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Aug 08 2012

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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Jeanne Mirer and Marjorie Cohn: The Toxic Effects of Agent Orange Persist 51 Years After the Vietnam War

From the beginning of the spraying 51 years ago, and even today, millions of Vietnamese have died from, or been completely incapacitated by, diseases which the US government recognizes are related to Agent Orange for purposes of granting compensation to Vietnam veterans in the United States. The Vietnamese, who were the intended victims of this spraying, experienced the most intense, horrible impact on human health and environmental devastation. Second and third generations of children, born to parents exposed during the war and in areas of heavy spraying hot spots, suffer unspeakable deformities that medical authorities attribute to the dioxin in Agent Orange. [..]

For the past 51 years, the Vietnamese people have been attempting to address this legacy of war by trying to get the United States and the chemical companies to accept responsibility for this ongoing nightmare. An unsuccessful legal action by Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange against the chemical companies in US federal court, begun in 2004, has nonetheless spawned a movement to hold the United States accountable for using such dangerous chemicals on civilian populations. The movement has resulted in pending legislation HR 2634 hot spots, lawsuit to compensate them, as the unintended victims, for their Agent-Orange-related illnesses. But the Vietnamese continue to suffer from these violations with almost no recognition, as do the offspring of Agent-Orange-exposed US veterans and Vietnamese-Americans.

Ruth Coniff: Tragedy in Wisconsin and Our Out-of-Control Gun Policies

The shooting rampage Sunday at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple outside Milwaukee has got to prompt serious soul-searching about our out-of-control gun policies in this country.

Although President Obama’s timely words of condolence strike the right note, once again the President did not seriously address the main problem: that the floridly psychotic, violent racists, and anyone else who attends a gun show or chooses to order thousands of rounds of ammunition online, has easy access to weapons like the two semiautomatic handguns the temple gunman apparently used.

This is not a hunting issue. It is not an issue of self defense. It is a question, as the President himself put it after the horrible massacre in a Colorado movie theater, of whether automatic weapons belong in the hands of soldiers, or of anyone who cares to use them.

Yves Smith: Where Are the Feds?

The New York Superintendent of Financial Services dropped a bombshell today, filing an order (pdf) against Britain’s Standard Chartered Bank. It charges the bank with having engaged in at least $250 billion of illegal transactions with Iranian banks, including its central bank, from 2001 to 2010, and of engaging in similar schemes with Libya, Myanmar and Sudan (those investigations are in progress). It threatens SCB with the loss of its New York banking license and termination of access to dollar clearing services. The latter alone is as huge deal. You are not a real international bank unless you have dollar clearing. Sumitomo Bank looked at giving up its US banking license in 1985 when it was examining deal structures for making an investment in Goldman, and ascertained that giving up access to Fedwire would cost it over $100 million a year and considerably weaken its position in Japan. SCB is certain to be a much more active dollar player than Sumitomo was and the volume of international transactions has grown hugely since then.

SCB squealed like a stuck pig, claiming that only $14 million of transactions were out of compliance. But the bank has nowhere to go. The NY Superintendent, Benjamin Lawsky, has made his determination. The only thing open for discussion is what sort of punishment he is going to impose.  [..]

The lack of action by everyone ex(cept) the lowly New York banking supervisor is mighty troubling.

Inge Fryklund: On Drugs and Democracy

The UN Office of Drug Control (UNODC) has thoroughly documented the violence, crime, and corruption linked with the worldwide heroin and opium trade. The U.S. news media report every day on the mayhem and corruption of government officials caused by the drug wars in Mexico, Colombia, and other points south of our border. In Afghanistan, the Taliban tax the opium trade and protect poppy farmers from eradication, fueling the insurgency and our 11-year war.

However, these problems are all consequences of drug prohibition, not of the drugs themselves. In legal terms, drugs are malum prohibitum (wrong because prohibited by law) rather than malum in se (inherently wrong, such as theft or murder). During the U.S. experiment with Prohibition (1920-1933), alcohol was malum prohibitum; as soon as it was legalized, it again became a normal regulated, traded, and taxed consumer product.

We need to rethink our prohibition of drugs. What problem are we trying to solve by making drugs illegal? Have we chosen the most effective and affordable solution? Are the collateral consequences worth it?

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Romney’s incredible extremes

The pro-Obama New Priorities PAC stumbled across this phenomena early in 2012 in its focus group testing. When they informed a focus group that Romney supported the budget plan by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and thus championed ending Medicare as we know it while also championing tax cuts for the wealthy, focus group participants simply didn’t believe it. No politician could be so clueless.

Incredulity may complement what New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd dubbed Romney’s strategy of “hiding in plain sight.” Romney refuses to release his tax returns, scrubbed the records and e-mails of his time as governor and as head of the Olympics, keeps secret details of his Bain dealings and covers up the names of his bundlers. And then, he’s able to announce extremely cruel policy positions with impunity, because the voters just can’t believe that’s what he is for.

This is what comes to mind with the publication of a study (pdf)  on the effects of the Romney tax policy by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center and the Brookings Institution.

Bryce Covert: Cutbacks to Unemployment Insurance Came Long Before the Great Recession

You may have heard that we’re in the middle of an unemployment crisis. It’s little wonder that an average of 365,500 people per week made new claims for unemployment benefits over the past month. These high numbers have been straining unemployment insurance programs at the federal and state level, and many states have run out of reserves to pay for them, triggering a reduction in benefits. But this crisis wasn’t inevitable. The pull back in unemployment benefits is just another result of state-level choices to cut taxes at the expense of state spending, spending that could be cushioning the blow of the Great Recession.

States are unable to adequately finance their unemployment insurance programs just when they are most needed not because they were unexpectedly overwhelmed. As a new report from the National Employment Law Project shows, it was because they failed to finance them during the good times like they’re supposed to. Here’s the way it works: federal law requires each state to collect unemployment insurance contributions from employers and deposit them into a state trust fund held in the treasury. During good times, the trust funds accumulate reserves so that claims can be paid out during downturns. This makes the program countercyclical, helping to pump money into workers’ pockets and therefore businesses (via their spending) when times are tough.