Aug 16 2010

Punting the Pundits

Punting the Punditsis 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.

The Guardian Editorial: US midterms: Change without hope

One would have thought that the Obama of Hope and Change would have had little difficulty in defining his presidency

Here’s a depressing thought: the first half of Barack Obama’s presidential term, is as good it’s likely to get. The latest skirmish in America’s culture war – whether to build an Islamic complex two blocks from New York’s ground zero – encapsulates everything that he and the Democrats are labouring under as they trudge towards the midterm elections.

On Friday, Mr Obama said the right thing, not only as a constitutional lawyer, but as president: that Muslims had the same right to practice their religion as anyone else. Uproar in the Republican blogosphere followed. For John Boehner, the House minority leader, it was not an issue of religious freedom, but respect (How? More Muslims have been killed, as apostates, by al-Qaida than members of any other faith). Sarah Palin said it was as if Serbs were trying to build a church in Srebrenica. The Democrats wobbled. On Saturday, Mr Obama beat the retreat: he had not, apparently, commented on the wisdom of putting the mosque there, but the principle that the law should treat all equally.

Glenn Greenwald: The fear campaign and Social Security

Associated Press, Saturday:

Obama claims GOP trying to destroy Social Security

   President Barack Obama used the anniversary of Social Security to trumpet Democrats’ support for the popular program and accuse Republicans of trying to destroy it.

Paul Krugman, The New York Times, today:

   Social Security turned 75 last week. . . . But the program is under attack, with some Democrats as well as nearly all Republicans joining the assault. Rumor has it that President Obama’s deficit commission may call for deep benefit cuts, in particular a sharp rise in the retirement age.

It appears that the Democrats intend to try to win the midterm elections by scaring Americans into believeing that a GOP victory would endanger their Social Security benefits — a tactic which Madrak correctly condemns as “one of the most cynical political moves I’ve seen.”  The reason for that characterization is obvious:  because, as Madrak explains, echoing Krugman:  “the imminent threat to Social Security  right now is from the administration — and its pet Catfood Commission.”  Obama’s speech this weekend focused on the GOP’s plan to privatize Social Security, but that plan has zero chance of succeeding:  both because only a handful of Republicans (such as Paul Ryan) support it ever since Bush’s privitization efforts were defeated, and because Obama retains veto power to prevent it even with a GOP victory this November.  The true threat to Social Security is Obama’s Deficit Commission, which has excusably been working in total secrecy throughout the year, cooking up its recommendations to be released in December and likely to be voted on by Congress once the elections are nice and over with.

Fareed Zakaria: Gates’s lonely battle to rationalize the Pentagon

Robert Gates’s latest efforts at reforming the Pentagon  are modest. He is not trying to cut the defense budget; he merely wants to increase efficiency while reducing bureaucracy, waste and duplication. The savings he is trying to achieve are perfectly reasonable: $100 billion over five years, during which period the Pentagon would spend approximately $3.5 trillion. And yet he has aroused intense opposition from the usual suspects — defense contractors, lobbyists, the military bureaucracy and hawkish commentators. He faces spirited opposition from his own party, but it is the other Republicans, not Gates, who are abandoning their party’s best traditions in defense strategy.

Can anyone seriously question Gates’s ideas on the merits? He has pointed out that the spiraling cost of defense hardware has led to the absurdity of destroyers that cost $2 billion to $3 billion per ship and bombers that cost $2 billion per plane. He notes that while the private sector has eliminated middle management and streamlined organization charts, the Pentagon has multiplied its layers of bureaucracy. A decade ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld complained that there were 17 levels of staff between him and a line officer. Gates guesses that there are now about 30.

Robert J. Samuelson: Bumper sticker politics

We are our bumper stickers. They are one way we use to define ourselves and announce our various identities to the outside world: that we voted for Bush or Gore; that we’re a Buckeye or a Wolverine; that we’re “pro-life” or “pro-choice”; that we favor this candidate or that for school board or Congress; that our kids play soccer and won the county championship; and that we vacation in the Grand Tetons or at Disney World.

These badges of self-expression span an almost-infinite range of beliefs and behaviors. They also capture one of the enduring contradictions of American culture — the tension between individualism and conformity. Bumper stickers are labels of personal preference and practice, but almost always they also signal an allegiance to a larger cause or membership in some grander group. They allow us to set ourselves apart and to belong at the same time. Liberals exhort, “Wage Peace.” Conservatives exclaim, “Vote Democrat, It’s Easier Than Working.”