Where’s the Equal Justice for Gays? May 30, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT.
Tags: andrew sullivan, broken promises obama, california supreme court, civil unions, equal justice, gay marriage, gay rights, glass ceiling, human rights, joan venochi, lesbian rights, lgbt, lgbt rights, Obama, obama promises, Prop 8, proposition 8, robert gibbs, roger hollander, same-sex marriage
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As President Obama attended a fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton, activists rallied outside the hotel, speaking out against Proposition 8 and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. (Photo: Reuters)
28 May 2009
President Obama had much to say about the glass ceiling he is smashing on behalf of Hispanics and nothing to say about the glass ceiling the California Supreme Court is reimposing on gays.
On Tuesday, Obama announced that he would nominate Sonia Sotomayor, a federal appeals judge in New York, to the Supreme Court. In nominating the daughter of Puerto Rican parents to become the nation’s first Hispanic justice, Obama said that when she “ascends those marble steps to assume her seat on the highest court of the land, America will have taken another important step towards realizing the idea that is etched above its entrance: equal justice under the law.”
Those are stirring words, and ironic ones, too, given the day’s other momentous judicial news: The California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, last year’s ballot initiative prohibiting same-sex marriage.
Asked about that ruling, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he had not spoken to Obama about it, and added, “The issues involved are ones that, ah, you know where the president stands.”
On gay rights, as with other controversial issues, Obama stands where it’s politically smart to stand. He finds the political sweet spot that placates the left and doesn’t alienate the middle.
Obama supports civil unions, not same-sex marriage, a position he embraced as a national candidate. Earlier this year, the political website politico.com produced a questionnaire Obama filled out in 1996 for a Chicago gay and lesbian newspaper. “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages,” Obama wrote in a typed, signed statement.
In what is becoming a pattern, his thinking evolved to a less-liberal stance. As president, Obama has been less than eager to take up a campaign pledge to grant equal federal rights for gay couples; or to reconsider the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. As Andrew Sullivan, a prominent blogger and gay rights advocate, recently wrote: “I have a sickeningly familiar feeling in my stomach and the feeling deepens with every interaction with the Obama team on these issues. They want them to go away. They want us to go away.”
A year ago, the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples enjoyed the same right to marry as opposite-sex couples. The decision led to Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman and eventually won 52 percent of the vote last November. With this week’s ruling, gay marriage advocates pledge to put the issue before California voters yet again.
In Massachusetts, the first state to recognize a legal right to same-sex marriage and the state that stopped a gay marriage referendum from going to the ballot, there is also disappointment with Obama.
Representative Carl M. Sciortino Jr. of Somerville, who went to California to work against Proposition 8, said, “What was frustrating at the time was that Candidate Obama never showed up in California and said, ‘That’s an outrage … it goes too far.’” Now, said Sciortino, “I do hope for and want to see our national leaders being more aggressive in saying discrimination is wrong and the Constitution should not be used to discriminate.”
By upholding Proposition 8 in a 6-to-1 ruling, the California Supreme Court did Obama a favor – for now. Just as Obama was nominating a Supreme Court nominee whose detractors are trying to frame her as a liberal activist, California’s highest court declared ‘that our role is limited to interpreting and applying the principles and rules embodied in the California Constitution, setting aside our own personal beliefs and values.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial board celebrated “that sigh of judicial restraint.” Imagine if a majority of justices instead shared the view of the lone dissenter, Justice Carlos R. Moreno, who wrote, “The rule the majority crafts today not only allows same-sex couples to be stripped of the right to marry … it places at risk the state constitutional rights of all disfavored minorities.”
That’s a stirring call for equal justice under the law – what Obama said he believes in with Sotomayor at his side.
Obama, the healthcare Riddler May 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health.
Tags: david sirota, health, health care, health care reform, health industry, health insurance, healthcare, healthcare companies, healthcare reform, insurance industry, max baucus, medicare, national health plan, obama promises, president obama, private health care, private health insurance, profiteering, public health plan, roger hollander, single payer
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www.salon.com, May 16, 2009
Why is the president suddenly so afraid of a single-payer solution to America’s healthcare crisis?
May 16, 2009 | The most stunning and least reported news about President Barack Obama’s press conference with health industry executives this week wasn’t those executives’ willingness to negotiate with a Democrat. It was that Democrat’s eagerness to involve those executives in a discussion about healthcare reform even as they revealed their previous plans to pilfer $2 trillion from Americans.
That was the little-noticed message from the made-for-TV spectacle that administration officials called a healthcare “game changer”: In saying they can voluntarily slash $200 billion a year off the country’s medical bills over the next decade and still preserve their profits, healthcare companies implicitly acknowledged they were plotting to fleece consumers and have been fleecing them for years. With that acknowledgment came the tacit admission that the industry’s business is based not on respectable returns, but on grotesque profiteering and waste — the kind that can give up $2 trillion and still guarantee huge margins.
Chief among the profiteers at the White House event were insurance companies, which have raised premiums by 119 percent since 1999, and one obvious question is why — why would Obama engage those particular thieves?
It’s a difficult query to answer, because Obama is a healthcare mystery, struggling to muster consistent positions on the issue.
Listening to a 2003 Obama speech, it’s hard to believe he has become such an enigma. Back then, he declared himself “a proponent of a single-payer universal healthcare program” — that is, one eliminating private insurers and their overhead costs by having government finance healthcare. Obama’s position was as controversial then as it is today — which is to say, controversial among political elites, but not among the general public. ABC’s 2003 poll showed almost two-thirds of Americans desiring a single-payer system “run by the government and financed by taxpayers,” just as CBS’s 2009 poll shows roughly the same percentage today.
In that speech six years ago, Obama said the only reason single-payer proponents should tolerate delay is “because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”
That might explain why, when Illinois contemplated a 2004 healthcare proposal raising insurance lobbyists’ “fears that it would result in a single-payer system,” those lobbyists “found a sympathetic ear in Obama, who amended (read: gutted) the bill more to their liking,” according to the Boston Globe. Maybe Obama didn’t think single-payer healthcare was achievable without a Democratic Washington. And when in a 2006 interview he told me he was “not convinced that [single-payer healthcare] is the best way to achieve universal healthcare,” perhaps he was following the same rationale, considering his insistence that he must “take into account what is possible.”
Of course, even as a senator aiming for the “possible” in a Republican Congress, Obama promised to never “shy away from a debate about single payer.” And after the 2008 election fulfilled his precondition of Democratic dominance, it was only logical to expect him to initiate that debate.
That’s why the White House’s current posture is so puzzling. As the Associated Press reports, Obama aides are trying to squelch any single-payer discussion, deploying their healthcare point-person, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to announce that “everything is on the table with the single exception of single-payer.”
So it’s back to why — why Obama’s insurance-industry-coddling inconsistency? Is it a pol’s payback for campaign cash? Is it an overly cautious lawmaker’s paralysis? Is it a conciliator’s desire to appease powerful interests? Or is it something else?
For a president who spends so much time on camera answering questions, those have become the biggest unanswered questions of all.
© 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, aclu, anti-terrorism, bagram, binyam mohamed, bush administration, cia interrogation, cia prisons, civil liberties, constitution, detainee abuse, geneva conventions, George Bush, glenn greenwald, Guantanamo, intelligence-sharing, John McCain, Karl Rove, military commissions, national security, nuremberg, obama civil liberties, obama promises, roger hollander, rule of law, stanley mcchyrstal, state secrets, torture, torture memos, torture tapes, torture videos, War Crimes
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Among progressives, Democrats, liberals, Obama supporters and the like, there seems to be some debate about the extent to which Obama deserves criticisms for what he has done thus far in the realm of civil liberties, restoration of Constitutional principles, and reversing the severe imbalance between “security” and liberties — major planks of his two-year-long campaign and among the most frequent weapons used to criticize the Bush presidency. On that topic, here is the first paragraph of this New York Times article this morning by David Sanger, summing everything up:
President Obama’s decisions this week to retain important elements of the Bush-era system for trying terrorism suspects and to block the release of pictures showing abuse of American-held prisoners abroad are the most graphic examples yet of how he has backtracked, in substantial if often nuanced ways, from the approach to national security that he preached as a candidate, and even from his first days in the Oval Office.
Here’s how the NYT describes the article on its front page:
The opening paragraph of this Washington Post article today says much the same thing:
As a candidate for president, Barack Obama offered himself as a clear alternative to Bush-era anti-terrorism policies. Governing has proven muddier.
Both articles quote the hardest-core Bush supporters as heaping praise on Obama for what he has done in the area of “national security,” terrorism and civil liberties (“Pete Wehner, a member of Karl Rove’s staff in the Bush White House [and a current National Review writer] applauded several of Mr. Obama’s decisions this week”). Indeed, all week long, and even before that, the greatest enthusiasm for Obama’s decisions on so-called “terrorism policies” and civil liberties (with some important exceptions) has been found in the pages of The Weekly Standard and National Review.
Can anyone deny what the NYT and Post are pointing out today? This is what happened this week alone in the realm of Obama’s approach to “national security” and civil liberties:
Monday – Obama administration’s letter to Britian threatening to cut off intelligence-sharing if British courts reveal the details of how we tortured British resident Binyam Mohamed;
Wednesday – Announced he was reversing himself and would try to conceal photographic evidence showing widespread detainee abuse — despite the rulings from two separate courts (four federal judges unanimously) that the law compels their disclosure;
Friday - Unveiled his plan to preserve a modified system of military commissions for trying Guantanamo detainees, rather than using our extant-judicial processes for doing so.
It’s not the fault of civil libertarians that Obama did all of those things, just in this week alone. These are the very policies — along with things like the claimed power to abduct and imprison people indefinitely with no charges of any kind and the use of the “state secrets privilege” to deny torture and spying victims a day in court — that caused such extreme anger and criticisms toward the Bush presidency.
What would it say about a person who spent the last seven years vehemently criticizing those policies to suddenly decide that the same policies were perfectly fine or not particularly bothersome when Obama adopts them? How could that be justified? What should one say about a person who vehemently objected to X when Bush did it, but then suddenly found ways to defend or mitigate X when Obama does it? Just re-read that first paragraph from the NYT article today. What should a rational person say in response to what it describes?
It is absolutely true that there have been some important steps Obama has taken in the right direction that George Bush and John McCain would never have entertained, including banning interrogation techniques outside of the Army Field Manual, barring CIA secret prisons, guaranteeing International Red Cross access to all detainees, and releasing numerous Bush era OLC memos. He deserves praise for those decisions and has received it here. But other than the OLC memos, those steps all came in the very first week of his presidency in largely symbolic form. At the time, in the first week, I wrote that Obama’s first-week executive orders ”meet or actually exceed even the most optimistic expectations of civil libertarians for what he could or would do quickly,” but:
This is why the understandable enthusiasm (which I definitely share) over Obama’s pleasantly unexpected commitment in the first few hours of his presidency to take politically difficult steps in the civil liberties and accountability realms should be tempered somewhat. There is going to be very concerted pressure exerted on him by establishment guardians such as Hiatt (and the Brookings Institution, Jack Goldsmith and friends), to say nothing of hard-line factions within the intelligence community and its various allies, for Obama to take subsequent steps that would eviscerate much of this progress, that render these initial rollbacks largely empty, symbolic gestures. Whether these steps, impressive as they are, will be symbolic measures designed to placate certain factions, or whether they represent a genuine commitment on Obama’s part, remains to be seen. Much of it will depend on how much political pressure is exerted and from what sides.
Obama deserves real praise for devoting the first few days of his presidency to these vital steps — and doing so without there being much of a political benefit and with some real political risk. That’s genuinely encouraging. But ongoing vigilance is necessary, to counter-balance the Fred Hiatts, Brookings Institutions and other national security state fanatics, to ensure that these initial steps aren’t undermined.
Since that first week, Obama has engaged in one action after the next to preserve many of the key prongs, and the essential architecture, of the Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and civil liberties. That’s just factually true. What’s the point of closing Guantanamo if we’re going to continue to keep people indefinitely in cages with no trial in Bagram, or if we simply transport a modified version of Guantanamo justice to the U.S.? How can a President who repeatedly promised vast transparency embrace the most extremist Bush/Cheney secrecy powers? How can a person who campaigned on the vow to end “Scooter Libby justice” and restore the rule of law take one extreme step after the next to shield from judicial scrutiny some of the most serious, brutal and highest-level crimes of the last eight years?
It’s certainly true that there are other issues besides civil liberties and national security policies that are important. The fact that he’s been horrible in these areas doesn’t mean he hasn’t been good in others. One can argue, if one likes, that these civil liberties issues don’t really matter (a representative of Center for American Progress joined with two conservatives to claim exactly that yesterday on CNN), or one can argue that all that matters is that we fix the banking crisis and implement a new health care policy. But I never heard any Bush critics — not one — say anything like that when these issues were front and center in the case against the Bush presidency.
Nobody who spent the last many years devoting themselves to opposing Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and civil liberties wanted to have to do the same in an Obama presidency. If you doubt that, just look at how intense was the celebratory praise directed at Obama from those factions in the first week. But unless the opposition of the last eight years was really just a cynical means for opportunistically weakening and demonizing Republican opponents rather than opposing policies that one genuinely found dangerous and wrong, then the actions of Obama are leaving no other choice but to object and object strenuously. As the first paragraph of today’s NYT article put it, this week alone provided “the most graphic examples yet of how [Obama] has backtracked, in substantial if often nuanced ways, from the approach to national security that he preached as a candidate, and even from his first days in the Oval Office.” If nothing else, refraining from objecting will ensure that this continues further and further.
* * * * *
Yesterday morning, I was on WNYC’s The Takeway discussing (briefly) the issue of Obama’s military commissions and, more extensively, drug policy and decriminalization in Portugal. That can be heard here.
President Obama’s endorsements of Bush-Cheney antiterror policies are by now routine . . . . Mr. Obama deserves credit for accepting that the civilian courts are largely unsuited for the realities of the war on terror. He has now decided to preserve a tribunal process that will be identical in every material way to the one favored by Dick Cheney . . . Meanwhile, friends should keep certain newspaper editors away from sharp objects. Their champion has repudiated them once again.
Meanwhile, Law Professor Julian Ku notes that Obama Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal spent years arguing that military commissions generally (not merely Bush’s specific version) were oppressive and un-American (h/t). But now, thanks to Obama’s embrace of them, Katyal is going to have to defend Obama’s military commissions in court from challenge by the ACLU and other groups. At least Katyal has the excuse that defending exactly that which he spent years excoriating is his job. Obama supporters who are doing the same don’t have that excuse.
UPDATE II: Illustrating the irrationality that is used, Obama defenders are making the following two arguments to justify what he did on military commissions:
(1) Obama had no choice because he can’t obtain convictions of accused terrorists in civilian courts because so much of the evidence was obtained by Bush’s torture and thus can’t be used;
(2) Obama’s military commissions are better than Bush’s because Obama’s commissions won’t allow evidence obtained by torture.
Aren’t those two propositions completely contradictory? If Obama’s military commissions (like civilian courts and courts-martial) won’t allow evidence obtained via torture, then why can’t he use our normal court system to try accused terrorists?