Daily Archive: 08/11/2014

Aug 11 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: Phosphorus and Freedom

The Libertarian Fantasy

In the latest Times Magazine, Robert Draper profiled youngish libertarians – roughly speaking, people who combine free-market economics with permissive social views – and asked whether we might be heading for a “libertarian moment.” Well, probably not. Polling suggests that young Americans tend, if anything, to be more supportive of the case for a bigger government than their elders. But I’d like to ask a different question: Is libertarian economics at all realistic?

The answer is no. And the reason can be summed up in one word: phosphorus.

As you’ve probably heard, the City of Toledo recently warned its residents not to drink the water. Why? Contamination from toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, largely caused by the runoff of phosphorus from farms. [..]

The point is that before you rage against unwarranted government interference in your life, you might want to ask why the government is interfering. Often – not always, of course, but far more often than the free-market faithful would have you believe – there is, in fact, a good reason for the government to get involved. Pollution controls are the simplest example, but not unique.

Dean Baker: Inflation Hawks: The Job Killers at the Fed

Discussions of inflation and Federal Reserve Board policy take place primarily in the business media. That’s unfortunate, because these discussions can have more impact on the jobs and wages of most workers than almost any other policy imaginable.

The context of these discussions is that many economists, including some in policy making positions at the Fed, claim that the labor market is getting too tight. They argue this is leading to more rapid wage growth, which will cause more inflation and that this would be really bad news for the economy. Therefore they want the Fed to raise interest rates.

The part of this story that few people seem to grasp is that point of raising interest is to kill jobs. If that sounds like a bizarre accusation to make against responsible people in public life then you need to pick up an introductory economics text.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: How Big Is a $16 Billion Bank Fraud Settlement, Really?

Preliminary reports say that a $16 to $17 billion settlement will soon be announced between the Justice Department and Bank of America. That would break the record for the largest bank settlement in history, set less than a year ago by a $13 billion agreement between Justice and JPMorgan Chase.

The numbers that accompany these deal announcements always seem impressive. But how large are they, really? That depends on your point of view.

Bankers fraudulently inflated a housing bubble. They became extremely wealthy as a result, but the U.S. housing market lost $6.3 trillion in value when the bubble burst. It had only recovered 44 percent of that lost value by of the end of 2013, according to Zillow’s data.

That’s more than $3 trillion still missing from American households.

As of the first quarter of this year, 9.1 million residences – 17 percent of mortgaged homes – were still “seriously underwater,” which means that homeowners owed at least 25 percent more on the home than it was worth.

And homeowners weren’t the only ones hurt by banker misdeeds. When the bubble burst, it took the economy with it. Unemployment and underemployment remain at record levels, even as the stock market surges and corporations enjoy record profits. Compared to the wealth that bank fraud has taken from American households, these settlements are a drop in the ocean.

Robert Reich: The Rebirth of Stakeholder Capitalism?

In recent weeks, the managers, employees, and customers of a New England chain of supermarkets called “Market Basket” have joined together to oppose the board of director’s decision earlier in the year to oust the chain’s popular chief executive, Arthur T. Demoulas.

Their demonstrations and boycotts have emptied most of the chain’s seventy stores.

What was so special about Arthur T., as he’s known? Mainly, his business model. He kept prices lower than his competitors, paid his employees more, and gave them and his managers more authority.

Late last year he offered customers an additional 4 percent discount, arguing they could use the money more than the shareholders.

In other words, Arthur T. viewed the company as a joint enterprise from which everyone should benefit, not just shareholders. Which is why the board fired him

Gary Younge: Tales of the cities: the progressive vision of urban America

A union leader is being hailed as a possible mayor in Chicago while elsewhere mayors are pursuing policies Obama has been unable to enact on the national stage

After Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 one of his key aides, Rahm Emanuel, sat in the campaign’s favourite restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas, venting his frustration at those who had tried to stand in their way. He would call out a name, ram his steak knife into the table and, like Bluto in Animal House, shout “Dead!” Then he would pull the knife out and call another name and stab the table again.

Heaven only knows what damage he does to the furniture when he mentions Karen Lewis’s name. Emanuel, who was Barack Obama’s chief of staff, is now mayor of Chicago. Lewis is the head of the Chicago Teachers Union who got the better of him after leading the teachers in a strike two years ago. The two genuinely despise each other. When Lewis took on Emanuel over lengthening the school day, he told her: “Fuck you, Lewis!”; during the strike Lewis branded him a “liar and a bully”.

Now Lewis is seriously considering running against Emanuel for the mayoralty next year. People are wearing buttons urging her candidacy and setting up Facebook pages to support her. When she showed up at a civil rights conference two months ago the crowd cheered “Run, Karen, run!”

Dave Johnson: Perhaps We Need Corporate ‘Loyalty Oaths’

Several American corporations are using a tax loophole scheme called “inversion” to get out of being American corporations obligated to pay American corporate tax rates. They buy or merge with a non-U.S. corporation (usually located in a tax haven), pretend they are a subsidiary to that corporation and renounce their U.S. “citizenship.”

That’s almost the only thing that changes. Their U.S. executives, employees, facilities and customers remain where they are, along with the benefits and protections they get from our courts, education system, military, infrastructure and all the other things we pay for through taxes. They just stop paying various taxes to help pay for those things.

Walgreens announced Tuesday that they will not “invert” and become a non-U.S. corporation. (And their stock tumbled as the bailed-out “patriots” on Wall Street heard the news.) Walgreens’ decision follows the collection of more than 160,000 signatures on a “Tell Walgreens to stay in the USA!” petition organized by a coalition of progressive organizations demanding that Walgreens remain a U.S. corporation.

But that announcement is just one victory in what has to be a continuing campaign to make sure corporations honor their obligations to America and pay their share of the cost for the things that enable them to prosper in America.

Aug 11 2014

The Breakfast Club: 8-11-2014

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. Everyone’s welcome here, no special handshake required. Just check your meta at the door.

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.

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpg

This Day in History

Aug 11 2014

Media Training – Gotcha Questions

In my youth I attended a public relations training for a local civic group I was involved with.  It was basically all about staying on message and not wasting an opportunity to get your message out.  You know, just like the Professional Pols do it.  We spent hours honing our elevator pitch waiting for interviews that never happened.  

Ever since then I’ve prepared myself for that once in a lifetime opportunity, imagining when that CNN microphone would be jammed in my face and I’d have one shot to send a message to the people of earth…. Would I blow it????

I’d like to think I’d grab hold of the microphone with both hands and the message I’d send would be “Keep Right Except To Pass!” since that has always been a particular pet peeve of mine.  And that still might be how I choose to handle that once in a lifetime opportunity.

I imagine it would shake down something like this:

CNN: You sir, person walking down the street, how do you feel about the verdict in what’s being called the trial of the century?

BobbyK: (grabs microphone with own hands) While this was a very important verdict, it’s even more important to remember to keep right except to pass when traveling on the highway. Anytime you are not actively passing someone, you should move right and leave the far left lane clear for someone else who wishes to pass YOU. It’s common courtesy to keep right except to pass, and on many of our highways, keep right except to pass is the law. I urge everyone, when they think about this verdict in what’s being called the trial of the century to remember to keep right except to pass. Keeping right except to pass makes highway travel safer and less stressful for everyone on the road. It is our civic obligation when we share our roads with other drivers to keep right except to pass. When we all commit to this social contract and keep right except to pass, our country will have moved one lane closer to its full potential and promise.  When everyone keeps right except to pass, we can rightfully call ourselves exceptional. And one more thing about the verdict: Keep right except to pass!

These days well trained Pols almost never miss an opportunity to deliver their message regardless of the question asked. And our “well trained media elite” almost never call them sharp when a Pol completely dodges the question to deliver their desired sound bite. Part of being a “well trained media elite” seems to be the art of pretending to ask hard hitting questions, while actually throwing the pol a preapproved softball tailor made to be hit out of the park with a sound bite response. It’s as if the Pol and the media elite are dance partners like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

As long as the media and our pols maintain their access driven, poll tested sound bite stenographer, relationship the important questions will never be answered.  Which brings me to the Gotcha questions that are almost never asked… So how can we get them asked?

Town Hall campaign events? YouTube debates? Almost always prescreened and only the preapproved softballs will see the light of day.

Twitter shaming? Trending? May have some potential but there are ways to game that system too.

But whatever the method I’d like to be as ready with my questions as I am with my answer about how I feel about that verdict in the trial of the century.

Aug 11 2014

On This Day In History August 11

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.

August 11 is the 223rd day of the year (224th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 142 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1934, the first Federal prisoners arrived at Alcatraz.

A group of federal prisoners classified as “most dangerous” arrives at Alcatraz Island, a 22-acre rocky outcrop situated 1.5 miles offshore in San Francisco Bay. The convicts–the first civilian prisoners to be housed in the new high-security penitentiary–joined a few dozen military prisoners left over from the island’s days as a U.S. military prison.

Alcatraz was an uninhabited seabird haven when it was explored by Spanish Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775. He named it Isla de los Alcatraces, or “Island of the Pelicans.” Fortified by the Spanish, Alcatraz was sold to the United States in 1849. In 1854, it had the distinction of housing the first lighthouse on the coast of California. Beginning in 1859, a U.S. Army detachment was garrisoned there, and from 1868 Alcatraz was used to house military criminals. In addition to recalcitrant U.S. soldiers, prisoners included rebellious Indian scouts, American soldiers fighting in the Philippines who had deserted to the Filipino cause, and Chinese civilians who resisted the U.S. Army during the Boxer Rebellion. In 1907, Alcatraz was designated the Pacific Branch of the United States Military Prison.

In 1934, Alcatraz was fortified into a high-security federal penitentiary designed to hold the most dangerous prisoners in the U.S. penal system, especially those with a penchant for escape attempts. The first shipment of civilian prisoners arrived on August 11, 1934. Later that month, more shiploads arrived, featuring, among other convicts, infamous mobster Al Capone. In September, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, another luminary of organized crime, landed on Alcatraz.

By decision of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the penitentiary was closed on March 21, 1963. It was closed because it was far more expensive to operate than other prisons (nearly $10 per prisoner per day, as opposed to $3 per prisoner per day at Atlanta), half a century of salt water saturation  had severely eroded the buildings, and the bay was being badly polluted by the sewage from the approximately 250 inmates and 60 Bureau of Prisons families on the island. The United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, a traditional land-bound prison, opened that same year to serve as a replacement for Alcatraz.

The entire Alcatraz Island was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and was further declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986. In 1993, the National Park Service published a plan entitled Alcatraz Development Concept and Environmental Assessment.  This plan, approved in 1980, doubled the amount of Alcatraz accessible to the public to enable visitors to enjoy its scenery and bird, marine, and animal life, such as the California slender salamander.

Today American Indian groups such as the International Indian Treaty Council hold ceremonies on the island, most notably, their “Sunrise Gatherings” every Columbus and Thanksgiving Day.

Aug 11 2014

Sunday Train: The Era of Reverse Pumped Hydro

In a sense, Sunday Train has been mentioning reverse pumped hydro before the Sunday Train actually existed. In 2007 at Daily Kos, in “Driving Ohio on Lake Erie” (reprinted in 2012 at Burning the Midnight Oil), reverse pumped hydro was mentioned as one technology for smoothing the variability of Lake Erie offshore wind. In 2008 on Docudharma, talking about what we could do if we pursued serious goals, as opposed to “predicting” what “they” are “likely to do”, I mentioned it again. I mention it again in The Myth of Baseload Power. And it features in the description of where Biocoal would fit into among dispatchable renewable energy in Unleashing the Political Power of Biocoal.

But one thing that Sunday Train has not done is to give a closer look at the current state of play of reverse pumped hydro in the United State, what are the regulatory obstacles that stand in the way of greater development of reverse pumped hydro, and what can be done to sidestep or overcome those regulatory obstacles. Evidently, I must have been saving all of that for today, for placement below the fold.

Aug 11 2014

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Evo Morales, “Live Well” vs “Live Better” by UnaSpenser

It can be very disheartening to contemplate the state of the world, these days. Climate change, growing wealth inequality, civil rights erosion, violence, violence and more violence. As a practitioner of bearing witness, it all gets overwhelming and can lead to despair, unless I find beacons of light. One of the beacons I’ve found is Evo Morales of Bolivia.

If you’re not aware of him, he is the first indigenous president of Bolivia. That would be notable, in and of itself, but he has represented so much more than a demographic token. He’s now a leading voice in a worldwide coalition for a sustainable future. Something he calls “Vivir Bien.”

The concept of vivir bien (live well) defines the current climate change movement in Bolivia. The concept is usually contrasted with the capitalist entreaty to vivir mejor (live better). Proponents argue that living well means having all basic needs met while existing in harmony with the natural world; living better seeks to constantly amass materials goods at the expense of the environment.

This isn’t just a vague “feel good” philosophy. It is a set of principles to live by and guide public policy. Let’s take a look at what those principles are, how they’ve been applied in Bolivia and how they are being adopted beyond Bolivia, along with some of President Morales’ personal background.