Daily Archive: 07/07/2011

Jul 07 2011

Barack Obama is the Death of the Democratic Party

And Democracy as defined in the United States Constitution itself.

The Breaking Point

By: Jane Hamsher, Firedog Lake

Thursday July 7, 2011 12:46 pm

What we’re watching is the death of the Democratic Party.  Or, at least the Democratic Party as most of us have known it.  The one that has taken its identity in the modern era from FDR and the New Deal, from Keynsianism and the social safety net.  Despite any of its other shortcomings (and they are myriad), the Democratic Party has stood as a symbol for commitment to these principles.   As recently as 2006, Democrats took over the House in a surprise wave election because the public feared that George Bush would destroy Social Security, and they trusted the Democrats over Republicans to secure it.  Just like George Bush, Obama now wants to “save” Social Security….by giving those who want to burn it to the ground the the very thing they’ve wanted for decades.

Any member of any party who participates in this effort does not deserve, and should not get, the support of anyone who values Social Security and cares about its preservation.  The amount of damage that the Democrats under Obama have been able to do has been immeasurable, by virtue of the fact that they are less awful that George Bush.  But where George Bush failed, Obama will probably succeed.

Which means we’re watching another casualty here:  Democracy.  Or at least, the illusion that we live in a democratic society.  The public, regardless of party,  overwhelmingly opposes cuts to Social Security and Medicare. But elected officials of both parties are hell-bent on conspiring to bring the programs to an end.  They seem to have come to grips with a fact that the public has not: their tenure in office depends on carrying out the wishes of oligarchical elites.

There is only one thing you can reasonably conclude as you watch the political theater that is transpiring:  what the voting public thinks really isn’t all that important.  And to the extent that it does matter, it can easily be channeled by those with sufficient money to pay the tab.  Samuel Johnson said that patriotism was the last refuge of scoundrels, but in our modern era, that honor goes to tribalism.  The list of horrors that people found intolerable when George Bush was in office, but are now blithely accepted because  “Sarah Palin would be worse,” grows longer every day.

We’ll fight this, because it’s the right thing to do.  We will probably lose. But we will make it as painful as possible for any politician from any party to participate in this wholesale looting of the public sphere, this “shock doctrine” for America.  And maybe along the way we’ll get a vision of what comes next.  Because what we believe in as Americans, and what we stand for, is not something the Democratic party represents any more.

Jul 07 2011

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: Washington Dysfunction: A Scorecard

Here’s why getting to a deal on the debt ceiling is so complicated.

   President Obama’s main goal is to get through this fight with the government still running and his support from the political center intact, even if this means substantial concessions to Republicans.

   House Republican leaders want to get by without inciting a revolt among right-wing tea partiers, which means they’re having trouble accepting Obama’s concessions.

   And the Senate-well, the Senate resembles the Balkans without a peacekeeping force. Poor Harry Reid. The Democratic leader’s caucus sprawls from ardent progressives to moderates from conservative states absolutely petrified of casting votes that might endanger their seats in 2012. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell senses that a GOP majority is just around the corner, and wouldn’t mind dragging this struggle out.

Robert Sheer: The Tea Party and Goldman Sachs: A Love Story

Face it. We live in two nations, sharply divided by an enormous economic chasm between the super-rich and everyone else. This should be an obvious fact of life for most Americans. Just read the story in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal headlined “Profits Thrive in Weak Recovery.” Or the recent New York Times story pointing out “that the median pay for top executives at 200 big companies last year was $10.8 million,” a 23 percent gain over the year before.

In the midst of a jobless recovery, those same corporations are sitting on more than $2 trillion in reserves, refusing to invest in this country, as increasing percentages of their profits are garnered in tax-sheltered operations abroad. And the bankers who caused the economic meltdown have turned against President Barack Obama, who saved them; instead they favor a tea-party-dominated Republican Party that seeks to limit any restraint on corporate greed while destroying the ability of state and federal governments to bring some measure of relief to ordinary folk.

New York Times Editorial: Fumbling Toward Default

An outright default by Greece on nearly a half-trillion dollars of outstanding debt obligations would be a catastrophe for Greece, for its European creditor banks and for financial institutions everywhere as credit-default swaps on Greek debt worked their way through the derivatives markets. It does not need to happen, but barring an unexpected show of European political and economic leadership, that outcome is becoming increasingly likely.

The latest chapter in the sorry saga was written over the past week. At the insistence of European political leaders, Greece’s governing Socialists voted to apply another dose of growth-killing austerity to the country’s nearly inert economy. Austerity measures in the past have done more harm than good, but threatened with a cutoff of needed European loans, the Socialists saw no other responsible course. (Opposition conservatives ignored European pressures and voted no.)

David Cay Johnston: A Cosmic Visitor’s Take on Taxes

It is a human tendency to assume the world we are born into is as it should be — a Panglossian assumption that colors our understanding of the abstract, like tax policy.

To get grounded in what is, without assuming it is natural, let’s try a thought experiment. Imagine you are a researcher from a distant planet, part of a team sent to stealthily observe and report your findings. Telemetry has revealed the watery and volcanic nature of our planet, so you focus on the organized activities of Earth’s top sentients. Your protocol requires you to identify the biggest common enterprises first and then work your way down.

So what would lead your report? What is the biggest human enterprise? Industry? Digital activity? Military? Healthcare? Food production? No, the biggest enterprise, by far, is tax.

Nicholas D. Kristoff: Taxes and Billionaires

The House speaker, John Boehner, suggests that the Republican threat of letting the United States default on its debts is driven by concern for jobs for ordinary Americans.

“We cannot miss this opportunity,” he told Fox News. “If we want jobs to come to America, we’ve got to give American businesspeople the confidence to invest in our economy.”

So take a look at one of the tax loopholes that Congressional Republicans are refusing to close – even if the cost is that America’s credit rating blows up. This loophole has nothing to do with creating jobs and everything to do with protecting some of America’s wealthiest financiers.

David Sirota: Progressives Were Right: Obama’s Health Plan Not Solving Crisis

New Data Show Why Simply Having Insurance Isn’t Enough

 While the contest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination is already revolving around conservative-themed attacks on “Obamacare,” back when the healthcare bill was being legislated, the most important debate was within the Democratic Party, which held large majorities in both houses of Congress. On one side were the drug companies, the insurance companies and President Obama — the latter who had not only disowned his prior support of single-payer healthcare but had also worked with his corporate allies to actively undermine a modest public insurance option. On the other side were progressives who opposed any bill which further cemented the private insurance industry as the primary mediator between doctors and patients.

Ultimately, Obama and his corporate-backed allies organized enough conservative Democrats in Congress to win, effectively turning healthcare “reform” into a blank-check TARP-style bailout for the health industry. But, of course, to even whisper that last truism is to now run the risk of being labeled a blasphemer in a conversation that can only tolerate misleading red-versus-blue analyses. In today’s national political debate, there are Republicans who insist “Obamacare” is a Canadian-style “takeover” of America’s healthcare system, and there are Democrats who insist that the health bill is a major Medicare-like achievement — any other argument, no matter how valid, has been vaporized by election-season pressure to fall in ideological line

Jim Hightower: Massey Energy’s Manmade Hellhole

In March of last year, Massey Energy Corp.’s official record book for recording unsafe conditions in its Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia said flatly: “none observed.” It turns out that this was a flat-out lie. Just one month later, Upper Big Branch exploded, killing 29 miners and devastating their families.

Massey’s in-house “observers” had indeed found safety problems – as they often did in this shoddily run, notoriously dangerous mine. But the corporation kept a dual set of books in order to mislead state and federal safety regulators.

The official record book, which Massey and all other coal giants are required to keep for review by government inspectors, is filled with such rosy reports as “none observed.” But the true dangers at Upper Big Branch and other Massey mines have been secretly recorded in a set of internal books that executives kept sealed in the corporate closet.

Jul 07 2011

9th Circuit Court Orders Military To Stop Enforcing DADT

Court Rules Against Ban on Gays in the Military

The government must stop enforcing the law that prohibits openly gay men, lesbians and bisexuals from serving in the military, a federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a two-page order against the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” in a case brought by the group Log Cabin Republicans.

In 2010, a federal judge in California, Virginia A. Phillips, ruled that the law was unconstitutional and ordered the government to stop enforcing it. That decision was appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which issued a stay allowing the government to continue enforcing the policy as it made its way through the courts.

Congress repealed the policy last year, but called for a lengthy process of preparation, training and certification, still under way, before ending it. While the government has significantly narrowed enforcement, some discharges continued. And while the Obama administration had advocated the Congressional repeal, it had asked the court to keep the stay in place until the policy could be ended in an orderly fashion.

This is very welcome news. Joe Sudbay at AMERICAblog Gay gives the best explanation of what this ruling means:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay of the District Court’s injunction against enforcing DADT. When DADT was found unconstitutional in the Log Cabin case last October, the District Court judge issued an injunction against its enforcement. And, Judge Phillips refused to grant a stay pending appeal. Despite numerous requests (including 21 U.S. Senators) that the Department of Justice not appeal this decision, DOJ did. DOJ also immediately went to the Ninth Circuit asking for a stay pending appeal, which was granted. Today, the Ninth Circuit lifted that stay, meaning DADT can’t be enforced anywhere in the world.

It is still not safe for gays in the military to reveal themselves. Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, deocrated US Air Force fighter pilot, appeared with Rachel Maddow to discuss the aspects of this latest ruling

Jul 07 2011

Closing The Tax Loop Hole For Gamblers

The only people who are against taxing the rich and closing the tax loopholes are those whose pockets they line. The Republicans and blue dog Democrats are more concerned about protecting their wealthy donors than the people they represent. It is a blatant lie that the majority of Americans are opposed to tax increases for those making over $250,000 and closing tax loop holes for the Wall St. gamblers who help to keep the price of commodities, like oil, inflated.

Closing The Hedge Fund Manager Tax Loophole Would Raise $4 Billion Annually From The 25 Richest Managers

One of the tax breaks upon which President Obama has focused is a provision that allows hedge fund managers – who make billions annually – to receive a substantial tax break. This particular tax break, known as the carried-interest loophole, allows hedge fund managers to treat the money they receive from investors as capital gains, subject to a 15 percent tax rate. Though this money is a paycheck received for services, just like a movie star receiving a bonus if her movie does well, it’s treated as investment income.

Since hedge fund managers are some of the richest people in the country, this tax break actually causes a significant loss of revenue. In fact, according to calculation by RJ Eskow, closing this loophole would raise more than $4 billion per year just from the 25 richest hedge fund managers:

   The top 25 hedge fund managers in the United States collectively earned $22 billion last year, and yet they have their own cushy set of tax rules. If they operated under the same rules that apply to other people – police officers, for example, or teachers – the country could cut its national deficit by as much as $44 billion in the next ten years.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI): Senate Floor Speech on Carried Interest and Offshore Tax Havens

Now just one example of the kind of tax breaks and tax loopholes we Democrats seek to change is the unconscionable tax break given to hedge-fund managers. Hedge fund managers generally make their money by charging their clients two fees.  First, the manager receives a management fee, typically equal to two percent of the assets invested.  Second, the manager typically receives 20 percent of the income from those investments above a certain level. This 20 percent share of the investment returns from hedge funds is known as carried interest.  Under current law, most hedge fund managers claim that this carried interest qualifies as a long-term capital gain, currently subject to a maximum tax rate of 15 percent, rather than being taxed as ordinary income, currently subject to a maximum tax rate of 35 percent.

But a moment’s analysis shows that this money is ordinary income by any fair definition and should be treated that way. The 20 percent fee is not capital gains, because it applies not to capital that the hedge-fund manager has invested, but to the payment he receives for investing capital that other people provide.  Pretending that the 20 percent fee is capital gains when in fact it is payment for a service is an Alice-in-Wonderland argument that elevates fiction over fact.

Now we Democrats seek to end this fiction. We are ready to call carried interest what it is – ordinary taxable income. Recognizing carried interest for what it is would increase tax fairness for working Americans who pay their share, and their fair share of taxes. They have the right to expect the wealthy to do the same. And it would reduce the deficit if we did this by an estimated $21 billion over the next 10 years.

And then we have Ben Nelson (D?-NE), whose primary concern is Ben Nelson:

David Dayen: Ben Nelson Wants Spending Cuts Primary in Debt Limit Deal

One of the reasons why Democrats are going to lose this debt limit fight in a big way is that they have no consistent position across their membership. Republicans know exactly what they want – no taxes – and every one of their members agrees with that assessment. By contrast, Democrats have people like Ben Nelson looking out for themselves:

   Sen. Ben Nelson, one of the more conservative Democrats in the chamber, has said that a deficit-reduction deal should focus on reducing spending, and not finding new revenues.

   The Nebraska Democrat also said in a Wednesday statement that he thought a significant plan to roll back deficits would not necessarily have to take aim at entitlement programs.

   “I want to see a broad and serious package of spending cuts,” Nelson said. “And we can cut trillions of dollars of spending without attacking Medicare and Social Security. But if we start with plans to raise taxes, pretty soon spending cuts will fall by the wayside.”

This is just ridiculous if you look at what’s actually being proposed. The Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security cuts that have been put on the table dwarf the revenue increases through closure of tax loopholes by a 2:1 margin. And that’s without even taking into account the agreed-to cuts in mandatory and discretionary spending. You’re looking at a 6-1, minimum, ratio. But if we don’t give a tax break for corporate jet owners and force hedge fund managers to report their income as income and not capital gains, “spending cuts will fall by the wayside.” This is nonsense.

How many of the 25 top hedge fund managers live in Nebraska? How many Lear jets do Nebraskans own? How many Nebraskans rely on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security Benefits? I don’t see any reason for Nebraskans to send this corporate puppet back to the Senate for another 6 years.

The best analogy of this entire stand off came from Miles Mogulescu:

Republicans and Obama are Like Thelma and Louise Racing Toward the Cliff

The Republicans are a bit like Thelma, her foot flooring the gas pedal as the global economy hurtles towards the precipice of the Grand Canyon, while Obama is a bit like Louise, her passivity effectively giving Thelma permission to drive off the cliff. Or maybe the movie is Rebel Without a Cause with the Republicans’ James Dean engaging in a miscalculated game of chicken and Obama’s Sal Mineo being killed by police gunfire after all the bullets have been removed from his own gun. Or maybe it’s The Guns of August as the Germans and Western allies inadvertently, but inexorably, hurtle towards World War in the summer of 1914.

Pick your metaphor, but any way you look at it, America’s political leaders are flirting with disaster, risking the first debt default in American history which would likely drag the American — indeed the global — economy into a new recession or even a depression and could dwarf the economic crisis of 2008.

The Republicans are acting as the aggressors, but Obama is acting as the enabler.

Damn those torpedoes. Full speed ahead to the cliff.

Jul 07 2011

Le Tour 2011- Stage 6

Dinan to Lisieux 141 miles

Le.  Tour.  De.  France.

Flaming chunks of twisted metal!

So the day started out with flats and evolved into crashes of which Contador had 2.  Withdrawals doubled, Janez Brajkovic of Radio Shack and Christophe Kern of Europcar got added to Jurgen Van de Walle of Omega Pharma (Stage 4).  Brajkovic was involved in Contador’s second crash.

The announcing team was pretty close in their predictions with Cavendish barely edging Gilbert and Rojas.  Cavendish complains that the new rules make it “harder to have a proper bunch sprint.”  What I’ve noticed is that there are fewer break aways.

When there were multiple sprint checkpoints you’d have a leadout group of sprinters form for each one and then swiftly collapse back into the Peloton.  Now we’re getting 4 or 5 riders out there all day long.

In the GC we have Hushovd in yellow again hanging on to his single Second lead with Evans and Schleck (Frank) close behind.  Other likelies Schleck (Andy), Horner, and Liepheimer are in 10th, 13th, and 14th a little less than 18 Seconds back.  Contador is still at 1:42 but has advanced to 39th rank.  I can’t help but feel that margin has to increase a lot before the Pyrenees if he’s going down.

Dinan to Lisieux at 141 miles is the longest individual Stage this year and is not exactly Kansas flat with 2 category 3s and a category 4 climb.  An uphill finish is expected to favor the same contenders as yesterday.

It’s already started and will be about 2 hours in when the coverage on Vs. comes on at 8 am.

Jul 07 2011

On This Day In History July 7

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge.

July 7 is the 188th day of the year (189th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 177 days remaining until the end of the year.

The terms 7th July, July 7th, and 7/7 (pronounced “Seven-seven”) have been widely used in the Western media as a shorthand for the 7 July 2005 bombings on London’s transport system. In China, this term is used to denote the Battle of Lugou Bridge started on July 7, 1937, marking the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

On this day in 1898, U.S. President William McKinley signs the Newlands Resolution annexing Hawaii as a territory of the United States.

In 1898 President of the United States William McKinley signed the treaty of annexation for Hawaii, but it failed in the senate after the 38,000 signatures of the Ku’e Petitions were submitted. After the failure Hawaii was annexed by means of joint resolution called the Newlands Resolution.

The Territory of Hawaii, or Hawaii Territory, was a United States organized incorporated territory that existed from July 7, 1898, until August 21, 1959, when its territory, with the exception of Johnston Atoll, was admitted to the Union as the fiftieth U.S. state, the State of Hawaii.

The U.S. Congress passed the Newlands Resolution which annexed the former Kingdom of Hawaii and later Republic of Hawaii to the United States. Hawaii’s territorial history includes a period from 1941 to 1944 – during World War II – when the islands were placed under martial law. Civilian government was dissolved and a military governor was appointed.

Newlands Resolution of 1898

On 7 July 1898, McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution (named after Congressman Francis Newlands) which officially annexed Hawaii to the United States. A formal ceremony was held on the steps of ‘Iolani Palace where the Hawaiian flag was lowered and the American flag raised. Dole was appointed Hawaii’s first territorial governor.

The Newlands Resolution said, “Whereas, the Government of the Republic of Hawaii having, in due form, signified its consent, in the manner provided by its constitution, to cede absolutely and without reserve to the United States of America, all rights of sovereignty of whatsoever kind in and over the Hawaiian Islands and their dependencies, and also to cede and transfer to the United States, the absolute fee and ownership of all public, Government, or Crown lands, public buildings or edifices, ports, harbors, military equipment, and all other public property of every kind and description belonging to the Government of the Hawaiian Islands, together with every right and appurtenance thereunto appertaining: Therefore, Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That said cession is accepted, ratified, and confirmed, and that the said Hawaiian Islands and their dependencies be, and they are hereby, annexed as a part of the territory of the United States and are subject to the sovereign dominion thereof, and that all and singular the property and rights hereinbefore mentioned are vested in the United States of America.”

The Newlands Resolution established a five-member commission to study which laws were needed in Hawaii. The commission included: Territorial Governor Sanford B. Dole (R-Hawaii Territory), Senators Shelby M. Cullom (R-IL) and John T. Morgan (D-AL), Representative Robert R. Hitt (R-IL) and former Hawaii Chief Justice and later Territorial Governor Walter F. Frear (R-Hawaii Territory). The commission’s final report was submitted to Congress for a debate which lasted over a year. Congress raised objections that establishing an elected territorial government in Hawaii would lead to the admission of a state with a non-white majority.

Jul 07 2011

Fireflies

“F-f-f-f-f-f-f-fire!” – Beavis

I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I’ve been mostly impervious to the wonders of the natural world though I believe I have mentioned that it takes only some disappearing clouds and a bench to amuse me for hours.

Fireflies are a phenomena I knew only in the abstract until fairly recently.  I had never seen any.

And it wasn’t some sort of great paradigm shifting universe changing moment either.  I was walking to my car and I looked across the field where I was parked and saw lights moving around and then winking out and after a few moments of brain churning I snapped my fingers and said (audibly and to myself because I’m not at all worried people will think I’m crazy, I know it’s true), “Dang, those are Fireflies.  So that’s what they look like.”

Ok, so maybe I didn’t use the ‘dang’ word.

Now like ear worms they turn up all over and moments ago I had one dangle in six inches in front of my nose until I finally had to shoo them away because I don’t much like bugs.

I’m not sure this story has much of a point except to remind myself that as Yogi (Berra) says- “You can see a lot just by observing.”

And now for some pic-a-nic baskets Boo-Boo.

Jul 07 2011

My Little Town 20110706: More Forgotten Things

A couple of weeks ago I posted in this space a piece about things that are no longer available or are quite different now.  I intend to continue this tonight with another slew of products that are either gone, or that the adverts are gone, or are quite changed.

Let us take for example a simple item like coffee.  My family were always Folger’s drinkers, so I shall use that as the example.  When I was a kid, there was only kind of blend and only one roast.  However, it came in three degrees of fineness (“grinds”):  regular, fine, and drip in decreasing order of particle size.  Ma was stingy, so she always used drip grind on the theory, correct by the way, that it was more extractable.  The problem was that she used a percolator, so the very fine particles would make the coffee cloudy.

Today, there are over a dozen variations of blends, roasts, and flavors for just this one brand!  However, you NEVER see any mention of grind!  Things change a lot.

Jul 07 2011

Countdown with Keith Olbermann

If you do not get Current TV you can watch Keith here:

Watch live video from CURRENT TV LIVE Countdown Olbermann on www.justin.tv