October 2014 archive
Oct 09 2014
Oct 09 2014
Smoke ’em if you got ’em
The real news and this week’s guests below.
Oct 08 2014
Debt Scolds: Pay No Attention to the Falling Deficit!
By Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine
October 8, 2014 3:21 p.m.
The Congressional Budget Office announced today that the federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2014 came in at $495 billion, almost $200 billion below the previous figure and probably low enough for new reports to stop calling it a “trillion-dollar deficit.” Within minutes, Washington’s debt-scold community sprang into action to guard against complacency. It is true that the deficit is falling right now, they warn. But right now is not the problem. Later is the problem. “Unfortunately, Washington’s myopic focus on short-term deficits has likely slowed the recovery by cutting deficits somewhat too fast in the short term while leaving substantial imbalances in place over the long term,” laments the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Maya MacGuineas likewise protests, “Our leaders are focusing on the short term when we should be looking at the medium and long term.”
(W)here were the debt scolds when the short-term deficit was high and the business and political communities were freaking out? Their belief in patience and the long view might have helped the political system avoid its disastrous turn toward austerity. Instead they fomented panic.
That analysis turned out to be completely wrong. Interest rates were not rising in 2009. Indeed, they remain extremely low even five years later.
In September of that same year, MacGuineas was insisting that deficit-financed public spending could not work because the deficit was too large.
The fiscal crisis still showed no signs of occurring. Still, two years later, Erskine Bowles cautioned that it would occur in “maybe two years, maybe a little less, maybe a little more.” As recently as last year, MacGuineas wrote, “The federal debt is the nation’s most pressing economic problem.”
Now they concede that it is not actually the most pressing problem but merely something we’ll need to get around to. This could have been brought to our attention yesterday.
Oct 08 2014
Well, the situation is very confused and it’s difficult to say with confidence what’s really happening because almost all the reporting is either biased or sketchy.
Kobani is a Kurdish town in Syria surrounded on 3 sides by the forces of the Islamic State and on the 4th by the Turkish border, which is closed. There have been Kurdish protests in Turkey in favor of opening the border (at least) or having Turkish troops relieve the siege, in which over a dozen people have died at the hands of Turkish police. Turkey has a history of Kurdish secessionism which has used this area in the past as a safe haven to launch attacks.
The United States has increased the level of airstrikes hoping to blunt the Islamic State offensive and they’ve been either devastatingly effective or utterly useless depending on who you listen to. Juan Cole suggests that this is due to U.S. reluctance to release laser target designators to outside control.
The Islamic State is headed toward a humiliating defeat or on the verge of total victory (again depending). As it has been since the beginning the key questions are why are we involving ourselves at all, what do we hope to achieve, and how close are we to achieving it.
Otherwise we are quite literally just pounding sand.
Fall of Kobani Reveals Failure of U.S. Bombing Campaign
Why US Airstrikes Won’t Defeat ISIS
Turkey Joins the War Campaign against the Islamic State
Why did the US help the Kurds in Iraq but leave Isis to massacre them in Syria?
Cale Salih, The Guardian
Tuesday 7 October 2014 11.34 EDT
Observing fighters for the Islamic State (Isis) march closer and closer toward the key Syrian town of Kobani over the past week has felt like watching a bitterly suspenseful action movie unfold. Unlike other central Syrian towns that have been pounded to the ground mostly out of sight, Kobani’s looming collapse sits in full view of anyone paying attention – journalists, refugees and Turkish military tanks planted over the border, just a couple of miles away. That very border, carelessly drawn a century ago, now determines life or death for the thousands of people on either side. Every day, Isis marches closer to the heart of Kobani, and every day, Kurds across the region grow more exasperated that everyone seems to know what scene comes next – “a terrible slaughter”, with “5,000 dead within 24 or 36 hours”.
With Kobani in hand, Isis will control a strategic stretch of territory linking its self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa to its positions in Aleppo along the border with Turkey, a Nato country. And yet no one seems to be lifting a finger to stop it.
The divergent US policy toward Kurds in Iraq and Syria is reflective of Washington’s general mistaken tendency to presume distinctions between the two countries that do not actually exist. According to US officials quoted this week in the Wall Street Journal, for instance, US airstrikes in Iraq are designed to help Iraqi forces beat back Isis, whereas in Syria, “We’re not trying to take ground away from them. We’re trying to take capability away from them.” A policy that decisively targets Isis in Iraq but half-heartedly in Syria is doomed to fail. It will, at best, only briefly postpone the immediate threat Isis poses to American interests in the region. And the new air strikes aren’t even really working.
A key difference between the new US war strategy in Kurdish-majority parts of the region was Washington’s decision to bolster its Kurdish partners on the ground in Iraq but not in Syria. In Iraq, the US not only carried out air strikes but also armed the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga and sent military “advisors”. As a result, the peshmerga were able to provide ground intelligence to guide US air strikes, and, in conjunction with Kurdish fighters from Turkey and Syria, they followed up on the ground to retake important territories lost to Isis.
In Syria, the US has been more hesitant to develop such a bold Kurdish partnership. At first glance, the Kurdish fighting force in Syria – the People’s Defence Units (YPG), linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which the US designates as a terrorist group due to its decades-long war with Turkey – is a less natural partner than the widely recognized Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. Yet it was YPG and PKK forces that provided the decisive support on the ground to the Iraqi Kurds, allowing KRG peshmerga to regain territory lost to Isis in Iraq. The US in great part owes the limited success of its airstrikes in north Iraq to the PKK and YPG.
The lesson the US should learn from its experience in north Iraq is that you can’t win a war in the air alone. Iraq showed that air strikes against Isis can work – but only when combined with efforts to arm and advise a reliable local force capable of following up to actually retake and hold territory on the ground. The YPG is that force in Syria, and any air strikes without the kind of support sent to the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga will be futile. US collaboration with the YPG will be tricky, as tensions between the PKK and Turkey, a US ally, have recently intensified. The PKK, angered by what it perceives to be Turkey’s efforts to back Isis, threatened to end a fledgling peace process if Isis takes Kobani (also known as Ayn al-Arab). The existing peace process is not only Turkey’s best chance at peace, but also the Obama administration’s best cover for collaboration with the YPG. The US should urgently act to save both Kobani and the peace process, by offering extensive support to the YPG in Syria on the condition that the PKK reaffirms its commitment to the peace process with Turkey.
The repercussions of the fall of Kobani – and it is falling – will be felt far beyond Syrian borders. The genocidal group will have free rein to carry out a staggering massacre within walking distance of Turkish military positions. Kurds across the region will lose faith in Turkey and the Western powers that desperately need them to step in.
Oct 08 2014
Today I have 2 articles for your perusal.
First up is an interview with Noam Chomsky. It covers a variety of issues and is long but well worth the read:
For decades now, Noam Chomsky has been widely regarded as the most important intellectual alive (linguist, philosopher, social and political critic) and the leading US dissident since the Vietnam War. Chomsky has published over 100 books and thousands of articles and essays, and is the recipient of dozens of honorary doctorate degrees by some of the world’s greatest academic institutions. His latest book, Masters of Mankind: Essays and Lectures, 1969-2013, has just been published by Haymarket Books. On the occasion of the release of his last book, Chomsky gave an exclusive and wide-ranging interview to C.J. Polychroniou for Truthout, parts of which will also appear in The Sunday Eleftherotypia, a major national Greek newspaper.
Oct 08 2014
This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
October 8 is the 281st day of the year (282nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 84 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 1871, flames spark in the Chicago barn of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary, igniting a 2-day blaze that kills between 200 and 300 people, destroys 17,450 buildings,leaves 100,000 homeless and causes an estimated $200 million (in 1871 dollars; $3 billion in 2007 dollars) in damages.
The Great Chicago Fire was a conflagration that burned from Sunday, October 8, to early Tuesday, October 10, 1871, killing hundreds and destroying about 4 square miles (10 km2) in Chicago, Illinois. Though the fire was one of the largest U.S. disasters of the 19th century, the rebuilding that began almost immediately spurred Chicago’s development into one of the most populous and economically important American cities.
On the municipal flag of Chicago, the second star commemorates the fire. To this day the exact cause and origin of the fire remain a mystery.
The fire started at about 9 p.m. on Sunday, October 8, in or around a small shed that bordered the alley behind 137 DeKoven Street. The traditional account of the origin of the fire is that it was started by a cow kicking over a lantern in the barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. Michael Ahern, the Chicago Republican reporter who created the cow story, admitted in 1893 that he had made it up because he thought it would make colorful copy.
The fire’s spread was aided by the city’s overuse of wood for building, a drought prior to the fire, and strong winds from the southwest that carried flying embers toward the heart of the city. The city also made fatal errors by not reacting soon enough and citizens were apparently unconcerned when it began. The firefighters were also exhausted from fighting a fire that happened the day before.
After the fire
Once the fire had ended, the smoldering remains were still too hot for a survey of the damage to be completed for days. Eventually it was determined that the fire destroyed an area about four miles (6 km) long and averaging 3/4 mile (1 km) wide, encompassing more than 2,000 acres (8 km²). Destroyed were more than 73 miles (120 km) of roads, 120 miles (190 km) of sidewalk, 2,000 lampposts, 17,500 buildings, and $222 million in property-about a third of the city’s valuation. Of the 300,000 inhabitants, 90,000 were left homeless. Between two and three million books were destroyed from private library collections. The fire was said by The Chicago Daily Tribune to have been so fierce that it surpassed the damage done by Napoleon’s siege of Moscow in 1812. Remarkably, some buildings did survive the fire, such as the then-new Chicago Water Tower, which remains today as an unofficial memorial to the fire’s destructive power. It was one of just five public buildings and one ordinary bungalow spared by the flames within the disaster zone. The O’Leary home and Holy Family Church, the Roman Catholic congregation of the O’Leary family, were both saved by shifts in the wind direction that kept them outside the burnt district.
Oct 08 2014
Among the of current links of interest are Suggested Links between discrimination and suicide attempts by transgender people, which delves into a Williams Institute study from much earlier in the year and the Movement Advancement Project’s A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workers, which was published about a year ago.
These were woven together in the story of the recent suicide of Kate Von Roeder
One of the most commonly voiced perceptions about transgender people is that because we are transgender we are of necessity also mentally deficient.
This is not a new belief.
When an individual fails to mature according to his (or her) proper biological and sexological status, such an individual is psychologically (mentall deficient). The psychological condition is in reality the disease.
When an individual who is unfavorably affected psychologically determines to live and appear as a member of the sex to which he or she does not belong, such an individual is what may be called a psychopathic transexual.
–David O. Caldwell, Psychopathis Transexualis, Sexology: Sex Science Magazine vol. 16 (1949)
Oct 07 2014
My emphasis- ek hornbeck
Big Banks Face Another Round of U.S. Charges
By Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg
October 6, 2014 9:30 pm
With evidence mounting that a number of foreign and American banks colluded to alter the price of foreign currencies, the largest and least regulated financial market, prosecutors are aiming to file charges against at least one bank by the end of the year, according to interviews with lawyers briefed on the matter. Ultimately, several banks are expected to plead guilty.
Interviews with more than a dozen lawyers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations open a window onto previously undisclosed aspects of an investigation that is unnerving Wall Street and the defense bar. While cases stemming from the financial crisis were aimed at institutions, prosecutors are planning to eventually indict individual bank employees over currency manipulation, using their instant messages as incriminating evidence.
The charges will most likely focus on traders and their bosses rather than chief executives. As a result, critics of the Justice Department might view the cases as little more than an exercise in public relations, a final push to shape the legacy of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who was blamed for a lack of criminal cases against Wall Street executives.
The public lust for charges is at odds with the view on Wall Street, where bankers and lawyers report fatigue with what seems like unrelenting investigations. With each inquiry, the fines have multiplied, stretching to nearly $17 billion for Bank of America.
And the scrutiny could drag on for years. The Justice Department, lawyers said, has widened its focus to include a criminal investigation into banks that set an important benchmark for interest rate derivatives, a previously unreported development that coincides with international regulators’ proposing overhauls to the rate-setting process.
The flurry of activity strikes at the heart of Wall Street’s role in setting benchmarks across the globe. The investigations suggest that banks, seeking to benefit their own trades, have compromised the sanctity of rates like Libor and the “4 p.m. London fix” for currencies, which investors use to value their positions.
At their core, the investigations into Libor and currency trading center on suspicions that banks manipulated the benchmarks for their own gain. In Libor, a measure of how much banks charge one another for loans, several banks submitted false rates to benefit their trading positions.
The foreign exchange inquiry has pointed to a more complex scheme to fix currency prices and game the market. Authorities suspect that banks, using information gleaned from their clients, collaborated to flood the market with orders just seconds before the so-called 4 p.m. fix, which serves as the benchmark for foreign exchange rates. The aim in part, authorities suspect, was to drive up the price of, say, euros before selling them to clients at an inflated price.
Traders at competing banks met in private chat rooms. Some traders became so cozy that they earned the nickname “the cartel” and “the bandits club.”