State of the Union

It’s Official: Virginia AG Investigating Gingrich Campaign for Petition Fraud

The rest of this post probably isn’t worth your time, but Virginia’s State Board of Elections confirmed to Brad Friedman that an investigation in progress:

Late last week, SBE Deputy Secretary Justin Riemer confirmed to The BRAD BLOG both the referral to the AG’s office as well as the fact that an investigation into the ballot petition fraud was officially being carried out by the AG.

“This issue has been referred to the State AG by the State Board of Elections, after learning of allegations of fraudulent signature gathering in that case, and a number of others,” Riemer told us by telephone. “My understanding is that an investigation is under way,” he said.

Regarding the dubious signatures, Gingrich has been quoted as saying, “we turned in 11,100 — we needed 10,000 — 1,500 of them were by one guy who, frankly, committed fraud.”

Does Gingrich really expect people to believe “one guy” was responsible for all 1,500? That’s a huge number, and if it was, why why wouldn’t they just name him? Either way, it’s hardly the behavior of an anti-establishment candidate.

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Obama Sandbags the Archbishop

At the end of Sunday mass at the church this writer attends in Washington, D.C., the pastor asked the congregation to remain for a few minutes.

Then, on the instructions of Cardinal Archbishop Donald Wuerl, the pastor proceeded to read a letter.

In the letter, the Church denounced the Obama administration for ordering all Catholic schools, hospitals, and social services to provide, in their health insurance coverage for employes, free contraceptives, free sterilizations, and free “morning-after” pills.

Parishioners were urged to contact their representatives in Congress to bring about a reversal of President Obama’s new policy.

Now, not only is this a battle the Church must fight, it is a battle the Church can win if it has the moral stamina to say the course.

In forcing the Church to violate its own principles, Obama has committed an act of federal aggression, crossing the line between church and state to appease his ACLU and feminist allies, while humiliating the Catholic bishops.

Should the Church submit, its moral authority in America would disappear.

Now, undeniably, the church milquetoast of past decades that refused to discipline pro-abortion Catholics allowed the impression to form that while the hierarchy may protest, eventually it will go along to get along with a Democratic Party that was once home to most Catholics.

Obama’s problem today is that not only is he forcing the Church to violate her conscience, he dissed the highest prelate in America.

In November, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, held what he describes as an “extraordinarily friendly” meeting with Obama at the White House.

The president assured the archbishop of his respect for the Church, and the archbishop came away persuaded Obama would never force the Church to adopt any policy that would violate her principles.

Ten days ago, Obama sandbagged the archbishop

He informed Cardinal-designate Dolan by phone that, with the sole concession of the Church being given an extra year, to August 2013, to comply, the new policy, as set down by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, will be imposed. All social and educational institutions of the Catholic church will offer health insurance covering birth control, or face fines. Read More…

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Lana Del Rey, Reactionary

One of the peculiar tensions in quote-unquote indie music is the notion of authenticity, which stems from the fact that the genre of music is defined by a production ethic rather than any of its inherent musical characteristics. The wariness of co-optation by the unseen forces of commercialization and mass culture was a product of its time; in the 1980s a slew of new record labels like DC’s Dischord and Seattle’s Sub Pop sprung up across the country releasing music with no chance of mainstream acceptance, catering to a small but growing demographic of idealistic young white people. What they all shared was the conviction that their music stood apart from the hit machine, and the implication that the territory folk music had ceded to pop culture since the beginning of the era of recorded music had begun to rebalance.

Alongside the music itself, a critical ethos developed that paradoxically centered on perfecting one’s consumption habits, as memorably caricatured in the movie High Fidelity. But the market remained fragmented, with a variety of regional styles and the average consumer largely unaware of what and how much music was actually out there. Then two important things changed. First, the authenticity conceit on which indie music depends came crashing down in 1991 with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind, the success of which proved that the new music was mass-marketable. Second, file-sharing specifically and the internet more generally democratized the consumption process; for every stolen Metallica album cutting into Warner Music Group’s profits, people were downloading music in greater diversity and volume than ever before, which sometimes but not always translated into seeing an unfamiliar band live or purchasing higher-fidelity recording media like records or CDs.

Which brings us to Lana Del Rey, the subject of absurd amounts of spilled digital ink whose debut album was finally released three days ago after months of hair-splitting critical anxiety. To authenticity obsessives Del Rey is a product of cynical marketing, no less so because her initial buzz came from a homemade YouTube video that went viral. Her defenders couldn’t see what the big deal was, the songs were reasonably pretty and Del Rey deserves a break as much as anyone else. (Spin Magazine points out the chimerical nature of authenticity by noting that Bob Dylan was never his real name. They’re right, but it’s kind of beside the point.)

Most of the critical response now that the album is out warns of the perils of the hype machine, or blames her for not rising to meet the stratospheric expectations with which Born To Die had only recently been freighted. Whether the album sells despite the critical backlash is an interesting question, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. The latest attempt by major labels to latch on to trends in indie music in the form of bucolic, diet folk groups like Mumford and Sons or The Head and The Heart generally fared poorly among critics but whose albums have sold like hotcakes.

Tiny Mix Tapes, a webzine to which I also contribute, has a review out today ascribing a combative 0/5 rating to her new album. I recoiled initially at the rating because I’ve always felt critics need to be aware that they occupy a position of power that can in a very real sense make or break musicians (granted, TMT not so much). But critics also have an obligation to be honest, and no matter the proddings of Interscope and various public relations men who prompted her name change and other focus-grouped alterations, Del Rey is responsible for her album in the same way Ron Paul is responsible for his newsletters. Writer Nathan Shaffer applies an unusual format for critical writing, creating an index of various references in her album that reveal its flimsy construction. None of them are surprising, it’s a melange of postwar style and 60s solipsism, spoken through wan string-drenched arrangements; a lot of talk about cars and cities and the American Dream, sensitive music for Mad Men watchers. Shaffer also took the unusual step of soliciting the thoughts of other TMT writers, and quotes Jeff Rovinelli thusly:

“We all acknowledge that it’s a shtick, but then presume that we can intuit whatever’s under the shtick — we assume she’s dumb, we assume she’s inauthentic in a way that is somehow reprehensible vs. other inauthenticities that are somehow commendable (ignoring capitalism’s role on either end), but we always refuse to acknowledge the shtick on [its] own, as shtick (especially in her case). Let the shtick stand, address it on those merits.”

The emerging critical consensus seems to be that Born To Die is just, well, kind of boring. Along with the rest of TMT, that’s what I’ve thought from the beginning. Born To Die gambles on the assumption that an album will be successful if you simply assemble the right combination of cultural signifiers; high-waisted jeans, James Dean, etc. In that way it embodies both the shrewd marketing tactics of the music business and the prevailing consumption ethos of this generation, a congruence that makes those of us raised on notions of authentic music very uncomfortable. Both are symptoms of a doomed culture, the former’s undoing lies in the fact that the scarcity on which the music business depended doesn’t exist anymore. The music listeners themselves are caught in a strange contradiction in which music is still viewed as a consumption good but its marginal value is practically worthless. And I notice these habits in myself too, the rapaciousness with which young people perfect their personal cultural assemblages borders on maniacal.

It’s this latter part that Del Rey’s masters at Warner Music Group have underestimated. If the fragmentation and micro-specificity of musical genres says anything, it’s that people’s tastes are getting more specific. In that context, Born to Die reads more like a desperate paean to a unified demographic that is never coming back, especially in its generic appeals to masculinity in the form of one-dimensional fidelity (“This is what makes us girls/ We don’t stick together ’cause we put our love first”). Authentic or not, it is shrewd. In the face of an upended music industry, I have to believe Del Rey’s 50s-throwback profile has as much to do with the reactionary impulses of the music industry as it does with retromania.

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Conservatism and Catholicism

Brad Birzer has a superb series running at, “Bearers of the Word,” in which he interviews such thinkers and artists such as Gerald Russello, Jef Murray, and (coming soon) Mike Church. He was kind, and reckless, enough to interview me for the most recent installment, which can be found here. I discuss the seemingly fading Catholic voice in American life and the dangers of absorption in politics, while suggesting a few bright lights and looking at the future of the faith in in what threatens to be a monolithically liberal world.

How the Church can go on spiritually is clear enough, but what can the institution and way of life mean in such a world? I don’t have an answer, but readers may find the discussion of some interest.

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God and GOP in Florida

The 933rd Republican debate last night did not add much to the sum of human knowledge. Viewers were treated to extensive discussion of Newt Gingrich’s lunar colonization plans, the revelation that Mitt Romney has no idea what’s in his own TV ads (never mind that “I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this message” tag), and confirmation that Rick Santorum has borrowed his misunderstanding of the Declaration of Independence from Alan Keyes.

Ron Paul repeated his call to end the embargo against Cuba. Shocking to pundits, who thought it a suicidal move, but the audience cheered. (Cuban politics in Florida has been changing; there’s a segment of younger Cuban-Americans that has been waiting a long time to hear this message.) A question about healthcare from an unemployed woman was Paul’s most difficult of the night and illustrated one of his weaknesses: he gave a thoughtful, historical account of why healthcare costs are so high (largely due to federal involvement, particularly Medicare), but now that costs are astronomical, what are Americans — especially those out of work — to do?

One of the hardest challenges all libertarians face is how to sell the transition from a statist system to a freer one: we’ve seen plenty of examples worldwide, perhaps most appallingly in the former Soviet Union, where a botched transition has discredited anti-statist ideas and exacerbated human suffering. Congressman Paul and his staff have given this some thought — hence his repeated insistence that he won’t end welfare-state programs while people are dependent on them — but his presentation is still long on diagnosis and short on prescription.

Near the end of last night’s debate came a question about how each candidate’s religious beliefs would influence his administration. A trap for Mitt? He gave a bland answer about the importance of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Ron Paul again dared to say something that wouldn’t win him many votes: that his oath to uphold the Constitution would be more important than his religious beliefs. Read More…

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Who Gave Us the Right to Remake the World?

U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul, Obama’s man in Moscow, who just took up his post, has received a rude reception. And understandably so.

In 1992, McFaul was the representative in Russia of the National Democratic Institute, a U.S. government-funded agency whose mission is to promote democracy abroad.

The NDI has been tied to color-coded or Orange revolutions such as those that dethroned regimes in Serbia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Lebanon. The project miscarried in Belarus.

The NDI is one of several agencies, dating to the 1980s, that were set up to subvert communist regimes. With the end of the Cold War, however, these agencies were not decommissioned, but recommissioned to serve as something of an American Comintern.

Where the old Comintern of Lenin sought to instigate communist revolutions across the West and its empires, post-Cold War America decided to promote democratic revolutions to remake the world in the image of late 20th century America.

In 2002, McFaul wrote a book: Russia’s Unfinished Revolution.

Vladimir Putin’s men are not unreasonably asking if he was sent to Moscow to finish that revolution. Putin has already accused Hillary Clinton of flashing the signal for street demonstrations to begin — to protest Russia’s December’s elections.

Nor is it surprising the Putin’s people are suspicious of McFaul, who added to his problems by meeting with anti-Putin dissidents the day after he presented his credentials.

McFaul says this is part of his “dual-track engagement” with Russian society. Before leaving for Moscow, he told NPR’s “Morning Edition”: “We’re not going to get into the business of dictating (Russia’s) path (to democracy). … We’re just going to support what we like to call ‘universal values’ — not American values, not Western values, universal values.”

But what, exactly, are these “universal values”?

And who are we to impose them on other nations? Did Divine Providence assign us this mission? Who do we Americans think we are?

After all, we do not even agree ourselves on what is moral and immoral, good and evil. Indeed, our own deep disagreements on what is moral and what is not are at the root of the culture wars tearing this country apart.

In America, women have a constitutional right to an abortion. Scores of millions have availed themselves of that right since Roe v. Wade. Yet traditionalists of many faiths — Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Orthodox and Jewish — reject any such woman’s right and regard it as a moral abomination. Read More…

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Blogging and Tweeting Tonight’s Debate

The latest round of GOP bloodsport will be covered by yours truly on Twitter and by Daniel Larison on his blog. (DL is getting over cold, though, so may not be blogging voluminously.) The live feed for the Jacksonville debate, beginning at 8 Eastern, should be available here.

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America Falls Behind Namibia and Papua New Guinea

In the United States, we rightly pride ourselves on many things. Yet it turns out that the United States is behind countries such as Namibia, Mali, Estonia, and Papua New Guinea in one very important area.

Reporters Without Borders have recently released their Press Freedom Index for 2011-2012, and the U.S. is 47th, just below Taiwan and tied with Argentina. For a country that gave birth to the Bill of Rights this ought to be at the very least embarrassing, and at the worst, shameful.

The report cites the response to protests in 2011 as justification for the United States’ poor ranking. In the space of two months more than 25 journalists were  arrested, escorted off premises, or beaten for ‘inappropriate behavior’, ‘public nuisance’, and lacking accreditation.  Instances like this are now easy to document thanks to modern technology, and some of the videos of such instances are depressing and bemusing in equal measure. These infringements would be worrying enough for First Amendment advocates, but the recent fiasco with SOPA and PIPA are also cause for concern.

The last decade has seen an unacceptable number of abuses of U.S. citizen’s rights. The right to privacy and the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures as codified in the Fourth Amendment is being slowly chipped away through invasive legislation such as the Patriot Act (renewed by President Obama) and NDAA. The right to keep and bear arms is being turned into an almost prohibitive bureaucratic nightmare in some parts of the country, as Emily Miller of the Washington Times has been chronicling. The Fifth Amendment has seen its own fair share of wear and tear, being ignored or treated as an obstacle by overbearing politicians in the name of security.

The Constitution of the United States is a piece of political genius, and it is a shame to see the rights it establishes being so brazenly reduced. Countries that until recently were ruled by dictators that often killed journalists are considered a more open environment in which to practice journalism than the U.S. Perhaps we should be doing a better job at reclaiming our intellectual and political heritage, and reminding the politicians of the document they swore to uphold and protect.

Image from Shutterstock/Scott Rothstein

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Yes! Supreme Court Says No to Warrantless GPS Tracking

Despite their normally divergent  ideological dispositions, the nine justices of the U.S Supreme Court took a decidedly conservative position this week, putting into place what we hope will be the first of many curbs against the escalating use of invasive satellite tracking technology as a replacement for old fashioned detective work.


While it was (pleasantly) surprising to hear the court invoke George Orwell’s 1984 no less than six times during oral arguments, it’s even more extraordinary that it ruled unanimously to reverse the conviction of a drug dealer. The Fourth Amendment, after a couple of decades of getting kicked around and stomped on in the zealous spirit of “zero tolerance” and “homeland security,” has been given a fresh blast of adrenaline, emerging invigorated and relevant again.

At issue is whether the police had the right to secretly affix a GPS unit to the undercarriage of a car owned and driven by Antoine Jones, a suspected drug kingpin in the sights of the FBI and local District of Columbia police detectives, without a valid warrant. Investigators had been granted a warrant to track Jones with the device, but it expired. A month of this surveillance led to his arrest, however, and he was eventually sentenced to life in prison, convicted in January 2008 of one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine and 50 or more grams of cocaine (you see, we are winning the War on Drugs!)

His lawyers appealed, arguing that his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure was violated because the warrant wasn’t valid.  The U.S federal court of appeals in DC granted his appeal and reversed Jones’ conviction. The government, arguing that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy driving down the street in his vehicle, and that police tracking him with a GPS is no different than following him in their own cars, or walking behind him on the street, insisted the police didn’t need the warrant in the first place.

Not so, said conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, writing the majority opinion (.pdf):

The Fourth Amendment provides in relevant part that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” It is beyond dispute that a vehicle is an “effect” as that term is used in the Amendment. …

We hold that the Government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a “search.” …

It is important to be clear about what occurred in this case: The Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information. We have no doubt that such a physical intrusion would have been considered a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when it was adopted.

By focusing on personal property and trespass, however, Scalia and four other justices (Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Sotomayor) limited the scope of the ruling, declining (as stated in the majority opinion, and in Sotomayor’s separate opinion) to address the issue of “reasonable expectation of privacy,” which would have called into question law enforcement’s warrantless use of any GPS tracking technology, not just a physical GPS device secretly attached to cars, for long-term surveillance.

Not everyone agreed with them. The four remaining justices  (Alito, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan), although holding together on the ruling, signed their own concurring Minority opinion, stating that it was Jones’  “reasonable expectation of privacy” that was violated, that it was the month-long monitoring of his every move that constituted “the search,” not the surreptitious placement of the device on his car. By making this a clear privacy issue, they suggested, the court might have thrown up new legal hurdles against the use of other long-term electronic surveillance that does not involve tampering with personal property.

Instead,  wrote Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the Minority’s concurring opinion, police might shift to GPS surveillance that involves “non-trespassory” techniques in order to avoid legal trouble. “If long-term monitoring can be accomplished without committing a technical trespass—suppose, for example, that the Federal Government required or persuaded auto manufacturers to include a GPS tracking device in every car—the Court’s theory would provide no protection.” Read More…

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Reassuring Words From Merkel

Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is talking sense. On the eve of her speech to Davos delegates Merkel has hinted that she will resist the IMF’s calls for a further 500 billion euro injection for bailout funds to struggling eurozone nations.

In an interview with six European newspapers Merkel said, “It makes no sense if we keep promising money but don’t combat the causes of the crisis.” She is right. The root cause of the eurozone crisis was not a lack of funds but an almost unimaginably irresponsible amount of government spending.

It is particularly reassuring to see Merkel speaking this way. Germany is the largest contributor to the already existing bailout fund, and it is understandable that Merkel would be hesitant to ask Germans to pay higher taxes or work longer so that irresponsible governments can exculpate themselves. There is only so long that German voters will put up with this.

Many of the countries at the root of the eurozone crisis should never have been let into the euro. Economically there was not a strong case for Greece to share a currency with Germany and France. However from a European federalist position, an expansive Europe made sense. The idea that Europe could ever be federalized in the same way as countries such as the United States is one of the central flaws of the European Union. No one in Europe feels like a European first and a Belgian or Spaniard second in the same way that someone might feel like an American first and a Floridian second. If Europe is going to recover from its current sovereign debt crisis then Europeans must face the fact that some countries should leave the euro. This is of course not to exclude these countries from the European community. Europe needs strong domestic trade amongst nations, but constituent nations need some of their sovereignty and responsibility back in order to achieve economic stability and growth.

Image: shutterstock/Karuka

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