Daily Archive: 03/05/2013

Mar 05 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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Robert Kuttner: Economy Sick, Politics Deadlocked? How About a Trade Deal!?

The economy faces a persistent budget crisis.

Pushback from Wall Street has gutted most of the banking reforms, unemployment is stuck around 8 percent, corporate profits have been soaring while there is no wage growth — and the newest White House proposal is… a free trade zone with Europe.

This idea of a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area was tossed in, reportedly at the last moment, to President Obama’s State of the Union, and is being promoted in the government’s latest report on trade.

You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. This is a classic case of changing the subject to a cause that will not address any of the economy’s deeper ills and could well worsen them.

Dean Baker: The Sequester Is President Obama’s Fault

Now that we are counting up the days of the sequester instead of counting down, it would be a good time to cast blame. And my candidate is President Obama.

I’m not blaming Obama for the reasons that Bob Woodward came up with in his fantasyland. I am blaming President Obama and his administration for trying to be cute and clever rather than telling the public the truth about the economic crisis. The result is that the vast majority of the public, and virtually all of the reporters and pundits who deal with budget issues, does not have any clue about where the deficit came from and why it is a virtue rather than a problem. [..]

But it was President Obama who decided to play deficit reduction games rather than being truthful about the state of the economy. There was no reason to expect better from the Republicans in Congress, we had reason to hope that President Obama would act responsibly.

Paul Buchheidt: Horror Care: How Private Health Care Is Shortening Our Lives

Steven Brill’s article in Time Magazine about the cost of private health care is likely to make most of his readers very angry. Angry about the prices we pay, about the lives that are devastated, and about the fact that we’re one of the few developed countries without adequate health care for its citizens.

Economists have told us that the profit motive of privatization comes with an “invisible hand” that automatically corrects inequities in the market. It hasn’t worked that way for health care. The personal stories recounted below, and some additional facts to complement them, make it clear that an essential human need has been turned into a product that benefits a few people at the expense of many others. [..]

By treating the essential human need of health care as a product, the hospitals and doctors and drug companies and insurance companies and equipment suppliers are lured toward a pot of money, with little regard for the effects of their profit-making on average Americans.

The solution, of course, is Medicare for all. If, that is, the invisible hand of the market ever reaches out to average Americans.

Desmond Tutu: Nuclear Weapons Must Be Eradicated for all Our Sakes

No nation should own nuclear arms – not Iran, not North Korea, and not their critics who take the moral high ground

We cannot intimidate others into behaving well when we ourselves are misbehaving. Yet that is precisely what nations armed with nuclear weapons hope to do by censuring North Korea for its nuclear tests and sounding alarm bells over Iran’s pursuit of enriched uranium. According to their logic, a select few nations can ensure the security of all by having the capacity to destroy all.

John Nichols: If Switzerland Can Crack Down on CEOs, Why Not the US?

Does anyone seriously doubt that, if America had the same national referendum system that Switzerland does, voters in the United States would vote just as aggressively as the Swiss have to curb CEO abuses?

Actually, the 68 percent support for Sunday’s Swiss referendum that gives shareholders broad new powers to curb excessive pay for bankers and corporate executives might well be shy of the mark that the US could hit.

Polls of American voters have regularly shown that over 70 percent favor restrictions on executive compensation, with even self-identified conservatives registering majority support for clamping down on CEOs.

Tom Engelhardt: Climate Change as History’s Deal-Breaker

(or Where Is Everybody?) Why It’s So Tough to Get Your Head Around Climate Change

Two Sundays ago, I traveled to the nation’s capital to attend what was billed as “the largest climate rally in history” and I haven’t been able to get the experience — or a question that haunted me — out of my mind.  Where was everybody? [..]

Sixty environmental and other organizations were backing the demonstration, including the Sierra Club with its hundreds of thousands of members.  Given what was potentially at stake, it never crossed my mind that the turnout wouldn’t be substantial.  In fact, on that frigid day, lots of demonstrators did turn up.  Evidently, they knew the dirty little secret of such events: that much talk would precede a modest amount of walking and inventive slogan shouting.  So they arrived — poured in actually — late, and in real numbers.

Mar 05 2013

“Strengthening Social Security” and Other Euphemisms

strengthen

Strengthen – example 1.)  

As a seventh grader, Victor Alcantara towered over his peers. Already six feet tall and a substantial 190 pounds, Victor was well prepared by nature for what gave him the greatest pleasure – being a thug.  Victor was not driven by circumstances into his chosen career field. He had an unremarkable but perfectly serviceable intellect.  

His father was a University professor and his mother was a lawyer.  That Victor lacked their passion for academic acheivement was something of an irritant to them as were the frequent calls from school administrators and the irate parents of Victor’s victims.

Victor had wisely chosen to form a strategic partnership with the next largest boy in seventh grade, Mark Ballis, who had been held back a couple of times  making him the oldest seventh grader in the entire school system.  Mark was neither tremendously bright nor capable, but generally not a bad sort of kid and Victor had decided that he needed something of a life remake.  As part of Victor’s remake, he had renamed him, “Spike” and had had spent considerable effort on tutoring him as to how to comport himself with a certain thuggish silence and an attitude of cool equanimity.  Spike became a perfect henchman.

Victor and Spike, while often scheming greater exploits mostly engaged in classic bullying, shaking down kids in the halls and at recess for their lunch money.  Victor’s instincts led him to choose the social misfits, the nerds and the fat kids as his victims, steering clear of the popular kids.  

One day, Victor and Spike had cornered a recently arrived fat kid on the playground.  Victor got close up to the kid so that he had to look up at him at a sharp angle and pressed his demand.  “You kind of bother me looking like that, I think that you should give my associate here Spike your lunch money.”

Normally, the implied threat of violence and the innate desire to flee caused most kids to hurriedly comply with Victor’s demands, but this kid did not seem to be in any hurry to comply.  Victor leaned closer as the kid asked him, “What do you need it for?”

Nobody had ever asked Victor a question that went to the purpose of his enterprize before and he didn’t have a quick answer ready.  His brain raced as he stalled for time.  He fixed his portly interlocutor with an angry stare, the kind he had practiced in the mirror hundreds of times, but the kid just stood there, relaxed and expectant.

Then, from somewhere, Victor knew not where, the words came to him and he delivered them with a patient, but subtly insistent tone.  “This isn’t about our needs.  This is about you.  You need to lose some weight and toughen up a bit.  We will strengthen your ability to help yourself by removing one of the causes of your problem.  Now, are you going to hand over the money or do we have to work harder to strengthen you?”

Victor, now an old man sitting in his favorite chair, reflected that this was the turning point in his life where he transitioned from being a mere thug to becoming a politician.

Strengthen – example 2.)  

Victor sped into the Gas and Go on Bynum Road. He hopped out of his gaudy Hummer with enormous graphics that read, “Alcantara – County Executive” adorning all visible sides and the hood.  Heading straight for the office, he bellowed out to the man behind the counter, “Johnson, I need to talk to you now!”  

Walter “Butch” Johnson closed the cash register, signalled to the pimply faced kid dispensing a hot dog to a customer to take over and shuffled into his office.  Victor was seated behind the desk looking around at Butch’s family pictures on the left by the stapler and the calculator.  “Sit down Butch,” Victor said.

Victor Alcantara, now in his 30’s was the owner of a chain of gas station convenience stores and had recently been elected County Executive.  Victor now needed to scrape up some money to purchase a sand and gravel pit.  All of the pieces were in place.  He had installed Mark “Spike” Ballis as the County’s head of Public Works who would approve the contract with the County for sand and gravel and then the taxpayers could contribute directly to his success.  Now all he needed was a bit more capital to swing the deal.

“Butch,” he started, “I really appreciate the hard work you’ve been doing here, doing without an assistant manager, working double shifts and keeping down the costs of hiring kids to work the store in these tough times.”  Butch nodded and wondered when the pain would come.  “So I’ve been trying to find a way to reward your efforts.  I wanted to be able to tell you that we’d finally be able to give you and all of the managers a raise, but, the money’s just not there for that.”  Victor paused and gave Butch the compassionate look that he’d been working on in the mirror and had deployed repeatedly at events while campaigning for office.  Seeing the look, Butch thought to himself, oh damn, here it comes now.

Victor launched back in to his spiel, “So I thought, I don’t have the money,

because times are tough.  Let me tell you, though your store is a consistent performer, Butch, there have been a number of times I’ve thought that maybe I’d have to shut down a few stores.  So I thought,  what other sort of thing can I do for my people?  Then I got to thinking about you, Butch.  You’ve got a family and what you need is security.  The security that comes from knowing that the company you work for is strong and can continue to keep you employed.”

Victor suddenly got to the heart of his pitch. “So, I’ve decided to strengthen you by strengthening the company, Butch.  From today forward, everybody’s pay will be cut back to minimum wage.  Your paycheck won’t need to go down, you can keep on working all of the hours that you want, Butch, and the company can afford to keep paying you and everyone else.  So, that’s what I am working to give everybody here, a strengthened company and strengthened employees.  That security should really help you, Butch, now that your third child is on its way, right?”  Butch nodded his head while still in the process of making some mental calculations as to how the hell he was going to keep his family afloat while Victor sprang to his feet, slapped Butch on the back as he worked his way out the door and thought to himself, “one down, 27 to go.”

Strengthen – example 3.)

Victor sat in the den surrounded by mementoes of his long political career.  His eyes scanned over the walls covered with pictures of himself with presidents and other congressmen. There were assorted awards and trophies imparted by a mixture of lobbyists, corporations and organizations, pictures of himself on the podium at the Republican National Convention, CPAC, playing tennis at Kennebunkport.  His eyes fell on the picture given pride of place in the room that had hung in his congressional office for years.  It was a picture taken when he visited an industrial hog farm many years ago. It showed him and the farmer in the foreground, and as far as the eye could see were pigs, tightly penned in row after row of cages with mounds of food in front of them and a conveyor belt behind them to take away their poop.  The picture had become for Victor a visual metaphor for his constituents and the public in general.

Victor looked down and began to read aloud from an article on his laptop:

Congressional Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), signaled greater willingness on Wednesday to cut Social Security benefits … Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill that a cut proposed by President Barack Obama in the fiscal cliff negotiations would in fact

strengthen” the program, echoing the claims often made by Republicans about entitlement programs they want to slash. …

The cut involves swapping out the traditional method for calculating cost of living increases, based on the current standard for measuring inflation, for something called a chained CPI, or chained Consumer Price Index.

The cuts would start small, but wind up costing beneficiaries thousands of dollars over time … Pelosi wrapped both her arms around it Wednesday, insisting she does not regard it as a “cut.”

Victor stared at his laptop in disbelief for a moment and then erupted, “Goddamn, I can’t stand that Obama, but I have to admit, the man has cojones!  Strengthening Social Security my ass!  If I had proposed a scam like that in my day, they would have relegated my ass to the “crazy uncle” wing of the party!  That son-of-a-bitch is sending ’em off to the slaughterhouse and they still think he’s just the nice farmer that gives them all that damned food!”

Victor emitted a gutteral cackle startling his trophy wife’s cat who was yet again demonstrating his feelings for Victor by peeing on his rug for the umpteenth time.

Mar 05 2013

On This Day In History March 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.

March 5 is the 64th day of the year (65th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 301 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1770, a mob of angry colonists gathers at the Customs House in Boston and begins tossing snowballs and rocks at the lone British soldier guarding the building. The protesters opposed the occupation of their city by British troops, who were sent to Boston in 1768 to enforce unpopular taxation measures passed by a British parliament without direct American representation.

The Incident

The event began on King Street, today known as State Street, in the early evening of March 5, in front of Private Hugh White, a British sentry, as he stood duty outside the Custom house. A young wigmaker’s apprentice named Edward Gerrish called out to a British officer, Captain Lieutenant John Goldfinch, that Goldfinch had not paid the bill of Gerrish’s master. Goldfinch had in fact settled his account and ignored the insult. Gerrish departed, but returned a couple of hours later with companions. He continued his complaints, and the civilians began throwing rocks at Goldfinch. Gerrish exchanged insults with Private White, who left his post, challenged the boy, and struck him on the side of the head with a musket. As Gerrish cried in pain, one of his companions, Bartholomew Broaders, began to argue with White. This attracted a larger crowd.

As the evening progressed, the crowd grew larger and more boisterous. The mob grew in size and continued harassing Private White. As bells, which usually signified a fire, rang out from the surrounding steeples, the crowd of Bostonians grew larger and more threatening. Over fifty of the Bostonian townsmen gathered and provoked White and Goldfinch into fight. As the crowd began to get larger, the British soldiers realized that the situation was about to explode. Private White left his sentry box and retreated to the Custom House stairs with his back to a locked door. Nearby, from the Main Guard, the Officer of the Day, Captain Thomas Preston, watched this situation escalate and, according to his account, dispatched a non-commissioned officer and seven or eight soldiers of the 29th Regiment of Foot, with fixed bayonets, to relieve White. He and his subordinate, James Basset, followed soon afterward. Among these soldiers were Corporal William Wemms (apparently the non-commissioned officer mentioned in Preston’s report), Hugh Montgomery, John Carroll, James Hartigan, William McCauley, William Warren and Matthew Kilroy. As this relief column moved forward to the now empty sentry box, the crowd pressed around them. When they reached this point they loaded their muskets and joined with Private White at the custom house stairs. As the crowd, estimated at 300 to 400, pressed about them, they formed a semicircular perimeter.

The crowd continued to harass the soldiers and began to throw snow balls and other small objects at the soldiers. Private Hugh Montgomery was struck down onto the ground by a club wielded by Richard Holmes, a local tavernkeeper. When he recovered to his feet, he fired his musket, later admitting to one of his defense attorneys that he had yelled “Damn you, fire!” It is presumed that Captain Preston would not have told the soldiers to fire, as he was standing in front of the guns, between his men and the crowd of protesters. However, the protesters in the crowd were taunting the soldiers by yelling “Fire”. There was a pause of indefinite length; the soldiers then fired into the crowd. Their uneven bursts hit eleven men. Three Americans – ropemaker Samuel Gray, mariner James Caldwell, and a mixed race sailor named Crispus Attucks – died instantly. Seventeen-year-old Samuel Maverick, struck by a ricocheting musket ball at the back of the crowd, died a few hours later, in the early morning of the next day. Thirty-year-old Irish immigrant Patrick Carr died two weeks later. To keep the peace, the next day royal authorities agreed to remove all troops from the centre of town to a fort on Castle Island in Boston Harbor. On March 27 the soldiers, Captain Preston and four men who were in the Customs House and alleged to have fired shots, were indicted for murder.

The Trial of the Soldiers

At the request of Captain Preston and in the interest that the trial be fair, John Adams, a leading Boston Patriot and future President, took the case defending the British soldiers.

In the trial of the soldiers, which opened November 27, 1770, Adams argued that if the soldiers were endangered by the mob, which he called “a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes, and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs,” they had the legal right to fight back, and so were innocent. If they were provoked but not endangered, he argued, they were at most guilty of manslaughter. The jury agreed with Adams and acquitted six of the soldiers. Two of the soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter because there was overwhelming evidence that they fired directly into the crowd, however Adams invoked Benefit of clergy in their favor: by proving to the judge that they could read by having them read aloud from the Bible, he had their punishment, which would have been a death sentence, reduced to branding of the thumb in open court. The jury’s decisions suggest that they believed the soldiers had felt threatened by the crowd. Patrick Carr, the fifth victim, corroborated this with a deathbed testimony delivered to his doctor.

Three years later in 1773, on the third anniversary of the incident, John Adams made this entry in his diary:

The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.

“This however is no Reason why the Town should not call the Action of that Night a Massacre, nor is it any Argument in favour of the Governor or Minister, who caused them to be sent here. But it is the strongest Proofs of the Danger of Standing Armies.

Mar 05 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Government Shut Down

Sequestration wasn’t going to happen according to Pres. Barack Obama, but it did. Mostly, because he was naive enough to think that the Republicans would cave because he dangled cuts to Social Security under there noses. Well, that didn’t work out so well. The Tea Party hard liners were adamant about no new taxes and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), eager to hold onto his gavel, stood his ground.

We now move to the next manufactured budget crisis on the agenda: the continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government lights on after March 27. If you think that is going to be smooth sailing then you aren’t paying attention. The fight over sequestration could very well lead to a government shutdown:

An aide to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said GOP leaders haven’t yet settled on an approach to funding the government. And House Republicans are divided enough that it’s unclear whether they could pass a stripped-down appropriations measure to begin with. Many Republicans would like to use the appropriations process to mitigate sequestration’s defense cuts, or eliminate them by cutting more deeply into domestic spending – a non-starter for Democrats. [..]

“We have had a law that’s in effect; it’s called sequestration,” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said. “Those cuts will go forward. They’re all cuts. I think we need some revenue to take the pressure off everybody. The American people agree with me. And until there’s some agreement on revenue, I believe we should just go ahead with the sequester.”

In other words, Democrats won’t allow Republicans to use a continuing resolution to enshrine sequestration’s lower overall spending requirement by apportioning the cuts in a less indiscriminate way.

Pres. Obama thinks a government shut down can be avoided believing that the Republicans will do the “right thing” and agree to a CR that “adhere to the spending levels they agreed to during the debt limit fight in 2011“:

If House Republicans can’t pass a government funding bill that sets overall spending at levels agreed to in the Budget Control Act – funding that would automatically be reduced because of sequestration – then the government will shutdown and the pressure Republicans feel to cut a deal that both averts sequestration and keeps the government running will intensify. [..]

Thus, if Republicans try to rejigger the sequestration cuts such that they make the lower overall spending levels permanent, but rescind its indiscriminate cutting mechanism and thus remove the pressure on Congress to pass a balanced alternative, they’ll set off a government shutdown fight.

But if Republicans can pass a government funding bill that adheres to spending levels agreed to and set in 2011, then the government will stay open and the fight over sequestration will continue indefinitely.

However the fight over ongoing funding of the government shakes out, Obama said he hopes public pressure convinces Republicans to relent on revenues so that he and Congress can replace sequestration with an alternative deficit reduction plan.

First, the Republicans don’t care about public pressure Second, if Pres. Obama isn’t aware of that then he hasn’t been paying attention and his prediction that the government won’t shut down is as premature as the one about sequestration not happening.

“We agreed to a certain amount of money that was going to be spent each year, and certain funding levels for our military, our education system, and so forth,” Obama said. “If we stick to that deal, then I will be supportive of us sticking to that deal.”

But the implementation of sequestration, particularly its indiscriminate cuts to defense programs, calls into question whether House Republicans will be able to honor the government funding deal without relying on a significant number of Democratic votes. Republicans want to restore some funding to defense programs to mitigate sequestration’s impact on GOP priorities. And that could leave Boehner to choose between keeping his conference united – and thus passing a continuing resolution that the Senate and White House reject – or ignoring internal GOP politics and teaming up with Democrats to keep the government open.

The Republicans in the House have other ideas and have already started planning their end run around the cuts in sequestration they didn’t like by eliminating them in the CR. According to The Hill, they’ve already introduced a funding bill that will “cushion the Pentagon and other agencies from the blow of $85 billion in sequester spending cuts

It would shift about $10.4 billion into the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance account by cutting other defense accounts, including a $3.6 billion reduction in personnel funds, $2.5 billion less in research and development, and $4.2 billion less in equipment procurement. [..]

In total, the bill includes $518 billion for defense, $2 billion more than President Obama requested this year but the same as in 2012. It assumes the 13 percent cut to non-exempt budget accounts called for by sequestration will occur.

The Republicans are trying to undo the cuts they don’t like while preserving the cuts that the Democrats don’t like and using the CR as an end run around the law.

The Democrats are still reviewing the proposal and have said that they would insist on the same “cushion” non-defense appropriations. There are two scenarios for how this “drama” will play out:

A fight ensues between the House and Senate over the cushions for the Republican’s pet cuts and the Democratic opposition without similar concessions leading to a government shutdown;

Harry Reid gets his orders from the White House, fearing the repercussions of a government shut down, and he puts the House bill up for a vote and it passes with minimum Democratic support.

I’m betting on the latter because Barack already said so.