“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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Dean Baker: President Obama’s Inequality Story
The advance word is that inequality is going to be the central theme in President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. That’s certainly good news, since it is a huge problem. The question is whether President Obama is prepared to talk about inequality in a way that gets to the core of the problem as opposed to just clipping away at the edges.
It’s a safe bet that we will see the latter. Obama has indicated that he will redouble his efforts to push for a $10.10 minimum wage. This is good news. This will mean a substantial increase in the wages for people at the bottom of the income ladder. The bulk of the gains from a higher minimum wage will go to people who really need it.
The days are long over when minimum wage workers were high school kids from middle-class families picking up spending money working after school. The workers who will benefit from a minimum wage hike are overwhelmingly adults, many of whom are supporting children. The higher minimum wage will also put a substantial dent in the poverty numbers, reducing the share of the population in poverty by 1 to 2 percentage points, close to 5 million people.
Eugene Robinson: Nature Is Trying to Tell Us Something
Another insane cold wave-not the infamous “polar vortex,” but its evil twin-is bringing sub-zero and single-digit temperatures to much of the nation. And global warming may be even more extreme, and potentially more catastrophic, than climate scientists had feared.
This is, of course, no contradiction. The rallying cry of the denialists-“It’s really cold outside, so global warming must be a crock!”-can only be taken seriously by those with a toddler’s limited conception of time and space. They forget that it’s winter, and apparently they don’t quite grasp that even when it’s cold in one part of the world, it can be hot in another. [..]
President Obama, who understands the science, should use his executive powers as best he can, not just to reduce carbon emissions but to prepare the country for confronting the environmental, political and military hazards of a warmer world.
The day will come, I predict, when world leaders are willing, even desperate, to curb greenhouse gases. But by then, I’m beginning to fear, it will probably be too late.
The National Security Agency depends on huge computers that guzzle electricity in the service of the surveillance state. For the NSA’s top executives, maintaining a vast flow of juice to keep Big Brother nourished is essential-and any interference with that flow is unthinkable.
But interference isn’t unthinkable. And in fact, it may be doable.
Grassroots activists have begun to realize the potential to put the NSA on the defensive in nearly a dozen states where the agency is known to be running surveillance facilities, integral to its worldwide snoop operations.
Organizers have begun to push for action by state legislatures to impede the electric, water and other services that sustain the NSA’s secretive outposts.
E. J. Dionne, Jr.: The President and the Post-Obama Era
President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday is about more than the final three years of his presidency. Its purpose should be to influence the next decade of American political life and begin shaping the post-Obama era.
For the first time since his early days in office, Obama has the philosophical winds at his back. He may be struggling with his approval ratings, but the matters the president hopes to move to the center of the national agenda-rising inequality and declining social mobility-are very much on the nation’s mind.
The days leading up to Obama’s best chance to redirect the country’s conversation brought two important signals that the tectonic plates beneath our politics are shifting. One was a striking Pew Research Center poll showing that on issues related to economic and social justice, Democrats and independents are on the same page while Republicans find themselves isolated.
Gary Younge: If Darrin Manning were a high school dropout, he’d still have the right to walk the streets unmolested
An obsession with deserving victims means the horror of the injustice is calibrated against the honour of the individual
On Tuesday 7 January Darrin Manning, 16, emerged from the Philadelphia subway with his high school basketball team-mates on their way to a game. With the region in the grip of the polar vortex it was viciously cold – so harsh their principal had given them hats, gloves and scarves to wear. The youngsters say they saw a police officer “staring them down” and Manning says one of them “may have said something smart”. The police say they saw a dozen young men running in “ski masks”. The police gave chase; the young men ran. Manning stopped running thinking it implied guilt. “I didn’t do anything wrong.” He was first tackled to the ground by several police and then frisked by a female officer with such ferocity that he ended up in hospital with a ruptured testicle. [..]
This is less of an esoteric point than it might first appear. A study last week revealed that almost 50% of black men in the US under the age of 23 have been arrested; that’s roughly the same percentage as black boys who fail to graduate with their appropriate year group. Meanwhile, almost one in 10 young black men are behind bars. Born in the poorest areas, herded into the worst schools, policed, judged and sentenced in the most discriminatory fashion, by the time African American men reach manhood the odds have been heavily stacked against them. Many have less than stellar credentials. That does not give the state the right to strip them of their manhood or deprive them of their human rights and dignity
Jarrett Murphy: Can de Blasio Make the Rent Less Damn High?
Mayor Bill de Blasio cannot be accused of haste in filling out his administration. Three weeks into his term, we still have Bloomberg commissioners running housing, social services, fire, sanitation, finance, and on and on. None of those high-profile gaps on the de Blasio depth chart will matter, of course, if in six months’ time the city seems well run, and de Blasio achieves big items on his agenda. In fact, it’s some of the lower-profile posts, which almost no one is talking about, that will make the biggest difference for those living through the worst of times in de Blasio’s “tale of two cities.” [..]
The de Blasio appointments to the RGB will be a test of how he squares his commitment to progressive action with his political need to keep the real-estate/development community-who donate a lot to campaigns-reasonably happy.
Last year, de Blasio attended an event called the People’s RGB and, according to attendees, called for a rent freeze. “We believe the data on the housing market provided by the RGB’s statistical staff consistently supports tenants’ calls for a rent freeze,” writes Katie Goldstein, the director of organizing at Tenants & Neighbors, in an e-mail. She notes that some members of the RGB in recent years “have been unfamiliar with rent-regulated housing” and says advocates are pushing to tighten the qualifications for RGB membership.
For now, she adds, “There is no shortage of smart, experienced, dedicated people who could sit on the RGB and represent the real needs of the majority of New Yorkers.”