The Ledes

Wednesday, July 23, 2014.

New York Times: "Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise visit to Israel on Wednesday, as he pressed his effort to forge a cease-fire to bring a halt to the bitter fighting in the Gaza Strip. Mr. Kerry’s plane touched down at Ben-Gurion International Airport just a day after the United States Federal Aviation Administration suspended American civilian flights to Israel." ...

... Guardian: "International airlines halted flights to and from Israel indefinitely on Tuesday citing security concerns in an unexpected twist to the two-week-old conflict in Gaza." ...

     ... CW: Guess that puts something of a damper on the Summer Vacation Insurance Theory of War. ...

... Washington Post: "As Israel pummels Hamas’s infrastructure inside Gaza, it is also trying to prevent attacks originating from the West Bank and Israel — by obliterating the houses of the relatives of Palestinians who allegedly have harmed Israelis. In doing so, Israel’s military has returned to a controversial policy of punitive demolitions that has displaced thousands of Palestinians over the years."

Time: "U.S. intelligence resources tracked the 'specific missile' that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a senior Administration official said Tuesday, saying intelligence adds up to a picture that 'implicates Russia' in helping to bring down the plane." ...

... Washington Post: "The Obama administration, detailing what it called evidence of Russian complicity in the downing of a Malaysian airliner, on Tuesday released satellite images and other sensitive intelligence that officials say show Moscow had trained and equipped rebels in Ukraine responsible for the attack."

The Wires

The Ledes

Tuesday, July 22, 2014.

Washington Post: "The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday afternoon ordered U.S. carriers to stop flying to or from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, prohibiting them from traveling through Israel’s largest airport after a rocket landed nearby."

Reuters: "Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and U.N. diplomats pursued talks on halting fighting that has claimed more than 500 lives. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in neighboring Egypt, while U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Israel later in the day. Both have voiced alarm at mounting civilian casualties."

New York Times: "A train carrying the bodies of victims from the Malaysia Airlines jet downed by a missile last week arrived Tuesday morning in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv after a 17-hour journey out of lawless territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels." ...

... New York Times: "A piece of wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 that was shot down in eastern Ukraine last week bears telltale marks of small pieces of high-velocity shrapnel that apparently crippled the jet in flight. Riddled with these perforations and buffeted by a blast wave as it flew high above the conflict zone, the plane then most likely sheared apart."

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post, May 29:"The ongoing measles outbreak in the United States has reached a record for any year since the disease was  eliminated in this country 14 years ago, with 288 cases of the potentially deadly infection reported in 18 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday."

White House Live Video
July 22

11:00 am ET: Josh Earnest's press briefing

12:10 pm ET: President Obama & Vice President Biden deliver remarks & sign H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

3:30 pm ET: Drink Up! with First Lady Michelle Obama

If you don't see the livefeed here, go to


Lunar Landing, Cable News Version. Slate: "In 2009, Andrew Bouvé imagined what it would be like if the moon landing happened today, unleashing cable news on the event.... This Sunday marks the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing."


New Yorker illustration.

The New Yorker has opened up its archives for the summer. An excellent opportunity to get in on some fabulous reading.


CW: Jordan Weismann of Slate presents this audio as an unusual customer service horror story. It is a nightmare, to be sure. But as someone who has had to deal with stopping & starting various utility & communications services recently, I can attest that it is par for the course for an American U.S. customer service rep. Dealing with non-Americans, who increasing represent U.S. companies, is worse. These reps all work from scripts, but the non-Americans don't understand my English, so their "responses" are even more non-responsive than are those of the Comcast guy there:


Airborne Dinosaur. USA Today: Paleontologists have discovered in China a new species of dinosaur that "had long feathers not just on its wings but also on its hind legs, making it one of only a handful of 'four-winged' dinosaurs. It also had big, sharp teeth and sharp claws, indicating it was carnivorous.... Scientists were surprised to find something so large that could take to the skies so early in the history of flying creatures." ...

     ... CW: Charles Pierce's take: "The Christianists have been wrong all these years. It's not Intelligent Design. It's Abstract Design. God The Dada."

Houston Chronicle: "The Palm Beach mansion known as President JFK's Winter White House has hit the market for a staggering $38.5 million. That price is even more gasp-worthy considering the same property sold for $4.9 million in 1995 and a mere $120,000 in 1933." More photos, including interior shots, at the linked page.

Heller McAlpin reviews Marja Mills' book The Mockingbird Next Door, a memoir of the writer's friendship with Harper Lee & her sister Alice Finch Lee, for the Washington Post.

According to this Daily Beast headline, the "World Awaits LeBron James' Decision." CW: Even though I so often do the sports report, it turns out I am not of this world.

Smart Girls Don't Swear. Vanity Fair "cleaned up, pored over, and painstakingly transcribed" some of the Nixon tapes, "many of which were muffled and, at times, indecipherable." The post excerpts a few: Nixon on gays, Jews, swearing.

New York Times: Hillary Clinton's "memoir, 'Hard Choices,' has just been toppled from its spot on the best-seller list by a sensational Clinton account by her longtime antagonist Edward Klein. It is a powerful statement about today’s publishing realities that Mr. Klein’s book, a 320-page unauthorized and barely sourced account full of implausible passages, including one about a physical altercation between Mrs. Clinton and President Obama, has landed atop the New York Times best-seller list, knocking 'Hard Choices' to No. 2." ...

... If by chance you believe the major media are the exclusive haunts of "elite leftists," here's evidence it ain't so. Klein, the Times story notes, is "a former editor at Newsweek  and The New York Times Magazine."

Eleanor Clift of the Daily Beast interviews Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times. Abramson still doesn't know what "management skills" means. Kinda makes you think maybe she doesn't have any.

Tim Egan: American children are too sheltered. The world isn't as scary as we think it is.

... Thanks to Bonita for the link. CW: I except you actually could purchase the materials at Hobby Lobby you'd need to make an IUD. However, Dr. Weader strongly advises against this do-it-yourself project.

New York Times: "The New Yorker is overhauling its website, making all articles it has published since 2007 available free for three months before introducing a paywall for online subscribers."

The New York Times Magazine publishes excerpts from a few of Warren Harding's love letters to Carrie Phillips. Also, he was a worse poet than he was a president. And Phillips was unfaithful to Harding; then she blackmailed him. Maybe it was because she was so turned off by all those letters where he personified his penis as "Jerry."

Guardian: A Princeton archaeologist has found what may be the world's oldest extant erotic graffiti on the Greek island of Astypalaia in the Aegean sea. Also, it is so gay.

Wherever in the U.S. you may live, if you missed your local news last night, we have it here. In fact, if you want to stay ahead of the curve, here's what will be on your local news tonight. Thanks to Bonita for the link:

Whole Food Business Model: We Cheat You, But Not so Much You'll Notice. Shan Li of the Los Angeles Times: "Whole Foods Market is paying $800,000 in penalties after an investigation found the supermarket chain overcharged customers throughout California. During a yearlong investigation, state and local inspectors found the Austin, Texas, grocer charged more than advertised for a wide range of food products, according to a statement from the Santa Monica city attorney's office. Problems included failing to deduct the weight of containers when ringing up fresh food, putting smaller amounts into packages than the weight stated on the label, and selling items by the piece instead of by the pound, as required by law, the statement said.... 'Based on a review of our own records and a sampling of inspection reports .... our pricing on weighed and measured items was accurate 98% of the time,' the company said in a Tuesday statement." ...

... CW: Besides, if you shop at Whole Foods -- at no charge to you -- you can learn that unions are like herpes, ObamaCare is a form of fascism & climate change is "perfectly natural."

Teenaged curiosity about sex is quite natural, but it can be a bummer.The Vagina Dialog. Turned out to Require a Large Cast of Supporting Characters. Jen Kirby of New York: "An American student studying abroad in Germany captured the world's attention yesterday by achieving the remarkable feat of getting himself stuck in a giant vagina sculpture and needing 22 firefighters to rescue him. But Fernando de la Jara, the artist behind the now-infamous work, took it all in stride.... 'It's participatory art,' de la Jara said. 'It should be entered.'"


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Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot ...

... And Al Franken is a Senator who can subpoena him.

I have some additions to make to the published comments on Rush Limbaugh.

A reader writes that a friend of hers reminded her,

Rush Limpballs was reprimanded immediately after a broadcast of Monday Night Football after making a racist comment about Donovan McNabb, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles a few years ago. He was immediately fined and taken off the air and very soon afterwards FIRED from his newly hired and long desired position of being a broadcaster for the National Football League and the sweet position of being given MNF. Clearly, one race related comment during one MNF game is worse than the toxic ugly words he has used to once again downgrade women and the strong Georgetown student during the course of this week.

The problem of course is that there is no one to fire Rush from his radio show. His show is syndicated and airs on about 600 radio stations, including the Armed Forces Services Network. Yes, indeed, your tax dollars are supporting Rush's effluvient Santorum. Petitions and letters asking Congress to remove Rush from the AFSN have been unsuccessful. There are only two routes to having him removed: sponsor by sponsor and station by station. This process has been somewhat successful in limiting Glenn Beck's airtime. When sponsors dropped their backing of Beck's Fox "News" show in response to public pressure, Roger Ailes canned him. And he lost his radio audience in several markets -- New York & Philadelphia among them -- when local stations dropped his show.

Another friend of Reality Chex, who is a prominent psychiatrist, tells me that he feels not enough attention has been paid to Rush's suggestion to tape college students having sex and post the videos on the Internet for viewers to "enjoy." This is symptomatic of Rush's objectification of women (ah, those four wives) and a sexual preference for porn (and masturbation?). The doctor describes pornography as "a sexual fetish -- preferring sexual stimulation by inanimate objects." Rush likes his women pixilated and in two dimensions. The psychiatrist also notes that 40 percent of sex addicts have associated chemical addictions. Could that possibly apply to Oxycontin Man? And Rush may be a sick-o, but do his fundamentalist Christian disciples really approve of compulsive masturbation to sexual imagery? How about you, Rick Santorum? Why do "entertainers" get a special pass to have sex "that is counter to how things are supposed to be"?

Finally, this, which is P. D. Pepe's comment come to life on the itty-bitty screen:


The Commentariat -- March 3, 2012

President Obama's Weekly Address:

     ... The transcript is here. AP story here.

... M. J. Lee of Politico: "Minutes after Fluke appeared on MSNBC, White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed the call in a press briefing with reporters, saying, 'He wanted to offer his support to her. He wanted to express his disappointment that she has been the subject of inappropriate personal attacks and thank her for exercising her rights as a citizen to speak out on an issue of public policy.'” ...

... Washington Post Editorial Board: "Mr. Limbaugh has abused his unique position within the conservative media to smear and vilify a citizen engaged in the exercise of her First Amendment rights, and in the process he debased a national political discourse that needs no further debasing. This is not the way a decent citize behaves, much less a citizen who wields significant de facto power in a major political party. While Republican leaders owe no apology for Mr. Limbaugh’s comments, they do have a responsibility to repudiate them — and him." ...

... Greg Sargent: "... reporters now have just the hook they need to ask Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum for comment on Rush’s remarks. Indeed, Rush is apparently doubling down on them today — and the fact that this is now a full-fledged national controversy means it’s time to hear from the GOP candidates about it." ...

... So Wolf asks Saint Rick about it. One of his handlers told him to use the word "absurd." It is apparently the only word he is allowed to use in "criticizing" Limbaugh, whom he characterizes as an "entertainer" and owned that "an entertainer can be absurd" -- in other words, "It's okay if Rush Limbaugh does it":

     ... CW: You might be a Rick Santorum voter if ... you find it "absurdly entertaining" when an "entertainer" singles out a young woman, calling her a "prostitute" and a "slut" & making numerous lewd remarks about her private life. ...

... Jim Acosta of CNN: "Mitt Romney steered clear of the Rush Limbaugh controversy until Friday evening, even avoiding a CNN reporter earlier in the day, when he addressed the issue after an event in Cleveland. 'I'll just say this which is it’s not the language I would have used,' Romney said." With video. ...

... CW Translation: I would not call a college student a 'slut,' a 'prostitute,' and a 'feminazi.' I would not speculate or comment on the nature or frequency of her sexual activity. I would not demand that a student post videos of her sexual encounters online. If videos are posted online, Ann and I do not intend to watch them. I'm running for President, for Pete's sake. -- Mitt Romney, making a bold stand for women's rights ...

... Rush Limbaugh’s comments are reprehensible. He should apologize. -- Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), in a tweet ...

... NBC News: "Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, already under fire from Democrats over his language in discussing a Georgetown University law student who testified about contraception, ratcheted up his rhetoric on Thursday, saying the student should post an online sex video if taxpayers are forced to pay for contraception." ...

... Brian Stelter of the New York Times: "Some of the same activists that persuaded advertisers to boycott Glenn Beck’s television show on Fox News in 2009 are now mobilizing against Rush Limbaugh in the wake of his verbal attacks on a Georgetown University law school student this week. Actually, they are remobilizing. A Twitter account, 'Stop Rush,' which has been dormant since late 2010, woke up on Wednesday, when Mr. Limbaugh first called the student, Sandra Fluke, a 'slut.'” The Stop Rush Twitter account is here. ...

... Daily Kos has a petition to Limbaugh's advertisers urging them to cancel their ads. CW: I've signed. P.S. To my great shock & surprise, I haven't heard from my Congressman CoMa a/k/a Connie Mack (R-Florida) or from the local radio station owner who carries Limbaugh with their responses to my complaints about Limbaugh. I wasn't home during business hours today, but I hope to be home part of the day Monday, so I'll phone them then. In the meantime, I've re-mailed my complaints. ...

... Dana Milbank: "When will Republicans stop their vagina monologue? March is federally recognized as Women’s History Month, and Republicans have been celebrating the occasion in a most unusual style: with a burst of interest in women’s private parts."

Dave S. writes, "Behold the president of Ireland [Michael Higgins] kicking wingnut propagandist ass!" (via Daily Kos):

"Somebody Else Should Do Something!" Steve Benen on Sen. Olympia Snowe's "bipartisan" message: "Snowe would routinely stress the importance of 'working together' to find 'common ground,' but it was the transition from platitudes to policy that led to breakdowns -- Snowe wanted her colleagues to work cooperatively, but consistently seemed reluctant to take the lead, despite her power." ...

... Jonathan Chait of New York magazine: "... moderates like Snowe and their fans worship bipartisanship for reasons that have nothing to do with good government. A Republican representing a blue state, or a Democrat representing a red state, faces an inherently precarious situation. Often she will find the demands of her party’s national base pitted against those of her home state electorate.... Creating legislation ... is not done out of a desire to bring bills closer into alignment with any abstract standard of good government, but to ensure her vote sits comfortably in the middle of a wide swath of support from both sides.... For her, though, such careful positioning was a matter of political self-preservation."

Kevin Drum on public opinion about the cause of rising gas prices: "... only 1% of Americans blame environmental restrictions on domestic drilling, despite a full-bore Republican campaign to convince them otherwise.... The vast majority of Americans still have no clue what's driving all this."

Travis Andersen of the Boston Globe: "Republican US Senator Scott Brown now has a 9-point lead over Elizabeth Warren, his likely Democratic opponent in the November election, a new poll has found."

Right Wing World

Quote of the Day: "Mitt Romney has a near Pavlovian reflex of lapsing into falsehoods in order to rearrange reality to his liking. -- Newt Gingrich, who knows all about lying ...

... Steve Benen totes up twelves of Mitt Romney's Pavlovian lies of the week. Busy week, Willard. ...

... Mitt Romney, Extremist for the Privileged. E. J. Dionne: "The evidence from his tax plan ... is that he's an extremist for the privileged. We’re witnessing what should be called the Two Cadillacs Fallacy: Romney’s rather authentic moments suggesting he doesn’t understand the lives of average people (such as his comment on his wife’s two Cadillacs) are dismissed as 'gaffes,' while Santorum’s views on social issues are denounced as 'extreme.' But Romney’s gaffes are more than gaffes: They reflect deeply held and radical views about how wealth and power ought to be distributed in the United States." ...

... Steve Benen posts this chart to show the change in effective federal tax rates under Romney's plan: taxes would go up for the poor, are almost flat for the lower middle-class, down for the rich & way down for the super-rich (including of course Romney himself):

More Ways Wingers Wreck the Economy. Brad Johnson of Think Progress: "Relentless attacks on the Chevy Volt from Rush Limbaugh and Republican politicians have taken their toll, as General Motors has announced a five-week suspension in production of the range-extended electric car. Conservative enemies of clean energy and the Obama administration ... call[ed] the cars 'Obama-mandated death traps.' Limbaugh even said GM was a 'corporation that’s trying to kill its customers.' After an investigation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that the Volt is just as safe as any gasoline-powered vehicle on the road."

Top Ten Other Things Romney Likes about Michigan's Trees:

Local News

Josh Rogers of NPR: "New Hampshire, one of the least religious states in the nation, has become the latest front in the political battle over contraception. State GOP leaders oppose the new federal rule compelling insurers to provide birth control to employees of religious organizations. They want to change a 12-year-old state law that requires contraceptive coverage under insurers' prescription drug policies.... New Hampshire has required contraceptive coverage in all prescription drug plans since 2000. The law was passed by a Republican Legislature and signed by a Democratic governor. Nobody at the time, it seems, saw the policy as a blow against religious liberty. Democratic state Rep. Terie Norelli, who co-sponsored the law, said that objection never came up." ...

... Digby: Where was the Catholic Church in 2000? What? Not demanding their First Amendment rights? "Ooopsie. Of course, the Catholic Church was very busy during that period if you know what I mean. They can't keep tabs on everything." Read her whole post.

News Ledes

Seattle Times: "Mitt Romney shook off his Republican rivals to win Washington's Republican caucuses Saturday, giving the GOP frontrunner an air of increasing momentum heading into Super Tuesday. With about 54 percent of the precinct votes counted Saturday evening, Romney had about 38 percent of the vote, with Ron Paul and Rick Santorum vying for second place with about 24 percent each. Newt Gingrich trailed with more than 11 percent. The Associated Press and CNN called the race early Saturday evening."

New York Times: "BP and the lawyers for plaintiffs in the trial over the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have agreed to settle their case."

New York Times: "A frantic day and night of fast-moving tornadoes and severe thunderstorms churned across the South and the Midwest on Friday, leaving behind at least 27 deaths, hundreds of injuries and countless damaged buildings in several states." Reuters story here, with video. AP story here, with photos.

New York Times: "American and Afghan officials investigating the Koran-burning episode that has brought relations between the countries to a new low say that the destruction could have been headed off at several points along a chain of mishaps, poor judgments and ignored procedures, according to interviews over the past week.... On Friday, an American official close to a joint Afghan-American investigation into the episode noted that the final report would call for disciplinary review for at least six people involved in the Koran burning, including American military 'leaders' and an American interpreter." BTW, it turns out four copies of the Koran were burned before an Afghan worker stopped the book-burning.


The Commentariat -- March 2, 2012

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is titled "In Church v. State, Ross Douthat Speaks for the Prosecution." The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute here.

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic interviews President Obama: "In the most extensive interview he has given about the looming Iran crisis, Obama told me earlier this week that both Iran and Israel should take seriously the possibility of American action against Iran's nuclear facilities." ...

... Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Haaretz: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming trip to Washington will be the most important one in his long career.... On Monday, Netanyahu will meet President Barack Obama in the White House for a game of diplomatic poker, where the greatest gamble of all will be right on the table: an attack on Iran's nuclear installations. Each of the two players will try to push the other to act." ...

... ** Stephen Walt of Foreign Policy: "You know a case for war is weak when its advocates have to marshal blatant untruths in order to convince people that their advice should be followed. Exhibit A is [yesterday's] alarmist op-ed in the New York Times, in which former IDF general Amos Yadlin argues for a preventive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.... The true history teaches the opposite lesson.... In the Iraqi case, a preventive strike reinforced Iraq’s interest in acquiring a deterrent, and led Iraq to pursue it in ways that were more difficult to detect or prevent. That is what Iran is likely to do as well if Israel or the United States were foolish enough to strike them. U.S. intelligence still believes Iran has not made a final decision to weaponize; ironically, an Israeli or U.S. attack is the step that is most likely to push them over the edge."

Charles Pierce: "After several months of watching the Republican primary process, I can't tell you what a cool breeze it was to watch a politician who looks at a crowd and doesn't see a group of potential marks (Romney), a collection of your fellow Elect marching with you through the dystopic Sinai that is America (Santorum), a gaggle of goldbugs (Paul), or the class of half-bright sophomores that N. Leroy Gingrich sees every time he looks anywhere but into the mirror. Barack Obama is not stiff. He is not bristling with unbridled id. He grins. He kids people.... He is relaxed about the job of politics. He is the only president of the United States — real or prospective — that I've seen in months." Here's the speech:

     ... CW: this is why Obama will win re-election, barring unforeseen circumstances (what could possibly go wrong in the next eight months?). Except for the wingnuts busily checking out Joe Arpaio's positive proof that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim & the crowd who are convinced Obama will implant computer chips in the heads of everybody who fails to show up for indoctrination camp, Americans will view Obama as the only candidate who seems like a POTUS. Looking presidential in a still shot, Mr. Romney, isn't good enough.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) writes a Washington Post op-ed explaining why she is leaving the Senate after "nearly 40 years of public office."

Phil Angelides, a former state treasurer of California & chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, in a New York Times op-ed, says Eric Holder should get off his ass & prosecute Wall Street miscreants. CW: fat fucking chance. Eric Holder is the worst Attorney General since ... Mike Mukasey.

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: Republicans are pinning their election hopes on rising gas prices, but most Americans are not inclined to blame President Obama for the price hikes.

Right Wing World *

Paul Krugman -- and others -- have covered most of what he writes in today's column -- titled "Four Fiscal Phonies" -- earlier this week. But it's helpful to read it all in one place. Also, this is new:

... the Tax Policy Center has analyzed Mr. Romney’s [latest] tax proposal. It found that, compared with current policy, the proposal would actually raise taxes on the poorest 20 percent of Americans, while imposing drastic cuts in programs like Medicaid that provide a safety net for the less fortunate. (Although right-wingers like to portray Medicaid as a giveaway to the lazy, the bulk of its money goes to children, disabled, and the elderly.) But the richest 1 percent would receive large tax cuts — and the richest 0.1 percent would do even better, with the average member of this elite group paying $1.1 million a year less in taxes than he or she would if the high-end Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire.

... Michael Barbaro & Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "The Romney campaign’s shortcomings have been on vivid display in recent weeks, from verbal stumbles to a failure to stir the passions of the Republican base. But even his battered rivals acknowledge that Mr. Romney is proving unusually adept at defining, diminishing and disqualifying a serial cast of challengers through relentless attacks. His campaign has deployed every tactic in the negative-campaign playbook." ...

Look, I have worn a garbage bag for rain gear myself. -- Mitt Romney, Man of the People ...

... Oh, wait. Make that Man of the People's Representatives:

I am big believer in getting money where the money is. The money is in Washington. I want to go after every grant, every project, every department in Washington to assure that we are taking advantage of economic development opportunities. -- Mitt Romney, 2002 ...

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

... David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix: Romney's Blunt Amendment "misunderstanding" (see my column in yesterday's NYTX) "is, to a large extent, the direct result of Romney's avoid-the-press strategy. If Romney talked to reporters more often, than he would most likely be on the record about this issue several times already -- it's not a surprising question to ask, given that the Senate was slated to vote on it this week (and did, earlier today). In that case, one awkward exchange would be easily brushed aside.... But Romney avoids the press (and most direct, unscripted human contact) almost pathologically. He had gone more than two solid weeks without taking questions from his travelling press corps, before he did an availability the morning of this Tuesday's primaries. CW: My new favorite phrase: "Avoid Unscripted Human Contact." ...

... Jonathan Cohn: the real problem for Romney isn't the flip-flop. It's the fact that he supports legislation that "would have allowed an employer to override the insurance requirement altogether, thereby depriving their workers of birth control coverage – or any other coverage – the employer finds objectionable." This is at odds with public opinion. ...

... Prof. Louise Trubek in a New York Times op-ed: "Why are issues that the courts decided so long ago still unresolved? Maybe it is time to recognize that law alone is not enough to effect social change. It must be linked to social activism on behalf of women’s rights. I should know. Fifty-five years ago, I had an opportunity to take a stand in favor of the right of women to control their fertility — and I did so through the courts." ...

Republicans like to talk about the Constitution and freedom, but once again, when it comes to women, they don't get rights. They get restrictions. -- Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)

S. V. Date of NPR: "In a 4-2 vote, the Credentials Committee of the Michigan Republican Party apparently reversed course on a stated delegate selection formula and awarded both statewide delegates to Mitt Romney. The committee includes three Romney supporters, but no Rick Santorum supporters. The move changed the final Michigan delegate count from a 15-15 tie between Romney and Santorum to a 16-14 Romney win":

There's just no way this is happening. We've all heard rumors that Mitt Romney was furious that he spent a fortune in his home state, had all the political establishment connections and could only manage a tie. But we never thought the Romney campaign would try to rig the outcome of an election by changing the rules after the vote. This kind of back room dealing political thuggery just cannot and should not happen in America. -- Hogan Gidley, Santorum spokesperson

Steve Kornacki of Salon: Newt "Gingrich has been reduced to: a useful tool for supporters of Mitt Romney." His candidacy serves to keep all the wingnut branch from coalescing around Rick Santorum.

Prof. Molly Worthen, in a New York Times op-ed: "When conservatives cry 'freedom of religion' and insist they mean something more than 'freedom of worship,' this is what they mean: religious freedom is not just the freedom to gather in a room and pray one morning a week. It is the freedom to impose one’s own religious values on others. Free expression of religion entails the right to reason from religious principles in the public square and — with sufficient electoral support — to enshrine those principles in law and social institutions. If Obama does not support this view, they argue, then he is hardly a true American.... Conservatives’ accusations that Obama disrespects religious freedom have little to do with the White House’s actual policy.... They have everything to do with resurrecting old challenges to the president’s legitimacy and framing the 2012 campaign as a battle between honest Christian Americans and atheist subversives." ...

... James Hohmann of Politico: in Washington state, Santorum continues campaigning on religious rhetoric.

Vicious, Crazy Uncle Alert. Ashley Powers of the Los Angeles Times: Phoenix-area Sheriff Joe Arpaio held a news  conference Thursday" to say that "after six months of digging, Arpaio’s team concluded there was 'probable cause to believe forgery and fraud occurred' regarding [President] Obama’s birth certificate and his Selective Service card; the team recommended a criminal investigation.... At the news  conference, it was suggested that [Andrew] Breitbart's last interview may have been with Arpaio.The specter of conspiracy was raised repeatedly." CW: I was going to put this in yesterday's News Ledes; When I got to the "Breitbart's last interview" part I realized it belonged in Infotainment. The Commentariat is a compromise in the spirit of respect for the dead. ...

... Andy Rosenthal of the New York Times: "Based on news accounts, [Arpaio's] report consists of previously aired and well-refuted claims about the typography on the document.... A law-enforcement officer, who has abused his position and the public trust to conduct a xenophobic vendetta against Mexican Americans, is also participating in a xenophobic – perhaps racially motivated – attack against the president of the United States." ...

Here's the New York Times obituary for Andrew Breitbart. ...

... CW: a friend of mine, who is familiar with the chatter in Right Wing World tells me that immediately after the announcement of Andrew Breitbart's death, the conspiracy theory mill shifted into high gear -- Vladimir Putin had Breitbart killed; no, no, Obama's people assassinated him.

* Where all is not well.

News Ledes

ABC News: "Stronger twisters and extreme weather are expected today to again hit the areas of the Midwest and South rattled earlier this week by 33 confirmed tornadoes that left 13 people dead."

Guardian: "Israel is pressing Barack Obama for an explicit threat of military action against Iran if sanctions fail and Tehran's nuclear programme advances beyond specified 'red lines'. Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is expected to raise the issue at a White House meeting on Monday after weeks of intense diplomacy in which Obama has dispatched senior officials – including his intelligence, national security and military chiefs – to Jerusalem to try and dampen down talk of an attack." New York Times story here. See also Jeffrey Goldberg's interview of President Obama linked in today's Commentariat.

New York Times: "A day after the Syrian Army overwhelmed the main rebel stronghold in Homs, the Red Cross said it was sending a relief column to a beleaguered enclave of the city on Friday with food and medical aid for civilians trapped there for a month."

Washington Post: "Polls opened Friday for Iran’s parliamentary elections, the country’s first major vote since the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009 led to months of unprecedented anti-government protests."

Philadelphia Inquirer: "Marcellus pipeline proposed: ... A partnership of three companies on Thursday proposed building a $1 billion pipeline that would transport fuel from Northern Pennsylvania to markets in Central and Eastern Pennsylvania, as well as Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.... The proposed 200-mile, 30-inch Commonwealth Pipeline would transport at least 800 million cubic feet of gas a day - 800,000 dekatherms - if it goes into service in 2015. A pipeline that could connect local markets to the Marcellus would reduce transportation costs for customers, who now buy most of their fuel from producers on the Gulf Coast."

ABC News: President Obama said [last night] that his campaign might run excerpts of the GOP primary debates as political ads 'without commentary' during the general election."

Reuters: "Eight of the 10 men who prosecutors contend were sexually abused by former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky were abused on the college campus, and one was just 8 years old at the time, according to court documents released on Thursday."

Washington Post: "AT&T clarified its data policies Thursday, saying it will slow data speeds for users who exceed either a monthly limit of 3GB of smartphone data or 5GB of data on the carrier’s 4G LTE network. The company, which switched to tiered data plans for new users in June 2010, had previously said that it would slow data speeds for the top 5 percent of data users who had been allowed to keep their older, unlimited plans."


The Commentariat -- March 1, 2012

NEW. My column in today's New York Times eXaminer looks at some sloppy reporting in the Times on Mitt Romney's latest flip-flop. (Or, at least I think it's the latest. He may be flip-flopping this morning, as I write.) The column also speaks to a larger question: why so much sloppy reporting? The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute here.

** "Nobody Goes to Jail." Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone: "AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Most of these firms were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft.... Federal regulators and prosecutors have let the banks and finance companies ... get off with carefully orchestrated settlements — whitewash jobs that involve the firms paying pathetically small fines.... To add insult to injury, the people who actually committed the crimes almost never pay the fines themselves; banks caught defrauding their shareholders often use shareholder money to foot the tab of justice.... The justice system ... has actually evolved into a highly effective mechanism for protecting financial criminals." Taibbi explains why, and the government -- from President Obama on down -- has dirty hands.

They turned a bunch of oregano into high-grade weed and they sold it all around the world. -- Matt Taibbi, explaining how Wall Street bankers turned high-risk mortgages into triple-A-rated securities ...

... Nick Pinto of the Village Voice: 'Occupy Wall Street protesters held their biggest march so far this year today as part of a nationwide 'Shut Down the Corporations' day of action. Several hundred occupiers gathered in Bryant Park this morning before marching east on 42nd Street to the global headquarters of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, targeted because the company is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council. When the marchers returned to Bryant Park, Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi delivered a lecture explaining the origins of the mortgage crisis and the role played by Bank of America." ...

... ** NEW. Susan Antilla of Bloomberg News reports on the efforts of Occupy the SEC, "a media-savvy collection of legal, banking and activist members who come off as sane and authoritative. This is not the way the Occupy bashers’ 'welfare-bum hippies' propaganda script was supposed to play out." The group has "filed a 325-page comment letter to financial regulators, outlining their concerns about loopholes in the 'Let’s Try to Avoid the Next Financial Crisis' proposal known as the Volcker rule." There aim was to identify all the places where bankers would bulldoze the rule.

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "President Obama’s re-election campaign is accusing the Koch brothers-funded conservative group Americans for Prosperity of faking its grassroots support. The claim, in a new letter from campaign manager Jim Messina, is part of a growing back-and-forth between the Obama team and the billionaire Koch brothers. 'You argue that Americans for Prosperity is a grassroots organization of everyday citizens,” Messina wrote in the letter..., 'But its emphasis on rolling hack environmental protections and blocking a clean energy economy appears to be nothing more than an effort to promote the corporate interests of your employers and others who lavishly, and secretly, fund its operations.'” ...

... Greg Sargent adds background & political context.

Adam Serwer of Mother Jones: "The White House issued a presidential policy directive Tuesday evening that allows the president to largely disregard a provision in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act, which mandates military custody for non-American terrorism suspects captured on American soil." Charlie Savage of the New York Times has a story here. Tommy Vietor of the National Security Council explains the policy on the White House site. ...

... In a Senate committee hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) addresses the issue of military detention of American citizens. Listen to the end, where he lambasts Bush torture-memo writer Steven Bradbury who was called to testify:

Labor Unions -- "Architects of Democracy." Richard D. Kahlenberg & Moshe Z. Marvit, in a New York Times op-ed: "It’s time to add the right to organize a labor union, without employer discrimination, to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, because that right is as fundamental as freedom from discrimination in employment and education."

Amy Goodnough of the New York Times: "Senator Olympia J. Snowe’s surprise announcement that she will retire set off frantic political calculations throughout Maine on Wednesday, with former governors, members of the state’s Congressional delegation and many others hurriedly weighing runs for office that they had previously ruled out.... By day’s end, Representatives Michael H. Michaud and Chellie Pingree and former Gov. John Baldacci, all Democrats, had picked up nominating petitions from the secretary of state’s office, an initial step toward running. And a number of other prominent Mainers, including former Gov. Angus King, an independent, and the president of the State Senate, Kevin L. Raye, a Republican, said they were seriously considering runs for Ms. Snowe’s seat." ...

... Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times on why Sen. Snowe decided to retire and on the impact of the loss of another so-called moderate voice: "... people familiar with her thinking say the re-emergence of such hot-button social issues [as contraceptive care] helped nudge her to the exit.... For Republicans, those are often social issues like abortion, gay marriage and contraception. But the rise of a new strain of fiscal conservatism has also led to moralistic portrayals of votes on spending and the debt limit. And when issues are framed around morality, compromise becomes very difficult."

Right Wing World

Gabriella Schwarz of CNN: "Armed with a new delegate count, a Rick Santorum adviser on Wednesday painted Tuesday's contests as a 'disaster' for Mitt Romney. John Brabender said the campaign's count proves Santorum and Romney are tied in delegates won, which he said means the state should be classified as a split-decision instead of a win for Romney, who captured the popular vote."

Ed Kilgore of the Washington Monthly: "As they awaited the final results from Michigan, probably the single biggest topic of conversation in the chattering classes last night was the shocking news from the exit polls that Rick Santorum had lost Michigan Catholics to Mitt Romney by a 44-37 margin. Immediately there was speculation that Rick’s visceral dissing of JFK’s church-state relations speech might have contributed significantly to this result, or had perhaps cost him Michigan altogether." But guess what? Santorum never had the "Catholic vote."

Charles Blow: "In one statement [Mitt Romney] was able to label the Republican base as easily excitable, enamored of 'incendiary comments,' and thirsty for 'outrageous things' to be said about President Obama. I couldn’t have put it better myself."

... BUT. Amanda Marcotte of Slate: "... satire can't hold a candle to the real thing these days. The events of the past month have unleashed a tsunami of social conservative discourse on what they think the sexy sex is all about.... From Rick Santorum blaming contraception for teen pregnancy during Republican debate (in fact, widespread contraception use has cut the teen pregnancy rate in half since the 1950s) to David Albo complaining that Democrats highlighting his hostility to female sexuality is keeping him from getting laid to Rush Limbaugh suggesting birth control users and mothers are mutually exclusive groups, the past month has been a real education in how very little many conservative men know about sex, much less women's bodies." Marcotte especially enjoys this post by Craig Bannister of right-wing CNS News, which is indistinguishable in tone from the Funny or Die experts. ...

... AND. You really should read what Rush Limbaugh said about Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student whom Darrell Issa refused to allow to testify before his committee. I won't publish it here. Steve Benen: "If recent history is any guide, Republican officeholders are loath to disagree with the radio host publicly, and it'll be interesting to see if GOP lawmakers or candidates make any kind of exception here." ...

... Alex Seitz-Wald of Think Progress has the audio. ...

... CW: The local station that carries Limbaugh in Fort Myers, Florida -- as nearly as I can tell -- is owned by the same outfit that owns the CBS affiliate. I've written to them to confirm & told them that if true, I won't be listening to or watching any of their stations again. Once I verify who carries Limbaugh, I'll check to see who some of their biggest local advertisers are & let them know I'm boycotting their products. Limbaugh's remarks about Fluke are worse than his racist remarks about Obama. Fluke is a private citizen, not a politician. While I was at it, I wrote to my Congressman, Connie Mack (RTP), who is running for the Senate & asked him if he supported Limbaugh and his remarks. I do believe I'll press Mack on this. ...

... Update. Mike Lillis of The Hill: "House Democrats went after Rush Limbaugh Wednesday for his attacks on a university student who recently testified before Congress on women's reproductive health.... 'Limbaugh's attacks, the Democrats said, 'are outside the circle of civilized discussion and … unmask the strong disrespect for women held by some in this country. We call upon the Republican leaders in the House to condemn these vicious attacks on Ms. Fluke, which are in response to her testimony to the Congress,' they added."

John Adams of the Great Falls (Montana) Tribune: "Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull on Wednesday admitted to sending a racially charged email about President Barack Obama from his courthouse chambers. Cebull, of Billings, was nominated by former President George W. Bush...." Read the whole story.

Steve Benen on John Boehner: "... looking back over the last several decades, we haven't seen a House Speaker this ineffectual in generations."

Local News

Public Policy Polling: "Democratic prospects for recalling Scott Walker are looking like even money right now, an improvement for the party since PPP's last poll in October when Walker led most of his potential opponents."

Manny Fernandez of the New York Times: "A federal three-judge panel in San Antonio on Tuesday issued the last remaining sets of Texas political maps that had been at the center of a redistricting dispute, appearing to end uncertainty over the state’s long-delayed primary elections."

News Ledes

New York Times: "The Senate on Thursday killed a Republican effort to let employers and health insurance companies deny coverage for contraceptives and other services to which they have religious or moral objections. The vote was 51 to 48. In effect, the Senate upheld President Obama’s birth control policy. The policy guarantees that women have access to insurance coverage for contraceptives at no charge, through an employer’s health plan or directly from an insurance company. The vote generally followed party lines." Olympia Snowe (Maine) was the only Republican to vote against the amendment. Three Democrats: Bob Casey (Penn), Joe Manchin (WVa) & Ben Nelson (Neb) voted with Republicans.

Washington Post: "President Obama reiterated his call for Congress to repeal federal subsidies to the oil industry Thursday, escalating a political skirmish with Republicans over rising gasoline prices amid evidence that much of the public remains uncertain about who is to blame."

Yahoo! News: "Sam LaHood, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and six other U.S. pro-democracy group workers flew out of Cairo Thursday after Egypt lifted a travel ban that had barred them from leaving the country for over a month, democracy groups and Egyptian media reports said. A U.S. military plane waiting at Cairo airport since Wednesday was transporting the seven Americans and other foreign NGO workers to Cyprus." The New York Times story is here.

Washington Post: This morning "Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told Congress that the country is adding jobs across industries and that unemployment is dropping at a surprisingly fast rate. This latest evidence suggests that the so-far-anemic economic recovery is gradually accelerating and, with each passing month, could be growing more durable — good news for a workforce that still faces a historically high jobless rate and for a president who is looking to keep his own job in November."

New York Times: "Andrew Breitbart, a conservative blogger and activist who became well-known for publishing undercover videos and revealing photographs aimed at liberals and Democrats, died Thursday morning. He was 43. Lt. Larry Dietz, watch commander for the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, confirmed Mr. Breitbart’s death on Thursday. He said that the U.C.L.A. Medical Center reported that Mr. Breitbart died just after midnight. He would not provide any cause or further information." Los Angeles Times: "Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart collapsed while walking near his Brentwood home, his father-in-law said. Sources told The Times that Breitbart was rushed to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center about midnight, where he was pronounced dead of natural causes. No further details were available."

Reuters: "Two NATO soldiers were shot dead on Thursday by two Afghans, including a man believed to be a soldier, NATO said, an attack that is likely to raise further questions about the future of the country's struggling security forces."

ABC News: "Mitt Romney has won Wyoming's presidential caucus vote, a series of county straw polls that took place over the last three weeks. With 39 percent, Romney finished ahead of Rick Santorum (32 percent), Ron Paul (21 percent) and Newt Gingrich (8 percent). The Wyoming GOP released the final results Wednesday night. Like Iowa's presidential caucus vote, Wyoming's is not binding and will in no way affect the state's 29 delegates. Wyoming's caucuses, however, took place over the better part of a month."

Reuters: "Most Syrian rebels pulled out of the besieged Baba Amro district of Homs on Thursday after a 26-day siege by President Bashar al-Assad's forces, activists in contact with the fighters said.... Syrian forces again shelled Baba Amro earlier in the day, despite world alarm at the plight of civilians trapped there." The New York Times story is here.