“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: Turn Off the Data Vacuum
In the days after one of the biggest national security leaks in United States history revealed the existence of vast, largely unchecked government surveillance programs, President Obama said he would “welcome” a robust national debate over the appropriate balance between protecting national security and respecting individual privacy and civil liberties.
The answer has now landed squarely on Mr. Obama’s desk, with the release late Wednesday afternoon of a remarkably thorough and well-reasoned report calling on the government to end its bulk phone-data collection program and to increase both the transparency and accountability of surveillance programs going forward. [..]
The surveillance programs began before Mr. Obama’s presidency, but he allowed them to continue and grow in unprecedented ways. Lately, he has expressed an openness to reforming the programs themselves and the operations of the intelligence court. One important step would be to support legislation in Congress that would achieve many of the panel’s goals, and codify them to restrain future presidents.
But Mr. Obama need not wait for Congress to act to implement the reforms he said he wants. He can quickly adopt his panel’s recommendation and end the ineffective and constitutionally dangerous dragnet surveillance.
Emily Bazelon: Snap Out of It
If this judge doesn’t buy the legal basis for the NSA’s intrusive phone snooping, no one should.
If you have been lulled into a state of somnolence about former government contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations that the government is collecting records of every phone call you’ve made, for years, it’s time to snap out of it. That’s the bracing effect of Judge Richard Leon’s Monday ruling that the National Security Agency is probably violating the Constitution with its 7-year-old program for collecting “telephony metadata”-the euphonic phrase for whom you call and whom you receive calls from.
In June, when we learned about this NSA program in the first wave of news about the huge trove of documents that Snowden leaked, some responses were too dismissive, saying that what the NSA is doing isn’t all that invasive, since this isn’t about the contents of phone calls, and in any case, collecting and trawling through all that metadata is a crucial tool for thwarting imminent terrorist attacks. Judge Leon didn’t accept the first claim and has eviscerated the second one. This is what judicial review is all about-checking government power and calling government bullshit. And it comes today from a judge appointed by President George W. Bush who has previously ruled in favor of “expansive government power,” as Glenn Greenwald, breaker of much of the Snowden news, puts it. In other words, if Judge Leon didn’t buy the government’s argument about why it needs to collect and keep all this metadata, other judges-and many of the rest of us-may see it the same way.
How can President Obama be so right and so wrong in the same moment? On the one hand, he warns us that sharply rising income inequality “is the defining challenge of our time” and pledges to reverse “a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility. …” But then he once again turns to the same hacks in the Democratic Party who helped create this problem to fix it.
His tough speech on income inequality earlier this month was delivered at the Center for American Progress, founded by John Podesta. As chief of staff to Bill Clinton, Podesta helped lead the charge to deregulate Wall Street, which resulted in the banking bubble that wiped out the savings of tens of millions of Americans.
But instead of chastising Podesta for the errors of his ways, Obama in 2008 appointed him to oversee his presidential transition team. That led to the appointment of Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, two former Clinton officials responsible for the banking meltdown, to repair it. Just this past week, it was announced that John Podesta would be reappointed as a senior adviser to the Obama White House.
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship: Gunpowder and Blood on Their Cold, Dead Hands
This grim anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., killings, with 28 dead, reminded us of that moment back in 2000 when Charlton Heston made his defiant boast at the NRA convention that gun control advocates would have to pry his rifle from his “cold, dead hands.” You would have thought he had returned to that fantasy world of Hollywood where, in a previous incarnation, he portrayed those famous Indian killers Andrew Jackson and Buffalo Bill Cody, whose Wild West, as Cody marketed it, still courses through the bloodstream of American mythology.
For sure, Heston wasn’t channeling his most famous role, as Moses in The Ten Commandments, striding down from Mount Sinai with a stone tablet on which had been chiseled God’s blueprint for a civilized society, including, “Thou Shalt Not Kill!”
But the Good Lord seems not to have anticipated the National Rifle Association, its delegates lustily cheering Heston as his demagoguery brought them to their feet. Started after the Civil War by two former officers of the Union army who were disconsolate that their troops had shown such poor marksmanship in battle, its purpose was to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.” Now, its conscience as cold and dead as Charlton Heston’s grip on his gun, the NRA has become the armed bully of American politics, the enabler of the “gunfighter nation,” as cultural historian Richard Slotkin calls it, whose exceptionalism of which so many patriots fervently boast, includes a high tolerance for the slaughter of the innocent.
Ralph Nader: Let Them Hear the Rumble! Invest in People, Not War
Earlier this month, a delegation of activists took to Capitol Hill to demand a decrease in the massive, out-of-control military budget. As millions of Americans struggle with inadequate health care, low wages, deteriorating public services and uncertainty about their futures as the wage gap between the wealthy elite and the working poor widens, billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars are pouring into the coffers of the Department of Defense every year. The Pentagon budget currently makes up half of the U.S. government’s entire operating budget. Estimated to be around $716 billion in 2013, the U.S. defense budget is greater than the defense budgets of the next ten highest spending nations combined. The gathering was, appropriately, scheduled on International Human Rights Day. [..]
The consortium of activists’ are asking Congress to slash the bloated military budget and use the significant savings to enhance critical social programs that actually help people, things like food stamps, Social Security and improved full Medicare-for-all healthcare. They also suggested a massive public works agenda that creates good paying un-exportable jobs in every community around the country — jobs that include clean, renewable energy for the future. And what of America’s crumbling infrastructure? Our clinics, roads, schools, bridges, libraries, public transit, public water and sewage systems and national parks are in dire need of repair and modernization. The savings from defense spending could be used to repair infrastructure — much of which was a product of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s — and ensure a cleaner, safer, more prosperous America.
These are proposals that would benefit our citizenry rather then ravage and destroy countries abroad whose citizens far too regularly become victims in the U.S.’s perpetual military adventures.
Norman Solomon: Under Amazon’s CIA Cloud: The Washington Post
News media should illuminate conflicts of interest, not embody them. But the owner of the Washington Post is now doing big business with the Central Intelligence Agency, while readers of the newspaper’s CIA coverage are left in the dark.
The Post‘s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon — which recently landed a $600 million contract with the CIA. But the Post‘s articles about the CIA are not disclosing that the newspaper’s sole owner is the main owner of CIA business partner Amazon. [..]
And there’s likely to be plenty more where that CIA largesse came from. Amazon’s offer wasn’t the low bid, but it won the CIA contract anyway by offering advanced high-tech “cloud” infrastructure.
Bezos personally and publicly touts Amazon Web Services, and it’s evident that Amazon will be seeking more CIA contracts. Last month, Amazon issued a statement saying, “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA.”
As Amazon’s majority owner and the Post‘s only owner, Bezos stands to gain a lot more if his newspaper does less ruffling and more soothing of CIA feathers.
Dean Baker: The End of the Assault on Social Security and Medicare
When Senator Elizabeth Warren came out for increasing Social Security last month it set in motion a remarkable turn of events. For over a decade the only discussion of Social Security by the Washington power types was over how much to cut it and when. The extreme left position was that current spending was about right.
Senator Warren changed the debate when she endorsed a bill proposed by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin that would index retirees’ benefits to an index that more closely tracks the cost-of-living of seniors. The bill also would raise benefits by roughly $70 a month. As a result of Warren’s prominence in national politics, and the fact that raising Social Security benefits is actually quite popular, the Washington insider types were forced to take the idea seriously.