You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

December 17, 2009

Guess who's getting a lump of coal this year

By: John Caruso

The ACLU of Northern California wrote me to share this great news:

Dear Mr. Caruso,

The decade is ending with more hope than it began.

The Obama administration has begun to restore some of the fundamental rights this country was founded upon — rights that have been dismantled for too long.  Rights that you care so much about.

Yay!  I care so much about these rights, and the Obama administration is restoring them!  Thank you the Obama administration, for giving us more hope than when it began!  And Anthony D. Romero of the national ACLU wrote me another letter with even more good news:

Dear Mr. Caruso,

As 2009 comes to a close, two things have become clear to those of us who work to protect and advance freedom's cause.

The first is that our hopes for progress on civil liberties are brighter than they have been in nearly a decade.  The second is that powerful forces are aligning to block the forward momentum that America so urgently needs.

Oh no!  Powerful forces aligning to block the forward momentum that America so urgently needs?  Who can they be?  Spin me a scenario that illustrates their blackhearted no-goodness, Anthony D. Romero!

Attorney General Holder moves forward with a decision to restore the rule of law and use our time-proven U.S. courts to try those accused of the 9/11 attacks — and, like clockwork, a wave of fear-mongering and angry rhetoric about "coddling terrorists" erupts.

Ah, so on one side we have the powerful forces aligning to block the forward momentum that America so urgently needs—and on the other we have Attorney General Holder, dedicated civil liberties protector in the administration of Nobel Prize-Haver Barack Obama, who reveres the rule of law and is therefore restoring some of the fundamental rights this country was founded upon that have been dismantled for too long.  Yay!  Yay, Obama administration!

But sadly the mail didn't stop there, and what should I receive next but this dreary, whining missive from the malcontents at the Center for Constitutional Rights:

A year ago, there was great hope for change with the coming of a new presidency; and yet today we find ourselves fighting many of the same battles we fought during the Bush administration. [...] CCR is committed to ultimately prevailing on our work to put an end to the problems created by Bush (and continued under Obama), including: ending rendition (outsourcing torture); safely shutting down Guantánamo; ending warrantless spying by the NSA; repealing portions of the Patriot Act in the Supreme Court; and continuing our efforts to hold torturers accountable. Rest assured that the Center will be there for all these struggles.

Center for Total Bringdown is more like it.  "Problems created by Bush and continued under Obama"?  Didn't they get the memo?  Don't they realize that Hero-President Obama and Attorney General "Robin" Holder are doing all they can to restore some of the time-proven U.S. courts that are aligned like clockwork with fear-mongering powerful forces who have been dismantled for far too long, and America urgently needs a wave of angry terrorist rhetoric to restore the rule of law, or something like that, yay Obama!!!?  It's like they're applying a single universal standard without fear or favor to both Republican and Democratic administrations—as though the same actions deserve the same response no matter who's carrying them out.  Absurd!

No, really: absurd.

And this, my friends, is why I'm not going to send so much as a penny to the ACLU this year.  This is not just the usual sordid but ultimately excusable pandering that you expect to see during the fundraising season; it's the willful propagation of dangerous falsehoods and fantasies by an organization that should be doing everything it can to dispel them.  The ACLU should be using my money to tell its supporters the truth: that in the area of civil liberties, Obama is practically indistinguishable from Bush.  But they know that the vast majority of their members are Democrats, and they'd much rather keep them writing those fat checks than upset them with the inconvenient reality.

So if you're a card-carrying member of the ACLU, please consider redirecting your annual donation money to CCR—an organization that understands that feeding people's Democratic fantasies (no matter how profitable that might be) only makes it that much easier for the Obama administration to continue its embrace and expansion of the assault on civil liberties.

— John Caruso

Posted at December 17, 2009 07:06 PM


Thanks for trying to keep me awake.

Posted by: 99 at December 17, 2009 08:27 PM

The ACLU does some fine work and has some very fine lawyers, but their position that corporate political advertising is protected First Amendment speech is a much bigger problem than their happy-face solicitations. That corporations have a constitutional right to dominate the political system goes a long way toward explaining why the venerable writ of habeas corpus means so little nowadays while the filibuster means so much. And we are living in the rubble of the attendant consequences.

Posted by: N E at December 17, 2009 11:22 PM

You're wrong.
from a recent ACLU posting on DKos:
". . .the administration has not made good on its promise of accountability. Now the administration is suppressing the evidence rather than disclosing it, and protecting torturers instead of investigating them. It is shielding Bush administration officials from civil liability, criminal investigation, and even public scrutiny. . .The Bush administration constructed a legal framework for torture, but the Obama administration is constructing a legal framework for impunity. "

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 18, 2009 12:53 AM

Don Bacon? Welcome back!

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at December 18, 2009 03:08 AM

Echoing Mr. Bacon, they're also litigating several important cases against the Obushma DoJ.

John, I feel kicking the ACLU in the balls is going a bit overboard. A snarky rhetorical shove (perhaps in the form of an email expressing you're discontent) may have sufficed.

Posted by: BenP at December 18, 2009 04:34 AM

Welcome back Caruso,
"Nobel Prize-Haver Barack Obama"
is right up there with "the triumph of lesser-evilism", even if spel-chek-R® doesn't care for either.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at December 18, 2009 06:09 AM

I'm glad there's an ACLU for us to kick in the balls, BenP. However, I realized 5 or 6 years ago that the CCR more closely echoed my personal beliefs and have been directing my donations (limited as they are) accordingly since.

Posted by: rs at December 18, 2009 09:13 AM

What Don Bacon said.

The ACLU, once a noble organization, has been captured by the powerful. They'll never get another dime from me.

Posted by: Bellwetherman at December 18, 2009 10:44 AM

NEW YORK, Dec 17, 2009 – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief late Wednesday arguing that its lawsuit challenging an unconstitutional government spying law should be reinstated.

In 2003, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records relating to the abuse and torture of prisoners in U.S. detention centers overseas. Since then, the government has released more than 100,000 pages. These documents show both that hundreds of prisoners were tortured in the custody of the CIA and Department of Defense, and that the torture policies were devised and developed at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

Real ID:
ACLU webpage: Get involved! Take a stand against longer lines, higher fees, and less privacy. As the battles over Real ID unfold in the states, this page will alert you to opportunities nationally and within your state to contact lawmakers or other officials and let them know that you oppose this costly, invasive, and ineffective law.(ACLU action webpage follows)

I am currently working with a lawyer in the local ACLU Chapter regarding the unconstitutional Border Patrol highway checkpoints in the Southwest (and elsewhere). The ACLU has notably called a 100-mile strip adjacent to US borders -- where many live -- a Constitution-free zone. ACLU: Homeland Security Assuming Broad Powers, Turning Vast Swaths of U.S. into "Constitution-Free Zone".

For these, and other reasons, I am happy and proud to have the ACLU automatically withdraw ten bucks from my bank account each month and I urge you to do the same.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 18, 2009 12:09 PM
You're wrong.

You mean the Obama administration has begun to restore some of the fundamental rights this country was founded upon? Maybe I need to check today's news.

You seem to be confused about what I'm saying, Don; I'm talking specifically about what the ACLU (and CCR) are telling their supporters in order to get more money. The ACLU does all kinds of good work, and they haven't stopped doing it now that Obama's president. Nonetheless, CCR is working on more of the issues I want to see litigated. At a meeting I attended last year Shayana Kadidal (CCR's senior managing attorney for Guantanamo cases) mentioned that unlike the ACLU, which focuses on establishing legal precedents, a major part of CCR's purpose is to bring cases that activists in the street want them to bring regardless of the chances of success (like this and this, for example). That difference goes a long way to explaining why I've been shifting my donations for years from the ACLU to CCR.

So you can post all the good stuff you want about the ACLU and I'll just agree with you; they've done good work and they're continuing to do it, and that's why I've given them so much money in the past. But I also see education as one of their critical functions, and when they start spreading disinformation like the claim that the Obama administration's show trials somehow "restore the rule of law" they're not only actively undercutting that function but causing real harm.

Posted by: John Caruso at December 18, 2009 01:36 PM

Your dissing of the ACLU is based totally on purported wording in a single newsletter from ACLU-NC. (Romero's quote doesn't mention Obama, only "hopes".)

I have just scanned ACLU's recent newsletter and I don't see anything one way or the other on Obama nor his administration. The newsletter is full of activism issues, necessary work that is ongoing regardless of any US administration, work that shouldn't be attacked by real progressives.

So your dissing of the national ACLU is wrong, and I urge ATR readers to join and to continue to support the ACLU in their vital work.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 18, 2009 02:18 PM

...purported wording...

I'd assume you get their fundraising letters as well, probably including the Romero letter I posted, and if so you know this was an exact transcript. And this has been a consistent theme of the ACLU's many fundraising letters since Obama was elected.

The fact that you're blowing smoke about the authenticity of the quotes tells me you're not comfortable with what they said. So let me ask you directly: assuming for the sake of argument that I didn't just make it all up, how do you feel about the ACLU claiming that the Obama administration "has begun to restore some of the fundamental rights this country was founded upon" or Romero saying that the show trials the administration is planning equate to "restor[ing] the rule of law"? Do you agree with those statements? And if not, does it bother you at all that the ACLU would throw its considerable credibility behind them?

Posted by: John Caruso at December 18, 2009 03:02 PM

For a comment on what the Obama regime is really up to see the great Chris Floyd

Posted by: Bilejones at December 18, 2009 04:22 PM

Normally in blogs evidence is presented to support a given position. Heresay doesn't work.

This purported newsletter, according to you, did NOT come from the ACLU, but from a tiny part of it in Northern California, extended now by you into a purported "consistent theme of the ACLU's many fundraising letters since Obama was elected."

Now why would they use a "things are getting better" argument to raise money? Makes no sense. Fundraisers that know their business always say things are continuing badly, or getting worse.

You're grabbing onto one little purported straw in a haystack and condemning the whole haystack. One can read the national ACLU and ACLU-NC sites and not see one iota of substance to your claims. What one CAN see is a multitude of good works which merit their continued support. As you wrote: "The ACLU does all kinds of good work, and they haven't stopped doing it now that Obama's president."

If the ACLU is happy with the O-man, as you claim, then why haven't they eased up? There's no evidence that they have, is there. The ACLU is obviously not happy with Obama, nor should they be.

I urge readers to join and to continue to support the ACLU. They do good work, as John says.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 18, 2009 04:30 PM

This purported newsletter, according to you, did NOT come from the ACLU, but from a tiny part of it in Northern California, ...

Now that's an impressive amount of disingenuousness for one sentence fragment. First, I never said anything about a newsletter—I'm quoting fundraising letters. Second, that's fundraising letters, plural. Third, the "tiny" ACLU-NC is the largest regional ACLU body (comprising 10% of the total ACLU membership). Fourth, the second letter came directly from Anthony Romero of the national ACLU, so the bit about "a tiny part" of the ACLU is just more smoke you're blowing.

As for your claim that I made the whole thing up (for what possible purpose? am I a closet Republican? do I get kickbacks from CCR? did I fake the CCR quotes as well?)—dude, get a grip. The fact that you'd resort to these kinds of tactics to defend the ACLU from its own words makes it clear that you understand just how bad it is for a civil liberties organization to say this stuff in the first place. I'm willing to have an honest discussion about whether or not these quotes merit shifting donation money from the ACLU to other organizations, but if you'd rather play your little game of pretending the letters are fake (transparent posturing, since you could easily verify it with them), you're on your own.

Posted by: John Caruso at December 19, 2009 02:13 AM

I contribute to both CCR and ACLU: 3 times as much to CCR which I have admired for almost 3 decades.

You made me think about contributing to the ACLU this year. I will read their communications more carefully.

Posted by: Weniger Gottquatsch at December 19, 2009 10:11 AM

1. I shouldn't have to track down your alleged sources, which apparently are not even on the web or you would have produced them. That's not the way it works in blog-world.

2. In any case, what one regional Obamaphile may have said in a fund-raising letter has zero to do with the important work the ACLU is engaged in. Unfortunately there are people out there who think that Obama has really brought change because they focus on his speechifying and not on his performance, with help from the MSM. That doesn't diminish the fact, as you wrote, that "the ACLU does all kinds of good work, and they haven't stopped doing it now that Obama's president." And it certainly doesn't mean that the ACLU shouldn't receive our financial support, which your diary wrongly seeks to diminish.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 19, 2009 10:37 AM

Don, oh good grief you've got to be kidding me. Caruso's invented-quotes MO is hilarious - not this lame ass phrase salad.

Posted by: Peggy at December 19, 2009 10:44 AM

" I shouldn't have to track down your alleged sources, which apparently are not even on the web or you would have produced them. That's not the way it works in blog-world."

Oh my. In other words, we should just assume John is making it all up because "that's not the way it works in blog-world." You could make your case without calling John a liar, but apparently you feel differently.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at December 19, 2009 11:34 AM

Regarding Romero's alleged quote on Holder, the decision by Attorney General Holder to prosecute five men accused as co-conspirators in the Sept. 11 attacks in federal court in Manhattan, rather than by a military commission, is truly an important step forward. The recognition that terrorism is a crime and not an act of war is very significant and the current administration ought to get credit for it. Any "fear-mongering and angry rhetoric about coddling terrorists" directed toward this administration is in fact wrong and threatens the restoration of the rule of law in these cases.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 19, 2009 11:37 AM

Donald Johnson, how have I failed to make my case that the ACLU is doing important work and should be financially supported?

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 19, 2009 11:41 AM

I see, Don. So long as you make your case in one respect you're allowed to make baseless accusations of dishonesty. I suppose it's all for the cause.

Another reason why hanging around blog comment sections is often more trouble than it's worth--the posts at a good blog are usually worth reading, but you get all the chest-thumping primate displays in the comments. Solution--skip the comments.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at December 19, 2009 01:03 PM

Donald Johnson, my thanks to you for implying in passing that I have made my case regarding the ACLU. I appreciate it. Can they count on your support?

Regarding your baseless accusations that I called Mr. Caruso a liar and made accusations of dishonesty, that is wrong. I merely indicated that Mr. Caruso placed us at a disadvantage by not providing the sort of evidence that I believe is a hallmark of ATR and one reason for its success in the blog world.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 19, 2009 03:26 PM

And thanks to Don Bacon for demonstrating that all institutions, including those with benevolent missions, eventually produce toxic partisan wingnuts.

Posted by: go_aclu at December 19, 2009 05:52 PM

Well, John can't help it, he just likes the CCR a whole lot.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 19, 2009 06:35 PM

@ Don Bacon, 11:37 AM:

"the decision by Attorney General Holder to prosecute five men accused as co-conspirators in the Sept. 11 attacks in federal court in Manhattan, rather than by a military commission, is truly an important step forward."

Oh, please. The *only* reason this trial may go forward is that the Obama Administration and the Holder DoJ believe that there is absolutely no doubt that convictions will be obtained. Had they any doubt about that they would consign these five detainees to the commission process or indefinite detention without any process whatever. This trial, if it in fact takes place, will serve as a fig leaf to justify and sanitize the gross illegality of the treatment of the remainder of the detainees.

Posted by: Phillip Allen at December 19, 2009 07:54 PM

Philip Allen,
What Holder may or may not believe about the outcome of a civil trial is irrelevant. The important thing is that there will be a civil trial and not a Bush-era military commission kangaroo trial. That's progress. And progress is what we strive for.

The ACLU has been at the forefront in this matter.

On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union and its 330,000 members, we appreciate this opportunity to share our views and recommendations with you regarding the draft Military Commission Instruction . . .As a preliminary matter, the ACLU would like to reiterate our view that military commissions are unnecessary because the regular criminal courts are an appropriate forum for prosecuting suspected terrorists. . .The United States can avoid these problems by honoring its historical commitment to fair trials. . .--ACLU, Feb 28, 2003

The ACLU has also been active in many other aspects of human rights, including women, migrants and children. The ACLU deserves our continued support, not a lump of coal.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 19, 2009 10:47 PM

in the spirit of xmassy good will, please resist the urge to tell the ACLU mole to go f--- himself.

the purpose of the civil trials is transparently to establish that hearsay evidence and evidence obtained under torture can be used in court, that the defendent doesn't have the right to face his accusers or see *all* the evidence, among other truly terrible things. in civil court. also, that the executive w/o judicial review can willy nilly decide who gets a "civil" trial, who a drumhead military trial, and who just gets held forever w/no habeas corpus rights at all.

quite a plug for the ACLU you are making there, Mr. Mole.

Posted by: anon at December 20, 2009 08:01 AM

In a civil trial, normal rules of US justice apply, imperfect thought they are. Again, the important fact here is the progress for using civil trials rather than military tribunals, and calling me names doesn't change that fact, does it? Sticks and stones, and all that. Petty shit.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 20, 2009 11:57 AM

I wouldn't base my opposition to the ACLU on a fundraising solicitation.

Having said that, the way it's worked over my lifetime is that a Republican Administration creates a law or policy that is either unconstitutional or at least shrinks people's civil liberties. Then a Democratic Administration comes into office and doesn't do much to roll back the villainy. Really, who's talking about the NSA listening to us and reading our emails.

Then these laws, initially justified to fight drugs or terror or some other social ill is used for some other purpose, often with political purpose. For example, the FBI tracked Eliot Spitzer's money with laws put into effect to track money-laundering of drug money. It listened to his phone calls using statutes initially justified to fight terror.

Now, I guess the FBI had no concern that anyone on Wall Street was buying whores with their own money, or cared to investigate any of the dirty dealings that Spitzer wrote about in his op-ed for WaPo a month or so earlier.

But that's what happens when you've got high tech enforcement of what are essentially violations of morality. Give me the power of the FBI and a lot of surveillance power and I can put Jesus behind bars.

But have no fears. Obama won't use these laws for political advantage, won't be busting right-wing politicians and corrupt corporatists to push a liberal, or even "centrist" agenda. No, those weapons will stay in the holster for the next Republican.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at December 20, 2009 02:53 PM

I wouldn't base my opposition to the ACLU on a fundraising solicitation.

I'm not opposed to the ACLU, I just don't plan to send them a donation this year. Having them shill for a major civil liberties abuser like Obama was the last straw, but I've been shifting money from the ACLU to CCR for a long time (for the reasons I mentioned above); basically, CCR covers similar territory but does more of what I want done with my money. I choose to donate to Greenpeace rather than the Sierra Club for similar reasons.

The ACLU does good work and I'm confident they'll get enough donations to continue it, even without mine. And I do plan to contact them to tell them exactly why they've lost my donation (and I'd encourage anyone else who feels this way to do the same).

Posted by: John Caruso at December 20, 2009 03:57 PM

"normal rules of justice"? DOJ already says that's BS (and see the several links below):

Other Justice Department officials have said that even if Mr. Mohammed is acquitted, the Obama administration will keep him locked up forever as a “combatant” under the laws of war. But Mr. Holder largely sidestepped such questions, instead simply asserting that he was confident that Mr. Mohammed would be convicted.

“Failure is not an option,” Mr. Holder said.
November 20, 2009
Hey, I Know! Let's Put On a Show Trial!
The Real Price of Trying KSM
Defense lawyers will inevitably create bad law.
By David Feige

i'm the anon from 8:01 above. i stand by previous comments.

Posted by: anon at December 20, 2009 03:57 PM

Minus the aggression, anon has a point about what these trials will do. I'll concede that giving alleged terrorists civilian trials is better than military tribunals, but it looks like this will also be pretty bad. In particular, evidence obtained by torture may (will?) be admissible.

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at December 20, 2009 07:12 PM

I'll concede that giving alleged terrorists civilian trials is better than military tribunals...

On some level, maybe, but I wouldn't go that far. It would be better if it was being done consistently and fairly, but it's not—and the way it's actually being done amounts to nothing more than show trials (literally, by any dictionary definition I know of). Glenn Greenwald wrote a good article about this (well worth reading in its entirety, but this is representative):

If you're accused of being a Terrorist, there's not one set procedure used to determine your guilt; instead, the Government has a roving bazaar of various processes which it, in its sole discretion, picks for you based on ensuring that it will win. Even worse, Holder repeatedly assured Senators that the administration would continue to imprison 9/11 defendants even in the very unlikely case that they were acquitted, citing what they previously suggested was their Orwellian authority of so-called "post-acquittal detention powers." Is there any better definition of a "show trial" than one in which the defendant has no chance of ever being released even if acquitted, because the Government will simply thereafter assert the power to hold him indefinitely without charges?

Just as shutting down Guantanamo isn't necessarily progress when people are only going to be imprisoned under the same conditions and with the same denial of their basic human rights in less-conspicuous gulags, it's not progress when the Obama administration tries to pass off this charade as a meaningful embrace of the "rule of law"; it's PR, and we (and the ACLU) shouldn't call it anything else. As Greenwald put it, "It's just another case of the administration wanting to bask in the rhetorical glory of 'the rule of law' while simultaneously trampling on it for petty political convenience."

Posted by: John Caruso at December 20, 2009 08:10 PM

The ACLU isn't doing jack shit, REALISTICALLY, to return our stolen and crushed divil rights.

The ACLU gets involved merely for press time, to get more money.

And once again, N E shows his immense naivete, calling the ACLU "very fine" and its galley slave non-thinking lawyers "very fine." Yeah sure, tepid "attacks" that are designed to fail, they're really sticking it to the man!

Holy crap. The naivete of supporting the ACLU... incredible. Caruso's wising up, and yet some pwoggobots are arguing to make Caruso change his mind?

Oh, the emasculated powerbase of the symbolic warrior!

Posted by: C F Oxtrot at December 21, 2009 07:57 PM

Welcome over from SMBIVA, Charlie.

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at December 21, 2009 08:25 PM