Weekly Address

The President's Weekly Address

White House: "In this week’s address, the President discussed climate change and how the most ambitious climate agreement in history is creating private sector partnerships that are advancing the latest technologies in clean power.":

Hill: "President Obama will send a budget to Congress that increases the amount of funding toward clean energy research and development by about 20 percent, he said Saturday."

The Wires

White House Live Video
February 5

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

Go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

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Public Service Announcement

New York Times (February 4): "Pregnant women whose male sexual partners have spent time in a country with confirmed transmissions of the Zika virus should either abstain from sex or use condoms during intercourse for the duration of their pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced.'

USA Today: "Women of childbearing age should avoid alcohol unless they're using contraception, federal health officials said Tuesday, in a move to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome. 'Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,' said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 'About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking.'"

New York Times (January 14): "Federal health officials are debating whether to warn pregnant women against travel to Brazil and other Latin American and Caribbean countries where mosquitoes are spreading the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in newborn babies. Officials say it could be the first time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises pregnant women to avoid a specific region during an outbreak." ...

     ... NYT Update (January 15): "Federal health officials on Friday advised pregnant women to postpone traveling to 13 Latin American or Caribbean countries and Puerto Rico where mosquitoes are spreading the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in babies." ...

... The Washington Post reports on the crisis in Brazil.

Washington Post: "Media mogul Sumner Redstone has resigned as board chairman at CBS Corp. after a court battle raised questions about the 92-year-old executive’s mental competence. He was replaced by Leslie Moonves, the longtime CBS president and chief executive, CBS announced Wednesday. The transition took effect Tuesday when Redstone was appointed to the role of CBS chairman emeritus, CBS said."

... New York Timess: "A small 16th-century oil on panel largely kept in storage at a Kansas City, Mo., museum is a work by the Dutch Renaissance master Hieronymus Bosch, researchers [in the Netherlands] said on Monday, a finding that, if accepted by other scholars, would add to the tiny list of about 25 recognized Bosch paintings in the world. The painting, 'The Temptation of St. Anthony,' dated 1500-1510, had previously been attributed to the workshop of Bosch or to a follower of Bosch, known for his comic and surreal images of heaven and hell and the earthly moral purgatory in between."

Radio host Diane Rehm discusses her "retirement" plans with Karen Heller of the Washington Post.

Washington Post: "A lost story by famed British children’s author Beatrix Potter — the Tale of Kitty-in-Boots — has been discovered among her memorabilia and will be published this year more than a century after she wrote it. Jo Hanks, a publisher with Penguin Random House who made the discovery at London’s Victoria & Albert museum in 2013, called the story the biggest Potter discovery in generations and almost certainly the last, the London Times Newspaper reported Tuesday."

Boston Globe: "Late Night host (and New Hampshire native) Seth Meyers stars in this trailer for his fake movie, Boston Accent, which just laughs at all the devices used in every movie ever made in Boston":

Tim Egan's Confession: "I can no longer wait in a grocery store line, or linger for a traffic light, or even pause long enough to let a bagel pop from the toaster, without reflexively reaching for my smartphone."

Planet Nine. Caltech: "Caltech researchers have found evidence of a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system. The object, which the researchers have nicknamed Planet Nine, has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than does Neptune (which orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles). In fact, it would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the sun. The researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, discovered the planet's existence through mathematical modeling and computer simulations but have not yet observed the object directly." ...

... CW: Planet Nine, my ass. I will never abandon Pluto! But this is a mighty thrilling development. ...

... UPDATE. Rachel Feltman of the Washington Post interviews Mike Brown, one of the discoverers of Planet Nine. It turns out, as certainly every astronomer knows, that Mike Brown was also the guy who killed Pluto! Even his daughter is mad at him for that.

New York Times: "Five planets will parade across the dawn sky early Wednesday[, January 20,] in a rare celestial spectacle set to repeat every morning until late next month. Headlining the planetary performance are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. It will be the first time in more than a decade that the fab five will be simultaneously visible to the naked eye, according to Jason Kendall, who is on the board of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York."

Los Angeles Times: "The backlash against this year's Academy Award nominations escalated Monday with announcements by director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith that they would boycott the Feb. 28 Oscars ceremony, citing the absence of people of color in all four acting categories for the second year in a row. If other prominent entertainment industry figures join the boycott, it has the potential to spoil Hollywood's annual showcase event."

Donald Trump playing Donald Trump in movies & on teevee shows:

New York Times: "#OscarsSoWhite, that damning hashtag that made the rounds last year, can again, unhappily, be revived for this year’s Oscar nominations, which were announced Thursday morning.... The only Academy nods for two of the year’s biggest films about African-American characters went to white people.... In all the lead categories — best director, picture, and all four acting categories — only Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the Mexican auteur who won best director and picture last year, for 'Birdman,' adds a note of diversity. This year he was nominated for 'The Revenant.'”

Los Angeles Times: "Nominations for the 88th Academy Awards have been announced, and 'The Revenant' is leading with 12, including for best picture. Other nominees for best picture are 'The Big Short,' 'Bridge of Spies,' 'Brooklyn,' 'Mad Max: Fury Road,' 'The Martian,' 'Room,' and 'Spotlight.' All the snubs, surprises and reactions from nominees coming below." Full coverage via the linked page.

Christian Science Monitor: "... thanks to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Purdue University, the lowly incandescent bulb is getting a jolt of new life. The six-researcher team says it has found a way to boost the bulb's efficiency twenty-fold, which would leave today's favored compact fluorescents (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in the dust, according to a paper published Monday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology." ...

     ... CW: If these bulbs go into production, it should make Rand Paul very, very happy. If only MIT could do something about his big-shit problem. Science does have its limits.

Los Angeles Times: "A 21-year odyssey came to an end Tuesday when National Football League owners voted to allow the St. Louis Rams to move to Los Angeles for the 2016 season and gave the San Diego Chargers an option to join the Rams in Inglewood."

** Washington Post: "In a paper published in the open-access journal eLife this week, researchers say they have pinpointed what may well be one of evolution’s greatest copy mess-ups yet: the mutation that allowed our ancient protozoa predecessors to evolve into complex, multi-cellular organisms.... Incredibly, in the world of evolutionary biology, all it took was one tiny tweak, one gene, and complex life as we know it was born." The paper is here. ...

... CW: Sorry, fundies, this is a lot more exciting than a trip to the Noah's ark amusement park or whatever it is.

The Los Angeles Times' Golden Globe coverage is here.

New Yorker: More Pluto!

New York: "Lumosity is one of these 'brain training' programs, and yet, according to the Federal Trade Commission, many of those claims aren’t backed up by science. On Tuesday, Lumos Labs — the company behind Lumosity — agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission for $2 million for misleading consumers on claims that playing these mental games would help with cognitive performance and prevent mental decline as we age. 'Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,' Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. 'But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.'”

New York Times: "Twitter is experimenting with introducing a longer form of tweet, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans, in what would be another gradual move away from the simplistic design sensibility that the service was originally founded upon. The project, which internally has been referred to as 'beyond 140,' is still in its testing phase and is not set to be introduced until at least March...."

Washington Post: "Four newly discovered elements managed to squeak their way in[to the periodic table] just before the end of 2015, filling up the table's seventh row and marking the first additions since 2011." CW: Since I know squat about chemistry, let me say here -- in the fullness of my ignorance -- that the periodic table should stick with elements that occur in nature. If chemists want a "sub-periodic table" to show off their lab-created, unstable elements, let 'em have it. I don't see how an "element" can be artificial. Anyone who knows what s/he's talking about is free to set me straight.

TPM: "Twitter announced Thursday it's bringing back Politwoops, the popular gaffe-tracking transparency tool that tracked politicians' deleted tweets, after unceremoniously killing off the service earlier this year.... Twitter revoked developer API access for the project, a venture of The Sunlight Foundation and The Open State Foundation, in August 2015."

If you are interested in what George Lucas thinks about the "Star Wars" series & other stuff, you can find out here, presuming Charlie Rose doesn't monopolize the conversation (okay, silly presumption). ...

... Later Lucas said he was sorry he said some of those nasty things.

... Hank Stuever of the Washington Post: The "final episodes of 'Downton Abbey' are among the show’s best since the first season — and they’ll reassure those hoping for the happiest possible endings for nearly every character."

BBC News: "A monument from a temple in the ancient city of Palmyra destroyed by so-called Islamic State (IS) is to be recreated in London's Trafalgar Square. The 2,000-year-old arch is all that remains of the Temple of Bel, part of the Syrian Unesco World Heritage site, captured by militants in May. It will be recreated from photographs, using a 3D printer. The institute behind the project hopes the arch will draw attention to the importance of cultural heritage." ...

... John Brennan & Sarah Knapton of the (Irish) Independent: "Ireland's saints and scholars were descended from farmers and bronze metalworkers from the Middle East and modern-day Ukraine, scientists have found. Researchers have sequenced ancient Irish human genomes for the first time. They discovered mass migrations to Ireland thousands of years ago resulted in huge changes to the ancient Irish genetic make-up. A team of geneticists from Trinity College Dublin and archaeologists from Queen's University Belfast made the findings, which show a massive shift in our genetic mix over the course of just 1,000 years. They believe the genetic influxes brought cultural change such as moving to settled farmsteads, bronze metalworking - and may have even been the origin of western Celtic language." ...

... CW: One trouble with denigrating certain ethnic groups: we're all cousins. Sorry, "white" people.

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Saturday
Jul272013

The Commentariat -- July 28, 2013

Scott Wilson of the Washington Post: "President Obama praised veterans of the Korean War at a ceremony Saturday marking the anniversary of the armistice, using their return to an apathetic America decades ago as a promise to better care for the generation returning from distant battlefields today":

Here is "a transcript of an interview with President Obama conducted by Jackie Calmes and Michael D. Shear of The New York Times. The interview was conducted at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., on July 24, 2013." ...

... Stories from the interview:

     "In a week when he tried to focus attention on the struggles of the middle class, President Obama said in an interview that he was worried that years of widening income inequality and the lingering effects of the financial crisis had frayed the country's social fabric and undermined Americans' belief in opportunity." ...

     "President Obama said in an interview that he would evaluate construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on the basis of whether it would significantly contribute carbon to the atmosphere. But he mocked Republicans' arguments that the approval of the pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, would create many jobs in the United States." ...

     "President Obama waved aside persistent Republican criticism of his signature health care law last week, saying in a New York Times interview that the overhaul would become vastly more popular once 'all the nightmare scenarios' from his adversaries proved wrong." ...

... Igor Volsky of Think Progress: "Health premiums in Marylands exchanges will be 'among the lowest of the 12 states that have available proposed or approved rates for comparison,' the state's exchange — Maryland Health Connection -- announced Friday. The news comes just as New York,Oregon, Montana, California, and Louisiana are also reporting lower than expected premiums." ...

... Of course, even when the news is good, Republicans will lie about it, fudging figures to make it appear insurance premiums will go up. Take Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, ferinstance. CW: Also, it would help if the local papers, who according to Forbes' Rick Unger dutifully reported Pence's distorted figures, actually checked the facts instead of just typing up Mike Pence's press releases.

Nobody Loves Larry (Except Maybe Barry.) Steve Leisman of CNBC: "Wall Street overwhelmingly believes President Obama will and should pick Janet Yellen to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, according to a survey." Fifty percent of "the Wall Street pros" CNBC surveyed said Obama should choose Yellen; 2.5 percent said he should nominate Larry Summers. ...

... Amanda Marcotte in Slate: "... Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher complained on CNBC that picking Yellen would be 'driven by gender.' Oh, he admits she's qualified for the job, but hastened to add, 'There are other capable people.' Which seems to suggest that Obama should exhaust every male candidate before settling on a female one, a course of action that would not be 'driven by gender' because men don't have a gender." ...

... Digby: "President Obama has long been suspected of being wobbly on women's issues.His record is, at best, mixed.... He should be seeking every opportunity to appoint qualified women to powerful positions. And when they are more qualified by dint of superior temperaments, there's really no excuse for him not to."

We simply conclude that the law has long recognized the distinction between the owners of a corporation and the corporation itself. A holding to the contrary -- that a for-profit corporation can engage in religious exercise -- would eviscerate the fundamental principle that a corporation is a legally distinct entity from its owners. -- Judge Robert Cowen of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, explaining to Mitt Romney, et al., that corporations are not people, my friend ...

... Sam Baker of the Hill: "A federal appeals court said Friday that the owners of a private company could not challenge the contraception mandate in President Obama's healthcare law. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals said the owners of Conestoga, a cabinet-making company, could not challenge the mandate because of their personal religious beliefs." CW: This is good news, EXCEPT, "The decision conflicts with another federal appeals court's ruling, which increases the likelihood that the Supreme Court will eventually hear the issue." Via Steve Benen.

Your Sunday Sermon courtesy of Tailgunner Ted:

     ... The Moral of Today's Sunday Sermon, courtesy of CW: not all bigots are knuckle-dragging numbskulls. Ted is a damned good speaker, quite capable of rallying the knuckle-dragging numbskulls.

Local News

NEW. Bryce Covert of Think Progress: "On CNN's State of the Union show on Sunday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was firm in saying that there will be no federal bailout for the city of Detroit, which is going through the largest city bankruptcy in America's history." ...

... Susan Kelly of Reuters: "Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, said on Saturday he would defend retirees who risk losing public pensions because of Detroit's bankruptcy, putting him at odds with the city's emergency manager appointed by fellow Republican Governor Rick Snyder. Schuette, an elected official, said the Michigan state constitution is 'crystal clear' in stating that pension plans are a contractual obligation that may not be diminished or impaired.... The attorney general said he would file in federal bankruptcy court on Monday on behalf of the pensioners affected by the biggest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history."

Michael Barbaro of the New York Times: "In a new sign of tumult within Anthony D. Weiner's embattled political operation, his campaign manager [Danny Kedem] has quit, leaving his already skeletal team without a day-to-day leader." ...

... Maureen Dowd: Huma Abedin's friends "fear Huma learned the wrong lesson from Hillary, given that Bill was a roguish genius while Weiner's a creepy loser."

Isn't She Lovely. Laura Vozzella of the Washington Post: "Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell bought nearly $9,800 in clothing with money from her husband’s political action committee and tapped into his campaign and inaugural funds to buy $7,600 in mostly unspecified items, according to records and a representative for the PAC. The spending is legal under Virginia's lax campaign finance laws, which prohibit the conversion of political funds for private use only when a PAC or campaign committee disbands -- not while it is operating. But the purchases are unusual in Virginia.... Investigators ... are looking into whether the former Washington Redskins cheerleader and mother of five received free cosmetic dental work from a Richmond-area dentist, jewelry from a state delegate and a $15,000 Bergdorf Goodman shopping spree from [businessman Jonnie] Williams."

Ian Lovett & Rob Davis of the New York Times: "Rather than mollifying his critics, [San Diego Mayor Bob Filner's] announcement on Friday that he would take two weeks away from City Hall to seek what he described as intensive behavior therapy has only further angered many residents, who complained that he was dragging the city through the mud in hopes of salvaging his own career." ...

... San Diego Union-Tribune Editors: "Filner has created a mountain of wreckage. There is a City Hall in chaos, not just because of the last two weeks of turmoil but also because of the last eight months of management by bullying, confrontation and perhaps even corruption. There is a city again stained with a national laughingstock image just as it was emerging from the dark days of 'Enron-by-the-Sea.' There are the numerous personal lives that have been torn apart, from his ex-fiancee to his accusers. There is a local Democratic Party leadership that was riding high with his victory last November but is now seen as hypocritical enablers of Filner's inappropriate behavior for supporting him even after being warned two years ago by one of their own that he had a history of verbally and physically harassing women."

Presidential Election 2008

Muffling Miss Sarah. Andrew Kaczynski of BuzzFeed: "Sarah Palin said Friday she was banned by the McCain campaign from talking about Bill Ayers and President Obama's controversial former pastor Jeremiah Wright during the 2008 presidential election. 'Though I was during the campaign running for V.P., I was banned from talking about Jeremiah Wright and Obama's friend Bill Ayers,' Palin said in a Fox News interview. '... Couldn't talk about Obama's lack of knowledge, and job inexperience, and the things that he said like America had 57 states, things like that.... I wasn't allowed to talk about things like that because those elitist, those who are the brainiacs in the GOP machine running John McCain's campaign at the time said that the media would eat us alive if we brought up these things.'"

News Lede

Washington Post: "The first substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in years will begin Monday evening in Washington, the Obama administration announced, after Israeli leaders agreed Sunday to release 104 Palestinian prisoners.... The release of Palestinian prisoners was one of the major roadblocks to the peace talks."

Friday
Jul262013

The Commentariat -- July 27, 2013

Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times: "As President Obama considers potential successors to the current Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, a debate about the merits of the chief contenders has exploded into public view.... The White House sought to lower the temperature on Friday by putting out word that the president was unlikely to announce a choice before the autumn.... [Lawrence] Summers, 58, is a provocative figure among key Democratic constituencies. He was a chief architect of financial deregulation during the Clinton administration and later resigned the presidency of Harvard University after making remarks about women that set off a storm of controversy. [Janet] Yellen, 66, would become the first woman to lead the Fed, or indeed any major central bank. Beneath those political currents, there are also indications that Mr. Summers, now a professor at Harvard, and Ms. Yellen disagree about the central issue confronting the central bank: how much longer and how much harder to push for economic growth."

Kelly Kennedy of the AP: "For the first time in history, federal health officials said Friday they will ban certain types of Medicare and Medicaid providers in three high-fraud cities from enrolling in the taxpayer-funded programs for the poor as part of an effort to prevent scams. The strict moratoriums, which start Tuesday, give federal health officials unprecedented power to choose any region and industry with high fraud activity and ban new Medicare and Medicaid providers from joining the programs for six months. They wouldn't ban existing providers. The administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the agency is targeting providers of home health care in eight counties in the Miami and Chicago areas. All ambulance providers would be banned in eight counties in the Houston area."

Michael Schmidt & Steven Myers of the New York Times: "Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a letter sent to the Russian minister of justice this week that the United States would not seek the death penalty against Edward J. Snowden, and would issue him a passport immediately so he could travel back to the United States. The letter also offered reassurances that the United States would not torture Mr. Snowden.... 'We believe these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden's claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise,' Mr. Holder said in the letter, which was sent to Justice Minister Aleksandr V. Konovalov." ...

... Brian Fung of the Washington Post: "The outcome of [Bradley] Manning's case will affect how leakers are treated in the future and could even affect the legal status of future journalists, though the Obama administration doesn't appear ready to cross that line just yet." His is the first case invoking the Espionage Act that has come to trial.

Sahil Kapur of TPM: "The GOP push to hold government funding hostage to gutting Obamacare appears to be losing steam in Congress as a growing chorus of Republicans and conservative writers are coming out of the woodwork to urge hardliners within their party to be realistic." ...

... Byron York of the Washington Examiner: "Tensions inside the Republican Party about a proposal to defund Obamacare reached a new level Friday when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a lawmaker with unsurpassed credibility in the field of cutting federal spending and limiting the size of government, called the defunding plan 'dishonest' and 'hype.'" Via Greg Sargent. ...

... Conservative Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review in Bloomberg News: "Conservatives on Capitol Hill think they have a chance to strike a mortal blow against President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul this fall. If their plan goes forward, however, it will backfire.... If Republicans stay firm in this demand, the result will be either a government shutdown or a partial shutdown combined with a debt default. Either would be highly unpopular, and each party would blame the other. The public, however, would almost certainly blame Republicans.... First, Republicans are less popular than the Democrats and thus all else equal will lose partisan finger-pointing contests. Second, the executive has natural advantages over a group of legislators in a crisis atmosphere. Third, people will be naturally inclined to assume that the more anti-government party must be responsible. Fourth, some Republicans will say that government shutdowns or defaults are just what the country needs, and those quotes will affect the image of all Republicans. And fifth, the news media will surely side with the Democrats." ...

... Ed Kilgore: "... a sizable group of Republican lawmakers are largely impervious to the kind of prudential arguments Ponnuru is making. Trouble is, the more noise they make, and the more it is echoed by conservative activists and opinion-leaders, the more attractive the defund-Obamacare-or-else position will become to other Republicans who want media attention, small-dollar campaign contributions, or perpetual shelter from a primary challenge."

** Alec MacGillis of the New Republic: "The alacrity with which Texas, North Carolina and other states have rushed to take advantage of the ruling seriously weakened the sober conservative argument, from Chief Justice John Roberts and others, that Southern states no longer needed to be singled out for special scrutiny because they had long since left their discriminatory ways behind. And it all but invited Attorney General Eric Holder to take this new step, to announce that his department would still do everything in its power to ensure fairness at the polls." ...

... Stephen Stromberg of the Washington Post: "If you believe a handful of Texas Republicans, Attorney General Eric Holder's new effort to enforce the Voting Rights Act in their state and elsewhere brazenly defies the Supreme Court, which struck down part of the law in June.... In reality, the attorney general's move to use the Voting Rights Act provisions the Supreme Court left in place is perfectly consonant with the ruling, and not just in a technical sense. It also comports with the court's logic." ...

... Look who agrees with Stromberg. Mike Lillis of the Hill: "Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said the Voting Rights Act authorizes the Justice Department to seek a court order requiring states to get federal approval before implementing new election procedures, as Attorney General Eric Holder said he will do Thursday in the case of Texas.... Sensenbrenner, who as head of the House Judiciary Committee in 2006 championed the last VRA reauthorization, suggested those critics [from Texas] have misread his law. 'The department's actions are consistent with the Voting Rights Act,' Sensenbrenner said Thursday in an email."

Ron Brownstein of the National Journal links general Republican intransigence to the George Zimmerman case: "In their unwavering opposition to Obama on issues from health to immigration, House Republicans are systematically blockading the priorities of the diverse (and growing) majority coalition that reelected him. Without more persuasive alternatives, Republicans risk convincing these emerging communities that their implacable opposition represents a 'stand-your-ground' white resistance to minorities' own rise."

Diane Cardwell of the New York Times: "Alarmed by what they say has become an existential threat to their business, utility companies are moving to roll back government incentives aimed at promoting solar energy and other renewable sources of power. At stake, the companies say, is nothing less than the future of the American electricity industry. According to the Energy Information Administration, rooftop solar electricity -- the economics of which often depend on government incentives and mandates -- accounts for less than a quarter of 1 percent of the nation's power generation. And yet, to hear executives tell it, such power sources could ultimately threaten traditional utilities' ability to maintain the nation's grid." CW: evidently, a major job requirement for energy company exec is "greedy bastard."

Charles Blow: "Our 50 states seem to be united in name only. In fact, we seem to be increasingly becoming two countries under one flag: Liberal Land -- coastal, urban and multicultural -- separated by Conservative Country -- Southern and Western, rural and racially homogeneous. (Other parts of the country are a bit of a mixed bag.) This has led to incredible and disturbing concentrations of power."

Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog: "As 2016 approaches, it appears that Chris Christie's foreign policy approach will be a noun, a verb, and 9/11. This leads him to praise government surveillance programs and President Obama, and to attack Rand Paul. In the current GOP climate, I really don't think this is going to work for him.... Right now, the folks in the GOP base are in a bizarre place: they hate Muslims, but they also hate Obama, so there's Paul-esque anger on the right about drones and surveillance, but it's mostly about surveillance of people like themselves and the potential use of drones on Regular Americans in America." CW: an amusing post, until you realize Steve is probably right. ...

... Digby: "So Chris Christie went full-Rudy at a GOP Governor's meeting in Colorado [Friday] and took a swipe at Rand Paul.... Surprised? You shouldn't be. Christie's whole schtick is about being the biggest bully on the block.... Of course he's a national security hawk. That's how Republicans always demonstrate they have a big swinging stick and are willing to use it."

David Corn of Mother Jones: "Believing they are losing the messaging war with progressives, a group of prominent conservatives in Washington -- including the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and journalists from Breitbart News and the Washington Examiner -- has been meeting privately since early this year to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for 'a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation,' according to documents obtained by Mother Jones.... With her involvement in Groundswell -- which zeroes in on contentious issues that come before the high court, including voting rights, abortion, and gay marriage -- Ginni Thomas continues to be intricately associated with matters on which her husband may have to render a decision." Read the whole story. Thanks to Jeanne B. for the heads-up.

Meredith Shiner of Roll Call: "Sens. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, will travel to the district of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to hold a forum for the DREAM Act. The event is in response to incendiary remarks made by King last week.... In floor remarks delivered Thursday, Durbin had strong words for King, whose comments he called 'mean' and 'hateful.' ... Durbin said at the time he believed King should meet a few DREAM Act students to see if interacting with them might change his mind. Now it appears that instead of waiting for King to take the proactive steps of doing so, the Illinois Democrat will bring the students to him." ...

... Solange Uwimana of Media Matters: "Fox News has repeatedly given Rep. Steve King (R-IA) a platform to discuss a number of political issues, including immigration, this year but has completely ignored his comments likening undocumented immigrants to drug smugglers -- even as the network has continued to discuss immigration issues. By contrast, both CNN and MSNBC have covered King's comments, which have drawn widespread condemnation from congressional Republicans":

... As Erik Wemple of the Washington Post points out, "The newsworthiness of those comments is not a partisan thing. House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, both Republicans, slammed the remarks, with Boehner calling them 'hateful' and 'wrong.' 'There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that,' Boehner said."

Local News

David Firestone of the New York Times on North Carolina's voter suppression bill, which Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has said he would sign: "The law requires a government-issued photo ID card to vote, but doesn't allow student IDs, public-employee IDs, or photo IDs issued by public assistance agencies. It shortens the early voting window, bans same-day registration during early voting and prohibits paid voter registration drives. Counties will not be able to extend voting hours in cases of long lines, or allow provisional voting if someone arrives at the wrong precinct. Poll 'observers' are encouraged to challenge people who show up to vote, and are given new powers to do so. None of this has anything to do with fraud." ...

... Election law expert Rick Hasen: "The intent here is to make it harder for people -- especially non-white people and those likely to vote Democratic -- to register or cast a vote that will be counted. It also makes money matter more in North Carolina politics and kills public financing of the North Carolina courts."

Craig Gustafson, et al., of the San Diego Union-Tribune: "Mayor Bob Filner, who has been dogged by calls for his resignation over sexual harassment allegations, called his treatment of women 'inexcusable' Friday and said he would undergo two weeks of intensive behavioral therapy but not relinquish power." CW: well, great, that takes care of everything then. ...

... TBogg of Firedoglake disagrees: "Somehow I don't think that two weeks of summer camp at Lake Titty-No-Touch is going to make this go away." TBogg's post includes details of a few of Filner's sexcapades. ...

... Contributor Nancy asks, "How is this creep allowed to say whether he keeps his job?" He's an elected official, that's how, & only the people can remove him. Generally speaking, sexual harassment is not a crime, but a civil tort. Inasmuch as Filner has admitted to some form of harassment, & inasmuch as some of the claims against him allege physical abuse, it seems to me a prosecutor at some level could bring criminal charges for sexual battery. Ian Millhiser of Think Progress has more on this. He says in California, Filner's offenses appear to amount to misdemeanor sexual battery. According to Kevin Roderick of LA Observed, "Under the San Diego city charter, the only way Filner can be removed from office is by recall election or conviction of a felony." So far, despite calls for his resignation, it looks as if Filner can tough it out. ...

... P.S. Looks as if Filner doesn't limit his harassment to women. This Union-Tribune report, dated June 20, 2013, strongly suggests that Filner improperly removed from a closed-door meeting of the city council a male attorney from the city attorney's office. The assistant city attorney Filner forcibly removed, coincidentally or not, is black.

The Enforcer? Jeane MacIntosh of the New York Post: "Jason Weiner, who owns Manhattan bistro Almond, reached out to Anthony's sexting partner, Sydney Leathers, on April 12 -- just two days after [Anthony] Weiner's strategic comeback interview ran in The New York Times Magazine -- and grilled her on intentions, Lou Colagiovanni, a Vegas-based political activist, told The Post.... Jason Weiner blasted Colagiovanni's claim as 'a complete and utter falsehood.'" It's absolutely true because you read it in the New York Post. ...

... Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone: "I don't mean to sound like a prude, but what the hell do you have to do to be disqualified from high-level politics in this country? When someone told me a while back that Weiner was running for Mayor, I thought it was a joke. This married politician sent unsolicited pictures of his penis to female strangers on the Internet! It's not a crime, I guess because indecent exposure laws haven't been updated for the cyber age, but basically, he's a 21st-century flasher who used the U.S. Congress as a raincoat."

AP: "With the help of a few Democrats, Missouri's Republican-led Legislature appears to be positioned to override Gov. Jay Nixon's [D] veto of a high-profile bill that seeks to nullify federal gun-control laws in the state and make criminals out of federal agents who attempt to enforce them." ...

... Unrelated to the above, Charles Pierce points to this Saint Louis Post-Dispatch account of a stupid murder in Missouri. The reason for the killing, which began with a supposed trespassing offense (though it isn't clear the people were trespassing), according to the shooter: "I just shot the one closest to me,' Crocker said, according to police." Yet state legislators, in their wisdom, think nullifying already-weak federal gun laws is a capital idea. So what if it leads to capital offenses, as it inevitably will. Because what Missouri needs is more guns in the hands of people who just shoot whoever happens to be close-by.

Senate Race

Kentucky Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Alision Lundergan Grimes, the state attorney general, kicks off her senate campaign. Via the National Memo. Thanks to Nisky Guy for the link to this effective tearjerker.

News Ledes

New York Times: "Lindy Boggs, who succeeded her husband in the House of Representatives after his plane crashed in Alaska and who went on to serve nine terms on Capitol Hill, notably as a champion of women's rights, died on Saturday at her home in Chevy Chase, Md. She was 97." The Washington Post's obituary is here. The Post has a slideshow here.

New York Times: "The police and armed civilians opened fire Saturday with live ammunition on protesters against Egypt's new military government, witnesses said, killing scores of people as hopes faded that the Egyptian military would reach any political accommodation with the Muslim Brotherhood and its ousted president, Mohamed Morsi." ...

     ... The story has been updated. New lede: "The Egyptian authorities unleashed a ferocious attack on Islamist protesters early Saturday, killing at least 72 people in the second mass killing of demonstrators in three weeks and the deadliest attack by the security services since Egypt's uprising in early 2011."

AP: "Army Col. Denise Lind began deliberating Friday after nearly two months of conflicting evidence and arguments about ... [Bradley Manning]. A military judge, not a jury, is hearing the case at Manning's request. Lind said she will give a day's public notice before reconvening the court-martial to announce her findings. The most serious charge is aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence in prison."

NBC 6 Miami: "SWAT officers shot and killed a suspect after he killed six people in an Hialeah apartment building, ending an hours-long standoff early Saturday, Hialeah Police said."

AP: "The former police officer who pepper-sprayed students during an Occupy protest at the University of California, Davis is appealing for worker's compensation, claiming he suffered psychiatric injury from the 2011 confrontation. John Pike has a settlement conference set for Aug. 13 in Sacramento, according to the state Department of Industrial Relations' website. Pike was fired in July 2012, eight months after a task force investigation found that his action was unwarranted." ...

Former UC officer John Pike.You meanies have hurt Sgt. Pepperspray's feelings. Perhaps you would have been nicer if you'd realized what a sensitive, vulnerable guy he is.

Thursday
Jul252013

The Commentariat -- July 26, 2013

** Charlie Savage of the New York Times: Chief Justice John Roberts has been reshaping the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. "In making assignments to the court, Chief Justice Roberts, more than his predecessors, has chosen judges with conservative and executive branch backgrounds that critics say make the court more likely to defer to government arguments that domestic spying programs are necessary. Ten of the court's 11 judges -- all assigned by Chief Justice Roberts -- were appointed to the bench by Republican presidents; six once worked for the federal government. Since the chief justice began making assignments in 2005, 86 percent of his choices have been Republican appointees, and 50 percent have been former executive branch officials. Though the two previous chief justices, Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, were conservatives like Chief Justice Roberts, their assignments to the surveillance court were more ideologically diverse, according to an analysis by The New York Times.... The court's complexion has changed at a time when its role has been expanding beyond what Congress envisioned when it established the court.... The idea then was that judges would review applications for wiretaps to make sure there was sufficient evidence that the F.B.I.'s target was a foreign terrorist or a spy. But, increasingly in recent years, the court has produced lengthy rulings interpreting the meaning of surveillance laws and constitutional rights based on procedures devised not for complex legal analysis but for up-or-down approvals of secret wiretap applications." CW: Charlie Savage is one reason the New York Times remains indispensable. ...

... Scott Shane of the New York Times: "American intelligence agencies, which experienced a boom in financing and public support in the decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, have entered a period of broad public scrutiny and skepticism with few precedents since the exposure of spying secrets and abuses led to the historic investigation by the Senate's Church Committee nearly four decades ago."

... CW: worth noting: we would not be reading either of the above reports if not for publication of the first of Ed Snowden's leaks. ...

... President Christie Will Be Tough on Terrorists. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Thursday offered a clear broadside against Republicans drifting toward a more libertarian view of foreign policy, lumping Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in with them and suggesting they explain their position to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.... He dismissed some of the current privacy/national security debates as 'esoteric.'" ...

... Update. President Paul Will Protect Your Constitutional Rights. If Governor Christie believes the constitutional rights and the privacy of all Americans is 'esoteric,' he either needs a new dictionary, or he needs to talk to more Americans, because a great number of them are concerned about the dramatic overreach of our government in recent years. Defending America and fighting terrorism is the concern of all Americans, especially Senator Paul. But it can and must be done in keeping with our Constitution and while protecting the freedoms that make America exceptional. In the words of the governor's favorite lyricist [Bruce Springsteen], 'You know that flag flying over the courthouse, Means certain things are set in stone. Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't.' -- Doug Stafford, aide to Sen. Rand Paul (RTP-Ky.)

Charlie Savage & Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced on Thursday that the Justice Department would ask a court to require Texas to get permission from the federal government before making voting changes in that state. The move opens a new chapter in the political struggle over election rules after the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act last month.... His statements come as states across the South, from Texas to North Carolina, have been rushing to enforce or enact new restrictions on voting eligibility after the Supreme Court's ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.... The move relies on a part of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court left untouched in the Shelby County case":

... Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog explains how the DOJ could invoke the preclearance requirement in spite of the Supreme Court's Shelby County decision. ...

... Scott Lemieux of Lawyers, Guns & Money: "I'm not terribly optimistic about the federal courts as currently staffed will effectively enforce the Voting Rights Act, but it's worth trying to do everything possible. And, as Holder says, there's 'no substitute for legislation that will fill the void left by the Supreme Court's decision.' If only he were right that the issue 'transcends partisanship.'" ...

... Toljaso. Mark Sherman of the AP: Justice Ruth Bader "Ginsburg said in an interview with The Associated Press that Texas' decision to implement its voter ID law hours after the court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last month was powerful evidence of an ongoing need to keep states with a history of voting discrimination from making changes in the way they hold elections without getting advance approval from Washington.... [Ginsberg] dissented from the 5-4 decision on the voting law. Ginsburg said in her dissent that discarding the law was 'like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.' Just a month removed from the decision, she said, 'I didn't want to be right, but sadly I am.'"

President Obama spoke about infrastructure & the economy yesterday at the Port of Jacksonville, Florida:

President Obama's economic speech, short version. Pretty good:

... Michael Lind of Salon favorably reviews Obama's economic agenda (with the exception of his Wall Street-friendly retirement plans), & sees his speech Wednesday as a marker for "the day the right lost the economic argument.... When even USA Today goes all Keynesian instead of going Galt, the Right is clearly losing the argument about the economy. Conservative Republicans have enough power in Congress to block most of the progressive agenda. But they do not have a plausible alternative to the progressive vision of the past, present and future of the U.S. economy that President Obama has set forth." ...

... Erik Wasson of the Hill: "The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Thursday estimated that keeping the spending cuts from sequestration in place through fiscal 2014 would cost up to 1.6 million jobs. Canceling the cuts, on the other hand, would yield between 300,000 to 1.6 million new jobs, with the most likely outcome being the addition of 900,000, the CBO said." ...

... Zachary Goldfarb & Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "Senior White House officials are discussing a budget strategy that could lead to a government shutdown if Republicans continue to demand deeper spending cuts, lawmakers and Democrats familiar with the administration's thinking said Thursday. The posture represents a more confrontational approach than that of this spring, when President Obama decided not to escalate a fight over across-the-board reductions known as sequestration in an earlier budget battle with Republicans....White House officials also are discussing a potential strategy to try to stop the sequestration cuts from continuing, the lawmakers and Democrats said. Under this scenario, the president might refuse to sign a new funding measure that did not roll back the sequester. No decision has been made." ...

That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard of. As long as Barack Obama is president, the Affordable Care Act is going to be the law.... I was around in 1995. Some of these guys need to understand that if you shut down the federal government, you'd better have a specific reason to do it that's achievable. Defunding the Affordable Care Act is not achievable through shutting down the federal government. -- Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), on the threat of 12 of his fellow Republican senators to shut down the U.S. government if ObamaCare is not defunded ...

The only two things that really risk the Republican majority in 2014 would be if we shut down the government or if we defaulted on the debt. -- Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.)

... Paul Krugman: "... the good news about Obamacare is, I’d argue, what's driving the Republican Party's intensified extremism. Successful health reform wouldn't just be a victory for a president conservatives loathe, it would be an object demonstration of the falseness of right-wing ideology. So Republicans are being driven into a last, desperate effort to head this thing off at the pass."

Rep. Steve King (R-Disgusting) thinks it's okay for him to falsely accuse hundreds of thousands of kids he doesn't know of being drug mules, but it's an abridgement of his First Amendment rights to speak & assemble when the House leadership criticizes his racist remarks. Note to Merriam-Webster: just put a picture of King next to your definition of "sociopath." ...

... Matt Fuller of Roll Call has more on the King-Boehner standoff. Plus, a video of King's full House floor speech, including a "fascinating" history lesson. CW: I guess it's a chicken-&-egg question, but a fractured view of history sure goes hand-in-hand with wacky political views. ...

... Alex Altman of Time: "King is not exactly a mainstream Republican. Among his crusades, he has opposed anti-dogfighting laws, likened House janitors swapping out incandescent light bulbs to Stasi troops, and suggested Barack Obama's birth announcement in Hawaiian newspapers could have been placed by telegram from Kenya. But if the measure is votes and not words, King is more representative of the House Republican immigration position than the party would like to admit. Just last month, 97% of Republicans backed a King amendment that prohibits funding from an Obama administration directive to stop deporting so-called DREAMers." ...

... Brett Logiurato of Business Insider: "And when these leaders outcast King as a 'fringe' member of the House Republican caucus, Democrats can gleefully point out that he has largely guided the party's legislative actions on immigration in 2013." ...

.. Ha Ha. Amy Davidson of the New Yorker on Steve King's fetish for young Mexican bodies.

Charles Pierce with a reality check: "Even if the formal [Republican] party structure collapsed tomorrow, the gains it already has made, combined with the vast corporate money available to conservative politicians, the network of extra-party organizations and institutions, and the myriad grassroots operations centered around various separate issues, would keep the forward momentum going for years. (And that's not even to mention the virtual lock that like-minded individuals have on the federal judiciary.) The important thing is the goal, not how you get there. At that, the Republicans are doing just fine." ...

... Gene Robinson: "Here's the basic problem: The Democratic Party seems likely to grow ever stronger nationally while the GOP remains firmly entrenched locally. This means the stubborn, maddening, unproductive standoff between a Democratic president and a Republican majority in the House may be the new normal."

Binyamin Appelbaum & Annie Lowrey of the New York Times: "President Obama's choice of a replacement for the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, is coming down to a battle between the California girls and the Rubin boys. Janet L. Yellen, the Fed's vice chairwoman, is one of three female friends, all former or current professors at the University of California, Berkeley, who have broken into the male-dominated business of advising presidents on economic policy. Her career has been intertwined with those of Christina D. Romer, who led Mr. Obama's Council of Economic Advisers at the beginning of his first term, and Laura D’Andrea Tyson, who held the same job under President Clinton and later served as the director of the White House economic policy committee. But no woman has climbed to the very top of the hierarchy to serve as Fed chairwoman or Treasury secretary. Ms. Yellen's chief rival for Mr. Bernanke's job, Lawrence H. Summers, is a member of a close-knit group of men, protégés of the former Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, who have dominated economic policy-making in both the Clinton and the Obama administrations. Those men, including the former Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and Gene B. Sperling, the president's chief economic policy adviser, are said to be quietly pressing Mr. Obama to nominate Mr. Summers." ...

     ... CW: the reporters don't say so, but it's worth remembering that Larry Summers doesn't think women are genetically as capable as men to figure out all that sciency-y, math-y stuff. ...

... ** Mike Lux in the Huffington Post: "Larry Summers, the guy who helped push the bank deregulation bill that created these monstrous Too Big To Fail banks.... It is hard to imagine a worse pick politically for Obama than Larry Summers.... Progressives and women's groups will fight this tooth and nail, and any chance of the president looking like he is a fighter for the middle class on the economy will go up in smoke." Read the whole post.

Clifford Krauss of the New York Times: "Halliburton has agreed to plead guilty to the destruction of critical evidence after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, the Justice Department announced on Thursday. Halliburton, an oil services company, will pay the maximum allowable fine and be subject to three years of probation, the Justice Department said. It will also continue its cooperation in the government's ongoing criminal investigation. Separately, Halliburton made a voluntary contribution of $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation."

Nathaniel Popper of the New York Times: "Federal prosecutors on Thursday brought what they called the largest hacking and data breach case in the country, charging five people with running an organization that hacked the computer networks of more than a dozen corporations, stealing and selling at least 160 million credit and debit card numbers. The scheme was run by four Russian nationals and a Ukrainian, said the prosecutors, who announced the indictments in Newark. Paul Fishman, the United States attorney for the District of New Jersey, said losses ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars."

Ben Protess & Peter Lattmann of the New York Times: "Federal authorities announced a raft of criminal charges on Thursday against SAC Capital, the hedge fund run by the billionaire Steven A. Cohen, an unusually aggressive move that could cripple one of Wall Street's most successful stock trading firms. In the 41-page indictment that includes four counts of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud, prosecutors charged SAC and its units with permitting a 'systematic' insider trading scheme to unfold between 1999 and 2010, activity that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for the firm. The case seeks to attribute criminal acts of several employees to the company itself, claiming that the fund 'enabled and promoted' the illicit behavior."

Alyssa Newcomb of ABC News: "The only minority on the all-female jury that voted to acquit George Zimmerman said today that Zimmerman 'got away with murder' for killing Trayvon Martin and feels she owes an apology Martin's parents.... She said the jury was following Florida law and the evidence, she said, did not prove murder." ...

... Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon: "... conspiracy theorists are convinced Trayvon Martin's killer staged a car crash to boost his beleaguered image." CW: I'm sticking with the police scanner theory. If Zimmerman wanted to clear this up, BTW, he could tell his attorney how he "happened" on the scene, fire extinguisher in hand.

Local News

Javier Hernandez & Michael Barbaro of the New York Times: "Anthony D. Weiner's mayoral campaign entered a dark and chaotic phase on Thursday as he admitted to having explicit online relationships with at least three women since he left Congress, and the woman at the center of the latest scandal appeared on television, remembering him as a 'perpetually horny middle-aged man.' ... Mr. Weiner's once-resurgent political standing in New York City seemed to erode by the moment, as more graphic pictures of his penis appeared online and his conduct and lack of candor were denounced from the campaign trail to the halls of Congress." ...

... Ah, It Was All the Wife's Fault. Carl Campanile of the New York Post: "Anthony Weiner came up with an extraordinary excuse yesterday to explain why he went back to sexting after supposedly kicking the habit -- he was suffering from marital woes. In a startling e-mail letter sent to rally campaign supporters, Weiner said he sought hot-blooded female consolation on the Internet when he and his wife, Huma Abedin, hit a rocky patch in their relationship last summer. At the time, Weiner had been out of Congress for a year, having resigned in disgrace, and was giving interviews with his wife at his side claiming he was cured." ...

... CW: As I recall, a number of contributors gave me a hard time a few weeks back when I said that because of his exploitation of young women (or at least people he thought were young women -- they could have been teenagers or 55-year-old men or whoever), Anthony Weiner was not qualified for high public office. I hope these latest revelations cause at least some of you to see it my way. ...

... Rachel Weiner (no relation, I guess) of the Washington Post: "a Marist/NBC/WSJ poll finds Weiner tied for second place among both registered and likely Democratic voters. City Council President Christine Quinn is once again in the lead. 'Weiner has lost his lead and his negatives are at an all-time high,' pollster Lee Miringoff said."

Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times: "Seven women have now accused [San Diego] Mayor Bob Filner of sexual misconduct, including four in a group interview Thursday night on public television. Meanwhile, Filner appeared at two public events Thursday, dodging reporters' questions about the allegations of sexual harassment contained in a lawsuit filed Monday by a former top aide."

Deirdre Walsh & Ashley Killough of CNN: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tore into Anthony Weiner and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, saying Thursday the two former House Democrats should 'get a clue' as they face backlash for their questionable behavior with women. 'Let me be very clear, the conduct of some of these people that we're talking about here is reprehensible,' Pelosi said at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill. Her comments came after Rep. Jerry Nadler, a fellow Democrat who represents part of Manhattan, made biting comments about Weiner, saying Wednesday night that the New York City mayoral hopeful 'needs serious psychiatric help.'" Nadler called on Weiner to drop out of the mayoral race.

Craig Jarvis of the Raleigh News & Observer: " Waiting until the last full day of the session, the [North Carolina] state Senate on Thursday approved the abortion bill that it had been holding for nearly two weeks. The Senate voted 32-13 to approve a House-written version of the sweeping bill. It would impose stricter regulations on abortion clinics, require more contact between abortion clinic doctors and patients, and limit insurance coverage for the procedure. Senate Bill 353 was a House rewrite that took into account concerns raised by the state Department of Health and Human Services. The bill now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory, who has said he would sign the House version but not the Senate's, over concerns that the Senate's bill imposed undue obstacles to abortions rather than acceptable health safeguards."

News Ledes

New York Times: "The Obama administration announced Friday that it was reviving the repatriation of low-level detainees from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which had dried up after Congress imposed strict limits on transfers.... The White House said it had informed Congress that it intended to return two detainees to Algeria under the terms of a statute that requires Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to certify that various security conditions have been met."

New York Times: "As vast dueling demonstrations took place across Egypt on Friday, the state news media reported that former President Mohamed Morsi -- who has been detained incommunicado for three weeks -- was being investigated on accusations of conspiring with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in a prison break in 2011." ...

... Al Jazeera: "Egyptian police fired tear gas at anti-military protesters after the government vowed to clear them from the streets of Cairo 'in a legal manner'. Dozens of people were shown on television on Saturday injured in a field hospital, shortly after the police action near the October 6 bridge in Nasr City according to Al Jazeera's Jamal Elshayyal. State television said that 35 people were injured."

Guardian: "The US government has completed its case against Bradley Manning, the source of the massive WikiLeaks trove of state secrets, accusing the 25-year-old soldier of being a traitor who used his training and skills to deliberately and systematically harm the US and provide assistance to al-Qaida. Major Ashden Fein, the lead prosecutor, unleashed a wave of rhetoric against the army private at the conclusion of his closing arguments in Fort Meade, Maryland, where the trial is in its eighth week. At the culmination of almost four hours in front of the judge, Fein sought to press home the most serious and contentious charge against Manning -- that he knowingly 'aided the enemy' by transmitting state secrets to WikiLeaks." ...

     ... Update: "The lawyer representing ... Bradley Manning has asked the judge presiding over the soldier's court martial to decide between two stark portrayals of the accused -- the prosecution's depiction of him as a traitor and seeker of notoriety, and the defence's account that he was motivated by a desire to make a difference in the world and save lives."

Cleveland Plain Dealer: "A hearing in the Ariel Castro kidnapping case has been set for Friday morning at 10 a.m. before County Common Pleas Judge Michael Russo, presumably to discuss a possible plea deal."

AP: "Spanish police on Friday detained the driver of a train that crashed in northwestern Spain, lowered the death toll from 80 to 78 and took possession of the 'black box' of the train expected to shed light on why it was going faster than the speed limit on the curve where it derailed. And in an interview with The Associated Press, an American passenger injured on the train said he saw on a TV monitor screen inside his car that the train was traveling 194 kph (121 mph) seconds before the crash -- far above the 80 kph (50 mph) speed limit on the curve where it derailed."

Wednesday
Jul242013

The Commentariat -- July 25, 2013

Michael Shear & Peter Baker of the New York Times: "President Obama tried to move past months of debate over guns, surveillance and scandal on Wednesday and reorient his administration behind a program to lift a middling economy and help middle-class Americans who are stuck with stagnant incomes and shrinking horizons. Returning to the site of his first major economic speech as a young senator eight years ago, Mr. Obama lamented that typical Americans had been left behind by globalization, Wall Street irresponsibility and Washington policies, while the richest Americans had accumulated more wealth. He declared it 'my highest priority' to reverse those trends, while accusing other politicians of not only ignoring the problem but also making it worse":

     ... Here's the text of the speech. ...

... Greg Sargent: "Given implacable GOP opposition to his agenda, Obama has little choice but to try to seize the rhetorical and ideological initiative in hopes that it will make a difference in the spending fights ahead, and beyond that in the midterm elections. In service of that goal, Obama sought to frame the problems facing the country in as grandiose terms as he could.... Obama talked about declining wages and rising inequality not just as urgent moral problems, but as threats to long term growth and shared prosperity, and decried trends creating these problems that have been decades in the making. He noted that the deficit is falling faster than it has in decades. Obama then made the case against continued GOP austerity as a threat to the recovery and the middle class...." ...

... Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic: "... the reason Obama keeps calling for these steps is that congressional Republicans keep blocking them. And while versions of these ideas, or some of them, were in the Recovery Act, the evidence suggests they worked pretty well.... He's having at least some success working with less extreme members, like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Not coincidentally, Obama chose his words carefully, criticizing a 'a sizable group of Republican lawmakers' who have threatened not to raise the debt limit but also praising the 'growing number of Republican Senators [who] are trying to get things done.'" ...

... E. J. Dionne says this time is different. ...

... Court Harson of NBC News: "The Republican Party is no longer content being the party of 'no.' Now they've launched an offensive against nearly everything President Obama stands for -- vowing to slash funding for programs he supports. And that includes Obamacare -- they say they won't even agree to a budget beyond the end of the fiscal year if even a penny is used to fund the president's signature health reform law. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee puts it simply: 'His priorities are going nowhere.'" ...

... Sahil Kapur of TPM outlines some of the desperate attempts by conservatives to derail ObamaCare. Interestingly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell does not seem to be going along with the program. CW: It seems possible his Tea Party primary challenger could change that. ...

... Jonathan Easley of the Hill: "Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said Wednesday he opposes a plan endorsed by at least a dozen Republican senators to shut down the government to block funds for ObamaCare." The only other GOP senator to say he opposed the tactic is John McCain. ...

... Paul Krugman: "... think about [this] for a moment: the cause for which the GOP is willing to go to the brink, breaking all political norms, threatening the US and world economies with incalculable damage, is the cause of preventing people with preexisting conditions and/or low incomes from getting health insurance. Apparently, the prospect that their fellow citizens might receive this help is so horrifying that nothing else matters." ...

... To wit, David Morgan of Reuters: "With the Obama administration poised for a huge public education campaign on healthcare reform, Republicans and their allies are mobilizing a counter-offensive including town hall meetings, protests and media promotions to dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage." CW: I guess this is the "Show 'Em You've Got the Courage to Get Sick & Die" Campaign. ...

... Norm Ornstein in the National Journal: "... to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation -- which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil -- is ... contemptible. One might expect this kind of behavior from a few grenade-throwing firebrands. That the effort is spearheaded by the Republican leaders of the House and Senate ... takes one's breath away." ...

... Carrie Brown & John Bresnanhan of Politico: "Armed with a PowerPoint presentation and a direct line to President Barack Obama, [White House Chief of Staff Denis] McDonough has spent the past three months soothing Democratic anxieties over the most divisive health care expansion in decades. He meets every other week with [Max "Train Wreck"] Baucus, briefs vulnerable Democrats on the administration's progress and treks up to the Hill on a moment's notice to visit offices unannounced. McDonough's message: We've got this."

Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post: "The U.S. Senate approved a plan Wednesday to restructure the government's education loan program, tying interest rates to the market and imposing limits on how high those rates can go.... Some Democratic senators are already saying that they will have to take action on it again soon. The legislation, which still needs the approval of the House, would dramatically lower interest rates on nearly all new federal education loans taken out by undergraduates, graduate students and parents for the coming school year. But as the economy improves, those rates are expected to increase and could surpass the current rates within five years.... [Elizabeth] Warren [D-Mass.] introduced an amendment with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that would cap the new interest rates at the current rates. That amendment failed. So too did an amendment introduced by Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) that would have authorized the new rates for just two years...."

Profiles in Cowardice. Bernie Becker of the Hill: "The Senate's top tax-writers have promised their colleagues 50 years worth of secrecy in exchange for suggestions on what deductions and credits to preserve in tax reform. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the panel's top Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), assured lawmakers that any submission they receive will be kept under lock and key by the committee and the National Archives until the end of 2064." Thanks to James S. for the link.

Brett Logiurato of Business Insider: "The House of Representatives voted against an amendment that would have severely limited the National Security Agency's ability to collect data on telephone communications by a 205-217 vote.The amendment would have barred the NSA from blanket collection of records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, including telephone records, 'that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215.' It was co-sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a libertarian Republican, and John Conyers (D-Mich.)." ...

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

... Glenn Greenwald comments here.

John Hilsenrath & Damian Paletta of the Wall Street Journal: "The race to become the next leader of the Federal Reserve looks increasingly like a contest between two economists: Lawrence Summers and Janet Yellen."

Obama 2.0. Mark Landler of the New York Times: "President Obama on Wednesday nominated Caroline Kennedy to be ambassador to Japan, moving to give a scion of America's most enduring political dynasty a diplomatic post that has often gone to political heavyweights."

Tom Edsall of the New York Times on the "Political Endangered Species List.... The dangers facing middle-of-the-road Democrats in swing districts is reflected in the exceptionally high casualty rate suffered over the past four years by the Blue Dog coalition of conservative and moderate Democrats." Edsall highlights the predicament of Patrick Murphy, the Democrat who defeated Allen West, "the notorious Republican Congressman from Florida who once described President Obama as 'a low-level socialist agitator,' before suggesting on another occasion that his supporters were 'a threat to the gene pool.'"

I don't think there's anyone in Congress who has a stronger belief in minority rights than I do. -- Rand Paul

John Lewis. -- Constant Weader

Should it be prohibited for public, taxpayer-financed institutions such as schools to reject someone based on an individual's beliefs or attributes? Most certainly. Should it be prohibited for private entities such as a church, bed and breakfast or retirement neighborhood that doesn't want noisy children? Absolutely not. -- Rand Paul, 2002, writing in opposition to the Fair Housing Act

It's not all about race relations, it's about controlling property, ultimately. -- Rand Paul, in 2012, defending his father's opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Later in the interview, Paul called the matter "an obscure issue."

I think we have really gotten beyond that now. We have an African-American President, African-Americans are voting at a higher percentage than whites. -- Rand Paul, June 2013, explaining why the Voting Rights Act is unnecessary

Paul] insists he will continue outreach efforts to black and Hispanic voters despite reports about a former aide's past connections to neo-Confederate groups. -- Chris Moody of Yahoo! News ...

... CW: in fairness to Li'l Randy, Moody notes that "Paul has championed legislation that would reform how the justice system handles drug laws, which disproportionately affect black men. In March, he co-authored a bill with Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy that would provide judges more flexibility in handling drug cases. Paul said he is planning further work on prison reform that would eventually reinstate rights to convicted felons who serve their time." In addition Paul has made numerous efforts to reach out to minority groups, though of course these efforts are also self-serving.

Sergi Loiko of the Los Angeles Times: "The latest bid by fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to leave a Moscow airport has run into bureaucratic hurdles, his Russian lawyer said Wednesday. Russian media reported that Snowden would be allowed to leave the transit zone where he has been holed up for more than a month following a government decision to consider his request for temporary asylum. But he was turned back at passport control because he did not have all the paperwork he needed, a Russian immigration official told The Times." ...

... Fox "News": "... now it appears that even with new legal papers, [Snowden] still must wait at the airport while Russian authorities consider his asylum request."

Max Siegel of the New York Times: "Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, formally inaugurated a new political party bearing the name of his antisecrecy organization on Thursday and declared his own unorthodox candidacy for a seat in the Australian Senate in national elections to be held here later this year." CW: just an excellent idea. I'm sure he's in it to represent the people -- at least all of those Aussies who can stop by the Ecuadorian embassy in London to air their grievances.

Local News

** Dahlia Lithwick of Slate on "What's the Matter with North Carolina."

CW: I'm tardy on this story, but here it is anyway: Martin Weil & Freedom du Lac of the Washington Post on Morgan Lake, whose car was hit -- twice -- by a tractor-trailer on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & forced over the side & into the bay. "In 2010, Travel + Leisure magazine named it one of 'the world's scariest bridges.'" Lake tells her amazing story:

     ... The Post has a follow-up story, with video of Lake in the water, here.

AP: "A federal judge on Wednesday swept aside lawsuits challenging Detroit's bankruptcy, settling the first major dispute in the scramble to get a leg up just days after the largest filing by a local government in U.S. history. After two hours of arguments, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes made clear he's in charge. He granted Detroit's request to put a permanent freeze on three lawsuits filed in Ingham County, including another judge's extraordinary decision that Gov. Rick Snyder trampled the Michigan Constitution and acted illegally in approving the Chapter 9 filing."

WeinerGate, Ctd.*

Michael Barbaro & Nick Corasaniti of the New York Times: "The racy online conversations that have jeopardized Anthony D. Weiner's campaign for mayor of New York began with an angry Facebook message, according to the editor of a blog who has communicated with the young woman involved. Not long after Mr. Weiner resigned from Congress, the 22-year-old woman reached out to express her disappointment in him. Mr. Weiner eventually responded and, at his urging, their exchanges veered from politics to sex within a week, as he demanded dozens of explicit photographs, said Nik Richie, the editor of The Dirty, the blog that first documented the exchanges.... Mr. Richie's account ... cannot be independently verified."

Robin Abcarian of the Los Angeles Times: "Hate to say it, but you can't trust a woman whose husband has been screwing around."

Gail Collins: "... there is a point in political scandals when bad behavior stops being a joke and just becomes sad and depressing. We have reached that point with Anthony Weiner."

mistermix of Balloon Juice: "Weiner is an idiot but he didn't do anything illegal, his wife has forgiven him, and the question we ought to be asking is if he's capable of being a working mayor or whether he'll just be a show pony the way he was in the House."

Weiner's Big Boner. CW: It seems to me Weiner's mistake was not the sexting dickpics & making false promises to strange women less than half his age. That might be stupid, callous & a little risky, but he's a politician, & stupid, callous & risky is what politicians do. No, mistake was marrying & having a child. Surely he was self-aware enough to realize that wedding vows were not going to change behavior that he certainly engaged in regularly during the decades he remained single. Had the Dirty published these Tweets & e-mails involving an unmarried New York congressman, they probably would have stayed at the level of the Dirty, Gawker & similar gossip sites. The New York Times wouldn't have touched the story with a ... well, you know. If he had never married, Weiner would still be making raucous speeches in the House, & he would probably also be running for mayor of NYC, since he long ago said that was his dream job.

BuzzFeed IDs the woman Weiner was sexting.

* Bear in mind, it's never-ending.

News Ledes

AP: Virginia "Johnson, half of the renowned Masters and Johnson team, was remembered Thursday as one of the key figures in the sexual revolution. Johnson, whose legal name was Virginia Masters, died Wednesday of complications from several illnesses at an assisted living center in St. Louis. She was 88."

AP: "The owner of a natural gas drilling rig aflame off of Louisiana's coast said preparations were under way for the possible drilling of a relief well to divert gas from the site and bring the well under control. Adam Bourgoyne, a former dean of Louisiana State University's petroleum engineering department, said such an effort is a complicated task that could take weeks to complete."

AP: "Deposed politician Bo Xilai will go on trial on charges of corruption and abuse of power within weeks, wrapping up a festering scandal that China's new leaders want disposed of as they cement their authority. Bo, 64, was a rising political star who ran the metropolis of Chongqing until he fell from power last year in a scandal that saw his wife convicted of killing a British businessman. On Thursday, the official Xinhua News Agency announced that he was charged with bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power and will stand trial in the eastern city of Jinan."

Washington Post: "Closing arguments in the trial of [Bradley] Manning, a former intelligence analyst in Iraq, begin Thursday."