The Ledes

Thursday, January 29, 2015.

New York Times: "... Greece backed away from strong statements denouncing sanctions [against Russia] and joined other countries in the 28-member [European] bloc in a unanimous vote in favor of expanding a list of sanctioned individuals, mostly Russians, and of work to prepare 'any further action' to pressure combatants to respect a stillborn truce agreement from last year."

CNN: "The U.S. military and intelligence community now suspect that one of the five Taliban detainees released from Guantanamo Bay in return for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in May of last year has attempted to return to militant activity from his current location in Qatar by making contact with suspected Taliban associates in Afghanistan, multiple officials tell CNN."

Washington Post: Three American contractors and an Afghan national were killed in a shooting at a military base at Kabul’s airport Thursday, said a U.S. defense official."

Los Angeles Times: "Rod McKuen, a prolific songwriter and poet whose compositions include the Academy Award-nominated song 'Jean' for the 1969 film 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,' has died. He was 81."

New York Times: "Colleen McCullough, a former neurophysiological researcher at Yale who, deciding to write novels in her spare time, produced 'The Thorn Birds,' a multigenerational Australian romance that became an international best seller and inspired a hugely popular television mini-series, died on Thursday on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific, where she had made her home for more than 30 years. She was 77."

The Wires

The Ledes

Wednesday, January 28, 2015.

U.S. Air Force: "Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, in coordination with the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall, has determined the Boeing 747-8 will serve as the next presidential aircraft, commonly known as Air Force One."

AP: "A disgruntled, former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist promised to build 40 nuclear weapons for Venezuela and design a bomb targeted for New York City in exchange for 'money and power,' according to secret FBI recordings released Wednesday.... The recordings were played Wednesday in US District Court in Albuquerque before a federal judge sentenced [Pedro Leonardo] Mascheroni, 79, to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release as part of a plea agreement." CW: Um, isn't this guy just a crazy old coot? He hasn't worked at Los Alamos since 1988.

Jacksonville, Florida, Channel 4: "Marissa Alexander, a woman whose case helped bring national attention to Florida's stand your ground and minimum sentencing laws, was allowed to leave jail late Tuesday afternoon to spend the rest of her sentence on house arrest." Thanks to Jeanne B. for the lead.

Washington Post: "On Tuesday, two years after the attack, a jury in Nashville convicted two former Vanderbilt University football players of aggravated rape and related charges. They were among four players who allegedly participated in the assault. Two others, who have pleaded not guilty, will be tried later. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, both 21, now face 15 to 80 years in prison. They were convicted after a 12-day trial and about three hours of jury deliberation." The Tennessean story is here.

Weather Channel: "Winter Storm Juno pounded locations from Long Island to New England with heavy snow, high winds and coastal flooding late Monday into Tuesday. The storm is now winding down. The National Weather Service has dropped all winter storm and blizzard warnings for Juno.... In Massachusetts, up to 36 inches of snow has been measured in Lunenburg, while Boston has seen 24.4 inches. Juno was a record snowstorm for Worcester, Massachusetts (34.5 inches). Incredibly, 31.9 inches fell in Worcester on Jan. 27, alone!... uno's most severe coastal flooding occurred in eastern Massachusetts, in areas most exposed to north to northeast winds gusting from 50-80 mph, at times."

White House Live Video
January 29

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

If you don't see the livefeed here, go to


Public Service Announcement

Get Off Your Ass! Los Angeles Times (Jan. 19): "New research that distills the findings of 47 studies concludes that those of us who sit for long hours raise our average risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and early death."

Surprise! December 19: Dr. Oz is a quack.

This is a real bill. Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott verified it. Check out the customer name on the account:

Is "Asshole" the customer's real given name? Well, no. Comcast got mad at the family for wishing to cancel the cable part of their Comcast service. Comcast not only refused to cut the cable, as it were, they changed the primary customer's name from "Ricardo" (his parents' idea) to "Asshole." When Ricardo's wife tried to get Comcast to change the account back to her husband's real name, both Comcast's local & regional "customer service" (Comcast's idea) offices refused. After Elliott took up the Browns' case, Comcast relented on both. ...

... Video via Karoli of Crooks & Liars. CW: I assure you, former Arkansas Gov. Fuckabee will be very upset by the vid.

Oh, lawdy, what will they think up next?


In the New York Times, Barry Bearak remembers Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks.

Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, New Hampshire): "After going through the drive-through at Burger King [in Rochester, N.H.] Friday, a local woman discovered that instead of the sweet tea and junior spicy chicken sandwich that she ordered, she got a bag full of money. Rather than keeping the cash — totaling $2,631 — she came back to the restaurant with her husband and returned it."

Gawker: "Bill Clinton took repeated trips on the 'Lolita Express'—the private passenger jet owned by billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein — with an actress in softcore porn movies whose name appears in Epstein's address book under an entry for 'massages,' according to flight logbooks obtained by Gawker and published today for the first time. The logs also show that Clinton shared more than a dozen flights with a woman who federal prosecutors believe procured underage girls to sexually service Epstein and his friends and acted as a 'potential co-conspirator' in his crimes."

New York Times: Director Martin "Scorsese’s partly finished documentary about [former president Bill] Clinton — which once seemed likely to be released as Hillary Rodham Clinton was navigating a presidential run — has stalled over disagreements about control, people briefed on the project said. Though parts of the film were shot over the last two years as Mr. Clinton made a philanthropic visit to Africa and elsewhere, the project is now indefinitely shelved, partly because Mr. Clinton insisted on more control over the interview questions and final version than Mr. Scorsese was willing to give, those people said."

Jessica Roy of New York: "Now that he's been released from jail after his kidnapping-conspiracy conviction was overturned, Gilberto Valle — the former NYPD officer dubbed 'Cannibal Cop' for allegedly planning to kidnap, kill, and eat women — is hungry for love on Unfortunately for him, the online dating service told us that they've deleted Valle's alleged profile, even though frankly he can't be any worse than the other dudes you might find on there.... Also, he listed cooking as a favorite hobby!"

CW: Not sure why this is news. As a disconsolate Windows 8 user, I heard this -- in re: Windows 8 -- two months ago. New York Times: "Microsoft said people using the two earlier versions of its operating system, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, would be able to update their computers to Windows 10 free for the first year after the new software is introduced."

Ellen's Gay Agenda. Thanks to P. D. Pepe for the link:

The French discover Ken & Barbie News Fox "News." For some reason the journalistes at "Le Petit Journal" don't find it credible. With English subtitles. Thanks to Creegr for the link:

New York Times: "A person close to the Barack Obama Foundation, which is overseeing plans for the [presidential] library, anonymously told local reporters last month that foundation officials had 'major concerns' with proposals from the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Foundation officials were said to be alarmed that the University of Chicago does not yet control the land where the university wants to build the library. To the shock and horror of residents here, that left Columbia University in New York, where Mr. Obama received his undergraduate degree, as the apparent front-runner. And suddenly a fait accompli has become an open question."

Washington Post: Two treasure hunters may have found the Griffin, a ship that disappeared in the Great Lakes in mid-1679.

And the Winner Is ... A White Person! Tatiana Siegel of the Hollywood Reporter: "For only the second time in nearly two decades, the 20 Academy Awards acting nominations went to a group made up entirely of white actors and actresses. Among the notable snubs was David Oyelowo, who received praise for his turn as the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma." ...

... Scott Mendelson of Forbes: "... the most egregious omission is the sadly not-entirely-surprising absence of Selma’s Ava DuVernay from the five contenders nominated for Best Director.... She deserved a nomination." ...

... Steve M.: Given the sorry state of most of Hollywood's output -- the CGI roman-numeral blockbusters and comedies about farting boy-men, greenlighted mostly by white males -- and given the near-total freeze-out of women in directorial roles (or in most acting roles beyond male stars' arm candy), I guess I know the answer. And it's pathetic."

... Todd VanDerWerff of Vox: "Selma was snubbed because the average Oscar voter is a 63-year-old white man. VanDerWerff also lists other factors he thinks worked against Selma.

... CW: I don't think I linked to this essay by Chris Rock, published in the Hollywood Reporter last month. Subject: The movie biz is "a white industry." I guess so.

Dick Poop. USA Today: "Dick Pope..., the cinematographer for Mr. Turner, made international news after Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science President Cheryl Boone Isaacs mispronounced his name during the nominations, calling him 'Dick Poop.'"

Here's the L.A. Times story covering the Oscar nominations.

New York Times: "Amazon announced on Tuesday that it had signed [Woody] Allen to write and direct his first television series. The company said it had ordered a full season of half-hour shows, as yet untitled, which will make their debut on the service next year. It provided few other details."

Jareen Imam of CNN: "Jeweler Tiffany & Co., for the first time, is featuring a gay couple in an ad campaign. The new 'Will You?' campaign, shot by fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh, features seven scenes of couples. One in particular is drawing widespread praise for showing a same-sex couple. The pair, shown sitting on a stoop in New York City, are a couple in real life, Tiffany spokeswoman Linda Buckley said."

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The Commentariat -- Jan. 20, 2015

CW: I won't be posting till late in the day today, so I'll probably miss a lot of good stuff. If you see anything of interest, share, as so many of you do. Thanks.

Michael Paulson of the New York Times: "Around the country, traditional Martin Luther King celebrations took place -- interfaith prayer breakfasts, speeches, volunteer service. But in several large cities, protests were organized by a new generation of activists who said they wanted to use the day to denounce injustice and to point out social inequality. Many were hoping to use the day to rekindle a new movement for social change." ...

... Damn! I Missed Robert E. Lee Day. Jamelle Bouie: "... in three states -- Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi -- MLK Day is also Robert E. Lee Day.... This is the Gen. Robert E. Lee who led Confederate armies in war against the United States, who defended a nation built on the 'great truth' that the 'negro is not equal to the white man,' and whose armies kidnapped and sold free black Americans whenever they had the opportunity.... It should be said that the 'Lee' part of 'Lee-King Day' is mostly downplayed in states that have the holiday." CW: Don't know how I missed it. I live in Lee County, which is not named for Spike Lee.

Scott Clement & Dan Balz of the Washington Post: "President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday enjoying rising approval ratings that have been strengthened by rapidly improving perceptions of the economy and increased optimism about the overall direction of the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.... Obama's overall approval rating now stands at 50 percent, the highest in a Post-ABC poll since the spring of 2013." ...

... James Oliphant of the National Journal: "As President Obama details his latest policy proposals and trumpets his accomplishments Tuesday night in the State of the Union address, he'll also be doing something else: building a bridge to a possible Democratic successor.... In teasing out new proposals over the last several weeks, Obama and his aides have stood in sharp contrast to the new GOP Congress that, for the moment, seems to be stuck on holdover issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline, Obama's executive actions on immigration, and the Affordable Care Act.... This is the White House still locked in campaign mode, seeking to set up a conflict with the GOP on basic values."

Tim Devaney of the Hill: "GOP lawmakers plan to employ the seldom-used Congressional Review Act (CRA), which gives lawmakers the power to formally disapprove of major agency rules, as they seek to ratchet up their attacks on federal red tape.... While Obama can and likely will veto any efforts to undo regulations through the CRA, the threats carry more weight now that Republicans control both chambers of Congress. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (Okla.) and other Republicans are zeroing in on the EPA, believing they can use the Review Act against rules for new and existing power plants, water, ozone and coal ash." CW: Sounds like a nothing-burger to me -- just another venue for the Grand Old Party Whine. As if they needed another. ...

... Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post: "Conservative climate-change denialism is indeed dangerous, and not just because it threatens coral reefs and polar bears tomorrow. It's also dangerous because it's a symptom of a much greater anti-intellectual, anti-science epidemic, one that prioritizes populist punch lines over smart policy and threatens our ability to compete in the global economy today." ...

... But Sometimes Nobama Is Problematic. Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "Last November, when President Obama proposed strict rules to prevent broadband companies from blocking or intentionally slowing down the web, Republicans pounced on what they called yet another heavy-handed liberal proposal.... But ... [this] put Republicans in the awkward position of aligning themselves with the cable giants, among the most maligned industries in the country, against the sad Netflix viewer waiting for 'House of Cards' to break through its 'buffering' vortex. In the intervening weeks, politics on the so-called net neutrality issue have shifted so much that House and Senate Republicans are circulating legislation that would ostensibly do exactly what the president wants.... Once again, an Internet regulatory showdown might be guided as much by grass-roots guerrilla tactics as the lobbying of Comcast and Verizon."

** Bill Curry, writing in Salon, eviscerates the Democratic party & its leadership. Excellent!

What's in It for Larry? CW: Yesterday Akhilleus & I were wondering why Larry Summers had recently sounded so populisty. I believe I've found the answer in a post by Matt Yglesias: Summers is the American co-chair of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity, a Center for American Progress-sponsored group that last week released a white paper that Yglesias describes as "the best guide to what Hillarynomics is likely to look like.... Many thinkers on the left will find a great deal missing. What Hillarynomics does not include is anything like an Elizabeth Warren-style effort to dethrone giant banks from the commanding heights of the American economic system.... Nor is there much of an anti-poverty agenda here...." Summers' op-eds, then, are designed to promote Hillary's campaign agenda & her presidential aspirations. Larry himself, no doubt, sees himself once again napping in the Cabinet Room.

Donald Kettl, in the Washington Monthly, has some advice for the next president on how to run the government s/he really doesn't run.

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "A new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News ... suggests that support for Keystone is softer -- and less urgent -- than previously thought. Just 34 percent of Americans say, 'Build it now.' An additional 61 percent are happy to allow the review process to play out.... That overall 61-34 split is the reverse of most Keystone polls.... But if and when [the Obama administration] ultimately nix[es] the project altogether -- as most think [it] will -- [it] will still be running afoul of the vast majority of Americans." ...

... Ryan Koronowski of Think Progress: "On Saturday morning, a pipeline in Montana spilled up to 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River, the pipeline' operator confirmed Sunday night. Some residents are reportedly smelling and tasting oil in their drinking water, causing the EPA to test water samples and the city water plant to cease drawing water from the river.... The proposed -- and controversial -- northern leg://">pump more than 34 million gallons of oil per day through the Dakotas down into Nebraska and into the southern leg in Oklahoma and Texas." CW: Yeah? So? What about those 70 permanent American jobs (or so) t jobs that would be created by Keystone spills. Thanks, Keystone supporters.

Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post: "In the wake of this month's terrorist attacks in Paris, European leaders are calling for significant changes to what has long been a paradox of their borderless continent: Their citizens can move freely, but information about them does not."

James Glanz of the New York Times: "In November 2008, British spies captured email messages addressed to reporters and photographers with at least a dozen international news organizations, many United Nations officials, workers at far-flung oil companies and tens of thousands of other people, according to a newly disclosed classified document. The document, a spreadsheet of some 70,000 lines -- each with a brief summary of the information gleaned from a single intercept -- is contained in a cache of British documents that are among the classified trove leaked by Edward J. Snowden.... It is unlikely that the collection of these emails -- as irrelevant as most of them seem to be -- broke any laws because British and United States laws place few restrictions on the collection of overseas communications."

Adam Liptak of the New York Times: Political scientist Richard Hasen has developed a sarcasm index for the Supreme Court justices. The hands-down winner -- no surprise here -- is Antonin Scalia. "Justice Scalia registered 2.78 on Professor Hasen's index, dwarfing the showings of every justice he has served with. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. came in a very distant second, at 0.43. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not even register.... There were 134 opinions described as sarcastic or caustic, and Justice Scalia wrote 75 of them, more than all the other justices combined."

God News, Tuesday Edition. Rachel Zoll of the AP: "Conservative distrust of Pope Francis, which has been building in the U.S. throughout his pontificate, is reaching a boiling point over his plan to urge action on climate change -- and to do so through ... an encyclical on the environment and global warming.... In a news conference as he traveled last week to the Philippines, Francis gave his strongest signal yet of the direction he'll take. He said global warming was 'mostly' man-made. And he said he wanted his encyclical out in plenty of time to be absorbed before the next round of U.N. climate change talks in Paris in November after the last round in Lima, Peru, failed to reach an agreement.... 'What [conservatives are' worried about is the solution,' said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. 'Climate change is the ultimate collective-action problem. It's going to require local, state and national policy change, and it's going to require international cooperation, which means the United Nations.'"

Charles Pierce gives "Selma" a qualified rave review but notes, "DuVernay's portrayal of Lyndon Johnson is even worse than I heard it was. She turns him into such a melodramatic villain that you half-expect Johnson to tie Amelia Boynton to the railroad tracks. And the clear implication that LBJ was behind sending the salacious videotape to the Kings has to dial one just to get to 'inexcusable.' (God, will American liberals ever stop covering for the Kennedy brothers?) But I was expecting those. What I didn't expect was that DuVernay would turn two of Johnson's shining moments into equally cheap cartoons."

Presidential Race

A Bush by Any Other Name.... Several commentators have remarked on a "conversation" the Coy Lady of the Absinthe had with a governor she dared not name. Said governor, whoever he may be (and it is a "he") explained to her why a lack of foreign policy experience is unimportant: "Because foreign policy still comes down, always, to your gut, your instincts." ...

... Steve Benen calls this "'The Colbert-ification of foreign policy thinking.' What the unnamed governor argued, in effect, is that knowledge is overrated. In a complex world, filled with constantly changing challenges and unpredictable outcomes, the Republican sees himself qualified to handle foreign affairs because of his finely tuned 'gut' and 'instincts.' Funny, I seem to recall another recent presidential candidate saying his intuition had far more value than awareness of world events. His name was George W. Bush.... But for Noonan's source to argue that it's better to trust a governor's gut than a senator's (or former Secretary of State's) actual expertise is hard to take seriously." ...

... Steve M. looked for clues & had no trouble IDing the perp as Chris Christie. ...

... Daniel Drezner of the Washington Post blew a gasket: This is "a legitimately dangerous belief system in world politics.... There are actually quite a few important concepts in world politics that are not, at first glance, terribly intuitive.... There are a lot of intuitive concepts in foreign affairs that turn out to be of dubious value in conducting statecraft.... Foreign affairs is lousy with situations in which the counterintuitive idea is superior to the intuitive idea -- a fact that the governor chatting with Noonan clearly does not know. And the hubris on display in the governor's answer makes me very frightened about what would happen should this person become president in January 2017."

Katie Glueck of Politico: "A confident Rick Santorum took the stage at a tea party convention [in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina,] on Monday, taking swings at 2012 presidential rival Mitt Romney and offering a glimpse of what a second Santorum bid would look like.... During his wide-ranging speech, Santorum made several nods to a future presidential bid. He also spoke more broadly about the need to improve the lives of American workers, roll back Common Core educational requirements and embrace a muscular foreign policy."

Matea Gold of the Washington Post writes a longish, somewhat disjointed story of Jeb Bush's employment as a board member & consultant of a shady investment firm called InnoVida whose CEO was convicted of swindling clients & investors for activities he carried out while Bush was a "key manager." CW: As I recall, when Wesley Clark ran for president in 2004, there were assertions that he wasn't smart enough to be president. Well, he's smarter than Jeb Bush: while Bush was on the board, Clark declined to join the firm because he found evidence the CEO was a crook.

Senate Race

Emily Cahn of Roll Call: "Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a two-term Democrat, told CQ Roll Call Monday that she is seriously considering challenging vulnerable Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., in 2016. Duckworth, currently finishing maternity leave following the birth of her daughter, said in a phone interview she is beginning the process of exploring a Senate bid as she gears up to return to Capitol Hill."

Beyond the Beltway

Jon Swaine of the Guardian: "About 9,000 people have been summonsed to Arapahoe County ​district court for consideration as jurors [in the James Holmes Aurora theater shooting case]. The whittling down of this vast pool, thought to be the biggest in US judicial history, is expected to take up to four months.... District attorney George Brauchler is seeking the death penalty. Brauchler, who reportedly declined an offer of a guilty plea in return for a life sentence, has declared that for Holmes, 'justice is death'."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Houthi rebel militiamen seized control of the palace of Yemen's president and clashed with guards outside his residence on Tuesday, in an escalation of the violent crisis that has gripped the capital for days and raised fears of a coup in one of the Arab world's most impoverished and insecure states. The president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, viewed by the United States as a crucial counterterrorism ally, was believed to be in the capital, but his exact whereabouts was unknown. He made no public statements as the fighting escalated, though Houthi leaders insisted that he was safe and in his home."

Putin Rears His Head & Comes into the Waters of ... Cuba. AFP: "A Russian intelligence warship docked in Havana on Tuesday, a day before the start of historic US-Cuba talks aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations. There was nothing stealthy about the arrival of the Viktor Leonov CCB-175, which was moored to a pier in Old Havana where cruise ships often dock. But the visit was not officially announced by Cuban authorities. US officials in Washington played down the presence of the Russian vessel, saying it was perfectly legal and not at all out of the ordinary."

New York Times: "A video posted online on Tuesday, purportedly by the Islamic State extremist group, depicted a black-clad militant with a knife threatening to kill two Japanese hostages within 72 hours unless the government in Tokyo paid a ransom of $200 million."


The Commentariat -- Jan. 19, 2015

You are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages. -- Martin Luther King, Jr., Memphis, 1968

President Obama on the Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service:

... Steve Mufson of the Washington Post: "On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, nearly 47 years after the assassination of the civil rights leader, the nation and the president are still struggling with issues of race and discrimination, issues Obama has never denied but has long sought to de-emphasize.... Though Obama's views have evolved on issues such as gay marriage and national security during his six years in office, his views on race have remained remarkably consistent, and recent events appear to have affirmed rather than altered those views." ...

Steve Zeitchik of the Los Angeles Times on a house in Selma. The Times labels this piece a "great read." It is.

Peter Holley & Dan Lemothe of the Washington Post: "Multiple gunshots were fired outside Vice President Joe Biden's home in Delaware and a vehicle fled the area Saturday night, Secret Service officials said. The vice president and his family were not at home when the shooting occurred, authorities said." ...

... Aired in October 2014:

     ... See Marvin S.'s comment in today's thread.

Gregory Wallace of CNN highlights proposals to help the middle class which President Obama will lay out in his State of the Union speech Tuesday. ...

... Matt O'Brien of the Washington Post does the same, calling Obama proposals, "Piketty with an American accent." CW: (That would be "PEEK-ə-tee," not "PICK-ə-tee.") Piketty concentrates on wealth inequality, while most of the President's proposals address income inequality. One of Obama's proposals, to "take away a long-standing feature of the tax code that allows people to pass along appreciated assets to their heirs while limiting any tax bill" does work to reduce wealth inequality. And would take direct aim at the Mittster & his brood. ...

... Vicki Needham of the Hill: "Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and presidential hopeful, said President Barack Obama's plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest taxpayers and the largest financial firms 'moves us in the right direction.' Sanders said that the plan comes 'at a time of obscene levels of income and wealth inequality.'" ...

... Paul Waldman: "Even President Obama's most fervent opponents must acknowledge that he's getting quite good at putting them on the defensive.... He seems to come up with a new idea every couple of weeks to drive [Republicans] up a wall.... They are barely mentioning the proposals for middle-class tax breaks which are supposed to be the whole purpose of this initiative; instead, all their focus is on the increases America's noble job creators would have to endure in order to pay for it."

... John Nichols of the Nation: ".... At a point when there is broadening recognition of the social and economic perils posed by income inequality, the president is talking about taking simple steps in the right direction. Congress is unlikely go along with him, but the American people will... To get a sense of how modest the Obama proposal is, consider this: the capital gains tax rate increase he proposes will only return the rate to what it was when Ronald Reagan was president. So Obama is only undoing the damage done; he is not going anywhere near the robust rates seen under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford." ...

... Paul Krugman: "We're living in a political era in which facts don't matter.... On issues that range from monetary policy to the control of infectious disease, a big chunk of America's body politic holds views that are completely at odds with, and completely unmovable by, actual experience.... These people ... [are] red-faced angry, with special rage directed at know-it-alls who snootily point out that the facts don't support their position.... It strikes me that the immovable position in each of these cases is bound up with rejecting any role for government that serves the public interest." ...

... Lawrence Summers in the Washington Post: Dear Middle Class: The One-Percenters at Davos don't care about you. "If the United States had the same income distribution it had in 1979, the bottom 80 percent of the population would have $1 trillion -- or $11,000 per family -- more. The top 1 percent would have $1 trillion -- or $750,000 -- less. There is little prospect for maintaining international integration and cooperation if it continues to be seen as leading to local disintegration while benefiting a mobile global elite." ...

... This Oxfam report (pdf), which contributor safari cites, provides more data supporting some of Summers' points: "Global wealth is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a small wealthy elite.These wealthy individuals have generated and sustained their vast riches through their interests and activities in a few important economic sectors, including finance and pharmaceuticals/healthcare. Companies from these sectors spend millions of dollars every year on lobbying to create a policy environment that protects and enhances their interests further. The most prolific lobbying activities in the US are on budget and tax issues; public resources that should be directed to benefit the whole population, rather than reflect the interests of powerful lobbyists." ...

... CW: I keep wondering what Summers' angle is. He's a Wall-Streeter through-&-through, yet now he's speaking up against wealth inequality & dissing Davos. Summers was once a honcho at Bilderberg; maybe this is a big-boys' frat thing. I really don't know. But I'm pretty sure there's something in it for Larry.

Juan Williams of the Hill: "Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) strategy for defeating Democrats in the final two years of the Obama administration is clear: divide and conquer.... If significant numbers of Senate Democrats are willing to join with Republicans to force presidential vetoes, McConnell wins. He gains the power to paint himself as the good guy working across political lines. And he will smear the remaining Democrats as members of an out-of-the-mainstream party in the grips of leftist ideologues -- Obama, [Harry] Reid, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and possibly Hillary Clinton."

Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "... the Supreme Court on Tuesday will turn its attention to judicial elections. Such contests already sometimes resemble regular political campaigns, awash in money and negative advertising. And judges already routinely hear cases involving lawyers and litigants who have contributed to their campaigns. But 30 of the 39 states with judicial elections have tried to draw the line by forbidding judicial candidates to personally ask for money, saying that such solicitations threaten the integrity of the judiciary and public confidence in the judicial system. Tuesday's case is a First Amendment challenge to the solicitation bans, which have been struck down by four federal appeals courts. But most of the American legal establishment supports them. The American Bar Association and a group representing the chief justices of every state have filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to uphold the bans."

David Savage of the Los Angeles Times: "... after the justices agreed Friday to take up the issue [of gay marriage] again, Kennedy and the other justices must reconcile what they left unresolved two years ago. Is marriage for gays and lesbians a matter of equal rights and individual liberty guaranteed by the Constitution? Or is it a matter left to the states?... If this year's decision on gay marriage turned only on court precedents and legal logic, it would look to be a toss-up." However, the Supremes' agreement to take up the issue after denying states' appeals to the Court last fall suggests it is a decision already-made & waiting for an opinion to justify gay marriage. CW: Read the whole column.

David Sanger & Martin Fackler of the New York Times: "The trail that led American officials to blame North Korea for the destructive cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in November winds back to 2010, when the National Security Agency scrambled to break into the computer systems of a country considered one of the most impenetrable targets on earth.... The evidence gathered by the 'early warning radar' of software painstakingly hidden to monitor North Korea's activities proved critical in persuading President Obama to accuse the government of Kim Jong-un of ordering the Sony attack, according to the officials and experts...."

Kevin Sieff of the Washington Post: "The U.S. military sent about 3,000 troops to West Africa to build [Ebola treatment] centers ... in recent months.... But as the outbreak fades in Liberia, it has become clear that the disease had already drastically subsided before the first American centers were completed. Several of the U.S.-built units haven't seen a single patient infected with Ebola.... Although future flare-ups of the disease are possible, the near-empty Ebola centers tell the story of an aggressive American military and civilian response that occurred too late to help the bulk of the more than 8,300 Liberians who became infected. Last week, even as international aid organizations built yet more Ebola centers, there was an average of less than one new case reported in Liberia per day." CW: Sounds like good news to me.

Your Friendly Muslim Neighbors May Be Terrorists! Peter Schroeder of the Hill: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he was not aware of any specific [terrorist "sleeper cells" in the U.S.], but noted that the recent attacks elsewhere in the Western world make it a safe assumption. Johnson is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee."

God News, Monday Edition. Kyle Balluck of the Hill: "Pope Francis is planning to address a joint session of Congress and visit the White House during a trip to Washington, D.C. in September, one of the archbishops organizing the pontiff's trip said."

David Carr of the New York Times on "why the Oscars' omission of 'Selma' matters."

Presidential Race 2016

Jake Miller of CBS News: In a new CBS poll asking Republican respondents about possible presidential contenders, only Sarah Palin has worse numbers than Chris Christie.

** Alec MacGillis, in the New Yorker, on Jeb Bush's school-privatization experiment. The kids is not learning much, but Jeb's friends & other opportunists are making fistfuls of dollars.

Caroline Bankoff of New York: "During a Sunday Meet the Press appearance, [Sen. Lindsey] Graham [R-S.C.] said that he has already registered 'testing-the-waters committee" with the IRS. "I don't know where this will go, but I'm definitely going to look at [a run for president],' he explained."

CW: As much as I despise Carly Fiorina, Politico's top headline at the moment -- "Who Wants Carly Fiorina?" -- accompanied by a big ole picture of her looking ever-so sad, is pretty damned sexist.

Jamelle Bouie of Slate on Jim Webb, "the white man's Democrat."

Senate Races 2016

Chris Cillizza & Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "The Senate map is the Democrats' friend in the 2016 cycle. They are defending only 10 seats, while Republicans have two dozen to hold. But wait, it gets better. Seven of those 24 Republican seats are in states that President Obama won not once but twice: Florida, Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. To win the majority, Democrats need to win five of those seven seats in November 2016. (If Hillary Clinton, or another Democrat, wins the White House in 2016, then Senate Democrats need to win only four of those seven.)"

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd.

Steve M.: "President Obama has proposed a change in the tax code that would lower taxes for the vast majority of Americans." But Fox "News" is calling it a "tax hike." See Krugman, Paul, linked above.

Brian Stelter of CNN: "Fox News took time out of four broadcasts on Saturday to apologize for four separate instances of incorrect information that portrayed Muslims in a negative light."

CW: Thanks for the responses yesterday re: my WashPo "poll analysis" challenge. I feel so much better. What struck me immediately was Taylor's false assumption that only European Muslims would say they approved of the Islamic State -- that other people could not possibly answer yes. The RT story, dated August 18, 2014, on which Taylor relied does not link to or cite the precise question the pollsters posed. If Western Europeans are half as ignorant as Americans, it wouldn't surprise me to find many people of every ethnic & religious persuasion answering in the affirmative. They might think the Islamic State was something like the Palestinian state (or even have the two confused). In any event, Taylor's assumption that only Muslims would approve of an Islamic state is rather stunningly biased against Muslims.

     One can't tell from the RT article whether or not the pollsters provided respondents with any sort of description of ISIS to "help" respondents answer the question. If they did, that description would of course skew the responses in some way. As P. D. Pepe pointed out, the survey was conducted & reported by Russian state organs (something Taylor did not make clear in his post). RT is a well-known propaganda machine. It's ironic that our own right-wing propaganda machine, a/k/a Fox "News," would use as its source Russian media. Other contributors noted other methodological problems, both on the pollsters' part & on Taylor's. All in all, a questionable poll, & a really dumb analysis.

Beyond the Beltway

Jesse McKinley of the New York Times: "Flanked by a collection of liberal groups and labor leaders, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Sunday announced a raft of proposals on social issues, among them a plan that would raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour in New York City and $10.50 an hour in the rest of the state. If approved by the State Legislature, the proposal would make New York's minimum wage among the highest in the country. But traditional Republican opposition in the State Senate, where that party holds a majority, makes the passage of such legislation far from assured."

American "Justice," Ctd. Silas Allen & Darla Slipke of the Oklahoman: "The police chief [in Sentinel, Oklahoma,] survived being shot in the chest Thursday while responding to a reported bomb threat, and the man who authorities say shot him was allowed to walk free later in the day.... Agents with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said the man who shot the chief was released after hours of questioning when they determined they didn't have enough evidence to arrest him. 'Facts surrounding the case lead agents to believe the man was unaware it was officers who made entry,' OSBI wrote in a news release." ...

... Wait, There's More. David Ferguson of the Raw Story: A "neighbor ... described the gunman to the Oklahoman as a 'survivalist' type who mistrusted the government, was openly unfriendly to neighbors and wore a lot of black clothing. A Facebook profile believed to be [the shooter Dallas] Horton's is rife with racially charged images and jabs at black leaders like Rev. Al Sharpton." Oh, here's something else: Police Chief Louis Ross is black. CW: Well, of course there's not enough evidence.

News Ledes

New York Times: "A federal prosecutor who has accused top officials including the president of protecting Iranian suspects in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center, one of Argentina's worst terrorist attacks, has been found dead at his home, the authorities said on Monday. The prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, had been scheduled to testify on Monday at a congressional inquiry about his accusations. News of his mysterious death immediately provoked shock and outrage from the political opposition and leaders of Argentina's Jewish community, one of Latin America's largest, and appeared to put a skulduggerous shadow over his accusations."


The Commentariat -- Jan. 18, 2015

A Constant Weader Challenge to Readers: In the French TV segment I've linked under Infotainment, the host suggests that the Washington Post debunked a survey that showed one in six French people support ISIS. A post in Daily Kos by an anonymous contributor flat-out says, "that poll was debunked by the Washington Post." Yesterday, Akhilleus wrote, "I spotted an article touting the problems recent college grads have with critical thinking. Four out of ten seem unable to parse basic problems or spot logical fallacies." I took a look at the WashPo piece, by Adam Taylor (whose pic suggests he could pass for a recent college grad) supposedly debunking the survey. It's crap. If you spot the logical fallacy in the WashPo post, please write in & tell us what it is. Let's see if a few Reality Chex readers are smarter than the most clueless recent college grads. If not, je désespère.

CW: I've occasionally described the Occupy movement as a failure. But if you look at the stories linked today about President Obama's upcoming SOTU address, Mitt Romney's magical imaginary populism & Elizabeth Warren's clout, it's pretty clear that Occupy, noxious though it became in a number of ways, forced into the open the central issue of our government & of our society, one that has been festering for decades.

Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Obama will use his State of the Union address to call on Congress to raise taxes and fees on the wealthiest taxpayers and the largest financial firms to finance an array of tax cuts for the middle class, pressing to reshape the tax code to help working families, administration officials said on Saturday.... It was quickly dismissed by leading Republicans as a nonstarter. But the decision to present the plan during Tuesday' speech marks the start of a debate over taxes and the economy that will shape both Mr. Obama's legacy and the 2016 presidential campaign." See also Mitt Romney's "outline to eradicate poverty" in "Presidential Race" below.

Greg Sargent (Friday): "At the Republican retreat, Senate GOP leaders are apparently working overtime to dial down expectations among Republicans who still hope that the Congressional GOP can put a stop to President Obama's out-of-control lawlessness.... Mitch McConnell is telling colleagues that he needs six Democrats to get the 60 votes he needs to overcome the Democratic blockade [of the House Homeland Security/anti-immigrant bill]. The reporting out there indicates that this isn't going to happen. And on top of that, the Hill notes, a handful of Republican Senators (presumably ones up for reelection in Obama states who don't want to vote for deporting the DREAMers) might also oppose the House GOP measure." ...

     ... Nancy LeTourneau of the Washington Monthly: "The scenario of leadership having to organize a super-majority to get something passed in the Senate while their base makes unreasonable demands and moderates threaten to jump ship is one we've seen before. Perhaps Sen. McConnell should have a little sit-down with Sen. Reid and President Obama to get some pointers. Of course there are a lot of serious issues at stake here. But before we get to those, I'm just going to pause and enjoy a moment of schadenfreude :-)"

Tara Culp-Ressler of Think Progress: "Several Republican congresswomen are reportedly splitting from their party on a national abortion bill that’s scheduled for a vote in the House next week, raising concerns that the legislation is too extreme and will alienate female voters. The GOP-controlled House will vote on a proposed 20-week abortion ban next Thursday -- the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade.... The legislation has passed the House for the past two years and was expected to have broad support in the 114th Congress, particularly as Republicans have set their sights on later abortions as an area where they believe they can advance their agenda." ...

... Lauren French & Jake Sherman of Politico have more on the pushback against the bill.

Almost Funny. So the GOP, which hopes to lose its well-deserved image as the White Man's Party is losing the support of women with their barefoot-&-pregnant program & of Hispanics with their deport-'em-all appropriations bill. Now, ha ha, their worried about expanding their appeal to black Americans:

... AP: "Eager to attract more minority voters, some "Republicans are worried that their party's near-certain candidate for a House seat in New York City could become the latest drag on GOP diversity efforts. Daniel Donovan seems sure to become the Republican nominee in a special election in the 11th congressional district, which covers Staten Island and a sliver of Brooklyn. Donovan ... is also the prosecutor who presented evidence to the grand jury that decided against charging a white police officer in last July's chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black suspect."

GOP Presidential Hopeful Makes up Stuff. In another attack on Social Security, Congressional Republicans have created a "new rule" that would disallow routine transfers from the Social Security retirement trust fund to the SSI disability program unless the transfers are balanced with new revenues (which the majority GOP Congress won't pass) or benefits cuts. Sen. Rand Paul is out in the hinterlands (New Hampshire, by chance, which just coincidentally is the first state to hold a presidential primary) to bolster their case, claiming that too many people on SSI disability are lazy fraudsters:

Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn't get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has a little back pain. -- Rand Paul, January 14

Politifact: "The numbers don't add up. The two broader disability categories that include back pain ('diseases of the musculoskeletal system') and anxiety disorders ('mental disorders - other') don't even equal close to 50 percent, let alone those two ailments by themselves. Paul's quip might make for a good soundbite, but it's not rooted in reality. We rate the statement False."

Michael Schmidt & Susanne Craig of the New York Times: "A delegation of American legislators led by Senator Patrick J. Leahy arrived in Cuba on Saturday to discuss greater cooperation and remaining areas of disagreement, the first congressional delegation to visit the island nation since President Obama announced last month that he was

... Erica Orden of the Wall Street Journal: "New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce in his state-of-the- state address on Wednesday that he will lead a trade mission to Cuba in the coming months...."

Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post: "The tussle [over President Obama's nomination of Antonio Weiss to a top Treasury post] sent [a] ... signal ... of how [Elizabeth] Warren intends to wield her growing clout. It showed that she and her brand of populism are forces to be reckoned with -- not only by Obama and his team, but also by the Democrats' likely 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.... Warren wants to make sure that Wall Street-aligned figures who have shaped the Clinton and Obama brand of economic policy for the past quarter-century, going back to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, are not the only ones at the oval mahogany table."

Adam McDonald of KMOV St. Louis: "St. Ann[, Missouri,] Police apologized to a college student after they admitted to causing severe injuries to his face after accusing him of a crime he didn't commit on Thursday. Police were in pursuit of Anton Simmons, who had 17 warrants our for his name, when 22-year-old Joseph Swink crashed his car trying to avoid the police pursuit on Interstate 70.... Swink is an accounting student at UMSL with no criminal record and was on his way home from an internship when he was accidentally involved in the pursuit." CW: How were the cops to know? Swink is black. So he "looked guilty." ...

... CW: Oh, I must be wrong. Aviva Shen of Think Progress: "While the St. Ann Police Department is apologizing, they say the mistaken identity has 'zero to do about race.'"

Maureen Dowd on "Selma": "There was no need for [director Ava] DuVernay to diminish L.B.J., given that the Civil Rights Movement would not have advanced without him.... 'This is art; this is a movie; this is a film,' DuVernay said [to Gwen Ifill of PBS]. 'I'm not a historian. I'm not a documentarian.' The 'Hey, it's just a movie' excuse doesn't wash.... The truth is dramatic and fascinating enough. Why twist it? On matters of race -- America's original sin -- there is an even higher responsibility to be accurate. DuVernay had plenty of vile white villains -- including one who kicks a priest to death in the street -- and they were no doubt shocking to the D.C. school kids. There was no need to create a faux one." ...

... Contra Dowd (and me), Rep, John Lewis is a Los Angeles Times op-ed: "... this movie is being weighed down with a responsibility it cannot possibly bear. It's portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson's role in the Selma marches has been called into question.... Were any of the Selma marches the brainchild of President Johnson? Absolutely not.... I know. I was there. Don't get me wrong, in my view, Johnson is one of this country's great presidents, but he did not direct the civil rights movement." ...

... Here's the WashPo op-ed by Joseph Califano, who claims, based on a conversation between LBJ & Dr. King, which the President taped, that "Selma was LBJ's idea."

... Robin Pogrebin of the New York Times: "Even as the film 'Selma' has recreated the civil rights march to Montgomery for moviegoers, the New-York Historical Society is about to present images of the event captured by someone who was actually there. The exhibition, 'Freedom Journey 1965,' features photographs by Stephen Somerstein, who traveled to Alabama to document the march as a student in City College of New York's night school, where he was picture editor of his student newspaper. Over the five-day, 54-mile march, Mr. Somerstein took about 400 photographs of participants, from spectators who lined the rural roads to whites who heckled the marchers to leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks." More info. here.

God News

CW: You'll never, never ever guess what book some Mississippi lawmakers want to designate as the official state book. Here's a "Wheel of Fortune" hint: H _ _ y  B _ _ _ e. ...

... Via Steve Benen.: "If this sounds at all familiar, Louisiana very nearly made the [same move] ... last year, but backed off once the bill's sponsor acknowledged some 'constitutional problems.'"

... Speaking of Louisiana & Separation of Church & State. Julie O'Donoghue of the Times-Picayune: "A group of religious leaders has scheduled a prayer rally at Southern University to rival Gov. Bobby Jindal's religious gathering -- officially called The Response -- at LSU. The prayer rally at Southern University will take place ... on the same day, Jan. 24, as Jindal's event at the Peter Maravich Assembly Center (PMAC) on LSU's campus. The Southern gathering is being called the 'Prayer Rally for the Soul of Louisiana.' Organizers of the Southern event has said they will focus on Louisiana's mass incarceration rate, Medicaid expansion and the state's failing education system. The list of issues may be a personal critique of Jindal's tenure as governor." CW: Yeah, maybe. Via Benen. ...

... GOP Presidential Hopeful Makes up Stuff. Speaking of Louisiana & Stupid Bobby Jindal Tricks. Paul Singer of Religion News Service: "When a Fox News 'expert' claimed non-Muslims are not welcome in some European cities, Britain's prime minister 'thought it must be April Fools' Day.' But the Louisiana governor's planned speech repeats the charge.... An advance text of Jindal's speech, circulated by his office, warns that Islamic radicals are fomenting anti-Western sentiment in 'no-go zones' where they rule themselves by Islamic religious law, not the laws of their host nations." CW: Or maybe this story should go under "Presidential Race" below.

Greg Horton of Religion News Service: "On the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many Oklahoma pastors will preach not in robes, but hooded sweatshirts, or hoodies, to protest a proposed state bill that would ban a mask, hood, or covering of the face in public under certain conditions."

Sorry I didn't link this sooner. Emma Margolin of NBC News: "For those anxiously awaiting the nation's next religious freedom showdown, look no further than Atlanta, where a growing controversy is currently unfolding over the recent dismissal of Fire Rescue Chief Kelvin Cochran, who last year wrote and distributed a self-published book that espoused anti-gay views." ...

... New York Times Editors: "Unfortunately, Georgia's lawmakers are ... considering for the second year in a row a 'religious-freedom' bill that, like others around the country, would do little more than provide legal cover for anti-gay discrimination. The First Amendment already protects religious freedom. Nobody can tell Mr. Cochran what he can or cannot believe. If he wants to work as a public official, however, he may not foist his religious views on other city employees who have the right to a boss who does not speak of them as second-class citizens."

Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service: "Hundreds of Duke students rally with Muslims at Friday's call to prayer.... The gathering ... was quiet and peaceful, and emerged spontaneously after Duke University officials on Thursday abruptly reversed their decision to broadcast the Muslim 'adhan,' or call to prayer, from the bell tower atop its iconic chapel."

The story here, by Zack Ford of Think Progress, is that this Kentucky state senator "wants [the school districts] to pay students $2,500 if they see a transgender person in the 'wrong' [school] bathroom." So, okay, incredibly stupid law. What I want to know is ...

... What century is this guy from?

Presidential Race

Hypocrisy, Thy Middle Name Is Mitt. (Thy First Name is Willard.) Rory Carroll of the Guardian: "Mitt Romney has cast himself as a champion of the poor and the underdog in his first public comments since revealing another potential presidential run.... 'Under President Obama the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty in American than ever before,' Romney said." ...

... Say What? Seema Mehta & Mark Barabak of the Los Angeles Times: "Mitt Romney's new focus on poverty has many allies baffled. "At one point [during the 2012 election cycle], he appeared to dismiss concerns about the 'very poor' because, he said, they were aided by a safety net that could be repaired if necessary. He was caught on video telling donors that 47% of voters were unavailable to him because they were dependent on the government. After the election, he blamed President Obama giving 'gifts' to black, Latino and young voters for his loss." ...

... The Washington Post story, by Dan Balz & Philip Rucker, is here. CW: The Post's headline -- "Romney, moving toward 2016 run, outlines vision to eradicate poverty" -- is crap. From the Guardian's & Post's reporting, as far as I can tell, there's no "outline"; just a remark that, you know, poverty is bad, & it's all Obama's fault. The actual "outline" goes something like this:

Pass progressive tax reform -- the richer you are,
     the greater the cut.
Eliminate corporate taxes.
Cut regulations on business.
Rename EPA: Environmental Pollution Agency.
Subsidize private industry, private schools.
Kill RomneyC ObamaCare.
Cut all social programs/"hammocks."
Appoint justices & judges who understand that
     corporations are people, my friend.

 ... I see Steve M. & I are on the same page: Romney is "saying that the same policies the right has always advocated are still the best policies -- and those, of course, would be huge cuts in social programs, tax cuts (primarily benefiting the rich), and significantly curtailed government regulation. For the good of the poor!... The right isn't conceding anything. It's just finding a new route to the same old endpoint: Cut taxes, cut spending, cut regulation, repeat ad infinitum." ...

CW: Steve & I are not making this up. It come's from the horse's mouth (no, not Rafalca's):

[Romney] cited former president Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty half a century ago. Johnson's intentions were good, he said, but his policies had not worked. He argued that Republicans must persuade voters that conservative policies can 'end the scourge of poverty' in America.

Michael Crowley of Politico: "As Mitt Romney's supporters push the idea that the 2012 Republican nominee might run for president again, one of their core talking points is that Romney was a foreign policy prophet in the last campaign. His vindication on several scores, they argue, gives him a rationale to run again -- and a leg up on his potential Republican rivals.... But, as Democrats point out, any losing candidate can cherry-pick a few issues that later broke his way. And Romney's batting average was hardly perfect. Nor do bragging rights on a few specific issues necessarily translate to a popular foreign policy vision overall." ...

... CW: Nobody seems to say this, but it would have been a diplomatic disaster for the POTUS to offend Putin when the U.S. was pretending, for self-interested reasons, that he was one of our BFFs. You make the kinds of statements Romney made in 2012 about Russia after a crisis has occurred, not while you're trying to prevent it. When you're trying to get people (including radical extremists) to act responsibly, you don't insult them. Had Romney won the election, his foreign policy remarks would have hurt more than helped American interests. The idea that Obama had no idea there were extremists roaming the Middle East is ludicrous.

Missed This One. Tim Alberta of the National Journal (January 15): "Ben Carson -- a Washington outsider, a world-renowned neurosurgeon, a favorite among tea-party insurgents -- had a message Thursday for the Republican Party's most influential establishment figures: I'm not 'crazy.' Speaking to the Republican National Committee's winter meeting, Carson tried to challenge the caricature of him as a right-wing zealot by addressing -- one by one -- many of the individual controversies that have surrounded him, and dismissing them as lies from 'the liberal media.' Carson defended, among other things, his statements about Obamacare being the worst thing since slavery; comparing present-day America to Nazi Germany; and calling last year's Veterans Affairs scandal 'a gift from God' because it revealed holes in the system.... Still, the significant time devoted to explaining and debunking these incidents suggests Carson is keenly aware of the damage they could do to his White House run."

News Ledes

Los Angeles Times: "An Indonesian firing squad executed six convicted drug traffickers early Sunday, sparking condemnations from human rights groups and foreign leaders. The Netherlands, Indonesia's former colonial ruler, said it would withdraw its ambassador and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said she was 'outraged and dismayed' after Dutch and Brazilian nationals were among those put to death just after midnight in the center of Java, Indonesia’s most populous island."


The Commentariat -- Jan. 17, 2015

White House: "In this week's address, the President recounted the stories of letter writers from around the country who will be joining him when he delivers his annual State of the Union Address this Tuesday":

Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. The court's announcement made it likely that it would resolve one of the great civil rights questions of the age before its current term ends in June. The justices ducked the issue in October, refusing to hear appeals from rulings allowing same-sex marriage in five states. That surprise action delivered a tacit victory for gay rights, immediately expanding the number of states with same-sex marriage to 24 from 19, along with the District of Columbia." ...

... The Washington Post story, by Robert Barnes, is here. ...

... Sahil Kapur of TPM: "The Obama administration will formally ask the Supreme Court to 'make marriage equality a reality for all Americans' in a landmark case. In a statement issued on Friday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will file a friend-of-the-court brief calling for gay and lesbian Americans across the country to be able to marry." Here's Holder's statement. ...

... An analysis by Lyle Denniston of ScotusBlog is here. ...

... Steve Sanders in ScotusBlog: "Let's be clear -- the marriage bans are about animus.... Spend a few minutes browsing news databases for coverage of the mini-DOMA campaigns and it confirms what you knew but may have forgotten: the campaigns were substantially characterized by negative code words, moral judgment, and disparagement (often implicit, sometimes explicit) of gays' dignity.... The question of animus will be prominent -- perhaps pivotal -- in this final phase of marriage litigation."

Robert O'Harrow, et al., of the Washington Post: "Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without proving that a crime occurred. Holder's action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.... Holder's decision follows a Washington Post investigation published in September that found that police have made cash seizures worth almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or indictments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.... Last Friday, Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), along with Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), signed a letter calling on Holder to end Equitable Sharing." Thanks to Haley S. for the link. ...

... CW: I doubt Holder would have taken this step if not for the WashPo series. Journalism matters. ...

... Not to mention John Oliver, who took up the issue in October:

... The Justice Department's press release is here. ...

... Andy Cash of Gawker: "Holder's decision won't end civil forfeiture entirely, however: many states have their own forfeiture laws, and the DOJ will still allow for the seizure of things like weapons and child porn, and in other situations when 'public safety is at risk' or there is clear evidence of criminal activity, the Post notes. But many of those state laws don't direct property back to police departments, as the federal policy does, but deposit it in the state's general fund instead -- hopefully narrowing the possibility that cops will take some guys Hummer just because it would look bitchin' with the PD logo on it." ...

... Katie Zavadski of New York: "Unsurprisingly, states that don't funnel seized cash back into law enforcement tend to have fewer forfeiture-related scandals."

Nicholas Watt of the Guardian: "Barack Obama and David Cameron struck different notes on surveillance powers after the president conceded that there is an important balance to be struck between monitoring terror suspects and protecting civil liberties. As Cameron warned the internet giants that they must do more to ensure they do not become platforms for terrorist communications, the US president said he welcomed the way in which civil liberties groups hold them to account by tapping them on the shoulder." ...

... Jerome Cartillier of AFP: "US President Barack Obama on Friday urged European governments to try to better assimilate their Muslim minority populations as they respond to extremist attacks like last week's shootings in Paris." ...

... The press conference was pretty interesting. You might want to listen to it while you're washing your socks:

... Matt Apuzzo & Steve Erlanger of the New York Times: In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, there is a great deal of opposition in France to the government's adopting a version of the U.S. Patriot Act. CW: From the report, something that went over my head in the President's remarks during the joint presser:

Mr. Obama said Friday that while violent extremism had 'metastasized' and was 'widespread,' he added, 'I do not consider it an existential threat.' That is a marked contrast from the language used after the attacks in 2001, when Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security adviser at the time, said, 'There is no longer any doubt that today America faces an existential threat to our security.'

The Poor Get Poorer. Motoko Rich of the New York Times: "Just over half of all students attending public schools in the United States are now eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, according to a new analysis of federal data. In a report released Friday by the Southern Education Foundation, researchers found that 51 percent of children in public schools qualified for the lunches in 2013, which means that most of them come from low-income families. By comparison, 38 percent of public school students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in 2000."

Amy Davidson of the New Yorker: "The planet is changing, and we are close to the time when trying to check climate change will be like trying to redirect El Niño with canoe paddles.... The new numbers are so striking that they surprised even climate scientists."

Theda Skocpol of Harvard University on the premise of the King v. Burwell plaintiffs that subsidies are not apply to states which use the federal exchange: "Throughout hard-fought debates about health reform, lawmakers in both parties looked for ways to save taxpayer money. Partial subsidies would have greatly reduced costs, so the total absence of this kind of analysis among the 68 prepared by CBO for the 111th Congress (and its continuing absence in reports done for the next Congress) is the best objective evidence we have that no one in Congress considered premium subsidies restricted to certain states to be either possible or desirable. If Congress intended to threaten states with withheld subsidies, nobody said so." CW: The intent of Congress -- if it can be established -- is supposed to govern the courts' interpretation of laws. We'll see if it matters to the Supremes. Via Paul Waldman.

A Short History of the Crazy. Jonathan Chait: "The 'reformocons,' the small coterie of pundit-adviser-activists trying to coax the Republican Party back toward sanity, may be doing the most politically significant work of any faction in America today. But the task of talking sense to the senseless is tricky business.... Peter Wehner, the former Karl Rove aide..., denounces Republicans who have taken 'an apocalyptic view of American life during the Obama era.'... Actually, an apocalyptic view of American life is the very thing that propelled conservatism to power in the first place." ...

... The Party of NObama. Sahil Kapur: "Newly invigorated congressional Republicans ended their joint House-Senate retreat ... divided on how to handle pressing problems like immigration, homeland security funding and a contingency on health care.... The only thing uniting them was their opposition to President Barack Obama." ...

... Things might have worked out better if Speaker Boehner had not been so busy with more important things. Rebecca Nelson of the National Journal: "As soon as President Obama walked into a school in Knoxville, Tenn., last week and announced his ambitious community-college program, John Boehner knew it was trouble. So he did what any conservative, 65-year-old lawmaker would do: He compiled a series of Taylor Swift GIFs to spell out the problems of the plan.... The 12 GIFs, published on the speaker's website and emailed to reporters Friday morning, explain the GOP's case against Obama's proposal to make community college tuition-free." ...

... CW: Swift hasn't addressed the Boehner GIFs. She's been performing since she was about nine, so Swift herself hasn't gone to college. But she has supported schools & education through philanthropy & by, among other efforts, co-chairing the NEA's Read Across America Campaign. She might not be all that pleased to be used as a cudgel against helping millions of young Americans get a college education.

Inexcusable. Lori Aritani, et al., of the Washington Post: "It took Metro seven minutes to call 911 after a train stopped because of heavy smoke, and even then, officials did not report to emergency responders that passengers were trapped in a tunnel, according to federal safety investigators and reports from city officials and firefighters. When the first rescuers reached the platform at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station, they had no idea that hundreds of Yellow Line passengers were gasping for breath, according to internal District documents."

No Prejudice Here. AP: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi this week appointed Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana[, a Muslim,] to the panel, which oversees the government's intelligence departments and activities. Much of the business that comes before the committee is classified. Anti-Muslim protests erupted on Twitter and other social media with complaints that exposing American secrets to Carson could be dangerous."

No Racism Here. Travis Gettys of the Raw Story: "Florida police department uses black men&'s mugshots for target practice." Thanks to Akhilleus for the link. ...

... Oliver Laughland of the Guardian expands on the story. Really, the cops think shooting at mugshots of real people who really live in the area is a swell practice. And don't worry -- sometimes they shoot at real white men, real Hispanics & real women. See, not racism.

Presidential Race

Dave Weigel: The GOP will sanction only nine presidential primary debates, and none of them will be on MSNBC. "Apart from bringing joy to every conservative, it was as [RNC Chair Reince] Priebus said -- he did not want debates to be steered by people who wanted to make Republicans look stupid." ...

... CW: Please, none of the GOP candidates needs MSNBC to make him (or her -- Carly Demon-Sheep Fiorina!) look stoopid.

Katie Zavadski: "Earlier this week, Mitt Romney launched a trial balloon for a third run at the presidency. In the days since, political commentators, GOP megadonors, and influential moguls have done more than just deflate it -- they've popped it loudly and watched the pieces fly all over the room. Romney will address GOP leaders at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting Friday night, but many influencers seem to have already made up their minds." ...

... Ditto Paul Waldman: "... within just a few days, the entire Republican world, from conservatives to moderates, from office-holders to pundits, from strategists to hangers-on, has turned on Romney with a spectacular fury.... Even Peggy Noonan, relentless chronicler of Americans' gut feelings and secret longings -- who on the eve of the 2012 election assured readers that Romney would win despite what the polls said because 'All the vibrations are right' -- has today [Friday] turned rather viciously on the man she used to hold in such high esteem."

... "The Tyranny of Celebrity." Dana Milbank: "The conservative editorialists were right to dread another election about Romneycare and the 47 percent. But why pick on Romney? Overall, 2016 is shaping up to be the year of the retreads: the reduce, reuse and recycle election."

Gail Collins assesses Rick Perry's presidential bona fides. Hilarity ensues. She also gets in a classic-Collins mention of the Mittster: "The man who drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the car roof and the man who claims he shot a coyote while jogging." ...

... CW BTW: Unlike the dog-on-the-roof-of-the-car, there is good reason to believe that the coyote legend is a man-made myth.

** One Scary Dude Who Could Become President. Ian Millhiser lays out Rand Paul's alarming 19th-century plans for an "activist" Supreme Court -- one that would have "the Court to return to its self-appointed role as the vanguard against democracy." ...

... OR, as Charles Pierce puts it, Rand Paul "... would take us altogether back to the days of slave wages, child labor, unbridled carnage in the workplace, and legally enforced serfdom within the American corporation.... The current Supreme Court, John Roberts presiding, already is halfway there to meeting with Aqua Buddha on most of these issues." ...

... CW: While it's fair to suppose that neither the Fake Coyote Hunter nor the I-Am-Not-a-Scientist Man has sussed out the full-blown judicial philosophy that swirls beneath Aqua Buddha's wild toop, I believe that Perry & Rubio, as well as every one of the other likely GOP candidates, would comb the vast American wasteland for Sam Alito clones to fill the Court. It would take a Democratic-majority Senate with incredible resolve -- one we haven't seen since the Borking Era; ergo, Clarence Thomas -- to defend the Constitution. And even if such a Senate should return in 2016, it cannot reject all of a president's nominees; ergo, Anthony Kennedy & Nino Scalia. We're having our fun with Li'l Randy now, but how many soccer moms & factory workers do you suppose will pore over Ian Millhiser's writings before heading to the polls?

News Ledes

Orlando Sentinel: "Armed with a handgun and pockets full of ammunition, Jose Garcia Rodriguez walked into the Melbourne Square mall Saturday morning and shot his wife, another man, then himself, police say. The shooting left gunman Garcia Rodriguez, 57, of Palm Bay, and the other unidentified man dead, said Cmdr. Vince Pryce of Melbourne Police Department. Garcia Rodriguez's wife, 33-year-old Ida Garcia, survived and remains in good condition at a local hospital, Pryce said."

AP: "Greek police have detained four suspected terrorists, including one who could be the man wanted by Belgian authorities as an alleged ringleader of a jihadi cell, a police official told the Associated Press Saturday." ...

... AP: "Belgian authorities said Saturday that information sent to them from Athens so far has not indicated the people detained by police in Greece were involved in a Belgian jihadi cell."

AFP: "Pope Francis was forced Saturday to flee a fierce storm in the Philippines that killed a papal volunteer, cutting short a mercy mission to weeping survivors of a catastrophic super typhoon. Wearing a yellow plastic poncho to protect him from intense rain, Francis delivered an emotional mass to about 200,000 people in the typhoon-ravaged central Philippine city of Tacloban. However, plans to spend the entire day in Tacloban and nearby areas that were devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan 14 months ago were ruined by another storm, forcing him to fly back to Manila at lunchtime."

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