No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
The Voter Suppression Wiki has launched (via) and it looks like it might be a good way to track efforts at vote suppression. It deserves lots of exposure and I hope it’s effective. The Web 2.0 (buzzword alert!) group participation/social networking model makes sense for a project like this. Because it seems like there will be no shortage of incidents to document.
Nick Juliano reviews the fall line of Unreasonable Search and Seizure from the prestigious house of DHS:
The Department of Homeland Security quietly expanded its authorization to examine, copy and archive an array of documents and electronic files from citizens and visitors crossing US borders, according to reams of internal documents released Tuesday. The changes implemented last year reverse a two-decade-old policy requiring border agents to have reasonable suspicion of a crime before reading documents someone is bringing into the country; probable cause was required before documents could be copied…Civil liberties advocates say the new standards raise troubling questions about protecting citizens’ First Amendment rights and could lead to customs agents serving as and end-run around the Fourth Amendment by conducting searches that would be prohibited from other agencies. “For more than 20 years, the government implicitly recognized that reading and copying the letters, diaries, and personal papers of travelers without reason would chill Americans’ rights to free speech and free expression,” said Shirin Sinnar, a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus. “But now customs officials can probe into the thoughts and lives of ordinary travelers without any suspicion at all.”Fabulous!
Barton Gellman was on NPR’s “Fresh Air” a little over a week ago (I forgot to post the link last time) about “Angler.” Prairie Weather has the transcript. There is a certain trendy blogger phrase that I promised myself I would never use (hint: its initials are “RTWT”) so let me just say I hope the following excerpt piques your interest enough to make you want to peruse the entire transcript:
Dick Armey was the House Majority Leader, old Republican friend of Cheney’s from his House days, and I would say that he was more than wavering on the war….The White House worked him over pretty good! They put a lot of pressure on him. They invited him to Camp David for special briefings. None of it was working. So Armey became Cheney’s project. He invited Armey to a little House hideaway that he had in the Capitol building. Cheney laid out maps, documents, photographs. What Armey tells me — and I lay this story out at some length in the book — is that Cheney told him two things that Armey now believes Cheney knew to be untrue….So you put together direct close ties to terrorists and a manned portable nuclear weapon and that simply turned Armey around. He said, “I can’t say, in the fact of so much certainty on Cheney’s part about so grave a threat, that there’s nothing there. ” Armey tells me he assumed that Cheney was giving him good intel and he’s learned since that that wasn’t correct.Having done brief transcriptions for my “Unpacking Jane” segments (see below) I can appreciate how much work is involved in typing out even short exchanges. At the moment books, video and audio are all outside of the searchable Internet and that makes them unavailable to what I consider the most important territory for political debate. Even limited availability on the Internet can largely silence voices. I have no way of proving this, but New York Times columnists seemed to become much more central to online discourse when people could easily copy/paste excerpts and link to them freely. PW’s work at The Scribe makes material that otherwise would float away in the offline ether a part of the record. I’m sure the work involved often feels like plodding drudgery on the order of medieval monks copying manuscripts, but its contribution to the diffusion of knowledge makes it a genuine successor to their work as well.
A military prosecutor [Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld] involved in war crimes cases here has quit his position, citing ethical concerns about his office’s failure to turn over exculpatory material to attorneys for an Afghan detainee scheduled to go to trial in December….”My ethical qualms about continuing to serve as a prosecutor relate primarily to the procedures for affording defense counsel discovery,” wrote Vandeveld in his filing. “I am highly concerned, to the point that I believe I can no longer serve as a prosecutor at the Commissions, about the slipshod, uncertain ‘procedure’ for affording defense counsel discovery.”Incidents like this strike me as incredibly important. Military officers are uniquely constrained in their abilities to protest what they might consider wrongdoing. The need for discipline requires a great deal of “swallow your reservations and go with the program” attitude. Armed forces can’t function effectively otherwise. We don’t have any kind of whistle blower provision (that I know of). An officer could resign and forfeit a career’s worth of good will, accumulated pension and connections for future employment. That is, to put it mildly, a heavy price to pay. It would be nice to think at least some would be willing to pay it. Of course, it would be nice to think I would be willing to pay it in those same circumstances, but who knows? And even if an officer did that, or even just arranged a quick retirement, there would be an immediate chorus of “malcontent/disgruntled ex-employee” that has become so familiar against those who go public with criticism. In short, it is unusually difficult for those in the military to effectively resist the excesses of the administration. Actions like those of Lt. Col. Vandeveld strike me as extremely significant as a result. It comes across as a distant distress signal, an attempt to get the word out to the rest of us while working within the system and remaining in good standing. It is a minor looking action that is in fact a fervent protest. Good on him.
I’ll see you at the bill signing. We are going to get a package passed. Swaggering confidence has been prelude to failure before. Let’s make it so again, citizens!
Potentially interesting side note: The continuing resolution passed last night “goes a long way in lessening the closely-watched possibility of a lame duck congressional session after the November elections.” A little less than two years ago Ohio got a great big middle finger from departing Ohio governor Bob Taft and his cronies at the statehouse. If we somehow manage to avoid a massive transfer of wealth to the rich in the next day or so the whole thing might get kicked down the road for a bit. But it couldn’t plausibly get squeezed in to an extra session ostensibly for some other purpose. Proponents of the Great Lobbyist Payback must be very confident of success; keeping the continuing resolution as an ace in the hole may have been good strategy. But what the hell do I know.
UNPACKING JANE: On page 117 ex-FBI agent discusses the utility of torture. He characterizes Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, perhaps America’s best informant on Al-Qaida, as a “lovable rogue” - someone who provides great information but is always getting into mischief (womanizing and such). A generally high maintenance individual.
Coleman learned from it that “people don’t do anything unless they’re rewarded.” He said that if the FBI had beaten a confession out of al-Fadl with what he called “all that alpha-male shit,” it would never be able to talk to him again and again. Brutality may yield a timely scrap of information, he conceded. But in the longer fight against terrorism, such an approach is “completely inefficient,” he said. You need to talk to people for weeks. Years.And for the record, have any timely scraps defused any ticking time bombs? We haven’t seen a single one yet. The brutality has not prevented a single instance of the danger its proponents claim to be so worried about, but it has crippled our larger effort to learn about and compromise al-Qaida. Heck of a job, guys.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
The crisis on Wall Street that began last week has provided the clearest evidence yet that conservatism no longer exists in any meaningful sense. Its standard bearers gave up the facade of cohesion in foreign policy around the time they realized they could not sustain interest in dictators ruling in areas of no geopolitical import. They have been irretrievably corrupted on domestic policy for much longer - the governmental spending spree and reckless deficits of 2001-2007 is all you need to know about how they really approach
monetary fiscal (correction per CMike) policy - but the enormity of the problem we face now has had a wonderfully clarifying effect on just how bankrupt of ideas the right is.
Some brave souls have attempted to explain it in a way that puts all or most of the blame on Democrats. Republicans controlled Congress from 1994 through 2006, the period of deregulation and neglect that created the tidal wave just now cresting. Conservatives used to forcefully argue for a concept of accountability that meant the buck stopped at the top. Even if those at the top didn’t know, couldn’t know, they still were expected to stand up and accept blame. Not any more. Now it is all about duck, hide and point fingers. But those who attempt to explain why it is liberals’ fault just end up proving Mark Twain’s maxim that it is better to keep your mouth shut and have people suspect you are a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.
Kevin Hassett takes the honors in this category with, sorry to be blunt, a laughably stupid explanation: “Fannie and Freddie did this by becoming a key enabler of the mortgage crisis. They fueled Wall Street’s efforts to securitize subprime loans by becoming the primary customer of all AAA-rated subprime-mortgage pools.” For the sake of the argument I will accept (!) that Fannie and Freddie = politically correct loan policies to unqualified (and disproportionately black) poor people = Democrats.
According to Hassett it had less to do with the Wall Street invention of securitization, which encouraged banks to sell off their loans as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that in doing so their incentive changed from writing a solid loan that would turn a profit only by being repaid into writing as many loans as possible in order to maximize fees before getting them off the books entirely. Nor was the fact that investment banks were (ahem) “working” with rating agencies in order to make sure these questionable securitized loans received the highest grade possible. Surely Moody’s was just trying to provide excellent customer service and Merrill Lynch was seeking this guidance out of a heartfelt desire to properly value them. And the insurers that blandly gave their blessing to these bonds with virtually no due diligence couldn’t possibly have been expected to know they were in fact pledging to back up worthless paper. No, none of these folks were key enablers. It was Freddie and Fannie, operating as intended: Increasing liquidity in the market by being the final resting place for what to all appearances were high grade, insured, solid, unspectacular mortgages. I do wonder, though, why Hassett did not also blame the state of Massachusetts and those horrible people at the Jefferson County (Florida) school board for their dastardly enabling as well.
Others have (correctly) decided that trying to explain it is a loser’s game and are desperately trying to deflect attention elsewhere. Some leading lights want to recast it in terms that no longer appeal to any ostensible conservative principle. Instead we should not “insist on some sort of ideological purity or free-market fastidiousness” and keep in mind that “The global financial turmoil has pulled nearly everybody out of their normal ideological categories.” This is “not a time for ideological purity” (via, and it is fascinating to see how a universally rejected (via) transfer of wealth to Wall Street is what finally got some on the right concerned about reckless spending. But under the circumstances it is probably best not to quibble too much.) It is, quite simply, the total elimination of pretense. Conservatism as practiced for the last quarter century has produced the mess we all must now clean up. It has also produced a horrifically costly war based on lies and fear, and crippled our bureaucracy to the point of incapacity in the face of natural disaster. We are now living with the logical result of the authoritarianism, militarism, corruption, fearmongering, callousness and greed that conservatism has meant in practice. It is understandable that its defenders want to change the subject, or feebly claim that we now need some kind of post-ideological paradigm or are reduced to farcical attempts at distancing. But that is no reason for the rest of us to accept such silliness.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Some updates on past items.
- Mississippi is going with a proper ballot design after all.
The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the special election to replace Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) – who resigned last December – will appear near the top of the November ballot. The court ruled 8 to 1 that the ballot layout approved by Republican Governor Haley Barbour violated state election law by listing the race at the very bottom of the ballot. Barbour was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997.I’m glad the court rejected it so emphatically. Now we need to work on making this kind of manipulation something to be ashamed of. No one attempts poll taxes or literacy tests anymore. Tactics like this deserve the same general opprobrium.
- Ohio is getting sued over its effort to throw out some of the absentee ballots it’s received:
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, issued a memo on Sept. 5 to all 88 county boards of election instructing officials to reject the applications if that box is unchecked because it leaves to question whether the person who filled out the application is indeed qualified to vote in Ohio. Brunner said she is only following Ohio law. She blamed the McCain camp for the confusion because it added the box to the form, which was not needed. But because it is there it must be checked or applications are invalid, her office contends.Knock it off, Sec. Brunner. Count the votes and redouble education and outreach.
- The lawsuit against journalists detained at the RNC has been dropped. I’m happy to give Amy Goodman the last word:
The St. Paul City Attorney’s office announced Friday it will not prosecute Democracy Now! journalists Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman also issued a statement Friday that “the city will decline to prosecute misdemeanor charges for presence at an unlawful assembly for journalists arrested during the Republican National Convention.”…Upon learning of the news, Democracy Now! Host, Amy Goodman said, “It’s good that these false charges have finally been dropped, but we never should have been arrested to begin with. These violent and unlawful arrests disrupted our work and had a chilling effect on the reporting of dissent. Freedom of the press is also about the public’s right to know what is happening on their streets. There needs to be a full investigation of law enforcement activities during the convention.”
That was the good news at the ballot box. Here’s the bad: New tactics to exclude voters based on a novel tactic called “exact matching” of names:
Exact matching, however, could mean that a woman who recently married and changed her name would fail to match government records containing her maiden name. Voters who have double last names or unusually spelled names might also fail. Everything depends on how a state’s matching algorithm is designed.This kind of abuse of discretion is exactly the sort of bad faith that encourages calls for an inflexible, uniform national standard. It’s hard to argue for local autonomy, deference or home rule when questionable (to put it generously) tactics are used to “shape” the electorate.
This week’s reason why I have the Electronic Frontier Foundation on my Liberty Huggers blogroll:
Plaintiffs who had been pursuing a suit against AT&T have shifted their focus to government officials to circumvent Congress’s grant of immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. A class action lawsuit was filed Thursday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is continuing to pursue its case against AT&T. “Today we’ve opened a second front in our battle to stop the NSA’s illegal surveillance,” EFF attorney Kevin Bankston told reporters during a conference call Thursday….Bankston said the lawsuit’s aim is to “obtain personal accountability from the architects” of the warrantless surveillance and to say to future government officials, “If you break the law and violate people’s privacy, there will be consequences.”…Congress also has been complicit. When it adopted several amendments to FISA earlier this summer, the Democratic-led Congress gave in to Bush’s demands that the updated spy law provide immunity for participating telecoms like AT&T. Bankston said EFF is arguing that the immunity grant itself was unconstitutional and has not given up its original case, Hepting v. AT&T, but the group is pursuing the separate case against the government officials to avoid getting bogged down with the fight over immunity.I love how they keep fighting.
I like Russ Feingold, so it pains me to write this: Senator, in the face of Democratic Congress’ relentless capitulations to the President and ominous signs of another one this week maybe citizens have started taking matters into their own hands because they wish you and your fellow party leaders would just slink off the stage. And maybe if you were interested in fixing problems now we might not feel that way.
UPDATE: I forgot to include the following comment from Mark Kernes a couple weeks ago:
It’s been my observation that when Repugnicans are in power, they sound like fascists, and when they’re out of power (or going out), they do their best to sound like libertarians. It’s about time less-observant people quit being fooled by that crap.I would have worded it differently but in light of the coming Wall Street bailout it’s probably become even more accurate in just the last week.
UNPACKING JANE: On pp. 156-7 Mayer describes how James Mitchell, a former military psychologist, was apparently in charge of the interrogation of terror suspect Abu Zubayda. He had no background in the middle east, the Muslim religion or Islamic terrorism. And he spoke no Arabic. Mayer delicately uses the word “oddly” to characterize putting someone like that as a lead interrogator. When the torture of Zubayda is proposed Mayer writes:
Fearful that they would be implicated, and adamantly opposed to what Mitchell proposed doing, the FBI agents picked up and left. In the following days, reports of deliberate prisoner abuse reached the top rungs of the FBI, causing the Director, Mueller, to bar the Bureau’s personnel from participating in the CIA’s coercive interrogations. The use of these controversial methods thus deprived the United States of many of its most experienced terrorism experts. It also abandoned the interrogations of the most valuable suspects to the intelligence officials with no great interest in prosecuting them, lessening the incentive to play by the rules.The people in charge of terrorist interrogations were more interested in cruelty than in effectively extracting information with an eye on getting the suspects into a court of law. In other words, there was no desire or intent for these detainees to be handled or processed according to the rule of law.