Daily Archive: 03/16/2015

Mar 16 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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Paul Krugman: Israel’s Gilded Age

Why did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel feel the need to wag the dog in Washington? For that was, of course, what he was doing in his anti-Iran speech to Congress. If you’re seriously trying to affect American foreign policy, you don’t insult the president and so obviously align yourself with his political opposition. No, the real purpose of that speech was to distract the Israeli electorate with saber-rattling bombast, to shift its attention away from the economic discontent that, polls suggest, may well boot Mr. Netanyahu from office in Tuesday’s election.

But wait: Why are Israelis discontented? After all, Israel’s economy has performed well by the usual measures. It weathered the financial crisis with minimal damage. Over the longer term, it has grown more rapidly than most other advanced economies, and has developed into a high-technology powerhouse. What is there to complain about?

The answer, which I don’t think is widely appreciated here, is that while Israel’s economy has grown, this growth has been accompanied by a disturbing transformation in the country’s income distribution and society.

Trevor Timm: Congress won’t protect us from the surveillance state – they’ll enhance it

There are still programs aimed at Americans that the Obama administration is keeping secret from the public. They should be a scandal, not line items in bills

The same Senator who warned the public about the NSA’s mass surveillance pre-Snowden said this week that the Obama administration is still keeping more spying programs aimed at Americans secret, and it seems Congress only wants to make it worse.

In a revealing interview, Ron Wyden – often the lone voice in favor of privacy rights on the Senate’s powerful Intelligence Committee – told Buzzfeed’s John Stanton that American citizens are being monitored by intelligence agencies in ways that still have not been made public more than a year and a half after the Snowden revelations and countless promises by the intelligence community to be more transparent. Stanton wrote:

   Asked if intelligence agencies have domestic surveillance programs of which the public is still unaware, Wyden said simply, “Yeah, there’s plenty of stuff.”

Wyden’s warning is not the first clue about the government’s still-hidden surveillance; it’s just the latest reminder that they refuse to come clean about it. For instance, when the New York Times’ Charlie Savage and Mark Manzetti exposed a secret CIA program “collecting bulk records of international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union” into and out of the United States in 2013, they also reported that “several government officials said more than one other bulk collection program has yet to come to light.”

Robert Kuttner: The Dance of Liberals and Radicals

March 15 was the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s best speech, his “We Shall Overcome” address applying the final round of pressure on Congress to enact the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Much of the speech invoked the bravery, dignity and historical rightness of Martin Luther King Jr., and his fellow movement activists.

All of which puts me in mind of the complex relationship between liberals and radicals.

History shows that liberals need radicals. We need radicals because drastic change against entrenched evil and concentrated power requires personal bravery to the point of obsession. It requires a radical sensibility to look beyond today’s limits and imagine what seems sheer impossibility within the current social order. And sometimes it’s necessary to break the law to redeem the Constitution. [..]

But here’s where the story gets complicated. Radicals also need liberals.

Eugene Robinson: The Long Shadow of Racism

See, I keep telling you that old-fashioned racism is alive and well in this country. After the fraternity bus sing-along at the University of Oklahoma, do you hear me now?

Frankly, the happy-go-lucky bigotry of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity brothers-captured on video and shown to the world-shocked even me. And I was raised in the South, back in the days when Jim Crow was under assault but still very much alive. [..]

Now, I realize that these soft, pampered, privileged, ridiculous frat boys are not likely to attempt actual violence against black people. But they wouldn’t have to. The attitudes their words reveal can, and probably will, show themselves in other ways.

Let’s imagine the video never surfaced. With halfway decent grades, degrees from Oklahoma’s flagship university and the connections that Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s old-boy network could provide, the boys on that bus could be expected to end up in executive positions with the power to hire and fire. What chance would an African-American job applicant have of getting fair consideration?

Joe Conason: Media’s Email Hysteria: Why Are Republicans Exempt?

It is almost eerie how closely Hillary Clinton’s current email scandal parallels the beginnings of the Whitewater fiasco that ensnared her and her husband almost 20 years ago. Both began with tendentious, inaccurate stories published by The New York Times; both relied upon highly exaggerated suspicions of wrongdoing; both were seized upon by

Republican partisans whose own records were altogether worse; and both resulted in shrill explosions of outrage among reporters who couldn’t be bothered to learn actual facts.

Fortunately for Secretary Clinton, she won’t be subjected to investigation by less-than-independent counsel like Kenneth Starr-and the likelihood that the email flap will damage her nascent presidential campaign seems very small, according to the latest polling data.

Yet the reaction of the Washington media to these allegations renews the same old questions about press fairness to the Clintons, and how the media treats them in contrast with other politicians. In this instance, the behavior of Republican officials whose use of private email accounts closely resembles what Secretary Clinton did at the State Department has been largely ignored-even though some of those officials might also seek the presidency.

David Sirota: Why Did Christie Settle With Exxon?

Last week, Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration settled New Jersey’s long-standing environmental lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp. for pennies on the dollar. For a decade, the state had been seeking $8.9 billion in damages for pollution at two refineries in the northern part of the state, and yet Christie’s top officials abruptly proposed closing the case for just $225 million.

In the aftermath, as environmentalists express outrage and legislators move to block the settlement, the question on many observers’ minds has been simple: Why did Christie settle? [..]

In politics, as rare as it is to see a policy decision made on the substantive merits of an issue, it is even rarer that a decision is only about one thing. Most often, decisions represent a mixture of motivations. In agreeing to such a small settlement in the Exxon case, Christie placates his politically connected colleagues and gets himself some extra cash to spend on his budget’s new tax cuts. He also gives a gift to an oil industry donor just as he starts raising money for a 2016 White House bid.

Sure, the settlement may not be great policy, but it may be shrewd short-term politics. That divergence is hardly surprising-at this moment in history, good policy and good politics are not often synonymous.

Mar 16 2015

TBC: Morning Musing 3.16.15

I have 3 articles for you on this Monday morning!

First, an interesting coalition:

Fixing Justice in America

But getting from general agreement to action requires a concerted effort to change minds and change policy. That’s why we recently helped launch the Coalition for Public Safety, an unprecedented national bipartisan coalition of funders and advocacy partners that will work for smart, fair and just criminal justice reform.

The coalition will work at the local, state and federal level to fix the flawed policies that have conspired to create this problem. The coalition plans a multimillion-dollar campaign in connection with emerging proposals to reduce prison populations, overhaul sentencing, reduce recidivism and address critical structural flaws in our system.

Jump!

Mar 16 2015

On This Day In History March 16

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 16 is the 75th day of the year (76th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 290 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1802, The United States Military Academy, the first military school in the United States, is founded by Congress for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science.

Colonial period, founding, and early years

The Continental Army first occupied West Point, New York, on 27 January 1778, making it the longest continually occupied post in the United States of America. Between 1778 and 1780, Polish engineer and military hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko oversaw the construction of the garrison defenses. The Great Hudson River Chain and high ground above the narrow “S” curve in the river enabled the Continental Army to prevent British Royal Navy ships from sailing upriver and dividing the Colonies. As commander of the fortifications at West Point, however, Benedict Arnold committed his infamous act of treason, attempting to sell the fort to the British. After Arnold betrayed the patriot cause, the Army changed the name of the fortifications at West Point, New York, to Fort Clinton. With the peace after the American Revolutionary War left various ordnance and military stores deposited at West Point.

“Cadets” underwent training in artillery and engineering studies at the garrison since 1794. Congress formally authorized the establishment and funding of the United States Military Academy on 16 March 1802,. The academy graduated Joseph Gardner Swift, its first official graduate, in October 1802; he later returned as Superintendent from 1812 to 1814. In its tumultuous early years, the academy featured few standards for admission or length of study. Cadets ranged in age from 10 years to 37 years and attended between 6 months to 6 years. The impending War of 1812 caused the United States Congress to authorize a more formal system of education at the academy and increased the size of the Corps of Cadets to 250.

In 1817, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer became the Superintendent and established the curriculum still in use to this day. Thayer instilled strict disciplinary standards, set a standard course of academic study, and emphasized honorable conduct. Known as the “Father of the Military Academy”, he is honored with a monument on campus for the profound impact he left upon the academy’s history. Founded to be a school of engineering, for the first half of the 19th century, USMA produced graduates who gained recognition for engineering the bulk of the nation’s initial railway lines, bridges, harbors and roads. The academy was the only engineering school in the country until the founding of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1824. It was so successful in its engineering curriculum that it significantly influenced every American engineering school founded prior to the Civil War.

The Mexican-American War brought the academy to prominence as graduates proved themselves in battle for the first time. Future Civil War commanders Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee first distinguished themselves in battle in Mexico. In all, 452 of 523 graduates who served in the war received battlefield promotions or awards for bravery. The school experienced a rapid modernization during the 1850s, often romanticized by the graduates who led both sides of the Civil War as the “end of the Old West Point era”. New barracks brought better heat and gas lighting, while new ordnance and tactics training incorporated new rifle and musket technology and accommodated transportation advances created by the steam engine. With the outbreak of the Civil War, West Point graduates filled the general officer ranks of the rapidly expanding Union and Confederate armies. Two hundred ninety-four graduates served as general officers for the Union, and one hundred fifty-one served as general officers for the Confederacy. Of all living graduates at the time of the war, 105 (10%) were killed, and another 151 (15%) were wounded. Nearly every general officer of note from either army during the Civil War was a graduate of West Point and a West Point graduate commanded the forces of one or both sides in every one of the 60 major battles of the war.

Mar 16 2015

Sunday Train: Five Levels of US Intercity Rail Policy

In Sunday Train last week, I referred to the Bipartisan Majority to Authorize the funding of Amtrak as “Good News”. One commentator in the discussion in one of the crossposts pointed out that the news wasn’t all that particularly good, since continued funding on this basis over the indefinite future will spell serious trouble for the system as a whole.

Now, as I suggested more than once, the “good news” last week certainly was not unqualified good news … that is, to say it was “qualified” good news was already taking on board the bad electoral news for Amtrak in the continued Republican House Majority combined with a new Republican Senate Majority, which opened the door to some of the deep, slashing cuts to Amtrak that some on the Republican side have long hoped to make. So the “qualified good news” was that in going for a total defunding of Amtrak, the radical reactionary wing of the Republican party overplayed its hand, opening the way for a majority of House Republicans, along with basically the entire Democratic caucus, to authorize the continued funding of Amtrak at just about the levels that have been in place over the past four years.

But that was set against the bad news of the INDOT refusing to continue the Hoosier State service on the ground of basically not being allowed to have its cake and eat it too … insisting on acting like the organization putting together a passenger rail service, without being treated as a passenger railway. And so I started thinking about the Hoosier State / Cardinal corridor in the context of, on one hand, the very low bar for “good news” in transport funding with this Congress, versus the tremendous need we have for a massive wave of investment in transport that can be powered by sustainable, renewable energy. And to organize my thinking, I started to sort it out into five levels:

 

  • Level 0: “Very Much Worse”;

     
  • Level 1: “Barely Scraping By”;

     
  • Level 2: “A Basic Skeleton Service Done Right”

     
  • Level 3: “Incremental Growth”

     
  • Level 4: “Aggressive Growth”

     

More about the five levels … below the fold.