Daily Archive: 03/10/2014

Mar 10 2014

Ed Snowden’s conversation with the ACLU at SXSW this morning.

“A Virtual Conversation with Edward Snowden”

Mar 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: Liberty, Equality, Efficiency

Most people, if pressed on the subject, would probably agree that extreme income inequality is a bad thing, although a fair number of conservatives believe that the whole subject of income distribution should be banned from public discourse. (Rick Santorum, the former senator and presidential candidate, wants to ban the term “middle class,” which he says is “class-envy, leftist language.” Who knew?) But what can be done about it?

The standard answer in American politics is, “Not much.” Almost 40 years ago Arthur Okun, chief economic adviser to President Lyndon Johnson, published a classic book titled “Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff,” arguing that redistributing income from the rich to the poor takes a toll on economic growth. Okun’s book set the terms for almost all the debate that followed: liberals might argue that the efficiency costs of redistribution were small, while conservatives argued that they were large, but everybody knew that doing anything to reduce inequality would have at least some negative impact on G.D.P.

But it appears that what everyone knew isn’t true. Taking action to reduce the extreme inequality of 21st-century America would probably increase, not reduce, economic growth.

Gary Younge: The CIA Has Brought Darkness to America by Fighting in the Shadow

After 9/11 the agency was given free rein to break the rules but when allowed to play dirty abroad, it’s difficult to stop at home

Little more than a week after 9/11, Cofer Black gave instructions to his CIA team before their mission. “I don’t want Bin Laden and his thugs captured, I want them dead … I want to see photos of their heads on pikes. I want Bin Laden’s head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice. I want to show Bin Laden’s head to the president. I promised him I would do that.” [..]

Back then there wasn’t a treaty that couldn’t be violated, a principle waived or a definition parsed in the defence of American power and pursuit of popular revenge. To invoke the constitution, the Geneva convention or democratic oversight was evidence that you were out of your depth in the new reality. Laws were for the weak; for the powerful there was force. This was not just the mood of a moment; it has been policy for more than a decade.

Obama’s arrival offered a shift in focus and style but not in direction or substance. “I don’t want [people at the CIA] to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders,” he said shortly before his first inauguration. It was never difficult to see what could go wrong with this approach. But it has, nonetheless, been shocking to see how wrong things have gone. As covert operations were shielded from oversight, so human rights violations became not just inevitable but routine.

Robert Kuttner: Hanged For A Lamb

President Obama’s new budget includes a very mild provision to increase tax benefits for low- and moderate-income working people without children. The provision, the Earned Income Tax Credit, is already available to workers with children. Obama proposes to pay for the new tax benefit for workers by raising taxes very slightly on hedge-fund managers and other high-income people.

His budget also retains the existing cost-of-living adjustments in Social Security, backing off a plan to cut retirement benefits as part of a grand budget bargain, and it includes very modest infrastructure spending of about $70 billion a year (compared with what the American Society of Civil Engineers calculates as a shortfall in deferred maintenance of more like $3 trillion). [..]

In all, a pretty moderate, centrist budget, right? [..]

Obama is being branded a populist by the establishment press and irresponsible by Republicans for what is really a very tame program. He should at least earn these adjectives and get the public’s attention.

How about a large infrastructure program that would create a lot of middle class jobs? How about paying for it with a serious crackdown on corporate tax evasion? How about proposing a true living wage instead of having taxpayers subsidize business?

Ralph Nader: California’s Coming Minimum Wage Restoration

If you haven’t yet heard of Ron Unz, you may soon. The conservative, successful software developer, theoretical physicist from Harvard and former publisher of the American Conservative magazine is launching a California initiative that asks voters in November to raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour (it is now $8 an hour and is going to $9 an hour by July, 2014).

In commencing this effort, Mr. Unz is uniting conservatives and liberals in supporting this initiative and is hopeful that Silicon Valley billionaires or megabillionaires will help fund this citizens’ campaign.

If this sounds quixotic, put that reaction on hold. Mr. Unz’s mind seethes with logic. He believes that a left-right coalition behind a higher minimum wage makes perfect sense. Conservatives, he argues in many an article, would see a decline in taxpayer assistance to low-income people – food stamps, housing aid, Medicaid, etc. – if employers, not taxpayers, paid workers about what labor was paid in 1968, adjusted for inflation. And liberals have always believed in this social safety net on the grounds that workers earned it and that nobody, with or without children, working full time should be living in poverty.

Robert Freeman: Ukraine is About Oil. So Was World War I

Ukraine is a lot more portentous than it appears. It is fundamentally about the play for Persian Gulf oil. So was World War I. The danger lies in the chance of runaway escalation, just like World War I.

Let’s put Ukraine into a global strategic context.

The oil is running out. God isn’t making any more dinosaurs and melting them into the earth’s crust. Instead, as developing world countries aspire to first-world living standards, the draw-down on the world’s finite supply of oil is accelerating. The rate at which known reserves are being depleted is four times that at which new oil is being discovered. That’s why oil cost $26 a barrel in 2001, but $105 today. It’s supply and demand.

Oil recalls that old expression: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” In industrial civilization, the nation that controls the oil is king. And 60% of the known oil reserves are in the Persian Gulf. That’s why the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003: to seize control of the oil. Alan Greenspan told at least one truth in his life: “I hate to have to admit what everybody knows. Iraq is about oil.”

Michael T. Klare: How the US Energy Boom Is Harming Foreign Policy

Rising oil and gas production close to home is enabling a more aggressive stance toward rivals abroad

Opponents of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline have focused largely on its disproportionate role in global warming. President Obama gave a nod to this concern last June, when he said he would deny approval for Keystone if research indicated that its completion would “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” (The president has final say in the matter because the proposed pipeline will cross an international boundary.) But proponents of Keystone-including some in the president’s inner circle-place great emphasis on its geopolitical value, claiming that it will enhance America’s economic prowess and reduce its vulnerability to overseas supply disruptions. Now, with the January 31 release of a State Department-mandated report alleging that construction of Keystone will not significantly increase global emissions because so much tar sands oil is being imported by rail and other means, it appears likely that this argument will prevail. But far from bolstering US security, this approach is bound to produce new risks and dangers

Richard Seymour: Global Military Spending Is Now an Integral Part of Capitalism

China’s surge in military spending gains headlines, partly because of the ominous implications regarding its regional contest with Japan, but it’s the deeper structures of military spending in general that are far more compelling.

There are few surprises about the distribution of military spending: for all the current focus on China’s growing military outlays – and it is significant that they have embarked on a sequence of double-digit increases as a percentage of GDP – the United States still accounts for 40% of such expenditures. However, the distribution is not the only thing that matters; it’s the sheer scale of such investment – $1.756tn in 2012. The “peace dividend” from the end of the cold war has long since bitten the dust. Global military spending has returned to pre-1989 levels, undoubtedly a legacy of the war on terror and the returning salience of military competition in its context. In fact, by 2011 global military spending was higher than at any year since the end of the second world war.

So, what is the explanation for such huge investments? Is it simply the case that states are power-maximising entities, and that as soon as they have access to enough taxable income they start dreaming war?

Mar 10 2014

On This Day In History March 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.

March 10 is the 69th day of the year (70th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 296 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1959, Tibetans band together in revolt, surrounding the summer palace of the Dalai Lama in defiance of Chinese occupation forces.

China’s occupation of Tibet began nearly a decade before, in October 1950, when troops from its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invaded the country, barely one year after the Communists gained full control of mainland China. The Tibetan government gave into Chinese pressure the following year, signing a treaty that ensured the power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the country’s spiritual leader, over Tibet’s domestic affairs. Resistance to the Chinese occupation built steadily over the next several years, including a revolt in several areas of eastern Tibet in 1956. By December 1958, rebellion was simmering in Lhasa, the capital, and the PLA command threatened to bomb the city if order was not maintained.

Lhasa Rebellion

On 1 March 1959, an unusual invitation to attend a theatrical performance at the Chinese military headquarters outside Lhasa was extended to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama, at the time studying for his lharampa geshe degree, initially postponed the meeting, but the date was eventually set for 10 March. On 9 March, the head of the Dalai Lama’s bodyguard was visited by Chinese army officers. The officers insisted that the Dalai Lama would not be accompanied by his traditional armed escort to the performance, and that no public ceremony for the Dalai Lama’s procession from the palace to the camp should take place, counter to tradition.

According to historian Tsering Shakya, the Chinese government was pressuring the Dalai Lama to attend the People’s Congress in April 1959, in order to repair China’s image with relation to ethnic minorities after the Khampa’s rebellion. On 7 February 1959, a significant day on the Tibetan calendar, the Dalai Lama attended a religious dance, after which the acting representative in Tibet, Tan Guansan, offered the Dalai Lama a chance to see a performance from a dance troupe native to Lhasa at the Norbulingka to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s completion of his lharampa geshe degree. According to the Dalai Lama’s memoirs, the Dalai Lama agreed, but said that the Norbulingka did not have the facilities, and suggested the new auditorium in the PLA headquarters in Lhasa as a more appropriate venue. Neither the Kashag nor the Dalai Lama’s bodyguards were informed of the Dalai Lama’s plans until Chinese officials briefed them on 9 March, one day before the performance was scheduled, and insisted that they would handle the Dalai Lama’s security. Some members of the Kashag were alarmed that were not also invited to lead a customary armed procession, recalling a prophecy that told that the Dalai Lama should not exit his palace.

According to historian Tsering Shakya, some Tibetan government officials feared that plans were being laid for a Chinese abduction of the Dalai Lama, and spread word to that effect amongst the inhabitants of Lhasa. On 10 March, several thousand Tibetans surrounded the Dalai Lama’s palace to prevent him from leaving or being removed. The huge crowd had gathered in response to a rumor that the Chinese communists were planning to arrest the Dalai Lama when he went to a cultural performance at the PLA’s headquarters. This marked the beginning of the uprising in Lhasa, though Chinese forces had skirmished with guerrillas outside the city in December of the previous year. Although CCP offcials insisted that the “reactionary upper stratum” in Lhasa was responsible for the rumor, there is no way to identify the precise source. At first, the violence was directed at Tibetan officials perceived not to have protected the Dalai Lama or to be pro-Chinese; attacks on Hans started later. One of the first casualties of mob was a senior lama, Pagbalha Soinam Gyamco, who worked with the PRC as a member of the Preparatory Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, who was killed and his body dragged by a horse in front of the crowd for two kilometres.

On 12 March, protesters appeared in the streets of Lhasa declaring Tibet’s independence. Barricades went up on the streets of Lhasa, and Chinese and Tibetan rebel forces began to fortify positions within and around Lhasa in preparation for conflict. A petition of support for the armed rebels outside the city was taken up, and an appeal for assistance was made to the Indian consul. Chinese and Tibetan troops continued moving into position over the next several days, with Chinese artillery pieces being deployed within range of the Dalai Lama’s summer palace, the Norbulingka. On 15 March, preparations for the Dalai Lama’s evacuation from the city were set in motion, with Tibetan troops being employed to secure an escape route from Lhasa. On 17 March, two artillery shells landed near the Dalai Lama’s palace, triggering his flight into exile. On 19 March the Chinese started to shell the Norbulingka, prompting the full force of the Uprising. According to the freetibet website, on 21 March 800 shells rained down on the palace, including the shelling of the Norbulingka and Lhasa’s major monasteries, slaughtering thousands of Tibetan men, women and children. Combat lasted only about two days, with Tibetan rebel forces being badly outnumbered and poorly armed.

Mar 10 2014

Sunday Train: Cap&Trade Funds should help finance the California HSR

An encore of a Sunday Train from 22 April, 2012, on a topic that has come back in the news

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

One element of the recent California HSR “revised” draft 2012 Business Plan (which we shall call the Other, Other Plan) involves looking to one particular means of finance in addition to general fund bond finance and Federal transport grant funding:

Cap-and-Trade Program Funds

Assembly Bill 32 (Statutes, 2006, Chapter 488) mandates a reduction of statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. In accordance with that law, California will implement a market-based cap-and-trade program. Funds from the program can be used to further the purposes of AB 32, including for development and construction of the high-speed rail system.

This has led to the current controversy in which the California Legislative Analysts Office, the LAO, has argued that the Cap and Trade funds might not be usable for HSR (pdf: p. 8).

One of their points, “Other GHG Reduction Strategies Likely to Be More Cost Effective,” involves a serious and common misframing of the question of the use of funds dedicated to reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions: when reducing GHG emissions in a project that serves multiple purposes, the cost effectiveness of the GHG emissions spending depends on what share of the project funding is represented by that GHG emissions spending.

So more on transport, Green House Gas emissions, and the peculiar analytical weaknesses that crop up whenever the California LAO turns its attention to HSR, over the fold.