Friday, September 29, 2006

Shame of a Nation

Let us always remember that it is the illegal actions of a Republican President that has caused a Republican Congress to ram through one of the most despicable pieces of legislation in US history.

Let us also remember that the “renegade” Republicans—McCain, Warner, and Graham—pretended to force a compromise bill (one that, in reality, capitulated to most White House demands), only to then walk away and allow Republican White House adviser Stephen Hadley and Bush administration lawyers to draft an even more sinister, draconian, and totalitarian law.

And, let us again remember that John McCain is an asshole—for after using his personal experience with torture to garner the media spotlight, and after talking up his “compromise,” he actually skipped a vote on an amendment that would have restored the compromise language, and voted against an amendment that would have restored some kind of guarantee of habeas rights to those detained.

Let us remember that McCain, along with ALMOST EVERY OTHER REPUBLICAN SENATOR, then voted for this disgusting Bush detention and torture bill. (The exceptions being Lincoln Chafee (RI), who’s in a tough reelection battle, and Olympia Snowe (ME), who did not vote—remember that, too.)

But let us also remember the names of these Senators—Senators that did not have to worry about party discipline, Senators whom, for the most part, do not have to worry about a serious election challenge in November, Senators whom were free to vote their conscience. . . and chose to vote FOR this shameful legislation:

Tom Carper (DE)
Tim Johnson (SD)
Mary Landrieu (LA)
Frank Lautenberg (NJ)
Bob Menendez (NJ)
Bill Nelson (FL)
Ben Nelson (NE)
Mark Pryor (AR)
Jay Rockefeller (WV)
Ken Salazar (CO)
Debbie Stabenow (MI)

Connecticut for Liebermans:
Joe Lieberman (CT)

Remember those names, for they claim to represent us. Let them know that they do not. Let them know—in the name of every nameless detainee this government can now torture and lock away forever—that we will not forget nor forgive this vote. Let them know they are the shame of our party. . .

. . . and the shame of a nation.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

NYT: “Democrats betray their principles to avoid last-minute attack ads.”

If this had appeared on the news pages of the Times, I might have been upset by another instance of the Gray Lady’s habitual Dem-bashing. But, in the context of the New York Times’ opinion pages, I read today’s editorial assessment as spot on.

I suppose the real takeaway from the detailed editorial is that the Republican Congress, acting as a rubberstamp for cynical Bush administration moves to hold on to power, is about to pass a law that does as much to destroy the foundations of our democracy as it does little to protect us from future terrorist attacks—but it is because the consequences of this Republican action are so great that the Democrats attempt to finesse this vote is so disappointing.

Perhaps Democrats (who, it should be pointed out, will record votes in overwhelming numbers in opposition to the detainee torture bill, but will lose because they are the minority party in both houses), sensing that many parts of this bill will not stand up in court, feel they can do a parliamentary head-fake—voting for a few mollifying amendments (all of which will fail) and against the Bush Administration’s bill—while still escaping the label of “obstructionist” by not (in the Senate’s case) filibustering and really stopping the legislation.

But litigation will take time, and there is no guarantee that freshly-packed federal courts will be a bulwark against the goals of the party that did the packing. In the meantime, real people may be detained and tortured, show trials might be used to influence the midterm elections, aid workers and soldiers captured abroad might come to greater harm, and America’s ability to move through the world as an honest and moral nation will be even further denigrated.

And, perhaps most pathetic of all, is that Democrats, thinking that they are being so smart politically, have missed a great opportunity, and reinforced their worst stereotypes. By trying to outwit Republicans, Democrats are seen as taking calculated risks rather than taking a stand. They are playing politics with a moral issue. They are not deeply anti-torture or staunchly pro-Constitution—they are not really even strong or weak on terrorism—they are simply the party of politics as usual. Hardly a good place to be in a year of anti-incumbency.

Worse, Congressional Democrats have once again missed a chance to define what they are for: For the rule of law, for honoring our Constitution and our international treaty commitments, for a strong, moral government. For human rights, for safeguarding our troops, for protecting our own citizens. For real homeland security, for protecting America from future attacks, for actually prosecuting and convicting terrorists in open courts that would serve as a model of fairness for all the world to see.

In defining themselves in this way, Democrats wouldn’t have had to leave their voters behind, either. It is hard to imagine—and polls back this up—issues more winning. Democrats want to communicate that they have moral values; opposing this legislation provides moral values to own by the bucketful. Democrats have trouble breaking into the Republican-controlled news cycle; weeks of visible wrangling on the big issue of our time (or so we are told, anyway) provides the perfect establishment media stage. Democrats desire to frame the issues on their terms; what better issues to contrast Democratic morality and competence with the Republicans’ lack of each?

In fact, in a world of complex problems with nuanced solutions, there are few opportunities for more clearly-drawn distinctions. To stand with Bush is to stand for torture. To endorse the White House language is to endorse arbitrary and indefinite detention. To allow the president to get his way on this bill is to allow the president—and only the president—to decide who is an “unlawful combatant” and who still deserves the rights previously accorded to all.

Of course, Democrats still have the opportunity to use these arguments in specific races and individual interviews, but by failing to really stand and fight this bill in this session of Congress, they have squandered the chance to redefine and enhance their image on a grand, national scale.

Don’t believe me? Just look at what failing to do this has wrought.

From the New York Times editorial:

There is not enough time to fix these bills, especially since the few Republicans who call themselves moderates have been whipped into line, and the Democratic leadership in the Senate seems to have misplaced its spine. If there was ever a moment for a filibuster, this was it.

From Wednesday’s Washington Post editorial:

Senators -- and this includes Democrats who have been largely and cravenly absent from this month's debate -- would do best to postpone action on the bill.

Remarkably, both the often liberal and assertive Times and the often warmongering and calcified Post editorial staffs agree on just how terrible the Bush bill and the Republicans’ behavior is for our country. Sadly, both also seem to agree that the Democrats played to type when they failed to stop them.

(cross-posted over at DialyKos)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

the torture bill sucks, and republicans know it

With the White House-written detain and torture bill tumbling towards a vote this week, it seems that the Bush Administration will get all they want and more out of this legislation. . . and it seems that Republican Senators know this could be a political nightmare. If not, why would I be reading this:

Senate Republican leadership aides said that the floor debate could begin today and that the legislation setting rules for military commissions, as they are known, might be combined with a bill to create a new fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

What do these things have to do with one another? Well, nothing topically, and apparently nothing politically, either. The only reason the Majority would consider messing with and muddying up the vote on “the fence”—something they see as political gold, as in, red meat for their racist, xenophobic base—would be because they fear that letting President Bush’s “top legislative priority” (that would be guaranteeing his right to torture and indefinitely detain anybody, anywhere, anytime) go to a floor debate all by its lonesome would put many in the Party in the uncomfortable position of defending things like court-stripping, indefinite detention, labeling Americans and others “unlawful enemy combatants” at presidential whim, and now, a newly-added provision that allows the DoD to waive any restrictions placed on the government by this bill if they deem it “practicable or consistent with military intelligence activities.”

Now, I say that Republicans know this “could” be a political nightmare, but they also know it won’t be much of one if no one makes too much noise. Lucky for them, most Democrats seem ready to play along.

While some, like Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and maybe Russ Feingold (D-WI), “get it” and are making some noise and/or working to stop this bill from coming to a vote, the Democratic leadership seems to be afraid of its own shadow. When prompted in a recent conference call with some bloggers to come out loud and clear against this torture bill, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that you wouldn’t believe how many calls he gets telling him not to pick a fight.

Who’s making those calls? I want names. Because if you don’t think the laundry list of moral outrages contained in this legislation is worthy of a fight, you’re really not worthy of the label Democrat. I know that sounds a little “circular firing squad,” but some of us actually feel strongly about moral values like human rights and personal dignity. . . and the US Constitution. . . and I’m betting most voters feel the same way (and would admire someone standing up and stating a strong, clear, moral alternative to the Republicans’ craven cowardice).

Harry Reid, a former boxer himself, should know he can’t win this one on points, and he should be a smart enough tactician to spot when his opponent is dropping his guard or telegraphing a punch.

But, if he is, so far, he’s not showing it.

So, let’s help him. The happy recap: Republicans say they welcome a showdown on terrorism issues, and yet, with the Congressional session winding down, going into a crucial midterm election, the leadership of the Republican party is thinking about burying the debate and their vote on this “crucial” piece of terror legislation by merging it with an unrelated bill. Does that sound like welcoming a showdown to you?

Someone needs to tell Senator Reid that it’s time to come off the ropes and start swinging. Someone needs to point out that the Republicans have a glass jaw.

That someone could be you.

Fight the torture bill. Filibuster the torture bill.

Senator Harry Reid (NV)
Phone: 202-224-3542
Fax: 202-224-7327

UPDATE: Matt Stoller at MyDD has recently posted on this fight. He says there might be some difference between the Democrats’ public posture and their behind the scenes work. While I think a strong public opposition to this bill would help define Democrats for the voters—and that would be a positive—I want this bill stopped, and if Democrats get it done behind the scenes, I will applaud (just a little more quietly).

Stoller says:

The Senate is where this bill can be stopped. The key Senators to move are the Maine Republican Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. If we can shift them, we can stop this bill from being passed.

Susan Collins
461 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-2523
Fax: (202) 224-2693

Olympia Snowe
154 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-5344
Toll Free: (800) 432-1599
Fax: (202) 224-1946

Now, Collins and Snowe are Republicans, so what effect this Democrat from New York will have when he calls, I don’t know. I also don’t know what long-term benefit will accrue the Democratic Party if we get two Republicans to stand as the bulwark against Bush and his torture pals.

But, I reiterate, I want the bill stopped, so, dial away. . . .

(cross-posted over at Daily Kos)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

NYT Finally Catches On: Anti-Writ Equals Pro-Torture

Well, I have been blabbering about it for a week (as have others), and now, the New York Times has finally caught on (though I seriously doubt my blabbering has anything to do with it). In a Thursday article by Neil A. Lewis and Kate Zernicke, the Times finally spells out one of the true disgraces contained in each of the supposedly divergent detainee torture/tribunal bills before the Senate. Both the White House version and the Warner/McCain/Graham (additionally co-sponsored by Democrat Carl Levin—shame on you, Sen. Levin) “alternative” contain language that

would bar foreigners held abroad from using the federal trial courts for challenges to detention known as habeas corpus lawsuits. If the provision was enacted, it would mean that all of the lawsuits brought in federal court by about 430 detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would be wiped from the books.

And, Lewis and Zernicke are good at summing up exactly why court access matters:

The nature of the detention regime at Guantánamo changed markedly as detainees who had been isolated suddenly had access to American lawyers [after a 2004 Supreme Court decision] who were able to provide public accounts of their treatment and defenses to the charges that they were terrorists. The military no longer had exclusive control of information about Guantánamo.

In other words, you cannot be “anti-torture” if you are “anti-writ.” If detainees are denied habeas rights, then they can be held in secret—disappeared, really—and in secret, with no threat that they need ever see the light of day, anything that happens to them can remain secret, too. It is meaningless to grandstand about the importance of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions if you do not defend the habeas rights of all US captives.

Alas, Congressional Democrats have yet to take the moral lead on this issue. While Senator Levin signs on as a co-sponsor to the “compromise” bill, there are, as mentioned in the Times article, House Republicans who are visibly, vocally uncomfortable with the court-stripping (the story of the House Judiciary Committee’s re-vote on the White House language is fascinating in and of itself—and far more sinister than the NYT makes it out to be).

It is not enough for Democrats to cast politically strategic votes on various amendments while quietly rejoicing at signs of Republican infighting. It is both right and smart to vociferously oppose such a severe insult to our justice system and our moral standing. I say, stand up to the White House, stand up for this moral value, and you force opponent Republicans to take sides.

With 63% of Americans in favor of honoring our international treaty obligations in the treatment of prisoners, with a large majority (56% to 35%) of Americans stating that torture is never justified, it would be far from risky—rather, in fact, it would be good politics—to ask each member of Congress (not to mention each member of the Bush Administration): Are you with the American people, or are you with the torturers?

(Have you asked your Senators yet? Write in and let us know—are they with the American people, or are they with the torturers?)

(cross-posted on Daily Kos)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Frist Strains Credulity and His Party’s Patience in Attempt to Save Bush’s Ass

Faced with the possibility that the Torturer-in-Chief might not get to do whatever he wants, the Senate’s head rubberstamper has threatened to take his ball and go home.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist signaled yesterday that he and other White House allies will filibuster a bill dealing with the interrogation and prosecution of detainees if they cannot persuade a rival group of Republicans to rewrite key provisions opposed by President Bush.

Frist's chief of staff, Eric M. Ueland, called the dissidents' bill "dead."

What could he be thinking? Frist is on his way out, retiring, purportedly to massage his laughable presidential aspirations—doe she really want his final act as Majority Leader to be one of obstruction? Does he not remember that he was the one that railed against filibusters less than a year ago? Does he not realize even the so-called “dissidents’ bill” kills all the pending cases that could go the way of Hamdan? Does he not understand that either version will eliminate habeas rights for detainees. . . so they need never have a day in court. . . so you can do whatever you want to them?

Does he not see how hard it will be for his fellow Republicans (you know, the ones who still want their current jobs) to campaign against “obstructionist Democrats” when the Democrats haven’t done a damn thing up or down on this issue. . . and haven’t had to, because he, Frist, did the obstructing for them?

Something else has to be at work here. Wait, let me backtrack. It is possible that Frist, being about the worst, most ineffectual, dumbest Senate leader I’ve ever witnessed, is just acting out of the kind of knee-jerk recalcitrance that is typical of the sub-intellectual. . . but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt; let’s pretend he has a reason to be so stupid as to set himself and his party up for a great big blink.

So, as I said, something else has to be at work here. What has Frist so intractable? Could it be that which has his supreme leader acting exactly the same way?

Behold: President George W. Bush, a man who never before has concerned himself with the letter or the spirit of the law. A man who, endowed with made-up powers granted by crazed toadies like Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo, bogus presidential signing statements, and mythical theories like the “unitary executive,” has done whatever the fuck he has wanted to do for the first five-and-a-half years of his presidency. And yet, now, all of the sudden, in this delicate electoral season, it is absolutely crucial that Bush get exactly the law he wants—pretty much letter for letter—or he will lay the American people bare to suffer the slings and suicide bombs of outrageous terrorists:

And I will resist any bill that does not enable this program to go forward with legal clarity. . . This is an important program for the security of this country. . . If there's not clarity, if there's ambiguity, if there's any doubt in our professionals' minds that they can conduct their operations in a legal way, with support of the Congress, the program won't go forward and the American people will be in danger.

Why does he want this—how does he say?—“clarity,” and why does he want it now? Could it be that King George and his courtiers are reading some polls and are possibly worried that the Democrats might take back Congress in six weeks? Could it be that they fear that if the Democrats do grab hold of at least some of the reigns of power, this might once again be a government of laws instead of a government of men? Could it be because those laws spell out very clearly that Bush and his minions are criminals?

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 118 > § 2441

§ 2441. War crimes

(a) Offense.— Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.
(b) Circumstances.— The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the person committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).
(c) Definition.— As used in this section the term “war crime” means any conduct—
(1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;
(2) prohibited by Article 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907;
(3) which constitutes a violation of common Article 3 of the international conventions signed at Geneva, 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party and which deals with non-international armed conflict; or
(4) of a person who, in relation to an armed conflict and contrary to the provisions of the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996), when the United States is a party to such Protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians.

(emphasis mine)

Yes, you, me, and a whole bunch of lawyers have read it right, by suborning torture, Bush and many members of his administration are not only guilty of transgressing some namby-pamby pie-in-the-sky international treaty, they are guilty of violating US law.

And that would make them criminals.

War criminals and US criminals.

Guilty of violating federal laws. . . the kind that get you sent to jail.

You see, only the White House language on torture clears Bush of any wrongdoing. The “dissident” bill does not.

You don’t think that’s it? You think it's maybe just some election year strategy to fear-monger and polarize—energize the base—that sort of thing?

Well, maybe that, too, but not that only. Not with the way this is playing out, with Republicans who are not up for reelection this year facing off against other Republicans who are not up for reelection this year.

No, I think someone has asked for cover—big cover—maybe not explicitly, but in so many words. Words like “The White House language, or nothing.”

One need only look at the Specter-Bush “compromise” on illegal NSA spying to see how important blanket indemnification is to the administration—it, too, forgives the Bush bunch of all crimes past and future. Interestingly, Frist has sent this bill back into committee—this time the Intelligence Committee—where it might very possibly stall. But this Frist move, which looks like him killing the bill, is more likely him trying to save it from an implicitly promised Democratic filibuster that would tie up the end of this session. (This might then save it for re-introduction in a lame-duck session, depending on the results of the November election.)

Perhaps (and, looking up the page, it’s a big perhaps), I am over-thinking it. Perhaps these guys are just stupid, spoiled, and power mad. Perhaps these guys just think they’ll win—whatever that means. But, I, like others, feel that Bush has been behaving differently on this; more like a cornered animal.

A scared rat.

And, in the end, that’s what I think he is now—Bush and many others in the White House, really. What else could motivate a president to go out and publicly advocate torture (because that is what he is doing—I don’t think there are many, on either side of this debate, that think “alternative measures” or “aggressive interrogation” mean anything but torture)? Advocating torture—and threatening not to interrogate prisoners unless he can continue to torture—is beyond the typical Bush/Rove fear-mongering. It’s aggressive and it’s extreme.

It is behavior commensurate with a man scrambling to save his ass. . . and Frist, with his dreams of putting his ass in the same place as Bush’s someday soon, is scrambling right along with him.

(hat tip to a comment by litigatormom on a post by occams hatchet for the US criminal code)

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Good, The Bad, and A Call to Action

The good news first. As the lead in this morning’s story in the New York Times states:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 — President Bush and Congressional Republicans spent the last 10 days laying the foundation for a titanic pre-election struggle over national security, and now they have one. But the fight playing out this week on Capitol Hill is not what they had in mind.

Instead of drawing contrasts with Democrats, the president’s call for creating military tribunals to try terror suspects — a key substantive and political component of his fall agenda — has erupted into a remarkably intense clash pitting some of the best-known warriors in the Republican Party against Mr. Bush and the Congressional leadership.

This is a delightful turn. As I remarked yesterday, the President’s hard-assed all-out push for this legislation is forcing rubberstamp Republicans to makes some politically uncomfortable choices. No matter how “ticking time bomb” you want to get, having to say “I believe in torture” is just not a big vote-getter. For instance, I love seeing quotes like this one:

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said: “I just think John McCain is wrong on this. If we capture bin Laden tomorrow and we have to hold his head under water to find out when the next attack is going to happen, we ought to be able to do it.”

That has the triple advantage of having a Republican go on record a) advocating for torture, b) slighting a former POW, torture survivor, and (theoretically) moral pillar of his Party, and c) sounding clueless as to how to fight terrorism.

Now, of course, the Democrats have to show they can capitalize on this schism. If they remain content to sit on the sidelines in the hope that the Republicans will continue to eat their own, they will get a rude surprise after they recess. As Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) observes in the same Times article,

At the end of the day, they will forget John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner and say it is all about the Democrats holding up President Bush’s plan to make American [sic] safer.

Durbin says the Democrats are not going to “take this sitting down,” but let’s hope some in the party are a little more proactive, and stand up before they have to “take it.”

Now for the Bad. No matter who inside the Republican caucus wins this political battle, the actual legislation that emerges will make sure that we all lose. Whether it’s the Frist/Bush bill or the Warner/McCain/Graham plan, the legislation to emerge from this session will destroy the rights of detainees to challenge indefinite detention. Both bills contain language that would retroactively strip the courts of jurisdiction in habeas petitions for current detainees, in addition to preventing petitions of habeas corpus to be heard in courts for future captives.

As the Center for Constitutional Rights makes clear, any talk of limiting torture is effectively moot if individuals can be held indefinitely without ever coming before a court or being permitted to challenge their detention. Under either Republican plan, a “unitary executive” would still be allowed to lock the door and throw away the key. . . and what goes on behind that door need never come to light.

Again, it is essential, from both a political and a moral standpoint, that the Democrats don’t simply sit on the sidelines while Republicans craft wholly un-American legislation. It is not only politically profitable to tar the Republicans with the label of torturer, it is principled to fight the Constitutional and personal abuse.

And, it is not only possible to call attention to the immorality, it is also possible to use this issue to highlight the incompetence. It is likely that because the US tortured so-called “High Value Detainees,” they could never be convicted in a criminal court. It prevents the country from standing for truth, justice, and “all that good stuff,” and prevents the American people from feeling the satisfaction of trying and convicting the alleged “evil-doers.”

Further, as was reiterated by former Secretary of State and former Chair of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell on Thursday, stripping habeas rights and suborning torture puts American soldiers at reciprocally greater risk, and causes the world to “doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.”

All of this makes it clear, it is as easy as it is right to fight both of these Republican proposals. But will our Senators do it? It’s up to each of us to make sure they do.

Below is a list of the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Call them, especially if you are a constituent, and state clearly that you oppose both the Frist bill and the Warner/McCain/Graham proposal, as well. Tell them why. And tell them today.

You can also send your Senator a fax through an action page on the CCR website.

This is urgent and important—please take these actions as soon as you can.

In addition, you can call your Senators—especially the Democrats—and tell them that if any bill comes to the floor that strips habeas rights, you expect them to filibuster. Habeas Corpus is not a political football—it is part of who we are as Americans. Tell them this one is non-negotiable.

Thank you.

John Warner (R – VA) (202) 224-2023
John McCain (R – AZ) (202) 224-2235
James Inhofe (R – OK) (202) 224-4721
Pat Roberts (R – KS) (202) 224-4774
Jeff Sessions (R- AL) (202) 224-4124
Susan Collins (R – ME) (202) 224-2523
John Ensign (R – NV) (202) 224-6244
James Talent (R – MO) (202) 224-6154
Saxby Chambliss (R – GA) (202) 224-3521
Lindsey Graham (R – SC) (202) 224-5972
Elizabeth Dole (R – NC) (202) 224-6342
John Cornyn (R – TX) (202) 224-2934
John Thune (R – SD) (202) 224-2321
Carl Levin (D – MI) (202) 224-6221
Edward Kennedy (D – MA) (202) 224-4543
Robert Byrd (D – WV) (202) 224-3954
Joe Lieberman (D – CT) (202) 224-4041
Jack Reed (D – RI) (202) 224-4642
Daniel Akaka (D – HI) (202) 224-6361
Bill Nelson (D – FL) (202) 224-5274
Benjamin Nelson (D – NE) (202) 224-6551
Mark Dayton (D – MN) (202) 224-3244
Evan Bayh (D – IN) (202) 224-5623
Hillary Clinton (D – NY) (202) 224-4451

(cross-posted over at Daily Kos)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A No-brainer

Arlen Specter’s (R-PA) Judiciary fiefdom took the odd, election-year-influenced step of reporting three different wiretap bills out of committee. Two of them, Specter’s blank check and Diane Feinstein’s (D-CA) reaffirmation of FISA effectively nullify each other. Specter, being the stand up kind of guy that he is, voted for both of them.

The third “option,” sponsored by Mike DeWine (R-OH), suggests that the President notify some members of Congress when he engages in illegal domestic spying. Specter, and all of his Republican buddies voted for that one, too—no doubt so they could be on record as having voted for “oversight” (however ersatz) when they return home. Never you mind, though, the DeWine bill is going nowhere, since even this feckless faux check on the Executive is opposed by the administration.

In fact, the White House has made it clear that they will accept nothing short of the blank check to continue warrantless domestic spying without any court or Congressional oversight, plus the retroactive immunity (included in the Specter bill) from prosecution for all the laws. And, if they get anything less than that, if there are any amendments on the Senate floor, the administration just plans to rewrite the bill to their liking in conference.

The same holds true for torture. Bush, now having admitted to torturing CIA detainees in foreign “black sites” after repeatedly denying just that, is seeking Congressional cover in the form of a law that allows them to “reinterpret” (read: “ignore”) Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions—and, again, they want retroactive immunity from prosecution. But in this case, even some Republicans (and practically every current and former member of the Military, it seems) have raised objections.

Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner (R-VA), Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—all men who have served in the military—are offering some alternative to the White House plan. . . but it’s a secret. Really. It will be voted on in a closed-door session of Armed Services today (or so we are told). The best we can go on are the statements of the Senators, who at least in public, defend the Geneva Conventions as essential to both US integrity and security.

But, again, it may not matter. Though this secret vote might again give some Senators political cover (and doesn’t that sound absurd), it remains to be seen whether it will keep the torture hounds from continuing to pretend they are starring in a new season of Fox’s Twenty-Four. John Negroponte, who, believe it or not, is still the director of national intelligence, said any limits on CIA interrogation would be “intolerable” and “unacceptable.” And, again, the administration plans to make sure the final bill is exactly as they want it. As White House advisor Dan Bartlett put it to the New York Times, “the dispute with the Senate Republicans ‘may require us to go our different ways for now and try to come back in conference.’”

All of which makes it very clear: the Bush Administration plans to continue spying on Americans without FISA warrants, and plans to continue to secretly hold and torture unspecified numbers of detainees. And it further seems to indicate that the White House wants to make sure that if the either branch of Congress switches from rubberstamp Republican to possibly inquisitive Democratic, the eavesdroppers and torturers will not have to fear investigative hearings or legal action. The urgency, to my mind, even indicates a degree of anxiety about just such a possibility.

The official Republican line on this flurry of Congressional activity is that it will paint the Democrats into a corner, forcing them to take politically difficult positions in the run-up to the November midterms. To which I say: what’s politically difficult?

A clear majority of Americans believe we benefit from adhering to the Geneva Conventions. So does all the top brass in our military. If torturing “terrorists” were a political winner, would this fear-mongering White House have kept it a secret all these years? Would Bush still refuse to discuss his “alternate methods” of interrogation if those methods were popular with voters? Being anti-torture is easy—defending torture is politically difficult.

In several polls taken since the illegal NSA domestic spying program was uncovered, anywhere from half to slightly more than half of those asked flatly disapprove of the program, believe the president broke the law, and/or believe that all eavesdropping should require a warrant. That’s half of all Americans, not just Democrats.

Making it clear that we can now, and always will in the future, have the ability to listen in on a phone call from Osama bin Laden (the example oft-repeated by administration apologists) under current law seems easy. Making it clear that FISA doesn’t and wouldn’t stand in the way of keeping tabs on terrorists, again, should be easy. Defending that a president should be able to spy on anybody, anytime, without any form of warrant or oversight—that is hard.

If we are to believe the Times, Democrats will remain quiet because they don’t want to be seen as “obstructionist” during a political season. To me, standing against torture is exactly the kind of obstructionist you would want to be. To me, standing up for individual rights is exactly the principled stand you’d want to make in a political season. Standing for the safety of American troops—easy. Standing against an imperial presidency—and an imperial president who continues to say “trust me” when polls show nobody does—a political gift. Exposing that the White House will even subvert the will of a Republican Congress if it doesn’t like the language of bill by working behind the scenes in conference—what other reason do you need to obstruct this Potemkin legislature?

Indeed, what better way to hit the ground running this campaign season than to filibuster the rubberstamp Republicans as they try to sneak through pro-torture and anti-privacy legislation? In fact, what other choice do you have as a Democrat—politically and morally?

Make the Republicans stand with their unpopular president; make them stand for spying and for torture.

It’s a no-brainer.

(cross-posted over at Daily Kos)

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11: An Anniversary

"Up to the year 1906 I simply relied on appeal to reason. I was a very industrious reformer … But I found that reason failed to produce an impression when the critical moment arrived in South Africa. My people were excited – even a worm can and does turn – and there was talk of wreaking vengeance. I had then to choose between allying myself to violence or finding out some other method of meeting the crisis and stopping the rot, and it came to me that we should refuse to obey legislation that was degrading and let them put us in jail if they liked. Thus came into being the moral equivalent of war."

M.K. Gandhi

On September 11, 1906, Mohandas Gandhi chaired a meeting of approximately 3,000 residents of Johannesburg, South Africa, seeking to find an effective way to protest a new set of discriminatory laws. One resolution that emerged was that Indians vowed to go to prison rather than comply with the new restrictions. This is recognized as the birth of modern nonviolent protest, passive resistance, or Satyagraha.

(A hat tip to a radio report on the BBC that clued me in to this event—alas, no link.)

Five years ago, I was awakened by the sound of American Airlines flight 11 as it screamed over my apartment and slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center some dozen blocks further south. The sound and the vibration sent me quickly to the street, where I stood for the next several hours in the bright, late summer sun and witnessed all of the day’s horrors.

As soon as the second plane, United flight 175, hit the south tower, everyone on the street realized that this was obviously no accident or horrible coincidence. Soon after, it occurred to me that our President was George W. Bush, our Vice President was Dick Cheney, and our Attorney General was John Ashcroft, and that those were about the worst three men I could imagine being in those positions at that moment.

Nothing in the last five years has made me reassess that conclusion.

Would that someone more familiar with Satyagraha—or even someone that could just pronounce it—were in a position of power that day. If that had been so, how different would this year’s September 11 be?

(cross-posted from guy2k)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bruce Ratner Comes Out of the Closet (not so much)

You've got to wonder how slimy a deal has to be to get even the Ratner-friendly New York Times to admit in so many words that it is nothing more than some political log-rolling. . . .

Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner is floating the rumor that they might reduce the size of the proposed mega-project, but as the Times concludes:

[When the size reduction is officially announced], there could be a long line of politicians and activists hoping to take credit, including the Bloomberg administration, Mr. Silver, Ms. Millman and Mr. Markowitz.

“Everyone’s going to take credit for something that everyone knew would happen,” said an executive who works with Forest City. “For these guys, it’s very important.”

And as the Forest City executive admits, this scale-back was planned all along, confirming what many opponents have been insisting for months: the original plan was purposely inflated to provide for a phony compromise later. As Daniel Goldstein from Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn said to the Times, FCR has had this proposal “in their closet for a long time.”

And it’s still in the closet. FC Ratner hasn’t actually unveiled these plans, they’ve just leaked that they are going to unveil some sort of revised plan “sometime later this month.”

Why not unveil it now? Well, that might give opponents of the development time to actually analyze the new proposal. And, so, show up for the next public forum (scheduled for, um, later this month) prepped to show this downsizing for what it is: a sham and a scam.

* * * *

A couple of other points:

If you needed to revise a project the size of Atlantic Yards to make it acceptable for various state and local politicians to once again publicly embrace it, how much would you propose to downsize? Ten percent? Fifteen? Twenty percent?

Nope. “The developer Forest City Ratner plans to reduce the size of the complex by 6 to 8 percent.”

That’s all, folks. Single digits.

How greedy do you as a developer have to be to devise a proposal that is supposed to win over your opposition—or at least divide it—and the most you can bear to part with is “6 to 8” percent? And how craven and cynical do you as a politician have to be to think that you are going to look good to your constituents by claiming credit for a paltry six to eight percent rollback?

I suppose noting that there is cynicism among those state and local officials that support the project is not really news, but that there is opposition to the whole development among some other elected officials apparently would be. . . at least to the New York Times.

While the Times, frankly, has trouble making enough space in the article for every government official quoted as a supporter, there is not one—not one—politician mentioned as an AY opponent. Did reporters Charles V. Bagli and Diane Cardwell lose the phone number for Councilmember Letitia James? And though the article does quote DDDB’s Goldstein, wouldn’t it make for a better story if the reporters attempted to gage reaction from a breadth of opposition members?

Or would that just show that the opposition has breadth?