Obama Retreats from Key Progressive Issues
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Obama Votes to Silence Debate and Pass FISA
By John Nichols, TheNation.com
Arizona Sen. John McCain did not bother to show up for Wednesday's Senate votes on whether to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to absolve George Bush of responsibility for initiating an illegal warrantless wiretapping program and to provide retroactive immunity to the telecommunications corporations that violated the privacy of their customers in order to collaborate with a lawless president.
But that's OK, because Illinois Sen. Barack Obama cast the votes that McCain would have.
In addition to joining the majority in a 69-28 Senate vote to pass legislation that the American Civil Liberties Union describes as "a Constitutional nightmare," Obama voted to silence debate on the FISA bill.
While most Senate Democrats -- including New York Sen. Hillary Clinton -- opposed the FISA rewrite and voted to keep the debate open, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president sided with the Republicans in saying that the essential Constitutional questions raised by this legislation did not merit extended or thoughtful debate.
The cloture vote split 72 in favor of shutting down debate to 26 for keeping it open. Two senators -- McCain and ailing Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy -- missed Wednesday's session.
The "no" votes on cloture were cast by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and 25 Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, Obama's Democratic colleague from Illinois, and Clinton, Obama's primary competitor for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Leading the fight to keep the debate about the FISA rewrite open were Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, the two senators whom Obama promised earlier this year to work with in an effort to block this assault on the Constitution and corporate responsibility.
Said Feingold, "I sit on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, and I am one of the few members of this body who has been fully briefed on the warrantless wiretapping program. And, based on what I know, I can promise that if more information is declassified about the program in the future, as is likely to happen either due to the inspector general report, the election of a new president or simply the passage of time, members of this body will regret that we passed this legislation. I am also familiar with the collection activities that have been conducted under the Protect America Act and will continue under this bill. I invite any of my colleagues who wish to know more about those activities to come speak to me in a classified setting. Publicly, all I can say is that I have serious concerns about how those activities may have impacted the civil liberties of Americans. If we grant these new powers to the government and the effects become known to the American people, we will realize what a mistake it was, of that I am sure."
Unfortunately, while Obama once promised to work with Feingold, he wasn't listening on Wednesday when the Wisconsin senator explained to his colleagues that granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications corporations would effectively block the ability of Congress and the courts to address not just massive corporate wrongdoing but attacks on the privacy rights of Americans.
"If Congress short-circuits these lawsuits, we will have lost a prime opportunity to finally achieve accountability for these years of law-breaking," said Feingold. "That's why the administration has been fighting so hard for this immunity. It knows that the cases that have been brought directly against the government face much more difficult procedural barriers and are unlikely to result in rulings on the merits."
Feingold was speaking the truth about a moment in which the ACLU said the Senate was on the verge of passing "an unconstitutional domestic spying bill that violates the Fourth Amendment and eliminates any meaningful role for judicial oversight of government surveillance."
But Obama did not want to hear it.
In Centrist Speech Aimed at Latinos, Obama Neglects War -- Latinosâ€™ Most Important Issue
By Roberto Lovato, Of America
Candidates Obama and McCain are gearing up to do what the mainstream media is touting as a "mini-Latino voter tour" that includes speeches at the LULAC Convention today and speeches at the National Council of La Raza's (NCLR) convention in San Diego next week.
For discussion's sake, let's do as the mainstream media does and forget that the voice of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, is but one very well-funded voice in a cacophony of more than 40 million Latino voices and thousands of Latino organizations in the United States. And, in the name of being part of this often inane (as in, anybody seen that political Chupacabra -- the widely-reported Latino unwillingness to vote for a black candidate -- lately?) conversation labeled "Latino politics," let's also ignore that lurking beneath that brown blob of a media construct called "Hispanics" in headlines and sound bites are inconvenient truths, like the fact that organizations like LULAC do not always speak for many, if not most, of us.
OK. So, the "tour" of all two organizations began with a "festive" gathering at the LULAC convention in the Latino heartland of Washington, D.C., where LULAC President Oscar Moran designated McCain "nuestro amigo." Joining Moran, Wal-Mart, Shell Oil, Miller Beer and the usual host of corporations sponsoring these kinds of festivities were other, richer organizations whose very life depends increasingly on their ability to bring in Latino bodies: the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy and the Department of Defense (see the full list of LULAC Convention sponsors below). And, for the record, while some individual staff and board members and some local chapters of LULAC strongly oppose the war, the leadership of neither LULAC nor that of most other major Latino organizations has taken a position on the war.
As if not wanting to offend some of the sponsors in the audience, Obama made no mention in his LULAC speech of what numerous polls tell us is the numero uno issue for Latinos by large margins: the Iraq War. Again, war, not immigration, is the No. 1 issue for the fastest-growing group in the U.S. military.
For his part, McCain made mention not of the war, but of the Latino troops, and he did so in a manner that sounded like another in the tsunami of multimillion-dollar media ads brought to you by the Pentagon sponsors in the audience:
"When you visit Iraq and Afghanistan, you will meet some of the thousands of Hispanic Americans who serve there, and many of those who risk their lives to protect the rest of us do not yet possess the rights and privileges of full citizenship in the country they love so well. To love your country, as I discovered in Vietnam, is to love your countrymen. Those men and women are my brothers and sisters ..."
Missing in the brown sea of "si se puede"s and "amigo"s at the "spirited" event was nary a word describing other, more "no se puede" concerns of Spanish (and English) speakers -- issues like:
"prision" -- the exponential growth of the Latino prison population.
"Pentagono" -- the multibillion-dollar effort to trick Latino youth into joining the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and other armed forces.
"Muerte, detencion y migrantes" -- immigration issues such as the thousands of dead in the desert; death and sexual and physical abuse in ICE detention centers; and thousands of raids and other terror inflicted on immigrant children and adults.
"pobreza" -- the unprecedented challenge of a country in which the wealthiest 1 percent has over $2 trillion more than the bottom 90 percent, according to the Nation magazine. In other words, the candidates won't be asked in EspaÃ±ol or en Ingles, "How come the wealthiest 1 percent have $19 trillion while the rest of us 300,000,000 only have a combined wealth totaling less than $17 trillion?"
So, let's "hope" that the larger, better-funded NCLR event brings us fewer "si se puede"s and more of things like "substancia," "realidad" and "transparencia."
- List of Sponsors of LULAC's 2008 Convention
- Diamond Sponsors
- Comcast Corporation
- General Motors Corporation
- Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
- Presidential Sponsors
- American Airlines
- Ford Motor Company
- LULAC Council #1
- Miller Brewing Company
- Shell Oil Company
- Sprint Nextel Corporation
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- Judicial Sponsors
- El Zol
- U.S. Army
- Senatorial Sponsors
- The Coca-Cola Company
- ExxonMobil Corporation
- Google Inc.
- Harrah's Entertainment
- McDonald's Corporation
- Nissan North America Inc.
- PepsiCo, Inc.
- Procter & Gamble Company
- Southwest Airlines
- Tyson Foods Inc.
- U.S. Department of Defense
- Congressional Sponsors
- Countrywide Financial Corp.
- U.S. Department of Education
- U.S. Navy
- Univision Communications
- Western Union
- Patriot Sponsors
- Bank of America
- Freddie Mac
- The Nielsen Company
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Patron Sponsors
- 7-Eleven Inc.
- Americans for Secure Retirement
- Burger King Brands Inc.
- Continental Airlines Inc.
- Denny's Restaurants
- DISH Latino
- Enterprise Rent-A-Car Company
- Hyatt Hotels Corporation
- International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers
- Merisant Worldwide Inc.
- Sed de Saber
- TracFone Wireless Inc.
- U.S. Agency for International Development
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Walt Disney Company
- Wyndham International
John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent.