Wednesday, June 25, 2008

FISA: Watch, Read, Phone

First, as if you needed it, here’s a little pep talk, courtesy of Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), on why this FISA fight still matters.

With that impassioned defense of the Constitution still in your head, filling you with a warm and fuzzy feeling about what it means to live in an active Democracy, you then might turn your attention to this:

House Democrats who flipped their votes to support retroactive immunity for telecom companies in last week’s FISA bill took thousands of dollars more from phone companies than Democrats who consistently voted against legislation with an immunity provision, according to an analysis by

In March, the House passed an amendment that rejected retroactive immunity. But last week, 94 Democrats who supported the March amendment voted to support the compromise FISA legislation, which includes a provision that could let telecom companies that cooperated with the government’s warrantless electronic surveillance off the hook.

The 94 Democrats who changed their positions received on average $8,359 in contributions from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint from January, 2005, to March, 2008, according to the analysis by MAPLight, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the connection between campaign contributions and legislative outcomes.

. . . .

The 116 Democrats who remained opposed to telecom immunity received an average of $4,987 from the telecoms during the three-year period, the analysis showed.

. . . .

The members who voted yes on June 20 received, on average, $9,659 from the big three phone companies while those who opposed the bill received an average of $4,810, MAPLight found.

Of course, that was the House; now this egregious FISA legislation is before the Senate—often called “the millionaires’ club.” But, why should a bunch of millionaires care about a measly five thousand bucks. . . or even four or five times that? Is it really worth the relative pocket change to side with a greedy corporation and a corrupt administration over the people and the Constitution they swore to protect?

Let’s find out.

The Senate is likely to vote on cloture at about 10am (what happens after that is somewhat dependent on the progress of other pending legislation). Why not give your senators a call and tell them what you—part of “we, the people”—want: A “no” vote on cloture; should cloture pass, a “yes” vote on the Feingold/Dodd/Reid amendment to strip retroactive immunity from the legislation; and, should that specific amendment fail, a determined effort to stop this bill at all costs.

And, while you’re at it, phone Senator and possible next president Barack Obama and demand the same things.

You only have a little time, so pick up that phone!

(cross-posted on guy2k and The Seminal)

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Friday, June 20, 2008

FISA: Yes We Can!

(updated below)

This post is going to be hard to write, for after a day of reading all of the analysis of, various statements on, and articles about the Hoyer/Bond/Bush FISA revision I’ve got an anger in me that is this close to blowing straight out my fingers and through the intertubes in all kinds of vial and unflattering ways.

For instance, I was tempted to title this piece “Yes we can capitulate!”

But more on that later.

First, the House “compromise” FISA bill was finally allowed to see the light of day on Thursday afternoon. . . and will come to a vote before the full House less than 24 hours later. No reasonable period for members to read the legislation and talk to their districts, no hearings, no time for even a perfunctory national debate ala the Sunday talk shows. This is the insta-vote tactic we’ve come to expect from Republicans during the last—oh, what, wait a minute, what’s that you say? Yes, that’s right, Democrats now control the House of Representatives!

You might want to remind them of that.

Second, as I mentioned on Wednesday, all you really need to know about anything with the words “Republican” and “compromise” in the description is that it is no compromise at all. Don’t believe me? Then perhaps you’ll want to know what Republican Senator Kit Bond has to say about this latest, uh, deal: “I think the White House got a better deal than even they had hoped to get.”

Bond led the negotiations on this “compromise.” Imagine, Republicans in the Senate negotiating with the Bush Administration and giving the president more than he could have imagined. That’s just the kind of BS faux-process that the Republican Senate leadership has turned into business as usual—what, huh? Oh, I see, Democrats are now the majority party in the Senate!

You might want to remind them of that.

Third, some Democrats—the ones that remember that they are Democrats (not to mention that they swore to protect and defend the Constitution)—recognize a bad deal when they see it. Senator Russ Feingold, for instance:
The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation. The House and Senate should not be taking up this bill, which effectively guarantees immunity for telecom companies alleged to have participated in the President's illegal program, and which fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home. Allowing courts to review the question of immunity is meaningless when the same legislation essentially requires the court to grant immunity. And under this bill, the government can still sweep up and keep the international communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power. Instead of cutting bad deals on both FISA and funding for the war in Iraq, Democrats should be standing up to the flawed and dangerous policies of this administration.

Or Senator Christopher Dodd:
I cannot support the so-called ‘compromise’ legislation announced
today. This bill would not hold the telecommunications companies that
participated in the President’s warrantless wiretapping program
accountable for their actions. Instead, it would simply offer
retroactive immunity by another name.

As I have said time and time again, the President should not be above
the rule of law, nor should the telecommunications companies who
supported his quest to spy on American citizens. I remain strongly
opposed to this deeply flawed bill, and I urge my colleagues in
Congress to join me in supporting American’s civil liberties by
rejecting this measure.

These Senators remember the meaning of the phrase “rule of law.” You might want to thank them for that. . . and urge that they not only voice their displeasure but vow to stop this “compromise”—with a hold or a filibuster, if necessary—should it reach the Senate.

Fourth, the Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, can’t quite bring herself to say what she thinks about this legislation (h/t GG), even though her chief deputy, Steny Hoyer, negotiated it.

Tomorrow, we will be taking up the FISA bill. As you probably know, the bill has been filed. It is a balanced bill. I could argue it either way, not being a lawyer, but nonetheless, I could argue it either way.

What the fuck was that??? I could argue it either way? What is this, Pelosi’s audition for a summerstock production of Fiddler on the Roof? On the one hand. . . but on the other hand. Well, let me put this in Tevye terms for you, Madame Speaker: On the one hand, there is the Bill of Rights, and the Fourth Amendment, which protects every American from things like warrantless surveillance, and on the other hand. . . THERE IS NO OTHER HAND!

You might want to remind her of that.

Fifth, the Democratic Party’s newly anointed standard-bearer, Senator Barack Obama has (as of this writing) been uncomfortably silent on this crucial issue of the day. If Obama wants us to follow him into November fighting for a change in Washington, if he wants us to see him as a new kind of leader who doesn’t represent the cynicism of politics as usual, then now would be a good time to start leading.

You might want to remind him of that.

Sixth, if you need some talking points while you are doing all that reminding, how about the words of the ACLU’s Amanda Simon:
Remember that horrible bill the Senate passed earlier this year? The one that had virtually no Fourth Amendment protections? Ok, now imagine Congressman Hoyer and Senator Bond putting a really pretty, really meaningless bow around it to distract you from what’s actually inside. Then they added a giveaway to the phone companies. There. Now you have the current FISA bill. Let me explain.

Court review? Pssh. Please. This is how it would work: The government wants to tap someone’s phone. It claims “exigent circumstances” and begins to do so. Then it goes to the FISA Court to be granted a warrant. “Hold up,” says the court. “This application is problematic and based on heresay [sic].” Now the government starts the appeals process and that goes on for heaven knows how long. When does the surveillance stop on the problematic target? Um, never. The government is allowed to begin tapping without the courts and continue tapping when the court says no, provided it appeals. Nice, strong and meaningful judicial review, huh?

Immunity? Yes. Yes, it is. Here’s why: This immunity “compromise” sets the bar so low that anyone can clear it. Immunity hinges on whether a document from the president or government exists asking the companies to comply? We know they have them. You know who told us? The president. Asking the phone companies to put on their Sunday best, waltz to the courthouse and present a note from the leader of the free world does not a full and fair airing of the facts make. It’s a farce and, frankly, it’s offensive to those of us who cherish our privacy rights. Congress will be opening a Pandora’s box if this provision becomes law. What’s to prevent these companies from handing over our information again? Absolutely nothing.

Or how about Kevin Blankston, senior lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation: “No matter how they spin it, this is still immunity. It’s not compromise; it’s pure theater.”

Or, there’s the ever-intrepid Marcy Wheeler: “The ‘immunity’ provision here sucks ass.” (Actually, Marcy has a far more detailed rundown of the specifics here, like warrants, minimization, and exclusivity—please click on over to take a look.)

Then there’s the equally intrepid Glenn Greenwald:
The provision granting amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms, Title VIII, has the exact Orwellian title it should have: "Protection of Persons Assisting the Government."

. . . .

So all the Attorney General has to do is recite those magic words -- the President requested this eavesdropping and did it in order to save us from the Terrorists -- and the minute he utters those words, the courts are required to dismiss the lawsuits against the telecoms, no matter how illegal their behavior was.

. . . . It's full-scale, unconditional amnesty with no inquiry into whether anyone broke the law. In the U.S. now, thanks to the Democratic Congress, we'll have a new law based on the premise that the President has the power to order private actors to break the law, and when he issues such an order, the private actors will be protected from liability of any kind on the ground that the Leader told them to do it -- the very theory that the Nuremberg Trial rejected.

And, Glenn adds after reviewing the full text of the capitulation:
Perhaps the most repellent part of this bill (though that's obviously a close competition) is 802(c) of the telecom amnesty section. That says that the Attorney General can declare that the documents he submits to the court in order to get these lawsuits dismissed are secret, and once he declares that, then: (a) the plaintiffs and their lawyers won't ever see the documents and (b) the court is barred from referencing them in any way when it dismisses the lawsuit. All the court can do is issue an order saying that the lawsuits are dismissed, but it is barred from saying why they're being dismissed or what the basis is for the dismissal.

So basically, one day in the near future, we're all going to learn that one of our federal courts dismissed all of the lawsuits against the telecoms. But we're never going to be able to know why the lawsuits were dismissed or what documents were given by the Government to force the court to dismiss the lawsuits. Not only won't we, the public, know that, neither will the plaintiffs' lawyers. Nobody will know except the Judge and the Government because it will all be shrouded in compelled secrecy, and the Judge will be barred by this law from describing or even referencing the grounds for dismissal in any way. Freedom is on the march.

And Josh Nelson:
Protecting the 4th amendment is an American issue, not a partisan one. Thoughtful Americans from across the geographic, demographic and political spectrum recognize the importance of fighting for the liberties that have served us for over 200 years. This is especially true in a time of war, when the temptation is great for those in power to abuse their responsibilities. There is no clause in the Constitution that says the executive branch can ignore provisions in the bill of rights when they deem it necessary, and for good reason.

And, if I might be so bold, me:
[T]he White House and its enablers [want] to hide their own grievous wrongdoing. And to do that, they must keep the lawsuits against the telcos from progressing in any way, for, as the Times understands: “Lawsuits against those companies are the best hope of finding out the extent of Mr. Bush’s lawless spying.”

This administration is committed to keeping the extent of that spying secret, of course, for if details came out, we would come to understand that the White House not only violated the Constitution, they did so not to protect us from any terrorist threat, but instead to protect their own hold on power. Remember, the warrantless surveillance started seven months before the 9/11 attacks, and was used to keep tabs on journalists and United States citizens inside the US. We know this much partly because of reporting in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today, among others, but we know more about the timing and targets because of what has come out in open court cases so far.

And, just to recap, there is that New York Times editorial from Wednesday:
The bill is not a compromise. . . . [M]any of its provisions are both unnecessary and a threat to the Bill of Rights. The White House and the Congressional Republicans who support the bill have two real aims. They want to undermine the power of the courts to review the legality of domestic spying programs. And they want to give a legal shield to the telecommunications companies that broke the law by helping Mr. Bush carry out his warrantless wiretapping operation.

Seventh, don’t look for any similar words of discontent from anyone in the Bush-Cheney camp—you won’t find them.

So how does all of this make you feel, dear reader? Are you ready for your Network moment? Are you mad as hell? Well, don’t open a window and yell about it, and don’t just sit and type, either. If you are mad as hell and determined not to take it anymore, if you thought that you worked so hard in 2006 to elect all those Democrats in the Democratic majority in order to stop crap just like this then you might want to remind them of that.

And you might want to remind them of that today.

McJoan was kind enough to provide us with the numbers:
Call Barack Obama and urge him to make a public statement reiterating his opposition to telco amnesty. His opposition could kill this deal: Phone (202) 224-2854, Fax (202) 228-4260

Call Steny Hoyer and tell him this is a bad deal: Phone (202) 225-4131, Fax (202) 225-4300

Call Nancy Pelosi and urge her to pull the bill from the House schedule: Phone (202) 225-4965, Fax (202) 225-8259

Call your representative and tell them to vote no on the FISA rewrite tomorrow.

Here are the Blue Dogs who supported the House's good FISA bill, the one that did not include amnesty. Call them and ask them to hold tough and vote against this bill tomorrow:

  • Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, D-Iowa -- Phone: (202) 225-3806, Fax: (202) 225-5608

  • Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark. -- Phone: (202) 225-4076, Fax: (202) 225-5602

  • Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark. -- Phone: (202) 225-3772, Fax: (202) 225-1314

  • Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. -- Phone: (202) 225-2611, Fax: (202) 226-0893

  • Rep. Melissa Bean, D-Ill. -- Phone: (202) 225-3711, Fax: (202) 225-7830

  • Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga. -- Phone: (202) 225-2823, Fax: (202) 225-3377

  • Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla. -- Phone: (202) 225-5235, Fax: (202) 225-5615

  • Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif. -- Phone: (202) 225-6161, Fax: (202) 225-8671

  • Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn. -- Phone: (202) 225-4714, Fax: (202) 225-1765

  • Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah -- Phone: (202) 225-3011, Fax: (202) 225-5638

  • Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind. -- Phone: (202) 225-4636, Fax: (202) 225-3284

  • Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La. -- Phone: (202) 225-4031, Fax: (202) 226-3944

  • Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan. -- Phone: (202) 225-2865, Fax: (202) 225-2807

  • Rep. Zack Space, D-Ohio -- Phone: (202) 225-6265, Fax: (202) 225-3394

These are the Blue Dogs who were with the Republicans on the last vote. Tell them it's never too late to redeem themselves and vote against this bad bill:

  • Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla. -- Phone: (202) 225-2701, Fax: (202) 225-3038

  • Rep. Christopher Carney, D-Pa. -- Phone: (202) 225-3731, Fax: (202) 225-9594

  • Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn. -- Phone: (202) 225-4311, Fax: (202) 226-1035

  • Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn. -- Phone: (202) 225-6831, Fax: (202) 226-5172

  • Rep. Tim Holden, D-Pa. -- Phone: (202) 225-5546, Fax: (202) 226-0996

  • Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C. -- Phone: (202) 225-6401, Fax: (202) 226-6422

This is not some inside-the-beltway sideshow. This is the Bill of Rights. This is why we fight. So pick up your phone and start calling! We helped beat back this sort of FISA capitulation late last year and earlier this year, and we can do it again. With everyone pulling together, we can help save our Constitution. Yes we can!


Update: Disgusting. Why do Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and 103 of their colleagues in the Democratic caucus hate America? Call the Speaker’s office and let her know how very disappointed you are in her lack of leadership and her neglect of the Constitution.

It is now more important than ever that Barack Obama demonstrate leadership on this issue, so it is now more important than ever that you give him a call (Phone: 202-224-2854, Fax: 202-228-4260) and ask for a) his public condemnation of the bill, b) his pledge to stop it, and c) his support for a filibuster should this House version come to the Senate floor.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

NYT calls BS on the FISA “compromise”

Here’s the skinny: When you see the words “Republican” and “compromise” in the same phrase, it should pretty much tell you all you need to know about a piece of pending legislation. Republicans don’t actually believe in compromise; either that, or they don’t understand what it means. The GOP, as it now stands, either gets its way, or, if it doesn’t, demands a recount or a do-over. Politics for this bunch is both blood sport and a zero sum game—they don’t play nice, and they don’t meet you half way. That’s been the case for the better part of the last fifteen years. . . at least.

That’s all you need to know, that’s all Democrats in Congress should need to know, but I’m going to tell you more.

In recent weeks, word has leaked out of a compromise on new FISA legislation drafted by Republican Senator Kit Bond (MO).



This “compromise” [cough] has been mostly the stuff of rumor, so, even though I fancy myself a close watcher of things FISA, I have tried to keep my powder dry. Until Kit and his colleagues put it on paper—paper that we all could see—I figured my outrage would just be a fusillade of concerned citizen energy expended against a barricade of plausible deniability. At the time of this writing, nothing about this Bond plan has been made any more concrete, official, or real, but the faux-compromise is apparently real enough for the New York Times to sound the alarm. . . and so I will, too.

The lead editorial in today’s Times spells it out pretty simply:

In the waning months of his tenure, President Bush and his allies are once again trying to scare Congress into expanding the president’s powers to spy on Americans without a court order.

This week, the White House and Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill hope to announce a “compromise” on a domestic spying bill. If they do, it will be presented as an indispensable tool for protecting the nation’s security that still safeguards our civil liberties. The White House will paint opponents as weak-kneed liberals who do not understand and cannot stand up to the threat of terrorism.

The bill is not a compromise. The final details are being worked out, but all indications are that many of its provisions are both unnecessary and a threat to the Bill of Rights. The White House and the Congressional Republicans who support the bill have two real aims. They want to undermine the power of the courts to review the legality of domestic spying programs. And they want to give a legal shield to the telecommunications companies that broke the law by helping Mr. Bush carry out his warrantless wiretapping operation.

I will add a rather important third aim: they want to give a legal shield to themselves.

Sure, Republicans (and, sadly several Democrats, too) like to help out their corporate cronies, but if the Bush-Cheney team truly wanted to help the telecoms defend themselves in court, all they would have to do is provide the records and correspondences sought by lawyers on both sides of the surveillance lawsuits. If the telecommunications companies can show that they were ordered by the Bush Administration to wiretap without a warrant, or if they could show that they were deceived by the administration as to the existence of a warrant or the legality of the spying, then (warning: IANAL) the liability of the companies would be severely limited or might disappear altogether.

But the White House and its enablers aren’t really concerned about their pals in the private sector—not that much. Much more important is to hide their own grievous wrongdoing. And to do that, they must keep the lawsuits against the telcos from progressing in any way, for, as the Times understands: “Lawsuits against those companies are the best hope of finding out the extent of Mr. Bush’s lawless spying.”

This administration is committed to keeping the extent of that spying secret, of course, for if details came out, we would come to understand that the White House not only violated the Constitution, they did so not to protect us from any terrorist threat, but instead to protect their own hold on power. Remember, the warrantless surveillance started seven months before the 9/11 attacks, and was used to keep tabs on journalists and United States citizens inside the US. We know this much partly because of reporting in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today, among others, but we know more about the timing and targets because of what has come out in open court cases so far.

The “compromise” that Kit crafted has a federal district court deciding questions of retroactive telecom immunity—however, the court would be required to decide the matter based on a presidential “certification” that telcos were told that the spying was legal.

No real public hearing, no evidence read into the public record, just a piece of paper with George Bush’s John Hancock saying “trust us.” It guarantees the lawbreakers—public and private—will get off scot free, and allows the Bush Administration to say it was all legal “because we said so.” It neither helps expose past transgressions nor constrains future ones.

The (theoretical) bill has other big problems:

It gives the government too much leeway to acquire communications in the United States without individual warrants or even a showing of probable cause. It greatly reduces judicial review, and it would remain in force for six years, which is too long.

I could throw out some inside baseball terms like “basket warrants” (it allows them) and “minimization” (it doesn’t require it), but suffice it to say that this proposal is neither a good fix for FISA or a legitimate compromise.

Besides—and the Democrats that hold the majority in both houses of Congress need to hear this—there is no compromising the Constitution.

That could and maybe should be the final word, but I want to include a few of the final words from the NYT editorial, because some people need to hear this, too.

At a minimum, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, should oppose FISA expansion and pledge to revisit it next year. If any significant changes are going to be made, they should be made under the next president.

There are clear differences between the candidates. Senator John McCain, who is sounding more like Mr. Bush every day, believes the president has the power to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant.

Senator Barack Obama opposes immunity and voted against the temporary expansion of FISA. We hope he will show strong leadership this time. He might even take time off from the campaign to vote against the disturbing deal brewing in the back rooms of Congress.

* * * *

I might have been keeping my powder in its flask, but others have been more on the ball. Lovers of our Constitution from a diverse set of groups are organizing to show our elected officials where we stand. Please read this Greenwald post for some important background and more information on how you can help.

(cross-posted on Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

C is (also) for cookie

Remember when Hillary Clinton got in trouble for not baking cookies? (Think hard, it was a really long time ago, like practically before time, like 1992.) Well, John McCain might think his wife is a—well. . . you know—but he’s not going to let Cindy get caught without her baked goods.

Even if they have to steal the recipes.

Another crack is showing in the McCain campaign's attempts at crafting a down-home image.

The campaign contributed a recipe to Parents magazine, "Cindy McCain's Oatmeal-Butterscotch Cookies." However, it looks like it was copied directly from the Hershey's site.

The McCain campaign previously got caught copying some other recipes, purportedly from Cindy McCain herself, off of the Food Network's site.

You might think this latest McCain campaign “scandal” amounts to less than a whoopee pie’s worth of marshmallow fluff—a tempest in a cookie jar—but I would argue that these little morsels mean a lot about what might lie ahead.

I had to think back only a few years, to the last presidential campaign, when George W. Bush pulled into Philadelphia and made a big deal about his more authentic cheesesteak proclivities. Whereas Kerry ordered his pander-sandwich with Swiss cheese, W pointed out that he was more deserving of the Keystone vote because he liked his cheesesteaks “Whiz Wit.”

Problem is, he didn’t. The Bush 43 team ordered up a mess o’ steaks with American cheese and ketchup. As I wrote over two years ago, with a pronounced degree of amazement, “The man lied about cheese!

But then I got to thinking about why. What makes this absurd low-level lying necessary?

I realize that the lies, at least in part, are there to cover up for the innate incompetence of this administration’s figurehead. And the reason they need to do that—the reason this White House has no Rovian equivalent in the policy division—is because it’s all about accumulating and keeping power, not marshalling it. It’s about political capital, but, funny enough, not about spending it.

Power is used to satisfy greed and ego, it seems, more than ideology. . . at least at the top of this regime. Power can help you promote and reward friends and boosters. Power can be used as the world’s largest back-scratcher—as in, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. Power can be exercised to marginalize, harass, and silence your opposition—just because, only because, they are a threat to your power.

They say that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Is it any wonder, then, that a President so bent on amassing absolute power has shown himself to be so absolutely dishonest. . . so absolutely corrupt?

Which brings us back to the present day, and the man running to be Bush 43.5, John McCain. What is behind, inside of, or at the head of a campaign that feels the need to lie about the candidate’s wife’s favorite recipes? Well, again, I would argue, it is the monomaniacal pursuit of power. McCain is a man that wants nothing more than to be president.

And I really mean “nothing more”—he has no great passion to do anything, he just wants to be president (or, as Johnny Mac often says, and I think this is telling, he’s running to be “commander in chief”). McCain has no great vision that extends beyond his own age-spotted epidermis.

What would result if some weird conspiracy of events allowed this self-obsessed empty suit to realize his dream? Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, but I think the current blancmange in the Chateau Blanc tells us it’s a recipe for disaster.

As for what will become of cookie-gate, I suspect I’ve just given it more space than you will see allocated in the entire establishment media (even including the few publications that were burned by Cindy’s fake baking)—which would be fine if I knew that those serious journalists were instead devoting their time to serious issues like war, poverty, and the environment. But I know better.

“Just try to imagine,” Eric Kleefeld writes at the end of the piece I linked to up top, “the outpouring of pundit outrage and ridicule if a Dem did something like this once, let alone twice.” As the cookie-gate of 1992 has shown us, Eric, we needn’t imagine at all.

(cross-pposted on Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

McCain on Iraq War:
“I’m Running Out of Funny Lines”

Presidential wannabe John McCain took Bush’s his economic “plan” to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) on Tuesday. McCain wanted to talk about out-of-control government spending, but it just seemed that something was missing. . . .

What could it be, what could it be? A big government boondoggle sucking billions upon billions out of the American economy. . . oh, yeah, that would be Iraq.

McSame didn’t want to talk about his support for Bush’s war and occupation, but enquiring minds in the audience at NFIB wanted to know: when was Johnny Mac going get the US out of Iraq?

Some might call it heckling, I suppose, but McCain just wasn’t getting to the heart of the matter. The Arizona Senator was interrupted repeatedly by protestors wanting him to speak about the occupation.

“I’m tempted to use my favorite line from President Reagan, ‘There you go again,’” McCain said with his characteristically creepy forced laugh.

Yeah, OK, John. Not sure what that has to do with anything exactly. Were you expecting Iraq to just get lost in a summer of rising unemployment and soaring gas prices? Yeah, oh, well, um, talk about being caught between Iraq and a hard place.

Does this “devil or the deep blue” problem that he has while running on Bush’s record bother McCain? Just maybe. After being interrupted yet again by questions about the Iraq war, McCain, exasperated, declared, “I’m running out of funny lines.”

Watch it:

Again, just to get this, uh, you know, straight—John McCain’s final answer after being repeatedly challenged on his support for Bush’s Iraq fiasco was, “I’m running out of funny lines.”

So, I’m wondering, John, what’s so funny? Is it the 4,094 dead US troops? Or is it the 30,333 that have come home wounded?

Maybe it’s the 90,000 - 1.2 million dead Iraqi civilians. Or the 2.2 million Iraqis displaced by your beloved war.

Or perhaps you are laughing about the thousands of suicides among Iraq war veterans—or the thousands more to come. Or maybe you just can’t help but smile when you think about the 320,000 brain injuries or the estimated 300,000 now suffering with PTSD or major depression.

Or might it just be the trillions of dollars that you won’t have to spend on the things that could help Americans in this time of economic desperation—because you helped squander all that money in Iraq—that’s gotta get a guy like you whose “never run a small, struggling enterprise” all giggly, right?

Maybe, but nothing could be more wrong. The Bush-Cheney-McCain Iraq war is not a cheap laugh for a septuagenarian’s presidential campaign; it’s an expensive disaster that has scarred a generation.

Memo to John McCain: You’re not running out of funny lines. When it comes to Iraq, there are no funny lines. There never were.

(cross-posted on guy2k, Daily Kos, and The Seminal)

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A follow-up on the weak feminism of the Clinton campaign

I can’t help but be a bit amused by this week’s evaluations of Hillary Clinton’s Saturday speech, in part because they fit a very old pattern, and in part because they fit a brand new one.

I am hearing two themes: 1) It was the best speech she has ever given, and 2) it was the first time she sounded like a feminist.

To the first point, it may or may not have been her best speech (though it was certainly better than her generally underwhelming mean), but it was a speech that struck a different tone. That was to be expected because it was made from a place of concession. Also to be expected, most every pundit and talking head would praise it.

I think it was Hubert Humphrey who said, in the last weeks of his life, as he received a litany of accolades from former friends and enemies alike, that they always praise you once you are no longer seen as a threat. Many of the encomia bestowed upon Saturday’s speech sounded like they would have made Humphrey smile.

As for the second idea, it reinforces what seems to be an emerging consensus (or, if not a consensus, at least a common talking point), one that was expressed last week in Meghan O’Rourke’s Slate post, “Death of a Saleswoman.” O’Rourke’s opening proposition can be summed up in the quote, “Her problem wasn’t that she was a feminist. Her problem was that she wasn’t feminist enough.”

I wrote about that piece last Thursday. In my post, while not completely disagreeing with O’Rourke, I felt that other important issues—specifically, many positions taken by Hillary Clinton—were given less than their due by such an identity-driven analysis.

After I wrote my brief analysis, O’Rourke and others hosted a chat over at the Washington Post, so I turned my post into a question. . . and that question got a pleasantly affirming response:

New York [me]: It wasn't just that what HRC did to inoculate herself against the sexism inherent in the system made her seem more like a man -- it made her seem more like a Republican.

To my eyes, while it seems like a plausible argument to say that Hillary Clinton failed to cast her campaign as a sufficiently transformative endeavor, and though it might have been harder for Clinton to seize the day than her male competitor, HRC could have avoided many of the pitfalls of identity politics if she had not spent her time in the Senate and on the campaign trail trying to split the mythical difference between core liberal Democratic positions and what she thought were the ones that made her more electable.

What do you all think?

Meghan O'Rourke: I agree with you -- she spent a lot of time trying to split the difference on issues, and it harmed her. George Lakoff, who just wrote a book about political rhetoric, and what's behind it, was on NPR yesterday talking about the differences in how Obama, Clinton, and McCain use the word "bipartisan." And his point was that when Hillary uses it, she uses it in a way that downplays - or tries to paint over -- the difference between her and those who disagree with her positions, in order to imply the disagreement isn't that profound. Obama, on the other hand (according to Lakoff) uses it to acknowledge there ARE real differences, but to stress that he'll be open to compromising when it comes to policy.

If that makes sense--Lakoff explains it much better.

I happened to hear that George Lakoff interview (or one just like it on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show), and I think what Lakoff actually said about bipartisanship was a little different.

At about the 10:50 mark of the segment, Lakoff moves to refute the idea that McCain is a bipartisan, and throws in HRC for good measure. Lakoff argues that someone like Hillary believes, as McCain does, that when you need to, you adopt conservative positions on specific issues. It doesn’t mean that McCain is moving to the left, it means that he finds conservative Democrats like Joe Lieberman to bolster his claim of bipartisanship. Similarly, Clinton would move to the right to achieve her notion of bipartisanship.

Obama, says Lakoff, doesn’t do this. According to Lakoff, Obama looks for shared values on specific issues. Certain conservatives might value the environment (like hunters and some Christian evangelicals, for instance), so Obama might reach across the aisle to work with those people on environmental problems. On different issues, Obama might look for others with different common values. Obama doesn’t move to the right himself, he just works with the right when he can find common ground with them.

I don’t find the examples that Lakoff presents on McCain and Clinton to be exact parallels, thought I think I get the gist of what he is saying. Certainly, McCain’s solidly pro-Bush voting record refutes any assumption that he is a bipartisan maverick. Clinton, on the other hand, spent years trying to triangulate or split the difference between grass-roots Democratic values and the positions that she thought would be necessary for her to hold in order to triumph in a general presidential election. Whether the triangulated positions mirrored Clinton’s deeply held beliefs is sometimes hard to say, but the impression left by her fence-straddling was of a candidate that was less than transformative, and, at times, less than sincere.

As for what George Lakoff has to say specifically about Obama, I remember thinking as I listened the first time: I sure hope he is right. It is too early to tell if Obama’s political allegiances are free of expedience, but I have my concerns on some topics.

What I am sure of, however, is that John McCain has spent his whole career pandering, glad-handing, and claim jumping to get ahead. What represents a “core value” to John McCain is defined by his own personal ambition.

As to the original issue of Senator Hillary Clinton and her failed campaign, I feel vindicated in my long-held belief that her political calculations not only did her ambitions no good, they sold her constituencies short, as well. I look forward to a post-presidential candidate Clinton taking to heart some of these lessons and emerging as a more progressive and more effective legislator for years to come.

(cross-posted on guy2k, Daily Kos, and The Seminal)

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Friday, June 06, 2008

McCain on Warrantless Surveillance: the more he McFlip-Flops, the more he’s McSame

Memo to John McCain: Republicans run to the right in the primaries, and to the left in the general.

That would be the usual pattern, anyway, but this is not a usual year, and because John McCain stands for little more than getting himself elected, he is still trying to shore up his rightwing base long after he clinched the Republican nomination. Which leads to articles like this:

Adviser Says McCain Backs Bush Wiretaps

WASHINGTON — A top adviser to Senator John McCain says Mr. McCain believes that President Bush’s program of wiretapping without warrants was lawful, a position that appears to bring him into closer alignment with the sweeping theories of executive authority pushed by the Bush administration legal team.

Review this week, the adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said Mr. McCain believed that the Constitution gave Mr. Bush the power to authorize the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and e-mail without warrants, despite a 1978 federal statute that required court oversight of surveillance.

Mr. McCain believes that “neither the administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the A.C.L.U. and trial lawyers, understand were constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,” Mr. Holtz-Eakin wrote.

OK, then, if you vote for McCain, you are voting for four more years of the Bush Administration’s illegal domestic surveillance programs. That seems clear enough. Except that just six months ago, McCain said something kind of different.

In an interview about his views on the limits of executive power with The Boston Globe six months ago, Mr. McCain strongly suggested that if he became the next commander in chief, he would consider himself obligated to obey a statute restricting what he did in national security matters.

Mr. McCain was asked whether he believed that the president had constitutional power to conduct surveillance on American soil for national security purposes without a warrant, regardless of federal statutes.

He replied: “There are some areas where the statutes don’t apply, such as in the surveillance of overseas communications. Where they do apply, however, I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.”

Following up, the interviewer asked whether Mr. McCain was saying a statute trumped a president’s powers as commander in chief when it came to a surveillance law. “I don’t think the president has the right to disobey any law,” Mr. McCain replied.

David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues, said that while the language used by Mr. McCain in his answers six months ago was imprecise, the recent statement by Mr. Holtz-Eakin “seems to contradict precisely what he said earlier.”

While McCain’s imprecise language probably represents his incomplete understanding of the issues at hand, McSame’s recent voting record pretty much tells you where his ambitious, pandering, and (for a man who’s been through so much) remarkably empty heart lies:

In February, for example, Mr. McCain voted against limiting the Central Intelligence Agency to the techniques approved in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation, which complies with the Geneva Conventions. Mr. McCain said the C.I.A. needed the flexibility to use other techniques so long as it did not abuse detainees.

He also voted for legislation that would free telecommunications companies from lawsuits alleging that they illegally allowed the N.S.A. to eavesdrop on their customers’ phone calls and e-mail without a warrant. The legislation would also essentially legalize a form of surveillance without warrants going forward.

As the Times article notes, the folks at the National Review are thrilled no end that McCain has obliterated any daylight that might have existed between himself and George W. Bush. And, as Glenn Greenwald says in the same article, the new McCain spying doctrine is a “complete reversal” designed to “shore up the support of right-wing extremists.”

The misadventures of some McCain surrogates over recent weeks (again, detailed in the article) seem to show that their standard-bearer lacks a clear understanding of all that the current illegal surveillance debate encompasses—or likely doesn’t care to know much beyond whatever it takes to get McCain’s big money telecom donors off the hook. But the “evolution” of McCain’s position on warrantless wiretaps does teach an important lesson about McCain’s broader instincts: First, check with the interested corporate lobbyists; if still in doubt, just do the same as Bush.

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

“Her problem wasn’t that she was a feminist. Her problem was that she wasn’t feminist enough.” Discuss.

(I have several things to say about this, but less time than I’d like to say it—so please bear with my drive-by analysis.)

I am mostly on board with the observations of Meghan O’Rourke in her Slate post, “Death of a Saleswoman”. . . mostly.

In the coming days, as Hillary Clinton moves to the sidelines and Barack Obama takes the stage alone, many people will suggest that America just wasn't ready for a female president. This may be true. But we'll never entirely know, because Clinton did not invite us to spend much time contemplating the momentous fact that she was the first female presidential candidate with any chance of occupying that position. Her problem wasn't that she was a feminist. Her problem was that she wasn't feminist enough.

Shorter me: It wasn’t just that what HRC did to inoculate herself against the sexism inherent in the system made her seem more like a man—it made her seem more like a Republican.

I will also add: Unlike O’Rourke, I am going to wait until after November (perhaps long after) before I give Barack Obama a grade on how “transformative” he and his campaign turned out to be.

And: I think that the issue of age deserves more analysis—or more weight in the analysis—than O’Rourke has given it. (Though, to her credit, MO’R does acknowledge her Gen X POV, and also concludes that some of Clinton’s troubles had opened the author’s younger cohort’s eyes to the pernicious persistence of sexism.) Second wave feminists probably see HRC’s signals through a different lens than their daughters. And, for the candidate, it is not just a tough nut to gauge how to position one’s self as a woman, it is perhaps (perhaps) tougher as a woman of a certain age.

In conclusion, to my eyes, while it seems like a plausible argument to say that Hillary Clinton failed to cast her campaign as a sufficiently transformative endeavor, and though it might have been harder for Clinton to seize the day than her male competitor, HRC could have avoided many of the pitfalls of identity politics if she had not spent her time in the Senate and on the campaign trail trying to split the mythical difference between core liberal Democratic positions and what she thought were the ones that made her more electable.

(cross-posted on guy2k, Daily Kos, and The Seminal)

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