Shahid Buttar (Courtesy of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee)
With the First, Fourth, Fifth, 14th, and 17th amendments all coming under attack from one quarter or another, there's recently been a renewed focus on civil liberties. TAP spoke with Shahid Buttar, a civil-rights lawyer and executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, as well as a poet and singer, about the administration's record on these issues, what the FBI is up to, and even the state of music and politics.
A lot of people on the left were hoping that Barack Obama would wipe away everything George W. Bush had done to restrict civil liberties. Obviously, that hasn't happened. But what would you say is the best thing the Obama administration has done in this area, and the most glaring omission in its policies?
That former Republican Party chairman and manager of George W. Bush's re-election campaign Ken Mehlmanrevealed that he is gay isn't a surprise; as many have noted, Mehlman's identity was widely known in Washington for some time. But what may be surprising is that the response from Republicans has been rather muted. The response from Ed Gillespie, another former chairman seems typical: Yeah, we know, but we're still opposed to gay marriage.
Greg Sargentargues that with the controversy over the Cordoba House, "the Cheney-ites are winning the battle over the future direction of GOP foreign policy." If it's true, it shouldn't be too surprising. Within a complex party, particular issues are often ceded to the group that cares about them the most. And apart from a Likudnik approach to the Middle East, which is now practically universal on the right, lots of Republicans don't have much to say about foreign policy. If you had to describe the prevailing GOP approach to foreign affairs, what would you say? It's hard to know, even with regard to some places where we're rather heavily engaged.
Is the Tea Party the new religious right? By which I mean, the grassroots group the GOP uses to mobilize voters, then once in office, keeps serving up symbolic expressions of love without much to show in the way of actual policy goodies, while hoping to keep the crazies under wraps. The fact is that the Republican establishment has always been a bit uncomfortable with the religious right, as much as they need them to win elections. And that establishment may become increasingly unsettled with the Tea Party.
You may have heard about this crazy story from Philadelphia, in which the city is sending letters to bloggers, demanding that they pay a $300 "business privilege tax" because of their income from blogging. This rang a chord with me, because a few years ago, long after I had moved to D.C., I got a letter from the city of Philadelphia informing me that I owed them money from my unpaid business privilege tax. This happened because I reported some modest royalty income from a book I had written while living in Philadelphia, and the city decided that by writing a book I was operating a business within the city, and therefore needed to pay a tax for the privilege.