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I wish I could play like this, don't you?


Tsung Tsung, age 5

Have a happy Saturday, everyone

Spin Alert! Slate's Matthew Yglesias Gets It All Wrong on Cyprus ( William K. Black )

March 22, 2013

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias writes columns about economics and finance. Yglesias has been writing about Cyprus, and my critiques of the policies he has been proposing are the subject of this column.

Here's the short background on Cyprus: The country is in a crisis and the EU is willing to bail out its collapsing banks only if Cyprus raises revenues. The EU is unwilling to make the banks’ sophisticated creditors – the bondholders – take any losses. The EU wanted the banks’ least sophisticated creditors – the depositors – to take losses, even if their deposits were small enough to be within the deposit insurance limit. The reality, which the EU wishes to obscure by calling its proposal a tax, is that that the EU was insisting that depositors no longer be fully protected from loss by government deposit insurance. The EU demand was made shortly after the EU and Cyprus’ government pledged that depositors under the insurance limit would suffer no losses.

Cyprus’ government’s duplicity was prompted by its close ties to Russian oligarchs who deposit the funds they loot from Russia in the failing Cypriot banks. Cyprus’ plan, therefore, imposed a hefty (6.6%) loss on (smaller) insured depositors in order to keep the percentage loss on huge depositors well in excess of the 100,000 euro insurance limit under 10 percent.

The plan was terrible for Cyprus, terrible for insured depositors, and very dangerous to banks in the European periphery (because it could spark large withdrawals of insured and non-insured deposits from such banks). The plan was also a political failure that enraged most Cypriots into opposing the deal. Yglesias’ response to the plan was a March 18, 2013 column praising it: “Two Cheers for the Cyprus Bailout.”

The part that Yglesias liked best about the plan was causing depositors – including the fully insured smaller depositors – losses. The single worst aspect of a terrible plan is what Yglesias cheered. In fairness to Yglesias, he wrote that the losses imposed on the largest depositors should have been larger and the losses on the insured depositors smaller. He did not, however, call for Cyprus and the EU not to breach their promises not to force losses on the insured depositors. His position was that the magnitude of the betrayal of insured depositors be reduced (“It’s perhaps not possible to entirely spare middle-class savers, but they can be cut a much better deal than this.”) Yglesias’ one sentence summary of his position reads: “The plan to punish Cypriot bank depositors is hideously unfair, but it contains the germ of a great idea.”

in full: http://www.alternet.org/economy/spin-alert-slates-matthew-yglesias-gets-it-all-wrong-cyprus?paging=off

Chained CPI: A direct attack on middle class and working class people

Instead of cuts and tax hikes on working people, elderly and veterans, it is time for "higher taxes on the wealthy".

Last Modified: 19 Mar 2013 12:31

"We pay for Social Security all of our lives, through the regressive payroll tax, and most Americans know this even if some of us have been tricked into believing that Social Security contributes to the overall deficit," says author [AP]

Barack Obama "prefers" it. Nancy Pelosi is willing to consider it. The AARP, organised labour, and progressive Democrats in and out of elected office are entirely opposed.

It is "Chained CPI", the new favourite bit of jargon being tossed around in very serious policy circles as a possible bargaining chip in a budget Grand Bargain. The consumer price index (CPI) is a measure of inflation that is used to calculate cost-of-living-increases for programmes like Social Security. The "chained CPI" is a different method of calculation that presumes that when the price of one product goes up, people will simply buy something cheaper. Using this formula to calculate Social Security, veterans' benefits, and other programmes (including, for instance, Pell grants that help lower-income students afford college) would amount to a cut in benefits.

Republicans and many Democrats - including, apparently, the President - want to do it. They want to establish the wildly popular New Deal social safety net as part of the problem and they want to cut it. And this little scheme sounds enough like not cutting benefits that the objective press is able to pretend that it is just a technocratic adjustment, really, instead of what it is. (It is also a stealth tax increase.)

Yet Obama's economic adviser Gene Sperling noted in a Reddit discussion last week that "protections" from the cuts would be necessary for "low-income Americans, certain veterans, and older Social Security beneficiaries". If we need to protect people from it, how is it good policy?

in full: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/03/201331994650651342.html

Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East

Rashid Khalidi on how the United States sustains the failure of the Israel–Palestine peace process

By Scott Horton

March 18, 2013

Columbia University historian Rashid Khalidi served as a Palestinian adviser during U.S.-brokered talks over a future Palestinian state. Now he has authored Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East, a stinging attack on the role played by American representatives during the process. His book offers a perspective that Americans rarely hear: one that chronicles America’s steps and links them directly to the stagnation and failure of the entire process. I put six questions to Khalidi about his book:

1. Let’s start with a look into the future. You say that Washington’s partiality for Israel in Middle Eastern affairs has thus far cost it very little, largely because the Arab world consists of states where the opinion of the masses counts for very little — but that Washington may face a sort of democratic day of reckoning as the Arab world moves towards democratic governance. On the other hand, the consensus view in the recent Foreign Affairs special issue on the Arab Spring was that democracy was hardly yet in prospect. How far off do you think this day of reckoning is, and what form do you expect it to take?

Institutionalized functioning democracy is not yet in prospect in most of the Arab world. It may be a long way off. But I doubt that this region can permanently remain an anomaly in the world as a whole, which for decades has seen a trend toward more democratic governance, from East and South Asia to Eastern Europe and Latin America. The Middle East as a region is unusual in that because of its strategic importance it has long been subject to a high degree of external interference. It is also home to bastions of monarchical autocracy in the form of several Arab Gulf regimes, which are fighting a ferocious rearguard action against democracy.

But Arab peoples have demonstrated a profound aspiration for change in Egypt, Tunisia, and several other countries. We shall see whether that will eventually triumph, and whether Arab public opinion will finally have a say in policy-making on Palestine and other matters, or whether external meddling and the partisans of the awful Arab status quo will continue to prevail. If the latter happens, it will probably only be a matter of time until we see another series of explosions like those of the past two years. In any case, continuing to link American policy on Palestine to the persistence of this rotten and undemocratic status quo is a typically short-sighted approach.

in full:


Death Of A Bogeyman - The Corporate Media Bury Hugo Chávez

By David Edwards

Following the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez on March 5, the BBC reported from the funeral:

'More than 30 world leaders attended the ceremony, including Cuban President Raul Castro, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.

'A message was read out from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.'

A rogues' gallery of the West's 'bad guys', in other words. To the side of the main article, the BBC quietly noted that, in fact, 'Most Latin American and Caribbean Presidents' attended the funeral, not just the Bond villains.

Following the same theme, a BBC article appeared beneath a grim photo montage of Osama bin Laden, Chávez, Kim Jong-il, Muammar Gaddafi, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein. The report asked: 'Is the era of the anti-American bogeymen at an end?'

Like many independent nationalists, Chávez was not 'anti-American', although he was anti-empire. US foreign policy, on the other hand, was certainly anti-Chávez, 'variously portrayed as a six-times elected champion of the people or a constitution-fiddling demagogue', the BBC piece noted.

remainder: http://www.medialens.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=724:death-of-a-bogeyman-the-corporate-media-bury-hugo-chavez&catid=51:alerts-2013&Itemid=202

El comandante has left the building

March 6, 2013

By Pepe Escobar

Now that would be some movie; the story of a man of the people who rises against all odds to become the political Elvis of Latin America. Bigger than Elvis, actually; a president who won 13 out of 14 national democratic elections. No chance you will ever see such a movie winning an Oscar - much less produced in Hollywood. Unless, of course, Oliver Stone convinces HBO about a cable/DVD special.

How enlightening to watch world leaders' reactions to the death of Venezuela's El Comandante Hugo Chavez. Uruguay's President Jose Mujica - a man who actually shuns 90% of his salary because he insists he covers his basic necessities with much less - once again reminded everyone how he qualified Chavez as "the most generous leader I ever met", while praising the "fortress of democracy" of which Chavez was a great builder.

Compare it with US President Barack Obama - in what sounds like a dormant cut and paste by some White House intern - reaffirming US support for "the Venezuelan people". Would that be "the people" who have been electing and re-electing Chavez non-stop since the late 1990s? Or would that be "the people" who trade Martinis in Miami demonizing him as an evil communist?

El Comandante may have left the building - his body defeated by cancer - but the post-mortem demonization will go on forever. One key reason stands out. Venezuela holds the largest oil reserves in the world. Washington and that crumbling Kafkaesque citadel also known as the European Union sing All You Need is Love non-stop to those ghastly, feudal Persian Gulf petro-monarchs (but not to "the people" in return for their oil. By contrast, in Venezuela El Comandante came up with the subversive idea of using oil wealth to at least alleviate the problems of most of his people. Western turbo-capitalism, as is well known, does not do redistribution of wealth and empowerment of communitarian values.

in full: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-02-060313.html

The Dangerous Logic of the Bradley Manning Case

March 1, 2013

After 1,000 days in pretrial detention, Private Bradley Manning yesterday offered a modified guilty plea for passing classified materials to WikiLeaks. But his case is far from over—not for Manning, and not for the rest of the country. To understand what is still at stake, consider an exchange that took place in a military courtroom in Maryland in January.

The judge, Col. Denise Lind, asked the prosecutors a brief but revealing question: Would you have pressed the same charges if Manning had given the documents not to WikiLeaks but directly to the New York Times?

The prosecutor’s answer was simple: “Yes Ma'am.”

The question was crisp and meaningful, not courtroom banter. The answer, in turn, was dead serious. I should know. I was the expert witness whose prospective testimony they were debating. The judge will apparently allow my testimony, so if the prosecution decides to pursue the more serious charges to which Manning did not plead guilty, I will explain at trial why someone in Manning's shoes in 2010 would have thought of WikiLeaks as a small, hard-hitting, new media journalism outfit—a journalistic “Little Engine that Could” that, for purposes of press freedom, was no different from the New York Times. The prosecutor's “Yes Ma'am,” essentially conceded that core point of my testimony in order to keep it out of the trial. That's not a concession any lawyer makes lightly.

The charge of "aiding the enemy" is vague. But it carries the death penalty—and could apply to civilians as well as soldiers.

But that “Yes Ma'am” does something else: It makes the Manning prosecution a clear and present danger to journalism in the national security arena. The guilty plea Manning offered could subject him to twenty years in prison—more than enough to deter future whistleblowers. But the prosecutors seem bent on using this case to push a novel and aggressive interpretation of the law that would arm the government with a much bigger stick to prosecute vaguely-defined national security leaks, a big stick that could threaten not just members of the military, but civilians too.

in full: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112554#
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