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Aug 02 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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John Nichols: With Confirmation of CIA Spying on Senate, It Is Time for Serious Oversight

With due respect to congressional Republicans who want to hold President Obama to account for supposedly exceeding his executive authority, and to congressional Democrats who want to hold House Republicans to account for failing to live up to their legislative responsibilities, members of both parties should be focusing now on the question of how to hold the Central Intelligence Agency to account.

CIA officials on Thursday acknowledged that agency operatives spied on computers that were being used by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staffers who were using to prepare report on an investigation of “enhanced interrogation” techniques and related detention issues. An inquiry by CIA Inspector General David Buckley determined that five CIA employees, two lawyers and three information technology specialists obtained access to what was supposed to be a secure network for the Senate staffers.

The CIA says agency employees “acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding” of how the agency and the Senate are supposed to communicate.

The translation from Colorado Senator Mark Udall adds clarity: “The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers.”

Michelle Chen: This Ruling Just Gave Workers a Big Boost in Their Fight Against McDonald’s

Around the world, the ubiquitous Golden Arches are often paired with the barely fathomable proclamation: “Billions and Billions Served.” But that boast may now be a bit of a liability, thanks to this week’s ruling by the National Labor Relations Board General Counsel.

General Counsel Richard Griffin Jr., prosecutor for unfair labor practice claims at the NLRB, ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is a joint employer of its vast workforce, sharing liability alongside its thousands of franchisees nationwide. This is very unwelcome news for the fast-food giant, because even though the corporation proudly takes credit as the purveyor of an astronomical volume of Big Macs, it has always sloughed off responsibility as an employer of an equally enormous number of impoverished and exploited workers.

The ruling authorizes dozens of complaints under the National Labor Relations Act that have been brought by McDonald’s workers. If the joint-employer designation is upheld, it would enable workers to hold the company to account for violating workers’ right to take collective action, and parallel allegations against McDonald’s as an employer in other pending lawsuits. This could ultimately advance the workers’ efforts to forge a union contract across many McDonald’s branches.

David Sirota: Clinton vs. Warren: Big Differences, Despite Claims to the Contrary

Hillary Clinton’s political allies want Democratic primary voters to believe that the former secretary of state is just like populist Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, and they’ve been claiming that there are no differences between the two possible presidential contenders. There’s just one problem: That’s not true. [..]

For example, in her book, “The Two Income Trap,” Warren slammed Clinton for casting a Senate vote in 2001 for a bankruptcy bill that ultimately passed in 2005. That legislation makes it more difficult for credit card customers to renegotiate their debts, even as it allows the wealthy to protect their second homes and yachts from creditors. According to a 2009 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the bankruptcy bill’s provisions changing debt payback provisions played a central role in the foreclosure crisis, as the new law forced homeowners to pay off credit card debts before paying their mortgage.

“As first lady, Mrs. Clinton had been persuaded that the bill was bad for families, and she was willing to fight for her beliefs,” Warren wrote. “As New York’s newest senator, however, it seems that Hillary Clinton could not afford such a principled position. … The bill was essentially the same, but Hillary Rodham Clinton was not.”

Heather Digby Parton: What Happened When an Extremist, Christian Fundamentalist Got to Run a Whole State

Hint: nothing good.

Liberals throughout the land breathed a sigh of relief when Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas stepped down in 2008 and later decided to run for governor. Yes, the nation’s gain was a loss for the good people of Kansas, but Brownback’s special brand of right-wing fundamentalism was so extreme that many felt it was better to try to contain him in a single state rather than inflict him on the whole of the country. Judging from the four years he’s been in charge of that unfortunate state, their concerns were well-founded.

This should come as no surprise. His tenure in the Senate was characterized by his righteous absolutism and entirely predictable ultra-conservative vote. There was no tax cut he did not back or military adventure he wasn’t in favor of. He voted to impeach President Clinton and even took  the unusual step of decrying the immorality of the American public for failing to be properly outraged. But it was in the realm of culture and religion where he made his mark.

Katha Pollitt; Why It’s Time to Repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

The law, passed in 1993 with near-unanimous support, has become an excuse for bigotry, superstition and sectarianism.

In the not-too-distant future, it’s entirely possible that religious freedom will be the only freedom we have left-a condition for which we can blame the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Passed practically unanimously, with support from Ted Kennedy to Orrin Hatch, the ACLU to Concerned Women for America, the bill was a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith. This case involved two Oregon members of the Native American Church who were denied unemployment compensation after being fired for using peyote, an illegal drug, in a religious ceremony. Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion, which held that a law that applied to everyone and was not directed at religion specifically was not a violation of religious freedom, made a lot of sense to me, then and now. Why should I have to obey a law and my religious neighbor not? [..]

What were progressives thinking? Maybe in 1993, religion looked like a stronger progressive force than it turned out to be, or maybe freedom of religion looked like a politically neutral good thing. Two decades later, it’s clear that the main beneficiaries of RFRA are the Christian right and other religious conservatives. RFRA has given us the Hobby Lobby decision permitting religious employers to decide what kind of birth control, if any, their insurance plans will provide. It’s given us “conscience clauses,” in which medical personnel can refuse to provide women with legal medical services-culminating in the truly absurd case of Sara Hellwege, an anti-choice nurse-midwife who is suing a federally funded family planning clinic in Tampa for religious discrimination because it declined to hire her after she said she would refuse to prescribe “abortifacient contraceptives,” i.e., birth control pills. (That the pill does not cause abortion is irrelevant-this is religion we’re talking about; facts don’t matter.)

E.J. Dionne, Jr.: The GOP’s Impeachment Two-Step

If you attack the president repeatedly for law-breaking, executive overreach and deceiving the public and Congress, do you have an obligation to impeach him? This is the logical question Republicans are now trying to duck.

There is a reason why impeachment is a big deal in Washington this week. It’s not just because a call to defend President Obama motivates the Democrats’ base, although it surely does. John Boehner is having trouble countering fears that House Republicans will eventually try to oust the president because the speaker’s colleagues have spent years tossing around impeachment threats as a matter of routine.

At issue are not merely the open demands for throwing Obama out from Sarah Palin, Rep. Steve Stockman and many others on the right wing. The deeper problem lies in the proliferation of loose impeachment talk linked with one overheated anti-Obama charge after another.