Punting the Pundits

Punting the Punditsis an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the t 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.

Joseph E. Stiglitz: Fixing America’s Broken Housing Market

NEW YORK – A sure sign of a dysfunctional market economy is the persistence of unemployment. In the United States today, one out of six workers who would like a full-time job can’t find one. It is an economy with huge unmet needs and yet vast idle resources.

The housing market is another U.S. anomaly: there are hundreds of thousands of homeless people (more than 1.5 million Americans spent at least one night in a shelter in 2009), while hundreds of thousands of houses sit vacant.

Indeed, the foreclosure rate is increasing. Two million Americans lost their homes in 2008, and 2.8 million more in 2009, but the numbers are expected to be even higher in 2010. Our financial markets performed dismally — well-performing, “rational” markets do not lend to people who cannot or will not repay — and yet those running these markets were rewarded as if they were financial geniuses.

None of this is news. What is news is the Obama administration’s reluctant and belated recognition that its efforts to get the housing and mortgage markets working again have largely failed. Curiously, there is a growing consensus on both the left and the right that the government will have to continue propping up the housing market for the foreseeable future. This stance is perplexing and possibly dangerous.

Robert Scheer: After Summers Comes the Fall

When will the president give Lawrence Summers his pink slip? He can thank him for his years of service and use the excuse that his top economic adviser wants to spend more time with his family. I don’t care how he sugarcoats it. But Summers deserves the same fate as the millions of workers laid off because of the banking debacle he helped cause, the dire consequences of which he has done precious little to mitigate.

It was Summers who, as treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, pushed through the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which opened the floodgates to the toxic mortgage-backed derivatives that still haunt the economy. The Federal Reserve now holds $2 trillion in junk securities it took off the books of banks. But the financiers who packed those devilish derivatives still hold a huge amount, and the houses they unload every time the housing market shows faint signs of stabilizing keep the economy in the doldrums.

Jeff Kaye: What’s Up with Transparency? Government Hid Report on Drugging of Detainees for Months

A story by Jason Leopold and me, currently up at Truthout, reports that a Department of Defense Office of Inspector General investigation into allegations of drugging of detainees, completed almost exactly a year ago, was nevertheless hidden from public knowledge for months. Its results remain hidden, labeled classified. This is especially strange as this document was publicly requested  by no less than now-Vice President (then Senator) Joe Biden, along with Senators Carl Levin and Chuck Hagel, after a couple of articles in 2008 – one by Jeff Stein and one by Joby Warrick at the Washington Post – blew the whistle on dozens of reports of alleged drugging of detainees.

The finished report, entitled “Investigation of Allegations of the Use of Mind-Altering Drugs to Facilitate Interrogations of Detainees,” had been published on September 23, 2009. It was recently posted as finished at the OIG’s website (09-INTEL-13). I know that when I was looking for the progress of the report as recently as last February, for an article I was writing at the time, the investigation was still listed as “in progress.” It also went under another title: “Possible Use of Mind Altering Substances by DoD Personnel during Interrogations of Detainees and/or Prisoners Captured during the War on Terror” (Project No. D2007-DINT01-0092.005). That listing has since expired.

Today I asked Vice President Biden’s office for comment, and am awaiting reply. But on the face of it, no one seems to want to talk about this report. Human rights workers and attorneys who were familiar with the fact of the investigation were quite surprised when I informed them the report had been finished twelve months ago! Multiple FOIA requests have now been made, but I don’t hold out much hope for getting answers to the basic questions around the many charges of drugging of detainees. This administration’s claims about greater transparency seem quite thin, especially when it means investigating their “war on terror” and detainee prison system.

E.J. Dionne, Jr.: The Strange Death of Moderate Republicanism

WILMINGTON, Del.-On the eve of the primary that would end his electoral career, Rep. Mike Castle was in a reflective mood. He seemed calm and confident, yet almost everything he said sounded valedictory as he offered a prescient analysis that explained in advance a defeat that echoed throughout the nation.

A genial and courtly man in the manner of the elder President Bush (who held a fundraiser for him in Kennebunkport), the nine-term congressman was mourning the decline of both the conciliatory style of politics that animated his career and the moderate Republican disposition that the tea party is determined to destroy.

“There are issues on which, as Republicans and Democrats, we should sit down and work out our differences,” Castle said Monday night as we sat outside at Kelly’s Logan House, a watering hole where he has gathered his closest supporters the night before every election since his first victory, for the neighborhood’s state legislative seat, in 1966.

Republicans who might be inclined toward the middle of the road, he said, are petrified of “quick attacks by columnists and the Sean Hannitys of the world. People are very afraid of crossing the line and being called Republicans In Name Only-or worse.” As a result, “not too many members are willing to stand up.”

“Part of it,” he added, “is worry about primaries, and this election has shown the power of very conservative groups.”

Castle’s defeat at the hands of Christine O’Donnell, a perennial candidate who may be the least qualified Senate nominee anywhere in the country, does indeed mark the collapse of the Republican Party not only of Nelson Rockefeller and Tom Dewey, but also of Bob Dole and Howard Baker.

Joe Conason: Clinton’s warning: Tea Party is a corporate front

Stumping in Minnesota, he calls Michele Bachmann “the ultimate example of putting ideology over evidence”

Minneapolis — As Tea Party activists celebrated their upset triumph in Delaware, Bill Clinton showed up in Minneapolis to support the Democrat challenging the insurgent Republican movement’s favorite member of Congress:  Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., the founder of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus.

At a late-night fundraiser for state Sen. Tarryl Clark, Clinton described Bachmann as the epitome of a trend he regards as profoundly dangerous to the nation’s future. “Your opponent,” he told Clark, “is the ultimate example of putting ideology over evidence.”

“I respect people with a conservative philosophy,” he continued. “This country has been well-served by having two broad traditions within which people can operate. If you have a philosophy, it means you’re generally inclined one way or the other but you’re open to evidence. If you have an ideology, it means everything is determined by dogma and you’re impervious to evidence. Evidence is irrelevant.

“That’s how I see Rep. Bachmann. She’s very attractive in saying all these things she says, but it’s pretty stupid.”

Gail Collins: Mr. Smith Goes to Anchorage

Autumn in Alaska. Leaves are falling. Glaciers are melting. The walruses have abandoned their vanishing ice floes and are piled up along the coast in a formation that is apparently not dangerous, unless one rolls over at the wrong time.

We do not generally compare Republicans to walruses, but things are unusually crowded in that quarter, too. The Alaskan Republican Party expected to float to an uneventful victory in November with its incumbent senator, Lisa Murkowski. Then she got dumped in the primary by Joe Miller, a Tea Party candidate who wants to eliminate everything federal – from the Department of Agriculture to the student loan program.

Taxpayer rage has, of course, been the rule in Republican primaries lately. But it was hard to predict that the fury would spread to a state that has virtually no taxes.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader who is looking like an endangered species himself lately, threw in with Miller and announced that Murkowski should “move on.” But where can she go? She’s already in Alaska.

NIcholas D. Kristof: A Boy and a Bicycle(s)

Early this year I wrote a column from Zimbabwe that focused on five orphans who moved in together and survive alone in a hut.

The eldest, Abel, a scrawny and malnourished 17-year-old, would rise at 4 o’clock each morning and set off barefoot on a three-hour hike to high school. At nightfall, Abel would return to function as surrogate father: cajoling the younger orphans to finish their homework by firelight, comforting them when sick and spanking them when naughty.

When asked Abel what he dreamed of, he said “a bicycle” – so that he could cut the six hours he spent walking to and from school and, thus, take better care of the younger orphans. Last week, Abel got his wish. A Chicago-based aid organization, Bicycle Relief, distributed 200 bicycles to students in Abel’s area who need them to get to school. One went to Abel.

The initiative is a pilot. If it succeeds and finds financing, tens of thousands of other children in Zimbabwe could also get bicycles to help them attend school.


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