12/23/2013 archive

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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Paul Krugman: Bits and Barbarism

This is a tale of three money pits. It’s also a tale of monetary regress – of the strange determination of many people to turn the clock back on centuries of progress.

The first money pit is an actual pit – the Porgera open-pit gold mine in Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s top producers. [..]

The second money pit is a lot stranger: the Bitcoin mine in Reykjanesbaer, Iceland. Bitcoin is a digital currency that has value because … well, it’s hard to say exactly why, but for the time being at least people are willing to buy it because they believe other people will be willing to buy it. [..]

The third money pit is hypothetical. Back in 1936 the economist John Maynard Keynes argued that increased government spending was needed to restore full employment. [..]

But don’t let the fancy trappings fool you: What’s really happening is a determined march to the days when money meant stuff you could jingle in your purse. In tropics and tundra alike, we are for some reason digging our way back to the 17th century.

Joseph E. Stiglitz: In No One We Trust

In America today, we are sometimes made to feel that it is naïve to be preoccupied with trust. Our songs advise against it, our TV shows tell stories showing its futility, and incessant reports of financial scandal remind us we’d be fools to give it to our bankers.

That last point may be true, but that doesn’t mean we should stop striving for a bit more trust in our society and our economy. Trust is what makes contracts, plans and everyday transactions possible; it facilitates the democratic process, from voting to law creation, and is necessary for social stability. It is essential for our lives. It is trust, more than money, that makes the world go round.

We do not measure trust in our national income accounts, but investments in trust are no less important than those in human capital or machines.

Heidi Moore: Ben Bernanke’s final message: get your economic act together, Congress

In his final press conference as Federal Reserve chair, Bernanke squarely blames Congress for slowing economic recovery

On his way out of the Federal Reserve for good, chairman Ben Bernanke just gave Congress a big kick in the rear, using his final press conference to blame congressional budget battles for slowing down the economy and increasing unemployment.

Bernanke pulled back on the Federal Reserve’s $85bn-a-month stimulus, turning it into a $75bn-a-month stimulus. In any other year, the Fed’s pullback on a major, multi-trillion-dollar stimulus after four years should indicate that the economy is better and can stand on its own.

Yet, that is not why the Fed is throttling back on the bond-buying program known as quantitative easing. Bernanke’s statements have been so cautious on the economy that one journalist asked him if the Fed is pulling back because it is simply “giving up” on finding a way to create economic growth.

It’s a good question.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: ‘Green Shoots’: The Year in Wall Street Reform

One year ago a good argument could have been made for cynicism and despair, at least when it came to financial reform. More than four years after an epidemic of Wall Street fraud took down the economy, there had been no indictments of financial executives. Bank CEOs were still treated like royalty in Washington and New York. We still lacked comprehensive regulatory reform. The president’s much-hyped task force on foreclosure fraud had negotiated a cushy, bank-friendly settlement aimed more at placating the public than in restoring justice to ripped-off homeowners.

Twelve months later, things are still tough. The only bank indictments we’ve seen are of low-level officials. We still don’t have meaningful reform. And yet there are unexpected and promising signs.

Call them “green shoots.” True, it’s a problematic phrase, it’s been used so often to raise false economic hopes since 2008. These shoots could wither and die. But there’s something in the air we wouldn’t have predicted one year ago: Hope.

Robert Kuttner: More About a New Freedom Summer

Last week, in this space, I proposed a “Freedom Summer 2014”, aimed at ensuring that nobody would be prevented from voting next fall due to the lack of a government-issued photo ID card. The 5-4 ruling of the Roberts Supreme Court last June in Shelby County v. Holder, overturning major sections of the 1965 Civil Rights Act, permitted all sorts of mischief by Republican state officials aimed at raising obstacles to the right to vote.

My thought was that an army of volunteers, making sure that everyone had the necessary ID, would shame rightwing officials trying to suppress the right to vote and mobilize lots of voters in an off-year that is likely to be difficult for progressives.

In the week since I wrote that post, I’ve gotten a lot of email. Nobody thinks this is a bad idea. The only question is whether a new Freedom Summer could be pulled off at the necessary scale, and whether it could make a real difference.

In the course of digging deeper into those questions, here’s what I’ve learned.

Tom Engelhardt: ‘Bride & Boom’: We’re Number One… In Obliterating Wedding Parties

Washington’s Wedding Album From Hell

The headline — “Bride and Boom!” — was spectacular, if you think killing people in distant lands is a blast and a half.  Of course, you have to imagine that smirk line in giant black letters with a monstrous exclamation point covering most of the bottom third of the front page of the Murdoch-owned New York Post.  The reference was to a caravan of vehicles on its way to or from a wedding in Yemen that was eviscerated, evidently by a U.S. drone via one of those “surgical” strikes of which Washington is so proud.  As one report put it, “Scorched vehicles and body parts were left scattered on the road.” [..]

And were a wedding party to be obliterated on a highway anywhere in America on the way to, say, a rehearsal dinner, whatever the cause, it would be a 24/7 tragedy. Our lives would be filled with news of it. Count on that.

But a bunch of Arabs in a country few in the U.S. had ever heard of before we started sending in the drones?  No such luck, so if you’re a Murdoch tabloid, it’s open season, no consequences guaranteed.

On This Day In History December 23

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 23 is the 357th day of the year (358th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are eight days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1893, The opera Hansel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck is first performed.

The libretto was written by Adelheid Wette (Humperdinck’s sister), based on the Grimm brothers’ Hansel and Gretel. It is much admired for its folk music-inspired themes, one of the most famous being the Abendsegen (“Evening Benediction”) from Act 2.

The idea for the opera was proposed to Humperdinck by his sister, who approached him about writing music for songs that she had written for her children for Christmas based on “Hänsel und Gretel.” After several revisions, the musical sketches and the songs were turned into a full-scale opera.

Humperdinck composed Hansel and Gretel in Frankfurt am Main in 1891 and 1892. The opera was first performed in Weimar on 23 December 1893, conducted by Richard Strauss. It has been associated with Christmas since its earliest performances and today it is still most often performed at Christmas time.

The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve

Trans Siberian Orchestra The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve

Sunday Train: Bringing This Oil Tanker to a Halt

Its been said that it takes miles for a fully-loaded super-tanker to come to a stop, because an ordinary stop takes 20 minutes, and even an emergency, or “crash”, stop takes 14 minutes. But that is less than the blink of an eye compared to the time it will take to bring the emissions of CO2 to a stop.

As Do the Math reminds us, in order to have some plausible chance (far short of certainty, by the way) of leaving global warming at under the 3.6°F that implies that the already ongoing climate catastrophe tips over into the super-catastrophe range, we need to keep additional CO2 emissions at under 565 gigatons. And we have computed reserves equivalent to 2,795 gigatons. So we must, by hook or by crook, find a way to refrain from consuming 80% of our CO2.

For the US, our main focus has to be on our energy emissions due to petroleum, coal, and natural gas, since 85.7% of our total CO2 emissions are due to energy production. As of 2011 41% of our emissions from energy production comes from petroleum emissions, 34% from coal, and 24% from natural gas. Of that 41% due to petroleum, 15% is from domestic petroleum production, and 26% from petroleum imports. So if the United States were to today achieve petroleum independence from carbon-neutral energy sources and energy savings, and totally replace coal combustion with carbon-neutral energy sources and energy savings, that would save 60% of the 86% of emissions from energy production, or 52% of the total. We would “only” have to cut the remaining energy-related emissions and the 14% from other sources by 60% to get to an equal proportional share of an 80% reduction.

However, the target we have to aim at is more ambitious than this. First, fossil fuels are non-renewable, and our timeline for the persistence of CO2 in the atmosphere is around a century. We don’t have a century’s worth of fossil fuels at the current rate of global consumption, so cutting back our consumption by 80% of the present rate is not enough.

And second, because of the time that it will take to switch to a low carbon emissions society, it is highly likely that by the time that a low carbon emissions society is within reach, we will have already emitted close to 565 gigatons.

This is why our target is no longer a “low net carbon emissions” society, but a “zero net carbon emissions” society, since we’ve likely already passed the “ordinary stop” stopping distance, and are coming up upon the “crash stop” stopping distance.