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Dec 21 2013

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 Board: Mr. Obama’s Disappointing Response

By the time President Obama gave his news conference on Friday, there was really only one course to take on surveillance policy from an ethical, moral, constitutional and even political point of view. And that was to embrace the recommendations of his handpicked panel on government spying – and bills pending in Congress – to end the obvious excesses. He could have started by suspending the constitutionally questionable (and evidently pointless) collection of data on every phone call and email that Americans make.

He did not do any of that. [..]

In other words, he never intended to make the changes that his panel, many lawmakers and others, including this page, have advocated to correct the flaws in the government’s surveillance policy had they not been revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks.

And that is why any actions that Mr. Obama may announce next month would certainly not be adequate. Congress has to rewrite the relevant passage in the Patriot Act that George W. Bush and then Mr. Obama claimed – in secret – as the justification for the data vacuuming.

Charles M. Blow: ‘Duck Dynasty’ and Quackery

I must admit that I’m not a watcher of “Duck Dynasty,” but I’m very much aware of it. I, too, am from Louisiana, and the family on the show lives outside the town of Monroe, which is a little over 50 miles from my hometown. We’re all from the sticks.

So, when I became aware of the homophobic and racially insensitive comments that the patriarch on the show, Phil Robertson, made this week in an interview in GQ magazine, I thought: I know that mind-set.

Robertson’s interview reads as a commentary almost without malice, imbued with a matter-of-fact, this-is-just-the-way-I-see-it kind of Southern folksiness. To me, that is part of the problem. You don’t have to operate with a malicious spirit to do tremendous harm. Insensitivity and ignorance are sufficient. In fact, intolerance that is disarming is the most dangerous kind. It can masquerade as morality.

Bernd Heinrich: Revitalizing Our Forests

THIS Christmas season, I am roasting chestnuts by the fire. American chestnuts, to be exact. These nuts, once widespread, were almost wiped out by a fungal blight. For a century, most of the chestnuts we eat, like the sweet Castanea sativa variety, have been imported from Europe and Asia.

And yet, I have been enjoying American chestnuts for several years now, harvested from some trees that are now part of my forest of 600 acres in western Maine. [..]

My trees seem to have some blight resistance, which could mean they were selected for those traits; some of the old trees did have the ability to avoid the blight.

Since the 1980s, researchers have worked to select chestnuts for resistance to the blight, slowly and methodically crossing and back crossing, testing and measuring the trees’ response to exposure. That’s traditional tree breeding.

But meanwhile, researchers at SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry have been trying to create a better chestnut tree by inserting into it a gene derived from wheat, one that would enhance the tree’s resistance to the chestnut fungal blight. [..]

How will those trees evolve over time with their altered genome? Will they crowd out the remaining natural chestnuts? The consequences of genetic engineering can be unpredictable – genes behave and are expressed in complex ways.

Joe Conason: Who Is Really Waging War on Christmas? Look in the Mirror, Scrooges

Spreading holiday cheer, a Western tradition for hundreds of years, no longer engages our so-called conservatives as the end of the year approaches. In fact, the innocent phrase “happy holidays” only infuriates them. The new Yuletide ritual exciting the right is the “War on Christmas”-an annual opportunity to spread religious discord and community conflict, brought to us by those wonderful folks at Fox News.

Once started, wars tend to escalate and intensify-and the War on Christmas is no exception. The same right-wing Christian ideologues enraged by any multicultural or ecumenical celebration of the season-the people trying to transform “Merry Christmas” from a kind greeting into a mantra of hate-are now merrily inflicting additional misery on the nation’s downtrodden.

Just in time for the birthday of baby Jesus, they are cutting food stamps and unemployment benefits. And they insist with breezy heartlessness that it’s all for the benefit of the poor.

Eugene Robinson: Making the Right Call on NSA

In plain language, the panel lays out just what the NSA has been doing: obtaining secret court orders compelling phone service providers to “turn over to the government on an ongoing basis call records for every telephone call made in, to, or from the United States through their respective systems.”

That is a jaw-dropping sentence. No less stunning, however, is the panel’s assessment of the program’s worth as a tool to fight terrorism: from all available evidence, zero. [..]

Unless we want to accept an Orwellian future in which privacy is a distant memory-and I don’t-we need to limit the NSA’s authority to surveillance of legitimate foreign targets.

A presidential order isn’t enough, because future presidents could change it. Congress needs to pass a law telling the agency, in no uncertain terms, what it must never do.

David Sirota: Edward Snowden Is the Whistle-Blower of the Year

For months, a debate over Edward Snowden’s status has raged. In the back and forth, one question about this icon who disclosed NSA abuses has dominated: Is he or is he not a whistle-blower with all the attendant protections that should come with such a designation?

As of this week’s federal court ruling saying the NSA’s data collection programs are probably unconstitutional, that debate is finally over. After all, if the most basic definition of a government whistleblower is one who uncovers illegal or unconstitutional acts, then the ruling proves Snowden is the dictionary-definition of a whistleblower. [..]

He certainly does not deserve the ire directed at him. At the very minimum, he does not deserve to have House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers publicly offer to help extrajudicially execute him with a drone strike (yes, that really happened).

What he really deserves, though, is a nation’s thanks for exposing-and hopefully halting-the violations of civil liberties happening in our midst.

2 comments

  1. MO Blue

    One of the things I did not know:

    Things you didn’t know about reindeer

    EYES THAT CHANGE COLOR

    Reindeer eyes change color between summer and winter to adapt to the widely varying levels of light in the high north.

    “The reflection from reindeer eyes is yellow-green in summer … but deep blue in winter,” says Karl-Arne Stokkan, a professor at the University of Tromsoe in Norway, part of a scientific team that discovered earlier this year why that is.

    Due to the extremely limited light in the far northern winter, reindeer’s eyes need to be much more sensitive to light then than in summer. The blue color during the darkest months of the year helps scatter more incoming light and results in better vision, says Stokkan.

    My light blue eyes are very sensitive to light but can’t claim that they result in better vision now that I’m older.

  2. MO Blue

    It never fails to astonish me that so many who shout their Christianity from the rooftops somehow miss the very fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ. Never did read that Jesus preached stealing from the poor to give to the obscenely wealthy.

    I was raised Catholic but no longer belong to that religious group. Yet, I am very pleased to see and hear the new Pope advocate for the poor and admonish those who do not practice the Christianity that they preach. The poor do not have enough voices advocating for them. I can only cheer Pope Francis on in his endeavor even though it seems to be falling on deaf ears up in D.C.      

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