The Ledes

Wednesday, August 20, 2014.

AP: "At least 34 sailors are being kicked out of the Navy for their roles in a cheating ring that operated undetected for at least seven years at a nuclear power training site, and 10 others are under criminal investigation, the admiral in charge of the Navy's nuclear reactors program told The Associated Press."

New York Times: "Israeli airstrikes killed a wife and baby son of the top military commander of Hamas, the Islamist movement that dominates the Gaza Strip, hours after rocket fire from Gaza broke a temporary cease-fire Tuesday and halted talks aimed at ending the six-week conflict collapsed in Cairo. The fate of the commander, Mohammed Deif, the target of several previous Israeli assassination attempts, remained unclear, though Palestinian officials and witnesses said his was not one of three bodies pulled Wednesday from the rubble of the bombed Gaza City home." ...

... AFP: "An Israeli cabinet minister on Wednesday justified an air strike on Gaza that killed the wife and child of Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif, saying he was a legitimate target. 'Mohammed Deif deserves to die just like (the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama) bin Laden. He is an arch murderer and as long as we have an opportunity we will try to kill him'" Interior Minister Gideon Saar told army radio."

New York Times: "After nearly a week of inaction, a Russian aid convoy destined for the besieged, rebel-controlled Ukrainian city of Luhansk rumbled to life on Wednesday, with 16 of its trucks passing through a Russian border checkpoint. Before heading to Luhansk, though, the trucks still have to be checked by the Russian border service, Ukrainian border guards and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Sergei Karavaytsev, an officer in Russia’s Emergencies Ministry, said in a telephone interview."

Guardian: "Russia has shut down four McDonald's restaurants in Moscow for alleged sanitary violations in a move critics said was the latest blow in its tit-for-tat sanctions tussle with the west." CW: Now that could make Putin unpopular.

AP: "Germany says it is prepared to arm the Kurdish fighters battling Sunni insurgents in northern Iraq. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says Germany would closely coordinate its efforts with France, Britain and other European countries who are already delivering weapons to the Kurds."

The Wires

The Ledes

Tuesday, August 19, 2014.

Washington Post: "The Islamic State militant group claimed Tuesday to have beheaded an American photojournalist in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. A video released online purported to show the execution of James Foley after he recited a statement in which he called the U.S. government 'my real killers. A second prisoner, said to be Steven Joel Sotloff, like Foley an American journalist who disappeared while covering Syria’s civil war, then appears in the video. The masked executioner, speaking with what sounds like a British accent, identifies Sotloff and says that 'the life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision.'”

New York Times: "Israeli and Palestinian officials agreed late Monday to extend a five-day cease-fire for Gaza that expired at midnight for 24 hours, reflecting the difficulty of reaching more durable agreements after two weeks of Egyptian-brokered talks but also an apparent lack of appetite on either side to resume the conflict." ...

     ... UPDATE: "Another Gaza cease-fire collapsed on Tuesday when Palestinian militants fired rockets into southern Israel, drawing retaliatory airstrikes from Israel and prompting the Israeli government to withdraw its delegation from Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo for an agreement to end the latest conflict."

Guardian: "Armed groups in Syria have several hundred portable anti-aircraft missiles that could easily be diverted to extremists and used to destroy commercial planes, according to a new report by an international arms research group that cites the risk of the missiles being smuggled out of Syria by terrorists. The report was released a few hours after the Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice to US airlines banning all flights in Syrian airspace."

Public Service Announcement

New York Times, August 15: "The Food and Drug Administration has approved Avastin — made by Genentech, a unit of the Swiss drug maker Roche — for a new use against late-stage cervical cancer, the seventh indication for the biotech drug, which had global sales of $6.25 billion last year."

White House Live Video
August 20

The White House has no scheduled live feeds for today.

Kevin Roose of New York: "How to make $200MM in 28 months." CW: Yeah, I know. Twenty-eight months is a lo-o-o-ong time.

Stupid Wiki Tricks. Telegraph: "Wikimedia, the non-profit organisation behind Wikipedia, has refused a photographer’s repeated requests to stop distributing his most famous shot for free – because a monkey pressed the shutter button and should own the copyright."

The Wrap: "James Corden is taking over for Craig Ferguson as host of 'The Late Late Show' on CBS, an individual with knowledge of the situation has told TheWrap.... Corden stars in Disney's 'Into the Woods' and can currently be seen alongside Keira Knightley in 'Begin Again.'”

John Oliver on "native advertising." Via Juan Cole:

Justice Ginsburg on the Tumblr site Notorious R.B.G.:

Washington Post: "Former president George W. Bush has been writing a book about his father, former president George H.W. Bush. The book will be published in November."

"Homophonia." Caroline Moss of Business Insider: "An education blogger in Utah is out of a job today after writing [righting] a blog post explaining 'homophones' for the Nomen Global Language Center. Tim Torkildson said he was fired by [buy] his boss and NGLC owner, Clarke Woodger, for [four] promoting a gay agenda." Here's Torkildson's blogpost on his firing. Thanks to Akhilleus for the link.

Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times: "New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission would do well to turn down the Frick Collection’s proposed expansion, which imagines replacing a prized garden on East 70th Street in Manhattan with a clumsy addition. The city should avoid another self-inflicted wound, and there are other options." CW: As I recall, the garden is that it is difficult to see from the street. I love the garden court & have spent a good deal of time there.

Martha Stewart has a drone.

Washington Post: "On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth’s atmosphere.  These plasma clouds, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years. 'If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,' physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado tells NASA."

New York: "Governor Cuomo and CBS announced Wednesday that The Late Show will continue to be shot at New York's Ed Sullivan Theater, its home of 21 years, when David Letterman retires and Stephen Colbert takes over in 2015. While it had been assumed that the show would be staying put, CBS only made it official today, announcing that it had received $11-million in state tax credits and $5-million in renovation money for the theater in exchange for staying in NYC and guaranteeing the continuation of 200 jobs surrounding the show's production." ...

... Nice announcement, but not as long as Cuomo's 13-page response to a New York Times article that showed Cuomo is a pompous, corrupt, two-faced hypocrite.

Lunar Landing, Cable News Version. Slate: "In 2009, Andrew Bouvé imagined what it would be like if the moon landing happened today, unleashing cable news on the event.... This Sunday marks the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing."


New Yorker illustration.

The New Yorker has opened up its archives for the summer. An excellent opportunity to get in on some fabulous reading.


CW: Jordan Weismann of Slate presents this audio as an unusual customer service horror story. It is a nightmare, to be sure. But as someone who has had to deal with stopping & starting various utility & communications services recently, I can attest that it is par for the course for an American U.S. customer service rep. Dealing with non-Americans, who increasing represent U.S. companies, is worse. These reps all work from scripts, but the non-Americans don't understand my English, so their "responses" are even more non-responsive than are those of the Comcast guy there:


Airborne Dinosaur. USA Today: Paleontologists have discovered in China a new species of dinosaur that "had long feathers not just on its wings but also on its hind legs, making it one of only a handful of 'four-winged' dinosaurs. It also had big, sharp teeth and sharp claws, indicating it was carnivorous.... Scientists were surprised to find something so large that could take to the skies so early in the history of flying creatures." ...

     ... CW: Charles Pierce's take: "The Christianists have been wrong all these years. It's not Intelligent Design. It's Abstract Design. God The Dada."

Houston Chronicle: "The Palm Beach mansion known as President JFK's Winter White House has hit the market for a staggering $38.5 million. That price is even more gasp-worthy considering the same property sold for $4.9 million in 1995 and a mere $120,000 in 1933." More photos, including interior shots, at the linked page.

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The Commentariat -- February 23, 2012

NEW. My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on "The World According to Brooks." It's probably worth a read. The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute to the effort here.

President Obama spoke yesterday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture:

Lonnie Bunch, Director of the National Museum of African American history, talks about the process of gathering material for the musueum:

NEW. Bob Drummond of Bloomberg News: "While Republicans promote themselves as the friendliest party for Wall Street, stock investors do better when Democrats occupy the White House. From a dollars- and-cents standpoint, it’s not even close." Like, about nine times better under Democratic presidents than under Republican POTUSes.

** NEW. Noam Scheiber of The New Republic on the memo Larry Summers didn't let President-Elect Obama see -- the one where Christina Romer called for a $1.8 trillion stimulus (later reduced, at Summers' insistence to $1.2 trillion & still "disappeared").

** Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic: "Like every other industry in health care, hospitals are consolidating to strengthen their financial positions or merely to survive," and many of those mergers are putting formerly secular hospitals under Roman Catholic control:

'There are a lot of rural places that now have only a Catholic hospital,' says Lois Uttley, director of MergerWatch, a research and advocacy group based in New York City. 'We hear regularly from doctors there who are just distraught at not being able to provide the care they want.' [Dr. Bruce] Silva, from Sierra Vista, [Arizona,] notes that such arrangements can be particularly tough on poor patients: 'If you’re wealthy, you go up to Tucson and you get a hotel. But a lot of people can’t even pay for the gas to get up there.'

... Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post on how abortion rights activists are changing the landscape -- and the language -- of their fight for women's reproductive rights. It seems to be working in Virginia. CW: Thank you, Dahlia Lithwick! (I linked Lithwick's post last week.) ...

... Or maybe this is what changed Gov. Bob McDonnell's (R) mind about supporting the anti-woman bill:

... Or this:

... Or tasteful commemorative momentos like this (thanks to Haley S. for the link):

... Joan Walsh of Salon: no, Democrats did not raise the contraception issue, as Rush Limbaugh & some slightly less partisan critics like Mielissa Henneberger of the Washington Post claim. At the end of the embedded video, Walsh lets Henneberger have it. CW: BTW, I have long thought Henneberger, who agrees with Limbaugh and, um, got into bed with the bishops, was a dope. She sure hasn't said or written anything lately to change my mind.

Here's a pdf of the President's "Framework for Business Tax Reform," produced by the Treasury Department. ...

... The Rich Get Richer. Citizens for Tax Justice opposes the President's proposal because it "fails to raise revenue that could be used to make public investments in America’s economy and America’s future." The proposal does not specify enough offsets to make up for his proposed reduction in the tax rate. CW: I think they're right. The proposal boasts the reform is "revenue-neutral"; i.e., breaks even with the current lop-sided taxing system. Citizens for Tax Justice says the proposal doesn't do even that. This looks like more redistribution of wealth upward. ...

... The New York Times editors have similar objections; they specifically complain that the Obama proposal does not specify a minimum tax on companies that outsource domestic production nor does it address taxes on foreign profits held overseas. The proposal leaves way too much in the Congressional Suggestion Box, as if Congress will, on its own, ignore lobbyists & close loopholes.

Erik Wasson of The Hill: "The Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday that President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package continues to have a significant effect. The bill raised fourth-quarter 2011 gross domestic product by as much as 1.5 percent, it states, and lowered the unemployment rate by as much as 1.1 percentage points." Sorry, GOP.

Ari Berman of The Nation: "The Super-PAC era gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'the buying of the president.'” ...

... Fabulous Get-Rich Quick Scheme: Start a SuperPAC, Pay Yourself Half a Mil & Counting. Melanie Mason & Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times: "Much of the focus on super PACs has been on their ability to raise unlimited sums from a cadre of super-rich donors. Less attention has been paid to how they use their money — and the fact that they do not have to contend with the same kind of internal scrutiny as the candidates and political parties they support."

Right Wing World

Liar, Liar, Liar. Willard, Rick, Newt. New York Times staff fact-checks the GOP presidential debate. ...

... Amy Walter of ABC News picks Rick Santorum as the loser & President Obama as the winner of last night's debate.

And so this idea that we didn’t ask that question while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being waterboarded, [John McCain] doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works. I mean, you break somebody, and after they’re broken, they become cooperative. And that’s when we got this information. And one thing led to another, and led to another, and that’s how we ended up with bin Laden. -- Rick Santorum, 2011

Here's a video of Santorum raising his hand for waterboarding under "any circumstances he could imagine."

Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast: Rick Santorum's "defense of torture is far, far more scandalous to the Catholic church than any liberal Catholic politician's views on, say, same-sex marriage or contraception. It is he who has made his faith integral to his public life. Yet he defends the equivalent of crucifixion for prisoners under his potential command. When, one wonders, will Catholics hear a letter from the pulpit on the vital question of torture -- and the support for it from a leading Catholic candidate for the presidency?" Read Sullivan's whole post. ...

... NEW. Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "When Rick Santorum accused President Obama of having 'some phony theology' last weekend, it was neither an isolated event nor an offhand remark. Instead, Santorum’s comments were a new twist on a steady theme of his Republican presidential candidacy: that Obama and other Democrats have a secular worldview not based on the Bible, one they are intent on imposing on believers." ...

It’s funny that I’ve been criticized by Gov. Romney and by Ron Paul for having voted for something called Title X which is actually federal funding of contraception. My public policy beliefs are that contraception should be available. Again, I’ve supported Title X funding. -- Rick Santorum, way last week

As Congressman Paul knows, I opposed Title X funding. I’ve always opposed Title X funding, but it’s included in a large appropriation bill that includes a whole host of other things. -- evidently a different Rick Santorum, in last night's debate

... Joan Walsh thanks Rick Santorum for doing so much to expose the backward views of the GOP.

In Willard's World, when President Obama talks about the one percent, it's "inconsistent with the concept of 'one nation under god'"; evidently when Willard talks about whacking the one percent, it's fiscally responsible:

 ... BUT, hey, this is nothing. William Saletan of Slate writes a long, fascinating & extensively-researched article about Willard's incredible (and I mean "incredible" in both senses of the word) "evolution" on matters of abortion & fetal life. Here's the short version:

News Ledes

Washington Post: "A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland was approved by the state Senate, which advanced a measure that narrowly cleared the House of Delegates last week. The final vote by the state Senate ended a yearlong drama in Annapolis over the legislation.... With the vote, the measure moves to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who has said he will sign it."

Washington Post: "In a highly unusual move, the full Virginia Senate killed the so-called ‘personhood’ bill for the year just hours after it seemed likely to survive. The Senate voted 24-14 to send the bill back to Senate Education and Health Committee, with two anti-abortion Democrats abstaining."

New York Times: "A Unite Nations panel concluded on Thursday that 'gross human rights violations' had been ordered by the Syrian authorities as state policy at 'the highest levels of the armed forces and the government,' amounting to crimes against humanity. The panel of three investigators, led by Paulo Pinheiro of Brazil, did not release the names of the officials it had identified as bearing responsibility. Instead, the panel delivered the names in a sealed envelope to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva."

ABC News: "Army Pfc. Bradley Manning ... deferred entering a plea at his arraignment today."

ABC News: "The judge presiding over the so-called honeymoon killer trial dismissed murder charges against Gabe Watson after the prosecution completed its case today. The charges were dismissed before the defense presented a single witness."

President Obama will speak at the University of Miami at 2:30 pm ET, where he will defend his energy policy. Here's a related Washington Post story. ...

     ... New York Times Update: "President Obama, confronted by the political perils of surging gas prices in an election year, defended his efforts to wean the United States off imported oil on Thursday, even as he conceded there was little he could do to immediately ease the pain at the pump." See video in Friday's Commentariat.

Washington Post: "The Obama administration on Thursday plans to announce voluntary guidelines for Web companies to protect consumers’ privacy online, a win for Google, Facebook and other Internet giants that have fought against heavier federal mandates. The White House did not include a much-debated 'do not track' rule that would have forced companies to offer users the choice of stopping advertisers from tracking their activities across the Web."

New York Times: "Afghans demonstrated for the third straight day on Thursday against the burning of Korans at the largest American base in their country, and public anger was reported to be spreading after furious crowds armed with rocks, bricks, pistols and wooden sticks took to the streets in a half-dozen provinces in protests Wednesday that left at least seven dead and many injured." ...

     ... Washington Post Update: "Two American soldiers were killed on Thursday by an attacker wearing an Afghan army uniform, as protests over Koran-burning at a NATO base continued, and the Taliban called on Afghans to target foreign troops as reprisal.... President Obama apologized for the incident in a letter sent to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday."

AP: "A U.S nuclear envoy said Thursday he held substantive talks with North Korea on dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear programs in return for aid and would continue the negotiations into second day."

AP: "Officials say attacks across Baghdad and several Iraqi provinces have killed 48 people and wounded more than 200 in an unrelenting wave of violence that mostly appeared to target security forces."

ABC News: "A jury recommended that a judge sentence George Huguely V to 26 years in prison after he was convicted of second-degree murder in the beating death of his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love, at the University of Virginia." See also yesterday's Ledes.


The Commentariat -- February 22, 2012

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on Stanley Fish's post "Missing Pat Buchanan." The NYTX front page is here. You can contribute here.

Sam Baker of The Hill: "Democrats successfully shifted a debate over religious liberty to birth control last week, but opponents of the contraception mandate are trying to shift it right back." Read the whole article. Here's the Democratic House members petition, mentioned in the article, that demands women be allowed "at the table when discussing women's health issues."

Sahil Kapur of TPM: "The Supreme Court is poised to rule this summer on the constitutionality of the health care reform law’s requirement that Americans buy insurance or pay a tax penalty. But it has the legal option to delay a decision until at least 2014, and although the possibility has received little attention, new evidence suggests that justices are considering it more strongly." ...

... Glenn Greenwald does an I-told-ya-so. Justice Elena Kagan sides with the conservative justices on a Miranda ruling. The split was 6-3. Not good. ...

... CW: I seldom, if ever, recommend readers wade through legal documents, but this court order (pdf) by Judge Fred Biery is a gem (and it's short -- read the whole order, including the "personal statement" at the end). Thanks to a reader for the link. Tracy Hamilton of the San Antonio (Texas) Express-News has the background, which you may want to read first: "When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls out activist judges on the campaign trail, the name he mentions most often is Fred Biery. Biery, the chief federal judge for the Western District of Texas, emerged as a target for conservative criticism after he ruled last summer that Medina Valley High School couldn't officially sanction prayer at its graduation ceremony.... His ruling stood for just two days before it was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ... [and] remanded the case back to Biery's court, without addressing the merits of his decision.... Biery has also urged the two sides into mediation." Under the approved agreement, "... the Medina Valley ISD won’t officially make prayer part of graduation ceremonies. The MSA does not, however, prohibit valedictorians or other student speakers from praying. Those moments must be introduced as 'student remarks.'” Andrew Cowen of The Atlantic has an analysis here, refuting Gingrich.

Conservative writer Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic: "Memo to Republicans: Obama Is Tougher on Iran than George W. Bush": One "reason we have arrived at this moment of high tension: The Obama Administration, through its stalwart opposition to the Iranian nuclear program, has narrowed Iran's maneuverability, and forced the regime to make some obvious errors.... It is precisely because the Obama Administration has constructed a sanctions program without precedent, and because the Obama Administration has funded and supported multinational cyber-sabotage efforts against the Iranian nuclear program, that Iran is panicking and lashing-out."

     ... Related item from CBS News. CW: The concert, which I ran live on Reality Chex, was pretty enjoyable. It will air on PBS Monday February 27 at 9 p.m. ET.

"Serious Businss Tycoons." Nicholas Confessore, et al., of the New York Times: "About two dozen individuals, couples or corporations have given $1 million or more to Republican super PACs this year, an exclusive club empowered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and other rulings.... Collectively, their contributions have totaled more than $50 million this cycle.... They have relatively few Democratic counterparts so far.... And unlike in past years, when wealthy donors of both parties donated chiefly to groups that were active in the general election campaign, the top Republican donors are contributing money far earlier, in contests that will determine the party’s presidential nominee." ...

... Dan Eggen & T. W. Farnam of the Washington Post: "... a rarefied group of millionaires and billionaires [are] acting as kingmakers in the GOP contest, often helping to decide, with a simple transfer of money, which candidate might survive another day. Although many of these mega-donors have long participated in politics, none were able to wield the kind of influence now possible under loosened campaign finance regulations, which allow super PACs and other outside groups to spend unlimited amounts on political races."

Right Wing World

It’s not a new candidate the right needs. It’s a new electorate. -- Michael Tomasky in the Daily Beast (Read Tomasky's whole post.)

Charles Pierce of Esquire explains the evolution of the Church of Rick -- "a 20-year effort to develop Roman Catholics who could talk like Southern Baptists, bonded as both groups were now by their twisted views of human sexuality, and by their desire to re-establish control over what American women can do with their bodies. It is an alliance of powerful convenience." ...

... Maureen Dowd has a rundown of some of Rick's Greatest Hits in her column today, beginning with this one:

Satan has his sights on the United States of America. Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition. -- Rick Santorum, 2008 ...

... AND here's Santorum, just yesterday, on President Obama's secret plot to raise gas prices so you can't afford to get to work or the grocery store. Because, you know, high gas prices are such a plus for an incumbent in an election year. Okay, actually, this is Santorum's salvo in the Drill, Baby, Drill sweepstakes.

... Santorum's outrages are coming with such speed that the punditocracy can't keep up. Finally, two days after the fact, Dana Milbank calls out that horrid little man for equating President Obama with Adolf Hitler. "This is where Santorum exists, in a place of binary extremes of good and evil, where his political foe isn’t just wrong but adheres to a 'phony theology' not found in the Bible. His frequent tendency to go from zero to Nazi over ordinary political disagreements ... shows why he’s outside the bounds major political parties have applied to their past presidential nominees. Some of Santorum’s opponents have suggested that his Hitler tic reflects his own autocratic tendencies."

Romney's Got Nothin' on Santorum. Steve Benen: Yesterday, standing next to his No. 1 Ohio supporter, Sen. Rob Portman (R), Mitt Romney again criticized Rick Santorum for voting to raise the debt ceiling while he was in Congress, which is kinda funny because "Portman, who not only repeatedly voted to raise the debt ceiling himself as a member of Congress, but also served as George W. Bush's budget director when the Bush/Cheney administration repeatedly raised the debt ceiling."

How to say "quiet rooms" (see Romney, Willard) in New Jersey:

... Greg Sargent: "Buffett’s point is that the scale of the problem requires his class as a whole to chip in a bit more to solve it.... It’s very inconvenient for Republicans to have people like Buffett out there forcing issues of inequality and tax unfairness into the national conversation. It makes it a lot harder to equate proposed solutions to them with 'envy' and 'class warfare....”

Local News

Harry Minium & Julian Walker of the Virginian-Pilot: "In the face of widespread criticism, Republican state lawmakers delayed a vote again [Tuesday] on a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion. SB48 ... was one of the targets of two protest rallies on the State Capital grounds that drew nearly 1,000 women on Monday. Republican efforts to restrict insurance coverage of contraception and abortion rights have been lampooned by commentators, including a skit on Saturday Night Live. Some legislators suggested on Tuesday that they may attempt to soften ultrasound legislation."

News Ledes

CNN will host another GOP presidential debate tonight at 8:00 pm ET. Update: The New York Times is liveblogging the debate. The Washington Post has live updates here. ...

     ... Update: the New York Times reports on the debate. Here's the Washington Post report. CW: I listened to the crowd reactions. They pretty much applauded everything stupid & booed any sensible measures the candidates had accidentally supported in the past. Yep, the GOP needs a new electorate.

Washington Post: "A jury [in Charlottesville, Virginia] on Wednesday evening convicted George Huguely V of second-degree murder in the 2010 death of his onetime girlfriend Yeardley Love after about nine hours of deliberations. Huguely faces up to 40 years in prison on the murder charge."

New York Times: "A federal advisory panel on Wednesday overwhelmingly recommended approval of what could become the first new prescription drug to treat obesity in 13 years."

Washington Post: "A former Baltimore-area resident held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has reached a plea agreement with military prosecutors that calls for him to testify at the trials of other detainees in exchange for a much-reduced sentence and eventual freedom, according to officials familiar with the case. The plea agreement with Majid Khan, 31, is the first with a high-value detainee who was previously held by the CIA at a secret prison overseas. Khan was charged this month with war crimes, including murder, attempted murder, spying and providing material support for terrorism, and faced up to life in prison."

New York Times: "New York State's courts, frustrated by delays in thousands of foreclosure cases, are planning to speed them along in a new program that would give judges added control and require banks to send officials who have the power to alter loans to keep people in their homes."

New York Times: "Two Western journalists, one American and one French, were killed early Wednesday in Syria as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad pursued a deadly bombardment of the central city of Homs, according to activists and officials. Valérie Pécresse, the French government spokeswoman, identified the dead as Marie Colvin, an American reporter working for The Sunday Times of London, and Rémi Ochlik, a French photographer."

Washington Post: "President Obama on Wednesday plans to propose a major overhaul of the nation’s corporate tax code, an election-year gambit that is likely to draw a contrast over a key policy issue with the Republicans vying to replace him. Obama will propose lowering the nation’s corporate tax rate to 28 percent. At the same time, however, he will seek to increase the amount of revenues raised overall through corporate taxation by eliminating numerous deductions and loopholes that save companies tens of billions of dollars a year on their tax bills, according to a senior administration official."

Washington Post: "Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is backing off his unconditional support for a bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before an abortion.... Until this weekend, McDonnell (R) and his aides had said the governor would sign the measure if it made it to his desk. McDonnell, who strongly opposes abortion, will no longer make that commitment. But delegates and governor’s staff were scheduled to meet Tuesday night to strike a compromise after learning that some ultrasounds could be more invasive than first thought...." ...

     ... Update: "The Virginia House of Delegates voted Wednesday afternoon to amend a proposed bill on ultrasounds before abortions to say that no woman will have to undergo an internal ultrasound involuntarily. The revised bill says that only an external ultrasound will be required to satisfy the requirements to determine gestational age. And Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R), the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, said she will ask that the bill to be striken. The action came the same day that Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) reversed course and said he was asking the General Assembly to amend the proposed bill."

New York Times: "Protests against the burning by NATO personnel of an undisclosed number of Korans spilled into a second day on Wednesday and seemed poised to widen as the American Embassy here suspended all travel by its staff, and NATO soldiers in the capital appeared to be restricting their movements, keeping military vehicles off the streets."

AP: "Fitch ratings agency says it has downgraded Greece further into junk status, from 'CCC' to 'C' following the announcement of the details of the country's debt swap deal with private creditors. The agency said Wednesday the downgrade indicated 'that default is highly likely in the near term.'"

New York Times: "Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia resigned on Wednesday amid growing speculation that he and his backers in Parliament were seeking to topple Prime Minister Julia Gillard and regain for him the country’s leadership role."

Reuters: "Salvage workers have found four more bodies in the submerged Costa Concordia cruise liner, bringing the confirmed number of dead to 21 on the ship that ran aground and capsized off the Italian coast last month, authorities said on Wednesday."


Worse than the Dark Ages

CW: This post began as a comment, but I wanted to give it greater prominence. Many thanks to author Akhilleus for reminding us that churchmen once were leaders in scientific inquiry in stark contrast to the Santorums & Gingrich's who would take us back to primitive explanations for natural phenomena. 

Bishop Robert Grosseteste. 1168-1253.The antipathy towards science and truth regarding the natural world on shocking display in the warped funhouse mirror that is the Republican Presidential primary campaign represents a new low in the right’s never-ending search for more and more insidious ways to grab onto power with every sucker on each of its slimy tentacles.

The Rick Santorum quotes about the environment offer a chance to consider how far we've come -- and how low we've sunk.

The contemporary hatred and distrust of science by the religious right and right-wingers in general has not always had this kind of power, even in the Dark Ages during which the pursuit of scientific knowledge was highly regarded among many religious teachers, scholars, and leaders. Robert Grossteste, an English bishop and master of theology, wrote extensively on optics, mathematics, astronomy, and even composed a treatise explaining the scientific basis for tidal activity (Bill O’Reilly’s mental capacity has yet to rise to the level of a guy who was writing on parchment paper in the 13th century).

The rise of methods of investigating the natural world and which prompted several scientific revolutions was supported and, largely, created by medieval churchmen like Grossteste, Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, Henry of Ghent, William of Ockham, and one of the big guns in Church history, Thomas Aquinas hisself.

Aquinas, at least according to my reading of his work, would kick the intelligent design people down the stairs. They just don't fit in with his understanding of the workings of the natural world. This isn’t to compare Aquinas with Einstein as a pure scientist, but it is a recognition that for these scholars, science and religion could live together. In fact, many of them went toe to toe with the less enlightened clerics of their day. They didn’t always win, but in some cases (Roger Bacon) they were even supported by the pope (Clement IV, I believe).

These guys laid the groundwork for what became the empirical method eventually taken up by beacons of enlightened thought such as John Locke and David Hume, neither of whom were buddies of reactionary religious troglodytes.

So why the regression? Why is today’s religious right and their political enablers and supporters like Santorum and Gingrich even more benighted, more backward than ignorant, uneducated pissants who lived nearly a thousand years ago? Why do today’s religiously (un)informed right-wingers scream bloody murder at the very mention of climate change, stem cell research, natural selection, and a myriad other scientific topics when many of these same fields of study were avidly pursued by prominent members of the Church centuries ago with an eye toward increasing, rather than diminishing, humanity’s knowledge and understanding of the natural world?

The best guess is power and control. Empowering ignorance is a useful way to to stave off the sovereignty of truth. Holding up science as a straw-man/boogieman enables the right to distract the masses from the real problems facing them, problems often directly caused by right-wing policies. The religion vs. science screamfest is a handy smokescreen for the right as they attempt to divert scrutiny away from their actual plan of taking control of the country away from anyone who is not of their tribe and handing it to the wealthy, the oligarchs, and those whose motives are firmly grounded in their book of rules, the right-wing quarto of money, power, war, and control.

There’ve been a number of pieces written recently pointing out the strategic problems of this scheme. First, by elevating the ignorant, they have inadvertently ceded a certain amount of power and now the ringmasters are the ones having to jump through hoops of fire and stumble around the big top after tumbling out of their primary season clown car. The masses, fired up with the fury of imbecility, hatred, and ignorance, now want their show trials in which their enemies (science, truth, rationality) are hung in effigy, if not in reality. And what the rest of the country is left with is the very real possibility of an uninformed, willfully ignorant, hate-spewing birdbrain like Rick Santorum, as President of the United States.

It’s one thing when hypocrisy and rank desire for power cause you to foul your own house with the stinking sluice of sluggish stupefaction and feeble-minded ineptitude, but when you drench the rest of the country with this effluence, you deserve nothing less than perdition and infamy.

And demanding that schoolchildren learn magical thinking in place of scientific truth is more than a step backwards. It’s a descent into insignificance and complete collapse.

But that's the Way of the Right: If we can't be in charge, we'll burn it all down.

Any better reason to go out and vote against these monsters?

-- Akhilleus


The Commentariat -- February 21, 2012

** Reed Abelson of the New York Times: "Financially stronger Catholic-sponsored medical centers are increasingly joining with smaller secular hospitals, in some cases limiting access to treatments like contraception, abortion and sterilization.... Local and state officials, doctors and advocates in many communities are concerned that some procedures that run counter to Catholic doctrine may no longer be available or will be much more limited. Some doctors fear they may not be able to do what’s best for patients,"

Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times: "Even as government officials prepare to unveil new standards this week for how banks treat millions of Americans facing foreclosure, housing advocates and homeowners are skeptical the rules will be able to do something past efforts have not: provide a beleaguered borrower with one individual to help them navigate the mortgage maze." CW: one more nail in the coffin of Joe Nocera's cheerleading the settlement agreement.

Rod Norland & David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times: "The Egyptian prosecution’s summary of the case against at least 16 Americans and others from five democracy and human rights groups focuses largely on the testimony of their accusers, with evidence primarily limited to proof that their organizations used American and other foreign funds for payrolls and rent."

Matt Yglesias of Slate finds another use for a liberal arts education: it teaches students to read and write, skills that are necessary in most high-level jobs. AND "It's a fallacy to think that in an increasingly technology-performed society that technical skills will be the only sources of value.... Mastering a specific body of facts is not nearly as useful in 2012 as it was in 1962."

Here's an example of how Rachel Maddow is a one-woman public service (okay, she has help):

CW: yesterday I promised to link to some responses to Bill Keller's column dismissing WikiLeaks and Julian Assange:

     ... Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake does a terrific job of unpacking & refuting Keller's claims. "The Times is a gate-keeping media organization. They see their role in society as one that involves deciding what the public needs to know and not know. WikiLeaks questions this process, which most media engage in. WikiLeaks makes it difficult for the news organization by exposing how the organization covers certain stories and ignores other stories." ...

     ... Chris Spannos of the New York Times eXaminer has another excellent critique, including "presponses" from Assange. ...

     ... Samir Chopra: Over at the New York Times, Bill Keller, who has been doing his best to make sure it will be hard to take him for a serious  journalist, writes a piece–- bursting to the seams with snark –- on Wikileaks. Keller..., whose trafficking in superficiality has been embarrassingly on display for all too long on the NYT’s Op-Ed’s pages, simply cannot be bothered with seriously engaging with the issues that Wikileaks raised." ...

     ... Greg Mitchell of The Nation contributes his own take & adds a few others. ...

     ... Jack Goldsmith, former Bush II Office of Legal Counsel director: "Keller is right that the Wikileaks phenomenon was overblown.... But it does not follow that the government is more secretive than ever.... The government ... is losing the war against leaks. The size of the secrecy bureaucracy makes secrets harder than ever to keep. So too do modern information technologies.... The government ... has a harder time than ever keeping important secrets related to national security." ...

     ... Hamilton Nolan of Gawker: "Bill Keller eagerly reminds you that he still hates Julian Assange.... If you’re going to launch a crusade against something, at least make it something worthwhile."

ABC News has a breakdown of what the presidential campaigns & SuperPACs, including President Obama's, raised & spent in January.

"Barack Obama, the Greatest Gun Salesman in America." Joshua Green of Business Week: "Despite the fact that Obama hasn’t made the slightest feint toward regulating guns, firearms enthusiasts have whipped themselves into a paranoid frenzy, convinced that this is all just part of some elaborate conspiracy."

Right Wing World

Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches translates Santorum code. Meanwhile, Santorum's spokesperson Alice Stewart accuses President Obama of "radical Islamic policies," but she says she really meant "radical environmentalist poilices." (Post includes video.) Posner notes that, like "radical secular," both "radical Islamic" & "radical environmentalist" are anti-Christian, so it's no wonder Stewart mixed them up:

Santorum ... admitted to [Bob] Schieffer [of CBS News] that he believes humans are biblically commanded to take dominion over the earth, and that environmentalism is in conflict with that mandate.... In Michigan today, Santorum is rehashing this speech claiming that 'climate science' is actually 'political science.' Translation: there is no science, there is only God. Any attempt at science is necessarily political, and therefore illegitimate if in conflict with a 'Christian worldview.' ...

... In this post, Harold Posner points to a November 2011 article by Ben Adler of The Nation on Rick Santorum's opposition to an array of government programs that help the disabled. CW: here's why am I highlighting Adler's post now: Santorum opposes amneocentesis coverage for pregnant women because positive results for fetal anomalies often lead women to choose abortion. So Santorum wants these women to carry disabled fetuses to term, give birth, and then have no help in caring for them. The guy is a monster. ...

... Trip Gabriel of the New York Times: "Visiting coal country, Rick Santorum repeated criticisms of President Obama‘s pro-environmental 'theology' and women’s health mandates...." ...

... ** Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post: Santorum dogwhistles to a crowd President Obama is just like Hitler whom "the Greatest Generation" ignored because Americans are an optimistic people who were saying Hitler was a "nice guy." And now Americans are saying the same thing about Obama. Read the whole citation. It's chilling. ...

... Rick Santorum, International Diplomat. BuzzFeed: Santorum enrages the Dutch with his fact-free claim that the Low Country is so low it euthanizes its seniors against their will.

NEW. Excellent catch by Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: Mitt Romney's tortured position on the auto bailouts centers around his claim that private interests should have funded a "managed bankruptcy." BUT "both [Chrysler & GM] needed billions of dollars in financing, money that auto executives and government officials who were involved with Mr. Obama’s auto task force say ... no private companies would come to the industry’s aid, and the only path through bankruptcy would have been Chapter 7 liquidation, not the more orderly Chapter 11 reorganization, these people said. In fact, the [Obama] task force asked Bain Capital, the private equity company that Mr. Romney helped found, if it was interested in investing in General Motors’ European operations.... Bain declined.... Mr. Romney’s Republican allies in Michigan are seeking to shift attention to other topics."

... Steve Benen: "Romney would have voters believe he used his expertise as a businessman to get the Olympics back on track. What actually happened, however, was that Romney hired a team of lobbyists -- from five separate D.C. lobbying firms -- to get Congress to give him a lot of money.... This wasn't about corporate know-how or the skills of turnaround artist; this was a straightforward process involving Romney, lobbyists, and a truckload of taxpayer money." ...

Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times: "A “super PAC” supporting Mitt Romney blew through $14 million on a three-state advertising binge against his Republican rivals in January, according to campaign reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday. But the super PAC, Restore Our Future, also raised close to $7 million during the same month, and began February with more than $16 million in the bank, money that has helped pound Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum...."

Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune: "Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has a commanding lead among Republican presidential candidates in Texas, according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Santorum would get the votes of 45 percent of the respondents if the election were held today, according to the survey.... Gingrich got 18 percent, Romney received 16 percent and Paul garnered 14 percent."

Steve Kornacki of Salon on why a white knight (and in the GOP the knight would be whitey-white) will not save the GOP from its Not-Romney, should Not-Romney a/k/a Santorum, win the overall state delegates vote.

CW: Hmm. I guess I'll limit my use of PayPal now that I know its billionaire founder is Peter Thiel, an anti-government loon & big Ron Paul backer.

T. W. Farnam of the Washington Post: "Four years ago, just 6 percent of campaign advertising in the GOP primaries amounted to attacks on other Republicans; in this election, that figure has shot up to more than 50 percent, according to an analysis of advertising trends. And the negative ads are not just more frequent — they also appear to be more vitriolic."

Local News

CW: I can't resist linking to this lovely profile by Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald of my very own Congressman, Connie Mack (R), who is running for the U.S. Senate. Yes, Connie Mack, public fiscal hawk/private deadbeat, absentee rep & bar brawler.

BUT my Wingnut of the Week is Indiana State Rep. Bob Morris (R-Fort Wayne), who wrote a long letter to his fellow statehouse Republicans, warning them of the "abundant evidence proves that the agenda of Planned Parenthood includes sexualizing young girls through the Girl Scouts, which is quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood." Also, the Scouts "promote homosexual lifestyles." And, "Of the fifty role models listed, only three have a briefly-mentioned religious background – all the rest are feminists, lesbians, or Communists." Morris has pulled his daughters out of this feminist, lesbian, Communist cabal. ...

... AP: "Morris is the only House member to refuse to sign a resolution honoring the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts that lawmakers approved last week."

News Ledes

Minneapolis Star Tribune: A Minnesota judicial panel on Tuesday released new political district lines that place U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann, a Republican, and Betty McCollum, a Democrat, into the same congressional district, according to Bachmann's office. Bachmann said that she will run for her old 6th District seat even though newly drawn congressional maps put her home in the 4th District, currently represented by McCollum.... Members of Congress don't have to live in the district they represent, so Bachmann is free to run wherever she likes in Minnesota. She said she has not yet decided if she will move her home into the new district.... In a fundraising email, she accused the court of 'liberal bias.'" Yes, Mrs. Bachmann, it's a liberal conspiracy.

AP: "It came and went in a flash each time, a number on a board for mere seconds, but its symbolic power couldn't be dismissed. The Dow Jones industrial average, powered higher all year by optimism that the economic recovery is finally for real, crossed 13,000 on Tuesday for the first time since May 2008."

New York Times: "The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a major case on affirmative action in higher education, adding another potential blockbuster to a docket already studded with them. The court’s decision in the new case holds the potential to undo an accommodation reached in the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger: that public colleges and universities could not use a point system to boost minority enrollment but could take race into account in vaguer way to ensure academic diversity."

Politico: "The Supreme Court on Tuesday allotted an extra 30 minutes to oral arguments on the health care reform law, giving another half an hour to the debate over whether a federal tax law should prevent a ruling this year. The decision bumps up the total argument time to six hours over three days in late March."

New York Times: "Greece finally secured its second giant bailout early Tuesday after euro zone finance ministers agreed to save it from bankruptcy in exchange for severe austerity measures and strict conditions."

New York Times: "In a rare move for an Arab state where popular dissent worked to unseat a dictator, Yemenis went to polling stations on Tuesday to vote out President Ali Abdullah Saleh."

New York Times: "As tension grew in its nuclear dispute with the West, Iran was reported on Tuesday to have struck an increasingly bellicose tone, warning that it would take pre-emptive action against perceived foes if it felt its national interests were threatened."

Reuters: "Syrian government forces killed at least 16 people and wounded some 340 on Tuesday when they unleashed a heavy artillery barrage on a rebel-held district of the city of Homs, activists said. The bombardment rained down as International Committee of the Red Cross officials tried to negotiate a halt to the fighting to allow them to bring aid to civilians suffering in horrendous conditions after 18 days of attacks on Homs."

Washington Post: "Deeply angered over the improper disposal of copies of the Koran by U.S. troops, thousands of Afghans on Tuesday tried to storm the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan. The protests erupted early in the morning, after Afghans working inside the Bagram air base reported to local residents that a number of copies of the Koran had been burned."

Reuters: "Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was taken in for questioning on Tuesday by police investigating an alleged prostitution ring run out of the northern French city of Lille."