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Feb 12 2013

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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Hakim: From Afghanistan: My Voice Is Not Political, It Is Human

It’s hard for me, an ordinary citizen of Singapore, a medical doctor engaged in social enterprise work in Afghanistan and a human being wishing for a better world, to write this from Kabul.

But people are dying.

And children and women are feeling hopeless.

“What’s the point in telling you our stories?” asked Freba, one of the seamstresses working with the Afghan Peace Volunteers to set up a tailoring co-operative for Afghan women. “Does anyone hear? Does anyone believe us?”

Silently within, I answered Freba with shame,” You’re right. No one is listening.”

So, I write this in protest against my government’s presence in the humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan, as a way to lend my voice to Freba and all my Afghan friends.

Modernize Registration and Require Early Voting Periods

President Obama has a long agenda for his State of the Union address, but it is important that he not forget the most fundamental democratic reform of all: repairing a broken election system that caused hundreds of thousands of people to stand in line for hours to vote last year. It is time to make good on his election-night promise.

Those seeking political power by making voting more inconvenient will resist reforms, but a better system would actually be good for both parties and, more important, the country.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Increasing Social Security Benefits: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Archaeologists of the future will sift through our newspapers, websites, and other ephemera and marvel at the inverted shape of our political debate. They’ll be particularly surprised to discover that, at a time when retirement security was being destroyed for an entire generation, politicians were posturing over how to make the problem even worse by cutting Social Security.

And they’ll marvel over how long it took us to agree on the right solution: Increasing Social Security benefits instead.

The concept of increasing Social Security has been around for a while. Strengthen Social Security, a coalition of 320 groups, reviewed the program’s ability to meet current and future needs and concluded that benefits should be increased rather than cut. The National Academy for Social Insurance proposed increasing benefits for vulnerable groups. The AFL-CIO has called for raising benefits. We got in the game, too, suggesting that a 15 percent increase in 2011 be included as part  of a forward-thinking progressive agenda.

Michael T. Klare: A Presidential Decision That Could Change the World: The Strategic Importance of Keystone XL

Presidential decisions often turn out to be far less significant than imagined, but every now and then what a president decides actually determines how the world turns. Such is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  In the near future, President Obama is expected to give its construction a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down, and the decision he makes could prove far more important than anyone imagines.  It could determine the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry and, with it, the future well-being of the planet.  If that sounds overly dramatic, let me explain.

Sometimes, what starts out as a minor skirmish can wind up determining the outcome of a war — and that seems to be the case when it comes to the mounting battle over the Keystone XL pipeline. If given the go-ahead by President Obama, it will daily carry more than 700,000 barrels of tar-sands oil to those Gulf Coast refineries, providing a desperately needed boost to the Canadian energy industry. If Obama says no, the Canadians (and their American backers) will encounter possibly insuperable difficulties in exporting their heavy crude oil, discouraging further investment and putting the industry’s future in doubt.

Robert REich: Why We Need an Investment Budget

Part of the President’s State of the Union message and of his second term agenda apparently will focus on public investments in education, infrastructure, and basic R&D.

That’s good news. But how do we fund these investments when discretionary spending is being cut to the bone in order to reduce the budget deficit?

Answer: By treating public investments differently from current spending.

No rational family would borrow to pay for a vacation but not borrow to send a kid to college. No rational business would borrow to finance current salaries but not to pay for critical new machinery.

Yet that’s, in effect, what the federal government does now. The federal budget doesn’t distinguish between borrowing for current expenditures that keep things going, and future investments that build future productivity. All borrowing is treated the same.

Wendell Potter: Fixing Medicare: Start By Eliminating Drug Makers’ Sweetheart Deal, Not Benefits

It’s no surprise that American corporations spend billions of dollars each year on lobbying, trying to gain favorable treatment from legislators. What some may find a bit unnerving is the industry that’s leading the pack in these efforts.

You might think our nation’s defense and aerospace companies, which have legions of hired guns on Capitol Hill, are the leaders. Or perhaps Big Oil, which is perpetually fighting with environmentalists and consequently needs friends in Washington to block what it considers onerous legislation or regulations.

In both cases, you’d be wrong. It’s actually the pharmaceutical industry that spends the most each year to influence our lawmakers, forking over a total of $2.6 billion on lobbying activities from 1998 through 2012, according to OpenSecrets.org. To get some perspective on just how big that number is, consider that oil and gas companies and their trade associations spent $1.4 billion lobbying Congress over the same time frame while the defense and aerospace industry spent $662 million, a fourth of Big Pharma’s total.