Daily Archive: 10/29/2013

Oct 29 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 thea Pundits”.

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Chris Hedges: Our Invisible Revolution

“Did you ever ask yourself how it happens that government and capitalism continue to exist in spite of all the evil and trouble they are causing in the world?” the anarchist Alexander Berkman wrote in his essay “The Idea Is the Thing.” “If you did, then your answer must have been that it is because the people support those institutions, and that they support them because they believe in them.”

Berkman was right. As long as most citizens believe in the ideas that justify global capitalism, the private and state institutions that serve our corporate masters are unassailable. When these ideas are shattered, the institutions that buttress the ruling class deflate and collapse. The battle of ideas is percolating below the surface. It is a battle the corporate state is steadily losing. An increasing number of Americans are getting it. They know that we have been stripped of political power. They recognize that we have been shorn of our most basic and cherished civil liberties, and live under the gaze of the most intrusive security and surveillance apparatus in human history. Half the country lives in poverty. Many of the rest of us, if the corporate state is not overthrown, will join them. These truths are no longer hidden.

The New York Times Editorial Board: The White House on Spying

The White House response on Monday to the expanding disclosures of American spying on foreign leaders, their governments and millions of their citizens was a pathetic mix of unsatisfying assurances about reviews under way, platitudes about the need for security in an insecure age, and the odd defense that the president didn’t know that American spies had tapped the German chancellor’s cellphone for 10 years.

Is it really better for us to think that things have gone so far with the post-9/11 idea that any spying that can be done should be done and that nobody thought to inform President Obama about tapping the phone of one of the most important American allies?  

Sen. Bernie Sanders: For a Budget That Is Both Morally and Economically Sound

Frankly, it is time that Congress started listening to the ordinary people. Recently, the Republican Party learned a hard lesson when the American people stated loudly and clearly that it was wrong to shut down the government and not pay our bills because some extreme right-wing members of Congress do not like the Affordable Care Act. Well, there’s another lesson that my Republican colleagues are going to have to absorb. Poll after poll make it very clear that the American people overwhelmingly do not want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, according to a recent National Journal poll, 81 percent of the American people do not want to cut Medicare at all; 76 percent of the American people do not want to cut Social Security at all; and 60 percent of the American people do not want to cut Medicaid at all. Meanwhile, other polls have made it very clear that at a time of growing income and wealth inequality, Americans believe that the wealthiest among us and large corporations must pay their fair share in taxes.

It is time to develop a federal budget which is moral and which makes good economic sense. It is time to develop a budget which invests in our future by creating jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure improvement and expanding educational opportunities. It is time for those who have so much to help us with deficit reduction. It is time that we listen to what the American people want, and not just respond to the billionaire class and major campaign contributors.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: A Four-Point “Scorecard” for the Budget Talks

The House-Senate budget negotiations, scheduled to begin on Wednesday, are an opportunity for our leaders to finally have a meaningful discussion about healing our damaged economy. That’s the discussion Washington should have been having all along, but which it hasn’t had yet. How will we know whether that’s finally changed, or which politicians are genuinely looking out for the public’s interests?

This four-point document, “Principles for Debate on the Budget in the Economy,” is an excellent place to start. It provides a baseline for reasonable negotiations, and represents the interests of the millions of Americans who belong to the organizations which signed it. We’ve adapted its four points to serve as a scorecard for grading your representatives during these budget talks.

Juan Cole: America’s Secret 4th Branch of Government: Did the NSA Keep Even Obama in the Dark?

Secrecy is anathema to a democratic republic. If we ever had one, it is long gone. The only real question left is what the unelected fourth branch of government, created inadvertently by Harry Truman, is really up to. It is clearly involved in a great deal of industrial espionage, but how are its discoveries transferred to US corporations? Who do the mostly right wing NSA bureaucrats really report to if not to Obama? And, what are they really doing with our cell phone records, which reveal to whom we speak, how often, and where exactly we are? How are these being data-mined and for what purposes?

How much of our society and politics are shaped by selective leaks about individuals gained from this surveillance? Did the 2008 Wall Street Crash occur in part because the Bush administration had removed pro-regulation New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, using information gathered from his bank accounts, cell phone and personal computer? How many Iraq War critics were, like myself, targeted for surveillance? How many seemingly minor scandals that force decision-makers from office are actually a conspiracy of shadowy intelligence operatives? How many of the vocal defenders of the NSA, or of those politicians too timid to demand reform, fear revelation of personal secrets? Do we have a government or a Mafia extortion racket? These questions may seem outlandish, but they are evidence of the corrosive impact of covert government on a Republic? One can never know what politics is legitimate and what is the result of manipulation. NSA denials that they are using this material gathered on US citizens are not very credible given their officials’ repeated lies and also given their hiding of their activities from the President of the United States.

Joe Conason: Will the Christie Juggernaut Roll Over Ted Cruz and Rand Paul?

With his impending re-election in “Blue Jersey” evidently assured and his national profile rising, Chris Christie is a formidable presidential hopeful. If not always a voice of reason, the blustering governor usually sounds sane in a Republican Party where conspiracy, paranoia and extremism reign. His decision to abandon the state’s legal appeal against gay marriage exemplified the canny pragmatism that worries Democratic strategists looking forward to 2016.

But for those enjoying the current civil war within the GOP as a spectator sport, the prospect of a Christie presidential candidacy is promising indeed. Moving toward the center, he is plainly preparing for combat with the herd of politicians-mostly legislators like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan-whose aspirations depend on mobilizing the tea party base. And there will be nothing “moderate” about Christie when he sets to work taking those opponents apart.

Oct 29 2013

On This Day In History October 29

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.

October 29 is the 302nd day of the year (303rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 63 days remaining until the end of the year.

   

On this day in 1787, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” makes its debut in Prague at the Estates Theater. It is an opera in two acts with the music by Mozart and with an Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. It is about a “young, arrogant, sexually prolific nobleman who abuses and outrages everyone else in the cast, until he encounters something he cannot kill, beat up, dodge, or outwit.” The opera is sometimes characterized as comic because it combines comedy, drama and the supernatural. It is among the top 20 operas performed in North America.

Oct 29 2013

US Spying: “An Institutional Obsession”

Former constitutional lawyer and columnist on civil liberties and U.S. national security issues for The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman to discuss how US spying in out allies has become an institutionalized obsession with surveillance.

The spat over U.S. spying on Germany grew over the weekend following reports the National Security Agency has monitored the phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel since as early as 2002, before she even came to office. The NSA also spied on Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, after he refused to support the Iraq War. NSA staffers working out of the U.S. embassy in Berlin reportedly sent their findings directly to the White House. The German tabloid Bild also reports President Obama was made aware of Merkel’s phone tap in 2010, contradicting his apparent claim to her last week that he would have stopped the spying had he known. In another new disclosure, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports today the NSA tracked some 60 million calls in Spain over the course of a month last year. A delegation of German and French lawmakers are now in Washington to press for answers on the allegations of U.S. spying in their home countries.

Jay Ackroyd at Eschaton thought this part of the lengthy interview deserved to be highlighted:

    So, for the top national security official in the United States to go to the Senate and lie to their faces and deny that the NSA is doing exactly that which our reporting proved that the NSA was in fact doing is plainly a crime, and of course he should be prosecuted, and would be prosecuted if we lived under anything resembling the rule of law, where everybody is held and treated equally under the law, regardless of position or prestige. Of course, we don’t have that kind of system, which is why no Wall Street executives have been prosecuted, no top-level Bush officials were prosecuted for torture or warrantless eavesdropping, and why James Clapper hasn’t been prosecuted despite telling an overt lie to Congress. And what’s even more amazing, though, Amy, is that not only has James Clapper not been prosecuted, he hasn’t even lost his job. He’s still the director of national intelligence many months after his lie was revealed, because there is no accountability for the top-level people in Washington.

   And the final thing to say about that is, there’s all kinds of American journalists who love to go on television and accuse Edward Snowden of committing all these grave and horrible crimes. They’re so brave when it comes to declaring Edward Snowden to be a criminal and calling for [inaudible]. Not one of them has ever gone on television and said, “James Clapper committed crimes, and he ought to be prosecuted.” The question that you just asked journalistically is such an important and obvious one, yet not-none of the David Gregorys or Jeffrey Toobins or all these American journalists who fancy themselves as aggressive, tough reporters, would ever dare utter the idea that James Clapper ought to be arrested or prosecuted for the crimes that he committed, because they’re there to serve those interests and not to challenge or be adversarial to them.

Jay also pointed out e-mail exchange between Glenn and Bill Keller, the former executive editor of The New York Times, in an op-ed by Keller.

Is Glenn Greenwald the Future of News?

by Bill Keller

Much of the speculation about the future of news focuses on the business model: How will we generate the revenues to pay the people who gather and disseminate the news? But the disruptive power of the Internet raises other profound questions about what journalism is becoming, about its essential character and values. This week’s column is a conversation – a (mostly) civil argument – between two very different views of how journalism fulfills its mission.

Glenn Greenwald broke what is probably the year’s biggest news story, Edward Snowden’s revelations of the vast surveillance apparatus constructed by the National Security Agency. He has also been an outspoken critic of the kind of journalism practiced at places like The New York Times, and an advocate of a more activist, more partisan kind of journalism. Earlier this month he announced he was joining a new journalistic venture, backed by eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar, who has promised to invest $250 million and to “throw out all the old rules.” I invited Greenwald to join me in an online exchange about what, exactly, that means.

It’s long but worth the read.  

Oct 29 2013

Democrats: Bought & Sold by the Spies

Who Buys the Spies? The Hidden Corporate Cash Behind America’s Out-of-Control National Surveillance State

by Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen

Democratic leaders are full-fledged players in the national surveillance state, right along with Republicans.

Long before President Obama kicked off his 2008 campaign, many Americans took it for granted that George W. Bush’s vast, sprawling national security apparatus needed to be reined in. For Democrats, many independents, and constitutional experts of various persuasions, Vice President Dick Cheney’s notorious doctrine of the “unitary executive” (which holds that the President controls the entire executive branch), was the ultimate statement of the imperial presidency. It was the royal road to easy (or no) warrants for wiretaps, sweeping assertions of the government’s right to classify information secret, and arbitrary presidential power. When Mitt Romney embraced the neoconservatives in the 2012 primaries, supporters of the President often cited the need to avoid a return to the bad old days of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld National Security State as a compelling reason for favoring his reelection. Reelect President Obama, they argued, or Big Brother might be back.

But that’s not how this movie turned out: The 2012 election proved to be a post-modern thriller, in which the main characters everyone thought they knew abruptly turned into their opposites and the plot thickened just when you thought it was over.[..]

As the storm over surveillance broke, we were completing a statistical analysis of campaign contributions in 2012, using an entirely new dataset that we constructed from the raw material provided by the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenues Service (which compiles contributions from so-called “527”s).  In light of what has transpired, our quantitative analysis of presidential election funding invites closer scrutiny, particularly of the finding that we had already settled upon as perhaps most important:  In sharp contrast to endlessly repeated claims that big business was deeply suspicious of the President, our statistical results show that a large and powerful bloc of  “industries of the future” – telecommunications, high tech, computers, and software – showed essentially equal or higher percentages of support for the President in 2012 than they did for Romney [..]

But the point that our findings document is perhaps most instructive of all. Many of the firms and industries at the heart of this Orwellian creation have strong ties to the Democrats. Bush and Cheney may have invented it, but national Democratic leaders are full-fledged players in this 21st century National Surveillance State and the interest group pressures that now help to sustain its defenders in Washington work just as powerfully on Democrats as on Republicans.

Party Competition and Industrial Structure in the 2012 Elections

Key Findings:

   

  • Existing data sources used for studies of campaign finance have a variety of serious flaws.
  • As a result, the degree to which major parties’ presidential candidates depend on very large donors has been underestimated and the role small donors play exaggerated.
  • The relation between the money split between the parties and the proportion of votes received by their candidates in House and Senate races appears to be quite straightforward.
  • Firms and executives in industries strongly affected by proposed regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions heavily backed Mitt Romney. So did much, but not all, of finance.
  • President Obama’s support within big business was broader than hitherto recognized. His level of support from firms in telecommunications and software was very strong indeed, sometimes equaling or exceeding Romney’s. Many firms and sectors most involved in the recent controversies over surveillance were among the President’s strongest supporters.
  • Republican candidates showed sharply different levels of contributions from small donors; President Obama’s campaign, while heavily dependent on large donors, attracted more support from small donors than did his Republican opponent.
  • Big business support for Tea Party candidates for Congress was substantial, but well below levels for more mainstream Republicans. Many of the same sectors that strongly supported Romney also backed Tea Party candidates. Backing for Tea Party candidates by Too Big To Fail banks ran above the average of business as a whole by every measure.

Read “Party Competition and Industrial Structure in the 2012 Elections: Who’s Really Driving the Taxi to the Dark Side?” (pdf), by Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen.

Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts and a Senior Fellow of the Roosevelt Institute, Thomas Ferguson discusses the finding of the study with Real New Networks Jaisal Noor.

As Yves Smith at naked capitalism noted this is a good explanation why “Obama started looking more stressed than usual around the time of the Snowden revelations.”

Oct 29 2013

Don’t Cry for JP Morgan

The recent news of a thirteen billion dollar settlement agreed to by JP Morgan with the Justice Department to resolve an array of crisis-related mortgage cases may seems like a large chunk of change but in the grand scheme of the banks assets and the losses to the global economy its a drop in the bucket. JP Morgan’s current assets are valued at $$2.25 trillion and the losses to Americans alone is estimated at $22 trillion. Meanwhile, papers like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post, both owned by Rupert Murdock, are calling the settlement “a shakedown” and “robbery.”

There are a lot of questions about the details of the settlement that Dimon personally helped negotiate with Attorney General Eric Holder in private meetings, cutting the deal without admission of any wrong doing. The New York Times‘ assistant business and financial editor, Gretchen Morgenson commented about this unusual special treatment to Bill Moyers in an interview on Moyers & Company



Transcript can be read here

   BILL MOYERS: Do you find it remarkable – Jamie Dimon asking for a personal meeting with the Attorney General, Eric Holder to decide, in private, on a penalty?…

   GRETCHEN MORGENSON: It seems unusual to me and it does smack of favoritism, special treatment. It certainly was unusual I would say for Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States of America, to have a personal meeting with someone that his office is negotiating a settlement with. That raised eyebrows with me. I know I would not be able to get that meeting if I asked – and if I implored.

   I think it really sends a signal, also which is disturbing that again – two sets of rules in America. There’s one set for the people who are in positions of power, certainly in the financial world – one set of rules perhaps for them. And one set for the rest of us. I really don’t understand why Eric Holder would not have decided that it was the optics just didn’t look that good for him to meet with Jamie Dimon, but maybe there is something behind it that I don’t know.

At Democracy Now!, Yves Smith, the proprietress at naked capitalism, sat down with Amy Goodman to discuss the deal and how it is being misreported.



Transcript can be read here



Transcipt can be read here

A $13 Billion Reminder of What’s Wrong

by Gretchen Morgansen, The New york Times

t was the deal of the week – a possible $13 billion settlement between JPMorgan Chase and the Justice Department to resolve an array of crisis-related mortgage cases.

While arguments over the deal’s terms and numbers are to be expected, the discussion so far has seemed to miss its significance as a teaching moment. This possible settlement once again depicts the extensive and damaging behavior that led to the 2008 crisis and its aftermath. For those with short memories, the deal is a refresher course in how far-off the rails our largest financial institutions veered in the years leading up to the mess.

It also stands as a reminder that not enough has been done to fix the flawed incentives in our sprawling and powerful financial system. This applies to both the private sector – the mighty banks – and their supposed minders, the regulators.

The Ridiculous “Jamie Dimon as Victim” Meme on the Pending JP Morgan Mortgage Settlement

by Yves Smith, naked capitalism

Nothing like having a credulous, leak-dependent media to carry your messages.

There’s been a remarkable hue and cry about the pending JP Morgan settlement, as if the amount is somehow too high. As we’ve discussed repeatedly, the director of financial stability for the Bank of England, Andrew Haldane, already ascertained that a mere 1/20th of low-end estimate of what the banks ought to pay for all the damage they did would wipe our their market capitalization. So even if you think JP Morgan is only half as culpable as other banks (a point we will debunk in a post tomorrow) it would only be half as dead.

In other words, Dimon and all his crew should thank their lucky stars that they got off so well and didn’t have their banks turned into utilities. But that moment passed, so now we are haggling over price with ingrates.

Nobody Should Shed a Tear for JP Morgan Chase

by Matt Taibbi. Rollingstone

A lot of people all over the world are having opinions now about the ostensibly gigantic $13 billion settlement Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan Chase have entered into with the government.

The general consensus from most observers in the finance sector is that this superficially high-dollar settlement – worth about half a year’s profits for Chase – is an unconscionable Marxist appropriation. It’s been called a “robbery” and a “shakedown,” in which red Obama and his evil henchman Eric Holder confiscated cash from a successful bank, as The Wall Street Journal wrote, “for no other reason than because they can and because they want to appease their left-wing populist allies.”

Look, there’s no denying that this is a lot of money. It’s the biggest settlement in the history of government settlements, and it’s just one company to boot. But this has been in the works for a long time, and it’s been in the works for a reason. This whole thing, lest anyone forget, has its genesis in a couple of state Attorneys General (including New York’s Eric Schneiderman and Delaware’s Beau Biden) not wanting to sign off on any deal with the banks that didn’t also address the root causes of the crisis, in particular the mass fraud surrounding the sale and production of subprime mortgage securities.

The cost of the financial crisis hits Americans harder than banks

by Heidi Moore, The Guardian

As you rise up the financial ladder, the consequences of the financial crisis are increasingly arbitrary

What’s the real cost of a financial crisis? Apparently, it depends on who’s paying.

If you’re Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, or Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America, it’s a price your $2tn bank can easily afford to make trouble go away.

If you’re a homeowner, it’s a price that has rendered your past five years a struggle of financial anxiety. If you’re an American, it’s a price that has resulted in a recession and recovery characterized by historically high poverty – with 42 million Americans on food stamps – and historically low rates of Americans working, with only 63% of the population gainfully employed.

As you rise up the financial ladder, the consequences of the financial crisis are increasingly arbitrary. The Department of Justice is looking for scalps – finally, after five years of drowsy hibernation – but some banks are whining about merely getting haircuts.

This week, two mortgage-crisis settlements hit the news: one potential and one official. The idea of a $13bn rumored fine to JP Morgan and an $848m fine to Bank of America would indicate two things.

Oct 29 2013

2013 Major League Baseball Championship Game 5: Red Sox @ Cardinals

So, the rubber (it’s a Lawn Bowling thing thing) of the stand at Busch and since the BoSox have already split we’ll travel again to the friendly confines of Fenway and worship the Great God Citgo and face the dreaded Green Monster.

It’s just a game and the Cards are tied at 2.

First the one they won Saturday.  In the 1st inning it looked like a rout, Single, Sacrifice, RBI Single, RBI Single, 2 – 0 Cards.  Then came the Sox 5th, Leadoff Triple, RBI Sacrifice.  And the 6th, Leadoff Walk, Single, RBI Single, all tied up.  Cards answered in the 7th, Leadoff Single, Hit by Pitch, 2 RBI Double.  Knotted again in the 8th, Leadoff Single, HBP, Sacrifice, Walked Loaded, RBI Sacrifice, RBI Single.  Bottom of the 9th, Single, Double, Sacrifice.

And then there was an obstruction

In baseball, obstruction is when a fielder illegally hinders a baserunner running within the basepath.

Baserunners are generally permitted to run from base to base without being physically blocked or hindered by a fielder. The only time that a fielder is not obligated to “get out of the way” of a baserunner is when the fielder is fielding or in possession of the ball.

Game over dude. 5 – 4 Cardinals, they lead the Series 2 – 1.

And so they take the field again last night.  In the Cardinals 3rd a Single and an Error puts the runner at 2nd with 1 Down.  RBI Single. In the 5th the Sox come back with a Leadoff Double, Back to Back Walks, and a Sacrifice.  It could have been much worse and it was in the 6th, 2 Out Single, a Walk, 3 RBI Homer.  Cards score again in the 7th, 2 Out Double and an RBI Single, but it’s too little too late.  4 – 2 Red Sox, Series tied at 2.

We have not yet had a squirrel sighting, but were I a serious Cards fan I might consider smuggling one in my pants.