Feb 12 2013
Feb 12 2013
How America kills using drones has been a hot topic for many on the left who feel that the Obama administration has gone too far with the ubiquitous “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) when the president ordered the assassination of Anwar Al Awlaki and two weeks later his 16 year old son. The disagreement over this policy became even more heated when the Justice Department released an undated White Paper that outlined the memos that allegedly justifies extrajudicial executions by the Executive branch without due process. Constitutional lawyer and columnist at The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald observed that the memo has forced many Democrats “out of the closet as overtly unprincipled hacks:”
Illustrating this odd phenomenon was a much-discussed New York Times article on Sunday by Peter Baker which explained that these events “underscored the degree to which Mr. Obama has embraced some of Mr. Bush’s approach to counterterrorism, right down to a secret legal memo authorizing presidential action unfettered by outside forces.” [..]
Baker also noticed this: “Some liberals acknowledged in recent days that they were willing to accept policies they once would have deplored as long as they were in Mr. Obama’s hands, not Mr. Bush’s.” As but one example, the article quoted Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor and fervent Obama supporter, as admitting without any apparent shame that “if this was Bush, I think that we would all be more up in arms” because, she said “we trust the president“. Thus did we have – while some media liberals objected – scores of progressives and conservatives uniting to overtly embrace the once-controversial Bush/Cheney premises of the War on Terror (it’s a global war! the whole world is a battlefield! the president has authority to do whatever he wants to The Terrorists without interference from courts!) in order to defend the war’s most radical power yet (the president’s power to assassinate even his own citizens in secret, without charges, and without checks). [..]
What this DOJ “white paper” did was to force people to confront Obama’s assassination program without emotionally manipulative appeal to some cartoon Bad Guy Terrorist (Awlaki). That document never once mentioned Awlaki. Instead – using the same creepily clinical, sanitized, legalistic language used by the Bush DOJ to justify torture, renditions and warrantless eavesdropping – it set forth the theoretical framework for empowering not just Obama, but any and all presidents, to assassinate not just Anwar Awlaki, but any citizens declared in secret by the president to be worthy of execution. Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee wrote that the DOJ memo “should shake the American people to the core”, while Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman explained “the revolutionary and shocking transformation of the meaning of due process” ushered in by this memo and said it constituted a repudiation of the Magna Carta.
In doing so, this document helpfully underscored the critical point that is otherwise difficult to convey: when you endorse the application of a radical state power because the specific target happens to be someone you dislike and think deserves it, you’re necessarily institutionalizing that power in general. That’s why political leaders, when they want to seize extremist powers or abridge core liberties, always choose in the first instance to target the most marginalized figures: because they know many people will acquiesce not because they support that power in theory but because they hate the person targeted. But if you cheer when that power is first invoked based on that mentality – I’m glad Obama assassinated Awlaki without charges because he was a Bad Man! – then you lose the ability to object when the power is used in the future in ways you dislike (or by leaders you distrust), because you’ve let it become institutionalized. [..]
What’s most remarkable about this willingness to endorse extremist policies because you “trust” the current leader exercising them is how painfully illogical it is, and how violently contrary it is to everything Americans are taught from childhood about their country. It should not be difficult to comprehend that there is no such thing as vesting a Democratic President with Power X but not vesting a GOP President with the same power. To endorse a power in the hands of a leader you like is, necessarily, to endorse the power in the hands of a leader you dislike.
Like Bob Herbert’s statement – “policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House” – this is so obvious it should not need to be argued. As former Bush and Obama aide Douglas Ollivant told the NYT yesterday about the “trust” argument coming from some progressives: “That’s not how we make policy. We make policy assuming that people in power might abuse it. To do otherwise is foolish.”
Hypocrisy thy name is Obama loyalists.
This weekend on Up with Chris Hayes, host Chris Hayes and his guest examined he government’s use of drone strikes and its “targeted killing” program in light of the release of the White Paper and the confirmation hearing for John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA. They discussed what the law allows, what the constitution allows, what American’s think should be allowed and the what are the moral and ethical implications.
To discuss “How America Kills,” Chris was joined by Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation magazine; Jennifer Draskal, Associate law professor at Georgetown University and fellow at the school’s Center on National Security; Richard Epstein, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, professor of law at New York University Law School; and Hina Shamsi, director of the National Security Project for the ACLU.
Feb 12 2013
“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”.
Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt
It’s hard for me, an ordinary citizen of Singapore, a medical doctor engaged in social enterprise work in Afghanistan and a human being wishing for a better world, to write this from Kabul.
But people are dying.
And children and women are feeling hopeless.
“What’s the point in telling you our stories?” asked Freba, one of the seamstresses working with the Afghan Peace Volunteers to set up a tailoring co-operative for Afghan women. “Does anyone hear? Does anyone believe us?”
Silently within, I answered Freba with shame,” You’re right. No one is listening.”
So, I write this in protest against my government’s presence in the humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan, as a way to lend my voice to Freba and all my Afghan friends.
President Obama has a long agenda for his State of the Union address, but it is important that he not forget the most fundamental democratic reform of all: repairing a broken election system that caused hundreds of thousands of people to stand in line for hours to vote last year. It is time to make good on his election-night promise.
Those seeking political power by making voting more inconvenient will resist reforms, but a better system would actually be good for both parties and, more important, the country.
Archaeologists of the future will sift through our newspapers, websites, and other ephemera and marvel at the inverted shape of our political debate. They’ll be particularly surprised to discover that, at a time when retirement security was being destroyed for an entire generation, politicians were posturing over how to make the problem even worse by cutting Social Security.
And they’ll marvel over how long it took us to agree on the right solution: Increasing Social Security benefits instead.
The concept of increasing Social Security has been around for a while. Strengthen Social Security, a coalition of 320 groups, reviewed the program’s ability to meet current and future needs and concluded that benefits should be increased rather than cut. The National Academy for Social Insurance proposed increasing benefits for vulnerable groups. The AFL-CIO has called for raising benefits. We got in the game, too, suggesting that a 15 percent increase in 2011 be included as part of a forward-thinking progressive agenda.
Presidential decisions often turn out to be far less significant than imagined, but every now and then what a president decides actually determines how the world turns. Such is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. In the near future, President Obama is expected to give its construction a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down, and the decision he makes could prove far more important than anyone imagines. It could determine the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry and, with it, the future well-being of the planet. If that sounds overly dramatic, let me explain.
Sometimes, what starts out as a minor skirmish can wind up determining the outcome of a war — and that seems to be the case when it comes to the mounting battle over the Keystone XL pipeline. If given the go-ahead by President Obama, it will daily carry more than 700,000 barrels of tar-sands oil to those Gulf Coast refineries, providing a desperately needed boost to the Canadian energy industry. If Obama says no, the Canadians (and their American backers) will encounter possibly insuperable difficulties in exporting their heavy crude oil, discouraging further investment and putting the industry’s future in doubt.
Robert REich: Why We Need an Investment Budget
Part of the President’s State of the Union message and of his second term agenda apparently will focus on public investments in education, infrastructure, and basic R&D.
That’s good news. But how do we fund these investments when discretionary spending is being cut to the bone in order to reduce the budget deficit?
Answer: By treating public investments differently from current spending.
No rational family would borrow to pay for a vacation but not borrow to send a kid to college. No rational business would borrow to finance current salaries but not to pay for critical new machinery.
Yet that’s, in effect, what the federal government does now. The federal budget doesn’t distinguish between borrowing for current expenditures that keep things going, and future investments that build future productivity. All borrowing is treated the same.
It’s no surprise that American corporations spend billions of dollars each year on lobbying, trying to gain favorable treatment from legislators. What some may find a bit unnerving is the industry that’s leading the pack in these efforts.
You might think our nation’s defense and aerospace companies, which have legions of hired guns on Capitol Hill, are the leaders. Or perhaps Big Oil, which is perpetually fighting with environmentalists and consequently needs friends in Washington to block what it considers onerous legislation or regulations.
In both cases, you’d be wrong. It’s actually the pharmaceutical industry that spends the most each year to influence our lawmakers, forking over a total of $2.6 billion on lobbying activities from 1998 through 2012, according to OpenSecrets.org. To get some perspective on just how big that number is, consider that oil and gas companies and their trade associations spent $1.4 billion lobbying Congress over the same time frame while the defense and aerospace industry spent $662 million, a fourth of Big Pharma’s total.
Feb 12 2013
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.
February 12 is the 43rd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 322 days remaining until the end of the year (323 in leap years).
On this day in 1924, Rhapsody In Blue, by George Gershwin, performed for first time
Rhapsody in Blue premiered in an afternoon concert on February 12, 1924, held by Paul Whiteman and his band Palais Royal Orchestra, entitled An Experiment in Modern Music, which took place in Aeolian Hall in New York City. Many important and influential composers of the time such as John Phillip Sousa and Sergei Rachmaninoff were present. The event has since become historic specifically because of its premiere of the Rhapsody.
The purpose of the experiment, as told by Whiteman in a pre-concert lecture in front of many classical music critics and highbrows, was “to be purely educational.” It would “at least provide a stepping stone which will make it very simple for the masses to understand, and therefore, enjoy symphony and opera.” The program was long, including 26 separate musical movements, divided into 2 parts and 11 sections, bearing titles such as “True form of jazz” and “Contrast: legitimate scoring vs. jazzing”. Gershwin’s latest composition was the second to last piece (before Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1). Many of the numbers sounded similar and the ventilation system in the concert hall was broken. People in the audience were losing their patience, until the clarinet glissando that opened Rhapsody in Blue was heard. The piece was a huge success, and remains popular to this day.
The Rhapsody was performed by Whiteman’s band, with an added section of string players, and George Gershwin on piano. Gershwin decided to keep his options open as to when Whiteman would bring in the orchestra and he did not write out one of the pages for solo piano, with only the words “Wait for nod” scrawled by Grofe on the band score. Gershwin improvised some of what he was playing. As he did not write out the piano part until after the performance, we do not know exactly how the original Rhapsody sounded.
The opening clarinet glissando came into being during rehearsal when; “…as a joke on Gershwin, [Ross] Gorman (Whiteman’s virtuoso clarinettist) played the opening measure with a noticeable glissando, adding what he considered a humorous touch to the passage. Reacting favourably to Gorman’s whimsy, Gershwin asked him to perform the opening measure that way at the concert and to add as much of a ‘wail’ as possible.”
Feb 12 2013
The former special inspector-general of the troubled asset relief program (TARP), Neil Barofsky says that it is time for a “post mortem” analysis former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s doctrine, the preservation of large banks, the largesse of Wall St. and the perversion of of the US criminal justice system. In this article posted at naked capitalism, Mr. Barofsky looks at the effect of the “Geithner Doctrine” and the weak response to the LIBOR scandal:
The recent parade of banking scandals, such as the manipulation of Libor rates by Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland and other major banks, can be traced back to the lax system of regulation before the financial crisis – and the weak response once disaster struck.
Take the response of the New York Federal Reserve to Barclays’ admission in 2008 that it was submitting false Libor rates and was not alone in doing so. Mr Geithner’s response was to in effect bury the tip. He sent a memo to the Bank of England suggesting some changes to the rate-setting process and then convened a meeting of regulators where he reportedly described only the risk but not the actual manipulation of the rate. He then put the government imprimatur on the rate via bailout programmes. His inaction helped permit a global crime to continue for another year.
When it was UBS’s turn to settle its Libor charges, even though a significant amount of the illegal activity took place at the parent company level, only a Japanese subsidiary was required to take a plea. Eric Holder, US attorney-general, demonstrated his embrace of the Geithner doctrine (a phrase coined by blogger Yves Smith) in explaining the UBS decision. He said that a more aggressive stance against the parent company could have a negative “impact on the stability of the financial markets around the world”.
This week we saw the latest instalment of the saga. In fining RBS £390m, the DoJ only indicted one of the bank’s Asian subsidiaries, avoiding the more damaging result that would have stemmed from charging the parent company.
Instead of seeking deterrence and justice, the US government increasingly appears to have fully absorbed the Geithner doctrine into its charging decisions by seeking a result that has a minimal impact on the target bank but will generate the best-looking press release. Some banks today are still too big to fail – and they are still too big to jail.
There are no meaningful consequences for this criminality. The fines with a promise not to do this again are just a game to allow the banks to continue the fraudulent conduct and find better ways to cover it up. Mr. Barofsky concludes that we must ditch the “Geithner Doctrine” to end “the game of incentives gone wild, and the lack of accountability in the aftermath of the crisis has only reinforced those bad incentives.”
o reclaim our system of justice, the global threat posed by the failure of any of our largest financial institutions must be neutralised once and for all. They must be reduced in size, their safety nets must be dramatically constricted and their capital requirements enhanced far beyond the current standards. Then, and only then, can the same set of rules apply to all.
In an extended interview with “The Daily Show“ host Jon Stewart, Mr. Barofsky discussed the double standards of the TARP program and the alien culture of Washington DC and explains why the banks will never face true justice..
Feb 12 2013
Republished from Feb 21, 2012
Mardi Gras en français or Fat Tuesday in English, it is time to party. It’s the last day for some Christians to eat all the food they like and party before the season of fasting before Lent. In many traditions it isn’t just one day. Mardi Gras, or Carnival season, starts in January after 12th Night or the Epiphany, culminating at midnight on the day before Ash Wednesday. English traditions call the day Shrove Tuesday and for many religious Christians a time for confession. Celebrations vary from city to city and by country but many of the traditions are the same masks, beads, parades and parties. In Mobile, Alabama,the former capital of New France, the Mardi Gras social events start in November with “mystic society” balls on Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve with more parades and balls in January and February ending on the traditional Tuesday before Lent. And you thought New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro were the party cities, heh. Many if these balls raise large amounts of money for charity, justifying in a way the “decadence”. In other places with a French heritage, like Louisiana, where the revelry also starts weeks before with parades and parties celebrating the arrival of the “Krewes” or organizations that sponsor various parades, the day is an official holiday. Like anyone in New Orleans is going to the office that day. There’s many traditional foods, too, like pancakes, fruit laden sweet breads and sugary pastries. Any food with lots of fat and eggs. Look out arteries here it comes.
Mardi Gras was introduced to America in colonial days as a sedate religious tradition by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, in the late 17th century, when King Louis XIV sent the pair to defend France’s claim on the territory of Louisiane.
The expedition, led by Iberville, entered the mouth of the Mississippi River on the evening of March 2, 1699, Lundi Gras, not yet knowing it was the river explored and claimed for France by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in 1683. The party proceeded upstream to a place on the west bank about 60 miles downriver from where New Orleans is today, where a small tributary emptied into the great river, and made camp. This was on March 3, 1699, Mardi Gras day, so in honor of this holiday, Iberville named the spot Point du Mardi Gras (French: “Mardi Gras Point”) and called the small tributary Bayou Mardi Gras. Bienville went on to found Mobile, Alabama in 1702 as the first capital of French Louisiana. In 1703 French settlers in that city began to celebrate the Mardi Gras tradition. By 1720, Biloxi was made capital of Louisiana. While it had French settlers, Mardi Gras and other customs were celebrated with more fanfare given its new status. In 1723, the capital of French Louisiana was moved to New Orleans, founded in 1718. With the growth of New Orleans as a city and the creolization of different cultures, the varied celebration of Mardi Gras became the event most strongly associated with the city. In more recent times, several U.S. cities without a French Catholic heritage have instituted the celebration of Mardi Gras, which sometimes emerged as grassroots movements.
In other countries Mardi Gras has different names. In Belgium’s city of Binche it is the most important day if the year:
The carnival is the most known of several others that take place in Belgium at the same time and has been proclaimed as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity listed by UNESCO. Its history dates back to approximately the 14th century.
Events related to the carnival begin up to seven weeks prior to the primary celebrations. Street performances and public displays traditionally occur on the Sundays approaching Ash Wednesday, consisting of prescribed musical acts, dancing, and marching. Large numbers of Binche’s inhabitants spend the Sunday directly prior to Ash Wednesday in costume.
The centrepiece of the carnival’s proceedings are clown-like performers known as Gilles. Appearing, for the most part, on “Shrove” Tuesday, the Gilles are characterised by their vibrant dress, wax masks and wooden footwear. They number up to 1,000 at any given time, range in age from 3 to 60, and are customarily male. The honour of being a Gille at the carnival is something that is to be aspired to by local men. From dawn on the morning of the carnival’s final day, Gilles appear in the centre of Binche, to dance to the sound of drums and ward evil spirits away with sticks. Later, during the day, they don large hats adorned with ostrich plumes, which can cost upwards of $300 US dollars to rent, and march through the town with baskets of oranges. These oranges are thrown to, and sometimes at, members of the crowd gathered to view the procession. The vigour and longevity of the orange throwing event has in past caused damage to property – some residents choose to seal windows to prevent this.
In Germany, Switzerland and Austria, Mardi Gras is called Karneval, Fastnacht, or Fasching. Fastnacht means “Eve of the Beginning of the Fast”. One of the largest festivals is in Cologne, Germany:
Traditionally, the “fifth season” (carnival season) is declared open at 11 minutes past 11 on the 11th of November. The Carnival spirit is then temporarily suspended during the Advent and Christmas period, and picks up again in earnest in the New Year. The time of merrymaking in the streets is officially declared open at downtown square Alter Markt on the Thursday before the beginning of Lent. Street carnival, a week-long street festival, also called “the crazy days”, takes place between the Fat Thursday (Weiberfastnacht) and ends on Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch). The highlight of the carnival is Rose Monday (Rosenmontag), two days before Ash Wednesday. All through these days, Cologne folks go out masqueraded. The typical greeting during the festival is Kölle Alaaf!, a Kölsch phrase which can be translated as “Cologne above all!”
In Europe, some of the earliest Carnivales were in Italy. One of the most elegant and sumptuous is in the canal city if Venice:
It is said that the Carnival of Venice was originated from a victory of the “Repubblica della Serenissima”, Venice previous name, against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico in the year 1162. In the honor of this victory, the people started to dance and make reunions in San Marco Square. Apparently this festival started on that period and become official in the renaissance. After a long absence, the carnival return to operate in 1979. the Italian government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice, and sought to use the traditional Carnival as the centerpiece of their efforts. Today, approximately 3,000,000 visitors come to Venice each day for Carnivals. One of the most important events is the contest for the best mask, placed at the last weekend of the Carnival. A jury of international costume and fashion designers votes for “La Maschera piu bella”. [..]
Masks have always been a central feature of the Venetian carnival; traditionally people were allowed to wear them between the festival of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen’s Day, December 26) and the start of the carnival season and midnight of Shrove Tuesday. They have always been around Venice. As masks were also allowed on Ascension and from October 5 to Christmas, people could spend a large proportion of the year in disguise. Maskmakers (mascherari) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and their own guild.
Venetian masks can be made in leather or with the original glass technique. The original masks were rather simple in design,decoration, often had a symbolic, and practical function. Nowadays, most of them are made with the application of gesso and gold leaf and are all hand-painted using natural feathers and gems to decorate.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include the Carnivals of Brazil:
Carnaval is the most famous holiday in Brazil and has become an event of huge proportions. Excepted the industries, malls and the carnival related workers, the country stops completely for almost a week and festivities are intense, day and night, mainly in coastal cities. The consumption of beer accounts for 80% of annual consumption and tourism receives 70% of annual visitors. The government distributes condoms and launches awareness campaigns at this time to prevent the spread of AIDS.
Each Brazilian has its own unique celebration, the most famous, of course, is the one in Rio de Janeiro:
Modern Brazilian Carnival originated in Rio de Janeiro in 1641 when the city’s bourgeoisie, largely Portuguese, imported the practice of holding balls and masquerade parties from Paris. It originally mimicked the European form of the festival, later absorbing and creolizing elements derived from Native American and African cultures.
In the late 19th century, the cordões (literally “cords”, laces or strings in Portuguese) were introduced in Rio de Janeiro. These were pageant groups that paraded through city avenues performing on instruments and dancing. Today they are known as Blocos (blocks), consisting of a group of people who dress in costumes or special t-shirts with themes and/or logos. Blocos are generally associated with particular neighborhoods; they include both a percussion or music group and an entourage of revellers.
Block parades have become an expressive feature of Rio’s Carnival. Today, they number more than 100 and the groups increase each year. Blocos can be formed by small or large groups of revelers with a distinct title with an often funny pun. (Os blocos RJ, para os solteiros, são um lugar para conhecer e até beijar pessoas, or “The blocos in Rio de Janeiro, for the singles, are places to meet and even kiss people.”) They may also note their neighborhood or social status. Before the show, they gather in a square, then parade in sections of the city, often near the beach. Some blocos never leave one street and have a particular place, such as a bar, to attract viewers. Block parades start in January, and may last until the Sunday after Carnival.
There occur Blocos parades in nearly every neighborhood throughout the city and metropolitan areas, but the most famous are the ones in Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Lagoa, Jardim Botânico, and in downtown Rio. Organizers often compose their own music themes that are added to the performance and singing of classic “marchinhas” and samba popular songs. “Cordão do bola preta” (“Polka Dot Bloco”), that goes through the heart of Rio’s historical center, and “Suvaco do Cristo” (Christ’s statue armpit, referring to the angle of the statue seen from the neighborhood), near the Botanical Garden, are some of the most famous groups. Monobloco has become so famous that it plays all year round at parties and small concerts.
Samba schools are very large groups of performers, financed by respected organizations (as well as illegal gambling groups), who work year round in preparation for Carnival. Samba Schools perform in the Sambadrome, which runs four entire nights. They are part of an official competition, divided into seven divisions, in which a single school is declared the winner, according to costume, flow, theme, and band music quality and performance. Some samba schools also hold street parties in their neighborhoods, through which they parade along with their followers.
Feb 12 2013
Paden doesn’t seem to care about anything, except he does. You just can never tell what it’s going to be. Let me tell you about your friend Paden. A long time ago, me, Paden, Tyree, and a couple of other fellas did a lot of riding together. On business, and business was pretty good. We moved around a lot, the way you have to in that line of work. Somewhere along the way, we picked up this dog. One of us took to feeding it, so it followed us everywhere. Well, one day we’re leaving this little Missouri town, in kind of a hurry with a bunch of the locals hot on our tail. Somehow this dog got tied up with Tyree’s horse. Tyree went flyin’. Well, Tyree was pretty mad when he got up, and, being Tyree, he shot the dog. Didn’t kill him, though. The next thing you know, Paden’s down off his horse, and he’s holdin’ this dog, sayin’ we should go on without him. I thought he was kidding, except he wasn’t. Tyree was ready to plug ’em both – all this with the posse ridin’ down on us. I thought we were pals after all that riding we did together. All of a sudden he’s worried about some mutt. Well, we did like he asked. We left him, and he went to jail for a dog. You want to hear the funny part? Paden didn’t even like that damn dog.
It evened out in the end. They locked me up; the dog sprung me.
Tonight’s event is the first of 2 days of judging. It is broadcast live on CNBC starting at 8 pm with a repeat at 11 pm immediately following and again at 8 am on USA. Tomorrow’s Groups which will be folowed by Best In Show on USA at 8 pm with a repeat at 8 am Wednesday.
The Group Finals tonight are-