“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.
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Given the massive investment in national security after 9-11, recent news that the federal government is spying on hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the world may not have come as a surprise. Polls suggest that a majority of Americans are shrugging their shoulders at the revelations of a government espionage effort against them. But an uncomfortable reality of the once secret scheme is the degree to which people of color are disproportionately caught up in the government’s dragnet. That’s because the routine, legal activities of blacks, Latinos and immigrants-96 percent of whom are people of color-make them targets for monitoring in a way not true for whites.
For the over 40 million foreign born immigrants living in America-more than at any point in U.S. history-the basic act of keeping in contact with friends and family abroad is all that’s required to be sucked into the Obama administration’s electronic dragnet. Disturbingly, the fact that much of this historically broad snooping program is conducted by private companies with dubious oversight makes it that much harder for communities of color to figure out exactly what’s going on and how to curb any potential abuses.
Katrina vanden Heuvel: The NSA state of secrecy must end
Revelations of the sweeping collection of data on Americans by the National Security Agency (NSA) require that Congress launch a grand inquest into the post-9/11 national security state. Special committees in both the House and the Senate, armed with subpoena power, should investigate the scope of activities, the legal basis claimed, the operational structure and the abuses and excesses with a public weighing of costs and benefits.
The “war on terrorism” has gone on for 12 years, and while President Obama says it must end sometime, there is no end in sight. Secret bureaucracies armed with secret powers and emboldened by the claim of defending the nation have proliferated and expanded. The surprise of legislators at the scope of NSA surveillance shows that checks and balances have broken down.
When it comes to helping Wall Street lobbyists gut reforms passed in the wake of the financial crisis, there is often very little difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. Recent votes in the House Financial Services Committee demonstrated this bipartisanship all too well. Last month, the committee considered H.R. 1256, the Swaps Jurisdiction Certainty Act, which garnered a “Yea” from every single Republican and a majority (17) of Democrats. Eleven Democrats voted against the measure, including Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). Republicans are making a move to bring this deregulatory bill to the House floor as early as Wednesday.
Despite its formal name, H.R. 1256 should really be called the “Intimidate a Financial Regulator Act.” The bill seeks to change how derivatives are regulated. Derivatives allow bets to be made on the future value of some real asset like corn or gold or a stock. Warren Buffett has called derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction,” and they played a major role in the financial crisis; it was derivatives trading, for example, that brought down the giant insurance company AIG and led to a government bailout.
Margaret Flowers: Trans-Pacific Partnership undermines health system
Medical corporations seek tools to protect their profits despite harmful effects on public health.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a deal that is being secretly negotiated by the White House, with the help of more than 600 corporate advisers and Pacific Rim nations, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. While the TPP is being called a trade agreement, the US already has trade agreements covering 90 percent of the GDP of the countries involved in the talks. Instead, the TPP is a major power grab by large corporations. [..]
From the information available, one thing is clear about the impacts of the TPP on health care: the intention of the TPP is to enhance and protect the profits of medical and pharmaceutical corporations without considering the harmful effects their policies will have on human health.
We know that the TPP will extend pharmaceutical and medical device patents and provide other tools to keep the prices of these necessities high. This will make medications and treatments unaffordable for millions of people and raise the costs of national health programmes. At its worst, the TPP will provide a pathway to infect the world’s health systems with the deadly parasite of for-profit health corporations that plague the US.
Jill Filipovic: America’s Private Prison System is a National Disgrace
An ACLU lawsuit against a prison in Mississippi is the latest to detail flagrant abuses at a private correctional facility
The privatization of traditional government functions – and big government payments to private contractors – isn’t limited to international intelligence operations like the National Security Agency. It’s happening with little oversight in dozens of areas once the province of government, from schools to airports to the military. The shifting of government responsibilities to private actors isn’t without consequence, as privatization often comes with a lack of oversight and a series of abuses. One particularly stunning example is the American prison system, the realities of which should be a national disgrace.
Some of those realities are highlighted in a recent lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of prisoners at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF). EMCF houses severely mentally ill prisoners, with the supposed intent of providing both incarceration and treatment. Instead, the ACLU contends, the facility, which is operated by private contractors, is rife with horrific abuses.
The decision last week by both houses of Congress not to consider measures that would remove absolute control over the prosecution of sexual assault cases in the military from the chain of command sends a clear signal that preserving the system of power over that our military both depends upon and upholds is far more important than actually protecting the citizens of this country who serve in its ranks from attacks by those who supposedly have their backs. While disappointing, it is hardly surprising. After days of grueling hearings, in the end the congressional status quo effectively bitch slapped those who dared question how this country maintains its power structure.*