Daily Archive: 01/17/2013

Jan 17 2013

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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Norman Solomon: King: I Have a Dream. Obama: I Have a Drone.

A simple twist of fate has set President Obama’s second Inaugural Address for January 21, the same day as the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday.

Obama made no mention of King during the Inauguration four years ago — but since then, in word and deed, the president has done much to distinguish himself from the man who said “I have a dream.”

After his speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, King went on to take great risks as a passionate advocate for peace.

After his Inaugural speech in January 2009, Obama has pursued policies that epitomize King’s grim warning in 1967: “When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.”

But Obama has not ignored King’s anti-war legacy. On the contrary, the president has gone out of his way to distort and belittle it.

Bruce Dixon: Obama’s Race To The Top Drives Nationwide Wave of School Closings, Teacher Firings

A nationwide epidemic of school closings and teacher firings has been underway for some time. It’s concentrated chiefly in poor and minority communities, and the teachers let go are often experienced and committed classroom instructors, and likely to live in and near the communities they serve, and disproportionately black.

It’s not an accident, or a reflection of changing demographics, or more educational choices suddenly becoming available to families in those areas. It’s not due to greedy unionized teachers or the invisible hand of the marketplace or well-intentioned educational policies somehow gone awry.

The current wave of school closings is latest result of bipartisan educational policies which began with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and have kicked into overdrive under the Obama administration’s Race To The Top. In Chicago, the home town of the president and his Secretary of Education, the percentage of black teachers has dropped from 45% in 1995 to 19% today. After winning a couple skirmishes in federal court over discriminatory firings in a few schools, teachers have now filed a citywide class action lawsuit alleging that the city’s policy of school “turnarounds” and “transformations” is racially discriminatory because it’s carried out mainly in black neighborhoods and the fired teachers are disproportionately black.

How did this happen? Where did those policies come from, and exactly what are they?

Jim Hightower: Who’s Behind “Fix the Debt”?

Look out, the “fixers” are coming.

Top corporate chieftains and Wall Street gamblers want to tell Washington how to fix our national debt, so they’ve created a front group called “Fix the Debt” to push their agenda. Unfortunately, they’re using “fix” in the same way your veterinarian uses it – their core demand is for Washington to spay Social Security, castrate Medicare and geld Medicaid.

Who’s behind this piece of crude surgery on the retirement and health programs that most Americans count on? Pete Peterson, for one. For years, this Wall Street billionaire, who amassed his fortune as honcho of a private equity outfit named Blackstone, has runs a political sideshow demanding that the federal budget be balanced on the backs of the middle class and the poor. Fix the Debt is just his latest war whoop, organized by a corporate “think tank” he funds.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: How Extreme Is the Business Roundtable? Check Out Its Attack on the Elderly

Here’s a thought experiment: What if a group of Social Security and Medicare recipients wanted to increase their benefits by, say, 1,000 percent, and proposed seizing rich people’s assets –houses, cars, boats, whatever — to pay for it? And whenever anybody suggested that was extreme, they rolled their eyes and said “We’re pragmatists.”

But isn’t it unfair to just take other people’s stuff? “Ideologues like you are the reason Washington lacks the political will to adopt our practical solutions.”

Now imagine the reverse: Rich CEOs have used every tax loophole in the book to add to their own wealth, have been bailed out directly or indirectly by the American taxpayer, and have rigged corporate governance so that they make far more than they’re worth.

Now, to make sure the milk and honey keeps flowing their way, they want to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits for the beleaguered American majority. Sounds crazy, right?

Meet the CEOs of the Business Roundtable.

Slavoj Žižek: The West’s Crisis is One of Democracy as Much as Finance

In austerity-driven Europe, the ‘blind are leading the blind’

n one of the last interviews before his fall, Nicolae Ceausescu was asked by a western journalist how he justified the fact that Romanian citizens could not travel freely abroad although freedom of movement was guaranteed by the constitution. His answer was in the best tradition of Stalinist sophistry: true, the constitution guarantees freedom of movement, but it also guarantees the right to a safe, prosperous home. So we have here a potential conflict of rights: if Romanian citizens were to be allowed to leave the country, the prosperity of their homeland would be threatened. In this conflict, one has to make a choice, and the right to a prosperous, safe homeland enjoys clear priority …

It seems that this same spirit is alive and well in Slovenia today. Last month the constitutional court found that a referendum on legislation to set up a “bad bank” and a sovereign holding would be unconstitutional – in effect banning a popular vote on the matter. The referendum was proposed by trade unions challenging the government’s neoliberal economic politics, and the proposal got enough signatures to make it obligatory.

The idea of the “bad bank” was of a place to transfer all bad credit from main banks, which would then be salvaged by state money (ie at taxpayers’ expense), so preventing any serious inquiry into who was responsible for this bad credit in the first place. This measure, debated for months, was far from being generally accepted, even by financial specialists. So why prohibit the referendum? In 2011, when George Papandreou’s government in Greece proposed a referendum on austerity measures, there was panic in Brussels, but even there no one dared to directly prohibit it.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: This time, the moderate is willing to fight

President Obama went big in offering a remarkably comprehensive plan to curb gun violence, and good for him. But his announcement Wednesday is only the beginning of a protracted struggle for national sanity on firearms. Extremists have controlled the debate on guns for many years. They will do all they can to preserve a bloody status quo. The irrationality of their approach must be exposed and their power broken.

Far from acting as if his work was now done, the president made clear that he is fully invested in seeing his agenda realized – and fully prepared to lead a national movement to loosen the grip of resignation and cynicism in the face of brutality and carnage. Gun violence is not some “boutique” issue, as it is occasionally called. We are in danger of having mass shootings define us as a nation. As a people, we must rise up against this obscenity.

Jan 17 2013

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Jan 17 2013

On This Day In History January 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.

January 17 is the 17th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 348 days remaining until the end of the year (349 in leap years).

On this day in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivers his farewell address to the nation warning the American people to keep a careful eye on what he calls the “military-industrial complex” that has developed in the post-World War II years.

A fiscal conservative, Eisenhower had been concerned about the growing size and cost of the American defense establishment since he became president in 1953. In his last presidential address to the American people, he expressed those concerns in terms that frankly shocked some of his listeners.

Eisenhower began by describing the changing nature of the American defense establishment since World War II. No longer could the U.S. afford the “emergency improvisation” that characterized its preparations for war against Germany and Japan. Instead, the United States was “compelled to create a permanent armaments industry” and a huge military force. He admitted that the Cold War made clear the “imperative need for this development,” but he was gravely concerned about “the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex.” In particular, he asked the American people to guard against the “danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

Military-industrial complex (MIC) is a concept commonly used to refer to policy relationships between governments, national armed forces, and the industrial sector that supports them. These relationships include political approval for research, development, production, use, and support for military training, weapons, equipment, and facilities within the national defense and security policy. It is a type of iron triangle.

The term is most often played in reference to the military of the United States, where it gained popularity after its use in the farewell address speech of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, though the term is applicable to any country with a similarly developed infrastructure.

It is sometimes used more broadly to include the entire network of contracts and flows of money and resources among individuals as well as institutions of the defense contractors, The Pentagon, and the Congress and executive branch. This sector is intrinsically prone to principal-agent problem, moral hazard, and rent seeking. Cases of political corruption have also surfaced with regularity.

A similar thesis was originally expressed by Daniel Guerin, in his 1936 book Fascism and Big Business, about the fascist government support to heavy industry. It can be defined as, “an informal and changing coalition of groups with vested psychological, moral, and material interests in the continuous development and maintenance of high levels of weaponry, in preservation of colonial markets and in military-strategic conceptions of internal affairs”.

Jan 17 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Fixing Filibuster Sign the Petition, Part VI

Time is getting short to reform the filibuster rule of the Senate. The debate and vote to reform will take place January 22, the day after Pres. Obama’s inauguration for his second term and before hearing on the president’s nominees for important cabinet vacancies.

Reform the Filbuster

Sign the Petition

Filibuster Reform Advocates Launch Petition To Include Talking Filibuster

by Sabrina Siddiqui, Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — With just a week left to influence the looming debate over filibuster reform, Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with the progressive Daily Kos community, launched a petition on Monday to drum up support for a proposal that would eliminate the silent filibuster.

The hope is to maintain pressure for reform that would include the talking filibuster. Merkley, Udall and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have been pushing one such approach, which would still allow the minority to filibuster legislation but would require members to do so by actually standing and speaking on the floor. The Merkley-Udall-Harkin plan also seeks to streamline conference committee assignments and nominations, and eliminate the motion to proceed — a motion typically offered by the majority leader to bring up a bill or other measure for consideration.

Their proposal is competing with a scaled-back bipartisan plan introduced by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and backed by six other senators. In a statement accompanying the petition, Merkley argues that “other proposals out there don’t go far enough, and won’t change the culture of obstruction that paralyzes the Senate.”

“Without a talking filibuster, obstructionist Senators will still be able to silently stall any piece of legislation they want without any accountability,” he writes.>

Merkley: Time is now to reform Senate filibuster rules

Filibuster reform will be first thing on the docket when the U.S. Senate convenes on Jan. 22.

Under the U.S. Constitution, a majority of each house have the power to change its rules on the first day of the legislative session by a simple majority vote. The Senate convened the first session of the 113th Congress on Jan. 3 – and the three Democratic senators introduced SR 4. Here’s what it would do:

  Clear the path to debate – Those objecting to legislation would only have one opportunity to filibuster legislation. Specifically, the ability to bring up a bill for simple debate (the motion to proceed) would not be subjected to a filibuster.

   Restore the “talking filibuster” – Those wishing to filibuster legislation must actually hold the floor and be required to actually debate the legislation. It would end “silent” filibusters where one senator quietly objects and is not required to take the Senate floor.

   Put filibuster supporters on record – 41 senators would have to affirmatively vote to continue debate, rather than forcing 60 senators to vote to end debate.

   Expedite nominations – The process for approving nominations would be streamlined, shortening the amount of time required for debate once a nomination is brought to the Senate floor.

Historically, the filibuster was intended to protect the minority party’s interests on extraordinary issues, and it was rarely invoked. But in today’s contentious political climate the filibuster has been used in record numbers (nearly 400 times in the 112th Congress) to block votes and debate, and the requirement for 60 votes to end a filibuster has proved virtually insurmountable. For example, much of the legislation organized labor has fought for to restore collective bargaining rights and to create jobs  – from the Employee Free Choice Act, to the Bring Jobs Home Act, the American Jobs Act, and many more – never received a Senate floor vote because of the filibuster threat, even though the legislation had majority support from senators.

For these reasons, SR 4 is endorsed by the AFL-CIO and some 50 progressive groups – in a coalition called Fix the Senate Now.

As our friend, Gaius Publius at AMERICAblog says:

This is my reminder – you can help hold that group together. We need strong filibuster reform, not a weaker version. Call your senator if you believe in this (click to find the phone number).

In addition, call these senators – they are the Democrats flirting with “well, I don’t really know” when the last public list of supporters was announced:

  • Baucus Max MT D (202) 224-2651
  • Boxer Barbara CA D (202) 224-3553
  • Feinstein Dianne CA D (202) 224-3841
  • Heitkamp Heidi ND D (202) 224-2043
  • Hirono Mazie HI D (202) 224-6361
  • Leahy Patrick VT D (202) 224-4242
  • Reed Jack RI D (202) 224-4642

As of last report, these are the Democratic waverers (and shame on them). Please make the calls, now and daily (if you can) until January 22.

Reform the Filbuster

Sign the Petition

Jan 17 2013

How to Rig the 2016 Election GOP Style

If you can’t win the White House unless you have 270 electoral votes, then you need to fix it so you do, legally, by gerrymander and voter supression. That is the GOP strategy to win the White House in 2016. Since gerymandering was the way that they succeeded in holding their majority in the House, they may well succeed.

The GOP’s Electoral College Scheme

by Reid Wilson, National Journal

Republicans alarmed at the apparent challenges they face in winning the White House are preparing an all-out assault on the Electoral College system in critical states, an initiative that would significantly ease the party’s path to the Oval Office.

Senior Republicans say they will try to leverage their party’s majorities in Democratic-leaning states in an effort to end the winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes. Instead, bills that will be introduced in several Democratic states would award electoral votes on a proportional basis.

Already, two states — Maine and Nebraska — award an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district. The candidate who wins the most votes statewide takes the final two at-large electoral votes. Only once, when President Obama won a congressional district based in Omaha in 2008, has either of those states actually split their vote.

But if more reliably blue states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were to award their electoral votes proportionally, Republicans would be able to eat into what has become a deep Democratic advantage.

All three states have given the Democratic nominee their electoral votes in each of the last six presidential elections. Now, senior Republicans in Washington are overseeing legislation in all three states to end the winner-take-all system.

Rachel Maddow reports on a new initiative by state level Republicans to rig the Electoral College in the states they control to better advantage Republican presidential candidates and subvert popular political will.

RNC’s Priebus Endorses Plan To Rig Electoral College

by Henry Decker, The National Memo

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That appears to be Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus’ philosophy when it comes to rigging elections in the GOP’s favor. In 2012, the strategy was suppressing votes through voter ID laws, ending same-day voter registration, and clamping down on early voting, among other restrictive legislation. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 25 laws and two executive actions were passed in 19 states over the past two years with the aim of making it harder to vote.

In 2013, the plan appears to be changing the way that votes are counted. Priebus has stepped forward as the latest Republican to support a proposal that would split Wisconsin’s electoral votes by congressional district.

Pennsylvania House Republicans Introduce Bill To Rig The 2016 Presidential Election

On Monday, seven Pennsylvania Republican state representatives introduced a bill to make this vote-rigging scheme a reality in their state. Under their bill, the winner of Pennsylvania as a whole will receive only 2 of the state’s 20 electoral votes, while “[e]ach of the remaining presidential electors shall be elected in the presidential elector’s congressional district.”

Pennsylvania is a blue state that voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every single presidential race for the last two decades, so implementing the GOP election-rigging plan in Pennsylvania would make it much harder for a Democrat to be elected to the White House. Moreover, because of gerrymandering, it is overwhelmingly likely that the Republican candidate will win a majority of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes even if the Democrat wins the state by a very comfortable margin. Despite the fact that President Obama won Pennsylvania by more than 5 points last November, Democrats carried only 5 of the state’s 18 congressional seats. Accordingly, Obama would have likely won only 7 of the state’s 20 electoral votes if the GOP vote rigging plan had been in effect last year.

I don’t think this is what the founders planned when they created the Electoral College. I know some will argue that the Electoral College insures that even small states with small populations have a say in the selection of the president but this ploy by the GOP would end that voice, too. Has the electoral College outlived its purpose? It amy well be time to consider a direct election of the President based on the popular vote.