10/06/2014 archive

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: Voodoo Economics, the Next Generation

Even if Republicans take the Senate this year, gaining control of both houses of Congress, they won’t gain much in conventional terms: They’re already able to block legislation, and they still won’t be able to pass anything over the president’s veto. One thing they will be able to do, however, is impose their will on the Congressional Budget Office, heretofore a nonpartisan referee on policy proposals.

As a result, we may soon find ourselves in deep voodoo.

During his failed bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination George H. W. Bush famously described Ronald Reagan’s “supply side” doctrine – the claim that cutting taxes on high incomes would lead to spectacular economic growth, so that tax cuts would pay for themselves – as “voodoo economic policy.” Bush was right. Even the rapid recovery from the 1981-82 recession was driven by interest-rate cuts, not tax cuts. Still, for a time the voodoo faithful claimed vindication.

Trevor Timm: NSA defenders think they can make surveillance reform vanish. This is how wrong they are

A dirty trick by politicians will come back to haunt them if a looming fight exposes the motherlode of spying power – and shuts off the data vacuum

NSA reform is not going away, even if officials in Congress and the White House are praying it does. The NSA’s staunchest defenders are currently making one last attempt to kill any meaningful restrictions on surveillance, but in the process, they’re are on the verge of painting themselves into a corner they can’t get out of – just as even more secret spying on Americans comes to light. [..]

NSA defenders may think they’re successfully running out the clock on reform efforts, but it’s about to come back to haunt them. As the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman explained on Friday, if Congress refuses to vote on the USA Freedom Act when they come back for their lame duck session after Election Day, their strategic cowardice will set up a showdown come June, when Congress must re-authorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the law allowing the NSA to vacuum up every American’s phone records.

The law will expire altogether if Congress doesn’t affirmatively vote “yes” on it, which should effectively shut down the NSA’s domestic metadata spying program. And it’s pretty clear the House doesn’t have enough votes to pass any re-authorization.

Carl Levin: Americans are proud of Apple, but it has a civic duty to pay tax

The European Union’s finding that Apple negotiated a sweetheart tax deal with the Irish government was no surprise. In 2013 the US Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations, which I chair, first made Apple’s special tax deal in Ireland public as part of our probe into Apple’s tax avoidance schemes.

Though Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, later claimed “we have no special tax deal with Ireland”, and the company again denied negotiating a tax break even after the EU’s findings, what we found last year was damning. The way Ireland taxed Apple’s income resulted in a tax rate of less than 1% and allowed Apple to set up three Irish subsidiaries with no tax residency in any country.

Still, last week’s EU release is immensely significant. Why? Because it adds important information to the public’s record, and it promises to raise the pressure, both political and financial, on Apple and other companies that use similar gimmicks to shift their tax burden on to other taxpayers and leave governments less able to fund education, national security and other important priorities

Gary Younge: Carmen Segarra, the whistleblower of Wall Street

One Federal Reserve employee’s refusal to play along with a rigged financial game has made her a true modern dissident

Carmen Segarra, in the spirit of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden before her, is like the greengrocer who said no. Segarra, a former employee of the New York Federal Reserve, was fired after she refused to tone down a scathing report on conflicts of interest within Goldman Sachs. She sued the Fed over her sacking but the case was dismissed by a judge without ruling on the merits because, he said, the facts didn’t comply with the statute under which she had filed. Segarra is now appealing.

Before she left she secretly recorded her bosses and colleagues, exposing their “culture of fear” and servility when dealing with the very banks they were supposed to be regulating. The Fed is the government agency charged with overseeing the financial sector – a task it singularly failed to achieve in the run-up to the recent financial crisis. What emerges from Segarra’s tapes – released by the investigative website ProPublica – is a supine watchdog wilfully baring its gums before a known burglar so that he may go about his business unperturbed

It’s as though all the Fed employees were told to put a small sign on their desk saying “Under Capitalism Everyone is Equal Before the Law”, and Segarra took hers down. She has disrupted the game, and now everyone can peer behind the curtain; the Fed is the system, and lives within the lie.

Alexander Nekrassov: Why the spooks keep getting it wrong

Is an over-reliance on electronic surveillance why intelligence-gathering is failing both the West and Russia so often?

In an interview with CBS on September 28, US President Barack Obama admitted that US intelligence agencies had “underestimated” the activity of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

So suddenly, as if out of nowhere, civil war-torn Syria became “ground zero for jihadists around the world”, he said.

Indeed, as ISIL fighters occupied a third of Iraq under the very noses of western intelligence services that were supposedly monitoring the situation on the ground in the Middle East, the question everyone ought to be asking is: How come spooks get it wrong so often?

Obama’s statement was reminiscent of the one he made back in 2010, when he told US security chiefs that an attempted airliner bomb attack was the result of a “screw up” by intelligence agencies.

In the past decade, intelligence agences worldwide have failed spectacularly, having missed the devastating financial crash and failing to foresee the consequences of the invasion of Iraq – not to mention those elusive WMDs. They also appeared to have missed the Arab Spring by about a thousand miles and could not predict what would happen in Egypt and Libya once their strong leaders were removed.

Robert Parry: NYT’s Belated Admission on Contra-Cocaine

Nearly three decades since the stories of Nicaraguan Contra-cocaine trafficking first appeared in 1985, the New York Times has finally, forthrightly admitted the allegations were true, although this belated acknowledgement comes in a movie review buried deep inside Sunday’s paper.

The review addresses a new film, “Kill the Messenger,” that revives the Contra-cocaine charges in the context of telling the tragic tale of journalist Gary Webb who himself revived the allegations in 1996 only to have the New York Times and other major newspapers wage a vendetta against him that destroyed his career and ultimately drove him to suicide. [..]

Although the Times’ review still quibbles with aspects of Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series in the San Jose Mercury-News, the Times appears to have finally thrown in the towel when it comes to the broader question of whether Webb was telling important truths.

TBC: Morning Musing 10.6.14

For this Monday, I give you a few articles that I read over the weekend.

First, an excellent Op-Ed call out of the Catholic Church and their rampant hypocrisy:

The Church’s Gay Obsession

Their moralizing is selective, bigoted and very sad. It’s also self-defeating, because it’s souring many American Catholics, a majority of whom approve of same-sex marriage, and because the workers who’ve been exiled were often exemplars of charity, mercy and other virtues as central to Catholicism as any guidelines for sex. But their hearts didn’t matter. It was all about their loins. Will the church ever get away from that?


On This Day In History October 6

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.

October 6 is the 279th day of the year (280th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 86 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1927. The Jazz Singer makes its debut in New York City.

The first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences, its release heralded the commercial ascendance of the “talkies” and the decline of the silent film era. Produced by Warner Bros. with its Vitaphone sound-on-disc system, the movie stars Al Jolson, who performs six songs. Directed by Alan Crosland, it is based on a play by Samson Raphaelson.

The story begins with young Jakie Rabinowitz defying the traditions of his devout Jewish family by singing popular tunes in a beer hall. Punished by his father, a cantor, Jakie runs away from home. Some years later, now calling himself Jack Robin, he has become a talented jazz singer. He attempts to build a career as an entertainer, but his professional ambitions ultimately come into conflict with the demands of his home and heritage.

The premiere was set for October 6, 1927, at Warner Bros.’ flagship theater in New York City. The choice of date was pure show business-the following day was Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday around which much of the movie’s plot revolves.  The buildup to the premiere was tense. Besides Warner Bros.’ precarious financial position, the physical presentation of the film itself was remarkably complex:


Each of Jolson’s musical numbers was mounted on a separate reel with a separate accompanying sound disc. Even though the film was only eighty-nine minutes long…there were fifteen reels and fifteen discs to manage, and the projectionist had to be able to thread the film and cue up the Vitaphone records very quickly. The least stumble, hesitation, or human error would result in public and financial humiliation for the company.

None of the Warner brothers were able to attend: Sam Warner-among them, the strongest advocate for Vitaphone-had died the previous day of pneumonia, and the surviving brothers had returned to California for his funeral.

According to Doris Warner, who was in attendance, about halfway through the film she began to feel that something exceptional was taking place. Jolson’s “Wait a minute” line had prompted a loud, positive response from the audience. Applause followed each of his songs. Excitement built, and when Jolson and Eugenie Besserer began their dialogue scene, “the audience became hysterical.”  After the show, the audience turned into a “milling, battling, mob”, in one journalist’s description, chanting “Jolson, Jolson, Jolson!” Among those who reviewed the film, the critic who foresaw most clearly what it presaged for the future of cinema was Life magazine’s Robert Sherwood. He described the spoken dialogue scene between Jolson and Besserer as “fraught with tremendous significance…. I for one suddenly realized that the end of the silent drama is in sight”.

Critical reaction was generally, though far from universally, positive. New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall, reviewing the film’s premiere, declared that


not since the first presentation of Vitaphone features, more than a year ago [i.e., Don Juan], has anything like the ovation been heard in a motion-picture theatre…. The Vitaphoned songs and some dialogue have been introduced most adroitly. This in itself is an ambitious move, for in the expression of song the Vitaphone vitalizes the production enormously. The dialogue is not so effective, for it does not always catch the nuances of speech or inflections of the voice so that one is not aware of the mechanical features.

Variety called it “[u]ndoubtedly the best thing Vitaphone has ever put on the screen…[with] abundant power and appeal.” Richard Watts, Jr. of the New York Herald Tribune called it a “a pleasantly sentimental orgy dealing with a struggle between religion and art…. [T]his is not essentially a motion picture, but rather a chance to capture for comparative immortality the sight and sound of a great performer.” The Exhibitors Herald’s take was virtually identical: “scarcely a motion picture. It should be more properly labeled an enlarged Vitaphone record of Al Jolson in half a dozen songs.” The film received favorable reviews in both the Jewish press and in African American newspapers such as the Baltimore Afro-American, the New York Amsterdam News, and the Pittsburgh Courier. The headline of the Los Angeles Times review told a somewhat different story: “‘Jazz Singer’ Scores a Hit-Vitaphone and Al Jolson Responsible, Picture Itself Second Rate.” Photoplay dismissed Jolson as “no movie actor. Without his Broadway reputation he wouldn’t rate as a minor player.”

Sunday Train: Cyclists Clamoring for Segregation

While browsing around reading transport cycling news, I ran across a blog post from the UK from the second half of September: Bas’ Blog: Coming to London: cycle paths fully separated from other traffic (vote!) 23 September 2014:

This morning in my inbox:

I am writing to let you know that Transport for London, in partnership with the boroughs of Southwark, Camden, Islington and the City of London, would like your views on proposals for a new Cycle Superhighway between Elephant & Castle and King’s Cross.

Yes please! TFL is asking for comments on the plans in a public consultation. More information on the plans can be found here (East-West route) and here (North-South route), you can leave comments here (E-W) and here (N-S).

,,, and when I looked around, stories about segregated “cycle paths” or “cycle tracks” or “cycleways” were not that hard to find. Join me below the fold for a look.