The Wires

Public Service Announcement

November 26: Washington Post: "Federal health officials said Monday that only romaine lettuce from certain parts of California is unsafe to eat and that romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled to give consumers information about when and where it was harvested. If consumers, retailers and food service facilities cannot determine whether the romaine was grown outside California, they should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one got sick, according to a lengthy statement from Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. FDA officials said the most likely source of contamination is from the Central Coast growing regions in northern and central California. Romaine lettuce harvested outside those regions 'does not appear to be related to the current outbreak,' the FDA said. Hydroponically grown and greenhouse-grown romaine also does not appear to be affected in the outbreak. Romaine from those sources is safe to eat, the FDA said."

... November 20: New York Times: "In a sweeping alert, federal health officials warned people not to eat romaine lettuce anywhere in the country, after 32 people in 11 states fell sick with a virulent form of E. coli, a bacteria blamed for a number of food-borne outbreaks in recent years. The notice, issued Tuesday afternoon by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said consumers should not buy or eat any kind of romaine, whether chopped or whole, and restaurants should stop serving it. Anyone who has romaine, the health agency said, should throw it out." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Okay then, guess I'll throw out that romaine. Already ate one head, and I ain't dead yet.

"The Christmas Comet Returneth." New York Times: "Look into the night sky on Sunday [December 16] and you just might see a bright, fuzzy ball with a greenish-gray tint. That’s because a comet that orbits between Jupiter and the sun will make its closest approach to Earth in centuries, right on the heels of this year’s most stunning meteor shower. 'The fuzziness is just because it’s a ball of gas basically,' Tony Farnham, a research scientist in the astronomy department at the University of Maryland, said on Saturday morning.... 'You’ve got a one-kilometer solid nucleus in the middle, and gas is going out hundreds of thousands of miles.' The comet glows green because the gases emit light in green wavelengths. The ball of gas and dust, sometimes referred to as the 'Christmas comet,' was named 46P/Wirtanen, after the astronomer Carl Wirtanen, who discovered it in 1948. It orbits the sun once every 5.4 years, passing by Earth approximately every 11 years, but its distance varies and it is rarely this close. As the comet passes by, it will be 30 times farther from Earth than the moon, NASA said.”

By George O'Keefe or somebody.Maybe the Best Gift Would Be a Spell-Check App. Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Way back in November (so Slate has had plenty of time to make corrections), someone named Angela Serratore (hope I spelled that right), wrote a post for Slate, which is featured on its main page now, suggesting gifts from small museum shops. That's a nice thought, but it would have been even nicer if the story had not misspelled Georgia O'Keeffe three times: twice as "Georgia O'Keefe" & once as "George O'Keefe." But never "Georgia O'Keeffe."

Chuck Schumer & Nancy Pelosi leaving the White House Wednesday, Dec. 12, after making mincemeat of Donald Trump.Everybody Loved Nancy's Coat! It's turns out it's from a 2013 Max Mara collection. According to Ana Colón of Glamour, "the Italian fashion house sent out a press release that not only confirmed the origins of Pelosi's coat but also announced that Max Mara would be reinstating the Glamis into its outerwear collection in 2019. 'In a variety of colorways,' no less! A spokesperson for the brand confirmed to Glamour that the decision to bring it back was inspired by Pelosi."

Isabel Wilkerson reports, in the New York Times, on Michelle Obama's book Becoming. It's quite a compelling read.

Reality Chex Bargain. Someone will pay $1 million or more for a letter written by Albert Einstein. You can read it for free. ...

... New York Times: The "God Letter," "written [in German] in 1954 by Albert Einstein ... is being auctioned this week.... He sent the handwritten letter to Eric Gutkind, a German philosopher who had written a book called 'Choose Life: The biblical Call to Revolt' that, apparently, Einstein did not much like.... Einstein wrote dozens of letters in which he mentioned God or Judaism. 'Nobody should read one Einstein letter and think that solves what he thinks about God,' Walter Isaacson, the author of the 2007 biography 'Einstein,' said in an interview.... The letter surfaced in 2008. Until then, it had apparently been in the hands of Gutkind’s heirs (he died in 1965). And it rocketed into the universe of big-money auctions, selling for $404,000 in London.... It will go on the block at Christie’s on Tuesday. Christie’s set a presale estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million."

Here's New York magazine's take on A Very Melanie Christmas:

... AND Rhonda Garelick of New York has some thoughts on why Melanie's Red Forest is so empty of holiday cheer.

Chris Hayes reviews this year's White House holiday decor:

So if you'd like to read all about Mika Brzezinski's wedding to Joe Scarborough, Emily Fox of Vanity Fair obliges. It sounds as if it was a very nice ceremony. Except, you know, Mika & Joe.

Kwitcherbitchin. Think things are bad now? They were way worse in 536 C.E. A report in Science explains.

Click on picture to see larger image.

... New York Times: "A celebrated and enigmatic painting of two men and a turquoise pool by David Hockney sold at Christie’s on Thursday night for $90.3 million with fees, shattering the auction record for a living artist and cementing a major broadening of tastes at the turbocharged top end of the market. The price for the 1972 painting, 'Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures),' easily surpassed the previous high of $58.4 million, held by Jeff Koons for one of his 'Balloon Dog' sculptures."

Jennifer Szalai of the New York Times reviews Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming.

Constant Comments


Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. -- H. L. Mencken (probably)

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. -- A. J. Liebling


Gail Collins: although weak gun control measures have little chance of passing the Congress, "in Salt Lake City, the State Legislature is considering a bill to honor the Browning M1911 pistol by making it the official state firearm.... A committee in the Utah House of Representatives voted 9 to 2 this week to approve [the] bill.... 'This firearm is Utah,' Representative Carl Wimmer, the Browning bill’s sponsor, told The Salt Lake Tribune." Meanwhile, State Sen. Mark Madsen suggested Browning Day be scheduled to coincide with Martin Luther King Day, and Utah's Republican Tea Party U.S. Senator Mike Lee told CNN, “There is abundant research suggesting in cities where more people own guns, the crime rate, especially the murder rate, goes down.”

Here's what I say (also see correction following the comment):

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day should coincide with Browning Day? Doesn't Sen. Madsen know Dr. King was shot to death? With, you know, a gun? Madsen's suggestion is appalling bordering on depraved. Maybe Madsen should ponder this: "... more than a million people have died from gun violence — in murders, accidents and suicides — since Dr. King was shot to death in 1968." -- Bob Herbert

Sen. Mike Lee, who operates in the Republican Fact-Free Zone, is blowing smoke with his claim that "There is abundant research suggesting in cities where more people own guns, the crime rate, especially the murder rate, goes down." According to Dr. Daniel Webster (no, not that Daniel Webster) of Johns Hopkins, "Cities that have gone the furthest to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people have the lowest homicide rates." Prof. Matthew Miller of Harvard says, "Where it’s easier to get guns, you have higher rates of lethal violence. That’s clear." Well, not to Sen. Lee.

And if gun enthusiasts like Mike Lee think guns protect them, there's this, also from Bob Herbert: "researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine estimated that people in possession of a gun at the time of an assault were 4.5 times more likely to be shot during the assault than someone in a comparable situation without a gun."

Where's Joe Wilson to shout "You lie!" at Mike Lee? Oh, right. Not long ago he was in South Carolina, touting the release of the "You Lie" AR-15 lower receiver. What's a "lower receiver"? It's an accessory that converts a semi-automatic assault rifle to an automatic assault rifle. *

* Correction: Times reader Fred G. writes,

Marie Burns wrote in the NYT:  "What's a 'lower receiver'? It's an accessory that converts a semi-automatic assault rifle to an automatic assault rifle."  From a factual perspective, this is just not correct. 

The lower receiver is simply a housing.  Whether an AR-15/M-16 is semi-automatic or full automatic is a function of the firing mechanism.  The firing mechanism is housed in the lower receiver, but most lower receivers (with a few exceptions) can accommodate semi- or full-auto firing mechanisms.  This is not a political or partisan issue, simply one of factual accuracy.  I usually like Ms. Burns comments quite a lot.  I thought this inaccuracy was worth pointing out.

CW: It's probably safe to assume Fred is right & I'm wrong. Thanks to Fred for the correction & for keeping me honest.


State of the Union Address

Here's Politico's highlights video:


The White House has what it's calling an "enhanced video" here -- a split screen with the President speaking in one box & illustrations of the subjects he touches on in the right. CW: I didn't find the photos too enhancing, but -- besides the video -- there are other links on the page that may interest you. 


State of the Union -- Analysis

Swimming Upstream in a Word Cloud.* What the American people got out of the SOTU:

Survey & art by NPR.* "NPR asked its listeners to describe Obama's address in three words. They then tallied up all 4,000 or so responses and made that into a word cloud — a snapshot of what people took away from the speech." -- Dana Amira of New York magazine. See Amira's post for what the word cloud of the President's actual address looks like.

Lie: Depending on bureaucracy to foster innovation, competitiveness and wise consumer choices has never worked — and it won't work now. -- Paul Ryan, SOTU rebuttal

Facts: Throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That's what planted the seeds for the Internet. That's what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS. Just think of all the good jobs -- from manufacturing to retail -- that have come from these breakthroughs. Half a century ago ... we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.
-- Barack Obama, SOTU address

** Here is the prepared text for President Obama's second State of the Union address. Update: text has been revised to reflect the speech as delivered.

New York Times reporters fact-check the speech....

... Calvin Woodward of the AP fact-checks the President's speech: "The ledger did not appear to be adding up Tuesday night when President Barack Obama urged more spending on one hand and a spending freeze on the other."

Believe in Miracles. Matt Negrin of Politico: "[Tom Donohue,] president of the Chamber of Commerce, one of President Obama’s fiercest critics, and [Richard Trumka,] the president of the AFL-CIO, one of his key labor allies, have written a joint statement praising the State of the Union address."

"Hogwash!" Robert Sheer of TruthDig really hated the speech.

"Meh." Krugman didn't think much of it. My more positive comment is #18 on the same page.

Like Krugman, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones was underwhelmed: "... there was almost literally nothing in there that couldn't have been in a George W. Bush speech. It was intensely technocratic and bipartisan.... And even if you grant that 'invest' is just another word for 'spend,' he was mostly talking about the kind of spending the Republicans could, in theory, go along with.... And a note to John Boehner: dude, we know you're a Republican.... Your preposterously ostentatious boredom during the entire speech really needs to go. You should at least pretend you're not in junior high school anymore."

Michael Grunwald of Time has a useful analysis that looks at the history (brief as it is) of President Obama's policy objectives. Grunwald concludes: President Obama "keeps signaling to the public that he's reaching out to Republicans, even though he's still pushing policies they've been denouncing for two years. It wasn't his choice to swim upstream — the midterm voters made that call — but evidently he's got something in common with those salmon. He gets even more complicated when he's been smoked."

Ezra Klein: "... though there were a lot of policy proposals in the speech, there weren't enough specifics to really know where the president is going. For all the talk of investment, it was presented more as a philosophy than a proposal."

New York Times Editors: "Mr. Obama’s speech offered a welcome contrast to all of the posturing that passes for business in the new Republican-controlled House."

Gene Robinson: "The State of the Union speech ... seemed to chart ways to get over, under, around and through some of the roadblocks that stand in the way of Obama's policy proposals."

Dan Balz of the Washington Post: What was "... striking was [the President's] effort to frame the coming debates over spending and the role of government in ways that are designed to put Republicans on the defense as the fights begin. It was his latest effort to appeal to the center of the electorate. The speech was a defense of the active use of government to prepare the country for the long-term challenge of global competitiveness, through spending on education, infrastructure, alternative energy and other projects."

CBS Poll.Lucy Madison of CBS News: "An overwhelming majority of Americans approved of the overall message in President Obama's State of the Union speech..., according to a CBS News Poll of speech watchers.... Specifically, 82 percent ... said they approve of the president's plans for the economy, up from 53 percent who approved before the speech. Eighty percent said they approved of Mr. Obama's plans for the deficit -- in contrast to 45 percent before the speech -- and 83 percent approved of Obama's proposals regarding Afghanistan, which received only a 57 percent approval rating beforehand."

CNN Poll: "A majority of Americans who watched President Obama's State of the Union address said they had a very positive reaction to his speech, according to a poll of people who viewed Tuesday night's address."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times: "President Obama called Tuesday night for Americans to unleash their creative spirits, set aside their partisan differences and come together around a common goal of out-competing other nations in a rapidly shifting global economy."

** Tobin Harshaw of the New York Times is running a livethread of invited commentators' opinions on the SOTU address. Keep the auto-refresh on.

** Michael Shear, et al., of the New York Times are liveblogging the State of Union Address. The Times has just obtained (at 7:58 pm ET) a copy of the prepared SOTU address.

Shira Toeplitz of Politico: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blasted President Barack Obama on earmarks in advance of his State of the Union address Tuesday, when he’s expected to call for a ban. 'I think this is an issue that any president would like to have, that takes power away from the legislative branch of government,' said Reid. '... It only gives the president more power. He’s got enough power already.'”

Republican Responses

Here is the prepared text for Rep. Paul Ryan's Republican response. You can watch Ryan's rebuttal here.

Jason Linkins gathers rebuttals to the "facts" Ryan presented. Uh, they're not factual.

Political Correction does an in-depth analysis of a few of Ryan's "facts." He should invest in/spend on a fire extinguisher.

Joan Walsh of Salon: "Rep. Paul Ryan railed against the deficit without proposing even one specific cut. He didn't talk about his own infamous 'Roadmap,' maybe because most analysts have called it a budget buster, even though it essentially replaces Social Security and Medicare with vouchers.... Citizens for Tax Justice said Ryan's Roadmap raises taxes on 9 out of 10 taxpayers ... while slashing them for the wealthiest.... Ryan ... promised to ... replace ['Obamacare'] with 'fiscally responsible ... reform,' but didn't say word one about what it would entail. Most dishonestly, Ryan said Democrats had overspent 'to the point where the president is now urging Congress to increase the debt limit,' ignoring the fact that Congress raised it seven times under President Bush." Then Walsh hits Bachmann.

Paul Krugman said "the Ryan response … was as bad as you might expect." ...

     ... NEW. AND furthermore. Ryan really doesn't know WTF he's talking about.

Here's the prepared text of Rep. Michele Bachmann's rebuttal rebuttal. Bachmann's rebuttal rebuttal is here.

Dana Milbank on Michele Bachmann's alternate -- and vituperative -- universe.

CNN Political Unit: "Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, chair of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, delivered a Tea Party-style, red-meat conservative rebuttal sharply criticizing President Barack Obama's State of the Union Tuesday."

Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times: "The crosscurrents inside the Republican Party were on fresh display Tuesday evening with the unusual sight of two lawmakers delivering responses to the State of the Union address.

Jay Newton-Small of Time on the GOP's two-headed monster rebuttal.

Steve Benen on the Bachmann pitfall: "I can only hope that Paul Ryan isn't positioned as the 'middle' -- literally and figuratively -- between the president and Bachman. The Ayn Rand acolyte [i.e., Ryan] is, after all, a hard-core radical, intent on destroying Medicare and Social Security. Bachmann's wild-eyed craziness shouldn't make Ryan appear reasonable by comparison, but it might." Benen also notes that CNN will be carrying Bachmann's rebuttal rebuttal. ...

... Adam Serwer in the Washington Post: "I'm not sure how much real ideological daylight there is between Bachmann and Ryan, and the two appearances are as likely to muddle the conservative message as reinforce it."

Dave Weigel of Slate on why CNN aired the Bachmann rebuttal rebuttal: "CNN has a longstanding romance with the Tea Party Express.... Later this year, the network and the [TPE] PAC (and potentially other Tea Party groups) are co-sponsoring a presidential debate between Republican candidates. So, not shocking at all for the network to promote this and then claim a higher purpose."

The Seating Chart


If you had actually followed the rules and not claimed a seat and got there at eight or quarter to eight there were no seats. House members almost wrestled the staff of the Senate sergeant at arms to the ground to claim some of the seats that were claimed for the Senate.
-- Brad Miller (D-NC)

Jennifer Steinhauer & Carl Hulse of the New York Times: "The idea of having Democrats and Republicans sit together ... gathered frantic steam in the hours leading up to the speech. As evening approached..., members madly tweeted about who they would sit with, looked for a last minute date, and, in at least one case, blew off a suitor." Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) invited Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.). She tweeted back, “I thank @GOPLeader for his #SOTU offer, but I invited my friend Rep. Bartlett from MD yesterday & am pleased he accepted.”