12/17/2013 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: A Powerful Rebuke of Mass Surveillance

For the first time since the revelation of the National Security Agency’s vast dragnet of all Americans’ telephone records, a federal court has ruled that such surveillance is “significantly likely” to be unconstitutional.

In a scathing 68-page opinion (pdf) peppered with exclamations of incredulity, United States District Judge Richard Leon, of the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia, found that the seven-year-old phone-data collection program – which was established under the Patriot Act and has been repeatedly reauthorized by a secret intelligence court – “almost certainly” violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches. [..]

The ruling by Judge Leon, who was nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush on Sept. 10, 2001, was remarkable for many reasons, but mainly because there were real people sitting in open court challenging the government’s lawyers over the program’s constitutionality.

Mark Harris: You, me and Edward Snowden – we’ve all been let down by the EU

Member states alone cannot combat mass population surveillance, it’s up to the EU – but it has been found wanting

A colleague was in Maidan in Kiev last week and saw for himself Ukrainians, young and old, wrapped in the flag of the European Union in the freezing cold. As a Belarusian, he told me just how powerful the lure of the values we take for granted is. Ukrainians know that joining the EU means signing up to strong protections for human rights, including the right to free expression. Yet, as the Index on Censorship report released today demonstrates, within the EU the right to free speech is under sustained siege.

Europe has seen no co-ordinated action to stop the mass state surveillance of the US and Britain. Journalists face prison for libel. Media monopolies go unopposed. This continent’s history forged the desire to build a new set of European values which actively protected human rights and a club to do so: the European Union. It’s time for the EU to step up, otherwise this siege is likely to become a crisis.

Sen. Tom Harkin: The Social Security Debate Is About More Than Politics

To read some of the headlines over the past few weeks, it is clear that the chattering class in Washington is once again trying to scare the American public about the future of Social Security. These fear-mongers would have you believe that Social Security is driving our nation further into debt, and forcing us to choose between our seniors and their grandchildren. But these arguments are nothing more than worn out attacks on our nation’s most successful social program based on false information and half-truths.

The reality is that nationwide we face an acute retirement crisis, and it is only getting worse. The retirement income deficit — that is, the difference between what people have actually saved for retirement and what they need to have saved at this point to have a secure retirement — is a staggering $6.6 trillion.

Hardworking Americans of all ages — from young people starting a family to older workers thinking about retirement — are deeply worried that they will not have enough money to live on when they stop working. They find it difficult to save, and most lack an employer-provided pension. They look to Social Security as their only reliable lifeline.

E. J. Dione, Jr.: Family Values Hypocrisy

Politicians talk about family values but do almost nothing to help families. They talk about parental responsibility but do almost nothing to help parents. They talk about self-sufficiency but do precious little to make self-sufficiency a reality for those who must struggle hardest to achieve it.

How often can we hear that government should be more responsive to the problems Americans face now? But the vogue for simply assuming that government cannot-or should not-do much of anything about those problems leads to paralysis. This, in turn, further increases disaffection from government.

For all these reasons, it was exciting last week to see Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut introduce the FAMILY Act, the acronym standing for their Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act. The bill would provide partial income for up to 12 weeks of leave for new parents and for other family demands, including care for a sick family member or domestic partner.

Wendell Potter: Should Health Insurers Have to Tell the Truth About Their Political Spending?

Two days before Aetna told Wall Street it would not allow policyholders who received cancellation notices to renew their cancelled policies next year, as President Obama had requested, the company was accused in a lawsuit of sending out false and misleading statements to shareholders about what it was spending to influence public policy.

Mark Bertolini, CEO of the nation’s third largest health insurer, reportedly told shareholders and Wall Street financial analysts at a meeting in New York last Thursday that the company was too busy to provide the information state insurance departments would need before giving Aetna the approval to reinstate the cancelled policies. [..]

The reality is that it might have cost the company some money that otherwise would be available for profits — and shareholders would no doubt take a dim view of that.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) thinks shareholders might also take a dim view of receiving inaccurate information on an issue they would be asked to vote on at the company’s annual shareholders’ meetings. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in New York on behalf of an Aetna shareholder, CREW accuses the company of violating the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by sending out false and misleading proxy statements to shareholders.

On This Day In History December 17

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.

December 17 is the 351st day of the year (352nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 14 days remaining until the end of the year

On this day on 1865, the first two movements of Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony”, Symphony No. 8 in B minor, is performed in Vienna, Austria.

(The symphony) was started in 1822 but left with only two movements known to be complete, even though Schubert would live for another six years. A scherzo, nearly completed in piano score but with only two pages orchestrated, also survives. It has long been theorized that Schubert may have sketched a finale which instead became the big B minor entr’acte from his incidental music to Rosamunde, but all the evidence for this is circumstantial.[1] One possible reason for Schubert’s leaving the symphony incomplete is the predominance of the same meter (three-in-a-bar). The first movement is in 3/4, the second in 3/8 and the third (an incomplete scherzo) also in 3/4. Three consecutive movements in exactly the same meter rarely occur in the symphonies, sonatas or chamber works of the great Viennese composers (one notable exception being Haydn’s Farewell Symphony).

Hot Rails To Hell, Pipelines To Perdition

Do you live near a railroad line?  How about a pipeline?  You might want to check into your proximity to those things.

Because America is the new Saudi Arabia, soon to be the world’s number one oil producer, the infrastructure that used to carry our energy products around is straining to meet the demand created by the new production.  

This pressure is translating into pipeline accidents which are shockingly destructive.  There are on average 1.6 pipeline accidents a day in the US, and the rate of pipeline accidents in Canada has doubled in the past decade. There are also rail disasters, like the recent Lac Megantic rail tanker explosion which killed 47 people and devastated a small town and the recent explosion in rural Alabama when a train carrying 2.7 million gallons of North Dakota crude oil derailed and exploded, sending up 300 foot flames.

pipeline accidents

Map of US Pipeline Accidents January 1, 2010 to March 29, 2013

Even pipeline regulators say they wouldn’t live near a pipeline:

A federal pipeline safety official admitted on camera recently that he made a point of ensuring his home wasn’t in the path of any pipelines before buying it, and that he wouldn’t advise anyone to build in the path of a pipeline. …

“Here is what I did when I bought my house – I looked on all the maps, I looked for all the well holes. I found there is nothing around me but dry holes and no pipelines. And it’s not because I’m afraid of pipelines, it’s not because I think something will happen. It’s because something could happen. … You’re always better off, if you have a choice….”

Energy giants need to get gas and chemicals to process their raw product to transport it to a refinery.  Since US demand for petroleum products has been in decline since 2005 they also want to transport the refined product to a port in order to reach a higher paying market, which is why energy giants like Exxon are presssuring Congress to lift the US export ban on oil and other energy products like natural gas. Naturally, the President Obama has installed a friend of the energy giants as Secretary of the Department of Energy who is in favor of enormous profits for greedy polluters exports of energy products.

Taken together with natural gas, the US is awash in domestic fossil fuels that are largely stranded in North America, and is now in a position to reconsider its scarcity-based energy policies.

Should the export ban be lifted, there will be even more pressure on the energy transportation infrastructure and, hence, more danger for Americans living near pipelines, rail lines and roads where there will be increased truck traffic.