Daily Archive: 06/07/2012

Jun 07 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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New York Times Editorial: The Message From Wisconsin

When Gov. Scott Walker moved to strip Wisconsin public employees of their collective-bargaining rights last year, a few weeks after taking office, it was clear that he wasn’t doing it to save the state money. If that had been the case, he would have accepted the unions’ agreement to pay far more in health care and pension costs. His real goal was political: to break the unions by demonizing their “bosses,” ending their ability even to collect dues and removing them as a source of money and energy for Democrats.

On Tuesday, as Mr. Walker easily fought off a recall by a 7-point margin over his challenger, it became clear just how effective that strategy has been.

To start, labor failed to nominate its preferred candidate last month to run against Mr. Walker. Instead, Democrats chose Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, who then barely talked about collective-bargaining rights, sensing it would not help him. Nearly a third of union voters (presumably from private-sector unions) voted for Mr. Walker, exit polls showed, as did nearly half of voters from union households who were not union members.

Randall Fuller: Paralysis in Athens

“WHAT are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?” asked the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy in 1904. “Why do the Senators sit and pass no laws?”

Less than two weeks before Greece holds another round of national elections, Cavafy’s famous poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” has renewed force and urgency in Athens. The elections, scheduled for June 17, will decide Greece’s fate in the euro zone and perhaps even its long-term future as a viable state. But with an excruciating choice to be made between draconian austerity measures and a departure from Europe’s shared currency, the birthplace of democracy is paralyzed with indecision and poised to descend into chaos and economic catastrophe.

Evidence of a state tottering on the edge of complete dysfunction is apparent everywhere in Athens. Traffic signals work sporadically; a sign giving the shortened hours of one of the world’s great museums, the National Archaeological Museum, is haphazardly taped to the door; police officers in riot gear patrol the perimeters of the universities, where a growing population of anarchists, disaffected young people and drug addicts congregate in communal hopelessness.

Robert Sheer: Democrats Failed in Wisconsin Because They Failed Wisconsin

On, Wisconsin! Or so it was meant to be with a union-led recall in the home state of Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette Sr., the populist governor and senator who once shaped the cry for anti-corporate social justice in this nation. After La Follette there was the Wisconsinite William Proxmire, the great conscience of the U.S. Senate, followed by the equally impressive Russ Feingold, who, despite being exactly correct in warning of the consequences of unfettered banking greed, was turned out by Wisconsin voters in 2010. Perhaps if the original McCain-Feingold legislation-gutted by the Supreme Court-was still the law of the land on campaign finance, the Democrats and their union base would have survived Tuesday’s election.

Certainly that is the excuse provided by what remains of the liberal media, which point to the lopsided advantage in funding for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and to the high court’s Citizens United ruling in seeking reasons for this “billionaire’s victory” over “people power.” But the larger truth is that the spirit of populism has been perverted by the Republican tea party right and that Democrats are left defending government bureaucracy while remaining incapable of responding to America’s widespread economic pain.

Amy Goodman: It’s One Person, One Vote, Not 1 Percent, One Vote

The failed effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is widely seen as a crisis for the labor movement, and a pivotal moment in the 2012 U.S. presidential-election season. Walker launched a controversial effort to roll back the power of Wisconsin’s public employee unions, and the unions pushed back, aided by strong, grass-roots solidarity from many sectors. This week, the unions lost. Central to Walker’s win was a massive infusion of campaign cash, saturating the Badger state with months of political advertising. His win signals less a loss for the unions than a loss for our democracy in this post-Citizens United era, when elections can be bought with the help of a few billionaires.

The voters of Wisconsin did return control of the state Senate to the Democratic Party. The new majority will have the power to block the type of controversial legislation that made Walker famous. Meanwhile, three states over in Montana, the Democratic state attorney general, Steve Bullock, won his party’s nomination for governor to run for the seat held by term-limited Democrat Brian Schweitzer. Bullock, as attorney general, has taken on Citizens United by defending the state’s 100-year-old     corrupt-practices act, which prohibits the type of campaign donations allowed under Citizens United. The case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wisconsin’s recall is over, but the fight for democracy starts with one person, one vote, not 1 percent, one vote.

Joe Conanson: Silent Running: The Burgeoning Wisconsin Scandal That Major Media Ignored

If the Wisconsin recall is truly second in importance only to the presidential race, as many media outlets have trumpeted lately, then why have those same outlets so badly neglected one of that election’s most salient aspects?

As millions of dollars in dark right-wing money pour into the state to preserve Gov. Scott Walker from his progressive opposition, it seems relevant that he and many top aides are under investigation in a campaign finance and corruption scandal that has been growing for two years.

Yet the national media have largely ignored the fascinating details of that probe-which has already resulted in indictments, convictions and cooperation agreements implicating more than a dozen Walker aides and donors. Only readers of the local newspapers in Madison or Milwaukee would know, for instance, law enforcement documents have emerged in court during the past few days suggesting that Walker stonewalled the investigation in its initial phase.

Richard Reeves: Country For Sale

The word “takeaway” was first used in 1961, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. And then it was about Chinese restaurants. Now it is about everything, including elections.

“Three Takeaways From the Recall Vote” was the headline over the election analysis of Sean Trende, the senior election analyst of Real Clear Politics.

On Politico.com, the headline over Glenn Thrush’s analysis was, “Only One Takeaway From Wisconsin: Money Shouts.”

Trende, a great name for a political writer, began his piece on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s surviving a recall election by saying that the results don’t tell us much about 2012. He argued that special elections are poor predictors of general elections, particularly presidential elections. This one, he said, was about one governor, one state, one issue-that is, Walker’s attempt to reduce the pay and benefits of unionized state employees. He cited exit polling that indicated most voters believe that recalls should be used only in cases of corruption.

Jun 07 2012

The European Version of Too Big To Fail

Europe weighs up limited Spanish rescue

By Peter Spiegel in Brussels, Victor Mallet in Madrid and Ralph Atkins in Frankfurt

European officials are weighing up a bailout programme for Spain that would aid its fragile domestic banking sector while imposing only “very limited conditionality” on Madrid, a concession that could make a reluctant Spanish government more willing to accept international assistance.

Unlike earlier bailouts for Greece, Portugal and Ireland, the proposed Spanish rescue would require few austerity measures beyond reforms already agreed with the EU and could even dispense with the close monitoring by international lenders that has proved contentious in Athens and Dublin, according to people familiar with the plans.

EU support would instead be contingent on increased external oversight and accelerated restructuring of the Spanish financial sector to address lingering concerns about political interference and cronyism in the cajas, the regional savings banks that loaded up on questionable real estate loans during the housing bubble.

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, added to the pressure building on EU and Spanish officials on Wednesday, after he left interest rates unchanged and put the onus to solve the eurozone debt crisis squarely on the continent’s politicians. While saying the ECB stood “ready to act”, Mr Draghi insisted that most of the problems befalling the eurozone have “nothing to do with monetary policy”.

Spain Holds a Trump Card in Bank Bailout Negotiations

by Nicholas Kulish and Raphael Minder

The question has seemingly become one of when, and not if, Spain’s banks will receive assistance from European countries, with investors on Wednesday predicting an imminent rescue and pushing up stocks and bonds on both sides of the Atlantic.

Spain, the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy, is too big to fail and possibly too big to steamroll, changing the balance of power in negotiations over a bailout. Political leaders in Madrid are insisting that emergency aid to their banks avoid the stigma in capital markets that has hobbled countries like Greece, Portugal and Ireland after accepting tough rescue terms. They are also fighting to slow the pace of austerity and economic change that have pushed those smaller countries into deeper recessions.

Spain has the added advantage of seeking help in a changed political environment in which calls for growth have begun to outweigh German insistence on austerity. Unlike Greece, Spain’s government did not run large budget deficits before the crisis, giving it leverage to argue that European aid to its banks should not come weighed down with a politically delicate loss of decision-making power over its own economic and fiscal policies.

Yves Smith take on what to do about the teetering European Banks:

Although markets reacted as if a deal was imminent, the FT makes it sound as if quite a few details need to be ironed out. And no wonder: the ECB, the one institution that could act unilaterally, has indicated it will only play a limited role and is leery of making long-term loans to Spanish banks or buying their debt. In addition, Spain appears to be taking an unwise posture, of asking for as little money for its banks as it thinks it will need. Rumors from Spanish officials come in at €40 billion, while European officials are looking at numbers more than twice that large. The big rule of fundraising is always raise a good bit more than you think you need in the first round; it will be vastly more expensive if you need to come to the well later.

Given that the shape of a Spanish bank rescue is very much in play, posts by European experts may well influence the outcome. While some of these recommendations might sound like the banking versions of apple pie and motherhood, it’s important to recognize that few of these basic principles have been adopted in recent bailout programs.

Jun 07 2012

On This Day In History June 7

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

June 7 is the 158th day of the year (159th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 207 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1692, a massive earthquake devastates the infamous town of Port Royal in Jamaica, killing thousands. The strong tremors, soil liquefaction and a tsunami brought on by the earthquake combined to destroy the entire town.

Port Royal was built on a small island off the coast of Jamaica in the harbor across from present-day Kingston. Many of the buildings where the 6,500 residents lived and worked were constructed right over the water. In the 17th century, Port Royal was known throughout the New World as a headquarters for piracy, smuggling and debauchery. It was described as “most wicked and sinful city in the world” and “one of the lewdest in the Christian world.”

Earthquakes in the area were not uncommon, but were usually rather small. In 1688, a tremor had toppled three homes. But four years later, late in the morning on June 7, three powerful quakes struck Jamaica. A large tsunami hit soon after, putting half of Port Royal under 40 feet of water. The HMS Swan was carried from the harbor and deposited on top of a building on the island. It turned out to be a refuge for survivors.

Piracy in Port Royal

Port Royal provided a safe harbour initially for privateers and subsequently for pirates plying the shipping lanes to and from Spain and Panama. Buccaneers found Port Royal appealing for several reasons. Its proximity to trade routes allowed them easy access to prey, but the most important advantage was the port’s proximity to several of the only safe passages or straits giving access to the Spanish Main from the Atlantic. The harbour was large enough to accommodate their ships and provided a place to careen and repair these vessels. It was also ideally situated for launching raids on Spanish settlements. From Port Royal, Henry Morgan attacked Panama, Portobello, and Maracaibo. Roche Brasiliano, John Davis (buccaneer), and Edward Mansveldt (Mansfield) also came to Port Royal.

Since the English lacked sufficient troops to prevent either the Spanish or French from seizing it, the Jamaican governors eventually turned to the pirates to defend the city.

By the 1660s, the city had gained a reputation as the Sodom of the New World where most residents were pirates, cutthroats, or prostitutes. When Charles Leslie wrote his history of Jamaica, he included a description of the pirates of Port Royal:

   Wine and women drained their wealth to such a degree that… some of them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or 3,000 pieces of eight in one night; and one gave a strumpet 500 to see her naked. They used to buy a pipe of wine, place it in the street, and oblige everyone that passed to drink.

The taverns of Port Royal were known for their excessive consumption of alcohol such that records even exist of the wild animals of the area partaking in the debauchery. During a passing visit, famous Dutch explorer Jan van Riebeeck is said to have described the scenes:

   The parrots of Port Royal gather to drink from the large stocks of ale with just as much alacrity as the drunks that frequent the taverns that serve it.

There is even speculation in pirate folklore that the infamous Blackbeard met a howler monkey while at leisure in a Port Royal alehouse whom he named Jefferson and formed a strong bond with during the expedition to the island of New Providence. Port Royal benefited from this lively, glamorous infamy and grew to be one of the two largest towns and the most economically important port in the English colonies. At the height of its popularity, the city had one drinking house for every ten residents. In July 1661 alone, forty new licenses were granted to taverns. During a twenty-year period that ended in 1692, nearly 6,500 people lived in Port Royal. In addition to prostitutes and buccaneers, there were four goldsmiths, forty-four tavern keepers, and a variety of artisans and merchants who lived in 2000 buildings crammed into 51 acres of real estate. 213 ships visited the seaport in 1688. The city’s wealth was so great that coins were preferred for payment rather than the more common system of bartering goods for services.

Following Henry Morgan’s appointment as lieutenant governor, Port Royal began to change. Pirates were no longer needed to defend the city. The selling of slaves took on greater importance. Upstanding citizens disliked the reputation the city had acquired. In 1687, Jamaica passed anti-piracy laws. Instead of being a safe haven for pirates, Port Royal became noted as their place of execution. Gallows Point welcomed many to their death, including Charles Vane and Calico Jack, who were hanged in 1720. Two years later, forty-one pirates met their death in one month.

Although a work of historical fiction, James Michener’s The Caribbean details the history, atmosphere and geography of Port Royal accurately.

Jun 07 2012

My Little Town 20120606: Dad and the Car Doors

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.

Please do not get me wrong.  Dad was a sharp guy.  He did not have any college, but that was because of circumstances.  Besides, in 1939, when he was graduated from high school there were lots of really good jobs that could support families well.  He did make it a personal goal to be graduated on time, and he was.

Dad got his higher education from being a keen observer of human nature and also being able to do just about anything.  He was a jeweler, a welder, a gunsmith, an excellent shot with pistols, rifles, and particularly with shotguns, along with many other skills.

His understanding of human nature is what made him such an outstanding salesman.  He knew how to connect with what made people tick, and used those observations to sell things, whether it was selling gum to Sam Walton, working in sales for a major OEM and aftermarket automotive supplier, or buying and selling cars and firearms from and to individuals.