05/17/2011 archive

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.

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

Paul Krugman: America Held Hostage

Six months ago President Obama faced a hostage situation. Republicans threatened to block an extension of middle-class tax cuts unless Mr. Obama gave in and extended tax cuts for the rich too. And the president essentially folded, giving the G.O.P. everything it wanted.

Now, predictably, the hostage-takers are back: blackmail worked well last December, so why not try it again? This time House Republicans say they will refuse to raise the debt ceiling – a step that could inflict major economic damage – unless Mr. Obama agrees to large spending cuts, even as they rule out any tax increase whatsoever. And the question becomes what, if anything, will get the president to say no.

Chris Hedges: The Obama Deception: Why Cornel West Went Ballistic

No one grasps this tragic descent better than West, who did 65 campaign events for Obama, believed in the potential for change and was encouraged by the populist rhetoric of the Obama campaign. He now nurses, like many others who placed their faith in Obama, the anguish of the deceived, manipulated and betrayed. He bitterly describes Obama as “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.”

“When you look at a society you look at it through the lens of the least of these, the weak and the vulnerable; you are committed to loving them first, not exclusively, but first, and therefore giving them priority,” says West, the Class of 1943 University Professor of African American Studies and Religion at Princeton University. “And even at this moment, when the empire is in deep decline, the culture is in deep decay, the political system is broken, where nearly everyone is up for sale, you say all I have is the subversive memory of those who came before, personal integrity, trying to live a decent life, and a willingness to live and die for the love of folk who are catching hell. This means civil disobedience, going to jail, supporting progressive forums of social unrest if they in fact awaken the conscience, whatever conscience is left, of the nation. And that’s where I find myself now.”

Eugene Robinson: A perp walk kills a political career

It’s almost enough to give socialism a bad name.

We don’t know whether Dominique Strauss-Kahn – who heads the International Monetary Fund and, until a few days ago, was likely to be the Socialist Party candidate for president of France – is guilty of the alleged sexual assault for which he was arrested. Like anyone, he is presumed innocent until court proceedings prove otherwise.

We do know, however, that at the time of the reported incident on Saturday, Strauss-Kahn was resident in a $3,000-a-night luxury suite at a posh midtown Manhattan hotel. We also know that when he was taken into police custody hours later, aboard a Paris-bound jetliner that was moments from takeoff at John F. Kennedy International Airport, police found him comfortably ensconced in the first-class cabin.

I didn’t think this was how socialists were supposed to roll.

Laurence Lewis: Of Abbottabad: The questions are more important than the answers

There has been much debate and discussion over the nature of President Obama’s order that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad. Based on different reporting, different people claim to know for a fact that it was a kill order, a kill-or-capture, or a capture-or-kill. And but for those involved in the raid, the truth probably won’t be known for many years. It is the seeking that is most interesting. As if knowing the nature of the order will establish some level of moral clarity. And as is too often the case, many seem to want such clarity mostly for personality-based reasons- to understand or cast judgment upon the president and his staff, or even the people with whom they are arguing. But lost amidst many of these personality arguments are the larger moral issues themselves. What does it say if the president did order a kill rather than a capture-or-kill? Many would have supported such an order in the first place, so for them the truth shouldn’t much matter beyond establishing historical accuracy. But many would not have supported such an order. And that is where the real source of discussion ought to begin.

Robert Parry: Mitch Daniels, Architect of US Debt Crisis

To hear Official Washington tell it, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is the new “serious” Republican presidential contender. He’s praised as a “fiscal conservative” who isn’t obsessed with the Right’s divisive social agenda nor marred by the crazy “birther” conspiracy theories.

Mentioned only in passing is a key fact that – in a saner world – would disqualify him from holding any government office: Mitch Daniels was President George W. Bush’s original budget director in 2001.

In other words, the “fiscal conservative” Daniels oversaw the federal budget as it was making its precipitous dive from a $236 billion surplus – then on a trajectory to eliminate the entire federal debt in a decade – to a $400 billion deficit by the time he left in June 2003.

Plus, because of proposals developed on Daniels’s watch – such as tax cuts favoring the rich and unpaid-for projects, including the invasion of Iraq and a new prescription drug plan – the fiscal situation of the federal government continued to sink over the ensuing years, plunging to a trillion-dollar-plus annual deficit by the time Bush left office in 2009.

John Nichols: Tens of Thousands Rally in Wisconsin to Declare: “This Fight is NOT Over!”

Protest fatigue? Not in Wisconsin.

Three months after Governor Scott Walker proposed to strip state, county and municipal employees and public-school teachers of their collective bargaining rights, the governor’s agenda remains stymied. Legal challenges,moves to recall Republican legislators who have sided with the governor and the fear on the part of legislative leaders of mass protests have prevented implementation.

That fear is well-founded.

The Wisconsin protests have inspired similar demonstrations in states across the country, including state Capitol confrontations in Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and, most recently, California and New York.

Yet, the energy in Wisconsin remains unmistakable, and unrelenting.

Michael Keegan: State Budget Battles are about More than Cutting Deficits

Assaults on middle-class Americans are spreading rapidly.

Earlier this year, people across the country were riveted to the politics of Wisconsin. Claiming to address the state’s budget crisis, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed eliminating the right of public workers to unionize. Wisconsin’s citizens immediately took to the streets in massive protests – only to see the union-busting legislation pushed through by the state senate in a late-night surprise vote. Although Madison’s capitol building is now cleared and most of the news teams have bolted, the issue of public unions is far from over in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, it has just begun for the rest of the country.

The dire budgetary situations many states find themselves in are real problems, and they require real solutions. But some state leaders are proposing “solutions” that are forcing social policy shifts and making political power plays that will do nothing to reduce deficits.

The Mighty Atchafalaya

I don’t know whether any of you have had the pleasure (and I mean it sincerely, I enjoyed it very much) of visiting Mud Island in Memphis which I suspect is very much covered in mud at the moment.  The chief attraction is a scale model of the Mississippi and while the ‘Gulf of Mexico’ may once have been a water park it was pretty green and uninviting when I was there (and I’ve swum in some scummy water, let me tell you).

I suspect that soon they’ll have to make some modifications.

You see, the thing about it is the Missisippi as Mark Twain knew it and we know it today is an obsolete river.  

It’s not the shortest and steepest route to the Gulf of Mexico anymore, the Atchafalaya is, and the Army Corps of Engineers knew this back in 1963 when they constructed the Old River Control Structure to begin with.  The point was to save the commercial centers of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, not flood control at all.

But as Twain would tell you the mighty Mississippi is a big river and not one that will be denied.  Opening the floodgates will only make the Atchafalaya deeper and steeper than it is now and soon enough, in even human not geologic time, the pressure of all that water will not be denied.

The Control of Nature


by John McPhee, The New Yorker

February 23, 1987

The Mississippi River, with its sand and silt, has created most of Louisiana, and it could not have done so by remaining in one channel. If it had, southern Louisiana would be a long narrow peninsula reaching into the Gulf of Mexico. Southern Louisiana exists in its present form because the Mississippi River has jumped here and there within an arc about two hundred miles wide, like a pianist playing with one hand-frequently and radically changing course, surging over the left or the right bank to go off in utterly new directions. Always it is the river’s purpose to get to the Gulf by the shortest and steepest gradient. As the mouth advances southward and the river lengthens, the gradient declines, the current slows, and sediment builds up the bed. Eventually, it builds up so much that the river spills to one side. Major shifts of that nature have tended to occur roughly once a millennium. The Mississippi’s main channel of three thousand years ago is now the quiet water of Bayou Teche, which mimics the shape of the Mississippi. Along Bayou Teche, on the high ground of ancient natural levees, are Jeanerette, Breaux Bridge, Broussard, Olivier-arcuate strings of Cajun towns. Eight hundred years before the birth of Christ, the channel was captured from the east. It shifted abruptly and flowed in that direction for about a thousand years. In the second century a.d., it was captured again, and taken south, by the now unprepossessing Bayou Lafourche, which, by the year 1000, was losing its hegemony to the river’s present course, through the region that would be known as Plaquemines. By the nineteen-fifties, the Mississippi River had advanced so far past New Orleans and out into the Gulf that it was about to shift again, and its offspring Atchafalaya was ready to receive it. By the route of the Atchafalaya, the distance across the delta plain was a hundred and forty-five miles-well under half the length of the route of the master stream.

For the Mississippi to make such a change was completely natural, but in the interval since the last shift Europeans had settled beside the river, a nation had developed, and the nation could not afford nature. The consequences of the Atchafalaya’s conquest of the Mississippi would include but not be limited to the demise of Baton Rouge and the virtual destruction of New Orleans. With its fresh water gone, its harbor a silt bar, its economy disconnected from inland commerce, New Orleans would turn into New Gomorrah. Moreover, there were so many big industries between the two cities that at night they made the river glow like a worm. As a result of settlement patterns, this reach of the Mississippi had long been known as “the German coast,” and now, with B. F. Goodrich, E. I. du Pont, Union Carbide, Reynolds Metals, Shell, Mobil, Texaco, Exxon, Monsanto, Uniroyal, Georgia-Pacific, Hydrocarbon Industries, Vulcan Materials, Nalco Chemical, Freeport Chemical, Dow Chemical, Allied Chemical, Stauffer Chemical, Hooker Chemicals, Rubicon Chemicals, American Petrofina-with an infrastructural concentration equalled in few other places-it was often called “the American Ruhr.” The industries were there because of the river. They had come for its navigational convenience and its fresh water. They would not, and could not, linger beside a tidal creek. For nature to take its course was simply unthinkable. The Sixth World War would do less damage to southern Louisiana. Nature, in this place, had become an enemy of the state.

Here by the site of the navigation lock was where the battle had begun. An old meander bend of the Mississippi was the conduit through which water had been escaping into the Atchafalaya. Complicating the scene, the old meander bend had also served as the mouth of the Red River. Coming in from the northwest, from Texas via Shreveport, the Red River had been a tributary of the Mississippi for a couple of thousand years-until the nineteen-forties, when the Atchafalaya captured it and drew it away.

After the Corps dammed Old River, in 1963, the engineers could not just walk away, like roofers who had fixed a leak. In the early planning stages, they had considered doing that, but there were certain effects they could not overlook. The Atchafalaya, after all, was a distributary of the Mississippi-the major one, and, as it happened, the only one worth mentioning that the Corps had not already plugged. In time of thundering flood, the Atchafalaya was used as a safety valve, to relieve a good deal of pressure and help keep New Orleans from ending up in Yucatán. The Atchafalaya was also the source of the water in the swamps and bayous of the Cajun world. It was the water supply of small cities and countless towns. Its upper reaches were surrounded by farms. The Corps was not in a political or moral position to kill the Atchafalaya. It had to feed it water. By the principles of nature, the more the Atchafalaya was given, the more it would want to take, because it was the steeper stream. The more it was given, the deeper it would make its bed. The difference in level between the Atchafalaya and the Mississippi would continue to increase, magnifying the conditions for capture.

The water attacking Old River Control is of course continuous, working, in different ways, from both sides. In 1986, one of the low-sill structure’s eleven gates was seriously damaged by the ever-pounding river. Another gate lost its guiding rail. When I asked Fred Smith, the district geologist, if he thought it inevitable that the Mississippi would succeed in swinging its channel west, he said, “Personally, I think it might. Yes. That’s not the Corps’ position, though. We’ll try to keep it where it is, for economic reasons. If the right circumstances are all put together (huge rainfall, a large snowmelt), there’s a very definite possibility that the river would divert-go down through the Atchafalaya Basin. So far, we have been able to alleviate those problems.”

ps. Check the Dateline.

The Breakfast Menu

Eggs, any style




Toast, whole grain white bread

Shredded hash brown potatoes


Orange juice

Fresh strawberries and blackberries

On This Day In History May 17

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on image to enlarge

May 17 is the 137th day of the year (138th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 228 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1954, in a major civil rights victory, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down an unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling that racial segregation in public educational facilities is unconstitutional. The historic decision, which brought an end to federal tolerance of racial segregation, specifically dealt with Linda Brown, a young African American girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because of the color of her skin.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which allowed state-sponsored segregation. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Warren Court’s unanimous (9-0) decision stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This ruling paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement.

Supreme Court Review

The case of Brown v. Board of Education as heard before the Supreme Court combined five cases: Brown itself, Briggs v. Elliott (filed in South Carolina), Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (filed in Virginia), Gebhart v. Belton (filed in Delaware), and Bolling v. Sharpe (filed in Washington D.C.).

All were NAACP-sponsored cases. The Davis case, the only case of the five originating from a student protest, began when sixteen-year-old Barbara Rose Johns organized and led a 450-student walkout of Moton High School.

The Kansas case was unique among the group in that there was no contention of gross inferiority of the segregated schools’ physical plant, curriculum, or staff. The district court found substantial equality as to all such factors. The Delaware case was unique in that the District Court judge in Gebhart ordered that the black students be admitted to the white high school due to the substantial harm of segregation and the differences that made the schools separate but not equal. The NAACP’s chief counsel, Thurgood Marshall, who was later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967, argued the case before the Supreme Court for the plaintiffs. Assistant attorney general Paul Wilson, later distinguished emeritus professor of law at the University of Kansas, conducted the state’s ambivalent defense in his first appellate trial.

Unanimous Opinion and Key Holding

In spring 1953 the Court heard the case but was unable to decide the issue and asked to rehear the case in fall 1953, with special attention to whether the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause prohibited the operation of separate public schools for whites and blacks.

The case was being reargued at the behest of Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter, who used re-argument as a stalling tactic, to allow the Court to gather a unanimous consensus around a Brown opinion that would outlaw segregation. Chief Justice Vinson had been a key stumbling block. The justices in support of desegregation spent much effort convincing those who initially dissented to join a unanimous opinion. Even though the legal effect would be same for a majority versus unanimous decision, it was felt that it was vital to not have a dissent which could be relied upon by opponents of desegregation as a legitimizing counterargument.

Conference notes and draft decisions illustrate the division of opinions before the decision was issued. Justices Douglas, Black, Burton, and Minton were predisposed to overturn Plessy. Fred M. Vinson noted that Congress had not issued desegregation legislation; Stanley F. Reed discussed incomplete cultural assimilation and states’ rights and was inclined to the view that segregation worked to the benefit of the African-American community; Tom C. Clark wrote that “we had led the states on to think segregation is OK and we should let them work it out.” Felix Frankfurter and Robert H. Jackson disapproved of segregation, but were also opposed to judicial activism and expressed concerns about the proposed decision’s enforceability. After Vinson died in September 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as Chief Justice. Warren had supported the integration of Mexican-American students in California school systems following Mendez v. Westminster.

While all but one justice personally rejected segregation, the self-restraint faction questioned whether the Constitution gave the Court the power to order its end. The activist faction believed the Fourteenth Amendment did give the necessary authority and were pushing to go ahead. Warren, who held only a recess appointment, held his tongue until the Senate, dominated by southerners, confirmed his appointment.

Warren convened a meeting of the justices, and presented to them the simple argument that the only reason to sustain segregation was an honest belief in the inferiority of Negroes. Warren further submitted that the Court must overrule Plessy to maintain its legitimacy as an institution of liberty, and it must do so unanimously to avoid massive Southern resistance. He began to build a unanimous opinion.

Although most justices were immediately convinced, Warren spent some time after this famous speech convincing everyone to sign onto the opinion. Justices Robert Jackson and Stanley Reed finally decided to drop their dissent to what was by then an opinion backed by all the others. The final decision was unanimous. Warren drafted the basic opinion and kept circulating and revising it until he had an opinion endorsed by all the members of the Court.


The key holding of the Court was that, even if segregated black and white schools were of equal quality in facilities and teachers, segregation by itself was harmful to black students and unconstitutional. They found that a significant psychological and social disadvantage was given to black children from the nature of segregation itself, drawing on research conducted by Kenneth Clark assisted by June Shagaloff. This aspect was vital because the question was not whether the schools were “equal”, which under Plessy they nominally should have been, but whether the doctrine of separate was constitutional. The justices answered with a strong “no”:

   Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does… Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system… We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Six In The Morning

Did Pakistani intelligence help plan and finance Mumbai attacks?

Chicago trial will hear from businessman accused of identifying targets for militants

By Andrew Buncombe, Asia Correspondent Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Two and a half years after armed militants stormed ashore in Mumbai and launched an assault that left more than 160 people dead, court proceedings have begun in the US which could expose disturbing allegations that elements within Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency helped plot and finance the operation.

Amid tight security at the Dirksen federal courthouse in Chicago, the jury selection process has started in the trial of the Chicago-based businessman Tahawwur Rana, who is accused of helping an old school friend scout targets in India for the Pakistani militants. Among the targets identified by David Coleman Headley were the locations in Mumbai that the 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba militants laid siege to for up to three days.

Presidential Elections French Style

The arrest of IMF President Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York City on sexual assault charges puts on interesting twist on the French Presidential Elections. He is finished as head of the IMF and most certainly washed up with politics in France whether he is acquitted of these charges or not. The French like their sex but not necessarily on the front page of every newspaper around the world. This leaves a gaping hole for the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste) of whom M. Strauss-Kahn, known as DSK in France,  was the leading candidate and was expected to defeat President Nicholas Sarkozy.

The French Presidential elections are held every 5 years in April, separately from the legislative election for the two chamber Parlement (Parliament). France does not have a two party system but a system where, though many political parties exist, only two parties have a chance of getting elected to major positions. Power, however, usually passes back and forth between the two stablest coalitions representing the left and the right.

Between now and next fall there will be primaries among the opposition parties where there are more than one declared candidate. The Front National’s (FN) primary was held January 11th, electing its president, Marine Le Pen, the youngest daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, former president of the FN, to be their candidate. The Parti Socialiste will hold their primary on June 28th with multiple candidates. Pres. Sarkozy, who is backed by Union Pour Un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), already has their endorsement.

The Socialist Party will now have to choose among several likely candidates who may have the popular support to take the Elysée Palace next year. The damage of the DSK affair may weaken the left, and the beneficiary will not be the ruling UMP party. It has been speculated that, both as a political “outsider” and as a woman in politics, Marine Le Pen could gain most from the scandal.

The other “dark horse” to watch is the former First Secretary of the Socialist Party and former partner of Ségolène Royal, François Hollande. In recent weeks, Mr Hollande has made strong gains in polls, with some analysts suggesting he could represent an even greater threat to the UMP president than the IMF boss did when he was popular. DSK’s was seen as an “elitist” whose policies resembled those of Pres. Sarkozy, while M. Hollande is more to the left and very much a “man of the people”. He still faces the primary with the current First Secretary of the Socialist Party, Martine Aubry, President of the Regional Council of Poitou-Charentes, Ségolène Royal (who lost to Sarkozy in 2007), President of the General Council of Saône-et-Loire and MP, Arnaud Montebourg and Essonne MP and Mayor of Évry, Manuel Valls.

I’ve simplified this a bit, the system is not all that complicated. French politics are really not all that different from American politics except that the French, as most Europeans, do not consider their politician’s private lives or religion a factor in considering who would be the best to lead the country. Feel free to ask questions, I’ll answer as best I can.

DocuDharma Digest

Regular Features-

Featured Essays for May 16, 2011-


Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Kadhafi arrest warrant sought after truce offer

by Jan Hennop, AFP

36 mins ago

THE HAGUE (AFP) – The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor applied Monday for a warrant for Moamer Kadhafi’s arrest for crimes against humanity, a day after the Libyan strongman’s regime offered a truce in return for a halt to NATO-led air strikes.

NATO-led aircraft meanwhile launched fresh raids on an outlying suburb of the capital Tripoli, destroying a radar base, the state news agency JANA and residents said.

ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said warrants were also sought for one of Kadhafi’s sons, Seif al-Islam, and intelligence head Abdullah Senussi for crimes against humanity.