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Oct 04 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.

Matt Taibbi: Tea & Crackers

How corporate interests and Republican insiders built the Tea Party monster

The world is changing all around the Tea Party. The country is becoming more black and more Hispanic by the day. The economy is becoming more and more complex, access to capital for ordinary individuals more and more remote, the ability to live simply and own a business without worrying about Chinese labor or the depreciating dollar vanished more or less for good. They want to pick up their ball and go home, but they can’t; thus, the difficulties and the rancor with those of us who are resigned to life on this planet.

Of course, the fact that we’re even sitting here two years after Bush talking about a GOP comeback is a profound testament to two things: One, the American voter’s unmatched ability to forget what happened to him 10 seconds ago, and two, the Republican Party’s incredible recuperative skill and bureaucratic ingenuity. This is a party that in 2008 was not just beaten but obliterated, with nearly every one of its recognizable leaders reduced to historical-footnote status and pinned with blame for some ghastly political catastrophe. There were literally no healthy bodies left on the bench, but the Republicans managed to get back in the game anyway by plucking an assortment of nativist freaks, village idiots and Internet Hitlers out of thin air and training them into a giant ball of incoherent resentment just in time for the 2010 midterms. They returned to prominence by outdoing Barack Obama at his own game: turning out masses of energized and disciplined supporters on the streets and overwhelming the ballot box with sheer enthusiasm.

The bad news is that the Tea Party’s political outrage is being appropriated, with thanks, by the Goldmans and the BPs of the world. The good news, if you want to look at it that way, is that those interests mostly have us by the balls anyway, no matter who wins on Election Day. That’s the reality; the rest of this is just noise. It’s just that it’s a lot of noise, and there’s no telling when it’s ever going to end.

New York Times Editorial: First Monday

The Supreme Court enjoys all but free rein in selecting which cases to review. From the end of one term in the summer until the start of the next, on the first Monday in October, the work of the court is to sift through thousands of petitions from parties that lost in one of the federal appeals courts or highest state courts and are eager for the justices to reverse their fate.

The kinds of petitioners favored say a lot about the court’s interests and biases. The Warren court, eager to champion individual rights, chose a large number of petitions from downtrodden people. The Rehnquist court, looking for opportunities to vindicate states’ rights, favored petitions from the states.

Steve Benin: Friedman’s Third Party mess

Thomas Friedman joins a long list of centrist media figures to call for a third party to offer a sensible alternative to Democrats and Republicans. To put it charitably, the column is wildly unpersuasive.

The general pitch is common, but lazy — the parties are beholden to special interests, and refuse to tell Americans what we need to hear. To turn the country around, honest independents will swoop in and save us from ourselves and shake up the “stagnating two-party duopoly that has been presiding over our nation’s steady incremental decline.”

I didn’t care for this column the first hundred times it’s been published over the years, and it’s not improving with age. Indeed, the more one thinks about the details of Friedman’s case, the weaker it appears.

Joe Blein: G.O.P. Re-Message Massage

But several things seem clearer to me, after a month on the road. There is tremendous dissatisfaction with both  political parties. People don’t think the same old Republican “solutions” are very credible, but they also don’t like the idea of big government activism, especially bailouts that aggrandize the wealthy, and they simply don’t get Keynesian economics. Having said that, though, there isn’t as much of the fist-shaking anger as I expected. There is a minority in this country–perhaps 30%–who are furious and terrified and think that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim-socialist–but most people, even those who disagree with him and disapprove of his performance, admire the effort and seriousness of this President.

There is, however, a tremendous disconnect between what people are concerned about and what Washington–and the media–seem to think is important.

Robert Kuttner: Trade War Is Here — and We’ve Disarmed

Last Wednesday, by a wide bipartisan margin of 348-79, the House passed a bill giving the executive branch authority to impose retaliatory tariffs on a wide range of Chinese exports. The bill was intended to give the Obama Administration leverage (which the White House seems quite disinclined to use) in continuing talks with Beijing about China’s manipulation of its currency.

The usual suspects made alarmed clucking noises about jingoism and impending trade war. Writing in the New York Times op-ed page, Steven Roach, a senior executive with Morgan Stanley, contended that the real problem is the low US savings rate, which supposedly leads America to over-consume and pull in imports. This has been used as an alibi for decades, but the fact is that our savings rate bounces around while our trade deficit with China moves only in one direction. Global mega-banks like Morgan Stanley profit from the US China trade, even if America gets rolled. Even the Financial Times, usually pretty sensible, warned against a more assertive stance.

In truth, a trade war already exists, and it is being unilaterally waged by China. The entire Chinese industrial system uses a wide range of subsidies that violate both the letter and the spirit of the World Trade Organization. As the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission has long documented, China subsidizes exports, provides bank loans to industry at zero or negative interest rates, and either bribes or coerces US industry to locate production in China for export but not for China’s internal market. All development land in China is owned by the government, which means that China can subsidize favored projects at will.

Dana Milbank: Glenn Beck is obsessed with Hitler and Woodrow Wilson. (I’m just saying.)

Glenn Beck, the conservative television and radio host, is an amateur historian. Very amateur.

One day, he rhetorically asked his Fox News viewers: “Why did we buy Alaska in the 1950s?” A good question — because “we” purchased Alaska in 1867. Another day, he gave his version of European history: “We have the Age of Enlightenment, 1620 to 1871, uh, 1781. This was a time when people said, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute, we can think out of the box.’ This is coming out of the Dark Ages.” That was thinking outside of the box, because the Dark Ages ended in about 1000 AD, six centuries earlier than Beck claimed.

Beck has created an online “Beck University” to spread his unique views of the past and has hosted “Founders’ Fridays” on his television show, devoted to rewriting the nation’s early history as that of a fundamentalist state.

When the subject turns, as it usually does, to President Obama, Beck again sees lessons from history. In particular, he has seized upon two individuals who he believes provide excellent historical parallels to the 44th commander in chief: Woodrow Wilson and Adolf Hitler.

Andy Worthington: US Court Denies Justice to Dead Men at Guantánamo

On Wednesday, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Ellen Huvelle turned down (PDF) a second attempt by the families of Yasser al-Zahrani, a Saudi, and Salah al-Salami, a Yemeni (two of the three men who died in mysterious circumstances in Guantánamo on June 9, 2006, along with Mani al-Utaybi, another Saudi) to hold US officials accountable for the circumstances in which their family members were held and in which they died.

Judge Huvelle’s ruling came in spite of additional evidence submitted by the families (PDF), drawing on the accounts of four US soldiers who were present in Guantánamo at the time of the deaths, and who have presented a number of compelling reasons why the official story of the men’s triple suicide (as endorsed by a Naval Criminal Investigative Service report in 2008) is a cover-up. That story, written by Scott Horton, was published by Harper’s Magazine in January this year, and I covered it here, and also in an update in June, although it has largely been ignored in the mainstream US media.

The case, Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld, was initially filed in January 2009, and primarily involved the families of the dead men seeking to claim damages through the precedent of a case known as Bivens, decided by the Supreme Court in 1971, in which, for the first time, damages claims for constitutional violations committed by federal agents were allowed. The families claimed relief under the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause (preventing individuals from being deprived of life, liberty, or property without “due process of law”) and the Eighth Amendment (which prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments”), as well as submitting a claim, under the Alien Tort Claims Act, “alleging torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and violations of the Geneva Conventions.”

Fake news by Andy Borowitz: Democrats to Employ Man Who Played Obama During 2008 Campaign

WASHINGTON-With just a month remaining until the crucial midterm elections, worried Democrats have decided to reach out to the man who played Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign, Democratic Party officials confirmed today.

“We were sitting around thinking of who we could put out there on the campaign trail to get people energized again,” said Democratic National Chairman Tim Kaine. “And then I was like, what about that guy who played Obama in ’08? He was amazing!”

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