The Ledes

... Thanks to Akhilleus for the link. (This video tends to start near the end. If it does that for you, cursor back to the beginning.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015.

Guardian: "The Federal Reserve on Wednesday continued to pave the way for an increase in interest rates as early as September. The US central bank left its key interest rate unchanged at near zero – where it has been since the 2008 financial crisis – but once again signalled that rates will rise later this year. While the Fed chair, Janet Yellen, has left little doubt that rates will rise this year, the Fed left itself wiggle room as it has set no timetable and said rates would only be raised if the economy continues to improve and unemployment continues to fall." ...

... The Fed's statement is here.

New York Times: "A large object that appeared to be an airplane part washed up Wednesday on the shore of Réunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean, prompting speculation that it might be debris from Flight 370, the Malaysia Airlines jetliner that disappeared in March 2014."

New York Times: "After months of speculation, Afghan officials announced Wednesday that they were now certain that the Taliban’s reclusive leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, died in Pakistan in 2013."

Guardian: "Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has approved the immediate construction of hundreds of settlement units in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in an effort to stave off a growing threat posed by pro-settler parties in his rightwing coalition government. The issue was brought to a head on Wednesday by a supreme court ruling that two buildings in the West Bank settlement of Beit El – built on private Palestinian land without permits – should be destroyed, despite Netanyahu’s opposition."

Washington Post: "An Albuquerque 911 dispatcher has resigned after audio was released of him hanging up on a 17-year-old as she tended to a friend who was shot at the party. The victim, 17-year-old Jaydon Chavez-Silver, later died.... Emergency responders had already been dispatched to the house before [the dispatcher] hung up." Includes 911 audio.

Minneapolis Star Tribune: "A big-game hunter from the Twin Cities found himself at the center of an international firestorm Tuesday over the death of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe, but said he regrets killing the animal and believed his guides were leading him on a legal hunt.... Earlier Tuesday, the Telegraph newspaper of London identified [dentist Walter] Palmer as the hunter who shot Cecil and reported that he paid $54,000 for the hunt. The Telegraph said the lion was illegally lured out of Hwange National Park, where it had protected status, and onto a neighboring game farm, where Palmer was on safari." ...

... Salon: Yelp contributors are whacking Palmer.

The Wires

The Ledes

Tuesday, July 28, 2015.

Guardian: "Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, has been sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli. Saif, once seen as his father’s heir apparent, was condemned to death along with eight other figures from the former dictatorship, including the former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi and Gaddafi’s last prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi."

Reuters: "FIFA boss Sepp Blatter deserves a Nobel Prize for his stewardship of soccer's governing body, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview aired by Swiss broadcaster RTS on Monday."

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post: "A novel data-mining project reveals evidence that a common group of heartburn medications taken by more than 100 million people every year is associated with a greater risk of heart attacks, Stanford University researchers reported Wednesday."

AP: "Federal health advisers on Tuesday[, June 9,] recommended approval for a highly anticipated cholesterol drug from Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, but with the caveat that more data is needed about its long-term ability to reduce heart attacks. The expert panel recommended by a 13-3 vote that the Food and Drug Administration approve the injectable drug, called Praluent."

Washington Post (June 4): "The first-ever 'female Viagra' came one step closer to coming to market, as a key advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration voted Thursday afternoon to recommend that the FDA approve the drug with conditions. The committee voted 18-6 to recommend that the FDA approve flibanserin, a drug designed to boost the low sexual desire of otherwise healthy women."

White House Live Video
July 29

1:00 pm ET: Press briefing by Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz

Go to


Fuck off! I’m done with you. -- Jon Stewart, to Wyatt Cenac

... Alex Jung of New York: Jon Stewart repeatedly yelled at Wyatt Cenac when Cenac questioned a "Daily Show" segment meant to be a defense against Fox "News" allegations that Stewart's Herman Cain imitation was racist. ...

... Maron's WTF podcast of his interview with Cenac is here. ...

... CW: Here's the thing, black people. When you confront white liberals with accusations of racial bias, WE WILL NEVER ADMIT IT. We will remind you that we have been fighting for black civil rights for 50 years (Bernie Sanders). We will tell you all lives matter (Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley). We will tell you that white people are responsible for expanding your rights (Hillary Clinton). We will deny your accusations (Every one of us). And all the while, we will be highly insulted, even if we don't tell you to fuck off. Because white people's feelings matter. And, after all we've done for you, we can't believe you would accuse us of racism.

Even when they're only lip-syncing, some entertainers are pretty damned talented. I'm not much of a fan of Tom Cruise's, but ...

Tech Crunch: "It’s no secret that Google+ didn’t quite work out the way Google envisioned and now, after already moving Google Photos out of the service, it’s starting to decouple Google+ profiles from its regular Google accounts."

Stupid Pet Tricks, Reptile Edition:

Lloyd Grove of the Daily Beast: NBC News Chairman Andy Lack is replacing MSNBC's Ed Schultz with -- Chuck Todd. [CW: Excellent decision! Let's change "MSNBC" to "VPN" -- "Village People's Network."] "The only programs that appeared safe from disruption were Morning Joe..., hosted by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski; Hardball ... with Chris Matthews; and The Rachel Maddow Show at 9 p.m. Those programs have performed respectably...." ...

We live in a time when much of the corporate media regards politics as a baseball game or a soap opera. Ed Schultz has treated the American people with respect by focusing on the most important issues impacting their lives.... I am very disappointed that Comcast [the parent company of NBC & MSNBC] chose to remove Ed Schultz from its lineup. We need more people who talk about the real issues facing our country, not fewer.... At a time when a handful of large, multi-national corporations own our major media outlets, I hope they will allow voices to be heard from those who dissent from the corporate agenda. -- Sen. Bernie Sanders

Washington Post: "The latest update from NASA's Kepler space telescope — designed to spot distant exoplanets — adds more than 500 new possible planets to the fray. That's in addition to the 4,175 planets already found by Kepler. And of those 500 new potential planets, scientists say, a dozen could be remarkably Earth-like. That means they're less than twice as large as Earth, are potentially rocky and are at the right distance from their host stars to harbor liquid water." ...

... Guardian: "Scientists on the hunt for extraterrestrial life have discovered 'the closest twin to Earth' outside the solar system, Nasa announced on Thursday."

Worst Person Ratings in the World. Andrew Kirell of Mediaite: Rumors are a'flyin' that MSNBC is headed for another line-up shake-up, which could include the Return of Dr. Olbermann, who is departing ESPN -- again. Because their third place in cable ratings wasn't as bad as their third place is now (sometimes 4th, behind Al Jazeera). And because the New Olbermann is now a suits-licking pussycat, unlike the Old Olbermann from way last week.

Some Would Be Heroes. Washington Post: Coast Guardsman Darren Harrity swims a mile in choppy, fuel-slicked sea to save four men in a leaky lifeboat.

New York Times: "What Pet Should I Get?" -- an aide to Dr. Suess's widow found the manuscript in a box. Dr. Suess -- Theodore Geisel -- died in 1991.

     ... Via BuzzFeed, for the fun of it.

Washington Post: "On Monday, famed physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian tycoon Yuri Milner held a news conference in London to announce their new project: injecting $100 million and a whole lot of brain power into the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life, an endeavor they're calling Breakthrough Listen." ...

... CW: What a waste. You know all they'll find is angels hovering around a pantheon of some sort & maybe, if they're lucky, their long-dead pooches floating around Pet Heaven, which is real & wonderful.

New York Times: "In a pair of legal filings on Friday, two nuns who object to [singer Katy] Perry’s proposed purchase of their order’s convent on eight acres [in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles] disclosed an email describing any sale to the saucy pop singer as a breach of their sacred vows.... The court papers include claims by several of five surviving nuns in the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary that the archdiocese is betraying them and bullying them into supporting a sale other than their preferred transaction with [another buyer]."

NASA: "In the latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named 'Tombaugh Regio' (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930."

Hill: "President Obama is making a final 'Daily Show' appearance before host Jon Stewart leaves the political comedy program after 17 years. Obama will sit down for his final chat with Stewart on Tuesday, the White House confirmed Friday."

For an actual feel-good moment, Lindsey Bever of the Washington Post tells the story of 16-year-old small-plane crash survivor Autumn Veatch. Veatch, who was injured in the crash that killed her grandparents, walked untold mild through rough terrain until she came to a public road & parking area.

Washington Post: "Nearly two months after a molestation scandal prompted TLC to pull reruns of the popular reality program '19 Kids and Counting' from the air and online, the network announced that it has officially canceled the program."

Washington Post: "Filmmaker George Lucas, singer-songwriter Carole King and dancer-actress Rita Moreno are among an unprecedented six honorees to be saluted at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors. Seventies rockers the Eagles, actress Cicely Tyson and conductor Seiji Ozawa will also be honored at the Dec. 6 event, Kennedy Center officials said Wednesday. A major fundraiser for the arts center, the gala celebration will be televised on CBS on Dec. 29."

Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker reviews Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. ...

... Laura Marsh of the New Republic: "Scolars have been pointing out Atticus Finch's racism for years."

New York Times (July 15): "It was the last day of business at F. A. O. Schwarz on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan."

New York Times: "A day after its successful flyby, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft sent back the first close-up photographs of Pluto, revealing a young surface dotted with ice mountains. The piano-size spacecraft traveled nine years and three billion miles to study the dwarf planet and its five moons." Includes one close-up photo from 25 miles out. More on NASA's site.

New York (July 14): "We're halfway through July, but until this morning, there was still snow on the ground in Boston. The last of the city's historic snowfall, a disgusting frozen mass of dirt, snow, and trash, was officially pronounced melted this morning"."

Here are time-lapse photos of the long melt:

Sean Hollister of Gizmodo: "The Mozilla Firefox web browser now blocks Flash by default. And when I say “blocks,” I don’t mean it asks you nicely if you’d really like to use Flash. I don’t mean it automatically pauses Flash videos like Google Chrome. I mean Mozilla has decided that Flash is going down.... Why such a hard-on for Flash? Why now? Well, it could be that the world just rediscovered just how prone Flash is to nasty, nasty vulnerabilities. When the Hacking Team — an Italian security company that sold intrusive spy tools — got hacked, one of those tools got out into the wild. A nasty hole in Flash that Adobe has yet to patch.... It’s probably worth noting that [Monday July 13], Mozilla’s Facebook’s chief security officer publicly asked Adobe to kill off Flash once and for all.... Update: Adobe has already released a newer version of Flash,, which Firefox doesn’t block by default. You’ll want to manually download it."

Contributor Nisky Guy takes us back in time to February 2006, when Lewis Black complained, "I can't wait that long":

Washington Post: "On its approach to Pluto, the spacecraft [New Horizons] obtained the most arresting image yet of the dwarf planet. Pluto is not a bland and featureless ball of ice, but rather a complex, variegated, mottled world with broad snowfields, structures that look like cliffs or fault lines, and a strikingly bright heart-shaped area that could be the eroded remnant of a giant impact crater."

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The Commentariat -- Feb. 24, 2013

New York Times Editors: "... a focus on mass murder, while critical, does not get at the broader issue of gun violence, including the hundreds of single-victim murders, suicides, nonfatal shootings and other gun crimes.... Focusing on the mentally ill, most of whom are not violent, overlooks people who are at demonstrably increased risk of committing violent crimes but are not barred by federal law from buying and having guns. These would include people who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors including assaults, and those who are alcohol abusers. Unless guns are also kept from these high-risk people, preventable gun violence will continue."

Mark Felsenthal of Reuters: "The White House has moved to make the results of federally funded research available to the public for free within a year, bowing to public pressure for unfettered access to scholarly articles and other materials produced at taxpayers' expense. 'Americans should have easy access to the results of research they help support,' John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote on the White House website.... The White House move ... came some six weeks after the suicide of Internet openness activist Aaron Swartz, who was renowned for making a trove of information freely available to the public." Here's Holdren's response to a We the People petition. Here's a pdf of his memo on the subject to department & agency heads.

On a week when the White House called out David Brooks for making up stuff, Margaret Sullivan -- the Times' public editor -- writes on how much editing the Times' "star columnists" get. Let me just say that Sullivan was about as informative as Brooks, whose major boo-boo she didn't even hint at. What a bore! ...

... On the other hand, Paul Krugman writes today, apropos of absolutely nothing,

Suppose that some pundit who has spent his whole career calling for bipartisanship, a compromise between the extremes of left and right, were to admit the plain fact that Obama is very much a centrist, who is in particular proposing deficit reduction through exactly the kind of mix of tax hikes and spending cuts 'centrist' pundits demand -- and that the GOP, by contrast, is an extremist organization whose extremism is almost solely responsible for the bitterness of the partisan divide. A pundit making that admission would in effect be saying that everything he has said and done for the past several years was not just useless but harmful, actively misleading readers about the state of the debate. He just can't do it. ...

    ... Whoevah could he mean, Tom Friedman, David Brooks?

"Our Kind of Guy." Wherein Krugman Compares Alan Simpson to Bernie Madoff: "Simpson is, demonstrably, grossly ignorant on precisely the subjects on which he is treated as a guru, not understanding the finances of Social Security, the truth about life expectancy, and much more. He is also a reliably terrible forecaster, having predicted an imminent fiscal crisis -- within two years -- um, two years ago. Yet he remains not only respectable among the Beltway crowd; as Ezra says, he's lionized in a way that looks from the outside like a clear violation of journalistic norms.... And think about what it says about them that their kind of guy is this cantankerous, potty-mouthed individual, who evidently feels not a bit of empathy for those less fortunate."

Steve Peoples & Ken Thomas of the AP: "Governors from both parties are warning of the damaging economic impact if the White House and Congress fail to reach a deal to stave off across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect Friday."

One thing I didn't notice in reading Bob Woodward's "It's Obama's Fault" column -- linked yesterday -- is that Woodward also claims that "when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts." As Brian Beutler says more nicely, Woodward is an ignoramus: "Obama and Democrats have always insisted that a balanced mix of spending cuts and higher taxes replace sequestration. It's true that John Boehner wouldn't agree to include new taxes in the enforcement mechanism itself, and thus that the enforcement mechanism he and Obama settled upon -- sequestration -- is composed exclusively of spending cuts." Get that? The sequester, as written, in Boehner's baby. And, to reiterate, the only reason there ever was a sequester in the first place was that Boehner couldn't herd his cats -- the ones who were threatening to default on the nation's debt & cause worldwide chaos. ...

... Joe Wiesenthal, a Republican like Woodward, of Business Insider, calls Woodward's column "nonsense on stilts." BTW, he says, "the sequester was a great idea compared to a 2011 default." ...

... Update: Jackie Calmes of the New York Times has a fairly balanced report on the finger-pointing.

Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog has a summary of the government's brief in the DOMA case -- U.S. v. Windsor. If the Court buys the government's argument -- ha ha -- "some observers" say "not one of the state denials of marriage to same-sex couples can survive constitutionally. Such denials have come in thirty-nine states." ...

... Joan Biskupic of Reuters on the voting rights challenge before the Supreme Court. Conservatives on the Court are likely to gut the Voting Rights Act. CW: all this would be moot if U.S. citizens had a Constitutional right to vote. We don't. ...

... Ian Millhiser of Think Progress: "Gov. Tom Corbett (R-PA) was one of the earliest supporters of rigging the Electoral College.... Republican state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi was one of the leading supporters of election-rigging the and late this week, he -- along with a dozen other co-sponsors -- introduced a new plan to rig the Electoral College votes in ... Pennsylvania" making it effectively impossible for a Democratic presidential candidate to win the state, even though Pennsylvania has voted for the Democrat in every election since 1992.

Aviva Shen of Think Progress: "Though the Senate passed another bipartisan VAWA [Violence Against Women Act] reauthorization over a week ago, House Republicans may derail passage once again. On Friday, House GOP leaders released their own VAWA bill, stripping protections for LGBT individuals and adding a loophole for Native American victims." CW: Read the update. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is exactly right. And I would add, House Republicans are cruel SOBs.

** Tabassum Zakaria of the AP: "Former American diplomat Thomas Pickering said what struck him most during a review of last year's attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, were the frequent personnel changes, second-guessing on security upgrades, and dismissive attitude toward dozens of security incidents."

It takes Maureen Dowd a long time to get to it, but at the end of her description of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg's "cause," Dowd writes, "Sandberg may mean well, and she may be setting up a run for national office. But she doesn't understand the difference between a social movement and a social network marketing campaign. Just because digital technology makes connecting possible doesn't mean you're actually reaching people.... Sandberg has co-opted the vocabulary and romance of a social movement not to sell a cause, but herself. She says she's using marketing for the purpose of social idealism. But she's actually using social idealism for the purpose of marketing."

Best First Lady Ever!

Ali Soufan in a New York Times op-ed: "I watched 'Zero Dark Thirty' not as a former F.B.I. special agent who spent a decade chasing, interrogating and prosecuting top members of Al Qaeda but as someone who enjoys Hollywood movies. As a movie, I enjoyed it. As history, it's bunk.... The creators of 'Zero Dark Thirty' attempted to document the greatest global manhunt of our generation. But they did so without acknowledging that their 'history' was based on dubious sources. The filmmakers took the 'firsthand accounts' of a few current and former officials with an agenda and amplified their message worldwide -- suggesting to Americans in cinemas around the country, and regimes overseas, that torture is effective and helped lead to Bin Laden." CW: if you wonder why I didn't put Soufan's essay in Infotainment, read it.

Here's the Time article on medical bills by Steven Brill which contributor Calyban recommends. None of it is news to anyone who has ever read her/his hospital and doctor bills, but far down the story Brill does make a good case for lowering, not raising, the Medicare eligibility age. Contributor Janice's pithy observation on this topic is exactly right.

Local News

Okay, So Lex Luthor, True to Form. National Memo: Rick "'Scott's hospital company, Columbia/HCA, pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid a total of $1.7 billion in fines related to Medicare fraud,' according to PolitiFact. 'Even though Scott had resigned by the time the case settled, prosecutors said the widespread fraud occurred while he was at the helm.'This history would make many reluctant to let Scott anywhere near taxpayer money. However..., Florida will be allowed to privatize its Medicaid program that currently covers about three million residents. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agreed to this even though Scott and Florida's GOP had already been experimenting with Medicaid privatization to disastrous results. Nearly half of the 200,000 residents signed up to the program had been dropped by the private provider because they didn't offer a big enough profit margin." Thanks to Barbarossa for the link.

Ian Millhiser: "A bill introduced by Montana state Rep. Steve Lavin would give corporations the right to vote in municipal elections.... This bill was tabled shortly after it came before a legislative committee, so it is unlikely to become law.... According to the Center for Media and Democracy, Lavin was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) now defunct Public Safety and Elections Task Force. Last year, pressure from progressive groups forced ALEC to disband this task force, which, among other things, pushed voter suppression laws." CW: wonder if Lavin's bill included a special carve-out to suppress the vote of minority-own corporations. Thanks to James S. for the link.

News Ledes

AP: "Raul Castro announced Sunday that he will step down as Cuba's president in 2018 following a final five-year term, for the first time putting a date on the end of the Castro era. He tapped rising star Miguel Diaz-Canel as his top lieutenant and first in the line of succession." CW: or they could have an election?

New York Times: "The Afghan government on Sunday banned elite American forces from operating in a strategic province adjoining Kabul, citing complaints that Afghans working for American Special Forces have killed and tortured villagers in the area."

AP: "At least 33 fans were injured Saturday during a NASCAR race when a car flew into the fence at Daytona International Speedway, hurling a tire and large pieces of debris into the stands."

AP: "Police are seeking a 26-year-old man as the prime suspect in last week's pre-dawn shooting and crash on the Las Vegas Strip that killed three people and injured several others The black SUV used as a getaway car was found Saturday as police named Ammar Harris in connection with the shooting and six-vehicle chain-reaction carnage Thursday on the neon-lit boulevard near the Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Bally's and Flamingo resorts." Story includes a mugshot of Harris.

Reuters: "The United States condemned a Syrian army Scud missile attack that killed dozens of people on Friday in the city of Aleppo, and invited the Syrian opposition for talks on finding a negotiated settlement to the conflict."

Reuters: "Italians voted on Sunday in one of the most closely watched and unpredictable elections in years, with pent-up fury over a discredited elite adding to concern it may not produce a government strong enough to lead Italy out of an economic slump."

Reuters: "Cypriots voted on Sunday in a runoff to elect a president who must clinch a bailout deal before the island nation plunges into a financial meltdown that would revive the euro zone debt crisis."

Reuters: "Pope Benedict, speaking in his last Sunday address before becoming the first pope in some six centuries to step down, said he was following God's wishes and that he was not abandoning the Roman Catholic Church." ...

... Butt Out, Mahony. Reuters: "Roman Catholic activists on Saturday petitioned a U.S. cardinal to recuse himself from taking part in selecting a new pope so as not to insult survivors of sexual abuse by priests committed while he was archbishop of Los Angeles. The activists delivered a petition with nearly 10,000 signatures to the North Hollywood church where Cardinal Roger Mahony resides."

AP: Carl Pistorius, "the brother of Olympic star Oscar Pistorius, is facing a culpable homicide charge for a 2008 road death, compounding problems for the family after the double-amputee runner was charged with premeditated murder in the Feb. 14 shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp."


The Commentariat -- Feb. 23, 2013

The President's Weekly Address:

     ... Here's the transcript.

Since everyone, including the White House, was dissing David Brooks today, I thought I might as well pile on. My New York Times eXaminer column is here. ...

... MEANWHILE, Ed Kilgore takes on Peggy Noonan, which he admits is as easy as "shooting magic dolphins in a barrel." His whole post is funny. Here's the heart of it:

Allow yourself a few minutes of chuckling over the spectacle of Peggy Noonan wandering around a Walmart -- something she apparently does every few years to get in touch with the peasantry -- and focus on what she's saying here. Fiscal uncertainty has made the scene at Walmart 'tired' and 'frayed.'

Now there's a much less ethereal explanation for Walmart's troubles: the payroll tax increase that Republicans accepted without a peep on January 1 took a bite out of purchasing power, aside from the fact that Walmart shoppers tend to be folk struggling to get along. The overall phenomenon is called 'sluggish consumer demand,' which means low-to-moderate income families don't have enough money. That's a slightly more tangible and immediate problem than any emotional or spiritual crisis Walmart customers might experience from reflections on the failure of Barack Obama to reach out to Republicans for long-term federal spending cuts, which is what Noonan talks about in the remainder of her column.

Dorothy Wickenden of the New Yorker speaks with George Packer & James Surowiecki about income inequality, wage stagnation & the sequester:

Jonathan Weisman & Michael Shear of the New York Times: "Mr. Obama privately told Democratic governors that his public campaign against Republicans was not producing results.... In a session at the White House complex, the president and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. tried to enlist the Democratic governors to reach out to their Republican counterparts at a National Governors Association meeting this weekend to push Congressional leaders to the table.... On Friday, Republicans remained adamant that they would accept no tax increases to head off the cuts." ...

... Michael Cooper of the New York Times: "States are increasingly alarmed that they could become collateral damage in Washington's latest fiscal battle, fearing that the impasse could saddle them with across-the-board spending cuts that threaten to slow their fragile recoveries or thrust them back into recession." CW: here's a place where "uncertainty" actually is a factor; there's a certain irony, of course, that some of the states that will be hardest hit by the sequester cuts are those that vote Tea Party & hate President Socialist. ...

... Keith Laing of The Hill: "Airline passengers will face major delays if Congress allows across-the-board cuts to the budgets of agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned Friday. LaHood, speaking to reporters at Friday's White House press briefing, predicted chaos at the nation's busiest airports because thousands of FAA employees -- including air traffic controllers -- will be furloughed to save money. 'This is very painful for us because it involves our employees, but it's going to be very painful for the flying public,' LaHood said." ...

... Matthew Wald of the New York Times: "Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has told Congress that most of the Federal Aviation Administration's 47,000 employees would face a day of furlough per two-week pay period, meaning on average about 10 percent fewer workers on any given day.... To handle such a major staff shortage but still maintain safety, federal aviation officials said they would accept fewer airplanes into the system.... As a result, passengers may sit on tarmacs and endure delays as they wait for planes to push back from the gate.As a result, passengers may sit on tarmacs and endure delays as they wait for planes to push back from the gate." ...

... Stan Collender of Capital Gains & Games: "The Obama White House ... clearly is not reluctant in the slightest about making it clear that flights will be canceled or seriously delayed ... or both if the sequester happens.... This is why I keep saying that the politics of the sequester will change almost immediately after it starts. Slowdowns at U.S... airports, national parks closed one day a week, slower-than-usual tax refunds -- all of which are likely to happen starting on March 1 -- almost change how voters view the situation and the pressure on members of Congress to deal with it."

... Tracie Cone of the AP: "As America's financial clock ticks toward forced spending cuts to countless government agencies, The Associated Press has obtained a National Park Service memo that compiles a list of potential effects at the nation's most beautiful and historic places just as spring vacation season begins.... In Yosemite National Park in California, for example, park administrators fear that less frequent trash pickup would potentially attract bears into campgrounds." ...

... Gail Collins explains the sequester to dummies. Actually, her dummy sounds pretty smart. It's the answers that are dumb, dumb because the Congressional decisions she is describing are dumb. ...

... Wherein Bob Woodward Tries to Cover His Ass by Covering up an Inconvenient Fact. In today's Washington Post, Woodward writes a longish piece "proving" that the sequester was Obama's idea. Key points:

My extensive reporting for my book 'The Price of Politics' shows that the automatic spending cuts were initiated by the White House and were the brainchild of [Jack] Lew and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors.... Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011.... Key Republican staffers said they didn't even initially know what a sequester was....

     ... Well, maybe you're right, Bob. But then how is it that just 4 days later -- July 31 -- Boehner distributed a PowerPoint presentation, developed with the Republican Policy Committee, in which "it's clear as day in the presentation that 'sequestration' was considered a cudgel to guarantee a reduction in federal spending"? According to Lew's account, the sequestration idea was based on a 1984 Graham-Rudman plan, but Boehner's Power Point presentation says sequestration is the "same mechanism used in 1997 Balanced Budget Agreement." Moreover, Lew says he wasn't "pushing" it. It seems that both Boehner's & Obama's teams were trying to come up with a way to kick the can down the road -- on account of Boehner's inability to get his Tea Party members behind anything -- & they both hit on sequestration. Since the Tea Party caucus was Boehner's problem, Boehner "pushed" sequestration. (Boehner's office has since told Newsweek that his Power Point slide "was simply Boehner's attempt to explain the president's plan to the Republican caucus.") Woodward never mentions the Power Point presentation. Get over it, Bob.

Lawrence Hurley of Reuters: "The Obama administration outlined its argument on Friday why the U.S. Supreme Court should strike down a federal law that defines marriage as between a man and woman. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli filed a brief with the court saying that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, expanding on the administration's approach to the controversial 1996 law, which it has formally opposed since February 2011."

Friday Afternoon News Dump -- Drones R Us. Eric Schmitt & Mark Sayare of the New York Times: "Opening a new front in the drone wars against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, President Obama announced on Friday that about 100 American troops had been sent to Niger in West Africa to help set up a new base from which unarmed Predator aircraft would conduct surveillance in the region."

Tara Bernard of the New York Times: "... when it comes to paid parental leave, the United States is among the least generous in the world, ranking down with the handful of countries that don't offer any paid leave at all, among them Liberia, Suriname and Papua New Guinea. The American situation hasn't materially improved since the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law 20 years ago this month by President Clinton.... While the United States takes great pride in its family values, it is the only high-income country that does not offer a paid leave program.... The National Partnership for Women and Families..., together with the Center for American Progress, has been working with lawmakers to draft legislation that would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the arrival of a new child or for a parent's serious illness or that of a family member. The costs would be split between workers and their employers...."

"I Have Here in My Pocket...." Jane Mayer of the New Yorker: "Two and a half years ago, [Ted] Cruz gave a stem-winder of a speech at a Fourth of July weekend political rally in Austin, Texas, in which he accused the Harvard Law School of harboring a dozen Communists on its faculty when he studied there.... Cruz made the accusation ... at a conference ... sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit political organization founded and funded in part by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. Cruz ... soon launched an impassioned attack on President Obama, whom he described as 'the most radical' President 'ever to occupy the Oval Office.' Charles Fried, who taught Cruz at Harvard Law & "who served as Ronald Reagan's Solicitor General from 1985 to 1989," disputes all of Cruz's claims about the school." ...

... Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches: "Cruz's communist conspiracy theories pre-date his Tea Party associations; in 2009..., Cruz made the same accusation about Obama and Harvard" to Christian conservative professor & publisher Marvin Olansky. "In the WORLD interview, Cruz took care to point out that he 'was raised a Christian and came to Christ at Clay Road Baptist Church in Houston.'"

John Hooper of the Guardian: "A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom -- the report said -- were being blackmailed by outsiders. The pope's spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica." CW: Thanks to contributor Patrick Barbarossa for the link. (Oops Update: thanks to Patrick for "being there.") La Repubblica is probably the major Italian daily. I'm not saying La Repubblica is right, but I am saying it is not a sensationalist newspaper. In any event, it looks as if maybe Pope Noble the Resigner is not so Noble. ...

... Barbie Latza Nadeau of Newsweek : "The existence of a gay-priest network outside the fortified walls of Vatican City is hardly news, and many are wondering if it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of sex scandals." Sounds like something Ted Cruz would say. ...

... Nicole Winfield of the AP: "The Vatican lashed out Saturday at the media for what it said has been a run of defamatory and false reports before the conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI's successor, saying they were an attempt to influence the election. Italian newspapers have been rife with unsourced reports in recent days about the contents of a secret dossier prepared for the pope by three cardinals who investigated the origins of the 2012 scandal over leaked Vatican documents. The reports have suggested the revelations in the dossier, given to Benedict in December, were a factor in his decision to resign. The pope himself has said merely that he doesn't have the 'strength of mind and body' to carry on."

News Ledes

Reuters: "New England braced for its third snowstorm in three weekends on Saturday, putting crews to work sanding roads and trimming trees ahead of the snow, sleet and freezing rain moving in from the Midwest. The storm blanketed states from Minnesota to Ohio earlier this week, dumping more than a foot of snow in Kansas on Thursday, forcing airports to cancel hundreds of flights and leaving motorists stranded on highways." ...

... BUT meteorologist David Epstein writes in the Boston Globe: "The bottom line is that the big storm isn't going to happen. What we will have is a period of rain and snow that could accumulate up to a few inches, especially across the Worcester hills between tonight and Sunday night."

Reuters: "Days before resuming talks over its disputed atomic program, Iran said on Saturday it had found significant new deposits of raw uranium and identified sites for 16 more nuclear power stations. State news agency IRNA quoted a report by the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) which said the reserves were discovered in northern and southern coastal areas and had trebled the amount outlined in previous estimates."

AP: Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, "a key opposition leader, called Saturday for a boycott of [Egypt's] upcoming parliamentary elections, saying he will not take part in a 'sham democracy.' President Mohammed Morsi's Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood, shot back that the opposition was running away from the challenge and wants power without contesting elections."


Spams a Lot, Etc.

I don't know what's going on with Reality Chex hosting. I complained to my host this morning about the fact that commenters are getting spammed all the time; more than a third of the comments today went to the spam file. So maybe the host is working on it -- which so far means readers are apparently getting scary messages like "This site will destroy your computer, or something." I just notifed my host about this, so we'll see what happens next. ...

... UPDATE. ONE PROBLEM SOLVED (I think). Two readers wrote to me yesterday indicating they had got a message something like the one below -- I think that is probably the one they got. My guess, based on what my host wrote, is that they tried to open Reality Chex in hypertext-secure = https, instead of in plain ole http. So if you get a message like the one below in opening this or any other site, check your URL:

In Internet Explorer, the message would look like this:

AND in Google Chrome, like this:

Those are the only browsers I have loaded; I would assume if you're using another browser, it would produce a similar message. I suspect you might get a similar message if you had your security set at the highest level, either internally or in a virus protection add-on program.

The spam problem continues. I've suggested to my host that I at least get a notification when the spam filter snags a comment, so I'll see if they'll do that.

In the meantime, if you submit a comment that doesn't go up immediately, you can e-mail me at this link & write "spammed" either in the title or text. If I'm around I'll de-spamify the comment right away. I'm checking the spam file much more often now that it's such a problem, but still.

Sorry for the glitches.



The Commentariat -- Feb. 22, 2013

GOP's Latest "Blame Obama" Sequester Con. Brian Beutler of TPM: "Senate Republicans along with influential conservative commentators [Karl Rove] are proposing to provide federal agency heads the flexibility they currently lack to allocate the sequester's cuts at their discretion.... The GOP proposal would give the executive branch more discretion over where to make those cuts for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends in September.... In effect, it's a sequester replacement bill minus the political cost of proposing specific alternative cuts to federal programs." ...

... Ed Kilgore explains the history of the "less stupidity" option which Rove, et al., & Senate Republicans are proposing. In the end, "... the 'less stupidity' option is facing a bipartisan veto, and worse yet, the knowledge that it would not actually happen is probably why Senate Republicans are proposing it in the first place. If that puzzles you, welcome to the wonderful world of budget politics, where reality is never close to the surface." ...

... Ernesto Londoño & Lisa Rein of the Washington Post: "After staying largely on the sidelines of the debate over deficit reduction, the U.S. military's service leaders have begun painting a stark picture of the toll a congressionally mandated budget cut could take on the readiness of the world's largest armed forces. The $46 billion dent to the Pentagon's fiscal 2013 budget ... [is] forcing commanders across the military to plan for painful reductions and argue that American lives and livelihoods are hanging in the balance.... The military's service chiefs are amplifying the months-long warnings of Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and others and providing what they have described as the specific and serious consequences of the across-the-board cuts." CW Note: this is the Post's top story. Kinda nice of them to do Obama's work for him, isn't it? ...

... Paul Krugman: "... the legacy of that year of living foolishly [-- 2011 --] lives on, in the form of the 'sequester,' one of the worst policy ideas in our nation's history.... The right policy would be to forget about the whole thing.... Unfortunately, neither party is proposing that we just call the whole thing off. But the proposal from Senate Democrats at least moves in the right direction, replacing the most destructive spending cuts -- those that fall on the most vulnerable members of our society -- with tax increases on the wealthy, and delaying austerity in a way that would protect the economy. House Republicans, on the other hand, want to take everything that's bad about the sequester and make it worse...."

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post: "Sequester is happening because Republicans in the supercommittee balked at raising adequate revenue.... No matter whose brainchild it was, Republicans voted for a deal that included the sequester as the enforcement mechanism. They can't now disown their vote by insisting it was the other guy's idea." ...

... Dear John (Boehner): We're Just Not All That into You." Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "A new survey from the Pew Research Center and USA Today [see link to USA Today story below] ... shows a failure to reach a deal [on the sequester] would lead 49 percent of Americans to blame congressional Republicans and 31 percent to blame President Obama. This isn't all that surprising.... Obama is much more popular than both Congress and the Republican Party, which means he's likely to come out on top in the blame game."

Donna Cassata of the AP: "Barring any new, damaging information, Chuck Hagel has secured the necessary votes for the Senate to confirm him to be the nation's next defense secretary. A vote ending the bitter fight over President Barack Obama's choice for his revamped second-term, national security team is expected next week. Hagel cleared the threshold when five-term Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said he would vote for the former GOP senator from Nebraska...." ...

... MEANWHILE ... Morgan Whitaker of NBC News: "Led by Texas Senator John Cornyn, 15 Republican Senators are calling on President Obama to withdraw his nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, questioning his ability to handle the job along with how effective he could be without bipartisan support."

Zack Coleman of The Hill: "The front-runner to fill the vacancy atop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pledged to push ahead with actions to confront climate change during a wide-ranging speech Thursday. 'As President Obama said, climate change is a priority -- and we are going to take action,' Gina McCarthy, the EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, told attendees at the Georgetown Climate Center Workshop in Washington, D.C."

Susan Page of USA Today: "President Obama starts his second term with a clear upper hand over GOP leaders on issues from guns to immigration that are likely to dominate the year, a USA Today/Pew Research Center Poll finds. On the legislation rated most urgent -- cutting the budget deficit -- even a majority of Republican voters endorse Obama's approach of seeking tax hikes as well as spending cuts." ...

... Ron Brownstein of the National Journal: "One conclusion that jumps from the Pew Research Center/USA Today national survey released Thursday is that the coalition that reelected President Obama last fall remains in step behind him -- and is largely unified behind the key elements of his increasingly aggressive second-term agenda. But the poll also suggests that failure to generate more-rapid economic recovery could nonetheless strain the powerful coalition Obama has assembled."

Dubya speechwriter Michael Gerson, now a columnist for the Washington Post, takes a swipe at his not-ready-for-primetime party: "... last year's Republican primary process was entirely disconnected from the actual needs of the party. One candidate pledged to build a 20-foot-high electrical fence at the border crowned with the sign, in English and Spanish, 'It will kill you -- Warning.' Another promised, as president, to speak out against the damage done to American society by contraception. Another warned that vaccinations may cause 'mental retardation.' In the course of 20 debates and in tens of millions of dollars of ads, issues such as upward mobility, education, poverty, safer communities and the environment were rarely mentioned.... Candidates will need to do more than rebrand existing policy approaches or translate them into Spanish." CW: yes, Marco, he's talking to you.

Evan McMorris-Santoro of TPM: "Vice President Biden told an audience Thursday in Connecticut that things have changed in the gun violence debate -- the politician who has to worry now is the one who votes against new regulations on firearms purchases, rather than the one who votes for them.... Democrats are gearing up to make support for gun control a key plank in their 2014 platform.... It's worth noting that polling backs up Biden.... Guns are now a liability for the GOP rather than for Democrats." McMorris-Santoro has a clip of the speech. You can watch the whole speech here. ...

... McCain to Grieving Mother: "Tough." David Taintor of TPM: "At Wednesday's town hall, [Caren] Teves told [Sen. John] McCain that her son, Alex, was killed in the massacre, and she urged the senator to support a ban on assault weapons. McCain responded: 'I can tell you right now you need some straight talk. That assault weapons ban will not pass the Congress of the United States.' The crowd, many of whom appeared to be pro-gun, burst into cheers and applause at McCain's comments":

David Firestone of the New York Times: "The 13 Republican governors who have refused the expansion [of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act] know full well that they are giving away billions of dollars, hurting their own low-income residents, and forcing taxpayers to subsidize Medicaid programs in other states but not their own. Yet they are trapped by their years of furious opposition, issuing alarmist statements like this one, from Rick Perry of Texas: 'To expand this program is not unlike adding a thousand people to the Titanic.'"

Jon Huntsman in the American Conservative: "... conservatives should start to lead again and push their states to join the nine others that allow all their citizens to marry.... There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love. All Americans should be treated equally by the law, whether they marry in a church, another religious institution, or a town hall." ...

... Zack Ford of Think Progress: "Laura Bush Objects To Being Quoted Accurately Supporting Marriage Equality. This week, the Respect for Marriage Coalition launched a new $1 million print and television ad campaign highlighting bipartisan support for marriage equality. Unfortunately, it seems Former First Lady Laura Bush is not happy about being included in the ads.... The campaign has agreed to remove Bush from the ads."

Andrew Leonard of Salon on how right-wing governors are undermining higher education in the name of "fiscal responsibility" -- especially in the humanities, which wingers see as bastions of Marxism.

David Montgomery of the Washington Post: activist and heiress Naomi Pitcairn & Code Pink throw a posh going-to-prison party at the Hay-Adams hotel for convicted whistleblower John Kiriakou. CW: and I say to him, "Thank you for your service to our country."

Dashiel Bennett of the Atlantic: "Approximately 150 federal and state law enforcement agents launched a massive raid on one of the biggest perpetrators of government fraud in America: The Scooter Store. Yes, that's right. The nation's largest provider of single-person electric vehicles and power chairs is the target of a federal investigation, probably because many of the people who ride around their 'personal mobility devices' don't actually need them. In January, CBS This Morning ran a cutting exposé on the company, detailing how it 'railroads' doctors into prescribing the chair for their patients, most of whom are on Medicare or Medicaid. That way they can bill the government for their highly dubious medical device, while the patient gets a cool new scooter without paying for it, and The Scooter Store makes a nice profit." CW: This doesn't surprise me on bit. Their ads are really attractive come-ons. I'm delighted to see the feds cracking down on the perps behind the Scooter Store.

"A Carter Won Obama the Election":

     ... CW: I happen to agree with President Carter. There's a perfect irony in this of course, since both Mitt Romney & his running mate Paul Ryan accused Obama of being "worse than Carter."

Local News

Before & After. Laura Bassett of the Huffington Post: "The Indiana state Senate on Wednesday advanced a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound procedure both before and after having a medication-induced abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy." CW: Every one of the SOBs who voted for this entirely unnecessary procedural hoop-jumping exercise should be required to have a brain MRI both before and after they vote for this crap. At their own expense. Meddling assholes.

News Ledes

AP: "The U.S. and its NATO allies revealed Friday they may keep as many as 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends next year, largely American forces tasked with hunting down remnants of al-Qaida and helping Afghan forces with their own security."

AP: "The Pentagon on Friday grounded its fleet of F-35 fighter jets after discovering a cracked engine blade in one plane. The problem was discovered during what the Pentagon called a routine inspection at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., of an F-35A, the Air Force version of the sleek new plane. The Navy and the Marine Corps are buying other versions of the F-35, which is intended to replace older fighters like the Air Force F-16 and the Navy F/A-18."

Reuters: "Los Angeles County health officials have asked for federal assistance to analyze and contain an outbreak of tuberculosis within the city's homeless population, a spokeswoman for the county agency said on Friday."

Reuters: "Six tanks at Washington state's Hanford Nuclear Reservation are leaking radioactive waste, but the leak has not posed an immediate public health risk, Governor Jay Inslee's office said on Friday."

Reuters: "Boeing Co on Friday gave U.S. aviation regulators its plan to fix the volatile battery aboard its new 787 Dreamliner, even though investigators have not yet determined what caused the batteries to overheat on two planes last month."

Reuters: "Britain suffered its first ever sovereign ratings downgrade from a major agency on Friday, after Moody's stripped the country of its coveted top-notch triple-A rating, dealing a major blow to finance minister George Osborne<. Moody's cut Britain's rating by one notch to Aa1 from Aaa, with a stable outlook, blaming weak prospects for Britain's economy over the coming years which have thrown the government's deficit reduction strategy off course."

New York Times: "The Department of Justice has decided to join a lawsuit against Lance Armstrong and several associates that accuses them of using taxpayer money to finance doping on the United States Postal Service cycling team, according to a lawyer for Armstrong." CW: that is, the Department of Justice has decided to take another easy case while allowing the big banks to continue cheating. Thanks for looking out for me, Eric Holder.

Guardian: Oscar Pistorius will be freed on bail pending his murder trial. This is a liveblog. No stories are up yet. ...

     ... Update: Al Jazeera has the story here.

New York Times: "The European Commission delivered a bleak assessment Friday of Europe's economic prospects, saying that growth would be just 0.1 percent in the 27-nation European Union in 2013 and that the 17-nation euro zone would shrink 0.3 percent over the same period. The downbeat forecast, coming a day after data showed a slump in business activity in the euro area worsened unexpectedly this month, added to perceptions that Europe is continuing to struggle with the dual burdens of trying to stimulate growth while cutting spending to pare deficits and balance budgets."

Reuters: "A major winter storm headed northeast into the U.S. Great Lakes on Friday and threatened New England after blanketing states from Minnesota to Ohio with blinding snow, sleet and freezing rain. The storm dumped more than a foot of snow in Kansas on Thursday, forcing airports to cancel hundreds of flights and stranding motorists on highways."

ABC News: "Rapper Kenny Clutch has been identified by Las Vegas police as the man killed in a drive-by shooting on the Vegas strip, which set off a multi-state manhunt for the black Range Rover from which the shots were fired. Clutch, whose real name is Kenneth Cherry Jr., was the victim of the Thursday morning shooting in the valet area of the Aria Resort and Casino. Three people were left dead and three injured in the attack, including two who died when their taxi was struck by the careening sports car and exploded into flames."