Daily Archive: 05/31/2012

May 31 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”.

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Richard (RJ) Eskow: December Surprise? From Rubin to Pelosi, Wall Street & DC Dems Push Post-Election Austerity

On a recent Meet the Press face-off between Democrats and Republicans, a politician claimed we urgently need to cut government spending. He embraced a plan to slash vital government programs and gut retirement security, while actually cutting taxes for the rich. The only tax hikes in his plan were targeted toward the already-devastated middle class.

Then it was time for the Republican to speak.

Who’d have thought it? Progressive stalwarts like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dick Durbin are pushing the same radical austerity plan as Jamie Dimon, CEO of troubled megabank JPMorgan Chase, and Robert Rubin, the Clinton Treasury Secretary who represents everything that’s broken about the Wall Street/Washington axis.

Mark Weisbrot: Europeans’ Economic Future Has Been Hijacked by Dangerous Ideologues

EU authorities, supported by Spain’s government, are pushing a political agenda at the expense of economic recovery

I have argued for some time now that the recurring crisis in the eurozone is not driven by financial markets’ demands for austerity in a time of recession, as is commonly asserted. Rather, the primary cause of the crisis and its prolongation is the political agenda of the European authorities – led by the European Central Bank (ECB) and European commission. These authorities (which, if we included the IMF constitute, the “troika” that runs economic policy in the eurozone) want to force political changes, particularly in the weaker economies, that people in these countries would never vote for.

This is becoming more blatantly obvious here in Spain, where the government – run by the rightwing Popular party (PP) – shares the political agenda of the European authorities, perhaps even more than the IMF does. The PP government has taken advantage of the crisis to impose labour law changes that will make it easier for employers to get out of industry-wide collective bargaining agreements. They have also taken away rights that workers’ had to challenge unfair firings. The goal is to weaken labour as part of a longer-term strategy to dismantle the welfare state; these changes have nothing to do with resolving the current crisis, or even reducing the budget deficit.

Cenk Uygur: What Did Obama Mean by Change?

No reporter has ever asked him as far as I know. I don’t know if any will ask this time around. What did you mean by “Change” anyway? He ran a whole campaign on it and does anyone really know what Barack Obama meant he was going to change?

I’m in the camp that he hasn’t changed a damn thing. People will counter with Lilly Ledbetter. It’s a lovely law, but does anyone really believe that’s what was meant by the grandiose statement “Change”?

Of course I use Lilly Ledbetter as a symbol. President Obama obviously has more accomplishments than that. He really did change the laws and many people’s perceptions on gay rights for example. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is history. The government is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act. And the President of the United States is finally for gay marriage. But did people really think Senator Obama meant he would change gay rights legislation? Is that what the 2008 election was about?

Jim Hightower: Who Needs Wall Street Giants?

JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and the handful of other behemoths of Wall Street that dominate American banking – who needs them?

After enduring years of insatiable greed by the slick-fingered hucksters who run these gambling houses; after watching in dismay as their ineptness and avarice drained more than $19 trillion from America’s household wealth since 2007 and plunged our real economy into the worst financial crisis since the 1930s Depression; after witnessing their shameful demands for trillions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts to save their banks and their jobs; and now after seeing them return immediately to business as usual, including paying multimillion-dollar bonuses to themselves — we have to ask: Huh!?!

Oh, no-no, cry the banking titans, don’t even think of looking behind the curtain! Trust us, say these Wall Street alchemists, for we are essential to juicing the economy with our complex abracadabra investment schemes.

Amy Goodman: WikiLeaks, War Crimes and the Pinochet Principle

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s protracted effort to fight extradition to Sweden suffered a body blow this week. Britain’s Supreme Court upheld the arrest warrant, issued in December 2010. After the court announced its split 5-2 decision, the justices surprised many legal observers by granting Assange’s lawyers an opportunity to challenge their decision-the first such reconsideration since the high-profile British extradition case from more than a decade ago against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The decision came almost two years to the day after Pvt. Bradley Manning was arrested in Iraq for allegedly leaking hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks. The cases remind us that all too often whistle-blowers suffer, while war criminals walk.

Assange has not been charged with any crime, yet he has been under house arrest in England for close to two years, ever since a “European Arrest Warrant” was issued by Sweden (importantly, by a prosecutor, not by a judge). Hoping to question Assange, the prosecutor issued the warrant for suspicion of rape, unlawful coercion and sexual molestation. Assange offered to meet the Swedish authorities in their embassy in London, or in Scotland Yard, but was refused.

Bill Boyarsky: Who Will the President Kill Next? It’s a Secret

The revelation that President Barack Obama is personally selecting names for a kill list of suspected al-Qaida terrorists is a striking illustration of what actually occurs behind the White House’s closed doors.

The New York Times revealed Tuesday how the president “has placed himself at the helm of a top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical.” He insists “on approving every new name on an expanding ‘kill list,’ poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre ‘baseball cards’ of an unconventional war.”

The Times described how more than 100 members of “the government’s sprawling national security apparatus” meet in a video conference to go over potential nominees for the death list and “recommend to the president who should be the next to die.” The nominations then go to the White House where Obama, guided by his top counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, approves names added to the list.

Willaim Pfaff: The Age of Drones

Counterinsurgency is out. Drones, assassination teams, targeted killings and special forces are in. A New York Times report on May 27 described the “existential debate” going on inside the faculty at West Point, the national military academy. Counterinsurgency doctrine from Vietnam-and the Philippines “insurgency” of 1899-1902-was refurbished by Gen. David Petraeus in the closing period of the Iraq War, and, combined with a sharp increase in troop strength (the “surge”), it was credited with ending the war there by confirming the Nouri al-Maliki Shiite government unsteadily in place.

After taking office as president, Barack Obama looked for a comparable success in Afghanistan. After consultations in Washington, and with Petraeus and the new commander of U.S. and Allied forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the president authorized a new “surge,” patterned on what seemed to have worked in Iraq. However, he added an important clause: The American troop reinforcement would be withdrawn in 18 months.

Hence his assurance to NATO officials in Chicago last week that U.S. (and NATO) combat forces are on their way out.

May 31 2012

On This Day In History May 31

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.

Click on image to enlarge

May 31 is the 151st day of the year (152nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 214 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1859, Big Ben goes into operation in London

The famous tower clock known as Big Ben, located at the top of the 320-foot-high St. Stephen’s Tower, rings out over the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, for the first time on this day in 1859.

After a fire destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster–the headquarters of the British Parliament–in October 1834, a standout feature of the design for the new palace was a large clock atop a tower. The royal astronomer, Sir George Airy, wanted the clock to have pinpoint accuracy, including twice-a-day checks with the Royal Greenwich Observatory. While many clockmakers dismissed this goal as impossible, Airy counted on the help of Edmund Beckett Denison, a formidable barrister known for his expertise in horology, or the science of measuring time.

Denison’s design, built by the company E.J. Dent & Co., was completed in 1854; five years later, St. Stephen’s Tower itself was finished. Weighing in at more than 13 tons, its massive bell was dragged to the tower through the streets of London by a team of 16 horses, to the cheers of onlookers. Once it was installed, Big Ben struck its first chimes on May 31, 1859. Just two months later, however, the heavy striker designed by Denison cracked the bell. Three more years passed before a lighter hammer was added and the clock went into service again. The bell was rotated so that the hammer would strike another surface, but the crack was never repaired.

Great Bell

The main bell, officially known as the Great Bell, is the largest bell in the tower and part of the Great Clock of Westminster. The bell is better known by the nickname Big Ben.

The original bell was a 16.3-tonne (16 ton) hour bell, cast on 6 August 1856 in Stockton-on-Tees by John Warner & Sons. The bell was named in honour of Sir Benjamin Hall, and his name is inscribed on it. However, another theory for the origin of the name is that the bell may have been named after a contemporary heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt. It is thought that the bell was originally to be called Victoria or Royal Victoria in honour of Queen Victoria, but that an MP suggested the nickname during a Parliamentary debate; the comment is not recorded in Hansard.

Since the tower was not yet finished, the bell was mounted in New Palace Yard. Cast in 1856, the first bell was transported to the tower on a trolley drawn by sixteen horses, with crowds cheering its progress. Unfortunately, it cracked beyond repair while being tested and a replacement had to be made. The bell was recast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a 13.76-tonne (13 1/2 ton) bell. This was pulled 200 ft up to the Clock Tower’s belfry, a feat that took 18 hours. It is 2.2 metres tall and 2.9 metres wide. This new bell first chimed in July 1859. In September it too cracked under the hammer, a mere two months after it officially went into service. According to the foundry’s manager, George Mears, Denison had used a hammer more than twice the maximum weight specified. For three years Big Ben was taken out of commission and the hours were struck on the lowest of the quarter bells until it was reinstalled. To make the repair, a square piece of metal was chipped out from the rim around the crack, and the bell given an eighth of a turn so the new hammer struck in a different place. Big Ben has chimed with an odd twang ever since and is still in use today complete with the crack. At the time of its casting, Big Ben was the largest bell in the British Isles until “Great Paul”, a 17 tonne (16 3/4 ton) bell currently hung in St Paul’s Cathedral, was cast in 1881.

May 31 2012

Another Blue Dog Bites The Dust

Good news for the real left: an eight term House Democrat in the Texas 16th Congressional District went down in flames in a primary against former El Paso City Council representative:

Former city Rep. Beto O’Rourke bucked a nationwide trend Tuesday night by ousting eight-term U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes in the 16th Congressional District race.

In the final tally, O’Rourke beat Reyes by 23,248 votes to 20,427, or 50.5 percent to 44.4 percent.

Nationally, challengers rarely defeat incumbents in primary elections, and only a few exceptions have occurred so far this election cycle.

When the first numbers were posted earlier Tuesday evening — the results of early voting — O’Rourke had a healthy 51.3 percent to 43.3 percent lead, but Reyes was closing the gap as the evening progressed. However, he was not able to garner enough votes to push the race into a runoff election.

Rep. Reyes had the blessing of President Obama and former President Bill Clinton, who personally reaffirmed an endorsement delivered earlier in a video. The voters obviously were ready for real change by voting for O’Rourke who is opposed to the war on drugs arguing that drug laws increase profits for Mexican drug cartels and increase violence, as well as, real job stimulus by supporting government sponsored projects and a full service Veterans Hospital.

Matt Stoller, writing at naked capitalism, had this to say about Reyes’ defeat:

There are many reasons to be happy that Reyes lost.  He is and was an awful Congressman, both stupid and craven.  As Democratic leader of the Intelligence Committee, Reyes did not know the group Hezbollah, and he didn’t know whether Al Qaeda was Sunni or Shia.  Reyes is a proponent of any number of authoritarian policies violating our civil liberties, and he is backed by predator drone cash.  So if you like militarizing, well, everything, then Reyes is your man.  And this has been the trend recently.

So it’s nice to see voters choose peace over war, and an end the war on drugs.  Now that a candidate won a significant race while arguing for drug decriminalization, it’s going to be increasingly more difficult for politicians to avoid debating the issue.  And that’s good.

The 16th CD is located in a heavily Democratic El Paso and since it creation in 1903 has had only one Republican representative who lasted just one term. So, in all probability Mr. O’Rourke will handily defeat his Republican Barbara Carrasco in November holding the seat and moving it left.

Take that Third Way Democrats. This is how you get real change.

May 31 2012

My Little Town 20120530: Granddad and His Tractor

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

I have mentioned my grandfather Smith before, and in passing said that he had bought a tractor since at 88 he was too old to pass a driver’s test.  In Arkansas there is a specific exemption from having to have a driver’s license when one is operating “implements of husbandry” on public roadways, mostly to let underage kids help their families run the farm.

The loophole worked very well for him, because the mile and a half one way walk to town was getting to be too much for him, especially in the heat of the summer and the dead of winter.  He always needed to go to town for something or other like Prince Albert or other things, and he liked to hang out with the guys who would sit in front of John Mackey’s little store and chew the fat.

May 31 2012

Karl Marx on the Paris Commune and Occupy Wall Street by Justina

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The Occupy movement has sent out a Call to Action for a June 20th   “Global Festival” to celebrate their global demand for a Universal Living Wage:

The regime of wholesale robbery – what the 1% call  “austerity” – is already falling across Europe, and soon will fall  across the world. But the inevitable collapse of austerity is not  enough. We, the 99%, demand a world beyond Wall Street. We demand a  system where everyone can not only survive, but flourish.  To reach this  world, we are raising our voices to demand a universal living wage.

We call on all occupies, unions, community organizations, immigrants  rights groups,  bodies, religious organizations, environmental groups,  anti-poverty activists, and everyone to join us June 20th, 2012 for a  new holiday for the 99%: A Global Festival for the Universal Living  Wage.

No, Karl Marx, dead since 1883,  is not now able to report on the events  of the Occupy Movement, as he did on events of the U.S.’s Civil War for  the NY Herald Tribune in the 1860’s and the Paris Commune in the  1870’s, but strangely, to this day, the mere mention of his name still  strikes terror into the hearts of global capitalists and their media  puppets, such as Sean Hannity.  Link to

There must be a reason that the capitalist powers of the 21st century  tremble at his name 129 years after his death, his writing must have  been very dangerous indeed.  How much they must be fear of Tim Poole’s  live-streaming.  No wonder they arrested him this month in Chicago!.   Read below to understand why Karl Marx, and especially his writing on  the Paris Commune, was such a danger to capitalism.

May 31 2012

What Has Happened to the Democrats?

   [I]t is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

   It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.

~Thomas Paine~, The Age of Reason

During the Bush administration the Democrats were opposed to the unitary executive powers that Bush assumed. When they realized how intrusive the government had becomes post 9/11 with surveillance, warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens, torture, indefinite detention, military commissions, Guantanamo and the general disregard for the rule of law, the Democrats railed against those policies. What happened that all these polices and now, targeted assassinations without due process have become acceptable? It is incomprehensible that under a Democratic president the right wing shredding of the Constitution is reasonable and defended by those who most vociferously opposed it.

In a New York Times Editorial, Andrew Rosenthal wrote this about President Obama’s “Kill Lists” and the use of unmanned drones:

Apologists for the president’s “just trust me” approach to targeted killings emphasize that the program is highly successful and claim that the drone strikes are extraordinarily precise. John Brennan, the president’s counter-terrorism adviser, said in a recent speech that not a single non-combatant had been killed in a year of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And today’s Times article quoted a senior administration official who said that civilian deaths were in the “single digits.”

But it turns out that even this hey-it’s-better-than-carpet-bombing justification is rather flimsy. The Times article says “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties …It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

The logic, such as it is, is that people who hang around places where Qaeda operatives hang around must be up to no good. That’s the sort of approach that led to the false imprisonment of thousands of Iraqis, including the ones tortured at Abu Ghraib. Mr. Obama used to denounce that kind of thinking.

So now just living in a village where the US thinks, there are insurgents, be they really Al Qaeda or just people defending their country from invaders, all men in the vicinity are enemy combatants, the President can have you killed and they can prove their innocence post mortem. As Cenk Uygur stated, “This is deeply immoral

“Memorial Day weekend brought news of more U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan as The New York Times raises new questions about President Obama’s so-called “Kill List” of terrorists targeted for assassination. An extensive report in Tuesday’s paper looks at the use of targeted attacks to take out terrorism suspects in other parts of the world, an increasingly important part of the government’s anti-terrorism policies that Barack Obama himself has taken personal responsibility for. According to the story, the President approves every name on the list of terrorism targets, reviewing their biographies and the evidence against them, and then authorizing “lethal action without hand-wringing.”

As the president has slowly drawn down American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of drone attacks to take out senior leaders of al-Qaeda

and the Taliban has become the primary tactic for fighting terrorism overseas. However, it raises a lot of legal and ethical questions about extra-judicial killings of individuals, particularly those who happen to be American citizens…”.

Will Bunch expressed his outrage in his Philadelphia Daily News column

{T]oday the harm that’s caused by raining death from machines in the sky down onto far too many civilians — including someone’s son, brother, or father who wasn’t “up to no good” at all — vastly outweighs any good. Righteous anger over the killing of civilians creates new terrorists faster than the killing of any old ones. As for the morally indefensible position that any male killed in such an attack is “probably up to no good,” isn’t the Obama administration saying the EXACT same thing that George Zimmerman said about Trayvon Martin? [..]

Actually, the similarity with Zimmerman is even greater than I first thought. What he said to the Sanford police dispatcher was that Trayvon Martin “looks like he’s up to no good.” Thank God Zimmerman didn’t have drones, huh?

Some of us on the left, many of whom supported President Obama in 2008, have some very serious issues with this President and those of his supporters who are choosing now to ignore all the horrendous violations of US and International law and the continued trampling of our rights and freedoms, but are now wholeheartedly accepting and defending these policies (Warning: link leads to a right wing Obama 527). They would love it if Obama’s critics would just sit down and shut up.

What has happened to Democrats who were willing to call for not just the impeachment but the arrest and prosecution of both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney? Now Barack Obama has taken those same policies a step further and made them acceptable to his loyal supporters but not to those of us who still hold to the same principles we did eleven years ago.