Daily Archive: 01/21/2013

Jan 21 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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Paul Krugman: The Big Deal

On the day President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, an exuberant Vice President Biden famously pronounced the reform a “big something deal” – except that he didn’t use the word “something.” And he was right.

In fact, I’d suggest using this phrase to describe the Obama administration as a whole. F.D.R. had his New Deal; well, Mr. Obama has his Big Deal. He hasn’t delivered everything his supporters wanted, and at times the survival of his achievements seemed very much in doubt. But if progressives look at where we are as the second term begins, they’ll find grounds for a lot of (qualified) satisfaction.

Consider, in particular, three areas: health care, inequality and financial reform.

New York Times Editorial: A Choice for Republican Leaders

Ted Cruz, the newly elected Tea Party senator from Texas, embodies the rigidity the public grew to loathe in Congress’s last term. He is bursting with fervor to fight compromise and consensus-building in Washington wherever it is found. Unlike 85 percent of the Republicans in the Senate, he would have voted against the fiscal cliff deal. He says gun control is unconstitutional. Breaking even with conservative business leaders, he would have no qualms about [using the debt ceiling as a hostage v] because he believes (falsely) that it would produce only a partial government shutdown and not default.

Considering the damage that this kind of thinking did to the country and the Republican Party over the last two years – a downgraded credit rating, legislative standoffs, popular anger, a loss of Republican seats – it might seem obvious that the party should marginalize lawmakers like Mr. Cruz. Instead, they continue to gain power and support. Party leaders named Mr. Cruz vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Glen Ford: Don’t You Dare Conflate MLK and Obama

Were Martin alive, he would skewer the putative leftists and their “lesser evil” rationales for backing the corporatist, warmongering Obama. As both a theologian and a “revolutionary democrat,” as Temple University’s Prof. Anthony Monteiro has described him, MLK had no problem calling evil by its name – and in explicate triplicate. His militant approach to non-violent direct action required him to confront the underlying contradictions of society through the methodical application of creative tension. He would make Wall Street scream, and attempt to render the nation ungovernable under the dictatorship of the Lords of Capital. And he would deliver a withering condemnation of the base corruption and self-serving that saturates the Black Misleadership Class.

He would spend his birthday preparing a massive, disruptive action at the Inauguration.

Robert Kuttner: The President’s Running Room-and Ours

With Republicans divided, the president could open up space to move progressive policies. First, the progressive community needs to move him.

President Barack Obama won a tactical victory on New Year’s weekend by forcing Republicans to raise taxes on the top 1 percent, but he has far bigger challenges to address-and so do progressives. The economy is still at risk of several more years of hidden depression, with a high level of unemployment and no wage growth. The initial budget deal, thanks to Obama’s post-election toughness on tax increases on the rich and pressure by unions and progressive organizations not to cut Social Security and Medicare, was better than it might have been. But still to come are debates over budget cuts, with Republicans having the leverage of an automatic $120 billion “sequester” for this fiscal year now postponed to early March, if Congress fails to legislate its own additional deficit reduction.

In principle, Obama has committed to $4 trillion in budget cuts over a decade, a sum that would be a huge drag on the recovery, leaving too little for the public investment necessary to create jobs and for the scale of infrastructure spending needed to mitigate future superstorms like Sandy. Since the election, the president has walked back some of his earlier commitment to spending cuts. But even as he forced major concessions out of the Republicans, he has continued to embrace deficit reductions as a necessary path to recovery, a strategy that makes no economic sense and that only whets the appetites of the right-wing anti-government crusade and its close ally, the corporate-sponsored Fix the Debt campaign.

So where is Obama’s running room to pursue a more far-reaching agenda? And where is the running room for progressives to move him?

John Nichols: This President Can-and Must-Claim a Mandate to Govern

With his second inauguration, Barack Obama will become the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to renew his tenure after having won more than 51 percent of the vote in two consecutive elections.

More importantly, in a political sense, he will be the first Democrat since Franklin Delano Roosevelt to have won mandates from the majority of the American people in two consecutive elections. [..]

Roosevelt’s genius was the linking of democracy and self-governance, the reminding of Americans that thru elections and government they have the master economic and political forces that would otherwise dominate them. After a 2012 election campaign that his Republican foes portrayed as a referendum on the role of government, Obama has a mandate to make government work again for the American people. His inaugural address should claim that mandate with all the passion and all the determination that FDR brought to the mission seventy-six years ago.

Ray McGovern: The Moral Torment of Leon Panetta

Leon Panetta returned to government in 2009 amid hopes he could cleanse the CIA where torture and politicized intelligence had brought the U.S. to new lows in world respect. Yet, after four years at CIA and Defense, it is Panetta who departs morally compromised

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a practicing Catholic, sought a blessing on Wednesday from Pope Benedict XVI. Afterward Panetta reported that the Pope said, “Thank you for helping to keep the world safe” to which Panetta replied, “Pray for me.”

In seeking those prayers, Panetta knows better than the Pope what moral compromises have surrounded him during his four years inside the Obama administration, as CIA director overseeing the covert war against al-Qaeda and as Defense Secretary deploying the largest military on earth.

For me and others who initially had high hopes for Panetta, his performance in both jobs has been a bitter disappointment. Before accepting the CIA post, Panetta had criticized the moral and constitutional violations in George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” especially the use of torture.

Jan 21 2013

On This Day In History January 21

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 21 is the 21st day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 344 days remaining until the end of the year (345 in leap years).

On this day in 1911, the first Monte Carlo Rally takes place.

The Monte Carlo Rally (officially Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo) is a rallying event organised each year by the Automobile Club de Monaco who also organises the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix and the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique . The rally takes place along the French Riviera in the Principality of Monaco and southeast France.

From its inception in 1911 by Prince Albert I, this rally, under difficult and demanding conditions, was an important means of testing the latest improvements and innovations to automobiles. Winning the rally gave the car a great deal of credibility and publicity. The 1966 event was the most controversial in the history of the Rally. The first four finishers driving three Mini-Coopers, Timo Makinen, Rauno Aaltonen and Paddy Hopkirk, and Roger Clark‘s 4th-placed Ford Cortina “were excluded for having iodine vapour, single filament bulbs in their standard headlamps instead of double-filament dipping bulbs.”  This elevated Pauli Toivonen (Citroen ID) into first place overall. The controversy that followed damaged the credibility of the event. The headline in Motor Sport: “The Monte Carlo Fiasco.”

From 1973 to 2008 the rally was held in January as the first event of the FIA World Rally Championship, but since 2009 it has been the opening round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) programme. As recently as 1991, competitors were able to choose their starting points from approximately five venues roughly equidistant from Monte Carlo (one of Monaco’s administrative areas) itself. With often varying conditions at each starting point, typically comprising dry tarmac, wet tarmac, snow, and ice, sometimes all in a single stage of the rally. This places a big emphasis on tyre choices, as a driver has to balance the need for grip on ice and snow with the need for grip on dry tarmac. For the driver, this is often a difficult choice as the tyres that work well on snow and ice normally perform badly on dry tarmac.

The Automobile Club de Monaco confirmed on 19 July 2010 that the 79th Monte-Carlo Rally would form the opening round of the new Intercontinental Rally Challenge season. To mark the centenary event, the Automobile Club de Monaco have also confirmed that Glasgow, Barcelona, Warsaw and Marrakesh has been selected as start points for the rally.

Jan 21 2013

Seriously, Bloomie, Dancing?

Back in July, 2012 while returning from  Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night’s Swing, Caroline Stern, 55, and her boyfriend George Hess, 54, were arrested, handcuffed and held by the New york City Police for dancing  the “Charleston” on the subway platform.

“We were doing the Charleston,” Stern said. That’s when two police officers approached and pulled a “Footloose.”

“They said, ‘What are you doing?’ and we said, ‘We’re dancing,’ ” she recalled. “And they said, ‘You can’t do that on the platform.’ ”

The cops asked for ID, but when Stern could only produce a credit card, the officers ordered the couple to go with them – even though the credit card had the dentist’s picture and signature.

When Hess began trying to film the encounter, things got ugly, Stern said.

“We brought out the camera, and that’s when they called backup,” she said. “That’s when eight ninja cops came from out of nowhere.”

Hess was allegedly tackled to the platform floor, and cuffs were slapped on both of them. The initial charge, according to Stern, was disorderly conduct for “impeding the flow of traffic.”

They sued. They won. While NYC Councilman Peter Valone complains that “At $75,000 a dance, the city’s going to go bankrupt sooner than we thought,” he said. “Here, it looks like it was the taxpayers who got served.”

But whose fault is that, Mr. Valone? It’s not illegal to dance in the subway. Maybe the problem is an out of control police department:

For fiscal year 2011, New York City gave out $185.6 million to settle suits against the NYPD. That number rounds out to about $70 per resident, according to the New York Post. Though the New York City Law Department insists there is no blanket policy on settlements, City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who also heads the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said such settlements have only increased since he took office in 2002. [..]

New York Civil Liberties Union head Donna Lieberman insists the city should start learning from suits, rather than just paying to get rid of them.

The city is still facing million in lawsuits by groups and individuals, including two city council members, resulting from brutal, unlawful tactics and false arrests from the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly are to blame for this. Perhaps Mr. Vallone needs to stop blaming the lawyers for settling these suits, which would cost even more to litigate, and look at the real cause, an out of control mayor and police department.

Jan 21 2013

Income Inequality and the Economic Recovery

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz posted an interesting piece in the New York Times Opinionator that examines how income inequality is holding back the economic recovery:

The re-election of President Obama was like a Rorschach test, subject to many interpretations. In this election, each side debated issues that deeply worry me: the long malaise into which the economy seems to be settling, and the growing divide between the 1 percent and the rest – an inequality not only of outcomes but also of opportunity. To me, these problems are two sides of the same coin: with inequality at its highest level since before the Depression, a robust recovery will be difficult in the short term, and the American dream – a good life in exchange for hard work – is slowly dying.

Politicians typically talk about rising inequality and the sluggish recovery as separate phenomena, when they are in fact intertwined. Inequality stifles, restrains and holds back our growth. [..]

Prof. Stiglitz notes four factors that are the cause:

The most immediate is that our middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically driven our economic growth. [..] The growth in the decade before the crisis was unsustainable – it was reliant on the bottom 80 percent consuming about 110 percent of their income.

Second, the hollowing out of the middle class since the 1970s, a phenomenon interrupted only briefly in the 1990s, means that they are unable to invest in their future, by educating themselves and their children and by starting or improving businesses. [..]

Third, the weakness of the middle class is holding back tax receipts, especially because those at the top are so adroit in avoiding taxes and in getting Washington to give them tax breaks. [..]

Fourth, inequality is associated with more frequent and more severe boom-and-bust cycles that make our economy more volatile and vulnerable.

Noting that one fifth of US children live in poverty, the professor points out that children living in Canada, France, Germany and Sweden have better economic futures simply because education and training are more affordable. The countries that responded best to the crisis on Europe had strong unions and strong social safety nets, something that this country is seems hell bent to destroy.

However, Prof. Stiglitz’s contemporary, Paul Krugman, somewhat disagrees arguing that these factors may have caused the recession, they are less of a draw on the recovery than Prof. Stiglits beleives. In the face of the recovery, Prof. Krugman rejects the “underconsumption” and tax receipt hypothesis:

It’s true that at any given point in time the rich have much higher savings rates than the poor. Since Milton Friedman, however, we’ve know that this fact is to an important degree a sort of statistical illusion. Consumer spending tends to reflect expected income over an extended period. If you take a sample of people with high incomes, you will disproportionally include people who are having an especially good year, and will therefore be saving a lot; correspondingly, a sample of people with low incomes will include many having a particularly bad year, and hence living off savings. So the cross-sectional evidence on saving doesn’t tell you that a sustained higher concentration of incomes at the top will lead to higher savings; it really tells you nothing at all about what will happen. [..]

Joe also argues that high income inequality depresses tax receipts, fueling fiscal fears. Again, I have trouble with this point: our tax system isn’t as progressive as it should be, but it is at least mildly progressive even when you take state and local taxes into account.

I’m in agreement with Prof Stiglitz on this, even with my rudimentary knowledge of economics. It would seem logical that if incomes are falling and the middle class is shrinking, then consumption of goods and services will fall as people have less disposable income. It follows that all tax revenues would also decrease.  

Jan 21 2013

Santorum: Armor-Piercing Bullets Are ‘a Right in Our Country’

The Pennsylvania Republican told an ABC News panel that conservatives “should stick to our guns” and oppose President Barack Obama’s efforts to curb gun violence in the wake of the slaughter of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut.

“Having a gun and gun ownership is part of how people can feel safer,” Santorum explained. “And in my opinion, when you look at the disingenuousness of the [Obama] administration when they met with the NRA, and [Vice President] Joe Biden did. And the NRA brought up the fact that prosecutions for gun crimes and prosecutions for people who lie on their registration forms or gun forms are down under this administration. The vice president responded, ‘We don’t have time to devote to see whether people fill out a form right!'”

Current TV host Jennifer Granholm pointed out that there had been fewer enforcements because the National Rifle Association (NRA) had pushed Republicans to oppose any effort to confirm a head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

“Here’s what I would say about that: 50 years ago, you could go on a catalog and buy a gun,” Santorum opined. “There were no restrictions on gun ownership, there were no restrictions on magazines, there were no restrictions on anything and we had a lot less violence in society than we do today. The idea of pointing to the gun instead of pointing to society — and not one thing the president did dealt with Hollywood and gun violence and video games and all the glorification of violence.”

“Armor-piercing bullets, why do you need that?” Granholm interrupted.

“Why do you need to protect Hollywood?” Santorum shot back.

“You’re deflecting,” Granholm observed. “Deer don’t wear armor. Why do you need an armor-piercing bullet?”

“But criminals could,” Santorum quipped.

“And police officers certainly do,” Granholm noted.

“Having the ability to defend yourself is something that is a right in our country,” Santorum asserted.

Jan 21 2013

Throwball American Conference Championship: Ravens @ Patsies

The American Conference Championship is an entirely different ball of wax.  Here you don’t have two teams that are mostly unremarkably objectionable, no better or worse than most, instead you have two positively hateful ones and the question is which evil is lesser?

Fundamentally the Carrion Crows and the Patsies are guilty of the same offense, robbing their host communities to fund huge empty white elephant eyesores that are basically unusable except for 8 days a year to the tune of hundreds of millions.

In the one case the thief, Art Modell, was not quite as successful as Robert Kraft and lost everything except his team contracts and The Bank ($314 million) and in fairness Kraft was able to raise the $420 million for Gillette privately, though it is not in any sense funded by his personal fortune any more than all those architectural monstrosities with Trump plastered on them.

And, if you like rooting for winners, the Ravens don’t even have a suspicion of victory today.  Unless Brady and about half the other Patsie players are suddenly stuck by mysterious illness and injury this is about as close to a sure thing as you get in Throwball.

Nope, as we head into the break week before the Super Bowl the question will be if the creaky old Patsies can stave off the new kids on the block ‘9ers and whether you should even be watching Throwball at all.