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The other day, as I was reading about Tom Coburn mentioning impeachment for the first time, I noticed (as I wrote) that he just kinda said that, partly to toss some red meat to the Tulsa crowd, but what he was really trying to sell them on was the idea of a constitutional convention to rescue America from the likes of me before it's too late. 

This idea is really the spawn of Mark Levin, the wingnut radio host, who has (of course) written a book about it. Life's too short to read the book, but I was intrigued enough by this idea to read an interview Levin did with Terry Jeffreys, who used to be but I don't think still is affiliated with that loopy Human Events magazine.

Levin's general view here, of course, is that Americans are choking to death with the federal jackboot across their necks; that the states are where most power was originally intended to reside; ergo, the states (two-thirds of the 50 state legislatures must pass resolutions agreeing to hold a convention to change the Constitution) have no choice in this desperate situation but to band together and act, passing a range of resolutions to limit the size and scope of the gummint.

What steps? Well, I always get a chuckle out of things like this:

It's Coming

Syria, Iraq, and Proof

The lead story in today's New York Times hits the right point. There is pressure on the administration on the question of proof, which it says it is going to produce for the world today. From the article:

And yet the White House faces steep hurdles as it prepares to make the most important public intelligence presentation since February 2003, when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made a dramatic and detailed case for war to the United Nations Security Council using intelligence—later discredited—about Iraq’s weapons programs.

More than a decade later, the Obama administration says the information it will make public, most likely on Thursday, will show proof of a large-scale chemical attack perpetrated by Syrian forces, bolstering its case for a retaliatory military strike on Syria.

But with the botched intelligence about Iraq still casting a long shadow over decisions about waging war in the Middle East, the White House faces an American public deeply skeptical about being drawn into the Syrian conflict and a growing chorus of lawmakers from both parties angry about the prospect of an American president once again going to war without Congressional consultation or approval.

Poll Shocker

New York City: DeBlasio Running Away?

Brand new poll just out this afternoon from Qunnipiac: DeBlasio 36, Quinn 21, Thompson 20. Oh yeah: Weiner, 8.

This represents a huge shifting and I confess is completely surprising to me. In the previous Qpoll, DeBlasio had nudged into a one-point lead over Quinn at 26-25. But then a few days after that another public poll had Quinn slightly ahead. So people I've been talking with all thought it was still pretty close. Apparently not. If a candidate gets 40 percent in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, he or she wins outright. If none does, there's a run-off between the top two.

Really interesting internals here. Bear in mind that Quinn is a woman and Thompson African American as you read:

A gender gap is opening as de Blasio gets 43 percent of men and 30 percent of women, 

Not Again

The New Impeachment Madness

The far right wants to impeach the president over Obamacare, but what truly matters is that this could become a real litmus test for conservatives.

It must be said: WorldNetDaily always delivers. Whenever the earth really starts to shake on the right-wing fringes, WND is there, gleefully placing a finger or two on the Richter scale. So when the “Impeach Obama!” story started gathering legs this week, it was to WND I flew, and sure enough, they had the goods. I report this to you as a public service, because I’d bet that for many of you, when you hear that the right wants to impeach the president, your first thought is: for what? While for those of you on the right, you think: Benghazi! But even you are wrong. The answer, perhaps inescapably: Obamacare. It’s the all-purpose evil. It won’t fly—obviously. But it, along with Sen. Tom Coburn’s recent weird comment, instructs us that we just need to settle in and live with this noise for the next three years.

obamacare

President Obama waves after speaking at an event on the the 90-day anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act on June 22, 2010, in the East Room of the White House. Obamacare is the reason Republicans are citing for trying to impeach Obama. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty)

The WND article (an “exclusive,” natch) “reports” on the findings of a book released yesterday by Aaron Klein and Brenda J. Elliott called, straightforwardly but unimaginatively, Impeachable Offenses: The Case to Remove Barack Obama From Office. Klein and Elliott exist in that sweaty and mephitic, yet highly profitable, corner of the swamp populated by people who write rumormongering books about Obama. Their earlier masterpiece is The Manchurian President. It made the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks, as have a few of Klein’s other works. Who said grime doesn’t pay?

The case is that Obamacare constitutes “taxation without representation.” But wait. Didn’t Congress, the people’s representatives, vote to pass it? Yes, it did. And wait again. Didn’t the Supreme Court—didn’t John Roberts himself—rule that Obamacare passes constitutional muster expressly because the mandate is in effect a tax? Yes, it and he did. So what’s the beef? Well, this is where the mainstream media have left you, citizen, in the lurch. The problem is that “the White House has been changing the law without involving Congress following the Supreme Court ruling and that multiple sections of the implementation of Obamacare are unconstitutional.”

Music at the March

‘Eyes on the Prize’

Folk music dominated the soundtrack of the March on Washington 50 years ago, with performances by Mahalia Jackson, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and of course Bob Dylan—who would later stage a weird and shocking retreat from protest politics, writes Michael Tomasky.

One aspect of the March on Washington that can’t be overlooked: the music. It’s around. You can see it. Bob Dylan’s three songs—two, really, as I’ll explain below—have inevitably made their way to YouTube, as has Mahalia Jackson’s song as have Peter, Paul, and Mary’s Marian. Anderson’s “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” doesn’t appear to have successfully completed the social-media voyage, but perhaps even more interestingly, you can see her more historically important Lincoln Memorial performance, her “My Country ’Tis of Thee” from back in 1939 when black people weren’t supposed to appear on stages with white people at all.

They’re fascinating visual documents. Things were not, in those days, like they are now. Today—or really, probably since about the 1980s, when these kinds of events started becoming corporatized and professionalized; “staged” in a way they hadn’t been—there would be a separate stage for the musical acts, or maybe two. There’d be lighting and effects. Mixed-race children’s choirs from a couple of carefully chosen local progressive schools.

But in 1963, life and stagecraft weren’t that way. Bob Dylan sang from the same podium and through the same bank of microphones the speakers used. On the same podium where the speakers placed drafts of their speeches, Dylan set down the lyric sheets to “When the Ship Comes In” and “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” reading from them closely. For Peter, Paul, and Mary, whose habit was to gather around one microphone on an otherwise empty stage, the organizers at least removed the podium. They sang “If I Had a Hammer” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The latter is of course Dylan’s song, from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, released that May. But Peter, Paul, and Mary had a hit with it—their cover was sitting at number 6 on the Billboard singles chart when the march took place (number one that week? “Fingertips, Pt 2,” by Little Stevie Wonder). So only real folkies would have known, in August of 1963, that it was a Dylan song.

Bombs Away

The Best Bad Option?

Obama has good reasons not to let the Syrian regime’s apparent use of chemical weapons stand, but getting drawn into war with Iran would be even worse. Michael Tomasky on the torturous choice.

Ay yi yi. Suddenly we’re about to bomb Syria? How did this happen? Just last week, Barack Obama was sounding very circumspect about the whole business. Then we started moving naval forces closer to Syria. Then, on Saturday, President Obama met for three hours with his national-security principals to discuss the situation. Sunday morning, the Syrian regime, evidently taking note of developments, said it would allow U.N. weapons inspectors in to the site of a suspected chemical-weapons attack. Shortly thereafter, a “senior administration official” was deputized to say the offer was “too late to be credible.” It’s a horrible situation with nothing but bad options, and it right now it looks as if the United States is going to choose the bad option of bombing strikes. There are good reasons to do it, but also good reasons to be terrified of what it might unleash.

Mideast Syria

A Syrian Army soldier walks on a street in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus on August 24. Syrian state media accused rebels of using chemical arms in Damascus, forcing them to resort to such weapons “as their last card.” (AP)

Why would Obama act now, after two years of letting Bashar al-Assad massacre 10,000 of his people? Slate’s Fred Kaplan laid out the rationale insightfully over the weekend. If—we’ll return to this “if”—Assad used chemical weapons, he crossed Obama’s famous/infamous “red line.” In addition, Obama, Kaplan noted, is big on international norms, and one of the biggest international norms going is taking action to prevent the spread of chemical weapons, which has been in place since right after World War I. A failure to act “would erode, perhaps obliterate” the taboo against such weapons. That’s something Obama is absolutely right to take very seriously.

But now, that “if.” We don’t know for sure that it was the regime that used these weapons. We assume it was the regime. But the opposition isn’t exactly a concert of Boy Scout troops. It’s split into many factions, some very anti-American. Maybe the administration has private intelligence fingering the regime. But publicly, it looks pretty strange on its face for the United States to turn down Syria’s offer on inspectors. How could we be moving toward military action without at least going through this motion? The rest of the senior official’s Sunday statement gives a specific reason why it’s too late: because “the evidence available has been significantly corrupted as a result of the regime’s persistent shelling and other international actions over the last five days.”

Three Points

Conservatives and the March

Tomorrow people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of the great March on Washington. It is worth remembering two points. 

First, there'd never been something like that before in the United States. People march today at the drop of a hat, and the news of a new march is now just wallpaper, something in the background of our lives; but then, it was brand new and without precedent. It's just worth remembering what a big, big deal it was for Americans to see 200,000 of their fellows converge on the mall. 

Second, it's worth remembering what a plantation Washington DC was in 1963. I just re-watched the other day, for the fourth or fifth time, a WETA documentary on Washington in the 60s. Here is some info about it. Incredible. A moral focal point was Glen Echo Park, a wonderful art-deco playland in Maryland along the Potomac. Today it just has a carousel and some pavillions, while offering tons of activities and classes for the kiddies. But then it was a full-fledged amusement park.

And whites only. Although unofficially. A commuter train ran right up to it. Blacks, this show said, understood that they had to get off before the Glen Echo stop. The doc featured an amazing audio tape of a young African American who rode to the Glen Echo stop and asked a guard why he couldn't enter the park, the guard fumbling around for lies because he couldn't outright say "the color of your skin." Shocking to think this was in Montgomery County, my county, one of the most liberal Democratic counties in all of America, arguably. But those were the times. And that on top of all the stuff you already know--the racist senators and congressmen who prevented home rule and all that.

Defund Denied

Obamacare Is Here to Stay

The majority of congressional Republicans, as well as the public, think that defunding Obamacare is a bad idea. Michael Tomasky on what that means for the election cycles ahead.

Are the Republicans really serious about defunding Obamacare? The answer depends on (a) which Republicans you mean and (b) how you define serious. We’ll get into all that below, but let’s cut to the chase: No. Defunding health-care implementation is something that I believe they will find to be totally impossible to do while in the congressional opposition, especially under the circumstances that are being discussed currently. For a lot of Republicans, the likely coming failure of this effort will redirect them to the next presidential election. And that, in turn, is likely to benefit the candidacy of the man who has most closely identified himself with the defunding movement, Ted Cruz. The question is, how much will he benefit?

Health Overhaul Congress

Rep. Tom Price (R–Georgia), center, flanked by Rep. Mike Kelly (R–Pennsylvania), left, and Rep. Mark Meadows (R–North Carolina) speaks about his bill, which targets health-care reform by preventing the Internal Revenue Service from implementing any part of the health-care law. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The lay of the land right now, after you strip away the rhetorical bluster, is this. A mere 14 Republican senators (out of 45) have signed Mike Lee’s letter pressing for defunding Obamacare. The letter has been out there for a while, and I’m told that few, if any, more are expected to sign. So, one third of the Senate caucus.

Then Thursday, a House version (PDF) of the Lee letter was released. It has 80 signatures. That’s a big drop-off from last year, when 127 Republicans signed a similar letter. As with the Senate, this 80 number constitutes almost exactly one third of the House GOP caucus. Not a huge number. In addition, this letter, circulated by a North Carolina representative named Mark Meadows, contains no explicit threat that the undersigned will oppose any funding bills that include Obamacare money. It just “urges” John Boehner and Eric Cantor to defund health care.

You Asked, So....

On the Miranda, Greenwald, Guardian Latest

Some of my regulars readers who go back to my Guardian days have been askingnay demandingthat I weigh in on the latest round of news on that front. I’m not sure I understand the obligation, but I aim to serve, so here you are.

Recent events haven’t really changed my previous position. I think Snowden broke the law and behaved egregiously; on the other hand, this is what it took to open up this badly needed debate, so in that sense I applaud him, and Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, for making that happen. Somewhat contradictory positions, sure. The world’s a complicated place.

I just can’t see Snowden as a hero. There’s a lot of difference to me, morally if perhaps not legally, between Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. In the Pentagon Papers case, Ellsberg had a longstanding security-cleared gig at the Rand Corporation. He was a believer who slowly rose to outrage over Vietnam, and he decided to break the law. Snowden took a job expressly to break the law. While it’s surely true that Snowden went through a similar arc of disillusionment, I think it’s a different thing to apply for a job swearing an oath that you’re going to do X but knowing all the time in your heart that your intention is to violate and destroy X (views on this will depend of course on how evil the beholder thinks X is).

Plus, Ellsberg turned himself in. He sought to remain anonymous, but once he was named, he pretty quickly reported to authorities. He was prepared to pay the price for his actions. He stood trial. It lasted 89 long days in the spring of 1971 before the judge declare a mistrial because of “improper government conduct” (White House plumbers breaking into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, and other acts) and made Ellsberg a free man.

GOP Madness

Crazier Than Ever

If you thought the GOP would adopt more moderate positions after its 2012 debacle, you were wrong. From debate threats to defunding Obamacare and even more purges, Michael Tomasky on how the insanity’s only increasing.

If you’d asked me six months ago whether the Republican Party would manage to find a few ways to sidle back toward the center between now and 2016, I’d have said yes. But today, on the basis of evidence offered so far this year, I’d have to say a big fat no. With every passing month, the party contrives new ways to go crazier. There’s a lot of time between now and 2016, but it’s hard to watch recent events without concluding that the extreme part of the base is gaining more and more internal control.

168999067AW00016_MICHELLE_B

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (center) speaks as U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) (left), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (second from right) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (right) listen during a news conference May 16, 2013, on Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong/Getty)

Let’s start with this recent party meeting in Boston. As with the previous winter meeting, the Republican National Committee was trying to spin inclusiveness as the theme and goal. But what real news came out of the meeting? Go to the RNC website. Before you even make it to the home page, you’ll be presented with a petition imploring you to “Hold the Liberal Media Accountable!” and “Tell CNN and NBC to drop their planned programming promoting Hillary Clinton or no 2016 debates!” The photo is of She Who Is in Question, smiling all the way to the White House.

You know, I trust, that the petition augments a position adopted at the meeting in protest of the biopics of Clinton planned by those two networks. As an “issue,” this is totally absurd. How many voters are going to walk into the booth on Election Day 2016, if Clinton is the Democratic nominee, thinking, “Gee whiz, I never cared that much for Hillary until I saw that wonderful biopic about a year ago, which is what sealed it for me!” Ridiculous. Besides, has anyone stopped to wonder whether Clinton herself wants these movies aired? (Actually, Al Hunt has). A decent argument can be made that her interest in seeing Gennifer and Monica and Tammy Wynette and all those unflattering hairstyles dredged up again is slim indeed.

IRS "Scandal" Continued

Who Inspects the Inspector?

More documents have been released showing that there's nothing to the IRS scandal. Yeah, yeah, I know; Washington has "moved on." But Washington has a strange definition of moving on, which is, if there's no longer a foul odor lingering in the air around what people very excitedly once thought was a scandal, they just mostly ignore it and write nothing.

I suppose you could call that moving on, but I think actual moving on involves settling accounts and setting things right. If there was no scandal, then why did everyone initially believe there was? And if the press got something wrong, isn't there a responsibility to go back and get it right?

The new documents released today by House Democrats show that more progressive groups were targeted in the IRS screenings along with conservative ones. A 2010 PowerPoint freshly unearthed lists "progressive" and "emerge" as words to watch out for. The emerge movement was and is a network of progressive state-based groups, and the groups from Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine were all denied c4 status in 2011.

Another slide presentation tells IRS staffers to be on the lookout for "Acorn successor" groups, meaning left-leaning outfits created in the wake of the demise of Acorn, which as you know stole the election in 2008 for the guy who won it by 9.5 million votes.

No Bright Lines

Les Gelb's Challenging, Wise Words on Egypt

Most people don't want to hear this, I think, but my colleague Les Gelb puts a morally difficult case very well in his Beast column, in which he argues that the least bad choice for the United States in Egypt--in terms of trying to help that country move to real democracy, as opposed to thinking narrowly of US security interests or whatever--is to stick with the military and try to reform it. We have, he argues, some shot at influencing the military, but no shot at all of influencing the Brotherhood.

Les, take it from here:

Let’s get real and tamp down the moral posturing about democracy in Egypt. Freely elected President Morsi and his now-deposed Muslim Brotherhood government weren’t practicing democracy. They were co-opting the laws and slowly destroying all possible opposition. Besides, they were aligning with America’s jihadist enemies in Syria, Gaza, and elsewhere. Egypt’s military leaders, no democratic sweethearts either, are aligned with moderates, need Washington more than the Islamists, and back U.S. interests on the Suez Canal and Israel. Americans rightly can’t stand the military street slaughters. For sure, bloody casualties will mount. But the United States has some modest chance to influence the military in right directions. It has little or no chance of saving Egypt for democracy if the Islamists return to power.

I think that's pretty hard to argue with. Then, a little later, more on the Islamists:

Playtime Politics

Assange Hearts Rand

So the WikiLeaks founder, from his embassy hideout, says he’s a Rand Paul fan—and the GOP’s libertarian wing is Congress’s ‘only useful political voice.’ At least they’re both opportunists, says Michael Tomasky.

Julian Assange, who back when he roamed the earth freely used to do things like show up on the steps of St. Paul’s to protest the wrongs of capitalism, has now apparently placed his faith in the man who is arguably the capitalists’ single biggest lickspittle in Washington, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). In and of itself, this is only mildly interesting. But Assange’s admirers on the left are so seduced by his oppositionalist posture and his desire to stick it to the man (as long as the man is the government of the United States) that they seem willing to follow him off any cliff, maybe even the cliff of voting for Paul in 2016. It’s a jejune politics, and ultimately a politics of leisure. No one whose day-to-day life is materially affected by the question of who is in office has time for such silly games, and therefore, no one who purports to be in solidarity with those people should either.

130818-assange-tomasky-tease

Getty

In an interview over the weekend with Campus Reform, a conservative college students’ group and website, Assange offered up a range of choice thoughts, none more interesting than this one: “In relation to Rand Paul. I’m a big admirer of Ron Paul and Rand Paul for their very principled positions in the U.S. Congress on a number of issues. They have been the strongest supporters of the fight against the U.S. attack on WikiLeaks and on me in the U.S. Congress. Similarly, they have been the strongest opponents of drone warfare and extrajudicial killing.” And then this: “The libertarian aspect of the Republican Party is presently the only useful political voice really in the U.S. Congress. It will be the driver that shifts the United States around.”

Assange also praised Matt Drudge in the interview, saying Drudge “should be applauded for breaking a lot of that censorship” of the mainstream news media. Drudge, it should be recalled, didn’t break any “censorship” at all. Conspiracy theorists of left and right have always had trouble distinguishing between censorship and editorial judgment, and it was Newsweek’s judgment (long before current ownership, I note) in January 1998 that its Monica Lewinsky story wasn’t ready for print. Drudge simply “reported” on that fact—or rather was spoon-fed it by disgruntled internal sources. The Lewinsky story was getting around, and so it’s a near certainty that Newsweek, or someone, would have published it soon. But Assange elevates Drudge to hero status.

Election

De Blasio Is the Man

After two decades in purgatory, the Democrats are poised to take back New York City. But is the Big Apple ready for Bill de Blasio? Michael Tomasky talks to the surging candidate.

What difference should the New York City mayoral race make to you if you live elsewhere? Well, New York is still New York, and what happens there matters. There’s more. As fate would have it, this is a particularly interesting year: This is the year that it finally seems likely that after two decades in purgatory, the Democrats will take back City Hall. And it’s starting to look like the person who’s going to do it is Bill de Blasio, who just vaulted to the head of the pack in recent polling.

New York City Democratic Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio

New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio speaks at a press conference outside the city’s East Side Community High School on August 15. (Mario Tama/Getty)

De Blasio is the most liberal-populist of the leading Democrats, and he is crystal clear that a de Blasio mayoralty won’t be so much about underwriting the “job creators” or making Midtown prettier for the folks coming in from Westchester to see Kinky Boots, but about trying to help the people who clean up after both of those groups. Is New York ready for that change, and is de Blasio the agent of New York City liberalism’s rebirth?

Let’s first go back in time. In its default mode, going back to Boss Tweed’s day or even before, New York City was run by Democrats. But once a generation or two, when the stench of corruption became utterly unignorable, Republicans who fashioned themselves reformers would be given their chance. A hundred years ago, it was Seth Low, who had also been a president of Columbia University. Thirty years later and far more famously came Fiorello La Guardia. By that time, New York City had a number of small political parties, some of them based around labor unions, and various independent groups. The Little Flower was a Republican, but a liberal (different times), and he enjoyed backing from both the GOP and these labor and independent leaders. This was “Fusion”—a coalescing of all the reform tendencies behind one man to defeat the corrupt Democrats.

Pundit Accountability Dept.

Coming Clean on Egypt

Let me go ahead and dredge this up before someone else does. On July 5, I wrote a column in defense of the coup against Morsi, under the headline (exceedingly unfortunate from today's vantage point) "A Coup to Celebrate." I believe in pundit accountability, not least for myself, so I inivite everyone to have at me.

Obviously, that column looks pretty horrible today. What happened yesterday is, equally obviously, indefensible by any human or democratic standard. The people who voted for Morsi of course have every right to feel the deepest betrayal, and even Egypt's liberal reformers--the people who really matter most to me--are no doubt chagrined by this turn of events.

I will still say that it behooves us not to forget that Morsi was no democrat. This is being a bit glossed over right now. Rachel Maddow last night had an excellent factual report on the situation, but both she and Richard Engel, NBC's man on the ground in Cairo who was clearly in danger of being shot yesterday, kind of glossed over this aspect of things.

Don't forget the thousands who massed in Tahrir six weeks ago demanding the ouster of a president who, though elected democratically, did not behave remotely like a democrat in office. I know the retort: So vote him out in three years. Well, maybe. On the other hand, I'm sure Zimbabweans unhappy with Mugabe back in 1980-whatever said "Well, we'll just vote him out in three years" (the parallel isn't exact, but you get my point).

About the Author

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Michael Tomasky

The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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