Feb 26 2016

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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David Cay Johnston: The way news should be done

Great journalism doesn’t always draw a big audience. That’s what happened here at Al Jazeera America (AJAM), where superb reporting, bolstered by a first-rate opinion section, found a following, just not one big enough to interest major advertisers.

AJAM’s online operation shuts down today, and the TV channel will go dark in April — their journalistic achievements ended by commercial failure, while Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English channels will continue.

Before this website is frozen, I want to point to some of the great work done here, examine the state of journalism in America and explain how this relates to the future of one of the world’s oldest democracies and its place as the world leader in promoting the human spirit.

Paul Krugman: Twilight of the Apparatchiks

Lack of self-awareness can be fatal. The haplessness of the Republican establishment in the face of Trumpism is a case in point.

As many have noted, it’s remarkable how shocked — shocked! — that establishment has been at the success of Donald Trump’s racist, xenophobic campaign. Who knew that this kind of thing would appeal to the party’s base? Isn’t the G.O.P. the party of Ronald Reagan, who sold conservatism with high-minded philosophical messages, like talking about a “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks?

Seriously, Republican political strategy has been exploiting racial antagonism, getting working-class whites to despise government because it dares to help Those People, for almost half a century. So it’s amazing to see the party’s elite utterly astonished by the success of a candidate who is just saying outright what they have consistently tried to convey with dog whistles.

What I find even more amazing, however, are the Republican establishment’s delusions about what its own voters are for. You see, all indications are that the party elite imagines that base voters share its own faith in conservative principles, when that not only isn’t true, it never has been.

Jacob Reisberg:Can the government force you to unlock your own phone?

Apple and the FBI continue to battle over unlocking the San Bernardino gunman’s iPhone. A further question, though, separate from the immediate case, is certain to impact future cases: what if the gunman was still alive and available?

More broadly, what if the government wants access to your phone and you refuse to cooperate? If Apple maintains its current position, your cooperation (as the phone’s owner) may be the only means of accessing the phone’s contents. But what if you refuse?

Can the government force you to unlock your phone?

The answer largely hinges on how we interpret the US constitution’s fifth amendment. The amendment provides that “No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” This line is the famous “right to remain silent”. But, according to the courts, this right only protects communications that are “testimonial” – that is, communications or actions that somehow disclose the contents of your mind. This interpretation is why a defendant cannot plead the fifth when forced to provide a blood sample or a sample of handwriting; these results of compulsion do not count as testimonial.

Ironically, then, the government can force you to unlock your iPhone through fingerprint recognition, because fingerprints are not testimonial. But what if your phone has a passcode? Keying in the code is of course a physical act, but it is an act guided by knowledge. Because this act reveals the contents of your mind, it is arguably testimonial and is protected under the fifth amendment.

E. J. Dionne: The Useful Side of Trump

If the durability of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy has taken the political world by surprise, the sources of his electoral strength are no mystery. And the support he’s winning reflects a crisis not only for the Republican and conservative coalitions, but also for the political system as a whole.

Let it be said that Trump is not (yet) winning support from anything close to a majority of Americans. On the contrary, polling shows that a significant majority of Americans are anti-Trump. His unfavorable ratings have reached or approached 60 percent in many surveys.

But as the results from Tuesday’s Nevada caucuses confirmed again, Trump has built a large constituency inside the Republican Party based on a set of positions that marry two streams of thought not typically brought together by liberal or conservative politicians.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: The economic dilemma Democrats face in 2016

Democrats face a dilemma in 2016: How do they deal with the Obama presidency, and particularly the Obama economy? As the early primaries have shown, Americans are in a surly mood, with the economy at the center of their concerns. The Obama administration naturally wants Democrats to brag on its record. Republicans, of course, blame President Obama for everything under the sun. My Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. argues that Democrats will “undercut” their “chances of holding the White House” if they don’t defend the progress made under Obama and proclaim that the United States is “in far better shape economically than most other countries in the world.” But this morsel of conventional wisdom ignores what is going on in the country.

No doubt Obama deserves some credit. He inherited an economy that was in free fall and turned it around. Topline unemployment has been cut by more than half by a record number of consecutive months with job growth. We’ve witnessed the first indications of wages ticking up. Health-care reform has provided health protections for millions who lacked them before, particularly with the expansion of Medicaid. Financial reform has at least provided consumers with their own cop on the beat with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And all was accomplished in the face of unrelenting Republican obstruction.

But the anger of American voters isn’t unfounded. This economy still doesn’t work for most Americans. Most households haven’t recovered from the financial collapse. The median household wealth of black families — now a bleak $11,000, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report — was cut almost in half by the collapse and hasn’t recovered. Working families know that they have been savaged by ruinous trade policies that Obama supports. Banks got bailed out, and they are bigger and more concentrated than ever, but homeowners were abandoned. Insurance and drug companies and private hospital complexes still force Americans to pay obscene sums for their health care.