02/18/2015 archive

Dispatches From Hellpeckersville-On Valentines And Vanilla Extract

Ah, Valentine’s Day at chez triv, it has never really been candlelight and chocolate covered strawberries if you know what I mean. From our first date when Cleetus told me I was “surprisingly” attractive, to his over the top romantic marriage proposal (not right now, but sometime before the end of the year, so I can take you off on my taxes!) we just aren’t hearts and flowers kind of people. He usually gets me flowers, a card, we order take out, so that I don’t have to cook, and we’re fine with that. Anything more is too much pressure, sets expectations too high, then people wind up disappointed, crying and fighting, and who needs that? Not me, baby!

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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Europe’s Ideologues of Austerity Stand in Way of Reforms

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”

William Butler Yeats

Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” captures reality in Europe these days, although surely not in the sense the poet intended. In Germany, the popular press is captivated by the face-off of the stern German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, clad in black suit and tie and white shirt, against the “charismatic,” “heartthrob,” new Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, bald head, dress shirt unbuttoned and untucked, scarf draped for effect. Only the appearances are deceiving. The buttoned-up Schäuble is the ideologue, with doctrine blinding him to reality. The rakish Varoufakis is the pragmatist, seeking a sensible way out of a catastrophe. [..]

This week, the showdown between Syriza and the Troika will play out in meetings of European finance ministers and of the European Central Bank’s governing board. Most assume that some kind of short-term agreement will be cobbled together to buy time.

The Troika apparently believes that Syriza will sober up as the pressure builds. But time is not on the Troika’s side. Across Europe, more and more people and parties are revolting against an establishment that seems intent on destroying Europe in order to save it. The ideologues of the center have the power to crater the Greek banks and force Greece out of the eurozone. But the beatings cannot continue for long. If the common sense of the so-called radicals fails to reverse the current policies, far more ominous, nationalist, racialist, right-wing forces are gathering in the wings.

Zoë Carpenter: A Texas Judge Just Put Millions of Immigrants in Limbo

For the immigrant rights movement, Wednesday was supposed to mark a victory: the first day that thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children could apply for work permits and a temporary reprieve from deportation under an executive order that President Obama issued last fall.

But late on Monday a federal judge in Texas blocked the implementation of those orders, taking the side of 26 states suing the Obama administration over the deferred action programs. Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson said Tuesday that the administration would appeal immediately to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but will suspend its plans to accept applications until that ruling.

The ruling casts a shadow of uncertainty on people who have waited months for the orders to take effect. A delay will immediately impact up to 290,000 immigrants who are newly eligible for the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which was supposed to begin accepting applications on February 18. Another 3.7 million were expected to be able to start applying for work permits under Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program (DAPA) later this spring.

Laura Flanders: Uber Wants to Reorganize the Economy? Workers, Too, Can Play at that GameUber Wants to Reorganize the Economy? Workers, Too, Can Play at that Game

The global newswire Associated Press announced this January that it will no longer refer to the app-based cab-hail service Uber as “ride-sharing.”

The move follows criticism that services like Uber and Lyft are very far from sharing; to the contrary, they are taking more than they’re giving.

That’s certainly the view of Bhairavi Desai co-founder and director of the National Taxi Worker’s Alliance. Desai told GRITtv this week that while it characterizes itself as an innovative disruption, Uber’s more like Walmart on wheels. They’re not democratizing the workplace, she said, they’re de-regulating it or rather, re-regulating it, to the benefit of app-owning bosses and the detriment of drivers.

Jessica Valenti: Why is bearing children seen as more important than surviving pregnancy?

There is nothing selfish about wanting to live – it’s the most simple, instinctive, human desire there is. Still, most of us – men and women – feel we would lay down our lives for our children; there’s an instinct in that, too.

But there is something about the spectacle of anti-abortion advocates celebrating women who die trying to save their unborn babies that feels a bit too gleeful – they’re shockingly unabashed in their pushing the idea that the lives of adult women aren’t nearly as important as their ability to bring children into the world. [..]

Why must the best mothers be dead mothers?

I am scared for women who have been taught to believe that the most important, beautiful thing they can do is perish. There are already so many ways in which women jump through hoops in order not to exist: we silence ourselves, making sure we’re quiet and unobtrusive; some of us starve ourselves, getting smaller and smaller as to not take up too much space. And this noble disappearing act has become so commonplace that there mere act of being alive – making our voices heard, taking up space, choosing to live – is seen as a disruption of natural order.

Lindy West: Could we please not forgive Sarah Palin? She is an unrepentant nightmare

Conservative pundit Sarah Palin made a cute, sporting little cameo on Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary show this weekend – winking at her own disastrous 2008 vice-presidential run, which was memorably skewered at the time by SNL’s Tina Fey. In the bit on Sunday night, Palin piped up during a Q&A with Jerry Seinfeld to ask, “Just curious, Jerry, how much do you think [SNL producer] Lorne Michaels would pay me if I were to run in 2016 with Donald Trump as my running mate?”

“I don’t think there’s a number too big,” Seinfeld replied.

Har har. Cute! See, Fey’s Palin impression was a big hit for the show back in 2008, got marvellous ratings, and will long be remembered as a seminal SNL moment – but not, as one might think, because Sarah Palin was some wacky, harmless goofball destined to be a delightful footnote in the annals of election history. No. Nope.

No. People loved those Tina Fey/Sarah Palin sketches because Sarah Palin is a terrifying, anti-intellectual, anti-choice, gun-toting ideologue who came within a hair’s breadth of one of the most powerful political offices in the world, a dystopian potentiality that could have tangibly affected the lives of literally billions of people. Watching her being flawlessly lampooned – her hypocrisy and pomposity laid bare with a clarity that only comedy can achieve – felt like a gossamer lifeline of hope and sanity to which we could all cling.

In short: Fey’s Palin impression wasn’t important because Palin is trivial and amusing. It was important because Palin is anything but. And we need to remember that.

Jess Zimmerman: Everything you need to know about the social media you’re too old to use

I’m going to assume that you already know how to use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: I’m sure you laughed at the commercial with the old lady and her “Facebook wall”; television has made the existence of Twitter unavoidable; and Instagram’s no-nipple-or-pubes policy is designed to be friendly for the elderly, like us. But people my age (including me; what the hell’s Yik Yak?) have a habit of dealing with new social networking options by gleefully, defensively declaring our ignorance. We don’t need to do that. Keeping up isn’t that hard – for now.

TBC: Morning Musing 2.18.15

I have 3 articles – 2 longer ones – but all 3 good reads.

First, a great piece on ACC and the Pentagon:

The Pentagon & Climate Change: How Deniers Put National Security at Risk

Rear Adm. Jonathan White, the Navy’s chief oceanographer and head of its climate-change task force, is one of the most knowledgeable people in the military about what’s actually happening on our rapidly heating planet. Whenever another officer or a congressperson corners White and presses him about why he spends so much time thinking about climate change, he doesn’t even try to explain thermal expansion of the oceans or ice dynamics in the Arctic. “I just take them down to Norfolk,” White says. “When you see what’s going on down there, it gives you a sense of what climate change means to the Navy – and to America. And you can see why we’re concerned.”


On This Day In History February 18

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.

February 18 is the 49th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 316 days remaining until the end of the year (317 in leap years).

On this day in 1885, Mark Twain publishes his famous, and famously controversial, novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Considered as one of the Great American Novels, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is among the first in major American literature to be written in the vernacular, characterized by local color regionalism. It is told in the first person by Huckleberry “Huck” Finn, a friend of Tom Sawyer and narrator of two other Twain novels (Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective).

The book is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Satirizing a Southern antebellum society that had ceased to exist about twenty years before the work was published, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an often scathing look at entrenched attitudes, particularly racism.

The work has been popular with readers since its publication and is taken as a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It has also been the continued object of study by serious literary critics. It was criticized upon release because of its coarse language and became even more controversial in the 20th century because of its perceived use of racial stereotypes and because of its frequent use of the racial slur “nigger”, despite that the main protagonist, and the tenor of the book, is anti-racist. According to the January 20, 2011 Chase Cook/The Daily article, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn novel will be released in a new edition. Two words will be changed throughout the whole book, “injun” and “nigger” to “indian” and “slave”. The book is being changed as quoted in the article, “only to make it viable to the 21st century”.

The Notorious RBG: “The Best and Hardest Job I’ve Ever Had”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, aka The Notorious RBG, sat down for an exclusive interview with MSNBC’s Irin Carmon. During the interview she spoke on numerous subjects including the dysfunctional congress, abortion, marriage equality, sexism, retirement and tattoos.

Full transcript can be read here

CARMON: So I know that you have no intention of retiring, and correct me if I’m wrong, anytime soon. But I’m wondering what you want your successor to look like?

GINSBURG: My successor will be the choice of whatever president is sitting at that time. But I’m concerned about doing the job full steam. And I’ve said many times, once I sense that I am slipping, I will step down. Because this is a very intense job. It is by far the best and the hardest job I’ve ever had. And it takes a lot of energy and staying power to do it right. So that is when I will step down, when I feel I can no longer do the job full steam.

Bad Agreements

How Trade Deals Boost the Top 1% and Bust the Rest

Robert Reich

Monday, February 16, 2015

Suppose that by enacting a particular law we’d increase the U.S.Gross Domestic Product. But almost all that growth would go to the richest 1percent. 

The rest of us could buy some products cheaper than before. But those gains would be offset by losses of jobs and wages.

This is pretty much what “free trade” has brought us over the last two decades.

I used to believe in trade agreements. That was before the wages of most Americans stagnated and a relative few at the top captured just about all the economic gains.

The fact is, trade agreements are no longer really about trade. Worldwide tariffs are already low. Big American corporations no longer make many products in the United States for export abroad.

To the extent big American-based corporations any longer make stuff for export, they make most of it abroad and then export it from there, for sale all over the world – including for sale back here in the United States.

In fact, today’s “trade agreements” should really be called “global corporate agreements” because they’re mostly about protecting the assets and profits of these global corporations rather than increasing American jobs and wages. The deals don’t even guard against currency manipulation by other nations.

According to Economic Policy Institute, the North American Free Trade Act cost U.S. workers almost 700,000 jobs, thereby pushing down American wages.

Since the passage of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, America’s trade deficit with Korea has grown more than 80 percent, equivalent to a loss of more than 70,000 additional U.S. jobs.

The old-style trade agreements of the 1960s and 1970s increased worldwide demand for products made by American workers, and thereby helped push up American wages.

The new-style global corporate agreements mainly enhance corporate and financial profits, and push down wages.

That’s why big corporations and Wall Street are so enthusiastic about the upcoming Trans Pacific Partnership – the giant deal among countries responsible for 40 percent of the global economy.

That deal would give giant corporations even more patent protection overseas. It would also guard their overseas profits.

And it would allow them to challenge any nation’s health, safety, and environmental laws that stand in the way of their profits – including our own.

Global deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership will boost the profits of Wall Street and big corporations, and make the richest 1 percent even richer.

But they’ll bust the rest of America.

How Third Way Trade Agreements Study Distorts Via Omission to Pave Way for TTP and TTIP

By Kenneth Thomas, Naked Capitalism

Posted on February 17, 2015

Third Way (h/t TPM), a Democratic pro-trade think tank, has released a new study, “Are Modern Trade Deals Working?” It examines the various “free trade” deals the U.S. has signed since 2000 to conclude that 13 of 17 have led to an improvement in our goods (not including services; see more below) trade balance with the countries involved, giving a net improvement over the 17 agreements studied of $30.2 billion per year.

I did a similar analysis of this very question (though in less detail than the Third Way study) in 2012. Unlike the Third Way report, my post included all U.S. free trade agreements (rather than starting in 2001 like Third Way) as well as the effect of the 2000 agreement for Permanent Normalized Trade Relations (PNTR) with China. So, compared to the Third Way study, my post includes the FTAs with Israel, Canada, and Mexico, but did not consider the Panama FTA, which had not yet come into effect when I posted. My conclusion was essentially the same as Third Way’s, that the effects of the agreements on our trade in goods were usually positive, but of small size (the effect of the Israel FTA was also small). Because the Third Way study begins in 2001, however, it omits the impacts of NAFTA and PNTR with China. However, as my post showed, they are the most important by far.

This fact is not lost on opponents of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Lori Wallach of Public Citizen Global Trade Watch told the Associated Press that “studies such as Third Way’s make a big deal out of modest trade improvements with countries like Panama, and gloss over huge trade deficits with major trading partners such as South Korea, Mexico and Canada.” She’s right.

In 1993, the year before NAFTA went into effect, the United States had a surplus with Mexico on trade in goods of $1.7 billion. In 1995, it went to a deficit of $15.8 billion, and in 2014 the goods trade deficit was $53.8 billion, down from 2007′s peak of $74.8 billion. This was in sharp contrast with the analysis of Gary Hufbauer and Jeffrey Schott, who predicted trade surpluses on the order of $9-12 billion through the 2000s, even as they admitted that the peso was overvalued (it collapsed in value in the December 1994 “Tequila crisis”).

Meanwhile, the balance of trade in goods with Canada went from a deficit of $10.8 billion in 1993 to $34.0 billion in 2014. Note that the U.S. had a peak deficit of $78.3 billion in 2008, which collapsed to  $21.6 billion in 2009.

In 2000, the year PNTR was adopted, the United States had an $83.9 billion goods trade deficit with China. In May of that year, the International Trade Commission (h/t David Cay Johnston) released a report estimating that the trade balance would worsen by a further $4.3 billion. According to the article, the U.S. Trade Representative and the White House both criticized this study strongly. And in fact, the 2001 deficit fell to $83.1 billion. However, in 2002 it was $103.1 billion, an increase more than four times the ITC prediction, and by 2014 it had grown to $342.6 billion.

By including trade in goods but not trade in services, Third Way is admirably the stacking the deck against its own position. It points out that the U.S. has a global surplus in trade in services of $232 billion in 2014, including a $45 billion surplus with Canada and Mexico. However, it doesn’t mention that the U.S. goods trade deficit was $737 billion in 2014, or that the country’s overall 2014 trade deficit was $505 billion, up from $477 billion in 2013.

The ultimate question is whether TPP and TTIP are going to be more like the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement, or more like NAFTA and PNTR. Considering that the TPP includes all the NAFTA countries, Australia, Chile, Japan, and six others, comprising “nearly 40 percent of global GDP,” I think it’s safe to assume that it will have a much bigger impact than the FTAs with Australia or Chile, for instance. Similarly, since the European Union has an economy about the same size as the U.S. economy, I believe the TTIP will also have big consequences.

Moreover, we have to remember that these are much more than trade agreements. Both of them have increased protections for investors, patents, trademarks, and other intellectual property, and in both of them the U.S. is advocating the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement so companies can sue governments through arbitration rather than courts, something that has proven more favorable for companies vis-a-vis both governments and consumers. So, in addition to the negative effects on U.S. workers that we would expect on the basis of the Stolper-Samuelson Theorem, all signatory countries are likely to suffer from higher prices for medicine and assaults on their regulations through investor-state dispute settlement.

Tobacco Companies

In a 20 minute segment of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver lights up an industry giant, tobacco and how it uses the courts to suppress the laws of the poorest countries to restrict cigarette sales and inform their citizens of the health hazards of tobacco use. John also introduces a new mascot and a tee shirt, Jeff the Diseased Lung, for an adverting campaign

As Last Week Tonight host John Oliver notes early in his incredible, 20-minute examination of the global battle being fought over tobacco advertising, the smoking rate in the United States has dropped from 43 percent in 1965 to 18 percent today thanks to strict laws outlawing cigarette ads. With America largely kicking its smoking habit, the tobacco industry has been forced to make up the revenues abroad, leading to court battles in countries like Australia, Uruguay and Togo, one of the 10 poorest nations in the world.

Oliver’s takedown also focuses on the extreme lengths companies like Philip Morris International are going to place their products in the hands of the youth, including a Marlboro-sponsored kiosk outside an Indonesian school where teens can purchase a single cigarette for a dime.

Countries have responded to Big Tobacco’s unorthodox marketing with laws that allow government to place grotesque images of smoker’s lung and blackened teeth on cigarette packaging, but even those measures have resulted in threats of billion-dollar lawsuits from the tobacco giants in international court.

One such battle is being waged in Togo, where Philip Morris International, a company with annual earnings of $80 billion, is threatening a nation with a GDP of $4.3 billion over their plans to add the harsh imagery to cigarette boxes, since much of the population is illiterate and therefore can’t read the warning labels.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Tobacco

The tobacco industry derives much of its legal power from treaties like the World Trade Organization

That’s right, a company was able to sue a country over a public health measure through an international court. How the f*ck is that possible?

Apparently, PMI had dug up a treaty from 1993 that stated that Australia couldn’t seize Hong Kong-based companies’ properties, so before it started litigation, it moved its Australia business to its Hong Kong-based division and then sued claiming the property being seized was its trademarks on its cigarette packages.

But it wasn’t just PMI who came after Australia. Three countries – Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Ukraine – also filed complaints with the World Trade Organization against Australia’s plain packaging law. However, it turns out, Ukraine has zero trade with Australia of any tobacco products. [..]

Not surprisingly, these complaints are fully backed by PMI, who will even cover some of the legal costs. But Big Tobacco doesn’t just go after big countries; the small South American country of Uruguay was also a target. Oliver points out that it’s a country we think so little about that the audience didn’t even notice he was deliberately highlighting the wrong country on a map to prove his point.

It is treaties like the WTO that harm struggling counties and the poorest populations around the world. President Barack Obama would like to further that harm with even bigger “free trade” like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These treaties will cause job losses, lower wages, higher drug prices, endanger the environment and food supplies. The treaties also would give companies, like Phillip Morris International, even more power to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits, undermining democracy. They are being negotiated in secret and the public only knows about them because Wikileaks released drafts of some of the worst clauses that it had acquired.

139th Westminster Kennel Club

Well all the big breaking news came out of the Toy Group last night.

First, we have an answer to the last minute scratch of the best in breed Pekingese, Pequest General Tso-

Another midstate competitor, a Pekingese named General (Pequest General Tso) won its best of its breed competition Monday at Westminster and was slated to compete in the toy group. However, the 2-year-old dog was excused from the ring as judging began.

Dog show announcers on CNBC said the young dog was overwhelmed by the situation and his owner and handler, David Fitzpatrick of York County, opted to withdraw.

Interesting that the only source in all of Google News is from Pennlive.  Don’t people care about dog breeding any more?

The second bit of big news is that the group winner, Shih Tzu Hallmark Jolei Rocket Power is co-owned by Patty Hearst.  Yes, that one.  From Associated Press in The Guardian

“People move on,” she said, smiling at Rocket. “I guess people somehow imagine you don’t evolve in your life. I have grown daughters and grand-daughters and other things that normal people have.”

Hearst has been involved in the dog show world for more than 10 years. She said many are surprised to find out she’s moved on to play with pooches.

Listed as Patricia Hearst Shaw, she turns 61 on Friday and is one of Rocket’s three co-owners. She’s mostly worked with French bulldogs and one of them won an award ribbon earlier in the day.

As it turns out her daughters are cat people.

Last night’s other Group Winners-

  • Hound, Tashtins Lookin For Trouble, Beagle, 15 In.
  • Non-Sporting, Dawin Hearts On Fire, Standard Poodle
  • Herding, Bugaboo’s Picture Perfect, Old English Sheepdog

Tonight’s Groups are Sporting, Working, Terrier, and of course Best In Show.  Coverage starts at 8 pm ET on USA.  There will be no immediate repeat except for the Pacific feed, but it will be repeated at 8 am tomorrow on USA in case you miss it.