The Wires

The Ledes

Sunday, May 29, 2016.

New York Times: "Jane Fawcett, who was a reluctant London debutante when she went to work at Bletchley Park, the home of British code-breaking during World War II, and was credited with identifying a message that led to a great Allied naval success, the sinking of the battleship Bismarck, died on May 21 at her home in Oxford, England. She was 95." -- CW 

New York Times: Hedy "Epstein, a Holocaust survivor who spoke widely about the persecution of the Jews in Germany, and who spent most of her adult life working for a broad range of social justice movements, died on Thursday at her home in St. Louis. She was 91.” Epstein made international headlines when she was arrested in St. Louis in 2014 for protesting Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's actions in the aftermath of the Michael Brown police killing case. -- CW 

Washington Post: "Cassandra Q. Butts, who was President Obama’s classmate at Harvard Law School and a longtime member of the president’s inner circle who advised him throughout his political career and served as a deputy White House counsel, died May 25 at her home in Washington. She was 50." -- 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 -- Dec. 29, 2013

NEW: AFP: "The US National Security Agency has collected sensitive data on key telecommunications cables between Europe, north Africa and Asia, German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Sunday citing classified documents. Spiegel quoted NSA papers dating from February and labelled 'top secret' and 'not for foreigners' describing the agency's success in spying on the so-called Sea-Me-We 4 undersea cable system." ...

... The full Der Spiegel article (in English) is here. It covers other aspects of super-duper hacking done by an NSA unit called "Tailored Access Operations."

David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times has a Big Piece on Benghazi! ...

... Driftglass: "The New York Times just pulverized any last remnants of the wingnut fairy tale of Benghaaaaazi! But before you get too excited, do not for one minute imagine this will trigger a sudden outbreak of Conservative self-awareness." ...

... Yes, because there will always be Louie Gohmert.

Ernesto Londoño, et al., of the Washington Post: "A new American intelligence assessment on the Afghan war predicts that the gains the United States and its allies have made during the past three years are likely to have been significantly eroded by 2017, even if Washington leaves behind a few thousand troops and continues bankrolling the impoverished nation, according to officials familiar with the report." ...

... See Jeffrey Goldberg, August 2008. Also, Herman Melville, 1851.

Alice Marwick in the New York Review of Books: "... private companies systematically collect very personal information, from who you are, to what you do, to what you buy. Data about your online and offline behavior are combined, analyzed, and sold to marketers, corporations, governments, and even criminals. The scope of this collection, aggregation, and brokering of information is similar to, if not larger than, that of the NSA, yet it is almost entirely unregulated and many of the activities of data-mining and digital marketing firms are not publicly known at all."

The Pope of Janesville. Joan Walsh of Salon: As he prepares his new campaign to "help" he poor, Altar Boy Paul Ryan laments Pope Francis's ignorance of matters economic: "'The guy is from Argentina, they haven't had real capitalism in Argentina,' Ryan said (referring to the pope as 'the guy' is a nice folksy touch.) 'They have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don't have a true free enterprise system.'"

Lena Sun & Amy Goldstein of the Washington Post have a moving piece on people who are delighted to get health insurance coverage under the ACA.

Sean McElwee of the Atlantic: Vermont is finding out that switching to more-or-less a single-payer health insurance system is mighty difficult, too, even in a state as small, homogeneous & liberal as Vermont. Although the concept was signed into law in 2011, Jonathan Gruber -- who helped develop both the Massachusetts & U.S. plans -- says, “There is no Vermont plan. There are Vermont ideas, but there is no Vermont plan."

CW: Ross Douthat does a self-audit, which makes me like him a little better. Probably we could find more Mistakes Ross Made, but that would mean reading his columns. I would do one myself, except I can't recall all the stupid stuff I said. (Perhaps you'll want to remind me.) ...

... Here's Dave Weigel's "Everything I got wrong this year," which Douthat links.

... Not everybody admits his mistakes:

"The Year of the Weasel." Paul Krugman: "... we've now seen that one side of the debate [over monetary policy] not only refuses to take evidence into account, but tries to dodge personal responsibility for getting it wrong. This has gone from a test of ideas to a test of character, and a lot of people failed."

"Money Talks." Before we bid adieu to the "Duck Dynasty" clan, let give Driftglass the last word, the word which puts this squalid story in perspective: "Obviously, as 25 years of Rush Limbaugh has demonstrated, you can haul the poo-flingingest, bigoted loudmouth out of the dankest wingnut watering hole in America and stick a microphone in front of him, and nothing he says or does -- no matter how offensive or untrue -- will earn him more than token slap on the wrist just as long as he can generate ad revenue and hold an audience. So nothing new there. What is mildly interesting is the curve on which those wrist-slaps are graded." ...

... CW: After today, you will have to satisfy your thirst for "Duck Dynasty" news elsewhere, unless we learn that Phil has a black boyfriend, a development that will raise in me a brief stirring of schadenfreude somewhat vitiated by my sympathy for the young man.

Money Talks, Ctd. Tal Kopan of Politico: The right-wing bill mill ALEC has moved "toward greater openness ... in the wake of dozens of corporate members pulling out earlier this year after ALEC was drawn into the Martin case. By some estimates, as many as 400 lawmakers and 60 companies, including brand names like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and McDonald's, bolted. But critics say the transparency effort is a smokescreen, and they charge that ALEC remains the same corporate-driven 'bill mill' designed to push right-wing business interests in statehouses with as little notice as possible."

Local News

Ken Dilanian of the Los Angeles Times: "... at Shooters World, a Tampa-based temple of American gun culture..., about 50 people took turns on a recent Saturday firing pistols, military assault weapons, an Uzi machine gun and a .50-caliber sniper rifle. It was a charity event called Shooting With SOF, which stands for special operations forces. Organizers say they have raised $75,000 for military and veterans causes by allowing car dealers, insurance brokers, makeup artists and other ordinary folks to live out fantasies firing some of the world's deadliest guns while being tutored by 20 current and former commandos -- seasoned, seen-it-all veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and places they can't talk about." CW: The geniuses who participated in this event used the word "badass" a lot. I myself cannot think of a better way to show my charitable heart than by shooting & "reveling in the gun's destructive power."

News Ledes

AFP: "An Australian icebreaker was Monday battling against bad weather to reach a ship carrying a scientific expedition stranded off Antarctica, leaving open the possibility of a helicopter evacuation, authorities said."

AP: "Dozens of lawsuits seeking damages from the federal government for Hurricane Katrina-related levee failures and flooding in the New Orleans area are over. U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. has dismissed the cases. The move comes more than a year after a federal appeals court overturned his ruling that held the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers liable for flooding caused by lax maintenance of a shipping channel."

New York Times: "The detention of four American military personnel in Libya on Friday was preceded by a confrontation at a checkpoint in which gunshots were fired and a vehicle was damaged, a witness in Libya and an Obama administration official said on Saturday."

AFP: "At least 18 people were killed and dozens injured Sunday when a suicide bomber blew herself up in a train station in the Russian city of Volgograd ahead of February's Olympic Games in nearby Sochi. Regional officials said the woman set off her charge near the metal detectors stationed at the entrance to the city's main train station while it was packed with afternoon travellers."

AFP: "The Israeli military fired a barrage of shells into southern Lebanon in retaliation after five Katyusha-style rockets were launched against the Jewish state on Sunday, officials said. The attacks struck uninhabited areas of both Israel and Lebanon without causing any casualties or damage, officials on both sides said."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 28, 2013

Michael Schmidt & Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "A federal judge in New York on Friday ruled that the National Security Agency's program that is systematically keeping phone records of all Americans is lawful, creating a conflict among lower courts and increasing the likelihood that the issue will be resolved by the Supreme Court. In the ruling, Judge William H. Pauley III, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, granted a motion filed by the federal government to dismiss a challenge to the program brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had tried to halt the program. Judge Pauley said that protections under the Fourth Amendment do not apply to records held by third parties, like phone companies." CW: Pauley is a Clinton appointee. ...

... New York Times Editors: "The ruling, which repeatedly defers to the government's benign characterization of its own surveillance programs, demonstrates once more the importance of fixing the law at its source, rather than waiting for further interpretations by higher courts." ...

... Charles Pierce: "The subtext of what [Judge Pauley] is saying is simply that terrorists from 'a seventh-century milieu' -- actually, strip clubs in Tampa and an apartment in Hamburg -- have rendered the Fourth Amendment obsolete in a dangerous and interconnected world, and that only our all-too-human, and curiously error-prone, heroes of the surveillance state can keep us safe. Oh, and also, we common folk shouldn't ever have known about this anyway.

It cannot possibly be that lawbreaking conduct by a government contractor that reveals state secrets -- including the means and methods of intelligence gathering -- could frustrate Congress' intent. -- Judge William Pauley, in his opinion on NSA phone-records collection

     ... Thanks to James S. for the link.

... Pierce is also incensed about what he describes as numerous instances of infringement of First Amendment rights by "law enforcement in the service of corporate interests.... That, my friends, is how you seriously abridge freedom of speech in this country. You take someone with an explicitly political message who commits a specifically political act and you throw him in jail for having committed it." CW: While I appreciate Pierce's sentiments, I think Pierce is wrong about this, as I'll elaborate in the Comments. I'll expect blowback & would especially appreciate it coming from a Constitutional lawyer.

Caren Bohan of Reuters: "On the eve of the expiration of federal benefits for the long-term unemployed, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies are stepping up pressure on Republicans to renew the program. Top White House economic adviser Gene Sperling said in a statement issued on Friday that a failure to renew emergency jobless benefits would harm the economy and he urged Congress to move quickly to pass a short-term extension of the aid. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has vowed to bring to a vote a bill extending federal unemployment insurance benefits as soon as Congress returns from its holiday recess...." ...

... Ryan Cooper in the Washington Post: "I've been ragging on the centrist brigades lately, even suggesting that their newfound focus on job growth might not be 100% sincere. But if they'll mobilize fully behind an extension of unemployment insurance, I'll eat my words. This is a simple, cheap issue that will concretely help some of our most vulnerable fellow citizens. So how about it, Third Way?" ...

... Let Them Eat Walnuts. David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post takes a charitable view of Congress -- the poor things just don't know how to budget: "... sequestration [is] a policy that -- at least in theory -- cut the good and the bad equally. That created odd contrasts: Meals on Wheels was cut, and Army units reduced training; Washington kept paying for dubious expenses such as a plane that didn't fly, an airport with no passengers and farm subsidies in Manhattan. And a private industry's 'spokes-squirrel.' This month, Congress canceled sequestration's across-the-board cuts and gave itself another chance to demonstrate that legislators can make smarter, more judicious cuts. But so far, it has mainly demonstrated the power of old Washington habits, the political reflexes that make cutting government so hard." CW: If an inability to budget is Congress's problem, how come they have no trouble slashing programs to help the needy but rally 'round a program that is supposed to help wealthy walnut growers but has no proven effect?

New Yorker: "... Hendrik Hertzberg and Ryan Lizza join host Dorothy Wickenden to take a look back at the year in politics, with a particular focus on the news we can be happy about":

AP: "The number of reported sexual assaults across the U.S. military shot up by more than 50 percent this year, an increase that defense officials say may suggest that victims are becoming more willing to come forward. A tumultuous year of scandals shined a spotlight on the crimes and put pressure on the military to take aggressive action. According to early data obtained by The Associated Press, more than 5,000 reports of sexual assault were filed during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, compared to the 3,374 in 2012."

New York Times Editors: "Even if the new defense bill spurs progress in reducing the detainee population, the delivery of credible justice for those at the Guantánamo prison camp is far from complete."

David Kocieniewski of the New York Times: "... interviews with dozens of academics and traders, and a review of hundreds of emails and other documents involving two highly visible professors in the commodities field -- [Professor Craig] Pirrong [of the University of Houston] and Professor Scott H. Irwin at the University of Illinois -- show how major players on Wall Street and elsewhere have been aggressive in underwriting and promoting academic work [that benefits the businesses]. The efforts by the financial players, the interviews show, are part of a sweeping campaign to beat back regulation and shape policies that affect the prices that people around the world pay for essentials like food, fuel and cotton."

Illustration by Dale Stephanos for the Washington Post.Dave Barry's year in review, in the Washington Post Magazine: "It was the Year of the Zombies. Not in the sense of most of humanity dying from a horrible plague and then reanimating as mindless flesh-eating ghouls.... As bad as a zombie apocalypse would be, at least it wouldn't involve the resurrection of Anthony Weiner's most private part."

Robert O'Harrow of the Washington Post: "The Small Business Administration is moving to ban one of the government's most prominent small-business contractors from new federal work, saying that the firm provided false information about its ownership and operations, documents show. The SBA said it has information showing that Tysons Corner-based MicroTechnologies LLC and its founder, Anthony R. Jimenez, submitted 'false and misleading statements' in order to receive preferential treatment, according to a Dec. 20 letter from the agency to the company."

Patricia Murphy of the Daily Beast: "If Ted Cruz seems like a one-of-a-kind, give it time. A slew of young, hard-charging, Tea Party-endorsed Senate wannabes is looking to knock off the Republican establishment again in 2014. Some have better chances than others, but all have the unmistakable Cruzian commitment to refusing to toe the Republican Party line and make headlines while doing it." Murphy introduces us to the Cruz clones.

Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker: "Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, one of the most remarkable figures in the modern Middle East, is fast discovering that the authoritarian measures he has increasingly relied on to govern Turkey, and the cult of personality he has built around himself, are conspiring to bring about his political demise.... In recent years, intoxicated by his own ascent, Erdoğan began to act like a leader who believed that Turkey's success and his own could not be separated. " CW: Just another NonMandela. And a reminder we should be grateful for the 22nd Amendment.

Will This Story End Now? Please. Reuters: "Cable network A&E said on Friday it was bringing back family patriarch Phil Robertson to the hit reality show 'Duck Dynasty' after fans protested his suspension over anti-gay remarks and big-name corporate sponsors stuck by the series." ...

... Dave Nemetz of Yahoo! News: "Conservative groups that called for Robertson's reinstatement are applauding the move...." CW: Some of those "conservatives applauding the move" are probably unemployed people who will lose their benefits today & their food stamps tomorrow. Yep, it's more important to them that a crude rich guy keeps his job than that they themselves have enough to survive. People are stoopid. ...

... Richard Kim of the Nation: "... Duck Dynasty should get real. It should show Robertson being as homophobic as he pleases, in his home, his church, his community. The show's editors have previously been criticized for asking Robertson to not say 'Jesus' at the end of his prayers; they should now let him get his Jesus freak on.... And, as long as the show's producers 'guide' reality along, they should film Robertson interacting with actual gay people." CW: AND "actual black people," too, of the sort who sing the blues.

Local News

John Ingold of the Denver Post: "Denver's first recreational marijuana store owners picked up their city licenses Friday, the final step before opening on Jan. 1 among the first shops in the world approved to sell pot to all adults."

Marissa Lang of the Salt Lake Tribune: "In the week since a federal judge overturned Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, the number of weddings in the state has skyrocketed, shattering records and accruing thousands of dollars for Utah's 29 counties. As of close of business Thursday, more than 1,225 marriage licenses had been issued in Utah since last Friday, according to numbers obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune. Of those, at least 74 percent were issued to gay and lesbian couples." ...

... Brooke Adams of the Salt Lake Tribune: "The state of Utah has turned to outside counsel for help with its efforts to stop same-sex marriages, a move the office said Thursday would temporarily delay its application for a stay to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Attorney General's Office planned to file a stay request Thursday but said the application would be made on Friday or Monday as it coordinates with the outside firm, which it has not yet identified.... The stay appeal will be made to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is assigned oversight of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals."

Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: Johnnie R. Williams, Sr., "the businessman at the heart of a federal investigation into Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), stepped down Friday as chief executive of Star Scientific Inc., the dietary supplement maker. The company has also been given permission by stockholders to look at changing its name, indicating that it might ditch Star Scientific Inc. in favor of Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals Inc."

News Ledes

CNN: Former President Bill Clinton will swear in New York City Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio on January 1.

New York Times: "Four American military personnel assigned to the United States Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, were detained Friday and then released after being held for hours by the country's Interior Ministry, American officials said. The four were believed to have been reviewing potential evacuation routes for diplomats when they were detained...."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 27, 2013

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "President Obama signed a sweeping defense policy law here Thursday that cracks down on sexual assault in the military and eases restrictions on transferring detainees from the federal prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the custody of foreign countries." ...

... Jennifer Epstein of Politico: "President Barack Obama has signed a bill that provides a broad outline for the federal budget through 2015 and eases some of sequestration's cuts, the White House said Thursday." ...

... Carl Hulse of the New York Times: "With the next budget deadline just weeks away, top lawmakers said this week that they had made significant progress negotiating a huge government-wide spending bill that gives the once mighty congressional Appropriations Committees an opportunity to reassert control over the flow of federal dollars."

Peter Whoriskey & Dan Keating of the Washington Post: "... over the past decade, the number of 'hospice survivors' in the United States has risen dramatically, in part because hospice companies earn more by recruiting patients who aren't actually dying, a Washington Post investigation has found. Healthier patients are more profitable because they require fewer visits and stay enrolled longer.... For five years, Medicare's watchdog group has been recommending that the payments to hospice companies be revised to eliminate the financial incentive for improper care, but Medicare has not yet done so." CW: I don't know what Kathleen Sebelius has been doing in Washington, but I know what she hasn't been doing -- her job. ...

... MEANWHILE, over at Veterans' Affairs, Secretary Eric Shinseki is right proud that the claims backlog is way down "to 722,013, from a high of 883,930 in July 2012." CW: Maybe Shinseki spends too much time partying with Sebelius. These people embarrass me.

Phillip Longman & Paul Hewitt in the Washington Monthly: "A frenzy of hospital mergers could leave the typical American family spending 50 percent of its income on health care within ten years -- and blaming the Democrats. The solution requires banning price discrimination by monopolistic hospitals." ...

... Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "The enrollment figures may be well short of what the Obama administration had hoped for. But the fact that a significant number of Americans are now benefiting from the program is resulting in a subtle shift among Republicans." CW: "A subtle shift"? Read the story. The usual sound & fury, if you ask me.

Tracy Jan of the Boston Globe: "Even as President Obama's health insurance website limps to recovery, at least two states that used the same contractor and are still plagued with malfunctions -- Massachusetts and Vermont -- are taking preliminary steps to recoup taxpayer dollars. Massachusetts officials are reviewing legal options against CGI Group, a Montreal-based information technology company, and will make recommendations on how to seek financial redress at a Jan. 9 meeting."

Paul Krugman: High unemployment benefits the corporation at the expense of workers, which could explain why Republicans don't care about the unemployed & why populist goals are dependent upon jobs creation.

Theda Skocpol in the Atlantic on why the Tea Party will remain a strong force in GOP politics.

AND the Winner Is.... Glenn Greenwald easily bests Tom Coburn in NBC News's "Worst Guest of the Week" competition. (Coburn's entry here.)

Katherine Skiba of the Chicago Tribune has a profile of Michelle Obama at age 50. Obama's birthday in January 17.

CW: Here's the news from Right Wing World, & the level of craziness is alarming. The Washington Examiner is not the looniest of right-wing rags, but here's what the Examiner's regular columnist Paul Bedard writes: "A top financial advisor, [David Marotta,] worried that Obamacare, the NSA spying scandal and spiraling national debt is increasing the chances for a fiscal and social disaster, is recommending that Americans prepare a 'bug-out bag' that includes food, a gun and ammo to help them stay alive. David John Marotta, a Wall Street expert and financial advisor and Forbes contributor, said in a note to investors, 'Firearms are the last item on the list, but they are on the list. There are some terrible people in this world. And you are safer when your trusted neighbors have firearms.'" ...

... According to Jordan Weissman of the Atlantic, one of the teensy problems with Bedard's report is that Marotta was only kidding. "... most of [what Marotta says] seems to be fairly tongue-in-cheek material aimed at talking potential clients down from investing in some of the crazy, survivalist scams advertised on conservative talk radio. And the first scam on his agenda? Plowing all your money into gold, of course."

News Ledes

AP: "Target said Friday that debit-card PINs were among the financial information stolen from millions of customers who shopped at the retailer earlier this month. The company said the stolen personal identification numbers, which customers type into keypads to make secure transactions, were encrypted and that this strongly reduces risk to customers. In addition to the encrypted PINs, customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the embedded code on the magnetic strip on back of the cards were stolen from about 40 million credit and debit cards used at Target stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15."

Hartford Courant: "State police released thousands of investigative documents related to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre Friday. The more than 6,500 pages is heavily redacted with witness statements from some of the 12 children who survived the massacre partially blacked out. The release closes the state police investigation.... State police also released 911 calls that they received on cell phones including two from inside the school as the shooting was taking place."

New York Times: "India's diplomatic corps, still seething over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York, continued its tit-for-tat campaign against American diplomats this week, revoking privileges, beginning tax investigations and issuing new consular identity cards that say the card holder can be arrested for serious offenses."

New York Times: "A long-simmering dispute between the United States and Japan over the fate of a Marine base on Okinawa seemed to have been resolved on Friday when the governor of the prefecture gave his approval to move the base to a remote area." ...

     ... AFP Update: "Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel on Friday praised a decision by Japanese officials to allow the relocation of a US air base in Okinawa, calling it a 'milestone' for relations with Tokyo."

New York Times: "Just a day after Egypt's military-backed government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, a more aggressive crackdown was already emerging Thursday, as the authorities announced dozens of arrests across the country, and the seizure of land, stocks and vehicles belonging to the Islamist movement's members."

AP: "A powerful bombing rocked a central business district of central Beirut[, Lebanon,] Friday, setting cars ablaze and killing five people, including a senior aide to former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, officials said. The National News Agency said Mohammed Chatah and his driver were both killed in the explosion, which wounded more than 70 others."

Guardian: "African leaders who met in South Sudan to try to mediate a conflict that threatens to unravel the world's newest country said talks had been 'promising' but admitted that it was not clear when a ceasefire might be agreed. Following nearly two weeks of fighting which has left thousands dead, a high-level delegation including the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and Ethiopia's prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, landed in the capital Juba to meet President Salva Kiir on Thursday."

Times-Picayune: "A shooting spree Thursday night (Dec. 26) in Lafourche Parish left four people dead, including the suspected gunman, according to the Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office. The dead include a Lafourche Parish councilman's wife, the suspect's wife, an Ochsner St. Anne General Hospital administrator as well as the suspect, the Sheriff's Office said."

Times-Picayune: "Authorities continued searching Thursday night for the person they believe opened fire in a crowd of nearly 75 people outside of an Olde Towne bar, killing two and injuring six others. Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith said at a news conference Thursday that police have identified a potential suspect, but would not release any information...."

AP: "Thailand's army chief on Friday urged both sides in the country's bitter political dispute to show restraint, but did not explicitly rule out the possibility of a coup."

Reuters: "Six more of the 30 Greenpeace activists arrested in a protest over Arctic oil drilling left Russia on Friday after being granted an amnesty, the environmental group said."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 26, 2013

CW: Finally, a convincing Christmas miracle: I agree with George Will: "Thousands of prisoners are serving life without parole for nonviolent crimes. [Federal Judge John] Gleeson ... is ... dismayed at the use of the threat of mandatory minimums as 'sledgehammers' to extort guilty pleas, effectively vitiating the right to a trial. Ninety-seven percent of federal convictions are without trials, sparing the government the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Mere probable cause, and the meager presentation required for a grand jury indictment, suffices. 'Judging is removed,' Gleeson says, 'prosecutors become sentencers.' And when threats of draconian sentences compel guilty pleas, 'some innocent people will plead guilty.' Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are questioning the regime of mandatory minimum sentences, including recidivism enhancements, that began with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. Meanwhile, the human and financial costs of mass incarceration mount." ...

... Hmm, maybe Will is borrowing a sliver of Bill Moyers' show, which aired about a week ago. The transcript is here:

... Here, BTW, is David Simon's talk at the "Festival of Dangerous Ideas," a bowderlized version of which the Guardian published (& I linked) a few weeks ago -- Moyers mentions the lecture at the top of his show:

Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "A measure that President Obama is considering as a way to curb the National Security Agency's mass storage of phone data is already facing resistance — not only from the intelligence community but also from privacy advocates, the phone industry and some lawmakers. Obama last week suggested that he was open to the idea of requiring phone companies to store the records and allowing the government to search them under strict guidelines." ...

... Peter Walker of the Guardian: "Edward Snowden ... has recorded a Christmas Day television message in which he calls for an end to the mass surveillance revealed by his disclosures. The short film was recorded for Channel 4, which has 20-year history of providing unusual but relevant figures as an alternative to the Queen's Christmas message shown by other UK broadcasters. It will be Snowden's first television appearance since arriving in Moscow":

... Here's Queen Elizabeth's message:

Helena Pylväinen: "A Visit from the NSA." Here's a stanza:

To a familiar housetop the coursers they flew
(From satellite footage they already knew),
And then in a twinkling I heard in the roof
Jingling GPS trackers attached to their hoofs.

** Linda Greenhouse: the National Archives' new permanent exhibit, "Records of Rights" "presents, through a few hundred documents chosen from the billions in the archives' collection, the story of constitutional rights as an unfinished journey, an 'ongoing struggle,' in the words of one of the wall labels.... There is much here that goes beyond the obvious. The display is subtle and sophisticated, documenting ... 'the expansion -- and sometimes the retraction -- of our rights.'" Here's the National Archive's main page on the exhibit, which -- via links -- provides a sort of virtual exhibit.

Do Nothing Congress. CNN: "The worst Congress ever. That's the verdict from two-thirds of Americans about the track record of the 113th Congress, according to a new national poll. And a CNN/ORC International poll released Thursday also indicates that nearly three-quarters of the public say that this has been a 'do-nothing' Congress." ...

... Do-Nothing Congress Whacks the Vulnerable, Ctd. Amrita Jayakumar of the Washington Post: "Struggling homeowners could be hit with an unexpected tax bill in the new year. A law that spared people who owe more than their homes are worth from being saddled with extra taxes when their banks provide mortgage relief is expiring next week. Congress hasn't extended it." ...

... Do-Nothing Congress Whacks the Vulnerable, Ctd. The Washington Post publishes this reminder by Ylan Mui: "An estimated 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers ... are expected to be affected when the [unemployment benefits extension] program expires [this Saturday]. The extended benefits, staunchly opposed by Republicans, were left out of the bipartisan federal budget agreement reached this month." ...

... George Zornick in the Washington Post: "With polls already showing a potential voter backlash and local news outlets giving the story serious play, advocates are ratcheting up the pressure even further by taking out television ads depicting Republicans as heartless Scrooges.... What is particularly useful about this approach is that there's no pressure coming from the other side -- unlike, say, the debate over 'Obamacare,' there are no well-funded conservative groups out there pressing for an end to the emergency unemployment program.... The conservative grass roots don't appear to be fired up about the issue":

... The Fake War on Christmas Goes to Congress. Rebecca Shabad of the Hill: "Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) on Tuesday vowed to protect Christmas against what he called a 'vocal minority' offended by its symbols and traditions. 'There is a vocal minority that is offended at the rest of us who want to celebrate Christmas,' he said Tuesday on 'Fox and Friends.' 'Just because someone is offended doesn't mean that they can shut down the religious celebration or acknowledgment of every other American.' Lamborn recently introduced a two-page resolution, H.Res. 448, that would strongly disapprove of efforts to ban Christmas references, while supporting anyone who wants to promote its symbols." ...

... OR, as D. S. Wright of Firedoglake puts it, "After spending a term outright attacking the poor and meek -- whom Jesus spoke favorably of -- House Republicans want the symbols of Christ's birth to be protected from a phantom menace." ...

... CW: ALSO, the author of the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus sternly & repeatedly warn against people like Rep. Lamborn, in a series of verses that describe hypocrites who flaunt their piety & in so doing disgrace themselves before God. The one big difference: Matthew's hypocrites do give alms to the poor.

Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon: "2013 -- the Year in Sexism."

John Carney of CNBC imagines "some of the biggest names in economics and econ-blogging [getting] into a fight about Christmas." CW: Carney proves himself a fine mimic.

Ken Belson of the New York Times: "Most researchers believe that C.T.E., or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease found in dozens of former N.F.L. players, can be diagnosed only posthumously by analyzing brain tissue. Researchers at U.C.L.A. have developed a test they assert might identify the condition in a living person by injecting a compound that clings to proteins in the brain and later appears in a PET scan. But some are skeptical."

Quack. Wes Venteicher of the Chicago Tribune: "Jesse Jackson Sr. has ... compared ['Duck Dynasty' star Phil] Robertson's recent comments about African-Americans, gay people and women to comments made by the driver of Rosa Parks' bus. 'At least the bus driver, who ordered Rosa Parks to surrender her seat to a white person, was following state law,' he said in the release. 'Robertson's statements were uttered freely and openly without cover of the law, within a context of what he seemed to believe was 'white privilege.' Jackson's human rights group, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, has demanded meetings with A&E and with Cracker Barrel regarding the two companies' treatment of Robertson...."

News Ledes

AP: "A Roman Catholic church official who has been jailed for more than a year for his handling of priest sex-abuse complaints had his landmark conviction reversed and was ordered released Thursday. A three-judge Superior Court panel unanimously rejected prosecution arguments that Monsignor William Lynn, the first U.S. church official ever charged or convicted for the handling of clergy-abuse complaints, was legally responsible for an abused boy's welfare in the late 1990s.

New York Times: "The United States is quietly rushing dozens of Hellfire missiles and low-tech surveillance drones to Iraq to help government forces combat an explosion of violence by a Qaeda-backed insurgency that is gaining territory in both western Iraq and neighboring Syria. The move follows an appeal for help in battling the extremist group by the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who met with President Obama in Washington last month."

AFP: "Nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid an inflammatory visit to the Yasukuni war shrine Thursday, angering China which accused Japan of whitewashing a history of warmongering and said it must 'bear the consequences'. South Korea also blasted the 'anachronistic' move and Tokyo's chief ally the United States declared itself disappointed with an act that it said would worsen tensions with Japan's neighbours."

AP: "Thailand's election commission on Thursday called for upcoming polls to be delayed as street battles between security forces and protesters seeking to disrupt the ballot killed a police officer and injured nearly 100 people, dealing fresh blows to the beleaguered government. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra wants the Feb. 2 elections to take place as scheduled, believing she would win handily and renew her mandate. The street violence adds to pressure on her to take a tougher line against the protesters, risking more chaos and possible intervention by the army."

AP: Abu Mohammed al-Golani, "the shadowy leader of a powerful al-Qaida group fighting in Syria, sought to kidnap United Nations workers and scrawled out plans for his aides to take over in the event of his death, according to excerpts of letters obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press."

AFP: "Russia on Thursday started issuing visas to foreign crew members of a Greenpeace protest ship and dropped the criminal case against the last member of the 30-strong team. Italy's Christian d'Alessandro was notified by investigators that the case against him had been dropped, Greenpeace said. Earlier this week, Russia closed the cases of the other 29 crew members of Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise ship under a Kremlin-backed amnesty."

Washington Post: "President Obama spent a quiet Christmas ... in his native Hawaii thanking military service members and their families for their 'incredible sacrifices' to their country. After opening presents and singing Christmas carols with his family at their lush and secluded vacation compound, Obama paid a visit to about 580 active duty troops and their families at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in what has become an annual tradition for this president. He said he also called 10 troops who are deployed in such far-away locales as Afghanistan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia."