Lazy Caturday Reads: Mostly SCOTUS Stuff

Biden New Cat

Willow, the Biden family’s new pet cat at the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2022. The Washington Monument can be seen in the distance. (Erin Scott/The White House, AP)

Good Afternoon!!

Joe Biden wasn’t my first choice for the Democratic nomination in 2020; in fact, I didn’t want him to run at all. But I was wrong. He has been a good president so far, and his deep foreign policy knowledge and experience have been showcased during the Ukraine crisis. This morning Biden was in Poland meeting with U.S. troops at the Ukraine border. It appears he’s a hit as commander-in-chief.

Yesterday the majority of the Supreme Court acknowledged that Biden is in fact commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, but Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas disagreed. Ian Millhiser at Vox: The Supreme Court rules that Joe Biden is commander-in-chief. Three justices dissent.

The Supreme Court on Friday evening decided, no, it was not going to needlessly insert itself in the military chain of command above President Joe Biden.

The Court’s decision in Austin v. U.S. Navy SEALs 1-26 largely halted a lower court order that permitted certain sailors to defy a direct order. A group of Navy special operations personnel sought an exemption from the Pentagon’s requirement that all active duty service members get vaccinated against Covid-19, claiming that they should receive a religious exemption.

A majority of the Court effectively ruled that, yes, in fact, troops do have to follow orders, including an order to take a vaccine.

The decision is undeniably a win for the balance of power between the executive branch and the judiciary that has prevailed for many decades. But the fact that the Court had to weigh in on this at all — not to mention that three justices, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch, dissented from the majority — is a worrisome sign about America’s judiciary.

Brett Kavanagh explained why he sided with the majority:

…laying out why the lower court erred, this court “in effect inserted itself into the Navy’s chain of command, overriding military commanders’ professional military judgments.” Had the Court ruled the other way in SEALs, it would have effectively placed itself at the apex of the military’s chain of command, displacing Biden as commander-in-chief.

Henry (dog) and traveling companion Baloo, by Cynthia

Henry (dog) and traveling companion Baloo, by Cynthia Bennett

But as Kavanaugh correctly notes in his concurring opinion, there is a long line of Supreme Court precedents establishing that courts should be exceedingly reluctant to interfere with military affairs.

In Gilligan v. Morgan (1973), for example, the Court held that “the complex, subtle, and professional decisions as to the composition, training, equipping, and control of a military force are essentially professional military judgments,” and that “it is difficult to conceive of an area of governmental activity in which the courts have less competence.”

Nevertheless, Judge Reed O’Connor, a notoriously partisan judge in Texas who is best known for a failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, ruled in favor of the service members who refused to follow a direct order. And the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit refused the Navy’s request to stay key parts of O’Connor’s order.

That left the responsibility of restoring the military’s proper chain of command to the Supreme Court. Though the Court’s order does not wipe out O’Connor’s decision in its entirety, it temporarily blocks that decision “insofar as it precludes the Navy from considering respondents’ vaccination status in making deployment, assignment, and other operational decisions.”

In other SCOTUS news, the Ginni Thomas story is still snowballing. Daknikat wrote quite a bit about Thomas yesterday; https://skydancingblog.com/2022/03/25/friday-reads-you-shouldnt-go-back-home/if you haven’t read her post, please check it out.

Scott Wong at NBC News: Ginni Thomas pressed for GOP lawmakers to protest 2020 election results.

Shortly after the 2020 election, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, sent an email to an aide to a prominent House conservative saying she would have nothing to do with his group until his members go “out in the streets,” a congressional source familiar with the exchange told NBC News.

Thomas told an aide to incoming Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks, R-Ind., that she was more aligned with the far-right House Freedom Caucus, whose leaders just two months later would lead the fight in Congress to overturn the results of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.

Cat who thinks he's a dog by Jack Shepherd

Cat who thinks he’s a dog by Jack Shepherd. He was raised with and by the dogs.

The RSC was long representative of the most conservative House members, but in the past several years, it has been replaced by the tea party-driven Freedom Caucus.

Thomas wrote to the aide that Freedom Caucus members were tougher than RSC members, were in the fight and had then-President Donald Trump’s back, according to the source familiar with the email contents. Until she saw RSC members “out in the streets” and in the fight, she said, she would not help the RSC, the largest caucus of conservatives on Capitol Hill.

Her November 2020 email came in response to a request from the RSC to offer policy recommendations as Banks was set to take the helm of the group in early 2021. But when Thomas portrayed the RSC as soft in its support for Trump and told its members to take to the streets, the aide thanked her for her suggestions and moved on….

The email exchange suggests Thomas was pressuring Republicans in Congress to get more aggressive in fighting for Trump at a key moment when the lame-duck president and his inner circle were devising a strategy to overturn the results of the 2020 election and keep him in power.

Obviously Thomas has access to powerful politicians only because she is married to Clarence Thomas.

Conservative columnist Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast: If Ginni Thomas’ Big Lie Texts Don’t Shock You, Nothing Will.

“Biden and the Left [are] attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

“[The] Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators…are being arrested and…will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.”

Oh yeah, and “Watermarked ballots in over 12 states have been part of a huge Trump & military white hat sting operation in 12 key battleground states.”

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Another photo of the cat who thinks he’s a dog and his friends, by Jack Shepherd.

These aren’t the rantings of some obscure, tinfoil hat-wearing lunatic. These are just a few of the 29 text messages sent by Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. These messages were sent in the wake of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory, as Mrs. Thomas sought to push Meadows to try to overturn the 2020 election results—sometimes quoting far-right websites to make her case.

In a world where more tenuous relationships than a spouse have sparked huge controversies (think Barack Obama’s relationships with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the former Weather Underground activist Bill Ayers), the level of this conflict of interest should be condemned by intellectually honest conservatives.

As one smart observer put it, “If you had a problem with Bill Clinton meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the tarmac, you should probably have a problem with Ginni Thomas’s barrage of texts to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the days preceding a legitimate self-coup attempt.”

Click the link to read the rest.

Another conservative take from David French at The Atlantic: The Worst Ginni Thomas Text Wasn’t From Ginni Thomas. Mark Meadows and the dangerous religious zeal of “Stop the Steal.”

After giving examples of Thomas’s text messages, French writes:

This is the kind of communication that would make you worry about a family member’s connection to reality. When it comes from the wife of a Supreme Court justice who enjoys direct access to the White House chief of staff, it’s not just disturbing; it’s damaging to the Supreme Court….

It is…understandable if ordinary Americans wonder whether she’s made an impact on her husband, and it’s important for Justice Thomas to recuse himself from any future cases that could potentially involve additional disclosures of his wife’s communications with the White House or her involvement in the effort to overturn the election.

Mako-the-Cat-Dog- thinks he's a cat

Mako the Cat-Dog: raised by cats, he thinks he is one.

But the Ginni Thomas texts were not the most alarming aspect of Woodward and Costa’s story. There was a text in the chain that disturbed me more than anything Ginni Thomas wrote. It came from Meadows, and here’s what it said: This is a fight of good versus evil . . . Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it.

One of the most dangerous aspects of the effort to overturn the election was the extent to which it was an explicitly religious cause. January 6 insurrectionists stampeded into the Senate chamber with prayers on their lipsProminent religious leaders and leading Christian lawyers threw themselves into the effort to delay election certification or throw out the election results entirely. In the House and Senate, the congressional leaders of the effort to overturn the election included many of Congress’s most public evangelicals.

They didn’t just approach the election fight with religious zeal; they approached it with an absolute conviction that they enjoyed divine sanction. The merger of faith and partisanship was damaging enough, but the merger of faith with lawlessness and even outright delusion represented a profound perversion of the role of the Christian in the public square.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

More Ginni Thomas stories:

The Washington Post: Ethics experts see Ginni Thomas’s texts as a problem for Supreme Court.

The New York Times: Justice Thomas Ruled on Election Cases. Should His Wife’s Texts Have Stopped Him?

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Justice Thomas’s wife is a political extremist. This is now a problem for the court.

There are quite a few stories today that deal with the disrespectful treatment that Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson received from Republicans in her Senate confirmation hearings.

I really liked this one from Kevin Cullen at The Boston Globe, because he trotted out an old saying that my Dad often used: You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much.

One of life’s inexplicable wonders is how Harvard can produce someone as grounded and poised and principledas Ketanji Brown Jackson and also someoneas unmoored and annoying and unscrupulous as Ted Cruz.

Providing clear evidence of how pathetic my existence is, I watched Jackson’s confirmation hearing start to finish, a marathon of high drama and low farce.

Am I a loser? Yes, but nothing likethe preening senators who treated Jackson with appalling disrespect, with constant interruptions and cynical questions meant to gin up their base, not ascertain whether Jackson is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.

Cat and rabbit cuddlingIf you had to boil down the objections of Republicans to Jackson it is this: She’s a soft-on-crime, pedophile-coddling, racist-baby-kissing, terrorist-hugging Critical Race Theory nut job.

Other than that, they acknowledged, she seems nice enough.

It was hard to decide which senator combined rudeness and pandering to produce the greatest mix of condescension. Besides Cruz, Senators Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, and Tom Cotton – another Harvard man! – all covered themselves in something less than glory.

But when it comes unctuousness, Cruz takes the cake.

That he and Jackson served together on the Harvard Law Review didn’t spare Jackson from his unremitting bile.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin repeatedly told Cruz he was going over his allotted time and violating rules. Proving the old adage that you can always tell a Harvard man but you can’t tell him much, Cruz ignored Durbin.

Cruz was too busy yammering about racist babies and fake women and child pornographers to pay attention to something as inconsequential as rules.

When Cruz said, “Under the modern leftist sensibilities, if I decide right now that I’m a woman, then apparently I’m a woman,” I thought, “This guy went to Harvard Law School?”

Read the rest if you can use a laugh.

More follow up stories on the Jackson hearings:

Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: Ivy League Republicans’ phony rebellion against the ‘elites.’

Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post: Forget advise and consent. This is smear and degrade.

The Independent: Hawley attacked Ketanji Brown Jackson’s ‘alarming’ record on sex offenders. He agreed to an abuser getting only probation.

Two articles on Wesley Hawkins, who was sentenced by Jackson as an 18-year-old and was the subject of much of the GOP screaming and yelling about child porn cases:

The New York Times: Who is Wesley Hawkins? Republicans zero in on Jackson’s sentencing of a teen in a child sex abuse case.

The Washington Post: Wesley Hawkins, talk of the Jackson hearings, describes life after pornography sentence.

Sorry this is so late. WordPress deleted my post in progress twice and I had to reconstruct it. Have a great weekend!


Thursday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

It’s another big news day. We lost Madeline Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, paving the way for other women to meet with NATO allies and announce new sanctions on Russia. Afterwards, he will visit Poland and perhaps even go to the border of Ukraine. Today is the final day of the hearings on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Today will be dedicated to testimony from people who support or oppose her nomination. The Ukraine war continues, with reports of Ukrainian victories and numerous analyses of the failure of Putin’s efforts to subdue it’s neighbor. I’ll get to as much of this news as I can.

Madeline Albright

The Washington Post: Madeleine Albright, first female secretary of state, dies at 84.

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Madeline Albright

Madeleine K. Albright, who came to the United States as an 11-year-old political refu­gee from Czechoslovakia and decades later was an ardent and effective advocate against mass atrocities in Eastern Europe while serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the first female secretary of state, died March 23 in Washington. She was 84.

The cause was cancer, her family said in a statement.

Before Dr. Albright, the inner sanctum of U.S. foreign policymaking had been an almost exclusively male domain. In many ways, her politically fraught early life — enduring Nazi and communist repression — impelled her rise to the highest levels of international politics.

Her family, which was Jewish, narrowly avoided extermination at the hands of the Nazis. They fled to England shortly after Hitler’s tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Several of Dr. Albright’s relatives, including three grandparents, died in the concentration camps of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. After the war, Dr. Albright’s father, a Czech diplomat wary of communism, feared he would be arrested following a 1948 coup by hard-line Stalinists in Prague. The family escaped once more, this time to the United States.

Before she died, Albright wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, published Feb 3: Putin Is Making a Historic Mistake.

In early 2000, I became the first senior U.S. official to meet with Vladimir Putin in his new capacity as acting president of Russia. We in the Clinton administration did not know much about him at the time — just that he had started his career in the K.G.B. I hoped the meeting would help me take the measure of the man and assess what his sudden elevation might mean for U.S.-Russia relations, which had deteriorated amid the war in Chechnya. Sitting across a small table from him in the Kremlin, I was immediately struck by the contrast between Mr. Putin and his bombastic predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

Obit Albright

FILE – U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright smiles as she shakes hands with Russian acting President Vladimir Putin, right, in Moscow’s Kremlin, on Feb. 2, 2000. 

Whereas Mr. Yeltsin had cajoled, blustered and flattered, Mr. Putin spoke unemotionally and without notes about his determination to resurrect Russia’s economy and quash Chechen rebels. Flying home, I recorded my impressions. “Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.”

I have been reminded in recent months of that nearly three-hour session with Mr. Putin as he has massed troops on the border with neighboring Ukraine. After calling Ukrainian statehood a fiction in a bizarre televised address, he issued a decree recognizing the independence of two separatist-held regions in Ukraine and sending troops there.

Mr. Putin’s revisionist and absurd assertion that Ukraine was “entirely created by Russia” and effectively robbed from the Russian empire is fully in keeping with his warped worldview. Most disturbing to me: It was his attempt to establish the pretext for a full-scale invasion.

Should he invade, it will be a historic error.

It sure looks like she was right. For more on Albright and Putin, check out this interview she gave to NPR’s All Things Considered in June, 2021: Madeleine Albright had a lot to say about Putin — and she didn’t mince words.

Biden in Europe

AP News: US to expand Russia sanctions, accept 100K Ukraine refugees.

BRUSSELS (AP) — The United States will expand its sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine, targeting members of the country’s parliament and the central bank’s gold reserves, the White House announced Thursday.

At the same time, Washington will increase its humanitarian assistance by welcoming 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and providing an additional $1 billion in food, medicine, water and other supplies.

The White House announced the initiatives as U.S. President Joe Biden and world leaders gathered in Brussels for a trio of summits in response to the Russian invasion, seeking new ways to limit the economic and security fallout from the conflict.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the day’s first meeting, an emergency NATO summit, where he called for “military assistance without limitations.” He pleaded for anti-air and anti-ship weapons, asking “is it possible to survive in such a war without this?”

A U.S. official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Western nations are discussing the possibility of providing anti-ship weapons amid concerns that Russia will launch amphibious assaults along the Black Sea coast.

There should be a lot more news about Biden’s trip in the course of the day today.

Ketanji Brown Jackson

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Republicans boast they have not pulled a Kavanaugh. In fact, they’ve treated Jackson worse.

Throughout her Senate confirmation hearings, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been a model of composure, which is made all the more impressive by the egregious behavior of some on the Republican side.

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Ketanji Brown Jackson

During the hearings, Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) have congratulated themselves for declining to treat Judge Jackson the way Democrats handled the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh. In fact, by the most relevant measures, Mr. Graham and a handful of other Judiciary Committee Republicans have handled themselves worse.

A woman credibly accused Mr. Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Democrats rightly asked the committee to investigate. After a superficial FBI review, Republicans pressed forward his nomination. In the end, it was Mr. Kavanaugh who behaved intemperately, personally attacking Democratic senators and revealing partisan instincts that raised questions about his commitment to impartiality.

By contrast, Republicans have smeared Judge Jackson based on obvious distortions of her record and the law. Mr. Graham and others painted her as a friend of child pornographers, despite the fact that her sentences in their cases reflect the judicial mainstream. Even conservative outlets had debunked these accusations before the hearings began. The more Judge Jackson argued for rationality in criminal sentencing — or attempted to, as Mr. Graham continually interrupted her — the more Mr. Graham ranted about the evils of child pornography, which Judge Jackson had already condemned repeatedly and her record plainly shows she takes seriously.

graham-berates-jackson-over-kavanaughMr. Graham also attacked Judge Jackson for her work defending Guantánamo Bay detainees, acknowledging that no one should judge her for representing unpopular defendants or advocating zealously for her clients — and then proceeding to do just that.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) used much of her time assailing those concerned about transgender people. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) attacked Judge Jackson for sitting on the board of Georgetown Day School, a D.C. private school, because he disapproves of its anti-racism curriculum, which Judge Jackson has never endorsed, let alone relied upon in a ruling. Similarly, several Republicans complained that outside pressure groups favored her nomination, even though she has no connection to them. These attacks by association underscored that they had little substance on which to criticize her.

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: Cory Booker Aside, Democrats Stranded Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The third day of hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court came to a close on Wednesday following another 10-plus hours filled with character smears about child pornography from Republican senators and more phony umbrage about some out of context quotes. At this point, with just one more day of testimony from outside witnesses remaining, it is worth noting that this entire circus is being performed to try to pick off two or three Republican votes—and perhaps one Democratic vote—that will probably not come. One of the reasons Sen. Lindsey Graham is quite literally spitting and screaming about amicus briefs filed on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees two decades ago, is because having voted to confirm Judge Jackson to a federal appeals court less than a year ago, he must manufacture sufficient umbrage to vote against her now. Happily for Sen. Graham, time has gradually reduced him to a pile of free floating umbrage held together by hair.

If we can all agree that the purpose of this charade for Graham is to try to flip Sens. Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski, and that for Sen. Ted Cruz, the purpose of this charade is to goose his own twitter mentions, and for Sen. Josh Hawley the purpose is to take what was a fringe “endangering our children” smear campaign last week and push it to the GOP mainstream today, it’s manifestly clear who the real pornographers are this week. But if we can all agree what the GOP agenda has been, I remain utterly mystified by the Democrats. They have the votes to confirm. They are about to irrevocably alter the course of American history. So what are they afraid of?

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Josh Hawley lectures Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.

I wrote earlier this week about the utter failure on the part of Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats to connect this hearing to what is going to be a catastrophic series of progressive losses at the Supreme Court this term, and the almost staggering inability to lay out any kind of theory for progressive jurisprudence, or even a coherent theory for the role of an unelected judiciary in a constitutional democracy. My colleague Mark Joseph Stern wrote today about a broadside attack on the whole idea of unenumerated rights, substantive due process, and the entire line of cases that protect Americans from penalties for using birth control, forced sterilization, indoctrination of their children, and afford them the right to marry who they want. More mysterious than this coordinated GOP project to undermine LGBTQ rights, marriage equality, contraception, and abortion—again, none of this is new or shocking—was the almost complete silence from Senate Democrats on these issues of substantive due process, privacy, and bodily autonomy. On the simplest level the hearing might have been an opportunity to explain why Roe v Wade is in fact the tip of the constitutional iceberg; that the same doctrinal underpinnings at risk in this term’s looming catastrophe of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization could lead to existential losses of countless other freedoms. But the hearings were framed as if Republicans stand to lose the court, and the midterms, while the Democrats behaved as if the future of the courts, the Senate, and democracy itself has no bearing on what happened inside the Senate chamber.

Please read the rest at Slate.

More reads to check out on this topic:

Mark Joseph Stern at Slate: The Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearings Show Marriage Equality Is the Next Target Once Roe Falls.

Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post: GOP grandstanders aren’t the only reason Jackson’s confirmation hearings were so disgraceful.

Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post: These Trump judges failed Hawley’s sentencing test for Jackson.

The New York Times: QAnon Cheers Republican Attacks on Jackson. Democrats See a Signal.

The Washington Post: American Bar Association says Jackson is ‘A-plus’ on final day of confirmation hearings.

Ukraine War

CNN: Ukrainians claim to have destroyed large Russian warship in Berdyansk.

Lviv, Ukraine (CNN) Ukrainian armed forces said they destroyed a large Russian landing ship at the port of Berdyansk in southern Ukraine on Thursday.

The port, which had recently been occupied by Russian forces with several Russian warships in dock, was rocked by a series of heavy explosions soon after dawn.

Social media videos showed fires raging at the dockside, with a series of secondary explosions reverberating across the city.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine said they had “destroyed a large landing ship,” which they named as the “Orsk”in a post on Facebook.

The Ukrainian armed forces said that besides destroying the Orsk, two more ships were damaged.

“A 3,000-ton fuel tank was also destroyed. The fire spread to the enemy’s ammunition depot. Details of the damage inflicted on the occupier are being clarified,” they said.

It’s not known what weapon was used to attack the port.

More Ukraine/Russia reads

CNN: The bodies of Russian soldiers are piling up in Ukraine, as Kremlin conceals true toll of war.

The Economist: The Stalinisation of Russia. As it sinks in that he cannot win in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is resorting to repression at home.

Douglas London at The Wall Street Journal: Spies Will Doom Putin. After invading Ukraine, he’s tightening the screws the way the Soviets did—and that will help the CIA recruit Russians.

Lawrence Freedman at Comment is Freed: Losing Wars and Saving Face.

I guess that’s enough to keep us busy. I hope Thursday goes well for you and yours.


Monday Reads

Good Morning!

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So, I’m still a little bit out of the loop at the moment. I’m not really reading much in the way of news or even watching TV so I had to do some searching for something interesting to read this morning. This will be a bit of a link dump. I promise I will do better by midweek.

Will we ever be rid of Fat Tony and his blatant hypocrisy?

With his own claims to originalism fading fast, Scalia suggests liberal judicial activism, practiced by some of colleagues on the Court, is part of what brought about the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. The speech was an address to the Utah State Bar Association.

From the Aspen Times …

Scalia opened his talk with a reference to the Holocaust, which happened to occur in a society that was, at the time, “the most advanced country in the world.” One of the many mistakes that Germany made in the 1930s was that judges began to interpret the law in ways that reflected “the spirit of the age.” When judges accept this sort of moral authority, as Scalia claims they’re doing now in the U.S., they get themselves and society into trouble.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is something we teach a lot in economics.  You may remember the movie  “A Beautiful Mind” and the invention of game theory.  Well, there’s been an interesting test of the theory.

The “prisoner’s dilemma” is a familiar concept to just about anybody that took Econ 101.

The basic version goes like this. Two criminals are arrested, but police can’t convict either on the primary charge, so they plan to sentence them to a year in jail on a lesser charge. Each of the prisoners, who can’t communicate with each other, are given the option of testifying against their partner. If they testify, and their partner remains silent, the partner gets 3 years and they go free. If they both testify, both get two. If both remain silent, they each get one.

In game theory, betraying your partner, or “defecting” is always the dominant strategy as it always has a slightly higher payoff in a simultaneous game. It’s what’s known as a “Nash Equilibrium,” after Nobel Prize winning mathematician and A Beautiful Mind subject John Nash.

In sequential games, where players know each other’s previous behaviour and have the opportunity to punish each other, defection is the dominant strategy as well.

However, on a Pareto basis, the best outcome for both players is mutual cooperation.

Yet no one’s ever actually run the experiment on real prisoners before, until two University of Hamburg economists tried it out in a recent study comparing the behaviour of inmates and students.

Surprisingly, for the classic version of the game, prisoners were far more cooperative  than expected.

Menusch Khadjavi and Andreas Lange put the famous game to the test for the first time ever, putting a group of prisoners in Lower Saxony’s primary women’s prison, as well as students through both simultaneous and sequential versions of the game.The payoffs obviously weren’t years off sentences, but euros for students, and the equivalent value in coffee or cigarettes for prisoners.

They expected, building off of game theory and behavioural economic research that show humans are more cooperative than the purely rational model that economists traditionally use, that there would be a fair amount of first-mover cooperation, even in the simultaneous simulation where there’s no way to react to the other player’s decisions.

And even in the sequential game, where you get a higher payoff for betraying a cooperative first mover, a fair amount will still reciprocate.

As for the difference between student and prisoner behaviour, you’d expect that a prison population might be more jaded and distrustful, and therefore more likely to defect.

The results went exactly the other way for the simultaneous game, only 37% of students cooperate. Inmates cooperated 56% of the time.

On a pair basis, only 13% of student pairs managed to get the best mutual outcome and cooperate, whereas 30% of prisoners do.

Where do these modern day evangelicals get their whacked ideas about women and especially about abortion?

While America languishes in an economic depression, Republican officeholders are bending all their efforts… to ban abortion. In the last few weeks and months, we’ve seen a blizzard of anti-choice legislation in Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and many other places. These laws stall women seeking abortions with mandatory waiting periods, brutalize them with invasive and unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, force doctors to read shaming scripts rife with falsehoods, and impose onerous regulatory requirements that are designed to be impossible to comply with so that family-planning clinics will be forced to close. At the federal level, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted for a bill banning all abortion after 20 weeks, without even putting up a pretense that this was constitutional.

One would think the drubbing taken by anti-choice zealots like Todd Akin in the last election would have given Republicans an incentive to step back and consider whether this is a winning strategy. Instead, it seems as if their losses have only inspired them to fight harder. For the right-wing Christian fundamentalists who dominate the Republican Party, banning abortion, or at least piling up pointless regulations to make it as burdensome and difficult to obtain as possible, has become an all-consuming obsession, akin to a religious crusade.

Given the amount of effort and political capital the religious right puts into trying to restrict abortion, you’d guess that opposition to women’s choice must take up a huge portion of the Bible. But the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.

The Bible says nothing whatsoever about abortion. It never mentions the subject, not once, neither in the Old Testament nor the New. This isn’t because abortion was unknown in the ancient world. Much to the contrary, the ancient Greeks and Romans were well-acquainted with the idea. Surviving writings from these cultures recommend the use of herbs like pennyroyal, silphium and hellebore to induce abortion; others advise vigorous physical activity to cause a miscarriage, and some even discuss surgical methods.

Here’s an intriguing investigation of secret US prisons being carried out by Poland. What exactly do we and other countries know about these black ops sites run by the CIA?

The only sign of life at Szymany’s “international airport” are mosquitoes eager to suck blood out of a rare visitor. The gate is locked with a rusted chain and a padlock.

Evidence suggest that some of the last passengers at this site were CIA officers and their prisoners. That was in 2003. Soon after, the airport about 180 km north of Warsaw inside the picturesque Mazury forests went out of service.

Bounded by the Freedom of Information Act, Polish Airspace authorities have revealed that at least 11 CIA aircrafts landed at Szymany, and some of their passengers stayed on in Poland. The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) was not informed about those flights.

From Szymany the prisoners were driven to a nearby intelligence academy in Stare Kiejkuty, where the CIA had a separated facility. In 2006, a few months after Poland was first identified as having hosted a secret CIA prison, Polish ombudsman Janusz Kochanowski visited the CIA villa – only to see that its chambers have been freshly renovated.

Two other European countries with known but unconfirmed black sites are Romania and Lithuania; the rest were in Asia and North Africa.

Human rights groups believe about eight terror suspects were held in Poland, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Two other men currently detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility have been granted “injured person” status in the ongoing investigation.

The first is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national alleged to have organised the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. He has claimed that he was often stripped naked, hooded, or shackled during seven months at Stare Kiejkuty, and subjected to mock execution with a gun and threats of sexual assault against his family members.

The second, a stateless Palestinian known as Abu Zubaydah, said he was subjected to extreme physical pain, psychological pressure and waterboarding – mock drowning.

Any Polish leaders who would have agreed to the U.S. programme would have been violating the constitution by giving a foreign power control over part of Polish territory, and allowing crimes to take place there.

Former prime minister Leszek Miller, now chairman of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance has been the prime target of criticism. There are demands he should face a special tribunal charged with trying state figures.

In March 2008, the Polish authorities opened a criminal investigation. “This indicates that Poland is a country with a rule of law,” Senator Jozef Pinior told IPS. “But the protraction is a reason for concern. The investigation has been moved to the third consecutive prosecutor’s office, in what looks like playing for time.”

Pinior, one of the leaders of the Solidarity opposition movement during the 1980s, and more recently a member of the European Parliament, has for long been lobbying for a full investigation into what the CIA was doing in Poland. Twice he was called in as witness in the investigation. He claims to have seen a document on a CIA prison with PM Miller’s signature.

“Poland is no banana republic, our security services do not do such things behind the back of the government.” — Polish Senator Jozef Pinior

“The Polish government, especially Leszek Miller, must have had knowledge that such sites existed on Polish territory without any legal basis,” Pinior said. “They must have known about the torture too. Poland is no banana republic, our security services do not do such things behind the back of the government.”

It is still not clear how much knowledge the Polish leaders had about the black site in Stare Kiejkuty. Some have vehemently denied the prison’s existence, but some admit it between the lines, though denying responsibility.

“Of course, everything took place with my knowledge,” said former president Aleksander Kwasniewski in an interview with leading daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

So, that’s a few odds and ends to get us started today.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Wednesday Reads: Twisted Tales… Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Many kids will be missing out on tonight’s Trick or Treating…lots of towns within the path of Sandy have postponed their Halloween festivities.  I just want to put up a couple of links on the aftermath of Sandy then we will get to the juicy stuff.

The New York Times has this list of ways Sandy impacted each state…sort of painting the destruction by numbers if you will.

Tracking the Storm – Interactive Feature – NYTimes.com  I will give you a quick peak at a few:

NATION
8 Million+ Left without power.
18,000+ Flights canceled.
139 Miles per hour of top wind gust recorded (Mount Washington in New Hampshire).

And here are a some other links on Sandy as reported early this morning (I am writing this at 4 am):

‘Absolute Devastation’ Left by Storm in N.J., Christie Says – SFGate

Sandy’s force leaves millions across East Coast reeling Death, ruination in Eastern US and beyond– The Boston Globe

New York Subway System Faces Weeks to Recover From Storm – Businessweek

46 dead, millions without power, transit after Sandy – Weather | NBC News

Mayor estimates up to 25,000 stranded in Hoboken as flood conditions worsen – The Maddow Blog

Saw this tweet also on the Maddow Blog and thought it was great.

Okay, now let’s move on to some news that I am sure you all missed the past two days.  Do you remember that family that was murdered in the Alps this Summer? There is a wild bit of information being reported about the bank account of one of the victim’s family members. According to The Guardian: Saddam Hussein linked to Alps killings

The former Iraqi dictator deposited a huge sum of money in a Swiss bank account belonging to the father of murdered British engineer Saad al-Hilli, it has been claimed

When I first saw this story in the news, it seemed strange that such a connection is being made. Check it out.

Saddam Hussein deposited £840,000 in a Swiss bank account belonging to the father of the British engineer murdered with his wife and mother-in-law in the Alps, it has been claimed.

Saad al-Hilli, 50, has been linked to the former Iraqi dictator through his father Kadhim, who was once close to the tyrant’s Ba’ath party but fled his homeland for Britain in the 1970s. The money was reportedly deposited into an account in Geneva, an hour’s drive from where the massacre took place on 5 September at a remote spot near Lake Annecy in eastern France.

Hilli, his wife, Iqbal, and his mother-in-law were shot while his seven-year-old daughter, Zainab, was left badly injured and her four-year-old sister, Zeena, deeply traumatised. A French cyclist was also shot dead and the motive for the killings remains a mystery.

A French police source revealed that the money had been traced to Hussein by the German intelligence agency, the BND, according to Le Monde. Agents routinely monitored cash transactions with Baghdad as Germany did more business with the regime than any other country.

An intelligence source in Munich was quoted as saying: “They know the money trail, and they know how to follow it. They have spent decades monitoring money transactions between the west and Iraq. The BND is the first port of call in such circumstances.”

The Guardian states that…

The Le Monde story was published under the headline “The potential links between the al-Hillis and Saddam Hussein.”

It said: “According to a French police source, the German secret service informed the gendarmerie’s anti-terrorist branch that there were links between the al-Hilli family and Saddam Hussein’s fortune. The tensions began after Saad al-Hilli’s father [Kadhim] was struck off the list of beneficiaries of the former Iraqi dictator.”

When Kadhim died he left behind his considerable wealth in a will.

Le Monde identifies the money in the Swiss bank account – and not the inheritance – that may have been at the centre of the conflict. Swiss investigators discovered the secret account earlier this month, but according to Le Mondethey didn’t make the link to Iraq.

Interesting? Hmmmm, I’ve got another news story update with a twist, this one is about that plane crash many months ago that wiped out the entire Polish government. (Well, the president and his administration.)

Explosive traces ‘found on crashed Polish presidential jet’

Traces of explosives have been discovered on the wreck of the Polish presidential jet which crashed in Russia in 2010, killing then president Lech Kaczynski and 95 other people, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

“Tests have confirmed the presence of TNT and nitroglycerine on 30 seats. The substances were also found on the area linking the fuselage with the wing,” Poland’s leading Rzeczpospolita daily said.

The recent tests were conducted by “Polish prosecutors and experts” it said, but testing by Polish and Russian investigator immediately after the 2010 crash had ruled out explosives.

Seem far-fetched? I don’t know…

Rzeczpospolita raised the possibility the reported explosives might be traced to unexploded World War II bombs in Smolensk, an area of western Russia which saw heavy fighting.

“We must wait for prosecutors to draw their conclusions and establish the source of the substance before taking any measures,” government spokesman Pawel Gras told public TVP broadcaster.

[…]

…most of the blame for the April 2010 disaster — in which all 96 people on board died — lay with Poland, but also faulted Russia, where the plane went down in thick fog.

It had ruled out “extremist versions” of events, including sabotage and pressure from third parties on the crew to land despite bad weather.

The Russian investigation concluded that there was “psychological pressure” on the crew to land in dangerous weather conditions, prompting Warsaw to criticise their report as incomplete and riddled with errors.

Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party — led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the late president’s twin brother — has accused Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s centre-right government of failing to take Russia to task.

Sounds like a new Bond flick to me? Talk about Skyfall…Ooof!

A Law and Justice-run parliamentary commission that probed the crash blamed Russia, claiming it had forged the testimony of Smolensk’s air traffic controllers, who it alleged had misled the pilots.

The doomed presidential delegation had been bound for a memorial ceremony in Katyn, near Smolensk, for thousands of Polish army officers slain by the Soviet secret police in 1940, a massacre denied by the Kremlin until 1990.

See what I mean. It’s got everything, intrigue, assassination, KGB and a cover-up. The whole story could be pitched to the movie folks, and I am sure they would go for it. Hey, if Disney paid  George Lucus $4 Billllliooooon dollars for the rights to Star Wars…I am sure we can get Daniel Craig out there saving the world from the USSR. (Romney would definitely think it is a cool docudrama.)

One more strange story, and I believe this was something that Boston Boomer brought up months ago, about Paul Ryan and his brilliant scheme from the mind of Pinochet…Where Did Paul Ryan Find Inspiration for ‘Reforming’ Social Security? A Brutal Military Dictatorship, Naturally

The basis for Ryan’s big plan was hatched under the radical right-wing Chilean torture regime of 1973 military coup leader Augusto Pinochet.

While the Republican Party and its wealthy plutocrat backers have been accused of waging an elitist virtual war against the American majority, both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have financial and ideological ties to rich Latin American elites who have waged real wars against average citizens in their countries.

The anti-democratic ethos of today’s GOP, displayed in Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s  apparent contempt  for 47% of U.S. citizens, is reflected in the origins of Mitt Romney’s private equity firm Bain Capital, which was  founded with money from Central American financiers linked to government-backed death squads in El Salvador. Paul Ryan’s budgetary ideas have a similarly dark origin, in the paradigmatic case of what author Naomi Klein has dubbed  “The Shock Doctrine” .

In August 2012, Republican political consultant Roger Stone made the  accusation that the billionaire libertarian Koch Brothers had bought Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate, by offering to kick in $100 million more for “independent expenditures” in the 2012 presidential election.

While the charge may never be substantiated, Paul Ryan is  one of the few  elected officials allowed into the inner sanctum of the Koch brothers and their fellow libertarian big money donor circle.

We know the Koch brothers have always been up to no good.

It is also the case that Paul Ryan’s Social Security privatization ideas  closely track  Koch Brother schemes promoted from the Koch-funded libertarian Cato Institute since 1980, over three decades ago – before Ryan had even hit puberty. Cato’s website currently features the ringing  endorsement of Paul Ryan…

“Ryan is an articulate defender of free enterprise, and he consistently argues not just for the practical advantages of smaller government but also about the moral imperative to cut… if the next administration is Republican, and if it decides it wants to push major reforms, Paul Ryan is uniquely qualified to lead the charge.”

In 2005 Congressman Paul Ryan led a failed Republican legislative push for a Social Security privatization plan that also later popped up in Ryan’s 2010 “Roadmap For America’s Future”. This  centerpiece of Ryan’s budgetary vision traces back to a vicious war on the poor and middle class that was waged over three decades ago by a South American police state.

The conceptual basis of Ryan’s Social Security privatization approach was hatched as the  Piñera plan  that was  implemented under the radical right-wing Chilean torture regime of 1973 military coup leader Augusto Pinochet.

Give that article a read…very interesting indeed.

That is all I have for you this morning, but it should be a pretty good start, ay?


Tuesday Reads: Romney’s Gaffe-tastic European Tour, #NBCfail, the War on Women, and More

Good Morning!!

Mitt Romney is going to wrap up his gaffe-tastic European vacation today, but the gaffes may not be over yet. I read in JJ’s late night post last night that he’s going to make a speech in which he attacks Russia and Putin and criticize Obama for making efforts to cooperate with Russia on some issues like controlling nukes. Whatever happened to Romney’s promise that he wasn’t going to criticize current U.S. policies while overseas?

After all of Romney’s pandering during his visit to Israel, Ehud Barak spoke highly of President Obama in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer yesterday.

Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak said the Obama White House has been the most supportive administration throughout the two countries’ diplomatic relations on matters of Israeli security, in an interview to air Monday on “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

Barak -also a former prime minister of Israel – said that though historically administrations from both political parties have supported the Jewish state President Obama’s support, security-wise, is unparalleled.

“I think that from my point of view as defense minister they are extremely good, extremely deep and profound. I can see long years, um, administrations of both sides of political aisle deeply supporting the state of Israeli and I believe that reflects a profound feeling among the American people,” said Barak. “But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”

I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Romney finds out about that.

As JJ also noted last night, NBC is not getting rave reviews on its delayed and edited coverage of the Olympic games. In just one of their #NBCfail updates the Independent reports that Bob Costas, whom I usually like, “made a series of jingoistic remarks, including a joke about Idi Amin when Uganda’s team appeared.” Of course the loudest complaints have been about NBC’s refusal to show any of the events live.

There was feverish anticipation for the debut of the USA men’s basketball “dream team”, who began their hugely hyped Olympic campaign yesterday afternoon. But you wouldn’t have known it by turning on a television in their home country.

While Kobe Bryant and other big names in US sport were completing a 98 to 71-point victory, viewers of American network NBC were forced to watch edited highlights of a women’s cycling race that had been completed several hours earlier.

It was the latest in a string of mistakes by the broadcaster, whose coverage is sparking ridicule from TV critics and outrage from the US public. For most of the weekend, the phrase “NBC Fail” was trending on Twitter.

Why would I bother to watch when the winners and losers have already been announce earlier in the day? I wouldn’t bother watching a delayed broadcast of a Red Sox game either, but sometimes I stay up till all hours watching them when they’re out on the West Coast.

In another update, The Independent reports that one of their reporters, Guy Adams, was suspended from Twitter after NBC complained of his many negative tweets about their coverage.

The NYT Media Decoder reports that another yuppie journalist has bitten the dust.

A publishing industry that is notoriously ill-equipped to root out fraud. A magazine whose famed fact-checking department is geared toward print, not the Web. And a lucrative lecture circuit that rewards snappy, semi-scientific pronouncements, smoothly delivered to a corporate audience.

All contributed to the rise of Jonah Lehrer, the 31-year-old author, speaker and staff writer for The New Yorker, who then executed one of the most bewildering recent journalistic frauds, one that on Monday cost him his prestigious post at the magazine and his status as one of the most promising, visible and well-paid writers in the business.

An article in Tablet magazine revealed that in his best-selling book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” Mr. Lehrer had fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan, one of the most closely studied musicians alive. Only last month, Mr. Lehrer had publicly apologized for taking some of his previous work from The Wall Street Journal, Wired and other publications and recycling it in blog posts for The New Yorker, acts of recycling that his editor called “a mistake.”

By Monday, when the Tablet article was published online, both The New Yorker and Mr. Lehrer’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, made it clear that they had lost patience with him.

Fabricating quotes from Bob Dylan? How stupid can you get? This guy must have a fear of success.

The War on Women continues apace. In Arizona a judge (a Clinton appointee yet) has ruled that the state’s restrictive abortion law can take effect.

U.S. District Judge James Teilborg said the statute may prompt a few pregnant women who are considering abortion to make the decision earlier. But he said the law is constitutional because it doesn’t prohibit any women from making the decision to end their pregnancies.
The judge also wrote that the state provided “substantial and well-documented” evidence that an unborn child has the capacity to feel pain during an abortion by at least 20 weeks.
Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed the measure into law in April, making Arizona one of 10 states to enact types of 20-week bans.

Arizona’s ban, set to take effect Thursday, prohibits abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy except in medical emergencies. That is a change from the state’s current ban at viability, which is the ability to survive outside the womb and which generally is considered to be about 24 weeks. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks.
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights and another group filed a notice that they would be appealing Teilborg’s decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The law will result in more babies being born even though they have no chance of survival.

Under a new Arizona abortion law that takes effect Thursday, more babies with fatal fetal defects are expected to be carried to term, even though they will die within minutes, hours or days. But more will also be done to help their families get through the trauma of losing a child.

House Bill 2036 forbids doctors from aborting most fetuses with a gestational age of 20 weeks or older, even in situations where the doctor discovers the fetus has a fatal defect. The law also defines gestational age as beginning on the first day of the woman’s last period, meaning abortions are actually banned starting at 18 weeks of pregnancy — typically about the same time a doctor would perform ultrasounds where most abnormalities are detected.

Eight other states also ban abortions after 20 weeks, but Arizona is the only one with a law that actually pushes the ban back to 18 weeks into the pregnancy.

At Salon Irin Carmon spells out the “insanity” that “prevails in Arizona.

The Clinton-appointed district court judge in Arizona just did something, well, unprecedented. He upheld Arizona’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks, claiming it didn’t actually “ban” abortions before viability, it just “regulates” them down to the most grueling emergencies.

Worse, Teilborg even regurgitated the suspect science of “fetal pain,” a first in the federal courts, though his decision was based on the contorted “regulation” versus “ban” finding. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the state can only ban abortions after viability, regardless of the rationale, but Teilborg found that Arizona’s H.B. 2036 “does not impose a substantial obstacle to previability abortions,” because a woman can still get an abortion after 20 weeks if she’s about to die or suffer major physical impairment.

“It’s such a game of semantics, to the point of Alice in Wonderland,” ACLU staff attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas told Salon. “When the Supreme Court said you cannot ban any abortions prior to viability, regardless of whether there are any exceptions to that ban, that’s exactly what they meant.”

And Virginia’s abortion clinics are still struggling to meet the ridiculous requirements they have been given by the state’s General Assembly.

Rosemary Codding has tried for months to scrape together enough to pay for a costly renovation to her Falls Church clinic, where women get checkups, Pap smears and abortions.

Codding is still short of the up to $1 million it would take to update the 50-year-old building — it needs wider hallways, new ventilation systems and additional patient rooms — after Virginia enacted some of the nation’s toughest restrictions on abortion clinics.

The General Assembly voted last year to require the guidelines, which were quickly adopted by the state’s Board of Health. In a surprise move, the panel later exempted the state’s existing clinics, including Codding’s on busy Lee Highway.

But Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) refused to sign off on the board’s decision, arguing that it lacked the legal authority to exclude the operating clinics.

Bill Clinton will play a “key role” at the Democratic Convention.

Former President Bill Clinton will have a marquee role in this summer’s Democratic National Convention, where he will make a forceful case for President Barack Obama’s re-election and his economic vision for the country, several Obama campaign and Democratic party officials said Sunday.

The move gives the Obama campaign an opportunity to take advantage of the former president’s immense popularity and remind voters that a Democrat was in the White House the last time the American economy was thriving.

Obama personally asked Clinton to speak at the convention and place Obama’s name in nomination, and Clinton enthusiastically accepted, officials said. Clinton speaks regularly to Obama and to campaign officials about strategy.

In contrast, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney will not attend the Republican Convention. We still don’t know if Mitt the Twit will invite Sarah Palin.

Elizabeth Warren will also speak in prime time, but will not deliver the keynote speech.

Elizabeth Warren will not deliver the keynote speech at this year’s Democratic National Convention, but instead will speak immediately before former President Bill Clinton on what party officials hope will be an energetic penultimate night.

Warren and Clinton will speak in primetime on Wednesday, Sept. 5, and form a one-two punch aimed at crystallizing the choice between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney in the general election, the Obama campaign said.

The Massachusetts Senate candidate will contrast the president’s economic plan with Romney’s, and outline the impact it will have on middle-class families across the country.

“At the president’s side, Elizabeth Warren helped level the playing field for all Americans and put in place safeguards to ensure that everyone, from Wall Street to Main Street, play by the same set of rules,” said Stephanie Cutter, a deputy Obama campaign manager.

That’s all I’ve got for today. What are you reading and blogging about?