“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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Katrina vanden Heuvel: 2014 promises plenty of positive change
Will 2014 feature more of the same Washington gridlock, austerity, partisan posturing and just plain stupidity that made 2013 so miserable? The dysfunction got so bad that the media celebrated Congress merely for agreeing on a budget, one that will damage the economy but not as much as last year. That Congress could pass something, anything, made it seem like carping to note that legislators cruelly cut off emergency jobless benefits for workers unable to find work and stupidly killed the wind energy production tax credit, essential to that vital industry.
But the widespread predictions that 2014 will witness only more of the same ignore the growing reality that, outside the Beltway, people are beginning to stir and change is in the air. [..]
Currents such as these aren’t yet a tidal wave. The citizens in motion aren’t yet a consolidated movement. But 2014 begins not only with change in the air but also with change taking place on the ground. Washington may continue to be gridlocked. Across the country, however, people are starting to move.
If the government has any responsibility to its people, it’s not to force them into poverty when they have no other financial options
How do you improve the economy? If you ask some Republican members of Congress, the best way is to throw 1.3 million people into deeper poverty, starting this week.
For some time, right-wing think tanks and conservative politicians have held on to a number of arguments that they believe prove it’s a good idea to let unemployment benefits lapse for 1.3 million people. None of those arguments holds up under the least bit of scrutiny. America’s economy would be far better off if Congress extended unemployment benefits.
To look at their points, one by one, is to understand that the Republican opposition to extending unemployment benefits is dishonest. It also stands to alienate many Republican voters, particularly in the south, where poverty is widespread.
Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson announced a “War on Poverty,” a majority of Americans believe that persistent economic hardship is the result of a broken economy, not of personal or government failures. They broadly agree that the government has a responsibility to use its resources to fight poverty, and should pursue a target of reducing it by half over the next decade.
Those are the conclusions of a public opinion survey published Tuesday by the Center for American Progress. The report assessed perceptions of poverty in general, as well as opinions of the War on Poverty in retrospect and of policy proposals on the table now. As lawmakers move to cut benefits and refuse to consider serious investments in the economy, in education and in healthcare, the survey is another reminder that those are precisely the investments people want the government to make.
Michelle Goldberg: This Is David Brooks on Drugs
he fact that David Brooks’s wistful, self-satisfied moralism cloaks a serious moral obtuseness is usually hardly worth noting. It’s simply to be expected, as predictable as Tom Friedman bumping into a taxi driver with pithy insights about globalization or Ross Douthat disapproving of his coevals’ sex lives. Still, Brooks’s lament about marijuana legalization is astonishing in its blindness to ruined lives and the human stakes of a serious policy debate. Somehow, he’s written a whole column about the drug war that doesn’t once contain the words “arrest” or “prison.” It’s evidence not just of his own writerly weakness but of the way double standards in the war on drugs shield elites from reckoning with its consequences. [..]
What’s missing here, of course, is any reckoning with the social costs of that discouragement. According to Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, a 2012 book by scholars at the Rand Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center, there are currently 40,000 prison inmates with marijuana convictions, and “perhaps half of them are in prison for offenses related to marijuana alone.” A recent ACLU report tells us that between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million marijuana arrests in the United States, 88 percent of them just for possession.
Jessica Weisberg: [Undocumented Lawyers and Rogue States ]
In the first week of 2014, thirteen states increased their minimum wage, Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use and California restricted gun registration and granted more rights to transgender students. There are always new laws each January: Illinois banned anyone under 18 from using a tanning salon, Oregon now permits new mothers to keep their placentas, and Wisconsin has legitimized “pedal pubs”-which, for the uninitiated, refers to a dozen or so bicycles hitched together with a keg mounted on top. But the ideological aggressiveness of some of the 2014 laws have inspired many to proclaim 2014 as a “liberal moment.” Another example supporting the liberal moment thesis: the California Supreme Court ruled last week that an undocumented immigrant who passed the state bar should be able to practice law. [..]
Such laws have made the quality of life for undocumented immigrants vastly different from state to state: immigrants can get a driver’s license in New Mexico, and they pay the same tuition as their high-school classmates at any state university, but next door, in Arizona, they’ll never be eligible for a license and will pay three times as much for college as their peers. California has become, arguably, the most immigrant-friendly state in the country, having just implemented the Trust Act, a law that limits ICE’s power to hold and deport nonviolent immigrants.
Laura Wright Treadway: The Benefits of Digging in the Dirt
Nature schools are helping make outdoor play a priority for a generation of kids suffering from nature-deficit disorder.
In his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, which introduced the world to the term “nature-deficit disorder,” journalist Richard Louv argued that children need to unplug from computers and smartphones and reconnect with the original way of learning about the world: by wandering around outside. Louv’s book, naturally, was a big hit with environmentalists (the National Audubon Society and Wilderness Education Association were among those who gave him awards). But now that I have a child of my own and read as much about parenting and child development as I do about the environment, I’m increasingly aware that it’s not just the eco-minded who are calling for more mud pies and fewer LeapFrog computers for preschoolers. It seems that everywhere I turn, there’s another reminder that our children need less time in front of screens and more time figuring things out for themselves. [..]
Parents are clearly willing to pay to get their kids outside more, and with good reason. Forty percent of U.S. school districts cut recess or physical education programs after Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, partly in response to pressure to improve test scores. But the benefits of getting outside to play are manifold, particularly in natural settings. Studies show that exposure to nature can help reduce ADHD symptoms; in schools with an environmental education component, students score higher on standardized tests in math, reading, writing, and listening than their non-nature-exposed counterparts. Other positive effects include improved critical thinking, problem solving, and cooperation. And there are health benefits, too: kids who play outside more often are less likely to develop nearsightedness, obesity, diabetes, and vitamin D deficiencies.