02/05/2013 archive

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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New York Times Editorial: More Jobs, Higher Pay

In President Obama’s first term, the fiscal stimulus and the auto-industry rescue of 2009 created and preserved millions of jobs. But the stimulus ended years ago, replaced with temporary measures that have been insufficient to propel the economy forward. Health care reform in 2010 was a major step in the effort to support the middle class, but its broad effects will be felt only in the years and decades to come.  [..]

A recent federal court ruling invalidating his recess appointees to the National Labor Relations Board, which enforces federal labor law, will be a further setback to workers’ ability to bargain for higher wages. The misguided decision, if upheld, would deny the board a quorum to rule on legal questions. In seeking to overturn the ruling, all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, the administration should take aim at the court’s unjustified incursion on presidential power and its antiunion bias. [..]

In his first term – a time of persistent high unemployment, weak job growth, stagnating wages and rising income inequality – Mr. Obama neglected a basic labor agenda. He now has a chance to take corrective action.

Simon Johnson: Who Decided U.S. Megabanks Are Too Big to Jail?

Tom Hanks has a knack for playing the roles that define American generations. In “Saving Private Ryan,” he embodied the courage of the men who landed on the Normandy beaches under heavy fire. In “Apollo 13,” he conveyed calm and ingenuity under intense pressure: “Houston, we have a problem.” And Forrest Gump revealed much about America before, during and after the Vietnam War.

If Hanks turns his attention to our most recent decade, which character should he choose? My suggestion is Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, the head of the criminal division at the Justice Department and the man responsible for determining whether anyone should be prosecuted for the financial crisis of 2008.

In an on-camera interview, which aired recently, Breuer stated plainly that some financial institutions are too large and too complex to be held accountable before the law. Bipartisan pressure is now being applied on the Justice Department to reveal exactly how this determination was made. Breuer, however, has announced he will leave government March 1. Good luck unraveling the cover-up that must already be in place.

Josh Barrow: What ACT UP Teaches About Social Change

Edward Koch, who died last week at 88, figures prominently as an antagonist in “How to Survive a Plague,” David France’s excellent new documentary about the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). The film opens with footage from 1987 of a reporter asking Koch, then New York’s mayor, why he called ACT UP protesters “fascists” but referred to them in a news release as “concerned citizens.” Koch replied, classically, “Fascists can be concerned citizens.” [..]

But “How to Survive a Plague” shows that ACT UP was a movement that worked effectively within the system at the same time that it worked noisily against it. ACT UP activists weren’t just angry about national apathy and inaction on AIDS; they also had specific demands and constructive ideas about how the government and drug companies could do better. Unlike a lot of protest movements, once they got to the stage where the targets of their protests said, “I’m listening. What do you want me to do?” they had concrete answers.

Wendell Potter: Why Americans Pay So Much for Health Care: Friends in High Places (Just Not Your Friends)

If you wonder why we spend more money on health care than any other country but have some of the worst health outcomes, you need look no further than the halls of Congress to it figure out. [..]

Drug makers have long had cozy relationships and outsized influence on lawmakers in Washington. That’s why Obamacare barely touches that industry. Big Pharma essentially blackmailed members of Congress and the White House by threatening to bankroll a huge PR and lobbying campaign to kill health care reform if serious consideration was given to allowing Medicare officials to negotiate for lower drug prices.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: As Public Makes “Hard Choices” On Social Security, Alan Simpson Ducks His “Moment of Truth”

Alan Simpson’s the lead pitchman for a billionaire- and corporate-funded initiative to slash Social Security that has subjected the public to years of nonstop haranguing and lecturing.

The lecturing’s gotten crude, too, as when Simpson insisted that anyone who disagrees with him is shoveling “bullsh*t.”

That’s tough talk, but it’s a funny thing: When the public makes tough decisions, as it did in a new National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) survey, the tough-talking Mr. Simpson is nowhere to be found.

Lee Fang: Meet Jason Rapert, the Koch-Backed Evangelical Steering Arkansas’s Radical Abortion-Restriction Effort

On Wednesday, the Arkansas legislature lurched forward with a radical measure to ban most abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected within six weeks of a pregnancy, a requirement experts say will force the state to insert a probe into a woman’s vagina to detect. [..]

Libertarian billionaire Charles Koch, author of his own ideology he touts as the “Science of Liberty,” is famous for spreading his beliefs (and his business interests) through the aggressive use of political donations to candidates, think tanks, media outlets, universities, career-training institutes and dark-money attack-ad groups. But critics, including myself, point to the hundreds of state and federal Koch-backed politicians who seem to prioritize fairly authoritarian policies. Rapert’s transvaginal probes and government-forced pregnancies do not seem to cohere with any notion of individual liberty I’m familiar with.

On This Day In History February 5

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.

February 5 is the 36th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 329 days remaining until the end of the year (330 in leap years).

On this day in 1917, with more than a two-thirds majority, Congress overrides President Woodrow Wilson’s veto of the previous week and passes the Immigration Act.. The law required a literacy test for immigrants and barred Asiatic laborers, except for those from countries with special treaties or agreements with the United States, such as the Philippines.

The Immigration Act of 1917, also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, added to the number of undesirables banned from entering the country, including but not limited to “idiots”, “feeble-minded persons”, “criminals”, “epileptics”, “insane persons”, alcoholics, “professional beggars”, all persons “mentally or physically defective”, polygamists, and anarchists. Furthermore, it barred all immigrants over the age of sixteen who were illiterate. The most controversial part of the law was the section that designated an “Asiatic Barred Zone”, a region that included much of eastern Asia and the Pacific Islands from which people could not immigrate. Previously, only the Chinese had been excluded from admission to the country. Attempts at introducing literacy tests had been vetoed by Grover Cleveland in 1897 and William Taft in 1913. Wilson also objected to this clause in the Immigration Act but it was still passed by Congress on the fourth attempt.

Anxiety in the United States about immigration has often been directed toward immigrants from China and Japan. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred Chinese from entering the U.S. The Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 was made with Japan to regulate Japanese immigration to the U.S. The Immigration Act of 1917 is one of many immigration acts during this time period which arose from nativist and xenophobic sentiment. These immigration laws were intentional efforts to control the composition of immigrant flow into the United States.

Down the Rabbit Hole to Follow the Drone Attacks

Lewis Carol has nothing on the Obama administration.

Will Senators Filibuster Chuck Hagel’s Nomination to Get the Targeted Killing Memo?

by Marcy Wheeler, emptywheel

Eleven Senators just sent President Obama a letter asking nicely, for at least the 12th time, the targeted killing memo. They remind him of his promise of transparency and oversight. [..]

And asks – yet again – for “any and all memos.” [..]

But perhaps the most important part of this letter is that it refers not just to John Brennan’s nomination, but to “senior national security positions.”

   As the Senate considers a number of nominees for senior national security positions, we ask that you ensure that Congress is provided with the secret legal opinions outlining your authority to authorize the killing of Americans in the course of counterterrorism operations.

There are eleven signers of that letter: Ron Wyden (D-Ore.); Mike Lee (R-Utah); Mark Udall (D-Colo.); Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa); Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.); Susan Collins (R-Maine); Dick Durbin (Ill.); Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.); Tom Udall (D-N.M.); Mark Begich (D-Alaska); and  Al Franken (D- Minn.).

Wyden, Mark Udall, and Collins sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee that will consider John Brennan’s nomination to the CIA. Brennen is considered the architect of President Obama’s drone program and targeted assassination program.

While there is still a battle over the original memo that laid out the legal premise for the drone and assassination program, NBC News national investigative correspondent, Michael Isikoff, has obtained a 16 page white paper memo (pdf) that “provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices:

The secrecy surrounding such strikes is fast emerging as a central issue in this week’s hearing of White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, a key architect of the drone campaign, to be CIA director.  Brennan was the first administration official to publicly acknowledge drone strikes in a speech last year, calling them “consistent with the inherent right of self-defense.” In a separate talk at the Northwestern University Law School in March, Attorney General Eric Holder specifically endorsed the constitutionality of targeted killings of Americans, saying they could be justified if government officials determine the target poses  “an imminent threat of violent attack.”

But the confidential Justice Department “white paper” introduces a more expansive definition of self-defense or imminent attack than described  by Brennan or Holder in their public speeches.  It refers, for example, to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than actual intelligence about any ongoing plot against the U.S. homeland.    

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow doesn’t think that the Republicans would be foolish enough to filibuster Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel and risk Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) invoking the nuclear option to end filibuster altogether. There is the slim possibility that the Senate Intelligence Committee could reject Mr. Brennan’s nomination for the CIA from a vote of the full Senate.

Ms. Maddow talked with Mr. Isikoff about the details of the memo and the legal justification for targeted drone attacks that American citizens without trial in the name of national security.

Not in our names.

Free Public Wi-Fi Coming to the USA

Color me shocked. If this comes to fruition, the US would catch up with the rest of the world.

The federal government wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month. […]

   The airwaves that FCC officials want to hand over to the public would be much more powerful than existing WiFi networks that have become common in households. They could penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees. If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas.

   The new WiFi networks would also have much farther reach, allowing for a driverless car to communicate with another vehicle a mile away or a patient’s heart monitor to connect to a hospital on the other side of town.

Over at Maddow Blog, Steve Brenen spoke with an FCC spokesperson who explained:

“The FCC’s incentive auction proposal, launched in September of last year, would unleash substantial spectrum for licensed uses like 4G LTE. It would also free up unlicensed spectrum for uses including, but not limited to, next generation Wi-Fi. As the demand for mobile broadband continues to grow rapidly, we need to free up significant amounts of spectrum for commercial use, and both licensed and unlicensed spectrum must be part of the solution.”

This is several years off and faces opposition from the telecom industry and lawmakers in the House and Senate who represent them and not us.

h/t to Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars for this 2010 interview with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski who  answered questions submitted and voted on by people on Citizentube.

Now They Can’t Kill the Beast

When I read in the headline in The New York Times that “top Republican donors were seeking more say in Senate races“, I wondered just how much more influence could they want, as it is, frankly, they own the place. But then I read further:

The biggest donors in the Republican Party are financing a new group to recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party’s efforts to win control of the Senate.

The group, the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races. [..]

The Conservative Victory Project, which is backed by Karl Rove and his allies who built American Crossroads into the largest Republican super PAC of the 2012 election cycle, will start by intensely vetting prospective contenders for Congressional races to try to weed out candidates who are seen as too flawed to win general elections.

The only thing that ran through my mind after reading the whole piece (and you should but do not eat or drink) were the lyrics from the Eagles’ “Hotel California:

They stab it with their steely knives, But they just can’t kill the beast

The Republicans, in there zeal to defeat President Obama at any cost, created a monster that they no longer can control. But not all of the big donors are displeased with the beast and are a bit cross with Mr. Rove for trying to euthanize their pet and now they are revolting:

“Because of the bad results of the 2012 cycle, I kind of feel like we’re in a state of gang warfare,” Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a grassroots advocacy group aligned with the Tea Party movement, told MSNBC.com, adding: “The establishment is circling the wagons, and they’re trying to protect their own.”

Kibbe argued that the the energy in today’s GOP comes from the very Tea Party-backed candidates, like Rand Paul and Mike Lee, that Rove has opposed in the past. “What Rove is proposing is a recipe for failure,” he said.

In a press release put out shortly afterwards, Kibbe warned: “The Empire is striking back.”

Tea Party Patriots, perhaps the leading national grassroots Tea Party group, took the same view. “Instead of returning to conservative principles, Rove and the consultant class are pouring millions into picking off conservative leaders,” national coordinator Jenny Beth Martin said in a statement. “The consultant class has been on the wrong side of history and it is time for conservatives to wake-up and stop funding their sabotage of conservatism.”

Right-wing bloggers were no kinder.

Ben Shapiro, an editor at Breitbart News, accused Rove of “declaring war on the Tea Party.”

Influential conservative blogger Michelle Malkin agreed. “This is war,” she wrote, adding: “Who needs Obama and his Team Chicago to destroy the Tea Party when you’ve got Rove and his big government band of elites?”

Erick Erickson, the influential founder of Redstate.com and a long-time champion of the Tea Party, had a similar take. Rove’s goal, Erickson wrote, is to “crush conservatives, destroy the Tea Party, and put a bunch of squishes in Republican leadership positions.”

Fox News should be a very lively place with both Rove and Erickson now on payroll as political analysts.

Over at the Maddow Blog there’s more from Steve Benen:

Roll Call reported over the weekend that the Senate Conservatives Fund, founded by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R), is already condemning Rove’s new project.

“This is a continuation of the establishment’s effort to avoid blame for their horrible performance in the 2012 elections,” Senate Conservatives Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins said. “They blew a ton of races up and down the ticket because they recruited moderate Republicans who didn’t stand for anything. Now they want to use this new PAC to trick donors into giving them more money so they can lose more races.”

Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller echoed the sentiment: “They are welcome to support the likes of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst. We will continue to proudly support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow described the deep division between the right wing Republican base and the moneyed interests, that form the Republican Party, but can’t draw sufficient votes to win elections.

Steve Benin notes the great irony of this fight is that neither side of the Republican divide has any credibility at all. Poor Karl. “You can check out anytime you please but you can never leave.”

Get the popcorn and start the music

More GOP Obstruction, Extortion and Hostage Taking

With changing how the Senate functions now done, the obstruction, extortion and hostage taking by the GOP continues. The latest target is the appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless the agency is weakened. n a letter to President Obama dated FEbruary 1, 43 Republican Senators have threaten to filibuster Mr. Cordray’s permanent appointment:

“The CFPB as created by the deeply flawed Dodd-Frank Act is one of the least accountable in Washington,” said McConnell. “Today’s letter reaffirms a commitment by 43 Senators to fix the poorly thought structure of this agency that has unprecedented reach and control over individual consumer decisions – but an unprecedented lack of oversight and accountability.” [..]

In particular, Republicans want to see the top of the bureau changed so it is run by a bipartisan, five-member commission, as opposed to a lone director.

They also want to see the bureau’s funding fall under the control of congressional appropriators – it currently is funded via a revenue stream directly from the Federal Reserve, and its funding levels cannot be altered by Congress. Republicans also want to give other regulators greater power to veto CFPB rules that could pose a threat to the safety and soundness of financial institutions.

There would have been 44 but Sen.Bob Corker (R-TN) is instead looking at legislative ways to boost the bureau’s accountability and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is demanding that Mr. Cordray voluntarily weaken his own agency.

Mr. Cordray’s recess appointment may also be in jeopardy with the recent ruling by federal appeals court ruled that three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional.

In other words the GOP wants to hamstring any regulations of the banks and Wall Street and will hold up Cordray’s appointment until they get their way.

At The Maddow Blog, Steve Benen calls this extortion politics by the minority to nullify the will of the people and it should not be allowed to stand:

It’s not exactly news that Senate filibuster rules have been abused to the point of breaking the institution. Though the Senate operated by majority rule for about two centuries, there are now, as a practical matter, mandatory supermajorities for just about everything.

That said, some filibusters matter far more than others, and some may even rise to the level of a constitutional crisis.[..]

What we’re talking about here is a shrinking Senate minority pursuing a nullification strategy — they want to nullify federal law by abusing procedural tactics in a way that’s literally never been done in the United States. [..]

This is crazy. The Republican message, in a nutshell, is this: “Weaken consumer protections or we’ll use filibusters to block the executive branch from enforcing existing federal law.” Our system of government simply can’t work this way. [..]

And since the White House has effectively run out of legal options, that leaves one of three possibilities: (1) a minority of the Senate, for the first time in American history, nullifies federal law by abusing filibusters; (2) a majority of the Senate reforms filibuster rules through the so-called “nuclear option”; or (3) public pressure forces the Senate minority to back down.

Something’s gotta give.

How’s that filibuster agreement working out for you, Harry?