“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.
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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.
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.