Dec 29 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.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Mikhail Gorbachev: The Senate’s Next Task: Ratifying the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

JUST a few weeks ago, the fate of the New Start nuclear arms treaty seemed to hang by a thread. But since last week, when the United States Senate ratified the treaty, which reduces the size of the American and Russian nuclear stockpiles, we can speak of a serious step forward for both countries. I hope this will energize efforts to take the next step to a world free of nuclear weapons: a ban on all nuclear testing.

In the final stretch, President Obama put his credibility and political capital on the line to achieve ratification. That a sufficient number of Republican senators put the interests of their nation’s security, and the world’s, above party politics is encouraging.

The success was not without cost. In return for the treaty’s ratification, Mr. Obama promised to allocate tens of billions of dollars in the next few years for modernizing the American nuclear weapons arsenal, which is hardly compatible with a nuclear-free world.

William Hartung: New START, Next Steps

The Senate’s 71-26 vote to ratify the New START agreement was a victory for the Obama administration, key members of Congress, the arms control and disarmament movement, and ultimately, all of us, as it makes the world a safer place. . . . .

But that was then and this is now. The battle to define the meaning of New START’s ratification has already begun. For Robert Kagan, writing in the Washington Post, the treaty is “good news” and a pillar of a “sound American foreign and defense policy.” But his idea of a sound policy includes escalation in Afghanistan, a tougher line on China, and an “adequate” (which for him means larger) defense budget. This is what he wants the coalition that came together to ratify New START to work towards next. More directly, he wants more money for missile defense — he derides Republicans for using missile defense as a “talking point” and asks whether “the next, more Republican Congress will put its money where its mouth is” by pressing for more missile defense funding.

Charles Krauthammer is on the case as well. While acknowledging that New START — along with his tax deal and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — marks a political victory for President Obama, he’s still fixated on missile defense. He criticizes New START and the surrounding debate for its “gratuitous reestablishment of the link between offensive and defensive weaponry.”

Unni Karunakara: Haiti: where aid failed

Why have at least 2,500 people died of cholera when there are about 12,000 NGOs in the country?

Haiti should be an unlikely backdrop for the latest failure of the humanitarian relief system. The country is small and accessible and, following last January’s earthquake, it hosts one of the largest and best-funded international aid deployments in the world. An estimated 12,000 non-governmental organisations are there. Why then, have at least 2,500 people died of cholera, a disease that’s easily treated and controlled?

I recently went to Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and found my Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) colleagues overwhelmed, having already treated more than 75,000 cholera cases. We and a brigade of Cuban doctors were doing our best to treat hundreds of patients every day, but few other agencies seemed to be implementing critical cholera control measures, such as chlorinated water distribution and waste management. In the 11 months since the quake, little has been done to improve sanitation across the country, allowing cholera to spread at a dizzying pace.

Ten days after the outbreak hit Port-au-Prince, our teams realised the inhabitants of Cité Soleil still had no access to chlorinated drinking water, even though aid agencies under the UN water-and-sanitation cluster had accepted funds to ensure such access. We began chlorinating the water ourselves. There is still just one operational waste management site in Port-au-Prince, a city of three million people.

Unni Karunakara is the president of the International Council of Médecins Sans Frontières

Amy Goodman: ‘The Combeback Kid’ and the Kids Who Won’t

President Barack Obama signed a slew of bills into law during the lame-duck session of Congress and was dubbed the “Comeback Kid” amid a flurry of fawning press reports. In the hail of this surprise bipartisanship, though, the one issue over which Democrats and Republicans always agree, war, was completely ignored. The war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in U.S. history, and 2010 has seen the highest number of U.S. and NATO soldiers killed.

As of this writing, 497 of the reported 709 coalition fatalities in 2010 were U.S. soldiers. The website iCasualties.org has carefully tracked the names of these dead. There is no comprehensive list of the Afghans killed. But one thing that’s clear: Those 497 U.S. soldiers, under the command of the “Comeback Kid,” won’t be coming back.

Ralph Nader: Pharmaceutical Industry Fraud

The corporate defrauding of taxpayers (eg. Medicaid and Medicare) and prescription drugs with skyrocketing prices was the subject of a report by Public Citizen’s Dr. Sidney Wolfe and his associates (see citizen.org).

Dr. Wolfe’s team compiled a total of 165 federal and state settlements since 1991 totaling $19.8 billion in penalties. A key finding is that the drug industry’s penalties under the Federal False Claims Act exceed even those assessed against the overcharging defense industry for fraud.

Before we become overly impressed with the cumulative amount of the penalties, specialists in corporate crime law enforcement believe that adding more federal cops on the corporate crime beat, backed by a determined law and order Justice Department with White House backing, would have greatly increased the number of cases and imposition of penalties on these drug industry giants.

John Nichols: Cheney’s $250-Million ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ Card

What’s the going rate for getting a former vice president off the hook in a major criminal case that involves charges of government corruption and raises concerns about violent wrongdoing and even murder?

If you’re Dick Cheney, it’s roughly $250 million.

That’s the amount that Halliburton and its former subsidiary KBR Inc. are reported, by Nigerian officials and international observers, to have paid to get the government of the African country to drop bribery charges against the former corporate CEO and other Halliburton employees and operatives.

Top Nigerian lawyers and newspapers are objecting, and rightly so.

The charges against Cheney and his colleagues go far beyond the usual corporate corruption.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Filibuster Reform At Last?

As the lame-duck session drew to a close, progressives were reminded of the capacity of Congress to accomplish important things but also of what we are giving up as a new session begins. In the House, Democrats have lost their majority, and will be dealing with the possibility of John Boehner and Eric Cantor wielding their new power to do real harm and undo real progress. In the Senate, Democrats will maintain their majority, though that may be little consolation. With a loss of five Democratic Senate seats, the caucus finds itself seven votes-and many miles away-from the ability to stop the filibuster.

Considering the damage the filibuster has done over the past two years, our new circumstances are, indeed, distressing. Back when Lyndon Johnson was majority leader in the Senate, he needed to file for cloture to end a filibuster only once. During President Obama’s first two years, Harry Reid filed for cloture 84 times. To put that in perspective, the filibuster was used more in 2009 than in the 1950s and 1960s combined.

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