Feb 26 2014

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.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel: Stop the Democrats’ surrender to a blue slip

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: An archaic Senate policy is being used by a shameless Republican minority to obstruct the will of the president – and the people he was elected to represent.

You’d be forgiven for thinking I was referring to the filibuster, which has been the Republicans’ most effective and least democratic method of thwarting the will of the majority.

But no, this is another, more obscure and arguably more ridiculous procedural weapon called a “blue slip.” First instituted in 1917, the blue slip process has allowed individual senators to effectively veto a nominee for a circuit court judgeship who hails from their own state. This privilege has been used sparingly by some Judiciary Committee chairmen and more regularly by others. But in recent months, it has been taken to the extreme. [..]

Like the filibuster, this weapon is rooted in tradition, not the Constitution; it can simply be ignored by the chair of the Judiciary Committee. During George W. Bush’s administration, for instance, then-Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch decided that a negative blue slip would not hold up a nominee’s confirmation proceedings.

But because of current Chairman Patrick Leahy’s puzzling adherence to arcane practice, his desire to show courtesy – unreciprocated, of course – to the minority party and President Obama’s unwillingness to put a stop to it, the blue slip process is alive and well. Worse, it’s being used as a weighted bargaining chip, giving two Republican senators more influence over the judicial nomination process than the president himself.

Zoë Carpenter: 20 Years Ago, an Army Veteran Reported a Sexual Assault. She’s Still Waiting for Justice.

When Brenda Hoster publicly accused the sergeant major of the Army of sexually assaulting her, it nearly destroyed her life. She thought it would be worth it.

“I felt like what I did was the right thing, the ethical thing, not just for me but for all military men and women,” Hoster, a retired sergeant major and public affairs specialist, said in one of two phone conversations. Her complaints against the Army’s top enlisted soldier were part of a wave of sex scandals that rocked the military in the 1990s. Today, Congress is still debating how to best reform the military justice system. [..]

But Congress has not yet voted on the most significant and controversial reform proposed-Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act, which would put military lawyers, rather than commanding officers, in charge of sexual assault prosecutions. Victims’ advocates, veterans and some active duty officers argue that forcing victims to report to commanders exposes them to conflicts of interest and retaliation, and disadvantages accused and accuser alike by putting legal decisions in the hands of officers without legal training. Fifty-four senators-including nine Republicans-support Gillibrand’s bill, which the chamber will take up some time in March. The military’s top brass and two key Democrats on the Armed Services Committee, chairman Carl Levin and Claire McCaskill, oppose the measure, saying it would undermine commanders’ ability to enforce order and discipline in the ranks.

Natalia Antonova: Only Ukraine’s People – Not Russia or the West – Can Take It Forward

Ukraine is in a mess. And the first steps must be taken not by politicians but by the people, who must honour life and prevent more violence

In Russia, the Sochi Olympics are over, the metaphoric fairy dust has settled, and the rapidly developing events in Ukraine are at the top of the news agenda. If you stick to watching state television, the picture being painted is a grim one. For the majority of TV commentators following the deadly violence on the streets and the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine is in free fall. Russian viewers are being warned that dangerous radicalism is spreading practically on their doorstep. [..]

The important thing, right now, is to honour human life – and prevent further violence. And while nothing is certain, I know the possibility is there. I’m a Russian-speaking native of Kiev, with both ethnic Russian and ethnic Ukrainian relatives who certainly manage to not kill each other at the dinner table, not to mention Russian-speaking and Ukrainian-speaking friends and acquaintances from different parts of the country who somehow manage to get along.

Lauren Carasik: The US Should Respect Venezuela’s Democracy

Simplistic end-of-Chavismo narrative callously dismisses Venezuela’s progress

Venezuela is facing a protracted political crisis. Images depicting its streets tell the tale: Student unrest coalesced into massive demonstrations around the country, triggering a violent crackdown on opposition leaders and protesters. The ensuing violence and destructive confrontations over the last several weeks have left at least 13 people dead and scores wounded, with casualties on both sides. Tensions remain high.

Headlines in the United States broadcast unchallenged narratives of widespread discontent with mounting economic woes and denounce the ensuing repression by an unpopular and discredited administration barely clinging to power. But the reality in Venezuela is far more complicated and nuanced than what the media and the U.S. government spin suggests. [..]

Venezuela, to be sure, is not a utopia. Like many of its Latin American neighbors, including close allies of the U.S., it must confront crime, impunity and corruption. The country’s economic troubles are causing real hardship and palpable anxiety, though they are inseparable from the global recession. Despite these challenges, Venezuela has registered tremendous gains in elevating millions of people out of grinding poverty and democratizing a postcolonial country – developments that predictably alienate the country’s elites. However imperfect, reducing Venezuela to a failed socialist experiment run by a repressive autocrat who should be overthrown is a callous dismissal of its laudable progress.

Ana Marie Cox: Who’s the true ‘top conservative on Twitter’ – and does it matter for 2016?

The GOP struggles with the social media generation, but a few are starting to figure it out, especially Governor Chris Christie

It’s no secret that the GOP has been playing catch-up to the massive social media machine built by Obama campaign for years. (The Romney campaign’s deficiencies in that regard were well-documented.) As the Republican party grapples with the large-scale demographic shifts ahead, we thought it might be revealing to see how the 2016 GOP frontrunners have approached the more granular social media. Social media interactions, after all, are much more like old-fashioned politicking than they are like “messaging”: too much polish works against you, humor is at a premium, and the real skill isn’t convincing people so much as working the crowd. So it makes sense to us to ask who’s winning the Twitter Primary.

There’s more to social media than Twitter, of course. But as the political class grows more and more desperate for metrics to measure a race that hasn’t even begun, it makes sense to turn to Twitter: that’s where the journalists hang out, so that’s where a candidate’s image will or won’t get the extra spit shine that only comes with being very good at this very new form retail politics.

Jill Filipovic: Kansas’ anti-gay bill: another attempt to force warped Christianity on others

Conservatives keep trying to use America’s religious freedom as a way to limit everyone else’s rights

Last week, the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill (pdf) that would have broadly legalized discrimination against gays and lesbians. Luckily, after national outrage, the bill was halted. But the fight isn’t over: the bill’s reliance on religious freedom to justify discrimination is a sign of right-wing efforts to come.

The Kansas bill didn’t become law because the forces behind it are losing. That’s cold comfort to gay Kansans who were just issued a very clear “you are not welcome here” message from their elected officials. The Republican party, whose members have yanked the welcome mat out from under the feet of too many groups, should perhaps consider whether a strategy of alienation is a winning one. After all, are there many strong supporters of this law in Kansas who weren’t already voting Republican? On the flip side, younger voters overwhelmingly support gay rights. And so do gay people – increasingly, so do their families and friends. A plan of aggressively antagonizing LGBT people is not a winning one.