Monday Reads

Morning Coffee, by Christina Madden

Morning Coffee, by Christina Madden

Welcome to Morbid Monday!!

 

I haven’t had a regular work schedule for  years, so why do the days of the week still affect me as they did when I had a 9-5 job or when I was in school? Is it because I need some kind of structure in my life? I still look forward to weekends and I still dislike Monday mornings. Why is that? Is it because the world around me is structured that way? Or is it because I was conditioned from childhood to our society’s weekly scheduling?

Anyway, I’m still recovering from a combination cold and stomach virus, and it’s Monday; so I’m slow on the uptake today, and I just hope this post will make sense. Healthwise, I’m better off than Dakinikat and JJ. Actually, Dakinikat and her computer are both under the weather, so I’m filling in for her today. The photos of giant coffee cups show how I feel about Mondays!

Here are the stories that most interested me this morning.

Ferguson, Missouri

Did you read that awful New York Times story that reported on leaks from “officials briefed on the federal civil rights investigation” into the shooting of teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson? According to the Times, these “officials” were not members of the Ferguson police department or from “officials whose activities are being investigated as part of the civil rights inquiry.” So does that mean Justice Department “officials?” Or are these “officials” from St. Louis? Who the hell knows. But the slant of the story was toward exonerating Wilson and making it appear that Brown deserved to die.

Here’s a summary of Wilson’s version of events from Newsweek:

The official testimony that Officer Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed the unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, gave to authorities was revealed for the first time in a Friday New York Times report.

During the struggle, the officer claimed that Brown reached for his gun. Wilson told investigators that the two struggled over the weapon before the fatal shooting, that Brown assaulted him and he “feared for his life” that day. He also said that Brown had scratched and punched him multiple times, which resulted in cuts and swelling on his face and neck.

According to forensic tests, the gun went off twice in Wilson’s S.U.V., and shot Brown in the arm once. The test also confirmed that Brown’s blood was found in Wilson’s car, his uniform and his gun. The autopsy confirmed that Brown had been shot a total of six times upon his death.

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In my opinion we’re being softened up for the blow that will come next month when the Grand Jury fails to indict Wilson. Whoever the “officials” who talked to the NYT are, they apparently don’t want the Justice Department to find that Wilson violated Michael Brown’s rights. Otherwise, why would they be leaking this information? The Washington Post story is also slanted toward Wilson’s version of events, and they cite anonymous “county officials.”

Forensic evidence shows Michael Brown’s blood on the gun, on the uniform and inside the car of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, law enforcement officials said, information they believe potentially corroborates the officer’s story that the unarmed 18-year-old tried to take his gun.

The evidence will make it harder for the Justice Department to prosecute Wilson on federal charges that he violated Brown’s civil rights, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Such evidence would also make it difficult for a county grand jury to indict Wilson on state charges, such as murder or manslaughter, said county sources who also are prohibited from talking on the record about the pending case.

Multiple media sources are now parroting anonymous sources who claim the “evidence” supports Wilson’s story. I just don’t see it. Of course Brown’s blood would be inside Wilson’s car, since Wilson reportedly shot Brown in the arm at close range. Blood would have spattered all over. It makes sense that it would be on the gun, Wilson’s uniform, and elsewhere in the car. As for the alleged scratches, cuts, and swelling on Wilson’s face (where are the photos?), that could have happened because, as the closest  witness–Dorian Johnson–said, Wilson pulled Brown into the car by the neck and tried to choke him. Brown could have been defending himself. Furthermore, none of this justifies Wilson chasing Brown and shooting him as Brown was trying to surrender with his hands in the air, which is what a number of witnesses reported.

Al Sharpton isn’t buying it. From Colin Campbell at Business Insider:

Speaking at his weekly National Action Network rally in Harlem, Sharpton panned Wilson’s claim to be in fear of his life as the “same excuse” as others who fatally shot African-American teens.

“We were involved in Trayvon Martin. We were supportive of Jordan Davis,” Sharpton said, ticking off the recent controversies. “The strange thing is that all of them used the same excuse … The only gun there was Darren Wilson’s! Strange parallels with all of these cases.”

“First of all, if you stopped him — Michael Brown and his friend — walking down the street, what led to the scuffle? … Secondly, how does he and you get in your car? You trying to do what by yourself?” Sharpton asked. “Now, if I go with you with your story all the way to that — that Michael Brown was shot, gets up off you in the car — why are you trying to tell me that a man … ran back at you when he knew you had the gun and you already shot him?”

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The story makes no sense, but I’m guessing the Missouri Grand Jury will believe it. And then it’s going to get ugly. From The Daily Beast:

The Rev. Carlon Lee, pastor of Flood Christian Church in Ferguson, Mo., was sending out links to a New York Times story Friday night to friends, family and community members who have spent the last two months absorbed in the events surrounding the death of teenager Michael Brown. The story cited forensic evidence offered by federal officials that showed Brown’s blood on officer Darren Wilson’s uniform and gun, which was found to have been fired inside Wilson’s patrol car. Lee’s link came with a personal thought:

“If there has ever been a time to pray, this is it,” he told recipients of texts and emails.

There was really nothing new about the Times’ story—Wilson has maintained since day one that Brown was reaching for the officer’s gun, which led to a struggle ultimately ending in the teenager’s death. Now, though, evidence seen only by a St. Louis County grand jury has been made available for the world, including the residents of Ferguson.

“I believe that when people have received (the Times) article and see what’s going on it will infuriate people and set us back,” Lee said. “No matter what happened in (Wilson’s) car, Michael Brown’s hands were up. No matter if he beat the crap out of Officer Wilson, his hands were up—a universal sign of surrendering.”

Protesters in Ferguson are going to believe Wilson’s story, says St. Louis photojournalist Bradley Rayford.

“The protesters didn’t believe Officer Wilson’s story in the first place, so they’re not going to believe this story,” Rayford said of the Times’ reporting….

It’s impossible to tell whether the story being sent out by Lee on Friday night would result in increased action on the streets of Ferguson, but one thing, as it has all along, remains clear: If Wilson isn’t indicted chaos will once again reign.

“If there’s a non-indictment I think you’ll see an immediate uproar,” Lee said. “I don’t think people have seen the amount of unrest and anger that will come if there’s a non-indictment.”

 Check out these photos of black protesters and white St. Louis Rams fans fighting over an American flag. How symbolic is that? Here’s one of the photos:

St. Louis

At the end of the confrontation, white police officers are shown targeting a black woman.

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Serial Killers

On Saturday, a body that is most likely that of missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham was found in Albemarle County a few miles from where suspect Jesse Matthew grew up. WTVR.com reports:

Just four short miles from the abandoned Albemarle County property, now lined with police tape and full of detectives investigating the discovery of human remains, sits the house Jesse Matthew Jr. and his mother once called home.

“She wanted to try to keep Jesse out of the city away from gang activity — if there was any in the city. She was just trying to make it safe for her son,” said neighbor Cliff Hunt.

Hunt said Matthew’s mother wanted the best for her son, who is now the prime suspect in the disappearance of Hannah Graham, who was last seen Sept. 13 on Charlottesville’s downtown pedestrian mall.

Hannah Graham’s parents wanted the best for their daughter too, and so did Morgan Harrington’s parents. How many more women did Jesse Matthew rape and kill? The safest place for him to have been was prison after he was accused of raping college classmates at two Virginia colleges in 2002 and 2003. 

More from NBC 12: Albemarle neighbors recall Jesse Matthew and his family.

Jesse Matthew and his family lived at a home on Ponderosa Trail, just a few years ago, according to the neighbors and people who live here now. And this spot is just four miles away from where the remains were found by investigators scouring for any trace of evidence left at the scene….

This area is known to suspect Jesse Matthew, who is charged with Graham’s abduction with intent to defile.

Matthew’s former neighbor Bernard Blue said Matthew, his sister and mother lived in this home just miles from where search crews made the gruesome discovery Saturday. Blue says he’s unsettled that the man he knew is now the main suspect in a high-profile case. “Never dreamed he’d do something like that if he is guilty,” he said. “Never dreamed about it, because he was a fine boy when he was up here.”

Blue said Matthew’s mother also worked at UVA hospital, and that she’s stayed in touch. “She was a sweet lady. She came up to see me about four or five months ago,” he said. But Bernard says Matthew left a somewhat different impression. “He was a little strange. But, fine guy, all I know.”

“Strange,” but “a fine guy”?

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Also in this morning’s news, a serial killer has been arrested in Indiana. From the Chicago Tribune: 7 women found dead in Gary, Hammond over weekend.

Bodies of three more women were found in Gary Sunday evening after officials discovered bodies of four women earlier in the weekend at various locations in Gary and Hammond.

One of the recently found women was discovered around 7:50 p.m. Sunday in the 4300 block of Massachusetts Street in Gary, according to a press release from the Lake County coroner’s office. The cause of the woman’s death was strangulation, same as in the case of the first woman found dead Friday night.

Two additional bodies of women were recovered around 10 p.m. in the 400 block of East 43rd Avenue in Gary, according to another press release from the Lake County coroner’s office. The cause of both women’s deaths was unknown.

Deaths of all three women, who were not immediately identified, were ruled homicides, the releases said.

Police have detained a suspect whose name won’t be released until he is charged. The man confessed to the most recent murder and then led police to three more bodies. Fox News reports:

The women were found throughout Hammond and Gary, according to the Lake County coroner’s office. The Chicago Sun-Times cited police sources saying the man in custody is a 43-year-old resident of Gary. Hammond Chief John Doughty said police will have more information at a press conference Monday.

The flurry of grisly discoveries began when Hammond police responded to a call of an unresponsive person Friday evening at a Motel 6 and found the strangled body of a woman identified as Afrika Hardy, 19. As part of the investigation into her death, police executed a search warrant on a home in Gary, where they also took the person of interest into custody, Hammond Police Lt. Richard Hoyda told the Chicago Tribune in an email….

Police discovered the body of Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville, around 11:20 p.m. Saturday in an abandoned home in Gary. Her family had reported her missing on Oct. 8.

Jones’ sister, Yolanda Nowell, previously described her as “very street savvy” and said she had moved 10 years ago from Chicago to Indiana, where she operated a stand at a nearby flea market.

Police found the next body around 1 a.m. Sunday and a third body less than an hour later, according to the Tribune.

Late Sunday, the coroner’s office confirmed the discovery of three additional Jane Does, all of which were found in Gary.

All seven deaths have been ruled homicides, according to the coroner’s office. Most of the bodies were found in or around abandoned or fire-damaged homes in blighted neighborhoods, according to reports. The house near where Jones was found was described as being located in a thriving neighborhood, although it is unkempt, with overgrown grass and weeds.

As I have often said, it’s a bloodbath out there. Violence against women is a daily reality in this country.

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Nazi War Criminals Living on Social Security

From AP via Yahoo News: Expelled Nazis got millions in Social Security.

OSIJEK, Croatia (AP) — Former Auschwitz guard Jakob Denzinger lived the American dream.

 His plastics company in the Rust Belt town of Akron, Ohio, thrived. By the late 1980s, he had acquired the trappings of success: a Cadillac DeVille and a Lincoln Town Car, a lakefront home, investments in oil and real estate.

Then the Nazi hunters showed up.

In 1989, as the U.S. government prepared to strip him of his citizenship, Denzinger packed a pair of suitcases and fled to Germany. Denzinger later settled in this pleasant town on the Drava River, where he lives comfortably, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. He collects a Social Security payment of about $1,500 each month, nearly twice the take-home pay of an average Croatian worker.

Denzinger, 90, is among dozens of suspected Nazi war criminals and SS guards who collected millions of dollars in Social Security payments after being forced out of the United States, an Associated Press investigation found.

The payments flowed through a legal loophole that has given the U.S. Justice Department leverage to persuade Nazi suspects to leave. If they agreed to go, or simply fled before deportation, they could keep their Social Security, according to interviews and internal government records.

Like Denzinger, many lied about their Nazi pasts to get into the U.S. following World War II, and eventually became American citizens.

Read more details about the AP investigation in the lengthy article.

Read “brief profiles” of some of these Nazi social security recipients in this AP story via The Elkhart Truth

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What if Republicans Win Control of Congress?

Here’s Joan Walsh’s take on the silly argument that losing would be good for Democrats: America’s Looming Freak Show: How GOP Control Will Terrorize a Nation – With No Political Repercussion.

I’m an optimist who’s expert at finding silver linings – American progressives have to be — but the case rapidly picking up steam that another midterm loss will be good for Democrats is both silly and a little dangerous.

Bill Scher made the argument from the left as well as anyone could, while  this piece by the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib, coming from the center-right, was more predictable and vexing. (Paul Waldman took a shot at it back in August,  here.) The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump followed and endorsed Seib’s argument. But those takes rely at least in part on the notion that if Republicans gain the Senate, they’ll either have an incentive to help “govern” – or they’ll shame themselves in the eyes of the American public if they don’t. Unfortunately, neither premise is true.

In fact, I’m concerned that worsening political dysfunction perpetuates itself by convincing more Americans that politics is futile. The Obama coalition in particular – younger, less white, less well off than even prior coalitions of Democrats – has gotten so little that’s tangible from its history-making turnout in 2012 (and yes I’ve read that Krugman piece and I mostly agree.) The prospect of its coalescing to become a permanent force in American politics has been at least postponed, if not thwarted entirely, by the deliberate GOP sabotage of the political process.

For me, the backdrop to this depressing midterm election is not merely ISIS and Ebola, but continued unrest in Ferguson, Mo., where it seems unlikely Officer Darren Wilson will face consequences for shooting Michael Brown. From New York to Los Angeles, the issue of police violence just gets worse. There’s increasing activism on the issue, which is great to see – the crowds that turned out for “Ferguson October” over the weekend, and into Monday, were inspiring.

Read the whole sordid thing at the link. Have I told you lately how much I hate the term “progressive?” I’m a liberal and proud of it. The “progressives” who have been undermining Obama for years and are now rooting for a Republican victory make me sick to my stomach. Maybe that’s why I came down with this virus I have.

I should write something about Ebola, but this post is already far too long. I’ll put those links in the comment thread.

So . . . what stories have caught your attention today?


Thursday Reads: Republican Wars on Women, Children, and the Poor . . . Plus Mormon White Supremacy and Michelle Cottle’s War on Sarcasm

Good Morning!!

Today I’m leaving the Boston area and driving to Indiana to stay with my mother for a few weeks. I should be able to keep up my blogging schedule most of the time. I’m going to miss Sky Dancing today, but I’ll check in when I stop for the night. I should get to Indiana on Friday evening. But before I leave, I have some interesting reads to share with you.

I’ll begin with war on women updates.

Via Kaili Joy Gray at dailykos, CNN posted a piece yesterday in which they claim to have found a “study” that shows that women’s voting behavior is dictated by their menstrual cycles. There must have been quite a backlash, because CNN later took the post down and replaced it with a statement saying that the content didn’t meet CNN’s “editorial standards.” Fortunately Kaili Joy Gray found the the article elsewhere and posted the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

The researchers [Kristina Durante of the University of Texas, San Antonio and colleagues] found that during the fertile time of the month, when levels of the hormone estrogen are high, single women appeared more likely to vote for Obama and committed women appeared more likely to vote for Romney, by a margin of at least 20%, Durante said. This seems to be the driver behind the researchers’ overall observation that single women were inclined toward Obama and committed women leaned toward Romney.

Here’s how Durante explains this: When women are ovulating, they “feel sexier,” and therefore lean more toward liberal attitudes on abortion and marriage equality. Married women have the same hormones firing, but tend to take the opposite viewpoint on these issues, if you also take into consideration other hormonal issues, everything intensifies. for example if you look at what are the symptoms of low dhea you´d be surprised at how many of them you already have .she says.

“I think they’re overcompensating for the increase of the hormones motivating them to have sex with other men,” she said. It’s a way of convincing themselves that they’re not the type to give in to such sexual urges, she said.

Durante’s previous research found that women’s ovulation cycles also influence their shopping habits, buying sexier clothes during their most fertile phase.

Um…. Kristina? I have a question. What about us women of a certain age who no longer ovulate? How do we make our voting decisions? Go read the whole thing. You’ll never believe it otherwise.

[UPDATE: I just noticed that JJ posted about the CNN story last night–sorry for any repetition]

As of late last night Mitt Romney was still standing by Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who is now internationally famous for saying the following in a candidates’ debate on Tuesday night.

“You know, this is that issue that every candidate for federal or even state office faces. And I have to certainly stand for life. I know that there are some who disagree, and I respect their point of view. But I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have to have on abortion is in that case—of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Of course Paul Ryan will support Mourdock because Ryan even more extreme views on abortion–he believes it should be abolished in every case, even if her life is in danger from her pregnancy. Mourdock later claimed that he didn’t mean to say that god wills women to be raped, just that god insists that if a raped women gets pregnant, she must carry and give birth to her rapist’s offspring.

As of last night Mourdock was not backing down.

Mourdock, meanwhile, dove into damage control Wednesday, explaining that he abhors violence of any kind and regrets that some may have misconstrued and “twisted” his comments. But he stood behind the original remark in Tuesday night’s debate.

“I spoke from my heart. And speaking from my heart, speaking from the deepest level of my faith, I would not apologize. I would be less than faithful if I said anything other than life is precious, I believe it’s a gift from God,” Mourdock said at a news conference Wednesday.

I have to say that I think forcing a woman to carry her rapist’s baby is pretty violent and will certainly cause her to endlessly reexperience the violence of the rape.

Yesterday, Ayn Rand fanboy and VP candidate Paul Ryan gave a speech about how he wants to help the poor by taking away the social safety net. Here’s Jonathan Chait’s take on the speech: Paul Ryan: No, I Want to Help the Poor! Really!

Paul Ryan, the celebrated Republican idea man, delivered a speech today entitled “Restoring the Promise of Upward Mobility in America’s Economy.” Upward mobility is a vital concept for Ryan. He is the author of a plan that would, as budget expert Robert Greenstein put it, “produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history.” Upward mobility is Ryan’s constant answer to this objection. In his telling, his plans would make the economy more open and free, making it easier for the poor to rise and the rich to fall. As Ryan says, “We believe that Americans are better off in a dynamic, free-enterprise-based economy that fosters economic growth, opportunity and upward mobility instead of a stagnant, government-directed economy that stifles job creation and fosters government dependency.”

Of course, as Chait points out, Ryan’s plan to “help the poor” is complete bullsh*t.

So, what does Ryan have to offer in defense of his promise to “restore upward mobility?” He offers a riff about the importance of education reform, without either explaining what such a policy would entail or how it would differ from the very aggressive education reforms the Obama administration has implemented. He praises the role of private charity, suggesting that rolling back government assistance for the poor will encourage the private sector to step in, a decidedly shaky proposition.

Mostly, he talks about welfare reform. There is a consensus that welfare as we knew it did create serious cultural pathologies. Ryan cites the case of welfare reform frequently. To him, it proves that large cuts to programs that help poor people of any kind at all are not only harmless but will help the poor. “The welfare-reform mindset hasn’t been applied with equal vigor across the spectrum of anti-poverty programs,” he says. Thus he proposes enormous cuts — to children’s health-insurance grants, Head Start, food stamps, and, especially, Medicaid, which would have to throw about half its current beneficiaries off their coverage under his proposal.

What a guy! And he even has “scientific” support for his policies:

Ryan noted that Americans born into poor families are more likely to stay poor as adults than Americans born into wealthy families.

No kidding! And Ryan knows whereof he speaks, since he was born into a wealthy family. It’s so generous of him to want to help the irresponsible 47 percent.

I’ve been kind of sarcastic in this post, haven’t I? Does that bother you? According to Michelle Cottle of The Daily Beast, women don’t like sarcasm. In fact she wrote a story based largely on anonymous sources claiming that the women of “Hillaryland” were annoyed and offended by the sarcasm that President Barack Obama used on Mitt Romney in the third presidential debate Monday night. I never heard of “Hillaryland” before so I read about it in Wikipedia.

Hillaryland was the self-designated name of a group of core advisors to Hillary Rodham Clinton, when she was First Lady of the United States and again when, as United States Senator, she was one of the Democratic Party candidates for President in the 2008 election.

The group included Huma Abedin, Patti Solis Doyle (credited with coining the name “Hillaryland”), Mandy Grunwald, Neel Lattimore, Ann Lewis, Evelyn Lieberman, Tamera Luzzatto, Capricia Marshall, Cheryl Mills, Minyon Moore, Lissa Muscatine, Neera Tanden, Melanne Verveer, and Maggie Williams.

Now I have no idea if Michelle Cottle actually talked to any of the women listed above, because she doesn’t name names. She just claims that Hillary supporters hated Obama’s debate performance. Cottle writes:

How snarky was President Obama in his final debate with Mitt Romney?
He was scornful enough that, during the midst of the matchup, Hillaryland insiders were circulating amongst themselves a twit pic featuring that kick-ass photo of Hillary in her shades, captioned by Obama’s infamous put-down from one of their ’08 debates: “You’re likable enough, Hillary.”

Message: the arch, condescending Obama that so chafed Hillary backers was back with a vengeance.

That was the extent of Cottle’s references to “Hillaryland.” After the first two paragraphs of her piece, Cottle mostly quotes Republicans.

Many Dems cheered the sharp-quipped president, especially those demoralized by his sorry showing two debates ago in Denver. (As @JohnKerry tweeted, “I think POTUS just sank Romney’s battleship.”)

By contrast, Republicans were quick to proclaim shock and disgust at the president’s behavior. “We don’t have as many horses and bayonets as we used to, Mitt!” mimics Republican pollster Whit Ayres, his voice growing higher, shriller, and louder with each word. “I guess you didn’t learn much going to Harvard, did you, Mitt? How stupid are you, Mitt?!”

His voice coming back down to earth, Ayres huffs, “This is the president of the U.S. acting like a schoolyard bully.”

Oooooooh! A schoolyard bully? That sounds more like the Republican candidate to me.

As I noted above, Cottle even refers to “research” (which she doesn’t cite) that shows that women don’t like sarcasm. You couldn’t prove it by me. I think Cottle’s research is about as reliable as the “study” in the CNN piece I described above.

While you’re at The Daily Beast, I recommend reading Andrew Sullivan’s two posts on racism in the Mormon church and Mitt Romney’s failure to challenge it. Here’s the first post and the second post. Sullivan has also published some reader reactions in subsequent posts.

Finally, at Mother Jones, Tim Murphy asks if Romney supports corporal punishment of children. Romney has stated unequivocally that he opposes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I have the answer to Murphy’s question. Yes, Mitt believes in “whacking” children’s “bums,” according to his wife Ann

Ugh! But back to the MJ article. Murphy writes:

In July, the GOP presidential nominee wrote a letter to Virginia conservative activist Michael Farris, an evangelical power broker in the critical swing state, outlining his opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which commits ratifying nations to protect children from discrimination. “My position on that convention is unequivocal: I would oppose Senate approval of the convention, and would not sign the convention for final ratification,” Romney wrote. “I believe that the best safeguard for the well-being and protection of children is the family, and that the primary safeguards for the legal rights of children in America is the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the states.”

The UN CRC hasn’t received much mainstream attention, but it’s becoming a rallying cry on the far right, mostly because social conservatives fear that its passage would imperil the rights of parents to, among other things, use corporal punishment on their kids. The first bullet point in Farris’ 2009 fact sheet explaining his beef with the treaty warned that “[p]arents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children.” (The second was that juveniles could no longer be sentenced to life in prison.) Thanks to the efforts of Farris and others, at least 37 GOP senators have announced their opposition to the treaty.

The fear of a national spanking ban extends beyond the realm of international law. When the Supreme Court upheld most portions of the Affordable Care Act, Farris fretted that “Congress can regulate every aspect of our lives so long as there is a tax involved. Congress can ban spanking by enacting a $1,000 tax on those who do. Congress can ban homeschooling in a similar fashion.”

These are the same people who want to regulate every aspect of the lives of American women!

OK, those are my recommendations for today. What are you reading and blogging about? I’ll read your comments later tonight.


Why Did the NYT Alter Quotes in their Background Story on the Romney Meltdown?

This is mysterious. In the morning post, I linked to a short piece by Josh Marshall on some disturbing changes the New York Times made its story on how Mitt Romney came to unleash his bizarre attacks on President Obama over a message posted on the website of the American Embassy in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday.

Marshall wrote:

I’m not sure what’s up with this. But earlier this evening the Times ran a story entitled “Behind Romney’s Decision to Attack Obama on Libya.” The byline was David Sanger and Ashley Parker. The big news out of the story was that Romney himself had been the driver of last night’s decision making. That and a lot of other color and interesting news. As I write, it’s still that piece and lede that’s on the front page. But now it’s been replaced (same url) by an almost unrecognizable piece entitled “A Challenger’s Criticism Is Furiously Returned”, bylined by Peter Baker and Ashley Parker….

The thrust of the piece is dramatically different and, unless I’m missing something, leaves out this critical quote from a Romney senior advisor explaining their rationale. “We’ve had this consistent critique and narrative on Obama’s foreign policy, and we felt this was a situation that met our critique, that Obama really has been pretty weak in a number of ways on foreign policy, especially if you look at his dealings with the Arab Spring and its aftermath.”

So basically, this “senior adviser” was saying that the campaign had built a specific narrative to use against Obama, and the events in Cairo appeared to meet the criteria of the manufactured narrative. Therefore, the decision was made to issue an immediate attack on Tuesday night before they really knew what was happening.

Late this morning, Marshall put followed up with another post.

A number of media reporters have now followed up with reports about the Times switcheroo. And the answer from the Times is that it was part of the normal editing process and the preference for on-the-record quotes over blind quotes. The specific response we got from Eileen Murphy, spokesperson for the Times, reads as follows …

As reporting went on during the day yesterday, we were able to flesh out the story, add more context and get more sources on the record, which is obviously what we prefer. Having said that, we stand by the reporting in all versions of the story.

Peter Baker, who replaced David Sanger as the lead byline, told Buzzfeed, “It’s just normal journalism — as more reporting comes in, you improve the story. On the record Republican criticism beats anonymous Republican criticism.”

But why was the damning quote left out of the second version of the story? Actually the missing quote was the first half of a longer quote, the second part of which was retained in the new version of the article. Here’s the entire original quote:

“We’ve had this consistent critique and narrative on Obama’s foreign policy, and we felt this was a situation that met our critique, that Obama really has been pretty weak in a number of ways on foreign policy, especially if you look at his dealings with the Arab Spring and its aftermath,” one of Mr. Romney’s senior advisers said on Wednesday. “I think the reality is that while there may be a difference of opinion regarding issues of timing, I think everyone stands behind the critique of the administration, which we believe has conducted its foreign policy in a feckless manner.”

Marshall writes:

The first part of that quote makes the advisor seem callow, frivolous, and shabby. We’ve had the critique out there, “this was a situation that met our critique”, and that was good enough for us. We just let fly.

In the edited version of the Times piece, as Politico’s Dylan Byers notes, that quote is replaced by an on-the-record quote from policy director Lanhee Chen …

Mr. Romney’s camp was surprised by the blowback. “While there may be differences of opinion regarding issues of timing,” Mr. Chen said, “I think everyone stands behind the critique of the administration, which we believe has conducted its foreign policy in a feckless manner.”

As you can see, the second portion is identical. So it really sounds like the blind quote was from Chen as well.

What the hell? Is the NYT suddenly in the business of helping the Romney campaign clean up their messes?

In an update to his piece, Politico’s Dylan Byers responds to NYT writer Peter Baker’s quote mentioned above:

UPDATE (11:06 a.m.): Missed this, but Peter Baker talked to the Huffington Post earlier this morning:

“As we reported more through the day, we found Republicans criticizing Gov Romney on the record, so why use an anonymous one?” Baker said. “There are too many blind quotes in the media and we try not to use them when it’s not necessary.”

Here’s why: Because there’s a big difference between “Republicans” and a Mitt Romney campaign adviser.

At New York Magazine, Joe Coscarelli has a piece headlined: Romney Adviser Admitted Libya Flub Before New York Times Scrubbed Story. Coscarelli notes a second quote that was left out of the “scrubbed” NYT article:

A front page New York Times article this morning describes how Mitt Romney “personally approved” his apology-less campaign statement yesterday accusing Barack Obama of sympathizing with terrorists, but an early iteration of the story was far juicier. In a version posted online last night, the Times quoted “an adviser to the campaign who worked in the George W. Bush administration” who went so far as to say that Romney “had forgotten the first rule in a crisis: don’t start talking before you understand what’s happening.” That’s more or less the criticism that was pelted at Romney throughout the day yesterday by pundits, and by President Obama himself, but to hear it from the mouth of an adviser, even an anonymous one, in the Times, really stings. Or stung — that quote has since disappeared from the article.

Coscarelli brings up a stunning possible explanation for the altered/dropped quotes: “Could this be that campaign quote approval we’ve heard so much about?” He then links to a story he wrote in July: Political Campaigns Reserve the Right to Neuter Journalism in Exchange for Access.

A front-page story in the New York Times today describes the process by which reporters at major news organizations — including Bloomberg, the Washington Post, and yes, the Times — agree to let political campaigns not only have veto power over which quotes get used, but allow after-the-fact editing on remarks from insiders. “The quotations come back redacted, stripped of colorful metaphors, colloquial language and anything even mildly provocative,” the Times reports.

Afraid of losing their access to top spokesmen and strategists, journalists agree to the tweaks. Both the Obama and Romney campaigns have their own quote-approval demands, and the results are official lines that always stay on-script, lack any off-the-cuff qualities, and on top of that, are often anonymous anyway. And in playing by the rules written for them by those they’re supposed to be covering, print journalists falls further behind the times.

That’s a new one on me. News organizations allowing the subjects of their articles to make changes after the fact? Here’s hoping Josh Marshall or one of the other big bloggers who can get access to the NYT will force them to publicly admit they took orders from the Romney campaign.