Daily Archive: 08/23/2013

Aug 23 2013

The Failure of State Monopolism

Private Gain to a Few Trumps Public Good for the Many

Robert Reich

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A society – any society — is defined as a set of mutual benefits and duties embodied most visibly in public institutions: public schools, public libraries, public transportation, public hospitals, public parks, public museums, public recreation, public universities, and so on.

Public institutions are supported by all taxpayers, and are available to all. If the tax system is progressive, those who are better off (and who, presumably, have benefitted from many of these same public institutions) help pay for everyone else.

“Privatize” means “Pay for it yourself.” The practical consequence of this in an economy whose wealth and income are now more concentrated than at any time in the past 90 years is to make high-quality public goods available to fewer and fewer.

In fact, much of what’s called “public” is increasingly a private good paid for by users – ever-higher tolls on public highways and public bridges, higher tuitions at so-called public universities, higher admission fees at public parks and public museums.

Much of the rest of what’s considered “public” has become so shoddy that those who can afford to do so find private alternatives. As public schools deteriorate, the upper-middle class and wealthy send their kids to private ones. As public pools and playgrounds decay, the better-off buy memberships in private tennis and swimming clubs. As public hospitals decline, the well-off pay premium rates for private care.



The great expansion of public institutions in America began in the early years of 20th century, when progressive reformers championed the idea that we all benefit from public goods. Excellent schools, roads, parks, playgrounds and transit systems would knit the new industrial society together, create better citizens and generate widespread prosperity.

Education, for example, was less a personal investment than a public good – improving the entire community and ultimately the nation.

In subsequent decades – through the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War – this logic was expanded upon. Strong public institutions were seen as bulwarks against, in turn, mass poverty, fascism and then Soviet communism.

The public good was palpable: We were very much a society bound together by mutual needs and common threats. It was no coincidence that the greatest extensions of higher education after World War II were the GI Bill and the National Defense Education Act, or that the largest public works project in history was called the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act.

But in a post-Cold War America distended by global capital, distorted by concentrated income and wealth, undermined by unlimited campaign donations, and rocked by a wave of new immigrants easily cast by demagogues as “them,” the notion of the public good has faded.

Not even Democrats still use the phrase “the public good.” Public goods are now, at best, “public investments.” Public institutions have morphed into “public-private partnerships” or, for Republicans, simply “vouchers.”



America has, though, created a whopping entitlement for the biggest Wall Street banks and their top executives – who, unlike most of the rest of us, are no longer allowed to fail. They can also borrow from the Fed at almost no cost, then lend out the money at 3 percent to 6 percent.

All told, Wall Street’s entitlement is the biggest offered by the federal government, even though it doesn’t show up in the budget. And it’s not even a public good. It’s just private gain.

We’re losing public goods available to all, supported by the tax payments of all and especially the better-off. In its place we have private goods available to the very rich, supported by the rest of us.

Aug 23 2013

Who Used Chemical Weapons in Syria? Part 2

Warning: the images shown in the video are graphic and may not be appropriate for some viewers or viewing at the work place.

There is little explanation for the cause of all the deaths in the rebel held suburbs of Damascus, other than the use of chemical weapons. The major question is who used it. The natural answer would be the Assad government. But one needs to remember that many military facilities are now in the hands of the rebels and no one is precisely certain who they are. While the western mind would like to reject this kind of mass murder in the name of a cause, it has happened. Extremist are not only willing to sacrifice their lives but others as well in the name of their cause.

Obama Officials Weigh Response to Syria Assaul

by Mark Landler, Mark Mazzetti and Alissa J. Rubin, The New York Times

The day after a deadly assault in Syria that bore many of the hallmarks of a chemical weapons attack, a sharply divided Obama administration on Thursday began weighing potential military responses to President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Senior officials from the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence agencies met for three and a half hours at the White House on Thursday to deliberate over options, which officials say could range from a cruise missile strike to a more sustained air campaign against Syria.

The meeting broke up without any decision, according to senior officials, amid signs of a deepening division between those who advocate sending Mr. Assad a harsh message and those who argue that military action now would be reckless and ill timed.

In an interview with CNN broadcast on Friday, Mr. Obama said the United States is “gathering information” about the chemical weapon reports, but he suggested that it is already clear that the incident will demand “America’s attention.”

“America’s attention,” there are several interpretations of that statement but it sounds like some kind of military intervention and Assad is fast losing friends.

Syria: Russia joins international pressure on Assad over chemical attack

by Julian Borger and Dan Roberts, The Guardian

Intervention from regime’s staunch ally comes as UK directly blames Damascus for attack and Obama hints that US cannot afford to stand by

Russia has added to the mounting pressure on the Syrian government over Wednesday’s apparent gas attack by calling for UN inspectors to be granted immediate access to the site in eastern Damascus.

The Russian foreign ministry declared that Moscow and Washington had a “mutual interest” in pushing for an immediate investigation by UN investigators who are already in Damascus.

A ministry statement, issued after a conversation between the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart, John Kerry, said the “Russian side called on the Syrian government to co-operate with the UN chemical experts”.

Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman was joined by Razan Zaitouneh, lawyer and human rights activist, who works with the Human Rights Violation Documentation Center and Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent in London to discuss the attack.

The Syrian government is facing growing pressure to allow an international probe of an alleged chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus. The Syrian opposition says government forces fired poisonous gas into rebel-held neighborhoods of Ghouta, killing hundreds of people. Video posted on YouTube this week shows frantic scenes of overwhelmed hospitals, dead children and countless bodies. If confirmed, it would stand to be the most violent incident in Syria since the rebel uprising began two years ago and one of the worst toxic attacks in decades. The alleged attack occurred just days after U.N. inspectors arrived in the country to investigate previous attacks.



Transcript can be read here

Aug 23 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: This Age of Bubbles

So, another BRIC hits the wall. Actually, I’ve never much liked the whole “BRIC” – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – concept: Russia, which is basically a petro-economy, doesn’t belong there at all, and there are large differences among the other three. Still, it’s hard to deny that India, Brazil, and a number of other countries are now experiencing similar problems. And those shared problems define the economic crisis du jour.

What’s going on? It’s a variant on the same old story: investors loved these economies not wisely but too well, and have now turned on the objects of their former affection. A couple years back, Western investors – discouraged by low returns both in the United States and in the noncrisis nations of Europe – began pouring large sums into emerging markets. Now they’ve reversed course. As a result, India’s rupee and Brazil’s real are plunging, along with Indonesia’s rupiah, the South African rand, the Turkish lira, and more.

Eugene Robinson: GOP in Fantasyland

The make-believe crusade by publicity hound Republicans to somehow stop Obamacare is one of the most cynical political exercises we’ve seen in many years. And that, my friends, is saying something.

Charlatans are peddling the fantasy that somehow they can prevent the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from becoming what it already is: the law of the land. Congress passed it, President Obama signed it, the Supreme Court upheld it, and many of its provisions are already in force and others will soon take effect.

No matter how contemptuous they may be about Obamacare, opponents have only two viable options: Repeal it or get over it.

Robert Reich: Private Gain to a Few Trumps Public Good for the Many

Congress is in recess, but you’d hardly know it. This has been the most do-nothing, gridlocked Congress in decades. But the recess at least offers a pause in the ongoing partisan fighting that’s sure to resume in a few weeks.

It also offers an opportunity to step back and ask ourselves what’s really at stake.

A society — any society — is defined as a set of mutual benefits and duties embodied most visibly in public institutions: public schools, public libraries, public transportation, public hospitals, public parks, public museums, public recreation, public universities, and so on.

Public institutions are supported by all taxpayers, and are available to all. If the tax system is progressive, those who are better off (and who, presumably, have benefitted from many of these same public institutions) help pay for everyone else.

Robert Creamer: Is There a Difference Between a Third World Autocrat and a Wall Street Mogul?

In America we tend to look down on Third World autocrats who siphon their country’s wealth into their personal Swiss bank accounts at the expense of their citizens. But I would argue we have our own class of kleptocrats that in many ways behave the same way — and often with the same result.

I was recently at a seminar in Africa that focused heavily on human rights.

One of the most insightful participants made a powerful argument that autocratic leaders who violate their people’s human rights by restricting their freedom of speech and assembly were even more culpable for human rights violations when they siphon off millions of dollars into Swiss bank accounts and deprived their country’s children of decent health care, education and an opportunity to make a prosperous life. [..]

But what exactly is the difference between those autocrats and some of the wealthiest men on Wall Street – the “Masters of the Universe”?

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Honor Dr. King’s Revolutionary Vision – by Fighting For It

Our nation is about to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington. Over the next few days there will be new marches and new speeches, along with lots of black-and-white photographs and film clips of that historic day. We’ll remember the wisdom and courage of the civil rights movement’s leaders and heroes.

Many words of praise will be addressed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The pain of losing him still lingers – not only for the human tragedy of a life cut short, but because he had so much guidance to offer us about the struggles we face today.

Dr. King was a leader in the fight against segregation. But he also recognized that racial justice was woven inseparably into a seamless garment of justice that touches every aspect of modern life. From the gulf of time, from a half-century of struggle and change, his words speak directly to the challenges we face today. We periodically revisit them for inspiration and guidance, and we need them today more than ever.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: The Dream Did Not Come Free

The things we forget about the March on Washington are the things we most need to remember 50 years on.

We forget that the majestically peaceful assemblage that moved a nation came in the wake of brutal resistance to civil rights and equality. And that there would be more to come. [..]

King called our country forward on that beautiful day in 1963, but he also called out our failings. He told us there could be no peace without justice, and no justice without struggle. We honor him best by sharing not only his hope but also his impatience and his resolve.

Aug 23 2013

On This Day In History August 23

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.

August 23 is the 235th day of the year (236th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 130 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1902, pioneering cookbook author Fannie Farmer, who changed the way Americans prepare food by advocating the use of standardized measurements in recipes, opens Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery in Boston. In addition to teaching women about cooking, Farmer later educated medical professionals about the importance of proper nutrition for the sick.

Farmer was born March 23, 1857, and raised near Boston, Massachusetts. Her family believed in education for women and Farmer attended Medford High School; however, as a teenager she suffered a paralytic stroke that turned her into a homebound invalid for a period of years. As a result, she was unable to complete high school or attend college and her illness left her with a permanent limp. When she was in her early 30s, Farmer attended the Boston Cooking School. Founded in 1879, the school promoted a scientific approach to food preparation and trained women to become cooking teachers at a time when their employment opportunities were limited. Farmer graduated from the program in 1889 and in 1891 became the school’s principal. In 1896, she published her first cookbook, The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, which included a wide range of straightforward recipes along with information on cooking and sanitation techniques, household management and nutrition. Farmer’s book became a bestseller and revolutionized American cooking through its use of precise measurements, a novel culinary concept at the time.

Cookbook fame

Fannie published her most well-known work, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, in 1896. Her cookbook introduced the concept of using standardized measuring spoons and cups, as well as level measurement. A follow-up to an earlier version called Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book, published by Mary J. Lincoln in 1884, the book under Farmer’s direction eventually contained 1,849 recipes, from milk toast to Zigaras à la Russe. Farmer also included essays on housekeeping, cleaning, canning and drying fruits and vegetables, and nutritional information.

The book’s publisher (Little, Brown & Company) did not predict good sales and limited the first edition to 3,000 copies, published at the author’s expense. The book was so popular in America, so thorough, and so comprehensive that cooks would refer to later editions simply as the “Fannie Farmer cookbook”, and it is still available in print over 100 years later.

Farmer provided scientific explanations of the chemical processes that occur in food during cooking, and also helped to standardize the system of measurements used in cooking in the USA. Before the Cookbook’s publication, other American recipes frequently called for amounts such as “a piece of butter the size of an egg” or “a teacup of milk.” Farmer’s systematic discussion of measurement – “A cupful is measured level … A tablespoonful is measured level. A teaspoonful is measured level.” – led to her being named “the mother of level measurements.”

I still have my copy.

Aug 23 2013

Chelsea Manning

The day after Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for blowing the whistle on war crimes, his lawyer David Coombs, in an appearance on NBC’s Today Show, read the following statement:

I want to thank everybody who has supported me over the last three years. Throughout this long ordeal, your letters of support and encouragement have helped keep me strong. I am forever indebted to those who wrote to me, made a donation to my defense fund, or came to watch a portion of the trial. I would especially like to thank Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network for their tireless efforts in raising awareness for my case and providing for my legal representation.

As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.

Thank you,

Chelsea E. Manning

Respecting her wishes, the former Bradley Manning will be addressed as a woman and will be referred to as Chelsea Manning.

There will be occasions when in the course of reporting the story as it moves through the appeals process, that Ms. Manning will be called “Bradley Manning” by officials, as Kevin Gozstola noted at FDL The Dissenter with regard to the reporting there:

I will refer to Manning as Chelsea Manning even when recounting events in the court martial because that is the appropriate and respectful thing to do.

Now, as far as the coverage page at FDL that says “Bradley Manning,” FDL will consult members of the transgender community and see what they think would be appropriate. The coming weeks may see some adjustments to the page in order to be sensitive to Manning’s announcement.

We, too, at The Stars Hollow Gazette and Docudharma ask for input from our transgender community on how we should appropriately report on Chelsea Manning in the future.

We wish Chelsea the best and hope that the president will grant her clemency.