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”.

Mark Levine: President Obama, say the ‘D-Word’

US appears to shy away from talk about democracy in Middle East, despite historic anti-government rallies in ally Egypt.

It’s incredible, really. The president of the United States can’t bring himself to talk about democracy in the Middle East. He can dance around it, use euphemisms, throw out words like “freedom” and “tolerance” and “non-violent” and especially “reform,” but he can’t say the one word that really matters: democracy.

How did this happen? After all, in his famous 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world, Obama spoke the word loudly and clearly – at least once.

“The fourth issue that I will address is democracy,” he declared, before explaining that while the United States won’t impose its own system, it was committed to governments that “reflect the will of the people… I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”

“No matter where it takes hold,” the president concluded, “government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power.”

Simply rhetoric?

Of course, this was just rhetoric, however lofty, reflecting a moment when no one was rebelling against the undemocratic governments of our allies – at least not openly and in a manner that demanded international media coverage.

Now it’s for real.

And “democracy” is scarcely to be heard on the lips of the president or his most senior officials.

E. J. Dionne, Jr: Can Obama Make Sense of Government?

A cynic might be justified in seeing a call for a sweeping reorganization of the federal government as the last refuge of a politician who doesn’t want to ruffle any ideological feathers.

For example, President Barack Obama could have used last week’s State of the Union address to propose a ban on those high-capacity gun magazines that made the recent Tucson tragedy so lethal. But doing this would have brought down the wrath of the National Rifle Association. So, sadly, he took a pass.

The president’s aides were quick to say he would address the gun issue soon, explaining that Obama didn’t want a hot-button issue to divert attention from his theme of “winning the future.”

So giving Obama the benefit of the doubt for now on guns, what is one to make of his pledge to build a “21st-century government that’s open and competent” and “driven by new skills and new ideas”?

Stephen Soldz: The Torture Career of Egypt’s New Vice President: Omar Suleiman and the Rendition to Torture Program

n response to the mass protests of recent days, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has appointed his first Vice President in his over 30 years rule, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. When Suleiman was first announced, Aljazeera commentators were describing him as a “distinguished” and “respected ” man. It turns out, however, that he is distinguished for, among other things, his central role in Egyptian torture and in the US rendition to torture program. Further, he is “respected” by US officials for his cooperation with their torture plans, among other initiatives.

Katherine Hawkins, an expert on the US’s rendition to torture program, in an email, has sent some critical texts where Suleiman pops up. Thus, Jane Mayer, in The Dark Side, pointed to Suleiman’s role in the rendition program:

Each rendition was authorized at the very top levels of both governments….The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman,     negotiated directly with top Agency officials.  [Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt] Walker described the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way” (pp. 113).

Robert Fisk: Egypt: Death Throes of a Dictatorship

The Egyptian tanks, the delirious protesters sitting atop them, the flags, the 40,000 protesters weeping and crying and cheering in Freedom Square and praying around them, the Muslim Brotherhood official sitting amid the tank passengers. Should this be compared to the liberation of Bucharest? Climbing on to an American-made battle tank myself, I could only remember those wonderful films of the liberation of Paris. A few hundred meters away, Hosni Mubarak’s black-uniformed security police were still firing at demonstrators near the interior ministry. It was a wild, historical victory celebration, Mubarak’s own tanks freeing his capital from his own dictatorship.

In the pantomime world of Mubarak himself – and of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Washington – the man who still claims to be president of Egypt swore in the most preposterous choice of vice-president in an attempt to soften the fury of the protesters – Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s chief negotiator with Israel and his senior intelligence officer, a 75-year-old with years of visits to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and four heart attacks to his credit. How this elderly apparatchik might be expected to deal with the anger and joy of liberation of 80 million Egyptians is beyond imagination. When I told the demonstrators on the tank around me the news of Suleiman’s appointment, they burst into laughter.

Robert Naiman: ElBaradei, Muslim Brotherhood Offer Political Path Out of Egyptian Confrontation

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam el-Eryan said today that Egyptian opposition groups have agreed to back former IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei to negotiate with the government, Al Jazeera reports:

   Egypt’s opposition groups have agreed to support opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei to negotiate with the government, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood said on Sunday.

   “Political groups support ElBaradei to negotiate with the regime,” Essam el-Eryan told Al Jazeera.

This move by Egyptian opposition groups potentially offers a peaceful path out of the crisis not only for the Egyptian government, but also for the United States government, which is finding itself the object of increasingly bitter criticism from Egyptians who back the protesters’ call for Mubarak to step down and see the policy of the United States of backing Mubarak as a key obstacle to the realization of their aspirations for free and fair elections. Failure to take advantage of this opportunity could lead to a bloody showdown in the streets – even worse than what we have seen already – for which the U.S. would bear significant responsibility.

John Nichols: Keith Ellison: US Must ‘Get on the Right Side’ of Middle East Democracy Wave

When Congressman Keith Ellison was elected to the US House in 1986 as the first Muslim to serve in Congress, he was immediately challenged by Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode, a Republican who represented a district that included Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello. Goode demanded to know whether Ellison would place his hand on a Koran when swearing his oath. It was an attempt, cheered on by many conservative commentators, to paint Ellison as”the other,” as somehow un-American.

Ellison countered masterfully.

The new congressman arranged to borrow a Koran placed in the Library of Congress almost two centuries earlier.

Prior to becoming the property of the American people, the Koran had belonged to one Thomas Jefferson.

Nancy Goldstein: Koch Brothers v. the Left in Palm Springs

There’s a good chance that readers of this page already have some idea who David and Charles Koch are, and what’s happening this weekend, as the sugar daddies of the Tea Party throw a little party of their own in Palm Springs. Invitees include a pack of their billionaire friends, plus prominent pundits, Republican party officials, and lawmakers, a number of whom benefited from hefty Koch contributions this last campaign cycle.

Together they’ll strategize how to get rid of every regulation or politician that stands in the way of wealthy people becoming wealthier; namely, taxes, healthcare reform, environmental and financial protections, Obama, and what little remains of the social safety net. Citizens United will undoubtedly energize the annual end-of-weekend ritual when all the donors-forty percent of them new-whip out their checkbooks to underwrite these adventures in subverting democracy with an eye to their bottom line.

1 comment

    • TMC on 01/31/2011 at 18:59
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