Daily Archive: 07/23/2012

Jul 23 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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Loading the Climate Dice

A couple of weeks ago the Northeast was in the grip of a severe heat wave. As I write this, however, it’s a fairly cool day in New Jersey, considering that it’s late July. Weather is like that; it fluctuates.

And this banal observation may be what dooms us to climate catastrophe, in two ways. On one side, the variability of temperatures from day to day and year to year makes it easy to miss, ignore or obscure the longer-term upward trend. On the other, even a fairly modest rise in average temperatures translates into a much higher frequency of extreme events – like the devastating drought now gripping America’s heartland – that do vast damage.

New York Times Editorial: A Spiteful New Policy at Guantánamo Bay

The Obama administration’s latest overuse of executive authority at Guantánamo Bay is a decision not to let lawyers visit clients in detention under terms that have been in place since 2004. Because these meetings pose little risk and would send a message about America’s adherence to the rule of law, the administration looks as if it is imperiously punishing detainees for their temerity in bringing legal challenges to their detention and losing.

In one case, the administration is saying that the Yemeni national Yasin Qasem Muhammad Ismail no longer has the right to meet with his counsel, David Remes, because his plea to be released was “terminated.” The Justice Department will only let them meet, it said in an e-mail to Mr. Remes, if he signs a new memorandum giving the government what Mr. Remes calls “absolute authority over access to counsel.”

Robert Kuttner: The Fiscal Cliff and the Political Chasm

For more than a decade, deficit hawks and their allies in the media have been promoting a grand bargain whereby Republicans agree to tax hikes and Democrats agree to cut social programs like Social Security and Medicare. That, in turn, will put the deficit on a downward path and presumably restore economic growth.

The trouble with this premise is that the current deficit is mainly the result of the recession itself plus the Bush tax cuts and military spending increases. It has nothing to do with Social Security; the projected increases in Medicare spending are only the result of failure to tackle deeper health care reform.

The idea that smaller deficits will somehow increase growth (Paul Krugman’s “confidence fairy”) has the economics backwards. Deficits will fall when growth is restored, not vice versa; and fiscal contraction will reduce growth.

Jim Hightower: Let’s Consider the GOP’s Health Care Plan

Here’s some useful advice from an old country saying: Never try to teach table manners to a pig – it doesn’t work, it’ll wear you out, and it just annoys the pig.

The same advice goes for anyone who thinks they can teach even a bit of common sense to the preening political ideologues who’ve taken over the Republican Party and the U.S. House of Representatives. As we’ve seen in their incessant, pigheaded attacks on the health care reform law, their minds are not merely fogged up with extremist anti-government theories, they’re impervious to rational thought. [..]

Their greatest failure, however, is that they offer no alternative to Obamacare. During the debate on their latest attempt to repeal the law, a Democratic lawmaker asked for a copy of the GOP’s health care plan so he could read it aloud to other members. Silence in the chamber.

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship: The NRA Has America Living under the Gun

You might think Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of and spokesman for the mighty American gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, has an almost cosmic sense of timing. In 2007, at the NRA’s annual convention in St. Louis, he warned the crowd that, “Today, there is not one firearm owner whose freedom is secure.” Two days later, a young man opened fire on the campus of Virginia Tech, killing 32 students, staff and teachers. [..]

Maybe you remember a video you can still see on YouTube. In it, Adam Gadahn, an American born member of al Qaeda, the first US citizen charged with treason since 1952, urges terrorists to carry out attacks on the United States.  Right before your eyes he says, “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check, and most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

The gunman in Colorado waited only for his opportunity. So there you have it – the arsenal of democracy has been transformed into the arsenal of death. And the NRA? The NRA is the enabler of death — paranoid, delusional and as venomous as a scorpion. With the weak-kneed acquiescence of our politicians, the National Rifle Association has turned the Second Amendment of the Constitution into a cruel and deadly hoax.

Gar Alperovitz: Wall Street Is Too Big to Regulate

THE Barclays interest-rate scandal, HSBC’s openness to money laundering by Mexican drug traffickers, the epic blunders at JPMorgan Chase – at this point, four years after Wall Street wrecked the global economy, does anyone really believe we can regulate the big banks? And if we broke them up, would they really stay broken up?

Most liberals in Washington – President Obama included – keep hoping the banks can be more tightly controlled but otherwise left as is. That’s the theory behind the two-year-old Dodd-Frank law, which Republicans and Wall Street are still working to eviscerate.

Some economists in and around the University of Chicago, who founded the modern conservative tradition, had a surprisingly different take: When it comes to the really big fish in the economic pond, some felt, the only way to preserve competition was to nationalize the largest ones, which defied regulation.

Jul 23 2012

On This Day In History July 23

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 23 is the 204th day of the year (205th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 161 days remaining until the end of the year.

THE GREAT COMET OF 1997. Above, the bright head of comet Hale-Bopp, called the coma, is pointed towards the Sun. The coma is composed of dust and gas, masking the solid nucleus of the comet made up of rock, dust and ice. Photo taken by Jim Young at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories Table Mountain Observatory in March 1997.

The comet was discovered in 1995 by two independent observers, Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp, both in the United States. Hale had spent many hundreds of hours searching for comets without success, and was tracking known comets from his driveway in New Mexico when he chanced upon Hale-Bopp just after midnight. The comet had an apparent magnitude of 10.5 and lay near the globular cluster M70 in the constellation of Sagittarius. Hale first established that there was no other deep-sky object  near M70, and then consulted a directory of known comets, finding that none were known to be in this area of the sky. Once he had established that the object was moving relative to the background stars, he emailed the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, the clearing house for astronomical discoveries.

Bopp did not own a telescope. He was out with friends near Stanfield, Arizona observing star clusters and galaxies when he chanced across the comet while at the eyepiece of his friend’s telescope. He realized he might have spotted something new when, like Hale, he checked his star maps to determine if any other deep-sky objects were known to be near M70, and found that there were none. He alerted the Central Bureau of Astronomical Telegrams through a Western Union telegram. Brian Marsden, who has run the bureau since 1968, laughed, “Nobody sends telegrams anymore. I mean, by the time that telegram got here, Alan Hale had already e-mailed us three times with updated coordinates.”

The following morning, it was confirmed that this was a new comet, and it was named Comet Hale-Bopp, with the designation C/1995 O1. The discovery was announced in International Astronomical Union circular 6187.

Jul 23 2012

Undertakers

Small Business Owners, Job Creators.

Randy Wray: Why We’re Screwed

L. Randall Wray, Naked Capitalism

Monday, July 23, 2012

A century ago Veblen analyzed religion as the quintessential capitalist undertaking. It sells an inherently ephemeral product that can not be quality tested. Most of the value of that product exists only in the minds of the purchasers, and most of that value cannot be realized until death. Dissatisfied customers cannot return the purchased wares to the undertakers who sold them-there is no explicit money back guarantee and in any event, most of the dissatisfied have already been undertaken. The value of the undertaker’s institution is similarly ephemeral, mostly determined by “goodwill”. Aside from a fancy building, very little in the way of productive facilities is actually required by the religious undertaker.

But modern finance has replaced religion as the supreme capitalistic undertaking. Again, it has no need for production facilities-a fancy building, a few Bloomberg screens, greasy snake-oil salesmen, and some rapacious traders is all that is required to separate widows and orphans from their lifesavings and homes. Religious institutions only want 10%; Wall Street currently gets 20% of all the nation’s output (and 40% of profits), but won’t stop until it gets everything.



And that is just the start. They also place tens of trillions of dollars of bets on derivatives whose value is purely “notional”. The thieves get paid when something goes wrong-the death of a homeowner, worker, firm, or country triggers payments on Death Settlements, Peasant Insurance, or Credit Default Swaps. To ensure that death comes sooner rather than later, the undertaker works with the likes of John Paulson to handpick the most sickly households, firms and governments to stand behind the derivative bets.



The top four US Banks hold $171 Trillion worth of derivative deals like this. Derivatives are really just bets by Wall Street that we will get screwed-it is all “insurance” that pays off when we fail. Everything is insured-by them against us.



You see, all the top financial institutions are dens of thieves, and thieves know better than to trust one another. So lending to fellow thieves has to be collateralized by safe financial assets-which is the traditional role played by Treasuries. But there were not enough of those to go around so Wall Street securitized home mortgages that were sliced and diced to get tranches that were supposedly as safe as Uncle Sam’s bonds. And there were not enough quality mortgages, so Wall Street foisted mortgages and home equity loans onto riskier borrowers to create more product.



Suddenly there was no collateral behind the loans Wall Street’s thieves had made to one another. Each Wall Street thief looked in the mirror and realized everything he was holding was crap, because he knew all of his own debt was crap.



And that is why we are screwed.

I see two scenarios playing out. In the first, we allow Wall Street to carry on its merry way, as the foreclosure crisis continues and Wall Street steals all homes, packaging them into bundles to be sold for pennies on the dollar to hedge funds. All wealth will be redistributed to the top 1% who will become modern day feudal lords with the other 99% living at their pleasure on huge feudal estates.



In the second, the 99% occupy, shut down, and obliterate Wall Street.

Jul 23 2012

Pique the Geek 20120722: More on Carbon

Last time we started our series on carbon, and I now expect it to run for four installments.  Amongst many other properties, carbon is unique in having more allotropic forms than any other element.  Also known as allotropes, these are pure elements with radically different properties.  The term is reserved only for elements, the term for compounds being polymorphs.  An allotrope is a subset of a polymorph.

There is also another distinction:  for an element to have an allotrope, it must exist in the same phase.  Thus, solid lead and molten lead (and lead vapor) are not allotropes, but rather different phases of a given element.

Before we concentrate on carbon, let us consider oxygen.  In the gaseous phase, it has two allotropes, O2, normal molecular oxygen, and O3, also called ozone.  For an element as reactive as oxygen, normal molecular oxygen is remarkably nonreactive (wait a few weeks), but ozone is extremely reactive.  But both are just composed of oxygen atoms.

Jul 23 2012

Sunday Train: Trains, Buses, Bikes and Plan C

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

So, you’ve got Plan A. And in case something goes awry with Plan A, you’ve got your fallback plan, Plan B.

But what is the fit really hits the shan? What if all the assumptions that lie behind your planning turn out to be false. Things are far worse than ever contemplated in Plan A and Plan B? That’s when you turn to your Plan C, your Plan in case of Complete Catastrophe. In the event of a complete catastrophe, all of the polite fictions of the normal planning process go out the window. Which also means that Plan C is quite often the answer to, “Oh, now what do we do?, and the answer is, “Come up with something that will work ”

So, we have a crisis. A serious crisis, affecting our current transport system, which means a crisis that at the very least interferes with our supply of gasoline. But we have the Petroleum Reserve, so … assume its not a temporary emergency, but a crisis that threatens to last for years. Whether the Crisis hits next year or next decade, well, I don’t know that, do I? But suppose that its coming sometime in the next decade.

What would we face in coming up with something that will work?

Jul 23 2012

Mitt And His Fellow Vulture Capitalists See Venezuela As a Threat: It Is. by Justina

The likely Republican presidential candidate and quintessential vulture capitalist, Mitt Romney, chided President Obama for not being sufficiently fearful of Venezuela’s socialist president, Hugo Chávez Friás last week.  In the conservative Daily Telegraph Mitt is quoted as saying:

“The idea that this nation, this president, doesn’t pose a national security threat is simply naive and an extraordinary admission on the part of this president to be completely out of touch with what is happening in Latin America,” Romney said of Chavez in an  interview Wednesday with Fox News.

.

Yes, socialist Venezuela, the country which was recently ranked the 5th happiest in the world, following four social democratic countries, presents a threat to Mitt’s vulture business model and his support base, who largely come from the 92,000 wealthy individuals who sequester their wealth in “tax havens” such as Switzerland the Cayman Islands. (See rt. com  for its report on “The Price of Off Shore Revisited”.

After President Chavez was elected to office in 1998, Venezuela has had currency controls in place to prevent its national wealth from being looted and sent to extra-territorial banks, a model which defeats the efforts of would-be off shore tax evaders in Venezuela.  Other countries have allowed themselves to be systematically raped of their needed tax revenues.

Venezuela also jailed its criminal banksters for speculating with their depositors money.  Here, Mitt, you would likely be in jail for creating tax-evading investment vehicles in the Cayman Islands.  No, socialist Venezuela, under President Chavez, is definitely not a vulture-capitalist friendly country.  That is why it is now thriving.