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Jan 07 2014

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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Chris Hedges: The Last Gasp of American Democracy

This is our last gasp as a democracy. The state’s wholesale intrusion into our lives and obliteration of privacy are now facts. And the challenge to us-one of the final ones, I suspect-is to rise up in outrage and halt this seizure of our rights to liberty and free expression. If we do not do so we will see ourselves become a nation of captives.

The public debates about the government’s measures to prevent terrorism, the character assassination of Edward Snowden and his supporters, the assurances by the powerful that no one is abusing the massive collection and storage of our electronic communications miss the point. Any state that has the capacity to monitor all its citizenry, any state that has the ability to snuff out factual public debate through control of information, any state that has the tools to instantly shut down all dissent is totalitarian. Our corporate state may not use this power today. But it will use it if it feels threatened by a population made restive by its corruption, ineptitude and mounting repression. The moment a popular movement arises-and one will arise-that truly confronts our corporate masters, our venal system of total surveillance will be thrust into overdrive.

Tom Englehardt: American Jihad 2014: On the New National Security State Fundamentalists

Put it all together and what you have is a description of a militant organization whose purpose is to carry out a Washington version of global jihad, a perpetual war in the name of the true faith

In a 1950s civics textbook of mine, I can remember a Martian landing on Main Street, U.S.A., to be instructed in the glories of our political system.  You know, our tripartite government, checks and balances, miraculous set of rights, and vibrant democracy.  There was, Americans then thought, much to be proud of, and so for that generation of children, many Martians were instructed in the American way of life.  These days, I suspect, not so many.

Still, I wondered just what lessons might be offered to such a Martian crash-landing in Washington as 2014 begins.  Certainly checks, balances, rights, and democracy wouldn’t top any New Year’s list.  Since my childhood, in fact, that tripartite government has grown a fourth part, a national security state that is remarkably unchecked and unbalanced.  In recent times, that labyrinthine structure of intelligence agencies morphing into war-fighting outfits, the U.S. military (with its own secret military, the special operations forces, gestating inside it), and the Department of Homeland Security, a monster conglomeration of agencies that is an actual “defense department,” as well as a vast contingent of weapons makers, contractors, and profiteers bolstered by an army of lobbyists, has never stopped growing.  It has won the undying fealty of Congress, embraced the power of the presidency, made itself into a jobs program for the American people, and been largely free to do as it pleased with almost unlimited taxpayer dollars.

Dean Baker: All eyes on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, America’s leading progressive

De Blasio is to the left of America’s Democratic party, but he’s no Marxist. Instead, he’ll likely usher in progressive policies

Reporting on the significance of Bill de Blasio becoming mayor of New York may have led some to fear that the Soviet Union was being reincarnated in the country’s largest city. While De Blasio is certainly to the left of many leaders of the America’s Democratic party, he is certainly no radical seeking to overthrow capitalism. Furthermore, even if he did plan to seize the means of production, his ability to do so as the mayor of a major city would be quite limited.

Nonetheless, there are many areas where the mayor of New York can have a substantial impact. The top of this list would be education policy. De Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, was a vocal and visible supporter of the education reform movement. While this movement has produced big profits for corporations in the testing business and made some policy entrepreneurs rich and famous, it has not done much to improve education for inner city kids. [.]]

There are certainly limits to what a big city mayor can do, but Mayor de Blasio can make a difference for both the people of New York and the country, if he is willing to try.

Nicolaus Mills: The US declared war on poverty 50 years ago. You would never know it

Lyndon Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty for reasons both economic and moral. They are still relevant today

This 8 January marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of “unconditional war on poverty”. The statement came in a state of the union address that, because of its often drab prose, has rarely drawn much praise. But a half century later, it’s time to re-examine the case Johnson made in 1964 for remedying poverty in America.

In an era such as our own, when – despite a poverty rate the Census Bureau puts at 16% – Congress is preparing to cut the food stamp program and has refused to extend unemployment insurance, Johnson’s compassion stands out, along with his nuanced sense of who the poor are and what can be done to make their lives better.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: On Unemployment, Today’s Congress Is Meaner Than George W. Bush

Why are we arguing about issues that were settled decades ago? Why, for example, is it so hard to extend unemployment insurance at a time when the jobless rate nationally is still at 7 percent, and higher than that in 21 states?

As the Senate votes this week on help for the unemployed, Democrats will be scrambling to win support from the handful of Republicans they’ll need to get the required 60 votes. The GOP-led House, in the meantime, shows no signs of moving on the matter. [..]

Similarly, raising the minimum wage wasn’t always so complicated. The parties had their differences on the concept, but a solid block of Republicans always saw regular increases as a just way of spreading the benefits of economic growth.

The contention over unemployment insurance and the minimum wage reflects the larger problem in American politics. Rather than discussing what we need to do to secure our future, we are spending most of our energy re-litigating the past.

Michael Wolff: Ezra Klein, Glenn Greenwald and the odd rise of personal brand journalism

Journalists are increasingly branching out on their own, but it’s a risky business that has yet to really show profitability

There is a new vision of journalism – call it the auteur school – in which the business shifts from being organized by institutions to being organized around individual journalists with discrete followings.

The latest development is the announcement by Ezra Klein that he will likely leave the Washington Post and is looking for investors to back him – with a reported eight figure investment (ie more than $10m!) – in an independent enterprise.

Last week Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, who ran the Wall Street Journal tech conference AllThingsD, announced that, following the WSJ ending its relationship with them, they were setting up in business backed by NBC and other investors.

Glenn Greenwald, who broke the NSA-Edward Snowden story for the Guardian, is the headliner in a new left-oriented journalism venture backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. [..]

And that leads to my cautionary question: is this all journalistic vanity and hubris, ending in certain tears, or is there plausible economic logic to individual journalistic fiefdoms?