Daily Archive: 06/05/2013

Jun 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”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day.

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Maureen Dowd: Cut the Strings to George III

You see glistening mermaid sightings on Animal Planet more than you catch glimpses of vintage John McCain on Capitol Hill.

But there he was on Tuesday, succinctly saying what needed to be said about the scourge of sexual assault cases in the military. Looking grimly at the ribbon-bedecked white male heads of all the services testifying before the Armed Services Committee, McCain scolded: “Just last night a woman came to me and said her daughter wanted to join the military, and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so. I could not.” [..]

Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, told me the arguments of the brass “boiled down to an almost mystical notion of the commanders’ responsibility. Why can’t we cut the strings to the British system we inherited from George III? The British are baffled by us. They gave control over major crimes to professional prosecutors years ago. It’s an institutional structure that has outlived its utility and credibility.”

Katrina vanden Huevel: Building a Progressive Caucus in NYC: Why it Matters

Anthony Weiner is headline gold. Since the ex-congressman made his candidacy official, the New York City mayor’s race is drawing attention from national outlets and local tabloids alike (though unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be Weiner’s policy positions that they’re interested in). While the headline-writers have a field day, New York progressives are grappling with some serious questions (including): Could we finally elect a progressive mayor? Which, if any, of these candidates would qualify? But too few of us are considering an urgent companion question: What about the City Council?

Because of term limits, almost half of New York’s City Council will be replaced in November’s elections, making this a moment of great opportunity for progressives. While a mayor can single-handedly fuel or obstruct progress, the council could play a crucial role in muscling issues onto the agenda, forcing the hand of the mayor, and forging a more just and inclusive New York. The council has historically been a fairly timid body, but it doesn’t have to be. The public is ready for more progressive representation. In a 2012 poll for the Community Service Society, New Yorkers by a three-to-one margin chose “help working New Yorkers and their families get ahead” over “make New York City a good place to do business” as a policy priority for the next mayor. Strong majorities supported raising the state minimum wage, spending more on education, and mandating paid sick leave.

Jessica Valentti: F**k the High Road: The Upside of Sinking to Their Level

Don’t feed the trolls: it’s probably the most common refrain in online discussions, especially when dealing with misogynists in feminists conversations. The idea is that the best way to deal with sexists is to starve of them of the attention they’re so clearly desperate for. Besides, we think, why sink to their level?

But the high road is overrated. It requires silence in the face of violent misogyny, and a turn-the-other cheek mentality that society has long demanded of women. A vibrant feminist movement has ensured women don’t take injustices laying down offline-so why would we acquiesce on the Internet? [..]

The downside of engaging with sexists is that in an online culture where common knowledge says ignore trolls, speaking out becomes “asking for it.” You don’t get a ton of sympathy for egging on assholes. While ignoring haters can sometimes be the best move, putting the onus on women to stay silent is not. So though I still believe in picking your battles, I’ll continue to get down in the muck with misogynists from time to time-because the low road needs feminism too.

Marjolein van der Veen: Greece and the Crisis of Europe: Which Way Out?

The Greek economy has crashed, and now lies broken on the ground. The causes of the crisis are pretty well understood, but there hasn’t been enough attention to the different possible ways out. Our flight crew has shown us only one emergency exit-one that is just making things worse. But there is more than one way out of the crisis, not just the austerity being pushed by the so-called “Troika” (the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Commission, and European Central Bank (ECB)). We need to look around a bit more, since-as they say on every flight-the nearest exit may not be right in front of us. Can an alternative catch hold? And, if so, will it be Keynesian or socialist?

Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright: Leaving Truth Outside at Bradley Manning’s Trial

It was an early morning, getting out to Ft. Meade, Maryland by 7am to join the group of hearty activists standing out in the rain, greeting the journalists coming into the Bradley Manning hearing with chants of “Whistleblowing is not a crime, Free Bradley Manning.” The activists, many with groups like The Bradley Manning Support Committee, Veterans for Peace, CODEPINK and Iraq Vets Against the War, had come from all over the country to show support for Manning during the upcoming weeks of the trial. [..]

Manning’s trial, which is slated to last three months, is the most stark example of the Obama administration’s relentless stance against whistleblowers. “This president has tried to prosecute six whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, twice as many as all previous presidencies combined,” said Cornell West. “President Obama is determined to stop the public from knowing about government wrongdoing.”

In pretrial proceedings, Manning said his motivation was to “spark a domestic debate over the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.” Certainly that debate is long overdue. So is the debate about right of the public to be informed about what our governments are doing in our name.

Tory Field and Beverly Bell: Putting the Culture Back in Agriculture

Reviving Native Food and Farming Traditions

“At one point ‘agriculture’ was about the culture of food. Losing that culture, in favor of an American cultural monocrop, joined with an agricultural monocrop, puts us in a perilous state…” says food and Native activist Winona LaDuke.

Her lament is an agribusiness executive’s dream. The CEO of the H.J. Heinz Company said, “Once television is there, people, whatever shade, culture, or origin, want roughly the same things.”  The same things are based on the same technology, same media sources, same global economy, and same food.

Together with the loss of cultural diversity, the growth of industrial agriculture has led to an enormous depletion in biodiversity. [..]

Native peoples’ efforts to protect their crop varieties and agricultural heritage in the US go back 500 years to when the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Today, Native communities throughout the US are reclaiming and reviving land, water, seeds, and traditional food and farming practices, thereby putting the culture back in agriculture and agriculture back in local hands.

Jun 05 2013

On This Day In History June 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.

Click on image to enlarge

June 5 is the 156th day of the year (157th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 209 days remaining until the end of the year

1933, the United States went off the gold standard, a monetary system in which currency is backed by gold, when Congress enacted a joint resolution nullifying the right of creditors to demand payment in gold. The United States had been on a gold standard since 1879, except for an embargo on gold exports during World War I, but bank failures during the Great Depression of the 1930s frightened the public into hoarding gold, making the policy untenable.

Soon after taking office in March 1933, Roosevelt declared a nationwide bank moratorium in order to prevent a run on the banks by consumers lacking confidence in the economy. He also forbade banks to pay out gold or to export it. According to Keynesian economic theory, one of the best ways to fight off an economic downturn is to inflate the money supply. And increasing the amount of gold held by the Federal Reserve would in turn increase its power to inflate the money supply. Facing similar pressures, Britain had dropped the gold standard in 1931, and Roosevelt had taken note.

Prolongation of the Great Depression

Some economic historians, such as American professor Barry Eichengreen, blame the gold standard of the 1920s for prolonging the Great Depression. Others including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman lay the blame at the feet of the Federal Reserve. The gold standard limited the flexibility of central banks’ monetary policy by limiting their ability to expand the money supply, and thus their ability to lower interest rates. In the US, the Federal Reserve was required by law to have 40% gold backing of its Federal Reserve demand notes, and thus, could not expand the money supply beyond what was allowed by the gold reserves held in their vaults.

In the early 1930s, the Federal Reserve defended the fixed price of dollars in respect to the gold standard by raising interest rates, trying to increase the demand for dollars. Its commitment and adherence to the gold standard explain why the U.S. did not engage in expansionary monetary policy. To compete in the international economy, the U.S. maintained high interest rates. This helped attract international investors who bought foreign assets with gold. Higher interest rates intensified the deflationary pressure on the dollar and reduced investment in U.S. banks. Commercial banks also converted Federal Reserve Notes to gold in 1931, reducing the Federal Reserve’s gold reserves, and forcing a corresponding reduction in the amount of Federal Reserve Notes in circulation. This speculative attack on the dollar created a panic in the U.S. banking system. Fearing imminent devaluation of the dollar, many foreign and domestic depositors withdrew funds from U.S. banks to convert them into gold or other assets.

The forced contraction of the money supply caused by people removing funds from the banking system during the bank panics resulted in deflation; and even as nominal interest rates dropped, inflation-adjusted real interest rates remained high, rewarding those that held onto money instead of spending it, causing a further slowdown in the economy. Recovery in the United States was slower than in Britain, in part due to Congressional reluctance to abandon the gold standard and float the U.S. currency as Britain had done.

Congress passed the Gold Reserve Act on 30 January 1934; the measure nationalized all gold by ordering the Federal Reserve banks to turn over their supply to the U.S. Treasury. In return the banks received gold certificates to be used as reserves against deposits and Federal Reserve notes. The act also authorized the president to devalue the gold dollar so that it would have no more than 60 percent of its existing weight. Under this authority the president, on 31 January 1934, fixed the value of the gold dollar at 59.06 cents.

Jun 05 2013

Obama’s War on Journalists Yemeni Style

Since he took office, President Barack Obama has prosecuted six whistleblowers using the Espionage Act of 1917, something no other president has done. In recent months, with total disregard for the First Amendment and freedom of the press, he has now gone after journalists with secret subpoenas and warrants, but this is nothing new. Huffington Post‘s Ryan Grim would like you to meet Abdulelah Haider Shaye:

James Rosen got off easy. After searching his email and tracking his whereabouts, the Department of Justice has not jailed or prosecuted the Fox News journalist, which the Obama administration says reflects its deep respect for the role of a free press. On Thursday, a DOJ spokesperson said in a statement that “the Department does not anticipate bringing any additional charges. During the Attorney General’s tenure, no reporter has ever been prosecuted.”

The Obama administration gave no such leniency to Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a Yemeni journalist who had access to top officials in the militant Islamist group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and reported on evidence that the United States had conducted a missile strike in al Majala for which the Yemeni government had claimed credit.

After Shaye was initially imprisoned for alleged involvement with AQAP in 2010, supporters pressed for his release, and word leaked that the Yemeni president was going to issue a pardon. In early 2011, Obama personally intervened. “President Obama expressed concern over the release of Abd-Ilah al-Shai, who had been sentenced to five years in prison for his association with AQAP,” reads a summary of the call posted on the White House website.

At his discussion of his new book and documentary, “Dirty Wars,” Jeremy Scahill spoke about about Shaye. In an article for The Nation in March 2012, he wrote about Shaye’s risks to interview Al Qaeda leaders, his interviews with the radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki and his reporting on the US bombing of al-Majalah, a impoverished Yemeni village killing 46 people mostly women and children.

Unlike most journalists covering Al Qaeda, Shaye risked his life to travel to areas controlled by Al Qaeda and to interview its leaders. He also conducted several interviews with the radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki. Shaye did the last known interview with Awlaki just before it was revealed that Awlaki, a US citizen, was on a CIA/JSOC hit list. “We were only exposed to Western media and Arab media funded by the West, which depicts only one image of Al Qaeda,” recalls his best friend Kamal Sharaf, a well-known dissident Yemeni political cartoonist. “But Abdulelah brought a different viewpoint.”

Shaye had no reverence for Al Qaeda, but viewed the group as an important story, according to Sharaf. Shaye was able to get access to Al Qaeda figures in part due to his relationship, through marriage, to the radical Islamic cleric Abdul Majid al Zindani, the founder of Iman University and a US Treasury Department-designated terrorist. While Sharaf acknowledged that Shaye used his connections to gain access to Al Qaeda, he adds that Shaye also “boldly” criticized Zindani and his supporters: “He said the truth with no fear.”

While Shaye, 35, had long been known as a brave, independent-minded journalist in Yemen, his collision course with the US government appears to have been set in December 2009. On December 17, the Yemeni government announced that it had conducted a series of strikes against an Al Qaeda training camp in the village of al Majala in Yemen’s southern Abyan province, killing a number of Al Qaeda militants. As the story spread across the world, Shaye traveled to al Majala. What he discovered were the remnants of Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs, neither of which are in the Yemeni military’s arsenal. He photographed the missile parts, some of them bearing the label “Made in the USA,” and distributed the photos to international media outlets. He revealed that among the victims of the strike were women, children and the elderly. To be exact, fourteen women and twenty-one children were killed. Whether anyone actually active in Al Qaeda was killed remains hotly contested. After conducting his own investigation, Shaye determined that it was a US strike. The Pentagon would not comment on the strike and the Yemeni government repeatedly denied US involvement. But Shaye was later vindicated when Wikileaks released a US diplomatic cable that featured Yemeni officials joking about how they lied to their own parliament about the US role, while President Saleh assured Gen. David Petraeus that his government would continue to lie and say “the bombs are ours, not yours.”

Shortly after that article was published, Scahill and Mohamed Abdel Dayem, coordinator of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Committee to Protect Journalists, appeared in this segment of Democracy Now with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, questioning Obama’s motives for keeping Shaye imprisoned.

Grim hopes that with the release of the documentary “Dirty Wars,” the start of PVT Bradley Manning’s trial and the Rosen issue, that Shaye’s case will get some attention.

Shaye’s trial in Yemen was widely considered a farce. Without the Obama administration presenting its own evidence, it’s difficult to know what President Obama meant by Shaye’s “association” with AQAP. Al Mawri said that Yemen’s former president was furious at Shaye for exposing the civilian deaths at al Majala and fed the United States false information to implicate him as a terrorist. Now, Yemen’s current president has reportedly promised to pardon Shaye, but the White House is still relying on what the past president told them. [..]

Shaye is not an obscure journalist. He contributed reporting to The Washington Post and other major media outlets regularly, including with regard to al-Awlaki. He was often critical of al Qaeda, the U.S. government and the Yemeni government.

Despite the reports of a possible pardon, Shaye’s family and supporters remain doubtful.

This is just some of what Wikileaks had exposed about our government and our so-called Democratic president.

Jun 05 2013

The Trial of Bradley Manning: Prosecuting Whistleblowing

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, returned from attending the opening session of Bradley Manning’s trial at Fort Meade. He joined Amy Goodman and Aaron Maté on Democracy Now for a discussion of the trial, and the government’s claims of “aiding the enemy” in a bid to scare whistleblowers.

Hypocrisy lies at the heart of the trial of Bradley Manning

by Gary Young, The Guardian

It is an outrage that soldiers who killed innocents remain free but the man who exposed them is accused of ‘aiding the enemy’

. . . . (T)he case against him indicates the degree to which the war on terror (a campaign that has been officially retired describing a legal, military and political edifice that remains firmly intact) privileges secrecy over not only transparency but humanity. This is exemplified in one of his leak’s more explosive revelations – a video that soon went viral showing two Reuters employees, among others, being shot dead by a US Apache helicopter in Iraq. They were among a dozen or so people milling around near an area where US troops had been exposed to small arms fire. The soldiers, believing the camera to be a weapon, opened fire, leaving several dead and some wounded.

“Look at those dead bastards,” says one pilot. “Nice,” says the other. When a van comes to pick up the wounded they shoot at that too, wounding two children inside. “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle,” one of the pilots says.

An investigation exonerated the soldiers on the grounds that they couldn’t have known who they were shooting. No disciplinary action was taken. When Reuters tried to get a copy of the video under the Freedom of Information Act, its request was denied. Were it not for Manning it would never have been made public. So the men who killed innocents, thereby stoking legitimate grievances across the globe and fanning the flames of resistance, are free to kill another day and the man who exposed them is behind bars, accused of “aiding the enemy”.

In this world, murder is not the crime; unmasking and distributing evidence of it is. To insist that Manning’s disclosure put his military colleagues in harm’s way is a bit like a cheating husband claiming that his partner reading his diary, not the infidelity, is what is truly imperilling their marriage. Avoiding responsibility for action, one instead blames the information and informant who makes that action known. [..]

But it’s not just about Manning. It’s about a government, obsessed with secrecy, that has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. And it’s about wars in which the resistance to, and exposure of, crimes and abuses has been criminalised while the criminals and abusers go free. If Manning is an enemy of the state then so too is truth.

Jun 05 2013

Chronic Tonic: Creeeeeeck! Snaaap! Wait – Is That My F-n Joint?

Originally posted at Voices on the Square

As anyone with chronic health problems knows, issues can and will rear their unruly heads from time to time. Another thing those of us blessed with crapititus in the health department know, is that folks with chronic conditions are more susceptible to other health issues, as if one or two is just not enough. Bwahahahaha!

And so it is with me, down here on the bayou with my fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. The one nice thing I can say about the bayou in the summer is that the damp heat is easy on the joints…  ðŸ˜€