01/21/2011 archive

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”.

Paul Krugman: Media Unwittingly Plays Republicans’ Deficit Game … Again

Who could have seen this coming?

The Washington Post editorial board was shocked (shocked!) to discover in early January that incoming congressional Republicans aren’t serious about deficit reduction.

“You could listen to their rhetoric – or you could read the rules they are poised to adopt at the start of the new Congress,” they wrote in a Jan. 2 editorial. “The former promises a new fiscal sobriety. The latter suggests that the new G.O.P. majority is determined to continue the spree of unaffordable tax-cutting.”

By “fiscal sobriety,” I imagine The Post was referring to a Republican policy that basically requires lawmakers to offset any new spending by cutting other programs or by raising revenue, not by raising taxes. Of course, The Post was supportive of the deal President Obama struck with Republicans at the end of 2010 to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to all Americans (which means a revenue loss of $3.9 trillion over 10 years, according to the United States Treasury Department), calling it an achievement “to be celebrated” in an editorial on Dec. 23. This achievement to be celebrated is now called unaffordable tax-cutting less than a month later.

I was going to be snarky, but this requires seriousness: the gullibility of much of the media establishment in the United States regarding this issue is ridiculous. Their inability to spot the hollowness of Republican claims to fiscal responsibility amounts to journalistic malpractice.

Mark Weisbrot: Aristide Should Be Allowed to Return to Haiti

Haiti’s infamous dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier, returned to his country this week, while the country’s first elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is kept out. These two facts really say everything about Washington’s policy toward Haiti, and our government’s respect for democracy in that country and in the region.

Asked about the return of Duvalier, who had thousands tortured and murdered under his dictatorship, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, “this is a matter for the Government of Haiti and the people of Haiti.”

But when asked about Aristide returning, he said “Haiti does not need, at this point, any more burdens.”

Wikileaks cables released in the last week show that Washington put pressure on Brazil, which is heading up the United Nations forces that are occupying Haiti, not only to keep Aristide out of the country but to keep him from having any political influence from exile.

Laila Lalami: Tunisia Rising

In conventional thinking about the Middle East, perhaps the most persistent cliché is “moderate Arab country.” The label seems to apply indiscriminately to monarchies and republics, ancient dictatorships and newly installed ones, from the Atlantic Coast to the Persian Gulf, so long as the country in question is of some use to the United States. And, almost always, it crops up in articles and policy papers vaunting the need for America to support these countries, bulwarks against growing Islamic extremism in the Arab world.

A perfect example is Tunisia. Just three summers ago, Christopher Hitchens delivered a 2,000-word ode to the North African nation in Vanity Fair, describing it as an “enclave of development” menaced by “the harsh extremists of a desert religion.” This is a country with good economic growth, a country where polygamy was outlawed in 1956, a country with high levels of education, a country with perfect sandy beaches. And, Hitchens wrote, it “makes delicious wine and even exports it to France.”

Never mind that the president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, in power for twenty-three years, was regularly winning elections with 90 percent of the vote. Never mind that his wife, Leila Trabelsi, a former hairdresser, had a stake in almost all of the country’s businesses. Never mind that the unemployment rate among college graduates was reportedly as high as 20 percent. Never mind that there was a police officer for every forty adults and that the Internet was censored. In January all these things added up, making the ouster of Ben Ali seem not only possible but probable, and later inevitable.

On This Day in History January 21

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

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

January 21 is the 21st day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 344 days remaining until the end of the year (345 in leap years).

On this day in 1911, the first Monte Carlo Rally takes place.

The Monte Carlo Rally (officially Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo) is a rallying event organised each year by the Automobile Club de Monaco who also organises the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix and the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique . The rally takes place along the French Riviera in the Principality of Monaco and southeast France.

From its inception in 1911 by Prince Albert I, this rally, under difficult and demanding conditions, was an important means of testing the latest improvements and innovations to automobiles. Winning the rally gave the car a great deal of credibility and publicity. The 1966 event was the most controversial in the history of the Rally. The first four finishers driving three Mini-Coopers, Timo Makinen, Rauno Aaltonen and Paddy Hopkirk, and Roger Clark‘s 4th-placed Ford Cortina “were excluded for having iodine vapour, single filament bulbs in their standard headlamps instead of double-filament dipping bulbs.”  This elevated Pauli Toivonen (Citroen ID) into first place overall. The controversy that followed damaged the credibility of the event. The headline in Motor Sport: “The Monte Carlo Fiasco.”

From 1973 to 2008 the rally was held in January as the first event of the FIA World Rally Championship, but since 2009 it has been the opening round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) programme. As recently as 1991, competitors were able to choose their starting points from approximately five venues roughly equidistant from Monte Carlo (one of Monaco’s administrative areas) itself. With often varying conditions at each starting point, typically comprising dry tarmac, wet tarmac, snow, and ice, sometimes all in a single stage of the rally. This places a big emphasis on tyre choices, as a driver has to balance the need for grip on ice and snow with the need for grip on dry tarmac. For the driver, this is often a difficult choice as the tyres that work well on snow and ice normally perform badly on dry tarmac.

The Automobile Club de Monaco confirmed on 19 July 2010 that the 79th Monte-Carlo Rally would form the opening round of the new Intercontinental Rally Challenge season. To mark the centenary event, the Automobile Club de Monaco have also confirmed that Glasgow, Barcelona, Warsaw and Marrakesh has been selected as start points for the rally.

Six In The Morning

You Must Destroy It So You Can Destroy it More    

House GOP group proposes deep spending cuts over next decade

Congressional conservatives on Thursday demanded far more dramatic reductions in government spending than House GOP leaders have recently proposed, in the first sign of a fissure between old-guard Republicans and tea-party-backed newcomers.

Members of the conservative Republican Study Committee said the GOP must keep its campaign pledge to immediately slice at least $100 billion from non-defense programs, an effort that would require lawmakers to reduce funding for most federal agencies by a third over the next seven months. And the group called for even deeper cuts over the next decade to return non-defense spending to 2006 levels.

Two Polls: Keep Your Hands Off Social Security

The New York Times reports on a poll that shows while “Americans overwhelmingly say that in general they prefer cutting government spending to paying higher taxes”

Yet their preference for spending cuts, even in programs that benefit them, dissolves when they are presented with specific options related to Medicare and Social Security, the programs that directly touch the most people and also are the biggest drivers of the government’s projected long-term debt.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans choose higher payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security over reduced benefits in either program. And asked to choose among cuts to Medicare, Social Security or the nation’s third-largest spending program – the military – a majority by a large margin said cut the Pentagon. . . . . .

Asked what Congress should focus on, 43 percent of Americans say job creation; health care is a distant second, cited by 18 percent, followed by deficit reduction, war and illegal immigration.

If Medicare benefits have to be reduced, the most popular option is raising premiums on affluent beneficiaries. Similarly, if Social Security benefits must be changed to make the program more financially sound, a broad majority prefers the burden fall on the wealthy. Even most wealthy Americans agree.

Meanwhile, Social Security Works  has a series of slides assembled from past polls that clearly indicate that Americans don’t trust President Obama’s handling of Social Security. In fact, as Richard (RJ) Eskow points out in the article, they trust him even less that they trusted George W. Bush.


The Republican privatization attempt was thought to have contributed significantly to that party’s Congressional losses in 2006. Yet the president refuses to say that he won’t cut Social Security, and he continues to have kind words for the reckless, inhumane, and unneeded proposals of his Deficit Commission co-chairs (the Commission was unable to agree to a plan).

In this climate, with these numbers, any attempt by the president to cut Social Security could only be described in one phrase: Political malpractice. Is that where he’s headed? Or will he surprise us all by delivering a stirring, unequivocal defense of Social Security? After all the suspense and fear over this issue, that would be a political moment for the ages.

But if he’s going to have a change of heart, he better act fast. The damage is already considerable. As Social Security Works explains, the 20-point advantage Democrats had on this issue for the last 15 years has evaporated, and trust in President Obama is roughly half of what it was for President Clinton on the same issue. Obama’s performance is even worse among those much-sought-after independent voters. Only 18 percent of them trust him on this issue.

It won’t bode well for the Senate Democrats either:

It would be comforting to be able to say that this is all a misunderstanding and that the president will keep his promise to defend Social Security. But we can’t do that. His silence about Social Security, especially after Harry Reid’s stemwinding defense of the program, is disturbing. Reid and other members of the Senate and House are on the front line, and any attempt by Obama to triangulate and propose “bipartisan” cuts will devastate them. That’s why there are reports like The Hill‘s of a strategic split between the president and Democrats in Congress: They’re afraid he’s going to sell them out for a personality-driven reelection campaign that suits his needs, not his party’s or the country’s.

Obama will be committing political suicide and taking the Senate Democrats with him if he doesn’t start listening to his base, now.

Military Commissions to Increase at Guantánamo and More . . .

Obama continues to make Dick Cheney proud.

U.S. Prepares to Lift Ban on Guantánamo Cases

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is preparing to increase the use of military commissions to prosecute Guantánamo detainees, an acknowledgment that the prison in Cuba remains open for business after Congress imposed steep new impediments to closing the facility.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to soon lift an order blocking the initiation of new cases against detainees, which he imposed on the day of President Obama’s inauguration. That would clear the way for tribunal officials, for the first time under the Obama administration, to initiate new charges against detainees.

Charges would probably then come within weeks against one or more detainees who have already been designated by the Justice Department for prosecution before a military commission, including Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of planning the 2000 bombing of the American destroyer Cole in Yemen; Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi accused of plotting, in an operation that never came to fruition, to attack oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz; and Obaydullah, an Afghan accused of concealing bombs.

The rules for admissible evidence that these commission operate under are far loser than a civilian court.

Jerralyn Merrick at Talk Left explains:

One of those expected to be recharged and tried is Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who was captured in 2002. Al-Nashiri was originally charged by the Bush Administration with participating in the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. He was facing the death penalty. The Obama Administration moved to dismiss the charges against in in 2009. Al-Nashiri’s co-defendants were moved to federal court. Why wasn’t Al-Nashiri? The obvious answer is because the evidence against him was obtained by torture. His lawyer, Lt. Com. Stephen Reyes says:

“Nashiri is being prosecuted at the commissions because of the torture issue,” Mr. Reyes said. “Otherwise he would be indicted in New York along with his alleged co-conspirators.”

Most of those who will be charged and face the death penalty are not prosecutable in a civilian court because not only is all of the evidence against them was obtained through torture but the detainees themselves were tortured. President Obama and Attorney General Holder are prosecuting the wrong people. They should be trying Bush and Cheney who have both publicly confessed to personally authorizing torture.

And if you the average American citizen thought you were safe from this abuse, think again:

Obama administration keeps new policy on Miranda secret

The Justice Department has a new policy for terrorism interrogations — but officials won’t publicly release it

The Obama administration has issued new guidance on use of the Miranda warning in interrogations of terrorism suspects, potentially chipping away at the rule that bars the government from using information in court if it was gathered before a suspect was informed of his right to remain silent and to an attorney.

But the Department of Justice is refusing to publicly release the guidance, with a spokesman describing it in an interview as an “internal document.” So we don’t know the administration’s exact interpretation of Miranda, even though it may have significantly reshaped the way terrorism interrogations are conducted.

If Bush was bad, Obama is taking it to new levels.

Prime Time

Some premiers.

Facts, Hercule, facts! Nothing matters but the facts. Without them the science of criminal investigation is nothing more than a guessing game. Listen to me, Hercule, and you will learn something. Now then, the facts in this case are: the body of the chauffeur was found in the bedroom of the second maid. Fact! Cause of death: Four bullets in the chest. Fact! The bullets were fired at close range from a .25 caliber Beretta automatic. Fact! Maria Gambrelli was discovered with the murder weapon in her hand. Fact! The murder weapon was registered in the name of the deceased, Miguel Ostos, and was kept, mind you, in the glove compartment of the Ballon Rolls-Royce. Fact! Now then, members of the household staff have testified that Miguel Ostos beat… You fool! You have broken my pointing stick! I have nothing to point with now!… have testified that Miguel Ostos beat Maria Gambrelli frequently. And now, finally comes the sworn statement of Monsieur and Madame Ballon, as well as all the members of the staff, each of them with perfect alibis. Now then, Hercule, What is the inescapable conclusion?

Maria Gambrelli killed the chauffeur.

What? You idiot! It’s impossible. She’s protecting someone.

How do you know that?


But, the facts…


Dave hosts Kaley Cuoco, Piers Morgan, Wanda Jackson, and yodeling ventriloquist Alyse Eady.  Jon has Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi, Stephen Chris Matthews (ugh).  Conan hosts Marc Maron and Aloe Blacc.

New York City, Mr. Dundee. Home to seven million people.

That’s incredible. Imagine seven million people all wanting to live together. Yeah, New York must be the friendliest place on earth.

Zap2it TV Listings, Yahoo TV Listings

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 50 dead in Iraq as suicide blasts rock holy city

by Abdelamir Hanoun, AFP

1 hr 22 mins ago

KARBALA, Iraq (AFP) – A spate of blasts across Iraq on Thursday killed at least 50 people, most of them in twin suicide car bombings in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Karbala, the third major attack in as many days.

The attacks mostly targeted pilgrims marking a Shiite holy day, and were the latest in a series of bombings that have shattered a relative calm in Iraq following the formation of a new government last month.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed the Karbala attacks on “takfiris,” an Islamic term for apostates but used by the premier to mean anti-Shiite Al-Qaeda militants.