Adam Serwer

Dept. Of "Awesomely Bad" Pushback.

Yesterday Spencer Ackerman paraphrased what he called the intelligence community's "awesomely bad" pushback against Dana Priest and William Arkin 's first story on the national-security industrial complex, which was basically to cite a government regulation preventing contractors from performing “inherently governmental” activities: See? We’re not hiring corporations to make the government run! We have a regulation that tells us so! In reality, the “inherently governmental” question is a complicated one. If gathering information is “inherently governmental” and so is analyzing it, what about writing the algorithms and layers of logic that mine collected information for patterns that allow analysts to reach intelligence conclusions. Of course we didn't know just how "awesomely bad" that pushback was until this morning, when the second installment was published : To ensure that the country's most sensitive duties are carried out only by people loyal above all to the nation's interest,...

Fallout.

Time to rethink the implicit secrecy bargain. Pat Buchanan really is racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic, but he's a member of the right tribe, so it's OK. The shrink-ray theft scene in Despicable Me was racist , but the minions seemed to me to be unionized, genetically altered corn pops and not really racialized. What does it say that supervillains allow their employees to bargain collectively but Republicans won't? The Obama administration is appealing al Kidd v. Ashcroft .

What Is The NBPP Story Really About?

Eisenhower signing the 1957 Civil Rights Act, creating the Civil Rights Division. Fresh off of suggesting The Washington Post should screen new hires for the thought crime of private personal opinion, Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander chides the newspaper for not catching on quicker to the New Black Panther Party controversy, the day it mostly fell to pieces: The Post didn't cover it. Indeed, until Thursday's story, The Post had written no news stories about the controversy this year. In 2009, there were passing references to it in only three stories. That's prompted many readers to accuse The Post of a double standard. Royal S. Dellinger of Olney said that if the controversy had involved Bush administration Attorney General John D. Ashcroft , "Lord, there'd have been editorials and stories, and it would go on for months." To be sure, ideology and party politics are at play. Liberal bloggers have accused Adams of being a right-wing activist (he insisted to me Friday that his sole...

Top Secret America.

When the Umar Abdulmutallab incident happened, I was among those ( Sanchez , Greenwald , Ackerman ) pointing out that "we need to consider that part of the problem is the sheer volume of information being gathered almost indiscriminately, making it difficult to divine real threats from false ones." The broad conclusion of Dana Priest and William Arkin 's first article in a series on the sprawling American national-security complex is that having a hybrid public/private "Top Secret America" about the size of Detroit drinking from the fire hose means that it's "impossible to determine" whether what the government is doing is actually making us any safer. I don't have much to say at the moment, but my immediate reaction is that the immediate aftermath of this series may lead to some changes, but my concern is that bureaucracy has incredible inertia. That's without the very strong bipartisan political incentives to avoid trimming national-security spending, lest the other side point to...

The Misleading "Political Appointees" NBPP Argument.

So, with the idea of outside pressure on the Civil Rights Division to drop the New Black Panther Case unsubstantiated , the exposure of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' investigation of the case as politically motivated, and the Justice Department's intervention on behalf of white voters in Noxubee County, Mississippi, there's really only one part of the conservative narrative of the NBPP case that remains -- the accusation that "political appointees" overruled career attorneys and were pursuing a political/partisan interest in deciding to narrow the case. This accusation mirrors the ones leveled by liberals during the Bush years -- accusations that were later substantiated by the Government Accountability Office. In any case, J. Christian Adams , the conservative activist and former Justice Department voting-section lawyer turned "whistle-blower," claims "political appointees" overruled "career attorneys" on this case. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez ,...

Table Scraps.

Pivoting off a 2000 speech in which Pat Buchanan accused Ivy League schools of discriminating against "white Christians," Ross Douthat writes that "it’s worth recognizing what Pat Buchanan got right." Douthat isn't too specific on what Buchanan got right, and he never actually makes the claim that Ivy League schools aren't mostly made up of white Christians, but he does conclude that "lower class whites" are being harmed by affirmative action. I suppose this is Douthat's way of justifying the weird conservative oppositional culture that has sprung up in the aftermath of Barack Obama 's election, which I think Glenn Beck summed up best when he said America has turned "into the 1950s overnight, except the races are reversed." This was particularly pronounced among the private colleges in the study. For minority applicants, the lower a family’s socioeconomic position, the more likely the student was to be admitted. For whites, though, it was the reverse. An upper-middle-class white...

"Refudiating" The Ground Zero Islamic Center.

Yesterday, Sarah Palin wrote an inflammatory tweet about the planned Islamic Center at Ground Zero, which she then promptly deleted: She actually doubled-down on the sentiment later, in a fashion that was only slightly less embarrassing. I remember in 2006, when Rep. Silvestre Reyes , then the new Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was justifiably mocked by conservatives for being unaware of the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Now the most popular figure in the Republican Party makes little distinction between average American Muslims and terrorists, with the exception of Muslims who "refudiate" their own religion. They're the "peaceful" ones. This sort of intolerance just serves to reinforce the extremist narrative that Islam is at war with the West, and being an American and being a Muslim are irreconcilable. Given that the former narrative is the one consistent theme that motivates terrorists regardless of background or affiliation, the U.S. has a...

Mark Williams Loses At The Satire Game.

So there's a game Rush Limbaugh likes to play, where he'll express a sentiment he actually holds in the form of a joke, and when called out on it he'll remind everyone that it was intended as "satire." He calls it "illustrating absurdity by being absurd." Often the idea is that you're accusing liberals of holding the abhorrent belief in question. In practice both Limbaugh and his audience understand that this is actually a way for him to express something offensive without taking responsibility for it. More than one conservative hasn't gotten the implicit "don't try this at home if you're not a multimillionaire talk show host" message and has tried to pull the same thing, only to have it blow up in their face. They don't get that Limbaugh isn't actually fooling anyone, and that he's really just someone who makes too much money for too many people to ever actually be fired. This is what happened to Tea Party Express Chairman Mark Williams , who wrote a nasty piece of "satire" last week...

The Day The Controversy Over The New Black Panther Case Fell Apart.

So, a number of things have happened in the past few hours that should really discredit the entire conservative conspiracy theory behind the New Black Panther Party case. Earlier today, I reported that J. Christian Adams , in his testimony to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, said that there was no indication of pressure from outside the Civil Rights Division to dismiss the civil complaint against the other two plaintiffs named in the original complaint -- meaning that even Adams admits there's no evidence Barack Obama or Eric Holder had anything to do with deciding to narrow the case. Ben Smith reported this evening that Abigail Thernstrom , a conservative voting-rights expert and one of George W. Bush 's appointees to the commission, says that the conservative bloc explicitly discussed a "wild notion they could bring Eric Holder down and really damage the president.” This was clear from the beginning, but it's the first time anyone on the commission has said with firsthand knowledge...

Fallout.

It's really astonishing that David Vitter is still a senator. Tim Geithner vs. Elizabeth Warren ? Just read this . Ann Friedman explains that the way to make friends of other races is not to treat them as anthropology projects. Ben Smith destroys the NBPP story.

Distinguishing Between Violent And Nonviolent Islamism.

Yesterday I wrote that countering domestic radicalization will often involve people who are conservative or political in ways the government won't necessarily like, because those people will have a kind of theological and cultural credibility more liberal Muslims won't. Matt Duss , pivoting off a Washington Institute for Near East Policy report on the administration's national-security strategy, makes that point better than I did, but applied to the world as a whole. Duss argues that refusing to distinguish between violent and nonviolent Islamism deprives the U.S. of a "potentially valuable" national-security tool: Despite having moderated their views on the uses of violence, they still believe that Islam is not just religious faith and practice but a complete political system. Some on the right, like Frank Gaffney and Daniel Pipes , deem the conservative practice and political application of Islam to be a threat in itself. But casting “Islamism” writ large as inherently violent and...

Man's Inhumanity To Bybee.

Jay Bybee on the torture memos he helped write: He said he was “proud of our opinions” at the Office of Legal Counsel, too, calling them “well researched” and “very carefully written.” Still, he said the controversy surrounding his tenure there had been difficult. “I have regrets because of the notoriety that this has brought me,” he said. “It has imposed enormous pressures on me both professionally and personally. It has had an impact on my family. And I regret that, as a result of my government service, that that kind of attention has been visited on me and on my family.” Glenn Greenwald on Jay Bybee: Just think about that. The so-called "government service" Jay Bybee did caused countless detainees to be subjected to systematized, medieval torture techniques designed to permanently break their mind and spirit. Innocent men spent years wasting away in a cage, with no due process of any kind, subjected to horrific and life-destroying abuse because of what Bybee authorized. For that...

Gov. Paterson To Sign Bill Ending Stop-and-Frisk Database.

New York Gov. David Paterson has terrible approval ratings, he is mired in a domestic violence and cover-up scandal involving one of his aides, and he's just generally considered a failure as a governor. But for civil libertarians concerned about criminal justice issues, he's really come through. Today he will be signing a bill prohibiting the NYPD from storing the personal information -- names, addresses, Social Security numbers -- of individuals stopped and searched by the police but against whom no further action is taken. According to the New York chapter of the ACLU, since 2004, the NYPD has stopped people more than 3 million times, 90 percent of whom did nothing wrong. This has resulted in what is basically a de-facto dragnet against blacks and Latinos, who, make up 80 percent of those stopped. That's despite the fact that whites were slightly more likely to be found with drugs or weapons. The police will still be allowed to keep a database that contains "generic" information...

Adams: No Indication Of Pressure From Outside The Division On NBPP Case.

The decision to drop two defendants from the New Black Panther case and focus solely against the individual who held the baton has been presented as proof positive that the Obama administration is racist. Rush Limbaugh claims that Eric Holder and Barack Obama "continue to protect and represent" the New Black Panther Party and that the narrowing of the case was "the natural course of events" with a black president and attorney general. Glenn Beck has claimed that the NBPP "have ties to the White House." Conservative bloggers have decried "Eric Holder's racist enforcement policies." At the heart of this narrative is the presumption that the Obama administration is racially selective in enforcing the law as a result of the president's personal hatred for white people, that he or Eric Holder directly interfered with the case, out of affinity or solidarity with the anti-white NBPP. But it's worth noting that J. Christian Adams , the voting-rights attorney with a conservative background who...

Bybee Vindicates Holder's Torture Probe.

Jay Bybee , the former Bush -era head of the Office of Legal Counsel who helped craft the legal justifications for torture, admitted that some interrogators went beyond the guidelines laid out in the torture memos, reports Jason Leopold : Bybee, whose responses to questions appears to be an attempt to absolve himself of culpability, told House Judiciary Committee members that interrogators who employed techniques that deviated from the guidelines contained in the torture memos he signed acted without the approval of OLC. "If the CIA departed from anything that it told us here, if it had any other information that it didn't share with us or if it came into any information that would differ from what they told us here, then the CIA did not have an opinion from OLC, " and the interrogation was not "authorized," Bybee said, according to the transcript of his interview, released by the Judiciary Committee Thursday. Attorney General Eric Holder initiated a very limited investigation of...

Pages