“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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David Cay Johnston: How governments enable companies to distort prices
Electricity companies want to keep consumers in the dark. Regulators are helping them do it
One of humanity’s greatest inventions is the economic concept of price. It enables us to consider how much, if any, of our resources to spend on this or that product or service and to compare offerings.
These days, unfortunately, government works hard to help various industries obscure prices, sowing confusion. Legions of highly paid lobbyists work the halls of Congress and state capitols to secure government policies that make it hard for customers to know if they are getting a fair price or could get a better price by shopping around. Sometimes even the actual price paid is buried in secret data.
These policies are especially prevalent in banking, insurance and utilities, but also infect the markets for college education and home buying. Corporate executives have also persuaded the Securities & Exchange Commission, as well as the Financial Accounting Standards Board, to help them obscure the real total cost paid for their services by shareholders.
Patrick Cockburn: Refugee Crisis: Where Are All these People Coming from and Why?
It is an era of violence in the Middle East and North Africa, with nine civil wars now going on in Islamic countries between Pakistan and Nigeria. This is why there are so many refugees fleeing for their lives. Half of the 23 million population of Syria have been forced from their homes, with four million becoming refugees in other countries.
Some 2.6 million Iraqis have been displaced by Islamic State – Isis – offensives in the last year and squat in tents or half-finished buildings. Unnoticed by the outside world, some 1.5 million people have been displaced in South Sudan since fighting there resumed at the end of 2013.
Other parts of the world, notably south-east Asia, have become more peaceful over the last 50 years or so, but in the vast swathe of territory between the Hindu Kush mountains and the western side of the Sahara, religious, ethnic and separatist conflicts are tearing countries apart. Everywhere states are collapsing, weakening or are under attack; and, in many of these places, extreme Sunni Islamist insurgencies are on the rise which use terror against civilians in order to provoke mass flight.
: Labor Unions: The Folks Who Gave You the Weekend
The celebration of Labor Day is a good time to remember the role that labor unions have played in raising living standards and improving the quality of life for working people in the United States. While most people recognize that unions have been beneficial for their members — raising pay, improving work conditions and increasing job security — there is little appreciation of role of labor unions in promoting benefits and work rules that protect all workers.
Unions were crucial in the passage of just about all the benefits and rules that we take for granted today, starting with the weekend. The 40-hour workweek became the standard in the 1937 with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This bill, which also put in place a federal minimum wage, required a premium of 50 percent of pay for any hours that an employer required in excess of 40 hours a week. Unions had pressed for similar rules for decades, but it took the power of a militant labor movement, coupled with a sympathetic president and Congress to finally make the 40 hour workweek a standard across the country.
Robert Parry: How Neocons Destabilized Europe
The neocon prescription of endless “regime change” is spreading chaos across the Middle East and now into Europe, yet the neocons still control the mainstream U.S. narrative and thus have diagnosed the problem as not enough “regime change.”
The refugee chaos that is now pushing deep into Europe – dramatized by gut-wrenching photos of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey – started with the cavalier ambitions of American neocons and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks who planned to remake the Middle East and other parts of the world through “regime change.”
Instead of the promised wonders of “democracy promotion” and “human rights,” what these “anti-realists” have accomplished is to spread death, destruction and destabilization across the Middle East and parts of Africa and now into Ukraine and the heart of Europe. Yet, since these neocon forces still control the Official Narrative, their explanations get top billing – such as that there hasn’t been enough “regime change.” [..]
But the truth is that this accelerating spread of human suffering can be traced back directly to the unchecked influence of the neocons and their liberal fellow-travelers who have resisted political compromise and, in the case of Syria, blocked any realistic efforts to work out a power-sharing agreement between Assad and his political opponents, those who are not terrorists.
Joe Crincione: Why It Matters That Colin Powell and Debbie Wasserman Schultz Support the Iran Agreement.
A Republican former secretary of state and a Democratic “Jewish mother” may have just given us the strongest case yet for the nuclear agreement with Iran.
The first is a pillar of the “realist” camp in the American national security establishment. The second is a rising star in the Democratic Party from a heavily Jewish district in South Florida. Together, they represent key constituencies whose support for the historic accord is critical to isolating right-wing opponents and preventing last-minute sabotage attempts.
Together, they also lay out a compelling narrative of why the agreement is so important to American national security.
Robert Kuttner: Refugee Blues
The mounting catastrophe of Syrian refugees in Europe is one part the same old same old, “not in my backyard,” but with several new wrinkles. One is the complete paralysis of the European Union as a government able to take emergency action.
The humanitarian crisis is happening right now in real time, but the EU operates by consensus if not unanimity and it operates with agonizing slowness. Several nations don’t want anything to do with refugees. Hungary’s brutal response is more candid and ugly than others, but in this story there are few heroes.
One hero is the Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven. Sweden has been more generous to refugees and immigrants than most nations, and now faces a backlash.
In the September 2014 general election, when Löfven’s Social Democratic Party narrowly returned to power in a three-party coalition with the Greens and the Left Party, the biggest gainer was the frankly racist Swedish Democratic Party. It abruptly became Sweden’s third largest party, increasing its parliamentary representation from 20 to 49 seats and picking up 13 percent of the popular vote.
I have spent the past week in Denmark and Sweden, exploring how the economic crisis and the immigrant crisis are affecting European politics. Elsewhere in Europe, social democrats are running for cover, because so many of their working class constituents are feeling economically insecure and many are scapegoating immigrants and voting for the populist right.