The Ledes

Monday, July 6, 2015.

New York Times: Pope Francis is in Equador.

AP: "The surviving escapee from a prison break and three-week manhunt will spend 23 hours a day in a maximum-security cell, much more confined than he and a fellow murder convict were in the prison from which they managed a getaway, officials said Sunday. David Sweat, who was shot and wounded during his June 28 capture, was taken early Sunday from Albany Medical Center to the infirmary at the Five Points Correctional Facility in the central New York town of Romulus...."

New York Times: The U.S. took the Women's World Cup in a 5-2 victory against Japan.

The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post: "A novel data-mining project reveals evidence that a common group of heartburn medications taken by more than 100 million people every year is associated with a greater risk of heart attacks, Stanford University researchers reported Wednesday."

AP: "Federal health advisers on Tuesday[, June 9,] recommended approval for a highly anticipated cholesterol drug from Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, but with the caveat that more data is needed about its long-term ability to reduce heart attacks. The expert panel recommended by a 13-3 vote that the Food and Drug Administration approve the injectable drug, called Praluent."

Washington Post (June 4): "The first-ever 'female Viagra' came one step closer to coming to market, as a key advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration voted Thursday afternoon to recommend that the FDA approve the drug with conditions. The committee voted 18-6 to recommend that the FDA approve flibanserin, a drug designed to boost the low sexual desire of otherwise healthy women."

White House Live Video
July 6

3:55 pm ET: President Obama makesa statement to the press from the Pentagon

Go to


Grateful Dead, final concert, at Soldier Field in Chicago. New York Times photo.New York Times: "... the Grateful Dead played their fifth and final 'Fare Thee Well' concert on Sunday night at [Chicago's] Soldier Field, having vowed it would be their last as a group."

New York Times: "On the eve of the most anticipated publishing event in years — the release of Harper Lee’s novel 'Go Set a Watchman' — there is yet another strange twist to the tale of how the book made its way to publication, a development that further clouds the story of serendipitous discovery that generated both excitement and skepticism in February."

Here's a short film by activist Bree Newsome. The film won the best -short-film category at the BET awards (ca. 2010):

Washington Post: "After three years of work by Michelle Obama and the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, a new look was unveiled [in the State Dining Room] Friday[, June 26,] that will be a design legacy of the Obama years." With slideshow, including former incarnations of the room.

Daniel Bethencourt & Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press: "Famed street artist Shepard Fairey, who visited Detroit last month to create the largest mural of his career, faces felony charges of tagging other properties across the city on his own time." The reporters put the charges in the larger perspective of street art.

David Haglund on "James Salter in the New Yorker."

Twelve beautiful bookshops.

Livraria Lello & Irmão, Porto, Portugal.

Gabriel Sherman of New York: "Yesterday, 21st Century Fox announced that [Fox "News" leader Roger] Ailes would be reporting to Lachlan and James Murdoch. For Ailes, it was a stinging smack-down and effectively a demotion. Just five days earlier, Ailes released what now appears to be a rogue statement to his own Fox Business channel declaring that he would be unaffected by the announcement that Lachlan and James will take control of Fox as part of Rupert's succession plan."

The Waldorf-Hysteria. New York Post: Bride "hysterical," lets out "blood-curdling scream," when Waldorf is forced to cancel her million-dollar reception because drunken relatives of the groom allegedly shot some other guests & Waldorf employees. Here's more of the story. You can the boys out of Brooklyn, but....

Sophia A. McClennen in Salon: The real Jerry Seinfeld has become the TV character Jerry Seinfeld. Without the irony. So not funny.

Washington Post: "... thanks to diligent sleuthing and painstaking restoration by a team of art historians at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, the shadowy, richly colored 'Saul and David' is considered a Rembrandt masterpiece once more. It goes on display at the museum this Thursday, the star of a special exhibition entirely devoted to the painting and its tumultuous past."

New York Times: "Since [the] Clinton [Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York,] opened in 1845, dozens of inmates have escaped over, under or through the prison’s thick walls, their exploits detailed in breathless, often sensationalistic, newspaper reports of earlier eras." CW: As if the Times' extensive coverage of last week's escape wasn't sensationalistic. ...

New York Times: The life of a fugitive presents many opportunities to blunder -- and get caught.

Washington Post: "It’s a happy day for luggage manufacturers. The world’s major airlines could soon be changing their requirements for carry-on luggage, potentially forcing people to buy new bags. Working with airlines and aircraft manufacturers including Boeing and Airbus, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association, unveiled a new best-size guideline on Tuesday for carry-on bags at 21.5 inches tall by 13.5 inches wide and 7.5 inches deep. That's 21 percent smaller than the size currently permitted by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines."

CW: Okay, I finally found a Daily Mail story I'm willing to link. The hills are alive.

Stephen Colbert, Lyricist:

Griff Witte of the Washington Post: "Eight-hundred years ago this month, rebellious barons and a despised, cash-strapped king gathered in a verdant riverside meadow 20 miles outside London to seal an agreement that would change the course of history. The words of the Magna Carta have inspired democratic movements the world over and formed a basis for countless constitutions...." But not for Great Britain, which "is one of just three major democracies that lack formal, written constitutions." Some Britons are thinking it's time to fix that.

Washington Post: Actor Jason Alexander reveals why the "Seinfeld" show killed off George Costanza's fiancee Susan.

When a Cop Loves a Cheapskate. Taylor Berman of Gawker: "Last July, NYPD Officer Ymmacula Pierre and her partner found Kenneth Sanden dead after being called to his East Village apartment by a concerned relative. So Pierre allegedly did what any respectable cop would do: pocket the dead man’s Mastercard and use it to buy a diamond ring." Pierre ordered the ring while in her boyfriend's apartment, & that is where the ring was to be shipped. It appears to me that Pierre is (allegedly) a girl who believes in traditional marriage. Very sweet.

Dylan Byers of Politico (June 1): "Jake Tapper will take over as host of CNN's 'State Of The Union' on June 14, he announced Monday.... He replaces Candy Crowley, who served as host of 'SOTU' until late last year. Tapper will also continue to host his 4 p.m. weekday program, 'The Lead.'" ...

Mediaite (May 29): "CNN’s Jake Tapper will no longer moderate a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative’s upcoming conference in Denver, Colo., to avoid a conflict of interest involving the recent coverage of its parent foundation’s controversies."


Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, appears on the cover of Vanity Fair, with the cover & other photos by Annie Liebovitz. There's a firewalled cover story. ...

... Another reason to admire actor Jessica Lange: she didn't know what "trending on Twitter" meant.

Reuters: "A $100,000 check is waiting for a mystery woman who donated a rare Apple 1 computer to a Silicon Valley recycling firm. CleanBayArea in Milpitas, California, said on its website that a woman in her 60s dropped off some electronic goods in April, when she was cleaning out the garage after her husband died. The boxes of computer parts contained a 1976 Apple 1, which the recycling firm sold for $200,000 in a private auction. The recycler’s policy is to split the proceeds 50-50 with the person who donated the equipment. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak built the computers in 1976 and sold them for $666.66 each. Only a few dozen of the groundbreaking home computers are known to still exist."

New York Times: "On Tuesday, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, along with the Iziko Museums of South Africa, the Slave Wrecks Project, and other partners, will announce in Cape Town that the remnants of the São José [-- which sank off the Cape of Good Hope in 1795 --] have been found, right where the ship went down, in full view of Lion’s Head Mountain. It is the first time, researchers involved in the project say, that the wreckage of a slaving ship that went down with slaves aboard has been recovered."

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Happy New Year, 2013!

** Eric Foner, in a New York Times op-ed: "ONE hundred and fifty years ago, on Jan. 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln presided over the annual White House New Year’s reception. Late that afternoon, he retired to his study to sign the Emancipation Proclamation..., perhaps the most misunderstood of the documents that have shaped American history." Here's the text of the Proclamation.

Cliff Notes

Andy Borowitz: "Official Washington was in celebration mode on New Year's Day after kind of averting a completely unnecessary crisis that was entirely of its own creation. 'This deal proves that if we all procrastinate long and hard enough, we can semi-solve any self-inflicted problem at the very last minute in a way that satisfies no one,' said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)."

NEW. Jake Sherman & Carrie Brown of Politico: "An overwhelming number of House Republicans in a party meeting are calling on their leadership to amend the Senate's bill to avert the fiscal cliff and send it back to the upper chamber, according to several sources in the Tuesday afternoon meeting.GOP leadership has not made a decision on what to do with the Senate-passed tax hike bill." ...

     ... UPDATE: "A carefully-crafted Senate compromise to avert the fiscal cliff could be in jeopardy, as House Republicans seem nearly certain to tweak the legislation and send it back to the Senate because it doesn't contain sufficient spending cuts.... In a real sign of trouble, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor ... came out in opposition to the package."

Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "House Republicans were planning to meet at 1 p.m. to discuss the Senate legislation.... Representative Nancy Pelosi of California ... said she would also present the plan to House Democrats and Mr. Biden, who helped sell the deal to Senate Democrats on Monday night, was set to meet with members of his party in the House just after noon. With just two days to go before a new Congress convenes, the House has essentially three choices: reject the bill, pass it as written by the Senate..., or amend the bill and quickly return it across the rotunda to the Senate." ...

     ... NEW LEDE: "House Republicans reacted with anger Tuesday afternoon to a Senate-passed plan to head off automatic tax increases and spending cuts, putting the fate of the legislation in doubt just hours after it appeared Congress was nearing a resolution of the fiscal crisis."

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "The Senate, in a pre-dawn vote two hours after the deadline passed to avert automatic tax increases, overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday that would allow tax rates to rise only on affluent Americans while temporarily suspending sweeping, across-the-board spending cuts.... Under the agreement, tax rates would jump to 39.6 percent from 35 percent for individual incomes over $400,000 and couples over $450,000, while tax deductions and credits would start phasing out on incomes as low as $250,000, a clear victory for President Obama, who ran for re-election vowing to impose taxes on the wealthy. Just after the vote, Mr. Obama called for quick House passage of the legislation."

The full text of the Senate bill is here. It's 157 pages.

The Times has a table of what's in the bill. The one I don't understand is "Reinstates provisions that phase out personal exemptions and deductions for incomes over $200,000 for singles and $250,000 for couples." ...

... Update: I did some digging: In an October post, Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post wrote, "The current tax code includes another way to limit tax deductions for high earners: the Pease limit. Named after its author, former Democratic congressman Donald J. (Don) Pease (Ohio), the limit establishes a cutoff ($177,550 in 2013) and then reduces deductions by 3 percent of the amount by which a household's income exceeds that cutoff, up to a maximum reduction of 80 percent." So that cutoff number of $177,550 has been increased to $300K for couples. As Ezra Klein explained in a November post, "This would raise the effective tax rate on higher-income households by about 1.2 percentage points and generate about $9 billion annually...." In addition, Klein wrote, "The Bush tax cuts also eliminated the personal exemption phase-out (PEP) If that's restored, then single individual filers with incomes above $170,000 and married joint filers above $265,000 would see some or most of their personal exemption deductions eliminated. (Their average deduction is about $3,800.) ... PEP would generate about $3 billion annually." So that $170K cutoff is now at $250K for couples. The calculations of revenue generation are for the lower cutoffs, so obviously, the new law will produce less revenue. (If Obama/McConnell had just left this alone, BTW, the lower cutoffs would have kicked in automatically, so again, this is a concession to the no-tax-is-a-good-tax crowd.) Klein has his own rundown -- which is a bit more detailed than the Times' table -- of what's in the bill here.

Andrew Taylor of the AP: "Legislation to prevent the government from going over the so-called fiscal cliff will also block a $900 automatic pay hike for members of Congress.... Under a 1989 law, lawmakers are supposed to receive automatic cost-of-living pay hikes, but as Congress' approval ratings have fallen, lawmakers have routinely voted to reject the raise.... They had already voted in September to block the pay raise through March 27, but President Barack Obama recently issued an executive order to implement it, along with a pay increase for federal workers."

Suzy Khimm of the Washington Post reveals some winners & losers. Here are a couple of Winners: (1) Working Poor: 5-year extensions of a five-year extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit & the Child Tax Credit and a more generous college tuition tax credit. (2) Coupon Clippers: "Setting the dividend tax rate at 20 percent, however, is a significant concession to Republicans: Obama, in his most recent budget, proposed taxing dividends like ordinary income, with a top rate of 39.6 percent, as it's scheduled to revert to after Dec. 31." Obviously, Obama noticed who buttered his campaign bread.

The Closer

Another Big Winner -- Joe Biden. Peter Baker of the New York Times (Dec. 31 @ 4:30 pm): "The late entry of Mr. Biden to the tax-and-spending talks that have consumed the capital over the last two months recalls his role in the debt crisis of 2011 and once again seems to have been critical toward cutting through the deadlock. Mr. Biden was handed the ball not by President Obama but by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.... As soon as the talks boiled down to Mr. Biden and Mr. McConnell, it became a relatively short path to a tentative agreement on taxes." ...

... David Fahrenthold & Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post: "The New Year's Eve agreement between Biden and McConnell provided a glimpse at the ways that personality quirks and one-to-one relationships can still change the course of Washington politics.'

Milk Cliff Flattened. Mary Clare Jalonick of the AP: "A potential doubling of milk prices will be averted as part of the compromise that White House and congressional bargainers reached on wide-ranging legislation to avert the 'fiscal cliff,' a leading senator said late Monday. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told reporters that negotiators had agreed to extend portions of the expired 2008 farm bill through September. She said that includes language keeping milk prices from rising, but excludes other provisions like energy and disaster aid for farmers."

Welcome to "the Fiscal Mountains." Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "Assuming the deal is approved, it will nevertheless give way to a nearly continuous series of fights that will consume the first part of the year, even as President Obama might hope to shift Congress's attention to immigration reform and gun control. 'It's become less like a fiscal cliffhanger and more like a journey over the fiscal mountains,' said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.)."

Robert Reich, writing in the American Prospect, concurs: "Republicans haven't conceded anything on the debt ceiling, so over the next two months -- as the Treasury runs out of tricks to avoid a default -- Republicans are likely to do exactly what they did before, which is to hold their votes on raising the debt ceiling hostage to major cuts in programs for the poor and in Medicare and Social Security." He calls it "a lousy deal," from progressives' standpoint.

Brian Beutler of TPM: "To sell Senate Democrats on a controversial plan the White House negotiated with Senate Republicans to avoid the fiscal cliff, Vice President Joe Biden had to repeatedly reassure frustrated members of his own party Monday night that President Obama and Democratic leaders will not negotiate with the GOP to raise the debt ceiling in February or March."

Jonathan Weisman: "Furious last-minute negotiations between the White House and the Senate Republican leadership on Monday secured a tentative agreement to allow tax rates to rise on affluent Americans, but the measure was not going to pass in time for Congress to meet its Dec. 31 deadline for averting automatic tax increases and spending cuts deemed a threat to the economy."

** Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "President Obama and Senate Republicans reached a sweeping deal late Monday that would let income taxes rise significantly for the first time in more than 20 years, fulfilling Obama's promise to raise taxes on the rich and averting the worst effects of the 'fiscal cliff.'"

Michael O'Brien of NBC News: "The United States was set to go over the so-called fiscal cliff at midnight after the House of Representatives adjourned until noon on New Year's Day."

Our "Read My Lips" President

CW: It's poignantly appropriate that former one-term President George H. W. Bush should be in the news on the week that President Obama reneged on his own read-my-lips campaign promise: not to lower taxes on families who earned more than $250K/year. The difference: Bush gave in on his no-new-taxes pledge to cut a responsible deal; Obama has little excuse for breaking a promise that has no upside. ...

... Jared Bernstien, who used to be Joe Biden's economics guru so surely remains connected, runs down the elements of the "probably deal" and concludes, "The thing that worried me most in the endgame is that the [White House] would be so intent on a deal that they'd lock in too few revenues with no path back to the revenue well, and that they'd leave the debt ceiling hanging out there. Remember, the ultimate goal of Republicans here is still to 'starve the beast.' ... Those fears will be realized unless the President really and truly refuses to negotiate on the debt ceiling and is willing to blow past those who would stage a strategic default. If he is not, and if this cliff deal passes, then I fear the WH may have squandered its hard won leverage." CW: in short, Obama blew it again. Plus, at least he's not Mitt Romney. ...

... Noam Scheiber of The New Republic: "I think the president made a huge mistake by negotiating over what he'd previously said was non-negotiable (namely, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000). Then the White House compounded that mistake by sending Biden to 'close' the deal when Harry Reid appeared to give up on it." ...

... Paul Krugman: "Anyone looking at these negotiations, especially given Obama's previous behavior, can't help but reach one main conclusion: whenever the president says that there's an issue on which he absolutely, positively won't give ground, you can count on him, you know, giving way -- and soon, too. The idea that you should only make promises and threats you intend to make good on doesn't seem to be one that this particular president can grasp. And that means that Republicans will go right from this negotiation into the debt ceiling in the firm belief that Obama can be rolled." ...

... CW: Ryan Grim of the HuffPost, speaking on MSNBC Monday evening, made a counter-point: many Congressional Democrats are happy with the higher cut-off rate on the income tax hike. After all, their personal friends are apt to be in the $250-$450K tax bracket. If you recall, some months back, Minority Leader Pelosi was pushing $1MM-&-up taxable income for the higher rate. She quieted down on that while the President was running his campaign for raising the rate on those earning $250K & up, but I'd guess that Pelosi, among others, is right happy with raising the cut-off income figure. In short, the President's cave is a concession to the whole Congress, not just to Republicans. ...

... David Atkins of Hullabaloo adds a few other "buts', including this: "Republicans hold 234 House seats. Of those, only 15 were won by the President. There is no rational cause to believe that Republicans from districts won by the ultimate plutocrat and enemy of the '47%' Mitt Romney would be in any way intimidated by pressure from the Kenyan Socialist Anti-Christ to raise taxes on job creators or deliver more big government welfare checks to long-term unemployed parasite moochers. There is no reason to think that they wouldn't simply go on Fox News and talk radio to blame the President for all the tax increases while claiming to stand strong against a descent into a Greek deficit crisis caused by cash payments to unions and inner-city welfare recipients." CW: read the whole post. I find Atkins' POV pretty convincing. Evidently Obama does, too.

The Washington Post's liveblog is here. The New York Times is posting updates on its front page.

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, on Monday reached agreement on a tentative deal to stave off large tax increases starting on Tuesday, but remained stuck on whether and how to stop $110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts in 2013, an official familiar with the negotiations said."

Louis Seidman
, a Constitutional scholar, in a New York Times op-ed: "... we ought to try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.... The deep-seated fear that disobedience [of the Constitution] would unravel our social fabric is mere superstition. As we have seen, the country has successfully survived numerous examples of constitutional infidelity. And as we see now, the failure of the Congress and the White House to agree has already destabilized the country." CW: I do like it when the smart guys catch up with my way of thinking.

Chiep Justice Roberts Thinks He Is an Economist. Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. used his year-end report on the federal judiciary to give Congressional budget negotiators a little nudge."

Robert Pear of the New York Times: "In a long-awaited interpretation of the new health care law, the Obama administration said Monday that employers must offer health insurance to employees and their children, but will not be subject to any penalties if family coverage is unaffordable to workers."

E. J. Graff of the American Prospect looks back in anger at 2012 -- the year of the War on Women. ...

... The War Continues to the Last Day of the Year. Chris Tomlinson of the AP: "Texas can cut off funding to Planned Parenthood's family planning programs for poor women, a state judge ruled Monday. Judge Gary Harger said that Texas may exclude otherwise qualified doctors and clinics from receiving state funding if they advocate for abortion rights.... Another hearing is scheduled with a different judge for Jan. 11, where Planned Parenthood will again ask for an injunction to receive state funding."

AND Scott Lemieux of the American Prospect reviews the year in Supreme Court rulings. Justice Scalia is nastier & crazier than ever and "For progressives, the bottom line of the most recent year of the Supreme Court is that 'it could have been a lot worse.' With the Supreme Court poised to rule almost all affirmative action unconstitutional and cut out the heart of the Voting Rights Act, I'm not sure we'll be saying that this time next year."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Beate Sirota Gordon, the daughter of Russian Jewish parents who at 22 almost single-handedly wrote women's rights into the Constitution of modern Japan, and then kept silent about it for decades, only to become a feminist heroine there in recent years, died on Sunday at her home in Manhattan. She was 89."

A Bloody New Year. NBC News: "Seven people were shot, one of them fatally, during a New Year's party early Tuesday in Columbus, Ga., police said -- just one of many fatal shootings to be reported across the country as 2013 got off to a bloody start."

Reuters: "The State Department made a 'grievous mistake' in keeping the U.S. mission in Benghazi open despite inadequate security and increasingly alarming threat assessments in the weeks before a deadly attack by militants, a Senate committee said on Monday. A report from the Senate Homeland Security Committee on the September 11 attacks ... faulted intelligence agencies for not focusing tightly enough on Libyan extremists."

Baltimore Sun: as of today, same-sex couples can legally marry in Maryland. Meanwhile, "The ultra-conservative Westboro Baptist Church, known for picketing high-profile funerals with signs saying 'God hate' gay people, has received permits to rally in front of courthouses in Towson and Annapolis on Wednesday, police said.... Parishioners of St. Anne's, the 300-year-old Episcopal church across from the Annapolis courthouse, were planning a counter-protest the same day to 'bear witness to the good news of God's unconditional love.'"

Denver Post: "Billed as Denver's first legal private cannabis club, Club 64, met for the first time at 4:20 p.m. Monday at a Larimer Street retail store. Until further notice -- from somewhere -- enterprising cannabis enthusiasts assume it's OK to hang out to consume weed in social, yet sort of private, recreational settings."

AP: "Doctors treating Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for a blood clot in her head said blood thinners are being used to dissolve the clot and they are confident she will make a full recovery."

Reuters: "The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to split a $60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy disaster aid bill into two parts, staging votes on $27 billion to fund immediate recovery needs and $33 billion for long-term and other projects...."

Reuters: "North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called for an end to confrontation between the two Koreas, technically still at war in the absence of a peace treaty to end their 1950-53 conflict, in a surprise New Year speech broadcast on state media."

AP: "Gunmen killed five female teachers and two other people on Tuesday in an ambush on a van carrying workers home from their jobs at a community center in northwest Pakistan, officials said.... Two health workers, one man and one woman, were also killed and the driver was wounded. The attack was a reminder of the risks faced by educators and aid workers, especially women, in an area where Islamic militants often target women and girls trying to get an education."

Reuters: "About 60 people were crushed to death in Ivory Coast's main city of Abidjan overnight [in a stampede] after a New Year's Eve fireworks display, an emergency official and state radio said on Tuesday."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 31, 2012

Cliff Notes

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times @ 2:06 pm ET: "Republicans responded to the president’s statement angrily, accusing him of 'moving the goal posts' just when a deal was in reach."

President Obama spoke about the fiscal cliff at about 1:35 pm ET today, saying an agreement was "within sight," but "not done":


Lori Montgomery & Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were close to a deal Monday to cancel historic tax hikes for most Americans. But they were still hung up on spending, with Democrats resisting a Republican proposal to delay automatic spending cuts for just three months."

John Bresnahan, et al., of Politico: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Joe Biden engaged in furious overnight negotiations to avert the fiscal cliff and made major progress toward a year-end tax deal, giving sudden hope to high-stakes talks that had been on the brink of collapse, according to sources familiar with the discussion." ...

... New York Times story, by Jonathan Weisman, here.

Lori Montgomery & Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "Vice President Biden and Sen. Mitch McConnell were locked in urgent talks late Sunday over the 'fiscal cliff' after Democrats offered several significant concessions on taxes, including a proposal to raise rates only on earnings over $450,000 a year.... Democrats abandoned their earlier demand to raise tax rates on household income over $250,000 a year...." ...

... Jonathan Chait of New York: "The erosion [of Obama's 'bright line' on tax cuts] signals not only a major substantive problem in its own right, but it also raises disturbing questions about Obama's ability to handle his entire second term agenda.... Obama may think his conciliatory approach has helped avoid economic chaos. Instead, he is courting it." CW: I thought Biden was the negotiator. Whose bright idea was it to concede for no good reason?

Jonathan Weisman & John Broder of the New York Times: "Negotiations over a last-ditch agreement to head off large tax increases and sweeping spending cuts in the new year appeared to resume on Sunday afternoon after Republican senators withdrew a demand that any deal must include a new way of calculating inflation that would lower payments to beneficiary programs like Social Security and slow their growth." CW: that is some good news. ...

     ... Update. New lede: "Senate leaders on Sunday failed to produce a fiscal deal with just hours to go before large tax increases and spending cuts were to begin taking effect on New Year's Day, despite a round of volatile negotiations over the weekend and an attempt by Vice President Joseph R. Biden to intervene.

Lori Montgomery, et al., of the Washington Post: "Still no deal. There were signs of renewed effort in the talks to resolve the 'fiscal cliff' crisis late Sunday afternoon. For one thing, direct talks had begun between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Biden. Republicans exiting a mid-afternoon caucus meeting said that McConnell had excused himself to take a call from the vice president."

The Post is liveblogging negotiation "news."

Zachary Goldfarb & Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "For all the posturing of the last few weeks, both sides see a measure of political upside in going over the 'fiscal cliff' -- or, at the least, an advantage in waiting until the last minute, since they want to avoid drawing the ire of their most loyal supporters by appearing to cave too quickly.... Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on Sunday reiterated a view she has pressed repeatedly with her Democratic colleagues: Going over the cliff is better than agreeing to a bad bargain."

Dion Nissenbaum & Damian Paletta of the Wall Street Journal report that "The Pentagon is preparing to notify its entire civilian workforce to prepare for furloughs if Congress and President Barack Obama are unable to reach a deal before Jan. 2 to avert automatic spending cuts. A senior defense official said Sunday that the Pentagon would notify 800,000 civilian workers to brace for furloughs in the new year, meaning the workers would be ordered to take mandatory leave without pay for a certain period." CW: The story is subscriber-firewalled, so I can't link it for you, but if you Google "pentagon rolling layoffs" & click on the Journal story, you can read it. (This is a method that often -- tho not always -- works for stories trapped behind a paywall. I think Google will allow you to do this a limited number of times over some prescribed period, but I've never hit my limit.)

Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times writes a level-headed piece on the consequences of the tax-&-spending battle: For one thing, "In the event no compromise is found..., the Congressional Budget Office and many private economists warn that the sudden pullback in spending and the rise in taxes would push the economy into recession in the first half of the year.... The economy could shrink by 0.5 percent over all of 2013.... 'If we have a recession, it's unforgivable,' said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group. 'For the first time in modern history, we will have a self-inflicted recession in the U.S.'" ...

... The Times also has a helpful chart about what will happen if an agreement isn't reached. One feature of the sequestration that has received little attention: payments to Medicare providers will drop by 27 percent. CW: I think this could matter not just to doctors, but to the public, if many doctors decide not to take new Medicare patients.

Paul Krugman whacks Fix the Debt: "What's happening now is that all the [Pete] Peterson-funded groups are trying to exploit the fiscal cliff to push a benefit-cutting agenda that has nothing to do with the current crisis, using artfully deceptive language ... letter -- to hide the bait and switch. [Starbucks CEO Howard] Schultz apparently fell for the con. But the rest of us shouldn't."

Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon: "In clearest sign yet that President Obama has abandoned hope of averting the so-called fiscal cliff in the next 48 hours, he used a rare-Sunday show appearance to come out swinging at Republicans, something he's so far avoided doing so as to not poison relations with his negotiating partners." CW: see yesterday's Commentariat for the full interview.

Tim Noah of The New Republic: "As usual, the party that's having a hard time grasping how much power it holds is the Democrats, specifically the White House. President Obama previously (and stupidly) suggested he might be willing to go up to a $400,000 threshold for higher tax rates. So if a deal is struck before midnight, it may well include that higher threshold."

** Rick Ungar of Forbes on"Why Congress Cannot Operate without the Bribing Power of Earmarks." Thanks to reader Madeleine B. for the link.

Donovan Slack of Politico: "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack ... said that unless Congress can pass a farm bill, the agricultural sector of the economy will be devastated, and that will have ripple effects felt by almost every American. 'Consumers, when they go in the grocery store, are going to be a bit shocked when instead of seeing $3.60 a gallon for milk, they see $7 a gallon for milk,' he said during an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN's 'State of the Union.'"

Sen. Lugubrious Graham (R-S.C.) plans to default on the national debt (link fixed)-- a debt incurred by the Congress of which he happens to be a member -- if elderly Americans don't give up enough benefits to suit him. Ian Millhiser of Think Progress has the story.

Pocket Change for the Little People. Jessica Silver-Greenberg of the New York Times: "Banking regulators are close to a $10 billion settlement with 14 banks that would end the government's efforts to hold lenders responsible for foreclosure abuses like faulty paperwork and excessive fees that may have led to evictions, according to people with knowledge of the discussions."

New York Times Editors: "Sexual assaults at the three military academies are at a record high, according to a December Defense Department report.... Meanwhile, an unpublished report by the Veterans Affairs Department shines a troubling light on the experience of veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.... Advocates for military women say that as long as women are barred from official combat roles and underrepresented in the academies, the imbalance helps a toxic culture of disrespect -- and criminality -- flourish."

David Barboza of the New York Times: "Relatives of a top Chinese regulator profited enormously from the purchase of shares in a once-struggling insurance company that is now one of China's biggest financial powerhouses, according to interviews and a review of regulatory filings. The regulator, Dai Xianglong, was the head of China's central bank and also had oversight of the insurance industry in 2002, when a company his relatives helped control bought a big stake in Ping An Insurance that years later came to be worth billions of dollars."

CW: Eliot Spitzer thinks the Justice Department will get off the dime in 2013 & start prosecuting Wall Street's bad actors. I wish:

Dave Barry's Year in Review 2012. "It was a cruel, cruel year -- a year that kept raising our hopes, only to squash them flatter than a dead possum on the interstate."

"The Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated." AP: "Germany's respected news weekly Der Spiegel mistakenly published an obituary Sunday for former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, hours after a family spokesman said the 88-year-old was recovering from illness."

NEW. Katie Glueck of Politico: "Twitter erupted after Hillary Clinton was hospitalized Sunday night because of a blood clot, as users blasted those who had earlier claimed that the secretary of state was faking illness." ...

... Andrew Kaczynski of BuzzFeed has a rundown of prominent conspiracy theorists who asserted that Hillary Clinton was faking her illness. I'm sure they've all sent her flowers, apologies & get-well wishes by now.

News Ledes

New York Times: "Carl Woese, a biophysicist and evolutionary microbiologist whose discovery 35 years ago of a 'third domain' of life in the vast realm of micro-organisms altered scientific understanding of evolution, died on Sunday at his home in Urbana, Ill. He was 84."

New York Times: "Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, a Nobel Prize-winning neurologist who discovered critical chemical tools that the body uses to direct cell growth and build nerve networks, opening the way for the study of how those processes can go wrong in diseases like dementia and cancer, died on Sunday at her home in Rome. She was 103."

NBC News: "The body of the gunman who killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in one of the nation's deadliest mass shootings was claimed last week by his father for burial, according to a family spokesman."

Washington Post: "The blood clot that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton suffered is inside her skull but did not result in a stroke or neurological damage, her spokesman said late Monday. The clot was discovered during a routine MRI on Sunday as Clinton was recuperating from a fall and concussion...."

New York Times: "Seven [National Football League] coaches and five general managers were fired by lunchtime in a day unequaled for its turmoil in recent memory."

Reuters: "The U.S. Senate on Sunday approved prominent antitrust attorney William Baer to head the Justice Department's Antitrust Division 10 months after he was tapped by President Barack Obama. The Senate voted 64-26 to approve Baer's nomination, which ran into problems with some Republicans because of secret information in an FBI background report." CW: it's ridiculous to require Senate approval for appointees at the undersecretary level.

New York Times: "President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela is facing 'new complications' arising from a respiratory infection following cancer surgery in Cuba, Vice President Nicolás Maduro said in a televised statement on Sunday night."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 30, 2012

President Obama appears on today's "Press the Meat." The interview took place Saturday afternoon. Watch for presidential double-speak on Social Security:

Cliff Notes

Lori Montgomery & Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "Senate negotiators labored late into Saturday over a last-ditch plan to avert the 'fiscal cliff,' struggling to resolve key differences over how many wealthy households should face higher income taxes in the new year and how to tax inherited estates."

Joe Weisenthal of Business Insider: "The deficit has been driven by unemployment, which means ... Closing the deficit is painless. It's not about belt-tightening, it's about putting more people to work, which is something that everyone loves.... Pain is entirely the wrong way to think about closing the deficit. If it's important to make it go away, we need to find a way of doing the exact opposite, putting people to work and making the economy grow." ...

... "The Great Scam." Paul Krugman: "... the Bush experience tells us something important about fiscal policy: namely, that when Democrats get obsessed with deficit reduction, all they do is provide a pot of money that Republicans will squander on more tax breaks for the wealthy as soon as they get a chance.... We're looking not so much at a Grand Bargain as at a Great Scam."

Josh Barro of Bloomberg News: "For Republicans, losing the political fight isn't a downside of the strategy. It is the strategy.... If they drag their feet and get smacked around enough on the way to the deal, they will be able to sell the idea that they had no choice but to cave.... A good fight -- or at least the show of one -- placates the conservative base and helps Republicans avoid primary challenges."

David Fahrenthold & Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post: House Speaker John Boehner "has been a central character in the unhappy tale of this Congress.... It turned out that the very trait that brought Boehner to power -- an amiable, hands-off style -- became a flaw once that power was his. At key moments, rebellious conservatives simply deserted a speaker they liked, but did not fear. Now, Boehner will probably face another test on the way to a resolution of the 'fiscal cliff.' If leaders in the Senate strike a deal to end the current crisis, the speaker would then be required to get it through the House dominated by his skeptical caucus. That drama would play out in just the next few days, but its outcome could shape Washington politics for the next two years."

All in the Family. David Fallis & Dan Keating
of the Washington Post: "In 2007, in the wake of the biggest lobbying scandal in decades, Congress limited the ability of family members to lobby their relatives in the House or Senate. But it declined to ban the practice entirely. Since then, 56 relatives of lawmakers have been paid to influence Congress. More than 500 firms have spent more than $400 million on lobbying teams that include the relatives of members.... In the past six years..., 36 congressional relatives -- including spouses, children, siblings, parents and in-laws -- have been paid to influence 250 bills passing through their family members' congressional committees or sponsored by the members. All of this is legal under the rules Congress has written for itself."

Pamela Constable of the Washington Post: "... a growing number of binational gay couples ... are caught between state laws that allow them to marry and federal laws that bar the U.S. citizen spouse from sponsoring the immigrant spouse for legal residency. Advocates estimate that more than 36,000 such couples are in the same situation. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, defines marriage as the legal union between and man and a woman. It denies gay spouses a long list of federal benefits, including access to pension and inheritance funds after their partner dies, as well as blocking their right to immigrate through marriage."

Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times: "President Barack Obama is urging the Illinois General Assembly to legalize gay marriage in his home state as lawmakers are poised to take up the measure as early as this week in Springfield."

Dan Freedman of the Danbury, Connecticut News-Times: "The National Rifle Association and the firearms industry are locked and loaded in a mutually beneficial financial relationship that funnels millions into the NRA's coffers, yielding legislative triumphs on Capitol Hill that boost gun sales." ...

... David McCumber of Hearst Newspapers: "Opponents of gun control are placing their hope in the overall dysfunction of the American political system; scared politicians; distortion of reality; and our inability to focus on a problem until it is solved." ...

... Andrew Reinbach in the Huffington Post on the history of the Second Amendment and militias. No, the Second Amendment is not about allowing individuals to rise up against a tyrannical government; it's about conscripting citizens to defend the nation against insurrection. Second Amendment screamers have it ass-backwards. ...

... Jeffrey Rosen of The New Republic: "For all of the hyperbole about the Supreme Court's Heller and McDonald opinions, it turns out that they may have played a constructive role in the framing the current gun control debate -- prohibiting complete bans on the right to keep and bear arms but allowing sensible regulations. It's too bad that a few overzealous judges have extended the decisions further than the Second Amendment or the Supreme Court requires." CW: it occurs to me that Judge Posner may have written his opinion on the Illinois gun law in the expectation the Supremes would overturn him. If so, that is a perverse & dangerous way to apply the law; innocent people may die while Posner's Snit remains law. ...

... "Nouveau Bat Shit." What Will The NRA Think of Next? Alexander Zaitchik of Salon: "Silencers could give the next Adam Lanza even more time to kill -- but to the NRA, they protect kids' hearing."

Pat Garofalo of Think Progress on "what you need to know about the impending East Coast port strike."

Declan Walsh of the New York Times: "Al Qaeda and the Taliban have few defenses against the American drones that endlessly prowl the skies over the bustling militant hubs of North and South Waziristan in northwestern Pakistan, along the Afghan border. C.I.A. missiles killed at least 246 people in 2012, most of them Islamist militants, according to watchdog groups that monitor the strikes.... The militants do possess one powerful countermeasure. For several years now, militant enforcers have scoured the tribal belt in search of informers who help the C.I.A.... The militants' technique -- often more witch hunt than investigation -- follows a well-established pattern. Accused tribesmen are abducted ... at gunpoint and tortured. A sham religious court hears their case, usually declaring them guilty. Then they are forced to speak into a video camera.... Their endings are the same: execution by hanging, beheading or firing squad."

William Dobson in Slate: Russian President Vladimir "Putin's decision on Friday to deny his country's most helpless citizens a better future is the most craven example of his desperate search for a cure to his own sagging popularity.... His xenophobic, anti-American displays no longer work on a population that increasingly views him as illegitimate.... His approval ratings in the past several months are his lowest yet."

CW: This "Key Facts on Keystone XL" by Tar Sands Action, & linked in the Comments by safari, looks like a pretty good summary & is in line with other responsible critiques I've read.

News Ledes

New York Times: "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was hospitalized on Sunday with a blood clot stemming from a concussion she suffered earlier this month, a State Department spokesman said." CW: Thanks to contributor Calyban for the heads-up. I hope all those sorry-assed Republicans who accused her of malingering are feeling ashamed of themselves.

Washington Post: "Opposition groups that monitor the [Syrian revolt] death toll said as many as 400 people -- more than double the typical daily death toll -- were killed Saturday. About half of them were civilians slain in an alleged mass killing carried out by government troops at a petrochemical university in central Syria, opposition groups reported."

NBC News: "Pakistani militants, who have escalated attacks in recent weeks, killed at least 40 people in two separate incidents, officials said on Sunday, challenging assertions that military offensives have broken the back of hardline Islamist groups. A car bomb exploded near a convoy of buses taking Shiite pilgrims to Iran, killing at least 19 people and wounding 30, officials told NBC News, the latest attack on the minority sect."

Earlier Sunday, 21 tribal policemen believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban were found shot dead in Pakistan's troubled northwest tribal region, government officials said.

Reuters: "Israeli far-right leader Avigdor Lieberman was charged on Sunday with fraud and breach of trust, allegations that prompted his resignation as foreign minister two weeks ago, justice officials said. Lieberman, who has denied the accusations, remains head of the Yisrael Beitenu party that has formed a coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party ahead of a January 22 parliamentary election. Israeli justice officials said Lieberman was indicted on charges relating to the promotion of an Israeli diplomat who had illegally given him information about a police investigation against him."

Al Jazeera: "The US has sent 50 troops to Chad to help evacuate US citizens and embassy staff in neighbouring Central African Republic where rebels have seized several cities and are advancing on the capital Bangui. Barack Obama, the US president, informed congressional leaders of Thursday's deployment in a letter on Saturday citing a 'deteriorating security situation' in the deeply impoverished nation."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 29, 2012

Cliff Notes

The President's Weekly Address:

     ... The transcript is here.

Jonathan Weisman & Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "At the urging of President Obama, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate set to work Friday night to assemble a last-minute tax deal that could pass both chambers of Congress and avert large tax increases and budget cuts next year, or at least stop the worst of the economic punch from landing beginning Jan. 1.... Speaker John A. Boehner..., once seen as the linchpin for any agreement, essentially ceded final control to the Senate and said the House would act on whatever the Senate could produce." CW: ... in case anyone wondered if the Tea Party had weakened the power of the House. CW P.S. Two cheers to Weisman & Steinhauer for using the term "fiscal cliff" only once, & then placing it half-way through the article.

President Obama made a statement at about 5:50 pm ET Friday, saying that he was "modestly optimistic" that Senate leaders could work out a bill that at the very least would prevent middle-class taxes from rising January 1 & that would extend unemployment benefits for 2 million Americans. He said "ordinary folks" don't understand why Congress can never get its act together & does everything at the last minute, if it does anything at all:

... Michael O'Brien of NBC News: "President Barack Obama tasked the United States Senate with trying to resolve the 'fiscal cliff' in the waning hours before the New Year following a meeting between congressional leaders and the president. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will lead the last-minute effort to avert the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect on Jan. 1 unless Congress acts. And Obama said he is 'optimistic' they can reach an accord before midnight on New Year's Eve...."

Jim Kuhnhenn of the AP: "A person familiar with the details says President Barack Obama is not making a new 'fiscal cliff' offer at his high-stakes meeting with congressional leaders at the White House."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) repeatedly pops Fox "News" anchor Greg Jarrett's claim that the President wasn't doing his job on the budget negotiations; Van Hollen again & again points the finger at Speaker John Boehner who "walked away" from the negotiations, then sent the House home. And who knew Fox had a "brain room"? Maybe it's like a cloakroom, where they store their brains while they're at work. Thanks to Jeanne B. for the link:

Digby: "I see no reason [for Democrats] to capitulate on spending at this point. If that's what it takes, go over the cliff. Why should Democrats become the tax collectors for the austerity state?"

Andy Borowitz: "The international terror group known as Al Qaeda announced its dissolution today, saying that 'our mission of destroying the American economy is now in the capable hands of the U.S. Congress.' In an official statement published on the group's website, the current leader of Al Qaeda said that Congress's conduct during the so-called 'fiscal-cliff' showdown convinced the terrorists that they had been outdone."

Paul Krugman: "... the business leaders intervening in our economic debate are, for the most part, either predatory or hopelessly confused (or, I guess, both).... Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, exemplifies the hopeless confusion factor." Krugman counts the ways Schultz is wrong. "Republican extremism isn't the only source of our dysfunctional response to economic crisis, that the awesome inability of Very Serious People to come to grips with either political or economic reality is another huge source of our failure." ...

... Ezra Klein: "... at the elite level -- which encompasses everyone from CEOs to media professionals -- there's a desire to keep up good relations on both sides of the aisle. And so it's safer ... to offer an anodyne criticism that offends nobody -- 'both sides should come together!' ... That breaks the system. It hurts the basic mechanism of accountability, which is the public's ability to apportion blame.... If you want Washington to come together, you need to make it painful for those who are breaking it apart. Telling both sides to come together when it's predominantly one side breaking the negotiations apart actually makes it easier on those who're refusing to compromise."

Kelly O'Donnell of NBC News: apparently there's some progress on the "dairy cliff," too. "Without action by Congress, dairy prices would begin to soar to an estimated $8 dollars per gallon beginning in January. The pricing would revert to 1940s farm policy, when milk costs were tied to a more labor intensive production."

AND Plenty of Progress of Surveillance. Robert Pear of the New York Times: "Congress gave final approval on Friday to a bill extending the government's power to intercept electronic communications of spy and terrorism suspects, after the Senate voted down proposals from several Democrats and Republicans to increase protections of civil liberties and privacy." ...

... ** Glenn Greenwald: "Obama successfully relied on Senate Republicans (the ones his supporters depict as the Root of All Evil) along with a dozen of the most militaristic Democrats to ensure that he can continue to eavesdrop on Americans without any warrants, transparency or real oversight. That's the standard coalition that has spent the last four years extending Bush/Cheney theories, eroding core liberties and entrenching endless militarism: Obama + the GOP caucus + Feinstein-type Democrats. As Michelle Richardson, the ACLU's legislative counsel, put it to the Huffington Post: 'I bet [Bush] is laughing his ass off.' ... It's hard to put into words just how extreme was [Dianne] Feinstein's day-long fear-mongering tirade.... Here we find yet again a defining attribute of the Obama legacy: the transformation of what was until recently a symbol of right-wing radicalism -- warrantless eavesdropping -- into meekly accepted bipartisan consensus.... Anyone who stands in the way of the US Government's demands for unaccountable, secret power is helping the Terrorists." Read the whole post. ...

... Adam Serwer of Mother Jones effectively rebuts Feinstein's fearmongering & aspersion-casting. ...

... CW: it's pretty obvious why the media have barely covered extension of warrantless wiretapping: very few of their readers feel even vaguely threatened by a law that could potentially ensnare -- theoretically, at least -- only Americans who talk to friends who are in foreign countries. Ironically, "telephoning foreigners" has a much higher incidence among the press -- percentage-wise -- than in the general population.

Raymond Hernandez of the New York Times: "The Senate approved $60.4 billion in emergency spending on Friday to pay for recovery efforts in states ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, at one point fending off a Republican bid to reduce the aid package by more than half. But it is unclear that the House will act on the measure before Congress adjourns for the year."

Ezra Klein again: "Sens. John McCain and Carl Levin -- backed up by a handful of senior senators from both parties -- have been prepping a filibuster proposal meant to undercut more significant reform of the Senate rules.... This is filibuster reform for people who don't want to reform the filibuster.... If you think the Senate is pretty much working well as is, and the biggest threat are the folks who want to change the rules, then this is the proposal for you." CW: what's the matter with Carl Levin? ...

... Sahil Kapur of TPM: "Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) promptly said the alternate proposal put forth by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI) is too weak and does nothing to prevent senators from filibustering quietly and escaping public accountability for their obstruction -- the centerpiece of the Merkley-Udall 'talking filibuster' plan.... Udall and Merkley insisted that Democrats have the 51 votes necessary to pass their more robust plan and called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to take it up." ...

... Alexander Bolton of The Hill: "Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a leading proponent of filibuster reform, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has the 51 votes he needs to change Senate rules with the 'nuclear option.' The maneuver would be controversial, however.... Republicans say using 51 votes to change Senate procedures -- and to prevent the minority party in the Senate from blocking a majority-vote -- amounts to breaking the rules to change them."

Ruby Cramer of BuzzFeed: "President Obama's chief environmental official departed in part over her opposition to a controversial plan to pipe oil from Canadian tar sands to Texas refineries, two sources familiar with the situation told BuzzFeed Thursday.... [Lisa] Jackson 'left as a matter of conscience,' said Jeff Tittel, the director of New Jersey's Sierra Club chapter and a longtime friend of Jackson's.... President Obama initially delayed Keystone's progress, but this March authorized the construction of its Southern portion over howls from his former allies in the movement to stop carbon emissions."

Michael Duss of the American Prospect: in a broad sense, neocons' "... attacks on [former Senator Chuck] Hagel represent an attempt by the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party to avoid a conversation over America's changing role in the world. Over the past years, and especially during the recent presidential election, this faction has seen their expansive (and expensive) view of American hegemony increasingly marginalized as U.S. leaders grapple with constrained budgets, an electorate that has soured on costly foreign adventurism, and an international environment that has proven to be far less malleable to American whims and preferences than neocons have theorized."

Emily Schultheis of Politico: "Democrats both nationally and in Massachusetts are throwing their support behind Rep. Ed Markey to replace Sen. John Kerry in Massachusetts, hoping to clear the field for him in what could become a crowded Democratic primary."

Oops! Missed This. Charles Babington of the AP: "Brian Schatz symbolized a generational change in Hawaii's Senate delegation, taking the hand of his new colleague, 88-year-old Sen. Daniel Akaka, moments before being sworn in Thursday as the successor to the late Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye. Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath of office in a chamber peopled by a dozen Democratic senators and a handful of Republicans. As he walked up the center aisle to meet Biden, Schatz, 40, took Akaka's hand and helped the frail Democratic senator, who is retiring, stay at his side. Schatz had flown to Washington hours earlier on Air Force One with President Barack Obama." ...

...Seung Min Kim of Politico on why Hawaii's Gov. Neil Abercrombie chose Schatz over Sen. Inouye's preferred choice to succeed him -- Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

Joseph Pisani of the AP: "Demand for firearms, ammunition and bulletproof gear has surged since the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn.... The shooting sparked calls for tighter gun control measures, especially for military-style assault weapons like the ones used in Newtown and in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting earlier this year. The prospect of a possible weapons ban has sent gun enthusiasts into a panic and sparked a frenzy of buying at stores and gun dealers nationwide. Assault rifles are sold out across the country. Rounds of .223 bullets, like those used in the AR-15 type Bushmaster rifle used in Newtown, are scarce. Stores are struggling to restock their shelves. Gun and ammunition makers are telling retailers they will have to wait months to get more." CW: I'm sure Wayne LaPierre's owners are delighted with his work. ...

... The Bushmaster "Man Card." New York Times Editors: "Gun owners once talked about the need for personal protection and sport hunting, but out-of-control ad campaigns like Bushmaster's have replaced revolvers and shotguns with highly lethal paramilitary fantasies.... The effect of these marketing campaigns on fragile minds is all too obvious, allowing deadly power in the wrong hands. But given their financial success, gun makers have apparently decided that the risk of an occasional massacre is part of the cost of doing business."

... CW: Several weeks ago a commenter said he belonged to the NRA and favored gun control. I asked him why he maintained his membership. He never did respond. If you belong to the NRA & don't think every man needs a Bushmaster, please do tell us why you continue to support an organization controlled by gun manufacturers & other commercial interests.

Greg Noth in Think Progress: "... histories of substance abuse and other socio-demographic and economic factors are stronger determinants of violent behavior than psychiatric disorders. The contribution of the mentally ill to overall crime rates is an extremely low 3 to 5 percent, a number much lower than that of substance abuse."

** Steven Greenhouse & Jim Yardley of the New York Times: "... even as the deadly Nov. 24 fire at the Tazreen factory has stirred soul-searching inside and outside the apparel industry about the effectiveness of its global factory monitoring system, some nonprofit groups say Walmart has been an important obstacle to efforts to upgrade fire safety. That is partly because it has shown little interest in changing the existing practice of demanding that the factories, often operating at razor-thin margins, meet fire safety standards at their own cost." ...

... Annie-Rose Strasser of Think Progress: "Craft store chain Hobby Lobby announced on Friday that it will ignore the ruling of U.S. courts and refuse to provide copay-free birth control access to its employees. It will do so despite whatever costs it may incur, even if they are higher than the cost of birth control itself." CW: if corporations are people, my friend, I guess it's safe to say that many corporations are evil, my friend.

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post picks the Top 10 Political Quotes of 2012. With videos.

Local News

Miranda Leitsinger of NBC News: "Arizona sheriffs and the state's attorney general are pushing controversial programs to allow school officials and volunteers to carry guns in the wake of the shootings at a Connecticut school that left 20 children dead. The latest proposal comes from Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-described toughest sheriff in America, who wants to station his 'posse' of volunteers outside of about 50 schools in Maricopa County within a week, according to KPNX, a local NBC station." CW: I suppose if the "posses" catch any suspected miscreants, then can hang 'em from the old oak tree. Yee-haw!

News Ledes

AP: "Former President George H.W. Bush's condition continued to improve Saturday, prompting doctors to move him out of intensive care, a spokesman said."

AP: "Three al-Qaida militants were killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike in southern Yemen, Yemeni security officials said, the fourth such attack this week and a sign attacks from unmanned aircraft are on the upswing in the country."

AP: "The United Nations envoy for Syria warned Saturday that the country's civil war could plunge the entire region in chaos by sending an unbearable stream of refugees into neighboring countries, but his talks in Moscow brought no sign of progress toward settling the crisis. Lakhdar Brahimi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov both said after their meeting that the 21-month Syrian crisis can only be settled through talks, while admitting that the parties to the conflict have shown no desire for compromise."

AP: "Indian police charged six men with murder on Saturday, adding to accusations that they beat and gang-raped a woman on a New Delhi bus nearly two weeks ago in a case that shocked the country. The murder charges were laid after the woman died earlier Saturday in a Singapore hospital where she has been flown for treatment."

AP: "After waiting years and seeing marriage rights nearly awarded and then retracted, gay couples in Maine's largest city didn't have to wait a moment longer than necessary to wed, with licenses issued at the stroke of midnight as the law went into effect." ...

     ... The Bangor Daily News currently has quite a few related stories on its front page.

AP: "Embattled French President Francois Hollandethrew out a plan to tax the ultrawealthy at a 75 percent rate, saying it was unfair. In a stinging rebuke to one of Socialist Hollande's flagship campaign promises, the constitutional council ruled Saturday that the way the highly contentious tax was designed was unconstitutional." ...

     ... Reuters Update: "The French government will redraft a proposal for a 75 percent upper income tax band and resubmit it, the prime minister's office said on Saturday, after the Constitutional Council rejected the measure included in the 2013 budget."

Reuters: "A suburban New York newspaper that sparked an uproar among gun enthusiasts by publishing names and addresses of residents holding pistol permits is now planning to publish even more identities of permit-toting locals. Further names and addresses will be added as they become available to a map originally published on December 24 in the White Plains, New York-based Journal News, the newspaper said."