Daily Archive: 05/25/2015

May 25 2015

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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Trevor Timm: McConnell can’t save the NSA’s surveillance program

Dysfunction in Congress has gotten so bad it might end up actually doing some good: the NSA’s mass surveillance powers under the Patriot Act are now on the verge of expiring after a dramatic 1am vote in the Senate on Saturday morning. [..]

So while Republicans managed to kill a bill that is supposed to stop the NSA’s bulk collection program, their ineptitude put the law underpinning it one step closer to extinction.

McConnell announced after the post-midnight vote that he would call the Senate back into session next Sunday evening, 31 May, to vote on both bills again – literally hours before the bulk collection authorization will expire. After his pronouncement, McConnell then hilariously reminded members that it was their duty with this vote to “act responsibly”, seemingly unaware that it’s his fault that the rest of the members were in the Senate chambers at 1am making panicked decisions in the first place. [..]

The thing is that, no matter what Mitch McConnell and his intelligence community friends try to pull in the next week, the bulk collection of Americans’ records authorized by Section 215 is coming to an end – at least temporarily. So as soon as the clock strikes midnight next Sunday, even if the Senate fails to pass the USA Freedom Act again, the status quo will still change. The question the Senate must answer with legislation will no longer be whether to continue a mass surveillance program that already exists: it will be whether to create a new mass spying program.

Paul Krugman: The Big Meh

Remember Douglas Adams’s 1979 novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”? It began with some technology snark, dismissing Earth as a planet whose life-forms (pdf) “are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” But that was then, in the early stages of the information technology revolution.

Since then we’ve moved on to much more significant things, so much so that the big technology idea of 2015, so far, is a digital watch. But this one tells you to stand up if you’ve been sitting too long!

O.K., I’m snarking, too. But there is a real question here. Everyone knows that we live in an era of incredibly rapid technological change, which is changing everything. But what if what everyone knows is wrong? And I’m not being wildly contrarian here. A growing number of economists, looking at the data on productivity and incomes, are wondering if the technological revolution has been greatly overhyped – and some technologists share their concern.

Jedediah Purdy: The TPP Is a Test of Democracy

Democracy is the problem with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiation. It’s the problem for TPP supporters because the trade deal has been secret so far — known to the public only through leaks and rumors — and because the Fast Track authorization that the Obama Administration wants would box Congress out of meaningful input on the treaty.

As Yale Law School international trade scholar David Grewal has pointed out, the TPP is about national regulation of domestic economies, issues like environmental, labor, and consumer safety law that are at the core of self-government. It’s outlandish that this sovereign power is being bargained away in secret, with the final deal dropped before Congress in a take-it-or-kill-it package. So TPP critics have found that democracy is by far their easiest argument. In fact, given how much of the negotiations remain secret, just about the only informed argument they can make is that the [secrecy itself is a problem. And it is a terrible problem. It should make the whole backroom arrangement illegitimate, at least until we all know what is in it. [..]

It’s one of the famous clich├ęs of American life that Benjamin Franklin, asked what the Constitutional Convention had created, replied “A republic — if you can keep it.” Anyone asked what the TPP’s opponents are fighting for should reply, “A democracy — if we can build it.” Defeating the TPP would keep open the space for that building. Of course, then we would still have to build it.

Lawrence B. Wilkerson: The ‘Taliban’ in Our Midst

Military officers who wear their religion on their sleeve are a danger to our country at any time, but especially after the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001.

Whether it’s US Army Lieutenant General William G. Boykin telling his audience that “My God is bigger than his” in the close aftermath of that tragedy, or the more recent example of US Air Force Major General Craig Olson saying in uniform and in public — and speaking in tones far more like a preacher than a military officer — “I am a redeemed believer in Christ,” these are dangerous men, making dangerous displays of religion.

Moreover, such displays occur in an environment where they are strictly prohibited by secular rules. These rules — and in the case of the US Air Force, written regulations — are in place for a reason. [..]

So, if the Air Force were to punish Olson it might have to pay the piper with regard to any angst it might generate in the Congress, the provider of its funds. Of course, another way to say this is that the leadership of the US Air Force has no guts. It writes rules and its officers disobey them with impunity.

In any event, if no action is taken it’s a dangerous game, playing with fire this way. A game that will get Americans killed in future. A game that undermines the very law we fight to protect. A game that destroys our truest values.

Robert Kuttner: The Robots Are Coming! The Robots Are Coming!

Are robots destined to wipe out most human jobs? Is this round of automation somehow different from all previous ones?

There has been a lot of commentary lately to that effect, including several books.

Is there nothing to be done?

Robots have indeed eliminated a great deal of factory work and are rapidly moving on to product design, medical diagnostics, research, teaching, accounting, translating, copy editing, and a great deal more. Once-secure professions are no longer safe. From that, many economists conclude that we may just have to adjust to a high plateau of unemployment.

In the past, the story goes, as technology displaced some forms of work, the innovation eventually created new, mostly better jobs: fewer buggy-whip makers, more automobile assemblers; fewer telephone operators, more people designing iPhones and working in Apple genius bars. Technology made society richer on average, and employment took care of itself.

But no longer, according to a spate of commentators. Why? Because the pace of displacement has accelerated, and it is reaching well into sectors once thought safe. And automation will only breed more automation.

May 25 2015

TBC: Morning Musing 5.25.15

Well, Happy Memorial Day! Hope you all have a good day today and that you take a moment to reflect those who have fallen. And since it’s a holiday, I’ve got mostly fluff for your morning – but good fluff!

First, the non-fluff:

Catholics organize to promote pope’s climate change message

There will be prayer vigils and pilgrimages, policy briefings and seminars, and sermons in parishes from the U.S. to the Philippines.

When Pope Francis releases his much-anticipated teaching document on the environment and climate change in the coming weeks, a network of Roman Catholics will be ready. These environmental advocates – who work with bishops, religious orders, Catholic universities and lay movements – have been preparing for months to help maximize the effect of the statement, hoping for a transformative impact in the fight against global warming.

Jump!

May 25 2015

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Solidarity in the time of choleric “trade” deals

by Galtisalie

Epidemics of cholera as well as other serious diseases, including neoliberalism, can take a toll on solidarity. “Trade” deals, and the conduct used in pushing them through to adoption, can be purposely choleric in order to accentuate a breakdown in solidarity. A carefully-orchestrated disinformation and intimidation campaign can provide a loud and pushy disincentive to obtaining and sharing knowledge and growing into a healthier society.

The Gipper is credited with the famous saying “trust, but verify.” However, it is actually an old Russian proverb. The phrase came in handy when scrutinizing the actions of the potentially dastardly Russian Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

With matters of political economics, we have learned over the last hundred years that verification is not always easy because labels sometimes defy reality. Since the fall of the authoritarian state capitalist Soviet Union, which claimed to be real and scientific socialism, apathy has set in about true human choice on matters not having to do with consumer goods. The possibility of a heterodox deeply democratic vision for humanity is laughed at by commenters. They blithely point to North Korea and the supposedly happy riveters south of the border who produce things once made by Americans for the great now debt-driven and trade-imbalanced American marketplace.

Speaking of Russia, its dolls and other trinkets are now made in China too. Ironically, the British Green Quaker documentary filmmaker David Malone aptly says that modern “trade” agreements are like Russian dolls, with lots of other dolls inside that have nothing to do with trade. We are expected to place the doll up on a shelf and not worry what’s inside, even if the shelf is getting repossessed.

Anyway, it’s not really as simple as opening up to see the next doll inside, although it would be nice if we were allowed to at least do that before making the purchase. If the global “we” really wants to understand something that comes with risk, such as a disease, or a series of massive “trade” deals, we must first be able to put the pieces as well as the whole under a microscope, do DNA tests, and have plenty of time to learn what exactly it is we are seeing. Learning the ecological context is also critical.

Sounds like technical questions best left to experts! So, we can sit this one out. Maybe it is we who are dialectical dolls here, expected to live superficially without addressing our interior selves. Why concern one’s pretty little self with such manly and adult details?

More broadly, absolutely do not ponder whether the globalization of hegemonic capitalism is the disease or the cure. That would necessitate openly and closely studying and discussing, without fear of repression, the system that is being imposed, the crises it inevitably causes, the insolvency it constantly courts, the reserve army of unemployed workers, the lack of fair distribution of the winnings that arise from the system, and calmly comparing the available alternatives, including everything from tweaks to overhauls to repeal and replace.

Democracy is this potentially great mass experimental method if the powers that be would allow it to work deeply and openly. If we were allowed to trust but verify we could be engaged citizens. Instead, we are forced to leave democracy to neoliberal politicians, experts, and talking heads, as if they will explain to us what little it is that we need to know after they have made their decisions, which have bound within them unprecedented curtailments to democracy.

This sounds more like oligarchical exploitation than rule by the people. But what can we do to defend ourselves in times like these?

At least from the time of Spartacus, solidarity has been the enemy of exploitation, always has been and always will be. But woe unto those who take the risks of speaking the truth to power, or even seeking the truth. The doubt-inspiring whispers are reaching a chorus of “shut-up and know your place.” Self-doubt cannot help but set in:

In the end, did Spartacus really want to be free and in solidarity with other people in the struggle to be free? Wasn’t it really pretty nice being a Thracian gladiator after all? And for his followers, as they were hanging from crosses every bit as real as Jesus’s, might they not have had a little buyer’s remorse?

4 T

Come to daddy. Put aside those passions. Don’t question too much. It’s for your own good that you are being led through the valley of the shadow of death in a blindfold.

May 25 2015

Monday Night Movie

Jon and Larry still on vacation.  Here’s a Memorial Day treat instead.

Too Much Death And Blood

The Winner of Heroes

May 25 2015

On This Day In History May 25

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.

May 25 is the 145th day of the year (146th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 220 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1977, Stars Wars opens with an intergalactic bang as the first of George Lucas’ blockbuster Star Wars movies hits American theaters.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, originally released as Star Wars, is a 1977 American epic space opera film, written and directed by George Lucas. It is the first of six films released in the Star Wars saga: two subsequent films complete the original trilogy, while a prequel trilogy completes the six-film saga. It is the fourth film in terms of the series’ internal chronology. Ground-breaking in its use of special effects, unconventional editing, and science fiction/fantasy storytelling, the original Star Wars is one of the most successful and influential films of all time.

Set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, the film follows a group of freedom fighters known as the Rebel Alliance as they plot to destroy the powerful Death Star space station, a devastating weapon created by the evil Galactic Empire. This conflict disrupts the isolated life of farmboy Luke Skywalker when he inadvertently acquires the droids carrying the stolen plans to the Death Star. After the Empire begins a cruel and destructive search for the droids, Skywalker decides to accompany Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi on a daring mission to rescue the owner of the droids, rebel leader Princess Leia Organa, and save the galaxy.

Produced with a budget of $11 million and released on May 25, 1977, the film went on to earn $460 million in the United States and $337 million overseas, surpassing Jaws as the highest-grossing film of all time at the time. Among the many awards the film received, it gained ten Academy Award nominations, winning six; the nominations included Best Supporting Actor for Alec Guinness and Best Picture. Lucas has re-released the film on several occasions, sometimes with significant changes; the most notable versions are the 1997 Special Edition and the 2004 DVD release, which have modified computer-generated effects, altered dialogue, and added scenes.

May 25 2015

US Terrorizes China; China Pulls the Golden Trigger.

All week I’ve been seeing references to this headline:

“China could announce that it holds 30,000 tons of gold to back the Yuan/Renminbi.”

As a Forex trader, the story took me by surprise, even though China has been stockpiling for years, and is the world’s largest gold producer. Also, it’s not like China to pull this trigger so fast. However, in the South China Sea last week, the US started militarily terrorizing China with war ships and fighter jets – and China warned (in so many polite words) that the US planted the seeds of its own doom.

So, maybe that’s what this is all about.