Daily Archive: 04/02/2014

Apr 02 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.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day.

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

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Rozina Ali: Egypt’s al-Jazeera trial was inspired by America’s global war on journalism

From a War on Terror to a war on leaks, now comes America’s shadow influence on a media crackdown

Today, Egypt resumes its trial of the three al-Jazeera journalists it has held in captivity since December on the grounds that their coverage threatened national security. Media outlets, advocacy groups and foreign governments – including the United States – have all condemned the arrests and criticized the proceedings as a bold political move to suppress opposition. [..]

But the brazen political rhetoric out of Cairo continues: that al-Jazeera’s Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed are guilty of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, that the Brotherhood is a terror group, and that counter-terror policy is crucial to democracy at all costs – even at the cost of a free press, that beating heart of democracy.

This rhetoric is not new. Egypt seems to draw inspiration from the very country criticizing it – the United States.

Over the past decade, the US not only detained but tortured al-Jazeera journalists under counterterrorism policies. Now, as its War on Terror diffuses into support for an increasing number of local – and secret – wars on terrorism across the globe, the tactic of imprisoning journalists seems to be catching on.

Cara Hoffman: The Things She Carried

The injury wasn’t new, and neither was the insult. Rebecca, a combat veteran of two tours of duty, had been waiting at the V.A. hospital for close to an hour when the office manager asked if she was there to pick up her husband.

No, she said, fighting back her exasperation. She was there because of a spinal injury she sustained while fighting in Afghanistan.

Women have served in the American military in some capacity for 400 years. They’ve deployed alongside men as soldiers in three wars, and since the 1990s, a significant number of them are training, fighting and returning from combat.

But stories about female veterans are nearly absent from our culture. It’s not that their stories are poorly told. It’s that their stories are simply not told in our literature, film and popular culture.

Heidi Moore: GM sold us on a comeback. Don’t buy a CEO’s apology – buy cars that are safe

The bailout was a false narrative. The research never showed a ‘new’ GM. Oh, and 6m cars didn’t work. Saying sorry to Congress won’t cut it

This afternoon, its new CEO, Mary Barra, will try to explain to a Congressional oversight panel why GM fought so hard to save its own life during the financial crisis, even as the company stayed silent for a decade when it had the chance to save the lives of drivers. GM has recalled more than 6m produced between 2005 and 2014 – including three new recalls over the past week – in a series of moves that reveal sprawling, systemic corporate incompetence.

“Today’s GM will do the right thing,” Barra will say under oath, according to her prepared remarks. But there is a dark undercurrent to her words, which will only highlight a truth that is no longer excusable: General Motors spent over a decade misleading the public about mechanical failures in its cars, working to create the false image of a rehabilitated powerhouse of American industry.

And it will make you wonder what else GM hasn’t told us – indeed, what it doesn’t even know yet – about its $55bn business.

Ana Marie Cox: The excuse for killing Trayvon Martin has become the standard of democracy

Statehouses are supposed to be America’s laboratory, but the experiments are rigged. Since when is Stand Your Ground 2.0 the standard of justice?

The Florida House recently passed legislation that would seal the records of anyone who successfully sustains a stand-your-ground defense after a shooting. The proposal would allow a gun-wielding vigilante to escape not just any and all legal complications but also awkward interactions with curious neighbors. So Floridians think a stand-your-ground shooting might be something one would want to hide. Which might finally answer the question: does Florida have any shame?

Some of the state legislators were at least aware of the attention stand-your-ground laws have drawn. As Democratic Rep. Mia Jones explained to her colleagues: “The world is looking at Florida and … we don’t look good right now.” This is not, perhaps, a persuasive argument in a state that leads the nation in both incidents of human cannibalism and “zombie foreclosures”. The so-called “warning-shot” bill passed 93-24.

Shamelessness aside, the renewed passion of Florida politicians for the expansion and protection of this type of loophole – the very kind that let George Zimmerman run free, even if he got off on self-defense – at least raises a different question: Why are those local legislatures passing such embarrassing laws in the first place?

Katrina vanden Heuvel: On Universal Pre-K, de Blasio Shows Democrats How to Lead From the Left

With Albany’s passage of the state’s 2014-15 budget, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will see his plans for universal pre-K education and an expansion of after-school middle school implemented in the five boroughs. But with significant concessions made for the accommodation of charter schools, as well as a rejection of the mayor’s preferred source of funding for the programs, the victory is qualified, and the outlook for pushing more progressive reforms in the state seems murky. [..]

Nevertheless, at end of the day, despite the concessions made to charter schools (which are legion and problematic), the less-than-optimal source of funding, and the chilling notice given to anyone who might deign to ask the one-percent to pay full freight, New York’s new program still represents a strong expansion of the education system. Essentially, a new grade of school has been carved out in New York City, one that will eventually reduce the segment of the population that will in the long run be poor and boost college graduation rates for children. Ultimately, the city should win with this one.

Michelle Chen: $2.13 an Hour? Why The Tipped Minimum Wage Has to Go

The person who serves you lunch today may work for a minimum hourly wage that’s less than the price of your coffee. And no matter how generous your tip, at the end of the day, she’ll take home much less in wages than what she deserves. Federal law has been exploiting workers like her for years, according to labor advocates, thanks to an ultra-low wage floor that systematically cheats servers, bartenders, hairdressers and others of a fair day’s pay. [..]

A unique economic relic, the base wage for tipped workers has eroded steadily since 1996, when it was unpegged from the already absurdly low federal minimum. The crumbling value of both wage tiers over the past decade, according to the calculation of advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), amounts to a yawning gap between tipped workers’ earnings today and what they would have made had the wage rates been adjusted equitably. All in all, the gap represents a net “loss” of more than $20 billion.

Apr 02 2014

The Breakfast Club: 4-2-2014

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Apr 02 2014

Torture and Lies

CIA misled on interrogation program, Senate report says

By Greg Miller, Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post

Published: March 31

“The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” said one U.S. official briefed on the report. “Was that actually true? The answer is no.”



Classified files reviewed by committee investigators reveal internal divisions over the interrogation program, officials said, including one case in which CIA employees left the agency’s secret prison in Thailand after becoming disturbed by the brutal measures being employed there. The report also cites cases in which officials at CIA headquarters demanded the continued use of harsh interrogation techniques even after analysts were convinced that prisoners had no more information to give.



U.S. officials said the committee refrained from assigning motives to CIA officials whose actions or statements were scrutinized. The report also does not recommend new administrative punishment or further criminal inquiry into a program that the Justice Department has investigated repeatedly. Still, the document is almost certain to reignite an unresolved public debate over a period that many regard as the most controversial in CIA history.

The Damning New Torture Report Shows The CIA Doing What It’s Always Done

By Charles P. Pierce, Esquire

on April 1, 2014

Surely this can’t be the work of the all-too-human, but mysteriously error-prone, heroes of our surveillance state? Surely this must be the result of the fact that Glenn Greenwald is a big dork, and, besides, Amazon has your information, so what do you care if the government does, anyway? Surely this can’t be the result of how we, as a nation, allowed the surveillance state to metastasize to the point at which it has corrupted almost every inch of our democracy. It will be easy to dismiss this, and the revelations about the NSA, as two different horses of two different colors, but the fact is, it is all of a piece. Once you accept one massive and ongoing violation of the Constitution in the name of security, whether or not it is obscured by a figleaf of legality provided by the government’s pet lawyers, you will find it difficult to get outraged about another one. Once you have allowed the surveillance state to grow, it will operate on its own imperatives, outside democratic norms.

And it’s not like this should be a surprise. The CIA — and all the elements of the intelligence apparatus — has played fast and loose with this country’s rule of law since its founding. The Church Committee gave us a very clear picture of the undying mentality of the CIA, and that was 40 years ago. That mentality demands that, if the CIA wants to do something, we should get out of the way and let them do it because they are imbued with a messianic fervor by which even their more grotesque mistakes — and history tells us there are a lot of them — are sanctified by a sense of holy mission.



“Misled investigators” is a nice, polite, journalistically objective way of saying “lied to the Congress.” People go to jail behind that stuff. Of course, the messianic sense of mission precludes punishments that might fall like bricks on ordinary mortals.

Apr 02 2014

The Definition of Madness

Another Financial Crisis Is Looming-Here’s Why and How It Will Play Out

By David Dayen, AlterNet

March 26, 2014

So are we on the precipice of another financial crisis, and what will it look like?

To be sure, danger still lurks in the mortgage market. The  latest get-rich-quick scheme, with private equity firms buying up foreclosed properties and renting them out, then selling bonds backed by the rental revenue streams (which look suspiciously like the bonds backed by mortgage payments that were a proximate cause of the last crisis), has the potential to blow up. And continued shenanigans with mortgage documents could lead to major headaches. A new court case against Wells Fargo uncovered a bombshell, a step-by-step  manual telling attorneys how they can fake foreclosure papers on demand; the fallout could throw into question the true ownership of millions of homes. Even subprime mortgages are in the midst of a comeback, because what could go wrong?



Recent actions from the Federal Reserve suggest that they are thinking about guarding against financial instability, amid concern that microscopic interest rates and expanded balance sheets have fed speculation. In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission recently began looking into leveraged loans that have been packaged into bonds known as collateralized loan obligations, or CLOs. These CLOs are traded privately between buyers and sellers, so regulators cannot discern whether they hide risks, or whether the sellers cheat the buyers on prices. And some of them are “synthetic” CLOs – derivatives that are basically bets on whether the underlying loans will go up or down, without any stake in the loans themselves. Recently, commercial banks have attempted to get CLOs exempt from the Volcker rule, the prohibition on trading with depositor funds. CLO issuance has skyrocketed since this lobbying push, and it could be the next vessel Wall Street uses for their gambling activities.

But whether the SEC will actually enforce securities laws on CLOs, and drive them out of the shadows, remains to be seen. And other examinations of shady derivatives deals and price-fixing, if past history is a guide, will end with cost-of-doing-business settlements instead of true accountability. Meanwhile, we are told that the economy has little to fear from big bank failures. The Federal Reserve recently released results of its stress tests on the 30 biggest banks; it claims that 29 of them would hold up in the event of a deep recession. But the stress tests, designed in conjunction with the banks subjected to them, do not realistically measure the reality of a financial crisis, and if they did, the banks would all fail them.

Ultimately, we don’t yet know exactly where the next financial crisis will emerge. But we do know how the conditions for future crises get set. When law enforcement fails to prosecute Wall Street for prior misdeeds, they give no reason for them to curb their behavior.



Similarly, the size and power of the largest financial institutions, which has only grown since the crisis, virtually guarantees similar outcomes. Congress and the White House have not yet moved to chop these behemoths down to size; as a result, their sprawling corporate structures and inadequate risk controls make them almost unmanageable.

Apr 02 2014

On This Day In History April 2

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.

April 2 is the 92nd day of the year (93rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 273 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1513, Ponce de Leon discovers Florida. Near present-day St. Augustine, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon comes ashore on the Florida coast, and claims the territory for the Spanish crown.

Although other European navigators may have sighted the Florida peninsula before, Ponce de Leon is credited with the first recorded landing and the first detailed exploration of the Florida coast. The Spanish explorer was searching for the “Fountain of Youth,” a fabled water source that was said to bring eternal youth. Ponce de Leon named the peninsula he believed to be an island “La Florida” because his discovery came during the time of the Easter feast, or Pascua Florida.

First voyage to Florida

Ponce de Leon equipped three ships with at least 200 men at his own expense and set out from Puerto Rico on March 4, 1513. The only contemporary description known for this expedition comes from Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, a Spanish historian who apparently had access to the original ships’ logs or related secondary sources from which he created a summary of the voyage published in 1601. The brevity of the account and occasional gaps in the record have led historians to speculate and dispute many details of the voyage.

The three ships in this small fleet were the Santiago, the San Cristobal and the Santa Maria de la Consolacion. Anton de Alaminos was their chief pilot. He was already an experienced sailor and would become one of the most respected pilots in the region. After leaving Puerto Rico, they sailed northwest along the great chain of Bahama Islands, known then as the Lucayos. By March 27, Easter Sunday, they reached the northern end of the Bahamas sighting an unfamiliar island (probably Great Abaco).

For the next several days the fleet crossed open water until April 2, 1513, when they sighted land which Ponce de Leon believed was another island. He named it La Florida in recognition of the verdant landscape and because it was the Easter season, which the Spaniards called Pascua Florida (Festival of Flowers). The following day they came ashore to seek information and take possession of this new land. The precise location of their landing on the Florida coast has been disputed for many years. Some historians believe it occurred at St. Augustine; others prefer a more southern landing at a small harbor now called Ponce de Leon Inlet; and some argue that Ponce came ashore even further south near the present location of Melbourne Beach.

After remaining in the vicinity of their first landing for about five days, the ships turned south for further exploration of the coast. On April 8 they encountered a current so strong that it pushed them backwards and forced them to seek anchorage. The tiniest ship, the San Cristobal, was carried out of sight and lost for two days. This was the first encounter with the Gulf Stream where it reaches maximum force between the Florida coast and the Bahamas. Because of the powerful boost provided by the current, it would soon become the primary route for eastbound ships leaving the Spanish Indies bound for Europe.

Apr 02 2014

The War on the First Amendment Has Gone Global

The war on media was inspired by America and encouraged by Barack Obama. Obama rocks. Not

Egypt’s al-Jazeera trial was inspired by America’s global war on journalism

   From a War on Terror to a war on leaks, now comes America’s shadow influence on a media crackdown

   Ten years ago, the United States also justified its detention of al-Jazeera journalists by claiming a “national security threat”. These arrests could not be cloaked as mere collateral damage in a messy war. The US, then as Egypt does now, made leaping connections between the news network and militants, and specifically targeted those whose coverage did not serve the military’s objectives: Dick Cheney warned that al-Jazeera risked being “labeled as ‘Osama’s outlet to the world‘”; Donald Rumsfeld called the network’s coverage of the Iraq war “vicious, inaccurate, inexcusable”.

   Over the next several years, US forces arrested and detained al-Jazeera journalists like Sami al Hajj and Salah Hasan Nusaif Jasim al Ejaili. US military forces captured both in separate instances while they were doing their jobs, and tortured them while attempting to establish ties between al-Jazeera and al-Qaida. Neither al Hajj nor al Ejaili received justice for their wrongful detention. After seven years of imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay, the US government released al Hajj to Sudanese authorities, without any reparations. Meanwhile al Ejaili, who was detained at Abu Ghraib, brought a case with other victims against the private military contractor at the prison, alleging it conspired to commit torture and war crimes. But the case was dismissed by the district court. The court perversely ordered al Ejaili and other plaintiffs to pay their alleged torturers for the cost of the suit. The case is pending on appeal.

   The reverberations of this misguided War on Terror continue, even if the war has shifted: the Obama administration has famously invoked the Espionage Act more than any other American president, attempting to control press leaks with tactics a report found to be “the most aggressive … since the Nixon administration“.

Apr 02 2014

March Madness 2014: Women’s Regional Finals Day 2

Time Network Seed School Record Seed School Record Region
7:00 ESPN 3 Louisville (33 – 4) 4 Maryland (27 – 6) South
9:00 ESPN 2 Stanford (33 – 3) 4 N. Carolina (27 – 9) West