The Ledes

Monday, May 30, 2016.

USA Today: "Six people died and at least two others were missing Sunday after heavy rains in Texas and Kansas caused severe flooding. In one case near Austin, which received nine inches of rain this week, a vehicle with two people was swept off a flooded roadway. Threats of floods prompted authorities to evacuate thousands of prisoners near Houston, and inmates in another prison on Saturday fought with correctional officers after flooding caused a power outage." -- CW 

AP: "Mexican police have rescued kidnapped soccer player Alan Pulido, who appeared with a bandaged hand at a brief press conference Monday to declare that he was fine. Police and other officials said Pulido, a 25-year-old forward with Greek soccer club Olympiakos, was freed in a security operation Sunday shortly before midnight in the northeast border state of Tamaulipas. Pulido had been seized by gunmen as he left a party Saturday night." -- CW 

The Wires

The Ledes

Sunday, May 29, 2016.

New York Times: "Jane Fawcett, who was a reluctant London debutante when she went to work at Bletchley Park, the home of British code-breaking during World War II, and was credited with identifying a message that led to a great Allied naval success, the sinking of the battleship Bismarck, died on May 21 at her home in Oxford, England. She was 95." -- CW 

New York Times: Hedy "Epstein, a Holocaust survivor who spoke widely about the persecution of the Jews in Germany, and who spent most of her adult life working for a broad range of social justice movements, died on Thursday at her home in St. Louis. She was 91.” Epstein made international headlines when she was arrested in St. Louis in 2014 for protesting Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's actions in the aftermath of the Michael Brown police killing case. -- CW 

Washington Post: "Cassandra Q. Butts, who was President Obama’s classmate at Harvard Law School and a longtime member of the president’s inner circle who advised him throughout his political career and served as a deputy White House counsel, died May 25 at her home in Washington. She was 50." -- CW 

Public Service Announcement

New York Times (May 22): "An outbreak of a life-threatening illness that has been linked to foods packaged by a processing plant in Washington State has prompted a large-scale voluntary recall of frozen fruits and vegetables marketed under 42 brand names. The scale of the recall reflects the severity of the outbreak of the illness, listeria, and of concerns about how the contaminated food might have “trickled down” into other products, said Brittany Behm, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." -- CW

Washington Post: "After an epic duel of word masters, an 11-year-old Texan and a 13-year-old New Yorker tied Thursday night [May 26] in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the third year in a row two victors shared the championship trophy."

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

... Washington Post: The White House goes Scandinavian for a state dinner for the leaders of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

New York Times: "Morley Safer, the longest-serving correspondent on '60 Minutes' who was known as much for his hard-hitting reporting as the quirky stories he covered, will formally retire this week after a career in broadcast news that lasted more than 50 years, CBS said on Wednesday. Mr. Safer, 84, served on '60 Minutes' for all but two of its 48 seasons. He started scaling back his appearances on the show after he turned 80; his last segment, a profile of the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, aired in March.... An hourlong program on Sunday, “Morley Safer: A Reporter’s Life,” will, among other highlights, recall an investigation by Mr. Safer that resulted in the freedom of Lenell Geter, a black man who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison in Texas. In an appearance on the special, Mr. Geter credited Mr. Safer with saving his life."

U.K. Telegraph: "A Canadian schoolboy appears to have discovered a lost Mayan city hidden deep in the jungles of Mexico using a new method of matching stars to the location of temples on earth....In hundreds of years of scholarship, no other scientist had ever found such a correlation.... Studying 22 different constellations, [William Gadoury] found that they matched the location of 117 Mayan cities scattered throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. When he applied his theory to a 23rd constellation, he found that two of the stars already had cities linked to them but that the third star was unmatched. William took to Google Maps and projected that there must be another city hidden deep in the thick jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The Canadian Space Agency agreed to train its satellite telescopes on the spot and returned with striking pictures: what appears to be an ancient Mayan pyramid and dozens of smaller structures around it."

Politico: "Fox News chief White House correspondent Ed Henry will not be appearing on the channel for the time being, following a report in In Touch Weekly that he cheated on his wife with a Las Vegas hostess. 'We recently became aware of Ed’s personal issues and he’s taking some time off to work things out,' a Fox News spokesperson told Politico in a statement."

New York Times: “'Hamilton,' the groundbreaking hip-hop musical about the nation’s founding fathers, has been nominated for 16 Tony Awards, the most in Broadway history." ...

... Here's the full list of Tony Award nominees.

MIT News: "For the first time, an international team of astronomers from MIT, the University of Liège in Belgium, and elsewhere have detected three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star, just 40 light years from Earth. The sizes and temperatures of these worlds are comparable to those of Earth and Venus, and are the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the solar system. The results are published [Monday, May 2] in the journal Nature.... The scientists discovered the planets using TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope), a 60-centimeter telescope operated by the University of Liège, based in Chile."

Washington Post's Reliable Source: At an "afterparty hosted by MSNBC following the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner [Saturday, May 1]..., a scuffle broke out between Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters and Ryan Grim, the Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief.... The two flailed around a bit, upending a table and bumping into several people. 'Punches were definitely thrown,' said one witness. Before any damage was done, several bystanders, including Sean Spicer, communications director at the Republican National Committee, separated the two."

New York Times: "... a nearly 47,000-word journalistic series [by Walt Whitman] called 'Manly Health and Training,' were lost for more than 150 years, buried in an obscure newspaper that survived only in a handful of libraries. The series was uncovered last summer by a graduate student, who came across a fleeting reference to it in a digitized newspaper database and then tracked down the full text on microfilm.Now, Whitman’s self-help-guide-meets-democratic-manifesto is being published online in its entirety by a scholarly journal, in what some experts are calling the biggest new Whitman discovery in decades."

This is for safari:

... Via the New Yorker.

Washington Post: "Late last week, Comcast announced a new program that allows makers of smart TVs and other Internet-based video services to have full access to your cable programming without the need for a set-top box.  Instead, the content will flow directly to the third-party device as an app, including all the channels and program guide. The Xfinity TV Partner Program will initially be offered on new smart TVs from Samsung, as well as Roku streaming boxes.  But the program, built on open Internet-based standards including HTML5, is now open to other device manufacturers to adopt. As video services move from hardware to software, the future of the traditional set-top box looks increasingly grim. With this announcement, Comcast customers may soon eliminate the need for an extra device, potentially saving hundreds of dollars in fees."

BBC: "Dame Judi Dench and David Tennant have joined other stars at a gala marking 400 years since Shakespeare's death. Saturday's Shakespeare Live show in the playwright's birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon included play scene performances, dance and music." Then this:

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The Commentariat -- Dec. 21, 2013

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

Local News

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.

News Ledes

New York Times: "United States aircraft flying into a heavily contested region of South Sudan to evacuate American citizens 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."

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."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 20, 2013

Carrie Dann of NBC News: "President Barack Obama will hold his final press conference of 2013 on Friday, capping a year dominated by sagging approval ratings and controversies over his signature health care law and his administration's domestic surveillance programs."

Robert Pear of the New York Times: "Millions of people facing the cancellation of health insurance policies will be allowed to buy catastrophic coverage and will be exempt from penalties if they go without insurance next year, the White House said Thursday night. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, disclosed the sudden policy shift in a letter to Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, and five other senators." ...

... Ezra Klein looks at the implications of this move. His assessment is fairly dire.

Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "President Obama, expanding his push to curtail severe penalties for drug offenses, on Thursday commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates who were convicted of crack cocaine offenses. Each inmate has been imprisoned for at least 15 years, and six were sentenced to life in prison. It was the first time retroactive relief was provided to a group of inmates who most likely would have received significantly shorter terms if they had been sentenced under current drug laws, sentencing rules and charging policies." ...

... President Obama's statement is here.

Richard Clarke, Michael Morell, Geoffrey Stone, Cass Sunstein & Peter Swire in a New York Times op-ed: "The five of us came from diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.... Our recommendations, as members of the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, appointed in August, are designed to strengthen the protection of privacy and civil liberties without compromising the central mission of the intelligence community." ...

... David Sanger of the New York Times: "If President Obama adopts the most far-reaching recommendations of the advisory group he set up to rein in the National Security Agency, much would change underneath the giant antennas that sprout over Fort Meade, Md., where America's electronic spies and cyberwarriors have operated with an unprecedented amount of freedom since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.... While few in the White House want to admit as much in public, none of this would have happened without the revelations by Edward J. Snowden.... While Mr. Obama has said he welcomes the debate about the proper limits on the N.S.A., it is not one he engaged in publicly until the Snowden revelations began." ...

... Greg Miller & Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "From the moment the government's massive database of citizens' call records was exposed this year, U.S. officials have clung to two main lines of defense: The secret surveillance program was constitutional and critical to keeping the nation safe. But six months into the controversy triggered by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the viability of those claims is no longer clear. In a three-day span, those rationales were upended by a federal judge who declared that the program was probably unconstitutional and the release of a report by a White House panel utterly unconvinced that stockpiling such data had played any meaningful role in preventing terrorist attacks." ...

     ... CW: In keeping with what I think will be a continuing discussion on journo-crit, I should point out that this article, presented as a straight news piece, is geared more toward analysis & opinion than a straight report. Keep in mind, too, that the WashPo has a lot of skin in the Ed Snowden game -- the Post has published, arguably, the most pertinent relevations about NSA snooping. I think Miller & Nakashima's analysis is more-or-less valid; at worst, it's worthy of consideration, even if they may give more weight than is due to factors they claim have "upended" spying rationales. ...

... Gene Robinson: "... the eminences appointed by President Obama to review the out-of-control National Security Agency (NSA) have produced a surprisingly tough report filled with good recommendations -- steps that a president who speaks so eloquently of civil liberties should have taken long ago. But before even releasing the 308-page report by his Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, Obama rejected one of the proposed reforms: ending the practice of having one person head both the NSA and the Pentagon's Cyber Command." ...

... Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post: "Verizon said Thursday it will publish reports beginning early next year on the number of government requests it receives for customer data, setting a significant precedent for the telecommunications industry, which has kept that information private. Verizon, the nation's biggest wireless provider, has been under immense pressure from shareholders and privacy groups after revelations that the National Security Agency obtained mountains of private information from the company and other telecom firms, including AT&T. Those disclosures, in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have damaged the reputation of U.S. communications companies around the world." ...

... Terri Rupar in the Washington Post: "In his annual marathon news conference on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed support for President Obama's surveillance programs, a day after a review group recommended curbing the National Security Agency's powers. Putin previously defended the programs, calling them 'generally practicable' and 'the way a civilized society should go about fighting terrorism' during a June interview. Below are some of Thursday's choice quotes from Putin, himself a former KGB agent." He says he has never met Edward Snowden.

Donna Cassata of TPM: "The Senate will vote on the nomination of Janet Yellen to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve in January. Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Thursday night that Republicans and Democrats had worked out an agreement on votes for several of President Barack Obama's nominees, including Yellen. The Senate plans a test vote to move ahead on Yellen's nomination on Friday and will then vote Jan. 6 on her confirmation."

E. J. Dionne: The Republican civil war is not between conservatives & moderates because their are no moderates in the GOP. It is between the Washington establishment & "conservative fundraising behemoths (they include FreedomWorks, Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity).... The new establishment is bolstered by conservative talk show hosts who communicate regularly with Republican loyalists and have challenged the party's elected leaders for control over its message."

Paul Krugman on austerity policy and politics: "... the correlation is very clear: the harsher the austerity, the worse the growth performance.... I'm well aware that the austerians may win political points all the same."

** It's Your Fault that You're Poor. Tim Egan: Here are "two of the most meanspirited actions left on the table by the least-productive Congress in modern history. The House, refuge of the shrunken-heart caucus, has passed a measure to eliminate food aid for four million Americans, starting next year. Many who would remain on the old food stamp program may have to pass a drug test to get their groceries. At the same time, Congress has let unemployment benefits expire for 1.3 million people, beginning just a few days after Christmas. These actions have nothing to do with bringing federal spending into line, and everything to do with a view that poor people are morally inferior." ...

... CW: Hmmm. Wonder how Paul Ryan fees about that? McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed writes another, "No, really, Paul Ryan cares about the poor. He's the Pope Francis of the GOP. He's just as religious as Francis is, too." I'll believe it the day Ryan becomes a Democrat, burns a pile of Atlas Shrugged holy books & a makes a Jimmy Swaggart-style "I have sinned" speech.

Bradley Klapper of the AP: "More than a quarter of the Senate introduced legislation Thursday that could raise sanctions on Iran and compel the United States to support Israel if it launches a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian nuclear program, defying President Barack Obama and drawing a veto threat. The bill, sponsored by 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans, sets sanctions that would go into effect if Tehran violates the nuclear deal it reached with world powers last month or lets the agreement expire without a long-term accord." ...

... Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post: "In a remarkable rebuke to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), 10 other Senate committee chairs are circulating a joint letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, urging him to reject an effort by Menendez to tighten sanctions on Iran and warning that his bill could disrupt ongoing nuclear negotiations."

Annie Gowen & William Branigin of the Washington Post: "A major diplomatic row between the United States and India took a new turn Thursday as signs of a split emerged within the U.S. government over how to handle the case of an Indian diplomat and women's rights advocate who was arrested in New York on charges stemming from the alleged exploitation of her nanny. The Indian government, meanwhile, demanded that U.S. federal prosecutors drop their case against Devyani Khobragade, 39, India's up-and-coming deputy consul general in New York and the mother of two young daughters.... Secretary of State John F. Kerry made a conciliatory call to India's national security adviser Wednesday and 'expressed his regret' over the incident, according to the State Department. But the Justice Department appeared to be taking a harder line."

Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post: Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who is "in charge of nuclear weapons, repeatedly drank too much and behaved like a boor last summer during an official trip to Moscow, where he insulted his Russian hosts and hung out with two suspicious women he met at a hotel bar, according to an investigative report released Thursday.... Carey was reassigned in October from his job as commander of the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for maintaining and operating the country's intercontinental ballistic missiles."

Local News

AP: "New Mexico's highest court has legalized same-sex marriage, declaring it is unconstitutional to deny a marriage license to gay and lesbian couples. The state Supreme Court issued its ruling Thursday. New Mexico joins 16 states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage."

Matt Friedman of the New Jersey Star-Ledger: "Students who grew up in New Jersey but are in the country illegally will soon be able to pay in-state tuition at its public colleges and universities. After weeks of feuding between Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democrats who control the Legislature over the so-called 'DREAM Act,' the two sides ... today ... agreed to a compromise."

Senate Race

Tuck Chodd & Co. explain why appointing retiring Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to be ambassador to China could help Democrats hold the Senate in 2014.

Congressional Fiasco

Marisa Kendall of the Fort Myers, Florida, News-Press: "U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers, made clear tonight he has no intention of resigning, and plans to get back to work after spending some time with his family this holiday season. Tonight's news conference was the second Radel held at his Cape Coral[, Florida,] office since pleading guilty to possession of cocaine. Radel was more animated tonight than at the first press conference - he has finished just under a month of rehab, and had his wife beside him at the podium. Radel began by thanking his supporters." With video that unfortunately loads automatically.

First Amendment News
By People Who Don't Know What It Means

Nature Watch: Ducks & Loons. Matea Gold of the Washington Post has a pretty good overview of how conservative politicians -- especially those who hope to be president -- are using the "Duck Dynasty" controversy to mobilize Christian conservatives.

Dean Obeidallah of the Daily Beast: "Conservatives think people should be held responsible for their actions -- until one of their own, like Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson, has to pay a price for their bigoted views.... The First Amendment does not provide you immunity. [CW: This would be news to arah Palin. See Infotainment.] It simply means that the government can't prevent you from expressing yourself. But once you say something, you will be called to answer for it." CW: I remain mystified as to why anyone outside the Robertson family would spend as much as five minutes watching a show like "Duck Dynasty."

Here's how Red State winger Erick Erickson (late of CNN & now with Fox) sees the "Duck Dynasty" doodah: "Evil preaches tolerance until it is dominant and then it seeks to silence good." CW: Where "evil" equals liberals & homophobic slurs equal "good." From this premise, Erickson seques to the notion that Robertson was just expressing his honest-to-God Christian views. Ergo, "The world is at war with Christ and those who put their faith in Christ.... The Church, however, must show it will stand with those who stand with Christ...." That, I guess means, that Pope Francis should encourage Robertson & his "Christian" opinions. It's a shocking thing, really, that this type of distorted, perverted thinking attracts a national television audience.

AND just as stupid as Palin (or completely phony panderers -- take your pick) Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. Ted Cruz.

The truth is it is a messed up situation when a governor rumored to have his sights on the presidency doesn't understand the breadth of the First Amendment. -- L. Z. Granderson, CNN contributor, on Bobby Jindal's comments

Zack Ford of Think Progress: "Free speech allows citizens to say things that are offensive and unpopular and it allows other citizens to disagree, as well as to choose whether to provide an ongoing platform for those remarks. If anything, the claim that Robertson's free speech has somehow been inhibited is just a straw man to avoid addressing the merits of what he actually said: that all gay people are going to Hell and that African Americans don't deserve a seat at the lunch counter."

See today's Comments:

... The film footage is from "The Laramie Project" HBO movie. The full film is here.

News Ledes

Al Jazeera: "Uganda's parliament has passed an anti-gay law that punishes 'aggravated homosexuality' with life imprisonment."

Washington Post: "Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D- Nev.) was hospitalized early Friday after not feeling well, according to his office.... Reid's hospitalization comes on the final scheduled day of the Senate for 2013 and after two weeks of late nights and early mornings amid a dispute over a recent change in Senate procedural rules...."

New York Times: "President Vladimir V. Putin issued a decree on Friday freeing Russia's most famous prisoner, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the former chief executive of Yukos Oil whose arrest and imprisonment 10 years ago punctuated an authoritarian turn in Russia's modern history."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 19, 2013

David Sanger & Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "A panel of presidential advisers who reviewed the National Security Agency's surveillance practices urged President Obama on Wednesday to end the government's systematic collection of logs of all Americans' phone calls, and to keep those in private hands, 'for queries and data mining' only by court order. In a more than 300-page report made public by the White House, the group of five intelligence and legal experts also strongly recommended that any operation to spy on foreign leaders would have to pass a rigorous test that weighs the potential economic or diplomatic costs if the operation becomes public. The decision to monitor those communications, it said, should be made by the president and his advisers, not the intelligence agencies." The report is here. ...

... The Times charts the major changes recommended. ...

... The Guardian's liveblog on the report -- which includes in-house analysis & other reactions -- makes for some interesting reading. ...

... Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare: "This is a really awkward document for the Obama administration. Really awkward. The President, after all, has stood by the necessity of the Section 215 program and objected to legislative proposals to curtail it. Then the White House handpicks a special review group, and it kind of pulls the rug out from under the administration's position. The review group concludes 'that the information contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of section 215 telephony meta-data was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional section 215 orders.'" And more.

... Marcy Wheeler, writing in the Guardian, has some background & scuttlebutt. Also, the Guardian seems to have provided her with an editor, so her piece isn't as convoluted & minutiae-laden as is her usual writing. ...

... Charles Pierce: "These recommendations are just that. The White House can tell the panel to pound sand. And, even if it doesn't, there is no reason on god's earth why anyone should believe that the NSA actually would abide by any agreement going forward." ...

... Josh Gerstein of Politico: "... the panel's report raises a pointed question: If collecting huge volumes of metadata on telephone calls from, to and within the United States doesn't bring much benefit, just how much political capital is Obama willing to spend to keep the program going?" ...

... Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker: Judge Richard "Leon asked the right question, the one that the FISA court, Obama, and key House and Senate Intelligence Committee leaders have failed to ask since 2006: Has the nature and quantity of data that we all relinquish to third parties changed so fundamentally since 1979 that the doctrine set out by Smith[, the 1979 case on which the NSA hangs it metadata collection hat,] is no longer useful as a constitutional roadmap? The Supreme Court may not ever ask, or answer, Leon's question. But Congress, and President Obama, certainly must." ...

... Frank Rich: "... as a practical matter, Leon's action has no effect, and there's no known reason to hope that his ruling will be upheld once it lands in the Roberts court." Thanks to contributor MAG for the link. ...

... The Last Scoundrel of Refuge (from the NSA) Is Not the Perfect Guest (And Hardly the Perfect Litigant on an Important Constitutional Issue). Tal Kopan of Politico: "Conservative legal activist Larry Klayman got into an argument on CNN with host Don Lemon and legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin when he was brought on to discuss his victory this week in a lawsuit challenging NSA surveillance, resulting in Lemon cutting him off the screen and Klayman comparing Lemon to disgraced former MSNBC host Martin Bashir." ** Totally entertaining:

     ... Etiquette Note to Toobin: Just because a guest is a "tinfoil-hat lunatic" doesn't mean you should say so on the teevee. There are more polite -- if less amusing -- ways to convey your assessment of his credibility. ...

Ed O'Keefe & Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post: "Senators voted 64 to 36 to approve the bipartisan budget agreement Wednesday afternoon. Nine Republicans joined with 55 Democrats to approve the legislation, which Obama is expected to sign before departing this weekend for his Christmas vacation in Hawaii. The Republican senators who joined with Democrats were Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Susan Collins (Maine), Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), John Hoeven (N.D.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Ronald Johnson (Wis.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Rob Portman (Ohio)."

Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times: "The Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that it would reduce its monthly bond-buying campaign to $75 billion in January, beginning a retreat from its stimulus campaign, because it no longer saw the need for the full force of those efforts." ...

... The Times has a handy interactive graphic "decoding" the Fed statement. ...

... Binyamin Appelbaum: "Stock markets in Asia and Europe on Thursday welcomed the news that the Federal Reserve would gradually end its bond-buying program during 2014, a modest first step toward unwinding the American central bank's broader stimulus campaign as its officials gained confidence that the economy was growing steadily." ...

... Dana Milbank: "It is tantalizing to wonder, as Ben Bernanke did Wednesday afternoon, how much better the economy would be today, and how many millions more would have jobs, if Congress hadn't done so much over the past few years to drag down growth.... A dozen times he mentioned fiscal drag, fiscal head winds, tight fiscal policy and the like. In his opening statement, he noted that 'despite significant fiscal head winds, the economy has been expanding at a moderate pace' and will pick up further, helped by 'waning fiscal drag.' The waning fiscal drag was apparently a reference to this month's budget deal.... Bernanke ... can feel good about what he did to fight the twin menaces of his tenure: the Great Recession and the lawmakers whose policies made it worse."

Steve Yaccino of the New York Times: "The director of Minnesota's health insurance exchange, April Todd-Malmlov, abruptly resigned this week, making the exchange the fourth state program to see a leadership change in the midst of mounting criticism over the rollout of President Obama's new health care law.... Ms. Todd-Malmlov's successor was quick to promise fixes to problems still plaguing consumers...."

Maggie Haberman & Manu Raju of Politico: "Sen. Max Baucus, the veteran Montana Democrat who has served in the Senate since 1978, is expected to be nominated by the White House to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to China.... [Baucus], who has been a central figure in battles over trade, taxes and health care for a generation, has already announced he will not run for reelection in 2014. And if he leaves early, Baucus will be opening up a Senate seat in a competitive state where Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock appoints the senator when there is a vacancy."

People Are Stoopid. Jeffrey Jones of Gallup: "Seventy-two percent of Americans say big government is a greater threat to the U.S. in the future than is big business or big labor, a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question. The prior high for big government was 65% in 1999 and 2000. Big government has always topped big business and big labor, including in the initial asking in 1965, but just 35% named it at that time." ...

... Steve M.: "The survey results are disheartening, but what's really disheartening is the fact that big business has never taken the #1 slot in this poll. It didn't even happen after Big Finance unleashed a global financial Katrina that drowned much of the world in 2008...." ...

Right Wing World

... Shades of Newt. The poll of Stoopid People above explains why they vote for a guy who says stuff like this. Amanda Terkel of the Huffington Post: "Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) ... is proposing that low-income children do some manual labor in exchange for their subsidized meals. On Saturday, Kingston, who is vying to be his party's nominee in Georgia's Senate race next year, spoke at a meeting of the Jackson County Republican Party about the federal school lunch program." Includes video of Kingston saying,

But one of the things I've talked to the secretary of agriculture about: Why don't you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria.... Think what we would gain as a society in getting people -- getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.

... Digby: "Why not poor houses and orphanages? It worked for Queen Victoria." ...

... Sins of the Father. Jim Newell in Salon: Yo, Jack! "Every kid gets a 'free lunch.' So it doesn't make sense to put one into janitorial labor and not the other because of parental earning disparities." ...

... Jessica Williams did this segment before Kingman's bright idea hit the national media:

     ... Olivia Kittel of Media Matters: "Forbes columnist John Tamny's declaration on The Daily Show that food stamps are 'cruel' and would be replaced by private charity if people were 'literally starving' with 'distended bellies' is in keeping with his past remarks on the program -- In his regular role as a Fox panelist, Tamny has lamented that food stamp recipients are not publicly shamed and embarrassed for receiving the benefits."

... David Edwards of the Raw Story: Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), "a tea party-back Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Missouri, this week asked that a flag be moved because she did not want to stand near a photo of President Barack Obama during a press conference." ...

... Rudy Keller of the Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune: "She has issued numerous official press releases denouncing Obama, the health care plan Republicans have labeled with his name and his proposals on tax and spending policies to control the federal deficit." ...

... CW: Hartzler's press conference took place at the Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital. I wonder if Hartzler knows that the place she chose for her presser is named for a Democratic president. I wonder if she knows that every one of the patients at that hospital is the recipient of socialized medicine -- way more "socialized" than ObamaCare. And she's worried about optics?

Evan McMorris-Santoro of BuzzFeed: "The Republican National Committee publicity effort to tar Democrats with PolitiFact's 'Lie Of The Year' includes sending Democrats trophies emblazoned with the American Flag that are made in China. A Democratic source said the trophies have been sent to the offices of all the top Republican targets for defeat in next year's Senate elections."

Just Who Is Conservative Enough for Wingers?

November 2013 Election

Laura Vozzella & Ben Pershing of the Washington Post: "State Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R) conceded the race for Virginia attorney general to Democrat Mark R. Herring on Wednesday... Obenshain's announcement put an end to a drawn-out contest that, on election night, was the closest statewide election in history.... Herring had significantly widened his slim lead over Obenshain in a statewide recount that began Monday and was scheduled to finish Wednesday.... Herring and Obenshain are state senators, and Herring's win will prompt a special election. Because Herring's Loudoun County district is seen as highly competitive, his win could cause Democrats to lose power in the evenly divided Senate." ...

... Adam Weinstein of Gawker: "... Virginia Republicans will go from holding every statewide office in Richmond to none when the new governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general are sworn in next year. It will be the first time in four decades that Democrats have held those positions and both of the state's U.S. Senate seats."

Presidential Election 2012

Brett Logiurato of Business Insider: "Netflix is out with a trailer for its new Mitt Romney documentary -- 'MITT' -- which provides a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look into some of the most important moments of his failed campaign for president." The trailer shows "Romney checking his phone, the moment he realized he was going to lose the 2012 election....":

... "New Documentary Threatens to Make You Like Mitt Romney." Paul Waldman: "This two-minute trailer is full of charmingly human moments, particularly since Mitt's greatest unmet challenge was convincing us that he was indeed human.... The passage of time -- and the fact that he will no longer be affecting politics or policy -- allows us to see him as just a human being, and maybe even spare a generous thought for him." CW: I had to read the headline twice. The first time I thought it meant I could become a MittClone.

Local News

** Rosalind Helderman, et al., of the Washington Post: "Federal prosecutors told Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell last week that he and his wife would be charged in connection with a gift scandal, but senior Justice Department officials delayed the decision after the McDonnells' attorneys made a face-to-face appeal in Washington, according to people familiar with the case."

When Gail Collins writes a column that involves Chris Christie, Sheldon Adelson & Donald Trump, you can bet -- so to speak -- it's worth reading. Collins' bottom line, though: "There is no possible way the country could be improved by giving people a greatly expanded freedom to gamble for money in their pajamas."

Jon Hurdle of the New York Times: "Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania has thrown his support behind a state bill that would ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, adding unexpected support from a Republican who once said gay marriage was the equivalent of a brother marrying a sister.... Mr. Corbett has been lagging in the polls ahead of his bid for re-election next year and is viewed as perhaps the nation's most vulnerable governor."

News Ledes

New York Times: "With an eye perhaps to the coming Winter Olympics, President Vladimir V. Putin said on Thursday that Russia could soon free its most famous prisoner, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the former chief executive of Yukos Oil, whose arrest and imprisonment 10 years ago signaled an authoritarian turn in the nation's modern history."

Reuters: "Target Corp. said data from about 40 million credit and debit card accounts might have been stolen during the Thanksgiving weekend, in one of the largest credit card breaches at a U.S. retailer.... Target said the accounts, which might have been compromised between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, affected customers making credit and debit card purchases at its U.S. stores."

New York Times: "President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Thursday explained his decision to rescue Ukraine with a $15 billion bailout and discounts on natural gas as a gesture of good will given the close historic ties between the two countries."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 18, 2013

** Tom Edsall of the New York Times: "In practice, [economist Mike] Konczal writes, the political left has abandoned its quest for deep structural reform -- full employment and worker empowerment -- and instead has 'doubled-down' on the safety net strategy. The result, in his view, is 'a kind of pity-charity liberal capitalism.' ... Survey data find that during hard times people become less altruistic and more inclined to see the poor as undeserving. They turn to the right, not the left, in periods of economic stress." ...

     ... CW: If you haven't time to read Edsall's column just now, save it for later. Konczal has put his finger on the key reason for the great American decline. The instigators of this decline, of course, are conservatives whose long-running plot to destroy popular empowerment has been a great success. But the other side -- the ostensible good guys -- have acquiesced & accommodated the villains. If you're looking for Neville Chamberlain, you'll find him in Bill Clinton & his Wall Street wolf pack. Barack Obama fell under their spell, where he remained his entire first term. It wasn't until he made his speech on income inequality a couple of weeks ago that we saw any evidence he had escaped the surly bonds of Clintonomics. Maybe he read Konczal. Maybe he read Robert Reich. Or Harold Meyerson. Something changed. What has not changed is his apparent belief that he can turn the destroyers into facilitators, that his red/blue/American states rhetorical fantasy of 2004 can come true. ...

... Sarah Hughes of the DCist: "... the D.C. Council unanimously passed an increase in the minimum wage [Tuesday] to one of the highest levels in the country.... The increase will raise the minimum wage to $9.50 in July 2014, $10.50 the following year, and $11.50 by 2016, with future increases tied to the Consumer Price Index."

Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times: "The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the C.I.A. for an internal study done by the agency that lawmakers believe is broadly critical of the C.I.A.'s detention and interrogation program but was withheld from congressional oversight committees. The committee's request comes in the midst of a yearlong battle with the C.I.A. over the release of the panel's own exhaustive report about the program, one of the most controversial policies of the post-Sept. 11 era. The Senate report, totaling more than 6,000 pages, was completed last December but has yet to be declassified."

I mean, I am not kidding myself. It doesn't matter, however I rule. -- District Judge Richard Leon, to the parties during the NSA trial, on the likelihood that the case would go to the Court of Appeals and likely to the Supreme Court

Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "... it seems reasonably likely that the [NSA case decided by Judge Richard Leon], or a related one, will for the first time result in a definitive legal ruling [from the Supreme Court] on the constitutionality of one of the post-Sept. 11 government surveillance programs." ...

... Maureen Dowd: "Whatever we think of Snowden -- self-aggrandizing creep or self-sacrificing crusader against creepy government spying or sociopath with stolen documents, as The Wall Street Journal put it, or someone who should 'swing from a tall oak tree,' as John Bolton told Fox News -- it is absolutely clear that the N.S.A. went wild with technology that allowed it to go wild."...

... Cecelia Kang & Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "Leaders of the nation's biggest technology firms warned President Obama during a lengthy meeting at the White House on Tuesday that National Security Agency spying programs are damaging their reputations and could harm the broader economy." ...

... Jackie Calmes & Nick Wingfield of the New York Times: "President Obama met with top technology industry executives on Tuesday to discuss two seemingly distinct controversies: a faulty health care website, and the digital surveillance practices of the National Security Agency. The meeting started with an announcement by Mr. Obama that he was reaching into the ranks of Microsoft, the software giant, to select Kurt DelBene as the next person to run But the focus quickly turned from the health care site to the concerns of Apple, Microsoft, Google and other technology companies about the spying efforts, the latest illustration of the strained relationship between an industry and a White House that had long been close." ...

... Obama likes "House of Cards":

... Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration tapped former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene to take over managing on Tuesday.... DelBene, who recently retired from Microsoft and is married to Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), will serve as an unpaid senior adviser. He will succeed Jeffrey Zients, who is scheduled to head the National Economic Council beginning in February."

Kelly Whiteside of USA Today: "The White House delivered a strong message of opposition to Russia's anti-gay laws Tuesday with the announcement of its delegation to the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics. The White House delegation will include an openly gay athlete: tennis great Billie Jean King.... This marks the first Olympics since the 2000 Sydney Summer Games that a U.S. president, vice president, first lady or former president has not been a member of the delegation for the opening ceremony, which will be Feb. 7 in Sochi." The Politico story, by Jennifer Epstein, is here.

Keegan Hamilton of the Atlantic: "Excluding immigrants [from the ACA] was a key concession offered to moderate Democrats and conservatives, who insisted that no tax dollars go toward the undocumented. But keeping immigrants out of the ACA means that states and cities with large immigrant populations are likely face a huge strain on their budgets in the coming years. It gets worse: The law also trims $22 billion from Medicaid charity-care reimbursements.... In immigrant hubs such as New York..., nearly 70 percent of uninsured patients in the city's public hospitals and clinics are also undocumented."

On the Road with Darrell Issa & His Band of Obama-Bashing Rascals. Sherry Jacobson of the Dallas Morning News: "Four Texas congressmen took aim Monday at the federally paid navigators who are helping Texans access insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Their criticism came during an unusual 'field hearing' by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform." Best bit: Darrell "Issa [RZealot-Calif.] asked [Dr. Randy] Farris, [regional administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] whether he knew that all applicant information ended up on the federal site. Farris said private information was not stored there. 'You need to watch more Fox, I'm afraid,' Issa said." Via TPM. ...

... Molly Reilly of the Huffington Post: "Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is accusing Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) ... of attempting to 'stifle, intimidate and impugn the reputation' of Obamacare navigators, the individuals tasked with helping others sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. In an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News, Sebelius said a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the Affordable Care Act set to be held in Texas on Monday was 'designed' to derail the work of the navigators."

Congressional Job Openings

Richard Cowan of Reuters: "Three veteran members of the House of Representatives, two Republicans and one Democrat, announced their retirements just as the 2014 congressional campaign season starts to heat up. Republican Representatives Frank Wolf of Virginia and Tom Latham of Iowa, along with Democratic Representative Jim Matheson of Utah, made their separate announcements on Tuesday as Congress was winding up its legislative activity for the year."

News Lede

Reuters: "Russia's parliament on Wednesday approved an amnesty which lawyers said would free two jailed members of punk band Pussy Riot and enable 30 people arrested in a Greenpeace protest against Arctic oil drilling avoid trial."