Daily Archive: 06/21/2013

Jun 21 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: Profits Without Production

One lesson from recent economic troubles has been the usefulness of history. Just as the crisis was unfolding, the Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff – who unfortunately became famous for their worst work – published a brilliant book with the sarcastic title “This Time Is Different.” Their point, of course, was that there is a strong family resemblance among crises. Indeed, historical parallels – not just to the 1930s, but to Japan in the 1990s, Britain in the 1920s, and more – have been vital guides to the present.

Yet economies do change over time, and sometimes in fundamental ways. So what’s really different about America in the 21st century?

The most significant answer, I’d suggest, is the growing importance of monopoly rents: profits that don’t represent returns on investment, but instead reflect the value of market dominance. Sometimes that dominance seems deserved, sometimes not; but, either way, the growing importance of rents is producing a new disconnect between profits and production and may be a factor prolonging the slump.

New York Times Editorial Board: The Fed’s Next Move

The recent announcements by the Federal Reserve have generated huge interest – and, on Wall Street, a sell-off costing the Dow Jones industrial average more than 500 points in two days. Only six weeks ago, the Fed was talking about continued “downside risks to the economic outlook.” On Wednesday, however, it said these risks had diminished since last fall, and that it expected further improvement to drive the jobless rate down to 7 percent by mid-2014, at which point it would end its stimulative bond-buying programs. [.]]

The Fed is in a spot. If it continues its bond-buying programs, bubbles could form; but worse, if it ends the programs prematurely, economic weakness could persist and deepen.

The Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, said that the plan could change as conditions warrant. That is reassuring. Still, the Fed can’t keep buying bonds forever. The real responsibility for boosting the economy lies with Congress, where Republicans have thwarted most attempts to spur growth, create jobs and strengthen the safety net, while successfully focusing the attention of the Obama administration on deficit reduction – exactly the wrong remedy for today’s economy.

Marcy Wheeler: Government Spying: Why You Can’t ‘Just Trust Us’

For proof that the current surveillance programs are ripe for abuse, Americans need only look at what preceded them.

Since we learned that the government has been collecting and storing Americans’ call data for years, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein; her counterpart in the House, Mike Rogers; and James Clapper, director of national intelligence, have been trying to claim it is not as bad as it sounds. The collection doesn’t include the content of communications, merely “metadata,” they argue, and anyway, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court limits the circumstances under which the government can access this information. “The court only allows the data to be queried when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization,” says Clapper.

In other words, the government’s response amounts to “trust us.”

But Americans have good reason to distrust the program, which, according to The Washington Post, is called MAINWAY. That’s true not just because history reminds us that the government has abused surveillance authorizations in the past, as it did when it used COINTELPRO to spy on dissidents decades ago. It’s also true because one of the direct predecessors of this program proved ripe for abuse.

Dean Baker and David Rosnick: Do Wall Street and the 1 Percent Thrive at the Expense of Our Kids?

One of the most compelling lines put forward by those seeking cuts in Social Security and Medicare is that spending on the elderly is coming at the expense of our children. The people putting forward this argument typically point to the high percentage of children living near or below the poverty line. The argument is that if we could cut money for programs that primarily serve the elderly then we would free up money that could be spent to ensure that the young get a decent start on life.

There are many reasons this logic is faulty, most importantly by implying that there is any direct relationship between the money we spend on seniors and the money we spend on our children. Even if we were to cut funding for Social Security and Medicare there is no mechanism that ensures the money saved would go to helping children. It is entirely possible that the money would simply be diverted to tax cuts targeted to the wealthy or for some other purpose.

Stan Sorscher: “Free Trade” Was Never Really About Trade

First, let me say that I am 100% in favor of trade. Trade is when we do what we do best, they do what they do best, and we trade. Trade, done right, will raise living standards.

If trade is good, then free trade must be better, right? So consider this old joke about “free trade.”

   It’s not free.

   It’s not trade.

Twenty years after NAFTA we can add that it doesn’t work. It’s bad for millions of workers, families and communities around the world.

“Free trade” is not free. Our free trade policy encourages production to leave the country. We’ve lost millions of manufacturing jobs. More than 60,000 manufacturing plants were closed between 2000 and 2010 as production moved overseas. These costs are real.

Jim Hightower: Repeal the Patriot Act

It’s back. The Patriot Act – that grotesque, ever-mutating, hydra-headed monstrosity from the Bush-Cheney Little Shop of Horrors – has risen again, this time with an added twist of Orwellian intrusiveness from the Obamacans.

Since 2006, Team Bush, and then Team Obama, have allowed the little-known, hugely powerful National Security Agency to run a daily dragnet through your and my phone calls – all on the hush-hush, of course, not informing us spyees. Now exposed, leaders of both parties are piously pointing to the Patriot Act, saying that it legalized this wholesale, everyday invasion of our privacy, so we shouldn’t be surprised, much less upset by NSA’s surreptitious peek-a-boo program. [..]

It’s not enough to fight NSA’s outrageously invasive spying on us – the Patriot Act itself is a shameful betrayal of America’s ideals, and it must be repealed.

Jun 21 2013

On This Day In History June 21

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 images to enlarge.

June 21 is the 172nd day of the year (173rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 193 days remaining until the end of the year.

On non-leap years (until 2039), this day marks the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere and the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere, and this is the day of the year with the longest hours of daylight in the northern hemisphere and the shortest in the southern hemisphere.

On this day in 1964, Civil rights workers disappear.

In Neshoba County in central Mississippi, three civil rights field workers disappear after investigating the burning of an African American church by the Ku Klux Klan. Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both white New Yorkers, had traveled to heavily segregated Mississippi in 1964 to help organize civil rights efforts on behalf of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The third man, James Chaney, was a local African American man who had joined CORE in 1963. The disappearance of the three young men garnered national attention and led to a massive FBI investigation that was code-named MIBURN, for “Mississippi Burning.”

The Mississippi civil rights workers murders involved the 1964 lynching of three political activists during the American Civil Rights Movement.

The murders of James Chaney, a 21-year-old black man from Meridian, Mississippi; Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old white Jewish anthropology student from New York; and Michael Schwerner, a 24-year-old white Jewish CORE organizer and former social worker also from New York, symbolized the risks of participating in the civil rights movement in the South during what became known as “Freedom Summer”, dedicated to voter registration.

The case also made salient the efforts of Jews in the civil rights movement.

The Lynching

The lynching of the three men occurred shortly after midnight on June 21, 1964, when they went to investigate the burning of a church that supported civil rights activity. James Chaney was a local Freedom Movement activist in Meridian, Michael Schwerner was a CORE organizer from New York, and Andrew Goodman, also from New York, was a Freedom Summer volunteer. The three men had just finished week-long training on the campus of Western College for Women (now part of Miami University), in Oxford, Ohio, regarding strategies on how to register blacks to vote.

After getting a haircut from a black barber in Meridian, the three men headed to Longdale, Mississippi, 50 miles away in Neshoba County, in order to inspect the ruins of Mount Zion United Methodist Church. The church, a meeting place for civil rights groups, had been burned just five days earlier.

Aware that their station wagon’s license number had been given to members of the notorious White Citizens’ Council and Ku Klux Klan, before leaving Meridian they informed other Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) workers of their plans and set check-in times in accordance with standard security procedures. Late that afternoon, Neshoba County deputy Cecil Price – himself a member of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan – stopped the blue Ford carrying the trio. He arrested Chaney for allegedly driving 35 miles per hour over the speed limit. He also booked Goodman and Schwerner, “for investigation.”

Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were all denied telephone calls during their time at the jail. COFO workers made attempts to find the three men, but when they called the Neshoba County jail, the secretary followed her instructions to lie and told the workers the three young men were not there. During the hours they were held incommunicado in jail, Price notified his Klan associates who assembled and planned how to kill the three civil rights workers.

While awaiting their release, the men were given a dinner of spoonbread, green peas, potatoes and salad. When the Klan ambush was set up on the road back to Meridian, Chaney was fined $20, and the three men were ordered to leave the county. Price followed them to the edge of town, and then pulled them over with his police siren. He held them until the Klan murder squad arrived. They were taken to an isolated spot where James Chaney was beaten and all three were shot to death. Their car was driven into Bogue Chitto swamp and set on fire, and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam. In June 2000, the autopsy report that had been previously withheld from the 1967 trial was released. The report stated Chaney had a left arm broken in one place, a right arm broken in two places, “a marked disruption” of the left elbow joint and may also have suffered trauma to the groin area. A pathologist who examined the bodies at the families’ request following their autopsies noted Chaney also had a broken jaw and a crushed right shoulder which were not mentioned in the autopsy report. As the autopsy photographs and x-rays have been destroyed, the injuries could not be confirmed.

Jun 21 2013

The Financial Crisis: The Ratings Agency Did It In The Back Room

Earlier this year, the Justice Department brought a $5 billion fraud law suit against the ratings agency Standard and Poors for knowingly giving triple “A” ratings to financial products the agency’s analysts understood to be unworthy. The financial crisis that began in 2007 was mostly caused by those fraudulent ratings. Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Roger Wicker (R-MI) worked together on an amendment that was included in  Dodd-Frank (pdf) to bring accountability and transparency to the ratings process. The amendment also required that the Securities and Exchange Commission conduct a study, that study has been completed (pdf). It found that there were “inherent” conflicts of interest in the system contributed to the 2008 crisis.

Contributing editor and investigative journalist for Rolling Stone Matt Taibbi published an in depth look at the ratings agencies and how ratings agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s helped trigger the meltdown with new documents. The documents surfaced from two lawsuits that files against S&P by  a diverse group of institutional plaintiffs with King County, Washington, and the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. The plaintiffs claimed that S&P, along with Morgan Stanley, fraudulently induced them to heavily invest in a pair of doomed-to-implode subprime-laden deals. Matt calls these new revelations the “Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis:

What about the ratings agencies?

That’s what “they” always say about the financial crisis and the teeming rat’s nest of corruption it left behind. Everybody else got plenty of blame: the greed-fattened banks, the sleeping regulators, the unscrupulous mortgage hucksters like spray-tanned Countrywide ex-CEO Angelo Mozilo.

But what about the ratings agencies? Isn’t it true that almost none of the fraud that’s swallowed Wall Street in the past decade could have taken place without companies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s rubber-stamping it? Aren’t they guilty, too?

Man, are they ever. And a lot more than even the least generous of us suspected.

Thanks to a mountain of evidence gathered for a pair of major lawsuits, documents that for the most part have never been seen by the general public, we now know that the nation’s two top ratings companies, Moody’s and S&P, have for many years been shameless tools for the banks, willing to give just about anything a high rating in exchange for cash.

In incriminating e-mail after incriminating e-mail, executives and analysts from these companies are caught admitting their entire business model is crooked.

Matt joined MSNBC’s All In host Chris Hayes to discuss how these newly-revealed documents are “the smoking gun of the financial crisis” revealing the corruption and dishonesty at the core the industry.

Jun 21 2013

Summer Solstice 2013

We are halfway through the year and are ready to celebrate the first harvest amidst climate disruption, natural disasters compounded by man’s foolish idea that he could harness the devil. I spent some time this morning weeding my herb garden, snipping the flower buds from the huge pot of sweet basil so the energy goes to the flavorful leaves and a short walk on the beach. Tomorrow morning I will watch the sun rise for the last few hours of Spring and later watch it set on the first few hours of Summer which ushers in at 1:04 AM EDT as the Earth tilts towards the sun at its Northern maximum, the Tropic of Cancer.

Summer Solstice Stonehenge photo midsummer-sunset_zps780080c9.jpg

Sunrise on the first day of Summer at Stonehenge in Salsbuty, England

It is a but a moment in time significant for so many cultures, religions and countries. Here in the US there are many cities that will light huge fires in public places to celebrate the longest day of the year, Midsummer. The fires will be lit in the stone fire pit in my yard. We’ll eat some of the newly harvested vegetable that are available at the local markets and eat food cooked with the herbs from my garden.

This year there is another treat for the first weekend of Summer, a Super Moon, on June 22 and 23. This is when the moon is closest to the earth (perigee), about 221,824 miles away, as compared to the 252,581 miles away that it is at its furthest distance from the Earth (apogee). The moon will appear 14% larger and 30% brighter than a typical full moon.

Super Moon 2011 photo image42_zpscf2d1a66.jpg

“The supermoon of March 19, 2011 (right) compared to a more average moon of December 20, 2010 (left), as viewed from the Earth”

Image Credit: Supermoon Comparison via Wikimedia Commons

The weather here in the northeast is going to be near perfect for watching the sunrise on the longest day of the year and moonrise the brightest and biggest full moon of the year. Check out the awesome photos from last year’s celebrations from around the world, courtesy of Huffington Post Canada.

I will be on the beach as the sun peaks over the horizon tomorrow and at a cook out with friends on Saturday celebrating the glory of Summer and the moon. Tell us what you will be doing.

Happy Summer

Jun 21 2013

Summer Solstice 2013

We are halfway through the year and are ready to celebrate the first harvest amidst climate disruption, natural disasters compounded by man’s foolish idea that he could harness the devil. I spent some time this morning weeding my herb garden, snipping the flower buds from the huge pot of sweet basil so the energy goes to the flavorful leaves and a short walk on the beach. Tomorrow morning I will watch the sun rise for the last few hours of Spring and later watch it set on the first few hours of Summer which ushers in at 1:04 AM EDT as the Earth tilts towards the sun at its Northern maximum, the Tropic of Cancer.

Summer Solstice Stonehenge photo midsummer-sunset_zps780080c9.jpg

Sunrise on the first day of Summer at Stonehenge in Salsbuty, England

It is a but a moment in time significant for so many cultures, religions and countries. Here in the US there are many cities that will light huge fires in public places to celebrate the longest day of the year, Midsummer. The fires will be lit in the stone fire pit in my yard. We’ll eat some of the newly harvested vegetable that are available at the local markets and eat food cooked with the herbs from my garden.

This year there is another treat for the first weekend of Summer, a Super Moon, on June 22 and 23. This is when the moon is closest to the earth (perigee), about 221,824 miles away, as compared to the 252,581 miles away that it is at its furthest distance from the Earth (apogee). The moon will appear 14% larger and 30% brighter than a typical full moon.

Super Moon 2011 photo image42_zpscf2d1a66.jpg

“The supermoon of March 19, 2011 (right) compared to a more average moon of December 20, 2010 (left), as viewed from the Earth”

Image Credit: Supermoon Comparison via Wikimedia Commons

The weather here in the northeast is going to be near perfect for watching the sunrise on the longest day of the year and the moonrise of the brightest and biggest full moon of the year. Check out the awesome photos from last year’s celebrations from around the world, courtesy of Huffington Post Canada.

I will be on the beach as the sun peaks over the horizon tomorrow and at a cook out with friends on Saturday celebrating the glory of Summer and the moon. Tell us what you will be doing.

Happy Summer