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May 13 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.

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

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Andrew Brown: The only truth about torture is in our own morally bankrupt stance

Amnesty International report highlights how torture seldom works as a way to gain information, rather it leads to twisted testimony

Amnesty International has polled the British people and discovered that nearly a third of us think torture can sometimes be justified. Across the world, the figure is generally higher – except in a couple of countries, most notably Spain and Argentina, which have within living memory passed from being military dictatorships which used torture routinely to democracies which don’t.

Yet there are also large majorities in almost all countries polled for bans on torture. It seems that it is one of those crimes which we believe should only be committed when we are certain to profit from it; that we believe works but should only be resorted to when all other means have failed. So it is worth examining why and when it works.

Torture seeks to make people do what they would rather not – we all know that, from the playground onwards. If what someone wants to do is to keep a secret, torture may make them spill it.

Robert Reich: How the Right Wing Is Killing Women

According to a report released last week in the widely-respected health research journal, The Lancet, the United States now ranks 60th out of 180 countries on maternal deaths occurring during pregnancy and childbirth.

To put it bluntly, for every 100,000 births in America last year, 18.5 women died. That’s compared to 8.2 women who died during pregnancy and birth in Canada, 6.1 in Britain, and only 2.4 in Iceland.

A woman giving birth in America is more than twice as likely to die as a woman in Saudi Arabia or China.

You might say international comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt because of difficulties of getting accurate measurements across nations. Maybe China hides the true extent of its maternal deaths. But Canada and Britain?

Wendall Potter: [Health Insurers Using Playbook Again to Protect Profits at Expense of Consumers Health Insurers Using Playbook Again to Protect Profits at Expense of Consumers]

Health care reform advocates in California, led by Consumer Watchdog, are supporting a November ballot initiative to give the state insurance department authority to reject proposed rate increases that are deemed to be excessive.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 35 states have given their insurance departments the legal power of prior approval — or disapproval — of proposed health insurance rate changes.

California is not among them, and advocates believe the state’s residents are paying more for their health insurance coverage than necessary. While the Golden State did establish a rate review process in 2011 requiring public disclosure of proposed rate hikes — which the California Public Interest Research Group says has saved residents almost $350 million — lawmakers would not go further and grant the insurance commissioner authority to say “no” to rate hikes. As a result, says CalPIRG, about a million Californians paid higher premiums due to rate hikes state state officials deemed “unreasonable” but couldn’t do anything about.

Dan Gillmor: In the future, the robots may control you, and Silicon Valley will control them

Welcome to the horror show that is the ‘internet of things’ – hyper-intelligent software, vulnerable hardware … and a whole new level of privacy invasion

The “internet of things” is turning into Silicon Valley’s latest mania. At first glance, it is a trend with great appeal, enough to become something more than a trend and a true revolution: a world in which everything we touch and use has an embedded intelligence and memory of its own, and all of it is connected by way of digital networks.

What’s missing from this rosy scenario? Plenty – because security and privacy seem to be mostly an afterthought as we embed and use technology in our physical devices. Which means the internet of things could easily turn into a horror show.

Philip Pilkington: How rising asset prices increase inequality

The release of French economist Thomas Piketty’s best-seller “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” has posed once more the question of what causes inequality. One key culprit from Piketty’s findings is the changing valuation of financial assets.

Imagine that you hold a financial asset, a company share worth $1,000. And suppose I believe the market is going to rise and I offer you $2,000 for that share. The market price for this share will now have increased from $1,000 to $2,000. This transaction will also increase the net worth of those who hold these shares by the amount that the share has increased in value – in our example, $1,000 – multiplied by the number of these shares in existence.

If we imagine that there are 5,000 of these shares in existence, this will increase the net worth of the holders of these shares by $5 million. Since rich people hold a disproportionate number of shares, my bid will have increased inequality in the economy because the net worth of the rich will rise in relation to the net worth of the poor.

Tom Engelhardt: The Year of Edward Snowden

Make no mistake: it’s been the year of Edward Snowden.  Not since Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War has a trove of documents revealing the inner workings and thinking of the U.S. government so changed the conversation.  In Ellsberg’s case, that conversation was transformed only in the United States.  Snowden has changed it worldwide.  From six-year-olds to Angela Merkel, who hasn’t been thinking about the staggering ambitions of the National Security Agency, about its urge to create the first global security state in history and so step beyond even the most fervid dreams of the totalitarian regimes of the last century?  And who hasn’t been struck by how close the agency has actually come to sweeping up the communications of the whole planet?  Technologically speaking, what Snowden revealed to the world — thanks to journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras — was a remarkable accomplishment, as well as a nightmare directly out of some dystopian novel. [..]

And of course, there was also a determined journalist, who proved capable of keeping his focus on what mattered while under fierce attack, who never took his eyes off the prize.  I’m talking, of course, about Glenn Greenwald.  Without him (and the Guardian, Laura Poitras, and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post), “they” would be observing us, 24/7, but we would not be observing them.  This small group has shaken the world.