Saturday, January 28, 2006

Bush Administration Remains Woefully Inconsistent When Considering First Amendment Rights

Can you yell fire in a crowded theater and get away with it?

If the Bush Administration was deciding, it would likely depend on whether you were a liberal or a conservative.

Universal Press Syndicate columnist Ann Coulter "joked" during a Thursday speech that liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens should be poisoned.

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," Coulter said at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. "That's just a joke, for you in the media."

And by all accounts, no action was taken against Coulter, save for a smattering of boos from the audience.

Christian conservative leader and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson declared a fatwa on Aug. 22, calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it," Robertson said of Chávez on his show, The 700 Club. "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop."

Robertson first lied about what he said, claiming the Associated Press "misrepresented" his words. He later apologized. And again, by all accounts, no action was taken against him.

Now, JABBS is completely in favor of free speech. A favorite movie moment is the speech given by Michael Douglas' character, President Andrew Shepherd, at the end of the 1995 film, The American President:

DOUGLAS: America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've got to want it bad, because it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who is standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours."

And JABBS has to assume that the Bush Administration feels the same way -- even if Douglas' character was an obvious Democrat.

Coulter? She was joking. Robertson? He quickly apologized. Right?

If it were that simple, there wouldn't be much to discuss. The problem is that the Bush Administration has been woefully inconsistent in how it views First Amendment rights. Strangely, while a public call for the murder of a Supreme Court Justice or the assassination of a foreign leader go seemingly unchecked, other lesser demonstrations of free speech have led the administration to take action.

Consider these examples:

A married couple was removed from a Bush presidential campaign event in West Virginia in the summer of 2004 after revealing anti-Bush T-shirts. A Utah man was visited later in the year by the Secret Service for an anti-Bush bumper sticker on his car. Last spring, the Secret Service sent agents to investigate a college art gallery exhibit of mock postage stamps, one depicting Bush with a gun pointed at his head. The military is shutting down some soldiers' blogs it says reveal sensitive information about the Iraq War; others claim the military's real goal is censorship.

In the face of such perceived inconsistency, it seems fair to ask whether the Bush Administration puts party before country when considering first amendment rights.

JABBS doesn't expect, nor does it desire, to have Coulter or Robertson visited by Secret Service agents or arrested. But a consistent interpretation of the law would be appreciated.


Perhaps this perceived inconsistency between how the Bush Administration treats the far right-wing and far left-wing isn't isolated.

Consider that a Homeland Security report from last year, “Integrated Planning Guidance, Fiscal Years 2005-2011,” does not list fringe right domestic terrorists. It does list those associated with the fringe left.

Fringe left groups such as Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front are listed as terrorist threats. Anti-government groups, white supremecists and other fringe right movements -- many of which have actually staged terrorist attacks -- are absent.

No one should deny the fact that fringe left groups, such as the two named above, have been responsible for terror attacks, leading to deaths in a handful of states. But even the department acknowledges their efforts are designed to damage property, not kill people. To not include the fringe right movements -- which have been convicted over and over of attempting, and sometimes succeeding, in killing people -- is both partisan politics and, frankly, incompetence.


Anonymous Dhampir Kampf said...

This was well written.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

Naturally, every administration needs to find a balance with regard to how they deal with this sort of thing. There should be a standard, and that standard should apply to everyone, regardless of party affiliation.

I don't believe that incidents such as you describe are unique to the Bush Administration. In fact, I know they are not, because I remember reading about some similar complaints of conservatives during the Clinton years. If I remember correctly, the IRS was even used as a tool of intimidation against people who were a bit too vocal against the Clintons.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how these cases come out in litigation. I suspect that if someone did the count, they would find that the ACLU takes on a lot more cases from the Left than from the Right, except of course where representing a well-known conservative such as Rush Limbaugh might give them some favorable publicity and the appearance of pure objective, non-partison impartiality. Damn, I wish I weren't quite so cynical.

I would concede that Ann Coulter's rhetoric is often times very edgy, but I'm not sure what she said is any worse than say, Nicholson Baker's novel, "Checkpoint", which entertains at great length, and in quite a bit of detail, the assassination of President George W. Bush, by name. Then again, perhaps Baker got a visit from the Secret Service as well. I don't know.

In any case, I'm fully confidant that had this very blog been in existence prior to the current administration, there would be found among the archives posts that criticized President Clinton for similar offenses. I just know it. ;)

5:14 PM  
Anonymous alias: "cutiepie" johnson said...

Nicholson Baker's book is on equal ground to the Coulter and Robertson statements. It should be treated the same. They're all reprehensible -- but are they threats that should be taken seriously?

Regardless of whether it's on the left or the right, the Bush Administration should treat it the same way. David makes a convincing argument that it doesn't.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, the IRS was even used as a tool of intimidation against people who were a bit too vocal against the Clintons.


Proof? A link? Or just empty spin?

6:22 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

Anonymous said...
"Proof? A link? Or just empty spin?"

You may not believe me, Anon, but I try my best not to do spin, especially empty spin. ;) If I say something, it's because I believe it to be true. And if I'm not sure, I say that, too.

I've seen references to IRS abuses in the Clinton Administration for years now, but haven't really done much research on the matter, mostly because I am always hoping that the Clintons do the country a favor and just go away. Of course, they never do, so these topics keep popping up.

Here is one link for you, but there are plenty others out there.

Actually, if you really want more information on the topic, just enter "Barrett Report" in your search engine. Sen. Charles Grassley has been fighting for the report's release for quite a while now. Tony Snow, Bob Novak and Byron York have written about it extensively as well, but if you haven't heard much about it yet, it's probably because MSM isn't doing their job.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous alias: "cutiepie" johnson said...

C'mon Trinity. If you don't want us quoting Air America, then you shouldn't be quoting conservative "media" like Newsmax and Newsbusters.

Let's stick with news sources we can all agree on -- primary sources, or mainstream media. Not partisan media or op-ed pages. Otherwise, we'll never agree on anything.

4:54 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

alias: "cutiepie" johnson said...
C'mon Trinity. If you don't want us quoting Air America, then you shouldn't be quoting conservative "media" like Newsmax and Newsbusters.

I guess that's a fair criticism, cutiepie. I just haven't done much research on the topic, so as I stated, I'm not sure if much has been written on this story in MSM. I could look around if you'd like.

Let me ask you first. Are you aware of the whole controversy surrounding the release of the Barrett Report or not? Have you read anything about it, and do you know what it's all about?

5:28 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

Here is an excerpt from the "Evans-Novak Political Report" that talks about the Barrett Report. Is that mainstream enough for you? I know Novak is a conservative, but it's all I found so far. I'll keep searching....

"Democrats have their own scandal brewing at the moment, but they are doing much better in covering it up than their Republican counterparts. At issue is the report by David Barrett, the last remaining U.S. independent counsel. Over ten years, Barrett has spent $21 million on the investigation of former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, who lied to FBI investigators about hush money paid to an ex-mistress.
The reason the report and the investigation have taken so long is that allies to Cisneros and the legal team of former President Bill Clinton at the powerhouse Washington law firm of Williams and Connolly have fought its progress in court at every step. Meanwhile, Clinton-sympathetic judges have sealed everything concerned with the case, including Barrett's report.

The report contains shocking allegations of high-level corruption in the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department under Clinton, which Barrett found as Clinton aides monitored his investigation and sought to derail it in order to cover up the Cisneros matter. A regional IRS official had formulated a new rule enabling him to transfer an investigation of Cisneros to Washington to be buried by the Justice Department. Barrett's investigators found Lee Radek, head of Justice's public integrity division, determined to protect President Bill Clinton.

A recently passed appropriations bill, intended to permit release of this report, was altered by Democrats behind closed doors to ensure that its politically combustible elements never see the light of day. Democrats succeeded in inserting instructions into the bill's conference report that are very broad and will allow judges to continue suppressing the report. Three of the toughest Democrats in Congress -- Sen. Carl Levin, Sen. Byron Dorgan and Rep. Henry Waxman -- have been behind the effort to suppress, and they have done it effectively."

5:47 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

rob of wilmington, del. said...
JABBS actually has links in another post to three things Bush said during the campaign. That's what I'm referring to.

Well, it might be a pain to find them again, rob, but if you can, I'd appreciate it so that I could read the exact quotes, in context. I gave a cursory look through January's archives, but didn't see what you were referring to. Thanks.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous rob of wilmington, del. said...

Here's David's post:

6:08 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

Thanks for the URL, rob. I'll read through those links as soon as I can, and then comment. :)

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wheeheeeww Trinity.
Such shocking behavior, if true, lying about hush money paid to an ex-mistress.
That can be compared to a federal crime of threatening the life of a judge, the U.S. government spying on harmless domestic protest groups, censoring soldiers' thoughts on a war.
The Republicans cannot see the failures and corruption of their own party. Their only defense, and a weak one at that, "wheeww mommy, look at them, they did it too!"

3:13 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

rob of wilmington, del. said...
"JABBS actually has links in another post to three things Bush said during the campaign. That's what I'm referring to."

Okay, rob. I read all of those transcripts, and as I thought, there was nothing new or inconsistent there.

Every one of those quotes of President Bush that you referenced were given in the context of discussing the Patriot Act. As we all know by now, the Patriot Act extended the power of the government to place wire taps, and roving wire taps on terrorist suspects. Previous to that, these wire taps were only approved for use against organized crime.

These types of wiretaps that the President discussed DO require FISA warrants, and he assured us that in these cases of domestic spying, warrants ARE obtained.

The NSA program, on the other hand, is NOT considered domestic wiretapping. As you know, they are intercepts of calls and e-mails that either originate, or end up, outside of this country. This is something else entirely, and to say that the President is lying about this, is a lie in itself. Again, here is what Meese said in the "Hardball" interview with Chris Matthews:

MEESE: It's not really spying on Americans, it's intercepting international communications dealing with terrorists at the present time, or enemies in those days, in which, on occasion, some—one of the links would be to telephones within the United States, but it's not wiretapping. It's not bugging. The news media is almost totally getting it wrong.

MATTHEWS: But why—what's the difference if I‘m on the phone with somebody in Saudi Arabia and I'm being tapped?

MEESE: Well you're not being tapped. The tapping is a particular technique of connecting into the wires of a particular phone or into—plugging into a particular wireless phone. This is intercepting communications that are going overseas. There's a lot of technology to it that I can't go into right now.

MATTHEWS: But it's still eavesdropping, isn't it?

MEESE: It is surveillance. It's surveillance, under certain circumstances and it's justifiable in a wartime situation or in—when you're dealing with enemies of the country.

Furthermore, even Risen's original article in the NYTs doesn't claim that there's illegal spying on wholly domestic conversations, so the term "domestic" spying that is being thrown around is simply a deliberate attempt in the coverage that followed, to turn public opinion against the NSA program.

1:37 PM  
Anonymous trinity said...

Anonymous said...
"Wheeheeeww Trinity.
Such shocking behavior, if true, lying about hush money paid to an ex-mistress."

Anon, as I'm sure you know, unless you didn't read my entire post, I'm more concerned about the part that reads:

"The report contains shocking allegations of high-level corruption in the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department under Clinton"

That's the charge that I have been referring to, not the other. Of course, I'm also interested in the stonewalling and covering up that's been going on for years, and hope that this entire report, which we all paid for, finally gets to see the light of day. If you'd prefer to keep a lid on the whole thing, that's your business.

1:44 PM  

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