“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.
By now it’s a Republican Party tradition: Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits, but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar “magic asterisk” – a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from.
But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade.
You might be tempted to shrug this off, since these budgets will not, in fact, become law. Or you might say that this is what all politicians do. But it isn’t. The modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics. And that’s telling us something important about what has happened to half of our political spectrum.
Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.
And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so. [..]
Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.
It’s not often that I find myself agreeing with a congressional Republican on fiscal matters, but it’s hard to argue with a recent statement from Rep. Rob Woodall of the House Budget Committee. “A budget is a moral document,” said the Georgia Republican. “It talks about where your values are.”
That’s certainly true. So what are we to make of this year’s House and Senate Republican budgets? They harm seniors, use the disabled as pawns, punish the needy, pamper the wealthy, and employ deceit — all to promote a selfish agenda for the wealthy and powerful.
There’s a lot to say about these two proposals, but for now we’ll restrict ourselves to two important subjects: Social Security and Medicare. [..]
But for all the deception and evasion that permeates these documents, one thing comes through clearly: The Republicans have no interest in the well-being of seniors or the disabled. Theirs is an anti-tax agenda for the wealthy and an anti-social-contract agenda for everyone else.
Rep. Woodall is right. A budget is a moral document that “talks about where your values are.” These documents don’t paint a pretty picture.
Justice Department report on Ferguson demonstrates how economic hardship and racial tension feed off each other
The Justice Department’s stunning report on Ferguson, Missouri, has so far resulted in the ouster of the city manager and the resignation of the police chief. If you’ve followed the news, you’ve probably heard some of its twisted tales. In his press conference on the report, departing Attorney General Eric Holder told the Kafkaesque story of how a poor and sometimes homeless African-American woman endured a seven-year odyssey of harassment after receiving a $151 ticket for parking her car in the wrong place. She spent a week in jail and paid fines totaling $550 to the city – and she still owed $541 as of December.
“Inexplicable,” Holder remarked.
But is it? Perhaps not when you consider how racial tension and economic hardship feed off each other. According to a Brookings Institution report, Ferguson, like so many communities in America, has been hit with multiple economic shocks in recent years, including a skyrocketing unemployment rate, average earnings falling by a third and increased concentrations of poverty in poor neighborhoods. These trends have been driven by policies of austerity and deregulation that have created economic instability in the U.S., resulting in more severe and frequent economic downturns that suck public coffers dry, increase inequality and heighten insecurity – all of which tend to stoke racism.
Asked by a seventh-grade student from the Citizens Leadership Academy in Cleveland yesterday what advice he would give himself if he could go back to his first day in office, President Obama responded, “I think I would have closed Guantanamo on the first day.” That got a round of applause. [..]
Fair enough. President Obama is right that the bipartisan consensus that Guantanamo should be closed quickly dissolved as soon as he made it a centerpiece of his agenda. Congress has since barred transferring any of the men indefinitely detained at the offshore U.S. prison in Cuba to the United States for trial or detention. But that’s hardly the end of the story. President Obama can still make huge strides toward closing Guantanamo, even without Congress’ help. Here’s how.
American foreign policy is controlled by fools. What else can one conclude from the bipartisan demand that the U.S. intervene everywhere all the time, irrespective of consequences? No matter how disastrous the outcome, the War Lobby insists that the idea was sound. Any problems obviously result, it is claimed, from execution, a matter of doing too little: too few troops engaged, too few foreigners killed, too few nations bombed, too few societies transformed, too few countries occupied, too few years involved, too few dollars spent.
As new conflicts rage across the Middle East, the interventionist caucus’ dismal record has become increasingly embarrassing. Yet such shameless advocates of perpetual war as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham continue to press for military intervention irrespective of country and circumstance. For instance, they led the Neoconservative mob clamoring for war against Libya less than two years after supping with Moammar Khadafy in Tripoli, when they discussed providing U.S. aid to reward his anti-terrorism efforts.
A global investigation into every coal-fired power plant proposed in the last five years shows that only one in three of them has actually been built.
Researchers say that for each new plant constructed somewhere in the world, two more have been shelved or cancelled. They say this rate is significantly higher in Europe, South Asia, Latin America and Africa. In India, since 2012 six plants have been cancelled for each one built. [..]
But it is more than simply a question of the number of plants being built (or not). The report says:”The amount of new coal-fired generating capacity in the proposal pipeline worldwide dropped from 1,401 GW in 2012 to 1,080 GW in 2014, a 23% decline” (one GW, or gigawatt, would supply enough electricity for 750,000 to 1m typical US homes).
Against this, concentrations of planned new coal plants can still be found in Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia, Poland, some Balkan countries and Japan. Germany is one country which continues to burn large quantities of coal, including lignite. And global coal consumption grew by 3% in 2013, well below the 10-year average of 3.9%, but still the fastest-growing fossil fuel.
A report (pdf) done at Princeton University that was released last year argued that democracy in America has been transformed into an oligarchy with wealthy elites wielding the power. Researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page wrote that this has been a gradual, long term trend predating decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC making it harder for the public to perceive and even harder to reverse. Those rulings, however, may have sealed the deal.
Merriam-Webster’s first definition of “corruption” is “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle.” Another is “a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct.” Has democracy been corrupted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision? Has its integrity and virtue been compromised? Does today’s electoral process reflect what the Founders envisioned?
Writing the majority opinion in Citizens United, Justice Anthony Kennedy assured us that this decision would not have a corrupting influence on democracy. “(T)his Court now concludes,” wrote Kennedy, “that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
Avoiding the appearance of corruption, as well as corrupting itself, was essential to the Court’s ruling, since the mere appearance of corruption discourages voters and hampers democracy. For the Court’s reasoning to stand, elected officials must forever remain like Caesar’s wife: above suspicion. Justice Kennedy’s opinion assured us that, even with “independent” spending limits raised, they would.
When Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote to gut a century of campaign finance law, he assured the public that the unlimited corporate spending he was ushering in would “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Because those authorized to give and spend unlimited amounts were legally required to remain independent of the politicians themselves, Kennedy reasoned, there was no cause for concern.
Just five years later, in a development that may be surprising only to Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision is reshaping how, how much and to whom money flows in Washington.
How the flood of money released by Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (pdf) has changed elections has been the subject of much discussion, but the decision’s role in allowing that same money to soak the legislative process has largely gone unreported. According to an extensive review of public documents held by the FEC, the U.S. Senate and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as interviews with lobbyists and policymakers, Kennedy’s allegedly independent spending has become increasingly intertwined with lobbying and legislation — the precise appearance of corruption campaign finance laws were meant to curb.
Politically active nonprofits, known as “dark money” groups for their ability to shield the identity of donors, and super PACs, which take unlimited sums of money but must disclose donors, have become dominated by lobbyists and other political operatives with close ties to leaders in Congress. Meanwhile, businesses with issues before Congress are pumping increasingly more money into the lobbyist-connected organizations.
The Supreme Court initially established a narrow definition of corruption in the 1970s, but Citizens United used it to blow open the gates that had been holding back corporate money. The 2010 decision came as the U.S. legislative system had evolved into a near parliamentary system of party-line voting and expansive party networks extending seamlessly from the Capitol to party headquarters to lobbying firms to outside political groups. Most top congressional legislators now have “leadership teams” — informal but internally recognized groups of aides-turned-lobbyists who help raise funds.
Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungoverwe’ve been bailed outwe’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.
At 1845 hours EDT, the Sun will shine directly over the equator welcoming Spring’s return to the Northern Hemisphere. Here, in the northeast United States, we are expecting three to five inches of snow as winter continues to hold us in its icy grip.
Europe, northern Africa and much of northern Asia witnessed a solar eclipse this morning. According to NASA this is the first and only solar eclipse for 2015 and the first since November 3013.
There will be two lunar eclipses on April 4 and Sept. 28.
Also it’s new moon. This is a super moon because it occurs during the point the moon is closest to the earth in its elliptical orbit. But you can’t see it from earth.
So, Happy Spring. Think of warm sunshine and flowers and me, shoveling snow. Die, winter, die!!
This Day in History
American and British forces invade Iraq; U.S. soldiers charged in Abu Ghraib scandal; France’s Napoleon regains power; ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’; Sarin attack hits Tokyo subway; John Lennon marries Yoko Ono.
Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac
In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.
The one thing you will instantly notice is that the Women’s Tournament shares 1 time slot on 1 network between 4 teams.
This leads to a hodgepodge mishmash kind of game hopping programming that the Men’s Tournament used to use (and Golf still does) that is highly confusing and some, like me for instance, would call sexist because the Women’s games are so much more entertaining (please, we shall not talk of the NBA, the single most boring sport on the planet, even exceeding Turn Left Racing because there are so seldom flaming chunks of twisted metal).
This is the whole day because because it’s basically a single continuous broadcast from noon to 10 pm.
Oh and by the way-
Back in the day it was performed vocally, a cappella.
The Republican Party emerged in 1854, growing out of a coalition of former Whigs and Free Soil Democrats who mobilized in opposition to the possibility of slavery extending into the new western territories. The new party put forward a vision of modernizing the United States-emphasizing free homesteads to farmers (“free soil”), banking, railroads, and industry. They vigorously argued that free-market labor was superior to slavery and the very foundation of civic virtue and true republicanism, this is the “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men” ideology. The Republicans absorbed the previous traditions of its members, most of whom had been Whigs; others had been Democrats or members of third parties (especially the Free Soil Party and the American Party or Know Nothings). Many Democrats who joined up were rewarded with governorships. or seats in the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. Since its inception, its chief opposition has been the Democratic Party, but the amount of flow back and forth of prominent politicians between the two parties was quite high from 1854 to 1896.
Two small cities of the Yankee diaspora, Ripon, Wisconsin and Jackson, Michigan, claim to be the birthplace of the Republican Party (in other words, meetings held there were some of the first 1854 anti-Nebraska assemblies to call themselves by the name “Republican”). Ripon held the first county convention on March 20, 1854. Jackson held the first statewide convention on July 6, 1854; it declared their new party opposed to the expansion of slavery into new territories and selected a state-wide slate of candidates. The Midwest took the lead in forming state party tickets, while the eastern states lagged a year or so. There were no efforts to organize the party in the South, apart from a few areas adjacent to free states. The party initially had its base in the Northeast and Midwest. The party launched its first national convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in February 1856, with its first national nominating convention held in the summer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
John C. Fremont ran as the first Republican nominee for President in 1856, using the political slogan: “Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Fremont.” Although Fremont’s bid was unsuccessful, the party showed a strong base. It dominated in New England, New York and the northern Midwest, and had a strong presence in the rest of the North. It had almost no support in the South, where it was roundly denounced in 1856-60 as a divisive force that threatened civil war.
Historians have explored the ethnocultural foundations of the party, along the line that ethnic and religious groups set the moral standards for their members, who then carried those standards into politics. The churches also provided social networks that politicians used to sign up voters. The pietistic churches emphasized the duty of the Christian to purge sin from society. Sin took many forms-alcoholism, polygamy and slavery became special targets for the Republicans. The Yankees, who dominated New England, much of upstate New York, and much of the upper Midwest were the strongest supporters of the new party. This was especially true for the pietistic Congregationalists and Presbyterians among them and (during the war), the Methodists, along with Scandinavian Lutherans. The Quakers were a small tight-knit group that was heavily Republican. The liturgical churches (Roman Catholic, Episcopal, German Lutheran), by contrast, largely rejected the moralism of the Republican Party; most of their adherents voted Democratic.
Sigh, I’ve never seen a Will Ferrell movie that I liked. I didn’t even like his W on SNL. We continue that streak with Get Hard if last night’s appearance by his co-star Kevin Hart is any indication.
He might want to talk about that, but I’m sure Jon will be more interested in his recent appearances with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, and the San Francisco Giants, playing all 10 positions, including designated hitter.
The web exclusive extended interview with Kevin Hart and the real news below.