Friday, August 30, 2013

Hey Let's Not Bomb Syria

After horrifying evidence of a chemical weapons attack most likely carried out by the Syrian government came to light, everyone was obviously upset and appalled.

But there weirdly only seems to be one response from our political press corps and politicians, which is to bomb anyone who might (or might not) be responsible.

It would be nice if we were capable of examining what happened, soberly looking at how or if we can be helpful without immediately starting the drumbeat have our bombs fix the situation. Because in addition to all the innocent people they'd inevitably kill, bombs will not fix an extremely complex civil war. There is a very good chance it will make things worse.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Class War Exists, We are Losing

The economy continues to be great for some, much less great for others:
WASHINGTON -- U.S. banks earned more from April through June than during any quarter on record, aided by a steep drop in losses from bad loans.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. says the banking industry earned $42.2 billion in the second quarter, up 23 percent from the second quarter of 2012. CNNMoney additionally reported Thursday that the nation’s biggest banks are expected to hand out more in compensation in 2013 than they did in 2009 -- the final year of the recession -- including $23 billion in bonuses.

On the same day the FDIC announced the record profits, fast food workers across the nation walked off the job in protest of what they see as low wages and poor treatment. The demonstrators are demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage and protections against retaliation for joining a union.

Hourly wages for nonfarm workers fell 3.8 percent in the first quarter, the biggest quarterly drop since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking wage growth in 1947. Yet CEO pay continues to steadily rise, with total compensation growing by 876 percent between 1978 and 2012.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rahm Emanuel: Still the Worst

The long and the short of this is that Detroit is in some serious shit, where as Rahm just likes to watch people (particularly unionized public worker people) suffer:
We see this attitude on display currently in the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings. It is even more clearly on display in efforts by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to default on the city’s pension obligations.

The basic story in both cases is that the contracts that workers had labored under are being laughed at by the elites because they find it inconvenient to carry through with the terms. In the case of Detroit, public sector workers face the loss of much of their pension as a result of the city’s effort to declare bankruptcy.

These workers could be forgiven for laboring under the illusion that they would see the pensions for which they worked. These obligations were actually guaranteed under the state’s constitution.

But Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevin Orr, thinks a constitutional guarantee is just a joke that you tell people to trick them into working. Even though the City of Detroit is legally a creation of the state of Michigan, Orr believes that he can ignore the state constitution and pursue a federal bankruptcy that could have workers’ pension cut by as much as 90 percent.

As bad as the story is in Detroit, there is the reality that the city really does face an economic crisis. Its population has shrunk more than 60 percent from its heyday in the 1950s. At the national level, Detroit has been the victim of policies designed to weaken U.S. manufacturing to the benefit of finance, like an over-valued dollar. At the state level, it has suffered from an urban policy that invited middle-class people to escape from Detroit’s social and fiscal problems by stepping over the city line.

Chicago presents a qualitatively different picture. It is a vibrant city with a diversified economy. While large chunks of Detroit have been nearly abandoned, developers are moving to build on long abandoned railroad yards and factory sites in Chicago. In Detroit, paying for pensions or anything else without outside assistance poses a real problem. In Chicago, the cost of the city’s pensions is an inconvenience.
While media like to play the scary number game -- $20 billion in unfunded pension liabilities – this comes to about to about 0.5 percent of the city’s GDP over the next 30 years, the time period in which the shortfall would have to be made up. The city could of course raise this much revenue, but the current mayor Rahm Emanuel thinks it would be too inconvenient. And hey, these are just contracts with workers, not obligations to people who really matter.

Emanuel’s cavalier attitude toward contracts with the city’s workers apparently does not apply to its other contracts, for example its deal with Morgan Stanley to lease its parking meters for 75 years. The city arguably received less than half the market price for this long-term lease, but Emanuel apparently thinks the city can still afford to honor its contract with the huge Wall Street bank.

Contracts with Wall Street types always seem to draw more respect than contracts with workers. Folks may recall that when AIG was bankrupt and effectively a ward of the government, we were told by the Obama administration (where Emanuel was then chief of staff), that it had to pay out $165 million in bonuses to its senior staff. Many of the AIG employees, who had taken the company into bankruptcy, pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from these bonuses.
I haven't seen many polls since his approval plummeted during the teachers' strike, but Rahm getting his ass kicked in the next election would be pretty fucking sweet.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fukushima Isn't Getting Any Less Permanently Ruined

A nuclear expert has told the BBC that he believes the current water leaks at Fukushima are much worse than the authorities have stated.

Mycle Schneider is an independent consultant who has previously advised the French and German governments.

He says water is leaking out all over the site and there are no accurate figures for radiation levels.

Meanwhile the chairman of Japan's nuclear authority said that he feared there would be further leaks.

The ongoing problems at the Fukushima plant increased in recent days when the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) admitted that around 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank on the site.
The whole article is terrifying and worth reading if you have the time.

Basically water levels have been lowering in these tanks for some time and it's not hard to figure out the contaminated water went. It's also a reminder about the scope and time horizon on these environmental disasters. I will be seeing reports on Fukushima for the rest of my life. Yellow tailed tuna won't spawn in the gulf of mexico for 30 years. Being hyperbolic about the damage these disasters have caused doesn't really do them justice.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Free Chelsea Manning

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison yesterday. After the ruling, she asked President Obama for a pardon in a genuinely moving statement:
The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We've been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we've had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.

I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized that (in) our efforts to meet the risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.

In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.

Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown out any logically based dissension, it is usually the American soldier that is given the order to carry out some ill-conceived mission.

Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy – the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, and the Japanese-American internment camps – to mention a few. I am confident that many of the actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.

As the late Howard Zinn once said, "There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people."

I understand that my actions violated the law; I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.
Update: This morning, Manning released a statement stating that she is a female and wants to be referred to as Chelsea. I've updated the post to reflect that. As many of you know, I write most posts the night before (or earlier in the week) and set them to post automatically during the day. Thanks to Kari for reminding me to change the post based on today's news.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

US Officially Reveals Role In 1953 Iran Coup

Chris Hayes made a really good point on his show the other night, linking anti american feeling directly to shit like this:
The National Security Archive on Monday published evidence of the CIA's long-known role in the 1953 Iran coup that helped pave the way for the Islamic revolution 26 years later.

The newly declassified material is believed to contain the CIA's first public acknowledgment of its role in deposing democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh after he nationalized the country's oil industry. The move – and Iran's broader lurch to the left under Mossadegh – infuriated Great Britain and the United States, which pressed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to depose him in 1953.
In publishing a decades-old internal CIA history on the coup's 60th anniversary, the National Security Archive urged the U.S. intelligence community to “make fully available the remaining records on the coup period.”
There isn't a single Egyptian that doesn't know about our decades of support for Hosni Mubarak. Part of the colonial mindset is thinking so little of those whose affairs you interfere with that you can't fathom that there will be consequences for your actions. If you see other citizens of the world as human beings as well, you're less likely to do things to them that you wouldn't like done to you or your country. This is pretty basic stuff, but it's a mindset we can't seem to abandon.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Glenn Greenwald's Partner Detained Under Terrorism Law

This is appalling:
The latest NSA news — over the weekend — is the detention for nine hours at Heathrow Airport of Glenn Greenwald’s boyfriend, David Miranda. Miranda is one of the journalists working with the under-appreciated Laura Poitras in releasing the Edward Snowden whistle-blown NSA material. Greenwald says Miranda’s laptop and cellphone were confiscated by the British authorities, and never returned.

Base details — Miranda (the detainee) was flying from Berlin after meeting with Poitras on his way to Rio de Janiero. As near as I can tell, he was simply changing planes and not exiting the airport (Glenn says Miranda did not attempt to go through Customs). Miranda was perhaps carrying documents from Poitras to Greenwald. The detention was carried out under an anti-terrorism law. Nevertheless, the interrogation centered on Snowden and Greenwald.
In addition the obvious offensiveness of this, how ham handed and dumb of the UK/US governments?

Just like Obama's press conference on this showed, these actions surrounding a crackdown on the journalism involved here are simply impossible to defend. Stunts like this only make matters worse. Glenn Greenwald is, uh, not the type to be intimidated by bullshit scare tactics.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Social Security Works

This graph on retirements is stunning, and makes this president's endless attempts to cut social security even more senseless and cruel:

As we celebrate the 78th birthday of Social Security today, it’s worth noting the vital role the program continues to play in Americans’ retirement security. Though Americans are increasingly turning to savings in 401(k)-type accounts, Social Security remains the most reliable and equitable system of retirement savings. The expected stream of Social Security benefits for a household at the median is not very much less than for a household in the top 10 percent—in 2008, the median household age 65-69 had $315,300 of Social Security wealth, while a household at the 90th percentile had $643,100, a little more than twice as much.

Friday, August 16, 2013

There are RULES. Come on people.

One of the most laughable arguments from the NSA and administration's defenders was the NSA has rules that it must follow, so therefore, what they do is ok. Unless they break the rules constantly, which is apparently what they were doing:
The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.

Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.

The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a “large number” of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused the U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to a “quality assurance” review that was not distributed to the NSA’s oversight staff.

In another case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has authority over some NSA operations, did not learn about a new collection method until it had been in operation for many months. The court ruled it unconstitutional.
This is the debate that the administration wanted to have all along! If only Snowden hadn't come along and forced us to actually look at these civil liberties violations, then we could have had an even better debate that didn't discuss this information that we would have never found out otherwise. The NSA and administration defenders are looking more pathetic by the day.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

We're Paying for the Egyptian Military's Murdering Spree

This is truly horrific stuff, and I would like to emphasize the point that just like the atrocities committed by Israel's government, we are providing the funding. Not enough outlets place these events in those terms, so major kudos to the Huffington Post for this:

There tends to be a "Team America/World Police" type response anytime this sort of thing happens. Can we invade? Which side of this battle needs more arms, and how can we arm them? It's going to take a long fucking time for us to escape the colonizers' mindset.

We're already heavily involved by giving the Egyptian military 1.5 billion dollars every year. Maybe if told them we're going to take that money away people might take the things we say on these events a bit more seriously.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

RGIII for President/Pope/Anything

As if I couldn't like him any more... (via Outsports)
I think there are [gay players] right now, and if they're looking for a window to just come out, I mean, now is the window. My view on it is, yes, I am a Christian, but to each his own. You do what you want to do. If some Christians want to look at being gay as a sin, then thinking about other women, committing adultery-or any of those other sins that are in the Bible-those are sins, too. And God looks at all of us the same way.
He's one of the very few NFL players I've spoken to who has had a teammate he knew was gay. He told me:
"When he came out, he stopped playing," Griffin said. "He might have stopped playing because of the negative feedback he might have gotten from being that on the football team. So, I think that's probably why he ended up quitting."
As we saw with President Obama's annoucment, statements like this have a HUGE impact on how plenty of people look at these issues. Hard to think of someone more well liked than RGIII, so him saying this is really meaningful.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Victory Against Mandatory Minimums

Eric Holder with a big announcement yesterday:
Washington (CNN) -- The Justice Department will no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday, noting the nation is "coldly efficient in jailing criminals," but that it "cannot prosecute or incarcerate" its way to becoming safer.

"Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason," Holder told the American Bar Association's House of Delegates in San Francisco.

He questioned some assumptions about the criminal justice system's approach to the "war on drugs," saying that excessive incarceration has been an "ineffective and unsustainable" part of it.

Although he said the United States should not abandon being tough on crime, Holder embraced steps to address "shameful" racial disparities in sentencing, the budgetary strains of overpopulated prisons and policies for incarceration that punish and rehabilitate, "not merely to warehouse and forget."
The centerpiece of Holder's plan is to scale back prosecution for certain drug offenders -- those with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels. He said they would no longer be charged with offenses that "impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences."

They now "will be charged with offenses for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins."
This is a huge victory against the drug war and something that is long overdue. The administration deserves a lot of credit for pushing this through.

And with that said, this is a change that was made without congress. Unlike what plenty of liberals have said over the past 5 years, the Executive Branch of the United States government is a extraordinarily powerful position. Plenty of reforms like this are possible. Let's see some more.

Monday, August 12, 2013

"I’m Sorta Holding My Nose For Two Years"

Even minority leader turtle's campaign manager thinks he's the worst:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) campaign manager said he's begrudgingly working in his current capacity to help the presidential prospects of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), according to an explosive phone recording that surfaced Thursday.

In the recording, obtained by Economic Policy Journal, Jesse Benton — who ran Paul's successful 2010 campaign before joining McConnell's team — told conservative activist Dennis Fusaro that he has an ulterior motive in working the GOP leader's 2014 campaign.

"Between you an me, I'm sorta holding my nose for two years," Benton said in the recording, "'cause what we're doing here is gonna be a big benefit to Rand in '16."
The campaign manager's description of his apology is even more hilarious:
"He wasn't angry, he wasn't upset, but I could see the hurt in his eyes," Benton told WHAS, according to tweets by reporter and political editor Joe Arnold.

"He asked me how I could say something like that, and I just didn't have a good answer. ... I apologized from the bottom of my heart [and] I told him it's not what I believe [and] that I am here because I believe in him."
The hurt in his eyes. Too funny.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Train of Thought Lounge: NaS & Lauryn Hill

This week has reached a being busy level normally associated with the end of the sememster, even though it is summer. Until then, this is such a good song:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Goddamit People

I'm really not a huge fan of lefties trashing the south just for the sake of doing so and such but Jesus Christ this poll

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bring Back Glass-Steagall

It's a case I've made here plenty of times before, but Dean Baker is very good at articulating the specifics of why:
The ending of Glass-Steagall removed the separation between investment banks and commercial banks, raising the possibility that banks would make risky investments with government-guaranteed deposits. In principle, even after the ending of Glass Steagall banks were supposed to keep a strict separation between their commercial banking and the risky bets taken by their investment banking divisions, but this depends on the ability of regulators to enforce this restriction.

The Volcker Rule provision in Dodd-Frank was an effort to re-establish a Glass Steagall type separation but the industry is making Swiss cheese out of this regulation in the rule-writing process. Serious people cannot believe that this will keep the Wall Street banks from using their government-guaranteed deposits as a cushion to support their speculative game playing.    
If anyone questions how this story is likely to play out in practice, we need only go back a few years to the financial crisis of 2008-2009. At that time, most of the major banks, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, almost surely would have failed without government support.

In fact, some of the top economic advisors in the Obama administration wanted to let them fail and have the government take them over, as the FDIC does all the time with insolvent banks. However Larry Summers managed to carry the day by arguing that such a move would be far too risky at a time when the financial markets were so unsettled. As a result, the big banks got their government money and were allowed to consolidate so that they are now bigger than ever.

This was primarily a problem of banks that are too big and too interconnected to fail, not just a problem of commercial banks merging with investment banks. But these mergers certainly help banks to reach too-big-to-fail status.

Some may argue that the crisis of 2008-2009 involved extraordinary circumstances. However when banks fail it is generally because the economy faces a crisis. They do not typically fail in good times. And it is a safe bet that there will always be a smart and belligerent Larry Summers on the scene aggressively arguing the case against anyone who wants to subject the banks to market discipline.

What is striking about the argument on re-instating Glass-Steagall is that there really is no downside. The banks argue that it will be inconvenient to separate their divisions, but companies sell off divisions all the time.
The arguments against bringing back Glass-Steagall seem to always come down to some form of how those advocating for it don't understand the complexities of the modern banking system and blah blah blah. I genuinely don't care. There is no reason a rule that worked will for a ton of years can't work again if designed properly. Bring it back and let the banks cry all they want while the deal with the consequences. As Dean Baker says, there really is no downside.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Obama Campaign Leader Takes His Austerity Pushing Abroad

Probably not satisfied that Obama was only able to enact the sequester rather than even more severe ways of hurting the economy on purpose, Obama Campaign manager Jim Messina is taking his talents to England to help the Tories:
The Conservative Party has hired Barack Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina for its general election campaign team, BBC Newsnight has learned.

Sources confirmed that he would act as a campaign strategy adviser to the Conservative party.

A lifelong Democrat, Mr Messina masterminded the US president's successful 2012 re-election campaign.

The political parties in Westminster are readying themselves for the general election, now under two years away.

The Conservatives hired Australian strategist Lynton Crosby, known as the Wizard of Oz, in November. The Conservative Party hired Australian strategist Lynton Crosby in November.

The Tories are hoping to emulate Mr Obama's re-election against a backdrop of economic problems. Many other governments that have sought re-election during economic turbulence have been punished by voters at the ballot box.

The Conservatives are also thought to hope that Mr Messina will bring to their operation the same binding marriage of social media and political organisation that many in the US credit with securing Mr Obama a second term.

Speaking of his appointment, Mr Messina told Newsnight:

"I have long admired Prime Minister Cameron. While I will not be moving to London, nor will I be managing any type of day to day political operations, I will be offering strategic campaign advice leading up to 2015."

The Conservative leadership will have to work hard to ensure their 2015 campaign does not fall victim to the same issues as the 2010 general election strategy, when, observers believe, there was a problem with too many important voices at the top of the campaign, including Steve Hilton, George Osborne and Andy Coulson.
In fairness, how could Messina not admire Prime Minister Cameron? All he's done is purposely hurt the British economy for no reason, leading to misery for many, many people. If he helps them win re-election despite them trying to destroy the economy on purpose, he can hurt more people, for many more years. A noble cause if there ever was one.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fast Food Strikes Keep Spreading

Inspiring stuff:
From New York to several Midwestern cities, thousands of fast-food workers have been holding one-day strikes during peak mealtimes, quickly drawing national attention to their demands for much higher wages.

What began in Manhattan eight months ago first spread to Chicago and Washington and this week has hit St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit and Flint, Mich. On Wednesday alone, workers picketed McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Popeye’s and Long John Silver’s restaurants in those cities with an ambitious agenda: pay of $15 an hour, twice what many now earn.

These strikes, which are planned for Milwaukee on Thursday, carry the flavor of Occupy Wall Street protests and are far different from traditional unionization efforts that generally focus on a single workplace. The national campaign, underwritten with millions of dollars from the Service Employees International Union, aims to mobilize workers — all at once — in numerous cities at hundreds of restaurants from two dozen chains.
The amount of courage it takes to go out on strike with no protections from a minimum wage job is jaw dropping.