Tuesday, December 31, 2013

News Nuggets 1360

DAYLEE PICTURE: Burnt trees in Yellowstone.  From National Geographic.

Up To Speed: 4 Things To Know About The Russia Bombings from the Daily Beast
"Four things you need to know about the twin suicide bombings that hit Volgograd ahead of the Sochi Olympics."

Everyone Assumed the Banks would beat Financial Reform. They Didn't (Mike Konczal) from the New Republic
"If you aren’t terrified of jinxing even the smallest good news, you might even say it was pretty good. The multi-year implementation of 2010’s Dodd-Frank bill made several final advancements this year, and compared to where people thought we’d be a year ago, we are in a pretty solid place."

How The GOP Became A Party Of Benghazi ‘Truthers’ (Jason Sattler) from the National Memo
"After a year of demanding answers about the terrorist attack that took place in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, the right wing got them in the form of a well-reported exposé by The New York Times‘ David Kirkpatrick. And they don’t like these answers at all."

Why We’ll Never Stop Arguing About Benghazi (Blake Hounshell) from Politico Magazine
"Reason #4: The journalism’s been all over the map. The volume of reporting on Benghazi is enormous—and that means alternate explanations are available to those seeking one. And not just on Fox News..."

The “Middle Class” Myth: Here’s Why Wages are Really so Low Today (Edward McClelland) from Salon
"Want to understand the failures of the "free market" and the key to getting a decent wage? Here's the real story."

Out of Jobs, Out of Benefits, Out of Luck (David Frum) from CNN
"Mass and long-term joblessness characterize the U.S. economy of 2014 as surely as plentiful low-wage jobs characterized the U.S. economy of 15 years ago. Look at the output statistics, and the United States has recovered from the crisis of 2008. Look at the job numbers, and it seems the United States never will. What are Americans to think of and do about their new economic dispensation?"

We Don't Know if Obamacare Is Working Well. But We Know It's Working from the New Republic
"Obamacare got off to a lousy start. But things are looking a lot better now."

2013: The Year in Whiteness (Joan Walsh) from Salon
"From Phil Robertson to Megyn Kelly, peddling white grievance became a bigger, crazier, more lucrative racket."

Official Who Oversaw Building of Obamacare Website Retires from Reuters 
"U.S. health official Michelle Snyder, who oversaw the building of the troubled Obamacare website,, is retiring from her job as chief operating officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)."
Yes -- you go and "retire."  Another head rolls.  Who's next?

Poll: Republican Belief In Evolution Has Plummeted In Recent Years from the Talking Points Memo
"Belief in evolution among Republicans has dropped more than 10 percentage points since 2009, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center."

D.C. Has More People Than Wyoming and Vermont, Still Not a State from the National Journal
"Washington's population grew to 646,449 in 2013, according to census data."

So many pompous year-end retrospective columns about the year's news and not one of them admitting the four most obvious facts of all (James Vega) from the Democratic Strategist
"That every one of the major, hysterically hyped conservative "Scandals" of last year - the Benghazi "cover-up," The IRS "targeting" of only Tea Party groups, the "hopelessly broken beyond repair" Federal Health Care website -- scandals that dominated the headlines for weeks and supposedly exposed the essential evil at the core of the Obama administration - have turned out to be fundamentally bogus."

How has Your Generation Voted? (David Nir) from Daily Kos
"The Pew Research center has updated their terrific graphic showing how each generation of Americans have voted, relative to the rest of the country, over the last two decades: ... Most cohorts have remained fairly consistent in their choices over time, though that 1960s contingent—perhaps surprisingly, or perhaps not—seems to have grown more conservative in recent years."
For any of our regular readers, this should come as no surprise.  As I have long observed, the baby boom generation is at the core of America's turn to the right and of the Tea Party.  While this generation is routinely linked to the civil rights movement, Viet Nam protests, and Watergate, it's my sense that the generation that came of age during those events were defined more by their reactions AGAINST these events rather than their support for them.  Polling at the time suggested as much.  As this generation ages and (eventually) passes from the political scene, America's politics will change as well.

Six Questions for 2014 (Julian Zelizer) from CNN 
"Both parties leave Washington with many big issues unresolved and many battles ahead. It's time to consider what some of the big stories of 2014 may be."

Trailblazing First Lady is 'American Superwoman,' Championing Causes, Raising a Family from the Chicago Tribune
"Unorthodox, yes, and to some critics, undignified. But her appearance, aimed at promoting her "Let's Move" campaign to end childhood obesity, has racked up more than 16.6 million views on YouTube in less than a year. The spoof was classic Michelle Obama, a traditionalist who takes her role seriously, but still has some fun."

Iron Man Saved My Life from the Atlantic
"The comic books were my childhood refuge from an alcoholic father, but they helped me overcome my own battle with the bottle, too."

Monday, December 30, 2013

News Nuggets 1359

DAYLEE PICTURE: A view of the Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii.  From the Daily Mail of the UK.

Charts: The Worst Long-Term Unemployment Crisis Since the Depression (Dave Gilson, Tasneem Raja, and AJ Vicens) from Mother Jones Magazine
"Corporate profits have rebounded while more than four million Americans have been without work for six months or longer."

How to Prevent a War Between China and Japan (Kishore Mahbubani) from Bloomberg
"China and Japan, Asia’s two most powerful nations, are increasingly jousting in the skies and in the seas near a set of disputed islands. Although their economies remain deeply intertwined, relations between the two governments seem locked in an irreversible, dangerous downward spiral."

New York Times Benghazi Investigation Confirms Paper's Early Reporting On Video's Role from the Huffington Post
"Following a months-long investigation, The New York Times reported Saturday that it had found no evidence that al-Qaeda, or any international terrorist group, was involved in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. The Times’ David Kirkpatrick also wrote that the attack “was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam,”..."
So ... I guess we're back where we started with this over-hyped, over-politicized, follow-the-bouncing-ball lemming media story: some bad official mistakes, lots of bad reporting, and lighting-fast over-reaction from partisan Republicans.  Basically, the same thing we saw with the IRS pseudo-scandal and much of the initial reporting on NSA surveillance.  

Obamacare, Impeachment, Iran, and More Political Predictions for 2014 (Michael Tomasky) from the Daily Beast
"Sure, budget brinksmanship and Hillary presidential hints are a given. But millions more sign-ups for health-care coverage and the ousting of Mitch McConnell? They could happen, too."

2013 Wasn’t as Bad as You Might Think (E.J. Dionne Jr.) from the Washington Post
"... something else happened this year that may, over time, prove far more important than the great Web site flop. In 2013, the tea party began to decline in both real and perceived power, and Republicans began a slow retreat from the politics of absolutism."
I have said here many times that, coming out of the 2012 elections, the marginalization of the Tea Party was at the top of Obama's To-Do list -- and he has pursued that goal with great skill and precision.  At every opportunity, the President has shoved wedge issues at the GOP caucus with the unstated goal of dividing the Tea Party people from so-called "establishment" Republicans.  Republican lawmakers know this to be the case -- and it is another reason (if they needed any) that they hate the President.  Now, as the media has been tooting for some time now, the GOP at the state and national levels is embroiled in a divisive "civil war."  In addition make no mistake, the Tea Party's "brand" (a term I despise!!) has been severely damaged by the political currents of 2013!  While the MSM seems to have missed it, this war did not just happen on its own accord.  Nor was it a natural or purely internal outcome from the 2012 elections.  Obama, both the President and the person, are at the center of this conflict.  My suspicion is that Obama conceded in his own mind that 2013 would be largely a year where little was done -- but that if he could break the GOP, there could be more opportunities for more substantive accomplishments for next year and beyond.

Obama, Clinton Continue Reign as Most Admired: Sixth Year in a Row for Obama, 12th Straight Year for Clinton from Gallup
"For the sixth consecutive year, Barack Obama ranks as the Most Admired Man among Americans, and Hillary Clinton is again the Most Admired Woman. Both won by comfortable margins."

Fiscal Fever Breaks (Paul Krugman) from the New York Times
"Instead of talking about mass unemployment and soaring inequality, Washington was almost exclusively focused on the alleged need to slash spending (which would worsen the jobs crisis) and hack away at the social safety net (which would worsen inequality). So the good news is that this fever, unlike the fever of the Tea Party, has finally broken."

How to Escape the Community-College Trap from the Atlantic
"More than half of community-college students never earn a degree. Here's how to fix that."

'We Are Creating Walmarts of Higher Education' from the Atlantic
"As colleges feel pressure to graduate more students for less money, professors worry that the value of an education may be diminished."

Caught in a Revolving Door of Unemployment from the New York Times  
"For Ms. Barrington-Ward, joblessness itself has become a trap, an impediment to finding a job. Economists see it the same way, concerned that joblessness lasting more than six months is a major factor preventing people from getting rehired, with potentially grave consequences for tens of millions of Americans. The long-term jobless, after all, tend to be in poorer health, and to have higher rates of suicide and strained family relations. Even the children of the long-term unemployed see lower earnings down the road. The consequences are grave for the country, too ..."

Trusting the Poor (Judith A. Levine) from the Boston Review
"I interviewed ninety-five low-income women for my research on how the climate of distrust reinforces poverty. Many expressed high levels of distrust in employers, child care providers, romantic partners, and, even sometimes friends and family members. This expression of distrust surfaced across race, age, education, work history, number of children, marital status, and a host of other factors."

Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools (Jeffrey Aaron Snyder) from the Boston Review
"Would it surprise you to learn that students attending traditional, district-run public schools outperform their peers in charter schools and private schools? That is the bold claim at the heart of Christopher and Sarah Lubienski’s new book, The Public School Advantage."

Tram wars! Why Streetcars are Back — Whether You Like it or Not from Salon 
"Across the country, battles are raging over this retro form of transportation."

I’m a Republican — and “Social Conservatism” Must be Stopped (Matt Barnum) from Salon
"For a Republican like me, the current agenda of many on the right is politically stupid and counter-productive."

The New, Not Necessarily Improved, Chris Christie (Lloyd Grove) from the Daily Beast
"In a flash, the 2016 contender has seen his reputation slide from straight-talking pragmatist to partisan bully. Could a local scandal really take down Hillary’s biggest competition?"
"Hillary's biggest competition"?  Only inside the beltway and other islands of moderation where pragmatism has any purchase at all.  Evangelicals and Tea Partiers will never vote for this man in the GOP primaries.  In addition, beyond Bridge-gate, there are many more skeletons waiting to leap out from Christie's closet.

Sarah Palin Admits She Defended Phil Robertson's Anti-Gay Remarks Before Even Reading Them from the Huffington Post 
"Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) was one of the first political figures to defend Phil Robertson, star of A&E's "Duck Dynasty," when he came under fire for making anti-gay comments in an interview with GQ. In an interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren on Monday, Palin admitted she never even read the interview before rushing to defend the TV star."
Ah, John McCain's wonderful gift to the nation - it just keeps on giving!!  Palin has been a joke for quite a while -- but she's now devolved into a right-wing, media ambulance chaser competing with the likes of Orly Taitz and Jerome Corsi.  

7 Things We've Learned From Our Blended Families Of The Week from the Huffington Post
"If there's one thing the families we've featured in our Blended Family Friday series can agree on, it's that raising a stepfamily is no easy feat. With the year coming to a close and a new one about to begin, we thought we'd take a moment to reflect on some of the best advice they shared in 2013."

Friday, December 27, 2013

News Nuggets 1358

DAYLEE PICTURE: The Lechugullia Cave under Lake Louise in Canada.  From the Daily Mail of the UK.

A New Cold War? (Anne Applebaum) from the Washington Post
"“Is this a new Cold War?” Every time I say anything to anyone anywhere about Russia nowadays, that’s what I’m asked. And there is a clear answer: No. This is not a new Cold War. Neither the United States nor Europe is locked in a deadly, apocalyptic competition with Russia, China or anyone else."

Iran Copes with Sanctions but Wants to Bloom (David Ignatius) from the Washington Post
"The true burden of sanctions is that this economy is a shadow of what it might be. This cost in lost opportunity will only grow if Iran can’t make a nuclear deal that would ease the squeeze on oil sales and banking. And Iranians know it..."

Obama’s Not-So-Terrible Year (Robert Perry) from Consortium News
"Official Washington is giving a big thumb down to President Obama’s performance in 2013. But his diplomatic breakthroughs in the Middle East and even some of his troubles with Obamacare and the NSA could ultimately make the year a historic turning point."
I largely share the view of this author.

America Joins the Developed World, Thanks to Obamacare (Michael Tomasky) from the Daily Beast
"For all its woes, real reform finally got underway in 2013. Some day in the future, this year will be remembered as the one when the U.S. recognized people’s birthright to health care."

Pope, Off Script, Nods to Atheists in Holiday Call for World Peace from the New York Times
"Pope Francis, celebrating his first Christmas as the Roman Catholic leader, called on atheists to unite with believers of all religions and work for a peace that can spread across the world."
I having been watching with great interest to see the right-wing response to Pope Francis, someone who is so clearly "off-message" with much of their moldering social agenda.

Obama Highlights Common Ground with Pope Francis from the Los Angeles Times
"The president praises and quotes the pontiff, and makes clear he sees him as a potentially useful ally in shrinking the gulf between rich and poor."

NSA’s Phone Data Collection Program Lawful, Federal Judge Rules from the Wall Street Journal
"A federal judge in New York on Friday ruled that the National Security Agency’s broad collection of U.S. phone customer data is lawful, dismissing a complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union."

Most People are Better and More Inclusive than We Believe (Egberto Willies) from Daily Kos
"This episode of John Quiñones' What Would You Do is telling. It shows the basic goodness of people and that real prejudice may be abating. It shows that more and more folks are willing to stand up for fairness."

The Fear Economy (Paul Krugman) from the New York Times
"The plight of the unemployed, of course, is terrible and getting worse. But the weak labor market is taking a toll on the employed, too."

The Spiraling Effects of Being Evicted (Karen Weise) from Bloomberg 
"Eviction can, Desmond is finding, set off a cascade of problems, including depression and subsequent job loss, material hardship, and future residential instability.” People end up in shelters or other substandard living situations. Families don’t provide the support network evicted tenants need, and there’s not nearly enough housing assistance to go around."

Obamacare Enrollment Spiked Ahead Of Key Deadline from Talking Points Memo 
"Evidence from the state-based Obamacare websites suggest that enrollment under the health care reform law accelerated ahead of the deadline to sign up for coverage that starts in January -- a much-needed spike that could go a long way toward getting the program back on track after its
disastrous launch."

ObamaCare Sales Surge (Brent Budowsky) from The Hill
"Remember Budowsky's first law of insider punditry: When the media and political herds are tripping over each other's hoofs while stampeding in a certain direction, the herds are almost always wrong. Take note of the fact that in recent days, the traffic to the Affordable Care websites has skyrocketed, and sales of insurance policies have surged nationally and in key states."
I am slowly becoming an adherent to Budowsky's "first law of insider punditry"!

With Health Law Cemented, G.O.P. Debates Next Move from the New York Times 
"With the first enrollment deadline now passed, Republicans who have made the repeal of President Obama’s health care law their central aim are confronting a new reality: More than two million Americans are expected to be getting their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act come Jan. 1."

Living in a Red State is Hazardous to Your Health (Markos Moulitsas) from Daily Kos
"Environmental policies, access to health insurance, workplace safety regulations ... these things matter. They are literally a matter of life and death. And it's clear that conservatism is hazardous to your health."

Ticking off the Tea Party from The Economist [of London]
"The Republican civil war, as it is known to politicos, has now lasted five years longer than the cold war. It would be foolish to attach too much importance to a single battle.  Even so, the budget vote in the House of Representatives at the close of 2013 marked an important shift."

Cruz Wannabes (Patricia Murphy) from the Daily Beast
"Come 2014, these five ambitious senate hopefuls might storm their way onto Capitol Hill and change the Republican Party, with Ted Cruz as their hero."

Chris Christie Officials Messed With Bridge Traffic Despite Being Warned About Congestion Problems from the Huffington Post
"According to The Record, a bridge official said Wildstein also specifically instructed him to keep the lane closures secret from Fort Lee officials. And records indicate, according to the paper, "that traffic engineers predicted it would lead to 600-vehicle back-ups during the morning rush hour that would not subside until noon." Wildstein and Baroni have since resigned and hired attorneys to represent them."

Chris Christie: Playing Into Their Hands from Talking Points Memo
"... he's managing so far to play into the hands of his political opponents and all national Democrats in the way he's handling the story. In fact, he's doing so so completely that I suspect he's in a situation in which he's simply not characterologically capable of behaving otherwise."
The good ship Christie is listing a bit right now!  As I have noted before, what passes for politics-as-usual in New Jersey may end up being a "no pass" on the national presidential stage.  Interestingly, when you look at the list of GOP potentials for 2016, most of them may end facing their own version of this.  Think about it: Jeb Bush (former Gov of Florida); Bobby Jindal (Gov of Louisiana); Marco Rubio (Sen of Florida and former Speaker in the FL Legislature); Rand Paul (Sen of KY); and Rick Perry (Gov of TX) all come from states with LONG histories of corrupt, brass knuckles state-level politics.   The Romney campaign (during its VP vetting process) already gave us the heads-up on Christie that he may have more substantive skeletons in his NJ closet.  This Bridge-gate thing may just be a preview of things to come.

Scientists Create New Robotic Terminator-style Muscle 1,000 Times Stronger than Humans from Raw Story
"Researchers have developed a tiny robotic muscle that’s 1,000 time stronger than a human muscle. The team of researchers at the University of California-Berkeley found that vanadium dioxide changes from an insulator to a conductive metal at about 152 degrees, which produced a huge amount of strength during the transition."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

News Nuggets 1357

DAYEE PICTURE: A grasshopper on a mushroom amongst some moss.  From National Geographic.

Christmas 1940: In a Dangerous World, Roosevelt Called for Faith from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
From FDR's Christmas message from 1940, the tenth year of the Great Depression: 
"Let us make this Christmas a merry one for the little children in our midst. For us of maturer years it cannot be merry. But for most of us it can be a Happy Christmas if by happiness we mean that we have done with doubts, that we have set our hearts against fear, that we still believe in the Golden Rule for all mankind, that we intend to live more purely in the spirit of Christ, and that by our works, as well as our words, we will strive forward in Faith and in Hope and in Love. In that spirit I wish a Happy Christmas to all, and happier Christmases yet to come."

Iran's Top Leaders Praise Spirit of Christmas from The Hill
"Iran President Hassan Rouhani is endorsing the spirit of Christmas. Rouhani on Tuesday retweeted two tweets, one by Iran’s supreme leader and one by its foreign minister, that focused on the spirit of Christmas. The tweets appear to be a part of a continuing effort by Rouhani to put a friendlier face toward the West."

Japan: Land of the Rising Gun (Dan Blumenthal, Michael Mazza) from the National Interest
"... somewhat suddenly, a country that has been not just wary of but eager to avoid foreign military entanglements is now implementing a more “proactive” national security policy. ... While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is owed Washington’s thanks for his steely leadership, congrats are also in order for Beijing. China has done what North Korean belligerence and American goading have long failed to do: awake Japan from its Rip Van Winkle-like postmodern slumber."

The Francis Factor: Pope’s Economic Ideas Rattle GOP from Politico
"For years, Catholic leaders’ staunch and very public opposition to abortion, gay marriage and the contraception-related provisions of Obamacare made them natural allies for the GOP. But Francis has scrambled the equation by de-emphasizing hot-button social issues, warning against unchecked capitalism and pushing a populist message at odds with the core of the anti-spending, anti-big government Republican Party."

More Hunger for the Poorest Americans from the Editorial Board of the New York Times
"This is a harsh season for Americans struggling to afford food. Last month, the long lines at food pantries across the country grew longer with the expiration of the boost to food stamp benefit levels included in the 2009 economic stimulus plan."

Why Are More and More Children Walking Across the Border? (Ian Gordon) from Mother Jones Magazine
"Over the past five years, the number of undocumented children—mostly teens, but some as young as five—apprehended crossing the border without parents or guardians has tripled"

How Is Obamacare Enrollment Going? from Talking Points Memo
"With Wednesday's release of Obamacare enrollment data, we now have a growing sense of how the law is performing in its goal of getting the uninsured covered by health insurance."

Farewell To Health Care For America Now (Richard Kirsch) from the National Memo
"The campaign that won passage of health care reform is closing up shop, but its grassroots organizing efforts will stand as a model of success for progressives."

Obamacare Not First Big Govt Program with Launch Woes from Talking Points Memo
"Although multiple problems have snarled the rollout of President Barack Obama'ssignature health care law, it's hardly the first time a new, sprawling government program has been beset by early technical glitches, political hostility and gloom-and-doom denouncements."

This Is What It's Like To Work Full Time And Still Be Poor (Alexandra Schuster) from the Huffington Post
"When you are told time and time again that you do not have the right qualifications for a job. When you are living with a child on food stamps and the majority of your government subsidized income is devoted to baby formula. These are the stories of Americans who cannot make ends meet even while working at jobs that pay the minimum hourly wage."

Political Centrism is Not Objectivity (Brendan Nyhan) from the Columbia Journalism Review
"How the media wrongly treats deficit reduction as non-ideological."

Mother Gets a Gift 71 Years After her Baby Girl's Birth from the Los Angeles Times
"For decades, Brooke Mayo believed her daughter, born of rape and given up for adoption, was dead. Then a letter arrived."

The GOP's History of Sexist Hillary-Bashing (Sam Kleiner) from the Daily Beast
"Desperate to stop a second Clinton presidency in 2016, it’s a sure bet many in the GOP will reprise the ugly attacks on they used on her 22 years ago."

New Battles in the War on Liberal Christians (Ed Kilgore) from Talking Points Memo
"This year there are indeed tidings of great joy — or at least intimations of change — that call into question the usual identification of American Christianity with monolithic and triumphant Christian right."

The Gospel According to Fox News — and Their Cries of Holiday Persecution — Make Them Look Even More Foolish (Becky Garrison) from The Guardian [of the UK]
"As the number of Americans who understand what it means to live in an increasing pluralistic country continues to grow, those faithful to the Fox News brand of Christianity – and its need to be ever dominant and combative around the holidays – will continue to look ever more foolish and out of touch."

What Would Happen If We Really Went to War Against Christmas? We'd Probably Lose (Tim Murphy) from the New Yorker
"You've heard about the "War on Christmas," a cynical but largely successful attempt by grown men and women to drive up cable news ratings and sell terrible books. But what about an actual war on Christmas? If President Barack Obama wanted to take down Santa Claus*, how would he do it? And would it work? A classified report obtained by Mother Jones sheds new light on the Department of Defense's plans. Take a look:"

It’s ‘Very Obvious’ That Bobby Jindal Will Run For President, And Even More Obvious That He Will Lose (Henry Decker) from the National Memo 
"There is one major barrier blocking Jindal’s presidential ambitions: Pretty much everybody hates the job that he’s done as governor."

Reality Isn’t So Ducky (Kathleen Parker) from the Washington Post
"Profit, not equal rights or freedom of religion or any of the other high-minded principles we seize to bolster our selective outrage, is the real coin of the realm. And, as if you didn’t know, it quacks like a duck."

Reality Has Its Risks (Froma Harrop) from Real Clear Politics
"Why can't it respond to what it considers offensive views by simply announcing that A&E finds them offensive? It's hard to see the point of punishing this redneck, who seems as much no-school as old-school. ...  Those jarred by Southern crackers speaking their minds might likewise try avoidance. (Was I just politically incorrect using the word "cracker"?) Or they should make peace with the obvious risk that if you watch reality TV, reality is (sometimes) what you get."

The Twitchiest And Most Influential Voice In the GOP’s Grassroots Will Make Sure The Party Never Rebrands from the National Memo
"The troubling aspect of this power for the GOP is that Malkin’s agenda doesn’t always align with what the party wants or needs. And when it doesn’t, she has no compunction about turning the mob behind her against members of her own party. ... The modern GOP is the home of those who resist change. It was forged from a movement that “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” This is a movement that rewards its leaders for offending and punishes them for reaching out. And when Michelle Malkin tweets, they listen, they retweet and they rage."

How George Washington Celebrated Christmas (John Avlon) from the Daily Beast
"America's first president threw lavish parties full of pies and whiskey for friends and servants alike. The Founding Father had good reason to splurge after many Christmases that were lean on cheer."

Monday, December 23, 2013

News Nuggets 1356

DAYLEE PICTURE:  Butterflies along the Iguazu River on the Brazilian-Argentine border.  From National Geographic.

Our next posting will be at the end of this week, probably Friday or Saturday.  I hope everyone has an inspiring and heartfelt holiday!!  Merry Christmas!!

Cuba's Communist State Eases its 50-year Embargo on Vehicle Imports from the Daily Mail [of the UK]
"New era: The decision will gradually free up retail sales of all manner of vehicles and end the practice of granting some Cubans special permission to bring in vehicles as a privilege.  Opening Cuba's domestic car market to imports is likely to have fateful consequences for the well maintained 1950s American cars that have survived a 50-year-old US embargo. The changes are a long-awaited element of President Raul Castro's attempts to gradually liberalize Cuba's Soviet-style economy."
Something to look forward to in 2014 or 2015: Obama will normalize relations between the US and Cuba.

What Iranians Say Now About ‘the Great Satan’ (Carol Giacomo) from the New York Times
"The reactions I received as an American traveling for 10 days in Tehran, Isfahan and Qum mirrored Iran’s politics and posture in this moment — there is a serious, even eager, interest in reconnecting with the West, even as Iranians struggle with three decades of poisoned relations."

China’s Academic Obsession with Testing (Kelly Yang) from the Washington Post
"Our children sit for lengthy, rigorous and confusing examinations, starting at age 6. Weekends, summers and holiday breaks are golden opportunities to catch up on some R&R — review and revision, that is. But the thing about testing is that it creates excellent followers, not leaders."

The Myth of America’s Decline by Josef Joffe (Christopher Caldwell) from the New York Times
"Josef Joffe disputes the popular perception that America’s supremacy is on the wane."

U.S. Officials Declassify Documents on NSA Surveillance Program’s Origins from Time Magazine
"Documents declassified Saturday detail how the National Security Agency’s mass data collection was first authorized under President George W. Bush. The spying was approved in Oct. 2001, one month after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Associated Press reports."
NO KIDDING!! How many months has this NSA thing played itself out -- and yet only now does Time Magazine blare this headline?  I've been assuming all along that people knew this.  The missing piece here is that Obama has actually cut back on NSA surveillance and provided more oversight and legal protections than the Bush people.  I anticipate that in January (if not sooner) Obama will put forward a series of reforms for the NSA.  Then watch and see the right-wing nut jobs and unrepentant neo-cons that come screaming out of the woodwork, shouting about how Obama is "making the country less safe!"

9 Incredibly Important Things That Happened In 2013 That Most People Aren’t Talking About (Judd Legum) from Think Progress
"In a media environment increasingly dominated by celebrity, scandal and the political horserace, many of the most important stories receive scant coverage. Here are nine hugely important things that happened in 2013 that are rarely discussed:"

Bad News for People Who Like Bad News (Daniel Gross) from the Daily Beast 
"Believe it or not, the economy is showing signs of serious growth. Will the catastrophist diehards learn to stop worrying and accept the recovery?"
Who cares about the declinists?  I'm far more concerned about the Republicans in Congress.  What will they cook up with next to through water in the economy's gas tank?

$10.10 Minimum Wage Would Actually Create New Jobs: Study from the Huffington Post 
"If the minimum wage rose to $10.10 per hour, as Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama propose, 27.8 million workers would see their wages go up as a direct or indirect result of the boost, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. These workers would take home about $35 billion in additional wages and they would probably spend it, as low-income people living with little financial cushion tend to do."

Good Poor, Bad Poor (Timothy Egan) from the New York Times
"These actions have nothing to do with bringing federal spending into line, and everything to do with a view that poor people are morally inferior. ... It would be a “disservice” to further extend unemployment assistance to those who’ve been out of work for some time, said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. It encourages them to sit at home and do nothing."

Class Warfare in Dixieland (Eric Zuesse) from Alternet
"In other words: virtually all of this nation’s class-rigidity still remains in the U.S. South, even after the Civil War. New Dixie has replaced the aristocracy’s black slaves of Old Dixie, by the local (white) aristocracy’s institutionalized bigotry against poor people, now of all ethnic groups."

Federal Judge Strikes Down Utah’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage (Brooke Adams) from the Salt Lake Tribune
"A federal judge in Utah Friday struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process."

Obamacare Enrollment Surges In California As 50,000 Sign Up In 3 Days from Talking Points Memo
"Enrollment in California's Obamacare marketplace is surging, officials said Thursday, indicating a growing interest in health insurance under the new law in the most populous state in the country. More than 53,500 people enrolled in Covered California in the last three days, topping the total number of enrollments in October by nearly 60 percent."

Republicans Can’t Repeal Or Replace Obamacare — And They’re Too Scared To Fix It (Jason Sattler) from National Memo
"Repeal is a fantasy, a fundraising opportunity that all Republicans — except the few who take Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) seriously — know would never happen. And if it did, they would end up owning every aspect of a crumbling health care system the same way Democrats are currently
responsible for every splinter in every tongue depressor."

Archconservative Jim Inhofe Has Change Of Heart About Democrats from the Huffington Post
"One of the most partisan Republicans in the Senate, Oklahoma's Jim Inhofe, said Sunday that his "attitude" toward Senate Democrats has changed as a result of the outpouring of sympathy he received from colleagues after the death of his son. Perry Inhofe, 52, was killed in a plane crash in November."
I can't even begin to articulate why -- but this confession by Inhofe does not surprise me at all!

Michele Bachmann as William F. Buckley’s Spawn: How Right-wing Media Spiraled Out of Control from Salon
"The right attacked journalists for decades. Cable forced the mainstream to pay attention -- then it all went sour."

Michelle Nunn, Jason Carter Hope to Rechart the Course of Georgia Politics from the Washington Post
"The two major parties here don’t agree on many things. One of them is that it is only a matter of time before Georgia goes from being a Republican stronghold to a state that is up for grabs. In next year’s elections, Democrats will be looking to speed that process along with a couple of candidates who bring fresh faces and familiar names."

Service Dog Meets Actor Dressed As Pluto On Disney Cruise, And Is Totally Mesmerized from the Huffington Post
"While on a 'Disney Fantasy' cruise over Thanksgiving, an actor dressed up as Pluto was introduced to a service dog. At first, the two didn't know what to make of each other -- but it wasn't long before they became good pals."

THIS Is The Type Of Holiday Gift Every Teacher Wants from the Huffington Post
“Before school even started I dreaded your class," the note read, in part. "I honestly hate math and I didn’t want to repeat Algebra I again. I judged you before I even knew you. Over the year, you’ve shown me what it’s like to have a teacher that truly cares.""

Thursday, December 19, 2013

News Nuggets 1355

DAYLEE PICTURE: The Mendenhall Glacier whose ice caves we showcased a couple of days ago.  From the Huffington Post.

The Top North Korean Expert Explains What Happened to Kim Jong Un's Uncle from the New Republic
"This young man seems to have lived overseas too briefly to learn anything, but long enough to lose touch with his own country, with the myths that keep him in power. ... "

... Even More Reasons to Feel Good About 2013 (Charles Kenny) from Bloomberg-Businessweek
"There was, however, plenty of good news that didn’t come with a giant asterisk attached—and a lot of it involved continued progress in the developing world."

The Obama Political Obituaries Are Way Premature (Michael Tomasky) from the Daily Beast
"It’s been a messy year, but let’s not him pair him with Nixon just yet. Obama isn’t even as bad off as Bush was after his Social Security debacle—and nothing rules out a rally in 2014."

Stop Worrying So Much That Low Obamacare Signups Will Cause A 'Death Spiral' from Business Insider
"The 365,000 people who enrolled in October and November was below the administration's goal of 1.2 million, but the pace of sign-ups is growing quickly. While this data is certainly entertaining to analyze, it doesn't really matter very much — at least for the sustainability of the insurance market — whether the government is on pace to reach 7 million signups by March 31. ... "If there are fewer people overall signed up, that may be a problem of political optics, but not one that really gets to the heart of whether the law is working well or not," said Larry Levitt, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation."

Why Obamacare Won’t Spiral into Fiery, Actuarial Doom (Sarah Kliff) from the Washington Post
"The rumors of an Obamacare death spiral have been greatly exaggerated.  So say Larry Levitt, Gary Claxton and Anthony Damico, experts at the Kaiser Family Foundation who have put together a new brief analyzing what would happen if young adults snubbed the Affordable Care Act. Even if young people sign up at half the rate the administration hopes for, it would nudge premiums up only by a few percentage points, their report says."

The GOP Repeal Trap (Greg Sargent) from the Washington Post
"The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana, reports on a fascinating exchange between GOP Rep. Marlin Stutzman and a local meat market owner, Lee Albright, who likes the Affordable Care Act and quizzed the Congressman about the real world implications of the GOP repeal stance: ... The Republican seems to be implicitly conceding not only that the GOP repeal stance is politically problematic, but also that the Republican position constitutes taking health coverage away from people."

The GOP’s Fight has Just Begun (E.J. Dionne Jr.) from the Washington Post 
"These arguments, however, are secondary to the issue of how a conservative opposition should comport itself. The governing wing won this round. But Ryan’s comments on the debt ceiling, coupled with similar remarks from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, suggest that Republicans will face another internal struggle over how much to demand in exchange for expanding the government’s borrowing authority."

Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell Issue Least Frightening Hostage Threat Ever (Jonathan Chait) from New York Magazine
"Obama tested the Republican willingness to trigger a worldwide economic meltdown to obtain concessions, and it turned out, they won’t pull the trigger. How on Earth they think they can try this bluff again, I can’t imagine. Indeed, political conditions for the threat are even less favorable now that the two parties have agreed to a budget."

The Public Still Blames Bush. And It Celebrates the Clintons. (Sean Sullivan) from the Washington Post
"Nearly five years after George W. Bush left office, half the public still blames the former president for the nation’s economic woes, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week. The survey comes as Republicans have continued to keep the 43rd president at arm’s length. Democrats, meanwhile, have warmly embraced the family that occupied the White House prior to Bush; polling data show the Clintons are riding high."

Richard Florida, Mr. Creative Class, Is Now Mr. Rust Belt from the New Republic
"Richard Florida's theory of the creative class has been disproved. He's hoping you won't notice. ... His theories about how to boost city economies have, quite simply, been discredited. Rather than provide universal uplift, as he promised in his 2002 treatise, The Rise of the Creative Class, the clustering of high-earning professionals in areas rich in his “three T’s” of technology, talent, and tolerance has exposed inequalities both between and within cities."

The 'Killer Robot' Olympics (Christopher Dickey) from the Daily Beast 
"The world may discover some hard truths this week at the amazing DARPA Robotics Challenge, a competition for the world’s next-generation machines."

Musings of a Nazi Henchman Revealed for the First Time as Long-lost Diary is Finally Discovered after Vanishing During the Nuremberg Trials from the Daily Mail [of the UK]
"400 pages written by Alfred Rosenberg, a senior Nazi who played a central role in the extermination of millions of Jews, given to DC museum. The diary disappeared at Nuremberg trials 70 years ago - US prosecutor Robert Kempner long suspected of smuggling diary out of Germany."
While not as well known as Goehring, Himmler, Hess and Eichmann, Rosenberg was very much in their league as an important Nazi in Hitler's government.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

News Nuggets 1354

DAYLEE PICTURE: The Mormon Row mountains in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.  From the Smithsonian Magazine.

How America’s Harshest Immigration Law Failed (Benjy Sarlin) from MSNBC 
"The vast scope of the law turned Alabama into an unprecedented test for the anti-immigration movement. If self-deportation didn’t work there, it’s hard to imagine where it could. ... Elected officials, social workers, clergy, activists, and residents say an initial immigrant evacuation that roiled their communities ended long ago. Many who fled have returned to their old homes. Now Alabama is back where it started, waiting for a solution from Washington that may never come."

Is Fascism Returning to Europe? (Finchelstein and Bosoer) from the New York Times
"While countries like Argentina and Venezuela have slowly begun to move away from the Kirchners’ brand of Peronist politics and Hugo Chávez’s cult of personality, a dangerous right-wing brand of populism is returning to Europe. Indeed, the rise of movements like Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, and the violence and assassinations that have accompanied it, are far more worrying than the residual authoritarianism that pervades Latin American politics."

Does Kim Jong-Un’s Aunt Need to Watch her Back? Wife of ousted uncle executed last week is conspicuously absent at gathering of Kim’s top aides from the Daily Mail [of the UK]
"It comes days after Kim Jong Un executed his 'worse than a dog' uncle - her husband Jang Song Thaek. Dictator pictured alongside wife Ri Sol Ju at memorial service for Kim Jong-Il at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang.  It houses embalmed bodies of founder Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il

Why Conservatives Just Don't Get Pope Francis' Anti-poverty Crusade (Elizabeth Stoker) from The Week
"U.S. conservatives like to pair the cross and the coin, but that's not the case elsewhere around the world."

If You Want the American Dream, Go to Finland (Blake Fleetwood) from the Huffington Post
"Our education system is static and falling behind other advanced countries -- an economic time bomb -- whereas Finland is an educational superpower, the best in the west, according to the PISA studies of 470,000 15-year-old students from 65 countries...Our educational progress is merely mediocre compared to the rapid advances being made in other industrialized countries and Asian cities such as Singapore and Shanghai. American students rank 37, behind such countries -- in math, the basic sciences and even languages."

This Chart Blows Up the Myth of the Welfare Queen (Jordan Weissmann) from the Atlantic
"The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows us the frugal reality of life on the social safety net."

Are Young Workers the Future of Labor? (James Cersonsky) from In These Times
"As of 2012, only 9.5 percent of 25-34 year old workers and 4.2 percent of 16-24 year old workers were union members, compared to 11.3 percent of all workers. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of 18–29-year olds have a favorable impression of unions, more than any other age bracket. The time is ripe for labor leaders to bring the next generation into the fold."

Democrats' Dream of a Blue South: Moon Pie in the Sky? (Dan Merica) from CNN
"Southern Democrats said they are poised to make a comeback and prove Johnson's "long time to come." They point out the generation that vehemently rejected Johnson's Civil Rights Act is dying off. And in its place is a younger, more progressive and diverse group of Southerners."

Comparing the Failures of Bush and Obama (Conor Friedersdorf) from the Atlantic
"Any similarities in their political calculations are dwarfed by differences in their substantive errors."

Florida Republicans Will have to Testify about Redistricting (David Nir) from Daily Kos
"In a major procedural victory for opponents of Florida's new congressional map, the state Supreme Court ruled that legislators and their staffers can be required to testify about whether they drew the new lines with improper partisan intent. ... So barring a settlement of some kind, it seems likely that Republican legislators will soon have to give depositions about how this particular piece of cartographic sausage was made."

Appointees Who Resigned in Wake of Bridge Controversy Retain Attorneys from the Wall Street Journal
"Two appointees of Gov. Chris Christie’s who recently resigned amid a controversy over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge have retained private attorneys, according to correspondence from their attorneys reviewed by The Wall Street Journal."

Christie Subpoenaed Over Fort Lee Lane Closures by State Assemblyman (Jed Lewison) from Daily Kos
"Christie clearly hopes his blusterous personality can make this whole thing go away, but in the end, there's only one thing that can settle this issue: An open and transparent account of what actually happened. And until that happens, the more it's going to look like the reason Christie is stonewalling is that he's afraid of what such an account might show. ... So barring a settlement of some kind, it seems likely that Republican legislators will soon have to give depositions about how this particular piece of cartographic sausage was made."

Dreaming of a Penguin Christmas (Kathleen Parker) from the Washington Post
"It is also understandable that such challenges would be unsettling to many, but there are more sophisticated ways of discussing them without resorting to “The War on (fill in the blank).” Among other reasons, war demands victory rather than understanding. At first glance, Santa, the most innocent of icons, seems a gratuitous target for revision. Looking closer, however, diversifying Santa in a nation that elected a black president seems appropriate. When you make up stuff, you can make it up again."

Watch The Moment Mitt Romney Realizes He Is Going To Lose The Election from the Business Insider
"Netflix is out with a trailer for its new Mitt Romney documentary — "MITT" — which provides a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look into some of the most important moments of his failed campaign for president. "

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

News Nuggets 1353

DAYLEE PICTURE: A hedgehog in Poland.  From the Smithsonian Magazine.

Pittsburgh Guides Helping People Through Obamacare Maze from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Titus North, executive director of Citizen Power, a research and advocacy group in Squirrel Hill, has taken on an additional role in the past few weeks: helping people sign up for health care policies on the federal insurance exchange created by the Affordable Care Act. Last week, he said, he spent about three hours a day helping people -- in his office and over the phone -- who needed assistance navigating the health exchange website, understanding the new health care law, or both."

Insurers to the Rescue? (Steve Benen) from MSNBC
"It may seem counter-intuitive to think private insurance companies, hardly a reliable ally of the Obama White House, are poised to help give the Affordable Care Act an important boost. But that’s exactly what’s about to happen."

Obamacare's Unlikely Winners (Lucia Graves) from the National Journal 
"Dems hope these tales of success post-insurance cancellations will take the wind out of critics' sails."

Auto bailout Could be Harbinger for Obamacare (Dana Milbank) from the Washington Post
" Almost five years later, the industry is healthy again and large swaths of the Midwest have been spared what would have been certain economic devastation. All this was achieved for a relatively modest sum: When the government’s last shares of General Motors were sold last week, the total cost to save GM and Chrysler came to about $12 billion. It would seem that the argument against the bailout has been settled. Yet opponents continue to argue their case — if anybody will listen."

Midwives for the Dying (Richard Gunderman) from the Atlantic
"A physician and nurse practitioner discuss the emerging role of medicals professionals who ease the death process. There is no one right way to die, but just as we need help coming into the world, we need support and love going out of it."
What a concept!  I am definitely intrigued by the idea of it!

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un’s Game of Thrones (Kevin Bleyer) from the Daily Beast
"In the Hermit Kingdom’s deadly game of thrones, winter has come. Kim Jong-un killed his ex-girlfriend, then executed his uncle Jang Song-thaek for ‘half-heartedly clapping,’ and Dennis Rodman is heading back there next week? Why none of this is funny—even the funny parts."

Medicaid Outpaces Private Plans from the Editorial Board of the New York Times
"Exchanges report sharp rise in applications processed for private and public insurance."

Five Myths about the Future of Obamacare (Patashnik & Zelizer) from the Washington Post
"The reactions of market actors can have a large impact on the fate of public policies. Sometimes business interests promote policy entrenchment because firms adapt to a new law in ways that become costly for them to reverse. ... The entrenchment of the ACA will depend in part on the financial stakes that hospitals and insurers are developing in the new health care system."

Francis Dumps U.S. Cardinal Who Is Outspoken Critic Of Abortion, Gay Marriage from Talking Points Memo
"Burke is considered an outspoken critic of abortion and same-sex marriage and a favorite of conservative Catholics. He has also been publicly critical of Francis's changes in the direction of the church."

The Thought Leader (David Brooks) from the New York Times
"Little boys and girls in ancient Athens grew up wanting to be philosophers. In Renaissance Florence they dreamed of becoming Humanists. But now a new phrase and a new intellectual paragon has emerged to command our admiration: The Thought Leader."
Like Brooks, I despise this term.  One thing he misses though, and I could be wrong on this, but it seems to me that folks on the right side of the political spectrum are the only ones who really use this term.  When "the media," or "beltway pundits" or "the elites" became too odious for folks on the right to use and not throw up, they needed some term that could include lots of their people (ministers, talk radio types, right-wing bloggers) but without all the negative associations.  Thus, the "thought leader."

Republican Leaders, Conservative Groups Show Signs Of Political Divorce from the Huffington Post
"The recent eagerness of House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to lash out at groups that have given them fits has unshackled others in the Republican ranks to publicly question the motivation of organizations like the Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage Action, Madison Project and Club for Growth."

John Boehner's Budget Outburst Shows Right-Wing Groups Have Jumped The Shark from the Huffington Post
"... Galen also suggested the "Happy Days" comparison is correct, in that there's no un-jumping the shark of the government shutdown. "It's the peak of their influence, not just with the tea party members," Galen said. "Their influence over legislation is probably permanently damaged.""

Chris Christie’s Nightmare Traffic Jam (Richard Cohen) from the Washington Post
"... the damage has been done. Christie’s all-but-declared presidential campaign has taken a hit. His Joisey bona fides — a certain swagger and cocksureness — have been highlighted. (No one would cast Jimmy Stewart for this role.) Christie is a man of rare political ability, but he has a short temper and the affect of a bully."

It’s Conservatives Who Really Want Christ Out of Christmas (Dean Obeidallah) from the Daily Beast
"They’re terrified America’s tiny number of atheists will change the meaning of the holiday. But conservatives are the ones who are really at war with its message."

How Humans Created Cats from the Atlantic
"Following the invention of agriculture, one thing led to another, and ta da: the world's most popular pet."

Why C.S. Lewis Never Goes Out of Style (Aaron Hanbury) from the Atlantic 
"The author's death barely made headlines 50 years ago when he died on the same day as JFK and Aldous Huxley. But today, his writings are more relevant than ever."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

News Nuggets 1352

DAYLEE PICTURE: The Mendenhall Ice Caves in Alaska, one of several images we will see in the coming days.  From the Huffington Post.

North Korean Blood Feud is ‘Richard III’ with Nukes (Gordon G. Chang) from the Daily Beast
"The executions and blood-letting in Pyongyang are only going to get worse as a dynastic purge threatens to destabilize the entire region."

The Scariest Thing About North Korea's Murderous Boy Tyrant? from the Daily Mail [of the UK]
This item gives a nice summary of what's been going on lately in North Korea.  Deeply disturbing.
"The condemned man was told to stand in a deserted spot on an army range where North Korean troops regularly carried out manoeuvres. Mortar shells then zeroed in on him and he was blown to pieces — or ‘obliterated’, as the South Korean media reported it. Kim Jong-un had ordered that ‘no trace of him, down to his hair’ should remain. This week, the South Korean government confirmed long-standing rumours that its northern neighbour had publicly machine-gunned members of a female musical group, Unhasu Orchestra — which included his ex-girlfriend — apparently for watching pornography and filming themselves naked. (Intriguingly, Kim’s current wife, whose name is Ri Sol-ju, was a former singer with the group.) The number of mass public executions have soared — with estimates of between 40 to 80 so far this year in towns across the country, when last year the total was under 20. It is compulsory for the public to attend these gruesome spectacles — even for children as young as seven."

His Final Purge (S.C.S.) from The Economist [of London]
"... it suggests he resisted the regime’s sacred “pivot to the Cabinet principle”. Mr Kim has already made clear that the Cabinet, the state’s top executive body, is supposed to lead the state’s economic policies. The implication is that Mr Jang was undercutting its reformist efforts. ... Mr Jong does not take Mr Jang’s execution as harbinger of a tough new anti-China stance. Rather he expects it to “speed up internal reform”, including the expansion of special economic zones and the reorganisation of control over state finances."

North Korea Could be in Store for a Purge — and Destabilization (Nicholas Eberstadt) form the Washington Post
"This spectacle of public humiliation — and liquidation — of a royal marks a radical departure from business as usual. ... There are three immediate implications of this affair. ..."

The Kremlin, the Press and the Protesters: A Case Study of Rule by Paranoia (Serge Schmemann) from the New York Times
"The closing of a news agency reflects President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly pronounced view in which enemies at home and abroad plot against Russia."

Russia in Stagnation: Putin Speech Hints at Big Problems (Uwe Klußmann) from Der Spiegel [of Germany in english]
"In his annual state of the nation address on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about the need to rein in corruption and called for technological progress. But he also hinted at the bigger problems that will plague his country in years to come. ... Putin is acting a bit like Otto von Bismarck, the chancellor of the German Reich between 1871 and 1890. Outwardly professional and in many ways successful, the Iron Chancellor ultimately failed because of his refusal to reform domestic politics and as a result of his repressive treatment of the opposition."
I've been saying for years that, among the "great powers" club, Russia has been the biggest gas-bagging poseur.  Unlike others such as China, India, and Brazil that are rising, Russia is doing all it can to simply retain the image of a "great power."  Corruption, economic rigidity, political paralysis and undue reliance on an extractive energy sector have sent the country on an economic trajectory more akin to many developing countries rather than one that is part of the "developed" world.

Far Right in Eastern Europe Makes Gains as Syrians Arrive from the New York Times
"Membership of the local branch of Ataka, he said, had surged in recent weeks as “people come up to me in the street and tell me that our party was right.” Ataka, which means attack, champions “Bulgaria for Bulgarians” and has denounced Syrian refugees as terrorists whom Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest nation, must expel. An Ataka member of Parliament has reviled them as “terrible, despicable primates.”"

France Broadens Its Surveillance Power from the New York Times
"The French are hardly innocents in the realm of electronic surveillance. Within days of the reports about the National Security Agency’s activities, it was revealed that French intelligence services operated a similar system, with similarly minimal oversight. And last week, with little public debate, the legislature approved a law that critics feared would markedly expand electronic surveillance of French residents and businesses."

Turning the Corner? In California, At Least, Obamacare Signups Zoom (Charles Ornstein) from the National Memo
"The statistics released yesterday from Covered California could bode well for health insurance exchanges that have their act together."

Americans Left Out Of Medicaid Fight Back Against GOP Guvs from Talking Points Memo
"Obamacare advocates are actively recruiting those left out of the Medicaid expansion in Republican-controlled states to lobby state officials to change their minds and participate in that key provision of the health care reform law. So far, the effort is most organized in Texas, which is also the state with the most people in that Medicaid expansion gap: 1 million. But it's likely to pick up elsewhere as the Obama administration and outside advocates apply pressure to the 25 states that have resisted expansion for the first year."

Even Gifted Students Can’t Keep Up from the Editorial Board of the New York Times
"With its best students far behind their foreign peers, America needs new ideas to nurture their talent and produce new innovators."

A Formula for Happiness (Arthur Brooks) from the New York Times
"Social scientists have determined three sources of supreme contentment: genes, events and values."

House Republicans Rise Up Against the Right Wing (Kathleen Parker) from the Washington Post
"What’s clear is that the era of Boehner’s bottom-up approach to leadership has ended. Not again will he allow the obstructionist wing of the party to force showdowns and shutdowns that hurt the American people and the Republican Party. Even if he has to draft Democrats to help him, Boehner enjoys the further benefit of speaking the truth."

Paper Tiger, Past Their Prime or Something Else (Josh Marshall) from Talking Points Memo
"... as long as we're talking about the contemporary phenomenon, I think we should speak of two 'Tea Parties'. There's there's that 20% or so of the electorate that is right-wing and moving further right, deeply hostile to President Obama and generally feeling they're trying to hold their ground in what is likely a losing fight against the transformation of America by immigrants, urban values, 'socialism' and the rest.  Then you've got the 'outside groups' Boehner focused on. And it's always the same three - Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Heritage Action."

Tea Party Congressman Warns Salon: Another Shutdown May be Coming! from Salon
"GOP firebrand Tim Huelskamp adds: "Rumors I’ve heard is [Boehner's] not going to be running for speaker again”
Yeah?  I will believe it when I see it (both on the shutdown and the speakership issues).  Boehner loves being speaker.  The only way I could see him choosing not to run for speaker is if he decided that he wanted to spend next year actually building some kind of record where he accomplished something as speaker.  So far he has nothing to show for his tenure.  To accomplish something (such as immigration reform), he would probably have to include large numbers of Democrats and risk pissing off the Tea Party caucus -- and thus risk his speakership.  On another shutdown, I've already heard enough to convince me that this is the LAST thing Boehner would want -- as it would take away from the Obamacare messaging their developing for next year's election.  

Mr. Limbaugh if You’re Nasty: How Right-wing Mean Media Keeps Conservatives on the Fringe from Salon
"More than anything else, the sheer volume of outrage media today sets it apart from political media of days gone by, giving it density. ... As newspaper readership and nightly national news viewing on networks have declined, outrage news analysis audiences have simultaneously expanded, and the number of outrage venues has grown."

Kelly: Outrage Over 'White' Santa Comment Was 'Race-Bait' from Talking Points Memo
"Fox News host Megyn Kelly insisted Friday that her earlier comment that Santa Claus was "just white," which invited significant backlash, had been a joke -- and that her critics were just looking for an excuse to call her a racist."
Since the earliest years of Lush Bimbeau, this has been the standard response from right-wing talking heads who say what they really think and then get savaged for being the divisive racist neanderthals that they are. Kelly will say these profoundly offensive things, and then, with a not-even-remotely-concealed wink-wink to her audience, say "Oh, I was just kidding!"  What she's really saying to her critics and anyone who isn't in on the "joke" is "F--- off"!!  

The Right's Obsession With Obama the Flirt: We're not Saying it's Racist, but… (David Corn) from Mother Jones Magazine
"... remember when George W. Bush gave German Prime Minister Angela Merkel an impromptu back rub at a G8 meeting in 2006? The video went viral, and the episode launched a flood of jokes and spoofs. Yet, there wasn't much talk of Bush being an impulsive flirter driven by sexual temptation."

The Great War’s Ominous Echoes (Margaret Macmillan) from the New York Times
Macmillan's recent book, The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 is outstanding and interested folks should check it out.
"World War I still haunts us, partly because of the sheer scale of the carnage — 10 million combatants killed and many more wounded. Countless civilians lost their lives, too, whether through military action, starvation or disease. Whole empires were destroyed and societies brutalized. But there’s another reason the war continues to haunt us: we still cannot agree on why it happened."

Teddy Roosevelt Failed to Save the GOP From Its Crazies in 1912: Can John Boehner Do any Better? (Thomas Patterson) from Politico Magazine
"Acentury ago, the Republican Party chose to become a permanent minority, not wittingly or directly but inevitably. It spent most of the succeeding decades trying without great success to overcome its mistake. Today’s GOP is at a similar crossroads that could take it into the political wilderness for years to come."

America’s Great Game by Hugh Wilford (Scott Anderson) from the New York Times
"Hugh Wilford traces the efforts and influence of the first generation of C.I.A. operatives in the Middle East

The Hunt for Alien Life Just Made a Pretty Big Breakthrough from The Week 
"Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — we're not anticipating flying saucers on the White House lawn anytime soon. Instead, scientists discovered a (relatively) easily-accessible source of hydrogen and oxygen — which together make water, one of the most basic ingredients for life — on one of Jupiter's moons."

A Homeless Dog Living in a Trash Pile Gets Rescued from Hope for Paws