The Wires

The Ledes

Sunday, February 7, 2016.

New York Times: "Robin Chandler Duke, a rags-to-riches grande dame who married an ambassador and became one of America’s best known advocates for women by championing reproductive rights and international family planning, died in Charleston, S.C., on Saturday. She was 92."

New York Times: "Defying warnings of tougher sanctions from Washington, North Korea launched a rocket on Sunday that Western experts believe is part of a program to develop intercontinental ballistic missile technologies."

White House Live Video
February 8

12:30 pm ET: Josh Earnest's press briefing, with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of NIH/NIAID, & Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the CDC

4:15 pm ET: Celebrating African-American women & dance

Go to


Public Service Announcement

New York Times (February 4): "Pregnant women whose male sexual partners have spent time in a country with confirmed transmissions of the Zika virus should either abstain from sex or use condoms during intercourse for the duration of their pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced.'

USA Today: "Women of childbearing age should avoid alcohol unless they're using contraception, federal health officials said Tuesday, in a move to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome. 'Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,' said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 'About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking.'"

New York Times (January 14): "Federal health officials are debating whether to warn pregnant women against travel to Brazil and other Latin American and Caribbean countries where mosquitoes are spreading the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in newborn babies. Officials say it could be the first time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises pregnant women to avoid a specific region during an outbreak." ...

     ... NYT Update (January 15): "Federal health officials on Friday advised pregnant women to postpone traveling to 13 Latin American or Caribbean countries and Puerto Rico where mosquitoes are spreading the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in babies." ...

... The Washington Post reports on the crisis in Brazil.

Washington Post: "Media mogul Sumner Redstone has resigned as board chairman at CBS Corp. after a court battle raised questions about the 92-year-old executive’s mental competence. He was replaced by Leslie Moonves, the longtime CBS president and chief executive, CBS announced Wednesday. The transition took effect Tuesday when Redstone was appointed to the role of CBS chairman emeritus, CBS said."

... New York Times: "A small 16th-century oil on panel largely kept in storage at a Kansas City, Mo., museum is a work by the Dutch Renaissance master Hieronymus Bosch, researchers [in the Netherlands] said on Monday, a finding that, if accepted by other scholars, would add to the tiny list of about 25 recognized Bosch paintings in the world. The painting, 'The Temptation of St. Anthony,' dated 1500-1510, had previously been attributed to the workshop of Bosch or to a follower of Bosch, known for his comic and surreal images of heaven and hell and the earthly moral purgatory in between."

Radio host Diane Rehm discusses her "retirement" plans with Karen Heller of the Washington Post.

Washington Post: "A lost story by famed British children’s author Beatrix Potter — the Tale of Kitty-in-Boots — has been discovered among her memorabilia and will be published this year more than a century after she wrote it. Jo Hanks, a publisher with Penguin Random House who made the discovery at London’s Victoria & Albert museum in 2013, called the story the biggest Potter discovery in generations and almost certainly the last, the London Times Newspaper reported Tuesday."

Boston Globe: "Late Night host (and New Hampshire native) Seth Meyers stars in this trailer for his fake movie, Boston Accent, which just laughs at all the devices used in every movie ever made in Boston":

Tim Egan's Confession: "I can no longer wait in a grocery store line, or linger for a traffic light, or even pause long enough to let a bagel pop from the toaster, without reflexively reaching for my smartphone."

Planet Nine. Caltech: "Caltech researchers have found evidence of a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system. The object, which the researchers have nicknamed Planet Nine, has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than does Neptune (which orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles). In fact, it would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the sun. The researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, discovered the planet's existence through mathematical modeling and computer simulations but have not yet observed the object directly." ...

... CW: Planet Nine, my ass. I will never abandon Pluto! But this is a mighty thrilling development. ...

... UPDATE. Rachel Feltman of the Washington Post interviews Mike Brown, one of the discoverers of Planet Nine. It turns out, as certainly every astronomer knows, that Mike Brown was also the guy who killed Pluto! Even his daughter is mad at him for that.

New York Times: "Five planets will parade across the dawn sky early Wednesday[, January 20,] in a rare celestial spectacle set to repeat every morning until late next month. Headlining the planetary performance are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. It will be the first time in more than a decade that the fab five will be simultaneously visible to the naked eye, according to Jason Kendall, who is on the board of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York."

Los Angeles Times: "The backlash against this year's Academy Award nominations escalated Monday with announcements by director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith that they would boycott the Feb. 28 Oscars ceremony, citing the absence of people of color in all four acting categories for the second year in a row. If other prominent entertainment industry figures join the boycott, it has the potential to spoil Hollywood's annual showcase event."

Donald Trump playing Donald Trump in movies & on teevee shows:

New York Times: "#OscarsSoWhite, that damning hashtag that made the rounds last year, can again, unhappily, be revived for this year’s Oscar nominations, which were announced Thursday morning.... The only Academy nods for two of the year’s biggest films about African-American characters went to white people.... In all the lead categories — best director, picture, and all four acting categories — only Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the Mexican auteur who won best director and picture last year, for 'Birdman,' adds a note of diversity. This year he was nominated for 'The Revenant.'”

Los Angeles Times: "Nominations for the 88th Academy Awards have been announced, and 'The Revenant' is leading with 12, including for best picture. Other nominees for best picture are 'The Big Short,' 'Bridge of Spies,' 'Brooklyn,' 'Mad Max: Fury Road,' 'The Martian,' 'Room,' and 'Spotlight.' All the snubs, surprises and reactions from nominees coming below." Full coverage via the linked page.

Christian Science Monitor: "... thanks to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Purdue University, the lowly incandescent bulb is getting a jolt of new life. The six-researcher team says it has found a way to boost the bulb's efficiency twenty-fold, which would leave today's favored compact fluorescents (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in the dust, according to a paper published Monday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology." ...

     ... CW: If these bulbs go into production, it should make Rand Paul very, very happy. If only MIT could do something about his big-shit problem. Science does have its limits.

Los Angeles Times: "A 21-year odyssey came to an end Tuesday when National Football League owners voted to allow the St. Louis Rams to move to Los Angeles for the 2016 season and gave the San Diego Chargers an option to join the Rams in Inglewood."

** Washington Post: "In a paper published in the open-access journal eLife this week, researchers say they have pinpointed what may well be one of evolution’s greatest copy mess-ups yet: the mutation that allowed our ancient protozoa predecessors to evolve into complex, multi-cellular organisms.... Incredibly, in the world of evolutionary biology, all it took was one tiny tweak, one gene, and complex life as we know it was born." The paper is here. ...

... CW: Sorry, fundies, this is a lot more exciting than a trip to the Noah's ark amusement park or whatever it is.

The Los Angeles Times' Golden Globe coverage is here.

New Yorker: More Pluto!

New York: "Lumosity is one of these 'brain training' programs, and yet, according to the Federal Trade Commission, many of those claims aren’t backed up by science. On Tuesday, Lumos Labs — the company behind Lumosity — agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission for $2 million for misleading consumers on claims that playing these mental games would help with cognitive performance and prevent mental decline as we age. 'Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,' Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. 'But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.'”

New York Times: "Twitter is experimenting with introducing a longer form of tweet, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans, in what would be another gradual move away from the simplistic design sensibility that the service was originally founded upon. The project, which internally has been referred to as 'beyond 140,' is still in its testing phase and is not set to be introduced until at least March...."

Washington Post: "Four newly discovered elements managed to squeak their way in[to the periodic table] just before the end of 2015, filling up the table's seventh row and marking the first additions since 2011." CW: Since I know squat about chemistry, let me say here -- in the fullness of my ignorance -- that the periodic table should stick with elements that occur in nature. If chemists want a "sub-periodic table" to show off their lab-created, unstable elements, let 'em have it. I don't see how an "element" can be artificial. Anyone who knows what s/he's talking about is free to set me straight.

TPM: "Twitter announced Thursday it's bringing back Politwoops, the popular gaffe-tracking transparency tool that tracked politicians' deleted tweets, after unceremoniously killing off the service earlier this year.... Twitter revoked developer API access for the project, a venture of The Sunlight Foundation and The Open State Foundation, in August 2015."

If you are interested in what George Lucas thinks about the "Star Wars" series & other stuff, you can find out here, presuming Charlie Rose doesn't monopolize the conversation (okay, silly presumption). ...

... Later Lucas said he was sorry he said some of those nasty things.

... Hank Stuever of the Washington Post: The "final episodes of 'Downton Abbey' are among the show’s best since the first season — and they’ll reassure those hoping for the happiest possible endings for nearly every character."

BBC News: "A monument from a temple in the ancient city of Palmyra destroyed by so-called Islamic State (IS) is to be recreated in London's Trafalgar Square. The 2,000-year-old arch is all that remains of the Temple of Bel, part of the Syrian Unesco World Heritage site, captured by militants in May. It will be recreated from photographs, using a 3D printer. The institute behind the project hopes the arch will draw attention to the importance of cultural heritage." ...

... John Brennan & Sarah Knapton of the (Irish) Independent: "Ireland's saints and scholars were descended from farmers and bronze metalworkers from the Middle East and modern-day Ukraine, scientists have found. Researchers have sequenced ancient Irish human genomes for the first time. They discovered mass migrations to Ireland thousands of years ago resulted in huge changes to the ancient Irish genetic make-up. A team of geneticists from Trinity College Dublin and archaeologists from Queen's University Belfast made the findings, which show a massive shift in our genetic mix over the course of just 1,000 years. They believe the genetic influxes brought cultural change such as moving to settled farmsteads, bronze metalworking - and may have even been the origin of western Celtic language." ...

... CW: One trouble with denigrating certain ethnic groups: we're all cousins. Sorry, "white" people.

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The Commentariat -- Aug. 28, 2013

The text is here.

George Condon, Jr., of the National Journal: "Fellow Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton will speak just before [President] Obama steps to the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his most famous oration in 1963. Because of age and birthplace, they bring something to the occasion that the much-younger Obama cannot: personal knowledge of Jim Crow, personal memories of state-sanctioned discrimination, and personal experience in battles to fundamentally change the mindset of the American South. Carter, Clinton, and Obama, born in 1924, 1946, and 1961, respectively, roughly represent three distinct generations in the struggle for racial equality." ...

** NEW. Joe Stiglitz on how Dr. King shaped his career. ...

... Prof. William Jones in the New York Times: "The march was so successful that we often forget that it occurred in a political environment not so different from our own. Kennedy's victory over Richard M. Nixon in 1960 signaled a break from the conservatism of the 1950s. But like the election of Barack Obama in 2008, hope for a return to the liberalism of the 1930s was dampened by an administration that rejected 'old slogans' like wage increases and public works in favor of tax cuts and free trade to stimulate growth."

Noah Shachtman of Foreign Policy: "Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services.... And that is the major reason why American officials now say they're certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime.... But the intercept raises questions about culpability..., even as it answers others: Was the attack on Aug. 21 the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds? Or was the strike explicitly directed by senior members of the Assad regime? 'It's unclear where control lies,' one U.S. intelligence official [said]...." ...

(... Driftglass: "And what a stroke of darn good luck it was that just that as tensions in the region escalate exponentially and the stakes in the game of trying to tries to suss out the other players' intentions and capabilities skyrocket, in addition to Bashar al-Assad's firm friendship to lean on, Vladimir Putin now has his very own NSA analyst-in-exile crashing right on his own futon! An NSA analyst-in-exile who is carrying around oodles of exotic details about the sources and methods of American intelligence and who now depends entirely on the goodwill of Vladimir Putin for his continued liberty and good health." ...)

... Rebecca Shabad of the Hill: "Nearly two dozen House members have signed onto a letter demanding President Obama consult Congress -- and wait for its authorization -- before launching military strikes against Syria.... As of Tuesday afternoon, 22 House members had co-signed Rigell's letter, including one Democrat, Rep. Beto O'Rourke (Texas)." ...

... Scott Lemieux in Lawyers, Guns & Money: "'Experts' who are always wrong about everything want to bomb Syria. The Weekly Standard has an open letter explaining that blowing up lots of stuff in Syria is a great idea." The "experts" include Joe Lieberman, Karl Rove, Bill Kristol, Elliott Abrams & Max Boot. And more! "I'm not 100% sure that military intervention in Syria is wrong. But it is true that 1. al-Assad is terrible 2. ????? 3. Bomb lots of stuff! is a terrible argument, and the arguments -- really assumptions -- in the [Weekly Standard] letter have scarcely more meat on them. There should be a very strong presumption against military action, but instead it's the one form of government action that doesn't seem to face any kind of cost-benefit analysis in our political discourse at all." ...

... Charles Pierce: "If these guys were a bowling team, they'd be rolling 'em into the snack bar." ...

... Julian Pecquet of the Hill: "Airstrikes on Syria would turn the U.S. military into 'al Qaeda's air force,' former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) told The Hill. The outspoken anti-war activist said any such action would plunge the United States into another war in the Middle East and embolden Islamist militants fighting Bashar Assad's regime."

... Paul Waldman of the American Prospect: "Why do we have this international consensus saying that while it's bad for someone like Assad to bomb a neighborhood full of civilians and kill all the men, women, and children therein, it's worse for him to kill that same number of civilians by means of poison gas than by means of "conventional" munitions that merely tear their bodies to pieces? Indeed, we act as though killing, say, a hundred people with poison gas is worse than killing a thousand or ten thousand people with conventional weapons. After all, the Obama administration (not to mention the rest of the world) reacted to Assad murdering 100,000 people by expressing its deep consternation and trying to figure out how to help without getting involved."

Josh Lederman of the AP: "President Barack Obama on Tuesday named the members of a new intelligence review panel aimed at boosting public confidence in U.S. surveillance programs, tapping a group of former White House officials and academics with close current and past ties to his administration. Michael Morrell, Obama's former CIA deputy director, will serve on the panel.... The White House unveiled the new members Tuesday with little fanfare in a statement announcing that Obama had held a meeting with the group. The meeting was not included on Obama's public schedule.... Also on the panel is Cass Sunstein, a former Obama administration official who is married to Obama's new U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power. Richard Clarke, a former White House cybersecurity adviser during the Clinton administration who campaigned for Obama, is another member. Peter Swire, a professor who worked on privacy issues in the Clinton administration and economic issues early in the Obama administration, will also serve on the panel. The fifth member is Geoffrey Stone, who taught law with Obama at the University of Chicago."

Aamer Madhani of USA Today: "President Obama won't bargain with GOP lawmakers over increasing the debt limit, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Tuesday. The warning from Lew came one day after he formally notified House Speaker John Boehner in a letter that the federal government will hit the $16.7 trillion debt limit in mid-October."

Eric Lach of TPM: "What good is a conservative fever dream if no one can make a buck off it, right? The people behind WND, perhaps the pre-eminent online purveyor of conservative fever dreams, on Sunday created an 'Impeachment Store' section for their website's online retail 'superstore.' ... Joseph Farah, the founder, editor, and CEO of WND..., said he was a bit surprised that impeachment was becoming such a hot topic, in part because even he admits that impeaching Obama is a long shot."

John Harwood of CNBC: "A source from Team Obama told CNBC that Larry Summers will likely be named chairman of the Federal Reserve in a few weeks though he is 'still being vetted' so it might take a little longer." ...

... CW: today President Obama will give what I expect to be a moving speech about equal rights. Don't let him fool you. Assuming Harwood source is correct, Obama's continued reliance on the good ole boys of Wall Street is all the evidence you need that racial, gender & economic equality is not of real concern to him.

Jessica Silver-Greenberg & Ben Protess of the New York Times: "Two federal regulators are preparing a series of enforcement actions and fines against JPMorgan Chase stemming from its dealings with consumers during the recession in the latest legal woes facing the nation's biggest bank. The regulators, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, plan to announce the actions as soon as next month.... Under the terms of the civil orders, the bank will have to acknowledge internal flaws and dole out at least $80 million in fines.... The most costly cases for JPMorgan center on concerns that the bank duped its credit card customers into buying products pitched as a way to shield them from identity theft."

The Contenders

Maureen Dowd: "... while [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie has taken dramatic moves to solve his weight problem, he has not yet solved his temperament problem."

Zack Beauchamp of Think Progress: Rand Paul, "... an influential Senator, a much-ballyhooed candidate for his party's nomination for the presidency, has been consistently espousing a worldview, reflected in his budget, that logically implies virtually all major government programs are slavery." CW: this is what you get when a kinda stupid, selfish, insensitive person tries to develop a philosophical rationale for not paying taxes.

Local News

What First Amendment? Adam Goldman & Mark Apuzzo of the AP: "The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorism organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.... In its hunt for terrorists, the NYPD investigated countless innocent New York Muslims and put information about them in secret police files. As a tactic, opening an enterprise investigation on a mosque is so potentially invasive that while the NYPD conducted at least a dozen, the FBI never did one, according to interviews with federal law enforcement officials."

Kathleen Gray of the Detroit Free Press: "It took two votes and eight hours of mostly closed-door politicking and vote wrangling, but the state Senate approved a plan late Tuesday to expand Medicaid health care coverage to 470,000 low-income Michiganders. The historic 20-18 vote makes Michigan the 25th state in the nation to go ahead with the Medicaid expansion as part of the federal Affordable Care Act...." Monica Davey has the report for the New York Times.

Nicole Flatow of Think Progress: Florida Gov. Rick Scott's latest voter purge plan is just as flawed as his old voter purge plans, according to Pinellas County Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark (R). Asked how many cases of voter fraud had been uncovered in Pinellas County since she became elections supervisor in 2000, Clark said none. "By Clark's account, nothing has changed since last year's botched effort, except that Gov. Scott no longer has Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to restrain him." ...

... Yeah, but still, Gov. Lex Luthor there did not say President Obama hates white people. Nor did he express a wish to blow up a local newspaper. Which brings us to Maine ...

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling: Democrat "Mike Michaud is the new leader in the Maine Governor's race, benefiting from the continued unpopularity of incumbent Paul LePage and declining support for independent Eliot Cutler over the last seven months. Michaud is at 39% to 35% for LePage and 18% for Cutler."

David Dayen in the American Prospect: Colorado AG John Suthers (R) has sued the two foreclosure mills that operate in the state. Dayen provides a peak into what these crooks do.

Senate Race

Jason Horowitz of the Washington Post profiles Cory Booker. The piece is mildly interesting, but not so interesting I remembered to post a link to it after I read it yesterday.

What God Told Pat Robertson

Beware of Gays Wearing Rings. Brian Tashman of Right Wing Watch: "Today on the 700 Club, Pat Robertson told co-host Terry Meeuwsen that gay men in cities like San Francisco attempt to spread HIV/AIDS to others by cutting them with a special ring when shaking hands. However, one could not hear Robertson make the remarks on the episode his Christian Broadcasting Network posted online, as the company once again appears to have edited Robertson's comments after they aired."

Since Akhilleus has questioned Patrick's veracity, I guess I'll settle the argument (though oddly enough, the Senate leader is wearing Rand Paul's toupee):

News Ledes

New York Times: "Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who admitted shooting to kill in a Fort Hood building here packed with unarmed soldiers nearly four years ago, once said he wished he had died in the attack so he could become a Muslim martyr. On Wednesday, after deliberating a little more than two hours, a jury of Army combat veterans and senior officers sentenced him to death by lethal injection for killing or wounding more than 40 soldiers on Nov. 5, 2009." Washington Post story here.

New York Times: "The prospect of an imminent Western military strike on Syrian government targets appeared to encounter a delay on Wednesday when Britain signaled it would first await the findings of a United Nations inquiry into the suspected use of chemical weapons in an attack that killed hundreds near Damascus last week, and then hold a separate parliamentary vote, which could be days away." ...

... New York Times: "The leaders of the Arab world on Tuesday blamed the Syrian government for a chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people last week, but declined to back a retaliatory military strike, leaving President Obama without the broad regional support he had for his last military intervention in the Middle East, in Libya in 2011. While the Obama administration has robust European backing and more muted Arab support for a strike on Syria, the position of the Arab League and the unlikelihood of securing authorization from the United Nations Security Council complicate the legal and diplomatic case for the White House."

Washington Post: "The Obama administration believes that U.S. intelligence has established how Syrian government forces stored, assembled and launched the chemical weapons allegedly used in last week's attack outside Damascus, according to U.S. officials. The administration is planning to release evidence, possibly as soon as Thursday, that it will say proves that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad bears responsibility for what U.S. officials have called an 'undeniable' chemical attack that killed hundreds on the outskirts of the Syrian capital."

Washington Post: "U.N. inspectors attempting to visit the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in eastern Damascus were forced to turn back on Monday after their convoy came under what the United Nations described as intentional fire. The team plans to try again to access the area within a few hours, the statement said. In the meantime, three key U.S. allies, [Britain, France & Turkey,] indicated on Monday that they would back the Obama administration if it decides to take action against Syria without a United Nations mandate." ...

New York Times: "The New York Times Web site was unavailable to readers on Tuesday afternoon after an online attack on the company's domain name registrar. The attack also forced employees of The Times to take care in sending e-mails. The hacking was just the latest of a major media organization, with The Financial Times and The Washington Post also having their operations disrupted within the last few months. It was also the second time this month that the Web site of The New York Times was unavailable for several hours.... Marc Frons, chief information officer for The New York Times Company..., said the attack was carried out by a group known as 'the Syrian Electronic Army, or someone trying very hard to be them.'" ...

... Reuters: "Media companies, including the New York Times, Twitter and the Huffington Post, lost control of some of their websites Tuesday after hackers supporting the Syrian government breached the Australian Internet company that manages many major site addresses. The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a hacker group that has attacked media organizations it considers hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, claimed credit for the Twitter and Huffington Post hacks in a series of Twitter messages."


Forewarned Is Forearmed

I posted this in yesterday's Commentariat:

Laura Poitras,et al., in Der Spiegel: "President Obama promised that NSA surveillance activities were aimed exclusively at preventing terrorist attacks. But secret documents from the intelligence agency show that the Americans spy on Europe, the UN and other countries." The documents come from Edward Snowden. CW: First, Obama did not "promise" that the NSA wouldn't spy on other countries. He was talking about specific NSA programs that target terrorists in the cited remark. No one in the world thinks that the U.S. limits its spying to Al Qaeda & Friends. Second and more important, exactly how is Patriot Snowden (not to mention Poitras, who is a U.S. citizen, too) helping the U.S. public by revealing E.U. building floor plans obtained from the NSA? Are Americans shocked, shocked, that their government wants to know what other governments are saying? This whole article is infuriating crap.

I didn't think I needed to explain more, but this comment from contributor cowichan suggests I do:

UN spokesman Farhan Haq commenting on disclosure of US hacking "The inviolability of diplomatic missions, including the UN and other international organizations, whose functions are protected by the relevant international conventions like the Vienna Convention has been well-established international law."

Vienna Convention: 'A host country cannot search diplomatic premises or seize its documents or property. Host government must permit and protect free communication between diplomats of the mission and their home country'

Deutsche Welle: 'The alleged spying activities are illegal. The US has a long standing agreement with the UN stipulating that the US refrain from covert operations with regards to the UN's activities.' Obama, August 9: "And to others around the world, I want to make clear once again that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people. Our intelligence is focused on finding the information that's necessary to protect our people and, in many cases, protect our allies."

To be honest I would think most people would not consider diplomats to be 'ordinary people' like mechanics or house wives but does Obama really agree with Bolton that the UN and its black helicopters are a legitimate threat to the US? I would expect that the EU mission to the UN qualifies for the same theoretical guarantees of freedom from spying given to the UN itself.

Let's take those one at a time:

UN spokesman Farhan Haq commenting on disclosure of US hacking "The inviolability of diplomatic missions, including the UN and other international organizations, whose functions are protected by the relevant international conventions like the Vienna Convention has been well-established international law."

Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor: “'We’ve always assumed that this kind of thing goes on,' IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told the Post in 2004. 'We wish it were otherwise, but we know the reality.'” … Of course, one reason the US might be interested in spying on the UN is because other nations have used it as a place to assign spies with diplomatic cover.” Grier goes on to list some examples of cases in which Soviet or Russian spies used the U.N. as a base of operations. Feel assured that Europeans are doing the same. I recall reading years ago that at least some of the Concorde “flight attendants” were French spies. The “outrage” you heard from various E.U. spokespeople yesterday was pro forma.

Vienna Convention: 'A host country cannot search diplomatic premises or seize its documents or property. Host government must permit and protect free communication between diplomats of the mission and their home country'

This is apparently a reference to the 1961 Vienna Convention. AP: “... wiretapping and eavesdropping have been rampant for decades, most dramatically between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.”

CBS/AP: “In Washington, a statement from the national intelligence director's office said U.S. officials planned to respond to the concerns with their EU counterparts and through diplomatic channels with specific nations. However, 'as a matter of policy, we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,' the statement concluded.”

Deutsche Welle: 'The alleged spying activities are illegal. The US has a long standing agreement with the UN stipulating that the US refrain from covert operations with regards to the UN's activities.'

See AP reports above.

Obama, August 9: "And to others around the world, I want to make clear once again that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people. Our intelligence is focused on finding the information that's necessary to protect our people and, in many cases, protect our allies."

No, diplomat-spies whom we are “hosting” at the U.N. are not “ordinary people.”

does Obama really agree with Bolton that the UN and its black helicopters are a legitimate threat to the US?

See, the U.N. is made up of many, many countries. It is not really “united.” And every single one of those other countries has unique interests – interests that differ and often are at odds with ours. So we like to watch. And, yes, many of those countries – including our erstwhile friends – do pose threats to the U.S., if not existential threats.

If I can do one good & true thing this week, it will be to explain to a few starry-eyed idealists that spying on our friends & enemies alike is a legitimate and necessary function of the federal government. Rather than being “shocked, shocked that there's spying going on here,” we should damned well hope so.


The Commentariat -- Aug. 27, 2013

** Karen DeYoung & Anne Gearan of the Washington Post: "President Obama is weighing a military strike against Syria that would be of limited scope and duration, designed to serve as punishment for Syria's use of chemical weapons and as a deterrent, while keeping the United States out of deeper involvement in that country's civil war, according to senior administration officials. The timing of such an attack, which would probably last no more than two days and involve sea-launched cruise missiles -- or, possibly, long-range bombers -- ... is dependent on three factors: completion of an intelligence report assessing Syrian government culpability in last week's alleged chemical attack; ongoing consultation with allies and Congress; and determination of a justification under international law." ...

... Major Garrett & David Martin of CBS News: "President Barack Obama called his national security team together Saturday to talk about the next move in Syria. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper led off the three-hour White House meeting with detailed analysis of the evidence about the chemical weapons attack, the disposition of victims and what the administration now believes is a near air-tight circumstantial case that the Syrian regime was behind it. Obama ordered a declassified report be prepared for public release before any military strike commences. That report, top advisers tell CBS News, is due to be released in a day or two." ...

... Mark Thompson of Time: "Taking out Syria's chemical-weapons stockpile isn't easy – and is fraught with perils, including creating plumes of deadly vapors that could kill civilians downwind of such attacks. That's why Pentagon officials suggest that any U.S. and allied military strike against Syria will tilt toward military, and command and control, targets -- including artillery and missile units that could be used to launch chemical weapons -- instead of the bunkers believed to contain them." ...

... New York Times Editors: "A political agreement is still the best solution to this deadly conflict, and every effort must be made to find one. President Obama has resisted demands that he intervene militarily and in force. Though Mr. Assad's use of chemical weapons surely requires a response of some kind, the arguments against deep American involvement remain as compelling as ever." ...

Andrew Bacevich: assuming the Assad government is responsible for chemical attacks on Syrians, "President Obama should answer several questions. He should share those answers with the American people, before not after pulling the trigger." Bacevich poses the questions. ...

... Charles Pierce: "The message you are sending with your missiles gets just a trifle muddled. Make no mistake. If we strike, we will be making actual war in Syria. Ordinary Syrians will not see our missiles as 'bomb-o-grams,' telling them with every deadly explosion that we're really on their side.... That is what we do now. We make war in a place without going to war in a place, and nobody is fooled except ourselves."

Scott Shane of the New York Times: "In a detailed legal attack on the National Security Agency's collection of Americans' phone call data, the American Civil Liberties Union argued in court papers filed Monday that the sweeping data gathering violates the Constitution and should be halted.... The Justice Department is expected to ask the judge in the case, William H. Pauley III of the Southern District of New York, to dismiss it." ...

... John Shiffman of Reuters: "Eight Democratic senators and congressmen have asked Attorney General Eric Holder to answer questions about a Reuters report that the National Security Agency supplies the Drug Enforcement Administration with intelligence information used to make non-terrorism cases against American citizens. The August report revealed that a secretive DEA unit passes the NSA information to agents in the field, including those from the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI and Homeland Security, with instructions to never disclose the original source, even in court. In most cases, the NSA tips involve drugs, money laundering and organized crime, not terrorism." The original report, dated August 5 & linked here contemporaneously, is here. ...

AP: "NSA leaker Edward Snowden spent two days in the Russian Consulate in Hong Kong directly before flying to Moscow on what turned out to be an abortive attempt to reach asylum in Latin America, the respected newspaper Kommersant reported Monday, citing unidentified sources in Snowden's circle and the Russian government. If true, this would suggest greater Russian involvement in Snowden's efforts to escape American justice than President Vladimir Putin's government has acknowledged. The newspaper also reported that Cuba was instrumental in blocking Snowden's further travels.... The newspaper ... said that Cuba informed Russia that the Aeroflot flight from Moscow would not be allowed to land in Havana if Snowden were on board, citing pressure from the United States."

Annie Lowrey of the New York Times: "Behind the roiling conversation over whether President Obama might make Janet L. Yellen the first female leader of the Federal Reserve is an uncomfortable reality for the White House: the administration has named no more women to high-level executive branch posts than the Clinton administration did almost two decades ago.... Over all, Mr. Obama has named 13 women to cabinet-level posts, matching the historic high achieved by the Clinton administration. Mr. Obama has also put a record number of women in judicial slots, including two on the Supreme Court. Women make up about 42 percent of confirmed judges appointed by Mr. Obama, compared with 22 percent appointed by George W. Bush and 29 percent by Bill Clinton."

Annie Lowrey: "Unless Congress raises the debt ceiling, the Treasury Department said on Monday that it expected to lose the ability to pay all of the government's bills in mid-October. That means a recalcitrant Congress will face two major budget deadlines only two weeks apart, since the stopgap 'continuing resolution' that finances the federal government runs out at the end of September."

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said Monday that he will attempt to replace, by the end of the year, the portion of the Voting Rights Act that was struck down by the Supreme Court. Sensenbrenner's comments came Monday at an event hosted by the Republican National Committee, commemorating the March on Washington.... Taking the stage after Sensenbrenner, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said, 'I think Jim just made some news.'" ...

     ... Actually, no, Reince. Sensenbrenner has been saying this publicly at least since July 19, when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging the panel to update the Voting Rights Act. Mike Lillis of the Hill: "Sensenbrenner, who headed the Judiciary panel during the 2006 VRA reauthorization, minced no words Wednesday in his criticism of the court. He said [Chief Justice] Roberts and the conservative majority 'essentially disregarded years and years of congressional work' and 'substituted [their] own judgment.'" We know you've participated in the national effort to restrict voting rights, Reince, but not everybody has jumped on your nasty little voter suppression bandwagon. ...

... CW: Huh. I just might be wrong about that. Andrew Cohen of the Atlantic notes Sensenbrenner's objection to the Justice Department's suit against Texas's voter suppression law: "it sounds like Representative Sensenbrenner is searching for an excuse for why Republicans in Congress won't any time soon fix what the Supreme Court broke in June." Read Cohen's whole piece on U.S. v. Texas. ...

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate on Justices Scalia & Ginsburg's dissatisfaction with the dysfunctions of the Supreme Court. Best bit: "Scalia ... says he would defer to legislative bodies on most things (if gays want to pass a law, they should just do it!) but then rather consistently finds reasons to second-guess Congress whenever it actually does legislate. In other words, he is always apt to defer to the bill that didn't happen, but ready to strike down a bill (like the Affordable Care Act, or the VRA) that did." ...

... ** Worse Than Lochner. Ian Millhiser of Think Progress on Ginsburg's remark that the Roberts Court is "one of the most activist courts in history." Millhiser compares this court to the anti-worker "Lochner Court" of the early 1900s: "The Lochner Court strangled basic protections for workers in their crib, but the Roberts Court takes fully matured protections for workers and carves them up a piece at a time.... the Roberts Court is unusually willing to take from ordinary Americans rights they have enjoyed for a very long time. The Supreme Court has a long history of standing athwart history yelling stop. This Supreme Court, however, wants to shift history into reverse."

Beth Reinhard of the Atlantic: "When Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his 'I Have a Dream' speech 50 years ago this week, just five African-Americans held seats in Congress. There are 44 today. But those numbers mask a hard reality: Even with an African-American in the White House, blacks arguably have less clout in Congress than they did in 1963."

National Constitution Center: "Senator Patrick Leahy wants to clear the air in the debate between states and the federal government over the legal use of marijuana, in what could be a significant hearing on the issue in September.... The hearing is set for 10 a.m. on September 10 and it is about 'Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.' The hearing is for the full Judiciary Committee."

New York Times Editors: New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's suit against Donald Trump & his fake "Trump University" "offers compelling evidence of a bait-and-switch scheme." ...

... Everything Is Barack Obama's Fault. Zeke Miller of Time: "Trump, who for years raised questions about the birth status of President Barack Obama -- even after the president released his birth certificate — characteristically suggested that Obama had ordered the prosecution when he met Schneiderman in New York last week as part of his bus tour on college affordability."

Thanks to contributor Julie L. for this link:


Eric Lach of TPM: "The conservative video maker James O'Keefe has turned his cameras on the former federal prosecutor whose office brought charges against him and his accomplices in the phone-tampering of a Democratic U.S. senator. In a video released by O'Keefe's Project Veritas on Monday, former U.S. Attorney James Letten can be seen shouting at O'Keefe and his colleagues. Letten can also be seen filming O'Keefe with his own smart phone. 'You went to my house, you terrorized my wife, you're violating federal law, you're trespassing, you're a nasty little cowardly spud,' Letten says in the video. 'All of you, you're hobbits. You are less than I can ever tell you. You are scum. Do you understand?'" CW: Exactly right:

Rene Stutzman of the Orlando Sentinel: "George Zimmerman ... plans to ask the state of Florida to cover $200,000 to $300,000 of his legal expenses.... Because Zimmerman was acquitted, state law requires Florida to pay all his legal costs, minus the biggest one: the fee that goes to his lawyers. That includes the cost of expert witnesses, travel, depositions, photocopies, even that animated 3-D video that defense attorneys showed jurors during closing argument that depicts Trayvon punching Zimmerman."

News Ledes

NBC News: "The U.S. could hit Syria with three days of missile strikes, perhaps beginning Thursday, in an attack meant more to send a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad than to topple him or cripple his military, senior U.S. officials told NBC News on Tuesday. The State Department fed the growing drumbeat around the world for a military response to Syria's suspected use of chemical weapons against rebels Aug. 21 near Damascus, saying that while the U.S. intelligence community would release a formal assessment within the week, it was already 'crystal clear' that Assad's government was responsible." ...

... Washington Post: "Vice President Biden said Tuesday that there is 'no doubt' that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in an attack on innocent civilians in Syria." ...

... New York Times: "President Obama is considering military action against Syria that is intended to 'deter and degrade' President Bashar al-Assad's government's ability to launch chemical weapons, but is not aimed at ousting Mr. Assad from power or forcing him to the negotiating table, administration officials said Tuesday." ...

... New York Times: "United Nations weapons inspectors in Syria postponed a second visit to the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, on Tuesday after failing to secure assurances of their safety, the United Nations and Syrian officials said." ...

... Reuters: "The U.S. military is ready to act immediately should President Barack Obama order action against Syria over a chemical weapons attack, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a television interview with the BBC on Tuesday." ...

... Washington Post: "British forces are drawing up contingency plans for a 'proportionate' response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, the prime minister's office said on Tuesday, raising the possibility that Britain could join a possible U.S.-led military strike." ...

... The Hill: "The White House reached out to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) Monday as part of an effort to build congressional support ahead of what appears to be an imminent military strike against Syria. Press secretary Jay Carney said administration officials, including those from the White House and State Department, were actively 'consulting with Congress' as it weighs a response to the "repugnant" use of chemical weapons in Syria."

The Sacramento Bee publishes the videotaped testimony of President Gerald Ford in the Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme trial re: her attempt on his life. The Bee story on the history of the tape is interesting, too:


The Commentariat -- Aug. 26, 2013

Laura Poitras, et al., in Der Spiegel: "President Obama promised that NSA surveillance activities were aimed exclusively at preventing terrorist attacks. But secret documents from the intelligence agency show that the Americans spy on Europe, the UN and other countries." The documents come from Edward Snowden. CW: First, Obama did not promise that the NSA wouldn't spy on other countries. He was talking about specific NSA programs that target terrorists in the cited remark. No one in the world thinks that the U.S. limits its spying to Al Qaeda & Friends. Second and more important, exactly how is Patriot Snowden (not to mention Poitras, who is a U.S. citizen, too) helping the U.S. public by revealing E.U. building floor plans obtained from the NSA? Are Americans shocked, shocked, that their government wants to know what other governments are saying? This whole article is infuriating crap. ...

... Spreading the Wealth. Ben Smith of BuzzFeed: "The non-profit investigative reporting group ProPublica is among the media organizations with access to some NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden, another suggestion that the reportorial investigation into the National Security Agency's programs and practices is broader than previously known.... ProPublica's president, Richard Tofel, confirmed the collaboration in an email, and suggested the group has quietly been in the mix for some time."

NYC's CIA. Matt Apuzzo & Adam Goldman in New York: "After 9/11, the NYPD built in effect its own CIA -- and its Demographics Unit delved deeper into the lives of citizens than did the NSA." And it was Ray Kelly's bright idea. "The activities Kelly set in motion after 9/11 pushed deeply into the private lives of New Yorkers, surveilling Muslims in their mosques, their sporting fields, their businesses, their social clubs, even their homes...."

Oh, great. Tweeting foreign policy while on vacation. Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg News: "This week, the Barack Obama administration's most eloquent and ardent advocate for humanitarian intervention overseas, Samantha Power, the ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted the following about the alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack: 'Reports devastating: 100s dead in streets, including kids killed by chem weapons. UN must get there fast & if true, perps must face justice.' Since then, she's been publicly silent. Apparently, she's on a previously scheduled, and unfortunately timed, vacation (which a handful of Republicans are casting as a scandal of some sort, Democrats not being allowed to take vacations in August)." ...

... Shane Harris & Matthew Aid of Foreign Policy: "The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America's military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen, Foreign Policy has learned.... [Recently declassified] CIA documents ... show that [during the Reagan administration] senior U.S. officials were being regularly informed about the scale of the nerve gas attacks. They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched."

Mary Shinn, et al., of the Washington Post: "While veterans waited longer than ever in recent years for their wartime disability compensation, the Department of Veterans Affairs gave its workers millions of dollars in bonuses for 'excellent' performances that effectively encouraged them to avoid claims that needed extra work to document veterans' injuries, a News21 investigation has found. In 2011, a year in which the claims backlog ballooned by 155 percent, more than two-thirds of claims processors shared $5.5 million in bonuses, according to salary data from the Office of Personnel Management. The more complex claims were often set aside by workers so they could keep their jobs, meet performance standards or, in some cases, collect extra pay, said VA claims processors and union representatives."

Jelani Cobb of the New Yorker: "There's a bizarre dissonance that comes with watching the first black Attorney General give a speech to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and recognizing that the themes of his speech might have fit well with those given at the original march, in 1963." ...

... Bryce Covert of Think Progress: "On Face the Nation this Sunday, Colin Powell ... warned his fellow Republicans that the continuing push to restrict voting rights is going to 'backfire' and harm the Republican Party." ...

I'd like to see [President Obama] be more passionate about race questions.... I mean, in my lifetime, over a long career in public life, you know, I've been refused access to restaurants where I couldn't eat, even though I just came back from Vietnam, we can't give you a hamburger, come back some other time. And I did, right after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, I went right back to that same place and got my hamburger, and they were more than happy to serve me now.... But we're not there yet. We're not there yet. And so we've got to keep working on it. And for the president to speak out on it is appropriate. I think all leaders, black and white, should speak out on this issue. -- Colin Powell

What’s going on about voting rights is downright evil because it is something that really needs to keep going forward not backward. -- Cokie Roberts, on "This Week" yesterday

First smart thing Roberts has said in 50 years. -- Constant Weader

E. J. Dionne: "... after three years of congressional dysfunction brought on by the rise of a radicalized brand of conservatism, it's time to call the core questions: Will our ability to govern ourselves be held perpetually hostage to an ideology that casts government as little more than dead weight in American life? And will a small minority in Congress be allowed to grind decision-making to a halt?" CW short answer: Yup.

Paul Krugman on the fall of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the travails of Microsoft & dynastic history. "Even though Microsoft did not, in fact, end up taking over the world, those antitrust concerns weren't misplaced. Microsoft was a monopolist, it did extract a lot of monopoly rents, and it did inhibit innovation. Creative destruction means that monopolies aren't forever, but it doesn't mean that they're harmless while they last. This was true for Microsoft yesterday; it may be true for Apple, or Google, or someone not yet on our radar, tomorrow."

In the August 24 Commentariat, contributor Trish Ramey writes a sensitve & informative response to my query about whether or not to honor Chelsea (ne Bradley) Manning's request to refer to her as a female.

Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker on the large-scale chemical-weapons attack in Syria last week.

Senate Race

Kim Severson of the New York Times: "Conservatives in South Carolina are eager to oust [South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham [R], who has enraged the far right for, among other things, reaching across the aisle on immigration and supporting President Obama's nominations for the Supreme Court. Tea Party supporters called him a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood when, instead of heading home for the Congressional break this month, he went to Egypt at the request of the president.... At least 40 [South Carolina] groups align themselves along Tea Party and Libertarian lines, and trying to unify them to topple the state's senior senator will be no easy task."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Red Burns, an educator who gained wide recognition for pushing for more creative uses of modern communications, helping to lead the movement for public access to cable television and starting a celebrated New York University program to foster Internet wizards, died on Friday at her Manhattan home. She was 88."

Washington Post: "An aerial drone ... crashed Saturday ... into the grandstand at Virginia Motorsports Park during the Great Bull Run.... Four or five people suffered very minor injuries...." It was apparently being used to videotape the event. Or not.

AFP: "Firefighters reported progress Monday battling a huge blaze on the edge of Yosemite National Park, but warned it remains an 'extreme' threat as it nears the top US tourist destination and San Francisco's water supply. The Rim Fire, which began nine days ago, has grown to become the 13th largest in California's recorded history and has sparked the closure of one of the main roads into the spectacular natural beauty spot."

AP: "The Air Force has removed the commander of a nuclear weapons unit at a Montana base following a failed safety and security inspection that marked the second major misstep this year for one of the military's most sensitive missions.Military leaders say the decision to relieve Col. David Lynch of command at Malmstrom Air Force Base stems from a loss of confidence."

New York Daily News: "A bigoted thug brutally beat a transgender woman to death in Harlem just moments after realizing his friend was actually born a man, the victim's family and officials said Friday. It was the latest in a series of troubling bias attacks in the city, which is on pace to double the number of crimes against the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual community in 2013 compared with last year."

Washington Post: "U.N. inspectors attempting to visit the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in eastern Damascus were forced to turn back on Monday after their convoy came under what the United Nations described as intentional fire. The team plans to try again to access the area within a few hours, the statement said. In the meantime, three key U.S. allies, [Britain, France & Turkey,] indicated on Monday that they would back the Obama administration if it decides to take action against Syria without a United Nations mandate." ...

     ... Update: "U.N. chemical weapons inspectors on Monday successfully entered a Damascus suburb that was allegedly hit last week with poison gas, part of an assault on three rebel strongholds that left hundreds of people dead." ...

     ... New York Times Update: "Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the use of chemical weapons in attacks on civilians in Syria last week was undeniable and that the Obama administration would hold the Syrian government accountable for what he called a 'moral obscenity' that has shocked the world's conscience."

CNN: "An 8-year-old Louisiana boy intentionally shot and killed his elderly caregiver after playing a violent video game, authorities say. Marie Smothers was pronounced dead at the scene with a gunshot wound to the head in a mobile home park in Slaughter, Louisiana, the East Feliciana Parish Sheriff's Department said in a prepared statement.... Authorities identified the woman as the boy's 'caregiver,' without stating whether she is a relative. But CNN affiliate WBRZ reported that the woman was the boy's grandmother." The gun belonged to her.