Obama Calls For An End To A Perpetual War on Terror And For Respect For Civil Liberties

I only heard portions of Barack Obama’s speech while driving to and from lunch today but did like what I heard. It was clear that whether or not I wound up agreeing with everything, contrary to claims from portions of both the left and right, Barack Obama is no Richard Nixon or George Bush. For now I am relying on the prepared text, which lacks the portion where I hear Obama did an excellent job of responding to the criticism of a heckler. While we could question if some of this is being said later than desired, there was much in today’s speech which I did like, such as addressing this early in the speech: “I believe we compromised our basic values – by using torture to interrogate our enemies, and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law.”

Obama discussed our triumphs in fighting al Qaeda , and then its cost:

These questions matter to every American. For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, exploding our deficits and constraining our ability to nation build here at home. Our service-members and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf. Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home. From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation – and world – that we leave to our children.

So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. To define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom. And that begins with understanding the threat we face.

He recognized that victories over terrorist groups often come from targeted efforts and police actions as opposed to the Bush/Cheney concept of a global war on terror:

Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America. In many cases, this will involve partnerships with other countries. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives fighting extremists. In Yemen, we are supporting security forces that have reclaimed territory from AQAP. In Somalia, we helped a coalition of African nations push al Shabaab out of its strongholds. In Mali, we are providing military aid to a French-led intervention to push back al Qaeda in the Maghreb, and help the people of Mali reclaim their future.

Much of our best counter-terrorism cooperation results in the gathering and sharing of intelligence; the arrest and prosecution of terrorists. That’s how a Somali terrorist apprehended off the coast of Yemen is now in prison in New York. That’s how we worked with European allies to disrupt plots from Denmark to Germany to the United Kingdom. That’s how intelligence collected with Saudi Arabia helped us stop a cargo plane from being blown up over the Atlantic.

Obama called for greater oversight over the use of drones and targeted killing, and greater transparency:

This week, I authorized the declassification of this action, and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes, to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue, and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims. For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil…

Going forward, I have asked my Administration to review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of warzones that go beyond our reporting to Congress. Each option has virtues in theory, but poses difficulties in practice. For example, the establishment of a special court to evaluate and authorize lethal action has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process, but raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial authority. Another idea that’s been suggested – the establishment of an independent oversight board in the executive branch – avoids those problems, but may introduce a layer of bureaucracy into national-security decision-making, without inspiring additional public confidence in the process. Despite these challenges, I look forward to actively engaging Congress to explore these – and other – options for increased oversight.

I believe, however, that the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion about a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. Because for all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe. We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the well-spring of extremism, a perpetual war – through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments – will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.

He called for a media shield to protect journalists:

Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government over-reach. I have raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I have directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.

While Republicans were leading us into a perpetual war, Obama realizes that, like all wars, this war must end:

The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

He is addressing the continued detaining of prisoners at Guantánamo:

Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO. I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions. I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee.

Even after we take these steps, one issue will remain: how to deal with those GTMO detainees who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks, but who cannot be prosecuted – for example because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in a court of law. But once we commit to a process of closing GTMO, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.

I know the politics are hard. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism, and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future – ten years from now, or twenty years from now – when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?

The president does not micromanage every action by the United States government and, as Ed Kilgore and David Weigel pointed out, Obama did try to hold the Congressional Republicans for their actions:

One thing is fairly clear: the speech poses a challenge to congressional Republicans that may not be that easy for them to meet, distracted as they are and as divided as they tend to be on national security policy these days. As Slate’s Dave Weigel quickly noted, Obama four times shifted responsibility for current dilemmas at least partially to Congress: on drones (where he insisted the appropriate congressional committees have known about every single strike); on embassy security; on the 9/11-era legal regime that still governs anti-terrorist efforts; and on Gitmo (where Republicans have repeatedly thwarted effort to transfer detainees to U.S. prisons). But like critical reporters, Republicans, other than neocons who want GWOT not only to be maintained but intensified, will probably tear off tasty chunks of the speech and masticate them noisily, or just dismiss it all and get back onto the crazy train of Scandalmania ‘13.

David Corn sees this as Obama taking the middle ground:

Not shockingly, Obama is attempting to find middle ground, where there is more oversight and more restraint regarding activities that pose serious civil liberties and policy challenges. The McCainiacs of the world are likely to howl about any effort to place the effort to counter terrorism into a more balanced perspective. The civil libertarians will scoff at half measures. But Obama, at the least, is showing that he does ponder these difficult issues in a deliberative manner and is still attempting to steer the nation into a post-9/11 period. That journey, though, may be a long one.

He is also looking for a middle ground which considers our security needs in the era of international terrorism along with the need to respect civil liberties and the principles which the nation was founded upon. He might not get it completely right, and the answers are not always entirely clear but, contrary to Bush and Cheney, he is considering the key issues.

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Republican Hysteria Over Pseudo-Scandals Prevents Consideration Of Real Problems

Scandals cartoon

One consequence of a dysfunctional opposition party which is more concerned with scoring political points than the good of the country is that we have a combination of attacks over fabricated scandals while ignoring real problems. The Republicans have concentrated on Benghazi, even resorting to distorting evidence, and the IRS, which looks far more like low level bureaucrats taking short cuts than any Nixonian abuse of power coming from the White House, despite the Republican attempts to move the goal posts.

One problem with trying to turn real problems into a political scandal is that the actual problems are not addressed. We need to look at issues such as how organizations are evaluated for favorable tax status and how foreign embassies are defended, not twist the facts to blame Obama. Strangely, conservatives who speak out (sometimes correctly) about the size of our bureaucracy fail to understand that the president does not personally make every decision. Republicans who ignored actual abuses of power under George Bush see everything which might go wrong as evidence of evil intent on the part of the current president.

There is a report today which provides hope that some Republican staffers, at least, are looking at trying to learn from the Benghazi attack:

The inquiry led by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into the slaying of four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year has been attention-grabbing, but some senior GOP aides are worried that the partisan overtones are diverting Congress from identifying and addressing the real lessons learned from the attack.

In particular, these aides say key staffers have been overly consumed with chasing down or addressing inaccurate or unfounded accusations emerging from the inquiry.

“We have got to get past that and figure out what are we going to do going forward,” a GOP aide stressed. “Some of the accusations, I mean you wouldn’t believe some of this stuff. It’s just — I mean, you’ve got to be on Mars to come up with some of this stuff.”

In this charged political environment, where some on Capitol Hill have accused the president of a possible cover-up related to the attack just weeks before the 2012 presidential election, defense policy Republicans are trying to refocus attention on core issues and create some good out of the tragedy.

Hopeful, but I fear that the Republicans will still prefer to mislead their base in order to motivate them to turn out and contribute money as opposed to turning to reality-based governing.

One sign of business as usual among Republicans is that Darryl Issa, who pursues his job with the vigor and lack of integrity of Joseph McCarthy, is now attacking IRS inspector general J. Russell George.

Another problem is that real questions involving civil liberties are ignored, primarily as the Republicans would support greater violations. The Obama administration’s actions towards the AP raises First Amendment concerns even if this was done within the law and there are extenuating factors which also must be considered.While conservatives are generally only concerned with abuses which target conservatives, and which often only exist in their imagination, liberals have been non-partisan regarding both the IRS and the media. Liberals were no less likely to be concerned in principle that the target was from Fox with the naming of a  correspondent as a possible “co-conspirator” in an investigation of a news leak . The New York Times concluded their editorial on the matter by writing:

Obama administration officials often talk about the balance between protecting secrets and protecting the constitutional rights of a free press. Accusing a reporter of being a “co-conspirator,” on top of other zealous and secretive investigations, shows a heavy tilt toward secrecy and insufficient concern about a free press.

Along with excessive secrecy, in contrast to campaign promises to have the most open and transparent government in history, the use of drone strikes has led to much of the criticism of Obama from the left. There is some good news on this today, also from The New York Times:

President Obama embraced drone strikes in his first term, and the targeted killing of suspected terrorists has come to define his presidency.

But lost in the contentious debate over the legality, morality and effectiveness of a novel weapon is the fact that the number of strikes has actually been in decline. Strikes in Pakistan peaked in 2010 and have fallen sharply since then; their pace in Yemen has slowed to half of last year’s rate; and no strike has been reported in Somalia for more than a year.

We cannot rely on Congressional over-site as the Republicans would be more likely to promote greater use of drones and show far less concern over issues of either legality or morality. There have been mixed signs that the Obama administration has been moving towards establishing greater consideration of institutionalizing changes in warfare with development of due process and ideally judicial over-site. Hopefully this reduction in the use of drones indicates a greater consideration of the consequences of this policy.

 

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Conflicting Principles In Searching For Leak On Al Qaeda Informant

I’ve had several posts recently about two of the “scandals” surrounding the Obama administration. In one case, Benghazi, there is no real scandal–just another case of Republicans distorting the facts. In the case of the IRS, we have the rare case of Republicans being right about wrong-doing, but wrong in trying to tie this to Obama. The subpoena of AP records regarding sources on a story about a planned terrorist attack is more difficult to characterize. In this case, Republicans aren’t attacking Obama because they have no qualms about infringing upon First Amendment liberties, but many liberals are concerned.

Jack Shafer of Reuters has an excellent review of this case and his entire post should be read. He began:

Journalists gasp and growl whenever prosecutors issue lawful subpoenas ordering them to divulge their confidential sources or to turn over potential evidence, such as notes, video outtakes or other records. It’s an attack on the First Amendment, It’s an attack on the First Amendment, It’s an attack on the First Amendment, journalists and their lawyers chant. Those chants were heard this week, as it was revealed that Department of Justice prosecutors had seized two months’ worth of records from 20 office, home and cell phone lines used by Associated Press journalists in their investigation into the Yemen underwear-bomber leaks.

First Amendment radicals — I count myself among them — resist any and all such intrusions: You can’t very well have a free press if every unpublished act of journalism can be co-opted by cops, prosecutors and defense attorneys. First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams speaks for most journalists when he denounces the “breathtaking scope” of the AP subpoenas. But the press’s reflexive protests can prevent it from seeing the story in full, which I think is the case in the current leaks investigation.

See the full article for the specifics, but the gist of this is that the Obama administration’s concern here was not with preventing the press from publishing their reports but uncovering a leak. Also, this is not a case of someone leaking information which we necessarily wanted to get out, but the fact that an al Qaeda plot to bomb an airplane bound for the United States was stopped due to having an informant  recruited by British intelligence inside of al Qaeda.

Shafer concluded:

To begin with, the perpetrators of a successful double-agent operation against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would not want to brag about their coup for years. Presumably, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will now use the press reports to walk the dog back to determine whose misplaced trust allowed the agent to penetrate it. That will make the next operation more difficult. Other intelligence operations — and we can assume they are up and running — may also become compromised as the press reports give al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula new clues.

Likewise, the next time the CIA or foreign intelligence agency tries to recruit a double agent, the candidate will judge his handlers wretched secret keepers, regard the assignment a death mission and seek employment elsewhere.

Last, the leaks of information — including those from the lips of Brennan, Clarke and King — signal to potential allies that America can’t be trusted with secrets. “Leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” as Obama put it today in a news conference.

The ultimate audience for the leaks investigation may not be domestic but foreign. Obviously, the government wants to root out the secretspillers. But a country can’t expect foreign intelligence agencies to cooperate if it blows cover of such an operation. I’d wager that the investigations have only begun.

Since 9/11 there have been many situations where the government has gone overboard in placing security (and sometimes false claims of security) over civil liberties. The answer on this one is certainly not clear.

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Teen Stands Up To Brownback, Refuses to Apologize For Negative Tweet

I recently posted a story about a teenager who tweeted a negative comment about Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to her sixty-five followers. Brownback’s office, monitoring for negative on-line comments, found the tweet and reported this to her school’s principal. Neither the principal or Brownback’s office showed any appreciation of First Amendment rights and the principal demanded that the girl apologize to Brownback.

The student has refused to apologize. AP reports:

A Kansas teenager who wrote a disparaging tweet about Gov. Sam Brownbacksaid Sunday that she is rejecting her high school principal’s demand for a written apology.

Emma Sullivan, 18, of the Kansas City suburb of Fairway, said she isn’t sorry and doesn’t think such a letter would be sincere.

The Shawnee Mission East senior was taking part in a Youth in Government program last week in Topeka, Kan., when she sent out a tweet from the back of a crowd of students listening to Brownback’s greeting. From her cellphone, she thumbed: “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback,” and then specified what the comments were.

She actually made no such comment and said she was “just joking with friends.” But Brownback’s office, which monitors social media for postings containing the governor’s name, saw Sullivan’s post and contacted the Youth in Government program.

Sullivan received a scolding at school and was ordered to send Brownback an apology letter. She said Prinicipal Karl R. Krawitz even suggested talking points for the letter she was supposed to turn in Monday.

Her mother is showing far better understanding of freedom of speech than either the principal or Brownback.

Sullivan’s mother, Julie, said she isn’t angry with her daughter, even though she thinks she “could have chosen different words.”

“She wasn’t speaking to the 3,000 followers she has now,” Julie Sullivan said. “She was talking to 65 friends. And also it’s the speech they use today. It’s more attention grabbing. I raised my kids to be independent, to be strong, to be free thinkers.

“If she wants to tweet her opinion about Gov. Brownback, I say for her to go for it and I stand totally behind her.”

 Update: Brownback has apologized for the over-reaction of his staff.

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Michele Bachmann First To Sign Pledge Banning Pornography And Calling Homosexuality An Unhealthy Choice

There was  a time when there typically was a religious right candidate in the Republican primaries. Such candidates would inevitably be beaten by the establishment candidate. Today the religious right dominates the GOP, and almost all candidates promote social conservatism. It will be interesting to see how many candidates sign a pledge from Family Leader. Michele Bachmann was the first to sign this:

Presidential candidates who sign the pledge must agree to personal fidelity to his or her spouse, the appointment of “faithful constitutionalists” as judges, opposition to any redefinition of marriage, and prompt reform of uneconomic and anti-marriage aspects of welfare policy, tax policy and divorce law.

The Marriage Vow also outlines support for the legal advocacy for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, humane efforts to protect women and children, rejection of Sharia Islam, safeguards for all married and unmarried U.S. military service members, and commitment to downsizing government and the burden upon American families.

In addition, candidates are asked to recognize that “robust childrearing and reproduction is beneficial to U.S. demographic, economic, strategic and actuarial health and security.”

In addition, Think Progress reports that this calls for the banning of “all forms” of pornography and states that homosexuality is both a choice and a health risk. Undoubtedly conservatives will fail to see how these conflict with claims to support limited government, not to mention violating the First Amendment.

I would love to see Democratic candidates counter this with a pledge to support individual liberty, including each individual’s right to chose who to marry, uphold the First Amendment, and preserve a social safety net to protect families in need. Unfortunately we know that Democrats are not very likely to openly stand up for liberal principles in such a manner.

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Sharon Angle’s Religious War

Sharon Angle has previously called “Second Amendment remedies” to pursue the Tea Party platform, and possibly to take out Harry Reid. Another sign of her theocratic views has been found in an interview on Christian talk radio:

“And these programs that you mentioned — that Obama has going with Reid and Pelosi pushing them forward — are all entitlement programs built to make government our God. And that’s really what’s happening in this country is a violation of the First Commandment. We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We’re supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not for our government.”

This mindset will further reinforce to some that religion infuses everything Angle believes but also might explain her hostility to government programs, believing essentially they are produced by a false God. And she frames the race as one she has been praying over for some time, a war of ideologies and faith: “And I knew that all along when I started praying over a year ago over it. And this just seemed to be the battle that I needed to go to war with. And I need warriors to stand beside me. You know, this is a war of ideology, a war of thoughts and of faith. And we need people to really stand for faith and trust, not hope and change.”

Is this a political campaign or a call for a religious war. Is this call for “warriors to stand beside me” another version of her call for “Second Amendment remedies”?

I think that Sharon Angle needs to pay less attention to the Bible and First Commandment and more to the Constitution and the First Amendment.

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Court Rules Against Bush Era Censorship Under Indecency Rules

An appeals court has thrown out the indecency policy used by the FCC during the Bush administration to attack the media. Media Decoder reports:

A United States appeals court tossed out the indecency policy of the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday, calling it a violation of the First Amendment.

An appeals panel said the F.C.C. policy was “unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here.”

The ruling was immediately characterized as a victory for big broadcasters like ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, which have been fighting the indecency policy for years.

Tuesday’s ruling vacates a 2004 decision by the Bush administration F.C.C. to step up enforcement of the indecency policy on the broadcast airwaves. Earlier that year, the singer Janet Jackson’s breast was bared during the Super Bowl halftime show on CBS, reigniting a decades-old debate about broadcast standards.

For once even Fox is on the right side in this battle against censorship:

In a statement, Fox Broadcasting said it was extremely pleased by Tuesday’s decision. “We have always felt that the government’s position on fleeting expletives was unconstitutional,” said the company, a unit of the News Corporation. “While we will continue to strive to eliminate expletives from live broadcasts, the inherent challenges broadcasters face with live television, coupled with the human element required for monitoring, must allow for the unfortunate isolated instances where inappropriate language slips through.”

This is a positive move towards defending First Amendment rights, but I wonder what will happen if this goes to the Supreme Court which remains under right wing domination.

Update: A Message For The FCC

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The American Taliban Uses Religion To Justify Discrimination

Robert Stacy McCain, in discussing Robert Knight’s column, writes “In the secular world of modern intellectualism, it is too easy to forget that not everyone is secular, worldly or modern.” Actually with one of the major political parties in this country becoming outright theocratic and desiring to deny our First Amendment rights to separation of church and state, this is something we never forget. We are often shocked to see such views expressed in 21st century America. In his column entitled We’re smarter than God, Robert Knight (author of Radical Rulers: The White House Elites Who Are Pushing America Toward Socialism) falls back on religious views to justify discrimination against  homosexuals.

It is easy for the authoritarian right to accept Knight’s argument as McCain does since “more than 97% of Americans are heterosexual.” It is not justified to use one’s religious views to promote government restrictions upon the rights of any minority, regardless of how small.

Knight and McCain are convinced that god is on their side in opposing homosexuality and preservation of discrimination against gays in the military. Knight writes:

Those of us who believe that God created male and female and that sex outside marriage – adultery, fornication and homosexuality – is wrong and harmful, are just not being intelligent. It’s apparently not enough to love friends and family who are into homosexuality; we have to love the behavior that threatens their bodies and souls.

The problem with this view is that the world is full of many people with many views as to the nature of god, whether there is a god, and if there is a god what god actually believes about human conduct. No side in such debates has any real evidence and it all comes down to one’s opinion. The founding fathers recognized this when they devised a secular government with separation of church and state.

In secular America, everyone is entitled to their religious views but religious views are to never be the  justification for government policy. Constitutional scholar and then candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination Barack Obama expressed such a theocratic position during the CNN/You Tube debate in 2007, arguing “we are under obligation in public life to translate our religious values into moral terms that all people can share, including those who are not believers. And that is how our democracy’s functioning, will continue to function. That’s what the founding fathers intended.” Obama also discussed separation of church and state when interviewed by CBN in 2007:

For my friends on the right, I think it would be helpful to remember the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy but also our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn’t the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn’t want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves.

It was the forbearers of Evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they didn’t want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it. Given this fact, I think that the right might worry a bit more about the dangers of sectarianism.

Whatever we once were, we’re no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of non-believers. We should acknowledge this and realize that when we’re formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we’ve got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community.

Those who believe homosexuality is morally wrong are free to refrain from homosexual relations but do not have the right to impose this view upon others. Even many who are religious agree that we should not impose our views upon others.  McCain expresses a bizarre and nonexistent fear in writing, “Homosexuality may no longer forbidden, but it is not mandatory — yet.”

When Republicans pursue policies based upon religious views there is certainly a difference in degree but morally they are no different than the Taliban or any other group supporting theocracy and opposing the modern world. Such a tremendous difference in world views is also something we must remember when Obama and other Democrats sometimes pursue policies we disagree with. Most people will never agree with any political party on all issues, but that is a different matter from opposing the overall theocratic worldview held by the authoritarian right.

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Sarah Palin Still Does Not Understand The First Amendment

Back during the 2008 campaign I noted how Sarah Palin thought the purpose of the First Amendment was to protect politicians such as herself from criticism by the press. Speaking in Idaho recently Palin showed that she still has not learned what the First Amendment means.  Palin complained about media coverage of a local conservative politician by saying, “I think it’s appalling and a violation of our freedom of the press.”

Palin  showed no respect for the actual First Amendment when she tried to practice censorship in Wasilla (here and here). It makes one wonder what she learned when receiving that degree in communications.

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Republicans vs. Secular America

Dan Kennedy warned in The Guardian about the leading Republican candidates who are blatantly disregarding First Amendment rights as they ignore the secular nature of our government as established by the Founding Fathers:

If you’re part of secular America – that is, if you’re an atheist, an agnostic, a religious liberal or even a mainstream believer who thinks religion should be kept out of politics and vice-versa – then you should be very afraid of what the Republican party has in store for you in 2012.

No news there, you might say. The Republicans, as we all know, have been in thrall to the Christian right since the Reagan era. But there’s something new, something more intolerant, something truly ugly in the works. And if you don’t believe me, let’s start with Tim Pawlenty, unassuming governor of Minnesota in his day job, fire-breathing Christian warrior and aspiring presidential candidate in his spare time.

“I want to share with you four ideas that I think should carry us forward,” Pawlenty said on Friday at the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee, or CPAC. After invoking “basic constitutional principle and basic common sense,” he continued:

“The first one is this: God’s in charge. God is in charge … In the Declaration of Independence it says we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. It doesn’t say we’re endowed by Washington, DC, or endowed by the bureaucrats or endowed by state government. It’s by our creator that we are given these rights.”

Never mind Pawlenty’s fundamental and no doubt deliberate misreading of the founders’ intent. (Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, is well-known for having cut up a Bible to remove all supernatural references to Jesus.) How, in practice, does Pawlenty envision “God’s in charge” as a governing principle?

Pawlenty didn’t say. But he oozed mild-mannered hatred for anyone who doesn’t share his beliefs. In a bizarre closing in which he invoked the civil war general (and future president) Ulysses S Grant as some sort of rough-around-the-edges, proto-Tea Party role model, Pawlenty trashed anyone who attended “Ivy League schools” or who go to “chablis-drinking, brie-eating parties in San Francisco”. (You can watch Pawlenty’s address at CSPAN.org, starting at the 1:38:30 mark.) It sounded like a parody of Pat Buchanan’s famous 1992 “culture war” speech. Except that Pawlenty is one of the Republicans’ two most plausible candidates for president in 2012.

The other would be former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who fell far short of the prize in 2008, but whose legendary self-discipline has put him in a strong position for 2012.

The trouble is that Romney has already declared war on secular America. In December 2007, you may recall, he delivered a speech in which he defended his Mormon religion at a time when he was under assault from evangelical Christians. It was, in many respects, a sensible plea for religious tolerance.

Except that Romney called for tolerance only among believers, explicitly omitting non-believers. “Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me,” Romney said. “And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation’s symphony of faith.”

As New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote the next day, “Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious.” Brooks – a conservative, though a secular one – warned that Romney was calling for “a culture war without end”.

Kennedy concentrated on Romney and Pawlenty as he considers them early front runners but warns that two potential fringe candidates are even worse:

If you have not seen Sarah Palin asking God to build a natural-gas pipeline in Alaska, well, do yourself a favour right now (see also her recent speech at the Tea Party convention). Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, personifies the Christian right in its purest form. “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ,” Huckabee said in 1998. There is no reason to think he’s changed his mind.

“While we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess, and to observe, the religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to them whose minds have not yielded to the evidence which has convinced us,” wrote James Madison.

In contrast to Madison, the Republicans propose a theocracy of believers. It is an assault not just on anyone who isn’t one of them, but on the American idea, and on liberal democracies everywhere.

He excludes Ron Paul from his warnings  but I believe it is only because he has not paid much attention to Paul, not considering him a credible candidate. Despite the common misapplication of the libertarian label to Paul, he also opposes separation of church and state and in many ways is as big a threat to liberty as the establishment Republican candidates.

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