Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Obama Backs Bush Murder Policy

In one of the best-kept secrets of the U.S. corporate media, the Obama administration yesterday went before a federal court and threw its full support behind yet another of the Bush administration's assertions of fascist powers. This time, the issue revolves around the question of whether the executive branch of the U.S. government has the unlimited, unchecked, unreviewed power to unilaterally designate, as a danger to the U.S., a U.S. citizen--a civilian in a non-combat situation--then murder him. This administration, like the last, says "yes," and also asserted, in a manner all too familiar to those of us who had followed Bush's efforts to drag the U.S. down the long, ugly road to fascism, that it was an executive matter the judiciary hadn't even the authority to review.

All of this was in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, who are looking to limit the government's power to carry out these sorts of Mafia-style extrajudicial murders to cases of imminent danger to life and safety and have requested that the court force the executive branch to publicly disclose the secret process that results in a U.S. citizen being placed on a government hit-list.

The ACLU and CCR are acting at the request of Nasser Al-Aulaqi, the father of Anwar Al-Aulaqi. Anwar is a reactionary Muslim cleric reportedly placed on a government hit-list. Because he has been so targeted, the Treasury Department asserted that the ACLU and CCR, before they could even bring the suit, had to request a special license to allow them to do so. They requested the license, the government failed to provide it, and they proceeded to file a separate suit against the licensing scheme. Seems like a no-brainer. It's bad enough the government would assert the unrestrained power to kill U.S. citizens, but we're well into Kafka territory when someone so targeted has to obtain a license from that same government to allow him to challenge its decision to destroy him.

Linked to terrorists and, in his own right, reportedly an anti-Western Islamist reactionary of the worst sort, Aulaqi is hardly the poster-boy for an ideal plaintiff, but he is an American citizen, and his inflammatory views are of no real consequence to the issue at hand. Aulaqi has never been convicted or even charged with any crime by the U.S.. Jameel Jaffer, who presented arguments for the ACLU yesterday, put the matter succinctly:

"If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state."

The "liberal" Obama administration disagrees. Hopefully, the matter can be decided before it gets to the current Supreme Court.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sound Election Analysis, or A Big Bunch of B.S From Bayh?

In these tough economic times, Evan Bayh certainly doesn't have to worry about ever being out of work. The cretinous right-wing slug who, until his retirement in January, is Indiana's excuse for a junior Senator, decided, yesterday, to give us a preview of his likely post-Senate job as a political analyst. Unsurprisingly, it looks a lot like what he's been doing as a "Democratic" Senator; namely, trashing liberal Democrats. The American conservative elite like "Democrats" who trash Democrats. They pay them well for it.

For some reason, the New York Times saw fit to waste the paper and ink necessary to mass-publish Bayh's application for this dismal work in the form of an op-ed offering the Senator's take on Tuesday's congressional election. Bayh concludes Democrats lost because they're too liberal.

What a surprise, right?

"To a degree," he says, "we [Democrats] are authors of our own misfortune." How so?
"It is clear that Democrats over-interpreted our mandate. Talk of a 'political realignment' and a 'new progressive era' proved wishful thinking. Exit polls in 2008 showed that 22 percent of voters identified themselves as liberals, 32 percent as conservatives and 44 percent as moderates. An electorate that is 76 percent moderate to conservative was not crying out for a move to the left."
But then, again, the American public isn't "76 percent moderate to conservative"; that polling reflects how people--most of whom are not political junkies and don't put a great deal of thought into what simple label they apply to their politics--view themselves and is profoundly impacted by the decades-long demonization of the "liberal" label. Ask them specific questions about their views and Americans are, just as they have been for ages, liberal and, on most issues, overwhelmingly so.

Bayh is phoning it in from another dimension when he says "we," by which he means Democrats, "were too deferential to our most zealous supporters." In this one, the Obama, who has largely set the Democratic agenda, has remained well to the right of the general public, continuing the war in Iraq while expanding the war in Afghanistan, refusing to even consider single-payer health care then dropping the public option from the Republican health care bill he adopted as his own, watering down regulatory reform, moving the already-reactionary Supreme Court further to the right, refusing to throw any kind of weight behind Democratic congressional efforts to both prevent companies from exporting jobs and to encourage companies to import them (at a time when jobs are THE major issue), then, as a final indignity, publicly trashing his own base while whining about how he doesn't get any credit for his "accomplishments." This behavior helped turn off his base and feed the "enthusiasm gap" between Democratic and Republican voters, which Gallup reported, just before the election, was 19%--greater than they'd ever measured in the nearly-two-decades they'd tracked it.

Bayh's fanciful account of the election season:
"During election season, Congress sought to placate those on the extreme left and motivate the base--but that meant that our final efforts before the election focused on trying to allow gays in the military, change our immigration system and repeal the George W. Bush-era tax cuts. These are legitimate issues but unlikely to resonate with moderate swing voters in a season of economic discontent."
Hard to know where to start.

In the real world, the public overwhelmingly supports allowing homosexuals to serve in the military. A typical poll (this one from CBS News) found, only a few weeks ago, 69% support for the proposition, 51% saying they supported it "strongly" (only 21% opposed it). Trying to make this possible wouldn't have been an effort "to placate those on the extreme left"--it would have been an effort to enact a policy overwhelmingly supported by the American public. Unfortunately, the Democrats weren't trying to allow gays in the military during the campaign--they were, instead, engaged in delaying tactics designed to prevent the matter from becoming an issue in the campaign. Only weeks ago, a federal court voided the current policy and if the Obama had wanted, he could have just been done with it at that point. Instead, he chose to appeal the ruling, which didn't endear him to anyone on the left.

There was no serious movement on immigration reform at any point during the campaign--Bayh's assertion to the contrary is fantasy.

It's a misrepresentation--or, just to call it straight, a lie--to say Democrats were trying "to repeal the George W. Bush-era tax cuts." The tax cuts aren't going to be repealed--they're going to expire. That's the law. If nothing happens, they all go away. The debate is whether or not they should be continued. Democrats have argued for renewing the tax cuts that go to most people while allowing to expire the big chunk of them that go to those of higher income. Polling shows that this is also the position of a majority or plurality of the public, depending on the question's wording, so, again, this isn't aimed at trying "to placate those on the extreme left"--the Democratic view has broad support.

Some numbers being well-circulated on the left blogosphere today further cripple Bayh's narrative that Democrats cut their own throats by being Democrats. While the liberal Congressional Progressive caucus lost only three of its more-than-80 members on Tuesday, the Blue Dog caucus, made up of right-wing Democrats like Bayh who shun "their" party and side with Republicans time and time again, was decimated, losing nearly 30 of their 54 members.

Even after voters sent most of the "Democrats" packing, Bayh's big solution to Democratic woes is that Democrats should become even more conservative and that the already-conservative Obama should move even further to the right--"seize the center," as Bayh euphemistically puts it. It's the sort of conclusion the American conservative elite pays well to spread around, particularly when it's being offered by a faux Democrat, so while Bayh has proven himself utterly worthless as a Senator, he can leave his overpaid post in these bad economic times without a worry about future employment. He'll have work. His family will never go hungry. His future is bright. He should probably wear shades.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Far to the left in American politics"? A Test Case

I sometimes poke around over at "The Next Right," a theoretically "reformist" conservative site (albeit one that, in practice, mostly ends up being SOS), and, this being election day, I thought I'd step over there and see if there was anything interesting.

I found a blog, there, from poster Ironman, about Rep. Chris Murphy, the Democratic congressman from Connecticut's 5th district. Posted yesterday, it advises people to "be pragmatic tomorrow--remove a radical from CT 5." Campaigns produce a lot of hyperbolic rhetoric, of course, and maybe it's best to chalk IM's words up to the feverish emotions of the moment and leave it at that, but something made me want to offer a few comments on it. Probably the fact that it's so perfectly emblematic of the very wrongheaded "thinking" of a lot of the contemporary American right.

IM's premise is that Murphy is some sort of wild-eyed lefty radical who is misrepresenting himself in his reelection bid:
"Chris Murphy's closing argument in his flagging bid for re-election is that he represents the 'pragmatic center' of American politics.

"I call B.S. on this. Let's count the ways Murphy is far to the Left in American politics--even beyond the usual Nancy Pelosi foot soldier."
His first example:
"Murphy is one of the most vocal opponents of the use of warrantless wiretaps to obtain information to thwart terrorist threats... [D]o we want to hamstring the people who keep us safe? Murphy evidently does."
Is this evidence of Murphy's radicalism?

Well, it should be said, right up front, that Bush's NSA wiretapping program was completely illegal--a blatantly criminal enterprise that was explicitly forbidden by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which had been on the books for decades, so IM's premise, that standing against government surveillance conducted with blatant criminality makes one some sort of radical, is, to put it as kindly as possible, shaky (another depressing sign of creeping fascism on the right).

What did the public think about Bush's criminal enterprise? In the immediate aftermath of the story breaking, the U.S. was almost equally divided. Polling showed that slim majorities either supported or opposed it based on the wording of the poll question, the more accurate wording producing stronger opposition than support. Murphy's "radical" opposition to it was in line with that of half the public.

That was just after the story broke.

As time went by, public opinion shifted strongly against the Bush administration on this matter. By Oct. 2007, a Mehlman Group poll found that 61% said the government should have to get a warrant before conducting this sort of surveillance; only 35% supported the Bush position. By Jan. 2008, another Mehlman Group poll asked the same question; 63% said the government should have to get a warrant (55% said they believed this "strongly"), with only 33% supporting the Bush position (24% "strongly"). By Feb. 2009, just after the beginning of Murphy's current term in office, 63% of respondents were telling Gallup they favored an investigation into the matter, including 77% of Democrats, 64% of independents, and even 41% of Republicans. Murphy's "radical" view, which IM says puts him "far to the Left in American politics," is, in fact, that of an overwhelming majority of the public--of Democrats, of independents, and of nearly half of the Republicans.

IM continues:
"Worse still, he favored letting the telecom firms that assisted the War on Terror face ruinous lawsuits from lefty lawyers "
The telecom firms in question "assisted the War on Terror" by illegally turning over private information on their clients to the Bush administration. They weren't ordered by a court to do so--Bush wanted it, and they just handed it over. Bush sought a bill granting these companies a blanket immunity from any legal action their enraged clients may bring against them. Murphy opposed this immunity.

Evidence of Murphy radicalism? Hardly. In that same Mehlman Group poll referenced above, 57% opposed granting immunity; 45% "strongly" opposed it. Only 33% supported it (22% "strongly"). The opposition to immunity cut across all political lines--liberals opposed it by 64%, moderates by 58%, and even 50% of conservatives opposed it.

So, again, IM is describing Murphy as a "radical" and "far to the Left in American politics" based on his holding the same views that are also broadly and overwhelmingly held by the public.

It's also worth, again, noting IM's premise in using this example; that Murphy is some sort of extreme lefty based on Murphy's opposition to blatant lawbreaking by the telecoms, turning over private information on the public to the government.

IM continues:
"Murphy is also one of the firmest opponents of keeping the detention facility at Gitmo open."
The public has been strongly divided on this question. In Jan. 2009, 53% told the ABC News/Washington Post poll they thought the U.S. should close the facility, with 42% supporting keeping it open. A CBS News/New York Times poll three months later showed an almost-even split--47% should continue to operate, while 44% said to close the prison. An AP/Roper poll two months later showed the public evenly split on the question--47% approved of Obama's then-goal to close the facility within a year, while 47% opposed it. Again, Murphy's view seems in line with about half of the public.

Unfortunately, this matter has been subject to a great deal of right-wing fear-mongering. The far right expended a great deal of effort telling the public that closing the facility would mean al Qaida prisoners would be dropped in their back yards, and when poll questions include nods toward this, NIMBYist sentiment kicks in. A USA Today/Gallup poll from May 2009, for example, asked, "Suppose the prison at Guantanamo Bay is closed. Would you favor or oppose moving some of those prisoners to a prison in your state?" 74% were opposed, with only 23% in favor. The results are usually less dramatic (around a 60/40 split), but large majorities do oppose closing the facility if the prisoners end up in their back yards, so on this matter, Murphy can be said to be out of sync with most people, if one doesn't control for NIMBYism.

IM continues:
"Chris Murphy has a problem with the health care bill. He doesn't think it went far enough. He is a strong supporter of the public option."
As was most of the public throughout the health-care debate. In a Time magazine poll from July, 2009, 56% supported the public option, 36% opposed. In a CNN/Opinion Research poll from Aug., 2009, 55% favored the public option, 41% opposed. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from Sept. 2009, 57% supported a public option, only 37% opposed. In a Quinnipiac poll from Oct. 2009, 61% supported the public option, only 34% opposed. In a CBS News/New York Times poll from Dec., 2009, 59% supported the public option, with only 29% opposed. This poll broke down the results by party, and found that support included 80% of Democrats, 59% of independents, and even 33% of Republicans.

So, again, Murphy is tagged as a lefty radical for being in line with most of the public.

And that's the whole of IM's substantive case against Murphy. He whines about Murphy attended a gathering of internet liberals, misrepresents a comment Murphy made to MSNBC [*], and concludes that "there are none [Democrats] more deserving of defeat than Connecticut's Chris Murphy."

It's clear IM doesn't like Murphy's politics, and, for whatever reason, he seems to personally despise the man, but he utterly fails to prove his premise that Murphy is some sort of "radical" who "is far to the Left in American politics." From IM's description, in fact, Murphy appears to be exactly what IM quotes him as calling himself, a representative of "the 'pragmatic center' of American politics." That IM sees this as "radical" says everything about himself, and nothing about Chris Murphy.



[*] IM's version:
"He [Murphy] told MSMBC that after he and his colleagues got past the voters in November they would return with 'steel in their spine' ready to cast more tough votes against the wishes of their constituents."
The actual comment, in context:
"Giving an upbeat scenario for Election Day, Murphy said, 'When we retain the House, some members are going to come back with some extra steel in their spines, having cast some tough votes and having survived what’s likely the toughest election of their career.'"
[NOTE: The polls I cited but to which I don't link come from Pollingreport.com]