Daily Archive: 03/13/2012

Mar 13 2012

2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship: Play In Day 1

These are much more complicated than they look.  In the interior of the pretty table are links to each school’s Men’s Basketball page and their record (not always trivial to find).

Tonight I have no particular favorites other than my basic puzzlement about why any of the Play-Ins get seeded at all.  If you’re bad enough to need to play your way in, you’re by definition worse than anyone who got an invite.

Fittingly the Play-Ins are featured on basic cable trueTV which will interrupt it’s all crime all the time schedule tonight and tomorrow starting at 6:30 pm.  When in full swing starting Thursday CBS will be partnering with Turner Broadcasting and it’s TBS and TNT (in addition to trueTV) networks to provide complete game coverage for 2 games per Region in afternoon and evening sessions.

For those following along here that means one noonish and another 6ish piece covering 8 games each.

Last year I attempted to capture updates from each game.  That was stupid.  This year you have to make your own fun.  If there is a game of particular interest you might create an anchor thread or simply note your observations below.  If ambition inspires you then do a satellite piece.  I’d be especially interested in alma reminisces.  You’ll get linked if not promoted as my time allows.

Finally, I like to tickle the ironies on occasion and so I repeat for you the song of the representative from the only League that dares, dares I say, send its regular season Champion into the fray-

I know it’s very bad form to quote one’s own reviews, but I would like to mention something that The New York Times said about me a year ago which I’ve always treasured — they said:

Mr. Lehrer’s muse is not fettered by such inhibiting factors as taste.

Now we come to that peculiar bit of americana known as the football fight song. I was reminded not too long ago, upon returning from my lesson with the scrabble pro at the Harvard Club in Boston, in the days of my undergraduacy long ago when there used to be these very long Saturday afternoons in the fall with nothing to do — the library was closed — just waiting around for the cocktail parties to begin. and on occasions like that, some of us used to wander over to the… I believe it was called the stadium, to see if anything might be going on over there. and one did come to realize that the football fight songs that one hears in comparable stadia have a tendency to be somewhat uncouth, and even violent, and that it would be refreshing, to say the least, to find one that was a bit more genteel. And here it is, dedicated to my own alma mater, and called Fight Fiercely, Harvard.

Fight fiercely, Harvard, fight, fight, fight! Demonstrate to them our skill.

Albeit they possess the might, nonetheless we have the will.

How we shall celebrate our victory, We shall invite the whole team up for tea (how jolly!)

Hurl that spheroid down the field, and fight, fight, fight!

Fight fiercely, Harvard, fight, fight, fight! Impress them with our prowess, do!

Oh, fellows, do not let the Crimson down, Be of stout heart and true.

Come on, chaps, fight for Harvard’s glorious name, Won’t it be peachy if we win the game? (oh, goody!)

Let’s try not to injure them, but fight, fight, fight! (let’s not be rough though)

And do fight fiercely! Fight, fight, fight!

Play In Day 1

Time Network Seed Team Record Seed Team Record Region
6:30 pm True 16 Western Kentucky 15-18 16 Mississippi Valley St. 21-12 South
9 pm True 14 Iona 25-7 14 BYU 25-8 West

All yours.

Mar 13 2012

US Labor Market Is Still a Mess

Wages have not matched inflation, unemployment for those without work for more than six months is topping 40% while real unemployment (U-6) sits at 14.9%, the housing market continues to tumble. The cost of housing, food, health care, education, transportation has gone up while wages have gone in the other direction.

That is the reality of the US economy and it does not bode well for a sustainable recovery, not without a boost from the government. Nobel Economist Joseph E. Stiglitz writes that “the labor market is a shambles” and it’s not going to improve anytime soon without a boost from the government:

Let’s assume that job creation continues at the rate of 225,000 jobs a month. That is only about 100,000 beyond the number required to provide jobs for the average monthly number of new entrants into the labour force. At that pace, it would take 150 months to reach full employment – 13 years, some time around 2025. The independent Congressional Budget Office is more optimistic, forecasting the return of full employment by 2018. [..]

Before the crisis, 40 per cent of all investment was in property. We had a housing bubble that left a legacy of excess capacity. Continuing weakness in the property sector is reflected in high foreclosure rates and low home prices. [..]

Finally, US states and local governments are constrained, to a large extent, by having to balance their budgets. They depend heavily on property taxes, so both revenues and expenditures have plummeted. This is why there are a million fewer public employees than before the crisis. Government as a whole is being procyclical, not countercyclical. [..]

Unfortunately, little has been done about the underlying structural problems. Indeed, the downturn, during which wages have not kept pace with inflation, has in many ways made US inequality worse.

Today the American economy faces three big risks. First, a steeper European downturn, as a result of the excessive austerity and the euro crisis. Second, complacency that the economy will recover quickly without government support. Though every downturn comes to an end, that should not be of much comfort. Third, that we accept that an unemployment rate above 7 per cent is inevitable.

If my Cassandra forecast turns out to be wrong, stimulus can be cut. But if it turns out to be right, and we do too little, we will live to regret it.

We need Congress and the President to stop listening to “Washington Consensus” and the “main stream” economists that are preaching “austerity” that will only prolong the economic decline and increase poverty.

Mar 13 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”.

Chris Hedges: Supreme Court Likely to Endorse Obama’s War on Whistle-Blowers

Totalitarian systems disempower an unsuspecting population by gradually making legal what was once illegal. They incrementally corrupt and distort law to exclusively serve the goals of the inner sanctums of power and strip protection from the citizen. Law soon becomes the primary tool to advance the crimes of the elite and punish those who tell the truth. The state saturates the airwaves with official propaganda to replace news. Fear, and finally terror, creates an intellectual and moral void.

We have very little space left to maneuver. The iron doors of the corporate state are slamming shut. And a conviction of Bradley Manning, or any of the five others charged by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act of 1917 with passing on government secrets to the press, would effectively terminate public knowledge of the internal workings of the corporate state. What we live under cannot be called democracy. What we will live under if the Supreme Court upholds the use of the Espionage Act to punish those who expose war crimes and state lies will be a species of corporate fascism. And this closed society is, perhaps, only a few weeks or months away.

Eugene Robinson: End the Afghan mission now

It was clear before Sunday’s horrific massacre of civilians that it’s past time for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan to end. Now the only question should be how quickly we can get our troops onto transport planes to fly them home.

What are we accomplishing, aside from enraging the Afghan population we’re allegedly trying to protect? How are we supposed to convince them that a civilian massacre carried out by a U.S. soldier is somehow preferable to a civilian massacre carried out by the Taliban? How does it make any of us safer to have the United States military known for burning Korans and killing innocent Muslim children in their beds? [..]

This is supposed to be a period of transition from U.S. occupation to Afghan government control. But what do we expect to accomplish between now and 2014, when our troops are supposed to come home? We can be confident that the Afghan government will still be feckless and corrupt. We can anticipate that the Afghan military will still lack personnel, equipment and training. We can be absolutely certain that the Taliban insurgents will still constitute a threat, because – and this is what gung-ho advocates of the war fail to grasp – they live there. To them, Afghanistan is not a battlefield but a home.

It’s their country, not ours. In increasingly clear language, Afghans are telling us to leave. We should listen and oblige.

George Zornick: Progressives Mount Major Campaign to Intimidate Corporate Election Donors

Short of an outright ban of corporate money from elections, disclosure is perhaps the best antidote to the political influence of big business. Notably, since Super PACs disclose donor information, only one-half of one percent of all contributions to the most active Super PACs this campaign season came from publicly traded corporations, which are naturally sensitive to coming under attack for political activities.

Business interests instead prefer the type of electioneering practiced by nonprofits like the US Chamber of Commerce, which is planning a $50 million campaign to influence House and Senate races coast to coast this fall-and they won’t have to disclose where a single dollar came from.

With that in mind, a coalition of public interest, labor and progressive groups announced today a major, fifty-state campaign to force disclosure by any means possible. It’s called “Our Democracy is Not For Sale.”

Ben Adler: Will the Courts Protect Voting Rights?

Last week brought two rare pieces of good news for voting rights advocates. In Wisconsin, Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan granted a temporary injunction, requested by the NAACP’s Milwaukee branch and immigration rights group Voces de la Frontera, preventing implementation of the state’s photo identification requirement for voting. Meanwhile, the Third Circuit of the US Court of Appeals reaffirmed a 1982 consent decree preventing the Republican National Committee from intimidating minority voters.

Unfortunately, voter intimidation and disenfranchisement will still occur, in Wisconsin and throughout the country.

The Wisconsin law, passed last spring, is facing four suits. The first, which is before Judge Flanagan with a trial set to start April 16, argues that a photo identification requirement violates the right of every citizen to vote guaranteed by the Wisconsin state constitution. The League of Women Voters has filed a similar suit, and argued their case last week in front of Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess.

John Kinsman: “Free Trade” is Not Free – Why We All Need to Oppose the TPP

There are always winners and losers in free trade. The winners are the 1% – the wealthy at the top. The losers are the 99% – that means the rest of us.

The latest free trade deal which is now being rushed by President Obama through Congress is known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Thirty years ago, the first free trade deals were enacted under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO), including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the Australia/US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), and many more. During this time, the global economic crisis accelerated at an alarming rate with only the 1% reaping the profits. This ongoing crisis will not end until these destructive free trade agreements are repealed and fair trade becomes the norm.

Mark Ames: Slovakia Defies the Kochs and Cato

On Saturday, the tiny EU nation Slovakia held parliamentary elections, and the results surprised the “experts”: The center-left party Smer, derisively described as “populist” in the American media, won in a record landslide, the first time a single party will control the majority in parliament in Slovakia’s post-Communist history.

The “populist” Smer won on an unexpectedly large turnout of 60 percent the socalled experts had been assuring readers there’d be a low turnout of 40 percent.

The high turnout reflects real suffering for the people of Slovakia that goes well beyond mere cynicism – they’re suffering from real, mass impoverishment, brought on by a decade of brutal free-market reforms, which hit the privatized pensions especially hard. That’s where we Americans come in, specifically the Cato Institute – but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Mar 13 2012

Jon Stewart: Not Nearly as Good as Samantha Bee

Samantha Bee

Jon Stewart

Mar 13 2012

On This Day In History March 13

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 13 is the 72nd day of the year (73rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 293 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1881. Czar Alexander II, the ruler of Russia since 1855, is killed in the streets of St. Petersburg by a bomb thrown by a member of the revolutionary “People’s Will” group. The People’s Will, organized in 1879, employed terrorism and assassination in their attempt to overthrow Russia’s czarist autocracy. They murdered officials and made several attempts on the czar’s life before finally assassinating him on March 13, 1881.

Alexander II succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father in 1855. The first year of his reign was devoted to the prosecution of the Crimean War and, after the fall of Sevastopol, to negotiations for peace, led by his trusted counsellor Prince Gorchakov. The country had been exhausted and humiliated by the war. Bribe-taking, theft and corruption were everywhere. Encouraged by public opinion he began a period of radical reforms, including an attempt to not to depend on a landed aristocracy controlling the poor, a move to developing Russia’s natural resources and to thoroughly reform all branches of the administration.

Emancipation of the serfs

In spite of his obstinacy in playing the Russian autocrat, Alexander II acted willfully for several years, somewhat like a constitutional sovereign of the continental type. Soon after the conclusion of peace, important changes were made in legislation concerning industry and commerce, and the new freedom thus afforded produced a large number of limited liability companies. Plans were formed for building a great network of railways-partly for the purpose of developing the natural resources of the country, and partly for the purpose of increasing its power for defence and attack.

The existence of serfdom was tackled boldly, taking advantage of a petition presented by the Polish landed proprietors of the Lithuanian provinces and, hoping that their relations with the serfs might be regulated in a more satisfactory way (meaning in a way more satisfactory for the proprietors), he authorised the formation of committees “for ameliorating the condition of the peasants”, and laid down the principles on which the amelioration was to be effected.

This step was followed by one still more significant. Without consulting his ordinary advisers, Alexander ordered the Minister of the Interior to send a circular to the provincial governors of European Russia, containing a copy of the instructions forwarded to the governor-general of Lithuania, praising the supposed generous, patriotic intentions of the Lithuanian landed proprietors, and suggesting that perhaps the landed proprietors of other provinces might express a similar desire. The hint was taken: in all provinces where serfdom existed, emancipation committees were formed.

But the emancipation was not merely a humanitarian question capable of being solved instantaneously by imperial ukase. It contained very complicated problems, deeply affecting the economic, social and political future of the nation.

Alexander had to choose between the different measures recommended to him. Should the serfs become agricultural labourers dependent economically and administratively on the landlords, or should they be transformed into a class of independent communal proprietors?

The emperor gave his support to the latter project, and the Russian peasantry became one of the last groups of peasants in Europe to shake off serfdom.

The architects of the emancipation manifesto were Alexander’s brother Konstantin, Yakov Rostovtsev, and Nikolay Milyutin.

On 3 March 1861, 6 years after his accession, the emancipation law was signed and published.

Mar 13 2012

More Bailouts for the “Too Big To Fail”

Besides the $700 billion from TARP and $17.7 trillion from the Federal Reserve the “Too Big To Fail” financial entities are still getting bailouts with tax payer dollars via tax breaks on losses. 90% of the insurance giant, American International Group Inc.’s (AIG), fourth quarter profits from 2011 were “because of an inappropriate tax break the government-owned insurance company continues to receive, according to four former members of the watchdog panel that oversaw the financial crisis bailouts“:

The break allows AIG to count its past net operating losses against future taxes. That amounts to a “stealth bailout” of a company that received about $125 billion in taxpayer money, said the former appointees to the Congressional Oversight Panel for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“It’s been more than three years since AIG lost its reckless bet on mortgage-backed securities, yet today AIG continues to get special tax breaks that last quarter accounted for 90% of its profits,” the panel’s former chairwoman, Elizabeth Warren, told reporters Monday on a conference call. “We think it’s time for Congress to end the special tax break.”

Warren, who is running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, was joined by former panel members Damon Silvers, Mark McWatters and Kenneth Troske in saying the tax break gives the illusion of significant profitability at the company.

The profits benefit AIG’s private stockholders and allow the company to pay higher executive compensation, the TARP panel members said.

“By doing it this way….billions of dollars leak out to the benefits of private parties, who really should not be benefiting from public policy in this way,” Silvers said.

The special tax exemption that AIG and other struggling companies received allows it to deduct its past losses against future tax bills thus showing a net profit. It allowed for AIG to hand out generous executive compensation and benefit private shareholders.

Just last week, Matt Stoller at naked capitalism reported that almost half the banks that had paid back TARP did so with funds from other government programs:

The Government Accountability Office continues its subtle war on the talking point used by Treasury that “TARP made money”. Here’s the GAO, with a report out today.

   As of January 31, 2012, 341 institutions had exited CPP, almost half by repaying CPP with funds from other federal programs. Institutions continue to exit CPP, but the number of institutions missing scheduled dividend or interest payments has increased.

Much of the government-supplied TARP funding (to small banks) was replaced by the Small Business Lending Fund passed in 2010, which Republicans called “TARP 2.0″.  The larger banks, however, where much of the bank-based credit creation in the economy takes place, didn’t use this program.  Instead, they got an implicit subsidy of between $6B (pdf) and $300B a year from the widespread belief that the government will not let their bondholders lose money…

You can take a stand with Ms. Warren and sign her petition:

Call on AIG to play by the rules