Stop Jerking That Knee and Become a Skeptic!

I can’t tell you how many times in the last few weeks I’ve heard from another liberal about something Barack Obama supposedly said that was apparently outrageous or scary or somehow out of character. Liberals are often absolutely hysterical over many of their perceptions of Obama’s positions on issues, and their screeching can be heard all over the blogosphere.

But then a funny thing happens. I actually look up what Obama actually said, and I think to myself, "Is that all?" Basically, what I’m finding is that a lot of people are hysterical about information that isn’t actually true. For example:

  • Barack Obama isn’t in favor of expanding faith-based initiatives because he just loves combining government and religion. He’s not planning to send tax money to churches for their basic operations. In other words, he’s saying it’s possible to assist churches in helping the poor and the sick, without violating the separation between church and state.
  • Barack Obama hasn’t reneged on his promise to extract us from the Iraq occupation, just because he says he will continually re-evaluate, based on what military experts tell him. Keep in mind, Bush SAYS he’s listening to generals on the ground, but he’s not; he only listens to those generals whose opinions he agrees with. He’s fired every military expert that said anything he didn’t like, remember? Basically, Obama’s talking about responsibility. We broke the country of Iraq, and we owe it to the people there to pull out, but to pull out in a responsible way, that results in the least loss of life possible.
  • Barack Obama has not abandoned his desire for campaign finance reform. The problem is, there’s a large contingent of people who think the only way to reform the campaign finance system is by public financing, and the fact that he decided not to finance his campaign using tax money is seen by many as tantamount to treason. It completely disregards the reality that many of us feel that the public IS financing Obama’s campaign, and he’s actually demonstrating a campaign financing structure that works and is strangely not controlled by incumbent politicians, which would be the case in a public financing scheme.

See, here’s the problem…

Too many people read second hand (news sites) or third hand (blogs)
accounts of what a candidate actually said, and base their position on
that. The problem with that is, we’re depending on an increasingly lazy
and slothful press, and you accept what you read at your own peril.
Never before has the press been so useless; ironically, the same people
who constantly complain about the uselessness of the current
journalistic crop are those who bluster the loudest when they read an
account of what Obama (or even McCain) said, without checking a few
first-hand accounts for themselves.

Why just today, someone
sent me "proof" that the FISA bill that Obama has indicated he might
vote for is a bad one, and actually might serve to increase spying on
US citizens. What was his "proof"? A New York Times editorial, in which
the unnamed author stated:

Lawmakers are already
justifying their votes for making major changes to that proven regime
by saying that the bill is a reasonable compromise that updates FISA
technologically and will make it somewhat harder to spy on Americans
abroad. But none of that mitigates the bill’s much larger damage. It
would make it much easier to spy on Americans at home, reduce the
courts’ powers and grant immunity to the companies that turned over
Americans’ private communications without a warrant.

It would
allow the government to bypass the FISA court and collect large amounts
of Americans’ communications without a warrant simply by declaring that
it is doing so for reasons of national security. It cuts the vital
“foreign power” provision from FISA, never mentions counterterrorism
and defines national security so broadly that experts think the term
could mean almost anything a president wants it to mean.

That’s "proof."

The
problem is, all of the above is true with the current law, and actually
LESS TRUE with the new law now under consideration. Know how I know
that? I’m a hopeless dork, and I read the bill, and the CRS Report to Congress.
There are a lot of things to not like in this bill, specifically the
provision that allows the government to continue surveillance while
appealing a "no" decision from the FISC (the FISA Court). Even more
troubling, on the surface, is the provision in the law which allows
courts to use evidence gathered, even if FISC says no.

But
that’s on the surface. In the last thirty years, FISC has denied about
6-12 requests for warrants in the first place, so the likelihood of
this coming up in the next six months to a year is slim to none. Of
course, if Barack Obama loses in November, in part because he voted
against "a bill to track terrorists in this country," or some other
such nonsense, we won’t have a chance to revisit this issue next year,
when President Obama takes over.

In other words, I’m not
entirely happy with the bill, I think the entire system should be
revamped to make it so that government can’t spy on any American
without oversight, period. But to reduce the chance of having a
President Obama and a filibuster-proof Senate over such a shitty law is
largely unthinkable to me. Politics requires a few trade-offs, and this
is one of them…

***”The problem is, all of the above is true with the current law, and actually LESS TRUE with the new law now under consideration. Know how I know that? I’m a hopeless dork, and I read the bill, and the CRS Report to Congress.”***
That “current law” is a temporary one which is about to expire, thus reverting our nation’s eavesdropping statues to their (30-year old) default setting as outlined in the 1978 FISA legislation… namely, the legal requirement that no surveillance of an American’s cross-border communication may take place in the absence of a valid, individualized warrant signed by a judge. This about-to-be-passed legislation (repeatedly opposed by Obama until his nomination was assured) would officially and permanently reverse that precedent, irrevocably legalizing unfettered surveillance of the American citizenry, in contravention of the letter and spirit of the 4th Amendment.
***”to reduce the chance of having a President Obama and a filibuster-proof Senate over such a shitty law is largely unthinkable to me. Politics requires a few trade-offs, and this is one of them…”***
No one who respects the U.S. Constitution would willfully exchange the 4th Amendment for political expedience. This trade-off was not required, and it is not worth it. And it’ll probably never be undone in our lifetimes.
Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

Excellent post. In this world of sudden ‘shock journalism,’ Obama saying anything that suggests Presidential reflection before decision making will be trumpeted as ‘flip flopping.’ Apparently it is better to take an absolute position and never let evidence make you acknowledge that you might, oh, talk to US military commanders about your decision. Obama has been much more consistent and thoughtful than the media makes it seem; the GOP is controlling this message, with the help of some on the left. As to campaign finance reform, here’s my view:
http://scotterb.wordpress.com/2008/06/21/end-public-campaign-financing/

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