Saturday, July 19, 2008

Status Report: Netroots Nation vs. Wingnut Wanking

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

So I decided to go pay a visit to the "Texas Summit" of right-wing bloggers (officially titled "Defending the American Dream" ) being held here in Austin as an ostensible counter to the Netroots Nation gathering. If they want the public to do a comparison and contrast, I thought I’d help them out.

I was only able to watch for a little while — heard Erik Erickson of Red State and Michael Steele talk, and watched the nostalgic Ronald Reagan videos they ran in between segments to help boost what clearly were some flagging spirits — before they realized I didn’t have the requisite green tag and booted me out.

I was polite and well-behaved (I even opened the doors for a handicapped woman who was having trouble pushing through as all the young conservative men stood and watched her struggle) but, well, they clearly did not want interlopers. I was hoping to have been in there long enough to hear Michelle Malkin, but the Unhinged One was late arriving and they kept finding ways to stall the crowd, and soon enough my time ran out.

But there were some notable differences with Netroots Nation:

– I stood out like a sore thumb because I was wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, fairly typical NN/DFH wear. All the male Pubbies, young and old, were neatly dressed out either in chinos and golf shirts or suits and ties.

– It was very, very, very white there.

– There were only speakers; no question-and-answer periods. Everybody seemed happy to just be talked to, not to talk back.

– The speakers were uniformly, uh, subdued about their prospects for the 2008 elections. I think a hari-kiri booth in the exhibit area would have been popular.

– And there were, well, a lot fewer people. A LOT. You can see the crowd shot above, as it were. I guesstimated (generously) the crowd to be between 200 and 300 people. Below, just for the sake of comparison, is a typical NN crowd — where the numbers are upwards of 3,000.

That says all I think you need to say about the state of the conservative movement vs. the state of the progressive movement.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bush And Executive Privilege: Nixon’s Revenge, Part XXVIII

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

 It’s been clear for some time, really, that the Bush administration is Nixon’s Revenge incarnate. Digby and Lance Mannion, among others, have remarked on it. And Rick Perlstein’s majestic Nixonland is 896 pages of incontrovertible evidence of it.

We’ve seen it in many areas — particularly the aggressive assertion of executive powers in setting up military tribunals and designating citizens "enemy combatants," as well as various surveillance powers asserted not merely under the so-called Patriot Acts but more notably in its flouting of FISA: the Bush White House has displayed all the signs of attempting to reacquire powers lost to the executive branch (or rather, first asserted and then knocked down) in the 1970s. Vice President Dick Cheney — a former Nixon hand — has played a significant role in this; and it’s a virtual certainty Bush’s onetime Solicitor General, Ted Olson — a GOP legal activist who got his start in the Nixon era — has as well.

And of all the powers lost during the Nixon era near and dear to their charpit hearts, executive privilege is the Big Kahuna. Becuase under its umbrella, the presidency becomes virtually unaccountable and, by extension, its power nearly illimitable.

Which is why Bush’s bizarre assertion of executive privilege is a big deal — much bigger than anyone in the media seems to realize. As Looseheadprop quite precisely explained yesterday, there really is no legal basis for the claim whatsoever. And yet here they are, claiming it — just daring Congress to begin issuing contempt citations.

Republicans have been trying since the 1980s to reclaim broad executive-privilege powers, and it seems they may be on the verge of finally succeeding, depending on whether Congress lets them get away with it. Considering the outcome of the FISA fight, there is a realistic likelihood they will.
Indeed, the man who led that charge in the 1980s was none other than Ted Olson.

Most folks remember Olson as one of the masterminds of the Clinton witchhunts of the 1990s — particularly his role in the so-called "Arkansas Project." But his career as a conservative-movement legal avatar began in the 1980s, when he was in the Office of Legal Counsel in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department.

A Salon piece I wrote in 2001 explored Olson’s story in detail. Olson first became enmeshed in Reagan’s attempts to reassert executive privilege when he set out to defend former Interior Secretary James Watt over a short-lived attempt to claim it. But a few months later, he sank his teeth into a similar case involving Rita Lavelle and EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford, and it was clear from the outset that Olson was intent on expanding executive-privilege powers, regardless of whether the situation warranted it — consequences be damned:
On Oct. 1, Olson led a meeting of EPA and Justice Department officials to discuss turning over the documents. Olson favored a "staged response" in releasing the documents, noting that they included some "politically sensitive" material. EPA officials, however, expressed an inclination to transmit all documents promptly. But Olson and other Justice officials were adamant that broader executive-branch interests were at stake, and argued vehemently against broad access.

Burford would later maintain that she had never requested that executive privilege be asserted in order to hold back the documents, and that she contended from the start that doing so was a political mistake. However, she had not reckoned on Olson and his apparent determination to fight this battle.

In her memoirs, Burford later wrote: "The people at Justice behind the push for executive privilege were all presidential appointees who, to be blunt, shared several characteristics: (1) they didn’t have enough to do; (2) they weren’t very good lawyers; and (3) they had tremendous egos. They wanted to make a name for themselves in Washington, and one way to do that while they were at Justice was to have their names on a Supreme Court case."

Tension increased between Olson and other Justice Department lawyers and EPA staff. Throughout the month, EPA staffers attempted to reach a compromise with Dingell’s investigators, at one point proposing that the committee be able to review all the documents, but that they not be made public. Olson promptly shot down all those schemes and continued to proceed with plans to fight the documents’ disclosure.

The Dingell panel issued a subpoena on Oct. 22, and within three days, Olson was putting the finishing touches on a memorandum to President Reagan recommending he assert executive privilege over the documents. During meetings to discuss the memo, Burford’s position was again voiced: "Be sure these documents are worth it before we go through this."

Olson ignored that advice. His final memo to Reagan on the matter, dated Oct. 25, 1982, stated without qualification that the documents contained no evidence of wrongdoing by administration officials, which is one of the legal conditions for asserting executive privilege. It also informed Reagan: "The Administrator [Burford] concurs in this recommendation."

But in fact, Olson and his staff had failed to ascertain whether either assertion was true. In reality, Burford was far from concurring. She later testified that she failed to see how Olson could have been unaware of her reluctance — that her hesitancy had been obvious, and that she had suggested that Olson explore alternatives to asserting privilege. There’s no evidence, however, that Olson and Burford had ever discussed the issue directly; they had never met face to face.
Most outrageously, when Congress finally cited Burford for contempt in the matter, Olson then led the charge in a remarkable display of contempt for the separation of powers issues that were at the foundation of the executive-privilege laws:
When the full House cited Burford on Dec. 16, he and his team responded with an extraordinary civil suit in federal court contesting the constitutionality of Congress’ contempt powers, charging that the invocation of privilege was proper and that the contempt citations should not stand. The suit, however, had a short shelf life; it was dismissed by the court on Feb. 1.
The Olson team’s effort was "without a doubt the sloppiest piece of legal work I had seen in 20 years of being a lawyer," Burford later wrote in her memoirs. It only cited in its support nonbinding opinions from a single case — former President Richard Nixon’s suit against the House Judiciary Committee — and Burford notes that no factual defenses were raised.

It’s important to understand, as LHP explained, that there are significant limits on executive privilege that are well established in case law. Among these, as I noted in the Olson piece, is the certainty that the documents being sought do not reveal wrongdoing, criminal or otherwise, by administration members. The Dick Cheney interview being sought is unlikely to fall within that category.

It’s really something of a marvel to me that our mainstream media have such short institutional memories that they fail to recall how central to Nixon’s ambitions executive privilege really was — and how important, even historical, today’s attempt to assert privilege is. Perhaps when Mukasey is cited for contempt they will begin remembering.

Monday, July 14, 2008

McCain Talks Out Both Sides Of His Head To Latinos

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

 John McCain just can’t help himself — especially when it comes to immigration. Today he flopped again — or was that a flip? Anyway, kyledeb, liveblogging McCain’s speech at National Council of La Raza, caught him doing it:
Someone from One Dream 2009 asked if Senator McCain would support the DREAM Act. Yes, he said, but he also supports the nation’s sovereignty and wants to make sure it doesn’t come at the expense of legal migrants.
Yeah, McCain supports the Dream Act, all right — except when he doesn’t:
McCain, who lost most conservatives when he supported the president’s immigration reform proposals, confirmed that he did not support the DREAM Act, which was stopped in the Senate Wednesday by a vote of 52-44. The DREAM Act would provide amnesty to millions of illegal aliens who came to America when under the age of 16. It would also give green cards to illegal aliens residing in America for five years and attending college or performing military service.

“I got the message and the American people want the borders controlled first,” he said, adding that once that was accomplished, he would take steps to implement comprehensive immigration reform including paths to citizenship.
And he says the same thing when he’s on a conference call with right-wing bloggers, too.

Yep, guess we can just get used to calling him ole Two-Face McCain.

Matt Ortega has more.

Ignorance And Hatred And The Price Immigrants Pay

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]
It would be a good thing, really, to have a rational national debate about immigration. But at every turn, the nativist right makes clear that it’s far more intent on promoting bellicose bigotry fueled by ignorance and hypocrisy. The more ignorant and stupid, it seems, the better.

Down in LA this weekend the National Council of La Raza held its annual conference, and Barack Obama spoke there. Now, the nativist contingent, as well as its willfully misinformed movement-conservative defenders, love to attack NCLR as "racist" — because they ignorantly translate "La Raza" as "the race." We’ve dispensed with this senescent little turd previously, but to quickly recap: "La Raza," as the Wikipedia entry accurately explains, is correctly translated not as "the race" but "the people," since it refers generically to "the people of Latin America" (or more narrowly, "of Mexico"). It’s generically a multiracial term, not a racist one.

And so, sure enough, the nativist protesters showed up outside the gathering and broadly waved their ignorance about. As kyledeb at Citizen Orange reports, the signs read as follows:
"Support Americans Not La Raza",
"La Raza Means ‘The Race’",
"La Raza Stop the Hate Against Americans",
"La Raza, Neo-Nazi, KKK, Racist Groups",
"Obama: 50% White, 43.75% Arabic, 6.25% Black, 100% Brown RACIST"
But that’s not all they were trotting out to the scene:
Just as I was about to turn away from filming a man holding a sign of a boy urinating on the phrase "La Raza", I heard him begin to chant, "Fuck You Brown Boy. Fuck You Brown Boy. Fuck You Brown Boy." The San Diego Minuteman supporter was walking up a ramp to the convention center and was speaking to another full-grown man that looked to be of latino descent to me.

In all fairness, I have no idea what the latino man was saying to the San Diego Minutemenn supporter. It could have been just as hateful. I followed them until they parted ways and just as I was about to stop filming again, a group of people walked through chanting, "Viva La Raza. Viva La Raza." The Minuteman supporter then went at it again, "Fuck La Raza. Fuck La Raza. Fuck La Raza."
It’s easy to dismiss all this as just so many heated words. But then you see incidents like the massive raids in Iowa, where children are separated from their parents and huimans treated like cattle, and realize that it’s much more than that. The toxic effect of this kind of ignorance produces human travesties — like the one in Tennessee in which a very pregnant Latino woman was taken to jail, then transferred to the city hospital when her water broke, where she was shackled to her bed, and forced to deliver her child under those circumstances.

Political Salsa
has all the details:
– A woman, three days before delivery of her fourth AMERICAN child, was wrongly arrested and incarcerated.

– Her water broke while she was in jail; she was transported to Metro General Hospital.

– When the nurse asked her to undress to get into hospital clothes, the sheriff’s guard was asked to leave for the moment. He — yes, he — refused. So she had to undress in front of him. …

– Then, while in labor, she was handcuffed by her wrist and ankle to the bed. I’ve seen women in labor, and they constantly are shifting positions to try and get some sense of relief, if that is even possible. Now consider the pain if handcuffs prevented your movement.

– Thankfully, the handcuffs were taken off two hours before she delivered. But then she was restrained again in bed a day later. And every trip to the bathroom required leg shackles. When the nurse strongly objected, the sherrif’s department stayed absolute. The nurse said the new mother would not be able to clean herself properly with shackles. The sheriff’s guard said it didn’t matter; he was doing his job.

… — It also didn’t matter if the baby received the critical mother’s milk in its first days of life. The child was removed from its mother, and Ms. DeLaPaz was returned to jail.

– The final injury inflicted upon this CIVIL/MISDEMEANOR offender was the denial of her use of a breast pump to express her milk for the baby and her own comfort. The nurse again strongly objected, but the sheriff’s department again played law enforcer, physician and God.
The child later was diagnosed with jaundice — a result of not getting its mother’s breast milk.
Sure, it’s just one mother, one kid. But when ignorance rules our discourse and drives our public policy — including our law enforcement — you know that whatever comes out is not going to be good. Scenes like these, incidents like these, are repeated endlessly, usually never reported. And a hundred other little human travesties like them follow as well. It happens a drop at a time, but the toll adds up.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bush Is Proud To Pollute, And McCain Clears His Throat For An Encore

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

Well, it wasn’t like we couldn’t see this coming:
The Bush administration has decided not to take any new steps to regulate greenhouse gas emissions before the president leaves office, despite pressure from the Supreme Court and broad accord among senior federal officials that new regulation is appropriate now.

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to announce today that it will seek months of further public comment on the threat posed by global warming to human health and welfare — a matter that federal climate experts and international scientists have repeatedly said should be urgently addressed.
Yeah, we saw this coming as recently as this past week:
The American leader, who has been condemned throughout his presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended a private meeting with the words: "Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter."

He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy looked on in shock.
Bush has insisted on doing nothing to deal with global climate change throughout his administration, and he is in fact quite proud of that non-accomplishment. After all, it’s the apotheosis of conservative drown-the-government-baby-in-the-bathtub ideology; this is what happens when your policy is being determined by Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney.

So John McCain will have to forgive us if we start chortling low and mordant when he starts nattering about how he wants to do something about global warming, as he did a couple of months ago:
Republican John McCain, reaching out to both independents and green-minded social conservatives, argues that global warming is undeniable and the country must take steps to bring it under control while adhering to free-market principles.

In remarks prepared for delivery Monday at a Portland, Ore., wind turbine manufacturer, the presidential contender says expanded nuclear power must be considered to reduce carbon-fuel emissions. He also sets a goal that by 2050, the country will reduce carbon emissions to a level 60 percent below that emitted in 1990.
Right. As Joseph Romm at Salon observes, McCain’s energy/climate solution is one sure to warm the cockles of even Limbaugh’s dessicated simulacrum of a right-wing heart: build more nuclear plants!
The only technological solution to global warming that McCain consistently advocates is nuclear power. In his signature environmental legislation, the 2007 Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act, written with Joe Lieberman, McCain wants to devote a remarkable $3.7 billion in federal subsidies to nuclear power plants. According to an analysis by U.S. PIRG, a federation of public interest groups, the money would go for "engineering and design costs, loans and loan guarantees for building three new plants, and direct financial awards for new projects."

Yet when Grist asked McCain, "What’s your position on subsidies for green technologies like wind and solar?" he said:
"I’m not one who believes that we need to subsidize things. The wind industry is doing fine, the solar industry is doing fine. In the ’70s, we gave too many subsidies and too much help, and we had substandard products sold to the American people, which then made them disenchanted with solar for a long time."
Incredible. Nuclear power, a mature technology that provides 20 percent of U.S. electricity, must be heavily subsidized — even after more than $66 billion in federal subsidies since World War II (five times what was spent on renewable and eight times what was spent on efficiency, according to the Congressional Research Service). But subsidize solar photovoltaics, a rapidly evolving technology that comprises 0.1 percent of U.S. electricity? No, we can’t help them.
And will building more nukes solve the problem? Er, well, no …
Let’s say that McCain’s policy focuses on building nuclear plants, not efficiency, and somehow we build 100 new nuclear power plants, plus replacements for existing plants, by 2050. Those nuclear power plants would still deliver under 10 percent of the total energy used by the country. What are the chances of building 200 nuclear power plants over the next four decades in this country? Not bloody high. How about building five times that number worldwide, as would be needed for nuclear to comprise even 10 percent of the global GHG solution. Not gonna happen. We will no doubt build some new nuclear plants — as will the world — but it is no silver bullet, and cannot hope to make the same contribution that energy efficiency can at one-quarter the price and with no long-term waste or proliferation concerns.
As Adam Siegel noted at the time, McCain’s policies are "100% recycled Bush". And we’ve just seen, once again, what that means. It’s the Republican approach to governance: Fuck the public, as often and regularly as possible. And enjoy yourself while doing it.