Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, October 29, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, the SOFA updates, Bully Boy's bored in the White House, Iraq launches an investigation into the attack on Syria, Palin talks energy, Gonzalez talks values, and more.
Yesterday US Secretary of State Condi Rice met in DC with Massud Barzani who is president of the Kurdish region of Iraq and he told the press that the main point stressed by Rice was the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement.  Today Barzani went to the White House to meet with the Bully Boy. 
Seated side-by-side, the two provided an Oval Office photo op and Bully Boy declared, "We had a discussion today on uh on several major topics.  We talked about the progress on the election law and on the hydrocarbon law, but we also talked about the strategi -- Status Of Forces Agreement, called the SOFA.  President Barzani has been a very strong advocate of the Iraqi government passing the SOFA, and I appreciate that.  I informed the President we received amendments today from the government.  We're analyzing those amendments.  We obviously want to be uh we want to be uh helpful and constructive without undermining basic principles.  And I remain very hopeful and confident that the SOFA will get passed.  And Mr. President, you get a lot of credit for your leadership on that issue." Barzani chose to speak through a translator.  His final statement (other than "thank you") was translated into English as: "And in terms of SOFA, we do believe that it is in the interest of the Iraqi government, it's in the interest of this country, and we have been and we will continue to support it and support its ratification."  That led to Barzani correcting the translator with "Iraqi people."
Translator: And in terms of SOFA, we do believe that it is in the interest of the Iraqi government --
Massud Barzani: Iraqi people.
Translator: -- it's in the interest of this country and we have been and we will continue to support it and support its ratification.
That is not a minor point especially considering the seperation impulses re: the Iraqi government on the part of the KRG.  Dan Eggen (Washington Post) describes Bully Boy's remarks and attitude as "mild encouragement" which comes after "strong suggestions from other administration officials that a compromise is unlikely. White House press secretary Dana Perino said on Tuesday, for example, that the "door is pretty much shut" on further negotiations."  "Mild encouragement" might be too strong.  When speaking Bully Boy rarely looked at Barzani and when Barzani spoke (except during the "thank you" sentence), Bully Boy was looking everywhere else and making weird grimaces (most notable when Barzani referred to "some major problems").
Yesterday at the US State Dept, deputy spokesperson Robert Wood refused to comment on the amendments being reported stating he had no seen them: "But until the Iraqi government compiles these concerns into a, you know, onto a piece of paper and forward it to us officially I can't really respond."  Today spokesperson Sean McCormack handled the press briefing and the amendments were the first thing raised by the press.  We did we received some comments from the Iraqi government.  . . .  The SOFA, yes, indeed we did.  However, you'll be disappointed, I suspect, in my response Matt [Matthew Lee, Associated Press].  Since we just received these today we're going to take a careful look at them, give it a thoughtful review and once we have had a chance to assess them we'll provide a reply to the Iraqi government. So the process continues."    [This echoed Dana Perino's earlier comment at the White House today, "I've not seen them.  Our negotiating team in Baghdad has them.  It's possible somebody else here in the building has, but I have not seen them.  And we're going to decline to comment on the content of them and our reaction to them until we have a little bit more time to look at them more closely.") Matthew Lee pointed out how little time was left ("you've got a two-month lifespan" before the UN mandate expires December 31st) and McCormack replied, "I'm not aware of any substantial work at all on any alternative."  He then clarified that with, "I don't think anybody's put pen to paper on anything."
Unrelated to Iraq -- unless you ask a question about Iraq -- the US State Dept does take seriously those random polls.  And they are trying to provide more video content.  State Dept spokesperson Sean McCormack wants you to ask questions directly and to do so by video ("less than 60 seconds").  They're calling it "Briefing 2.0."
Sean McCormack: The idea is that you will be able to ask questions of me directly by posting a video on YouTube.  So what you need to do in order to participate in this is go to the State Dept channel on YouTube, click on this video and follow the instructions after that.  It's pretty easy.  This should be a lot of fun. I know it's going to be fun for me.  I get to hear from the press corps and their questions every single day and give them answers.  This is opportunity for me to hear directly from you and for you to hear directly from me, whatever happens to be on your mind.  So give it a try.  We're going to try to get to as many of your questions as we possibly can.  If we don't get to it first time around, keep trying.  So go to and follow the instructions after that. 
Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) reported this morning on the proposed amendments to the treaty which "would give Iraqi authorities the right to determine whether a U.S. service member was on- or off-duty when he or she committed an alleged crime outside American bases, where such an American would be tried.  It also would allow authorities to inspect all U.S. cargo enterting the nation.  Iraqi politicians see the changes as a way to preserve Iraqi sovereignty."  Mary Beth Sheridan and Karen DeYoung (Washington Post) explain al-Maliki's "cabinet now wants the agreement to include language to 'confirm that Iraqi land would not be the center for aggression' against its neighbors, said Planning Minister Ali Baban, who attended Tuesday's meeting. . . . The inspection demand, along with an explicit ban on attacks on neighboring countries, reflects concerns that the United States might launch an attack on Iran from Iraqi territory."  Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) notes that the changes sought by Baghdad include killing the clause that allows Iraqis to ask the US to remain in their country past 2011.  Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshya Zebari told the BBC today, "The Americans have accepted to look seriously into this amendment. Some of them, actually, are language-related formulations, not substantive, but some other amendments are substantive changes, which I personally doubt will go down well with the American side."  Arash Parsa (Iran's Press TV) explains, "Iraqi groups have reacted to the security pact in different ways.  For example, certain ultranationalist Kurdish leaders have welcomed SOFA and the US military presence, in line with their traditional policy, just because they believe it might lay the groundwork for realizing their dream of an 'independent Kurdish country'. However, Iraqi Sunni groups which mainly rely on an Arab nationalist ideology, see the US military presence in their country as a serious infringement on Iraq's sovereignty, hence they are reluctant to get too close to the Americans.  Shia groups have also a clear picture of the situation in their mind; after the Shia clergy adopted an uncompromising stance against the pact, every Shia politician is aware that he or she must pay a heavy price for supporting such a humilating pact.  Of course, that is, if there were any Shia politicians who are ready to sacrifice their country's sovereignty for short-term interests."
At the State Dept today, Sean McCormack also declared that despite the announcements by the Syrian government, the US school and cultural center remain open. That he knew or said he did.  But will the US Embassy in Syria shut down today?  He didn't know.  Will the US Embassy close due to protests that were scheduled for today?  He didn't know.  He said that was something each embassy determines based on their own security assessment.  Earlier at the White House, Dana Perino had directed the press to the State Dept for questions regarding "the possible closure of the embassy".  Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) quotes al-Maliki's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh declaring, "The Iraqi government rejects the strike by the U.S. planes on Syrian territories as part of the policy of the Iraqi government and its constitution which does not allow the Iraqi land as a base to conduct such attacks on neighboring countries.  The Iraqi government has initiated an investigation on this incident and called for the U.S. forces not to repeat such an act." Parker also notes Iraq's Parliament also condemned the US attack on Syria.  Ellen Knickmeyer (Washington Post) reported this morning on a letter to the United Nation and its Security Council that Syria delivered which "urged Iraq to investigate the U.S. raid and said the attack came as Syria had been increasing efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq."   The Iraqis are going to investigate and Reuters reveals that Iraq's National Media Center declared today, "The Syrian side will be provided with all details and information when investigation is concluded."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that claimed the lives of 2 people working for the Ministry of Education, a Baquba roadside bombing that claimed 1 life and left fifteen people wounded and a Mosul car bombing that claimed the life of 1 police officer.  Reuters notes six other police offiers were wounded in the Mosul car bombing and notes another Mosul bombing that wounded three Iraqi soldiers and another Mosul roadside bombing which left three police officers injured, a Ramadi roadside bombing claimed 1 life and wounded another person, and a Kirkuk sticky bomb resulted in two police officers being injured. Reuters also notes a roadside bombing near an ice cream shop claimed 5 lives and left seventeen people wounded.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Balad Ruz home invasion in which 3 people were murdered ("the father of the Sahwa leader, his daughter and her husband") and fourteen more ere wounded.  Reuters notes 1 Iraqi soldier shot dead in Mosul and 1 Iraqi police officer shot dead in Mosul.
Iraq doesn't have sovereignty currently, let's not assume it has justice.  Two years ago three American service members were killed: Thomas Tucker, Kristian Menchaca and David Babineau.  Tim Cocks and Peter Graff (Reuters) explain that two of the three accused in the attack "were found not guilty" yesterday but the third, Ibrahim Karim al-Qaraghuli, was judged to be guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.  Whether he's guilty or not, who knows?  Whether there's justice in Iraq is debatable.  However, David Babineua was killed while Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker were spirited off and tortured before they were killed.  So we'll note the conviction.   Equally true is that statements were made connecting the assault to the gang-rape and murder of 14-year-old 
 Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, the murder of her 5-year-old sister and both parents by US soldiers (not Babineua, Menchaca or Tucker).  In 2006, Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) reported on how Justin Watt (who was not part of the conspiracy) came forward with what he had been hearing.  This was while US soldiers Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker were missing and, though the two were not involved in the war crimes, they were the ones chosen for 'punishment' as The Sunday Telegraph revealed in December 2006.   Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) explains today, "The attack was one chapter in a brutal history of this army unit. Just four months earlier, American soldiers from the same unit raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and then killed her, her parents and sister, burning the bodies afterward.
Four soldiers were convicted and sentenced in the rape case and a fifth soldier was discharged from the military. A sixth had already left the military when the others were court-martialed; he is scheduled to be tried in federal court.  None of the soldiers captured and killed on June 16 were among those implicated in the rape and murder case."  Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) also notes Abeer and explains that the trial involved testimony "from witnesses who were unwilling to show up in court."  October 22nd, Mike wrote, "Abeer is the 14-year-old girl who was gang-raped while her parents and five-year-old sister were killed in the next room. Then Abeer was murdered. All the US soldiers involved in the war crimes have been punished except for Steven D. Green."  Mike noted Brett Barrouquere (AP) reporting on what happened after Steven D. Green was taken into custody -- he became a "chatterbox" and was "voluntarily making nearly two dozen statements while in custody".  Green, who was admitted in the military on one of their moral waivers, has been fingered by the other soldiers as the ring leader.  He has maintained he is innocent in the past but his lawyers are now floating an insanity plea.  Unlike the other soldiers, Green had already been discharged before the war crimes were revealed.  For that reason, he will be tried in a civilian court.
Turning to the US presidential race.  Julia Preston (New York Times) reports Democratic presidential nominee Barack "Obama embraces new law-and-order language adopted in the Democratic Party platform at the convention.  Although Americans are 'welcoming and generous,' the platform states, 'those who enter our country's borders illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of law.'  Instead of the Democrats' emphasis, as recently as last year on integrating illegal immigrants into society, the platform says, 'We must require them to come out of the shadows and get right with the law.'  Heather Higginbottom, the Obama campaign's director for policy, said Mr. Obama had not altered his basic views.  If elected, Mr. Obama would insist that illegal immigrants pay back taxes and fines, learn English and go to the back of the immigration line to become legal."  That is so offensive but not at all surprising.  Latinos didn't favor Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party primary a 'little,' they favored her overwhelmingly and it was because there was a relationship and a record.  It was ignored by the liars of Panhandle Media but Latinos can always be discarded and trashed by the likes of Amy Goodman, Laura Flanders, et al.  (Phillip Rodriguez' Latinos '08 documentary told the truth the liars of Panhandle Media refused to.) So it's no surprise that the vindictive Obama political machine would create one of the most offensive party planks regarding undocumented workers as a form of punishment.  Independent journalist  David Bacon has long covered the challenges immigrants to the US face and his latest written report is "Silence on Immigration" (Foreign Policy In Focus) which notes of the next president, whomever he or she is, "Something is clearly wrong with the priorities of immigration enforcement. Hungry and desperate workers go to jail and get deported. The government protects employers and seeks to turn a family-based immigration system into a managed labor supply for business. Yet national political campaigns say less and less about it. Immigrant Latino and Asian communities feel increasingly afraid and frustrated. Politicians want their votes, but avoid talking about the rising wave of arrests, imprisonment, and deportations."  Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) and it was published last month.  Yesterday Dissident Voice featured Lance Selfa calling out PDA (Pathetic Democrats of America).  Today Joshua Frank offers "Note to Progressives for Obama: What Happens After Election Day?" which includes the following:
Does [Norman] Solomon even understand what it means to "put up a fight"? And what's with the notion that progressives will "apply pressure" once Obama wins? They have no cash and he's already going to receive most of their votes. What are they going to do to pressure him, poke him in his ribs? Cause a stink by farting through the halls of Congress? Obama may actually listen to us if he thought progressives were considering to vote for a guy like Ralph Nader, which is the point Nader seems to be making by campaigning in swing states this week. Nader knows how to put up a real fight, one not mired in hypotheticals and fear-mongering, so he's pressuring Obama where it matters most. 
Of course, such a direct confrontation to Obama's backward policies ruffles the slacks of many devout liberals. But that is the point. Progressives are not flush with cash and as we all should know, flashing the almighty buck is usually the best way to grab a politician's attention. But the only thing we have at our immediate disposal now is votes. These crooks need us to get elected. Obama already has the majority of left-wing support shored up despite his resistance to embrace our concerns. Imagine if he had to earn our votes instead of receiving our support without having to do a thing for it?  
So let's prepare for what's ahead. Obama may win next Tuesday, but what will happen to the movements that have been sidelined in order to help get the Democrats elected? What will become of the environmental movement after January 20? Will it step up to oppose Obama's quest for nuclear power and clean coal? Will the antiwar movement work to force Obama to take a softer approach toward Iran? Will they stop the troop increase in Afghanistan? 
These are but a few of the questions I'd like progressive supporters of Obama to answer. I've yet to hear exactly how they will pressure an Obama administration. In fact, I don't think they will. George W. Bush will be gone and that will be enough for most.   Progressives faced a similar confrontation in 1992 when Bill Clinton took office, but without much of a fight we saw neoliberalism take hold in the form of NAFTA and we endured the Telecommunications Act, Welfare Reform, a forest plan written by the logging industry, the dismantling of Glass-Steagall, the Iraq Liberation Act, and much much more.  
What makes the Democrats believe that they even deserve our support now? President Bush has indeed been bad, but his most egregious policies were upheld and supported by the majority of Democrats. They gave Bush the green light to whack Saddam while they controlled the Senate. They supported the PATRIOT Act (Obama voted for its reconfirmation), the War on Terror, Bush's increased Pentagon budget, a no-strings Wall Street bailout and two awful Supreme Court confirmations. You may also remember that two years ago we ushered Democrats back into office with the belief that they might actually fight Bush on Iraq. Instead we've had nothing but complicity, with Democrats time and again supporting increased war funds.  
Ralph Nader is the independent presidential candidate and Matt Gonzalez is his running mate.  Staying on a the topic of the foolish such as Norman Solomon, we'll note this from Team Nader:


Three is the number of principled journalists who this week recognized the long term benefit behind Ralph's run for President. (That's a big number for the week before the election -- trust us.) 

Before we get to the three, check out one Norman Solomon, who again this week makes the tired old argument that Obama is the least worst of the two major party candidates.  

And therefore educated citizens should not risk a vote for Nader/Gonzalez.

Compare this lily-livered Norman Solomon approach to the three principled ones who weighed in on the Nader/Obama/McCain contest.  

Number one, we have Alexander Cockburn, writing in this week's issue of The Nation magazine.  

Cockburn has been looking this month for one positive reason to vote for Obama. He's still looking.  

In an article titled "Against Obama," Cockburn makes the point that:    

"Abroad, Obama stands for imperial renaissance. He has groveled before the Israel lobby and pandered to the sourest reflexes of the cold war era. At home he has crooked the knee to bankers and Wall Street, to the oil companies, the coal companies, the nuclear lobby, the big agricultural combines. He has been fearless in offending progressives, constant in appeasing the powerful."

Number two, we have William Greider.   

Greider wrote an article, also in The Nation this week, titled "Nader's Stubborn Idealism."  

In it, Greider argues that Ralph is "a man of political substance trapped in an era of easy lies."  

Greider quotes Ralph as saying "So long as progressives are willing to settle for the least worst alternative, they will remain ignored and excluded from power."

And number three, we have Allison Kilkenny who makes a similar point in the Huffington Post this week, in an article titled "The Least Worst Trap."   

So, you have your three principled journalists.  

And your Norman Solomon style unprincipled ones.  

The principled ones will join with us -- the Nader/Gonzalez campaign and you, our loyal supporters -- on the winning side of history.  

With the end of corrupt political party domination of our soci  ety. 

When Obama/Biden engage in another risky foreign war.

When a Democratic Congress rubber stamps their rightward drift.  

But to build toward victory, we need your help now.  

To drive upward our vote totals.  

And to send a message to corporate Washington -- we're here, we're organized, we're not going away.  

So, donate your $3 today.  

Join Nader/Gonzalez on the winning side of history.  

Onward to November  

Meanwhile Jake Tapper (ABC News) covers the Los Angeles Times refusal to release the videotape of Barack partying with unsavory types.  John Bentley (CBS News) notes Republican presidential candidate John McCain has called for the paper to release the 2003 videotape which includes Barack with that man he barely knows Bill Ayers as well as Bernardine Dohrn: "We should know about their relationship, including, apparently information that is held by the Los Angeles Times concerning an event that Mr. Ayers attended with a PLO spokesman.  The Los Angeles Times refuses to make that videotape public."  Scott Conroy (CBS News) reports Governor Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, raised the issue: 
"What we don't know is how Barack Obama responded to these slurs on a country that he now professes to support," Palin said.
Over the chorus of loud boos from the crowd, Palin pointed out that the Los Angeles Times has refused to release the videotape of the banquet, which was explained in detail in the story that the newspaper published over six months ago.  
"Maybe some politicians would love to have a pet newspaper of their very own," she said. "In this case, we have a newspaper willing to throw aside even the public's right to know in order to protect a candidate that its own editorial board has endorsed."
This comes as McCain-Palin releases a new advertisement.  At the campaign's official blog, Matt Lira explains (link also has the video for the ad): "Today, McCain-Palin 2008 released its latest web ad, entitled "Preconditions." The ad highlights that while Barack Obama has pledged to meet with Iran and other state sponsors of terror without preconditions, Iran has outlined several preconditions of their own. For a meeting, Iran is demanding that the United States cease its support of Israel and that all American forces must leave the Middle East. The question is what will Barack Obama do?"  Meanwhile the Christ-child climbed back on the cross today.  Jake Tapper reports Barack whined that John McCain has "been spending these last few days calling me every name in the book."  He went on to claim that McCain will next call him "a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten!"  McCain spokesperson Tucker Bonds responded, "No one cares what Barack Obama does with his toys, but Americans do care that he wants to raise taxes, add a trillion dollars in new spending and redistribute your hard-earned paycheck as he sees fit."  On the plus, it should be noted that -- unlike MSNBC stooge Rachel Maddow -- Barack grasps that there is a difference between a Socialist and a Communist. 
Palin gave a speech on energy today in Toledo Ohio and Julie Bosman (New York Times) is one of the few reporting on that:
Standing on a riser above a concrete floor, under the glare of fluorescent lighting, Ms. Palin addressed fewer than 200 people, mostly employees of Xunlight Corporation, a spin-off from the University of Toledo that manufactures solar energy implements.
She called for greater energy independence, blaming decades of presidents and legislators for failing to achieve it.
"It's been 30 years' worth of failed energy policies in Washington, 30 years where we've had opportunities to become less reliant on foreign sources, and 30 years of failure in that area," Ms. Palin said. "We must steer far clear of the errors and false assumptions that have marked the energy policies of nearly 20 Congresses and seven presidents."
Ms. Palin also laid the blame at the feet of her Democratic counterpart, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has opposed offshore drilling. Mr. Biden was overheard telling a supporter on the campaign trail that he did not support clean-coal technology in the United States.
AP states she "called for a 'clean-break' from Bush energy policies, which she said have relied too much on imported oil."  CNN reports that McCain will appear on Larry King Live tonight.
Meanwhile, Ralph's running mate Matt Gonzalez issues his own important statements:
Watching the Democrats in the final weeks of the presidential election has been a lesson in revisionist history. While they lament the terrible crimes perpetrated against the American people by George Bush and vow to keep fighting for our rights, they conveniently gloss over the fact that they have no standing to make such claims. Indeed, the Democrats, including Senator Barack Obama, have actually voted with President Bush's agenda, making them complicit in his acts, not valiant opponents defending our liberties.
Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said that if she became the speaker of the House of Representatives she would end the war in Iraq. Remember that? The Boston Globe noted, "Pelosi vows no 'blank check' on Iraq funds." (1/8/07). In her own words: "If the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it. And this is new to him, because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions." Rick Klein of the Globe noted "Pelosi's comments mark the first suggestion by a Democratic congressional leader that Congress could use its authority over the nation's finances to hasten an end to the war. Her remarks point toward an aggressive stance on Iraq from Congressional Democrats in their opening days of control of the House and Senate."
Yet after she became the speaker of the House in Jan 2007, war appropriations actually went up by $50 billion, with no strings attached and no date for the withdrawal of troops. This year, 2008, they've gone up by another $25 billion for a two-year total of $350 billion, with no end in sight. So what happened to the promise of "no blank check?"
Sen. Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, has complained that the Republicans have filibustered (a procedure used by the minority party to delay voting on legislation) more times in the last two years than in the entire history of the United States to explain why he can't move forward a progressive agenda. First he said it was over 70 times, then adjusted it by saying it was 65 times (Las Vegas Sun 3/6/08); yet still the highest for any two-year period (the previous record was 57 filibusters) (Politico, 3/6/08; 4/15/08). But Sen. Reid's frustration has proven to be a red-herring. Did you know that Reid lets the Republicans filibuster telephonically, meaning that he doesn't require that they physically present themselves on the floor of the Senate? Why is he making it easy on them? Is this what an opposition party looks like?
Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic Party nominee for president, has a long history of voting against the interest of the American people, and specifically, the working class. Before entering the presidential contest, he supported the Republican Class Action Reform Bill, which made it harder for class-action lawsuits to be brought in the state courts. State courts are exactly where consumer protection lawsuits and recent wage and hour claims have succeeded in improving the lives of workers and helped them obtain better wages and breaks during work hours have succeeded.
Progressive commentators at the time called it a thinly veiled special-interest extravaganza. Journalist David Sirota noted "Opposed by most major civil rights and consumer watchdog groups, this Big Business-backed legislation was sold to the public as a way to stop 'frivolous' lawsuits. But everyone in Washington knew the bill's real objective was to protect corporate abusers." (The Nation, 6/26/06). So why did Obama vote for it?
Sen. Obama supported one of the worst attacks on civil liberties in recent history, the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, which extended an earlier law granting law enforcement expanded powers to search telephone, e-mail, and financial and medical records, in addition to granting the federal government a host of other powers to combat so-called domestic terrorism. After saying he would oppose it if elected to the U.S. Senate (NOW questionnaire, 9/10/03), in July 2005, Obama voted for it.
But this wasn't enough. After entering the presidential race and running on a "change" message, Obama vowed in February of 2008 to vote against—and filibuster if necessary--the FISA bill amendment (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) that gave immunities to telecommunications corporations that cooperated with the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program. This eavesdropping program clearly violated the privacy of law-abiding Americans at the behest of the president, and made the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover seem tame by comparison. Those voting in favor of the bill didn't even first require full disclosure to see how deep the illegal conduct extended and agreed to apply the law retroactively.
Despite his promises to the contrary, and despite the vehement protests of many of his supporters, when the FISA bill came to the Senate for a vote this past July, Sen. Obama voted for it without explaining how this vote fit in with his change message or reconciled with his repeated claims he was going to protect the American people from repeated assaults on civil liberties by President Bush. Here was his chance to lead and make good on his promise, and what did he do?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the FISA bill "an unconstitutional domestic spying bill that violates the Fourth Amendment and eliminates any meaningful role for judicial oversight of government surveillance" (ACLU press release, 7/9/08). Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office called the bill "a Constitutional nightmare" and noted "with one vote, Congress has strengthened the executive branch, weakened the judiciary and rendered itself irrelevant."
Obama even voted to stop debate on the bill so he could get back to the campaign trail. How ironic is it that he was in a hurry to give more speeches about change and hope but couldn't find the time or integrity to convert these ideas into action?
On the eve of the vote MSNBC's Rachel Maddow noted "I'm betting that [Pres. Bush's] wildest dreams did not include the prospect that Congress -- a Democratic-led Congress -- would help him cover up his rimes. Yet that is exactly what the US Senate is poised to do." (Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 7/8/08).
As Sen. John McCain started to call for domestic drilling to ease our dependence on foreign oil, rather than debate the scientific and economic illogic of the position, Sen. Obama announced that he agreed with McCain. Reversing a 25-year ban on off-shore oil drilling, Sen. Obama led his party's reversal, offering no explanation for how this would ease oil prices, particularly as experts noted that drilling would likely have an almost imperceptible impact on oil prices in the near future.
As Lester Brown and Jonathan Dorn of the Earth Policy Institute noted in "Drilling For Oil Is Not The Answer" (9/30/08) "The U.S. Department of Energy projects that lifting the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) moratorium [of the lower 48 states] would not increase production before 2017 and that by 2030 production would only amount to 0.2 million barrels per day--less than 1 percent of current consumption."
Furthermore "The U.S. Department of Energy projects that opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) would lower gasoline prices at the pump by a mere 2 cents per gallon." Even if we combined the two regions in question, it wouldn't amount to much of an impact on oil prices: "Lifting the moratoria on drilling in ANWR and the OCS would reduce the price of a gallon of gasoline by at most 6 cents--and this would not be seen for at least another decade."
Proponents of drilling have also exaggerated the
environmental safety of current off-shore drilling and oil production technology in general. There is widespread evidence that current drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is already leading to serious pollution and spills. After reviewing data from the National Response Center, the Houston Chronicle found there had been 595 oil spills across four state coastlines, totaling roughly 9 million gallons spilled in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ("Spills from hurricanes staining the coast" by Dina Cappiello, 11/13/05). So why is Sen. Obama, who claims to care about the environment, now advocating off-shore drilling?
In June of 2008, the conservative Supreme Court struck down the use of the death penalty in cases of child rape (Kennedy v. Louisiana held that states may not impose the death penalty for the commission of a crime that did not result in the death of the victim), a decision that surprised even death penalty opponents who hailed it as an important step toward full abolition of the death penalty.  Sen. Obama's response? He quickly called a press conference to denounce the decision. Obama stated that he agreed with the extreme conservative minority, comprised of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas. Despite the many known racial and class inequities inherent in the death penalty, a practice abolished and abhorred in most of the rest of the world, Obama celebrates that he has always been a supporter of it.
On the campaign trail, Sen. Obama likes to highlight death penalty legislation that he sponsored while a member of the Illinois legislature, to show his commitment to reform. But let's be clear, he didn't work on laws to address the disproportionate rate of death penalty convictions of African-Americans, but rather a law to require videotaped interrogations of death penalty suspects. Yes, something we can applaud, but something many critics have noted merely greases the wheels of this injustice.
Most disquieting of all, as a state legislator, Obama voted "to expand the list of death-eligible crimes" (Chicago Tribune, 5/2/07), despite admitting in his own allegedly soul-searching memoir that the death penalty "does little to deter crime." (The Audacity of Hope, 2006).
There is more, that's all that will fit into the snapshot.