The Wires

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."

Guardian: "An inflatable dam in drought-stricken California was damaged on Thursday, causing the loss of nearly 50,000,000 gallons (190m litres) of water. Police said vandals caused 'irreversible damage' to the inflatable dam in Fremont, a city in the San Francisco Bay Area. The vandalism caused water meant for local residents to instead flow into San Francisco bay."

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."

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


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 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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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 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.'"


The Commentariat -- May 11, 2015

Paul Krugman: Congressional Republicans are trying to figure out ways to undo Dodd-Frank, the better to please their Wall Street masters. But "almost nobody wants to be seen as a bought and paid-for servant of the financial industry, least of all those who really are exactly that."

Elise Viebeck of the Hill: "Michelle Obama gave a candid view Saturday of the challenges and emotional toll of being the country's first black first lady. Obama, speaking to graduates at Tuskegee University in Alabama, described insensitive media questions and derogatory remarks from political pundits that she said have kept her up at night."

Elise Viebeck: "Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Sunday that the United States is facing a new era in which a lone-wolf terrorist could 'strike at any moment.' 'We're very definitely in a new environment, because of ISIL's effective use of social media, the Internet, which has the ability to reach into the homeland and possibly inspire others,' Johnson said in an interview with ABC's 'This Week,' using the administration's preferred acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)." ...

... Amy Davidson of the New Yorker: Thanks in part to scaremongering politicians, Texans are confused about where the real dangers lie. One hint: Texas's open-carry laws.

Leonard Pitts: "Look, I get it: No one wants to be compared to [Tim] McVeigh. And I'll repeat: No one in a position of responsibility embraces his prescription of terrorist violence. But it seems to me beyond argument that in the philosophical struggle for the soul of conservatism, he lost the battle and won the war. Much of what now passes for conservatism proceeds from extremes of government loathing that would have stunned Ronald Reagan himself."

Seymour Hersh in the London Review of Books: "The White House still maintains that the mission [to kill Osama bin Laden] was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan's army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration's account. The White House's story might have been written by Lewis Carroll." CW: Haven't read this & probably won't have time, but it's getting da buzz, so you might find it of interest.

Steven Mufson of the Washington Post: "The White House's willingness to push ahead with the nuclear accord with Beijing illustrates the evolving relationship between the world's two largest powers, which, while eyeing each other with mutual suspicion and competitiveness, also view each other as vital economic and strategic global partners."

Helene Cooper of the New York Times: "Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday that its new monarch, King Salman, would not be attending meetings at the White House with President Obama or a summit gathering at Camp David this week, in an apparent signal of its continued displeasure with the administration over United States relations with Iran, its rising regional adversary."

Presidential Race

Katie Glueck of Politico: "Jeb Bush on Saturday made a major overture to evangelical voters, seeking to reassure a skeptical voting bloc that when it comes to core beliefs about religious freedom and Christianity's role in the world, he's with them.... [Bush] made his pitch at a commencement address at Liberty University, a prominent symbol of evangelical Christianity in Lynchburg, Va., that has become a routine campaign stop for presidential hopefuls."

Mark Hensch of the Hill: "Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) said both he and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would have ordered the 2003 war in Iraq. 'I would have [authorized the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everyone,' Bush told Fox News host Megyn Kelly in an interview that will air Monday night on 'The Kelly File.'... Bush also said he had no disagreement with his brother, former President George W. Bush, over the controversial military campaign." ...

     ... CW: Clinton should respond.

Simon Maloy of Salon: Ben "Carson, whose political identity and stardom are based entirely on his often outlandish attacks on President Obama, is hilariously unprepared to be an official candidate for the presidency.... Last week, he sat down for an interview with CNBC's John Harwood who laid down a series of rakes for Carson to step on, and Carson trod upon them with palpable gusto."

Gabriel Sherman of New York: "After being the subject of a spate of negative newspaper accounts about potential conflicts of interest and management dysfunction this winter -- long before Clinton Cash -- the Clinton Foundation wound up on a 'watchlist' maintained by the Charity Navigator, the New Jersey-based nonprofit watchdog.... Since March, the Foundation has embarked on an aggressive behind-the-scenes campaign to get removed from the list.... It didn't work." ...

... Steve Eder of the New York Times: "For decades [Tony Rodham, Hillary Clinton's brother,] has tried to use his connections with his sister and her husband to further his [shady business] pursuits."

Bill Curry ran the board of presidential candidates this weekend. Here's part of his entry on Carly Fiorina, which I particularly enjoyed: "Listening to her one got a sense of what Sarah Palin would sound like had she gone to Stanford, as when she said the Founders didn't want a permanent political class when in fact they were all members of one. She vows to run government like a business, by which we assume she means one other than Hewlett Packard."

Beyond the Beltway

Sarah Nir of the New York Times: "Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered emergency measures on Sunday to combat the wage theft and health hazards faced by the thousands of people who work in New York State's nail salon industry. Effective immediately, he said in a statement, a new, multiagency task force will conduct salon-by-salon investigations, institute new rules that salons must follow to protect manicurists from the potentially dangerous chemicals found in nail products, and begin a six-language education campaign to inform them of their rights.... The new rules come in response to a New York Times investigation of nail salons -- first published online last week -- that detailed the widespread exploitation of manicurists, many of whom have illnesses that some scientists and health advocates say are caused by the chemicals with which they work."

News Ledes

New York Times: "The consequences of General Motors' long-delayed recall of defective small cars hit a grim milestone on Monday, when the company's compensation fund said it had approved the 100th death claim tied to faulty ignition switches. The toll far exceeds the 13 victims that G.M. had said last year were the only known fatalities linked to ignitions that could suddenly cut off engine power and disable airbags."

ESPN: "The NFL has suspended New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady four games for his role in deflating footballs for the AFC Championship Game, the league said in a statement Monday. The Patriots will also lose a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017 and have been fined $1 million."

New York: "Former President Jimmy Carter was forced to end his trip to South America early on Sunday due to health concerns. "President Carter was not feeling well and has departed Guyana to return to Atlanta today," the Carter Center announced."


The Commentariat -- May 9 & 10

Steven Erlanger of the New York Times: "Prime Minister David Cameron, having achieved a smashing and unexpected outright victory in Britain's general election, heads into his second term facing severe -- even existential -- challenges to his nation's identity and place in the world: how to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union and Scotland in the United Kingdom." ...

... Dan Balz, et al., of the Washington Post: "... if the [U.K.] election produced an unexpectedly clear outcome, it may only have heightened the degree to which the country faces a period of internal debate, inward-looking politics and potential instability, with questions about the durability of the United Kingdom and its place in both Europe and the world still to be answered." ...

... Patrick Wintour of the Guardian: "Britain's political landscape was left transformed as a triumphant David Cameron hailed the sweetest victory of his career after defying his critics by securing the first Conservative working majority since 1992 and forcing three of his vanquished rival party leaders to resign in the space of two hours. With the Conservatives winning an overall majority -- confounding all the opinion poll predictions -- Labour's Ed Miliband, the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage of Ukip all announced their resignations in quick succession on Friday morning."

Dan Roberts of the Guardian: President Obama expressed frustration yesterday with Democrats who are opposing the transpacific trade agreement:

Robert Pear of the New York Times: "The White House is moving to address two of the most common consumer complaints about the sale of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act: that doctor directories are inaccurate, and that patients are hit with unexpected bills for costs not covered by insurance. Federal health officials said this week that they would require insurers to update and correct 'provider directories' at least once a month, with financial penalties for insurers that failed to do so. In addition, they hope to provide an 'out-of-pocket cost calculator' to estimate the total annual cost under a given health insurance plan. The calculator would take account of premiums, subsidies, co-payments, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs, as well as a person's age and medical needs.

Julian Hattem of the Hill: "Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper wasn't lying when he wrongly told Congress in 2013 that the government does not 'wittingly' collect information about millions of Americans, according to his top lawyer. He just forgot." The lawyer, Robert Litt, said Clapper had not reviewed the questions Sen. Ron Wyden had sent to him the prior day, so Clapper was "hit unaware" by the question. Litt added that he himself "also erred after the hearing by not sending a letter to the panel to correct the mistake." ...

... CW: I find the I-forgot excuse fairly credible in Clapper's case. He is not the brightest bulb, & his staff has a history of not briefing him timely on critical security matters.

Gail Collins on spineless Texas politicians who are encouraging crazy conspiracy theorists. CW: The one hope for Texas is that sane people -- maybe from someplace else -- take over the government. Or secession. I'm for that, too. Really, as far as Texas goes, I'm totally with the crazy.

NEW. Nicole Perlroth of the New York Times reports the strange case of Sherry Chen, whom federal prosecutors accused of spying for China -- until they didn't. "Mrs. Chen was caught in a much broader dragnet aimed at combating Chinese industrial espionage." CW: Their "evidence" against Chen sounds pretty flimsy to me. Of course they did ruin Chen's life. As of now, "Mrs. Chen's benefits and pay have been restored, but she is waiting to hear whether the Commerce Department will allow her to return to work."

NEW. Everything Is Obama's Fault, Ctd. Sahil Kapur of Bloomberg: "Representative Steve King was in his element at the South Carolina Freedom Summit on Saturday, saying after a speech to raucous conservatives that the fault for riots in Baltimore lies with President Barack Obama." Something about Obama "instinctively ... driving wedges people."

The Essential Rectitude of Nepotism. Elizabeth Bruenig of the New Republic: "Today, The New York Times' David Brooks gave family dynasties a hearty endorsement in one of his increasingly deranged fireside chats, suggesting that since some 'powerhouse families' regularly produce successful members, 'we should be grateful that in each field of endeavor there are certain families that are breeding grounds for achievement.... I bet you can trace ways your grandparents helped shape your career,' Brooks advises, proving once again he knows zero people who are not rich.... Combine a heavy emphasis on family values with an equally intense desire for money, and the outcome is what we from the South recognize as good ol' boy networks, wherein a hapless dweeb who can barely manage a baseball team stumbles into the presidency because his daddy made a good run of it."

NEW. Karoli of Crooks & Liars notices that Dylan Byer, Politico's media reporter, mentions -- almost as an aside -- that "the national media have never been more primed to take down Hillary Clinton (and, by the same token, elevate a Republican candidate)." ...

... NEW. digby: "I am always grateful when Village scribes are upfront with their agenda. 'Taking down' Clinton (either or both) is the Village's Holy Grail. And the young Village turks, eager to prove their manhood, are taking up the challenge and joining the crusade. Maybe they'll be the ones who'll finally get 'er done."

Presidential Race

NEW. Jeff Greenfield in the Daily Beast: "Throughout their public lives, Bill and Hillary Clinton have benefitted enormously from the fury of their ideological enemies. Making a case that will persuade Democrats to move away from Clinton on character grounds will be the political equivalent of defusing a ticking bomb." ...

... NEW. Steve M.: "The right just can't let go of any scandal, real or fake. This actually works for Republicans in non-presidential years, because it keeps the GOP voter base fired up and ready to turn out when Democratic voters won't. But it fails them in presidential elections -- as Greenfield says, the constant attacks on the Clintons actually boost their popularity, and help them downplay what might otherwise be legitimate scandals."

NEW. Friends of Marco, Part 1. Michael Barbaro & Steve Eder of the New York Times: "As [Marco] Rubio has ascended in the ranks of Republican politics, [billionaire Norman] Braman has emerged as a remarkable and unique patron. He has bankrolled Mr. Rubio's campaigns. He has financed Mr. Rubio's legislative agenda. And, at the same time, he has subsidized Mr. Rubio's personal finances, as the rising politician and his wife grappled with heavy debt and big swings in their income. Now..., Mr. Braman is ... expected [to contribute] ... approximately $10 million for the senator's pursuit of the White House." ...

... NEW. Friends of Marco, Part 2. Ben Terris of the Washington Post: David Rivera, whom Rubio calls his "most loyal friend and supporter," and "who won a U.S. House seat in 2010, the year of Rubio's come-from-behind Senate victory — has left politics under an ethics cloud. Rivera, who failed to win reelection, has been a target of state and federal investigations looking into his alleged failure to disclose income as well as his alleged role in support of a 2012 shadow campaign designed to undercut his chief Democratic rival for Congress." CW: I don't find this a big deal. While Charlie Rangel probably isn't Hillary Clinton's BFF, I doubt she would snub him because of his ethical lapses. Politics is shady & politicians have plenty of friends & supporters who are or should be "under an ethics cloud."

Alex Isenstadt of Politico: Jeb Bush's superPAC, "Right to Rise, is said to be on track for raising an historic $100 million by the end of May, and its budget is expected to dwarf that of Bush's official campaign many times over." ...

... Jeb Ditches the .1 Percent Solution. Laura Clawson of Daily Kos: "Jeb Bush didn't want to look like he was bought and paid for by one specific billionaire, so he limited donations to his super PAC to a puny $1 million per person. Bush wasn't going to be seen as the candidate of Sheldon Adelson or Foster Friess or Robert Mercerhe was going to be the candidate of the entire .1 percent, or at least as much of it as he could persuade to give him money. But screw that. Time is running short, other Republicans are raising more money than expected, and Bush is now ready to ditch his $1 million contribution cap." ...

... Digby in Salon: Jeb "Bush's recent comment about listening to Junior's advice on Israel was made to [a] group of potential big money donors, some of whom presumably had some of the same concerns as [Sheldon] Adelson. Considering how unpopular his brother remains with the public, it's a testament to just how important winning the donor primary is that he would evoke his name in any gathering other than George or Barbara's birthday parties." CW: I admire digby for consistently figuring out candidates' real motives. I think she's right on this one: Jeb pretends to be Bigger than Billionaires, but he's courting them all the same, if in a more oblique way than are some of his competitors.

Lauren French of Politico: "Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul will host a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus next week to discuss criminal justice reform.... He's teaming up with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), and other black lawmakers, to craft a strategy for advancing legislation as law enforcement issues have taken center stage following the death of several unarmed black men at the hands of police."

There are a few Republican ideologues up with which climate-change denier George Will will not put: one of them is a Bible-thumping, Constitution-nullifying presidential candidate from Hope, Arkansas (and of course he doesn't like those other "seedy" politicos from Hope, either).

Robert Costa of the Washington Post: "Mitt Romney ... will ... host GOP presidential hopefuls and some of the party's biggest donors in Utah ... June 11-13.... Confirmed speakers from the likely 2016 Republican field include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.). Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, long seen as a Romney rival due to tensions between their camps, was invited but will not attend, per a Romney ally."

Beyond the Beltway

Abby Phillip of the Washington Post: "Delaware police have released the dashboard camera video of a 2013 incident in which an officer kicked a suspect in the face, knocking him unconscious and breaking his jaw. A grand jury initially declined to indict the officer, Dover Police Cpl. Thomas Webster, in March 2014, and Webster was allowed to return to full duty that June. But on Monday, Webster was arrested on felony second-degree assault charges after a second grand jury was convened to review the case. Days later, Dover police released the dashboard camera video after a federal judge ruled that it was no longer confidential." CW: Here's hoping this is another sign that prosecutors are beginning to get that the public won't put up with brutality as routine police procedure.

CBS Miami/AP: Florida Gov. Rick Scott first said he vehemently opposed ObamaCare, then -- after his mother's death in 2013 -- he said he favored the Medicaid expansion component of ObamaCare, then this week he said that was a ruse, now he says the AP reporter who reported his latest remark "incorrectly characterized" his admission. CW: Thank you, my fellow Floridians, for twice electing a guy you knew was a lying, crooked jerk.

Let Us Now Praise Small Businessmen. Tom Boggioni of the Raw Story: "The owner of a Colorado barbecue restaurant is beginning to feel the heat over plans for a 'White Appreciation Day,' where only white customers will receive a 10 percent discount on their orders.... The owners, both of whom are Hispanic and who recently purchased the restaurant, said the idea began as a joke, but now it has been scheduled for June 11." Because Black History Month & Hispanic Heritage Month. CW: As a promotional gimmick, this is superb. Look at the attention it's generating.

News Lede

New York Daily News: "Bernie Madoff's right-hand man -- who snitched to federal investigators about the historic Ponzi scheme -- has died before he could be sentenced for his crimes. Frank DiPascali was 58. He died Thursday of lung cancer, his lawyer, Marc Mukasey, said."


The Commentariat -- May 8, 2015

Michael White of the Guardian: "British prime minister David Cameron has confounded pollsters and pundits by winning a sensational second five-years term in office for his Conservative party. This time Cameron looks set to be free from the constraints of coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats. His partners in office since 2010, the Lib Dems were almost wiped out, and their leader, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, resigned on Friday morning. Cameron's victory in Thursday's general election obliterated opposition leader Ed Miliband's hopes of eking out a small win for Labour. He also resigned in the wake of the defeat." ...

... CW: While British elections may have little to do with Americans' choice, this goes to show that bad economic policy -- policy that particularly harms the voters themselves -- is a winner. (See Krugman for context.) So the Brits' decisions don't bode well for our future unless we assume that American voters are way smarter than Great Britain's ignorant jamokes. ...

... Steven Erlanger & Stephen Castle of the New York Times: "Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party was projected by a national exit poll to have done well in the British general election on Thursday, but the nation still faced the likelihood that there would be no outright winner." ...

... Dylan Byers of Politico: "Nate Silver fared terribly in Thursday's UK election: In his pre-election forecast, he gave 278 seats to Conservatives and 267 to Labour. Shortly after midnight, he was forecasting 272 seats for Conservatives and 271 for Labour. But when the sun rose in London on Friday, Conservatives had an expected 329 seats, against Labour's 233. The fault, Silver claimed, was with the polling.... [So] what is Silver's added value in an election cycle? His ability to forecast elections is largely dependent on the accuracy of polling. Without that, what is his raison d'etre -- other than to point out how bad polling caused him to make inaccurate forecasts?"

... The Guardian currently (7:40 pm ET) has parliamentary election results on its front page.

Peter Baker of the New York Times: "President Obama plans to campaign for a Pacific free-trade zone on Friday by visiting the headquarters of Nike, where executives will announce that they will create 10,000 jobs in the United States if the accord is approved. Nike for years has been used as a case study by opponents of trade liberalization for its reliance on low-wage workers in Asia. But Mr. Obama hopes that the company's announcement will help him argue that a new 12-nation trade agreement could foster more manufacturing jobs at home, rather than shipping more jobs overseas." ...

... Doug Palmer of Politico: "When President Barack Obama visits Nike's headquarters in Oregon to tout trade on Friday, he'll be striding into a feud between the giant sneaker maker and its smaller East Coast rival New Balance.... New Balance, which is headquartered in Boston and has factories in Maine..., employs more than 1,350 of the few thousand workers who still make shoes in the United States, and its officials fear those jobs could be lost if tariff cuts under the deal lead to an influx of cheaper wares from Vietnam. Meanwhile, Nike is pushing to completely eliminate tariffs on shoes made in Vietnam, one of several Southeast Asian countries where it has operations. Those duties amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, the industry estimates." ...

... Greg Sargent: President "Obama's basic bet is that he can re-frame the globalization debate on his own terms. As he put it recently, the globalization horse 'has left the barn.' Thus, the best hope for American workers is to try to put in place a set of rules that creates better labor standards for workers in participating countries -- such as Vietnam -- which would help level the playing field for American workers in ways that would reverse the problems in previous trade deals." ...

... Robert Reich: "Nike isn't the solution to the problem of stagnant wages in America. Nike is the problem.... Americans made only 1 percent of the products that generated Nike's $27.8 billion revenue last year. And Nike is moving ever more of its production abroad. Last year, a third of Nike's remaining 13,922 American production workers were laid off. Most of Nike's products are made by 990,000 workers in low-wage countries whose abysmal working conditions have made Nike a symbol of global sweatshop labor.... Trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership protect corporate investors but lead to even more off-shoring of American jobs." Thanks to Janice for the link. ...

... Seung Min Kim & Burgess Everett of Politico: Senate "Republicans are pressing ahead with trade votes, even though Democratic resistance could block the measures." ...

... Alexander Bolton of the Hill: "President Obama and Harry Reid are battling one another for Democratic support ahead of an important vote on trade next week. Reid ... is trying to hold his caucus together and stop Republicans from moving quickly to legislation giving Obama fast-track trade authority."

Jessica Silver-Greenberg of the New York Times: "Two of the nation’s biggest banks will finally put to rest the zombies of consumer debt -- bills that are still alive on credit reports although legally eliminated in bankruptcy -- potentially providing relief to more than a million Americans. Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase have agreed to update borrowers' credit reports within the next three months to reflect that the debts were extinguished."

Charlie Savage & Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "A federal appeals court in New York on Thursday ruled that the once-secret National Security Agency program that is systematically collecting Americans' phone records in bulk is illegal. The decision comes as a fight in Congress is intensifying over whether to end and replace the program, or to extend it without changes. In a 97-page ruling, a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a provision of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, known as Section 215, cannot be legitimately interpreted to allow the bulk collection of domestic calling records." ...

... Dan Roberts & Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "The judges opted not to end the domestic bulk collection while Congress decides its fate, calling judicial inaction 'a lesser intrusion' on privacy than at the time the case was initially argued." ...

... Mark Stern of Slate: "As the Second Circuit candidly admits, its decision on Thursday is entirely the result of Edward Snowden's decision to leak details of the bulk collection program two years ago. Before that leak, Americans hoping to challenge NSA surveillance were unable to establish standing -- that is, legal authority to challenge a law -- because they couldn't prove the surveillance targeted them. The documents Snowden leaked, however, proved that the NSA forced Verizon 'to produce detail records, every day, on all telephone calls made through its systems or using its services where on or both ends of the call are located in the United States.' Thanks to that leak, Verizon customers have standing to challenge that surveillance in court, since they can now be certain the government spied on their phone records." ...

... Tom Sullivan in Hullabaloo: "Just because the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ruled the NSA's bulk collection of phone data illegal is no reason not to reauthorize it. Or so believe leading Senate Republicans.... Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid returned fire.... Not that Reid's bipartisan I Can't Believe It's Not Freedom Act would likely stop all domestic spying. Especially not since, as Dan Froomkin revealed [linked below], spy agencies have got a nifty, new gizmo for turning your phone conversations into searchable text.... As several people pointed out, you can't really re-authorize a practice that was never authorized in the first place." ...

... Dan Roberts & Sabrina Siddiqui of the Guardian: "Senate Republicans have conceded they may have to temporarily suspend plans for a long-term reauthorisation of the Patriot Act after a court ruling against its use by the National Security Agency dramatically turned around the prospects for surveillance reform in Washington.... A spokesman for [Mitch] McConnell's office insisted he continued to back the Patriot Act renewal and pointed to support for its use by judges in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) courts that were designed to deal with such questions." ...

... digby: "Meanwhile, everyone in DC is doing high fives over the possible passage of the new revamped USA Freedom Act, which will extend certain aspects of the PATRIOT Act while reforming some pieces of it. This is a compromise bill between those who would like to see the Patriot act extended indefinitely and those who want it thrown entirely on the scrapheap of history. The president says he'll sign it. The ACLU says that it does include some reforms so it isn't all bad. The mood seems to be that this is altogether terrific.... This problem of government surveillance is not going to be solved by a congress that is both frightened and corrupt and an executive branch which has no incentive to give back any power it has accrued for itself."

... They Can Hear You Now. Dan Froomkin of the Intercept: "Top-secret documents from the archive of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency can now automatically recognize the content within phone calls by creating rough transcripts and phonetic representations that can be easily searched and stored. The documents show NSA analysts celebrating the development of what they called 'Google for Voice' nearly a decade ago. Though perfect transcription of natural conversation apparently remains the Intelligence Community's 'holy grail,' the Snowden documents describe extensive use of keyword searching as well as computer programs designed to analyze and 'extract' the content of voice conversations, and even use sophisticated algorithms to flag conversations of interest."

Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "A bill that would give Congress a voice in any nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran passed the Senate overwhelmingly on Thursday afternoon. The measure, which was approved 98 to 1, withstood months of tense negotiations, White House resistance, the indictment of one of its sponsors and a massive partisan kerfuffle over a speech to Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just as an accord was coming together. The lone vote against the bill was cast by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas. The House is expected to take up the Senate measure as early as next week." ...

... Greg Sargent: "One hundred and fifty House Democrats have now signed a letter expressing strong support for President Obama's ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, I've learned, improving the chances that an eventual nuclear deal could survive the Congressional oversight process.... If a deal is reached that looks like the recently-announced framework, and the GOP-controlled Congress votes to disapprove of it, it's now more likely that there will be enough House Democrats to sustain Obama's veto of that disapproval legislation, allowing the deal to move forward." ...

... Lauren French & Jake Sherman of Politico: "Picking up where Sens. Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio left off, House conservatives plan to press House GOP leaders to allow a series of hard-to-oppose amendments to the Iran nuclear review bill. The move by the conservative House Freedom Caucus could put Speaker John Boehner in a bind. He'll have to decide whether to clamp down on attempts to change the bill as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did in the Senate, angering his right flank -- or to allow votes on their amendments at the risk of tanking the legislation authored by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.)."

Adam Goldman of the Washington Post: "FBI Director James B. Comey said Thursday his agents learned hours before the start of a cartoon contest and exhibit depicting the prophet Muhammad that one of the gunmen had expressed interest in going to the controversial event in Texas, but there was no indication he was planning an attack. Comey said the FBI sent an intelligence bulletin to local authorities through its Dallas field office that included a picture of Elton Simpson, 30, and other details such as his associates and possible license plate numbers."

Thomas Edsall of the New York Times: "Insofar as conservatives identify the erosion of the traditional family as a cause of civic disorder, the erosion is not limited to minority communities in Democratic cities. These trends are increasingly characteristic of white communities in red states.... The high pregnancy and birthrates among white teenagers in states where the Christian right and Tea Party forces are strong reflect the inability of ideological doctrines stressing social conservatism to halt the gradual shift away from traditional family structures.... While right wing commentators are demonizing the social and cultural values of the distressed citizens of Baltimore and their political leaders, they are oblivious to the vulnerability of their traditional moral agenda during a time of inexorable demographic change. The problems of majority black Baltimore are extreme, but many of the trends found there are as extreme or more so in majority white Muskogee [County, Oklahoma].... If conservatives place responsibility on liberal Democrats, feminism and the abandonment of traditional family values for Baltimore's decay, what role did the 249 churches in and around Muskogee play in that city's troubles?" [Emphasis added.] ...

... CW: Nonetheless, this analysis has an odor of putting the cart before the horse. Middle-class & wealthy young people also commonly rear children in non-traditional families, but because they have the means to do so, most people don't find their personal decisions problematic. The cause of both Muskogee's & Baltimore's difficulties is poverty, not "lifestyle" choices. Anyway, let's not miss an excuse for this: ...

... YEAHBUT. No need to worry about poor people. Jessica Roy of New York: "America's Richest Congressman [-- Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) --] Thinks America's Poorest People Are the 'Envy of the World.'" CW: Lucky duckies. ...

... AND, coincidentally, Tamar Lewin of the New York Times helps make my point: "The share of highly educated women who are childless into their mid-40s has fallen significantly over the last two decades.... While finding the right balance of work and family may not be easy, [demographers] say, it has become an everyday challenge, rather than an unusual strain." Lewin's story focuses on these women's interest in "family." She never mentions whether or not "family" includes a husband or wife. Because these women can afford to rear children, their family decisions are personal, not a reflection of "a breakdown of society."

Presidential Race

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "The Republican candidates for president CW: This must be the first time in history you have read a sentence like that last one, & likely you will never read it in any other context.

** Tim Egan: "Last election cycle, the Republican presidential field was a clown car, holding the thrice-married Newt Gingrich lecturing about values, the pizza magnate Herman Cain fending off sexual harassment claims, and Michele Bachmann confusing John Wayne with a serial killer. That was just the front seat. This time around it's a clown bus, with as many as 17 Republicans expected to compete for the nomination.... For many Republicans, crazy is the new mainstream."

Sara Murray of CNN: "Jeb Bush cited his brother, former President George W. Bush, as one of his main advisers on the Middle East in a private meeting in Manhattan on Tuesday, according to three people who attended the off-the-record event. The comment came as a shock to some who were in the room because Jeb ... has taken pains to publicly distance himself from his brother and his controversial policies, particularly in that area of the world."

Katie Glueck of Politico: "Lindsey Graham is telling donors that June 1 is the likely date for his presidential announcement, according to several sources familiar with the conversations." CW: Be still, my beating heart.

David Sirota, in Salon, sees a new Chris Christie scandal looming on the horizon, one involving hundreds of millions of dollars in high fees New Jersey is paying to increasingly underperforming Wall Street "pension managers," who just so happen to be donors to Christie's campaigns. Apparently the state has to slash pensions so Christie's friends can make higher profits "managing" them. And, oh yeah, Christie just vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have made the payment of pension management fees more transparent.

Sahil Kapur of Bloomberg: "A group of two dozen young activists working out of homes and coffee shops around the country has achieved something rather unusual: mainlining an idea into the upper echelons of the Democratic Party -- including its top presidential contenders -- in just four months. The phrase 'debt-free college' was hardly present in the national political lexicon until the Progressive Change Campaign Committee launched a campaign in January to push Democrats to support the idea of federal assistance to help Americans graduate from college without debt."

Beyond the Beltway

Sari Horwitz of the Washington Post: "Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch has decided to launch a federal investigation into whether the Baltimore Police Department has engaged in a 'pattern or practice' of excessive force. Lynch's announcement about the Justice Department's probe -- the latest in a string of municipalities that are being investigated by the federal government for civil rights violations -- could come as early as Friday, according to two law enforcement officials."

Maura Dolan of the Los Angeles Times: "Prosecutors here are expanding an investigation into criminal cases that might have been compromised by revelations of police officers' racist and homophobic texts, Dist. Atty. George Gascon announced Thursday. Gascon's probe has identified 3,000 criminal cases that could have been affected by perceived bias by 14 officers. Investigators will comb through each case to determine whether some convictions must be overturned or pending cases dismissed."

Max Blau of the Guardian: "North Carolina currently has 149 people on death row, but carried out its last execution in August 2006. Since then, North Carolina doctors have refused to work with the state's corrections department to carry out executions even though the death penalty remains legal. Under a proposed law, conservative state lawmakers are hoping to break through that stalemate by letting physician assistants, nurses, emergency medical technicians, and other healthcare workers oversee executions.... [The] measure that would no longer require doctors to be present during executions."

News Lede

Bloomberg: "Payrolls rebounded in April following an even bigger setback a month earlier than previously estimated, a sign companies are confident the U.S. economy will reboot after stagnating early this year. The unemployment rate dropped to 5.4 percent. The 223,000 net increase in employment followed an 85,000 gain in March that was the smallest since June 2012."