There’s a common thread linking conservatives’ positions on gun control, immigration, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: the constant need to stoke fear. By Michael Tomasky.
Liberals and civil libertarians shouldn’t yet be saying that there’s utterly no way that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be declared an “enemy combatant.” The post-9/11 law, whatever one’s opinion of it, does say that an American citizen affiliated with al Qaeda, the Taliban, “or associated forces” engaged in hostility with the United States can be declared an enemy combatant. It doesn’t seem like he’s that, but who knows, he may shock everyone when he comes to by saying that he and his brother were precisely that.
House Speaker John Boehner answers questions from reporters on gun control, immigration, and the budget during a news conference on Capitol Hill on April 18. Boehner also expressed appreciation to law enforcement in the wake of the attack on the Boston Marathon and toxic letters mailed to Congress. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
But it isn’t liberals who are jumping the gun here. As usual, conservatives are rushing to judgment, shredding the Constitution, using the bombing as an pretext for derailing immigration reform, and generally seeking any excuse to reimpose their paranoid and authoritarian worldview, which needs fear like a vampire needs blood, on the rest of us.
The cry, which I’m sure will pick up steam this week, was led over the weekend by the usual suspects—John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, and Peter King. On the basis of what evidence? On the basis of no evidence at all. They know nothing! We’re starting to piece together a portrait of these guys, although it’s more of Tamerlan than of his younger brother. It’s a grim portrait. He evidently did become a radicalized Islamist. But if he and his brother were acting alone, even if the bombing was 100 percent politically motivated, they can’t be called enemy combatants. Period.
The Guardian's Michael Cohen tweeted this, but I was sort of wondering it, too. Was shutting down an entire city really a great idea? Now any would-be terrorist will take it as a challenge to get a city shut down. It's just added incentive.
I can understand authorities wanting less hubbub than usual; can understand that that would make it easier perhaps to track the guy. I can see telling people within a certain radius in Watertown to stay put. But it seems like overreaction to me. The cops are professionals. They train constantly for moments like this. They need to stop all other motion to conduct a manhunt?
If the argument is that it's for people's safety, well...okay, but how many people could this guy really kill? On the day that he set out to kill dozens, he fell well short of that. And what are the odds that any particular individual would cross paths with this guy? When did telling people to use caution and venture only where necessary stop being enough?
And how long is this going to go on? Through the weekend? Seriously? What if the guy is long gone? What if he killed himself somewhere and his body isn't found for days? What if he killed himself and there is no body--he threw himself in an incinerator? Is Boston going to live in perpetual quasi-lockdown? I suppose everything happened so fast overnight and morning rush hour was coming and they had to make a call. But is this really book procedure? It's a bad signal and a large-type invitation to others to shut down other cities.
After dozing off early I happened to wake up at exactly 12:45. My wife had CNN on and was already watching. We have family in Watertown, about a mile-and-a-half from where it all went down. I've been to that forlorn Watertown Mall several times and took my daughter to play once in the park across the street. We finally called our people at 4 am. They're fine, but pretty...amazed.
It's going to take a while to make sense of this one. The Caucasus may be the one region in the world that Americans know the least about. Literally the least. I include myself. I know some history of the SSRs during the Soviet period, or a little before--from Stalin's youth up throug the war, but that's about the extent of my knowledge, beyond the things that average informed people know about the Chechen-Russian conflict. But I can't tell you if it's important whether they're really Chechen or Dagestani. So maybe this provides us all a good chance to educate ourselves. Not holding my breath on that one, but still.
If you're looking for people who know something, I'm told the person to follow on Twitter is Joshua Foust, who writes for The Atlantic on Afghanistan but whose expertise extends to the Caucasus. He's at @joshuafoust.
I'm sure you've read many of the details I have. Dzokhar Tsarnaev was a happy and friendly person. Tamerlan couldn't find a single American friend. (Even these names--echoes of tsarist Russia and of Tamerlane the conqueror.) Dzokhar ran his brother's dead body over while escaping. Their father says Dzokhar was "a true angel." An uncle apparently said of Tamerlan that he was a "loser" who "deserved" to die.
In my inbox not long ago from a friend landed a good example of the evil liberal media ignoring the Dr. Gosnell case. This is by reproductive health doctor name Lynette Leighton from the web site RH Reality Check, and it is reprinted from back in 2011, back when the liberal media was, you know, ignoring the Gosnell charges the first time they were made public:
I now belong to a wonderful community of primary care doctors who are dedicated to improving women’s health and the treatment they receive, including abortion. We see abortion as inextricable from the full spectrum of medical care a woman might need in her lifetime. We continue to research and refine abortion care while helping to break down barriers separating women from high-quality services.
What a contrast to the Dr. Gosnell case—I was absolutely shocked by the news of an abortion provider who, if the charges prove true, has strayed so far from the principles of our field and the ethics of medicine in general. The news of his clinic’s practices horrifies me. I am sad and angry that Dr. Gosnell’s patients did not benefit from the expertise and empathy I know in the reproductive health world.
When a woman comes to me with an unintended pregnancy, I counsel her thoroughly. If she decides to continue her pregnancy, I talk about vitamins, scheduling prenatal ultrasounds and preparing her older children for the newcomer. When a woman chooses to end her pregnancy, we talk extensively about what to expect, whether she chooses to take medication in the privacy of her home, or have a procedure performed in my office. There are sometimes long discussions about her unique situation, often handholding, and always personal, safe care.
You know by now that CNN reported that a suspect had been arrested in Boston. But then they had to report that they were wrong. There has been no arrest. Twitter, as you might imagine, has been nothing but CNN jokes for the last 90 minutes or so.
This urge to take enormous risks to be first is crazy in this day and age. Let's say CNN had been right. A year from now, who'd know? Some people in the TV news industry, and that's all. Maybe that matters.
But you get something like this wrong, everybody who pays attention to news remembers. Now CNN will live with the memory of this and its horribly wrong call on the Supreme Court health-care decision.
Now you might also ask if even that matters. Who knows. The BBC has been humiliated recently. Allowing a sexual predator to roam unchecked in your midst is a hell of a lot worse than screwing up a scoop. And yet, I still trust what I see and hear on the BBC. A brand is a powerful thing. But CNN's is diminishing a little more with every one of these embarrassing episodes.
This Mark Sanford character is sort of psychotic, isn't he? Up to now, the posture has been to feel a soupcon of empathy or something for the man because well, at least he was in love. You can't argue with love.
But now we see there's something really off about the guy. Snooping around his wife's house. To watch the Super Bowl with his son. Well that's not so bad. But he was legally barred from being there.
Then, get this:
Meanwhile, the Washington Post has learned that tensions within the family flared up as recently as April 2, at the celebration of Sanford’s runoff election victory when the former governor thrust two of his sons on-stage with the Argentine woman who was at the center of the spectacular sex scandal that broke up his marriage.
The final cloture vote on the gun bill in the Senate is supposed to happen late afternoon today. This will be the vote to end debate and move to final passage. This vote requires 60 under the rules, while final passage would need just 51.
There will be nine amendments under agreement, some from the Democrats and some from the Republicans. And...each of those will need 60 votes.
Things don't look great. From the Politico story:
At this point, only four Senate Republicans — Toomey, Collins, and Sens. Mark Kirk of Illiniois (Ill.) and John McCain of Arizona (Ariz.) — are backing the Manchin-Toomey plan, or have signaled they may may do so.
The good guys' side seems to have lost mo in the last couple of days. Some Republican senators who voted for cloture to permit a vote have now said, much as I anticipated last week, that well, they were willing to vote to allow debate, but once that debate ends, of course they're voting no.
Some control advocates had certain hopes for Bob Corker of Tennessee. Corker of Tennessee is not way out there on Mike Lee's planet, to be sure. He actually talks to Democrats about substance. But having done that, he always votes no. And he said the other day that he'll vote no on this.
Now, remember, there's another cloture vote coming, to end debate and proceed to final passage (actually, there could be cloture votes on the amendments, too, but let's not get too bogged down in procedure). So if people like Corker vote for a final vote, so to speak, the thing could actually pass. Sargent:
But all of these details aside, it needs to be restated that these Senators have the option of voting Yes on breaking the filibuster, while voting No on the final vote. In that scenario, the proposal would likely pass with a simple majority. And so, if these Senators continue to hold out, they need to be pressed on whether they really think a proposal that has the support of eight in 10 Americans doesn’t deserve a straight up or down vote, at a time when the Newtown slayings have focused public attention on a problem that continues to claim the lives of thousands of Americans per year. Whatever their final vote, there’s no excuse for them to enable and participate in GOP obstructionism of a proposal with near universal public support.
Don't know if you know the names Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff. A few years ago they wrote a book arguing that countries with a debt to GDP ratio above 90 percent experienced slow growth in recovering from a crisis. Lots of impressive data.
Since Keynesianism means counter-cyclical debt, R & R were really saying that stimulus spending and so forth retarded growth. As such they were constantly cited by both Republicans and centrist deficit hawks. Their influence in the last three years has been pretty enormous.
Well. Now come three economists from UMass who have somehow or another been availed of the opportunity to see R & R's very spreadsheets that they used for their calculations and double-check them. And lo and behold, R & R made some basic computational errors. The economist Dean Baker writes:
The most important of these errors was excluding four years of growth data from New Zealand in which it was above the 90 percent debt-to-GDP threshold. When these four years are added in, the average growth rate in New Zealand for its high debt years was 2.6 percent, compared to the -7.6 percent that R&R had entered in their calculation.
This is from Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation, a top expert, writing at CNN.com:
Of the 380 extremists indicted for acts of political violence or for conspiring to carry out such attacks in the U.S. since 9/11, 81 were able to obtain explosives or the components necessary to build a bomb, according to a count by the New America Foundation.
Of those, 51 were right-wing extremists, 23 were militants inspired by al Qaeda's ideology, five have been described as anarchists and one was an environmentalist terrorist.
But in the years since 9/11, actual terrorist bombings in the U.S., like the ones at the Boston Marathon, have been exceedingly rare.
Check this out, from the new WashPost/ABC poll:
Only the barest majority, 51 percent, says Obama is in touch with the concerns of most Americans. That perception drops for the Democratic Party, to 43 percent, and plummets, to 23 percent, for the beleaguered Republican Party. Seventy percent of Americans see the GOP as “out of touch,” including, remarkably, 49 percent of Republicans themselves. Just 21 percent of Democrats, by contrast, see their party as out of touch with most people’s concerns.
That's certainly not a great number for Obama. But the stunning result I'm talking about is, no, not even the 70 percent figure, but the 49 percent one. So half of Republicans think the Republican Party is out of touch. The full results aren't quite full as they don't show what percentage of Republicans think the GOP is in touch, but unless the undecided is 2 percent, i.e. much smaller than undecideds usually are, it seems likely that the plurality of Republicans think their own party is out of it.
As I've said many times but will say many more times because repetition is the only way you get people to remember things, and more importantly because repetition is the only way you get people to remember things (!), it is one of the central problems in our politics, and perhaps the central one that these 49 percent have no one representing them.
It’s interesting to me that some conservatives take umbrage at any speculation that the bombings might have been the work of right-wing fringe groups. Why? What affinity does a rank-and-file conservative feel with a militia type?
I feel no affinity whatsoever with far-left violent radicals who might try to kill innocent people. I make no excuses for them, whether they’re American or Palestinian or whatever they are. I see that I got a little bit flamed on the Twitters last night for saying that we haven’t heard from left-wing fringe groups “in many a year,” but that was just a statement of fact, depending I guess on your definition of many a year. The Weather Underground Brinks Robbery, the last big fringe-violent left-wing attack that I remember, happened 32 years ago. I think it’s fair to call that “many a year.” Others may not, I suppose, but to most of us it's a long time ago.
I see that I was also supposed to know about every plot that didn’t reach fruition, like last year’s attempted bombing of a bridge in Cleveland by anarchists. I actually hadn’t even heard of that. Maybe I should have heard of it, so fine, that’s my lapse. But evidently some people assumed I was covering up for the far left by not mentioning it—the plotters apparently had ties to the Occupy movement and decided it wasn’t getting anything done. So here I am mentioning it. To jail and to hell with those guys. I have no use for them at all and certainly no interest in hiding their crime.
There are some people who think anything remotely resembling speculation is totally irresponsible. I can understand that point of view. But as I watched CNN and MSNBC last night, all the way to Brian Williams going live after midnight, they were constantly asking their terrorism experts about clues and meanings that might suggest this group or that, which is all I tried to do.
Let's face it, we all wonder first who did this. It's a good thing that they generally refrain from this kind of speculation on television, because one errantly spoken sentence on television can have vast ramifications and start a panic. But here, as long as we do this carefully, it's not irresponsible.
I do not think it's premature to call this a terrorist attack, but I want to be clear on my definition of "terrorist." I don't mean Muslim fundamentalist at all necessarily. There are homegrown terrorists on the fringe right (and I guess some on the fringe left, though we haven't heard from them in this way for many a year). And anyone who did this is a terrorist, even a solo nut, because this was an act of terror. Ergo committing it makes one a terrorist. I know Obama didn't use the word, and he was right not to. But I'm not the president.
I'm leaning in the direction of thinking that this isn't any kind of Arab terrorist group. Horrific as this obviously was, it doesn't seem big enough. Everything we know about their m.o.—the 1993 WTC bombing, the 2000 LAX plot, and 9-11—suggests that they aim bigger. There was some sophistication here, with the bombs timed to go off in those intervals. But evidently there were a couple of failures too. Of course, 1993 was mostly a failure too, but on a far grander scale.
This doesn't eliminate the possibility that it was such a person or persons, but it seems more likely that if that's the case it's a couple of local actors. An expert named Brian Levin was just on MSNBC, and he was talking about an al-Qaeda handbook that was recently discovered that encourages lone wolves to act.
I will admit that I first heard of Kermit Gosnell this past weekend, reading colleague Megan McArdle’s essay. So that tells you something.
From what I’ve now read, I can sure tell you I don’t want to read any more. The details are just sickening. It should be noted that what he was doing was (presumably) illegal, which is why he is on trial in the first place, so in reasoned debates Gosnell should no more represent “abortion” than Bernie Madoff should represent investment counseling. But abortion is our most emotional issue, as we all know. So has this been a liberal media cover-up so as not to weaken abortion rights in the public mind?
The most convincing thing I’ve read so far on this is by Kevin Drum. He shows that even The Washington Times, a right-wing paper, didn’t cover this. The trial started March 18. The Times ran a piece of wire-service copy that day about the trial’s start. Ever since, according to Drum, it hasn’t run a single news story. It has, however, run a few columns complaining about the blackout in the nation’s news pages—a blackout in which the Times itself has participated since March 19!
In other conservative outlets—the New York Post, the Weekly Standard, and so on—it’s the same story. They’re not really covering it either. Yet they’re all running commentaries on the fact that other people aren’t covering it. This is pretty meta.
I was listening to Mike & Mike this morning and one of the Mikes, Golic, made an excellent point about the Tiger Woods business this weekend, one I was kind of feeling but for some reason not quite able to articulate to myself.
As you may know by now, the whole Woods controversy started because a viewer--just a regular guy, or gal, watching at home on TV--called Augusta and said he believed Woods broke a rule. In an interview with Jim Nantz Saturday afternoon, the guy from Augusta said yes, we get plenty of these calls, especially in this age of high-definition television, and we investigate them all.
As Golic said, in essence, wtf is that? That's completely insane. Don't they have officials at every hole at a big golf tournament? I'm pretty sure they do. I think they have them at every hole at all tournaments. Isn't it their job to make sure the players follow the rules?
Meanwhile, imagine this practice transferred to other sports. Hey, on that last play, that Steelers tackle was holding, go check it out! Hey, that was a strike, not a ball! That was definitely goal-tending, I have 74" HDTV that never lies! Give me a break, PGA and Augusta. Get yourselves together. Have actual officials make rulings and stop even taking these calls.
Don't have an hour to watch President Obama pontificate on the future of national security? No worries! Watch the key moments from his speech in less than 250 seconds.
Question No. 1: Did the attackers know that secret location, or did they learn it that night? By Eli Lake.