoning" is facile and illogical. As I wrote in response to Pierce's post, “This is the 'two wrongs make a right' fallacy.... 'George Zimmerman beat a murder rap so every murderer should get off scot-free.'” Friday, several contributors elaborated on my comment. Nonetheless, we did not dissuade Citizen 625 from making essentially the same argument Pierce made.


Pierce's examples of bad guys who got away with murder are particularly inapt. Bosch was never convicted of the major crime of which he was accused, he denied responsibility, and the Venezuelan government held him in jail for four years awaiting trial. Abrams is Pierce's best case, but it should be remembered that Abrams, like North, was working in and with the government rather than against it. Bush I pardoned Abrams and Bush II gave Abrams a job because Abrams was playing on their team. North was fired (by Reagan), prosecuted and convicted. He received a suspended sentence, probation, a substantial fine and a community service stint, some of which he did before ACLU lawyers got his conviction vacated. I don't feel sorry for any of these guys, but North did pay a price for his perjury and destruction of evidence and Bosch paid a price, too.


Citizen 625's analogies, though faulty for the same reason as Pierce's, are at least marginally better than Pierce's. It was, after all, the same Justice Department – Obama's – that decided not to prosecute Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz but has brought charges against Snowden. Yet again the situations are not analogous. Not only were Citizen 625's bad guys all working on the side of the U.S. government, they were the government. In addition, their attack on Iraq had overwhelming Congressional support. Would it be possible to find these guys individually guilty of war crimes? Maybe. But they had a helluva a lot of help. Are you going to charge Hillary Clinton, too? What about John Kerry? He was for it before he was against it, ya know. Better toss in most of the Bush administration's senior national security staff. And definitely George Slam-Dunk Tenet. Jailing (or executing!) American leaders who take the nation into ill-advised wars and who violate human rights in carrying out those wars would arguably lead to untenable governmental instability. There are, after all, good arguments against almost every war effort. For strictly pragmatic reasons, Obama's DOJ was probably right in not prosecuting – or threatening to prosecute – officials of the prior administration.


The war in Iraq -- stupid, unjustified, outrageous though it was -- was a lawful political action, sanctioned and carried out by those who had the Constitutional power and political backing to take the country to war. Ed Snowden does not enjoy that cover of law.


Is it “fair” that Dick Cheney spent Christmas in Wyoming shilling for his despicable daughter while Ed Snowden spent Christmas in Russia trying to get the hell out of there? Probably not. But our system of government is designed to protect Cheney and to prosecute Snowden. Cheney knew that when he did whatever he did that might have been war crimes. Snowden knew that, too, when he did what he did. Their situations are not analogous.


But even if their crimes were analogous, even if they were just alike, one systemic failure or miscarriage of justice does not justify another. Failures of the past certainly do not mandate that the system fail in perpetuity, as both Pierce and Citizen 625 suggest. Even when the relative outcomes are not fair.


P.S. Do not comment on this post, please, unless you have read Fred Kaplan on clemency for Snowden. Also, kindly spare us from Reductio ad Hitlerum in your commentary. Thank you.


The Commentariat -- January 5, 2014

Ben Hubbard, et al., of the New York Times: "... for all its echoes, the bloodshed that has engulfed Iraq, Lebanon and Syria in the past two weeks exposes something new and destabilizing: the emergence of a post-American Middle East in which no broker has the power, or the will, to contain the region's sectarian hatreds. Amid this vacuum, fanatical Islamists have flourished in both Iraq and Syria under the banner of Al Qaeda, as the two countries' conflicts amplify each other and foster ever-deeper radicalism. Behind much of it is the bitter rivalry of two great oil powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose rulers -- claiming to represent Shiite and Sunni Islam, respectively -- cynically deploy a sectarian agenda that makes almost any sort of accommodation a heresy."

Peter Baker of the New York Times: The idea of amnesty for Edward Snowden "won widespread attention last month when Richard Ledgett, who leads an N.S.A. task force evaluating damage from the disclosures, said on the CBS News program '60 Minutes' that it was 'worth having a conversation about' it to prevent further revelations. That position won further attention in the last week with editorials in The Guardian and The New York Times urging clemency.... Debates about the idea played out on CNN, ABC and elsewhere, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former State Department official in the Obama administration, posted a message on Twitter in favor of clemency. But inside the White House and the Justice Department, Mr. Ledgett's suggestion has been met with stony opposition. The administration has made no move to reach out to negotiate any kind of deal and makes clear that it has no plans to." ...

... CW: I'm really sorry I missed this segment, which aired about two weeks ago. It seems to me both Greenwald & Toobin get stuff wrong. To their credit, both of these often-over-the-top commentators behave themselves:

Michael Hiltzig of the Los Angeles Times: "Here's a business practice likely to keep booming in 2014: corporate extortion.... By the estimate of the Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, state and local tax incentives funnel $50 billion in tax revenue into corporate coffers every year. On a national basis, ITEP says, this is worse than a zero-sum game: The incentives are 'much more likely to reshuffle investment between geographic areas than ... to spur genuinely new economic activity.' The trendsetter for the coming year may turn out to be Boeing. The aerospace company has been dangling the prospect of a big airliner production facility in front of several states, including California, since mid-November. That's when union machinists in Everett, Wash., rejected its demands for big concessions on pension and healthcare benefits. The process started only days after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the biggest state tax break in history into law -- a package that will give Boeing up to $8.7 billion in benefits through 2040." ...

... Scott Hamilton of CNN: "A standoff between Boeing and thousands of unionized workers based in Washington state came to an unexpected end Friday after workers voted in favor of a contract to build the company's new commercial jet. The deal keeps economic activity worth billions inside the state, and means hundreds of thousands of jobs will be retained."

Frank Bruni writes a moving column about a dying man who just received an honorable discharge from the Marines after having been given a "less than honorable" discharge in 1956 when his superior learned he was gay. "... now that the military accepts gays, there is also a process that permits those who were dishonorably discharged to appeal for reclassifications of those dismissals as honorable. A military spokesman said last week that he didn't know how many veterans had sought to take advantage of it, or with what success." CW: I hope Bruni's column leads to more affected ex-servicemen & women learning of the new policy & taking advantage of it.

Amy Goldstein & Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post: "More than 100,000 Americans who applied for insurance through and were told they are eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) remain unenrolled because of lingering software defects in the federal online marketplace.... To try to provide coverage to these people before they seek medical care, the Obama administration has launched a barrage of phone calls in recent days in 21 states, advising those who applied that the quickest route into the programs is to start over at their state's Medicaid agency."

Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture's inspector general will investigate a federal agency whose mission is to exterminate birds, coyotes, mountain lions and other animals that threaten the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers. The investigation of U.S. Wildlife Services is to determine, among other things, 'whether wildlife damage management activities were justified and effective.' Biologists have questioned the agency's effectiveness, arguing that indiscriminately killing more than 3 million birds and other wild animals every year is often counterproductive. Reps. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) and John Campbell (R-Irvine) requested the review, calling for a complete audit of the culture within Wildlife Services. The agency has been accused of abuses, including animal cruelty and occasional accidental killing of endangered species, family pets and other animals that weren't targeted."

Salon republishes a portion of A Neurobiography of the Brain by D. F. Swaab. In this section, Swaab discusses the religious brain & the evolutionary advantages of religion.

TBogg, in a funny piece in the Raw Story, predicts how Mitt Romney will address the Melissa Harris-Perry hoohah: "Unless Ann Romney is on with him, because Ann will cut a bitch, Mitt will probably be firm but gracious and will talk about the importance of family and about love being color blind and he will say that it is time to move on and maybe he'll make a little joke and will smile that uncomfortable-with-human-emotions grimace-smile of his and will end up kind of laughing this whole nothing-burger off. HA HA HA HA HA HA." CW: We'll learn later in the day if TBogg is an oracle. ...

     ... Update: Katie Glueck of Politico: "Mitt Romney said on Sunday he's forgiven MSNBC after a host and other panelists on the network made comments about his adopted black grandchild. Speaking on 'Fox News Sunday,' the former Republican presidential candidate said he accepted the apology of MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry, who a day earlier offered an emotional on-air walk-back." CW: Sounds as if Mitt was gracious. Wait for the video.

Local News

Susan Craig & Jesse McKinley of the New York Times: "Joining a growing group of states that have loosened restrictions on marijuana, [New York] Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York plans this week to announce an executive action that would allow limited use of the drug by those with serious illnesses, state officials say."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Australian officials have asked an American icebreaker to help with the rescue of Chinese and Russian vessels that are surrounded by ice floes off Antarctica...."

AP: " U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that America would support Iraq in its fight against al-Qaida-linked militants who have overrun two cities in the country's west, but said the U.S. wouldn't send troops, calling the battle 'their fight.'"

AP: "Two warring factions from South Sudan held direct peace talks on Sunday for the first time since conflict began roiling the country last month, sending hundreds of thousands of people fleeing for safety."

AP: "The deep freeze expected soon in the Midwest, New England and even the South will be one to remember, with potential record-low temperatures heightening fears of frostbite and hypothermia. It hasn't been this cold for decades...."

Yahoo! News: "A Delta jet skidded off the runway at John F. Kennedy International airport shortly after landing, the Federal Aviation Administration said. There were no immediate reports of injuries but the New York airport is now closed due to ice and snow, airport officials said."


The Commentariat -- January 4, 2014

The President's Weekly Address. White House: "In this week's address, President Obama says Congress should act to extend emergency unemployment insurance for more than one million Americans who have lost this vital economic lifeline while looking for a job":

     ... The New York Times story, by Peter Baker, is here. ...

... Paul Lewis of the Guardian: "The US economy is losing up to a billion dollars a week because of the 'fiscally irresponsible' decision to end long-term unemployment benefits, a Harvard economist said on Friday. Professor Lawrence Katz based his assessment on official forecasts of the impact to the economy of 1.3 million jobless Americans losing benefits." ...

... Amy Goodman in the Guardian: "The long-term unemployment rate is at the highest it has been since the second world war, while the percentage of those receiving the benefits is at its historic low.... On the other end of the economy, a year-end stock market rally is expected to boost the massive bonuses Wall Street is preparing to hand out." Alexis Goldstein of the Other 98% "points out the bonuses are essentially publicly financed because Wall Street banks obtain funds from the Federal Reserve at very low rates. These banks also can afford huge bonuses, she says, because 'they continue to commit crimes that are very profitable'." ...

... Jeff Mason of Reuters: "President Barack Obama will ratchet up his administration's push for an extension of emergency unemployment benefits on Tuesday with an event at the White House attended by people whose benefits have expired."

Ylan Mui of the Washington Post: "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke on Friday reflected on his eight-year tenure at the helm of the nation's economy, celebrating the central bank's accomplishments but also highlighting what he called 'uncompleted tasks.' ... Bernanke saved his toughest critiques for Washington. Since federal stimulus spending ended in 2010, the government has been a drag on economic growth, he said. After the 2001 recession, government employment rose by 600,000. During the current recovery, he said, it has declined by 700,000 jobs. 'Although long-term fiscal sustainability is a critical objective, excessively tight near-term fiscal policies have likely been counterproductive,' he said. 'Most importantly, with fiscal and monetary policy working in opposite directions, the recovery is weaker than it otherwise would be.'" The text of the speech is here. C-SPAN has the video here.

Whiney Little Sisters. AFP: "The US Justice Department on Friday asked the Supreme Court to throw out a challenge from a nuns' group against a birth control mandate in the Obamacare health reform law. The Little Sisters of the Poor had asked the US high court to exempt it from the controversial birth control clause, saying that providing birth control was contrary to its religious beliefs. The US government, in its written response..., argu[ed] that the provision does not apply to the nuns anyway. The Little Sisters' lawsuit is 'not about the availability or adequacy of a religious accommodation,' the Justice Department brief said. Instead, the nuns group wants to 'justify its refusal to sign a self-certification that secures the very religion-based exemption the objector seeks.'" (Emphasis added.) ...

... Josh Gerstein of Politico: "As a new round of religion-based challenges to President Barack Obama's health care law head to the Supreme Court, advocates on both sides of the issue say the administration's arguments are likely facing a chilly reception." CW: Okay, then: universal health insurance is the answer.

Jenna Johnson & Aaron Davis of the Washington Post: "Maryland lawmakers are expected to pass legislation as soon as next week to assist the hundreds of people -- or, possibly, thousands -- who tried to sign up for health insurance through the state's new exchange program, encountered problems and were left uncovered when the new year began."

Brady McCombs & Paul Foy of the AP: "Legal arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court about Utah's overturned same-sex marriage ban have focused heavily on whether gay and lesbians can be suitable parents.... Lawyers for the state set the tone for the debate in a 100-page filing with the high court this week that made several references to their belief that children should be raised by straight couples. An attorney for same-sex couples says the state's argument has no scientific backing and that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry actually causes severe harm to their children. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is considering Utah's request to put an immediate halt on gay marriages in Utah."

Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that the Obama administration may continue to withhold a Justice Department memo that apparently opened a loophole in laws protecting the privacy of consumer data. The memo establishes the legal basis for telephone companies to hand over customers' calling records to the government without a subpoena or court order, even when there is no emergency, according to a 2010 report by the Justice Department's inspector general. The details of the legal theory, and the circumstances in which it could be invoked, remain unclear." ...

... Bernie Sanders: "U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today asked the National Security Agency director whether the agency has monitored the phone calls, emails and Internet traffic of members of Congress and other elected officials." ...

... ** I firmly disagree with the New York Times' Jan. 1 editorial ('Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower'), calling on President Obama to grant Snowden 'some form of clemency' for the 'great service' he has done for his country. -- Fred Kaplan, in Slate

Kaplan's piece is REQUIRED READING for Reality Chex readers who support clemency, a pardon or hugs. kisses & the Nobel Peace Prize for Ed Snowden. Any contributors who write in support of letting Snowden off the hook will be quizzed on Kaplan's column! -- Constant Weader

... Mario Trujillo of the Hill: "Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will file a class-action lawsuit against the National Security Agency 'soon,' his office confirmed to The Hill. Paul had been gearing up for months to lead a suit against the agency, charging that the surveillance program gathering metadata on U.S. citizens has violated people's Fourth Amendment rights. He will file the papers in the D.C. District Court as a private citizen." ...

     ... CW: Besides being a private citizen, Paul is a U.S. Senator. He could sponsor a bill that limited the NSA's activities. Then again, maybe doing his boring day job is not what Li'l Randy has in mind. As Trujillo reports, "Paul's Senate campaign website already encourages individuals to 'please sign below and join my class-action lawsuit and help stop the government's outrageous spying program on the American people.' The solicitation, which asks for individuals' names, email addresses and zip codes, also asks for a donation to help 'stop Big Brother from infringing on our Fourth Amendment freedoms.'" ...

... Update: Grace Wyler of New York has more on the pending suit, including the name of Paul's legal advisor -- Ken Cuccinelli. CW: Last year Paul campaigned for Cuccinelli, who thinks women and gays should be subject to all kinds of unreasonable searches and seizures. (In fairness to Cuccinelli, he did warn Gov. Bob Transvaginal Probe off said probe on Fourth Amendment grounds.) Thanks to MAG for the link.

** The Ghost of Decisions Past. Dana Milbank: "John Roberts ... invoked both Scrooge's ghosts and George Bailey's guardian angel in the first sentence of his annual report on the federal judiciary ... in which he begged for more money for the courts.... I agree with Roberts on the merits.... But ... Roberts and his fellow jurists are being starved by a system that they, in large part, created.... His conservative majority has made the Roberts Court the most pro-business court since the 1930s, and he and his fellow justices have done a great deal to expand the rights of the wealthy and the powerful -- most notably by allowing them to spend unlimited sums to purchase lawmakers and to sway elections. The wealthy and corporate interests have responded by buying a Congress determined to shrink government and to weaken its reach -- including that of the courts.... Roberts may see his fellow jurists as victims of a Dickensian system. But they are the authors of this Christmas carol." Read the whole column.

** Eric Lipton of the New York Times exposes one way in which Last Year's Member of Congress becomes This Year's Lobbyist, making a mockery of so-called House ethics rules -- and federal criminal law. Featured in Lipton's piece -- last year's Ohio Congressman (and John Boehner BFF) Steve LaTourette & the two lobbying groups he runs. One, the Main Street Partnership, is a ha-ha "tax-exempt social welfare" group with secret corporate benefactors.

New York Times Editors: "... the current practice of contracting out vast swaths of government work indefinitely -- with little or no attempt to develop the needed technical and managerial expertise within the government or to enforce labor standards -- has created a bloated federal-contractor sector in which the public good is often subservient to profit."

New York Times Editors: "Rebuffed by Congress on stronger gun safety laws, President Obama is wisely using use his executive powers in a more focused attempt to bar mentally ill people from eluding federal watch lists and purchasing firearms. Two sensible changes proposed for the background check system would allow states and mental health providers more discretion than they have now in reporting information about potentially violent people." ...

... Here's the White House statement on the executive action gun safety measures.

Mark Landler of the New York Times: "South Sudan is in many ways an American creation, carved out of war-torn Sudan in a referendum largely orchestrated by the United States, its fragile institutions nurtured with billions of dollars in American aid. But a murky, vicious conflict there has left the Obama administration scrambling to prevent the unraveling of a major American achievement in Africa."

The Chair Recognizes the Gentleman from Canada. AP: "U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz vowed months ago to renounce his Canadian citizenship by the end of 2013, but the Calgary-born Republican is still a dual citizen.... Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration attorney, wonders what's taking so long. Kurland said Friday that unless there's a security or mental health issue that hasn't been disclosed, renouncing citizenship is a simple, quick process."

New Yorker: "On this week's Political Scene podcast, Mattathias Schwartz and Patrick Radden Keefe join Curtis Fox ... to discuss American drug policy at home and abroad":

... "Ruth Marcus, David Brooks & Reefer Madness." Dave Weigel of Slate: "Marcus and Brooks sound like perfect parodies of clueless Acela Corridor pundits who think a lot about 'society' without bothering to explore it.... We've been waiting for the prohibitionist backlash to follow a legalization experiment like Colorado's, and it seems relevant that the lashers have started with such thin and logically lazy arguments. That's all they've got, as people in the rest of the country keep getting arrested?" ...

... Charles Pierce: "Laws against marijuana certainly have molded our culture, especially profoundly, if you happen to be young and black." CW: One day when I was young and white (also female and cute), two LAPD came to my apartment to ask me about a burglary that occurred across the hall. While one of them was asking me what-all I had seen or heard, the other was pocketing the little bag of weed I had left on the kitchen counter. I'm pretty sure the "white" part was important. ...

... Michelle Goldberg of the Nation: "Somehow, [Brooks has] written a whole column about the drug war that doesn't once contain the words 'arrest' or 'prison.' It's evidence not just of his own writerly weakness but of the way double standards in the war on drugs shield elites from reckoning with its consequences.... A recent ACLU report tells us that between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million marijuana arrests in the United States, 88 percent of them just for possession. The vast majority of these arrests, of course, are not of those in Brooks's cohort. White people and African-Americans smoke pot at similar rates, but the latter are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested." CW: Contributor Safari also did a good job of covering this in yesterday's Comments. ...

... The Libertarian Argument Against Brooks & Marcus. Matt Welch of Reason: "The absence of prohibition is not the presence of government sanction. There are a countless number of perfectly legal activities I may find personally abhorrent ... but keeping them legally permissible is not a case of my values being trampled by the state. If anything, the opposite is true: The more government uses laws to shape behavior, the more it is likely to offend your core values, whatever they may be." ...

... In Another Confessional, Jeffrey Goldberg, in Bloomberg News, does a great job of explaining to Brooks why legalization is a good idea. Also, the post is uncharacteristically funny. ...

... Update. The next two pieces come via Driftglass who contributes the image below, and much more:

Artwork by Driftglass.... I should have known: Matt Taibbi says it best, and makes the same point I made in today's Comments: "The Brooks column is particularly infuriating because in just a few hundred words it perfectly captures why marijuana needs to be legalized. Here's this grasping, status-obsessed yuppie who first admits that that he smoked an illegal drug without consequence in his youth, then turns around and tells us, as a graying and bespectacled post-adult, that it would be best if the drug remained illegal for the masses." ...

... Zack Beauchamp of Think Progress: "'Is this a great fucking country or what?' Gary Greenberg, the psychotherapist who had unintentionally convinced journalists around the country that he had grown up toking up with a New York Times columnist, was having a good day. Greenberg's essay, a takedown of David Brooks' anti-pot confessional column written as if Greenberg and Brooks were childhood smoking buddies, had become easily the most popular piece ever published on Greenberg's personal blog. He had gotten interest from (among others) The Atlantic, The Washington Examiner, and The Huffington Post." Except it was a parody. ...

     ... Warning to journalists. Headlines of other likely parodies:

Burns gets advance copy of Brooks' Yale class syllabus.
American Economics Association honors David Brooks.
David Brooks enters monastery, takes vow of silence.
I had sex with David Brooks.

... More on Drugs. The New York Times gives Mike Tyson plenty of space to explain why he has had so many problems with drugs & alcohol. Like Brooks, he wants to be sober to be a better person.

Ben Goessling of ESPN: "The Minnesota Vikings announced Friday they will retain two local attorneys to conduct an independent review of the allegations former punter Chris Kluwe made against the team Thursday."

Another Excellent Reason Not to Watch the Sunday Shows. According to Matt Wilstein of Mediaite, Mitt Romney is expected to address Melissa Harris-Perry's controversial "comedy" segment in which she highlighted the fact that one of Romney's grandchildren is black when he appears on "Fox 'News" Sunday."

News Ledes

AP: "The leader of an al-Qaida-linked group that carried out attacks across the Middle East before shifting its focus to Syria's civil war died on Saturday while in custody in Lebanon, the army said. In a short statement, the Lebanese army said Majid al-Majid 'died this morning while undergoing treatment at the central military hospital after his health deteriorated.'"

AP: "The death toll from the latest violent clashes in Egypt between Islamist protesters and security forces has risen to 17, a security official said Saturday. Friday's protests were the deadliest in months, coming less than two weeks ahead of a key referendum on an amended constitution."

Reuters: "President Vladimir Putin has eased restrictions on demonstrations in the Black Sea Winter Olympics venue of Sochi, his latest bid to burnish Russia's image ahead of the Games."

The Los Angeles Times' full obituary of Phil Everly is here.