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Apr 01 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: Climate Signals, Growing Louder

Perhaps now the deniers will cease their attacks on the science of climate change, and the American public will, at last, fully accept that global warming is a danger now and an even graver threat to future generations.

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that since 1990 has been issuing increasingly grim warnings about the consequences of a warming planet, released its most powerful and sobering assessment so far. Even now, it said (pdf), ice caps are melting, droughts and floods are getting worse, coral reefs are dying. And without swift and decisive action to limit greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and other sources, the world will almost surely face centuries of climbing temperatures, rising seas, species loss and dwindling agricultural yields. The damage will be particularly acute in coastal communities and in low-lying poor countries – like Bangladesh – that are least able to protect themselves.

Joe Nocera: A Step Toward Justice in College Sports?

If you were going to hold up a school as being exemplary in the way it puts athletics in, as they say, “the proper perspective,” Northwestern University would certainly be one you’d point to. For instance, although it lacks the kind of winning tradition – at least in the big-time sports – that other schools in the Big Ten can boast of, it proudly points to the 97 percent graduation rate of its athletes.

Yet buried in last week’s decision by Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board – in which he said that the Northwestern football team had the right to form a union – was this anecdote about Kain Colter, the former Northwestern quarterback who is leading the union effort. In his sophomore year, dreaming of going to medical school someday, Colter “attempted to take a required chemistry course.” However, “his coaches and advisors discouraged him from taking the course because it conflicted with morning football practices.” Eventually, after falling behind other pre-med students, he wound up switching his major to psychology, “which he believed to be less demanding,” according to Ohr.

Ohr’s essential point was that unlike the rest of the student body at Northwestern, football players had little control over their lives. Their schedules were dictated by the needs of the football team. They had bosses in the form of coaches and other university officials who could fire them. They had to abide by a million petty N.C.A.A. rules, and they lacked many of the freedoms and rights taken for granted by students who didn’t play sports. They put in up to 50-hours a week at their sport – vastly more than is supposedly allowed under N.C.A.A. rules. But then, every school finds ways to evade those rules, whether they have athletics “in perspective” or not.

Dean Baker: The Tax Code in Action: Charity Starts at the Top

According to press accounts, former Senator Jim DeMint is likely earning in the neighborhood of $1 million a year for heading up the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing Washington think tank. The fact that right-wing think tanks pay their top people lots of money is not exactly news. After all, they have lots of wealthy donors who are happy to cough up this sort of money. But the part of the story that might get people upset is the fact that the rest of us are subsidizing Mr. DeMint’s hefty paycheck.

This subsidy comes through Heritage’s status as a tax exempt organization. This gets them out of paying various state and local taxes, but most importantly it means that the contributions it receives are tax deductible for the rich people who make them. That means that when the Koch brothers or their equivalent throw $100 million at the Heritage Foundation, $40 million of this contribution comes out of their tax bill.

Immanuel Wallerstein: Libertarian politics in the United States

Has the time come for a shake-up of the U.S two-party stranglehold?

The general elections of most countries with parliamentary systems have largely functioned in the same way. They have had some regular alternation between two parties, one ostensibly left-of-center and one ostensibly right-of-center. In these systems, there has been little difference between the two main parties in terms of foreign policy and only a limited set of differences on internal politics, centering on issues of taxation and social welfare.

However, the actual mechanics of the elections in different countries vary. The system used in the United States has been possibly the most constraining in maintaining this two-party pattern. This is the result of two features in the U.S. Constitution. One is the exceptionally important role of the president, leading parties to put winning the presidential election as their first priority. The second is the curious system by which the president is chosen – an electoral college, in which, for 48 out of 50 states, the method of choice is a one-round election in which the winner of a plurality in a given state takes all of its electoral votes.

The combination of these two features has made it virtually impossible for “third party” candidates to win presidential elections or to be more than “spoilers.” Up to now, libertarians have largely run as “third party” candidates. Libertarianism has never been, therefore, an important force in affecting policy choices or electoral preferences. The seriousness of the attempts by Sen. Rand Paul to obtain the Republican nomination has changed all that.

Robert Reich: The Distributional Games

It’s true that history and policy point to overall benefits from expanded trade because all of us gain access to cheaper goods and services. But in recent years the biggest gains from trade have gone to investors and executives while the burdens have fallen disproportionately on those in the middle and below who have lost good-paying jobs. By the same token, most Americans are saying “no deal” to further tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. In fact, some are now voting to raise taxes on the rich in order to pay for such things as better schools, as evidenced by the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York. Conservatives say higher taxes on the rich will slow economic growth. But even if this argument contains a grain of truth, it’s a non-starter as long as 95 percent of the gains from growth continue to go to the top 1 percent — as they have since the start of the recovery in 2009.

Harvey Wasserman: The Nuclear Omnicide

In the 35 years since the March 28, 1979, explosion and meltdown at Three Mile Island, fierce debate has raged over whether humans were killed there. In 1986 and 2011, Chernobyl and Fukushima joined the argument. Whenever these disasters happen, there are those who claim that the workers, residents and military personnel exposed to radiation will be just fine.

Of course we know better. We humans won’t jump into a pot of boiling water. We’re not happy when members of our species start dying around us. But frightening new scientific findings have forced us to look at a larger reality: the bottom-up damage that radioactive fallout may do to the entire global ecosystem.

When it comes to our broader support systems, the corporate energy industry counts on us to tolerate the irradiation of our fellow creatures, those on whom we depend, and for us to sleep through the point of no return.