Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Short Takes

The Supreme Court stays Texas abortion law.

The Supreme Court lets controversial lethal injection method stand.

Greece’s debt crisis freaked out the stock markets.

Some southern states are going along with marriage equality.

Someone else I don’t care about is no longer on TV.

The Tigers had the night off.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Short Takes

Afghanistan: The Taliban attacked the parliament building.

Police have a lead on the escaped prisoners thanks to DNA.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced he has cancer.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said it’s time to move the Confederate flag off the state capitol grounds.

Severe weather hits the Midwest.

The Tigers beat Cleveland 8-5.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Short Takes

Police follow new leads in New York prison escapees.

Emmanuel A.M.E. Church reopened for services on Sunday.

United Airlines strands 250 passengers in Belfast after their flight was diverted.

Republicans tiptoe around Confederate flag.

23,000 celebrate summer solstice at Stonehenge.

The Tigers ended their losing streak in a big way yesterday by walloping the Yankees 12-4.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Short Takes

Dylann Roof, the suspect in the Charleston shooting, has been extradited from North Carolina.

Haitians in the Dominican Republic face deportation.

F.C.C. says phone companies can ban robocalls.

Supreme Court upholds Texas ruling against Confederate license plate.

The Tigers and Reds were rained out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Short Takes

Russia: Putin says he’s adding to his nuclear missile stockpile.

The Senate voted to make torture illegal permanently.

T.A.A. vote postponed until next month.

Six killed when a balcony collapsed in Berkeley.

The F.B.I. says the St. Louis Cardinals hacked the Astros.

Tropical Update: TS Bill makes landfall in Texas.

The Tigers lost to the Reds 5-2.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Short Takes

U.S. airstrikes in Libya go after leader of Algerian attack.

Marriage equality comes to Mexico.

Comet lander wakes up after hibernation.

United Airlines passengers get an unscheduled stop in Canada for 20 hours.

Tropical Update: Invest 91L could head towards the Texas Gulf Coast.

The Tigers beat Cleveland 8-1.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Short Takes

U.S. weighing more bases in Iraq.

“Thunderstruck” — Judge backs charges in the Tamir Rice shooting case.

North Carolina legislature overrides veto; allows officials to refuse to wed gay couples.

The deficit fell again in May, making it the lowest since August 2008.

R.I.P. Christopher Lee, 93, master villain of film; Ron Moody, 91, the consummate Fagin on stage and screen.

The Tigers were off last night.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Short Takes

At the G7 summit, President Obama pledged more help for fighting ISIS.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York thinks the escaped prisoners from Dannemora had inside help.

Former South Carolina policeman indicted for murder for shooting an unarmed man in the back.

Texas policeman put on administrative leave for pulling his gun on teens at a pool party.

The Supreme Court rules that Congress cannot tell the State Department what to put on passports.

The Tigers had the night off.  They go up against the Cubs tonight.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Short Takes

Turkey’s ruling party loses parliamentary majority.

Two escapees from New York prison still on the loose.

Texas cop suspended after pulling gun on teen at a pool party.

Midwest braces for more storms and severe weather.

The Tony winners were…

R.I.P. Ronnie Gilbert, 88, folksinger for The Weavers.

The Tigers beat the White Sox 6-4.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sunday Reading

Hack Job — David A. Graham in The Atlantic on who’s behind the massive hack of the government and why.

One of things that makes hacking so unsettling is the asymmetry of the situation: Unlike with a physical theft, the victims sometimes don’t know they’re victims for a long time, and once they find out, it’s hard to tell just how badly they’ve been victimized.

That’s true of the massive data breach revealed Thursday affecting 4 million current and former federal employees. There’s still a great deal that hasn’t been explained about why and how the hack happened, and whose data was compromised. (Angry federal employees took to the Facebook page of the Office of Personnel Management to complain about feeling left in the dark about the attacks.) There are, however, some emerging answers to three key questions: Who did it, why, and how it happened.

Early on, the government fingered Chinese hackers in the leak. Bruce Schneier has written for The Atlantic about the dangers of uncritically accepting initial attributions for attacks. The Chinese government has also rejected the claim, saying that it’s a victim of hacking itself. (That’s probably true—and the U.S. admits that it also hacks foreign governments.) But officials says there are fingerprints of known Chinese hackers. Another they’re pointing at China—rather than, say, Russian organized-crime hackers who have also assaulted American computer systems—is the kind of data taken and what’s been done with it.

“They didn’t go to sell the data, which is what criminal groups usually do,” James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told The New York Times. The government and outside experts think that, along with the fact that the leak targeted government employees suggest an elaborate effort to build a huge database of information on federal employees. The data reportedly cover employees going back as far as 1985, and includes information on employees who applied for security clearances.

How did they do it, though? The government has a large, costly, sophisticated, and mostly secret system for protecting its data. But that system is, even according to the government, obsolete. It follows an old protocol of attempting to keep hackers outside, like a fence. Newer systems assume hackers will get through the outside defense and try to stop them once they’re inside.

The U.S. had been warned that it wasn’t ready in an inspector general’s report late last year. By the time the report landed, it was apparently too late, but many of the steps it recommended still haven’t been taken. For example:

In the most egregious case cited by the inspector general, outsiders entering the system were not subjected to “multifactor authentication” — the systems that, for example, require a code that is sent to a cellphone to be entered before giving access to a user. Asked about that in an interview, Donna Seymour, the chief information officer at the Office of Personnel Management, said that installing such gear in the government’s “antiquated environment” was difficult and very time consuming, and that her agency had to perform “triage” to determine how to close the worst vulnerabilities.

The government will now institute two-step verification—a step that longtime Atlantic readers will remember James Fallows exhorting them to take as early as the spring of 2011.

Life and Death in Sam Brownback’s Kansas — Kai Wright in The Nation on what refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare is doing to the citizens of Kansas.

RaDonna Kuekelhan and her sister, Cathy O’Mara, have spent their whole lives in and around southeast Kansas, a largely rural area wedged up against Oklahoma and Missouri. Long pastoral stretches separate the region’s smattering of ghostly quiet small towns, the depopulated remains of a thriving industrial past. Cathy left the area briefly as a young woman, following a man to Florida, a decision she still regrets.

“I said, ‘God, if you let me get back to Kansas, I will never leave again,’” she recalls, laughing at herself but not really joking. She had missed the closeness of community in Kansas, the way it eases life’s challenges. When she arrived back home without a job, she walked into the factory where her mom worked and started on the line that same day. She’s still there 34 years later.

Closeness has defined Cathy and RaDonna’s relationship, too. The sisters have rarely been separated by more than a long drive. And that is fortunate, because over the past five years, Cathy has been RaDonna’s lifeline as her body has slowly and steadily failed.

RaDonna is dying. She’s a stout, white-haired 59-year-old who’s proudly willful, and she has cheated death twice before. Her first health crisis arrived back in the late 1990s. “It was end of August,” she says. “I went to a softball game and hollered for two hours and I lost my voice. Well, I just assumed it was from the hollering, but it didn’t get no better. So finally my sister told me, ‘You’re going to the doctor.’”

It turned out RaDonna had cancer of the larynx. She says she endured 35 rounds of radiation to beat it back. The treatment was challenging, but at least it was covered. Back then, she had a job making motors for small appliances at Emerson Electric, and it came with a health plan.

Within a couple of years of her recovery, however, Emerson shut down. After two decades in a secure job, RaDonna could now find only temp work, and most of that in factories over the border in Oklahoma. Like most temp work, hers didn’t come with insurance. That made things more complicated when her most recent health crisis began.

In early 2010, she developed severe acid reflux and struggled with fatigue. She was constantly short of breath. “I couldn’t keep nothing on my stomach,” she says now in her gasping whisper, the strongest voice she’s able to muster. “I thought I was having pneumonia.” Cathy scrambled to find a doctor who would see her uninsured sister.

Southeast Kansas is home to four of the state’s five least healthy counties, according to an annual ranking by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. People die younger here than anywhere else in the state. They’re more likely to have diabetes, to be obese, to smoke, and they’re less likely to have insurance coverage for dealing with these ailments. In 2010, as RaDonna grew ill, 16 percent of Americans had no coverage; in Montgomery County, RaDonna’s home, the uninsured rate was nearly 22 percent. Few of these people qualified for Medicaid, the national program designed to insure poor people, because Kansas has long had one of the more restrictive programs in the country. At the time, working parents couldn’t earn more than 32 percent of the federal poverty level—or $5,859 a year for a family of three. Childless adults like RaDonna didn’t qualify no matter how little they took home.

But in March 2010, change was in the air. President Barack Obama had just signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which promised a massive nationwide expansion of Medicaid. States were asked to open their programs to all adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or just about $27,000 a year for a family of three. In return, Washington would pay the full costs of new enrollees through 2016 and 90 percent from 2020 forward. It would be hard to overstate the magnitude of this change. It was arguably the largest expansion of an anti-poverty program since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, when Medicaid was created—and it could very well have saved RaDonna’s life.

But the pitched battle to bring Medicaid expansion to Kansas reveals much about how we arrived at today’s healthcare reality—one in which there is very much a red and a blue America. The difference between those two worlds is stark, perhaps nowhere more so than in Kansas.

Note: Montgomery County is the home of Independence; it’s where the Inge Festival is held.

Hey, America, It’s the Tonys!  — Michael Paulson at the New York Times on how the broadcast of tonight’s award show is meant to bring in the audience to the shows.

THE funeral home jingle is an upbeat crowd-pleaser in a show that more often prompts tears. Three winsome children, emerging from hiding in a coffin, pretend to record a TV spot for their family business, and the comic lyrics and antic dance moves invariably provoke rousing applause from the rapt audiences that are now packing into Circle in the Square Theater to see “Fun Home.”

So on the day Tony nominations were announced, when the awards show’s executive producers began calling the creators of Broadway musicals, they wanted to talk about including that song, “Come to the Fun Home,” on this Sunday’s broadcast.

But Team “Fun Home” — championing a show about a young lesbian whose father kills himself after acknowledging that he, too, is gay — was not interested.

The annual Tony Awards broadcast is, of course, about honoring the best of a theatrical season. But there is more than one way to win the night: For producers, the real battle is over wooing ticket-buyers, and the broadcast’s musical numbers are seen as the single most important way to do that.

On an evening sure to be dominated by medleys and mash-ups, the “Fun Home” creators proposed representing their show with an 11-year-old girl, standing alone at the center of Radio City Music Hall, singing “Ring of Keys,” an aching expression of identification and yearning to an unseen deliverywoman she has spotted at the threshold of a diner.

“We don’t have a big tap number, and we don’t have any pyrotechnics,” said Lisa Kron, the playwright who collaborated with composer Jeanine Tesori on the musical. “This is the song that most captures the essence of our show.”

“Fun Home” will be among 11 shows on the broadcast this year, including three not nominated for major awards and one that has been running for 10 years. The productions spend between $100,000 and $400,000 to rehearse and create sets for numbers that, generally in less than four minutes, strive to introduce the shows and persuade viewers to purchase seats.

Deciding what those songs will be, and when in the broadcast they will air, is the result of a largely unseen dance between CBS, the Tony Awards and the theatrical producers, who have overlapping but not identical interests as they try to make a television show that will attract and retain viewers and simultaneously bolster the billion-dollar business that is Broadway.

Doonesbury — Speaking of Kansas.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Short Takes

Holes cut in hull in capsized ship; toll reaches 75.

In or out?  Some folks in Congress want to force a debate on what to do with troops in Iraq and Syria.

Hillary Clinton pushes for voting rights expansion.

F.D.A. backs the female version of Viagra.

China suspected in breach in federal computer system.

The Tigers lost again.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Short Takes

Two rulings on rights from the Supreme Court yesterday: headscarves and social media rants.

American hostage freed in Yemen.

Iraq lost 2,300 Humvees to ISIS last year.  (Good luck getting warranty work.)

Top aide to FIFA chief tied to $10 million transfer.

The Tigers had the night off.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Short Takes

Twelve missing in floods in Texas.

Kurdish leader blames Iraqi forces for losses to ISIS.

Tornado kills 13 in Mexico border city.

Bug out: Ladybugs released as high school prank.

R.I.P. John F. Nash, mathematician profiled in A Beautiful Mind; Anne Meara, comedian and actress.

The Tigers lost split the series with the Astros and lost Monday to Oakland.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Reading

Obama on the Middle East — Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview in The Atlantic covers Iran, Iraq, and Israel, and the history of presidential legacies in dealing with all three of them.

“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”

The president—the self-confident, self-contained, coolly rational president—appears to have his own anxieties about the nuclear talks. Which isn’t a bad thing.

Jimmy Carter’s name did not come up in our Oval Office conversation, but it didn’t have to. Carter’s tragic encounter with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution, is an object lesson in the mysterious power of Iran to undermine, even unravel, American presidencies. Ronald Reagan, of course, also knew something of the Iranian curse. As Obama moves to conclude this historic agreement, one that will—if he is correct in his assessment—keep Iran south of the nuclear threshold not only for the 10- or 15-year period of the deal, but well beyond it, he and his administration have deployed a raft of national security-related arguments to buttress their cause. But Obama’s parting comment to me suggests he knows perfectly well that his personal legacy, and not just the future of global nuclear non-proliferation efforts (among other things), is riding on the proposition that he is not being played by America’s Iranian adversaries, and that his reputation will be forever tarnished if Iran goes sideways, even after he leaves office. Obama’s critics have argued that he is “kicking the can down the road” by striking this agreement with Iran. Obama, though, seems to understand that the can will be his for a very long time.

The Candidate the Tea Party Hates — Jenna McLaughlin at Mother Jones finds out it is not Hillary Clinton.

The tea party hates South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and the feeling is mutual. It attacked the Republican lawmaker mercilessly during his Senate reelection campaign in 2014, but Graham held his seat with 55 percent of the vote. “Kicking the crap out of the tea party is the most fun Senator Lindsey Graham has ever had,” wrote Molly Ball for The Atlantic last June after interviewing the South Carolina Republican on the eve of his primary election victory, when he faced six no-name challengers, one of them a tea party pick, in his deep red state’s Republican primary.

On June 1, Graham plans to join the crowded GOP 2016 field, according to his preannouncement on Monday. And his soon-to-be presidential campaign raises the question: How will the Graham/tea pary feud continue?

The animosity between this three-term senator and tea partiers began before his 2014 reelection campaign, triggered in part by Graham’s intermittent attempts to work with Democrats in the Senate. Such moves have enraged staunch conservatives. The Greenville GOP compiled a list of 29 offenses that they “strongly disapprove of and hold to be fundamentally inconsistent with the principles of the South Carolina Republican Party.”* Right-wing blogs have nicknamed him “Flimsy Lindsey” and “Grahmnesty” because he disagreed with his party on climate change, immigration reform, and a few other hot-button Republican issues.

Climate change triggered the first tea party salvos against Graham. In the fall of 2009, tea partiers in South Carolina and beyond bashed Graham for his support of energy legislation that aimed at reducing carbon emissions. In an editorial titled “Graham’s Dalliance With Cap-And-Trade Crowd a Bad Move,” Michael Costello of the Idaho’s Lewiston Tribunewrote, “If Republicans really want to completely alienate this crowd and give birth to a third party, they should follow the lead of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). [He] has thrown his lot in with John Kerry (D-Mass) to push one of the worst pieces of legislation in American history, the carbon cap and trade bill.”

Soon after that, as Politico reported, the conflict between Graham and tea partiers “sparked a mutiny back home” in South Carolina. The Charleston County Republican Party, in a written resolution, slammed Graham for stabbing Republicans in the back and undercutting “Republican leadership and party solidarity for his own benefit.” Politico noted that “bubbling” conservative discontent blew up because of the climate change bill but was also fueled by Graham’s support for immigration reform and changes at the US detention facility Guantanamo Bay. Graham, a hawk who often criticizes President Barack Obama’s national security policies, didn’t try to make peace with his conservative critics. Instead, he called detractors of immigration reform “bigots” and refused to disavow or stop his occasional bipartisan efforts.

“I’m making that a tea party goal to get scoundrels like Lindsey Graham out of office,” Greg Deitz, a Charleston Tea Party organizer, told Politico.

London Mystery House — Ed Caesar in The New Yorker on the biggest house in London and the question of who owns it.

Witanhurst, London’s largest private house, was built between 1913 and 1920 on an eleven-acre plot in Highgate, a wealthy hilltop neighborhood north of the city center. First owned by Arthur Crosfield, an English soap magnate, the mansion was designed in the Queen Anne style and contained twenty-five bedrooms, a seventy-foot-long ballroom, and a glass rotunda; the views from its gardens, over Hampstead Heath and across the capital, were among the loveliest in London. For decades, parties at Witanhurst attracted potentates and royals—including, in 1951, Elizabeth, the future Queen.

In May, 2008, I toured Witanhurst with a real-estate agent. There had been no parties there for half a century, and the house had not been occupied regularly since the seventies. The interiors were ravaged: water had leaked through holes in the roof, and, upstairs, the brittle floorboards cracked under our footsteps. The scale of the building lent it a vestigial grandeur, but it felt desolate and Ozymandian. A few weeks later, Witanhurst was sold for fifty million pounds, to a shell company named Safran Holdings Limited, registered in the British Virgin Islands. No further information about the buyers was forthcoming.

In June, 2010, the local council approved plans to redevelop the house and five and a half acres of grounds, maintaining Witanhurst as a “family home.” It was the culmination of a long battle with other Highgate residents, who did not welcome such an ambitious project. Since then, Witanhurst’s old service wing has been demolished and replaced with the so-called Orangery—a three-story Georgian villa designed for “everyday family accommodation.” And beneath the forecourt, in front of the main house, the new owners have built what amounts to an underground village—a basement of more than forty thousand square feet. (The largest residential property in Manhattan is said to be a fifty-one-thousand-square-foot mansion, on East Seventy-first Street between Madison and Fifth, owned by Jeffrey Epstein.) This basement, which is connected to the Orangery, includes a seventy-foot-long swimming pool, a cinema with a mezzanine, massage rooms, a sauna, a gym, staff quarters, and parking spaces for twenty-five cars. In late 2013, the local council approved plans for a second basement, beneath the gatehouse, which will connect that building to both the main house and the Orangery. Earlier this year, the owners also sought planning permission to extend an underground “servants’ passage.”

When the refurbishment is complete, Witanhurst will have about ninety thousand square feet of interior space, making it the second-largest mansion in the city, after Buckingham Palace. It will likely become the most expensive house in London. In 2006, the Qatari royal family bought Dudley House, on Park Lane, for about forty million pounds; after a renovation, its estimated resale value is two hundred and fifty million pounds. Real-estate agents expect that the completed Witanhurst will be worth three hundred million pounds—about four hundred and fifty million dollars.

If a vast and lavishly appointed house in Manhattan—a palace nearly double the size of the White House—were being redeveloped on the edge of Central Park, New Yorkers would want to know who lived there. Londoners are equally inquisitive, and concerted efforts have been made to uncover the identity of Witanhurst’s owners. Shortly after the house was sold, it became known—from local gossip and publicly accessible planning documents—that Witanhurst belonged to a family from Russia. Several newspapers speculated that the owner was Yelena Baturina, Russia’s richest woman, and the wife of Yury Luzhkov, then the mayor of Moscow. (Luzhkov and Baturina reportedly enriched themselves while he was in office, before Luzhkov clashed with the Russian government; she now lives in London.) Baturina denied owning Witanhurst, and in 2011 she sued the London Sunday Times for publishing an article titled “BUNKER BILLIONAIRESS DIGS DEEP.”

The Baturina lawsuit and the continued secrecy surrounding Witanhurst have intensified the guessing game. Generally, the names of homeowners in Britain are listed in the Land Registry, which can be read for a small fee. But listings for properties owned by offshore companies do not disclose individual beneficiaries. In the British Virgin Islands, records reveal merely the name of the “registered agent” of Safran Holdings—Equity Trust Limited, a local agency that holds several such positions and is connected to the company by name only—and the company’s post-office box, on the island of Tortola.

A recent investigation by the Financial Times found that more than a hundred billion pounds’ worth of real estate in England and Wales is owned by offshore companies. London properties account for two-thirds of that amount. Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph, says that London’s property market has become “a form of legalized international money laundering.” For Highgate residents, however, worries about the lack of transparency in the purchase of Witanhurst have come second to a more English concern. People irritated by the construction noise and the traffic that have blighted their normally quiet neighborhood have no owner to complain to—only managers.

Doonesbury — Everything you say.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Short Takes

Iraqi-backed militiamen were gathering to try to re-take Ramadi.

President Obama will limit sending military equipment to local police.

Biker shootout in Waco could result in up to 175 people being charged, some for capital murder.

The western drought has spread to Washington where the governor is declaring a statewide emergency.

The Tigers lost 3-2 to the Brewers.

Monday, May 18, 2015