Sunday, April 30, 2006

The War Powers Act and Iran

In 1964 the U.S. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and provided President Lyndon Johnson the legal cover he needed to prosecute the Vietnam War. Partly, the Tonkin Resolution stemmed from the expansion of presidential powers that took place during World War Two under FDR and the Cold War under the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy Administrations. The threats to our national security were real and Americans believed whatever their presidents told them.

That changed when Presidents Johnson and Nixon sundered America’s honor and confidence to pursue an un-winnable and immoral war. The body counts multiplied and social unrest intensified as “peace with honor” eluded the grasp of Johnson and Nixon. Congress was stuck with a mistake it couldn’t undue and never wanted to repeat again.

Hence, Congress in 1973 enacted the War Powers Act. It requires the White House to regularly consult with Congress whenever contemplating military action, written notification within 48 hours of such action and its’ estimated “scope or duration” and congressional consent through either a declaration of war or "specific statutory authorization." Once invoked, the act prohibits a president from keeping the troops deployed for more than 90 days unless congress either declares war or passes a joint resolution upholding the president's policy.

One can make a compelling argument that the War Powers Act is an egregious example of legislative overreach. Indeed, the Constitution empowers the president as commander and chief of the armed forces. Presumably, this gives the President the authority to repel sudden attacks and deploy forces as he or she sees fit to contend with perceived threats. The act appears to encroach upon the President's authorithy as commander and chief. It can also be argued that this act amounts to dangerous micromanaging by the legislative branch.

Politically, no congress has dared to take on the executive branch and invoke the War Powers Act since its passage 33 years ago. Once hostilities are engaged the natural inclination is for the public to rally behind the president. During the early stages of a military conflict a president is at their high water mark of political strength and congress typically becomes docile.

Strategically, in most instances invoking the War Powers Act may also be dangerous if the president is forced to withdraw forces prematurely. America’s enemies may perceive it as a sign of weakness.

If I seem uncomfortable with the War Powers Act it’s because I am. Far preferable is for the president to respect the Constitution and not initiate pre-emptive wars without congressional authority and for the legislature to assert its’ prerogatives and demand justification and assurances before hostilities are engaged. Invoking the War Powers Act is an extreme measure rife with risks and repercussions that we can’t possibly foresee.

Sadly, however we’re living in extreme times. The first President Bush didn’t believe he needed any congressional authority in 1991. Had Congress not given it to him he would’ve pursued Desert Storm anyway. In 2002-03 the current President Bush also would’ve plunged ahead without any congressional authority.

In a way both congresses were effectively coerced into supporting each war with Iraq whether there was popular support for them or not. Neither congress was about to invoke the War Powers Act if either President Bush went ahead without congressional authorization and everyone knew it. Now three years after President Bush declared "mission accomplished" in Iraq he's once again beating the drums of war. Indeed, if Seymour Hersh’s reporting is to be believed, war with Iran is inevitable.

Putting aside whether one agrees with military intervention in Iran or not (I’m vehemently opposed for moral and strategic reasons), we have ample proof that this administration is not competent to manage a conflict with Iran. The Pentagon is currently imploding from within due to their lack of confidence in Donald Rumsfeld because of his mismanagement of our current war with Iraq. Furthermore, the diplomatic aftershocks following a military strike in Iran would require tremendous skill and finesse. Skill and finesse is simply not part of this administration’s DNA

I have no confidence in this administration’s ability to competently process parking tickets. I certainly don’t have faith in their ability to manage a war with Iran and the resulting diplomatic turbulence. It would be an absolute calamity for our country, the Iranian people, and the world.

In spite of the Iranian President’s irrational boasts the threat is not immediate. Indeed his threats are really about enhancing his leverage internationally with the United States North Korean style as well as domestic politics. Also, unlike 1981 when Israel bombed Iraq there are no easy cocksure targets.

Our best weapon against the current regime is time and patience. The myriad of factions and entities within Iran’s bureaucracy and society are hungering for western contact. Covert diplomacy with the regime’s political adversaries may be more effective and realistic than doing anything needlessly rash. Demographically this is a population that is young, restless, and receptive to western culture. They are Iran's future face if we don’t disrupt the evolution currently taking place.

Sometimes we Americans just have to get over our arrogance, hubris, and belief that we're entitled to absolute guaranteed security because we're Americans. The real world doesn't work that way. We do have limitations and a mature society knows when not to overreach. Anyone who believes strategic air strikes or invasion is a viable option is delusional.

However, this President is deluded and that's becoming embedded in our conventional wisdom. Bush is even more deluded then Nicholas II during the final days of Czarist Russia. Politically, he may find it impossible to obtain a congressional resolution for war this time. In spite of polls indicating a slight majority favoring strikes the Democrats are not likely to cooperate and even some congressional Republicans such as Chuck Hagel understand that Bush is off his rocker.

Off his rocker or not Bush retains command of our armed forces and he’s trigger-happy. The only way to stop him may be by invoking the War Powers Act and forcing a constitutional crisis. We can expect the Bush Administration would challenge congress’s authority facilitating far reaching political disruption and trauma for the country. However, allowing a war with Iran to go forward would be even worse.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Brain Fingerprinting and Civil Liberties

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) otherwise known, as brain fingerprinting will revolutionize how governments worldwide administer security and criminal justice. The potential repercussions for privacy rights are devastating. In years to come governments as well as corporations will possess the tools to examine an individual’s brain waves and attempt to determine if they’re lying.

In effect, FMRIs are neural imaging of one’s brain waves. The technology allows researchers to map the brain's neurons as they process thoughts, sensations, memories, and motor commands. Since debuting a decade ago, brain fingerprinting has facilitated transparency with the cognitive operations behind behavior such as feeling stimulated by music or recognizing a familiar face in a crowd.

FMRIs have also successfully helped neurologists to detect early signs of Alzheimer's disease and other disorders without invasive surgical procedures. Hence, there is no doubt that FMRIs represent great power and reach. The temptation to use FMRIs for purposes beyond medical practice may be irresistible for governments and corporations with access to the technology.

Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor from George Washington University specifically addressed the American Constitution and new technologies in an August 2005 article of the New York Times Magazine about then Supreme Court Justice nominee John Roberts. Among other issues Rosen speculated about was FMRIs and the 5th amendment:

“It's an open question, under the Supreme Court's current doctrine, whether FMRI scans, used as a sort of high-tech lie detector, would be considered a form of compulsory self-incrimination that violates the Fifth Amendment. If the justices viewed an involuntary brain scan as no more intrusive than a blood or urine sample or an ordinary fingerprint, there wouldn't be any Fifth Amendment problem. But if the court were to decide that FMRI scans are not only searching for physical evidence but also encroaching on a suspect's private memories and consciousness, the justices might conclude that the suspect's mental privacy is invaded and that he has been forced to testify against his will.”
For his article, Rosen also interviewed Carter Snead, a bioethicist at the University of Notre Dame who studied nero-imaging techniques that can detect the presence of electrochemical signals in the brain:

“There is also the possibility that police officers or counter-terror experts may eventually search suspects for brain waves that suggest a propensity toward violence -- a sort of cognitive profiling. 'You can do an FMRI scan showing that the structures in the brain responsible for impulse control and empathy are underactive and the parts of the brain responsible for aggression and more animalistic, violent activities are overactive,' Snead explained. 'Maybe with these nascent technologies, we'll be able to develop some kind of profile for a terrorist.' Suspects who show a propensity for violence might be detained indefinitely as enemy combatants even though they committed no crimes.”
It sounds like science fiction. Yet FMRIs are currently used in India. An article in the March 17th edition of New Kerela reported that Javed Shukat Khurshid, one of seven convicted murderers escaped police custody after sentencing. The article reads as any other newspaper in the world might describe such events except for this:

“The court had earlier awarded life imprisonment to Javed and six others, including Ismail Barafwala, Amjad Khan Pathan, Mehboob Khan Pathan, Sajid Khan alias Anna, Usman Gani alias bhola and Younis Sheikh for rioting and murdering a man on November 11, 2003.

The judge awarded the sentence after considering the results of the brain finger printing tests performed on the accused, among other facts in this case.”
On April 17th, New Kerela reported that India’s Minister for Science and Technology, Kapil Sibal announced a high technology initiative

“to enhance the speed and degree of fair dispensation of justice.”
According to the article, Minister Sibal advocated use of high technology because,

"We have seen many cases in which people have allegedly gone back on their statements. The aim is to reduce dependence on human beings."
As for brain fingerprinting itself, Minister Sibal noted that,

“It will help in validating the evidence. It will give an idea of whether a person was present at the site of crime or participated in the crime."
Sibal boasted in the article that utilization of this kind of technology in solving crimes would be implemented in twelve months. It’s only a matter of time before such a protocol spreads to law enforcement agencies worldwide – including the United States.

Steve Silberman wrote in the January issue of Wired that:

“Now FMRI is also poised to transform the security industry, the judicial system, and our fundamental notions of privacy. I'm in a lab at Columbia University, where scientists are using the technology to analyze the cognitive differences between truth and lies. By mapping the neural circuits behind deception, researchers are turning FMRI into a new kind of lie detector that's more probing and accurate than the polygraph, the standard lie-detection tool employed by law enforcement and intelligence agencies for nearly a century.”
We know that polygraphs, commonly known, as lie detectors are unreliable. Whether FMRIs are reliable requires more empirical data. Perhaps such a device may prove effective in solving crimes or preventing terrorism. The potential to save lives certainly exists and can’t be casually dismissed.

However, it’s use means encroaching upon the province of an individual’s thoughts and what government on Earth can be entrusted with such power? What is the legal framework for deploying this technology? Suppose employers coerce employees into signing waivers for FMRI scans to be administered? What if whistle blowers are intimidated into silence because of FMRI scans? Do the potential lives saved from crime prevention justify the potential abuse?

There are numerous questions about FMRIs requiring debate and civil discourse. Yet it’s doubtful that one in a thousand people are even aware of FMRIs existence. Meanwhile, civil liberties are debated within the familiar context of free speech, reproductive rights, gay rights and so forth. Those issues certainly merit robust engagement by the public but civil liberties are more than abortion rights and gay marriage. Within twenty years many of our contemporary debates will seem quaint and provincial.

Nobody asked John Roberts or Samuel Alito about technology and the law during their confirmations hearings before the Supreme Court. These men will preside over what the legal framework is for protecting civil liberties with FMRI scans for decades to come. Senator Joe Biden for example talked a great deal during both hearings but he didn’t ask a single question about these issues. Neither did anyone else on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The press was more concerned about the tears of Alito's wife.

Without public awareness, no one will raise important questions with future judicial nominees. I urge citizens to familiarize themselves with the issues of technology and civil liberties. Only then will our representatives properly engage

It is imperative that Democrats champion civil liberties by aggressively asking if privacy can be respected in pursuit of security with FMRI technology. Civil libertarians who vote Republican also are obliged to question whether their party can be trusted to utilize FMRI technology responsibly.

I fear my Democratic party will be timid in standing up for civil liberties when this technology is rolled out. It’s not hard to see conservatives portraying opponents to its’ use as soft on crime or terrorism. I also worry that the public at large may be too easily regulated by fear and not question whether their freedoms are in jeopardy.

Citizens worldwide need to start asking their leaders about FMRI scans while there is still time. And time is growing short.

SIDEBAR: I received an email stating that the Jeffrey Rosen New York Times Magazine article I referred to above mistakenly "conflated" brain fingerprinting and FMRIs and he referred me to this website. However, the University of Minnesota describes them interchangeably. Either way the issue of civil liberties and ethics remains the same. I intend to revisit this topic in a couple of years and review India's experience with this technology in their justice system.

I cross posted this topic on Daily Kos, My Left Wing, Booman Tribune, My DD and European Tribune and the comments from those communities are worth reviewing. Numerous comments semantically objected to the term "brain fingerprinting" and suggested that we need different terminology. They may have a point and the thoughtful email I received about Rosen's article makes me inclined to agree.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Anger Is Our Hammer of Justice

As a teenager in the 1980s, I listened to conservative talk radio host Bob Grant on WABC. That was the most hateful person I’ve ever heard. I remember one broadcast when a black gentleman called in and asked, “Mr. Grant why don’t you just admit that you’re prejudiced and hate blacks?” Grant snapped, “I am not prejudiced! Now get the hell off my phone you spade!”

Naïve idealist that I was, I called into to the Bob Grant show a few times. I actually believed I could engage this grown up in a civil conversation based upon facts and logic.

When he first came to WABC in 1984, Grant’s hours were between 9:00PM and midnight. So on Friday nights I would call in and try to persuade him that the Reagan Administration’s Nicaraguan policy was immoral. I even addressed him as “Mr. Grant” because I felt obliged to be respectful towards an adult.

Grant’s usual response went something like this:

“And here’s Rob from Tappan, New York who has nothing better to do on a Friday night then to call me!”

Sometimes he would accuse me of symbolizing all that was wrong with America’s youth. In Grant’s warped conservative mindset I was a bad seed at 15 simply because I didn’t march to Ronald Reagan’s drum. Still, I kept calling because I instinctively believed that civility and reason should prevail over anger.

I’m not naïve anymore. Now an adult I’ve learned that some people can’t be reasoned with and there is a place for anger. Indeed, sometimes it’s darker emotions that inspire action. Anger for example compelled me to phone banking and canvassing activities during the 2004 campaign.

We fell short but I firmly believe that a progressive reformation was launched from grass roots activism in 2004. I’m proud to have been a part of it. Decades from now 2004 will be considered a watershed just as 1964 was for conservatives. The culmination of this reformation will mean an expansion of economic and social justice. Yet the origins of this noble quest for a better world stem largely from anger.

In the past 48 hours, high profile community blogs such as Daily Kos, My DD, and Booman Tribune buzzed over the Washington Post's profile of Maryscott O’Connor, the proprietor of My Left Wing. Maryscott, affectionately known, as MSOC by the liberal blogosphere has become a lightning rod and symbol of the “angry left.”

As a new member of MSOC’s community at My Left Wing I am heavily biased in her favor. We’re both inclined to vote Democrat but our greater allegiance is towards progressive principles. And even as she grows in notoriety MSOC remains plugged into her community and is very nurturing towards smaller individual progressive blogs like mine. The cause is bigger than her or anyone and she knows it.

Hence, David Finkel’s profile of MSOC in the Washington Post left me with ambivalent feelings. I feared this bastion of the mainstream press would do a hatchet job on her. It turns out the Washington Post was considerably fairer than I predicted. MSOC’s conviction and integrity came through. The profile is evidence of MSOC’s growing influence and like many on the Left I’m gratified.

Yet the profile also left me feeling dissatisfied. Mr. Finkel was obviously limited by the amount of words he could use. Consequently, his focus was concentrated more on “anger” rather than exploring the context behind the anger of the Left in America. MSOC managed to cut through with this incisive comment that speaks for many of us:

"I was not like this before. I was riddled with empathy for everyone suffering in the world. Classic bleeding-heart liberal."
Reading those words I couldn’t help but reflect upon my own “empathy” towards the hateful conservative Bob Grant as I attempted to process the emotions of a deranged man decades older than me. Instead of assertively confronting his hate I became Grant’s whipping boy. There is a lesson to be learned from that experience as the Left went through a period of battered wife syndrome.

I don’t believe we on the Left should conceal our anger. We’re not going to accomplish anything by singing, “everyone is beautiful in their own way.” An old friend has often lectured me during my private rants that “Republicans are people too.” Well that’s nice so how about they start behaving like people with a stake in this planet’s collective health?

We on the Left are angry with conservatives who apply power with reckless abandon against the most vulnerable in society. Meanwhile we’re sitting on the sidelines and can do nothing but scream until we have power ourselves. Of course we’re angry.

What I resent is the branding of our anger as petty and mindless. It happens that the Left is bursting with ideas. Indeed, we have too many ideas for our own good. It’s damn hard to synthesize what we believe and want on a bumper sticker or package in a soundbite.

Meanwhile, America’s political Right has successfully established a networked communications infrastructure that promotes vapid hate. Hate against gays, Volvo drivers, latte drinkers, urban dwellers, tree huggers, atheists, agnostics, pacifists, assertive women, thoughtful men, intellectuals, immigrants, ethnic minorities, the elderly who need prescription drugs to survive, unions, judges, whistleblowers, civil libertarians, Muslims, secular Jews, and even Terry Schiavo’s husband!

If that isn’t enough, conservatives brand the Left as pessimists while they’re convinced we’re living in “end times” and at the precipice of an apocalypse! Why do anything about healthcare when the world is going to end? Yet if we challenge the political Right on these points the mainstream media simply portrays our side as angry embittered pessimists.

I absolutely want progressives to continue formulating creative solutions about health care, creating jobs, and facilitating world peace. Anger for us has a purpose. Ours is a political movement that seeks power to proactively address challenges ranging from global warming to wage stagnation.

At the same time, the days of our being treaded upon are over. Anger is our hammer of justice. As the rock group Twisted Sister once put it:

Oh We're Not Gonna Take It
no, We Ain't Gonna Take It
oh We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore

we've Got The Right To Choose And
there Ain't No Way We'll Lose It
this Is Our Life, This Is Our Song
we'll Fight The Powers That Be Just
don't Pick Our Destiny 'cause
you Don't Know Us, You Don't Belong

oh We're Not Gonna Take It
no, We Ain't Gonna Take It
oh We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore

oh You're So Condescending
your Gall Is Never Ending
we Don't Want Nothin', Not A Thing From You
your Life Is Trite And Jaded
boring And Confiscated
if That's Your Best, Your Best Won't Do

we're Right/yeah
we're Free/yeah
we'll Fight/yeah
you'll See/yeah

oh We're Not Gonna Take It
no, We Ain't Gonna Take It
oh We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore

oh We're Not Gonna Take It
no, We Ain't Gonna Take It
oh We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore
no Way!

we're Right/yeah
we're Free/yeah
we'll Fight/yeah
you'll See/yeah

we're Not Gonna Take It
no, We Ain't Gonna Take It
we're Not Gonna Take It Anymore

we're Not Gonna Take It, No!
no, We Ain't Gonna Take It
we're Not Gonna Take It Anymore

just You Try And Make Us
we're Not Gonna Take It
come On
no, We Ain't Gonna Take It
you're All Worthless And Weak
we're Not Gonna Take It Anymore
now Drop And Give Me Twenty
we're Not Gonna Take It
oh Crinch Pin
no, We Ain't Gonna Take It
oh You And Your Uniform
we're Not Gonna Take It Anymore

Sunday, April 09, 2006

My Liberal Fantasy: Russ Feingold's 2008 Nomination Acceptance Speech

Good evening, I love New York! Applause. Smiles broadly and waits for silence. And I proudly accept your nomination for President of the United States. Crowd erupts with sustained applause and cheers.

My friends, the time has come for an American renaissance of community, values, and justice. Almost seven years ago in this great city Osama Bin Laden unleashed his terror and the Republican Party unleashed a reign of indecency. Tonight we begin anew in the very city where it all went wrong. We bring hope.

I am a son of the heartland and proud of it. My grandfather Max first settled in Janesville, Wisconsin in 1917. From my parents I learned the values of education, hard work, and standing up for what’s right. Where I come from, people know what they mean and mean what they say.

My parents also instilled in me the importance of faith. They used to drive one hour each way to Madison for 25 years to attend services and bring me to Hebrew school. Dena, my sister is a pioneer of faith. She is a rabbi at Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha and we’re very proud of her.

My Jewish heritage is a source of inspiration and pride. The Jewish experience in America represents a journey of struggle, patriotism, and civic duty. Only a few decades ago Jewish people were excluded from colleges, good jobs, and social clubs. We’ve come a long way.

I want to thank the trailblazers from both parties who left their mark and made my nomination today possible. The late Jacob Javits of New York - a great Senator, statesman and important leader for civil rights. Arlen Specter (boos), my longtime colleague from Pennsylvania, who ran for President in 1996. The late Paul Wellstone of Minnesota (cheers) – a true champion of the people, a great personal friend who would’ve made an outstanding President. Paul was a pioneer of decency.

Joe Lieberman (boos). Yes we disagree on a few things but he risked his life as a young man to champion civil rights in the Deep South during the sixties. And as Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 he helped carry the Democrat’s banner with dignity and broke an important barrier.

I also want to acknowledge another pioneer – Hillary Rodham Clinton (cheers). Senator Clinton and I waged a spirited battle. She fought ably and well. A woman of conviction, Senator Clinton commands my respect and the gratitude of our nation. Her speech last night was gracious and poignant. She and I stand together to renew the promise of the American dream.

My opponent is a man I know well and call friend. Both our names are linked forever in the campaign legislation known as McCain-Feingold. Truthfully, (smiles), I always thought Feingold should come before McCain because of the alphabet.

We all know his personal story of heroism. A Vietnam POW who put his comrades’ well being before his own. John could have escaped the horrors of the Vietnamese prison camps sooner but he didn’t want to abandon his brothers in arms. No matter what our disagreements he is a man I will always honor and respect. I am proud to call John McCain my friend.

But this election is about the future. Sadly, my good friend John McCain represents the failed ideology of the past. One that has left our nation fiscally insolvent, spiritually corrupted, less free at home and disrespected abroad. We represent change. (cheers)

My good friend John McCain embraces the “agents of intolerance” like Jerry Falwell. Only eight years ago John stood against the apostles of hate in the Republican Party. Today he has been co-opted by theocrats. Incredibly, the Republican theocrats have more in common with the mullahs of Iran then our founding fathers. (cheers)

I am a man of faith. Faith is my personal compass and guide as a father, brother, neighbor and son. It has no place at the policy making table. Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. Your government must never be allowed to impose a value system favoring any religious sect. That is not America. (cheers)

Thomas Jefferson, the author of our Declaration of Independence put it best:

“But it does me no injury to my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Anyone who invokes the name of God to promote hate or intolerance is committing a sin. (cheers) For these people the Enlightenment that produced the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution never happened.

One may judge a person by the company they keep. I regret to say that my good friend John McCain is on the wrong side of the divide between respecting faith and imposing a theocracy.

My good friend John McCain earned his party’s nomination by becoming an enabler of corporatist values. The tax cuts for the super wealthy he once opposed he now wants to make permanent.

My good friend John McCain supports cutting student loans, cutting funding for education, cutting back on rebuilding the Gulf Coast, and skimping on our seniors. He prefers tax cuts for his new fat cat friends instead of genuine health care reform.

My good friend John McCain talks the talk about deficit reduction but no longer walks the walk. He asks the poor children of Hurricane Katrina to sacrifice at the altar of fiscal discipline but not the captains of industry who outsource jobs overseas.

My good friend John McCain didn’t stand up for civil liberties after 9/11. When President Bush broke the law and spied on our fellow Americans without warrants I demanded accountability. He didn’t.

My good friend John McCain didn’t stand up to President Bush’s crusade to stock our federal judiciary with corporate theocrats opposed to a woman’s right to choose, environmental protections, the social safety net, and civil liberties.

My good friend John McCain supported South Dakota’s anti-abortion law that even denied a victim of rape or incest the right to choose.

My good friend John McCain supported a President who deliberately misled the public into war. Deliberately shed our blood and treasure to pursue delusions of empire at the expense of fighting terrorism.

My good friend John McCain continues to drink from the neocon’s Kool-Aid of fantasy and incompetence.

My good friend John McCain and his party had nearly eight years and still can’t properly equip our troops. The Halliburtons and Bechtels make money hand over fist but GI Joe and Jane still is not protected from land mines.

My good friend John McCain belongs to a party that regards national security as a photo-op for the evening news. Men and women sacrifice their lives to defend our freedom. It is morally wrong to treat those lives as a cheap resource. Iraq was the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time. (cheers)

My good friend John McCain wants to police Iraq’s civil war with our blood and treasure. I want to bring the troops home! (cheers and the convention floor trembles)

Sadly, my good friend John McCain sacrificed his political ambitions for expediency. The “Straight Talk Express” is a one-way ride to empowering religious zealots, corporate plutocrats, and war-mongers.

When America was traumatized with fear after 9/11, I stood on principle and opposed the Patriot Act and was called soft on terrorism.

When political leaders in both parties blindly rubber stamped the Bush Administration’s rush to war in Iraq, I stood on principle and opposed it and was called unpatriotic.

When political leaders in my party resisted campaign finance reform, I stood on principle and joined John McCain to change the system and was called naïve.

When political leaders in both parties robotically supported staying the course in Iraq, I stood on principle and demanded a timetable for withdrawl and was ridiculed as stupid.

When political leaders in both parties were too intimidated to demand accountability for President Bush’s illegal domestic surveillance program, I stood on principle and demanded censuring the President and was called extreme.

When political leaders in my party opposed the nomination of a qualified Chief Justice for the Supreme Court, I stood on principle to support him and was called disloyal.

I have a record of progressive independence. I am a proud unabashed liberal who doesn’t stick his finger in the air to check which way the wind is blowing.

But I’m also a pragmatist and don’t lay claim to a monopoly on wisdom. Smart people don’t intimidate me. I can be persuaded by facts and arguments that make sense. In a Feingold Administration the “reality based community” will have all the seats at the table. (cheers)

One of those seats belongs to my running mate, former General and NATO Commander Wesley Clark. (cheers and standing applause)

Forgive me for sounding old fashioned, but Wesley Clark is a real man. Unlike our current Vice President, his top priority during Vietnam was service. (cheers). Wes is an international statesman from humble origins in Arkansas. He’s a religious man, a smart man, and an honest man who puts country before self and service before profit.

With Wes’s help I will build a national security team that’s tough, smart, has foresight and earns the trust of the international community.

We’re not simply going to scare people about Iran and lob rhetorical insults. We’re going to work with our allies and do something about it. And yes that includes diplomacy with Iran. (cheers)

We’re not going to hide behind China and Japan when dealing with North Korea. We’re going to take the lead and work it out. Under President Clinton, North Korea’s nuclear program was contained. This administration let the genie of the bottle. We’re going to do something about it and yes that includes diplomacy. (cheers)

We’re not going to simply gaze into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eyes and reward bad behavior. We’re going to engage Moscow as a partner in world peace and expect reciprocity.

We’re not going to pretend that global warming doesn’t exist! (Cheers). Global warming is a threat to our national security. It’s a threat that knows no borders. We need the help of the entire international community.

But first we must lead by example ourselves. I will mobilize our nation’s best minds in academia, science, government, and private industry and convene a domestic summit on global warming. I will ask for sacrifice from our citizens and I’m confident Americans will respond when called upon.

It’s time to consume less and conserve more. Each of us has to change our habits. We can’t shirk that responsibility and pass it on to future generations. Mother Earth’s clock is ticking right now and we don’t have a moment to lose.

Global warming is also an opportunity to become energy self-sufficient and control our own destiny. We need not be slaves to the price of oil and autocratic regimes in the Mid-East that both feed our cars and plot to kill us. We’ve been shortsighted for too long and under my leadership we will be shortsighted no longer. (cheers)

I know many people feel let down by my party in recent years. Some are under the impression we don’t have values. That is a myth. A sick and pathetic myth engineered by the messengers of intolerance. Under my leadership the Democratic Party will not be tread upon anymore. (cheers)

I am proud of my party’s history, its principles, and its legacy.

Ours is the party that saved capitalism during the Great Depression, saved the world from Hitler’s fascism, faced down Stalin and Khrushchev in the Cold War, built the middle class, and expanded civil rights.

Ours is the party that won’t abandon the people to large corporations that default on their pension plans and outsource jobs. The GOP believes the free market is a hockey game played best without referees. We believe America is a community and that we’re all in this together.

If you’re a risk-taking entrepreneur trying to build a business – ask yourself why all the breaks go to the big corporations? Why can a large airline declare bankruptcy and avoid their pension obligations? Yet the entrepreneur has no protection against risk to take care of his family?

Why are you penalized for creating jobs for Americans, forced to endure double taxation and assume the cost of health benefits for employees while the oil companies pay hardly any taxes at all and use cheap labor overseas? You know why. We all know why. The Republican Party is for sale. To all the risk-taking entrepreneurs on the front lines of job creation I declare, we’re on your side. Come home to the Democratic Party.

Ours is the party that believes leaders are elected to make positive contributions. You expect us to serve you, not feather our own nests. Corruption and crony capitalism breed incompetence and gets in the way of solving problems. If you’re fed up with dishonesty and the culture of corruption in Washington, come home to the Democratic Party.

Ours is the party that believes access to universal healthcare is a right of citizenship. Too many companies are forced to outsource their jobs because of the rising cost of health care. I believe that health care reform will also serve as a job stimulus to create employment for American citizens. An entrepreneur that doesn’t have to assume the burdens of paying health insurance is a boss ready to hire. If you’re fed up with skyrocketing premiums, HMO mandates, and disappearing jobs, come home to the Democratic Party.

Ours is the party that believes human rights are universal. I’m not afraid to say that gay rights are human rights. I believe it a sin to deny any child of God equal protection under the law because of their sexual orientation. I’m sorry but that is not a matter to be left up to the states. Once upon a time we had slave states and free states in this country. That didn’t work too well. I don’t believe dividing America along the lines of homophobic states and tolerant states works well either. If you believe that we’re all one country entitled to equal protection under the law – come home to the Democratic Party! (That brings the house down)

Ours is the party that believes government must live within its means. President Clinton left the Republican Party a surplus. They squandered it with irresponsible tax cuts for the rich and a massive boondoggle to the HMOs and pharmaceutical industry. If you believe in fiscal responsibility – come home to the Democratic Party.

The Republican Party promised to change the tone of Washington. They have not delivered. We will.

The Republican Party promised to strengthen Social Security and provide better healthcare for our seniors. They have not delivered. We will.

The Republican Party promised to fix immigration. My good friend John McCain tried to persuade his party to sign onto a comprehensive and compassionate solution. They have not delivered. We will.

The Republican Party promised to control spending. They have not delivered. We will.

The Republican Party promised America would be a humble nation under their leadership. They have not delivered. We will.

The Republican Party promised to strengthen education and not leave any child behind. They have not delivered. We will.

The Republican Party promised to make America safer. They have not delivered. We will! (convention floor rocks with cheers)

My friends, as former President Clinton once said,

“there is nothing wrong with American that can’t be fixed by what is right with America.”
The past eight years have not been kind to our nation. We were attacked and then we made things worse with self-inflicted wounds. But I retain my faith in America’s promise. We’re a hard working, compassionate, and resourceful people.

We’ve overcome tougher times. The Civil War. The Great Depression. Two World Wars. We also have a history of overcoming mistakes and errors in judgment. Vietnam was horrible but we still managed to win the Cold War and enjoy prosperity in the nineties.

Progress sometimes takes a detour. These past eight years were a detour from progress for our nation and the world. But the damage is not irreparable.

Let it be said that our generation met the challenges of our time with resolve and wisdom. We can. And we will.

May God bless the United State of America. Thank you!

Cheers on the floor. Balloons drop. Feingold goes onto win in 2008. Let’s make it happen.

SIDEBAR: Maryscott O'Connor, the proprietor behind the fantastic community blog My Left Wing appeared on FOX News yesterday. Click here to play a podcast of that appearance. As far as I'm concerned, Maryscott is the goddess of the blogosphere who is dedicated to amplifying and promoting the entire community of progressive bloggers. I urge everyone to visit her blog and participate in her community. You can find a link to My Left Wing in my blogroll under "Community Blogs."

here to review the comments for this fantasy topic in Daily Kos - although not a recommended diary by that community there were numerous comments. Today's posting did become recommended diaries in My Left Wing, Booman Tribune, and My DD.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

An Onion On Steroids

Exposing the truth about GOP rule is analogous to peeling off layers of an onion on steroids. This is quite apparent in two of the most important news items this past week: the January 2003 British memo reported by the New York Times and the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in which former Nixon aide John Dean, agreed with Senator Feingold about censuring President Bush.

First let’s address the latest revelations from our friends in the United Kingdom. When you combine this memo with the original “Downing Street” memo one can’t help but believe the worst. Bush and Blair shamelessly deliberated over how to “provoke” a confrontation with Saddam. This is reminiscent of Adolph Hitler conjuring up a pre-text to invade Poland in 1939. If that offends anyone – I don’t care. What they did is a criminal act and dishonored my country.

Intelligence “failures” which guided both leaders to war is an urban legend. Washington and London both knew there was no evidence of WMD’s in Iraq. The British memos make that clear and expose the public explanation about flawed intelligence as complete fiction.

When CIA director George Tenet told Bush they had a “slam dunk” case, that DID NOT mean there were WMD’s in Iraq. Indeed what Tenet really meant was, “we can scare the American public to support you.” Both memos from Blair’s government put Tenet’s boasts in that context.

Tenet fell on his sword to protect this secret and was rewarded with a medal. I believe Tenet truly wanted to protect America from Al Quaeda prior to 9/11 but was in over his head. That’s the impression I have from reading Richard Clark’s book Against All Enemies. Tenet’s pre 9/11 failures merited his immediate termination the next day. His conduct after 9/11 ought to be enough to have him frogmarched to a maximum-security prison.

Senator John McCain, the GOP’s lying maverick rolled out their standard propaganda regarding worldwide intelligence failures on Meet the Press today. Retired former U.S. Marine General Tony Zinni decisively refuted McCain’s claim’s on the same program (online transcripts not available as of this posting).

Once upon a time I respected McCain because of his military service and willingness to stand firm against his party’s “agents of intolerance” as he referred to Jerry Falwell in the 2000 campaign. McCain's performance today demonstrated that he’s just a garden variety lying Republican.

As for the Bush Administration’s justifications for their illegal domestic surveillance program, I am reminded of a lyric written by the Who’s Pete Townsend on their Odds and Sod’s album:

“You can cover up your guts but when you cover up your nuts you’re admitting that there must be something wrong.”

If as they claim domestic surveillance is required to monitor terrorists they have a legal framework in place with the FISA protocol. It is a very forgiving legal protocol which practically grants the executive branch unlimited discretion.

Some claim that FISA is outdated in this era of computers and emails. A single computer may contain a thousand email addresses and require warrants for everyone one of them. Well, if there is one thing we can all agree government does well it’s generate paper – so I don’t see that as a compelling excuse.

However, if we concur that FISA is an anachronism for today’s challenges, then the Constitution demands the executive branch drafts a new legal framework with elected representatives from Congress. Does anyone doubt that both parties in congress would’ve given this President anything he asked following 9/11? Both the Patriot Act and the 2002 resolution regarding Iraq aptly illustrate that point.

Hence, as a sentient being capable of deductive reasoning and a student of human nature, it seems obvious the administration is using their domestic surveillance program for reasons other than terrorism. Perhaps they’re monitoring political adversaries?

To this point the Democrats behave as if they’re victims of battered wife syndrome. Meanwhile the GOP resembles every divorced woman’s abusive first husband. I don’t expect Democrats to publicly accuse the administration of abusing domestic surveillance for reasons other than terrorism as I have, until there is tangible proof. Even Senator Feingold has refrained from going that far and politically that makes sense.

Their inability to support Feingold regarding censure however is cowardly at best and immoral at worst. The President broke the law and resists all attempts at oversight. Once again we’re expected to “trust” this administration’s intentions and not hold anyone accountable. The battered wife doesn’t want to turn to the law while the abusive husband behaves dishonorably with utter impunity.

In 1998, Senator Joe Lieberman couldn’t rush to the senate floor fast enough to condemn President Clinton for his illicit behavior. Clinton was abroad at the time and Lieberman refused to wait for Clinton’s return – violating the quaint tradition of not attacking the president while he was in a foreign country. Other Democrats applauded Lieberman for this at the time.

Yet most Democrats shy away from taking this President on about violating our civil liberties? Enough! A battered wife will continue to be battered until she decides her days of being tread upon are over.

Feingold smartly put forward a censure resolution to hold the administration accountable under the law and use as leverage for obtaining the truth. It’s an eminently easy and reasonable course. Conservatives habitually cherry pick which laws are worth enforcing: condemning illegal immigration but forgiving lawbreaking from President Bush.

Yes, the Democrats are the minority party but if they unified on this point the Republicans would be on the defensive and we might even learn whom this administration is really spying on.

The time has come to aggressively peel back the GOP onion. Consider this an opportunity for the Democrats to become a confident grown up instead of a battered wife.