07/10/2012 archive

What is a War Crime?

Former Congo warlord sentenced to 14 years over child soldiers

Los Angeles Times

July 10, 2012

Former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was ordered to spend 14 years in prison Tuesday for enlisting children as soldiers, the first sentence handed down by the decade-old International Criminal Court.

Six years will be deducted from Lubanga’s sentence to cover the time since he first surrendered to the court, aggravating critics who called the sentence too light.

The March verdict was hailed by human rights groups as a key step toward bringing war criminals to justice. Though other tribunals have been created throughout history to punish atrocities from specific conflicts, Lubanga was the first person to be convicted and sentenced by the International Criminal Court, created a decade ago to address war crimes in places where local courts are unable or unwilling to act.

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”.

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New York Times Editorial: The Need to Agree to Agree

Taxes are supposed to be complicated and contentious. Yet, speaking from the White House on Monday, it took President Obama less than 15 minutes to make a strong and sensible case for letting the high-end Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of 2012. Citing well-documented facts, he pointed out that tax cuts at the top have failed to promote economic growth and have blown a hole in the federal budget. [..]

In calling for cooperation from Congress, Mr. Obama said that the point is to “agree to do what we agree on”: extend the middle-class tax cuts. As a matter of fairness and responsible policy making, he said, the majority of Americans, and the broader economy, should not be held hostage again to another debate over the merits of tax cuts for the wealthy. [..]

The strength of Mr. Obama’s argument is unlikely to sway Republicans. But he’s right on fairness and the facts, and will, we hope, prevail in this debate.

Dean Baker: The Dirt on Erskine Bowles: The Tame Half of Bowles-Simpson

In recent weeks Alan Simpson, the foul-mouthed former senator, has apparently been sent to the sidelines. It seems that his inability to restrain his contempt for those who are now or will in the future be dependent on Social Security and Medicare makes him an undesirable spokesperson for the drive to cut back these programs. This means that Erskine Bowles, who was the other co-chair of President Obama’s deficit commission, will play a more visible role in pushing the cause.

While Mr. Bowles is clearly better able to control his temper and his vocabulary than Senator Simpson, those are not sufficient credentials for dictating the future shape of the Social Security and Medicare systems. Despite the deference accorded Bowles in elite Washington circles, in the rest of the country his background might be seen as more a source of embarrassment than a badge of honor.

Eugene Robinson: The GOP’s Crime Against Voters

Spare us any more hooey about “preventing fraud” and “protecting the integrity of the ballot box.” The Republican-led crusade for voter ID laws is revealed as a cynical ploy to disenfranchise as many likely Democratic voters as possible, with poor people and minorities the main targets.

Recent developments in Pennsylvania-one of more than a dozen states where voting rights are under siege-should be enough to erase any lingering doubt: The GOP is trying to pull off an unconscionable crime.

Late last month, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Mike Turzai, was addressing a meeting of the Republican State Committee. He must have felt at ease among friends because he spoke a bit too frankly.

Ticking off a list of recent accomplishments by the GOP-controlled Legislature, he mentioned the new law forcing voters to show a photo ID at the polls. Said Turzai, with more than a hint of triumph: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania-done.”

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Krugman’s Manifesto for Economic Common Sense

Paul Krugman sounds frustrated. “You tend to think,” he told last month’s Netroots Nation conference, “that people who are demanding that we solve this [depression] quickly must be crazy idealists who are defying the wisdom of economic knowledge. But it’s actually the other way around. It’s actually the people in charge, who are refusing to end this thing quickly, who are ignoring the lessons of history and rejecting economic knowledge.”

Krugman’s consternation is easy to understand. While mainstream reporters rank gaffes and mainstream politicians demagogue the deficit, hard realities loom, against which elite discourse seems almost innocent. A rolling world economic crisis could easily lead to a Second Great Depression. The ongoing decline of middle-class wealth and income is steadily transforming the United States. The euro project and the European social welfare state both face collapse. Disorder spreads in the Middle East. China’s high-savings economic model breeds twin political and economic crises that could shake geo-economics for decades. And the thirty-year build-up of private-public debt in the Western world will require extraordinary measures to keep it from bringing down the global economy.

Amanda Marcotte: Why Attacks on Contraception Meet Success in Such a Pro-Contraception Culture

Another month in the ramped-up war on women, and another unfortunately successful attack on women’s access to contraception. The story of the North Carolina legislature defunding Planned Parenthood is remarkable mainly for the doggedness of the anti-choice faction, from the fact that it had to be done with an override of the governor’s veto to the fact that it was done late at night before a holiday. Never let it be said that North Carolina conservatives don’t take keeping affordable birth control out of the hands of women very seriously.

Occasions like this tend to cause pro-choicers not just to be sad about the setback, but also to despair of every gaining any ground. We live in a society where 95 percent of Americans have sex without being married first, contraceptive use is functionally universal, mainstream media largely portrays sex as an ordinary life (which it is), and formerly marginalized sexual identities are becoming more socially acceptable by the minute. You would think in such an environment, the gap between how we actually live and the sexual lives conservatives demand of us — sexual lives that are practiced by a vanishingly small  minority, so small that very few of the conservatives pushing this image actually live it –would be enough to overcome their efforts at slashing reproductive health care access. Attempts to force people to embrace abstinence or face very serious consequences should, logically, be seen as just as ridiculous as attempts to force people to abstain from going outside when the weather is nice or going to the movies.

Dave Zirin: Serena Williams and Getting ‘Emotional’ for Title IX

After Serena Williams won her fifth Wimbledon title in stunning fashion on Saturday, she was asked a familiar question on the tournament’s storied Centre Court. It’s a question that seems to be posited to every female athlete at every level of competition: “Was it difficult for you to control your emotions?”

It’s true that men are sometimes asked the “emotions” question but this is a question women athletes are always asked. It speaks to a broader sentiment that both predates and transcends the playing field: the idea that women are just too emotional, too hysterical, too mercurial, to be taken seriously in any walk of life. This runs so deeply in the marrow of US society, we rarely – unless male politicians are lobbying for involuntary vaginal ultrasounds – step back and comment on just how destructive it is.

On This Day In History July 10

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.

July 10 is the 191st day of the year (192nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 174 days remaining until the end of the year.

1925, Scopes Monkey Trial begins,

In Dayton, Tennessee, the so-called “Monkey Trial” begins with John Thomas Scopes, a young high school science teacher, accused of teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law.

The law, which had been passed in March, made it a misdemeanor punishable by fine to “teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” With local businessman George Rappalyea, Scopes had conspired to get charged with this violation, and after his arrest the pair enlisted the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to organize a defense. Hearing of this coordinated attack on Christian fundamentalism, William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate and a fundamentalist hero, volunteered to assist the prosecution. Soon after, the great attorney Clarence Darrow agreed to join the ACLU in the defense, and the stage was set for one of the most famous trials in U.S. history.

On July 10, the Monkey Trial got underway, and within a few days hordes of spectators and reporters had descended on Dayton as preachers set up revival tents along the city’s main street to keep the faithful stirred up. Inside the Rhea County Courthouse, the defense suffered early setbacks when Judge John Raulston ruled against their attempt to prove the law unconstitutional and then refused to end his practice of opening each day’s proceeding with prayer.


The ACLU had originally intended to oppose the Butler Act on the grounds that it violated the teacher’s individual rights and academic freedom, and was therefore unconstitutional. Mainly because of Clarence Darrow, this strategy changed as the trial progressed, and the earliest argument proposed by the defense once the trial had begun was that there was actually no conflict between evolution and the creation account in the Bible (a viewpoint later called theistic evolution). In support of this claim, they brought in eight experts on evolution. Other than Dr. Maynard Metcalf, a zoologist from Johns Hopkins University, the judge would not allow these experts to testify in person. Instead, they were allowed to submit written statements so that their evidence could be used at the appeal. In response to this decision, Darrow made a sarcastic comment to Judge Raulston (as he often did throughout the trial) on how he had been agreeable only on the prosecution’s suggestions, for which he apologized the next day, keeping himself from being found in contempt of court.

The presiding judge John T. Raulston was accused of being biased towards the prosecution and frequently clashed with Darrow. At the outset of the trial Raulston quoted Genesis and the Butler Act. He also warned the jury not to judge the merit of the law (which would become the focus of the trial) but on the violation of the act, which he called a ‘high misdemeanor’. The jury foreman himself wasn’t convinced of the merit of the Act but acted, as did most of the jury, on the instructions of the judge.

By the later stages of the trial, Clarence Darrow had largely abandoned the ACLU’s original strategy and attacked the literal interpretation of the Bible as well as Bryan’s limited knowledge of other religions and science.

Only when the case went to appeal did the defense return to the original claim that the prosecution was invalid because the law was essentially designed to benefit a particular religious group, which would be unconstitutional.

Just How Hot Is It?

It’s been pretty hot across the United States with little rain crops are withering and wild fires rage throughout the West. There is no denying that this year has been really warm. Actually, it’s been warmer for a year now:

According to the NOAA National Climatic Data Center’s “State of the Climate: National Overview for June 2012” report released Monday, the 12-month period from July 2011 to June 2012 was the warmest on record (since recordkeeping began in 1895) for the contiguous United States, with a nationally-averaged temperature of 56.0 degrees, 3.2 degrees higher than the long-term average.

According to the report, every single state in the contiguous U.S. except for Washington saw warmer-than-average temperatures during this time period. The period from January to June of this year also has been the warmest first half of a year on record for the U.S. mainland.

For a large portion of the contiguous U.S., these first six months were also drier than average=Statewideprank&submitted=Submit]. The U.S. Drought Monitor showed that as of July 3, 56 percent of the contiguous U.S. is experiencing drought conditions. In June, wildfires burned over 1.3 million acres, the second most on record for the month.

We need to have better conversations about climate than having hacks like George Will pontificating that “it’s Summer” as though the evidence for change doesn’t exist. Or as The Washington Post columnist Joel Achenbach puts it, Global warming is a fact:

At some point we should stop litigating the basic question of whether climate change is happening. Climate change is a fact. The spike in atmospheric CO2 is a fact. The dramatic high-latitude warming is a fact. That the trends aren’t uniform and linear, and that there are anomalies here and there, does not change the long-term pattern. The warming trend has flattened out in the last decade but probably only because of air pollution from Chinese coal-fired power plants or somesuch forcing we haven’t fully discovered (smog is hardly the long-term solution we should be seeking). The broader patterns are clear.

Models show the greatest warming spike down the road still, decades hence. Thus in a sense, saying that “this is what global warming is like” whenever we have a heat wave actually understates the problem. Having spent much of my life in Florida, I can tell you, what kills you in summer is not the temperature but the duration of the season, which lasts basically forever – into November or even December in South Florida. So, yeah, 100 degrees in July gets my attention here in DC, but so will a stretch of 85-degree high temperatures in October.

This past Sunday, Chris Hayes on his MSNBC show “Up with Chris Hayes” hosted a panel that discussed the recent wave of extreme heat and it relationship to climate change. His guests were Bill McKibben (@billmckibben), author of “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet” and founder of 350.org, a global grassroots environmental movement to solve the climate crisis; Eric Klinenberg (@EricKlinenberg), professor of sociology at New York University and author of “Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago;” Thomas Mann co-author with Norman Ornstein of “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism“, a senior fellow for governance studies and the W. Averell Harriman Chair at the Brookings Institution; Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh), MSNBC political analyst and Salon’s editor-at-large; and Esther Armah (@estherarmah), playwright and author, host of “Wake Up Call” on WBAI-FM.