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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Don't "Compromise" Away Basic Fundamentals

Baseball: Not a great few days for the NL Central, including a sweep of the Cards by the Royals (they did give the Yanks a run for their money, a late game swoon stopping a possible three of four, but not a good team). Lou did not have a good return to Tampa Bay (having some first half), being swept. Neat trick -- blowing a lead in the third game by giving up four runs without getting an out ... two walks, two hit by pitches and a grand slam by the "relief." The starter was fine. Well, the Mets know a bit about that. Anyways, Cubs won today versus the other first place team in the city.

[Pelosi quote material added; again in lieu of consistent links, the usual suspects (see cites below) have discussed the matter and have good coverage and further links/info]
Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people. . .

After months of negotiation, the House today passed a compromise that, while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year's Protect America Act. . . It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.

It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise.

-- Sen. Obama (see, e.g., Glenn Greenwald/Salon)

As with taping a spot in support of a conservative Democrat (who waited to Obama won to endorse him) in the midst of a primary campaign against a liberal grassroots sort (shades of Lieberman vs. Lamont), this underlines the limitations of an Obama candidacy. We need not follow the path of some whiners and suggest that this means that everyone is the same, "I can't vote for him," and "prepare for a President McCain." Adults realize that candidates are flawed and races are about the overall comparison with their opponents.

Still, this does suggest why I didn't support him earlier. Obama has something of a radical message, but we cannot ignore that at the heart, he is a moderate. He plays it safe sometimes and wants to work within in the system. When the system is corrupt, this is a problem. Consider the very word "compromise." What exactly are we "compromising?" This is a piece with the habeas ruling -- the rule of law, civil liberties, the importance of a judicial check (including for discovery), executive overreaching and that some vague "whatever keeps us safe" standard isn't what our constitutional system is about.

What part of this should be "compromised" away? Glenn Greenwald, who is a good place to start, is right as well on the "bipartisan" point. What does that mean under our current system? A blanket Republican caucus (dissidents countable on one hand) plus enough Democratic enablers, not limited to "Blue Dogs." How fictional. The same thing really applies to the Blue Dogs. We are supposed to accept -- as if leadership is compelled by some simple majoritarian system to bring everything on to the floor -- that we must accept this sort of thing because the balance of power lies with Blue Dogs:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), gave the bill a lukewarm endorsement, saying the bill many supported was "not an option."

She said the real decision was between this "compromise" bill and the one the Senate has passed, which offered even broader surveillance powers and more protection for telecom companies. "That is the comparison, the contrast, that we have to make today."

Are you kidding me? The people forcing this down the leadership's throats (Durbin, Reid, Pelosi [so she says] are ALL against it; admittedly, the majority leader in the House -- by his actions, not some of his words -- appears to want it) do belong to the Democratic Party, right? Party membership does mean something. Why should the tail wag the dog here? Oh well, I guess this too is "off the table." Not "as bad," but the first comment here does get to the flavor of my sentiments too. We have a long road ahead of us.

Al Franken (he won his primary for Senate) argued on Air America in '06 that control of Congress would be valuable because of subpoena power. And, the "truth commissions" on such matters as torture,* Plame, and so forth do matter. This is so even if we rely on Lieberman and other Bush Dogs to control Congress. It does rankle, however, that repeated instances of lawlessness leads to but strong words. Now, lawlessness will lead to immunity. Let us not get caught up with legalisms. This legitimizes it.

It's nice that Obama "will work" against the measure. My sarcasm suggests only up to a point.** And, blocks discovery of what exactly went on. Yes, Congress can (should) investigate too, but time has shown that litigation can often better serve this investigatory function. Ah, but Obama said he will investigate as well when he is President, and will offer serious oversight. This is fine and proper. Still, pardon me for being suspicious of executive power, whomever is in power. And, the ongoing litigation serves that role now. Finally, it reaffirms important basic principles that should not be compromised, surely not for imperfect promises of future action.

Obama's furtherance of the scare tactic meme that we live in dangerous times, so must compromise our liberties and trust the executive above and beyond what the law (FISA) and Constitution holds is also offensive in the extreme. It is fine that he qualifies it with nice words, but on some level they are just window dressing. He is willing -- showing little leadership in the process (he is wishing to be the titular head of the party) but stays quiet at the key moment -- to "compromise" basic principles. To promote the fiction that this is necessary for our safety -- is Russ Feingold and the over hundred members of the House against it not concerned for it?

More of a piece with him saying he didn't want to deprive the men in the field resources ... surely this is what is meant by not allowing Bush to have a blank check in Iraq, rather, extending his line of credit. [The guy he endorsed talked about not "cutting and running."] The two steps forward, one step back of this depresses me. Even more that this at times seems too optimistic.


* See, Slate (one article noting the "patent illegality" of the treatment), Balkinization and other locales for the value of the current hearings. We might see Yoo testify. On that point, consider this appeal to authority in Scalia's (joined by the Chief Justice of the United States) habeas dissent:
Memorandum from Patrick F. Philbin and John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorneys General, Office of Legal Counsel, to William J. Haynes II, General Counsel, Dept. of Defense.

** In the real world, as with his late to the party opposition to the Iraq Occupation funding bill, this will be mostly token. As there, he was MIA at a key time, while the bill was being put together and the House Dems coming together to vote for it. As there, Obama claimed he needed time to read and examine it. Please. Don't insult my intelligence. Anyways, if he needed time, he used it unwisely. I'll take Sen. Feingold etc. over him as to the problems with the non-immunity aspects of the bill.