The Ledes

Tuesday, March 31, 2015.

New York Times: "With anger swelling over corruption, inequality and a devastating Islamist insurgency in the nation’s north, Nigerians chose a former general who once ruled with an iron hand to be their next president, according to election results on Tuesday. The election was the most competitive presidential race ever in Nigeria, one of the largest democracies in the world. Now, if power is handed over peacefully, it will be a major shift for the nation — the first transfer of power between civilians of different parties in a country that has spent much of its post-colonial history roiled by military coups."

The Unfortunate Death of a Fool. Washington Post: "What had first appeared to be an attempt to breach security at the [NSA] ... now appears to be a wrong turn by two men who police believe had robbed their companion of his vehicle and perhaps didn’t stop because there were drugs inside. A spokeswoman for the Baltimore office of the FBI, Amy J. Thoreson, said early in the investigation that authorities 'do not believe [the incident] is related to terrorism.' A law enforcement official said: 'This was not a deliberate attempt to breach the security of NSA. This was not a planned attack.'”

The Wires

The Ledes

Monday, March 30, 2015.

New York Times: "On Monday, the [U.S.] government charged that in the shadows of an undercover investigation of Silk Road, a notorious black-market site, two federal agents sought to enrich themselves by exploiting the very secrecy that made the site so difficult for law enforcement officials to penetrate. The agents, Carl Mark Force IV, who worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Shaun W. Bridges, who worked for the Secret Service, had resigned amid growing scrutiny, and on Monday they were charged with money laundering and wire fraud. Mr. Force was also charged with theft of government property and conflict of interest."

Guardian: "The personal details of world leaders at the last G20 summit were accidentally disclosed by the Australian immigration department, which did not consider it necessary to inform those world leaders of the privacy breach.... An employee of the agency inadvertently sent the passport numbers, visa details and other personal identifiers of all world leaders attending the summit to the organisers of the Asian Cup football tournament."

Washington Post: "One person was killed and another was injured Monday morning when police with the National Security Agency opened fire on a vehicle whose driver refused commands to stop at a security gate, according to a statement from the agency. The vehicle slammed into a police cruiser after shots were fired." ...

... ABC News: "Sources say the two inside [the vehicle] were men dressed as women. Preliminary information indicated the two men were partying at an area hotel with a third individual when they took that individual's car without permission. However, it's still unclear how or why they ended up at the NSA gate."

New York Times: "Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister who was forced from office under a cloud of corruption, was convicted on Monday of fraud and breach of trust in a retrial of a case involving an American businessman, whose sensational testimony in a Jerusalem court in 2008 was instrumental in Mr. Olmert’s downfall. The American businessman, Morris Talansky, said at the time that he had provided Mr. Olmert with about $150,000 over 13 years, mostly in cash stuffed into envelopes, an assertion Mr. Olmert vehemently denied. Mr. Talansky, known as Moshe, had said that much of the money was earmarked for election campaigns but that some was for Mr. Olmert’s personal expenses."

Public Service Announcement

Reuters: "Scientists believe they may have found a new weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease – not in the form of a drug but in focused beams of ultrasound. While the approach has only been tested in mice, researchers said on Wednesday it proved surprisingly good at clearing tangles of plaques linked to Alzheimer’s in the animals’ brains and improving their memory, as measured by tests such as navigating a maze."

White House Live Video
March 31

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

Go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

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

Andrew Sullivan says he quit his blog because blogging is difficult, time-consuming & dehumanizing. CW a/k/a the Blog Nazi: No kidding.

David Graham of the Atlantic: "Trevor Noah's ascent on The Daily Show has been steep — hired on as senior international correspondent four months ago, he'll take over the anchor's desk from Jon Stewart after just three appearances on the show, Comedy Central announced Monday."

If you thought a meerkat was something like a mongoose ... Global News: "Meet Meerkat, the live streaming video service that allows users to host a live broadcast from their smartphones. If you haven’t heard of this new app don’t feel too bad – it’s only been around for about two weeks. But that hasn’t stopped it from garnering an estimated 300,000 active users, US$12 million in funding and even a few controversies."

In Case You Were Wondering... Megan Garber of the Atlantic examines multiple theories on why "men’s dress shirts have their buttons on the right, while women’s have them on the left (to the wearer)."

Oliver Knox of Yahoo! News: "Inside the elaborate, surprisingly unglamorous world of presidential hotel stays." Or Why President Trump Would Resign Shortly after His Inauguration.

New York Times: "After three days of viewing by thousands who lined up for hours to file past the bier in Leicester’s Anglican cathedral, Richard’s skeletal remains, in a coffin of golden English oak with an incised Yorkist rose and an inscription giving the sparest details of his life — 'Richard III, 1452-1485' — were removed overnight from beneath a black cloth pall stitched with colorful images from his tumultuous times. With the solemn ceremony laid down for monarchs through the ages, the coffin was borne to a marble tomb adjacent to the cathedral’s altar by a party of 10 British Army pallbearers...." ...

... The Guardian has a full page of stories about Richard III.

Twenty percent more people trust Bill O'Reilly now than trusted O'Reilly before the press reported he was a serial liar:

East Wing Mystery. Washington Post: "There’s still no official comment on why [White House head florist Laura] Dowling is no longer at the White House, but according to a source with close ties to current residence staffers, she was escorted from the building on Friday Feb. 13." ...

     ... UPDATE. Thoroughly Modern Michelle. "Dowling ... left because her 'fussy style' was not in line with the first lady’s emerging modern and clean aesthetics, several sources said.... Recently the first lady has debuted a different aesthetic at the executive mansion. Last month, the White House revealed the newly refurbished and now decidedly modern Old Family dining room.... Mrs. Obama unveiled her 'thoroughly modernized' mark on the White House, featuring a custom-made 1950s-inspired rug and bold artwork, to surprised tourists on Feb. 10. Dowling is said to have been escorted from the White House three days later." ...

Reuters: "Whether it's the earnest Josiah Bartlet from 'The West Wing' or the manipulative Frank Underwood in 'House of Cards,' Americans prefer television presidents to their real-life POTUS, President Barack 'No Drama' Obama.'"

Washington Post: Scientists believe they've found the world's largest asteroid impact zone in Australia.

Washington Post: "King Richard III may have been buried quickly and without pomp the first time, but 530 years later, England is reveling in a final farewell to its long-lost monarch. On a sun-kissed Sunday afternoon on the battlefield where Richard III fell in 1485 — he was the last English king to die in battle — throngs of well-wishers, some dressed in medieval costume and blowing trumpets, gathered to honor England’s last Plantagenet king."

Out of the Parking Lot & into the Cathedral. Guardian: England is preparing to (re)inter a king today (Sunday, March 22). "... the coffin will be transferred to a horse-drawn hearse, to lead the way to a service of compline, with a sermon from a Roman Catholic archbishop, Vincent Nicholls. It will then lie in the cathedral, guarded night and day, until the reburial service on Thursday."

Politico: "The Federal Aviation Administration announced that it has granted Amazon Logistics, a subsidiary of the Internet retail giant, approval for a drone design that the company plans to use for research, development and training."

David Rackoff: "Things people say that irritate Republicans." Click thru. CW: I'll have to try to remember these. So I can say them. To Republicans. I hope I drive them all Rumpelstiltskin. Then I will ask the Flying Spaghetti Monster to forgive me for being so mean.

Prince Charles & the Duchess of Cornwall are in Washington, D.C., & environs.

President Obama hosts a St. Patrick's Day reception:

... CW: Somebody explain to me why apparently-intelligent people don't actually participate in events they attend but instead spend their time taking crappy cellphone videos, even when they know said events will be recorded by professionals & posted online. I get why a person would want to record some side-conversation with, say, the President, but the main event? It baffles me.

Patrick LaForge of the New York Times: "Welcome to a parallel universe. It is a world of tired news language where the verb 'stir' is bound to be followed by 'debate,' where those debates are always 'heated' or 'bitter.' In this world, anything newsworthy is automatically 'controversial,' and a 'hike' involves taxes, not a trail up a mountain. It is often a 'hardscrabble' place, sometimes 'densely wooded,' sometimes graced with 'manicured' lawns and 'leafy' streets. 'Landmark' agreements are 'hammered out' there, while adversaries are 'lambasted' and 'assailed.'” Meet journalese: a strained and artificial voice more common to news reports than to natural conversation." LaForge cites numerous examples of NYT reporters' use of these cliches.

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Wednesday
Mar182015

The Commentariat -- March 19, 2015

Paul Lewis & Alan Yuhas of the Guardian: "The White House has made clear its dismay at Binyamin Netanyahu's sweeping victory in the Israeli elections with a stinging rebuke of the 'divisive rhetoric' used by the Israeli leader in the closing stages of the election. President Obama has not called to congratulate Netanyahu, who is now attempting to build a coalition between rightwing parties and his own Likud, which won decisively in parliamentary elections on Tuesday. But the White House said it would be forced to re-evaluate its policy on the Middle East peace process after Netanyahu abandoned a prior commitment to an independent Palestinian state, apparently to shore up support among conservatives in Israel." ...

... Diaa Hadid of the New York Times: "With Mr. Netanyahu having dropped, for now at least, the pretense of seeking a two-state solution, the Palestinians can argue to Europe and the United States that they no longer have a negotiating partner, strengthening their case for full statehood and recognition in the United Nations, as well as membership in important international bodies. They are already members of the International Criminal Court and Unesco.... In addition to considering seeking full statehood at the United Nations, the Palestinians may now curtail security coordination with Israel, reducing Israel's ability to seize suspected militants in the West Bank, two P.L.O. officials said." ...

... (CW: If, like me, you've forgotten the basis of the U.S.'s "principled stand" against U.N. recognition of Palestine, here's a 2012 Washington Post report to remind you. Now that Netanyahu has asserted his opposition to any negotiated deal, our "principled stand" seems virtually moot.) ...

     ... Update. Michael Crowley of Politico: "Angered by Netanyahu's hard-line platform toward the Palestinians, top Obama officials would not rule out the possibility of a change in American posture at the United Nations, where the U.S. has historically fended off resolutions hostile to Israel." CW: Of course it's more complicated than that. For one thing, "Under a law passed by Congress, any Palestinian bid to bring war crimes charges against Israel at the [International Criminal Court will automatically sever America's $400 million in annual aid to the Palestinian Authority...." ...

... Jonathan Alter of the Daily Beast: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu won a big election Tuesday, but he won ugly by staking out a new position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is likely to harm his nation in the months ahead.... Beset by European boycotts, rebuked by international tribunals, estranged from the president of the United States -- it's not a pretty picture of the fate of America's closest ally in the region." ...

... Fred Kaplan of Slate: "Many have commented that the outcome [of the Israeli elections] will exacerbate tensions between Israel and President Obama, but that misses the larger point -- which is that it will also further alienate Israel from the world."

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "Senate Republicans on Wednesday released an austere budget that maintains strict caps on military spending and cuts trillions of dollars from health care and welfare.... House Republicans are trying to evade the spending caps by adding close to $40 billion to military spending through an 'emergency' war funding account that is not subject to the limits. Not only did Senate budget writers not follow suit, they included language in their budget requiring 60 votes in the Senate on any measure that used that approach.... Over all, the Senate version hews closely to the budgetary intent of the House proposal. It repeals the Affordable Care Act, turns Medicaid and food stamps into block grants and cuts domestic programs to balance the budget by 2025 without tax increases. The Senate budget also relies on a significant gimmick: It repeals the health law but also assumes that $2 trillion from the law's tax increases continues to flow into the Treasury." ...

... Jonathan Chait: "... the Republicans do have a health-care plan: It is to repeal Obamacare and replace it with what we had before Obamacare. They don't want to admit that's their plan, but it is. It's right there, in the new budget released by House Republicans this week." ...

... Manu Raju of Politico: "The four Republican senators considering a run for president will have to take sides in the feud between fiscal hard-liners and defense hawks over the budget. That will give voters a clear read on their ideology just as they're hitting the campaign trail -- and likely complicate Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's vow to shepherd a spending blueprint through the GOP-controlled Congress."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) compares AG nominee Loretta Lynch to Rosa Parks:

... Dave Weigel: "On Wednesday morning, Washington Senator Patty Murray and Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin assembled (on short notice) a justice league of women's rights activists to join the identity-politicking chorus.... Joined by leaders of the National Organization for Women, Moms Rising, and the National Women's Law Center, Murray and Baldwin attacked Republicans for holding Lynch 'hostage' by waiting until the passage of the trafficking bill to give her a vote." ...

... Dana Milbank: "The very white, very male Republican Party has managed to get itself caught in another thicket in the hostile terrain of identity politics. Ashton Carter, Obama's white, male nominee to be defense secretary, was confirmed in just under 70 days. But Lynch, nominated a month before Carter, continues to languish in the Senate -- 131 days and counting -- even though she is by all accounts superbly qualified for the job and she got through her confirmation hearings without so much as a scratch." ...

... Gail Collins manages to put a humorous spin on even the despicable stunts of the most abominable showmen.

Yes, We Can Govern! Paul Waldman has an excellent post on how & why House Republicans & Democrats have come together to craft legislation to make permanent the "doc fix."

** Ha! Hillary Flynn & Rachael Bade of Politico: "The IRS may broaden a looming controversial rule to police political nonprofits to include political parties and political action committees, the IRS chief said Wednesday. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the agency may expand a yet-to-be-released rule governing 501(c)(4), 'social welfare' groups, to include political groups known as 527s, which focus on elections. It could require them both -- as well as other types of tax-exempt groups -- to operate under the same definition of 'political activity.'... The news comes as the political world awaits a highly contentious draft IRS rule aimed at ensuring social welfare organizations like Karl Rove's giant Crossroads GPS and Obama-loyalist group Organizing for Action are following rules limiting political activity."

Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times: "The Federal Reserve on Wednesday moved to the verge of raising interest rates for the first time since the economy fell into recession more than seven years ago, even as officials suggested the Fed might not pull the trigger until well into the second half of the year." ...

... Megan Wilson & Peter Schroeder of the Hill: "Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is upping her outreach to Capitol Hill, and one lawmaker is attracting the largest amount of her attention: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). A review of Yellen's meeting records, obtained by The Hill, shows the Fed chief has had more than twice as many meetings and phone calls with the big bank critic as any other lawmaker."

Ted Bridis of the AP: "The Obama administration set a record again for censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.... The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn't find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy. It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law -- but only when it was challenged."

Dan Roberts of the Guardian: Britain's "Prince Charles is expected to discuss his assessment of leading Arab royal families during a meeting with Barack Obama that will cap an unusually political visit to Washington for the British monarch-in-waiting. Fresh from meetings with the Jordanian, Kuwaiti and Saudi rulers during a tour of the Middle East last month, the prince is seen as well-placed to advise the Americans on a crucial component of Middle East stability during his visit to the Oval Office on Thursday. He is also due to meet with members of the Senate foreign relations committee and the Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell during separate meetings on Capitol Hill." CW: I am seriously looking forward to seeing Mitch curtsy.

Two years from now he will be successful if he's not in jail. -- Richard Schock, on his son Aaron

Aaron is very popular. Aaron is a little different. He wears...stylish clothing, and yet he's not gay. -- Richard Schock ...

... Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post: "... apparently, Schock's parents have had prison on the brain for some time." According to a 2009 World Magazine story, Schock's mother "cried when she found out he was running for Congress. She worried, he said, that politics might turn him into a crook." ...

Also,

... expounds on how the Schock story "touch[es] on a few larger lessons about campaign cash and ethics on Capitol Hill."

Jaime Fuller of New York: "Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, still recovering from an eye injury he got while exercising, took a moment [on the Senate floor] on Wednesday to thank eye doctor and recreational presidential candidate Rand Paul for checking in on him."

** Dog Bites (Black) Man. Jack Hitt of the New Yorker: According to the DOJ report on Ferguson, Mo., "Among cases in which a suspect was bitten by an attack dog and the suspect's race was recorded, what percentage were black? A hundred per cent." A series of studies has shown that service dogs reflect the prejudices of their handlers. "... there is one social ill that all detection dogs ... reveal with searing accuracy: the hidden racial prejudices of the police officers who deploy them."

Presidential Election

Jeb Bush's Long Career of Aiding & Abetting. Tom Hamburger & Robert O'Harrow of the Washington Post: "Time and again, [Jeb Bush] benefited from his family name and connections to land a consulting deal or board membership, sometimes doing business with people and companies who would later run afoul of the law." In one case, that of Miguel Recarey, who absconded with millions & is still a fugitive from U.S. justice, "Bush has said over the years that he 'made one call' to a mid-level official to seek a fair deal for a Florida businessman. But new interviews and a review of congressional testimony show that Bush engaged in multiple calls on Recarey's behalf to senior administration officials -- and that his advocacy made a difference.... In [another] case, Bush reportedly advocated for a federal loan guarantee for a Miami contractor later convicted of fraud in applying for the loan, though Bush later said he did not recall doing so. He became a board member and consultant to a Florida-based manufacturer whose two top officers are now serving federal prison sentences for defrauding investors and the U.S. government. And he worked with another Florida firm investigated by the FBI for allegedly bribing Nigerian officials...."

Jimmy Margulies, May 2013.... For some strange reason, Steve M. isn't taking seriously Donald Trump's plans for a presidential run: "Trump's problem is that nearly everyone is on to his act, so he feels he has to fake it more convincingly. So here's what I think will happen: Trump will stay in the race until he can claim a monstrous insult that compels him to quit, as, y'know, a matter of honor."

Beyond the Beltway

Hartford Courant: "John G. Rowland [R], Connecticut's brash ex-governor turned radio commentator, stood again Wednesday in front of a packed courtroom and, for the second time in ten years, was sentenced to prison for low-rent political crimes, this time for 30 months. U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton said that Rowland showed a striking disregard for clean election laws while trying to conceal his role as a paid consultant to Lisa Wilson-Foley's 2012 congressional campaign."

Matt Zapotosky of the Washington Post: "Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell was prepared to tell a jury that she assiduously hid her financial dealings with a Richmond area businessman from her husband because she feared Robert F. McDonnell would put a stop to them, but she was only willing to testify if she and the onetime governor were given separate trials, according to court papers.... The declaration from William Burck, Maureen McDonnell's defense attorney, is now a part of Robert McDonnell's appeal. Among other things, the former governor is arguing that Spencer erred when he refused to order separate trials." ...

... CW: My answer to how to cut down on the prison population: abolish governors.

Annals of "Justice," Ctd. Maurice Possley of the Marshall Project, in the Washington Post: "In a major turn in one of the country's most-noted death penalty cases, the State Bar of Texas has filed a formal accusation of misconduct against the county prosecutor who convicted Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man executed in 2004 for the arson murder of his three young daughters. Following a preliminary inquiry that began last summer, the bar this month filed a disciplinary petition in Navarro County District Court accusing the former prosecutor, John H. Jackson, of obstruction of justice, making false statements and concealing evidence favorable to Willingham's defense." ...

... Dahlia Lithwick: "On Wednesday an extraordinary petition was filed in the Texas Supreme Court by some 300 lawyers seeking a declaratory judgment or, in the alternative, a writ of mandamus, overturning the suspension of prominent defense attorney David Dow, who Texas's highest court of criminal justice suspended for a year on a technicality for which he was not at fault. ...

Rees Shapiro & Susan Svrluga of the Washington Post: "Racial tensions flared at the University of Virginia after a black student sustained head injuries while white police officers arrested him outside of a popular Irish pub early Wednesday morning.... Gov. Terry McAuliffe's office issued a statement Wednesday afternoon in which he said he was calling for an investigation into the arrest."

Craig Harris, et al., of the Arizona Republic: "An ex-convict with a history of violence and drug use is accused of gunning down a man in a Mesa motel Wednesday morning, then going on a shooting spree that left five others, including a culinary student, injured. A Mesa SWAT team took Ryan Giroux, 41, into custody around 1 p.m., in a vacant condominium near Longmore and Emelita Avenue after a massive manhunt that included four other law-enforcement agencies." ...

... Terrence McCoy of the Washington Post: An "anonymous police source told the [Southern Poverty Law C]enter that Giroux was a member of a notoriously brutal, diffuse organization named the Hammerskin Nation, which the Anti-Defamation League called 'the most violent and best-organized neo-Nazi skinhead group in the United States.' It spans more than a dozen countries, and broke into national headlines in August of 2012. That was when one of its adherents perpetrated a mass shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple.... The group illustrates the surprising resilience of the American hate group."

"Pope Francis blesses the sculpture "Jesus the Homeless" during his general audience in St. Peter's Square Nov. 20[, 2013]." CNS/L'Osservatore Romano.... Holy Water-Boarding. Doug Sovern of KCBS San Francisco: "Saint Mary's Cathedral, the principal church of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, has installed a watering system to keep the homeless from sleeping in the cathedral's doorways.... Water pours from a hole in the ceiling, about 30 feet above, drenching the alcove and anyone in it.... KCBS has also learned from a review of city permit records that the system was installed illegally, and may violate water use regulations." ...

     ... Update: "Saint Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco will dismantle a system that pours water on entrance areas of the church frequented by homeless after receiving a formal notice of violation from the city."

Starbucks Baristas Fail to End Racism on Account of Being Too Busy Making Coffee. Jessica Roy of New York: "After Starbucks announced its ham-fisted #RaceForward campaign yesterday, in which it plans to solve racism in America by writing stuff on cups, several ambitious journalists set out to earn the scoop of the decade: talking to a Starbucks barista about talking about race. Unsurprisingly, it seems the only people interested in having a discussion about identity politics were the eager journalists themselves."

News Lede

New York Times: "Buddy Elias, the closest living relative of Anne Frank and an ardent guardian of her legacy, died on Monday at his home in Basel, Switzerland -- a house whose attic yielded a cache of long-forgotten letters from Anne and her family that formed the basis of a recent book. He was 89." ...

... CW: A stirring reminder that likening President Obama (or any other American politician) to Hitler or Chamberlain is a travesty that diminishes the horrors of the Holocaust.

Tuesday
Mar172015

The Commentariat -- March 18, 2015

William Booth of the Washington Post: "... Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party won a clear and decisive victory in Israel's parliamentary elections, paving the way for him to serve a record-breaking fourth term as prime minister, according to an almost complete vote count Wednesday. The count showed Netanyahu and Likud overcame a strong challenge from his main opponent, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, according to Israel's three largest television news stations." ...

... The Guardian story, by Peter Beaumont, is here. ...

... CW: I now have the same high regard for Israel as I have for Arkansas. The big difference: I never held Arkansas in especially high esteem. In both cases, I resent all the money I send their way. ...

... Joshua Keating of Slate has a helpful analysis. ...

... Paul Waldman: "... by casting off even an insincere commitment to any kind of negotiated settlement with the Palestinians to proclaim that there will be no Palestinian state as long as he's prime minister -- and making a nakedly racist last-minute appeal to supporters by warning them that Israeli Arabs had the temerity to vote -- Netanyahu may have initiated a significant change in American-Israeli relations, the consequences of which will be felt for years." ...

... NEW. Charles Pierce: "... the ghost of Atwaterism rolls back the stone and walks across the Holy Land." ...

... Jodi Rudoren of the New York Times: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his chief challenger, Isaac Herzog of the center-left Zionist Union, appeared to win about the same number of seats in Parliament in Tuesday's election, according to Israeli news media and exit polls, promising a protracted and messy process of forming the next governing coalition. If the major parties remain tied or within a single seat once all the votes are counted, a critical factor will be the so-called blocs -- right-wing parties expected to back Mr. Netanyahu, and left-leaning ones that favor Mr. Herzog. But those tallies remained unclear Tuesday evening." ...

     ... ** NEW LEDE: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel won a clear victory in Tuesday's elections and seemed all but certain to form a new government and serve a fourth term, though he offended many voters and alienated allies in the process."

... The Times is liveblogging the elections here. The Haaretz liveblog is here. ...

... The Guardian's liveblog is here:

  • Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and rival Isaac Herzog finished in a virtual tie, each with an average 27 seats according to the first exit poll. Netanyahu and his Likud party declared it a 'great victory' and likely have an easier path to creating a right-leaning coalition than Herzog's more liberal Zionist Union party.

... Isabel Kershner of the New York Times: "Benjamin Netanyahu was acting as if he was poised to return to power. But there was a cloud over his apparent turnaround, the result of an increasingly shrill campaign that raised questions about his ability to heal Israel's internal wounds or better its standing in the world. He said there would be no Palestinian state. He railed against Israeli Arabs == because they had gone out to vote.... In a seemingly desperate bid to rally support halfway through the balloting, he went on a tirade against Israel's Arab citizens. He said they were being bused to polling stations in droves by left-wing organizations in an effort that 'distorts the true will of the Israelis in favor of the left, and grants excessive power to the radical Arab list,' referring to the new alliance of Arab parties. Opponents accused him of baldfaced racism."

Jared Bernstein in a Washington Post op-ed: "The policies put forth in [the House Republic budget] suggest that America's main problem is that the poor have too much and the wealthy, too little. The budget plan 'corrects' this perceived imbalance by deeply cutting programs that help low- and middle-income people, and cutting taxes on those with high incomes, capital gains, multinational corporations and 'pass through' business income.... The one area where the Republicans boost spending is defense (though through a gimmick they once called 'a backdoor loophole'...).... Based on demographics alone, the plan departs from reality.... I don't believe you could find majoritarian support for this sort of a budget in America. In fact, I doubt you'll see much support for it even among partisans on Capitol Hill.... This budget is deeply unrealistic not just in economic terms but in political terms. It's going nowhere." ...

... Dana Milbank: "It was altogether fitting that Republicans rolled out their budget during a festival of inebriation in honor of the man who magically (and apocryphally) banished snakes from Ireland. What Republicans have done with their budget is no less fantastic: They have employed lucky charms and mystical pots of gold to make them appear more sober about balancing the budget than they actually are. The budget is a gimmick.

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times asked Price if he would detail the $1 trillion in mandatory cuts that the budget doesn't identify. 'Take a peek at 'A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America,' [House Budget Committee Chair Tom] Price [R-Ga.] replied, holding up the budget again for the cameras. 'I'm looking at it,' Weisman said. 'It doesn't specify.'" ...

Paul Kane & Reid Wilson of the Washington Post: "If Republicans fail to approve a compromise budget that passes both the House and Senate -- a real possibility, given their deep divisions on fiscal policy -- it will be an ignominious defeat for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Those two leaders have made steady governance with a conservative tilt their main political goal of the year, and without a budget resolution, the funding process would be particularly unsteady and increase the possibility of at least a small-scale shutdown of parts of the federal government in October."

Seung Min Kim & Burgess Everett of Politico: "Senate Republicans are in no hurry to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general, meaning a final vote on her nomination could slip into April as a floor fight over abortion continues to drag on and a battle over the budget waits in the wings."

One of the follies at Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle).A Downton Folly, USA. Mike DeBonis, et al., of the Washington Post: "Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who in a matter of weeks went from a fast track to national prominence to beset by numerous reports of spending misdeeds, announced his resignation from Congress on Tuesday. Schock, 33, had endured weeks of headlines about the manner in which he has spent from his taxpayer-funded account for official expenses. The Office of Congressional Ethics had commenced a review of his spending.... Schock issued his statement before alerting House Republican leaders, according to associates familiar with the timeline of events Tuesday." His resignation is effective March 31. ...

... Politico Reporters Take Credit for Schock's Resignation -- and They Appear to Be Justified. Jake Sherman, et al.: "On Monday evening, Politico began asking questions about tens of thousands of dollars of reimbursements he received from his campaign and federal government for mileage put on his personal car. Records show that Schock personally claimed reimbursement for roughly 170,000 miles driven from January 2010 to July 2014. But the only vehicle he owned during that time was sold with just 80,000 miles on the odometer. Asked for his response to those findings, Schock announced his resignation." ...

... David Graham of the Atlantic retraces the steps of Schock's rapid fall: "Six weeks ago,The Washington Post's Ben Terris revealed that Representative Aaron Schock had redecorated his congressional office in a gaudy style inspired by Downton Abbey.... Schock's communications director tried to keep him from running it -- effectively whetting reporters' appetites. First, there were reports about the spokesman's past racist comments on social media, and the aide resigned. Then reporters started digging into Schock's records -- aided in part by analysis of metadata on his hyperactive Instagram stream. A steady drip-drip of revelations began: questionable real-estate transactions involving donors. Lavish trips for staffers, on the taxpayer dime. Katy Perry tickets for interns, paid by his political action committee. Even, allegedly, a $5,000 podium modeled on the president's. On Monday, it emerged that the Office of Congressional Ethics had begun investigating him. And Politico, which broke news of the resignation, said it had submitted questions to him about tens of thousands of dollars in questionable mileage reimbursement claims he'd submitted to his campaign and the government." ...

... Jake Sherman, et al.: "Schock billed the federal government and his campaign for logging roughly 170,000 miles on his personal car from January 2010 through July 2014. But when he sold that Chevrolet Tahoe in July 2014, it had roughly 80,000 miles on the odometer, according to public records obtained by POLITICO under Illinois open records laws. The documents, in other words, indicate he was reimbursed for 90,000 miles more than his car was driven." ...

... CW: Hey, maybe he's just an honest fellow who rolled back his odometer. ...

Two Great American Mileage Scammers.

... OR maybe he's just like another famous Illinois Republican: Abraham Lincoln. Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate: "In what appears to be simply an amazing coincidence, the muckraking site ProPublica posted an entertaining story earlier Tuesday about an 1848 incident in which a number of federal legislators, including an Illinois congressman named Abraham Lincoln, were ... busted for receiving inflated travel reimbursements. The story was broken by Horace Greeley, a newspaper publisher (he's the 'Go west, young man' guy) who'd been appointed to fill a vacated New York congressional seat.... It is the official editorial position ofSlate that Abraham Lincoln should resign from Congress." ...

... Andy Kravetz of the Peoria Journal Star went downtown looking for reactions from Schock's constituents. CW hint to Kravetz: when seeking public opinion on political matters, do not bother to interview people who just "stumbled out of a bar" at midday on St. Patrick's Day. ...

... Election 2015, Legacy Edition. David Jarman of Daily Kos: "IL-18, designed to be a Republican vote sink centered on the Peoria area, went 37 Obama-61 Romney in 2012.... Gov. Bruce Rauner [R-Ill.] must call for an election within 5 days of Schock's resignation (set for March 31), and the election must occur within 115 days of that (so, before the end of July). The potential Republican successor getting the most mention is a familiar name: state Sen. Darin LaHood. He's the son of moderate ex-Rep. Ray LaHood, who served more than a decade in IL-18 before becoming Barack Obama's Transportation Secretary. (Though it's possible his dad's apostasy may come back to haunt the younger LaHood in a primary against a more conservative opponent.)" ...

... Steve M. remembers "President Schock" & bemoans the Democrats' failure to tout their potential stars the way Republicans & their media auxiliary promote even the most callow of fellows. ...

... Terrence McCoy of the Washington Post reports on Schock's remarkable career, which began when he was in the fifth grade. He always was a self-absorbed jerk -- but an amazingly successful one.

NEW. In the Life Is Unfair Department, Charles Pierce compares Aaron Schock's indiscretions with those of certain GOP presidential candidates. CW: It expect Schock could have beat the rap if only he had announced he was "forming an exploratory committee" for a presidential run.

Simon Maloy of Salon: "... one of the defining characteristics of the modern conservative movement ... is [that it is] a lucrative moneymaking machine for scam artists and hucksters. If you're a politically engaged conservative, you're being inundated by radio hosts, right-wing publications, think tanks, and all manner of unscrupulous activists who purchased your email address and want to exploit your love of Ronald Reagan or Ted Cruz to squeeze a few dollars out of you. And there's at least one 2016 presidential candidate who's in on the grift: Mike Huckabee.... The sheer size of the conservative scam machine and the involvement of some of the most prominent names in Republican politics are the consequence of the decades spent transforming conservatism into an insular political movement. Conservatives are explicitly told not to trust anyone or anything that exists outside the movement, and to put their faith in the 'conservative' alternatives."

Benjamin Wallace-Wells of New York suggests that the U.S. (which he calls "America" as if the U.S. were the only country in the Americas) is now the leading liberal nation as European countries & Israel have turned into right-leaning countries with racially-bigoted policies.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz starts a campaign to get customers to talk more about race relations. Luckily, Dick Cheney. doesn't need a jolt of White Mocha Grande to get him talking about race ...

I think they're playing the race card. -- Dick Cheney, on Barack Obama & Eric Holder

... So the whole baristas-as-race-relations-counselors should go pretty well.

Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post: "The Pentagon is unable to account for more than $500 million in U.S. military aid given to Yemen amid fears that the weaponry, aircraft and equipment is at risk of being seized by Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda, according to U.S. officials."

Teresa Tritch of the New York Times highlights the continuing Wall Street bonus & overcompensation scandal.

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd.

NPR: Where an FOIA Request = Hate Mail. Erik Wemple of the Washington Post demonstrates how an NPR story on climate scientists & deniers is based on flaming false equivalency & how the network's ombudsman enables this baloney. In fact, even the reporter's surreptitious edit disproves his claim.

James O'Keefe Is Still Disgusting. Carl Campanile of the New York Post: James O'Keefe, "a controversial conservative activist, is being accused of trying to incite anti-police protesters by saying, 'I wish I could kill some of these cops,' to provoke them into making outrageous statements. A former top staffer with Project Veritas, Richard Valdes, said the incident occurred in January, when an undercover operative assigned to infiltrate the protest groups was given a script that included the startling comment. Valdes said he was fired by the group's founder, James O'Keefe, for not following through on the bizarre assignment." It's not clear from the report where these incitements were supposed to take place. O'Keefe calls himself an "investigative film journalist."

Presidential Race

NEW. Julie Westfall & Kurtis Lee of the Los Angeles Times: Donald Trump "announced Wednesday he's forming an exploratory committee to help him decide whether he will run for president in 2016. Calling himself 'the only one who can make America truly great again,' Trump joins a growing list of almost a dozen Republicans who are actively exploring 2016 bids for the White House."

Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register: "Iowa has been a punching bag in online quips by Republican Scott Walker's new strategist for online communications," Liz Mair. Like this: "The sooner we remove Iowa's frontrunning status, the better off American politics and policy will be." Excellent strategy! Shouldn't an "online communications strategist" know that people -- including reporters -- can actually read what you publish online? ...

... Update. Catherine Lucey & Steve Peoples of the AP: "An aide to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's national political operation resigned late Tuesday after drawing heated criticism from the head of the Iowa Republican Party for questioning the state's early role in the presidential nominating process. Veteran Republican strategist Liz Mair told The Associated Press that she was leaving Walker's team just a day after she had been tapped to lead his online communication efforts, citing the distraction created by a series of recent Twitter posts about Iowa's presidential caucuses." ...

... CW: Outside of Iowa, however, the confederates' beef with Mair was that she was a flaming liberal: pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-"amnesty." One does have to wonder why she would take a job with Scott Walker -- or any GOP presidential candidate -- since they're all anti-choice, anti-gay marriage & anti-immigration reform, with the exception of Jebbie on at least one of those counts.

... Andrew Kaczynski of BuzzFeed: "The team building out Dr. Ben Carson’s likely presidential campaign includes an operative who has recently deleted an entire Twitter account that often attacked President Obama, other Democrats, some other Republicans, and others with crude language."

Luke Brinker of Salon: "Deriding the push for an increased minimum wage as 'a great soundbite,' likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush told a South Carolina audience on Tuesday that he opposes a federal minimum wage, arguing that the issue should be left to the states or the whims of the private sector." ...

... As Brinker points out in a subsequent post, Bush's opposition to minimum wage laws puts Jebbie to the right of severely-conservative Mitt 47-Percent Romney.

GOP Disappointed It Can't Impeach Clinton Before She Announces Presidential Bid. Josh Gerstein of Politico: "The State Department has no record that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a standard form declaring that she surrendered all official records before leaving her post in 2013, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. Critics of Clinton, including the Republican National Committee, said she might have committed a crime by signing the form despite having tens of thousands of work-related emails in a personal account.... [State Department spokesperson Jen] Psaki said there also is no record of the form being completed by Clinton's two most recent predecessors, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell."

Beyond the Beltway

Joseph Serna & Lee Romney of the Los Angeles Times: "A slew of racist and homophobic text messages exchanged between San Francisco police in a fellow officer's corruption case has forced prosecutors and defense attorneys to review an estimated 1,000 criminal convictions for potential bias, officials announced Tuesday.... '... My office is conducting an immediate assessment of every prosecution within the past ten years where these [four] officers were involved,' said San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascon in a statement. Public defender Jeff Adachi on Tuesday estimated that could amount to at least 1,000 cases among the five officers." Thanks to safari for the link.

NBC News: "A fraternity at Pennsylvania State University under police investigation was suspended Tuesday by its national headquarters for a secret, members-only Facebook page that allegedly featured pictures of scantily-clad females, drug deals and hazing rituals. A State College Police Department search warrant filed on Jan. 30 said a former member of Penn State's Kappa Delta Rho chapter first notified authorities that the fraternity was operating the private page with the illicit images." ...

... Terrence McCoy elaborates.

Annals of "Justice," Ctd., Part 1. This lying, wife-beating political hack is still serving as a federal judge. Brad Friedman, writing in Salon, provides details & some new evidence against U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller. Fuller is a Bush II appointee.

Annals of "Justice," Ctd., Part 2. Nicole Flatow of Think Progress: "The family of Jason Harrison released video Monday of Dallas police shooting dead their 38-year-old son just seconds after police arrived at the family's front door. Harrison's mother had called the police in June for help getting her mentally ill son to the hospital, as he was off his medication and experiencing a crisis." Harrison approached the police while holding a small screwdriver. His mother reportedly had told police in her 911 call that Jason was "acting violently." "Studies in several cities have found that about half of police shooting victims are mentally ill, and that the mentally ill are disproportionate victims of excessive police force." Includes video.

News Ledes

New York Times: "Gunmen in military uniforms attacked a museum in downtown Tunis[, Tunisia,] around noon on Wednesday, killing 19 people, officials said. Security forces later advanced into the museum and killed two gunmen in a firefight, state television reported. Prime Minister Habib Essid said at a news conference that the dead included 17 tourists and two Tunisians."

Intercept: "An envelope sent to the White House Mail Screening Facility on Monday tested positive for cyanide, according to an internal law enforcement document obtained by The Intercept. The envelope listed a return address for a man who the alert says has a record with the Secret Service dating back to 1995, which includes sending a package covered in urine and feces."

Monday
Mar162015

The Commentariat -- March 17, 2015

HAPPY SCIENCE DAY!

** Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "House Republicans on Tuesday will unveil a proposed budget for 2016 that partly privatizes Medicare, turns Medicaid into block grants to the states, repeals the Affordable Care Act and reaches balance in 10 years, challenging Republicans in Congress to make good on their promises to deeply cut federal spending. The House proposal leans heavily on the policy prescriptions that Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin outlined when he was budget chairman.... The plan envisions a remaking of the federal government.... The budget 'repeals all of Obamacare,' Representative Diane Black, Republican of Tennessee, said the same day the Obama administration announced that the law had provided coverage to 16.4 million previously uninsured people." Read it & gasp. ...

... Julie Pace of the AP: "More than 16 million Americans have gained insurance coverage as a result of President Barack Obama's health care law, the administration said Monday as the White House prepares to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the law's signing. In releasing the latest estimates, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell called it 'the largest reduction in the uninsured in four decades.'" ...

Peter Sullivan of the Hill: "Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, says that there will be 'turmoil' if the Supreme Court strikes down subsidies under ObamaCare.... 'If on June 30, if that's when the case comes down, and they say no more subsidies for federal exchanges ... it is going to cause a lot of turmoil,' Mead said at a press conference, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. 'Not just for the state, and for those people, but for the private sector as well.'" ...

... Joan McCarter of Daily Kos: "Mead would be challenged to get his Republican legislature to agree to a plan to set up their own exchange, if past experience is a guide. The governor spent months and months working with the federal government to find a Medicaid expansion compromise, eventually devising a plan that the Koch-backed Republican senate killed."

Seung Min Kim & Burgess Everett of Politico: "Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's strategy of blocking a vote on President Barack Obama's attorney general nominee until the White House relents on immigration executive actions ran into a brick wall Wednesday: his own GOP colleagues. Republican senators dismissed Cruz's proposal for denying Loretta Lynch a confirmation vote in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor as part of the Texas firebrand's strategy to use 'every procedural tool' at the Senate's disposal to override Obama's actions, which could affect nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants." ...

... Jordan Fabian of the Hill: "It is 'unconscionable' that attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch has not yet received a confirmation vote in the Senate, the White House said Monday.... [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell on Sunday said he would delay action on Lynch's nomination until Democrats agree to cooperate on legislation intended to combat human trafficking.... Democrats blocked the bill last week over a provision that would prohibit the use of federal funding for abortions." ...

... Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "After several years of troubles with spending bills that were once routinely bipartisan, the Senate has now found a way to disagree on a bill that would protect victims of sex trafficking. And in the process, that dispute has ensnared President Obama's largely uncontroversial nominee for attorney general, Loretta E. Lynch..... A provision in the Senate bill would prevent the fees from being used for abortions for the victims. Democrats say Republicans sneaked it into the bill. Republicans firmly deny the charge. And Democrats now say they will not vote for it unless the language is removed, something that Republicans decline to do.... Although Mr. McConnell suggested that the Senate could not approve nominations before the trafficking bill was addressed, the Senate did take up two lower-profile executive branch appointments on Monday."

Juan Williams of the Hill: "The TV drama 'House of Cards,' with all of its fictional backstabbing, looks lame compared to the current, real-life political drama on Capitol Hill starring Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)."

Carol Morello of the Washington Post: "Iranian negotiators meeting with U.S. officials Monday expressed concern over a letter from Senate Republicans warning that a nuclear deal with President Obama might not outlast his time in office." ...

... Tommie One-Note. CW: I've noticed over the past week or so is that Tom Cotton's only response to some straightforward questions is this nonanswer: "Right now I and most every other senator is focused on stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon," or some slight variation thereof. Here he was Sunday, talking to Bob Scheiffer:

... When Jon Karl of ABC News said to Cotton last week, "But you've been quite clear that your goal in all of this is to kill this deal because you do not think that President Obama's negotiating a good deal," Cotton replied, "My only goal, for years now, has been to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon." (ABC News has taken down the video, but my recollection is that he repeated this answer when Karl asked him another question.) Cotton is not a serious person. ...

... To show how little he knows about Iran, Cotton added this: "... the ballistic missile program that Iran has ... is designed solely to strike the United States right here at home." Excellent news! On the eve of the Israeli elections, Cotton tells Netanyahu that it turns out Israel has nothing to worry about. All of Iran's missiles will whiz right over Israel on their way to Kansas.

Paul Waldman: "Now that deficits have declined so dramatically, the time is ripe for Republicans to start advocating for a dramatic increase in the military. New GOP celebrity Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.) is trying to lead the charge, invoking Hitler (of course) and saying that 'Our enemies, sensing weakness and hence opportunity have become steadily more aggressive.'" ...

... Steve M.: As Cotton & Cohort gear up the nation for another disastrous war, "These guys aren't overlooking the fact that their plans would explode the debt -- they know. What they also know is that when the debt skyrockets, they can blame 'tax-and-spend liberals,' and liberal social programs such as Medicare and Social Security, which, they'll say, have to be drastically curtailed because 'we' have been too greedy. Centrist pundits will nod sagely in agreement. Ordinary Americans, they hope, will fall for the bait-and-switch -- and certainly will never understand how they've been duped. And the rich will just get richer."

The Most Transparent Administration Evah! Gregory Korte of USA Today: "The White House is removing a federal regulation that subjects its Office of Administration to the Freedom of Information Act, making official a policy under Presidents Bush and Obama to reject requests for records to that office. The White House said the cleanup of FOIA regulations is consistent with court rulings that hold that the office is not subject to the transparency law. The office handles, among other things, White House record-keeping duties like the archiving of e-mails."

New York Times Editors: "While [Paula] Broadwell's book ... contains no classified information, [David Petraeus's] sharing the notebooks displayed a shocking level of hubris and recklessness. In sharp contrast, the government has been unsparing in its prosecution of lower-ranking officials who have shared sensitive information for more defensible reasons."

When Loyalty Is a Sometime Thing. Paul Waldman wonders, "If Israel is led by a Labor Party prime minister and begins to change some of its policies, will Republicans decide that 'support' is more complicated than they used to think? It may be hard to remember now, but Israel became a Republican fetish object relatively recently." ...

... Steve M.: "But we know how Republicans' loyalty works in reference to the other country they say they love without qualification, America. Republicans say that America is the greatest country in the history of the human race and that it's totally unacceptable to criticize America ... except when the 'wrong' government comes to power.... Republicans will still say they love Israel without qualification, while ignoring the fact that that love comes with the huge qualification of hating whoever isn't in sympathy with Likud. Sure, it's cognitive dissonance. But Republicans are very comfortable at that." ...

... CW: I'm pretty sure Netanyahu will win big now because Chuck Norris, somewhat belatedly, has just cut a YouTube campaign video for him: "I watched Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech before Congress, and I saw a man who loves his country with all his heart and soul," Norris says. Also, Norris is an expert on Israel: "I have done three movies in Israel, Delta Force being my favorite, and I formed many friendships while there." ...

... Paul Waldman: "Unfortunately, Norris did not record his ad in Hebrew, which would have been awesome."

Michael Memoli of the Los Angeles Times: Joseph Clancy, "the new director of the U.S. Secret Service, faces lawmakers Tuesday for the first time since recent allegations of misconduct among agency personnel raised doubts about whether a longtime insider was the right man for the job."

Playing President. Evan McMorris-Santoro of BuzzFeed: "Rep. Aaron Schock owns what appears to be a fairly accurate replica of 'The Falcon' -- the internal White House nickname for one of President Obama's official podiums -- and based on photos, uses it at times when speaking in his Peoria, Illinois, district." And it cost $5,123. CW: Sadly, you can't get your own presidential "Falcon," because the manufacturer has quit making them -- they "weren't making any money on them."

Des Beiler of the Washington Post: San Francisco 49ers linebacker "Chris Borland made a stunning announcement Monday, telling ESPN that he will be retiring from the NFL after an outstanding rookie season. The 49ers linebacker told 'Outside the Lines' that he was concerned about the possible effects that head injuries could have on his quality of life.... His retirement for essentially precautionary reasons is another indication of the growing concern among NFL players over the effects of repeated head trauma, as numerous studies have suggested a link between the violence of football and debilitating brain injuries such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)." ...

... CW: Good for Borland. As more young men who can envision life outside of football opt out of playing pro ball, the game is destined to become more & more of a gladiator sport, with only those young men who have few other viable options being willing to play the game for cash. So in one more aspect of this American life, we shall become a caste-based society, with the poor serving or entertaining the rich, often at a high cost for the poor.

Presidential Race

Amy Chozick of the New York Times: "The subjects of Ireland and tea made for an unpleasant brew in Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 campaign for president. Her primary opponent, Barack Obama, once belittled her as having merely 'had tea with' world leaders as first lady.... Then she was accused of overstating her own contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. On Monday, Mrs. Clinton nodded to that back story as she was honored by an Irish-American group on the eve of St. Patrick's Day.... She did not portray herself as instrumental to the Good Friday Agreement that President Clinton brokered in 1998, but said her outreach to women in Belfast on multiple visits during that period had played a critical role.... Mrs. Clinton, who was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame, did not miss the chance to curry favor with a devoted ethnic constituency...." ...

... "Utter Baloney":

... Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast: "The rapidly deflating Clinton email 'scandal' looks like it has more to do with a sclerotic government bureaucracy than any personal wrongdoing on the part of Hillary." Tomasky takes another whack at the New York Times reporting, while he's at it. ...

... Jonathan Ladd: "With the media feeding frenzy the past two weeks over Hillary Clinton maintaining a private e-mail account while she was secretary of state, the 1990s dysfunctional marriage between the Clintons and the DC press has come roaring back -- no lessons learned or maturity built up on either side since Bill was president. On the Clinton side, there is a hostility and lack of openness to the press that is self-defeating. It provokes the negative coverage it intends to avoid. On the press side, the DC establishment media always seems to believe that the current scandal will be the one to bring down the Clintons, all evidence to the contrary." Via Paul Waldman.

Al Gore for President! Ezra Klein: "The most ambitious vision for the Democratic Party right now rests with a politician most have forgotten, and whom no one is mentioning for 2016: Al Gore. Gore offers a genuinely different view of what the Democratic Party -- and, by extension, American politics -- should be about.... The rest of his positions are closer in line with Democratic Party activists than, say, Clinton's. He opposed the Iraq War and endorsed single-payer health care, for instance." ...

... John Schwartz of the New York Times profiles Al Gore.

"Your World Is on Fire." Ed Kilgore: "... this is an extremely common millenialist fantasy among conservative evangelicals.... And it would be a completely natural concept for those who suspect the 44th president of the United States is, if not the Antichrist, then one of his tribunes. So next time you hear a Republican pol announce 'the world's on fire,' you're probably hearing a conscious or unconscious dog whistle." ...

... Sandra Westfall of People: Mom says three-year-old daughter is "beyond over-the-moon excited" about Ted Cruz," thinks he's "a hero," & is calling him "Uncle Cruz." CW: Somebody call Social Services.

Beyond the Beltway

Motor Voter. Shelby Sebens of Reuters: "Sweeping first-in-the nation legislation making voter registration automatic in Oregon was signed into law on Monday by Governor Kate Brown, potentially adding 300,000 new voters to state rolls. The so-called Motor Voter legislation will use state Department of Motor Vehicles data to automatically register eligible voters whose information is contained in the DMV system, with a 21-day opt-out period for those who wish to be taken off the registry."

Manny Fernandez of the New York Times: "A lawyer for Jeffrey L. Williams, the 20-year-old suspect charged with shooting two officers during a demonstration outside the police station [in Ferguson, Mo.,], said Monday that he did not believe that his client had fired the shots. The lawyer, Jerryl Christmas, who spoke to Mr. Williams on Monday in jail, said Mr. Williams was unclear on how the officers were shot early Thursday. 'I don't think they have the right person in custody,' said Mr. Christmas, adding that he could not discuss the details of what his client had told him. 'I don't think he shot anybody.'"

Jonathan Watts of the Guardian: "The bad news just keeps coming for Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff. On Monday, the treasurer of the ruling Workers' Party was formerly charged with corruption. The day before, enormous anti-government demonstrations filled the streets of more than 160 cities. The economy is faltering, inflation is rising and poverty reduction is at risk of stalling. Her cabinet are in crisis mode, but they are hamstrung by a fractious legislature and a debilitating scandal at the state-run oil firm Petrobras, which has led to investigations of 34 sitting politicians, including the speakers of both houses of Congress." ...

... CW: Yeah, I was wondering when I saw the news of those demonstrations Sunday, which spilled onto a beach, if Bill O'Reilly was down there performing heroics in the "war zone." Or maybe looking at pictures of the war zone.

News Ledes

New York Times: "An Air Force veteran from New Jersey, recently fired from his job as an airplane mechanic, has been charged with trying to support the Islamic State by seeking to join the group. The veteran, Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, a 47-year-old American citizen, tried to travel into Syria in January after being fired from his job in the Middle East, prosecutors said. But when he tried to go from Egypt to Turkey to Syria, Turkish authorities sent him back to Egypt. From there, he was deported to the United States."

Haaretz is liveblogging the Israeli elections without the usual online impediments he has been throwing up of late. "The Central Elections Committee has issued an injunction against live broadcasting a statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this evening."

     ... Update 1: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said 'no one will shut us up,' after the Central Elections Committee barred the media from airing his address, deeming it 'illegal election propaganda.'"

Washington Post: "A top Iranian envoy suggested Tuesday that 'main issues' have been cleared in nuclear talks and a framework on a possible deal could be reached before an end-of-month deadline."

Sunday
Mar152015

The Commentariat -- March 16, 2015

Edward-Isaac Dovere of Politico: "Three months into the expanded Republican majorities on the Hill, White House aides see a landscape in which President Barack Obama is more in charge now than he was before the midterms. Rather than moving forward on their own priorities as Republican leaders promised after their midterm sweep, the House and Senate find themselves reacting to Obama. So far, most legislation hasn't moved at all, and the most prominent votes have been on bills they already know Obama won't sign." ...

... Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "The congressional push this week to secure the first Republican budget plan in nearly a decade is revealing a chasm between fiscal hawks determined to maintain strict spending caps and defense hawks who are threatening to derail any budget that does not ensure an increase for the military. 'This is a war within the Republican Party,' said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who has vowed to oppose a final budget that does not ensure more military spending. 'You can shade it any way you want, but this is war.' The divisions will be laid bare Tuesday when congressional leaders unveil blueprints that hew to spending limits imposed by the budget battles of 2011." ...

... HOWEVER, as Jennifer Steinhauer wrote in yesterday's New York Times, "... when it comes to what is left of his viable policy agenda on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama’s biggest problems are now often with Democrats. The administration's most pressing goal, expansive trade legislation, is adamantly opposed by scores of Democrats in the House and Senate even as most Republicans support it. Mr. Obama's formal request for congressional authorization to fight the Islamic State is deeply imperiled, in no small measure because Senate Democrats find it wanting."

Michelle Lee of the Washington Post: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday that the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as attorney general may hinge on whether Congress works out its gridlock over a human trafficking bill. 'It's not a threat. We need to finish this human trafficking bill that came out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously . . . because the next week we'll be doing the budget and the next two weeks after that Congress is not in session,' McConnell said on CNN's 'State of the Union.'" ...

... CW: Funny, both Dana Bash & reporter Jeremy Diamond took your stance as a threat, Mitch.

Jennifer Haberkorn & David Rogers of Politico: "In a rare display of bipartisanship, House leaders are actively pursuing a deal to permanently change the way Medicare pays doctors and extend a children's health program for two years. The estimated $200 billion package could be introduced as soon as this week by House committees responsible for health care policy. Both Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi are personally involved...."

Bradley Klapper of the AP: "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he would be willing to talk with Syrian President Bashar Assad to help broker a political resolution to the country's civil war. Kerry said in an interview with CBS News that the U.S. is pushing for Assad to seriously discuss a transition strategy to help end Syria's four-year conflict, which has killed more than 220,000 people, given rise to the Islamic State group and destabilized the wider Middle East. 'We have to negotiate in the end,' Kerry said. 'What we're pushing for is to get him to come and do that, and it may require that there be increased pressure on him of various kinds.'" ...

... Kyle Balluck of the Hill: "Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview broadcast Sunday that a letter to Iranian leaders signed by 47 Republican senators was 'absolutely calculated directly to interfere with these negotiations.' 'It specifically inserts itself directly to the leader of another country saying, 'Don't negotiate with these guys because we're going to change this,' which by the way, is not only contrary to the Constitution with respect to the executive's right to negotiate, but it is incorrect because they cannot change an executive agreement,' Kerry said on CBS's 'Face the Nation.' 'So it's false information and directly calculated to interfere and basically say, "Don't negotiate with them. You've got to negotiate with 535 members of Congress,' he added." ...

... Sam Stein & Jessica Schulberg of the Huffington Post: "... the White House penned a letter Saturday night warning senators to hold back on legislation that would detract from the president's ability to affect and approve a final agreement with Iran. The letter, written by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), reiterates a veto threat of the bill, while insisting that Congress will have a say in reviewing and affecting the ultimate outcome. But in far more detailed and foreboding terms than normal, McDonough lays out the administration's concerns should Corker's Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 end up becoming law." ...

     ... The full text of McDonough's letter to Corker is here. ...

** Susan Glasser of Politico interviews William Burns, former career ambassador & ambassador to Russia under Bush II, who has served under several U.S. presidents, & who began the negotiations with Iran. (This is probably news to Tom Cotton.) As Burns says (are you listening, John McCain?), "The reality is that the Iranians have developed over the course of the last decade or more the know-how to enrich, they know their way around basic enrichment technology, and you can't wish that away, you can't dismantle it away, you can't bomb it away." CW: If the Senate's 47 Percent read this interview, they might get a little insight into why we don't have 535 members of Congress conducting negotiations with foreign powers, especially when the majority of them are as ignorant as Tom Cotton. ...

... CW: Probably just a bit of garbled syntax, but Tom Cotton seemed a little confused Sunday as to what country Tehran was in. Maybe he sent that "open letter" to the Iranian leaders because he couldn't find their address. ...

And then I got flak for appearing on a video for BuzzFeed, trying to reach younger voters. What nonsense. You know, you don't diminish your office by taking a selfie. You do it by sending a poorly written letter to Iran. (Laughter and applause.) Really, that wasn't a joke. -- President Obama at the Gridiron Club dinner Saturday

... Ben Terris of the Washington Post has President Obama's full remarks at the dinner. There are some LOL moments.

Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times: "The plea deal given to retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, which spares him prison time even though he gave military secrets to his mistress, reveals a 'profound double standard' in the way the Obama administration treats people who leak classified information, [Abbe Lowell,] a lawyer for an imprisoned government contractor, wrote in a letter to prosecutors. The sharply worded letter calls for the Justice Department to immediately release from prison Stephen J. Kim, an arms expert and former State Department contractor who is serving a 13-month sentence for disclosing classified information about North Korea to Fox News. Mr. Kim has said he was trying to call public attention to the threat posed by that country.... Mr. Lowell ... has previously highlighted the fact that top government officials disclose classified information for political purposes while prosecuting others for the same activity."

Karyn Bruggeman of the National Journal: "Campaign-style spending ... is becoming increasingly common for sitting governors, mayors, and other holders of high office. It's a spillover from a recipe for election success that has become pervasive since the Supreme Court struck down campaign-finance rules: Raise mass quantities of outside money, often from undisclosed donors.... Now, after winning, officials across the country are applying the same strategy to governing, relying on outside money -- and advocacy groups funded by that money -- to push their legislative agenda."

Election 2016

Onward, Christian Soldiers. Jason Horowitz of the New York Times: "Evangelicals aim to mobilize an army for Republicans in 2016."

The Huckster. It's kinda hard to tell if Mike Huckabee would rather be POTUS or king of the late-nite infomercial realm. Trip Gabriel of the New York Times: In one ad, Huckabee "tells viewers to ignore 'Big Pharma' and instead points them to a 'weird spice, kitchen-cabinet cure,' [for diabetes] consisting of dietary supplements.... The American Diabetes Association and the Canadian Diabetes Association caution against treatments like the one peddled by the company Mr. Huckabee represents." Huckabee's spokesperson says his quack contract has expired, but the company's CEO "seemed to dispute that." Ads that appear on his newsletter include a "cure for cancer hidden in the Bible" & survival food kits.

... CW: Sure, the Huckster may be a charlatan preying on the gullible, but bear in mind he's just the most obvious one in a field of fraudsters. Viewed from the GOP gutter, Hillary looks like a dream candidate.

Marc Caputo of Politico: A problem for Marco Rubio: his longterm, close relationship with "David Rivera: Scandal-plagued former congressman under investigation in a federal campaign-finance probe."

"Yes, Your World Is on Fire!" David Edwards of the Raw Story: Ted Cruz frightens a child. With video. Exchange starts at about 1:40 min. in. ...

     ... The first video here is better; you can see that the child is just past toddler-stage & you can hear her ask the question. Cruz should come with a child-safety warning label.

... Whatever Works. Steve M.: "... as soon as it was clear that the kid was upset, Cruz switched off the 'America under the Democrats is dooooomed!' tape in his head and switched on the 'America is the greatest country in the world! Woo! Woo! Woo! U-S-A! U-S-A!" tape, as if they're interchangeable."

Beyond the Beltway

Manny Fernandez & John Eligon of the New York Times: "A 20-year-old man was charged with first-degree assault in the shooting of two police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department early Thursday morning, according to Robert P. McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, who announced the charges in Clayton on Sunday. The man, Jeffrey Williams, acknowledged firing the shots, Mr. McCulloch said. He said that Mr. Williams, who is from north St. Louis County, was inside a car 'at least for some of the shots.'... The suspect was found through information provided by community members.... 'He is a demonstrator,' Mr. McCulloch said. 'He was out there earlier that evening as part of the demonstration. He's been out there on other occasions, part of the demonstrations.'" CW: The racial animus inherent in that statement is sickening. McCulloch wants to exploit racial tensions. He's the Rudy Giuliani of St. Louis. ...

... Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times: "McCulloch said Williams had previously attended demonstrations and had been at the demonstration on the night of the shooting. But local activists, organizers and journalists largely said they didn't know Williams or recognize him from his mugshot." ...

... Molly Hennessy-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times: "Despite an effort being mounted to recall him, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles hopes to keep his job. Other former Ferguson leaders have resigned in the wake of a DOJ report exposing rampant racism & corruption in the town.

William Booth & Ruth Eglash of the Washington Post: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned supporters at a rally [in Tel Aviv] Sunday that he and his Likud party may not win Tuesday's election, a potentially dramatic fall for a consummate political survivor whose nine years in office transformed him into the public face of contemporary Israel. A loss by Netanyahu -- or a razor-thin win and the prospect that he would be forced to enter into an unwieldy 'government of national unity' with his rivals -- would mark a sobering reversal for Israel's security hawks, in a country where the electorate has been moving steadily rightward for the past 15 years." ...

... Diaa Hadid of the New York Times: "Now, polls cited by the Israeli media suggest the Arab alliance is likely to become the third-largest faction in [Israel's] Parliament with 13 of its 120 seats, potentially preventing Mr. Netanyahu from cobbling together the 61 seats he needs to form a coalition and stay in power." ...

... Paul Krugman: "Once upon a time, Israel was a country of egalitarian ideals.... Since then..., however, key measures of inequality have soared; Israel is now right up there with America as one of the most unequal societies in the advanced world.... Roughly 20 families control companies that account for half the total value of Israel's stock market.... The political economy of the promised land is now characterized by harshness at the bottom and at least soft corruption at the top.... And Israel's experience shows that this matters, that extreme inequality has a corrosive effect on social and political life.... Many Israelis see Mr. Netanyahu as part of the problem. He's an advocate of free-market policies; he has a Chris Christie-like penchant for living large at taxpayers' expense, while clumsily pretending otherwise."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Iran has deployed advanced rockets and missiles to Iraq to help fight the Islamic State in Tikrit, a significant escalation of firepower and another sign of Iran's growing influence in Iraq."

New York Times: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Monday that as long as he is the leader, a Palestinian state would not be established, reversing his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Netanyahu made the assertion on the eve of an election in which he is trailing in the polls."

Washington Post: "Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first public appearance in more than 10 days on Monday, following intense speculation about his health or other reasons he was out of view. 'It would be boring without gossip,' Putin told reporters outside St. Petersburg in his first public event since March 5. But he offered no other immediate details on why he missed a series of meetings and postponed one state visit during the period."