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“Politicized Identities”: Surrendering To Tribal Instincts And A Politics Of Pure Power

In a meditation on reactions to the Boston bombings and the apparent identification of the perpetrators, TAP’s Paul Waldman says something profound:

Let’s be honest and admit that everyone had a hope about who the Boston bomber would out to be. Conservatives hoped it would be some swarthy Middle Easterner, which would validate their belief that the existential threat from Islam is ongoing and that their preferred policies are the best way to deal with that threat. Liberals hoped it would be a Timothy McVeigh-like character, some radical right-winger or white supremacist, which would perhaps make us all think more broadly about terrorism and what the threats really are. The truth turned out to be … well, we don’t really know yet. Assuming these two brothers are indeed the bombers, they’re literally Caucasian, but they’re also Muslim. Most importantly, as of yet we know absolutely nothing about what motivated them. Nothing. Keep that in mind.

But for many people, their motivations are of no concern; all that matters is their identity.

He goes on to talk about the tendency of U.S. conservatives to reduce large proportions of the human race–including many Americans–to an identity-imputed barbarism that makes them perfect enemies and thus not worth understanding. But it’s sometimes a problem for liberals as well–certainly those who assume that being a white Christian male from the South is an identity that connotes an incorrigible cultural and political enemy (you can see why that might bother me).

But there are two other reasons liberals ought to be especially careful about identity politics–it abolishes the restraining power, real if sometimes attenuated, of universalistic liberal values on those who would otherwise run amok with greed and other forms of tribal and individual self-interest, and it sets up a power contest between identity groups in which those who already have power–typically wealthy white men–are probably going to win. Even if you buy a “fundamentals” analysis of politics as mainly about who we are and what we are statistically likely to believe or vote for, there is a zone, sometimes small but critical, of shared values and rational persuasion that matters on the margins all of the time and in the center of political discourse at least some of the time. That narrow zone is sometimes what separates democratic politics from the ethos of the Thirty Years War.

Look, we all make judgments about groups of people who are antagonistic to our point of view. I routinely say highly disparaging things about the conservative movement and the Republican Party, as they exist today. But I do try to pay attention to what they actually say and their justifications for saying it, which is why, to the anger of some of my political allies, I tend to take conservatives at their word that they believe zygotes are human beings or that the weight of history militates in changes in family structure or that capitalism is the only successful model for wealth creation. I could just dismiss them all as depraved crypto-fascists or as puppets for various puppet-masters, but if that’s the case, what’s the point of writing or contending over politics?

There are real and obvious meta-forces in political life that transcend reason or empirical data or any effort at persuasion, and they are often associated with “politicized identities.”But if we don’t constantly try to understand the motivations beneath these identities and pry them loose into that free air where sweet reason and cooperation can take hold, then we surrender to tribal instincts and a politics of pure power in which not one of us truly ever matter.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 19, 2013

April 21, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Leaning Towards Darkness”: The Mind Of A Terror Suspect

While the Boston area lay paralyzed by a lockdown, with one terror suspect dead and another on the loose as a massive manhunt filtered through the area’s arteries, we got a better sense of the second young man.

It’s complicated.

The suspects were brothers. The one who was on the loose was taken into custody on Friday evening. He was the younger of the two, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. The elder, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a confrontation with authorities, but not before participating in the fatal shooting of an M.I.T. police officer, the carjacking of an S.U.V. and the shooting of a transit police officer, who was critically injured.

They were of Chechen heritage. Tamerlan was a boxer; Dzhokhar, a college student.

“A picture has begun to emerge of 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev as an aggressive, possibly radicalized immigrant who may have ensnared his younger brother Dzhokhar — described almost universally as a smart and sweet kid — into an act of terror,” The Boston Globe reported Friday.

The Globe quoted a person named Zaur Tsarnaev, who the newspaper said identified himself as a 26-year-old cousin of the suspects, as saying, “I used to warn Dzhokhar that Tamerlan was up to no good.” Tamerlan “was always getting into trouble,” he added. “He was never happy, never cheering, never smiling. He used to strike his girlfriend. He hurt her a few times. He was not a nice man. I don’t like to speak about him. He caused problems for my family.”

But what about that image of Dzhokhar as sweet?

On Friday, BuzzFeed and CNN claimed to verify Dzhokhar’s Twitter account. The tweets posted on that account give a window into a bifurcated mind — on one level, a middle-of-the-road 19-year-old boy, but on another, a person with a mind leaning toward darkness.

Like many young people, the person tweeting from that account liked rap music, saying of himself, “#imamacbookrapper when I’m bored,” and quoting rap lyrics in his tweets.

He tweeted quite a bit about women, dating and relationships; many of his musings were misogynistic and profane. Still, he seemed to want to have it both ways, to be rude and respectful at once, tweeting on Dec. 24, 2012: “My last tweets felt too wrong. I don’t like to objectify women or judge anyone for their actions.”

He was a proud Muslim who tweeted about going to mosque and enjoying talking — and even arguing — about religion with others. But he seemed to believe that different faiths were in competition with one another. On Nov. 29, he tweeted: “I kind of like religious debates, just hearing what other people believe is interesting and then crushing their beliefs with facts is fun.”

His politics seemed jumbled. He was apparently a 9/11 Truther, posting a tweet on Sept. 1 that read in part, “Idk why it’s hard for many of you to accept that 9/11 was an inside job.” On Election Day he retweeted a tweet from Barack Obama that read: “This happened because of you. Thank you.” But on March 20 he tweeted, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” This sounds like a take on a quote from Edmund Burke, who is viewed by many as the founder of modern Conservatism: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had strong views on the Middle East, tweeting on Nov. 28, “Free Palestine.” Later that day he tweeted, “I was going to make a joke about Hamas but it Israeli inappropriate.”

Toward the end of last year, the presence of dark tweets seemed to grow — tweets that in retrospect might have raised some concerns.

He tweeted about crime. On Dec. 28 he tweeted about what sounds like a hit-and-run: “Just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching my car into reverse and driving away from the accident.” And on Feb. 6 he tweeted, “Everything in life can be free if you run fast enough.”

He posted other tweets that could be taken as particularly ominous:

Oct. 22: “i won’t run i’ll just gun you all out #thugliving.”

Jan. 5: “I don’t like when people ask unnecessary questions like how are you? Why so sad? Why do you need cyanide pills?”

Jan. 16: “Breaking Bad taught me how to dispose of a corpse.”

Feb. 2: “Do I look like that much of a softy?” The tweet continued with “little do these dogs know they’re barking at a lion.”

Feb. 13: “I killed Abe Lincoln during my two hour nap #intensedream.”

The last tweet on the account reads: “I’m a stress free kind of guy.” The whole of the Twitter feed would argue against that assessment.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 19, 2013

April 21, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“First, Ignore John McCain And Lindsey Graham”: The Legal Process Ahead For Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

There were some preliminary reports last night that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been read his Miranda rights, but that turns out not to have been the case — the bombing suspect is in federal custody, but for now, as Rachel explained on the show last night, he has not been made aware of his rights, with officials citing a public-safety exception.

The details of the process obviously matter. There are certainly legitimate questions right now about other possible explosive devices that may pose a threat in the city of Boston, so it stands to reason that law enforcement would seek to get immediate information before Tsarnaev is told he can remain silent. That said, Emily Bazelon also raises sensible concerns about “stretching the law” and misapplying the public-safety exception.

This element of the process, however, is temporary — the exception comes with an expiration date, and will no longer be an option for officials after about 48 hours from the time Tsarnaev was taken into custody. The broader question — I’m reluctant to call it a “debate” since the path seems so obvious — is what happens after that. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have some thoughts on the matter.

Two powerful GOP senators are calling on the Obama administration to treat the captured suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings as an “enemy combatant” and deny him counsel even though he is reportedly an American citizen. […]

Regardless his citizenship status, McCain and Graham say Dzhokhar Tsarnaev gave up his rights to a criminal trial when he allegedly participated in the bombings.

“Under the Law of War we can hold this suspect as a potential enemy combatant not entitled to Miranda warnings or the appointment of counsel,” McCain and Graham said.

McCain and Graham are playing a dangerous game here. In case anyone’s forgotten, we’re talking about an American citizen, captured on American soil, accused of committing a crime in America. These Republican senators are arguing, in effect, that none of this matters anymore.

The same week in which Senate Republicans insisted that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, McCain and Graham are arguing that the Fourth Amendment is a nicety that the nation must no longer take seriously.

By all accounts, the Obama administration is prepared to ignore the senators’ suggestion.

Even if authorities determine that the Tsarnaevs received support from an overseas terrorist organization, the Obama administration official said the government will not seek to declare him an enemy combatant and try him before a military commission, as it has done with senior al Qaeda officials captured overseas and imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Administration officials see that scenario as a non-starter, the official said, particularly given the fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is an American citizen, naturalized last September.

That’s encouraging. Even for those on the right who are indifferent to civil liberties, the fact remains that civilian trials for terrorist suspects have proven to be an effective method of trying, convicting, and sentencing criminals, including accused terrorists. Military commissions, meanwhile, have proven to be an ineffective method.

When it comes to national security, foreign policy, and counter-terrorism, McCain and Graham have a track record of being remarkably wrong with incredible consistency. The more the Obama administration ignores their advice, the better.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 20, 2013

April 21, 2013 Posted by | Constitution, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obstructing The Democratic Process”: Gun Control Filibuster Proves The Senate Is Broken

I’ve been shaking my Boggle box to come up with some colorful adjectives to add to the din of words criticizing the Senate for its failure pass the universal background check amendment in the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013.

I didn’t get any words as good as egregious or atrocious. Boggle’s 16 cube tray didn’t give me enough letters to produce words as bumptious as those. But I did get the word Fed, and that reminded me of James Madison’s Federalist 10, a paper he wrote in 1787 to argue that “one of the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union is its tendency to break and control the violence of factions.”

Madison defined factions as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse …adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” He argued that majority rule would “secure the public good from the danger of factions and preserve the spirit and the form of popular government.”

Sadly, the outcome of this vote is just another example how the filibuster has eroded any and all ability of the Senate to secure the public good. The 46 Senators who voted against cloture put their self-interest ahead of public safety, regardless of the fact that the bill closed all the loopholes in the background check process, a process that today lets 40 percent of guns purchased go unchecked.

The filibuster came into being in 1815. Between 1815 and 1975, Senators were required to stand in the chamber and speak until a 2/3’s vote invoked cloture. It was exercised infrequently because the costs of using it were higher. Two-thirds of Senators had to be present and voting in the chamber, and 3/5’s sworn. In short, they had to sit and listen to the speech until they fell asleep, wore out, or simply couldn’t take it anymore.

In 1975, the Democratic controlled senate strengthened the filibuster. Senators didn’t have to be present to use it or engage in endless debate in the chamber. To invoke cloture, the number of required votes was reduced to 3/5s, or 60 out of 100.

Why did Democrats make these changes? They wanted to make sure that if they lost control of the chamber in some future election, they’d have a reliable way to way to block the Republican party.

The Democrats made a bad move. Since 1975, both parties have abused the filibuster to such an extent that today the Senate shows little productivity, and it’s a rare occurrence that bills do pass. Under majority rule, S.649 passed 54-46, but that doesn’t count because every bill now requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass, a requirement that flies in the face of majority rule.

Just the threat of a filibuster stops legislation in its tracks, and special interests work this to their advantage. The gun lobby compelled those 46 Senators to filibuster the bill by threatening to pull support from their 2014 reelection campaigns.

However, it’s not just the gun lobby influencing senators to filibuster bills. Over the past several years, many powerful liberal and conservative interest groups have helped orchestrate filibusters of multiple good and broadly beneficial legislative proposals.

The filibuster slaps popular government in the face. It has to go. It does nothing but obstruct the democratic process, and it isn’t needed to give the minority party a stronger voice in the chamber. Even if we got rid of it, each Senator still has plenty of rules and procedures at his or her disposal to slow debate.

How we get rid of it, however, is a discussion I’ll reserve for a future column, because we can’t expect the very people who benefit from the filibuster to support eliminating it. One thing’s for sure: If the status quo persists, we won’t see any reasonable gun control laws in this geological age.

 

By: Jamie Chandler, U. S. News and World Report, April 19, 2013

April 21, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Senate | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“We Couldn’t Care Less”: The Gun Lobby’s Fanaticism Prevails Over Common Sense

You might have thought that the mangled bodies of 20 dead children would have been enough to overcome the crazed obsessions of the gun lobby.

You might have believed that the courage and exhortations of a former congresswoman — her career cut short and her life forever changed by a would-be assassin’s bullet — would have pushed Congress to do the right thing.

You might have reasoned that polls showing overwhelming public support for a sensible gun control measure would have persuaded politicians to take a modest step toward preventing more massacres.

You would have been wrong. Last week, the U.S. Senate sent a stark message to the citizens it is elected to represent: We couldn’t care less about what you want.

Fifteen years of highly publicized mass murders carried out by madmen with firearms — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson and Aurora, to name just a few — have changed nothing. Newtown, where 26 people, including 20 young children, were mowed down by a man armed with an assault-type weapon and high-capacity magazines for his ammo, provoked little more than a ripple in the corridors of Washington, where the National Rifle Association and its like-minded lobbies carried the day.

The grip that the gun lobby maintains on Congress is hard to explain. The National Rifle Association has persuaded spineless politicians that it is an omnipotent election god, able to strike down those who don’t cower before it. That’s simply not true, but even if it were, aren’t some principles worth losing elections over?

The proposal that appeared to have the best chance of passage last week was modest enough. It would simply have expanded criminal background checks to include guns sold at gun shows and via the Internet, a step supported by 90 percent of Americans, according to polls.

As its proponents conceded, it would not have stopped the Newtown atrocity. Adam Lanza took his mother’s legally purchased weapons to kill her, to carry out a massacre and to then commit suicide.

But expanded background checks would certainly save other lives, since violent husbands and other criminals have been able to saunter through huge holes in the system to purchase guns. Speaking with justifiable anger after the background-check measure went down to defeat, President Obama noted, “… if action by Congress could have saved one person, one child, a few hundred, a few thousand … we had an obligation to try.”

In an exhaustive report last week about online purchases of firearms, The New York Times showed clearly why expanded background checks are needed. As the newspaper noted, websites for firearms function as “unregulated bazaars” where sellers offer prospective buyers the following assurance: “no questions asked.” Reporters found persons with criminal records buying and selling guns.

It is infuriating that the gun lobby defeated a proposal to rein in that dangerous commerce. And, as usual, it defended its opposition with a lie: The amendment would have led to a national registry of guns, just a slippery slope away from confiscation.

While many discussions of the gun lobby’s fanaticism include a nod to the country’s frontier origins, it’s a mistake to believe this craziness is rooted in history. The lunacy from Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, has a more recent provenance.

When I was a child in Alabama — the daughter and niece of hunting enthusiasts — gun owners didn’t demand the right to take their weapons into church or bars or onto college campuses.

But as hunting has become less popular and as the number of households owning guns has declined, the ranks of gun owners have become over-represented by conspiracy theorists and assorted crazies and kooks. They can be easily persuaded that the government is on a mission to confiscate their firearms.

There is little doubt that paranoia is amplified by the presence of a black president, who represents the deepest fears of right-wing survivalist types. So it was probably naive to expect that he could drum up support for more reasonable gun safety measures.

But if 20 dead children can’t persuade Congress to tighten gun laws, what will?

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, April 20, 2013

April 21, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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