02/05/2014 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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Cindy Cohn: Pete Seeger and the NSA

The world lost a clear, strong voice for peace, justice, and community with the death of singer and activist Pete Seeger last week. While Seeger was known as an outspoken musician not shy about airing his political opinions, it’s also important to remember he was once persecuted for those opinions, despite breaking no law. And the telling of this story should give pause to those who claim to be unconcerned about the government’s metadata seizure and search programs that reveal our associations to the government today.

In 1955, Seeger was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he defiantly refused to answer questions about others who he associated with and who shared his political beliefs and associations, believing Congress was violating his First Amendment rights. He was especially concerned about revealing his associations:

   I will be glad to tell what songs I have ever sung, because singing is my business. . . .  But I decline to say who has ever listened to them, who has written them, or other people who have sung them.

But if the same thing were to happen today, a Congressional subpoena and a public hearing wouldn’t be necessary for the government to learn all of our associations and other “private affairs.” Since the NSA has been collecting and keeping them, they could just get that same information from their own storehouses of our records.

Wenonah Hauter: Fast Tracking TPP Would Mean More Corporate Control of Our Democracy

Do you care about having access to local and sustainably produced food or protecting your drinking water? Are you concerned about corporate influence distorting our elections?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should be worried about legislation Senator Max Baucus and Rep. Dave Camp recently introduced that would grant the Obama administration fast-track authority.

Those measures would allow the White House to quickly push the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and another trade deal with Europe through Congress with a simple up or down vote.

Fast-track authority would give the Obama administration the unchecked power to promote future trade deals. Those pacts would allow corporations to challenge any democratically enacted federal, state or local laws and regulations that would limit their narrow financial interests.

The TPP and the U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement are really corporate power grabs disguised as trade agreements containing provisions that would undermine basic consumer rights, including issues related to our food, water and local sovereignty.

The TPP threatens the very essence of our democratic process by promoting the privatization of public resources and corporate self-regulation. It would give companies the ability to overrule local governing bodies on decisions about fracking, food safety, public health and the environment.

It would have disastrous implications for U.S. consumers.

Zoë Carpenter: Is Glenn Greenwald a Criminal?

In 1798, the Federalist Party leveraged fear of French spies and domestic traitors to pass theSedition Act, making it a crime to publish “any false, scandalous and malicious writing” that would bring Congress and the president into “contempt or disrepute.” Punishment ranged from six months to five years in prison and $5,000, a small fortune at the time. Several editors and publishers were prosecuted. Some newspapers folded, others were cowed into silence and at least one editor fled and continued to write in hiding. [..]

More than two centuries later Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican in charge of the House Intelligence Committee, has come up with a new way to silence reporters responsible for stories he considers threatening to national security. In a lengthy exchange in a hearing on Tuesday with FBI director James Comey about the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, Rogers suggested that because reporters are profiting from stories based on these stolen documents, they have committed crimes. The discussion is worth reading in full, but here’s the key bit:

   ROGERS: So if I’m a newspaper reporter for-fill in the blank-and I sell stolen material, is that legal because I’m a newspaper reporter?

   COMEY: Right, if you’re a newspaper reporter and you’re hocking stolen jewelry, it’s still a crime.

   ROGERS: And if I’m hocking stolen classified material that I’m not legally in possession of for personal gain and profit, is that not a crime?

Comey demurred, saying the question “could have First Amendment implications.”

No kidding: While the government has gone after reporters for refusing to reveal their sources for stories based on unauthorized leaks, no journalist has ever been prosecuted simply for reporting a story based on classified information. Doing so would tip the balance between the government and the Fourth Estate dramatically.

Barbara Garson: All the President’s Middlemen: The Public-Private Profiteers

If You Want to Play Doctor, Don’t Hire an Insurance Company as Your Receptionist

Health care isn’t the first boon that President Obama tried to give us through a public-private partnership.  When he took office, more than 25% of U.S. home mortgages were underwater — meaning that people owed more on their houses than they could get if they tried to sell them.  The president offered those homeowners debt relief through banks.  Now he’s offering health care through insurance companies

In both cases, the administration shied away from direct government aid.  Instead, it subsidized private companies to serve the people.  To get your government-subsidized mortgage modification, you applied at your bank; to get your government-mandated health coverage, you buy private insurance. [..]

Private health insurance companies can only survive if people throw their hands up in horror at the thought of an incompetent and intrusive government.  Expect, then, that the untimely requests for death certificates, the delayed payments to doctors, the arbitrary denials of coverage, and all the other slings and arrows that the insured already endure will be baroquely embellished and cynically blamed on “government.”

If it was hard for underwater homeowners to distinguish between bankers and bureaucrats while they were losing their homes, it will be even harder for frustrated sick people to untangle the public and private strands so tightly braided into the Affordable Care Act. That, however, is what has to happen if Americans are to move toward a simpler, go-to-the-doctor-when-you’re-sick healthcare system.

Lisa Guisbond: NCLB Crashed and Burned. When Will We Ever Learn?

It’s 2014, the year all U.S. public schools were  supposed to reach 100% student proficiency, so said No Child Left Behind (NCLB),

No, you didn’t miss the fanfare.  One hundred percent proficiency didn’t happen. Not even close.  In fact, our classrooms are making even less progress toward improving overall educational performance and narrowing racial test score gaps than before NCLB became law.

The problem is policy makers are still following NCLB’s test-and-punish path. The names of the tests may have changed, but the strategy remains the same. As the late, great Pete Seeger sang, “When will we ever learn?”

It’s not that the law’s proponents haven’t acknowledged – repeatedly – the law’s vast unpopularity and negative consequences, including the way it made schools all about testing. Back in 2007, Congressman George Miller, an [NCLB v] co-author, said, “No Child Left Behind may be the most negative brand in America.” The retiring congressman said recently that the results from the federally mandated tests were intended to measure school progress and drive improvements. Instead, he said, “the mission became about the test.”

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Tom Perkins and the guilt of the gilded

When Tom Perkins, the billionaire co-founder of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, warned in a letter to the Wall Street Journal that the “demonization of the rich” in America was comparable to the anti-Semitism that led to Kristallnacht, the coordinated attacks on Jews in 1938 Nazi Germany, the ensuing uproar led even his old firm to disavow his views. [..]

But it is inequality, not populism, that continues to spiral out of control. Billionaires attending the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) gathering in Davos, Switzerland were greeted with an Oxfam report revealing that the 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest, or one half of humanity, and detailing the “pernicious impact” of the yawning disparities. Academics, including Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, argue convincingly that the extreme inequality contributes directly to global stagnation. And even the WEF’s own poll of movers and shakers this year named the growing wealth divide as the leading geopolitical risk. President Obama has chimed in as well, terming inequality the “defining challenge of our time.”

Michelle Goldberg: Why Do We Have Unsafe Abortion in the United States?

In the most recent issue of The New Yorker, Eyal Press, a Nation contributor and the son of an OB/GYN who provided abortions, has a harrowing and important story about the rogue abortionist Steven Brigham, who has owned substandard clinics all around the country. Brigham has been involved in horrifically botched surgical abortions as well as a number of medical abortions that failed because he used methotrexate, a cheaper, less effective and more dangerous drug than the commonly prescribed mifepristone. In some cases, he began a procedure in New Jersey and then had patients driven to Maryland where he would complete it, so as to circumvent New Jersey law governing late-term abortion. One of his patients, an 18-year-old African-American girl who was twenty-one weeks pregnant, had to be airlifted to Johns Hopkins Hospital after her uterus was perforated and bowel damaged.

There have been complaints and investigations about Brigham going back to the 1990s, but somehow he continues to operate, moving from one state to another and opening new clinics when old ones are shut down. On the surface, his case, like that of gruesome Kermit Gosnell, seems like evidence for the anti-abortion movement’s contention that abortion clinics are under-regulated. “The argument about abortion often centers around the morality of killing the unborn,” writes Jillian Kay Melchior in National Review. “But Press’s story really hammers home the impact on the vulnerable women who often find themselves exploited at sketchy abortion clinics.”

On This Day In History February 5

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.

February 5 is the 36th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 329 days remaining until the end of the year (330 in leap years).

On this day in 1917, with more than a two-thirds majority, Congress overrides President Woodrow Wilson’s veto of the previous week and passes the Immigration Act.. The law required a literacy test for immigrants and barred Asiatic laborers, except for those from countries with special treaties or agreements with the United States, such as the Philippines.

The Immigration Act of 1917, also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, added to the number of undesirables banned from entering the country, including but not limited to “idiots”, “feeble-minded persons”, “criminals”, “epileptics”, “insane persons”, alcoholics, “professional beggars”, all persons “mentally or physically defective”, polygamists, and anarchists. Furthermore, it barred all immigrants over the age of sixteen who were illiterate. The most controversial part of the law was the section that designated an “Asiatic Barred Zone”, a region that included much of eastern Asia and the Pacific Islands from which people could not immigrate. Previously, only the Chinese had been excluded from admission to the country. Attempts at introducing literacy tests had been vetoed by Grover Cleveland in 1897 and William Taft in 1913. Wilson also objected to this clause in the Immigration Act but it was still passed by Congress on the fourth attempt.

Anxiety in the United States about immigration has often been directed toward immigrants from China and Japan. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred Chinese from entering the U.S. The Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 was made with Japan to regulate Japanese immigration to the U.S. The Immigration Act of 1917 is one of many immigration acts during this time period which arose from nativist and xenophobic sentiment. These immigration laws were intentional efforts to control the composition of immigrant flow into the United States.

More Keystone XL Lies


Mining Tar Sands Produces Much More Air Pollution Than We Thought

By Joseph Stromberg, Smithsonian

February 3, 2014 8:02PM

Last week, the U.S. State Department released a report indicating that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Western Canada’s Athabasca oil sands to the U.S., wouldn’t have significant environmental impacts. It’s worth noting, though, that the report didn’t say that extraction from the oil sands itself won’t have environmental impacts-just that this mining will proceed with or without the pipeline being built.

Frank Wania and Abha Parajulee, environmental scientists at the University of Toronto, came to the finding by looking at previous estimates for the PAH emissions that result from mining (gleaned from the pollutant release inventory and the mining companies’ environmental impact assessments) and comparing them to levels of PAHs that they measured in the air in the Athabasca region.  

“We found that these estimates are insufficient to explain what’s being measured in the environment,” Wania says. “The concentrations of PAHs that should be out there, based on these assumptions, are far too low.”


Impact assessments considered these PAHs “disposed,” Wania says. “But when they get mixed up with hot water, that creates ideal conditions for the PAHs to mobilize and enter the atmosphere.” When he and Parajulee created a new model that included PAHs evaporating from tailing ponds in their model, they arrived at estimated levels of PAHs in the atmosphere that were much closer to what’s been observed.

If nothing else, it is concerning that throughout decades of oil extraction in Athabasca, environmental impact assessments have dramatically underestimated the emissions levels of a key air pollutant. The finding provides one more reason to be worried about how oil sand extraction affects the environment.

Measured Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons are 100 to 1000 times higher than those listed in the State Department report and “the EPA does list them as priority pollutants [PDF] because in animal-based lab experiments they’ve led to tumors, interfered with the immune system and caused reproductive problems.”

Nor is it true “that this mining will proceed with or without the pipeline being built.”  If it were, why the need to build Keystone XL at all?

Or as Charles Pierce puts it in Esquire

The whole project is simply shot through with bad faith, from the phony job estimates to the sharp practices by which people have been relieved of their property to any environmental evaluation emanating from TransCanada or any government to which it has attached itself. These apparently now include our State Department. There is no reason to trust a word coming from anyone who stands to make a dime from it.

Flassbeck on Global Finance

Heiner Flassbeck served as the director of the Division on Globalization and Development Strategies at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, known as UNCTAD. He was once a vice minister at the Federal Ministry of Finance in Germany and is now a professor of economics at Hamburg University.




Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow