Browsing the blog archives for March, 2010.


That Pesky 4th Amendment

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Bush Administration, The Constitution

A U.S. District Judge just ruled that the Bush Administration illegally spied on an Islamic charity.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said attorneys for the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, once based in Oregon, could pursue civil remedies for being subjected to warrantless domestic surveillance under an anti-terrorism program put into place by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.

But you know what righties will say — we have to burn our freedoms to save them. Or something.

Update: More info in the New York Times

In a 45-page opinion, Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that the government had violated a 1978 federal statute requiring court approval for domestic surveillance when it intercepted phone calls of Al Haramain, a now-defunct Islamic charity in Oregon, and of two lawyers who were representing it in 2004. Declaring that the plaintiffs had been “subjected to unlawful surveillance,” the judge said that the government was liable to pay them damages.

The ruling delivered a blow to the Bush administration’s claims that its warrantless surveillance program, which Mr. Bush secretly authorized shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was lawful. Under the program, the National Security Agency monitored Americans’ e-mail messages and phone calls without court approval, even though the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, required warrants.

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Michael Steele Retirement Watch

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Republican Party

Betting pool proposal: On what day will Michael Steele announce he wants to spend more time with his family?

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Clip and Save

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Health Care

Paul Krugman explains why hysteria over the cost of health care reform is a tad misplaced. If you look at the impact on the budget of HCR compared to the two Bush tax cuts and the Iraq War, HCR is sweet. See more at Econobrowser.

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Projection So Extreme It Borders on Psychosis

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Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

How Should Conservatives Deal with the Left’s Disrespect and Lack of Empathy?

You really can’t make this stuff up.

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Gubmint for Me, but Not for Thee

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Health Care, Republican Party

Joan Walsh has a good article at Salon called “What’s the Matter With White People?” that documents the “tea partiers” don’t grasp that health care and other reforms are to help them. They only see that their taxes are going to be used to help other people.

This point is reinforced by a recent article by Ron Brownstein.

In a mid-March Gallup survey, 57 percent of white respondents said that the bill would make things better for the uninsured, and 52 percent said that it would improve conditions for low-income families. But only one-third of whites said that it would benefit the country overall — and just one-fifth said that it would help their own family.

Compounding the confusion is a recent article by Kate Zernike in the New York Times that found many of the “tea partiers” are unemployed or retired and receiving various kinds of government assistance, even as they demonstrate against government assistance.

Mr. Grimes, who receives Social Security, has filled the back seat of his Mercury Grand Marquis with the literature of the movement, including Glenn Beck’s “Arguing With Idiots” and Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law,” which denounces public benefits as “false philanthropy.”

“If you quit giving people that stuff, they would figure out how to do it on their own,” Mr. Grimes said.

Which is something of a departure from past populist movement sparked by hard economic times.

The Great Depression, too, mobilized many middle-class people who had fallen on hard times. Though, as Michael Kazin, the author of “The Populist Persuasion,” notes, they tended to push for more government involvement. The Tea Party vehemently wants less — though a number of its members acknowledge that they are relying on government programs for help.

They also say “the government” caused their own and the nation’s hardships, which I guess is true inasmuch as government stepped aside and allowed the financial sector to lead the nation off a cliff.

Anyway, I’ve argued in the past that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program caused a huge shift in attitude in white Americans about government. People who had been just fine with help from government programs initiated by FDR and Truman suddenly decided government shouldn’t be giving out “hand outs” when a large percentage of the recipients were African American. And, of course, Republicans (including Nixon and Reagan) hammered home the theme that “entitlements” were going to greedy (and nonwhite) people who wouldn’t work and who drove their new Cadillac to the grocery story and paid for their groceries with food stamps.

Being from the Ozarks myself, I could take you home with me and show you white families who have survived on government assistance for generations, but because such families tend to live outside the suburbs of the boonies they are mostly invisible to media. But I also know (I know my people; I’m related to most of ’em) that these same white folks, who rarely have regular jobs and who survive by the grace of food stamps (although I understand they use cards now) and Medicaid, will tell you they don’t think “those people” ought to be getting welfare.

Ah-HEM.

Anyway, Joan Walsh mentions research that found working-class whites bailed out of the Democratic Party beginning in the mid-1970s. It actually began during the Nixon Administration, but possibly not yet in large numbers. But what shook so many working-class people loose was a combination of factors that began with Republicans like Nixon painting “welfare” as a process by which white taxpayers were handing out money to chronically unemployed (i.e., lazy) black people. The other part of that process, of course, was that the Democratic Party itself abandoned New Deal-style progressivism.

Of course, another part of the problem might be the way President Obama and other Democrats kept trying to assure people that, if you already have employee benefit health insurance, your insurance won’t change. This was to calm fears that everyone’s doctor was about to be hauled off to the gulag, where you couldn’t see him without a stamp from the Bureau of Health Care Rationing. But maybe the message that got through was “this legislation is just for unemployed people.”

Walsh concludes,

So there’s a long history here of Republicans preying on white working-class insecurity, and Democrats mostly ignoring it, that shapes the response to healthcare reform. That’s why, to me, it was so important for Democrats to pass the bill, flawed as it was. Democrats need to deliver on their promises, with tangible benefits for their voters, and if whites remain suspicious now, maybe watching the bill’s colorblind protections help all groups can change white opinions about social spending. Maybe not. But Democrats are going to have to do a better job of selling the bill’s benefits to everybody to prevail in November, and Brownstein’s column framed the problem without name-calling.

That’s about where I come out also.

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This Is Wrong

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criminal justice

In a just world, this would be wrong. Maybe it follows the letter of the law, and I can see how it would, but it’s still wrong.

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The Black Helicopters Return

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Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

I can’t tell from news stories exactly why the feds raided a Midwestern “Christian militia” group called “Hutaree” and arrested seven members. There is vague information about unspecific threats against Muslims, but I would think a big, splashy raid and several arrests would require something more substantive.

However, it’s fun to watch the bold freedom fighters of other Midwestern militia groups trip all over themselves running away from Hutaree.

Mike Lackomar, of Michiganmilitia.com, said both The Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia and the Michiganmilitia.com were not a part of the raid.

Lackomar said he heard from other militia members that the FBI targeted the Hutaree after its members made threats of violence against Islamic organizations.

“Last night and into today the FBI conducted a raid against homes belonging to the Hutaree. They are a religious cult. They are not part of our militia community,” he said.

And via Steve M, Mike Vanderboegh (who recently made a splash by suggesting that people who don’t like Democrats should break their office windows) wrote,

The Hutaree have indicated in the past that, much like John Brown, they WANTED to start a civil war, which is why no responsible militia group in Michigan was willing to ally with them.

However, Vanderboegh also said,

But here’s the deal, Feds. If you kill anyone or burn somebody’s house or church down with them inside, you will have started a civil war, no matter how despicable the Hutaree are, or how crazy, or how provocative. If that happens, there will be NOTHING responsible leaders of the constitutional militia movement will be able to do from our side to stop it. You will have crossed the Rubicon.

In other words, if the federal government takes action against a group about to engage in armed insurrection against the government (assuming that’s what Hutaree was doing), then the government, not the insurrectionists, will have started the civil war.

Again, there doesn’t seem to be much information out there about why an arrest warrant was issued for Hutaree members. It had better be a good reason. But somehow I’m not too concerned that there will be an armed uprising in support of Hutaree. Posturing, bombast, probably some midnight vandalism, yes. But no armed uprising.

Update:
Yes, I’d say these charges are worthy of arrest warrants and big, splashy raids. They planned a mass killing of police. Nine people have been indicted. Keep in mind this is a Christian militia.

Update: Today the feds also indicted a man who threatened to kill Republican Senator Eric Cantor. This indictment also seems to me to be justified. I’m not even going to guess at the number of rightie bloggers who think this indictment is good but the indictments against the Hutaree militia members are bad.

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Lots of Moments of Zen

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Religion

Sorry I’ve been scarce. I’ve spent the past several days struggling over a review of the book Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor. It’s a very long review. Short version: Mostly, the book sucks.

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Playing With Fire

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Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

I guess the day of pundits’ clucking about “angry liberals” is over. They’ve finally noticed the Raging Right.

Of course, going back several years now Dave Neiwert, Jeff Feldman and others have documented that speech coming from the American Right is far more eliminationist and violent than speech from the Left.

Sure, every time some adolescent punk at an anti-war rally held up a picture of George Bush dismembered, Michelle Malkin would feature it on her blog and shriek about “unhinged” liberals. But even during the darkest times of the Bush years it was extremely unusual to see a major leftie bloggers call for the death of or violence toward any rightie politician, including Bush. And if any national liberal spokesperson or elected Democrat in Washington ever suggested, even as a “joke,” that a member of the opposing party should meet a violent end I can’t remember it. (I have argued in the past that “joking” about the violent demise of someone you don’t like is not a joke.)

But as Paul Krugman said in his column today,

What has been really striking has been the eliminationist rhetoric of the G.O.P., coming not from some radical fringe but from the party’s leaders. John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that the passage of health reform was “Armageddon.” The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, surrounded by flames, while the committee’s chairman declared that it was time to put Ms. Pelosi on “the firing line.” And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight.

All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush — but you’ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials.

A big reason why it’s irresponsible to suggest — even as a “joke” — that someone should be killed or physically harmed is that there are people who can easily be incited to do terrible things. Eugene Robinson wrote,

When tea party leaders talk about the threat of “socialism” and call for “a new revolution” and vow to “take our country back,” they can say they are simply using vivid metaphors. But they cannot plausibly claim to be unaware that there are people — perhaps on the fringe of the movement, but close enough — who give every sign of taking these incendiary words literally.

And does anyone doubt that the movement attracts the kind of people who take these words literally?

Of course, we expect this sort of thing from Fox News. And, sure enough, the Faux Nooz website is asking people to send in graphics showing what Nancy Pelosi should do next. The results are pretty ugly.

You might remember, six or seven years ago, Moveon held a video contest asking people to make videos critical of the Bush Administration, with a chance the winner would be shown on national television. People were allowed to upload their videos directly for public viewing without going through a moderation filter. A couple of videos were uploaded that portrayed President Bush as Hitler, and the Right had a screeching fit about it. And Moveon took them down immediately. But I swear to this day righties complain that Moveon made a video (One more time: Moveon didn’t make the videos) that compared Bush to Hitler. Yes, I know — IOIYAR.

But back to the bad behavior by Republicans in Congress. See Timothy Egan, “House of Anger.”

Unfairly or not, the defining images of opposition to health care reform may end up being those rage-filled partisans with spittle on their lips. Whether the outbursts came from inside Congress — the “baby killer” shout of Rep. Randy Neugebauer, and his colleagues who cheered on hecklers — or outside, where protesters hurled vile names against elected representatives, they are powerful and lasting scenes of a democracy gasping for dignity.

Now, ask yourself a question: can you imagine Ronald Reagan anywhere in those pictures? Or anywhere in those politics? Reagan was all about sunny optimism, and at times bipartisan bonhomie. In him, the American people saw their better half.

I say again, Reagan’s genius was that he could make hate speech seem wholesome and virtuous. He could appeal to racist voters with his stories about inner city “Cadillac Queens” and hold up a response to the AIDS virus because some people needed to be taught “lessons,” and everyone still remembers him as “sunny.”

But Reagan was elected when “movement conservatism” was on the upswing, liberalism was routed, and a white, tax-free and God-fearing Utopia seemed just around the corner.

But that was 30 years ago. Now you’ve got a generation of “conservative” politicians who are accustomed to leading America around by the nose with rhetorical bullying, demagoguery and fear mongering, without actually having to govern, which they don’t know how to do. But the old tricks aren’t working, so they have to escalate. It’s all they do know how to do.

See also Josh Marshall, Scott Lemieux, Jeff Feldman.

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Nobody Shot at Eric Cantor, and Other Wingnut News

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Obama Administration

Wingnut Weenie Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor claimed today his Richmond office had been shot at, and he had the chutzpah to accuse Democrats of fanning flames of animosity and stirring up violence.

But local law enforcement says nobody shot at Cantor’s office.

The Richmond Police Department is investigating an act of vandalism at the Reagan Building, 25 E. Main St., Richmond, Virginia. A first floor window was struck by a bullet at approximately 1 a.m. on Tuesday, March 23. The building, which has several tenants including an office used by Congressman Eric Cantor, was unoccupied at the time.

A Richmond Police detective was assigned to the case. A preliminary investigation shows that a bullet was fired into the air and struck the window in a downward direction, landing on the floor about a foot from the window. The round struck with enough force to break the windowpane but did not penetrate the window blinds. There was no other damage to the room, which is used occasionally for meetings by the congressman.

So, someone in downtown Richmond fired a gun into the air, and by chance the bullet came down and hit a window to a room that Cantor sometimes uses. David Kurtz said, “unless someone was trying to hit Cantor’s office with a bank shot off a cloud, neither Cantor nor the building were the target of this bullet.”

I just flipped on the television and saw that a package containing unidentified white powder was delivered to an office of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). No one was harmed.

David Frum, who has been outspoken in criticizing Republicans for their obstructionism, has been dumped by the American Enterprise Institute.

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