Obama Backs Extending Patriot Act Spy Provisions

The Obama administration has told Congress it supports renewing three provisions of the Patriot Act due to expire at year’s end, measures making it easier for the government to spy within the United States.

In a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department said the administration might consider “modifications” to the act in order to protect civil liberties.

“The administration is willing to consider such ideas, provided that they do not undermine the effectiveness of these important authorities,” Ronald Weich, assistant attorney general, wrote to Leahy, (.pdf) whose committee is expected to consider renewing the three expiring Patriot Act provisions next week. The government disclosed the letter Tuesday.

Full Story: Threat Level

Conservative media take a strong stand against … learning?!?

This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the right’s usual stances on education:

If there is anybody out there who still doesn’t believe that the conservative media will attack President Obama no matter what he does, consider this: Right-wingers are telling children to skip school as a protest against Obama’s encouragement of students to stay in school. […]

There’s nothing you can imagine that is too crazy for these people to say. They’ll claim Barack Obama was secretly born in Kenya (his birth announcements in Hawaiian newspapers were just one part of an elaborate, decades-long conspiracy involving Kenyans, the media, Hawaii’s Republican governor, and the Stonecutters). They’ll say he has a diabolical plan to create government “death panels” to kill off the old and the young. They’ll claim he is building a secret private army (consisting of — I swear I am not making this up — AmeriCorps and Peace Corps volunteers) that is “just as strong” as the U.S. military so that he can “seize power” and create a “thugocracy.” […]

So Glenn Beck and his fellow tinfoil hat-wearers sprang into action. Beck went off on his “indoctrination” rant, warning of secret private armies (no, he isn’t worried about Blackwater — it’s the thought of English majors signing up to help teach people how to read that keeps him up at night).

Media Matters: Conservative media take a strong stand against … learning?!?

(via Atom Jack)

BTW, Glenn Beck was never really on my radar until recently, but his utter madness keeps coming up lately. Was he always this crazy, or did he recently snap or something?

Republicans, Religion and the Triumph of Unreason

For many of the people at the top of the party, this is merely cynical manipulation. One of Bush’s former advisers, David Kuo, has said the President and Karl Rove would mock evangelicals as “nuts” as soon as they left the Oval Office. But the ordinary Republican base believe this stuff. They are being tricked into opposing their own interests through false fears and invented demons. Last week, one of the Republicans sent to disrupt a healthcare town hall started a fight and was injured – and then complained he had no health insurance. I didn’t laugh; I wanted to weep.

How do they train themselves to be so impervious to reality? It begins, I suspect, with religion. They are taught from a young age that it is good to have “faith” – which is, by definition, a belief without any evidence to back it up. You don’t have “faith” that Australia exists, or that fire burns: you have evidence. You only need “faith” to believe the untrue or unprovable. Indeed, they are taught that faith is the highest aspiration and most noble cause. Is it any surprise this then percolates into their political views? Faith-based thinking spreads and contaminates the rational.

Truthout: Republicans, Religion and the Triumph of Unreason

(via Disinfo)

The “safe haven” myth

At an appearance before the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday, President Obama defended U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, calling it a “war of necessity.” He claimed that “our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals — to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies,” and he declared that “If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

This is a significant statement. In effect, the president was acknowledging that the only strategic rationale for an increased commitment in Afghanistan is the fear that if the Taliban isn’t defeated in Afghanistan, they will eventually allow al Qaeda to re-establish itself there, which would then enable it to mount increasingly threatening attacks on the United States.

This is the kind of assertion that often leads foreign policy insiders to nod their heads in agreement, but it shouldn’t be accepted uncritically. Here are a few reasons why the “safe haven” argument ought to be viewed with some skepticism.

Foreign Policy: The “safe haven” myth

(via Jorn Barger)

Target Of Obama-Era Rendition Alleges Torture

Just because the crazies are sinking their fangs into Obama lately doesn’t let him off the hook:

According to court papers, on April 7, 2009, Azar and a Lebanese-American colleague, Dinorah Cobos, were seized by “at least eight” heavily armed FBI agents in Kabul, Afghanistan, where they had traveled for a meeting to discuss the status of one of his company’s U.S. government contracts. The trip ended with Azar alighting in manacles from a Gulfstream V executive jet in Manassas, Virginia, where he was formally arrested and charged in a federal antitrust probe.

This rendition involved no black sites and was clearly driven by a desire to get the target quickly before a court. Also unlike renditions of the Bush-era, the target wasn’t even a terror suspect; rather, he was suspected of fraud. But in a troubling intimation of the last administration, accusations of torture hover menacingly over the case. According to papers filed by his lawyers, Azar was threatened, subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and induced to sign a confession. Azar claims he was hooded, stripped naked (while being photographed) and subjected to a “body cavity search.”

Huffington Post: Target Of Obama-Era Rendition Alleges Torture

Paul Krugman on the town hall mobs

This is the most depressing part of the town hall mob movement:

Yes, well-heeled interest groups are helping to organize the town hall mobs. […]

But while the organizers are as crass as they come, I haven’t seen any evidence that the people disrupting those town halls are Florida-style rent-a-mobs. For the most part, the protesters appear to be genuinely angry. The question is, what are they angry about?

There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands. Now, people who don’t know that Medicare is a government program probably aren’t reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing.

New York Times: The Town Hall Mob

Obama – Yes We Can = Thank You Satan

(via Sloppy Unruh)

Obama’s Transparency Promise: We’re Still Waiting

When President Obama – in one of his first official acts – committed his new administration to an “unprecedented” level of transparency, EFF applauded the change in policy. Likewise, when Attorney General Holder, at the President’s direction, issued new guidelines liberalizing agency implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), we welcomed it as a “particularly promising development.” But we also noted that it remained to be seen whether reality would match the rhetoric as the new policy was applied, particularly in the context of pending lawsuits – several of which EFF is pursuing – that challenge Bush-era decisions to withhold requested information. […]

The FBI’s failure to change course in the IDW case is not the only situation in which EFF has found that the administration’s actions are not yet living up to its pro-transparency rhetoric. We have clearly noted our disappointment in finding that the Obama administration has adopted the Bush policy with respect to the state secrets privilege in the context of illegal wiretapping. And the White House has not even bothered to respond to EFF’s formal requests for information concerning the use of cookies (PDF) at whitehouse.gov and the policies governing records created on White House BlackBerries and similar devices (PDF). For an administration that promised on Day One that it was “committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government,” the early track record leaves a great deal to be desired. It’s now time to start delivering on that promise.

EFF: Obama’s Transparency Promise: We’re Still Waiting

(via Disinfo)

Obama’s drug policy: a little better, a little worse, mostly the same

Radley Balko on Obama’s drug war policies:

To give credit where it’s due, Attorney General Eric Holder did at least vow to end the DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized the drug for treatment. But the DEA conducted another raid in California a week after that announcement, and it is not yet clear if the Justice Department will continue to pursue existing cases, such as the outrageous prosecution of Charlie Lynch, the owner of a California medical marijuana shop who faces a 40-year sentence on federal drug charges, even though local authorities told him he was in full compliance with state law.

Obama could distinguish himself in Mexico today by taking the thoughtful, nuanced approach to the drug issue he embraced before he started to run for president. Sadly, it is more likely that he’ll endorse the same failed policies of his predecessors, which will mean more violence and carnage for Mexico, with little if any effect on the drug supply in America.

Daily Beast: Obama’s Demented Drug Policy

Sounds like the vow to stop medical marijuana raids is yet another bait and switch, a familiar pattern to observers of the administration already.

The last hope for Obama

is that everything he’s been doing is just for “plausible deniablity.” That he’s playing the game for now and soon he’ll be able to say “Look, I tried escalating the war in Afghanistan, I tried giving limitless amounts of money to corporations, I tried ‘bipartisanship’ – none of these things worked. Now it’s time to try something different.”

That is, I know, a very dim hope. (I think the thing about bipartisanship is the most likely, but even the idea that he’ll stop “reaching across the aisle” knowing he’s going to get bitten seems too optimistic at this point.)

See also:

Obama’s “enemy combatant” policy: following a familiar pattern.

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