Daily Archive: 02/26/2013

Feb 26 2013

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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Dean Baker: Macho Men, Social Security, and the Chained CPI

In societies across the globe, men demonstrate their manhood in different ways. There are many wonderful tracts on the topic. However, in the culture of Washington, D.C., the best way to demonstrate your manhood is to express your willingness to cut Medicare and Social Security. There is no better way to be admitted into the club of the Very Serious People.

This is the reason that we saw White House spokesman Jay Carney tell a press conference last week that Barack Obama is a macho man. He told the reporters that President Obama is still willing to cut Social Security benefits by using the Chained CPI as the basis for the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). This willingness to cut the benefits of retirees establishes President Obama as a serious person in elite Washington circles.

John Nichols: To Beat Austerity, Obama Must Campaign for Democracy

President Obama, who famously used his 2010 State of the Union address to rip activist Supreme Court Justices for removing longstanding barriers to corporate control of the political discourse, did not mention the Court’s wrongheaded Citizens United decision in his 2012 State of the Union address.

That was concerning.

Not just because the president’s support is needed to expand the campaign to amend the Constitution so that it is clear free speech rights are afforded citizens, not corporations. But because this is a moment when it is essential to explain how Wall Street is using its “money power” to thwart the will of the people when it comes to debt and deficit debates.

Tome Engelhardt: What If the Iranians Waterboarded an American?

Sometimes, the world can be such a simple, black-and-white sort of place.  Let me give you an example.  Imagine for a moment that the Iranians kidnap an American citizen from a third country.  (If you prefer, feel free to substitute al-Qaeda or the North Koreans or the Chinese for the Iranians.)  They accuse him of being a terrorist.  They throw him in jail without charges or a trial or a sentence and claim they suspect he might have crucial information (perhaps even of the “ticking bomb” sort — and the Iranians have had some genuine experience with ticking bombs). Over the weeks that follow, they waterboard him time and again. They strip him, put a dog collar and leash on him.  They hood him, loose dogs on him. They subject him to freezing cold water and leave him naked on cold nights. They hang him by his arms from the ceiling of his cell in the “strappado” position. I’m sure I really don’t have to go on.  Is there any question what we (or our leaders) would think or say? [..]

We would call them barbarians. Beyond the bounds of civilization. Torturers. Monsters. Evil. No one in the U.S. government, on reading CIA intelligence reports about how that American had been treated, would wonder: Is it torture? No one in Washington would have the urge to call what the Iranians (al-Qaeda, the North Koreans, the Chinese) did “enhanced interrogation techniques.” If, on being asked at a Senate hearing whether he thought the Iranian acts were, in fact, “torture,” the prospective director of the CIA demurred, claimed he was no expert on the subject, no lawyer or legal scholar, and simply couldn’t label it as such, he would not be confirmed.  He would probably never have a job in Washington again.

Robert Reich: Why Obama Must Meet the Republican Lies Directly

The White House apparently believes the best way to strengthen its hand in the upcoming “sequester” showdown with Republicans is to tell Americans how awful the spending cuts will be, and blame Republicans for them.

It won’t work. These tactical messages are getting in the way of the larger truth, which the President must hammer home: The Republicans’ austerity economics and trickle-down economics are dangerous, bald-faced lies. [..]

President Obama has the bully pulpit. Americans trust him more than they do congressional Republicans. But he is letting micro-tactics get in the way of the larger truth. And he’s blurring his message with other messages — about gun control, immigration, and the environment. All are important, to be sure. But none has half a chance unless Americans understand how they’re being duped on the really big story.

Ralph Nader: How to Tame the Corporation

In an interview in the August 20, 1916 edition of the New York Times titled “Why American Business is Constantly Pounded,” James A. Emery, then general counsel for the National Council of Industrial Defense said: “Nothing can illustrate more clearly the characteristic operation of these local and peculiar prejudices than the use that has been made of, and the attitude of mind that has been created toward, the term ‘corporation.’ A mere legal description, it has become upon the lips of some an epithet, and upon those of others an accusation and an indictment that often without a hearing amounts to a conviction of business wrong.”

This was the big business lobby response nearly a century ago to the attacks on the expansion of corporate power. As Mr. Emery puts it, the corporate entity was nothing more then harmless legal speak, even as corporate power and influence rapidly metastasized in the United States in the early 20th century. How many “business wrongs” have been committed by corporations in the past hundred years? What about the past decade alone?

Allen Keller: May I Have the Waterboard Please…

Neither waterboards, nor Zero Dark Thirty, which won but ½ an Oscar for sound editing, received much attention at last night’s Academy Awards. Perhaps the better films won or it was luck of the draw. Perhaps, as British commentator Glenn Greenwald said “The stigma attached to the pro-torture CIA propaganda vehicle, beloved by film critics result(ed) in Oscar humiliation.”

I appreciate such indignation, as well as that by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Chairman Senator Dianne Feinstein and other elected officials who asserted Zero Dark Thirty presents a distorted, inaccurate view about torture’s effectiveness and its role in finding Osama Bin Laden. But if the record is to be set straight, the responsibility lies with our elected officials — not with Hollywood.

Feb 26 2013

On This Day In History February 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.

February 26 is the 57th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 308 days remaining until the end of the year (309 in leap years).

Two national parks preserved, 10 years apart. The two national parks were established in the United States 10 years apart, the Grand Canyon in 1919 and the Grand Tetons in 1929.

The Grand Canyon National Park

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon in 1903. An avid outdoorsman and staunch conservationist, he established the Grand Canyon Game Preserve on November 28, 1906. Livestock grazing was reduced, but predators such as mountain lions, eagles, and wolves were eradicated. Roosevelt added adjacent national forest lands and redesignated the preserve a U.S. National Monument on January 11, 1908. Opponents such as land and mining claim holders blocked efforts to reclassify the monument as a U.S. National Park for 11 years. Grand Canyon National Park was finally established as the 17th U.S. National Park by an Act of Congress signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on February 26, 1919.

Grand Teton National Park

In 1897 acting Yellowstone superintendent Colonel S.B.M. Young proposed expanding that park’s borders south to encompass the northern extent of Jackson Hole in order to protect migrating herds of elk. Next year, United States Geological Survey head Charles D. Walcott suggested that the Teton Range should be included as well. Stephen Mather, director of the newly-created National Park Service and his assistant Horace Albright sent a report to Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane in 1917 stating much the same. Wyoming Representative Frank Mondell sponsored a bill that unanimously passed the United States House of Representatives in 1918 but was killed in the United States Senate when Idaho Senator [John Nugent feared that the expansion of Park Service jurisdiction would threaten sheep grazing permits. Public opposition to park expansion also mounted in and around Jackson Hole. Albright, in fact, was practically run out of Jackson, Wyoming, by angry townspeople in 1919 when he traveled there to speak in favor of park expansion.

Local attitudes started to change that same year when proposals to dam Jenny, Emma Matilda, and Two Ocean lakes surfaced. Then on July 26, 1923, local and Park Service representatives including Albright met in Maud Noble’s cabin to work on a plan to buy private lands to create a recreation area to preserve the “Old West” character of the valley. Albright was the only person who supported Park Service management; the others wanted traditional hunting, grazing, and dude-ranching activities to continue. In 1927 philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. founded the Snake River Land Company so he and others could buy land in the area incognito and have it held until the National Park Service could administer it. The company launched a campaign to purchase more than 35,000 acres for $1.4 million but faced 15 years of opposition by ranchers and a refusal by the Park Service to take the land.

In 1928, a Coordinating Commission on National Parks and Forests met with valley residents and reached an agreement for the establishment of a park. Wyoming Senator John Kendrick then introduced a bill to establish Grand Teton National Park. It was passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress and signed into law by U.S. President Calvin Coolidge on February 26, 1929. The 96,000 acres park was carved from Teton National Forest and included the Teton Range and six glacial lakes at its foot in Jackson Hole. Lobbying by cattlemen, however, meant that the original park borders did not include most of Jackson Hole (whose floor was used for grazing). Meanwhile the Park Service refused to accept the 35,000 acres held by the Snake River Company.

Discouraged by the stalemate, Rockefeller sent a letter to then U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt telling him that if the federal government did not accept the land that he intended to make some other disposition of it or to sell it in the market to any satisfactory buyers. Soon afterward on March 15, 1943 the president declared 221,000 acres (890 km2) of public land as Jackson Hole National Monument. Continued controversy over the Rockefeller gift still made it impossible for the monument to officially include that land, however.

Opposition to the monument by local residents immediately followed with criticism that the declaration was a violation of states’ rights and that it would destroy the local economy and tax base. Ranchers, led in part by famed actor Wallace Beery, drove 500 cattle across the newly created monument in a demonstration designed to provoke conflict. The Park Service did not respond to the stunt but the event brought national attention to the issue nonetheless. Wyoming Representative Frank A. Barrett introduced a bill to abolish the monument that passed both houses of Congress but was pocket vetoed by Roosevelt. U.S. Forest Service officials did not want to cede another large part of the Teton National Forest to the Park Service so they fought against transfer. One final act was to order forest rangers to gut the Jackson Lake Ranger Station before handing it over to park rangers. Residents in the area who supported the park and the monument were boycotted and harassed.

Other bills to abolish the monument were introduced between 1945 and 1947 but none passed. Increases in tourism money following the end of World War II has been cited as a cause of the change in local attitudes. A move to merge the monument into an enlarged park gained steam and by April, 1949, interested parties gathered in the Senate Appropriation Committee chambers to finalize a compromise. The Rockefeller lands were finally transferred from private to public ownership on December 16, 1949, when they were added to the monument. A bill merging most of Jackson Hole National Monument (except for its southern extent, which was added to the National Elk Refuge) into Grand Teton National Park was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman on September 14, 1950. One concession in the law modified the Antiquities Act, limiting the future power of a president to proclaim National Monuments in Wyoming. The scenic highway that extends from the northern border of Grand Teton National Park to the southern entrance of Yellowstone National Park was named the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway to recognize Rockefeller’s contribution to protecting the area. In 2001, the Rockefellers donated their Jackson Hole retreat, the JY Ranch, to the national park for the establishment of the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, dedicated on June 21, 2008.

Feb 26 2013

Who knew they sold meatballs?

Ikea withdraws meatballs in Europe, 21 nations hit

By Karl Ritter, Associated Press

February 25, 2013

Ikea’s North America branch said the U.S. stores get their meatballs from a U.S. supplier.

“Based on the results of our mapping, we can confirm that the contents of the meatballs follow the Ikea recipe and contain only beef and pork from animals raised in the U.S. and Canada,” Ikea North America spokeswoman Mona Astra Liss said in a statement.

Ikea is known for its assemble-it-yourself furniture but its trademark blue-and-yellow megastores also have cafeteria-style restaurants offering Swedish dishes such as meatballs served with boiled or mashed potatoes, gravy and lingonberry jam.

European Union officials met Monday to discuss tougher food labeling rules after the discovery of horse meat in a wide range of frozen supermarket meals that were supposed to contain beef or pork. So far those foods include meatballs, burgers, kebabs, lasagna, pizza, tortelloni, ravioli, empanadas and meat pies, among other items.

Feb 26 2013

AA1

UK’s credit rating downgraded from AAA to AA1 by Moody’s

Press Association, The Guardian

Friday 22 February 2013 18.05 EST

The agency warned that “subdued” growth prospects and a “high and rising debt burden” were weighing on the economy. But Osborne said the loss of the gold-plated status did not mean the government should change course.

“Tonight we have a stark reminder of the debt problems facing our country – and the clearest possible warning to anyone who thinks we can run away from dealing with those problems,” he said.

“Far from weakening our resolve to deliver our economic recovery plan, this decision redoubles it.

Osborne humiliated as UK loses AAA credit rating

By George Eaton, New Statesman

Published 22 February 2013 22:50

Back in February 2010, a few months before he entered the Treasury, George Osborne declared: “Our first benchmark is to cut the deficit more quickly to safeguard Britain’s credit rating. I know that we are taking a political gamble to set this up as a measure of success.” A gamble it was and how it has backfired on the Chancellor. Tonight, Moody’s became the first rating agency to strip the UK of its AAA credit rating (downgrading it to AA1), citing the “continuing weakness” in the UK’s growth outlook and its “high and rising debt burden”.

For Osborne, who chose to make our credit rating the ultimate metric of economic stability, it is a humiliating moment. Not my words, but his. During one of his rhetorical assaults against Labour in August 2009, he warned: “Britain faces the humiliating possibility of losing its international credit rating”. Rarely before or after becoming Chancellor, did Osborne miss an opportunity to remind us just how important he thought the retention of our AAA rating was.



By Osborne’s own logic, then, his deficit plan is no longer credible.



The economic consequences of the downgrade are unlikely to be significant. France and the US, for instance, have seen no rise in their borrowing costs since losing their AAA ratings (in fact, yields on US and French bonds have fallen). All the evidence we have suggests that the market is prepared to lend to countries that can borrow in their own currencies (such as the UK) and that enjoy the benefits of an independent monetary policy, regardless of their credit ratings or their debt levels. But the politics of the downgrade are toxic for Osborne.

Still, you might ask, why should we listen to Moody’s, the agency that gave AIG an AAA rating just a month before it collapsed? The answer is simple: we shouldn’t. But this doesn’t alter the fact that Osborne did. For political purposes, he used Britain’s credit rating as a stick to beat Labour with. He can hardly complain if others now use this move against him. Tonight, the Chancellor has been hoist with his own petard.

“I don’t care what the ratings agencies think about anything, but if it’s a stark reminder of anything it’s a stark reminder that you’re the stupidest fucking person on the face of the planet.”- Atrios

“Often “austerity” and the “need” for budget cuts are just excuses to kicks the poors and olds and ram through whatever horrible agenda you wanted to ram through in the first place. But I think the simpleton Gideon Osborne really believes it. He likes kicking the olds and the poors too, but he’ll nonetheless be proved fucking right.

Except he won’t.

And for some reason Labour is unwilling to just say Shit Is Fucked Up And Bullshit, austerity bites, and we gotta step on the gas.”- Atrios

The condensed Moody’s downgrade

By Alex Hern, New Statesman

Published 23 February 2013 10:43

Some will focus on the fact that Moody’s analysis starts with poor growth as the basic factor for Osborne’s failure. Others will note that Moody’s is still a firm advocate of high-speed deficit reduction.

Still others, myself included, will argue that, apart from the fact that the Chancellor has been hoist by his own petard, all the news really does is prove yet again that ratings agencies aren’t very good at their jobs. Moody’s recognises that Britain’s economic travails stem from depressed growth, but its analysis seems incapable of progressing on from there. Taken as a whole, the agency is saying, with a straight face, that “Britain’s attempts to cut its debt have harmed its attempts to cut its debt, and this could harm its attempts to cut its debt”, and it sees nothing problematic with that.

Really, nothing in Moody’s analysis matters. The only important part of it is that one missing A, and the effect that has on Osborne’s credibility.

Feb 26 2013

The Failure of Capitalism: The Rich Get Richer

Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Richard Wolff joined Bill Moyers for a look behind the disaster left in capitalism’s wake and a discussion of economic justice and a fair minimum wage:

“We have this disparity getting wider and wider between those for whom capitalism continues to deliver the goods by all means, [and] a growing majority in this society facing harder and harder times,” Wolff tells Bill. “And that’s what provokes some of us to begin to say it’s a systemic problem.”

A caveat from Yves Smith at naked capitalism:

Wolff pooh poohs financial regulation, peculiarly dismissing the fact that it worked well for two generations. And what broke it was not bank lobbying but the high and volatile interest rates of the 1970s, which resulted from imperial overreach (Johnson refusing to raise taxes when the economy was already at full employment; he deficit financed the combo plate of the space race, the war in Vietnam, and the war on poverty. And Vietnam was the reason for not raising taxes; the war was already unpopular, and a tax increase would have made it more so). At one point, Moyers brings up oligopolies as another driver of increased concentration of wealth, and Wolff misses the opportunity to take up the idea (the failure to enforce anti-trust regulations is a not-sufficienlty well recognized contributor to rising income inequality).

Minimum wage hike would benefit millions

Moyers opened the segment by saying that even if the country increases the minimum wage to the $9 per hour proposed by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech, workers will still be worse off than their counterparts were fifty years ago.

Wolff agreed, “The peak for the minimum wage in terms of its purchasing power,” he said, “was 1968. It’s basically been declining, with a couple of ups and downs, ever since.”

“So, you’ve taken the people who work at the bottom, full time job,” he continued, “and you’ve made their economic condition worse over a 50 year period while wealth has accumulated at the top. What kind of a society does this?”

“Who decided that workers at the bottom should fall behind?” Moyers asked.

“Well, in the end,” said Wolff, “it’s the society as a whole that tolerates it. But, it’s Congress’ decision and Congress’ power to raise the minimum wage.”

Feb 26 2013

The Oscars and the Ladies in Red, White, Blue, Gold . . .

And the winners are . . . No, not the awards recipients, I’ll get to those, it’s the dresses. There wasn’t quite as many fashion faux pas as in year’s past, although there were some, well how shall else can I say, losers. Most of the ladies were quite elegantly gowned, well coiffed and bejeweled.

Of course there are the ladies in red, who always stand out. The red carpet chuckle was Olivia Munn discussing the hazards of wearing red lipstick, telling the interviewer that she had opted for lip stain.

There were not as many wearing my favorite color as in years past but these ladies’ choices were outstanding:

Sally Field 2013 photo oscars-2013-sally-field-red-carpet__zpsb43125e6.jpg

Best Supporting Actress Nominee Sally Field, Lincoln

Jackie Weaver Oscars 2013 photo JW_zps837e1c3d.jpg

Best Supporting Actress Nominee Jackie Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Jennifer Aniston Oscars 2013 photo Jennifer-Aniston---Oscars-2013-in-R_zps01208715.jpg

Actress Jennifer Aniston

Kerry Washington Oscars 2013 photo elle-01-2013-oscars-red-carpet-kerr_zpsf64a0083.jpg

Actress Kerry Washington

Olivia Munn Oscars 2013 photo slide_282789_2144067_free_zps5918a9f5.jpg

Actress Olivia Munn

Marcia Gay Harden Oscars 2013 photo slide_282789_2144118_free_zps1008c743.jpg

Actress Marcia Gay Harden

As I noted previously, I always look for actress Helena Bonham Carter whose intentional “fashion statements” in the past have been show stoppers on the red carpet. Although a toned down this year, she had her fun, along with director Tim Burton, with her hairstyle:

Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton Oscars 2013 photo helena_bonham_carter_tim_burton_zpsbeb86b32.jpg

Songstress Dame Shirley Bassey strode down the red carpet in an understated black sheath.

Shirley Bassey Oscars 2013 photo shirley_bassey_zps2e6544d7.jpg

Later, she arrived on stage in a stunning gold to sing the song that launched her international career, Goldfinger, in a tribute to the 50th anniversary of James Bond films. Needles to say she had the audience on their feet.

Shirley Bassey Oscars 2013 photo imagesqtbnANd9GcQyh3e812M6JITOl32ZN_zps693d73d5.jpg

The oldest nominee Emmanuelle Riva, Actress in a Supporting role is 85, looking very elegant in Lanvin.

Emmanuelle Riva Oscars 2012 photo slide_282789_2144357_free_zps0778aa5f.jpg

While the youngest nominee for Best Actress, nine year old Quvenzhane Wallis, charmed everyone in her bright blue Armani Junior gown that looked like it was sprinkled with fairy dust and carrying her puppy dog purse.

Quvenzhané Wallis Oscars 2013 photo wallis_1_zps25cb772e.jpg

The surprise of the night was actor Jack Nicholson introducing his co-presenter for the Best Picture award, First Lady Michelle Obama wearing a glittering, custom smoke gray Naeem Khan gown and Sutra Silver at Fragments jewelry.

First Lady Michelle Obama Oscars 2013 photo michelle-obama-oscars-2013-surprise_zpsdb00f3c3.jpg