The Wires

The Ledes

Monday, September 26, 2016.

New York Times: "Arnold Palmer, the champion golfer whose full-bore style of play, thrilling tournament victories and magnetic personality inspired an American golf boom, attracted a following known as Arnie’s Army and made him one of the most popular athletes in the world, died on Sunday, according to a spokesman for his business enterprises. Palmer was 87." -- CW 

Miami Herald: "Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández, who fled Cuba on a speedboat eight years ago to become one of baseball’s dominant players and a hometown hero to fans well beyond the stadium walls, died early Sunday in a violent boat crash off South Beach. He was 24. Two friends were also killed in the accident, which remains under investigation and led Major League Baseball to promptly cancel Sunday’s home game against the Atlanta Braves." -- CW 

Read more here:

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post: (August 2): "Federal health authorities on Monday urged pregnant women not to visit a South Florida neighborhood where new cases of the Zika virus have emerged, the first time officials have warned against travel to part of the continental United States due to the outbreak of an infectious disease.” -- CW

New York Times: "The veteran television personality Jane Pauley will replace Charles Osgood as the anchor of the highly rated CBS show 'Sunday Morning.' Mr. Osgood, who is retiring, announced the news on his last show on Sunday. Ms. Pauley’s first day in the role will be Oct. 9, and she will become only the third anchor of the show, which started in 1979." -- CW 

New York Times: "Modern humans evolved in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago. But how did our species go on to populate the rest of the globe?.... In a series of extraordinary genetic analyses published on Wednesday, researchers believe they have found an answer. In the journal Nature, three separate teams of geneticists survey DNA collected from cultures around the globe, many for the first time, and conclude that all non-Africans today trace their ancestry to a single population emerging from Africa between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago.... All non-Africans are closely related to one another, geneticists found, and they all branch from a family tree rooted in Africa.... There are also clues that at least some modern humans may have departed Africa well before 50,000 years ago, perhaps part of an earlier wave of migration." -- CW ...

... CW Note to White Racists: You, too, are black. It's way past time to give up your quest for "racial purity"; it's genetically impossible. This, BTW, is something non-ignoramuses have known for a couple of decades. No wonder you hate science.


The Los Angeles Times has extensive coverage of the Emmy Awards here.

The video below will most likely be taken down for copyright infringement, so watch it while you can. It's pretty funny. Here's a WashPo report on Jeb!'s cameo on the opening bit for the Emmy Awards. Also, ABC may put up a video of it here, but they have nothing at all up on the awards ceremony as of 8:30 am ET, Monday, Sept. 19.

Chris Welch of the Verge: "Twitter is about to make a big change to the way that tweets work.... Beginning September 19th, the company will cut down on exactly which types of content count toward the platform's 140-character limit. Media attachments (images, GIFs, videos, polls, etc.) and quoted tweets will no longer reduce the count. The extra room for text will give users more flexibility in composing their messages."

You'll want to supersize this one:


Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, unsuccessful in his bid to become Donald Trump's running mate, has reimagined himself as a celebrity, instead. He'll appear this season on "Dancing with the 'Stars,'" competing against other fabulous celebrities like Ryan Lochte, unless Lochte is unavoidably detained in a Brazilian jail. (Here's a link to Perry's veepstakes proffer. Of course Trump ultimately rejected Perry, but promised to make him head of some agency or department Perry probably can't remember.) CW: As always, we concentrate on the serious, important news because politics ain't funny.

...Washington Post: Charles Osgood, who is 83 years old, announced Sunday, August 28, that he was retiring as host of the long-running CBS show "Sunday Morning." "He will stay on through Sept. 25. Osgood has been the face of the weekly program since 1994, when he took it over from its first host, Charles Kuralt." -- CW 

... Guardian: "The search for life outside our solar system has been brought to our cosmic doorstep with the discovery of an apparently rocky planet orbiting the nearest star to our sun. Thought to be at least 1.3 times the mass of the Earth, the planet lies within the so-called 'habitable zone' of the star Proxima Centauri, meaning that liquid water could potentially exist on the newly discovered world." -- CW 

Guardian: "A fisherman in the Philippines has kept what might be the largest natural pearl ever found hidden in his home for more than 10 years. The enormous pearl is 30cm wide (1ft), 67cm long (2.2ft) and weighs 34kg (75lb). If it is confirmed to have formed within a giant clam, as has been reported, it would likely be valued in excess of US$100m." CW: Looks like there will be a fight on this: when he moved house, the fisherman entrusted it to his aunt for safekeeping. "With his permission, she offered the pearl to the mayor, Lucilo R Bayon, to serve as new tourist attraction of city." -- CW 

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The Commentariat -- March 21, 2014

BBC News: "EU leaders have signed an agreement on closer relations with Ukraine, in a show of support following Russia's annexation of Crimea. The EU signed the deal hours after announcing further targeted sanctions. Pro-Moscow leader Viktor Yanukovych's abandonment of the deal in November had led to deadly protests, his removal and Russia taking over Crimea." ...

... Mark Landler of the New York Times: "President Obama on Thursday announced that he would expand sanctions against Russia, blacklisting wealthy individuals with ties to the government and a bank used by them, and opening the door to broader measures against Russian energy exports.The measures deliver on Mr. Obama's warning this week that the United States would ratchet up the costs for Russia if President Vladimir V. Putin moved to annex the breakaway province of Crimea. But they were aimed at forestalling further Russian incursions into eastern Ukraine.... In a tit-for-tat response, Moscow banned nine American officials from entering Russia, including Speaker John A. Boehner, the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, Senator John McCain of Arizona, as well as three senior White House officials":

... Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "The Pentagon says it has received assurances that Russian forces will not push further into Ukraine, despite Moscow massing thousands of troops on the border in what it describes as a military exercise. US defense secretary Chuck Hagel spoke for an hour on Thursday with his counterpart, Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu, in what was described as an occasionally blunt phone call." ...

... Phil Stewart & David Alexander of Reuters: "The Pentagon said on Thursday it was focusing for now on Ukrainian requests for non-lethal support, as opposed to any weaponry, as a senior U.S. official said Washington wanted to avoid further militarizing the standoff with Russia." ...

... Andrew Higgins of the New York Times: "... Ukraine's political tumult has instead brought back an old story line -- a confrontation redolent of the Cold War that has only underscored Europe's divisions and exposed the chasm between the bloc's high-minded aspirations and the rough reality of geopolitics as practiced by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia." ...

James Surowiecki of the New Yorker: Putin uses Russia's vast supply of natural gas as an "unconventional weapon." CW: Thanks to Victoria D. for the link. Surowiecki seems to think Putin is making a short-term calculation that will have bad effects long-term. But he doesn't take this into account:

     ... Timothy Heritage & Vladimir Soldatkin of Reuters: Putin signals, "if Europe and the United States isolate Russia, Moscow will look East for new business, energy deals, military contracts and political alliances. The Holy Grail for Moscow is a natural gas supply deal with China that is apparently now close after years of negotiations. If it can be signed when Putin visits China in May, he will be able to hold it up to show that global power has shifted eastwards and he does not need the West." ...

     ... CW: It seems to me -- and I place myself right up there with Mitt Romney as an expert on international affairs -- that as Russia makes its landgrabs to solidify its Western flank, it is attempting to increase its Eastern influence. China is, indirectly, as big a player in the Ukraine crisis as is Russia. ...

     ... Update. And this. Kristina Wong of the Hill: "Away from the conflict in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is quietly seeking a foothold in Latin America, military officials warn. To the alarm of [U.S.] lawmakers and Pentagon officials, Putin has begun sending navy ships and long-range bombers to the region for the first time in years. Russia's defense minister says the country is planning bases in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, and just last week, Putin's national security team met to discuss increasing military ties in the region.... China is making a play for Latin America a well, and is now the fastest growing investor in the region, according to experts."

... Alexey A. Navalny, "a Russian lawyer, anti-corruption activist and opposition politician," in a New York Times op-ed, published March 19: "Western nations could deliver a serious blow to the luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by the Kremlin's cronies who shuttle between Russia and the West. This means freezing the oligarchs' financial assets and seizing their property. Such sanctions should primarily target Mr. Putin's inner circle.... The notion that this reunification should be achieved at the end of the barrel of a gun is supported only by Mr. Putin's hard-core base. ...

     ... Miriam Elder of BuzzFeed: "The names on the latest list of sanctions released by the White House on Thursday read like a who's who of Vladimir Putin's innermost circle -- ex-KGB colleagues, top advisers, and the men believed to hold the Russian president's personal purse strings." ...

     ... AP: The E.U. "did not immediately release the names of those it had targeted Thursday with travel bans and asset freezes, but they are expected to close in on members of President Vladimir Putin's inner circle to punish him in the escalating Ukrainian crisis." ...

... Fred Kaplan of Slate: "... Putin's actions have been driven less by a belief that the West is weak than his knowledge that Russia is.... He dreams of restoring Russia's empire.... The main goal of the United States, the EU, and NATO should be to deter and dissuade Putin from moving his troops deeper into Ukraine.... Senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who used to know better, could lay off their absurd yelping about Obama's 'weakness' and 'feckless leadership.' ... It's not true; at least when it comes to this crisis, they've recommended very few steps that Obama hasn't already taken."

Carl Hulse & Ashley Parker of the New York Times: "Americans for Prosperity turned the [Jolly-Sink] Florida contest into its personal electoral laboratory to fine-tune get-out-the-vote tools and messaging for future elections as it pursues its overarching goal of convincing Americans that big government is bad government." Thanks to Ken W. for the link.

Paul Krugman: "... I'd argue that an important source of [economic] failure was what I've taken to calling the timidity trap -- the consistent tendency of policy makers who have the right ideas in principle to go for half-measures in practice, and the way this timidity ends up backfiring, politically and even economically. In other words, Yeats had it right: the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

The Trans Pacific Partnership -- "A Race to the Bottom" -- & Kinda Like the Opium Wars. Joe Stiglitz in the New York Times: "When agreements like the TPP govern international trade -- when every country has agreed to similarly minimal regulations -- multinational corporations can return to the practices that were common before the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts became law (in 1970 and 1972, respectively) and before the latest financial crisis hit.... One of the reasons that we are in such bad shape [economically] is that we have mismanaged globalization. Our economic policies encourage the outsourcing of jobs." ...

     ... CW: Like contributor MAG, I meant to link this piece earlier. I've linked to other pieces that make many of the points Stiglitz does, but he succinctly weaves them together, & his creds should get Obama's attention, which is what he is attempting to do here: "Given that the president himself has emphasized that inequality should be the country's top priority, every new policy, program or law should be examined from the perspective of its impact on inequality." Also, thanks to the whistleblowers who have leaked some of the provisions of the secret TPP.

Alex Hern of the Guardian: "Microsoft has tightened up its privacy policy after admitting to reading emails from a journalist's Hotmail account while tracking down a leak. The new rules prevent the company from snooping on customers' communications without first convincing two legal teams, independent of the internal investigation, that they have evidence sufficient to obtain a court order were one applicable. The company did not apologise for the search.... The initial search occurred in September 2012, when the company was attempting to discover who had handed an anonymous blogger the source code to Windows 8, its then-upcoming operating system. It discovered that the blogger was using a Microsoft Hotmail email address, and that they had used it to send the code to a third party."

Jane Perlez of the New York Times: "Michelle Obama, on the first day of a good-will tour to China with her daughters and her mother, tried her hand on Friday at three quintessentially Chinese specialties: calligraphy, table tennis and mathematics. Her hostess was China's first lady -- though strictly speaking there is no such title in China -- Peng Liyuan, the wife of President Xi Jinping and a glamorous, nationally known singing star."

Terrence McCoy of the Washington Post: Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan banned Twitter -- which caused Twitter usage to explode. ...

... Margaret Hartmann of New York: "While Turkish users who try to access Twitter still see a government notice citing four court orders that authorize the ban, many are using VPNs to circumvent the block. The hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey quickly became a top trend worldwide, and Twitter posted instructions on how to keep posting via text message...."

** Chauncey DeVega of AlterNet, in Salon, on the White Supremacy Party, a/k/a the GOP: "Colorblind racism inverts reality and distorts the facts. It involves denying that racism still exists as a serious social problem; black and brown people are limited in their life chances not because of institutional discrimination but because of their 'bad culture' or 'laziness'; white supremacy and systems of white racial advantage are dismissed as either exaggerated or non-existent; racism is reduced to mean words by white people, as opposed to systematic institutional discrimination against people of color."

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate: "Ruth Bader Ginsburg is irreplaceable.... If anything, Ginsburg has been stronger in recent years than ever and has been a crisper, more urgent voice for women's rights, minority rights, affirmative action, and the dignity of those who often go unseen at the high court than ever before." Lithwick provides many links to articles urging & not urging Ginsburg to retire.

Internets "Journalism"

Sorry, Drudge. Evan McMorris-Santoro of BuzzFeed: "The Drudge Report went big Thursday with KPHO reporter Catherine Anaya's story that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney gets questions from reporters ahead of the daily press briefing in advance so he can prepare his answers. The story was false, and in an email to BuzzFeed, Anaya says the day of online speculation about it was 'my mistake and I own up to it.' ... Reporters who regularly attend White House briefings are not asked to provide questions in advance, nor are they given answers in advance."

Sexists, Right & Left, Attack BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray. Tom Kludt of TPM: Tucker Carlson & Patrick Howley of the Daily Caller have apologized & deleted offensive tweets. No apologies from Firedoglake, tho D. S. Wright, um, amended the language in his story from "[Eli] Lake may be pumping more than stories into Gray" to "may be having a romantic relationship with Gray." after BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith complained on Twitter.

style="font-size: 120%;">Congressional Races

** "Thank God for ObamaCare!" Sam Stein of the Huffington Post: "... when [Scott Brown] stopped by the home of Herb Richardson, a Republican state representative..., Brown called Obamacare a 'monstrosity' that members of Congress didn't even bother to read before they passed. At that point, according to the Coos County Democrat, Richardson chimed in to explain that the law had been a 'financial lifesaver' for him and his wife.... '"Thank God for Obamacare!" [Mrs. Richardson] exclaimed.'"

Beyond the Beltway

Philip Messing, et al., of the New York Post: "The Freedom Tower, America's top terror target, doesn't have a single working surveillance camera inside -- a stunning security lapse that let a New Jersey teen roam the top floors undetected for two hours, The Post has learned. The video system for 1 World Trade Center 'won't be operational until the building opens later this year,' said a source familiar with the security plan."

** David Atkins of Hullabaloo: "DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas and the execrable Third Way are in a minor media tussle at the moment. Markos correctly pointed out that in both the House and Senate, the Democratic caucus has shifted significantly to the left over the last 10 years with the defeats of many conservative Democrats. The usual Third Way flacks Matt Bennett and Jim Kessler were Elizabeth Warren's form of economic populism and anti-Wall Street sentiment is that it's the most popular piece of the Democratic agenda."

News Ledes

AP: "A fire early Friday destroyed a New Jersey shore motel that was housing people displaced by Superstorm Sandy, killing four people and injuring eight, authorities said." The Star-Ledger story is here.

AP: "Israel's defense minister [Moshe Yaalon] has apologized to his U.S. counterpart [Chuck Hagel] for criticizing Washington and for calling it weak when it comes to its stance on Iran's nuclear program.... Earlier, he also criticized U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, saying the top American diplomat was unrealistic and naive in trying to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. In a statement Thursday, the Defense Department said Hagel 'expressed deep concern' to Yaalon about his remarks. Kerry on Wednesday called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest Yaalon's remarks."

Guardian: "An Indian court sentenced four men to life in prison on Friday for raping a call-centre operator last year inside an abandoned textile mill in the financial hub of Mumbai."

Guardian: "Thailand's constitutional court has ruled that a general election held in February was invalid, setting the stage for a new vote and further deepening the country's political crisis. The judges voted by six to three to declare the 2 February election unconstitutional because voting was not held that day in 28 constituencies where anti-government protesters had prevented candidates from registering. The constitution says the election must be held on the same day nationwide."


The Commentariat -- March 20, 2014

David Herszenhorn & Alan Cowell of the New York Times: "Bowing to the reality of the Russian military occupation of Crimea a day after Russia announced it was annexing the disputed peninsula, the Ukrainian government said on Wednesday that it had drawn up plans to evacuate all of its military personnel and their families and was prepared to relocate as many as 25,000 of them to mainland Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and sailors have been trapped on military bases and other installations here for more than two weeks, surrounded by heavily armed Russian military forces and loosely organized local militia." ...

... Luke Baker of Reuters: "European leaders hold critical talks on Thursday about how to tighten the screws on Russia following its seizure of Crimea, how to support Ukraine's stricken economy and how best to wean themselves off Russian oil and gas in years to come." ...

... Marco Rubio has an op-ed in the Washington Post that doesn't sound insane & only mildly criticizes President Obama. But gives the President lots of advice. The op-ed appears to be Rubio's cover for voting for a bill that includes IMF reforms Republicans don't like. ...

... A terrific piece by Paul Waldman of the American Prospect, in the Washington Post, on how U.S. "tough guys" -- McCain & Co. -- "sound awfully weak" when you see what they would do differently on the Ukraine front. Waldman does cite Bill Kristol as an exception, a pundit (who of course has no responsibilities) longing for hot war.

Fernanda Santos of the New York Times: " A federal judge in Kansas on Wednesday ordered federal election authorities to help Kansas and Arizona require their voters to show proof of citizenship in state and local elections, in effect sanctioning a two-tier voter registration system that could well set a trend for other Republican-dominated states.... Judge [Eric] Melgren's decision holds particular significance this election year, as it could prevent thousands of people from voting just as the governorship and other major offices are on the ballot in both states.... The ruling takes effect immediately unless the courts grant a stay pending an appeal. The Justice Department said that it was reviewing the court's decision." Melgren is a George W. Bush appointee. ...

... Rick Hasan: "... in states which impose citizenship requirements, the streamlined path of voter registration just got a whole less streamlined." ...

... David Firestone of the New York Times: "... there is no evidence that people who are in the country illegally want to vote, or have tried in any significant number. But that hasn't stopped Arizona and Kansas from insisting on proof of citizenship in order to register, knowing full well that the legitimate voters who will have the most trouble coming up with that proof tend to lean Democratic.... The requirement can be added to the long list of other stumbling blocks -- voter ID requirements, early voting cutbacks, stringent absentee ballot rules -- that have no civic purpose other than to give Republicans a political advantage."

The POTUS Is Black. He Should Act It. Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, said Wednesday that President Obama should be particularly wary of domestic spying, given the government's history of eavesdropping on civil rights leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., injecting the issue of race into the contentious debate over surveillance."

I find it ironic that the first African-American president has without compunction allowed this vast exercise of raw power by the N.S.A. -- Rand Paul, speaking at U.C. Berkeley.

I wonder if Li'l Randy finds it ironic that when it comes to spying, this POTUS acts pretty much like all those white POTUSes since Harry Truman. What's troubling the Little Philosopher here is that President Obama is not playing to stereotype. -- Constant Weader

CW: I missed this excellent piece by Tom Edsall of the New York Times on the Koch brothers defense of anonymous political campaign contributions: "It's interesting, to say the least, to see the Koch brothers -- each of whom is worth $36 billion -- summoning the founding fathers and the N.A.A.C.P. in defense of their policy of donor secrecy."

Linda Greenhouse: Context matters. "How far the Supreme Court should go to acknowledge the real-world context of its decisions is a question worth considering."

Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "The senior lawyer for the National Security Agency stated unequivocally on Wednesday that US technology companies were fully aware of the surveillance agency's widespread collection of data, contradicting months of angry denials from the firms. Rajesh De, the NSA general counsel, said all communications content and associated metadata harvested by the NSA under a 2008 surveillance law occurred with the knowledge of the companies – both for the internet collection program known as Prism and for the so-called 'upstream' collection of communications moving across the internet."

Babies Puke & Poop. Nicholas Kristof: A reality teevee show "16 & Pregnant," & its spinoffs have "been remarkably effective in cutting teenage births.... In no other developed country are teenagers as likely to get pregnant as the United States.But here's the good news: Teenage birthrates have plunged by 52 percent since 1991 -- one of America's great social policy successes, coming even as inequality and family breakdown have worsened."

Richard Oppel of the New York Times: "On the eve of a decision about his sentence on sexual misconduct and other charges, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair on Wednesday tearfully apologized to the women he had wronged, and to the Army where he had spent 27 years, saying that he 'felt a deep and abiding sense of shame and remorse. I have squandered a fortune of life’s blessings, blessings of family, work and friendship,' General Sinclair said, standing as he read a 366-word statement from behind a lectern inside a military courtroom at Fort Bragg."

Obama & Ellen talk Twitter records & dog poop. Oh, and health insurance:

News Ledes

CNN: "Fred Phelps -- the founding pastor of a Kansas church known for its virulently anti-gay protests at public events, including military funerals -- has died, the church said Thursday." ...

... WIBW, Topeka, Kansas: "Margie Phelps, Phelps daughter, told WIBW-AM that there will be no funeral for him."

New York Times: "The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, said on Thursday that satellite imagery had detected floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean that might be parts of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that vanished on March 8. But he and an Australian rescue organizer both counseled caution about the sighting."

Washington Post: "Robert S. Strauss, a smooth-talking Texas lawyer and businessman who became a consummate political insider and played a key role in reviving the Democratic Party's fortunes after its landslide loss to Republicans in the 1972 election, died March 19 in Washington. He was 95."


The Commentariat -- March 19, 2014

Kathy Lally of the Washington Post: "Russian-backed forces broke into Ukrainian Naval headquarters in Sevastopol Wednesday and raised the Russian flag, a reminder of the potential for dangerous confrontation a day after Moscow declared the Crimean peninsula part of Russia. Apparently no shots were fired and it was difficult to identify the attackers, who one witness said numbered about 200 and rammed through the gate of the office complex in a truck. The individuals who stormed the base, however, were well-organized and carried off the takeover without incident. After it was over, soldiers wearing unmarked uniforms and holding automatic weapons were guarding the gate." ...

... Will Englund of the Washington Post: "Invoking the suffering of the Russian people and a narrative of constant betrayals by the West, President Vladimir Putin declared Tuesday that Russia was within its rights to reclaim Crimea, then signed a treaty that did just that." The New York Times story, by Steven Myers & Ellen Barry, is here. ...

... "Putin's Irony Curtain." Massimo Calabresi of Time: No, Vladimir, Crimea is not just like Kosovo.

... Matt Smith & Alla Eshchenko of CNN: "... after a member of its military was killed, another wounded and more captured when masked gunmen seized their base near the Crimean regional capital, Simferopol, Ukraine's defense ministry authorized its forces to open fire." ...

... Olesya Vartanyan & Ellen Barry of the New York Times: "If history is a guide, Crimeans' celebration may be short-lived." The reporters examine the desolation in the "tiny mountainous enclave of South Ossetia, who, five and a half years ago, were similarly ecstatic.... These days South Ossetia's economy is entirely dependent on budgetary funds from Russia. Unemployment is high, and so are prices, since goods must now be shuttled in through [a] tunnel.... Its political system is controlled by elites loyal to Moscow, suddenly wealthy enough to drive glossy black cars, though many roads are pitted or unpaved. Dozens of homes damaged in the 2008 war with Georgia have never been repaired." ...

... Katie Van Syckle of New York: "... one downside of being caught in an international power struggle, with the threat of U.S. sanctions rivaling those of the Cold War, is the death of tourism -- a main source of revenue for the region. On the eve of the summer season, flights to the area -- except for those to and from Moscow -- have been canceled, significantly limiting access to the Ukrainian coast, a historic getaway for czars like Nicholas II." ...

... Peter Beinart of the Atlantic: It's about the money. Unfortunately, "We're long past the era when America and its allies can spend vast sums to promote Western ideals and interests around the world. Except, of course, in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the U.S. is on pace to spend the equivalent of eight or nine Marshall Plans." Also Beinart explains the McCain Doctrine: "If only America were fighting more wars, Russia would never have taken Crimea." See also advice from foreign policy expert Mitt Romney linked below.

Barton Gellman of the Washington Post & Ashkan Soltani: "The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording '100 percent' of a foreign country's telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden. A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine -- one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.... At the request of U.S. officials, The Washington Post is withholding details that could be used to identify the country where the system is being employed or other countries where its use was envisioned." ...

... Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian: "The Pentagon's intelligence watchdog said he was 'not aware' of the National Security Agency's bulk domestic phone records collection programs before the Guardian exposed it in June, nor does his office have investigations open into the controversial surveillance. The admission by Anthony C Thomas, the deputy Defense Department inspector general for intelligence and special program assessments -- who has oversight responsibilities on the National Security Agency -- comes despite months of public assurances that the NSA's vast surveillance activities are thoroughly overseen, including by the Pentagon inspector general."

Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post: "President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 24 veterans Tuesday, most of whom were initially passed over because they were Hispanic, Jewish or African American. The emotional ceremony marked the culmination of a 50-year campaign waged by Korean War veteran Mitchel Libman, now 83, who was convinced that his childhood friend from Brooklyn was denied the nation's highest commendation for combat valor because he was Jewish." ...

... Here's the very short version:

Elise Viebeck of the Hill: "Health industry officials say ObamaCare-related premiums will double in some parts of the country, countering claims recently made by the administration.... The industry complaints come less than a week after Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sought to downplay concerns about rising premiums in the healthcare sector. She told lawmakers rates would increase in 2015 but grow more slowly than in the past.... Her comment baffled insurance officials, who said it runs counter to the industry's consensus about next year."

CW: What with positing that Maybe Everything Was God's Fault yesterday, I didn't have it in me to tell you that Mitt Romney said, "No, Everything Is Obama's Fault." Ari Berman had more fortitude & did a fine job of debunking Romney's Wall Street Journal op-ed:

Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic: Another clueless billionaire -- Home Depot founder Ken Langone -- compares leftish populism to Nazism. Cohn explains why Langone's analogy is far from apt. ...

... Ken Lovett of the New York Daily News: Langone says he might be sorry: "If my choice of words was inappropriate -- and they well may have been that -- I extend my profound apologies to anyone and everyone who I may have offended." CW: If you're offended I compared you to Hitler, then I apologize on the chance that maybe I should have thought of another more appropriate evil despot. Also, routers & table saws are on sale at Home Depot this week.

Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor, in Slate: corporations are people, my friend, & that is why they should lose the Supreme Court case. "Religious liberty is certainly appropriate for some not-for-profit corporations, like churches or nonprofits with a religious mission. If Hobby Lobby's owners wanted to form such an organization, there was a convenient and readily available option: They could have incorporated as a nonprofit.... By asking the Supreme Court to let them enjoy all the protections of this corporate form, but not all of its duties, Hobby Lobby’s owners want to have their corporate cake and eat it, too."

James Fallows of the Atlantic, an experienced pilot with a deep interest in aviation, on one implausible and one plausible theory on what happened to Malaysia Air flight 370.

** Harold Meyerson has a long piece in the American Prospect on how to raise American workers' wages. He also knocks down the standard-issue claims about why U.S. workers are not getting their piece of the pie. (Hey, Tom The-World-Is-Flat Friedman, you should read this.) ...

... Ben Casselman of Nate Silver's new FiveThirtyEight venture susses out whether or not more Americans are trying to sustain themselves in minimum- & low-wage jobs. If Casselman's analysis -- which makes at least one ridiculous assumption & expresses complete ignorance of factors contributing to low wages ("Economists aren't sure"), then I am singularly unimpressed with Silver's product.

New Jersey News

William Rashbaum of the New York Times: "Federal prosecutors in New Jersey issued a subpoena last week to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey seeking records relating to its chairman, David Samson, and contracts on two bridge projects worth $2.8 billion that he voted to award to construction companies tied to his law firm, according to people briefed on the matter. The subpoena, which focused on Mr. Samson's potential conflicts of interest, was issued by the United States attorney's office in New Jersey, which along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting a criminal inquiry into the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge and other suspected wrongdoing by current and former aides, appointees and associates of Gov. Chris Christie, the people said."

Alec MacGillis of the New Republic discovers that Christie allies rigged the supposedly competitive bids for those "Stronger than the Storm" ads that featured the Christie family -- at state expense -- during his re-election campaign. The whole process was a sham; the fix was in from the get-go.

Erin O'Neill of the Star-Ledger: " A group of Rutgers University students, as well as union representatives, were kicked out of a town hall meeting with Gov. Chris Christie [yesterday]. The group rose up in unison after Christie finished answering a question about why parents who send their children to Catholic schools have to pay taxes to support public schools and started shouting at the governor, blasting him for his handling of Hurricane Sandy relief aid." ...

... CW: Also worth noting: some people who attend Christie town halls are incredibly stupid/selfish to think only people whose children are currently enrolled in public schools should pay school taxes.

Elsewhere Beyond the Beltway

Maureen Dowd likes "the soft-spoken" L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, & contrasts him with the "abrasive" NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio, who can't get along with that nice Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Gubernatorial Race

Rick Pearson & Bob Secter of the Chicago Tribune: "First-time candidate Bruce Rauner eked out a surprisingly narrow victory over state Sen. Kirk Dillard for the Republican governor nomination in Tuesday's primary as Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn launched an early TV attack ad against his wealthy challenger."

Congressional Races

Katherine Skiba & Kim Geiger of the Chicago Tribune: "Sen. Dick Durbin's run for re-election against Republican Jim Oberweis promises to be a costly, rough-and-tumble contest in which the longtime Democratic lawmaker has key advantages. In a closer-than-expected GOP primary race Tuesday, Oberweis emerged the victor, capturing 56 percent of the vote to Doug Truax's 44 percent, with 98 percent of the state's precincts reporting, according to unofficial returns."

Alex Roarty of the National Journal on David Jolly's win over Alex Sink in Florida 13th's special election: "... leaders at the NRCC [National Republican Congressional Committee] described a first-of-its-kind political operation deployed on behalf of a Republican congressional candidate. Led by Honeybadger, a continually updating system that integrates real-time data with existing voter files, they say they were able to track voters they had to target, discover what messages would motivate them to go to the polls, and project exactly how much ground Jolly had to recover when early absentee voting didn't swing his way.... And, NRCC officials say, none of it existed in 2012." ...

     ... CW: Unless I miss my guess, "Honeybadger" is named for Nancy Pelosi; data analysis showed that "urging [voters] to vote now or watch Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi move one step closer to reclaiming the speaker's gavel." Republicans will be disgusting as often as possible.

News Ledes

CNN: "The Justice Department is set to announce as soon as Wednesday a billion-dollar agreement with Toyota to settle a federal probe of the automaker's handling of customer complaints related to unintended acceleration...."

New York Times: "The authorities [in Malaysia] said Wednesday that they were trying to recover data deleted from a flight simulator custom-built by the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, whose actions, along with those of his first officer, have fallen under growing scrutiny."


The Commentariat -- March 18, 2014

The Guardian is liveblogging events re: the Crimea catastrophe. Vladimir from the KGB is quite busy. ...

... Will Englund of the Washington Post: "Russia officially absorbed Crimea Tuesday afternoon, moments after President Vladimir Putin declared that Russia has no designs on any other parts of Ukraine. In a speech to a joint session of parliament, which he used to call for the 'reunification' of Crimea with Russia, he said that region has a special role in Russian history that makes it unique." ...

... Steven Myers & Peter Baker of the New York Times: "President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia signed a decree on Monday formally recognizing Crimea as a 'sovereign and independent state,' laying the groundwork for annexation and defying the United States and Europe just hours after they imposed their first financial sanctions against Moscow since the crisis in Ukraine began." ...

... Antoni Slodkowski of Reuters: "Japan will suspend talks on investment pact and relaxation of visa requirements as part of sanctions against Russia after Moscow recognized Crimea as a sovereign state, top government spokesman said on Tuesday." ...

... Kirit Radia of ABC News: "Russia's deputy prime minister laughed off President Obama's sanction against him today asking 'Comrade @BarackObama' if 'some prankster' came up with the list. The Obama administration hit 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials with sanctions today as punishment for Russia's support of Crimea's referendum. Among them: aides to President Vladimir Putin, a top government official, senior lawmakers, Crimean officials, the ousted president of Ukraine, and a Ukrainian politician and businessman allegedly tied to violence against protesters in Kiev." ...

... Dick Durbin Will Not Be Visiting the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Josh Rogin of the Daily Beast: "U.S. senators, congressmen and top Obama administration officials are sure to be on Vladimir Putin's sanctions list; a response to the Obama Administration's announcement on Monday that 7 Russian officials and 4 Ukrainian officials would be barred from holding assets or traveling to the United States." ...

... Bill Richardson, the former Secretary of Energy & U.N. ambassador, in a Time op-ed: "... the most powerful response [to the Ukraine crisis] from the West must come in the form of transatlantic energy security."

AP: "President Barack Obama pressed visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Monday to help break the logjam to elusive Middle East peace talks, acknowledging with a deadline fast approaching that the task ahead is 'very hard, it's very challenging.'"

** Josh Gerstein of Politico: "The U.S. government has acknowledged that it swept up huge volumes of data from e-mails in the U.S. for several years without any court approval, based solely on the orders of former President George W. Bush. In a court filings on Monday, government lawyers said that the Internet program ran in parallel with a program gathering so-called metadata about telephone calls. The counterterrorism efforts operated under presidential authority before a judge approved them in July 2004, said a 2007 court filing made public Monday by the Justice Department (and posted here.) CW: Just waiting for the outrage from the likes of Rand Paul & Ken Cuccinelli, who are, after all, suing the Obama administration over NSA surveillance.

Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: ACA enrollment nationwide has reached "more than 5 million through the Federal and State-based Marketplaces since October 1st." ...

... Dean Baker: "The Washington Post told readers that the Republicans are putting together an alternative to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Unfortunately it substituted Republican talking points for an actual description of the plan." ...

... Ed Kilgore: "Some more truth-squad work is also needed to point out the equally blatant contradiction between GOP complaints about high out-of-pocket costs in Obamacare plans and the eternal Republican commitment to MSAs, which are all about increasing the exposure of health care costs to consumers, which will allegedly increase 'individual responsibility.'"

Well, Maybe Everything Is God's Fault

Igor Bobic of TPM: "The stenographer who was carried off the House floor in October for an outburst in which she yelled into a microphone about God, Freemasons and a divided government explained in a video published Sunday that she acted on 'assignment' from the Holy Spirit. 'I did not have a breakdown,' Dianne Reidy said in the 38 minute long video, which also shows her husband. Identifying themselves as 'Bible-believing Christians,' Dan Reidy says the couple believes Dianne's voice was the instrument of a higher power." ...

... CW: The other day in a comment I complained that the Holy Ghost got short shrift. Apparently that's for the best. ...

... Continuing on with the supernatural theme, the MSM pitches in. Joe Coscarelli of New York: "After more than a week of wall-to-wall coverage on the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, much of it baseless speculation from vaguely defined experts, CNN today resorted to the most baseless of speculation from a certifiable non-expert about what supernatural' or conspiratorial explanations there could be for the disappearance." ...

Especially today, on a day when we deal with the supernatural, we go to church, the supernatural power of God. You deal with all of that. People are saying to me, why aren't you talking about the possibility — and I'm just putting it out there -- that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding? -- CNN host Don Lemon, interviewing the certifiable non-expert guy

Congressional Races

Vote for the Crook. Lauren McGaughy of the Times-Picayune: "Just three years after his release from federal prison, former Gov. Edwin Edwards is throwing his hat into the open race for Louisiana's 6th Congressional District.

Mitch McConnell Has a Sense of Humor! Jay Newton-Small of Time: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday he didn't mind a bit becoming the brunt of Internet jokes through the meme known as McConnelling. In fact, he found it amusing." ...

... But There Are Limits. Burgess Everett of Politico: "Mitch McConnell's campaign shrugged off an accusation by a Kentucky reporter who claimed he was barred from a campaign event and threatened with police action if he asked a question. Joe Sonka, an editor for Louisville alternative paper LEO Weekly, claimed on Twitter several times on Monday afternoon that the Senate minority leader's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, had barred him from a news conference held by McConnell."

Beyond the Beltway

Christopher Baxter of the Star-Ledger: "Records released today by a legislative panel investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closings link Gov. Chris Christie's chief political strategist to discussions about fallout from the scandal, and show that Christie's campaign manager was more in the loop than previously known. The emails and text messages were disclosed in a court filing by the committee in response to objections raised by the attorney for the campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who contended at a hearing last week that the committee had no evidence showing his client was involved in the closings." ...

... Ken Vogel of Politico: "A central figure in the George Washington Bridge scandal looming over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie quietly accepted a job at a top Republican consulting firm late last month. Bill Stepien, who ran both of Christie's gubernatorial campaigns, signed on to help the phone-banking and data giant FLS Connect with sales and strategy on its voter contact products, according to a source with knowledge of the relationship."

Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times: "A candidate colludes with wealthy corporate backers and promises to defend their interests if elected. The companies spend heavily to elect the candidate, but hide the money by funneling it through a nonprofit group. And the main purpose of the nonprofit appears to be getting the candidate elected.... According to investigators, exactly such a plan is unfolding in an extraordinary case in Utah, a state with a cozy political establishment, where business holds great sway and there are no limits on campaign donations.... In Utah, the documents show, a former state attorney general, John Swallow [R], sought to transform his office into a defender of payday loan companies, an industry criticized for preying on the poor with short-term loans at exorbitant interest rates. Mr. Swallow, who was elected in 2012, resigned in November after less than a year in office amid growing scrutiny of potential corruption."

The Pro-Pollution Party. Mitch Weiss & Michael Biesecker of the AP: "Documents and interviews collected by The Associated Press show how Duke [Energy]'s lobbyists prodded Republican legislators to tuck a 330-word provision in a regulatory reform bill ... [that] allowed Duke to avoid any costly cleanup of contaminated groundwater leaching from its unlined dumps.... Passed overwhelmingly by the GOP-controlled legislature, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, a pro-business Republican who worked at Duke for 28 years.... The level of coordination between Duke and North Carolina's lawmakers and regulators had long been of concern to environmentalists. But when a Duke dump ruptured on Feb. 2 -- spewing enough coal ash to coat 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge -- the issue took on new urgency."

News Ledes

NBC News: "The missing Malaysia Airlines jet's abrupt U-turn was programmed into the on-board computer well before the co-pilot calmly signed off with air traffic controllers, sources tell NBC News. The change in direction was made at least 12 minutes before co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid said 'All right, good night,' to controllers on the ground, the sources said."

New York Times: "United States Navy commandos seized a renegade tanker carrying illicit Libyan oil in the Mediterranean southeast of Cyprus on Monday, thwarting a breakaway militia's attempt to sell the oil on the black market. No shots were fired, no one was injured and the commandos captured three armed Libyans described by the ship's captain as hijackers."

New York Times: "Mary T. Barra, General Motors' chief executive, announced another round of wide-ranging recalls on Monday, a sign that the company was moving with a new sense of urgency on safety problems after it disclosed a decade-long failure to fix a defect tied to 12 deaths. The recalls, which cover 1.7 million vehicles worldwide for a variety of problems, come in addition to last month's recall of 1.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts and other models. In one of Monday's recalls, G.M. had alerted owners to the problem three years ago, but did not make a recall."

Los Angeles Times: "A 20-year-old student at a California community college, who authorities said had discussed an attack on the Los Angeles subway, has been arrested on a federal terrorism charge while trying to enter Canada for an eventual trip to the Mideast, where he planned to help a group wage holy war, officials said Monday. Nicholas Teausant, 20, of Acampo, Calif., was arrested at the border crossing in Blaine, Wash. He was planning to eventually join a terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, according to Benjamin B. Wagner, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California...."

Guardian: "Best-selling American author Kevin Trudeau, whose name became synonymous with late-night TV pitches, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for swindling consumers through infomercials for his book about weight loss. As he imposed the sentence prosecutors had requested, district judge Ronald Guzman portrayed 50-year-old Trudeau as a habitual fraudster from early adulthood. So brazen was Trudeau, the judge said, he once even used his own mother's social security number during a scam. 'Since his 20s, he has steadfastly attempted to cheat others for his own gain,' Guzman said, adding that Trudeau was 'deceitful to the very core'." ...

     ... The Chicago Tribune story is here.