“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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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.
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.”
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.