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Feb 14 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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Henry A. Giroux: The Shooting Gallery: Obama and the Vanishing Point of Democracy

We live at a time in the United States when the notion of political enemies has become a euphemism for dismantling prohibitions against targeted assassinations, torture, abductions and indefinite detention. Under the elastic notion of permanent war and the use of Orwellian labels like terrorists, enemy combatants, enemies of the state or the all-encompassing “evil-doers,” the United States has tortured prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo for more than a decade. It also kidnapped suspected terrorists, held them in CIA “black sites,” and subjected them to extraordinary rendition – “the practice [of] taking detainees to and from US custody without a legal process … and often … handing [them] over to countries that practiced torture.”1 As a new report from the Open Society Foundation, “Globalizing Torture,” points out, since 9/11 the CIA has illegally kidnaped and tortured more than 136 people and was aided in its abhorrent endeavors by 54 countries.2 All of this was done in secrecy and when it was eventually exposed, the Obama administration refused to press criminal charges against those government officials who committed atrocious human rights abuses, signalling to the military and various intelligence agencies that they would not be held accountable for engaging in such egregious and illegal behavior. The notion that torture, kidnapping and the killing of Americans without due process is an illegitimate function of any state, including the United States, has overtly suffered the fate of the Geneva Conventions, apparently too quaint and antiquated to be operative.

Josh Barro: A Smarter Alternative to Raising the Minimum Wage

One of President Barack Obama’s biggest proposals in yesterday’s State of the Union Address was a big minimum wage increase, from $7.25 per hour to $9. The trade-off with any minimum wage increase is that it reduces inequality and poverty, but may raise unemployment. As Evan Soltas wrote for the Ticker last month, within the wage range that is on the table, the former effect should be substantial and the latter effect small, if existent. So, raising the minimum wage is a better idea than doing nothing.

But while a higher minimum wage is a way to address poverty, it’s not the best way. It would be preferable to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, a government program that makes payments to workers in low-income households. Unlike a higher minimum wage, a larger EITC would not create any disincentive to hire; and while some of the benefits of a minimum wage hike will go to teenagers in middle-class households, everyone who benefits from the EITC is poor.

Dean Baker: Fix the Debt and a Wall Street Sales Tax

At this point everyone knows about Fix the Debt. It is a collection of corporate CEOs put together by Peter Peterson, the Wall Street private equity mogul. Ostensibly they want to reduce budget deficits and the national debt, but for some reason their attention always seems focused on cutting Social Security and Medicare. While some in this group will allow for minor tax increases, budget cuts are explicitly a priority, with these two programs firmly in their crosshairs.

Given that the stated goal of this group is to reduce budget deficits, it is worth asking why taxes don’t figure more prominently on their agenda. After all, the United States ranks near the bottom of wealthy countries in its tax take as a share of GDP. It is also worth asking why one tax in particular, a financial transactions tax, never seems to get mentioned in anything the group or its members do.

Amy Goodman: Historic Tar-Sands Action at Obama’s Door

For the first time in its 120-year history, the Sierra Club engaged in civil disobedience, the day after President Barack Obama gave his 2013 State of the Union address. The group joined scores of others protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which awaits a permitting decision from the Obama administration. The president made significant pledges to address the growing threat of climate change in his speech. But it will take more than words to save the planet from human-induced climate disruption, and a growing, diverse movement is directing its focus on the White House to demand meaningful action.

Robert Reich: The Biggest Republican Lie

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) says Senate Republicans will unanimously support a balanced-budget amendment, to be unveiled Wednesday as the core of the GOP’s fiscal agenda.

There’s no chance of passage so why are Republicans pushing it now? “Just because something may not pass doesn’t mean that the American people don’t expect us to stand up and be counted for the things that we believe in,” says McConnnell. [..]

Perhaps most importantly, it advances the Republican’s biggest economic lie – that the budget deficit is “the transcendent issue of our time,” in McConnell’s words, and that balancing the budget will solve America’s economic problems.

Mark Weisbrot: Japan’s Fiscal Stimulus: Yes, There Is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Economists like to say there’s no such thing as a free lunch — this was even the title of a 1975 book by Milton Friedman. But sometimes there is a free lunch — in a vitally important sense — and now is one of those times for a lot of countries suffering from unnecessary unemployment and in some cases, recession.

Adam Posen doesn’t want to recognize that this is the case for Japan at present. Posen is president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which is probably Washington’s most influential think tank on international economics. Posen is not an “austerian” economist — in the second half of the 1990s he supported expansionary fiscal policy in Japan; and more recently, as a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee from 2009-2012, he supported expansionary monetary policy, including quantitative easing and very low-interest rates.

So it is worth looking at his argument, because it may help us understand how the mainstream of the economics profession can sometimes be an obstacle to global economic recovery, as well as to important social goals such as reducing unemployment and poverty.