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Jun 21 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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Trevor Timm: Congress wants NSA reform after all. Obama and the Senate need to pass it

An overwhelming House vote to cut funds for back doors into your private life sets up a summer surveillance fight: will the Senate stand up before the White House shuts it down?

If you got angry last month when the National Security Agency, the White House and Eric Cantor’s spy-friendly House of Representatives took a once-promising surveillance reform bill and turned it into a shit sandwich, I’ve got some good news for you: so, apparently, did many members of Congress.

Late Thursday night, in a surprising rebuke to the NSA’s lawyers and the White House – after they co-opted and secretly re-wrote the USA Freedom Act and got it passed – an overwhelming majority of the House of Representatives voted to strip the agency of its powers to search Americans’ emails without a warrant, to prohibit the NSA or CIA from pressuring tech companies to install so-called “back doors” in their commercial hardware and software, and to bar NSA from sabotaging common encryption standards set by the government.

What a difference the last year has made, you might say. Look what a little transparency can do!

Ana Marie Cox: The NRA has become self-aware. Will a rational US gun lobby finally prevail?

It took assault rifles at Chipotle, but bad PR may be the fault line to fracture the sane and un-sane, eventually giving America the kind of moderate pro-gun group it needs

This week, a Missouri town banned openly carrying firearms. The measure came after local businesses became concerned that the presence of guns might make tourists think twice about visiting: “We’ve had a tough time over the years promoting Lake Ozark as a family area,” a local politician told the Associated Press. “We want you to bring your kids down here and let them loose.”

Lake Ozark’s business community isn’t the first group in America to reasonably conclude that guns in the hands of citizens, rather than law officers, inspire fear and not trust. Recent demonstrations by Texas Open Carry have been so unpleasantly in-your-face that Chipotle, Chili’s and Sonic have now all banned guns from their premises – and even the National Rifle Association called them “downright weird” and “scary”. It’s almost funny how the confrontations that have made gun advocates reconsider their strategy – if not their ideology – are wholly symbolic and, while menacing, functionally harmless. Controversy over the mere sight of guns – and not, say, the slaughter of children – has finally got the gun nuts concerned about bad PR … and maybe about getting less nutty.

Of course, the NRA later distanced itself and attributed that statement to a single staffer and his “personal opinion” (a lone gunman, you might say). And the gun ban in Missouri has predictably enraged some.

Mona Eltahawy: Egypt Has a Sexual Violence Problem

There is a fierce battle raging in Egypt, and it’s not the one between Islamists and military rulers – the two factions that dominate most coverage of my country these days. The real battle, the one that will determine whether Egypt frees itself of authoritarianism, is between the patriarchy – established and upheld by the state, the street and at home – and women, who will no longer accept this status quo.

In recent weeks, Egypt has criminalized the physical and verbal harassment of women, setting unprecedented penalties for such crimes. But celebrations for the election and inauguration of our new president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, were marred by sexual assaults, including a gang rape, in Tahrir Square. Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report on what it has called an “epidemic of sexual violence” in Egypt. A few days later, yet more sexual violence took place at a march against sexual violence.

Róisín Davis: It’s Time for Ireland to Stop Punishing Pregnant Women

In the wake of the Tuam scandal, the Irish government has announced that it will launch an investigation into the high mortality rates in its former mother and baby homes. For Ireland’s women, the culture of shame still lingers in the country’s archaic reproductive rights stance.

We now know that between 1925 and 1961, almost 800 children died in Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway. They were buried in an unmarked plot. No burial records were kept for individual children, and we would not have known of the mass grave but for local historian Catherine Corless’ painstaking research and her determination that the deaths be acknowledged. [..]

The best efforts of international entities such as Amnesty International, the U.N. Committee Against Torture and the U.N. Human Rights Committee have failed to make an impact on Ireland’s draconian stance on reproductive rights. In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights found Ireland to have violated the rights of a woman seeking a termination in Britain.

It’s been estimated that from 1980 to 2012, at least 154,573 women living in Ireland traveled to England and Wales to access safe abortion services. This averages out to about 4,000 women per year. The actual number may be much higher, but stigma and discrimination impose a vow of silence.  

David Sirota: U.S. Government at War With Itself Over Civil Liberties

Over the past year, the United States government has been in the news a lot for its efforts to undermine the Internet’s basic privacy and security protocols.

There were the Edward Snowden revelations about the National Security Agency sweeping up metadata, paying contractors to embed backdoors into their security technologies, hacking various private accounts of network administrators and developing malware to infect computers.

There was the Washington Post story about the NSA’s “collect it all” ideology.

There was the CNET story detailing the government’s efforts “to obtain the master encryption keys that Internet companies use to shield millions of users’ private Web communications from eavesdropping.” [..]

So with all that in mind, it seems more than a bit hilarious that the U.S. government has just posted its latest annual announcement about “funding for programs that support Internet freedom.” In that dispatch, the U.S. State Department says it is looking to support “technologies that enhance the privacy and security of digital communications” and that are “less susceptible to intrusion or infection.”

Yes, you read that right: The same U.S. government that has been one of the most powerful forces undermining Internet security is now touting itself as a proponent of Internet privacy and security.

Of course, when you are done laughing about this, remember that there may also be other, less funny subtexts to this story.

Richard Reeves: Americans Are Self-Segregating Based on Politics

A new Pew Research survey states that 50 percent of conservative voters and 35 percent of liberals say that it is important to live where most people share their political views-say, in New Kent County and Greenwich Village or San Francisco. That’s interesting stuff to those of us born in a time when “their own kind” meant Protestants, Catholics or Jews, Irish or Italian or Germans.

Now, “their own kind” means something different, and it also probably means more political and geographic polarization.

The devil in the details of the Pew survey taken between January and March includes numbers like these on marriage: Among self-identified conservatives, 30 percent say they would be “unhappy” if a family member wanted to marry a Democrat. And among Democrats, 23 percent say they would be unhappy if a family member were to marry a Republican. As for race, 1 percent of Democrats say they would be unhappy if someone in the family married someone of a different race. The corresponding number among conservatives is 23 percent.

So much for the melting pot early in this new century.