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“Bottom Of The Barrel”: The Tea Party Still Less Popular Than The Not-At-All-Popular GOP

President Obama’s approval rating is up slightly and his popularity steady, but both the Republican Party and the Tea Party still have negative perception with voters, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released Wednesday.

Only 32 percent of Americans have a positive perception of the GOP, with 41 percent negative, a net of -9. The Tea Party’s perception is up slightly since January of 2013 but only 26 percent report having a positive perception of the right-wing movement while 38 percent feel negatively, a net of -12. The number of Americans identifying with the Tea Party is up 4 percent to 24 but the share that says they’re not — 65 percent — has increased by one percent.

The IRS’s singling out of Tea Party groups that applied for non-profit “social welfare” status has renewed interest in the Tea Party movement. Earlier this year Republican strategist and fundraiser Karl Rove had created a new organization designed especially to hedge against Tea Partiers who could threaten safe seats by defeating establishment candidates in primaries. Since then, Republicans seem to have re-embraced the movement, using the IRS investigation to raise money and attack the president.

President Obama has a net positive of +7, which is unchanged since April, and his approval rating is slightly above water at 48/47, up from 47/48 a month ago.

The swirling accusations of scandal have slightly lowered the president’s reputation for truthfulness. Majorities say that the State Department’s handling of Benghazi, the Department of Justice’s handling of investigations of reports and the IRS’s focus on Tea Party groups raise doubts about the Obama administration.

The public supports investigations into these matters, saying they’re legitimate, not partisan, by a margin of 8 percent

But the public doesn’t seem to think the president is facing an unusually troubling time. In August of 2011, during the debt limit crisis, a majority said that the president was facing a “longer-term setback” that would be difficult to recover from. Now only 43 percent say the same in this poll. A total of 55 percent say that things are likely to get better or that the president is “not facing a setback.”

The share of Americans who identify with the Republican Party continues to decline with only 21 percent identifying with the GOP.

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, June 5, 2013

June 12, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Traitor Or Hero”: He May Think So, But It Seems A Bit Early To Call Edward Snowden A Hero

The fact that former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden decided to go public with his grievances against the U.S. government is certainly brave and bold.

People can and will accuse Snowden of many things. But no one will ever accuse him of not having the guts to stand up for what he believes.

Whether or not Snowden should be regarded as a “hero” for exposing what he believes is horrible intelligence gathering abuse by the U.S. government, however–as some are already suggesting he should be–remains to be seen.

Snowden has certainly made some startling claims about the scope of the U.S. intelligence and surveillance programs.

Most notably, Snowden claims that, as a 29 year-old security contractor, he had both the legal authority and the technological ability to “wiretap anyone — from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President.

If that’s true, that is indeed very startling.

Snowden also claims that the National Security Agency now intercepts and records almost all global communications, and that these recorded communications can be easily accessed:

“…the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested [by the NSA] without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”

Now, the NSA–or FBI, DOJ, or even your local police department–have always been able to get access to all of this information for U.S. citizens, provided they have a warrant from a judge allowing them to do so and provided you or your service providers have retained these records. But what seems new, based on Snowden’s description, is that the government is now maintaining its own records of all this information and, if I understand Snowden correctly, can now access and use any of it without a warrant.

If that’s true, it’s certainly worth asking whether we really want the government to be able to do that. It’s also worth asking whether the the government really does have the legal authority to do that–or whether it has gone way beyond what the lawmakers intended.

But, I, for one, would like some confirmation that what Snowden is saying is true before I denounce the government.

And some of the other things that Snowden has said have certainly made me wonder whether he isn’t just viewing all this from a perspective that mainstream Americans might consider, well, extreme.

Asked why he decided to leak classified information to the media, for example, Snowden said the following:

“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”

Asked whether surveillance might help deter or prevent terrorism, Snowden appeared to suggest that we shouldn’t pay so much attention to terrorism:

“We have to decide why terrorism is a new threat. There has always been terrorism. Boston was a criminal act. It was not about surveillance but good, old-fashioned police work. The police are very good at what they do.”

Asked whether he sees himself as “another Bradley Manning,” the U.S. Army private who sent a boatload of classified U.S. documents to Wikileaks, Snowden expressed nothing but admiration for Manning:

“Manning was a classic whistleblower. He was inspired by the public good.”

To address these statements in reverse order…

Bradley Manning may have been “inspired by” his own personal view of the “public good.” But, personally, I’m not convinced that what Bradley Manning did was actually good for the public. I don’t think it was terrible for the public. And it was certainly interesting to read some of those diplomatic communications. But I didn’t see anything in them that made me think they were so important that they were worth Manning breaking the law and risking a lifetime in jail to make them public.

(And, for what it’s worth, I do think that some things should be classified.)

I also confess that I am happy that there has not been another 9/11 since 9/11, and I wish the FBI had stopped the deranged Tsarnaev brothers before they allegedly killed four innocent people in Boston and maimed a few dozen others. I understand that the authorities will never be able to eliminate terrorism entirely, but I am glad that they’ve limited it as much as they have.

And, lastly, although I don’t relish the thought of having the government intercept and record all of my communications, I want to find out whether it’s actually true that the government is doing this before I freak out about it. Also, because I am not a terrorist, because this country has a well-developed legal system, and because I do not instinctively regard all government employees as evil power-hungry scumbags, I would also like to believe that, even if the government is recording all of my communications, this won’t necessarily wreck my life.

All of which is to say…

I’m not yet ready to pronounce Edward Snowden a “hero.”

I understand that he means well.

And I understand that he may think he’s a hero.

But he hasn’t persuaded me of that yet.

By: Henry Blodget, Business Insider, June 9, 2013

June 12, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Make Peace With God”: Embattled Federal Judge Called For Texas To Execute 8 To 12 Times As Many Inmates Per Year

According to a complaint filed last week against federal appellate Judge Edith Jones, Jones suggested that African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed towards violent crime and that the death penalty is a public service because it allows inmates to “make peace with God.” Should these allegations against Judge Jones be proven, they will be only the latest examples of a career’s worth of nonchalance regarding executions. Indeed, as far back as 1990, a much younger Jones proposed a series of reforms to Texas’ execution procedures that would have increased that state’s execution rate by as much as twelve times.

In an article for the Texas Bar Journal entitled “Death Penalty Procedures: A Proposal for Reform,” which is available through the legal research service HeinOnline, Jones decries a capital punishment system in Texas which she views as too inefficient, in large part because judges delay executions by taking time to review death sentences to determine that they were lawfully handed down. Indeed, at one point Jones blames the slow rate of executions on “the frequent, human reaction of most judges . . . to defer a decision if any element of a case raises doubts, or to grant a temporary stay for further consideration.”

To speed along Texas’ ability to kill death row inmates, Jones proposes that Texas schedule “four to six executions per month, commencing six months to one year from the date” those execution dates are made public. Notably, in the five years prior to when Jones wrote this piece, Texas executed an average of just under six inmates per year, so the immediate impact of her proposal would have been to multiply the state’s execution rate eight to twelvefold.

It’s also worth noting that Texas’ execution rate did spike significantly in the years after Jones wrote this piece. Most significantly, during the four years after Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which limited the ability of death row inmates to challenge their sentences in federal court, Texas executed an average of 33 people per year. Nevertheless, in the modern era of American death penalty law, Texas has never executed the 48 to 72 people per year suggested by Jones’ piece. The deadliest year for Texas inmates was 2000, when 40 people were executed. 15 people were executed last year. Nevertheless, Jones concludes her list of proposals for expediting Texas’ executions by suggesting they could be viewed as “too lenient” because they would “take more than four years to conclude all the currently pending capital cases.”

A decade after publishing this proposal, Jones joined two opinions claiming that a man whose attorney slept through much of his trial could nonetheless be executed.

Even without Jones’ proposal for a wave of executions, Texas has a higher execution rate than any other state. More than one third of all U.S. executions took place in Texas since 1976, when the Supreme Court announced the modern constitutional regime governing death penalty cases.

 

By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, June 10, 2013

June 12, 2013 Posted by | Death Penalty, Federal Courts | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There’s A New Santa Claus”: The National Security Agency Is Doing What Google Does

An old journalism saw goes like this: Dog bites man, no story. Man bites dog, story. Allow me to update it. Government monitors e-mail and telephone calls for national security, no story. Government doesn’t do anything of the kind — now, that’s a story.

Clearly some awfully good newspapers and some awfully good reporters disagree. In the past week, it’s been raining stories about what the busybody government has been up to. The National Security Agency has been monitoring telephone calls and e-mails — and even social media stuff of the sort you shouldn’t have been doing anyway. To this, a whole lot of people have expressed shock. Oaths to the Fourth Amendment have filled the air. Unreasonable searches are simply unconstitutional, they assert — without asserting that anything has in fact been searched or seized. It has merely been noted and, if suspicious, referred to a court for the appropriate warrant.

The programs certainly can be abused. (So can local police powers.) But oddly enough, proof that this has not happened comes from the self-proclaimed martyr for our civil liberties, Edward Snowden, late of Booz Allen Hamilton, the government contractor that ever-so-recently employed him. (I assume he’ll be summoned to HR.)

In a remarkably overwrought interview conducted by the vainglorious Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, Snowden cited not one example of the programs being abused. Greenwald wrote that Snowden “lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping” and that “he puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.” Greenwald said that “Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers.” I think he’ll go down as a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood.

Greenwald likens Snowden to Daniel Ellsberg, who revealed the Pentagon Papers to The Post and the New York Times more than four decades ago. Not quite. The Pentagon Papers proved that a succession of U.S. presidents had lied about their intentions regarding Vietnam — Lyndon Johnson above all. In 1964, he had campaigned against Barry Goldwater for the presidency as virtually the peace candidate while actually planning to widen the war. As the Times put it in a 1996 story, the Pentagon Papers “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance.”

In contrast, no one lied about the various programs disclosed last week. They were secret, yes, but members of Congress were informed — and they approved. Safeguards were built in. If, for instance, the omniscient computers picked up a pattern of phone calls from Mr. X to Suspected Terrorist Y, the government had to go to court to find out what was said. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act established a court consisting of 11 rotating federal judges. These judges are the same ones who rule on warrants the government seeks in domestic criminal cases. If we trust them for that, why would we not trust them for other things as well?

Whenever I see “Hello, Richard” on my computer screen, I realize what’s happened: It knows me. It knows what I bought and when I bought it and where I was at the time. It knows my sizes and my credit card number, and if it knows all that, it knows pretty much everything. I long ago sacrificed a measure of privacy for convenience. One click will do it.

I also made the same sort of deal for security. I assumed the government was doing at least what Google was doing — and Google, I’m convinced, is the new Santa Claus: It sees you when you’re sleeping, it knows when you’re awake. It knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake. In 2009, Google’s Eric Schmidt put us all at ease by telling CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” See, not all billionaires are so smart.

Everything about Edward Snowden is ridiculously cinematic. He is not paranoiac; he is merely narcissistic. He jettisoned a girlfriend, a career and, undoubtedly, his personal freedom to expose programs that were known to our elected officials and could have been deduced by anyone who has ever Googled anything. History will not record him as “one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers.” History is more likely to forget him. Soon, you can Google that.

 

By: Richard Cohen, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 10, 2013

June 12, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“RNC Boosts Evangelical Outreach”: The Religious Right Is Not Too Pleased With Republicans

In the wake of the party’s election setbacks last year, the Republican National Committee has focused on outreach to a variety of constituencies that have been turning towards Democrats: Latinos, African Americans, younger voters, women, etc.

But it’s against this backdrop that we also see the RNC boosting its outreach efforts to a group of voters that ostensibly represents the party’s existing base.

The Republican National Committee has brought on a director of evangelical outreach to massage the party’s complicated relationship with religious conservatives, GOP sources told CNN on Saturday.

The party organization has hired Chad Connelly, a consultant and motivational speaker who, until this weekend, was the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party.

Connelly resigned from that job Saturday and informed members of the state party’s executive committee that he will be taking a job at the RNC…. Connelly, a Baptist, has told multiple South Carolina Republicans that he will be steering the national party’s outreach to faith-based groups.

There are two broad questions to consider. The first is, who’s Chad Connelly? The Republican is far better known for his work leading the South Carolina GOP than engaging in faith-based activism. Upon taking over the state party two years ago, Connelly vowed to become President Obama’s “worst nightmare,” and then largely faded from the national scene.

That said, Connelly wrote an 80-page book in 2002, called “Freedom Tide,” which made a series of ridiculous claims about the United States being founded as a “Christian nation.” The book was panned for its inaccuracies and wasn’t exactly a best-seller

But the other question is, why in the world would the Republican National Committee have to focus on evangelical outreach right now?

The answer, I suspect, has something to do with the fact that the religious right movement isn’t nearly as pleased with its RNC allies as one might assume. As we discussed in April, many of the movement’s most prominent leaders and activists publicly threatened to abandon the Republican Party altogether unless it continues to push — enthusiastically — a far-right culture war agenda.

The threats coincided with a call from Tony Perkins, president of the right-wing Family Research Council, that social conservatives stop contributing to the RNC until the party starts “defending core principles.”

That might help explain why the RNC hired Connelly, but as we talked about at the time, it’s not at all clear what more the religious right community seriously expects of the party.

After all, Republican policymakers are banning abortion and targeting reproductive rights at a breathtaking clip, pursuing official state religions, eliminating sex-ed, going after Planned Parenthood, and restricting contraception. Heck, we even have a state A.G. and gubernatorial candidate fighting to protect an anti-sodomy law.

What’s more, folks like Reince Priebus are condemning Planned Parenthood and “infanticide,” while Paul Ryan is speaking to right-wing groups about a future in which abortion rights are “outlawed.”

And social conservatives are outraged that Republicans haven’t pushed the culture war enough? Why, because the RNC hasn’t officially declared its support for a theocracy yet?

Presumably, it’s now up to Connelly to help make this clearer to the party’s evangelical base.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 10, 2013

June 12, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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