Tuesday Reads, Part II: In Other News….Posted: January 8, 2013
I’m back with more reads!!
Before I get started with the political news, here a very strange story from Chicago: Urooj Khan Homicide: Chicago Lottery Winner’s Death Re-Classified After Cyanide Poison Discovery
With no signs of trauma and nothing to raise suspicions, the sudden death of a Chicago man just as he was about to collect nearly $425,000 in lottery winnings was initially ruled a result of natural causes.
Nearly six months later, authorities have a mystery on their hands after medical examiners, responding to a relative’s pleas, did an expanded screening and determined that Urooj Khan, 46, died shortly after ingesting a lethal dose of cyanide. The finding has triggered a homicide investigation, the Chicago Police Department said Monday….
In June, Khan, who owned a number of dry cleaners, stopped in at a 7-Eleven near his home in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on the city’s North Side and bought a ticket for an instant lottery game.
Ashur Oshana, the convenience store clerk, told The Associated Press on Monday that Khan said he had sworn off gambling after returning from the hajj, a Muslim pilgrimage, in Saudi Arabia. Khan said he wanted to lead a better life, Oshana said, but Khan bought the tickets that day and scratched off the winner in the store.
“Right away he grabbed my hand,” Oshana said. “He kissed my hand and kissed my head and gave me $100. He was really happy.”
Not long afterwards, Kahn was dead. Now police will likely exhume his body and try to find out who killed him.
Cheers, a standing ovation and a gag gift of protective headgear greeted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as she returned to work on Monday after a month-long absence caused first by a stomach virus, then a fall and a concussion and finally a brief hospitalization for a blood clot.
A crowd of about 75 State Department officials greeted Clinton with a standing ovation as she walked in to the first senior staff meeting she has convened since early December, according to those present. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, noting that life in Washington is often a “contact sport, sometimes even in your own home” then presented Clinton with a gift — a regulation white Riddell football helmet emblazoned with the State Department seal, officials said.
She was also given a blue football jersey with “Clinton” and the number 112 — the record-breaking number of countries she has visited since becoming secretary of state — printed on the back. Aides said Clinton was delighted with the gifts but did not try either of them on and the meeting turned to matters of national security and diplomacy.
“She loved it. She thought it was cool. But then being Hillary Clinton, she wanted to get right to business,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
Did you hear about GOP Connecticut State Rep. DebraLee Hovey, who attacked Gabby Giffords for visiting Newtown? From the Hartford Courant:
In content and syntax, state Rep. DebraLee Hovey embarrassed herself, the General Assembly and the state.
Ms. Hovey, a Republican who represents Newtown and Monroe, blasted the visit to Newtown on Friday by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a Democrat, who met privately with local officials and families of victims of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Gabby Gifford stay out of my towns!!” Ms. Hovey posted on Facebook over the weekend (misspelling the former Arizona congresswoman’s last name). In the comments thread, Rep. Hovey seemed to complain that she wasn’t invited (she was at a meeting in Florida at the time) and claimed the visit was political: “There was pure political motives [sic].”
How do these loony-tunes get elected? Hovey later offered a pathetic non-apologetic “apology.”
The remarks I made regarding Congresswoman Gifford’s visit were insensitive and if I offended anyone I truly apologize … My comments were meant to be protective of the privacy of the families and our community as we work to move on, and were in no way intended as an insult to Congresswoman Giffords personally. Our community has struggled greatly through this tragedy, and we are all very sensitive to the potential for this event to be exploited for political purposes. This is what I wish to avoid.
What a moronic asshole.
Yesterday, President Obama nominated former Nebraska GOP Senator Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department and longtime CIA man and current counterterrorism chief John Brennan to lead the Agency. The Republicans are totally bent out of shape over the Hagel pick, but no one seems the least concerned that Brennan was (is?) pro-torture and is the primary force behind Obama’s drone policies. Read about Brennan’s background at the NBC News link.
At The Atlantic, Connor Friersdorf asks, Does It Matter if John Brennan Was Complicit in Illegal Torture? Apparently not to Obama or to
Last month, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved a report on CIA interrogations during the Bush Administration, when prisoners were tortured in violation of domestic and international law. “The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, an occasional apologist for executive power, said after the vote. “I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees.”
Arizona Senator John McCain, another War on Terror hawk, is among the several elected officials who have publicly called for the report to be declassified, but Dixon Osborn of Human Rights First made the case best: “Telling the American people the truth about torture isn’t a task that should be left up to speculative reporting, Hollywood filmmakers, or publishing houses. It should be based on the facts. Thankfully, that report already exists. Now it should be made public.”
In nominating John Brennan to head the CIA, President Obama has made it more urgent that the report be declassified. It is one of several sources that could help us to answer an important question: Are the American people being asked to entrust our clandestine spy agency and its killing and interrogation apparatuses to a man who was complicit in illegal torture?
There is strong circumstantial evidence that the answer is yes. At minimum, Brennan favored rendition and what he called “enhanced interrogation tactics” other than waterboarding. As Andrew Sullivan put it in 2008, when Obama first considered Brennan as CIA chief, “if Obama picks him, it will be a vindication of the kind of ambivalence and institutional moral cowardice that made America a torturing nation. It would be an unforgivable betrayal of his supporters and his ideals.”
Sullivan later changed his mind and decided he was okay with Brennan. Frankly, I think his support of torture and his pioneering of the drone program matter greatly. But President Obama likes his drones and his administration has defended Bush administration officials on torture. No doubt the Senate will quickly approve Brennan’s appointment.
But what about Chuck Hagel? Well he’s an actual Vietnam Veteran who knows that war is hell, so this choice of Obama’s is terribly problematic for the wingnut chorus, led by Lindsey Graham and John McCain. But Hagel also will most likely be approved anyway. Yesterday, Josh Marshall told doubters to put down their crack pipes.
I’m watching a lot of neoconservative policy activists and a lot of people in the press telling me that it’s a very up in the air thing whether Chuck Hagel gets confirmed as Secretary of Defense. These folks should stop smoking crack. Because crack isn’t good for you.
Maybe I’m just out of the loop because I’m not reporting aggressively myself. Or maybe — I think much more likely — I’m not in the same crack den with the rest of these good people so the air I’m breathing is clear and I know what is happening in the real world.
Will Republicans uniformly oppose a former member of their own caucus when the issues at stake are complaints that look comical when held up to the light of day? One who was one of the top foreign policy Republicans in the Senate? I doubt it.
Will Democratic senators deny a reelected President Obama his choice for one of the top four cabinet positions when he is quite popular and the expansion of their caucus is due in significant measure to his popularity? Please. Chuck Schumer will oppose the President? Not likely.
Joan Walsh calls it The phony Chuck Hagel fight
As if reporters don’t have enough to cover, with the House GOP imploding and another game of fiscal hostage-taking coming in two months, everybody’s gone all in on the “controversy” over former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense. Yes, Sen. Lindsey Graham is shrieking that his foreign policy views are “out of the mainstream,” John McCain has “serious concerns” and Mitch McConnell won’t promise to confirm him, but this will blow over.
The biggest non-story is the threat that pro-Israel Democrats might ally to block Hagel’s nomination. Although New York Sen. Chuck Schumer conspicuously failed to promise to support Hagel’s confirmation on “Meet the Press” last month, allegedly because of his insufficient fealty to protecting Israel, Schumer is unlikely to buck President Obama. The National Journal’s Josh Kraashauer had a slightly odd column about Democratic Hagel skeptics, hyping Schumer’s doubts and pointing to the Democratic Jewish “minyan” of senators, including Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, as key to the confirmation. But Levin and Feinstein quickly came for Hagel’s confirmation after his nomination Monday. Schumer and New York’s other senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, both released noncommittal statements praising Hagel’s background and vowing a fair hearing, but stopped short of endorsing him. Still, it’s almost impossible to imagine the two of them going it alone, without Feinstein or Levin, on Hagel.
Read Walsh’s analysis at Salon.
Jonathan Chait thinks the Hagel pick
may be the oddest thing President Obama has ever done. I don’t mean it’s the worst thing he’s ever done — merely that it’s the hardest to explain, and the most at odds with his general political character. People on the left who hate Obama’s general political character will be happy. Since I’m pretty happy with Obama’s general political character, it strikes me as at least a moderately bad idea.
His objections are mostly about the campaign against Hagel and also about the fact that Hagel differs from Obama on a number of policies.
Next up, the next Treasury Secretary. Business Insider says it will be Jack Lew.
President Barack Obama could announce this week his choice to nominate Jack Lew to be the next Treasury Secretary, Bloomberg’s Hans Nichols is reporting.
Lew, the current White House Chief of Staff, would replace Timothy Geithner in the role.
Lew’s appointment would also mean that Obama would need to find a new chief of staff to replace Lew in his second-term Cabinet. Nichols says that two possibilities for that role are Denis McDonough, a deputy national security adviser, and Ron Klain, who was Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff.
The Cabinet changes have pushed the debt ceiling nonsense into the background for the time being. But it’s still looming.
JP Morgan Chase says Congress is Already Inhibiting Economic Growth In 2013.
Economists at JPMorgan Chase believe the U.S. economy will continue to grow at a similar rate in 2013 as it did in 2012, according to the bank’s annual economic forecast (PDF). But things would be looking a lot better, they say, if it weren’t for steps Congress has already taken, and will continue to take in the coming weeks, which they predict will add “significant restraint to the economy’s growth outlook for 2013.” [....]
The largest single known source of drag, according to JPMorgan, will come from the lapse of the payroll tax holiday, which Congress allowed to expire at the end of the year.
“The evidence suggests that perhaps around 75 cents of every dollar in reduced payroll taxes is spent,” write JPMorgan economists Michael Feroli and Robert Mellman. “In this vein, if we assume a multiplier of around 0.75, then consumer spending next year would be reduced by close to $100 billion, or about 0.6% of GDP.” [....]
But the biggest hit to the economy might be yet to come. If Congress doesn’t turn off the sequester, or, worse, allows the country’s borrowing authority to lapse, the impact on growth would be catastrophic. The forecast operates from the assumption that Congress manages to avoid most or all of the sequester’s across the board defense and domestic spending cuts and increases the debt limit, but describes failure to do so, and the risk of default as “the very low probability, high-cost risk in the current budget debate.”
William Saletan, who favors cuts in the safety net programs, still thinks Mitch McConnell is bluffing. The evidence is all the qualifiers McConnell uses when asked about what leverage Republicans have (none, according to Saletan). Read all about it at Slate.
Steve Benen says Boehner is probably bluffing too.
In order for a hostage standoff to work, everyone has to sincerely believe the hostage takers are prepared to follow through on their threats. In the case of the Republicans’ latest debt-ceiling crisis, that means President Obama and congressional Democrats have to be convinced that GOP policymakers will hurt Americans on purpose unless Dem meet Republicans’ demands.
But if you listen closely, you might notice that the GOP’s resolve is a little shaky. House Speaker John Boehner talked to the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore the other day.
I ask Mr. Boehner if he will take the debt-ceiling talks to the brink — risking a government shutdown and debt downgrade from the credit agencies — given that it didn’t work in 2011 and President Obama has said he won’t bargain on the matter.
The debt bill is “one point of leverage,” Mr. Boehner says, but he also hedges, noting that it is “not the ultimate leverage.” He says that Republicans won’t back down from the so-called Boehner rule: that every dollar of raising the debt ceiling will require one dollar of spending cuts over the next 10 years. Rather than forcing a deal, the insistence may result in a series of monthly debt-ceiling increases.
We’d need a little more information to understand exactly what the Speaker is thinking, but the fact that Boehner hedged at all on using the debt ceiling suggests there’s at least a small crack in the wall.
This post is getting way too long, so I’ll wrap up with a little comedy relief from TPM: 9 Faces For The $1 Trillion Platinum Coin. Check out the possibilities at the link. Here’s the first choice: