12/04/2013 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.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day.

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

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Katrina vanden Huevel: Eradicating AIDS

On March 24, 1987, the activist group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) gathered in front of Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City for its first ever demonstration. The flyer advertising the event was crammed with damning facts (“AIDS is the biggest killer in New York City of young men and women”), indictments (“President Reagan, nobody is in charge!”) and the desperate rage of people who were done being ignored (“AIDS is everybody’s business now”). [..]

When ACT UP took to the streets three decades ago, AIDS was a death sentence. Nobody knew what caused it and nobody knew how to treat it. Today, that is no longer the case. We have cutting-edge drugs that keep people alive. We have evidence-based models for prevention. We have global awareness of the epidemic.

What we lack is the political will and compassion to reach out to the most marginalized among us and make sure that they have equal access to prevention and care. Ending AIDS is no longer a matter of science – it’s a matter of justice.

Jill Filipovic: Get real: covering contraception doesn’t violate employers’ religious freedom

The supreme court is hearing arguments that Obamacare violates company owners’ religious freedom. It’s a bogus claim

Are for-profit companies persons entitled to First Amendment free religious exercise protections? Should the religious beliefs of the controlling stakeholders of your employing company dictate the healthcare you receive? Does providing healthcare to employees substantially burden a corporation’s religious freedom when that healthcare includes contraception coverage? Those are the questions the US supreme court will address in its review of two cases brought by companies who don’t want to pay for contraception under Obama’s healthcare law. The court’s answer could significantly alter the landscape of the American workplace and First Amendment rights forever – quite possibly in dangerous ways.

The supreme court is hearing two of the 70 pending cases on the issue, one brought by the conservative Christian owners of a chain craft store with 15,000 employees of various faiths (the Hobby Lobby), and one brought by the Mennonite owners of a wood cabinet company. No one debates that the owners of these companies have sincerely-held religious beliefs. The question is whether, by mandating that the companies provide healthcare for their employees, the religious beliefs of the company are being violated.

Sarah Anderson: Fast Food Giants Gorge on Subsidies

Thanks to a loophole that subsidizes CEO pay, McDonald’s, Yum Brands, Wendy’s, Burger King, Domino’s, and Dunkin’ Brands trimmed $64 million from their tax bills in 2011 and 2012.

The fast food industry is notorious for handing out lean paychecks to their burger flippers and fat ones to their CEOs. What’s less well-known is that taxpayers are actually subsidizing fast food incomes at both the bottom – and top – of the industry.

Take, for example, Yum Brands, which operates the Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut chains. Wages for the corporation’s nearly 380,000 U.S. workers are so low that many of them have to turn to taxpayer-funded anti-poverty programs just to get by. The National Employment Law Project estimates that Yum Brands’ workers draw nearly $650 million in Medicaid and other public assistance annually.

Meanwhile, at the top end of the company’s pay ladder, Yum Brands’ CEO David Novak pocketed $94 million over the years 2011 and 2012 in stock options gains, bonuses and other so-called “performance pay.” That was a nice windfall for him, but a big burden for the rest of us taxpayers.

Zoë Carpenter: The End of Dark Money?

Last spring, news that the Internal Revenue Service used keywords like “Tea Party” and “Occupy” to select groups applying for nonprofit status for extra scrutiny prompted media outrage, resignations, internal investigations and a series of congressional hearings. There was comparatively little fury about the fact that many of these “social welfare” organizations were getting tax breaks in exchange for flooding elections with anonymous cash.

The power these dark money groups wield in future elections could be undercut by a new proposal from the IRS, which would put clearer boundaries around the political activities of 501(c)(4) nonprofits. Released just before Thanksgiving, the guidelines lay out some specific definitions of “political activity,” that social welfare groups would have to limit in order to retain their tax-exempt status, such as expressing an opinion about a particular candidate.

Watchdogs are encouraged that the Obama administration has affirmed the need for clarity on the laws governing social welfare groups and their influence in elections. But the rules as written are broad, limiting activities like voter registration drives, get out the vote campaigns and candidate debates. Many groups see these as critical civic engagement programs, and essentially nonpartisan.

Rose Ann DeMoro; The Real Fix for Obamacare’s Flaws: Medicare for All

There’s no reason to rollback the progress the ACA has made. But we should go all the way and dump the for-profit system

Lost amidst the well-chronicled travails of the Affordable Care Act rollout are the long term effects of people struggling to get the health coverage they need without going bankrupt.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s been the main story line of the US healthcare system for several decades. Sadly, little has changed.

Still, with all the ACA’s highly publicized snafus, and less discussed systemic flaws, there’s no reason to welcome the cynical efforts to repeal or defund the law by politicians whose only alternative is more of the same callous, existing market-based healthcare system.

US nurses oppose the rollback and appreciate that several million Americans who are now uninsured may finally get coverage, principally through the expansion of Medicaid, or access to private insurance they’ve been denied because of their prior health status.

At the same time, nurses will never stop campaigning for a fundamental transformation to a more humane single-payer, expanded Medicare for all system not based on ability to pay and obeisance to the policy confines of insurance claims adjustors.

Jesica Weisberg: [The US and Canada Are Failing Asylum Seekers www.thenation.com/blog/177427/us-and-canada-are-failing-asylum-seekers]

We may think of Canada as our kinder, more generous neighbor, but a new study by the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic indicates that the country’s has adapted a decidedly un-Canadian approach to refugees. The authors of the study write that Canada is “systematically closing its borders to asylum seekers and avoiding its refugee protection obligations under domestic and international law.” Canada’s policies are driving migrants and refugees to the United States, where they may encounter a detention system that “falls far below international law requirements.” According to UN standards, asylum seekers should not be detained at all, but the authors write that the United States repeatedly holds refugee applicants in custody for months, and even years, at a time.

It’s hard to say which country comes across better-or worse-in the study. Since last year, when Canada passed a series of reforms to its refugee system, it has implemented various bulwarks to deter refugees from even arriving at the Canadian border. The Safe Third Country Agreement makes it almost impossible to enter Canada by land, as it prohibits asylum seekers who first set foot in the States to then apply for refugee claims in Canada (the agreement also applies to those who first arrive in Canada and then apply for US residency, but for geographic reasons, that scenario is far less frequent). Canadian Liaison Officers are now able enforce border laws from foreign posts-they’re stationed in forty-nine different locations-and intercept more than 4,000 people from boarding a plane or a boat to Canada each year. (As a point of comparison, US Customs and Border Patrol officers with a similar set of responsibilities can be found in just eight countries.) Canada has also been found, per the report, to outsource immigration enforcement to airlines and various private transport companies, meaning that asylum seekers don’t even have the opportunity to discuss their case with an immigration agent who may be more empathetic when, say, a passport is missing or a visa has been denied. Private companies, meanwhile, have been found to treat passengers inappropriately and to deny entry based on minor inconsistencies or gaps in identification papers. Canada’s approach is referred to as “pushing the border out”-or creating physical barriers far away from state lines, making the border more ephemeral yet more exclusive.

Barbara Garson: Spy vs. Spy: Walmart’s Corporate Surveillance on Black Friday

I took part in one of the 1500 Walmart protests this past Black Friday. It gave me a new perspective on NSA Surveillance. [..]

Employees organize because they want to improve their working conditions and their pay. It’s effective to show them that joining a union is a quick way to reduce your pay to zero. There’s no reason to be subtle about it.

Maybe that’s why it was easy for my husband to snap a picture [attached] of two Walmart people observing and photographing the demonstrators. Like the Pinkertons of earlier strike busting tradition, they have no reason to hide the fact that they have their eyes on you. But some of Walmart’s neo-Pinkerton surveillance capacities still surprised me.

At one point the woman with the camera checked a hand held “device” and told the man with her that the demonstrators across the highway were about to “moblize.”

I don’t know if she got her information through sophisticated tapping of the organizers or merely following our twitter feeds. But it reminded me that I personally have more to fear from corporate espionage then NSA spying. Unless you’re a fundamentalist terrorist, (or an American who will never need a raise,) you probably do, too.

On This Day In History December 4

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.

December 4 is the 338th day of the year (339th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 27 days remaining until the end of the year

On this day in 1783, future President George Washington, then commanding general of the Continental Army, summons his military officers to Fraunces Tavern in New York City to inform them that he will be resigning his commission and returning to civilian life.

Washington had led the army through six long years of war against the British before the American forces finally prevailed at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. There, Washington received the formal surrender of British General Lord Charles Cornwallis, effectively ending the Revolutionary War, although it took almost two more years to conclude a peace treaty and slightly longer for all British troops to leave New York.

Fraunces Tavern is a tavern, restaurant and museum housed in a conjectural reconstruction of a building that played a prominent role in pre-Revolution and Revolution history. The building, located at 54 Pearl Street at the corner of Broad Street, has been owned by Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York Inc. since 1904, which claims it is Manhattan’s oldest surviving building. The building is a tourist site and a part of the American Whiskey Trail and the New York Freedom Trail.

Revolution history

In August 1775, Americans took possession of cannons from the artillery battery at the southern point of Manhattan and fired on the HMS Asia. The British ship retaliated by firing a 32-gun broadside on the city, sending a cannonball through the roof of the building.

When the war was all but won, the building was the site of “British-American Board of Inquiry” meetings, which negotiated to ensure to American leaders that no “American property” (meaning former slaves who were emancipated by the British for their military service) be allowed to leave with British troops. Board members reviewed the evidence and testimonies that were given by freed slaves every Wednesday from April to November 1783, and British representatives were successful in ensuring that almost all of the loyalist blacks of New York maintained their liberty.

After British troops evacuated New York, the tavern hosted an elaborate “turtle feast” dinner on December 4, 1783 in the building’s Long Room for U.S. Gen. George Washington where he bade farewell to his officers of the Continental Army by saying “[w]ith a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”

The building housed some offices of the Confederation Congress as the nation struggled under the Articles of Confederation. With the establishment of the U.S. Constitution and the inauguration of Washington as president in 1789, the departments of Foreign Affairs, Treasury and War located offices at the building. The offices were vacated when the location of the U.S. capital moved on December 6, 1790 from New York to Philadelphia.

What real Journalism looks like-

Guardian will not be intimidated over NSA leaks, Alan Rusbridger tells MPs

Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor, The Guardian

Tuesday 3 December 2013 12.34 EST

The Guardian has come under concerted pressure and intimidation designed to stop it from publishing stories of huge public interest that have revealed the “staggering” scale of Britain’s and America’s secret surveillance programmes, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper has said.

Giving evidence to a parliamentary committee about stories based on the National Security Agency leaks from the whistleblower Edward Snowden, Alan Rusbridger said the Guardian “would not be put off by intimidation, but nor are we going to behave recklessly”.

He told MPs that disclosures from the files had generated a global debate about the powers of state agencies, and the weaknesses of the laws and oversight regimes they worked within.

“In terms of the broader debate, I can’t think of a story in recent times that has ricocheted around the world like this has and which has been more broadly debated in parliaments, in courts and amongst NGOs,” he said.

“The roll call of people who have said there needs to be a debate about this includes three presidents of the United States, two vice-presidents, generals, the security chiefs in the US [who] are all saying this is a debate that in retrospect we had to have.”

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Newspapers around the world, from the Guardian to the Washington Post and Der Spiegel, have done what our own parliamentary oversight committee and other oversight bodies failed to do: they exposed unprecedented surveillance being undertaken without the knowledge or approval of our elected representatives.

“Spies spy, but they should not be able to write their own rules, exploiting woefully out-of-date legislation to collect information on millions of innocent people.

“If the three intelligence chiefs had previously faced anywhere near as rigorous cross-examination then perhaps we would not have been so dependent on the Guardian and other newspapers to learn just how out of control surveillance had become.”

Yesterday the UN special raporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, announced he was launching an investigation into the surveillance programmes operated by GCHQ and the NSA.

“The astonishing suggestion that this sort of journalism can be equated with aiding and abetting terrorism needs to be scotched decisively,” Emmerson said. “Attacking the Guardian is an attempt to do the bidding of the services themselves, by distracting attention from the real issues.”

What happened to Iceland?



Saudi Arabia’s 9/11 Connnection

In a four part series on RAI with Paul Jay, Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) explains why he persists in making the case that facts directly connect the Saudi government with 9/11 conspirators.

Investigating the Saudi Government’s 9/11 Connection and the Path to Disilliusionment Part 1

Full Transcript can be read here

Former U.S. Senator Bob Graham says greater awareness of Saudi Arabia as “essentially a co-conspirator in 9/11…would change the way in which, particularly in the current milieu of events in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is being viewed” by the U.S. public.

Saudi Arabia, an historic ally of the U.S., had put significant pressure on the Obama administration in recent months to militarily intervene in Syria, and had also attempted to derail recent U.S.-Iran rapprochement.

Senator Graham co-chaired the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11 that investigated intelligence failures leading up to 9/11.  The inquiry’s final report included a 28-page chapter describing the Saudi connection to 9/11, but it was completely redacted by U.S. intelligence agencies.

“I was stunned that the intelligence community would feel that it was a threat to national security for the American people to know who had made 9/11 financially possible,” said Senator Graham.  “And I am sad to report that today, some 12 years after we submitted our report, that those 28 pages continue to be withheld from the public.”

The investigation into 9/11 intelligence failures and the subsequent cover-up of Saudi involvement by the Bush administration led Senator Graham to question his life-long reverence of presidential authority.

“I grew up with the idea that the president was almost a divine figure, that he was the literally the father of the country and always acted in a way that was beneficial to the mass of people in America,” said Graham. “You may have disagreements with the current occupant of the office, but the presidency itself was a beknighted position deserving of your respect and worthy of your confidence.”

“So when I got involved particularly at the national level in the U.S. Senate and saw some of the things that were happening-which were not theoretical; they were things that I was dealing with on a very day-to-day hands-on basis that were contrary to that view of what was the presidency-it was a very disillusioning experience.  And maybe some of the comments that I make in the book Intelligence Matters reflect that path to disillusionment,” said Graham.

Revealing the 9/11 Conspiracy Would Undo the Entire US-Saudi Alliance Part 2

Full transcript can be read here

Why Would Saudi Arabia Support the 9/11 Conspirators, Why Would the US Gov. Cover it Up? Part 3

Full transcript can be read here

Former Senator Bob Graham, co-chair of the 2002 Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11, believes that the Saudi government “had a high and what has thus far turned out to be credible expectation that their role” in 9/11 “would not be exposed” by the U.S. government.

“Everything that the federal government has done since 9/11 has had as one of its outcomes, if not its objectives-and I believe it was both outcome and objective-that the Saudis’ role has been covered,” says Graham.

Senator Graham had talked to the other co-chair of the Congressional Joint Inquiry and the two chairs of the citizen’s 9/11 commission about the possibility of the 19 hijackers acting independently.

“All three of them used almost the same word-implausible-that it is implausible that that could have been the case. Yet that has now become the conventional wisdom to the aggressive exclusion of other alternatives,” says Graham.

Graham says it is also possible that the Saudis gave financial support for Osama bin Laden’s operations in order to stop him from launching a campaign of civil unrest within Saudi Arabia as retaliation for allowing U.S. troops to occupy a part of the country during the first Gulf War.

The Saudis’ “confidence in the fact the United States would not react, or that the United States would not go to the extremes that in fact it has to cover up their involvement, were sufficient to outweigh the reality that bin Laden had the capability and the will to topple the monarchy,” says Senator Graham.

The 9/11 Conspiracy: Did Bush/Cheney Create a Culture of Not Wanting to Know? Part 4

Full transcript can be read here

Former Senator Graham says that a new inquiry into 9/11 should be launched to ask whether the 19 hijackers acted alone, the extent of Saudi involvement in the attacks, and why the US concealed evidence of a support network for the hijackers.

The Bush administration also failed to seriously respond to a Presidential Daily Brief from August 6, 2001 that contained a section titled “bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.”

“It was a fairly stark and specific call,” says Former Senator Bob Graham.  “The president, from all evidence, basically ignored that warning and no steps were taken to try to dig deeper or to disrupt the plot.”

Graham served as the co-chair of the 2002 Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11.  A 28-page chapter in the final report detailing Saudi involvement in the financing, support, and execution of the attacks on the World Trade Center was redacted by the FBI.

The FBI also withheld information about the support networks for several of the 9/11 hijackers located through the United States, says Graham.

When asked about whether a deliberate culture had been created by the Bush administration to suppress information about possible terrorist attacks, Graham admitted that “virtually all of the agencies of the federal government were moving in the same direction, from a customs agent at an airport in Orlando who was chastised when he denied entry into the United States to a Saudi, to the president of the United States authorizing large numbers of Saudis to leave the country.”

“You don’t have everybody moving in the same direction without there being a head coach somewhere who was giving them instructions as to where he wants them to move,” said Graham.