Daily Archive: 02/10/2014

Feb 10 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

Paul Krugman: Writing Off the Unemployed

Back in 1987 my Princeton colleague Alan Blinder published a very good book titled “Hard Heads, Soft Hearts.” It was, as you might guess, a call for tough-minded but compassionate economic policy. Unfortunately, what we actually got – especially, although not only, from Republicans – was the opposite. And it’s difficult to find a better example of the hardhearted, softheaded nature of today’s G.O.P. than what happened last week, as Senate Republicans once again used the filibuster to block aid to the long-term unemployed. [..]

If you follow debates over unemployment, it’s striking how hard it is to find anyone on the Republican side even hinting at sympathy for the long-term jobless. Being unemployed is always presented as a choice, as something that only happens to losers who don’t really want to work. Indeed, one often gets the sense that contempt for the unemployed comes first, that the supposed justifications for tough policies are after-the-fact rationalizations.

The result is that millions of Americans have in effect been written off – rejected by potential employers, abandoned by politicians whose fuzzy-mindedness is matched only by the hardness of their hearts.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Reagan Remembered: The Failed Legacy of Our First Corporate Politician

January 20 marked 25 years since Ronald Reagan left the Presidency. And February 6 marked the 103rd birthday of the former sports announcer, actor, governor of California, and 40th president of the United States of America.  Reagan’s economic legacy is one of failure, but in another way it could be argued that he was genuinely transformative: as the first celebrity politician for the modern corporate state.

Every president is ultimately judged on great ideas, visions, and responses to historical forces.  Some of the forces which shaped the Reagan presidency could be seen with the unaided eye, like the fall of Communism (a long-developing trend which came to a head during the Reagan Administration).   Others were less visible but nevertheless shaped his Presidency.

It’s ironic, given his professional history, but Reagan may have been less of an “actor” in the historical sense than any president of modern times. He was acted upon, by economic interests and social forces toward whom he demonstrated neither the ability to understand nor the willingness to learn.

New York Times Editorial Board: The Case for a Higher Minimum Wage

The political posturing over raising the minimum wage sometimes obscures the huge and growing number of low-wage workers it would affect. An estimated 27.8 million people would earn more money under the Democratic proposal to lift the hourly minimum from $7.25 today to $10.10 by 2016. And most of them do not fit the low-wage stereotype of a teenager with a summer job. Their average age is 35; most work full time; more than one-fourth are parents; and, on average, they earn half of their families’ total income.

None of that, however, has softened the hearts of opponents, including congressional Republicans and low-wage employers, notably restaurant owners and executives.  [..]

Evidence, however, does not stop conservatives from making the argument that by raising the cost of labor, a higher minimum wage will hurt businesses, leading them to cut jobs and harming the low-wage workers it is intended to help. Alternatively, they argue it will hurt consumers by pushing up prices precipitously. Those arguments are simplistic. Research and experience show that employers do not automatically cope with a higher minimum wage by laying off workers or not hiring new ones. Instead, they pay up out of savings from reduced labor turnover, by slower wage increases higher up the scale, modest price increases or other adjustments.

Which brings the debate over raising the minimum wage full circle. The real argument against it is political, not economic. Republican opposition will likely keep any future increase in the minimum wage below a level that would constitute a firm wage floor, though an increase to $10.10 an hour would help tens of millions of workers. It also would help the economy by supporting consumer spending that in turn supports job growth. It is not a cure-all; it is not bold or innovative. But it is on the legislative agenda, and it deserves to pass.

Robert Kuttner: The New American Hustle

The Oscar favorite (10 nominations), American Hustle, begins with the words “Some of this actually happened.” And it did. [..]

Fast forward nearly half a century. The biggest American Hustle of all, the financial frauds engaged in by America’s largest banks and their top officials, has resulted in no criminal prosecutions of senior executives. Only a few relative small fry have been convicted of the relatively minor crime of insider trading. Oh, they did convict Bernie Madoff, whose scam was evident for a decade to a whistle blower whom the SEC didn’t want to take seriously.

But there has been no FBI sting of senior bankers. In a sense, none is really necessary because the feds have an email trail demonstrating conclusively that bankers conspired to inflate the value of nearly worthless mortgage-backed bonds, to manipulate markets and to misrepresent the value of securities that they were simultaneously peddling to customers and betting against for their own profits.

Robert Reich: Why the Lousy Jobs Report Boosted Wall Street

The stock market surged Friday after the lousy jobs report. The Dow soared 160 points, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq also rose.

How can bad news on Main Street (only 113,000 jobs were created in January, on top of a meager 74,000 in December) cause good news on Wall Street? [..]

But what’s bad for Main Street and good for Wall Street in the short term is bad for both in the long term. The American economy is at a crawl. Median household incomes are dropping. The American middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power to keep the economy going. And as companies focus ever more on short-term share prices at the expense of long-term growth, we’re in for years of sluggish performance.

When, if ever, will Wall Street learn?

Ralph Nader: The Law Must Be Free and Accessible to All — Not Secret and Profitable

Imagine this metaphorical scenario. You are cruising along a highway and you are pulled over by a police officer. You’re not sure why you were stopped. The patrol officer approaches and gives the signal to roll down the window. You oblige. “How fast were you going?” the officer might ask after examining your license and registration. You answer honestly. “Do you know the speed limit on this highway?” might be the next question. Thinking it over, you realize that you do not know. For as long as you can recall driving along that stretch of highway, there were no signs anywhere indicating the speed limit. You don’t know if you were speeding or not! You explain this to the officer, and he confirms your suspicion — there are no speed limit signs on the road. In order to know the speed limit, he explains, you must purchase a highway law codebook. It costs $1000.

The officer proceeds to write you a speeding ticket.

Obviously, this scenario doesn’t make much sense. If the law is to be understood and obeyed, it must be public information. How can we follow the law if we don’t know what it is?

This is the astonishingly unfortunate reality for a large number of our nation’s laws — fire codes, building codes, electrical codes, food safety regulations, state and municipal codes and more. Obviously, there is a significant difference between highway laws and technical safety codes, but the root of the issue is the same — the public must have ready access to the law. The “signs” must be in plain sight for all to see.

Feb 10 2014

On This Day In History February 10

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 10 is the 41st day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 324 days remaining until the end of the year (325 in leap years).

On this day in 1937, Roberta Flack is born in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and was raised in Arlington, Virginia.

During her early teens, Flack so excelled at classical piano that Howard University awarded her a full music scholarship. She entered Howard University at the age of 15, making her one of the youngest students ever to enroll there. She eventually changed her major from piano to voice, and became an assistant conductor of the university choir. Her direction of a production of Aida received a standing ovation from the Howard University faculty. Flack is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and was made an honorary member of Tau Beta Sigma by the Eta Delta Chapter at Howard University for her outstanding work in promoting music education.

Flack became the first African-American student teacher at an all-Caucasian school near Chevy Chase, Maryland. She graduated from Howard University at 19 and began graduate studies in music, but the sudden death of her father forced her to take a job teaching music and English for $2800 a year in Farmville, North Carolina.

Flack then taught school for some years in Washington, DC at Browne Junior High and Rabaut Junior High. She also taught private piano lessons out of her home on Euclid St. NW. During this period, her music career began to take shape on evenings and weekends in Washington, D.C. area night spots. At the Tivoli Club, she accompanied opera singers at the piano. During intermissions, she would sing blues, folk, and pop standards in a back room, accompanying herself on the piano. Later, she performed several nights a week at the 1520 Club, again providing her own piano accompaniment. Around this time, her voice teacher, Frederick “Wilkie” Wilkerson, told her that he saw a brighter future for her in pop music than in the classics. She modified her repertoire accordingly and her reputation spread. Subsequently, a Capitol Hill night club called Mr. Henry’s built a performance area especially for her.

When Flack did a benefit concert for the Inner City Ghetto Children’s Library Fund, Les McCann happened to be in the audience. He later said on the liner notes of what would be her first album “First Take” noted below, “Her voice touched, tapped, trapped, and kicked every emotion I’ve ever known. I laughed, cried, and screamed for more…she alone had the voice.” Very quickly, he arranged an audition for her with Atlantic Records, during which she played 42 songs in 3 hours for producer Joel Dorn. In November 1968, she recorded 39 song demos in less than 10 hours. Three months later, Atlantic reportedly recorded Roberta’s debut album, First Take, in a mere 10 hours. Flack later spoke of those studio sessions as a “very naive and beautiful approach…I was comfortable with the music because I had worked on all these songs for all the years I had worked at Mr. Henry’s.”

Flack’s version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” hit number seventy-six on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972.

Flack’s Atlantic recordings did not sell particularly well, until Clint Eastwood chose a song from First Take, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, for the sound track of his directorial debut Play Misty for Me; it became the biggest hit of the year for 1972 – spending six consecutive weeks at #1 and earning Flack a million-selling gold disc. The First Take album also went to #1 and eventually sold 1.9 million copies in the United States. Eastwood, who paid $2,000 for the use of the song in the film, has remained an admirer and friend of Flack’s ever since. It was awarded the Grammy Award for Record Of The Year in 1973. In 1983, she recorded the end music to the Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact at Eastwood’s request.

Flack soon began recording regularly with Donny Hathaway, scoring hits such as the Grammy-winning “Where Is the Love” (1972) and later “The Closer I Get to You” (1978) – both million-selling gold singles. On her own, Flack scored her second #1 hit, “Killing Me Softly with His Song” written for Lori Lieberman in 1973. It was awarded both Record Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female at the 1974 Grammy Awards. Its parent album was Flack’s biggest-selling disc, eventually earning Double Platinum certification.

In 1999, a star with Flack’s name was placed on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. That same year, she gave a concert tour in South Africa, to which the final performance was attended by President Nelson Mandela.

In 2010, she appeared on the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, singing a duet of “Where Is The Love” with Maxwell.

Flack is also a spokesperson for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; her appearance in commercials for the ASPCA featured The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.

Feb 10 2014

First Look Goes Live with The Intercept

The news organization created by Pierre Omidyar, First Look went live this morning with its on-line magazine, The Intercept.

First Look’s The Intercept Launches with New NSA Revelations

Led by award-winning journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill, the initial focus will be on stories based on documents from Edward Snowden

February 10, 2014 01:00 AM Eastern Standard Time

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–First Look Media, the news organization created by Pierre Omidyar, today announced the launch of its first digital magazine, The Intercept. It is the first of what will eventually become a family of digital magazines published by First Look, covering topics from sports and entertainment to politics and business. The site is live at theintercept.org, and for the latest updates and news follow @the_intercept.

The Intercept will initially focus on new reporting involving the disclosures made to Greenwald and Poitras by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Their previous work for a host of publications worldwide has sparked a global conversation on the extent of government surveillance and the value of a free press.

The decision to launch The Intercept now was driven by the team’s sense of urgency and responsibility to continue and expand their reporting on the NSA story. The site’s first news article, by Greenwald and Scahill, raises troubling new questions about the NSA’s methods of identifying targets for lethal drone strikes.

“Glenn, Laura, and Jeremy are relentless in their pursuit of a story and rigorous in finding the truth,” said Omidyar. “We share a belief in the fundamental importance of a free and independent press on keeping a democracy vital and strong. In all of our reporting, at The Intercept and beyond, we will be anchored by that vision and hold ourselves to the highest journalistic standards. First Look journalists have editorial independence and support and are encouraged to pursue the transformative and engaging stories of our time, no matter the subject.”

While the initial focus of The Intercept will be based on documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, over time the reporting will expand to a wide range of issues involving government and corporate accountability.

“Today’s launch is just the beginning,” said Greenwald. “Our day one story is significant and we have more coming. Laura, Jeremy, and I recognize the responsibility in front of us, and are thrilled to be embarking on this exciting and important journey.”

In addition to the return of Greenwald’s regular column, The Intercept will offer ongoing commentary and analysis, publication of relevant primary source documents, robust digital storytelling, and guest authors who are experts in their fields.

First Look Media will launch a flagship site and additional digital magazines later this year.

And of course, the first two stories are extraordinary.

New Photos of the NSA and Other Top Intelligence Agencies Revealed for First Time

By Trevor Paglen

Over the past eight months, classified documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have exposed scores of secret government surveillance programs. Yet there is little visual material among the blizzard of code names, PowerPoint slides, court rulings and spreadsheets that have emerged from the National Security Agency’s files.

The scarcity of images is not surprising. A surveillance apparatus doesn’t really “look” like anything. A satellite built by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) reveals nothing of its function except to the best-trained eyes. The NSA’s pervasive domestic effort to collect telephone metadata also lacks easy visual representation; in the Snowden archive, it appears as a four-page classified order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Since June 2013, article after article about the NSA has been illustrated with a single image supplied by the agency, a photograph of its Fort Meade headquarters that appears to date from the 1970s.

The photographs below – which are being published for the first time – show three of the largest agencies in the U.S. intelligence community. The scale of their operations was hidden from the public until August 2013, when their classified budget requests were revealed in documents provided by Snowden. Three months later, I rented a helicopter and shot nighttime images of the NSA’s headquarters. I did the same with the NRO, which designs, builds and operates America’s spy satellites, and with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which maps and analyzes imagery, connecting geographic information to other surveillance data. The Central Intelligence Agency – the largest member of the intelligence community – denied repeated requests for permission to take aerial photos of its headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

This is an absolute must read.

The NSA’s Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program

By Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald

The National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes – an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.

According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.

The drone operator, who agreed to discuss the top-secret programs on the condition of anonymity, was a member of JSOC’s High Value Targeting task force, which is charged with identifying, capturing or killing terrorist suspects in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

His account is bolstered by top-secret NSA documents previously provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is also supported by a former drone sensor operator with the U.S. Air Force, Brandon Bryant, who has become an outspoken critic of the lethal operations in which he was directly involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

In one tactic, the NSA “geolocates” the SIM card or handset of a suspected terrorist’s mobile phone, enabling the CIA and U.S. military to conduct night raids and drone strikes to kill or capture the individual in possession of the device.

The former JSOC drone operator is adamant that the technology has been responsible for taking out terrorists and networks of people facilitating improvised explosive device attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But he also states that innocent people have “absolutely” been killed as a result of the NSA’s increasing reliance on the surveillance tactic.

Congratulations and best wishes on the the new endeavor!

h/t to bobswern at Daily Kos for the first heads up.

Feb 10 2014

Sunday Train: Taking That High Speed Train in Georgia

I saw this news back in early January (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 8 Jan 2014):

A high speed rail line between Columbus and Atlanta would cost between $1.3-$3.9 billion over the next 20 years to build, but once up and running would more than pay for its operations and maintenance, a consultant said today.

It could also have a huge economic impact, according to Kirsten Berry, project manager consulting firm HNTB Corp., which performed the $350,000 study of the economic feasibility study of high speed rail between Columbus and Atlanta. The study was funded with a $300,000 Georgia Department of Transportation grant and the rest in private donations, according to city Director of Planning Rick Jones.

Now, the actual feasibility study itself has not been released, although the overview presentation to the Columbus GA stakeholders has been released, and I was going to wait until that feasibility study was available to talk about this on the Sunday Train. But then this happened:

Atlanta (CNN) — Empty streets, shuttered storefronts and abandoned vehicles littering the side of the road. That was the scene across much of metropolitan Atlanta on Wednesday as people hunkered down to wait out the aftermath of a snow and ice storm that brought the nation’s ninth-largest metropolitan area to a screeching halt.

… and given the severe state of auto-dependency in the greater Atlanta area, I concluded that the state of plans for HSR in Georgia merits a closer look.

Feb 10 2014

XXII Day 3

So Team USA goes 2 for 2 in Phineas and Ferb edge-of-insanity, kiss-your-butt-goodbye, gravity’s-a-stone-cold-sucker nightmare rail skate track obstacle course of doom and Russia schools in Team Figure Skating.

There’s a message in there somewhere but I’m not quite sure what it is.

    Time     Network Event
7 pm NBC Figure skating team event gold medal finals: ladies’ free skate, ice dancing free dance; alpine skiing: men’s downhill gold medal final; snowboarding: women’s slopestyle; ski jumping: men’s individual K-95.
11:35 pm NBC Luge: men’s singles gold medal final runs.
12:35 am NBC Figure skating team event gold medal finals: ladies’ free skate, ice dancing free dance; alpine skiing: men’s downhill gold medal final; snowboarding: women’s slopestyle; ski jumping: men’s individual K-95. (repeat)
3 am Vs. Curling, men’s: Germany vs. Canada.
4 am MSNBC Hockey, women’s: Finland vs. Canada.
5 am Vs. Hockey, women’s: USA vs. Switzerland.
7:30 am Vs. Speed skating: men’s 500m gold medal final.
11:15 am Vs. Luge: women’s competition; Curling, women’s: Sweden vs. Great Britain.
3 pm NBC Speed skating: men’s 500m gold medal final; biathlon: men’s 12.5km pursuit gold medal final.
3 pm Vs. Curling.
5 pm CNBC Curling, men’s: USA vs. Norway. (Yay!  Fancy Pants!)
5 pm Vs. Hockey: Game of the Day.