Daily Archive: 12/30/2010

Dec 30 2010

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”.

Jessica B. Harris: Prosperity Starts With a Pea

AT year’s end, people around the world indulge in food rituals to ensure good luck in the days ahead. In Spain, grapes eaten as the clock turns midnight – one for each chime – foretell whether the year will be sweet or sour. In Austria, the New Year’s table is decorated with marzipan pigs to celebrate wealth, progress and prosperity. Germans savor carp and place a few fish scales in their wallets for luck. And for African-Americans and in the Southern United States, it’s all about black-eyed peas.

Not surprisingly, this American tradition originated elsewhere, in this case in the forests and savannahs of West Africa. After being domesticated there 5,000 years ago, black-eyed peas made their way into the diets of people in virtually all parts of that continent. They then traveled to the Americas in the holds of slave ships as food for the enslaved. “Everywhere African slaves arrived in substantial numbers, cowpeas followed,” wrote one historian, using one of several names the legume acquired. Today the peas are also eaten in Brazil, Central America and the Caribbean.

Elizabeth Warren: New Consumer Agency Is Frightfully Necessary — And Late

No one has missed the headlines: Haphazard and possibly illegal practices at mortgage-servicing companies have called into question home foreclosures across the nation.

The latest disclosures are deeply troubling, but they should not come as a big surprise. For years, both individual homeowners and consumer advocates sounded alarms that foreclosure processes were riddled with problems.

While federal and state investigators are still examining exactly what has gone wrong and why, two things are clear.

First, several financial services companies have already admitted that they used “robo-signers,” false declarations, and other workarounds to cut corners, creating a legal nightmare that will waste time and money that could have been better spent to help this economy recover. Mortgage lenders will spend millions of dollars retracing their steps, often with the same result that families who cannot pay will lose their homes.

Second, this mess might well have been avoided if the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had been in place just a few years ago.

Robert Scheer: In Money-Changers We Trust

Two years into the Obama presidency and the economic data is still looking grim. Don’t be fooled by the gyrations of the stock market, where optimism is mostly a reflection of the ability of financial corporations-thanks to massive government largesse-to survive the mess they created. The basics are dismal: Unemployment is unacceptably high, the December consumer confidence index is down and housing prices have fallen for four months in a row. The number of Americans living in poverty has never been higher, and a majority in a Washington Post poll said they were worried about making their next mortgage or rent payment.

In a parallel universe lives Peter Orszag, President Barack Obama’s former budget director and key adviser, who even faster than his mentor, Robert Rubin, has passed through that revolving platinum door linking the White House with Wall Street. The goal is to use your government position to advance the interests of your future employer, and Orszag and Rubin’s actions in the government and then at Citigroup provide stunning examples of the synergy between big government and high finance.

Dec 30 2010

Catfood

A few bloggers have highlighted yesterday’s piece by Delaney and Grim at the Huffington Post, many of them concentrating on the Dickensian conditions that prevailed before Social Security and the New Deal-

The talk of taking Green’s children was no vacant threat. In most states, children were not allowed to live in poorhouses. Families forced into them would be split up, with children either bound for orphanages, foster homes or apprenticeships. Pennsylvania, which banned poorhouses from hosting children between the ages of two and 16, was typical. Hundreds of children in just one home, the Chester County Poorhouse, were “bounded out” — given to other families — in the middle of the 19th Century, according to an archive of their names that survives.

In 1936 a woman’s aunt and uncle hoped to extract their niece and her new baby from a poorhouse in New Hampshire. They sent a letter to a county commissioner saying they would take care of the hapless pair at their home, but the commissioner wouldn’t allow it, according to Wagner. The commissioner didn’t doubt their ability to provide, but he figured the woman would have another burdensome baby. “If I am presented with definite proof from the Merrimack County Farm, that [she] has had a sterile operation, I have no objection to her going to live in your home.”

The unemployed who were denied outdoor relief by the city had another option: To be auctioned off to the lowest bidder and live as a boarder. The city would reimburse the homeowner for the specified amount in exchange for putting the pauper up. The jobless person was expected to work without pay in exchange.

And there are lots of stories like that in it, but I’d like to draw your attention to some of the more modern events they are reporting-

The Poorhouse: Aunt Winnie, Glenn Beck, And The Politics Of The New Deal

Arthur Delaney and  Ryan Grim, The Huffington Post

12-29-10 10:08 PM

Though Republican hostility to the New Deal isn’t new, the Democratic embrace of language that has long been used to undermine belief in government is. Announcing a pay freeze for federal workers, Obama reasoned that “small businesses and families are tightening their belts. Their government should, too.” With nearly one in ten people unable to find work, Democrats compete with Republicans over who can sound more concerned about the debt and deficit, despite a longstanding economic consensus that a deficit is a good thing to have in times of slow growth and high unemployment.

What is dangerous about Social Security is that it works. It is evidence that people can do a better job insuring against life’s cruel downturns by working together and pooling resources than by going it alone in the market. If the financial market and its representatives in Washington succeed in undermining Social Security, they will not only have access to trillions of dollars, but will have dealt a blow to a leading symbol of the potential collective action. It’s no coincidence that cutting Social Security is often described as a “signal” to financial markets. Even Obama, after his election, echoed such language. “We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else’s,” Obama said before his inauguration.



During a meeting with progressive bloggers, Obama was asked to defend his administration’s failure to stem the foreclosure tide. The president’s worry, he said, was that his anti-foreclosure program might accidentally help people who didn’t deserve it. “The biggest challenge is how do you make sure that you are helping those who really deserve help, and, if they get some temporary help, can get back on their feet,” Obama said, specifically adding that he didn’t want the effort to assist “people who through no fault of their own just can’t afford their house anymore because of the change in housing values or their incomes don’t support it.”



Obama’s confusion about Social Security’s origins would seem mundane if it weren’t for the payroll tax holiday he pushed, the deficit commission targeting Social Security he created, and the reports that he’ll call for cuts to the program in his State of the Union address.

Social Security reform is necessary, the program’s opponents say, because its future solvency is in question: As a result of the Baby Boom and advances in medicine, more people are living longer. But the actuaries who set up Social Security in the 1930s forecast with an eerie exactitude how much life expectancies would increase — a detail that is always ignored. And the system was reformed by the Greenspan Commission in 1983, when the first Boomers were nearly forty years old. Nancy Altman, a boomer herself, served as a top aide to that commission, and said that it very specifically took into account the coming wave of retirements, which explains why it can pay full benefits through 2037, a quarter century after the first Boomer hits early retirement.

Social Security’s actuaries reported this fall that after 2037, payroll taxes would be sufficient to pay nearly four-fifths of benefits through 2084. The payroll tax stops, however, at a little over $106,000. The shortfall could be made up entirely by applying the payroll tax to more income above that threshold.

Dec 30 2010

Obama’s Policies Likely to Fail

CNN Poll: Plurality say Obama’s policies will likely fail

Sixty-one percent of people questioned in the poll say they hope the president’s policies will succeed.

“That’s a fairly robust number but it’s down 10 points since last December,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Twelve months ago a majority of the public said that they thought Obama’s policies would succeed; now that number has dropped to 44 percent, with a plurality predicting that his policies will likely fail.”

Obama to blink first on Social Security

By ROBERT KUTTNER, Politico

12/16/10 9:24 AM EST

(N)ow being teed up by the White House and key Senate Democrats, is a scheme for the president to embrace much of the Bowles-Simpson plan – including cuts in Social Security. This is to be unveiled, according to well-placed sources, in the president’s State of the Union address.

The idea is to pre-empt an even more draconian set of budget cuts likely to be proposed by the incoming House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as a condition of extending the debt ceiling. This is expected to hit in April.



How to put this politely? For a Democratic president, this approach is bad economics and worse politics.

For starters, cutting Social Security as part of a deficit reduction deal is needless – since Social Security is in surplus for the next 27 years. The move also gives away the single most potent distinction between Democrats and Republicans – Democrats defend your Social Security, and Republicans keep trying to undermine it.

If you think the Democratic base feels betrayed by Obama’s tax-cut deal, just imagine the mayhem when Obama proposes to cut the Democrats’ signature program.



Beltway Washington – the editorial writers, columnists, centrist policy organizations, Blue Dogs and, of course, the Obama administration and its Wall Street advisers – has become an echo chamber of bad advice.

As paradox at The Left Coaster puts it-

It has been stated here before, and is equally true today, that should any cut of any Social Security element proposed by the Democratic Obama Administration the United States is unequivocally, screamingly in the utter throes of a shock doctrine evolution. Social Security is abundantly, vastly in surplus by generations of over-taxation, there’s a $120 billion annual war on with incredible tax cuts just passed, it is beyond lunacy for Social Security to be cut, it’s outright theft, an act of amazing arrogance and contempt that could only happen by the enormous distraction and manipulation of unemployment. Times are tough, we all have to sacrifice, that’s what the thieves will seriously say.



Leaks are extremely useful in a variety of ways: they coddle and ensnare the reporter to a clubby insider status, they manipulate various political actors, they offer reaction gauges to proposed ideas, and steer the political conversation of the Village (DC) in a desired direction. Given this, just why would the Obama Administration leak that cutting Social Security story to Politico?

Dec 30 2010

On This Day in History December 30

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.

Today history is being made in in Parson’s Kansas where the last roll of Kodachrome will be processed at Dwayne’s Photo Shop, the only Kodak certified processor of Kodachrome film in the world as of 2010. The final roll of 36-frame Kodachrome to be manufactured was tracked by National Geographic; it was shot by photographer Steve McCurry.

For Kodachrome Fans, Road Ends at Photo Lab in Kansas By A. G. Sulzberger

PARSONS, Kan. – An unlikely pilgrimage is under way to Dwayne’s Photo, a small family business that has through luck and persistence become the last processor in the world of Kodachrome, the first successful color film and still the most beloved.

That celebrated 75-year run from mainstream to niche photography is scheduled to come to an end on Thursday when the last processing machine is shut down here to be sold for scrap.

One of the toughest decisions was how to deal with the dozens of requests from amateurs and professionals alike to provide the last roll to be processed.

In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last. It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he fired off shots of his house, his family and downtown Parsons. The last frame is already planned for Thursday, a picture of all the employees standing in front of Dwayne’s wearing shirts with the epitaph: “The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010.”

A Color-Saturated Sun Sets on Kodachrome

I have fond memories of my 35mm Yashika and Canon cameras.

Dec 30 2010

Delinking from Obama

Where Do We Go from Here?

Paul Krugman and Robin Wells, The New York Review of Books

January 13, 2011

Despite what optimists within the White House may believe, the odds are not good for a repeat of 1996, when Bill Clinton made a startling political comeback after suffering a drubbing in the previous midterm elections. Clinton, after all, presided over a booming economy: in the two years prior to the 1996 election, the US economy added more than 5 million jobs, and by November 1996 the unemployment rate was only 5.4 percent. In contrast, Obama presides over an economy that has suffered a severe financial crisis-and recovery from a severe financial crisis is almost always slow and painful, with very high unemployment persisting for years. Professional forecasters surveyed by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve now predict an average unemployment rate of 8.7 percent in 2012, awful news for a president seeking reelection.

A tough, skillful political team might be able to win even in the face of such economic weakness. But the Obama team has demonstrated neither toughness nor skill. The trouble was apparent right from the beginning. After the 2008 election, Obama had the political winds at his back. Yet rather than bargaining from a position of strength and demanding an economic program adequate to the scale of the economy’s problems, Obama made his goal the working out of a cooperative political process-accommodation and the fantasy of bipartisanship.

And despite warnings from many economists (ourselves included) that the stimulus package that resulted was much too small, Obama engaged in premature triumphalism. In February 2009, he said of the plan:

It is the right size, it is the right scope. Broadly speaking it has the right priorities to create jobs that will jump-start our economy and transform it for the twenty-first century.

The only thing missing was a “Mission Accomplished” banner.



(Democrats can not count) on Obama himself to lead a comeback. In a dispiriting 60 Minutes interview given after the midterms, he actually seemed to accept Republican smears-blaming himself, not the GOP, for the failure to “maintain the kind of tone that says we can disagree without being disagreeable.” And it’s truly astonishing that as corporate profits hit new records despite mass unemployment, Obama apparently takes seriously accusations that his administration is antibusiness.

Even if Obama were suddenly to find an inner FDR, would anyone notice? His aloofness has become so indelibly registered in voters’ minds that if he tried to change style-even if he wanted to, a big “if”-this would immediately come across as opportunistic. Having trusted and been disappointed by Obama once before, they are very unlikely to give him another chance.



And this brings us to our last point. Democrats need to make it clear that if Obama isn’t going to be the leader of the Democratic agenda-and all indications are that he can’t or won’t-they will advance that agenda anyway, with or without his help. They have to be ready to delink their political fate from Obama, and make it clear that they won’t tolerate further undermining of their goals by deluded calls for bipartisanship.



How far should delinking from Obama go? There is no obvious contender to mount a primary challenge, which is in itself a testimony to Democratic weakness. But the possibility is clearly there, and both will and should become a reality if Obama follows a path of capitulation.

Dec 30 2010

Krugman and Wells

Where Do We Go from Here?

Paul Krugman and Robin Wells, The New York Review of Books

January 13, 2011

Despite what optimists within the White House may believe, the odds are not good for a repeat of 1996, when Bill Clinton made a startling political comeback after suffering a drubbing in the previous midterm elections. Clinton, after all, presided over a booming economy: in the two years prior to the 1996 election, the US economy added more than 5 million jobs, and by November 1996 the unemployment rate was only 5.4 percent. In contrast, Obama presides over an economy that has suffered a severe financial crisis-and recovery from a severe financial crisis is almost always slow and painful, with very high unemployment persisting for years. Professional forecasters surveyed by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve now predict an average unemployment rate of 8.7 percent in 2012, awful news for a president seeking reelection.

A tough, skillful political team might be able to win even in the face of such economic weakness. But the Obama team has demonstrated neither toughness nor skill. The trouble was apparent right from the beginning. After the 2008 election, Obama had the political winds at his back. Yet rather than bargaining from a position of strength and demanding an economic program adequate to the scale of the economy’s problems, Obama made his goal the working out of a cooperative political process-accommodation and the fantasy of bipartisanship.

And despite warnings from many economists (ourselves included) that the stimulus package that resulted was much too small, Obama engaged in premature triumphalism. In February 2009, he said of the plan:

It is the right size, it is the right scope. Broadly speaking it has the right priorities to create jobs that will jump-start our economy and transform it for the twenty-first century.

The only thing missing was a “Mission Accomplished” banner.



(Democrats can not count) on Obama himself to lead a comeback. In a dispiriting 60 Minutes interview given after the midterms, he actually seemed to accept Republican smears-blaming himself, not the GOP, for the failure to “maintain the kind of tone that says we can disagree without being disagreeable.” And it’s truly astonishing that as corporate profits hit new records despite mass unemployment, Obama apparently takes seriously accusations that his administration is antibusiness.

Even if Obama were suddenly to find an inner FDR, would anyone notice? His aloofness has become so indelibly registered in voters’ minds that if he tried to change style-even if he wanted to, a big “if”-this would immediately come across as opportunistic. Having trusted and been disappointed by Obama once before, they are very unlikely to give him another chance.



And this brings us to our last point. Democrats need to make it clear that if Obama isn’t going to be the leader of the Democratic agenda-and all indications are that he can’t or won’t-they will advance that agenda anyway, with or without his help. They have to be ready to delink their political fate from Obama, and make it clear that they won’t tolerate further undermining of their goals by deluded calls for bipartisanship.



How far should delinking from Obama go? There is no obvious contender to mount a primary challenge, which is in itself a testimony to Democratic weakness. But the possibility is clearly there, and both will and should become a reality if Obama follows a path of capitulation.

Dec 30 2010

Six In The Morning

I’m Not A Witch I’m You



And, I’m Under Investigation

Reporting from Baltimore –Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation of Delaware Republican Christine O’Donnell to determine if the former Senate candidate broke the law by using campaign money to pay personal expenses, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation.

The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect the identity of a client who has been questioned as part of the investigation. The case, which has been assigned to two federal prosecutors and two FBI agents in Delaware, has not been brought before a grand jury.

Dec 30 2010

Prime Time

Broadcast?  Bwahhahhahhahhah.

A good night to write diaries.

I foresee two possibilities. One, coming face to face with herself 30 years older would put her into shock and she’d simply pass out. Or two, the encounter could create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space time continuum, and destroy the entire universe! Granted, that’s a worse case scenario. The destruction might in fact be very localized, limited to merely our own galaxy.

Later-

Dave in repeats from 12/16.  Conan in repeats from 11/16.

Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to the Biff Tannen Museum! Dedicated to Hill Valley’s #1 Citizen. And America’s greatest living folk hero. The one and only Biff Tannen. Of course we’ve all heard the legend, but who is the man? Inside you will learn how Biff Tannen became one of the richest and most powerful men in America. Learn the amazing history of the Tannen family, starting with his great-grandfather, Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen, fastest gun in the West. See Biff’s humble beginnings and how a trip to the race track on his 21st Birthday made him a millionaire overnight. Share in the excitement of a fabulous winning streak that earned him the nickname “The Luckiest Man on Earth.” Learn how Biff parlayed that lucky winning streak into the vast empire called Biffco. Discover how, in 1979, Biff successfully lobbied to legalize gambling and turned Hill Valley’s dilapidated courthouse into a beautiful casino-hotel!

I just wanna say one thing! God Bless America.

Dec 30 2010

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Bloomberg takes flak over New York storm response

by Paola Messana, AFP

Wed Dec 29, 12:33 pm ET

NEW YORK (AFP) – Criticism of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg snowballed on Wednesday as the city’s top official bore the brunt of the blame for the lackluster response to the worst blizzard in decades.

While airports worked to clear the massive backlog of flights, frustration at the paralysis turned to anger as reports emerged of ambulances failing to reach critical patients, in one case leading a woman to lose her baby.

“Clearly, the response was unacceptable,” speaker Christine Quinn told a special session of the city council, giving voice to hundreds of complaints from New York residents.

Today’s Top Story is dedicated to TheMomCat.