White House: "In this week's address, President Obama says 2014 will be a year of action, and called on both parties to help make this a breakthrough year for the United States by bringing back more good jobs and expanding opportunities for the middle class":
The President's Speech Outrages Pundits
Glenn Greenwald: "Obama is draping the banner of change over the NSA status quo. Bulk surveillance that caused such outrage will remain in place.... Obama never hid the real purpose of this process. It is, he and his officials repeatedly acknowledged, 'to restore public confidence' in the NSA. In other words, the goal isn't to truly reform the agency; it is deceive people into believing it has been so that they no longer fear it or are angry about it."
Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "Barack Obama's rhetoric in his big surveillance speech on Friday was pleasing to privacy advocates. But the substance of his proposals for the future of mass data collection amount to a gift for the National Security Agency."
Anthony Romero of the ACLU: "... the president's decision not to end bulk collection and retention of all Americans' data remains highly troubling.... The president should end -- not mend -- the government's collection and retention of all law-abiding Americans' data. When the government collects and stores every American's phone call data, it is engaging in a textbook example of an 'unreasonable search' that violates the Constitution. The president's own review panel recommended that bulk data collection be ended, and the president should accept that recommendation in its entirety."
Charles Pierce: "This is not balance. This is the government, in the person of this president, telling you what you have to give up in order to be safe. (As near as I can tell, the NSA is not being asked to stop doing much of anything, and the president's Bush-standard apocalyptics doesn't give me a lot of faith in whatever oversight he says he's put in place.)"
Mike Masnick of TechDirt: "... he is ordering changes that go slightly beyond the expectations his own staffers leaked earlier this week ... but stopping way short of actually fixing the problems. And, even with his changes, he leaves many of the details to Congress and the DOJ to sort out for themselves, which is not particularly encouraging, considering how both have acted for decades when it comes to surveillance."
The New York Times Editors produce a string of criticisms, the least of which is Obama's failure to blow a big kiss to Edward Snowden.
... On the Other Hand ...
Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker: "Obama has sided with his fiercest critics on two of the most important reforms that have been demanded since Snowden's first revelations: the N.S.A. should no longer collect this data and the spy agency should generally be required to have court approval when it wants to search Americans' phone records."
John Cassidy of the New Yorker has a pretty balanced assessment: "Politically, the White House's strategy is not lacking in cunning. As the President knows all too well, many senior Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, including the heads of the intelligence committees, don't think any big changes are necessary. In asking for their coöperation and putting them in the firing line, he is clearly hoping to defuse some of the criticisms that he has faced."
That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. -- Authorization for the Use of Military Force
... Gregory Johnson in BuzzFeed: "Written in the frenzied, emotional days after 9/11, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force was intended to give President Bush the ability to retaliate against whoever orchestrated the attacks. But more than 12 years later, this sentence remains the primary legal justification for nearly every covert operation around the world. Here's how it came to be, and what it's since come to mean." CW: Charles Pierce calls Johnson's article required reading. It's long.
Justin Sink of the Hill: "President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion omnibus bill Friday night at the White House before a small gathering that included his budget team. In a small auditorium across the street from the West Wing, Obama penned his name on the 1,500-page legislation, which piled nearly a foot off the ground."
... Gail Collins comments on the bill.
Jonathan Chait: "... now that Republicans have discovered, nearly four years after the passage of the law, that Obamacare has a provision that they can spin as a 'bailout,' it has whipped the party into a frothy mix of genuine outrage and hand-rubbing opportunism, with repentant immigration reformer Marco Rubio leading the charge with a bill in Congress to repeal the 'Obamacare bailout.' There is no Obamacare bailout.... Of course, the 'Obamacare bailout' bill is ... an election-year message bill designed to let Republicans use the words 'Obamacare' and 'bailout' consecutively, and Republican Party advisers ... see it as their job to provide intellectual cover for useful messaging strategies, however demagogic. This is also another sign of the slow thematic turn of Obamacare opponents from arguing that the law is collapsing to arguing that it is surviving only as a result of devious scheming. 'Obamacare is collapsing' is a battle they will have to surrender eventually. 'Obamacare is a scandal' is a fight they can keep waging in the right-wing jungles for decades to come."
Erik Eckholm of the New York Times: "A federal judge on Friday declared unconstitutional the state's ultrasound requirement for women seeking abortions, saying it violated the First Amendment by requiring doctors to display a fetal image and describe it even to women who covered their eyes and ears." CW: The judge, Catherine Eagles, is an Obama appointee.
AP: "A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a judge's ruling granting a taxpayer-funded sex change operation for a transgender inmate serving a life sentence for a murder conviction, saying receiving medically necessary treatment is a constitutional right that must be protected 'even if that treatment strikes some as odd or unorthodox.'"
BTW, David Brooks is upset that "suddenly the whole world is talking about income inequality" because "it introduces a class conflict element to this discussion." CW: Brooks' argument mirrors Mitt Romney's 2012 dictum that income inequality should be discussed only in "quiet rooms."
Erica Goode of the New York Times: "... at a time when the drugs once routinely used in executions are in short supply and states are scrambling to find new formulas, the execution [of Dennis McGuire] is stirring intense debate about the obligations of the state toward those it kills.... [McGuire's children] plan to file a federal lawsuit next week alleging that the execution violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment."
Elizabeth Harris, et al., of the New York Times: "Entering through a digital gateway, [Eastern European hackers] discovered that Target's systems were astonishingly open -- lacking the virtual walls and motion detectors found in secure networks like many banks'. Without those safeguards, the thieves moved swiftly into the company's computer servers containing Target's customer data and to the crown jewel: the in-store systems where consumers swipe their credit and debit cards and enter their PINs."
Matt Volz of the AP: "A former Montana judge who was being investigated for forwarding a racist email involving President Barack Obama sent hundreds of other inappropriate messages from his federal email account, according to the findings of a judicial review panel released Friday. Former U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull sent emails to personal and professional contacts that showed disdain for blacks, Indians, Hispanics, women, certain religious faiths and some with inappropriate jokes about sexual orientation, the Judicial Council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found." CW: Cebull is a Bush II appointee. Read the whole story.
AP: "Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests in just two years, for molesting children.... The statistics for 2011 and 2012 show a dramatic increase over the 171 priests removed in 2008 and 2009, when the Vatican first provided details on the number of priests who have been defrocked."
Certainly a vague concern about voter fraud does not rise to a level that justifies the burdens here. Therefore this court does not find in-person voter fraud a compelling interest the voter ID law was designed to serve. -- Judge Bernard McGinley
** Rick Lyman of the New York Times: "In a strongly worded decision, a Pennsylvania state judge on Friday struck down Pennsylvania's 2012 law requiring voters to produce a state-approved photo ID at the polls, setting up a potential Supreme Court confrontation that could have implications for other such laws across the country. The judge, Bernard L. McGinley of Commonwealth Court, ruled that the law hampered the ability of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians to cast their ballots, falling most heavily on elderly, disabled and low-income residents, and that the state's reasons for the law -- that it was needed to combat voter fraud -- was unsupported by the facts." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, by Karen Langley, is here. ...
... Rick Hasan comments on the decision.
Michael Wines of the New York Times: "Freedom Industries, the West Virginia company whose chemical spill last week tainted the drinking water of more than 300,000 residents in and around Charleston, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday." The Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette story, by Kate White & David Gutman, is here. ...
... Joshua Holland of Bill Moyers & Co.: "Asked about the spill of thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into a West Virginia river ... Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters that he is 'entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the books to protect the health and safety of the American people.' ... The facility hasn't been inspected since 1991 because, unlike other states, West Virginia requires it only of chemical manufacturers and emitters, not storage facilities.... It's becoming clear that it's also a tale of how shady businesses can prosper in an environment where regulatory capture by an industry is so deeply entrenched. Even the history of Freedom Industries is murky. It was co-founded in 1992 by Carl Kennedy and Gary Southern -- who during a Friday press conference sipped bottled water and told reporters that he'd had a really trying day.... Carl Kennedy's history reads like that of a character in an Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen novel." ...
... CW: Earlier reports that Speaker Boehner received campaign contributions from a Freedom Industries principal now appear to be erroneous.
New Yorker: "John Cassidy and Hendrik Hertzberg join host Dorothy Wickenden on this week's Political Scene podcast to discuss the New Jersey governor's political future":
John Reitmeyer of the Bergen Record: New Jersey "Assembly Democrats confirmed Friday the names of 18 people who have been served with subpoenas, including Port Authority Chairman David Samson and Governor Christie's incoming chief of staff Regina Egea, as the legislative investigation into the September lane closures at the George Washington Bridge continues. The Assembly committee that formed and met on Thursday also subpoenaed the governor's office itself for documents, as well as Christie for Governor, Inc., Christie 2013 campaign organization, according to a spokesman for the Assembly Democrats." ...
... Shawn Boburg of the Record: "The Port Authority is raising concerns that the law firm chosen to represent the Christie administration amid several investigations into the George Washington Bridge scandal has a conflict of interest. The firm is representing the Port Authority in a lawsuit lodged by the motorist group AAA over the agency's controversial toll hikes in 2011. Christie jointly steers the Port Authority.... The interests of the Port Authority and the Christie administration in both the toll hike lawsuit and the George Washington Bridge probes could diverge, presenting potential complications if the same law firm is representing both simultaneously, some within the Port Authority believe."
Presidential Election 2016
McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed: "In interviews with more than a dozen party officials, fundraisers, and strategists in New York and Washington over the past 10 days, Republicans described a palpable sense of anxiety gripping the GOP establishment in the wake of Christie's meltdown, and an emerging consensus that the once promising cast of candidates they were counting on to save the GOP from the tea party -- and the nation from Hillary Clinton -- is looking less formidable by the week." ...
... Ken Vogel of Politico: Romney backers are loving Bridgegate. "The sniping is not insignificant. Christie is not well-liked among tea party activists and leaders, where he is seen as a big-government moderate. So, in order to build a coalition that could give him a chance at the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, he'll most likely need strong support from Republican establishment types, like those who formed the core of Romney's formidable operation."
Washington Post: "Security firm IntelCrawler said Friday that it has identified a Russian teenager as the author of the malware probably used in the cyberattacks against Target and Neiman Marcus, and that it expects more retailers to acknowledge that their systems were breached. In a report posted online, the Sherman Oaks, Calif., company said the author of the malware used in the attacks has sold more than 60 versions of the software to cybercriminals in Eastern Europe and other countries."
Guardian: "Two Britons and two Americans were among at least 21 people killed when a suicide bomber and gunmen attacked one of Kabul's most popular restaurants. The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and three other staff of the UN were also killed in the attack on Friday evening, along with the Lebanese restaurant owner, several Afghanis, and two Canadians."