Daily Archive: 02/08/2013

Feb 08 2013

The Grand Sell Out Still On

President Barack Obama told Democratic delegates and congressional members meeting at the annual House Democratic retreat at Lansdowne Resort in Virginia that the he wants a “big budget deal”

President Barack Obama said he wants to reach a “big deal” on the budget that will cut the nation’s deficit without slashing spending on education and research that is needed to ensure future growth.

Obama said negotiations with congressional Republicans over avoiding the $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending reductions set to begin March 1 shouldn’t push aside the effort for a broader plan to cut government debt.

While the president stood firm against “government by crisis” and the need for more revenue in any future deficit reduction deal, and much like the Republicans, who keep saying that they will close loop holes in the tax code but not which ones, there have been few details in how that deal would be accomplished. Nobel Prize winning economist points out that any reduction in government spending at this time would “destroys jobs and causes the economy to shrink”

This really isn’t a debatable proposition at this point. The contractionary effects of fiscal austerity have been demonstrated by study after study and overwhelmingly confirmed by recent experience – for example, by the severe and continuing slump in Ireland, which was for a while touted as a shining example of responsible policy, or by the way the Cameron government’s turn to austerity derailed recovery in Britain. [..]

But aren’t we facing a fiscal crisis? No, not at all. The federal government can borrow more cheaply than at almost any point in history, and medium-term forecasts, like the 10-year projections released Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office, are distinctly not alarming. Yes, there’s a long-term fiscal problem, but it’s not urgent that we resolve that long-term problem right now. The alleged fiscal crisis exists only in the minds of Beltway insiders.

(my emphasis)

Prof. Krugman discussed with MSNBC’s The Last Word host, Lawrence O’Donnell the consequences of such a deal at this time would mean and what the government should be doing to restart the economy.

Feb 08 2013

The Drone Wars

There weren’t many questions about the legality of targeted assassinations from the Senators for CIA Director nominee during his hearing before the  Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. This morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to Pres. Jimmy Carter, said the problem with drones was not the drones themselves but the how they are used. There are many questions about the legality of targeted assassinations, not just with regard to its constitutionality, but its permissibility under international law and treaties.

This analysis by Kevin Gosztola of the Justice Department undated white paper memo that was revealed by Michael Isikoff, discusses the convoluted and weak defense of the program:

According to the Justice Department’s white paper, “The threat posed by al Qaida and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat, making the use of force appropriate.” A “decision maker” cannot know all the al Qaida plots being planned at any one moment and, as a result, “cannot be confident” no plots are about to occur. There may be a small window of opportunity to take action. And so, the United States does not need to have “clear evidence that a specific attack on US person and interests will take place in the immediate future” to attack a target.

There is absolutely no way the targeted killing program can operate under these incredibly authoritarian presumptions and reasonably considered to follow international law.

UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights Ben Emmerson, who has launched an investigation into the use of drones and targeted killings by countries for the purposes of fighting terrorism, does not appear to think the US is abiding by international law. [..]

The targeted killing program does not appear to adhere to international law. The Justice Department knows that, which is why it lifted phrases from actual tenets of international law and cited historical analysis of legal questions offered to excuse massive war crimes. That was the best it could do to piece together some kind of argument that it it is legal.

Moreover, the Justice Department’s assertion it can preemptively attack individuals out of “self-defense” is as questionable as the claim Bush made that Iraq posed an “imminent threat” and needed to be attacked out of “self-defense.” Both twist international law to provide cover for the inevitable commitment of atrocities. And, in the end that may not be surprising because, like the justification for war in Iraq, the justification for targeted killings is intended to make normal the use of state-sanctioned murder to further the agenda of American empire.

National security correspondent for The Nation, Jeremy Scahill joined Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez to talk about John Brennan’s testimony fro the Senate committee:

President Obama’s nominee to run the CIA, John Brennan, forcefully defended Obama’s counterterrorism policies, including the increase use of armed drones and the targeted killings of American citizens during his confirmation hearing Thursday. “None of the central questions that should have been asked of John Brennan were asked in an effective way,” says Jeremy Scahill, author of the forthcoming book “Dirty Wars.” “In the cases where people like Sen. Angus King or Sen. Ron Wyden would ask a real question, for instance, about whether or not the CIA has the right to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. The questions were very good – Brennan would then offer up a non-answer. Then there would be almost a no follow-up.” Scahill went on to say, “[Brennan has] served for more than four years as the assassination czar, and it basically looked like they’re discussing purchasing a used car on Capitol hill. And it was total kabuki oversight. And that’s a devastating commentary on where things stand.



Transcript not yet available.

Mr. Brennan’s testimony did raise some serious questions about oversight of this program:

The committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told reporters after the hearing that she wanted to open more of the program to the public so U.S. officials can acknowledge the strikes and correct what she said were exaggerated reports of civilian casualties.

Feinstein said she and other senators were considering legislation to set up a special court system to regulate drone strikes, similar to the one that signs off on government surveillance in espionage and terrorism cases. [..]

Feinstein said other senators including Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Pat Leahy, D-Vt., have all indicated “concern and interest” over how to regulate drones.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said some members of his panel also had been looking at establishing a “court-like entity” to review the strikes.

It appears that Mr. Brennan will be confirmed and that should be a huge concern for all Americans.

Feb 08 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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Glen Ford: Obama and Co. Make Up the Law as They Kill

“The white paper empowers Obama to delegate the kill-at-will authority.”

Yes We Can MurderUnlike the bombast that characterized the Bush administration’s assaults on U.S. and international law, the Obama regime tends to dribble out its rationales for gutting the Bill of Rights and every notion of global legality. This president prefers to create a fog – let’s call it the fog of his war against human rights – as he arrogates to himself the power to perpetually imprison or to summarily execute anyone, at any time, anywhere in the world. Obama assures us such authority is constitutionally rooted – it’s in there, believe me, he tells us – but he never produces legal chapter and verse to prove that presidential dictatorship is lawful. Instead, we get dribs and drabs of the administration’s position from lawyers defending Obama’s preventive detention law in the courts, or from informal statements by the attorney general, or even little tidbits gleaned from an Obama conversation with comedian Jon Stewart. [..]

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fond of saying that the arc of history bends towards justice. In the long term, that may be true. But Martin’s arc is not bending towards justice under this administration. It bends towards fascism, with a Black presidential face.

Paul Krugman: Kick That Can

John Boehner, the speaker of the House, claims to be exasperated. “At some point, Washington has to deal with its spending problem,” he said Wednesday. “I’ve watched them kick this can down the road for 22 years since I’ve been here. I’ve had enough of it. It’s time to act.”

Actually, Mr. Boehner needs to refresh his memory. During the first decade of his time in Congress, the U.S. government was doing just fine on the fiscal front. In particular, the ratio of federal debt to G.D.P. was a third lower when Bill Clinton left office than it was when he came in. It was only when George W. Bush arrived and squandered the Clinton surplus on tax cuts and unfunded wars that the budget outlook began deteriorating again.

Dean Baker: Corporate America: Saving the Twinkie but Not the Workers

No, I am not kidding. Steven Davidoff has a DealBook column touting the fact that Hostess Twinkies are likely to survive as a product, even though the company that makes them has gone bankrupt. The Twinkie brand, along with other iconic brands owned by the company, will be sold off in bankruptcy to other companies who expect to be able to profitably market them. Of course there is no guarantee that they will restart the old factories and rehire the Hostess workers, likely leaving them out in the cold.

There are two major issues here. First, in the United States firms can in general fire workers at will. This means that if they can find workers elsewhere in or outside the country who will work for less, then they can dump their current workforce and higher lower cost labor. This happens all the time. Most other wealthy countries require some sort of severance payment to longer term workers, but the United States does not.

Robert Reich: The Economic Challenge Ahead: More Jobs and Growth, Not Deficit Reduction

Can we just keep things in perspective? On Tuesday, the President asked Republicans to join him in finding more spending cuts and revenues before the next fiscal cliff whacks the economy at the end of the month.

Yet that same day, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal budget deficit will drop to 5.3 percent of the nation’s total output by the end of this year.

This is roughly half what the deficit was relative to the size of the economy in 2009. It’s about the same share of the economy as it was when Bill Clinton became president in 1992. The deficit wasn’t a problem then, and it’s not an immediate problem now.

Yes, the deficit becomes larger later in the decade. But that’s mainly due to the last-ditch fiscal cliff deal in December.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Sen. Kaufman On JPMorgan Chase: Private Lawsuit Found Evidence the Feds Didn’t

Think of it as the story of two antagonists. One of them was an honest Senator who came to Washington to fight corruption. The other is an arrogant banker who’s so sure of his untouchability that he wore “FBI” cufflinks when he made a public appearance last month.

Former Sen. Ted Kaufman, whose epic struggle to bring Wall Street to justice was depicted in PBS Frontline‘s recent episode The Untouchables, made a striking observation on a press call today. “In a private case,” Sen. Kaufman said, the Dexia bank’s lawsuit “… uncovered reams of emails directly related to the fact that fraud was (allegedly) being committed by JPMorgan Chase.”

He was referring to headlines like “E-Mails Imply JPMorgan Knew Some Mortgage Deals Were Bad” in the New York Times and “JPMorgan Hid Reports of Defective Loans Before Sales ” in Bloomberg News. Sen. Kaufman added:

“It is just hard to believe that if the Department of Justice had made Wall St fraud a major priority, with the resources they have, they could not have found these same emails and brought these cases.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: Republicans: Rebranding vs. Rethinking

Rebranding is trendy in the Republican Party.

Rep. Eric Cantor gave a major speech on Tuesday to advance the effort. Gov. Bobby Jindal wants the GOP to stop being the “stupid party.” Karl Rove is setting up a PAC (it’s what he does these days) to defeat right-wing crazies who cost the party Senate seats.

But there’s a big difference between rebranding-this implies the product is fine but needs to be sold better-and pursuing a different approach to governing. Here’s an early action report.

Feb 08 2013

On This Day In History February 8

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.

February 8 is the 39th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 326 days remaining until the end of the year (327 in leap years).

On this day in 1828, Jules Gabriel Verne is born in Nantes, Brittany in France. He was a French author who pioneered the science-fiction genre. He is best known for novels such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873). Verne wrote about space, air, and underwater travel before air travel and practical submarines were invented, and before practical means of space travel had been devised. He is the third most translated individual author in the world, according to Index Translationum. Some of his books have been made into films. Verne, along with Hugo Gernsback and H. G. Wells, is often popularly referred to as the “Father of Science Fiction”.

Literary debut

After completing his studies at the lycée, Verne went to Paris to study for the bar. About 1848, in conjunction with Michel Carré, he began writing libretti for operettas. For some years his attentions were divided between the theatre and work, but some travellers’ stories which he wrote for the Musée des Familles revealed to him his true talent: the telling of delightfully extravagant voyages and adventures to which cleverly prepared scientific and geographical details lent an air of verisimilitude.

When Verne’s father discovered that his son was writing rather than studying law, he promptly withdrew his financial support. Verne was forced to support himself as a stockbroker, which he hated despite being somewhat successful at it. During this period, he met Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, pére, who offered him writing advice.

Verne also met Honorine de Viane Morel, a widow with two daughters. They were married on January 10 1857. With her encouragement, he continued to write and actively looked for a publisher.

Verne’s situation improved when he met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, one of the most important French publishers of the 19th century, who also published Victor Hugo, Georges Sand, and Erckmann-Chatrian, among others. They formed an excellent writer-publisher team until Hetzel’s death. Hetzel helped improve Verne’s writings, which until then had been repeatedly rejected by other publishers. Hetzel read a draft of Verne’s story about the balloon exploration of Africa, which had been rejected by other publishers for being “too scientific”. With Hetzel’s help, Verne rewrote the story, which was published in 1863 in book form as Cinq semaines en balloon (Five_Weeks_in_a_Balloon Five Weeks in a Baloon). Acting on Hetzel’s advice, Verne added comical accents to his novels, changed sad endings into happy ones, and toned down various political messages.

From that point, Hetzel published two or more volumes a year. The most successful of these include: Voyage au centre de la terre (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864); De la terre à la lune (From the Earth to the Moon, 1865); Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1869); and Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in Eighty Days), which first appeared in Le Temps in 1872. The series is collectively known as “Voyages Extraordinaires” (“extraordinary voyages”). Verne could now live on his writings. But most of his wealth came from the stage adaptations of Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (1874) and Michel Strogoff (1876), which he wrote with Adolphe d’Ennery. In 1867 Verne bought a small ship, the Saint-Michel, which he successively replaced with the Saint-Michel II and the Saint-Michel III as his financial situation improved. On board the Saint-Michel III, he sailed around Europe. In 1870, he was appointed as “Chevalier” (Knight) of the Légion d’honneur. After his first novel, most of his stories were first serialised in the Magazine d’Éducation et de Récréation, a Hetzel biweekly publication, before being published in the form of books.

In his last years, Jules Verne wrote a novel called Paris in the 20th Century about a young man who lives in a world of glass skyscrapers, high-speed trains, gas-powered automobiles, calculators, and a worldwide communications network, yet cannot find happiness and comes to a tragic end. Hetzel thought the novel’s pessimism would damage Verne’s then booming career, and suggested he wait 20 years to publish it. Verne put the manuscript in a safe, where it was discovered by his great-grandson in 1989. It was published in 1994.

In 1905, while ill with diabetes, Verne died at his home, 44 Boulevard Longueville (now Boulevard Jules-Verne).