Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian had a major scoop yesterday, revealing a court order requiring the communications giant Verizon to hand over information about all the calls in its system, domestic or international. As Greenwald explains, this means "the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing."
For some time, everyone in Washington assumed that if any major piece of legislation had the chance to pass this year, it was going to be immigration reform, because at last Republican and Democratic interests had come into alignment. Democrats have wanted reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, for a long time. Republicans have finally realized that telling Latino voters "We don't like your kind" every couple of years is very bad politics. So with bipartisan "gangs" in both houses of Congress working on reform packages, it appeared that things were moving toward passage.
Until the last couple of days, that is, when things began looking bleak.
Yesterday, the Texas Republican Party chair Steve Munisteri announced plans to open five new field offices and hire nearly two dozen full-time outreach workers, who will target nonwhite voters and young people. The national party will help support the effort, investing a currently undisclosed amount. Since the GOP already dominates the state, you might expect the news would only further depress beleaguered Democrats—a well-funded effort to build inroads among voters who don’t typically vote Republican.
Instead, some Democrats were celebrating. Battleground Texas, the group headed by former Obama staffers that promises to turn Texas blue largely through an emphasis on door-to-door canvassing, registration drives, and the like, sent out an email blast highlighting the news, with a subject line: “This is amazing.” The email proclaimed: “There is no clearer sign that Texas matters and will become a battleground state than the national Republican Party investing money in Texas in 2013.” Battleground Texas founder Jeremy Bird, who served as Obama’s national field director in 2012, tweeted out the news with the hashtag “#GameOn,” the group’s favorite slogan.
Last week I wrote about why the myth of the magical hero-king— what others call the "Green Lantern" presidency—just won’t die. The reason? Because it seems the myth is in the interest of the presidents themselves!
Fortunes can change fast—just ask Susan Rice. Nine months ago, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was perfectly situated and considered next in line for secretary of State. Then, after attacks in Benghazi left four dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Rice found herself persona non grata.
And not only that, he unfriended me on Facebook! (Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
Iowa senator Chuck Grassley is something of an odd character. As I've said before, he used to be considered a reasonable moderate, but in the last couple of years he has basically turned himself into a Tea Party wingnut, combining the ideological extremism, face palm-inducing stupidity, and general craziness that makes that political movement so charming (although I was recently told that even a couple of decades ago, before Grassley began publicly yelling at clouds, people in the Senate privately considered him kind of a nut).
Today, The Hillreports that Grassley, who has spent the last five years floating conspiracy theories, impugning Barack Obama's motives, and telling truly vicious lies about his policies, is upset that Obama doesn't call him more often. Seriously.
A few Republicans out there, struggling to put the IRS scandalette in a larger context, are now saying it shows we need tax reform. It doesn't really, unless their argument is that we've been letting shamelessly political 501(c)(4) organizations get away with a scam and we ought to clarify the law on what such organizations can do. But that's not what they're saying. What they're saying is that the IRS matter shows we need to change the tax code to reflect the same policies they've advocated forever.
It wasn't as though this particular scandal arose because filing your personal income taxes is too complicated or because the corporate tax system is riddled with loopholes. It was something very specific, the law regarding how certain kinds of nonprofit organizations are allowed to operate. Frankly, there's no part of the tax code conservatives care less about. What they're interested in is changing personal and corporate taxes.
The final rally of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign took place on symbolically charged ground: the rolling fields of Manassas, site of the first major battle of the Civil War. It was the last stop on an election eve spent entirely in the South: Jacksonville, Charlotte, and finally Northern Virginia. In the autumn chill, an estimated 90,000 people spread out across the county fairgrounds and waited for hours to cheer a new president—and a new South.
Another red-letter day in the annals of Republican fiscal prudence. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced this afternoon that he has scheduled the special election to pick a succeessor for the late Senator Frank Lautenberg for October 16—despite the fact that the regular election for New Jersey state government, very much including the governor’s job, for which Christie is seeking re-election, will be held on November 5th.
Today, President Obama continued his reign of terror with an act of tyranny that would have made old Joe Stalin blush. If you can believe it, he nominated three people to fill the vacant seats on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, often called the second most important court in the land. The gall!
On the domestic front, the first six months of President Obama’s second term have been dominated by two issues: Immigration reform and the budget. On the former, a consensus has emerged between Democrats and more pragmatic members of the Republican Party, with Congress poised to vote on a bill that combines a path to citizenship with more border security and tougher enforcement mechanisms. The two parties are sharply divided on how to approach the budget, but—again—there’s room for Democrats to work with more pragmatic members of the opposition.
Over the past few years, liberals like me have pointed out countless times that the Republican party was being (or would be soon, as the case might have been) terribly damaged by the ideological extremism and general nuttiness of the faction that took over the party between 2009 and 2010. But we have to be honest and acknowledge that it didn't always work out that way. They were able to win a number of tangible victories despite the fact that the public doesn't look favorably on the things they wanted to do. In many cases, an extremist Republican ousted a perfectly conservative Republican in a primary, and now the extremist Republican is in possession of a safe seat. And of course, they won a huge victory in the 2010 elections. For all the fun we've had at the expense of people like Michele Bachmann, the damage they did to the GOP wasn't always as serious as we thought it would be.
But I think we're seeing the limits that the House Republicans' extremism imposes on their ability to accomplish a practical political task. The task in question is taking full advantage of an administration scandal or two in order to do maximum damage to the President. And they can't seem to manage it.
When a party suffers electoral losses, it often engages in a particular kind of internal debate. On one side are those who say, "We have to come up with some new policies to appeal to the voters who are rejecting us." On the other side are those who say, "The policies aren't the problem—we need to communicate better." Maybe it's the substance, or maybe it's the packaging. But what if it's both? What if voters dislike you not only because of what you're advocating, but of how you talk to them and who you are to boot?
The collection of DNA evidence is a powerful crime-control tool, but it also has the potential to lead to greater invasions of privacy. Today, a bare majority of the Supreme Court held in Maryland v. King that the former considerations should outweigh the latter. The Court's ruling both creates important Fourth Amendment law and illustrates some important facts about the personnel on the Court. The question at issue in Maryland v. King is whether DNA information could be collected (via a cheek swab) from someone arrested for—but not convicted of—an offense.
Frank Lautenberg, the senator from New Jersey, died today. He wasn't the most charismatic guy around, and his record of legislation may not rival someone like Ted Kennedy, but he worked hard on a few issues that were important to him, particularly environmental protection and containing the spread of guns, and he was a reliable advocate for liberal values and programs over a long career spanning two tours in the Senate. A World War II veteran and one of the founders of payroll giant ADP, Lautenberg made millions in business, but unlike many others who take their wealth into politics, he didn't believe people should be punished for being poor. In the last year he made news mostly for some spats with Cory Booker, who was planning to run against him in next year's Democratic primary, and for spurring some debate on when a politician becomes too old to serve. But now, Chris Christie, of whom Lautenberg was none too fond, will be appointing his temporary successor.
Yes, it's crass and cynical to begin the political speculation the moment someone dies. But to paraphrase Hyman Roth, this is the business they chose. So what happens now?