09/14/2011 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”.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Eric Schneiderman: A Gutsy Fighter for Mortgage Relief

This Thursday will mark three years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a defining moment of the financial crisis. Today, it’s clear that very few lessons have been learned from it by our political leaders or those on Wall Street; if any, the wrong lessons have been learned. But one conclusion, seared into the minds of ordinary Americans, is as clear as it is wrenching: The banks play by one set of rules and are held to one standard, while the rest of us are held to another.

In exchange for taking the global economy to the brink, the banks have received $700 billion of relief from TARP funds and $1.2 trillion in secret loans from the Federal Reserve, at no interest. It’s no wonder record profits-and record bonuses-returned so quickly. American homeowners, on the other hand, have been devastated. The crisis wiped out $16 trillion in household value, little more than half of which has been recouped. More than 25 percent of homeowners are underwater on their mortgages. The suffering has not subsided-and it won’t for many, many years.

It was compounded by the fact that the very banks causing it made it worse. After signing off on shoddy loans, putting Americans in homes they couldn’t afford, on terms they could barely understand, the banks began foreclosing on homeowners en masse, using what’s known as robo-signing. That procedure allows banks to process foreclosures faster by encouraging employees to use fake signatures to approve documents they don’t read.

Robert Reich: How to Create More Jobs By Lowering Wages: Texas and America

Perry and Romney can duke it out over who created the most jobs, but governors have as much influence over job growth in their states as roosters do over sunrises.

States don’t have their own monetary policies so they can’t lower interest rates to spur job growth. They can’t spur demand through fiscal policies because state budgets are small, and 49 out of 50 are barred by their constitutions from running deficits.

States can cut corporate taxes and regulations, and dole out corporate welfare, in efforts to improve the states’ “business climate.” But studies show these strategies have little or no effect on where companies locate. Location decisions are driven by much larger factors – where customers are, transportation links, and energy costs.

George Zornick: CBO to Super-Committee: Increase the Deficit!

The head of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office testified before the super-committee on deficit reduction on Tuesday, and while he outlined the basic math behind the nation’s long-term debt problem, he had a surprising message: don’t be afraid to make the deficit bigger over the next couple years, while the nation battles recession.

Douglas Elmendorf, the CBO director, said that given the massive Bush tax cuts, which severely throttled the federal government’s revenue stream, and given the large number of baby-boomers who will be on Medicare-combined with skyrocketing health costs-something has to give.

Dean Baker: Does President Obama Want to Impose a Crushing Burden on Our Children?

Sorry deficit fanatics, this one has nothing to do with the cost of the stimulus or the deficits run-up during the Obama years. We’re talking real money here. We’re talking about plans to raise the age of Medicare eligibility to 67.

To deficit hawks everywhere this is a great way to save the government money. Life-expectancy at age 65 is roughly 20 years. Therefore raising the age of eligibility for Medicare by two years would shave roughly 10 percent off the program’s budget. (The actual saving would be somewhat less since it is cheaper to treat people when they are 65 and 66 than in their 80s or 90s.) For a program that is projected to cost more than $1 trillion a year (at 5 percent of GDP) in a decade, and even more in following decades, this would amount to real savings.

But the cost of this savings is a much higher health care bill for beneficiaries. As it is now, millions of people in their 60s struggle to hang onto jobs that provide health care insurance or do without, hoping that they can make it until 65 without a major medical problem. This proposal pushes the magic age out two more years.

Mary Elizabeth King: Breaking the Silence on Race

Desmond King and Rogers Smith, writing in The New York Times of our current bipartisan silence on matters of racial equality, argue that the economic calamity of the United States is also a racial crisis. They say that it is not only justifiable, but also necessary, to evaluate policy choices partly on the basis of whether they are likely to reduce or increase racial inequalities.

King and Smith note the findings of the Pew Research Center that in 2009, the U.S. median household net worth was $5,677 for blacks, $6,325 for Hispanics and $113,149 for whites. In the same way, in July of this year the unemployment rate was 8.2 percent for whites, yet 16.8 percent for blacks. African Americans and those of Hispanic descent started far behind and they continue to trail. Democrats now rarely broach the subject of race, leaving “modern Republicans with little to criticize, lest they appear to be race-baiting, so they too keep quiet.” King and Smith contend that political leaders must openly recognize that neither ignoring race nor concentrating on it exclusively will bring progress.

Jamelle Bouie: [Say Hello to the Highest Poverty Rate in 17 Years Say Hello to the Highest Poverty Rate in 17 Years]

The Census Bureau has released its poverty numbers for 2010, and the picture isn’t pretty: 46.2 million people were living in poverty last year, according to the bureau’s latest report, the largest number for the fifty-two years that the data have been published. This marks the fourth consecutive year in which poverty rose, with an overall poverty rate of 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009, and the highest rate since 1993. Indeed, with real median household income at $49,445-a drop of 2.3 prcent from 2009-incomes are lower now than they were more than a decade ago.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, poor households are much more likely to experience hardship than their middle or upper-class counterparts. Among other things, they are more likely to experience hunger, live in overcrowded housing, miss a rent or mortgage payment and forgo medical care.

Wlliam Rivers Pit: The Cult of Death

Trying to figure out what this whole “Tea Party” phenomenon is all about is a lot like trying to peer into the bottom of a muddy pool. The “mainstream” news media has accepted them as a legitimate, powerful force in American politics, as evidenced by CNN’s so-called “Tea Party Debate” for the Republican presidential candidates on Monday night. A group that did not exist three years ago suddenly has enough clout to rate a television banner and a chunk of prime-time coverage.

But who are these people, really?


On This Day In History September 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.

September 14 is the 257th day of the year (258th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 108 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this Day in 1901, U.S. President William McKinley dies after being shot by a deranged anarchist during the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

President and Mrs. McKinley attended the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He delivered a speech about his positions on tariffs and foreign trade on September 5, 1901. The following morning, McKinley visited Niagara Falls before returning to the Exposition. That afternoon McKinley had an engagement to greet the public at the Temple of Music. Standing in line, Leon Frank Czolgosz waited with a pistol in his right hand concealed by a handkerchief. At 4:07 p.m. Czolgosz fired twice at the president. The first bullet grazed the president’s shoulder. The second, however, went through McKinley’s stomach, pancreas, and kidney, and finally lodged in the muscles of his back. The president whispered to his secretary, George Cortelyou  “My wife, Cortelyou, be careful how you tell her, oh be careful.” Czolgosz would have fired again, but he was struck by a bystander and then subdued by an enraged crowd. The wounded McKinley even called out “Boys! Don’t let them hurt him!” because the angry crowd beat Czolgosz so severely it looked as if they might kill him on the spot.

One bullet was easily found and extracted, but doctors were unable to locate the second bullet. It was feared that the search for the bullet might cause more harm than good. In addition, McKinley appeared to be recovering, so doctors decided to leave the bullet where it was.

The newly developed x-ray machine was displayed at the fair, but doctors were reluctant to use it on McKinley to search for the bullet because they did not know what side effects it might have on him. The operating room at the exposition’s emergency hospital did not have any electric lighting, even though the exteriors of many of the buildings at the extravagant exposition were covered with thousands of light bulbs. The surgeons were unable to operate by candlelight because of the danger created by the flammable ether used to keep the president unconscious, so doctors were forced to use pans instead to reflect sunlight onto the operating table while they treated McKinley’s wounds.

McKinley’s doctors believed he would recover, and the President convalesced for more than a week in Buffalo at the home of the exposition’s director. On the morning of September 12, he felt strong enough to receive his first food orally since the shooting-toast and a small cup of coffee. However, by afternoon he began to experience discomfort and his condition rapidly worsened. McKinley began to go into shock. At 2:15 a.m. on September 14, 1901, eight days after he was shot, he died from gangrene surrounding his wounds. He was 58. His last words were “It is God’s way; His will be done, not ours.” He was originally buried in West Lawn Cemetery in Canton, Ohio, in the receiving vault. His remains were later reinterred in the McKinley Memorial, also in Canton.

Czolgosz was tried and found guilty of murder, and was executed by electric chair at Auburn Prison on October 29, 1901.

Venomous, the Definition of the Tea Party 20110913

Most of you who read my pieces know that I rarely write about pure politics, but rather put politics in the perspective of music, science, or other contexts.  This piece is different.

The conduct of the candidates for the Republican nomination and especially the audience at the previous two “debates” has been much than reprehensible.  It not only borders on being vicious, the conduct crosses the line to much more.

As is my wont, I shall use an analogy from another topic to explain why I use the term venomous.  I think that it is quite apt.

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Poverty: It Will Get Worse

A lot worse. This should make you sick and most likely you will.

This report from the Center for Budget and Policies Priorities via digby:

Today’s Census report shows that in 2010 (pdf), the share of all Americans and the share of children living in poverty, the number and share of people living in “deep poverty,” and the number without health insurance all reached their highest level in many years – in some cases, in several decades – while median household income fell significantly after adjusting for inflation. The data also show that many of these grim figures and the level of hardship would have been much worse if not for key federal programs such as unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and Medicaid. Without unemployment insurance, for instance, 3.2 million more Americans would have fallen into poverty, Census said. All of that raises the stakes for the decisions that President Obama and Congress will make in coming months about whether to extend initiatives that were designed to address hardship during the recession, as well as whether to abide by a principle that the Bowles-Simpson commission report established that deficit-reduction plans should not increase poverty and thus should shield basic low-income assistance programs.

Specifically, today’s report shows that:

   In 2010, the share of Americans living in poverty reached 15.1 percent while the share of children in poverty hit 22 percent – both the highest levels in 17 years – while the number of people living in poverty hit 46.2 million, the highest level on record with data back to 1959.

   Both the number and percentage of people living in “deep poverty” – with incomes below half of the poverty line – hit record highs, with these data going back to 1975. Some 20.5 million Americans had cash incomes below half of the poverty line (below $11,157 for a family of four, and below $5,672 for a non-elderly person living alone) last year.

   Median household income fell 2.3 percent, or $1,154, in 2010, after adjusting for inflation, and those at the bottom of the income scale have lost far more ground than those at the top. Since median income hit its peak in 1999, income (adjusted for inflation) has fallen 12.1 percent for those at the 10th income percentile but only 1.5 percent for those at the 90th percentile. The income gap between those at the 10th and 90th percentile was the highest on record. These data go back to 1967.

   The number of Americans without health insurance climbed by 900,000 to 49.9 million, another record, with data back to 1999. The percentage of Americans without insurance remained statistically unchanged at 16.3 percent. Nearly one of every six Americans was uninsured.

(emphasis mine)

Americans turned to public health insurance in 2010

(Reuters) – More Americans became reliant on public health insurance and lost coverage sponsored by their employers in 2010, the U.S. government said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report on income, poverty and health insurance coverage showed that more people turned to state and federal programs as employer-based plans became more expensive and as unemployment levels stayed stubbornly high.

About 1.5 million fewer Americans got their health insurance plans covered by their employers in 2010, while 1.8 million more joined government insurance plans.


Healthcare programs, which account for a large percentage of the federal budget, are also expected to get a close scrutiny from a bipartisan congressional “super committee” that aims to slash at least $1.2 trillion from the U.S. deficit over 10 years.


The number of people covered by Medicaid, the government program for the poor, increased 1.5 percent to 48.6 million, and Medicare, the government program for the elderly, 2.1 percent to 44.3 million.

Employers remained the biggest source of insurance coverage, with 169.3 million Americans covered by employer-based plans in 2010. That number, however, has been on a steep decline since 2000, when it reached 181.9 million, as such plans get more and more expensive.

The ACA does not fully kick in until 2014. From Jon Walker at FDL

Elections are often referendums on the general state of the economy. The electorate tends to decide whether or not to remove the incumbent party from power based on how well the economy is doing. Americans voters, for the most part, decide whether or not to keep a president based on the answer to a simple question like, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

Since January of 2009, when President Obama took office, the American people as a whole are noticeably worse off financially. This is a serious problem for the Obama campaign, and why they desperately need strong economic growth between now and the election.

So much for electoral victory.

Countdown with Keith Olbermann: Worst Persons 9.12.2011

Countdown with Keith Olbermann 09-12-2011 – Worst Persons

9/11: “They Knew, They Knew”

Ali Soufran, former special agent working with the FBI, was tracking Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden long before 9/11. He was in Yemen investigating the USS Cole bombing when he heard about the attacks on that day. His book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, has released which describes how missed opportunities to defuse the 2001 plot, and argues that other attacks overseas might have been prevented, and Osama bin Laden found earlier, if interrogations had not been mismanaged. It is an frighteningly, revealing picture of the dysfunctional and factional intelligence community.

Mr. Soufran spoke with Rachel Maddow discussing the CIA’s redactions to his book, his role with the FBI before and after 9/11 and, most importantly, what was known in the CIA before 9/11 that could have prevented the attacks:

From Jeff Kaye at FDL:

In at least one other case, crucial information was kept from Soufan and other investigators by CIA officials, information that would have helped break the Cole case, and, crucially, have led FBI investigators to identify Al Qaeda operatives who had entered the United States more than eighteen months before 9/11. These two operatives, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, died on the plane that rammed into the Pentagon.

The controversies surrounding the CIA’s withholding of information about these two hijackers was told in Lawrence Wright’s 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, and was further explored in Kevin Fenton’s recent book, Disconnecting the Dots: How 9/11 Was Allowed to Happen.

Here’s how Shane described the moment when Soufan realized he’d been had. For some strange reason, the NYT refrains from actually giving al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi’s names.

   [Soufan] recounts a scene at the American Embassy in Yemen, where, a few hours after the attacks on New York and Washington, a C.I.A. official finally turned over the material the bureau requested months earlier [from the CIA], including photographs of two of the hijackers.

   “For about a minute I stared at the pictures and the report, not quite believing what I had in my hands,” Mr. Soufan writes. Then he ran to a bathroom and vomited. “My whole body was shaking,” he writes. He believed the material, documenting a Qaeda meeting in Malaysia in January 2000, combined with information from the Cole investigation, might have helped unravel the airliner plot.

Yes, they let it happen. That leaves the elephant question in the room: Why?

The Abbreviated Evening Edition

Our chief news editor, ek hornbeck, is off this evening but will return tomorrow.

International alarm over euro zone crisis grows

by Noah Barkin and Stefano Bernabei

(Reuters) – International alarm over Europe’s debt crisis reached new heights on Tuesday, with U.S. President Barack Obama pressing the bloc’s big countries to show leadership as talk of a Greek default escalated and markets heaped pressure on Italy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to quash talk of an imminent Greek default or exit from the euro zone, but confusion over whether she would issue a joint statement on Greece with French President Sarkozy sent markets gyrating up and then down.