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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Yes We Can Say That

Public Finance, FISA and the Death Penalty:
The DLC and the Erosion of a Dream Candidate

"...the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken,"
Barack Obama in a video statement about opting out of public finance
for his presidential campaign.

Having a plausible explanation for a complete reversal of a principal policy does not mean it is ok. If you have to explain a change in policy position by saying, "We can say that because..." you are rationalizing your faulted integrity. The irony is that this election is not so much about the desperate necessity for changes in policy for which there is considerable consensus; it is really an election about integrity, something that has been missing from politics for generations. And if the statements coming out of the Obama campaign recently are any test, political integrity will remain an oxymoron for generations to come.

I was curious as to what may have changed in Senator Obama's campaign that would cause them to legitimize these controversial reversals. Was it just a typical "move to the center" that is characteristic of all post primary presumptives? Or was it something else, like maybe part of the deal with Hillary was to move to a more centrist, DLC approach in exchange for that wing of the party not making a fuss at the convention?

I decided to examine whether there were parallels in the DLC's way of thinking and the changes in the Obama stance. While some of the connections are arguably spurious, I did find enough that it is worth questioning if this is the source code for the new Obama campaign.


"House members shouldn't be intimidated by pressure groups who view the FISA bill's immunity clause as a litmus test on respect for civil liberties. It's not. Rather, it is an over-emphasized aspect of a broad bill that could constructively define the rules of signals intelligence collection in the 21st century. This bill represents an excellent opportunity for House members to strengthen their civil-liberties credentials by supporting a law that improves and clarifies the standards for intelligence collection."
- Jim Arkedis, director of PPI's National Security Project, in a Feb. 2008 article about the FISA debate on the DLC website

"...given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives - and the liberty - of the American people."
- Obama statement about his support for the FISA compromise that passed the House last week (from Talking Points

One does not have to look far on the DLC's website to find support in its mission. An op-ed piece that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 2003 gives legitimacy to its raison d'etre:

"In 1996, a survey by the Washington Post compared the views of delegates to the Democratic convention with those of ordinary registered Democratic voters. They might as well have come from different parties. On every single social and economic issue, the views of the registered Democrats were closer to those of all registered voters than to those of Democratic delegates.

Almost two-thirds of Democratic delegates wanted to cut defense spending; most registered Democrats did not. A majority of Democratic delegates opposed a five-year time limit for welfare benefits; two-thirds of registered Democrats supported it. Democratic delegates were split on the death penalty; registered Democrats favored it by a margin of more than 2 to 1."

from a 2003 article in the LA Times by Al From and Bruce Reed (now president of the Democratic Leadership Council)

This is as good a time as any to say that I really am not against the DLC. They are an essential part of our party. If the Democrats were a ship, the DLC might be the rudder that keeps us upright while we in the liberal wing are the wind in her sails. The challenge for us is who is at the tiller.

Yet they do represent the establishment, and that is whom we all thought Barack was running against the last four months. At least I thought so. I'm certainly old enough not to be naive about politicians, but I thought he would take firmer stands, and not "cave" as some bloggers have put it.

One of my important issues is my opposition to the death penalty. But like those on the right who oppose a woman's right to choose, I know that I cannot make the death penalty a pillar of my decision making when it comes to my vote. Yet when our candidate came out against the recent SCOTUS decision against the death penalty for anyone but killers, I still felt as if there was one less thing to like about Obama.

As reported in yesterday's online version of the Wall Street Journal, Obama said:

“ 'I disagree with the decision. I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes,' Obama told reporters at a press conference in Chicago.

"The expected Democratic nominee said he believed the rape of a child 'is a heinous crime' that fits the circumstance..."

And the DLC's take on the death penalty? They are reactionarily (?) entrenched after the punishment they took in the 1988 Dukakis campaign:

"[A]fter 12 years in the presidential wilderness, Democrats rallied to Gov. Clinton, who positioned himself in the 1992 campaign as both hard-headed and warm-hearted. He proved that he would defend the social order by not only supporting the death penalty but actually taking a break from the campaign trail to return to Arkansas to preside over an execution."
-Marshal Wittman, from a May, 2005 article in Blueprint Magazine, from the DLC's website.

In another February, 2006 DLC article from Blueprint Magazine, Virginia's newly elected Democratic governor Tim Kaine said he won in part because he was able to sidestep making his "
personal faith-based opposition to capital punishment" a campaign issue by saying that he would follow the law because, " I was...telling voters that I took the oath of office as seriously as my wedding vows."

And because, as stated in the LA Times piece cited above, "
Democratic delegates were split on the death penalty; registered Democrats favored it by a margin of more than 2 to 1," it seems the DLC encourages an ambiguous stand on the death penalty for those who are morally opposed to it.

To be sure this is speculation on my part. It is impossible to prove that the DLC specifically is an influence in these apparent reversals, and despite it all, obviously none of these things will keep me from voting for Obama in November, but for sure some of the glimmer is gone. The shine, as they say, is coming off the rose. I just hope there is still some left after Denver.

I wonder if Bobby would have compromised this much.


Friday, June 20, 2008

The Wiretapper in the Mirror: Congress Wimps Out

In today's debate over the warrantless wiretapping bill - aka changes to FISA -Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) who spoke against passage, expressed the concerns of both sides when she called it "lipstick on a pig" .

In speaking for the bill's passage, California Republican Dan Lungren said that "it's not the Mona Lisa, but it is a pretty good paint job." More like a snow-job. The only thing that's getting painted over here is the Fourth Amendment. The fact that Congress sees capitulating to the Executive as the proper way to do the country's business flies in the face of checks and balances and doesn't serve "We the People" at all.

In contrast to Lungren's calling this "a great day," at least Speaker Pelosi had the sense to say that it was not, and yet she voted for it.

What really peeves me about this is that it is so obvious to the rest of us why the Congress' approval ratings are abysmal. They are not doing the people's business. They are doing business people. They were voted into office to make waves, and yet you could skip Dennis Kucinich across the water and still not make the White House lawn wet.

There is an outrage growing in the electorate. If Senator Obama really wants to be an agent of change, he must step up and vote against this bill when it gets to the Senate. Getting the country's business done is not an excuse for doing bad business.

Please let your senators know that they must not pass this bill.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Breaking News: FISA Wiretapping Deal Reached

Breaking News from the ACLU

Congress Said To Have Reached FISA Deal

Congress Reaches Deal on FISA Bill - ReWrites Surveillance & Wiretapping Rules

FISA Deal Reached, Aides Say

By Tim Starks, CQ Staff

June 19, 2008 – 10:40 a.m.

A final deal has been reached on a rewrite of electronic surveillance rules and will be announced Thursday, two congressional aides said.

The aides said the House is likely to take up the legislation Friday.

The bill would rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA, PL 95-511).

On Wednesday, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D‑Md., had said negotiators were working on a bill that would be “significantly better” than a White House-backed, Senate-passed bill (HR 3773) that has support from some House Democrats.

As of Wednesday, sources said the new bill would allow a federal district court to decide whether to provide retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies being sued for their role in the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program.

Under the prospective deal, the secret court created by the original law would get to review, in advance, the process by which the administration chooses foreign surveillance targets who may be communicating with people in the United States.

One source said the federal district court deciding on retroactive immunity would review whether there was “substantial evidence” the companies had received assurances from the government that the administration’s program was legal.

A Senate Intelligence Committee report on an earlier version of the legislation detailed how the companies had received such assurances from the Justice Department and the White House.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Guantanamo Bay and the Big Shitball

"...the consequence of error may be detention of persons for the duration of hostilities that may last a generation or more, this is a risk too significant to ignore."
-from the Supreme Court decision
to allow for habeas corpus hearings

for prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay

So habeas has returned to Gitmo. Like swallows to Capistrano, it is inevitable that as sense and law rotate back to their proper planetary positions, they eclipse fear's fury. The downside? It's only a chink in armor that's seven years' thick with piled bodies and reckless leadership, guarded by secrets as sticky to get through as electrified flypaper.

OH MY GOD! I hope whomever we choose for our new leaders have the sense to realize that Gitmo and torture and waterboarding and wiretapping are all part of the same petrifying, putrid shitball as the war in Iraq! It may seem like the typical multi-limbed monster that any government at war would have to deal with, but this is no fucking octopus; it's a goddamn plutoid!

So how do we fix it? Do we land some NASA rover on it to break off a piece at a time and hope that we find the secret formula to destroy it before the piece we broke off grows back, even more stubborn and resistant to reason?

Do we blow the whole mess up, pull out of Iraq, close Guantanamo, free the rendered innocent, indict our war criminals and let the burning meteorite chips fall where they may, even if it's back on us?

The way I like of clearing away this dangerous rock is to drill deep inside it, to the corrupted U.S. foreign policy that is at its core. If we repair our relationship with the world from the inside out, maybe the rest of the big hunk of goppy poo will just die and rot, then dry up and blow away. To me, that is the most elegant solution, though as such, it requires the steady hand of a skilled politician that works with surgical precision, and doesn't just go in there with a chainsaw and an earthmover.

Hacking away at something until it appears to be dead would be bad at so many levels. It would be messy, to be sure, not knowing for certain whether or not we'd slain the beast or just made it angrier. Worse still, another bad leader's cavalier carelessness might start with a moment of exultation (a la "Mission Accomplished") but as the cheers and applause began to die down, a small hiss would penetrate the din, and we would quickly devolve to the dreaded realization that we were getting sucked into oblivion through the black hole of annihilation that we created for ourselves when we chose who we wanted to fight for us. Oh, shit.

I do hope we are wise enough this time to choose properly.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"A Generation or More": Habeas Returns to Gitmo

The Supreme Court Finds that Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are Not Exempt from Habeas Corpus

The following are excerpts from the majority "Opinion of the Court" issued by the Supreme Court of the United States Thursday June 12, 2008 in the case of BOUMEDIENE ET AL. v. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, ET AL.

"...the writ of habeas corpus is itself an indispensable mechanism for monitoring the separation of powers. The test for determining the scope of this provision must not be subject to manipulation by those whose power it is designed to restrain. (p. 36)

"The Government presents no credible arguments that the military mission at Guantanamo
would be compromised if habeas corpus courts had jurisdiction to hear the detainees’ claims. And in light of the plenary control the United States asserts over the base, none are apparent to us. (pp. 39-40)

"There is no indication, furthermore, that adjudicating a habeas corpus petition would cause friction with the host government. No Cuban court has jurisdiction over American
military personnel at Guantanamo or the enemy combatants detained there. While obligated to abide by the terms of the lease, the United States is, for all practical purposes, answerable to no other sovereign for its acts on the base. (p41)

"The MCA [Military Commissions Act] does not purport to be a formal suspension of the writ; and the Government, in its submissions to us, has not argued that it is. Petitioners, therefore, are entitled to the privilege of habeas corpus to challenge the legality of their detention. (p.42)

"...we agree with petitioners that, even when all the parties involved in this process act with diligence and in good faith, there is considerable risk of error in the tribunal’s findings of fact. ... And given that the consequence of error may be detention of persons for the duration of hostilities that may last a generation or more, this is a risk too significant to ignore. (pp.56-57)

"If a detainee can present reasonably available evidence demonstrating there is no basis for his continued detention, he must have the opportunity to present this evidence to a habeas corpus
court. Even under the Court of Appeals’ generous construction of the DTA [Detainee Treatment Act], however, the evidence [that may corroborate his innocence] identified by [petitioner Mohamed] Nechla would be inadmissible in a DTA review proceeding. The [constitutional] role of an Article III court in the exercise of its habeas corpus function cannot be circumscribed in this manner. (p.61)

"Petitioners have met their burden of establishing that the DTA review process is, on its face, an inadequate substitute for habeas corpus. [T]he Government has not established that the detainees’ access to the statutory review provisions at issue is an adequate substitute for the writ of habeas corpus. MCA [Section] 7 thus effects an unconstitutional suspension of the writ. (pp.63-64)

"In some of these cases six years have elapsed without the judicial oversight that habeas corpus or an adequate substitute demands. And there has been no showing that the Executive faces such onerous burdens that it cannot respond to habeas corpus actions. To require these detainees to complete DTA review before proceeding with their habeas corpus actions would be to require additional months, if not years, of delay. The first DTA review applications were filed over a year ago, but no decisions on the merits have been issued. While some delay in fashioning new procedures is unavoidable, the costs of delay can no longer be borne by those who are held in custody. The detainees in these cases are entitled to a prompt habeas corpus hearing. Our decision today holds only that the petitioners before us are entitled to seek the writ; that the DTA review procedures are an inadequate substitute for habeas corpus; and that the petitioners in these cases need not exhaust the review procedures in the Court of Appeals before proceeding with their habeas actions in the District Court. (p.66)

"We hold that petitioners may invoke the fundamental procedural protections of habeas corpus. The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that framework, a part of that law.
...The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed. The cases are remanded to the Court of Appeals with instructions that it remand the cases to the District Court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered." (pp. 69-70)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Remembering Russert

The simplest, most matter-of-fact approach is the best. That's what I gleaned from watching Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" and his bits on the "Today Show." I liked how he would ask his Sunday morning guests the same question until got an answer, like "Would you accept the vice-presidency if Senator Obama offered it to you?" There would be the hesitating of the guest, who would give some non-committal answer, and Tim would shoot back, "So you wouldn't accept it, if he offered it to you?" He did that over and over again, on a whole range of topics, especially with the questions that really everyone was asking but no one could get an answer to. When he asked, you got the feeling that maybe this time, the politician will give a straight answer. And if Russert was left with a typically crooked response, he would call them on it.

Having been in TV newsrooms myself for the first fifteen years of my career, I know how close that environment can be, how closely everyone works with each other, and how important each member of the staff is professionally and most certainly, personally. It is most definitely like losing a member of your family.

Thank you, Tim Russert, for what you gave to America and to politics and to news gathering. God bless and heal your family, and God rest your soul.


PS. Mike Allen's Playbook on has a good collection of Friday's tributes to Russert from pundits and politicians alike. I urge you to check it out.

Friday, June 13, 2008

God Tag You, South Carolina!

South Carolina Believes and Wants You to Know It

You can now buy license tags in South Carolina to profess your faith, if you're Christian, that is. The South Carolina state legislature passed a law in May allowing for license plates that say "I Believe" and have a stained glass window with a cross pictured on them. The state's Republican governor, Mark Sanford, let the bill become law without signing it. He did, however, send a letter to the president pro tem of the state senate, according to the NY Times, saying, "“While I do, in fact, ‘believe,’ it is my personal view that the largest proclamation of one’s faith ought to be in how one lives one’s life.” Yet he declined to veto the tag.

Florida legislators tried to pass a similar law, but it failed. Here is a picture of the proposed Florida plate. Reportedly, the South Carolina plate would have been similar to it.

Needles to say, the ACLU and the American Jewish Congress say they will file a lawsuit on First Amendment grounds. This is not the first time the state endorsed a religious view with license tags and got into trouble for it. It was already forced to stop issuing "Choose Life" plates by the Fourth Circuit Court:

"[The law creating the plate] was struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court, which ruled that by 'granting access to the license plate forum only to those who share its viewpoint, South Carolina has provided pro-life supporters with an instrument for expressing their position and has distorted the specialty license plate forum in favor of one message, the pro-life message.' "
- McGannahan Skjellyfetti's blog,

It is more than a bit outrageous that a state would sanction a specific faith like this. So I thought I would give them a taste of their own theocratic medicine. This is just for fun. Please don't burn me in effigy.





Tuesday, June 03, 2008

It's Not Over until the Lady in the Pantsuit Sings

The Seething from the Clinton Camp

After the Rules & Bylaws Committee reached its decision Saturday, Hillary's staunch supporters on the committee - Harold Ickes and Tina Flournoy - issued a statement on Hillary's website, saying, "This decision [to take delegates away from Hillary in Michigan] violates the bedrock principles of our democracy and our Party."

What follows the statement are blog-posts from Hillary's rank-and-file, some of which are quite disturbing. Here are a few samples:

"I am extremely upset as to the way this whole thing is being run. Does every vote count or just who the delegates and super delegates feel like voting for. I want Hillary and I will not vote for bHo !!! I refuse to vote for him. We can tough it out another 4 years with McCain."

"Is this democracy? This entire election is so unfair to Hillary. I can honestly say that if BHO wins this I will not vote for him. 4 more years is not that long to put up with McCain. I guess it's the principle of the entire process. R&B committee has people so angry we will never be united."

"I have complete records of all my donations over the years and after today's sickening farce of a meeting of the UNdemocratic RBC, I will be requesting they return my money in full."

"Yo, this DNC be trippin' if they be thinkin' be gonna be standin' for this. That's what's up!"

"This is not over until the lady in the pantsuit says it is and she’s in it to win:) "

"Four years is not that much to put up with..."? Have they forgotten what Bush did in the first four years? In the first three? Heck, in the first year?

What strikes me about this gushing venom is that the conventional wisdom says that most of these folks will end up voting for Obama. It's hard to see from this how we get there, but get there we must. A call for unity must come from Hillary herself, and she must rally those who are so disappointed to get behind the nominee. She doesn't have to be on the ticket (in fact, I hope she isn't), but as a force of nature, she can really swing into action for the Democrats and for our country. Any deal that closes this cycle has to include her calming her supporters who feel disenfranchised, and motivating them to vote for the change, if they can't bring themselves to vote for the man.