Sep 09 2010

Punting the Pundits

Punting the Punditsis 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.

New York Times Editorial: Torture Is a Crime, Not a Secret

Five men who say the Bush administration sent them to other countries to be tortured had a chance to be the first ones to have torture claims heard in court. But because the Obama administration decided to adopt the Bush administration’s claim that hearing the case would divulge state secrets, the men’s lawsuit was tossed out on Wednesday  by the full United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The decision diminishes any hope that this odious practice will finally receive the legal label it deserves: a violation of international law.


The state secrets doctrine is so blinding and powerful that it should be invoked only when the most grave national security matters are at stake – nuclear weapons details, for example, or the identity of covert agents. It should not be used to defend against allegations that if true, as the dissenting judges wrote, would be “gross violations of the norms of international law.”

All too often in the past, the judges pointed out, secrecy privileges have been used to avoid embarrassing the government, not to protect real secrets. In this case, the embarrassment and the shame to America’s reputation are already too well known.

The Talking Dog: Transparency You can Believe In

Surprise, surprise. Obama and Holder sold us out on the grand daddy of them all– the political decision to keep the promise it made at no cost… no fear of filibuster, no need to bribe Bart Stupek or Ben Nelson, no nothin’… just a willingness to honor Obama’s own God damned campaign promises. Too much to ask. Too much to ask.

As the great Charlie Savage tells us in this piece in the Grey Lady, a sharply divided panel of the (almost) full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, by a 6-5 vote, issued a decision upholding the Bush Administration’s Obama Administration’s assertion of a “state secrets” as a get out of jail free card for torturers, in this case, to short circuit a lawsuit brought by the ACLU against Boeing’s Jeppesen subsidiary, a/k/a, the torture taxi company, which supplied specially outfitted aircraft used by the CIA in extraordinary rendition international f***ing Wild West kidnappings of people from anywhere on Earth for transport to torture.

Interestingly, what I haven’t seen being reported are the implications of a pair of recusals. The first is an evident recusal on the 9th Circuit itself, that of former Justice Dept. Legal Counsel Jay Bybee, now a Judge on… the 9th Circuit. I did not see Bybee’s name on the decision, and as he is clearly an active member of the Court, I’m guessing that as an architect of the “torture is legal if we do it” policy (or at least the guy who history will find as the guy who signed off on the memos that John Yoo wrote to David Addington’s order)…recused himself. One assumes Bybee’s participation would have made the decision 7-5 to reverse, but it is somewhat interesting to me that it hasn’t been commented on.

The Optimist:

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Obama raises stakes and redefines debate for the midterm election

President Obama decided this week to raise the stakes in this fall’s election by making the choice about something instead of nothing but anger.

In the process, he will confront a deeply embedded media narrative that sees a Republican triumph as all but inevitable. Paradoxically, such extravagant expectations may be the GOP’s biggest problem — by raising the bar for what will constitute success and by discouraging necessary strategic adjustments should our newly combative president begin to alter the political battlefield.

Until Obama’s Labor Day speech in Milwaukee and his statement of principles Wednesday near Cleveland, it was not clear how much heart he had in the fight or whether he would ever offer a comprehensive argument for the advantage of his party’s approach.

In the absence of a coherent case, Republicans were winning by default on a wave of protest votes. Without this new effort at self-definition, Obama was a blur: a socialist to conservatives, a sellout to some progressives, and a disappointment to younger Americans who wondered what happened to the ebullient, hopeful guy they voted for.

That’s why the Milwaukee-Cleveland one-two punch mattered. The first speech showed Obama could fight and enjoy himself in the process. The second speech spelled out why he has chosen to do battle.

The Pessimist:

David Broder: The Obama era, phase two

Nov. 2 is likely to be marked as the official start of Phase Two of the Obama presidency, but in some respects, the turn to the right that will mark his tenure became visible in this first week in September.

The signs were there in the polls signaling the likelihood of large Republican gains in the midterm election, in the word that the White House may have to find a new chief of staff, and in the policy announcements about Obama’s new economic fixes.

All the major media completed their first rounds of post-Labor Day reporting and polling this week and pronounced, with one voice, that voters are ready to strip the Democrats of one, if not both, of their congressional majorities. The failure of the economy to generate any momentum for significant growth during the summer months has deepened national pessimism. And little is likely to jolt it into a climb before November.

Joe Conason: Why they want to burn the Quran

Conservatives encourage (or ignore) demonizing of Islam — and then claim to be infuriated by Pastor Jones

Had Gen. David Petraeus never condemned a Florida church’s ceremonial destruction of the Quran scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 11, it is hard to imagine that many of his admirers on the political right would have protested. But with the general’s warning that video of such a provocative act of hate would endanger the lives of American personnel abroad, both military and civilian, and serve the purposes of our enemies, he etched a line of demarcation. Suddenly, prominent right-wing commentators sprang forth to agree that burning books is beyond the limit of tolerable intolerance and denounced Pastor Terry Jones and his Dove World congregation as stupid, tasteless, repugnant and all too reminiscent of Nazism.

Or at least some did, even as Republican politicians remained silent on the Florida outrage. What should have been an opportunity for reflection on the national mood of Muslim-bashing bigotry — and especially how that mood was conjured — instead became an occasion to preen and pretend that the little band of idiotic rubes in Florida could not possibly have been inspired by the “sophisticated” critics of Islam on Fox News, talk radio and the Internet.

Gal Collins: The 5 Percent Doctrine

A minister in Gainesville, Fla., has created an international uproar by vowing to burn the Koran on Sept. 11. This is under the theory that the best way to honor Americans who died at the hands of religious extremists is to do something that is both religious and extreme.

I am not going to mention his name, since he’s already been rewarded with way too many TV interviews for a person whose seminal career achievement has been building a thriving congregation of about 50 people.

The Koran-burning has been equated, in some circles, with the fabled ground zero mosque. This is under the theory that both are constitutionally protected bad ideas. In fact, they’re very different. Muslims building a community center in their neighborhood on one hand. Deliberate attempt to insult a religion that is dear to about 1.5 billion souls around the globe on the other.

This week, New York City was visited by another minister, with the depressing title of “Internet evangelist” who announced plans to build a “9/11 Christian center at ground zero” in response to “the lies of Islam.” This guy, who is from Tampa, drew an estimated crowd of 60 people. Does that make him more popular than the minister from Gainesville? Plus, is there something in the water in Florida?

Nicholas D. Kristof: The Healers of 9/11

This weekend, a Jewish woman who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks is planning to speak at a mosque in Boston. She will be trying to recruit members of the mosque to join her battle against poverty and illiteracy in Afghanistan.

The woman, Susan Retik, has pursued perhaps the most unexpected and inspiring American response to the 9/11 attacks. This anniversary of Sept. 11 feels a little ugly to me, with some planning to remember the day with hatred and a Koran-burning – and that makes her work all the more exhilarating.

In the shattering aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Ms. Retik bonded with another woman, Patti Quigley, whose husband had also died in the attack. They lived near each other, and both were pregnant with babies who would never see their fathers.

Devastated themselves, they realized that there were more than half a million widows in Afghanistan – and then, with war, there would be even more. Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley also saw that Afghan widows could be a stabilizing force in that country.

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