Daily Archive: 10/25/2013

Oct 25 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 thea Pundits”.

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Paul Krugman: Addicted to the Apocalypse

Once upon a time, walking around shouting “The end is nigh” got you labeled a kook, someone not to be taken seriously. These days, however, all the best people go around warning of looming disaster. In fact, you more or less have to subscribe to fantasies of fiscal apocalypse to be considered respectable.

And I do mean fantasies. Washington has spent the past three-plus years in terror of a debt crisis that keeps not happening, and, in fact, can’t happen to a country like the United States, which has its own currency and borrows in that currency. Yet the scaremongers can’t bring themselves to let go. [..]

As I’ve already suggested, there are two remarkable things about this kind of doomsaying. One is that the doomsayers haven’t rethought their premises despite being wrong again and again – perhaps because the news media continue to treat them with immense respect. The other is that as far as I can tell nobody, and I mean nobody, in the looming-apocalypse camp has tried to explain exactly how the predicted disaster would actually work.

New York Times Editorial: In Search of Republican Grown-Ups

The leaders of the Republican Party, in full flight from their disastrous and juvenile shutdown stunt, now want to restock their ranks with grown-ups. “Let’s face it: it was not a good maneuver,” Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah told The Times recently. “You’ve got to have the adults running the thing.”

Mr. Hatch and other establishment senators believe that grown-ups would not threaten the country’s full faith and credit, or keep the government closed, in order to get their way. That’s true, but it’s a rather pallid definition of maturity. A mature and responsible political party would do more than prevent a government default; it would offer serious solutions to the nation’s most pressing problems instead of running from them.

And it is there that Republicans – whether adults or Tea Party members – continue to let the public down.

Juan Cole: How the US Government Betrayed the Constitution and invented an Imaginary Fascist One

The idea of having a strong Federal government was controversial in the early United States, and one of the ways Federalists reassured Americans that it wouldn’t become tyrannical was to append a Bill of Rights to the Constitution.

That attempt to prevent despotism has failed, because the Federal government and its various agencies have set aside the Bill of Rights as a dead letter, substituted for them a bizarre set of interpretations of law, and either avoid having the courts adjudicate their fascist fantasies or managed to have appointed to the bench unethical or authoritarian judges that will uphold virtually anything they do.

How corrupt our system has become is evident when even the New Yorker emphasizes that a secret Senate report found that torture in the Bush years was “unnecessary” and “ineffective.” Not that it was “unconstitutional.”

Medea Benjamin: $40 Million Allocated for Drone Victims Never Reaches Them

Recent reports on US drone strikes by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN have heightened international awareness about civilian casualties and have resulted in new calls for redress. The Amnesty International drone report “Will I be next?” says the US government should ensure that victims of unlawful drone strikes, including family members, have effective access to remedies, including restitution, compensation and rehabilitation. The Human Rights Watch report “Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda” calls on the US government to “implement a system of prompt and meaningful compensation for civilian loss of life, injury, and property damage from unlawful attack.”

Several human rights groups have approached lawmakers asking them to sponsor legislation calling for such a fund. But congresspeople have been reluctant to introduce what they consider a losing proposition. Even maverick Congressman Alan Grayson, who is hosting a congressional briefing for drone victims from Pakistan on October 29, turned down the idea. “There’s no sympathy in this Congress for drone strike victims,” he said.

But unbeknownst to Grayson, the human rights groups and drone strike victims themselves, Congress already has such a fund.

The peace group CODEPINK recently discovered that every year for the past four years, a pot of $10 million has been allocated for Pakistani drone strike victims. That would make a total of $40 million, quite a hefty sum to divide among a few hundred families. But it appears that none of this money has actually reached them.

Dean Baker: After Budget Deal, Time to Move Forward

President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress deserve credit for successfully fending off Republican efforts to first torpedo the Affordable Care Act and then to attack Social Security and Medicare. Unfortunately, it does not appear that they are prepared to seize on the momentum and try to repair some of the damage that is being down by the prolonged downturn.

The problem is that the Democrats still seem to accept the Republicans’ parameters for the budget debate. The implication is that current deficits are a serious problem. This means that any area where there is an increase in spending must be offset by cuts elsewhere or tax increases. Since the Republicans remain adamantly opposed to any tax increases, reshuffling spending is the only option open to the Democrats. [..]

The reality is that the economy needs more spending and there is no plausible story where the additional spending is going to come from the private sector in the immediate future. If the government is not prepared to boost spending then we will continue to see an economy that is down close to 9 million jobs from its trend level.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Dear House-Senate Budget Committee: The Country Needs Jobs

Details are emerging about the House-Senate conference committee charged with developing a new budget. That would presumably head off the continued threat of a renewed Republican government shutdown – a catastrophe that is currently scheduled for January 15 – and would presumably also defuse the GOP’s threat to throw the government into default.

A word for the members of the committee: Tuesday the S&P 500 stock market index hit record highs, while newly-released employment statistics were even weaker than expected. Your mission couldn’t be clearer. You must create a budget which creates jobs for the American people.

Nevertheless, many politicians are misinterpreting their assignment. You’ll hear them say that the Committee’s been charged with finding a “deficit reduction plan” that’s acceptable to both parties.

Oct 25 2013

On This Day In History October 25

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.

October 25 is the 298th day of the year (299th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 67 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1774, the First Continental Congress sends a respectful petition to King George III to inform his majesty that if it had not been for the acts of oppression forced upon the colonies by the British Parliament, the American people would be standing behind British rule.

Despite the anger that the American public felt towards the United Kingdom after the British Parliament established the Coercive Acts, called the Intolerable Acts by the colonists, Congress was still willing to assert its loyalty to the king. In return for this loyalty, Congress asked the king to address and resolve the specific grievances of the colonies. The petition, written by Continental Congressman John Dickinson, laid out what Congress felt was undo oppression of the colonies by the British Parliament. Their grievances mainly had to do with the Coercive Acts, a series of four acts that were established to punish colonists and to restore order in Massachusetts following the Boston Tea Party..

Passage of the Acts

In Boston, Massachusetts, the Sons of Liberty protested against Parliament’s passage of the Tea Act in 1773 by throwing tons of taxed tea into Boston Harbor, an act that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party. News of the event reached England in January 1774. Parliament responded with a series of acts that were intended to punish Boston for this illegal destruction of private property, restore British authority in Massachusetts, and otherwise reform colonial government in America.

On April 22, 1774, Prime Minister Lord North defended the program in the House of Commons, saying:

The Americans have tarred and feathered your subjects, plundered your merchants, burnt your ships, denied all obedience to your laws and authority; yet so clement and so long forbearing has our conduct been that it is incumbent on us now to take a different course. Whatever may be the consequences, we must risk something; if we do not, all is over.

The Boston Port Act, the first of the acts passed in response to the Boston Tea Party, closed the port of Boston until the East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea and until the king was satisfied that order had been restored. Colonists objected that the Port Act punished all of Boston rather than just the individuals who had destroyed the tea, and that they were being punished without having been given an opportunity to testify in their own defense.

The Massachusetts Government Act provoked even more outrage than the Port Act because it unilaterally altered the government of Massachusetts to bring it under control of the British government. Under the terms of the Government Act, almost all positions in the colonial government were to be appointed by the governor or the king. The act also severely limited the activities of town meetings in Massachusetts. Colonists outside Massachusetts feared that their governments could now also be changed by the legislative fiat of Parliament.

The Administration of Justice Act allowed the governor to move trials of accused royal officials to another colony or even to Great Britain if he believed the official could not get a fair trial in Massachusetts. Although the act stipulated that witnesses would be paid for their travel expenses, in practice few colonists could afford to leave their work and cross the ocean to testify in a trial. George Washington called this the “Murder Act” because he believed that it allowed British officials to harass Americans and then escape justice. Some colonists believed the act was unnecessary because British soldiers had been given a fair trial following the Boston Massacre in 1770, with future Founding Father John Adams representing the Defense.

The Quartering Act applied to all of the colonies, and sought to create a more effective method of housing British troops in America. In a previous act, the colonies had been required to provide housing for soldiers, but colonial legislatures had been uncooperative in doing so. The new Quartering Act allowed a governor to house soldiers in other buildings if suitable quarters were not provided. While many sources claim that the Quartering Act allowed troops to be billeted in occupied private homes, historian David Ammerman’s 1974 study claimed that this is a myth, and that the act only permitted troops to be quartered in unoccupied buildings. Although many colonists found the Quartering Act objectionable, it generated the least protest of the Coercive Acts.

The Quebec Act was a piece of legislation unrelated to the events in Boston, but the timing of its passage led colonists to believe that it was part of the program to punish them. The act enlarged the boundaries of what was then the colony of “Canada” (roughly consisting of today’s Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario as well as the Great Lakes’ American watershed), removed references to the Protestant faith in the oath of allegiance, and guaranteed free practice of the Roman Catholic faith. The Quebec Act offended a variety of interest groups in the British colonies. Land speculators and settlers objected to the transfer of western lands previously claimed by the colonies to a non-representative government. Many feared the establishment of Catholicism in Quebec, and that the French Canadians were being courted to help oppress British Americans.

Oct 25 2013

Blowback

NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts

James Ball, The Guardian

Thursday 24 October 2013 14.14 EDT

The National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department, according to a classified document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The confidential memo reveals that the NSA encourages senior officials in its “customer” departments, such the White House, State and the Pentagon, to share their “Rolodexes” so the agency can add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems.

The document notes that one unnamed US official handed over 200 numbers, including those of the 35 world leaders, none of whom is named. These were immediately “tasked” for monitoring by the NSA.

The revelation is set to add to mounting diplomatic tensions between the US and its allies, after the German chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday accused the US of tapping her mobile phone.

After Merkel’s allegations became public, White House press secretary Jay Carney issued a statement that said the US “is not monitoring and will not monitor” the German chancellor’s communications. But that failed to quell the row, as officials in Berlin quickly pointed out that the US did not deny monitoring the phone in the past.



Earlier in the week, Obama called the French president François Hollande in response to reports in Le Monde that the NSA accessed more than 70m phone records of French citizens in a single 30-day period, while earlier reports in Der Spiegel uncovered NSA activity against the offices and communications of senior officials of the European Union.

The European Commission, the executive body of the EU, this week backed proposals that could require US tech companies to seek permission before handing over EU citizens’ data to US intelligence agencies, while the European parliament voted in favour of suspending a transatlantic bank data sharing agreement after Der Spiegel revealed the agency was monitoring the international bank transfer system Swift

Obama left increasingly isolated as anger builds among key US allies

Dan Roberts and Paul Lewis, The Guardian

Thursday 24 October 2013 16.04 EDT

International anger over US government surveillance has combined with a backlash against its current Middle East policy to leave President Obama increasingly isolated from many of his key foreign allies, according to diplomats in Washington.

The furious call that German chancellor Angela Merkel made to the White House on Wednesday to ask if her phone had been tapped was the latest in a string of diplomatic rebukes by allies including France, Brazil and Mexico, all of which have distanced themselves from the US following revelations of spying by the National Security Agency.

But the collapse in trust of the US among its European and South American partners has been matched by an equally rapid deterioration in its relationships with key allies in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia this week joined Israel, Jordan and United Arab Emirates in signalling a shift in its relations with the US over its unhappiness at a perceived policy of rapprochement toward Iran and Syria.

Not that the Saudi’s hands are exactly clean-

If the Saudis Take Their Toys and Go Home, Have They Still Won the Arab Spring?

By: emptywheel

Thursday October 24, 2013 11:41 am

Ignatius depicts the Saudi version here (link added), not reality. US condemnation of Bahrain’s crackdown has been muted, and the US has started shipping arms again. This litany doesn’t mention the Saudi-favored policies the US supported: overthrowing long-time Saudi annoyance Muammar Qaddafi, resolving the Yemeni uprising in such a way that largely maintained the status quo. And it’s not the Brotherhood so much troubles the Saudis (indeed, they’re supporting Islamic extremists elsewhere), but the notion of popular legitimacy (which is not to say Morsi had that when he was overthrown).

But it does reflect what I think is genuinely behind Saudi disengagement. After some setbacks in 2011 – notably, Mubarak’s ouster, but also the need to increase its bribes to its own people to ensure stability – the Saudis found a way to use the rhetoric of popular uprising selectively to pursue their own hegemonic interests. They believed they were on their way to do so in Syria, as well.

With the coup in Egypt and Obama’s tepid response to it, however, the cost of popular legitimacy started to rise again. And with the US backing out of its efforts to use “rebels” (including foreign fighters) to oust Assad, Saudi’s feigned support for popular legitimacy disappeared. That notion reverted to being just another force that might endanger the throne. And as the US gets closer to a deal with Iran – a development that significantly threatens Saudi leverage in our “special relationship” in any case – I suspect the Saudis decided a temper tantrum was necessary. More importantly, I worry they disengaged from the UN because they are considering alternative means of pursuing their interests, means that would be loudly condemned in that body.

The Saudis are running out of money and oil to ensure their own stability, and asserting greater hegemony over the Middle East presented a way to retain it. I assume they intend to keep pursuing that greater hegemony with us or against us.

Nor is this without economic consequences-

U.S. Tech Giants May Pay the Price, as Europe Seethes Over NSA Snooping

By Carol Matlack, BusinessWeek

October 24, 2013

The timing couldn’t have been worse for the likes of Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB), Microsoft (MSFT), and Yahoo! (YHOO) As Europe was reacting with outrage to fresh allegations of U.S. National Security Agency eavesdropping on its leaders and citizens, a European Parliament panel this week approved a draft of a new electronic-privacy law.

The law’s biggest impact, however, won’t be on spy agencies. It takes aim at Internet companies, who will face stiff penalties if found to have violated the privacy rights of European Union citizens in storing and handling their personal data. Fines could total €100 million ($137 million) or 5 percent of a company’s annual sales, whichever is greater.



Disclosures of U.S. spying in Europe could produce other economic fallout, Fran Burwell, a vice president at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, told Bloomberg News. For example, she says EU lawmakers have signaled that a proposed U.S.-European free trade pact “won’t be approved unless there’s an agreement between the U.S. and EU on the handling of personal data.”

Chickens?  Roosting?  Home?

Bueller?

Oct 25 2013

Keep your eyes on the ball

The Triumph of the Right

Robert Reich

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Labor Department reported Tuesday that only 148,000 jobs were created in September – way down from the average of 207,000 new jobs a month in the first quarter of the year.

Many Americans have stopped looking for work. The official unemployment rate of 7.2 percent reflects only those who are still looking. If the same percentage of Americans were in the workforce today as when Barack Obama took office, today’s unemployment rate would be 10.8 percent.

Meanwhile, 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent. The real median household income continues to drop, and the number of Americans in poverty continues to rise.



The biggest debate in Washington over the next few months will be whether to whack the federal budget deficit by cutting future entitlement spending and closing some tax loopholes, or go back to the sequester. Some choice.

The real triumph of the right has come in shaping the national conversation around the size of government and the budget deficit – thereby diverting attention from what’s really going on:  the increasing concentration of the nation’s income and wealth at the very top, while most Americans fall further and further behind.

Continuing cuts in the budget deficit – through the sequester or a deficit agreement – will only worsen this by reducing total demand for goods and services and by eliminating programs that hard-pressed Americans depend on.

The President and Democrats should re-frame the national conversation around widening inequality.



The central issue of our time is the reality of widening inequality of income and wealth. Everything else – the government shutdown, the fight over the debt ceiling, the continuing negotiations over the budget deficit – is a dangerous distraction. The Right’s success in generating this distraction is its greatest, and most insidious, triumph.

What to Expect During the Cease-Fire

Robert Reich

Thursday, October 17, 2013

We know the parameters of the upcoming budget debate because we’ve been there before. The House already has its version – the budget Paul Ryan bequeathed to them. This includes major cuts in Medicare (turning it into a voucher) and Social Security (privatizing much of it), and substantial cuts in domestic programs ranging from education and infrastructure to help for poorer Americans. Republicans also have some bargaining leverage in the sequester, which continues to indiscriminately choke government spending.



Here, I fear, is where the President is likely to cave.

He’s already put on the table a way to reduce future Social Security payments by altering the way cost-of-living adjustments are made – using the so-called “chained” consumer price index, which assumes that when prices rise people economize by switching to cheaper alternatives. This makes no sense for seniors, who already spend a disproportionate share of their income on prescription drugs, home healthcare, and medical devices – the prices of which have been rising faster than inflation. Besides, Social Security isn’t responsible for our budget deficits. Quite the opposite: For years its surpluses have been used to fund everything else the government does.  

The President has also suggested “means-testing” Medicare – that is, providing less of it to higher-income seniors. This might be sensible. The danger is it becomes the start of a slippery slope that eventually turns Medicare into another type of Medicaid, a program perceived to be for the poor and therefore vulnerable to budget cuts.



More generally, the President has been too eager to accept the argument that the major economic problem facing the nation is large budget deficits – when, in point of fact, the deficit has been shrinking as a share of the national economy.

Oct 25 2013

The Once and Great GOP Tech Guru: John McAfee

You could label this “what were they thinking” but we’re talking about the Republican Party here. IT seems that in the midst of the latest “crisis,” the failure to launch of the Healthcare.gov web site, the genius Republicans of the House of Representative decided to ask a murder suspect to testify as an computer expert. No, I am not pulling you leg.

House Republicans Asked Murder Suspect John McAfee to Testify on Obamacare Website

by David, Crooks and Liars

According to emails obtained by CNBC, House Republicans asked the founder of McAfee Associates to “guide our oversight and review” of the Affordable Care Act website.

In 2012, McAfee went on the run from Belize authorities after being suspected of the murder of his neighbor. He was later detained in Guatemala and deported to the United States, but has not been charged with a crime.

“This is the Committee of jurisdiction for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare),” House Committee on Energy and Commerce counsel Sean Hayes wrote to McAfee’s lawyer on Oct. 14. “For three years we have been monitoring the implementation of the law and have been trying to dig into what has happened with the Exchange rollout.”

“Given the failures of Healthcare.gov, and Mr. McAfee’s expertise, I was hoping he might be able to discuss his views with staff on the hill,” the email continued. “It would be an informal discussion: we would take notes but these would not be for attribution, it would mainly guide our oversight and review of the program.”

“This would hopefully not be a heavy lift for him: what problems could lead to the compromise of personal identifying information? What could we be doing to prevent data or identify theft? What advice generally does he have?”

The deal fell through when the House wouldn’t pay for Mr. McAfee’s travel expenses. In case you aren’t aware of the hilarity of this invitation, Rachel Maddow gives us the Cliff Note version of Mr. McAfee’s biography

Can you imagine the hilarity of McAfee’s testimony as his mind wanders from the technicalities of launcing a web site to his sexual prowess and drug expertise? C-Span’s ratings would soar.

Oct 25 2013

2013 Major League Baseball Championship Game 2: Cardinals @ Red Sox

Does he or doesn’t he?  Overshadowing the Cardinal’s admittedly sucky performance last night is the question of whether Jon Lester was throwing a ‘Spit’ ball.

Now if you’re not much up on Baseball they don’t actually spit on the ball, but it is a fact that the aerodynamics of a pitch are such that any foreign substance on the ball, or abrasion of its surface can effect the trajectory.  Vaseline is very old school, in the most recent cases I remember the accusation was that sand or emery paper, or just strong and carefully filed fingernails were used.  Officially the Cards are discounting the idea which is gosh darn sportsman-like of them.

Of course mere spitters don’t explain the terrible fielding and awful pitching which is what really allowed the Sox to be so dominant last night.

The rout started in the 1st Inning.  Leadoff Walk, Line Out, Single.  2 On 1 Out.  Error, Bases Loaded.

I’m going to stop there for a moment and explain.  The ball went to 2nd to start a Double Play but Kozma lost the handle and it popped out of his glove before he could make the throw to 1st.  The 2nd Base Umpire called it an Out on the field when it just so obviously wasn’t.  Now supposedly a call like that can’t be over ruled (there is no crying or instant replay in Baseball), but an Umpire can ask for assistance and when the 2nd Base Umpire finally did the Crew Chief came out and basically said, “What are you?  Blind?  Drop by Lenscrafters tomorrow because you need new glasses.”

Or words to that effect.

Now you might expect me to be upset because I am marginally rooting for the Cards, but I’m not really.  It’s been my contention for years that plays at 2nd are horribly called and all a 2nd Baseman or Shortstop has to do is think about signaling an intention that he maybe might step on the bag for the not so tie to go to the Fielder rather than the Runner as the rules clearly state.

And the Cardinals were made to play for their mistake- 3 RBI Double, Sox 3 – 0.  It continued in the 2nd.  2 On 1 Out,  Error, bases loaded 1 Out.  RBI Single, RBI Sacrifice, Sox 5 – 0.  Quiet until the 7th, then 2 Outs, an Error, 2 RBI Home Run.  7 – 0 Sox.  Sox struck again in the 8th, Leadoff Double, Wild Pitch, Sacrifice, 8 – 0 Sox.  Playing for pride the Cards avoided a Shut Out with a Solo Shot.  Red Sox 8 – 1, lead Series 1 – 0.

And for you Cards fans I suggest you look at the last number very carefully before you despair.  As bad as they looked last night they could have lost 100 – 0 and it would still be just the one W.  Good teams are supposed to win at home.

If you’re looking for bad news it’s unclear if Beltran will start tonight.  No broken ribs but he’s bruised up pretty seriously and they don’t play him because of his fielding, but because of what he can do at the plate.

John Lackey (10 – 13, 3.52 ERA R) will face Michael Wacha (4 – 1, 2.78 ERA R).  In the post-season Lackey has not lost, 2 – 0, 11 hits for 4 runs in 12 innings and an ERA of 2.84.  For a rookie Wacha has been a pleasant surprise, also undefeated at 3 – 0 post-season he has 8 hits and 1 run in 21 innings pitched for a stunningly low 0.42 ERA.  Advantage Cardinals.

On the other hand you saw what good that did in Game 1.