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Jun 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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Dean Baker: The Veterans Affairs Scandal and Plans for Downsizing the Social Security Administration

The media have been rightly focusing their attention on the long waiting lists for veterans seeking medical care, and even worse, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs cover-up. Unlike President Obama’s birth certificate and the attack on the consulate at Benghazi, delaying or denying care to veterans is really a scandal. [..]

Unfortunately the VA system is not the only part of the government where essential services may be threatened by cutbacks. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has recently disclosed plans for a major downsizing that will result in the closing of many more of its field offices. The goal is to handle the bulk of Social Security’s requests, questions, and complaints through the Internet.

While it’s important and desirable for SSA to have an Internet site that can address most problems, the reality is that there are many people who do not feel comfortable using the web. This is especially true among beneficiaries of Social Security and disability, who almost by definition are older than the population as a whole, and often in poor health.

Trevor Timm: Supreme Court Rejects Reporter’s Privilege Case, As NYT Reporter Faces Jail for Protecting His Source

The Supreme Court today rejected New York Times reporter James Risen’s appeal of a 4th Circuit decision that ruled the government can compel him to reveal his source under oath. The case, one of the most important for reporter’s privilege in decades, means that Risen has exhausted his appeals and must now either testify in the leak trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, or face jail time for being in contempt of court. Risen has admirably vowed to go to prison rather than comply.

This is the latest victory of the Obama administration in their crackdown on sources, and in turn, investigative journalism. As the New York Times again reminded us today, they have “pursued leaks aggressively, bringing criminal charges in eight cases, compared with three under all previous administrations combined.”

Make no mistake, this case is a direct attack on the press. The Justice Department has recently tightened its “guidelines” for subpoenaing reporters (which have no enforcement mechanism) and the Obama administration claims it supports a tepid journalist shield law, but this was the case where they could have shown they meant what they said about protecting journalists’ rights. Instead, they argued to the court that reporter’s privilege does not exist all, even comparing journalists who invoke the privilege to criminals who have recieved drugs

Jeff Biggers: Obama’s ‘war on coal’ doesn’t exist

Specious slogans dominate key midterm Senate battles in Appalachia, burying West Virginia coal chemical disaster

On Monday, President Barack Obama is expected to announce a new Environmental Protection Agency regulation to cut CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants by 30 percent, setting a cap that will require states to trade or shift toward clean energy alternatives. U.S. Senate candidates in pivotal coal-producing Appalachian states, however, have already fired the opening salvo in the next battle over dirty coal. [..]

Four years ago, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., issued his clarion call for Appalachia and the coal industry to “embrace the future,” adding later that people, not coal, “are West Virginia’s most valuable resource. We must demand to be treated as such.”

Byrd’s call found scant reception in the campaign war rooms, but its sentiment has continued to spread across Appalachia. Kentuckians electrified such hopes for change in 2010 when a regional grassroots movement for “New Power” compelled the East Kentucky Power Cooperative to halt plans to build two coal-burning power plants in Clark County and explore both job-creating energy efficiency programs and renewable energy options. [..]

As long as those voices are overpowered by the relentless “war on coal” ads bankrolled by out-of-state coal industry lobby fronts, change must come from the EPA and the White House.

At least, that is, until a new era of candidates in West Virginia, Kentucky and even Illinois finally provides the leadership to speak up about a just transition to “new power” initiatives for clean energy jobs and development during elections and put the worn-out, misleading slogans of the coal wars to rest.

Paul Buchheit: Toward the Total Paralysis of an Unequal Society

The severing of our society into a plutocracy and a peasantry is so far along that statistics almost cease to have meaning. But the facts have to be told, to help explain the sickening sense that we’re becoming a nation without a middle class, paralyzed by the inequality deniers and excuse makers who refuse to admit there’s something wrong with their free-market capitalist system. The extremes are becoming almost intolerable. [..]

Thomas Piketty recommends a global wealth tax to help reverse inequality. But a financial transaction tax (also called speculation tax or Robin Hood tax) would be easier to implement, more efficiently regulated, and a source of massive revenues at little cost to financial traders.

Whatever method we choose, progressive thinkers in the U.S. and around the world will need to unite on a single cause, much as the Tea Party did in its crusade against government. We can’t afford to disagree among ourselves as paralysis sets in.

David Sirota: Big Money Behind a Big Merger

There are plenty of reasons to worry about the proposal to combine Comcast, America’s largest cable and broadband company, with Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable firm and third-largest broadband provider.

For one, there’s ever more consolidated control over content. There’s also the possibility of certain types of content being given special (or worse) treatment based on the provider’s relationship with Comcast and Time Warner Cable. And there’s the prospect of even higher prices. Indeed a Comcast executive recently admitted that the company will not promise bills “are going to go down or even that they’re going to increase less rapidly.”

In the capital of a properly functioning democracy, all of these concerns would prompt the federal government to block the deal. But Washington is an occupied city-occupied by Comcast’s vast army. As Time magazine recently reported, “The company has registered at least 76 lobbyists across 24 firms.” Those figures include neither telecom lobbyist turned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s chief of staff, who was a Comcast vice president and raked in $1.2 million in Comcast payments since taking his government job.There are plenty of reasons to worry about the proposal to combine Comcast, America’s largest cable and broadband company, with Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable firm and third-largest broadband provider.

For one, there’s ever more consolidated control over content. There’s also the possibility of certain types of content being given special (or worse) treatment based on the provider’s relationship with Comcast and Time Warner Cable. And there’s the prospect of even higher prices. Indeed a Comcast executive recently admitted that the company will not promise bills “are going to go down or even that they’re going to increase less rapidly.”

In the capital of a properly functioning democracy, all of these concerns would prompt the federal government to block the deal. But Washington is an occupied city-occupied by Comcast’s vast army. As Time magazine recently reported, “The company has registered at least 76 lobbyists across 24 firms.” Those figures include neither telecom lobbyist turned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s chief of staff, who was a Comcast vice president and raked in $1.2 million in Comcast payments since taking his government job.

Jarett Murphy: The Working Families Party Plays it Safe by Endorsing Andrew Cuomo for Governor

Both the governor and the WFP went into the weekend needing something from the other. The governor walked away with what he wanted. The party got an IOU.

Has New York state’s Working Families Party come up with the formula for forcing centrist Democrats to the left and delivering bread-and-butter progressive policy? That was the hope on Saturday night outside Albany, where the party gathered to make its endorsements for state races later this year. Faced with losing the ballot line to a challenger who tapped into resentment over his estate tax cuts, charter-school championing and failure to deliver campaign finance reform, Governor Andrew Cuomo won the party’s designation only after promising to fight for Democratic control of the state Senate and deliver a progressive policy wish list. [..]

The sales pitch worked: Cuomo won a solid (if not commanding) 59 percent of the vote to Teachout’s 41 percent.

But the endorsement vote and the deal that secured it don’t represent success. The real test of the WFP approach-honed since its founding in 1998 and facilitated by hard work in hundreds of contests for local and state office-will be whether Cuomo delivers, which won’t really be clear until his second term is under way.

Both the governor and the WFP went into the weekend needing something from the other. The governor walked away with what he wanted. The party got an IOU.

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