Daily Archive: 11/22/2013

Nov 22 2013

Punting the Pundits

“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.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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Paul Krugman: Expanding Social Security

For many years there has been one overwhelming rule for people who wanted to be considered serious inside the Beltway. It was this: You must declare your willingness to cut Social Security in the name of “entitlement reform.” It wasn’t really about the numbers, which never supported the notion that Social Security faced an acute crisis. It was instead a sort of declaration of identity, a way to show that you were an establishment guy, willing to impose pain (on other people, as usual) in the name of fiscal responsibility.

But a funny thing has happened in the past year or so. Suddenly, we’re hearing open discussion of the idea that Social Security should be expanded, not cut. Talk of Social Security expansion has even reached the Senate, with Tom Harkin introducing legislation that would increase benefits. A few days ago Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a stirring floor speech making the case for expanded benefits.

Where is this coming from? One answer is that the fiscal scolds driving the cut-Social-Security orthodoxy have, deservedly, lost a lot of credibility over the past few years. (Giving the ludicrous Paul Ryan an award for fiscal responsibility? And where’s my debt crisis?) Beyond that, America’s overall retirement system is in big trouble. There’s just one part of that system that’s working well: Social Security. And this suggests that we should make that program stronger, not weaker.

New York York Editorial Board: Democracy Returns to the Senate

For five years, Senate Republicans have refused to allow confirmation votes on dozens of perfectly qualified candidates nominated by President Obama for government positions. They tried to nullify entire federal agencies by denying them leaders. They abused Senate rules past the point of tolerance or responsibility. And so they were left enraged and threatening revenge on Thursday when a majority did the only logical thing and stripped away their power to block the president’s nominees.

In a 52-to-48 vote that substantially altered the balance of power in Washington, the Senate changed its most infuriating rule and effectively ended the filibuster on executive and judicial appointments. From now on, if any senator tries to filibuster a presidential nominee, that filibuster can be stopped with a simple majority, not the 60-vote requirement of the past. That means a return to the democratic process of giving nominees an up-or-down vote, allowing them to be either confirmed or rejected by a simple majority.

Jim Sensenbrenner: The NSA overreach poses a serious threat to our economy

Genuine NSA reform is a Constitutional and economic necessity. Transparency and privacy are critical for citizens and tech firms

Technology companies revolutionized the global economy by creating an interconnected, high-speed international marketplace.

Internet and telecommunication companies empower businesses to conduct complex transactions and connect with customers, clients and governments across the globe, placing a premium on privacy, accountability and transparency.  These principles are the currency of their success, because as private citizens, we entrust these companies with very personal information.

The overreach by the National Security Agency (NSA) does more than infringe on American civil liberties. It poses a serious threat to our economic vitality. Reports from the business community are clear: indiscriminate collection of data by the NSA damages American companies’ growth, credibility, competitive advantage and bottom line.

John Nichols: If Congress Is Safe From the War on Drugs, Why Not Everyone Else?

Florida Congressman Trey Radel, who has wisely determined that he does not want to become an American version of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, says he will take a leave of absence from the US House of Representatives to address his penchant for cocaine. [..]

But it would be good for Radel and his colleagues to note that he has identified his challenge as a disease, not a bad habit.

That’s a very different line than was taken by the House Republicans Caucus (of which Radel has been an enthusiastic member) when the chamber this year gave voice-vote approval to an amendment that allows states to require drug-testing of food stamp recipients. Why would they seek to penalize victims of what the congressman says is a disease? Why would they go after the neediest Americans in what Congressman Jim McGovern-the House’s most ardent advocate for nutrition programs-with a “degrading and mean-spirited” approach?

Dawood Ahmed: America’s ‘army of lawyers’ is almost as deadly as its drones

The US has relentlessly argued that targeted killings are legal under international law. The third world has to push back

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Some ascribe this quote to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels; others say Hitler authored the idea. In Mein Kampf he did speak of the invention of a lie so “colossal” that few would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”.

Whoever coined the idea, the point is this: controlling the narrative matters immensely.

Military prowess is not enough in this age. And the United States knows it. America’s “other army” – its less visible but equally potent cadre of skillful lawyers (in government and even in private institutions) – dutifully got busy crafting appropriate international law narratives for the War on Terror. They realized that winning the battle for defining “legality” on the world stage was critical.

Patrick Toomey & Brett Max Kaufman: How did we let the NSA spying get this bad?

A secret court’s backwards logic opened the floodgates for the NSA to gather metadata. We’re still feeling the repercussions

After yet another avalanche of documents showing how the NSA has spied on our communications for years, Americans should be asking, how did we get here?

The answer is simple: secrecy poisoned our system of checks and balances. Both our courts and Congress failed to put meaningful limits on the NSA’s surveillance, trading away our privacy in the process. The American people never consented to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) effort to “collect it all” by tracking and inspecting every digital footprint we leave behind. Instead, the secret opinions of a secret court retroactively blessed a vast NSA surveillance program years after it began.

The more we learn, the clearer it is that our surveillance laws and oversight rules are in dramatic need of reform, like the USA Freedom Act, that provide both transparency and real protections for privacy.

Nov 22 2013

Snark or Truth?

A ‘new’ Game? Show that’s going viral-

Snowden Leaks Old Journalism Textbook, Media Shocked

By: Peter Van Buren, Firedog Lake

Friday November 22, 2013 9:42 am

In yet another dramatic revelation flowing out of whistleblower Edward Snowden, a journalism textbook from 1983 has been sent to several large media outlets, including the Washington Post, New York Times and the trailer park where Fox News is thought to originate.

“To say we’re shocked is an insult to electricity,” said a spokesperson from the Post while speaking with the media, who refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak with the media. “We had no idea. Not a clue.”

“For example, it says here that ‘journalists’ are supposed to gather facts, analyze them, and then ‘report’ what they learned,” stated an unnamed former somebody from Fox. “This flies in the face of our current practice of transcribing what government officials tell us anonymously and then having someone read that aloud on TV. We are still trying to find out more about the ‘analyze’ function of journalism, but Wikipedia is down right now. Anyway, we blame the liberals.”

Fox News went on to say that a chapter in the book about naming sources so that readers themselves could judge the value and veracity of the information “just came from Mars” as far as the organization is concerned. “I mean, if we named our sources, they’d be held accountable for what they say, you know, and I doubt we’d have much access to the big boys after that. We’d have to start hiring people just to go out and gather news, maybe outside the office even, instead of just from the web. Something like 90% of our content comes from press releases from ersatz think tanks controlled by PR firms. Our whole business model would have to change. And that thing about ‘questioning’ what the government says? How are we supposed to do that? Who do they think we are?”

Nov 22 2013

On This Day In History November 22

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.

November 22 is the 326th day of the year (327th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 39 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1990, Margaret Thatcher, the first woman prime minister in British history, announces her resignation after 11 years in Britain’s top office.

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS (born 13 October 1925) served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. Thatcher is the only woman to have held either post.

Born in Grantham in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom, Thatcher went to school at Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School in Grantham, where she was head girl in 1942-43. She read chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford and later trained as a barrister. She won a seat in the 1959 general election, becoming the MP for Finchley as a Conservative. When Edward Heath formed a government in 1970, he appointed Thatcher Secretary of State for Education and Science. Four years later, she backed Keith Joseph in his bid to become Conservative Party leader but he was forced to drop out of the election. In 1975 Thatcher entered the contest herself and became leader of the Conservative Party. At the 1979 general election she became Britain’s first female Prime Minister.

In her foreword to the 1979 Conservative manifesto, Thatcher wrote of “a feeling of helplessness, that a once great nation has somehow fallen behind.” She entered 10 Downing Street determined to reverse what she perceived as a precipitate national decline. Her political philosophy and economic policies emphasised deregulation, particularly of the financial sector, flexible labour markets, and the selling off and closing down of state owned companies and withdrawing subsidy to others. Amid a recession and high unemployment, Thatcher’s popularity declined, though economic recovery and the 1982 Falklands War brought a resurgence of support and she was re-elected in 1983. She took a hard line against trade unions, survived the Brighton hotel bombing assassination attempt and opposed the Soviet Union (her tough-talking rhetoric gained her the nickname the “Iron Lady”); she was re-elected for an unprecedented third term in 1987. The following years would prove difficult, as her Poll tax plan was largely unpopular, and her views regarding the European Community were not shared by others in her Cabinet. She resigned as Prime Minister in November 1990 after Michael Heseltine’s challenge to her leadership of the Conservative Party.

Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister was the longest since that of Lord Salisbury and the longest continuous period in office since Lord Liverpool in the early 19th century. She was the first woman to lead a major political party in the United Kingdom, and the first of only four women to hold any of the four great offices of state. She holds a life peerage as Baroness Thatcher, of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire, which entitles her to sit in the House of Lords.

Nov 22 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Filibuster Has Been Mortally Wounded

Filibuster has suffered a mortal wound. In an historic vote, the Senate drastically change the game by eliminating the need for 60 votes to confirm a presidential nominee to executive and judiciary, ending at least some of the obstruction by Republicans that has hampered President Barack Obama’s administration. The final straw that changed the mind of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-VT) was the filibuster of the last three court appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, regarded as second only to the Supreme Court in influence, it plays a central role in upholding or knocking down federal regulations. The court was evenly divided between Democratic and Republican appointed judges with three vacancies that the Republicans were determined to keep vacant, along with the other 90 court vacancies, so long as Barack Obama was in the Oval Office. Thinking that Reid would never go “nuclear” and lacked the votes, the Republicans overplayed their hand angering the Democratic holdouts against limiting the filibuster. The changes will apply to all 1,183 executive branch nominations that require Senate confirmation, not just cabinet positions but hundreds of high- and mid-level federal agency jobs and government board seats. Needless to say, the Republicans are angry, as this also puts into play the possibility of ending filibuster altogether.

With filibuster gone, there is still an obstacle for judicial appointments known as the “blue slip rule.” As Kevin Drum explains at Mother Jones:

One of the Senate’s oldest traditions is that judicial nominees require approval from their home-state senators before they can move forward, and that approval comes in the form of a blue slip returned to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. [..]

   Pre-1994: Generally speaking, only one blue-slip is needed for a nominee to move forward.

   1995-2000: Republicans take control of Senate and decide that two blue slips should be required. This makes it easier to kill Clinton nominees.

   2001: George Bush is elected president. Republicans no longer want to make it easy to block nominees, so they return to the rule that only one blue-slip is required to move forward.

   2001-02: Jim Jeffords defects, putting Democrats back in control of the Senate. They return to the rule requiring two blue-slips to proceed.

   2003: Republicans win back control of the Senate. They up the ante by effectively moving to a zero blue-slip rule: they’ll allow hearings on nominees even if no senators return blue-slips. Democrats threaten to filibuster over this rather obvious abuse of power and insist on a return to the two blue-slip rule.

   2007-Present: Democrats win control of the Senate and Pat Leahy of Vermont becomes chairman of the Judiciary Committe. Leahy is a traditionalist who maintains the two blue-slip rule.

By maintaining this rule, Sen. Leahy hurts Obama’s nominees in red states  where aggressive Republican refuse to approve even moderate judges.

As Chairman of this Committee, I have steadfastly protected the rights of the minority. I have done so despite criticism from Democrats. I have only proceeded with judicial nominations supported by both home state Senators. That has meant that we are not able to proceed on current nominees from Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Louisiana. I even stopped proceedings on a circuit court nominee from Kansas when the Kansas Republican Senators reversed themselves and withdrew their support for the nominee. I had to deny the Majority Leader’s request to push a Nevada nominee through Committee because she did not have the support of Nevada’s Republican Senator. I will put my record of consistent fairness up against that of any Judiciary chairman.

Perhaps this was why, even as a traditionalist, Sen. Leahy voted to change the filibuster rule.

On MSNBC’s All In, host Chris Hayes discusses the new rules and the history of filibuster with Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Tim Kaine (D-VA); former spokesman for Sen. Reid Jim Manley; and former Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin.