The Ledes

Tuesday, July 22, 2014.

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."

The Wires

The Ledes

Monday, July 21, 2014.

Governor Grandstand. New York Times: "Gov. Rick Perry of Texas was expected to announce on Monday the deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops to the border with Mexico to bolster security as the Border Patrol faces an influx of Central American immigrants."

Guardian: "As Dutch forensic experts arrived at the scene of the Malaysia Airlines crash on Monday and promised that the train being loaded with the victims' bodies would be moved before the end of the day, heavy fighting broke out between the Ukrainian army and rebels on the outskirts of Donetsk, the main regional city and the hub of the insurgency." ...

     ... New York Times Update: "After days of obstruction, Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine permitted Dutch forensics experts on Monday to search the wreckage of the downed Malaysia Airlines jetliner destroyed by a surface-to-air missile, allowed bodies of the victims to be evacuated by train and agreed to give the plane’s flight recorder boxes to the Malaysian government."

New York Times: "President Vladimir V. Putin issued a brief statement early on Monday saying that Russia would work to ensure that the conflict in eastern Ukraine moves from the battlefield to the negotiating table, and he again said that a robust international investigating team must have secure access to the Malaysia Airlines crash site. He also accused unspecified nations of exploiting the disaster in pursuit of 'mercenary political goals.' The statement posted on the Kremlin website came a day after mounting international criticism and anger against Russia and specifically Mr. Putin for the chaotic, unsecured condition of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site and what some nations said was the desecration of the victims’ bodies."

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 WhiteHouse.gov/live.

***********************************************

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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Thursday
Feb232012

The Commentariat -- February 24, 2012

President Obama spoke about energy policy at the University of Miami yesterday. He let on Republicans were lying about his policy, without naming names. Related New York Times story here:

How a Bill Does Not Become a Law. Laura Vozzella & Anita Kumar of the Washington Post write an interesting history of how Virginia's transvaginal ultrasound bill (along with the personhood bill) got tabled. CW: and thank you, Amy Poehler & Jon Stewart.

Sandra Fluke, whom Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) refused to let speak before his committee last week, spoke yesterday at an informal hearing hosted by the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, addressing the subject of contraception access. It's no wonder Issa wouldn't give Fluke a hearing; her testimony shows who's "moral" and who isn't:

... NEW. Dana Milbank: "If the gender gap becomes a chasm that swallows Republicans this fall, it will be no fluke. It will, however, have something to do with Sandra Fluke."

... Elizabeth Warren in a Boston Globe op-ed: "... the Senate is about to vote on an amendment that would allow any insurance company or any employer to claim a vague 'moral conviction'’ as an excuse to deny you health care coverage. Here’s the really astonishing news: Senator Scott Brown is not only voting for this amendment, he is fighting to get it passed." ...

... Sen. Scott Brown, in a Boston Globe op-ed: "The new ObamaCare mandate forcing religious organizations to offer insurance coverage for practices that go against the teachings of their church gives the government control over the most personal aspects of our lives, opening the door to endless abuses of power.

Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy: "Today, the State Department revealed that another fundraiser turned ambassador ran her embassy into the ground ... only to return to fundraising and leave the State Department to pick up the pieces. According to a new State Department inspector general's report on the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas, Ambassador Nicole Avant presided over 'an extended period of dysfunctional leadership and mismanagement, which has caused problems throughout the embassy' since she was appointed by the president in 2009." ...

... Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times: Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), head of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, faces "a thicket of questions surrounding his own Florida campaigns.... Federal inquiries surrounding Mr. Buchanan appear to be widening, as investigators examine allegations that his companies improperly reimbursed contributors to his campaigns and claimed improper tax deductions and that he failed to include all his varied financial interests in his Congressional disclosure reports. The Federal Election Commission has already completed one investigation that produced a settlement this week.... A federal grand jury in Tampa is hearing evidence in the case.... The House Ethics Committee, meanwhile, is examining his failure in Congressional filings to disclose numerous financial interests and management positions...."

Right Wing World

I think the immorality creates the problem of wanting to use the pills. So you don't blame the pills. I think it's sort of like the argument — conservatives use the argument all the time about guns. Guns don't kill, criminals kill. So, in a way, it's the morality of society that we have to deal with. The pill is there and, you know, it contributes, maybe, but the pills can't be blamed for the immorality of our society.-- Ron Paul, during the debate Wednesday

Women and their contraception are morally analogous to criminals and their firearms. -- Charles Pierce

Mark Murray of NBC News: at the GOP debate, "He Who Must Not Be Named -- [George W.] Bush -- was named by the candidates or moderator nine times.... Almost every heated exchange invoked, one way or another, policies, endorsements, or legislation from the Bush era.... All of last night's criticism of policies and endorsements from 2001 through 2008 -- some of which weren't all that controversial at the time -- reflects how much more conservative the Republican Party has become since the man who billed himself as the 'compassionate conservative' sat in the Oval Office.... Last night's debate was the first time when George W. Bush's record -- directly or indirectly -- was criticized as much as Barack Obama's." ...

... CW: It seems conservatives and Republicans are not enjoying the spectacle of the GOP presidential candidates gnawing at each others' legs as much as I am. Here's winger Byron York of the Examiner scolding the candidates & their spokesmen.

Dan Balz of the Washington Post: "How much would a pair of victories [in Michigan & Arizona] be worth [to Mitt Romney]? Republican strategists say that although they would restore Romney to front-runner status in the race, they could still leave the party looking at a long nomination battle. They also say that winning both states Tuesday wouldn’t be enough to resolve many of the doubts that still surround Romney." ...

... Paul Krugman on Mitt Romney's Keynesian gaffe & his pathological lies: "Mr. Romney is so deeply committed to insincerity that neither side can trust him to do what it considers to be the right thing."

... With Friends Like This.... Steve Benen has a hilarious post which runs down quite a few Romney surrogates who are happy to speak out on the record disagreeing with or dissing Romney. ...

... With Endorsements Like This.... The Detroit Free Press endorses Romney in the Michigan primary, mostly because he's not as bad as the competition:

... for the past 12 months, Romney has been refashioning himself as something other than what his record suggests. He has made gestures toward economic and social radicalism, and eschewed the common sense of cooperative governing that made him a success in Massachusetts. Romney was also dead wrong when he opposed government bailouts for the auto industry (Michigan’s most vital economic engine) in late 2008. And he has since adopted a recalcitrant and, at times, revisionist defense of his position in the face of overwhelming evidence that the bailouts he opposed were necessary.... But Romney, unlike the zealous Rick Santorum, the impulsive Newt Gingrich and the backward-thinking Ron Paul, is preferable to the rest of the field.

... Domenico Montanaro of NBC News: "The pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future is going up with an ad in Michigan and Arizona, starting tonight, that focuses on the story of Mitt Romney helping to lead the search for his business partner's daughter who went missing in New York City in the 1990s.... The ad run by a SUPER PAC, called 'Saved,' is word-for-word the same ad that the Romney CAMPAIGN ran in 2007, called 'The Search.' ... Super PACs and campaigns are, by federal law, not allowed coordinate." You can see both ads on this NYT Caucus blogpost. ...

     ... Paul Blumenthal in the Huffington Post: Paul Ryan, a lawyer for the Campaign Legal Center, said the ad "violates campaign finance law that prohibits the republication of campaign materials by a super PAC." ...

... Michael Shear of the New York Times: "... just days before Republicans vote in Michigan and Arizona, [Rick Santorum's] lengthy Washington record has also become powerful fodder for Mitt Romney as he attempts to undermine Mr. Santorum’s conservative credentials and portray him as a creature of insider politics. ...

... Ron Brownstein of the National Journal: "The most consistent note in Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign is attacking his rivals for their ideological inconsistency. It’s a nervy strategy for a candidate whose own greatest vulnerability is the sense, especially among conservatives, that he has serially reconsidered his positions for political advantage on issues from abortion to gay rights to immigration." ...

... Delusional Mitt. Steve Rattner, who was Obama's auto czar, writes in a New York Times op-ed: The gist of Romney's position on the auto bailout "is that the government should have stayed on the sidelines and allowed the companies to go through what he calls 'managed bankruptcies,' financed by private capital. That sounds like a wonderfully sensible approach — except that it’s utter fantasy. In late 2008 and early 2009, when G.M. and Chrysler had exhausted their liquidity, every scrap of private capital had fled to the sidelines." ...

... Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times examines the relationship between Mitt Romney & his mother Lenore.

Tim Egan contrasts Rick Santorum's theocratic aspirations with Roger Williams' founding of Rhode Island in 1636: "the first government in the world which broke church and state apart."

Michael Crowley of Time: when Mitt Romney criticized him in Wednesday's debate for supporting Arlen Specter, Rick Santorum responded "that that Specter had promised him he would use his power as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman to support George W. Bush’s judicial nominees." But Specter says it ain't so: "I never made any deals with Santorum about supporting — any blanket commitment to support Bush judges."

AND in a delightful-to-read short essay for Esquire, novelist Walter Kirn takes a liking to the old codger Ron Paul.

Is there any important political leader in this country who is more rude and obnoxious that Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.)? Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post tried to refute Christie's claim that he's "just like President Obama" on gay marriage. Christie would not let Capehart get a word in edgewise. The post & an embedded video of the exchange are here.

Local News

Gene Johnson of the AP: "In a ruling that appears headed toward appeal, a federal judge has ruled that Washington state cannot force pharmacies to sell Plan B or other emergency contraceptives. The state's true goal in adopting the rules at issue was not to promote the timely access to medicine, but to suppress religious objections by druggists who believe that such drugs can have an effect tantamount to abortion, U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton said in his ruling Wednesday.... The judge, an appointee of President George W. Bush, first blocked the state's dispensing rule in 2007. But a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel overruled him, saying the rules did not target religious conduct. It sent the case back to Leighton, who held an 11-day trial before reaffirming his original decision."

Kenric Ward of Sunshine State News: "Waving aside objections from the Florida Bar and the ACLU, the [Florida state] House Judiciary Committee approved an 'anti-Sharia law' bill on Wednesday." CW: as a Floridian, I sure hope this bill passes because I stay up nights worrying I will have to bow five times a day to Mecca.

News Ledes

New York Times: "After flirting through the week with breaking a new record, the broad United States stock market on Friday reached its highest level since 2008. The milestone suggested that upbeat signals on the economy, along with low interest rates, are encouraging investors to take more risks with their money."

Washington Post: "Iran has significantly ramped up production of a purer form of enriched uranium, U.N. nuclear officials said in a new report Friday, a finding certain to exacerbate worries about the country’s march toward nuclear-weapons capability."

ABC News: "President Barack Obama vowed Friday to 'look for every tool available' to stop Syria's deadly crackdown on opposition to President Bashar al-Assad's regime. 'It is important that we not be bystanders during these extraordinary events,' he said in the Oval Office as he met with Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark." ...

... New York Times: "A leader of Hamas spoke out against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Friday, throwing its support behind the opposition and stripping Damascus of what little credibility it may have retained with the Arab street. It was Hamas’s first public break with its longtime patron." ...

... New York Times: "Diplomats, government ministers and high officials met in the Tunisian capital on Friday for a meeting of the so-called 'Friends of Syria' designed to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, a day after a United Nations panel concluded that the authorities in Damascus had ordered 'gross human rights violations' as a matter of state policy, amounting to crimes against humanity." ...

     ... Washington Post Update: "International leaders meeting [in Tunis] Friday agreed on a unified plan for pressure they hope will stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bloody crackdown on civilian opponents and drive him from power, but they stopped well short of approving military assistance to the Syrian opposition."

New York Times: "Angry and violent protests broke out in Kabul after the midday prayer on Friday and gunfire could be heard near the large Eid Gah Mosque where a crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered in the center of the capital."

Here We Go Again. The Hill: "Seven state attorneys general sued the Obama administration Thursday over its order requiring some religious employers to cover birth control in their employees’ healthcare plans. In the suit, the states argue that the White House infringed on the religious freedoms protected by the First Amendment."

Washington Post: "Medical costs for enrollees in the health-care law’s high-risk insurance pools are expected to more than double initial predictions, the Obama administration said Thursday in a report on the new program."

New York Times: "Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced on Friday that he would challenge his successor, Julia Gillard, for the leadership of the Labor Party and the country in a vote set for Monday morning. The move sets up a showdown to end an acrimonious public leadership battle that analysts warn has begun to paralyze the Australian government." Sydney Morning Herald story here.

AP: "Iraq's al-Qaida branch has claimed responsibility for the latest wave of bombings and other attacks that killed dozens in Baghdad and across the country, raising concerns over the government's ability to provide security after the U.S. troop pullout."

Reuters: "The United States' first sit-down negotiations with North Korea since its new and untested leader took over made some progress although Kim Jong-un's ascent to power did not appear to have altered the North's positions, a U.S. envoy said on Friday."

Hollywood Reporter: "During a live performance of StupidCrazyPolitics at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts in San Jose, Calif., [comedian Bill] Maher presented a check for $1 million to Priorities USA Action, which spends money in support of the president’s reelection campaign.

AP: "A coroner on Friday opened Australia's fourth inquest into the most notorious and bitterly controversial legal drama in the nation's history: the 1980 death of a 9-week-old baby whose parents say was taken by a dingo from her tent in the Australian Outback."

AP: "A Dutch prince struck by an avalanche while skiing off-trail in Austria last week suffered massive brain damage and he may never regain consciousness, doctors said Friday. Johan Friso, 43, is the second son of the Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix."

AP: "In the final months before she resigned as Alaska's governor, Sarah Palin displayed growing frustration over deteriorating relationships with state lawmakers and outrage over ethics complaints that she felt frivolously targeted her and prompted her to write: 'I can't take it anymore.'"

Wednesday
Feb222012

The Commentariat -- February 23, 2012

NEW. My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on "The World According to Brooks." It's probably worth a read. The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute to the effort here.

President Obama spoke yesterday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture:

Lonnie Bunch, Director of the National Museum of African American history, talks about the process of gathering material for the musueum:

NEW. Bob Drummond of Bloomberg News: "While Republicans promote themselves as the friendliest party for Wall Street, stock investors do better when Democrats occupy the White House. From a dollars- and-cents standpoint, it’s not even close." Like, about nine times better under Democratic presidents than under Republican POTUSes.

** NEW. Noam Scheiber of The New Republic on the memo Larry Summers didn't let President-Elect Obama see -- the one where Christina Romer called for a $1.8 trillion stimulus (later reduced, at Summers' insistence to $1.2 trillion & still "disappeared").

** Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic: "Like every other industry in health care, hospitals are consolidating to strengthen their financial positions or merely to survive," and many of those mergers are putting formerly secular hospitals under Roman Catholic control:

'There are a lot of rural places that now have only a Catholic hospital,' says Lois Uttley, director of MergerWatch, a research and advocacy group based in New York City. 'We hear regularly from doctors there who are just distraught at not being able to provide the care they want.' [Dr. Bruce] Silva, from Sierra Vista, [Arizona,] notes that such arrangements can be particularly tough on poor patients: 'If you’re wealthy, you go up to Tucson and you get a hotel. But a lot of people can’t even pay for the gas to get up there.'

... Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post on how abortion rights activists are changing the landscape -- and the language -- of their fight for women's reproductive rights. It seems to be working in Virginia. CW: Thank you, Dahlia Lithwick! (I linked Lithwick's post last week.) ...

... Or maybe this is what changed Gov. Bob McDonnell's (R) mind about supporting the anti-woman bill:

... Or this:

... Or tasteful commemorative momentos like this (thanks to Haley S. for the link):

... Joan Walsh of Salon: no, Democrats did not raise the contraception issue, as Rush Limbaugh & some slightly less partisan critics like Mielissa Henneberger of the Washington Post claim. At the end of the embedded video, Walsh lets Henneberger have it. CW: BTW, I have long thought Henneberger, who agrees with Limbaugh and, um, got into bed with the bishops, was a dope. She sure hasn't said or written anything lately to change my mind.

Here's a pdf of the President's "Framework for Business Tax Reform," produced by the Treasury Department. ...

... The Rich Get Richer. Citizens for Tax Justice opposes the President's proposal because it "fails to raise revenue that could be used to make public investments in America’s economy and America’s future." The proposal does not specify enough offsets to make up for his proposed reduction in the tax rate. CW: I think they're right. The proposal boasts the reform is "revenue-neutral"; i.e., breaks even with the current lop-sided taxing system. Citizens for Tax Justice says the proposal doesn't do even that. This looks like more redistribution of wealth upward. ...

... The New York Times editors have similar objections; they specifically complain that the Obama proposal does not specify a minimum tax on companies that outsource domestic production nor does it address taxes on foreign profits held overseas. The proposal leaves way too much in the Congressional Suggestion Box, as if Congress will, on its own, ignore lobbyists & close loopholes.

Erik Wasson of The Hill: "The Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday that President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package continues to have a significant effect. The bill raised fourth-quarter 2011 gross domestic product by as much as 1.5 percent, it states, and lowered the unemployment rate by as much as 1.1 percentage points." Sorry, GOP.

Ari Berman of The Nation: "The Super-PAC era gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'the buying of the president.'” ...

... Fabulous Get-Rich Quick Scheme: Start a SuperPAC, Pay Yourself Half a Mil & Counting. Melanie Mason & Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times: "Much of the focus on super PACs has been on their ability to raise unlimited sums from a cadre of super-rich donors. Less attention has been paid to how they use their money — and the fact that they do not have to contend with the same kind of internal scrutiny as the candidates and political parties they support."

Right Wing World

Liar, Liar, Liar. Willard, Rick, Newt. New York Times staff fact-checks the GOP presidential debate. ...

... Amy Walter of ABC News picks Rick Santorum as the loser & President Obama as the winner of last night's debate.

And so this idea that we didn’t ask that question while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being waterboarded, [John McCain] doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works. I mean, you break somebody, and after they’re broken, they become cooperative. And that’s when we got this information. And one thing led to another, and led to another, and that’s how we ended up with bin Laden. -- Rick Santorum, 2011

Here's a video of Santorum raising his hand for waterboarding under "any circumstances he could imagine."

Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast: Rick Santorum's "defense of torture is far, far more scandalous to the Catholic church than any liberal Catholic politician's views on, say, same-sex marriage or contraception. It is he who has made his faith integral to his public life. Yet he defends the equivalent of crucifixion for prisoners under his potential command. When, one wonders, will Catholics hear a letter from the pulpit on the vital question of torture -- and the support for it from a leading Catholic candidate for the presidency?" Read Sullivan's whole post. ...

... NEW. Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "When Rick Santorum accused President Obama of having 'some phony theology' last weekend, it was neither an isolated event nor an offhand remark. Instead, Santorum’s comments were a new twist on a steady theme of his Republican presidential candidacy: that Obama and other Democrats have a secular worldview not based on the Bible, one they are intent on imposing on believers." ...

It’s funny that I’ve been criticized by Gov. Romney and by Ron Paul for having voted for something called Title X which is actually federal funding of contraception. My public policy beliefs are that contraception should be available. Again, I’ve supported Title X funding. -- Rick Santorum, way last week

As Congressman Paul knows, I opposed Title X funding. I’ve always opposed Title X funding, but it’s included in a large appropriation bill that includes a whole host of other things. -- evidently a different Rick Santorum, in last night's debate

... Joan Walsh thanks Rick Santorum for doing so much to expose the backward views of the GOP.

In Willard's World, when President Obama talks about the one percent, it's "inconsistent with the concept of 'one nation under god'"; evidently when Willard talks about whacking the one percent, it's fiscally responsible:

 ... BUT, hey, this is nothing. William Saletan of Slate writes a long, fascinating & extensively-researched article about Willard's incredible (and I mean "incredible" in both senses of the word) "evolution" on matters of abortion & fetal life. Here's the short version:

News Ledes

Washington Post: "A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland was approved by the state Senate, which advanced a measure that narrowly cleared the House of Delegates last week. The final vote by the state Senate ended a yearlong drama in Annapolis over the legislation.... With the vote, the measure moves to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who has said he will sign it."

Washington Post: "In a highly unusual move, the full Virginia Senate killed the so-called ‘personhood’ bill for the year just hours after it seemed likely to survive. The Senate voted 24-14 to send the bill back to Senate Education and Health Committee, with two anti-abortion Democrats abstaining."

New York Times: "A Unite Nations panel concluded on Thursday that 'gross human rights violations' had been ordered by the Syrian authorities as state policy at 'the highest levels of the armed forces and the government,' amounting to crimes against humanity. The panel of three investigators, led by Paulo Pinheiro of Brazil, did not release the names of the officials it had identified as bearing responsibility. Instead, the panel delivered the names in a sealed envelope to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva."

ABC News: "Army Pfc. Bradley Manning ... deferred entering a plea at his arraignment today."

ABC News: "The judge presiding over the so-called honeymoon killer trial dismissed murder charges against Gabe Watson after the prosecution completed its case today. The charges were dismissed before the defense presented a single witness."

President Obama will speak at the University of Miami at 2:30 pm ET, where he will defend his energy policy. Here's a related Washington Post story. ...

     ... New York Times Update: "President Obama, confronted by the political perils of surging gas prices in an election year, defended his efforts to wean the United States off imported oil on Thursday, even as he conceded there was little he could do to immediately ease the pain at the pump." See video in Friday's Commentariat.

Washington Post: "The Obama administration on Thursday plans to announce voluntary guidelines for Web companies to protect consumers’ privacy online, a win for Google, Facebook and other Internet giants that have fought against heavier federal mandates. The White House did not include a much-debated 'do not track' rule that would have forced companies to offer users the choice of stopping advertisers from tracking their activities across the Web."

New York Times: "Afghans demonstrated for the third straight day on Thursday against the burning of Korans at the largest American base in their country, and public anger was reported to be spreading after furious crowds armed with rocks, bricks, pistols and wooden sticks took to the streets in a half-dozen provinces in protests Wednesday that left at least seven dead and many injured." ...

     ... Washington Post Update: "Two American soldiers were killed on Thursday by an attacker wearing an Afghan army uniform, as protests over Koran-burning at a NATO base continued, and the Taliban called on Afghans to target foreign troops as reprisal.... President Obama apologized for the incident in a letter sent to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday."

AP: "A U.S nuclear envoy said Thursday he held substantive talks with North Korea on dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear programs in return for aid and would continue the negotiations into second day."

AP: "Officials say attacks across Baghdad and several Iraqi provinces have killed 48 people and wounded more than 200 in an unrelenting wave of violence that mostly appeared to target security forces."

ABC News: "A jury recommended that a judge sentence George Huguely V to 26 years in prison after he was convicted of second-degree murder in the beating death of his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love, at the University of Virginia." See also yesterday's Ledes.

Tuesday
Feb212012

The Commentariat -- February 22, 2012

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on Stanley Fish's post "Missing Pat Buchanan." The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute here.

Sam Baker of The Hill: "Democrats successfully shifted a debate over religious liberty to birth control last week, but opponents of the contraception mandate are trying to shift it right back." Read the whole article. Here's the Democratic House members petition, mentioned in the article, that demands women be allowed "at the table when discussing women's health issues."

Sahil Kapur of TPM: "The Supreme Court is poised to rule this summer on the constitutionality of the health care reform law’s requirement that Americans buy insurance or pay a tax penalty. But it has the legal option to delay a decision until at least 2014, and although the possibility has received little attention, new evidence suggests that justices are considering it more strongly." ...

... Glenn Greenwald does an I-told-ya-so. Justice Elena Kagan sides with the conservative justices on a Miranda ruling. The split was 6-3. Not good. ...

... CW: I seldom, if ever, recommend readers wade through legal documents, but this court order (pdf) by Judge Fred Biery is a gem (and it's short -- read the whole order, including the "personal statement" at the end). Thanks to a reader for the link. Tracy Hamilton of the San Antonio (Texas) Express-News has the background, which you may want to read first: "When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls out activist judges on the campaign trail, the name he mentions most often is Fred Biery. Biery, the chief federal judge for the Western District of Texas, emerged as a target for conservative criticism after he ruled last summer that Medina Valley High School couldn't officially sanction prayer at its graduation ceremony.... His ruling stood for just two days before it was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ... [and] remanded the case back to Biery's court, without addressing the merits of his decision.... Biery has also urged the two sides into mediation." Under the approved agreement, "... the Medina Valley ISD won’t officially make prayer part of graduation ceremonies. The MSA does not, however, prohibit valedictorians or other student speakers from praying. Those moments must be introduced as 'student remarks.'” Andrew Cowen of The Atlantic has an analysis here, refuting Gingrich.

Conservative writer Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic: "Memo to Republicans: Obama Is Tougher on Iran than George W. Bush": One "reason we have arrived at this moment of high tension: The Obama Administration, through its stalwart opposition to the Iranian nuclear program, has narrowed Iran's maneuverability, and forced the regime to make some obvious errors.... It is precisely because the Obama Administration has constructed a sanctions program without precedent, and because the Obama Administration has funded and supported multinational cyber-sabotage efforts against the Iranian nuclear program, that Iran is panicking and lashing-out."

     ... Related item from CBS News. CW: The concert, which I ran live on Reality Chex, was pretty enjoyable. It will air on PBS Monday February 27 at 9 p.m. ET.

"Serious Businss Tycoons." Nicholas Confessore, et al., of the New York Times: "About two dozen individuals, couples or corporations have given $1 million or more to Republican super PACs this year, an exclusive club empowered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and other rulings.... Collectively, their contributions have totaled more than $50 million this cycle.... They have relatively few Democratic counterparts so far.... And unlike in past years, when wealthy donors of both parties donated chiefly to groups that were active in the general election campaign, the top Republican donors are contributing money far earlier, in contests that will determine the party’s presidential nominee." ...

... Dan Eggen & T. W. Farnam of the Washington Post: "... a rarefied group of millionaires and billionaires [are] acting as kingmakers in the GOP contest, often helping to decide, with a simple transfer of money, which candidate might survive another day. Although many of these mega-donors have long participated in politics, none were able to wield the kind of influence now possible under loosened campaign finance regulations, which allow super PACs and other outside groups to spend unlimited amounts on political races."

Right Wing World

It’s not a new candidate the right needs. It’s a new electorate. -- Michael Tomasky in the Daily Beast (Read Tomasky's whole post.)

Charles Pierce of Esquire explains the evolution of the Church of Rick -- "a 20-year effort to develop Roman Catholics who could talk like Southern Baptists, bonded as both groups were now by their twisted views of human sexuality, and by their desire to re-establish control over what American women can do with their bodies. It is an alliance of powerful convenience." ...

... Maureen Dowd has a rundown of some of Rick's Greatest Hits in her column today, beginning with this one:

Satan has his sights on the United States of America. Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition. -- Rick Santorum, 2008 ...

... AND here's Santorum, just yesterday, on President Obama's secret plot to raise gas prices so you can't afford to get to work or the grocery store. Because, you know, high gas prices are such a plus for an incumbent in an election year. Okay, actually, this is Santorum's salvo in the Drill, Baby, Drill sweepstakes.

... Santorum's outrages are coming with such speed that the punditocracy can't keep up. Finally, two days after the fact, Dana Milbank calls out that horrid little man for equating President Obama with Adolf Hitler. "This is where Santorum exists, in a place of binary extremes of good and evil, where his political foe isn’t just wrong but adheres to a 'phony theology' not found in the Bible. His frequent tendency to go from zero to Nazi over ordinary political disagreements ... shows why he’s outside the bounds major political parties have applied to their past presidential nominees. Some of Santorum’s opponents have suggested that his Hitler tic reflects his own autocratic tendencies."

Romney's Got Nothin' on Santorum. Steve Benen: Yesterday, standing next to his No. 1 Ohio supporter, Sen. Rob Portman (R), Mitt Romney again criticized Rick Santorum for voting to raise the debt ceiling while he was in Congress, which is kinda funny because "Portman, who not only repeatedly voted to raise the debt ceiling himself as a member of Congress, but also served as George W. Bush's budget director when the Bush/Cheney administration repeatedly raised the debt ceiling."

How to say "quiet rooms" (see Romney, Willard) in New Jersey:

... Greg Sargent: "Buffett’s point is that the scale of the problem requires his class as a whole to chip in a bit more to solve it.... It’s very inconvenient for Republicans to have people like Buffett out there forcing issues of inequality and tax unfairness into the national conversation. It makes it a lot harder to equate proposed solutions to them with 'envy' and 'class warfare....”

Local News

Harry Minium & Julian Walker of the Virginian-Pilot: "In the face of widespread criticism, Republican state lawmakers delayed a vote again [Tuesday] on a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion. SB48 ... was one of the targets of two protest rallies on the State Capital grounds that drew nearly 1,000 women on Monday. Republican efforts to restrict insurance coverage of contraception and abortion rights have been lampooned by commentators, including a skit on Saturday Night Live. Some legislators suggested on Tuesday that they may attempt to soften ultrasound legislation."

News Ledes

CNN will host another GOP presidential debate tonight at 8:00 pm ET. Update: The New York Times is liveblogging the debate. The Washington Post has live updates here. ...

     ... Update: the New York Times reports on the debate. Here's the Washington Post report. CW: I listened to the crowd reactions. They pretty much applauded everything stupid & booed any sensible measures the candidates had accidentally supported in the past. Yep, the GOP needs a new electorate.

Washington Post: "A jury [in Charlottesville, Virginia] on Wednesday evening convicted George Huguely V of second-degree murder in the 2010 death of his onetime girlfriend Yeardley Love after about nine hours of deliberations. Huguely faces up to 40 years in prison on the murder charge."

New York Times: "A federal advisory panel on Wednesday overwhelmingly recommended approval of what could become the first new prescription drug to treat obesity in 13 years."

Washington Post: "A former Baltimore-area resident held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has reached a plea agreement with military prosecutors that calls for him to testify at the trials of other detainees in exchange for a much-reduced sentence and eventual freedom, according to officials familiar with the case. The plea agreement with Majid Khan, 31, is the first with a high-value detainee who was previously held by the CIA at a secret prison overseas. Khan was charged this month with war crimes, including murder, attempted murder, spying and providing material support for terrorism, and faced up to life in prison."

New York Times: "New York State's courts, frustrated by delays in thousands of foreclosure cases, are planning to speed them along in a new program that would give judges added control and require banks to send officials who have the power to alter loans to keep people in their homes."

New York Times: "Two Western journalists, one American and one French, were killed early Wednesday in Syria as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad pursued a deadly bombardment of the central city of Homs, according to activists and officials. Valérie Pécresse, the French government spokeswoman, identified the dead as Marie Colvin, an American reporter working for The Sunday Times of London, and Rémi Ochlik, a French photographer."

Washington Post: "President Obama on Wednesday plans to propose a major overhaul of the nation’s corporate tax code, an election-year gambit that is likely to draw a contrast over a key policy issue with the Republicans vying to replace him. Obama will propose lowering the nation’s corporate tax rate to 28 percent. At the same time, however, he will seek to increase the amount of revenues raised overall through corporate taxation by eliminating numerous deductions and loopholes that save companies tens of billions of dollars a year on their tax bills, according to a senior administration official."

Washington Post: "Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is backing off his unconditional support for a bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before an abortion.... Until this weekend, McDonnell (R) and his aides had said the governor would sign the measure if it made it to his desk. McDonnell, who strongly opposes abortion, will no longer make that commitment. But delegates and governor’s staff were scheduled to meet Tuesday night to strike a compromise after learning that some ultrasounds could be more invasive than first thought...." ...

     ... Update: "The Virginia House of Delegates voted Wednesday afternoon to amend a proposed bill on ultrasounds before abortions to say that no woman will have to undergo an internal ultrasound involuntarily. The revised bill says that only an external ultrasound will be required to satisfy the requirements to determine gestational age. And Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R), the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, said she will ask that the bill to be striken. The action came the same day that Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) reversed course and said he was asking the General Assembly to amend the proposed bill."

New York Times: "Protests against the burning by NATO personnel of an undisclosed number of Korans spilled into a second day on Wednesday and seemed poised to widen as the American Embassy here suspended all travel by its staff, and NATO soldiers in the capital appeared to be restricting their movements, keeping military vehicles off the streets."

AP: "Fitch ratings agency says it has downgraded Greece further into junk status, from 'CCC' to 'C' following the announcement of the details of the country's debt swap deal with private creditors. The agency said Wednesday the downgrade indicated 'that default is highly likely in the near term.'"

New York Times: "Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia resigned on Wednesday amid growing speculation that he and his backers in Parliament were seeking to topple Prime Minister Julia Gillard and regain for him the country’s leadership role."

Reuters: "Salvage workers have found four more bodies in the submerged Costa Concordia cruise liner, bringing the confirmed number of dead to 21 on the ship that ran aground and capsized off the Italian coast last month, authorities said on Wednesday."

Tuesday
Feb212012

Worse than the Dark Ages

CW: This post began as a comment, but I wanted to give it greater prominence. Many thanks to author Akhilleus for reminding us that churchmen once were leaders in scientific inquiry in stark contrast to the Santorums & Gingrich's who would take us back to primitive explanations for natural phenomena. 

Bishop Robert Grosseteste. 1168-1253.The antipathy towards science and truth regarding the natural world on shocking display in the warped funhouse mirror that is the Republican Presidential primary campaign represents a new low in the right’s never-ending search for more and more insidious ways to grab onto power with every sucker on each of its slimy tentacles.

The Rick Santorum quotes about the environment offer a chance to consider how far we've come -- and how low we've sunk.

The contemporary hatred and distrust of science by the religious right and right-wingers in general has not always had this kind of power, even in the Dark Ages during which the pursuit of scientific knowledge was highly regarded among many religious teachers, scholars, and leaders. Robert Grossteste, an English bishop and master of theology, wrote extensively on optics, mathematics, astronomy, and even composed a treatise explaining the scientific basis for tidal activity (Bill O’Reilly’s mental capacity has yet to rise to the level of a guy who was writing on parchment paper in the 13th century).

The rise of methods of investigating the natural world and which prompted several scientific revolutions was supported and, largely, created by medieval churchmen like Grossteste, Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, Henry of Ghent, William of Ockham, and one of the big guns in Church history, Thomas Aquinas hisself.

Aquinas, at least according to my reading of his work, would kick the intelligent design people down the stairs. They just don't fit in with his understanding of the workings of the natural world. This isn’t to compare Aquinas with Einstein as a pure scientist, but it is a recognition that for these scholars, science and religion could live together. In fact, many of them went toe to toe with the less enlightened clerics of their day. They didn’t always win, but in some cases (Roger Bacon) they were even supported by the pope (Clement IV, I believe).

These guys laid the groundwork for what became the empirical method eventually taken up by beacons of enlightened thought such as John Locke and David Hume, neither of whom were buddies of reactionary religious troglodytes.

So why the regression? Why is today’s religious right and their political enablers and supporters like Santorum and Gingrich even more benighted, more backward than ignorant, uneducated pissants who lived nearly a thousand years ago? Why do today’s religiously (un)informed right-wingers scream bloody murder at the very mention of climate change, stem cell research, natural selection, and a myriad other scientific topics when many of these same fields of study were avidly pursued by prominent members of the Church centuries ago with an eye toward increasing, rather than diminishing, humanity’s knowledge and understanding of the natural world?

The best guess is power and control. Empowering ignorance is a useful way to to stave off the sovereignty of truth. Holding up science as a straw-man/boogieman enables the right to distract the masses from the real problems facing them, problems often directly caused by right-wing policies. The religion vs. science screamfest is a handy smokescreen for the right as they attempt to divert scrutiny away from their actual plan of taking control of the country away from anyone who is not of their tribe and handing it to the wealthy, the oligarchs, and those whose motives are firmly grounded in their book of rules, the right-wing quarto of money, power, war, and control.

There’ve been a number of pieces written recently pointing out the strategic problems of this scheme. First, by elevating the ignorant, they have inadvertently ceded a certain amount of power and now the ringmasters are the ones having to jump through hoops of fire and stumble around the big top after tumbling out of their primary season clown car. The masses, fired up with the fury of imbecility, hatred, and ignorance, now want their show trials in which their enemies (science, truth, rationality) are hung in effigy, if not in reality. And what the rest of the country is left with is the very real possibility of an uninformed, willfully ignorant, hate-spewing birdbrain like Rick Santorum, as President of the United States.

It’s one thing when hypocrisy and rank desire for power cause you to foul your own house with the stinking sluice of sluggish stupefaction and feeble-minded ineptitude, but when you drench the rest of the country with this effluence, you deserve nothing less than perdition and infamy.

And demanding that schoolchildren learn magical thinking in place of scientific truth is more than a step backwards. It’s a descent into insignificance and complete collapse.

But that's the Way of the Right: If we can't be in charge, we'll burn it all down.

Any better reason to go out and vote against these monsters?

-- Akhilleus