Weekly Address

The President's Weekly Address

White House: "In this week’s address, the President commemorated Memorial Day by paying tribute to the men and women in uniform who have given their lives in service to our country":

The Ledes

Saturday, May 23, 2015.

New York Times: "The United States and China on Friday escalated their dispute over contested territory in the South China Sea, after the Chinese repeatedly ordered an American military surveillance plane to abandon flights over areas where China has been building artificial islands.The continued American surveillance flights in areas where China is creating new islands in the South China Sea are intended to challenge the Chinese government’s claims of expanded territorial sovereignty. Further raising the challenge, Pentagon officials said they were discussing sending warships into waters that the United States asserts are international and open to passage, but that China says are within its zone of control."

Washington Post: "The man convicted in the 2001 killing of federal intern Chandra Levy is likely to get a new trial after prosecutors on Friday dropped their long-standing opposition to defense efforts to have a new jury hear the case. Since 2013, attorneys for Ingmar Guandique, 34, have argued that a key witness in the 2010 trial had lied when he testified that Guandique, his onetime cellmate, confessed to him that he killed Levy."

The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post (May 22): "A salmonella outbreak that’s probably linked to raw tuna from sushi has sickened at least 53 people across nine states — the majority in Southern California, health authorities said."

White House Live Video
May 22

10:00 am ET: Vice President Biden speaks at the U.S. Naval Academy commencement ceremony (audio only)

11:00 am ET: President Obama speaks at the Jewish American Heritage Month celebration

12:30 pm ET: Josh Earnest's press briefing

Go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

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

Washington Post: "One of the earliest known copies of the Ten Commandments was written in soot on a strip of goatskin found among the trove of biblical material known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, widely considered to be one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th century. Penned on parchment by an unknown scribe more than 2,000 years ago, the scroll fragment is ... so fragile that its custodians rarely permit it to be moved from the secure vault where it rests in complete darkness. But for 14 days over the next seven months, the Ten Commandments scroll, known to scholars as 4Q41, will make a rare public appearance at the Israel Museum as part of a new exhibit called 'A Brief History of Humankind,' a show based on the international best-selling book by Israeli polymath Yuval Noah Harari."

Erik Loomis of LG&M: "It looks like Maggie Gyllenhaal has had her Last Fuckable Day at the ripe old age of 37:

... Sharon Waxman of the Wrap: "Every time we think things are getting better for women in Hollywood, something comes along to remind us — naaah. Maggie Gyllenhaal ... revealed that she was recently turned down for a role in a movie because she was too old to play the love interest for a 55-year-old man."

Emily Nussbaum of the New Yorker: "Now that [David] Letterman’s a flinty codger, an establishment figure, it’s become difficult to recall just how revolutionary his style of meta-comedy once felt. But back when I was sixteen, trapped in the snoozy early eighties and desperate for something rude and wild, Letterman seemed like an anarchist."

     ... Here's the Realtor.com page for the property.

AP: "The suburban New York home where F Scott Fitzgerald is believed to have written The Great Gatsby is for sale. A spokeswoman for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage said on Wednesday that the asking price for the manor home on Long Island was just over US$3.8m (A$4.8m).... The home is in the village of Great Neck Estates, about 20 miles (32km) from Manhattan.

After years of signing "-BO" at the end of @BarackObama to signal the tweets he crafted himself from an account operated by the Organizing for Action staff, the President now has his very own handle @POTUS, tweeting for the first time: 'Hello, Twitter! It's Barack. Really! Six years in, they're finally giving me my own account.'... Per a statement from the White House, the @POTUS handle 'will serve as a new way for President Obama to engage directly with the American people, with tweets coming exclusively from him.'"

The $5MM Ankle. New York Post: "Shakedown artist Al Sharpton’s eldest child wants $5 million from city taxpayers after she fell in the street and sprained her ankle, court rec­ords show. Dominique Sharpton, 28, says she was 'severely injured, bruised and wounded' when she stumbled over uneven pavement at the corner of Broome Street and Broadway downtown last year, according to a lawsuit."

My friend Jan C. sent me a list of actual complaints made by dissatisfied travelers who had gone on excursions organized by the British Thomas Cook Vacations. An example: "It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair."

New York Times: "The most striking geographical pattern on marriage, as with so many other issues today, is the partisan divide. Spending childhood nearly anywhere in blue America — especially liberal bastions like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington — makes people about 10 percentage points less likely to marry relative to the rest of the country. And no place encourages marriage quite like the conservative Mountain West, especially the heavily Mormon areas of Utah, southern Idaho and parts of Colorado." ...

Matt Seitz in New York notes that the pilot for "Mad Men" repeatedly points to the series' conclusion. ...

Gabriel Sherman of New York: "Tomorrow morning [Wednesday, May 13], in what marks a tectonic shift in the publishing industry, the New York Times is expected to officially begin a long-awaited partnership with Facebook to publish articles directly to the social media giant.... According to people familiar with the negotiations, the Times will begin publishing select articles directly into Facebook's news feed. Buzzfeed, NBC News and NatGeo are said to be also joining the roll out, among others. The deal raises all sorts of knotty questions for the Times." ...

... New York Times Update: "— Facebook’s long-rumored plan to directly host articles from news organizations will start on Wednesday, concluding months of delicate negotiations between the Internet giant and publishers that covet its huge audience but fear its growing power. Nine media companies, including NBC News and The New York Times, have agreed to the deal, despite concerns that their participation could eventually undermine their own businesses. The program will begin with a few articles but is expected to expand quickly.... Most important for impatient smartphone users, the company says, the so-called instant articles will load up to 10 times faster than they normally would since readers stay on Facebook rather than follow a link to another site." ...

.... Here's Facebook's announcement.

Nell Scovell in New York: Dave Letterman' former writers reminisce about jokes they wrote & pitched but which Letterman rejected. Letterman comments.

Vermeil placecard holders, a favorite "souvenir" of White House guests.... Washington Post: Petty thieves show up at White House state dinner -- all the time. Many guests at state dinners & other functions just can't resist taking home mementos, some of them pricey. "While the chief usher’s office monitors exactly what goes out with each place setting when the first family entertains, there is no formal accounting of how much taxpayers must pay each year to replace items that are gone by the end of the night."

Washington Post: The law finally catches up with Frank Freshwater, who escaped from prison in 1959.

Washington Post: Tesla plans to market a home battery system that draws power from solar panels or the power grid to use during outages. It holds up to 10 kw-hours, about 1/3 of what it takes to power an average home for a day. Tesla plans to make the system avalable by the end of this summer.

Conan O'Brien in Entertainment Weekly: "Not one single writer/performer in the last 35 years has had Dave [Letterman]’s seismic impact on comedy.... In today’s’ world of 30 late night programs, it’s tempting now to take Dave for granted. Do not. Dave was a true revolution.... Like all revolutions, it was such a seismic shift that it was disorienting and a bit messy at first, and it has taken us time to realize the sheer magnitude of the shift."

White House: "For a new state china service, First Lady Michelle Obama wanted it to have modern elements, but also for it to be practical, in the sense that it would be complementary to the preceding historic state services. The Obama State China Service consists of eleven-piece place settings for 320":

Timothy Simon of "Veep" gets ready to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner, which is Saturday, April 25:

... Cecily Strong of “Saturday Night Live will headline the event.

MOOCS! Washington Post: For $45, anyone can become a freshman at Arizona State University. "Students can take classes online for a fee, then decide whether to pay reduced tuition for the credits."

The Sex Life of David Brooks is apparently intensely interesting to Villagers who do not participate in it.

Washington Post: "Gaioz Nigalidze’s rise through the ranks of professional chess began in 2007, the year the first iPhone was released. In hindsight, the timing might not be coincidental." During a competition in Dubai, the Georgian grandmaster allegedly hid an iPhone in the bathroom, then consulted a chess app during play.

CBS News: "'Face the Nation' Host Bob Schieffer announced Sunday that CBS News political director John Dickerson will become the new host of 'Face the Nation' this summer when he retires." CW: So "Face the Nation" is going to become even worse. Follows the well-established pattern of Sunday morning "news" shows.

New York Times: "Bob Schieffer, a television anchor who has worked at CBS for nearly half a century and interviewed every sitting president since Richard Nixon, announced Wednesday night that he was retiring this summer. Mr. Schieffer, 78, made the announcement while giving an address at Texas Christian University, his alma mater." CW: This will be a great disappointment to Charles Pierce, as regular readers of Pierce's posts will recognize.

I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years.... We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology.... We are not talking about little green men, Stofan said. "We are talking about little microbes. -- Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for NASA

It's definitely not an if, it's a when. -- Jeffery Newmark of NASA

... The L.A. Times story, from which the above citations come, is fascinating.

Washington Post: "The quote on the stamp originated with [Joan Walsh] Anglund.... 'Yes, that’s my quote,' Anglund said Monday night from her Connecticut home. It appears on page 15 of her book of poems 'A Cup of Sun,' published in 1967. Only the pronouns and punctuation are changed, from 'he' in Anglund’s original to 'it' on the stamp." CW: These are forever stamps. Maybe you should rush to the Post Office & buy a pane.

Guardian: "Allegations that a 17-year-old was forced to have sex with Britain’s Prince Andrew, which prompted a crisis at Buckingham Palace earlier this year, have been removed from a federal court case by a judge in the US. Judge Kenneth Marra ordered Virginia Roberts’s accusations about Andrew, the Duke of York, to be struck from the record and denied her attempt to join a lawsuit against Jeffrey Epstein, a friend of the prince and a convicted sex offender. 'At this juncture in the proceedings, these lurid details are unnecessary,' Marra wrote in his order, issued at the US district court in southern Florida on Tuesday morning.... Andrew and Buckingham Palace vehemently deny Roberts’s allegations."

Washington Monthly: "Today [April 7] marks the centennial of Billie Holliday’s birth."

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Thursday
May142015

The Commentariat -- May 15, 2015

Juliet Eilperin & Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post: "The United States Thursday reaffirmed its 'unequivocal' commitment to use 'all elements of power' to secure U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf and to protect partner nations in the region against any external aggression. In a rare visit to his presidential retreat, President Obama met with top officials from six gulf states in hopes of easing tensions that have developed between America and some of its longtime allies in the wake of a tentative nuclear deal with Iran, seen as a disruptive force in the region. At the end of the meetings, Obama made clear that he would not sacrifice the chance for a historic diplomatic opening in Iran or delve deeper into to Syrian conflict in order to assuage the anxieties of gulf leaders." ...

... Julie Davis & David Sanger of the New York Times: "President Obama on Thursday offered Saudi Arabia and smaller Arab states new support to defend against potential missile strikes, maritime threats and cyberattacks from Iran, calling his commitment to their security 'ironclad' in an effort to allay fears that a nuclear accord will empower Tehran, their main rival in the Middle East. But in a daylong meeting here, Mr. Obama stopped short of offering a formal defense pact that would obligate the United States to come to the nations' aid if they were attacked." ...

... Dan Roberts of the Guardian: "Barack Obama has secured support from Gulf leaders for his attempt to reach a nuclear deal with Iran as a summit outside Washington concluded on Thursday with the first glimpses of possible rapprochement on an issue that has alarmed many US allies in the region."

Seung Min Kim & Kate Tummarello of Politico: "Crucial parts of the PATRIOT Act, including a provision authorizing the government's controversial bulk collection of American phone records, first revealed by Edward Snowden, are due to lapse May 31. That means Congress has barely a week to figure out a fix before before lawmakers leave town for Memorial Day recess at the end of the next week. The prospects of a deal look grim...." Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) & Rand Paul (R-Ky.) "have threatened to filibuster any attempt to prolong the bulk collection program." ...

... Greg Sargent: "A bipartisan talking filibuster is being considered by both Senators, aides to Paul and Wyden tell me.... If that happens, it would be a real rarity, at least in our current era." ...

... Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "If this is a forever war, can a democracy wage it in secret? Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, suggested that it could not.... [Fourteen] years into the open-ended war there is no consensus on whether or where to redraw the line."

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "Two days after Democratic senators blocked it, the Senate voted on Thursday to take up legislation that would grant the president negotiating freedom to complete an expansive trade accord with 11 nations on the Pacific Rim, setting off a contentious congressional debate on one of President Obama's top priorities for his remaining time in office. While the motion to consider the legislation passed 65-33, that belied how hard the coming weeks will be for the White House. Most Democrats, including the top three Democratic leaders in the Senate, voted against even opening debate to give Mr. Obama so-called trade promotion authority."

** "The Plot Against Trains." Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker: "... the will to abandon the public way is not some failure of understanding, or some nearsighted omission by shortsighted politicians. It is part of a coherent ideological project.... What we have, uniquely in America, is a political class, and an entire political party, devoted to the idea that any money spent on public goods is money misplaced..., because ... no ultimate good can be found in the state." ...

... Michael Shear & Jay Moauwad of the New York Times: "The Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night was equipped with an automatic speed control system that officials say could have prevented the wreck.... But the system, which was tantalizingly close to being operational, was delayed by budgetary shortfalls, technical hurdles and bureaucratic rules, officials said Thursday. In 2008, Congress ordered the installation of what are known as positive train control systems, which can detect an out-of-control, speeding train and automatically slow it down. But because lawmakers failed to provide the railroads access to the wireless frequencies required to make the system work, Amtrak was forced to negotiate for airwaves owned by private companies that are often used in mobile broadband." ...

... Arturo Garcia of the Raw Story: "Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell was visibly angry at House Republicans during an MSNBC interview on Wednesday, nearly cursing on-air about the GOP's plan to cut $252 million in Amtrak funding hours after a train derailment that killed seven people and injured more than 50 others. 'Those SOBs, and that's all I can call them, these SOBs didn't even have the decency to table the vote,' Rendell told host Chris Hayes...." With video. Read the whole story. ...

... Michael Ruane, et al., of the Washington Post: "The Amtrak train that derailed Tuesday sped up from 70 mph to more than 100 mph in less than a minute before derailing, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday. There was no explanation for that acceleration, but the train's engineer has agreed to be interviewed by federal investigators." ...

... Jaime Fuller of New York: "All 238 passengers on the Amtrak train that crashed outside of Philadelphia on Tuesday have been accounted for, according to Mayor Michael Nutter. An eight victim was found by a cadaver dog this morning, and eight passengers being treated in hospitals are in critical condition, although all are expected to recover fully. More than 40 people are still being treated in nearby hospitals." ...

... Amel Ahmed of Al Jazeera: "The victims of Tuesday's tragic railway derailment in Philadelphia may find themselves twice victimized when they attempt to recover damages from Amtrak, thanks to a 1997 law that caps damages to all passengers injured in a major railway accident to $200 million. The Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act (ARAA), passed to save the railway from bankruptcy, was lauded by then-President Bill Clinton as the 'most comprehensive restructuring of Amtrak since the early 1980s.'"

Linda Greenhouse speculates on how a Supreme Court decision on marriage may affect fundamentalist Christian crusaders. CW BTW: It troubles me the way Greenhouse & others imply that "Christians" are anti-gay. Some prominent Christian denominations, e.g., Episcopalian & United Church of Christ, have long supported gay rights, & others have come around.

Annals of Journalism, Ctd.

Jeremy Peters & John Koblin of the New York Times: "George Stephanopoulos, the chief anchor of ABC News, said Thursday he would not be involved in moderating a Republican presidential debate after he acknowledged an 'uncharacteristic lapse' by donating money to the Clinton Foundation in recent years. The nature of the disclosure of the donations, made only after news outlets began asking questions, combined with his longstanding ties as a former aide to President Bill Clinton, raised questions that could jeopardize Mr. Stephanopoulos' future as a top-draw interviewer and debate moderator." ...

... John Nolte of Breitbart "News": "This is a bombshell of a black eye for ABC News.... Reporting on and defending the Clinton Foundation in front of the whole world without disclosing your $50,000 donation to that very same foundation is a cover up, a four alarm scandal." ...

... Oh, the Horror! Erik Wemple of the Washington Post: "How big a deal is this? Large: Stephanopoulos IS ABC News.... A donation from Stephanopoulos to the Clinton Foundation in any amount constitutes a scandal and an immediate crisis for ABC News." ...

... Catherine Thompson of TPM: "After Stephanopoulos interviewed Peter Schweizer last month on 'This Week,' he was criticized for not disclosing either his former employ with the Clintons or, later, his donations to the foundation. Schweizer is the conservative author of 'Clinton Cash,' a book billed as an expose of the former first family's corrupt connections to foreign donors. Schweizer told Bloomberg Politics in an email Thursday that he was 'stunned' by what he saw as Stephanopoulos' 'massive breach of ethical standards.' 'He fairly noted my four months working as a speech writer for George W. Bush,' Schweizer told the news outlet. 'But he didn't disclose this?'" ...

     ... CW: While Schweizer's "stunned" response is over the top, he does have a point. However, anybody who watches "This Week" is aware of Stephanopoulos's history with the Clintons. (Sure, many younger voters may not know his Clinton connection, but they don't watch the Sunday shows anyway.) ...

... "So What?" Jonathan Chait: "... donating money to a charitable foundation is not an interest.... If Stephanopoulos needed some angle to get in the room with the Clintons, donating to their foundation would not be the way to do it.... Stephanopoulos's defense -- that he just wanted to donate to the Foundation's work on AIDS prevention and deforestation -- seems 100 percent persuasive. He is the victim of the ethical taint of the Clintons' poorly handled business dealings, combined with an underlying right-wing suspicion of the liberal media, but what his critics have yet to produce is a coherent case against him." CW: I'm with Chait on this, & I'm no big fan of Stephanopoulos. ...

... Steve M.: News Corp. Foundation, the charitable arm of Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate, gave at least $500K to the Clinton Foundation. "Know who gave more than $1 million (and possibly as much as $5 million) to the Clinton Foundation? HOW CAN NEWSMAX OBJECTIVELY COVER THE 2016 ELECTION?????" CW: So it seems, under the strictures applied to Stephanopoulos that Fox "News" & the Wall Street Journal should be barred from covering the presidential election, too, unless Hillary Clinton drops out or loses the primary race.

Charles Blow: "This week, during a panel discussion on poverty at Georgetown University, President Obama lambasted the media, and in particular Fox News, for creating false, destructive narratives about the poor that paint them broadly as indolent and pathological.... Obama was right to call out the media's poverty narratives. There are people across the income spectrum who are lazy and addicted and want something for nothing. But it's unfair and untenable to pretend this is the sole purview of the poor. ...

... Jonathan Chait: "Fox News is angry that Obama knows what's on Fox News."

God News, Friday Edition

New York Times Editors: "The practical effect of the Vatican's decision to sign a treaty recognizing the state of Palestine is debatable, but it is a symbolic victory for Palestinians who are struggling to keep alive their dream of a Palestinian state, which has been thwarted by the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu." ...

... Rachel Bade of Politico: "Several House conservatives seemed exasperated that Francis, who will address Congress this fall, approved the Vatican's recognition of Palestine as a state. On Wednesday, critics said Rome needs to leave the question of Palestinian statehood to be sorted out in the Middle East."

Tim Egan: "Last year, [Pope Francis] was asked about his secret to happiness. He said slow down. Take time off. Live and let live. Don't proselytize. Work for peace. Work at a job that offers basic human dignity. Don't hold on to negative feelings. Move calmly through life. Enjoy art, books and playfulness."

Presidential Race

David Knowles of Bloomberg: After calling for the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act during a Thursday stop at a brewery in Tempe, Ariz., [richy-rich Jeb] Bush touted the potential of the health apps on his new Apple Watch.... Bush did not specifically promise free Apple Watches for every man woman and child in the country if he is elected president, however." ...

... Steve M. is excited to learn that Jeb may have a product right there on his wrist which can help that South Carolina Republican guy who purposely didn't buy ObamaCare & needs eye surgery: "Hey Jeb, got any apps on that watch that can reattach a retina and do a significant amount of follow-up care?"

Jesse Berney of Blue Nation Review: "It's good and OK for people who can afford them to purchase luxury consumer goods.... But it's another thing for those people to run for president and suggest we repeal a law that gave millions affordable health care coverage and tell people to buy Apple Watches instead." ...

... Kate Knibbs of Gizmodo: "No word on whether Bush realizes that suggesting someone replace health insurance with an overpriced, overhyped fitness band is the dumbest fucking idea anyone's ever had." ...

Sara Murray & Maeve Reston of CNN: "Jeb Bush again changes his Iraq answer.... In his clearest declaration yet on his feelings about his brother's invasion of Iraq, the former Florida governor said Thursday that 'knowing what we know now, ...I would not have engaged.' 'I would not have gone into Iraq,' he said. The comments marked the fifth time this week that Bush sought to explain his position on Iraq." ...

... CW: It's worth repeating yesterday's comment by Barbarossa, a veteran: "I already can't stand Jeb, but that crack about those killed in action makes me want to throw up. An obvious question: Why were they killed in action? Could it be because of a war started under false pretense? This guy is fucking dangerous." (Bush said any question about "hypotheticals ... does a disservice" to service members killed in action.) ...

... "Reign of Error." Paul Krugman takes up where Barbarossa left off: "Take a moment to savor the cowardice and vileness of that last remark. And, no, that's not hyperbole. Mr. Bush is trying to hide behind the troops, pretending that any criticism of political leaders -- especially, of course, his brother, the commander in chief -- is an attack on the courage and patriotism of those who paid the price for their superiors' mistakes. That's sinking very low, and it tells us a lot more about the candidate's character than any number of up-close-and-personal interviews. Wait, there's more: Incredibly, Mr. Bush resorted to the old passive-voice dodge, admitting only that 'mistakes were made.' Indeed. By whom? Well, earlier this year Mr. Bush released a list of his chief advisers on foreign policy, and it was a who's-who of mistake-makers, people who played essential roles in the Iraq disaster and other debacles.... My best explanation is that we're witnessing the effects of extreme tribalism. On the modern right, everything is a political litmus test.... It's kind of a fraternity of failure: men and women united by a shared history of getting everything wrong, and refusing to admit it." ...

... Charles Pierce: "It has been quite a week for The Sunshine Boys, Marco Rubio and Jeb (!), the two Florida Men contesting for the Republican presidential nomination. Rubio is still riding high, playing the entire neocon chorus so impeccably at the Council on Foreign Relations that Jen Rubin went into full swoon.... What the foreign policy debate in the Republican primaries is likely to be is an ongoing attempt to salvage the neocon foreign policy ideas from the incredible shitshow that occurred when they were put into practice in 2002." ...

Gene Robinson: In the GOP race, we are left with "a top tier of Bush, who can't get out of his own way; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who seems to be fading; and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the flavor of the month, who hopes to win by propounding a robust, interventionist, Bush-like foreign policy, but without the whole Iraq part. GOP to Hillary Clinton: Have a nice summer." ...

... Josh Marshall of TPM: "If Republicans running as hawks say [the Iraq War] was a mistake, then the debate is really over. And it won't end there. Because with a consensus in place that the Iraq War was a bad idea, the whys and hows of just how we made this decision are up for discussion in a very new way."

Where in the World Is Scott Walker? Ben Schreckinger of Politico (May 12): "The Wisconsin governor, the current Republican front-runner in some early voting state polls, is in Israel until Thursday, but he isn't taking questions. Stung by his own past gaffes and those of other Republican presidential hopefuls abroad, Walker has locked the media out of his Israel trip, moving to burnish his foreign policy credentials without actually talking about foreign policy.... Ahead of the trip, Walker described it as a 'listening tour' and told reporters, 'It's an educational trip. It's not a photo op.' But there Walker was on Monday, greeting people at the Western Wall in a photo posted to his Twitter account." ...

... CW: Walker is probably over there giving Pope Francis high-fives for the Vatican's recognition of Palestine. Oh, or maybe not. Maybe just glad he didn't have to answer the Iraq War question. Also, I'll chip in $5 if Wisconsin taxpayers will treat Walker to an extended "educational trip" to Siberia.

Matea Gold & Anne Gearan of the Washington Post: "Hillary Clinton told a group of her top fundraisers Thursday that if she is elected president, her nominees to the Supreme Court will have to share her belief that the court's 2010 Citizens United decision must be overturned, according to people who heard her remarks.... She avoided taking a position on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade accord, saying she first wants to see what comes out of Congress."

Beyond the Beltway

Brendan Farrington of the AP: Florida "Gov. Rick Scott told agency heads to prepare for the worst Thursday, asking them to list only the state's most critical needs in the event the Legislature can't reach an agreement on a budget that doesn't expand health care to the poor.... In writing the letter, Scott is further digging in his heels in his refusal to expand health care coverage to 800,000 Floridians, a move that could cost the state more than $1 billion in federal money to help hospitals treat the poor, which is called the low-income pool." CW: It's great that Farrington fingered Scott for his motives. At least some reporters are now bold enough to tell the truth.

Al Jazeera & Reuters: "Duke Energy Corporation pleaded guilty Thursday to environmental crimes over a North Carolina power plant's coal ash spill into a river and management of coal ash basins in the state, U.S. prosecutors said. Duke, the country's largest energy company, pleaded guilty to nine violations of the Clean Water Act and agreed to pay $102 million in fines, including $68 million in criminal fines and $34 million that will go toward environmental projects and land conservation. The plea entered in federal court in Greenville, North Carolina was expected as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice announced in February."

Colin Campbell of the Baltimore Sun: "Two Baltimore correctional officers were charged Wednesday with looting a downtown convenience store during unrest last month over the death of Freddie Gray, officials said. Tamika Cobb and Kendra Richard were caught on video taking merchandise from the 7-Eleven on the corner of W. Baltimore and Howard streets on April 25, the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said."

Way Beyond

William Booth of the Washington Post: "As Europe struggles to stem a spring flood of migrants from Africa and the Middle East trying to cross a deadly Mediterranean Sea, Israel has begun to toughen its stance toward refugees, telling unwanted Africans here they must leave now or face an indefinite stay in prison.... Israeli leaders have proclaimed that their tough approach -- building a fence along its border, denying work permits for illegal migrants, forcing them into a detention center in the desert -- may ultimately save lives by dissuading migrants from attempting a perilous journey. Critics of the Israeli policy counter that a country built by refugees should be more accepting of those fleeing war, poverty and oppression."

News Ledes

New York Times: "In a major setback for the Iraqi government's efforts to defend its hold on Ramadi, a critical regional capital, Islamic State militants conquered the city's government sector on Friday, raising their black flag over the main compound before setting fire to it, local officials said."

New York Times: "B. B. King, whose world-weary voice and wailing guitar lifted him from the cotton fields of Mississippi to a global stage and the apex of American blues, died Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 89." ...

Wednesday
May132015

The Commentariat -- May 14, 2015

NEW. Missed this, but Charles Pierce brought me up to speed:

     ... Paul Lewis & Adam Federman of the Guardian: "The FBI breached its own internal rules when it spied on campaigners against the Keystone XL pipeline, failing to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened files on individuals protesting against the construction of the pipeline in Texas, documents reveal." CW: The Guardian's report is shocking. As Pierce writes, "... an FBI office acting as a private security force for a foreign energy giant ... seems to me to be a waste of taxpayer's money...to say nothing of a couple of amendments to the Constitution. I guess this is what cooperation within a dynamic global economy looks like."

NEW. Yes! Scott Bauer of the AP: "Russ Feingold announced Thursday he will run to reclaim the U.S. Senate seat he lost five years ago to Republican Ron Johnson, fulfilling the hopes of Democrats who have been pushing for the liberal to return to political office." ...

Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved legislation to end the federal government's bulk collection of phone records, exerting enormous pressure on Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, who insists that dragnet sweeps continue in defiance of many of those in his Republican Party. Under the bipartisan bill, which passed 338 to 88, the Patriot Act would be changed to prohibit bulk collection by the National Security Agency of metadata charting telephone calls made by Americans. However, while the House version of the bill would take the government out of the collection business, it would not deny it access to the information. It would be in the hands of the private sector -- almost certainly the telecommunications firms like AT&T, Verizon and Sprint -- that already keep the records for billing purposes and hold on to them from 18 months to five years." ...

... The Washington Post story, by Mike DeBonis & Ellen Nakashima, is here. The Guardian story, by Dan Roberts, et al., is here.

A Short-Lived Victory. Mike DeBonis & Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "Senate leaders announced Wednesday that they reached an agreement to consider and likely approve fast-track authority for President Obama to reach trade deals, a day after an unusual filibuster by Democrats of their party's presidential agenda. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced a plan that allows for a controversial provision that Democrats have been demanding -- legislation targeting China's alleged manipulation of its currency to make its exports cheaper -- a separate vote Thursday afternoon. Not a part of the broader trade package, the China currency legislation has been opposed by the Obama administration but favored by many senators from Midwest states hit hard by manufacturing job losses in the last two decades. This legislation, which also contains other measures for enforcing trade deals, is likely to pass the Senate but its ultimate fate remains in doubt in the House, with a potential presidential veto awaiting it." ...

... Ed Kilgore: "In other words, [Sen. Ron] Wyden's [D-Ore.] tactics worked, and [Mitch] McConnell blinked. Even if fast-track fails -- which may happen in the House even if it doesn't happen in the Senate -- Democrats may wind up with a broader non-TPP trade agenda with greater unity."

The New York Times Editors react to the DOJ's prosecution of & sentencing recommendation for Jeffrey Sterling, who was convicted to leaking classified information to James Risen of the paper (whom the feds threatened for years with jail time for his refusal to reveal his sources): "The government enjoys great flexibility from courts and the American public in deciding how best to protect national security. When it abuses that flexibility -- by going after journalists and their sources with a century-old law intended for Communist spies, or by to failing to hold torturers accountable -- the nation is made less safe." CW: I hope you listened to Marcy Wheeler's commentary, embedded in yesterday's Commentariat.

Murder on the Amtrak Express. Jon Hurdle, et al., of the New York Times: "The Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, killing at least seven, was barreling into a sharp turn at 106 miles an hour — more than twice the speed limit on that stretch -- when the engineer slammed on the emergency brakes, seconds before the train jumped the tracks, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.... Experts said the derailment might have been averted by a safety system called positive train control, that can, among other features, automatically reduce the speed of a train that is going too fast. To do that, the system must be installed on both the train and the route. The Amtrak train had it, but that stretch of track did not." ...

... The Incredible Callousness of the GOP. Heather Caygle of Politico: "House Republicans voted Wednesday to chop about a fifth of Amtrak's budget, less than a day after a deadly train crash that Democrats pointed to as a prime example of the dangers of shortchanging the nation's transportation needs. They also rebuffed Democrats' attempts to provide money for an advanced speed-control technology that federal investigators later said would have prevented the crash.... But the House proposal may face tougher sledding in the Senate, where transportation appropriations Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she hopes to set aside extra money for rail safety in her version of the funding bill. 'We have had a lot of derailments,' she said. 'We've had a lot of accidents.... So there are a lot of reasons for us to take a look at this.'" ...

... Trains Are for Democrats. Philip Bump of the Washington Post explains the callousness: "Trains are more cost effective in more densely populated areas, and more densely populated areas in the United States tend to vote Democratic. There's another level of politics at play, of course; many conservatives consider the idea of a federally funded transportation program to be anathema. And since so few of their constituents actually use the system, there's little incentive to want to offer political support." CW: Apparently it's okay if Democrats die. To be fair, Republican peoples do use roads & bridges out there in the Heartland, & Republicans are no more anxious to fund those than they are to fund public transportation. ...

... It seems Sen. Bob Corker noticed this, too. Jordain Carney of the Hill: “'I will be stunned if the Republicans deal with the Highway Trust Fund responsibly. It's not going to happen,' he told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.... The Tennessee Republican slammed Republicans... 'The first step to showing that we [Republicans] can responsibly deal with, you know, the fiscal issues that matter is the highway bill, and yet it very much appears to me that there will be a kick the can down the road,' he [said,] adding that it's 'incredibly irresponsible, total failure, [and a] abdication of leadership.'" ...

... Susan Svrluga, et al., of the Washington Post: "At least seven people were killed in Tuesday's Amtrak train derailment, including Justin Zemser, a 20-year-old midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy; Rachel Jacobs, 39, chief executive officer of Philadelphia-based ApprenNet; Jim Gaines, a 48-year-old video software architect for the Associated Press; and Abid Gilani, 55, a Wells Fargo executive. Among those missing is Bob Gildersleeve, a vice president the St. Paul, Minnesota, based company Ecolab. The names of the others killed in the violent crash -- which demolished one train car and toppled others on their sides -- remain unknown...." ...

... Paul Nussbaum of the Philadelphia Inquirer: "The train's engineer, who has not been identified, declined to give a statement to police investigators and left the East Detectives Division with an attorney, police commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said Wednesday." ...

     ... ABC News UPDATE: "The engineer of the Amtrak train that crashed in Philadelphia 'has absolutely no recollection of the incident or anything unusual' and 'no explanation' for what caused the crash, his attorney told ABC News. The engineer, Brandon Bostian, 32, of Queens, New York, was 'very distraught' to learn that the crash killed at least seven people, the attorney, Robert Goggin, told ABC News. He added that Bostian voluntarily turned over a blood sample and his cell phone and is cooperating with authorities."

Emmarie Huetteman of the New York Times: "The House on Wednesday voted to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, approving a revised version of a bill that Republican leaders had abruptly pulled in January amid objections from some of their own members. The measure passed in a 242-to-184 vote, with one member voting present. The bill dropped a provision in the original version that would have required women who became pregnant through rape to report their assault to law enforcement authorities to be eligible for an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.... The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, has expressed support for the legislation, but with pressing issues like trade and surveillance on the docket, it was not expected to get immediate consideration in the Senate.... But it is a near certainty that Senate Democrats would block an abortion ban...." ...

... Sarah Ferris of the Hill: "The Obama administration on Wednesday said it was 'disgraceful' for House Republicans to push a late-term abortion ban bill that also puts up barriers for rape and sexual assault victims.... [Press Secretary Josh] Earnest said the White House's previous veto threat still stands despite 'some rather cursory changes' made to appease Republicans."

Ben Protess & Michael Corkery of the New York Times: "The Justice Department is preparing to announce that Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and the Royal Bank of Scotland will collectively pay several billion dollars and plead guilty to criminal antitrust violations for rigging the price of foreign currencies, according to people briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Most if not all of the pleas are expected to come from the banks' holding companies, the people said -- a first for Wall Street giants that until now have had only subsidiaries or their biggest banking units plead guilty. The Justice Department is also preparing to resolve accusations of foreign currency misconduct at UBS.... In reality, [the government's] accommodations [to the banks] render the plea deals, at least in part, an exercise in stagecraft." CW: Yup. And absolutely Too Big to Jail.

Scott Higham, et al., of the Washington Post: "The state-owned oil company of Azerbaijan secretly funded an all-expenses-paid trip to a conference in Baku, on the Caspian Sea, in 2013 for 10 members of Congress and 32 staff members, according to a confidential ethics report.... Three former top aides to President Obama [-- Robert Gibbs, Jim Messina & David Plouffe --] appeared as speakers at the event. Lawmakers and their staff members received hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of travel expenses ... [and gift] valued at $2,500 to $10,000, according to the ethics report.... The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, known as SOCAR, allegedly funneled $750,000 through nonprofit corporations based in the United States to conceal the source of the funding.... The lawmakers who took the trip were Reps. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.), Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), Rubén Hinojosa (D-Tex.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Ted Poe (R-Tex.) and then-Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.)."

Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post: "A top member of President Obama's Secret Service detail under investigation for his conduct during a White House bomb threat probe notified the agency this week that he plans to retire, according to officials familiar with his decision. The decision by Marc Connolly comes ahead of the public release of a report concluding that he and a colleague were likely impaired by alcohol on the night of March 4 as they drove into a temporary barricade and into an active crime scene, according to government officials briefed on the matter. The findings of the report, scheduled to be released Thursday, prompted Secret Service Director Joseph P. Clancy to place both men on administrative leave pending further punishments, the officials said."

Wherein Mitch McConnell Puts to Rest (One Would Hope) a Pervasive Village Meme

Steve Benen: A wide variety of Beltway media types have ... argued repeatedly that Obama's reluctance to schmooze is an impediment to policymaking progress.

John Harwood of CNBC to Mitch McConnell: President Obama's gotten some grief for not being more sociable with members of Congress. Had he had a bourbon with you once or 10 times, would that make any difference to how you guys actually relate?

McConnell: No. I think it's all good stuff for you all to write. But it has no effect on policy. The reason we haven't done more things together is 'cause we don't agree on much. It's nice to have social occasions, but we don't all hate each other anyway. It wouldn't make any difference. Look, it's a business.

More on the Extraordinary Effort to Cure ObamaCare Cooties. Peter Sullivan of the Hill: After Florida Gov. Rick Scott went to Washington Tuesday to complain to members of Congress that the Obama administration was trying to "coerce" Florida into accepting the Medicaid expansion, "the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced it will hold a hearing into the alleged coercion this summer." CW: As we know, this is all about Scott & his allies wanting gobs of federal heathcare aid that is not part of ObamaCare.

Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times: "U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, the outspoken, populist Democrat who thunders against Wall Street fat cats, and used to to joke about Mitt Romney's low tax bill, incorporated a couple hedge funds in the Cayman Islands so investors could avoid taxes. Grayson Fund Ltd. and Grayson Master Fund were incorporated in 2011 in the Cayman Islands, a well known tax Haven that Romney used as well, records show. That was the same year he wrote in the Huffington Post that the IRS should audit every Fortune 500 company because so many appear to be 'evading taxes through transfer pricing and offshore tax havens.'... 'When I set up my investment funds I set it up like everyone else,' Grayson said, complaining about the Tampa Bay Times looking for 'some stupid, bull---- story. ... You want to write sh-- about it, and you can't because not a single dollar of taxes has been avoided,' he snapped."

The Breasts of Human Kindness. Jessica Roy of New York: "The House GOP's Twitter account became the victim of an embarrassing Twitter photo-cropping issue on Wednesday when it accompanied a quote by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers with a photo of the Congresswoman's boobs.... The tweet has since been deleted."

Presidential Race

Reagan Lives! Jonathan Chait: "Yesterday, Chris Moody [of CNN] asked several Republican presidential candidates one of the most revealing questions of the presidential campaign so far: Who is the greatest president alive today? Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump all named Ronald Reagan, notwithstanding the fact that Reagan, at least according to the liberal media, is no longer alive.... The Reagan answer was not a mistake -- it was the reflection of a party lacking a usable past.... Republicans today embrace George W. Bush's ideas but not the man himself. This leaves them with no living model of a successful presidency they can publicly identify. The question of which president they would choose is not a trick but a reflection of a stark reality: They have no evidence the demands of conservative ideology and practical governing success can be reconciled." ...

... Another Accidental Candidate. Emily Stephenson & Emily Flitter of Reuters: "Republican Jeb Bush appears to have unintentionally announced his candidacy for president in 2016 in a conversation with reporters on Wednesday that was caught on video. Speaking in Nevada..., [Bush said,] 'I'm running for president in 2016....'" ...

... Ed O'Keefe & Robert Costa of the Washington Post: "Asked repeatedly in recent days whether he would have supported an Iraq invasion based on what is known now, [Jeb Bush] has replied 'Yes' or 'I don't know,' or has refused to answer, depending on the venue. The stumbles mark the toughest period yet for Bush's still-undeclared campaign and have lit a fire under his likely GOP opponents, many of whom have happily proclaimed that they would not have authorized the Iraq invasion under those conditions. Many conservative leaders and pundits are also lacerating Bush as appearing unprepared to address an obvious topic and are casting him as a tone-deaf relic of the GOP elite.... In addition to [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie, at least five other potential Bush rivals have said in recent days that they would not have backed the invasion if they knew in 2003 that the intelligence on Iraqi weapons was inaccurate: Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), plus Ohio Gov. John Kasich." And John Bolton! ...

... O'Keefe recounts Jeb's extensive comments -- in response to hostile audience questions -- on Iraq. ...

... Paul Waldman summarizes: "George W. did the right thing, and everything that went wrong was somebody else's fault." ...

... Marc Caputo of Politico Magazine: "Jeb Bush has never publicly resolved the conflict between the Bush family code of loyalty and the imperative he now faces -- as a possible GOP front-runner -- of making the case that he's his own man.... Jeb's lack of clarity on a life-or-death topic like war has spooked longtime supporters and some otherwise-loyal donors. 'It's true we want to raise $100 million by the end of the month,' one Bush donor told Politico Magazine, refusing to speak on record for fear of appearing disloyal. 'But if he doesn't give a clear answer about something so simple and figure out how to deal with the issue of his brother, we're going to have to spend every penny of that cleaning up his mess.'" ...

... Latest Jeb Feint. Michael Bender of Bloomberg: "... Jeb Bush said Wednesday that questioning about how he would have handled Iraq War authorization 'does a disservice' to military service members killed in action." CW: It's hard to be more craven than hiding behind the bodies of soldiers. ...

... Not Necessarily His Own Man. Maggie Haberman & Michael Barbaro of the New York Times: "As he strains to win over Republican activists, particularly in crucial early-voting states like Iowa and South Carolina, [Jeb] Bush is being confronted with a distressing realization: He may now need to lean on his brother to survive the Republican primary, despite the damage that could do to Mr. Bush in a general election. In private conversations, Mr. Bush's allies have often taken note that his brother's approval ratings among likely primary and caucus voters are sky high." ...

... Gail Collins: "If the version of Jeb Bush we've been seeing lately is the one we're going to be stuck with, then one of the other Republican contenders is going to win. Maybe the guy who thinks Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery. Or the guy who once linked vaccines to children with mental disorders. The guy who used to peddle a 'Diabetes Solution Kit.' The guy with the bridge traffic jam! Right now, you know, it's all hypothetical." ...

... Or this little snot. ... Marco Flip-Flops on Iraq. Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post: "Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Wednesday that he would not have authorized the invasion of Iraq given what he knows today, becoming the latest candidate to weigh in on a question that has tripped up likely GOP rival Jeb Bush.... But Rubio ... in an interview with Fox News in March..., said he didn't think it was a mistake to go to war in Iraq. 'I don't believe it was. The world is a better place because Saddam Hussein doesn't run Iraq,' said Rubio." CW: Pretty hasty reversal for someone who sells himself as a "foreign policy savant" & a mighty ambitious stab in the back to his longtime mentor.

Carly Fiorina, Deadbeat Millionaire. Sam Brodey of Mother Jones: "Carly Fiorina, the Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO, is marketing herself as a pragmatic, fiscally responsible businesswoman -- the only GOP candidate who knows, as she says, 'how the economy actually works.'... Until late last year, Fiorina was close to $500,000 in debt from her 2010 run, nearly all of it in unpaid compensation to campaign staffers and outside consultants, according to Federal Election Commission filings.... In January, Fiorina -- whose own wealth is estimated up to $120 million -- personally donated $487,000 to her Senate campaign, and then she made good on the back pay...."

John Wagner of the Washington Post: "Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, who has been ramping up for a potential White House bid, plans to make an announcement about his political future on May 30 in Baltimore, aides said Wednesday."

Annie Karni of Politico: Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer has made seven or eight "significant" corrections to his book; the corrections will appear in the Kindle version, Amazon has announced. A HarperCollins spokesperson says the changes are "minor," not "significant."

Beyond the Beltway

Oliver Laughland & Jon Swaine of the Guardian: "The Baltimore police lieutenant charged with the manslaughter of Freddie Gray was accused of threatening to kill an ex-girlfriend.... Brian Rice ... [also was] accused of threatening to kill the husband of another ex-girlfriend, having that man wrongfully arrested, and warning that he was preparing to kill himself, as part of an intense dispute that saw him twice disciplined by chiefs and stripped of his guns. Experts on policing have expressed dismay that Rice was permitted to stay in his job after his supervisors were repeatedly informed of his actions, which extended to trying once again to have the man arrested on 29 March this year. Two weeks later he initiated the arrest of Gray...."

Spencer Hsu & Rachel Weiner of the Washington Post: "Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Wednesday granted an absolute pardon to a convicted sex offender, ending a decades-long campaign by an imprisoned man whose claims of innocence were eventually joined by prosecutors and police. Final proof that Michael Kenneth McAlister, 58, was wrongfully convicted came when another man -- a serial rapist who bore an uncanny resemblance to McAlister -- recently confessed to the 1986 attempted rape and kidnapping in Richmond, the governor said."

Jason Hancock of the Kansas City Star: "Text messages obtained by The Star reveal a sexually charged relationship between House Speaker John Diehl [R] and a college freshman in a Missouri Capitol internship program that shut down abruptly last month. The conversations unveil a flirty rapport and suggest an intimacy between arguably the state's most influential lawmaker and a young woman.... Diehl lives with his wife and three sons in Town and Country, Mo." CW: The Star publishes the context of the text messages, which are predictably banal; e.g., "God I want you right now." Via Daily Kos. ...

... Brian Tashman of Right Wing Watch: "Earlier this year, Diehl and the president pro-tempore of the state Senate filed an amicus brief in defense of the state's anti-gay-marriage amendment, leading the Missouri Family Policy Council, the state affiliate of the Family Research Council, to praise the speaker 'for demonstrating moral leadership and true integrity in standing up for the sacred institution of marriage and the family values of the people of Missouri.' The state affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention thanked him for 'fighting to defend biblical marriage.'"

Way Beyond

Letters from a Prince. Robert Booth & Matthew Taylor of the Guardian: "A cache of secret memos between Prince Charles and senior government ministers has been released after a 10-year legal battle, offering the clearest picture yet of the breadth and depth of the heir to the throne's lobbying at the highest level of politics. The 27 memos, sent in 2004 and 2005 and released only after the Guardian won its long freedom of information fight with the government, show the Prince of Wales making direct and persistent policy demands to the then prime minister Tony Blair and several key figures in his Labour government. From Blair, Charles demanded everything from urgent action to improve equipment for troops fighting in Iraq to the availability of alternative herbal medicines in the UK, a pet cause of the prince.... The letters revealed not only that ministers often responded actively to his suggestions but they appeared to hold his interventions in high regard.... Since the beginning of 2010, the prince held 87 meetings with ministers, opposition party leaders and top government officials.... The letters emerged amid growing signs that Prince Charles is planning to rule in a far more outspoken way than the taciturn Queen."

News Ledes

Palmyra's Roman theater.AFP: "Islamic State group fighters have advanced to the gates of ancient Palmyra on Thursday, raising fears the Syrian world heritage site could face destruction of the kind the jihadis have already wreaked in Iraq. Isis fighters were battling Syrian troops less than two kilometres (barely a mile) from the remains of one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, Syria's director of antiquities said.... The jihadi advance on the well-preserved remains came as an international conference was under way in Cairo to address the destruction already wreaked by Isis on the ancient sites of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq.

ABC News: "Irish police have arrested four individuals on terror charges after bomb components were found in an unspecified location near the border with Northern Ireland, only five days before an official visit by Prince Charles and Camilla."

Tuesday
May122015

The Commentariat -- May 13, 2015

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "Senate Democrats handed President Obama a stinging rebuke on Tuesday, blocking consideration of legislation granting their own president accelerated power to complete a major trade accord with Asia. The Senate voted 52-45 on a procedural motion to begin debating the bill to give the president 'trade promotion authority,' eight votes short of the 60 needed to proceed. Republicans and pro-trade Democrats said they would try to negotiate a trade package that could clear that threshold. But the vote Tuesday presented Mr. Obama what might be a no-win situation. He may have to accept trade enforcement provisions he does not want in order to propel the trade legislation through the Senate, but those same provisions might doom the Pacific trade negotiations that legislation is supposed to lift." ...

... The Washington Post story, by Mike DeBonis, is here. ...

... Greg Sargent: "... it's way premature to suggest that this means the TPP is in deep trouble.... There is still a sizable bloc of pro-TPP Democrats in the Senate who will vote Yes, if their demands are met.... Democrats want votes on four provisions at once -- fast track (which would ensure a Congressional up-or-down vote on a final deal), Trade Adjustment Assistance (which helps workers displaced by trade), a provision cracking down on currency manipulation by other countries, and a measure that would stiffen enforcement of the terms of the trade deal. [Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell only allowed a vote on the first two of these. A sizable bloc of Dems who voted No today could well vote Yes if McConnell relents...." ...

... Dana Milbank: Elizabeth "Warren masterfully undermined the trade bill, by highlighting the administration's obsessive secrecy (the details of the proposed agreement are classified) and the role of corporate interests in drafting the deal (500 non-government advisors participated, she said, 85 percent of them industry executives or lobbyists).... Senate free-traders will likely find a way to revive the bill, but Tuesday's defeat will embolden opponents in the House, where the free-trade package already faced trouble. However the trade debate is resolved, Tuesday's defeat in the Senate is likely to be a turning point, because it shows that the populists are now firmly in control of the Democratic Party.... Hillary Clinton, was not courageous enough to take a position on the trade legislation, but her silence gave Democrats more freedom to oppose it. And Democrats in Congress bristled at Obama's disparagement of opponents of the trade bill as emotional, illogical and dishonest." ...

... AND thanks again to Unwashed for highlighting the Roosevelt Institute program, which Milbank cites. ...

... "Trade Show." Charles Pierce: "... I would have to say that this afternoon's events in the Senate justify the president's snark about Senator Professor Warren's being 'a politician.' He's right. She is. And, today, she was a better one than he was.... (As far as our future leaders go, Marco Rubio skipped the vote and both of those Tea Party populist heroes, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, voted to give the tyrannical president this power.) The TPP looks like a big enough turkey all on its own, and why the president has chosen this particular issue on which to go to knives so vigorously with his progressive supporters leads me to wonder if it isn't just a way to guarantee him some nice sinecures when he leaves office in 2017." ...

... CW: I would pause to point out that President Obama has been securing his post-presidential future from Day One. When he told imperious bankers in April 2009, "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks," I wondered why he was holding the pitchforks at bay. It didn't take long to figure it out, as again & again, he & then-Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner did Wall Street's bidding at the expense of Main Street. ...

... Seung Min Kim of Politico: "Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown threw a grenade into the ongoing war of words between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and President Barack Obama, a war that reached new heights with Tuesday's dramatic setback of Obama's trade agenda in the Senate. When asked how Obama was being disrespectful of Warren, Brown replied: 'I think by just calling her 'another politician.' He continued, 'I'm not going to get into more details. I think referring to her as first name, when he might not have done that for a male senator, perhaps?'" ...

... Kevin Cirilli of the Hill: "National Organization for Women (NOW) president Terry O'Neill on Wednesday called President Obama's critique of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sexist.... 'The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else. And you know, she's got a voice that she wants to get out there. And I understand that,' Obama told Yahoo. O'Neill said Obama's 'clear subtext is that the little lady just doesn't know what she's talking about.'"

... Not to throw cold water on the Warren party, but ... Laura Barron-Lopez, et al., of the Huffington Post: "Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been the public face of the Democratic Party's feud with President Barack Obama over his trade agenda. But behind the scenes, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) quietly united his party behind a strategy that resulted in a major defeat Tuesday for the president. Brown's weeks of work came to fruition when Democrats voted to block legislation that would have given Obama so-called fast-track trade authority." ...

... AND. Russell Berman of the Atlantic: "... it turns out that the president's most difficult obstacle is not Warren but Harry Reid, his erstwhile ally and the Democratic leader in the Senate." ...

... Burgess Everett & Manu Raju of Politico: "Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who rallied his caucus to reject the fast-track measure on a procedural vote, has already floated a plan to find a way out of the impasse by offering to drop a customs bill, which includes anti-currency manipulation language,from his party's list of demands.... 'I suggest the way we move forward is to have a program where we have all of these bills discussed at the same time,' Reid said. 'Everybody should just take a deep breath. I think there's probably a way we can move forward with this.' But with little more than a week before the Memorial Day recess and several expiring laws still to be addressed, the immediate future of Obama's trade agenda is uncertain."

Kathryn Wolfe of Politico: "An Amtrak train from Washington, D.C., to New York City derailed Tuesday night in Philadelphia, killing at least six people and injuring dozens -- on the eve of a House markup of a bill that would slash the passenger rail service's budget.... The version approved earlier by [the] appropriations subcommittee contains language that would slash Amtrak's funding to $1.13 billion, less than the roughly $1.4 billion it typically receives annually. Democrats had already been expected to take a run at boosting the bill's funding for Amtrak, but the debate at Wednesday's markup is sure to take on more urgency in light of the crash.... Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a critic of the FRA's oversight of train safety, tweeted that he and others 'will need a quick, thorough investigation to determine the cause.'" See also yesterday's & today's News Ledes.

Bill McKibben in the New York Times: "THE Obama administration's decision to give Shell Oil the go-ahead to drill in the Arctic shows why we may never win the fight against climate change. Even in this most extreme circumstance, no one seems able to stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry. No one ever says no.... A quarter century ago, scientists warned that if we kept burning fossil fuel at current rates we'd melt the Arctic. The fossil fuel industry (and most everyone else in power) ignored those warnings, and what do you know: The Arctic is melting.... If we're to have any chance of meeting even Mr. Obama's weak goal of holding temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, we have to leave most carbon underground."

David Gelles & Brian Chen of the New York Times: "Verizon Communications agreed on Tuesday to buy AOL for $4.4 billion in an all-cash deal that will see today's king of mobile acquire the one-time king of media.... Verizon and AOL want to put content and new advertising technology on today's most ubiquitous computing device, the mobile phone. In AOL, Verizon acquires a company that has developed valuable technology for serving mobile video and advertising." ...

... Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times explains the rationale behind the deal: it is "... just the latest corporate reaction to a staggering shift in the way people across the globe get their news and entertainment. Over the last couple of years, we have collectively decided to use our phones to reach the Internet more than we ever used our computers to do."

Jessica Roy of New York: "The Environmental Protection Agency has partnered with several other federal agencies to address the public-health concerns at nail salons. Along with the Food and Drug Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the Small Business Administration, the EPA will 'develop a plan to assess and improve regulations, programs, and outreach strategies to ensure nail salon worker health and safety,' according to a statement from the agency. The news comes a week after the New York Times ran an explosive story detailing the dangerous and exploitative conditions of many nail salons in New York."

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post: "With her commencement address at Tuskegee University, first lady Michelle Obama showed that her husband isn't the only one in the White House with a facility for searing and soaring speeches. In word and tone, Obama gave voice to the frustrations and hopes of African Americans in this country. Her words were powerful and forcefully delivered without apology. Coming after what we have witnessed in Ferguson and Baltimore, Obama's speech at the historically black institution has added resonance. Of course, Obama's truth-telling was met with the usual and predictable harangues from the reactionary right." ...

... Here's the transcript of Michelle Obama's speech. ...

Yes, Republicans Are Stupid. Anne Helms of the Charlotte Observer: Irresponsible Republican guy who is going blind blames President Obama for his own irresponsibility & for South Carolina's failure to accept the Medicaid expansion. Via Josh Marshall. CW: BTW, liberals are giving the irresponsible Republican guy the what-for on his GoFundMe page. However, as one commenter points out, he can't see to read the comments. Maybe his wife, who is as stupid as he is, will read them aloud to him.

Presidential Race

Nate Silver: "The Electoral College just isn't worth worrying about much. If you see analysts talking about the 'blue wall,' all they're really saying is that Democrats have won a bunch of presidential elections lately -- an obvious fact that probably doesn't have much predictive power for what will happen this time around. I'm not saying Clinton is doomed. Rather, I think the 'fundamentals' point toward her chances being about 50-50."

An Audience of One. Jaime Fuller of New York: At the Roosevelt Institute event mentioned above, "... Hillary Clinton was rarely mentioned during either of these rollouts, but as she is the one presidential candidate progressives are most determined to move to the left, it was obvious she was the intended audience."

Ed O'Keefe & Matea Gold of the Washington Post: "A nonprofit group allied with former Florida governor Jeb Bush is playing a more expansive role in his current political operation than previously known, housing several top policy advisers who are expected to join his eventual campaign.... Bush's reliance on the non­profit as he prepares for a likely presidential bid puts him on untested legal ground, cloaking who is paying the salaries of his expected advisers.... A landmark 2002 law bans a candidate from directly or indirectly establishing an organization that is not subject to federal contribution limits.... But a polarized Federal Election Commission is unlikely to scrutinize the maneuver, campaign finance experts said.... 'This is another example of how he is running roughshod over campaign finance law,' said Larry Noble, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center." ...

... Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register: "No Iowa Straw Poll for Jeb Bush. The likely Republican presidential candidate will instead attend a competing event, the RedState Gathering in Atlanta, the day of the Iowa event.... Bush ... is the first well-known Republican in the 2016 presidential field to officially opt out of the straw poll, a nationally renowned event that has drawn significant criticism over the years." ...

... Roger Simon of Politico: "... to fully appreciate the importance of Jeb's revelation that George W. will be his chief adviser when it comes to the Mideast, you've got to keep in mind that Jeb's entire campaign is built around one selling point: Jeb is the smart one in the family." ...

... Confederate Byron York of the Washington Examiner:"If Jeb Bush sticks to his position -- that he would still authorize war knowing what we know today -- it will represent a step backward for the Republican Party.... As for whether Hillary Clinton would have authorized the invasion 'knowing what we know now' -- it's hard to believe that Jeb Bush is serious when he says she would. Of course she wouldn't. Nor would others involved in the decision [including Karl Rove].... Congress would not have authorized war if lawmakers knew there were no WMDs.... Jeb's statement is likely to resonate until he either changes his position or loses the race for the Republican nomination. Should he become the nominee, the issue will dog him into the general election campaign." ...

... Say Wha'? So already we're getting the "misheard-the-question" defense. CW: See if you have trouble understanding the question: Megyn Kelly of Fox "News": "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?" Jeb: "I would." ...

... And here's Kelly giving Jeb cover, suggesting "knowing what you know now" was a concept too difficult for Jeb to grasp. ...

... Wait, Wait, There's More Backpedalling. Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "Jeb Bush on Tuesday sought to arrest a chorus of criticism from Democrats and some conservatives after he told an interviewer that, knowing what history has since shown about intelligence failures, he still would have authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Calling in to Sean Hannity's syndicated radio show, Mr. Bush said he had misunderstood a question that one of Mr. Hannity’s Fox News colleagues, Megyn Kelly, had asked him in an interview shown on Sunday and Monday nights. 'I interpreted the question wrong, I guess,' Mr. Bush said. 'I was talking about, given what people knew then.'... When Mr. Hannity asked about the 2003 Iraq invasion again, in yes-or-no fashion, Mr. Bush said he did not know what the answer would have been, saying, 'That's a hypothetical.' Then, he seemed to go out of his way to absolve his brother, former President George W. Bush, who ordered the invasion: 'Mistakes were made, as they always are in life,' Mr. Bush said."

So, not too bright, but no hearing loss. I think I'd have stuck with "say what?" -- Constant Weader

I want to directly answer your question, because that's what I do. If we knew then what we know now and I were the president of the United States, I wouldn't have gone to war. But you don't get to replay history. -- Chris Christie, to CNN's Jake Tapper yesterday

... Jonathan Chait: "Chris Christie, attempting to convince Republicans that his presidential campaign remains alive, has released his economic plan to 'raise growth and incomes.' The centerpiece is to stimulate spending in the snack sector. Ha, not really -- that would make more sense than Christie's actual plan, which is to give rich people an enormous tax cut."

We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you. -- Liam Neeson character Marco Rubio, on U.S. enemies, 2014

... Sahil Kapur of Bloomberg: Today Marco Rubio will make his "first major foreign policy speech of his presidential campaign, where he is expected to complete a dramatic shift from moderate to ultra-hawk."

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post: "How depressing is it that, out of the more than a dozen announced or prospective Republican candidates for president in 2016, only one, Carly Fiorina, is a woman. Even more depressing: that Fiorina, as long-shot as her candidacy is, would not be taken even semi-seriously were it not for her gender.... It is the height of chutzpah to imagine that she is remotely qualified to be president. Or, since it's the more likely endgame, for vice president either."

Beyond the Beltway

Everett Rosenfeld of CNBC: "Moody's downgraded Chicago's credit rating down to junk level 'Ba1' from 'Baa2.' The announcement, which the ratings agency released Tuesday afternoon, cited a recent Illinois court ruling voiding state pension reforms. Moody's said it saw a negative outlook for the city's credit."

AP: "A Texas inmate has been executed for the killings of his 15-year-old girlfriend, her mother and her grandfather nearly 13 years ago in Houston. Derrick Dewayne Charles received a lethal injection on Tuesday after the US supreme court rejected last-day appeals and wouldn't stop his execution. He's the seventh prisoner put to death this year in the nation's busiest capital punishment state."

Mary Spicuzza & Bill Glauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said Tuesday that Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny won't face criminal charges in a fatal shooting [of Tony Robinson] that sparked protests in Madison and drew national attention as the country grapples with police shootings of unarmed black men."

Way Beyond

Andrew Kramer of the New York Times: "Members of Russi's political opposition published a posthumous report by the politician Boris Y. Nemtsov on Tuesday that documented the deaths of 220 Russian soldiers in the fighting in southeastern Ukraine, even though the Kremlin denies being involved in the war there. The report, which goes into various clandestine aspects of the war in Ukraine, became particularly noteworthy after Mr. Nemtsov, an opponent of President Vladimir V. Putin, was assassinated in February.... After the fatal shooting of Mr. Nemtsov in central Moscow, the police detained five ethnic Chechens as suspects. But the investigation stalled there, as is the case in almost every politically tinged killing in Russia, and quickly dropped out of the headlines."

Ian Traynor of the Guardian: "European plans for a military campaign to smash the migrant smuggling networks operating out of Libya include options for ground forces on Libyan territory."

News Ledes

Philadelphia Inquirer: "At least five people were killed and dozens injured, six critically, when a northbound Amtrak train derailed Tuesday night in Port Richmond[, a Philadelphia neighborhood]. In the moments after the derailment, scores of emergency personnel swarmed over more than a half-dozen toppled train cars, trying to reach the dazed, the injured, the dying.Some people were reported trapped in the train, and crews were cutting into the cars to try to free the injured.... At a briefing early Wednesday morning, with [Pennsylvania Gov. Tom] Wolf at his side, [Philadelphia] Mayor [Michael] Nutter gave the grim numbers: In addition to the five dead, 65 people were taken to area hospitals, primarily Temple University Hospital. Six were in critical condition." ...

     ... Washington Post Update: "At least six people were killed and 50 or more were injured Tuesday night when an Amtrak train that originated in Washington derailed in Philadelphia."

... Philadelphia Inquirer: "A National Transportation Safety Board 'Go Team' is scheduled to arrive at the crash scene later Wednesday morning. The Federal Railroad Administration said it also was sending at least eight investigators to the scene of what is believed to be the deadliest crash on the Northeast Corridor since 16 were killed when an Amtrak train collided with a freight train near Baltimore in 1987." ...

... Washington Post: What it was like inside the train.

Reuters [May 8]: "International inspectors have found traces of sarin and VX nerve agent at a military research site in Syria that had not been declared to the global chemical weapons watchdog, diplomatic sources said on Friday.... 'This is a pretty strong indication they have been lying about what they did with sarin,' one diplomatic source said. 'They have so far been unable to give a satisfactory explanation about this finding.'" Via the New York Times, which covers the story today.

Monday
May112015

The Commentariat -- May 12, 2015

Contributor Unwashed points us to a Roosevelt Institute panel discussion going on now (9: 15 am ET) about how government rules & laws could lower income inequality. "Speakers include: Senator Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz and panel of expert economists and strategists." You can listen in here. Stiglitz says the TPP is another move to increase corporate power & income inequality. He whacks the President for his "nasty" remarks about TPP opponents.

Coral Davenport of the New York Times: "The Obama administration gave conditional approval on Monday for Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc. to start drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean this summer. The approval is a major victory for Shell and the rest of the petroleum industry, which has sought for years to drill in the remote waters of the Chukchi seas, which are believed to hold vast reserves of oil and gas.... The Interior Department decision is a devastating blow to environmentalists, who have pressed the Obama administration to reject proposals for offshore Arctic drilling. Environmentalists say that a drilling accident in the icy and treacherous Arctic waters could have far more devastating consequences than the deadly Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010...."

Dana Milbank: "The vast majority of lawmakers in [President Obama's] own party oppose him on trade legislation. Yet rather than accept that they have a legitimate beef, he shows public contempt for them -- as he did in an interview with Matt Bai of Yahoo News released over the weekend.... The fast-track legislation faces its first test Tuesday with a vote in the Senate, and it looks to be a squeaker.... If Obama loses on trade, blame should go to the twin pillars of detachment that have underpinned his presidency: insularity and secrecy." ...

... Greg Sargent interviews Sen. Elizabeth Warren about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. ...

... Jared Bernstein & Dean Baker in the Washington Post: "... the TPP contains no currency provisions, meaning there are no enforceable rules in the deal that would prevent our trading partners from managing their currency so that it stays low relative to the dollar.... Previous research has found that a few of the countries in the TPP have a history of managing their currency to subsidize their exports. We estimate that currency interventions by Japan, Malaysia and Singapore have cost us 250,000 to 320,000 jobs annually over the past few years.... Although we strongly disagree, the administration has quite clearly argued that we are helpless in the face of these interventions." ...

... ** David Dayen in Salon: "It's beneath the dignity of the Presidency to so aggressively paint opponents as not just wrong on the facts, but hiding the truth on purpose. Warren has responded without using the same indecorous tactics. Unfortunately, I don't have the same self-control. So by way of response, here are ten moments where the Presidentor his subordinates have lied -- call it 'misled' or 'offered half-truths' or whatever; but I'm in an ornery mood so let's just say lied -- about his trade agenda." CW: Read 'em all.

Andrea Peterson of the Washington Post: "The USA Patriot Act has been at the nexus of the debate over privacy and civil liberties since it was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But a looming legislative deadline, a recent court ruling against a controversial program that collects the details of millions of Americans' phone calls and a filibuster threat mean that the government's spying abilities face an uncertain future.... Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is advocating for an extension of Section 215 through 2020. But that would likely push the issue to the Supreme Court to settle. On the other side of the debate, long-time government surveillance critic Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) threatened in an interview with MSNBC to filibuster a short-term extension of the law 'unless there are major reforms like getting rid of this bulk phone record collections.'" ...

... David McCabe of the Hill: "Seven tech groups are backing a bill that would reform provisions of the Patriot Act some say are responsible for unreasonable government surveillance. 'Public trust in the technology sector is critical, and that trust has declined measurably among both U.S. citizens and citizens of our foreign allies since the revelations regarding the U.S. surveillance programs began 2 years ago,' the groups say in the letter written to House leaders endorsing the USA Freedom Act.... The letter was signed by the Information Technology Industry Council, the Internet Association, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, BSA|The Software Alliance, TechNet, Reform Government Surveillance and the Software & Information Industry Association." ...

... Julian Hattem of the Hill: "The National Security Agency isn't making any policy changes following a sweeping federal court ruling against its bulk collection of Americans' phone records last week. Instead, NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers said in his first public comments since Thursday's ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that the ball was back in Congress's court, and it was up to lawmakers to consider how the agency should proceed."

Robert Pear of the New York Times: "The Obama administration on Monday put health insurance companies on notice that they must cover all forms of female contraception, including the patch and intrauterine devices, without imposing co-payments or other charges. In the last month, the National Women's Law Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation issued separate reports that found that insurers often flouted a federal requirement to provide free coverage of birth control for women under President Obama's health care law."

Simon Miloy of Salon makes fun of "Wall Street tycoons advis[ing] Democrats that the UK elections show people hate it when you say mean things about banks." ...

... Scammers R Us. Peter Eavis of the New York Times: "... on Monday, in the starkest of terms, a federal judge ... ruled that two banks misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in selling them mortgage bonds that contained numerous errors and misrepresentations. 'The magnitude of falsity, conservatively measured, is enormous,' Judge Denise L. Cote of Federal District Court in Manhattan wrote in a scathing 361-page decision. The ruling came in a closely watched case brought by the government against the Japanese bank Nomura Holdings and Royal Bank of Scotland. They were the only two of 18 financial firms that took their case to trial, arguing that it was the housing crash, and not deceptive loan documents, that caused the bonds to collapse. The other firms -- including Goldman Sachs and Bank of America -- settled, together paying nearly $18 billion in penalties but avoiding a detailed public airing of their conduct."

"Swindle Our Troops!" -- GOP. Zach Carter of the Huffington Post: "House Republicans are again attacking measures aimed at protecting U.S. troops from predatory lending practices, two weeks after a similar GOP effort failed." Via Paul Waldman.

Sarah Wheaton of Politico: "The Barack Obama presidential library will be built in his adopted hometown of Chicago, the Barack Obama Foundation announced in a video message posted online Tuesday. A bid by the University of Chicago, where Obama taught constitutional law before turning to politics, beat out rival proposals from Hawaii and New York to host the location of Obama's presidential archives and museum." ...

Diaper Boy Not Feeling the Love. Manu Raju of Politico: "Within the chummy confines of the U.S. Senate, [Sen. David] Vitter [R-La.] has emerged as one of the most disliked members. The second-term senator's effort to kill the federal health care contribution [to Members of Congress & their staffs], worth several thousand dollars [each] to lawmakers and their staffers, is a big part of it. But the two-year drive, his [Senate] critics say, symbolizes an operating style that Vitter's critics complain is consumed with public relations, even for an ambitious member of Congress: speeding in and out of meetings, railing about issues on the Senate floor but doing little to execute behind the scenes, firing off news releases left and right. In an institution in which the inside game is critical, Vitter doesn't even pretend to bother with it.... His unpopularity in the Senate hasn't translated to his poll numbers: One survey in December showed four in five Republicans viewed him favorably." He's likely to win his bid for governor of Louisiana.

American "Justice," Ctd. Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times: "A former Central Intelligence Agency officer on Monday was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on espionage charges for telling a journalist for The New York Times about a secret operation to disrupt Iran's nuclear program. The sentence was far less than the Justice Department had wanted. The former officer, Jeffrey A. Sterling, argued that the Espionage Act, which was passed during World War I, was intended to prosecute spies, not officials who talked to journalists. He asked for the kind of leniency that prosecutors showed to David H. Petraeus, the retired general who last month received probation for providing his highly classified journals to his biographer." ...

... Marcy Wheeler talks to the Real News about the Sterling case. Pretty fascinating. Thanks to Victoria D. for the lead:

Pew Research Center: "The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men." ...

... Emma Green of the Atlantic: However, 44 percent of those who don't identify with a particular religion still say that religion is very or somewhat important to them.

Andrew Kirell of Mediaite: "In response to anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller's controversial 'Draw Muhammad' cartoon contest, liberal comedian and commentator Dean Obeidallah announced a 'Draw Your Favorite Islamophobe' contest this Saturday on his Sirius XM radio show.... 'You pick, draw it, take a photo of it and send it to me at submissions@thedeansreport.com. The winner will be announced on my show this coming Saturday and receive a tasty falafel (or a gift certificate up to $10 to a restaurant in your area that serves falafels),' the website read."

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd.

Dan Lamothe of the Washington Post: "Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh alleged in a long-rumored 10,000-word story published Sunday [and linked in yesterday's Commentariat] that the United States and Pakistan lied about major details about the 2011 raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but the CIA and White House are both rejecting his account.... A CIA official told The Washington Post that Hersh's story is 'utter nonsense.' White House spokesman Ned Price said it had 'too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions' to fact-check each one, and added that the premise that bin Laden was killed in 'anything but a unilateral U.S. mission is patently false.'" ...

... Ben Kamisar of the Hill: "The former Navy SEAL who says he killed Osama bin Laden is slamming a new report that challenges the White House's account of the mission, calling it 'garbage.' 'The story that I read, the part from [Seymour] Hersh, was full of lies,' Rob O'Neill said on Fox News's 'Shepard Smith Reporting.'" ...

... Max Fisher of Vox: Hersh's "allegations are largely supported only by two sources, neither of whom has direct knowledge of what happened, both of whom are retired, and one of whom is anonymous. The story is riven with internal contradictions and inconsistencies. The story simply does not hold up to scrutiny.... Hersh produces no supporting documents or proof, nor is the authority of either source established." ...

... Jon Schwarz & Ryan Devereaux of the Intercept: "R.J. Hillhouse, a former professor, Fulbright fellow and novelist whose writing on intelligence and military outsourcing has appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times, made the same main assertions in 2011 about the death of Osama bin Laden as Seymour Hersh's new story in the London Review of Books -- apparently based on different sources than those used by Hersh.... The Intercept cannot corroborate the reporting of either Hillhouse or Hersh..., nor can we rule out the possibility that Hersh's sources based their beliefs on Hillhouse's writing. In reporting that appears to back up major elements of that of Hillhouse and Hersh, NBC today asserted that a Pakistani intelligence officer 'walk in' told the CIA about bin Laden's location in the year before the raid on his compound." ...

     ... Hillhouse called Hersh's piece is "either plagiarism or unoriginal."

... Matthew Cole, et al., of NBC News: "Two intelligence sources tell NBC News that the year before the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a 'walk in' asset from Pakistani intelligence told the CIA where the most wanted man in the world was hiding - and these two sources plus a third say that the Pakistani government knew where bin Laden was hiding all along." ...

... Dylan Byers of Politico: "Seymour Hersh's alternative history about the killing of Osama bin Laden was offered to and declined by The New Yorker, where Hersh is a regular contributor, years before its publication in the London Review of Books...." ...

... Steve M. on why the right won't want to defend Seymour Hersh: "One reason the story is unsatisfying to the right is obvious right away: If Hersh's version of how the U.S. learned about bin Laden's whereabouts were to prove true, it would end forever the discussion of whether torture had anything to do with bin Laden's death, and not in the right's favor."

Erik Wemple of the Washington Post: Pseudojournalist Mark Halperin apologizes for using an interview to pelt Ted Cruz with Cuban-stereotype questions. And it wasn't just Ricky Ricardo-type questions: "... Halperin requested that the senator do his 'very good and very respectful imitation' of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), another presidential candidate. Cruz declined. He also declined to welcome Sanders to the race 'en Español.'" CW: How bad does a major-media "journalist" have to be to actually victimize Ted Cruz? Halperin-bad. ...

... Ian Millhiser of Think Progress: "The prize for the most racist interview of a 2016 candidate goes to Bloomberg's Mark Halperin."

Presidential Race

David Nakamura of the Washington Post: Hillary Clinton, who helped write the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, is now keeping mum on the agreement. ...

Whatever the merits of the TPP, this issue has become a surrogate within the party for a larger debate about corporate power and fairness, which puts her in a difficult spot. She was the [secretary of state] when these negotiations began, and the previous Clinton administration was closely identified with trade. But it is a volatile issue, and supporting it could add to fears on the left that she is too oriented toward big business and give additional impetus to a potential primary challenger. -- David Axelrod

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: Bill Clinton does not intend to participate -- much -- in Hillary Clinton's campaign, but he'll still be in the public limelight, giving speeches for the Clinton Foundation & to other groups "to pay the bills," etc.

Michael Bender of Bloomberg: "He may be a staunch critic of President Obama's executive orders on immigration, but Jeb Bush wouldn't rush to repeal them if he's the next White House resident. In an interview scheduled to air Monday night on Fox News, Bush suggested that he would wait until a new law was in place before overturning Obama's actions." ...

In response, Bobby Jindal promised to hold an exorcism in the Oval Office to drive out any hints of Barack Obama that might remain. -- Paul Waldman

Mark Halperin isn't interested in any of that. He is trying to get commitments from Bush & Ted Cruz to participate in a Latin-American cookoff. -- Constant Weader

... Alex Isenstadt & Ken Vogel of Politico: Jeb Bush & Karl Rove have long disliked each other. Now, they're involved in a clash for cash: "As Bush intensifies fundraising for his Right to Rise super PAC, expected to reach $100 million by the end of this month, he finds himself approaching many of the same contributors as Rove, whose American Crossroads super PAC is also financially dependent on many of the givers who have long supported the political causes and campaigns of the extended Bush family network." CW: I'd really like to see a fistfight.

"Christie's Big Appetite." Mark Lagerkvist of New Jersey Watchdog: Gov. Chris "Christie spent $360,000 from his state allowance during his five years in office. More than 80 percent of that money, or $300,000, was used to buy food, alcohol and desserts, according to a New Jersey Watchdog analysis of records released by the governor's office.... On 58 occasions, Christie used a debit card to pay a total of $82,594 to Delaware North Sportservice, which operates the concessions at MetLife [Stadium, where the New York's Giants and Jets play their home games].... To avoid a potential scandal that could embarrass their rising political star, the New Jersey Republican State Committee reimbursed the Treasury in March 2012 for Christie's purchases from 'DNS Sports.'" Christie halved his grocery store expenditures after he had Lap-Band surgery.

Republicans Are Weird. Adam Lerner of Politico: "No candidate likes being hounded by opposition researchers, but one member of Rand Paul's team has a peculiar way of expressing his distaste. At a townhall event Monday for Rand Paul in Londonderry, New Hampshire, the Kentucky senator's political director for the state, David Chesley, licked the camera of a tracker sent by American Bridge, a left-leaning opposition research group."

... So peculiar, yes, but definitely not as scary as the naked Michigan Democratic state senator who took several rifle shots at his ex-wife -- see Beyond the Beltway below.

Senate Race

On, Wisconsin! Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is A-okay with a constituent's repeatedly calling the POTUS "a Muslim terrorist."

Beyond the Beltway

Thomas Kaplan of the New York Times: "Dean G. Skelos, the majority leader of the New York State Senate, agreed on Monday to step down from his leadership post after his arrest last week on federal corruption charges. The move followed days of escalating pressure on Senator Skelos, 67, who has proclaimed his innocence and sought to stay on as the chamber's leader."

Ann O'Neill of CNN: Sister Helene Prejean, "a Roman Catholic nun famous for counseling the condemned on death row took the witness stand in federal court Monday and vouched for" Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev [in his death penalty trial].... Prejean ... said she believed Tsarnaev was 'genuinely sorry' for the pain and suffering he inflicted on his victims." Prejean opposes the death penalty.

The Naked Gunman. George Hunter of the Detroit News: "State Sen. Virgil Smith [D] told police his ex-wife stormed into his house and assaulted his girlfriend before he did 'the most stupid thing in his life' -- opening fire at the ex-wife's Mercedes Benz with a rifle -- according to a police report obtained by The Detroit News. He was naked when he met her at the front door, the senator's ex-wife claims in a second police report, beat her with his fists, chased her outside and shot at her four or five times." ...

... Update. Gina Damron & Robert Allen of the Detroit Free Press: "Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Smith was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault with a gun and malicious destruction of property following the incident outside of his east side Detroit home at about 1 a.m. Sunday."

Jeff Weiner & Stephanie Allen of the Orlando Sentinel: "George Zimmerman, the former Neighborhood Watch volunteer who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012, suffered facial injuries in a roadside shooting Monday near a busy intersection in Lake Mary, police said. Lake Mary Police Department Chief Steve Bracknell said the shooter is believed to be Matthew Apperson of Winter Springs -- a man who accused Zimmerman of making threats during a road-rage incident last year. No one had yet been arrested in the shooting late Monday. Zimmerman, 31, was released from a hospital in Sanford after a brief stay to treat his injuries, which were likely caused by flying glass or some other type of debris, according to his attorney, Don West.... A police spokeswoman, Officer Bianca Gillette, described Zimmerman's wounds as 'minor.'"

News Lede

New York: "An Amtrak train heading from Washington, D.C. to New York crashed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, and at least 50 people are injured, said the front 'looks pretty bad.'"