January 2014 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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Talking Troubled Turkey

O.K., who ordered that? With everything else going on, the last thing we needed was a new economic crisis in a country already racked by political turmoil. True, the direct global spillovers from Turkey, with its Los Angeles-sized economy, won’t be large. But we’re hearing that dreaded word “contagion” – the kind of contagion that once caused a crisis in Thailand to spread across Asia, more recently caused a crisis in Greece to spread across Europe, and now, everyone worries, might cause Turkey’s troubles to spread across the world’s emerging markets.

It is, in many ways, a familiar story. But that’s part of what makes it so disturbing: Why do we keep having these crises? And here’s the thing: The intervals between crises seem to be getting shorter, and the fallout from each crisis seems to be worse than the last. What’s going on? [..]

So Turkey seems to be in serious trouble – and China, a vastly bigger player, is looking a bit shaky, too. But what makes these troubles scary is the underlying weakness of Western economies, a weakness made much worse by really, really bad policies.

The New York Times Editorial: Football, Pain and Marijuana

The National Football League prohibits the use of marijuana as part of its broader, longstanding program to prevent substance abuse. It also imposes stiff penalties on players caught breaking the rules.

In the lead-up to the Super Bowl, in which it so happens both teams hail from states that recently legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, pressure is mounting on the league to reconsider its ban. A group called the Marijuana Policy Project has even bought space on five billboards in New Jersey, where the game will take place on Sunday, asking why the league disallows a substance that, the group says, is less harmful than alcohol. [..]

Players, of course, have access to other painkillers, including prescription drugs. Yet as former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders has argued, “marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.” As public opinion and state laws move away from strict prohibition, it’s reasonable for the N.F.L. to do the same and let its players deal with their injuries as they – and their private doctors – see fit.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: On Wall Street, Sounds of Silence From the President

How did Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech resonate on Wall Street? Sometimes the old saying is literally true: Silence is golden.

Here are some of the words and phrases that did not appear in President Obama’s speech: “Wall Street,” “bank,” “regulation,” “fraud,” “settlement,” “investigation,” “too big to fail,” and “Glass-Steagall.” He didn’t mention the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the Dodd/Frank financial reform bill. He didn’t discuss the cynical attempts to roll back financial reform in Congress — attempts that are supported by members of both parties — much less insist that those attempts be defeated.

Although the president discussed the economic plight of the majority of Americans, he made no mention of the financial industry’s central role in the devastating 2008 financial crisis, which made that plight so much worse. He talked of wage stagnation, but did not explore the financial industry’s role in the increasingly unjust economic redistribution of recent decades. Inequality doesn’t just happen. It’s produced by many forces, most of which either originate on Wall Street or are heavily influenced by it.

Stephan Richter: NSA and Obama: Yes, We Can

Why is President Obama so permissive with regard to excesses of US intelligence apparatus?

Few of his supporters would have ever thought that Barack Obama’s famous 2008 presidential campaign slogan would end up turning into the collective mantra of the US intelligence community during his term in office. But here we are: “Yes, We Can” is the best way to describe the arrogant attitude of the more than 50,000 spooks employed by the US government, whenever they are faced with any questions pertaining to the legitimacy of their actions.

Their arrogance is as breathtaking, as are their mostly phony protestations of operating under a carefully calibrated web of checks and balances. And Mr Obama’s timidity in tackling both phenomena is astonishing for a man who is a constitutional lawyer by training.

At this stage, the memory of the Church Committee is not just faint, but depressing. In 1975, Idaho Senator Frank Church chaired a special committee – the forerunner of the Senate Intelligence Committee – and mounted a vigorous, no-holds-barred investigation of the overreach of the spying agencies during the Nixon era.

The idea that a similarly vigorous defence of the vitality of American democracy, much needed though it is, could be mounted is simply unimaginable today. By whom? California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the current Senate Intelligence Committee chair?

Jill Filipovic: Nice try Republicans, but marriage isn’t the solution to poverty

If conservatives want to help the poor they should improve education, cut inequality, and ensure access to contraception

It’s time for marriage promotion programs to die.

The first problem is that they don’t actually convince people to get married; nor do they get fathers to spend more time with their children, make children more emotionally secure, encourage parents to stay together or make families more financially stable. The second is that, contrary to right-wing narratives, marriage doesn’t fix poverty – yet those same conservatives demand that the federal government continue to funnel money into failed marriage promotion programs, and even encourage politicians to curb reproductive rights to force couples into marrying. It’s bad policy stacked on bad policy, with women and their children being made the primary victims.

Juan Cole: Obama as Unreliable Narrator on Climate Action: From SOTU to NSA Spying at Copenhagen

When President Obama looked us in the eye and said that the US is not engaged in electronic surveillance for economic reasons, but only for the sake of security and anti-terrorism, he was lying through his teeth. He should be careful. His approval ratings have tanked in some large part because he has lost those who care about the 4th amendment and personal privacy. Reagan also became unpopular with Iran-Contra, when it became clear that he was lying to us what weapons he sold to Iran and what he did with the black money.

Lying is not fatal to a political career, but for the public to come to realize that you are systematically lying to them about something they care about- that is deadly.

Laura Poitras broke the story in a Danish newspaper and The Huffington Post also reported it, late Wednesday. The United States National Security Agency spied on delegates to the 2009 Climate Summit and used the knowledge they gained to game the negotiations in favor of the US (one of the world’s two major carbon polluters).

Obama and Dreams From America’s Founders

Here is a study in juxtaposition for your consideration:

“The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

— John Adams

Obama takes a shot at a key part of his base – art history majors

During an event at a GE gas engine plant, the president emphasized that Americans would be better off if more of them could work in the manufacturing industry.

“Manufacturing jobs typically pay well,” he said. “We want to encourage more of them.”

And while some young people might not think of the skilled trades as a lucrative career, Obama added, they can probably earn more “than they might than [with] an art history degree.”

On This Day In History January 31

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.

January 31 is the 31st day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 334 days remaining until the end of the year (335 in leap years).

On this day in 1865, The United States Congress passes the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, abolishing slavery, submitting it to the states for ratification.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution officially abolished and continues to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. It was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, passed by the House on January 31, 1865, and adopted on December 6, 1865. On December 18, Secretary of State William H. Seward, in a proclamation, declared it to have been adopted. It was the first of the Reconstruction Amendments.

President Lincoln was concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation, which outlawed slavery in the ten Confederate states still in rebellion in 1863, would be seen as a temporary war measure, since it was based on his war powers and did not abolish slavery in the border states.


Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation


The first twelve amendments were adopted within fifteen years of the Constitution’s adoption. The first ten (the Bill of Rights) were adopted in 1791, the Eleventh Amendment in 1795 and the Twelfth Amendment in 1804. When the Thirteenth Amendment was proposed there had been no new amendments adopted in more than sixty years.

During the secession crisis, but prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the majority of slavery-related bills had protected slavery. The United States had ceased slave importation and intervened militarily against the Atlantic slave trade, but had made few proposals to abolish domestic slavery, and only a small number to abolish the domestic slave trade. Representative John Quincy Adams had made a proposal in 1839, but there were no new proposals until December 14, 1863, when a bill to support an amendment to abolish slavery throughout the entire United States was introduced by Representative James Mitchell Ashley (Republican, Ohio). This was soon followed by a similar proposal made by Representative James F. Wilson(Republican, Iowa).

Eventually the Congress and the public began to take notice and a number of additional legislative proposals were brought forward. On January 11, 1864, Senator John B. Henderson of Missouri submitted a joint resolution for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. The abolition of slavery had historically been associated with Republicans, but Henderson was one of the War Democrats. The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Lyman Trumbull (Republican, Illinois), became involved in merging different proposals for an amendment. On February 8 of that year, another Republican, Senator Charles Sumner (Radical Republican, Massachusetts), submitted a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery as well as guarantee equality. As the number of proposals and the extent of their scope began to grow, the Senate Judiciary Committee presented the Senate with an amendment proposal combining the drafts of Ashley, Wilson and Henderson.

Originally the amendment was co-authored and sponsored by Representatives James Mitchell Ashley (Republican, Ohio) and James F. Wilson (Republican, Iowa) and Senator John B. Henderson (Democrat, Missouri).

While the Senate did pass the amendment on April 8, 1864, by a vote of 38 to 6, the House declined to do so. After it was reintroduced by Representative James Mitchell Ashley, President Lincoln took an active role in working for its passage through the House by ensuring the amendment was added to the Republican Party platform for the upcoming Presidential elections. His efforts came to fruition when the House passed the bill on January 31, 1865, by a vote of 119 to 56. The Thirteenth Amendment’s archival copy bears an apparent Presidential signature, under the usual ones of the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, after the words “Approved February 1, 1865”.

The Thirteenth Amendment completed the abolition of slavery, which had begun with the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

Shortly after the amendment’s adoption, selective enforcement of certain laws, such as laws against vagrancy, allowed blacks to continue to be subjected to involuntary servitude in some cases. See also Black Codes.

The Thirteenth Amendment was followed by the Fourteenth Amendment (civil rights in the states), in 1868, and the Fifteenth Amendment (which bans racial voting restrictions), in 1870.

SotU: Notably Absent

“A Silent Coup”: Jeremy Scahill & Bob Herbert on Corporate, Military Interests Shaping Obama’s SOTU

“Dirty Wars” Filmmaker Jeremy Scahill on the “Drone President” & Obama’s Whitewashing of NSA Spying

Also notably ineffective.


SotU: Inequality & Minimum Wage




TPP Kaput?

Reid Announces Opposition to ‘Fast Track’ on Trade

By Siobhan Hughes, Wall Street Journal

January 29, 2014, 2:47 p.m. ET

“I’m against fast track,” Mr. Reid told reporters one day after President Barack Obama renewed his call for Congress to pass fast-track legislation, which means Congress must consider trade bills on an expedited basis in an up-or-down vote with no amendments. “I think everyone would be well-advised just not to push this right now.”

Fast-track authority is seen as crucial to cementing the trade deals because of the reassurance it would provide negotiating partners in the final, politically-sensitive rounds of talks. Other nations are typically reluctant to make trading concessions unless the U.S. can offer assurances trading pacts won’t be amended or rejected by Congress at the last minute.

“You can kiss any new trade deals goodbye,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas.) “I think the majority leader’s focus is on the November elections and he doesn’t want to expose his vulnerable members to controversial votes.”

On Wednesday Mr. Reid made clear that he has expressed the depth of his opposition plainly, including to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.), who recently unveiled the fast-track bill, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), who is presumed to become chairman of the committee when Mr. Baucus steps down to serve as U.S. ambassador to China.

“Everyone knows how I feel about this-Senator Baucus knows; Senator Wyden knows; the White House knows,” Mr. Reid said, declining to say whether he would stop fast-track legislation from coming up for a Senate floor vote. “We’ll see,” he said.

Mr. Wyden has expressed concerns about the existing fast-track bill and thinks it needs to be rewritten, an aide said.

An aide to Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp said the Michigan Republican would like to have bipartisan support before moving fast-track legislation forward in the House.

Many Democrats are skeptical of recent free-trade agreements, saying they don’t do enough to stem the flow of jobs overseas and don’t require trading partners to observe strict labor and environmental rules similar to those in the U.S. Some are concerned the Asia-Pacific pact under negotiation will siphon U.S. jobs to low-income countries such as Vietnam.

“It seems there’s a great opportunity to get off the fast track to bad trade deals and open the policy window to a better deal for workers,” Celeste Drake, a trade expert with the AFL-CIO, said.

A poll released on Wednesday showed that 62% of voters oppose fast-track negotiating authority for Mr. Obama. The poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates and Chesapeake Beach Consulting, shows that Republican voters are more concerned about giving fast-track authority to Mr. Obama than Democrats.

Mirabile Dictu! Reid Tells Off Obama on Fast Track, Killing Toxic Trade Deals for 2014

by Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Posted on January 30, 2014

(M)y Congressional correspondents think another gambit is more likely: to make some cosmetic changes and try to get the bill passed during the lame duck session, on the assumption that some Democrats (particularly those who are leaving office) will use the cover and change positions.

However, that cheery view assumes that the situation is static, when opposition to these bills is becoming even more pronounced.

And the repudiation by Reid and the stiffening resistance to these bills won’t go unnoticed overseas. The Wikileaks publication of drafts of two critical chapters showed a wide gap between the US positions and that of many of its supposed partners. Our reader Clive has also described how the Japanese media (and Japan is essential to the TPP being consummated) is being uncharacteristically direct in saying the US was not negotiating, and it would need to make significant concessions to reach an agreement. The TPP was already going pear shaped, and whatever sense of momentum the US had been able to create is now kaput.

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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Gary Younge: The State of the Union confirmed only that our union is in a state

The major themes of Obama’s address – inequality, support for the troops and bipartisan compromise -were all too familiar

A state of the union address in the sixth year of a presidency is inevitably buffeted by the crosswinds of time. The president has been in power long enough that their record has already eclipsed their potential. But they have too long remaining to start openly making an appeal for their place in history.

Rhetorically, they can neither be too florid nor too timid. Nobody wants to hear about their pipe dreams – if they were that good they would have heard them already. And yet to talk in too much detail about the work they are going to do is too small bore for such a big occasion.

And so they walk the narrow line between being practical and predictable, utopian and utilitarian. What was most striking about this address was that in most important ways it could have been written at almost any time since Obama took office. The major themes of inequality, support for the troops, bipartisan compromise, climate change, healthcare, international diplomacy, world-class education, tax loopholes were familiar – there was precious little that was new here.

Laura Vecsey: Has American exceptionalism been replaced by sheer bullying?

Threats and brute bluster have become the new norm in American political culture. And Michael Grimm exemplifies it

I’m certain that threats, dirty deals and abuses of power have been part of the political and governmental process going back to Caligula – or Zeus. But some of us prefer our titans of intemperance to be historical figures, dressed up in hyperbole and embellished with mythic meaning, not some 21st century, Tea Party-abetted congressman from Staten Island whose nickname is “Mikey Suits” – like, straight out of Goodfellas or The Sopranos.

Then again, maybe in 300 years, long after the fall of the American empire, when all three of the remaining polar bears have found the last ice floe and Jeff Bezos has set up a small colony of Asperger’s Anonymous to live with their moon-beam powered Kindles on Mars, US Representative Michael Grimm will have earned an enduring place in the pantheon of bullies, crooks and ego-maniacal gods.

Jill Lawrence: The ‘woman problem’ Cathy McMorris Rodgers can’€t solve

Republicans are dismally out of step with what matters to female voters

“Relatable” is the word that comes to mind with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. Though she holds the No. 4 position in the Republican House leadership, her image is all everywoman. Whether she’s sitting on a couch responding to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address or narrating the story of her classic American life in an upbeat video, she comes across as a warm and personable next-door neighbor who always has the coffee on and the time to listen. She was arguably the best person that Republicans could have presented to counter Obama. [..]

McMorris Rodgers asserted Tuesday night that Republicans stand for “an America that is every bit as compassionate as it is exceptional.” She invoked a party “that dreams big for everyone and turns its back on no one.” But until the GOP lives up to that kind of rhetoric with actual policies, even a messenger as appealing – and, yes, relatable -­ as a three-time mom who raised sheep, sold fruit and cleaned motel rooms as a kid can’t do much to end the gender gap that’s holding back her party.

Stephen Kinzer: Are Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Ambitions Clouding Her Morals?

Whether or not Clinton has formally announced her candidacy, her silence on Iran speaks louder than words

Asked in an interview this week about her presidential ambitions, Hillary Clinton gave an answer that qualified as a howler even by Clinton standards: “I’m not thinking about it.” [..]

One of the surest signs that Clinton is running for the presidency is her refusal to take a position on the greatest geopolitical question now facing the United States. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are engaged in a high-stakes effort to end 35 years of hostility between the United States and Iran. Debate about this initiative is intense in Washington. No one, however, knows the opinion of the woman who was Kerry’s immediate predecessor and is evidently seeking to govern the United States beginning in 2017. [..]

Clinton’s choice is clear. If she opposes détente with Iran, she will look like a warmonger who prefers confrontation to diplomacy. If she supports it, she will alienate a vital part of the base she is relying on to finance her presidential campaign. With this in mind, she has chosen to remain silent on the central foreign policy issue of the age. It is a classic act of political cowardice – the kind that often leads to victory at the polls.

Ray McGovern: No Tears for the Real Robert Gates

n the early 1970s, I was chief of the CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch in which Robert M. Gates worked as a young CIA analyst. While it may be true that I was too inexperienced at the time to handle all the management challenges of such a high-powered office, one of the things I did get right was my assessment of Gates in his Efficiency Report.

I wrote that if his overweening ambition were not reined in, young Bobby was sure to become an even more dangerous problem. Who could have known, then, how huge a problem? As it turned out, I was not nearly as skilled as Gates at schmoozing senior managers who thus paid no heed to my warning. Gates was a master at ingratiating himself to his superiors

The supreme irony came a short decade later when we – ALL of us, managers, analysts, senior and junior alike – ended up working under Gates. Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director William Casey had found in Gates just the person to do his bidding, someone who earned the title “windsock Bobby” because he was clever enough to position himself in whatever direction the powerful winds were blowing.

Norman Solomon: The State of Phony Populism

Barack Obama put on a deft performance Tuesday night. With trills of empathy, the president’s voice soared to hit the high notes. He easily carried a tune of economic populism. But after five years of Obama in the White House, Americans should know by now that he was lip-syncing the words.

The latest State of the Union speech offered a faint echo of a call for the bold public investment that would be necessary to reduce economic inequity in the United States. The rhetoric went out to a country that in recent years has grown even more accustomed to yesterday’s floor becoming today’s ceiling.

The speech offered nothing that could plausibly reverse the trend of widening income gaps. Despite Obama’s major drumroll about his executive order to increase the minimum wage for some federal contract employees, few workers would be affected. The thumping was loud, but the action was small.

On This Day In History January 30

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.

January 30 is the 30th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 335 days remaining until the end of the year (336 in leap years).

On this day in 1969, The Beatles’ last public performance, on the roof of Apple Records in London. The impromptu concert is broken up by the police.

A din erupted in the sky above London’s staid garment district. Gray-suited businessmen, their expressions ranging from amused curiosity to disgust, gathered alongside miniskirted teenagers to stare up at the roof of the Georgian building at 3 Savile Row. As camera crews swirled around, whispered conjecture solidified into confirmed fact: The Beatles, who hadn’t performed live since August 1966, were playing an unannounced concert on their office roof. Crowds gathered on scaffolding, behind windows, and on neighboring rooftops to watch the four men who had revolutionized pop culture play again. But what only the pessimistic among them could have guessed-what the Beatles themselves could not yet even decide for sure-was that this was to be their last public performance ever. . . . . .

When the world beyond London’s garment district finally got to see the Beatles’ last concert, it was with the knowledge, unshared by the original, live audience, that it was the band’s swan song. On Abbey Road Paul had sung grandly about “the end,” but it was John’s closing words on the roof that made the more fitting epitaph for the group that had struggled out of working-class Liverpool to rewrite pop history: “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.”

Oh Baby Please Don’t Go

Life, the Universe and Everything

In a multi-part series, the host of Moyers and Company, Bill Moyers and the popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed the universe, higher beings and science literacy.

Transcript can be read here

Transcript can be read here

Transcript can be read here

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