“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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New York Times Editorial Board: Paying Afghanistan’s Bills
By the end of the year, Congress will have appropriated more money for Afghanistan’s reconstruction, when adjusted for inflation, than the United States spent rebuilding 16 European nations after World War II under the Marshall Plan. [..]
A staggering portion of that money – $104 billion – has been mismanaged and stolen. Much of what was built is crumbling or will be unsustainable. Well-connected Afghans smuggled millions of stolen aid money in suitcases that were checked onto Dubai-bound flights. The Afghan government largely turned a blind eye to widespread malfeasance. Even as revelations of fraud and abuse stacked up, the United States continued shoveling money year after year because cutting off the financial spigot was seen as a sure way to doom the war effort.
If the flow of money is to keep going, the Afghan government has to prove that it can be trusted. And, for its part, Congress should not hesitate to cut off the aid if corruption remains unabated.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite: President Obama: It Is a Moral and Strategic Mistake to Exempt Syrian Airstrikes From Civilian Protections
The White House has acknowledged for the first time that the strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq.
This is a tragic error. One of the worst mistakes the United States can make is to respond to the horrors of the conduct of ISIS, especially its wanton killing of civilians, by killing civilians in response. We are meeting horror with horror and it will come back to haunt us, both morally and strategically. [..]
In addition, this new information from the White House undermines a substantial part of the argument for the morality of the drone program, since the drone program has been sold to the American people as a way for the U.S. to kill terrorists without substantially endangering local populations.
For the administration to claim it is “just” to use drones, it must abide by the rules for the conduct of war. These rules, called “Just War Theory,” specifically call for the protection of civilians, i.e. non-combatants, from armed combat. In this theory on waging war it is considered unfair and unjust to attack indiscriminately since non-combatants or innocents are deemed to stand outside the field of war proper.
This week, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents turned out to protest China’s plan for bringing democracy to that city. Rather than letting voters pick the candidates that get to run for chief executive, Beijing wants the candidates selected by a 1,200 person “nominating committee.” Critics charge the committee will be “dominated by a pro-Beijing business and political elite.” “We want genuine universal suffrage,” Martin Lee, founding chairman of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party demanded, “not democracy with Chinese characteristics.”
But there’s not much particularly Chinese in the Hong Kong design, unless Boss Tweed was an ancient Chinese prophet. Tweed famously quipped, “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.” Beijing’s proposal is just Tweedism updated: a multi-stage election, with a biased filter at the first stage.
The pattern has been common in America’s democracy too. Across the Old South, the Democratic Primary was limited to “whites only.” That bias produced a democracy responsive to whites — only. The battle for equal rights was a fight to remove that illegitimate bias, and give African Americans an equal say in their government.
Gail Collins: Securing Social Security
There was this at the Senate debate in Iowa on Sunday:
“I will fight hard to protect Social Security and Medicare for seniors like my mom and dad because our Greatest Generation has worked so hard for the American dream for our families,” said Republican Joni Ernst.
Like many conservatives, Ernst supports some sort of privatization in the Social Security program. She’s a little hazy on the details. But we do know that the Greatest Generation is the name Tom Brokaw gave to the Americans who came through the Depression and spent their young adulthood fighting World War II. They would actually be Joni Ernst’s grandparents. [..]
Conservative Republicans still tend to hew to the theory that the system is “going bankrupt” and needs to be turned into some kind of private retirement investment account. They also generally promise to protect people 55 or over from any change.
Amy Goodman: A Force More Powerful in Jefferson County, Colo.
“Don’t make history a mystery” read one of the signs at a rally in Jefferson County, Colo. High-school students in this suburban district, referred to locally as “JeffCo,” have been walking out of class en masse this past week, protesting the planned censorship of the district’s Advanced Placement (AP) United States history curriculum by the local school board. The board proposed a committee that would review the course, and others, adding material to “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights,” as well as eliminating anything the board thought could “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” The student walkout coincided with several days of “sick-outs” by teachers. Ironically, the school board’s attempts to stifle teaching about the history of protest in the United States has provoked a growing protest movement. [..]
The power of school boards is often underestimated. “I’ve been paying attention to the school board for the past year, and I have been increasingly concerned about what’s been going on,” Ashlyn Maher told me. She is a senior at Chatfield High School who helped organize the student walkouts. Civil disobedience has a long and storied role in U.S. history. The Declaration of Independence itself, so cherished by conservatives and progressives alike, instructs “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed … That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” Maher says that disobedience is “the foundation of our country. I took AP U.S. history myself, and all I was presented with were the facts. And then I made the opinions based on those facts. I was never told what to think.”
Thor Benson: Shrinking the Global Income Gap
John Steinbeck allegedly once said: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
That’s part of what activists like the Occupy movement see as the problem in this country today. Americans have been jailed and abused, as we saw in the case of Cecily McMillan, in their efforts to bring the issue of income inequality into the spotlight. Ever since the Occupy movement amplified the battle cry of the 99 percent, the country has been appraised of the fact that a small group of people, to whom we refer as the 1 percent, controls almost 40 percent of the wealth in the U.S. The Fight for $15 movement is still going strong among employees of fast-food restaurants and other low-paid workers, and the debate doesn’t seem likely to go away anytime soon.