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Nov 21 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: Attorneys General for Sale

Every state has laws regulating lobbying, but almost all of those laws apply to lobbying members of state legislatures, not attorneys general. For the most part, states never anticipated that their chief legal officers would be the subject of aggressive pressure from big businesses and special interests.

But that’s all changed now. Politics at all levels has become dominated by those with enough money to spend lavishly on electing public officials and then pushing them for favors. In a recent investigative report, Eric Lipton of The Times revealed that an entire industry has sprung up to lobby state attorneys general on behalf of companies that are under scrutiny, or that need special legal benefits from a state. [..]

For state lawmakers, fixing this mess will have to go beyond investigating individual cases. State lobbying laws will have to be expanded to cover attorneys general; already, many states barely police gifts to legislators. (Ten states allow officeholders to take gifts of unlimited.) States also need to put lower limits on how much a donor can give to an attorney general’s campaign, or even consider making the job an appointed position, as it is in seven states. Big-money politics should not mix with state legal power.

Andrew A. Rosenberg: Congress Must Block These Attacks on Independent Science

House leaders have decided that one of the most important things they can do during the lame duck session is to vote on two bills that would cripple good, science-based policy.

The bills’ backers are pitching the legislation as an effort to create transparency at the Environmental Protection Agency. But the science the EPA and other agencies base their rules on is already an open book. These bills are about trying to stop the EPA from doing its job.

Ultimately, these two bills would set unreachable goals and create unnecessary bureaucratic hoops for the agency to jump through, leading to costly delays in agency rule making. Together, they would prevent the EPA from enforcing environmental laws and protecting America’s public health. If members care about the air we breathe, the water we drink, and scientifically-informed public policy, they should oppose these misguided bills.

Sponsored by Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., HR 4012 – the so-called “Secret Science” Reform Act – would create a Catch-22 for the EPA.

Joe Conason: Fix Decaying Pipelines First for Jobs, Health and Safety

When TransCanada CEO Russ Girling touted Keystone as an engine of employment on ABC News’ “This Week” last Sunday, he insisted that its construction would create 42,000 jobs. Not only would his venture create those 42,000 “direct and indirect” jobs, boasted Girling, but also those positions would be “ongoing and enduring” rather than temporary like most construction jobs; he cited a State Department study that drew no such conclusions. A company spokesman later tempered Girling’s pronouncements, more or less acknowledging that they had been grossly exaggerated. The number of permanent jobs after the construction would top out at about 50. With or without Keystone, the national economy already produces about 42,000 jobs every week, so it just wouldn’t matter much.

Yet even if Keystone would actually result in tens of thousands of permanent jobs, its expected impact on the environment, health and safety raised grave questions about whether it should be permitted to proceed. But there are pipeline projects of unquestioned value that could create far more jobs for many more years than any of Keystone’s promoters ever contemplated.

Amy Goodman: Keystone, Climate Change and the Cold

It was a dramatic scene in the Senate this week. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren, presiding, announced the defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline, a Crow Creek Sioux man from South Dakota sang out in the Senate gallery. A massive people’s climate movement against extracting some of the dirtiest oil on the planet had prevailed … at least for now.  [..]

President Obama signaled before the Senate vote that he has grown skeptical of the Keystone XL, and its proponents’ claims that it will create jobs and lower domestic gasoline prices: “Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else.”

Meanwhile, another president, Cyril Scott of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said in a statement: “We will close our reservation borders to Keystone XL. Authorizing Keystone XL is an act of war against our people.”

With record-breaking cold gripping the nation this week, and a year’s worth of snow dumping on Buffalo, N.Y., in a single day, we have to ask: What will it take to listen to the science, and to aggressively address the global threat of catastrophic climate change?

Zoë Carpenter: After Fearmongering Kills the NSA Reform Bill, What’s Next?

For a few hours on Tuesday, the Islamic State looked like the best thing that ever happened to the National Security Agency. The USA Freedom Act, a modest bill seen as the best chance for reforming one of the NSA’s dragnet surveillance programs, failed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate by two votes after Republicans insisted that it would precipitate a terrorist attack. [..]

Off the Hill, the government’s surveillance tactics are being confronted in a number of ways. Fearful for their bottom line, tech companies are taking a serious interest in encryption, and foreign governments are searching for ways to circumvent the United States when it comes to the Internet. Multiple challenges to the telephone-records dragnet are pending in federal courts. One judge, who called the NSA’s activities “almost Orwellian,” has already ruled that bulk collection likely violates the Fourth Amendment. But whether the pending cases will lead to meaningful constraints on the NSA isn’t clear. Greenwald, for one, has as little faith in the judiciary as he has in Congress, writing that it’s the institution “most consistently subservient to the National Security State” in the post-9/11 era. But absent the emergence of a spine in Congress with regards to the incessant fearmongering that serves as a shield for government spying, a patchwork of court rulings and the power of consumer choice looks increasingly like the only viable defense.

Sonali Kolhatkar: Mexicans Have Had Enough of U.S.-Backed Violence and Exploitation

Mexico’s nationwide general strike on Thursday, Nov. 20 is a unified rallying cry to end the corruption, crime and violence that have plagued the country for decades and are symbolized most recently by the apparent slaying of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. But, lest we Americans consider ourselves outsiders, observing another nation’s mayhem with detachment, it is important to clarify that Mexico’s problems are in large part our doing.

Communities in Guerrero, Chiapas and other states in Mexico have seen their lands stripped of resources to appease the lure of foreign investment via the North American Free Trade Agreement, championed by the U.S. under various presidents starting with Clinton. Concurrent with the rise of poverty caused by free trade has been a steady increase in organized crime and narco-trafficking. The U.S. funding of a “war on drugs,” which was supposed to take aim at the traffickers, has instead largely fueled collusion between law enforcement, politicians and criminal syndicates.