Daily Archive: 04/17/2012

Apr 17 2012

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”.

The New York Times Editorial: Embarrassed by Bad Laws

A year ago, few people outside the world of state legislatures had heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a four-decade-old organization run by right-wing activists and financed by business leaders. The group writes prototypes of state laws to promote corporate and conservative interests and spreads them from one state capital to another.

The council, known as ALEC, has since become better known, with news organizations alerting the public to the damage it has caused: voter ID laws that marginalize minorities and the elderly, antiunion bills that hurt the middle class and the dismantling of protective environmental regulations.

Joe Nocera: Turning the Tables on Russia

Who knew that what corrupt Russian officials care about, more than just about anything, is getting their assets – and themselves – out of their own country? They own homes in St. Tropez, fly to Miami for vacation and set up bank accounts in Switzerland. They understand the importance of stashing their money someplace where the rule of law matters, which is most certainly not Russia. Besides, getting out of Russia is one of the pleasures of being a corrupt Russian official.

As it turns out, a man named William Browder knows this. As does Senator Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland. As do plenty of other senators, on both sides of the aisle.

Chris Hedges: First They Come for the Muslims

Tarek Mehanna, a U.S. citizen, was sentenced Thursday in Worcester, Mass., to 17½ years in prison. It was another of the tawdry show trials held against Muslim activists since 9/11 as a result of the government’s criminalization of what people say and believe. These trials, where secrecy rules permit federal lawyers to prosecute people on “evidence” the defendants are not allowed to examine, are the harbinger of a corporate totalitarian state in which any form of dissent can be declared illegal. What the government did to Mehanna, and what it has done to hundreds of other innocent Muslims in this country over the last decade, it will eventually do to the rest of us.

Eugene Robinson: Which Mitt will we get?

It’s all over but the shouting – or, in this case, the polite applause: Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican presidential nominee. But which Mitt Romney? Will it be Mitt One or Mitt Two?

This is not an inconsequential question. Mitt One is a fiscally conservative, socially moderate, Wall Street-style Republican who believes in compromise to get things done. Mitt Two is a far-right zealot who accuses Democrats of trying to impose godless socialism and claims that what hangs in the balance this fall is nothing less than liberty itself.

We’ve seen a lot of Mitt Two during the primary campaign. Competing against Rick Santorum, a genuine far-right zealot, and Newt Gingrich, a master of rhetorical excess, Romney strove mightily to convince the GOP’s activist base that he could be every bit as doctrinaire as his opponents.

Chase Madar: What the Laws of War Allow

Anyone who would like to witness a vivid example of modern warfare that adheres to the laws of war-that corpus of regulations developed painstakingly over centuries by jurists, humanitarians, and soldiers, a body of rules that is now an essential, institutionalized part of the U.S. armed forces and indeed all modern militaries-should simply click here and watch the video.

Wait a minute: that’s the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” video!  The gunsight view of an Apache helicopter opening fire from half a mile high on a crowd of Iraqis-a few armed men, but mostly unarmed civilians, including a couple of Reuters employees-as they unsuspectingly walked the streets of a Baghdad suburb one July day in 2007.

Frank Bruni: … And Love Handles for All

What if we have it backward? What if the 310-pound man trying to jam into the middle seat and the 225-pound woman breaking into a sweat only halfway up the stairs aren’t the undisciplined miscreants of modern American life but the very emblems of it?

What if fatness, even obesity, is less a lurking danger than a likely destiny, and the surprise isn’t how many seriously overweight people are out there but how few?

Apr 17 2012

On This Day In History April 18

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.

April 18 is the 108th day of the year (109th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 257 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1775, British troops march out of Boston on a mission to confiscate the American arsenal at Concord and to capture Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, known to be hiding at Lexington. As the British departed, Boston Patriots Paul Revere and William Dawes set out on horseback from the city to warn Adams and Hancock and rouse the Minutemen.

By 1775, tensions between the American colonies and the British government had approached the breaking point, especially in Massachusetts, where Patriot leaders formed a shadow revolutionary government and trained militias to prepare for armed conflict with the British troops occupying Boston. In the spring of 1775, General Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, received instructions from Great Britain to seize all stores of weapons and gunpowder accessible to the American insurgents. On April 18, he ordered British troops to march against Concord and Lexington.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

On the night of April 18-19, 1775, just hours before the battles of Lexington and Concord, Revere performed his “Midnight Ride”. He and William Dawes were instructed by Dr. Joseph Warren to ride from Boston to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the movements of the British Army, which was beginning a march from Boston to Lexington, ostensibly to arrest Hancock and Adams and seize the weapons stores in Concord.

The British army (the King’s “regulars”) had been stationed in Boston since the ports were closed in the wake of the Boston Tea Party, and was under constant surveillance by Revere and other patriots as word began to spread that they were planning a move. On the night of April 18, 1775, the army began its move across the Charles River toward Lexington, and the Sons of Liberty immediately went into action. At about 11 pm, Revere was sent by Dr. Warren across the Charles River to Charlestown, on the opposite shore, where he could begin a ride to Lexington, while Dawes was sent the long way around, via the Boston Neck and the land route to Lexington.

In the days before April 18, Revere had instructed Robert Newman, the sexton of the Old North Church, to send a signal by lantern to alert colonists in Charlestown as to the movements of the troops when the information became known. In what is well known today by the phrase “one if by land, two if by sea”, one lantern in the steeple would signal the army’s choice of the land route, while two lanterns would signal the route “by water” across the Charles River. This was done to get the message through to Charlestown in the event that both Revere and Dawes were captured. Newman and Captain John Pulling momentarily held two lanterns in the Old North Church as Revere himself set out on his ride, to indicate that the British soldiers were in fact crossing the Charles River that night. Revere rode a horse lent to him by John Larkin, Deacon of the Old North Church.

There were other riders that night besides Dawes, including a woman, Sybil Ludington. The other men were Israel Bissel and  Samuel Prescott. a doctor who happened to be in Lexington “returning from a lady friend’s house at the awkward hour of 1 a.m.”

Apr 17 2012

On This Day In History April 17

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.

April 17 is the 107th day of the year (108th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 258 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1961, The Bay of Pigs invasion begins when a CIA-financed and -trained group of Cuban refugees lands in Cuba and attempts to topple the communist government of Fidel Castro. The attack was an utter failure.

Fidel Castro had been a concern to U.S. policymakers since he seized power in Cuba with a revolution in January 1959. Castro’s attacks on U.S. companies and interests in Cuba, his inflammatory anti-American rhetoric, and Cuba’s movement toward a closer relationship with the Soviet Union led U.S. officials to conclude that the Cuban leader was a threat to U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere. In March 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the CIA to train and arm a force of Cuban exiles for an armed attack on Cuba. John F. Kennedy inherited this program when he became president in 1961.

Political Background

On March 17, 1960, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a document prepared by the 5412 Committee (also known as the ‘Special Group’), at a meeting of the US National Security Council (NSC). The stated first objective of the plan began as follows:

   A PROGRAM OF COVERT ACTION AGAINST THE CASTRO REGIME

   1. Objective: The purpose of the program outlined herein is to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention.

The outline plan (code-named Operation Pluto) was organized by CIA Deputy Director for Plans Richard Mervin Bissell, Jr., under CIA Director Allen Dulles. Having experience in actions such as the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’etat, Dulles was confident that the CIA was capable of overthrowing the Cuban government as led by prime minister Fidel Castro since February 1959. The first detailed CIA plan proposed a ship-borne invasion at the old colonial city of Trinidad, Cuba, about 270 km (170 mi) south-east of Havana, at the foothills of the Escambray Mountains in Sancti Spiritus province. Trinidad had good port facilities, it was closer to many existing counter-revolutionary activities, it had an easily defensible beachhead, and it offered an escape route into the Escambray Mountains. When that plan was rejected by the State Department, the CIA went on to propose an alternative plan. On April 4, 1961, President Kennedy then approved the Bay of Pigs plan (also known as Operation Zapata), because it had an airfield that would not need to be extended to handle bomber operations, it was further away from large groups of civilians than the Trinidad plan, and it was less “noisy” militarily, which would make any future denial of direct US involvement more plausible. The invasion landing area was changed to beaches bordering the Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) in Las Villas Province, 150 km south-east of Havana, and east of the Zapata peninsula. The landings were to take place at Playa Giron (code-named Blue Beach), Playa Larga (code-named Red Beach), and Caleta Buena Inlet (code-named Green Beach).

In March 1961, the CIA helped Cuban exiles in Miami to create the Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC), chaired by Jose Miro Cardona, former Prime Minister of Cuba in January 1959. Cardona became the de facto leader-in-waiting of the intended post-invasion Cuban government.

Bay of Pigs: The Invasion

The first part of the plan was to destroy Castro’s tiny air force, making it impossible for his military to resist the invaders. On April 15, 1961, a group of Cuban exiles took off from Nicaragua in a squadron of American B-26 bombers, painted to look like stolen Cuban planes, and conducted a strike against Cuban airfields. However, it turned out that Castro and his advisers knew about the raid and had moved his planes out of harm’s way. Frustrated, Kennedy began to suspect that the plan the CIA had promised would be “both clandestine and successful” might in fact be “too large to be clandestine and too small to be successful.”

But it was too late to apply the brakes. On April 17, the Cuban exile brigade began its invasion at an isolated spot on the island’s southern shore known as the Bay of Pigs. Almost immediately, the invasion was a disaster. The CIA had wanted to keep it a secret for as long as possible, but a radio station on the beach (which the agency’s reconnaissance team had failed to spot) broadcast every detail of the operation to listeners across Cuba. Unexpected coral reefs sank some of the exiles’ ships as they pulled into shore. Backup paratroopers landed in the wrong place. Before long, Castro’s troops had pinned the invaders on the beach, and the exiles surrendered after less than a day of fighting; 114 were killed and over 1,100 were taken prisoner.

Bay of Pigs: The Aftermath

According to many historians, the CIA and the Cuban exile brigade believed that President Kennedy would eventually allow the American military to intervene in Cuba on their behalf. However, the president was resolute: As much as he did not want to “abandon Cuba to the communists,” he said, he would not start a fight that might end in World War III. His efforts to overthrow Castro never flagged-in November 1961, he approved Operation Mongoose, an espionage and sabotage campaign-but never went so far as to provoke an outright war. In 1962, the Cuban missile crisis inflamed American-Cuban-Soviet tensions even further.

Fidel Castro is still Cuba’s symbolic leader today, although his younger brother Raul (1931-) has taken over the presidency and serves as commander in chief of the armed forces.

Apr 17 2012

Technology for Fun, Profit and Total Control

Orwell may appear prescient when he imagined his telescreen that the government used as a means of social and political control, given that we now have the government routinely using devices like the cell phones for tracking citizens and tapping into everyone’s electronic communications to “hunt for terrorists” among us.  Recently we learned that the Department of Homeland Security monitors and analyzes social media including for online comments that “reflect adversely” on the federal government.  It seems that the government is so ambitious about collecting and analyzing information about us that the NSA is building an almost inconceivably large facility to store and mine Americans private communications.

It seems that every time a new communications technology becomes available, the government finds a compelling reason and a secret rationale to exploit it to monitor Americans.

That is why this new technology, pioneered by Google should really make you wonder how it will be used:

See what I mean?

Apr 17 2012

The Least Interesting Man in the World

Mitt Romney

Stay boring, my friends.

Apr 17 2012

Why The States Are So Broke

Not only do major corporations pay zero federal tax but they collect state taxes from workers and don’t turn them over to the state governments for years on the presumption that the corporations will keep and create jobs in those states. All perfectly legal and with the states’ blessing.

David Cay Johnston: Taxed by the boss

Across the United States more than 2,700 companies are collecting state income taxes from hundreds of thousands of workers – and are keeping the money with the states’ approval, says an eye-opening report published on Thursday.

The report from Good Jobs First, a nonprofit taxpayer watchdog organization funded by Ford, Surdna and other major foundations, identifies 16 states that let companies divert some or all of the state income taxes deducted from workers’ paychecks. None of the states requires notifying the workers, whose withholdings are treated as taxes they paid.

General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and AMC Theatres enjoy deals to keep state taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks, the report shows. Foreign companies also enjoy such arrangements, including Electrolux, Nissan, Toyota and a host of Canadian, Japanese and European banks, Good Jobs First says.

Why do state governments do this? Public records show that large companies often pay little or no state income tax in states where they have large operations, as this column has documented. Some companies get discounts on property, sales and other taxes. So how to provide even more subsidies without writing a check? Simple. Let corporations keep the state income taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks for up to 25 years.

Where Are Workers’ Taxes Actually Going? Report: State Withholding Taxes Increasingly Pay for Corporate Subsidies Rather than Public Services

Paying Taxes to the Boss traces the rise of 22 subsidy programs derived from personal income taxes (PIT) that together cost about $684 million a year. “These programs are justified in the name of job creation, but they often end up subsidizing companies to move existing jobs from one state to another. In other cases, they go to employers that threaten to move unless they get paid to stay put,” said Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and principal author of the report.

“We recommend that states seriously consider abolishing PIT-based subsidies. Short of that, we urge Truth in Taxation: that companies be required to disclose the details of how much money is going where on every pay stub of affected workers,”  LeRoy added. [..]

The programs work in various ways. Some allow employers to immediately retain (and never remit to the state) a large portion of the withholding taxes generated by designated new or retained workers. Some provide cash rebates or grants calculated the same way. Others provide credits against corporate income taxes or other business levies, with the value of those credits based on the withholding taxes of new or retained workers. (Some of these credits are cash-refundable if the credit exceeds the company’s tax liability.)  The share of withholding taxes diverted into subsidies can be as high as 100 percent (such as EDGE tax credits in Illinois and Indiana) and the duration can be as long as 25 years (such as Mississippi’s Withholding Rebates). Twelve programs divert 75 percent or more of withholding, and 18 do so for ten years or longer.

And then they cut programs for the poor and go begging to Federal government for “ear marks.”

Apr 17 2012

The Buffett Rule

Income equality in the United States continues to widen between the 99% and the 1%. It was one of the main issues that Occupy Wall St. brought to the forefront of the conversation on the economy and the phony concern over the deficit. One of the big issues is tax inequality, the poor and middle class pay a greater percentage of their income to the government than do the top earners. President Obama and the Congressional Democrats have proposed a minimum tax of 30 percent to individuals making more than a million dollars a year, called the Buffet Rule, after billionaire Warren Buffet who thinks that it is unfair that he pays less in taxes than his secretary. Although it has been pointed out that revenue generated from the increase would only minimally help reduce the deficit, it is wildly popular with 67% of Americans in support of its passage. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the votes in the Senate to even get to the floor for a vote. Even if it did it would never see the light of day in the intransigent House. We mustn’t tax the job creators who haven’t created jobs in the US for over a decade. We must continue to allow millionaires, like Romney, to give their children millions as a gift tax free, thanks to a tax loophole on “carried interest,” presumably one of the loopholes that would have been closed:

When the Romney campaign disclosed in December that the couple’s five sons had a $100 million trust fund, I suspected that, in setting up the fund, the Romneys used a tax strategy that allows some very rich people to avoid paying gift taxes. But it was impossible to know if this was the case without seeing their tax returns going back years. [..]

Reuters emailed the Romney campaign spokeswoman to ask how much the Romneys paid in gift taxes on assets put into the sons’ trust over the last 17 years. The spokeswoman, citing Brad Malt, the Romney family tax lawyer, answered: none.

The idea that someone could pay zero gift taxes on contributions to a $100 million trust fund may surprise people who have heard arguments that the wealthy are overburdened by gift and estate taxes. But the Romneys’ gift-tax avoidance strategy is perfectly legal.

A good discussion on whether Obama’s ‘Buffett Rule’ would bridge tax divide was had on MSNBC’s Up with Chis Hayes with University of Pennsylvania Wharton professor Betsey Stevenson, Reuters columnist David Cay Johnston, former Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va., and Demos Vice President Heather McGhee.

This bill had very little chance of passing and was in all reality merely a political gambit to make the Republicans look like they are out of touch with the average American voter. How well that will work this early in the campaign remains to be seen.