Monday, May 31, 2010

Yer Memorial Day Post

While you're at your picnics or cookouts drinking beer or whatever, pour some out for the people who have died in the service of our nation...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ready to Throw Stuff at the Screen?

This is infuriating:
Buried in the depths of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011 (H.R. 5136) is the latest salvo in the war on lawyers. In particular, section 1037 of the Act [page 403 of the PDF], titled "Inspector General Investigation of the Conduct and Practices of Lawyers Representing Individuals Detained at Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," instructs the Department of Defense IG to "conduct an investigation of the conduct and practices of lawyers" who represent clients at Guantánamo and report back to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees within 90 days.

So who is getting the warm visage of Big Brother looking over their shoulder?
As set forth in the bill, the lawyers subject to such an investigation are military or civilian lawyers for whom there is “reasonable suspicion” to believe that they have:

(A) interfered with the operations of the Department of Defense at Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, relating to [non-citizens detained at Guantánamo];

(B) violated any applicable policy of the Department;

(C) violated any law within the exclusive investigative jurisdiction of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense; or

(D) generated any material risk to a member of the Armed Forces of the United States

Keep in mind that on Planet Wingnut, everyone who so much looks at a suspected terrorist without torturing them is guilty of (D).

I have little to say that Vladeck and Greenwald haven't said already. This provision hasn't become law yet, but according to Greenwald it has made it out of committee unanimously. It wasn't Democrats who came up with the idea - that's the fault of Pensacola, FL Rep. Jeff Miller (R), who in proposing the idea is really doing his best to sound like Joe McCarthy. But Democrats are too chickenshit to stop it from becoming law, and Obama's not going to veto a defense appropriations bill, so our only hope is that it gets quietly euthanized in the Senate or in conference. I give it a 60/40 chance of becoming law, and if it does, it's another nail in the coffin of my association with the Democratic Party. If we can't stop odious provisions like this from becoming law, what the hell's the point of putting Democrats in power?

I furthermore want to point out that this comes on the heels of conservative efforts to force textbooks to include the notion that Joe McCarthy was vindicated by the Venona cables. The article I linked describes why that idea is poisonous, and I won't go into further detail here. But the revival of McCarthyism in conservative history parallels the revival of McCarthyism in real life. On top of Miller's disgusting call for investigations, there's a long-form rant being taken seriously in some conservative circles (Limbaugh and Malkin have both praised it) that implies that liberals are guilty of treason. Sane conservative Conor Friersdorf rips it to pieces here.

Friersdorf cites Limbaugh's endorsement of the book as saying "Our freedom is under assault as never before." Yeah, from you assholes. You and your conservative comrades are accusing whole chunks of Americans of treason and suggesting bringing investigations upon any lawyers who challenge your favored policies. I'm sorry, that disqualifies you from invoking "freedom" in any argument you make.

Oh, and the writer that's leading the "TREASON!" charge? Andy McCarthy. Same as it ever was, indeed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Switters Memorial Spitting Award

In Tom Robbins' excellent novel "Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates," the main character spits every time he says the name of former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (which for some reason comes up several times in the book). I've been looking for a person to do this with for a while now. Dick Cheney was too obvious - the entire humor behind spitting at Dulles is that no one knows who he is but that he roundly deserves the expectoration. And I don't mention Ron Margiotta enough to warrant the joke (besides, doing so wouldn't make sense to anyone outside Wake County).

But now I've found the perfect candidate. Step right up, Arizona state legislator Russell Pearce (ptui) - what do you have for us today?
A Phoenix news station (KPHO) is reporting that the state Senator behind Arizona’s new immigration law, Russell Pierce (R) [sic], does not intend on stopping at SB-1070. In e-mails obtained by the local CBS affiliate, Pearce said he intends to push for an “anchor baby” bill that would essentially overturn the 14th amendment by no longer granting citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants born on U.S. soil.

Really? You're going to propose overturning a significant chunk of the second most important Constitutional amendment because you're scared of Hispanic people? Talk about a solution in need of a problem. Someone please get Russell Pearce (ptui) some Valium or something. I think he's freaking out.

OK, I'm using overwrought language there. The law would be an explicit challenge to two Court cases: U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, an 1898 case that ruled that children born to non-citizens in the U.S. were citizens, and Plyler v. Doe, a 1982 case affirming that there is no difference between legal and illegal immigrants when it comes to the Fourteenth Amendment's "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" clause. It's far from clear that Pearce's (ptui) law would repeal birthright citizenship as a whole.

But that having been said, doing so appears to be the intention of Pearce's (ptui) proposal. George Will unintentionally touches on that in his column suggesting the idea that Pearce (ptui) is now attempting to execute. Will states that the original meaning of the "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" clause excluded those subject to a foreign power - but that would include all immigrants, not just the illegal ones. Will never explicitly advocates taking birthright citizenship away from the children of legal immigrants, but that's kind of the unavoidable result of his logic. Will's is the exact argument rejected by the Court in both of the cases I cited above, especially Wong Kim Ark, which dealt with the child of a legal citizen.

So what's the point of depriving the children of immigrants - legal or illegal - the full rights of citizenship? Beats me. Maybe they're making a point about the rule of law. Maybe they're interested in some futile attempt to "preserve American culture," whatever the hell that means. Whatever it is, it strikes me as unbelievably mean-spirited. And that earns Pearce (ptui) a nice warm bucket of spit.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Road to Nowhere, Indeed

Congratulations to the Talking Heads' David Byrne, who now joins Heart, the Foo Fighters, and Bruce Springsteen on the list of artists who got pissed when a Republican used their song without permission in their campaign.

The song that got former Republican and now independent Senate candidate Charlie Crist into trouble was "Road to Nowhere." Which inevitably leads to the question: what the ever-loving hell was he trying to do with that song? Imply that his candidacy was going nowhere? Disparage his own term as governor of Florida? Seriously, how on earth could you use that song in a campaign? At least with "Barracuda," "Times Like These," and "Born in the U.S.A" you could see the strategy behind using the song (even if the choice of "Born in the U.S.A." was jam-packed with unintentional comedy). I have no idea what Crist was going for here. Maybe our Florida correspondent can help us out.

Friday, May 21, 2010

You Want Racist Douchitude?

Bomani Jones has found us some racist douchitude. Fill-in radio host Chris Myers attempted to contrast the response of victims of the Tennessee floods to the response of the victims of Katrina by calling the victims of Katrina - people who were stranded on top of their houses without food or potable water, people who had their entire neighborhoods destroyed, people who were being shot at by police - "whiners."

So to recap. White people who get flooded and need help: community pulling together. Black people who get flooded and need help: whiners. Glad we could clear that up. It's subconscious racism - I doubt Myers goes around calling black people lazy whiners for fun - so it's not, like, KKK/David Duke shit. But I'm comfortable dropping the R-bomb on Myers... which oughta be saying something.

Oh, and I've spent a week-plus down there each of the past two years doing volunteer rebuilding work in Holy Cross, and I haven't heard a whine yet. I kinda wish they'd whine more - might make people who can do something take notice more.

So yeah, fuck you, Chris Myers.

A Few Updates

Yesterday I posted on the fallout from Rand Paul's comments on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The post didn't generate much discussion here, but it did lead to an interesting discussion on Twitter with two of my mutual followers. So I figured I'd revisit a few of the issues in the post and add some thoughts.

First, after I wrote that post and defended it to Marc and Alison, I came across this Think Progress post that describes how Paul even defends earmarks that benefit him directly. I had doubts about Paul's libertarian credentials from the beginning, but I was giving him the benefit of the doubt in saying that maybe he's principled enough to be taking this stand on libertarian first principles alone. But in light of this I don't know how we can possibly allow him to claim that he's a principled small-government activist. Principled libertarians would oppose government overreaches that benefit them in the name of limiting government - the younger Paul clearly does not, and so can't cry "libertarian" when opposing laws banning discrimination in private business. What does that mean? It means that Paul is using small-government principles when convenient as a means of preserving his place in the current social order. He's playing libertarians for fools, and he played me and everyone who thought he was principled for fools.

(Libertarians: if you want a candidate to support, look west - his stance on immigration notwithstanding, Tom Campbell's got far more libertarian cred than Paul could ever hope to have.)

I'm not willing to whip out the R-word on Paul, though, and that leads me to my second point. Part of the discussion with Marc and Alison focused on whether it was better to call someone racist or ignorant. I had called Paul the latter; they insisted on the former. My point, though, was this: you can fix ignorance really easily. Show someone (say, Paul) that their supposedly principled stand actually reinforces racism and erodes liberty, and they might come around. Racism? Not so much. Deeply ingrained prejudice takes a long time to go away, if it ever does. Furthermore, racism is a hell of a charge in today's political environment. "Racist" is just about the worst thing you can call someone in polite company. Calling someone ignorant when they're actually racist is a danger, I'll admit. But if you're coming upon someone who's merely ignorant and you call them a racist, you've burned that bridge for good. Those who support policies with racist effects for reasons other than racism are potential allies. Call them racist, and you've alienated them for good. What you lose by calling a non-racist a racist is far more important than what you lose by calling a racist something else. So I think it's a good idea to wait until you're damn sure before you drop the R-bomb.

And finally, I've seen a few honestly principled libertarians defend the desire to eliminate the public accommodation section of the Civil Rights Act, and the arguments are non-racist and interesting... but I can't for the life of me figure out why they'd want to make them. Thing is, the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act increased overall individual liberty - the new freedom of black people to shop and work where they wanted far outweighed the freedom to discriminate in business lost by white people*. So it's a forest-trees thing - in their zeal to construct a framework for a government that respects individual liberty, they take a position that is ideologically consistent but counter to their stated goal of maximizing personal freedom. Indeed, looked at this way, defending the Civil Rights Act doesn't even mean defending other libertarian bugaboos such as the ADA, OSHA, or other federal regulations since they place a far higher burden on businesses than the exceedingly minor burden introduced by the Civil Rights Act (which, as far as I can tell, costs businesses nothing to implement).

So the punch line of the previous post remains: the argument over the Civil Rights Act displays the limitations of small-government theory. Sometimes government action actually increases the individual liberty of the overall population. So in cases like this when the two collide, libertarians must ask themselves which is more important - personal freedom, or opposing government expansion?

I won't go through the tortured logic I went through to pick this video. Just enjoy it.

As a bonus, the greatest song ever written about curling:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rand Paul and Civil Rights

Big hullaballoo about an interview today between Rachel Maddow and Rand Paul in which the newly minted Republican nominee appeared to favor discrimination by private enterprises.

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Amanda Marcotte notes: "Well, I suppose that’s the end of the friendly relationship Rachel Maddow has with the Paul family." I don't agree - if son is anything like father, he thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to raise a controversial issue and be a general contrarian. Marcotte predictably blames libertarianism, which I find a bit odd for no other reason than that calling the anti-gay, anti-civil liberties, anti-immigrant Rand Paul a libertarian is kinda like calling a collection of Garfield comics a novel. It looks kinda like it might work as one, but in the end there's only a passing similarity. Furthermore, I think if you listen to the interview Paul makes it quite clear that he isn't a racist, and that desegregation even in private enterprise is an overall good thing. So it's a more than a little absurd to call Rand Paul a racist on the basis of this interview or the quotes Maddow cites at the beginning of the show. In fairness to Maddow, she never makes that accusation or even implies it.

Rather, I think Paul gets lost in the woods a bit. He attempts to invoke free speech when that particular Constitutional issue is at best tangential to the issue at hand. To someone who opposes federal regulations such as non-discrimination laws on a Constitutional basis, this is an issue of free association and the Commerce Clause, which was used as justification for federal regulations on privately-owned businesses (it's also used for minimum wage, ADA, OSHA requirements, and others). Paul lets himself be tarred as a racist simply because he didn't make the obvious argument that he was no doubt trying to make - in his opinion, the Constitution doesn't give the federal government the power to force non-discrimination on private business, no matter how desirable that outcome might be. He hints at this with his guns in restaurants story, but doesn't make his point (that under the liberal view of the Commerce Clause used by these regulations, the federal government could pass a law requiring all businesses to allow weapons in their businesses) clearly at all.

The Supreme Court, of course, has spent the last 50 years agreeing with the liberals on the Commerce Clause issue. Even I think the Commerce Clause goes too far at some points - for example, allowing the federal government to regulate activity that doesn't even involve interstate commerce because it looks like it might, maybe, possibly, at some point, affect a price somewhere. (Raich v. Gonzales, anyone?) But technically speaking, if a business participates in interstate commerce, it's open to federal regulation, and nowadays most businesses do. That's what the Constitution says. Paul's hypothetical on guns would, in fact, be legitimate if ill-advised. I think Paul understands this and, for the most part, accepts the Civil Rights Act as constitutional.

Which leads us to the weaker ground Paul was standing on. He effectively conceded that the government has the power under the Constitution to desegregate businesses but claims that it would have been ill-advised on small-government grounds. But that's a tough argument to make to people who have seen images of the violence and vitriol that went with segregation. If the government has the power to eliminate an injustice, most people are going to say that it should do so.

It reminds me somewhat (bear with the historical geek here) of Grover Cleveland's veto of the Texas Seed Bill in 1887. The bill was a reaction to a drought that killed massive amounts of crops in Texas; Cleveland cited Constitutional limitations in vetoing it. Texans appeared to understand - they voted for him again in 1888 - but it contributed to an unpopularity that would push him out of office (barely) that year. The Constitutional argument is unconvincing in Cleveland's case, and most people would agree that if people are suffering and the Constitution gives the government the right to do something, it probably should.

Cleveland, and now Rand Paul, ran up against the inherent limits of the small-government theory. Grave injustices don't correct themselves. Constitutional limits are there for a reason and should not be broken, but if there is no Constitutional limit on the federal government's limiting suffering or stamping out injustice, then why should it not do so?

(A final footnote. One could certainly make the argument that market-based methods for limiting suffering are more effective - indeed, I am generally sympathetic to such arguments. But suggesting that the government should do nothing when, by doing something, it would improve the situation overall isn't going to fly well with most people, myself included.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

You Go, Girl

I think we can all agree that this is badass:
A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Saudi religious police known locally as the Hai’a, asked the couple to confirm their identities and relationship to one another, as it is a crime in Saudi Arabia for unmarried men and women to mix.

For unknown reasons, the young man collapsed upon being questioned by the cop.

According to the Saudi daily Okaz, the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.

Considering the harassment faced by women at the hands of these creeps, this was more than justified.

"Quit Crying About It."

I find this to be wholly unsurprising:
This emerging divide has appeared in a handful of surveys taken since the measure was signed into law, including a New York Times/CBS News poll this month that found that Americans 45 and older were more likely than the young to say the Arizona law was “about right” (as opposed to “going too far” or “not far enough”). Boomers were also more likely to say that “no newcomers” should be allowed to enter the country while more young people favored a “welcome all” approach.
Actual numbers at the link.

Illegal immigration is a bizarre issue because it's often talked about in terms of its least salient effect - crime. It's one of those cases of anecdata superseding actual data; while there are no data that suggest a link between illegal immigration and crime, everyone has a story about some sort of crime committed against someone they know by someone who they think is illegal. The shooting of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, which led to the frenzy that generated Arizona's odious law, is one such case - the frenzy over this shooting and its supposed connection to illegal immigration not only ignores the dearth of data supporting the notion that illegal immigrants kill at a higher rate than native-born citizens, but it also ignores the fact that an illegal alien may not have actually committed the crime.

In one sense, young people benefit from a lack of experience here. Old people, just by virtue of having been alive longer, are more likely to have been the victim of a crime committed by an illegal alien at some point in their lives (or to be friends with someone who has). This experience can cause someone to ignore actual evidence suggesting that illegal immigrants do not bring a rise in crime. Young people, freed from the burden of bad experiences, are more free to examine the statistics and make the level-headed determination that illegal immigration poses no public safety risk. (An example of this: my mother is scared of El Paso, Texas because of her previous experience there despite the fact that El Paso is one of the safest large cities in America.)

But the talk about crime is often a substitute for a general fear of cultural change, another trait generally possessed by the old. That's what the New York Times article discusses. From the article:
“My stepdad says, ‘Why do I have to press 1 for English?’ I think that’s ridiculous,” Ms. Vespia said, referring to the common instruction on customer-service lines. “It’s not that big of a deal. Quit crying about it. Press the button.”

"It's not that big of a deal. Quit crying about it." Congratulations, Ms. Vespia, You've just offered the best possible response to pretty much all grousing about cultural change.

Anyway, here's a children's version of Three Little Birds.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Matt Taibbi takes a break from ripping on Goldman Sachs to point out that Eric Holder has suggested new limits on Miranda rights for terrorists. Because if something ain't broke, you gotta fix it, right?

It's clear to everyone with a brain that treating terrorists as criminals works. No high-profile arrestee has failed to provide useful information after having been arrested - in fact, the opposite is generally the case. We lose nothing by sacrificing Miranda rights for anyone arrested here - in fact, current law allows us to interrogate a suspect pre-Miranda as long as we never use that information in court and as long as there's a credible public safety threat.

The only reason I can think of why Holder is even suggesting something like this is political. Holder and Obama don't want to have to deal with stupid-but-effective Republican attacks painting them as "soft" on terrorism. To which I say: Obama and Holder need to grow a pair. These schmucks like McCain and Steve King and Lieberman that rant and rave about Miranda rights for terror suspects are bullies. Stand up to them and Americans will respect you.

It seems to me that no one in Washington has a spine anymore. McCain and King and Lieberman and his "strip their citizenship" posse are cowards who are willing to throw our legal system out the window because they're so scared of the big evil terrorist monsters under the bed. Obama and Holder are cowards because they're willing to let these idiots make unnecessary changes to the legal system because they're scared of the political consequences of doing the right thing. I just don't understand what's so hard about standing up for a system that has served us relatively well over the course of the past 230 years...

No need to watch the video. Just listen to the song this time.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Criminal Approach to Terrorism Vindicated, Part III

The first thing I thought when I heard that Faisal Shahzad, the suspected (now admitted, which I'll get to later) Times Square car bomber, attended a Pakistani terrorist training camp is that there are some serious quality control issues at these camps. I wonder if Shahzad and Captain Underpants went to the same school, because if so, that school doesn't exactly do a good job, do they? They've gotta be in danger of losing their al-Qaeda accreditation. Seriously, these guys need a No Violent Asshole Left Behind program or something. We talk about how our schools are failing... those schools are failing, epically.

The second thing I thought is that this was the perfect opportunity for some asshole to sound off about how we shouldn't give this guy his legal rights and put him on trial yadda yadda yadda (this despite the fact that not only was he arrested here, he's a U.S. citizen). I was right about that, of course - I just didn't expect the asshole to be John McCain. Nor did I suspect that the voice of reason on the right would be - of all people - Glenn friggin' Beck. "We don't shred the Constitution when it's popular, we do the right thing," Beck said, to the confusion of... well, everybody.

The third thing I thought is that Shahzad was almost certainly going to give up lots of valuable information despite his lawful arrest. Sure enough, the information Shahzad has been sharing has led to the arrests of seven Pakistanis. Standard prosecutorial tricks - offering lesser charges for cooperation, threatening lots of charges for being incooperative - work well with crimes like this because the case is so open-and-shut. A good lawyer would probably advise Shahzad to cooperate fully in the hopes of getting a lesser charge. (Furthermore, as far as I know an intel agency can interrogate without a lawyer as long as that info never sees the courtroom.)

The system works, y'all. No need to change it... which is why this bill from Joe Lieberman suggesting that we strip those accused of "terrorism" of their citizenship and send them to Gitmo is so unbelievably stupid that it barely merits a response. Not only does it open the door for unbelievable abuses of power, but also it's completely unnecessary! Of course, why would any politician let the actual ramifications of a bill get in the way of a good opportunity to grandstand.