Monthly Archive: January 2014

Jan 29 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”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Katrina vanden Heuvel: The Promise of Transpartisanship

On Tuesday, Americans will tune in to watch President Obama’s fifth State of the Union Address. The annual ritual, with its pomp and circumstance, has become an almost grotesque visual of a gridlocked Washington. The president’s party will cheer. The opposition will jeer. A Supreme Court justice might sneer. Since President Obama took office, the partisan rancor has only intensified, reaching its ugliest point in 2009, when Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted at the president, “You lie!”

Things have gotten so distasteful that some members have taken to symbolic gestures, including crossing the aisle to sit together or wearing orange lapel pins as part of the bipartisan so-called “Problem Solvers Caucus,” sponsored by the nonprofit group No Labels.

But if lawmakers really want to reassure cynical Americans, whose disdain for Congress is well documented, they could highlight the genuine cooperation among them. This collaboration is happening across a number of issues, but it’s not bipartisanship; it’s “transpartisanship.” Unlike bipartisanship, which often takes two existing viewpoints and, effectively, splits the difference, transpartisanship encourages solutions that can align with many viewpoints.

April Glaser: Why the FCC Can’t Actually Save Net Neutrality

Network neutrality-the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks equally-is a principle that EFF strongly supports. However, the power to enforce equal treatment on the Internet can easily become the power to control the Internet in less beneficent ways. Some people have condemned last week’s court decision to reject the bulk of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet Order as a threat to Internet innovation and openness. Others hailed it as a victory against dangerous government regulation of the Internet. Paradoxically, there is a lot of truth to both of these claims.

Violations of network neutrality are a real and serious problem: in recent years we have seen dozens of ISPs in the U.S. and around the world interfere with and discriminate against traffic on their networks in ways that threaten the innovative fabric of the Internet.

At the same time, we’ve long doubted that the FCC had the authority to issue the Open Internet rules in the first place, and we worried that the rules would lead to the FCC gaining broad control over the Internet. The FCC in particular has a poor track record of regulating our communications services. We are not confident that Internet users can trust the FCC, or any government agency, with open-ended regulatory authority of the Internet.

Cila Warncke: Obama’s Promise Zones will do little to address inequality

The Promise Zones comes with no actual funding, only vows to help cities apply for grants. They are PR stunts, not solutions

On 8 January, the Obama administration announced the selection of five Promise Zones – high-poverty communities chosen to receive special federal attention. They are San Antonio, Texas; Choctaw Nation, Oklahoma; South-eastern Kentucky; Los Angeles, California and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I used to live in West Philly, one of the administration’s new promised lands, so I was curious about what my old neighbourhood stands to gain from its new status.

Not much, it turns out.

Comb through the White House announcement and beneath the flurry of bureaucrat chat (pdf) about “addressing multiple community revitalization challenges” and “increased access to proven tools” the stark fact emerges that the program does not allocate a single new dollar in aid:

Heather Long: Why is the US a decade behind Europe on ‘chip and pin’ cards?

Perhaps the Target data breach involving 100m credit and debit cards will finally wake up the US on its outdated technology

If you live in the US, you probably heard about the 100m credit and debit card numbers that were stolen from Target’s databases recently. (Target initially stated 40m cards were at risk and then revised the figure up).

While Target tries to limit the damage (they recently sent out an email offering free credit monitoring), the bigger question people are rightly asking is why is the US a decade behind Europe on issuing safer “chip and pin” credit and debit cards? How did we let it get this bad?

I remember arriving in the UK for graduate school in 2004 and being issued credit and debit cards after opening a British bank account. My American colleagues and I were fascinated by these pieces of plastic. They were black and red – we called them “Darth Maul cards” after the Star Wars character – and they had microchips embedded in them, something few of us had ever seen before. It was relatively new technology at the time, used to protect against fraud. It’s now in place across Europe (and beyond) and has greatly reduced data theft (pdf).

Bryce Covert: The Government Is a Terrible Marriage Matchmaker

First it was Senator Marco Rubio: marriage is “the greatest tool” to lift people out of poverty. Then it was Ari Fleischer: the best way to fight income inequality is by “helping the poor realize that the most important decision they can make is to stay in school, get married and have children-in that order.” And then on Sunday it was Ross Douthat: “one of the biggest boosts to opportunity comes from having married parents.”

Conservatives are lately doing some thinking about poverty and income inequality, but the answer they seem to keep landing on is marriage. True, being married certainly is associated with financial benefits. The poverty rate is about five times higher for single parents than for married couples, which can have a significant impact on children’s well-being and future prospects. But to turn that from a statistic to a solution, the next leap would be to push for the government to push people into marriages. Unfortunately for conservatives, the government is terrible at getting people together.

In seeking to push people toward marital bliss, the government uses a carrot and a stick: incentivizing some couples with spending on pro-marriage counseling programs while attempting to penalize others who don’t marry by denying them tax benefits. Neither of these attempts to rig the marriage market work.

Carol Schachet: Today’s Peasant Movement – Sophisticated, Threatened, and Our Best Hope for Survival

The term peasant often conjures up images of medieval serfs out of touch with the ways of the world around them. Such thinking is out of date. Today, peasants proudly and powerfully put forward effective strategies to feed the planet and limit the damages wrought by industrial agriculture. What’s more, they understand the connections between complex trade and economic systems, champion the rights of women, and even stand up for the rights of gay men and lesbians.

These are not your great ancestors’ peasants.

“A peasant is a scientist. The amount and quality of knowledge we have been developing and practicing for centuries is highly useful and appropriate,” said Maxwell Munetsi, a farmer from Zimbabwe and a member of the Via Campesina. [..]

The success of peasants means success for all of us, because they are leading the way in feeding the world, counteracting greenhouse gas emissions and other environmentally toxic poisons, conserving water and biodiversity and expanding social and economic justice. The peasant movement chant of “Globalize the struggle, globalize the hope” is a roadmap toward a sustainable, dignified future.

Jan 29 2014

The State of Obama 2014

I used to think that he’s intelligent enough that he couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to actually believe that anyone else could possibly be stupid enough to think he makes any sense.

And now?

Well…. now I think he just doesn’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks of him lying through his teeth with a big shit eating grin.

And he’s not overly concerned that no one will ever vote for him again.

Jan 29 2014

On This Day In History January 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.

January 29 is the 29th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 336 days remaining until the end of the year (337 in leap years).

On this day in 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem “The Raven,” beginning “Once upon a midnight dreary,” is published on this day in the New York Evening Mirror.

“The Raven” is a narrative poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in January 1845. It is often noted for its musicality, stylized language, and supernatural atmosphere. It tells of a talking raven’s mysterious visit to a distraught lover, tracing the man’s slow descent into madness. The lover, often identified as being a student, is lamenting the loss of his love, Lenore. Sitting on a bust of Pallas, the raven seems to further instigate his distress with its constant repetition of the word “Nevermore”. The poem makes use of a number of folk and classical references.

Poe claimed to have written the poem very logically and methodically, intending to create a poem that would appeal to both critical and popular tastes, as he explained in his 1846 follow-up essay “The Philosophy of Composition”. The poem was inspired in part by a talking raven in the novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty by Charles Dickens. Poe borrows the complex rhythm and meter of Elizabeth Barrett‘s poem “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”, and makes use of internal rhyme as well as alliteration throughout.

Jan 29 2014

The Hedge That Precipitated a Nazi Rant

The other day the Wall Street Journal saw fit to post a now infamous screed by a Silicon Valley billionaire, Tom Perkins, who compared progressive political speech to Kristallnacht, the night of religious violence that led to the death of 91 Jews and paved the way politically for the Nazi Reich and the Holocaust. At Huffington Post, Richard (RJ) Eskow noted that in his rant, Mr, Perkins made some curious efforts to attack the San Fransisco Chronicle in defense of his ex-wife, “bodice ripper” author Danielle Steele. He apparently objected to some criticism that was made about a hedge, specifically this hedge:

<More Hedge photo 628x471_zpsc2466e1b.jpg

Now granted that is one humongous hedge. however, the objection that was made by the Chronicle was that it was obstructing the view of a historic landmark building that just happens to be the residence of Ms. Steele. There was no disparaging comments about her in the article which is barely a paragraph long but according to Mr. Perkins view it was “libelous and cruel attacks” at the orders of those damned lefties of Occupy Wall Street. He later admitted that the hedge issue sparked his poutrage. The fact that this triggered a spurious rant that the 1% are being attacked and tantamount to one of histories worst events casts serious some doubt about Mr. Perkins’ perspective. Just how did someone who is control of billions get this stupid? Too much rarefied air of places like Davos?

I agree with Mr, Eskow who wrote:

Even as global financial leaders fret over inequality at Davos, Tom Perkins is using extremist rhetoric to shut down such talk among his social inferiors. After an ugly screed, inspired in part by a gardening dispute, one hesitates to imagine what Perkins has in mind for more progressive-minded one-percenters like those at Davos and Kleiner Perkins — a Night of the Long Pruning Shears, perhaps?

Perkins may not like to hear it, but rising wealth inequality is shattering our society, as San Francisco’s plight so amply demonstrates. There is no room left for middle-class life in a society dominated by excessive wealth. Perkins may choose to become outraged over trivial as well as serious offenses, but he’s in the process of losing the one treasure which money can’t guarantee yet: the respect of others.

Problem is, I don’t think Mr. Perkins cares if we respect him. We don’t occupy his world.

 

Jan 29 2014

The Tangled Web of the Koch Brothers

Since the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that corporations are people and protected under the First Amendment, the flood gates of private money from billionaires to shape the future of politics everywhere from Washington, DC to state and local local elections. Two of the biggest sources of this money are the Koch brothers, Charles and David, who have a combined wealth of $34 billion. The brothers are the founders of Americans for Prosperity that financed the ironically named, Tea Party. They initially denied their involvement but you can run but you can’t hide from some intrepid journalists determined to keeping the public informed.

As a matter of fact, they get quite upset about it when their attempts to manipulate the political stage are exposed, often sending nasty letters. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has been one of the most intrepid journalists who has dug into the vast network of Koch-funded groups and initiatives to show their influence on conservative politics, undeterred by nasty letters.

The Koch Party

By The Editorial Board of The New York Times

Only a few weeks into this midterm election year, the right-wing political zeppelin is fully inflated with secret cash and is firing malicious falsehoods at supporters of health care reform.

As Carl Hulse of The Times reported recently, Democrats have been staggered by a $20 million advertising blitz produced by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group organized and financed by the Koch brothers, billionaire industrialists. The ads take aim at House and Senate candidates for re-election who have supported the health law, and blame them for the hyped-up problems with the law’s rollout that now seem to be the sole plank in this year’s Republican platform. [..]

In 2012, as The Washington Post reported, the Koch network raised $407 million, which was secreted among 17 groups with cryptic names and purposes that were designed to make it impossible to figure out the names of donors the Kochs worked with. As one tax expert told The Post, “it’s designed to make it opaque as to where the money is coming from and where the money is going.” [..]

The clandestine influence of the Kochs and their Palm Springs friends would be much reduced if they were forced to play in the sunshine.

The Internal Revenue Service and several lawmakers are beginning to step up their interest in preventing “social welfare” organizations and other tax-sheltered groups from being used as political conduits, but they have encountered the usual resistance from Republican lawmakers. Considering how effectively the Koch brothers are doing their job, it’s easy to see why.

Koch World 2014

By Kenneth P. Vogel, Politico

If the Koch brothers’ political operation seemed ambitious in 2010 or 2012, wait for what’s in store for 2014 and beyond.

The billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch are convening some of the country’s richest Republican donors on Sunday at a resort near Palm Springs, Calif., to raise millions of dollars for efforts to shape the political landscape for years to come.

It’s the cash that can possibly kick Democrats out of the Senate majority this fall and shape the philosophy and agenda of the GOP conference – not to mention the 2016 presidential field.

The Koch political operation has become among the most dominant forces in American politics, rivaling even the official Republican Party in its ability to shape policy debates and elections. But it’s mostly taken a piecemeal approach, sticking to its sweet spots, while leaving other tasks to outsiders, or ad hoc coalitions of allies.

That’s changing. This year, the Kochs’ close allies are rolling out a new, more integrated approach to politics. That includes wading into Republican primaries for the first time to ensure their ideal candidates end up on the ticket, and also centralizing control of their network to limit headache-inducing freelancing by affiliated operatives.

The shift is best illustrated in the expansion of three pieces of the Koch political network expected to be showcased or represented at the three-day meeting in Palm Springs, whose evolving roles were described to POLITICO by several sources.

The Koch’s agenda to influence politics needs more than sunshine, it needs bleach.

Jan 29 2014

State of the Union Open Thread

I have a sneaking suspicion that many regular readers of this site will be as little interested in #6 as they were in the previous 5.  If you feel compelled to share your outrage or something unexpectedly interesting occurs you’re more than welcome to share it below.

On the other hand perhaps you’re just looking for some alternative programming-

ABC Family Ravenswood AMC The Bourne Identity
BBCA ST: TNG CBS Sports Women’s College Hoopies, Louisville @ Rutgers
CMT Smokey and the Bandit Discovery Moonshiners
Disney XD Jessie Encore Independence Day
ESPN Men’s College Hoopies Kentucky @ LSU ESPN2 College Throwball All Star Challenge
Food Chopped FX X-Men: First Class
G4 Heros History Counting Cars
Hub The Karate Kid IFC Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie
Vs. NHL Hockey Capitals @ Sabres Nick Full House
Nicktoons Fairly OddParents Science Survivorman
Spike The Day After Tomorrow SciFi Face Off
TBS Big Bang Theory Turner Classic Movies Gambit
TNT Castle

(listings from Zap2It)

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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

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.

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