02/03/2014 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”.

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Robert Kuttner: Hopeless Inequality (or Feeble Politics)?

Though President Obama’s State of the Union said the right things about the disgrace of growing inequality in America, his remedial measures are mainly gestures. Yes, they are gestures in the right direction, but not an effective politics.

Obama’s plea, “Give America a raise,” was the most effective applause line of the evening. Even Republicans were compelled to cheer. But his order raising the minimum wage on government contractors will help a few hundred thousand workers and add less than a billion dollars to household purchasing power. He declined to use other executive powers to compel contractors not to violate basic labor laws.

His directive allowing the creation of self-started IRA accounts for low-income workers will perhaps promote the habit of savings. But it will not give them the needed income to spare them from living hand to mouth with nothing left over to save.

Juan Cole: Christie, Clapper and other Officials who should be in Jail instead of Snowden

The vindictiveness toward Edward Snowden in official Washington has nothing to do with law-breaking and everything to do with the privileges of power. The powerful in Washington may spy on us, but we are not to know about it. Snowden’s sin in their eyes was to level the playing field, to draw back the curtain and let the public see what the spies were doing to them The United States has become so corrupt that the basic principle of the law applying to all equally has long since became a quaint relic. We are back to a system of aristocratic privilege. If we had a rule of law and not of men, Edward Snowden would be given a medal and the following officials would be on the lam to avoid serious jail time.

1. James Clapper. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, was involved in massive and willful violations of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.  [..]

2. Gen. Keith Alexander, outgoing head of the NSA, should also be in jail. Like Clapper, he violated his oath to uphold the constitution by collecting petabytes of personal data from Americans and storing it for 5 years. [..]

3. NJ governor Chris Christie defended the NSA spying against Rand Paul’s observation that it is unconstitutional.


4. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who rules the Sunday morning programs and has said profoundly bigoted things against Muslim-Americans, has also loudly defended NSA spying and attacked Snowden. [..]

5. Former Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney (they always refer to felons by their full name) slammed Snowden. But Cheney lied us into a war on false pretenses and tried mightily to out Valerie Plame as a CIA operative (his team left material around that Richard Armitage saw, and it was his contact that broke the story. But Cheney and his staff were the ones actively pushing the story with the press. Cheney should be in jail, not Snowden.

New York Times Editorial: The Capitol’s Spinning Door Accelerates

The anonymous congressional staff members who write the nation’s laws generally work hard for fairly modest wages. Increasingly, though, they do so because there is a promise of K-Street riches at the end of their toil.

A new study by the Sunlight Foundation found that the number of active lobbyists with prior government experience has nearly quadrupled since 1998, rising to 1,846 in 2012. Those revolving-door lobbyists, mostly from Capitol Hill, accounted for nearly all of the huge growth in lobbying revenue during that period, which increased to $1.32 billion from $703 million in 1998. [..]

The danger of this practice, as always, is that the lure of corporate-lobbying money is strong enough to orient both lawmakers and their staffs toward the values of their future employers. (And it’s not necessary to be a registered lobbyist to make big money in the influence game.) This isn’t a new phenomenon, but its growth shows that the current waiting period before congressional employees can lobby is far too easy to evade, and may not be long enough.

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Coming to a Post Office Near You: Loans You Can Trust?

According to a report put out this week by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Postal Service, about 68 million Americans — more than a quarter of all households — have no checking or savings account and are underserved by the banking system. Collectively, these households spent about $89 billion in 2012 on interest and fees for non-bank financial services like payday loans and check cashing, which works out to an average of $2,412 per household. That means the average underserved household spends roughly 10 percent of its annual income on interest and fees — about the same amount they spend on food.

Think about that: about 10 percent of a family’s income just to manage getting checks cashed, bills paid, and, sometimes, a short-term loan to tide them over. That’s more than a full month’s income just to try to navigate the basics [..]

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In the same remarkable report this week, the OIG explored the possibility of the USPS offering basic banking services — bill paying, check cashing, small loans — to its customers. With post offices and postal workers already on the ground, USPS could partner with banks to make a critical difference for millions of Americans who don’t have basic banking services because there are almost no banks or bank branches in their neighborhoods.

Meagan Ralston: The Tragedy of Philip Seymour Hoffman: How We Can Prevent Overdose Deaths

What makes the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman all the more tragic is that it happened in New York, a state with a wide array of policies and services designed to reduce drug overdose deaths and save the lives of people who use drugs. New York has a 911 Good Samaritan law, which offers some protection from drug charges for people who call 911 to report a suspected overdose. Many people panic at the scene of an overdose, fearing they or the overdose victim will be arrested for possessing small amounts of drugs. Good Samaritan laws in over a dozen states, including New York, encourage people to act quickly to save a life without fear of drug charges for minor violations. New Yorkers also have limited access to the opiate overdose reversal medicine naloxone. If administered right away, naloxone can can reverse an overdose and restore normal breathing.

Naloxone is generic, inexpensive, non-narcotic, works quickly and is not only safe, but also easy to use. It’s been around since the 1970s and has saved tens of thousands of lives. New York also [just this week v] introduced legislation to expand access to it.

So many states are just now starting to take some great steps to get naloxone in the hands of more people. Hoffman’s death perfectly illustrates how terribly urgent this is. Even the Office of National Drug Control Policy is supporting naloxone in the hands of cops. But we can’t stop there. It’s not enough for law enforcement and EMT’s to have access to naloxone — people who use drugs and others who might witness an opiate overdose must have that same access. Whoever is the first to respond to the overdose, the actual “first responder,” must be permitted access to naloxone, period. We need to make sure that local and federal governments are on board and that we’re getting naloxone into as many pharmacies as possible.

On This Day In History February 3

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.

February 3 is the 34th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 331 days remaining until the end of the year (332 in leap years).

On this day in 1959, “the music died” when rising American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashes in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota. Investigators blamed the crash on bad weather and pilot error. Holly and his band, the Crickets, had just scored a No. 1 hit with “That’ll Be the Day.”

After mechanical difficulties with the tour bus, Holly had chartered a plane for his band to fly between stops on the Winter Dance Party Tour. However, Richardson, who had the flu, convinced Holly’s band member Waylon Jennings to give up his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane.


The plane took off at around 12:55 AM Central Time. Just after 1:00 AM Central Time, Mr. Hubert Dwyer, a commercial pilot and owner of the plane, observing from a platform outside the tower, “saw the tail light of the aircraft gradually descend until out of sight.”

Peterson had told Dwyer he would file a flight plan with Air Traffic Control by radio after departure. When he did not call the Air Traffic Control communicator with his flight plan, Dwyer requested that Air Traffic Control continue to attempt to establish radio contact, but all attempts were unsuccessful.

By 3:30 AM, when Hector Airport in Fargo, North Dakota, had not heard from Peterson, Dwyer contacted authorities and reported the aircraft missing.

Around 9:15 AM, Dwyer took off in another small plane to fly Peterson’s intended route. A short time later, he spotted the wreckage in a cornfield belonging to Albert Juhl, about five miles (8 km) northwest of the airport.

The Bonanza was at a slight downward angle and banked to the right when it struck the ground at around 170 miles per hour (270 km/h). The plane tumbled and skidded another 570 feet (170 m) across the frozen landscape before the crumpled ball of wreckage piled against a wire fence at the edge of Juhl’s property. The bodies of Holly and Valens lay near the plane, Richardson was thrown over the fence and into the cornfield of Juhl’s neighbor Oscar Moffett, and the body of Peterson remained entangled inside the plane’s wreckage. Surf Ballroom manager Carroll Anderson, who drove the musicians to the airport and witnessed the plane’s takeoff, made positive identifications of the musicians.

All four had died instantly from “gross trauma” to the brain, the county coroner Ralph Smiley declared. Holly’s death certificate detailed the multiple injuries which show that he surely died on impact:

The body of Charles H. Holley was clothed in an outer jacket of yellow leather-like material in which four seams in the back were split almost full length. The skull was split medially in the forehead and this extended into the vertex region. Approximately half the brain tissue was absent. There was bleeding from both ears, and the face showed multiple lacerations. The consistency of the chest was soft due to extensive crushing injury to the bony structure.[…] Both thighs and legs showed multiple fractures.

Investigators concluded that the crash was due to a combination of poor weather conditions and pilot error. Peterson, working on his Instrument Rating, was still taking flight instrumentation tests and was not yet rated for flight into weather that would have required operation of the aircraft solely by reference to his instruments rather than by means of his own vision. The final Civil Aeronautics Board report noted that Peterson had taken his instrument training on airplanes equipped with an artificial horizon attitude indicator and not the far-less-common Sperry Attitude Gyro on the Bonanza. Critically, the two instruments display the aircraft pitch attitude in the exact opposite manner; therefore, the board thought that this could have caused Peterson to think he was ascending when he was in fact descending. They also found that Peterson was not given adequate warnings about the weather conditions of his route, which, given his known limitations, might have caused him to postpone the flight.

A World Wide Bubble Economy


Talking Troubled Turkey

Paul Krugman, The New York Times

JAN. 30, 2014

You may or may not have heard that there’s a big debate among economists about whether we face “secular stagnation.” What’s that? Well, one way to describe it is as a situation in which the amount people want to save exceeds the volume of investments worth making.

When that’s true, you have one of two outcomes. If investors are being cautious and prudent, we are collectively, in effect, trying to spend less than our income, and since my spending is your income and your spending is my income, the result is a persistent slump.

Alternatively, flailing investors – frustrated by low returns and desperate for yield – can delude themselves, pouring money into ill-conceived projects, be they subprime lending or capital flows to emerging markets. This can boost the economy for a while, but eventually investors face reality, the money dries up and pain follows.

If this is a good description of our situation, and I believe it is, we now have a world economy destined to seesaw between bubbles and depression. And that’s not an encouraging thought as we watch what looks like an emerging-markets bubble burst.

The larger point is that Turkey isn’t really the problem; neither are South Africa, Russia, Hungary, India, and whoever else is getting hit right now. The real problem is that the world’s wealthy economies – the United States, the euro area, and smaller players, too – have failed to deal with their own underlying weaknesses. Most obviously, faced with a private sector that wants to save too much and invest too little, we have pursued austerity policies that deepen the forces of depression. Worse yet, all indications are that, by allowing unemployment to fester, we’re depressing our long-run as well as short-run growth prospects, which will depress private investment even more.

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.

(my emphasis- ek)

Sunday Train: The Central Flaw of the Keystone XL Economic Analysis

Well, Sunday Train has the analysis of a couple of intercity rail projects in the queue, but for a weekly column devoted to renewable energy and transport issues to focus on some early stage preliminary analysis of an intercity rail corridor while ignoring the release of the updated final environmental impact analysis would be like some supposed weekend “in depth analysis” new show to ignore the release of that analysis in favor of covering the breaking news that New Jersey politicians play dirty (true story).

For those who have been following the process, the conclusions of the updated analysis are of little surprise, since they basically repeat the previous conclusion before the analysts ~ analysts connected to the oil industry, since, of course, they would know about this kind of stuff ~ were told to repeat the analysis. That is, to quote part of the Think Progress Coverage:

The newly-released report admits to the obvious: that “the total direct and indirect emissions” of the project “would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions.” But in its final analysis, it says the proposed pipeline is “unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas,” and does not look at the overall greenhouse gas emissions of the tar sands oil that would flow through it.

The underlying, unstated, premise of the entire environmental and economic impact is that we will in any event produce a large portion of the tar sands that are in the ground. And that implies, of course, that we are screwed: we have to adopt policies keep 80% of existing reserves of carbon based fossil fuels in the ground in order to have a prospect of keeping global warming under about three and a half degrees Fahrenheit and have at least some chance of avoiding the kind of catastrophic climate change that will eliminate the United States as a single national society and economy.

So the analysis, including unstated premise, is: “Assuming that the nations of the world do not impose adequate policies to avoid a catastrophe with costs that dwarf the entire presumed value of the tar sands deposits, this is the impact of building or not building the Keystone XL pipeline.”

But, what is the impact of building or not building the Keystone XL pipeline presuming that we do adopt policies that are adequate to keep 80% or more of current existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground? The analysis avoids that question entirely, even though the analysis delivers the numbers that allows use to evaluate those costs.

XLVIII: Broncos v. Seahawks

Let’s start at the top.  This is not the ‘Reefer Bowl’.  As poblano said Monday this is a pick ’em.  It’s actually incredibly rare that the two top teams in each Conference face each other, rarer still that the top offense (Broncos) faces the top defense (Seahawks).

Now poblano when pressed picks the Seahawks but I suspect that’s mostly based on sentiment and not statistics.  The Seahawks are the only team to have won Championships in both Conferences, but they’ve never really been very good and the rest of the teams in Seattle suck.

The Broncos have yet to recover from the Tebow incident and the Rockies, Avalanche, and Nuggets are legit (as long as they play at home).

Now me?  I agree with bmaz that this game will be decided not by how good the Seahawks defense is- Payton Manning, as much as you may hate him, will score some points.  It will be decided by how good the Bronco defense is and whether Russell Wilson can score more (he was an incredibly excellent draft pick, 75th in the 3rd round and has already performed well above that).  Now good Defense has won Superb Owls before, but the Seahawks is not that much better than the Broncos.  Broncos are 2 point favorites and will need to shut down the Seahawks ground game.

Weather will not be a factor though it might rain a little.

Now I know some of you are not at all interested in the Superb Owl and are looking to avoid it at all costs.  Here are some suggestions-

Alternative TV

And I know some of you watch it just for the ads ($4 Million for 30 seconds last I looked)-


You can always count on The Guardian to provide an offbeat take on American Throwball-


And serious ones too-

Why the NFL is a Billionaire Scam

The New York Times coverage is by comparison thin (WaPo non-existent, they’re too concerned about their imploding franchise).

This piece is an interesting comparison to the Wall Street Casino=

Big Time Betting

They also have a couple of interesting analysis pieces-


The Superb Owl below.