Sunday, August 17, 2008

Seeing Tougher Race, Allies Ask Obama to Make ‘Hope’ Specific

From the NYT on August 17, 2008: "As Senator Barack Obama prepares to accept the Democratic presidential nomination next week, party leaders in battleground states say the fight ahead against Senator John McCain looks tougher than they imagined, with Mr. Obama vulnerable on multiple fronts despite weeks of cross-country and overseas campaigning.

These Democrats — 15 governors, members of Congress and state party leaders — say Mr. Obama has yet to convert his popularity among many Americans into solutions to crucial electoral challenges: showing ownership of an issue, like economic stewardship or national security; winning over supporters of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton; and minimizing his race and experience level as concerns for voters.

Mr. Obama has run for the last 18 months as the candidate of hope. Yet party leaders — while enthusiastic about Mr. Obama and his state-by-state campaign operations — say he must do more to convince the many undecided Democrats and independents that he would address their financial anxieties rather than run, by and large, as an agent of change — given that change, they note, is not an issue.

“I particularly hope he strengthens his economic message — even Senator Obama can speak more clearly and specifically about the kitchen-table, bread-and-butter issues like high energy costs,” said Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio. “It’s fine to tell people about hope and change, but you have to have plenty of concrete, pragmatic ideas that bring hope and change to life.”

Or, in the blunter words of Gov. Phil Bredesen, Democrat of Tennessee: “Instead of giving big speeches at big stadiums, he needs to give straight-up 10-word answers to people at Wal-Mart about how he would improve their lives.”

Obama advisers say he has made significant headway defining his positions on issues like tougher trade policies, the links between new energy sources and job creation and projecting American leadership abroad. At the same time, his trip last month to Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe helped reassure voters about his experience, they said, and his agreement to a roll-call vote on Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy at the convention should bring her disappointed supporters into the fold.

Moreover, the Obama campaign has started running negative advertisements against Mr. McCain in battleground states — often without announcing them beforehand. The reason, Obama aides say, is to try to convince voters that Mr. McCain is barely different than President Bush through a day or two of uncontested advertisements — until the Republicans learn about them and begin to counter the ads.

Yet these advisers also acknowledge that the Obama phenomenon — the candidacy that helped inspire record voter registrations and turnout during the primaries — has come down to earth in a divided, economically stressed nation. Even though political analysts say that the economic conditions favor the Democrats in this election, and Mr. Bush’s unpopularity could hurt Republicans, Mr. Obama has not broken away from Mr. McCain in polling — a reflection, in part, of the huge numbers of undecided voters across party lines.

“Democrats should take a deep breath and realize that there are a group of voters who won’t make up their mind about a candidate until deep in the fall,” said David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager. “And there are 18 states that are battlegrounds for a reason, and they’ll be decided by 2 to 4 points. I don’t care about national polls.”

A New York Times/CBS News poll last month found the race between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain to be a statistical dead heat, not unlike where Senator John Kerry and Mr. Bush stood in a Times/CBS News poll in July 2004. The poll four years ago was conducted after Mr. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, picked Senator John Edwards as his running mate, yet before both the party conventions and the most intense period of political attacks on Mr. Kerry’s war service record as skipper of a Swift boat in Vietnam.

The McCain campaign has sought to turn Mr. Obama’s celebrity against him by portraying the freshman senator as out of his depth in crises like Russia’s invasion of Georgia. As Mr. Obama was in Hawaii last week, Mr. McCain presented himself as a man-at-the-ready, opining daily about Russia, as well as repeatedly invoking action verbs like “drill” in pledging to address high fuel prices.

To a considerable extent, political analysts say, the closeness of the race at this stage reflects the fact that many voters are not paying attention to it, after the long, wearying primary season. Many Democrats pointed to the election of 1980 when voters, choosing between a relatively inexperienced former governor, Ronald Reagan, and an unpopular incumbent, Jimmy Carter, finally flocked to Mr. Reagan at the end after resolving whatever qualms they had about him.

But some Republicans disputed that analogy, saying the difficulty Mr. Obama faces getting traction in public opinion polls reflects the country’s reservations about this relative newcomer to national politics — both because he has little experience in national security but also, inevitably, because of his race.

“I think Senator Obama is a motivational speaker, but at the end of the day I don’t think that will translate into votes, and certainly not the image of strength that Ronald Reagan had,” said Jim Greer, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party.

“Florida has not yet been locked down by either candidate, or all but won by either candidate, but I think Obama’s inability to prove his experience or prove that he owns a political issue far more than McCain is a real problem for him,” Mr. Greer said.

In response, several Democrats said that choosing a seasoned party leader as his running mate would help Mr. Obama in the fall if he is unable to fully allay voters’ uncertainty that a one-term senator is ready for the presidency.

“The one area he still needs credibility in is experience, and picking an Evan Bayh or a Joe Biden as vice president would help a lot with that,” said John B. Breaux, a former Democratic senator from Louisiana. “It wouldn’t be bad if he came out early and said who his secretary of defense and secretary of state would be — that would address and stabilize the concerns about his experience.”

Mr. Obama and his aides made several strategic decisions this summer that had clear payoffs, yet also carried some risks that could play out in the general election.

He quit the public campaign finance system and built a formidable bank account for his campaign, while the Clintons and their supporters still smarted from her loss and grew frustrated that he did not do more to help pay down her campaign debt. He traveled overseas for a week, and was widely praised for his statesmanlike bearing, yet Republicans derided him as vainglorious for holding a huge rally in Berlin. And while Mr. Obama kept a low profile during his Hawaiian vacation, Mr. McCain sought to burnish his image on national security by responding to the Georgian crisis.

Some Democrats said Mr. Obama must still demonstrate that he would be a more effective president than Mr. McCain, and that he could unite the Democratic Party before its convention. Jane Kidd, the party leader in Georgia — where Mr. Obama is hoping black support will help him succeed where other northern Democratic nominees have failed — said Mr. Obama had a good deal more work to do to win over Clinton supporters as well as white voters who are loath to support a black candidate.

“In rural parts of Georgia and the South, there is still some fear about people who look different from themselves,” Ms. Kidd said. “And there’s also healing left to do among women who wanted to see the day that a woman was elected president,”

Mr. Bredesen, of Tennessee, said that while the Democrats had little chance of carrying his state — the Obama camp is sending Mr. Bredesen to campaign in other states — Mr. Obama could still take steps to appeal to undecided Democrats there that might increase his chances elsewhere.

“I would really like to see him do things in Tennessee that would help in other working-class and blue-collar places, like Ohio,” Mr. Bredesen said. “Job security and health care are huge here. He needs to come to the aisle of Home Depot and show them that a Harvard graduate — which I am as well — knows how to help them.”

Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado, the host of next week’s Democratic National Convention, said Mr. Obama needed to hone and amplify his plan to create more jobs if he wants to woo undecided independent voters, who make up the largest bloc of the electorate in the swing state.

“His message is the right one, but he needs to turn up the volume and sharpen it a bit because these are voters who care a great, great deal about the future of the economy,” Mr. Ritter said. “He has to convince them he is ready for that huge task.”

Monday, August 11, 2008

Obama Flip-Flops on Oil Drilling

From on August 5, 2008 by Maura Kelly: "On Friday, saying it was time for a compromise on the energy issue, presidential hopeful Barack Obama voiced his tentative support for a bipartisan proposal calling for the expansion of offshore oil drilling, along with the development of alternative fuels and more efficient motor vehicles. Soon after, Obama implied that his willingness to allow the drilling in Florida "wasn't really a new position". But, of course, it is.

As recently as late June, he said that, in order to protect the US coastline, he would enforce a drilling moratorium that has been in place since 1981. (Democratic leaders and environmentalists have supported that ban for years.) What's not new: Obama's interest in working with Republicans to move the country toward greater energy independence, and his eagerness to appease voters. That's why he made a gesture that many of them believe would lower prices at the pump.

While I've been or more less accepting of Obama's float toward the centre as a political imperative as the election gets closer, this is one move I can't support. Reversing his position on campaign financing, for example, is one thing - a tactic that upset some of his supporters but won't necessarily have any kind of permanent or global repercussions. Offshore drilling, on the other hand, is sure to contaminate marine life and the water along Florida's coast, produce a number of small oil spills and, ultimately, contribute to the problem of global warming. A catastrophic oil spill is also a possibility.

Now, it's true that Obama said that any compromise he would agree to would have to involve "a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage" - which sounds pretty, doesn't it? Too bad the reality is much uglier.

"There is no such thing as environmentally friendly drilling," says Greenpeace USA spokesperson Michael Crocker. After noting that damage to drills caused between seven and nine million gallons of oil to be spilled during Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, Crocker says: "There's a real irony when it comes to offshore drilling. It's done so we can get more oil in the hopes of reducing gas prices. In the meantime, we keep burning fossil fuels, which causes more global warming, which leads to more hurricanes, which lead to more oil lost in spills - and yet, drilling does almost nothing to alleviate the cost of gasoline."

Why doesn't it? "There's simply not very much oil on America's shorelines," he says. "Government studies have indicated that it will take a decade for any offshore drilling to pay off even minimally - and even then, prices will only be reduced by a few cents per gallon."

It's irresponsible of Obama to be cavalier about an issue that is of so much importance to the environmental health of the country, and the world. He should have stuck to his guns and insisted on finding cleaner alternatives that would truly make the US energy independent, instead of trying to placate short-sighted American car owners.

To be fair, Obama did point out that it was "important to recognise if you start drilling now you won't see a drop of oil for 10 years, which means it's not going to have a significant impact on short-term prices. Every expert agrees on that." And yet, that's really the fine print. What most voters will be paying attention to are the headlines announcing his willingness to let offshore drilling move forward - as I'm sure he and his strategists know.

And of course, most voters don't care about contaminating the shoreline. According to a Rasmussen poll released on July 29, 57% percent of Americans favour offshore drilling (only 29% are opposed). And why is that? Because nearly the same number - 56% - believe gas prices would be likely to fall if the ban is lifted.

So while Obama is wrong to waver on this issue - he's punting on his duty as a public steward - voters are wrong, too. Many Americans might be willing to watch the new "green" cable channel, eat organics and recycle (although not in Houston, Texas), but they've got to start supporting the environmental movement in truly meaningful ways, not just trendy ones.

They should start by getting over fuel prices and realising that one of the things we're paying for at the pump is our role in accelerating the pace of global warming. What voters should be clamouring for is not cheaper gas, but a truly longterm and sustainable solution - one that emphasises new, clean forms of energy and fuel-efficient transportation alternatives.

About this articleClose Maura Kelly: Barack Obama caves on offshore oil drilling
This article was first published on on Tuesday August 05 2008. It was last updated at 14:00 on August 05 2008. "

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Obama Faking It

From on June 23, 2008 by Maggie Gallagher:
"Obama has a problem: What do you do when you're a lightly accomplished one-term senator, a former state legislator from Illinois, a Harvard law graduate who has no substantive record of accomplishments, and you are running against a war hero whom polls show that Americans overwhelmingly view as far more fit to be commander in chief?

Pose, of course.

What else can a guy like Obama do?

So the man who would be president of the United States of America flies around the world in the middle of a political campaign, enlisting the U.S. military and the Berlin Wall as free campaign commercial backdrops, to lend him the emotional weight and substance -- the aura as a commander -- that he hasn't yet earned on his own.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell was the one journalist with the courage to name what she was actually seeing happen: Obama faking even being interviewed by the press.

"Let me say something about the message management. He didn't have reporters with him, he didn't have a press pool, he didn't do a press conference," either in Afghanistan or Iraq, noted Mitchell on the air. Instead Obama manufactured "what some would call 'fake interviews,' because they are not interviews from a journalist," Mitchell went on.

Mitchell understands very well that this contrived image management is powerfully all to Obama's political advantage. He's shameless when it comes to managing his own image. "Politically it's as smart as can be," she conceded before noting the big obvious truth nobody else in the media was bothering to expose: "We've not seen a presidential candidate do this, in my recollection, ever before."

The whole Obama campaign is something we've never seen before -- at least not executed to this level of perfection with a media willing to go along because, well, so many of them want it to succeed.

Poor John McCain. He's so last-century. Still living in a world in which deeds matter, policies matter, what you would actually do with the power entrusted to you matters.

In the op ed the New York Times refused to print (which appeared in the New York Post this week instead), McCain lays out the facts in Iraq:

"Progress has been due mainly to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Sen. Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent."

Obama, he points out, still claims no political progress is being made. "Perhaps he's unaware that the U.S. embassy in Baghdad has recently certified that, as one news article put it, 'Iraq has met all but three of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress,'" McCain jabs.

He jabs at an opponent who melts away from his punch.

McCain's approach is all so, well, cognitive. McCain thinks that reality is something that really exists, that has to be dealt with, instead of recognizing that we live in a Brave New World where highly paid symbolic analysts construct reality by manipulating symbols.

The left imagines they learned this from Ronald Reagan and the rise of the right: big strong guy, genial, looks good on camera -- bingo! Maybe you can't fool all the people all the time, but you can fool 51 percent every time, with the right branding and the right kind of images.

God help us when the people who think like that actually run all three branches of our government.

President Obama, if that's our future, and his team of symbolic analysts will find out soon enough there are realities out there which none of his contrivances are going to be able to help him handle."

More important, so will we.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Top Obama Fund-Raiser Had Ties to Failed Bank

From Wall Street Journal By JOHN R. EMSHWILLER
July 21, 2008; Page A10

"For the Pritzker family of Chicago, the 2001 collapse of subprime-mortgage lender Superior Bank was an embarrassing failure in a corner of their giant business empire.

Billionaire Penny Pritzker helped run Hinsdale, Ill.-based Superior, overseeing her family's 50% ownership stake. She now serves as Barack Obama's national campaign-finance chairwoman, which means her banking past could prove to be an embarrassment to her -- and perhaps to the campaign.

Superior was seized in 2001 and later closed by federal regulators. Government investigators and consumer advocates have contended that Superior engaged in unsound financial activities and predatory lending practices. Ms. Pritzker, a longtime friend and supporter of Sen. Obama, served for a time as Superior's chairman, and later sat on the board of its holding company.

Sen. Obama has long criticized predatory subprime mortgage lenders and urged strong actions against them.

In a prepared statement, the Obama campaign noted that Ms. Pritzker was never accused of wrongdoing by regulators in connection with Superior, and that her family agreed to pay $460 million to help defray the costs of Superior's collapse.

In a written response to questions, Ms. Pritzker said the reasons for Superior's fall "were complex. They include changes in accounting practices, auditing failures, reversals in regulatory positions and general economic conditions." During her tenure at the thrift, she said, she believed it followed "ethical business practices" and complied with "fair lending laws." For years, she said, Superior's financial statements were found to be acceptable by regulators.

The Obama campaign recently faced a controversy related to mortgage lending. A member of Sen. Obama's vice-presidential selection committee resigned after a Wall Street Journal story1 said he received favorable treatment on personal loans from Countrywide Financial Corp., a major subprime lender.
Ms. Pritzker's connection to Superior dates to the late 1980s, when the late Jay Pritzker, her uncle and then the family patriarch, moved to buy from federal regulators a troubled Illinois savings and loan. Ms. Pritzker, who has law and business degrees from Stanford, was to be the venture's chairman, said Mr. Pritzker's partner on the deal, New York real-estate developer Alvin Dworman, in a December 2006 deposition. "Jay bought the bank for her," he said in the deposition, taken in connection with litigation in Illinois state court related to the collapse. Mr. Dworman declined a recent interview request. Ms. Pritzker, in her statement, said she never heard her uncle mention her as a reason for the purchase.

Ms. Pritzker served as Superior chairman until 1994. During that period, Superior "embarked on a business strategy of significant growth into subprime home mortgages," which were then packaged into securities and sold to investors, according to a 2002 report by the Treasury Department's Inspector General.

"Superior was at the forefront of the securitizing of subprime mortgages," says Timothy Anderson, a retired bank consultant who has studied Superior and other failed thrifts.

Ms. Pritzker said her "main role" as chairman was to help clean up past financial problems. "I did not set strategy or policies" on lending or securitization, she said. In 1994, she moved to the board of Superior's holding company.

Through the 1990s, Superior reported rising profits and paid $200 million in dividends to its owners, according to a 2002 report by the inspector general of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. But the profits came through "flawed" accounting and masked operating losses, the FDIC report said. The dividend payments were made "without regard to the deteriorating financial and operating condition."

Ms. Pritzker said that she didn't have a personal financial interest in her family's investment, and only received "nominal" directors' fees.

In 2001, under regulatory pressure, the Pritzkers agreed to a $351 million recapitalization plan, which would help "once again restore Superior's leadership position in Subprime lending," Ms. Pritzker wrote in a May 31, 2001, letter to employees.

The Pritzker name lent credibility. In June 2001, Fran Sweet deposited about $480,000 of retirement funds with Superior. The 64-year-old former telephone-industry employee recalls that when she asked if Superior was sound, an official told her, "Don't worry. The Pritzkers own it."

By July 2001, the recapitalization plan had unraveled and regulators took over Superior. It was the biggest thrift collapse in nearly a decade.

Later that year, the Pritzkers reached a settlement with regulators. Without admitting wrongdoing, they agreed to pay $100 million immediately, and another $360 million over 15 years. "I am proud of how I and my extended family dealt with" Superior's closure, Ms. Pritzker said.

Superior's failure could still cost the federal deposit insurance fund tens of millions of dollars or more. And hundreds of people whose deposits exceeded federal insurance limits, such as Ms. Sweet, are still out millions of dollars, which will be reduced some by future Pritzker settlement payments."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Disillusioned about Barack Obama

From By Nat Hentoff -
Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, July 17, 2008:
"During my more than 60 years of covering national politics, I have never seen a candidate's principles and character so effectively tarnished — after so extraordinarily inspiring a start — as Barack Obama's. He has come to resemble another mellifluous orator I came to know in Boston during my first time reporting on a campaign — James Michael Curley, the skilful prestidigitator whom Spencer Tracy masterfully played in the movie "The Last Hurrah." Obama's deflation has not been due to ruthless opposition research by John McCain's team but by the "change" candidate himself. Like millions of Americans, I, for a time, was buoyed by not only the real-time prospect of our first black president but much more by the likelihood that Obama would pierce the dense hypocrisy and insatiable power-grabbing of current American politics.

Also, as a former teacher of constitutional law, Obama gave me "hope I could believe in" that he would rescue the Constitution's separation of powers, resuscitate the Bill of Rights and begin to restore our reputation around the world as a truly law-abiding nation.

Savoring the high expectations he had secured among so many Americans, Obama has decided he can also come closer to securing the Oval Office by softening his starlight enough to change some of his principles toward the calming center of our stormy political waters.

In a defense by Dan Gerstein, a New York political consultant — echoing what you'll be hearing more of from Obama's campaign operatives — the gossamer script goes: "He is trying to broaden his appeal to a larger electorate and to be true to this postpartisan, unifying message that he's been campaigning on." But instead of the ennobling clarion trombones of CHANGE we have been promised, this "adjusting" of one's principles has long been the common juggling of our common politicians.

Accordingly, as his presidential campaign gathered such momentum, Obama, with justifiable pride, pointed to the resounding fact that most of the bountiful funds he was raising came from small donors, "the people," not the sort of supporters who move above us in private jet planes.

But after abandoning his pledge to abide by public financing, this apostle of cleansing the political culture is now going after the high rollers. As the July 3 New York Times reported, "Last week, the Obama campaign collected about $5 million at an event featuring celebrities in Los Angeles. The evening began with a dinner at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for more than 200 people who had contributed $28,500 per couple, or raised $50,000." Then there is the current furor among a rising number of Obama contributors with wallets far below the $50,000-a-pop crowd about his change on the "compromise" FISA Amendments Act of 2008 that passed the House and Senate, and has been signed by the grateful president.

The flimflam candidate had assured his faithful enthusiasts that he would filibuster this bill (which will immunize the telecommunications companies that enabled the president to break the law in his once-secret warrantless wiretapping) that turned our privacy rights upside down and out.

Now, by dismissing the scores of lawsuits against these companies from Americans wanting to know whether they've been ensnared in this giant government-spun Web, the president and such supporters as Obama will have made it close to impossible to conduct meaningful investigations of the intricate nexus of the ways these telecommunications giants can collect leads to Americans with no connections to terrorism — and could continue to so long as they're assured by a future lawless administration that national security demands breaking another law.

But what could be wrong with a new Obama approach, to assert his religious faith by, if elected, expanding the government funding of faith-based social services through churches and other religious institutions? The former constitutional law professor does avoid one separation-of-church-and-state problem by pledging that the recipients of these taxpayer funds could not engage in hiring discrimination on the basis of an employee's religion, thereby not limiting those hired to that particular faith.

However, I expect professor Obama knows of the importance in constitutional case law of the need to avoid excessive entanglements of the state with religious institutions. To prevent churches and other religious groups that get government funds from both discrimination in their employment practices, and from proselytizing with taxpayers' money, will require careful and extensive monitoring by the state.

Says the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the Interfaith Alliance, in the July 4 Jewish Week: "You can say none of this money should be used for proselytizing or that there shouldn't be discrimination, but what does that mean for the little storefront agency, where there can be a subtle or even more blatant form of discrimination, and where proselytizing does occur?" And not just storefront recipients.

But Obama insists this program will be the "moral center" of his administration. Just where is his own center of credibility? I remember the surge of hope for a national change as a child, during the Great Depression, when, while my mother would walk blocks to save a few cents on food, there came Franklin Delano Roosevelt! I haven't seen such a surge since Obama's first chorus, but I can no longer believe in this messenger of such tidings."


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hill Democrats miffed at Obama on July 15, 2008:
"After a brief bout of Obamamania, some Capitol Hill Democrats have begun to complain privately that Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is insular, uncooperative and inattentive to their hopes for a broad Democratic victory in November.

“They think they know what’s right and everyone else is wrong on everything,” groused one senior Senate Democratic aide. “They are kind of insufferable at this point.”

Among the grievances described by Democratic leadership insiders:

• Until a mailing that went out in the past few days, Obama had done little fundraising for Democratic candidates since signing off on e-mailed fundraising appeals for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee immediately after securing the Democratic nomination.

• Obama has sometimes appeared in members’ districts with no advance notice to lawmakers, resulting in lost opportunities for those Democrats to score points by appearing alongside their party’s presumptive presidential nominee.

• The Obama campaign has not, until very recently, coordinated a daily message with congressional Democrats, leaving Democratic members in the lurch when they’re asked to comment on the constant back and forth between Obama and John McCain — as they were when Obama said earlier this month that he would “continue to refine” his Iraq policies after meeting with commanders on the ground there.

• Coordination between the Obama campaign and the House and Senate leadership is so weak that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — who will chair the Democrats’ convention in August — didn’t know of Obama’s decision to move his final-night acceptance speech from the Pepsi Center to Invesco Field until the campaign announced it on a conference call with reporters.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton dismissed the criticism as not-for-attribution complaints of staffers who aren’t knowledgeable about the campaign’s Hill coordination efforts.

“It’s a favorite parlor game in Washington for low-level staff to take shots at anyone they can, given the opportunity,” Burton said. “But as leadership aides across the Hill have confirmed even in this story, we have a constructive working relationship with the House and Senate leadership and continue to work with them to bring about the change the American people demand this November.”

On the record, spokesmen for Democratic leaders and the campaign committees say they’re pleased with the coordination they’re getting from the Obama campaign.

“We have a great relationship with the Obama campaign and work closely with them on everything from message strategy to on-the-ground coordination in states where we have races,” said DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller. Jennifer Crider, the DCCC’s communications director, said the DCCC and the Obama campaign are working together “to bring our change agenda to the country.”

Privately, however, there is a different message coming from some Democratic quarters on the Hill and on K Street. Some Democratic leadership staffers complain that, having defeated the vaunted Clinton political machine in the primaries, the Obama campaign now feels a “sense of entitlement” that leads to “arrogance.”

One Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, compared the Obama campaign unfavorably to President Bush’s administration.

“At least Bush waited until he was in the White House before they started ignoring everybody,” the aide said.

“These relationships matter,” said a House Democrat close to the leadership. “I really hope these guys try to get off on the right foot. We all know what happened to [former President] Jimmy Carter and [former President] Bill Clinton. We don’t want to see a repeat of that.”

Brian Wolff, the DCCC’s executive director, said that some of the “supposed arrogance” coming from the Obama camp is in reality a misinterpreted sense of confidence in the campaign’s plan for winning the Oval Office, including grass-roots mobilization, in-state political infrastructure, messaging and get-out-the vote operations.

“They have to set the tone, and they are setting the tone,” Wolff said. “Arrogance is sometimes mistaken for competence. I think having a real competent approach to your campaign, whether it’s field [operations] or politics, or overall message, I think it’s really important. ... They’re really doing a really good job at this.”

Some of the complaints about the Obama campaign are the result of tensions inherent in any presidential campaign — Democratic or Republican — as a candidate’s staff tries to deal with the Washington establishment.

Others are the result of the circumstances in which Obama finds himself: Having battled Hillary Rodham Clinton into June, Obama hasn’t had much time for the normal interaction between a campaign and Congress. And having to struggle to help Clinton pay off her own debt, he hasn’t had the time or the resources to raise money for Democratic House and Senate candidates.

But some problems are specific to the choices Obama has made — to run as a “change” candidate and to base his operations in Chicago rather than Washington. In distancing himself from “politics as usual,” Obama has shown little interest in being seen with Reid, Pelosi or other members of the Democratic congressional leadership.

And by forbidding lobbyists from playing formal roles in his campaign, Obama has denied himself access to people — in many cases, former Democratic members and aides who are still close to leaders and other lawmakers — who could help him smooth over issues with the Hill. Without lobbyists involved, hotel rooms and tickets for the convention are harder to come by, spurring protests and leaving bruised egos among congressional Democrats used to being treated like VIPs.

The Obama campaign has already moved to address some of these sore spots, recently appointing Phil Schiliro, former chief of staff to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), as Obama’s Capitol Hill liaison. Schiliro, who also served as an aide to former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), sat in on his first Democratic leadership meeting and House Democratic Caucus meeting last week, said House aides.

“I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t a priority for Sen. Obama and the campaign,” Schiliro said of his new role.

Daily message conference calls have been established, and Obama’s campaign has begun consultations, still in the early stages, with Democratic leaders over political strategy for November. Schiliro said it was “premature” to criticize the Obama camp’s level of outreach to congressional Democrats.

Other Obama campaign sources repeatedly noted that the drawn-out fight with Clinton has “put the campaign behind schedule” in terms of Hill outreach and message operation, but that the campaign remains confident it can make up lost ground."

Why Obama & the Democratic Leadership Are Caving into Bush

From by Glenn Greenwald
Tuesday July 15, 2008 08:16 EDT:
"The motivation for blocking investigations into Bush lawbreaking
Harper's Scott Horton yesterday interviewed Jane Mayer about her new book, The Dark Side. The first question he asked was about the Bush administration's fear that they would be criminally prosecuted for implementing what the International Red Cross had categorically described as "torture."

Mayer responded "that inside the White House there [had] been growing fear of criminal prosecution, particularly after the Supreme Court ruled in the Hamdan case that the Geneva Conventions applied to the treatment of the detainees," and that it was this fear that led the White House to demand (and, of course, receive) immunity for past interrogation crimes as part of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. But Mayer noted one important political impediment to holding Bush officials accountable for their illegal torture program:

An additional complicating factor is that key members of Congress sanctioned this program, so many of those who might ordinarily be counted on to lead the charge are themselves compromised.
As we witness not just Republicans, but also Democrats in Congress, acting repeatedly to immunize executive branch lawbreaking and to obstruct investigations, it's vital to keep that fact in mind. With regard to illegal Bush programs of torture and eavesdropping, key Congressional Democrats were contemporaneously briefed on what the administration was doing (albeit, in fairness, often in unspecific ways). The fact that they did nothing to stop that illegality, and often explicitly approved of it, obviously incentivizes them to block any investigations or judicial proceedings into those illegal programs.

In December of last year, The Washington Post revealed:

Four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

The article noted that other Democratic members who received briefings on the CIA's interrogation program included Jay Rockefeller and Jane Harman. While Harman sent a letter to the CIA asking questions about the legality of the program, none ever took any steps to stop or even restrict the interrogation program in any way.

Identically, numerous key Democrats in Congress -- including Rockefeller and Harman -- were told that Bush had ordered the NSA to spy on American without warrants and outside of FISA. None of them did anything to stop it. In fact, while Rockefeller wrote a sad, hostage-like, handwritten letter to Dick Cheney in 2003 (which he sent to nobody else) -- assuring Cheney that he would keep the letter locked away "to ensure that I have a record of this communication" -- Harman was a vocal supporter of the illegal NSA program. Here's what she told Time in January, 2006 in the wake of the NYT article revealing the NSA program:

Some key Democrats even defend it. Says California's Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee: "I believe the program is essential to U.S. national security and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities."
Harman then went on Fox News and pronounced that the NSA program was "legal and necessary" and proudly said: "I support the program." Even worse, in February, 2006, Harman went on "Meet the Press" and strongly suggested that the New York Times should be criminally prosecuted for having reported on the illegal program. And indeed, in 2004, Harman demanded that the NYT's Eric Lichtblau not write about the NSA program. As Lichtblau wrote in his recent book about a 2004 conversation with Harman:
"You should not be talking about that here," she scolded me in a whisper. "They don't even know about that," she said, gesturing to her aides, who were now looking on at the conversation with obvious befuddlement. "The Times did the right thing by not publishing that story," she continued. I wanted to understand her position. What intelligence capabilities would be lost by informing the public about something the terrorists already knew -- namely, that the government was listening to them? I asked her. Harman wouldn’t bite. "This is a valuable program, and it would be compromised,' she said. I tried to get into some of the details of the program and get a better understanding of why the administration asserted that it couldn't be operated within the confines of the courts. Harman wouldn't go there either. "This is a valuable program," she repeated.
In light of this sordid history of active complicity, is it really any wonder that these leading Democrats are desperate to quash any investigations or judicial adjudications of Bush administration actions that they knew about and did nothing to stop, in some cases even actively supporting?

Yesterday, I was on Warren Olney's To the Point discussing the FISA controversy. The guest interviewed immediately before me was Jane Harman (and before her was Lichtblau). Harman was vigorously spouting every false talking point to defend her vote in favor of telecom immunity and the new FISA law, including the painfully absurd claim that the new FISA law actually "makes the law stronger than the original law. It's a better law." She kept saying things like this to justify her support for terminating the lawsuits arising out of the illegal NSA program:

OLNEY: But back to the question, though, of the phone companies. Why was it that one company, Qwest, seemed to think that there were serious questions to be raised about this and the others didn't? Can you tell us that?

HARMAN: Well, I respect what Qwest did. Qwest said that the strict letter of FISA isn't being followed, as I understand it. That was some very careful lawyering.

The other telecoms that complied with requests believed -- so they say -- that they were complying with valid requests from the Government. And remember that when this happened, it was shortly after 9/11 and so forth --

OLNEY: Yeah, but if they didn't, and privacy was violated, shouldn't they be held to account?

HARMAN: I think that a process should be followed. I think the people who should be held to account are the people who made the decision not to follow FISA, and those were not the telecom executives.

Actually, "the people who made the decision not to follow FISA" most certainly did include the telecom executives -- as well as people like Jane Harman herself who, in her capacity as ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, was told about the illegal spying program and supported it as "legal and necessary," and even tried to bully journalists into refraining from exposing it.

Exactly the same thing happened with Jay Rockefeller and Bush's torture program. It is absolutely the case that, as Mayer pointed out yesterday and as I wrote about at the time, Bush officials faced serious danger of criminal liability in the wake of the 2006 Hamdan ruling that the Geneva Conventions applied to Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees. But the Military Commissions Act, passed several months after the Hamdan ruling, took care of that problem by immunizing the lawbreakers. Jay Rockefeller was right there supporting that retroactive immunity, too -- thereby helping to block investigations and prosecutions for illegal torture programs about which Rockefeller knew and in which he was complicit.

This is exactly the dynamic which Law Professor, Fourth Amendment expert, and Simple-Minded, Confused Leftist Hysteric Jonathan Turley was describing on MSNBC on June 19:

I mean, the Democrats never really were engaged in this. In fact, they repeatedly tried to cave in to the White House, only to be stopped by civil libertarians and bloggers. And each time they would put it on the shelf, wait a few months, they did this before, reintroduced it with Jay Rockefeller's support, and then there was another great, you know, dustup and they pulled it back. . . .

I think they're simply waiting to see if the public's interest will wane and we'll see that tomorrow, because this bill has, quite literally, no public value for citizens or civil liberties. It is reverse engineering, though the type of thing that the Bush administration is famous for, and now the Democrats are doing -- that is to change the law to conform to past conduct.

It's what any criminal would love to do. You rob a bank, go to the legislature, and change the law to say that robbing banks is lawful. . . .

This is a very frightening bill. What people have to understand is that FISA itself is controversial. This court issued tens of thousands of warrants granted applications for surveillance without turning down any. Only recently did they turn down two. . . . What you're seeing in this bill is an evisceration of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. It is something that allows the president and the government to go in to law-abiding homes on their word alone, their suspicion alone, and to engage in warrantless surveillance. That's what the framers that drafted the Fourth Amendment wanted to prevent. . . .

Well, there's no question in my mind that there is an obvious level of collusion here. We now know that Democratic leadership knew about the illegal surveillance program almost from its inception. Even when they were campaigning about fighting for civil liberties, they were aware of an unlawful surveillance program as well as a torture program. And ever since that came out, the Democrats have been silently trying to kill any effort to hold anyone accountable because that list could very well include some of their own members.

And, I'm afraid this is Washington politics at the worst. And, so, I think that what you're seeing with this bill is not just caving in to a very powerful lobby, but also caving in to sort of the worst motivations on Capitol Hill since 9/11. You know, the administration was very adept at bringing in Democrats at a time when they knew they couldn't refuse, to make them buy in to this program, and now that investment is bearing fruit.

So, of course key Congressional Democrats who were made aware of these illegal torture and surveillance programs are going to protect the Bush administration and other lawbreakers. If you were Jay Rockfeller or Nancy Pelosi, would you want there to be investigations and prosecutions for torture programs that, to one degree or another, you knew about? If you were Jane Harman, wouldn't you be extremely eager to put a stop to judicial proceedings that were likely to result in a finding that surveillance programs that you knew about, approved of, and helped to conceal were illegal and unconstitutional?

When President Bush and Vice President Cheney celebrated the signing of the new FISA bill at the White House along with Jay Rockefeller, Steny Hoyer and Jane Harman (see the wonderful photos here), they weren't just celebrating with the political officials who helped protect them from consequences for illegal acts. They were celebrating with those who were participants in those acts, and who were therefore just as eager for immunity and an end to judicial proceedings as Bush officials themselves.

Barack Obama purges Web site critique of surge in Iraq


Monday, July 14th 2008, 8:10 PM

"WASHINGTON - Barack Obama's campaign scrubbed his presidential Web site over the weekend to remove criticism of the U.S. troop "surge" in Iraq, the Daily News has learned.

The presumed Democratic nominee replaced his Iraq issue Web page, which had described the surge as a "problem" that had barely reduced violence.

"The surge is not working," Obama's old plan stated, citing a lack of Iraqi political cooperation but crediting Sunni sheiks - not U.S. military muscle - for quelling violence in Anbar Province.

The News reported Sunday that insurgent attacks have fallen to the fewest since March 2004.

Obama's campaign posted a new Iraq plan Sunday night, which cites an "improved security situation" paid for with the blood of U.S. troops since the surge began in February 2007.

It praises G.I.s' "hard work, improved counterinsurgency tactics and enormous sacrifice."

Campaign aide Wendy Morigi said Obama is "not softening his criticism of the surge. We regularly update the Web site to reflect changes in current events."

GOP rival John McCain zinged Obama as a flip-flopper. "The major point here is that Sen. Obama refuses to acknowledge that he was wrong," said McCain, adding that Obama "refuses to acknowledge that it [the surge] is succeeding."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obama veers to the right, but does he need to take the Constitution with him?

From By Doug Kendall and Dahlia Lithwick on July 9, 2008:
"Barack Obama's rightward drift in recent weeks has hardly gone unnoticed or unrewarded. What's most fascinating about his efforts to appeal to the American center is the extent to which Obama, as a constitutional law professor and Harvard Law Review president, has repeatedly chosen the Bill of Rights as his vehicle for doing so. It's not an overstatement to say that in the past month Obama has tugged the First, Second, Fourth, and Eighth amendments to the center. Not a day goes by, it seems, without a constitutional wink to the right on guns (he thinks there is an individual right to own one), the wall of separation between church and state (he thinks it can be lowered), the Fourth Amendment prohibition on warrantless wiretapping (he's changed his position on FISA), and on the death penalty for noncapital child rape cases (he thinks it's constitutional) as well as a possible shift this week on the right to abortion (which could further limit the reach of Roe v. Wade). Such accommodations are not all unexpected. Some of these positions (like his stance on capital punishment) have long been a part of his unorthodox constitutional thinking. Others (such as the hair-splitting on guns) are politically expedient. Nor are such nuanced views unwelcome. Obama is well aware that the ways in which liberals talk about the Constitution are sometimes mired in 1960s mushiness and feel-goodery that no longer resonates with the American public.

But Obama appears to be compromising on the wrong constitutional issues while backing away from fights on the right ones. A liberal re-examination of constitutional philosophy need not involve a capitulation to conservative values. Obama can certainly move to the right on gun-control policy or support a limited death penalty if politics demand that he do so. But he should not, in so doing, shift to the right on the Constitution itself.

Consider the fact that Obama spent the final days of the Supreme Court term celebrating conservative constitutional outcomes rather than calling out dubious conservative methodology. Who was better situated to chide the court's conservatives for what sure seems to be an activist ruling that saved Exxon $2 billion in damages stemming from the Valdez oil spill? Just as Obama was reiterating his support for guns (certainly a tenable liberal position these days), he was missing an opportunity to turn the conversation to another 5-4 case decided that day—in which the court struck down the so-called millionaire's amendment—an important part of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. That case was a constitutional minefield for John McCain: His dream judges ruled an important portion of his most significant legislative accomplishment unconstitutional. But all we heard were crickets chirping in Chicago.
Obama also needed to do far more than he did to highlight McCain's shocking assertion that the court's ruling in the Guantanamo detainees' case was one of the "worst in the nation's history." As George Will effectively chronicled, that was a patently ridiculous statement that revealed a deep misunderstanding of both the law and the courts. Had Obama directly addressed McCain and—by extension—McCain's model judges on that issue, it would have gone a long way toward assuring Americans that in his administration the Bill of Rights will not be a luxury reserved only for the sunny days.

But perhaps the most important fight over the Constitution facing Obama is not about the Constitution itself, but over the composition of the Supreme Court. McCain has signaled that he plans to campaign hard on the issue—taking numerous opportunities to excoriate "judicial activists" and promise more jurists like Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito. McCain pledges that he wants to appoint only judges who would "strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States" (whatever that means). And Obama should welcome this debate; it's one he should win hands down, but he won't be able to capitalize on his strengths unless he can change the way progressive candidates talk about judging and the Supreme Court.

Obama's scattered statements so far on his philosophy for appointing Supreme Court justices instantly reveal the problem. In response to one of McCain's stemwinders on liberal activist judges, Obama started with the boilerplate argument that he will nominate judges who are "competent and capable" and who "interpret the law." So far, so good. He then shifted to "those 5 percent of cases or 1 percent of cases where the law isn't clear." In those cases, Obama asserted, judges must rely on "his or her own perspectives, his ethics, his or her moral bearings," and thus he wants judges who are "sympathetic enough to those who are on the outside, those who are vulnerable, those who are powerless, those who can't have access to political power, and, as a consequence, can't protect themselves from being—from being dealt with sometimes unfairly, that the courts become a refuge."

Remarks such as these make Obama sound like the careful law professor he's been in the past, patiently explaining to his students why it is inevitable in some cases that judges will rule based on their gut leanings. But this is precisely the wrong way to talk to Americans about judging, and it's guaranteed to turn Obama's advantage into a disadvantage. Inevitable or not, Americans just don't like it when judges rule based on their personal political preferences rather than being guided by the Constitution and the law. A recent Rasmussen poll tested, side-by-side, the McCain and Obama messages about the court. The results: 69 percent of Americans agreed with McCain's message; only 41 percent agreed with Obama's. Obama will lose the war over the Constitution if he keeps pushing, as he's done, for judges with "empathy." Voters see that as code for "latte-sipping, out-of-touch, smarty-pants elitism."

Obama doesn't have to stumble here. Nor should he maintain the curious silence that leaves his supporters wondering about his constitutional values. A growing number of Americans believe the Roberts Court is too conservative. Polls indicate that the public likes progressive judicial results: The public responds favorably to questions asking whether judges should strongly protect civil rights and civil liberties, rule for the powerless over the powerful, and ensure broad access to justice. Put simply, Americans want to live in Justice Stevens' America, not in Clarence Thomas'.

If McCain genuinely thinks it's smart politics to run against the Warren Court in 2008, Obama simply needs to run against the Roberts Court. He must promise to nominate Supreme Court justices who will protect civil liberties, civil rights, and ensure equal access to courts and justice. He needs to talk and talk about these issues not because these are tender, liberal values he wants his judges to share, but because they are values enshrined in the Constitution, values that have been corroded and neglected in recent years.

When Obama talks about nominating justices who will protect the powerless as much as the powerful, he shouldn't just cite pregnant teenage mothers but instead quote the preamble, which lists establishing justice as a pre-eminent goal of the Constitution, and the words "Equal Justice for All" enshrined in marble over the Supreme Court's entrance. When he talks about courts protecting civil rights, civil liberties, and equal protection, he should explain that we fought a Civil War over these principles and we amended the Constitution to enshrine them in our founding document. In recent weeks, it's become easy to forget that Obama is campaigning as a visionary. He needs to carry this over into how he talks about the Constitution and the Supreme Court rather than falling back into careful, hyper-technical law professor mode.

By rooting the results he seeks from the judiciary in the words of the Constitution—by marrying method to results, rather than divorcing these concepts—Obama can mobilize progressives and also reach beyond his base in speaking about what's at stake at the Supreme Court. By meandering to the right on some of the most important provisions in the Bill of Rights while mumbling about appointing judges who rule based on their "own perspectives," he risks alienating both groups and weakening the Constitution right along with his political prospects.

Obama Votes to Silence Debate and Pass FISA

From The Nation on July 10, 2008 by John Nichols:
"Arizona Senator John McCain did not bother to show up for Wednesday's Senate votes on whether to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to absolve George Bush of responsibility for initiating an illegal warrantless wiretapping program and to provide retroactive immunity to the telecommunications corporations that violated the privacy of their customers in order to collaborate with a lawless president.

But that's O.K., Illinois Senator Barack Obama cast the votes that McCain would have.

In addition to joining the majority in a 69-28 Senate vote to approve legislation that the American Civil Liberties Union describes as "a Constitutional nightmare," Obama backed a key move to silence debate on the FISA bill.

During a day of decisions on amendments, cloture and formal approval of the FISA rewrite, Obama cast several votes in favor of failed amendments to limit certain forms of retroactive immunity for the telecommunications corporations. But, in the essential votes on whether to advance and pass the unamended bill, the senator from Illinois broke the majority of his Democratic colleagues -- including New York Senator Hillary Clinton -- as they worked to keep the debate open and block final passage.

In the case of the cloture vote, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president sided with Republicans who argued that the essential Constitutional questions raised by the White House-backed FISA legislation did not merit extended or thoughtful debate.

Seventy-two senators backed the move to end the debate, while 26 sought to keep it going. Two senators – McCain and ailing Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy – missed Wednesday's votes.

Those 26 "no" votes on cloture were cast by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and 25 Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, Obama's Democratic colleague from Illinois, and Clinton, Obama's primary competitor for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Leading the fight to keep the debate about the FISA rewrite open were Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, the two senators Obama promised earlier their year to work with in an effort to block this assault on the Constitution and corporate responsibility.

Said Feingold, "I sit on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, and I am one of the few members of this body who has been fully briefed on the warrantless wiretapping program. And, based on what I know, I can promise that if more information is declassified about the program in the future, as is likely to happen either due to the Inspector General report, the election of a new President, or simply the passage of time, members of this body will regret that we passed this legislation. I am also familiar with the collection activities that have been conducted under the Protect America Act and will continue under this bill. I invite any of my colleagues who wish to know more about those activities to come speak to me in a classified setting. Publicly, all I can say is that I have serious concerns about how those activities may have impacted the civil liberties of Americans. If we grant these new powers to the government and the effects become known to the American people, we will realize what a mistake it was, of that I am sure."

Unfortunately, while Obama once promised to work with Feingold, he wasn't listening on Wednesday when the Wisconsin senator explained to his colleagues that granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications corporations would effectively block the ability of Congress and the courts to address not just massive corporate wrongdoing but attacks on the privacy rights of Americans.

"If Congress short-circuits these lawsuits, we will have lost a prime opportunity to finally achieve accountability for these years of law-breaking," said Feingold, who flatly rejected Obama's argument that, while unappealing in some aspects, the FISA rewrite was somehow acceptable as a whole. "That's why the administration has been fighting so hard for this immunity. It knows that the cases that have been brought directly against the government face much more difficult procedural barriers, and are unlikely to result in rulings on the merits."

Russ Feingold was speaking the truth about a moment in which the ACLU said the Senate was on the verge of passing "an unconstitutional domestic spying bill that violates the Fourth Amendment and eliminates any meaningful role for judicial oversight of government surveillance."

But Barack Obama did not want to hear it."

Barack W. Bush?

From on July 10, 2008 By Victor Davis Hanson

"Almost everyone is talking about Barack Obama's flip-flops, as the Senate's most liberal member steadily moves to the political center and disowns firebrands like Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Father Michael Pfleger.

But less noticed is that Obama is not just deflating John McCain's efforts to hold him to his long liberal record, but also embracing much of the present agenda of an unpopular President Bush on a wide variety of fronts.

Take social issues. Obama is now a gun-rights advocate. Like Bush, he applauded the Supreme Court's overturning of a Washington, D.C., ordinance banning the possession of handguns.

The senator, also like Bush, supports the death penalty. He recently objected to the court's rejection of a state law that allowed for the execution of child rapists.

And although Obama is still pro-choice, he now, like the president, thinks "mental distress" should not justify late-term abortion.

In addition, the new Obama would like to continue -- and even expand -- Bush's controversial faith-based initiative program of involving churches in government anti-poverty programs.

In fact, Obama is sounding a lot these days like those red-state, small-town conservatives he once caricatured in his infamous comment about Pennsylvanians who "cling" to such hot-button, but extraneous, social causes.

Consider also the campaign trail. Like a Republican in good standing -- but unlike the maverick John McCain -- Obama has, by his sudden forgoing of public funds, rejected the idea of campaign-finance reform.

In fact, he's the largest raiser of private cash in American political history, and seems to have dropped opposition to accepting pernicious "special interest money." Like a Republican, he raises the most among the nation's wealthiest on Wall Street.

During the primaries, Obama seemed to advocate the dismantling of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But now candidate Obama has little desire to overturn the present Bush trade policies.

On foreign policy and the war against terror, Obama once leaned left in his primary battles against Hillary Clinton. But his latest mutations move him once again closer to George Bush.

For all his prior talk of the loss of civil liberties, a President Obama, like a President Bush, would give telecommunication companies exemption from lawsuits over tapping private phone calls at government request.

Obama wants to continue Bush's successful multilateral efforts to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, and now praises the Bush-inspired six-party talks with North Korea that led to the apparent dismantling of Pyongyang's nuclear program. Like Bush, he advocated expanding the military after the Clinton-era troop cuts. Obama once advocated lifting the embargo against Cuba -- but no longer. Like Bush, he thinks that it is wise to leave it be.

There is suddenly not much difference when it comes to the Middle East, either. Palestinian supporters were dismayed to hear Obama promise that Jerusalem must be Israel's eternal and undivided capital.

Obama once criticized Bush for his unwillingness to meet directly with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and exaggerating the danger from Iran, which supposedly didn't "pose any serious threat." Lately though, he agrees with the president that Iran now in fact is a "grave threat."

Obama's most serious about-face is on Iraq. He once promised a rigid and rapid timetable for withdrawing our troops. But given the radical success of Gen. David Petraeus' surge and change in tactics, Obama is now calling for withdrawals to be based on the conditions on the ground in Iraq. How different is this plan from the present administration's policy of incrementally sending home brigades as Petraeus hands off security responsibilities to Iraqis in additional provinces?

It makes political sense that Obama is moving to the center since he knows that a Northern liberal like himself has not won a presidential election since 1960. So don't expect Obama's metamorphosis to stop now. Before this campaign is over, he may well flip some more; would anybody be surprised if he starts supporting some of Bush's proposal for expanded domestic oil drilling or backtracks on raising trillions in new payroll taxes?

In fact, replace George Bush's Texas twang, cowboy strut and evangelical Bible thumping with Barack Obama's mellifluous "hope and change" rhetoric, easy grace and leftwing Christianity and we may discover a flashy new cover to an old book.

A final question: If, even as Obama trashes Bush, he seems to agree with him on so many fronts, why don't conservatives and Republicans adopt Obama as a welcome convert?

Some may, but most I've talked with don't think Obama is sincere and feel he will flip back to being left wing if elected. Or they think that Obama is changing so fast and so radically that it's hard to believe he really knows who he is -- or would be as president.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Judicial Watch files complaint over Obama’s mortgage

From The Hill on July 9, 2008: "A watchdog group filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Senate Ethics Committee Wednesday against Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) over a discounted mortgage he received from Northern Trust. Judicial Watch, a conservative legal watchdog group, filed the report after The Washington Post reported that Obama received a discount on a mortgage for a Chicago home valued at $1.65 million. The complaints said the Illinois senator received a loan at the interest rate of 5.625 percent, which Judicial Watch says is lower than the standard rate of between 5.93 and 6 percent indicated by surveys.

The complaint asks the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate whether the favorable rates constitute a prohibited “gift” under Senate rules.

“It appears that due to his position as a U.S. senator, Barack Obama received improper special treatment from Northern Trust resulting in an illicit ‘gift’ which has a value of almost $125,000 in interest savings,” wrote Judicial Watch President Thomas Fitton in a letter to the Ethics Committee.

The complaint also notes that Northern Trust employees have given $71,000 in donations to Obama’s campaigns."

Today's coverup of surveillance crimes and Barack Obama

More From Glenn Greenwald: "What we learned in December, 2005 that George Bush and the telecoms were doing -- listening in on the private conversations of American citizens without warrants -- is a felony under clear U.S. law, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine for each offense. Anyone can go read the section of FISA -- right here -- that says that as clearly as can be:

A person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally -- (1) engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute; . . .

An offense described in this section is punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.

It was also as clear a violation of the Fourth Amendment as can be. For the Government to invade our communications with no probable cause showing to a court is exactly what the Founders prohibited as clearly as the English language permitted.

But today, the Democratic-led Congress -- with the support of both John McCain and Barack Obama, neither of whom will even bother to show up and vote -- will cover-up those crimes. Law Professor and Fourth Amendment expert Jonathan Turley was on MSNBC's Countdown with Rachel Maddow last night and gave as succinct an explanation for what Democrats -- not the Bush administration, but Democrats -- will do today. Anyone with any lingering doubts about what is taking place today in our country should watch this:

As Turley says, and as I've written many times over the last two weeks, what is most appalling here beyond the bill itself are the pure falsehoods being spewed to the public about what Congress is doing -- and those falsehoods are largely being spewed not by Republicans. Republicans are gleefully admitting, even boasting, that this bill gives them everything Bush and Cheney wanted and more, and includes only minor changes from the Rockefeller/Cheney Senate bill passed last February (which Obama, seeking the Democratic Party nomination, made a point of opposing).

Rather, the insultingly false claims about this bill -- it brings the FISA court back into eavesdropping! it actually improves civil liberties! Obama will now go after the telecoms criminally! Government spying and lawbreaking isn't really that important anyway! -- are being disseminated by the Democratic Congressional leadership and, most of all, by those desperate to glorify Barack Obama and justify anything and everything he does. Many of these are the same people who spent the last five years screaming that Bush was shredding the Constitution, that spying on Americans was profoundly dangerous, that the political establishment did nothing about Bush's lawbreaking.

It's been quite disturbing to watch them turn on a dime -- completely reverse everything they claimed to believe -- the minute Obama issued his statement saying that he would support this bill. They actually have the audacity to say that this bill -- a bill which Bush, Cheney and the entire GOP eagerly support, while virtually every civil libertarian vehemently opposes -- will increase the civil liberties that Americans enjoy, as though Dick Cheney, Mike McConnell and "Kit" Bond decided that it was urgently important to pass a new bill to restrict presidential spying and enhance our civil liberties. How completely do you have to relinquish your critical faculties at Barack Obama's altar in order to get yourself to think that way?

The issues implicated by this bill -- government spying, lawbreaking, manipulation of national security claims for secrecy and presidential power, the extreme privileges corporations inside Washington receive -- have been at the very heart of progressive complaints against the Bush era for the last seven years. The type of capitulation and complicity which Jay Rockefeller and Steny Hoyer embraced is exactly what progressives have spent the last seven years scathingly attacking.

All of that magically changed for many people -- by no means all -- the day that Obama announced that he supported this "compromise," when these issues were suddenly relegated to nothing more than inconsequential, symbolic distractions, and complicity with Bush lawbreaking magically morphed into shrewd pragmatism. It's the same rationale that the dreaded Blue Dogs have been using since 2001 to justify their complicity which is now pouring out of the mouths of Obama defenders (we need to win elections first and foremost, and can only do that if we don't challenge Republicans on National Security and Terrorism).

* * * * *

Stanford Professor Larry Lessig has been a hard-core Obama supporter since before the primaries even began. He knows the candidate himself and has all sorts of contacts at high levels of the campaign. Yesterday, Lessig wrote a scathing criticism of what the Obama campaign has been doing over the past several weeks: "All signs point to an Obama victory this fall. If the signs are wrong, it will be because of events last month." This is what Lessig said about the Obama campaign's attitude towards the FISA bill:

Yet policy wonks inside the campaign sputter policy that Obama listens to and follows, again, apparently oblivious to how following that advice, when inconsistent with the positions taken in the past, just reinforces the other side's campaign claim that Obama is just another calculating, unprincipled politician.

The best evidence that they don't get this is Telco Immunity. Obama said he would filibuster a FISA bill with Telco Immunity in it. He has now signaled he won't. When you talk to people close to the campaign about this, they say stuff like: "Come on, who really cares about that issue? Does anyone think the left is going to vote for McCain rather than Obama? This was a hard question. We tried to get it right. And anyway, the FISA compromise in the bill was a good one."

So the highest levels of the Obama campaign believe this bill is "a good one." Lessig adds that the perception of Obama's craven, nakedly calculating behavior as illustrated by his support for the FISA bill is by far the largest threat to his candidacy as it "completely undermine Obama's signal virtue -- that he's different":
The Obama campaign seems just blind to the fact that these flips eat away at the most important asset Obama has. It seems oblivious to the consequence of another election in which (many) Democrats aren't deeply motivated to vote (consequence: the GOP wins).
I can't count the number of emails I've received demanding that I stop criticizing Obama for his support of this bill on the ground that such criticisms harm his chances for winning -- as though it's the fault of those who point out what Obama is doing, rather than Obama himself for completely reversing his position, abandoning his clear, prior commitments, and helping to institutionalize the destruction of the Fourth Amendment and the concealment of Bush crimes.

Ultimately, it's the sheer glibness of the support for this corrupt and Bush-enabling bill among Obama and his supporters that is most striking. Revealingly, Lanny Davis -- a pure symbol of everything that is rotted and broken in our political culture -- wrote an Op-Ed yesterday lavishly praising Obama for his support of the FISA bill on the ground that it "provided the senator an important chance to demonstrate his 'Sister Souljah moment.'" Beltway operatives like Davis can only understand the world through the prism of this finite set of clich├ęs -- Stand up the Left. Sister Souljah. Move to the Center. That's the same oh-so-sophisticiated political analysis one finds everywhere to justify what Obama is doing. As Dan Larison put it yesterday:

In Obamaworld, apparently wrecking the Fourth Amendment is roughly equivalent to ridiculing some obscure rapper. The only thing more depressing than the conceit that supporting unconstitutional measures is a way to "signal" to swing voters that you are not a radical loon bent on "ideological purity," which is basically to make defending the Constitution a position held only by radicals and extremists, is the dishonest representation of support for the compromise legislation as being a pro-civil liberties position.
John Nichols of The Nation -- one of the most pro-Obama media organs in the country -- pointed out yesterday that Obama won the critical Wisconsin primary in large part by holding himself out to Democratic voters there -- for whom civil liberties is a vital issue -- as a steadfast ally of Feingold on these issues:
Before the February 19 Wisconsin primary, which confirmed his front-runner status in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Illinois Senator Barack Obama went out of his way to associate his candidacy with the name of Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. . . .

Obama wanted to secure the support of the substantial portion of Democrats nationally who, in polls conducted in 2006, indicated that they would back Feingold if he entered the presidential race. Internal polls by the various campaigns indicated that Feingold drew as much as 15 percent of the vote in a number of key states, coming mostly from anti-war and pro-civil liberties progressives. . . .

"I am proud to stand with Senator Dodd, Senator Feingold and a grass-roots movement of Americans who are refusing to let President Bush put protections for special interests ahead of our security and our liberty," declared Obama, who indicated that he would support efforts to filibuster any attack on the ability of citizens to use the courts to defend their privacy rights.

Obama's stance helped him. It was cited in endorsements by prominent progressives and newspapers in Wisconsin and other later primary states. No doubt, it contributed to his landslide victory in the Badger State, where the Illinoisan won a vote from Feingold himself.

Yet, now that he is the presumptive nominee, Obama is standing not with Feingold, but with Bush and the special interests Obama once denounced. He says he'll vote for a White House-backed FISA rewrite -- which is likely to be taken up by the Senate this week -- in opposition to the position taken by civil liberties groups, legal scholars on the left and right and, of course, Russ Feingold.

Who can justify that?

* * * * *

Ultimately, what's most amazing about all of that is that -- as Senate Intelligence Committee member Russ Feingold pointed out yesterday -- even the vast majority of the Congress, let alone Obama apologists, have no idea what these spying programs even entail or how they work. As someone who isn't on the Intelligence Committee, does Obama even know?

Either way, here's what the ACLU's Caroline Fredrickson wrote to The Washington Post yesterday in response to Fred Hiatt's latest Editorial praising Obama and the FISA bill:

The fact is that the revisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act under consideration in the Senate this week would virtually do away with the role of the FISA court in overseeing new dragnet surveillance. Its role would be reduced to little more than serving as a rubber stamp.

It is a shame that the paper that uncovered the Watergate scandal, which helped lead to more congressional oversight of executive authority and the checks and balances of FISA, now believes that the president once again should have unfettered power to spy on Americans.

Sen. Feingold -- who, as a member of both the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, probably knows as much about the NSA program as any member of Congress -- added:
The government absolutely must be able to wiretap suspected terrorists to protect our security, and every member of Congress supports that. With this bill, however, for the first time since FISA was adopted 30 years ago, the government would be authorized to collect all communications into and out of the United States without warrants. That means Americans e-mailing relatives abroad or calling business associates overseas could be monitored with absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing by anyone. This bill overturns the laws and principles that have governed surveillance for the past 30 years.
The San Fransisco Chronicle editorialized today:
Warrantless wiretapping of Americans should outrage Congress into banning the practice. But, in a display of political expediency, the Senate is about to bless it, following a similar cave-in by the House last month.

Making matters worse, both likely presidential candidates -- Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain - plan to reverse their opposition and vote for the White House-backed rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The bigger of the two reversals is Obama, who earlier this year had promised a filibuster to defeat the bill.

These are just facts -- facts about Barack Obama, the FISA bill he supports and which the Democratic Congress will approve today. Recall that James Comey testified last year that what he and other DOJ officials learned in 2004 about Bush's spying activities for the several years prior was so extreme, so unconscionable, so patently illegal that they all -- including even John Ashcroft -- threatened to resign en masse unless it stopped immediately. We still have no idea what those spying activities were. We know, though, that even the right-wing DOJ ideologues who approved of the illegal "Terrorist Surveillance Programs" that we know about found those activities indisputably illegal and wrong. But Barack Obama and the Democratic-led Congress will today enact a bill to immunize all of that, to protect the lawbreakers who were responsible.

As I've said many times before, there are clear differences between an Obama and McCain presidency. Denying that is just as irrational as those for whom the only political rule is Thou Shalt Not Speak Ill of Obama.

But it's equally clear that politicians like Obama are unable within the prevailing political establishment to do much to stop the continued growth of the lawless surveillance state and our two-tiered system of justice, even if they wanted to stop it, even if they were willing to expend political capital to take a stand against it. And Obama -- with his support for this wretched assault on the Constitution and the rule of law -- is demonstrating that, contrary to his many prior statements, these issues are anything but a priority for him (Larry Lessig: Obama aides say "the FISA compromise in the bill was a good one"). Differences between Republican and Democrats exist and are important in many cases, but those differences are often dwarfed by the differences between those entrenched in and dependent upon the Washington Establishment and those -- the vast, vast majority of American citizens -- who are not.

UPDATE: The Savannah Morning News has an article on the ads running against Democratic Rep. John Barrow.

The vote on the Dodd-Feingold-Leahy amendment to remove telecom immunity from the bill is taking place now. I will post the vote total and details as soon as it is done.

UPDATE II: The Dodd-Feingold amendment to remove telecom immunity from the bill just failed by a vote of 32-66.

I was mistaken about Obama's not showing up to vote (that was the case, as I understood it, when the vote was scheduled for yesterday). He is in the Senate and, as he said he would, just voted (along with Hillary Clinton) in favor of the amendment to remove telecom immunity from the bill.

From listening, these are the Democrats who have voted in favor of removing immunity from the bill: Akaka - Baucus - Biden - Bingaman - Boxer - Brown - Byrd - Cantwell - Cardin - Casey - Clinton - Dorgan - Durbin - Feingold - Harkin - Kerry - Klobuchar - Lautenberg - Leahy - Levin - Mendenez - Murray - Obama - Reed - Reid - Sanders (I) - Schuemer - Stabenow - Tester - Whitehouse - Wyden.

Every Republican (and Lieberman) voted against removing immunity (including Arlen Specter, who spent all day arguing against immunity). Democrats voting against removing immunity: Bayh - Carper - Conrad - Feinstein - Innouye - Johnson - Kohl - Landrieu - Lincoln - McCaskill - Mikulski - Nelson (FL) - Nelson (Neb.) - Pryor - Rockefeller - Salazar - Webb.

Specter's amendment is next (to ban immunity if the spying was unconstitutional). Then they will vote on the Bingaman amendment (which I wrote about yesterday). They will both fail, and then they will vote on the final bill in its unchanged form.

UPDATE III: Specter's amendment -- merely to require the court to determine the constitutionality of the NSA spying program and condition immunity on a finding of constitutionality -- just failed 37-61. Obama (and Clinton) voted in favor of the amendment, and Specter was the only Republican to do so.

All Republicans (and Lieberman) voted against, and these were the Democrats voting against: Bayh - Carper - Johnson - Landrieu - Lincoln - Mikulski - Nelson (FL) - Nelson (Neb.) - Pryor - Rockefeller - Salazar. [NOTE: I'm recording these roll calls from watching the proceedings, and so it's likely there are some errors and omissions. I will correct them as they are brought to my attention and will link to the official roll call vote once it is available]. The Bingaman amendment is next.

UPDATE IV: The Bingaman amendment -- merely to require that the Senate waits until the IG audit of the NSA program is complete before immunizing the telecoms (and here's an excellent piece documenting how inadequate IG investigations are for real oversight) -- just failed by a vote of 42-56 (60 votes were required for passage, courtesy of an agreement not to force the GOP to do a mount filibuster).

Obama (and Clinton) voted in favor of the Bingaman amendment. McCain wasn't present to vote on any of this (though almost certainly would have voted with the GOP on all amendments). Specter was the only Republican to vote in favor of the Bingaman amendment. The Democrats voting against: Bayh - Landrieu - Nelson (Neb.) - Pryor - Rockefeller. They are now in recess until the afternoon, after which they will vote to pass the underlying bill.

UPDATE V: I was on the Brian Lehrer Show this morning debating the FISA bill with former Clinton National Security Advisor Nancy Soderberg (who favors the bill). Because of some technical difficulties, I wasn't on the show until roughly 7:30 in. That debate can be heard here.

UPDATE VI: Cloture on the bill just passed 72-26. Obama voted in favor of cloture along with all Republicans. Hillary Clinton voted against cloture.

After the cloture vote, the Senate just approved final passage of the FISA bill, by a vote of 69-28. Obama voted with all Republicans for the bill. Hillary Clinton voted against it.

Democrats voting in favor of final passage of the FISA bill: Bayh - Carper - Casey - Conrad - Dorgan - Feinstein - Innuoye - Kohl - Landrieu - Lincoln - McCaskill - Mukulski - Nelson (Neb.) - Nelson (Fla.) - Obama - Pryor - Rockefeller - Salazar - Webb - Whitehouse.

Democrats voting against final passage of the FISA bill: Akaka - Biden - Bingaman - Boxer - Brown - Cantwell - Cardin - Clinton - Dodd - Dorgan - Durbin - Feingold - Harkin - Kerry - Leahy - Levin - Lautenberg - Murray - Reed - Reid - Sanders - Schumer - Stabenow - Tester - Wyden.

Congress votes to immunize lawbreaking telecoms, legalize warrantless eavesdropping

From Glenn Greenwald in on July 8, 2008:
"The Democratic-led Congress this afternoon voted to put an end to the NSA spying scandal, as the Senate approved a bill -- approved last week by the House -- to immunize lawbreaking telecoms, terminate all pending lawsuits against them, and vest whole new warrantless eavesdropping powers in the President. The vote in favor of the new FISA bill was 69-28. Barack Obama joined every Senate Republican (and every House Republican other than one) by voting in favor of it, while his now-vanquished primary rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, voted against it. John McCain wasn't present for any of the votes, but shared Obama's support for the bill. The bill will now be sent to an extremely happy George Bush, who already announced that he enthusiastically supports it, and he will sign it into law very shortly.

Prior to final approval, the Senate, in the morning, rejected three separate amendments which would have improved the bill but which, the White House threatened, would have prompted a veto. With those amendments defeated, the Senate then passed the same bill passed last week by the House, which means it is that bill, in unchanged form, that will be signed into law -- just as the Bush administration demanded.

The first amendment, from Sens. Dodd, Feingold and Leahy, would have stripped from the bill the provision immunizing the telecoms. That amendment failed by a vote of 32-66, with all Republicans and 17 Democrats against (the roll call vote is here). The next amendment was offered by Sen. Arlen Specter, which would have merely required a court to determine the constitutionality of the NSA spying program and grant telecom immunity only upon a finding of constitutionality. Specter's amendment failed, 37-61 (roll call vote is here). The third amendment to fail was one sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, merely requiring that the Senate wait until the Inspector General audits of the NSA program are complete before immunizing the telecoms. The Bingaman amendment failed by a vote of 42-56 (roll call vote here). Both Obama and Clinton voted for all three failed amendments.

The Senators then voted for "cloture" on the underlying FISA bill -- the procedure that allows the Senate to overcome any filibusters -- and it passed by a vote of 72-26. Obama voted along with all Republicans for cloture. Hillary Clinton voted with 25 other Democrats against cloture (strangely, Clinton originally voted AYE on cloture, and then changed her vote to NAY; I'm trying to find out what explains that).

With cloture approved, the bill itself then proceeded to pass by a vote of 69-28 (roll call vote here), thereby immunizing telecoms and legalizing warrantless eavesdropping. Again, while Obama voted with all Republicans to pass the bill, Sen. Clinton voted against it.

Obama's vote in favor of cloture, in particular, cemented the complete betrayal of the commitment he made back in October when seeking the Democratic nomination. Back then, Obama's spokesman -- in response to demands for a clear statement of Obama's views on the spying controversy after he had previously given a vague and noncommittal statement -- issued this emphatic vow:

To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.
But the bill today does include retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies. Nonetheless, Obama voted for cloture on the bill -- the exact opposition of supporting a filibuster -- and then voted for the bill itself. A more complete abandonment of an unambiguous campaign promise is difficult of imagine. I wrote extensively about Obama's support for the FISA bill, and what it means, earlier today.

With their vote today, the Democratic-led Congress has covered-up years of deliberate surveillance crimes by the Bush administration and the telecom industry, and has dramatically advanced a full-scale attack on the rule of law in this country...

What is most striking is that when the Congress was controlled by the GOP -- when the Senate was run by Bill Frist and the House by Denny Hastert -- the Bush administration attempted to have a bill passed very similar to the one that just passed today. But they were unable to do so. The administration had to wait until Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats took over Congress before being able to put a corrupt end to the scandal that began when, in December of 2005, the New York Times revealed that the President had been breaking the law for years by spying on Americans without the warrants required by law.

Yet again, the Democratic Congress ignored the views of their own supporters in order to comply with the orders and wishes of the Bush administration. It is therefore hardly a surprise that, yesterday, Rasmussen Reports revealed this rather humiliating finding:

Congressional Approval Falls to Single Digits for First Time Ever

The percentage of voters who give Congress good or excellent ratings has fallen to single digits for the first time in Rasmussen Reports tracking history. This month, just 9% say Congress is doing a good or excellent job. Most voters (52%) say Congress is doing a poor job, which ties the record high in that dubious category.

The Congress, with a powerful cast of bipartisan lobbyists and the establishment media class lined up behind telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping, looked poised to pass this bill back last December, but a large-scale protest was organized -- largely online -- by huge numbers of American who were opposed to warrantless eavesdropping and telecom immunity, and that protest disrupted that plan (the movement borne of opposition to this bill is only beginning today, not ending, here). Today, Sen. Chris Dodd, the leader of the opposition effort along with Russ Feingold, said this on the Senate floor:
Lastly, I want to thank the thousands who joined with us in this fight around the country -- those who took to the blogs, gathered signatures for online petitions and created a movement behind this issue. Men and women, young and old, who stood up, spoke out and gave us the strength to carry on this fight. Not one of them had to be involved, but each choose to become involved for one reason and one reason alone: Because they love their country. They remind us that the "silent encroachments of those in power" Madison spoke of can, in fact, be heard, if only we listen.
Today, the Democratic-led Senate ignored those protests, acted to protect the single most flagrant act of Bush lawbreaking of the last seven years, eviscerated the core Fourth Amendment prohibition of surveillance without warrants, gave an extraordinary and extraordinarily corrupt gift to an extremely powerful corporate lobby, and cemented the proposition that the rule of law does not apply to the Washington Establishment.

* * * * *

FISA Passes Senate, Vote 69 to 28 - Obama Votes to Shred Constitution

From on July 9, 2008:
"Via the ACLU (no link yet but check here soon):

The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 was approved by a vote of 69-28 and is expected to be signed into law by President Bush shortly. This bill essentially legalizes the president’s unlawful warrantless wiretapping program revealed in December 2005 by the New York Times.

On the bill:

[T]he Senate passed an unconstitutional domestic spying bill that violates the Fourth Amendment and eliminates any meaningful role for judicial oversight of government surveillance.

“Once again, Congress blinked and succumbed to the president’s fear-mongering. With today’s vote, the government has been given a green light to expand its power to spy on Americans and run roughshod over the Constitution,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This legislation will give the government unfettered and unchecked access to innocent Americans’ international communications without a warrant. This is not only unconstitutional, but absolutely un-American.”


The FISA Amendments Act nearly eviscerates oversight of government surveillance by allowing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to review only general procedures for spying rather than individual warrants. The FISC will not be told any specifics about who will actually be wiretapped, thereby undercutting any meaningful role for the court and violating the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The bill further trivializes court review by authorizing the government to continue a surveillance program even after the government’s general spying procedures are found insufficient or unconstitutional by the FISC. The government has the authority to wiretap through the entire appeals process, and then keep and use whatever information was gathered in the meantime. A provision touted as a major “concession” by proponents of the bill calls for investigations by the inspectors general of four agencies overseeing spying activities. But members of Congress who do not sit on the Judiciary or Intelligence committees will not be guaranteed access to the agencies’ reports.

The bill essentially grants absolute retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies that facilitated the president’s warrantless wiretapping program over the last seven years by ensuring the dismissal of court cases pending against those companies. The test for the companies’ right to immunity is not whether the government certifications they acted on were actually legal – only whether they were issued. Because it is public knowledge that certifications were issued, all of the pending cases will be summarily dismissed. This means Americans may never learn the truth about what the companies and the government did with our private communications.

“With one vote, Congress has strengthened the executive branch, weakened the judiciary and rendered itself irrelevant,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This bill – soon to be law – is a constitutional nightmare. Americans should know that if this legislation is enacted and upheld, what they say on international phone calls or emails is no longer private. The government can listen in without having a specific reason to do so. Our rights as Americans have been curtailed and our privacy can no longer be assumed.”