10/21/2014 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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New York Times Editorial Board: Close the Overseas Torture Loophole

President Obama and the Convention Against Torture

One of the proudest moments of President Obama’s presidency took place on his second day in office, when he signed an executive order that banned torture and cruel treatment in the interrogation of terror suspects. [..]

The issue has come up because the United States is required to appear in Geneva next month before the United Nations committee that monitors compliance with the global Convention Against Torture, adopted in 1984 and ratified by the United States 10 years later. State Department lawyers want the administration to abandon the position of the George W. Bush administration and state plainly that it will not engage in torture or cruel treatment of prisoners anywhere in the world, including at detention camps on foreign soil.

But military and intelligence officials don’t want the administration to make that public statement. They’re worried that such a declaration could result in the prosecution of the Bush-era officials who did practice torture.

That fear seems misplaced. There should be legal accountability from those who tarnished the country’s reputation by ordering and practicing torture, but it’s hard to see how agreeing to a global ban on torture now would increase the chances for such a prosecution.

George Chidi: You might be a politician if … you tried to defund Ebola research, only to campaign on Ebola fear

It takes the perception of a crisis to make policymakers treat public health like a serious issue. Now that’s a tragedy

You are more likely to be struck by lightning this year (one in 960,000), killed by your dog (one in 11mn) or win the lottery than you are to die from Ebola.

Ebola is terrible. But three cases do not a national crisis make.

An election, however, is always a crisis. And the first rule of a political crisis is to look like you’re doing something.

Three weeks out from a US midterm election, Republicans and Democrats have both worked to make a political catastrophe for their opponents out of the western media’s hysteria in response to Ebola – which health experts believe could reach 10,000 new cases a week by December … in West Africa. [..]

Ebola is not coming to kill you – though the nonstop speculative hysteria about it on television might sting. The tragedy today is how it takes the perception of a crisis for policymakers to treat public health like a serious issue.

Ari Berman: The Supreme Court Eviscerates the Voting Rights Act in a Texas Voter-ID Decision

In 1963, only 156 of 15,000 eligible black voters in Selma, Alabama, were registered to vote. The federal government filed four lawsuits against the county registrars between 1963 and 1965, but the number of black registered voters only increased from 156 to 383 during that time. The law couldn’t keep up with the pace and intensity of voter suppression.

The Voting Rights Act ended the blight of voting discrimination in places like Selma by eliminating the literacy tests and poll taxes that prevented so many people from voting. The Selma of yesteryear is reminiscent of the current situation in Texas, where a voter ID law blocked by the federal courts as a discriminatory poll tax on two different occasions-under two different sections of the VRA-remains on the books. [..]

Then the Supreme Court gutted the VRA – ignoring the striking evidence of contemporary voting discrimination in places like Texas – which allowed the voter ID law to immediately go into effect. “Eric Holder can no longer deny #VoterID in #Texas after today’s #SCOTUS decision,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott tweeted minutes after the Shelby County v. Holder decision. States like Texas, with the worst history of voting abuses, no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government. Texas had lost more Section 5 lawsuits than any other state.

Steven W, Thrasher: The Whiteness Project will make you wince. Because white people can be rather awful

You’ve never seen privilege quite like this: ‘You can’t even talk about fried chicken or Kool-Aid without wondering if someone’s going to get offended’

White and black Americans see race from radically different perspectives, to the point that the white, world-saving New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has rung the alarm that “whites just don’t get it”. As someone who is half black and half white, I can certainly attest to the truth of that.

So I had misgivings about director Whitney Dow’s the Whiteness Project, the new interactive documentary launched over the weekend by POV. “I made this project for white people, not for people of color,” Dow told me on Tuesday, because “if white people are going to participate in changing the racial dynamic, we need to deal with our own shit first.” [..]

If the continued existence of white supremacy was the only thing Dow wanted to prove, he could’ve easily done so in his interviews. But he’s more interested in confronting the ways in which that supremacy plays out, even – or perhaps especially – in an economically decimated place in which segregation is both officially frowned upon and unofficially practiced. From the subject who proclaims “the white race is the one that is discriminated against anymore” to the woman who admits that “this country has been dominated by white male indoctrination”, Dow makes it hard to paint whiteness in broad strokes, and hard to dismiss racism as the anecdotal actions of a beleaguered few in the American south. He listens.

Once you start clicking through the interviews, it’s hard for viewers to stop listening – and it’s harder to dismiss what the Whiteness Project has to say.

Lee Fang: Mitch McConnell Will Say Anything for a Ham

In an election that could propel Senator Mitch McConnell to become Senate Majority Leader-a position that would give him wide sway over climate change policy, including influence over the Environmental Protection Agency-, the Kentucky politician declined to respond to a question earlier this month about whether he believes climate change is a real problem. “I’m not a scientist,” McConnell responded in an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s editorial board.

But earlier in his career, when McConnell played a pivotal role on behalf of the tobacco industry against increasing government regulation and taxes, the Republican leader believed he had enough scientific knowledge to question public-health officials. [..]

Seen through another prism, McConnell’s reply echoes the overriding concerns of his new campaign benefactors: the fossil-fuel industry. Peabody Energy and Alliance Resource Partners, two coals firms, now rank among McConnell’s top campaign donors. Other campaign outfits designed to boost McConnell’s election prospects are funded by oil and coal interests. Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group backed by the oil and gas billionaire Koch brothers, set up a Kentucky chapter this year to boost get-out-the-vote efforts. Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a SuperPAC set up to help McConnell’s campaign, also counts oil and coal companies as major donors.

Dave Zirin: Stop Surgical Violence Against Women Athletes – and Let Dutee Run!

Imagine if four female Olympic athletes from extremely poor countries were told that if they wanted to compete, they’d have to undergo a surgical procedure on their genitalia-with lifelong health repercussions-to lower their testosterone levels. Imagine if they were informed by ruling officials that unless they went under the knife, their athletic dreams would go up in smoke. Imagine if the doctors also subjected them to procedures that had nothing to do with their testosterone levels, but were aimed at “feminizing” them, including “a partial clitoridectomy, and gonadectomy, followed by a deferred feminizing vaginoplasty.” This is not the plot of a new sports book by Margaret Atwood. This is an all all – too – true tale from the 2012 London Olympics.

Surgical violence of this kind is perpetrated against women with naturally high levels of testosterone, referred to in the medical world as “hyperandrogenism.” In other words, women, because of what their body naturally produces, are deemed to no longer be women. Instead, in the eyes of the ruling international bodies in sports, they are aberrations in need of correction. What’s not clear in any of these cases is whether these doctors revealed that this surgery can also lead to sterility, loss of sexual sensation and lifelong risks to their health.

The Breakfast Club (The Supremes)

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

Thomas Edison perfects workable electric light; Anthrax scare claims first of two U.S. postal workers in Washington, DC; Britain wins Battle of Trafalgar; Actress and author Carrie Fisher born

Breakfast Chuckle

On This Day In History October 21

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.

October 21 is the 294th day of the year (295th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 71 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1959, On this day in 1959, on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, thousands of people line up outside a bizarrely shaped white concrete building that resembled a giant upside-down cupcake. It was opening day at the new Guggenheim Museum, home to one of the world’s top collections of contemporary art.

Guided by his art adviser, the German painter Hilla Rebay, Solomon Guggenheim began to collect works by nonobjective artists in 1929. (For Rebay, the word “nonobjective” signified the spiritual dimensions of pure abstraction.) Guggenheim first began to show his work from his apartment, and as the collection grew, he established The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1937. Guggenheim and Rebay opened the foundation for the “promotion and encouragement and education in art and the enlightenment of the public.” Chartered by the Board of Regents of New York State, the Foundation was endowed to operate one or more museums; Solomon Guggenheim was elected its first President and Rebay its Director.

In 1939, the Guggenheim Foundation’s first museum, “The Museum of Non-Objective Painting”, opened in rented quarters at 24 East Fifty-Fourth Street in New York and showcased art by early modernists such as Rudolf Bauer, Hilla Rebay, Wassily Kandinsky, and Piet Mondrian. During the life of Guggenheim’s first museum, Guggenheim continued to add to his collection, acquiring paintings by Marc Chagall, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Leger, Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso. The collection quickly outgrew its original space, so in 1943, Rebay and Guggenheim wrote a letter to Frank Lloyd Wright pleading him to design a permanent structure for the collection. It took Wright 15 years, 700 sketches, and six sets of working drawings to create the museum. While Wright was designing the museum Rebay was searching for sites where the museum would reside. Where the museum now stands was its original chosen site by Rebay which is at the corners of 89th Street and Fifth Avenue (overlooking Central Park). On October 21, 1959, ten years after the death of Solomon Guggenheim and six months after the death of Frank Lloyd Wright the Museum opened its doors for the first time to the general public.

The distinctive building, Wright’s last major work, instantly polarized architecture critics upon completion, though today it is widely revered. From the street, the building looks approximately like a white ribbon curled into a cylindrical stack, slightly wider at the top than the bottom. Its appearance is in sharp contrast to the more typically boxy Manhattan buildings that surround it, a fact relished by Wright who claimed that his museum would make the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art “look like a Protestant barn.”

Internally, the viewing gallery forms a gentle helical spiral from the main level up to the top of the building. Paintings are displayed along the walls of the spiral and also in exhibition space found at annex levels along the way.

Most of the criticism of the building has focused on the idea that it overshadows the artworks displayed within, and that it is particularly difficult to properly hang paintings in the shallow windowless exhibition niches that surround the central spiral. Although the rotunda is generously lit by a large skylight, the niches are heavily shadowed by the walkway itself, leaving the art to be lit largely by artificial light. The walls of the niches are neither vertical nor flat (most are gently concave), meaning that canvasses must be mounted proud of the wall’s surface. The limited space within the niches means that sculptures are generally relegated to plinths amid the main spiral walkway itself. Prior to its opening, twenty-one artists, including Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell, signed a letter protesting the display of their work in such a space.

Dr. Howard Dean Calls Out the Stupidity About Ebola

Former Vermont governor and physician, Howard Dean discussed the Ebola crisis with Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC’s “All In”.

Dean: Republican’s Idea Of How To Practice Medicine Is To Listen To The National Rifle Association

h/t Heather @ Crooks & Liars

Visas for Translators: Even Kafka Wouldn’t Put His Name on This

HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver tackled an issue that has gotten little attention from the mainstream media, helping to save the Iraqis and Afghans that helped the United States in the wars it started in their countries. The audience may have laughed but much of this is heartbreaking and anger inducing, anger at the United States for being so inhumane and heartless.


Translators who have aided the U.S. Military in Afghanistan and Iraq are in great danger in their home countries, but red tape is making it impossible for many of them to leave. John Oliver interviews Mohammad, one translator who made it out.

For more info on efforts to assist U.S.-affiliated refugees in Iraq and Afghanistan see http://thelistproject.org/, and http://refugeerights.org/.

“To Be a Friend is Fatal: the Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind,”

For the American public, the war in Iraq is over, receding quickly from our memory.

But for tens of thousands of Iraqis who have risked their lives in the service of America, it continues at a perilous clip.  They continue to receive death threats from militants who view them as traitors.  Some have been assassinated since our withdrawal.

Sadly, the current policy of the United States towards these is simple: submit your application and wait.  If you can survive for two years (the current amount of time an Iraqi must wait for their first interview to be scheduled), we might consider resettling you.

Even worse, the Afghans who stood beside us for the past decade are now coming up against the unmoving bureaucracy of the U.S. Government, which is only processing a small number of cases each month.

The List Project has helped nearly 2,00 U.S.-affiliated Iraqis make it to safety over the years, but our work continues. We continue to rely on small donors for operational support: please consider a small donation if you’re able.

On September 3, 2013, Scribner published “To Be a Friend is Fatal: the Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind,” Kirk W. Johnson’s memoir about the List Project’s seven-year long struggle to protect thousands of Iraqis on the list.  The book centers around the lives of four Iraqis who stepped forward to help the United States, following them as they flee from Iraq and come up against the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

An execuive order could ease the process. We need to take care of the people who put their lives at risk to help the US, that includes their families.