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Feb 11 2015

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.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day.

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

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Katrina vanden Heuvel: An Arms Race Won’t Help Ukraine

Nearly 70 years ago, a group of Manhattan Project scientists, having seen the power of nuclear destruction, created what they called the “Doomsday Clock.” It was a mechanism designed to warn the world of how imminent the threat of global catastrophe was becoming – the closer the clock moved to midnight, the closer we were to doomsday. Last month, the group of Nobel laureates charged with maintaining the clock changed its time to 11:57 p.m., denoting the closest we’ve been to doomsday in more than 30 years. Their reasoning is based not just on the world’s inaction on issues like climate change, but its provocative march toward a new Cold War.

Indeed, as catastrophe engulfs eastern Ukraine, the United States continues to stoke tensions with Russia, most recently by considering providing lethal weapons assistance to the government in Kiev. [..]

But arming the Ukrainian military is not in the best interest of the United States, nor is it in the best interest of Ukraine. It will only worsen a bloody crisis that has already claimed thousands of victims. As I have argued in the past, there is no military solution to this conflict, only a political one; and a new supply of U.S. arms will provide ammunition for Russian leaders who believe, fairly or not, that America is attempting to turn Ukraine into a military base near Russia’s borders. Indeed, as Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution writes, “If U.S.-provided weapons fail to induce a Russian retreat in Ukraine and instead cause an escalation of the war” – which they almost certainly will – “the net result will not be peace and compromise.”

Zoë Carpenter : Scientists: We Cannot Geoengineer Our Way Out of the Climate Crisis

When Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, the volcano shot 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. Those particles reflected enough sunlight to cool the earth by about one degree Fahrenheight-a temporary phenomenon, but one whose implications are still very much debated. Why not, some scientists have asked in the decades since, counter climate change by reproducing the effects of Mount Pinatubo-for example, by flying a plane into the stratosphere and spraying enough sulfate aerosols to turn down the sun?

That question was held up for scrutiny on Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences, which released a study (funded, in part, by the CIA) of two ideas for staving off the worst effects of climate change via technological manipulation of the climate: to remove carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it elsewhere, or to reflect sunlight away from the planet by what’s known as albedo modification, à la Mount Pinatubo. The unequivocal message from the committee was that the world cannot expect to geoengineer its way out of the climate crisis

Rebecca Gordon: Saying No to Torture: A Gallery of American Heroes

Why was it again that, as President Obama said, “we tortured some folks” after the 9/11 attacks? Oh, right, because we were terrified. Because everyone knows that being afraid gives you moral license to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself safe. That’s why we don’t shame or punish those who were too scared to imagine doing anything else. We honor and revere them. [..]

Though you’d never know it here, no level of fear in public officials makes acts of torture (or the support of such acts) any less criminal or more defensible before the law. It’s remarkably uncomplicated, actually. Torture violates U.S. and international law, and those responsible deserve to be prosecuted both for what they did and to prevent the same thing from happening the next time people in power are afraid.

Some of those who rejected torture, like CIA official John Kiriakou and an as-yet-unnamed Navy nurse, directly refused to practice it. Some risked reputations and careers to let the people of this country know what their government was doing. Sometimes an entire agency, like the FBI, refused to be involved in torture.

Eleanor Smeal: Trade Must Not Trump Women’s Human Rights

Any deal that forces women and human rights to take a backseat to profit and trade should be a non-starter. But right now, the United States is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement with 11 nations including Brunei, a country that recently adopted a vicious new penal code threatening the rights and lives of women, lesbians, and gay men.

Just recently in his State of the Union, President Barack Obama reiterated one of our core American values: respect for human dignity. It is our commitment to this principle, said the President, which has led the U.S. to “condemn the persecution of women” as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

So, why are we conducting business as usual with Brunei?

Daphne Eviatar: 9/11 Defendants Claim Military Commission Translator Assisted CIA Torture

It didn’t take long for the Guantanamo military commission in the 9/11 case to stumble again — this time when two of the accused co-conspirators said they recognized a translator in the courtroom from their time in a CIA black site.

This is the first time since August that the commission at Guantanamo has met in this case of the five accused masterminds of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The case has repeatedly stalled over concerns that the government is spying on defense counsel, most recently by trying to turn a defense team member into an FBI informant. Previously, defense lawyers claimed their computers were being monitored and they discovered that the supposedly private rooms where they meet with their clients were all wired for audio and video surveillance.

Now, unbeknownst to their own lawyers, two defendants — Ramzi bin al Shibh and Walid bin Attash — claim they recognize a new translator assigned to the commissions as someone who was also a translator at a CIA black site where they were tortured. They say they can’t trust him.

Ellen Brown: Why Public Banks Outperform Private Banks: Unfair Competition or a Better Mousetrap?

In November 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Bank of North Dakota (BND), the nation’s only state-owned bank, “is more profitable than Goldman Sachs Group Inc., has a better credit rating than J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and hasn’t seen profit growth drop since 2003.” The article credited the shale oil boom; but as discussed earlier here, North Dakota was already reporting record profits in the spring of 2009, when every other state was in the red and the oil boom had not yet hit. The later increase in state deposits cannot explain the bank’s stellar record either.

Then what does explain it? The BND turns a tidy profit year after year because it has substantially lower costs and risks then private commercial banks. It has no exorbitantly-paid executives; pays no bonuses, fees, or commissions; has no private shareholders; and has low borrowing costs. It does not need to advertise for depositors (it has a captive deposit base in the state itself) or for borrowers (it is a wholesome wholesale bank that partners with local banks that have located borrowers). The BND also has no losses from derivative trades gone wrong. It engages in old-fashioned conservative banking and does not speculate in derivatives.