Cuba Libre restaurant in Philadelphia. February, 2013. Photo by joanneleon.
It's A Great Life ( If You Don't Weaken) by Lou Gold and his Orchestra, 1930
News and Opinion
Social Security blogathon starts today. Please consider clicking on the image below and sharing it on Facebook or Twitter and when the diaries start today at 11, please share and tweet those as well, using the icons/links at the top of the diaries.
A secure retirement a fading dream for growing numbersFor Democrats to toss Social Security on the chopping block is profoundly stupid, and wrong.
To hear some people talk, you’d think all older Americans were living large on Easy Street. Policy wonks debate whether older people have too many advantages. Every week, it seems as though Washington comes up with another proposal to cut Social Security benefits, restrict Medicare eligibility or scale back veterans’ benefits.
But a new AARP Florida survey reflects a far more sobering reality for Floridians 50 and older, and by extension, older Americans across the nation:
Some 53 percent of Florida voters age 50-plus now say they plan to put off complete retirement, compared to only 8 percent who say they are very likely to retire as planned.
Asked why they are planning to work past what they considered “retirement age,” 62 percent of them said they will need the money.
Why Democrats Shouldn’t Put Social Security and Medicare on the Table
It’s not the first time Democrats have led with a compromise, but these particular pre-concessions are especially unwise.
Besides, Social Security and Medicare are the most popular programs ever devised by the federal government, which is why Republicans hate them so much. If average Americans have trusted the Democratic Party to do one thing it has been to guard these programs from the depredations of the GOP.
Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget takes on Medicare, but leaves Social Security alone. Why should Democrats lead the charge on either?
The Republicans are already slashing help for the young and the disadvantaged. Democrats shouldn’t succumb the lie that the elderly and young are in competition for a portion of a shrinking pie, when in fact the pie is larger than ever. It’s just that those who have the largest and fastest-growing portions refuse to share it.
We are the richest nation in the history of the world — richer now than we’ve ever been. But an increasing share of that wealth is held by a smaller and smaller share of the population, who have, in effect, bribed legislators to reduce their taxes and provide loopholes so they pay even less.
The budget deficit “crisis” has been manufactured by them to distract our attention from this overriding fact, and to pit the rest of us against each other for a smaller and smaller share of what remains. Democrats should not conspire.
The Greed of Lockheed MartinThe president of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Moaz Khatib (Ahmad Mouaz Al-Khatib Al-Hasani), resigned. Alkhatib, Al Khatib, al-Khatib, Khatib are all the same person. The Syrian National Transitional Council was an earlier coalition, formed in Turkey in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring, though some said they were a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Syrian National Transitional Council joined with other opposition groups just a few months ago in 2012 and became part of the SNC, who have, in just the past couple of weeks, been given Syria's seat in the Arab League (due to meet on Tuesday). Moaz al-Khatib was the president of the SNC (elected Nov. 2012) and an imam of a prominent mosque in Damascus. Last week, the SNC elected a prime minister as well, an IT guy from Texas, Ghassan Hitto, who Moon of Alabama referred to as a Syrian Chalabi.
Rebuffed on the local level, Lockheed Martin turned once more to its friends in the state government, championing a bill that would exempt it from Montgomery County taxes and, furthermore, force the county to provide it with a $1.4 million refund for past tax payments.
Articles started to appear in the press. Local politicians began to speak out against the legislation. The County Council again voted its opposition to exempting Lockheed Martin from taxation.
Faced with an upsurge of popular resistance, the State Senate sent the measure back to committee, where it was amended to eliminate the provision for retroactive payment to Lockheed. This action reportedly infuriated a Lockheed lobbyist and represented a small victory for opponents of the legislation.
Nevertheless, a bill providing for the corporation’s future tax exemption went forward, and was passed by the Senate on the night of March 13 by a vote of 37 to 9. The large majority included all but one Republican, as well as a substantial number of Democrats.
In response to a request from Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the Government Accountability Office did a study of how many of these planes the U.S. Air Force had ordered. The answer was: five. Finding no use for the hundreds of planes, the Air Force simply parked many of them on airport runways, where they gathered dust.
Moderate face of Syrian uprising quitsThis is a simpler explanation from Moon of Alabama. Khatib is the leader with popular support from the Syrian rebels, the ones who are actually Syrians. Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood backed Hitto, a U.S. citizen and a "technocrat" the term the Reuters used for him.
The resignation of Moaz Alkhatib, a former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus who had offered Assad a negotiated exit, could make the West more cautious in supporting the revolt. Alkhatib was seen as a moderate bulwark against the rising influence of al-Qaeda linked jihadist forces.
Alkhatib was picked to head the Western and Gulf-backed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which was formed in Qatar in November.
His resignation is seen as having been to some degree caused by Qatar, the main backer of his political foes in the coalition, and the country spearheading Arab support for the revolt as its geopolitical ramifications deepen.
Hitto, whose cabinet is supposed to govern rebel-held areas currently ruled by hundreds of brigades and emerging warlords, was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood and coalition Secretary General Mustafa Sabbagh, who has strong links with Qatar.
"Basically Qatar and the Brotherhood forced Alkhatib out. In Alkhatib they had a figure who was gaining popularity inside Syria but he acted too independently for their taste," said Fawaz Tello, an independent opposition campaigner.
"They brought in Hitto. The position of Alkhatib as leader became untenable."
More Disarray In The Syrian OppositionThe SNC's military chief, General Idris, said (through a spokesperson) that the Syrian Free Army refuses to recognize the new prime minister from Texas, Hitto.
Moaz Khatib, who was installed by Hillary Clinton to head the Syrian opposition, just resigned. In his resigning statement he explained:[T]there is a bitter reality [to] tame the Syrian people and besiege their revolution and attempting to control it.
Those who are willing to obey [outside powers] will be supported, those who disobey will offered nothing but hunger and siege. We will not beg for help from anyone.
If there is a decision to execute us as Syrians, then let’s die as we want.
Our message to everyone is that Syrians decisions will be taken by Syrians, and Syrians only.
I had promised our people, and vowed to God on that, to resign if the situation reaches certain red lines. Today, I honour my promise and I resign from the National Coalition to be able to work with freedom not available through official institutions.
Opposition leader quits as rifts deepen withinTo make matters even more complicated, rebel leaders on the ground who were interviewed don't even know who General Idris is, and they continue fighting, ignoring all the political infighting within the SNC. They said the SNC hasn't done much for them in the first place. So presumably, if they do overthrow Assad, some other guys (exiles, outsiders, etc.) will move in and run the country, having never dirtied their hands in the revolution. Will they even recognize those new leaders if they ever take power? This is the kind of situation that developed in Libya and watching it unfold in Syria makes it a little more clear why that might have happened.
Syria's rebel coalition
Moaz al-Khatib urged to remain as head of alliance trying to form transition government
In a further blow, a Free Syrian Army spokesman said rebels rejected the organisation’s recent appointment of a transitional prime minister.
Louay al-Mokdad, a spokesman for the FSA’s General Salim Idris, yesterday said the prime minister could not be recognised because he had not received the broad support of coalition members. The former SNC head Burhan Ghalioun and the veteran liberal dissident Kamal al-Labwani were among those who walked out of the vote in protest.
Coalition PM, Rejected By Free Syrian Army LeaderMeanwhile re: Iraq, from Col. Pat Lang.
Few of the rebels inside Syria paid any attention to the exile opposition's problems, saying the Coalition had never done much for them anyway.
"All this stuff that happens outside never makes any difference to us," rebel fighter Firas Filefleh said via Skype from the northern province of Idlib. He said he and his colleagues respect al-Khatib as a religious figure but that he and the Coalition were ineffective.
"The Coalition has never made any difference for the fighting brigades," he said. "They brought some flour and some canned goods but have never done more than that."
Filefleh said he had no opinion of Hitto and said he had never heard of Gen. Idris, who purports to be the rebels' highest military leader.
Late Sunday, the Coalition circulated videos it said showed Hitto during his first visit to Syria since his election. The videos showed Hitto in a sport coat and jeans, shaking hands in an unnamed town in Aleppo province.
Kerry in Iraq to Press on Iran Flights to Syria - ABC NewsIn Brussels re: Cyprus: As of Sunday evening, no deal had been made, meetings were delayed in Brussels, with the Monday deadline looming. The president of Cyprus was in a long meeting with Van Rompuy (a Belgian, pres. of European Council, one of the many institutions of the EU, and I don't understand what each of them does) and Barroso (Portugese, pres. of the European Council), and there were other meetings before that. The journalists on Twitter and livebloggers on the Guardian were getting very punchy.
Are we really this stupid? The present Iraqi government threw us out. Remember? They are sitting on an ocean of oil with very high prices being paid for that oil. They are Shia activists who now run a country in which Sunnis used to run them, Sunnis who look similar to the rebels in Syria.
So, somebody told John Kerry that it would be a good idea to go "jawbone" Maliki about what he should do in running Iraq?
Are we really that stupid? pl
Cyprus in last-ditch bid to agree bailout - liveAround midnight GMT the news started breaking that Van Rompuy had come up with a deal. The sticking point, reportedly, was related to demands made about restructuring the two main banks, Popular (Laiki) and Bank of Cyprus. One of the IMF demands was something that Anastasiades claimed would have forced him to resign. The current leaks say that uninsured deposits at the Bank of Cyrus (> 100K euros) could be whacked for 20-40% and senior bondholders will take a hit. At one point on Sunday, an explosive device of some kind was set off near a bank in Cyprus which garnered a lot of media attention. Reportedly it was small and homemade, but still... Markets were opening in Asia, which put more pressure on everyone. The almighty markets. All of this still has to be approved by the parliament in Cyprus. Correction: Bloomberg article says this does not need a vote because of the bill passed by the parliament on bank restructuring.
• Cyprus and EU in new crisis talks tonight
• President threatened to resign over bank restructuring
• Insiders: Troika: 25% levy on Bank of Cyprus savers with over €100,000
• Cyprus ATMs cut withdrawal limit, readers say
• Archbishop of Cyprus to appeal to Russian businessmen
Cyprus Salvaged After EU Deal Shuts Bank to Get $13BBelow... discussion of the damage now done to the Euro and the Eurozone, as everyone in the world seems to realize, except the Troika, who is forcing it. Coppola plays through scenarios about what will happen in Cyprus with the capital controls passed by their parliament.
“Nobody knows where we are heading,” said Epifanos Epifaniou, 50, who used to drive a delivery truck in Nicosia and has been unemployed for six months. “People are playing games with Cyprus. We are alone. Nobody is supporting us.”
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told reporters today the agreement was “capable of stabilizing the situation in Cyprus.” Hans Michelbach, a German lawmaker and ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said he was “cautiously relieved.” Last week, Michelbach said Cyprus would pay a “high price” for rejecting the initial deal.
The revised accord spares bank accounts below the insured limit of 100,000 euros. It imposes losses that two EU officials said would be no more than 40 percent on uninsured depositors at Bank of Cyprus Plc, the largest bank, which will take over the viable assets of Cyprus Popular Bank Pcl (CPB), the second biggest.
Cyprus Popular Bank, 84 percent owned by the government, will be wound down. Those who will be largely wiped out include uninsured depositors and bondholders, including senior creditors. Senior bondholders will also contribute to the recapitalization of Bank of Cyprus.
The Cypriot parliament won’t have to vote again because it has already passed laws on bank restructuring, officials said.
The broken Euro"The future of the euro zone has been put on the line for a few billion euros." This is what amazes me. We are talking about 5.6 billion euros. One of the underlying reasons is that Angela Merkel is worried that the German voters will toss her out if they have to put up the entire sum for the bailout loan and so the Troika insisted that Cyprus come up with 5.6 billion of it. But look at the real price, in the big picture. While 5.6 billion is an unimaginable amount to all but the most obscenely wealthy individuals, it is a small amount for the EU as a whole whose economy depends on trust in the Euro and trust in its institutions and both of those took a big hit during this exercise.
You can put money into your bank, but you can't get it out again. At least you can, through ATMs, but only in very small amounts.
If you have money on deposit, you can't take the money out and close the account. And if it's a time deposit, when it reaches the end of its life, you can't have the money to spend. You have to roll it over into a new deposit. [...] There are no automated payments [...] You can't make phone or internet purchases. [...] you can't transfer money between your accounts.
You can't go on holiday abroad because you can't take any money out of the country. Your employer won't send you abroad on business, either, because you might not come back.....
Despite the IMF's insistence that capital controls should be short-term, recent use of them has been anything but: Iceland has now had "temporary" capital controls for five years, and Argentina for ten (although that is probably for political reasons). Dismantling capital controls is not easy.
But the Cyprus capital controls differ fundamentally from those imposed in the Iceland banking crisis. Iceland is a sovereign state with its own currency. Cyprus is a member of a currency union - the Euro. And capital controls make a complete nonsense of currency union.
Once full capital controls are imposed, a Euro in Cyprus will no longer be the same as a Euro anywhere else in the Euro area. It cannot leave the island. The Cyprus Euro will in effect be a new domestic currency. [...]
There will be the Cyprus Euro, and the "mainland" Euro (if we can call it that). [...] One of the interesting effects of capital controls is that the Cyprus Euro would be likely to depreciate against the mainland Euro - a de facto floating exchange rate.
Peril for Euro Zone Hangs on Small SumA short excerpt from a piece by James Petras of the Eurasia Review. A lot of people seem to be noticing, suddenly, that the progressive and the antiwar movements are dead or in a coma, and that the Democratic party has moved so far to the right as to be almost unrecognizable. To say that the "entire political spectrum" has moved to the right is not really accurate but to an outsider looking in it would look that way, given the way that the mainstream media presents things and given the high level of support that Obama maintains regardless of what he does. A quick look at the abysmal level of support for both parties in Congress tells a different story.
The future of the euro zone has been put on the line for a few billion euros.
That amount is chump change for the euro zone—the equivalent of about 0.06% of its annual economic output.
Cyprus's entire problematic banking system would, if joined together, be the 44th-largest bank in the euro zone, according to data from SNL Financial. Its combined €126.4 billion in assets, at the last count in January, makes it smaller than DekaBank Deutsche Girozentrale, Germany's 11th-largest bank.
Cypriots might be confused about what rules they actually broke. Their government kept its debt low, and their banks, though large relative to the size of the economy, weren't dependent on flighty wholesale money markets but were rich in stable deposits.
What Cypriots did wrong was to vote for governments that allowed or encouraged their bankers to deal with questionable individuals in a manner disapproved of by German taxpayers, and to have banks that believed euro-zone promises that Greece would never default on its debts.
Whether Cyprus ends up in or out of the euro zone—and staying in still seemed most likely on Thursday night—this won't end well for Cypriots. Either way, a banking crisis and a severe economic contraction appear inevitable. For one more country, membership of the euro zone is extracting a heavy economic and political cost.
Obama-Kerry-Hagel Troika Spreading Global Mayhem – OpEd
As President Obama enters his second term with a new Cabinet, the foreign policy legacy of the past four years weighs heavily on their strategic decisions and their empire-building efforts. Central to the analysis of the next period is an evaluation of the past policies especially in regions where Washington expended its greatest financial and military resources, namely the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa.
We will proceed by examining the accomplishments and failures of the Obama-Clinton regime. We will then turn to the ongoing policy efforts to sustain the empire-building project.
The Clinton-Obama Imperial Legacy: The Accomplishments
The greatest success of the Obama-Clinton (OC) imperial legacy was the virtual elimination of organized domestic anti-war dissent, the demise of the peace movement and the co-optation of virtually the entire ‘progressive’ leadership in the US – while multiplying the number of proxy wars, overt and covert military operations and ‘defense’ spending. As a result, the entire political spectrum moved further to the right toward greater militarization abroad and increased police-state measures at home.
Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest
Rohingya people of Myanmar Burma
Tech giants embrace clean energy
The Greatest Crime Spree in NYC Ever? "Stop and Frisk"
The Answer To Addressing The Country's Problems is Surprisingly Simple
How not to behave in the men's room
Day 4: Sign the petition, Tell Obama No Chained CPI, #noSScuts
"Burma" was trending on Twitter Sunday night, so it looks like Anonymous succeeded in raising some awareness. A Google news search finds many stories in mainstream and alternative news about Burma, Myanmar, mostly due to a UN envoy visit, but not much news about the Rohinya yet.
Why Does No One Speak of America’s Oligarchs?: One of the striking elements of the demonization of Cyprus was ... bit.ly/YslJTV— Yves Smith (@yvessmith) March 25, 2013
Russian PM says "stealing continues" in Cyprus reut.rs/101pnzW— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) March 25, 2013
Vincent Rose and his Orchestra, Scrappy Lambert vocal - Theres No Depression In Love (1931)