The Ledes

Wednesday, November 30, 2016.

Washington Post: "The deadly wildfires that engulfed two Tennessee tourist towns leading into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park left at least seven dead and hundreds of buildings damaged or destroyed, officials said late Wednesday as the terrible toll of the fires began to take focus. At least 53 people were treated for injuries at hospitals, though their conditions were not known. Massive walls of flames spread down the mountains into Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge on Monday with shocking speed, said those who fled with little more than the clothes on their backs. The fires are estimated to have damaged or destroyed more than 700 homes and businesses — nearly half of them in the city of Gatlinburg. Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said late Wednesday afternoon that the fire was 'likely to be human-caused.'” -- CW

The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Guardian: (Nov. 3): "An Alzheimer’s drug has been shown to successfully target the most visible sign of the disease in the brain, raising hopes that an effective treatment could be finally within reach. A small trial of the drug was primarily aimed at assessing safety, but the findings suggest it effectively “switched off” the production of toxic amyloid proteins that lead to the sticky plaques seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.” -- CW

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

A Night at the Opera. Los Angeles Times: "The curtain rose on Act 2 of 'The Daughter of the Regiment,' revealing the figure of a tiny woman barely visible in a large dome chair with her back to the audience. Suddenly, she swiveled around — and there was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.Cheers and prolonged applause rang out from the crowd at the Kennedy Center on Saturday night even before Ginsburg, a life-long opera lover who was making her official operatic debut, opened her mouth to speak as the imperious Duchess of Krakenthorp.... Her biggest laugh came when — in apparent reference to the bogus 'birther' campaign against President Obama — she asked whether [the character] Marie could produce a birth certificate and added: 'We must take precautions against fraudulent pretenders.' Ginsburg herself wrote her dialogue, in collaboration with ... [the] dramaturge for the Washington National Opera...." -- CW 

Bruce Springsteen performs at Hillary Clinton's rally in Philadelphia, November 7:

Washington Post: "Paul Beatty won the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday evening in London, becoming the first American ever to take home the prestigious award. His satirical novel 'The Sellout' beat five other finalists for the $60,000 prize, which also essentially guarantees substantial new sales and interest around the world. Amanda Foreman, chair of the Booker judges, called 'The Sellout' 'a novel for our times. . . . Its humor disguises a radical seriousness. Paul Beatty slays sacred cows with abandon and takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and a snarl.' Originally published last year in the United States, 'The Sellout' is an outrageously funny satire of American race relations. The protagonist, a black man whose father was killed by police, wants to reinstitute segregation in his California town. He eventually lands before the Supreme Court in a bizarre case involving slavery. 'The Sellout' also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in March." -- CW 

Washington Post: "Comic actor, movie star and America’s best friend Bill Murray tried to sum up the emotions of being honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday night [Oct. 23] at the Kennedy Center. 'My theme tonight is what is it like to be beloved,' a straight-faced Murray told the crowd at the end of the two-hour salute. 'It’s hard to listen to all those people be nice to you. You just get so suspicious.'”

Hill: Actor Bill Murray "spoke with President Obama, who congratulated him for winning this year’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, a White House official said. Asked by reporters in the Oval Office if he met with Murray, Obama said 'absolutely,' but didn’t reveal what else they discussed."

New York Times: "The veteran television personality Jane Pauley will replace Charles Osgood as the anchor of the highly rated CBS show 'Sunday Morning.' Mr. Osgood, who is retiring, announced the news on his last show on Sunday. Ms. Pauley’s first day in the role will be Oct. 9, and she will become only the third anchor of the show, which started in 1979." -- CW 

New York Times: "Modern humans evolved in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago. But how did our species go on to populate the rest of the globe?.... In a series of extraordinary genetic analyses published on Wednesday, researchers believe they have found an answer. In the journal Nature, three separate teams of geneticists survey DNA collected from cultures around the globe, many for the first time, and conclude that all non-Africans today trace their ancestry to a single population emerging from Africa between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago.... All non-Africans are closely related to one another, geneticists found, and they all branch from a family tree rooted in Africa.... There are also clues that at least some modern humans may have departed Africa well before 50,000 years ago, perhaps part of an earlier wave of migration." -- CW ...

... CW Note to White Racists: You, too, are black. It's way past time to give up your quest for "racial purity"; it's genetically impossible. This, BTW, is something non-ignoramuses have known for a couple of decades. No wonder you hate science.

 

The Los Angeles Times has extensive coverage of the Emmy Awards here.

The video below will most likely be taken down for copyright infringement, so watch it while you can. It's pretty funny. Here's a WashPo report on Jeb!'s cameo on the opening bit for the Emmy Awards. Also, ABC may put up a video of it here, but they have nothing at all up on the awards ceremony as of 8:30 am ET, Monday, Sept. 19.

Chris Welch of the Verge: "Twitter is about to make a big change to the way that tweets work.... Beginning September 19th, the company will cut down on exactly which types of content count toward the platform's 140-character limit. Media attachments (images, GIFs, videos, polls, etc.) and quoted tweets will no longer reduce the count. The extra room for text will give users more flexibility in composing their messages."

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Friday
Jul042014

The Commentariat -- July 5, 2014

Robert Pear & Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "The Obama administration, reeling from back-to-back blows from the Supreme Court this week, is weighing options that would provide contraceptive coverage to thousands of women who are about to lose it or never had it because of their employers' religious objections.... Administration officials said they were determined to ensure the broadest possible coverage of contraceptives for the largest number of women without requiring employers to violate their religious beliefs.... Justice Sonia Sotomayor..., in her dissent in the Wheaton College case on Thursday..., said the challenge facing the government was 'daunting -- if not impossible.'" ...

... Loren Clark-Moe, a former federal employee, writes in a Washington Post op-ed, that she had to pay for her own abortion because Congress bars insurers from covering abortions except in cases of rape & incest. "I would have gotten an abortion with or without the restrictions placed upon me as a federal employee.... Restricting my access to health coverage didn't prevent my pregnancy, and it certainly didn't influence my choice. All it did was punish me, financially and otherwise, for making a responsible, physician-approved health-care decision." ...

... CW: Yeah, but if she'd only had stranger-counselors screaming at her & calling her a "baby-killer," she probably would have realized she really wanted to have that child & rear it on her own. Thanks, Supremes!

Andrew Koppelman of the New Republic: In the Wheaton injunction, the Supreme Court made things a whole lot worse for women. "The big mystery here is why justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer did not agree with Sotomayor." ...

     ... CW: It's no mystery to me. The Wheaton order is a temporary injunction. It's just as stupid, convoluted, nonsensical & inconsistent with the Hobby Lobby decision as Justice Sotomayor claims in her dissent (joined by Ginsburg & Kagan). It is unsigned, tho Scalia owns that he agrees with the result (but not the reasoning). So all the Supreme boys including Breyer & Kennedy, join in the order. But what I think this really means is that Breyer & Kennedy found Sotomayor's dissent too strong. I don't think Breyer & Kennedy had the stomach for asserting that the Wheaton injunction undermined the integrity of the Supreme Court, for instance, as the women on the Court (correctly, IMHO) asserted. You could argue Breyer & Kennedy just don't get it, & I'd agree with that. But I wouldn't rule out their finding for the government in the case proper, when Wheaton (or a similar case) comes before the Court for a decision. ...

     ... ALSO, belated congratulations to Sonia Sotomayor for out-Scalia-ing Nino. The only teensy difference is that Sotomayor's outrage was justified & well-reasoned; Nino's usual umbrage is just huffing & puffing.

Zachary Goldfarb of the Washington Post: "At a precarious moment for his immigration policy, President Obama took part in a naturalization ceremony Friday for 16 members of the armed forces, two veterans and seven military spouses, saying he will take action so that 'hardworking' immigrants who come to the United States can 'join the American family'":

... MEANWHILE, They're Baaaack! Tony Perry & Matt Hansen of the Los Angeles Times: "Protesters have gathered near the entrance to a Border Patrol facility in Murrieta, Calif., on Friday to await buses of undocumented immigrants, but whether those buses will arrive is unknown. Unlike Tuesday when shouting, flag-waving protesters blocked three busloads of immigrants, Murrieta police Friday morning cleared the entry road. The estimated 100 demonstrators, including those favoring the immigrants,were being restricted to a 'safety zone' away from the road. Many had remained all night at the site, vowing a repeat of Tuesday's blockade." ...

     ... CW: Aw, shucks. I thought those women & children could use some "counseling" from citizens who only "wish to converse with fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks -- sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history." ...

     ... Update. Sort of. Tony Perry of the L.A. Times: "A charter plane believed to be carrying immigrants arrived [Friday] evening at San Diego's Lindbergh Field, apparently from Texas. Three Homeland Security buses arrived a few minutes later, trailed by numerous law enforcement vehicles. There is no information as to the buses' destination.... Since the blockade by protesters Tuesday at Murrieta, officials have declined to provide information about the movement of the immigrants."

Lynn Vavreck of the New York Times: "... patriotism in America is on the decline. But the decline seems to have more to do with reactions to the symbols of American democracy than its values. Older Americans remain remarkably high in their devotion to symbols like the flag, while young citizens ... express higher support for classic American ideals like equality and opportunity." ...

... Jill Lepore in the New Yorker on the history of the national anthem: Francis Scott "Key was a slaveholder and, as a U.S. Attorney, opposed abolition in print and in court. Abolitionists sang a song of protest: 'O say, does that blood-striped banner still wave / O'er the land of the fetter, and hut of the slave?' Key died in 1843. In 1857, his brother-in-law and former law partner, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, wrote the most infamous legal opinion in American history, in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford...." CW: They did not teach us this in my Southern whites-only schools. Also, when I had to memorize the six causes of the Civil War, slavery wasn't one of them. ...

... The "Anacreontic Song," music by John Stafford Smith, an 18th-century song which Key used to set the rhythms of his poem "Defence of Fort M'Henry," a/k/a the "Star-Spangled Banner." The story behind the "Anacreontic Song" is interesting, too":

Tim Egan on the rise of voters who self-identify as independent: "The independents are more likely to want something done about climate change, and immigration reform. They're not afraid of gay marriage or contraception or sensible gun laws. They think government can be a force for good.And none of those sentiments are represented by the current majority in the people's House. Remember that the next time Speaker John Boehner says that his members are doing the work of the American people. They're doing Fox's work, which is why they've had endless hearings on Benghazi, and voted more than 50 times to take away people's health care, but won't allow a vote on the minimum wage or immigration reform." ...

... CW: A problem with Egan's analysis. As John Sides documented in January 2014, most people who claim to be independent actually lean toward one party or the other & "behave like partisans" most of the time. Egan's point, however -- that the House doesn't represent the views of the general public on many/most major issues -- gun control, immigration reform, minimum wage, same-sex marriage, etc. -- is right on.

Greg Miller of the Washington Post: The CIA forced Jeffrey Scudder to retire after he tried to get old files on "long-dormant conflicts and operations" declassified. In addition, "his house was raided by the FBI and his family's computers seized.... Scudder's case also highlights the risks to workers who take on their powerful spy-agency employers. Senior U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly argued that Edward Snowden ... should have done more to raise his concerns internally.... Others who tried to do that have said they were punished." ...

     ... CW: I expect the CIA, NSA & other agencies that deal with security are worse than most in regard to "taking suggestions" about making changes or reforms. But what Scudder experienced is called "human nature" or "typical organizational behavior." In fact, if he had gone after a more fundamental target -- as Snowden did -- the hierarchical reaction he experienced would have been much worse. This is why government (and private) employees who see serious wrongdoing leak to reporters rather than try to initiate corrective actions through work channels. You well may have experienced this yourself, on a smaller scale. Now try to imagine former NSA Director Gen. Keith Collect-It-All Alexander's sitting down with a low-level hacker & listening to the young person's views on government transparency. Had Snowden made it into Alexander's Star Trek Enterprise war room for a little chat, I'm thinking Alexander's response would not go like this: "You make some great points here, Ed. I'm going to take your suggestion & call a presser to announce we've stored every damned thing every damned person in the world has said or written in the past five years. And I'm giving you a raise, kid. Keep up the good work."

Gail Collins on President Obama's poll numbers & Warren Harding's love letters to his neighbor with the "pillowing breasts."

Maureen Dowd (or her intern) calls a bunch of famous people & gets them to say the USA ain't what she used to be. Oh, woe is us. OR, how a cell phone can write a New York Times column.

C-SPAN Racism. Tom Kludt of TPM: "When C-SPAN invited viewers on Thursday to offer their thoughts on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, a handful of individuals used the opportunity to lament white oppression." ...

... CW: Obscenities are so much more tasteful when rendered in cross-stitch or needlepoint.

Sirius Racism. Aleksander Chan of Gawker: "Anthony Cumia, one half of the SiriusXM's comedy show The Opie & Anthony Show, claims to have been assaulted by a woman in Times Square Tuesday. According to his Twitter feed, he was apparently trying to take photos of the area when the woman was caught in the frame. When she objected to being in the photos, she allegedly starting punching him. He responded by calling her a cunt. Cumia then took to Twitter -- for hours -- for a racist, violent tirade." Chan has reproduced Cumia's tweets. ...

... So Now It's the Opie Show. Krishnadev Calamur of NPR: "Anthony Cumia, co-host of SiriusXM's Opie & Anthony, was fired by the satellite radio network his 'racially-charged and hate-filled remarks on social media.'" Maybe if Anthony had taken the time to cross-stitch his racist, sexist thoughts instead of just tweeting them, he'd still have a job. ...

... Tracie Morrissey of Jezebel: "... this isn't anything out of the ordinary for Cumia. He regularly makes jokes at the expense of black people on his SiriusXM show and his personal podcast. It's been going on for years...." Morrissey gives examples. ...

... CW: Since we're into racists & patriotic songs today, let's remember in ballad form 2014's most famous (15 minutes) racist American hero (so far -- the year is young & there's an election coming up, giving our politicians plenty of opportunity to top "blah people"). Besides, after a week like this, we need a laugh:

News Ledes

Haaretz: "The Palestinian youth who was caught on video earlier this week being beaten by members of the Israeli Border Police is a United States citizen from Florida, the U.S. State Department confirmed on Saturday. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki named the youth as Tariq Khdeir, 15. He was a cousin of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian whose burned body was found Wednesday in the Jerusalem Forest." ...

... CNN: "Mohammed Abu Khedair, a Palestinian teenager who was abducted and killed in Jerusalem this week, died from being burned alive and hit on the head with a blunt object, according to Palestinian General Prosecutor Mohammed al-Auwewy, citing a medical autopsy."

AP: Ukrainian "President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement that government troops took Slovyansk, a city of about 100,000 that has been a center of the fighting between Kiev's troops and the pro-Russian insurgents, after a night of fighting. It was a rare significant success for Kiev's forces in their struggle to quell the rebellion."

Guardian: "Six people were arrested on 4th July after demonstrators from dueling sides of the immigration debate clashed outside a US Border Patrol station in Murrieta, California, where a convoy of busses carrying some of the Central American migrants flooding the US-Mexico border was expected to arrive."

Thursday
Jul032014

The Commentariat -- July 4, 2014

From Page 1 of Thomas Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed....

Punctuation Matters. Jennifer Schuessler of the New York Times: "A scholar is now saying that the official transcript of the document produced by the National Archives and Records Administration contains a significant error -- smack in the middle of the sentence beginning 'We hold these truths to be self-evident,' no less. The error, according to Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., concerns a period that appears right after the phrase 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' in the transcript, but almost certainly not, she maintains, on the badly faded parchment original. That errant spot of ink, she believes, makes a difference, contributing to what she calls a 'routine but serious misunderstanding' of the document. The period creates the impression that the list of self-evident truths ends with the right to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,' she says. But as intended by Thomas Jefferson, she argues, what comes next is just as important: the essential role of governments -- 'instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed' in securing those rights.'" ...

... CW: If you look at Jefferson's draft (excerpted above; full page 1 here), the punctuation following "happiness" is a semicolon, & there is another semicolon following "consent of the governed." That is, he meant it as one long sentence, with independent clauses meant to hang together.

That action evinces disregard for even the newest of this Court's precedents and undermines confidence in this institution. -- Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent on an order for temporary injunction in Burwell v. Wheaton College ...

* ... Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "In a decision that drew an unusually fierce dissent from the three female justices, the Supreme Court sided Thursday with religiously affiliated nonprofit groups in a clash between religious freedom and women's rights. The decision temporarily exempts a Christian college from part of the regulations that provide contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The court's order was brief, provisional and unsigned.... The order, Justice Sotomayor wrote, was at odds with the 5-to-4 decision on Monday in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, which involved for-profit corporations. 'Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word, Justice Sotomayor wrote. 'Not so today.'" ...

     ... The brief order, Scalia's one-line concurrence, & Sotomayor's long dissent are here. ...

... Lyle Denniston of ScotusBlog: "Expanding the rights of religious opponents of birth control, a divided Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon spared an Illinois college -- and maybe hundreds of other non-profit institutions -- from obeying government regulations that seek to assure access to pregnancy prevention services for female workers and students. In the same order, the majority essentially told the government to modify its own rules if it wants to keep those services available. Three Justices wrote a sharply worded dissent, accusing the majority of creating on its own a 'new administrative regime' that will seriously complicate the operation of the birth control mandate under the new federal health care law." ...

... Micah Schwartzman, Richard Schragger & Nelson Tebbe in Slate:" Hobby Lobby is for religion what Citizens United was for free speech -- the corporatization of our basic liberties. But Hobby Lobby is also unprecedented in another, equally important way. For the first time, the court has interpreted a federal statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (or RFRA), as affording more protection for religion than has ever been provided under the First Amendment.... The court has eviscerated decades of case law and, having done that, invites a new generation of challenges to federal laws, including those designed to protect civil rights.... The Roberts Court is now unconstrained by precedent. It has loosened itself from decades of First Amendment doctrine and has begun remaking the law of free exercise." ...

     ... CW: Yeah, not bound by precedent set way back on Monday.

... Caitlan MacNeal of TPM: "A reverend in Illinois organized a demonstration to hand out condoms outside of a local Hobby Lobby store in order to protest the Supreme Court's ruling on contraception, the Daily Herald reported. Rev. Mark Winters of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Naperville, Ill..., told the Daily Herald that he wanted the protest to show that not all Christians oppose birth control. He also said he hoped to get people to question whether the Supreme Court's decision was fair to Hobby Lobby employees' religious freedom. 'You can make the religious freedom argument, you can make the argument about contraception, but ultimately, for me, this is about power,' he said. 'Jesus had a lot of issue with powerful people using power over the powerless.'" ...

... Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post: "A flurry of Supreme Court decisions this year on reproductive rights, executive power and other issues could play a prominent role in the midterm elections this fall, rallying base voters on both sides and laying the groundwork for the larger fight to come in 2016."


Paul Krugman
: "The basic story of what went wrong [with the economy] is, in fact, almost absurdly simple: We had an immense housing bubble, and, when the bubble burst, it left a huge hole in spending. Everything else is footnotes. And the appropriate policy response was simple, too: Fill that hole in demand. In particular, the aftermath of the bursting bubble was (and still is) a very good time to invest in infrastructure.... But what actually happened was exactly the opposite: an unprecedented plunge in infrastructure spending.... And it's about to get even worse. The federal highway trust fund ... is almost exhausted. Unless Congress agrees to top up the fund somehow, road work all across the country will have to be scaled back just a few weeks from now.... The combination of anti-tax ideology and deficit hysteria (itself mostly whipped up in an attempt to bully President Obama into spending cuts) means that we're letting our highways, and our future, erode away."

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd.

Dylan Stableford of Yahoo! News: "New York Times columnist David Brooks gets a lot of hate mail. And he doesn't read the comments section. 'I used to read them, but it was just too psychologically damaging,' Brooks said in an interview with Yahoo News' Katie Couric at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Tuesday. 'So then I would ask my assistant to read them.' Brooks was shocked at the volume of 'punishingly negative' comments when he joined the Times in 2003. 'It was the worst six months of my life,' he said. 'I had never been hated on a mass scale before.' CW: The post includes video of the full hour-long Couric-Brooks interview."

Beyond the Beltway

Michele Richinick of NBC News: "New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a gun control bill on Wednesday that would have banned magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate called the restriction of the number of bullets 'trivial,' and denied such a limit could prevent future mass shootings.... Hours before Christie's decision, several families from Newtown, Conn., personally delivered a petition to Christie to encourage him to reduce the legal limit of magazines. More than 55,000 individuals supported their request. The governor wasn't available to meet with the parents...." CW: In other words, Gov. Confrontational & Mr. Straight Talk didn't have the guts to face the parents & tell them that their children's deaths by weapons equipped with high-capacity magazines were "trivial." Coward. Hypocrite. Huge sack of shit.

Ryan Takeo of KPIX: "The city of Berkeley[, California,] will require medical marijuana dispensaries to give away two percent of the amount of cannabis they sell each year free to low-income patients."

I don't want to get into the debate about climate change, but I will simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There are no factories on Mars that I'm aware of. -- Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith, at a Natural Resources & Environmental hearing, explaining why coal can't possibly be contributing to climate change

... while the average temperature on Earth is roughly 58 degrees Fahrenheit, the average temperature on Mars is approximately -80 degrees Fahrenheit. In Sen. Smith's defense, he's only off by about 138 degrees or so, which happens sometimes.... There were plenty of other amazing and 'insightful' quotes in this hearing ... where the people who say Mars is the same temperature as Earth allege that climate scientists don't know what they're talking about. -- Blogger Joe Sonka

An Upside to Manhattan's One-Way Avenues: Danielle Tcholakian & Murray Weiss of DNAinfo: "A man who was driving the wrong way on Seventh Avenue early Wednesday was caught with assault rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and several knives -- and police found a note in his car saying he wanted to die in combat, police said." Via New York.

Senate Race 2014

Physicians Against Birth Control. Bruce Alpert of the Times-Picayune: "The Bill Cassidy Senate campaign announced Thursday that the candidate's unmarried 17-year-old daughter is pregnant as she prepares for her senior year at a Baton Rouge high school. Cassidy, a Republican congressman from Baton Rouge, said in a statement provided NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune that his daughter faces 'a more challenging future' and that she has his and his wife Laura's unconditional support. The baby is expected later this summer.... Both Bill Cassidy and his wife, Laura, are physicians." Cassidy is the front-runner in the Louisiana GOP Senate race. ...

     ... I doubt his daughter will be getting an abortion. Cassidy, who is "staunchly pro-life," opposes abortion even in the case of rape or incest. Planned Parenthood gave Cassidy a zero percent rating. So did the National Education Association & the Human Rights Campaign. He has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.

Senate Races 2016

Dave Weigel of Slate: "... the 2016 election map gives Democrats a chance to refight the troublesome 2010 elections, and to do so with Hillary Clinton atop the ballot. The best case 2014 scenario for Democrats is that they only hold the Senate by one or two votes." Weigel lists "seven Senate races Democrats should be optimistic about in 2016."

News Ledes

New York Times: "In the latest turn in the yearlong tensions with Germany over American spying, a German man was arrested [by the German government, I surmise] this week on suspicion of passing secret documents to a foreign power, believed to be the United States. The American ambassador, John B. Emerson, was summoned to the Foreign Office here and urged to help with what German officials called a swift clarification of the case."

New York Times: "Richard Mellon Scaife, the Pittsburgh philanthropist and reclusive heir to the Mellon banking fortune, whose support for right-wing causes laid the foundations for America's modern conservative movement and fueled the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton, died on Friday. He was 82. Mr. Scaife's death was reported by the The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a newspaper he owned. No cause of death was given." ...

... For your amusement, here's a 2008 Vanity Fair story on how Scaife's second marriage went.

Wednesday
Jul022014

The Commentariat -- July 3, 2014

That nice Dan Balz over at the Washington Post does his best not to scold President Obama: "From the Rose Garden to the Cabinet Room to near the Key Bridge in Georgetown, the president has signaled more than mere annoyance at the state of affairs at the halfway point of this year. His disdain for congressional Republicans has steadily increased; his disrespect for their tactics has hardened into contempt. With immigration reform dead for this year, if not for the remainder of Obama's presidency; with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) threatening to sue him for alleged misuse of presidential power; and with other important legislation stalled in the House, the president has given voice to his frustrations with a series of partisan blasts. It culminated Tuesday with a mock dare to the speaker and his followers in the House: 'So sue me!' ... His public appearances, despite whatever comments he makes about his desire to work with Congress, have been designed to sharpen the partisan divisions, to belittle the Republicans and to say to middle-class families and especially unmarried women that he’s with them and the Republicans aren't."

Repeal That, Suckers. Alexandra Sifferlin of Time: "About 20 million Americans have gained health insurance or enrolled in new insurance under the health care reform law, according to a new report. The report from the Commonwealth Fund, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, credits President Barack Obama's health reform law with an estimated 20 million enrollments as of May 1."

Paloma Esquivel, et al., of the Los Angeles Times: "The dramatic standoff in Murrieta[, California, in which U.S. protesters blocked buses carrying immigrant mothers & children from Central America,] highlighted a current of angst over the influx and underscored the challenges the government may face as it moves to transfer immigrants away from border areas, where detention facilities are overcrowded. Many minors who arrive by themselves are being transferred to emergency shelters in Texas, Oklahoma and California, while some children accompanied by a guardian are being sent to processing stations in Laredo and El Paso, Texas, and Murrieta and El Centro, Calif. Most will be released with orders to appear in immigration court. Immigration officials have not said exactly how many people will be moved."

Ed Pilkington of the Guardian: "Target has joined the growing list of major commercial chains that have taken a stance against the gun lobby, announcing that customers carrying rifles will not be welcome in any of its stores even in states where 'open carry' of weapons is legal.... The announcement comes a month after Target found itself in the middle of a ferocious battle between pro-gun activists and their gun-safety opponents.... Target's capitulation brings it in line with several other of the largest retail corporations in America which have previously announced policies designed to keep guns out of their stores, including Starbucks, Jack in the Box, Chipotle, Sonic and Chili's."

Corporations are people, my friend. Women? Not so much. -- Erin Ryan of Jezebel

(I missed linking Ryan's column, published Monday, but you shouldn't miss reading it. It's a gem. -- Constant Weader)

Molly Ball of the Atlantic: The Hobby Lobby decision is already "beginning to reverberate: A group of faith leaders is urging the Obama administration to include a religious exemption in a forthcoming LGBT anti-discrimination action. Their call, in a letter sent to the White House Tuesday, attempts to capitalize on the Supreme Court case by arguing that it shows the administration must show more deference to the prerogatives of religion." ...

... ** Ian Millhiser of Think Progress on "the most partisan Supreme Court justice of all." Read Millhiser's take on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is at odds with everything else I've read on the act. Millhiser extracts clauses that make it pretty clear the RFRA does not support Hobby Lobby; rather it specifically legislates against Hobby Lobby's religious exemption scheme.

... David Corn & Molly Redden of Mother Jones: "For a decade or so, Hobby Lobby and its owners, the Green family, have been generous benefactors of a Christian ministry that until recently was run by Bill Gothard, a controversial religious leader who has long promoted a strict and authoritarian version of Christianity. Gothard, a prominent champion of Christian home-schooling, has decried the evils of dating, rock music, and Cabbage Patch dolls; claimed public education teaches children 'how to commit suicide' and undermines spirituality; contended that mental illness is merely 'varying degrees of irresponsibility'; and urged wives to 'submit to the leadership' of their husbands.... In March, he was pressured to resign from his ministry, the Institute in Basic Life Principles, after being accused by more than 30 women of sexual harassment and molestation -- a charge Gothard denies." ...

... "Supreme Court Reveals Its Class Bias." E. J. Dionne: "It's not often that social and corporate conservatives come together, but the five right-of-center justices on the Supreme Court fashioned exactly this synthesis in their Hobby Lobby decision this week. In a religious freedom case related to birth control, the majority focused on the liberties of the company's owners, not of those who work for them. More than that, the justices continued to press their campaign to create an entirely new legal regime under which corporations enjoy rights never envisioned by our Founders or the generations who followed them. ...

... Ed Kilgore in TPM: "... the new conservative Christian gospel of 'religious liberty' ... would if given the power to do so impose their beliefs about zygotes on the rest of us.” ...

Reuters photo.... CW: I was struck by this photo of these lovely young women celebrating the Hobby Lobby decision & otherwise "courageously abolishing abortion." You know perfectly well that all of them use contraception products, at least one of them will need emergency contraception at some time and/or will get an abortion.

Why Sex Is Like Bowling & Stamp Collecting
(Except Sex Is "Horrifying")

... sexual relations are basically a voluntary activity.... Sex is only a human want (like bowling or stamp collecting), not an actual need. So sex is merely optional -- a sort of luxury good, especially when not making any babies.... If people like having carnal relations, perhaps they can pay for the consequences of it themselves, instead of making the unwilling, horrified employer pay. -- Attorney David Boyle, in an amicus brief supporting Hobby Lobby. Via Jessica Valenti of the Guardian

This is a pretty hilarious brief. Elsewhere in it Boyle wonders why the ACA doesn't mandate women's using a version of the rhythm method. No, really; see pp. 8 ff. Next year, we should write us some amicus briefs. -- Constant Weader

... David of Crooks & Liars: "CNN host Ashleigh Banfield on Wednesday highlighted the 'hypocrisy' of Hobby Lobby for investing in companies that made the same birth control products that it refused to provide to female employees." ...

     ... CW: Akhilleus mentioned the Greens' hypocrisy in yesterday's comments. Another way to look at it: the Greens' goal was to limit use of these emergency birth control methods, not just by Hobby Lobby but by other companies' insurance plans & of course by individual women. It was their goal, in other words, to reduce the sales of these products. The investment at issue is not in the Greens' personal portfolio (though they could be invested there, too) but in Hobby Lobby's 401(k) plan for its employees. So one must extrapolate that not only did the Greens want to reduce their employees' insurance coverage; they also hoped to reduce the value of the employees' retirement plans. Awfully Christian of them. ...

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Dissent, Musical Version (via BlueGal in Crooks & Liars):

... CW: It seems to me that the thrust of the Greens' belief may be based not so much on abortion as it is on opposition to extramarital sex. The kinds of contraception that will not cover are those that women use "after the act"; that is, when they've had unplanned sex. The Five Supreme High Priests, however, have made clear in their post-ruling clarification (see AP story linked yesterday) they're opposed to sexual relations entered into for purposes other than procreation. I've focused on this as a women's issue, but obviously it's also an issue for men & boys who have relations with women in their reproductive years. And it is very much, as E. J. Dionne implies, one that discriminates against women (& men) of limited means. The lucky duckies (like themselves) for whom birth control is an incidental expense -- or no expense at all because their insurance pays for it -- all win a get-out-of-childbirth-free pass. In their vast right-wing conspiracy to re-establish a stark contrast between haves & have-nots, I cannot think of a more personal, intrusive or damaging way of doing so.

Thanks to Kate M.

Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "Civil libertarians saw their hopes for curtailing the National Security Agency's massive digital surveillance program dimmed in the wake of a report from a US government privacy board vindicating much of the international communications dragnet."

No Apologies. Manipulating People Is What We Do. Gail Sullivan of the Washington Post: "On Wednesday, Facebook's second-in-command, Sheryl Sandberg, expressed regret over how the company communicated its 2012 mood manipulation study of 700,000 unwitting users, but she did not apologize for conducting the controversial experiment. It's just what companies do, she said."

AP: "The Vatican has formally recognised the International Association of Exorcists, a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who liberate the faithful from demons.... More than his predecessors, Pope Francis speaks frequently about the devil, and last year was seen placing his hands on the head of a man supposedly possessed by four demons in what exorcists said was a prayer of liberation from Satan." CW: Hey, why not? Exorcism isn't much crazier than a lot of other doctrine.

Gail Collins is running a quiz today. No mention of exorcists, but she did get in a fortuneteller.

President Obama promotes the collectivist, effeminate, elitist sport of soccer:

Beyond the Beltway

Expanding the mandatory waiting period [for an abortion] presupposes that women are unable to make up their own minds without further government intervention. This is insulting to women, particularly in light of what the law already requires. -- Gov. Jay Nixon (D-Mo.) ...

... Tara Culp-Ressler of Think Progress: "Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) rejected a measure on Wednesday that would have required women to wait three full days before being allowed to have an abortion procedure. His veto prevents Missouri from joining Utah and South Dakota, which are the only two states in the nation that currently have a 72-hour abortion waiting period on the books.

Jack Healy of the New York Times: "... last week, after a federal appeals court struck down Utah's ban on same-sex unions, [Hillary] Hall[, the county clerk in Boulder, Colorado,] decided the time had come to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses in Colorado, where they are not allowed. The move drew 97 delighted couples to the clerk's offices, but it also put this liberal college town in the Rocky Mountain foothills on a collision course with the state's Republican attorney general, John Suthers. Mr. Suthers's office urged Ms. Hall to stop issuing licenses for same-sex marriages and warned of 'further action' if she did not. He warned that the unions were invalid under Colorado's Constitution...."

Danny Vinik of the New Republic explains why a Quinnipiac U. poll released yesterday that claimed Americans think Obama is the worst modern president is meaningless.

Gubernatorial Race

The "47 Percent." Joey Bunch & Kurtis Lee of the Denver Post: "On Wednesday, as Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Beauprez toured Colorado to 'build unity,' a video surfaced that ... shows Beauprez in a speech to the Denver Rotary Club in 2010 making comments that echo those that hurt Mitt Romney's challenge to President Barack Obama two years later." ...

... Paul Waldman in the Washington Post: "... what's revealing about this factoid is that when it is offered, you almost never hear it followed by a particular policy argument about taxes.... That's because the 47 percent argument isn't really about tax policy. It's about aiming resentment downward, dividing Americans into the virtuous and the contemptible."

Senate Race

Alexis Levinson of Roll Call: "A conference call held by Sen. Thad Cochran's campaign quickly devolved into chaos and ended Wednesday after one of the participants repeatedly asked racially charged questions." So they arrange for an open conference call, yet they have no way to shut up crank callers? Just stupid.

News Ledes

Reuters: "U.S. employment growth jumped in June and the jobless rate closed in on a six-year low, decisive evidence the economy was moving forward at a brisk clip after a surprisingly big slump at the start of the year. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 288,000 jobs, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for April and May were revised to show a total of 29,000 more jobs created than previously reported."

New York Times: "Palestinian militants in Gaza fired 14 rockets into southern Israel early Thursday, hitting two houses in the border town of Sderot, after Israel carried out 15 airstrikes overnight against Hamas-related targets in Gaza in response to earlier rocket fire, the Israeli military said."

Tuesday
Jul012014

The Commentariat -- July 2, 2014

It's not crazy, it's not socialism. It's not the imperial presidency -- no laws are broken. We're just building roads and bridges like we've been doing for the last, I don't know, 50, 100 years. But so far, House Republicans have refused to act on this idea. I haven't heard a good reason why they haven't acted -- it's not like they've been busy with other stuff. No, seriously. I mean, they're not doing anything. Why don't they do this? -- President Obama, Tuesday, speaking near the (Francis Scott) Key Bridge on the Georgetown waterfront

... Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Obama called on congressional Republicans on Tuesday to take quick action to fund infrastructure projects throughout the country, arguing that failing to do so could mean huge layoffs for Americans this year.Stepping up criticism of his opponents on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama poked derisive fun at Republicans as he urged them to join Democrats to pass legislation that would replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to exhaust its resources by August":

Thomas Black and Caelainn Barr of Bloomberg News: "Employment may be headed for a 'breakout year' as companies feel more secure adding to payrolls following several years of demand rising only to stumble on threats from U.S. budget standoffs, a debt-ceiling induced default and a European credit crisis, said Marisa Di Natale, a director at Moody's Analytics. 'It's the first year in several where we haven't had some kind of manufactured fiscal showdown in Washington, which weighs on business confidence and consumer confidence,' Di Natale said." CW: In case you missed the point, here's an independent analyst effectively blaming Republicans for repeatedly tanking the economy. The example President Obama illuminates in his speech embedded above is just one small example of the GOP's wanton willingess to hurt millions of Americans in service of their own agenda & perceived self-interests.

Hillary Owes Boehner a Thank-You Note. Jonathan Chait: "The failure of the House to pass a bill of any kind represents a fascinating case study of a party unable to act on its recognized political self-interest."

** AP: "The Supreme Court on Tuesday confirmed that its decision a day earlier extending religious rights to closely held corporations applies broadly to the contraceptive coverage requirement in the new health care law, not just the handful of methods the justices considered in their ruling.... Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Inc. and a Pennsylvania furniture maker won their court challenges Monday in which they refused to pay for two emergency contraceptive pills and two intrauterine devices.... Tuesday's orders apply to companies owned by Catholics who oppose all contraception.... The justices also ordered lower courts that ruled in favor of the Obama administration to reconsider those decisions in light of Monday's 5-4 decision." ...

     ... Joan McCarter of Daily Kos: "That argument you keep hearing from the Right, about how Hobby Lobby still offers 16 kinds of birth control that they don't believe is abortion-y, so quit your bitchin' libs? Yeah, well, the Supreme Court punched a hole in that one." ...

... Abby Haglage of the Daily Beast: "There are at least 80 other companies fighting to be the next Hobby Lobby." CW Note: Haglage wrote this piece before the Five Dancing Supremes took their encore Tuesday, indicating that these companies don't have to sue. They can just move forward with their program to deny whatever type of contraceptive coverage the CorpPerson doesn't "believe in." ...

... Dawn Johnsen, in ScotusBlog, writes a terrific summary of the devastating effect this ruling with have on women. "The typical American woman wishing to have only two children spends thirty years, three-quarters of her reproductive life, seeking to avoid unintended pregnancy. Half of all pregnancies in the United States (more than three million a year) are unintended. More than half of American women will experience an unintended pregnancy. Forty percent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion. Three in ten American women will have an abortion at some point in their lives. Reducing unintended pregnancy through the contraceptive coverage guarantee undeniably will reduce the need for abortion." Read the whole post....

     ... CW: The ruling is not so much about abortion as it is about controlling the sex lives of working women. These "good Catholic" justices believe the purpose of sex is procreation, so if (poor) women are going to have sex, they should be having babies, too. It's what God intended. ...

     ... For some reason, the rules don't apply to justices themselves. The five justice have fathered zero, one, two, three & nine children, so I'd guess the wives of at least three of the five used contraceptive drugs or devices at some time in their childbearing years. Of course, they could afford whatever they chose.

... Steve Coll of the New Yorker compares American conservatives' efforts to restrict women's reproductive rights to the Taliban's ban on polio vaccines. "Perhaps the Supreme Court's majority cannot fully imagine that religiously motivated litigants -- Muslim, Christian Scientist, Hindu, or other -- as qualified and as American as the Hobby Lobby owners might ultimately use Monday's ruling to enforce beliefs far outside of the decades-long campaign of Christian evangelicals and Catholics to limit the reproductive rights of women."

... Steve Stromberg of the Washington Post argues that Congress should repeal or revise the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a "law erected very high barriers to the government regulating anything that conflicts with anyone's religious beliefs," & which conservatives on the Supreme Court applied to the Hobby Lobby case. The Post's editors made the same point in Tuesday's paper. CW: Well, yeah. And that's going to happen. In an election year. When Republicans are celebrating the Hobby Lobby decision as a win for "religious freedom." I think even Democrats would vote against gutting a law titled the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," especially one that Congress passed almost unanimously & Bill Clinton signed. ...

... Paul Horwitz, in a New York Times op-ed, elaborates: "... it was easy to lose sight of the fact that [Hobby Lobby] was a statutory case, not a case decided under the First Amendment's protection of freedom of religion." ...

... The New York Times Editors urge the Supreme Court to grant ScotusBlog press credentials, something it has refused to do for spurious reasons. "Professional standards are necessary, but, by any measure, Scotusblog meets them. Its importance is demonstrated by its audience, which is not just top journalists and members of the public. According to the site's internal data, Scotusblog's single biggest user is the Supreme Court itself."

Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "An independent executive-branch board has concluded that a major National Security Agency surveillance program targeting foreigners overseas is lawful and effective but that certain elements push 'close to the line' of being unconstitutional. The 'unknown and potentially large' collection by the agency of e-mails and phone calls of Americans who communicate with foreign targets is one aspect that raises concerns, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said in a report released online Tuesday night." The Guardian's report, by Spencer Ackerman, is here. The report is here (pdf).

Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: Ahmed Abu Khattala, "the militia leader who has been charged in connection with the 2012 killing of the United States ambassador in Benghazi, Libya, has provided American interrogators with 'voluntary statements' that corroborate 'key facts' about the attacks, the Justice Department said in a court document filed Tuesday night." CW: Gee, that happened when he wasn't in solitary confinement an exclusive suite at the Guantanamo Resort? Doesn't seem possible. ...

... Sari Horwitz of the Washington Post: "Ahmed Abu Khattala, one of the suspected ringleaders of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, voiced opposition to the presence of a U.S. facility there in the days before the assault and organized the attacks out of a sense of ideological fervor, according to government prosecutors.... Abu Khattala, who was indicted Saturday on a charge of conspiracy, will appear Wednesday morning in U.S. District Court in Washington for a detention hearing...." ...

... "The Government's Motion for Pretrial Detention" is here.

Maureen Dowd has a good column on Cheney & Co.

Martin Savidge of CNN: "Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier held captive for five years by militants before his release a month ago, has ventured several times off an Army base in Texas as part of the effort to get him used to everyday life in America, a military spokeswoman said." Via Margaret Hartmann of New York. ...

... Kirk Johnson & Matt Furber of the New York Times profile Beau Bergdahl. OR, what happens when a kid reared on "a conservative theology of biblical inerrancy" is exposed to the world of ideas.

Beyond the Beltway

Rick Hertzberg of the New Yorker skims the surface of the Texas Republican party platform. "... if you want a glimpse of what a nontrivial and apparently growing segment of one of America's two great political parties believes in its heart of hearts, and what it says when it is essentially talking to itself," read on.

Brett Barrouquere of the AP: "A federal judge in Kentucky struck down the state's ban on gay marriage on Tuesday, though the ruling was temporarily put on hold and it was not immediately clear when same-sex couples could be issued marriage licenses." ...

... Winger Allahpundit: "The judge is a Bush 41 appointee, nominated to the federal bench by, er, Mitch McConnell."

Right Wing World

In Right Wing World, even gag gifts are evidence that a psychotic Iranian Muslim (Shiite, I presume) Hitlery-y woman is secretly running the U.S.A. (& making white men bow down to her).

News Ledes

New York Times: "The abduction and killing of a Palestinian teenager whose burned body was found in a Jerusalem forest on Wednesday further poisoned relations between Israelis and Palestinians and prompted international outrage as the police investigated the death as a possible Israeli revenge killing."

Reuters: "U.S. companies hired 281,000 workers in June, marking the biggest monthly increase since November 2012 and well above market expectations, a report by a payrolls processor showed on Wednesday. Private job gains in May were 179,000. Economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast that the ADP National Employment Report would show a gain of 200,000 jobs last month."

Ann Coulter gets a break. Elitist frites-eating Belgians knock U.S. out of World Cup competition.

NIMBY. Los Angeles Times: "Amid rising concern over a surge of young immigrants crossing the border illegally, flag-waving protesters blocked three busloads of detainees in Riverside County on Tuesday, preventing them from reaching a Border Patrol processing station in Murrieta[, California].... The incident came one day after [Murietta Mayor Alan] Long urged residents to protest the federal government's decision to move the recent immigrants -- the first of what he said was to be a series of arrivals -- to the facility in his city."