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Aug 04 2010

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.

I am hardly Mayor Michael Bloomerg’s biggest fan but on this I am right there with him.

Michael R Bloomberg: Defending Religious Tolerance: Remarks on the Mosque Near Ground Zero

The following are New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered on Governors Island.

We have come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We’ve come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that, more than 250 years later, would greet millions of immigrants in the harbor, and we come here to state as strongly as ever – this is the freest City in the world. That’s what makes New York special and different and strong.

Our doors are open to everyone – everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it is sustained by immigrants – by people from more than a hundred different countries speaking more than two hundred different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here, or you came yesterday, you are a New Yorker.

We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That’s life and it’s part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11.

On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn’t want us to enjoy the freedom to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams and to live our own lives.

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Thomas L. Friedman: Broadway and the Mosque

I greatly respect the feelings of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 – which was perpetrated in the name of Islam – and who oppose this project. Personally, if I had $100 million to build a mosque that promotes interfaith tolerance, I would not build it in Manhattan. I’d build it in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. That is where 9/11 came from, and those are the countries that espouse the most puritanical version of Sunni Islam – a version that shows little tolerance not only for other religions but for other strands of Islam, particularly Shiite, Sufi and Ahmadiyya Islam. You can study Islam at virtually any American university, but you can’t even build a one-room church in Saudi Arabia.

That resistance to diversity, though, is not something we want to emulate, which is why I’m glad the mosque was approved on Tuesday. Countries that choke themselves off from exposure to different cultures, faiths and ideas will never invent the next Google or a cancer cure, let alone export a musical or body of literature that would bring enjoyment to children everywhere.

When we tell the world, “Yes, we are a country that will even tolerate a mosque near the site of 9/11,” we send such a powerful message of inclusion and openness. It is shocking to other nations. But you never know who out there is hearing that message and saying: “What a remarkable country! I want to live in that melting pot, even if I have to build a boat from milk cartons to get there.” As long as that happens, Silicon Valley will be Silicon Valley, Hollywood will be Hollywood, Broadway will be Broadway, and America, if we ever get our politics and schools fixed, will be O.K.

Richard G. Lugar: The Senate’s Important Lunch Date

WITH federal child nutrition programs due to expire Sept. 30, the Senate should approve reauthorization legislation this week, before the monthlong Congressional recess.

The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee in March, and it has no significant opposition. It has simply been a victim of the crowded calendar of the Senate. But if we don’t pass the bill immediately, we will imperil programs that have proved vital to our youth, families and schools for decades, and that are especially important during this time of economic stress.

Since the recession began in late 2007, the use of federal free and reduced-price school lunches has increased by 13.7 percent. Twenty-one million children – roughly two-thirds of the students eating school lunches – benefit from the program.

For many of these children, school lunches represent the bulk of the nutrition they receive during the day, and it is imperative that there are no gaps in providing these meals. The bill would also cut out a lot of red tape in the filing process, ensuring that more families and schools can participate. And it would increase the scope of the afterschool meal program that currently operates in only 13 states.

Anthony Weiner: Why I Was Angry

LAST week I got angry on the floor of the House. In this age of cable and YouTube, millions of people evidently saw the one-minute-plus clip. But there has been relatively little focus on why the substantive debate that sparked it matters.

More broadly, while I appreciate the concern over the future of civility in politics, I believe a little raw anger right now is justified. Democrats make a mistake by pretending there is a bipartisan spirit in Congress these days, and would be better served by calling out Republican shams.

The specifics of the debate last week should be an example of an issue beyond partisan dispute. The bill in question was created to help the thousands of citizens who went to ground zero after the Sept. 11 attacks. These are Americans who wanted to help, and who scientific studies now show are falling ill and dying in troubling numbers.

Michael Gerson: Obama’s cool is leaving more people cold

“The trouble with you is,” she continued steadily, “you think people should stay in their own sealed packages. You don’t believe in opening up. You don’t believe in trading back and forth.”

“I certainly don’t,” Macon said, buttoning his shirt front.

— Anne Tyler,

“The Accidental Tourist”

If politics were literature, Bill Clinton would be Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby,” casually smashing lives around him while remaining untouched by the chaos he creates. Barack Obama is more like Macon Leary in “The Accidental Tourist,” the author of tour guides who hates travel. “He was happiest with a regular scheme of things” — a cautious driver and committed flosser, systematic and steady, suspicious of unpredictable yearnings, displaying an “appalling calm” in times of crisis. “If you let yourself get angry you’ll be . . . consumed,” Macon says. “You’ll burn up. It’s not productive.” Only order and method are productive. He is attracted to the “virtuous delights of organizing a disorganized country.”

Macon uses structure and rationality to avoid facing personal loss. Obama’s emotional distance seems rooted in self-sufficiency — a stout fortress of self-confidence. But the effect is much the same. Obama leads a country without reflecting its passions — at least any he is willing to share. Events leave him apparently untouched. He doesn’t need the crowd. Americans have always loved Obama more than he seems to care for us.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: A pain in the pocketbook

Insecurity in America is on the rise — and was even before the Great Recession.

The Rockefeller Foundation just released a study of economic insecurity in America, which was developed by Yale professor Jacob Hacker and measures harsh changes in circumstance: For example, it reveals how many Americans have been subjected to a staggering decline of 25 percent of “available household income,” either from loss of income or sudden, unanticipated out-0f-pocket medical costs, and how many were without the savings to buffer the damage. Brutal losses such as these take six to eight years to recover from, the report said.

Ruth Marcus: Charles Rangel, Maxine Waters and the House culture of entitlement

My favorite part of the ethics report on Charlie Rangel  involves his efforts to “close” a $10 million gift “to create AIG Hall” as part of the Rangel Center at the City College of New York.

At a meeting in April 2008, the New York Democrat, then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, “asked AIG, at least twice, what was necessary to get this done,” according to the report. The insurance giant wasn’t so sure about writing the check, citing the “potential headline risk.”

When AIG — the company that paid out hundreds of millions in bonuses after being rescued by a government bailout — recognizes an appearance issue, you know you’ve got a problem.

Harold Meyerson: Jobs in the cards?

All things considered, American big business is doing just fine, thank you. Profits, productivity and exports are up. New hires, rehires and wage increases, as I have written, are nowhere to be seen. They’re no longer part of the U.S. corporate business plan, in which higher profits are premised on having fewer employees. Sell abroad, cut costs at home — the global marketplace that American business has created is paying off big-time.

Not so for American small business, which inhabits those less rarefied realms of the economy in which depressed domestic demand and bottled-up credit remain a mortal threat. The great private-sector trickle-down machine has largely stopped working for small businesses. A May report from the Congressional Oversight Panel on the TARP (chaired by consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren) found that bank lending to small businesses has plummeted, particularly among the big banks that taxpayers helped bail out. The Wall Street banks’ lending portfolio declined 4 percent between 2008 and 2009, the report concludes, but their lending to small business declined 9 percent. Smaller banks — “strained by their exposure to commercial real estate and other liabilities” — have similarly reduced their lending.

Juliet Lapidos: A Ballsy Explainer

When did testicles become courageous?

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer “has the cojones that our president does not have,” Sarah Palin rabble-roused on Sunday. Anatomically, the one-time vice-presidential candidate has it all wrong: The president has cojones, the Spanish word for balls, while the female Brewer does not. Of course, cojones  also means bravery, and she was surely relying on this figurative sense to imply that Obama lacks courage. How did a Spanish slang word sneak into the American vernacular?

Ernest Hemingway. The first English-language text to contain the word cojones as a metaphor for bravery is Hemingway’s 1932 book on bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon. “It takes more cojones,” he wrote, “to be a sportsman where death is a closer party to the game.” Subsequent examples cataloged in the Oxford English Dictionary use cojones more literally, as in this colorful line from Noel Behn’s 1966 novel The Kremlin Letter: ” ‘Hit that big cow in the crotch! … in the cojones,’ he roared at her, pointing to his own.” Naturally, books can only affect a language so much. Widespread familiarity with both senses of cojones  is probably the result of contact with Spanish-speaking immigrants and was probably current in cities with large Hispanic populations (such as San Antonio, Los Angeles, and El Paso) before the rest of the country.

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