Daily Archive: 02/20/2012

Feb 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: Pain Without Gain

Last week the European Commission confirmed what everyone suspected: the economies it surveys are shrinking, not growing. It’s not an official recession yet, but the only real question is how deep the downturn will be.

And this downturn is hitting nations that have never recovered from the last recession. For all America’s troubles, its gross domestic product has finally surpassed its pre-crisis peak; Europe’s has not. And some nations are suffering Great Depression-level pain: Greece and Ireland have had double-digit declines in output, Spain has 23 percent unemployment, Britain’s slump has now gone on longer than its slump in the 1930s.

Worse yet, European leaders – and quite a few influential players here – are still wedded to the economic doctrine responsible for this disaster.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: Ideological Hypocrites

When we talk about hypocrisy in politics, we usually highlight personal behavior. The multiply married politician who proclaims “family values” while also having affairs is now a rather dreary stock figure in our campaign narratives.

But the hypocrisy that matters far more is the gap between ideology and practice that has reached a crisis point in American conservatism. This Republican presidential campaign is demonstrating conclusively that there is an unbridgeable divide between the philosophical commitments conservative candidates make before they are elected and what they will have to do when faced with the day-to-day demands of practical governance. Conservatives in power have never been-and can never be-as anti-government as they are in a campaign.

Robert Reich: Manufacturing Illusions

Suddenly, manufacturing is back – at least on the election trail. But don’t be fooled. The real issue isn’t how to get manufacturing back. It’s how to get good jobs and good wages back. They aren’t at all the same thing.

Republicans have become born-again champions of American manufacturing. This may have something to do with crucial primaries occurring next week in Michigan and the following week in Ohio, both of them former arsenals of American manufacturing. [..]

The fundamental problem isn’t the decline of American manufacturing, and reviving manufacturing won’t solve it. The problem is the declining power of American workers to share in the gains of the American economy.

George Zornick: Obama’s Plan to Save the Military From Cuts-at the Expense of Domestic Programs

As budget wonks comb over President Obama’s outline for fiscal year 2013, a startling White House plan has become clear: the administration is seeking to undo some mandatory cuts to the Pentagon at the expense of critical domestic programs. It does so by basically undoing the defense sequester that kicked in as a result of the Congressional supercommittee on debt. This wasn’t a featured part of the White House budget rollout, and for good reason-it undercuts the administration’s carefully crafted message of benevolent government action and economic fairness.

The process for this shift is complicated, and has been flagged by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Essentially, Obama wants to eliminate individual spending caps for both military and non-military spending, and institute one single discretionary spending cap instead. Here’s the basic rundown.

Tom Engelhardt: A Real-Life War Novel With No Plot and No End

If all goes as planned, it will be the happiest of wartimes in the U.S.A.  Only the best of news, the killing of the baddest of the evildoers, will ever filter back to our world.

After all, American war is heading for the “shadows” in a big way.  As news articles have recently made clear, the tip of the Obama administration’s global spear will increasingly be shaped from the ever-growing ranks of U.S. special operations forces.  They are so secretive that they don’t like their operatives to be named, so covert that they instruct their members, as Spencer Ackerman of Wired‘s Danger Room blog notes, “not to write down important information, lest it be vulnerable to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.”  By now, they are also a force that, in any meaningful sense, is unaccountable for its actions.

Although the special ops crew (66,000 people in all) exist on our tax dollars, we’re really not supposed to know anything about what they’re doing — unless, of course, they choose the publicity venue themselves, whether in Pakistan knocking off Osama bin Laden or parachuting onto Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard to promote Act of Valor.  In case you somehow missed the ads, that’s the new film about “real terrorist threats based on true stories starring actual Navy SEALs.” (No names in the credits please!)

John Atcheson: US Running on Myths, Lies, Deceptions and Distractions

Republican Hypocrisy; Democratic Complicity; The Press’s Malfeasance; and Why You Don’t Have a Job and if You Do, Why it Doesn’t Pay Squat

The United States is headed for a plutocratic dystopia where a few gated communities sit like islands amidst a sea of bitterness, misery, and want.

Why?

Because the country is running on lies, myths, deceptions and distractions. Not surprisingly, they aren’t working very well for us.

Let’s run through a few of the most destructive lies and myths.

Feb 20 2012

What would it take?

Feb 20 2012

On This Day In History February 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.

February 20 is the 51st day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 314 days remaining until the end of the year (315 in leap years).

On this day in 1792, President George Washington signs legislation renewing the United States Post Office as a cabinet department led by the postmaster general, guaranteeing inexpensive delivery of all newspapers, stipulating the right to privacy and granting Congress the ability to expand postal service to new areas of the nation.

History

William Goddard, a Patriot printer frustrated that the royal postal service was unable to reliably deliver his Pennsylvania Chronicle to its readers or deliver critical news for the paper to Goddard, laid out a plan for the “Constitutional Post” before the Continental Congress on October 5, 1774. Congress waited to act on the plan until after the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Benjamin Franklin promoted Goddard’s plan and served as the first postmaster general under the Continental Congress beginning on July 26, 1775, nearly one year before the Congress declared independence from the British Crown. Franklin’s son-in-law, Richard Bache, took over the position on November 7, 1776, when Franklin became an American emissary to France.

Franklin had already made a significant contribution to the postal service in the colonies while serving as the postmaster of Philadelphia from 1737 and as joint postmaster general of the colonies from 1753 to 1774, when he was fired for opening and publishing Massachusetts Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson‘s correspondence. While postmaster, Franklin streamlined postal delivery with properly surveyed and marked routes from Maine to Florida (the origins of Route 1), instituted overnight postal travel between the critical cities of New York and Philadelphia and created a standardized rate chart based upon weight and distance. [3]

Samuel Osgood held the postmaster general’s position in New York City from 1789, when the U.S. Constitution came into effect, until the government moved to Philadelphia in 1791. Timothy Pickering took over and, about a year later, the Postal Service Act gave his post greater legislative legitimacy and more effective organization. Pickering continued in the position until 1795, when he briefly served as secretary of war, before becoming the third U.S. secretary of state. The postmaster general’s position was considered a plum patronage post for political allies of the president until the Postal Service was transformed into a corporation run by a board of governors in 1971 following passage of the Postal Reorganization Act.

Feb 20 2012

That’s why they call it… acting.

Double Star

Why I Call Myself a Socialist

Is the World Really a Stage?

By Wallace Shawn, Tomdispatch.com

9:35am, February 3, 2011

Contrary to the popular misconception, the actor is not necessarily a specialist in imitating or portraying what he knows about other people. On the contrary, the actor may simply be a person who’s more willing than others to reveal some truths about himself. Interestingly, the actress who, in her own persona, may be gentle, shy, and socially awkward, someone whose hand trembles when pouring a cup of tea for a visiting friend, can convincingly portray an elegant, cruel aristocrat tossing off malicious epigrams in an eighteenth-century chocolate house.

On stage, her hand doesn’t shake when she pours the cup of chocolate, nor does she hesitate when passing along the vilest gossip about her closest friends. The actress’s next-door neighbors, who may not have had the chance to see her perform, might say that the person they know could never have been, under any circumstances, either elegant or cruel. But she knows the truth that in fact she could have been either or both, and when she plays her part, she’s simply showing the audience what she might have been, if she’d in fact been an aristocrat in a chocolate house in the eighteenth century.

We are not what we seem. We are more than what we seem. The actor knows that. And because the actor knows that hidden inside himself there’s a wizard and a king, he also knows that when he’s playing himself in his daily life, he’s playing a part, he’s performing, just as he’s performing when he plays a part on stage. He knows that when he’s on stage performing, he’s in a sense deceiving his friends in the audience less than he does in daily life, not more, because on stage he’s disclosing the parts of himself that in daily life he struggles to hide. He knows, in fact, that the role of himself is actually a rather small part, and that when he plays that part he must make an enormous effort to conceal the whole universe of possibilities that exists inside him.



(O)ne can hardly begin to describe the anguish caused by our habit of using our fantasizing capacity in the opposite direction, that is, using it to ascribe negative characteristics to people who, for one reason or another, we’d like to think less of. Sometimes we do this in regard to large groups of people, none of whom we’ve met. But we can even apply our remarkable capacity in relation to individuals or groups whom we know rather well, sometimes simply to make ourselves feel better about things that we happen to have done to them or are planning to do.

You couldn’t exactly say, for example, that Thomas Jefferson had no familiarity with dark-skinned people. His problem was that he couldn’t figure out how to live the life he in fact was living unless he owned these people as slaves. And as it would have been unbearable to him to see himself as so heartless, unjust, and cruel as to keep in bondage people who were just like himself, he ignored the evidence that was in front of his eyes and clung to the fantasy that people from Africa were not his equals.

Well, one could write an entire political history of the human race by simply recounting the exhausting cycle of fantasies which different groups have believed at different times about different other groups. Of course these fantasies were absurd in every case.



The domestic worker runs out of the shop and hurries back toward her job, and once again I see her only as the character she plays. I see a person who works as a servant. And surely that person could never have lived, for example, the life I’ve lived, or been like me — she’s not intelligent enough. She had to be a servant. She was born that way. The hustler surely had to be a hustler, it’s all he could do, the cashier could never have worn beautiful clothes, she could never have been someone who sought out what was beautiful, she could only ever have worn that pink shirt and those green slacks.

So, just as Thomas Jefferson lived in illusion, because he couldn’t face the truth about the slaves that he owned, I, too, put to use every second of my life, like my beating heart, this capacity to fantasize which we’ve all been granted as our dubious birthright. My belief in the performance unfolding before me allows me not to remember those dreadful moments when all of those babies were permanently maimed, and I was spared. The world hurled the infant who became the domestic worker to the bottom of a pit and crippled her for life, and I saw it happen, but I can’t remember it now. And so it seems quite wonderful to me that the world today treats the domestic worker and me with scrupulous equality.

It seems wonderfully right. If I steal a car, I go to jail, and if she steals a car, she goes to jail. If I drive on the highway, I pay a toll, and if she drives on the highway, she pays a toll. We compete on an equal basis for the things we want. If I apply for a job, I take the test, and if she applies for the job, she takes the test. And I go through my life thinking it’s all quite fair.

(beat)

If we look at reality for more than an instant, if we look at the human beings passing us on the street, it’s not bearable. It’s not bearable to watch while the talents and the abilities of infants and children are crushed and destroyed. These happen to be things that I just can’t think about. And most of the time, the factory workers and domestic workers and cashiers and truck drivers can’t think about them either. Their performances as these characters are consistent and convincing, because they actually believe about themselves just what I believe about them — that what they are now is all that they could ever have been, they could never have been anything other than what they are. Of course, that’s what we all have to believe, so that we can bear our lives and live in peace together. But it’s the peace of death.

(h/t Nicholle Belle @ C&L)

Feb 20 2012

Pique the Geek 20120218. The Things That we Eat. Cheese

This is the third part of a four part series about milk.  The first and second parts are here and here.  The final installment will be about human milk with emphasis on its importance to the development of infants.

Cheese is one of the oldest processed food products known.  Whilst the origins of cheesemaking are obscure, it is fairly easy to speculate on how it got started, and we shall look at that in due time.  Archaeological evidence indicates that cheesemaking was an established art at least 4000 years ago, and the actual date of regular production is likely to be much older than that, but no records exist.

Because of the tremendous variety of cheese, I am sure not to mention one of your favorites.  Please pardon that oversight, but I like to keep under 5000 words!  However, I found an expert source that is likely to mention yours, and it appears directly under the fold.

Feb 20 2012

Mortgage Backed Securities Are Back

Everything old is new again and the people that should be paying the price for the housing crash are again going to profit from the further pain of the 11 million people left behind by the Foreclosure Fraud Settlement.

Bonds Backed by Mortgages Regain Allure

by Azam Ahmed

Some Wall Street investors made money as the mortgage market boomed; others profited when it fell apart.

Having reaped big gains during both of those turns, Greg Lippmann, a former star trader at Deutsche Bank, is now catching the next upswing: buying the same securities built from mortgages that he bet against before the financial crisis erupted.

Mr. Lippmann is joined by other big-money investors – mutual funds like Fidelity as well as hedge funds – in riding a wave of interest in the same complex loan pools that nearly washed away the financial system.

The attraction is the price. Some mortgage bonds are so cheap that even in the worst forecasts, with home prices falling as much as 10 percent and foreclosures rising, investors say they can still make money. [..]

Yet the tide could turn again and wipe out investors. Chief among the risks is Europe: the Continent’s banks still hold a significant amount of United States mortgage securities, and if they are forced to sell assets, it could wreak havoc on the market.

Washington is a question mark, too. If banks have to pay for loans they issued under dubious circumstances, it would be a home run for investors, who could receive full payment for a mortgage in a security they bought at a discount. But if borrowers whose houses are worth less than their mortgages are able to reduce their principals on a large scale, bond investors could suffer because the securities would be worth even less than they paid. [..]

As for Mr. Lippmann, his reputation has made it both easier and more difficult to get commitments from investors. Some are impressed by his well-publicized bet against the mortgage market; others are turned off by his high profile in an industry known for secrecy and discretion.

LibreMax, made up of several members of Mr. Lippmann’s team from Deutsche Bank, has raised more than $1 billion in a little over a year. His performance has been relatively strong during a period of market turmoil – up 2 percent last year and a little more than 6 percent since launching.

What Yves Smith said:

The Times is quoting Greg Lippmann, the patient zero of subprime? If the SEC investigation of Deutsche Bank were remotely serious, Lippmann would be in serious trouble. What Greg Zuckerman and Michael Lewis have written about them in their books on subprime shorts alone is grist for a good civil suit. And even worse, the headline implies that there is a market for newly issued non-governemnt guaranteed bonds (wrong, that’s dead) when this is about speculation in vintage subprime.

The funniest bit is that the Times is acting as if the fact that Lippmann is talking up the market is a tip of sorts. As one of my buddies pointed out long ago, what you worry about when an investor talks up his book is not that he is trying to get more people in to raise the price, but he is trying to get more people in so he can complete his exit.

History may be repeating itself, again