Daily Archive: 06/18/2012

Jun 18 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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Paul Krugman: Greece as Victim

Ever since Greece hit the skids, we’ve heard a lot about what’s wrong with everything Greek. Some of the accusations are true, some are false – but all of them are beside the point. Yes, there are big failings in Greece’s economy, its politics and no doubt its society. But those failings aren’t what caused the crisis that is tearing Greece apart, and threatens to spread across Europe.

No, the origins of this disaster lie farther north, in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin, where officials created a deeply – perhaps fatally – flawed monetary system, then compounded the problems of that system by substituting moralizing for analysis. And the solution to the crisis, if there is one, will have to come from the same places.

New York Times Editorial: Fiscal Cliffs Notes

Word has it that senators from both parties have begun discussing ways to avert the “fiscal cliff” – the tax increases and spending cuts slated to take effect starting in January and totaling some $700 billion next year alone.

More power to them. If Congress does nothing to soften the blow of automatically higher taxes and lower spending, the changes would further devastate the economy and provoke a recession in 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office and private analyses.

On the other hand, if lawmakers decided to undo or delay all of the scheduled changes – in effect, extending today’s policies indefinitely – there would be no progress toward long-term deficit reduction, and that would raise the risk of fiscal crisis in the future.

Matt Taibi: Senators Grovel, Embarrass Themselves at Dimon Hearing

I was unable to watch J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s Senate testimony live the other day, so I had to get up yesterday morning and check it out on the Banking Committee’s web site. I had an inkling, from the generally slavish news reports about the hearing that started to come out Wednesday night, that it would be a hard thing to watch.

But I wasn’t prepared for just how bad it was. If not for Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, who was the only senator who understood the importance of taking the right tone with Dimon, the hearing would have been a total fiasco. Most of the rest of the senators not only supplicated before the blowdried banker like love-struck schoolgirls or hotel bellhops, they also almost all revealed themselves to be total ignoramuses with no grasp of the material they were supposed to be investigating.

Eric Margolis: Dangerous Games in Syria

America’s most vital national security concern is to maintain calm, productive relations with Russia.

The reason is obvious: Russia and the United States have thousands of nuclear warheads targeted on each other. Many are ready to launch in minutes. Compared to this threat, all of America’s other security issues are minor.

Avoiding confrontations with a major nuclear power is obvious. Yet the United States and Russia are ignoring such common sense in their increasingly heated war of words over Syria’s civil war.

John Nichols: Paul Ryan (and Mitt Romney) Versus the Nuns

Paul Ryan has made it clear enough that he’s interested in joining Mitt Romney’s 2012 Republican ticket. [..]

And the consideration will be fully in play on Monday, when Romney rolls his battleground-state bus tour into Ryan’s hometown of Janesville.

Ryan has become something of a defining figure for the bus tour, using media appearances to scope out its theme. In a bombastic statement circulated not by Ryan himself but by the Romney campaign, Ryan says, “On Day One, because we need a new president, Mitt Romney will fix this.” [..]

So it is that, on the day after Romney and Ryan visit Janesville, Catholic nuns will come to town as part of a national “Nuns on the Bus” tour organized to highlight efforts to ease the conditions of low-income Americans. Ryan has tried to suggest that his proposals are in keeping with Catholic social-justice teaching; the nuns do not agree.

Ben Adler: Romney, Republicans in a Bind Over Latinos and Obama’s Immigration Shift

President Obama executed a political masterstroke on Friday morning. He announced that undocumented immigrants brought here as children would be allowed to stay indefinitely if they complete high school or serve in the military. This is essentially the promise of the DREAM Act that Obama has urged Congress to pass and Republicans have blocked. The DREAM Act would offer the security of permanent residency, whereas Obama can only offer renewable work visas without legislation. (The executive branch can decide which undocumented immigrants to deport and which not to, but it cannot unilaterally create a path to citizenship.)  

The DREAM Act is wildly popular among Latinos. The GOP has alienated most Latino voters by harboring an intensely anti-immigration movement on its right wing. Mitt Romney has been shameless about pandering to that element: he won anti-immigration crusader Tom Tancredo’s endorsement in 2008. In the recent Republican primaries he attacked staunch conservatives such as Newt Gingrich from the right on immigration, complaining that Gingrich admitted he had no intention of deporting grandmothers who have been here for over 25 years.

But now Romney is trying to win over Latinos. He recently announced the formation of a Latino outreach team and began sending out press releases in Spanish.

Julia Olmstead: Climate Change, Food Security and the G-20

From north to south, Mexican farmers are facing some of the most severe climate instability they’ve ever confronted. The northern states are suffering from what the Mexican government has called the worst drought the country has ever experienced; rain just won’t fall, and the crops that have been planted have dried up. In the south, they’ve had year after year of devastating floods, the result of which has been devastating topsoil loss on the uniformly hilly terrain

Elias Ventura, a small-holder corn farmer in the state of Oaxaca, told me about the hopelessness of this situation when we sat next to each other yesterday at the seminar IATP is co-hosting this week in Mexico City, “New Paradigms and Public Policies for Agriculture and Global Food Systems,” in advance of next week’s G-20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico. He said that he’s had either too much rain, or not enough, and that getting a good harvest under the unpredictable new weather extremes (that he said are the result of climate change) seemed like an impossibility. I asked him if the Mexican government provided any support when his crops failed and he gave me a resolute “No.” Not only would he be without the income that the crop would provide, but his community would have to adjust to a sharp decrease in food availability. This challenge Mexican farmers and rural communities face in the wake of climate change stands in stark contrast to the risk-management program the U.S. Senate has proposed for the 2012 Farm Bill, which would guarantee up to 90 percent of farmers’ revenue if crops fail or prices fall, but there are some similarities.

Jun 18 2012

On This Day In History June 18

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 images to enlarge.

June 18 is the 169th day of the year (170th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 196 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1812, War of 1812 begins

The day after the Senate followed the House of Representatives in voting to declare war against Great Britain, President James Madison signs the declaration into law–and the War of 1812 begins. The American war declaration, opposed by a sizable minority in Congress, had been called in response to the British economic blockade of France, the induction of American seaman into the British Royal Navy against their will, and the British support of hostile Indian tribes along the Great Lakes frontier. A faction of Congress known as the “War Hawks” had been advocating war with Britain for several years and had not hidden their hopes that a U.S. invasion of Canada might result in significant territorial land gains for the United States.

The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire, including those of present-day Canada. The Americans declared war in 1812 for a number of reasons, including a desire for expansion into the Northwest Territory, trade restrictions because of Britain’s ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion, and the humiliation of American honour. Until 1814, the British Empire adopted a defensive strategy, repelling multiple American invasions of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. However, the Americans gained control over Lake Erie in 1813, seized parts of western Ontario, and destroyed Tecumseh’s dream of an Indian confederacy. In the Southwest General Andrew Jackson humbled the Creek nation at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend but with the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, the British adopted a more aggressive strategy, sending in three large armies along with more patrols. British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg in August 1814 allowed the British to capture and burn Washington, D.C. American victories in September 1814 and January 1815 repulsed British invasions of New York, Baltimore and New Orleans.

The war was fought in three theaters: At sea, warships and privateers of both sides attacked each other’s merchant ships. The British blockaded the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and mounted large-scale raids in the later stages of the war. Both land and naval battles were fought on the frontier, which ran along the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River. The South and the Gulf coast saw major land battles in which the American forces destroyed Britain’s Indian allies and defeated the main British invasion force at New Orleans. Both sides invaded each other’s territory, but these invasions were unsuccessful or temporary. At the end of the war, both sides occupied parts of the other’s territory, but these areas were restored by the Treaty of Ghent.

In the U.S., battles such as the Battle of New Orleans and the earlier successful defense of Baltimore (which inspired the lyrics of the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”) produced a sense of euphoria over a “second war of independence” against Britain. It ushered in an “Era of Good Feelings” in which the partisan animosity that had once verged on treason practically vanished. Canada also emerged from the war with a heightened sense of national feeling and solidarity. Britain regarded the war as a sideshow to the Napoleonic Wars raging in Europe; it welcomed an era of peaceful relations and trade with the United States.

Jun 18 2012

A Necessary Evil, or Just Evil? by T’Pau (T. P. Alexanders)

We are told we need the law. We need a million rules to ensure everyone has a fair shake,  a level playing field we rely on as we move through life. But if you are lesbian or gay, the majority have recently passed laws giving  people who prefer heterosexual coupling an advantage. The federal government has done nothing to come to this minority’s assistance. These laws are just the latest in a long litany of discriminatory laws.

We are told we need the law to define culture, to give the boundaries of permissible behavior. Yet, do you think you are aware of every law you live under? In every jurisdiction, outdated laws remain on the books. You are likely to have broken some of them without even knowing. In fact, most new endeavors begin with consultation of a lawyer. Legal professionals research for hours to ensure their clients won’t inadvertently break some little known law. Many of these laws unduly invade our private lives to restrict trivial actions, like putting a window in a wall of your home, so the state or some industry can make money.

We are told without the law, our society would crumble into brutish chaos. To me, the image of John Pike, dressed like an SS officer, strutting around a circle of passive students shaking a can of pepper spray, meant to be used at distance on an advancing crowd, is the image of brutish chaos.

Pepper Spray Police

Or perhaps those words conjure up the image of an octogenarian pepper sprayed in the eyes for speaking out against a government that coddles the rich and abuses the poor.

Or the Berkley students night-sticked in the bread basket to discourage peaceful assembly:

Yet, surely our teachers and parents are right. Surely we need the rule of law to guide society. We need some rules.

Or not.

Today we crawl outside one of our deepest and oldest mental boxes to consider the unthinkable—that changes in the law cannot cure society’s ills, because the law, itself,  is part of the problem. Today we take a walk on the wild side in a lawless society.  

Jun 18 2012

A Necessary Evil, or Just Evil?

We are told we need the law. We need a million rules to ensure everyone has a fair shake,  a level playing field we rely on as we move through life. But if you are lesbian or gay, the majority have recently passed laws giving  people who prefer heterosexual coupling an advantage. The federal government has done nothing to come to this minority’s assistance. These laws are just the latest in a long litany of discriminatory laws.

We are told we need the law to define culture, to give the boundaries of permissible behavior. Yet, do you think you are aware of every law you live under? In every jurisdiction, outdated laws remain on the books. You are likely to have broken some of them without even knowing. In fact, most new endeavors begin with consultation of a lawyer. Legal professionals research for hours to ensure their clients won’t inadvertently break some little known law. Many of these laws unduly invade our private lives to restrict trivial actions, like putting a window in a wall of your home, so the state or some industry can make money.

We are told without the law, our society would crumble into brutish chaos. To me, the image of John Pike, dressed like an SS officer, strutting around a circle of passive students shaking a can of pepper spray, meant to be used at distance on an advancing crowd, is the image of brutish chaos.

Pepper Spray Police

Or perhaps those words conjure up the image of an octogenarian pepper sprayed in the eyes for speaking out against a government that coddles the rich and abuses the poor.

Or the Berkley students night-sticked in the bread basket to discourage peaceful assembly:

Yet, surely our teachers and parents are right. Surely we need the rule of law to guide society. We need some rules.

Or not.

Today we crawl outside one of our deepest and oldest mental boxes to consider the unthinkable—that changes in the law cannot cure society’s ills, because the law, itself,  is part of the problem. Today we take a walk on the wild side in a lawless society.  

Jun 18 2012

Pique the Geek 20120617: Helium, Indispensable and Finite

Helium is one of the elements that most people see (well, not see since it is a colorless gas) in everyday life.  We are familiar with it because it used to fill toy balloons so that they rise in air.  We shall get around to the calculation about that later.

Helium also is used for large balloons, blimps, and dirigibles for the same reason:  it is lighter than air and so provides lift (not aerodynamic lift, which is provided by air passing over a wing surface) and so causes objects to rise, but these large craft have a payload where toy balloons do not, at least in most cases.

We also know it as the gas that causes voices to take on a bizarre, high pitch.  We shall also discuss the reasons for that.  But for me at least, helium is of extreme interest because of its quantum mechanical properties.

Jun 18 2012

Sunday Train: The Steel Interstate and the Great Highway Lie

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The last two weeks on the Sunday Train, I’ve been writing about the Steel Interstate. Steel Interstates & An America That Can Do Big Things (3 June) revisited the basic concept, and Putting Steel into the Amtrak Long Distance Backbone primarily discussed the first third of the Congressionally mandated reports on improving Amtrak’s long distance rail network, but also discussed a bit about the role of long distance trains in the context of the Steel Interstate proposal.

This week, the attention shifts from the Steel Interstate infrastructure to the substantial benefit to our existing legacy Asphalt Interstates if the United States elects to retain a viable national economy by implementing some form of Steel Interstate electric rapid freight rail system for long-haul freight.

Along the way, I spend a bit of time talking about misconceptions about the cost of our legacy system. Myth and misconception that are sufficiently widely help may be sufficient platform for gathering majority support for a system … but its not a sufficient platform for putting together a sustainable system, in either physical, ecological, economic, or financial senses of “sustainable”.

Jun 18 2012

Elections Egypt, France and Greece: Results

The Greeks have decided to stay the course with the center right and have given a victory to the New Democracy Party headed by Antonis Samaras:

New Democracy narrowly beat Syriza, an alliance of radical leftists, winning 29.53% of the vote against 27.12% for the coalition led by Alexis Tsipras. Samaras called the result a victory for Europe.

“The Greek people today voted for the European course of Greece and that we remain in the euro,” Samaras declared in a victory speech. “This is an important moment for Greece and the rest of Europe,” he insisted, saying that Athens would honour the commitments it made in exchange for rescue loans from the EU and IMF. [..]

Across Greece’s divisive political spectrum there was speculation that Samaras would be able to form a viable coalition with the socialist Pasok and the small Democratic left – parties that have also agreed to accept the onerous terms of bailout funds even if they, too, want to renegotiate the package. [..]

Pro-bailout parties now constitute 50% of the electorate. But with the other half also vehemently opposed to the austerity policies dictated by foreign lenders, Greece’s rollercoaster ride is unlikely to end soon. It is now well into its fifth year of recession, with unemployment at a record 22% and worsening levels of poverty leaving thousands of Greeks destitute and homeless. Resistance to further austerity measures is only going to grow.

In France, exit polls indicate that Socialist Party of François Hollande has won a solid majority in both houses of the Parliament, eliminating the need for a coalition government. The conservative National Front has won four seats. The party leader, Marine Le Pen lost her bid for a seat but her 22 year old niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen is believed to have been elected in the southern region of Carpentras. Former presidential candidate and M. Hollande’s ex-partner, Ségolène Royal has lost her bid for a seat in the National Assembly.

The Socialists and other left-wing parties came out on top in last Sunday’s first round of the vote, winning 46 per cent to 34 per cent for (former president Nicholas) Sarkozy’s UMP party and its allies. [..]

The polls showed France’s Socialists winning between 287 and 330 seats in Sunday’s runoff vote – almost certainly enough to secure a majority in the 577-seat Assembly. [..]

The Greens, who are close allies of the Socialists and already in government, were expected to win up to 20 seats.

The vote was also a key test for Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant and anti-EU National Front (FN), which took 13.6 per cent in the first round; far above the four per cent it won in the last parliamentary election in 2007.

There are no results yet for Egypt. But there is news and it is not good for the Egyptian people no matter who wins. This is the report by Leila Fadel and Ernesto Londoño in the Washington Post:

CAIRO – Shortly after polls in Egypt’s landmark presidential vote closed Sunday night, Egypt’s military leaders issued a constitutional decree that gave the armed forces vast powers and appeared to give the presidency a subservient role.

The declaration, published in the official state gazette, establishes that the president will have no control over the military’s budget or leadership and will not be authorized to declare war without the consent of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The document said the military would soon appoint a body to draft a new constitution, which would be put to a public referendum within three months. Once a new charter is in place, an election will be held to chose a parliament that will replace the Islamist-dominated one dissolved Thursday by the country’s top court.

Currently, exit polls show Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi, ahead of former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq in the presidential runoff vote.