June 7, 2011 archive

Free Amina!!

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MSNBC reports that Amina Araf, who under the nom de plume Amina Abdallah, wrote the blog, Gay Girl In Damascus, and was “an unlikely spokesperson for the largely anonymous anti-government protests sweeping Syria” has been seized (or is the word “kidnapped”) and is missing:

American-Syrian Amina Araf… was walking with a friend when three men in their twenties grabbed her, someone claiming to be her cousin wrote. Being openly gay is very unusual and risky in the region.

“One of the men then put his hand over Amina’s mouth and they hustled her into a red Dacia Logan with a window sticker of Basel Assad,” a person identifying calling herself Rania O. Ismail wrote on the blog Monday night.

In other words, she is much like you, dear reader.  She was just a blogger.  She wrote about what she was experiencing in a Syria in flux. And she talked about her life.  But in that corner of the world, her views, her life were both enough to bring serious reprisals.  Like kidnapping.  Like summary arrest.  Like being disappeared.  

The blog reports:

I have been on the telephone with both her parents and all that we can say right now is that she is missing. Her father is desperately trying to find out where she is and who has taken her.

Unfortunately, there are at least 18 different police formations in Syria as well as multiple different party militias and gangs. We do not know who took her so we do not know who to ask to get her back. It is possible that they are forcibly deporting her.

From other family members who have been imprisoned there, we believe that she is likely to be released fairly soon. If they wanted to kill her, they would have done so.

That is what we are all praying for.

What an extremely scary story.  She is someone other bloggers should immediately stand up for.  We should be demanding her immediate release.

Please contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington and demand that Amina be freed.  Please broadcast this request widely.

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cross-posted from The Dream Antilles

Can You Hear Us Now?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Finally, Democrats leaders are telling the White House to take Medicare off the table negotiating the debt ceiling. Hello? The majority of Americans support Medicare.

Actually there should be nothing on the table, raising the debt ceiling isn’t something that should or need to be negotiated, just DO IT. This is not a game. This is the economy of the United States and the world which relies on the US dollar as the basis for trade. Are the Democrats, at last, seeing the Republican folly of using Medicare as a pawn in their game for their corporate masters?

In Debt Ceiling Negotiations, Democrats Insist Paul Ryan’s Medicare Reform Plan to be ‘Off the Table’

In a letter to Vice President Biden today, five Democratic senators are calling for the Paul Ryan Medicare reform plan to “remain off the table,” as the budget and deficit negotiations over raising the debt ceiling go forward.

“We encourage you to remain unwavering in opposition to this scheme. For the good of the nation’s seniors, it must remain off the table,” the Democratic Senators write, ” we will never allow any effort to dismantle the program and force benefit cuts upon seniors under the guise of deficit reduction.”

The letter has been signed by Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Jon Tester (D-MT).

Even the Wall St. puppet, Sen Charles Schumer (D-NY) has said that Medicare cuts are a not a negotiating point:

The GOP has mostly stood behind the Medicare proposal, crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). But it’s been Democrats who have highlighted the proposal at every opportunity, and they’ve repeatedly called on debt negotiators to say publicly that Medicare cuts are off the table entirely.

If Congress is going to look to the program for savings, Schumer said, the money should come from cuts to the pharmaceutical industry rather than benefit cuts. He cited two policies Democrats have consistently supported: price controls on prescription drugs and extended rebates for people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.

A deal will be “impossible” if Ryan’s Medicare proposal is included, Schumer said.

The negotiations are aimed at finding a workable solution that both parties can support – which clearly would not describe the Ryan plan.

Our Aust(eri)an Goolsbee Nightmare Is Finally Over

Crossposted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Or is it?  Despite the headline (which I think is punny and the important thing about my pieces is that they amuse me), if I really believed that I’d be guilty of what lambert calls a category error.  Expecting a freshwater economist from the Chicago school to promote anything but the discredited theories his academic position is based on is as naive as blaming anybody but his boss, Barack Hussein Obama, for hiring him in the first place and listening to them.

Discredited?  Oh my yes.  All you have to do is look at the economic history of the last 30 years to see how wrong their predictions and policies are.  They don’t practice science, it’s faith-based voodoo (my apologies to practioners of Santeria).

Unless, of course, you wish to consider them straight out thieves and con men in which case it makes perfect sense.

So of Obama’s apocalyptic economic team only Geithner the Wall Street toady remains, apparently for the duration.  Given the results achieved their tenure in government would likely be more limited than in academe anyway.

Scarecrow’s Nightmare: Austan Goolsbee Defends President Romney’s Economic Plan

By: Scarecrow, Firedog Lake

Sunday June 5, 2011 7:00 am

Goolsbee correctly told us that a smart economist wouldn’t get overly excited about one month’s jobs and growth numbers but would instead look at the overall trend. Of course what he wouldn’t want to concede is that GDP grew at a meager annual rate of 1.8 percent over the first three months of 2011 and so far was predicted to grow at only 2.8 percent for the next three. And the overall trend for job growth was still not enough to make a serious dent in unemployment unless you believe taking 5-10 years to get back to full employment is okay.

So Goolsbee was in denial from the opening moment because he didn’t have a decent story to tell even in his own framework. When Amanpour asked him what the Administration could or should be doing to improve conditions, he ticked off items you’d expect to hear from a typical GOP Presidential adviser: we’ve got to get the debt under control; we have a White House effort to identify and get rid of governmental regulations that are preventing the private sector from growing the economy; we should pass “free trade” agreements backed by the Chamber of Commerce; and we should leverage limited public dollars to release billions in private funding for investments.

Goolsbee’s bottom line: “It’s now up to the private sector.” That’s exactly what you’d expect from President Romney’s economic adviser.



I’m sure I imagined all this. The country wouldn’t possibly be dumb enough to elect an unprincipled moral chameleon like Mitt Romney President. And we’d never put up with someone as defensive and unconvincing as Goolsbee was today, though we’d wonder how the voters got taken.

No, that couldn’t be real, so when I really wake up, I’ll let you know what the adviser for the actual Democratic President said today about the sagging economy and the undefensible unemployment numbers.

Scarecrow Awakens: Austan Goolsbee To Go *Poof!* But It Won’t Help Economy

By: Scarecrow, Firedog Lake

Monday June 6, 2011 5:53 pm

In recent weeks, after a near stagnant first quarter, we’ve seen one forecaster after another lower their forecasts of economic growth from about 4 percent this year to under 3 and perhaps as low as 2.5 percent. This quarter is expected to grow at an annual 2.8 percent rate or less. Last week, we got confirmation of the slowdown via disappointing jobs numbers, with the unemployment rising to 9.1 percent. While that followed more hopeful March and April numbers, the trend level is clearly unlikely to make a significant dent in the overall unemployment rates before 2013. In fact, at that rate, it would take about ten years to get back to normal.



With reputable economists starting to use the words “panic” and “depression” to describe the potential risks to the economy, it was left on Sunday to Austan Goolsbee to explain why the White House was stuck on stupid, unwilling to change course or even concede that the recovery was in serious danger. We were asked to ignore that the nation’s unemployment is back above 9 percent, extended unemployment insurance is running out, and states are continuing to slash their budgets and payrolls. The latter are offsetting what little stimulus might have come from last December’s tax cut deal. Even someone with straw for brains can see we’re going the wrong way.



Faced with this insanity, even a Chicago economist should have the good sense to get out before the worst is blamed on him, when he’s likely just the apologist for Larry Summers. And following his, uh, strange performance on Sunday’s shows, he got a clear signal from those who might be inclined to be more charitable about motives and predicaments. When a former Democratic Administration econonomist like Brad DeLong linked favorably to Mark Thoma questioning how the Administration could continue to have it’s head in the sand and not see the need to pivot towards job creation, Goolsbee may just have seen it as a sign it’s time to announce his departure.



Why become the front for a team that remains committed to failed policies that may very likely take the economy down with them? And when a Nobel laureate has to tell the White House via the New York Times that he’s withdrawing his nomination to the Federal Reserve because Washington, including the White House, has become dysfunctional, it’s pretty clear the communication between the President and the economic team is not what it should be.

More boring numbers-

Austan Goolsbee Is Almost Correct, Just Not in the Fashion He Thinks

By: dakine01, Firedog Lake

Monday June 6, 2011 11:03 am

Now a million new jobs over the last six months sounds good, right? Not so fast there Bucky. In an economy that needs to add roughly 125K jobs every month just to maintain status quo (that would be 750K jobs for a six month period), then a million jobs in six months doesn’t begin to put a dent in the 14 or so millions of unemployed, much less the un and underemployed numbers sitting somewhere between 25M and 30M.



Now I actually went back seven months rather than six months and using information gleaned from the monthly BLS press release for jobs created, I still only come up with 784K jobs. And I haven’t accounted for the little nugget in this past Friday’s report that the March and April numbers were revised down 39K, placing the seven month total at 745K jobs created. 745K jobs created instead of the 875K jobs needed just to maintain the status quo, still leaving the 14M unemployed and the 25M to 30M un and underemployed.

Electoral victory my ass.  NO president has been re-elected with unemployment above 6% except Reagan and then it was trending down.

Barack Hussein Obama is no Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Port Royal Destroyed By An Earthquake, 1692

Adapted from On This Day In History at The Stars Hollow Gazette

On June 7th in 1692, a massive earthquake devastates the infamous town of Port Royal in Jamaica, killing thousands. The strong tremors, soil liquefaction and a tsunami brought on by the earthquake combined to destroy the entire town.

Port Royal was built on a small island off the coast of Jamaica in the harbor across from present-day Kingston. Many of the buildings where the 6,500 residents lived and worked were constructed right over the water. In the 17th century, Port Royal was known throughout the New World as a headquarters for piracy, smuggling and debauchery. It was described as “most wicked and sinful city in the world” and “one of the lewdest in the Christian world.”

Earthquakes in the area were not uncommon, but were usually rather small. In 1688, a tremor had toppled three homes. But four years later, late in the morning on June 7, three powerful quakes struck Jamaica. A large tsunami hit soon after, putting half of Port Royal under 40 feet of water. The HMS Swan was carried from the harbor and deposited on top of a building on the island. It turned out to be a refuge for survivors.

Piracy in Port Royal

Port Royal provided a safe harbour initially for privateers and subsequently for pirates plying the shipping lanes to and from Spain and Panama. Buccaneers found Port Royal appealing for several reasons. Its proximity to trade routes allowed them easy access to prey, but the most important advantage was the port’s proximity to several of the only safe passages or straits giving access to the Spanish Main from the Atlantic. The harbour was large enough to accommodate their ships and provided a place to careen and repair these vessels. It was also ideally situated for launching raids on Spanish settlements. From Port Royal, Henry Morgan attacked Panama, Portobello, and Maracaibo. Roche Brasiliano, John Davis (buccaneer), and Edward Mansveldt (Mansfield) also came to Port Royal.

Since the English lacked sufficient troops to prevent either the Spanish or French from seizing it, the Jamaican governors eventually turned to the pirates to defend the city.

By the 1660s, the city had gained a reputation as the Sodom of the New World where most residents were pirates, cutthroats, or prostitutes. When Charles Leslie wrote his history of Jamaica, he included a description of the pirates of Port Royal:

   Wine and women drained their wealth to such a degree that… some of them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or 3,000 pieces of eight in one night; and one gave a strumpet 500 to see her naked. They used to buy a pipe of wine, place it in the street, and oblige everyone that passed to drink.

The taverns of Port Royal were known for their excessive consumption of alcohol such that records even exist of the wild animals of the area partaking in the debauchery. During a passing visit, famous Dutch explorer Jan van Riebeeck is said to have described the scenes:

   The parrots of Port Royal gather to drink from the large stocks of ale with just as much alacrity as the drunks that frequent the taverns that serve it.

There is even speculation in pirate folklore that the infamous Blackbeard met a howler monkey while at leisure in a Port Royal alehouse whom he named Jefferson and formed a strong bond with during the expedition to the island of New Providence. Port Royal benefited from this lively, glamorous infamy and grew to be one of the two largest towns and the most economically important port in the English colonies. At the height of its popularity, the city had one drinking house for every ten residents. In July 1661 alone, forty new licenses were granted to taverns. During a twenty-year period that ended in 1692, nearly 6,500 people lived in Port Royal. In addition to prostitutes and buccaneers, there were four goldsmiths, forty-four tavern keepers, and a variety of artisans and merchants who lived in 2000 buildings crammed into 51 acres of real estate. 213 ships visited the seaport in 1688. The city’s wealth was so great that coins were preferred for payment rather than the more common system of bartering goods for services.

Following Henry Morgan’s appointment as lieutenant governor, Port Royal began to change. Pirates were no longer needed to defend the city. The selling of slaves took on greater importance. Upstanding citizens disliked the reputation the city had acquired. In 1687, Jamaica passed anti-piracy laws. Instead of being a safe haven for pirates, Port Royal became noted as their place of execution. Gallows Point welcomed many to their death, including Charles Vane and Calico Jack, who were hanged in 1720. Two years later, forty-one pirates met their death in one month.

Although a work of historical fiction, James Michener’s The Caribbean details the history, atmosphere and geography of Port Royal accurately.

Boo Who?

Crossposted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Seems someone has got their po’ wittle fee-fees hurt.

Sunday I wrote about the Yves Smith kerfluffle.  You know, if someone calls you a sellout (or makes other, less flattering characterizations) you have two choices- ignore it or own it.

Now as I’ve always chosen to embrace every vice (unless you have something new and inventive to suggest), my typical response is “Yeah, so?”  The Roosevelt Institute has, on the other hand, decided that Yves’ shoe fits and attempts to defend their neoliberal policy prescriptions as progressive.

What are those prescriptions?  I’m glad you asked.  Jon Walker has a handy little roundup-

Peterson Foundation Proposals From the Roosevelt Institute, CAP and EPI Abandon Progressive Policy

By: Jon Walker, Firedog Lake

Monday June 6, 2011 9:43 am

While Medicare and Medicaid are technically what drives government spending, they are not the problem. They are both dramatically more cost effective than our broken private insurance system, which is what is actually driving all our health care cost radically higher than the rest of the industrialized world.  The projected deficit is due mainly to historically low tax rates, massively unnecessary military spending and most importantly a totally broken health care system.

The “progressive” solution to our current health care problems has historically been to copy the models of nations with cheaper and more efficient systems: it could be fixed by adopting the progressive solutions of socialized medicine (VA for all), or single payer (Medicare for all). If those are “too big a change,” most of the benefits of single payer can be replicated following the model of countries like Germany and Japan and adopting all-payer, where the government plays a role in setting uniformed reimbursement rates that all private insurance companies most pay.  Adopting any of these models would effectively eliminate our long term deficit.

Yet none of the three “liberals” deficit plans even come close to calling for any of these proven progressive solutions for health care. Only one of them, EPI, includes a moderately strong public option. “Tort reform” gets more play than single payer.



Note that the Roosevelt Institute plan doesn’t even call for what became the significant progressive compromise from single payer in the health care debate, an immediate public option. Instead, it calls only for a “trigger” that might make a public option available at the earliest by 2022 if cost(s) continue to increase. If a robust public option can significantly reduce the deficit, which the CBO has concluded, what possible justification exists for waiting a decade to use it? So the Roosevelt Institute plan to reduce the deficit is to needlessly waste a few hundred billion dollars.



In isolation many of these ideas are nice, but the totality of them is incredibly timid. Yes, we could save some money if Medicare negotiated directly for drug prices for seniors, but everyone could save significantly more money if Medicare negotiated lower drug prices for everyone through a single payer system or all-payer.

Given that as a country we probably spend $500 billion more a year than we need to on health care, is it truly depressing that these so-called progressive groups have totally abandoned even talking about a proven solution to our deficit and health care issues.

On an international level I would go so far as to say these three liberal health care plans are all significantly to the right of basically even center-right party in the rest of the industrialized world on health care.

If these constitute the “left flank” of the political discussion around the pressing issue of health care costs in America, we as a country are screwed.

Cartnoon

Hare Tonic

Six In The Morning

US braces for withdrawal along Iraqi road

Commanders say departing troops could be easy targets for insurgents

By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT

Even as the American military winds down its eight-year war in Iraq, commanders are bracing for what they fear could be the most dangerous remaining mission: getting the last troops out safely.

The resurgent threat posed by militants was underscored Monday when rockets slammed into a military base in eastern Baghdad, killing six service members in the most deadly day for American forces here since 2009. In recent weeks, insurgent fighters have stepped up their efforts to kill American forces in what appears to be a strategy to press the United States to withdraw on schedule, undercut any resolve to leave troops in Iraq, and win a public relations victory at home by claiming credit for the American withdrawal.




Tuesday’s Headlines:

Revealed: the untold story of the deal that shocked the Middle East

EU ministers to meet over E.coli

Shark activists push for Bahamas sanctuary

Gaddafi regime fails to fool media over injured child

DPJ sees growing movement for grand coalition with LDP

$6 trillion plus in public debt bought us…WHAT?

The monied interests will continue robbing us blind until we make them stop and pry our money from their cold, dead hands.

Charles Hugh Smith points out that since 2007, public debt has increased by more than $6 trillion, yet GDP has remained virtually flat.  (In constant 2005 dollars, there was zero growth.  Zero, as in 0.0.  Six trillion dollars plus is a lot of money for goose eggs.  That’s pretty much the same thing as borrowing $6 trillion plus and losing it.  No beanstalk, no golden goose, just losing it.  That $6 trillion lost in the past four years does not include the $2.3 trillion that the Pentagon lost, literally fucking lost on September 10, 2001, the day before 9/11.  But I digress.)

The filled black circles in the chart below (labeled “actual gdp”) shows our GDP “growth” as a function of our staggering increase in public debt between 2007 and 2011 (2011 GDP is projected based on our stupendous 1.8% growth rate in 2011 Q1, whereas 2011 public debt is based on the $1.6 trillion dollar increase in the deficit from 2010).  You’ll notice that public debt increases more than $6 trillion on the horizontal axis from left to right, whereas GDP does not move up noticeably on the vertical axis.  As the boys used to say in grade school, “She’s flat as a board.”

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Ya gotta wonder, “What on god’s green earth happened to all that money?”  

Late Night Karaoke

Sponsor Special: Rep. John Garamendi

This week, we take advantage of the House’s absence by releasing an interview with Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA10) in lieu of a new summary. Rep. Garamendi is the sponsor of H.R. 613, the¬†Airports, Highways, High-Speed Rail, Trains, and Transit:¬†Make it in America Act, one of the centerpieces of the House Democrats’ Make it in America agenda.

In our interview, Mr. Garamendi offers an impassioned defense of his legislation, highlights the need for government action to create jobs, and scathingly critiques both the wisdom and motives of those who oppose Buy American requirements. Check it out:

Look below the fold for our summary and one-pager of Garamendi’s Make it in America bill

Glued to the Weather Channel While the World Burns

Following the weather is beginning to feel like revisiting the Biblical plagues. Tornadoes rip through Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma — even Massachusetts. A million acres burn in Texas wildfires. The Army Corps of Engineers floods 135,000 acres of farmland and three million acres of bayou country to save Memphis and New Orleans. Earlier in the past year, a 2,000-mile storm dumped near-record snow from Texas to Maine, a fifth of Pakistan flooded, fires made Moscow’s air nearly unbreathable, and drought devastated China’s wheat crop.  You’d think we’d suspect something’s grievously wrong.

But media coverage rarely connects the unfolding cataclysms with the global climate change that fuels them. We can’t guarantee that any specific disaster is caused by our warming atmosphere. The links are delayed and diffuse. But considered together, the escalating floods, droughts, tornadoes, and hurricanes fit all the predicted models. So do the extreme snowfalls and ice storms, as our heated atmosphere carries more water vapor.  So why deem them isolated acts of God — instead of urgent warnings to change our course?