Friday, October 30, 2009

Pirates in blue

Alternate title: Cops on commission

Most conservatives have a concern about arbitrary and overreaching government; most liberals worry about unbridled entrepreneurialism. Here’s a story that features both at the same time.

It’s about a thing called civil forfeiture. To people who are unfamiliar with it, it sounds bizarre and like something that couldn’t possibly even exist, at least in the United States. But it does, and it’s a thriving, er, industry, including here in Minnesota.

You’ve probably read about the Metro Gang Strike Force, a blot that will stain the escutcheon of Twin Cities’ law enforcement for a long time. The Strike Force stands accused of improperly seizing property claimed to have been used in gang and drug activity, but it seems that the Strike Force kept dismal or no records of what was seized, what happened to the seized property, and misappropriated some of the seized property for the private use of the Strike Force members. From City Pages:

The looting went well beyond shaking down the occasional 15-year-old pot smoker of his/her pocket change. During searches and seizures, officers routinely confiscated, for their own personal use, highly valuable goodies that had little-to-nothing to do with the accompanying charges. The plunders included flat-screen televisions, lap tops, jewelry, and jet skis-- items "officers and their family members were permitted to purchase, at low prices," according to the findings.

There is an investigator on the case of the missing property now, and he has his job cut out for him:

With no officers on its payroll anymore, the Strike Force board has hired a private detective -- retired South St. Paul officer David Vujovich -- to itemize seized vehicles, which sit in a storage lot. He's also been asked to track down case files as individuals seek to reclaim seized funds or property, said Manila (Bud) Shaver, the board chair. The League of Minnesota Cities, the force's insurance agency, has agreed to reimburse the board for Vujovich's services, said Kori Land, the Strike Force attorney.

It's not known how many unclaimed vehicles are in storage. The Minnesota Legislative Auditor concluded in a report in May that many were improperly forfeited.

The Strike Force is hardly alone in using civil forfeiture, however, and it’s a process that’s ripe for abuse.

A property seizure and forfeiture is what lawyers’ call an in rem proceeding; it’s against the “guilty property.” That’s the really neat thing about it from a law enforcement standpoint: property doesn’t have much in the way of due process rights. It turns out that the owners of the property don’t, either.

Property is subject to seizure and forfeiture for a variety of specified crimes. Under the forfeiture laws, if property was used in the commission of a crime, or represents the proceeds of a crime, it is subject to forfeiture. In some cases, it seems sensible and obvious, like the forfeiture of a gun used to commit a hunting violation or if it’s carried in a public place illegally (although that’s getting harder to do!).

It is the seizures in controlled substance and DWI cases where the most potential for abuse exists. The Strike Force is the obvious example here. Property can be and is seized and forfeited when there is no conviction for the predicate crime for the seizure. That seems entirely bizarre, but it’s true. On top of that, your property can be forfeited if somebody else used your property to commit a crime. We’ll discuss these things in more detail in a subsequent post.

There were a couple of items in the news in Strib recently that give this issue fresh relevance, even here in Spot’s burg, Edina.

But back to the two issues mentioned at the top of the post, and In conclusion, at least for now, consider this: the local gendarmes get to keep over two thirds of the proceeds of forfeited merchandise.

We’ve put the local cops on a fat commission. It’s like we’ve issued the chiefs of police a letter of marque, giving them a considerable financial incentive, without any oversight, to go out and seize property entirely beyond the scope of the police role to enforce criminal law.

Fox News and the people who watch it

Jon Stewart on Fox “News”:

Stewart has a good example of how the Fox “news” and “opinion” sides actually work hand in glove. A lecture delivered in Stewart’s inimitable style.

A thump of the tail to Jason Barnett.

The two most unwinnable wars in human history

Have come charmingly together:

soldiers in poppy fields

The war in Afghanistan and the war on drugs. We’ve fought the former for eight years now — as long as the Soviets were in Afghanistan, and with similar results — and the latter for decades. But now we have a two-fer. This is just great.

McClatchy reports:

As the Obama administration ramps up the Drug Enforcement Administration's presence in Afghanistan, some special-agent pilots contend that they're being illegally forced to go to a combat zone, while others who've volunteered say they're not being properly equipped. [It is probably safe to assume that DEA aircraft are not F-18s or heavily-armored Blackhawks.]

In interviews with McClatchy, more than a dozen DEA agents describe a badly managed system in which some pilots have been sent to Afghanistan under duress or as punishment for bucking their superiors.

Such complaints, so far mostly arising from the DEA's Aviation Division, could complicate the Obama administration's efforts to send dozens of additional DEA agents to Afghanistan as part of a civilian and military personnel "surge" that aims to stabilize the country.

About Afghanistan specifically, Professor A.E. Bacevich of Boston University, an Army officer from 1969 to 1992, wrote:

Fixing Afghanistan is not only unnecessary, it's also likely to prove impossible. Not for nothing has the place acquired the nickname Graveyard of Empires. Americans, insistent that the dominion over which they preside does not meet the definition of empire, evince little interest in how the British, Russians, or others have fared in attempting to impose their will on the Afghans. As General David McKiernan, until recently the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, put it, "There's always an inclination to relate what we're doing now with previous nations," adding, "I think that's a very unhealthy comparison." McKiernan was expressing a view common among the ranks of the political and military elite: We're Americans. We're different. Therefore, the experience of others does not apply.

Bacevich, A.E., The War We Can’t Win, Harper’s Magazine, November, 2009.

Yup, we’re the ‘Mericuns; we make our own reality, remember?

Bacevich continues, using Iraq (pay special attention here, Dave) as exhibit A for why Afghanistan is going to come a cropper:

Of course, Americans like McKiernan who reject as irrelevant the experience of others might at least be willing to contemplate the experience of the United States itself. Take the case of Iraq, now bizarrely trumpeted in some quarters as a “success” and even more bizarrely seen as offering a template for how to turn Afghanistan around. Much has been made of the United States Army’s rediscovery of (and growing infatuation with) counterinsurgency doctrine, applied in Iraq beginning in early 2007 when President Bush launched his so-called surge and anointed General David Petraeus as the senior U.S. commander in Baghdad. Yet technique is no substitute for strategy. Violence in Iraq may be down, but evidence of the promised political reconciliation that the surge was intended to produce remains elusive. America’s Mesopotamian misadventure continues. Pretending that the surge has redeemed the Iraq war is akin to claiming that when Andy Jackson “caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans” he thereby enabled the United States to emerge victorious from the War of 1812. Such a judgment works well as folklore but ignores an abundance of contrary evidence.

More than six years after it began, Operation Iraqi Freedom has consumed something like a trillion dollars—with the meter still running—and has taken the lives of more than 4,300 American soldiers. Meanwhile, in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities, car bombs continue to detonate at regular intervals, killing and maiming dozens. Anyone inclined to put Iraq in the nation’s rearview mirror is simply deluded. Not long ago, General Raymond Odierno, Petraeus’s successor and the fifth U.S. commander in Baghdad, expressed the view that the insurgency in Iraq is likely to drag on for another five, ten, or fifteen years. Events may well show that Odierno is an optimist.

Given the embarrassing yet indisputable fact that this was an utterly needless war—no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction found, no ties between Saddam Hussein and the jihadists established, no democratic transformation of the Islamic world set in motion, no road to peace in Jerusalem discovered in downtown Baghdad—to describe Iraq as a success, and as a model for application elsewhere, is nothing short of obscene. The great unacknowledged lesson of Iraq is the one that Norman Mailer identified decades ago: “Fighting a war to fix something works about as good as going to a whorehouse to get rid of a clap.”

Spot is tempted to end for now on that pithy note, and will, save to say that our invasion and occupation — well, maybe occupation is a little optimistic in describing the situation there now — has hardly solved the opium poppy growing problem in Afghanistan. It’s much worse.

More to follow.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The mephitic vapors

Is what conservatives have got over ACORN, an organization that does a lot of good things, had a few — yes, a few — employees and agents make some serious mistakes, but Spot is tired of liberals and progressives, including members of Congress, running away from the organization. The indefatigable Robert Greenwald did a little video of the smear on ACORN. It’s worth a watch.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Drinking Liberally on October 29th (tomorrow night)

Halloween moon over DL

Don’t forget DL tomorrow night: six to nine at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis. We don’t have a guest scheduled, but you can wear your Halloween finery if you like.

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Isn’t that Five Mile Rock dead ahead, sir?

Never mind, sailor; steady as she goes.

Captain Fishsticks has a new command, guiding the H.M.S. Pat Anderson through the media shoals in her quest for the Republican endorsement for governor. The Captain’s unwavering adherence to libertarian principle, like a course line laid out on a chart, and irrespective of where the ship is really going, will serve the Anderson well.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Civil liberties 1, Katie 0, part two

flying imams In a comment to Spot’s earlier post on the subject of the settlement of the flying imams’ lawsuit against the MAC and Katherine Kersten’s bilious reaction to it, MNO wrote about the procedural posture of the case at the time of the settlement. The “procedural posture” of a case sounds arcane and boring, but as MNO points out, it is critical in understanding what a judge’s ruling means: its context.

The ruling that Katie is so exercised about was a ruling on the defendants’ motion for a summary judgment, arguing, in effect, that the flying imams didn’t have a case worthy of taking to trial. You can read Judge Montgomery’s 47 page “arrogance,” to use Katie’s term, at the link. Here’s Eric Black’s description of the import of the judge’s ruling, a description that Spot cannot improve upon, so he will just quote:

The big break that led to the settlement was probably the opinion, written by federal Judge Ann Montgomery of Minneapolis in July, rejecting the MAC's motion for summary judgment. Summary judgment (which is a way of getting a lawsuit dismissed) is often rejected. Turning down a summary judgment motion only means that the case can proceed toward trial. So losing a summary judgment motion didn't mean that the Imams were going to win their case.

But the strength and clarity of Montgomery's opinion surely alerted the defendants that they were in a world of trouble if the case reached trial. So I'm basing my analysis of the case heavily on the Montgomery ruling, which has the advantage of being based on actual sworn depositions of witnesses, and filtering a lot of things that turned out not to be true. [italics are Spot’s]

It really is a shame that the judge made her decision based on that voluminous record that Katie refers to, instead of wild accusations and rumors propagated by people like, well, Katie. Katie refers specifically to the judges “47 page opinion” in her column Sunday, so we can presume that it was available to her to read. You are encouraged to read the opinion, boys and girls, but let’s look at the claims made by Katie on Sunday and Eric Black’s discussion of them (although he was not writing in at least direct rebuttal to Katie):

“unnecessarily requesting seat-belt extenders that could be used as weapons”

But Montgomery found -- based on undisputed testimony -- that only two of the imams had requested the extenders, and both of them were large men for whom the request should not have seemed particularly strange.

“changing seats into a so-called 9/11 pattern”

Once they boarded, the imams mostly did not sit together. One of the imams was blind, and one of the others asked a passenger to trade seats so he could accompany the blind man. The rest of them were seated all around the plane, one in first class, the rest in coach.

In the early news reports, this seating pattern was listed as another ground for suspicion. I recall reading that the imams were occupying the exit rows (which, I recall, was another moment when I wondered whether there was something suspicious going on).

But the evidence showed that only one of the six men was seated in an exit row, which had been assigned to him by the airline. Except for the one who had traded to sit with his blind colleague, all of them were sitting in the seats they had been assigned by the airline. The one in first class was up there because of his frequent flier status. The airline, of course, had all this information. Again, the "suspicious" seating pattern kind of goes away once you know these facts.

“chanting "Allah, Allah" when boarding was called”

In keeping with the religious requirements of devout Muslims, three of the imams prayed in the airport, in the empty gate next to the departure gate. They knelt, prostrated themselves and chanted. It was mentioned by those who reported the imams to the flight crew that they prayed "loudly" and were heard to chant "Allah, Allah."

This clearly was a key point at which some of the non-Muslim passengers began to notice the men and to get nervous. But ask yourself whether Muslims praying to Allah, loudly or softly, could be taken as evidence that they were planning to commit a crime. Wrote Montgomery:

Plaintiffs’ Middle Eastern descent does not change the analysis. Similar behavior by Russian Orthodox priests or Franciscan monks would likely not have elicited this response."

“cursing the United States and its conflict with Saddam Hussein”

The last basis for the suspicions was the claim of one passenger that "the men talked about Saddam Hussein, U.S. involvement in Iraq, and cursed about the United States." The imams have denied that they made any such remarks. [italics are Spot’s] So that's the only key evidentiary point in dispute. Under the rules for a summary judgment motion, Montgomery had to assume the truth of the facts most favorable to the non-moving party -- that is, to the imams (since this was a motion for summary judgment brought by the defendants in the case. But she found that it really made little difference whether the imams had made the remarks or not. In her ruling, Montgomery wrote:

Commenting on current events, and even criticizing governmental policy is protected speech under the First Amendment. It cannot be taken as a crime and should not be used as probable cause for an arrest.

There was no evidence at all in the record for three of the four allegations that Katie made. None. There was disputed evidence for the fourth, not that it really matters.

Remember, Katie wrote her poison last week; the judge’s decision has been available for at least a few months. You may be absolutely sure, boys and girls, that if there was any evidence supporting the claims that Katie makes, it would have been in the record. The defendants beat the bushes for a couple of years trying to come up with evidence to justify their conduct.

Katherine Kersten’s column last Sunday stands as monumental irresponsibility for a columnist, a journalist, or a former member of the bar.

Update: Almost forgot; a thump of the tail to Mark Gislason at Norwegianity for the Eric Black link.

Riding the train to Damascus

Alternate title: Gettin’ your ticket from Saul

George Will’s puff piece in the Strib about Michele Bachmann contains all the stuff we’ve heard before: the accidental politician who went to a caucus on the spur of the moment and was drafted to run for office, raising a gaggle of foster kids, being Gretchen Carlson’s nanny, etc. But there was one thing that Spot hadn’t heard before:

Born in Iowa but a Minnesotan by age 12, Bachmann acquired what she calls "her family's Hubert Humphrey knee-jerk liberalism." She and her husband danced at Jimmy Carter's inauguration. Shortly thereafter, however, she was riding on a train and reading Gore Vidal's novel "Burr," which is suffused with that author's jaundiced view of America. "I set the book down on my lap, looked out the window and thought: That's not the America I know." She volunteered for Reagan in 1980.

the-train-to-conservatismTakin’ the train to conservatism

Bachmann says she read a novel about early nineteenth-century America and concludes it’s not the American she knows? And it turns her on her head politically?

Pray for the Republic, boys and girls. If this is how the avatar for the Republican base determines her political philosophy, we’re all in a helluva lot of trouble.

George Will’s well known antipathy toward Gore Vidal is really the only explanation for why that story could possibly ring true to Will.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The top of the heap, indeed

Sally Jo Sorensen at Bluestem Prairie has been doing some digging on a guy named Samuel Johnson and the neo-Nazi group he heads in Austin, Minnesota. Apparently, Johnson’s trying to use anti-immigration sentiment in southern Minnesota to gain a foothold for other issues of the so-called “National Socialist Movement.” Among other things, he wants all non-whites to leave — or be “escorted” out — of the country, or at least just live in their own sanctioned ghettos. Kind of like the Jews in Warsaw. It’s much easier to keep track of ‘em that way.

It is undoubtedly an irony lost on Herr Oberführer Johnson that a lot of non-whites have an American history a lot longer than perhaps his probable early-twentieth century Swedish immigrant ancestors.

The thing that absolute astonishes Spot, though, is that guys who think they are the crème de la crème, humankind’s zenith, the top of the heap genetically, so often look like this:

Samuel Johnson

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Civil liberties 1, Katie 0

Alternate title: The taste of crow, unsalted

flying imams

Ken Avidor graphic

In a column that Spot hopes was therapeutic for Katherine Kersten, she bellows and roars about the vindication of the flying imams where it really matters, in court:

The "flying imams" and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are declaring victory in their legal war against law-enforcement personnel and safety procedures at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Their "victory" -- aided and abetted by a judge arrogantly dismissive of law-enforcement realities -- is a major setback for transportation safety.

The case made news three years ago when the six imams were removed from a U.S. Airways jet after passengers and airline employees reported that the six were engaging in suspicious behavior, including changing seats into a so-called 9/11 pattern; cursing the United States and its conflict with Saddam Hussein; chanting "Allah, Allah" when boarding was called, and unnecessarily requesting seat-belt extenders that could be used as weapons.

Katie was “all imams all the time” for months after the incident occurred.

This is remarkable writing, boys and girls. In the span of two short paragraphs, Katie manages to defame a federal judge and make misleading statements about the law so as to confuse some of the dimmer bulbs who read the Strib even further about the case. Doubt it? Just read some of the comments to Katie’s column about “liberal” and “Clinton” judges.

Every search, seizure, or arrest without a warrant that ends in litigation has a judge passing on the conduct of law enforcement authorities that took place at the time. There is no way to avoid that unless you are willing to cede unlimited authority to the police. Spot doesn’t know about you, boys and girls, but he doesn’t think that’s a very good idea.

If you don’t have the courts cutting through whatever hysteria is afoot at the moment, what do you get? Well, you might get police officers citing motorists for not speaking English as was done in Dallas. Come to think of it, some of Katie’s commenters are probably okay with that, too. But probable cause or suspicion justifying a stop has to be in the eyes of reasonable people, not the xenophobics.

In passing on the conduct of law enforcement officers, though, the court does not Monday-morning quarterback or operate on the basis of hindsight. In determining whether a stop or an arrest was justified, the court focuses solely on what the officer knew, or should have reasonably known, at the time of the incident.

Of course there was a substantial record amassed in discovery proceedings: there were lots of witnesses, but it was all directed to the issue of what was the picture presented to the officers at the time to determine whether their warrantless action was justified by exigent circumstances. Katie’s remarks are either contemptibly disingenuous or remarkably ignorant on this point.

The same can be said of her remarks about Judge Ann Montgomery. Spot assures you, boys and girls, that Judge Montgomery is not arrogant. Certainly not compared to some wing nut columnists that we might mention.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pray, but watch the capital reserves!

38170707

From the Strib:

Riverview Community Bank, an Otsego firm that attracted national media attention several years ago for espousing prayer in the workplace, has been shut down by state regulators.

The six-year-old bank, which has $108 million in assets and branches in Otsego and Anoka, was an aggressive real estate lender, once boasting the fourth-highest concentration of real estate loans-to-capital among community banks in the state. The bank was hard hit by the wave of foreclosures that began hitting Wright County in mid-2007.

The photo, incidentally, is of a painting that hung in the bank. (Can’t find the TwitterPic link at the moment.) It will be interesting to see what the bank’s new owners will do with the painting. Look for it on eBay; it may have value some day as a piece of painful early twenty-first century kitsch.

No word yet on whether Katherine Kersten will claim that the act of the FDIC in shuttering the bank was a denial of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause rights of the bank owners.

There is religion, and then there is creepy magical thinking. Jesus shaking hands in a bank office falls on the creepy magical thinking end of the spectrum, that’s for sure. On a par with basketball Jesus or karate Jesus. Or, sweet Jesus, NASCAR Jesus.

A thump of the tail to NIck Coleman for calling Spot’s attention to the painting.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pssst! Admiral!

Congratulations! You came up with yesterday's most unintentional hilarious headline of the day:
Former Nixon Staffer Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) Warns Obama About An ‘Enemies List’
More on the Nixon enemies list - one that actually existed - here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

They can dish it out, but they can’t take it

Fox “News” that is. That band of pikers, scrubs, and mokes apparently thought they could slander and pander for the entire Obama Administration and not suffer any blowback. Remember, the First Amendment says we’ll have a free press, not a free shot press.

The rest of this post will rely some on Driftglass, who wrote recently the following about Chris Wallace and the Fox sack cloth and ashes routine over some payback from the Obama Administration:

Then came 15 minutes of ominous organ music and inconsolable weeping as Karl Fucking Rove whined about how unfair the White House was being to po' po' Fox News, and how Nixonian it was for a White House to target members of the press:
Of course...

A. Fox is not the press. Fox is a wingnut whorehouse. And,
B. My what short memories the droolers have. From 2003, Slate:

At his televised news conference last week, President George W. Bush deliberately snubbed several reporters he ordinarily calls upon, including journos from the Washington Post, Newsweek, and USA Today. But the most conspicuous recipient of the 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. freeze-out was longtime UPI reporter Helen Thomas, who has barbed and grilled every president since John F. Kennedy and almost always gets to ask a question. Bush pointedly ignored her.

Bush then dealt Thomas a second slight. By custom, Thomas concludes White House press conferences at the president's signal by saying, "Thank you, Mr. President." Bush denied her that supporting role, ending the conference with his own sign off, "Thank you for your questions," and flushing a decades-old White House custom.

Bush's slaps at Thomas are consistent with the psy-ops his information wranglers conduct day-in and day-out on the White House press corps. Bush's news conferences have become increasingly scripted, with the president calling on reporters from a preset list and refusing the follow-up questions that might trick him into saying something substantive. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has lobotomized the White House press corps in official briefings by jawing more and more and saying less and less. (The smarter reporters play hooky these days rather than endure Fleischer obfuscations.) Last October, Fleischer maliciously tampered with the corps' self-esteem by reassigning seats in the briefing room. The new chart demoted scribes from Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report from the Park Place of the second row to the Siberia of the sixth. (Pressies live for their little perks, and the White House reporters revealed their Ted Baxterian pettiness for all to see when they bellyached about the reshuffle.)
...

Rove and Chris Wallace were joined in their quarter hour of mutual self-pitying masturbation about Barack Hussein Obama not bending a knee to the House of Murdoch by Former Democratic National Committee Chairman and political wind-sock, the ever-flexible Terry McAuliffe.
Rove: Obama called Fox News an enemy. He’s just like Nixon!
McAuliffe: Glenn Beck called this President a racist.
Chris Wallace tugs McAuliffe’s leash.
McAuliffe: Fox does opinion stuff. President Obama gets that.
Nice that McAuliffe is now an official confidante of the President.
Wallace: But last year, during the primary, you kissed Fox News’ ass. Lets roll the video.
Video of McAuliffe sucking hard on Roger Ailes’ wizened swizzle thanking Fox News for cozying up to Hillary Clinton.

McAuliffe: But you have to remember, Chris, that I am a huge whore. I’ll knob anybody who pays me.
Wallace: ABC went after Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky happy-fun time, so just because we call Barack Obama an uppity Commie Negro usurper, don’t you think its unfair that he won’t come on our little teevee tree fort?
McAuliffe: It was a different time back then. Mastodons walked the Earth. Nightline didn’t suck.
Wallace: With all due respect, you’re not an administration official.
McAuliffe: Obama’ll come on Fox. He’ll be on your show.
McAuliffe: Karl?
Rove: I’d rather not interrupt Terry as he wallows in his own shit begging to fill the Fox News Susan Estrich Boozy Fake Liberal Chair.
Wallace: What about House? House is on Fox? And Homer Simpson? Are you calling House and Homer Simpson un-American?
McAuliffe: Please can I have my wine now?

Driftglass also said this about the Fox New effect in an earlier post:

There is virtually no problem in American politics that does not trace its origins to the fact that the frontal lobes of the Land of the Free have spent the last 13 years being bludgeoned by Rupert Murdoch's Fox New.

Driftglass quotes Jacob Weisberg in Newsweek:

Any news organization that took its responsibilities seriously would take pains to cover presidential criticism fairly. It would regard doing so as itself a test of integrity. At Fox, by contrast, complaints of unfairness prompt only hoots of derision and demands for "evidence" that, when presented, is brushed off and ignored.

There is no need to get bogged down in this phony debate, which itself constitutes an abuse of the fair-mindedness of the rest of the media. One glance at Fox's Web site or five minutes' random viewing of the channel at any hour of the day demonstrates its all-pervasive slant. The lefty documentary Outfoxed spent a lot of time mustering evidence that Fox managers order reporters to take the Republican side. But after 13 years under Roger Ailes, Fox employees skew news right as instinctively as fish swim.

Boys and girls, if you need any further evidence that Fox is strictly bush league [Spot hesitates for a moment, trying to decide whether to work the pun, then moves on], consider that the network’s premiere baseball announcing team is Joe Buck (Joe Buck is to Jack Buck as Chris Wallace is to Mike Wallace) and Tim McCarver.

No guest scheduled for DL: come and drink

331-panorama-grainy-b&w-wit We don’t have a guest scheduled tonight, the 22nd, so if you like quiet conversation and libation, tonight’s the night for you. There will be lots of things to talk about.

We meet six to nine or so at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Papa John Kolstad returns to the 331 Club stage!

But this time, it’s as a candidate for mayor of Minneapolis in the upcoming election. Papa John’s remarks were interesting and well received. This one is well worth a look.

For those of you who don’t know, John Kolstad, better known as Papa John to his fans, is a legendary — yes, legendary — Minneapolis musician.

And by the way, the h264 file that was sent to blip.tv was smooth as silk; sorry for the dropped frames in their conversion.

Monday, October 19, 2009

As Jack says, it was inevitable

Professor Jack Balkin that is, writing in Balkinzation that it was inevitable that conservatives would concoct an argument that it is unconstitutional for Barack Obama to accept the Nobel Peace Prize:

Really, you can't make these things up. Ronald Rotunda and J. Peter Pham somehow convinced the Washington Post to give them space to explain why it's unconstitutional for our President to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ron and Pete say that while Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize while they were sitting presidents, that was different. Somehow. It’s probably because Barack Hussein Obama wasn’t born in the United States!

Ron and Pete say, really, it is because Roosevelt and Wilson got their prizes for what they did, whereas Obama’s award could only be for what he might do.

Well, that explains it.

Even though this is clearly a laugher for Balkin, he does analyze the issue, although not much analysis was required:

In short, Rotunda's and Pham's distinction between awards for past and future conduct makes little sense in practice, because foreign governments might often reward past behavior in order to influence future behavior. But their argument is wrong for another reason. The Emoluments Clause allows Congress to consent to awards from foreign governments. And Congress has consented to the acceptance of the award through the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, in which Congress consents to "decorations" (i.e., awards like the Nobel Prize) "when it appears that to refuse the gift would likely cause offense or embarrassment or otherwise adversely affect the foreign relations of the United States." The money for such a gift is accepted on behalf of the United States.

I have previously noted the use of the Washington Post Op-ed section to argue that President Obama's health care initiatives are unconstitutional. As in that case, I think the arguments here equally frivolous.

This episode has led me to two conclusions. First, the Washington Post Op-Ed section does not appear to have a lawyer on hand to keep it from embarrassment. It does not take much research to discover that the argument in this piece is frivolous. But no research was done.

Professor Balkin also says that modern conservatives are becoming increasingly unhinged.

We’ll have to see if Tenther Tim hops on this one like he did the claim of health care unconstitutionality.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Burn the ships!

If the conquest is not successful, we all perish. Look behind you! I have burned the ships! We will win or die!

That’s the charming story attributed to Hernan Cortés on landing near present day Veracruz, Mexico with his army of conquest. As with many charming stories, it isn’t entirely true. But it provides a nice metaphor for some recent political grandstanding.

Marty Seifert says that he won’t run for re-election to the MInnesota House if he does not get the nod to run as the Republican Party candidate for governor next year. Nope. No sir. Ain’t gonna do it.

This, apparently, is to show us how much he wants to be governor: nothing else will satisfy him; he’ll perform ritual seppuku if he can’t be governor. But Marty is not alone; both Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Susan Gaertner have made the same pledge — Anderson Kelliher for the Minnesota House, where she is Speaker, and Gaertner for her current position as Ramsey County Attorney.

These three Serious Candidates hope to distinguish themselves from other mere office holders by their steely-eyed fixation on the prize.

Of course, merely wanting the job really, really bad does not correlate well with who is the best person to elect to the position. If it did, Dick Franson would have been elected to something by now.

It’s a shallow move, boys and girls, a ploy, a tactic, nothing more. Just move along; there’s nothing here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The results of fedora night at Drinking Liberally

fedora-night-at-DL-10-21Last night’s guest, Papa John Kolstad, holding his mayoral candidacy literature, is in the center. Papa John was an engaging guest with some interesting observations about government in the City of Minneapolis. Look for a short video, probably early next week.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Please don’t prosecute my father!

That’s Scott Horton’s description of the real purpose of the organization Keep America Safe:

I’d reduce the real purpose of Keep America Safe to this: “Please don’t prosecute my father!” It’s increasingly clear that Dick Cheney was the author of the Bush-era torture policies, and my hunch is that when the Justice Department releases the OPR report on the torture memos, we’re going to find more evidence of the invisible hand of Dick Cheney behind the whole project. Any fair-minded federal prosecutor looking into the matter would shortly be preparing to do what Patrick Fitzgerald probably wishes now he had done: indict Dick Cheney.

That, and continuing to scare everybody to death. In fact, Horton calls it fear mongering, too:

If you enjoy fear-mongering, here’s a not-for-profit organization for you: Keep America Safe. William Kristol and Liz Cheney are the dynamic duo behind it.

William Kristol and Liz Cheney; imagine that.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

reNEW.mn’s visit to Drinking Liberally

Last Thursday, Greta Bergstrom and Ryan Greenwood from Take Action Minnesota came to Drinking Liberally to discuss the nonprofit’s reNEW.mn campaign, launched late last month. The goal of the campaign is to organize and elect a progressive governor in Minnesota in 2010.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

John Kolstad comes to DL on October 15th

John Kolstad

John Kolstad, better known as Papa John to a generation of folk music fans, will visit Drinking Liberally in Minneapolis this week, as a candidate, not a musician.

John is running for mayor of Minneapolis against the incumbent R.T. Rybak and several others. This visit is a little unusual for DL, in that John is running with the Republican and Independence Parties’ endorsements.

To make sure that John feels welcome, it will also be fedora night at Drinking Liberally.

Ranked choice voting, also known instant run off voting, will be used in the mayoral election for the first time.

We meet at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis from six to nine PM. We expect John Kolstad around seven for a few remarks, maybe some Q&A, and just some time to visit.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fritz whistles past the graveyard

When the mainstream media in town wants to find a Republican not visibly foaming at the mouth, they often turn to Fritz “One Letter Short of a Palindrome” Knaak. You’ll see him on the couch on Almanac — a venue guaranteed to produce a lot more bonhomie than discussion of issues — and he got some ink in the Strib today. Fritz even admits his role at the Palatable Republican:

As someone certifiably part of what the Star Tribune describes as the "remnant of the moderate Republican mentality," I'd have to say that the Oct. 6 editorial missed the mark when it complained about the lack, in its view, of a palatable Republican candidate in the gubernatorial field.

Fritz gives his inside look into the food fight known as the modern Republican Party:

What is going on inside the Republican party right now has virtually nothing to do with vetting candidates who may appeal to centrist or liberal Democrats.

Rather, it's part of a sometimes wrenching dialectic inside the party to right something that has clearly gone askew: the party's historic focus on fiscal responsibility.

This internal debate is not a new one. For well more than a hundred years, social conservatives and fiscal conservatives inside the party have wrangled over whether the emphasis of the party's message should be fiscal or social.

A careful and successful strategy, begun in the 1970s, placed greater emphasis on social issues. While this may have irritated the more libertarian or socially moderate wings of the party, there was no denying the success of the Republican Party nationally from the Nixon administration through the Reagan years and the two Bush administrations.

The whole piece is eminently dismissible save for the first sentence of the last paragraph quoted above. “A careful and successful strategy”? Somebody, maybe Kevin Phillips, said, “Let’s light a fire under James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and every other snake handler we can find, and then find out what happens.”

We know what happened; Fritz, now the Republican Party is John Hagee’s world and you just live in it. In fact, there are some elements of the Republican Party in Minnesota who don’t think it’s crazy enough; Allen Quist — yes, that Allen Quist — is gearing up for a run for governor the First District Congressional Seat against Tim Walz. You remember Allen, boys and girls; he’s the guy that got the endorsement for governor against a sitting governor. No so strange, you say? Well, the sitting governor was Arne Carlson, a Republican, and the party that endorsed Quist was, guess who, the Republicans. An entirely sordid affair, made more so by the fact that Arne had saved the party’s bacon after Poolgate just four years earlier.

Fritz, Spot is afraid that you’ll have a devil of a time, so to speak, trying to wrest the party from the crazies. It’s heading the other way. Allen Quist, Michele Bachmann, Tom Emmer, David Hann, Michael Jungbauer, and Mark Buesgens & Co. aren’t going gladly into the good night.

Update: Guys like Fritz must have seen that the Republican Party would eventually drive itself into the rhubarb if it maintained its present course, but apparently did little to stop it. Sow the wind; reap the whirlwind.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Michael Brodkorb regards himself

Michael Brodkorb regards himself In the mirror, that is, and he is mightily pleased with himself and his fellow Republicans! He thinks that the Republicans are the reason that Chris Coleman has decided not to run for governor in 2010:

The state Republican Party divined a different reason [than ones stated earlier in the article] for Coleman's decision.

GOP deputy chair Michael Brodkorb said he believed Coleman decided not to run because of a GOP campaign finance complaint alleging he had spent money on a gubernatorial run without registering candidate papers with the state Elections Board.

"It's pretty clear that his hand was dealt today by the Republican Party," Brodkorb said.

Coleman said Thursday the complaint lacked substance and was not a factor in his decision.

Brodkorb also believes that Eva Ng will beat Coleman for mayor St. Paul. And that the Easter Bunny leaves him chocolate in a basket.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tweeting yourself to jail

There was a fellow named Madison (there’s the beginning of a limerick in there somewhere, Spot thinks) who was part of the protests at the recent G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. Apparently, he was arrested for tweeting “confidential information” about the movements of the police. Laying aside for a moment how police movements, taking place in front of anybody who cared to look, can be “confidential,” Scott Horton has it right when he calls the charge creepy:

But there’s another parallel here that can only serve to heighten the concerns of those who see evidence of a creeping National Security State. Mr. Madison was doing precisely what the protesters in Tehran did throughout the Green Revolution—as Western leaders, including many of those assembled at the G-20 in Pittsburgh, saluted their heroism. The police’s efforts to criminalize tweeting looks downright creepy and rests on the constitutionally suspicious assumption that police’s movements, like military maneuvers in wartime, are entitled to some sort of national security protection. That’s just the sort of reasoning we would expect of Ahmadinejad and his thugs. But an American police force? I for one hope these charges aren’t dropped. It’s time for these police tactics to be tested against the Constitution, by a judge who is sworn to uphold it.

By saying he hoped that the charges wouldn’t be dropped, he was comparing the situation in Pittsburgh to the RNC here in the Twin Cities last summer, where the charges against virtually all of the protesters have been dropped or dismissed. Horton also says this about the increasing overreaction by police at public events:

The fundamental problem is that the priorities of the police are being perverted. They should ensure the safety and security of the meetings they are deployed to protect. But they also have a duty to protect the free speech rights of ordinary citizens and to separate them from the troublemakers. This is the duty that is being abdicated.

RNC police To be sure, it isn’t only local police; law enforcement at events like the RNC and the G-20 is heavily influenced by – probably effectively directed by – the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI as well as other enforcement agencies.

Freedom of assembly and the freedom to petition government for a redress of grievances are First Amendment rights, too. And shunting off protesters to stand in a chained off area or making them march through a blocks-long cattle chute, as was done at the RNC, really won’t do. In reviewing a recent book, Speech Out of Doors, Jerome O'Callaghan, writing in Law and Politics Book Review, observed:

Try to imagine the reasons why Martin L. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech of August, 1963 holds such a revered place in American cultural and political history. No doubt one reason is the inspired oratory; another is the text; another is the author. Beyond all that is the size of the crowd, the immediate context of other civil rights protests, and, last but not least, is the location: Washington, D.C.’s National Mall. There are few, if any, more fitting sites for a civil rights event of that magnitude. Would the speech have been the same if delivered outside Union Station in Los Angeles, or at Pike Place Market in Seattle? As Timothy Zick suggests in his new volume, SPEECH OUT OF DOORS, the very meaning of a public speech derives in good part from its location.

The point is not that all protest should take place on the National Mall. The point is that protest is the most powerful when it takes place in front of the decision makers: at the RNC, or at the G-20 conference, or any place that George W. Bush spoke at for eight years and virtually all assembly was prohibited.

People old enough to remember the protests of of the civil rights era and against the Vietnam war will tell you about the difference between the power of exercising the rights of assembly and petition then and now.

A thump of the tail to Professor Brian Tamanaha at Balkinization.

Reuters photo

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

There was another book in Bill Holm after all

bill holm book cover The people at Milkweed Editions told me about a new collection of Bill Holm poems, just published posthumously. There are many new ones, and some old ones, too. And a few bits of prose mixed in.

I’ve had my copy just a little while, and I hope to tell you all a little more about it in coming days.

On the inside flat of the cover, Bill is called an “accessible poet.” That’s certainly a term I would use, too. If you’re a fan of Bill’s, this book would be a good one to give to someone who you wanted to introduce to Bill Holm.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Drinking Liberally on Thursday, October 8th

331-panorama-DL-banner

This Thursday, October 8th, Ryan Greenwood and Greta Bergstrom, the Political and Communications Directors, respectively, at Take Action Minnesota will be at our meeting to discuss Take Action’s new campaign: reNEW.mn. Their presentation will start around seven.

We meet from six to nine PM at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.

Ken Avidor sketches the “landscape of fear”

Ken Avidor encounters the [intoned] landscape of fear after [intoned] nine eleven:

Critic_w_Badges_2 

This is from his story about the encounter in Counterpunch:

October 24th [2004] a warm sunny day, I was riding my Schwinn Suburban north of downtown Minneapolis near the entrance of the Cedar Lake Trail. I just started sketching and photographing a big, roadside billboard when a a little white vehicle pulled up. The window rolled down and a uniformed security guard told me I couldn't take pictures of the "the ramp.”

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Monday, October 05, 2009

The landscape of fear

Lions . . . and tigers . . . and Republican politicians?

In last week’s NYT, in Olivia Judson’s piece Where Tasty Morsels Fear to Tread, she describes how predators control, or at least influence, every aspect of the behavior - and even the thought processes – of their prey species. Spot especially liked Judson’s turn of the phrase “the landscape of fear”:

It’s not just that they kill. They also change what their potential victims get up [in the morning] to. In short, they create a landscape of fear.

Judson also observes this about prey species:

However, the landscape of fear not only changes what animals do. It also changes where they go. Vervet monkeys — small African monkeys — will, if they're not careful, find themselves being caught and feasted on by any of several predators, including baboons, leopards and eagles. Thus, the monkeys tend to stay away from places where baboons or leopards are known to dwell, even if there's good food there. (Eagles don't affect the monkeys' whereabouts, probably because they don't live locally, but rather, fly in from afar.) Indeed, one recent study found that the risk of meeting a baboon or a leopard is more important than food in determining where the monkeys hang out.

Now, if the vervet monkeys don’t sound a little like the Republican faithful to you, boys and girls, you just aren’t paying attention.

Jeepers, Spot, that’s not very nice.

No insult intended, grasshopper; just noting a comparison of fear states. As with all generalizations, that one is not universally true, but fear is the most important implement in the conservative political toolbox. Here’s John Cory in Truthout:

Everything old is new again.

It may be 2009 but the rhetoric is strictly 1950 when a man held up a sheet of paper and declared, "I have here in my hand a list of names ..."

Glenn Beck is not original, nor was Joe McCarthy. The "red scare" of McCarthyism was merely the recycled red scare of the 1920's, when Attorney General Mitchell Palmer and his right-hand assistant, J. Edgar Hoover, conducted warrantless raids on union halls and labor organizations deemed socialists or communists for their suspected anti-American, anti-corporate beliefs.

Each time the "red scare" gets trotted out, new laws are passed that ever so gently and ever so patriotically encroach on the integrity of freedom and individual liberties of our citizens. They bear great names like the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Espionage Act, loyalty oaths and investigations by the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Patriot Act. Each labels "the enemies of the state" and warns that our government, our very way of life, is in jeopardy of utter collapse unless we act immediately and act strongly against the influences of liberalism corrupting the very fabric of American life. The Constitution is hanging by a thread.

Here’s a little more from the same op-ed piece:

Where Franklin Roosevelt took America into his confidence and told us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself, the GOP whispers in the dark, "Be very afraid."

Where JFK inspired us to ask what we could do for America, the GOP warns us that government must be feared.

Where Edward R. Murrow exhorted us to not walk in fear of one another, the GOP promotes suspicion.

Where Dr. King gave us a dream of diversity, the GOP rips us apart with fear of equal belonging.

Everything old is new again.

The GOP clutches fear in its tiny fists because it is all it has. It is the touchstone. It is not even original. Darkness never is.

What gave these articles resonance for Spot are words from a new book he read recently:

Cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death offers one explanation for the popular appeal of [John] Hagee and [Tim] LaHaye’s apocalypticism. Published in 1970 and heavily influenced by the work of Erich Fromm, whom Becker credited with offering “the authentic line of cumulative critical thought on the human condition,” Denial is premised on Becker’s theory that the fear of death is the greatest source of human anxiety. To transcend the terror of mortality, people may seek to follow great leaders or dissolve themselves into causes greater than themselves, especially those that literally promise the heavens. As Becker wrote, “The more you fear death and the emptier you are, the more you people your world with omnipotent father-figures, extra-magical helpers.” When fearful converts become convinced that outside forces threaten their new cultural sanctuary or its leader, they react with belligerent rage. This symbiosis of submissive and aggressive behavior, first identified by Fromm as the “sadomasochistic trend,” is the hallmark of certain right-wing cults.

Blumenthal, Max, Republican Gomorrah (Nation Books 2009), pp. 268-9.

A group of psychologists tested and confirmed Becker’s theory:

After studying Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszcynski’s experiments, journalist John Judis of The New Republic concluded that the surprising breadth of Republican success during the Bush era could be attributed to a single tactic: mortality reminders. “Mortality reminders not only enhanced the appeal of Bush’s political style,” Judis wrote, “but also deepened and broadened the appeal of the conservative social positions that Republicans had been running on.”

Ibid. pp. 269-70.

frightened_eyes The tactic is not to scare people to death, but rather to scare them of death; it works surprising well and for a range of control purposes in both political and religious settings, and it is especially effective when the settings are combined. You see it in evangelical Christianity, radical Islam, and Messianic Judaism as well.

It was an explicit mortality reminder when then Vice President Dick Cheney said that terrorism was an “existential threat” to the United States. He could have gotten a better response in his target audience had he chosen a word that would more likely have been understood than “existential,” but the concept was text book.

Visons of lakes of fire and bodies exploding during the tribulation are enormously satisfying to evangelicals, justifying their own faith and providing a deliciously grusome dénouement for the Other.

The people with whom these arguments have traction represent the Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Steve King wing of the party, and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are their agitators. Sadly, for the Republican Party, they’re about all that’s left.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Do as we say, not as we do!

Katherine Kersten wipes her hands dry after scrubbing out the pot she used to make her famous beans and franks hot dish with the bacon strips on the top, and before turning to the ironing board where a couple of her husband’s shirts and that frilly blouse she likes so much wait, she has a thought, “This is what all women really want.”

Kersten’s column today is about how women are not as happy as they used to be, back when men were men and women were women. She cites a study that claims to “prove” it.

Just like all the dusky children of God, who were happier on the plantation, singing at sunset without a care in the world!

Katie winds up with this:

Maybe we women got the whole happiness thing backwards. Years ago, we assured ourselves of a golden road ahead if we could throw off all that had tied us down and limited our options in the past. But perhaps there was something in those ties themselves -- those "prisons" of family, marriage and other fundamental obligations -- that had the power to bring us closer to our true goal.

This is Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom: the only happiness is in submission, to men, to (some) political leaders, to religion.

It is just bizarre that Katie would even think of invoking her sisterhood with women in general. To quote Tonto, when he and the Lone Ranger were surrounded by hostile Indians and things looked grim, and the Lone Ranger said, “We’re in for it now!” replied, “What we, white man?” Indeed, Katie, “What we, white woman?”

The thing that Spot wanted to comment on the most about the column, though, is the fact that so many conservative women commentators urge things on the hoi polloi that they don’t do themselves. From the octogenarian and antediluvian Phyllis Schlafly right down to Katie herself, they’ve all benefitted immensely by the gains that feminism has made, and they’re not exactly sticking to hearth and home themselves.

Greatest healthcare in the world, part 547

This one's for the Lady Logician, who seems to think that sad anecdotal stories of poor medical care only come from those bastions of socialized medicine, Canada and the UK:
After her husband leaves for work and her daughters board their school buses, Monique Zimmerman-Stein feels her way down the cluttered hall into the kitchen, trying not to trip over the cats. She struggles to rinse the dishes, to mop the sticky floor. She tries to picture what her girls must look like now that they're 10 and 13. She hasn't been able to see their faces in two years. Her days are long and dark and quiet. Except for the phone. It rings six, 12, 20 times a day. The callers are bill collectors for hospitals, surgery centers, doctors and specialists, all demanding money the family doesn't have.

Zimmerman-Stein and her husband, Gary Stein, have Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance through Stein's job at the Hillsborough County Health Department. They pay $90 a week for coverage. But the insurance isn't nearly enough.

"I know I won't ever see again. I'm not even asking for that," Zimmerman-Stein said. "I just don't think we should have to deal with constantly being harassed."

• • •

Zimmerman-Stein is 48. She and her two youngest daughters have Stickler's syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes joints to dissolve and retinas to detach. Zimmerman-Stein lost her right eye at 16 and now sees only enough light through her left eye to tell night from day. She and her children are constantly in and out of doctors' offices.

Aliyah, 10, almost died at birth and needed a tracheotomy for six years. Dava, 13, has arthritis in her spine and lost the sight in her left eye.

Insurance has been invaluable, said Gary Stein, 52. But it covers only 80 percent of most bills. The family is left to foot the balance.

The coverage would be adequate if they had only minor medical concerns, but their conditions require expensive tests, treatments and medications. In the last decade, they have racked up a half-million dollars in bills not covered by insurance.

They took out a second mortgage on their house (they later lost it to foreclosure and now rent). They sold furniture and cashed in life insurance, got their creditors to forgive some debt. Zimmerman-Stein's brother gave them $50,000, all he could afford.

Next to the sofa, a canvas bag from Disney World bulges with unopened statements from Florida Pediatrics, Tampa Bay Emergency Physicians, the Mayo Clinic. On the envelopes, red letters scream, "Delinquency Notice" and "Past due."

They still owe at least $20,000, maybe 10 times that much, in medical bills. They don't really know. Stein stopped opening the envelopes months ago.

Full story here.

Then there's this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And this.

Greatest health care in the world, folks, especially if you have insurance. Keep telling yourself that.