06/20/2011 archive

Summer Solstice 2011

We are halfway through the year and are ready to celebrate the first harvest amidst climate disruption, natural disasters compounded by man’s foolish idea that he could harness the devil. I spent some time this morning weeding my herb garden, snipping the flower buds from the huge pot of sweet basil so the energy goes to the flavorful leaves and a short walk on the beach. Tomorrow morning I will watch the sun rise for the last few hours of Spring and later watch it set on the first few hours of Summer which ushers in at 1:16 PM EDT as the Earth tilts towards the sun at its Northern maximum, the Tropic of Cancer. It is a but a moment in time significant for so many cultures, religions and countries. Here in the US there are many cities that will light huge fires in public places to celebrate the longest day of the year, Midsummer. The fires will be lit in the stone fire pit in my yard. We’ll eat some of the newly harvested vegetable that are available at the local markets and eat food cooked with the herbs from my garden.

A Solstice Approaches, Unnoticed By James Caroll

ONCE, HUMANS were intimate with the cycles of nature, and never more than on the summer solstice. Vestiges of such awareness survive in White Nights and Midnight Sun festivals in far northern climes, and in neo-pagan adaptations of Midsummer celebrations, but contemporary people take little notice of the sun reaching its far point on the horizon. Tomorrow is the longest day of the year, the official start of the summer season, the fullest of light – yet we are apt to miss this phenomenon of Earth’s axial tilt, as we miss so much of what the natural world does in our surrounds.

In recent months, catastrophic weather events have dominated headlines as rarely before – earthquakes and tsunami in Asia; volcanic cloud in Europe; massive ice melts at the poles; tornadoes, floods, and fires in America. “Records are not just broken,” an atmospheric scientist said last week, “they are smashed.” Without getting into questions of causality, and without anthropomorphizing nature, we can still take these events as nature’s cri de coeur – as the degraded environment’s grabbing of human lapels to say, “Pay attention!”

NN11: The Reasons To Attend

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

First I want to apologize for not being able to keep up with writing, I was busier than I really expected to be and it was a lot more walking, so I was pretty tired at the end of the day. There is a lot to report, some of it was positive, at least from the perspective of our ability to improve our web sites and make them better and sustainable. It was pointed out in one of the panels, web sites like Daily Kos, Firedoglake, Think Progress and, yes, The Stars Hollow Gazette are now part of the “Main Stream Media”, the “untraditional” part. The traditional media now reads and quotes us. We are getting louder and noticed.

This is my second Netroots convention. I went to NN09 in Pittsburgh after I had returned from a year long hiatus from blogging. In 2008, I was very disappointed with the DNC for nominating Barack Obama and disenfranchising the voters of Florida and Michigan. Needless to say I am not surprised that many liberal and independent voters have now removed their rose colored glasses and are seeing Obama for the corporatist, right winger that he is.

Agree or not, Netroots Nation has grown and is getting the attention of the traditional MSM. This was very evident with the tough questions on jobs, marriage equality, the multiple wars, etc., that were put to White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer and the coverage from numerous MSM sources. The audience didn’t like his pap answers and he was roundly booed. This would not have happened last year.

The video starts off with Minnesota’s US Senator Amy Klobuchar. The interview with Pfeiffer starts at about 11:00 minutes.

Warning: secure all objects that if thrown at your monitor would do severe damage.

At NN11, White House Propagandist Pfeiffer Preps for President Romney

by Scarecrow

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer appeared today at NN11 to explain why progressives should continue to support President Obama. From HuffPo reporter, Amanda Terkel:

   “There has been much that has been accomplished in the first 2 1/2 years, and as the President said the other night, the work is not done. There are more things we want to do,” he said. “We can either work together to continue that work and finish the project we started in 2008, or we can be relegated back to the sidelines and see what a Republican president with potentially a Republican congressional majority in at least one country, will do to this country.”

   “We’ve had that experience. It started in 2000. We ended up with massive deficits, we ended up with a war in Iraq, we ended up with massive violations of people’s civil liberties. We ended up with corporate interests like Wall Street running rampant through Washington. That’s the choice there. This President is as committed to the ideals he ran on today as he was the day he stood in Springfield, Ill. in 2007. He has fought for them as hard as he could. Washington is a hard and frustrating place. We’re doing it under tremendously challenging circumstances, and he’s going to keep fighting for them. On some of the things that you care about and he cares about, I promise you he is as frustrated as you are that we haven’t been able to get it done.”

Based on these reassuring words, the response is supposed to be, “well, gosh, the alternative is worse, so I guess we should still vote for Obama.”

No. Just no. You’ve had your chance to prove you are indeed different, and you’ve failed on every front. Even though I have often decried the intolerant, inhumane, radical extremism, nuttiness and willful ignorance of what the Tea-GOP has become, I no longer believe that President Obama is meaningly different from what President Mitt Romney would be or indeed would have been.

And as I could never vote for the unprincipled moral chameleon Romney, I cannot vote again for a faux Democrat whose policies and moral sentiments now seem little different from Romney’s.

I defy any Obama spokesperson to point out any meaningful difference between what Obama has done and what a President Romney would have done.

I was not at all uncomfortable stating that I would not support or vote for Obama, that I was done with voting for the lesser of two evils and that the scare tactics of the possibility of a President Pawlenty or Bachmann were no worse than what we already have in the Oval Office. What we need to do is work our butts off at the local level to take back the House (we are 24 seats short), strengthen the Senate and to primary blue dogs. It is time we became Egyptians and Wisconsinites.

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”.

Chris Hedges: This Hero Didn’t Stand a Chance

Tim DeChristopher is scheduled to be sentenced in a Salt Lake City courtroom by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson on July 26. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $750,000 fine for fraudulently bidding in December 2008 on parcels of land, including areas around eastern Utah’s national parks, which were being sold off by the Bush administration to the oil and natural gas industry. As Bidder No. 70, he drove up the prices of some of the bids and won more than a dozen other parcels for $1.8 million. The government is asking Judge Benson to send DeChristopher to prison for four and a half years.

His prosecution is evidence that our moral order has been turned upside down. The bankers and swindlers who trashed the global economy and wiped out some $40 trillion in wealth amass obscene amounts of money, much of it provided by taxpayers. They do not go to jail. Regulatory agencies, compliant to the demands of corporations, refuse to impede the destruction unleashed by the coal, oil and natural gas companies as they turn the planet into a hothouse of pollutants, poisoned water, fouled air and contaminated soil in the frenzied quest for greater and greater profits. Those who manage and make fortunes from pre-emptive wars, embrace torture, carry out extrajudicial assassinations, deny habeas corpus and run up the largest deficits in human history are feted as patriots. But when a courageous citizen such as DeChristopher peacefully derails the corporate and governmental destruction of the ecosystem, he is sent to jail.

Tim was on a panel at NN11. I believe the panel was video archived. If I can find it, I’ll post it later

E. J. Dionee, Jr.: Rigging the 2012 Election

Washington – An attack on the right to vote is under way across the country through laws designed to make it more difficult to cast a ballot. If this were happening in an emerging democracy, we’d condemn it as election-rigging. But it’s happening here, so there’s barely a whimper.

The laws are being passed in the name of preventing “voter fraud.” But study after study has shown that fraud by voters is not a major problem — and is less of a problem than how hard many states make it for people to vote in the first place. Some of the new laws, such as limiting the number of days for early voting, have little plausible connection to battling fraud.

Roger Cohen: The Great Greek Illusion

LONDON – Greece has long held emotional sway over Europe. All the cradle-of-Western-civilization talk earned it leniency, even indulgence. The European Union was not ready to go mano-a-mano with the birthplace of democracy.

Past glory is a wonderful thing – and a lousy guide for present policy. That’s true in the Holy Land, in Kosovo and in Athens. Greece should not have been allowed into the euro. It failed to join in 1999 because it did not meet fiscal criteria. When it did meet them in 2001, the fix came through phony budget numbers.

But Europe’s bold monetary union required an Athenian imprimatur to be fully European. So everyone turned a blind eye.

Robert Kuttner: f Only Greece Were AIG

The struggling country hasn’t been bailed out because it’s not a bank-it’s just a country with suffering people.

Here comes Financial Crisis 2.0. Like its predecessor, it was caused by the banks.

The first crisis was the result of banks inventing toxic financial products and then promoting bets on different kinds of securities with borrowed money. When the speculative bubble popped, tens of trillions of dollars in financial and housing assets vanished. At that point, governments and central banks stepped in and rescued the banks. The only thing that suffered was the rest of the economy.

On all policy fronts, banks called the shots. The supposed cure for the large public deficits caused by the financial crisis and resulting recession was belt tightening-for everyone but the banks. Yet voters were oddly passive because the issues seemed technical, elected leaders sided with bankers, and citizens were not quite sure whom to blame.

Jim Hightower: Big Coal Buys Access to 4th Graders

If some predator were stalking fourth graders in your community, there’d be a mighty uproar to make the predator get away and stay away from your schools.

But what if the stalker were the coal industry, dressed in an academic outfit in a gambit to brainwash fourth-graders? Unbeknownst to most Americans, grade school kids are being targeted by the American Coal Foundation with a propaganda package stealthily titled, “The United States of Energy.”

It’s not mentioned in the materials, but Big Coal paid big bucks to Scholastic Inc. to develop this shamelessly distorted promotion of the dirtiest fuel on Earth. The package fills little minds with the joys of having coal-fueled utilities generating electricity 24 hours a day. Not a peep is made about the toxic waste, air and water pollution, mine explosions, black lung deaths, destructive mountaintop removal mining, greenhouse gas emissions, political corruption, and other decidedly unfriendly aspects of what industry propagandists simply tout as “black gold.”

Karen J. Greenberg: Business as Usual on Steroids

In the seven weeks since the killing of Osama bin Laden, pundits and experts of many stripes have concluded that his death represents a marker of genuine significance in the story of America’s encounter with terrorism.  Peter Bergen, a bin Laden expert, was typically blunt the day after the death when he wrote, “Killing bin Laden is the end of the war on terror. We can just sort of announce that right now.”

Yet you wouldn’t know it in Washington where, if anything, the Obama administration and Congress have interpreted the killing of al-Qaeda’s leader as a virtual license to double down on every “front” in the war on terror.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was no less blunt than Bergen, but with quite a different endpoint in mind.  “Even as we mark this milestone,” she said on the day Bergen’s comments were published, “we should not forget that the battle to stop al-Qaeda and its syndicate of terror will not end with the death of bin Laden.  Indeed, we must take this opportunity to renew our resolve and redouble our efforts.”

James Kwak: “The Elderly” for Beginners

As the AARP says that it is open to modest cuts in Social Security benefits, it’s worthwhile asking a more fundamental question: are Social Security and Medicare programs that benefit the elderly?

The answer may seem obvious. After all, the bulk of Social Security Old Age and Survivors Insurance benefits go to people over 62, and almost all Medicare beneficiaries are over 65. So it’s often observed in passing that our long-range budget issues are the product of transfers to the elderly. For example, in “Restoring Fiscal Sanity 2005”, Alice Rivlin and Isabel Sawhill write, “These big programs, which benefit primarily the elderly, will drive increases in federal spending in the longer run” (p 36). Other commentators have occasionally argued that the problem is that the elderly have become too powerful and therefore claim too large a share of government spending, especially compared to the very young.* When you add to that the frequent complaint that, by running budget deficits, we are imposing burdens on our grandchildren, this age-based inequity seems even greater.

On This Day In History June 20

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.

June 20 is the 171st day of the year (172nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 194 days remaining until the end of the year.

On leap years, this day usually marks the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere and the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere.

On this day in 1789, Third Estate makes Tennis Court Oath.

In Versailles, France, the deputies of the Third Estate, which represent commoners and the lower clergy, meet on the Jeu de Paume, an indoor tennis court, in defiance of King Louis XVI’s order to disperse. In these modest surroundings, they took a historic oath not to disband until a new French constitution had been adopted.

Louis XVI, who ascended the French throne in 1774, proved unsuited to deal with the severe financial problems he had inherited from his grandfather, King Louis XV. In 1789, in a desperate attempt to address France’s economic crisis, Louis XVI assembled the Estates-General, a national assembly that represented the three “estates” of the French people–the nobles, the clergy, and the commons. The Estates-General had not been assembled since 1614, and its deputies drew up long lists of grievances and called for sweeping political and social reforms.

The Tennis Court Oath (French: serment du jeu de paume) was a pivotal event during the first days of the French Revolution. The Oath was a pledge signed by 576 of the 577 members from the Third Estate who were locked out of a meeting of the Estates-General on 20 June 1789 so they made a makeshift conference room inside a tennis court.

In 17 June 1789 this group, led by Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, began to call themselves the National Assembly. On the morning of 20 June, the deputies were shocked to discover that the chamber door was locked and guarded by soldiers. Immediately fearing the worst and anxious that a royal attack by King Louis XVI was imminent, the deputies congregated in a nearby indoor real tennis court where they took a solemn collective oath “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established” It later transpired that the most probable reason why the hall was closed was that the royal household was still in mourning the death of the Dauphin (the king’s oldest son) two weeks earlier; ordinarily, political matters could not be conducted until the King had emerged from mourning. The oath is therefore a contentious point in French political history, since pro-monarchists then and now characterize it as a duplicitous and hysterical over-reaction which deliberately made capital out of a private tragedy in the royal family. Other historians have argued that given political tensions in France at that time, the deputies’ fears, even if wrong, were reasonable and that the importance of the oath goes above and beyond its context.

The deputies pledged to continue to meet until a constitution had been written, despite the royal prohibition. The oath was both a revolutionary act, and an assertion that political authority derived from the people and their representatives rather than from the monarch himself. Their solidarity forced Louis XVI to order the clergy and the nobility to join with the Third Estate in the National Assembly.

The only deputy recorded as not taking the oath was Joseph Martin-Dauch from Castelnaudary. He can be seen on the right of David’s sketch, seated with his arms crossed and his head bowed.

Six In The Morning

Al-Qaida turns to kidnappings as donations drop

‘That kind of money could go a long way to sustaining a terrorist organization,’ says expert


Pressured by increased scrutiny of terrorist money sources and strikes aimed at its financiers, al-Qaida’s core organization in Pakistan has turned to kidnapping for ransom to offset dwindling cash reserves, according to U.S. officials, some of whom cited information in files retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound.

Bin Laden’s interest in kidnapping as a cash-raiser bolsters accounts that the financial squeeze has staggered al-Qaida, forcing it to search for alternative funding sources. Officials would not detail al-Qaida’s role in specific crimes, but the group’s affiliates have targeted diplomats, tourists and merchants.

Monday’s Headlines:

Bangladesh feels economic backlash from Middle East crisis

Bahraini leadership faces new claims that torture took place in hospital

Euro Group Postpones Decision on Greek Aid

Mugabe vows to defy rules on ‘blood diamonds’

2G scam: SC rejects Kanimozhi’s bail plea

Pique the Geek 20110619: Recovering from Trouble

A comment thread on Friday evening’s Popular Culture installment got me to thinking about this, and I decided that it would be a good topic here, and some Geeky stuff that can be used by a wide range of the public.  Thus, I write this as a public service.

There are several situations that people can find themselves in due to circumstances beyond their control.  Many of them involve interruptions of utility service, but some other eventualities can also require fast attention to mitigate further damage or even personal injury.  We shall discuss a few of those this evening.

Probably the most common situation that occurs is electrical service interruption.  This can be more serious than one might think.

Sunday Train: Chairman Mica aims to block equipment Amtrak needs to expand

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The headline spin on House Chairman of the Transport Committee is that he is proposing to privatize the NEC to allow HSR to be built in this decade.

However, if you follow the money trail, while he proposes a process to do that, there is no funding proposed to do that. And without a funding stream for the federal share of anywhere from $40b to $100b to bring the NEC up to a state of good repair and then to make the improvements required, under current FRA regulations, to meet Mica’s modest speed targets … that part of it is not a real proposal yet.

The real proposal is to have talking points to use to object to any funding that gets out of the Senate to allow Amtrak to buy more equipment so it can expand the capacity and frequency to meet the steady increase in demand for its services.