Daily Archive: 04/21/2014

Apr 21 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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Paul Krugman: Sweden Turns Japanese

Three years ago Sweden was widely regarded as a role model in how to deal with a global crisis. The nation’s exports were hit hard by slumping world trade but snapped back; its well-regulated banks rode out the financial storm; its strong social insurance programs supported consumer demand; and unlike much of Europe, it still had its own currency, giving it much-needed flexibility. By mid-2010 output was surging, and unemployment was falling fast. Sweden, declared The Washington Post, was “the rock star of the recovery.”

Then the sadomonetarists moved in. [..]

There was some dissent within the Riksbank over this decision. Lars Svensson, a deputy governor at the time – and a former Princeton colleague of mine – vociferously opposed the rate hikes. Mr. Svensson, one of the world’s leading experts on Japanese-style deflationary traps, warned that raising interest rates in a still-depressed economy put Sweden at risk of a similar outcome. But he found himself isolated, and left the Riksbank in 2013.

Sure enough, Swedish unemployment stopped falling soon after the rate hikes began. Deflation took a little longer, but it eventually arrived. The rock star of the recovery has turned itself into Japan.

Tom Engelhardt: Too Big to Jail? Why Kidnapping, Torture, Assassination, and Perjury Are No Longer Crimes in Washington

How the mighty have fallen.  Once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” James Cartwright will soon don a prison uniform and, thanks to a plea deal, spend 13 months behind bars.  Involved in setting up the earliest military cyberforce inside U.S. Strategic Command, which he led from 2004 to 2007, Cartwright also played a role in launching the first cyberwar in history — the release of the Stuxnet virus against Iran’s nuclear program.  A Justice Department investigation found that, in 2012, he leaked information on the development of that virus to David Sanger of the New York Times. The result: a front-page piece revealing its existence, and so the American cyber-campaign against Iran, to the American public.  It was considered a serious breach of national security.  On Thursday, the retired four-star general stood in front of a U.S. district judge who told him that his “criminal act” was “a very serious one” and had been “committed by a national security expert who lost his moral compass.” It was a remarkable ending for a man who nearly reached the heights of Pentagon power, was almost appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and had the president’s ear.

In fact, Gen. James Cartwright has not gone to jail and the above paragraph remains — as yet — a grim Washington fairy tale.  There is indeed a Justice Department investigation open against the president’s “favorite general” (as Washington scribe to the stars Bob Woodward once labeled him) for the possible leaking of information on that virus to the New York Times, but that’s all.  He remains quite active in private life, holding the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as a consultant to ABC News, and on the board of Raytheon, among other things. He has suffered but a single penalty so far: he was stripped of his security clearance. [..]

Still, someday Cartwright might prove to be unique in the annals of Obama era jurisprudence — the only Washington figure of any significance in these years to be given a jail sentence for a crime of state.  Whatever happens to him, his ongoing case highlights a singular fact: that there is but one crime for which anyone in America’s national security state can be held accountable in a court of law, and that’s leaking information that might put those in it in a bad light or simply let the American public know something more about what its government is really doing.

If this weren’t Washington 2014, but rather George Orwell’s novel 1984, then the sign emblazoned on the front of the Ministry of Truth — “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength” — would have to be amended to add a fourth slogan: Knowledge is Crime.

Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson: Climate Change: Who Will Lead?

With the latest warnings delivered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over the past few weeks, no world leader will ever be able to claim that they were caught off-guard by climate change.

As former heads of state ourselves, we’ve experienced global crises from within the corridors of power. Some may take the world by surprise, but sometimes the warning signals are such that there is no excuse not to act. The IPCC report is such a signal. [..]

For this reason, it is a compelling call to action for governments. We hope it can trigger decisive action — notably on greenhouse gas emission reduction and financing for climate adaptation — on the road to December 2015, when world leaders will meet at a major conference in Paris to agree a new climate deal.

Robert Kuttner: Can Democrats Go Long?

For more than 30 years, the right has been throwing long passes. The Democrats, with some fine individual exceptions in the Senate and House, have been playing an incremental game, eking out gains of a few yards at a time and often being thrown for big losses.

Guess which side has been winning.

Four decades ago, supply side economics was a joke. The idea that cutting taxes on the very rich was the key to prosperity had been laughed out of the debate as “trickle down economics.” Now low taxes on the rich — even the dead rich — are national policy. [..]

So why not take a leaf from the right’s playbook. Why not say what we’re really for, and have a long-term plan to lead public opinion there?

Leo W. Gerard: The Terrible Fear of Paying the Poor Too Much

Republicans in America suffer a crippling anxiety. It’s the terrible fear of corporations paying poor workers too much.

The GOP is so afraid that the nation’s lowest wage earners will get a raise that Republican politicians across the country are working overtime to outlaw wages above $7.25 an hour for these workers. [..]

Republicans’ fear of paying too much is terrible. Not because of GOP angst. No, because it causes underpaid workers to suffer. Because it means Republicans are so enthralled with the 1 percent who write supersized campaign checks that they devalue the contributions of everyday workers to the welfare of America.  Because it means Republicans will continue to blockade efforts to resolve the growing income inequality that is rupturing the economy and the social cohesion of this nation.  

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: Don’t Forget the Other IRS Scandal

Washington, DC and the right wing outrage machine are all abuzz that the IRS allegedly targeted groups based on their presumed political affiliation. Obviously, that was wrong to do, but let’s not forget that there are two IRS scandals. The other is allowing big shadowy forces to meddle in elections anonymously through front groups that file false IRS statements.

Let’s go through this. It’s pretty clear that Americans have a strong interest in knowing who’s trying to influence their vote in elections. Even the Supreme Court agreed 8-1, in the otherwise loathsome Citizens United decision, that “effective disclosure” provides “shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.”

Although the law in America requires lots of disclosure, and the Supreme Court has emphasized the importance of disclosure, a company or a billionaire trying to hide their political influence-seeking can use a front organization to hide behind. Not many organizations can hide their donors that way; one is called a 501(c)(4), a tax-exempt non-profit form of corporation regulated by the IRS.

Apr 21 2014

The Breakfast Club: 4-21-2014

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 21 2014

On This Day In History April 21

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. (Click on image to enlarge.)

April 21 is the 111th day of the year (112th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 254 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1777, British troops under the command of General William Tryon attack the town of Danbury, Connecticut, and begin destroying everything in sight. Facing little, if any, opposition from Patriot forces, the British went on a rampage, setting fire to homes, farmhouse, storehouses and more than 1,500 tents.

The British destruction continued for nearly a week before word of it reached Continental Army leaders, including General Benedict Arnold, who was stationed in nearby New Haven. Along with General David Wooster and General Gold Silliman, Arnold led a contingent of more than 500 American troops in a surprise attack on the British forces as they began withdrawing from Danbury.

Sybil Ludington (April 16, 1761- February 26, 1839), daughter of Col. Henry Ludington, was a heroine of the American Revolutionary War who became famous for her night ride on April 26, 1777 to alert American colonial forces to the approach of enemy troops.

The Ride

Ludington’s ride started at 9:00 P.M. and ended around dawn. She rode 40 miles, more than twice the distance of Paul Revere, into the damp hours of darkness. This is especially remarkable because modern day endurance horse riders using lightweight saddles can barely ride such distances in daylight over well marked courses (see endurance riding). She rode through Carmel on to Mahopac, thence to Kent Cliffs, from there to Farmers Mills and back home. She used a stick to prod her horse and knock on doors. She managed to defend herself against a highwayman with her father’s musket. When, soaked from the rain and exhausted, she returned home, most of the 400 soldiers were ready to march.

The memoir for Colonel Henry Ludington states,

Sybil, who, a few days before, had passed her sixteenth birthday, and bade her to take a horse, ride for the men, and tell them to be at his house by daybreak. One who even now rides from Carmel to Cold Spring will find rugged and dangerous roads, with lonely stretches. Imagination only can picture what it was a century and a quarter ago, on a dark night, with reckless bands of “Cowboys” and “Skinners” abroad in the land. But the child performed her task, clinging to a man’s saddle, and guiding her steed with only a hempen halter, as she rode through the night, bearing the news of the sack of Danbury. There is no extravagance in comparing her ride with that of Paul Revere and its midnight message. Nor was her errand less efficient than his. By daybreak, thanks to her daring, nearly the whole regiment was mustered before her father’s house at Fredericksburgh, and an hour or two later was on the march for vengeance on the raiders.

The men arrived too late to save Danbury, Connecticut. At the start of the Battle of Ridgefield, however, they were able to drive General William Tryon, then governor of the colony of New York, and his men to Long Island Sound.

Apr 21 2014

Sunday Train: What’s in SUPERTRAINS for Small Town and Rural America?

{Reprinted from the Hillbilly Report.org, April 21, 2009.}

{ Except for updating images to correct for link rot, edits in braces and italics.}

This last weekend I wrote up a small diary, cross-posted to various places … which even stumbled into being wrecklisted at Agent Orange … about the High Speed Rail plan released by the Obama administration.

That diary focused on laying out the three “tiers” of HSR in the announced plan. “Express HSR” is one of the bullet train systems, like they are planning for California. But between that tier and conventional rail, are two more tiers:

  • “Regional HSR”, with a top speed of around 125mph, able to provide trips at average speeds in the range of 100mph, operating in existing rail rights of way, but mostly on its own track, with upgraded signaling and substantial investment in grade separation and/or the top level of “hardened” level crossings, normally with electrified lines; and
  • “Emerging HSR”, with a top speed of 110mph, able provide trips at average speed in excess of 80mph, operating on existing rail right of way with improved capacity, but sometimes sharing track with freight rail, the 110mph standard of quad gate, speed sensitive level crossings, and provided by either electric or diesel 110mph tilt-trains

The bullet trains are the show ponies … but for small town and rural America, the genuine seat at the table for Emerging and Regional HSR is the real good news from the announcement.

Apr 21 2014

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Gay Marriage – Fools Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread by Geminijen

Last week the decision in Ohio broadening the scope of gay marriage put one more nail in the coffin of homophobic culture and was a win for equal rights– or was it?  Don’t get me wrong.  I am in full support of gay marriage and everyone having the same civil rights.  The trouble with fighting for a civil reform is that we are fighting for the right to be included in the existing system and that doesn’t take into account the fact that we are basically fighting for the right to be as f**ked up as everybody else.

The movement for gay marriage came out of the gay movement which came out of the male gay culture. The agenda of this movement for  social change has always focused on reform demands for the same civil rights (i.e., gay marriage) that the heterosexual community already has.

Then along came  the lesbian feminist movement calling, not for the right to assimilate into traditional gender roles, but the elimination of those roles altogether; eliminating the assumptions that women should be submissive and challenging the basis of marriage entirely since it had originated as an institution in which men literally bought and owned women, their labor and their children.

Although the majority of states that have weighed in still ban gay marriage,  there are 17-19 states (depending on how you are counting) that have now legalized gay marriage. The most common way has been through the courts, though a couple of states have been through legislative votes and in recent years all the decisions and votes have been going in the right direction (for legalizing gay marriage).

The dominant liberal media has been strongly behind the LGBT community on this issue.  None of the problems or oppressive social structures that have been associated with the nuclear family seem to make it into the media as we watch the two little old ladies who have lived together for 50 years finally gain social respectability and generous tax breaks as they take their vows, or the two gorgeous young men who just put out $500,000 for a fabulous destination wedding. Most recently, the media has been touting “statistics” that show that gay marriages have less divorces than straight marriages.

In fact many young heterosexual people are waiting longer and longer periods to marry, if they choose to marry at all, and the number of divorces for heterosexual marriages hovers around 50%. And the data that is currently being aggressively promoted by the media to show that homosexual and lesbian marriages are more stable is laughable given the lack of statistics or very small samples over very small periods of time that are available.  

So why the rush by the media and the dominant culture to support gay marriage?  Even a few Republicans have gotten on board (which really makes me suspicious given how in every other area of my life the Republican platform’s interests have been directly opposed to my interests)? Is it a sincere desire to accept gay folks for who we are or is it more about shoring up and reinforcing the failing institution of marriage? And why is marriage so important to them? Of all the policies issues we as a LGBT community could focus on, is Gay Marriage actually our first choice or is this the main LGBT policy issue because the dominant culture picked it for us?

I can hear the comments, even from anti-capitalists, now: It’s another one of those picky humorless Lesbian Feminists who just won’t give it a rest.  OK, it’s only a reform, but it’s hard out there in a capitalist world and why can’t we just get a few tax breaks now with out this ridiculous harangue? Besides, I finally found my one true love and we want to proclaim it to the world like everyone else.  We’ll get rid of the nuclear family after the socialist revolution.

Even I have occasionally drunk the Kool Aid. I remember when I was in graduate school writing whole treatises on the evils of the nuclear family, I went to a Bette Midler concert with my girlfriend where, with an entire concert hall of other lesbians, we held hands, and with tears in our eyes, loudly joined in the refrain:

“We’re going to the chapel and we’re going to married,

we’re going to the chapel and going to get maaaried,

we’re going to the chapel and we’re going to get maaarried,

we’re going to the chapel of love!”

(The repeats are necessary to get the full emotional effect)

What we do and don’t get out of Gay Marriage on both the personal and policy level.



On a personal level, the most important advantages of gay marriage to me would be 1) the tax breaks (over 400) that I would get and the other legal conveniences such as hospital visiting rights, joint insurance, etc; 2) sharing the rent and utilities, the cleaning, etc.; being able to roll over and have an intimate relationship without having to go out and look for it. But all of these things could be available to me in a domestic partnership (if, in fact, the states gave all the same rights to domestic partnerships as marriages).  What I couldn’t get is the social respectability that comes with two people signing up for a lifelong monogamous relationship that only comes with marriage sanctified by God and shows that I am an adult capable of a committed adult relationship — otherwise why would there be two separate categories if one was not better than the other? Like marriage is like the black belt of relationships.  

I kind of resent this because, personally, when I was married, I tended to find the two by two Noah’s Ark relationship kind of isolating. One of the things I enjoyed most about the Lesbian community was that the very fact that marriage was not available to us, led to the development of more alternative types of arrangements. While plenty of women did live in couples similar to heterosexual marriages, many lived in relationships which involved three or more people.  Also I found that many of us found our best friends and most committed relationships were with ex-lovers. Kind of like a community of sisters (think Sister Sledge and We Are Family).

I also find that in marriage, because of its origin in heterosexual marriages, there is a tendency to sometimes mimic the gender roles (who is the husband? Who is the wife?). Since the traditional marital relationship was also based on extreme inequality where the husband literally “owned” the wife, some of this power inequality also filters into gay marriages even though it not legally mandated in modern marriages.

Besides reinforcing the inequality between the two people in the relationship, marriage reinforces and magnifies other forms of inequality.  For one, single people (who constitute and increasing percentage of the population) do not get the tax breaks or other financial benefits society bestows on marriage. Also, if two men marry, since men in a patriarchal society still make more money and accumulate more wealth than women, are likely to end up in a more upscale lifestyle than if two women marry since our incomes are lower.  Moreover, if there are children (which is true in most cases) the women are more likely to be the custodial parents than the men and have to bear the labor and monetary costs this implies.

My personal policy solution would be to shore up civil unions that would in fact be equal to the advantages of marriage but would not 1)be based on sexual relations or required monogamy. In such cases, two single friends could apply, a grandma raising her nieces child could apply, several people in whatever kind of relationship (sexual or not)could apply.  

Such a legal structure would further, if there are children involved, provide a stipend to the “parents” for raising the children.  This would eliminate the blatantly unequal financial start children have in life, depending on what private nuclear family they were born into.

Speaking of focusing on private versus publicly funded solutions to our personal economic relationships,  I think it is important to understand that capitalism is intent on preserving private arrangements for reproducing the next generation of children (i.e., marriage) because it gets them off the hook for paying for the necessary public services (childcare, physical nurturing, etc) to reproduce the next generation and greatly increases capitalism’s profits.

So let’s get marriage out of the public domain and leave it to the religious sphere where it belongs and focus our energies on civil unions.