Posted by Brad @ 2:26 pm on September 30th 2009

Newsmax Column Calls for Military Coup Against Obama

Of course, the author would claim he didn’t “call” for anything. He merely suggested it was “possible” and “not unrealistic”, which are the weasel words of this generation’s punditry when they’re trying to say or advocate something without being held responsible for it. Nevertheless, John L. Perry wrote the following column for Newsmax, which has since been pulled.

Obama Risks a Domestic Military Intervention

By: John L. Perry

There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America’s military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the “Obama problem.” Don’t dismiss it as unrealistic.

America isn’t the Third World. If a military coup does occur here it will be civilized. That it has never happened doesn’t mean it wont. Describing what may be afoot is not to advocate it. So, view the following through military eyes:

# Officers swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Unlike enlisted personnel, they do not swear to “obey the orders of the president of the United States.”

# Top military officers can see the Constitution they are sworn to defend being trampled as American institutions and enterprises are nationalized…

…and so on.

Newsmax isn’t mainstream, but it isn’t entirely fringe either. Nobody really cares what John L. Perry thinks, but what interests me here is what a logical progression this is from the Glenn Beck / Rush Limbaugh mainstream of the American political debate.

What bothers me isn’t so much the implicit call to violence—I do not believe that Mr. Perry actually believes the military will or ought to do this—it’s the cynicism. No mention is made anymore, among the Becks or Limbaughs or Bachmans, of the fact that Obama was overwhelmingly democratically elected, and so the fight must begin and end there, in changing people’s minds but at least first recognizing that there is fundamental and legitimate disagreement (indeed, he’s not a Democrats, he’s an enemy of humanity). Nor is any mention made, of course, of the constitutional bulwark against laws legislators or executors who do indeed act against the constitution—the judiciary. The notion of checks and balances against an executive or legislature has for so long been painted as illegitimate that it probably doesn’t even occur to most conservatives anymore to ponder its role. And even the idea of legislative pushback, while still there, is waning considerably.

The idea of openly floating a military coup against a democratically elected leader who holds a legitimate but differing viewpoints is a direct extension of how the right has recast American power, federal authority, and executive privilege. What we are seeing in evidence here is the flipside of that equation. If, in power, dissent is treason, the executive has unlimited authority, the notion of checks and balances is anathema, it’s sort of natural and even logical to start seeing things in this sort of light. When your entire political philosophy is based on a veneration of executive and military authority, where did you expect that to take you, once the other guys were in power?

Posted by Rojas @ 2:16 pm on September 30th 2009

The Ghost of Sistah Souljah

As the executive branch faces increasing accusations from the right about “left-wing extremism”, we see the following happen within a week:

1. The Centrist-in-Chief issues a declaration that the African-American rapper and producer who embarrassed a pretty white girl on national TV is a “jackass”. Said comment is uttered in the obvious presence of microphones, and is followed with fairly transparent “but that’s not for publication, obviously” caveats.

2. Executive agents bring about the seizure and likely extradition of child rapist and fugitive Roman Polanski, to the great outrage of the Hollywood left.

It’d be hard to pick better cultural touchstones on which to establish centrist credentials. I’ll give him this: the man does know when to pick a fight, and which fights to pick.

Posted by Brad @ 3:27 pm on September 28th 2009

Russ Feingold Reminds Us What the Patriot Act is

“Sneak and peak” search warrants, a legal construct established by the Patriot Act in which police are allowed to covertly break into a residence and search it without the owner’s knowledge, was meant to allow intelligence officials to conduct searches “without tipping off terrorists”. The idea being you believe you have a terrorist cell in Philly, but want to sneak in there and see what they have before obtaining a run-of-the-mill warrant (often with information you acquire by having broken into the place without a regular warrant and normal due process earlier).

In a committee meeting questioning DOJ officials, Russ Feingold points out, however, that in 2008, out of 763 cases of where this “black op” policing was used in America, in only 3 of those instances were the cases terrorism or national security related, about one third of one percent.

Posted by Brad @ 12:22 pm on September 28th 2009

Roman Polanski Arrested

Arriving in Switzerland, where he was to be honored at the Zurich film festival. It looks like he’ll finally get extradited to America.

How he’s managed to evade being arrested in Europe these last 32 years is pretty staggering.

Posted by Rojas @ 7:24 pm on September 27th 2009

School’s in for summer

Barack Obama has expressed an interest in extending the school day and year.

These may arguably be good ideas where overall education is concerned, although certainly they won’t be equally effective in jurisdictions where the schools simply don’t teach the students much.

What the article fails to address is the question of how this is going to be worked into the existing system of educational pay and training.

For starters, most teachers currently labor under requirements that they use portions of their summers to take college classes to maintain certification. These classes are often of dubious benefit and generally teachers have to pay out out pocket to attend them; I personally would not care if these requirements were eliminated. However, doing so as part of an education reform strategy is going to create serious anger amongst the colleges which receive this money and within the professional education establishment. And attempting to get teachers to do this in the evenings, on top of their other duties, is a non-starter (to use the very politest of terms for it).

And then there is the matter of pay. We are talking here not just about teachers, but about administrators and staff who often earn much more money than teachers. We are also talking about the loss of building rental fees collected by school districts during the summer months. All of this is money that comes out of state budgets, which are already feeling the pinch nationwide.

An extension of hours without an increase in pay is, again, a non-starter. Nor should the Obama administration imagine that it’s going to be possible to extend the salaries of the employees in question in a manner proportional to the extra time worked. Time away from the job is a vanishingly scarce commodity for a dedicated teacher and is worth more and more the less of it we get. This is true for any profession, of course, which is why overtime is compensated at a higher rate.

In short: I have to think this is an attempt by the Obama administration to pose for public approval rather than a serious trial balloon. The logistics of this idea are simply unworkable.

Posted by Brad @ 4:15 pm on September 26th 2009

Video of the Day

It must be weird to be Barack. Luckily, he’s got his photo-op smile down.

Barack Obama’s amazingly consistent smile from Eric Spiegelman on Vimeo.

Posted by Brad @ 2:06 pm on September 26th 2009

Four Years After Kelo

So the city of New London, Connecticut, decided that the property of some private landowners would be more valuable to the city with someone else on it. So, they used eminent domain to take that land from them, the idea being to give it instead to developers who would create a cornucopia of office space, hotels, businesses, and other things more economically productive than people just, you know, living there.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which sided 5-4 with New London. It’s selfish, the court argued, to think that your rights as a handful of land-owners are more important than all the jobs and money that could be created by the city. City’s, then, have an inherent right to redistribute property to best serve the needs of “the community”, the community in this case being a pharmaceutical company, Coast Guard museum, and a dozen or so developers with big ideas and nifty scale model mockups of strip malls and office parks. So, F you. Get off your lawn.

Four years later, let’s check back in with New London, proud owners of a 90-acre vacant and overgrown lot after all those development deals fell through and investment in the area dried up.

Posted by Brad @ 1:26 pm on September 26th 2009

Why Pittsburgh

An article on the NYT blog highlighting Pittsburgh’s role in the G20 summit and all it represents.

I’ll be moving to Philadelphia in November, but I’ll really miss Pittsburgh. It’s maybe my favorite city (and I’ve lived in quite a few), and a really great place to live. I hope to return someday.

Posted by Brad @ 1:18 pm on September 26th 2009

When Good Talking Points Go Bad

Rep. Todd Tiahart (R-KS), who is running for Senate, gets a room full of Kansas seniors to laugh out loud.

Posted by Cameron @ 3:14 am on September 26th 2009

Do you know how a differential functions?

If not, check out this fantastic video which illustrates the principle behind the differential in your vehicle, a device which has flummoxed me for years. Skip to about 1:50 to bypass an unrelated introduction.

Posted by Brad @ 2:24 pm on September 25th 2009

Law and Order Premieres Its 20th Season by Taking on Torture

And Glenn Greenwald, of all people, endorses it, after reading the script and interviewing the producer. See item 2 of this post.

Three specific aspects of the episode impressed me most: (1) its depiction of torture and those who authorized it is deliberately realistic, so it’s crystal clear exactly which Bush officials they are indicting (it contains the infamous Yoo endorsement of presidential testicle-crushing); (2) it focuses on the deaths caused by the American torture regime, not merely some “water poured down three people’s noses”; and, most of all: (3) it develops a plausible and thoughtful theory for how criminal liability could be imposed on the DOJ lawyers who authorized Bush’s torture. If nothing else, this depiction of the brutality of America’s torture and the need for accountability will likely reach at least some who haven’t been previously exposed to such arguments, and provides a good counterweight to the standard depiction of torture in American entertainment as something employed by heroic protectors.

I have to admit I’ve never gotten into Law and Order, CSI, or any of the legion of spinoffs and imitators. But, I have gone on record as noting that a lot of those shows really do have a cultural impact. Oftentimes it can normalize things—24 is a show that still really rankles me at a pretty fundamental level for its normalization of torture and its conscious contribution of it as an almost heroic tool of first resort that saves American cities from nuclear explosions—and oftentimes it can exaggerate things—I really hate that SVU show dogpiling on a culture already hyperparanoid about the “Child Molester Stranger”. So when a show like Law and Order chooses to swing its cultural axe in the right direction, I’m willing to applaud it.

Posted by Brad @ 2:07 pm on September 25th 2009

Favorite Micro-Genres

An old bar conversation between Rojas and I has popped up as the Onion AV Club’s Q&A of the week. Namely, what’s your favorite micro-genre? The example I always remember is, for a time in the nineties, the emergence of the “white man chained to a black man” movie, but sadly I can’t remember any of the other dozens that he and I came up with. The AV Club broadens that out to include any media, such as “literature about British people in foreign lands when the focus is non-colonial” or “old country or folk songs about mules.”

Frankly, the AV Clubbers don’t do a very respectable job of it. Any ones come to mind for you?

Posted by Rojas @ 11:07 pm on September 24th 2009

Plaxico Burress: Libertarian Martyr?

Rough first day in prison for former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Burress, for those who may not remember, is the man who accidentally shot himself in the leg while carrying an unregistered firearm in a New York City nightclub.

I had not given the matter a lot of thought following the initial crime report, Burress’ guilty plea, or the sentencing. However, Bill Simmons makes an excellent point in this column, one worth expanding on. Namely:

* Burress is accused of hurting nobody other than himself; his firearm was actually registered in another jurisdiction (New Jersey); the crime took place in the context of an environment in which professional athletes have become frequent targets of random criminal violence and murder.

* Meanwhile, another wide receiver, Donte Stallworth, killed a pedestrian while speeding. He was incontrovertibly drunk at the time and reportedly may also have been high on marijuana.

And for these two crimes…

* Burress is now serving a prison sentence TWENTY TIMES as long as Stallworth’s.

Perplexing at best. More likely, if you believe that the legitimate function of the law is to prevent people from harming one another, this really is something of an injustice.

Posted by Brad @ 1:48 pm on September 24th 2009

MA-Sen: Kennedy to be Replaced By Kennedy Aide

So apparently even death can’t loosen the grip of a Senator on his Senate seat.

Governor Deval Patrick is expected to appoint Paul Kirk to fill Senator Kennedy’s seat. Kirk, longtime aid to Ted Kennedy and head of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, will fill Kennedy’s seat until a special election is called.

Appointed Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), who like Kirk was a longtime aide to the previous incumbent, Joe Biden, suggested Kirk was the man for the job.

“People say it’s great that I got [appointed] because I know this town, but Paul Kirk would be totally, completely brilliant,” Kaufman said.

“Gov. Dukakis is great too, but I think Paul just has the edge because he knows the Senate and how the place works.”

Yeah, that’s great Ted. People sure thought it was great you got appointed, because you sure do know how to run a Joe Biden Senate office. That’s great. Great.

I will allow that this is somewhat less obnoxious than other examples (*coughKaufmancoughcough*), because he’ll essentially just be running Kennedy’s staff and being present for votes until a special election is called in January, so he’s not filling out a term. It actually is a case where just appointing an aide to run the office until a special election is called makes sense, maybe even be the best of both worlds. But still, I hate the normalizing of expectations that it entails. Also, Michael Dukakis rules.

Posted by Brad @ 8:39 pm on September 23rd 2009

Poll Result of the Day: Truthers vs. Birthers

Generally, I out-of-hand dismiss poll results under, say, 25% meant to imply that a party, country, or demographic are stupid or out of touch. Because almost always, those poll results are entirely without context. X% of Republicans believe Bill Clinton killed Vince Foster. OMG! Y% of Icelanders believe in pixies! What morons!

The fact of the matter is, if you poll any demographic on the right question, you can find a good chunk of them who believe in really dumb things. I’ve written a post (that I can’t find now) giving a few examples. But angels, ghosts, UFO abductions, bigfoot, Leonardi DaVinci accurately predicting the Fall of Man, on and on and on. But the truth is, as PJ O’Rourke put it, the average person is pretty dumb, and by definition, that makes half of the people out there even dumber. My own rule of thumb is under 25% of any given population is roughly on par with those that believe in ghosts/angels/vampires/bigfoot/scientology, so one has to be real careful not to generalize.

I HAVE found the polling results relating to Birtherism, or the belief that Barack Obama is not a citizen of the United States, to be interesting for the simple fact that it pushes past my 25% rule. In most red states, a plurality of Republican voters (usually mid 30s to mid 40s) believe it, which is above and beyond just the general variability of human dumbassity. Some have compared this to Trutherism, which is a perfectly fair comparison. So PPP decided to poll both, nationally, to see what they got.

23% of Americans think Barack Obama was not born in the United States. 14% of Americans think George W. Bush was involved in 911—either allowing it to happen or orchestrating it. The 9% difference is significant, but neither breach my own standard of general human nuttiness.

A bit eyebrow-raising—in the general population, 78% do not believe Bush was behind 9/11. Only 59% believe Obama is a legitimate President. Meaning, the “don’t knows” are virtually non-existent to the Truther question, but legion to the Birther one.

To put that another way, in the general population, 41% cannot say that Obama is an American. 22% cannot say Bush was behind 9/11.

However, the party breakdown is more interesting.

Among Republicans, 42%—a plurality—think Obama was not born in America.
Among Democrats, 25% think Bush was behind 911. The plurality isn’t even close, with 67% saying he was not.

How significant is that, in the grand scheme of things? Who knows.

But, according to my own general yardstick for such things, Trutherism falls about where I would expect it to—in the general range common to any nutty proposition. Roughly the same amount of Democrats believe in Trutherism as people believe in vampires. That says much less about Democrats than it does about the crazy shit people are inclined to believe.

On the Birther question, however, we’re pushing past the normal range of nuttiness, and are getting a bit more mainstream, at least in the Republican ranks. About twice as many people believe in Birtherism as I would expect them to applying my general rule of thumb. In other words, it’s something more than run-of-the-mill crazy.

What bothers me a bit more about this sort of thing entails my own assumptions about crazy thoughts, and is based on what one might call the galaxy of nuttiness that comes in the Truther/Birther package. For example, a Truther, and I’ve known many, will generally have a constellation of other beliefs that sort of goes part-and-parcel with Trutherism, and tends towards a fanatical skepticism about government in general. That often leads to them being “don’t tread on me” style libertarians, ala Ron Paul, or “the government is out to get you” conspiracy theorists ala Alex Jones. Birtherism, and I’ve known less but enough to generalize, tend towards a much more cultural/racial/religion based constellation of thoughts—there are Good Decent Americans and then there are the rest of them, from horrifying illegal immigrants to muslims demographically taking over Europe and about to instantiate Sharia law, etc. etc, which generally leads them into a weird tribalistic culture war crouch, ala “we are being taken over by Others” culturists/racists ala Lou Dobbs, or “there is a conspiracy to subjugate the American way of life” hysterics ala Glenn Beck.

Although, unlike what I imagine is the Paul/Jones/Dobbs/Beck crossover, only 2% believe both that Obama is not an American AND that Bush was behind 9/11. Which is significant in its own right, though I’ll have to chew that one over some more.

In any case, next time you compare Trutherism and Birtherism, these results are a good thing to keep in mind. 25% vs. 42% is a pretty damn significant difference (as is, in the gen pop, 22/41).

Conclusion: Statistically, there is a significant difference between the dominant conspiracy theory on the left about Bush vs. the dominant conspiracy theory on the right about Obama, and that difference is also reflected among the general population numbers.

What qualitative meanings you want to draw from that is up to you, and highly, highly debatable. But it’s worth getting on record.

Story with link to poll here.

H/t: Sully

Posted by Rojas @ 3:29 pm on September 23rd 2009

Food Fight

A great article at Slate. William Saletan finds himself forcibly tipped towards libertarianism by the left’s attempts at lifestyle regulation:

What’s going on here? Most of us used to be good liberals. Are we getting conservative in our old age?

I’d say it’s the opposite. We’re what we were five or 10 years ago: skeptics and fact-mongers with a bias for personal freedom. It’s the left that’s turning conservative. Well, not conservative, but pushy. Weisberg put his finger on the underlying trend: “Because Democrats hold power at the moment, they face the greater peril of paternalistic overreaching.” Today’s morality cops are less interested in your bedroom than your refrigerator. They’re more likely to berate you for outdoor smoking than for outdoor necking. It isn’t God who hates fags. It’s Michael Bloomberg.

Read the whole thing. Even people who don’t care much for liberty of contract will start getting uppity when the government comes for their cheeseburgers.

Posted by Rojas @ 3:12 pm on September 23rd 2009

Aim for the ACORN, bring down the whole forest

This kind of amuses me, actually. Via Glenn Greenwald:

The congressional legislation intended to defund ACORN, passed with broad bipartisan support, is written so broadly that it applies to “any organization” that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or other folks affiliated with a group charged with any of those things.

In other words, the bill could plausibly defund the entire military-industrial complex. Whoops.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) picked up on the legislative overreach and asked the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) to sift through its database to find which contractors might be caught in the ACORN net.

Lockheed Martin and Northrop Gumman both popped up quickly, with 20 fraud cases between them, and the longer list is a Who’s Who of weapons manufacturers and defense contractors.

Huffington Post understandably emphasizes the defense side of things, but the net is a whole lot broader than that. Congress has just inadvertently passed the greatest government-limiting legislation in recent history. We’ve made it impossible for the government to buy anything from any business of substantial size. And I, for one, couldn’t be more delighted.

I wonder if that whole “Bill of Attainder” thing might not catch on once Congress actually realizes what’s been done here.

Posted by Rojas @ 2:47 pm on September 23rd 2009

The Endless Cycle of Credit Crisis

In an article that didn’t get nearly enough attention when published, Peter Boone and Simon Johnson discuss the perverse incentives established by the recent banking bailouts and the “too big to fail” concept. They conclude that the banking industry has gone from a business in which the banker was at great personal risk to one in which risk is virtually nonexistent–and that this shift, aided and abetted by the FRB, has ensured an endless cycle of busts and bailouts.

The authors’ solution of preference, however, is not an end to the bailout cycle, but rather, reform of the Fed:

The Fed did not create our current atmosphere of deregulated risk-taking. But neither is the Fed blameless. The Fed is partly a prisoner of the current system–but it is also partly a jailer. In the moments when the Fed is presented with a rescue-the-banks-or-the-economy-will-collapse scenario, it is a prisoner. But the Fed, and especially the chairman of the Fed’s board, has plenty of power to shape the environment that produces this choice. And it has taken on the challenge of shaping the financial climate before.

During the 1930s, Fed chair Marriner Eccles was an advocate for change across the financial system. Now, Bernanke needs to play the same role. He needs to advocate for rules and regulations that ensure financial leaders will bear serious costs when there is a future failure due to excessive risk-taking. Otherwise, the Fed will continue to be a handmaiden to repeated bailouts. And, with each bailout laying the groundwork for the next one, the peril facing our financial system will only grow worse.

The existing absence of such regulation is, of course, the government’s way of telling us that the political risk of forcing accountability upon bankers is currently larger than the risk of not doing so. One wonders, however, whether that will continue to be the case after the second trillion-dollar taxpayer bailout. Or the third.

It seems to me that this is a pretty legitimate opening for Republicans, should they choose to pursue it. An accountability-based regulatory scheme is certainly less of an offense to capitalism than radical restrictions on the specific practices of financial institutions. This falls short of Ron Paul’s desire to eliminate the federal reserve entirely, but for that exact reason it ought to be a reasonable compromise point for Republicans who share Paul’s concerns but aren’t eager to go as far as the good doctor might.

Will they seize the chance? THAT decision lies in another political calculation: whether it is better to prevent another credit crisis and bailout, or whether it is best to let it happen, point to the fact that said crisis is a function of the initial Dem-backed bailout, and take a unified position against said bailouts for political reasons.

I would prefer the Boone/Johnson strategy; I suspect Republicans will opt for the latter approach. Either way, I don’t have a lot of doubt that Boone and Johnson are correct on the cyclical nature of the crisis. Santayana was right; we have learned nothing from history and are doomed to repeat it.

Posted by Rojas @ 5:43 pm on September 22nd 2009

Sex offender madness

Classically Liberal emotionally disintegrates while assessing our nation’s astonishing approach to preventing child sex offenses. The commentary therein is hyperbolic and in many cases based upon atypical examples of enforcement; none of which invalidates CL’s thesis. It really is an atrocity.

I will add, for the sake of completeness, that: the total financial damage involved is less than that caused by Haliburton in Iraq; that I didn’t complain about this while Bush was President; and that CL’s post expresses concern for one set of victims while hypocritically ignoring the suffering of Palestinians. So some of our readers may wish to ignore this matter and scroll on down to issues of real import.

Posted by Brad @ 11:32 am on September 22nd 2009

Music Video of the G20 Summit

So the G20 summit, which is known primarily for massive throngs of anti-globalization protesters who like to throw shit through windows, is in Pittsburgh this year. Thankfully, I should be relatively safe, as I only work downtown at the stopping point of the designated protest route, in a building complex made entirely of plate glass.

ppgppg2ppg1

It’s kind of interesting watching the preparations. My particular building complex has swept the surrounding area and removed quite literally anything that is not nailed down. Ashtrays, trashcans, mailboxes, lobby furniture, street signs, and, tomorrow, cars. I also noticed that some local businesses—Starbucks most notably—have decided to literally board up their businesses hurricane-preparation style.

M. Doughty – Busting up a Starbucks

Posted by Brad @ 4:43 pm on September 21st 2009

Constitutional Conundrum of the Day

Last week, as you know, two 20-year-olds with video cameras punked ACORN, and since ACORN has become a favored paper tiger on the right, reaction on the Hill was swift. The Senate voted 83-7 to strip ACORN of access to federal transportation and housing money. Then the House voted 345-75 to defund ACORN entirely, passing an amendment to a bill that literally said ACORN is not to get any federal government money ever. Funny that the only thing Congress can ever seem to do quickly is posture.

Anyway, Ed Brayton makes a rather obvious point that had completely not occurred to me. Isn’t that flagrantly illegal of Congress? Quoting Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York:

A little while ago, the House passed an amendment to the bill that we were considering that says no contract or federal funds may ever go to ACORN, a named organization, or to any individual or organization affiliated with ACORN. Unfortunately, this was done in the spirit of the moment and nobody had the opportunity to point out that this is a flat violation of the Constitution, constituting a Bill of Attainder. The Constitution says that Congress shall never pass a Bill of Attainder. Bills of Attainder, no matter what their form, apply either to a named individual or to easily ascertainable members of a group, to inflict punishment. That’s exactly what this amendment does.

Eugene Volokh ponders the question, and the precedents, and comes to a decisive “I have no idea”. Brayton notes, however, that while Congress has gotten creative in the past to get around the Bill of Attainder rule (for instance, allowing all vessels into Prince William Sound except “any vessel that spilled more than one million gallons of oil into the marine environment after March 22, 1989”, a class that included only the Exxon Valdez), they didn’t even try in this case, loudly trumpeting that this was a specific and punitive action against ACORN specifically. More or less shouting from the rooftops that they were violating both the spirit as well as the letter of the law.

My view: Yes, Virginia, it is unconstitutional. But if torture is a “fuzzy” constitutional issue and the interstate commerce clause can be interpreted to apply to a person legally growing their own marijuana with no intention of selling it because that theoretically competes with the illegal interstate drug trade, I can’t imagine anyone really cares what the actual document says anymore.

Posted by Brad @ 3:33 pm on September 21st 2009

Boris Yeltsin: Always a Good Time

How to increase book sales about Bill Clinton’s remembrances of world leaders in the 90s?

Throw in some Yeltsin stories!

He [Bill Clinton] also relayed how Boris Yeltsin’s late-night drinking during a visit to Washington in 1995 nearly created an international incident. The Russian president was staying at Blair House, the government guest quarters. Late at night, Clinton told Branch, Secret Service agents found Yeltsin clad only in his underwear, standing alone on Pennsylvania Avenue and trying to hail a cab. He wanted a pizza, he told them, his words slurring.

The next night, Yeltsin eluded security forces again when he climbed down back stairs to the Blair House basement. A building guard took Yeltsin for a drunken intruder until Russian and U.S. agents arrived on the scene and rescued him.

(Actually, the book does sound genuinely interesting; less varnished ghost-written template tracts, more interviews and reminiscents* please)

*I was going to say oral histories, but decided against it in this case.

Posted by Brad @ 3:28 pm on September 21st 2009

Michael Steele Plays the Race Card Against Barack Obama in Regards to David Patterson

Barack Obama reportedly quietly suggested to David Patterson that he not seek re-election as Governor of New York. Governor Patterson told President Obama to go jump in a lake. Yesterday, appearing on Face the Nation, Michael Steele decided to note that it was curious that President Obama was trying to push out a black governor.

Nobody is precisely sure how to take the insinuation or, indeed, what the insinuation was insinuating. Including, I’m guessing, Steele himself.

Posted by Brad @ 1:44 pm on September 21st 2009

That Buried Office of Professional Responsibility Report

This weekend, all living former CIA directors and a number of other former civilian and spook brass signed on to a memo urging Attorney General Holder to not re-open investigations into Bush-era interrogation misconduct. Despite the fact that said investigations are already limited only to those who exceeded the legal limits as defined by Cheney and Yoo, and so already starting from the premise that politics, not the law, need to be protected, the former intelligence establishment, most of whom were Bush I and II era, the former brass objected at least in part on the grounds that that investigation had already been initiated, and closed, by the Bush-era DOJ, and those kinds of things shouldn’t be re-opened every time a new administration is in charge. Understand that the independent investigations will only likely be confined to three or so instances where an interrogator literally tortured someone to death, and then that was officially glossed over. It is not an investigation into the practices writ large.

However, there was at least a meek investigation commissioned to assess that aspect of it, the report from the Office of Professional Responsibility. The jurisdiction of that report was an assessment of the previous behavior of the Justice Department under Bush and Cheney in regards to the issue of torture and detention policy. That report was completed, and then…nothing. Obama and Holder won’t release it.

But the Justice Department, in their response to that letter I mentioned above, did let slip something important, and eagle-eyed Mark Ambinder picks up on it:

But the Justice Department’s response to these claims contains a buried piece of information: “Given the recommendation from the Office of Professional Responsibility as well as other available information, he believed the appropriate course of action was to ask John Durham to conduct a preliminary review…”

For the uninitiated, this means that the preliminary report sent to Holder by the Office of Professional Responsibility on the torture-related lawyering of the Bush-era DOJ political appointees — a report prepared by career prosecutors — recommended that the cases deemed closed during the Bush administration be re-examined.

That’s a pretty major finding. Of course it gets right to the heart of the objections that reopening these cases is a political and not a legal move. But potentially that OPR report is a lot more. These reports tend towards the same inertia of any bureaucracy, and the tendency, I would imagine, would be for the investigators to give previous administrators and legal minds every benefit of the doubt possible. If they conducted their review of the legal findings of the Bush-era DOJ and found them so wanting that they recommended reopening the cases the Bush-era DOJ decided were closed…well, that’s a pretty significant revelation. It’s not just saying that a particular strain of legal thinking was questionable but within the confines of “agree to disagree”. It’s more akin to a judge whose rulings are so out of whack that the state attorney general recommends all his cases be retried.

The letter of protest from the intelligence establishment objecting to the idea of re-investigating its conduct is not surprising or particularly interesting—of course they would say that. But that little nugget from Holder’s response sure is.

Posted by Brad @ 9:28 am on September 21st 2009

More John Edwards

The New York Times reported this weekend that John Edwards may be near the point of publicly claiming paternity for Rielle Hunter’s baby. At this point, I don’t think many people doubt it, particularly given that the campaign aide who signed the affidavit claiming he was the father of the baby has since recanted and spilled the beans on how it went down, which is more or less how the National Enquirer had been claiming it went down since the beginning.

In the proposal, which The New York Times examined, Mr. Young says that he assisted the affair by setting up private meetings between Mr. Edwards and Ms. Hunter. He wrote that Mr. Edwards once calmed an anxious Ms. Hunter by promising her that after his wife died, he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band.

What a romantic.

Also of note in the story is the curious campaign finance ramification. A few key Edwards’ aides, during the campaign, convinced a couple of the campaign’s wealthiest donors to make some gifts to Rielle Hunter in the form of a cloistered house and a BMW and the like. Lawyers are now trying to figure out if paying off a candidate’s mistress counts as a campaign contribution. No, really.

Posted by Brad @ 3:06 pm on September 20th 2009

The Secret History of Parker Brother’s Monopoly and British Airmen POWs

For your Sunday reading pleasure.

Posted by Brad @ 2:58 pm on September 20th 2009

Weird Soda Review Review

The team at Weird Soda Review have found themselves semi-corporate sponsorship.

The fix is in!

Actually, that’s pretty friggin’ cool. The company is Oogave, a “natural soda” outfit which uses organic agave nectar as sweetener. And they obviously ran across the Quaffmaster’s site (where he reviewed their Watermelon Cream offering) and decided to send him the rest of their flavors to try. I heart companies like that (also, their Ginger Ale sounds mighty tasty).

If you’re on the West Coast shopping for organic carbonated beverages, keep them in mind.

Also, keep in mind that the Quaffmaster is now a slave to the multinational agave nectar conglomerate.

Posted by Brad @ 4:15 pm on September 18th 2009

..But Some Good News Too

Put these seven Senators on your Cool List. They were stalwarts during the Bush administration on civil liberties, and remain so under Obama.

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have introduced legislation to fix problems with surveillance laws that threaten the rights and liberties of American citizens. The Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act would reform the USA PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act and other surveillance authorities to protect Americans’ constitutional rights, while preserving the powers of our government to fight terrorism.

The JUSTICE Act reforms include more effective checks on government searches of Americans’ personal records, the “sneak and peek” search provision of the PATRIOT Act, “John Doe” roving wiretaps and other overbroad authorities. The bill will also reform the FISA Amendments Act, passed last year, by repealing the retroactive immunity provision, preventing “bulk collection” of the contents of Americans’ international communications, and prohibiting “reverse targeting” of innocent Americans. And the bill enables better oversight of the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) after the Department of Justice Inspector General issued reports detailing the misuse and abuse of the NSLs. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, September 23rd, on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.

I may check back once a week or so and see who else signs on as co-sponsor if it starts looking like the bill might move.

Posted by Brad @ 12:48 pm on September 17th 2009

Obama’s Patriot Act, Obama’s New Gitmo

Lunch-time blogging here, but while we are getting into a lot of arguments lately, I don’t want this to fall through the cracks.

Obama has, to put it mildly, been a disappointment on civil liberties. I still believe he’s superior to what the alternatives might have been on that front, but it’s becoming small consolation.

Much of the Patriot Act is set to sunset out in a few months, but the Obama DOJ has recommended most of it be reupped. Three key provisions relating to domestic spying they want extended include:

*A secret court, known as the FISA court, may grant “roving wiretaps” without the government identifying the target. Generally, the authorities must assert that the target is an agent of a foreign power and/or a suspected terrorist. The government said Tuesday that 22 such warrants — which allow the monitoring of any communication device — have been granted annually.

*The FISA court may grant warrants for “business records,” from banking to library to medical records. Generally, the government must assert that the records are relevant to foreign intelligence gathering and/or a terrorism investigation. The government said Tuesday that 220 of these warrants had been granted between 2004 and 2007. It said 2004 was the first year those powers were used.

*A so-called “lone wolf” provision, enacted in 2004, allows FISA court warrants for the electronic monitoring of an individual even without showing that the person is an agent of a foreign power or a suspected terrorist. The government said Tuesday it has never invoked that provision, but said it wants to keep the authority to do so.

In tandem to that, the Obama DOJ issued a set of briefs to essentially renew the Bush set of briefs issued in response to Boumediene v. Bush. Obama’s DOJ (as with most of Greenwald’s post, read the whole thing):

Yesterday, the Obama DOJ — as expected — filed a legal brief (.pdf) which adopted the arguments originally made by the Bush DOJ to insist that detainees whom they abduct from around the world and then ship to Bagram (rather than Guantanamo) lack any constitutional rights whatsoever, including habeas review. The Obama administration is appealing from a decision (.pdf) by Bush-43-appointed District Court Judge John Bates which, applying Boumediene, held that detainees at Bagram who are originally detained outside of Afghanistan have the right to habeas review (Afghan citizens detained in Afghanistan have none, he found). In other words, after Obama praised Boumediene as “defending the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy,” he’s now attempting to make a complete mockery of that decision by insisting that it is inapplicable as long as he decides to ship detainees from, say, Thailand to Bagram rather than Guantanamo. Obama apparently sees “our core values” as nothing more than an absurd shell game, where the U.S. Government can evade the limits of the Constitution by simply moving the locale of its due-process-free detention system.[…]

If the Obama administration were to prevail, it would render Boumediene — and the promised closing of Guantanamo — absurd nullities. Who needs Guantanamo if you can just ship them to Bagram instead and deny them all rights? And who cares if the Boumediene Court found that detainees have a right of habeas review if that right magically vanishes the minute you send them off to Afghanistan instead of Cuba? […]

No wonder they want to close Guantanamo: who wants to be bothered with irritating habeas reviews — 28 out of 33 have resulted in judicial findings that insufficient evidence exists to justify the detention — when you can just ship them off to the Black Hole of Bagram and imprison them for as long as you want with no court interference? Apparently, what the Bush administration did that was so terrible, the heinous “shredding of the Constitution” they perpetrated, wasn’t about the fact that they imprisoned people indefinitely with no charges — but that they did it in Cuba rather than somewhere else. Who knew that such grave Constitutional transgressions — such severe denial of fundamental rights — could be fixed so easily with a little change of scenery?

We’ve been talking a lot about the opposition movement to Obama lately, and I’ve expressed ample reservations or at least thoughts on the immovable nature of it in some of the other discussions going. I’ve also offered a little bit of optimism that perhaps the current opposition does, in fact, reignite a return to small government principles.

If so, it is my profound wish that the Glenn Becks and 9/12ers of the world, with the anti-war or pro-civil liberties, begin turning their sites one that really IS a question of despotism and police statism. For all the constitution waving of late, I hope they start paying attention to its actual provisions. I won’t hold my breath, but I’m certainly hoping for it.

As to Obama, he has become a hostile actor in the field of civil liberties. I-told-you-so’s aside, it’s time to refocus and redouble our efforts towards that which really does strike at the heart of America and freedom.

Posted by Brad @ 12:29 pm on September 17th 2009

Bush v. Obama: the Hate-Off

Cleaving the issue of opposition to Obama vs. opposition to Bush from the racial angle (which we are amply discussing in the “Race to the Bottom”), here is essentially a recasting of an argument Thimbles is making. From a reader mail at Sullivan’s place.

A couple went to a Bush rally wearing anti-Bush T-Shirts and got arrested. Guys standing outside Obama rallies openly carry guns and get interviewed by the media.

The heaviest hitters in the Republican party, and in the conservative media have loudly and proudly called for Obama’s failure. Liberals who even softly criticized Bush were roundly shamed and called terrorist-loving-America-haters. George W. Bush, despite the controversial beginning of his presidency, was given the chance – – no, in fact, after 9/11, he was given all the unopposed freedom in the world to succeed or fail based upon his own decisions and his own performance. Bush EARNED his hatred.

Obama has not had that luxury.

Let me recast that another way still:

I do not believe that there is a single or package of concessions that Obama could make on the health care bill that would lead to more than a single Republican defection on the right in the Senate—and the includes a more-or-less entire turnaround of the bill into a direct plagarism of Republican counter-proposals, such as they are. Agree or disagree.

The gist of the opposition to Bush was based on mistakes he had made. The gist of the opposition to Obama, it seems to me, is based on mistakes he is feared to make. In practice, Democrats were willing to negotiate with Bush and to be steamrolled by the Republicans out of fear of being cast as wanting Bush to fail. In practice, much of the Republican opposition to Obama is entirely immovable precisely because of the fear of Obama ever being allowed to succeed.

To put that another way still, I believe that, even at its height, opposition to Bush, at least at the policy-maker level, was open to negotiation at all times.

I believe that opposition to Obama, again at the policy-maker level, is essentially non-negotiable. It is, largely, independent of the normal policy-making back-and-forth or any attempts at moderation.

I do not believe that a 100% centrist proposal on anything major from Obama would get any significant defection vs. a 100% liberal proposal—i.e. despite, theoretically, swinging on an issue from dead left to dead center, there would be no subsequent swing of support from among policy makers or oppositional talking heads, as you would expect to see if that opposition was driven primarily by ideas and policy disagreements.

Curious to see who disagrees.

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