Tuesday Reads: Larry Klayman v. NSA; CBS’ 60 Minutes v. Truth; and Police v. Foreign Diplomats

Out of Town News, Harvard Square, 1957

Out of Town News, Harvard Square, 1957

Good Morning!!

Our weird winter weather is continuing. This morning’s temperature outside my house is zero degrees! And we’re expecting five more inches of snow this afternoon, most of it during the afternoon rush hour. I guess all I can do is grin and bear it.

Now let’s see what’s happening in the news today.

Lots of people are excited about the ruling yesterday by US District Court Judge Richard Leon that NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records is “likely unconstitutional,” but the decision is on hold pending appeal by the Feds and as Reuters notes this morning, SCOTUS is probably going to have the final say on what happens to NSA surveillance programs following revelations from the massive trove of data stolen by Edward Snowden and passed to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras.

“This is the opening salvo in a very long story, but it’s important symbolically in dispelling the invincibility of the metadata program,” said Stephen Vladeck, a national security law expert at the American University law school.

Vladeck said 15 judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have examined Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, the provision of law under which the data collection takes place, without finding constitutional problems. “There’s a disconnect between the 15 judges on the FISA court who seem to think it’s a no-brainer that Section 215 is constitutional, and Judge Leon, who seems to think otherwise.”

Vladeck said there is a long road of court tests ahead for both sides in this dispute and said a higher court ultimately could avoid ruling on the big constitutional issue identified by Leon. “There are five or six different issues in these cases,” Vladeck said.

Robert F. Turner, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Center for National Security Law, predicted Leon’s decision was highly likely to be reversed on appeal. He said the collection of telephone metadata — the issue in Monday’s ruling — already has been addressed and resolved by the Supreme Court.

Maybe the solution would be to repeal the Patriot Act? Anyway, I think it’s important to note that this lawsuit was brought by Larry Klayman, a certified right wing nut who used to head Judicial Watch and now runs something called Freedom Watch.

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Here’s a little background on Klayman from The New York Times:

In the 1990s, he filed numerous lawsuits against President Bill Clinton and his administration, alleging a litany of personal and professional transgressions. Mr. Klayman later nettled Vice President Dick Cheney over his secret energy policy meetings and claimed that members of George W. Bush’s administration might have known in advance of the 2001 anthrax attacks in Washington.

More recently, Mr. Klayman, who has been called “Litigious Larry,” sued OPEC, accusing oil-rich nations of price fixing and of trying to “bring Western economies to their knees.” And he sued Facebook and its founder for $1 billion when, he said, it was too slow to take down a web page that threatened Jews with death.

The guy is a weirdo, so I have to wonder what it was that convinced a conservative Bush-appointed judge like Leon. And will ne be able to convince our right wing Supreme Court? I’d love to see NSA reined in, but I have serious doubts as to whether it will happen.

More on Klayman:

Mr. Klayman is a fixture of sorts in Washington. He founded, and then parted ways, with the conservative interest group Judicial Watch, which continues litigating grievances despite Mr. Klayman’s bitter departure. (He sued Judicial Watch, too, accusing it of breach of contract and other offenses.) His 2009 book is titled “Whores: Why and How I Came to Fight the Establishment.”

Mr. Klayman has not spared the current Democratic administration. At a Tea Party rally in October, he urged conservatives “to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”

Last year, Mr. Klayman filed a lawsuit in Florida arguing that Barack Obama was ineligible to be president because “neither Mr. Obama, nor the Democratic Party of Florida, nor any other group has confirmed that Mr. Obama is a ‘natural born citizen’ since his father was a British subject born in Kenya and not a citizen of the United States.”

 A little more on the case from Politico:

On June 6, just a day after the Guardian report [on Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA phone data collection], Klayman filed suit in Washington on his own behalf and on behalf of two clients — Charles and Mary Ann Strange, parents of a Navy SEAL killed in a disastrous helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2011….

Klayman said he and Charles Strange were being targeted by the government because of their claims relating to Strange’s son’s death, which include a complaint that a Muslim imam cursed the dead SEAL team members during a ceremony at Dover Air Force Base.

“My colleagues have received text messages I never sent,” Klayman told the judge. “I think they’re messing with me,” he said, referring to the government.

Klayman implored the judge to rule against the NSA program not only on legal grounds but in order to avert what the conservative gadfly said was a violent revolution on the verge of breaking out due to the federal governments [sic] unbridled use of power.

“We live in an Orwellian state,” Klayman said, warning that citizens angry about surveillance were about to “rise up.”

If litigation fails, “the only alternative is for people to take matters into their own hands,” he told Leon.

I wonder what parts of these arguments convinced Judge Leon?

Despite the weirdness, Charles Pierce is cheering Leon’s decision:

No matter what you think of Snowden, or Glenn Greenwald, and no matter what you think of what they did, this ruling does not happen if the NSA doesn’t let a contractor walk out of the joint with the family jewels on a flash drive. This ruling does not happen if we do not know what we now know, and we don’t know any of that unless Snowden gathers the data and leaks it to the Guardian. This entire country was founded after a revolution that was touched off to a great extent by the concept of individual privacy.

Read all about it at the Esquire link.

I know it’s difficult for some males to understand this, but if Americans do have a right to privacy, then American women should also have that right in making decisions about what happens to their bodies–they should be able to choose whether or not and/or when to have a child. Therefore, they should have access to birth control and abortion without the interference of the state. If women–who represent more than 1/2 of the U.S. population–can’t have privacy; then there is a very big disconnect in the law that needs to be clarified. Are women people? Are they citizens? Griswald and Roe were also decided on the basis of privacy.

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After their fluff piece on NSA on Sunday, CBS’ 60 Minutes announced yesterday that Lara Logan, who was “suspended” after she hosted an utterly false report on the Benghazi attacks, will be returning to the program next year. Politico’s Dylan Byers:

Logan and McClellan took leave following public pressure over an Oct. 27 report in which security contractor Dylan Davies claimed to have been present and active at the Sept. 11 raid on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Reports later indicated that Davies had told both his contractor and the FBI that he was not present at the compound on the night of the attack. Logan later apologized and “60 Minutes” retracted the story.

Despite public criticism and internal frustrations among some members of the “60 Minutes” team, CBS News chairman and “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager decided to stand by Logan. Earlier this month, he held a meeting with CBS News staff in which he defended the 42-year-old journalist, saying that as EP he was ultimately responsible for failing to catch the mistake.

As an antidote, I recommend reading TBogg’s take on this decision at Raw Story: Lara Logan is tan, rested and ready to come back and be kind of bad at her job again.

Last week, it was revealed that LA Sheriff’s Office deputies who have been indicted by a Grand Jury had illegally arrested and “roughed up” two foreign diplomats in 2011. From the LA Times:

An Austrian consulate official was improperly arrested and searched by L.A. County sheriff’s deputies at the Men’s Central Jail, according to four indictments filed against 18 department officials.

The incident occurred in 2011 when the official and her husband were visiting an inmate who was an Austrian national….

The Austrian consul’s husband was arrested outside the jail because he had walked near the doors going into the visiting center, according to one of the indictments unsealed Monday.

When the consul requested to speak to a supervisor about her husband’s arrest, she too was placed in handcuffs and arrested, even though she had committed no crime and would have been immune from prosecution, the indictment said.

The couple were taken to a deputy break room and searched, the indictment said.

Read more details at the link. And from Firedoglake, Peter Van Buren explains why this is so outrageous:

One of the primary jobs for any embassy or consulate abroad is the welfare of its citizens. Indeed, many of the first diplomatic outposts abroad were set up to protect sailors and merchants. This work typically includes visiting one’s citizens in foreign jails, a task young diplomats around the world conduct. As a State Department foreign service officer myself for 24 years, I must have done this hundreds of times. But no matter how many times I did it, it was always an unsettling feeling to walk into a jail, go through security into a cell or holding room, and then walk back out.

Getting out, and being treated properly inside, was however more than an act of faith on my part. Diplomats abroad are protected people; under both formal treaties and long-established traditions (“diplomatic immunity”), a country should not mess around with another’s diplomats. Take a look at Iran– over thirty years since the kidnapping of American diplomats in Tehran, our two countries still are a long, long way from reestablishing relations.

I once safely visited in an underground facility of an Asian country’s secret police an American Citizen who likely had been tortured. The system generally works everywhere, from first world countries to crappy police states in the developing world. However, one rough area where it does not work is in Los Angeles.

Please read the rest if you can.

Devyani Khobragade

Today we learn that the NYPD also abused a foreign diplomat. The woman, a deputy consul general at the Indian embassy in NYC was arrested and handcuffed on the street and then subjected to a strip search at police headquarters. From The Guardian:

Bulldozers have removed security barriers outside the US embassy in Delhi as a diplomatic row prompted by the arrest of an Indian diplomat on visa fraud charges in New York intensified.

Devyani Khobragade, India‘s deputy consul general in New York, was charged last week with making false statements on an application for her housekeeper to live and work in the United States.

India’s national security adviser on Tuesday called the treatment of Khobragade “despicable and barbaric” and the country’s foreign secretary summoned the US ambassador. Politicians – including Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and vice chairman of the ruling Congress party, and Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Hindu nationalist opposition BJP – refused to meet a visiting US congressional delegation.

The removal of the barriers was one of a slew of retaliatory actions taken by the Indian government as outrage at the arrest grew, including the withdrawal of import clearances and special airport passes. The incident has become a major story in India, dominating TV bulletins.

The false statements were that Khobragade had agreed to pay the housekeeper the New York minimum wage ($9.25), but had agreed privately with the woman that her actual salary would be only 1/3 that amount.

From NDTV All India:

Furious with the US for the arrest and alleged strip search of its high-ranking diplomat Devyani Khobragade, India today retaliated with a slew of measures to pare down the privileges of American diplomats. (10 latest developments)

US diplomats in consulates across India have been asked to surrender identity cards issued to them and their families, which entitle them to special privileges. India has also withdrawn all airport passes for consulates and import clearances for the embassy.

The Delhi police removed barricades outside the sprawling US embassy in the capital.

Ms Khobragade was subjected to a humiliating strip search and was kept in a cell with drug addicts after her arrest for alleged visa fraud in New York last week. (Read) Noel Clay, a spokesperson for the US State Department, told NDTV that standard procedures had been followed during Ms Khobragade’s arrest.

The US has implied that she enjoyed only limited immunity.

As part of its reciprocal measures, India is asking for details like salaries paid to Indian staff employed in US consulates, including those working as domestic helps with the families of American officials.

It seems that, between the NSA revelations and the increasing use of police state tactics by law enforcement, the US is managing to alienate much of the rest of  all the world.

I’m out of space, so I’ll wrap this up. Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on today? Please post your links in the comment thread and have a great day!


Friday Reads: The Word for Today is “Surreality”

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Good Morning!!

I’ve been browsing around the internet this morning, and all I can find is really surreal news. The Obamacare “fumble” or “botch” or “mess” or whatever else the pundits decide to call it is still the top story today; and it looks like President Obama could be in for an even worse day than yesterday. He must be glad it’s Friday. All the usual suspects are weighing in on the “problem” and of course Republicans are gloating.

Reuters summarizes Obama’s very bad Thursday: An apologetic Obama unveils fix on health law.

President Barack Obama on Thursday tried to ease the biggest crisis of his presidency, acknowledging missteps with his signature healthcare law and announcing a plan to help those seeing their current health plans canceled because of it.

Obama, trying to limit the political damage to his presidency and fellow Democrats, said health insurers could extend by at least one year policies due to be canceled because they do not comply with new minimum requirements under the law.

With insurers complaining the fix could create new problems and lead to higher premiums, it was not clear whether Obama’s plan would actually work, or soothe his party’s concerns that the botched rollout has undercut Democrats facing tough re-election fights in 2014.

A chastened Obama said he had “fumbled” the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, his biggest domestic policy achievement, and said he would have to work to regain his credibility and the public’s trust.

Also from Reuters: Obama to meet with insurers Friday on Obamacare fix.

The meeting comes a day after the president, under fire for the botched rollout of his top domestic policy achievement, announced he would allow individuals to keep insurance policies that were being canceled under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare….

Insurers and state regulators say that Obama’s fix for policies canceled under the law will create new problems for the industry and could lead to an increase in premiums.

The change, which Obama announced under growing pressure from lawmakers from his Democratic Party, would allow policies that do not meet Obamacare’s standards to be renewed anyway.

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From WaPo’s The Fix: ‘Keep Your Health Plan Act’ spells trouble for dozens of Democrats.

Intense focus on the early troubles of the Affordable Care Act already makes this a no good, very bad week for congressional Democrats, who are torn between supporting the signature domestic achievement of the Obama administration, but eager to be seen doing something to address significant concerns with the law….

At issue is the “Keep Your Health Plan Act,” a proposal by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) that supporters believe would fulfill President Obama’s now-broken promise to let people keep their current health insurance plan if they like it.

Under the Upton proposal, anyone opting to keep their current plan wouldn’t face financial penalties established by the law. And the measure would allow insurers to sell their minimal plans to new customers. The bill is expected to pass easily in the GOP-controlled House.

Most Democrats believe that the Upton bill would fundamentally gut the ACA by allowing plans not compliant with the new law to continue. They believe that the administrative fixes announced by Obama Thursday will work, or are supporting a proposal by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that would let people keep their current health-care plans for the next year and require insurers to provide information on new plans that meet the law’s stricter requirements.

Chris Cillizza, also at The Fix, doesn’t think any of this is going to help Republicans much in 2014; Todd Purdum at Politico spanks Obama unmercifully, but at the end of his lengthy piece admits:

It is true that public support for many of the law’s crucial components — a ban on lifetime limits on health coverage; an end to discrimination based on pre-existing conditions; extended coverage for dependent children; improvements to Medicare — have always exceeded support for the law itself. White House officials take pains to note that those provisions are now beginning to take effect — on time, as planned.

Most state-run insurance exchanges are working far better than the federal website — which the administration was forced to make as big as it is only because some three dozen states with recalcitrant Republican governors declined to create their own exchanges as envisioned. And lest anyone forget, the old health insurance system was not so hot.

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Of course Chuck Todd is thrilled, and he went on Morning Joe this morning to dance on Obama’s grave. From Mediaite:

NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd told the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday that the problematic roll-out of the Affordable Care Act represents an all-time political low for President Barack Obama. He said that the president’s press conference on Thursday was aimed more at Democrats in an attempt to keep them from abandoning him or his signature achievement.

“It seemed like he was trying to offer his party – the Democratic Party – and, basically, all the panicked Democrats on Capitol Hill a pound of flesh so that they don’t vote for these other bills,” Todd said of the bills circulating in the House and Senate that would allow those who have lost their health plans to keep them indefinitely….

“I talked to one of the old guard in Obama-land who said they’ve never seen that in private from him,” Todd added. “This is a moment that he hasn’t experienced in national politics before, is the impression that I was being given.”

“This clearly is the low of his presidency politically right now,” the NBC News reporter continues. “We obviously see it in the polls, but just the way he feels, his ability to lead the party, or, frankly, hope that the party doesn’t abandon him right now in this moment.”

You can just imagine how happy Karl Rove and The Wall Street Journal are about the Obamacare troubles.

I’ll spare you excerpts from those columns and refer you to Jonthan Chait: Conservatives Confident America Rejecting Obamacare, Ready for Every-Man-for-Himself Care.

The keep-your-plan fiasco, in addition to flummoxing Democrats, has not only held out to Republicans the tantalizing prospect that they can discredit and defeat Obamacare, but also drawn into sympathetic focus their own alternative vision.

Here is the basic ideological division. Obama wants the health-care system to do more to pool risk — which is to say, to shift the burden of covering the sick onto the healthy. Republicans want it to do less to pool risk, so that healthy people can be free of the burden of subsidizing the costs of those less medically fortunate.

The small portion of the populace that lies outside of either employer-based or direct government coverage provides the closest existing model for the health-care system conservatives favor. The minority within this market who have insurance, and are losing their plans as a result of regulations preventing insurers from excluding the sick, have dominated public attention and formed what conservatives imagine will be a constituency for their own brand of counter-reform: a deregulated market where healthy people can buy cheap, bare-bones plans, and sicker people have to pay large out-of-pocket costs. Obamacare’s torturous birth pangs have convinced giddy conservatives that they are on the cusp of a great ideological victory.

Read the rest at the New York Magazine link above.

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I’ll wrap up this section of my post with the most surreal Obamacare story I could find: Michele Bachmann: I lost my insurance:

Rep. Michele Bachmann says she is one of the people who lost their health insurance because of Obamacare and she won’t go shopping on a health exchange until it’s fixed.

“Are you kidding? I’m not going to waste an hour on that thing,” the Minnesota Republican said when Wolf Blitzer asked her on CNN on Thursday if she’d signed up on the exchange website. “I lost my health insurance under Obamacare. And so now I’m forced to go into the D.C. health exchange. I’m waiting until they fix this thing. I’m not going to sit there and frustrate myself for hours and hours.”

Don’t members of House have their own insurance plan? Did the rest of the House get their plans cancelled too?

Bachmann did not explain what about Obamacare caused her to lose her health insurance. The health law technically requires congressional staff go on the D.C. exchange, but it’s up to the individual congressional office to determine who qualifies as “official office” staff, so many Republicans have placed their aides on the exchange while Democrats have been split.

At the Daily Banter, Bob Cesca explains to Bachmann how to sign up for health insurance at the DC exchange, which is running quite smoothly, thank you very much.

I’ve run on way too long about the Obamacare story, but I haven’t been paying close attention to it and I needed to bring myself up to speed. I hope I didn’t bore the rest of you!

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Now let’s look at someone who really has a health care problem. Gawker reports on a woman with stage 4 breast cancer and the vile treatment she has been getting from her daughter’s school because of it (emphasis added).

An Albuquerque mother says her daughter’s elementary school principal banned her from school grounds for the way she smells. Kerri Mascareno was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in August, and while she’s undergoing chemotherapy to shrink her tumor, she’s also struggling with the administration at Tierra Antigua Elementary.

According to Mascareno, the school’s principal, Robert Abney, told her last week that she could no longer visit the school:

“He just said he knows this is going to hurt my feelings and he understands where I’m coming from because his mother had breast cancer and she had the same exact smell and I can no longer be in the school and that with me being in the school that I made his employees ill,” she said.

She claims that when she moved outside, the principal went to his window and told her to move farther away. “He just said that he would have to ask me to sit in my car because he could smell me through the window,” Mascareno said.

Calling Dr. Freud! Robert Abney needs psychological treatment STAT! Men with Oedipal complexes should not be in charge of running schools. I hope Kerri Mascareno sues and gets a million-dollar payday so she can leave the money to her children.

Yesterday I wrote about two Secret Service agents who have been removed from President Obama’s security detail. Today the WaPo reports that there have been complaints about misconduct by Secret Service agents in 17 countries!

Secret Service agents and managers have engaged in sexual misconduct and other improprieties across a span of 17 countries in recent years, according to accounts given by whistleblowers to the Senate committee that oversees the department.

Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (Wis.), ranking Republican on a Homeland Security subcommittee, said Thursday that the accounts directly contradict repeated assertions by Secret Service leaders that the elite agency does not foster or tolerate sexually improper behavior.

And get this:

Johnson said that one of those disciplined supervisors, Ignacio Zamora Jr., had helped lead the internal investigation into the April 2012 incident in Cartagena, where more than a dozen agents engaged in a night of heavy drinking and carousing with prostitutes ahead of a presidential visit.

One person involved in security in Cartagena said Zamora was chosen for the review because he served as the “second supervisor” on the trip, and was among the managers responsible for the security effort in advance of Obama’s arrival for an international summit.

Zamora is the agent who was disciplined for trying to break into a woman’s hotel room to retrieve a bullet he had left there.

Finally, once again I want to call your attention to a McClatchy article that RalphB linked to yesterday: Questions about ‘60 Minutes’ Benghazi story go beyond Dylan Davies interview; CBS conducting ‘journalistic review’. It’s long, but it is a must read. The writer, Nancy A. Youseff, goes through Lara Logan’s “60 Minutes” report line by line and finds numerous outright lies and distortions. Logan and anyone else involved with the story should be fired immediately and Logan should apply for a job at Fox News.

So . . . what are you reading and blogging about today? Please share your links on any topic in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads

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Good Morning!!

I hope you’ll forgive my provincialism, but the only news that really matters to me this morning is that the Red Sox mopped the floor with the Cardinals last night, winning Game 1 of the 2013 World Series 8-1. Chad Finn of The Boston Globe has the story: 

If you’re one of those straggling Red Sox fans who still believes in curses and ghosts and various other apparitions despite all of the affirming joys that have occurred since 2004, have I got a cockamamie theory to sell you.

Here goes: I think in Game 1 of the World Series Wednesday night at Fenway Park, the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals were somehow possessed by their baseball forefathers of 100 years ago.

Really. Think about it: The 2013 Cardinals arrived as the National League representative in this World Series with a sterling reputation and a vast reservoir of respect, having just vanquished the talented Dodgers with a combination of a deep lineup, a deeper bullpen, and a starting rotation led by true ace Adam Wainwright.

So what happens when they finally take the field? The Cardinals make three errors, botch a popup to the pitcher, and Wainwright, a strike-throwing machine who walked 35 batters all season, requires 31 pitches to get through the first inning. After the first, the Cardinals were already in a 3-0 hole that became 5-0 an inning later.

The way Jon Lester was dealing for the Red Sox, the five-run hole felt insurmountable, and it was. The outcome was determined long before the final 8-1 score became official.

It was pretty much over in the first inning. Then Red Sox fans could sit back and just enjoy it. I doubt if the rest of the games will be that easy, but winning the first one is a big plus. Game 2 tonight!

Now that I’ve bored everyone but myself, Pat J., and MABlue if he’s lurking out there, I’ll move on to the political news.

Republican disrespect for the President of the United States has reached an all-time low, according to Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who claims that an “unnamed GOP leader” told President Obama to his face at the White House, “I can’t stand to look at you.” Todd S. Purdum at Politico:

Such an insult — delivered eyeball to eyeball — would trump Rep. Joe Wilson’s shouted “You lie!” on the House floor during the Obama’s health care speech to Congress in 2009.

It would top former Vice President Dick Cheney’s terse suggestion on the Senate floor in 2004 that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) should perform an anatomically improbable act. And it would make Dick Armey’s heated advice to a scolding Bill Clinton (“Perhaps it’s my Western upbringing, but I don’t listen very well when someone’s pointing a finger in my face!”) during the 1995 government shutdown seem positively polite by comparison.

Perhaps only John Quincy Adams’s dismissal of Thomas Jefferson as “a slur upon the moral government of the world” sounds worse — and Adams made that assessment in the late 1820s, after Jefferson was dead.

The White House and John Boehner are both denying it, but Durbin is sticking by his statement.

In fact, the alleged dis words are so personal, so passionate, so disaffected-high-school-sweetheart in tone — “I cannot even stand to look at you” — that it’s hard to imagine any grown man saying them to another — much less to the president. “What are the chances of an honest conversation with someone who has just said something so disrespectful?” Durbin’s Facebook post asked with understatement.

Frankly, I have no problem believing it. Which “GOP leader” do you think it was?

And how are “old-style” Republicans supposed to deal with the new GOP? John G. Taft, descendant of President William Howard Taft, wrote about their struggle in The New York Times: The Cry of the True Republican:

Five generations of Tafts have served our nation as unwaveringly stalwart Republicans, from Alphonso Taft, who served as attorney general in the late 19th century, through William Howard Taft, who not only was the only person to be both president of the United States and chief justice of the United States but also served as the chief civil administrator of the Philippines and secretary of war, to my cousin, Robert Taft, a two-term governor of Ohio.

As I write, a photograph of my grandfather, Senator Robert Alphonso Taft, looks across at me from the wall of my office. He led the Republican Party in the United States Senate in the 1940s and early 1950s, ran for the Republican nomination for president three times and was known as “Mr. Republican.” If he were alive today, I can assure you he wouldn’t even recognize the modern Republican Party, which has repeatedly brought the United States of America to the edge of a fiscal cliff — seemingly with every intention of pushing us off the edge.

Read the rest at the link; it’s not long.

Another disaffected Republican, Andrew Sullivan, reacted to Taft’s op-ed by suggesting that we are approaching The Decline And Fall Of Christianism.

The fusion of politics and religion – most prominently the fusion of the evangelical movement and the Republican party – has been one of the most damaging developments in recent American history. It has made Republicanism not the creed of realists, pragmatists and compromise but of fundamentalists – on social and foreign policy, and even fiscal matters. And once maintaining inerrant doctrine becomes more important than, you know, governing a complicated, divided society, you end up with the extremism we saw in the debt ceiling crisis. When doctrine matters more than actually doing anything practical you end up with Cruz cray-cray….

But there is some light on the horizon. The Catholic hierarchy has been knocked sideways by the emergence of Pope Francis and his eschewal of their fixation on homosexuality, contraception and abortion. That fixation – essentially a Christianist and de factoRepublican alliance among Protestants and Catholic leaders – has now been rendered a far lower priority than, say, preaching the Gospel or serving the poor and the sick. Francis has also endorsed secularism as the proper modern context for religious faith: “I say that politics is the most important of the civil activities and has its own field of action, which is not that of religion. Political institutions are secular by definition and operate in independent spheres.”

Sullivan claims something similar is happening among younger evangelicals. I don’t buy it, but you can check out Sullivan’s arguments at his blog.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel suspects that the NSA has been bugging her cell phone, and she’s furious about it.

From the Guardian:

The furore over the scale of American mass surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden shifted to an incendiary new level on Wednesday evening when Angela Merkel of Germany called Barack Obama to demand explanations over reports that the US National Security Agency was monitoring her mobile phone.

Merkel was said by informed sources in Germany to be “livid” over the reports and convinced, on the basis of a German intelligence investigation, that the reports were utterly substantiated.

The German news weekly, Der Spiegel, reported an investigation by German intelligence, prompted by research from the magazine, that produced plausible information that Merkel’s mobile was targeted by the US eavesdropping agency. The German chancellor found the evidence substantial enough to call the White House and demand clarification.

The outrage in Berlin came days after President François Hollande of France also called the White House to confront Obama with reports that the NSA was targeting the private phone calls and text messages of millions of French people.

According to a Merkel spokesperson,

Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, made plain that Merkel upbraided Obama unusually sharply and also voiced exasperation at the slowness of the Americans to respond to detailed questions on the NSA scandal since the Snowden revelations first appeared in the Guardian in June.

Merkel told Obama that “she unmistakably disapproves of and views as completely unacceptable such practices, if the indications are authenticated,” Seifert said. “This would be a serious breach of confidence. Such practices have to be halted immediately.”

The Guardian doesn’t report how President Obama responded to Merkel’s outraged complaints. Maybe he just sat there listening passively?

Hillary Clinton was heckled by an audience member during a speech at the University of Buffalo last night, according to WIVB in Amherst, NY.

Former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to a large crowd at the University at Buffalo Wednesday night, as part of the university’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

Clinton spoke to a sold-out crowd in Alumni Arena, and began her address by talking about the stagnation in Washington and its recent impact on the U.S. economy after a partial government shutdown.

“Recently in Washington, we’ve seen what happens when politicians operate on scorched earth, not on common ground,” Clinton said.

It was shortly thereafter a man stood up and started shouting, “Benghazi, Benghazi, you let them die.”

Clinton did not stop speaking, but addressed the heckler by saying that solutions to problems facing Americans start by sitting down and talking and listening, not yelling, which prompted the audience to give her a standing ovation.

I guess that’s a taste of what we’ll have to deal with if Hillary decides to run for President in 2016. Read more about her speech at the link.

Heidi cruz

You know how Sen. Ted Cruz wants so much to kill the Affordable Care Act so that millions of Americans will continue to live without health care coverage? And how he voted to take away health care subsidies from Congress and Congressional staffers? Well, it turns out he wouldn’t have been affected if that had happened. From the Atlantic: Ted Cruz Has a Health Insurance Plan from Goldman Sachs.

Senator Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi Nelson Cruz confirmed on Wednesday that her husband has health insurance through her job at Goldman Sachs. That puts to rest a question opened, but never answered, by Senator Dick Durbin during Cruz’s 20-hour talkathon on the Senate floor against Obamacare. The details come from an interesting New York Times profile of Nelson Cruz, a regional head of a Goldman Sachs division in Houston. Here’s the Times:

And while her husband has been evasive about where he gets his health coverage, Mrs. Cruz was blunt.“Ted is on my health care plan,” said Mrs. Cruz, who has worked in Goldman’s investment management division for eight years.

Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for the senator, confirmed the coverage, which Goldman said was worth at least $20,000 a year. “The senator is on his wife’s plan, which comes at no cost to the taxpayer and reflects a personal decision about what works best for their family,” she said.

Yes, Teddy-boy is covered by insurance provided by his wife’s employer, yet he would have gladly deprived Congressional staffers of their coverage. What an asshole!

Those are my contributions for today. What are you reading and blogging about? Please post your links in the comment thread.


Glenn Greenwald’s Dishonest Attack on Paul Krugman

glenn-greenwald

A few days ago Paul Krugman wrote a not-very-exciting post at his blog “The Conscience of a Liberal.” The point of the post was that right wingers have not been as successful in their efforts to hype fake scandals during the Obama administration as they were in the Clinton years. Krugman writes:

When Barack Obama was elected, I was sure that it would be the Clinton years all over — that he would be subjected to an endless series of claims of “scandal”, creating the sense of a tainted administration even though all the alleged scandals would turn out to be either trivial or nonexistent. Remember, after all those years of front-page headlines and $70 million in public funds, the Whitewater investigation came up dry.

In fact, however, none of that happened during Obama’s first term. But would the second term be different? For a little while it looked as if the old scandal machinery was finally springing back to life, with Benghazi, the IRS, and more. You could almost hear the sigh of contentment from a certain part of the press corps.

Krugman’s post had nothing to do with the NSA leaks, Edward Snowden, or Glenn Greenwald; but he made the mistake of just barely mentioning the NSA story.

But now it has all evaporated. Benghazi never made sense; it turns out that the IRS was targeting conservative as well as liberal groups. And as Chait says in the linked article, the NSA stuff is a policy dispute, not the kind of scandal the right wing wants.

And today, Greenwald chose to sic his permanently outraged shock troops fans on Krugman based on a deliberately obtuse reading of Krugman’s referencing Chait’s characterization of the NSA issue as a “policy dispute.” Here’s Greenwald’s take on it.

Defending the Obama administration, Paul Krugman pronounced that “the NSA stuff is a policy dispute, not the kind of scandal the right wing wants.” Really? In what conceivable sense is this not a serious scandal? If you, as an American citizen, let alone a journalist, don’t find it deeply objectionable when top national security officials systematically mislead your representatives in Congress about how the government is spying on you, and repeatedly lie publicly about resulting political controversies over that spying, what is objectionable? If having the NSA engage in secret, indiscriminate domestic spying that warps if not outright violates legal limits isn’t a “scandal”, then what is?

Of course it was really Jonathan Chait who made the distinction between “scandals” and “policy disputes.” Here’s what Chait wrote about it:

Obama’s prosecution of leaks, or use of the National Security Agency — is not a scandal at all. It’s a policy controversy. One can argue that Obama’s policy stance is wrong, or dangerous, or a threat to democracy. But when the president is carrying out duly passed laws and acting at every stage with judicial approval, then the issue is the laws themselves, not misconduct.

And of course it’s really Chait with whom Greenwald is enraged; because Chait had the temerity to write a somewhat humorous column in which he noted the similarities between Greenwald and Ralph Nader–one of which is that each of these men was apparently born without a sense of humor.

But instead of attacking Chait, Greenwald picks a fight with Krugman, who really doesn’t need that right now since he’s grieving the lost of his father. It’s probably a low blow for me to bring that up, but I can’t believe Greenwald didn’t know it, since he apparently reads Greenwald’s blog.

Greenwald has been running around to any media outlet who will have him announcing that he’s got an upcoming “bombshell” scoop that “will shock the world.” I wish he’d just get busy and publish it instead of spending so much time hyping his stories and lecturing everyone about how to interpret Edward Snowden’s behavior.

I think today I’ve finally had enough of St. Glenn to last me the rest of my life.


Caturday: Happy Birthday, Marilyn Monroe!

374478_358084140974846_313238422_nGood morning, newsjunkies!

Eighty-seven years ago today, the inimitable Marilyn Monroe was born. To the right is perhaps my favorite photo of Marilyn, taken by Anthony Beauchamp. It projects such strength and awesomeness…and so fabulously complements the vulnerable doe-eyed look that she is known and celebrated for elsewhere.

Huffpo has an interesting 1-and-a-half minute clip of an interview with Marilyn’s “closest” friend Amy Greene, from just two days ago. Greene talks about how she met Marilyn…and she has some very spirited and choice words summing up her thoughts on the film, My Week with Marilyn. I tried to embed the clip, but the code won’t work on wordpress. So please take a moment to click over and watch when you can. You won’t want to miss the punchline!

Also, if you are so inclined, check out this recent drama going down regarding a letter written by Marilyn. The letter in dispute is characterized as follows:

According to The Beverly Hills Courier, Monroe wrote the undated letter to Monroe’s longtime mentor and acting coach, Lee Strasberg, on Hotel Bel-Air stationary. It reads, in part, “My will is weak but I can’t stand anything. I sound crazy but I think I’m going crazy…It’s just that I get before a camera and my concentration and everything I’m trying to learn leaves me. Then I feel like I’m not existing in the human race at all.”

Wow, that gives me chills.

Huffpo also has a nice gallery of photos up for Marilyn’s birthday. One of the last photos:

marilyn5Undated photo shows US actress Marilyn Monroe a few weeks before she died in 05 August, 1962 at the age of 36. The circumstances of her death have never been cleared up. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Damn. Maybe it’s because I turned 32 a couple months ago, but to me that photo looks like a woman just getting started in life.

A few rare shots of Marilyn here, by a reporter who took these photos at the time as a teenager himself for his high school newspaper. He actually ended up selling them to some other small magazine instead of publishing them in his school paper. Anyhow, check them out. They’re all black and white and pretty fantastic for a high school paper photog!

marilyn.catAnd to the right, a sight for my 30-something crazy cat lady self! According to the internet, it’s Marilyn with her adopted kitty Serafina. I wish I could find the official credits for that photo, but all I was able to track it down on, through a cursory search, was pinterest- and fanpop-type sites. I’ll keep looking, or maybe one of you knows!

In the meantime, here are a few other news stories for you to nibble on this morning with your brew or beverage of choice…

This first one is a doozy. Wingnut radio tinfoil chaser says McCain was “hobnobbing with jihadists” with his Syria trip, and Gohmert faults McCain for being partly responsible for Benghazi. (And, this ‘my friends’ is why I am going to bypass all the political freakshows taking up all the headlines. Cuz, just WTF? Who even cares anymore. The Onion is more realistic.)

Here’s something much better to click over to: May 31, 2013 – American Voters Like Clinton Over Paul, Jeb Bush, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds. Keep whining about MarshaBenghazi, Jan Brady GOP-ers. That’s really working out for you.

And, this one is an arrow from Marilyn’s bow shot straight into the heart of rightwing canards… New Study Shows Immigrants Pay More Into Medicare Than They Take Out:

A study released by the Harvard Medical School on Wednesday shows that immigrants as whole pay more into Medicare than they use, effectively subsidizing the program. The study found that in 2009 alone, immigrants created a $13.8 billion surplus for Medicare. From 2002 to 2009, immigrants paid a total of $115 billion more to the government health program than they used. American-born workers, on the other hand, posted a $28 billion deficit in the same 2002 to 2009 time frame.

But, hey what are facts in the face of xenophobic hate and mistrust?

And, finally this one here is my favorite and I highly recommend if you click any link in this roundup, it’s this: If I Admit That ‘Hating Men’ Is a Thing, Will You Stop Turning It Into a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy? Seriously, if I excerpted from it, it wouldn’t do the piece justice. Go read now!!

Alright Sky Dancers, your turn. What’s on your list for today? Have a great weekend and would love to hear from you if you get a chance.