Daily Archive: 03/09/2012

Mar 09 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: Ignorance Is Strength

One way in which Americans have always been exceptional has been in our support for education. First we took the lead in universal primary education; then the “high school movement” made us the first nation to embrace widespread secondary education. And after World War II, public support, including the G.I. Bill and a huge expansion of public universities, helped large numbers of Americans to get college degrees.

But now one of our two major political parties has taken a hard right turn against education, or at least against education that working Americans can afford. Remarkably, this new hostility to education is shared by the social conservative and economic conservative wings of the Republican coalition, now embodied in the persons of Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.

And this comes at a time when American education is already in deep trouble.

Joe Conason: Can Obama Muzzle the Dogs of War?

When President Obama disparaged “loose talk about war” against the theocratic regime in Tehran, he wasn’t minimizing the consequences of atomic weapons in the hands of the mullahs. The danger of terrorists acquiring a bomb would be multiplied by a regional arms race. The international nonproliferation regime would be crippled if not destroyed. The prestige of the United States would suffer fresh damage, and yes, Israel would be gravely threatened.

Yet it is hard to understand why anyone-in Washington, Jerusalem or anywhere else-would argue with his view that sanctions, covert action and diplomatic engagement should be exhausted before anybody resorts to bombs and missiles. Unlike his irresponsible critics on the right, Obama cannot ignore the potential costs of another Mideast war, which could wreck fragile economies both here and abroad, increase the peril to U.S. troops in Afghanistan as well as throughout the region, and perhaps escalate into a global conflict of unpredictable scope.

Amy Goodman: The Bipartisan Nuclear Bailout

Super Tuesday demonstrated the rancor rife in Republican ranks, as the four remaining major candidates slug it out to see how far to the right of President Barack Obama they can go. While attacking him daily for the high cost of gasoline, both sides are traveling down the same perilous road in their support of nuclear power. This is mind-boggling, on the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with the chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission warning that lessons from Fukushima have not been implemented in this country. Nevertheless, Democrats and Republicans agree on one thing: They’re going to force nuclear power on the public, despite the astronomically high risks, both financial and environmental.

One year ago, on March 11, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit the northeast coast of Japan, causing more than 15,000 deaths, with 3,000 more missing and thousands of injuries. Japan is still reeling from the devastation-environmentally, economically, socially and politically. Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister at the time, said last July, “We will aim to bring about a society that can exist without nuclear power.” He resigned in August after shutting down production at several power plants. He said that another catastrophe could force the mass evacuation of Tokyo, and even threaten “Japan’s very existence.” Only two of the 54 Japanese power plants that were online at the time of the Fukushima disaster are currently producing power. Kan’s successor, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, supports nuclear power, but faces growing public opposition to it.

New York Times Editorial: Sexual Violence and the Military

The rate of sexual assaults on American women serving in the military remains intolerably high. While an estimated 17 percent of women in the general population become victims at some point in their lives, a 2006 study of female veterans financed by the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that between 23 percent and 33 percent of uniformed women had been assaulted. Those estimates are borne out in other surveys, and a recent Pentagon report on sexual assaults at the service academies found that in the 2010-11 academic year, cadets and midshipmen were involved in 65 reported assaults.

Too often victims are afraid to come forward. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta estimated that the number of attacks in 2011 by service members on other service members – both women and men – was close to 19,000, more than six times the number of reported attacks.

Laurie Penny: That’s Enough Politeness – Women Need to Rise Up in Anger

To get into the UN Commission on the Status of Women, you have to get past several ranks of large armed men. In the foyer, you can buy UN women-themed hats and tote bags, and pick up glossy pamphlets about this year’s International Women’s Day, but what you can’t pick up is the slightest sense of urgency. In the 101 years since the first International Women’s Day, all the passionate politics seems to have been leached out of the women’s movement. [..]Women, like everyone else, have been duped. We have been persuaded over the past 50 years to settle for a bland, neoliberal vision of what liberation should mean. Life may have become a little easier in that time for white women who can afford to hire a nanny, but the rest of us have settled for a cheap, knock-off version of gender revolution. Instead of equality at work and in the home, we settled for “choice”, “flexibility” and an exciting array of badly paid part-time work to fit around childcare and chores. Instead of sexual liberation and reproductive freedom, we settled for mitigated rights to abortion and contraception that are constantly under attack, and a deeply misogynist culture that shames us if we’re not sexually attractive, dismisses us if we are, and blames us if we are raped or assaulted, as one in five of us will be in our lifetime.

John Nichols: The Great Vermont Uprising Against Corporate Personhood

Vermonters went to their town meetings this week to settle questions about dump fees, snowplowing contracts and utility meters.

They also decided to take on the corrupt campaign system that is steering the republic toward catastrophe.

And they have done so in a voice loud enough to be heard all the way to Washington.

By Thursday morning, sixty-four towns reported they had moved to amend the US Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling-as well as the false construct that says, in the words of Mitt Romney, “corporations are people, my friend.”

“Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, Town Meeting Day voters understood that corporations are not people,” declared US Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, a champion of his state’s uprising against corporate personhood. “The resounding results will send a strong message that corporations and billionaires should not be allowed to buy candidates and elections with unlimited, undisclosed spending on political campaigns.”

Mar 09 2012

Hey There Obama

With apologies to no one, but I borrowed the tune from The Plain White Tees.

Hey There Obama

hey there Obama

what’s it like there in that bubble

yeah, I hate to spoil the party

but here on main street

we’re in trouble

yes it’s true

not that it matters much to you

what else is new

hey there Obama

sorry wisdom from a cynic

I’m still here with no insurance

and two hours from a clinic

save your spin

you’ve got an ear that’s made of tin

that’s not a win

oh but what’d you do for me

oh but what’d you do for me

oh but what’d you do for me

oh but what’d you do for me

what’d you do for me

hey there Obama

you know times are getting hard

but just believe me, man

that tax cuts create jobs is a canard

but..way to go

your corporate buddies love you so

I think you know

hey there Obama

I’ve got more advice to give

if ever one word that I wrote you

would only hit you where you live

I’d write some more

instead of showing you the door

you’re such a bore

oh but what’d you do for me

oh but what’d you do for me

oh but what’d you do for me

oh but what’d you do for me

you don’t care what our problems are

we’ve lost our homes, our jobs, our cars

a farce of the audacity of hope

and you can take that “yes we can”

and stuff it-hey, just fuck you, man.

here, take this empty “donate” envelope

Obama your words don’t ring true

I have had enough of you

our world will never ever be the same

and you’re to blame

hey there Obama

you’ll be fine and you won’t miss me

that the other guys are worse inspires

your campaign will make more history like ya do

no one fires up the base like you

too bad it’s nothing good or true

hey there Obama here’s to you

this one’s for you

oh but what’d you do for me

oh but what’d you do for me

oh but what’d you do for me

oh but what’d you do for me

what’d you do for me

Crossposted at The Free Speech Zone

Sing along!  

Mar 09 2012

Mirror Mirror

Unintended irony from the NYT

By Glenn Greenwald, Salon

Thursday, Mar 8, 2012 10:47 AM Eastern Standard Time

It’s simply shocking to find a country which would allow its political class to be dominated by those who “have profited from the crony capitalism that has come to define its economic order” and who “nearly brought down” its banking system. What must it be like to live in such a country? But even more bewildering still is that the Afghans simply refuse to prosecute their high-levels financial criminals, even though the U.S. is providing advice and oversight! Maybe it’s unsurprising to see a country treat its powerful criminals with impunity, but not when they have the United States of America providing guidance and wise counsel. What could possibly explain this? Are they simply ignoring the important lessons we’re teaching and the shining example we’ve set?

Maybe he should just throw them in the dryer for a few minutes.

Mar 09 2012

Eric Holder promotes Obama administration’s assassination policy

On March Fifth, President Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder presented a speech at Northwestern University to explain President Obama’s approach to targetted assassinations and legal justification for them, including a retroactive justification of the assassination of US citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki.

In the speech, Holder articulated a new standard of due process that President Obama is relying on as a basis for his actions:

Some have argued that the President is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces.   This is simply not accurate.   “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.   The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.

Unfortunately, Mr. Holder did not present any evidence that the process that the administration is providing meets any particular standard other than the “trust us on this” standard.

Mar 09 2012

On This Day In History March 9

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.

March 9 is the 68th day of the year (69th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 297 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1841, the US Supreme Court rules on Amistad mutiny

At the end of a historic case, the U.S. Supreme Court rules, with only one dissent, that the African slaves who seized control of the Amistad slave ship had been illegally forced into slavery, and thus are free under American law.

The Amistad, also known as United States v. Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad, 40 U.S. (15 Pet.) 518 (1841), was a United States Supreme Court case resulting from the rebellion of slaves on board the Spanish schooner Amistad in 1839. It was an unusual “freedom suit“, as it involved international issues and parties, as well as United States law.

The rebellion broke out when the schooner, traveling along the coast of Cuba, was taken over by a group of captives who had earlier been kidnapped in Africa and sold into slavery. The Africans were later apprehended on the vessel near Long Island, New York, by the United States Revenue Cutter Service and taken into custody. The ensuing, widely publicized court cases in the United States helped the abolitionist movement.

In 1840, a federal trial court found that the initial transport of the Africans across the Atlantic (which did not involve the Amistad) had been illegal, because the international slave trade had been abolished, and the captives were thus not legally slaves but free. Given that they were illegally confined, the Africans were entitled to take whatever legal measures necessary to secure their freedom, including the use of force. After the US Supreme Court affirmed this finding on March 9, 1841, supporters arranged transportation for the Africans back to Africa in 1842. The case influenced numerous succeeding laws in the United States.

Arguments before the Supreme Court

On February 23, 1841, Attorney General Henry D. Gilpin began the oral argument phase before the Supreme Court. Gilpin first entered into evidence the papers of La Amistad which stated that the Africans were Spanish property. The documents being in order, Gilpin argued that the Court had no authority to rule against their validity. Gilpin contended that if the Africans were slaves (as evidenced by the documents), then they must be returned to their rightful owner, in this case, the Spanish government. Gilpin’s argument lasted two hours.

John Quincy Adams, former President of the United States and at that time a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, had agreed to argue for the Africans, but when it was time for him to argue, felt ill-prepared. Roger Sherman Baldwin, who had already represented the captives in the lower cases, opened in his place.

Baldwin, a prominent attorney (who was no relation to Justice Baldwin, the lone dissenter on the Court) contended that the Spanish government was attempting to manipulate the Court to return “fugitives”. In actuality, Baldwin argued, the Spanish government sought the return of slaves, who had been freed by the District Court, a fact that the Spanish government was not appealing. Covering all the facts of the case, Baldwin spoke for four hours over the course of the 22nd and the 23rd.

John Quincy Adams rose to speak on February 24. First, he reminded the court that it was a part of the judicial branch, and not part of the executive. Adams introduced correspondence between the Spanish government and the Secretary of State, criticizing President Martin van Buren for his assumption of unconstitutional powers in the case.

   This review of all the proceedings of the Executive I have made with utmost pain, because it was necessary to bring it fully before your Honors, to show that the course of that department had been dictated, throughout, not by justice but by sympathy – and a sympathy the most partial and injust. And this sympathy prevailed to such a degree, among all the persons concerned in this business, as to have perverted their minds with regard to all the most sacred principles of law and right, on which the liberties of the United States are founded; and a course was pursued, from the beginning to the end, which was not only an outrage upon the persons whose lives and liberties were at stake, but hostile to the power and independence of the judiciary itself.

Adams argued that neither Pinckney’s Treaty nor the Adams-Onis Treaty were applicable to the case. Article IX of Pinckney’s Treaty referred only to property, and did not apply to people. As to The Antelope decision (10 Wheat. 124), which recognized “that possession on board of a vessel was evidence of property”, Adams said that did not apply either, since the precedent there was established prior to the prohibition of the foreign slave trade in the United States. Adams concluded after eight and one-half hours of speaking on March 1 (the Court had taken a recess following the death of Associate Justice Barbour).

Attorney General Gilpin concluded oral argument with a three-hour rebuttal on March 2. The Court retired to consider the case.

Decision of the Supreme Court

On March 9, Associate Justice Joseph Story delivered the Court’s decision. Article IX of Pinckney’s Treaty was ruled off topic since the Africans in question were never legal property. They were not criminals, as the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued, but rather “unlawfully kidnapped, and forcibly and wrongfully carried on board a certain vessel”. The documents submitted by Attorney General Gilpin were not evidence of property, but rather of fraud on the part of the Spanish government. Lt. Gedney and the USS Washington were to be awarded salvage from the vessel for having performed “a highly meritorious and useful service to the proprietors of the ship and cargo”.

When La Amistad came into Long Island, however, the Court believed it to be in the possession of the Africans on board, who had no intent to become slaves. Therefore, the Adams-Onis Treaty did not apply, and the President was not required to return the slaves to Africa.

Upon the whole, our opinion is, that the decree of the circuit court, affirming that of the district court, ought to be affirmed, except so far as it directs the negroes to be delivered to the president, to be transported to Africa, in pursuance of the act of the 3rd of March 1819; and as to this, it ought to be reversed: and that the said negroes be declared to be free, and be dismissed from the custody of the court, and go without delay.

Mar 09 2012

Greece Succeeds In Averting Another Crisis

The Asia markets rose this morning after the news that Greece has reached a settlement with at least 90% of its bond holders:

The finance ministry said 85.8 percent of its 177 billion euros in bonds regulated under Greek law had been tendered, adding that the rate would reach 95.7 percent with the use of collective action clauses to enforce the deal on creditors who refused to take part voluntarily.

The result should clear the way for the European Union and International Monetary Fund to release a 130 billion euro bailout package agreed with Greece last month. [..]

The biggest sovereign debt restructuring in history will see bond holders accept losses of some 74 percent on the value of their investments in a deal that will cut more than 100 billion euros from Greece’s crippling public debt.

The unknown consequence of this agreement is that it may trigger the credit default swap (CDS) insurance that some investors hold on the bonds. Some economists don’t believe that this would be a problem:

Finance ministers from the 16 other countries that use the euro are to discuss the deal’s results in a conference call later Friday. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association said it would also meet to determine whether the deal would be deemed a so-called “credit event” – a technical default – which would trigger the payment of credit default swaps, which is essentially insurance against a default.

When the debt relief plan was first announced last year, eurozone leaders and the ECB worked hard to avoid a credit event, because they feared the a payout of CDS could destabilize big financial institutions that sold them.

However, since then a CDS payout has started to look less threatening. The ISDA, a private organization that decides on credit events, said that if they are triggered, overall payouts on CDS linked to Greece will be below $3.2 billion. That amount is spread over many financial firms and likely too small to significantly hurt any one of them.

However, the outlook for economic growth anytime soon is grim. The problems that have been inflicted on the average Greek citizen by the austerity measures of this deal still exist and it’s predicted, the situation for them will not be improving for years:

   It’s stunning here in Athens to see many traffic lights not working, to see beggars pawing through garbage for food, to see blackened ruins of shops burned in rioting. I was even greeted by a homeless man who spoke impeccable British-accented English.

   That man, Michael A. Kambouroglou, 35, claims that he studied English literature at Cambridge University and worked for years in the tourism industry, most recently at a five-star hotel. He told me that he had enjoyed a good life, visiting the United States and traveling around the world, until the day nearly a year ago when the collapsing economy caught up with him, and he was laid off.

   “To be honest, I never thought it could come to me,” he recalled. “It happened in a flash.” Kambouroglou says he goes out every morning, knocking on doors and looking for work, but in this economy it seems hopeless. The overall unemployment rate here is 21 percent – 48 percent among young people – and the European Union forecasts that the Greek economy (and all of the euro zone) will shrink further this year.

Without economic growth, the deal may only be buying a little time before it all goes back to square one. There are those who believe that this is just stalling the inevitable default and that the sooner Greece defaults the faster the pain for the Greek people will be relived:

Greece has defaulted five times since 1800, most recently in 1932.

Clearly, Greek’s own experiences reveal there is, indeed, life after default. So what’s the country waiting for?

Well, if its leaders are afraid a default won’t be tolerated in modern times, they need to consider the most recent examples set by Russia and Argentina…

In 1998, Russia defaulted on $40 billion in local debt. Within two years, its economy was growing by double-digit rates. And it continued to do so for the better part of a decade under Vladimir Putin’s leadership.

In late 2001, Argentina defaulted on $95 billion in debt. Yet, by the end of 2002, its economy returned to growth. And it continued growing for eight straight years. [..]

Bottom line: As Howard Davies, a former U.K. central banker and financial regulator, says, “It’s too late for Greece [to avoid default].” So let’s pull off the Band-Aid already and get it over with.

It won’t be painless or even remotely enjoyable. But it’s necessary if Greece ever wants to get its financial house in order and its economy growing again.