Daily Archive: 01/07/2014

Jan 07 2014

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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Chris Hedges: The Last Gasp of American Democracy

This is our last gasp as a democracy. The state’s wholesale intrusion into our lives and obliteration of privacy are now facts. And the challenge to us-one of the final ones, I suspect-is to rise up in outrage and halt this seizure of our rights to liberty and free expression. If we do not do so we will see ourselves become a nation of captives.

The public debates about the government’s measures to prevent terrorism, the character assassination of Edward Snowden and his supporters, the assurances by the powerful that no one is abusing the massive collection and storage of our electronic communications miss the point. Any state that has the capacity to monitor all its citizenry, any state that has the ability to snuff out factual public debate through control of information, any state that has the tools to instantly shut down all dissent is totalitarian. Our corporate state may not use this power today. But it will use it if it feels threatened by a population made restive by its corruption, ineptitude and mounting repression. The moment a popular movement arises-and one will arise-that truly confronts our corporate masters, our venal system of total surveillance will be thrust into overdrive.

Tom Englehardt: American Jihad 2014: On the New National Security State Fundamentalists

Put it all together and what you have is a description of a militant organization whose purpose is to carry out a Washington version of global jihad, a perpetual war in the name of the true faith

In a 1950s civics textbook of mine, I can remember a Martian landing on Main Street, U.S.A., to be instructed in the glories of our political system.  You know, our tripartite government, checks and balances, miraculous set of rights, and vibrant democracy.  There was, Americans then thought, much to be proud of, and so for that generation of children, many Martians were instructed in the American way of life.  These days, I suspect, not so many.

Still, I wondered just what lessons might be offered to such a Martian crash-landing in Washington as 2014 begins.  Certainly checks, balances, rights, and democracy wouldn’t top any New Year’s list.  Since my childhood, in fact, that tripartite government has grown a fourth part, a national security state that is remarkably unchecked and unbalanced.  In recent times, that labyrinthine structure of intelligence agencies morphing into war-fighting outfits, the U.S. military (with its own secret military, the special operations forces, gestating inside it), and the Department of Homeland Security, a monster conglomeration of agencies that is an actual “defense department,” as well as a vast contingent of weapons makers, contractors, and profiteers bolstered by an army of lobbyists, has never stopped growing.  It has won the undying fealty of Congress, embraced the power of the presidency, made itself into a jobs program for the American people, and been largely free to do as it pleased with almost unlimited taxpayer dollars.

Dean Baker: All eyes on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, America’s leading progressive

De Blasio is to the left of America’s Democratic party, but he’s no Marxist. Instead, he’ll likely usher in progressive policies

Reporting on the significance of Bill de Blasio becoming mayor of New York may have led some to fear that the Soviet Union was being reincarnated in the country’s largest city. While De Blasio is certainly to the left of many leaders of the America’s Democratic party, he is certainly no radical seeking to overthrow capitalism. Furthermore, even if he did plan to seize the means of production, his ability to do so as the mayor of a major city would be quite limited.

Nonetheless, there are many areas where the mayor of New York can have a substantial impact. The top of this list would be education policy. De Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, was a vocal and visible supporter of the education reform movement. While this movement has produced big profits for corporations in the testing business and made some policy entrepreneurs rich and famous, it has not done much to improve education for inner city kids. [.]]

There are certainly limits to what a big city mayor can do, but Mayor de Blasio can make a difference for both the people of New York and the country, if he is willing to try.

Nicolaus Mills: The US declared war on poverty 50 years ago. You would never know it

Lyndon Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty for reasons both economic and moral. They are still relevant today

This 8 January marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of “unconditional war on poverty”. The statement came in a state of the union address that, because of its often drab prose, has rarely drawn much praise. But a half century later, it’s time to re-examine the case Johnson made in 1964 for remedying poverty in America.

In an era such as our own, when – despite a poverty rate the Census Bureau puts at 16% – Congress is preparing to cut the food stamp program and has refused to extend unemployment insurance, Johnson’s compassion stands out, along with his nuanced sense of who the poor are and what can be done to make their lives better.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: On Unemployment, Today’s Congress Is Meaner Than George W. Bush

Why are we arguing about issues that were settled decades ago? Why, for example, is it so hard to extend unemployment insurance at a time when the jobless rate nationally is still at 7 percent, and higher than that in 21 states?

As the Senate votes this week on help for the unemployed, Democrats will be scrambling to win support from the handful of Republicans they’ll need to get the required 60 votes. The GOP-led House, in the meantime, shows no signs of moving on the matter. [..]

Similarly, raising the minimum wage wasn’t always so complicated. The parties had their differences on the concept, but a solid block of Republicans always saw regular increases as a just way of spreading the benefits of economic growth.

The contention over unemployment insurance and the minimum wage reflects the larger problem in American politics. Rather than discussing what we need to do to secure our future, we are spending most of our energy re-litigating the past.

Michael Wolff: Ezra Klein, Glenn Greenwald and the odd rise of personal brand journalism

Journalists are increasingly branching out on their own, but it’s a risky business that has yet to really show profitability

There is a new vision of journalism – call it the auteur school – in which the business shifts from being organized by institutions to being organized around individual journalists with discrete followings.

The latest development is the announcement by Ezra Klein that he will likely leave the Washington Post and is looking for investors to back him – with a reported eight figure investment (ie more than $10m!) – in an independent enterprise.

Last week Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, who ran the Wall Street Journal tech conference AllThingsD, announced that, following the WSJ ending its relationship with them, they were setting up in business backed by NBC and other investors.

Glenn Greenwald, who broke the NSA-Edward Snowden story for the Guardian, is the headliner in a new left-oriented journalism venture backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. [..]

And that leads to my cautionary question: is this all journalistic vanity and hubris, ending in certain tears, or is there plausible economic logic to individual journalistic fiefdoms?

Jan 07 2014

The Battle for North Carolina

North Carolina Battleground State



Full transcript can be read here

First it was Wisconsin. Now it’s North Carolina that is redefining the term “battleground state.”  On one side:  a right-wing government enacting laws that are changing the face of the state. On the other:  citizen protesters who are fighting back against what they fear is a radical takeover. This crucible of conflict reflects how the battle for control of American politics is likely to be fought for the foreseeable future: not in Washington, DC, but state by state. [..]

At the heart of this conservative onslaught sits a businessman who is so wealthy and powerful that he is frequently described as the state’s own “Koch brother.” Art Pope, whose family fortune was made via a chain of discount stores, has poured tens of millions of dollars into a network of foundations and think tanks that advocate a wide range of conservative causes.  Pope is also a major funder of conservative political candidates in the state.

Pope’s most ardent opponent is the Reverend William Barber, head of the state chapter of the NAACP, who says the right-wing state government has produced “an avalanche of extremist policies that threaten health care, that threaten education [and] that threaten the poor.” Barber’s opposition to the legislature as well as the Pope alliance became a catalyst for the protest movement that became known around the country as “Moral Mondays.”

The Koch brothers aren’t the only ones who can guy a state.

State for Sale

by Jane Mayer October 10, 2011

In the spring of 2010, the conservative political strategist Ed Gillespie flew from Washington, D.C., to Raleigh, North Carolina, to spend a day laying the groundwork for REDMAP, a new project aimed at engineering a Republican takeover of state legislatures. Gillespie hoped to help his party get control of statehouses where congressional redistricting was pending, thereby leveraging victories in cheap local races into a means of shifting the balance of power in Washington. It was an ingenious plan, and Gillespie is a skilled tactician-he once ran the Republican National Committee-but REDMAP seemed like a long shot in North Carolina. Barack Obama carried the state in 2008 and remained popular. The Republicans hadn’t controlled both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly for more than a century. (“Not since General Sherman,” a state politico joked to me.) That day in Raleigh, though, Gillespie had lunch with an ideal ally: James Arthur (Art) Pope, the chairman and C.E.O. of Variety Wholesalers, a discount-store conglomerate. The Raleigh News and Observer had called Pope, a conservative multimillionaire, the Knight of the Right. The REDMAP project offered Pope a new way to spend his money.

That fall, in the remote western corner of the state, John Snow, a retired Democratic judge who had represented the district in the State Senate for three terms, found himself subjected to one political attack after another. Snow, who often voted with the Republicans, was considered one of the most conservative Democrats in the General Assembly, and his record reflected the views of his constituents. His Republican opponent, Jim Davis-an orthodontist loosely allied with the Tea Party-had minimal political experience, and Snow, a former college football star, was expected to be reëlected easily. Yet somehow Davis seemed to have almost unlimited money with which to assail Snow.[..]

Bob Phillips, the head of the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause, an organization that promotes campaign-finance reform, said that Snow’s loss signals a troubling trend in American politics. “John Snow raised a significant amount of money,” he said. “But it was exceeded by what outside groups spent in that race, mostly on commercials against John Snow.” Such lopsided campaigns will likely become more common, thanks to the Supreme Court, which, in a controversial ruling in January, 2010, struck down limits on corporate campaign spending. For the first time in more than a century, businesses and unions can spend unlimited sums to express support or opposition to candidates.

Phillips argues that the Court’s decision, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has been a “game changer,” especially in the realm of state politics. In swing states like North Carolina-which the Democrats consider so important that they have scheduled their 2012 National Convention there-an individual donor, particularly one with access to corporate funds, can play a significant, and sometimes decisive, role. “We didn’t have that before 2010,” Phillips says. “Citizens United opened up the door. Now a candidate can literally be outspent by independent groups. We saw it in North Carolina, and a lot of the money was traced back to Art Pope.”

At Bill Moyers and Company, John Light and Laura Macomber give a synopsis of events in North Carolina:

In 2012, North Carolinians elected a Republican to the governor’s office. That same year, the Republican majority in the General Assembly – first elected in 2010 – grew to a supermajority. The result was that conservatives won the power to change state law dramatically – and over this last year, they used that power. The new legislation included ending benefits for the long-term unemployed; declining the Obamacare Medicaid extension; eliminating the earned-income tax credit; and passing what some observers call the worst voter suppression law in the country. In response, those critical of the right-wing legislative agenda united around protests at the state legislature on Mondays, part of a growing citizen movement that has come to be known as “Moral Mondays.” So far, the movement, however ambitious, has done little to slow the state’s Republican majority from pushing through its agenda.

But this story didn’t start on Election Day 2012 – its roots run deep. And a similar situation could unfold in any of America’s 50 states.

The writers also provide a reading list of articles that follow the money trail that paid for redistricting and the extreme right wing legislative agenda.

Jan 07 2014

The New Zapatistas

Zapatista Uprising 20 Years Later: How Indigenous Mexicans Stood Up Against NAFTA “Death Sentence”

Democracy Now

On the same day the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army and people of Chiapas declared war on the Mexican government, saying that NAFTA meant death to indigenous peoples. They took over five major towns in Chiapas with fully armed women and men.

Zapatista’s Warning Over NAFTA Rings True 2 Decades Later

Transcript

Jan 07 2014

On This Day In History January 7

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 7 is the seventh day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 358 days remaining until the end of the year (359 in leap years).

On this day in 1789, the first US presidential election is held.  The United States presidential election of 1789 was the first presidential election in the United States of America. The election took place following the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788. In this election, George Washington was elected for the first of his two terms as President of the United States, and John Adams became the first Vice President of the United States.

Before this election, the United States had no chief executive. Under the previous system-the Articles of Confederation-the national government was headed by the Confederation Congress, which had a ceremonial presiding officer and several executive departments, but no independent executive branch.

In this election, the enormously popular Washington essentially ran unopposed. The only real issue to be decided was who would be chosen as vice president. Under the system then in place, each elector cast two votes; if a person received a vote from a majority of the electors, that person became president, and the runner-up became vice president. All 69 electors cast one vote each for Washington. Their other votes were divided among eleven other candidates; John Adams received the most, becoming vice president. The Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804, would change this procedure, requiring each elector to cast distinct votes for president and vice president.

In the absence of conventions, there was no formal nomination process. The framers of the Constitution had presumed that Washington would be the first president, and once he agreed to come out of retirement to accept the office, there was no opposition to him. Individual states chose their electors, who voted all together for Washington when they met.

Electors used their second vote to cast a scattering of votes, many voting for someone besides Adams with Alexander Hamilton less out of opposition to him than to prevent Adams from matching Washington’s total.

Only ten states out of the original thirteen cast electoral votes in this election. North Carolina and Rhode Island were ineligible to participate as they had not yet ratified the United States Constitution. New York failed to appoint its allotment of eight electors because of a deadlock in the state legislature.