Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news media 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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Trevor Timm: The Department of Homeland Security is a rogue agency. Democrats must take action

The agency has been spying on protesters and journalists. Congress must force the DHS to massively reform – or disband

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a rogue intelligence agency that needs to be shut down.

It’s hard to reach any other conclusion on the heels of the DHS sending federal militarized police into Portland last month, where camouflaged and unidentified officers indiscriminately sprayed protesters with teargas and rubber bullets for more than two weeks. But even after the agency reached an agreement with Portland officials to leave, virtually every day we learn more about the DHS abusing its vast surveillance powers to spy on journalists, protesters and immigrants.

The Nation’s Ken Klippenstein, who has been breaking more scoops about the DHS than almost any other reporter alive, reported earlier this week that the DHS has been gathering information on activists who the agency thinks are involved in the antifa movement in an apparent attempt to tie them to foreign powers.

An intelligence report leaked to the Nation included “a readout of these individuals’ personal information, including their social security numbers, home addresses and social media accounts, much of the data generated by the DHS’s Tactical Terrorism Response Teams”. As Klippenstein notes, the attempt to tie activists to foreign powers is key, as it would open up even more invasive and warrantless surveillance methods available to the DHS. (It’s worth noting that the federal government hasn’t been able to tie any protester it has arrested to antifa, let alone a foreign power.)

Todd Miller: Border agents are allowed to operate 100 miles inside the US. That should worry us

The agents in Portland were members of a special tactical unit with extra-legal powers. They’ve been doing this for decades

If you were under the notion that America’s borders are our international boundary lines with Mexico and Canada, think again. The US government’s notion of “borders” has long been much more legally expansive than most people realize; the “border” is increasingly everywhere.

Americans learned that the hard way when “Trump troops” were let loose on the streets in Portland, assaulting protesters and pulling people out of their cars. These agents in military camouflage without insignia include the Department of Homeland Security’s Border Patrol Tactical Unit (Bortac), which usually operates on the US-Mexico border.

Border agents have long had something close to extra-constitutional powers. In the 1950s, Washington decided that a reasonable distance from the border for enforcement purposes was 100 miles – creating what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has dubbed a “constitution-free zone”. [..]

Approximately 200 million Americans, or about two-thirds of the US population, reside within 100 miles of the border. This means that millions of Americans are within the patrol’s enforcement areas and subject to a permanent state of legal exception by armed agents and intrusive surveillance technology. This includes major cities such as San Diego, Tucson, El Paso, Buffalo and Detroit. Coastal areas such as Portland, Chicago, New York and Washington DC are also included in this zone, where agents are permitted to regularly search and seize based on “reasonable suspicion”.

Robert Reich: Trump has no problem letting billionaires profit off the pandemic

The president thinks that as long as they buoy the stock market, they’re helping the US economy – and that’s pure rubbish

Since the start of the pandemic, American billionaires have been cleaning up. As more than 50 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance, billionaires became $637bn richer. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth has ballooned 59%. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’s, 39%. Walmart’s Walton family has added $25bn.

Big drug company CEOs and their major investors are doing nicely, too. Since the start of the pandemic, Big Pharma has raised prices on over 250 prescription drugs, 61 of which are being used to treat Covid-19.

Apologists say this is the “free market” responding to supply and demand – the barons of Big Tech and Big Pharma merely providing what consumers desperately need during the pandemic.

But the market also operates under laws that ban profiteering, price gouging, and monopolizing, and that tax excess profits in wartime. Where did they go? The Trump administration hasn’t enforced them.

Charles M. Blow: In the Wake of Protests

Some of what we saw was people cosplaying consciousness — symbolism that cost nothing and shifted no power.

We are in a period of post-mortem reflection following the time during which racial justice protests were at their most intense. We now must ask ourselves: What has changed and what hasn’t? Have power and privilege truly been disrupted? Has oppression been alleviated? What will be the legacy of this moment?

The historic protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing were met with high hopes and soaring rhetoric. The protests were called a racial reckoning, a long-overdue racial accounting.

We painted murals on the streets and took down some statues. Companies committed to changing the Black faces on a bottle of syrup and a bag of rice. Athletes were allowed to kneel and racecar drivers held a racial solidarity parade.

There were television specials about injustice and expanded coverage of protests. Books about race rose to the tops of best-seller lists.

States like New York and California passed police reform legislation and scores of individual departments banned or restricted chokeholds and strangleholds and required officers to intervene when their colleagues use excessive force.

But, national progress, even on the issue of police accountability and reform, remained elusive. The slate of police reforms passed by the House is now bogged down in the Senate.

Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman: Trump’s own intelligence officials just undercut efforts to smear Joe Biden

President Trump’s own intelligence officials just released a statement confirming something we all know: Russia is interfering in our election with the express goal of harming Trump’s opponent, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

But there’s another element to this surprise move that is also worth noting: In so doing, Trump’s intel officials made it a whole lot harder for Trump’s allies to push narratives they’ve been using to smear Biden.

In an interview, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said the new statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) confirmed the need for members of Congress to be extra-cautious about Russian efforts to manipulate them with disinformation.

“Members of Congress are on notice and need to be very careful not to advance narratives that may be coming from the Kremlin,” Schiff told us. [..]

We’re talking about Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chair of the homeland security committee. It isn’t often that a U.S. senator has to publicly deny participating in a Russian disinformation campaign, but Johnson recently had to do just that, in connection with his committee’s “investigation” into Ukraine, oil and gas company Burisma, and Joe and his son Hunter Biden.