Tuesday Reads, Part II: In Other News….

blues cycle

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.

clinton
I’m sure you heard that Hillary Clinton went back to work yesterday, and her coworkers gave her a gag gift–a football helmet.

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.
Read the rest of this entry »


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.


Will Mitt Romney Go Down in History as a Joke?

It’s beginning to look that way. Mitt’s dad, George Romney, was ridiculed because of an offhand remark he made about being “brainwashed” by the military on a trip he took to Vietnam. By the time he ran for President in 1968, George had decided the Vietnam war was a mistake. He explained his change on mind on the war by explaining that in hindsight he realized he had fallen for propaganda.

Ironically, George Romney’s change of heart apparently was an honorable one: he had changed his mind and wasn’t afraid to admit that he had made a mistake previously. As we’ve heard endlessly over the past couple of weeks, George Romney also released 12 years of his tax returns, because he believed it was only fair to let the American people see what he had earned and what he had paid in taxes over an extended period of time. But George Romney is mostly remembered for the “brainwashing” comment and the ridicule surrounding it.

Now George’s son Mitt Romney is following his father’s footsteps in running for President. Mitt Romney, too, has become known for changing his mind–not just one issue, but on practically every issue. And after a bruising couple of weeks of damaging articles about his career at Bain Capital, he is facing more and more questions from the Obama campaign and from the media about his personal finances and why he will not release his tax returns. Even Republicans like Bill Kristol, George Will, and Matthew Dowd have called for Mitt to get it over with and release more years of returns.

People are beginning to speculate about why Mitt is being so stubborn about refusing to release any of his tax returns before 2010. George Will suggested on ABC’s This Week that that Romney is fearful that whatever is in his returns will make him look worse than he does in insisting on keeping them secret.

“The cost of not releasing the returns are [sic] clear,” Will said. “Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”

Also on This Week, Matthew Dowd was, if anything, harder on Romney than George Will was.

Political strategist and ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd said “there’s obviously something there” in Romney’s tax returns that he doesn’t want to release publicly, adding that Romney’s refusal to produce his prior returns was a sign of “arrogance.”

“There’s obviously something there, because if there was nothing there, he would say, ‘Have at it,’” Dowd said. “So there’s obviously something there that compromises what he said in the past about something.”

“Many of these politicians think, ‘I can do this. I can get away with this. I don’t need to do this, because I’m going to say something and I don’t have to do this,’” Dowd added. “If he had 20 years of ‘great, clean, everything’s fine,’ it’d all be out there, but it’s arrogance.”

Now it’s the beginning of a new week, and Mitt Romney is still stubbornly refusing to expose his tax records to examination by the press and the public. This is killing his candidacy, and yet he won’t give in. What is he hiding?

At the New Yorker, John Cassidy offers four possible reasons:

1. Romney’s income before 2010 was “extremely high.”
2. “More offshore accounts” beyond the ones we already know about.
3. “Politically explosive investments”
4. “A very, very low tax rate.”

(You can read the details of Cassidy’s speculation at the link.)

Could it be any of those reasons? We already know Romney is very wealthy, and we know about a lot of his offshore accounts. We already know that Bain invested in Stericycle, a company that disposes of aborted fetuses. Might Romney have more embarrassing personal investments? I suppose it’s possible that Romney could have paid no taxes for several years, and that is what he’s hiding. But I think it has to be something more. Why else would Romney and his staff allow him to sustain so much damage his campaign–especially because the questions won’t end until he release the returns. What is it that he doesn’t want us to find out?

Even The New York Times editorial chastised Romney today.

After three days of Mitt Romney complaining about attacks on his record at Bain Capital, it’s clear that President Obama has nothing to apologize for. If Mr. Romney doesn’t want to provide real answers to the questions about his career, he had better develop a thicker skin.

Mr. Romney’s descriptions of when he left Bain have been erratic and self-serving. In 2002, when he needed to show he was still a Massachusetts resident, he denied he had quit in 1999, saying he had taken a leave of absence to run the Olympics committee. A series of documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Committee show that Bain certainly didn’t describe him as absent after 1999.

There’s only one way to deal with this.

The right way to respond to Mr. Obama is to release his tax returns from that period, or open up Bain documents. But Mr. Romney told CNN he would not release more than the one year’s return he has already released and the one for 2011 when it is finished. “That’s all that’s necessary for people to understand something about my finances,” he said. It’s not even close.

I think it’s likely that Romney has longed to run for President in order to achieve the goal his father failed to reach. I’m sure that Mitt wanted to avoid the kind of ridicule his father suffered for an offhand comment. But let’s face it. Mitt’s situation is much more embarrassing than what happened to his father. Mitt looks incredibly weak at this point. He’s starting to become a joke. The Obama campaign has successfully painted him as an out-of-touch rich guy, a tax evader who may have committed perjury in SEC filings. As John Marshall wrote on Friday, in a post titled “Weak, weak, weak,”

There’s a meta-politics Obama is playing by slashing at Romney with suggestions he might be a felon. He’s wounding Romney, who is clearly rattled and angry about the charges, but just as clearly can’t defend himself or strike back. As I’ve noted many times, a thick layer of presidential politics (in a way that’s distinct from US politics at really every other level) resides at the brainstem level of cogitation — with gambits to assert power and demonstrate dominance. Obama looked in control of this situation; Romney didn’t….

This is and will remain a low single digit race. But the President’s team is making Romney look shifty and silly and weak. (I half expect them to start goosing surrogates to call him Slick Willard.) And they’re well on their way to defining him in a way that will be difficult to undo.

Romney supporter David Frum responded to Marshall’s column at The Daily Beast:

Marshall’s column is titled “Weak, weak, weak,” and it puts its finger on a core weakness of Romney as a candidate. It’s not just his arguments that are weak. For the past year, we have watched him be pushed around by the radical GOP fringe. He’s been forced to abjure his most important achievement as governor, his healthcare plan. In December, he was compelled to sign onto the Ryan budget plan after months of squirming to avoid it. Last fall he released an elaborate economic plan. On the eve of the Michigan primary, he ripped it up and instead accepted a huge new tax cut – to a top rate of 28% – that has never been costed (and that he now tries to avoid mentioning whenever he can). Romney has acknowledged in interviews that he understands that big rapid cuts in government spending could push the US economy back into recession. Yet he campaigns anyway on the Tea Party’s false promise that it’s the deficit that causes the depression, rather than (as he well knows) the other way around.

Frum originally had high hopes for Romney as someone who could help reverse the descent of the Republican party into ultra-right wing craziness:

A big majority of this country is rightly frightened and appalled by what the congressional Republican party has become over the past four years: a radical cadre willing to push the nation over the cliff into utterly unnecessary national default in order to score a political point.

But Romney has simply capitulated on every issue. Weak.

Late last night, Josh Marshall wrote that Romney is in serious danger of simply turning into a joke.

The Obama campaign is hitting this so hard to take a series of associations and embed them so deeply into voters’ consciousness that they become inseparable from the mention of the phrase ‘Bain Capital’. Those are ‘joke’, ‘liar’, ‘felon’, ‘retroactively retired’, ‘SEC filings’, ‘Caymans’, ‘whiner’, ‘buck stops here’, ‘hiding something’.

You can spin these out forever. But beyond all the specific accusations, they’re painting a picture that makes Romney look ridiculous, like a joke. They’re making Romney look stupid and powerless on the front where he believes he’s one of the standouts of his generation. And that’s plain lethal for a presidential candidate.

Marshall says it they haven’t quite succeeded yet, but they’re getting there. I agree with him. Whatever is in those tax returns must be very bad. The only other alternative I can think of is that Mitt Romney is incredibly stupid and arrogant.

What do you think?


Late Night Update: Libya

The “allied forces” have been bombing targets in Libya for a second day. Gaddafi is outraged and has issued multiple threats. Meanwhile, here at home there is quite a bit of criticism of the President’s decision to participate in the UN action.

The Guardian has a pretty detailed description of events in Libya over the past couple of days: “Coalition attacks wreak havoc on ground troops.” I’m leaving out the bloodthirsty-sounding paragraphs–you can read them if you choose.

The barrage of attacks led by France, Britain and the US on Libya’s army, air bases and other military targets drew threats of a prolonged war from Gaddafi himself. But on the ground many of his forces were in disarray and fleeing in fear of further attacks from a new and unseen enemy.

The air assault halted and then reversed the advances by Gaddafi’s army on Benghazi and other rebel-held towns. But the revolutionary leadership wanted more. On Sunday it appealed for an intensification of the air assault to destroy the Libyan ruler’s forces and open the way for the rebels to drive him from power.

The air bombardment is regarded among rebel military commanders as creating a more level battle field by removing Gaddafi’s advantage of heavy armour.

“There must be more attacks, to destroy his forces and heavy weapons,” said Kamal Mustafa Mahmoud, a rebel soldier on the edge of Benghazi. “Then they can leave Gaddafi to us. We know how to fight him but we are afraid of his heavy weapons. I want them to destroy the ground forces of Gaddafi.”

Quite a few people in the US have problems with that notion. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has opposed the U.S. getting involved in the Libyan uprising had a few words of warning today.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. military campaign against Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi should be limited to the terms of a United Nations resolution rather than being broadened to target the leader directly.

The coalition with the U.K., France and Arab countries relies on the terms laid out in the UN Security Council resolution adopted last week, Gates told reporters traveling with him to Russia today on a trip he delayed yesterday so he could monitor the start of “Operation Odyssey Dawn.” The resolution backed military action to prevent Qaddafi from using his forces to attack fellow Libyans.

“If we start adding additional objectives, then I think we create a problem in that respect,” Gates said. “I also think that it is unwise to set as specific goals things that you may or may not be able to achieve.”

Here’s a bit more from Gates:

Gates said the mission is backed by a diverse coalition, and adding additional objectives to the mission “create a problem in that respect.” He also said “it’s unwise to set as specific goals things that you may or may not be able to achieve.”

Gates said most nations in the region want to see Libya remain a unified state, and “having states in the region begin to break up because of internal differences, I think, is a formula for real instability in the future.”

The Pentagon chief also cautioned against getting too involved in the internal conflict of that country, saying the internal conflict should be left to be resolved by Libyans themselves.

After Gates made these remarks, Pentagon spokesman Navy Vice Adm. Bill Gortney said that there is no plan to directly attempt to oust Gaddafi. Gortney:

“I can guarantee that he’s not on the targeting list.”

Gortney said Khadafy’s forces were already beginning to crumble, but stressed that the focus of the campaign remains protecting civilians, not taking out the despot.

In addition,

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen acknowledged that Khadafy might remain in power when the mission is over.

“It’s hard to know exactly how this turns out,” Mullen said on CBS. “I recognise that’s a possibility.”

Today French and British forces did “expand” the bombing campaign, and actually targeted a building within Gaddafi’s private compound. Read more below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »