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Feb 03 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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Robert Kuttner: Hopeless Inequality (or Feeble Politics)?

Though President Obama’s State of the Union said the right things about the disgrace of growing inequality in America, his remedial measures are mainly gestures. Yes, they are gestures in the right direction, but not an effective politics.

Obama’s plea, “Give America a raise,” was the most effective applause line of the evening. Even Republicans were compelled to cheer. But his order raising the minimum wage on government contractors will help a few hundred thousand workers and add less than a billion dollars to household purchasing power. He declined to use other executive powers to compel contractors not to violate basic labor laws.

His directive allowing the creation of self-started IRA accounts for low-income workers will perhaps promote the habit of savings. But it will not give them the needed income to spare them from living hand to mouth with nothing left over to save.

Juan Cole: Christie, Clapper and other Officials who should be in Jail instead of Snowden

The vindictiveness toward Edward Snowden in official Washington has nothing to do with law-breaking and everything to do with the privileges of power. The powerful in Washington may spy on us, but we are not to know about it. Snowden’s sin in their eyes was to level the playing field, to draw back the curtain and let the public see what the spies were doing to them The United States has become so corrupt that the basic principle of the law applying to all equally has long since became a quaint relic. We are back to a system of aristocratic privilege. If we had a rule of law and not of men, Edward Snowden would be given a medal and the following officials would be on the lam to avoid serious jail time.

1. James Clapper. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, was involved in massive and willful violations of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.  [..]

2. Gen. Keith Alexander, outgoing head of the NSA, should also be in jail. Like Clapper, he violated his oath to uphold the constitution by collecting petabytes of personal data from Americans and storing it for 5 years. [..]

3. NJ governor Chris Christie defended the NSA spying against Rand Paul’s observation that it is unconstitutional.

[..]

4. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who rules the Sunday morning programs and has said profoundly bigoted things against Muslim-Americans, has also loudly defended NSA spying and attacked Snowden. [..]

5. Former Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney (they always refer to felons by their full name) slammed Snowden. But Cheney lied us into a war on false pretenses and tried mightily to out Valerie Plame as a CIA operative (his team left material around that Richard Armitage saw, and it was his contact that broke the story. But Cheney and his staff were the ones actively pushing the story with the press. Cheney should be in jail, not Snowden.

New York Times Editorial: The Capitol’s Spinning Door Accelerates

The anonymous congressional staff members who write the nation’s laws generally work hard for fairly modest wages. Increasingly, though, they do so because there is a promise of K-Street riches at the end of their toil.

A new study by the Sunlight Foundation found that the number of active lobbyists with prior government experience has nearly quadrupled since 1998, rising to 1,846 in 2012. Those revolving-door lobbyists, mostly from Capitol Hill, accounted for nearly all of the huge growth in lobbying revenue during that period, which increased to $1.32 billion from $703 million in 1998. [..]

The danger of this practice, as always, is that the lure of corporate-lobbying money is strong enough to orient both lawmakers and their staffs toward the values of their future employers. (And it’s not necessary to be a registered lobbyist to make big money in the influence game.) This isn’t a new phenomenon, but its growth shows that the current waiting period before congressional employees can lobby is far too easy to evade, and may not be long enough.

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Coming to a Post Office Near You: Loans You Can Trust?

According to a report put out this week by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Postal Service, about 68 million Americans — more than a quarter of all households — have no checking or savings account and are underserved by the banking system. Collectively, these households spent about $89 billion in 2012 on interest and fees for non-bank financial services like payday loans and check cashing, which works out to an average of $2,412 per household. That means the average underserved household spends roughly 10 percent of its annual income on interest and fees — about the same amount they spend on food.

Think about that: about 10 percent of a family’s income just to manage getting checks cashed, bills paid, and, sometimes, a short-term loan to tide them over. That’s more than a full month’s income just to try to navigate the basics [..]

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In the same remarkable report this week, the OIG explored the possibility of the USPS offering basic banking services — bill paying, check cashing, small loans — to its customers. With post offices and postal workers already on the ground, USPS could partner with banks to make a critical difference for millions of Americans who don’t have basic banking services because there are almost no banks or bank branches in their neighborhoods.

Meagan Ralston: The Tragedy of Philip Seymour Hoffman: How We Can Prevent Overdose Deaths

What makes the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman all the more tragic is that it happened in New York, a state with a wide array of policies and services designed to reduce drug overdose deaths and save the lives of people who use drugs. New York has a 911 Good Samaritan law, which offers some protection from drug charges for people who call 911 to report a suspected overdose. Many people panic at the scene of an overdose, fearing they or the overdose victim will be arrested for possessing small amounts of drugs. Good Samaritan laws in over a dozen states, including New York, encourage people to act quickly to save a life without fear of drug charges for minor violations. New Yorkers also have limited access to the opiate overdose reversal medicine naloxone. If administered right away, naloxone can can reverse an overdose and restore normal breathing.

Naloxone is generic, inexpensive, non-narcotic, works quickly and is not only safe, but also easy to use. It’s been around since the 1970s and has saved tens of thousands of lives. New York also [just this week v] introduced legislation to expand access to it.

So many states are just now starting to take some great steps to get naloxone in the hands of more people. Hoffman’s death perfectly illustrates how terribly urgent this is. Even the Office of National Drug Control Policy is supporting naloxone in the hands of cops. But we can’t stop there. It’s not enough for law enforcement and EMT’s to have access to naloxone — people who use drugs and others who might witness an opiate overdose must have that same access. Whoever is the first to respond to the overdose, the actual “first responder,” must be permitted access to naloxone, period. We need to make sure that local and federal governments are on board and that we’re getting naloxone into as many pharmacies as possible.