Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!! I have a few interesting reads for you today, and they aren’t all about the idiotic debt ceiling debate. I’m going to lead off with a few excellent blog posts about that idiocy, and then I’ll move on to something else.

First up, Scarecrow compares the movie Cowboys and Aliens to the events in DC: In Cowboys and Aliens, Humans Win; In Washington’s Zombies Vs. Pods, They Lose. In the movie, Scarecrow writes:

humans of all types realize they have to join together to defeat the rapacious creatures who are looting the planet and turning humans into zombies and pod people. There’s hope for our species!

Back in Washington, D.C. there are no heroes and no upbeat ending. Instead, the looting, muggings and beatings will continue until morale improves.

In our “real” world, there is a radical extremist group driven by zombies and zombie beliefs who successfully blackmail the nation into strangling its own economy. The supposedly “sane” group that is supposed to stop this madness has become cowardly and turned into mindless pod people, who assure the nation that the gutting of American government and essential services and safety nets won’t occur in one step but in several, whose outcome is locked in by an undemocratic Super Congress and the next debt limit blackmail in 2013.

It’s a terrific post.

On a more serious note, Emptywheel asks, Is Mark Warner the Designated Social Security Killer? It’s all about what may happen if the so-called “Super Congress” comes to be. Read it and weep.

At the New Yorker, John Cassidy argues that the debt ceiling bill is all smoke and mirrors.

In removing the immediate threat of a debt default, the agreement…signals that the U.S. government still satisfies the minimum standard of financial functionality: it pays its bills on time. That should be enough to head off an immediate downgrade in the nation’s credit rating, and it explains why Wall Street bounced at Monday’s opening bell.

Beyond that it is hard to see anything very positive about a deal in which President Obama finally persuaded the Republicans to accept a Republican plan. Putting on my ethicist cap, I agree with Bernie Sanders that the deal is wrongheaded and immoral. To be sure, America has a long-term fiscal challenge that needs to be confronted. But at a time when fourteen million Americans are unemployed, and many millions more have been forced to work just part-time, the government should be focussing on job growth rather than cutting the budget….

As I’ve said before, headlines such as “Democrats and Republicans agree on $2.4 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years” are virtually meaningless. The United States, like every other country, budgets on an annual basis. What really matters for the economy, and for the unemployed, is how much cash the federal government will spend in the remaining months of the 2011 fiscal year and in fiscal 2012, which begins October 1st. A pledge to cut spending in 2016, say, is just that: a pledge. Between now and then, we will have another bipartisan spending review (that’s also part of the deal), a Presidential election, and who knows how many budget battles. The actual 2016 spending outcome will almost certainly bear little relation to the figures in this agreement.

Also at the New Yorker, Hendrick Hertzberg has a funny piece about Louie Gohmert, looney Texas Republican Congressman quoting Communist Leon Trotsky. I don’t want to ruin it for you by pulling out a quote. It’s not long, so go read the whole thing.

Susie Madrak has a great post at Crooks and Liars: This Year We’ve Broken Or Tied 2,676 Heat Records – So Far. Think We Could Talk About Climate Change Yet? Be sure to check it out.

Do you realize how many people go missing in the U.S.? A lot. And most of them seem to be women and children. Here is a slide show of 64 people from the FBI’s kidnapped and missing persons list.

The little girl whose photo comes first is 11-year-old Celina Cass, from West Stewartstown, NH. Her body was found today in a river near her family home. Sadly, when a child disappears, a family is often responsible. In this case, I have a feeling her stepfather had something to do with Celina’s death. I hope I’m wrong. At least she was found fairly quickly.

Many missing people aren’t found for years, if at all. Indiana University student Lauren Spierer disappeared from Bloomington, Indiana on June 3. Despite intense searches by hundreds of volunteers and a large reward offered by her parents and IU, she has not been found. It looks like people whom Lauren thought were “friends” may have had something to do with her disappearance, because just about everyone who was with her before she went missing has lawyered up and isn’t talking to police.

A Denver woman, Amy Ahonen, disappeared without a trace a few weeks ago. Her car was found parked unlocked along the highway with her purse, ids, cell phone, and keys inside. What happened to her? No one knows and the police have stopped looking. It so happens that a budding serial killer was on the loose in the area at the time of her disappearance, but the police don’t seem to be making that connection.

There are many more stories like this breaking every day in this country. Why do we accept that women and children will disappear daily and in most cases, they will be found murdered and often raped?

Speaking of missing people, a legendary missing person has resurfaced in the news. From the LA Times: D.B. Cooper hijacking mystery is revived with ‘promising lead’

D.B. Cooper, the infamous airplane hijacker who vaulted into urban mythology by parachuting out of a jetliner over the Pacific Northwest with a $200,000 ransom, is back on the FBI’s radar screen.

Cooper, whose case remains the only unsolved airline hijacking in U.S. history, became the stuff of legend on the night of Nov. 24, 1971, when he jumped from a Boeing 727 into the skies between Portland, Ore., and Seattle. He disappeared with the ransom he extorted — 10,000 $20 bills.

The case has remained open, but the trail has been cold despite hundreds of tips, thousands of theories and dozens of breakthroughs in scientific investigation. Now the FBI, which has previously said that Cooper is likely dead, is looking at fresh evidence, according to weekend reports in the media in Seattle, the epicenter of the story that seemingly can never die.

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The man investigated as a suspect in the D.B. Cooper case – the nation’s only unsolved commercial airplane hijacking – has been dead for about 10 years, and a forensic check didn’t find fingerprints on an item that belonged him, an FBI spokesman told seattlepi.com Monday.

“There are also other leads we’re pursuing,” agent Fred Gutt said. “Some of the other names have been out in the public, some of the names have not come out.”

The name of a man not previously investigated was given to the FBI nearly a year ago by a law enforcement colleague, and an item that belongs to him was sent for fingerprint work at the agency’s Quantico, Va., forensic lab, agents told seattlepi.com.

“The nature of the material was not good for prints,” Gutt said.

He added agents are obtaining other items that may have the suspect’s fingerprints in hopes of matching them with prints taken from the Northwest Orient plane after Cooper jumped the night of Nov. 24, 1971.

The situation in Syria is escalating. There has been a great deal of violence there for some time, and it is not getting the same attention that Egypt, Iran, and Libya have gotten. But now the UN Security Council plans to take up the issue.

Reacting to new bloodshed in Syria, European powers relaunched a dormant draft U.N. resolution to condemn Damascus for its crackdown on protesters, circulating a revised text to the Security Council at a meeting on Monday.

Following the hour-long closed-door meeting, several diplomats said that after months of deadlock over Syria in the council, the fresh violence appeared to be pushing the divided members towards some form of reaction.

But envoys disagreed over whether the 15-nation body should adopt the Western-backed draft resolution or negotiate a less binding statement.

Germany requested the meeting after human rights groups said Syrian troops killed 80 people on Sunday when they stormed the city of Hama to crush protests amid a five-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

More than 1600 people have been killed during the Syrian uprising.

From the Daily Beast:

You have to wonder if President Barack Obama ever rereads his speeches.

At the State Department last May, the president spoke at length of democratization in the Middle East. He chose his words carefully, dropping caveats and provisos. But Obama also bluntly declared that, “it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.” He justified the intervention in Libya by recalling that “we saw the prospect of imminent massacre … Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed.”

Yet precisely such sordid outcomes have come to pass, not in Libya but during the four-month uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Around 1,600 people are believed to have been killed, not mentioning some 3,000 disappeared, many of them presumed dead. Massacres have proliferated, and on Sunday, the eve of the holy month of Ramadan, the Syrian army entered the city of Hama, which had effectively escaped from government writ weeks ago.

Throughout, the White House has painstakingly avoided demanding that Assad step down, saying only that he must lead a transition to democracy or get out of the way. The Syrian dictator has, of course, done neither.

I’ll end with just one more link on the debt deal that Dakinikat sent me.

Reuters analysis – Debt deal unlikely to boost investor confidence

Rather than a relief rally, U.S. stocks ended modestly lower on Monday as ugly economic data and some lingering concerns about whether the deal would get through Congress dominated trading. But even when the House of Representatives voted to pass the plan late in the day there was little reaction from U.S. stock index futures.

The deal agreed to by Republican and Democratic leaders will raise the government’s borrowing ceiling while cutting spending by at least $2.1 trillion over 10 years. All of the burden could fall on spending cuts with no guarantee of steps to lift tax revenues.

Rather than perceiving it as a meaningful effort at tackling the United States’ huge debt problem, investors worried about the impact of austerity on an economy already hit by souring business and consumer confidence.

Plans for such a significant fiscal retrenchment, even though most of the impact will be in the latter years of the program, come at a vulnerable time for the world economy. Recession risks are rising in the United States, the European economy remains entwined in its own debt crisis, and China’s supercharged economy could slow.

“Risk markets may rally temporarily, but until economic growth and job creation is addressed, there can be no sustained rally,” Bill Gross, the co-chief investment officer of PIMCO, which manages more than $1.2 trillion, said in an interview.

Will Washington ever wake up to reality? I’m afraid they (and we) will have to hit bottom first. They are like alcoholics, except they are drunk on greed and power. So on that note, what are you reading and blogging about today?


Tuesday Reads: Voodoo Economics, Whistleblowing, Torture, and Violence against Women and Children

Coffe and Morning News, by Tim Nyberg

Good Morning!!! Gee, that title doesn’t look so cheery, does it? Sorry, but please read on. Since we just ended a long holiday weekend, there’s not a whole lot of news happening, but I located a few interesting reads for you.

Dakinikat has been hammering away at the lack of economic knowledge in the media and in our government. Yesterday, she pointed me to this great piece by Mark Thoma in which he once again explained what actually caused the economic meltdown and why our “leaders” are doing the wrong things to help the economy recover.

I’ve written about this so much it’s hard to muster the will to take it on yet again, especially with the attitude it deserves, and I liked the second column better. But with David Brooks, George Will, and a new book by Gretchen Morgenson and Josh Rosner recently pushing the idea that Fannie, Freddie, and Democrats caused the financial crisis it’s important to push back. The right is very good at repeating their story line over and over and over, and if that redundancy goes unmatched — if they are allowed to have the last word many, many times over — they stand a good chance of capturing the narrative.

Actually, they’ve already “captured the narrative,” and President Obama has bought into it too. I don’t know if I can excerpt this piece, you really need to read the whole thing. But here’s just a bit:

…the targets for home ownership that supposedly led to Fannie and Freddie’s aggressive entry into subprime markets were set in 1992. If these targets were the problem, why didn’t the crisis occur sooner?

….if Fannie and Freddie had never existed, securitization would have likely happened anyway. As Barry Ritholtz notes, “securitized credit card receivables, auto loans, small biz loans, etc. took place without GSEs. I assume there would likely have been a private sector version for conforming loans, the way there was a private sector securitizing response to the demand for non-conforming (sub-prime) loans.”

The bottom line is that the case that the CRA, Fannie, and Freddie – and by implication Democrats supporting these institutions – were key players in the crisis is at odds with the evidence. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots for reasons to be concerned about Fannie and Freddie, and I’m not trying to defend them or their choices, but the idea that support of these institutions caused the financial crisis is wrong.

Hey, I’ve said this till I’m blue in the face, but I’ll say it again. We needed to put a Democrat in the White House in 2008.

Paul Krugman is also lamenting the economic ignorance in high places.

Watching the evolution of economic discussion in Washington over the past couple of years has been a disheartening experience. Month by month, the discourse has gotten more primitive; with stunning speed, the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis have been forgotten, and the very ideas that got us into the crisis — regulation is always bad, what’s good for the bankers is good for America, tax cuts are the universal elixir — have regained their hold.

And now trickle-down economics — specifically, the idea that anything that increases corporate profits is good for the economy — is making a comeback.

On the face of it, this seems bizarre. Over the last two years profits have soared while unemployment has remained disastrously high. Why should anyone believe that handing even more money to corporations, no strings attached, would lead to faster job creation?

Nonetheless, trickle-down is clearly on the ascendant — and even some Democrats are buying into it.

Once again, if we had put a Democrat in the White House in 2008, perhaps things would be different….

Via Kevin Drum, this article about NJ Governor Chris Christie contains some priceless quotes from NJ Senate President Stephen Sweeney.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney went to bed furious Thursday night after reviewing the governor’s line-item veto of the state budget. He woke up Friday morning even angrier.

“This is all about him being a bully and a punk,” he said in an interview Friday. “I wanted to punch him in his head.”

Sweeney had just risked his political neck to support the governor’s pension and health reform, and his reward was a slap across the face. The governor’s budget was a brusque rejection of every Democratic move, and Sweeney couldn’t even get an audience with the governor to discuss it.

“You know who he reminds me of?” Sweeney says. “Mr. Potter from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ the mean old bastard who screws everybody”….The governor’s budget, he says, is full of vindictive cuts designed to punish Democrats, and anyone else who dared to defy him. And he is furious that the governor refused to talk to him during the final week….“He’s mean-spirited,” Sweeney said in the Friday interview. “He’s angry. If you don’t do what he says, I liken it to being spoiled, I’m going to get my way, or else.” And: “He’s a rotten prick.”

Jeeze, why doesn’t he tell us how he really feels?

Glenn Greenwald has a great post up about Bradley Manning’s motives for whistleblowing, drawn from some recently released “chat logs and other on-line communications” between Manning and another young man. The information was published in New York Magazine in an attempt to make Manning look psychologically troubled, but Greenwald reads the information differently. Here’s how Manning responded when asked what he was trying to accomplish:

hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms – if not, than [sic] we’re doomed – as a species – i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens – the reaction to the [Collateral Murder] video gave me immense hope; CNN’s iReport was overwhelmed; Twitter exploded – people who saw, knew there was something wrong . . . Washington Post sat on the video… David Finkel acquired a copy while embedded out here. . . . – i want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

Greenwald goes on to argue that many of Manning’s goals have actually been achieved. He made a difference, and that’s why our government is persecuting him.

At Danger Room there’s a very interesting review of a new book by former CIA operative Glenn Carle. The memoir tells the story of a CIA “black site” and a supposed senior al-Qaida operative that Carle was assigned to break. Eventually, Carle realized the man was innocent.

Uneasy with the CIA’s new, relaxed rules for questioning, which allow him to torture, Carle instead tries to build a rapport with the man he calls CAPTUS. But CAPTUS doesn’t divulge the al-Qaida plans the CIA suspects him of knowing. So the agency sends him to “Hotel California” — an unacknowledged prison, beyond the reach of the Red Cross or international law….

Carle provides the first detailed description of a so-called “black site.” At an isolated “discretely guarded, unremarkable” facility in an undisclosed foreign country (though one where the Soviets once operated), hidden CIA interrogators work endless hours while heavy metal blasts captives’ eardrums and disrupts their sleep schedules. But Carle — codename: REDEMPTOR — comes to believe CAPTUS is innocent….

“We had destroyed the man’s life based on an error,” he writes. But the black site is a bureaucratic hell: CAPTUS’ reluctance to tell CIA what it wants to hear makes the far-off agency headquarters more determined to torture him. Carle’s resistance, shared by some at Hotel California, makes him suspect. He leaves CAPTUS in the black site after 10 intense days, questioning whether his psychological manipulation of CAPTUS made him, ultimately, a torturer himself. Eight years later, the CIA unceremoniously released CAPTUS.

The jury has begun deliberations in the Casey Anthony case. I have continued to watch the trial closely and listened to all of the closing statements.

I know I’ll probably get yelled at for saying this, but if I were on the jury, I would have to go with one of the lesser charges, because there just isn’t any evidence to show how the child was killed. I do believe Casey Anthony should go to prison for a long time, but this trial has turned into a witch hunt.

If a man had done what Anthony did, there would never have been this much publicity and this amount of rage against the perpetrator. I shouldn’t have to point out that both men and women kill their children every day in this country. Both women and children are devalued in this country, and they are routinely abused and murdered. There are a number of reasons why this woman has been treated differently, but what she did is far from unique.

I honestly think Casey’s father George was involved with the disposal of the body at least. What motive did he have? I’ll tell you. George and Cindy Anthony thought the father of the child could have been either George or Casey’s brother Lee. I am convinced there was sexual abuse in that family. I can’t see how Casey could have become what she is without severe abuse. JMHO, based on personal experience and serious study of the effects of child sexual abuse.

Until we get serious about protecting children in this country, children will continue to die at the hands of their parents and other caregivers.

There is some possible news in the other case I’ve been following–the young Indiana University student who disappeared about four weeks ago, Lauren Spierer. The body of a woman has been found in a creek in Indianapolis. There are a couple of other missing women in Indiana, so it’s not clear this is Spierer. I just have a feeling it might be.

Police investigating the disappearance of Indiana University student Lauren Spierer are awaiting the results of an autopsy Tuesday of a decomposed female body found Sunday on the northeast side of Indianapolis.

The body, found a month after the Edgemont, N.Y., native went missing, had not been identified as of Monday night, and Bloomington, Ind., police have given no indication whether it may be her.

Spierer disappeared after a night when she had told her boyfriend she wanted to stay home. There are reports that they had had a fight. After midnight, she went out with some male friends, spent some time with them watching TV and then went with one of the young men to popular local bar. When she returned to her apartment with him, a group of men (possibly friends of her boyfriend) accosted them and punched her companion in the face.

The two then left and supposedly went to this young man’s apartment where he passed out. She then went to another apartment where another male friend lived. This man claims to have seen her leave his place at 4:30AM and turn the corner on her way home, but there is no independent confirmation of that.

At first this was investigated as a stranger abduction, but Spierer’s “friends” have all clammed up, and several have refused to talk to police and have retained lawyers. Most of them, including the boyfriend and the last guy to see Spirer, hightailed it out of town almost immediately. So now it looks like something bad happened to Spierer that night and these “friends” know something.

Since I grew up in Indiana and my sister lives in Bloomington, I’ve been following this case pretty closely. But women “disappear” every day too. Why do Americans tolerate it? Why do so many Americans seem to see the pervasive violence against women in this country as somehow normal?

That’s all I’ve got for today. What are you reading and blogging about?