04/10/2012 archive

Chernobyl, and Titanic iPad apps

The Long Shadow of Chernobyl  $6.99

Photographer Gerd Ludwig, considered one of the leading documentary photographers of our time, introduces his premiere app for the iPad, the most comprehensive photographic coverage of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to date. Spanning nearly two decades of documentation, his groundbreaking work explores the human and environmental impacts since the disaster, including photos from Ludwig’s most recent trip to Chernobyl, taken in early 2011 as the crisis at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant was unfolding.

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”.

New York Times Editorial: A Rockier Pathway to Work

Hundreds of thousands of unemployed people are desperate for new skills to pull them back into the job market, but when they visit a job-training center, they are often turned away. As Motoko Rich reported in The Times on Monday, Seattle’s seven centers had money to train only 5 percent of the 120,000 people who came in last year seeking new skills, and the numbers are similar elsewhere

The reason: drastic cuts to federal spending on training over the last six years, including $1 billion since the 2010 fiscal year. Even though training programs are already harder to get into than Ivy League universities, Republicans in the House want to put them even further out of reach.

Dean Baker: Obama and Romney Are Politicians, Not Visionaries

There is a dangerously painful story line that is being propagated about a presidential race between President Obama and Mitt Romney. The line is that this will be a contest over competing visions for the country. In this story the alternative visions are outlined in the competing budgets put forward by President Obama and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, which Governor Romney has embraced.

The story of competing visions is a cute fairy tale for people who don’t know anything about Washington and American politics. For adults who have not newly arrived from some foreign country, this line is just silly.

President Obama and Governor Romney are politicians, not philosophers. They have not made it to the top of the political ladder because of their grand visions of the future. They got their positions by appealing to powerful political actors who were able to give them the money and/or votes needed to get ahead.

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship: The Best Congress the Banks’ Money Can Buy

Here we go again. Another round of the game we call Congressional Creep. After months of haggling and debate, Congress finally passes reform legislation to fix a serious rupture in the body politic, and the president signs it into law. But the fight’s just begun, because the special interests immediately set out to win back what they lost when the reform became law.

They spread money like manure on the campaign trails of key members of Congress. They unleash hordes of lobbyists on Capitol Hill, cozy up to columnists and editorial writers, spend millions on lawyers who relentlessly pick at the law, trying to rewrite or water down the regulations required for enforcement. Before you know it, what once was an attempt at genuine reform creeps back toward business as usual.

Dave Johnson: New Super-PAC Threatens to Destroy Candidates Who Side With the People Over Wall Street

Banks are pioneering a more cost-effective method of dealing with legislators who stand in their way.

A new super-PAC with the purpose of destroying elected officials who oppose the interests of the super-PAC’s founders rather than focusing on electing candidates who favor their interests demonstrates how the movement conservatives on the Supreme Court have fundamentally altered our system. A super – PAC is a political action committee with no limits on personal or corporate contributions and no limits on the amounts it spends. This system of unlimited corporate – and billionaire – spending for and against candidates was enabled by the recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United that said corporations are “people” and the use of corporate money to influence elections is “speech.”

Felix Salmon: The Europe debate

Remember the Krugman vs Summers debate last year? That was fun, in its own way. But this year’s Munk Debate looks set to be simply depressing. The invitation has the details: the motion is “be it resolved that the European experiment has failed”. And I’m reasonably confident that the “pro” side – Niall Ferguson and Josef Joffe – is going to win.

That’s partly because Ferguson has the public-speaking chops to dismantle his meeker opponents, Peter Mandelson and Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Ferguson is likely to go strongly for the jugular, while Mandelson and Cohn-Bendit will noodle around ineffectually, hedging their conclusions and sacrificing rhetorical dominance for the sake of intellectual honesty.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: The Real War on Youth: Esquire’s Dubious Achievements

In 2010 the men’s magazine Esquire enlisted Lawrence O’Donnell, along with a panel of Republicans and economically centrist Democrats, to duplicate the anti-Social Security efforts of the Simpson/Bowles Deficit Commission. Now the magazine is at it again, with an economically illiterate and deceptive piece about “generational conflict” called “The War on Youth.” Meanwhile the real war on youth is an assault on their employment prospects, education costs, and, yes, their future Social Security benefits. On two of those three fronts, Esquire is distracting its presumably youthful male readers from the real threats to their economic security. And on the third front, it’s fighting for the wrong army.

Hi, I’m a Lefty

I’m Rubberaremedlefty, and I want to introduce myself.  

I was born a sharecropper….no, that’s not right.  I had a great childhood, fine parents, and good dental growing up.  

But as a left hander, I had certain…difficulties fitting in.  The chairs in school didn’t allow for me to write properly.  The baseball glove my parents bought for me didn’t fit in the correct hand.  And tying my shoes was impossible the way my mom taught me.  Seemed like everything I did, I had to look at backwards or sideways from the way everybody else saw the world.  And I didn’t even know this until my cousin told me I was left handed, like her.  Oh, she taught me to tie my shoes too.  

The Continued Lies About Social Security and Medicare

Paul Krugman summed it up best:

Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker are both mad, understandably, at Robert Samuelson, who pulls out, for the 7 millionth time, the old Social Security bait and switch. Here’s how it works: to make the quite mild financial shortfall of Social Security seem apocalyptic, the writer starts out by talking about Social Security, then starts using numbers that combine SS with the health care programs – programs that are very different in conception, financing, and solutions.

And then the writer ends by demanding that we cut Social Security, as opposed to addressing health care costs. [..]

Let us reason together*: the dire fate we’re supposed to fear is that future benefits won’t be as high as scheduled; and in order to avert that fate we must, um, guarantee through immediate action that future benefits won’t be as high as scheduled. Yay! Wait, what?

Dean Baker slices and dices the factless Mr. Samuelson who apparently hates anything that helps keep people out of poverty which both Social Security and Medicare have done. Mr. Baker gives us the straight facts:

Mr. Samuelson’s first point was to tell the readers that Social Security is “welfare” and that payroll taxes are not segregated into a special fund. And as usual he is complexly wrong, from Mr. Baker:

Payroll taxes have been segregated. That is the point of the Social Security trust fund and the Social Security trustees report. These institutions would make no sense if the funds were not segregated.

Samuelson is welcome to not like the way in which the funds were segregated, in the same way that I don’t like the Yankees, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Yankees have a very good baseball team. Since its beginnings, the government has maintained a separate Social Security account. Under the law, no money can be paid out in Social Security benefits unless the Trust Fund has the money to pay for them.

Another falsehood from Mr. Samuelson that was highlighted by Mr. Baker was this gem:

In 1960, there were five workers per recipient; today, there are three, and by 2025 the ratio will approach two. Roosevelt’s fear has materialized. Paying all benefits requires higher taxes, cuts in other programs or large deficits.

But as Mr. Baker says:

On average we were much richer in the 90s than in the sixties, in spite of the fall in the ratio of workers to retirees. The same will be true in 2030, even assuming that we see the projected decline in the ratio of workers to retirees.

A small fact that Samuelson never mentions in this piece is that the Congressional Budget Office projects the program to be fully funded through 2038, with no changes whatsoever (i.e. no new taxes, contra Samuelson). If we want to make the program fully solvent for the rest of the century, a tax increase that is equal to 5 percent of projected wage growth over the next three decades should be roughly sufficient to do the trick. Are you scared yet?

Finally Mr. Samuels ends with this nonsense:

Although new recipients have paid payroll taxes higher and longer than their predecessors, their benefits still exceed taxes paid even assuming (again, fictitiously) that they had been invested. A two-earner couple with average wages retiring in 2010 would receive lifetime Social Security and Medicare benefits worth $906,000 compared with taxes of $704,000, estimate Steuerle and Rennane.

Sounds serious, but it isn’t. From Mr. Baker:

Remember we were talking about Social Security? Note that Samuelson refers to “lifetime Social Security and Medicare benefits.” It wasn’t an accident that he brought Medicare into this discussion. That is because Steuerle and Rennane’s calculations show that this average earning couple would get back less in Social Security benefits than what they paid in taxes. That would not fit well with Samuelson’s story, so he brings in Medicare (remember this is the Washington Post).

Mr. Baker points out that the reason Medicare costs are so high “is due to the fact that we pay our doctors, our drug companies, and our medical equipment suppliers way more than do people in any other country, and we have no better outcomes.”

And Jared Bernstein further debunks Mr. Samuel’s falsehoods with facts from the CBPP (pdf):

– The trustees estimate that the combined Social Security trust funds will be exhausted in 2036 -a year earlier than they forecast in last year’s report.

– After 2036, Social Security could pay three-fourths of scheduled benefits using its annual tax income [Samuelson implies all benefits expire in three years!]. Those who fear that Social Security won’t be around when today’s young workers retire misunderstand the trustees’ projections.

– The program’s shortfall is relatively modest, amounting to 0.8 percent of GDP over the next 75 years (and 1.45 percent of GDP in 2085).  A mix of tax increases and benefit modifications – carefully crafted to shield recipients of limited means and to give ample notice to all participants – could put the program on a sound footing indefinitely.

– The 75-year Social Security shortfall is only slightly larger than the cost, over that period, of extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the richest 2 percent of Americans (those with incomes above $250,000 a year).

And Mr. Baker has noted that the projected shortfall for the Medicare program “over the program’s 75-year planning horizon is less than 0.4 percent of GDP. This is less than one quarter of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Strange country this USA that elects politicians who want to fund wars and cut taxes for the wealthy but not provide health care or the pension (Social Security) that has been fully funded by the recipients. Very strange

Won’t Get Fooled Again?

Why Obama’s JOBS Act Couldn’t Suck Worse

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

April 9, 11:53 AM ET

Boy, do I feel like an idiot. I’ve been out there on radio and TV in the last few months saying that I thought there was a chance Barack Obama was listening to the popular anger against Wall Street that drove the Occupy movement, that decisions like putting a for-real law enforcement guy like New York AG Eric Schneiderman in charge of a mortgage fraud task force meant he was at least willing to pay lip service to public outrage against the banks.

Then the JOBS Act happened.

The “Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act” (in addition to being a viciously stupid and dishonest law, the Act has an annoying, redundant title) will very nearly legalize fraud in the stock market.

Actually, that’s not putting things in strong enough language. In fact, one could say this law is not just a sweeping piece of deregulation that will have an increase in securities fraud as an accidental, ancillary consequence. No, this law actually appears to have been specifically written to encourage fraud in the stock markets.

This is like formally eliminating steroid testing for the first five years of a baseball player’s career. Yes, you can pretty much bet that you’ll see a lot of home runs in the first few years after you institute a rule like that. But you’d better be ready to stick a lot asterisks in the record books ten or fifteen years down the line.

(L)et’s just say this is a dramatic step taken by Barack Obama. Nobody should have any illusions about where he stands on Wall Street corruption after this thing. Boss Tweed himself couldn’t have done any worse.

Speaking of Eric Schneiderman-

CREDO Calls Out Securitization Fraud Task Force: Investigators Not Even Deployed

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Monday April 9, 2012 8:15 am

We have heard very little from that task force since it was inaugurated in January, and CREDO has become the first progressive group to come forward with their concerns. But more is coming. This is the kickoff of a pressure campaign among several groups, querying the Administration in public about what was described to me last week as “the case of the missing task force.”

This matters not just because of broken promises, but because the foot-dragging has serious consequences. Many of the various types of fraud that this task force is supposed to be investigating have statutes of limitations, some of which will run out on the very last securitization deals completed before the housing bubble collapsed. There are several 10-year statutes of limitations, particularly through the federal law FIRREA. But other statutes have a 5-year limit, and the last deals were made in 2007. So this looks suspiciously like running out the clock.

The Administration obviously must answer these charges, and I’ll try to get some clarity on that today. But Eric Schneiderman’s office needs to also speak up. Schneiderman and his staff said specifically that they would walk from the task force if they felt it wasn’t living up to the promises made to him in terms of resources and will. We’re only three months in, but that looks exactly like what’s happening. If there are bad actors blocking investigations, Schneiderman needs to say it, as he vowed to do.

When the coalition seeking accountability from the banks acquiesced to a settlement on foreclosure fraud with the hope that this task force would bring the investigations, prosecutions and relief needed, they said that election-year pressures would force something real to come about. That has proven so far to be a chimera. We shall see if they can elevate the issue again, with less leverage thanks to the settlement’s completion.

On This Day In History April 10

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.

April 10 is the 100th day of the year (101st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 265 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1970, Paul McCartney announces the breakup of the Beatles.

The legendary rock band the Beatles spent the better part of three years breaking up in the late 1960s, and even longer than that hashing out who did what and why. And by the spring of 1970, there was little more than a tangled set of business relationships keeping the group together. Each of the Beatles was pursuing his musical interests outside of the band, and there were no plans in place to record together as a group. But as far as the public knew, this was just a temporary state of affairs. That all changed on April 10, 1970, when an ambiguous Paul McCartney “self-interview” was seized upon by the international media as an official announcement of a Beatles breakup.

The occasion for the statements Paul released to the press that day was the upcoming release of his debut solo album, McCartney. In a Q&A format in which he was both the interviewer and the interviewee, Paul first asked and answered a number of straightforward questions involving the recording equipment he used on the album, which instruments he played and who designed the artwork for the cover.

THIS is Love

Regardless of where it goes, love is wonderful!

I love my two girls without question.

Is that bad?

Warmest regards,