Saturday, December 04, 2010

Will Republican arrogance finally push Democrats to reform the filibuster?

-- by Dave

We've been rooting since the election for Senate Democrats to show some spine and reform the filibuster at the start of the coming session -- Sen. Jeff Merkley, as we reported then, has been developing a plan that makes so much sense it's almost certain never to make it through.

Moreover, as with the public option and the economic stimulus package, we haven't exactly been holding our collective breaths waiting for it to happen, given Democrats' extensive history of evolving spines made of orange Jell-O.

Now, however, it seems Republicans have so overplayed their hand in bullying Democrats around that they might actually force the Democrats to grow spines and do the job. Ezra Klein has the details:

Mitch McConnell's threat to filibuster literally everything Democrats want to do until Democrats and Republicans agree to a compromise on the Bush tax cuts can be read as a power play, but it can also be read as a dare: At this point, Republicans are sure that they can abuse the rules as much as they'd like and Democrats won't dare do a thing about it. McConnell's blanket filibuster now joins Richard Shelby's blanket hold as the two most egregious acts of procedural brinkmanship in a Congress that's been chock-full of rules-based obstruction.

If there's a wild card here, it's Sen. Jeff Merkley and the other Democrats who've been agitating for rules reform for well over a year now. Today, Merkley released his proposal (pdf), and it's a detailed, thoughtful and supportable package of reforms -- even for those who believe in the filibuster.

You can read the whole memo [file target="current" showinfo="1" id="7435"]here[/file]. As we noted before, the beauty of the Merkley plan is that it preserves the filibuster but makes it so it actually in practice is what it was intended to be: a last resort of a determined minority willing to stake its members' precious time and resources to make it happen, instead of an easy way to halt any kind of deliberation with a simple check-off, as is the case now. As Ezra notes:

This is filibuster reform that even the filibuster's supporters can love: It focuses the practice on the tradition of debate and discussion that Senate traditionalists consider to be the institution's indispensable trait. Even so, a few days ago, I would've told you it didn't have a chance, as there'd be no energy to look at the rules again. But McConnell's announcement of a blanket filibuster that's meant to stop the Senate from debating legislation rather than ensure that all sides have time to be heard may be just the push the traditionalists needed.

Greg Sargent noted that making the change will not require a filibuster-proof majority:

Merkley's office believes such a change to the rules could be accomplished with a simple majority vote in the Senate, and Merkley will be pushing colleagues to join his effort to make such a vote happen at the outset of the new session in January.

Sen. Merkley was on Rachel Maddow's show the other night to explain. Heather has the transcript here.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars].

Friday, December 03, 2010

Right-wingers have no compunction lying nakedly about the DREAM Act

-- by Dave

We already knew that right-wingers have by and large become conscienceless liars -- that, after all, is what keeps sites like this one in business. But the lying about the DREAM Act as a Senate vote nears has been quite remarkable, really.

The most outrageous instance, of course, is the revelation that William Gheen's nativist ALIPAC outfit (recently featured on Fox and Friends) was caught encouraging their would-be phone callers to lie about their residential status when they called Congress members to lobby against the DREAM Act. (See Andrea Nill at the Wonk Room for more.)

Then there was Sen. Jeff Sessions last night on Sean Hannity's Fox News show, where he was of course permitted (indeed encouraged) to trot out the usual right-wing canards against the DREAM Act without challenge, including this:

HANNITY: All right. You sent out a press release, you're urging colleagues to oppose Dream Act amnesty. Why do you call it amnesty? And let's go into some detail on this.

SESSIONS: Because, Sean, it puts the applicants who qualify for this standard on a guaranteed path to citizenship. All they have to do is really just attend college for two years. They do not have to have a degree. Only a sliver of those will use the military. Ninety percent plus would use the college type and degree program to gain this amnesty. And it would deal with a million, two million individuals, up to age 30. It's just not the right policy. It would in fact just be -- be just the opposite of what message we should be sending, which is that we're going to end the lawlessness at the border and create a lawful system of immigration and stop rewarding illegal immigration.


HANNITY: All right. They're claiming this bill would only grant amnesty to children of illegal immigrants who join the military or attend college for two years. You're claiming that this would grant nearly unrestricted amnesty. Why is there such a conflicting view of what the bill says? Are they misrepresenting the bill?

SESSIONS: No -- well, what version of it? But if fundamentally all you have to do is sign up at a community college, even a correspondence course and understand it for two years, and claim you want to attend college basically, and want to get a degree, and that's all you have to do. You do not have to have a degree. Very few people are going to use the military option. Probably less than five percent, three percent, two percent. Most of them will use this education option to try to gain legal status, and you can do it up to age 30. Once a person is then legalized, they're able to legalize their brothers, who may have been the person who brought them here illegally. They can bring in other people from outside the country. And so these bills, there's so many different versions of it, but are just unwise. And also, one terribly dangerous thing is, an individual can just assert, once they're subject to deportation, that they're working on their degree and claim the benefits of the Dream Act, and really gum up the entire legal system. It would be a major detriment to enforcement.

This is just a flood of flat-out falsehoods. As a National Immigration Forum fact sheet [PDF file] explains:

Hyperbole about “floodgates” is just that—hyperbole. The DREAM Act is a limited remedy for students who can prove several key elements, including the fact that they have good moral character, graduate from a high school, or receive a GED in the U.S., go to college or join the military.

Around 800,000 students could ultimately benefit under the DREAM Act, and even if those students jump through numerous hoops and become U.S. citizens, they can never sponsor distant family members—such as uncles and cousins. Immigration law doesn’t allow it.

Most of the parents of DREAM Act beneficiaries will also be ineligible to adjust their immigration status. Students who fulfill all of the requirements prescribed in the DREAM Act may eventually (after years) apply to become U.S. citizens. If they meet the requirements and become citizens, like other U.S. citizens, they can petition for their parents when they turn 21. However, if their parents originally entered the country without being inspected by an immigration officer, they will not be eligible to get relief. While parents who entered without inspection may apply for an immigrant visa at a consulate abroad, they will likely be barred from entering the U.S. for ten years if they have been unlawfully present in the U.S. for over six months.

As Jackie Mahendra at America's Voice puts it:

In truth, the DREAM Act is a narrowly-tailored and traditionally bipartisan piece of legislation that ensures that only those with strong moral character qualify. As such, it would strengthen the military, bolster future economic competitiveness, and offer American taxpayers a return on their investment in hard-working immigrant kids who want to give back to the nation they love and call home.

There is a wide gulf between extremists like Sessions and sensible Americans who recognize the importance of DREAM. In fact, 70% of the American people support the DREAM Act.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Rich guy Glenn Beck lectures the rest of us on the virtues of Depression-era poverty

-- by Dave

One of the real wonders of modern conservatism -- as Thomas Frank explored in some depth in What's the Matter With Kansas -- is the way it manages to convince working- and middle-class people that looking out for the interests of America's wealthy, in lieu of their own, is really their most important political undertaking. Their chief method for doing this is propaganda that convinces large numbers of people, mostly through culture-war-type appeals, to vote against their own interests.

Glenn Beck put on a really perfect display of this Tuesday on his Fox News show, when he spent the first half telling his audience that the poor in America don't have it so bad because they have TVs and microwaves, compared to what folks looked like back during the Depression.

Then he came back with a segment extolling the virtues of Depression-era poverty, when people canned their own food and made their own clothes. Then he said:

Beck: We think of poverty now as not having enough money for cable or high-speed Internet.

So saith one of the country's richest men -- a guy who has never canned his own food or raised his own garden or even worked an honest day in his life. A guy who knows NOTHING about the conditions of Americans living in poverty today, let alone yesterday or any other day. But he sure can stand back and admire the character of people living in poverty from afar.

FWIW, here's a site, Poverty in America, dedicated to standing up for people living in poverty today. Their main concern today isn't getting cable TV -- it is, indeed, making sure there's food on the table for their children. Just like in the old days.

But Glenn Beck wants us to think there's some nobility in all this -- as in: "Get used to it, suckers! This is how you're gonna live now!" Sounds about right for a rich guy.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars].

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Glenn Beck: 'Do you really believe that I could ... just make things up and remain on the air?' Well, duh.

-- by Dave

It's hard to imagine a greater irony than Glenn Beck whining about his critics supposedly quoting him all out of context, since they only run small sound bites and leave out the context, blah blah blah. Because, you know, Beck has quite a track record when it comes to that practice himself. Indeed, Jon Stewart recently had some fun at Beck's expense over his fondness for truncated video quotes.

Still, that was what Beck was doing yesterday. And it was all because Howard Dean said something mean about Fox News:

I would bring back the Fairness Doctrine so you couldn’t have a spectacle of a Fox Flooze, which just makes stuff up and is a propaganda outlet. You would actually have to have some sanctioned human beings talking to the other side. And MSNBC would have to do the same. They would have to have some conservatives on there too. I think that’s much better for the country. ...Americans don’t know what’s going on and therefore the media can have their way with them intellectually.

To which Beck responded:

BECK: I would ask Mr. Dean to help me out. What is it that we make up?

I would ask you to just take a moment here. Do you really believe that I could or anybody here at Fox News could just make things up and remain on the air?

Ummmm .... YEAH!!!!! How about on a 24/7/365 basis?

And it isn't just Beck, who of course has a nearly unbeatable track record when it comes to making crap up. Just this morning we got another fine example of Fox News making crap up:

Fox & Friends reported that a school in central Florida had banned the "traditional Christmas colors" red and green from classrooms. In a statement to Media Matters, the school's district spokesperson, Regina Klares, has denied this, stating, "There is not a ban on the colors red and green at Heathrow Elementary."

This is not the exception, it is the rule at Fox News. There are simply no standards for truthfulness there; otherwise Beck would be right -- he wouldn't have been able to go on air and lie day after day, week after week, unless it was his job to lie. Which tells you everything you need to know about Fox News.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Marc Thiessen thinks U.S. should nab WikiLeaks editor like we did Noriega. Ready to invade Sweden?

-- by Dave

You know that Republican obsession with "American exceptionalism"? It's becoming pretty obvious, in all the right-wing wailing and teeth-gnashing over the WikiLeaks releases, that for most of these dangerous fools, this translates into a belief that the USA runs the world, and therefore can willy-nilly shove ourselves by force -- militarily or otherwise -- onto other countries without their permission or cooperation.

After all, the leading prospect for the Republican presidential nomination just announced that she thinks we should just go hunt down (and presumably kill) WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Glenn Beck thought we should try him for treason -- which is kind of hard to do with a non-citizen. Then there was WaPo columnist Marc Thiessen last night on Sean Hannity's Fox News show:

THIESSEN: There are plenty of tools at our disposal. … But failing that, we can act unilaterally. We can go and get him without another country’s permission. We did it with General Noriega — there’s authority within the Office of Legal Counsel and that we can go and take anybody anywhere in the world.

Alec Seitz-Wald at ThinkProgress observes, this would pretty much mean invading one of the countries where Asange lives part-time, most likely Sweden or Iceland or Australia.

It’s worth noting that going and getting Gen. Manuel Noriega, the former narco-dictator of Panama, as Thiessen suggested, involved a full-scale invasion of the country with 25,000 American troops. Former President George H.W. Bush “broke both international law and [U.S.] government policies” in ordering the invasion in 1989, which resulted in the loss of 23 American servicemembers and the wounding of another 325, the death of hundreds of Panamanians, and major lasting damage to Panama’s economy and capital city.

Yeah, that's American exceptionalism at work.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tea Partiers sure seem to want to tear up the Constitution they loudly proclaim to love

-- by Dave

[media id="18894" embed="true" image="false" download="true"]

Our friends at the Institute for Research and Education in Human Rights -- who earlier put together that devastating study on racism within the Tea Parties for the NAACP -- recently caught Judson Phillips, organizer of the National Tea Party Convention and one of the movement's leading lights, offering up some interesting advice to his Internet radio listeners:

In a stunning set of declarations aimed at the Tea Party faithful, however, Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips sounded more like an economic and political royalist. On the November 17 edition of his Tea Party Nation internet radio program, Phillips said: "The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn't you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you're a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you're not a property owner, you know, I'm sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners."

Sure, let's just do away with the principle of "one man one vote" altogether! After all, the Roberts Court has now enshrined corporate personhood -- this would be the next logical step.

But that, as it turns out, was just the start of a conversation Phillips had with a guy named David DeGerolamo, who is the founder of Tea Party outfit called North Carolina Freedom.
Conspiracy theories aside, Phillips and DeGerolamo had their own special way of holding the Constitution dear to their patriotic hearts, by discussing which parts of it they would like to rip out.

Judson Phillips: "Of course, when people talk, three Amendments that really are the only ones that seriously get talked about getting repealed: the 16th Amendment, for the income tax, and we can only hope that happens; the 17th Amendment for having the appointment of Senators got back to state legislatures; and the 26th Amendment, I believe it is.

Do you know which one that is, David?"

David DeGerolamo: "No, but I know which one I want repealed."

Judson Phillips:
"Which one is that?"

David DeGerolamo: "I want the 14th Amendment repealed."

Judson Phillips: "At least modified, but yeah..."

What's especially noteworthy about all this is that al lthis talk is straight out of the Patriot movement of the 1990s, which often and openly discussed its belief in the "the organic Constitution," to wit, the core text and the Bill of Rights, and that by and large Patriot did not believe any of the ensuing amendments had been properly passed or were legally binding.

In particular, militiamen and Patriots have traditionally despised the 14th and 16th amendments, and would be delighted to see a raft of other overturned as well.

Of course, this crossover between the Patriots and the Tea Parties was also the subject of my report for AlterNet last week. Indeed, the more we see this kind of rhetoric coming from the movement's national leaders, the more it becomes clear the Tea Parties are becoming a kind of surreptitious way for the Patriot movement to mainstream itself on a massive scale.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Birthers' newest claim: Obama not a 'natural born citizen' because father was Kenyan

-- by Dave

[media id="18892" embed="true" image="true" download="true"]

UPDATE: The Supreme Court rejected the claim today without comment. [H/t marionetta]

We've always said that wingnuts never, ever give up. And that would be especially true of the wingnuttiest of the current crop, the Birthers -- because their theory has been so manifestly disproven so many times that you'd think they might have a clue by now. But no.

Now they're expanding their theory. They're arguing that Obama, per the constitutional requirement that he be a "natural born citizen", is disqualified from such status because his father was a British subject of Kenyan birth.

What's really funny about this theory is that these fetishists of all things from the Founding Fathers would thus have disqualified one of the leading founders, Thomas Jefferson, from the presidency.

What's perhaps not so funny about it is that the Supreme Court has this case on its docket.

Unsurprisingly, the wingnuts at WorldNetDaily are all over the story:

The Supreme Court conferred today on whether arguments should be heard on the merits of Kerchner v. Obama, a case challenging whether President Barack Obama is qualified to serve as president because he may not be a "natural-born citizen" as required by Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution.

Unlike other eligibility cases that have reached the Supreme Court, Kerchner vs. Obama focuses on the "Vattel theory," which argues that the writers of the Constitution believed the term "natural-born citizen" to mean a person born in the United States to parents who were both American citizens.

"This case is unprecedented," said Mario Apuzzo, the attorney bringing the suit. "I believe we presented an ironclad case. We've shown standing, and we've shown the importance of the issue for the Supreme Court. There's nothing standing in their way to grant us a writ of certiorari."

There really shouldn't be much to worry about here, truthfully: the lower courts have all tossed out this suit, and indeed the Third Circuit Appeals court ordered Apuzzo to explain why he shouldn't be sanctioned for filing a frivolous lawsuit (an order that was later vacated.

On the other hand, considering that these appeals were tossed not on the merits of the case but on the lack of standing that Charles Kerchner actually had in filing the suit, and the fact that the Roberts Court has shown a disturbing tendency to liberalize standing when it suits the conservative wing, maybe we shouldn't be so blithe.

And what's the basis of their theory? Back to WND:

Apuzzo is arguing the "Vattel theory," which asserts that the term "natural-born citizen" as used in the Constitution was defined by Swiss writer Emer de Vattel. Vattel, whose work, "The Law of Nations," was widely known and respected by the founding fathers, used the term to mean an individual born of two citizens.

According to Apuzzo, Congress and the courts have addressed the question of who can be an American citizen, for example regarding former slaves, Asian immigrants, and American Indians. However, the term "natural-born citizen" has never been altered.

"The courts and Congress have never changed the definition," said Apuzzo. "The founding fathers understood that the commander-in-chief of the armed forces needed to have two American citizens as parents so that American values would be imparted to him."

Apuzzo said the Supreme Court had clearly accepted Vattel's definition of "natural-born citizen" in "dicta," or statements made in opinions on cases addressing other matters. He cited Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall's opinion in the 1814 "Venus" case, in which Marshall endorses Vattel's definition.

This is pretty odd reasoning. Especially when you consider that the same standard would have disqualified Thomas Jefferson -- whose mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, was born in London, England:

According to the Jefferson family bible, she was born 9 February 1721 (o.s.) in Shadwell parish, Tower Hamlets, London. The parish register of St. Paul's, Upper Shadwell, notes her baptism on 25 February 1721 as the daughter of Isham Randolph (1687-1742), "mariner" of Shakespeare's Walk (literally around the corner from the church), and Jane Rogers (1698-1760).

None of this has slowed Kerchner -- a retired Naval Reserve commander who lives in Pennsylvania -- and his attorney, Mario Apuzzo, whose blog is something of an Information Central for the case. Here, for instance, are the questions Apuzzo is arguing before the court:

1. Whether petitioners sufficiently articulated a case or controversy against respondents which gives them Article III standing to make their Fifth Amendment due process and equal protection claims against them.
2. Whether putative President Obama can be an Article II “natural born Citizen” if he was born in the United States to a United States citizen mother and a non-United States citizen British father and under the British Nationality Act 1948 he was born a British citizen.
3. Whether putative President Obama and Congress violated petitioners’ Fifth Amendment due process rights to life, liberty, safety, security, tranquility, and property and Ninth Amendment rights by Congress failing to assure them pursuant to the Twentieth Amendment that Obama qualified as an Article II “natural born Citizen” before confirming his electoral votes and by Obama refusing to conclusively prove that he is a “natural born Citizen.”
4. Whether Congress violated petitioners’ rights under the Fifth Amendment to equal protection of their life, liberty, safety, security, tranquility, and property by investigating and confirming the “natural born Citizen” status of presidential candidate, John McCain, but not that of presidential candidate, Barack Obama.

As Eric Zorn observes, these folks seem to think the Supreme Court is going to validate their effort to have a sitting president declared ineligible. Lotsa luck with that. But then, these are people with a real Magical Thinking problem.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]