The Wires

The Ledes

Sunday, May 2, 2016.

Guardian: "A freight train derailed close to Washington DC early Sunday and is leaking hazardous material and causing disruption in the area of the capital. More than 10 cars are understood to have left the tracks, a small portion of the long, 175-car southbound train. No injuries have been reported." -- CW

Public Service Announcement

New York Times: "Taking a stance sharply at odds with most American public health officials, a major British medical organization urged smokers to switch to electronic cigarettes, saying they are the best hope in generations for people addicted to tobacco cigarettes to quit. The recommendation, laid out in a report published Thursday by the Royal College of Physicians, summarizes the growing body of science on e-cigarettes and finds that their benefits far outweigh the potential harms." -- CW

Washington Post: "More than a third of advanced-melanoma patients who received one of the new immunotherapy drugs in an early trial are alive five years after starting treatment -- double the survival rate typical of the disease, according to a new study."

Zoe Schlanger of Newsweek: "If you are eating fast food, you're probably also eating phthalates,... a class of chemicals that have been linked to everything from ADHD to breast cancer, ...[which] are common in food packaging, drink containers, the tubing used to transport dairy and the equipment used to process fast food." --LT

 

Washington Post's Reliable Source: At an "afterparty hosted by MSNBC following the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner [Saturday, May 1]..., a scuffle broke out between Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters and Ryan Grim, the Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief.... The two flailed around a bit, upending a table and bumping into several people. 'Punches were definitely thrown,' said one witness. Before any damage was done, several bystanders, including Sean Spicer, communications director at the Republican National Committee, separated the two."

New York Times: "... a nearly 47,000-word journalistic series [by Walt Whitman] called 'Manly Health and Training,' were lost for more than 150 years, buried in an obscure newspaper that survived only in a handful of libraries. The series was uncovered last summer by a graduate student, who came across a fleeting reference to it in a digitized newspaper database and then tracked down the full text on microfilm.Now, Whitman’s self-help-guide-meets-democratic-manifesto is being published online in its entirety by a scholarly journal, in what some experts are calling the biggest new Whitman discovery in decades."

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

This is for safari:

... Via the New Yorker.

Washington Post: "Late last week, Comcast announced a new program that allows makers of smart TVs and other Internet-based video services to have full access to your cable programming without the need for a set-top box.  Instead, the content will flow directly to the third-party device as an app, including all the channels and program guide. The Xfinity TV Partner Program will initially be offered on new smart TVs from Samsung, as well as Roku streaming boxes.  But the program, built on open Internet-based standards including HTML5, is now open to other device manufacturers to adopt. As video services move from hardware to software, the future of the traditional set-top box looks increasingly grim. With this announcement, Comcast customers may soon eliminate the need for an extra device, potentially saving hundreds of dollars in fees."

BBC: "Dame Judi Dench and David Tennant have joined other stars at a gala marking 400 years since Shakespeare's death. Saturday's Shakespeare Live show in the playwright's birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon included play scene performances, dance and music." Then this:

New York Times: "The Pulitzers are in their centennial year, and the winners announced by Columbia University reflected in part the changes sweeping the media landscape." Here's the full list of the prize winners, via the New York Times.

CW: The AP produced this video in January 2015, but I just came across it:

New York Times: "James Levine, who transformed the Metropolitan Opera during four decades as its music director but has suffered from poor health in recent years, will step down from his post after this season to become music director emeritus, the company announced Thursday."

Politico: "Gabriel Snyder, editor in chief of The New Republic for the past 17 months, is leaving the magazine in the wake of its sale to Win McCormack.... The masthead change marks the first big move since McCormack, a publisher, Democratic booster and editor in chief of a literary journal called Tin House, bought TNR from Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes in February after Hughes was unsuccessful at turning around the money-losing magazine’s business during his four years of stewardship."

The Great Octopus Escape. Guardian: "An octopus has made a brazen escape from the national aquarium in New Zealand by breaking out of its tank, slithering down a 50-metre drainpipe and disappearing into the sea. In scenes reminiscent of Finding Nemo, Inky – a common New Zealand octopus – made his dash for freedom after the lid of his tank was accidentally left slightly ajar. Staff believe that in the middle of the night, while the aquarium was deserted, Inky clambered to the top of his glass enclosure, down the side of the tank and travelled across the floor of the aquarium."

... Charles Pierce: "One of the best biographies I've ever read was Scott Berg's brilliant, National Book Award-winning account of the life of Maxwell Perkins, the editor at Scribner's who was responsible for bringing out the best work in Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner, and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.... I'm going to be first in line to see [the film "Genius."] OK, so there won't be a line, but I'll be there nonetheless."

Michael Cavna of the Washington Post on the artistry in the film "All the President's Men."The real Woodward & Bernstein weigh in.

"You think old people are weirdos but then you understand that they don't see you and they can't hear you." Reuters: "The Genworth Aging Experience is a traveling show created by Genworth Financial Inc., an insurance company, in partnership with Applied Minds, a design and engineering company, that allows museum visitors to feel first-hand the effects of aging...[with the goal of building] empathy and awareness of the challenges elderly people face in everyday situations." -- LT note: this world could always use a little more empathy.

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Saturday
Oct262013

The Commentariat -- Oct. 27, 2013

CW: There are a handful of stories out there like this one by Mike Dorning of Bloomberg News: "The rocky debut of the insurance exchanges at the heart of President Barack Obama’s health-care law poses risks to his political agenda and the activist role for government that he has championed for his second term."

When a small group of folks in Congress shuts down our government to try to shut down Obamacare, and we watch as our President stands strong, that's not just some political fight in Washington -- it is a battle about our most fundamental values and aspirations. -- Michelle Obama, speaking at the Women's Leadership Forum Conference in Washington, D.C.

... AND speaking of the First Lady, it seems she is totally responsible for the Healthcare.gov debacle because a former BLACK classmate of hers is a top executive at CGI, one of the companies that is responsible for coding the troubled Website & that, ah, gave more to Congressional Republicans -- Darrell Issa -- than to Democrats & whose executives gave twice as much to Mitt Romney as to Barack Obama. Steve M. of NMMNB seems less than impressed with the Daily Caller's big "scoop." Also, the CGI exec Michelle Obama may or may not know is still BLACK. ...

... A Tax the GOP Loves. Stephen Ohlemacher of the AP: "GOP senators balked when Democrats proposed delaying a new temporary fee on everyone covered by health insurance. So employers, insurance companies and other health plan sponsors are in line to pay $63 a person next year for everyone who has coverage.... The temporary fee on people with health insurance is designed to raise $25 billion over the next three years. The money will provide a cushion for insurers from the initial hard-to-predict costs of covering previously uninsured people with medical problems.... GOP senators complained the delay was basically a favor for labor unions...."

Darlene Superville of the AP: "The Obama administration is stressing that information submitted while signing up for coverage under the new health care law will not be used to enforce immigration law. That's always been the practice, but lingering fear among some immigrants that personal details could be used against them led the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to clarify."

Teabaggers Say the Darnest Things

There was absolutely no reason, whatsoever, for this administration to block access to the World War Two Memorial or the Lincoln Memorial. It's never ever been done in a government shutdown prior to this administration doing so. -- Rep. Paul Broun (RTP-Ga.), running for U.S. Senate *

* The Lincoln Memorial was closed in the last government shutdown (1995). The WWII was completed in 2004, 9 years after the last shutdown. Thanks to Barbarossa for the link.

GOP Tea Party Push-Back

Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "As he seeks a third term in the U.S. Senate, Lamar Alexander [R-Tenn.] is doing something few other incumbent Republicans have tried recently: Instead of running scared of the tea party, he's running hard against it.... Independent analysts and strategists in both parties think Alexander has a good chance of winning his primary against a low-profile state representative.... [Rather than following the usual GOP playbook of running away from his conservative votes,] he has mounted a vigorous defense of recent votes in which he joined with Democrats to approve a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws and a farm bill that spends billions on food aid for poor people and some cash payments for farmers and farming conglomerates...." ...

... Peter Wallsten of the Washington Post: "A Republican congressman from a heavily Hispanic district is breaking ranks from his party to join Democrats in an eleventh-hour push for a broad immigration overhaul before the end of the year. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) plans to sign on as the lone GOP member with 185 Democrats to co-sponsor a plan that would give millions of unauthorized immigrants the chance to attain citizenship."

Kim Barker of ProPublica, in Salon: "Two dark money groups linked to conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have paid a record $1 million in fines to California to settle allegations that the combined $15 million they spent on two ballot proposals in the state was not properly disclosed. The civil settlement, announced Thursday afternoon in Sacramento, caps a year of investigation into the activities of the two Arizona groups, Americans for Responsible Leadership and the Center to Protect Patient Rights."

... Judge Posner Regrets. Jealous's speech brings to mind this excellent piece by law professor Fran Quigley on Indiana's voter ID law, declared constitutional by the U.S. Seventh Circuit & upheld by the Supreme Court. Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the opinion in 2007 now says he was wrong. But Quigley says, rightly, that Posner is weaseling. Also weaseling, Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the decision to uphold the law & now says he was right then but wrong now (tricky!). Quigley makes the point, articulated in the Seventh Circuits dissent by Judge Terence Evans & in the Supreme Court dissent (begins on pdf page 31) of Justice David Souter, that "the right to vote is so fundamental that a new voting restriction should not be approved unless the government can show it is necessary to serve important governmental interests." Instead the courts placed the burden of proof on the ACLU to show harm, which, BTW, they did, as Souter recounts. This summary by Jesse Wegman of the New York Times is good, too. Also, here's Paul Smith of the American Constitution Society on the Posner weasel.

Alina Selyukh & Greg Savoy of Reuters: "Protesters marched on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday to protest the U.S. government's online surveillance programs, whose vast scope was revealed this year by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.... Estimates varied on the size of the march, with organizers saying more than 2,000 attended. U.S. Capitol Police said they do not typically provide estimates on the size of demonstrations." ...

Angela's Secrets. AFP: "US President Barack Obama was personally informed of mobile phone tapping against German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which may have begun as early as 2002, German media reported Sunday. Bild am Sonntag newspaper quoted US intelligence sources as saying that National Security Agency chief Keith Alexander had briefed Obama on the operation against Merkel in 2010.... The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported Saturday that Obama had told Merkel during their call that he had been unaware of any spying against her. It did not cite its sources." ...

... Gregor Schmitz of Der Speigel on Merkel's "delicate dance" re: U.S. spying on her & on other allies. ...

... Bryan McManus of AFP: "German spy chiefs will travel to the United States next week to demand answers following allegations that US intelligence has been tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone, as a row over US snooping threatened to hurt transatlantic ties."

Mark Landler of the New York Times: President Obama & National Security Advisor Susan Rice set a more modest U.S. agenda for dealing with the Middle East. "The president's goal, said Ms. Rice, who discussed the review for the first time in an interview last week, is to avoid having events in the Middle East swallow his foreign policy agenda, as it had those of presidents before him."

Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times: The pending $13 billion settlement between JPMorganChase & federal agencies "is a refresher course in how far-off the rails our largest financial institutions veered in the years leading up to the mess. It also stands as a reminder that not enough has been done to fix the flawed incentives in our sprawling and powerful financial system. This applies to both the private sector -- the mighty banks -- and their supposed minders, the regulators." ...

CW: Morgenson's "refresher course" & "lessons learned" are quite general. Matt Taibbi, on the other hand, tells it like it is. A very good read. ...

... Doing God's Work. Susan Craig of the New York Times: Goldman Sachs is "polishing its reputation" with charitable projects. ...

... Steven Perlstein of the Washington Post introduces Marty Sullivan, corporate tax policy wonk.

Steve Benen has the religious hits of the week in his post "This Week in God." ...

... AND there's this from Kerry Eleveld in Salon: "Evangelicals ... are fast becoming the fringe of the GOP, based on recently released research from focus groups conducted by Stan Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert for Democracy Corps.... Both moderate and Tea Party Republicans view the Evangelical agenda as a total distraction."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Syria submitted a formal declaration of its chemical weapons program and plans for destroying its arsenal three days ahead of the deadline, the international chemical weapons watchdog said on Sunday."

New York Times: "Lou Reed, the singer-songwriter and guitarist whose work with the Velvet Underground in the 1960s had an impact on generations of rock musicians, and who remained a powerful if polarizing force for the rest of his life, died on Sunday at his home in Southampton, N.Y., on Long Island. He was 71." Reed's Rolling Stone obituary is here. An "American Masters" program on Reed is here.

Mystery Barge. CNET: "Something big and mysterious is rising from a floating barge at the end of Treasure Island, a former Navy base in the middle of San Francisco Bay.... It's unclear what's inside the structure, which stands about four stories high and was made with a series of modern cargo containers.... Google did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But ... it's all but certain that Google is the entity that is building the massive structure that's in plain sight, but behind tight security." ...

     ... UPDATE. From the Oct. 23 Portland, Maine Press Herald: another Mystery Barge, this one in the Portland, Maine harbor, also speculated to be a Google site. Apparently Portland is not the barge's final destination. Thanks to Janice K. for the link. ...

AFP: "An Afghan soldier shot and injured two NATO coalition troops before being killed in a dispute at a flagship officer-training academy near Kabul that only opened a week ago, officials said Sunday. NATO officials confirmed the shooting at the British-run Afghan National Army Officer Academy, which has been set up to produce a new generation of professional military leaders as the Afghan army takes on the Taliban."

Reuters: "Iran has not halted its most sensitive uranium enrichment work, a senior Iranian parliamentarian said, contradicting a statement by another lawmaker last week."

AFP: " Social Democrats edged out a new populist party to win Czech elections on Saturday as voters angered by years of right-wing graft and austerity veered left, full results showed. However, the fragmented outcome of the two-day ballot leaves few options for a stable majority government, analysts warned, and the parties will have to embark upon coalition talks."

AFP: "Georgia voted in a presidential poll Sunday with a loyalist of billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili favourite to replace his larger-than-life nemesis Mikheil Saakashvili at the helm of the ex-Soviet state. The vote heralds the end of pro-Western Saakashvili's second and last term and a year of his painful political cohabitation with bete noire Ivanishvili, who has promised to also step down in the coming weeks." ...

     ... New York Times UPDATE: "Georgian voters chose a new president on Sunday, but with billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili planning to step down shortly in favor of an unnamed successor, it remained unclear who would hold the prime minister's post, now the most powerful political office in the country. In balloting to replace President Mikheil Saakashvili, who catapulted to fame as leader of the peaceful Rose Revolution in 2003, Mr. Ivanishvili's handpicked candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili, a former deputy prime minister and education minister, was headed to a decisive victory, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls commissioned by the country's two main television stations."

Friday
Oct252013

The Commentariat -- Oct. 26, 2013

The President's Weekly Address:

... Sandhya Somashekhar & Lena Sun of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration said Friday it will take until the end of November for the new federal health insurance Web site to be fully fixed, and that a private contracting firm would be managing the effort. Jeffrey Zients, the consultant brought in by the Obama administration this week to assess the problems plaguing the online health insurance marketplace, said in a conference call that his team had discovered dozens of problems but the site is 'fixable.'" ...

... Jonathan Chait: "... So basically the possibilities are:

1) They know what they're doing.

2) They have fooled themselves into thinking they know what they're doing, but don't....

3) A large meteor will destroy the world on or before November 30." ...

... Robert Pear & Sharon LaFraniere of the New York Times: "The Obama administration said Friday that it would fix problems in the federal health insurance marketplace by Nov. 30, just two weeks before the deadline to sign up for coverage to replace health insurance policies being canceled because they do not meet new federal standards.... Such a condensed time frame raises the question of how hundreds of thousands of people whose current policies do not comply with the health law will obtain new coverage in time, and how millions who may qualify for subsidies will enroll. Some experts predicted a groundswell of demands from Congress and elsewhere to delay the deadlines." ...

... Gail Collins on the Healthcare.gov rollout. ...

... Digging the Hole Deeper. Jake Sherman of Politico: "The House Republican with direct oversight of Obamacare hinted that the GOP might, once again, vote to delay a critical component of the health care law. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) hinted Friday that the House might vote to delay the sign-up date for Obamacare. The current enrollment period lasts through March." ...

... Please Don't Question My Talking Points. Igor Volsky of Think Progress: "On Friday morning, CNN anchor Carol Costello challenged Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to substantiate her claim that HealthCare.gov will endanger Americans' medical privacy. The host pushed the Congresswoman to specify which medical details enrollees would have to turn over to the federal government, causing Blackburn to become visibly uncomfortable and unsure as she strung together various buzzwords about privacy... [Blackburn] suggested that they were in violation of The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the law that guarantees 'federal protections for individually identifiable health information.' ... Deven McGraw, of the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology..., said, 'It does not violate HIPAA -- it's not even covered by HIPAA.'” With video. ...

... What's amazing about Blackburn's false claims is that she made them after the "monkey court" speech during Thursday's hearing by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NY), who helped write the ACA. Pallone completely destroyed the GOP talking point:

... Brian Beutler: "Because Obamacare makes preexisting conditions discrimination is a thing of the past, it effectively eliminates one of the most invasive aspects of applying for health insurance, and the risks the process once posed to your health information privacy. First-timers won't appreciate it, but for all of Healthcare.gov's problems, anyone who's ever applied for insurance on the individual market prior to Obamacare will marvel at its simplicity. It eliminates the most time-consuming, and often degrading, part of the process altogether." ...

... Steve Benen: "Republicans find themselves adrift with an unhelpful floatation device. They're not only attacking a health care law that's far more popular than they are, they're also relying heavily on a problem with a finite end." ...

     ... CW: The underlying problem is the Republican two-point agenda, which is their entire party platform: (a) Lower taxes on rich people & corporations (see Alan Pyke's piece below); (b) Oppose every government program that doesn't benefit military contractors. ...

... Scott Lemieux in Lawyers, Guns & Money: "I'm still amazed at the number of people who seem to think that we could have had a much better version of the ACA if it wasn't for [Harry] Reid's weak leadership. The correct answer, as seems even more obvious in retrospect, is that it's remarkable that Reid was able to get Bayh, Nelson, Lieberman, Landrieu et al. to vote for anything."

We're not sure we can chew gum, let alone walk and chew gum, so let's just chew gum for a while. -- Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), on why the House can't vote for immigration reform

... Eric Lipton & Ashley Parker of the New York Times: "With immigration re-emerging as the topic of focus in Washington, an unusual coalition of business executives, Republican Party activists and evangelical leaders will descend on Capitol Hill early next week to pressure House Republicans to pass their own legislation.... The debate threatens to create another schism in the Republican Party and to further alienate a major source of campaign contributions; several corporate executives interviewed this week said they were considering withholding donations from lawmakers who get in the way." ...

... Anna Palmer & Jake Sherman of Politico: "House Republican leadership has no plans to vote on any immigration reform legislation before the end the year. The House has just 19 days in session before the end of 2013, and there are a number of reasons why immigration reform is stalled this year.... Leadership also says skepticism of President Barack Obama within the House Republican Conference is at a high, and that's fueled a desire to stay out of a negotiating process with the Senate. Republicans fear getting jammed.... Other prominent immigration supporters like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have also backed off any deal, saying the Obama administration has 'undermined' negotiations by not defunding his signature health care law. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) went further, saying Obama is trying to 'destroy the Republican Party' and that GOP leaders would be 'crazy' to enter into talks with Obama." CW Translation: We can't vote for immigration reform because Obama won't defund ObamaCare. Also, he's mean. ...

... Ed Kilgore: "Hey, and those are the Republicans supporting immigration reform, including the senator most associated with the Senate bill that reform advocates are asking the House to take up. Just wait until the nativists weigh in."

Charles Blow has a good piece on the rich getting richer & the poor getting poorer -- as Congress prepares to cut food stamps. CW: What this should tell you is that the GOP is winning. ...

... Joshua Green of Bloomberg News: "Gene Sperling, director of the White House's National Economic Council, "dwelt at length -- and with some passion -- on the need for more stimulus, though he avoided using that dreaded word. He seemed to hint at a budget deal that would trade near-term 'investment' (the preferred euphemism for 'stimulus') for long-term entitlement reform. That would be an important shift and one that would certainly upset many Democrats." Green updates his piece with an update from White House spokesperson Amy Brundage: “Gene was reiterating what our position has been all along: that any big budget deal is going to have to include significant revenues if Republicans insist on entitlement reforms." CW: Gene Sperling can't leave soon enough for me. Another Stupid White House Trick -- making the needy pay forever for boosting the general economy today. The only upside I can see is that Democrats could some day change the "forever" part, while Republicans couldn't get back the stimulus they allowed now. This assumes that Republicans slink into oblivion. That can't happen soon enough, either. ...

... Paul Krugman on raising the Medicare eligibility age (see also yesterday's Commentariat): "... CBO has redone its analysis, and finds that raising the Medicare age would barely reduce federal spending.... Will people stop talking about raising the Medicare age? My prediction is that they won't -- because it wasn't really about saving money in the first place. Degrading the safety net and pushing people into more expensive private insurance weren't bugs, they were features. The usual suspects, I predict, will just keep pushing for the same thing, and dismiss the evidence."

Ted Cruz Pretends He's Not Getting a Big Tax Break. Dave Jamieson of the Huffington Post: "... a Cruz spokeswoman told the Times that the senator's Goldman [health insurance] plan 'comes at no cost to the taxpayer.' As with any family on employer-sponsored coverage, Heidi Nelson Cruz's health insurance essentially functions as untaxed income. Rather than pay her an additional $20,000 in salary, Goldman compensates her just as much through her health plan, which the Cruz family won't have to pay taxes on. Assuming the Cruz family falls into the highest tax bracket -- generally a safe assumption for a Goldman managing director -- ... the $20,000 Goldman plan amounts to about $8,000 in taxes that the general public won't see."

Leaders of the Two Major Political Parties Keynote Dueling Fundraisers

One of the things we accomplished in the fight over Obamacare is we elevated the national debate over what a disaster, what a train wreck, how much Obamacare is hurting millions of Americans across this country. -- Ted Cruz, at a Republican fundraiser in Des Moines, Iowa

... Thomas Beaumont & Catherine Lucey of the AP: " Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says this month's partial government shutdown and his key role in it were a success: They got people talking."

The shutdown was about more than just health care. It was about a contrast of visions, about what our obligations are to each other as fellow citizens. And we've got the better side of that argument. -- President Obama, Friday, at a fundraiser for House Democrats in New York City

... Josh Lederman of the AP: President "Obama launched a six-week burst of fundraising for Democrats with a pair of top-dollar events in New York. He told donors that the impasse, at its core, was 'a symptom of a larger challenge,' exposing how American politics, with its intense focus on ideology, have become detached from the problems ordinary Americans face." ...


... "At the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, President Obama says that we must finish building a new foundation for shared and lasting prosperity so that everybody who works hard has a chance to get ahead." -- White House:

Another Tea Party Senator Screws Wall Street. Steve Leisman of CNBC: "Sen. Rand Paul is threatening to put a hold on the nomination of Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve, a source close to the Kentucky Republican said Friday. Paul is insisting on a vote on his Fed transparency bill, and has informed Senate leadership of his intentions, the source said.... Paul intends to formally put the hold in place next week, once the Senate is back in session, the source added. Markets gave back some of their earlier gains on the report. [Emphasis added.] The senator's bill would mandate a complete audit of the Federal Reserve."

Ben Protess & Peter Eavis of the New York Times: The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which "helped forge a tentative $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase, split off with its own deal on Friday, extracting a $4 billion payout from the nation's biggest bank.... That $4 billion was initially seen as a crucial element of the preliminary $13 billion settlement that JPMorgan reached last week.... The settlement with the housing regulator would help JPMorgan put one of its costliest cases behind it."

Alan Pyke of Think Progress: "Among companies listed on the S&P 500, almost one in nine paid an effective tax rate of zero percent - or even lower - over the past year, according to an analysis by USA Today."

If It's Bad (or Might Be Bad), Obama Did It. Jennifer Hlad of Stars & Stripes: "The story is sweeping the Internet: President Barack Obama is trying to emasculate male Marines by making them wear a girly cover with their famed dress uniforms. The only problem? It's not true.... 'The president in no way, shape or form directed the Marine Corps to change our uniform cover,' according to [a] Marine Corps statement. 'We are looking for a new cover for our female Marines for one overriding reason: The former manufacturer went out of business.... The Marine Corps has zero intention of changing the male cover.'" CW: Here's a typical story from one of the usual suspects -- the Washington Examiner: "Marines are decrying a new look President Obama has planned for their uniforms -- namely, a unisex-style cap that they say looks more French than American, more 'girly' than hard-charging." Don't wait around for a retraction & apology.

The Evolution of Wingers

I didn't vote for him, but he's my president and I hope he does a good job. -- John Wayne, 1960, on the election of John Kennedy

I hope he fails. -- Rush Limbaugh, 2009, on the election of Barack Obama

... CW: You might be interested in the article from which I took this citation: Chris Mooney interviews psychologist Jonathan Haidt about "the science of Tea Party wrath." I happen to think Haidt's theories run to ivory-tower naive, but some people like his stuff. If you read the piece, try to apply Haidt's theory to Don Yelton. That will at least help you understand why I think Haidt is full of mush. ...

... Tim Molloy of the Wrap: "Don Yelton, the North Carolina Republican who lost a county precinct chairman position after deriding 'lazy blacks' on 'The Daily Show,' isn't exactly backing down. Reached by TheWrap for comment on the situation, he used the N-word, said his county party was out to get him because of old grievances, and stood by his comment that 'lazy blacks' shouldn't decide elections. He said lazy college students and lazy whites shouldn't, either.... Yelton said Republicans had lost an opportunity to use his statements as proof that they are open to all views." CW: Oh, Don, the GOP is open to your views; you have to use code words, the way Newt does. ...

... Shopping While Black. Dareh Gregorian of the New York Daily News: "Robert Brown, star of the HBO show 'Treme,' says he was 'paraded' through Macy's Herald Square in handcuffs and detained for an hour after an employee called the cops on him, suspecting the credit card he used to make a purchase wasn't legit."

News Ledes

Reuters: "Marcia Wallace, the star of 'The Bob Newhart Show' and "'The Simpsons,' died Friday at the age of 70 from complications related to breast cancer...."

Thursday
Oct242013

The Commentariat -- Oct. 25, 2013

If you give a bully a dollar today, they ask for a dollar and a half tomorrow. It has taken a while for all my caucus to come to that understanding. And quite frankly, the president, wonderful man that he is, he doesn't like confrontation and he likes to work things out with people. I was too lenient. Don't blame it all on him. -- Harry Reid, on 2011 & 2012 negotiations with GOP bullies

Erik Wasson of the Hill: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) "ruled out the possibility that a budget conference committee convening next week will reach a 'grand bargain' that would cut entitlements, raise taxes and reduce spending. 'We are not going to have a grand bargain in the near future,' he said. Instead, he suggested negotiators should focus on a replacement for sequestration and forget 'happy talk' about a grand bargain." As contributor James S. says, "Bravo (and amazing). Maybe now the White House will wake up."

Robert Pear of the New York Times: " Federal officials did not fully test the online health insurance marketplace until two weeks before it opened to the public on Oct. 1, contractors told Congress on Thursday.... Lawmakers from both parties expressed anger during the hearing at the performance of contractors hired to build the online health insurance marketplace...." The Washington Post story is here. BTW, Joe Barton & Tim Murphy, whom we quoted yesterday as being completely unperturbed by the flawed rollout of the Bush administration's Medicare expansion, are cited in the articles as being highly critical of the ACA Website. Barton, typically, invents a supposed flaw in the ACA site which is totally false. ...

... Brian Beutler of Salon: "The GOP plan ... is to use Healthcare.gov's problems as a pretext for undermining the entire law, even in states where people are signing up by the thousands. And the goal now is to obscure the enormous differences between the two in order to fuse an attack on Obamacare with a post hoc effort to slither away from responsibility for the shutdown.... Republicans ... could have put the [Healthcare.gov] issue to real political use. Instead they're resorting to the same kind of outrageous, self-discrediting overreach that has defined every chapter of their campaign against Obamacare." ...

... Dana Milbank: "Fresh from a shutdown and almost a default over Obamacare, House Republicans' new legislative strategy is to investigate Obamacare. Is it any wonder this Congress, and congressional Republicans in particular, is held in such low public esteem?" ...

... Via Greg Sargent.

... Alex Rogers of Time: "Families USA has received a $1 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which it will use to collect and distribute to the media personal stories of those who have benefited from the new health insurance exchange rolled out by the Obama Administration October 1."

Sahil Kapur of TPM: "Raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 saves far less than previously projected, a revelation that makes the policy far less attractive in upcoming deficit reduction negotiations in Congress." CW: I'm so surprised. Paul Krugman said this years ago. Moreover, it isn't "savings" if the cost is passed on to the elderly -- AND at a premium --- individuals don't have the clout to negotiate healthcare costs the way Medicare does. In addition, raising the age would cause some 65-year-olds to put off treatment, thus becoming sicker & needing more care. Raising the Medicare eligibility age was always a stupid idea.

James Ball of the Guardian: "National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department, according to a classified document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The confidential memo reveals that the NSA encourages senior officials in its 'customer' departments, such the White House, State and the Pentagon, to share their 'Rolodexes' so the agency can add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems." ...

... Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "U.S. officials are alerting some foreign intelligence services that documents detailing their secret cooperation with the United States have been obtained by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, according to government officials. Snowden, U.S. officials said, took tens of thousands of documents, some of which contain sensitive material about collection programs against adversaries such as Iran, Russia and China. Some refer to operations that in some cases involve countries not publicly allied with the United States." ...

Thanks to contributor JJG for his brilliant observation. (See today's Comments.)... James Kanter of the New York Times: " The leaders of Germany and France offered on Friday to hold talks with the United States in an effort come up with mutually acceptable rules for surveillance operations, easing a trans-Atlantic spying dispute that has plunged relations between America and Europe to a low point." CW: Yes, spy rules should work. ...

... Peter Beinert of the Daily Beast: "In a world where other countries have more power relative to the U.S., it's increasingly dangerous to believe we can do things to them we would never tolerate them doing to us. Many decades ago, the man sometimes called Obama's 'favorite theologian' argued that the 'pride and self-righteousness of powerful nations are a greater hazard to their success than the machinations of their foes.' It would be nice if Obama remembered that, if even if Fox News won't." ...

... Brendan Sasso of the Hill: "... Edward Snowden on Thursday disputed Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) claim that the government's phone record collection program is not 'surveillance.' 'Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA's hands,' Snowden said in a statement Thursday. 'Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They're wrong.'" ...

... Here's the Advocate profile of Glenn Greenwald by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, which contributor Diane linked yesterday. Diane described Greenwald as "emotionally immature." As I read, I felt as if I was peeking at the private thoughts of a precociously well-spoken but otherwise average teenager.

Spies on a Train. Eric Schmitt of the New York Times: While traveling on the Acela, Tom Matzzie, a former Washington director of MoveOn.org, overheard former NSA Director Michael Hayden talking to reporters on background. So Mattzie tweeted it in real time. The tweets are here. CW: Matzzie claims in the tweets that Hayden made disparaging remarks about the Obama administration, but since he never gives specifics, his tweets are pretty useless. ...

... Charles Pierce made something of Hayden's insistence -- as tweeted by Matzzie -- that he be IDed as "a former senior administration official," not to mention Hayden's monumental indiscretion.

Paul Krugman beats up on the usual suspects -- Simpson, Bowles & Greenspan -- & leaves them bloody pulps on the side of the road: "... the next time you see some serious-looking man in a suit declaring that we're teetering on the precipice of fiscal doom, don't be afraid. He and his friends have been wrong about everything so far, and they literally have no idea what they're talking about." Avoid the urge to be a good Samaritan. ...

... Shaun Tandon of AFP: "Secretary of State John Kerry warned Thursday that the greatest risk to the United States was its own dysfunction as he pleaded for no repeat of a government shutdown. Kerry said that the two-week paralysis triggered by lawmakers of the rival Republican Party had set back vital government functions and also cut into the credibility of the United States." ...

... Mario Trujillo of the Hill: "Hillary Clinton on Thursday night blamed lawmakers who govern by ideology for sending the country careening from crisis to crisis.... Specifically alluding to the government shutdown, Clinton derided the consequences when lawmakers use 'scorched earth' tactics and operate in an 'evidence-free zone.'" ...

... Think these are just Democratic talking points? Here's Ben White of Politico -- yes, Politico: "The latest round of fiscal drama has sputtered to a temporary close, but the routine crises have one clear victim: the U.S. economy, which is once again losing altitude. And for the third year in a row, Washington gets much of the blame." CW: Okay, White throws in the shoddy Healthcare.gov rollout & NSA spying to, you know, "balance" his piece, but the "balance" is not very convincing, especially on the Website issue.

Ben Terris of the National Journal profiles Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), focusing on her "evolution" from Blue Dog to sorta liberal.

A Festering Wound. I missed this report by Jane Mayer last week, but it's worth a read, as it concerns the CIA's continued defense of its Bush-era torture policies. ...

... Juan Cole sees a larger problem: "How corrupt our system has become is evident when even the New Yorker emphasizes that a secret Senate report found that torture in the Bush years was 'unnecessary' and 'ineffective.' Not that it was 'unconstitutional.'"

What Is Pete Sessions' Problem with President Obama?

You can say that I endorse Mitt Romney, but that's not just because I'm a white man. We all have things which we're for and ideas which we support. -- Pete Sessions, 2012

I know of not one Republican candidate that would not appear publicly with Mitt Romney and I know many Democrats that don't even want to be in the same city -- forget the same stage -- with President Obama. -- Pete Sessions, 2012

I cannot even stand to look at you. -- Pete Sessions, to President Obama, 2013

Do your own translations. It's easy! -- Constant Weader

Local News

Brett Logiurato of Business Insider: "A North Carolina county precinct GOP chair [Don Yelton] resigned on Thursday after an offensive interview that aired on 'The Daily Show' Wednesday, in which he said 'lazy black people' want 'the government to give them everything.'" Here's the segment. Aasif Mandvi is awesome:

... CW: I have finally figured out the difference between ObamaCare & RomneyCare. The percentage of blacks in Massachusetts, based on the 2010 census, is 7.9 percent. The percentage of blacks in the U.S. is 13.1 percent. The percentage of whites in Massachusetts is 83.7; in the U.S. it's 77.9. Moreover, the median income of blacks in Massachusetts is significantly higher than of blacks in the U.S., so fewer black Massachusetts residents need assistance in paying for health insurance. The rage against ObamaCare is rage against black people. Romney could have just said so during the campaign instead of going with those vague &/or nonsensical attempts to explain why RomneyCare = good & ObamaCare = bad. I guess the people who know the code figured out the real difference. I'm kinda slow.

News Ledes

Reuters: "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday recommended tighter restrictions on products that contain hydrocodone, an opioid painkiller present in commonly prescribed potentially addictive drugs such as Vicodin."

Reuters: "In reviewing Fukushima working conditions, Reuters interviewed more than 80 workers, employers and officials involved in the unprecedented nuclear clean-up. A common complaint: the project's dependence on a sprawling and little scrutinized network of subcontractors - many of them inexperienced with nuclear work and some of them, police say, have ties to organized crime. Tepco sits atop a pyramid of subcontractors that can run to seven or more layers and includes construction giants such as Kajima Corp and Obayashi Corp in the first tier. The embattled utility remains in charge of the work to dismantle the damaged Fukushima reactors, a government-subsidized job expected to take 30 years or more."

Wednesday
Oct232013

The Commentariat -- Oct. 24, 2013

This is a huge undertaking and there are going to be glitches. My goal is the same as yours: Get rid of the glitches. -- Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas)

No matter what one does in life, when it is something new in learning the ropes of it, it is going to take a little adjustment. -- Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.)

See, Republicans can be patient & reasonable about healthcare reform, even partisan dopes like Joe Barton. Uh, when they're talking about the Bush administration's very shaky rollout of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. -- Constant Weader

Sandhya Somashekhar, et al., of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration said Wednesday night that it will give Americans who buy health insurance through new online marketplaces an extra six weeks to obtain coverage before they risk a penalty. The announcement means that those who buy coverage through the exchange will have until March 31 to sign up for a plan.... Administration officials said the new deadline is unrelated to the many technical problems that the marketplace's Web site, HealthCare.gov, has had in its first three weeks of operation. Instead, they said, the change is designed to clear up confusion about when people would face a penalty under the 2010 health-care law." ...

... ** Topher Spiro and Jonathan Gruber of the Center for American Progress: "The Affordable Care Act is already working: Intense price competition among health plans in the marketplaces for individuals has lowered premiums below projected levels. As a result of these lower premiums, the federal government will save about $190 billion over the next 10 years, according to our estimates. These savings will boost the health law's amount of deficit reduction by 174 percent and represent about 40 percent of the health care savings proposed by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform -- commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles commission -- in 2010. Moreover, we estimate that lower premiums will lower the number of uninsured even further, by an additional 700,000 people, even as the number of individuals who receive tax credits will decline because insurance is more affordable. In short, the Affordable Care Act is working even better than expected, producing more coverage for much less money." CW: Investigate that, GOP. ...

     ... David Atkins of Hullabaloo: "... there is an entire political party and pundit class out there that professes to believe that deficits are the scariest thing ever, and we need to do something about them right now. They also happen to be the same people who are the most opposed to the Affordable Care Act. How does that work, exactly? It works because most of the deficit fetishists never actually cared about the deficit, per se. The deficit is just a symbol to them of a moral laxitude about a culture of dependency that can only be fixed by slashing social spending and forcing people to pull themselves up by the bootstraps." ...

... Reed Abelson, et al., of the New York Times: "While competition [among health insurers] is intense in many populous regions, rural areas and small towns have far fewer carriers offering plans in the law's online exchanges. Those places, many of them poor, are being asked to choose from some of the highest-priced plans in the 34 states where the federal government is running the health insurance marketplace...."

... Frank Newport of Gallup: "Despite the highly publicized technical issues that have plagued the government's health insurance exchange website that went live on Oct. 1, Americans' views of the Affordable Care Act are slightly more positive now than they were in August. Forty-five percent now approve of the law, while 50% disapprove, for a net approval score of -5. In June and August, net approval was slightly lower, at -8." ...

... Josh Lederman of the AP: "Frustrated Democrats lamented Wednesday that persistent problems with new health care exchanges have inflicted damage on the public's perception of the already unpopular 'Obamacare' — with some lawmakers insisting President Barack Obama should ensure those responsible lose their jobs. Emerging from a closed-door briefing with health officials from the Obama administration, House Democrats appeared to have at least as many questions as answers about how and when the beleaguered website will be fixed. Although they resolved not to let setbacks with one aspect of the health law outshine the parts that are working, they griped that the shoddy website had given Republicans an opening to do just that." ...

... Ana Marie Cox of the Guardian: "ObamaCare is not President Obama's 'Iraq War.'" ...

Jennifer Steinhauer & Robert Pear of the New York Times: "Emboldened by the intense public criticism surrounding the rollout of the online insurance exchange, Republicans in Congress are refocusing their efforts from denying funds for the health care law to investigating it." ...

... Robert Pear: "Contractors that built President Obama's health insurance marketplace point fingers at one another and at the government, but each insists that it is not responsible for the problems that infuriated millions of Americans trying to buy insurance on the Web site, according to testimony prepared for a Congressional hearing on Thursday." ...

... ** SNAFU. Michael Scherer of Time: "The basic architecture of the site, built by federal contractors overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, was flawed in design, poorly tested and ultimately not functional." ...

... Norm Ornstein in the National Journal: "... the failures in vision and execution, in the face of clear and blunt warnings of problems ahead, are striking and troubling.... The stark internal warnings from tech experts of deep-seated problems in the programs came months ago and went unheeded.... I view the problem in a broader way. It is the larger failure of public administration that has been endemic in the Obama White House, and is probably the president's most significant weakness." ...

... This Too Shall Pass. (Whereas a Legislative Delay in the Individual Mandate Should Not.) Jonathan Chait: The Democratic freakout over the Healthcare.gov debacle is an overreaction. "... a legislative delay in the individual mandate can do plenty of harm and no potential good. It's a pure political maneuver by vulnerable Democrats to insulate themselves from an unpopular national story." ...

... From the Strange Twists Department. Ben Jacobs of the Daily Beast: "... the movement [to oust Kathleen Sebelius] was sparked by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) who called on the former Kansas governor to resign on October 11 -- just three days after Milton Wolf, a second cousin of Obama's, announced a primary challenge to Roberts as a Tea Party candidate. What was so surprising and news-making about Roberts’s demand for the secretary's scalp is that the two have what the senator once called 'a special relationship.' Roberts got his start in politics working for Sebelius's father-in-law, Keith Sebelius, who was a six-term Republican congressman from western Kansas. When Keith Sebelius retired from the House, Roberts succeeded him."

The Cruz Obstruct-&-Bully Machine Never Sputters. New York Times Editors: "Senator Ted Cruz ... has a new target for his obstructionism: the Federal Communications Commission. Last week, Mr. Cruz blocked the Senate from considering the nomination of Tom Wheeler to lead the commission -- a candidate who leaders from both parties had agreed would be put up for a vote without delay.... Mr. Cruz knows that Congress will not repeal federal laws granting the F.C.C. power to require disclosure, so he is trying to bully Mr. Wheeler into agreeing not to exercise the agency's authority.... Neither [Cruz] nor supporters of Republican candidates and conservative causes want disclosure of spending on commercials by groups like Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the billionaire Koch brothers." CW: Ah, Ted heard his masters' voice. ...

... Ashley Parker of the New York Times, MoDo's protegee, profiles Heidi Cruz.

Tal Kopan of Politico: "The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Dick Durbin, said in a Facebook post that a House Republican leader told off President Barack Obama during a negotiation meeting, and that GOP leaders are so disrespectful it's practically impossible to have a conversation with them. But Wednesday afternoon, both the White House and House speaker's office denied his claims. In a "negotiation" meeting with the president, one GOP House Leader told the president: "I cannot even stand to look at you,"' Durbin wrote in a post on his Facebook page over the weekend."

Illustration by the Daily Beast."RINO Hunting Season." David Freedlander of the Daily Beast: "... before Republicans can defend their majority, they first must stave off a slew of primary challengers who are targeting incumbent members of Congress. The new spate of primaries mostly target those Republicans who failed to toe the Tea Party line during the recent budget standoff.... On the day the government shutdown began, J.D. Winteregg, a high school French teacher and founder of a group called The Ohio Accountability Project, announced a primary run against [Speaker John] Boehner." Via Driftglass, who notes, "Gathering the ignorant, paranoid, hateful dregs of society into one political party and then giving them real power has some downsides." ...

... ** Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast: "It's not 'moderates' vs. 'conservatives.' The two opposing Republican sides, if they really are opposing, are 'radical' and 'conservative.' And only one side is fighting. The other is rolling over.... The only really important votes on which these two sides disagree are the votes that threaten fiscal calamity. So that's all the conservatives stand for. Elect me, and at five minutes 'til midnight, I'll stand courageously against global economic cataclysm!"

Ben Protess & Jessica Silver-Greenberg of the New York Times: "Federal authorities are preparing to take action in a criminal investigation of JPMorgan Chase, suspecting that the bank turned a blind eye to Bernard L. Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The Madoff case, coming on the heels of a tentative $13 billion settlement over JPMorgan's mortgage practices, poses another major threat to the reputation of the nation's largest bank." CW: Yup, Jamie Dimon is a "savvy businessman," Mr. President.

Dan Frosch of the New York Times: "... a Tesoro Logistics pipeline had ruptured, spreading more than 865,000 gallons of oil across seven acres of [Steven] Jensen's farm [near Tioga, North Dakota]. The spill is one of the largest inland oil pipeline accidents in the United States. State officials ... said the oil posed no immediate environmental risk. Fortunately, they said, the accident occurred in a remote area, away from water and homes. But the rupture has raised fresh concerns about the ability of pipeline companies to detect problems before it is too late. Such fears have been heightened as the Obama administration nears a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry a type of Canadian crude to American refineries on the Gulf Coast that is especially difficult to clean if spilled."

Alison Smale of the New York Times: "The diplomatic fallout from the documents harvested by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden intensified on Wednesday, with one of the United States' closest allies, Germany, announcing that its leader had angrily called President Obama seeking reassurance that her cellphone was not the target of an American intelligence tap. Washington hastily pledged that Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of Europe's most powerful economy, was not the target of current surveillance and would not be in the future, while conspicuously saying nothing about the past. After a similar furor with France, the call was the second time in 48 hours that the president found himself on the phone with a close European ally to argue that the unceasing revelations of invasive American intelligence gathering should not undermine decades of hard-won trans-Atlantic trust."

Greg Miller & Bob Woodward of the Washington Post: "Despite repeatedly denouncing the CIA's drone campaign, top officials in Pakistan's government have for years secretly endorsed the program and routinely received classified briefings on strikes and casualty counts, according to top-secret CIA documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos obtained by The Washington Post."

David Ignatius of the Washington Post praises James Clapper for integrating the intelligence agencies & cajoling the NSA into being a teensy-weensy bit for transparent. CW: I have no idea if any of this is true, but it's interesting to me, mostly because I've had a hard time figuring out where the Director of National Intelligence fit into the org chart. Apparently, so has everybody else, including previous DNIs.

David Nakamura, et al., of the Washington Post: "... the lengths to which White House officials went to find [tweeter Jofi] Joseph reveal how much of an embarrassment his Twitter feed had become inside the West Wing and across the street at the stately Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where Joseph worked alongside his NSC colleagues while secretly skewering them online."

Local News

Excuse Me for Voting. Aviva Shen of Think Progress: "A Texas district judge who has been voting for the past five decades was almost barred from the polls Tuesday, thanks to the state's newly implemented, stricter voter ID law. The law kicked in on Tuesday as early voting in Texas' November 5 election began. As she told local channel Kiii News, 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts was flagged for possible voter fraud because her driver's license lists her maiden name as her middle name, while her voter registration form has her real middle name. This was the first time she has ever had a problem voting in 49 years.... Watts worried that women who use maiden names or hyphenated names may be surprised at the polls." CW: What a perfect law! Not only does it discriminate against minorities, the poor & college students, it also discriminates against women. Just about every group that leans Democratic. Why not flat-out revert to "first principles" & allow only white, propertied men to vote? It appears the real fraud these laws are targeting is all that emancipating and franchising that's been going on since the days of our beloved Founders. Minorities, the poor, young people & women have corrupted the system envisioned by the Founding Fathers. ...

... Steve M. of NMMNB: "If they can't fix the technical problems of voter ID, shouldn't it be defunded? Shouldn't the legislature shut down the government, if necessary, to make sure that happens? At the very least, shouldn't implementation be suspended and all mandates and penalties be delayed?"