Daily Archive: 05/27/2013

May 27 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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New York Times Editorial Board: Silence on This Day

If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the silence at the heart of Memorial Day – the inward turn that thoughts take on a day set aside to honor the men and women who have died in the service of this country.

It is the silence of soldiers who have not yet been, and may never be, able to talk about what they learned in war, the silence of grief so familiar that it feels like a second heartbeat. This is a day for acknowledging, publicly, the private memorial days that lie scattered throughout the year, a day when all the military graves are tended to, even the ones that someone tends to regularly as a way of remembering. It is the silence of soldiers who have not yet been, and may never be, able to talk about what they learned in war, the silence of grief so familiar that it feels like a second heartbeat. This is a day for acknowledging, publicly, the private memorial days that lie scattered throughout the year, a day when all the military graves are tended to, even the ones that someone tends to regularly as a way of remembering.

Paul Krugman: The Obamacare Shock

The Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare, goes fully into effect at the beginning of next year, and predictions of disaster are being heard far and wide. There will be an administrative “train wreck,” we’re told; consumers will face a terrible shock. Republicans, one hears, are already counting on the law’s troubles to give them a big electoral advantage.

No doubt there will be problems, as there are with any large new government initiative, and in this case, we have the added complication that many Republican governors and legislators are doing all they can to sabotage reform. Yet important new evidence – especially from California, the law’s most important test case – suggests that the real Obamacare shock will be one of unexpected success.

Robert Kuttner: Higher Education: The Coming Shakeout

Just as markets over-built housing, mispriced mortgages and bid up prices beyond the real financial capacity of homebuyers, America’s colleges and universities have over-expanded and over-priced their product. We are getting an education bubble with dynamics similar to the late housing bubble.

As more and more students find themselves with debts that exceed the salaries offered by the current job market, colleges have expanded beyond the capacity of their markets. Some kind of shakeout is coming. The question is: what kind.

Chris Hayes: London Terror

Terror does something particularly horrible to a populace. It is designed to incite a reaction, one in which people are put in their worst places as citizens. It’s a place where they are acting out of fear. Psychologists have found that: “When people feel safe and secure, they become more liberal; when they feel threatened, they become more conservative.” [..]

And what it seeks to snuff out is empathy and reason and fidelity to principles of liberty, and calmness. But what made this crazy story so remarkable was a woman, Ingrid Loyau-Kennet, who confronted one of the alleged attackers. She was staring this man in the face and engaged him in a conversation before police arrived. She didn’t cower and she didn’t run and she didn’t even succumb to rage. She just looked terror in the eyes and essentially said, calmly, you will lose. That is how we should respond to terrorism.

Jim Hightower: The New Crime of Eating While Homeless

By outlawing dumpster diving, Houston is making life impossible for the most vulnerable.

Whenever one of our cities gets a star turn as host of some super-sparkly event, such as a national political gathering or the Super Bowl, its first move is to tidy up – by having the police sweep homeless people into jail, out of town, or under some rug.

But Houston’s tidy-uppers aren’t waiting for a world-class event to rationalize going after homeless down-and-outers. They’ve preemptively outlawed the “crime” of dumpster diving in the Texan city. [..]

Such laws are part of an effort throughout the country to criminalize what some call “homeless behavior.” And, sure enough, when hungry, the behavioral tendency of a homeless human is to seek a bite of nourishment, often in such dining spots as dumpsters. The homeless behavior that Houston has outlawed, then, is eating.

John Miller: The Chained CPI Is Bad for Seniors and for Accuracy

That AARP television ad sure raised the hackles of the Washington Post editors back in 2011. The editors called AARP’s threat-to vote out any politician who supported a reduction in the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits-“thuggish,” “self-centered,” in denial about the crisis of Social Security, and as “wrongheaded” as conservative power-broker Grover Norquist. That last one had to hurt.

Back then, the proposal to reduce the Social Security COLA by switching to the “chained” Consumer Price Index (CPI) didn’t come to pass. But now it’s back, this time as part of the 2014 Obama budget proposal and going by its technical economic name-the “superlative CPI.” Make no mistake, though. It’s the same idea now as then, and would reduce the COLAs for Social Security and veterans’ benefits, as well as the inflation adjustment for income-tax brackets.

May 27 2013

On This Day In History May 27

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 image to enlarge

May 27 is the 147th day of the year (148th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 218 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1813, former President Thomas Jefferson writes former President John Adams to let him know that their mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, has died.

Rush’s passing caused Jefferson to meditate upon the departure of the Revolutionary generation. He wrote, We too must go; and that ere long. I believe we are under half a dozen at present; I mean the signers of the Declaration.

A Rift

Despite their close friendship, Jefferson wrote that he and Adams were often separated by “different conclusions we had drawn from our political reading.” The two maintained their friendship despite their political differences until 1801, the year that Jefferson became president. As Jefferson wrote Mrs. Adams: “I can say with truth that one act of Mr. Adams’s life, and one only, ever gave me a moment’s personal displeasure.” By this, Jefferson was referring to last-minute political appointments made by Adams just before Jefferson succeeded him as president. Jefferson wrote that the appointments “were [selected] from among my most ardent political enemies” who could be counted on to work against his executive authority. Jefferson admitted to “brooding over it for some little time,” and during this period, they ceased writing one another.

A Reconciliation

When Jefferson retired from the presidency in 1809, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration that Adams and Jefferson worked to create, took it upon himself to renew their suspended friendship. He had no success until 1811, when one of Jefferson’s neighbors visited Adams in Massachusetts. The neighbor returned to Virginia with the report that he had heard Adams say, “I always loved Jefferson, and still love him.” In response to these words, Jefferson wrote Dr. Rush: “This is enough for me. I only needed this knowledge to revive towards him all of the affections of the most cordial moments of our lives.” He asked Rush to persuade Adams to renew their correspondence. A letter from Adams was forthcoming, and they continued to write until their deaths.

This reconciliation began a rich correspondence that touched on myriad topics, from reminiscences about their contributions to the young nation’s history, to opinions on current political issues, to matters of philosophy and religion, to issues of aging. Their letters were also lighthearted and filled with affection. Jefferson wrote, “I have compared notes with Mr. Adams on the score of progeny, and find I am ahead of him, and think I am in a fair way to keep so. I have 10 1/2 grandchildren, and 2 3/4 great-grand-children; and these fractions will ere long become units.”

A Lasting Legacy

After fifteen years of resumed friendship, on July 4, 1826, Jefferson and Adams died within hours of each other. Their deaths occurred — perhaps appropriately — on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Unaware that his friend had died hours earlier, Adams’ last spoken words were “Jefferson still survives.”

May 27 2013

Obama’s Neoconservative World

While much of the media was praising President Barack Obama’s speech on counter-terrorism and closing the military detention center at Guantanamo, others were hearing a reconfirmation of the neoconservative the war on terror, especially an expansion of the drone program and targeted assassinations:

But Obama’s speech appeared to expand those who are targeted in drone strikes and other undisclosed “lethal actions” in apparent anticipation of an overhaul of the 2001 congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against al Qaida and allied groups that supported the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

In every previous speech, interview and congressional testimony, Obama and his top aides have said that drone strikes are restricted to killing confirmed “senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces” plotting imminent violent attacks against the United States.

But Obama dropped that wording Thursday, making no reference at all to senior operational leaders. While saying that the United States is at war with al Qaida and its associated forces, he used a variety of descriptions of potential targets, from “those who want to kill us” and “terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat” to “all potential terrorist targets.”

According to the above article from McClatchy, in a fact sheet that was distributed by the White House, targeted killings would continue outside “areas of active hostilities,” and could be used against “a senior operational leader of a terrorist organization or the forces that organization is using or intends to use to conduct terrorist attacks.” If the president’s intent was to quell the criticism of  charges by some legal scholars and civil and human rights groups, he fell more than a little flat, he outright failed.

During a panel discussion on MSNBC’s Up with Steve Kornacki, Buzz Feed corespondent Michael Hastings harshly shredded Pres. Obama speech sating that the president has bought into the Bush administration’s neoconservative world view:

“If you compare this speech to the speech he gave in Cairo, in 2009 or his Nobel Prize speech, you see almost a total rejection of the civil rights tradition that President Obama supposedly came out of… and just an embrace of total militarism,” Hastings said.

“That speech to me was essentially agreeing with President Bush and Vice President Cheney that we’re in this neo-conservative paradigm, that we’re at war with a jihadist threat that actually is not a nuisance but the most important threat we’re facing today,” Hastings continued.

The discussion continued on the ramifications of drone strikes on national security and US image with host Steve Kotnacki, Michael Hastings, Omar Farahstaff attorney in the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative; Perry Bacon, Jr., msnbc contributor; and Kiron Skinner, professor, Carnegie Mellon University.

In response to the president’s speech, the Miami Herald Editorial Board took him to task over the abuse of the power of his office and the need for congress to rein in the president during wartime:

The president attempted to strike a balance between the need to use force against persistent threats and the obligation to overhaul the structures put in place to respond to 9/11 – from the use of drones to the creation of the prison at Guantánamo Bay.

It’s about time. In the 12 years since the attack on the Twin Towers, presidential authority has expanded dramatically in response to the threat, but that does not mean it should be that way forever. It offends the constitutional foundation of American democracy for any chief executive to wield permanent, unchecked authority to order drone strikes anywhere in the world beyond our borders against anyone deemed a suitable target – including Americans – and past time to impose effective limits on such power. [..]

But the speech left many questions unanswered. The 16-page policy guideline the president approved prior to the speech remains classified. And despite all the talk about transparency, the administration is still withholding from Congress legal opinions governing targeted killings.

Despite the build up from the White House fed talking points to the news media, the president’s speech did little to reassure the public that he shifting away from perpetual war with no boarders.

May 27 2013

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Liberalism is Dead, Now What?: Two Cheers for Bhaskar Sunkara by LeGauchist

Bhaskar Sunkara’s recent essay in The Nation, Letter to ‘The Nation’ From a Young Radical, argues persuasively that American liberalism is “practically ineffective and analytically inadequate” to the twin political tasks of mobilizing supporters and generating policy.  Sunkara blames the crisis of liberalism on the fact that, “Liberalism’s original sin lies in its lack of a dynamic theory of power,” which leads liberals–Sunkara specifically cites Obama–to treat

politics as a salon discussion between polite people with competing ideas. . . [in which] the best program … is assumed to prevail in the end…[and] political action is disconnected … from the bloody entanglement of interests and passions that mark our lived existence.

Admitting that liberalism is “a slippery term” Sunkara defines it in terms of the two dominant species of Washington Democratic insiders, which he defines as follows:

to the extent that we can assign coherence to the ideology, two main camps of modern American liberalism are identifiable: welfare liberals and technocratic liberals. The former, without the radicals they so often attacked marching at their left, have not adequately moored their efforts to the working class, while the latter naïvely disconnect policy from politics, often with frightening results.

Both sorts of liberalism, Sunkara argues, have failed analytically and politically, though in different ways and for different reasons. Nevertheless, Sankara has the same prescription: “the solution to liberalism’s impasse lies in the re-emergence of American radicalism.”  

What would that look like? The first task is that

Socialists must urgently show progressives how alien the technocratic liberal worldview is to the goals of welfare-state liberalism-goals held by the rank and file of the liberal movement. … Broad anti-austerity coalitions, particularly those centered at the state and municipal levels like last year’s Chicago Teachers Union strike, point the way toward new coalitions between leftists and liberals committed to defending social goods.

But anti-austerity is not, of course, the full program, but

just one example of the kind of class politics that has to be reconstituted in America today; surely there are many others. The Next Left’s anti-austerity struggles must be connected to the environmental movement, to the struggle of immigrants for labor and citizenship rights, and even, as unromantic as it sounds, to the needs of middle-class service recipients.

Although Sunkara’s essay, like his groundbreaking publication Jacobin Magazine, is an important attempt at creating bridges between liberals and radicals during a time of onslaught by the corporate Right, even as it demonstrates the analytical weakness of liberalism, it suffers from some of the very same analytical inadequacies of liberalism itself, especially its lack of a dynamic theory of power.

Specifically, Sunkara’s categories of analysis are rooted in politics and ideology, with no moorings in the social formation beyond a few statements about working class support for social welfare liberalism–statements which fail to recognize the accomplishments wrought via American working class and subaltern self-activity. In light of this, it is perhaps not surprising–though it ought to be–that a self-described “young radical” had no place in his analysis for a discussion of capitalism as an exploitative economic system whose nature is at the root of or contributes greatly to every one of the social problems liberals profess to care about.