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Dec 20 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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Paul Krugman: Osborne and the Stooges

There was, I’m pretty sure, an episode of “The Three Stooges” in which Curly kept banging his head against a wall. When Moe asked him why, he replied, “Because it feels so good when I stop.” [..]

Some background: In 2010, most of the world’s wealthy nations, although still deeply depressed in the wake of the financial crisis, turned to fiscal austerity: slashing spending and, in some cases, raising taxes in an effort to reduce budget deficits that had surged as their economies collapsed. Basic economics said that austerity in an already depressed economy would deepen the depression. But the “austerians,” as many of us began calling them, insisted that spending cuts would lead to economic expansion, because they would improve business confidence.

The result came as close to a controlled experiment as one ever gets in macroeconomics. Three years went by, and the confidence fairy never made an appearance. In Europe, where the austerian ideology took hold most firmly, the nascent economic recovery soon turned into a double-dip recession. In fact, at this point key measures of economic performance in both the euro area and Britain are lagging behind where they were at this stage of the Great Depression.

New York Times Editorial Board: Release the Torture Reports

A dozen years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it is appalling that official reports about the extent and nature of the rendition, detention and torture that came in their aftermath are still being kept from the American public and even members of Congress charged with overseeing intelligence activities. [..]

The lack of transparency was underlined on Tuesday during a hearing on the nomination of Caroline Krass to be the C.I.A.’s top lawyer. Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, disclosed the existence of an internal study done by the C.I.A. under Mr. Brennan’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, that contradicted the agency’s response to the Senate study. Mr. Udall said he believed it was “consistent with the Intelligence’s Committee’s report.” Mr. Udall said: “This raises fundamental questions about why a review the C.I.A. conducted internally years ago – and never provided to the committee – is so different from the C.I.A.’s formal response to the committee study.”

The committee must insist on the Obama administration’s cooperation in making public all three documents – the Senate Intelligence Committee report, the official C.I.A. response to it, and the internal C.I.A. study.

Marcy Wheeler: The NSA Review Panel Didn’t Answer the Real Question: Was Any of This Legal?

President Obama’s NSA review is cast as a set of ‘policy recommendations’ as if this is all just a political debate

President Obama’s NSA review panel makes it clear that many of the things NSA has been doing are bad from a policy perspective. But the real question we should be asking is: are they legal?

Early leaks about the review panel suggested it had found all the NSA’s (and other agencies they imply, such as FBI) activities to be legal. That’s based, in part, on this statement:

   Significantly, and in stark contrast to the pre-Fisa era, the Review Group found no evidence of illegality or other abuse of authority for the purpose of targeting domestic political activity. This is of central importance, because one of the greatest dangers of government surveillance is the potential to use what is learned to undermine democratic governance. On the other hand, as discussed later in this report, there have been serious and persistent instances of noncompliance in the Intelligence Community’s implementation of its authorities. Even if unintentional, these instances of noncompliance raise serious concerns about the Intelligence Community’s capacity to manage its authorities in an effective and lawful manner.

But notice that statement did not say the panel had found everything to be legal. On the contrary, it applied that judgment only to illegality or abuse “for the purposes of targeting domestic political activity”. That leaves open a whole slew of potential abuse, even illegal activities, targeting Americans for reasons outside of politics.

That’s what the report should have tackled, but it didn’t. Instead, we have tame sounding “policy recommendations” as if this is all just a matter of political disagreement over the budget or farm bill.

Lincoln Mitchell: Can the U.S. Stop Itself from Widespread Surveillance?

On Monday U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA surveillance program was unconstitutional. The gist of his ruling is that collecting data on the telephone calls of every American violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. It should be pretty obvious to most Americans that collecting data in this way is not compatible with the values and laws governing our democracy, but it is still good to have that confirmed by a federal judge.

The ruling itself is interesting, but the question of how any administration, Democratic or Republican believed that surveillance of that kind was, or should be legal, is more significant. Edward Snowden’s name is well known, as he was the one who drew attention to this violation of the rights and privacy of millions of Americans, but the names of the probably thousands of Americans who knew of this policy and said or did nothing are still unknown. Those are the people, not Snowden, whose decisions and conduct have weakened our country.

MJ Rosenberg: George Washington Spinning In Grave Over Senate Iran Resolution

Just when President Obama was starting to believe that it was safe to go back into the water, the lobby has come out with a new Iran sanctions resolution designed to torpedo negotiations with Iran. And, once that is accomplished, it provides for automatic U.S military backing for Israel if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decides to bomb.

This may be the lobby’s most brazen attempt yet at subverting negotiations and, in Andrew Sullivan’s words, “handing over American foreign policy on a matter as grave as war and peace to a foreign government….” [..]

The bill is almost like an exploding Christmas present. It looks pretty under the tree, all wrapped up nicely, but then in six months it blows down the house. [..]

Although damaging (there is no telling how the Iranian government will react to such an insulting action by Congress while it is in the midst of negotiating with the administration) the resolution is par for the course. If it’s not one donor-backed lobby dictating policy, it’s another.

But then the bill goes off in a truly unprecedented direction. It states that if negotiations fail (it defines failure as leaving Iran with the capacity for any nuclear enrichment at all) and Prime Minister Netanyahu decides to dispatch his bombers, the United States is automatically at war too.

Robert Reich: The Meaning of a Decent Society

It’s the season to show concern for the less fortunate among us. We should also be concerned about the widening gap between the most fortunate and everyone else.

Although it’s still possible to win the lottery (your chance of winning $636 million in the recent Mega Millions sweepstakes was one in 259 million), the biggest lottery of all is what family we’re born into. Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents.

That’s not always been the case. The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches — with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone — was once at the core of the American Dream. [..]

But for more than three decades we’ve been going backwards. It’s far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.