Daily Archive: 11/05/2012

Nov 05 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”.

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Paul Krugman: Sandy Versus Katrina

As Sandy barreled toward New Jersey, there were hopeful mutters on the right to the effect that it might become President Obama’s Katrina, with voters blaming him for the damage, and that this might matter on Tuesday. Sorry, guys: polls show overwhelming approval for Mr. Obama’s handling of the storm, and a significant rise in his overall favorability ratings.

And he deserves the bump. For the response to Sandy, like the success of the auto bailout, is a demonstration that Mr. Obama’s philosophy of government – which holds that the government can and should provide crucial aid in times of crisis – works. And conversely, the contrast between Sandy and Katrina demonstrates that leaders who hold government in contempt cannot provide that aid when it is needed.

New York Times Editorial; Desperate for Civility

What sounds like a tall order for Capitol Hill – civility – is being increasingly invoked now that actual bipartisanship seems as distant as Pluto. Senator Olympia Snowe, for one, is ending her 34 years on Capitol Hill by becoming a board member of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, a nonpartisan advocacy group founded after the Arizona shooting last year that killed six people and gravely wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  [..]

The public can only hope that after this election something both civil and creative might be possible in Congress. Note that Congress actually has a Civility Caucus, though it has gathered only 14 members in seven years. This is rather embarrassing, considering there are 200-plus members in the Congressional Wine Caucus, a group that might arguably offer stronger elixir for the gridlock on Capitol Hill.

Howard Feinman: Race to the Bottom

I had my first sit-down with Barack Obama in his Senate office. The sun was streaming in. He came around from behind his desk with that beaming smile, his tie loosened. He sat in a deep chair, his feet up on the coffee table. I was taken with his confidence, talent, grasp of the issues and buoyant charm: the real deal.

That was early in 2007.

Later that year I sat down with Mitt Romney on the Republican primary-season campaign trail. I had interviewed him years earlier, at his suburban Boston home. He hadn’t changed a bit: chilly smile, wary but gracious, well informed, a mix of a steely mind, ferocious ambition and earnest Mormon good will: a class act.

Today I ask: where did those two men go? Or were they mirages? The way both have campaigned this year makes me wonder. Is there something about the presidency–or the pursuit of it–that attacks the character of men and women under its spell?

Robert Kuttner: Notes for a Manifesto

The enormity of last week’s super-storm is just beginning to sink into political consciousness. Hurricane Sandy should transform what Americans expect from their government, and give the party of government activism new force.

As soon as the election is behind us, the country faces a major struggle over what the super-storm portends and requires. But that struggle will be as much within the Democratic Party as between Democrats and the right, because of the deadweight of austerity politics.

E. J. Dionne: The Gilded Age vs. the 21st Century

The 2012 campaign began on Aug. 2, 2011, when President Obama signed the deal ending the debt-ceiling fiasco. At that moment, the president relinquished his last illusions that the current, radical version of the Republican Party could be dealt with as a governing partner. From then on, Obama was determined to fight-and to win.

It was the right choice, the only alternative to capitulation. A Republican majority both inspired and intimidated by the tea party was demanding that Obama renounce every principle dear to him about the role of government in 21st-century America. And so he set out to defeat those who threatened to bring back the economic policies of the 1890s.

Now, it’s up to the voters.

John Nichols: Lies, Damned Lies and Paul Ryan Lies

Paul Ryan is really upset with Barack Obama about that auto bailout.

Which means that Ryan is upset with himself.

In a campaign where the standard for what constitutes the “big lie” keeps getting adjusted upward, Ryan is trumping even Mitt Romney by attacking President Obama and Vice President Biden for backing policies that Ryan backed.

Picking up on the Romney campaign’s closing claim that the moves taken to rescue General Motors and Chrysler somehow damaged the auto industry-despite the fact that GM and Chrysler say different-Ryan has been banging away on the bailout. [..]

In the final days of a campaign that has taken the shine off his “golden boy” status, Ryan was going all-in on the Republican ticket’s biggest lie: a claim that Obama’s policies had somehow endangered the sprawling Jeep plant in Toledo, a critical battleground in the critical battleground state of Ohio.

That’s not true.

Nov 05 2012

Drones Don’t Kill People – Presidents Do

There is compelling evidence that last year Nobel Peace Prize winner President Obama murdered an American teenager just two weeks after murdering his father and another American citizen in Yemen.  The same action that resulted in the death of the boy also caused the wanton slaughter of the boy’s Yemeni cousin and an unspecified number of their friends. The boy was just 16 years old when he was killed in Yemen.

He was the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was alleged to have joined a foreign military and taken up arms against the United States.  I say alleged because it is our tradition in America not to assign guilt to an individual until they have been proven guilty.  Many things were alleged about Anwar al-Awlaki, but no court or jury – the people who are the “finders of fact” in our system affirmed the President’s allegations as facts before the President executed al-Awlaki.

When [Anwar al-Awlaki] was killed, on September 30, 2011, President Obama made a speech about it; a few months later, when the Obama administraton’s public-relations campaign about its embrace of what has come to be called “targeted killing” reached its climax in a front-page story in the New York Times that presented the President of the United States as the last word in deciding who lives and who dies, he was quoted as saying that the decision to put Anwar al-Awlaki on the kill list – and then to kill him – was “an easy one.”

But Abdulrahman al-Awlaki wasn’t on an American kill list. Nor was he a member of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninusla. Nor was he “an inspiration,” as his father styled himself, for those determined to draw American blood; nor had he gone “operational,” as American authorities said his father had, in drawing up plots against Americans and American interests.

Nov 05 2012

Correcting America’s Democracy

We have other choices this Election Day. This is Chris Hedges’ choice and his rational explanation why he is not voting for either Obama or Romney.

Why I’m Voting Green

by Chris Hedges

The November election is not a battle between Republicans and Democrats. It is not a battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It is a battle between the corporate state and us. And if we do not immediately engage in this battle we are finished, as climate scientists have made clear. I will defy corporate power in small and large ways. I will invest my energy now solely in acts of resistance, in civil disobedience and in defiance. Those who rebel are our only hope. And for this reason I will vote next month for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, although I could as easily vote for Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. I will step outside the system. Voting for the “lesser evil”-or failing to vote at all-is part of the corporate agenda to crush what is left of our anemic democracy. And those who continue to participate in the vaudeville of a two-party process, who refuse to confront in every way possible the structures of corporate power, assure our mutual destruction.

All the major correctives to American democracy have come through movements and third parties that have operated outside the mainstream. Few achieved formal positions of power. These movements built enough momentum and popular support, always in the face of fierce opposition, to force the power elite to respond to their concerns. Such developments, along with the courage to defy the political charade in the voting booth, offer the only hope of saving us from Wall Street predators, the assault on the ecosystem by the fossil fuel industry, the rise of the security and surveillance state and the dramatic erosion of our civil liberties. [..]

The flimsy excuses used by liberals and progressives to support Obama, including the argument that we can’t let Romney appoint the next Supreme Court justices, ignore the imperative of building a movement as fast and as radical as possible as a counterweight to corporate power. The Supreme Court, no matter what its composition, will not save us from financial implosion and climate collapse. And Obama, whatever his proclivity on social issues, has provided ample evidence that he will not alter his servitude to the corporate state. For example, he has refused to provide assurance that he will not make cuts in basic social infrastructures. He has proposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare, a move that would leave millions without adequate health care in retirement. He has said he will reduce the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security, thrusting vast numbers of seniors into poverty. Progressives’ call to vote for independents in “safe” states where it is certain the Democrats will win will do nothing to mitigate fossil fuel’s ravaging of the ecosystem, regulate and prosecute Wall Street or return to us our civil liberties.

“There is no state out there where either Obama or Romney offers a way out of here alive,” Stein said. “It’s up to us to create truly safe states, a safe nation, and a safe planet. Neither Obama nor Romney has a single exit strategy from the deadly crises we face.”

Nov 05 2012

The Disenchanted Election

Glenn Greenwald on Voters ‘Disenchanted’ With Obama

The S&M Election

by Chris Hedges

I learned at the age of 10, when I was shipped off to a New England boarding school where the hazing of younger boys was the principal form of recreation, that those who hunger for power are psychopathic bastards. The bullies in the forms above me, the sadistic masters on our dormitory floors, the deans and the headmaster would morph in later life into bishops, newspaper editors, college presidents, politicians, heads of state, business titans and generals. Those who revel in the ability to manipulate and destroy are demented and deformed individuals. These severely diminished and stunted human beings-think Bill and Hillary Clinton-shower themselves, courtesy of elaborate public relations campaigns and an obsequious press, with encomiums of piety, patriotism, devoted public service, honor, courage and vision, not to mention a lot of money. They are at best mediocrities and usually venal. I have met enough of them to know.

So it is with some morbid fascination that I watch Barack Obama, who has become the prime “dominatrix” of the liberal class, force us in this election to plead for more humiliation and abuse. Obama has carried out a far more egregious assault on our civil liberties, including signing into law Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), than George W. Bush. Section 1021(b)(2), which I challenged in federal court, permits the U.S. military to detain U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military facilities. U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest struck down the law in September. The Obama administration immediately appealed the decision. The NDAA has been accompanied by use of the Espionage Act, which Obama has turned to six times in silencing whistle-blowers. Obama supported the FISA Amendment Act so government could spy on tens of millions of us without warrants. He has drawn up kill lists to exterminate those, even U.S. citizens, deemed by the ruling elite to be terrorists. [..]

The only recognizable basis for moral and political authority, in the eyes of the elite, is the attainment of material success and power. It does not matter how it is gotten. The role of education, the elites believe, is to train us vocationally for our allotted positions and assure proper deference to the wealthy. Disciplines that prod us to think are-and the sneering elites are not wrong about this-“political,” “leftist,” “liberal” or “subversive.” And schools and universities across the country are effectively stomping out these disciplines. The elites know, as Canetti wrote, that once we stop thinking we become a herd. We react to every new stimulus as if we were rats crammed into a cage. When the elites push the button we jump. It is collective sadomasochism. And we will get a good look at it on Election Day.

Who is the worst civil liberties president in US history?

by Glenn Greenwald

Where do the abuses of the last decade from Bush and Obama rank when compared to prior assaults in the name of war?

The following interesting question arose yesterday from what at first appeared to be some petty Twitter bickering: who was the worst president for civil liberties in US history? That question is a difficult one to answer because it is so reliant upon which of many valid standards of measurement one chooses; it depends at least as much on the specific rights which one understands the phrase “civil liberties” to encompass. That makes the question irresolvable in any definitive way, but its examination is nonetheless valuable for the light it sheds on current political disputes.

It’s worthwhile first to set forth the context in which the question arose. At their Lawfare blog, Ritika Singh and Benjamin Wittes posted an excerpt of an essay they wrote for a new book on the War of 1812; their essay pertains to the impact of that war on civil liberties and executive power. The two Brookings writers note that despite intense domestic opposition to the war, President Madison “eschewed the authority to detain American citizens in military custody or try them in military tribunals, and more generally, declined to undertake the sorts of executive overreaches we have come to expect – and even encourage – from our presidents in war.” [..]

But in terms of the role played by war in enabling civil liberties assaults, at least the exploited wars are usually real. In the case of the “War on Terror”, it is far more illusory and frivolous than real. That – along with their permanence – is a major factor in determining where the civil liberties erosions of the last decade, and the presidents responsible for them, rank in history.

Nov 05 2012

On This Day In History November 5

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.

November 5 is the 309th day of the year (310th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 56 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1938, Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings receives its world premiere on NBC radio

Adagio for Strings is a work for string orchestra, arranged by the American composer Samuel Barber from the second movement of his String Quartet. Barber finished the piece in 1936, and in 1938, it was conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Toscanini’s conducting was recorded at 8H Studio for radio broadcasting. Toscanini took the piece on tour to Europe and South America. It is disputed whether the first performance of Adagio in Europe was conducted by Toscanini or Henry J. Wood. Barber has rejected many arrangements published by G. Schirmer, such as the organ arrangement by William Strictland.

The piece begins with a B flat played by the violins. Lower strings enter two beats after the violins. At practical tempo, the piece length is about eight minutes. The piece’s reception was generally positive, with Alexander J. Morin writing that Adagio for Strings contains “full of pathos and cathartic passion, rarely leaves a dry eye.” The piece can be heard in many TV shows and movies.

The recording of the 1938 world premiere, with Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra, was selected in 2005 for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry at the United States Library of Congress.[18] Since the 1938 recording, it has frequently been heard throughout the world, and was one of the only American pieces to be played in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The Adagio was broadcast over the radio at the announcement of Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s death. It was also played at the funeral of Albert Einstein and at the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco. It was performed in 2001 at Last Night of the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall to commemorate the victims of the September 11 attacks, replacing the traditional upbeat patriotic songs. It was also played during the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. In 2004, listeners of the BBC’s Today program voted Adagio for Strings the “saddest classical” work ever, ahead of “Dido’s Lament” from Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell, the “Adagietto” from Gustav Mahler’s 5th symphony, Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss and Gloomy Sunday as sung by Billie Holiday.

Adagio for Strings can be heard on many film, TV, and video game soundtracks, including Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning film Platoon, David Lynch’s 1980 Oscar-nominated film The Elephant Man, Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko, Lorenzo’s Oil, A Very Natural Thing, Reconstruction, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Oscar-nominated 2001 film Amélie. It has been heard in episodes of The Simpsons, Big Brother 2010 (UK), That Mitchell and Webb Look, The Boondocks, South Park, Seinfeld, ER (TV series), Big Love. A recorded performance by the London Symphony Orchestra was, for a time, the highest selling classical piece on iTunes. The work is extremely popular in the electronic dance music genre, notably in trance. Artists who have covered it include Armin van Buuren, William Orbit, Ferry Corsten, and Tiesto. eRa included this song in their new album Classics.

Nov 05 2012

Sunday Train: Social Dividends and Carbon Taxation

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

One thing we will likely be hearing soon, once the election is over and attention inside the beltway returns to the regular programming of how to shrink the middle class and ensure that the resulting growing numbers of working poor are as miserable as possible, is the idea of including Carbon Taxes as a revenue raising component of a “Grand Bargain”.

This has been floated already. An “Ayres Law Group” “Policy Alert” from June of 2011 noted that this had been raised by the Center for American Progress, Economic Policy Institute, and Bipartisan Policy Institute.

A lot of people reading this are likely to suspect something is fishy when a firm that takes on “environmental” cases and has clients including oil companies is alerting their client of something, but alarm bells should really start ringing when the Alert notes:

This conclusion emerges from a series of studies recently funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, an organization dedicated to creating public discourse about ways to address the country’s fiscal challenges.

If this notion of including the Carbon Tax as part of a “Grand Bargain” is passed through rather than stonewalled by one of the chief propagandists for the public deficit hysteria bullshit that has become a chronic infection in our mess media, it surely deserves some serious, critical, scrutiny.

tl;dr summary: No. Even more than that, HELL no. Opponents of the climate suicide of our industrial society who fall for this will have been well and truly suckered, as the German Greens supporting neoliberal fantasies and “responsible” fiscal policy were among the enablers of the austerity policies that are ravaging European economies as I write.

Nov 05 2012

Trees to the Sky

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism has pointed out an important new study for defenders of the social safety net, specifically Medicare and Medicaid (anyone claiming that Social Security contributes to the deficit is simply a liar and a thief).

The name of the paper is An Examination of Health-Spending Growth In The United States: Past Trends And Future Prospects (.pdf) by Glenn Follette and Louise Sheiner.  As she points out the first important thing to recognize about it is who it comes from.

(T)he authors are uniquely qualified to make this critique. Follette is chief of the Fed’s fiscal analysis section. Sheiner, a fellow member of that group, has worked for both the Treasury and the Council of Economic Advisers previously. In other words, the sort of analysis they have made here is the core of what they do on a daily basis.

Fed Budgetary Experts Demolish CBO Health Cost Model, the Lynchpin of Budget Hysteria

Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Sunday, November 4, 2012

(C)onventional wisdom is that Medicare does have a long term cost predicament, but the problem is not demographic, but that of the steep rise of health care costs in general.

The fundamental beef of Follette and Sheiner with the CBO model is that it naively assumes past growth in health care spending as the basis for its long-term projections. The result is that it shows that trees will grow to the sky. One of the things anyone who has build forecasting models will tell you is you come up with assumptions that look reasonable and then sanity check the output (for instance, does your model say in year 10 that your revenues will be 3x what you can produce given your forecast level in plant and investment? If so, you need to make some revisions). The Fed economists point out numerous ways that the model output flies in the face of what amounts to common sense in the world of long term budget forecasting.



The CBO assuming public health care spending will sustain its growth rate of the last 50 years for as long as they do (see further discussion below) with no policy changes is like budget analysts in 1946 assuming that military spending will grow at the same rate it did during World War II without any policy changes. Yet they further assume that, having reached this crushing level, Medicare costs in 2082 will still be growing faster than GDP!

The underlying issue is that nothing that is a large portion of GDP can exceed the growth rate of GDP forever, or even for all that long; that’s how we’ve gotten in the insane position of having health care reach 16% of GDP. The term of art is “excess health care spending growth” which as noted above, they define in relationship to per capita incomes.



The CBO’s performance on this front looks like malpractice. The Fed economists note telling irregularities, such as the substitution of scenarios, as opposed to the use of confidence band analysis, as the CBO employed in its Social Security forecasts. And this would not the first time that CBO has apparently allowed political considerations to interfere with its pretense of objectivity. First we have the case of CBO analyst Lan Pham, who was fired for attempting to incorporate the impact of foreclosures and chain of title issues on home price and property tax forecasts. Second, we have the instance of Tom Ferguson and Rob Johnson of alerting the CBO to a significant omission in their deficit analysis, that of failing to include financial assets in their debt-to-GDP ratio calculation. CBO staffers have not disputed the accuracy of the Ferguson/Johnson research but nevertheless will not change their projections. Now we have what is demonstrably an overly aggressive set of assumptions driving health policy debate, with two Federal Reserve analysts sufficiently taken aback by the model as to publish a serious takedown of it.

The CBO’s independence is, like its output, treated as above question. It’s time to subject both to harsh scrutiny.

The thing about ‘trees to the sky’ is that they all grow to the sky, but they do not grow indefinitely or at a constant rate.  Assuming that they do is at best naive and at worst disingenuous.

So, stupid or evil?