Daily Archive: 01/28/2014

Jan 28 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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Dean Baker: President Obama’s Inequality Story

The advance word is that inequality is going to be the central theme in President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. That’s certainly good news, since it is a huge problem. The question is whether President Obama is prepared to talk about inequality in a way that gets to the core of the problem as opposed to just clipping away at the edges.

It’s a safe bet that we will see the latter. Obama has indicated that he will redouble his efforts to push for a $10.10 minimum wage. This is good news. This will mean a substantial increase in the wages for people at the bottom of the income ladder. The bulk of the gains from a higher minimum wage will go to people who really need it.

The days are long over when minimum wage workers were high school kids from middle-class families picking up spending money working after school. The workers who will benefit from a minimum wage hike are overwhelmingly adults, many of whom are supporting children. The higher minimum wage will also put a substantial dent in the poverty numbers, reducing the share of the population in poverty by 1 to 2 percentage points, close to 5 million people.

Eugene Robinson: Nature Is Trying to Tell Us Something

Another insane cold wave-not the infamous “polar vortex,” but its evil twin-is bringing sub-zero and single-digit temperatures to much of the nation. And global warming may be even more extreme, and potentially more catastrophic, than climate scientists had feared.

This is, of course, no contradiction. The rallying cry of the denialists-“It’s really cold outside, so global warming must be a crock!”-can only be taken seriously by those with a toddler’s limited conception of time and space. They forget that it’s winter, and apparently they don’t quite grasp that even when it’s cold in one part of the world, it can be hot in another. [..]

President Obama, who understands the science, should use his executive powers as best he can, not just to reduce carbon emissions but to prepare the country for confronting the environmental, political and military hazards of a warmer world.

The day will come, I predict, when world leaders are willing, even desperate, to curb greenhouse gases. But by then, I’m beginning to fear, it will probably be too late.

Norman Solomon: Cut Off the NSA’s Juice

The National Security Agency depends on huge computers that guzzle electricity in the service of the surveillance state. For the NSA’s top executives, maintaining a vast flow of juice to keep Big Brother nourished is essential-and any interference with that flow is unthinkable.

But interference isn’t unthinkable. And in fact, it may be doable.

Grassroots activists have begun to realize the potential to put the NSA on the defensive in nearly a dozen states where the agency is known to be running surveillance facilities, integral to its worldwide snoop operations.

Organizers have begun to push for action by state legislatures to impede the electric, water and other services that sustain the NSA’s secretive outposts.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: The President and the Post-Obama Era

President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday is about more than the final three years of his presidency. Its purpose should be to influence the next decade of American political life and begin shaping the post-Obama era.

For the first time since his early days in office, Obama has the philosophical winds at his back. He may be struggling with his approval ratings, but the matters the president hopes to move to the center of the national agenda-rising inequality and declining social mobility-are very much on the nation’s mind.

The days leading up to Obama’s best chance to redirect the country’s conversation brought two important signals that the tectonic plates beneath our politics are shifting. One was a striking Pew Research Center poll showing that on issues related to economic and social justice, Democrats and independents are on the same page while Republicans find themselves isolated.

Gary Younge: If Darrin Manning were a high school dropout, he’d still have the right to walk the streets unmolested

An obsession with deserving victims means the horror of the injustice is calibrated against the honour of the individual

On Tuesday 7 January Darrin Manning, 16, emerged from the Philadelphia subway with his high school basketball team-mates on their way to a game. With the region in the grip of the polar vortex it was viciously cold – so harsh their principal had given them hats, gloves and scarves to wear. The youngsters say they saw a police officer “staring them down” and Manning says one of them “may have said something smart”. The police say they saw a dozen young men running in “ski masks”. The police gave chase; the young men ran. Manning stopped running thinking it implied guilt. “I didn’t do anything wrong.” He was first tackled to the ground by several police and then frisked by a female officer with such ferocity that he ended up in hospital with a ruptured testicle. [..]

This is less of an esoteric point than it might first appear. A study last week revealed that almost 50% of black men in the US under the age of 23 have been arrested; that’s roughly the same percentage as black boys who fail to graduate with their appropriate year group. Meanwhile, almost one in 10 young black men are behind bars. Born in the poorest areas, herded into the worst schools, policed, judged and sentenced in the most discriminatory fashion, by the time African American men reach manhood the odds have been heavily stacked against them. Many have less than stellar credentials. That does not give the state the right to strip them of their manhood or deprive them of their human rights and dignity

Jarrett Murphy: Can de Blasio Make the Rent Less Damn High?

Mayor Bill de Blasio cannot be accused of haste in filling out his administration. Three weeks into his term, we still have Bloomberg commissioners running housing, social services, fire, sanitation, finance, and on and on. None of those high-profile gaps on the de Blasio depth chart will matter, of course, if in six months’ time the city seems well run, and de Blasio achieves big items on his agenda. In fact, it’s some of the lower-profile posts, which almost no one is talking about, that will make the biggest difference for those living through the worst of times in de Blasio’s “tale of two cities.” [..]

The de Blasio appointments to the RGB will be a test of how he squares his commitment to progressive action with his political need to keep the real-estate/development community-who donate a lot to campaigns-reasonably happy.

Last year, de Blasio attended an event called the People’s RGB and, according to attendees, called for a rent freeze. “We believe the data on the housing market provided by the RGB’s statistical staff consistently supports tenants’ calls for a rent freeze,” writes Katie Goldstein, the director of organizing at Tenants & Neighbors, in an e-mail. She notes that some members of the RGB in recent years “have been unfamiliar with rent-regulated housing” and says advocates are pushing to tighten the qualifications for RGB membership.

For now, she adds, “There is no shortage of smart, experienced, dedicated people who could sit on the RGB and represent the real needs of the majority of New Yorkers.”

Jan 28 2014

NYT’s Reporter Wonders Why the President’s Approval Ratings Are So Bad

What world do the economics writer live in? It can’t be anywhere on the planet Earth, never mind the United States, especially when they write things like this:

Obama’s Puzzle: Economy Rarely Better, Approval Rarely Worse

President Obama will pronounce on the state of the union for the fifth time on Tuesday, and never during his time in office has the state of the economy been better – yet rarely has he gotten such low marks from the public for his handling of it.

Not only have economic indicators shown progress toward pre-recession health, but many forecasters are predicting what one called “a breakout year” for growth. A new study from a Federal Reserve economist even put a more benign spin on a negative trend, the shrinking labor force, by attributing the decline not to discouraged unemployed workers who have quit looking for jobs, but to the first baby-boomer retirements.

Demand for labor is up and the unemployment rate is below 7 percent for the first time since November 2008. Consumers, buoyed by rising home prices and stock values, are spending more; so are businesses. Exports are growing as Europe regains health. The fiscal drag from state and federal spending cuts has abated.

I suppose that the writer, Jackie Calmes, who covers the White house, is a very smart person but obviously not tuned into what is a happening outside the bubble of the political pages of the New York Times. Quoting one anonymous Federal Reserve economist without evidence to refute the actual numbers from the Bureau of Labor statistics is ether more spin or bad journalism, probably both. We all know that the markets and the GDP are not true indicators of how well the majority of Americans are faring economically.

However, the explanation for the negativity about the economy and not just the president’s approval ratings but those of the Congress, is simple: since the “recovery” started in June 2009, 95 percent of the income gains have gone to the richest 1 percent (pdf) of the U.S. population. For a vast number of Americans the recession never ended.

Just look at what is happening in New York City, since the drastic cuts to SNAP and unemployment benefits ended, food banks and soup kitchens have seen an increase in the number of people seeking assistance and are now running out of food

New York, NY – January 22, 2014 – New research from Food Bank For New York City reveals a majority of New York City’s food pantries and soup kitchens (85 percent) experienced an increase in the number of visitors following a $5 billion national cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) that took effect on November 1st, 2013. In fact, the numbers of visitors post-November 1 actually exceeded the number of visitors seen in November 2012, in the immediate aftermath of Super Storm Sandy. [..]

* 85% reported an overall increase in visitors in November 2013, as compared to November 2012, immediately following Super Storm Sandy.

* 76% of food pantries and soup kitchens saw an increase in visitors in November 2013 compared to the previous two months, with nearly half (45%) reporting considerable increases in visitor traffic of more than 25%;

* Nearly half (48%) of emergency food providers ran out of food required for meals or pantry bags, with 26% reporting having to turn people away due to insufficient food supplies;

* Nearly one quarter (23%) of food pantries and soup kitchens reported having to reduce the total number of meals they otherwise provided

  That should be setting off alarm bells in Congress and at the White House. It isn’t. Congress is now set to pass a farm bill that further cuts food assistance by another $8.8 billion dollars over 10 years but continues generous subsidies for farmers.

The president will address this inequality and need for jobs with a living wage in the State of the Union address tonight. The White House has announced that he will raise the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 an hour by executive order. The president has also said that he has “a pen and a phone” and is going to use them. The question is, with so many Americans suffering and the middle class shrinking, what took five years? And why should anyone believe him now?

Perhaps if he started with vetoing this farm bill and taking a stand against the Republicans and the corporate Democrats who enable them, then, maybe, he’d see an improvement in his approval ratings. Another flowery speech won’t do it.

And, Ms Calmes, read something other than your own paper, you might find out what’s going on in the world outside the offices of the NYT. Better yet, check out a food kitchen or pantry.

Jan 28 2014

On This Day In History January 28

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 28 is the 28th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 337 days remaining until the end of the year (338 in leap years).

On this day in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson nominates Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court. After a bitterly contested confirmation, Brandeis became the first Jewish judge on the Supreme Court.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Brandeis quickly earned a reputation in Boston as the people’s attorney for taking on cases pro bono. Brandeis advocated progressive legal reform to combat the social and economic ills caused in America by industrialization. He met Woodrow Wilson, who was impressed by Brandeis’ efforts to hold business and political leaders accountable to the public, during Wilson’s 1912 campaign against Theodore Roosevelt. Brandeis’ early legal achievements included the establishment of savings-bank life insurance in Massachusetts and securing minimum wages for women workers. He also devised what became known as the Brandeis Brief, an appellate report that analyzed cases on economic and social evidence rather than relying solely on legal precedents.

Louis Dembitz Brandeis (November 13, 1856 – October 5, 1941) was an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Jewish parents who had emigrated from Europe. He enrolled at Harvard Law School, graduating at the age of twenty with the highest grade average in the college’s history.

Brandeis settled in Boston where he became a recognized lawyer through his work on social causes that would benefit society. He helped develop the “right to privacy” concept by writing a Harvard Law Review article of that title, and was thereby credited by legal scholar Roscoe Pound as having accomplished “nothing less than adding a chapter to our law”. Years later, a book he published, entitled Other People’s Money, suggested ways of curbing the power of large banks and money trusts, which partly explains why he later fought against powerful corporations, monopolies, public corruption, and mass consumerism, all of which he felt were detrimental to American values and culture. He also became active in the Zionist movement, seeing it as a solution to the “Jewish problem” of antisemitism in Europe and Russia, while at the same time being a way to “revive the Jewish spirit.”

When his family’s finances became secure, he began devoting most of his time to public causes and was later dubbed the “People’s Lawyer.” He insisted on serving on cases without pay so that he would be free to address the wider issues involved. The Economist magazine calls him “A Robin Hood of the law.” Among his notable early cases were actions fighting railroad monopolies; defending workplace and labor laws; helping create the Federal Reserve System; and presenting ideas for the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC). He achieved recognition by submitting a case brief, later called the “Brandeis Brief,” which relied on expert testimony from people in other professions to support his case, thereby setting a new precedent in evidence presentation.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson nominated Brandeis to become a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. However, his nomination was bitterly contested, partly because, as Justice William O. Douglas wrote, “Brandeis was a militant crusader for social justice whoever his opponent might be. He was dangerous not only because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible. . . [and] the fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court.” He was eventually confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 47 to 22 on June 1, 1916, and became one of the most famous and influential figures ever to serve on the high court. His opinions were, according to legal scholars, some of the “greatest defenses” of freedom of speech and the right to privacy ever written by a member of the high court.

Jan 28 2014

In Memoriam: Pete Seeger 1919 – 2014

Pete Seeger photo seeger_zps241f2f50.jpg

Pete Seeger, Songwriter and Champion of Folk Music, Dies at 94

Pete Seeger, the singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died Monday. He was 94 and lived in Beacon, N.Y.

His death was confirmed by his grandson, Kitama Cahill Jackson, who said he died of natural causes at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Mr. Seeger’s career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10 to college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama.

For Mr. Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action. [..]

Mr. Seeger’s wife, Toshi, died in 2013, days before the couple’s 70th anniversary. Survivors include his son, Daniel; his daughters, Mika and Tinya; a half-sister, Peggy; and six grandchildren, including the musician Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, who performed with him at the Obama inaugural. His half-brother Mike Seeger, a folklorist and performer who founded the New Lost City Ramblers, died in 2009.

Let the dream live. Blessed be.

Jan 28 2014

Fixing Our Right to Vote

In 1965, spurred by the slaying of voting-rights activists in Philadelphia, Mississippi and numerous other acts of violence and terrorism, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act that was designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. In June of 2013, the US Supreme Court struck down part of that act, specifically Section 4, that designated which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court:

The 5-4 ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that “things have changed dramatically” in the South in the nearly 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965.

The court’s opinion said it did not strike down the act of Congress “lightly,” and said it “took care to avoid ruling on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act” in a separate case back in 2009. “Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so. Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare [Section 4] unconstitutional. The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.” [..]

The court did not rule on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the preclearance requirement itself, which requires those affected states to have changes to their voting laws cleared by the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, D.C., before they go into effect. Rather, the court ruled that the current formula that determines which states are covered by Section 5 is unconstitutional, effectively eliminating Section 5 enforcement, at least for the time being.

Since the beginning of 2013, even before the ruling, over half the states have introduced or passed restrictions to voting rights.

  •    At least 92 restrictive bills were introduced in 33 states.
  •    Of those, 13 restrictive bills are still pending in 5 states.
  •    Of those, 5 restrictive bills are currently active in 2 states, [1] in that there has been legislative activity beyond introduction and referral to committee (such as hearings, committee activity, or votes).
  •    8 states have already passed 9 restrictive bills this session.

Some of these laws are being challenged in court and most recently the Pennsylvania voter ID law was found unconstitutional by  Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley. But there is a lot of money backing the passage of these laws mostly in states controlled by Republican legislatures mostly in the form if untraceable political donations. In an two part interview with Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman, the host of Moyers and Company, Bill Moyers discusses the consequences of that “dark money” on our democracy.



The transcript can be read here



The transcript can be read here

Jan 28 2014

The Drone War

Considering that much of the operations against terrorists is a mere chimera designed to keep money flowing into the pockets of the grifters and con artists of the military industrial security state, it’s hard to look at the ‘zero option’ as a scary concept.

Afghanistan Exit Is Seen as Peril to Drone Mission

By DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT, The New York Times

JAN. 26, 2014

If Mr. Obama ultimately withdrew all American troops from Afghanistan, the C.I.A.’s drone bases in the country would have to be closed, according to administration officials, because it could no longer be protected.



The C.I.A.’s drone bases in Afghanistan, including one in the eastern part of the country, allow operators to respond quickly to fresh intelligence. The proximity to Pakistan’s tribal areas also allows the Predator drones and their larger, faster cousin, the Reaper, to fly longer missions without having to return to base.



Other allied countries are within the Reaper’s range – in the Persian Gulf, for example. But the distances would be too great to carry out drone operations effectively, officials said, and it is very unlikely that any of those nations would approve launching the diplomatically sensitive strikes missions from their soil.

This is bad news only if you think the indiscriminate remote bombing of wedding parties and shepherds and the first responders who come to identify the dead and tend the wounded is a good idea.

Jan 28 2014

Excuses To Do Nothing

What is becoming clear is that tomorrow’s “big” State of the Union speech will be a vacuous exercise in gasbaggery.  Not that they aren’t all that way, but this one is so obvious that even the Beltway Bootlickers are compelled to notice it.

For Obama, Investing in Brighter Futures Remains a Tough Sell

By JOHN HARWOOD, The New York Times

JAN. 26, 2014

As aides draft their 2015 budget plan, their 2014 version shows this bottom line for Mr. Obama’s sixth year in office: Government investments in infrastructure, research and development, and education and training, at 3.3 percent of the nation’s economy, match the level from President George W. Bush’s sixth year in office.



“It has not been possible to significantly shift the needle,” said Laura D’Andrea Tyson, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who headed Mr. Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. “We should be raising those levels, and we’re not.

“I guess the good news,” Ms. Tyson added, “is that the share hasn’t been plummeting.”

Over the last half-century, though, it has plummeted. Spending on what the federal government classifies as investments peaked in 1968 at 6.6 percent of the economy, twice the current proportion.



“We’ve been playing on a Reagan playing field – a cut-government, shrink-programs field – since 1981,” (Democratic Senator from New York) Mr. Schumer said in an interview. “It’s all turning around now.”

Yah think?  Really?

Oh, and I’d never use plummeted, plummeted.  How about ‘falling’ idiot?  Buy a damn Thesaurus you cheap bastard.