Lazy Saturday Reads

cherry blossoms dc

Happy Saturday!!

The cherry blossoms have reached their peak in Washington DC, just in time for today’s Cherry Blossom Parade, scheduled for 10AM-12PM today. WaPo:

The blossoms reached peak Thursday and should still be putting on a good show this weekend. Because of the variability of weather, they aren’t always this near peak at parade time.

The parade proceeds west along Constitution Avenue from Seventh to 17th streets.

Further south, in Augusta GA, the azaleas are in full bloom just in time for the Masters Tournament, which is going into its third day despite the loss of Tiger Woods to back surgery this year and Phil Mickelson’s failure to make the cut. Left-hander Bubba Watson was leading the pack by 3 strokes as of last night.

Masters azaleas

From the Augusta Chronicle: Bubba Watson storms to 3-stroke lead.

Bubba Watson never led during the first three rounds of the 2012 Masters Tournament but rallied on the final day and won in sudden death. The former Georgia Bulldog is on top now, halfway through the 78th Masters, with some breathing room.

Watson, 35, ripped apart the second nine at Augusta National Golf Club on Friday with five consecutive birdies en route to 4-under-par 68 – which included bogey on No. 18 – to build a three-shot lead over John Senden, of Australia. It matched the largest 36-hole lead since 2006.

Senden, who qualified for the Masters on March 16, when he won the Valspar Championship, also had a second-round 68 and is alone in second place.

Australian and defending champion Adam Scott made a spirited comeback to stay within shouting distance of Watson. Scott, who opened with 69, was 3-over after five holes Friday but played his final seven in 3-under, finishing with 72, tied for third place, four behind Watson.

Tiger’s absence has hit ESPN hard: ESPN’s Masters ratings plummet without Tiger Woods.

There was a feeling around the Masters that the absence of Tiger Woods might not hurt as much as expected. With Tiger having ceded some of the spotlight to younger golfers in recent years, the sport was healthy enough to survive without him in Augusta.

Television viewers apparently had a different opinion.

ESPN’s first-round telecast was down 800,000 viewers from last year to a record low of 2 million. That’s the lowest Thursday viewership in the seven years the network has been broadcasting the Masters.

Forsythia at Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain MA

Forsythia at Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain MA

Okay, I know it’s unlikely that anyone else here cares about professional golf; I just wanted an excuse to post some pretty photos of spring flowers.

Up here in southern New England we’re just beginning to see a little yellow showing up on the forsythia bushes, but it’s going to be warm for the next few days, and soon Arnold Arboretum will showing off acres of yellow blossoms like those in the photo to the right. And it won’t be long before our cherry trees and azaleas are in bloom too!

Spring has sprung!

Can you tell I’m trying to avoid the news?

In a little over a week, Boston will host its big spring event, the Boston Marathon, and between now and then we’ll be hearing endless talk about what happened here last year.

I’d like to avoid all the coverage, but I’ve decided instead to try to pay close attention to the coverage in corporate and alternative media and notice how the powers that be attempt to shape the narrative of last year’s dramatic events as well as the public process of dealing with them.

Yesterday, Boston NPR station WBUR had a very good discussion of Unanswered Questions Around The Marathon Bombing on the local program Radio Boston. It’s worth a listen.

I was quite surprised that one of the participants, Janet Reitman of Rolling Stone Magazine brought up the fact that nearly every breaking story on the events of last year came from CBS’ John Miller, who was obviously the designated target for FBI leaks. And Reitman was actually permitted to discuss this issue at some length.

JohnMiller-300x225

Miller began working for CBS in 2011; before that he worked for the Federal Government as “Associate Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analytic Transformation and Technology”; and before that he was “Assistant Director for Public Affairs for the FBI.”

Currently he is working with his old friend Bill Bratton as “Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence” for the NYPD. Is this guy a journalist or is he a tool of law enforcement? He did work for ABC News in the 1990s. As such, he got an interview with Osama bin Laden in 1998. I wonder how that happened?

Here’s a piece about Miller in Men’s Journal from March 2013–shortly before last year’s Boston Marathon.

John Miller’s office at CBS News is filled with keepsakes from his two lives as top cop and leading reporter: badges from his tours with the New York and Los Angeles police departments; a photograph from his 1998 interview with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan; his FBI badge and ID; even an LAPD Beach Patrol cap. (“The one job I never got,” Miller jokes.) “When I was covering the cops, I wasn’t one of those guys who showed up to work everyday saying ‘I’ve gotta find the scandal in the police department,'” says Miller. “And when I was with the police department, I didn’t hate the press for doing its job, either. Which I think has made it easier to toggle back and forth.”

But is avoiding anti-cop stories really the best attitude for a “journalist?” And how can such a journalist be expected to critically analyze leaks handed to him by law enforcement sources? I think the answers to those questions are obvious. And yet Miller basically shaped the news narrative on last year’s Boston Marathon bombings.

Last night NBC aired an hour-long program on the Boston attack: 108 Hours: Inside the Hunt for the Boston Marathon Bombers, hosted by Brian Williams. It was interesting for me to watch the video of the events that took place in Watertown as police hunted for the accused bombers; but of course no hard questions were asked. Everything law enforcement officials had to say was taken at face value.

One tidbit I learned was that President Obama had been on the phone with Governor Patrick during the lockdown of much of the city, and Obama had expressed concerns about the notion of government officials shutting down a major American city. I found that fascinating considering that critics on both the left and right have portrayed Obama as a tyrant who was probably in control of those kinds of decisions.

The news event that I’ve really been avoiding is the deadly bus accident in California.

I find it so painful to read or hear about children being hurt that I generally avoid such stories, but today I feel I have to cover the terrible bus crash in California. You may recall that we had a terrible bus accident in Boston just about a year ago. In fact there have been bus crashes all over the country. What’s going on?

Despite new regulations mandating seat belts on recently built tour buses, passengers are still losing their lives in crashes.

A crash Thursday in Northern California killed 10 people and injured 34 when a tour bus carrying Los Angeles-area students collided with a FedEx truck. Eerily, the crash occurred almost exactly one year from the date of a tour bus crash in Irving that killed three people and injured dozens of senior citizens.

The history of serious crashes involving tour buses or motor coaches stretches back into the 1950s and highlights a pattern of danger that federal regulations have just begun to attempt to mitigate.

Congress wrapped bus safety improvements, including a provision for seat belts in recently built tour buses, into a larger transportation bill which was signed into law in 2012. Those regulations, however, only apply to buses produced in 2007 or later. The regulations do not order buses built before 2007 to be retrofit with safety belts.

The industry opposes requiring that existing buses be retrofitted with seat belts saying the seats are not designed for them and may not be strong enough to withstand the repeated pulling of straps. Retrofitting is also more expensive than adding belts to new buses.

Read more at the link. The story references numerous other articles about bus accidents.

Reuters on the latest incident: Investigators focus on cause of deadly California crash

Investigators were focusing on Saturday on what caused a FedEx tractor-trailer to collide with a bus in a fiery crash in northern California that killed 10 people, five of them teenage students en route to a college recruitment event.

It remained unclear whether the FedEx driver was somehow distracted or lost consciousness, or whether a mechanical failure occurred when his truck swerved across the median of Interstate 5 and slammed head-on into the motor coach full of students from the Los Angeles area on Thursday.

The California Highway Patrol also raised the possibility that a separate collision on the truck’s side of the highway might have been a factor in Thursday evening’s fatal crash.

According to early highway patrol accounts of the accident, the truck side-swiped a car after crossing the center divider but before hitting the bus. Two witnesses, Bonnie and Joe Duran, who were reported to be in the clipped car, told California media outlets that the truck was on fire before the collision. “I was heading along in the outside lane and I looked over and saw the FedEx truck coming straight for me and he was in flames already,” Bonnie Duran told a local CBS-affiliate.

More at the link.

I have a few more interesting reads for you today that I’ll just list briefly.

I highly recommend reading this op-ed at the WaPo by former SCOTUS Justice John Paul Stevens: The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment. It’s an excerpt from his new book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution. 

See also Scott Lemieux’s review of Stevens’ book at The American Prospect: How John Paul Stevens Would Amend the Constitution.

Here’s a brief but encouraging story by WBUR (NPR)  about the three women running for governor of three New England states: Women’s Groups Target New England Gubernatorial Races.

I really liked this thoughtful post about the internet, privacy, and the NSA leak story at Haft of the Spear blog: You Were Promised Neither Security Nor Privacy.

Don’t miss this troubling story at the WaPo: Inside the FBI’s secret relationship with the military’s special operations. Can we all agree that the FBI (and CIA) are a lot scarier than NSA metadata storage?

Those are my offerings for today. What stories have you been following? Please share your links in the comment thread and have a nice Spring weekend!


Thursday Evening News Wrapup

Afternoon Tea, by Mary Cassat

Good Evening! I’ll start off with some good news. Minkoff Minx has arrived home from the hospital and is doing well. She’ll be resting for I a few days, but she should be back to posting regularly sometime next week. I sure do miss her cheery evening reads! I’m doing my best to fill in again tonight.

It’s been a slow news day, but there are a few things happening even though most of Washington, DC–including Congress and many pundits are on a two-week Easter vacay. Why do they get such long vacations anyway? They only work about three days a week and they accomplish very little.

President Obama has waked up to the reality of women’s electoral power. Today we learned that he thinks it’s high time that Augusta Golf Club, which hosts the Masters Tournament, should start accepting women members.

Not to be outdone, and because he obviously has no original thoughts, Mitt Romney announced that he, too, And he discussed the issue in his usual stuffy manner.

When asked if women should be admitted, the Republican presidential frontrunner responded: “Of course.”

“I am not a member of Augusta. I don’t know if I would qualify. My golf game is not that good,” Romney told reporters after an energy-themed event in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. “Certainly if I were a member, if I could run Augusta, which isn’t likely to happen, of course I’d have women into Augusta.”

Newt Gingrich thinks his wife Callista would be “great member,” and Callista herself tweeted that she “wants in.” No word on how he-man woman-hater Rick Santorum feels about the issue.

Afternoon Tea, by Cezanne

It’s looking like Romney has the Republican nomination all sewn up–he’s even leading in Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania now. But at the Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg explains why conservatives still want Santorum to stay in the race.

Conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace isn’t convinced. “In the minds of social conservatives, it’s not even close to over,” he says. “The real question is how committed someone like Rick Santorum is to fighting this out all the way to the end. If he’s committed to doing this on a personal level, there’s plenty of social conservatives that will ride him to the finish line.”

Indeed, despite the best efforts of the Republican establishment, many on the religious right are far from ready to accept Romney’s inevitability, or to coalesce behind him. They remain distrustful of his record on abortion, and unsure they can believe his campaign promises. And the harder party elites push Romney on them, the more alienated they become. “The biggest story that everyone in the media has missed this cycle is how frustrated and fed up the Republican Party base is with the Republican Party,” says Deace. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

Goldberg quotes a number of conservative sources who just won’t accept a Romney candidacy and think Santorum to fight to the bitter end at the convention. They sound a lot like Hillary supporters who in 2008 wanted her to take the fight to the convention. Hillary is a loyal Democrat and so she ended up going with the flow, but Santorum is more of a renegade with a lot less to lose than Hillary. In any case, it seems as if the bases of both corporate parties are disgusted with their party elites.

Afternoon Tea Party, by Mary Cassatt

Also at the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky writes that the Supreme Court is “on the ropes.” Back in the ’80s, Conservative starting pushing for “judicial restraint.” But now that the shoe is on the other foot and there is a Conservative majority on the court, suddenly they love the notion of “judicial activism” that they once reviled (just like they now despise the Heritage Foundaton health care plan now that Democrats have written it into law).

John Roberts has to know and see all this. He has to know that Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, who asked federal prosecutors for a homework assignment in the wake of Obama’s remarks—a brief stating the Justice Department’s position on judicial review, that had to be at least three pages, single-spaced!—is making conservatives look silly and cheapening the bench. And he has to know that the court’s reputation will suffer an immense blow if it overturns the mandate. It will be seen by a large majority—even a lot of people who weren’t crazy about the law—as completely political. Remember, they didn’t have to take the case in an election year in the first place. They could have put it off. But the court said it must do this now. If it then overturns the ACA, it will look and smell like a political hit job to many Americans. And the court would be saying to America, “We know what you think, and we don’t give a damn.”

What would happen to the court then? Slowly—no; probably quickly—it will come to be seen by most Americans as just another cesspool of political mud wrestling; just another arena where the rich get what they want while everyone else gets screwed (Citizens United); just one more ideological whorehouse full of patrons pretending to be just the piano player.

Despite what we’re all brought up to believe, nothing about the court is sacrosanct. Lifetime appointments can be changed to fixed-year terms. It’d take some doing, but it can be done. And there’s nothing anywhere that says it has to be nine justices. That’s just tradition, but it’s nowhere in the Constitution. It just needs to be an odd number; could be three or 23. For that matter, Congress could disregard Marbury v. Madison. Yep. It could. Tom DeLay used to speak of this from time to time, back in the dear old Terri Schiavo days. He never specifically invoked M v. M, but, referring to judges who would have let Schiavo die, he said things like they had “thumbed their noses at Congress and the president” and would someday pay. He meant a campaign against judicial review. He never got around to it, having been indicted and convicted and all, but that’s what he meant. There’s nothing to prevent liberals from mounting a similar campaign. So far they’ve has held back by their respect for the institution. But that may soon be gone.

There is a heartbreaking story out of Greece: Pensioner’s Suicide Continues to Shake Greece.

Dimitris Christoulas, a divorced and retired pharmacist, took his life on Wednesday in Syntagma Square, a focal point for frequent public demonstrations and protests, as hundreds of commuters passed nearby at a metro station and as lawmakers in Parliament debated last-minute budget amendments before elections, expected on May 6.

In a handwritten note found near the scene, the pensioner said he could not face the prospect “of scavenging through garbage bins for food and becoming a burden to my child,” blaming the government’s austerity policies for his decision.

The incident has prompted a public outpouring, with passers-by pinning notes of sympathy and protest to trees in the square, as well as comment from politicians across the spectrum. A solidarity rally on Wednesday night turned violent when the police clashed with hooded demonstrators in scuffles that left at least three people injured.

I guess we can look forward to similar tragedies here in the U.S. if Congress succeeds in gutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. And I don’t exempt the Democrats from my cynicism about support for the social safety net among the Villagers.

Speaking of the rich, powerful, and selfish, Jamie Dimon is once again on the top of the heap in terms of CEO compensation. Richard Escrow writes:

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is still the poster child for today’s morally degraded, self-entitled banker mentality. I don’t know why he keeps talking, but he’s the gift that keeps on giving.

At every major junction in the post-crisis debate about banking, Dimon has stepped in with a perfectly tactless remark that illustrates both the vacuity and the moral corruption of his industry. This week was no exception.

Excrow provides a number of specific examples of Dimon’s and Chase’s lack of ethics. And yet, Dimon is still whining about “excessive” government regulation.

Dimon just complained that regulators “made the recovery worse than it otherwise would have been” — which is not only wrong, but avoids addressing the issue of the recovery’s cause, which was banks like Dimon’s. Dimon added that the government forced banks to de-leverage “”at precisely the wrong time” — which is precisely wrong. The government’s real error was in not breaking up too-big-to-fail banks like Dimon’s.

“Complexity and confusion should have been alleviated, not compounded,” complains Dimon.

So Dimon and his cronies have formed a superpac to intimidate liberal Congresspeople. Please go read the whole article. It’s really frightening.

The domestic terrorist who tried unsuccessfully to blow up a Planned Parenthood office in Wisconsin has explained his motivation.

Francis Grady, 50, spoke to reporters who were covering his first appearance in federal court since the Sunday night attack. The Green Bay Press-Gazette posted video of him walking through the courthouse followed by a short clip of him speaking to reporters outside.

“There was no bomb,” Grady said. “It was gasoline.”

A reporter asked why Grady attacked the clinic.

“Because they’re killing babies there,” he responded.

The newspaper also got more from inside the federal courtroom, where Grady reportedly interrupted the judge to ask, ““Do you even care at all about the 1,000 babies that died screaming?”

“Screaming?” Fetuses that are aborted in the first trimester aren’t “babies,” and they don’t have nervous systems to feel pain or the ability to scream. The ignorance of these people is beyond belief.

Lizzie Borden

Finally, some new evidence has been found in the Lizzie Borden murder case–journals kept by her attorney.

Borden was acquitted in 1892, and much of the evidence in the case ended up with Andrew Jackson Jennings, Borden’s attorney. The two journals, which Jennings stored in a Victorian bathtub along with other evidence from the case, including the infamous “handless hatchet,” were left to the Fall River Historical Society by Jennings’ grandson, who died last year.

The society received the fragile journals about a month ago but won’t be exhibited until they are properly preserved, curator Michael Martins said.

Each journal is about 100 pages. One contains a series of newspaper clippings, indexed using a lettering and number system that Jennings devised. The second contains personal notes that Jennings assembled from interviews he conducted. Some of the individuals interviewed are people mentioned in the newspaper clippings Jennings retained.

“A number of the people Jennings spoke to were people he knew intimately, on a social or business level, so many of them were perhaps more candid with him than they would have been otherwise,” Martins said. “But it’s also evident that there are a number of new individuals he spoke to who had previously not been connected with the case.”

I hope at least some of those links will pique your interest. What stories have you been following this afternoon and evening?