06/19/2013 archive

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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Imara Jones: Why the Spying Scandal Is a Serious Racial Justice Issue

Given the massive investment in national security after 9-11, recent news that the federal government is spying on hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the world may not have come as a surprise. Polls suggest that a majority of Americans are shrugging their shoulders at the revelations of a government espionage effort against them. But an uncomfortable reality of the once secret scheme is the degree to which people of color are disproportionately caught up in the government’s dragnet. That’s because the routine, legal activities of blacks, Latinos and immigrants-96 percent of whom are people of color-make them targets for monitoring in a way not true for whites.

For the over 40 million foreign born immigrants living in America-more than at any point in U.S. history-the basic act of keeping in contact with friends and family abroad is all that’s required to be sucked into the Obama administration’s electronic dragnet. Disturbingly, the fact that much of this historically broad snooping program is conducted by private companies with dubious oversight makes it that much harder for communities of color to figure out exactly what’s going on and how to curb any potential abuses.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: The NSA state of secrecy must end

Revelations of the sweeping collection of data on Americans by the National Security Agency (NSA) require that Congress launch a grand inquest into the post-9/11 national security state. Special committees in both the House and the Senate, armed with subpoena power, should investigate the scope of activities, the legal basis claimed, the operational structure and the abuses and excesses with a public weighing of costs and benefits.

The “war on terrorism” has gone on for 12 years, and while President Obama says it must end sometime, there is no end in sight. Secret bureaucracies armed with secret powers and emboldened by the claim of defending the nation have proliferated and expanded. The surprise of legislators at the scope of NSA surveillance shows that checks and balances have broken down.

Alexis Goldstein: The ‘Intimidate the CTFC Act’

When it comes to helping Wall Street lobbyists gut reforms passed in the wake of the financial crisis, there is often very little difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. Recent votes in the House Financial Services Committee demonstrated this bipartisanship all too well. Last month, the committee considered H.R. 1256, the Swaps Jurisdiction Certainty Act, which garnered a “Yea” from every single Republican and a majority (17) of Democrats. Eleven Democrats voted against the measure, including Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). Republicans are making a move to bring this deregulatory bill to the House floor as early as Wednesday.

Despite its formal name, H.R. 1256 should really be called the “Intimidate a Financial Regulator Act.” The bill seeks to change how derivatives are regulated. Derivatives allow bets to be made on the future value of some real asset like corn or gold or a stock. Warren Buffett has called derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction,” and they played a major role in the financial crisis; it was derivatives trading, for example, that brought down the giant insurance company AIG and led to a government bailout.

Margaret Flowers: Trans-Pacific Partnership undermines health system

Medical corporations seek tools to protect their profits despite harmful effects on public health.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a deal that is being secretly negotiated by the White House, with the help of more than 600 corporate advisers and Pacific Rim nations, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. While the TPP is being called a trade agreement, the US already has trade agreements covering 90 percent of the GDP of the countries involved in the talks. Instead, the TPP is a major power grab by large corporations. [..]

From the information available, one thing is clear about the impacts of the TPP on health care: the intention of the TPP is to enhance and protect the profits of medical and pharmaceutical corporations without considering the harmful effects their policies will have on human health.

We know that the TPP will extend pharmaceutical and medical device patents and provide other tools to keep the prices of these necessities high. This will make medications and treatments unaffordable for millions of people and raise the costs of national health programmes. At its worst, the TPP will provide a pathway to infect the world’s health systems with the deadly parasite of for-profit health corporations that plague the US.

Jill Filipovic: America’s Private Prison System is a National Disgrace

An ACLU lawsuit against a prison in Mississippi is the latest to detail flagrant abuses at a private correctional facility

The privatization of traditional government functions – and big government payments to private contractors – isn’t limited to international intelligence operations like the National Security Agency. It’s happening with little oversight in dozens of areas once the province of government, from schools to airports to the military. The shifting of government responsibilities to private actors isn’t without consequence, as privatization often comes with a lack of oversight and a series of abuses. One particularly stunning example is the American prison system, the realities of which should be a national disgrace.

Some of those realities are highlighted in a recent lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of prisoners at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF). EMCF houses severely mentally ill prisoners, with the supposed intent of providing both incarceration and treatment. Instead, the ACLU contends, the facility, which is operated by private contractors, is rife with horrific abuses.

Lucinda Marshall: Confronting Militarism And Patriarchy-The Take Away From The Congressional Hearings On Sexual Assault In The Ranks

The decision last week by both houses of Congress not to consider measures that would remove absolute control over the prosecution of sexual assault cases in the military from the chain of command sends a clear signal that preserving the system of power over that our military both depends upon and upholds is far more important than actually protecting the citizens of this country who serve in its ranks from attacks by those who supposedly have their backs.  While disappointing, it is hardly surprising.  After days of grueling hearings, in the end the congressional status quo effectively bitch slapped those who dared question how this country maintains its power structure.*

On This Day In History June 19

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 images to enlarge.

June 19 is the 170th day of the year (171st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 195 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is approved after surviving an 83-day filibuster in the United States Senate.

Passage in the Senate

(President Lyndon B.) Johnson, who wanted the bill passed as soon as possible, ensured that the bill would be quickly considered by the Senate. Normally, the bill would have been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator James O. Eastland , Democrat from Mississippi. Given Eastland’s firm opposition, it seemed impossible that the bill would reach the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield took a novel approach to prevent the bill from being relegated to Judiciary Committee limbo. Having initially waived a second reading of the bill, which would have led to it being immediately referred to Judiciary, Mansfield gave the bill a second reading on February 26, 1964, and then proposed, in the absence of precedent for instances when a second reading did not immediately follow the first, that the bill bypass the Judiciary Committee and immediately be sent to the Senate floor for debate. Although this parliamentary move led to a filibuster, the senators eventually let it pass, preferring to concentrate their resistance on passage of the bill itself.

The bill came before the full Senate for debate on March 30, 1964 and the “Southern Bloc” of 18 southern Democratic Senators and one Republican Senator led by Richard Russell (D-GA) launched a filibuster to prevent its passage. Said Russell: “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our (Southern) states.”

The most fervent opposition to the bill came from Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC): “This so-called Civil Rights Proposals, which the President has sent to Capitol Hill for enactment into law, are unconstitutional, unnecessary, unwise and extend beyond the realm of reason. This is the worst civil-rights package ever presented to the Congress and is reminiscent of the Reconstruction proposals and actions of the radical Republican Congress.”

After 54 days of filibuster, Senators Everett Dirksen (R-IL), Thomas Kuchel (R-CA), Hubert Humphrey (D-MN), and Mike Mansfield (D-MT) introduced a substitute bill that they hoped would attract enough Republican swing votes to end the filibuster. The compromise bill was weaker than the House version in regard to government power to regulate the conduct of private business, but it was not so weak as to cause the House to reconsider the legislation.

On the morning of June 10, 1964, Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) completed a filibustering address that he had begun 14 hours and 13 minutes earlier opposing the legislation. Until then, the measure had occupied the Senate for 57 working days, including six Saturdays. A day earlier, Democratic Whip Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, the bill’s manager, concluded he had the 67 votes required at that time to end the debate and end the filibuster. With six wavering senators providing a four-vote victory margin, the final tally stood at 71 to 29. Never in history had the Senate been able to muster enough votes to cut off a filibuster on a civil rights bill. And only once in the 37 years since 1927 had it agreed to cloture for any measure.

On June 19, the substitute (compromise) bill passed the Senate by a vote of 71-29, and quickly passed through the House-Senate conference committee, which adopted the Senate version of the bill. The conference bill was passed by both houses of Congress, and was signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964.

Complete Failure: Foreign Policy Edition

Extending a Hand Abroad, Obama Often Finds a Cold Shoulder


Published: June 18, 2013

Even his friends are not always so friendly. On Wednesday, for example, the president is to meet in Berlin with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who has invited him to deliver a speech at the Brandenburg Gate. But Ms. Merkel is also expected to press Mr. Obama about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, which offend privacy-minded Germans.

For all of his effort to cultivate personal ties with foreign counterparts over the last four and a half years – the informal “shirt-sleeves summit” with Mr. Xi was supposed to nurture a friendly rapport that White House aides acknowledge did not materialize – Mr. Obama has complicated relationships with some, and has bet on others who came to disappoint him.

“In Europe, especially, Obama was welcomed with open arms, and some people had unrealistic expectations about him,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a longtime senior American diplomat. Noting that Mr. Obama continued some unpopular policies like the use of drones, he said, “People don’t appreciate that American interests continue from administration to administration.”

White House officials said Mr. Obama’s meetings with Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin were productive, regardless of the atmospherics. One of the president’s most problematic relationships, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, has improved since he visited Jerusalem in March, with their differences over Iran’s nuclear program narrowing.

Still, for a naturally reserved president who has assiduously cultivated a handful of leaders, it has been a dispiriting stretch.

Gee, why do you think that is?

Could it be spying?

No Foreign Policy accomplishments for this president in his second term.

Move along, nothing to see here.

NSA Scandal Seems to Have Done Serious Damage to Obama’s Image

By: Jon Walker, Firedog Lake

Monday June 17, 2013 7:40 am

It appears the recent revelations about the NSA surveillance programs and President Obama’s less than honest defense of them has done some real damage to his standing with the American people.

According to a new CNN poll, Obama’s job approval rating is now negative. Only 45 percent approve of how he is handling his job while 54 percent disapprove. This is the lowest it has been in CNN’s poll since 2011.

Even more concerning for Obama is that for the first time a majority of the country doesn’t see him as honest and trustworthy. The poll found 49 percent view him as trustworthy while 50 percent do not. This may not seem terrible, but this is a nine point drop in the number who see him as honest in less than a month. Back in May, 58 percent said Obama was honest.

Once you lose the public’s trust it becomes much harder to defend your actions going forward because you will no longer be given the benefit of the doubt.

Obama doubles down on NSA defense as poll numbers slip

By Justin Sink, The Hill

06/17/13 05:57 PM ET

The interview underscored the defensive posture the White House has adopted in recent weeks, with the president arguing that the NSA spying is “transparent” despite Rose noting that the independent court created to monitor the program served essentially as a rubber stamp.

(A) new poll released Monday by CNN found significant damage to the president’s brand.

Half of those surveyed said they do not believe the president to be trustworthy, the first time a majority has held that opinion. Moreover, the president lost 10 points among independents and 17 points among those under 30, suggesting widespread unease about the programs.

Phil Singer, a veteran of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said Obama’s task is complicated by other controversies, including the Internal Revenue Service’s admitted targeting of conservative political action groups and the Justice Department’s investigations into reporters.

Obama has come under fire from the left for attacking Bush’s policies as a candidate but then employing similar policies as president. Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old contractor who leaked the programs to the press, said he did so in part from disappointment with Obama.

Democratic strategist Chris Lehane said public perceptions that Obama has somehow shifted on the use of surveillance programs since entering the White House is a problem.

“The issue is especially challenging given that there had been an expectation going back to the 2008 campaign that the choice between civil liberties and national security was a false choice,” said Lehane. “He has the double burden of both trying to justify the policies and make clear how they are in fact consistent with the political brand he established as far back as 2008.”

Strategists say the White House needs to regain control of the news cycle to prevent the slip in the polls from becoming a permanent downward spiral.

“Over the last several months, events have dictated this president instead of this president dictating events,” Singer said.

Surveillance programs divide Democrats


6/17/13 4:29 PM EDT

And in a politically peculiar moment – in which liberal icons like Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, up for reelection next year in a purple state, have loudly endorsed the National Security Agency tactics – the issue creates a vacuum into which a candidate on the left end of the spectrum could step into the 2016 fight.

Indeed, the darling of the progressive left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), may be the only person who could easily thread the needle on this issue, having come to Congress just this year (her aides insist she is not running for president). But she – like most prominent Democratic elected officials – has had a muted response to the NSA, suggesting she’s waiting to see how it plays out.

Still, the atmosphere created by the NSA’s tactics could be ripe for a new figure on the left – if not Warren, then perhaps a Democratic primary challenger to a sitting senator. The goal wouldn’t necessarily have to be winning an election but using the campaign as a launchpad to become a progressive icon.

“I think Democrats are ultimately going to have a hard time jumping on the side of the progressive left” on national security, said foreign policy blogger Steve Clemons. “Democrats have tried so much to rid themselves of the Vietnam taint that they couldn’t be trusted … to make national security decisions.”

The prospective Democratic field includes governors who have had little to do with such national security decisions (Andrew Cuomo, John Hickenlooper, the fairly hawkish Martin O’Malley), but also senators who voted to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, for instance).

Voting to renew FISA may be a potential negative for senators eyeing higher office. But Clinton and Biden have an inside-the-tent perspective on the Obama White House that other prospective nominees don’t.

When the initial NSA disclosures were made in news outlets in the past few weeks, a 2006 interview in which Biden told CBS News that the Bush-era snooping was “very intrusive” got new traction. “I was talking about a different program then,” Biden told a pool reporter following him last weekend about then versus now. “It was a different program.”

Markos Moulitsas, founder of the liberal blog Daily Kos, said he doesn’t “anticipate anything” being said by either Biden or Clinton on this front in the foreseeable future – unless issues like old interviews force the matter, and even then, only rhetorically.

“Both have presidential designs, and no president (or wannabe president) willingly gives up executive power,” Moulitsas, who has been deeply critical of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for defending the NSA programs, said in an email.

In a signal of the difficulties facing any presidential hopeful who isn’t a governor, Moulitsas added, “Rather than be outraged by this gross violation of our constitutional freedoms, Congress has, in mostly bipartisan fashion, decided to lecture us on how they are only lying to the public for its own good. I just wish we had more whistleblowers, and more U.S. companies talking about what the government is trying to make them do.”

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Predator

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Predator

With apologies to Wallace Stevens

Other readings: “On Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”


Among twenty snowy mountains,

The only moving thing

Was the X-47B.


I was of three minds,

Like a Predator A

In which there are three missiles


The Reaper circled in the autumn winds.

It was the eye of the operation.


A marine and his rifle

Are one.

A marine and his rifle and a Raven

Are one.


I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of inflections

Or the beauty of innuendoes,

The Hellfire explosion

Or just after.


Icicles filled the long window

With barbaric glass.

The shadow of the drone

Crossed it, to and fro.

The mood

Traced in the shadow

An indecipherable cause.


O thin men of Haddam,

Why do you imagine golden birds?

Do you not see how the Global Hawk

Circles the heads

Of the women about you?


I know noble accents

And lucid, inescapable rhythms;

But I know, too,

That the predator is involved

In what I know.


When the drone flew out of sight,

It marked the edge

Of one of many circles.


At the sight of drones

Flying in a green light,

Even the bawds of euphony

Would cry out sharply.


He rode over Washington

In a glass coach.

Once, a fear pierced him,

In that he mistook

The shadow of his equipage

For an RQ-7.


The village is a ruin.

The Predator must be flying.


It was evening all afternoon.

It was snowing

And it was going to snow.

The Predator sat

In its hangar.

Chronic Tonic- I Wish I Didn’t Mind

Originally published at Voices On The Square

So, last night I had trouble getting to sleep because I had been arguing on the internet! Stupid, I know, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. There’s a lot going on in my life and people would think that I have enough on my plate, why in the world would I stress myself out over anything more; why take on anything additional. Well…because things bother me.

I have tried to go the mindless route, it just does not work for me. I don’t want to be one of those people they stop on the street for a candid video who cannot tell you who the attorney general is or not know what’s going on in the world or what my government is doing. So, when somebody on the internet tries to tell me that I shouldn’t mind that my government is collecting information they have no right to be collecting because Google or Target is collecting information or that I shouldn’t worry because it’s the same government that has my Medicare info, what’s the big deal, oh, that bothers me a lot.

I usually keep this post non-political, but this week I just can’t do that. There is much in my life that I need to compartmentalize, much that I need to live day by day, some hour by hour just to get through.  But here’s the thing, why; why am I fighting so hard to do that? For some dystopian future? No, fuck that noise.

So, yes, I take care of what I need to at home:  My kids, my mom, my own achy ass, I play a few games, I do love me some hidden object games, I watch some teevee, but I don’t need both hands to count my “must see’ shows.   And in my spare time? Oh, some shit bugs the shit out of me. Sometimes it keeps me up at night. I really wish I didn’t mind, but I do. I mind terribly.