Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Apparently I’m Not Eligible to Run for Office as a Republican; How About You?

So the Republican National Committee is considering a “purity test” to determine which candidates will get party support in the 2010 elections. For those who’ve missed this, here is the full text of the resolution (sponsored by Indiana über-conservative James Bopp):

Proposed RNC Resolution on Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates

WHEREAS, President Ronald Reagan believed that the Republican Party should support and espouse conservative principles and public policies; and

WHEREAS, President Ronald Reagan also believed the Republican Party should welcome those with diverse views; and

WHEREAS, President Ronald Reagan believed, as a result, that someone who agreed with him 8 out of 10 times was his friend, not his opponent; and

WHEREAS, Republican faithfulness to its conservative principles and public policies and Republican solidarity in opposition to Obama’s socialist agenda is necessary to preserve the security of our country, our economic and political freedoms, and our way of life; and

WHEREAS, Republican faithfulness to its conservative principles and public policies is necessary to restore the trust of the American people in the Republican Party and to lead to Republican electoral victories; and

WHEREAS, the Republican National Committee shares President Ronald Reagan’s belief that the Republican Party should espouse conservative principles and public policies and welcome persons of diverse views; and

WHEREAS, the Republican National Committee desires to implement President Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates; and

WHEREAS, in addition to supporting candidates, the Republican National Committee provides financial support for Republican state and local parties for party building and federal election activities, which benefit all candidates and is not affected by this resolution; and

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee identifies ten (10) key public policy positions for the 2010 election cycle, which the Republican National Committee expects its public officials and candidates to support:

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership; and be further

RESOLVED, that a candidate who disagrees with three or more of the above stated public policy position of the Republican National Committee, as identified by the voting record, public statements and/or signed questionnaire of the candidate, shall not be eligible for financial support and endorsement by the Republican National Committee; and be further

RESOLVED, that upon the approval of this resolution the Republican National Committee shall deliver a copy of this resolution to each of Republican members of Congress, all Republican candidates for Congress, as they become known, and to each Republican state and territorial party office.

Chief Sponsor:
James Bopp, Jr. NCM IN
Donna Cain NCW OR
Cindy Costa NCW SC
Demetra Demonte NCW IL
Peggy Lambert NCW TN
Carolyn McLarty NCW OK
Pete Rickets NCM NE
Steve Scheffler NCM IA
Helen Van Etten NCW KA
Solomon Yue NCM OR

I don’t want to waste time discussing whether a purity test is a smart idea or a bad idea; hey, it’s their party. But I do want to take on each of the ten themes expressed in the test itself.

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

OK. I get that Republicans were opposed to the stimulus bill. The problem is, I don’t recall hearing many Republican ideas to help prevent the economy from taking a nose dive into a true depression. One thing that Republicans don’t seem to grasp right now is that there is a huge difference between being opposed to something and offering up a viable alternative. Think of it this way: If you suggest eating Chinese for dinner, I could say, “Gee, I don’t feel like Chinese; why don’t we go for Italian, instead.” From there, we could have an open and honest debate about which would be a better meal choice. On the other hand, if I was a Republican, my response would be more like this: “Gee, I don’t feel like Chinese (after all, they’re communists!); so we’ll just skip dinner tonight.”

I also fail to understand the constant mantra about “smaller government” as if by simply making government “smaller” we make it better. I’m less worried about the size of the government than I am with the effectiveness of that government.

As to the national debt and deficits, I seem to recall these going up, not down, under a Republican administration. It seems that Republicans are firmly opposed to debt and deficits except for debt and deficits that they like. Finally, I’d like to be certain what Republicans mean when they say “lower taxes”; lower taxes on whom? The wealthiest Americans who can easily afford to pay a bit more from the money that they’re parking in illegal offshore bank accounts? Why is it that I doubt that “lower taxes” means repeal of regressive taxes like sales tax.

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

First, does that mean that Republicans will support an end to the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies? After all, an anti-trust exemption doesn’t really seem consistent with market-based insurance reform. Second, when Republicans talk about “Obama-style government run healthcare” does that mean that they oppose Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and military healthcare? Those programs are, of course, all government run. What about the insurance provided to members of Congress? Finally, what type of reform do Republicans support? Remember that the plan offered by Senate Republicans didn’t prohibit exclusion based on pre-existing conditions (among a host of other failings). We’ve had a largely “market based” system (with anti-trust exemptions) for years and look where that’s gotten us. And how exactly do Republicans plan to handle the millions of uninsured Americans? Insuring a measly 3 million additional Americans over 10 years (while leaving 30-50 million uninsured) doesn’t really seem to be a solution to the problem. Then again, so long as the “solution” is merely opposition and obstruction…

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

I wonder how many Republicans can actually explain what cap and trade legislation means. And, for that matter, I wonder how many of the Republicans who oppose cap and trade also believe that global warming is a myth. The funniest part of this is that cap and trade is a market-based reform. That is the whole idea; allow the market to put a value on the right to pollute and provide cost incentives for reducing emissions. And again, note that as usual, what Republicans oppose is spelled out clearly (Obama’s stimulus bill, Obama-style government run healthcare, cap and trade) but what Republicans support is much, much more nebulous (smaller and market-based). Again, it is easy to be opposed to a particular, narrowly-defined policy; it is much more difficult to articulate an alternative.

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

In all honesty, I don’t know enough about card check to really get into this discussion. I will note, however, that it seems strange, in the entire universe of issues for Republicans to focus on, that card check makes the top ten.

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

This point is one of the most insidious of all of the points on the Republican purity test. Why? Did you note that Republicans don’t just support legal immigration, but also support assimilation? In other words, Republicans are telling immigrants to come in legally, but once here, they had better jettison their cultural (and religious?) heritage and assimilate into American society. And why is that I suspect that the Republican version of “American society” is the same thing as Glenn Beck’s “white culture”?

In addition, I’m not quite sure how supporting legal immigration and assimilation is accomplished “by opposing” amnesty. What does one have to do with the other? More importantly, what precisely is the Republican plan to deal with illegal immigration and the illegal immigrants who are already here? Again, they oppose a particular policy (amnesty) without offering a solution to the existing problem.

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

First, who doesn’t support “victory in Iraq and Afghanistan”? Do Republicans really think that either President Obama or Democrats support “defeat”? It seems to me that the real question is the definition of “victory”. More importantly, I find it quite odd that when the Republican purity test finally gets around to specific things that Republicans are supposed to support, the focus is on a particular strategy advocated by the military. The last time I checked, the military was overseen by civilian leadership. It is important to remember that the issues being looked at by military planners are almost exclusively military. We don’t ask or expect military planners to look at diplomatic consequences of a particular policy, the cost to implement that policy (what about that support for a smaller national debt…?), the cost in lives or impact upon military families (I suppose that the military might factor this in to the calculation, but I don’t really know), or the desire of the American electorate to engage in the particular military operation. I suspect that generals recommended attacks on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but we allowed civilian leadership to decide what was in the best interest of the country. So too should civilian leadership decide what is in the best interests of America when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan. If that means a surge, then so be it; but the decision needs to be made on the basis of all known information and should take into consideration all relevant matters, not just the matters relevant to the battlefield itself. Military strategy options should be developed by military planners but decisions regarding those strategic options should be made on the basis of national interest, not just military necessity.

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

This one leaves me a bit puzzled. First, the use of the word “containment” harkens back to the Cold War and fears of Soviet expansion. I suspect that the real issue being “supported” is limits on the ability of North Korea or Iran to export nuclear technology or terrorism. And again, who doesn’t support those ends? Do Republicans really think that President Obama or Democrats oppose “containment” of Iran or North Korea? More problematic is the phrase “effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat”. What precisely does this mean. Again, I doubt that anybody supports ineffective actions. The real question, of course, is what action would be effective? So, for example, are harsh sanctions “effective”? Maybe I’m wrong, but when I read this particular point of the purity test, I take it to really be referring to military action as the “effective action”. Maybe I’m wrong. But if not, I’m troubled by the idea that Republicans are being asked to support a military action without necessarily considering either alternatives or consequences. Forget Iran for the moment; what would be the consequences of the use of force against North Korea? Do we really want to elect leaders who want war on the Korean peninsula?

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

I’m not going to take the time in this particular post to explain why I oppose the Defense of Marriage Act (and why I believe it might be unconstitutional) or to explain why I support same sex marriage (or at least domestic partnerships that have all of the benefits and obligations of marriage). Instead, I’ll simply note that of the items that Republicans apparently view as the litmus test for whether a candidate is worthy, opposition to same sex marriage counts for 10%. I still don’t understand how the issue of whether a loving, committed couple can be allowed to enjoy the benefits of “marriage” can rise to this level of importance. And, for the record, I note that those states that have allowed same sex marriage have neither imploded, been struck by wave after wave of natural disasters, nor sunken into the bowels of the earth; moreover, I note that in those states the institution of heterosexual marriage remains alive and well.

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

I’m glad that Republicans oppose health care rationing. I’m curious to know how they plan to stop insurance companies from continuing to ration care or, for that matter, how they intend to stop the effective rationing for those people who can’t afford health insurance. Republicans also oppose the denial of health care. That seems like a pretty clear blanket statement; yet last time that I checked, Republicans were set against health care for illegal immigrants (remember Rep. Joe Wilson’s “you lie” moment?). And recall, once again, that the Republican health care reform proposal did not prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

With regard to the funding of abortions, first I note that it is a blanket opposition. There is no nuance or exception for matters of rape, incest, or life of the mother. “Gee, sorry, that you’re gonna die ma’am, but if you can’t pay for the abortion on your own, we can’t help you!” Talk about compassionate conservatism. I also have a problem with enshrining certain types of moral issues into federal funding policies. Why, for example, are Republicans opposed to funding abortion but not drugs for erectile dysfunction or hair replacement? More importantly, why are Republicans opposed to funding abortion but not opposed to funding the death penalty, wars, torture, and illegal wiretaps? If every issue to which a large group of voters objected on moral grounds were excepted out of government funding, I suspect that very little would be funded (then again, I suppose that Republicans would view that as good, so long as the military was still fully funded). I also have a problem with the exception for abortion given that other religious traditions come to the issue of abortion with a different understanding and mindset. Thus, while the denial of funding may satisfy a conservative Christian worldview, it may also run directly contrary to a Jewish understanding of when abortion is acceptable. If my religious tradition has a different understanding of the issue, why should someone else’s religious understanding determine how federal spending impacts upon my religious beliefs? (For a more in depth discussion of religious views of abortion, see my post Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State’s Laws from January 2008). I get that conservatives don’t want their tax dollars to pay for abortions; I don’t want my tax dollars to pay for torture. Republicans will do almost anything to protect the “unborn”; but once a child is born, don’t look to the Republicans for help or protection, no sir!

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership;

Like abortion, I’ve written before about my thoughts on gun control and the Second Amendment and I won’t belabor the point here. But I do want to point out the fact that the opposition to “government restrictions on gun ownership” is another blanket statement. There is no exception for children, the mentally ill, or felons (or terrorists for that matter) and there is no exception for assault rifles or armor piercing bullets or rocket-propelled grenades (or nuclear weapons…). So it would seem to me than any Republican who supports even modest gun control legislation would not pass the party’s proposed purity test.

And what happened to honoring the tenets of this recitals from the preamble of the proposed resolution:

President Ronald Reagan also believed the Republican Party should welcome those with diverse views

Somehow the notion of welcoming diverse views doesn’t seem to come through in the proposed purity test.

As a counterpoint to the Republican purity test, take a look at this purity test for Democrats proposed by Devilstower on Daily Kos:

(1) We support the rights extended to Americans extended under the Constitution. All the rights. For all Americans.

(2) We support thoughtful, pragmatic solutions that protect American lives, American standards, and American pocketbooks. This includes finding solutions that don't require bombing anyone.

(3) We support an America that has diversity in race, thought, background, and religion not out of some hazy idealism, but because it is our nation's greatest strength.

(4) We oppose torture in any form, in any place, at any time, for any reason.

(5) We support American business, and recognize that an unregulated market is an unfair market, an unstable market, and a market doomed to failure.

(6) We support American workers, and know that when workers are allowed to organize they make their jobs, their companies, and their nation stronger.

(7) We believe that the reputation of our nation is valuable and must be zealously guarded against those who place expediency ahead of law.

(8) We believe in spreading democracy and human rights to the rest of the world by vigorously upholding those ideals here at home.

(9) We believe that access to our government is not for sale. Not in the courthouse, not in the White House, and not in the legislature.

(10) We believe that the health of our planet is not a zero-sum game, not a game of "you go first," and not a game.

What is interesting is that I don’t necessarily completely agree with each and every point in this “purity test” either (for example, I’m very hesitantly willing to consider torture in a true ticking time bomb case). Nevertheless, I think that the ideals espoused by this purity test are certainly worth considering, at least as a comparison to the proposed Republican purity test. Read both sets of positions and then ask yourself in which version of our country would you rather live?

Finally, ask yourself whether a purity test like that proposed by the Republicans makes sense. Which would you prefer: (a) party that has pre-determined how its members must think and how they must vote on certain issues; or (b) a party that tells its members to think for themselves, honor their ideals and values, and represent the voters that elected them, rather than the party to which they belong.

Oh, one more thing, as long as I’m looking at purity tests and lists of values and ideals. Charles Johnson, the founder of the right-leaning blog Little Green Footballs has announced that he is parting ways with the right because of:

1. Support for fascists, both in America (see: Pat Buchanan, Robert Stacy McCain, etc.) and in Europe (see: Vlaams Belang, BNP, SIOE, Pat Buchanan, etc.)

2. Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)

3. Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)

4. Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)

5. Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)

6. Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)

7. Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)

8. A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)

9. Anti-Islamic bigotry that goes far beyond simply criticizing radical Islam, into support for fascism, violence, and genocide (see: Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, etc.)

10. Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)

And much, much more. The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff.

I won’t be going over the cliff with them.

I disagree with Charles Johnson on many issues, but I’ve always found him to be reasonable and fair minded. When he takes a position, he almost always backs it up. Ever since I came across Little Green Footballs during the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, I’ve found his site to be a destination to see what the rational right is thinking. As Johnson has frequently noted over the last several months, too often what the right is thinking isn’t rational at all.

So anyway, it looks like I won’t be eligible to run for office as a Republican in 2010. Shucks.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

The Fight Over Habeas Corpus

Among the current arguments and accusations being thrown back and forth between the campaigns of Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain is the Supreme Court's recent decision to allow prisoners at Guantanamo to petition a federal court for a writ of habeas corpus. McCain, like the dissenting minority on the Supreme Court, suggests that this will be dangerous to the safety of America. In fact, McCain called the Court's decision "one of the worst decisions in history". Obama, in contrast, noted that the "principle of habeas corpus, that a state can't just hold you for any reason without charging you and without giving you any kind of due process -- that’s the essence of who we are".

First a caveat : Though I am an attorney, I am far from an expert on the issue of habeas corpus (and I know virtually nothing about criminal law). So, if I say something factually incorrect, please let me know.

So, let's consider what the Supreme Court really said. This may be easier by talking about what the Supreme Court did not say. SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) did not say that prisoners at Guantanamo must be set free; that prisoners at Guantanamo can't be held at Guantanamo or at military prisoners; that prisoners must be treated as prisoners of war; or that the US could only hold those prisoners if they were proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Nope. What SCOTUS did say is that those prisoners have the right to petition a federal court with a petition for habeas corpus.

So what, really, does that mean? It means that a prisoner can ask a federal court to hold a hearing in which the government has to present evidence as to why the detention of the prisoner is appropriate. All that the government has to do is convince a federal judge that the detention of the prisoner is warranted; the government does not have to prove that the prisoner is "guilty" and certainly does not have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Given that some prisoners have been detained at Guantanamo for five years or longer without any independent review of their detention, what is so wrong with having a judge examine the evidence?

Sen. McCain and others on the right argue that allowing these prisoners to petition a court to consider whether they are rightfully detained will be dangerous for our nation. The implied threat here is that the courts will free these prisoners and send them back to whence they came so that they can do us more harm. But, if the prisoner was lawfully detained, then the court will have no reason to free the prisoner. So what is the real worry? Could it be that we have imprisoned people who did nothing wrong and who aren't a threat to America (or at least weren't a threat to us until we made them our enemies by imprisoning them)?

The real problem is that Congress has allowed President Bush to create a system whereby anybody that the President or military says is an "enemy combatant" can be locked up and the key thrown away, without a real trial (don't forget that the President tried to use this justification to lock up American citizens, too). Either these prisoners are prisoners of war (in which event certain requirements must be met under the Geneva Convention) or they are something else. But under our system of justice and jurisprudence, we don't leave it up to the President to say who is good and who is bad, who is innocent and who is guilty, and lock up, forever, those that the President says are a danger to us.

The first President Bush said that Manuel Noriega, the President of Panama was bad. So we had a little war, arrested Noriega, and put him on trial. When the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, we found those responsible, and put them on trial. Timothy McVeigh was tried and executed; he wasn't executed without trial. In our other wars, when we've taken prisoners and we've treated them as prisoners of war. Only in our "war on terror" have we decided neither to try prisoners nor treat them as POWs. Rather, we've allowed the President to simply decide who is bad and lock them up. That is what medieval kings used to do to their rivals and that is why the concept of habeas corpus developed in old English law.

So, we have two positions and concerns to weigh: On one side, we have the fear that a judge might decide that a terrorist was illegally detained and free that terrorist. As I suggested above, I consider that highly unlikely. If the person is really worthy of being detained as a threat to America, it should not be difficult for the government to come forward with some evidence supporting the detention. (And, if the government can't produce a reason to detain the person other than "we think he might be a bad guy" shouldn't the person be allowed to go free?)

On the other side we have the very core fabric of our constitutional republic: People are not imprisoned merely on the say so of the President and Congress cannot abdicate its own authority (or that of the courts) to grant such power to the President. Justice Kennedy's majority opinion makes the point this way:
Security subsists, too, in fidelity to freedom's first principles. Chief among
these are freedom from arbitrary and unlawful restraint and the personal liberty
that is secured by adherence to separation of powers. . . .

The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in
extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system
they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that
framework, a part of that law.

I am less worried about the potential threat to our nation from granting a hearing given to a person suspected of being a terrorist than I am to the threat to our nation from allowing basic principles of liberty and freedom to be usurped by a President.

I generally support the idea of a war on terrorism. But the Bush administration has waged that war so poorly, with so many bad ideas and disregard for what is right and just, that our standing in the world has suffered. Shortly after 9/11, the world was on our side. Sadly, the Bush administration has squandered that good will and given more people reasons to hate us. What happened to thinking about America as the shining city on the hill, lighting the way to freedom? Now, people around the world look at us as little more than a thug with the biggest guns around. How are we different from others who imprison without trial? Doesn't offering our enemies that which they would not give us make us stronger?

Thus, I side with Sen. Obama in his support of the recent Supreme Court decision. Perhaps more importantly, I side with Sen. Obama in his recent criticism of Sen. McCain and President Bush's approach to the war on terror. Think of it this way: Bush policy (more or less championed by Sen. McCain) has left Osama bin Ladin at large, allowed the Taliban to remain a viable fighting force, and permitted al-Quaeda to remain a threat, while thousands of American soldiers have died in Iraq (not to mention the tens of thousands who have been wounded) as anti-American sentiment has increased throughout much of the world.

Lately, I've been trying to make a point to my kids that doing something the easy or expedient way is not necessarily the right way. It seems to me that a nation that prides itself on being an example of what is good and right in humanity should always be willing to sacrifice expediency for the sake of freedom and justice. And, when we permit justice to prevail, I think that we will find that we are much, much safer than if we permit our leaders to act in a way that is no better than the leaders of those totalitarian regimes or absolute monarchies that continue to operate in a way reminiscent of those countries from which early Americans fled to form this experiment in democracy and freedom.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

If We Scare People Enough, Maybe They'll Be Willing to Sacrifice the Bill of Rights

A truly frightening commercial has been airing over the last week or so, in which the US House of Representatives is lambasted for "crippling" surveillance efforts against terrorists. The commercial is not frightening because of the content of the allegations made; rather, the commercial is frightening because the allegations are made, despite their falsity and the inaccuracy of the statements in the commercial. The commercial can be seen on YouTube (for those who haven't seen it):

I'd planned to write about everything that was wrong with this commercial, but I was beaten to the punch by FactCheck.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group. Please take a look at FactCheck.org's examination of this misleading commercial.

One has to wonder why so many media outlets have been willing to air this commercial. More importantly, think what this commercial really says about the ongoing dispute in our country, both in terms of the debate over the balance between civil rights and protection from terrorism, but also in terms of the opposed viewpoints of those who are willing to forego your liberty in the name of security or those who believe that we can be secure while maintaining the individual rights and liberties that make us so different from so much of the rest of the world. Unfortunately, rather than engaging in principled debate where the issues are examined honestly, one side has resorted to name-calling, fear-mongering, and lies. That is not how the democratic process is supposed to work, but then laws that take away individual liberty is not how the democratic process is supposed to work either.

One final point: The one thing that keeps getting left out of the discussion is the real point of dissension between the House and Senate versions of the anti-terrorist surveillance legislation. Republicans and the Bush administration are pushing very hard for retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the government's illegal wiretapping.

First, the notion of granting retroactive immunity just sounds wrong, especially when the immunity is to cover potential issues arising out of the government's own illegal activity. In other words, the Bush administration wants telecommunications companies to get a free pass for improperly granting access to private information that was being sought illegally by the government. Is that the way your America works?

Second, if anti-terrorist surveillance legislation is really that important, then why not pass the legislation without the retroactive telecommunications immunity. Pass legislation that is "needed" to keep the country safe, and then worry about the telecommunications industry separately. Or, perhaps, to the Republicans and the Bush administration, the real issue isn't safety at all, but, rather, corporate profits. Best not to think that way, right? Then again, does anybody remember Haliburton? Perhaps I'm just cynical, but I find it hard to attribute good motives to the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans given their past acts.

I have a bad feeling that we're going to see more and more of this kind of advertisement (remember the Swift Boat campaign from 2004?) as the election gets closer. When people begin to make decisions and pressure their elected representatives on the basis of fraudulent fear-mongering like this, it will truly be a sad day for American democracy. Let's home that day has not come.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Castro's Resignation Should Be an Opportunity for Engagement

Last night, Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba's President. His resignation should be seized upon by the United States as an historic opportunity for Cuba and the US to resume diplomatic relations and try to move forward, constructively, to resolve our differences. Don't take the following to mean that I support Castro or his regime or the communist system in place in Cuba. I don't. But I've never understood the US position of trying to isolate Cuba, both diplomatically and economically.

We don't have diplomatic relations with Cuba, yet even at the height of the cold war, we never cut off diplomatic relations with the USSR. We have a trade embargo against Cuba (which irritates our allies when we try to get them to recognize our embargo). Yet we didn't "win" the cold war by trying to isolate the USSR economically. And there are lots of other countries around the globe with political systems that we don't necessarily approve of, yet we don't cut off all contact with those countries unless they are viewed to be supporters of state-sponsored terrorism, a claim that hasn't been leveled against Cuba in a long time. Americans can travel almost anywhere on the planet, even to regimes where genocide and civil war are occurring, but Americans of Cuban lineage can't visit relatives in Cuba. Sorry, but this policy makes no sense to me.

Let's try to "spend" Cuba into capitalism and the 21st century. Let's flood their stores with American consumer goods and, more importantly, American-produced foodstuffs. Let's allow Americans to travel to Cuba in huge numbers, so that Cubans can see the benefits of a free, democratic, capitalist society. Let's engage Cuba diplomatically so that Hugo Chavez loses a prime ally in his rhetorical war against America. Let's help Cuba on the road to democracy instead of putting so many roadblocks in Cuba's way that the island nation will be forced to stay stagnant in the communist 1950s.

After I wrote the above, I decided to take a quick look to see what the Bush administration has said about Castro's resignation. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte stated that Castro's resignation would not cause the economic embargo to end any time soon. And President Bush said:
The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy and eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections.

I believe that the change from Fidel Castro ought to begin ... a democratic transition.

The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty.

Pardon me for asking, but how exactly will the US "help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty" if we don't talk to Cuba, don't visit Cuba, and don't trade with Cuba. It seems to me that we should seize the opportunity, not wait for Cuba or the international community. I'm surprised, frankly, that China hasn't decided to flex its newfound economic muscle in Cuba.

Unfortunately, it appears as if the leading contenders to be our next President don't view Castro's resignation as an opportunity to change our policy either. (See "White House hopefuls on Castro's resignation".) Rather, it appears as if they all believe that we need to wait for Cuba to begin the democratic process. I think that a candidate with the courage to stand up and say, "Gee, why don't we start talking to Cuba, even if we don't like them; I mean, hey, it worked with the USSR" would gain a lot of support (at least outside of South Florida).

Let's seize upon the opportunity presented by Castro's resignation and start a new course to help Cuba become a democratic ally.

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