07/29/2011 archive

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 US economic growth stagnated in first half

By Veronica Smith, AFP

5 hrs ago

The US economy stagnated in the first half of 2011, raising alarms about a return to recession as political gridlock over deficits steers the country toward a debt default, official data showed Friday.

A flood of terrible numbers on gross domestic product (GDP) growth from the Commerce Department initially sent US stocks into a tailspin. The Dow index plunged more than 100 points in early trade but later pared losses.

Second-quarter GDP grew only 1.3 percent, down a hefty 0.4 points from market expectations, as consumer spending, which accounts for the majority of US output, stalled amid high unemployment and inflation-eroded incomes.

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: The Centrist Cop-Out

The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats – who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether – have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.

Joe Conason: Why China is Laughing All the Way to the Bank

The global impact of the American debt crisis-and the likelihood of permanent damage to American interests-are already visible to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., from his perch as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Indeed, he is not only seeing but hearing those effects.

“The Chinese are laughing all the way to the bank,” said the former Democratic presidential nominee, because a downgrading of U.S. Treasury securities will mean enormous and completely unnecessary increases in our interest payments to the nation’s largest creditor-and our most important competitor in the international arena.

“If we suffer a downgrade of our (U.S. Treasury) debt simply because of the brief time before we have to go through this exercise again,” said Kerry, referring to the House Republican insistence on a debt-limit increase that will expire before next Christmas, “it would mean billions of additional dollars that would have to be paid to the Chinese.”

Moshe Adler: Without a Debt Deal, Obama Can Make the Rich Pay

What we should be talking about when we talk about the debt ceiling is the proper role and size of government. Instead, we are asking whether the government spends too much on programs that alleviate the pain that is the result of government policies in the first place. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and food stamps are all good programs, but all are meant to deal with the consequences of the income inequality that the government makes possible by the laws it passes. Income security programs make up 65 percent of all government expenses, and from this we are asked to conclude that the government is mainly in the business of serving and taking care of common people. But the most profound actions that the government takes, passing laws that make the rich rich, ostensibly cost no money and, because we play along, enforcing them supposedly has no cost.

Any agreement by Congress to cut the income security programs while leaving the main beneficiaries from our government-the rich-untouched, would be unconscionable. If Congress does not reach an agreement, and the deficit remains unfunded, this will give the president an unprecedented opportunity to expose who the government really serves, because it will be up to him alone; no agreement from Congress would be necessary to decide where to cut. Let him first withhold money from the enforcement and the support of laws that enrich the rich. This would lead to higher wages for workers and lower prices for consumers, and it would therefore be a good quid pro quo for the cuts he wants to make in income security programs.  

Timothy Egan: A Madman and His Manifesto

It passed with only scant notice, as with so many of the rude extremes of American life in a kinetic media age. The bodies of those Norwegian children slaughtered by a terrorist had yet to be fully recovered, let alone buried, when Glenn Beck compared the victims to Nazis.

The summer camp where children of the Norwegian Labor Party went for soccer, swimming, political debates and lectures “sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler Youth,” Beck said in his national radio broadcast.

No, Beck wasn’t justifying the killing of 68 people on Utoya Island. He was merely muddying the humanity of those young people executed by Anders Behring Breivik, the self-professed “Christian Knight” who has confessed to the attacks. But Beck’s Web site, The Blaze, was full of justifications for the mass murder of innocents, and provided a sampling of the troubled audience he caters to in this country.

Eugene Robinson: Why progressives need a Big Idea

Those who would chronicle events in Washington can find no richer source of analogy and metaphor than the Three Stooges. These days, I’m thinking of the times when an exasperated Moe, having suffered the indignity of an accidental spritzing or clobbering, turns to Larry or Curly and demands, “What’s the big idea?”

The premise of the debt-ceiling fight is too far-fetched for a Stooges film, since no audience could imagine leaders of a great nation stumbling into such a mess. Moe’s trademark line is still relevant, however, even if it’s not followed by the two-fingered poke in the eyes that our elected officials richly deserve.

It is clear that unless President Obama ends up taking unilateral action to break a hopeless deadlock, Republicans will win. The House, the Senate and the White House are all working within GOP-defined parameters: New tax revenue is off the table, painful budget cuts are a given, everyone seems to accept the principle that a debt-ceiling increase – which allows the Treasury to pay bills Congress has already incurred – must be tied to reductions in future spending.

Terrence Heath: Why the GOP Aims to Sink the Economy

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” ~ Mark Twain ~

If our economy was the RMS Titanic, Republicans would be like an ambitious first mate, so eager to seize power from the captain that he steers the ship of state into an iceberg, thinking he’ll take over when the captain goes down with the ship. Republicans have forgotten – or no longer care – they’re on the boat too, and they’re working very hard to ensure that the country will be nearly ungovernable should they succeed in seizing the reins of government.

If it seems like the White House is arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, the GOP is busy measuring the the captain’s quarters for drapes, even as the ocean pours in. And the tea party orchestra plays on, with just one song on the playlist – “Under the Sea.”

You can take your pick for the moment the GOP noticably went off the rails. I have two favorites: when it fell to Peggy Noonan to be the Republicans’ voice of reason following Sarah Palin’s VP nomination, and when David Brooks warned the GOP that it “may no longer be a normal party”. Together, they’re the political equivalent of Courtney Love showing up at your intervention and Charlie Sheen offering you a ride to rehab. But this Republican party isn’t likely to heed such sane voices as Noonan and Brooks, and would just as soon throw them overboard.

Stephen Rohde: Getting Away With Torture: the Ill Treatment of Detainees

Should the U.S. government officials most responsible for setting interrogation and detention policies following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks be investigated, and if warranted prosecuted, under United States and international law?


HRW found that “there is enough strong evidence from the information made public over the past five years to not only suggest these officials authorized and oversaw widespread and serious violations of US and international law, but that they failed to act to stop mistreatment, or punish those responsible after they became aware of serious abuses.”

Moreover, although Bush administration officials have claimed that detention and interrogation operations were only authorized after extensive discussion and legal review by Department of Justice attorneys, HRW concludes that “substantial evidence that civilian leaders requested that politically appointed government lawyers create legal justifications to support abusive interrogation techniques, in the face of opposition from career legal officers.”

This Week In The Dream Antilles

Your Bloguero this week had an epiphany.  Please.  Your Bloguero heard that all the way over here.  OK, you have a point.  It’s a small one, your Bloguero thinks, but he will concede it.  Maybe, as you say, his insight doesn’t really qualify for such a pompous, grandiloquent noun.  But maybe it does.  What was that?  Nothing? Your Bloguero still hears you snickering.   OK, maybe it’s just another passing, soon to be forgotten, exceedingly minor insight that your Bloguero is trying to palm off as something important.  You’ll be the judge of it, sure.  That’s fine.  Your Bloguero doesn’t mind your having a joke (or a series of them) at your Bloguero’s expense.   He can take a joke.

As your Bloguero was saying before he stepped on the cuff of his own pants because he was distracted by your unsolicited remarks, and stumbled awkwardly toward the gutter, your Bloguero had an insight.  About clouds.  Yes, the clouds you may see overhead, depending on where you are and when you look skyward.  Yes, those clouds.  And particularly the clouds in Patagonia.  Stop that.  Really.  The epiphany was about clouds.  Just give your Bloguero a chance, will you?  OK?  He will explain.

Maybe a quotation from Cesar Aira will help to convey this epiphany in all of its grandeur:

The actual winds, the air masses displaced between difference in pressure, always go toward the same place in the end, and they come together in the Argentinian skies; big winds and little winds, the cosmopolitan oceanic winds as much as the diminutive backward breezes: a funnel of stars gathers them all together, adorned with their velocities and orientations like ribbons in their hair, and brings them to rest in the privileged region of the atmosphere called Patagonia.  That’s why the clouds there are ephemera par excellence, as Leibniz said of objects (“objects are momentary minds”: a chair is exactly like a man who lives for a single instant).  The Patagonian clouds welcome and accommodate all transformations within a single instant, every transformation without exception.  That’s why the instant, which in any other place is as dry and fixed as a click, is fluid and mysterious in Patagonia, fantastic.  Darwin called it: Evolution.  Hudson: Attention.

No, it didn’t help?  Well, it’s not all that easy to convey epiphanies.

Look, it’s about the clouds.  So your Bloguero this week has been looking up.  At the sky.  At the clouds.  A lot.  Why?  This activity, as far as your Bloguero is concerned, is far, far more productive and far less disturbing than watching Congresspeople, all of whom obviously failed Economics 101, argue with each other about, of all things, Economics 101.  They failed it years ago.  They have forgotten whatever parts of it they actually knew back then.  This is really upsetting.  Especially when the primary argument appears to be that killing the economy dead as utterly flattened, unrecognizable road kill, so that nobody at all will be working and interest rates will be even more exorbitant and bank profits will be even more shameful, will prove something.  What will it prove, you ask?  It will prove that petulance is the new politics.  And that stupidity rules in Washington.  And that putting morons in Congress is the equivalent of unleashing weapons of mass destruction on the US.  It’s that simple.  You want to know where the WMD’s are?  Look to your Congress.

But I digress.  The clouds.  Back to gazing at the clouds.  Because of the abysmal quality of the current national debate about the debt ceiling, your Bloguero this week focused on the clouds.  Your Bloguero loves to look at the clouds.  He did that before, as well.  Last time, the topic was Credit Default Swaps and the alleged necessity for bailing out porcine felines who were too corpulent to push themselves away from the public trough filled with your wealth.  And nobody could move them either.  They had to be fed more and more and more until they nearly exploded. Cue Monty Python.  Now the same topic has morphed into whether grandmothers will end up homeless, eating cat food and being told that they should perform open heart and cataract surgery on themselves.  And find home remedies in the woods instead of getting their prescriptions paid for.  In other words,  different day, same topic, same redistribution of wealth from grandma to exploding porcine felines.  So your Bloguero, who has seen quite enough of this, thank you, looks instead to the clouds.

Cloud Hunter explores your Bloguero’s proposal for funding so that he may travel the world and photograph the clouds with his cell phone.  This occupation draws your Bloguero’s attention and passion.  The crazier the public discourse, the more your Bloguero seeks to emigrate to another place, another way of life.  Is there intelligent life somewhere on this planet?

No doubt the cloud proposal was driven by Counting Down To Default And The End Of The World, a countdown clock, and Today’s Exercise In Participatory Democracy,  a recounting of your Bloguero’s communications with his Republican Congressperson semi-T Bagger Chris Gibson, and Buddy Can You Spare A Dime, your Bloguero’s only serious look at the deficit ceiling debate before turning his attention skyward. .

In all important Futbol news (Futbol is far more important to your Bloguero than partisan politics or voodoo economics, a sign of your Bloguero’s sanity and resilience) your Bloguero noted that US Men’s National Team CoachBob Bradley was finally fired, a sacking for which the US defense and midfield and aging prima ballerina Landon Donovan should take full and ignominious credit,  and an incredible goal scored by Uruguay’s Diego Forlan in the final of the Copa America, which Uruguay won.  Note: Uruguay is a power for World Cup 2012.  They will go to the finals, your Bloguero prognosticates.  

She’s Alive , a remarkable video, notes the martyrdom of environmental advocates.

Newark: Too Darn Hot recollects your Bloguero’s fabled boyhood in the boiling hot Newark of the 1950s and gives you the voice of Ella Fitzgerald who was utterly fantastic.  The piece was inspired by the Eastern US heatwave.

And finally, from the local jail, is this crazy, Benny Hill pursuit of a prisoner by guards, which the authorities don’t think is funny.  But your Bloguero does.

This Week In The Dream Antilles is a weekly digest. Sometimes, like now, it is actually a digest of essays posted in the past week. Your Bloguero always solicits your support. No, not your money. Just leave a comment so that your Bloguero will know that you stopped by. Or, even easier, just click the “Encouragement jar”. Humor him. Your Bloguero likes to know that you’re visiting.

On This Day In History July 29

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

July 29 is the 210th day of the year (211th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 155 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1858, the Harris Treaty was signed between the United States and Japan was signed at the Ryosen-ji in Shimoda.  Also known as the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, it opened the ports of  Edo and four other Japanese cities to American trade and granted extraterritoriality to foreigners, among other stipulations.

The treaty followed the 1854 Convention of Kanagawa, which granted coaling rights for U.S. ships and allowed for a U.S. Consul in Shimoda. Although Commodore Matthew Perry secured fuel for U.S. ships and protection, he left the important matter of trading rights to Townsend Harris, another U.S. envoy who negotiated with the Tokugawa Shogunate; the treaty is therefore often referred to as the Harris Treaty. It took two years to break down Japanese resistance, but with the threat of looming British demands for similar privileges, the Tokugawa government eventually capitulated.

Treaties of Amity and Commerce between Japan and Holland, England, France, Russia and the United States, 1858.

The most important points were:

   * exchange of diplomatic agents

   * Edo, Kobe, Nagasaki, Niigata, and Yokohama‘s opening to foreign trade as ports

   * ability of United States citizens to live and trade in those ports

   * a system of phttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraterritoriality extraterritoriality] that provided for the subjugation of foreign residents to the laws of their own consular courts instead of the Japanese law system

   * fixed low import-export duties, subject to international control

The agreement served as a model for similar treaties signed by Japan with other foreign countries in the ensuing weeks. These Unequal Treaties curtailed Japanese sovereignty for the first time in its history; more importantly, it revealed Japan’s growing weakness, and was seen by the West as a pretext for possible colonisation of Japan. The recovery of national status and strength became an overarching priority for the Japanese, with the treaty’s domestic consequences being the end of Bakufu (Shogun) control and the establishment of a new imperial government.

Buyer’s Remorse

I don’t even know what the hell the teabaggers want. Oppose whatever Obama might not veto, and blow up the world seems to be the agenda. ~ Atrios

Regrets, they have a few. After spending billions of dollars to buy the House, the US Chamber of Commerce has discovered that those Tea Party Republicans have a different idea about the economic needs of the country. The Chamber has been unsuccessful in convincing the freshmen, as well as, some of the more seasoned representatives that it is imperative to raise the debt ceiling to protect “the faith and credit of the US. The Tea Party caucus is winning

The chamber and other business groups have pressed with increasing urgency for Congress to raise the maximum amount that the government can borrow. They have cataloged the consequences of default at meetings, parties and dinners and over drinks.

On Tuesday, the chamber threw its weight behind the proposal of the House speaker, John A. Boehner, telling recalcitrant Republicans that a pending vote on the plan was a with-us-or-against-us moment that would be remembered during the next election campaign.

But as the government runs out of money, those efforts have not produced the desired result. The freshman class of House Republicans, along with longer-serving members, is balking at Mr. Boehner’s plan, let alone anything that Senate Democrats and the White House might be willing to accept.

David Case at Global Post‘s Macro says that business is fed-up with irrational right-wingers:

With the specter of a economic catastrophe looming unless Washington agrees to increase the government’s debt ceiling, Wall Street is already feeling the pinch. As lawmakers bicker, U.S. stocks have fallen for four straight days. The Dow has shed 3.3 percent, leaving it “on pace for its worst week since August 2010,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, investors this week gave the cold shoulder to a recent federal debt auction, foreshadowing downward pressure on the economy, higher borrowing costs and, in all likelihood, higher taxes on Americans (via even greater interest payments on our 14.3 trillion in debt) if lawmakers don’t get the deal right.

Who is to blame for this? “Tea Party hardliners,” according to an insightful analysis by Financial Times journalist Stephanie Kirchgaessner.

(emphasis mine)

At this point because of the doubt that this purely manufactured crisis, the average American tax payer will pay more thanks to the tea party idiots who are opposed to raising taxes. To say that this is pure idiocy on their part is an understatement. In the end they will play the victims and blame President Obama who wanted to give them even more that what they are now asking.

That is going to be not just a headache for the billionaires of the Chamber of Commerce but a migraine for most of the rest of the country. The Chamber of Commerce has a big problem that they created, like this whole manufactured crisis over merely paying the bill for what the US has already spent.

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