09/26/2014 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.

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

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George Zornick: The Blotch on Eric Holder’s Record: Wall Street Accountability

Attorney General Eric Holder will announce Thursday he is stepping down from the post he has held for nearly six years-making him one of the longest-serving attorneys general in American history.

Holder was the first African-American to hold the position and will surely be remembered as a trailblazer for civil rights. From sentencing reform to combating voter suppression to investigating some of the country’s most violent police forces, Holder made huge progressive strides. It’s no coincidence Holder called the civil rights icon Representative John Lewis on Tuesday before his resignation became public. White House officials are already pushing out narratives about Holder’s “historic legacy of civil rights enforcement and restoring fairness to the criminal justice system.”

But there is one area where Holder falls woefully short: prosecution of Wall Street firms and executives. He came into office just months after widespread fraud and malfeasance in the financial sector brought the American economy to its knees, and yet no executive has faced criminal prosecution. Beyond the crash, Holder established a disturbing pattern of allowing large financial institutions escape culpability.

John Nichols: Barbara Lee Was Right in 2001. She’s Still Right Now.

It has been thirteen years since Congresswoman Barbara Lee cast her lonely vote against authorizing President Bush to launch what she warned could be an ill-defined and endless war. Days after she cast that vote, the California Democrat appeared before hundreds of students at Mills College in Oakland and was greeted for the first time by the chant, “Barbara Lee speaks for me.”

At time when media and political elites said Lee had isolated herself politically, she was embraced by Americans who questioned why Congress was not living up to its constitutionally defined responsibility to check and balance the tendency of executives to “blank check” powers for continual warmaking.

So it was, once more, on Tuesday evening, as television screens were filled with reports of airstrikes by the United States and its allies against targets in Syria. Lee appeared at the 2014 convention of National Nurses United in Las Vegas, where she was honored for her championship of peace and justice during the course of her congressional career.

When Lee came to the stage, a thousand nurses spontaneously began to chant, “Barbara Lee speaks for me.”

Stephen W. Thrasher: How much can Eric Holder get done on race before he steps down as attorney general?

The first black president turned over his public confrontation of structural racism entirely to his outgoing attorney general. What now?

Where is the first black president’s justifiable anger about racism now that he never has to run for office again? Where is he when another black child, John Crawford, is murdered on camera by police, in five seconds, in the pet-food aisle of a Walmart? What is Obama doing about the prejudice and violence faced by brown people here at home?

As I sat in a New York auditorium Tuesday afternoon, disappointed that my black president had checked out on racism (if he had ever checked in), it became increasingly obvious that Obama has now turned over his public confrontation of racism entirely to another black man: Eric Holder.

The US attorney general may not exactly be the “Obama Anger Translator” dreamed up by Key and Peele, but Holder is Obama’s black id. Whatever fight this administration might have left on systemic racism would be channelled through him. And now that Holder is stepping down, whatever hope might’ve been left in this failed chapter is fading fast.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Everything That’s Wrong With The NFL Is Wrong With America, Too

The NFL has 1,856 employees and paid $107.7 million per year in salaries last year. Goodell was paid more than $44 million. That means more than 40 percent of the organization’s entire payroll went to one individual. See the problem?

Sexism. A culture of violence. Untrustworthy leadership. Runaway wealth inequality. An indifference to workers’ health. Employees who are above the law. Hush-hush financing. Multimillion-dollar tax breaks.

We’re not talking about corporate CEOs or the Christmas parties on Wall Street. We’re talking about the National Football League.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of Ray Rice’s videotaped brutality has brought the NFL back into the public eye. It’s a sorry spectacle which others have addressed at length, so we’ll just repeat the cliché: It’s the cover-up, stupid.

For my personal assessment of Goodell, we can turn the mic over to Bill Simmons and UltraViolet.

As for the NFL itself, let’s just say it’s America in microcosm.

Robert Borosage: Bill Clinton’s Corporate Fantasy

Bill Clinton predicts corporations will care less about profits and more about workers and communities, without government action. Terrific, but the big companies aren’t with the program. Their CEOs are cashing in and leaving communities and countries behind.

At annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, former President Bill Clinton predicted the corporations would soon care less about maximizing profits and more about employees and society. This would happen without significant government involvement because “of proof that markets work better that way.” Companies would understand that they gain greater overall success by taking care of their employees and doing good for more than only their shareholders.

We should only hope. This revolution in the corporate worldview would be immensely important, to say the least. The focus on “shareholder value” — magnified by lavish executive compensation packages – has driven executives to focus on meeting short-term profit goals, scramble for every tax dodge, trample worker rights, and play communities and countries off against one another in a brutal race to the bottom.

There are socially responsible companies. Many gather at the Social Venture Network. Socially responsible investment funds give investors the ability to screen their investments. The recent movement to divest from fossil fuel companies is an example.

Sadly, there is little to suggest that major corporations have gotten the former president’s message. Current trends suggest the reverse: that CEOs are plundering their companies assets, cashing in their future to reap short-term profits and bonuses.

The Breakfast Club (Deja Vu All Over Again)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

JFK and Nixon participate in TV’s first presidential debate; Cuba ends Mariel boatlift; Composer George Gershwin, poet T.S. Eliot and tennis star Serena Williams born; ‘West Side Story’ hits Broadway

Breakfast Tunes

On This Day In History September 26

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.

September 26 is the 269th day of the year (270th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 96 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day on 1957, West Side Story premieres on Broadway. East Side Story was the original title of the Shakespeare-inspired musical conceived by choreographer Jerome Robbins, written by playwright Arthur Laurents and scored by composer and lyricist Leonard Bernstein in 1949. A tale of star-crossed lovers-one Jewish, the other Catholic-on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the show in its original form never went into production, and the idea was set aside for the next six years. It was more than just a change of setting, however, that helped the re-titled show get off the ground in the mid-1950s. It was also the addition of a young, relatively unknown lyricist named Stephen Sondheim. The book by Arthur Laurents and the incredible choreography by Jerome Robbins helped make West Side Story a work of lasting genius, but it was the strength of the songs by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein that allowed it to make its Broadway debut on this day in 1957.

There are no videos of the original Broadway production which starred Larry Kert as Tony, Carol Lawrence as Maria, Ken Le Roy as Bernardo and Chita Rivera as Anita (Ms. Rivera reprized her role in the movie), so here is the Prologue from the Academy Award winning movie. The area that the movie was filmed no longer exists. The 17 blocks between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, from West 60th to West 66th Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where he filming took place were demolished to build Lincoln Center for the Preforming Arts.

Football as a metaphor

Everything That’s Wrong With The NFL Is Wrong With America, Too

By Richard RJ Eskow, Crooks And Liars

September 25, 2014 8:00 am

The NFL organization has 1,856 employees and paid $107.7 million per year in salaries last year. Goodell was paid more than $44 million. That means more than 40 percent of the organization’s entire payroll went to one individual.

Most of Goodell’s income was in the form of a “bonus” based on performance standards which, like that of many corporate CEOs, have never been publicly defined.

Roger Goodell is not a “job creator,” even by the right’s loose definition. He – like most corporate CEOs nowadays – invented nothing, made nothing, and built nothing. And the gravy train doesn’t stop at his house. Jeff Pash, the General Counsel, was paid $6,199,000. The EVP of Business Ventures got $4,180,000. The CFO made nearly $2 million. The EVPs of Operations and Human Resources made more than $1.6 million each. (Another executive, the EVP of media, was paid $26 million by an “affiliated” organization.)

All told, more than 54 percent of the organization’s entire payroll went to five individuals – the organization’s top 0.0027 percent. The remaining 43 percent or so was divided among 1,851 employees- the 99.9973 percent.

Executives like Goodell – or, for that matter, bank CEOs like JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon – seem to be compensated more for their ability to influence elected officials than for their business acumen. On that score, at least, he’s been a good investment. In addition to protecting its tax status, Goodell’s NFL has brokered loans, bonds and tax concessions for its franchises.

The NFL had annual gross receipts of $184.3 million in 2010 – and that doesn’t include earnings for the individual franchises which own it. It reported $788,113,036 in total assets on the tax-exemption form which is its only public disclosure. It gave exorbitant salaries to its top executives – and it paid no taxes.

As for his accomplishments, well … Under his leadership the NFL fought reports of player head injuries for years. Its security apparatus and legal teams have intervened when its players are arrested, often for violent crimes, securing special treatment which ordinary citizens don’t receive. It has fostered a culture of misogyny, brutality, and amorality in the field of sport, whose stars were once considered examples for young people to follow,

Goodell’s football league isn’t an example for today’s corporatized America. It’s a reflection of it.

Bill Simmons Suspended by ESPN for Tirade on Roger Goodell


SEPT. 24, 2014

Simmons, on his Grantland.com podcast, repeatedly called Goodell a liar for saying that he had not seen the elevator video of Rice punching his fiancée.

Simmons calmly delivered his harshly critical remarks while peppering them with obscenity – an incendiary brew, especially considering ESPN’s business relationship with the N.F.L. on “Monday Night Football,” the college draft and other programming.

On his Grantland podcast, Simmons said: “Goodell, if he didn’t know what was on that tape, he’s a liar. I’m just saying it. He is lying. I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie-detector test, that guy would fail.” He added: “I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell, because if one person says that to me, I’m going public. You leave me alone.”

Bill Simmons suspension highlights uneasy, $15 billion relationship between the NFL and ESPN

By Terrence McCoy, Washington Post

September 25 at 6:20 AM

The suspension highlights the uneasy – though lucrative and mutually beneficial – relationship between the two powerful acronyms, joined in a $15.2-billion contract over “Monday Night Football.” It also hints at questions over a conflict of interest that, despite its strong coverage of the Ray Rice scandal, ESPN has never been able to shake. How can ESPN simultaneously cover the NFL as a subject while reaping billions from their business ties?

His suspension immediately sparked concern among reporters and editors. “Did ESPN have any idea how all of this would look?” asked Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce.

“Apparently saying Roger Goodell is a liar is a much worse offense than Roger Goodell lying,” added Judd Legum, the editor of ThinkProgress. “Is it ESPN’s corporate position that Roger Goodell is not a liar? Because their own reporting says he is a liar.”

The suspension comes at a particularly inconvenient time for ESPN, which just got done patting itself on the back for excising its conflict-of-interest demons. The piece, written by network ombudsman Robert Lipsyte, explicitly praised Simmons for excoriating Goodell. “The networks heavyweights – Keith Olbermann, Jason Whitlock and Bill Simmons, among others – delivered their own verbal punches,” he wrote in a blog. “I’d like to say I wasn’t the least bit surprised … but I was.”

In February 2004, ESPN canceled its popular series, “Playmakers,” after only one season. Despite the fact the series never mentioned the words “National Football League,” the football association was nonetheless offended by its sex-and-drugs portrayal of professional football players.

“It’s our opinion that we’re not in the business of antagonizing our partner, even though we’ve done it, and continued to carry it over the N.F.L.’s objections,” Mark Shapiro, ESPN’s executive vice president, told the New York Times. “To bring it back would be rubbing it in our partner’s face.”

The fraught relationship between ESPN and the NFL, however, came under its greatest scrutiny during what the network’s ombudsman called ESPN’s “darkest” hour. In August 2013, the New York Times reported ESPN abruptly terminated its affiliation with PBS’s “Frontline.” The network had teamed up with the show to produce an unsettling investigation into the league’s inaction regarding the crippling psychological effects football can have on players.

Though the NFL denied it pressured ESPN to ditch the project, high-level executives from both entities had, according to the New York Times, a “combative” meeting at a Manhattan restaurant over the documentary. ESPN President John Skipper told the network’s ombudsman he thought the trailer promoting the documentary was “sensational” and some of the comments in it were “over the top. … I am the only one at ESPN who has to balance the conflict between journalism and programming.”

Theological Ideology of the Islamic State

Humans rarely consider themselves irrational and beliefs that seem wildly implausible on their face often make perfect sense if you accept the premises of the argument.  The ideology of the Islamic State while seemingly barbaric actually has a lot in common with the more theocratic varieties of Christianity.  After all, any individual’s condition in the mundane world is trivial and transitory compared to the eternal glory and reward the faithful will receive before the throne of [insert preferred deity here].  The New York Times has an interesting piece-

ISIS’ Harsh Brand of Islam Is Rooted in Austere Saudi Creed


SEPT. 24, 2014

For their guiding principles, the leaders of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, are open and clear about their almost exclusive commitment to the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam. The group circulates images of Wahhabi religious textbooks from Saudi Arabia in the schools it controls. Videos from the group’s territory have shown Wahhabi texts plastered on the sides of an official missionary van.

This approach is at odds with the more mainstream Islamist and jihadist thinking that forms the genealogy of Al Qaeda and it has led to a fundamentally different view of violence. Al Qaeda grew out of a radical tradition that viewed Muslim states and societies as having fallen into sinful unbelief, and embraced violence as a tool to redeem them. But the Wahhabi tradition embraced the killing of those deemed unbelievers as essential to purifying the community of the faithful.

All of the most influential jihadist theorists are criticizing the Islamic State as deviant, calling its self-proclaimed caliphate null and void, and, increasingly, slamming its leaders as bloodthirsty heretics for beheading journalists and aid workers.

The upstart polemicists of the Islamic State, however, counter that its critics and even the leaders of Al Qaeda are all bad Muslims who have gone soft on the West.

The Islamic State’s founder, Mr. Baghdadi, grafted two elements onto his Wahhabi foundations borrowed from the broader, 20th century Islamist movements that began with the Muslim Brotherhood and ultimately produced Al Qaeda. Where Wahhabi scholars preach obedience to earthly rulers, Mr. Baghdadi adopted the call to political action against foreign domination of the Arab world that has animated the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and other 20th century Islamist movements.

Mr. Baghdadi also borrowed the idea of a restored caliphate. Where Wahhabism first flourished alongside the Ottomon Caliphate, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded shortly after that caliphate’s dissolution, in 1924 – an event seen across the world as a marker of Western ascent and Eastern decline. The movement’s founders took up the call for a revived caliphate as a goal of its broader anti-Western project.

Adhering to Wahhabi literalism, the Islamic State disdains other Islamists who reason by analogy to adapt to changing context – including the Muslim Brotherhood; its controversial midcentury thinker Sayed Qutb; and the contemporary militants his writing later inspired, such as Ayman al-Zawahri of Al Qaeda. Islamic State ideologues often deem anyone who supports an elected or secular government to be an unbeliever, even Islamists, and subject to execution by beheading.

Some experts note that Saudi clerics lagged long after other Muslim scholars in formally denouncing the Islamic State, and at one point even the king publicly urged them to speak out more clearly. “There is a certain mutedness in the Saudi religious establishment, which indicates it is not a slam dunk to condemn ISIS,” Professor Haykel said.

I wanna tell you ’bout Texas Radio and the Big Beat

Comes out of the Virginia swamps

Cool and slow with plenty of precision

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Some call it heavenly in its brilliance

Others, mean and ruthful of the Western dream

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We have constructed pyramids in honor of our escaping

This is the land where the Pharaoh died

The Negroes in the forest brightly feathered

They are saying, “Forget the night

Live with us in forests of azure

Out here on the perimeter there are no stars

Out here we is stoned immaculate”

Now, listen to this and I’ll tell you ’bout the heartache

I’ll tell you ’bout the heartache and the loss of God

I’ll tell you ’bout the hopeless night

The meager food for souls forgot

I’ll tell you ’bout the maiden with wrought iron soul

I’ll tell you this

No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn

I’ll tell you ’bout Texas Radio and the Big Beat

Soft, driven slow and mad, like some new language

Now, listen to this and I’ll tell you ’bout the Texas

I’ll tell you ’bout the Texas Radio

I’ll tell you ’bout the hopeless night

Wandering the Western dream

Tell you ’bout the maiden with wrought iron soul

TDS/TCR (Gozer the Gozarian)


I like mine rare on the medium side.


Hey, what do you know, Stephen is the one with the web exclusive 3 part extended interview below with Bill Cosby.

Also the real news and next week’s guests.