Daily Archive: 12/13/2013

Dec 13 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: The Biggest Losers

The pundit consensus seems to be that Republicans lost in the just-concluded budget deal. Overall spending will be a bit higher than the level mandated by the sequester, the straitjacket imposed back in 2011. Meanwhile, Democrats avoided making any concessions on Social Security or Medicare. Call this one for Team D, I guess.

But if Republicans arguably lost this round, the unemployed lost even more: Extended benefits weren’t renewed, so 1.3 million workers will be cut off at the end of this month, and many more will see their benefits run out in the months that follow. And if you take a longer perspective – if you look at what has happened since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010 – what you see is a triumph of anti-government ideology that has had enormously destructive effects on American workers. [..]But the larger picture is one of years of deeply destructive policy, imposing gratuitous suffering on working Americans. And this deal didn’t do much to change that picture.

Jenn Toppper: The End of the Internet As We Know It

Unless the FCC protects net neutrality, the biggest Internet providers will run amok.

The Internet is the world’s largest shopping mall, library, video store, post office and town square. When you turn on your computer, you’re in the driver’s seat, choosing what you want to read, watch, and hear.

We owe everything we love about the Web to net neutrality, the principle that the Internet is an open platform and service providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner can’t dictate where you go and what you do online.

Without net neutrality, the Web would look a lot like cable, with the most popular content available only on certain tiers or with certain providers. (Imagine AT&T as the exclusive home of Netflix and Comcast as the sole source of YouTube.)

In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission tried to establish concrete rules to protect net neutrality. But the agency ended up caving to pressure from the biggest phone and cable companies and left huge loopholes standing in the way of a truly open Internet.

And now Verizon is in court challenging those rules – and the FCC’s authority to draft and enforce them to protect consumers and promote competition. That’s because under the Bush administration, the FCC decided to give away much of its authority to oversee our broadband networks. The current FCC could fix the problem by reclaiming this authority, but it hasn’t yet.

Robert Creamer: Don’t Let Hardliners Undermine Iran Nuclear Negotiations — and Drag America Into Another Mid-East War

Tough talk is coming from some Members of Congress who oppose the new international agreement to limit the Iran nuclear program and want to plow ahead with additional sanctions, even though that vote could jeopardize the agreement and lead America into another Mid-East War.

The deal was negotiated between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — including the United States — plus Germany. [..]

When the polling firm Hart Research read this description of the deal to a random sample of American voters, 63 percent said they supported it, and only 24 percent were opposed. Thirteen percent said they were undecided. When the polling firm Hart Research read this description of the deal to a random sample of American voters, 63 percent said they supported it, and only 24 percent were opposed. Thirteen percent said they were undecided. [..]

Regardless, there are some in Congress who are intent on passing new sanctions right away, even if it would threaten the entire negotiation.

Those Members need to read further in the Hart poll. Sixty-seven percent say they would agree more with a Member of Congress who wants to give the new agreement and further negotiations a chance to work before deciding on any additional economic sanctions. Only 25 percent prefer that Congress pass new sanctions on Iran now, even if it puts the new agreement and further negotiations at risk.

Laura W. Murphy: The NSA’s Winter of Discontent

The summer of Snowden is fast becoming the NSA’s winter of discontent.[..]

There’s a reason why the NSA is concerned about the growing chorus of concern from every facet of society–both here and abroad–about its dragnet surveillance programs: change looks inevitable, particularly as bipartisan congressional support continues to grow for the USA FREEDOM Act. Currently, 130 members of Congress have co-sponsored the legislation, and just yesterday Sen. Leahy held a hearing on his legislation and NSA reform. And with pressure intensifying in the House for a vote, the USA FREEDOM Act should hit the floor sometime in the new year–a vote the Obama administration and the NSA will no doubt lobby hard against.

Here’s hoping the NSA’s winter of discontent becomes a democratic spring. Innocent Americans should never have to worry their government’s awesome surveillance capabilities are intercepting, filtering, collecting, analyzing, and storing the intimate details of their lives. Appallingly, they do.ere’s a reason why the NSA is concerned about the growing chorus of concern from every facet of society–both here and abroad–about its dragnet surveillance programs: change looks inevitable, particularly as bipartisan congressional support continues to grow for the USA FREEDOM Act. Currently, 130 members of Congress have co-sponsored the legislation, and just yesterday Sen. Leahy held a hearing on his legislation and NSA reform. And with pressure intensifying in the House for a vote, the USA FREEDOM Act should hit the floor sometime in the new year–a vote the Obama administration and the NSA will no doubt lobby hard against.

Here’s hoping the NSA’s winter of discontent becomes a democratic spring. Innocent Americans should never have to worry their government’s awesome surveillance capabilities are intercepting, filtering, collecting, analyzing, and storing the intimate details of their lives. Appallingly, they do.

E. J. Dionne. Jr.: The Inadequate, Necessary Budget Deal

It’s a sign of how far to the right House Republicans have dragged governance in our country that the very conservative budget deal reached by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray will need many liberal and Democratic votes to pass.

The agreement leaves the jobless out in the cold, because it doesn’t extend unemployment benefits, and provides little room for new initiatives to combat rising inequality and declining upward mobility-the very problems that President Obama and most Democrats believe are the most important facing the country. [..]

To say this is a very conservative outcome is not to knock Murray or her negotiating approach. Democrats had two major goals going into the talks, and she made progress on both of them. As a general matter, Murray’s side wanted to lighten the burden on the recovery from the automatic budget cuts known as the “sequester.” And it sought to protect Head Start and other education programs, scientific and medical research, and some infrastructure spending.

Harvey Wasserman: Japan’s Deadly New ‘Fukushima Fascism’

New secrecy law may make Japan’s democracy a relic of its pre-Fukushima past.

Fukushima continues to spew out radiation. The quantities seem to be rising, as do the impacts.

The site has been infiltrated by organized crime.

There are horrifying signs of ecological disaster in the Pacific and human health impacts in the U.S.

But within Japan, a new State Secrets Act makes such talk punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Taro Yamamoto, a Japanese legislator, says the law “represents a coup d’etat” leading to “the recreation of a fascist state.” The powerful Asahi Shimbun newspaper compares it to “conspiracy” laws passed by totalitarian Japan in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor, and warns it could end independent reporting on Fukushima.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been leading Japan in an increasingly militaristic direction. Tensions have increased with China. Massive demonstrations have been renounced with talk of “treason.” Fukushima continues to spew out radiation. The quantities seem to be rising, as do the impacts.

The site has been infiltrated by organized crime.

There are horrifying signs of ecological disaster in the Pacific and human health impacts in the U.S.

But within Japan, a new State Secrets Act makes such talk punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Taro Yamamoto, a Japanese legislator, says the law “represents a coup d’etat” leading to “the recreation of a fascist state.” The powerful Asahi Shimbun newspaper compares it to “conspiracy” laws passed by totalitarian Japan in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor, and warns it could end independent reporting on Fukushima.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been leading Japan in an increasingly militaristic direction. Tensions have increased with China. Massive demonstrations have been renounced with talk of “treason.”

Dec 13 2013

Stoning vs. Droning

The other day a friend on Facebook sent me a link to a petition.  These days, I seem to receive invitations to sign petitions all of the time.  Sometimes I wonder if they really do any good and if the people who are the targets of influence in the petitions pay any attention at all to them, particularly when they urge them to do things that they have little interest in doing.

The petition that my friend sent me was particularly graphic and was certainly a worthy cause, a petition to stop barbaric violence against women in Pakistan in this case:

stoning v droning 1

Since I wouldn’t want to sign on to a bogus petition, I did some googling to find out if the story the petition reports was verifiable.  It turns out that a reputable news source, The Independent, carried the story:

The punishment was death by stoning. The crime? Having a mobile phone

Two months ago, a young mother of two was stoned to death by her relatives on the order of a tribal court in Pakistan. Her crime: possession of a mobile phone.

Arifa Bibi’s uncle, cousins and others hurled stones and bricks at her until she died, according to media reports. She was buried in a desert far from her village. It’s unlikely anyone was arrested. Her case is not unique. Stoning is legal or practised in at least 15 countries or regions. And campaigners fear this barbaric form of execution may be on the rise, particularly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Women’s rights activists have launched an international campaign for a ban on stoning, which is mostly inflicted on women accused of adultery. They are using Twitter and other social media to put pressure on the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to denounce the practice.

The petition that I was invited to sign is to be presented to President Barack Obama:

stop the stoning 2

Barack Obama is giving the Pakistani government $1.5 billion dollars in aid this year, not to mention probably spending many millions on drone bombings of non-combatant civilians.

Aid to Pakistan to Resume as Tension With U.S. Eases

WASHINGTON – The United States plans to give more than $1.5 billion in assistance to Pakistan for programs that had been blocked because of tension between the two nations over events including the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, American officials said Saturday.

While the petition is absolutely a worthy cause and Americans should certainly reach out and demand that their government cease supporting another government that gives sanction to a heinous, barbaric act of inhumanity like stoning, one has to wonder how the withdrawl of support would be seen by the populace of a country whose women and children our government is murdering with drones.

living under drones

Surely the action of cutting off support to compel Pakistan to stop the stonings would cause gales of angry laughter amongst tears of rage.

Further, considering that Mr. Obama seems to wish to continue his murderous drone campaign that has used tactics like signature strikes:

[T]hese attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.” According to anonymously sourced media reports, such attacks on unidentified targets account for many, or even most, drone strikes.

and double tap dronings:

Between May 24 and July 23 2012, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was reported by multiple media sources to have carried out a number of controversial drone strikes in the FATA region of northwest Pakistan.

Across seven attacks, reports suggested the agency had deliberately targeted a mosque with worshippers inside; to have targeted funeral prayers for a victim of a previous strike; and on six occasions, to have deliberately targeted people going to rescue victims and retrieve the dead from the scene of an earlier attack – a tactic also known as a ‘double-tap’ strike.

that terrorize Pakistanis:

Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.

It seems likely that the Pakistani government would be far less accomodating of Mr. Obama’s drone strikes without the lubricant of billions of US dollars.

Taking a leap and assuming that such a campaign of sanctions against Pakistan would work, would Mr. Obama be willing to give up his barbaric drone campaign to stop violence against women?

My guess is probably not.

I think it’s a good idea to sign the petition.  It would be an even better idea to drop Mr. Obama and your congresspeople a line and ask them to differentiate between the barbarity of stoning a woman to death for having a cellphone and killing a woman and two of her grandchildren with a hellfire missile for picking vegetables.

stoning vs. droning 2

Dec 13 2013

On This Day In History December 13

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.a

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 13 is the 347th day of the year (348th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 18 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1642, Abel Tasman discovers New Zealand.

New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses (the North Island and the South Island), and numerous smaller islands, most notably Stewart Island/Rakiura and the Chatham Islands. The indigenous Maori language name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, commonly translated as land of the long white cloud. The Realm of New Zealand also includes the Cook Islands and Niue (self-governing but in free association); Tokelau; and the Ross Dependency (New Zealand’s territorial claim in Antarctica).

The majority of Zealand’s population is of European descent; the indigenous Maori are the largest minority. Asians and non-Maori Polynesians are also significant minority groups, especially in urban areas. The most commonly spoken language is English.

New Zealand is a developed country that ranks highly in international comparisons on many topics, including lack of corruption, high educational attainment and economic freedom. Its cities also consistently rank among the world’s most liveable.

Elizabeth II, as the Queen of New Zealand, is the country’s head of state and is represented by a Governor-General, and executive political power is exercised by the Cabinet of New Zealand.

Polynesian settlers

New Zealand is one of the most recently settled major landmasses. The first known settlers were Eastern Polynesians who, according to most researchers, arrived by canoe in about AD 1250-1300. Some researchers have suggested an earlier wave of arrivals dating to as early as AD 50-150; these people then either died out or left the islands. Over the following centuries these settlers developed into a distinct culture now known as Maori. The population was divided into iwi (tribes) and hapu (subtribes) which would cooperate, compete and sometimes fight with each other. At some point a group of Maori migrated to the Chatham Islands where they developed their distinct Moriori culture.

European explorers

The first Europeans known to have reached New Zealand were Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman and his crew in 1642. Maori killed four of the crew and no Europeans returned to New Zealand until British explorer James Cook’s voyage of 1768-71. Cook reached New Zealand in 1769 and mapped almost the entire coastline. Following Cook, New Zealand was visited by numerous European and North American whaling, sealing and trading ships. They traded European food and goods, especially metal tools and weapons, for Maori timber, food, artefacts and water. On occasion, Europeans traded goods for sex.

The potato and the musket transformed Maori agriculture and warfare, beginning in the frequently visited north then spreading southwards. The resulting Musket Wars encompassed over 600 battles between 1801 and 1840, killing 30,000-40,000 Maori, although introduced diseases would play an even greater role in the Maori population’s decline to around 40% of its pre-contact level during the 19th century. From the early 19th century, Christian missionaries began to settle New Zealand, eventually converting most of the Maori population, although their initial inroads were mainly among the more disaffected elements of society.

 

Dec 13 2013

US Wants to Block Access to Clean Water

Access to clean water photo AR-131129105_zpsbd2d3f07.jpg Not that I’m surprised about this considering that here in the US many Americans seem adverse to drinking water from the tap, preferring to drink it from non-biodegradable disposable plastic bottles and line the pockets of international conglomerates like Nestle. It is just another sign that our government is serves these multinationals.

United Nations: General Assembly makes progress on the human rights to water and sanitation, but only so far as the USA permits

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

PUBLIC STATEMENT

26 November 2013

The UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on 21 November adopted a resolution on “The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation”. Amnesty International welcomes this resolution; the first in which all UN member States affirm that the rights to water and sanitation are legally binding in international law. However, we are deeply disappointed that as a result of pressure from the USA, the main sponsors of the resolution, Germany and Spain, removed from the resolution a paragraph containing a critical affirmation of the contents of these rights. It is outrageous that one country’s view – for which it has not provided any plausible explanation – has been given priority over the expressed view of the many other countries supporting this language. The US position stands in stark contrast to the views of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and against the interests of the billions of people who lack adequate access to water and sanitation.

A Glaring Omission

Until moments before its adoption, the draft General Assembly resolution had recognised that “the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation entitles everyone, without discrimination, to have access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use and to have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, and acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity“.

The definition under discussion was based on that contained in a resolution of the UN Human Rights Council adopted in September 2013, which was co-sponsored by 111 States and was adopted by consensus. At the time, the USA was the only country that disassociated itself from the definition of these rights and stated that it did not agree ‘with the expansive way this right has been articulated’. However, it has not explained what aspects of this definition it does not accept.

The draft of this resolution that included this important affirmation of the content of the rights to water and sanitation in the General Assembly enjoyed the support of 81 cosponsors from all parts of the world. Only the USA consistently opposed inclusion of text endorsing the contents of these rights. It is regrettable that the main sponsors removed this language at the last minute at the behest of the USA.

The USA’s view that the definition of the rights set out by the Human Rights Council is ‘expansive’ cannot be sustained. That definition of these rights is in fact limited and relates to essential elements without which they would only be hollow promises. People are entitled to water and to sanitation that is within reasonable reach and at a price they can afford. People have a right to enough water to wash their clothes, prepare their food and keep themselves and their homes clean. People have a right to sanitation which they can use without risk of disease, injury or assault, in all locations where they spend significant time, which they can access in dignity and without spectators and without being forced to abandon those of their social and cultural sanitation practices that they wish to maintain. Such rights are only ‘expansive’ if one adopts a 19th century understanding of hygiene and of government duties to ensure the provision of public services.

It is therefore incumbent upon the US government to explain which of these aspects of the rights it cannot accept and why. It owes this explanation to the world at large, and to Americans, who deserve to know what aspects of their rights to water and sanitation their Federal government refuses to guarantee. In fact, during the official mission to the USA in 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on these rights identified several instances where the government was not taking adequate steps to ensure quality, affordability and access to water and sanitation.

Why Is the US Getting in the Way of International Efforts to Make Clean Water a Basic Human Right?

By Shiney Varghese, Alternet

The United States is the only country marring the good works of a UN resolution on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The debate isn’t over yet. Even though the references to the content of the rights to water were removed from the November resolution, UNGA’s Third Committee endorsed the UNHRC resolution of September 2013, which elaborates the underlying essential elements of these rights. Thus, reintroducing the content of these rights in future texts on rights to water and sanitation should be quite straightforward.

The issue will likely come up again at the UN General Assembly next year. For the supporters of the draft resolution this offers an opportunity to reintroduce the removed language. For the United States too, that will provide a chance to stand on the right side of history, rather than holding back progress.

If and when a UN GA resolution is adopted with these amendments, it will indeed be a big step forward in advancing rights-based approaches to development. Yet, we need to be mindful that this will only be a baby step towards ensuring adequate access to water and sanitation for world’s poor. It will require sustained work at multiple levels and spaces, including rethinking our water intensive development trajectory, to make it a reality for all.

The human rights and wrongs of Nestlé and water for all

By Pul Muir, The National

Having safe water to drink should be regarded as an inalienable human right, say campaigners, and last week the United Nations General Assembly put its weight behind them, approving a draft resolution calling on member states to make universal access a ­reality.Having safe water to drink should be regarded as an inalienable human right, say campaigners, and last week the United Nations General Assembly put its weight behind them, approving a draft resolution calling on member states to make universal access a ­reality. [..]

The achievement of this life-saving objective, however, will likely be undermined by the privatisation of water rights and commoditisation – subjecting the most precious substance on the planet to the vagaries of the market.

At the World Water Forum in the Netherlands in 2000, Nestlé and other corporations with a financial interest in controlling the world’s drinking water succeeded in having access to it officially downgraded from a “right” to a mere “need”.

The Nestlé chairman and former CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said that “access to water should not be a public right”. His company and others have since been taking control of aquifers that local communities rely on for drinking water – and bottling it for a profit.

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovich for The National

Dec 13 2013

The proper reaction is to love it and cherish it.

Blackstone Unit Wins in No-Lose Codere Trade: Corporate Finance

By Stephanie Ruhle, Mary Childs, and Julie Miecamp, Bloomberg News

2013-10-22 15:02:47

GSO, the New York-based credit investing unit of Blackstone, the world’s largest private-equity firm, bought Codere’s bonds and credit-default swaps in the first half of this year, hoping to profit from differences in pricing of the instruments in what’s known as a basis trade, according to a person familiar with the transactions.



The company’s willingness to pay the coupon late helped ease restructuring negotiations as many bondholders also held credit-default swaps and would benefit from a missed payment, the person said. Codere made the August payment two days after a 30-day grace period, and the International Swaps & Derivatives Association ruled that there was a failure-to-pay credit event, resulting in a $197 million payment to holders of the swaps.



“As a lender, the idea is to help somebody make payments on their debt,” said Bonnie Baha, the head of global developed credit at Los Angeles-based DoubleLine Capital LP, which manages about $53 billion. “It’s generally not to pay them not to make payments on their debt so that you can benefit via a derivative instrument.”

Blackstone Made Money on Credit-Default Swaps With This One Weird Trick

By Matt Levine, Bloomberg News

2013-12-05 22:47:32Z

The Blackstone Codere trade — in which Blackstone Group LP bought credit-default swaps on troubled Spanish gaming company Codere SA, then agreed to roll a $100 million revolver for Codere on favorable terms in exchange for Codere agreeing to make an interest payment on some bonds two days late, thus creating a technical default and triggering the CDS, pocketing some gains for Blackstone at the expense of the CDS writers, without costing Codere anything — is such a glorious pinnacle of financial achievement that of course someone had to make a television show about it. I would have preferred a prime-time miniseries, but what we got is a “Daily Show” segment, and that will have to do.



Really, the only reason to cover this story is its majestic beauty. Which is a great reason to cover it, don’t get me wrong; it’s just that aesthetic appreciation of clever derivatives trades is sort of a specialized niche. Certainly “The Daily Show” didn’t muster much admiration and instead spent seven minutes criticizing everyone else for not covering the story. This is wrong. This trade is so lovely that the proper reaction is to love it and cherish it and hold it close to your heart, not to complain that nobody else does.



The credit-default swaps market is a way to express in terms of money the market’s estimate of a company’s chance of default — real default, not missing a payment by two days — in the future. Blackstone found a way to turn that expression in terms of money into money. One day it had a CDS contract with a mark-to-market value of 11 million euros or whatever; the next day it had 11 million euros. One day the banks were taking risk on Codere’s credit that had gone against them to the tune of 11 million euros; the next day they had no risk and 11 million fewer euros. The risk that they got rid of was still worth about 11 million euros.