05/11/2011 archive


As read by Keith.

Punting the Pundits

Punting the Punditsis 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”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day. Scroll down for the Gentlemen.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Why Aren’t the Powers That Be Tackling the Jobs Crisis?

Washington is the only city in America where housing values are going up. That may help explain why the political class is so divorced from the nation’s agonies. Sure, the entire nation celebrated the dispatch of Osama bin Laden, but when it comes to the economy, the Beltway is a world unto itself.

Two years from the official beginning of the “recovery,” America continues to suffer a deep and punishing jobs crisis. One in six Americans of working age is unemployed or underemployed. College students, laden with record levels of debt, are graduating into the worst jobs market since the Great Depression. Long-term unemployment is at unprecedented levels. At current rates of job growth, we won’t return to pre-recession employment levels until 2016. And the jobs that are being created – largely in the service industry – tend to have lower pay and benefits than the jobs that were lost.

Laura Flanders: Have We Forgotten How to End Wars?

Will the death of Osama bin Laden bring change in US policy?  Last week on this show, one by one, our guests said no. Hopes are one thing; likely reality is something else.

Meanwhile, criticizing the killing seems to have become taboo and even progressives who were vociferous against Bush now cheerlead for extrajudicial targeted assassination inside a sovereign state.

President Obama told the country on 60 Minutes, again, that justice was served. Those who disagree, he said, need to have their heads examined.

Daphne Eviatar: Bin Laden’s Death Sparks Rethinking of US Policy in Afghanistan

The death of Osama bin Laden last week is prompting the Obama Administration, members of Congress and the American public to re-think the war in Afghanistan, and to wonder how the demise of the world’s most famous terrorist might hasten its end.

That’s as it should be. But for now, there are still 100,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, and some 1700 prisoners that the U.S. is detaining there indefinitely without charge or trial. That’s ten times the number of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and almost triple the number imprisoned in Afghanistan when President Obama took office. As I wrote in a new report released today by Human Rights First, based on research in Afghanistan and observation of U.S. military practices there, the United States is not providing its prisoners there even the minimum level of due process required by international law. And that’s ultimately undermining the United States’ ability to put an end to the war there quickly and responsibly.

Dahlia Lithwick: It’s Good for You

A federal appeals court hears arguments about Obama’s health care law-and broccoli.

This lawsuit is not about broccoli. Yes, there were multiple forced servings of broccoli talk at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals this morning, at the first appellate arguments over the Affordable Care Act. But Judge James A. Wynn Jr. was clear on this one metaphysical matter: “Of course, we are not dealing with broccoli here.”

The appeal doesn’t all come down to judicial politics, either, although everyone is already atwitter about the fact that the random, computer-selected, three-judge panel was comprised of three judges appointed by Democratic presidents: Diana Gribbon Motz, nominated by Bill Clinton in 1994, and Andre M. Davis and Wynn, both nominated by Obama in 2009. (Davis and Wynn were also nominated by Clinton in 2000 and 1999, but neither was confirmed.*) The case basically comes down to a search for limiting principles on congressional power and an attempt to understand whether something can be unconstitutional simply because it is unprecedented. The panel struggled for more than two hours about whether the so-called “individual mandate”-requiring people to purchase health insurance by 2014, or pay a penalty-lies far beyond the edges of congressional regulatory authority, or dead at the heart of it.

Bernie Sanders: Single Payer Health: It’s Only Fair

US healthcare is grossly distorted by waste and profit, while millions go uninsured. Americans deserve full universal coverage

The United States is the only major nation in the industrialised world that does not guarantee healthcare as a right to its people. Meanwhile, we spend about twice as much per capita on healthcare and, in a wide number of instances, our outcomes are not as good as others that spend far less.

It is time that we bring about a fundamental transformation of the American healthcare system. It is time for us to end private, for-profit participation in delivering basic coverage. It is time for the United States to provide a Medicare-for-all, single payer health coverage programme.

David Dayen: Man Picked to Make Changes to Social Security Doesn’t Understand Basic Concepts of Social

I mentioned yesterday, and Michael Whitney reinforced, that Alan Simpson denigrated some data on Social Security because he decided the figures came from “the Catfood Commission people.” And that’s a feather in someone’s cap, I guess.

But it’s worth jumping into what that actual data was that Ryan Grim confronted him with. Because it reveals Simpson, as if this needed revealing, to be utterly clueless about the Social Security system and basic demographic realities. So here’s what prompted Ryan’s question:

   Simpson argued that Social Security was originally intended more as a welfare program.

   “It was never intended as a retirement program. It was set up in ’37 and ’38 to take care of people who were in distress – ditch diggers, wage earners – it was to give them 43 percent of the replacement rate of their wages. The [life expectancy] was 63. That’s why they set retirement age at 65” for Social Security, he said.

This is something Simpson has said for some time, and it is based on total ignorance. So Ryan called him on it.

Bill McKibben: Great Floods Aren’t a Fluke — They’re a Taste of a Changing Climate

Last week, at a place called Bird’s Point, just below the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers, the Army Corps of Engineers was busy mining a huge levee with explosives. The work was made dangerous by outbreaks of lightning, but eventually the charges were in place and corps Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh gave the order: A 2-mile-wide hole was blasted in the earthen levee, and a wall of water greater than the flow over Niagara Falls inundated 130,000 acres of prime Missouri farmland.

The corps breached the levee to ease pressure on other floodwalls; if it hadn’t, the town of Cairo, Ill., might well have been inundated. But it’s not as if the problem has been solved. That water will reenter the Mississippi a little farther downstream as it surges toward the sea. “We’re just at the beginning of the beginning,” Walsh said. Col. Vernie Reichling Jr. of the Memphis District of the corps said: “We’ll have to fight this river all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t see it letting up.”

Rajaratnam Guilty on all 14 counts!

Galleon’s Rajaratnam Found Guilty

By PETER LATTMAN, The New York Times

May 11, 2011, 10:50

Raj Rajaratnam, the billionaire investor who once ran one of the world’s largest hedge funds, was found guilty of fraud and conspiracy on Wednesday by a federal jury in Manhattan. He is the most prominent figure convicted in the government’s crackdown on insider trading on Wall Street.

The government built its case against Mr. Rajaratnam with powerful wiretap evidence. Over a nine-month stretch in 2008, federal agents secretly recorded Mr. Rajaratnam’s telephone conversations. They listened in as Mr. Rajaratnam brazenly – and matter-of-factly – swapped inside stock tips with corporate insiders and fellow traders.

“I heard yesterday from somebody who’s on the board of Goldman Sachs that they are going to lose $2 per share,” Mr. Rajaratnam said to one of his employees in advance of the bank’s earnings announcement.

“One thing we know, this is very confidential, someone is going to put in a term sheet for Spansion,” he told a colleague, referring to a proposed acquisition of a technology company.

“So yesterday they agreed on, at least they’ve shaken hands,” a tipster told Mr. Rajaratnam about an upcoming deal involving another publicly traded business. “So I think, uh, you can now just buy.

Galleon brought Mr. Rajartnam great wealth. Forbes magazine pegged his net worth at $1.3 billion. He owns a second home in the wealthy suburb of Greenwich, Conn., and a condominium at the Setai Hotel in Miami Beach. During the trial, Mr. Rajaratnam’s former friends told the jury about lavish vacations including, for his 50th birthday, chartering a private jet to fly dozens of family and friends for a safari in Kenya.

Under Federal sentencing guidelines Rajaratnam is liable for at least 5 years per count (not that he’s likely to serve that).

Your Sanitized Financial News

You may think this is about Economics, but it’s really about censorship.

Yesterday I published some notes about how transparently insolvent the mega-banks are.  Today there are follow up developments.

First of all I’d like to quash any thought I’m being unnecessarily hard on Italy by including them in the PIIGS

Another recession in Europe as a whole is also a very likely prospect, Zulauf said.

“The EU is trying to dictate a very severe austerity program…and that will lead to a lengthy recession, I would call it a depression, and we will see later this year that Italy, Spain and virtually all the peripheral countries will be in negative growth again,” he said.

“I think there is a 90 percent likelihood of another recession in Europe (beginning) later this year,” Zulauf said.

(h/t Chris in Paris @ Americablog which you should be sure to click on)

Extend and Pretend

The big news today (h/t emptywheel @ Firedog Lake), the Wall Street Journal caught BLATANTLY scrubbing the words of Timo Soini after the fact and after they printed it unedited online yesterday.

Why did the Brussels-Frankfurt extortion racket force these countries to accept the money along with “recovery” plans that would inevitably fail? Because they needed to please the tax-guzzling banks, which might otherwise refuse to turn up at the next Spanish, Belgian, Italian, or even French bond-auction.

Unfortunately for this financial and political cartel, their plan isn’t working. Already under this scheme, Greece, Ireland and Portugal are ruined. They will never be able to save and grow fast enough to pay back the debts with which Brussels has saddled them in the name of saving them.

And so, unpurged, the gangrene spreads. The Spanish property sector is much bigger and more uncharted than that of Ireland. It is not just the cajas that are in trouble. There are major Spanish banks where what lies beneath the surface of the balance sheet may be a zombie, just as happened in Ireland for a while. The clock is ticking, and the problem is not going away.

If some banks are recapitalized with taxpayer money, taxpayers should get ownership stakes in return, and the entire board should be kicked out. But before any such taxpayer participation can be contemplated, it is essential to first apply big haircuts to bondholders.

For sovereign debt, the freedom to fail is again key. Significant restructuring is needed for genuine recovery. Yes, markets will punish defaulting states, but they are also quick to forgive. Current plans are destroying the real economies of Europe through elevated taxes and transfers of wealth from ordinary families to the coffers of insolvent states and banks. A restructuring that left a country’s debt burden at a manageable level and encouraged a return to growth-oriented policies could lead to a swift return to international debt markets.

This is not just about economics. People feel betrayed. In Ireland, the incoming parties to the new government promised to hold senior bondholders responsible, but under pressure, they succumbed, leaving their voters with a sense of democratic disenfranchisement. The elites in Brussels have said that Finland must honor its commitments to its European partners, but Brussels is silent on whether national politicians should honor their commitments to their own voters. In a democracy, where we govern under the consent of the people, power is on loan. We do what we promise, even if it costs a dinner in Brussels, a “negative” media profile, or a seat in the cabinet.

The bolded parts are the censored ones.  Timo Soini is the head of the populist True Finn party and the top vote getter in Finland’s recent elections.

Yup, Austerity Works!

Bank of England cuts UK economic growth forecasts

  • UK economic growth likely to be just 1.7% in 2011
  • Inflation likely to hit 5% in the coming months
  • Mervyn King admits outlook has darkened since last report

Graeme Wearden, guardian.co.uk

Wednesday 11 May 2011 13.43 BST

The Bank estimated that Britain will grow by around 1.7% during 2011, down from February’s forecast of 2% growth and in line with the latest forecasts from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility.

In 2012, GDP is expected to be around 2.2%, down from an earlier estimate of close to 3%. This is weaker than the OBR forecast of 2.5% growth.

On inflation, King said that higher commodity and import prices, and the increase in the standard rate of VAT, was pushing up the cost of living more rapidly than expected in February. He said that higher utility bills were likely to drive the consumer prices index (CPI) up to 5% this year. CPI, which fell back to 4% last month, was likely to remain above the 2% target until the end of 2012, the Bank predicted. Three months ago it had forecast that CPI would drop back to 2% next year.

On This Day in History May 11

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.

Click on images to enlarge

May 11 is the 131st day of the year (132nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 234 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1934, a massive storm sends millions of tons of topsoil flying from across the parched Great Plains region of the United States as far east as New York, Boston and Atlanta.

At the time the Great Plains were settled in the mid-1800s, the land was covered by prairie grass, which held moisture in the earth and kept most of the soil from blowing away even during dry spells. By the early 20th century, however, farmers had plowed under much of the grass to create fields. The U.S. entry into World War I in 1917 caused a great need for wheat, and farms began to push their fields to the limit, plowing under more and more grassland with the newly invented tractor. The plowing continued after the war, when the introduction of even more powerful gasoline tractors sped up the process. During the 1920s, wheat production increased by 300 percent, causing a glut in the market by 1931.

The Dust Bowl, or the Dirty Thirties, was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1930 to 1936 (in some areas until 1940). The phenomenon was caused by severe drought coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops or other techniques to prevent erosion. Deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains had displaced the natural deep-rooted grasses that normally kept the soil in place and trapped moisture even during periods of drought and high winds.

During the drought of the 1930s, without natural anchors to keep the soil in place, it dried, turned to dust, and blew away eastward and southward in large dark clouds. At times the clouds blackened the sky reaching all the way to East Coast cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. Much of the soil ended up deposited in the Atlantic Ocean, carried by prevailing winds, which were in part created by the dry and bare soil conditions. These immense dust storms-given names such as “Black Blizzards” and “Black Rollers”-often reduced visibility to a few feet (around a meter). The Dust Bowl affected 100,000,000 acres (400,000 km2), centered on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and adjacent parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.

Millions of acres of farmland became useless, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes; many of these families (often known as “Okies”, since so many came from Oklahoma) migrated to California and other states, where they found economic conditions little better during the Great Depression than those they had left. Owning no land, many became migrant workers who traveled from farm to farm to pick fruit and other crops at starvation wages. Author John Steinbeck [ later wrote The Grapes of Wrath, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Of Mice and Men, about such people.

Feta and Grape Leaves

New general strike over Greek austerity program


05.11.11, 06:57 AM EDT

The general strike suspended all train and ferry services, grounded flights between noon and 4 p.m. and disrupted Athens public transport. All radio and television news broadcasts were suspended as journalists walked off the job for the day. The Thursday editions of newspapers were not being published, and news websites were not updating their content.

“Every day that passes, (the government) takes back what the working class has won through blood and struggles all these years,” retiree John Pavlidis said.

Greek unions say the protracted austerity, amid a two-year recession and unemployment at around 15 percent, is unfairly targeting the less well-off.

A statement from the country’s largest union, the GSEE, said Wednesday’s strike expresses “strong protest at the unjust and cruel policies that have caused a surge in unemployment … violated labor rights, and squandered public wealth, while failing to insure an exit from recession.”

In Athens’ port of Piraeus, Greece’s biggest, striking ferry electrician Athanassios Sidiropoulos said the government was trying to scrap rights won over the course of decades by working classes.

“All seamen should have pension and healthcare rights, collective labor contracts, healthcare contributions,” he said.

An opinion poll commissioned by the private Mega TV station and published Tuesday said 71 percent of the public oppose the government’s handling of the economic crisis, compared with 66 percent in February.

Sing along with Mitch.

DocuDharma Digest

Regular Features-

Featured Essays for May 10, 2011-


Under the Radar: The Stupid Burns

Just few laws and proposals that really are so incredibly bad that they deserve to be buried at sea with concrete boots, except, we’d be polluting the ocean.

  • TN Bill Calls Two Or More Observant Muslims A ‘Sharia Organization’

    After initial objections, lawmakers in Tennessee are moving a new version (pdf) of the most expansive anti-Sharia bill yet. The legislation has already been passed by committees in each chamber. The bill’s house sponsor has even cited defense against possible retaliation terror attacks for Osama bin Laden’s death to justify its breadth.

    Tennessee is one of more than fifteen states trying to push laws banning Sharia – referring to the legal code of Islam. The bill says Sharia is “inextricably linked” to its “war doctrine known as jihad.”

  • Florida Bill Will Come ‘Between Doctors And Patients’ By Prohibiting Pediatricians From Asking About Guns

    Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) has been one of the country’s fiercest critics of health care reform, frequently deriding the Affordable Care Act for supposedly coming “between doctors and patients.”

    But now Scott is expected to soon sign a first-of-its-kind bill that does just that by forbidding doctors from asking their patients if they own guns. To prevent accidental injuries, pediatricians routinely ask new parents if they have guns at home and if they are stored safely. But the NRA and its allies in the Florida legislature see something more sinister at work – a radical agenda to curb the rights of gun owners.

  • Florida City Paying $2,500 A Day To Radical Union-Busting Firm To Stop Workers From Organizing

    All over the country, right-wing lawmakers are waging a war on Main Street America’s labor rights, purporting to do so out of a desire for fiscal restraint (while also backing budget-busting tax breaks for the wealthiest among us).

    Now, the city of Winter Park, Florida, is going to new lengths to stop nearly 150 city workers from joining a union. Apparently more concerned with stopping the union than saving money, Winter Park hired consultants at Kulture LLC, “a firm specializing in labor relations” at the rate of $2,500 a day to persuade workers to vote against organizing this summer. . .

  • FSU Accepts Funds From Charles Koch In Return For Control Over Its Academic Freedom

    Charles Koch, the billionaire libertarian who has funded front-groups and lobbying efforts to expand his anti-tax, anti-regulatory agenda under the guise of “free enterprise,” has now widened his reach into another key public policy area: academics. The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation entered into an agreement with Florida State University in 2008 in which the foundation would provide millions of dollars in funds for the school’s economics department.

  • And two quickies:

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) will soon sign a bill to cut unemployment benefits to a maximum of 23 weeks. The bill is the first in the nation to tie number of weeks to the state’s unemployment rate, a move Florida lawmakers are making to “blunt the massive increase in unemployment taxes that’s looming for businesses.”

    State legislators in Maine spent more time debating whoopie pies than health reform this year. A GOP plan to overhaul the state’s health system went from public hearing to first vote in just eight days. It took 51 days for a bill to make the whoopie pie the official state treat. Alas, Gov. Paul LePage (R) never signed the whoopie pie bill.

Blessing on the writers at Think Progress for reading through this idiocy and keeping us up to speed on the stupid.

The Lady On 142

As read by Keith.