The Ledes

Wednesday, October 1, 2014.

Jacksonville Times-Union: A Jacksonville jury today found Michael Dunn guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. "Under Florida law Dunn must be sentenced to prison for life with no possibility of parole for the murder of Davis. He also faces a minimum of 60 years for the attempted murders of Leland Brunson, Tommie Stornes and Tevin Thompson, friends of Davis who were in the Dodge Durango with Davis when he died.... A previous jury deadlocked on his guilt in Davis’ death in February while convicting him of the second-degree attempted murders of Brunson, Stornes and Thompson."

The Wires

The Ledes

Tuesday, September 30, 2014.

Guardian: "Medical officials in the United States announced on Tuesday the first case of Ebola to be diagnosed outside Africa during the latest outbreak, which has killed more than 3,000 people this year. The patient, who has not yet been identified, is being treated in Dallas, Texas. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said the patient left Liberia in west Africa on 19 September, but did not develop symptoms until a few days after arriving in the US. He was admitted to the Texas Health Presbyterian hospital in Dallas on Sunday."

Los Angeles Times: "The Securities and Exchange Commission accused two men of insider trading for acting on advance word that hedge fund manager Bill Ackman planned to bet against nutritional products company Herbalife Ltd. It's the latest dramatic turn for the Los Angeles company, which is under federation investigation and has been fighting allegations for nearly two years that it operates an illegal pyramid scheme."

Los Angeles Times: "Bell Gardens[, California,] Mayor Daniel Crespo died Tuesday after he was shot by his wife, Levette, during a domestic situation, Sheriff's Department officials told The Times."

New York Times: "An Oklahoma man was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the beheading of a co-worker, but federal officials said they had found no links that tie the man to terrorist organizations, including Islamic extremist groups that have beheaded several Western hostages in the Middle East and North Africa in recent weeks. Alton Nolen, 30, who worked on the production line of a food processing plant in Moore, Okla., remains in the hospital after being shot by the company’s chief operating officer, who is also a reserve deputy sheriff, the authorities said."

New York Times: "Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed leader on Tuesday called for the pro-democracy demonstrators who have blocked major roads in the city to return home 'immediately,' and he gave no sign that he was prepared to compromise on their demands for more open elections to choose his successor." ...

... The Guardian is liveblogging the protests.

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post, September 17: "Artificial sweeteners might be triggering higher blood-sugar levels in some people and contributing to the problems they were designed to combat, such as diabetes and obesity, according to new findings published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

New York Times, September 1: "People who avoid carbohydrates and eat more fat, even saturated fat, lose more body fat and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diet that health authorities have favored for decades, a major new study [financed by the N.I.H.] shows."

White House Live Video
October 1

12:15 pm ET: Josh Earnest's press briefing

If you don't see the livefeed here, go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

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

Think Progress: "Facebook officially apologized Wednesday for enforcing its 'real name' policy for users against drag queens and other members of the LGBT community. Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, acknowledged that the policy has been a 'painful' experience for the many individuals whose profiles were suspended and promised to do better."

CW: Glad to see I'm not the only person who hates Windows 8. I thought it was just my old-lady-ness setting in.

Gabrielle Bluestone of Gawker: "The first trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Inherent Vice dropped today and, as expected, it's a madcap psychedelic Southern California love song that may or may not feature an appearance by elusive author Thomas Pynchon.... Anderson declined to answer directly in a recent interview with the New York Times, but [actor Josh] Brolin confirmed the notoriously reclusive author will appear in the film, telling the reporter, 'I don't think anybody knew... He came on as the kind of mercurial iconoclast he is. He stayed in the corner.'"

Here's a voiceover Pynchon did in 2009 promoting the novel Inherent Vice:


Whatever Happened to Piers Morgan? Guardian: "Piers Morgan, the former CNN talkshow host, has been appointed editor-at-large of Mail Online’s US operation. The outspoken New York-based British journalist, who parted company with CNN in early September, six months after his primetime talkshow was axed, will write for the Daily Mail’s US website several times a week, according to a Mail Online story published on Tuesday."

CW: You won't likely be hearing from Piers here. I've never found a reason to cite a Daily Mail story.

Los Angeles Times: "George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin are married, having said their vows Saturday evening in Venice, Italy." ...

... OR, as the Business Women Media lede reads, "Amal Alamuddin, a 36 year old London-based dual-qualified English barrister and New York litigation attorney who has long been a high-profile figure in international refugee and human rights law has gone against the trend for professional women in her field and married… an actor."

CW: Here's some cheery news. The MacArthur Foundation has named the newest recipients of its "genius" grants. I hope none of them is somebody you personally dislike (thus keeping it cheery). The AP article linked includes a slide show with mini-profiles of each grant recipient.

** CW: The best, most provocative piece of writing in the "news" today is A. O. Scott's piece in the New York Times Magazine on "The Death of Adulthood in American Culture." If you don't watch a lot of TV & never see stupid movies, you will struggle with Scott's exemplary references. You may not accept all of his premises, & I think he falls short on defining "adulthood" (though maybe, like pornography, we're supposed to recognize it when we see it.). ...

... Adam Sternbergh responds in New York.

Jeff Weiss, in the New York Times, profiles comedian Bill Maher, who is in the midst of a schtick aimed to defeat the U.S.'s worst Congressperson. You would be a good idea to read Weiss's piece with A. O. Scott's essay in mind. Maher (& even Weiss, who -- in ticking off "bad things" about Maher -- never mentions Maher's offensive attitudes about women) is a fine example of Scott's thesis.

Guardian: "Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their second child, the royal family said on Monday morning. The announcement was made from Clarence House on Twitter.... The Duchess of Cornwall is suffering from acute morning sickness, as she did with her first pregnancy, and is being treated by doctors at her apartments in Kensington Palace."

Washington Post: "After less than a year at the top of Politico’s masthead, veteran New York Times editor Rick Berke has resigned as the publication’s executive editor.... Friction had been on display in the newsroom almost from the beginning of his tenure. Berke, according to several current and former Politico employees, tried to impose some of the values of the world he came from — where multiple editors might weigh in, demand multiple drafts, and shape bigger, more ambitious stories — on Politico’s fast-moving, reporter-driven newsroom."

 

Jimmy Fallon & Maroon 5 singer & Voice judge Adam Levine stage a "musical impressions-off." This clip, from a show that aired this week (September 2), already has more than 8MM hits:

New York Times: "The jilted lover of President François Hollande of France has written a tell-all book about her days as France’s onetime unofficial first lady and of her version of events that led the couple to separate after the president was exposed as having an affair by a French gossip magazine. The book by Valérie Trierweiler, 49, who separated from Mr. Hollande in January, describes how news of the affair pushed her to the edge. She acknowledges that she 'cracked' and attempted suicide by trying to overdose on sleeping pills when she learned of Mr. Hollande’s affair with an actress, Julie Gayet.... The book drew a barrage of criticism for revealing secrets about the president, whose office embodies the nation and is rarefied like that of a monarch."

Washington Post: "Apple said that its iCloud systems have not been breached Tuesday and that thieves stole celebrity photos from Apple accounts by targeting individuals, rather than by breaking into the company's infrastructure."

Gabrielle Bluestone of Gawker claims she has compiled "everything we know about the alleged celeb nude 'trading ring' & leak." CW: I'll take her word for it, though I should warn you her post does not include any nude pix. My advice: If you wanna be in pictures, but you don't want photos of your naked self published on celebrity Websites, don't upload the pictures onto the Internets. There be hackers. 

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Saturday
Sep062014

Chuck Todd Dooms "MTP"

UPDATE: You can watch a portion of Chuck's interview of President Obama here. Obama discusses immigration reform. Chuck repeatedly interrupts him. Edgy. NBC News will livestream the interview at 9:00 am ET Sunday. Maybe here. Update Update: Actually, here. Here's a clip of the clip:

Everything that’s been published about the incipient Chuck Todd Era of 'Meet the Press' indicates that the goal is to amplify the insufferable, backslappy culture that already pervades the Sunday shows. -- Simon Miloy of Salon

The big news yesterday came not via our usual, relatively reliable sources but from the consistently scummy "Page Six" gossip at the New York Post, via contributor Akhilleus. Emily Smith reports,

NBC is bringing in Luke Russert, son of the late beloved 'Meet the Press' host Tim Russert, as a regular panelist on the Sunday morning show in a bid to turn around its catastrophic ratings slide, Page Six has exclusively learned.

Also joining new moderator Chuck Todd’s team will be former Republican congressman and 'Morning Joe' host Joe Scarborough, who sources say 'is taking on a larger role within NBC News as a senior political analyst and would be one of the regular Sunday panelists.'

We’re told the move is part of a plan to bring a right-leaning voice to the program....

Nia-Malika Henderson of the Washington Post and a few others, including NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, are also said to be in the mix for a new panel.

I'm no admirer of former Clinton prosecutor Joe Scarborough. But I admit it does make sense to have him on "Meet the Press" to represent a right-wing point of view. If you don't listen to the actual words that come out of Joe's mouth, you'll find a personable, affable guy who is not nearly as caustic as the regular Sunday roundtable winger guests -- Mary Matalin, George Will, Peggy Noonan, Newt Gingrich. That Scarborough is obstreperously, proudly, serially, ignorant comes with the territory; it's a must for people of his political persuasion and depth.

Nia-Malika Henderson -- whom Chuck has apparently designated to be his minority BFF -- is fine, though sometimes her roots at Politico show. Chuck's choice, however, leads me to suspect that he was afraid to pick the smartest, quickest wit among NBC's on-air black personalities -- Joy-Ann Reid. Another good choice, whom Chuck rejected: Prof. Melissa Harris-Perry. I reckon Chuck didn't want a black lady sidekick who was way sharper than he is.

AND, if you must have an old person with whom the codgers who are your primary (only??) audience can relate, I suppose Mrs. Alan Greenspan isn't the worst choice. She isn't quite as insipid as, say Cokie Roberts, and she does have deep creds, having been the first credentialed woman reporter to cover the Grover Cleveland administration. (That's the second Grover Cleveland administration.)

It's also a swell idea to counter Mitchell with a youngish pundit, a news junkie whose interests give her a wide understanding of politics & public policy but who at the same time can connect with people who usually get their news from "The Daily Show." Because of msnbc, it so happens that the network has quite a few young, highly-qualified on-air personalities: Steve Kornacki, Chris Hodges Hayes,* Alex Wagner, Ari Melber, to name a few. msnbc also often has young guest commentators or stand-in hosts like Ezra Klein.

So, with all these excellent choices -- and of course with hundreds of other choices currently outside NBC -- Chuck opts for Luke Russert. To be fair, legacies aren't necessarily dopes. To be fair, the Boy Russert is a dope. OR, as Hamilton Nolan of Gawker put it in a piece titled "'Meet the Press' to be Reimagined as Garbage Dump,' perhaps in the context Chuck himself had in mind, Luke "is himself basically just a dim 29-year-old dude, a valuable new demographic for MTP." 

Alex Pareene nailed the Trouble with Luke a couple of years ago:

... plenty of nepotism beneficiaries are wonderful writers and talented people. If you’re raised by interesting people and get a good education at home and at the finest schools, you really ought to turn out pretty smart. But Russert is emblematic of the sort of nepotism that gives nepotism a bad name. He’s not a wonderful writer or a particularly talented person. And unlike Chelsea Clinton and her very silly 'reporting good news about people who do charity or something' beat, he’s actually got a real journalism job that someone else without the name Russert could be doing much more effectively. He’s not even particularly good on TV.

Here's Russert the Younger, just this week, showing his sports acumen: "So, let’s call a spade a spade. The reason Michael Sam isn't on any active rosters isn't because he can’t play and isn’t because of the media circus, the reason why there is a slowness to signing him to a practice squad is probably because he's gay." I have no idea why Michael Sam isn't playing pro ball, but I know you don't lead into a comment about a black person by "calling a spade a spade." Idiot. ...

... Being a young guy, Luke has an abiding interest in sports. Here, while filling in for Andrea Mitchell, he cuts off an interview with Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) to "take a phoner" with a Cleveland sports reporter who broke the news that Le Bron James had joined the Cleveland Cavaliers. (More on this from Matt Wilstein of Mediaite here.) ...

... AND in more basketball news, Luke hoped again hope that boxer Floyd Mayweather would buy the L.A. Clippers team after racist owner Donald Sterling was drummed from the league. Outside the ring, Mayweather likes to box, too. He "has dodged significant jail time several times in domestic violence cases in Las Vegas and Michigan," a string of "wins" that came to an end in Las Vegas, when a judge sentenced him to 90 days for beating up his then-girlfriend. Also, Mayweather has made racist remarks about at least one opponent. Perhaps in Luke's mind, that makes Mayweather a perfect replacement for Sterling.

Sports reporting aside, Luke's pragmatic intellectualism should be a great asset on "MTP." Here he is in an on-air discussion this past summer "about the drug war and the immigration crisis at the American border. The money quote: You know what's one way to fix all this, Alex? If people in America would stop doing drugs when they go out at nightclubs every frickin' weekend.' 'Wow,' host Alex Wagner replied. 'Luke Russert conducting his own war on drugs.'" C'mon, Alex. Luke Russert just solved two problems in one sentence. AND totally dropped the dudeness.

Well, Luke isn't an expert on everything. Marcy Wheeler reproduces the transcript of that time Dylan Ratigan took Luke to the woodshed for his support of free trade agreements -- "it's a jobs creator!" Luke was completely flummoxed that anyone would question the rectitude of free trade agreements, much less claim they fostered the slave trade, murders & bank fraud. "You threw me off my game there a little bit," he says to Ratigan. Ratigan is long-gone from msnbc. And Luke is moving up the ladder. I guess we know who was right!

If he doesn't know much about policy, Luke does know politics. In 2012, he tweeted that the Democrats' giving Elizabeth Warren a prime-time slot at there convention had no "benefit" since Warren was "such a lightning rod for criticism." Also, too, maybe Republicans shouldn't have allowed Mitt Romney to speak at their convention after that 47 percent remark resulted in so much sparkly criticism. Charlies Pierce remarked at the time,

Elizabeth Warren was a janitor's daughter, the first member of her family who graduated from college, who worked her way up to become a tenured professor at the finest law school in the country. And Luke Russert, who's passing idiotic class-based judgments against her, is ... incredibly not any of that.

As it turned out, the very popular Sen. Warren gave a helluva a convention speech. For a mere $10,000-$15,000, you can have Luke come speak to you personally. The chance of his coming close to delivering the likes of Warren's stemwinder: somewhere around Fed interest rates.

Luke does know from airline travel, & he is ready to advise the flying public. He doesn't think much of people who bitch & moan about TSA regulations. Andrew Kirell of Mediaite: "MSNBC resident dudebro reporter Luke Russert has a simple message for those complaining about new TSA rules that will require U.S.-bound passengers to turn on their cellular devices before boarding: 'Sack up!'” That's what he said on msnbc. I doubt if Chuck will allow Luke to use expressions like on the Real Network. Also, Luke really, really likes TSA-Pre -- he compares it to Moses' parting the Red Sea -- & thinks travellers should suck up (as opposed to sack up) and pay for it.

But even if he doesn't know much about a subject, Luke can always find an NRA handout or a Scott Walker press release to crib. From Daily Kos: Speaking to his guest Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, on the subject of gun control & school safety, Luke opined that "we need armed guards in the schools because, well, he has seen them at college football games. And increasing mental health services is a swell idea that should be paid for by gutting teachers’ pensions."

AND Luke has perfected the Beltway standard "both sides do it." When funnyman Louis Gohmert (RTP-Texas) "proposed an amendment to ban the president from playing golf until he resumed tours at the White House that had been canceled to prevent Secret Service furloughs due to automatic budget cuts," Russert told msnbc's Martin Bashir the move "looks bad on both sides." Bashir, amazed, challenged Russert, who stuck to his guns, insisting that cancelling White House tours was "petty." Of course, Bashir, like Ratigan, is gone from msnbc. And Luke is moving up the ladder. Lesson: do not fuck with the Scion of Tim!

"His Twitter feed," Alex Pareene wrote back in 2012, "presents a perfectly dull person with perfectly banal thoughts." It hasn't improved. After the Thad Cochran-Chris McDaniel primary, Luke tweeted that "only in America" could African-Americans do stuff in Mississippi. Probably true.

So just maybe Luke Russert is "dull" and "banal." But, people, it's the demographics. NBC may be stooping low, but they are stooping to conquer the kids. They have retained Luke to bring that youthful perspective to the stodgy Sunday mornings coming down. Herein is an awfully cute example of Russert's youthful perspective: he repeatedly asks Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi if having such an old lady as leader "prohibits the party from having a younger leadership & (stammer) hurts the party in the long term": 

(... Whoa, Nancy, don't get upset. At least Luke didn't kill you off before you died, as he did old Congressman Bill Young of Florida.) ...

... Russert, who understandably took flak for asking such an insulting question of Pelosi, fielded the shrapnel as a reflection of his super-dudeness: “I think honestly if someone else had asked that question it wouldn’t have been as big as it was. I think there’s a desire by people to sort of frame it as 'Nancy Pelosi goes after Luke Russert ... DUN DUN DUN.'”

Here he is asking a similar question, with equal grace, to veteran Congressman Charlie Rangel, then mired in a serious ethics scandal. Covering for Luke-Boy -- none other than Chuck Todd:

     ... Luke himself puts down Rangel's reaction to his question as a "blame-the-media" response.

Should you think Luke-Boy is full of himself, he begs to differ:

Now, should you want to be on? Yes. Everyone’s competitive; everyone wants to be on TV, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if I’m on 100 times instead of 106 times, it’s not the end of the world for me.... I’m more than content doing the things that are doled out.

AND He's Got Talent. Just ask him:

The news media is a results-oriented business. I don’t think a company like NBC would pay me if I wasn’t qualified and wasn’t able to produce on this level.... There will always be people who will say, ‘Oh, he’s only gotten where he is because of his father,’ and that certainly helped. But I’ve been able to stay here because of me.

Given Luke's documented lameness, you may be asking, "Why are they doing this?" My own theory is that NBC News is a self-perpetuating mediocrity, the suits -- including those who wear skirts -- aren't very bright, don't give a flying fuck about journalism & think goals like "excellence" & "integrity" are for wusses. But I wouldn't discount Driftglass's theory either:

Meanwhile, unless this is some eleven-dimensional chess, Inception shit and someone has gotten into Luke Russert's dreams and convinced him to get in there and deliberately tear down his Daddy's empire, none of this makes a lick of sense.

* Thanks, Barbarossa.

Friday
Sep052014

The Commentariat -- Sept. 6, 2014

Michael Shear of the New York Times: "President Obama has delayed action to reshape the nation's immigration system without congressional approval until after the November elections, bowing to the concerns of Senate Democrats on the ballots, White House officials said on Saturday. The decision is a striking reversal of Mr. Obama's vow to take action on immigration soon after summer's end. The president made that promise on June 30, standing in the Rose Garden, where he angrily denounced Republican obstruction and said he would use the power of his office to protect immigrant families from the threat of deportation."

Alix Bryan of CBS Richmond: Bob "McDonnell will have his license to practice law removed once the Virginia State Bar receives notice of his felony convictions. There is also chance that he could lose his pension, due to a law he signed into effect in 2011. The legislation states that retirement benefits are forfeited upon certain felony convictions. This means that McDonnell could lose the pensions he earned while serving as an Army Reserves lieutenant colonel, Virginia Attorney General, and as a lawmaker in the House of Delegates." CW: Now that would be ironic. The value of his pensions is far more than the value of the gifts he & Maureen took from Williams. ...

... Dahlia Lithwick: "Whatever shame [the McDonnells] brought on the office of governor by their dealings with Williams was overshadowed by the shame of their legal strategy. The jurors must have felt unimaginably filthy listening to gruesome tales of a 'nutbag' first lady, rebuffed letters from the governor trying to resolve marital spats, and tween-grade text messages to a man Maureen McDonnell was allegedly 'obsessed with.' As the jurors begin to talk, we may begin to get some insight into why they came down so hard on the former first couple. But one possibility is that you just can't explain lies with lies. And the McDonnell strategy always seemed to be just that: 'We couldn't have been lying to you about our finances, Virginia, because we were too busy lying to you about everything else." ...

... Amy Davidson of the New Yorker: "As the jury seems to have recognized..., the stories about Maureen's fascination with Williams and Bob's emotional absence were never more than a distraction. The defense didn't make legal or emotional sense, and it didn't fit the facts of the case. There is no requirement, in the law or anywhere else, that we love our co-conspirators, or even that we find them tolerable. A couple can be spiteful and venal all at once." ...

I would love to spend about a month on a beach. Just reading books. I've got 25 books on my night stand.... I got a bunch of them there I'd like to read. But that, honestly, a little R and R and a lot of pleasure reading is what I'd like to do. -- Bob McDonnell, August 15, 2013, in answer to a question about how he'd like to spend his post-gubernatorial days

Things always work out for the best. Bob will now have plenty of time to read those books. Too bad about the beach thing. -- Constant Weader

... Tim Noah of msnbc: "To whatever extent the 2009 [Virginia] governor's race turned on family values, Virginia voters couldn't, in retrospect, have been more wrong in finding [Bob] McDonnell superior to his Democratic opponent, Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds. McDonnell wouldn't accept a plea bargain to spare his family. Deeds, by contrast, nearly died for his this past November. A judge had ordered Deeds's 24-year-old son Gus, who suffered from severe mental illness, to be committed involuntarily. But a hospital bed couldn't be found, and so Deeds took him home, where Gus stabbed his father multiple times in the head and chest before shooting himself dead. In a speech in March, Deeds called the son who very nearly killed him 'my hero.' It's hard to resist comparing that statement with some of the things McDonnell said on the stand about a wife who merely yelled at him." ...

It's like House of Cards without the cunning. -- Joe Coscarelli of New York

... Josh Gerstein of Politico speculates on why the prosecution -- same lead prosecutor, BTW -- won the McDonnells corruption case but lost the John Edwards corruption case, even though the Edwards case involved a lot more money & centered around Edwards' extremely sleazy behavior.

Annie Gowen, et al., of the Washington Post: "The Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine agreed Friday to a temporary cease-fire, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said, raising the prospect of at least a brief respite in an increasingly bloody conflict. At a NATO summit in Wales, President Obama welcomed the announcement while expressing skepticism that the separatists and their Russian backers would adhere to the truce and other commitments." ...

... Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times: "As the truce went into effect, fighting that had raged throughout the day around the strategic port city of Mariupol tapered off, and Ukrainian soldiers could be seen pulling back to their bases. But in interviews, the troops said they had not yet received orders to stand down."

Phil Stewart & Julien Ponthus of Reuters: "The United States said it had created a 'core coalition' on Friday to battle Islamic State militants in Iraq, calling for broad support from allies and partners around the world but ruling out committing ground forces. [U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel told ministers from Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark that they, with the United States, formed the core group for tackling the Sunni militant group." ...

... Hayes Brown of Think Progress compares President Obama's 'core coalition' against ISIS with President Bush II's 2003 "coalition of the willing." ...

... Josh Rogin of the Daily Beast: "There's widespread frustration in both chambers and both parties about President Obama's admission that 'we don't have a strategy yet' to deal with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But now the lack of strategy is actually protecting Obama from oversight because Congress can't authorize or reject what it can't understand. In fact, the White House has been totally mum on how it plans to legally justify the air war in Iraq after the temporary authority granted to it in the War Powers Resolution expires.... With only two weeks in September to legislate, there's little to no chance Congress will act before its next recess, which means the issue will be punted to the post-election lame duck session."

Mitt Romney, first-runner up in the 2012 presidential beauty contest, in a Washington Post op-ed: "Russia invades, China bullies, Iran spins centrifuges, the Islamic State (a terrorist threat 'beyond anything that we've seen,' according to the defense secretary) threatens -- and Washington slashes the military." ...

... Paul Waldman: "In a comically ridiculous op-ed, the failed presidential candidate explains why the largest military on earth is actually a scrawny loser getting sand kicked in its face." CW: I'd say the vast Not-President Romney financial empire includes some flagging munitions stocks.

CW: This is obvious, but it's worth highlighting. The Republican party is never, ever going to reconstitute itself as "the Party of Lincoln" because it now owns the Confederacy. Jonathan Chait: "Given that the alliance between the white South and the Republican Party has grown more firm than ever, it is hard to imagine how the party can refashion itself along Lincolnian or Rooseveltian lines."

Steve Benen explains the hacking of Healthcare.gov to shoot-first-and-never-ask-questions GOP critics: "Was healthcare.gov hacked? Not really. A test server was uploaded with 'denial of service' malware -- a practice 'so common that it's attempted 28 different times every hour.' The healthcare.gov site itself was unharmed. Was healthcare.gov specifically targeted? No. Was any consumer information compromised? No. Was any data transmitted? No. Was there an attempt to steal data? No. Was the website knocked offline? No."

Steven Pinker in the New Republic on "the trouble with Harvard." "... it's common knowledge that Harvard selects at most 10 percent (some say 5 percent) of its students on the basis of academic merit.... Elite universities are nothing close to being meritocracies. We know that because they don't admit most of their students on the basis of academic aptitude. And perhaps that's what we should try next."

Beyond the Beltway

... Michael Keys of the Blot: "The chief of police for the Ferguson Police Department misled members of the media and the public when he asserted that his hand was forced in releasing surveillance footage that purported to show 18-year-old resident Michael Brown engaged in a strong-arm robbery at a convenience store.... When questioned by members of the press about the tape -- which apparently had nothing to do with the fatal shooting of the unarmed teenager -- [Ferguson Police Chief Tom] Jackson told reporters that he was legally obligated to release the tape because members of the media had submitted an open records requests for it.... 'We got a lot of Freedom of Information requests for this tape, and at some point it was just determined we had to release it. We didn't have good cause, any other reason not to release it under FOI.' ... A review of open records requests sent to the Ferguson Police Department found that no news organization, reporter or individual specifically sought the release of the surveillance tape before police distributed it on Aug. 15." (Emphasis added.) Read Keys' whole report, or at least click on his site, please. Thanks to Jeanne B. for the lead. ...

... CW Note: A few weeks ago, a couple of readers sent me this image of Michael Brown, who is pointing a gun at the camera & holding a wad of cash in his teeth. I think the readers got the images from their right-wing friends or relatives. The images have appeared all over the winger blogosphere & have showed up in the comments sections of legitimate news outlets. I figured the picture was of a kid being a jerk. And it is. But Michael Brown isn't the jerk. KCTV of Kansas reports that the man in the photo is Joda Cain, an accused killer from Oregon.

Senate Races

John Judis & Brian Beutler of the New Republic: Kansas Senate Democratic nominee Chad "Taylor dropped out [of the race], he claims, under assurances from the Kansas Secretary of State's office that his official withdrawal would remove his name from the ballot. But the Kansas Secretary of State is Kris Kobach -- a veteran GOP vote suppressor and one of the intellectual forces behind 'self-deportation.' He serves on [Sen. Pat] Roberts' honorary campaign committee. And on Thursday, he pulled an apparent bait and switch. Taylor's name, he concluded, will remain on the ballot. Election law guru Rick Hasen writes that though Taylor has a case, the question of what the courts will do is a tossup.... Normally [Republicans make] it hard for Democrats to vote in the first place. This time around it means trying to trick low-information Democrats into voting for a candidate who isn't running. But it's still voter suppression." ...

... The Disappearance of Pat Roberts. Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report: "Roberts' long-time campaign manager LeRoy Towns told The Wichita Eagle after the [primary] race was over. 'He went back home for two days or three to rest. I think he's going to come back here the first of next week,' said Towns, referencing Roberts' home in Virginia. Towns' comments seemed tone deaf considering Roberts was dogged by residency questions throughout the race.... 'He does intend to spend every moment between now and the election in Kansas, I think, that he can,' Towns also told the Eagle. But, according to Republicans familiar with the race, that just hasn't happened.... Roberts has not been actively campaigning for about a month now." Via David Nir of Daily Kos.

Thom Tillis, Throwback. Michael LaRosa of msnbc: North Carolina GOP nominee Thom"Tillis, who referred to [Sen. Kay] Hagan [D-N.C.] simply as 'Kay' during the hour-long debate and came under fire by some for taking a condescending tone toward Hagan, questioned the Senator's ability to comprehend budgets, math and policy.... 'I'm actually insulted by his comments, [Hagan] said. 'I was a Vice President of a bank. I wrote billion dollar state budgets in North Carolina. I understand math.'" CW: She's also on the Senate Banking Committee. ...

... Here's Tillis during Tuesday's debate whacking Hagan again & again for, you know, being a silly little woman who just can't understand big-boy subjects like math:

Gail Collins: "Republicans in close elections suddenly turn into cheerleaders for over-the-counter birth control pills. A negative and suspicious mind might almost suspect they were following a script." ...

... CW: Also, of course, this could force women to pay for this own contraception instead of getting it "free" under their insurance policies. ...

... Cathleen Decker of the Los Angeles Times in a straight news report: "Under the healthcare law, contraceptives are to be available without a co-pay. If the medication becomes available over the counter, most will not be covered by health insurance, meaning that drugs that have become more affordable would suddenly be less so."

Thursday
Sep042014

The Commentariat -- Sept. 5, 2014

Matt Zapotosky & Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "A federal jury Thursday found former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of public corruption.... After three days of deliberations, the seven men and five women who heard weeks of gripping testimony about the McDonnells' alleged misdeeds ... found that they lent the prestige of the governor's office to Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in a nefarious exchange for his largesse.... The former governor was convicted of 11 corruption-related counts pending against him, though acquitted of lying on loan documents. The former first lady was convicted of eight corruption-related charges, along with obstruction of justice. Maureen McDonnell was acquitted of lying on a loan document.... [The McDonnells] face decades in federal prison, though their actual sentence could fall well short of that. U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer set a sentencing hearing for Jan. 6, 2015. The moment the first guilty verdict was read, Bob McDonnell closed his eyes tightly, shaking in his seat as he wept.... Defense attorney Henry 'Hank' Asbill, saying he 'didn't expect' this outcome, assured reporters the McDonnells would appeal." ...

... The New York Times story, by Trip Gabriel, is here. The Richmond Times-Dispatch story, by Frank Green, et al., is here. The paper's front page currently links to several related stories. ...

... Justin Jouvenal, et al., of the Washington Post interview three of the jurors. "Three jurors interviewed said their decision did not turn on any one piece of evidence or the testimony of any one of the 67 witnesses they heard, but the accumulated weight of evidence mounted by prosecutors day after day.... Defense attorneys argued that Robert and Maureen McDonnell's marriage was so broken they could not have conspired to use the governor's office to push the products of businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for gifts. But [juror Robin] Trujillo said that seemed implausible since the McDonnells were living together until a week before the trial and prosecutors produced numerous e-mails and other correspondence showing the pair had discussions about finances and regularly coordinated other plans." ...

     ... CW: That simple, common-sense observation makes you wonder how the McDonnells & their lawyers ever thought the "broken marriage" defense -- whether real or fake -- would work.

... Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post: Maureen McDonnell "took the role of long-suffering political wife to a new level. She was flayed, demeaned, belittled and besmirched in court. And she didn't say a word.... All that the McDonnells said they appreciated when they ran for office -- family values, honesty, transparency and that integrity -- was lost not just in their transactions with Williams, but, more important, in the way they acted in that courtroom." ...

... Rachel Maddow elaborates on Bob McDonnell's epic hypocrisy:

In Other Political Corruption News.... Peter Sullivan of the Hill: "The communications and financial statements of Jesse Benton, an operative with close ties to Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have been subpoenaed in the grand jury investigation into the alleged bribing on an Iowa state senator in 2012. Center for Responsive Politics' Open Secrets blog on Thursday posted part of the subpoena."

John-Thor Dahlburg & Julie Pace of the AP: "Seeking to counter Russian aggression, NATO leaders approved plans Friday to post several thousand troops in Eastern Europe who could quickly mobilize if an alliance country in the region were to come under attack. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the new unit would send a clear message to potential aggressors, namely Russia.... Confronting another pressing international crisis, Rasmussen said NATO stands 'ready to help' Iraq fight back against a violent militant group, but noted that the Iraqi government has not made any such request." ...

... Fred Kaplan of Slate: "... I'm baffled, even troubled, by the contradiction between what [President Obama is] saying and what he's doing [regarding Ukraine].... One could make a case for this week's lofty rhetoric or last week's realpolitik-infused restraint -- but not for both, simultaneously. And to speak of noble principles, while acting on narrower interests, only raises false hopes and sows deeper disillusionment once they're dashed."

Patrick Wintour of the Guardian: "The building blocks for a lengthy military and political assault on Islamic State (Isis) forces were being put in place on Thursday after Barack Obama and David Cameron agreed the principles of a campaign that will extend through Kurdish northern Iraq, Sunni Iraq and possibly into Syria itself. Cameron made clear that the campaign is dependent on the formation of a broad-based non-sectarian government in Baghdad, ideally by the Iraqis' own deadline of 14 September, as well as support from key countries in the region, including Jordan and Turkey." ...

** Peter Beinart on how the beheadings of James Foley & Steven Sotloff have changed the politics of U.S. Middle East policy. CW: What I don't know that Beinart explains well enough is that a single person who is usually realistic can become a "Jacksonian," at least momentarily, when s/he sees barbaric acts of violence committed against innocent people who might have been the neighbor kids. A good example: Vice President Biden, a highly-knowledgeable pragmatist, who this week promised to follow the jihadists to "the gates of hell." (Beinart claims Biden's rhetoric was strategic.) Yes, there are people who are consistently, even philosophically, aggrieved & vengeful, but I think most of us can be shocked into a retaliatory mood.

... Frank Rich: "... Obama's deliberateness in the face of ISIS’s provocations as well as Putin's -- his refusal to follow the trigger-happy foreign policy of the Bush-Cheney era -- is to be applauded. You will notice that the crowd of pundits and (mostly Republican) politicians insisting that Obama 'do something' about these horrors

... Rand Paul in Time: "Some pundits are surprised that I support destroying the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militarily. They shouldn't be. I've said since I began public life that I am not an isolationist, nor am I an interventionist. I look at the world, and consider war, realistically and constitutionally." CW: Paul's piece falls exactly into the frame Rich illuminates. It's a parody of itself. Paul also claims -- without offering an evidence other than to assure(/warn) us he's just like Ronald Reagan -- that he is not a flip-flopper. ...

... "Rand Paul's Epic Flip-Flop." Benjy Sarlin of msnbc: "The main reason 'pundits' may be surprised, however, is because of Paul's past statements, many of which seem to contradict the hawkish strategy the hypothetical Paul administration apparently would have implemented years ago to contain ISIS. When ISIS initially captured large swaths of Iraqi territory in June, Paul's response was mainly to criticize former President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for enabling ISIS's rise by launching the US. invasion of Iraq. In fact, Paul specifically argued that Obama didn't deserve scorn for failing to prevent the insurgent gains as a result. And while his new op-ed criticizes Obama for saying he still hasn't decided on a strategy to confront ISIS, Paul himself has made similar comments in arguing there might not be a viable strategy to defeat ISIS." ...

... Andy Borowitz: "Arguing that his motto 'Don't do stupid stuff' is not a coherent foreign policy, critics of President Obama are pressuring him to do something stupid without further delay." ...

... Christina Marcos of the Hill: "Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said Wednesday that he plans to introduce a bill when Congress reconvenes next week that would authorize the use of military force against terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)." ...

... Jim Newell of Salon: "Frank Wolf's [proposed bill] will codify the president's authority to basically bomb whomever he wants, wherever, and whenever, forever.... Wolf is a longtime Northern Virginia congressman whose district contains many defense contractors. He's retiring at the end of this term.... One could consider this AUMF Wolf's parting gifts to the military-industrial complex with whom he's had such a mutually beneficial relationship over the years."

Clifford Krauss & Campbell Robertson of the New York Times: "United States District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier ... ruled on Thursday that BP was grossly negligent in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout that killed 11 workers, spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and soiled hundreds of miles of beaches.... Judge Barbier also ruled that Transocean, the owner of the rig, and Halliburton, the service company that cemented the well, were negligent in the accident. But the judge put most of the blame on BP, opening the way to fines of up to $18 billion under the Clean Water Act." ...

... "The Law & the Profits." Charles Pierce: "Economic royalism, and the political infrastructure carefully designed to support it, took a beating Thursday in several courts, even if you don't count the one that convicted the McDonnells in Virginia."

Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times: "The Justice Department's civil rights investigation into the police department in Ferguson, Mo., will focus on whether officers there made discriminatory traffic stops, mistreated prisoners and used excessive force in the years before last month's fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white officer, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said on Thursday."

This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent. -- Justice Antonin Scalia, in re: Troy Davis (2009)

... Dahlia Lithwick: Justice Antonin Scalia has repeatedly cited the heinousness of Henry Lee McCollum's crime as justification for the death penalty. "Having shown that he never committed that crime, it seems high time to ask whether, in the view of some Supreme Court justices, that would have even made a difference had we executed him.... It never fails to astonish me that the same conservatives who argue that every last aspect of big government is irreparably broken and corrupt inevitably see a capital punishment system that is perfect and just." CW: To Lithwick's long list of what went wrong with the initial case against McCollum & Leon Brown, I'd add "racism."

Robert Barnes of the Washington Post: "A unanimous panel of federal judges in Chicago ruled Thursday that laws banning same-sex marriage in Indiana and Wisconsin are unconstitutional, becoming the third appeals court to rule that gay couples must be allowed to marry.... 'The grounds advanced by Indiana and Wisconsin for their discriminatory policies are not only conjectural; they are totally implausible,' wrote Circuit Judge Richard Posner, an influential jurist chosen for the bench by President Ronald Reagan."

Sarah Kliff of Vox: "In major cities across the country, Obamacare premiums are falling. That is not normal; health-insurance premiums nearly always go up and up and up. They rarely, if ever, decrease."

Ian Millhiser has a useful piece on the importance of the D.C. Court of Appeals' decision to re-hear Halbig v. Burwell, the case in which the plaintiffs are attempting to gut the ACA. ...

... Jonathan Chait puts the plaintiffs' chances before the full panel at zero. ...

... Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic: "The real significance of [the] announcement is how it affects the Supreme Court. The architects of the lawsuit had already petitioned the justices, asking them to take up the case and issue a final, authoritative ruling.... But the best pretext for the justices to take the case would be a split among Circuit Court rulings -- i.e., one decision upholding the lawsuit and one rejecting it. As of this morning, that split no longer exists." ...

... Brian Beutler: If the plaintiffs in Halbig prevail, "Millions of people would lose their health insurance in service of teaching Congress a lesson about the importance of legislative draftsmanship. That's not a very becoming political argument, though, so the Halbig supporters have stapled a grandiose claim to their core challenge. Because many of the people who would lose their insurance would also qualify for an exemption from the law's insurance coverage mandate, they frame it as a principled campaign for liberty.... The conspicuous thing about the Medicaid freedmen and those who would be freed from the individual mandate is that they're disproportionately black and poor. ACA rejectionism isn't enhancing their liberty at all."

Peter Shroeder of the Hill: "The gap between the nation's wealthiest and the rest of Americans has expanded in recent years.... A new study released Thursday by the Federal Reserve found that gains in income have been 'far from uniform' over the last few years, with those making the most doing significantly better than everyone else. Those at the bottom of the scale continued to see their real incomes shrink from 2010-2013, while those in the middle of the pack saw little change, meaning their paychecks still fell behind where they were before the financial crisis. Meanwhile, the nation's wealthiest saw broad income gains."

Paul Krugman: "Europe, which is doing worse than it did in the 1930s, is clearly in the grip of a deflationary vortex, and it's good to know that the central bank understands that. But its epiphany may have come too late. It's far from clear that the measures now on the table will be strong enough to reverse the downward spiral."

Benghaaazi! David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times: "Five commandos guarding the C.I.A. base in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012 say that the C.I.A. station chief stopped them from interceding in time to save the lives of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and an American technician during the attack on the diplomatic mission there.... The accusation that the station chief, referred to in the book only as 'Bob,' held back the rescue opens a new front in a fierce political battle over who is at fault for the American deaths."

Josh Gerstein of Politico: "Attorney General Eric Holder reaffirmed Thursday that the Justice Department will not seek to jail New York Times reporter James Risen in connection with a criminal case charging a former CIA officer with leaking national security secrets to the journalist."

NBC News: "Chuck Todd will interview President Barack Obama on 'Meet the Press' on Sunday. The exclusive interview, which marks Todd's debut as permanent moderator of 'Meet the Press,' will cover the threat of ISIS, U.S. relations with Russia and Ukraine, the Ebola virus outbreak, the coming midterm elections and other news of the day...." CW: Very disappointed Chuck didn't go with McCain. The old folks in Peoria are going to be awfully upset.

Carrying He-Said/She-Said Past Absurd. The Economist publishes -- then withdraws, with apology -- a review of a book about slavery in which "Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains." The reviewer complains, "This is not history; it is advocacy." Jonathan Chait comments on the review. Even though he hasn't read the book! he opines, with contemptuous understatement, "I can think of reasons other than ideological bias to explain why almost all the black people would be victims, and the white people villains, in a book about white people who captured black people and subjected them to torture, rape, murder, humiliation, and oppressive forced labor."

Senate Races

Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: "National Republicans on Thursday moved to take control of the campaign of Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas by sending a longtime party strategist to the state to advise him, a day after his hopes for re-election and those of his party for taking control of the Senate were threatened by the attempted withdrawal of the Democrat in the race. Also on Thursday, the Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach [RTP], ruled that the Democratic nominee, Chad Taylor, could not withdraw his name from the ballot, a move likely to set off further legal challenges in the race.... Mr. Taylor said in a statement on Thursday that the secretary of state's office had told him the day before that his letter requesting that his name be removed from the ballot 'was sufficient' for him to withdraw from the race." ...

... Here's Taylor's full statement regarding his interaction with Kobach's staff member, Brad Bryant, Director of Elections & Legislative Matters. This is important. Taylor withdrew his name according to instructions provided by the official whom Kobach put in charge of electionsSounds like Kobach, who is a colossal dick on every count (except maybe he likes puppies, I don't know), pulled a fast one. Taylor's statement, in part:.

I specifically asked Mr. Bryant if the letter contained all the information necessary to withdrawn my name from the ballotgain confirmed with Mr. Bryant that this notarized letter removed my name from the ballot. Mr. Bryant said 'Yes,' affirming to me & my campaign manager that the letter was sufficient to withdraw my name from the ballot.... [After a secretary of state employee notarized my notification] I again confirmed with Mr. Bryant that this notarized letter removed my name from the ballot. 'He again said "Yes.'"

... Dave Helling & Brad Cooper of the Kansas City Star: "Late Thursday, Taylor vowed to challenge [Kobach's] decision.... Wednesday afternoon, [Kobach's] office pulled Taylor's name from the list of candidates running in the state. Just hours later, it was back -- as legal questions swirled around the withdrawal announcement." ...

... Dylan Scott of TPM: "Kobach was asked about Taylor's statement after announcing his decision Thursday. 'At no time did Mr. Bryant state that the filing that Mr. Taylor gave was sufficient,' Kobach said." ...

He is partisan, and mean, and he has made an unmitigated mess of our electoral system. He ought to keep his hand out of this one. -- Joan Wagnon, Kansas Democratic Party Chair, on Kris Kobach

... Jed Lewison of Daily Kos: "Assuming Taylor is telling the truth -- and given Kobach's history as a bigoted right-wing lunatic I'd trust him over Kobach any day of the week -- then Kobach is going to have a hard time explaining what appears to be a nakedly partisan move." ...

... Here's a tiny bit of background on Kobach, courtesy of Kos.

Jamison Foser: "The Iowa Senate race between Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley offers the clearest example of a politician's hypocrisy you'll ever find: Today Ernst took the precise position on the Social Security retirement age that she criticized Braley for just hours before. Via Paul Waldman.

Beyond the Beltway

Laura Bischoff of the Dayton Daily News: "A GOP-backed law that eliminated 'Golden Week' -- a window when Ohioans could both register and vote in the same week -- and that curbed early voting is unconstitutional and can't be enforced, according to a ruling issued Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Peter Economus. Economus granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit filed by the NAACP of Ohio, League of Women Voters of Ohio and a host of church groups and voting rights advocates. The plaintiffs challenged Senate Bill 238, which Gov. John Kasich [R] signed into law in February, as well as directives issued by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted [R]. Economus said in his 71-page ruling that they were unconstitutional and a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965." Via Charles Pierce.

Living While Black. David Perry, in Daily Kos, on four incidents in which police tased black men for sitting, walking, hands-in-pockets, hands-in-air. In only one of the four cases is there an indication the black man had committed a crime -- fleeing from police. That man, tased 13 times, died.

News Ledes

AP: "U.S. employers added just 142,000 jobs in August, snapping a six-month streak of hiring above 200,000 and posting the smallest gain in eight months. The unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent from 6.2 percent, the Labor Department said Friday. But the rate dropped because more people without jobs stopped looking for one and were no longer counted as unemployed. Employers also added 28,000 fewer jobs in June and July than the government had previously estimated."

Guardian: "Hours before a ceasefire is expected to take effect in eastern Ukraine, after a significant breakthrough in the five-month conflict, heavy shelling has been heard east of Mariupol port. A commander of a Ukrainian volunteer militia based in Mariupol told Reuters: 'We were under fire all night but we are still keeping the rebels at bay. They are facing us with tanks and artillery.'"

Hill: "A hacker breached HealthCare.gov in July and uploaded malicious software, apparently intending to use the system in future cyberattacks against other websites. The break-in ... was discovered last week by federal health officials, who said no personal data was taken. It is the first successful, confirmed hack of the federal health insurance exchange that went through a rocky launch last year."

Wednesday
Sep032014

The Commentariat -- Sept. 4, 2014

Sahil Kapur of TPM: "The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered a rehearing of a three-judge panel's decision to invalidate Obamacare subsidies on the federal exchange. The decision on Thursday means the case, Halbig v. Burwell, will be heard en banc -- by all 11 active judges plus the two senior judges on the original panel. The order to vacate the ruling is good news for Obamacare supporters."

** Bruce Horovitz of USA Today: "Arrests began early Thursday morning outside a busy McDonald's in New York City as thousands of emboldened fast-food workers coast to coast put down their burger flippers and picked up picket signs in a national strike that included civil disobedience as the workers rally for $15 minimum wages and the right to form a union without retaliation. Strikers began to gather in more than 100 cities early Thursday, affecting major chains from McDonald's to Wendy's to Burger King. Shortly after 7 a.m. ET on Thursday, police reportedly arrested 19 workers who sat down in the street -- and refused to move -- outside the bustling McDonald's at New York's Times Square. There are unconfirmed reports of some striking fast-food worker arrests in Detroit, as well." ...

     ... Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times: "Organizers said the police arrested more than 50 workers in Detroit for such action on Thursday morning." CW: Congrats to the Times for actually covering the strike (even if Greenhouse gives a helluva a lot of space to the restaurant industry's POV). The Times editors usually aren't much interested in populist movements. It would be swell if some accounts of the strike mentioned that taxpayers are funding restaurateurs by providing necessary public assistance to underpaid workers. ...

... J. C. Reindl of the Detroit Free Press: "More than 100 demonstrators shut down an east-side Detroit intersection this morning as part of a labor-organized national fast food strike. Detroit police said they arrested 25 to 30 of the demonstrators, who officers said sat in the roadway at Mack and Moran and refused to leave. The protestors blocked traffic for about a half hour, police said." ...

... CW: Support the workers. Pack your lunch today.

Michael Birnbaum, et al., of the Washington Post: "The Kremlin on Thursday underscored Russia's opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine, warning that such a move could derail efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as leaders of the alliance gathered for a key summit in Wales. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also told the United States not to try to impose its own will on Kiev." ...

... Matthew Weaver of the Guardian: "Nato leaders have descended on the Welsh resort of Celtic Manor for a two-day summit, which formally starts with a meeting about Afghanistan but will be dominated by discussion on Ukraine and the threat of Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria." ...

... Peter Apps of Reuters: "... preparations are under way near [Ukraine's] western border for a joint military exercise this month with more than 1,000 troops from the United States and its allies.The decision to go ahead with the Rapid Trident exercise Sept. 16-26 is seen as a sign of the commitment of NATO states to support non-NATO member Ukraine while stopping well short of military intervention in the conflict." ...

... Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain have called on NATO to reject 'isolationist' impulses and confront the rising terrorist threat posed by Sunni militants in the Middle East, saying the United States and Britain 'will not be cowed by barbaric killers.' 'We will not waver in our determination to confront' the militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the two leaders wrote in a joint opinion piece published in Thursday's editions of The Times of London. 'If terrorists think we will weaken in the face of their threats they could not be more wrong.'" ...

... CW: The Times has seriously firewalled the Cameron-Obama opinion piece, but the British government has a copy here. ...

... Isabel Kershner of the New York Times: "The beheading of Steven J. Sotloff, the American journalist from Miami who had been held hostage by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, suddenly loomed larger for many Israelis on Wednesday when it emerged that he held Israeli citizenship and had lived and studied in the country for a few years.... The Israeli connection was kept well hidden ... [because of] fear that exposure of his Jewish roots and Israeli past could put him in further danger." ...

... ** Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker: "It's hard to watch the video of Steven Sotloff's last moments and not conclude something similar: the ostensible objective of securing an Islamic state is nowhere near as important as killing people. For the guys who signed up for ISIS -- including, especially, the masked man with the English accent who wielded the knife -- killing is the real point of being there." ...

... President Obama addressed the people of Estonia yesterday, making his strongest comments to date regarding Russian aggression in Ukraine:

... Conservative David Frum in the Atlantic: "The direct message [to Russia] came on Wednesday, in Tallinn, Estonia, in the sharpest language any U.S. president has used toward Russia since Ronald Reagan upbraided the Evil Empire. One by one, President Obama repudiated the lies Vladimir Putin has told about Ukraine: that the Ukrainians somehow provoked the invasion, that they are Nazis, that their freely elected government is somehow illegal.... Obama said, '[NATO's] Article 5 is crystal clear. An attack on one is an attack on all. So if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, who'll come to help, you'll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America, right here, present, now." This is the ultimate commitment, given by the ultimate authority, in the very place where the commitment would be tested -- and would have to be honored. There's no turning back from that. Today, for the first time perhaps, Eastern Europeans have reason to believe it." ...

... Jonathan Alter of the Daily Beast: "In a presidency of many 'critical junctures,' this time his foreign policy legacy is truly on the line — and if he can lead now on ISIS and Putin, we'll soon forget his recent history."

John Harwood of the New York Times: "Various new restrictions on voting, which range from more stringent identification requirements to fewer registration opportunities to curbs on early voting, have been put in place. A critical election variable is whether the new limits will tilt close races.... Eight states ... have narrowed early voting times, and three of them feature Senate races crucial to Republican hopes of capturing a majority.

Dave Philipps of the New York Times: "Thousands of Vietnam-era veterans barred from receiving benefits because of less-than-honorable discharges may be eligible for upgrades under a new set of guidelines released by the Defense Department on Wednesday. The new rules offer the first guidance to military discharge review boards on how to address post-traumatic stress disorder. Many experts and veterans' advocates assert that the disorder may have contributed to misconduct by veterans who were later kicked out of the military and stripped of benefits."

New York Times Editors: "The exoneration of two North Carolina men who spent 30 years in prison -- one on death row -- provides a textbook example of so much that is broken in the American justice system. And it is further evidence (as though more were needed) that the death penalty is irretrievably flawed as well as immoral.... Virtually everything about the arrests, confessions, trial and convictions of [Henry Lee] McCollum and [Leon] Brown was polluted by official error and misconduct.... Justice [Antonin] Scalia was prepared 20 years ago to allow the execution of a man who, it turns out, was innocent."

Campbell Robertson of the New York Times: "A federal judge [in New Orleans] upheld the state’s ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, going against what had been a unanimous trend of federal court decisions striking down such bans since the Supreme Court ruled on the matter last year. In his ruling, Judge Martin L. C. Feldman of Federal District Court said that the regulation of marriage was left up to the states and the democratic process; that no fundamental right was being violated by the ban; and that Louisiana had a 'legitimate interest ... whether obsolete in the opinion of some, or not, in the opinion of others ... in linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents.'" The plaintiffs will appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. CW: Feldman is a Reagan appointee. ...

... Garrett Epps of the Atlantic: "Unlike the recent similar opinion in a Tennessee state court, this is not an overmatched judge throwing up his hands in terror. Feldman's opinion represents a fundamental challenge, couched in terms of recent Supreme Court precedent, to the claim that United States v. Windsor requires states to allow same-sex marriage. And, I think not coincidentally, its heart is drawn from an opinion written earlier this year by Justice Anthony Kennedy -- whose vote will very likely determine the result when the marriage issue reaches the Court.... The outcome of that contest is still in doubt, and Feldman's opinion shows why."

Linda Greenhouse explains why the Supreme Court's 9-0 decision in N.L.R.B. v. Canning, viewed by most observers as a loss for President Obama, was actually "a major victory for the president" -- & for Justice Stephen Breyer. Also, as does so much, it really pissed off Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote a scathing (CW: everything he writes is "scathing" & contemptuous of those who disagree) "concurrence."

** Heather Richardson in a New York Times op-ed: "FOR all the differences between establishment Republicans and Tea Party insurgents, their various efforts to rebrand the Grand Old Party tend to start from a common premise: the belief that Ronald Reagan was the quintessential Republican, and that his principle of defending wealth and the wealthy should remain the party's guiding vision.... They would do better to look to earlier presidents, and model their new brand on the eras when the Republican Party opposed the control of government by an elite in favor of broader economic opportunity." CW: Richardson, who is an expert on the history of the GOP, is refreshingly candid in her assessment of the party.

Before there were former Sens. Trent Lott & John Breaux lobbying against U.S. sanctions on Russia's Putin-connected Gazprombank, there was the U.S. lobbying firm Ketchum giving Vladimir Putin & his top aides pointers on how to make a good impression on the West & encourage foreign investment in Russia. As Ravi Somaiya of the New York Times reported August 31, "The Russian officials, [according to former Ketchum consultant Angus Roxburgh], were initially convinced they could pay for better coverage, or intimidate journalists into it." Roxburgh told the Daily Beast that "Ketchum's aim ... 'means helping them disguise all the issues that make it unattractive: human rights, invasions of neighboring countries, etc.' ... In [State Department] filings, the company said it worked with Time magazine to have Mr. Putin named the magazine's Person of the Year in 2007." ...

... CW: Say what? Time uses PR firms to pick its Person of the Year? That explains a lot: like why Newt Gingrich has been Time's Man of the Year & on at least four other Time covers while Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, has never even made the cover. I believe I'll hire Macon-Peeples-Devine to see what they can do for me. Should come out something like this:

Jill Lepore of the New Yorker: "... there are three photographs I cannot delete from the album in my head: a nine-year-old girl in pink shorts, holding an Uzi at a firing range in Arizona; a police sniper perched on top of an armored tank in Ferguson, Missouri; and a black-masked terrorist in a desert, about to behead an American journalist. Gun, rifle, knife."

Andrew Sorkin of the New York Times: "Michael R. Bloomberg will reassume the leadership of his business empire only eight months after ending his final term as mayor of New York. Late Wednesday, Mr. Bloomberg told close confidants and senior executives of Bloomberg L.P., a financial data and media company, that Daniel L. Doctoroff, its chief executive and a longtime friend and lieutenant, would leave the company at the end of the year and that he would take over."

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Oh, Why Can't the U.S. Be More Like ISIS? CW: I couldn't think of any reason to link to a story about Sean Hannity's "exclusive" interview of "Duck Dynasty"'s patriarchal idiot, but Ed Schultz provides it:

Beyond the Beltway

Sari Horwitz, et al., of the Washington Post: "Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. this week will launch a broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department, according to two federal law enforcement officials.... The federal officials said the probe will look at not only Ferguson, but other police departments in St. Louis County.... The investigation is in addition to a Justice Department probe into whether Officer Darren Wilson, who fired the fatal shots, violated [Michael] Brown's civil rights." ...

... Radley Balko of the Washington Post: "Some of the towns in St. Louis County can derive 40 percent or more of their annual revenue from the petty fines and fees collected by their municipal courts. A majority of these fines are for traffic offenses, but they can also include fines for fare-hopping on MetroLink..., loud music..., zoning violations..., trespassing, wearing 'saggy pants,' business license violations, and vague infractions like 'disturbing the peace' or 'affray' that give police officers a great deal of discretion to look for other violations.... There are many towns in St. Louis County where the number of outstanding arrest warrants can exceed the number of residents, sometimes several times over.... If you were tasked with designing a regional system of government guaranteed to produce racial conflict, anger, and resentment, you'd be hard pressed to do better than St. Louis County."

... Kevin McDermott of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon lifted on Wednesday the state of emergency he declared in riot-torn Ferguson almost three weeks ago -- a move that effectively ends the possibility of a special prosecutor in the investigation of Michael Brown's death."

... Jeremy Kohler of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "As a child, Michael Brown was never found delinquent of the juvenile equivalents of Missouri's most serious felony charges and was not facing any at the time he died, a court official said Wednesday. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch filed a petition Aug. 22 asking a judge in the St. Louis County Family Court to open any juvenile records on Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old shot to death last month by a Ferguson police officer.... The petitions went to a hearing Tuesday with St. Louis County Family Court Ellen Levy Siwak, who took the case under advisement. But disclosures during and after the hearing on Tuesday put to rest claims by blogger Charles C. Johnson and others that Brown was facing a murder charge at the time he was shot to death." ...

... Laura Clawson of Daily Kos: "It can't be too hard to get a juvenile record in Ferguson, where in 2013 there were 10,000 more arrest warrants issued for nonviolent offenses than there were residents of the town. So you criminalize virtually everyone (or, you know, everyone black or brown or poor), then use their criminal records as your excuse for killing them in the street. It's appalling and shameful, and it's clearly the policy in Ferguson. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch should be ashamed of itself for seeking Michael Brown's juvenile records that may or may not exist; Charles C. Johnson is clearly beyond shame." (See also lengthy piece by Radley Balko linked above; citing poor people for minor offenses is a long-running scam in the St. Louis burbs.)

Patrick McGreevy of the Los Angeles Times: "A group representing 69 California mayors, including Los Angeles' Eric Garcetti, sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Jerry Brown, urging him to sign legislation that would make it easier to temporarily remove guns from individuals believed to be dangerous.... Meanwhile, some gun-rights groups, including Liberal Gun Owners Assn., have sent letters to Gov. Brown urging him to veto the bill.... Eric Wooten, president of the association..., said the bill, AB 1014, would provide an 'enormous disincentive' for gun owners to seek help by criminalizing mental and substance-abuse problems."

Shawn Boburg of the North Bergen Record on Port Authority officers' accounts of the GWB closing: "Several [officers] immediately heard gossip in a police break room that the closures were part of a dispute between Christie and Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who had declined to endorse the governor for re-election. The officers described the resulting traffic as 'horrible' and 'horrific,' and at least one urged a reversal of the operation, only to get warnings that his remarks over the radio were 'inappropriate,' according to his attorney. It's the first indication that police charged with patrolling the bridge recognized and notified superiors of the chaos being caused by the lane closures." The summary report of the officers' testimony, written for the legislative committee overseeing the investigation, is here.

Matt Zapotosky & Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "Jurors deciding the public corruption case of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, have begun their third day of deliberations."

Joe Coscarelli of New York: "A 36-year-old woman in Brooklyn has been arrested and charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime, plus aggravated harassment, for spray-painting PG-13 punk sentiments on police vehicles and a public school wall in Williamsburg. Her allegedly hateful messages included 'Nazis=NYPD' and 'a wrongful arrest is a crime.'"

Senate Races

Brian Lowrey of the Wichita Eagle: "In a stunning development, [Democratic] candidate Chad Taylor asked Wednesday that his name be removed from the ballot, paving the way for independent candidate Greg Orman to face U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts head-on in November.... Orman's candidacy, buoyed by television commercials and social media, has received national attention. Although he trailed both major party candidates in the polls, several analysts saw him as the candidate with momentum in the race. Taylor's decision to quit came the same day that more than 70 former Republican lawmakers endorsed Orman." ...

     ... Update Uh-Oh. Alexandra Jaffe of the Hill: "Two election law statutes have raised questions about whether Taylor gave sufficient cause to remove himself from the ballot, and, if so, whether Democrats must ultimately choose a candidate to replace him. Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Clay Barker told The Hill that Taylor is now back on the secretary of State's list of general election candidates, while a legal team analyzes the statutes. ...

... Manu Raju of Politico: "A Democratic candidate for the Senate seat in Kansas has withdrawn from the race, paving the way for a serious third-party contender against longtime Republican Sen. Pat Roberts -- and jolting Republicans' calculus for retaking the Senate." ...

... Nate Silver. Meh. This improves the Democrats' chances of retaining the Senate from 35 percent to 38 percents. He concedes to a 90 percent! margin-of-error on the Roberts-Orman race, as he found "a series of methodological problems" in the only poll to test an Orman-Roberts contest. ...

... This report by Silver, written before Taylor dropped out of the race, gives Republicans a 64 percent chance of taking control of the Senate. ...

... BUT. Sam Wang in the New Yorker: "During the past two weeks, polls in other states have moved even more in the Democrats' favor. It's safe to say that thanks to Chad Taylor's decision, the Democratic Party is now the odds-on favorite to retain control of the Senate."

James Hohmann of Politico: "Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn debated like the underdog in Georgia Thursday. After slipping behind in polls following last month's runoff, she came out swinging at Republican David Perdue during a 45-minute forum at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's annual Congressional luncheon in Macon.... Nunn also tried to distance herself from Barack Obama.... Perdue largely ignored Nunn. He discussed losing his own health insurance plan because of Obamacare and focused on the federal debt in nearly every answer. Nunn hammered him several times for backing last fall's government shutdown."

AP: "Sen. Kay Hagan [D] accused Republican challenger Thom Tillis [RTP] of shortchanging education as a leader of the North Carolina Legislature on Wednesday night, and he cast her as a rubber stamp for President Barack Obama in the first debate of a close and costly race with national stakes."

... The Charlotte Observer fact-checks the candidates' debate claims. Via Greg Sargent.

Gubernatorial Race

Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post: "A Democratic nominee [for governor of Alaska -- Byron Mallott --] and an independent candidate [-- Bill Walker --] are teaming up for a unity campaign bent on unseating Gov. Sean Parnell (R).

Congressional Race
(Alleged) Criminal Edition

Stephanie Clifford of the New York Times: "A woman who raised funds for Representative Michael G. Grimm [R-N.Y.] pleaded guilty on Wednesday to illegally funneling money to his 2010 campaign.... After the federal inquiry, which stretched beyond two years, prosecutors charged Mr. Grimm this year with 20 counts related to tax evasion on a health-food business he ran on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. On Tuesday, a judge set a Dec. 1 trial date for Mr. Grimm, who is campaigning for a third term in November." ...

... CW: Grimm, who represents Staten Island, is leading his Democratic opponent, Mark Murphy, by 5.4 points. Because who wouldn't want to vote for this guy?:

Presidential Race

Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post's wacky conservative blogger is shocked by Rand Paul's sudden transformation from isolationist to interventionist: "After declaring certain Christian defenders of Israel to be 'warmongers,' arguing we could not defeat the Islamic State without being an air force for Iran, opining we didn't have a national security interest in Syria or Iraq, accusing interventionists of abetting the Islamic State's rise and decrying Hillary Clinton as too hawkish, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has decided that if you can't beat the 'neocons' he might as well join them.... At some point Paul will be asked to explain this complete about-face -- and break the news to the UC-Berkeley kids that he's in favor of war.... The turnaround is so sudden and so at odds with all he has written and said in the past few months that the question will naturally arise: Is he jettisoning his worldview to revive a presidential campaign? If so, the libertarian extremists who followed Paul the Elder may need to find a new isolationist." ...

... Ed Kilgore: "WaPo neocon Jennifer Rubin is in full hooting, gloating triumph, luxuriating in Paul's sudden conversion to the faith community of Republican 'hawks' before reminding herself to make it clear the man's too erratic to be entrusted with power. Meanwhile, Rand-o-phile Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist, normally self-assured of her opinion about absolutely everything, conducts a defense of Paul that's as incoherent as the Kentucky senator's own statements of late."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Joan Rivers, the raspy loudmouth who pounced on America's obsessions with flab, face-lifts, body hair and other blemishes of neurotic life, including her own, in five decades of caustic comedy that propelled her from nightclubs to television to international stardom, died on Thursday in Manhattan. She was 81.... The State Health Department is investigating the circumstances that led to her death, a state official said Thursday."

Washington Post: "The death toll from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has surpassed 1,900 people, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday. More people have now died in this epidemic than in all previous Ebola outbreaks combined."