Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 16th, 2009

Extremely interesting point re: Iran

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Spencer Ackerman:

Via Dana Goldstein, Ali Gharib makes the stellar point that what’s going on in Iran is reaffirmation of the Islamic Revolution, not a repudiation of it. Kate Klonick finds that problematic. But why, really? If Gharib is right, then what’s unfolding is a measure of reconciling the revolution with greater openness. There isn’t sufficient evidence to support the proposition that the people out in the streets in Iran are liberals. But that doesn’t diminish from the fact that what they’re fighting is deeply illiberal, and what they’re fighting for as baseline propositions — the principles of sound, trustworthy elections; the right to be free from violence and harassment — are eminently supportable. If they can harmonize the Islamic Revolution with those concepts, they’ll have done themselves and the world a great service. It’s not the case that, as Mark Krikorian writes, “We’ll know it’s a revolution when Iranian women start throwing off their headscarves en masse.” The fact that they’re demonstrating in their headscarves is proof enough. Let Iranian opposition sort out the balance between their religiosity and their politics for themselves.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Iran

Contemplating my mind

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I am watching season one of Six Feet Under, which I’ve never seen, and enjoying it a lot. I started thinking about the episodes so far and I became aware of how I was imposing a structure on them—categories, sub-categories, etc.—and I realized that I do that quite a bit. I just sat and thought through some examples of that sort of thinking—as in, for example, the table of contents of the Guide to Gourmet Shaving, or the way Cooking Compendium is organized.

I could even somehow visualize the process in motion, like moving translucent blocks around: stacking, sliding, putting together in various ways.

As I thought more about it, I realized that this is the way my mind works when I am trying to understand something. And I think of understanding something as being able to teach it, properly organized for optimal learning. So when I’m working on understanding, I have going on in the background the composition of a beginner’s book on whatever I’m trying to understand.

Apologies for the navel-gazing, but I only just figured this out. Maybe this is the way everyone works at understanding.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Daily life

Yet another Obama U-turn

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What’s up with this guy? Victor Zapanda at ThinkProgress:

MSNBC reports that the Obama administration has denied its request for the names of individuals who have visited the White House since the Inauguration. Additionally, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington announced today that it is suing the Department of Homeland Security after the non-partisan organization was denied a request for records of visits of “leading coal company executives.” The Obama administration’s explanation:

The administration ought to be able to hold secret meetings in the White House, “such as an elected official interviewing for an administration position or an ambassador coming for a discussion on issues that would affect international negotiations,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt.

The Bush administration made the same arguments, which were ruled against twice in federal court. In fact, before his election, Obama promised that he would end the Bush administration’s practice of holding secret meetings in the White House, which is supposed to be “the people’s house”:

– In 2006, Obama criticized Cheney’s secret energy meetings: “When big oil companies are invited into the White House for secret energy meetings, it’s no wonder they end up with billions in tax breaks.” [1/26/06]

– In 2007, Obama promised on his first day to: “launch the most sweeping ethics reform in history to make the White House the people’s house and send the Washington lobbyists back to K Street.” [6/22/07]

– In 2008, Obama told Wisconsin voters: “This change will not be easy. It will require reforming our politics by taking power away from the lobbyists who kill good ideas and good plans with secret meetings and campaign checks.” [9/22/08]

The day after the Inauguration, Obama issued a memo saying, “my Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.” Obama had a long record of increasing accountability and transparency in government before he entered the White House. By opening up access to the White House visitor logs, Obama has an opportunity to fulfill his promise of making the White House the people’s house.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 1:14 pm

Remember the Right’s desire to bomb Iran?

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McCain, for example: "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" (to the tune of the Beach Boys’ "Barbara Ann"). But now the same conservatives love the Iranian people. Greenwald:

I’m going to leave the debate about whether Iran’s election was "stolen" and the domestic implications within Iran to people who actually know what they’re talking about (which is a very small subset of the class purporting to possess such knowledge).  But there is one point I want to make about the vocal and dramatic expressions of solidarity with Iranians issuing from some quarters in the U.S.

Much of the same faction now claiming such concern for the welfare of The Iranian People are the same people who have long been advocating a military attack on Iran and the dropping of large numbers of bombs on their country — actions which would result in the slaughter of many of those very same Iranian People.  During the presidential campaign, John McCain infamously sang about Bomb, Bomb, Bomb-ing Iran.  The Wall St. Journal published a war screed from Commentary‘s Norman Podhoretz entitled "The Case for Bombing Iran," and following that, Podhoretz said in an interview that he "hopes and prays" that the U.S. "bombs the Iranians."  John Bolton and Joe Lieberman advocated the same bombing campaign, while Bill Kristol — with typical prescience — hopefully suggested that Bush might bomb Iran if Obama were elected.  Rudy Giuliani actually said he would be open to a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran in order to stop their nuclear program.

Imagine how many of the people protesting this week would be dead if any of these bombing advocates had their way — just as those who paraded around (and still parade around) under the banner of Liberating the Iraqi People caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of them, at least.  Hopefully, one of the principal benefits of the turmoil in Iran is that it humanizes whoever the latest Enemy is.  Advocating a so-called "attack on Iran" or "bombing Iran" in fact means slaughtering huge numbers of the very same people who are on the streets of Tehran inspiring so many — obliterating their homes and workplaces, destroying their communities, shattering the infrastructure of their society and their lives.  The same is true every time we start mulling the prospect of attacking and bombing another country as though it’s some abstract decision in a video game.

After The Wall St. Journal published the Podhoretz war dance demanding that Iran be bombed, and after Podhoretz casually called for England to "bomb the Iranians into smithereens" if their sailors weren’t immediately returned, I wrote: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 1:10 pm

Secrecy creep in action

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Good column by Greenwald:

On May 13, when Obama announced he would attempt to suppress prisoner abuse photos on the ground that their release would inflame anti-American sentiment, I wrote:

Think about what Obama’s rationale would justify. Obama’s claim . . .  means we should conceal or even outright lie about all the bad things we do that might reflect poorly on us. For instance, if an Obama bombing raid slaughters civilians in Afghanistan (as has happened several times already), then, by this reasoning, we ought to lie about what happened and conceal the evidence depicting what was done — as the Bush administration did — because release of such evidence would “would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.” Indeed, evidence of our killing civilians in Afghanistan inflames anti-American sentiment far more than these photographs would. Isn’t it better to hide the evidence showing the bad things we do?

Last Friday, when yet another dispute arose between local Afghan officials and the U.S. military over whether a U.S. airstrike caused a large number of civilian deaths, I wrote a post entitled “Should the U.S. also suppress evidence of civilian deaths in Afghanistan?” and asked:

Using the standard that is now so accepted across the political spectrum in Washington — information that will inflame anti-American sentiment should be suppressed rather than disclosed so at to not endanger our troops — isn’t it better if we just cover-up, rather than learn the truth about, the civilian deaths we caused in Afghanistan? After all, news reports of dead Afghan women and children at the hands of American bombs obviously inflame anti-American sentiment and Endanger Our Troops at least as much as the disclosure of some additional torture photos would. By the prevailing reasoning of Washington, shouldn’t we want our government to hide the truth about what we did — lest anti-American anger and the risk of attack on Our Troops increase? Isn’t that the noble anti-transparency principle we’re now endorsing?

Here’s what McClatchy is reporting today (h/t Paul Tenny/GregMitchell): …

Continue reading. And note his UPDATE II:

Here is still more on Our New Era of Transparency:

Obama blocks list of visitors to White House

Taking Bush’s position, administration denies request for logs

The Obama administration is fighting to block access to names of visitors to the White House, taking up the Bush administration argument that a president doesn’t have to reveal who comes calling to influence policy decisions.

Despite President Barack Obama’s pledge to introduce a new era of transparency to Washington, and despite two rulings by a federal judge that the records are public, the Secret Service has denied’s request for the names of all White House visitors from Jan. 20 to the present. . . .

The Obama administration is arguing that the White House visitor logs are presidential records — not Secret Service agency records, which would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The administration ought to be able to hold secret meetings in the White House, “such as an elected official interviewing for an administration position or an ambassador coming for a discussion on issues that would affect international negotiations,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt.

The new light being shined on our government is so bright as to almost be blinding.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 12:57 pm

Michael Scherer in Swampland on global warming

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Actually, he’s quoting the conclusions of the government study, but it’s well worth noting:

A group of 13 federal agencies, coordinated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has produced a report on the science behind Global Warming. The conclusions:

1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.
2. Climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow.
3. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase.
4. Climate change will stress water resources.
5. Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.
6. Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge.
7. Threats to human health will increase.
8. Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.
9. Thresholds will be crossed, leading to large changes in climate and ecosystems.
10. Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.

Read the report here.

Dana Perino disagrees, of course. But her expertise in this field is… ?

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 12:54 pm

Payoffs in action

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No real surprise, but interesting. Sharona Coutts and Seth Hettena in ProPublica:

Financial firms showered nearly $1 million in political cash on the United Food and Commercial Workers union in California while a top union leader sat on the boards of big public pension funds in the state, an analysis of campaign finance records shows.

Sean Harrigan [2], the union’s former executive director, is now under scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has charged several firms and individuals with making improper payments to win investments from pension funds in New York and New Mexico.

Harrigan, 62, stepped down from the board of the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension [3] system last month in response to the SEC inquiry into his dealings while at the fund. He was appointed to the LA fund in 2005 after serving as a trustee and board president at CalPERS from 1999 through late 2004.

His lawyer, Mark Byrne, said in a prepared statement that Harrigan is cooperating with the SEC inquiry and that, "as far as Mr. Harrigan is aware, no one has been provided favorable treatment, or penalized, for giving or not giving" to the union.

Harrigan’s union, however, pulled about a third of the $3 million it raised from 2001 to 2006 from players in the financial industry. About $500,000 came from donors who had business dealings with CalPERS, then the nation’s biggest pension fund [4].

Other major unions in California received few, if any, campaign contributions from investment or money management companies, a review of donations shows.

Campaign contributions have figured in a wide-ranging investigation [5] of pension fund kickbacks in New York, where Attorney General Andrew Cuomo issued an indictment naming several prominent investment firms that allegedly took part in a vast pay-to-play scheme.

Among them is Wetherly Capital Group, a Los Angeles firm that earns fees by introducing money managers to pension funds. Wetherly paid Harrigan a consulting fee three years ago, disclosure filings show.

None of the financial companies contacted about the UFCW contributions would comment about …

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Unions

Spencer Ackerman blows his top

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And he’s right:

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) tweets:

The fraudulent Iranian election has mobilized opposition to the Mullah regime; the U.S. should back them, now’s the time for a regime change

Arrrrgggggh why am I screaming into the wind on this. Why not just announce that we’re going to convert them to Christianity? Do we want to undermine the opposition as Western puppets? Sensibly, the National Iranian American Council responds:

Rohrabacher has the honor and distinction of representing one of the highest concentrations of NIAC members in any district in the country, yet his comments are absolutely contrary to the overwhelming opinion that we have been hearing from Iranian Americans.

Meanwhile, according to @micha– uh, I mean Time’s Michael Scherer, President Obama just told the Iranian opposition, “They should know that the world is watching.”

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 12:25 pm

Snopes disabusing GOP talking points

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I’m corresponding with a high-school classmate who is now strongly conservative. He brought up a talking point, which Snopes readily debunks:

Pelosi’s use of a big jet for travel

Interestingly, Snopes has their style sheets set so you can’t copy text. But the article is worth the click.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, Democrats, GOP

Interesting sounding novel

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Doesn’t this sound intriguing?

News from the Empire
by Fernando Del Paso

A review by Lorna Scott Fox

In the central states of Mexico, you see many brown campesino faces lit by green or hazel eyes. Locals say this is the only legacy of the French Intervention of 1862-67, when an army with its fair share of rapists and torturers tried to take over the country for its own good in the name of civilization, modernity and empire. On that occasion, "empire" was the official description. Mexican conservatives, horrified by the election in 1858 of a progressive Zapotec Indian, Benito Juarez, to the presidency, sent a delegation to Europe to ask the Austrian archduke Maximilian, brother of Habsburg emperor Franz Joseph, whether he’d like to come over and be emperor of Mexico. Maximilian demurred at first, preferring to go to Brazil for a spot of entomology. But under pressure and with financial sponsorship from yet another emperor, Napoleon III (who had already sent in the troops, ostensibly to force Juarez to resume debt payments, in reality to get his hands on the silver mines in the north while the United States was distracted by civil war), this classic frustrated younger son agreed to emigrate to the New World, relinquishing all rights to the Austrian succession.

Maximilian and his wife, Princess Charlotte of Belgium, were enthroned in 1864. The French, bolstered by Austrian and Belgian battalions, were on a roll: they had captured the capital the year before, and went on to take other cities. Juarez’s government had retreated to Chihuahua. Only a year later, however, Republican forces began to push back. The new geopolitical situation was in their favor. Maximilian was isolated, having proved too liberal for his original backers in Mexico and too imperial to win over the progressives. Juarez was being armed by the United States, which as a salvo to France’s flagrant challenge of the Monroe Doctrine, refused to recognize the puppet monarchy and sent 50,000 troops to the border in 1865. Napoleon III, bankrupted by the imperial couple’s fancy tastes as well as the costs of the war, and facing a new Prussian and Russian threat to the east, lost interest in Maximilian — especially after the Empress "Carlota," as she now wished to be known, turned up in Europe to beg for funds and seemed, embarrassingly, to have gone mad. The French pulled out. Maximilian dithered. After fleeing the capital he was captured, possibly betrayed by an insider, in the town of Queretaro and executed, along with two of his Mexican generals, in June 1867.

Such are the bare bones of the story. But they are so deeply buried in the rich and bulging flesh of News From the Empire that I had to resort to Wikipedia to locate them with any certainty. Published in 1987, Fernando del Paso’s third novel is a specimen of the Latin American new historical novel, whose greatest exponent is no doubt the Cuban Alejo Carpentier, and the best known, the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa. During the second half of the twentieth century, the perennial fascination with identity and the tangle of European, indigenous and African roots that feeds Latin American culture was intensified by the approach of the quincentenary of the "Discovery" in 1492. The many fictionalized reworkings of historical episodes tended to be anything but positivist investigations, however. A quantum spirit prevailed, dubbed "Borgesian" in homage to the Argentine master. Its tenets included the unascertainable, relative nature of reality; the efficacy of distortion and exaggeration; the simultaneity of time; the infinite mirrorings of intertextuality and the dialectic between linear experience and a cyclical spiral of repetitions. That’s why one often has to go elsewhere for some idea of what is broadly agreed to have happened; and you’d certainly do better to know the story before tackling this particular book.

News From the Empire contains twenty-three chapters. The first and last, plus the odd-numbered ones in between, are voiced by Carlota addressing the dead Max from Bouchout Castle, where she was kept until her death in 1927, and dated that year — allowing her to mix memories and fantasies with evocations of the dizzyingly different world of the early twentieth century. The even-numbered chapters are subdivided into three parts of various formats: dialogue, testimony, oral reminiscence, third-person narrative, stream of consciousness, letters and such. These scenes, while roughly chronological, break up the story into glimpses and sideshows, discourses and mannerisms, like a veritable inventory of baroque literary tricks. Given the prismatic elusiveness of the parts, it’s hard to develop an overview along the way, and we must wait till the end for del Paso to tell us — apparently in his own voice — what he thinks about it all.

The gleeful account by a patriotic camp follower of the battle of Camaron,

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Books

Should the CIA meddle in Iran now?

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Jeff Stein in Congressional Quarterly:

A half century ago the CIA could bring down an Iranian prime minister with a few rent-a-crowds, well placed payments to key generals and a pliable replacement.

Could it do the same today?

Not likely, but events in Iran have often contradicted the prognostications of Westerners, especially at the CIA.

In August 1978 America’s premier spy agency assured President Jimmy Carter that Iran was "not in a revolutionary, or even pre-revolutionary situation."

Right.  Six months later, chanting "Death to America," Islamic revolutionaries drove the U.S.-backed shah into exile. 

On Monday tens of thousands of Iranians marched into central Teheran again, this time chanting "Death to the Dictator," evidently in reference to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s proclamation of a reelection landslide — if not to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself.

The marchers torched cars and buses. Shots were fired, killing one demonstrator and wounding others.

In a press conference, Ahmadinejad, clad in his customary windbreaker, blithely compared the demonstrators to unruly fans after a soccer match, who sometimes had to be "given tickets" for unruly behavior.

No one, least of all Ahmadinejad, should be completely surprised if the powers that be toss him overboard. The next two weeks will be critical.

"I think it depends on three factors," Tel Aviv-based Iran analyst Meir Javedanfar told Voice of America.

"Number one, how senior are the people who are going to become involved in the demonstrating; the more senior they are, the more people will become encouraged. Number two; if the demonstrations spread to other cities. I think the more cities that become involved, the more the leadership will take notice. 
"And, also, number three; the duration of this. If this continues for another two weeks, I think the Supreme Leader [Khamenei] will have a serious situation on his hands. Until then, we should sit down and watch the developments and see what the Supreme Leader says," Javedanfar said.

What should the CIA do? …

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 12:01 pm

Torture and false confessions

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From the Center for American Progress:

Newly declassified documents show that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammad said he lied about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden after being subjected to torture. "I make up stories," Muhammad said when talking about his reaction to the techniques personally authorized by President Bush. When told to reveal the location of bin Laden, Muhammad said he would relent and say, "Yes, he is in this area." This information "underscores the unreliability of statements obtained by torture," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, the group that fought for the release of the documents. The documents also undercut Vice President Cheney’s assertion that torture techniques resulted in "first-rate intelligence." According to the documents, which  include transcripts of Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Gitmo, detainee Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times, said the CIA told him that "they had mistakenly thought he was the No. 3 man in the organization’s hierarchy and a partner of Osama bin Laden." "They told me, ‘Sorry, we discover that you are not Number 3, not a partner, not even a fighter,’" Zubaydah said. Ben Wizner, the ACLU’s lead lawyer in the lawsuit, said there was no reason to keep the reports of detainee abuse secret. "There is only one explanation for the continued suppression. It is not to protect national security, it is to protect the CIA from accountability," Wizner said.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 11:58 am

Make minimum wage self-adjusting

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Indeed, the best idea I’ve heard is to tie the minimum wage to Congressional salaries, so that an increase in the latter increases the former proportionately. And certainly Congress doesn’t casually give themselves salary increases, but only when necessary. </irony>

But here’s another idea by John Cranford in Congressional Quarterly:

Minimum wage

Some economic disputes seem destined to be decided in a political setting, and no amount of economic theorizing or empirical work will knock one set of opponents or the other off its position, at least not for very long.

Such is the case for the periodic fights that arise over the federal minimum wage, an issue that once again is rearing its head.

In one corner stand those who contend that setting a floor under wages is necessary to support higher earnings for a large share of the workforce and to promote increases in consumer spending by the neediest of households. In the other corner are those who say a federally mandated minimum wage leads to lost jobs — particularly for teenagers and most particularly for black teenagers — and to failed businesses, and that it merely adds to the current sad state of the labor market.

Both sides are so sure of the rightness of their viewpoints that they refuse to consider the other’s. And if the consequences of this stalemate weren’t a pendulum swing in policy that unsettles workers and companies alike, it would be easy to dismiss the posturing as another reason why Washington is a mess.

But the result of these political fisticuffs is that the country goes through long periods when the federal minimum wage, which was established during the Great Depression, is allowed to stagnate. That doesn’t help the workers who see their purchasing power diminished over time by inflation. And it really doesn’t help employers who periodically get slapped with big wage increases because politicians decide they finally have to act.

You have to wonder why both sides wouldn’t rather have a stable minimum wage that rises incrementally with inflation — much like Social Security benefits do. But no, political games are more fun.

In real terms, the federal minimum wage has never been higher than it was in 1968. And in 2006, after a decade without any increase at all, its value was barely half as large as it was 38 years before.

That’s why two years ago the newly empowered Democratic Congress forced President George W. Bush to accept a three-step increase that totaled $2.10 an hour, beginning in July 2007. Next month, the final step will kick in, and workers paid the minimum will earn $7.25 an hour. When inflation is taken into account, the minimum wage will be the most in a quarter century. But it was still higher in real terms for the 26 years from 1956 to 1982.

The looming fact of this scheduled increase has caused the minimum wage battle to be engaged again from both sides: Some conservatives want to block the final installment, while liberals want to try again to push it higher still.

Not surprisingly, both sides contend that the persistent recession and rising unemployment justify their position.

Conservatives say …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 11:56 am

Dean Baker on the IMF bailout

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Interesting column by Dean Baker:

The Obama administration is having a tough time getting its request for $108 billion for the IMF through Congress. Bank bailouts are rapidly losing popularity. And bailouts of foreign banks are probably even less popular than bailouts of U.S. banks.

But, NPR is rushing to the rescue. It had a piece this morning telling listeners that it was important to get the IMF more money to help the poor countries of the world. The piece never mentions the fact that the bulk of the IMF lending at present is going to East European countries, not the developing world.

The basic problem is simple. The West European bankers proved to be every bit as stupid as the Robert Rubin-Citigroup crew in dishing out loans. The main outlet for their bad loans was Eastern Europe, where they made enormous loans denominated in euros.

It is very difficult for the countries of Eastern Europe to maintain their exchange rates against the euro without large amounts of assistance. However, if they let their currencies fall against the euro, then the default rates on the loans from Western European banks will explode.

Of course West Europe is rich enough to bail out its own banks, but the governments in countries like France and Germany know that their people will not stand for this sort of handout. In steps the IMF, with a big assist from NPR, which managed to not even mention East Europe in the piece.

NPR made one major misrepresentation that is worth noting. It referred to a "global savings glut" which it attributes to developing countries’ fears that the IMF won’t have enough resources to bail them out in a crisis, and therefore their need to self-insure. WRONG!!!!!!

Developing countries only began to accumulate massive amounts of foreign exchange (i.e. savings) after the East Asian financial crisis in 1997. There was no talk at the time about the IMF not having enough money. Rather, the explicit motive of most of these countries was to accumulate enough reserves that they would never need to turn to the IMF for a bailout.

The conditions that the IMF imposed on the East Asian countries …

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 11:44 am

Dean Baker on the healthcare proposals

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The economist Dean Baker in TruthOut:

It may not be as exciting as the Thrilla in Manila, but its outcome will have far more impact on the lives of tens of millions of families across the country. The story is straightforward. President Obama had stepped up to challenge the insurance industry in order to reform the health care system in the United States.

    Specifically, he is proposing to create a public health insurance plan, like Medicare, that people would have the option to buy into. Ideally, this would ensure that everyone had a good health insurance option available to them and provide real competition to the existing private plans.

    For the private insurers, competition is the crux of the problem. Insurers don’t want to have to compete with a well-run public plan. That’s not how they make money. The most effective route for a private insurer to make money is to avoid insuring people who get sick, not by providing good care for those who need it.

    If workers and their employers had the option to buy into a well-run public plan, instead of dealing with the Aetna, Cigna and United Health types, tens of millions would take advantage of this option. In spite of the industry’s propaganda, the public sector actually provides health insurance more efficiently than the private sector.

    Medicare’s administrative costs are equal to about 2 percent of what it pays out to providers. For private insurers the ratio over expenses to payments is typically over 15 percent. Blue Cross of North Carolina, which was prepared to take the lead in bashing President Obama’s plan, boasts that its ratio is now under 20 percent. This compares to an expense to payout ratio of more than 25 percent earlier in the decade.

    It is easy to see why private insurers have such high costs. Their top executives boast paychecks that run into the millions or even tens of millions of dollars. They have large marketing and advertising costs, and don’t forget the dividends to shareholders. It is understandable that they would be upset about competing with a public plan that doesn’t have these expenses.

    The competition with a public plan would hit insurance industry profits in two ways. First, fewer customers means less profit. If 20 to 30 percent of the industry’s customers migrated to a public plan, profits will drop by 20 to 30 percent, other things being equal.

    But, it gets worse. In order to avoid losing even more customers, the private insurers will almost certainly have to …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 11:41 am

Climate change affects US

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From David A. Fahrenthold writing in the Washington Post:

Man-made climate change is already lifting temperatures, increasing rainfall, and raising sea levels around the United States — and its effects are on track to get much worse in the coming century, according to a report released this afternoon by federal scientists.

The report, “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” covers much of the same ground as previous analyses from U.S. and United Nations science panels. It finds that greenhouse-gas emissions are “primarily” responsible for global warming and that rapid action is needed to avert catastrophic shifts in water, heat and natural life.

What’s different this time is the report’s scope — at 196 pages, the report attempts to present the fullest picture yet of the threats to the United States — and its timing.

It comes out as Congress is considering a mammoth bill that would impose the first national cap on emissions, and then seek to reduce them sharply over the next 41 years.

That bill, supported by Obama, has spurred some Republicans to say that they are not certain climate change is happening. It has also been criticized, from both sides of the aisle, as a measure that would impose significant new costs on energy use and manufacturing.

Though not explicitly a response, today’s report says that the evidence of global change is “unequivocal.” And, in language stripped of the usual scientific jargon, it sketches out some of the costs of doing nothing to bring down emissions.

“The projected rapid rate and large amount of climate change over this century will challenge the ability of society and natural systems to adapt,” the report says.

The report was unveiled at a news conference including John Holdren, Obama’s chief science adviser, and Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Among its findings: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 11:32 am

No proof torture photos led to military deaths

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Very good point made in article by John Donnelly in Congressional Quarterly:

The U.S. government’s case for embargoing the release of photographs said to depict abuse of detainees rests largely on a questionable claim that disclosure of the images would endanger U.S. troops.

President Obama and many members of Congress from both parties support withholding the release of the photos, because senior military officers have persuaded them that their release would trigger violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The generals have said the result would probably be more dead American soldiers and Marines, because that is what happened in Iraq in 2004, after the publication of photos showing abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

But Defense Department data and independent experts confirm there is no clear link between the Abu Ghraib scandal and violence in Iraq. To the contrary, U.S. troop deaths were cut approximately in half in the month after the abuse photos broke in the last week of April 2004. Attacks on coalition forces were higher in the first weeks of April than they were in the 14 weeks after the scandal broke,

When violence and troop deaths rose significantly in later months, it was due to a variety of factors, not just Abu Ghraib, experts said. These included a power struggle among sects and resistance to coalition troops from former Baathists, terrorists and other armed groups.

“There is so much more that was at play in Iraq in 2004,” than the Abu Ghraib affair, said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch.

Drawing a connection between the Abu Ghraib photos and the lethal violence that occurred afterward in Iraq “is opinion, not analysis,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, a military expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sought since 2003 to see the photos of prisoners at various U.S.-run facilities abroad. The group won the first round in court in 2005 in New York’s Southern District. The judge in that case, Alvin K. Hellerstein, did not see a clear risk to troops from the photos’ potential release. Besides, he said, terrorists do not need more photos of abuse to justify their attacks .

“Of course, national security and the safety and integrity of our soldiers, military and intelligence operations are not to be compromised, but is our nation better preserved by trying to squelch relevant documents that otherwise would be produced for fear of retaliation by an enemy that needs no pretext to attack?” he wrote in his decision.

In 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit affirmed the lower court decision.

Obama had originally said he would make the photos public. But after hearing from military commanders, he reversed himself and now says he will take the case to the Supreme Court, because publication of the photos would “put our troops in greater danger.” …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 11:23 am

In Iran today

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This video is via a McClatchy story you can read here. The link takes you to their Iran feed.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 11:17 am

The Public Option

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From the Center for American Progress:

Few issues are more pressing to President Obama right now than health care reform. As the New York Times recently reported, Obama has decided to "exert greater control over the health care debate," with an "intense push for legislation" that includes "speeches, town-hall-style meetings and much deeper engagement with lawmakers." Yesterday’s speech to the American Medical Association (AMA) was a major part of this effort, since the group recently registered its opposition to the creation of a public insurance plan — a key plank of Obama’s health reform efforts. "The public option is not your enemy, it is your friend," Obama told the nearly 500 attendees at the address. Indeed, as The Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky has explained, the public option remains the best way to "restore competition into the consolidated health insurance market, lower health care premiums, lead the way in innovation, and improve health quality." (The Wonk Room has put together a document debunking the top myths about the public option here, and the Center for American Progress Action Fund has a new analysis showing how few health insurance choices most Americans currently have.)

DOCTORS SUPPORT A PUBLIC PLAN: The AMA is opposed to the creation of a public health insurance option, claiming that it "threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers, which currently provide coverage for nearly 70 percent of Americans." While the organization has tried to walk back its criticism, it still seems to oppose the essential aims of a public plan: the ability to negotiate cheaper rates with providers and push private insurers to do the same. Obama’s speech yesterday before the AMA’s House of Delegates — "the burial ground of health overhaul efforts past" — was thus widely anticipated. In fact, he is the first president to address the group since Ronald Reagan in 1983. In the speech, Obama stayed firm in his commitment to a robust public option. "Insurance companies have expressed support for the idea of covering the uninsured — and I welcome their willingness to engage constructively in the reform debate. I’m glad they’re at the table," Obama said. "But what I refuse to do is simply create a system where insurance companies suddenly have a whole bunch more customers on Uncle Sam’s dime but still fail to meet their responsibilities." Not all doctors are on the AMA’s side. Although the group still calls itself the "house of medicine," only about half its members are actually practicing physicians and the group "represents maybe 20% of physicians in this country." Indeed, doctors nationwide have begun to distance themselves from the AMA. Doctors For America — a grassroots organization representing doctors in all fifty states — recently issued a statement and hosted a conference call in support of a robust public option.

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 10:30 am

Good report on Obama’s healthcare speech

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Adriel Bettelheim in Congressional Quarterly:

When President Obama brought his campaign to retool the U.S. health care system to the American Medical Association, his pitch wasn’t just directed at the more than 2,000 AMA members assembled in a Chicago hotel for the annual meeting of the influential doctors lobby.

Obama was simultaneously speaking to a broader segment of voters that polling indicates is still ambivalent about his plan to extend medical coverage to all Americans and put the health system under greater government control.

Though many Americans are frustrated with delays and inefficiencies in the health delivery system, Democratic polling suggests that as many as three-quarters of adults are generally satisfied with their insurance plans. Many of those individuals are risk-adverse and convinced that changes on the order of what Obama is talking about will ultimately cost them more.

A Rasmussen Report poll released Monday found that Americans are evenly split over the idea of creating a government-run insurance plan to compete with private health plans, as Obama has proposed. Only 32 percent of respondents believe that the addition of a public sector insurance option would reduce the cost of health care.

To address these negative perceptions, Obama used the speech to issue a three-pronged message. He stressed that his plan will reduce costs for individuals, expand coverage choices and at the same time, curb medical inflation that he says is threatening to bankrupt the economy.

Obama said critics who contend he is intent on engineering a government-run health system aren’t telling the truth. And to tamp down concerns he is quick to embrace expensive solutions to society’s problems, Obama elaborated on a series of cost-saving measures his administration identified that would deliver nearly $950 billion of savings that could be applied toward an overhaul.

The details of an overhaul plan will begin to emerge in coming days, when the Senate Finance Committee releases a draft in anticipation of a markup beginning June 23.

“If we fail to act, premiums will climb higher, benefits will erode further, the rolls of the uninsured will swell to include millions more Americans,” Obama told the AMA members on Monday. “So to say it as plainly as I can, health care is the single most important thing we can do for America’s long-term fiscal health. That is a fact.”

To punctuate his pitch, Obama dangled a potential sweetener for the group. He indicated he’s ready to incorporate measures to discourage medical malpractice lawsuits into an overhaul package. Obama echoed what many doctors and their supporters in Congress have long contended: that the fear of litigation is prompting physicians to engage in “defensive medicine,” by ordering an excessive number of tests and taking other steps to insulate themselves from potential suits. [As noted elsewhere, almost all medical malpractice suits are caused by medical malpractice; the way to reduce the number of suits is to take aggressive steps to put an end to malpractice, including revoking the licenses of physicians who are repeatedly guilty of malpractice. – LG]

“I recognize that it will be hard to make some of these changes if doctors feel like they’re constantly looking over their shoulders for fear of lawsuits,” Obama said. “I want to work with the AMA so we can scale back the excessive defensive medicine that reinforces our current system, and shift to a system where we are providing better care, simply — rather than simply more treatment.” …

Continue reading. From an earlier post on this blog:

Numerous Public Citizen Reports have shown that the real medical malpractice problem is medical malpractice. Little progress has been made since the IOM reported in 1999 that nearly 100,000 deaths occur annually as a result of medical error. It is not pretty to say, but doctors and nurses make preventable mistakes that kill more people in the U. S. every year than workplace and automobile accidents combined. Medical errors cause needless pain and suffering for thousands of innocent patients and their families. Much of this harm is caused by a small handful doctors. This means that a directed effort in policing negligence would go a long way toward both saving lives and reducing the cost of medical malpractice insurance.

And anesthesiologists have shown that it’s possible to take steps to prevent malpractice.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2009 at 10:28 am

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