05/21/2015 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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Trevor Timm: Congress must not abdicate its duty to authorize or declare war

Congress has all but given up on voting to legally authorize the war against Isis, despite the fact that US-led military strikes against the group have been going on for nine months already and span multiple countries. By doing so, our representatives are saying to the next president, whether he or she is a Republican or Democrat: feel free go to war wherever you want, against whomever you want. We have no power to stop you.

Despite the fact that the US plans on conducting airstrikes on Isis in Iraq and Syria for years, the Chicago Tribune reported on Monday that key members in the House and Senate have resigned themselves to the fact that there’s virtually no chance of Congress agreeing on any sort of bill to constrain or legalize the Obama administration’s bombing campaign in the Middle East.

Out of cowardness or worry they might actually have to make a consequential decision, Congress has abdicated their responsibility under Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution – not to mention the War Powers Act – to authorize or declare war. So when President Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio decides to unilaterally bomb Iran in 2017, remember this moment, when members of Congress willingly gave up one of the most important responsibilities they have because they were too terrified to take a stand one way or another.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: The Left Matters – Now, More Than Ever

Some leading Democrats seem to have a love-hate relationship with the left. Sure, progressives seem to have more influence than ever in the party this year, at least rhetorically. But it doesn’t look like the friction will be going away any time soon.

President Obama has been escalating his war of words with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and her allies, reigniting a burning resentment he last let slip in 2010. Hillary Clinton has adopted more progressive rhetoric, but her unwillingness to fight for specific policies has left activists frustrated.

Clearly, the left matters. Why, then, is it so difficult for progressives to get a seat at the table? [..]

The activist left isn’t important because of its numbers. It’s important because its members are the canaries in the coalmine for an unresponsive political process. A Democratic Party that patronizes them will also fail to reach the disaffected majority.

The left shares something else with that majority: it’s heard a lot of empty promises. Many (though not all) progressives will vote for the Democrats once again in 2016, even if they’re dissatisfied. But it will take more than rhetoric to win millions of other alienated voters. It will take commitment – and action.

Want to know how to do that? Once again, the left can point the way.

David Cay Johnston: Let’s not build a gas pipeline near a nuclear reactor

To get good public policy, ask the right questions

Our federal government says that it’s safe to build a giant high-pressure natural gas pipeline 105 feet from the Indian Point nuclear power plant complex along the Hudson River near New York City. But its reasons for making that judgment are secret.

How this decision was reached illustrates a basic public policy problem vexing our nation: We often ask the wrong questions. How we frame public policy questions often shapes the answers. And if we get the answers wrong because we didn’t ask the right questions in the first place, death and disease, needless accidents and a less prosperous future will result.

In the case of a pipeline 42 inches in diameter moving natural gas under more than 800 pounds of pressure per square inch, the wrong question is ‘What are the odds that the pipeline will explode right where it passes a nuclear power plant?’

The right question asks whether the pipeline could be laid on an alternate route so that in the extremely unlikely event that it did explode it would pose no danger of a nuclear plant meltdown that would turn metropolitan New York City into a deadly radioactive zone.

Sen. Barbara Boxer: The Middle Class Needs Help — Not a Fast Track to Trade Deals

They say timing is everything in life. Well, if that’s true, the timing of this legislation to approve fast-track trade authority could not be worse for middle-class families.

The middle class is having a terribly hard time — perhaps the worst time in modern history. In California, a new study just found that our state’s lowest paid workers have seen their real wages decline 12 percent since 1979.

Our middle class needs help — not a fast track to trade deals that could threaten their jobs, their wages, their health and the environment.

The last time Congress debated such sweeping trade legislation was nearly 25 years ago when we took up the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Now, as the Congress considers Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation and the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), I am hearing the same arguments all over again.

Back then, supporters of NAFTA promised it would create jobs, raise wages and help our entire economy. Well, we know from history how NAFTA turned out. In fact, we’re still living with the consequences.

Dave Johnson: Let the Public Read the Completed Parts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Basic facts about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are under public dispute. Fast track must not be approved until this is cleared up. We the People deserve to know what is being voted on with fast track. [..]

One of “our nation’s values” is supposed to be that We the People are part of the process. Congress is currently in the voting process for fast track. But the public has no idea what is in the TPP, and little idea that this huge trade agreement, “rewriting the rules of doing business in the 21st century” is even being finalized!

Let us – We, the People – see the agreement before Congress decides whether to essentially preapprove it by voting on fast track. At least let us see the parts that are completed, and give us good reasons why we can’t see the rest.

Jed Lund: Is there anyone who won’t run for the Republican nomination in 2016?

If you are over 35 and a Republican, you are allowed one (1) free presidential campaign announcement. It’s like the coupon for a free waxpaper cup of Pepsi at a church picnic: you just get one for showing up. These are the rules, which is why, in the next few weeks, everyone else in the Republican Party will launch their campaign to not become president of the United States, because it is their right.

But after all the legitimate major contenders for the nomination (if not the presidency), we’re now left with the unappealing oddments, the candidate-shaped things that make you go, “What the fuck is that?” This section of the Republican presidential candidacy spread is like the items at the salad bar that you’ll never put on your plate, but there they are, at the end, between the baskets of Saltines and the plastic jugs of ranch, Thousand Island and whatever – turned – into – bleu – cheese dressing.

Who or what the hell are these people? And why?

The Breakfast Club (Ahab)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgIt’s been a bad week for Marine Mammals.

Icelandic plan to ship whale meat to Japan angers environmentalists


Tuesday 19 May 2015 13.41 EDT

The Icelandic whaling company Hvalur HF plans to ship 1,700 tonnes of whale meat via Luanda in Angola, repeating a similar controversial delivery of 2,000 tonnes last year which sparked protests along its route.

Iceland and Norway are the only nations which openly defy the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC’s) 1986 ban on hunting whales.

Icelandic whalers caught 137 fin whales and 24 minkes in 2014, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), an anti-whaling group – compared with 134 fin whales and 35 minkes in 2013.

Japan has used a legal loophole in the ban that allows it to continue hunting the animals in order to gather scientific data.

But it has never made a secret of the fact that the whale meat from these hunts often ends up on dining tables.

Consumption of whale meat in Japan has fallen sharply in recent years while polls indicate that few Icelanders regularly eat it.

Yup, Japan has warehouses full of whale meat nobody wants to eat and they can’t sell.  Now there may be a very thin and specious argument about the necessity of keeping a domestic whaling industry for the financial benefit of the whalers (though simply paying them off would be cheaper and easier), but what the heck is the reason to import it?

Dolphin-hunting Japanese town may start farming them on the side


Thu May 21, 2015 12:47pm IST

A Japanese town notorious for killing dolphins may set up a dolphin breeding farm after zoos and aquariums decided to stop buying their animals caught in the wild, but it has no plans to halt the controversial hunt, its mayor said on Thursday.

The western port town of Taiji, the location of an annual hunt featured in the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary “The Cove”, may suffer a loss of income because of the Wednesday decision, which Japanese officials said came in response to foreign pressure.

The decision by Japan’s zoos and aquariums came after the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums threatened Japan with expulsion unless it stopped buying dolphins from Taiji. That would have meant Japan might lose access to zoo animals such as elephants and giraffes from overseas.

In 2013, 1,239 dolphins were caught in the Taiji hunt, according to the Fisheries Agency. Most of them were killed for their meat but 172 were sold alive, mainly overseas, at a price of at least $8,200 each.

“We plan to protect our fishermen, who have authority from both the nation and the local government,” Sangen said, emphasising the tradition of the hunt.

“We believe it can become the world’s main provider. I believe in 10 years our town will have changed its role in all this.”

Despite the bid to develop the live-animal business, the hunt would still go on, he said.

Like the legal market in ivory, this is simply another way to enable poaching.

Study Links Dolphin Deaths to Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

By NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR, The New York Times

MAY 20, 2015

The findings are the latest results from the Deepwater Horizon National Resource Damage Assessment, an ongoing investigation by NOAA into the spill, the largest offshore oil spill in United States history. Combined with previous studies by the agency, this paper provides additional support to a link between the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and mass dolphin deaths in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

“The evidence to date indicates that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused the adrenal and lung lesions that contributed to the deaths of this unusual mortality event,” said Stephanie Venn-Watson, a researcher with the National Marine Mammal Foundation who was the lead author of the report. “We reached that conclusion based on the accumulation of our studies including this paper,” she added.

A third of the Gulf Coast dolphins had a thinned or damaged adrenal gland cortex compared with only 7 percent of the so-called reference dolphins, the researchers said.

The researchers also found that about a fifth of the Gulf Coast dolphins had lung lesions caused by bacterial pneumonia, and that 70 percent of that group died because of that condition. Only 2 percent of the reference dolphins had any trace of bacterial pneumonia.

The researchers said that the dolphins most likely inhaled the fumes from the petroleum products on the ocean surface. They added that exposure to oil fumes is one of the most common causes of chemical inhalation injury in other animals.

“These dolphins had some of the most severe lung lesions I have ever seen in wild dolphins throughout the United States,” Dr. Colegrove said.

Below you will find a report from The Guardian on the close ties between the British government and BP and Shell.

Science Oriented Video

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

On This Day In History May 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.

Click on image to enlarge

May 21 is the 141st day of the year (142nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 224 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1881, the American Red Cross was established in Washington, D.C. by Clara Barton, who became the first president of the organization.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton (1821-1912) had a career as a teacher and federal bureaucrat when the American Civil War broke out. Barton liked teaching when she was younger. All of her older siblings became teachers. Her youngest sibling was 12 years of age, when Barton was born. Her brother David was always like a teacher to her. She taught her first class, at age 17. She also expanded her concept of soldier aid, traveling to Camp Parole, Maryland, to organize a program for locating men listed as missing in action. Through interviews with Federals returning from Southern prisons, she was often able to determine the status of some of the missing and notify families.

After performing humanitarian work during and after the conflict, on advice of her doctors, in 1869, she went to Europe for a restful vacation. There, she saw and became involved in the work of the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War, and determined to bring the organization home with her to America.

When Barton began the organizing work in the U.S. in 1873, no one thought the country would ever again face an experience like the Civil War. However, Barton was not one to lose hope in the face of the bureaucracy, and she finally succeeded during the administration of President Chester A. Arthur on the basis that the new American Red Cross organization could also be available to respond to other types of crisis.

As Barton expanded the original concept of the Red Cross to include assisting in any great national disaster, this service brought the United States the “Good Samaritan of Nations” label in the International Red Cross. Barton became President of the American branch of the society, known officially as the American National Red Cross. Soon after the initial May 1881 meeting in Washington, on August 22, 1881, the first local chapter of the Red Cross was formed in village of Dansville, New York, where Barton kept a part-time residence between 1876 and 1886. Subsequent local chapters were established in Rochester and Syracuse. Ultimately, John D. Rockefeller, along with four others and the federal government, gave money to create a national headquarters in Washington, D.C., located one block from the White House.

Last Chance to See (Part 3)

So the question arises- why did I decide to write about Jon and Stephen instead of Dave?

Many of the reasons are petty.  Jon and Stephen had an existing community on Daily Kos where I could coin the mojo and rack up the comment count (which despite years of tinkering are still your surest defense against the O-bots, A–holes, and Trolls that populate the place.  I never once ran out of mojo, all my bans were Administrative.) and, at least initially, I didn’t have the confidence as a writer to just up and invent my own franchises.

Another petty reason is laziness.  Even today with a hat full of ideas and all the vanity in the world I find that there are just so many hours in a day, and a finite amount of energy to fill it.  If you’re going to cover the Late Show how do you justify not including The Late, Late Show which is often funnier and even more inventive?  Pretty soon it’s not dark anymore and the birdies are singing and I hate that, especially when I have a morning shift of things to write which even today happens more frequently than I might wish and at some points left me without sleep for days except for brief naps which are no substitute.

Also 5 days a week, not 4.

Additionally I’m just really not that interested in celebrity gossip and the constant whoring of their new projects.  You may object and say Jon and Stephen do it too and you are quite correct.  It’s my least favorite part of the program.  With a network talk show it is the program and the monologues and bits are simply there to keep you awake long enough that you can drift off to dreamland with the constant murmuring of buy, buy, buy sleep conditioning you until your alarm goes off and your screen is filled with people who are waaay too perky talking to the same celebrities you saw the night before, only packaged as news with recipes, weather, and ‘human’ interest, along with the one or two tragedies that are deemed worthy by ‘suits’ with the attention span of a gnat, a corporatist agenda, a thin Rolodex of the sluttiest self promoting attention hounds in D.C., and a remote crew who ‘better get some god damn pictures on the air, these things cost a lot of money you know’.

The television business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.

Oh, how do they do it?  Do they simply stay up partying?  Well, some do, but mostly they pre-tape the late night stuff.

And now we come to my substantive criticism.

It’s been argued that Dave has a liberal bias and not only by Faux Noise types, many people who call themselves ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ think that too.  Certainly, as I mentioned in Part One, Jay Leno’s style of humor appeals to the conservative type.  It is safe and predictable and designed to make you feel superior because of it’s predictability.  That which is not conservative is liberal Q.E.D..

But the thing is, late night talk is neither conservative nor liberal.  I’m sure Jay would point to the many times he gave the Republicans a zinger, just as Dave would the Democrats.  Here for instance is Politico’s list of Dave’s most memorable political guests.

The primary purpose of these shows isn’t even comedy, let alone political.  It is to push product.  They are hour long infomercials and you don’t put cash in the drawer by pissing off your audience.

So you get what Jon Stewart’s audience derisively calls being fair and balanced.  You don’t push hard because your booker won’t let you.  Do you really want to tear up Bill Cosby’s card by asking about the rapes?  Do you want to get booted from the locker room by asking Brady about his balls (sorry, been saving that one)?  The business that we call show says no.  As funny and entertaining as David Letterman is, what he represents is the mainstream that has been so warped by 55 years of Military Industrial Imperialism and 40 years of Neo-Liberal Economics that they wouldn’t know a liberal idea if it bit them in the ass.  This is why I call myself an Anarcho-Syndicalist and not a Liberal, even though my political thinking is thoroughly grounded by my primary education in American History and Civics.  My character is static.  

This is of course my greatest disappointment about Stephen Colbert’s coming tenure on Late Show.  By inhabiting the character of a right wing pundit he was able to expose the hypocrisy, moral bankruptcy, and intellectual incoherence of their positions.  With out his ironic protection any criticism will have to be expressed more directly, with more danger to his career.  Will he be brave enough?  Brave or not the format mitigates against it.  Late Night is not an hour long Colbert Report, you get 10 to 15 minutes of standup, a bit, 2 or 3 guests, and a musical guest.  Now hopefully Stephen will be able to bring on the kind of thought provoking and knowledgeable ones he had on The Report, at least for the 2nd one, there’s certain to be a lot of pressure from the Sea World class of advertisers to avoid controversy entirely.

Finally, will I miss Dave?  Of course I will.  I was a Letterman fan long before it was cool and while my viewing habits have been inconstant, ratings are not the reason he’s retiring.

It was comforting to know that in some little corner of TVLand Dave was out there, doing wacky things.  That he was still able to pack a theater every night.  That he would take it to the streets and didn’t exist in an air conditioned plastic bubble in the middle of the desert talking to air conditioned plastic bubble people about their air conditioned plastic bubble lives.  I’ll miss Paul Schaeffer and Biff Henderson and Chris Elliott and Calvert DeForest.

Will I miss Dave?  More than I hope you’ll ever know.

In attendence tonight-

Some of whom will be involved in Dave’s last Top Ten List.