Daily Archive: 02/25/2013

Feb 25 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: Austerity, Italian Style

Two months ago, when Mario Monti stepped down as Italy’s prime minister, The Economist opined that “The coming election campaign will be, above all, a test of the maturity and realism of Italian voters.” The mature, realistic action, presumably, would have been to return Mr. Monti – who was essentially imposed on Italy by its creditors – to office, this time with an actual democratic mandate.

Well, it’s not looking good. Mr. Monti’s party appears likely to come in fourth; not only is he running well behind the essentially comical Silvio Berlusconi, he’s running behind an actual comedian, Beppe Grillo, whose lack of a coherent platform hasn’t stopped him from becoming a powerful political force.

New York Times Editorial: Defense and the Sequester

The arbitrary budget cuts known as the sequester will exact a toll on not only domestic programs but military spending as well. Hence the howls in Washington from the Pentagon chieftains and their ardent Congressional supporters. But the truth is that the military budget not only can be cut, but should be cut, though not with this kind of political machete and not in the way the service chiefs say they plan to wield it.

If and when the sequester comes into play on March 1, it will force cuts totaling $85 billion in discretionary government spending over the next seven months. This includes $43 billion from defense programs, or 8 percent. Over the next 10 years, defense cuts are supposed to total $500 billion.

Robert Kuttner: The Sequester Debacle: Who Takes the Fall?

President Obama and his advisers are wagering that Republicans will take the political blame if the sequester of $85 billion in automatic budget cuts is actually executed March 1. The president’s public remarks keep emphasizing the risk to the recovery, the loss of jobs, the inconvenience to the public and the generally obstructionist posture of Republicans in Congress.

He is certainly right — in the short run. But the potential for damage to Obama and the Democrats is far greater in the years between now and the next mid-term (2014) and presidential (2016) elections.

Why are Democrats more at risk?

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Washington’s Stupid, Destructive Game

It’s Monday morning in America. That means we’re about to endure another week of pointless debate over the precise methods by which our federal government will impose more needless misery on the hapless population, instead of addressing its eminently fixable economic problems.

Readers of our nation’s newspapers might be forgiven for believing that the citizens of our nation have been condemned to some sort of quotidian hell as punishment for our collective crimes, where we must suffer the pangs of deprivation while listening to endless debates about how best to compound our misery.

Robert Fisk: War on Terror is the West’s New Religion

But all the crusading and invading simply plays into al-Qa’ida’s hands – just ask the French

Mohamed al-Zawahiri, younger brother of Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman, made a particularly intriguing statement in Cairo last month. Talking to that wonderful French institution Le Journal du Dimanche about Mali, he asked the paper to warn France “and to call on reasonable French people and wise men not to fall into the same trap as the Americans. France is held responsible for having occupied a Muslim country. She has declared war on Islam.” No clearer warning could France have received. And sure enough, one day later, suicide bombers attacked occupied Gao, while, exactly 10 days later, France lost its second soldier in Mali, shot dead by rebels in a battle in the Ifoghas mountain range. That’s where, according to the tired old rhetoric of President Hollande, there had been a battle with “terrorists” who were “holed up” in the area during an operation which was “in its last phase”. The phraseology is as wearying – you could listen to the same old wording in almost every US pronouncement during the Iraqi war – as is the West’s incomprehension of the new al-Qa’ida.

Robert Reich: Why Customers Are Disappearing, Why Higher Unemployment Is the Likely Result, and Why Many in Washington Don’t Have Half a Brain

Can we just put aside ideology for one minute and agree that businesses hire more workers if they have more customers, and fire workers if they have fewer customers?

There are two big categories of customer: One is comprised of individual consumers. The other is government.

We tend to think of the government as a direct employer — of teachers, fire fighters, civil servants.

But government is also a major customer of the private sector. It buys school supplies, pharmaceuticals, military equipment, computers. It hires private companies to build roads and bridges, dredge ports, manage data.

One out of every five Americans works for a company whose customer is the government.

Here’s the problem: Both categories of customer are buying less.

Feb 25 2013

ek’s Infallible Stock Market Secrets!!!!

Of course I stole it.  I believe in Capitalism!  And ‘Free Markets’!

Are you ready?  Here it is-

Watch CNBC like a hawk and whenever they mention a stock, short it.

Feb 25 2013

On This Day In History February 25

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

On this day in Japan, the Plum Blossom Festival is held. The Festival at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto is one one of the most beautiful. The shrine was built in 947, to appease the angry spirit of bureaucrat, scholar and poet Sugawara no Michizane, who had been exiled as a result of political maneuvers of his enemies in the Fujiwara clan.

The shrine was dedicated to Michizane; and in 986, the scholar-bureaucrat was deified and the title of Tenjin (Heavenly Deity) was conferred.

The grounds are filled with Michizane’s favorite tree, the red and white ume or plum blossom, and when they blossom the shrine is often very crowded. Open-air tea ceremonies are hosted by geiko and apprentice maiko from the nearby Kamishichiken district. The plum festival has been held on the same day every year for about 900 years to mark the death of Michizane.

Sugawara no Michizane, August 1, 845 – March 26, 903, was a scholar, poet, and politician of the Heian Period of Japan. He is regarded as an excellent poet, particularly in Chinese poetry.

He was educated in a private school run by his father where he studies to become an official in the Court of the Japanese Emperor. His training and skill with Classical Chinese language and literature afforded him many opportunities to draft edicts and correspondences for officials in the Court in addition to his menial duties. Records show at this time he composed three petitions for Fujiwara no Yoshifusa as well as the Emperor. Michizane also took part in receiving delegations from the Kingdom of Parhae, where Michizane’s skill with Chinese again proved useful in diplomatic exchanges and poetry exchange. In 877, he was assigned to the Ministry of the Ceremonial, which allowed him to manage educational and intellectual matters more than before. While serving as governor of Sanuki Province, he intervened in a Court matter on the side Emperor Uda over Fujiwara no Mototsune and at the end of his term returned to the Court in Kyoto where he served in many positions.

He was appointed ambassador to China in the 890s, but instead came out in support of abolition of the imperial embassies to China in 894, theoretically in consideration for the decline of the Tang Dynasty. A potential ulterior motive may have lain in Michizane’s almost complete ignorance of spoken Chinese; most Japanese at the time only read Chinese, and knew little to nothing about the spoken language. Michizane, as the nominated ambassador to China, would have been presented with a potential loss of face had he been forced to depend on an interpreter. Emperor Uda stopped the practice of sending ambassadors to China by what he understood as persuasive counsel from  Michizane.

Within the end of Emperor Uda reign in 897, Michizane’s position became increasingly vulnerable. In 901, through the political maneuverings of his rival, Fujiwara no Tokihira, Michizane was demoted from his aristocratic rank of junior second to a minor official post at Dazaifu, in Kyushu‘s Chikuzen Province. After his lonely death, plague and drought spread and sons of Emperor Daigo died in succession. The Imperial Palace’s Great Audience Hall (shishinden) was struck repeatedly by lightning, and the city experienced weeks of rainstorms and floods. Attributing this to the angry spirit of the exiled Sugawara, the imperial court built a Shinto shrine called Kitano Tenman-gu in Kyoto, and dedicated it to him. They posthumously restored his title and office, and struck from the record any mention of his exile. Sugawara was deified as Tenjin-sama, or kami of scholarship. Today many Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to him.

Feb 25 2013

Terror at Guantanamo

Torture at Guantánamo: Lt. Col. Stuart Couch on His Refusal to Prosecute Abused Prisoner

On Sept. 11, 2001, Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Couch’s friend died co-piloting the second plane to hit the World Trade Center. Soon after, Couch became one of the first military prosecutors assigned to the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay to prosecute men alleged to have carried out the terrorist plot. He ultimately would refuse to prosecute one detainee: Mohamedou Ould Slahi. “It became clear that what had been done to Slahi amounted to torture,” Couch says. “Specifically, he had been subjected to a mock execution. He had sensory deprivation. He had environmental manipulation; that is, cell is too cold, or the cell is too hot. … He was presented with a ruse that the United States had taken custody of his mother and his brother and that they were being brought to Guantánamo.” Couch says he concluded Slahi’s treatment amounted to illegal torture. “I came to the conclusion we had knowingly set him up for mental suffering in order for him to provide information,” Couch said. “We might very well have a significant problem with the body of evidence that we were able to present as to his guilt.”

“The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay”

Terror Court Prologue by Renee Feltz

Feb 25 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Sequester

“Just pass a one sentence bill that repeals sequestration” an idea that was posed by Up with Chris Hayes host Chris Hayes in the last segment of his Sunday show. So why isn’t that “on the table?”

Sequestration, when it was proposed, was supposed to be such a terrible economic idea that it would force Democrats and Republicans to come to “reasonable” agreement about the economy and implementing sound economic policies that would stimulate economic growth, create jobs and, in the long term reduce the deficit/debt that our elected officials and the traditional main stream media are agonizing over. The truth of the matter is, that regardless who is to blame (my opinion both parties are equally responsible), neither side wants to just end this insanity, not even Pres. Barack Obama, who “refuses to kill sequestration“, as William K. Black, former bank regulator and professor of law and economics, points out:

President Obama has revealed his real preferences in the current blame game by not calling for a clean bill eliminating the Sequester. It is striking that as far as I know (1) neither Obama nor any administration official has called for the elimination of the Sequester and (2) we have a fairly silly blame game about how the Sequester was created without discussing the implications of Obama’s continuing failure to call for the elimination of the Sequester despite his knowledge that it is highly self-destructive.

The only logical inference that can be drawn is that Obama remains committed to inflicting the “Grand Bargain” (really, the Grand Betrayal) on the Nation in his quest for a “legacy” and continues to believe that the Sequester provides him the essential leverage he feels he needs to coerce Senate progressives to adopt austerity, make deep cuts in vital social programs, and to begin to unravel the safety net. Obama’s newest budget offer includes cuts to the safety net and provides that 2/3 of the austerity inflicted would consist of spending cuts instead of tax increases. When that package is one’s starting position the end result of any deal will be far worse.

In any event, there is a clear answer to how to help our Nation. Both Parties should agree tomorrow to do a clean deal eliminating the Sequester without any conditions. By doing so, Obama would demonstrate that he had no desire to inflict the Grand Betrayal.

digby noticed Hayes’ comment, too:

As I’ve said a thousand times, this was not written in stone, it did not come down from Mt Sinai, it was an agreement that was struck to save face in the moment and it can be unstruck at any time. There is nothing absolutely requiring the congress to go through with this. There is some discussion that the only way this can happen is if the people see that government services they need are being affected and then put pressure on the government to end this game of chicken. Maybe that’s true. But let’s not kid ourselves that it isn’t a purely political bind these people have gotten themselves into. This goes back to the ill-fated 2011 Grand Bargain negotiations in which both the White House and the Republicans in the House bungled things so badly that we are still dealing with the fallout.

H/T Atrios

Joining Chris and Prof. Black for a lively panel discussion of “the anatomy of the sequester” were Neera Tanden, president and CEO for Center for American Progress; Steve Ellis,  vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense; and Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Feb 25 2013

Live Blog: The Oscars

The 2013 Oscars photo imagesqtbnANd9GcTaFOQ4v_nqGY2eBZVqU_zps30683ba3.jpgWelcome to the Live Blog of the 85th Academy Awards from fabulous downtown Hollywood or, in my case, on the couch in the family room with my lap top, a pitcher of martinis and Parmesan popcorn, Oh, and lots of napkins. Feel free to critique the couture, I am sure there will be plenty of tastefully “coutured” ladies and gentlemen in designer gowns and tuxedos,  as well as, well as the faux pas, unintentional and otherwise. I always look for Helena Bonham Carter, who although not nominated this year, gave a memorable performance as Madame Thénardier in Les Misérables, along with Sacha Baron Cohen as her swindling innkeeper husband. She is the epitome of bizarre fashion. I’m looking forward to seeing her in this Summer’s Lone Ranger along with Johnny Depp as Tonto, The Lone Ranger‘s “faithful companion.”

My picks for the top four awards are:

Best Picture:Les Misérables because I’m French;

Best Director: Ang Lee for Life of Pi becuase he’s been nominated 11 times and never won;

Best Actor: Hugh JackmanLes Misérables. He won this year’s Golden Globe Best Actor for his role as Jean Valjean and this is his first Oscar nomination.

Best Actress: Jessica ChastainZero Dark Thirty because I think the Academy voters are just dumb enough to believe she “nailed” Osama bin Laden.

My other favorites to win awards are Brave for Best Animated Feature; Mirror Mirror for Best Costume Design (disclaimer: I know someone who has a friend with a family member in the cast); and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for Best Visual Effects.

So, let’s go on with the show and the nominees are:

Best Picture:

Again this year, following the original format, there are nine nominees for the award:

  • Amour – Margaret Menegoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, and Michael Katz
  • Argo – Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild – Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, and Michael Gottwald
  • Django Unchained – Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, and Pilar Savone
  • Les Misérables – Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, and Cameron Mackintosh
  • Life of Pi – Gil Netter, Ang Lee, and David Womark
  • Lincoln – Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy
  • Silver Linings Playbook – Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, and Jonathan Gordon
  • Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, and Megan Ellison

Best Director:

Best Actor:

Best Actress:

The other nominations are below the fold.