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“Holding The Boston Bomber As An Enemy Combatant?”: Would Tsarnaev Be Convicted Under President McCain?

That was justice at work. It took a week less than two years, an impressively brisk time window, for federal prosecutors in Massachusetts to deliver justice to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and the jury needed just 11 hours to deliberate. We didn’t waterboard him or send him to Gitmo, his jailers didn’t make him strip naked and get down on all fours while they led him around on a leash; and still, miraculously, despite these failures of our resolve, the people of the United States got a conviction.

I say “failures” above, obviously, in an ironical kind of way. But I wrote it like that because it strikes me that this is a day more than most other days to take stock of such matters and to remember that in this case, if John McCain and Lindsey Graham had had their way, some of those things could conceivably have happened to Tsarnaev. You might be tempted to say, so what, he’s a mass murderer. And that he is. But he’s a citizen of the United States, and citizens of the United States, no matter how despicable, have rights.

But in April 2013, right after the bombing, when the demagogue needle was way over in the red, McCain and Graham were leading the call for Tsarnaev to be detained as an enemy combatant. Not to be tried as one—even they understood that that would be crossing the line when it came to a U.S. citizen. But they wanted him held and questioned as an enemy combatant—thrown in a military brig and then questioned by military and CIA personnel rather than the FBI, a process that would have stripped him of his right to legal counsel and other basic rights to which any citizen is entitled.

McCain and Graham were joined by their usual compatriots in these crusades, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and New York Congressman Peter King. Their argument was that holding Tsarnaev as a combatant for a certain period of time would allow the government to ascertain things like whether he had any al Qaeda connections. Graham said at the time that being able to question Tsarnaev without a defense lawyer present was his whole point. That might sound reasonable, if it weren’t for, you know, the Constitution.

I don’t doubt that there was some measure of sincerity in McCain’s and Graham’s belief at the time, but even if it was quasi-sincere, it was just the worst kind of demagoguery. This did not happen in a vacuum, of course, but was yet another instance in a long chain of McCain-Graham demagoguery that went back to the very beginning of the Obama administration, when the new president was trying to close Gitmo, and Republicans—Graham was particularly noxious, as I recall—were running around charging that Obama was trying to release Gitmo prisoners onto the American mainland so they could live among us.

The reality, of course, is that the Gitmo detainees would by and large have been transferred only to the most secure Supermax prisons in the continental 48. But the reality didn’t matter, see, because what was important was to establish the narrative that this new president, with his suspicious name and questionable provenance and terrorist-palling-around and so on, didn’t want to defend America the way you and I did.

Then came the uproar over the administration’s plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian New York court. Now to be sure, the administration botched that one in p.r. terms, by not reaching out in advance to then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg and to Senator Chuck Schumer to make sure they’d both be on board. It wasn’t the first time or the last that the administration has aimed the revolver at its own foot.

But where are we now on that front? KSM still sits down in Guantanamo Bay, awaiting trial. He’s been ping-ponged from the military court system to the civilian and back again. He purports in more recent years to have had a change of heart, bless him, regarding the whole wholesale slaughter of innocents business. Whatever the case on that front, the core fact remains that the families who lost loves ones on 9/11 have not seen any resolution with regard to the legal fate of the mastermind of those attacks.

The families of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, on the other hand, got justice in two short years. And this civilian-court efficiency is no aberration. Up through 2011, according to Human Rights First, federal civilian criminal courts had convicted around 500 terrorism suspects. Military courts had convicted eight, and three of those were overturned completely and one partially. It’s hard to find more recent precise numbers, but it’s not exactly as if military tribunals have caught up since then. The bottom line is clear. Civilian prosecutions work, and they live up to (well, more or less—Tsarnaev was questioned before being read his Miranda rights) constitutional standards.

And yet the snarling from McCain and Graham and their amen corner never ends. Obama/Democrats soft on terror is too tantalizing a story line, a toothsome steak that they can’t help but bite into. One of Obama’s more admirable attributes, in fact, is the way he has stood up to this bullying. He’s tried (without always succeeding) to bring our terrorism policies more in line with our stated values while at the same time still prosecuting actual terrorists. If you lament Obama’s shortcomings, just stop today and ask yourself where you think we’d be on these fronts if President McCain had been elected in 2008. His fomentations tell us all we need to know.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2015

April 11, 2015 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings, GITMO, John McCain | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“State-Sponsored Discrimination”: Florida House Passes Religious Exemption To Block Gay Adoptions

The Florida House on Thursday approved $690 million in tax cuts and a bill allowing residents fleeing hurricanes to carry guns without a permit, but the bill attracting the most controversy allows private adoption agencies to reject gay couples if they have a religious or moral objection.

The vote for that measure (HB 7111) was 75-38, with most Democrats opposing the bill, calling it state-sponsored discrimination.

Representative David Richardson (D-Miami Beach), likened the measure to the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans in the 1960s, citing the sit-ins at the lunch counters of Greensboro, N.C., in 1960.

“If you’re open to the public, you’re open to the public,” said Richardson, the first openly gay member of the Legislature. “If the lunch counter’s open, it’s open for everyone.”

Republicans, however, countered that forcing religious adoption agencies to either go against their consciences or shut down would ultimately lead to less opportunities for children in need of foster parents. Also, gay couples can go to another of Florida’s 82 adoption agencies if they are refused, they argued.

Representative Scott Plakon (R-Longwood), suggested lawsuits were already being lined up to restrain religious adoption agencies from refusing gay couples.

“You may disagree with their beliefs, you may even think that they’re crazy, but they are their sincerely held beliefs,” said Representative Scott Plakon (R-Longwood).

Social conservative groups put pressure on Republican legislators after the House voted last month to strike down Florida’s ban on gay adoption. An appeals court struck down the provision in 2010 and the Florida Department of Children and Families doesn’t enforce the ban, but the statute has remained on Florida’s books.

The bill still needs to pass the Senate.

Most Democrats also objected to SB 290, which would allow residents under mandatory evacuation orders to carry firearms without a concealed weapons permit up to 48 hours after the order is given.

Representative Ed Narain (D-Tampa), said the bill would bring unintended consequences, especially for black males, similar to the “stand your ground” law.

“It’s the potential combination of these two (laws) that could mix and create a deadly scenario that none of us want to imagine or even consider,” Narain said.

But Republicans in favor of the bill said it was needed to protect property during hectic evacuation periods, especially firearms that aren’t protected through permits or licenses.

“What some people in this chamber don’t understand…is that you can’t get a permit or a license for a rifle or a shotgun,” said Representative Neil Combee (R-Polk City).

The bill passed 86-26 and now heads to Governor Rick Scott’s desk.

A bill garnering more bipartisan support was HB 7141, which cuts $690 million in taxes, mostly from cable, satellite, and phone bills. The cut to the communication services tax will save TV and phone users $470 million, with the average cable user spending $100 a month saving about $43 over 12 months. The cut is a top priority for Scott.

Although some Democrats bemoaned parts of the bill cutting sales taxes on gun club memberships and providing a sales tax holiday for some firearms and ammunition on July Fourth, the bill passed 112-3.

The Senate has advanced individual tax cut bills but because of the uncertainty surrounding the Medicaid budget that the chamber is waiting to pass its preferred tax-cutting measures.


By: Gray Rohrer, Orlando Sentinel (TNS); The National Memo, April 10, 2015

April 11, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Florida Legislature, Open Carry Laws | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Last Moments Michael Slager Looked Like A Good Cop”: Then He Revealed His True Self; Someone Who Never Should’ve Been A Cop

On the dash cam video, the commercial radio in the squad car can be heard playing the chorus of “What It’s Like” by Everlast as Officer Michael Slager pulls over the Mercedes driven by Walter Scott on the morning before Easter.

Then you really might know what it’s like

Then you really might know what it’s like

The line is repeated twice more, and this song by a white rapper serves as a soundtrack of eerie irony as the cop strides evenly up to the driver’s side.

Slager reaches the back of the Mercedes and gives it a tap with his right hand. That is a standard cop move to prompt a driver to look back through the rear windshield as you continue to approach on the blind side. You are suddenly there at the driver’s window as he turns back.

“Can I see your license, registration, and insurance card?” Slager can he heard asking.

The cop’s tone and bearing are professional. Scott says something about his neighbor.

“What’s that?” Slager asks.

Scott tells the cop that his neighbor has the insurance card.

“I got my license,” Scott says.

“OK, let’s start with your license,” Slager says.

Slager keeps with department policy for officers to explain to motorists why they have been stopped.

“The reason for the stop, sir, is your brake light’s out,” Slager says.

Scott seems to say something about the indicator on the instrument panel.

“Right there,” Scott says.

“OK,” Slager says.

The dash cam video shows that the right rear taillight is indeed out. The squad car’s blue roof lights reflect off the Mercedes’s trunk. The South Carolina flag is fluttering from a pole beyond the auto supply parking lot where the cars have stopped. A passenger sits silent beside Scott.

“I don’t have the insurance card,” Scott then says. “Like I say, I just bought the car from my…my neighbor. I was planning on doing all that on Monday. He still has the insurance on the car.”

“You have insurance on the car?” Slager asks.

“No, I don’t have insurance on the car,” Scott says.

“If you don’t have insurance on your car, since you bought it, you have to have insurance,” Slager says.

“I haven’t bought it yet,” Scott says. “Like I’m saying, I’m going to do that Monday.”

“But you bought it,” Slager says.

“He said I could drive the car, yeah,” Scott says.

“Oh, OK,” Slager says.

“Because my car is down,” Scott says. “I can call him.”

“Let me have your driver’s license,” Slager says.

Slager takes the license with his left hand.

“You don’t have any paperwork in the glove box?” Slager asks.

“No, sir,” Scott says.

“No registration in there? No insurance?” Slager asks.

“He has all that stuff,” Scott says.

“OK, but you bought this car?” Slager asks. “Did you already buy it?”

“Not yet,” Scott asks. “I’m about to buy it Monday.”

“A minute ago, you said you bought it, you’re changing it over on Monday,” Slager says.

“I’m sorry about that,” Scott says. “On Monday…”

Scott sounds no more flustered than everybody is when they get stopped. He is as pleasant as the cop remains.

“All right,” Slager says. “Be right back with you.”

Slager strides evenly back to the squad car, the license now in his right hand. The radio has continued to play “What It’s Like,” with a chorus about a girl who is dumped by her man after she becomes pregnant and has to go to an abortion clinic, where she is harried by protesters. Slager has a happily pregnant wife at home, due to deliver in May.

Slager climbs back into the car as the song comes to another stanza.

I’ve seen a rich man beg, I’ve seen a good man sin

I’ve seen a tough man cry, I’ve seen a loser win

And a sad man grin, I heard an honest man lie

I’ve seen the good side of bad and the downside of up

And everything between.

Slager begins to run a computer check on the license and the car.

I licked the silver spoon, drank from the golden cup

And smoked the finest green

I stroked the fattest dimes at least a couple of times

Before I broke their heart

You know where it ends, yo, it usually depends on where you start.

The driver’s side door of the Mercedes swings open, and Scott begins to emerge, half waving to Slager as if he wants to try to explain something.

“Stay in the car,” Slager commands.

Scott immediately obeys, closing the door. The song keeps playing.

I knew this kid named Max

Who used to get fat stacks out on the corner with drugs

He liked to hang out late

He liked to get shit-faced and keep the pace with thugs

Until late one night, there was a big old fight and Max lost his head.

Scott is not likely listening to this same song. He must only happen to choose this moment to open the door suddenly and bolt from the car. He reflexively slams the door behind him and runs off for reasons we may never know. The passenger stays put.

Slager is out of the dash cam’s view as he gives chase. The song keeps playing.

He pulled out his chrome .45, talked some shit, and wound up dead

Now his wife and his kids are caught in the midst of all of this pain

You know it comes that way

At least that’s what they say when you play the game

God forbid, you ever had to wake up to hear the news

’Cause then you really might know what it’s like to have to lose.

In the middle of it, Slager can be heard on the police radio.

“On foot, down Craig Street!” he reports. “Black male. Green shirt. Blue pants.”

Slager can then be heard crying out.

Taser! Taser! Taser!

Slager can then be heard commanding, “Get on the ground! Get on the ground! Get on the ground!”

The song on the commercial radio has come to its final chorus.

Then you really might know what it’s like

Then you really might know what it’s like

The dash cam recording does not pick up the gunshots as Slager fires bullet after bullet into the unarmed Scott’s back as he tries to flee.

Another video, made with a cellphone by a brave young man who had been on his way to work, captures the shooting that left Scott dead and Slager charged with murder.

But we should not forget to study closely the dash cam video—for the very reason that it seems to portend so little.

Slager looks and acts like the perfect cop. There is reason to think that nothing would have happened if Scott had not bolted.

But once Scott did, Slager suddenly made it horribly clear that under his professional exterior was someone who never should have been a cop in the first place.

If nothing else, the dash cam teaches us that we must learn to discern what lurks beneath.

Meanwhile, that eerie soundtrack ends as the song concludes and the DJ from Rock 98 Charleston comes on.

“Remember, the one station that plays it all.”


By: Michael Daly, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2015

April 11, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Awwwwwkward”: Meet Ted Cruz’s Tax-Dodging Sugar Daddy

Hedge fund CEO Robert Mercer is all in for the conservative Texas Republican Ted Cruz, and the billionaire will have unusually substantial influence in how his contributions get spent.

But the billionaire also has some baggage—like, the avoiding billions in taxes kind of baggage.

His alleged failure to pay those taxes led to substantial congressional scrutiny in 2014—and it’s not clear the investigation is over.

This, and some of Mercer’s side projects, could present interesting challenges for Cruz’s campaign. Especially since Cruz has been a vocal opponent of those who “give favors to Wall Street” and engage in “crony capitalism.”

On the one hand, Mercer’s support is fantastic for Cruz for all the obvious reasons (having a billionaire in your corner is nice). On the other hand, Mercer’s hedge fund—Renaissance Technologies—recently faced an unflattering congressional investigation, the results of which indicated that it used complex and unorthodox financial structures to dramatically lower its tax burden.This drew scorching bipartisan criticism from investigators on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

“Renaissance profited from this tax treatment by insisting on the fiction that it didn’t really own the stocks it traded—that the banks that Renaissance dealt with, did,” said Sen. John McCain during a hearing on the issue, per Mother Jones. “But, the fact is that Renaissance did all the trading, maintained full control over the account…and reaped all of the profits.”

In his opening statement for that hearing, then-subcommittee chair Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said that Mercer’s business avoided paying more than $6 billion in taxes between 2000 and 2013.

Since then, Levin has retired from the Senate and Republican Sen. Rob Portman has taken his place as subcommittee chair. When I called the subcommittee’s Capitol Hill office to see if any investigation into Renaissance was still underway, the person who answered the phone said he couldn’t comment on active investigations. I then asked if that meant the investigation was in fact active.

“I can’t say whether it’s active, I can’t say whether it’s inactive, I can’t even say whether we’ve investigated them,” he said.

Later, Portman’s spokeswoman, Caitlin Conant, emailed to say that the committee doesn’t comment on its work beyond what’s in the public record. Renaissance Technologies didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether they’re currently being investigated.

Given this probe into his company’s books, it’s no surprise Mercer has invested heavily in keeping financial industry watchdogs from gaining political power. However, you’d think this might conflict with his candidate’s populist zeal.

“[M]y criticism with Washington is they engage in crony capitalism,” Cruz told Bloomberg Politics. “They give favors to Wall Street and big business and that’s why I’ve been an outspoken opponent of crony capitalism, taking on leaders in both parties.”

But the Cruz campaign doesn’t seem to see any problems with the arrangement. When I asked Rick Tyler, the campaign’s senior communications adviser, if he was worried about potential conflicts, he said, “No way.”

Mercer has long backed conservative candidates, and he’s spending heavily on Cruz through a new breed of super PACs started by the super rich.

An anonymous Cruz source told Bloomberg on Wednesday that a franchise of pro-Cruz super PACs—formed just this week—will have raised $31 million by end of the day on Friday. There are four super PACs, called Keep the Promise, Keep the Promise I, Keep the Promise II, and Keep the Promise III.

This is not normal; presidential candidates usually give their imprimatur to one such group, which then rakes in contributions and makes independent expenditures to help the candidate. After all, there are legal limits on how much donors can give to presidential candidates, but no limits on how much they can give to these PACs.

One longtime campaign lawyer said the widespread Republican donor buyer’s remorse exists from the 2012 general elections—when a few powerful super PACs spent massive sums of money to get Mitt Romney elected, and were left empty-handed on Election Night. As a result, billionaires are starting their own PACs to fund political campaigns to have more control on how their money gets spent.

It’s worth noting that this explanation doesn’t make sense to everyone. Dan Backer, an attorney who’s worked extensively with Republican and Tea Party groups on campaign finance issues, said he thought having multiple super PACs could make life unnecessarily difficult for everyone involved.

“All you’re doing is multiplying your reporting and compliance burden for no good reason,” he said. “At first blush, it just strikes me as a little weird.”

Regardless, the operating assumption seems to be that having a cadre of super PACs will give mega-donors like Mercer more power over the dynamics of the presidential election. Saul Anuzis, a Michigan Republican operative who started a Mercer-funded super PAC in the 2014 midterms, indicated as much in an interview with Mother Jones. He told the magazine that he expected to see “more and more super-PACs starting that are donor-centric or district-centric.” In Cruz and Mercer’s case, that prediction seems remarkably prescient.

In 2010, 2012, and 2014 the billionaire spent significant money trying (unsuccessfully) to take out Oregon Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio, who has made his support of higher Wall Street taxes a signature issue. And DeFazio has used the fact that he’s a Mercer target to burnish his fiscal-progressive bona fides.

Mercer helped Lee Zeldin defeat former Securities and Exchange Commission prosecutor George Demos in a 2014 Republican House race primary. Mercer also helped Zeldin win the general election, where he defeated a Democratic incumbent who was a vociferous defender of Dodd-Frank.

But his areas of interest are broader than just elections. He singlehandedly paid for a $1 million TV ad campaign opposing the so-called Ground Zero Mosque. And his affinity for conservative causes seems to go back to his early days doing research for the Kirtland Air Force Base’s weapons lab in New Mexico.

Mercer hinted at his political evolution in a 2014 speech he gave to accept the Association for Computational Linguistics lifetime achievement award. He described rewriting a computer program so that it worked more efficiently, and then said that his bosses at the lab decided to just make the program do more complicated computations.

“I took this as an indication that one of the most important goals of government-financed research is not so much to get answers as it is to consume the computer budget, which has left me ever since with a jaundiced view of government-financed research,” he said.

Excepting Zeldin, Mercer’s chosen candidates haven’t fared particularly well. The billionaire spent $1 million to help pay for the 2012 Republican National Convention, and also gave Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS significant funds to try to boost Republicans’ fortunes. And he spent $200,000 on Wendy Long’s Senate race. Who’s Wendy Long, you ask? Right.

There’s a kind of funny flip in the media narrative here, too. After Cruz announced that he would run, a Politico sub-hed blared that he was “months behind his competitors in recruiting mega-donors and bundlers.” If the storied $31 million materializes, then those concerns were probably meritless.

But, to paraphrase the poet, with new money comes new problems. And it remains to be seen how a cozy alliance with a guy whose hedge fund allegedly dodged $6 billion in taxes could play out for the senator.


By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2015

April 11, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Crony Capitalism, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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