Daily Archive: 01/20/2012

Jan 20 2012

This Week In The Dream Antilles

   

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Joe was enthusiastic. He bought a .32 and a box of bullets at a pawn shop and was headed across the fields to shoot some beer bottles.  Target practice.  “Man,” he smiled at me, “Man, you need one of these, too. For protection. You can never tell what will happen around here. You have no idea how crazy these people are.” He got there before me. He, too, was from New Jersey. Maybe he knew what he was talking about. But we weren’t supposed to have guns. We were supposed to be non-violent. But maybe I did need protection. There were a lot of people around who were not thrilled at our arrival. There were rumors. And, of course, threats.

The police headquarters was on the dusty, main street of the town. On the white side of the tracks, down the block from the gin, across the street from the drug store. I walked in in the middle of the afternoon.  The old police car was parked out front. The street was quiet, it was hot, and there was a single officer inside. He woke himself up, pulled himself out of the wooden armchair he was leaning against the bars. I put the brown paper bag (he would have called it a “sack”) on the counter, and quietly informed him, “There’s a gun in there. It’s mine. I want you to look at it and write down the serial number, and I want you to take my name and address, so that if I have to shoot somebody, you’ll know it was me who did it.”

He didn’t seem at all startled by the request. He already knew who I was. And why I was there. He knew all about the rumors. And the threats.

In the bag was a heavy, black, snub nosed .38. A police special.  It wasn’t at all for shooting targets. Neither beer bottles, nor small animals. If you wanted to hit something, or more likely someone you’d have to be standing right next to it or him. But this gun had one enormous virtue. When you fired it in the dark, it was very loud. Like a cannon. And it made a bright yellow flash. In other words, it was perfect for me. One squeeze of the trigger would scare anybody to death. Including me. You’d think of just going home. Or back to wherever you were before. You wouldn’t think about much more than that. You’d want to leave.

After my visit downtown I put the loaded gun under my pillow. And life went on more or less as before. Community organizing. Playing with the dog. Going to meetings. Visits to the store to buy single cigarettes. Trips down the highway to buy cheap, hot beer.  Answering questions from distant supervisors about what was going on. The constant talking of organizing. Eating barbecue. Putting coins in the jukebox.  Talking some more. Visiting the neighbors. Talking some more. After a while, it wasn’t a big deal any more that there was a bump under the pillow. I took it for granted. I continued to watch my back. And my step. But the ugly rumors continued that they would get me.

One Fall Saturday night it was cold and raining. I was alone at home watching television. Home at the time was a run down, rotting shack in the edge of a small cotton field near the railroad tracks. The dog was sleeping on the floor. A leak in the roof near the entrance was dripping into a coffee can.  I heard two or three cars pull up, heard their doors slam, and heard the occupants yelling and bumping into things. They were calling me all kinds of unkind names, telling me how they were going to beat my posterior, telling me immediately to bring my buttocks out of the house. When I looked out the window, it looked like they might be carrying shotguns or rifles. I couldn’t recognize any of them. I turned the lights off. I went to the bed and reached under the pillow. They continued to yell epithets and threaten and describe the things they were planning on doing to me. They said they were going to inflict various kinds of physical injury on me, burn my house down to the ground, and kill the dog who they thought only barked at white people. It was true about who the dog barked at, so he started to growl and bark at them. I quietly opened the window at the side of the house, pointed the gun toward the sky, and fired a single shot. Boom. The boom echoed around the town. As I was afraid it would, it scared me nearly to death.

“Oh hell,” one of them shouted. “I told you he’d shoot. Let’s get the hell out of here.” They jumped back in their cars and drove off into the rain.

My heart was pounding. I was shaking. I picked up the phone to call Joe.  “Listen,” I told him. “Something just happened. You know that gun I got?”

“Did you just shoot somebody?”

“Nobody got hurt. But I’m shaking. I need you to come and get me and let me stay at your house tonight. Just for tonight. I don’t want to be here if they come back tonight. It’s too scary.”

He came and got me. To my unending gratitude, they didn’t come back.

Instead, one afternoon about two weeks later one of them drove off the road in his pick up truck. He intentionally ran over my dog and killed him.

This Week In The Dream Antilles is usually a weekly digest. Usually, it appears on Friday. Sometimes, like now and for several of the past weeks, it isn’t actually a digest of essays posted at The Dream Antilles. For the essays you have to visit The Dream Antilles

Jan 20 2012

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: Taxes at the Top

Call me peculiar, but I’m actually enjoying the spectacle of Mitt Romney doing the Dance of the Seven Veils – partly out of voyeurism, of course, but also because it’s about time that we had this discussion.

The theme of his dance, for those who haven’t been paying attention, is taxes – his own taxes. Although disclosure of tax returns is standard practice for political candidates, Mr. Romney has never done so, and, at first, he tried to stonewall the issue even in a presidential race. Then he said that he probably pays only about 15 percent of his income in taxes, and he hinted that he might release his 2011 return.

Even then, however, he will face pressure to release previous returns, too – like his father, who released 12 years of returns back when he made his presidential run. (The elder Romney, by the way, paid 37 percent of his income in taxes). [..]

But the larger question isn’t what Mitt Romney’s tax returns have to say about Mitt Romney; it’s what they have to say about U.S. tax policy. Is there a good reason why the rich should bear a startlingly light tax burden?

Nomi Prins: S&P Downgrades and Banks: Threats to Global Stability

The markets weren’t shocked by last week’s wave of pre-broadcast S&P sovereign debt downgrades. For months, the question wasn’t “if” but “when.” And true to form, just as with the U.S. downgrade, S&P’s reasoning skated the surface of prevailing wisdom: Governments have too much debt and not enough income. That’s only part of the story.

Nowadays, when any sovereign gets downgraded by a rating agency, it’s not just because its debt repayment ability is questionable (the publicized logic of rating agencies), but because it incurred more expensive debt to float its banking system. These are institutional problems that in turn cause recurring national economic ones.

Nowhere in S&P’s statement about “global economic and financial crisis” did it clarify that governments (including the U.S.) were hit due to having backed big national banks (and international, American ones) that engaged in half a decade of leveraged speculation.

New York Times Editorial: Moralizing’s High Cost

Multiple marriages and even adultery are not automatic disqualifications for the presidency. If they were, the country would have a very different roster of former presidents and candidates. But when a political party decides that moralizing about personal conduct is as important as public policy, it inevitably makes some of its leaders vulnerable to the worst charges of hypocrisy.[..]

For too many Republicans, it’s not enough that Americans are free to pray in the house of worship of their choice; they want all children to be required to pray in school. They want to impose their own ideas about sexuality and abortion on everyone. And they love to accuse Democrats of being insufficiently pious. (Rick Perry’s exit from the race on Thursday may mean no more ads accusing President Obama of a “war on religion” and liberals of believing faith is a sign of weakness. Or, it may not, depending on how desperate the other candidates get.)

When Republican officials then get caught violating one of the Ten Commandments, they make an enormous show of contrition and repentance and ask for the public’s forgiveness. But as the hypocrisy level continues to rise, that forgiveness may become much harder to provide.

Eugene Robinson: Change They Don’t Believe In

You know-it-alls who think unemployment is the most urgent crisis facing the nation are wrong, I’ve learned from watching a zillion Republican campaign ads on television this week. All you deficit hawks, rise-of-China worrywarts and alarmed observers of the Iranian nuclear program are wrong, too, and should stop bothering yourselves with trifles.

One of Mitt Romney’s spots ends by laying out the nation’s top priority in no uncertain terms. Voters should support Romney, the narrator says, because “beating Obama is the most important issue.”

Am I the only one to find that weird? I understand why trying to engineer President Obama’s defeat would be an urgent priority for Romney, who wants to move his family into the White House, but why should it be more important to voters than, say, boosting the economy or reducing the debt? Why shouldn’t the focus be on policies and results?

David Sirota: Ron Paul and Our Selective Definition of Bigotry

If they have any value at all anymore, presidential election campaigns at least remain larger-than-life mirrors reflecting back painful truths about our society. As evidence, ponder the two-sided debate over Republican candidate Ron Paul and bigotry.

One camp cites Paul’s hate-filled newsletters and his libertarian opposition to civil rights regulations as evidence that he aligns with racists. As the esteemed scholar Tim Wise puts it, this part of Paul’s record proves that he represents “the reactionary, white supremacist, Social Darwinists of this culture, who believe … the police who dragged sit-in protesters off soda fountain stools for trespassing on a white man’s property were justified in doing so, and that the freedom of department store owners to refuse to let black people try on clothes in their dressing rooms was more sacrosanct than the right of black people to be treated like human beings.”

The other camp tends to acknowledge those ugly truths about Paul but then points out that the Texas congressman has been one of the only politicians 1) fighting surveillance, indefinite detention and due-process-free assassination policies almost exclusively aimed at minorities; 2) opposing wars that often seem motivated by rank Islamophobia; and 3) railing against the bigotry of a drug war that disproportionately targets people of color.

Joe Conanson: Tax Day: Will Romney Make April Fools of Republicans

Mitt Romney’s latest flip-flop is almost complete. Having vowed a month ago not to release his federal income tax returns, the Republican presidential front-runner conceded during Saturday night’s debate that he would “probably” release his returns, and then on Tuesday afternoon finally said he will do so-in April, long after he is likely to have secured his party’s nomination. With characteristic arrogance, he excused the delay by suggesting that April 15 is the traditional date when public officials supply this information, which is certainly true if you’re already president.

Even more galling was Romney’s suggestion that he will reveal only his 2011 return, which would allow him to control the narrative, of course, by paying a higher rate this year than in years past. Having admitted that he pays as little as 15 percent-or around the same effective rate as a family earning $60,000 a year.

Jan 20 2012

On this Day In History January 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.

January 20 is the 20th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 345 days remaining until the end of the year (346 in leap years).

On this day in 1801, John Marshall is appointed the fourth Chief Justice of the United States. Marshall (September 24, 1755 – July 6, 1835) was an American jurist and statesman whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law while enhancing the role of the Supreme Court as a center of power. Marshall was the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, serving from 1801 until his death in 1835. He had served in the United States House of Representatives from 1799 to 1800, and was Secretary of State under President John Adams from 1800 to 1801. Marshall was from the Commonwealth of Virginia and was a leader of the Federalist Party.

The longest-serving Chief Justice of the United States, Marshall dominated the Court for over three decades (a term outliving his own Federalist Party) and played a significant role in the development of the American legal system. Most notably, he reinforced the principle that federal courts are obligated to exercise judicial review, by disregarding purported laws if they violate the Constitution. Thus, Marshall cemented the position of the American judiciary as an independent and influential branch of government. Furthermore, the Marshall Court made several important decisions relating to federalism, affecting the balance of power between the federal government and the states during the early years of the republic. In particular, he repeatedly confirmed the supremacy of federal law over state law, and supported an expansive reading of the enumerated powers.

Nomination

Marshall was thrust into the office of Chief Justice in the wake of the presidential election of 1800. With the Federalists soundly defeated and about to lose both the executive and legislative branches to Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, President Adams and the lame duck Congress passed what came to be known as the Midnight Judges Act, which made sweeping changes to the federal judiciary, including a reduction in the number of Justices from six to five so as to deny Jefferson an appointment until two vacancies occurred. As the incumbent Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth was in poor health, Adams first offered the seat to ex-Chief Justice John Jay, who declined on the grounds that the Court lacked “energy, weight, and dignity.” Jay’s letter arrived on January 20, 1801, and as there was precious little time left, Adams nominated Marshall, who was with him at the time and able to accept immediately. The Senate at first delayed, hoping that Adams would make a different choice, such as promoting Justice William Paterson of New Jersey. According to New Jersey Senator Jonathan Dayton, the Senate finally relented “lest another not so qualified, and more disgusting to the Bench, should be substituted, and because it appeared that this gentleman (Marshall) was not privy to his own nomination”. Marshall was confirmed by the Senate on January 27, 1801, and received his commission on January 31, 1801. While Marshall officially took office on February 4, at the request of the President he continued to serve as Secretary of State until Adams’ term expired on March 4. President John Adams offered this appraisal of Marshall’s impact: “My gift of John Marshall to the people of the United States was the proudest act of my life.”

Jan 20 2012

A New Head For The World Bank

If there could possibly be a worse choice to head the World Bank when Robert Zoellick’s term expires later this year, I am sure that President Obama would find him or her. The rumors are that the president has decided to leave his “mark” on that banking institution by nominating Larry Summers for the position. Yes, that Larry Summers of the Harvard president of misogyny fame who was chief architect of banking deregulation that led to the repeal of Glass – Stiegel during the Clinton, that begat our current financial crisis. The Larry Summers who dismissed out of hand the suggestion that a bigger stimulus package would do more to boost the economy most likely because it was a woman, Christine Roemer, who proposed it.

And one of the biggest reasons why Larry could be one of the worst choices, as Felix Salmon explains, besides the fact Larry lacks the skills, he isn’t a diplomat:

The only way to be an effective World Bank president is to be an effective diplomat. Like all CEOs, the head of the Bank reports to a board of directors – but at the World Bank, the board of directors meets twice a week. And they’re not friendly hand-picked board members, either – they’re political appointees who fight their geographical corners, who live full-time in Washington, and who work full-time out of offices within the Bank itself. If you want to get anything done at the Bank, you need to persuade the board to leave you alone and not micromanage every decision you make.

You also need to be an almost superhuman manager. The World Bank has more than 10,000 employees from over 160 countries, with offices in more than 100 countries around the world. The range of cultural expectations they bring to their jobs is truly enormous, and the amount of political jostling and mutual incomprehension which results is entirely predictable. In order to manage this rabble, you need a very high level of cultural and interpersonal sensitivity.

And then there’s leadership: “the vision thing”, as Geoge HW Bush would put it, and the ability to get your organization to line up behind how you think the Bank – and, for that matter, the World – should work. Summers is not known for his work on global poverty reduction, and his previous tenure at the World Bank is remembered mainly for the pollution memo – an “ironic” proposal to increase pollution in poor countries, which resulted in the label “perfectly logical but totally insane” being attached to Summers for many years thereafter.

If Obama wants to leave his mark on the World Bank, this will definitely do it but not the way he’d like.

Jan 20 2012

Greek Default Appears Inevitable

On Wednesday it was reported that some greedy hedge funds are blocking the rescue of the Greek economy. The hedge funds which had bought up the distressed Greek bonds in hope of making a killing came up against the Greek agreement to reduce their debt in order to receive the next tranche of funds to stave off default:

{..} (F)ears have grown in recent weeks that the hedge funds that are blocking the deal – which have been identified as including Vega Asset Management, Och Ziff, York Capital, GreyLock Asset Management and Marathon Asset Management – do not consider the prospect of a disorderly default by Athens as a financial incentive to allow a voluntary writedown deal to proceed.

This is because these funds are believed to have purchased insurance policies on their holdings of Greek bonds, known as Credit Default Swaps (CDS). If Athens fails to pay its maturing debts in March, that would trigger large CDS payouts to these funds from the large financial firms that sold them the insurance.

There is a reason they are called hedge funds but this is more a game of “head I win, tales you lose.”

To ad insult to injury, when Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos told the hold out that he would ask Parliament to change the law and force them to take the interest rate cut, the greedy hedgers have come up with  plan to sue the Greek government in Human Rights Court forcing them to make good on the payment:

The novel approach would have the funds arguing in the European Court of Human Rights that Greece had violated bondholder rights, though that could be a multiyear project with no guarantee of a payoff. And it would not be likely to produce sympathy for these funds, which many blame for the lack of progress so far in the negotiations over restructuring Greece’s debts.

The tactic has emerged in conversations with lawyers and hedge funds as it became clear that Greece was considering passing legislation to force all private bondholders to take losses, while exempting the European Central Bank, which is the largest institutional holder of Greek bonds with 50 billion euros or so.

Legal experts suggest that the investors may have a case because if Greece changes the terms of its bonds so that investors receive less than they are owed, that could be viewed as a property rights violation – and in Europe, property rights are human rights.

As David Dayen at FDL News Desk points out this process could take years to litigate but he also found something significant buried in the New York Times article:

It is not just the legal cudgel that investors are threatening to use. Some hedge funds have discussed among themselves the possibility of demanding a side payment, as they describe it, as a price Europe and Greece must pay if the two want the funds to participate in the agreement.

Yes, David, I agree this is extortion..Give us the money or we blow up the world.

Jan 20 2012

Anonymous Strikes Back Against FBI & Music Industry

This afternoon in raids that extended as far as New Zealand, the FBI took down on of the most populars websites in the world, Magaupload.com charging them with internet piracy seizing $50 million in assets and arresting seven people, four in New Zealand. Who needed SOPA?

Megaupload left this comment before the website went dark:

“The fact is that the vast majority of Mega’s Internet traffic is legitimate, and we are here to stay. If the content industry would like to take advantage of our popularity, we are happy to enter into a dialogue. We have some good ideas. Please get in touch.”

Not long after Meguploads was shut down and the news hit the web, this happened

Hacktivists with the collective Anonymous are waging an attack on the website for the White House after successfully breaking the sites for the FBI, Department of Justice, Universal Music Group, RIAA and Motion Picture Association of America. [..]

“It was in retaliation for Megaupload, as was the concurrent attack on Justice.org,” Anonymous operative Barrett Brown tells RT on Thursday afternoon. [..]

Brown adds that “more is coming” and Anonymous-aligned hacktivists are pursuing a joint effort with others to “damage campaign raising abilities of remaining Democrats who support SOPA.”

Although many members of Congress have just this week changed their stance on the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, the raid on Megaupload Thursday proved that the feds don’t need SOPA or its sister legislation, PIPA, in order to pose a blow to the Web.

Brown adds that operatives involved in the project will use an “experimental campaign” and search engine optimization techniques “whereby to forever saddle some of these congressmen with their record on this issue.”

Despite the loss of support for SOPA and PIPA Wednesday night, the Democrats remain the chief sponsors of the bills. MPAA CEO Chris Dodd, the former Democratic senator from Connecticut that blocked all financial reform, and his cohort, former Senate Democrat, now Independent, Sen. Joseph Lieberman have admitted that they want to copy Chinese style censorship. In an guest post article at naked capitalism, Washington’s Blog George Washington follows the money from Hollywood’s music and film industry to the Democrats in the Senate who are the “pillars of support for PIPA”:

Far and away, the top beneficiary in the Senate from interest groups that support PIPA is Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who’s taken in just short of a million dollars from those groups, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. She’s also the most recent Senator to co-sponsor PIPA, adding her name to the list on Dec. 12. The runner-up is Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who’s taken $777,383 from PIPA-supporting interest groups, and has co-sponsored the bill since May 2011.

In fact, a list of the top 20 beneficiaries of special interest money in favor of PIPA reads like a list of the Senate’s most influential Democrats: Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) in third; Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) in fourth; Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in fifth; Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the bill’s primary sponsor, in sixth; Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in seventh; Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in eighth; Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in ninth; and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in tenth.

The list goes on like that until Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who places 15th with $274,600 in special interest money promoting PIPA. He has not yet announced an official position on the bill. The only other Republican on the list of the top 20 PIPA beneficiaries in the Senate is Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), in 19th place with $212,312. Corker is one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

I have to give at least one Democrat credit although she is not in the Senate, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) opposed SOPA.

This is far from over.