Daily Archive: 12/26/2012

Dec 26 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”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day

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Laura Finley: Building a Peaceful Future for Our Children

Guns. Media. Mental Illness. Lax Security. All these and more have been offered as explanations for the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, December 14 that left 26 people, including 20 children, dead. And all of those things may have played a role. But none are the cause of the problem. And heated debate about them, while important, serves to obscure some other very important conversations about the root issue, which is that the U.S. is a violent, militaristic culture that, in virtually every institution, demonstrates violence as a means of solving problems. [..]

I recognize that this won’t be easy. Radically changing a societal ideology as hegemonic as militarism is never easy. But how many more people, how many more children, do we need to lose before we say better to work hard, engage the difficult conversations, and build a more peaceful future for our children?

Naomi Klein: As Chief Spence Starves, Canadians Awaken from Idleness and Remember Their Roots

I woke up just past midnight with a bolt. My six-month-old son was crying. He has a cold – the second of his short life-and his blocked nose frightens him. I was about to get up when he started snoring again. I, on the other hand, was wide awake.

A single thought entered my head: Chief Theresa Spence is hungry. Actually it wasn’t a thought. It was a feeling. The feeling of hunger. Lying in my dark room, I pictured the chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation lying on a pile of blankets in her teepee across from Parliament Hill, entering day 14 of her hunger strike.

I had of course been following Chief Spence’s protest and her demand to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss the plight of her people and his demolition of treaty rights through omnibus legislation. I had worried about her. Supported her. Helped circulate the petitions. But now, before the distancing filters of light and reason had a chance to intervene, I felt her. The determination behind her hunger. The radicality of choosing this time of year, a time of so much stuffing – mouths, birds, stockings – to say: I am hungry. My people are hungry. So many people are hungry and homeless. Your new laws will only lead to more of this misery. Can we talk about it like human beings?

 

Mairead Maguire: Nobel Peace Laureate Accuses Governments of Complicity in Mental Torture of Assange

Mairead Maguire was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her actions to help end the deep ethnic/political conflict in her native Northern Ireland.

On Thursday 13th December, 2012, I visited Julian Assange, Editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, in the Ecuadorian embassy, Knightsbridge, London.    It is six months now since Julian Assange entered the Ecuadorian embassy and was given political asylum.  He entered the embassy  after the British Courts shamefully refused his appeal against extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning accused of sexual molestation (no criminal charges have been made against him).  [..]

I believe the UK/Swedish/USA governments are all complicit in this mental torture of Julian Assange,  and I appeal to the  Australian government, Human rights defenders, brave media,  and  people who love freedom and truth to break the ‘silence ‘ and  stand up for the rights of Julian Assange to assurance he will get the change to answer all accusations against him in uk or Sweden and the assurance he will not be extradited to USA where he could meet the same ‘cruel and inhuman’ treatment as pt. Bradley Manning.  The least we can do is raise our voices to  protect JulianAssange (and Bradley Manning) who made such brave attempts, at the cost of their own freedom,  to try to protect all our freedoms and democracy.

Muna Mire: Idle No More: Women Rising to Lead When it’s Needed Most

Chief Theresa Spence is now on Day 13 of her hunger strike. Too weak to leave the teepee she is living in on Victoria Island, a mere stone’s throw from Parliament, she called for a round dance yesterday at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, Prime Minister Harper’s residence.

Throughout the duration of her hunger strike, Harper has maintained a chilly silence around the grassroots Indigenous movement now widely known as Idle No More, taking to Twitter instead to share his jokes about bacon with the Canadian electorate. What started as a string of emails between four Saskatchewan women back in November in protest of Bill C-45 eventually became a hashtag on social media, snowballing over time into a global movement for Indigenous rights.

Chief Spence is starving herself for her home community of Attawapiskat where there is a dire housing crisis, but more broadly for all Indigenous peoples in Canada, many of whom have rallied around her. Spence is asking for a meeting with the Prime Minister, Governor General and other leaders, and will fast until she gets it.

Rebecca Solnit: 2013 as Year Zero: For Earth and For Us

This last year put the crisis in perspective, this coming year our battle begins

As this wild year comes to an end, we return to the season of gifts. Here’s the gift you’re not going to get soon: any conventional version of Paradise. You know, the place where nothing much happens and nothing is demanded of you. The gifts you’ve already been given in 2012 include a struggle over the fate of the Earth. This is probably not exactly what you asked for, and I wish it were otherwise — but to do good work, to be necessary, to have something to give: these are the true gifts. And at least there’s still a struggle ahead of us, not just doom and despair.

Think of 2013 as the Year Zero in the battle over climate change, one in which we are going to have to win big, or lose bigger.  This is a terrible thing to say, but not as terrible as the reality that you can see in footage of glaciers vanishing, images of the entire surface of the Greenland Ice Shield melting this summer, maps of Europe’s future in which just being in southern Europe when the heat hits will be catastrophic, let alone in more equatorial realms.

 

Michelle Chen: Despite Exemptions, Police and Firefighters Show Labor Solidarity in Michigan Right-to-Work Battle

Michigan’s new right-to-work law has has struck a savage blow to America’s labor movement in its heartland. Unions across the state have thronged to Lansing to oppose the attack, which makes union membership optional and thus reduces labor’s bargaining clout. But tucked into the legislation are subtle exemptions for particular workers-police and firefighters, who have historically played by a different set of rules, creating political divides in the labor movement.

But in this case, it seems that many members of Michigan’s police and firefighters unions-about 1,700 bargaining units altogether-are standing in solidarity with other public-sector unions to oppose the law.

Dec 26 2012

On This Day In History December 26

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.

December 26 is the 360th day of the year (361st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are five days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1776, Gen. George Washington wins first major U.S. victory at Trenton

At approximately 8 a.m. on the morning of December 26, 1776, General George Washington’s Continental Army reaches the outskirts of Trenton, New Jersey, and descends upon the unsuspecting Hessian force guarding the city. Trenton’s 1,400 Hessian defenders were still groggy from the previous evening’s Christmas festivities and had underestimated the Patriot threat after months of decisive British victories throughout New York. The troops of the Continental Army quickly overwhelmed the German defenses, and by 9:30 a.m.Trenton was completely surrounded.

The image of ragged farm-boy Patriots defeating drunken foreign mercenaries has become ingrained in the American imagination. Then as now, Washington’s crossing and the Battle of Trenton were emblematic of the American Patriots’ surprising ability to overcome the tremendous odds they faced in challenging the wealthy and powerful British empire.

The Battle of Trenton took place on December 26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, after General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River north of Trenton, New Jersey. The hazardous crossing in adverse weather made it possible for Washington to lead the main body of the Continental Army against Hessian soldiers garrisoned at Trenton. After a brief battle, nearly the entire Hessian force was captured, with negligible losses to the Americans. The battle significantly boosted the Continental Army’s flagging morale, and inspired re-enlistments.

The Continental Army had previously suffered several defeats in New York and had been forced to retreat through New Jersey to Pennsylvania. Morale in the army was low; to end the year on a positive note, George Washington-Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army-devised a plan to cross the Delaware River on Christmas night and surround the Hessian garrison.

Because the river was icy and the weather severe, the crossing proved dangerous. Two detachments were unable to cross the river, leaving Washington and the 2,400 men under his command alone in the assault. The army marched 9 miles (14 km) south to Trenton. The Hessians had lowered their guard, thinking they were safe from the American army, and did not post a dawn sentry. After having a Christmas feast, they fell asleep. Washington’s forces caught them off guard and, before the Hessians could resist, they were taken prisoner. Almost two thirds of the 1,500-man garrison was captured, and only a few troops escaped across Assunpink Creek.

Despite the battle’s small numbers, the American victory inspired rebels in the colonies. With the success of the revolution in doubt a week earlier, the army had seemed on the verge of collapse. The dramatic victory inspired soldiers to serve longer and attracted new recruits to the ranks.

Dec 26 2012

Phones

I hate working on the holidays.

Cliff Hanger: Obama’s Last Stand and the Republican Strategy of Fanaticism

Robert Reich

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

President Obama is cutting his Christmas holiday short, returning to Washington for a last attempt at avoiding the fiscal cliff.



House Speaker John Boehner’s failure to persuade rank-and-file House Republicans to raise taxes even on millionaires fits the fanatic’s strategy exactly. Boehner can now credibly claim he has no choice in the matter – Republican fanatics in the House have tied his hands and manacled his feet – so the only way to avoid going over the cliff is for Obama and the Democrats to make more concessions.



Obama could decide going over the cliff isn’t so bad after all – as long as he and congressional Democrats introduce legislation early in the 2013 that gives a tax cut to the middle class retroactively to January 1st (extending the Bush tax cut to the first $250,000 of income) and restores most spending – and Republicans feel compelled to go along.

But with Boehner’s hands tied and the fanatics in charge, this gambit becomes far riskier. What if we go over the cliff and House Republicans continue to hold out against any tax increases on the rich while demanding major cuts in Medicare and Social Security?



The real problem with this gambit is it doesn’t change the game. Even down the road, Boehner’s hands will still be tied and the fanatics will remain in charge – which will give Republicans the stronger position in negotiations leading to a “grand bargain.” Compromise would have to be almost entirely on the Democrats’ side.

That’s why I’d recommend going over the cliff and forcing the Republicans’ hand. It’s a risky strategy but it would at least expose the Republican tactic and put public pressure squarely on rank-and-file Republicans, where it belongs.

The fanatics in the GOP have to be held accountable or they’ll continue to hold the nation hostage to their extremism. Even if it takes until the 2014 midterms to loosen their hold, the cost is worth it.

To The Phones

White House

202-456-1111

Your senators

Your House member.

No cuts to Social Security.

Gaius Publius @ Americablog offers this helpful digest-

What are we protecting?

We’re protecting three social insurance programs. These are:

    ■ Social Security

    ■ Medicare

    ■ Medicaid

What are we protecting them from? Anything that:

    ■ Reduces benefits

    ■ Turns the program from insurance to welfare (which only the “deserving” have access to)

How are these programs being threatened?

As near as I can tell, these are the threats. Note to foxes – this is the hands-off list. Each of these seven items is a benefit cut:

Social Security

    1. Raising the retirement age

    2. Chained CPI instead of current COLA

    3. Means-testing benefits

Medicare

    4. Raising the eligibility age

    5. Increasing Part B premiums

    6. Increasing “cost-sharing”

Medicaid

    7. Shifting costs to the states by any means, such as “federal blended rate,” etc.

Dec 26 2012

Boxing Day

Another reprint.

Boxing Day.

On the day after Christmas…

  • In feudal times the lord of the manor would give boxes of practical goods such as cloth, grains, and tools to the serfs who lived on his land.
  • Many years ago on the day after Christmas servants would carry boxes to their employers when they arrived for their day’s work. Their employers would then put coins in the boxes as special end-of-year gifts.
  • In churches, it was traditional to open the church’s donation box on Christmas Day and distribute it to the poorer or lower class citizens on the next day.

Take your pick.

In the world of retail Boxing Day is the day everyone brings back all the crap they got for gifts that they didn’t want or is the wrong size or the wrong color or that they shoplifted and now want full retail for instead of the 10% that the local fence will give them.

Now fortunately for me I never had to work the counter during this period of long lines and testy, hung over sales people and managers dealing with irate customers who think that making their sob story more pitiful than the last one will get them any treatment more special than what everyone gets.

  1. Is it all there?
  2. Is it undamaged?
  3. Did you buy it here?

Bingo, have some store credit.  Go nuts.  Have a nice day.

What makes it especially crappy for the clerks is that you don’t normally get a lot of practice with the return procedures because your manager will handle it since it’s easier than training you.  Now you have 20 in a row and the first 7 or 8 are slow until you get the hang of things.

As a customer I have to warn you, this is not a swap meet.  If they didn’t have a blue size 6 on Christmas Eve, they don’t have it now either EVEN IF THE CUSTOMER RIGHT AHEAD OF YOU IN LINE JUST RETURNED A SIZE 6 IN BLUE!

It has to go back to the warehouse for processing and re-packaging.  Really.

So if you braved the surly stares today you have my admiration for your tenacity.  If you waited for the rush to pass my respect for your brilliance.

But don’t wait too long.  It all has to be out of the store before February inventory so it doesn’t have to be counted.

Dec 26 2012

Hessians

A reprint from 2007 but as true today as it ever was.

From Wikipedia’s entry on the American Revolutionary War

Early in 1775, the British Army consisted of about 36,000 men worldwide… Additionally, over the course of the war the British hired about 30,000 soldiers from German princes, these soldiers were called “Hessians” because many of them came from Hesse-Kassel. The troops were mercenaries in the sense of professionals who were hired out by their prince. Germans made up about one-third of the British troop strength in North America.

On December 26th 1776 after being chased by the British army under Lords Howe and Cornwallis augmented by these “Hessians” led by Wilhelm von Knyphausen from Brooklyn Heights to the other side of the Delaware the fate of the Continental Army and thus the United States looked bleak.  The Continental Congress abandoned Philidephia, fleeing to Baltimore.  It was at this time Thomas Paine was inspired to write The Crisis.

The story of Washington’s re-crossing of the Delaware to successfully attack the “Hessian” garrison at Trenton is taught to every school child.

On March 31, 2004 Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah ambushed a convoy containing four American private military contractors from Blackwater USA.

The four armed contractors, Scott Helvenston, Jerko Zovko, Wesley Batalona and Michael Teague, were dragged from their cars, beaten, and set ablaze. Their burned corpses were then dragged through the streets before being hung over a bridge crossing the Euphrates.

Of this incident the next day prominent blogger Markos Moulitsas notoriously said-

Every death should be on the front page (2.70 / 40)

Let the people see what war is like. This isn’t an Xbox game. There are real repercussions to Bush’s folly.

That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. They aren’t in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.

(From Corpses on the Cover by gregonthe28th.  This link directly to the comment doesn’t work for some reason.)

Now I think that this is a reasonable sentiment that any patriotic American with a knowledge of history might share.

Why bring up this old news again, two days from the 231st anniversary of the Battle of Trenton?

Warnings Unheeded On Guards In Iraq

Despite Shootings, Security Companies Expanded Presence

By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post Foreign Service

Monday, December 24, 2007; A01

The U.S. government disregarded numerous warnings over the past two years about the risks of using Blackwater Worldwide and other private security firms in Iraq, expanding their presence even after a series of shooting incidents showed that the firms were operating with little regulation or oversight, according to government officials, private security firms and documents.



Last year, the Pentagon estimated that 20,000 hired guns worked in Iraq; the Government Accountability Office estimated 48,000.



The Defense Department has paid $2.7 billion for private security since 2003, according to USA Spending, a government-funded project that tracks contracting expenditures; the military said it currently employs 17 companies in Iraq under contracts worth $689.7 million. The State Department has paid $2.4 billion for private security in Iraq — including $1 billion to Blackwater — since 2003, USA Spending figures show.



The State Department’s reliance on Blackwater expanded dramatically in 2006, when together with the U.S. firms DynCorp and Triple Canopy it won a new, multiyear contract worth $3.6 billion. Blackwater’s share was $1.2 billion, up from $488 million, and the company more than doubled its staff, from 482 to 1,082. From January 2006 to April 2007, the State Department paid Blackwater at least $601 million in 38 transactions, according to government data.

The company developed a reputation for aggressive street tactics. Even inside the fortified Green Zone, Blackwater guards were known for running vehicles off the road and pointing their weapons at bystanders, according to several security company representatives and U.S. officials.

Based on insurance claims there are only 25 confirmed deaths of Blackwater employees in Iraq, including the four killed in Fallujah.  You might care to contrast that with the 17 Iraqis killed on September 16th alone.  Then there are the 3 Kurdish civilians in Kirkuk on February 7th of 2006.  And the three employees of the state-run media company and the driver for the Interior Ministry.

And then exactly one year ago today, on Christmas Eve 2006, a Blackwater mercenary killed the body guard of Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi while drunk at a Christmas party (the mercenary, not the guard or Vice President Abdul-Mahdi who were both presumably observant Muslims and no more likely to drink alcohol than Mitt Romney to drink tea).

Sort of makes all those embarrassing passes you made at co-workers and the butt Xeroxes at the office party seem kind of trivial, now doesn’t it?

So that makes it even at 25 apiece except I’ve hardly begun to catalog the number of Iraqis killed by trigger happy Blackwater mercenaries.

They say irony is dead and I (and Santayana) say that the problem with history is that people who don’t learn from it are doomed to repeat it.

Dec 26 2012

The Bizarro World of Right Wing Politics

We Came Armed This TimeThere are some things that the right wingers say and do that make one pause and question their sanity, wondering why they have any credibility at all. The latest round of “you can’t make this stuff up” shenanigans involved the Tea Party group, Freedom Works and its chairman, former House majority leader, Dick Armey. Earlier this month, Armey announced his departure with an $8 million payout. That is where the story gets bizarre, that payout was actually a ransom demand. It seems back in September, just as the election season were heating up, Dick staged an armed coup. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo is scratching his head over the revelation of the incident that occurred over four months ago and is just being reported in the Washington Post now.

The day after Labor Day, just as campaign season was entering its final frenzy, FreedomWorks, the Washington-based tea party organization, went into free fall.

Richard K. Armey, the group’s chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey’s enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks’ top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.

The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone – with a promise of $8 million – and the five ousted employees were back. The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington’s most influential conservative grass-roots organizations. [..]

The partnership came to a crashing end when Armey marched into FreedomWorks’s office Sept. 4 with his wife, Susan, executive assistant Jean Campbell and the unidentified man with the gun at his waist – who promptly escorted Kibbe and Brandon out of the building.

“This was two weeks after there had been a shooting at the Family Research Council,” said one junior staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. “So when a man with a gun who didn’t identify himself to me or other people on staff, and a woman I’d never seen before said there was an announcement, my first gut was, ‘Is FreedomWorks in danger?’ It was bizarre.'”

I always thought the name “Dick Armey” was weirdly appropriate for a gun loving Republican from Texas. It fits

Dec 26 2012

The Ghosts of Christmas Eve

It ain’t Dickens. Narrated by Ossie Davis with the music of the Trans Siberian Orchestra.

The Ghosts of Christmas Eve

In this room where shadows live

And ghosts that failed learn time forgives

Welcome, friends, please stay awhile

Our story starts with one small child

Who spends this night in attics dark

Where dreams are stored like sleeping hearts

And so it’s here that they must wait

Till someone wishes them awake

For somewhere on this night of nights

She’s looking to believe

Here among the ghosts on Christmas Eve

And there near an old looking glass

There was a trunk from Christmas past

That she had somehow missed before

But now decides she will explore

‘Twas filled with toys and one old wreath

And several letters underneath

So as the evening hours leave

The child sat down and started to read

For somewhere on this night of nights

She’s looking to believe

Here among the ghosts on Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve