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Jan 18 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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New York Times Editorial Board: The President on Mass Surveillance

n the days after Edward Snowden revealed that the United States government was collecting vast amounts of Americans’ data – phone records and other personal information – in the name of national security, President Obama defended the data sweep and said the American people should feel comfortable with its collection. On Friday, after seven months of increasingly uncomfortable revelations and growing public outcry, Mr. Obama gave a speech that was in large part an admission that he had been wrong. [..]

But even as Mr. Obama spoke eloquently of the need to balance the nation’s security with personal privacy and civil liberties, many of his reforms were frustratingly short on specifics and vague on implementation. [..]

One of his biggest lapses was his refusal to acknowledge that his entire speech, and all of the important changes he now advocates, would never have happened without the disclosures by Mr. Snowden, who continues to live in exile and under the threat of decades in prison if he returns to this country.

The president was right to acknowledge that leaders can no longer say, “Trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect.” But to earn back that trust, he should be forthright about what led Americans to be nervous about their own intelligence agencies, and he should build stronger protections to end those fears.

William Rivers Pitt: A Good Week for Hard Drinking

In retrospect, what I should have done five days ago was buy a case of Jameson, find the most conveniently-located boulder, crawl under it, and wait for this filthy disaster zone of a week to pass me by. Any week that starts with a guy getting shot to death in Florida by a retired police captain for the crime of texting his daughter’s babysitter during the previews in a movie theater is not going to be a good week. I did not listen to my instincts, eschewed the boulder and the booze, and had to encompass one of the worst five-day stretches in America I can remember. [..]

So, to recap: a father was shot, his wife was shot, two students were shot at school, two women were shot at the grocery store, the guy who shot them was shot, a five-year-old was shot, a three-year-old was shot, and a four-year-old was shot by a four-year-old. Wikileaks let us know that all the environmental rhetoric emanating from our president is a cloud of hot gas thanks to the trade deal he’s just wild about. Screwed unemployed Americans are screwed. The only reason Congress decided to work together for the first time in six years was in service of their Wall Street paymasters. The internet is over, maybe, but probably. The GOP wants the IRS to audit rape victims and make eating harder for poor people. Oh, and the Elk River region of West Virginia is what the rest of the country and the world will be like once we are led, finally and forever, into free-market no-regulations business-friendly paradise.

They give me Saturdays off around here, which is nice. Think I’ll lay in that case of Jameson, and maybe buy it a brother or two. If matters continue as they did this week, I’m going to need it. I strongly recommend you do the same. Take all appropriate precautions; this downhill run feels as if it’s just getting started.

David Sirota: Pentagon & NSA officials say they want Snowden extrajudicially assassinated

President Obama claims the right to extrajudicially execute American citizens, keeps a so-called “kill list,” and has bragged he’s “really good at killing people.” This isn’t bluster. Obama has backed this up with action, having killed U.S. citizens – including a 16-year-old boy – without charging, much less convicting, any of them with a single crime.

The implications are profound (and profoundly disturbing), and raise questions about Americans’ constitutional right to due process, the most basic constraints on presidential power, and our treatment of whistleblowers. Indeed, how can anyone expect those who witness executive-branch crimes to blow the whistle when the head of the executive branch asserts the right to instantly execute anyone he pleases at any time?

All of this may sound theoretical, academic, or even fantastical, straight out of a dystopian sci-fi flick. But it isn’t. It is very real. After all, only a few months ago, the chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee publicly offered to help extrajudicially assassinate NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. And now, according to a harrowing new report that just hit the Internet, top NSA and Pentagon officials are doing much the same, even after court rulings and disclosures have concluded that Snowden is a whistleblower who exposed serious government crimes.

Kevin Gosztola: Obama Lectures Those Outraged by NSA Surveillance Programs in Speech Announcing Reforms

The president delivered a speech on changes his administration would support to National Security Agency programs and policies, but what most stood out was not the announced reforms. It was how the speech focused on him and what he had done and how it seemed like he was lecturing Americans who have been outraged by what they have learned about massive government surveillance in the past six months.

President Barack Obama seemed deeply offended that anyone would think he had done an inadequate job or had enabled surveillance state policies. [..]

Obama’s version of his record as president sharply contrasted the history of support for spying as presented by The New York Times. Obama aides even anonymously told the Times that he had been “surprised to learn after the leaks…just how far the surveillance had gone.” So, it was fraudulent for him to claim to Americans that he was about to bring transparency and promote debate on government surveillance.

Tom Engelhardt: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

These days, when I check out the latest news on Washington’s global war-making, I regularly find at least one story that fits a new category in my mind that I call: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Take last Saturday’s Washington Post report by Craig Whitlock on the stationing of less than two dozen U.S. “military advisers” in war-torn Somalia.  They’ve been there for months, it turns out, and their job is “to advise and coordinate operations with African troops fighting to wrest control of the country from the al-Shabab militia.”  If you leave aside the paramilitarized CIA (which has long had a secret base and prison in that country), those advisers represent the first U.S. military boots on the ground there since the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident of 1993.  As soon as I read the piece, I automatically thought: Given the history of the U.S. in Somalia, including the encouragement of a disastrous 2006 Ethiopian invasion of that country, what could possibly go wrong?

Some days when I read the news, I can’t help but think of the late Chalmers Johnson; on others, the satirical newspaper the Onion comes to mind. If Washington did it — and by “it,” I mean invade and occupy a country, intervene in a rebellion against an autocrat, intervene in a civil war, launch a drone campaign against a terror outfit, or support and train local forces against some group the U.S. doesn’t like — you already know all you need to know. Any version of the above has repeatedly translated into one debacle or disaster after another.

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