Daily Archive: 03/11/2013

Mar 11 2013

The Assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki

Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman wrote in The Guardian that Americans should be ashamed that Rand Paul and the radical Tea Party Republicans were the only ones talking about drone executions.

Members of Congress, tasked with oversight of intelligence and military matters, have repeatedly demanded the memoranda from the White House detailing the legal basis for the drone program, only to be repeatedly denied. The nomination of Brennan has opened up the debate, forcing the Obama administration to make nominal gestures of compliance. The answers so far have not satisfied Senator Paul. [..]

The issue of extrajudicial execution of US citizens, whether on US soil or elsewhere, is clearly vital. But also important is the US government’s now-seemingly routine killing of civilians around the world, whether by drone strikes, night raids conducted by special operations forces or other lethal means. [..]

Barack Obama and John Brennan direct the drone strikes that are killing thousands of civilians. It doesn’t make us safer. It makes whole populations, from Yemen to Pakistan, hate us. Senator Paul’s outrage with the president’s claimed right to kill US citizens is entirely appropriate. That there is not more outrage at the thousands killed around the globe is shameful … and dangerous.

For a thoughtful discussion of the Awlaki assassinations and the president’s claim that he can legally do so, Ms. Goodman was joined by Scott Shane, national security reporter for The New York Times and, in the second video, Jesselyn Radack, National Security & Human Rights director at the Government Accountability Project .

Anwar al-Awlaki: NYT Details How Obama Admin Justified & Carried Out the Killing of U.S.-Born Cleric

As John Brennan is confirmed to head the CIA, we examine one of the most controversial U.S. targeted killings that occurred during his time as Obama’s counterterrorism adviser: the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. The U.S.-born cleric died in a U.S. drone strike in September 2011, along with American citizen Samir Khan. Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was also killed in a separate drone strike just weeks later. On Sunday, The New York Times published a major front-page article on the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki called “How a U.S. Citizen Came to Be in America’s Cross Hairs.The New York TimesScott Shane, one of the reporters on the piece, joins us from Washington, D.C. includes rush transcript

White House Changing Story on Anwar al-Awlaki? A Debate on NYT’s Inside Account of ’11 Drone Strike

The New York Times’ front-page account of the U.S. assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki has drawn criticism from critics of the Obama administration’s targeted killings overseas. In a joint statement, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights called the story “the latest in a series of one-sided, selective disclosures that prevent meaningful public debate and legal or even political accountability for the government’s killing program.” We discuss the article and the White House assassination program with two guests: Scott Shane, national security reporter at The New York Times, and Jesselyn Radack, National Security & Human Rights director at the Government Accountability Project and former legal ethics adviser at the Justice Department. includes rush transcript

From Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel in which she shreds the NYT’s article and its authors:

Anwar al-Awlaki Is the New Aluminum Tube

Mark Mazzetti, Charlie Savage, and Scott Shane team up to provide the government’s best case – and at times, an irresponsibly credulous one – for the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and the collateral deaths of Samir Khan and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.

Yet even in a 3,600 word story, they don’t present any evidence against the senior Awlaki that was fresher than a year old – the October 2010 toner cartridge plot – at the time the Yemeni-American was killed. (I’m not saying the government didn’t have more recent intelligence; it just doesn’t appear in this very Administration-friendly case.) Not surprisingly, then, the story completely ignores questions about the definition of “imminent threat” used in the OLC memo and whether Awlaki was an “imminent” threat when he was killed. [..]

Moreover, the case they do present has various weaknesses.

The “linked in various ways” standard for killing Americans

The story provides a fair amount of space to Awlaki’s celebration of the Nidal Hasan attack (though it does make it clear Awlaki did not respond enthusiastically to Hasan’s queries before the attack). [..]

It uses far vaguer language to describe Awlaki’s role in the Faisal Shahzad and toner cartridge plots.

NYT doesn’t care about problems with the Abu Tarak explanation

Which leaves the UndieBomb attack as the sole attack in which the NYT presents evidence about Awlaki’s direct role. But there’s a problem with their claims there, too. [..]

NYT finally finds a WikiLeaks cable it doesn’t like!

There’s one other really irresponsible piece to this story. [..]

It is our job, and that of Congress, to ask these questions and hold the president responsible for violations of our civil liberties.

Mar 11 2013

The Shame of the Democrats and Progressives

The shame of the Democrats and the so-called progressives is that it was a Tea Party Republican, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who stood up for civil liberties and the ever expanding executive power with his thirteen hour filibuster. In his article at The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald shreds the progressive Democratic myths and distortions about Sen. Paul’s filibuster and its importance.

In Glenn’s first point, he notes the lack of any empathy for the those whose rights are most abused and dismissed with an “it’s not me; it’s them” attitude.

(1) Progressives and their “empathy gap”

The US government’s continuous killing, due-process-free imprisonment, and other rights abuses under the War on Terror banner has affected one group far more than any other: Muslims and, increasingly, American Muslims. Politically, this has been the key fact enabling this to endure. Put simply, if you’re not Muslim, it’s very easy to dismiss, minimize or mock these issues because you can easily tell yourself that they don’t affect you or your family and therefore there is no reason to care. And since the vast, vast majority of Democratic politicians and progressive media commentators are not Muslim, one continuously sees this mentality shaping reaction to these issues. [..]

For a political faction that loves to depict itself as the champions of “empathy”, and which reflexively accuses others of having their political beliefs shaped by self-interest, this is an ironic fact indeed. It’s also the central dynamic driving the politics of these issues: the US government and media collaborate to keep the victims of these abuses largely invisible, so we rarely have to confront them, and on those rare occasions when we do, we can easily tell ourselves (false though the assurance is) that these abuses do not affect us and our families and it’s therefore only “paranoia” that can explain why someone might care so much about them.

Second, what Sen. Paul’s critics missed, or just blithely ignored, was that this was about the president’s claim to have the authority to assassinate an American citizen on American soil, or for that matter, anywhere else.

(2) Whether domestic assassinations are imminent is irrelevant to the debate

To focus on that attack is an absurd strawman, a deliberate distraction from the real issues, a total irrelevancy. That’s true for two primary reasons.

First, the reason this question matters so much – can the President target US citizens for assassination without due process on US soil? – is because it demonstrates just how radical the Obama administration’s theories of executive power are. Once you embrace the premises of everything they do in this area – we are a Nation at War; the entire globe is the battlefield; the president is vested with the unchecked power to use force against anyone he accuses of involvement with Terrorism – then there is no cogent, coherent way to say that the president lacks the power to assassinate even US citizens on US soil. That conclusion is the necessary, logical outcome of the premises that have been embraced. That’s why it is so vital to ask that. [..]

Second, presidents change, and so do circumstances. The belief that Barack Obama – despite his record – is too kind, too good, too magnanimous, too responsible to target US citizens for assassination on US soil is entirely irrelevant. At some point, there will be another president, even a Republican one, who will inherit the theories he embraces. Moreover, circumstances can change rapidly, so that – just as happened with 9/11 – what seems unthinkable quickly becomes not only possible but normalized.

In his third and final point, debunks the argument that this was over Holder’s first letter to Sen Paul, not that his second was any more satisfactory.

(3) Holder did not disclaim the power to assassinate on US soil

Indeed, the whole point of the Paul filibuster was to ask whether the Obama administration believes that it has the power to target a US citizen for assassination on US soil the way it did to Anwar Awlaki in Yemen. The Awlaki assassination was justified on the ground that Awlaki was a “combatant”, that he was “engaged in combat”, even though he was killed not while making bombs or shooting at anyone but after he had left a cafe where he had breakfast. If the Obama administration believes that Awlaki was “engaged in combat” at the time he was killed – and it clearly does – then Holder’s letter is meaningless at best, and menacing at worst, because that standard is so broad as to vest the president with exactly the power his supporters now insist he disclaimed.

The phrase “engaged in combat” has come to mean little more than: anyone the President accuses, in secrecy and with no due process, of supporting a Terrorist group. Indeed, radically broad definitions of “enemy combatant” have been at the heart of every War on Terror policy, from Guantanamo to CIA black sites to torture. [..]

At best, Holder’s letter begs the question: what do you mean when you accuse someone of being “engaged in combat”? And what are the exact limits of your power to target US citizens for execution without due process? That these questions even need to be asked underscores how urgently needed Paul’s filibuster was, and how much more serious pushback is still merited. But the primary obstacle to this effort has been, and remains, that the Democrats who spent all that time parading around as champions of these political values are now at the head of the line leading the war against them.

This is not a country of secret laws and courts. It is incumbent on the Congress to do its Constitutional duty to question the Executive Branch and hold it in check when it over steps its Constitutional authority.

That this president has expressed the belief that he has the authority to assassinate Americans without due process, and in fact has, should be abhorrent to every American no matter which side of the aisle you favor.  

Mar 11 2013

Fukushima 2 years on

Thousands across Japan march against nuclear power

AFP

9 hours ago

TOKYO – Anti-nuclear rallies took place across Japan, on the eve of the second anniversary of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster, urging Japan’s new government to abandon nuclear power.

Tens of thousands gathered in Hibiya park in central Tokyo, where activists and unionists packed a concert hall to voice their opposition.



Similar rallies were held elsewhere in Tokyo and across the rest of the nation, with local media reporting as many as 150 anti-nuclear events planned for the weekend and on Monday.

Protesters are calling for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office late December following his party’s election win, to dismantle all nuclear plants.

Fukushima Toxic Waste Swells as Japan Marks March 11 Disaster

By Jason Clenfield, Bloomberg News

Mar 10, 2013 11:01 AM ET

Radiation danger prevents workers from approaching a tangle of metal and upturned cars surrounding Unit 3, which was ripped apart by a hydrogen gas explosion after the tsunami. Remote controlled cranes are used to pull steel and concrete rubble from the top of the structure.



It will be years before even robots can work inside the steel- and concrete-encased core, according to Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer at Burlington, Vermont-based energy consultant Fairewinds Associates Inc.

“Unit 3 is in a condition that none of us has ever imagined,” he said by phone. “The entire structure is inaccessible to human beings right now.”

While clearing debris helps reduce radiation levels, it’s also filling the plant with toxic waste for which the utility has no ultimate disposal plan. More than 73,000 cubic meters of contaminated concrete, 58,000 cubic meters of irradiated trees and bushes, and 157,710 gallons of toxic sludge has built up, according to the utility.

Then there’s the water.

Tanks of it now cover an area equal to 37 football fields and the utility is clearing forest to make room for more. Some 400 tons of ground water each day seeps into reactor buildings and is contaminated.

There are 480 cesium-clogged filters, each weighing 15 tons, already warehoused in what the utility calls temporary storage.

“These filters will have to be stored for 300 years because cesium has a 30-year half-life and the rule of thumb is 10 half-lives,” Fairewinds’ Gundersen said.



Tokyo Electric has “no plans” for what to do with the water once its filtered, plant manager Takahashi said. It will probably wind up back in tanks, spokesman Yoshikazu Nagai said, standing in front of the new treatment facility.

Graft and corruption is rampant.

Japan’s cleanup of radiation, other toxins from tsunami and nuclear fiasco anything but clean

By Associated Press

Updated: Sunday, March 10, 1:02 AM

To clear, sort and process the rubble – and a vastly larger amount of radiation-contaminated soil and other debris near the nuclear plant in Fukushima, the government is relying on big construction companies whose multi-layer subcontracting systems are infiltrated by criminal gangs, or yakuza.

In January, police arrested a senior member of Japan’s second-largest yakuza group, Sumiyoshi Kai, on suspicion of illegally dispatching three contract workers to Date, a city in Fukushima struggling with relatively high radioactive contamination, through another construction company and pocketing one-third of their pay.



Labor shortages, lax oversight and massive amounts of funds budgeted for the clean-up are a recipe for cheating. And plenty of money is at stake: the cleanup of a 20-kilometer (12-mile) segment of an expressway whose worst contamination exceeds allowable radiation limits by 10 times will cost 2.1 billion yen ($22.5 billion), said Yoshinari Yoshida, an Environment Ministry official.

Move along, nothing to see here.

Nuclear chief: US plants safer after Japan crisis

By MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press

March 10, 2013 1:35 PM

All but five of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors were performing at acceptable safety levels at the end of 2012, (Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Allison) Macfarlane said, citing a recent NRC report. “You can’t engage that many reactors and not have a few that are going to have difficulty,” she said.

But the watchdog group, the Union of Concerned Scientists, has issued a scathing report saying nearly one in six U.S. nuclear reactors experienced safety breaches last year, due in part to weak oversight. The group accused the NRC of “tolerating the intolerable.”

Using the agency’s own data, the scientists group said 14 serious incidents, ranging from broken or impaired safety equipment to a cooling water leak, were reported last year. Over the past three years, 40 of the 104 U.S. reactors experienced one or more serious safety-related incidents that required additional action by the NRC, the report said.

“The NRC has repeatedly failed to enforce essential safety regulations,” wrote David Lochbaum, director of the group’s Nuclear Safety Project and author of the study. “Failing to enforce existing safety regulations is literally a gamble that places lives at stake.”



Problem-plagued plants in Florida and Wisconsin are slated for closure, and four other reactors remain offline because of safety concerns. Shut-down reactors include two at the beleaguered San Onofre nuclear power plant in southern California, which hasn’t produced electricity since January 2012, when a tiny radiation leak led to the discovery of damage to hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water.

Mar 11 2013

All Krugman All The Time

With a little bit of Alex Pareene just for sport.

Transcript

Dwindling Deficit Disorder

By PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times

Published: March 10, 2013

What’s really remarkable at this point, however, is the persistence of the deficit fixation in the face of rapidly changing facts. People still talk as if the deficit were exploding, as if the United States budget were on an unsustainable path; in fact, the deficit is falling more rapidly than it has for generations, it is already down to sustainable levels, and it is too small given the state of the economy.



(A)fter peaking in 2009 at $1.4 trillion, the deficit began coming down. The Congressional Budget Office expects the deficit for fiscal 2013 (which began in October and is almost half over) to be $845 billion. That may still sound like a big number, but given the state of the economy it really isn’t.

Bear in mind that the budget doesn’t have to be balanced to put us on a fiscally sustainable path; all we need is a deficit small enough that debt grows more slowly than the economy. To take the classic example, America never did pay off the debt from World War II – in fact, our debt doubled in the 30 years that followed the war. But debt as a percentage of G.D.P. fell by three-quarters over the same period.

Right now, a sustainable deficit would be around $460 billion. The actual deficit is bigger than that. But according to new estimates by the budget office, half of our current deficit reflects the effects of a still-depressed economy. The “cyclically adjusted” deficit – what the deficit would be if we were near full employment – is only about $423 billion, which puts it in the sustainable range; next year the budget office expects that number to fall to just $172 billion. And that’s why budget office projections show the nation’s debt position more or less stable over the next decade.

So we do not, repeat do not, face any kind of deficit crisis either now or for years to come.



Now, I’m aware that the facts about our dwindling deficit are unwelcome in many quarters. Fiscal fearmongering is a major industry inside the Beltway, especially among those looking for excuses to do what they really want, namely dismantle Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. People whose careers are heavily invested in the deficit-scold industry don’t want to let evidence undermine their scare tactics; as the deficit dwindles, we’re sure to encounter a blizzard of bogus numbers purporting to show that we’re still in some kind of fiscal crisis.

Transcript

Gone Deficit Gone

Paul Krugman, The New York Times

March 9, 2013, 8:31 am

Anyone who is serious (as opposed to Serious) about matters fiscal knows that it’s highly misleading just to focus on the raw deficit numbers (ONE TRILLION DOLLARS), for two reasons.

First, fluctuations in the deficit tend to be driven by the business cycle; when the economy slumps, revenues fall and some kinds of expenditure, like unemployment benefits, rise. You want to take out these “automatic stabilizers” when assessing the underlying state of the budget.

Second, we don’t have to balance the budget to have a sustainable fiscal position; all we need is to ensure that debt grows more slowly than GDP.

So CBO is now out with its latest report on automatic stabilizers. It estimates that in fiscal 2013 these stabilizers will amount to $422 billion, accounting for just about half of a projected $845 billion deficit. So the cyclically adjusted deficit will be $423 billion.

How does this compare with the deficit consistent with fiscal sustainability? Well, there’s about $11.5 trillion in federal debt in the hands of the public. A reasonable, indeed fairly conservative guess is that nominal GDP will in future grow by 4 percent per year, half from real growth and half from inflation. This means that the sustainable deficit is 4 percent of $11.5 trillion, or $460 billion. Hey, we’re there!

And next year the adjusted deficit is projected to be much smaller.

Dwindling Deficit Disorder

By PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times

Published: March 10, 2013

What’s really remarkable at this point, however, is the persistence of the deficit fixation in the face of rapidly changing facts. People still talk as if the deficit were exploding, as if the United States budget were on an unsustainable path; in fact, the deficit is falling more rapidly than it has for generations, it is already down to sustainable levels, and it is too small given the state of the economy.



Now, I’m aware that the facts about our dwindling deficit are unwelcome in many quarters. Fiscal fearmongering is a major industry inside the Beltway, especially among those looking for excuses to do what they really want, namely dismantle Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. People whose careers are heavily invested in the deficit-scold industry don’t want to let evidence undermine their scare tactics; as the deficit dwindles, we’re sure to encounter a blizzard of bogus numbers purporting to show that we’re still in some kind of fiscal crisis.

But we aren’t. The deficit is indeed dwindling, and the case for making the deficit a central policy concern, which was never very strong given low borrowing costs and high unemployment, has now completely vanished.

The undead, unnecessary, unhelpful Grand Bargain

By Alex Pareene, Salon

Monday, Mar 11, 2013 07:45 AM EDT

The Grand Bargain is revered, among the Sunday Show set, as a goal essentially for its own sake. Its Grandness is its point. The thought of the parties coming together, agreeing on a mutually unpleasant compromise involving great political “sacrifice” (symbolic sacrifice for the politicians, likely eventual actual sacrifice for the constituents), warms the cockles of the Beltway Establishmentarian’s heart. If liberals and conservatives can’t stand the deal, all the better, even if one or both sides have perfectly valid reasons for blanching. The Bargain must, by necessity, reduce the deficit by “reining in entitlements.” “Entitlements” means Social Security and Medicare, two very popular and successful programs designed to keep retired people alive. Social Security and Medicare “reforms” that make both programs less generous are among the least popular policy proposals in America today, but both parties – at least, the leaders of both parties – support them (rhetorically). Cutting these programs is probably the single highest priority of the tiny centrist elite, and it has been for years, excepting the usual run-ups to our various wars. Part of the elaborate theater of Performing Seriousness in Washington is claiming that “everyone agrees” that the cuts are urgent and necessary, while also bemoaning that no politicians are “brave” enough to support them.

Cuts to those programs have been offered, repeatedly, by the president, to Republicans. Republicans, thus far, have pretended not to notice, because their parallel news media misinforms them and because they incorrectly believe the president to be insincere in his desire to hack away at those very popular and successful programs. The recent Obama charm offensive is designed to convince Republicans that he is very sincere in his efforts to get a Serious Debt Deal, involving “entitlement” cuts and tax reform.



(I)f Barack Obama finally gets his Grand Bargain, we’re going to get “entitlement” cuts despite the fact that is a bad idea that Americans do not want.

There are two important things to remember about “entitlements”: They are hugely popular programs for a very good reason, and actual sensible “reform” would mean improving them, not sacrificing them at the altar of “fiscal responsibility.” A “grand bargain” that was done with the intention of creating the best possible outcome for the most Americans, instead of with the intention of purposefully doing unpopular things because doing unpopular things denotes “seriousness,” would lower the Medicare eligibility age and expand Social Security. That the opposite approach is effectively the bipartisan consensus approach is the special sort of Beltway madness that makes sensible people wish for either a proper parliamentary system or at the very least for an EMP to take out Georgetown and much of Washington’s surrounding suburbs.

Medicare is very expensive. It’s the “entitlement” that is actually pretty much responsible for those scary “debt will be 10 million percent of GDP by the time the rapidly rising seas have swallowed much of the Earth” graphs. Medicare is expensive because we spend a lot on healthcare. We spend a lot on healthcare basically just because we want to, and doing so has been very good to a lot of people who work in healthcare fields. The way nearly every other advanced nation controls healthcare costs is by just having the government set prices. I thought everyone knew Medicare was cheaper than private insurance because it could negotiate lower rates, but apparently lots of people didn’t understand this until Steven Brill wrote a big article about it in Time. Again, many people understand that “reining in healthcare costs” means just spend less on healthcare, but for some reason Washington is fixated on passing the existing ballooning costs onto old and working people instead of just agreeing to pay doctors less in general.



Social Security, meanwhile, is lumped in with Medicare not because it faces rapidly ballooning costs in the future – it doesn’t – but because a lot of people just really, really, really want to cut it, or make it less generous, or let the finance industry get its hands on the money. Social Security would seriously be “fixed” just by a) raising taxes and/or b) deciding to pay for it, with borrowing or with some other pot of money.



We should, in other words, be having a big national debate about how to expand Social Security, not find ways to make it less generous for future retirees. (Maybe let’s make our country seem like a nice livable place and get a bunch of immigrants here to expand our population and contribute to the economy and pay taxes and stuff?) Otherwise instead of a Social Security funding crisis we will have a “no one has enough money to retire” crisis, in a few years. Which will likely require expensive government intervention anyway. Instead, the Obama/Democratic/Centrist position is “chained CPI,” which reduces benefits. (The Republican position is “let’s wait a while and try to privatize it again later, maybe.”)

In a country with a political system that was actually responsible and responsive to public preferences, the “grand bargain” following the resounding victory of the more liberal party in national elections would be the expansion of the welfare state and the social safety net. Instead, we have two austerity parties arguing over the rate at which they’ll impoverish the future elderly.

We’ll just have to count on the wingnuts in the House GOP to blow the whole deal up again, like they usually do.

Mar 11 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

Paul Krugman: Dwindling Deficit Disorder

For three years and more, policy debate in Washington has been dominated by warnings about the dangers of budget deficits. A few lonely economists have tried from the beginning to point out that this fixation is all wrong, that deficit spending is actually appropriate in a depressed economy. But even though the deficit scolds have been wrong about everything so far – where are the soaring interest rates we were promised? – protests that we are having the wrong conversation have consistently fallen on deaf ears.

What’s really remarkable at this point, however, is the persistence of the deficit fixation in the face of rapidly changing facts. People still talk as if the deficit were exploding, as if the United States budget were on an unsustainable path; in fact, the deficit is falling more rapidly than it has for generations, it is already down to sustainable levels, and it is too small given the state of the economy.

Dean Baker: Don’t Be Fooled: 7.7% Is Likely a Short-Lived Low in the US Unemployment Rate

More than five years into the downturn, it doesn’t take much to get people excited about the state of the economy. The Labor Department’s February employment report showing the economy generated a better than expected 236,000 jobs and the unemployment rate had fallen 0.2 percentage points to 7.7% was sufficient to get the optimists’ blood flowing. Unfortunately, they are likely to be disappointed. [..]

While the unemployment rate has fallen back by 2.3 percentage points from its peak, reversing more than 40% of its increase, the EPOP is still down by 4.5 percentage points from its pre-recession level. The drop in unemployment is much more the result of people giving up the search for employment and leaving the labor force, than it is of workers finding new jobs.

New York Times Editorial: Confirmation Questions for Mary Jo White

Mary Jo White, President Obama’s nominee for chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, is expected to win Senate approval after her confirmation hearing on Tuesday. But unless Ms. White is aggressively questioned, neither the senators nor the public will have a clear idea of the kind of chairwoman she will be.

Those who want a get-tough approach with the financial industry will focus on her years as a top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, from 1993 to 2002. Those who want a Wall Street ally at the S.E.C. will focus on her work in the past 10 years as a corporate attorney, representing big banks and other major corporations.The public deserves more from the hearing than a foregone conclusion. Senators should press Ms. White to give specifics on how she would handle potential conflicts as well as her approach to the job: [..]

Ralph Nader: Why Are Democrats So Defeatist?

The Republicans are openly introspective about why they failed to regain the presidency and the Senate. It is time for the same kind of rigorous self-analysis by the Democrats, who floated through their failure to regain control of the House without apparent dismay. Their failure to dislodge Speaker John Boehner and majority leader Eric Cantor assures that President Obama and congressional Democrats will get very little done for the next two years. [..]

There is no effort by the Democratic leadership to question the failed strategies of 2010 and 2012. For 2014, it is likely to be more of the same: raising the money and taking care not to offend business interests by talking vaguely about the middle class and ignoring the growing poorer classes that are the Democratic Party’s natural constituency. What all this presages is another loss in 2014-unless the Republican Party takes an even more extremist stand for the rich and powerful and saves the Democrats from their own unprecedented stagnation.

Robert Kuttner: When Public Is Better

The problem is not too much government, but too passive a government

Long before we thought of founding The American Prospect in 1989, I came to know Paul Starr through a prescient article titled “Passive Intervention.” The piece was published in 1979, in a now-defunct journal, Working Papers for a New Society.

As Paul and his co-author, Gøsta Esping-Andersen, observed, the American welfare state is built on terrible, even disabling compromises. Progressives often lack the votes to pass legislation to deliver public benefits directly. So they either create tax incentives or bribe the private sector to do the job, thus inflating a bloated system. “The problem is not too much government activism,” they wrote, “but too much passivity.”

Their two emblematic examples were housing and health care. In housing, tax advantages became an inflation hedge for the affluent and drove up prices. Low-income homeownership programs, run through the private sector, had huge default rates. In health care, the political compromises necessary to enact Medicare excluded serious cost containment. When they wrote this, health care consumed 9 percent of GDP compared to 17 percent today. The subprime mortgage scandal was decades in the future.

Michelle Chen: Day Laborers Defend Their Right to Public Space in Court

Looking to hire someone for a little landscaping work or a construction job? There might be a local agency that can offer free security services to ensure that workers will work as hard as possible for as little as you’re willing to pay: the local police department.

Across the country, the undocumented day laborers who build, paint and pave many communities are locked into a low-wage regime that is de facto enforced by state power, which can threaten to round them up just for trying to work–in the name of protecting “public safety.”

Arizona was once a model for this form of anti-worker bullying. But a federal court has just struck down one of the harshest provisions of the infamous anti-immigrant law known as SB 1070, which enabled police to arrest people for soliciting work in public.

Mar 11 2013

On This Day In History March 11

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 11 is the 70th day of the year (71st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 295 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1851, The first performance of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi takes place in Venice.

Rigoletto is an opera in three acts  with the Italian libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave based on the play Le roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo. It is considered by many to be the first of the operatic masterpieces of Verdi’s middle-to-late career.

Composition history

Verdi was commissioned to write a new opera by the La Fenice opera house in Venice in 1850, at a time when he was already a well-known composer with a degree of freedom in choosing the works he would prefer to set to music. He then asked Piave (with whom he had already created Ernani, I due Foscari, Macbeth, Il Corsaro and Stiffelio) to examine the play Kean by Alexandre Dumas, père, but he felt he needed a more energetic subject to work on.

Verdi soon stumbled upon Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse. He later explained that “It contains extremely powerful positions … The subject is great, immense, and has a character that is one of the most important creations of the theatre of all countries and all Ages”. It was a highly controversial subject and Hugo himself had already had trouble with censorship in France, which had banned productions of his play after its first performance nearly twenty years earlier (and would continue to ban it for another thirty years). As Austria at that time directly controlled much of Northern Italy, it came before the Austrian Board of Censors. Hugo’s play depicted a king (Francis I of France) as an immoral and cynical womanizer, something that was not accepted in Europe during the Restoration period.

From the beginning, Verdi was aware of the risks, as was Piave. In a letter which Verdi wrote to Piave: “Use four legs, run through the town and find me an influential person who can obtain the permission for making Le Roi s’amuse.” Correspondence between a prudent Piave and an already committed Verdi followed, and the two remained at risk and underestimated the power and the intentions of Austrians. Even the friendly Guglielmo Brenna, secretary of La Fenice, who had promised them that they would not have problems with the censors, was wrong.

At the beginning of the summer of 1850, rumors started to spread that Austrian censorship was going to forbid the production. They considered the Hugo work to verge on lèse majesté, and would never permit such a scandalous work to be performed in Venice. In August, Verdi and Piave prudently retired to Busseto, Verdi’s hometown, to continue the composition and prepare a defensive scheme. They wrote to the theatre, assuring them that the censor’s doubts about the morality of the work were not justified but since very little time was left, very little could be done. The work was secretly called by the composers The Malediction (or The Curse), and this unofficial title was used by Austrian censor De Gorzkowski (who evidently had known of it from spies) to enforce, if needed, the violent letter by which he definitively denied consent to its production.

In order not to waste all their work, Piave tried to revise the libretto and was even able to pull from it another opera Il Duca di Vendome, in which the sovereign was substituted with a duke and both the hunchback and the curse disappeared. Verdi was completely against this proposed solution and preferred instead to have direct negotiations with censors, arguing over each and every point of the work.

At this point Brenna, La Fenice’s secretary, showed the Austrians some letters and articles depicting the bad character but the great value of the artist, helping to mediate the dispute. In the end the parties were able to agree that the action of the opera had to be moved from the royal court of France to a duchy of France or Italy, as well as a renaming of the characters. In the Italian version the Duke reigns over Mantova and belongs to the Gonzaga family: the Gonzaga had long been extinct by the mid-19th Century, and the Dukedom of Mantova did not exist anymore, so nobody could be offended. The scene in which the sovereign retires in Gilda’s bedroom would be deleted and the visit of the Duke to the Taverna (inn) was not intentional anymore, but provoked by a trick. The hunchback (originally Triboulet) became Rigoletto (from French rigolo = funny). The name of the work too was changed.

For the première, Verdi had Felice Varesi as Rigoletto, the young tenor Raffaele Mirate as the Duke, and Teresina Brambilla as Gilda (though Verdi would have preferred Teresa De Giuli Borsi). Teresina Brambilla was a well-known soprano coming from a family of singers and musicians; one of her nieces, Teresa Brambilla, was the wife of Amilcare Ponchielli.

The opening was a complete triumph, especially the scena drammatica, and the Duke’s cynical aria, “La donna è mobile”, was sung in the streets the next morning.