03/21/2012 archive

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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”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day.

Maureen Dowd: Heart of Darkness

When the gentleman from North Carolina mentioned “Uncle Chang,” it hit with an awkward clang.

“We are spending $10 billion a month that we can’t even pay for,” said Congressman Walter Jones, that rarest of birds, a Southern Republican dove. “The Chinese – Uncle Chang is lending us the money to pay that we are spending in Afghanistan.”

On Tuesday morning, members of the House Armed Services Committee tried to grill Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the commander in Afghanistan who succeeded David Petraeus, about the state of the mission.

The impossible has happened in the past few weeks. A war that long ago reached its breaking point has gone mad, with violent episodes that seemed emblematic of the searing, mind-bending frustration on both sides after 10 years of fighting in a place where battle has been an occupation, and preoccupation, for centuries.

Katrina vanden Heuvel; The man blocking America’s recovery

He is the most powerful federal employee you’ve never heard of. Edward DeMarco has slowed the economic recovery with the stroke of a pen. His actions are costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars, forcing millions of homeowners to lose their homes, and contributing to the falling housing prices that are a brake on the recovery.

Not bad for an obscure “acting director” who should have departed his position long ago.

Edward DeMarcoheads the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). He’s a temp, in office only because – no surprise – Senate Republicans, led by Richard Shelby (Ala.), refused even to allow a vote on the man President Obama nominated for the post.

And DeMarco is philosophically opposed to the common-sense solutions needed to deal with the housing crisis.

When Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – holders or guarantors of about 60 percent of housing mortgages – were bailed out, the FHFA was tasked with supervising their activities, with a mandate to minimize taxpayer losses. That gives DeMarco extraordinary power.

Daphne Eviatar: Latest Afghan Torture Report Casts Shadow on U.S. Transfer Plans

Over the weekend, independent human rights advocates in Afghanistan released yet another report documenting systematic torture by Afghan police and security services. The report from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and Open Society Foundations reveals evidence that U.S. forces in Afghanistan have continued to transfer suspected insurgents to Afghan authorities despite previous warnings of torture from the United Nations, which issued its own report on systematic torture by Afghan authorities last October. And, the report continues, although NATO forces created a remediation plan and inspection regime for monitoring detainees it transfers to the Afghan government, U.S. forces that operate under their own non-NATO command do not adhere to that monitoring plan. In fact, the U.S. government, for all we know, does not monitor the detainees it transfers to the Afghans at all.

To those in the U.S. government eager to withdraw from Afghanistan and get this whole war over with, the treatment of Afghans suspected of participating in the insurgency may seem unimportant. But it’s quite important under international law. The United States is legally obligated not to transfer captives to the government if they face a risk of torture. According to this latest report, that risk is very real.

Michelle Chen; Makers, Takers and $2-a-Dayers

One official measure of poverty around the world is surviving on $2 per day or less. It’s a condition many Americans could barely imagine living in. And yet the official data suggests that while politicians insist the U.S. is insulated from such deprivation, a large share of the country is feeling a cold draft from the “Third World.”

A set of new analyses from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), drawing from a study of income data (pdf) by the University of Michigan’s National Poverty Center, shows that for well over a million households, many of them with children, are besieged by hardship of an epic magnitude:

   The number of U.S. households living on less than $2 per person per day — which the study terms “extreme poverty” — more than doubled between 1996 and 2011, from 636,000 to 1.46 million, the study finds… The number of children in extremely poor households also doubled, from 1.4 million to 2.8 million.

The World Bank’s $2-per-day metric derives from a perennial cliché in humanitarian circles, generally used to describe poor countries in the Global South. But while some question the usefulness of such simplistic measures, the phrase has a unique application in a country that’s historically represented the top of the human development scale. And one reason why the U.S. has so many people stuck at the bottom is because in many communities, this inequality is practically written into the law, with public assistance programs virtually enforcing the extreme poverty line.

Liliana Segura: Will the Supreme Court Toss Life Without Parole for Juveniles?

“A throwaway person.” That’s how Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg characterized the societal status of a 14-year-old who is sentenced to life without parole, as oral arguments in Jackson v. Hobbs wound down on Tuesday. She was responding to the claim by Little Rock Assistant Attorney General Kent Holt, representing the Arkansas Department of Corrections, that condemning a teenager to die in prison for murder “reinforces the sanctity of human life.”

“You say the sanctity of human life,” Ginsburg pushed back, “but you’re dealing with a 14-year-old being sentenced to life in prison, so he will die in prison without any hope.” In other words, aren’t kids’ lives still worth something even when they’ve committed a grievous wrong?

This was the fundamental question before the Court as it heard arguments in Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama, which were argued back-to-back. Civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson believes they are; representing defendants in both cases, he stressed that teenagers are works in progress, and cannot possibly be judged in the same way as adults. Not only does science back this up-teenagers’ brains are still developing, particularly the parts that affect judgement and impulse-the Court itself has concluded the same thing in such cases as Roper v. Simmons, which struck down the death penalty for children under eighteen on Eighth Amendment grounds. “What this Court has said is that children are uniquely more than their worst act,” Stevenson argued.

Jessica Pieklo: How Conservatives Use Campaign Finance Law to Promote Anti-Choice Agenda

By now it should come as no surprise that anti-choice activists are engaged in a targeted and specific legal strategy to roll-back abortion rights. After all, it has proven to be more successful to slowly and steadily chip away at access to abortion care via judicial opinion than through any attempts at outright bans in state legislatures.

But what might come as more of a surprise is the fact that a key part of that legal strategy involves attacking campaign finance law. In fact the pro-corporate personhood movement and the anti-woman, anti-choice movement share the same attorney: conservative campaign-finance crusader and abortion-rights foe James Bopp Jr.

Bopp is most famous as the legal architect behind the Citizens United decision but his ties to the anti-choice world run deep. Bopp’s clients include the National Organization for Marriage, National Right to Life Committee, Susan B. Anthony List, and Focus on the Family, just to name a few. And it’s worth remembering that the Citizens United crusade started as an anti-Hilary Clinton smear campaign dressed up as a free speech movement. Bopp is, by all accounts, the principle litigator for conservative causes.

On This Day In History March 21

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.

March 21 is the 80th day of the year (81st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 285 days remaining until the end of the year.

March 21st is the common date of the March equinox (although astronomically the equinox is more likely to fall on March 20 in all but the most easterly longitudes). In astrology, the day of the equinox is the first full day of the sign of Aries. It is also the traditional first day of the astrological year.

On this day in 1804, the Napoleonic Code approved in France.

After four years of debate and planning, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte enacts a new legal framework for France, known as the “Napoleonic Code.” The civil code gave post-revolutionary France its first coherent set of laws concerning property, colonial affairs, the family, and individual rights.

In 1800, General Napoleon Bonaparte, as the new dictator of France, began the arduous task of revising France’s outdated and muddled legal system. He established a special commission, led by J.J. Cambaceres, which met more than 80 times to discuss the revolutionary legal revisions, and Napoleon presided over nearly half of these sessions. In March 1804, the Napoleonic Code was finally approved.

The Napoleonic Code, or Code Napoléon (originally, the Code civil des Français), is the French civil code, established under Napoléon I in 1804. The code forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs go to the most qualified. It was drafted rapidly by a commission of four eminent jurists and entered into force on March 21, 1804. The Napoleonic Code was not the first legal code to be established in a European country with a civil legal system, it was preceded by the Codex Maximilianeus bavaricus civilis (Bavaria, 1756), the Allgemeines Landrecht (Prussia, 1794) and the West Galician Code, (Galicia, then part of Austria, 1797). It was, however, the first modern legal code to be adopted with a pan-European scope and it strongly influenced the law of many of the countries formed during and after the Napoleonic Wars. The Code, with its stress on clearly written and accessible law, was a major step in replacing the previous patchwork of feudal laws. Historian Robert Holtman regards it as one of the few documents that have influenced the whole world.

Contents of the Code

The preliminary article of the Code established certain important provisions regarding the rule of law. Laws could be applied only if they had been duly promulgated, and only if they had been published officially (including provisions for publishing delays, given the means of communication available at the time); thus no secret laws were authorized. It prohibited ex post facto laws (i.e., laws that apply to events that occurred before them). The code also prohibited judges from refusing justice on grounds of insufficiency of the law-therefore encouraging them to interpret the law. On the other hand, it prohibited judges from passing general judgments of a legislative value (see above).

With regard to family, the Code established the supremacy of the husband with respect to the wife and children; this was the general legal situation in Europe at the time. It did, however, allow divorce on liberal basis compared to other European countries, including divorce by mutual consent.

Afghanistan: 11 Years, 5 Months and Counting

As per the military command, War Is Actually Going Fine

Never mind the riots, the fratricides, the burned holy books and the bloody slaughter of civilians. The commander of the Afghanistan war believes the decade-long conflict is “on track.”

That’s Gen. John Allen’s message to Congress at perhaps the most politically precarious moment in the decade-long war. Allen, in Washington for his first round of congressional testimony since taking command in July, told the House Armed Services Committee, “our troops know the difference they are making and the enemy feels it every day.”

Since Allen took charge of the war, the following has happened in Afghanistan: A U.S. special operations Chinook helicopter crashed, killing 27 troops, possibly after an insurgent attack. A different U.S. helicopter killed 24 Pakistani troops during a chaotic exchange of fire that lasted hours. Photos of Marines urinating on Afghan corpses emerged. U.S. troops burned the Koran at a giant wartime prison, prompting nationwide riots. In apparent retaliation, an Afghan employee of the Interior Ministry murdered two U.S. officers. A U.S. staff sergeant in Panjwei allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children. The Taliban has suspended peace talks with the U.S. and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has proclaimed himself “at the end of the rope” with Washington.

“To be sure,” Allen testified, “the last couple months have been trying.”

MSNBC Political Analyst Ezra Klein sits in for Chris Hayes, and is joined by Elise Jordan, former speechwriter for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, CBS contributor Nancy Giles, The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor, and Wired.com’s Spencer Ackerman, for an in-depth discussion on the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan that has spanned over a decade.

Iraq Vet and Her Hero Dog to be Reunited

Some really great news, all be it, in the grand scheme of things not all that earth shaking but a win for an wounded Iraq veteran and her bomb sniffing dog, Sgt. Rex who will be reunited thanks to the efforts of New York Sen, Chuck Schumer and an animal loving blogosphere.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Wounded combat dog to rejoin Marine veteran

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Monday night that the Air Force has agreed to release Sgt. Rex into the care of former Cpl. Megan Leavey, of Rockland County, just north of New York City.

Leavey was injured with Rex in 2006 while trying to disarm an explosive. They convalesced together.

Rex is credited with saving lives and uncovering explosives that saved more.

Schumer had intervened when Leavey, a Purple Heart recipient, was first denied in her effort to adopt Rex in 2007. Rex had recovered with Leavey from their injuries, and Rex was returned to service.

Now Rex, a black and brown German Shepherd, is 10 years old and can’t continue his military service, but Schumer said bureaucracy still stood in the way of the adoption.

“We salute the Air Force and the Marines for doing the right thing and allowing Rex to be with Corporal Leavey,” Schumer said Monday night. “One canine, one human, both heroes. They should be united shortly, and we’re glad it’s happening.” [..]

Schumer, a Democrat, had sought to help Leavey cut through red tape to reunite the pair. He also started a national online petition to help persuade the Air Force to act quicker.

“It’s only appropriate and right that the two of them enjoy their retirement from the service together,” Schumer said. “I again want to thank the Air Force and Marines for moving so quickly, and I want to thank the thousands of New Yorkers and Americans who showed their support online.”

Leavey recently told MSNBC that Rex is her partner and she loves him.

“We have been through so much together,” she said. “… I’ve spent day and night with this dog. It’s a very strong bond.”

Thank you, especially. to our dear friend and blog partner, davidseth, who brought this to the attention of our readers at The Stars Hollow Gazette, Docudharma and Daily Kos, with his website, Dream Antilles h.

Thank you to our dog loving friend, noweasels, at Daily Kos who had a recommended diary to get more signatures on the petition.

Thank you to Sen. Schumer, who has worked to petition the Department of Defense to reunite Cpl. Leavey and Sgt Rex.

And thank you, thank you, thank you, to everyone who signed the petition, sent an e-mail, recommended an article to reunite these two veterans.

My late, beloved dog, Mulder, would approve.