Daily Archive: 03/28/2014

Mar 28 2014

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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Richard (RJ) Eskow: Bill Clinton and Steny Hoyer: The ‘Wall Street Democrats’ Fight Back

If progressive and populist ideas resonate with most voters, some people have asked, why isn’t the Democratic Party doing better in the polls? Here’s one reason: Some of the party’s most prominent leaders are still pushing Wall Street’s unpopular and discredited economic platform.

Recent speeches by former President Clinton and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer showed that Wall Street continues to hold considerable sway in their party, despite the fact that its austerity agenda has failed. Its “deficits over growth” ideology has wounded both Europe and the United States. To hear Clinton and Hoyer speak, you’d think we’d learned nothing from the economic experience of the last five years. [..]

There’s a struggle underway over the future of the Democratic Party. The populist movement has scored some significant recent wins, including the electoral victories of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Its ideas resonate with the public, and are in sync with mainstream economic thought.

But the remarks from Clinton and Hoyer demonstrate that the party’s Wall Street wing is still riding tall in the saddle, despite its discredited ideas and unpopular proposals.

There’s one sure-fire way to give a person, or a country, its “swagger” back: a good job at good wages will do it every time. Too bad these Wall Street Democrats aren’t talking about that.

Paul Krugman: America’s Taxation Tradition

As inequality has become an increasingly prominent issue in American discourse, there has been furious pushback from the right. Some conservatives argue that focusing on inequality is unwise, that taxing high incomes will cripple economic growth. Some argue that it’s unfair, that people should be allowed to keep what they earn. And some argue that it’s un-American – that we’ve always celebrated those who achieve wealth, and that it violates our national tradition to suggest that some people control too large a share of the wealth.

And they’re right. No true American would say this: “The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power,” and follow that statement with a call for “a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes … increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.”

Who was this left-winger? Theodore Roosevelt, in his famous 1910 New Nationalism speech.

Alan Grayson: Come Clean on Deadly Drone Activities

Three years ago last week, a U.S. drone strike hit the small town of Datta Khel in Pakistan. Local business owners and leaders were in the midst of a two-day tribal council meeting, called to address a dispute regarding a chromite mine in the area. Local authorities had been notified about the meeting, which is a traditional forum employed to resolve community conflicts. [..]

It’s time for our government to shed some light on its drone practices. Transparency, as uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, is an essential part of our democracy. Americans need the facts — the who, what, when, where, and (most importantly) why — in order to decide if the benefits of these strikes outweigh the negatives. And for the people in other countries, whose lives are so profoundly impacted by America’s drone activities, people like Rafiq ur Rehman and the individuals in Datta Khel, they deserve some closure, too.

Transparency, disclosure, and reporting will help accomplish both of these goals. A resolution that calls for these measures is a worthwhile proposal — one that America should seriously consider supporting.

Amy B. Dean: How Cincinnati beat the tea party

The refrain of privatization seems to play over and over. Our cities are going broke and can’t afford to make retirement payments; public health nurses, city park employees, and other workers who provide important services will not get what they worked hard for all their lives; and the only way out is to put pensions into the hands of privately held corporations. Or at least, that’s what the tea party and other political interests would have us believe.

Fortunately, there is a recent example of a city where people have fought back against this prevailing narrative and won: Cincinnati. Although public employee pensions may seem an unlikely proving ground for new alliances between local unions and business leaders, the people of Cincinnati showed that unity was possible when, last November, 78 percent of voters rejected a tea-party-backed ballot measure that would have drastically altered the retirement prospects for city workers.

Cincinnati’s resounding defeat of an organized effort to privatize public employee pensions is surprising because of the broad spectrum of people who opposed it. As a supporter of organized labor and an opponent of pension privatization, I was struck by the way in which unions and their community allies were able to mobilize major business executives, faith groups, seniors’ rights organizations and even the local chamber of commerce around a single outcome: safeguarding stable retirement for the people who have worked for it.

Roger Cohen: Obama’s Anemic Speech in Europe

Having pivoted to Asia and done the de rigueur minimum over several years to keep the trans-Atlantic alliance off life-support, Barack Obama awakened with a jolt to Europe this week and, on his first visit to Brussels as president, spoke of “inseparable allies” with a shared mission to demonstrate that Russia cannot “run roughshod over its neighbors.” [..]

He spoke in timely fashion of “our Article 5 duty” under the North Atlantic Treaty to respond with force to any attack on a NATO country, important reassurance to the Baltic states, among others. This military commitment was backed by reference to the need for “very real contingency plans” to protect NATO nations in Central and Eastern Europe. Those plans, to date, have been inadequate. Overall, the combination of sanctions against Russia, economic support for Ukraine, and the dispatch of additional military forces eastward sent a clear message to Putin – one that will not reverse Russia’s Crimea annexation but may stop him going any further.

Malcolm Harris: Why Nate Silver can’t explain it all

Between media startups Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com and Ezra Klein’s Vox.com, the newsplaining corner of the online media business is about to get a lot more competitive. Not quite reporting and not quite opinion writing, this data-driven journalism doesn’t simply strive to contribute to public policy and culture debates, it aims to end them with a decisive answer. Both sites assume a full understanding of the broad range of subjects they’re covering, and sufficient information to adjudicate all questions with responses that could invariably begin, “Actually …”

Welcome to the age of Actually Journalism. [..]

Data extrapolation is a very impressive trick when performed with skill and grace, like ice sculpting or analytical philosophy, but it doesn’t come equipped with the humility we should demand from our writers. “We’re not sociopaths,” Silver has said, but that’s not something that someone who isn’t often accused of being a sociopath usually has to say. When confronted with the lack of racial and gender diversity on their staffs, Klein and Silver have hemmed and hawed about qualifications and blown it off, but if Actually Journalism can’t find a way to examine its own underlying conditions, it will be actually worthless.

Mar 28 2014

WTF?

NSA ally Mike Rogers to leave House intelligence committee for talk radio

Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Friday 28 March 2014 10.25 EDT

Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan, the powerful chairman of the House intelligence committee and a former FBI agent, announced on Friday morning that he is leaving Congress at the end of his term to start a conservative talk radio show.



The surprise move comes four days after Rogers introduced a bill that would significantly constrain the NSA’s bulk collection of US phone data, a policy Rogers said he came to reluctantly after recognizing the lack of public and congressional confidence in the most domestically controversial of surveillance programs exposed by Snowden through the Guardian.

Rogers’s bill, however, provides fewer judicial obstacles to the government’s continued acquisition and search of phone and email data than does a competing proposal from members of the Senate and House judiciary committees and a new offering to end bulk data collection from the Obama administration.

Supporters of the latter proposals believe their efforts have been made tougher after the House parliamentarian, allegedly at the behest of the House speaker, John Boehner, gave the intelligence committee primary jurisdiction of Rogers’ bill on Thursday. Some House aides suspect the move is a prelude to a quick floor vote on the measure. But that was before Rogers announced his retirement, adding an unexpected element to the legislative competition.



When asked if the intelligence committee even knew how many more NSA disclosures were yet to come, Rogers’ chief Democratic ally on the committee, Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, quipped: “The Guardian will take care of that.”



Rogers thanked supporters in a statement announcing his retirement.

“As I close this chapter please know that I am not finished with the effort to bring back American exceptionalism,” Rogers said.

Mar 28 2014

On This Day In History March 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.

March 28 is the 87th day of the year (88th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 278 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1979, the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island overheats causing a partial meltdown. At 4 a.m. on March 28, 1979, the worst accident in the history of the U.S. nuclear power industry begins when a pressure valve in the Unit-2 reactor at Three Mile Island fails to close. Cooling water, contaminated with radiation, drained from the open valve into adjoining buildings, and the core began to dangerously overheat.

The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant was built in 1974 on a sandbar on Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River, just 10 miles downstream from the state capitol in Harrisburg. In 1978, a second state-of-the-art reactor began operating on Three Mile Island, which was lauded for generating affordable and reliable energy in a time of energy crises.

Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station

The power plant was owned and operated by General Public Utilities and Metropolitan Edison (Met Ed). It was the most significant accident in the history of the USA commercial nuclear power generating industry, resulting in the release of up to 481 PBq (13 million curies) of radioactive gases, and less than 740 GBq (20 curies) of the particularly dangerous iodine-131.

The accident began at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, March 28, 1979, with failures in the non-nuclear secondary system, followed by a stuck-open pilot-operated relief valve (PORV) in the primary system, which allowed large amounts of nuclear reactor coolant to escape. The mechanical failures were compounded by the initial failure of plant operators to recognize the situation as a loss-of-coolant accident due to inadequate training and human factors, such as human-computer interaction design oversights relating to ambiguous control room indicators in the power plant’s user interface. In particular, a hidden indicator light led to an operator manually overriding the automatic emergency cooling system of the reactor because the operator mistakenly believed that there was too much coolant water present in the reactor and causing the steam pressure release. The scope and complexity of the accident became clear over the course of five days, as employees of Met Ed, Pennsylvania state officials, and members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) tried to understand the problem, communicate the situation to the press and local community, decide whether the accident required an emergency evacuation, and ultimately end the crisis. The NRC’s authorization of the release of 40,000 gallons of radioactive waste water directly in the Susquehanna River led to a loss of credibility with the press and community.

In the end, the reactor was brought under control, although full details of the accident were not discovered until much later, following extensive investigations by both a presidential commission and the NRC. The Kemeny Commission Report concluded that “there will either be no case of cancer or the number of cases will be so small that it will never be possible to detect them. The same conclusion applies to the other possible health effects”. Several epidemiological studies in the years since the accident have supported the conclusion that radiation releases from the accident had no perceptible effect on cancer incidence in residents near the plant, though these findings are contested by one team of researchers.

Public reaction to the event was probably influenced by The China Syndrome, a movie which had recently been released and which depicts an accident at a nuclear reactor. Communications from officials during the initial phases of the accident were felt to be confusing. The accident crystallized anti-nuclear safety concerns among activists and the general public, resulted in new regulations for the nuclear industry, and has been cited as a contributor to the decline of new reactor construction that was already underway in the 1970s.

The incident was rated a five on the seven-point International Nuclear Event Scale: Accident With Wider Consequences.

Mar 28 2014

College Football Team Wins Right to Unionize

Collegiate athletes have won the right to unionize:

A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that a group of Northwestern football players were employees of the university and have the right to form a union and bargain collectively.

For decades, the major college sports have functioned on the bedrock principle of the student-athlete, with players receiving scholarships to pay for their education in exchange for their hours of practicing and competing for their university. But Peter Ohr, the regional N.L.R.B. director, tore down that familiar construct in a 24-page decision.

He ruled that Northwestern’s scholarship football players should be eligible to form a union based on a number of factors, including the time they devote to football (as many as 50 hours some weeks), the control exerted by coaches and their scholarships, which Mr. Ohr deemed a contract for compensation.

“It cannot be said that the employer’s scholarship players are ‘primarily students,’ ” the decision said.

The NCAA’s “Student-Athlete” Charade Is Officially Crumbling

By Jordan Weissmann, Slate

{..} I’d like to draw attention to the refreshingly obvious point that Peter Ohr, director of the NLRB’s Chicago office, makes on page 18 of his opinion. No matter what the NCAA wants you to think, Northwestern’s scholarship football players, he writes, “are not primarily students.” It’s that simple.

Why not? Because math:

 * Players spend 50 to 60 hours a week on football during a training camp before school starts.

 * They also dedicate 40 to 50 hours per week on football during the four-month season. “Not only is this more hours than many undisputed full-time employees work at their jobs, it is also many more hours than the players spend on their studies,” Ohr writes. They spend 20 hours per week in class and more doing homework, sure, but they also work on football outside of official practice time. Ohr’s equation also doesn’t seem to take into account the off season. But, he writes, it “cannot be said” that they “spend only a limited number of hours performing their athletic duties.”

This is not the crux of the case, but it is a direct retort to the mostly fictive concept of the big-time scholar-athlete. Ohr is saying that Northwestern’s players are athletes first, students second. Throughout the decision, he recounts the ways in which team members are expected to prioritize athletics over school-for instance, by avoiding classes that might conflict with practices, even if the courses are necessary for their major. The fact that the university tries to support them with tutors and study hall requirements only underscores “the extraordinary time demands placed on the players by their athletic duties,” he writes. [..]

This distinction matters legally, because Northwestern had argued that the NLRB should apply the test it used when it ruled in 2004 that graduate teaching assistants at Brown could not unionize. Part of the board’s reasoning, at the time, was that while TAs indeed do lots of work as instructors, they are primarily at school to learn, and teaching is one of their degree requirements. Ohr found that the Brown test wasn’t applicable, because nobody is required to play cornerback to earn a bachelor’s degree. But even if the test did apply, it still wouldn’t stop football players from unionizing, because of the sheer amount of time they spend on the field and at the gym rather than in their lecture halls.

The Northwestern University Football Union and the NCAA’s Death Spiral

By Dave Zirin, The Nation

Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered,” – Mark Cuban

[..]

This decision marks the first real crack in the NCAA cartel in any of our lifetimes. It is also far from over. Northwestern University is leading the appeals process for now. They want the NLRB decision squelched for two reasons, both based in fear. They are afraid that if the football players can unionize, then the graduate teachers, the custodial staff, the work-study students and the cafeteria workers will all say, “If they can be a recognized union, then why not us?” That simply cannot happen in today’s neoliberal university system. Northwestern may fear those below them, but they fear those above them even more. That would be the Big 10 conference and the NCAA. If their football players are allowed to collectively bargain, the NCAA could shut them out, turning off the spigots from which the almighty revenue streams of cable television money seem to endlessly flow. Yet whatever response Northwestern is conjuring, it pales in comparison to the scorched earth about to be fired from the NCAA’s legal guns. For Northwestern, this jeopardizes the power arrangements on their campus, but for the NCAA, this decision threatens their very existence.

The NCAA is now in a fight for its life. Their power emanates solely from its position as a cartel. That means they have the controlling authority to hold every school to the same byzantine ground rules or suffer the consequences. This controlling authority is currently being crippled under the weight of its own greed. This controlling authority has created an unsustainable system of free-market, freewheelin’ capitalism for coaches and indentured servitude for players. This controlling authority allows the NCAA to turn its so-called student-athlete players into walking billboards for the pleasure of their corporate sponsors. This controlling authority has taken maximum advantage of the fact that the two revenue producing sports, football and basketball, tend to be populated by impoverished people of color. They have created a system of $11 billion television contracts where coaches make 100 times what they made thirty years ago. They have kept their foot on the gas, making and remaking conferences, destroying traditional rivalries and all with a short-term eye on the bottom line. Through it all they never reassessed the position of the players themselves and now they are paying the price. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.

Mar 28 2014

When you’ve lost Charlie Pierce…

The Limits Of Conciliation Revisited

By Charles P. Pierce, Esquire

on March 27, 2014

In merciful brief, the president attempted to explain to the world why the self-destructive and mendacious decision of the United States to engage in aggressive war in Iraq in contravention of god alone knows how many provisions of international law was manifestly different — politically, legally, and morally — from Vladimir Putin’s land grabbing in and around Ukraine. Before anyone gave him a chance to be president, and throughout his unlikely rise to the White House, the president famously called the war in Iraq “the wrong war in the wrong place.” It was the first stark difference between the president and Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary campaign and the clearest difference between the president and Senator John McCain in that year’s general election. It represented the cleanest break available to the country from the bloody stupdity of the previous administration. It was the seedbed for all the hope and all the change. The problem arose when the architects of the American fiasco were allowed to escape any real accounting for what they’d done in Iraq and to the United States. There was no public punishment, no public shaming, no indication from the new administration that it was ready to demand penance from the old. And yesterday, the president illustrated quite clearly the size of the corner in which his basic philosophy had painted him.

The case he made was preposterous.



He knows so much better than that. The case we made before the U.N. was a insult to the world, built on stovepiped intelligence, wishful thinking, and outright bullshit, and delivered by Colin Powell because, as Dick Cheney put it so eloquently, Powell could lose a couple of points off his poll numbers. He knows that the Bush people were going into Iraq even without the U.N. — which, of course, it eventually did. (Digby handled this with her usual aplomb.) He knows we made Iraq take its oil industry private, and he knows why. He knows who the profiteers are, and he knows into whose pockets the oil revenues descended. They are the people he inexcusably let off the hook by looking forward and not back, and by offering them and the country absolution without first demanding penance. (For all her other faults, Holy Mother Church at least gets the order right.) All of these things make up what he once called “the wrong war.”



He also knows very well why the riposte about America in Iraq to any attack on Russia in the Crimea has such a sting. It has a sting because it is almost entirely accurate. The destruction of American credibility in the areas of foreign affairs and international law that was wrought by our criminal occupation of Iraq will cost us decades to repair. The rest of the world, most of which declined to participate in our excellent adventure, doesn’t have to listen to our preaching on those subjects without snickering. The president yesterday sought to rouse the outrage of the world against Russia through what were essentially debating points. If he had demonstrated, early and loudly, that he was going hold the perpetrators accountable for the crimes they committed in the previous administration, that he was going to call them to account for their lies, their greed, and their basic disregard for democratic norms and for the standing of the United States in the world, if he had demanded penance before absolution, then, maybe, he could have given yesterday’s speech and not looked and sounded so damned bizarre. As it was, it was less a speech than it was an elegy, a sad eulogy for missed chances and lost, golden promises.