Daily Archive: 04/28/2011

Apr 28 2011

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 US economy slowed sharply in first quarter

by Paul Handley, AFP

1 hr 23 mins ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Sharp cuts to government spending and higher fuel and food prices slowed US growth in the first quarter, highlighting the weakness of the country’s recovery, official data showed Thursday.

Growth slowed to an annual pace of 1.8 percent in the January-March quarter, compared with a humming 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010, the Commerce Department said in its first estimate for the period.

The deceleration in the world’s biggest economy was in line with analyst expectations, some of whom blamed heavy wintry weather for a key part of the figure: a downturn in investment in residential and non-residential buildings.

Apr 28 2011

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”

Goldie Taylor: Why Obama shouldn’t have had to ‘show his papers’

“Show me your papers!”

Major Blackard, then just 19 years old, dug into his trousers in search of his wallet. He padded his jacket, but could not find his billfold.

“Sir, I done left my wallet…” Blackard said. Before he could finish his sentence, the young man was posted against the brick wall, cuffed and taken to the St. Louis city jail. Unable to prove his identity, he would spend the next 21 days in a cramped, musty cell. That’s where his older brother Matt found him, beaten and bloodied. Matt returned with Major’s employer later that day, wallet and identification card in hand, to post bond.

The year was 1899. Major Blackard was my great, great grandfather.

The real crime, as Pulitzer Prize winning author Doug Blackmon points on in his seminal work Slavery by Any Other Name, was that my grandfather was a colored man in America.

This morning, as White House staffers released copies of the president’s long form birth certificate, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something very ugly was going on. For the first time in recorded history, a sitting president of the United States found it necessary to produce his original birth certificate for public inspection. Not once, in 235 years, have we ever demanded proof that our president was born on American soil.

Glen Ford: Michigan’s “Emergency” Financial Regime: What Fascism Looks Like

Fascism is not all about jack-boots and guys with mustaches. It is a system of economic and social control. The particularities of fascism in any given nation grow out of the special dynamics of that country. Fascism in the United States will be blow-dried. And its legal and bureaucratic form will take shape in places like Michigan, where an innocuous sounding piece of legislation called the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act is the prototype for a host of laws designed to make government – the state – a compliant tool for the dictatorial rule of the most predatory sections of the ruling class. In 2011 America, that’s Wall Street, finance capital.

Michigan’s law allows the state to appoint emergency managers to nullify contracts, including labor agreements – which is what has unions upset. But the scope and intention of the law is much deeper and wider than simply anti-union. The legislation allows emergency managers to nullify the powers and authority of local governments of all kinds. One of its supporters gave the game away when he spoke of the need to impose a kind of “financial martial law” in which all pretense of democracy would be abolished in targeted communities. The community the Republican politician had in mind was Detroit, the Black metropolis, where the public schools were promptly put under emergency state control. But there is nothing to stop the state from abolishing democratic governance in any of Michigan’s cities, if an emergency can be declared or created. On April 15, the mostly Black city of Benton Harbor, the poorest jurisdiction in the state, was placed under total financial martial law, its citizens suddenly made more powerless than Blacks in Selma, Alabama, prior to the civil rights movement.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Why We Regulate — and Why John Walsh Needs to Resign

Regulatory agencies exist to protect the public, not the corporations they regulate. The head of the Office of Comptroller of the Currency doesn’t seem to understand that. But that’s not why John Walsh needs to resign.

The OCC was created to stabilize the economy, make it easier to conduct trade, and protect people’s savings. It didn’t do that. In fact, it ignored the warnings raised by others. But that’s not why John Walsh needs to resign.

His agency failed to anticipate the foreclosure crisis, and it overlooked bank criminality. Later John Walsh misled a Senate panel — and the general public — about the size of the problem. And even after being forced to clarify those misleading statements, Mr. Walsh keeps on repeating them. Whether by intent or ineptitude, he continues to misinform the public.

And that’s why John Walsh needs to resign.

Daphne Eviatar: WikiLeaks Documents Reveal Hazards of Blindly Relying on Secret Evidence

The flood of news stories in the wake of the latest WikiLeaks document dump reveal how one Guantanamo detainee after another was imprisoned at Gitmo for years based on tips from informants that turned out to be false. As James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation said in today’s New York Times, that’s not a big surprise. Law enforcement relies on such dubious tips in building criminal cases all the time. “The nature of intelligence is that it is ambiguous sometimes. It is sometimes based on sources you wouldn’t take to Sunday school.”

In criminal cases, that’s not necessarily a problem, because criminal defendants ultimately get a chance to test the evidence in court. But that’s not the case for military detainees. Until the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that Guantanamo prisoners had a right to challenge their detention in federal court, they were stuck in the prison with no independent assessment of their guilt or innocence.

Jim Hightower: Wall Street Tames Washington

They came, they saw, they conquered. This line pretty well sums up a little-reported but important story about the new tea partiers in the U.S. House of Representatives.

No sooner had they arrived than the corporate lobbying corps came to visit, saw what these supposed rebels were made of and quickly conquered them without a fight. The forces of big business needed only to lay out some campaign cash — and quicker than you can say, “Business as usual,” the budding lawmakers snatched up the money and immediately began carrying the lobbyists’ corporate agenda.

Check out the financial services subcommittee, which handles legislation affecting Wall Street bankers. Five tea partiers got coveted slots on this panel, and all five were suddenly showered with big donations from such financial lobbying interests as Goldman Sachs. Now, all five are sponsoring bills to undo parts of the recent reforms to reign in Wall Street excesses.

David Swanson: Your Local Military-Industrial Complex

As in any other U.S. city, things are looking up for Charlottesville, Va., job seekers who don’t mind helping to kill tons of people for no good reason. This week’s “community job fair” features some prominent members of the Charlottesville community whom we don’t usually think of as such.

When I travel the country, people often inform me that their town is a military-industrial town as if that were unusual. I always ask them if they can name a U.S. town that isn’t — in part because nobody has yet been able to, and in part because if someone ever does I might want to move there.

Once you weed through the predictable dead-end poverty-wage, fast-food, and box-store jobs at the job fair, much of what’s left is jobs that help kill people. Whether you support or oppose what the U.S. military is doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, and 75 or so other countries, you’re probably not aware that the machinery behind it dominates the local economy here, just as in the rest of the United States. The “community” at the job fair is the community of death.

Andy Worthington: The Hidden Horrors of WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files

WikiLeaks’ latest revelations – secret military files on almost all of the 779 prisoners held in the US “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba – are already causing a stir, and for good reason, as they resuscitate a story that appears to have been forgotten in the last few years: how, in their rush to prove themselves tough and vengeful in response to the 9/11 attacks, the most senior officials in the Bush administration not only discarded international laws and treaties including the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, but also threw out safeguards designed to protect innocent people from being wrongly imprisoned in wartime.

Some of the key discoveries in the Guantánamo files are the documents on the 201 prisoners released between 2002 and summer 2004, which cover new ground, as the US military has never publicly released any of this information before. For the other 578 prisoners, information has at least been revealed through the release of the government’s allegations against the prisoners, and the transcripts of the tribunals and review boards used to assess their significance, which were released in 2006 (with follow-ups in the years since), but for these 201 prisoners, many of the stories are being related for the very first time. These are mostly dispiriting revelations about how children as young as 14 and old men in their 80s were rounded up and sent to Guantánamo, joining farmers, taxi drivers and unwilling Taliban recruits – hordes of the innocent or the insignificant, whose stories help to confirm the folly of Guantánamo.

David Weigel: Birtherism Is Dead. Long Live Birtherism.

The history of a national embarrassment, and why it’s not over yet.

President Obama did not end the “birther” movement today. Hours after the president released his long-form birth certificate-years after releasing the short-form one that proved he was a citizen-the issue had already evolved. Republicans who’d been on the hook demanding proof of his citizenship wondered why it took so long. People with too much time on their hands-in other words, the majority of people surfing the Internet for this kind of stuff-were combing the document for proof of forgery.

So Obama did not end birtherism. He did end one era of conspiracy theories about him-the fifth era, by my count. And maybe all he did was make sure the sixth era got started with as loud and embarrassing a bang as possible. If you understand how this started, and who played the biggest roles in elevating it, maybe you can also understand why it’s not going to end.

Apr 28 2011

Notes on the Economy and the Budget Battle

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke held a first ever news conference after the central bank’s meeting of Federal Open Market Committee which determines interest rates. His statement and the Q&A after were really boring as Bernanke droned in a monotone voice and filibustered questions. It took a bit, as David Dayen noted, to get to the meat, jobs, and what is the Fed doing to create them.

Bernanke answered that, while he has been engaged in extraordinary efforts to aid the economy, he had to be concerned about inflation as well. So basically, the Fed is failing at one of their mandates (maximizing employment) because they’re worried about their other mandate (price stability)… which they are ALSO FAILING AT! There’s also no awareness that, if inflation rises unacceptably, you can deal with it at that time. Refusing to stop the human suffering of mass unemployment because of the possibility of an inflation rise that can be dealt with if it happens is just a giveaway that the inflation mandate matters overwhelmingly more than the employment mandate.

Jobs? Never mind, too busy trying to control the inflation that hasn’t happened? Do these people shop or drive?

The first quarter growth rate report wasn’t encouraging either, coming in at a dismal 1.8% which was not unexpected due to “Higher commodity prices and winter blizzards that shuttered businesses and delayed construction were among the main causes of the slowdown, along with a large decrease in federal government spending and a sharp increase in imports, which are subtracted from output.” This will effect jobs no matter how optimist Bernanke is about the slow down being “transient”

(G)iven the ground lost during the Great Recession, the economy has a long way to go before its job market and output are back on track. And there are fears that the slow growth in the first quarter may weigh on job growth going forward, since employment trends tend to lag what happens in the rest of the economy.

“We may see employment growth weaken a little bit in the coming months, with more modest increases,” said Paul Dales, a senior United States economist for Capital Economics.

Dayen also reminds us that:

The first quarter saw a pretty modest decrease in spending – $10 billion from two continuing resolutions while negotiations on 2011 appropriations continued. If that was enough of a factor to contribute to sending growth down, then the impact will be the same in the next two quarters. And the fourth quarter, on the 2012 budget, is grand bargain time. So there’s no quarter that won’t be affected by contractionary fiscal policy. And don’t forget the debt limit, a failure to increase with will play havoc with the financial system and economic growth as well.

snip

Growth out of a recession is supposed to be sky-high. This homemade chart from Steve Benen is nice, but he knows that growth has sagged well below where a recovery should be for five straight quarters now. He even says it: “We can and must do much better than 1.8%, but we won’t if the nation pursues a conservative approach that focuses on one problem that doesn’t exist (inflation) rather than the problem that does exist (weak economic growth).

How does this affect jobs? Job growth was actually above expectations for the quarter given this growth number. But realistically, you cannot expect to lower the unemployment rate without growth of 3% or higher. And as Paul Krugman noted yesterday, if you look at the employment-population ratio or other datum, you’ll see that job growth is totally stagnant. Which is in line with the stagnant growth in GDP.

Also a note about the Budget Battle in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) decided to take the bull by the horns and ride the wave of protests at townhall meetings over Wisconsin Republican Rep Paul Ryan’s disastrous budget that passed the House on a strict partisan vote. Reid announced that he will bring the budget up for a vote in the Senate:

“Republicans seem to be in love with the Ryan budget. And they are going to have an opportunity here in the Senate to vote on the Ryan budget and see (how many) Republican senators like the Ryan budget as much as their House colleagues did, he said.

Reid spokesman Jon Summers said that the timing of the vote has not yet been determined.

The idea behind Reid’s plan is to force Senate Republicans to vote on the measure, which could put incumbents facing tough reelections on the spot.

The Ryan budget is not expected to pass the Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats.

“I would hope they do”, Reid said when asked if he thinks the Senate will reject the plan. “It would be one of the worst things to happen to this country if that came into effect.”

Talk of a Republican split emerged alst week when centrist Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said she would not vote for Ryan’s plan.

Apr 28 2011

On This Day In History April 28

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 28 is the 118th day of the year (119th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 247 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day, two events occurred involving the South Pacific. Separated by 158 years, one was a mutiny, the other a grand adventure.

Apr 28, 1789: Mutiny on the HMS Bounty Mutiny on the Bounty: The mutiny  was led by Fletcher Christian against the commanding officer, William Bligh. The sailors were attracted to the idyllic life on the Pacific island, and repelled by the alleged cruelty of their captain. Captain Bligh and 18 sailors were set a drift in the South Pacific, near the island of Tonga. Christian along with some of the mutineers and native Tahitians eventually settled on Pitcairn Island an uninhabited volcanic island about 1000 miles south of Tahiti. The mutineers who remained behind on Tahiti were eventually arrested and returned to England where three were hanged. The British never found Christian and the others. Captain Bligh and the 18 others eventually arrived in Timor.

Years later on 1808. am American whaling vessel discovered the colony of women and children led by the sole surviving mutineer, John Adams. The Bounty had been stripped and burned. Christian and the other 8 mutineers were dead. Adams was eventually granted amnesty and remained the patriarch of Pitcairn Island until his death in 1829.

1947 Thor Heyerdahl and five crew mates set out from Peru on the Kon-Tiki to prove that Peruvian natives could have settled Polynesia. His crew of six fellow Norwegians set sail from Peru on a raft constructed from balsa logs and other materials that were indigenous to the region at the time of the Spanish Conquistadors. After 101 days crossing over 400 miles they crashed into a reef at Raroia  in the Tuamotu Islands on August 7, 1947. Heyerdahl’s book, “The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas”, became a best seller, the documentary won an Academy Award in 1951. The original raft is on display in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo. Heyerdahl died April 18, 2002 in Italy.

Apr 28 2011

Turning Japanese

Culture of Complicity Tied to Stricken Nuclear Plant

By NORIMITSU ONISHI and KEN BELSON, The New York Times

Published: April 26, 2011

Despite a new law shielding whistle-blowers, the regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, divulged Mr. Sugaoka’s identity to Tokyo Electric, effectively blackballing him from the industry. Instead of immediately deploying its own investigators to Daiichi, the agency instructed the company to inspect its own reactors. Regulators allowed the company to keep operating its reactors for the next two years even though, an investigation ultimately revealed, its executives had actually hidden other, far more serious problems, including cracks in the shrouds that cover reactor cores.

Investigators may take months or years to decide to what extent safety problems or weak regulation contributed to the disaster at Daiichi, the worst of its kind since Chernobyl. But as troubles at the plant and fears over radiation continue to rattle the nation, the Japanese are increasingly raising the possibility that a culture of complicity made the plant especially vulnerable to the natural disaster that struck the country on March 11.



A 10-year extension for the oldest of Daiichi’s reactors suggests that the regulatory system was allowed to remain lax by politicians, bureaucrats and industry executives single-mindedly focused on expanding nuclear power. Regulators approved the extension beyond the reactor’s 40-year statutory limit just weeks before the tsunami despite warnings about its safety and subsequent admissions by Tokyo Electric, often called Tepco, that it had failed to carry out proper inspections of critical equipment.

The mild punishment meted out for past safety infractions has reinforced the belief that nuclear power’s main players are more interested in protecting their interests than increasing safety. In 2002, after Tepco’s cover-ups finally became public, its chairman and president resigned, only to be given advisory posts at the company. Other executives were demoted, but later took jobs at companies that do business with Tepco. Still others received tiny pay cuts for their role in the cover-up. And after a temporary shutdown and repairs at Daiichi, Tepco resumed operating the plant.



In Japan, the web of connections between the nuclear industry and government officials is now popularly referred to as the “nuclear power village.” The expression connotes the nontransparent, collusive interests that underlie the establishment’s push to increase nuclear power despite the discovery of active fault lines under plants, new projections about the size of tsunamis and a long history of cover-ups of safety problems.

Sound like anyplace we know?

Apr 28 2011

Six In The Morning

Devastating storms swirl into Georgia as death toll rises  

Alabama sees the most damage yet from a massive tornado

msnbc.com news services

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A wave of tornado-spawning storms that ravaged Mississippi and Alabama, having splintered buildings in its path and leaving scores dead in its wake, is now in Georgia.

Authorities said early Thursday that nine people had been killed in that state,increases the death toll to 82 across four states in the South. Alabama is by far the hardest-hit, with at least 61 deaths, including 16 in Tuscaloosa, according to the city’s mayor. The death toll was expected to rise.

The university town of Tuscaloosa was obliterated, a nuclear power plant had to use backup generators and even a weather service office had to be evacuated because of the storms. The mayor said the city’s infrastructure was devastated.

Apr 28 2011

DocuDharma Digest

Regular Features-

Featured Essays for April 27, 2011-

DocuDharma

Apr 28 2011

My Little Town 20110427: Perilee and Sarge Wilson

Those of you that read this irregular regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile of so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a redneck sort of place, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

I never write about living people except with their express permission, but since these folks are long gone, they are fair game.  They were actually very nice folks, but had some huge quirks, as most folks in my little town did.

Perilee and Sarge were just a little older than my parents.  Sarge (to this day, I never knew his real first name) had been in the Army during World War II. thus the name.  As far as I know they were both native of the area.

Apr 28 2011

What’s Cooking: Baked Rigatoni with Ham and Mushrooms

In case you still have a few slices of that ham left and are truly sick of ham sandwiches, don’t let it go to waste. Here’s an easy recipe that can make use of those last few slices.

Baked Rigatoni with Ham and Mushrooms

Ingredients:

* 1/3 oz. dried porcini mushrooms or 6oz. fresh button mushrooms

* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, if using fresh mushrooms, plus 6 tbsp.

* 12 oz Rigatoni

* 1/3 cup all purpose flour

* 2 1/2 cups of milk (low fat is fine)

* pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

* salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

* 4 oz of Fontina or Swiss cheese, cut into julienne strips

* 6 oz ham, roughly chopped

Preparation:

If using porcini, place in a bowl with lukewarm water ans soap until softened about 30 minutes. Drain. squeeze out excess water and chop finely; set aside. . If using fresh mushrooms, cut off and discard the stems, wipe clean with a towel and thinly slice. In a frying pan over medium heat, melt 2 tbsp. butter. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté fir 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

 In a large pot bring 5 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add rigatoni and cook for about 6 minutes; they should be very al dente. Drain the pasta and transfer to a bowl. Ass 2 1/2 tbsp of the butter and toss well.

Preheat an oven to 350 F. In a sauce pan melt 2 1/2 tbsp. of the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth, about 2 minutes. Stirring constantly, gradually add the milk. Continue to stir until it thickens and is smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, ass the porcini or fresh mushrooms, sprinkle with the nutmeg and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Grease an 8 by 12 inch oven proof dish with the remaining butter. Arrange 1/3 of the rigatoni in the dish. Sprinkle one third of the cheese and ham over the top and spoon on one third of the sauce. Repeat the layers in the same order two more times, ending with sauce.

Place in the oven and bake until heated through and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Serve at once.

Serves 6

My daughter says to increase the sauce by half for a creamier dish

Apr 28 2011

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Libyan tribes call on Kadhafi to go

by Marc Bastian, AFP

18 mins ago

MISRATA, Libya (AFP) – Libya’s tribes urged Moamer Kadhafi on Wednesday to cede power, as rebels backed by NATO air strikes said they forced the strongman’s missiles out of range of the lifeline port of Misrata.

Chiefs or representatives of 61 tribes from across the North African country called for an end to Kadhafi’s four-decade rule, in a joint statement released by French writer Bernard-Henri Levy.

“Faced with the threats weighing on the unity of our country, faced with the manoeuvres and propaganda of the dictator and his family, we solemnly declare: Nothing will divide us,” said the statement, released on Wednesday in Benghazi.