Justin Greiser of the Washington Post: Today "is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, marking our shortest daylight period and longest night of the year. At 12:11 p.m. EST on December 21, the sun appears directly overhead along the Tropic of Capricorn, at 23.5 degrees south latitude. With the Earth's north pole at its maximum tilt from the sun, locations north of the equator see the sun follow its lowest and shortest arc across the southern sky."
White House: "In his weekly address, President Obama highlights the bipartisan budget agreement that unwinds some of the cuts that were damaging to the economy and keeps investments in areas that help us grow, and urges both parties to work together to extend emergency unemployment insurance and act on new measures to create jobs and strengthen the middle class":
Philip Rucker & David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "President Obama said Friday that he would review the National Security Agency's far-reaching surveillance programs over the holiday break and would make a 'pretty definitive statement' in January about possible reforms.... He signaled that he may end the NSA's collection and storage of millions of Americans' phone records and instead require phone companies to hold the data. More broadly, Obama indicated that his views on the viability of the NSA's surveillance programs have changed significantly since they were publicly revealed in June." CW: The President's remarks lend weight to POV conveyed in the WashPo piece I questioned yesterday.
Here's the full transcript of the President's remarks. ...
... Abby Phillip of ABC News: "President Obama acknowledged that his administration 'screwed it up' on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act in an end-of-year news conference at the White House today but, eager to pivot to 2014, suggested that the new year should be a 'year of action' on his economic priorities.... He announced that more than 1 million people had signed up for health insurance through federal and state marketplaces." ...
... AP: "The Obama administration says nearly 3.9 million people have qualified for coverage through the health care law's Medicaid expansion. The numbers released Friday cover the period from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30 and underscore a pattern of Medicaid outpacing the law's expansion of private insurance. Through the same time period, about 365,000 people had signed up for subsidized private insurance through new federal and state markets." ...
... Dylan Scott of TPM: "After the Obama administration announced Thursday that it would exempt Americans whose health plans had been canceled from Obamacare's individual mandate, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said Friday morning that the mandate should be delayed for everybody for one year." ...
... Dylan Scott: "... some of the law's most ardent supporters acknowledge that the administration seems to have cracked open a door that could be difficult to close. 'I think by itself this is a not a huge problem. This group should be relatively small,' Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who helped craft Obamacare, told TPM. 'But I think that the administration has to hold the line here. More widespread cracks in the mandate could start to cause enormous problems for insurers.'"
James Ball & Nick Hopkins of the Guardian: "British and American intelligence agencies had a comprehensive list of surveillance targets that included the EU's competition commissioner, German government buildings in Berlin and overseas, and the heads of institutions that provide humanitarian and financial help to Africa, top-secret documents [provided by Edward Snowden] reveal. The papers show GCHQ, in collaboration with America's National Security Agency (NSA), was targeting organisations such as the United Nations development programme, the UN's children's charity Unicef and Médecins du Monde, a French organisation that provides doctors and medical volunteers to conflict zones. The head of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) also appears in the documents, along with text messages he sent to colleagues." ...
... Laura Poitras, et al., in Der Spiegel: "Documents from the archive of whistleblower and former NSA worker Edward Snowden show that Britain's GCHQ signals intelligence agency has targeted European, German and Israeli politicians for surveillance." ...
... The New York Times story, by James Glanz & Andrew Lehren is here.
Paul Kane & Tom Hamburger of the Washington Post: "In a series of largely party-line votes, the Senate approved the confirmations of a deputy to the Department of Homeland Security, a lower-level federal judge and a commissioner to the Internal Revenue Service, while setting up a final vote early next month for the confirmation of Janet Yellen to become chairman of the Federal Reserve."
Rick Gladstone of the New York Times: "Proponents of Senate legislation that threatens Iran with tough new sanctions if nuclear negotiators fail to reach a comprehensive agreement contend it will pressure the Iranians to honor the pledges they made.... But a number of American and Iranian political analysts say the legislation could have the opposite effect by undermining President Hassan Rouhani.... The Obama administration's condemnation of the legislation, introduced Thursday, was partly aimed at assuring Mr. Rouhani that it has little prospect of advancing."
In case you missed the disgusting stuff Phil Robertson of "Duck Nasty" said in his GQ interview, Taylor Berman has the rundown in Gawker. ...
... ** Ta-Nehisi Coates on "Phil Robertson's America." CW: Ignorant bigots like Phil Robertson are useful only in that they engender responses like Coates.' ...
... Paul Waldman on "the conservatives now rallying to Robertson's cause.... And my conservative friends, the next time you're wondering why gay people, black people, and pretty much anybody who is a minority of any kind all consider you intolerant? It isn't liberals unfairly maligning you. It's this kind of thing." CW: Sorry, Paul, I don't think they're paying attention:
Phil Robertson, star of the A&E series 'Duck Dynasty,' is the 'Rosa Parks' of our generation. In December 1955, Rosa Parks took a stand against an unjust societal persecution of black people, and in December 2013, Robertson took a stand against persecution of Christians. -- Ian Bayne, a Republican candidate for Illinois's 11th Congressional District, in a fundraising letter
Brooke Adams of the Salt Lake Tribune: "A federal judge in Utah Friday struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, saying the law violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process. Ryan Bruckman, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office, said its attorneys plan to appeal the decision and were currently drafting a motion to seek a stay of the ruling "as quickly as we can get it taken care of."
Brian Maffly of the Salt Lake Tribune: "Oil shale production can now move forward in Utah. Regulators on Friday issued a groundwater permit to Red Leaf Resources, a Utah company planning to develop a shale mine and below-grade ovens to heat ore mined from state land in the Uinta Basin.... The permit issued by the Utah Division of Water Quality is the last big hurdle for North America's first commercial oil shale mine. Red Leaf said it expects mining operations to begin in the spring."
Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: Former governor's mansion chef Todd Schneider, who provided authorities with the first tip about Virginia Gov. & Mrs. Bob McDonnell's acceptance of unreported gifts, disses on the McDonnells. The lovely Maureen is a screamer, sez he.
Senate Race or Something
"I Never Did Say Poor Kids." Catherine Thompson of TPM: "Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) on Friday told CNN's 'New Day' that he should have clarified his comments suggesting schools that subsidize students' meals make those students work for a free lunch.... The congressman told CNN that his comments weren't a 'policy statement,' and complained about a lack of open discussion on the matter. 'This is not targeted to any one group,' Kingston said. 'It would be very helpful for kids in any socio-economic group to do chores and learn the work ethic. Those kids aren't there because of any fault of their own and I never suggested that they were.' ... 'I never did say poor kids,' he added." CW: Ole Jack doesn't seem to know that rich & upper-middle-class kids don't get federally subsidized meals (children who receive free meals must live in families that receive no more than 130 percent of the poverty level). But, hey, when you've dug a hole for yourself, you might as well did it deeper.
New York Times: "United States aircraft flying into a heavily contested region of were attacked on Saturday and forced to turn back without completing the mission, American officials said. Four service members were wounded, one seriously. South Sudan officials said the attack had been carried out by rebel forces. President Obama had sent 45 American servicemen to South Sudan to 'support the security of U.S. personnel and our embassy,' he said on Thursday."to evacuate American citizens
AP: "Astronauts removed an old space station pump Saturday, sailing through the first of a series of urgent repair spacewalks to revive a crippled cooling line. The two Americans on the crew, Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins, successfully pulled out the ammonia pump with a bad valve -- well ahead of schedule."
Guardian: "Egypt has announced that 130 people who escaped from jail during the uprising against the former president Hosni Mubarak -- including former president Mohamed Morsi -- will face trial. These are the third set of charges brought against Morsi since he was removed by the army in July and they intensify the relentless repression of his Muslim Brotherhood group in the months that followed."
AP: "President Barack Obama is starting his annual winter vacation in Hawaii on a quiet note.... The president and his wife, daughters and two dogs arrived late Friday and headed to a beachside home in the sleepy Honolulu suburb of Kailua. Obama got a late start Saturday, and by early afternoon was golfing with friends. The Obamas vacation every year in Hawaii, where Obama was born. This is the first year that last-minute wrangling in Congress didn't prevent them from departing on schedule."
Las Vegas Sun: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was released from the hospital [Friday] after being diagnosed as suffering from exhaustion and not anything more serious...."
Washington Post: "A federal judge on Friday gave President Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin [John Hinckley, Jr.] modestly more freedom, allowing the 58-year-old who has lived and received mental health treatment for more than three decades at St. Elizabeths Hospital to spend 17 days a month visiting his mother's home town of Williamsburg, Va."