Daily Archive: 06/25/2012

Jun 25 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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Jimmy Carter: A Cruel and Unusual Record

THE United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights.

Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues. [..]

At a time when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the United States should be strengthening, not weakening, basic rules of law and principles of justice enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But instead of making the world safer, America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends.

Paul Krugman: The Great Abdication

Among economists who know their history, the mere mention of certain years evokes shivers. For example, three years ago Christina Romer, then the head of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, warned politicians not to re-enact 1937 – the year F.D.R. shifted, far too soon, from fiscal stimulus to austerity, plunging the recovering economy back into recession. Unfortunately, this advice was ignored.

But now I’m hearing more and more about an even more fateful year. Suddenly normally calm economists are talking about 1931, the year everything fell apart. [..]

The really crucial lesson of 1931, however, was about the dangers of policy abdication. Stronger European governments could have helped Austria manage its problems. Central banks, notably the Bank of France and the Federal Reserve, could have done much more to limit the damage. But nobody with the power to contain the crisis stepped up to the plate; everyone who could and should have acted declared that it was someone else’s responsibility.

And it’s happening again, both in Europe and in America.

Dean Baker: Serious People Do Not Use Wealth of People Under Age 35 as a Measure of Their Well-Being

There is a well-funded effort in this country to try to distract the public’s attention from the massive upward redistribution of income over the last three decades by trying to claim that the issue is one of generational conflict rather than class conflict. Billionaire investment banker Peter Peterson is the most well-known funder of this effort, having kicked in a billion dollars of his own money for the cause.

However, he is far from the only generational warrior. The Washington Post has often gone into near hysterics screaming about retirees living on their $1,100 a month Social Security benefits and getting most of their health care paid for through Medicare. And, there is no shortage of politicians in Washington who like think themselves brave because they will cut these benefits for seniors will protecting the income and wealth of the richest people in the country.

David Leonhardt flirted with this disreputable group in a column that focused on the gap between the old and the young. While much of the piece is devoted to political attitudes, it delves into utter nonsense in trying to contrast a “wealthy” group of seniors with a poor group of young people.

Brian Moench: America: A Fire Sale to Foreign Corporations

This maybe one of the most important stories ever ignored by the “lame stream, liberal” media. It’s unlikely you’re losing sleep over US trade negotiations, but the unfolding business agreement between the US and eight Pacific nations –the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — should cause every US citizen, from the Sierra Club to the Tea Party to get their pitch forks and torches out of the closet and prepare to “storm the Bastille.”

The TPP negotiations have been going on for two years under extreme secrecy, no information has been made available to either the press or Congress about the US position.  But on June 12th a document was leaked to the watchdog group, Public Citizen, revealing the current US position and the reason for the secrecy.  The contents are surreal and shocking, and prima facia evidence for how corporations have become the master puppeteers of our government.  

Mona Eltahawy: Egyptians Don’t Care about Hosni Mubarak’s Health Scares

Mubarak might be on his back but his regime is very much on its legs, upright and determined to crush our revolution

Hosni Mubarak, our 84-year old ousted dictator, has spent another night outside the prison cell where he’s been sentenced to spend whatever remains of his life. A health scare that began as a stroke, according to state-controlled media, but ended up being attributed by his lawyer to a “slip in the bathroom“, ensured that he was moved into the welcoming environs of a military hospital.

It was not the first time that Mubarak has supposedly suffered a stroke, fallen into a coma, been on life support or all of the above. Ever since street protests forced the ruling military junta to put him on trial last year, he has been on the verge of death so many times that once he actually does die it is easy to imagine that the news will be greeted in much the same way as this latest health scare: we don’t care.

Christopher Brauchli: Mitch McConnell’s Meanderings

The mark of a great politician is the ability to change his/her mind. Mitch McConnell is a great politician. (So is Mitt Romney but that is a subject for another day.) Mitch McConnell’s acknowledgement that he has been wrong for more than 20 years was made without reference to his earlier positions. It was made when he gave a speech to the American Enterprise Institute on June 15th. It showed how a mature and thoughtful senator had come to see the error of his earlier ways. It all had to do with a piece of legislation introduced in 2010 convolutedly known as “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act” or in a less tortured form, the “Disclose Act.”

The Act would require groups that are self-identified as “social welfare organizations” that spend $10,000 or more on election related ads, to report the expenditures and would require the groups to disclose the names of donors who give them more than $10,000. As matters now stand, donors can anonymously give unlimited amounts to those organizations that, in turn, buy advertising that pertains to the campaigns but is not coordinated with them. Had it not been for Mr. McConnell’s speech you would have thought he would enthusiastically support such legislation.

Jun 25 2012

Krugman: Cartoon Physics & The Great Abdication

PBS Newshour

The Great Abdication

By PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times

Published: June 24, 2012

I’m hearing more and more about an even more fateful year. Suddenly normally calm economists are talking about 1931, the year everything fell apart.

It started with a banking crisis in a small European country (Austria). Austria tried to step in with a bank rescue – but the spiraling cost of the rescue put the government’s own solvency in doubt. Austria’s troubles shouldn’t have been big enough to have large effects on the world economy, but in practice they created a panic that spread around the world. Sound familiar?

The really crucial lesson of 1931, however, was about the dangers of policy abdication. Stronger European governments could have helped Austria manage its problems. Central banks, notably the Bank of France and the Federal Reserve, could have done much more to limit the damage. But nobody with the power to contain the crisis stepped up to the plate; everyone who could and should have acted declared that it was someone else’s responsibility.



None of this should be happening. As in 1931, Western nations have the resources they need to avoid catastrophe, and indeed to restore prosperity – and we have the added advantage of knowing much more than our great-grandparents did about how depressions happen and how to end them. But knowledge and resources do no good if those who possess them refuse to use them.

Jun 25 2012

On This Day In History June 25

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 25 is the 176th day of the year (177th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 189 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1876, Native American forces led by Chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeat the U.S. Army troops of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer in a bloody battle near southern Montana’s Little Bighorn River.

Background

In 1875, Sitting Bull created the Sun Dance alliance between the Lakota and the Cheyenne, a religious ceremony which celebrates the spiritual rebirth of participants. One had taken place around June 5, 1876, on the Rosebud River in Montana, involving Agency Native Americans who had slipped away from their reservations to join the hostiles. During the event, Sitting Bull reportedly had a vision of “soldiers falling into his camp like grasshoppers from the sky.” At the same time, military officials had a summer campaign underway to force the Lakota and Cheyenne back to their reservations, using infantry and cavalry in a three-pronged approach.

Col. John Gibbon’s column of six companies of the 7th Infantry and four companies of the 2nd Cavalry marched east from Fort Ellis in western Montana on March 30, to patrol the Yellowstone River. Brig. Gen. George Crook’s column of ten companies of the 3rd Cavalry, five of the 2nd Cavalry, two companies of the 4th Infantry, and three companies of the 9th Infantry, moved north from Fort Fetterman in the Wyoming Territory on May 29, marching toward the Powder River area. Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry’s column, including twelve companies of the 7th Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s immediate command, Companies C and G of the 17th U.S. Infantry, and the Gatling gun detachment of the 20th Infantry departed westward from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory on May 17. They were accompanied by teamsters and packers with 150 wagons and a large contingent of pack mules that reinforced Custer. Companies C, D, and I of the 6th U.S. Infantry, moved along the Yellowstone River from Fort Buford on the Missouri River to set up a supply depot, and joined Terry on May 29 at the mouth of the Powder River.

The coordination and planning began to go awry on June 17, 1876, when Crook’s column was delayed after the Battle of the Rosebud. Surprised and, according to some accounts, astonished by the unusually large numbers of Native Americans in the battle, a defeated Crook was compelled to pull back, halt and regroup. Unaware of Crook’s battle, Gibbon and Terry proceeded, joining forces in early June near the mouth of the Rosebud River. They reviewed Terry’s plan calling for Custer’s regiment to proceed south along the Rosebud, while Terry and Gibbon’s united forces would move in a westerly direction toward the Bighorn and Little Bighorn rivers. As this was the likely location of Indian encampments, all Army elements were to converge around June 26 or 27, attempting to engulf the Native Americans. On June 22, Terry ordered the 7th Cavalry, composed of 31 officers and 566 enlisted men under Custer, to begin a reconnaissance and pursuit along the Rosebud, with the prerogative to “depart” from orders upon seeing “sufficient reason.” Custer had been offered the use of Gatling guns but declined, believing they would slow his command.

While the Terry/Gibbon column was marching toward the mouth of the Little Bighorn, on the evening of June 24, Custer’s scouts arrived at an overlook known as the Crow’s Nest, 14 miles (23 km) east of the Little Bighorn River. At sunrise on June 25, Custer’s scouts reported they could see a massive pony herd and signs of the Native American village roughly 15 miles (24 km) in the distance. After a night’s march, the tired officer sent with the scouts could see neither, and when Custer joined them, he was also unable to make the sighting. Custer’s scouts also spotted the regimental cooking fires that could be seen from 10 miles away, disclosing the regiment’s position.

Custer contemplated a surprise attack against the encampment the following morning of June 26, but he then received a report informing him several hostile Indians had discovered the trail left by his troops. Assuming his presence had been exposed, Custer decided to attack the village without further delay. On the morning of June 25, Custer divided his 12 companies into three battalions in anticipation of the forthcoming engagement. Three companies were placed under the command of Major Marcus Reno (A, G, and M); and three were placed under the command of Capt. Frederick Benteen. Five companies remained under Custer’s immediate command. The 12th, Company B, under Capt. Thomas McDougald, had been assigned to escort the slower pack train carrying provisions and additional ammunition.

Unbeknownst to Custer, the group of Native Americans seen on his trail were actually leaving the encampment on the Big Horn and did not alert the village. Custer’s scouts warned him about the size of the village, with scout Mitch Bouyer reportedly saying, “General, I have been with these Indians for 30 years, and this is the largest village I have ever heard of.” Custer’s overriding concern was that the Native American group would break up and scatter in different directions. The command began its approach to the Native American village at 12 noon and prepared to attack in full daylight.

Jun 25 2012

Pique the Geek 20120624: Lithium, Primal and Essential

Lithium, the element with the atomic number (Z) of three, is as old as the universe.  It, along with hydrogen and helium, were formed at the time of the Big Bang, making it primal indeed, although much of the lithium that we encounter was synthesized in stars.

Lithium is much less common in the cosmos than it should be, and that is in part due to the fact that the two stable isotopes, 6Li and 7Li, are much less stable than many other light nuclei.  This might sound contradictory, but there is a property of atomic nuclei called binding energy per nucleon that measures the stability of nuclei.  Both stable isotopes of lithium have binding energies per nucleon lower than any other nuclei except for deuterium, tritium (which is radioactive), 3He, and of course hydrogen which has a zero binding energy because there are no neutrons to require binding.

Jun 25 2012

Sunday Train: Livable Tranport if the Future Differs from the Past

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

California is on a deadline from DC to either appropriate the funds to begin work on the first segment of the California HSR project, or else the Dept. of Transport will rescind California’s grant and hand the money over to other states.

One of the key controversies is the fact that there is no guarantee that the funding required for building the complete system will be forthcoming. And so, the argument goes, if the first construction segment is built, but no additional Federal funding for HSR is ever again authorized and appropriated, California will be stuck with a White Elephant.

This is, indeed, the “risk” that the California Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) has focused on in its series of anti-HSR analyses.

The LAO’s analysis includes the presumption that the Federal funds already granted can simply be re-allocated by California to be spent in the way that the LAO advises, which is a quite bizarre fantasy to be set forward in what is supposed to be professional analysis at the California taxpayer’s expense. By including this fantasy in their analysis, they can evade the question of, “would we be better off doing nothing?”

Reality does not allow the question to be evaded. If we continue to do nothing on the argument that whatever step forward actually on offer is inferior to some fictitious imagined superior plan, we will in the end arrive in the future having done nothing, and will find out the hard way whether or not that was a wise decision to make.

Now, if the future is identical to the past, then a system that worked well enough in the past can work well enough in the future. However, if the future differs from the past ~ as history teaches us it always has before ~ then the systems that worked well enough in the past will be unsuited to the future.

What we need, “if” the Future differs from the Past, is the flexibility to adapt to changes. Both the changes we can see coming, and the changes that we cannot see coming.