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“America Needs To Get A Grip”: Want Less Terrorism? Start By Rejecting Trump’s Crusade

America needs to get a grip.

Since the slaughter of 14 innocents by two radicalized Muslim terrorists in San Bernardino, California, common sense has been a collateral casualty. Leading a wave of hysteria has been Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, with his harebrained ideas for denying various civil liberties to Muslims.

None of them would pass constitutional muster, thank goodness, and while his diatribes have found fertile ground among his party’s base, the Republican establishment has begun to push back against Trump.

That’s good sign, because we do have a terrorism problem that requires clear thinking and sober judgment. Our actions and policies must be grounded in accurate and detailed information. A report that received relatively little press at the time of its release in early December deserves a spotlight.

It’s far from comforting. The main message is that there is no snapshot profile to identify the jihadist on the block. That fact alone renders much of the blather we’re hearing about restrictions on this group or that beside the point.

“ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa” is the result of a six-month study by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. It studied online chatter, arrest data and other information in the cases of the 71 people arrested since March 2014 for crimes related to support of the Islamic State, along with counter-terrorism research. Fifty-six were arrested in 2015, a record number in a single year since the 9/11 attacks.

The report asks a crucial question, in the context of students and others caught heading to Syria, intending to join the Islamic State: “How could these seemingly ordinary young American men and, in growing numbers, women, be attracted to the world’s most infamous terrorist organization?” The answer is that we don’t know, “as each individual’s radicalization has its own unique dynamics.”

Average age of those studied was 26, but they ranged in age from 15 to 47; 86 percent were male, and most were U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Another point that might surprise those who obsessed with Islamic immigrants: Converts to the faith were 40 percent of the people arrested.

In some ways, the study proved to be a bit prophetic about San Bernardino. It noted a decrease in the numbers traveling to join the Islamic State overseas, which raises the possibility that homegrown terrorists will increasingly focus on U.S. targets.

At less than 1 percent of the total adult population, Muslims in America are at a disadvantage with respect to public perception. Many Americans literally don’t know a single one of the estimated 1.8 million adults in the U.S. who are Muslim.

Assimilation and acceptance, as opposed to isolation, the report notes, are key to blocking radicalization. That’s actually a hopeful point we can look to. Despite the caustic debates about Islam playing out in our media of late, America’s Muslims are far more integrated than their coreligionists in many European countries. That’s a huge strength — and one that should not be undermined.

About 63 percent of Muslims in the U.S. are immigrants. They are also more likely to hold a college degree than native-born citizens, and Muslim women stand out for educational attainment. They’re an asset to our nation, and it’s in everybody’s interest, in the measures we take to protect ourselves from terrorism, not to alienate them.

If American citizens are truly to follow the “if you see something, say something” mode of alertness, we need to be knowledgeable. A mentality of Muslim-equals-terrorist will not help keep us safe.

Here’s a more helpful attitude. How about taking up some of the burden? Read up on the politics and history of the regions and countries where Muslim immigrants and refugees come from, on the conflict now ravaging Syria and Iraq, on the Islamic State and how it is recruiting and how its tactics morph. And get to know more Muslims.

This is an awkward time in our history when Muslim Americans are being expected to speak out after each radical attack, to defend their faith, to denounce bloodshed.

The presumption is offensive.

God forbid if I had to answer for every horrific deed committed by any Latino, or any woman, or any Catholic, or any journalist, or any other member of a group with which I could identify.

That’s a burden that can be lifted from Muslims in America only when the rest of us gain more insight into the faith, its members and the horrific ways that the Islamic State seeks to radicalize.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, December 12, 2015

December 13, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Muslims, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Two Options”: Choose Trump Or Choose The Constitution

Press releases aren’t casual comments, open to misinterpretation. They are deliberate statements. And Donald Trump, celebrity demagogue, has officially crossed into unconstitutional territory.

There it is, in chilling black and white: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Whatever campaign aide pressed “send” on that press release should have felt what’s left of their civic soul drift away. They are complicit in something that’s an essential part of all strongman candidacies: thuggery and suspension of civil liberties.

The same is now true for any Trump supporter who still feels defiant pride in the belief that they are sending a message to Washington while rejecting suffocating conventions of politically correct culture.

No, you’re just backing a bully and a bigot.

Because the man who claims to want to make America great again does not represent our country’s best traditions; he represents some of the world’s worst.

The appeal of the autocratic strongman is so basic that the Founding Fathers worried that it would be the Achilles’ heel of democracy. The strongman candidate taps into fear and frustrations about the ineffectiveness of government. With rambling speeches that double as populist entertainment, they divide the world into us and them. And with blustery promises that would make a con man blush, they declare that everything will be better for you once they are in total control.

If you believe that, I’ve got a populist billionaire to sell you.

The thing about the strongman candidacies is that they are secretly weak. They feed off feelings of fear and inadequacy. That’s why they target minority rights first.

And that is what’s happening here. We’ve seen brushfires of fear sweep through this election season, with mayors calling for internment campsgovernors refusing refugees, and presidential candidates trying to win over the angriest inmates of the hyperpartisan asylum. This competition to connect with the reptile mind is beneath the country Lincoln once called “the last best hope of earth.”

This is a time for choosing between our best traditions and our worst fears. If you care about the Constitution, the time has come to take a stand against Trump. If you believe that unity in diversity is a defiant answer to extremism, the time has come to take a stand against Trump. And if you believe the integrity of the Republican Party is worth saving, the time has come to take a stand against Trump.

 

By: John Avlon, The Daily Beast, December 8, 2015

December 9, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Donald Trump, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Line-Up Of Cranks”: From Trump On Down, The Republicans Can’t Be Serious

This was, according to many commentators, going to be the election cycle Republicans got to show off their “deep bench.” The race for the nomination would include experienced governors like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, fresh thinkers like Rand Paul, and attractive new players like Marco Rubio. Instead, however, Donald Trump leads the field by a wide margin. What happened?

The answer, according to many of those who didn’t see it coming, is gullibility: People can’t tell the difference between someone who sounds as if he knows what he’s talking about and someone who is actually serious about the issues. And for sure there’s a lot of gullibility out there. But if you ask me, the pundits have been at least as gullible as the public, and still are.

For while it’s true that Mr. Trump is, fundamentally, an absurd figure, so are his rivals. If you pay attention to what any one of them is actually saying, as opposed to how he says it, you discover incoherence and extremism every bit as bad as anything Mr. Trump has to offer. And that’s not an accident: Talking nonsense is what you have to do to get anywhere in today’s Republican Party.

For example, Mr. Trump’s economic views, a sort of mishmash of standard conservative talking points and protectionism, are definitely confused. But is that any worse than Jeb Bush’s deep voodoo, his claim that he could double the underlying growth rate of the American economy? And Mr. Bush’s credibility isn’t helped by his evidence for that claim: the relatively rapid growth Florida experienced during the immense housing bubble that coincided with his time as governor.

Mr. Trump, famously, is a “birther” — someone who has questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States. But is that any worse than Scott Walker’s declaration that he isn’t sure whether the president is a Christian?

Mr. Trump’s declared intention to deport all illegal immigrants is definitely extreme, and would require deep violations of civil liberties. But are there any defenders of civil liberties in the modern G.O.P.? Notice how eagerly Rand Paul, self-described libertarian, has joined in the witch hunt against Planned Parenthood.

And while Mr. Trump is definitely appealing to know-nothingism, Marco Rubio, climate change denier, has made “I’m not a scientist” his signature line. (Memo to Mr. Rubio: Presidents don’t have to be experts on everything, but they do need to listen to experts, and decide which ones to believe.)

The point is that while media puff pieces have portrayed Mr. Trump’s rivals as serious men — Jeb the moderate, Rand the original thinker, Marco the face of a new generation — their supposed seriousness is all surface. Judge them by positions as opposed to image, and what you have is a lineup of cranks. And as I said, this is no accident.

It has long been obvious that the conventions of political reporting and political commentary make it almost impossible to say the obvious — namely, that one of our two major parties has gone off the deep end. Or as the political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it in their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” the G.O.P. has become an “insurgent outlier … unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.” It’s a party that has no room for rational positions on many major issues.

Or to put it another way, modern Republican politicians can’t be serious — not if they want to win primaries and have any future within the party. Crank economics, crank science, crank foreign policy are all necessary parts of a candidate’s resume.

Until now, however, leading Republicans have generally tried to preserve a facade of respectability, helping the news media to maintain the pretense that it was dealing with a normal political party. What distinguishes Mr. Trump is not so much his positions as it is his lack of interest in maintaining appearances. And it turns out that the party’s base, which demands extremist positions, also prefers those positions delivered straight. Why is anyone surprised?

Remember how Mr. Trump was supposed to implode after his attack on John McCain? Mr. McCain epitomizes the strategy of sounding moderate while taking extreme positions, and is much loved by the press corps, which puts him on TV all the time. But Republican voters, it turns out, couldn’t care less about him.

Can Mr. Trump actually win the nomination? I have no idea. But even if he is eventually pushed aside, pay no attention to all the analyses you will read declaring a return to normal politics. That’s not going to happen; normal politics left the G.O.P. a long time ago. At most, we’ll see a return to normal hypocrisy, the kind that cloaks radical policies and contempt for evidence in conventional-sounding rhetoric. And that won’t be an improvement.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 7, 2015

August 8, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Another Case Of Roberts’s Judicial Minimalism”: Supreme Court; Your Facebook Threats Aren’t Necessarily Real Threats

Today, the Supreme Court held that you can post a threat to kill your wife on Facebook, but you’re not guilty of making a threat.

This is good news if you’re focused on free speech, especially online. It’s bad news if you’re concerned about the capacity of information technology to amplify threats, stalking, and coercion.

The result in the case, Elonis v. U.S., comes as something of a surprise, especially because it was a 7-2 decision, with Chief Justice Roberts writing for the court. That means the court’s liberal wing, the moderate-conservatives (Kennedy, Roberts) and even Justice Scalia were all in agreement.

The reason, however, was not the First Amendment. Court-watchers, and the defendant, Anthony Elonis, noted that the “threat” was simply a set of rap lyrics, and debated whether they were constitutionally protected. But the Court itself didn’t go there, instead basing its ruling purely on the federal criminal statute.

That statute says that anyone who “transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another” is guilty of a felony. But what is a “threat,” exactly? Specifically, does it require evidence of an actual intent to harm the person, or is it enough “that a reasonable person would regard Elonis’s communications as threats”?

The district court had said the latter, but today, the Supreme Court disagreed. Threatening language is not enough. Targets feeling threatened is not enough. Criminal law requires mens rea, an “evil mind,” and in this case, the Court held that there must be some specific intention to threaten. Since that wasn’t established in this case (and since Elonis assiduously denied having it) the Court threw out his conviction.

(In dissent, Justice Thomas argued that a “general intent” should be sufficient, while Justice Alito argued for an intermediate standard of “recklessness.”)

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Elonis is also known as “Tone Dougie,” and has produced some seriously bad rap lyrics, quoted at length in Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion. Indeed, to bleep out the bad words required 22 asterisks. The best parts of Tone Dougie’s oeuvre aren’t even the initial threats to his ex-wife, but the meta-threats that reference his investigation by the FBI. Here’s a sampling, asterisks provided by the Supreme Court:

You know your s***’s ridiculous
when you have the FBI knockin’ at yo’ door
Little Agent lady stood so close
Took all the strength I had not to turn the b***• ghost
Pull my knife, flick my wrist, and slit her throat
Leave her bleedin’ from her jugular in the arms of her partner…
S***, I’m just a crazy sociopath
that gets off playin’ you stupid f***s like a fiddle
And if y’all didn’t hear, I’m gonna be famous
Cause I’m just an aspiring rapper who likes the attention
who happens to be under investigation for terrorism…

Fab Five Freddy this is not. It’s not even Biz Markie. But it does bear a passing resemblance to someone Justice Alito referred to as a “well-compensated rapper,” namely Eminem.

The difference is that Eminem’s lyrics are clearly contained within a work of art, but Tone Dougie’s were simple Facebook posts. Yes, they rhymed (sort of), but they were simple posts.

“If I only knew then what I know now… I would have smothered your ass with a pillow. Dumped your body in the back seat. Dropped you off in Toad Creek and made it look like a rape and murder.”

The Court noted that had Elonis typed these words out and snailmailed them to his ex-wife, it would almost certainly constitute a criminal threat, because it was made directly to the intended victim and thus counts as evidence of mens rea. (The Court didn’t use the term snailmail, of course—and referred to Facebook as a “social networking Web site.”) Presumably, if the text was emailed—or maybe direct-messaged?—it would also, thus, be a criminal threat.

So the only reason it wasn’t is that it was posted semi-publicly on Facebook. This allowed Elonis to tell one Facebook friend that “I’m doing this for me. My writing is therapeutic,” and to proclaim himself a victim of artistic censorship. Therapy, art, whatever—but not actual threats.

(In a detail not widely reported in the press, Elonis also posted “therapeutically” about his co-workers—at one point posting a picture taken at Halloween of him holding a toy knife to a co-worker’s neck, with the caption “I wish.” Classy.)

Now, throwing out Elonis’s conviction does not mean that he’s permanently off the hook. He could be tried again, although the state would now have to prove that he intended to threaten his targets.

But the Court’s decision is a victory for free speech advocates, and a loss for those worried about harassing speech online.

On the one hand, you can’t be convicted just because someone else finds what you said on Facebook to be threatening. As a poster child for civil liberties, Tone Dougie now joins the KKK marchers in Skokie. We may not like what he says, but we’re proud to defend his right to say it. Civil liberties protect all of us.

On the other hand, Facebook is a unique, new medium for harassment. (This, incidentally, was the company’s rationale for its “real names” policy.) Arguably, threats made in public are even more terrifying than those made in private, especially if other people “like” what you’ve said.

The Court is treating it like a newspaper, or an open mic at the poetry slam, but many of us relate to it far more intimately. It’s a venue all its own—a combination of telephone, bulletin board, and, occasionally, mob scene.

Moreover, requiring an intent to threaten makes it very easy for stalkers and vengeful exes to deny liability. Oh, that wasn’t a threat, I was just musing aloud. Right.

Of course, since the Court declined to entertain the constitutional questions, this is all just a matter of statutory law, and statutes can be changed. The Court also successfully avoided the question of when art is art. It didn’t say what Elonis’s words were, only that they weren’t actual threats. Elonis is thus yet another case of Roberts’s judicial minimalism.

Though I bet it doesn’t feel that way to Elonis’s ex-wife.

 

By: Jay Michealson, The Daily Beast, June 1, 2015

June 3, 2015 Posted by | Free Speech, Spousal Abuse, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Leader Of The Leave-Me-The-Hell-Alone Coalition”: Rand Paul Is Fighting For Your Privacy—Unless You’re A Woman

“The right to be left alone is the most cherished of rights,” Kentucky senator and presidential aspirant Rand Paul said over the weekend in San Francisco. He was there to sell himself to the young tech elite as a civil-liberties crusader; the only candidate willing to take an uncompromising stand against government surveillance. He cares so deeply about privacy that he’s planning to filibuster the renewal of parts of the Patriot Act.

But the leader of “the leave-me-the-hell-alone coalition” is simultaneously, albeit more quietly, arguing that women should have little privacy in their healthcare decisions. “The government does have some role in our lives,” Paul said at a summit organized by the anti-choice Susan B Anthony List in April, by which he meant making abortion illegal. Paul describes himself as “100 percent pro-life.” Along with all of the other Republican presidential candidates he supports a bill that resurfaced this week in the House that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Recently Paul has become something of a champion for anti-abortion groups that are trying to reframe the abortion debate so that pro-choice views seem extreme. Pressed by reporters last month to clarify whether his support for abortion bans includes exceptions, Paul deflected the question by calling up the specter of late-term abortions. “Why don’t we ask the DNC: Is it OK to kill a seven-pound baby in the uterus?” he said to a New Hampshire journalist. No matter that only 1 percent of abortions in the United States occur after 21 weeks of pregnancy; claiming Democrats endorse the “killing” of babies is an easy way not to account for his selective support for personal liberty.

Paul’s hypocrisy isn’t new. Indeed, one of the long-standing ironies of American politics is that the people who decry government meddling in, say, healthcare are the ones calling most vociferously for the government to step in to regulate women’s bodies. As Katha Pollitt noted in Pro, conservatives like Paul never would propose to restrict access to guns, despite the tens of thousands of deaths caused by gun violence in the United States each year. Only when it comes to women does “life” trump individual freedom.

It’s still worth pointing out how inconsistent Paul’s advocacy for civil liberties is (and on issues beyond abortion), since that’s the platform he’s using to distinguish himself. If Paul really believed in “the right to be left alone,” he’d demand that women be allowed as much control over their bodies as their phone records.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, May 12, 2015

May 13, 2015 Posted by | Rand Paul, Reproductive Choice, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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