News & Notes

Morning Reads: Obama Cracks Down on For-Profit Colleges; Intelligence Agencies Run Amock

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Dueling sanctions –> Russia recognized Crimea’s “independence” yesterday, in defiance of new US and EU sanctions, reports Karen DeYoung and Griff Witte for WaPo. Today, Vladimir Putin signed a treaty annexing the new republic, according to Rebecca Shabad at The Hill. AND: ABC’s Kirit Radia reports that Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister “laughed” at the sanctions, and Josh Rogin reports for The Daily Beast that Russia will return the favor by sanctioning the US.

Quid pro quo –> Nick Confessore reports for the NYT that a Utah investigation uncovered documents detailing how the predatory pay-day loan industry funded a former attorney general’s campaign through a series of non-profit groups set up for the purpose.

Go down to a crime scene and grab a burger –> Salon’s Josh Eidelson reports that NYC’s new public advocate is unveiling a series of proposals to rein in allegedly widespread wage theft in the fast-food industry.

Crack down –> TNR’s Danny Vinik writes that the Obama Administration is cracking down on for-profit colleges that leave students with mountains of debt, and says it’s a victory for America’s yutes. RELATED: Michelle Goldberg at The Nation: Starving College Students and the Shredded Social Contract.

Dark side of unionism –> At Jacobin, Shawn Gude writes that police unions are anything but progressive when it comes to issues other than pay and benefits for their members.

Intelligence agencies gone wild –> Jonathan Landay reports for McClatchy that former members of the Church Committee, which investigated domestic spying — and other abuses — in the 1970s, say it’s time for a new one.

Something went very wrong” at GM –> So says the automaker’s CEO about the company’s ten-year failure to fix a defect that killed 12 people. Bill Vlasic and Christopher Jensen report for the NYT.

Not everyone loves “Cosmos” –> MoJo’s Chris Mooney says that flat-earthers “science deniers” are “freaking out” over the science in the new science show. ALSO: Scientists have discovered the first direct evidence of ripples in space-time, as Einstein predicted in his general theory of relativity, in the instant after the Big Bang. Elizabeth Landau has an explainer at CNN.

Relitigating history –> An Alabama congressional candidate is outraged that a high school literature textbook includes Arthur Miller’s The Crucible because it is an allegory of the 1950s Red Scare, claiming that Joe McCarthy “turned out to be right.” Scot Kaufman reports for The Raw Story.

Whatever works –> Jason Furman writes at Democracy that targeted tax credits have “arguably” done more to alleviate poverty than most federal programs, and calls for their expansion.

The ideology of data-based journalism –> At TNR, Marc Tracy (gently) takes Nate Silver to task for believing that he brings no preconceived beliefs to his analyses.

Good governance in action –> The EU is trying to develop a single standard so that all cellphones use the same kind of charger.

Can we finally have a serious discussion about the importance of squeaky balls? –> Scandinavian scientists are developing a device that reads dogs’ brainwaves and translates them into “short sentences” that their humans can understand.

Morning Reads: The New Progressive Populism; CIA’s Crime Worse Than the Coverup

Good morning — and happy St. Pat’s! Don’t start celebrating until you check out our Morning Reads…

Ninety-five percent –> In a controversial ballot measure, Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to join Russia. Mike Eckel and John-Thor Dalhburg report for the AP (via Yahoo News). AND: TNR’s Julia Ioffe says that Putin will go after Eastern Ukraine next because “geography demands it.”

In case you’re feeling too cheery this morning –> A NASA-funded study suggests that “global industrial civilization could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.” Nafeez Ahmed reports for The Guardian.

But if we do survive… –>At WaPo, Greg Sargent reports that several more lawmakers have signed onto the push to increase Social Security benefits. RELATED: Campaign for America’s Future Co-director Roger Hickey looks at the growing progressive populist movement.

The times they are a-changin’ –> Guinness dropped its sponsorship of NYC’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade for refusing to let LGBT groups participate, Mayor Bill de Blasio will join an unofficial gay-friendly parade in Queens and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh is skipping the holiday entirely after talks on the subject broke down with that city’s parade organizers.

Speaking of the Irish –> In the NYT, Timothy Egan notes the irony of Paul Ryan using the same “culture of dependency” rhetoric as the British employed during the potato famine which sent Ryan’s forefathers fleeing to the US.

The crime is worse than the cover-up –> So writes David Cole in the New York Review of Books about the controversy over the Senate’s report on the CIA’s Bush-era detention and torture programs.

R.I.P. –> At Salon, Thomas Frank writes that American meritocracy is dead, as the one percent have successfully rigged the game.

A new species is born –> A group of pro-marijuana legalization Republicans held their inaugural meeting in Texas this weekend, according to Houston’s ABC affiliate.

Pro-wage theft –> Spencer Woodman reports for In These Times that business lobbyists have killed off a measure to address wage theft in Iowa, where workers get ripped off by their bosses to the tune of $600 million annually according to one estimate.

Quite a coincidence –> Lee Fang reports for The Nation that Chris Christie’s “pension reform” ended up steering “big pension management contracts to the Wall Street donors who have helped boost his political fortunes.”

Revolution –> At Yes!, Diane Brooks writes about the Seattle teachers who boycotted standardized tests and ended up launching a nationwide movement “to liberate our kids from a test-obsessed education system.”

Not everyone’s living longer –> Annie Lowery reports for the NYT that there is a “longevity gap” that’s growing along with our income gap.

Close call –> A Delta airliner landed safely in Atlanta after losing an eight-foot piece from one of its wings, according to ABC News.

Early Voting Under Attack in Wisconsin

Voters line up outside the Madison city clerk's office to be among the first to cast ballots in the November 6 election on October 22, 2012, in Madison, Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

This post originally appeared at the Brennan Center blog.

It may soon get a lot harder to vote in Wisconsin.

State and federal courts are currently deliberating the outcome of Wisconsin’s enjoined strict photo ID law. Governor Scott Walker this week said he would call a special legislative session to modify the law if it’s struck down, so voter ID could be in effect for the November 2014 election. And, this Wednesday, Senate leadership muscled through a bill, SB 324, which would cut back on early in-person absentee voting in that state. The measure passed 17-16, with one lone Republican joining the state’s Democratic senators in casting nay votes. If the vote in the Assembly falls along party lines like it did in the Senate, the rollbacks could very well become law. Governor Walker has stated that he is open to instituting cutbacks on early voting if the measure reaches his desk. MORE

Ten Things Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Protection Agency Has Done for You

This post originally appeared at Mother Jones.

Elizabeth Warren
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) listens to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray's testimony at the Senate Banking Committee's hearing of the bureau's Semi-Annual Report to Congress. Washington, DC, November 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the watchdog agency conceived of and established by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in the wake of the financial crisis, had a hard time getting on its feet. The GOP tried everything it could to hobble the bureau, but to no avail. Over the past couple of years, the CFPB has issued dozens of protections shielding consumers from shady practices by mortgage lenders, student loan servicers and credit card companies. Here are ten things the CFPB, which was created in 2011, has done to protect the little guy:

1. Mortgage lenders can no longer push you into a high-priced loan: Until recently, lenders were allowed to direct borrowers toward high-interest loans, which are more profitable for lenders, even if they qualified for a lower-cost mortgage — a practice that helped lead to the financial crisis. In early 2013, the CFPB issued a rule that effectively ends this conflict of interest.

2. New homeowners are less likely to be hit by foreclosure: In the lead-up to the financial crisis, lenders also sold Americans “no doc” mortgages that didn’t require borrowers to provide proof of income, assets or employment. Last May, the bureau clamped down on this type of irresponsible lending, forcing mortgage lenders to verify borrowers’ ability to repay.

3. If you are delinquent on your mortgage payments, loan servicers have to try harder to help you avoid foreclosure: During the housing crisis, loan servicers — companies that collect payments from borrowers — were permitted to simultaneously offer a delinquent borrower options to avoid foreclosure while moving to complete that foreclosure. New CFPB rules force servicers to make a good faith effort to keep you out of foreclosure. That’s not all: Loan servicers will now face civil penalties if they don’t provide live customer service, maintain accurate mortgage records and promptly inform borrowers whose loan modification applications are incomplete.

4. Millions of Americans get a low-cost home loan counselor: In January 2013, the CFPB required the vast majority of mortgage lenders to provide applicants with a list of free or low-cost housing counselors who can inform borrowers if they’re being ripped off.

5. Borrowers with high-cost mortgages get an outside eye: Lenders who sell mortgages with high interest rates are now required to have an outside appraiser determine the worth of the house for the borrower. If a borrower is going to be paying sky-high prices for a fixer-upper, at least she’ll know it beforehand.

6. Fly-by-night financial players will be held accountable: Part of the CFPB’s mandate is to oversee debt collectors, payday lenders and other under-regulated financial institutions that profit off low-income Americans. The bureau is preparing new restrictions on debt collectors and considering new regs on payday loan industry. In the meantime, the bureau is cracking down on bad actors individually.

7. Folks scammed by credit card companies get refunds: In October 2012, the CFPB ordered three American Express subsidiaries to pay 250,000 customers $85 million for illegal practices including misleading credit card offerings, age discrimination and excessive late fees. This past September, the CFPB ordered JPMorgan Chase to refund $309 million to more than 2.1 million Americans for charging them for identity theft and fraud monitoring services they didn’t ask for.

8. Student lenders face scrutiny: The CFPB oversees private student loan servicing at big banks to ensure compliance with fair lending laws. In December, the agency announced that it will also start supervising non-bank student loan servicers, which are companies that manage borrowers’ accounts. Many of these servicers have been accused of levying unfair penalty fees and making it hard for borrowers to negotiate an affordable repayment plan.

9. Service members get extra protection: In June, the CFPB ordered US Bank and its non-bank partner Dealers’ Financial Services to refund $6.5 million to service members for failing to disclose fees associated with a military auto loan program. In November, the CFPB ordered the payday lender Cash America to pay up to $14 million for illegally overcharging members of the military.

10. Consumers get a help center: If your bank or lender does anything you think is unfair, the bureau has a division dedicated to fielding consumer complaints. The agency promises to work with companies to try to fix consumers’ problems.

Erika Eichelberger is a reporter in Mother Jones’ Washington bureau. She has also written for The Nation, The Brooklyn Rail and TomDispatch. Follow her on Twitter @eichelberger_e.

Minnesota Adopts First Statewide Method for Calculating the Value of Solar Power

This July 2013 photo provided by the Wright Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association shows the first community solar array in Rockford, Minnesota. (AP Photo/Wright Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association via The Star Tribune)

This post originally appeared at ThinkProgress.

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted to become the first state in the nation to come up with a methodology for calculating the value of solar power generated by consumers — and not just how much that power is worth to the utility company and its customers, but to society and the environment as a whole.

As solar energy in particular skyrockets in the US, placing a dollar value on that power has been challenging and is often ignored, which makes Minnesota’s effort an even bigger step.

As solar energy in particular skyrockets in the US, placing a dollar value on that power has been challenging and is often ignored, which makes Minnesota’s effort an even bigger step. “Minnesota has really set itself apart by determining a methodology to calculate the true value of solar to the electricity grid — a value that should include the full range of benefits as well as the costs,” said Mari Hernandez, energy research associate at the Center for American Progress. “This decision could influence other states as they evaluate how to move forward with their own solar-related policies.” MORE

Morning Reads: Zuckerberg Blasts Obama Over NSA; Paris Tames Air Pollution by Making Public Transit Free

Good morning! Today is National Pi Day (NπD?), and also Albert Einstein’s birthday — it seems like an appropriate coincidence.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 –> It’s still inconclusive, but new information suggests that two communications devices were intentionally shut down on the missing aircraft, according to ABC News. ALSO: Reuters reports that the plane appears to have been flown intentionally toward the Andaman Islands, and may have continued for several hours after dropping off of Malaysian radars. The search area has once again been expanded.

Heating up in Ukraine –> Steven Lee Myers and Alison Smale report for the NYT that Russian troops are amassing on the Ukrainian border in advance of a referendum on Crimea’s future. AND: Mike Eckel reports for the AP that Russia and Ukraine are trading accusations about who was responsible for the carnage caused by those snipers in Kiev. ALSO: John McCain played the Ronnie card, slamming his fellow Republicans as un-Reagan-like for their opposition to an aid package to Ukraine. Seung Min Kim reports for Politico. BUT: Ron Paul said Putin “has some law on his side” with the invasion of Crimea, according to Noah Rothman at Mediaite.

Only to die in the House –> A bipartisan group of senators struck a deal to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. Danny Vinik has the details at TNR.

Lacking self-awareness –> Facebook whiz kid Mark Zuckerberg, who can apparently speed-dial the most powerful man on Earth, called Obama to complain about the NSA collecting data on Americans. Privacy advocates are probably wishing for a better spokesperson. Will Oremus has the story at Slate.

LIZ!!! –> At Mother Jones, Erika Eichelberger offers us “Ten Things Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Protection Agency Has Done for You.”

The religious right is right about this –> Salon’s Josh Eidelson interviews the head of Justice Fellowship, a conservative Christian group advocating for prison reform.

Coalocracy –> The AP and a local ABC News station report that internal emails show that Duke Energy lobbyists got North Carolina regulators to intervene in several lawsuits over pollution leeching from its coal ash dumps.

Fear of decent wages –> Krugman’s good today, explaining that a likely statistical blip suggesting that wages are increasing is leading to all kinds of bad economics.

“Satan, “savagery” and a “culture of death” –> Philip Elliot reports for the AP that anti-choicers are looking for a candidate who will engage in the kind of civil discourse about reproductive rights that they expect.

Blue Georgia? –> At The Daily Beast, Patricia Murphy argues that demographic shifts, along with a couple of Democratic candidates with big name recognition — Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter — are putting the Peach State into play.

Elections matter –> Steven Greenhouse reports for the NYT that Bill de Blasio’s administration, “seeking to be generous to its allies in labor without jeopardizing New York City’s finances,” is pushing for an unprecedented nine-year contract with NYC teachers.

Good governance –> In an attempt to tame air pollution, Paris is making public transportation free, according to Agence France Presse, via The Raw Story.

Bad governance –> Laura Sullivan reports for NPR that the government is spending a couple of billion dollars per year on empty buildings.

Sci-fi becoming sci-fact –> Jason Koebler at Vice: “Australia Is Building a Laser To Shoot Junk Out of Orbit”

Morning Reads: Paul Ryan’s Dog Whistle; Health Care Expert Demolishes Senator’s Talking Points

Good morning! Here are some of the stories we’re reading on yet another frigid day in NYC…

Stat of the day: $1.95 trillion — the amount of cash the 307 biggest US-based multinationals are holding offshore and out of sight of the IRS, according to Bloomberg.

Blockage –> The White House says it supports the congressional probe into the CIA’s “War on Terror” under Bush, but Jonathan Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor report for McClatchy that the Obama administration is sitting on thousands of documents that Senate investigators want to see.

Non-corporate people go to jail for less –> Wells Fargo charged with setting up “detailed internal procedures to fabricate foreclosure papers on demand,” according to The NY Post’s Catherine Curan.

NSA –> Edward Snowden’s leaked docs reveal that the intelligence agency planned to infect millions of computers with malware. Ryan Gallagher and Glenn Greenwald report for The Intercept.

Dog whistles are supposed to be subtle –> Paul Ryan, who will work just 113 days this year, as he did in 2013, said poverty is a result of lazy “inner city” men not wanting to work.

Robbed by police –> At Forbes, Nick Sibilla looks at forfeiture abuse — where police seize cash and property from people without charging them with a crime.

“Nasty, brutish and short” –> After reporter Joseph Williams lost his job, he found retail work in a sporting goods shop and it turned out to be a nightmare. He writes about his experience at The Atlantic.

Florida-13 –> Slate’s Dave Weigel offers three things the media is getting wrong about that special election Republicans won in Florida on Tuesday.

World vs Keystone –> Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline — which Esquire’s Charles Pierce calls “the death funnel” — left twice as many comments with the State Department as its supporters, and WaPo’s Juliet Eilperin notes that almost half of them were from outside the US.

A people’s budget –> At Policy Shop, David Callahan looks at the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ alternative budget.

“Didn’t Tom Cruise Already Make This Movie?” –> Darwin Bond Graham and Ali Winston report for Truthout that police agencies are using data analytics to predict where crime may occur in the future — a technique first embraced by the military for counterinsurgency operations.

Schooled –> At the LAT, Michael Hiltzik looks at what happens when an actual expert on Canada’s health care system tangles with a senator — NC Republican Richard Burr — whose expertise appears to be largely Fox News-based. Spoiler alert: it didn’t end well for him.

New and… white –> At The Guardian, Emily Bell notes that bleeding edge new media startups under Nate Silver and Ezra Klein aren’t exactly models of diversity.

Death stars and dark matter –> Scientists have a new theory — highly speculative at this point — that discs of “dark matter” may have played a role in the extinction of the dinosaurs. Elizabeth Gibney reports for Nature, via HuffPo.

Lawmakers Are Happy to Discuss the Issues — if You Have Some Campaign Cash

Some research helps quantify phenomena that we already understand intuitively. Most people would agree that donating to political campaigns buys you access that other constituents lack, and this week two graduate students studying political science — Joshua Kalla at Yale and David Broockman at UC Berkeley — released a study that shows it to be true.

(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The researchers enlisted CREDO Action, a progressive advocacy group, to help with their experiment. They took a real bill — the authors don’t say what the legislation was – and they randomly sent one of two form letters asking for a meeting to discuss the legislation to 191 House members who had not yet taken a position on it.

One email featured the subject line, “Meeting with local campaign donors about cosponsoring bill,” and said that the group would consist of “active donors.” The other just said that a group of “local constituents” wanted to discuss the bill. The emails specified that if the lawmaker was unable to personally attend the meeting, the group would like to meet with the most senior staffer available.

And the results were exactly what one might expect: 2.4 percent of the letters from constituents won a meeting with a legislator or his or her chief of staff, compared with 12.5 percent of the letters from “active donors.” In other words, those with potential donations were five times as likely to get a meeting with someone at the top. And just under 19 percent of the donors were able to meet with the next-highest staffer, compared with under six percent of ordinary constituents.

Lawrence Lessig: Putting Political Corruption on Ice

Broockman told The Washington Post’s Mattea Gold that “he was surprised by the size of the difference, and noted that the study may actually underestimate the access of political donors, since none of the offices were told ahead of time the identities of the contributors, how much they had given – or even whether they had donated to that member of Congress.”

“That was a really key piece,” Broockman said. “It gets very far away from the quid pro quos that the court suggested are the only ways influence operates.”

The study, currently under consideration for publication, drew praise from Donald P. Green, a professor of political science at Columbia University and expert in the use of field experimentation to study politics, who reviewed the results and said they showed a small but clear pattern.

“It’s convincing, but not overwhelming,” said Green, adding that he is eager to see others attempt to replicate the study in other arenas.

Read more at The Washington Post or check out the study.

Morning Reads: Obama Makes Millions Eligible for Overtime; Port Authority Part of Christie’s Machine

Good morning — and a happy 67th birthday to Willard “Mitt” Romney! Here are some reads for the morning…

Stat of the day: 515,000 — the number of union members whose political donations equal that of one Koch brother, according to Jonathan Cohn at TNR.

Bring on the lazy punditry –> Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink in a closely watched special election in Florida last night — a rematch is scheduled for November.

“Certain to anger the business lobby in Washington” –> Obama issued an executive order requiring companies to pay overtime to several million workers who were classified as managers or professionals. Michael Shear and Steven Greenhouse report for the NYT.

Traumatized –> Half of the residents of a town near the Fukushima nuclear power plant showed signs of PTSD, and two-thirds had symptoms of depression. Joshua Keating has the story at Slate.

When the middle men have lobbyists –> New Jersey became the third state to bar Tesla from selling its cars directly to consumers, according to Chris Welch at The Verge.

A “de facto political operation” –> Kate Zernicke and Matt Flegenheimer report for the NYT that the Port Authority was a “tool” used by Chris Christie long before those lane closures brought national attention to the operation.

Arbeit –> At The Nation, William Greider writes that German companies’ progressive labor policies may have a bigger impact on the US than you might think.

Today is National Girl Scout Day! –> And according to Politico’s Robin Marty, the religious right has been boycotting the organization on various flimsy grounds for years. The latest is in response to a tweet with a link to a story mentioning Wendy Davis.

“Grueling, dangerous, poorly compensated and rife with labor abuses” –> Herding isn’t as romantic as you might think — Kari Lydersen looks at the lives of modern cowboys for In These Times.

Sex sells –> A new study quantifies the value of the commercial sex trade in eight US cities — Kevin Hall and Daniel White have the details for McClatchy.

Fracked –> Tara Lohan at AlterNet: “California Gov. Jerry Brown Faces Protests Over Fracking as Epic Drought Looms.”

4.2 million –> New enrollment totals for Obamacare released, and Jonathan Cohn offers  some context with the raw numbers.

We need a Manhattan Project –> At The Guardian, Tom Delay (not the corrupt one) writes that we need a major technological mobilization to save the Earth’s climate.

Another nail in the coffin –> The Senate passed a bill that would end public funding for political conventions, further undermining an already outdated public financing system for US elections. Josh Israel reports for ThinkProgress.

Good eats? –> At NatGeo, Brian Clark Howard tells of an unforgettable experience photographing — and bonding with — leopard seals, one of whom tried to feed him penguins for several days.

Transcript: Senator Dianne Feinstein Accuses CIA of Violating US Constitution

On Tuesday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) accused the Central Intelligence Agency of violating federal law and undermining Congress’ constitutional oversight powers. In a speech before Congress, she detailed how the CIA secretly removed documents from the committee’s computers. Watch a video — courtesy of Roll Call — or read the complete transcript of her speech before Congress.

Good morning. Over the past week, there have been numerous press articles written about the Intelligence Committee’s oversight review of the detention and interrogation program of the CIA. Specifically, press attention has focused on the CIA’s intrusion and search of the Senate Select Committee’s computers, as well as the committee’s acquisition of a certain internal CIA document known as the “Panetta Review.” I rise today to set the record straight and to provide a full accounting of the facts and history.

Since January 15, 2014, when I was informed of the CIA search of this committee’s network, I’ve been trying to resolve this dispute in a discreet and respectful way.
Let me say up front that I come to the Senate floor reluctantly. Since January 15, 2014, when I was informed of the CIA search of this committee’s network, I’ve been trying to resolve this dispute in a discreet and respectful way.

I have not commented in response to media requests for additional information on this matter, however the increasing amount of inaccurate information circulating now cannot be allowed to stand unanswered.

The origin of this study, the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, began operations in 2002, though it was not until September, 2006 that members of the intelligence committee, other than the chairman and the vice chairman were briefed. In fact, we were briefed by then-CIA Director Hayden only hours before President Bush disclosed the program to the public.

A little more than a year later, on December 6, 2007, a New York Times article revealed the troubling fact that the CIA had destroyed video tapes of some of the CIA’s first interrogations using so-called enhanced techniques. We learned that this destruction was over the objections of President Bush’s White House counsel and the director of national intelligence.

After we read — excuse me — read about the tapes of the destruction in the newspapers, Director Hayden briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee. He assured us that this was not destruction of evidence, as detailed records of the interrogations existed on paper in the form of CIA operational tables describing the detention conditions and the day-to-day CIA interrogations.

The CIA director stated that these cables were, quote, a more than adequate representation, end quote, of what would have been on the destroyed tapes. Director Hayden offered at that time, during Senator Jay Rockefeller’s chairmanship of the committee, to allow members or staff review these sensitive CIA operational cables, that the videotapes — given that the videotapes had been destroyed.

Chairman Rockefeller sent two of his committee staffers out to the CIA on nights and weekends to review thousands of these cables, which took many months. By the time the two staffers completed their review into the CIA’s early interrogations in early 2009, I had become chairman of the committee and President Obama had been sworn into office.

The resulting staff report was chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detentions sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us.

As a result of the staff initial report, I proposed and then-Vice Chairman Bond agreed and the committee overwhelmingly approved that the committee conduct an expansive and full review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

On March 5, 2009, the committee voted 14-1 to initiate a comprehensive review of the CIA detention and interrogation program.

Immediately, we sent a request for documents to all relevant executive branch agencies, chiefly among them the CIA. The committee’s preference was for the CIA to turn over all responsive documents to the committee’s office, as had been done in previous committee investigations.

Director Panetta proposed an alternative arrangement, to provide literally millions of pages of operational cables, internal emails, memos and other documents pursuant to a committee’s document request at a secure location in northern Virginia. We agreed, but insisted on several conditions and protections to ensure the integrity of this congressional investigation.

Per an exchange of letters in 2009, then-Vice Chairman Bond, then-Director Panetta and I agreed in an exchange of letters that the CIA was to provide a, quote, stand-alone computer system, end quote, with a, quote, network drive segregated from CIA networks, end quote, for the committee that would only be accessed by information technology personnel at the CIA who would, quote, not be permitted to share information from the system with other CIA personnel, except as otherwise authorized by the committee, end quote.

This video framegrab from Senate Television shows Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaking on the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (AP Photo / Senate Television)

It was this computer network that notwithstanding our agreement with Director Panetta was searched by the CIA this past January — and once before, which I will later describe.

In addition to demanding that the documents produced for the committee be reviewed at a CIA facility, the CIA also insisted on conducting a multi-layered review of every responsive document before providing the document to the committee. This was to ensure the CIA did not mistakenly provide documents unrelated to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program or provide documents that the president could potentially claim to be covered by executive privilege.

While we viewed this as unnecessary, and raised concerns that it would delay our investigation, the CIA hired a team of outside contractors who otherwise would not have had access to these sensitive documents to read multiple times each of the 6.2 million pages of documents produced before providing them to fully cleared committee staff conducting the committee’s oversight work. This proved to be a slow and very expensive process.

The CIA started making documents available electronically to the committee’s staff at the CIA leased facility in mid-2009. The number of pages ran quickly to the thousands, tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands and then into the millions. The documents that were provided came without any index, without any organizational structure. It was a true document dump that our committee staff had to go through and make sense of.

In order to piece together the story of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, the committee staff did two things that will be important as I go on. First, they asked the CIA to provide an electronic search tool so they could locate specific relevant documents for their search among the CIA-produced documents, just like you would use a search tool on the Internet to locate information.

Second, when the staff found a document that was particularly important or that might be referenced in our file report, they would often print it or make a copy of the file on their computer so they could easily find it again. There are thousands of such documents in the committee’s secure spaces at the CIA facility.

Now, prior removal of documents by CIA. In early 2010, the CIA was continuing to provide documents and the committee staff was gaining familiarity with the information it had already received. In May of 2010, the committee staff noticed that the documents had been provided for the committee — that had been provided for the committee’s review were no longer accessible.

Staff approached the CIA personnel at the off-site location, who initially denied that documents had been removed. CIA personnel then blamed information technology personnel, who were almost all contractors, for removing the documents themselves without direction or authority.

And then the CIA stated that the removal of the documents was ordered by the White House. When the White — when the committee approached the White House, the White House denied giving the CIA any such order.

After a series of meetings, I learned that on two occasions CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee. This included roughly 870 documents or page of documents that were removed in February 2010; and secondly, roughly another 50 that were removed in mid-May 2010. This was done without the knowledge or approval of committee members or staff, and in violation of our written agreements. Further, this type of behavior would not have been possible had the CIA allowed the committee to conduct the review of documents here in the Senate. In short, this was the exact sort of CIA interference in our investigation that we sought to avoid at the outset.

I went up to the White House to raise the issue with the then- White House counsel. In May 2010, he recognized the severity of the situation and the great implications of executive branch personnel interfering with an official congressional investigation. The matter was resolved with a renewed commitment from the White House counsel and the CIA that there would be no further unauthorized access to the committee’s network or removal of access to CIA documents already provided to the committee.

On May 17, 2010, the CIA’s then-director of congressional affairs apologized on behalf of the CIA for removing the documents. And that as far as I was concerned put the incidents aside. This event was separate from the documents provided that were part of the internal Panetta review, which occurred later and which I will describe next.

At some point in 2010, committee staff searching the documents that had been made available found draft versions of what is now called the internal Panetta review. We believe these documents were written by CIA personnel to summarize and analyze the materials that had been provided to the committee for its review. The Panetta review documents were no more highly classified than other information we had received for our investigation. In fact, the documents appeared based on the same information already provided to the committee. What was unique and interesting about the internal documents was not their classification level but rather their analysis and acknowledgement of significant CIA wrongdoing.

To be clear, the committee staff did not hack into CIA computers to obtain these documents, as has been suggested in the press.

The documents were identified using the search tool provided by the CIA to search the documents provided to the committee. We have no way to determine who made the internal Panetta review documents available to the committee. Further, we don’t know whether the documents were provided intentionally by the CIA, unintentionally by the CIA or intentionally by a whistleblower.

In fact, we know that over the years, on multiple occasions, the staff have asked the CIA about documents made available for our investigation. At times the CIA has simply been unaware that these specific documents were provided to the committee. And while this is alarming, it is also important to note that more than 6.2 million pages of documents have been provided. This is simply a massive amount of records.

As I described earlier, as part of its standard process for reviewing records the committee staff printed copies of the internal Panetta review and made electronic copies of the committee’s computers at the facility. The staff did not rely on these internal Panetta review documents when drafting the final 6,300-page committee study. But it was significant that the internal Panetta review had documented at least some of the very same troubling matters already uncovered by the committee staff, which is not surprising in that they were looking at the same information.

There is a claim in the press and elsewhere that the markings on these documents should have caused the staff to stop reading them and turn them over to the CIA. I reject that claim completely. As with many other documents provided to the committee at the CIA facility, some of the internal Panetta-reviewed documents — some — contained markings indicating that they were, quote, “deliberative,” end quote, and/or, quote, “privileged,” end quote.

This was not especially noteworthy to staff. In fact, CIA has provided thousands of internal documents to include CIA legal guidance and talking points prepared for the CIA director, some of which were marked as being deliberative or privileged. Moreover, the CIA has officially provided such documents to the committee here in the Senate. In fact, the CIA’s official June 27, 2013 response to the committee’s study, which Director Brennan delivered to me personally, is labeled, quote, “deliberative, processed, privileged document,” end quote.

We have discussed this with the Senate legal counsel who have confirmed that Congress does not recognize these claims of privilege when it comes to documents provided to Congress for our oversight duties. These were documents provided by the executive branch pursuant to an authorized congressional oversight investigation. So we believe we had every right to review and keep the documents.

There are also claims in the press that the Panetta internal review documents, having been created in 2009 and 2010, were outside the date range of the committee’s document request or the terms of the committee study. This too is inaccurate. The committee’s document requests were not limited in time. In fact, as I have previously announced, the committee study includes significant information on the May, 2011 Osama bin Laden operation, which obviously post-dated the detention and interrogation program.

At some time after the committee staff identified and reviewed the internal Panetta review documents, access to the vast majority of them was removed by the CIA. We believe this happened in 2010, but we have no way of knowing the specifics. Nor do we know why the documents were removed. The staff was focused on reviewing the tens of thousands of new documents that continued to arrive on a regular basis.

Our work continued until December 2012, when the Intelligence Committee approved a 6,300-page committee study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, and sent the executive report to the executive branch for comment. The CIA provided its response to the study on June 27, 2013. As CIA Director Brennan has stated, the CIA officially agrees with some of our study, but has been reported the CIA disagrees and disputes important parts of it.

And this is important. Some of these important parts that the CIA now disputes in our committee study are clearly acknowledged in the CIA’s own internal Panetta review. To say the least, this is puzzling. How can the CIA’s official response to our study stand factually in conflict with its own internal review?

Now, after noting the disparity between the official CIA response to the committee study and the internal Panetta review, the committee staff securely transported a printed portion of the draft internal Panetta review from the committee’s secure room at the CIA-leased facility to the secure committee spaces in the Hart Senate office building. And let me be clear about this: I mentioned earlier the exchange of letters that Senator Bond and I had with Director Panetta in 2009 over the handling of information for this review. The letters set out a process whereby the committee would provide specific CIA documents to CIA reviewers before bringing them back to our secure offices here on Capitol Hill. The CIA review was designed specifically to make sure that committee documents available to all staff and members did not include certain kinds of information — most importantly, the true names of nonsupervisory CIA personnel and the names of specific countries in which the CIA operated detention sites.

We had agreed up front that our report didn’t need to include this information and so we agreed to redact it from materials leaving the CIA’s facility. Keeping with the spirit of the agreement, the portion of the internal Panetta review at the Hart Building in our safe has been redacted. It does not contain names of nonsupervisory CIA personnel or information identifying detention site locations. In other words, our staff did just what the CIA personnel would have done had they reviewed the document.

There are several reasons why the draft summary of the Panetta review was brought to our secure spaces at the Hart Building. Let me list them: One, the significance of the internal review, given disparities between it and the June 2013 CIA response to the committee study. The internal Panetta review summary, now at the secure committee office in Hart, is an especially significant document as it corroborates critical information in the — in the committee’s 6,300- page study, that the CIA’s official response either objects to, denies, minimizes or ignores.

Unlike the official response, these Panetta review documents were in agreement with the committee’s findings.

That’s what makes them so significant and important to protect.

When the internal Panetta Review documents disappeared from the committee’s computer system, this suggested once again that the CIA had removed documents already provided to the committee, in violation of CIA agreements and White House assurances that the CIA would cease such activities. As I have detailed, the CIA has previously withheld and destroyed information about its detention and interrogation program, including its decision in 2005 to destroy interrogation videotapes over the objections of the Bush White House and the director of national intelligence. Based on the above, there was a need to preserve and protect the internal Panetta Review in the committee’s own secure spaces.

Now, the relocation of the internal Panetta Review was lawful and handled in a manner consistent with its classification. No law prevents the relocation of a document in the committee’s possession from a CIA facility to secure committee offices on Capitol Hill. As I mentioned before, the document was handled and transported in a manner consistent with its classification, redacted appropriately, and it remains secured, with restricted access in committee spaces.

Now, the January 15th 2014 meeting with Director John Brennan. In late 2013, I requested in writing that the CIA provide a final and complete version of the internal Panetta review to the committee as opposed to the partial document the committee currently possesses.

In December, during an open committee hearing, Senator Mark Udall echoed this request. In early January 2014, the CIA informed the committee it would not provide the internal Panetta review to the committee, citing the deliberative nature of the document. Shortly thereafter, on January 15, 2014, CIA Director Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman Chambliss that without prior notification or approval, CIA personnel had conducted a search — that was John Brennan’s word — of the committee computers at the off-site facility.

This search involved not only a search of documents provided by the committee by the CIA, but also a search of the standalone and walled-off committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications. According to Brennan, the computer search was conducted in response to indications that some members of the committee staff might already have had access to the internal Panetta review.

The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the internal review or we obtained it.

Instead the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers. The CIA has still not asked the committee any questions about how the committee acquired the Panetta review.

In place of asking any questions, the CIA’s unauthorized search of the committee computers was followed by an allegation, which we now have seen repeated anonymously in the press, that the committee staff had somehow obtained the document through unauthorized or criminal means, perhaps to include hacking into the CIA’s computer network.

As I have described, this is not true. The document was made available to the staff at the off-site facility, and it was located using a CIA-provided search tool running a query of the information provided to the committee pursuant to its investigation. Director Brennan stated that the CIA search had determined that the committee staff had copies of the internal Panetta review on the committee staff shared drive and had accessed them numerous times. He indicated at the meeting that he was going to order further forensic investigation of the committee network to loan — to learn more about activities of the committee’s oversight staff.

Two days after the meeting, on January 17, I wrote a letter to Director Brennan objecting to any further CIA investigation, due to the separation of powers constitutional issues that the search raised.

I followed this with a second letter on January 23 to the director asking 12 specific questions about the CIA’s actions — questions that the CIA has refused to answer. Some of the questions in my letter related to the full scope of the CIA’s search of our computer network. Other questions related to who had authorized and conducted the search and what legal basis the CIA claimed gave it authority to conduct the search. Again, the CIA has not provided answers to any of my questions.

My letter also laid out my concern about the legal and constitutional implications of the CIA’s actions. Based on what Director Brennan has informed us, I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function.

I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee was inappropriate. I have received neither.

Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.

Days after the meeting with Director Brennan, the CIA inspector general, David Buckley, learned of the CIA’s search and began an investigation into CIA’s activities. I have been informed that Mr. Buckley has referred the matter to the Department of Justice, given the possibility of a criminal violation by CIA personnel.

Let me note because the CIA has refused to answer the questions in my January 23 letter and the CIA inspector general is ongoing, I have limited information about exactly what the CIA did in conducting its search.

Weeks later, I was also told that after the inspector general reviewed the CIA’s activities to the Department of Justice — excuse me, referred the CIA’s activities to the Department of Justice, the acting counsel general of the CIA filed a crimes report with the Department of Justice concerning the committee staff’s actions. I have not been provided the specifics of these allegations, or been told whether the department has initiated a criminal investigation based on the allegations of the CIA’s acting general counsel.

As I mentioned before, our staff involved in this matter have the appropriate clearances, handled this sensitive material according to established procedures and practice to protect classified information, and were provided access to the Panetta Review by the CIA itself.

As a result, there is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime. I view the acting counsel general’s referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff, and I am not taking this lightly.

I should note that for most if not all of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, the now-acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s counterterrorism center, the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study.

And now, this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff — the same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers, including the acting general counsel himself, provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice about the program.

Mr. President, let me say this: All senators rely on their staff to be their eyes and ears and to carry out our duties. The staff members of the intelligence committee are dedicated professionals who are motivated to do what is best for our nation. The staff members who have been working on this study and this report have devoted years of their lives to it, wading through the horrible details of a CIA program that never, never, never should have existed.

They have worked long hours and produced a report unprecedented in its comprehensive attention to detail in the history of the Senate. They are now being threatened with legal jeopardy just as final revisions to the report and being made so that parts of it can be declassified and released to the American people.

Mr. President, I felt that I needed to come to the floor today to correct the public record and to give the American people the facts about what the dedicated committee staff have been working so hard for the last several years as part of the committee’s investigation.

I also want to reiterate to my colleagues my desire to have all updates to the committee report completed this month and approved for declassification. We’re not going to stop. I intend to move to have the findings, conclusions and the executive summary of the report sent to the president for declassification as release to the American people. The White House has indicated publicly and to me personally that it supports declassification and release.

If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted. But, Mr. President, the recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our Intelligence Committee. How Congress and how this will be resolved will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.

I believe it is critical that the committee and the Senate reaffirm our oversight role and our independence under the Constitution of the United States.

Mr. President, I thank you very much for your patience, and I yield the floor.

Obama Shares Some Awkward Moments Promoting the ACA with Zach Galifianakis

The share of Americans without health insurance has fallen to a six-year low. And  with just three weeks left in the Affordable Care Act’s  2014 open enrollment period, health insurers and the law’s advocates are making a final push to get people to sign up through the exchanges.

Barack Obama, seeking to spread the word to the young adults whose participation is considered vital to the scheme’s success, appeared on “Between the Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis for a segment that you’ll either find amusing or cringe-worthy. Either way, people are talking about it today.


Update: And it appears to have worked…

Morning Reads: GOP’s New Plan to Kill Obamacare; Hedge Fund Tries to Destroy a Company for Profit

Good morning! Today is Johnny Appleseed Day, which you can celebrate by planting an apple tree or eating an apple or perhaps just using your iPhone….

Stat of the day: 61 percent — the share of young Republicans who favor marriage equality, according to Pew.

Back to the drawing board –> Sahil Kapur reports for TPM that House Republicans are considering cutting physicians’ fees for treating Medicare patients unless Dems agree to delay Obamacare’s individual mandate.

Radioactive –> TEPCO may have no choice but to dump “hundreds of thousands of tons” of contaminated water from the doomed Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific, reports The Guardian’s Justin McCurry.

Banana Republic –> Tony Romm reports for Politico that in advance of its announced merger with Time Warner, Comcast “donated to almost every member of Congress who has a hand in regulating it.”

Dirty money –> Prosecutors say that DC Mayor Vincent Gray knew about a costly “shadow campaign” waged with illegal campaign contributions from a large donor, according to WaPo’s Ann E. Marimow, Matt Zapotosky and Paul Schwartzmann.

Big numbers –> At Truthout, Dean Baker calls out the media (the NYT, specifically) for reporting big budget numbers without any context — as if people know whether $75 billion is a lot or a little to spend on infrastructure for a country of over 300 million people.

How’s that “free market” working? –> A hedge fund manager made a billion-dollar bet that a company’s stock would drop and then launched an all-out lobbying campaign to get Washington lawmakers to regulate it out of existence. Michael Schmidt, Eric Lipton and Alexandra Stevenson report for the NYT.

“Stuck on stupid” –> Protesters fighting Florida’s Stand Your Ground law said the Sunshine State is just that, according to Aaron Deslatte with McClatchy.

“The financial trade is controlled by old, rich white dudes” –> Patrick Caldwell reports for MoJo that Wall Street is fighting to block a rule that would require financial institutions to “self-assess” their efforts to promote diversity in the sector.

Unsustainable –> The population of Tucson has grown, and as the West faces increasing water problems, Slate’s Eric Holthaus wonders whether Tucson, Ariz., can survive climate change.

Outsourced –> TNR’s Alec MacGillis asks what the postal service is doing entering into a partnership with Staples, a company that faces bigger problems than the agency does.

Stay calm –> At The Atlantic, James Fallows writes that knee-jerk analyses of events like the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 or Russia’s incursion into Crimea are too often wrong.

Coming home to roost –> TNR’s Danny Vinik argues that Republican rhetoric designed to whip up the base is making it difficult for lawmakers like House ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp to show that they’re serious about governing.

Everyone we don’t like is a terrorist –> Juan Cole writes that in the Middle East, everyone accuses their political opponents of being “terrorists.”

“This is your brain on murder” –> Salon is running an excerpt from Dean Haycock’s Murderous Minds: Exploring the Criminal Psychopathic Brain: Neurological Imaging and the Manifestation of Evil about how the brains of violent felons show certain organic characteristics in brain scans.

Morning Reads: NSA Loses One in Court; Santorum: GOP Needs to Talk Like the Pope

Good morning — and a happy 74th birthday to Chuck Norris! Here are some of the stories we’re reading as we get up to speed for the new week…

Blocked –> Katherine Haddon reports for AFP that Russia sunk three of its ships to block Ukraine’s navy from entering a lake off of the Black Sea. Via: Yahoo News.

Midterm preview –> Slate’s Dave Weigel writes that there’s a lot more at stake than a single House seat in a special Congressional election that will be held in Florida tomorrow.

Rare defeat –> The NSA suffered one last week when a federal surveillance court ruled that it couldn’t hang onto phone records beyond a five-year limit. Brendan Sasso reports for The National Journal.

Chilling #Longread –> Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza didn’t leave behind many answers about what motivated him. But as Andrew Solomon writes in The New Yorker, his father, Peter, is searching for some sort of understanding.

CPAC –> Rick Santorum said that it would be much easier for Republicans to enact unpopular policies if they learned to talk in a more inclusive way — like Pope Francis. Dave Neiwert with the story for Crooks and Liars. ALSO: In the mood for a satisfying rant? Esquire’s Charles Pierce watched Sarah Palin’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and he is appalled.

Losing sleep for climate action –> Senate Democrats plan to hold an all-night talkathon to raise awareness of climate change, reports Susan Davis for USA Today.

Yutes –> Jesse Holland reports for the AP on a new study by Pew that finds millennials are “skipping church, marriage and political affiliations.” AND: At NY Mag, Jonathan Chait notes that they are a very liberal generation, and predicts they’ll change the face of our politics. BUT: Salon’s Alex Pareene points out that they share the same racial divide as older voters, with white millenials holding far more conservative views than other groups.

Fracked –> New controversy arises in the midwest over the extraction of sand for fracking. Richard Mertens reports for the Christian Science Monitor.

Fat pills –> In the NYT, Pagan Kennedy looks at new research that suggests our liberal use of antibiotics may play a role in our obesity epidemic.

Actually, it was Wall Street –> At TNR, Dean Starkman punctures the “big lie” that we were all responsible for the 2008 crash.

That hippetty-hop music –> MoJo’s Lauren Williams reports that amateur rappers’ violent lyrics are regularly used against them in criminal cases, and the Supreme Court will soon determine whether that’s prejudicial.

Not just the GOP’s civil war –> At Truthout, Herbert Gans argues that the US is in the midst of a bloodless political conflict with far-reaching effects on our society.

Everyone lived! –> A low-flying pilot and a descending parachutist collided in midair on Saturday, sending both crashing to the ground. Miraculously, neither was seriously injured. A photographer caught the incident on camera. Via: ABC News/ Yahoo News.

Morning Reads: ALEC Coming to a Town Near You; Ugly Ideology at CPAC

Good morning — and happy Friday! Here are some of the stories we’re reading as we push toward the weekend…

Jobs –> February jobs report beats economists’ pessimistic predictions but still shows anemic growth. Nelson Schwartz runs down the details for the NYT.

Ukraine –> The Supreme Council of Crimea voted to become part of the Russian Federation yesterday — TNR’s Linda Kinstler has a roundup of developments.

“Villages, towns, cities and counties” –> ALEC is coming to corrupt a local government near you, reports Ed Pilkington for The Guardian.

Not everyone’s sold on Hillary –> Sen. Bernie Sanders tells The Nation’s John Nichols that he’s “prepared to run” for the White House in 2016 — perhaps as an independent. At No More Mister Nice Blog, Steve M. reluctantly writes that running for president is no way to start a movement.

The power of corporate propaganda –> Keystone XL has overwhelming public support according to a new Washington Post poll, and the vast majority of respondents believe, wrongly, that the project would create tons of jobs.

And some people power –> Fifteen Vermont towns passed a resolution calling on the legislature to establish a public bank that would serve Main Street like North Dakota’s. Jon Queally reports for Common Dreams.

Separate and unequal –> At Dissent, historian Colin Gordon, author of Growing Apart: A Political History of American Inequality, writes about how growing inequality is tearing our social contract apart.

CPAC –> The annual conservative confab is underway, and Devin Burghart reports for The National Memo that “ugly racial ideology” is front and center. ALSO: Paul Ryan told a moving anecdote that appears to have been lifted from a book, according to WaPo fact-checker Glenn Kessler.

Is the dream dead? –> Salon’s Andrew Leonard writes that a libertarian fantasy has died with the unmasking of Bitcoin’s creator.

Theft is a crime –> But wage theft is rarely prosecuted as such. But in New Haven, that’s changing, thanks to grassroots activism on behalf of mostly low-wage workers. Melinda Tuhus reports for In These Times.

Getting it wrong –> At TAP, Abby Rapoport argues that the media’s beloved ‘establishment v. tea partiers’ narrative is all wrong in Texas.

Irony=dead –> Peter Maas notes that the NSA has an in-house advice columnist — and that one letter writer complained about being watched by his boss.

Threatening for action –> Chuck Schumer says Obama should stop deporting people who would be eligible for legalization under the Senate immigration bill if the House fails to act by September. Reid Epstein reports for Politico.

Probably not kosher –> Oscar Mayer has invented an iPhone app that — with the help of an external device — wakes you up with the sounds and smell of frying bacon.

Morning Reads: The Plutocrats’ Civil War; Big Oil Lobbying for Disaster

Good morning! Here are some of the stories we’re reading on another chilly day in NYC…

Kremlin Network News –> An American anchor for Russia Today resigned on-air in protest of the network’s Ukraine coverage. James Kirchick has her story at The Daily Beast.

“Clean” coal –> Spencer Woodman reports for Salon that the head of North Carolina’s Environmental Protection Agency is a former businessman — and a fierce anti-environmentalist and climate change denier — whose agency blocked multiple lawsuits against Duke Energy for its handling of coal ash. ALSO: Alpha Natural Resources, one of the countries largest coal companies, will pay a record fine for polluting waterways in five Appalachian states, reports Dina Capiello for the AP. Alpha acquired Massey Energy in 2011, and more than half of the violations came from that company’s operations.

Plutocrats’ civil war –> Dave Levinthal reports for the Center for Public Integrity that the GOP’s “civil war” is actually a battle between deep-pocketed super PACS. ALSO: Slate’s Dave Weigel writes that those Texas tea party challenges were all about fundraising.

Not your father’s Pope –> Francis didn’t go as far as endorsing civil unions for gays and lesbians, but he came closer than anyone could have imagined. Catherine Thompson reports for TPM.

Can’t have civil rights defenders defending civil rights –> In a minor debacle for the administration, Obama’s nominee to head the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division was rejected by the Senate — with seven Democrats joining in — as a result of arguing that accused cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death penalty hearing was tainted. Ian Millhiser has the details for ThinkProgress.

That’s some democracy –> Rep. Darrell Issa cut off Democrats’ microphones during a hearing on the IRS’ scrutinizing “social welfare” organizations. WaPo columnist Dana Milbank calls him out.

Lobbying for disaster –> A report released this week projects that if Big Oil gets its way and kills decades-old regulations on crude oil exports, it would release the equivalent of four billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Lauren McCauley reports for Common Dreams.

Good times for some –> The headline on Julie Creswell’s NYT report says it all: “For Rich, ’13 Was Good for Making, and Spending, Money.”

But not for others –> Katherine Peralta reports for Bloomberg that college grads are increasingly being forced to take low-wage jobs, and it’s pushing out people with less education.

Small victories –> TNR’s Alec MacGillis calls the decision by Facebook and Instagram to crack down on illegal gun sales a “small but auspicious” victory for gun safety advocates.

We need a raise –> Eric Morath reports for the WSJ that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would save the government $4.6 billion in food stamps, according to a new study by the Center for American Progress.

They just want some dignity –> Chinese workers at a factory that was recently sold by IBM are striking, part of a growing trend in China as labor shortages give workers new confidence to flex some muscle. Keith Bradsher reports for the NYT.

Facts are hard –> At MoJo, Chris Mooney offers five obviously false beliefs that have become unimpeachable “facts” for far too many Americans.

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