07/09/2013 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 Board: The Laws You Can’t See

In the month since a national security contractor leaked classified documents revealing a vast sweep of Americans’ phone records by the federal government, people across the country have disagreed about the extent to which our expectation of personal privacy must yield to the demands of national security.

Under normal circumstances, this could be a healthy, informed debate on a matter of overwhelming importance – the debate President Obama said he welcomed in the days after the revelations of the surveillance programs.

But this is a debate in which almost none of us know what we’re talking about.

Colleen Rowley: Questions for the F.B.I. Nominee

WHEN President Obama nominated James B. Comey to lead the F.B.I., he lauded Mr. Comey as someone who understands the challenge of “striking a balance” between security and privacy, and had been “prepared to give up a job he loved rather than be part of something he felt was fundamentally wrong.” [..]

Mr. Comey’s reputation for courage and probity rests largely on a dramatic episode in March 2004 when he and the current F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, tried to squelch the George W. Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. But that was just one night in the 20 months that Mr. Comey served as deputy attorney general.

And while it was not the only time he expressed reservations, Mr. Comey apparently did eventually sign off on most of the worst of the Bush administration’s legal abuses and questionable interpretations of federal and international law.

Dean Baker: The One Percent Want Your Kidney: Tales of Redistribution

It is widely recognized that economists are not very good at economics. That is why we are looking at a decade of economic stagnation with tens of millions of people being unemployed or underemployed in Europe and the United States.

If economists were better at economics, central banks in the United States and Europe would have recognized the housing bubbles that were driving economies in the last decade. They would have taken steps to rein them in before they grew so large that their inevitable collapse would sink the world economy.

We recently had the opportunity to see that economists are no better at moral philosophy than economics. In a recent paper, Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw, the former chief economist to President Bush and one of the country’s most prominent conservative economists, compared progressive taxation with forcefully removing a person’s kidney for a transplant.

That is probably not how most people would view imposing a high tax rate on rich people. However the analogy is an interesting one, it just needs a bit more context.

Paul Buchheit: Four Contemptible Examples of Corporate Tax Avoidance

CEOs are legendary for defending their tax paying records, and eager to imply that government is responsible for any of their tax delinquencies. Apple CEO Tim Cook announced, “We pay all the taxes we owe – every single dollar.” Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey supported the iPhone maker, saying “It’s not Apple’s fault that they’re seeking to avoid paying taxes. They’re not lying, cheating or stealing. They’re following the rules that were created by governments. If the government doesn’t like the rules, they can change them.”

Mackey didn’t mention that changing the tax rules is a specialty of big business. As is flouting the tax rules. The following four tales of corporate malfeasance are particularly disturbing.

Ray McGovern: Obama Needs to Take Charge on NSA Spying Scandal

There is a way out for President Barack Obama as he attempts to cope with Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the National Security Agency’s overreaching eavesdropping, the turbulent world reaction, and the lack of truthfulness shown by National Intelligence Director James Clapper and NSA Director Keith Alexander. The President should seize the initiative by suggesting to both that they “spend more time with their families.”

Not since President George W. Bush attacked Iraq has there been so much discontent among our closest allies with U.S. behavior. This has been somewhat obscured, as U.S. media have chosen to focus mostly on the sins, whereabouts and future of Mr. Snowden, the new Julian Assange-type bête noir.

Most media treatment has diverted attention from obvious violations of our Fourth Amendment rights. But eavesdropped-upon Europeans and others have deep views, born of sad history, that they too must have a right to privacy. And – allowing for some posturing by politicians – most countries clearly had little idea of the breathtaking breadth and deep intrusiveness of NSA snooping.

George Zornick: How the Sequester Savages the Long-Term Unemployed

Once you become long-term unemployed, you start drawing from the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation fund, which was signed into law by George W. Bush in 2008 as the economy cratered. The idea was to throw a lifeline to people who exhausted the standard twenty-six weeks of state unemployment benefits, in a recession that, even today amidst a so-called recovery, has an average unemployment length of almost thirty-seven weeks.

But the EUC, like most federal programs, is subject to the automatic sequester cuts, and will lose $2.4 billion this fiscal year. (That represents 8 percent of the $30 billion in domestic non-Medicare budget sequester cuts.) It’s a big chunk of money-and it’s being taken away from the people who have already suffered the most during the downturn. The average resulting benefit reduction is $43 per week, out of an average EUC benefit of $289.


In the “you can’t make this stuff up” category, from Charles P. Pierce at Esquire’s Politics Blog:

Dear god, tell me nobody anywhere near this government can possibly be this stupid.

“It’s a crazy, strange and suspicious situation,” attorney Cary Schulman told The Cable. “It’s clear to me that it was somebody looking for information and not money. My most high-profile case right now is the Aurelia Fedenisn case, and I can’t think of any other case where someone would go to these great lengths to get our information.” According to the KDFW report, the firm was the only suite burglarized in the high-rise office building and an unlocked office adjacent was left untouched. The State Department, which has repeatedly disputed Fedenisn’s allegations, denied any involvement in the incident. “Any allegation that the Department of State authorized someone to break into Mr. Schulman’s law firm is false and baseless,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. After assessing the surveillance footage, Schulman said he believed the motivations were likely political, but did not suspect department involvement. “It wasn’t professional enough,” he said. “It is possible that an Obama or Hillary supporter feels that I am unfairly going after them. And the timing of this is right after several weeks of very public media attention so it seems to me most likely that the information sought is related to that case. I don’t know for sure and I want the police to do their work.”

I disagree with Charlie on the lawyers claim that Fedenisn’s whistleblowwer case is the firms’s “most high-profile case right now.”

“It’s a crazy, strange and suspicious situation,” attorney Cary Schulman told The Cable. “It’s clear to me that it was somebody looking for information and not money. My most high-profile case right now is the Aurelia Fedenisn case, and I can’t think of any other case where someone would go to these great lengths to get our information.”  

Any case involving a whistleblower and the Obama administration is clearly a very high profile case for any law firm.

However, I do agree that the State Department denial is pathetic.

The State Department, which has repeatedly disputed Fedenisn’s allegations, denied any involvement in the incident. “Any allegation that the Department of State authorized someone to break into Mr. Schulman’s law firm is false and baseless,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The burglary, as Charles pointed out, was rather amateurish since the fools not only didn’t disable the surveillance cameras but left everything in the office untouched except for the computers they stole.

Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Knowing how stupid some government civil service employees can be, anything is possible.

Global Spying By US Is An Outrage

At his blog, Glenn Greenwald posted that he had written an article for O Globo, the large Brazilian newspaper based in Rio de Janeiro revealing that millions of Brazilians emails and calls, too, had been scooped up by the US spy program. This followed on the news in Der Spiegel that gave a detailed account of the mass collection of data from the electronic communications of Germans. The Brazilian government is now demanding an explanation from the US.

The foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, expressed “deep concern” about a report that appeared in O Globo newspaper at the weekend, which detailed how the US National Security Agency (NSA) had conducted extensive spying activities in Brazil.

Based on documents provided by Snowden, the O Globo story showed how the US had been carrying out covert surveillance on ostensibly friendly nations. Similar reports in Europe and Hong Kong have sparked indignation in recent weeks.

After the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, called in cabinet ministers to discuss the issue, the government issued a statement of concern.

After the flight carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales was forced to land in Austria over the suspicion that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board, Bolivia and two other Latin American countries, Venezuela and Nicaragua have offered Snowden asylum. The offers spark some rather undiplomatic responses from elected officials on the Sunday talk shows. The most notable was from Sen. Robert Menedez (D-NJ) who, after calling for sanctions against the three countries, told Meet the Press‘s David Gregory:

“I’m not surprised by the countries that are offering him asylum,” Menendez said Sunday. “They like sticking it to the United States.”

The second half of Glenn Greenwald’s interview with Snowden that was taped in Hong Kong by Laura Poitras on 6 June 2013 was posted at The Guardian.

Edward Snowden: ‘The US government will say I aided our enemies’

Juan Cole had this to say about the NSA spying and the Obama administration

The general disappointment with the Obama administration on issues of surveillance, drone warfare, the surge in Afghanistan, extension of the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich, labor issues and the environment felt by anyone to the left of David Brooks appears to be a factor in Snowden’s whistleblowing. He must also have been frustrated to see Senators such as Ron Wyden (D-OR) muzzled and unable to tell the American people forthrightly what was troubling him about the secret interpretation of the USA Patriot Act (which is of course the most unpatriotic piece of legislation ever passed). Muzzling a sitting senator about an issue of clear public concern surely is unconstitutional. You can’t have a democracy that way. Snowden knew this and is trying to restore what we lost to the National Security Super-State.

International Law?

U.S. Allies Violate Int. Law Pursuing Snowden

The Real News

July 7, 13

Well, you saw what happened on Tuesday. He wasn’t even on this plane. It was the presidential plane of Bolivia with the president on it. And in spite of the fact that this caused a major controversy between and conflict between the European countries and Latin America, and, of course, the U.S. and Latin America, they–France, Spain, and Portugal, and possibly other countries–grounded his plane. They forced him to turn back and go to Austria. They wouldn’t let him pass French or Spanish or Portuguese airspace.

So this was a very serious offense. I mean, you know, obviously it’s not as bad as killing somebody or something like that, but in the diplomatic world these conventions are rarely, rarely violated. It was like last year when the U.K. threatened to invade the Ecuadorian embassy. That was something that hadn’t been done for 50 or 100 years. I mean, you know, even the Nazis, you know, respected embassies when people were sheltered there in most cases. You know. So this is something that’s just not done. And the same is true about this event. This is something that just isn’t done. A president’s plane, which has diplomatic immunity, is not turned away, especially on the mere suspicion, which turned out to be false, that somebody the United States was looking for was on the plane. And this isn’t Osama bin Laden on the plane, either; this is somebody’s who’s just wanted for–well, for a crime that probably half the world doesn’t even consider a crime.

On This Day In History July 9

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.

July 9 is the 190th day of the year (191st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 175 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1995, the Grateful Dead gave their last concert at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL.

For mishima