04/14/2011 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”

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Obama’s deficit speech: Worthy of a president

President Obama has finally decided to take his own side in the philosophical struggle that is the true engine of this nation’s budget debate.

After months of mixed signals about what he was willing to fight for, Obama finally laid out his purposes and his principles. His approach has difficulties of its own, and much will depend on execution. But the president was unequivocal in arguing that the roots of our fiscal problems lie in the tax cuts of the past decade that we could not afford. And he raised the stakes in our politics to something more fundamental than dry numbers on a page or computer screen.

Robert Reich:Mr. President: Why Medicare Isn’t the Problem, It’s the Solution

I hope when he tells America how he aims to tame future budget deficits the President doesn’t accept conventional Wasington wisdom that the biggest problem in the federal budget is Medicare (and its poor cousin Medicaid).

Medicare isn’t the problem. It’s the solution.

The real problem is the soaring costs of health care that lie beneath Medicare. They’re costs all of us are bearing in the form of soaring premiums, co-payments, and deductibles.

Nicholas D. Kristoff Raise America’s Taxes

President Obama in his speech on Wednesday confronted a topic that is harder to address seriously in public than sex or flatulence: America needs higher taxes.

That ugly truth looms over today’s budget battles, but politicians have mostly preferred to run from reality. Mr. Obama’s speech was excellent not only for its content but also because he didn’t insult our intelligence.

There is no single reason for today’s budget mess, but it’s worth remembering that the last time our budget was in the black was in the Clinton administration. That’s a broad hint that one sensible way to overcome our difficulties would be to revert to tax rates more or less as they were under President Clinton. That single step would solve three-quarters of the deficit for the next five years or so.

Greg Sargent: Obama made the moral case for what it means to be a Democrat

For some time now, a bunch of us have been wondering when – or whether – Obama would step up and make a strong case for an expansive vision of Democratic governance. With Republicans initiating what may be the most consequential argument over the proper role of government in decades – a debate over the legacy of the great liberal achievements of the 20th Century – we’ve all been wondering whether Obama would respond with a level of ambition and seriousness of purpose that he’s shown when taking on other big arguments.

By this standard – in rhetorical terms – it’s fair to say Obama delivered. Sure, the speech trafficked a bit in the usual “speaking hard truths to both sides” positioning. And speeches are the easy part: Obama’s words jarred against recent actions, and what Obama actually does in the months to come will be what either ratifies today’s promises or renders them meaningless. But Obama did offer perhaps the most ambitious defense he may have ever attempted of American liberalism and of what it means to be a Democrat.

Richard (RJ) Escow: The President’s Deficit Speech: Time to Keep Up the Pressure

The President speech on the Federal deficit marked a brilliant return to what might be called his “holographic” style. Like a hologram, the President’s speech was beautiful and evocative and shimmered with light. But like a hologram, what you see depends on where you stand.

Many progressives will hear a brilliant defense of government’s role in the economy, and of the role that progressive taxation plays in a fair-minded economic system. Conservatives(those who aren’t absolutely nuts) will hear a ringing endorsement of a plan that would downsize government and benefit the wealthy. And they’ll love the President’s “debt triggers,” which could force the government to enact drastic cuts if targets aren’t met.

This holographic quality, the ability to present himself as all things to all people, is the President’s unique gift – unless, in the end, it turns out not to have been a gift at all.

Laura Flanders: When Will It Be Time to Cut Military Spending?

On Tuesday, April 12, people in more than 35 countries, as well as Columbus, Dallas, Kansas City and dozens of other cities throughout the United States participated in the first Global Day of Action on Military Spending.

In DC, they most definitely are sitting this one out.

In fact, after weeks of budget brinksmanship,  Congress emerged with a tentative so-called compromise that was unable to get a single cut made to spending on the US military.

Christopher Hellman at TomDispatch recently added up all the hidden military-related spending in the budget and came to a startling number for fiscal year 2012. Something like $1.2 trillion dollars. That’s trillion with a T.  In this year’s budget they admit to $670 billion or so, plus another $41 billion for Homeland Security and $76.6 billion for “military construction” and Veterans Affairs–an INCREASE over last year.

Robert Sheer The False Debate on the Debt

In the ever-so-smug company of the rich and powerful it is a given that there is never to be any expression of remorse or other acknowledgement of the pain they have inflicted on the lesser mortals they so cavalierly plunder. It’s convenient for them that the media and the politicians, which they happen to own, rarely connect the dots between the scams that made the rich so rich and the alarming rise in the federal debt that is crushing this nation.

The result of this purchased public myopia is that we are left with an absurd debate over how deeply to cut teachers’ pensions and seniors’ medical benefits while preserving tax breaks for the superrich and their large corporations. At a time when 10 million American families will have lost their homes by year’s end, when $5.6 trillion in home equity has been wiped out, when most Americans face steep unemployment rates and stagnant wages, a Democratic president is likely to compromise with Republican ideologues who insist that further cuts in taxes for the rich is the way to bring back jobs.

Jonathan Capehsrt: Boehner plays an expensive, ‘crazy’ game of chicken with debt ceiling

If I’ve learned anything from my obsession with raising the debt ceiling, it’s that playing chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States is a very dangerous game. And yet there is a report today that one of the adults on Capitol Hill – yeah, I’m talking about you, Speaker Boehner – is seeking a way out of the rules of the game.

According to an exclusive report from Ben Smith at Politico, the Ohio Republican “has been reaching out to top Wall Street players asking how close Congress can get to the May 16th deadline (or July 8th drop-dead date) for raising the debt limit without seriously unnerving financial markets.” Needless to say, Boehner’s inquiry is unnerving big guns on Wall Street. “They don’t seem to understand that you can’t put everything back in the box,” one executive told Smith. “Once that fear of default is in the markets, it doesn’t just go away. We’ll be paying the price for years in higher rates.”

On This Day In History April 14

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.

April 14 is the 104th day of the year (105th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 261 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln is shot in the head at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. The assassin, actor John Wilkes Booth, shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis! (Ever thus to tyrants!) The South is avenged,” as he jumped onto the stage and fled on horseback. Lincoln died the next morning.

The assassination of President of the United States Abraham Lincoln took place as the American Civil War was drawing to a close, just five days after the surrender of the commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee, and his battered [Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln was the first American president to be assassinated, though an unsuccessful attempt had been made on Andrew Jackson in 1835.

The assassination was planned and carried out by well-known actor John Wilkes Booth as part of a larger conspiracy intended to rally the remaining Confederate troops to continue fighting. Booth plotted with Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson as well.

Lincoln was shot while watching the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln . He died the next morning. The rest of the plot failed. Powell only managed to wound Seward, while Atzerodt, Johnson’s would-be assassin, lost his nerve and fled.

Death of President Lincoln

Dr. Charles Leale, a young Army surgeon on liberty for the night and attending the play, made his way through the crowd to the door at the rear of the Presidential box. It would not open. Finally Rathbone saw a notch carved in the door and a wooden brace jammed there to hold the door shut. Booth had carved the notch there earlier in the day and noiselessly put the brace up against the door after entering the box. Rathbone shouted to Leale, who stepped back from the door, allowing Rathbone to remove the brace and open the door.

Leale entered the box to find Rathbone bleeding profusely from a deep gash that ran the length of his upper left arm. Nonetheless, he passed Rathbone by and stepped forward to find Lincoln slumped forward in his chair, held up by Mary, who was sobbing. Lincoln had no pulse and Leale believed him to be dead. Leale lowered the President to the floor. A second doctor in the audience, Dr. Charles Sabin Taft, was lifted bodily from the stage over the railing and into the box. Taft and Leale cut away Lincoln’s blood-stained collar and opened his shirt, and Leale, feeling around by hand, discovered the bullet hole in the back of the head by the left ear. Leale removed a clot of blood in the wound and Lincoln’s breathing improved. Still, Leale knew it made no difference: “His wound is mortal. It is impossible for him to recover”.

Leale, Taft, and another doctor from the audience, Dr. Albert King, quickly consulted and decided that while the President must be moved, a bumpy carriage ride across town to the White House was out of the question. After briefly considering Peter Taltavull‘s Star Saloon next door, they chose to carry Lincoln across the street and find a house. The three doctors and some soldiers who had been in the audience carried the President out the front entrance of Ford’s. Across the street, a man was holding a lantern and calling “Bring him in here! Bring him in here!” The man was Henry Safford, a boarder at William Petersen’s boarding house opposite Ford’s. The men carried Lincoln into the boarding house and into the first-floor bedroom, where they laid him diagonally on the bed because he was too tall to lie straight.

A vigil began at the Petersen House. The three physicians were joined by Surgeon General of the United States Army Dr. Joseph K. Barnes, Dr. Charles Henry Crane, Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott, and Dr. Robert K. Stone. Crane was a major and Barnes’ assistant. Stone was Lincoln’s personal physician. Robert Lincoln, home at the White House that evening, arrived at the Petersen House after being told of the shooting at about midnight. Tad Lincoln, who had attended Grover’s Theater to see Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, was not allowed to go to the Peterson House.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and United States Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton came and took charge of the scene. Mary Lincoln was so unhinged by the experience of the assassination that Stanton ordered her out of the room by shouting, “Take that woman out of here and do not let her in here again!” While Mary Lincoln sobbed in the front parlor, Stanton set up shop in the rear parlor, effectively running the United States government for several hours, sending and receiving telegrams, taking reports from witnesses, and issuing orders for the pursuit of Booth.

Nothing more could be done for President Lincoln. At 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865, he died. He was 56 years old. Mary Lincoln was not present at the time of his death. The crowd around the bed knelt for a prayer, and when they were finished, Stanton said, “Now he belongs to the ages”. There is some disagreement among historians as to Stanton’s words after Lincoln died. All agree that he began “Now he belongs to the…” with some stating he said “ages” while others believe he said “angels”

Goldman Sachs and Criminal Fraud

Oh, wouldn’t this be lovely? Now lets see if Timmy and Bill can convince Eric that there is nothing to see here.

Goldman Sachs Misled Congress After Duping Clients, Levin Says

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) misled clients and Congress about the firm’s bets on securities tied to the housing market, the chairman of the U.S. Senate panel that investigated the causes of the financial crisis said.

Senator Carl Levin, releasing the findings of a two-year inquiry yesterday, said he wants the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission to examine whether Goldman Sachs violated the law by misleading clients who bought the complex securities known as collateralized debt obligations without knowing the firm would benefit if they fell in value.

The Michigan Democrat also said federal prosecutors should review whether to bring perjury charges against Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein and other current and former employees who testified in Congress last year. Levin said they denied under oath that Goldman Sachs took a financial position against the mortgage market solely for its own profit, statements the senator said were untrue.

Goldman criticised in US Senate report

By Tom Braithwaite in Washington and Francesco Guerrera and Justin Baer in New York,

Financial Times

April 14 2011 00:15 | Last updated: April 14 2011 00:15

US Senate investigators probing the financial crisis will refer evidence about Wall Street institutions including Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank to the justice department for possible criminal investigations, officials said on Wednesday.

Carl Levin, Democratic chairman of the powerful Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations, said a two-year probe found that banks mis-sold mortgage-backed securities and misled investors and lawmakers.

“We will be referring this matter to the justice department and to the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission),” he said. “In my judgment, Goldman clearly misled their clients and they misled Congress.”

Last year, Goldman paid $550m to settle SEC allegations that it defrauded investors in Abacus, a complex security linked to subprime mortgages.

Naming Culprits in the Financial Crisis

By Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story

New York Times

A voluminous report on the financial crisis by the United States Senate – citing internal documents and private communications of bank executives, regulators, credit ratings agencies and investors – describes business practices that were rife with conflicts during the mortgage mania and reckless activities that were ignored inside the banks and among their federal regulators.  

The 650-page report, “Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse,” was released Wednesday by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations…

…The result of two years’ work, the report focuses on an array of institutions with central roles in the mortgage crisis: Washington Mutual, an aggressive mortgage lender that collapsed in 2008; the Office of Thrift Supervision, a regulator; the credit ratings agencies Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service; and the investment banks Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.

“The report pulls back the curtain on shoddy, risky, deceptive practices on the part of a lot of major financial institutions,” Mr. Levin said in an interview. “The overwhelming evidence is that those institutions deceived their clients and deceived the public, and they were aided and abetted by deferential regulators and credit ratings agencies who had conflicts of interest.”

Six In The Morning

A Syrian plan to attack protesters?

Human rights activist says document lays out how to brutally suppress the opposition

By Michael Isikoff National investigative correspondent

WASHINGTON – A document purportedly drafted by senior Syrian intelligence officials details a chilling plan to infiltrate the ranks of anti-regime protesters, arrest and assassinate their leaders, and link anti-regime demonstrations to the work of “Zionist” and other outside agitators.

The document was circulated by Syrian opposition figures Wednesday and cited by dissidents as fresh evidence of the brutality of the regime of President Bashar Assad. “It is very scary – this is the work of a Mafia state,” said Radwan Ziadeh, a prominent Syrian human rights activist and visiting scholar at George Washington University, who said he obtained the document from sources inside Syria on Tuesday night.

What could possibly go wrong?

Tepco Seeks to Start Reactor Idled in 2007 as Crews Battle Fukushima Leaks

By Tsuyoshi Inajima, Yuji Okada and Michio Nakayama, Bloomberg News

Apr 13, 2011 10:53 PM ET

Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to seek government approval to start a nuclear reactor shut after a 2007 earthquake to help ease power shortages, while the utility battles radiation leaks from its Fukushima Dai-Ichi station.

“This ‘operations first, safety second’ approach and the failure to learn the lessons from the 2007 quake was the cause of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear disaster,” said Philip White, international liaison officer at the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center in Tokyo. “How many more disasters will it take?”

Three of seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa station are closed while Tepco strengthens structures to improve their resistance to earthquakes. Work can continue at two units, while Unit 3 is restarted, Shimizu said yesterday.

Tepco Said to Plan for Three Months of Cooling at Fukushima

By Jason Clenfield, Bloomberg News

Apr 14, 2011 1:29 AM ET

Tokyo Electric Power Co. estimates the fight to stabilize its crippled Fukushima reactors will last through June, leaving the plant vulnerable to further earthquakes and radiation leaks, according to a person briefed by the utility on its recovery plan.

The primary danger at the plant is reactor No. 1, where temperatures and pressure are still high, the person said. Flooding the space between the pressure vessel and a surrounding containment with water would bring temperatures down in days rather than months, the person said.

While Tokyo Electric’s plan for ending the crisis says getting exposed fuel rods covered with water again is one measure of stabilization, according to the person briefed on the document, the utility’s data shows pumping efforts have failed to raise the water level more than 20 centimeters in the 35 days since the disaster started.

Last Week’s Budget Crisis: Reality Check

The House and Senate will put the finishing touches on last week’s budget crisis over the budget for 2011. While the President and the Republicans were busy in front of the cameras praising themselves for “victory”, the Congressional Budget Office was counting the “beans”. Remember the much publicized $38.5 billion in cuts? Well, it will only reduce the deficit by $352 million. That is less than 1% in claimed savings:

   The Congressional Budget Office estimate shows that compared with current spending rates the spending bill due for a House vote Thursday would pare just $352 million from the deficit through Sept. 30. About $8 billion in cuts to domestic programs and foreign aid are offset by nearly equal increases in defense spending. […]

   The CBO study confirms that the measure trims $38 billion in new spending authority, but many of the cuts come in slow-spending accounts like water-and-sewer grants that don’t have an immediate deficit impact.

As Alex Seitz-Wald at Think Progress notes budget cuts helped Obama save some programs from the worst cuts “the fact remains that the cuts will be harmful to the economy and to the people who depend on valuable social safety net programs that will have their budgets cut.”

There is also the damage by $8.4 billion cut from the State Department and foreign aid budgets, a 14% budget reduction, that will affect some “critical diplomatic tools”

[C]hopping off $122 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s operating expenses and more than $1.4 billion from the State Department’s Economic Support Fund may cost us the ability to help critical countries transition to democracy, including Egypt and Tunisia. Turning our back on such assistance now is particularly problematic given how vulnerable nascent democracies in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as elsewhere, are to upheaval and violence.

It leaves military budget nearly intact so that any saving are wiped out by inflated defense spending”. The budget deal was suppose to cut $18.1 billion but Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for at least $540 billion for FY2011 and this budget deal funds DOD “just north of $530 billion” a figure that includes military construction.

That’s some victory, Barack.

DocuDharma Digest

Regular Features-

Featured Essays for April 13, 2011-