Mar 05 2015

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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Trevor Timm: Building backdoors into encryption isn’t only bad for China, Mr President

Want to know why forcing tech companies to build backdoors into encryption is a terrible idea? Look no further than President Obama’s stark criticism of China’s plan to do exactly that on Tuesday. If only he would tell the FBI and NSA the same thing.

In a stunningly short-sighted move, the FBI – and more recently the NSA – have been pushing for a new US law that would force tech companies like Apple and Google to hand over the encryption keys or build backdoors into their products and tools so the government would always have access to our communications. It was only a matter of time before other governments jumped on the bandwagon, and China wasted no time

As President Obama himself described to Reuters, China has proposed an expansive new “anti-terrorism” bill that “would essentially force all foreign companies, including US companies, to turn over to the Chinese government mechanisms where they can snoop and keep track of all the users of those services.” [..]

Bravo! Of course these are the exact arguments for why it would be a disaster for US government to force tech companies to do the same. (Somehow Obama left that part out.) in demanding the same from tech companies a few weeks ago.

Jed Lund: The Hillary Clinton email ‘scandal’ says more about us than about her ethics

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not use a government email account during her time in the administration. She didn’t have to, but she should have! The first part of that sentence should be the end of any potential scandal discussion; the second part should be the beginning of our discussion of how we feel about public records. But since we live in a far more useless world, we’re going to wind up doing this backwards.

It’s all happening again. It’s going to happen forever. The Clintons might have taken another shortcut and may be hoping their fans will bail them out; the Republican Party has furnished another disingenuous bit of likely non-scandal to a press corps that knows “Unethical Clintons!” stories draw a lot of eyeballs. People will, again, define a government ethics issue through the lens of fan advocacy.

Usually, Slate’s reflexively contrarian default stance isn’t useful, but in a world in which everyone is running after the Clintons and making ominous “boogieboogieboogie” noises, Josh Vorhees is helpful: no one can point to a specific law Clinton violated. The Obama administration’s public records law mandating a public email account was passed after the end of her Secretary of State tenure; the National Archives and Records Administration’s 2013 bulletin stating that “agency employees should not generally use personal email accounts to conduct official agency business” reads more like a suggestion and, again, post-dates Clinton’s time at State. The 2009 NARA guidelines that Politico’s Dylan Byers cites in his reporting may have been binding, but it also may have been satisfied by Clinton’s voluntarily handing in over 55,000 pages of private emails. And Michael Tomasky notes at the Daily Beast that the New York Times – which got a lot of mileage out of Whitewater – went to press with a piece heavy on emphasis and thin on concrete details for something that’s supposed to be a clear-cut ethics violation.

Eugene Robinson: Boehner’s Sorry Spectacle

House Speaker John Boehner needs to decide whether he wants to be remembered as an effective leader or a befuddled hack. So far, I’m afraid, it’s the latter.

Boehner’s performance last week was a series of comic pratfalls, culminating Friday in a stinging rebuke from the House Republicans he ostensibly leads. Boehner wasn’t asking for much: three weeks of funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which was hours from shutting down. He came away, humiliated, with just seven days’ worth of operating money for the agency charged with keeping Americans safe from terrorist attacks.

By any standard, the whole situation was beyond ridiculous. The government of the world’s leading military and economic power cannot be funded on a week-to-week basis. There was no earthly excuse for this sorry spectacle-and no one to blame but Boehner.

Robert Reich: Will the Democratic Nominee for 2016 Take on the Moneyed Interests?

It’s seed time for the 2016 presidential elections, when candidates try to figure out what they stand for and will run on.

One thing seems reasonably clear. The Democratic nominee for President, whoever she may be, will campaign on reviving the American middle class.

As will the Republican nominee — although the Republican nominee’s solution will almost certainly be warmed-over versions of George W. Bush’s “ownership society” and Mitt Romney’s “opportunity society,” both seeking to unleash the middle class’s entrepreneurial energies by reducing taxes and regulations.

That’s pretty much what we’ve heard from Republican hopefuls so far. As before, it will get us nowhere.

The Democratic nominee will just as surely call for easing the burdens on working parents through paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave, childcare, elder-care, a higher minimum wage, and perhaps also tax incentives for companies that share some of their profits with their employees.

All this is fine, but it won’t accomplish what’s really needed.

Scott Ritter: Bibi’s Blustery Blunder

On March 5, 1946, almost 69 years ago to the day, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech before an audience of thousands in Fulton, Missouri. Churchill was in Fulton at the invitation of Westminster College, where he spoke. He traveled there aboard a train, accompanied by President Harry Truman. In his speech, Churchill declared that “an Iron Curtain has descended across the [European] Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of central and eastern Europe… all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere.”  [..]

On March 3, 2015, the serving Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke before a joint session of the United States Congress about the existential threat to Israel and the world — including the United States — by what he termed Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Netanyahu was at the nation’s capital at the invitation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ohio Republican John Boehner. Netanyahu, in a breech of protocol, had failed to consult the President of the United States, Barak Obama, about his visit. His appearance before the assembled elected political might of the United States Congress came little more than a week removed from a closely contested election in Israel where Netanyahu’s continued tenure as Prime Minister is anything but assured.

Netanyahu claims that his speech, which attacked a looming deal being negotiated by the United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain and Germany with Iran over its nuclear program, was a wake-up call about a bad deal that would empower an out-of-control theocratic state sponsor of terrorism with a break-out capability to produce nuclear weapons. Netanyahu and his supporters claim he has a case. That may well be. But one cannot escape the highly politicized environment, both here in the United States and back in Israel, which surrounded his appearance before the United States Congress. The level of acrimony that exists between the White House and Netanyahu because of this speech is unprecedented in the history of these two nations. Winston Churchill left Fulton, Missouri in the company of President Harry Truman, arm in arm. Netanyahu leaves Washington, DC having received the cold shoulder from President Barak Obama, and the subject of acrimonious commentary from a White House that feels betrayed by an Israeli politician — not leader — who has hijacked American national security objectives for his own political use.

Mike Lux: The D.C. Centrists’ Straw Men

One of the tiredest clichés in all of American politics — and a favorite of D.C. “centrists” — is that economic populism is all about beating up on the rich and redistributing income instead of pursuing economic growth.

A note here before I get into the main point of this piece: In that sentence above I put “centrists” in quotation marks because in Washington, D.C., centrism seems to be about being in line with certain kinds of big-money special interests rather than supporting what the center of the country, in terms of voters, believes. D.C. centrists believe in cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits; not taxing Wall Street tycoons at the same levels as their secretaries; weakening regulations on the kinds of financial speculation that caused the 2008 financial panic; bailing out bankers when they get in trouble, and not prosecuting them when they break the law; and doing trade deals that have historically benefited mostly big business and created bigger trade deficits. Voters are in opposition to all those policies by very big numbers, so those positions certainly aren’t centrist to them, but that doesn’t seem to matter much to the insider D.C. “centrists.”

The latest exhibit appears in an article in The Hill, “Centrist Dems ready strike against Warren wing“: {..]