Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Obama Responds To McCain: "Strong" Presidents Aren't Afraid To Meet With Enemies

Barack Obama, in Montana, responded moments ago to McCain's ridicule of the Illinois Senator for saying that Iran is a minuscule threat compared to the former Soviet Union.

McCain said this revealed Obama's "inexperience and reckless judgment." Here's the key part of Obama's reply...

"Here's the truth: the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons, and Iran doesn't have a single one. But when the world was on the brink of nuclear holocaust, Kennedy talked to Khrushchev and he got those missiles out of Cuba. Why shouldn't we have the same courage and the confidence to talk to our enemies? That's what strong countries do, that's what strong presidents do, that's what I'll do when I'm president of the United States of America."

Obama also said: "What are George Bush and John McCain afraid of"?

This sort of thing will thrill Democrats who want to see how a Democratic presidential candidate will fare if he adopts something other than the oft-employed "hawkish" rhetoric that's supposedly necessary for Dems to win an argument with Republicans about national security.

Judging by these early skirmishes between McCain and Obama -- who appears to be trying to do nothing less than redefine what it means to be "strong" and "tough" on foreign policy -- we may soon find out.

Late Update: Here's video of both Obama and McCain...

Original here

Play of the Day: Obama's new name

CROW AGENCY, Mont.—Democrat Barack Obama got a brand-new name as he courted native Americans in the West.

The presidential candidate was adopted as an honorary member of the Crow nation, and given the name Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuuxshish that translates as "One who helps people throughout the land."

"What an enormous honor this is," said Obama, occasionally stumbling to pronounce the complex native American names.

"I'm still working on it," he said. "I was just adopted into the tribe, so I'm still working on it."

Obama has actively courted the backing of native Americans throughout the region.

"One of the things I've made a point in doing is meeting tribal leaders everywhere I go," Obama said. "The government to government relationship is going to be a top priority of my administration."

Obama's adoptive parents in the tribe are Harford and Mary Black Eagle.

"Barack Black Eagle," mused Obama. "That is a good name."

Obama said growing up in Hawaii gave him gave him a sensitivity to minority issues.

"Where I grew up there weren't a lot of black families, so I know what it feel like to be an outsider," said Obama. "Now that I'm a member of the family I won't break my commitment to my brothers and sisters."

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Sen. Robert Byrd endorses Obama

The Charleston Gazette reports an endorsement deep with symbolism: West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd is endorsing Barack Obama.

"Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support," Byrd says.

He said he has "no intention of involving myself in the Democratic campaign for President in the midst of West Virginia's primary election. But the stakes this November could not be higher."

Byrd, 91, a master of Senate rules and Iraq war foe, has spent much of his political career repenting the racism of his youth. He's acknolwedged having joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1942, and campaigned against civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

In The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote of meeting Byrd, and their joint awareness of the past; his endorsement is a note of reconciliation that underscores Obama's message.

Obama wrote of meeting Byrd as new senator in one of his book's most compelling passages:

Listening to Senator Byrd I felt with full force all the essential contradictions of me in this new place, with its marble busts, its arcane traditions, its memories and its ghosts. I pondered the fact that, according to his own autobiography, Senator Byrd had received his first taste of leadership in his early twenties, as a member of the Raleigh County Ku Klux Klan, an association that he had long disavowed, an error he attributed—no doubt correctly—to the time and place in which he'd been raised, but which continued to surface as an issue throughout his career. I thought about how he had joined other giants of the Senate, like J. William Fulbright of Arkansas and Richard Russell of Georgia, in Southern resistance to civil rights legislation. I wondered if this would matter to the liberals who now lionized Senator Byrd for his principled opposition to the Iraq War resolution—the MoveOn.org crowd, the heirs of the political counterculture the senator had spent much of his career disdaining.

I wondered if it should matter. Senator Byrd's life—like most of ours—has been the struggle of warring impulses, a twining of darkness and light. And in that sense I realized that he really was a proper emblem for the Senate, whose rules and design reflect the grand compromise of America's founding: the bargain between Northern states and Southern states, the Senate's role as a guardian against the passions of the moment, a defender of minority rights and state sovereignty, but also a tool to protect the wealthy from the rabble, and assure slaveholders of noninterference with their peculiar institution. Stamped into the very fiber of the Senate, within its genetic code, was the same contest between power and principle that characterized America as a whole, a lasting expression of that great debate among a few brilliant, flawed men that had concluded with the creation of a form of government unique in its genius—yet blind to the whip and the chain.

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How Oregon Could Help Obama Defy "White Working Class" Problem

The popular refrain within political circles is that Tuesday's Democratic primaries in Kentucky and Oregon will provide yet another demonstration of Sen. Barack Obama troubles among working class white voters. The Illinois Democrat, after all, is staring down a major loss in the former and a comfortable win in the latter.

It's an incomplete if not misleading analysis. If anything, socioeconomic statistics show that Oregon, as much as Kentucky and perhaps even more so than Ohio, is a state comprised of the white, middle-to-low income individuals who work in a struggling but still important manufacturing sector. Indeed, if the Senator were to win in the Beaver State on Tuesday - and all signs point to a victory - much of it will be on the backs of the very voters whom pundits believe have written him off.

The population of Oregon, according to census estimates is roughly 3.7 million, 90 percent of who are white and 1.9 percent of who are black. Eighteen percent of all jobs are manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the median household income in 2004 was $42,568.

Compare those numbers to Ohio, the rust belt state where Obama's failure to connect with white working class voters emerged as a popular campaign theme. There are, according to census estimates, 11.4 million people in Ohio, 85 percent of who are white and 12 percent of who are black - much less homogeneous than Oregon. Slightly less than 15 percent of the states jobs are manufacturing (less than Oregon) and the average median household income is $43,371 (more than Oregon). Kentucky, where Sen. Hillary Clinton is likely to have a major victory on Tuesday, is quite similar. The Bluegrass state has an estimated population of 4.2 million, 90 percent of who are white and 7.5 percent of who are black - again less homogeneous than Oregon. Less than 17 percent of the jobs are manufacturing and the median household income in 2004 was $37,000.

So why, if Obama is supposedly having such troubles among the white working class - as evidenced by his defeat in Ohio and impending loss in Kentucky - is he slated to do so well among those voters in Oregon? Perhaps it's because the Senator's problems are far more geographic than socioeconomic.

"Oregon is a state where race has not been an animating factor of political campaigns in the past. It has not been an issue since the 1860s, and it is not going to matter to people in the current election," said Joseph Lowndes, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Oregon and author of "From the New Deal to the New Right: Race and the Southern Origins of Modern Conservatism. "Lunch-pale, white Democrats have become the signifier for journalists and it has been overused. Because as Oregon shows it doesn't matter."

Indeed, it is Oregon's political history, more than its population dynamics, which offers a friendly turf for the Obama campaign. The state, according to local officials, is filled with progressives and reformers -- inheritors, so to speak, of the counter-culture migrants who first came there. The political culture is hardly top-down. There is less Democratic Party machinery as compared to, say, Pennsylvania. Moreover, the I-5 corridor, as it is known, connects three relative urban areas that favor Democrats: Portland, Eugene and Salem. Meanwhile the eastern part of the state, traditionally conservative, has trended recently away from the GOP.

"[DNC Chairman] Howard Dean had a 50 state strategy and for Oregon that was a 36 county strategy," said Marc Siegal, a spokesperson for the state's Democratic Party. "We've been able to make inroads. And I think it is a fortunate confluence of the 36 county strategy, along with candidates who are inspiring voters in all parts of the state."

All of which is not to suggest that there isn't already a firm infrastructure of Democratic support within the state. Unlike Ohio or Kentucky, the state went for Sen. John Kerry in 2004. In fact, Oregonians have not voted for a Republican since Reagan in 1984. Since January, moreover, more than 110,000 people have registered as Democrats, roughly half of them new voters, the other half party switchers.

Obama is likely to win handily with the help of these individuals. But his potential victory in the state could also demonstrate that his candidacy, on some level, is having fewer problems with the white working class than conventional wisdom suggests.

"The people of Oregon are extremely progressive, and so Barack's message of change is resonating," said Nick Shapiro, the Senator's communications director in the state. "And also, the farther you go from Washington D.C. the more you want to change Washington D.C."

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James Baker: Talking to an enemy is not appeasement

In May of 2006, John McCain said former Sec'y of State James Baker was one of the "smartest" men he knew and that he was likely to ask Baker to serve as a diplomatic envoy to the Middle East. Speaking to an Israeli newspaper, McCain added "I know you in Israel don't like Baker."

Five months later, on October 6, Baker said "talking to an enemy is not, in my view, appeasement." It was the exact opposite of McCain's current dogma, yet within a matter of days, McCain had once again included Baker on the list of his potential Middle East envoys.

For the record, James Baker endorsed John McCain in February.

It's yet another striking example of the straight talk express is coming off the rails. The video is from an October, 2006 interview on Hannity & Colmes. Thanks to Carthage for the tip!

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Hillary Clinton's Defeat: A Historic Triumph

A front page story in today's New York Times wonders whether Hillary Clinton's flagging run for the presidency is "a historic if incomplete triumph or a depressing reminder of why few [women] pursue high office in the first place."

Let me quickly weigh in with an unequivocal vote for "historic if incomplete triumph." And the only thing I find depressing is that the answer is even in doubt.

I have regularly criticized Clinton over the course of her campaign (and long before it, starting with her vote to authorize the war), but there is no question that she has forever altered the way women running for president will be viewed from here on out. In the words of the Times, Clinton has established "a new marker for what a woman can accomplish in a campaign -- raising over $170 million, frequently winning more favorable reviews on debate performances than her male rivals, rallying older women, and persuading white male voters who were never expected to support her."

She has also forever demolished the question mark hovering over the issue many (wrongly, in my opinion) have felt would be a woman candidate's biggest weakness: the ability to be seen as a plausible commander-in-chief.

It is to her great credit that very shortly into the '08 race, when you saw Clinton on television, you didn't think, "Oh, there's the woman running for president." That is no small feat for a woman trying to break into a male-dominated arena. So the next time a woman -- or two or three -- runs for president, it won't be seen as a novelty act. Because Hillary certainly wasn't.

But the greatest triumph of Clinton's campaign -- a complete triumph -- is the example she has set for the next generation. And not just for young women; her dedication, perseverance, and indefatigable drive make her a role model for young men as well.

Much has been made of the generational divide in the Clinton-Obama battle, with older women rallying to Clinton and younger women drawn to Obama. But the impact of her candidacy transcends this division. I've seen this very clearly in the reaction of my oldest daughter.

She voted for the first time in this year's California primary, casting her ballot for Obama. Yet hardly a day passes without her speaking with admiration, almost awe, about Hillary Clinton -- how she manages to get up every morning, no matter how hard things get for her, and keep following her dream.

I've written a lot about fear and fearlessness, and how fearlessness is not the absence of fear -- it's the mastery of fear. It's all about getting up one more time than we fall down. Has any public figure embodied this more powerfully and compellingly than Hillary Clinton?

Last week I was in a hotel room in Las Vegas preparing to give a speech. Checking in for a political update, I turned on CNN and saw Wolf Blitzer interviewing Hillary. But instead of a debate on who is more electable in Appalachia, or a Talmudic discussion about Michigan and Florida, there was this incredibly human moment.

Blitzer asked Clinton about what it's been like having Chelsea on the trail campaigning with her. Clinton, choking up, replied: "Well, it's one of the most incredibly gratifying experiences of my life, as a person and as a mother. I get very emotional. She is an exceptional person, and she's worked so hard, and she's done such a good job that I'm just filled with pride every time I look at her."

And just as Hillary started tearing up, I realized I was too. This has been an election where, even more than usual, the personal and the political have been constantly overlapping. And my feelings as I watched that interview were no exception.

It was clear that the 17-month campaign had taken a toll on Clinton, but at the same time has been incredibly transformative. She famously announced after winning New Hampshire that she'd found her own voice. But, in fact, she has kept finding it and refinding it -- until now, finally, she seems to be more in touch with her own message, instead of the message Mark Penn's poll numbers told her to adopt.

And in doing so, she has redefined and taken over the Clinton brand. Forget welfare reform, free-trade uber alles, and third-way DLC-economics. Since hitting her stride in Ohio, Hillary has transformed the Clinton brand into one that represents working-class Americans. Because of this, she is the Clinton who will now be most relevant to the country's future.

I see Hillary returning to the Senate with a newfound sense of purpose -- and power. With the presidency no longer in her sights -- at least for now -- she could become a commanding progressive force in the Senate.

Campaigning in Pennsylvania in early April, Clinton compared herself to Philadelphia icon Rocky Balboa. "Let me tell you something," she said. "When it comes to finishing the fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common. I never quit. I never give up."

The comparison was meant to reinforce her image as a tireless warrior -- but it was more accurate and prescient than she intended. Because Rocky actually lost his initial fight with Apollo Creed. After 15 punishing and bloody rounds, he was satisfied just to have gone the distance.

"Ain't gonna be no rematch," says Creed amidst the post-fight pandemonium. To which Rocky replies: "Don't want one."

Even though Rocky didn't win, he was ultimately seen as a triumphant figure. And that's how Hillary will be seen too. Once the disappointment fades and the cuts and bruises heal, the lasting impression will be one of glory, accomplishment, and profound impact.

Hers will have been a game-changing defeat.

If you are in San Francisco today, I will be speaking about Right is Wrong at 7pm at Book Passage (51 Tamal Vista in Corte Madera), and if you are in Seattle on Tuesday I'll be speaking at 7:30pm at the Town Hall Center for Civic Life (on 8th Avenue).

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Obama Adds To Superdelegate Tally

Obama has pulled in the endorsement of Washington State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz this morning. Pelz told his supporters, "that Sen. Obama will be our nominee, and that it is time for us as Democrats to begin the final stretch of this historic 2008 campaign to take back America. It is time to unify our party around one candidate."

Also, California assigned five add-on superdelegates this weekend (these are superdelegates who are traditionally allocated according to the popular vote results for the state). Reflecting the February 5th results, Clinton picked up three delegates, while Obama picked up two.

UPDATE (1:00 PM): Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia has endorsed Obama today, a powerful statement given Obama's recent loss in the state. Byrd said in his statement that "Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support."

UPDATE (2:00 PM): Another superdelegate, Kansas Democratic Chair Larry Gates, has endorsed Obama:

"Senator Obama inspired record numbers of voters to turn out to the Kansas caucuses, which not only strengthens our Party but also the whole political process. He is the best candidate for Democrats to stand behind as we work to take on John McCain - who supports the war in Iraq and Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans - in November.

"While I have decided to endorse Sen. Obama, I think it is important to note that Sen. Clinton is a strong leader who ran a passionate campaign. Her contribution to the national discussion has been invaluable and will continue to be important as we're working together to elect Sen. Obama to the White House," Gates said.

UPDATE (4:30 PM): Obama has announced two more superdelegates, both from Alaska:

The Obama campaign announces that Alaska superdelegates Cindy Spanyers and Blake Johnson are with Obama.

It's a state where the GOP is in trouble, and where you can come up with a far-out scenario giving Obama a shot.

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How a GOP conspiracy continues to cheat Ron Paul

(Here is a note in a bottle, thrown out onto the ocean, from someone inside the conspiracy. I hope it is found.)

So, if the Ron Paul Movement has struck a chord, then why did he not do better in the race for the GOP nomination?

1.) Well, because it is a movement that has just started and it takes some a little bit longer to catch on than others.

2.) Because some already had a favorite going into the debates and were not listening to any of the others anyway.

3.) Because most didn’t watch the debates at all.

4.) And finally, ah hem, because there is an establishment conspiracy to keep Ron Paul’s campaign from embarrassing the Republican Party.

Oh yeah, I know, conspiracy theories are not allowed and conspiracies do not actually exist. Although, if that were true the word itself would not exist and you would not know what I am talking about. In fact we all conspire and have conspired since the first grade and some of the conspiracies become known, like the tobacco industry fudging its figures on cancer or the recent expose of the KGB planting false scientific information in the west about a so called “nuclear winter.”

No, I am not suggesting that a bunch of 80 year old Knights of Malta met at a secret location in Manhattan and voted to bring down Ron Paul to fulfill some 1500 year old promise to a French King. Or even that the Masons did it. Or even that the GOP drafted a secret memo. What I am saying is that he has been the subject of numerous meetings of GOP establishment figures and they have exchanged ideas and techniques for keeping him and his minions at bay. I know because I was accidentally and spontaneously in the middle of just such a conversation.

Last week I appeared on a number of television programs and ended up in “the green room” with a couple of GOP luminaries. One of the party’s most famous and powerful Senators and a former governor who came within a hair of becoming the vice president. You can guess which television network it was. We each had a book to promote.

Anyway, somehow they got into a discussion of Ron Paul and how his supporters had the nerve, the gall, the cheek to show up at “their” respective Republican State Conventions and practically take over. Each man described to the other how through parliamentary maneuver and outright theft they had recently blocked the Paulistas from embarrassing the GOP by winning “their” delegates to the national convention. They passed these stories back and forth with great gusto and laughter and genuine appreciation for the political skill of the other.

“Well,” I interrupted, “Why was all that necessary in the first place? Who are these people? Why are their ideas so popular? And why block them? Shouldn’t the party welcome such activists into the process? Is the party so insecure that it has to cheat to protect itself? And what will the people who got cheated think about the GOP? Is this a lost opportunity? Maybe the GOP got cheated?”

You would have thought I was questioning the Virgin Birth. They turned on “the green room idiot” and patronizingly explained to me how the nomination belonged to McCain now and good soldiers had to rally around the standard bearer.

“Yes, yes,” I said, “But anyone active enough to show up at a State Convention knows that too. So what is driving their activism? If they can’t win, why are they still fighting? Could they be true believers?”

There was an embarrassing silence in the green room.

“Well,” cough, cough, the Senator ventured kindly, “They have tapped into a strain of libertarianism that has been underrepresented in recent years.”

And then the two giants, men I both admire, ignored me, “ the green room idiot,” and turned to each other to exchange hilarious Ron Paul stories about how he had wandered off the range voting his own way time and again, seemingly oblivious to the inherent needs of the Party. It’s called voting your conscience or even voting on principle instead of “Party.” It is a quaint constitutional notion, quite old fashioned.

There is no question that Ron Paul is seen by the GOP as “the crazy uncle in the attic.” But now that he has escaped and is out and about and is talking publicly almost anyone who hears him thinks that he is right and the rest of the GOP are the crazy ones, or at least the wrong ones.

I had one more question for my distinguished friends. “If Ron Paul is such a fringe figure and we are the mainstream of Republican political thought, then why is his book on the New York Times bestseller list, and ours not?”

Hmmm, now that was a thought for the conspirators to take home. Can’t the GOP get into those bookstores and stop the sales? Or maybe rewrite the rules about who gets on the list and who doesn’t? Or is this bestseller business only a Liberal Democrat-New York Times conspiracy devised to embarrass the Republican Party? Or maybe Victor Hugo is right about the force of an “idea whose time is come.”

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Superdelegates Turned Down $1 Million Offer From Clinton Donor

One of Sen. Hillary Clinton's top financial supporters offered $1 million to the Young Democrats of America during a phone conversation in which he also pressed for the organization's two uncommitted superdelegates to endorse the New York Democrat, a high-ranking official with YDA told The Huffington Post.

Haim Saban, the billionaire entertainment magnate and longtime Clinton supporter, denied the allegation. But four independent sources said that just before the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, Saban called YDA President David Hardt and offered what was perceived as a lucrative proposal: $1 million would be made available for the group if Hardt and the organization's other uncommitted superdelegate backed Clinton.

Contacted about the report, Saban, initially very friendly, became curt. "Not true," he said, "it's simply not true." He declined to elaborate. Did he talk to the YDA superdelegate? "I talk to many, many superdelegates. Some I don't even remember their names." Did he propose any financial transaction? "I have never offered them or anybody any money" in exchange for support or a vote, he said. The Clinton campaign did not return a request for comment.

Members of the Young Democrats agonized about the potential fallout of Saban's call; his financial offer represented one-third of the group's 2008 budget. Democratic officials and fundraisers were consulted about how to respond, and at times the discussions were "emotional," one participant said. "It is scary for them, Haim is very powerful, he has great influence over donors who give to them."

Another source said that Hardt and others were acutely aware of Saban's status within Democratic circles and were concerned that their organization would suffer long-term harm if they declined his offer or if news of the proposal became public.

"I said I thought that the appropriate response was to call Haim back and say thank you but we are not interested," said the source. "I also said that it was surely the case that this story would get out because it is too interesting not to and they should think about how to deal with it. It was a day or two [before they responded]. They felt afraid. They were like, 'Holy shit, this is Haim Saban.'"

Nevertheless, the group declined the overture. A YDA official cited moral reservations as well as the overwhelming consensus of its members to back Sen. Barack Obama.

The group had not directly solicited Saban's financial support prior to the call, the official said, and records show no money from Saban has been given since. He did donate $15,000 to the group's 2005 convention, a separate political entity, and is a natural benefactor for groups such as YDA, a 527 which describes itself as the "largest youth-led, national, partisan political organization."

Saban is the nation's largest political campaign contributor over the last decade, FEC records show, giving nearly $13 million since 1999 to dozens of candidates, PACs, and Democratic campaign committees.

This past week, Crystal Strait, a YDA superdelegate, publicly announced she was supporting Obama. Another YDA superdelegate from Puerto Rico, Francisco J. Domenech, endorsed Clinton several months ago. Hardt, the third superdelegate, remains uncommitted.

"Crystal made an independent decision for all the reasons that she stated and David has consistently stated his position of choosing who to support after the primary is done," Alexandra Acker, the executive director of YDA, said when asked about why the two individuals made their respective decisions.

Hardt also released a statement explaining his current neutrality: "With just five contests left, I will wait to declare my superdelegate vote until every young voter has made their voice heard. The Young Democrats of America will proudly unite behind our nominee." Strait did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Saban's offer, which was hinted at last week by John Aravosis, publisher of AmericaBlog, underscores the heightened pitch of the Democratic primary.

Those familiar with campaign finance rules say that monetary promises for superdelegates are "problematic," but may not, in the end, be legally out of bounds.

"This is not an FEC issue," said Jan Baran, a Republican campaign finance attorney. "There are federal and state laws that bar 'vote buying' but I'm not sure they apply in this situation since this involves a convention delegate and not a voter in an election. In short, I don't know whether this is illegal or just hardnosed political horse-trading."

While no other accounts of direct financial offers have surfaced, both Democratic campaigns have attempted to use the power of the check to recruit the support of influential party insiders.

In March, high-ranking donors for Sen. Clinton, including Saban, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi chastising her for suggesting that superdelegates had a responsibility to support the candidate who finished the primary process leading in the pledged delegate count.

"We have been strong supporters of the DCCC," they wrote. "We therefore urge you to clarify your position on super-delegates and reflect in your comments a more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates at the National Convention in August."

And in February, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that Sen. Obama's political action committee had given $694,000 to superdelegates in the previous three years. Of the 81 who had announced their support for Obama at the time, 34 had received donations totaling $228,000.

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Poverty Has Returned to the Public Agenda

Jack Kemp and George Mitchell discuss why poverty is more relevant than ever.

Interested in the latest news on poverty? Sign-up here for updates.

Poverty is back. Or to be more accurate, it never left.

For almost a generation, talking about the problems of poverty in the United States has been political poison. Neither major political party paid enough attention to the issue.

Now, in this election year, the remaining presidential candidates have all said fighting poverty will be a priority in his or her administration. Both Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have pledged to appoint a poverty point-person and each supports setting a numerical goal and timeline for reducing poverty. Senator John McCain recently pledged to make “eradication of poverty a top priority.” And the issue has figured prominently in media coverage of the campaign. Last year, stories in the media about poverty and politics increased 145 percent over the previous election cycle.

The changing political winds are also evident at the state level. A new report released by the Center for Law and Social Policy and the foundation-led initiative, Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, found that a dozen states have taken significant steps to focus more attention on poverty, with ten states acting since 2006. The trend seems to be gaining strength; at least four more states are considering proposals to create poverty commissions.

The states are taking a variety of approaches. Connecticut, Delaware and Vermont have established dates for cutting child poverty by 50 percent. In Colorado and Iowa, bipartisan legislative caucuses were formed to push for new initiatives, while in Michigan a statewide summit has been scheduled. Eight states have formed commissions to make recommendations for action.

It is evident from all this activity that the nation has reached a moment of opportunity. Fighting poverty has moved from a secondary political issue to a cause with increasing bipartisan support. It is critical that we seize the moment and take strong action at the federal level to dramatically reduce poverty in this country.

What has caused the change? A number of factors have focused more attention on poverty at this time:

  • The gap between rich and poor has grown worrisome to many of us, including those charged with national economic policy. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke has warned that the unchecked growth in income inequality could threaten the nation’s economic vitality.
  • A cherished piece of the American Dream – the notion that individuals have the opportunity to rise beyond their parent’s economic status – is not standing up to scrutiny. A study by the Economic Mobility Project finds that 42 percent of children born to parents in the bottom fifth of income distribution remain in the bottom, and 39 percent born to parents in the top fifth remain at the top. Steps must be taken to strengthen our economy and expand opportunities for jobs, ownership and affordable housing.
  • One-third of poor households with children include a full-time, year-round worker. Three million full-time workers live below the poverty line, therefore, streamlining, broadening, and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is essential.
  • The high cost of medical care is straining families. One state found that one-fourth of its foster care caseload resulted when unaffordable bills for child mental-health services left parents with no choice but to place their children in the foster care system, where they would be covered by Medicaid.
  • During periods of very slow growth and recession, more lives are touched by economic insecurity, and more households that were near the margins tumble into poverty. Depending on how severe the current recession proves to be, it could submerge from 5 to 10 million more Americans below the poverty line.

The greater focus on poverty has been accompanied by an increasing emphasis on solutions. The Center for American Progress found that poverty could be reduced by 26 percent through such straightforward measures as raising the minimum wage, expanding the EITC and Child Tax Credit and increasing the availability of child care assistance for low-income families. The price for such efforts would be about $90 billion, compared with the estimated $500 billion cost to the nation each year from childhood poverty. More needs to be done to expand access to capital, access to quality education and creating greater access to job opportunities in the private sector.

There is a growing perception that compassion for our fellow citizens is not only a moral imperative but essential to strengthening our nation. We need to make the most of this window of opportunity. The public is sympathetic; the states are leading pro-actively; and the presidential candidates are saying the right things. In January 2009, when a new President and a new Congress take over, we need to be certain that they remember their promises and take decisive steps to sharply reduce poverty in this land of opportunity.

Jack Kemp, principal at Kemp Partners, is a former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and a former member of Congress. George Mitchell is chairman of the law firm of DLA Piper and a former Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate. Both are members of the Advisory Council of Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity: Foundations Ask Presidential Candidates What They’ll Do for America.

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The Virtuous Life: Chastity

This is the twelfth post in a series about living Ben Franklin’s 13 virtues.

CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

Editor’s Note: Before we get to the post, allow me to head off the would be commenter, who, thinking himself beyond clever, posts something akin to “Benjamin Franklin wasn’t chaste! He was a womanizer!” In truth, this bit of popular knowledge has been greatly exaggerated. Please see here and here.

Also, as we have mentioned time and time again, Franklin openly admitted that he did not live the virtues perfectly. But he felt he was a far better man for having made the attempt to do so. Living the virtuous life doesn’t not mean attaining perfection, but striving to improve oneself.

Ahhh, chastity. A word that can make teenagers blush and grown men cringe. A word that conjures up thoughts of medieval belts, “true love waits” pledge cards, and ranting preachers. Many believe the concept of chastity has no place in a modern, enlightened society. Indeed, in many ways the virtue of chastity is the most difficult to write about. Unlike the other virtues, it is hard to define chastity apart from its relationship to religious beliefs. Yet, while the precise definition of chastity will vary from man to man, there are aspects of this virtue that all men, regardless of belief system, should aspire to.

In today’s sexualized society, promoting chastity is seen as prudish and old fashioned. In the eyes of many, promoting chastity on a men’s site will be seen as almost contradictory. Isn’t manliness all about the notches on your bedpost of the women you have conquered? We propose that manly sexuality shouldn’t be about the number of women a man beds; rather, it should be about focusing one’s sexuality in meaningful relationships.

Sex as a Consumer Good

Sex, it seems, is everywhere. It pops up in every nook and cranny of our day to day lives. We see sex on our television, in our magazines, and on our computers. It is used to sell everything from shampoo to jeans. While once viewed as a sacred mystery, today it has become just another consumer product that can be bought or sold. Sure, people have sold sex since the beginning of history (they don’t call prostitution the oldest profession for nothing). What’s different now is that the very idea of sex has been commercialized and in the process cheapened.

People today approach sex just as they would approach buying a widget. The focus is on YOUR satisfaction and YOUR pleasure. A man thus fantasizes about his next “purchase.” After that hook-up gives him the pleasure he was seeking, he shops around until he finds another person that can satisfy the urge. When he gets tired of that woman or he sees a better and higher end model, he trades-in that person and goes after the upgrade. The problem is that people aren’t things; they’re, well, people. They have hopes, dreams, feelings, and aspirations just like you do.

The Problem with the Hook-Up Culture

On college campuses hooking-up has replaced dating. Guys seldom ask girls on out real dates: outings they have planned ahead of time and which involve just the two of them. And they even less frequently ask that girl to be their girlfriend and enter into monogamous relationships. Instead women and men hook up at bars, Greek houses, and parties. They have their way with each other and then hope never to have a run-in around campus. College is seen as the time to sow one’s wild oats before settling down at some yet to be determined, but definitively far off time.

While many (maybe most?) men see all this as harmless fun, the reality is that there are negative consequences to these hit and run sexual encounters. In truth, “casual sex” is an oxymoron; there is no such thing.

While for some men, sex is just another recreational activity like going to a baseball game, in reality sex is a powerful part of the human experience. Whether you are religious or not, it is wrong to strip sex of any kind of sacredness. The reason sex feels so fantastic is biological propagation insurance; after shooting wooly mammoths and pulling up roots all day, the human race needed a push to overcome the tiredness, get jiggy with it, and perpetuate the human race. Sex is not just erotic and hot, it’s the way in which human life is created. Regardless of how you think the human race came to be, the creation of life is surely imbued with power and mystery. Whether you want it to be or not, sex forms a union between you and the woman you are with. It’s the joining of two bodies together. Powerful hormones and feelings are released when you have sex. Evolution set up these feelings with the intention of bringing two people together to care for a new human life. It’s ridiculous to unite with a woman in this powerful coupling and then change partners like you’re changing a shirt.

Even if you wouldn’t use the word “sacred” with “sex,” it should at least be seen as “special.” Keeping it special means placing some boundaries around it. The extent of these boundaries will vary from man to man. But there are real reasons for not diluting it beyond measure:

Cheap Sex is Crap Sex. Sex is pretty much the most vulnerable thing you can do. You’re totally naked, worried about your performance, and not to be crude, but sticking your body part into another person. Good sex therefore involves a lot of trust. A trust born of real love and intimacy. The kind of intimacy born of late night conversations, dinner dates, fights, and reconciliations. If you’re having sex with someone you don’t love, you’re simply using them as tool for your pleasure. You might as well be doing it with an inflatable doll. The more you are in love with someone, the more fantastic sex is. The more commonplace sex becomes, the less spectacular it will be. This is the “dullness” Ben was referring to.

Casual Sex Disrespects Women. Even if you can get your jollies from a one night stand, no strings attached, that doesn’t mean your partner feels the same way. While you may be in it for the good time, the woman you hook-up with may develop feelings for you. I know there are woman who have no problem with random flings. But I also know more women who want to believe they’re down with hooking-up but feel hurt afterwards. I knew a lot of women in college who had random hook-ups, after which the guys didn’t call, and who suffered from bouts of depression and angst. They never connected the dots, but I have no doubt there was a correlation. And yes, this goes for guys too. You might hook-up with a girl who’s just leading you on, and get your heart crushed when you realize you’ve been played. Wait until your relationship is committed before being intimate.

Casual Sex Doesn’t Prepare You for Sex in a Real Relationship. Those who encourage men to have multiple sexual partners, argue that if you only have sex with a few, or heaven forbid, just one, sexual partner, you won’t know what kind of stuff you like and how to please the partner you finally do settle down with. On VH1’s recent documentary on sex, Woody Allen compares this to getting your driver’s license without having a learner’s permit. But casual sex is ill preparation for the monogamous variety. Good sex requires communication and a willingness to sometimes delay one’s pleasure for your partner’s benefit. But casual sex involves little communication and little incentive to maximize your partner’s pleasure. Sure, you want to show her a good time. But you’re mostly focused on getting off yourself, and hey, you’re never going to see this woman again, so if it’s so-so for her, who cares?

Related to this, is the argument people make for not saving sex for marriage. Now I know this definition of chastity is not embraced by many men. But those who do embrace it are often berated for choosing a life partner without knowing if the two of you are sexually compatible. I think this argument is total bunk. While it makes sense theoretically, how would it play out practically? Does this mean that if a man is totally in love with a woman, and then they have sex and it’s awkward, he would kick her to the curb and scrap the whole relationship? I have honestly never seen this actually happen. Hey, here’s a novel idea: How about if two people are sexually incompatible they work on their communication, maybe even go to therapy together? Pretty mind blowing, huh?

Furthermore, as my friend Dave is fond of saying, “Sex is like ice cream. The more flavors you sample, the harder it becomes to settle on one flavor for the rest of your life.”

Original here

Should John McCain Do Porn?

The Last Roundup

Is the government compiling a secret list of citizens to detain under martial law?

This article is from the May/June issue of Radar Magazine. For a risk-free issue, click here.

ARE YOU ON THE LIST? The federal government has been developing a highly classified plan that will override the Constitution in the event of a major terrorist attack (Photo: Illustration by Brett Ryder)

In the spring of 2007, a retired senior official in the U.S. Justice Department sat before Congress and told a story so odd and ominous, it could have sprung from the pages of a pulp political thriller. It was about a principled bureaucrat struggling to protect his country from a highly classified program with sinister implications. Rife with high drama, it included a car chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., and a tense meeting at the White House, where the president's henchmen made the bureaucrat so nervous that he demanded a neutral witness be present.

The bureaucrat was James Comey, John Ashcroft's second-in-command at the Department of Justice during Bush's first term. Comey had been a loyal political foot soldier of the Republican Party for many years. Yet in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he described how he had grown increasingly uneasy reviewing the Bush administration's various domestic surveillance and spying programs. Much of his testimony centered on an operation so clandestine he wasn't allowed to name it or even describe what it did. He did say, however, that he and Ashcroft had discussed the program in March 2004, trying to decide whether it was legal under federal statutes. Shortly before the certification deadline, Ashcroft fell ill with pancreatitis, making Comey acting attorney general, and Comey opted not to certify the program. When he communicated his decision to the White House, Bush's men told him, in so many words, to take his concerns and stuff them in an undisclosed location.

The Continuity of Governance program encompasses national emergency plans that would trigger the takeover of the country by extra-constitutional forces. In short, it's a road map for martial lawComey refused to knuckle under, and the dispute came to a head on the cold night of March 10, 2004, hours before the program's authorization was to expire. At the time, Ashcroft was in intensive care at George Washington Hospital following emergency surgery. Apparently, at the behest of President Bush himself, the White House tried, in Comey's words, "to take advantage of a very sick man," sending Chief of Staff Andrew Card and then–White House counsel Alberto Gonzales on a mission to Ashcroft's sickroom to persuade the heavily doped attorney general to override his deputy. Apprised of their mission, Comey, accompanied by a full security detail, jumped in his car, raced through the streets of the capital, lights blazing, and "literally ran" up the hospital stairs to beat them there.

Minutes later, Gonzales and Card arrived with an envelope filled with the requisite forms. Ashcroft, even in his stupor, did not fall for their heavy-handed ploy. "I'm not the attorney general," Ashcroft told Bush's men. "There"—he pointed weakly to Comey—"is the attorney general." Gonzales and Card were furious, departing without even acknowledging Comey's presence in the room. The following day, the classified domestic spying program that Comey found so disturbing went forward at the demand of the White House—"without a signature from the Department of Justice attesting as to its legality," he testified.

What was the mysterious program that had so alarmed Comey? Political blogs buzzed for weeks with speculation. Though Comey testified that the program was subsequently readjusted to satisfy his concerns, one can't help wondering whether the unspecified alteration would satisfy constitutional experts, or even average citizens. Faced with push-back from his bosses at the White House, did he simply relent and accept a token concession? Two months after Comey's testimony to Congress, the New York Times reported a tantalizing detail: The program that prompted him "to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases." The larger mystery remained intact, however. "It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate," the article conceded.

ONE NATION, UNDER SURVEILLANCE James Comey testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee (Photo: Getty Images)
Another clue came from a rather unexpected source: President Bush himself. Addressing the nation from the Oval Office in 2005 after the first disclosures of the NSA's warrantless electronic surveillance became public, Bush insisted that the spying program in question was reviewed "every 45 days" as part of planning to assess threats to "the continuity of our government."

Few Americans—professional journalists included—know anything about so-called Continuity of Government (COG) programs, so it's no surprise that the president's passing reference received almost no attention. COG resides in a nebulous legal realm, encompassing national emergency plans that would trigger the takeover of the country by extra-constitutional forces—and effectively suspend the republic. In short, it's a road map for martial law.

While Comey, who left the Department of Justice in 2005, has steadfastly refused to comment further on the matter, a number of former government employees and intelligence sources with independent knowledge of domestic surveillance operations claim the program that caused the flap between Comey and the White House was related to a database of Americans who might be considered potential threats in the event of a national emergency. Sources familiar with the program say that the government's data gathering has been overzealous and probably conducted in violation of federal law and the protection from unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, "There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived 'enemies of the state' almost instantaneously." He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention

Christopher Ketcham writes for Harper's, GQ, and Mother Jones, among other publications. He splits his time between Utah and Brooklyn, NY.
DESPERATE TIMES Should another 9/11 occur, Continuity of Governance plans developed during the Cold War go into effect (Photo: Getty Images)

Of course, federal law is somewhat vague as to what might constitute a "national emergency." Executive orders issued over the past three decades define it as a "natural disaster, military attack, [or] technological or other emergency," while Department of Defense documents include eventualities like "riots, acts of violence, insurrections, unlawful obstructions or assemblages, [and] disorder prejudicial to public law and order." According to one news report, even "national opposition to U.S. military invasion abroad" could be a trigger.

Let's imagine a harrowing scenario: coordinated bombings in several American cities culminating in a major blast—say, a suitcase nuke—in New York City. Thousands of civilians are dead. Commerce is paralyzed. A state of emergency is declared by the president. Continuity of Governance plans that were developed during the Cold War and aggressively revised since 9/11 go into effect. Surviving government officials are shuttled to protected underground complexes carved into the hills of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Power shifts to a "parallel government" that consists of scores of secretly preselected officials. (As far back as the 1980s, Donald Rumsfeld, then CEO of a pharmaceutical company, and Dick Cheney, then a congressman from Wyoming, were slated to step into key positions during a declared emergency.) The executive branch is the sole and absolute seat of authority, with Congress and the judiciary relegated to advisory roles at best. The country becomes, within a matter of hours, a police state.

In case of a wide-scale attack, the executive branch becomes the sole and absolute seat of authority. The country becomes, within a matter of hours, a police stateInterestingly, plans drawn up during the Reagan administration suggest this parallel government would be ruling under authority given by law to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, home of the same hapless bunch that recently proved themselves unable to distribute water to desperate hurricane victims. The agency's incompetence in tackling natural disasters is less surprising when one considers that, since its inception in the 1970s, much of its focus has been on planning for the survival of the federal government in the wake of a decapitating nuclear strike.

Under law, during a national emergency, FEMA and its parent organization, the Department of Homeland Security, would be empowered to seize private and public property, all forms of transport, and all food supplies. The agency could dispatch military commanders to run state and local governments, and it could order the arrest of citizens without a warrant, holding them without trial for as long as the acting government deems necessary. From the comfortable perspective of peaceful times, such behavior by the government may seem far-fetched. But it was not so very long ago that FDR ordered 120,000 Japanese Americans—everyone from infants to the elderly—be held in detention camps for the duration of World War II. This is widely regarded as a shameful moment in U.S. history, a lesson learned. But a long trail of federal documents indicates that the possibility of large-scale detention has never quite been abandoned by federal authorities. Around the time of the 1968 race riots, for instance, a paper drawn up at the U.S. Army War College detailed plans for rounding up millions of "militants" and "American negroes," who were to be held at "assembly centers or relocation camps." In the late 1980s, the Austin American-Statesman and other publications reported the existence of 10 detention camp sites on military facilities nationwide, where hundreds of thousands of people could be held in the event of domestic political upheaval. More such facilities were commissioned in 2006, when Kellogg Brown & Root—then a subsidiary of Halliburton—was handed a $385 million contract to establish "temporary detention and processing capabilities" for the Department of Homeland Security. The contract is short on details, stating only that the facilities would be used for "an emergency influx of immigrants, or to support the rapid development of new programs." Just what those "new programs" might be is not specified.

(Photo: Getty Images)
In the days after our hypothetical terror attack, events might play out like this: With the population gripped by fear and anger, authorities undertake unprecedented actions in the name of public safety. Officials at the Department of Homeland Security begin actively scrutinizing people who—for a tremendously broad set of reasons—have been flagged in Main Core as potential domestic threats. Some of these individuals might receive a letter or a phone call, others a request to register with local authorities. Still others might hear a knock on the door and find police or armed soldiers outside. In some instances, the authorities might just ask a few questions. Other suspects might be arrested and escorted to federal holding facilities, where they could be detained without counsel until the state of emergency is no longer in effect.

It is, of course, appropriate for any government to plan for the worst. But when COG plans are shrouded in extreme secrecy, effectively unregulated by Congress or the courts, and married to an overreaching surveillance state—as seems to be the case with Main Core—even sober observers must weigh whether the protections put in place by the federal government are becoming more dangerous to America than any outside threat.

Another well-informed source—a former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community—says this particular program has roots going back at least to the 1980s and was set up with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency. He has been told that the program utilizes software that makes predictive judgments of targets' behavior and tracks their circle of associations with "social network analysis" and artificial intelligence modeling tools.

"The more data you have on a particular target, the better [the software] can predict what the target will do, where the target will go, who it will turn to for help," he says. "Main Core is the table of contents for all the illegal information that the U.S. government has [compiled] on specific targets." An intelligence expert who has been briefed by high-level contacts in the Department of Homeland Security confirms that a database of this sort exists, but adds that "it is less a mega-database than a way to search numerous other agency databases at the same time."

CROWD CONTROL New Yorkers walk home on the afternoon of the September 11 attacks (Photo: Getty Images)

A host of publicly disclosed programs, sources say, now supply data to Main Core. Most notable are the NSA domestic surveillance programs, initiated in the wake of 9/11, typically referred to in press reports as "warrantless wiretapping."

In March, a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal shed further light onto the extraordinarily invasive scope of the NSA efforts: According to the Journal, the government can now electronically monitor "huge volumes of records of domestic e-mails and Internet searches, as well as bank transfers, credit card transactions, travel, and telephone records." Authorities employ "sophisticated software programs" to sift through the data, searching for "suspicious patterns." In effect, the program is a mass catalog of the private lives of Americans. And it's notable that the article hints at the possibility of programs like Main Core. "The [NSA] effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called black programs whose existence is undisclosed," the Journal reported, quoting unnamed officials. "Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach."

"We're at the edge of a cliff," says Bruce Fein, a top justice official in the Reagan administration. "To a national emergency planner, everybody looks like a danger to stability"The following information seems to be fair game for collection without a warrant: the e-mail addresses you send to and receive from, and the subject lines of those messages; the phone numbers you dial, the numbers that dial in to your line, and the durations of the calls; the Internet sites you visit and the keywords in your Web searches; the destinations of the airline tickets you buy; the amounts and locations of your ATM withdrawals; and the goods and services you purchase on credit cards. All of this information is archived on government supercomputers and, according to sources, also fed into the Main Core database.

Main Core also allegedly draws on four smaller databases that, in turn, cull from federal, state, and local "intelligence" reports; print and broadcast media; financial records; "commercial databases"; and unidentified "private sector entities." Additional information comes from a database known as the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, which generates watch lists from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for use by airlines, law enforcement, and border posts. According to the Washington Post, the Terrorist Identities list has quadrupled in size between 2003 and 2007 to include about 435,000 names. The FBI's Terrorist Screening Center border crossing list, which listed 755,000 persons as of fall 2007, grows by 200,000 names a year. A former NSA officer tells Radar that the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, using an electronic-funds transfer surveillance program, also contributes data to Main Core, as does a Pentagon program that was created in 2002 to monitor antiwar protesters and environmental activists such as Greenpeace.

HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU From your late-night e-mails and travel plans to phone records and financial transactions, the government finds you fascinating—and may consider you a potential enemy of the state (Photo: Illustration by Brett Ryder)

If previous FEMA and FBI lists are any indication, the Main Core database includes dissidents and activists of various stripes, political and tax protesters, lawyers and professors, publishers and journalists, gun owners, illegal aliens, foreign nationals, and a great many other harmless, average people.

A veteran CIA intelligence analyst who maintains active high-level clearances and serves as an advisor to the Department of Defense in the field of emerging technology tells Radar that during the 2004 hospital room drama, James Comey expressed concern over how this secret database was being used "to accumulate otherwise private data on non-targeted U.S. citizens for use at a future time." Though not specifically familiar with the name Main Core, he adds, "What was being requested of Comey for legal approval was exactly what a Main Core story would be." A source regularly briefed by people inside the intelligence community adds: "Comey had discovered that President Bush had authorized NSA to use a highly classified and compartmentalized Continuity of Government database on Americans in computerized searches of its domestic intercepts. [Comey] had concluded that the use of that 'Main Core' database compromised the legality of the overall NSA domestic surveillance project."

If Main Core does exist, says Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counterterrorism officer and an outspoken critic of the agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is its likely home. "If a master list is being compiled, it would have to be in a place where there are no legal issues"—the CIA and FBI would be restricted by oversight and accountability laws—"so I suspect it is at DHS, which as far as I know operates with no such restraints." Giraldi notes that DHS already maintains a central list of suspected terrorists and has been freely adding people who pose no reasonable threat to domestic security. "It's clear that DHS has the mandate for controlling and owning master lists. The process is not transparent, and the criteria for getting on the list are not clear." Giraldi continues, "I am certain that the content of such a master list [as Main Core] would not be carefully vetted, and there would be many names on it for many reasons—quite likely including the two of us."

UNDER REAGAN In the 1980s, control of the FBI's "security index" was reportedly transferred to none other than FEMA (Photo: Getty Images)

Would Main Core in fact be legal? According to constitutional scholar Bruce Fein, who served as associate deputy attorney general under Ronald Reagan, the question of legality is murky: "In the event of a national emergency, the executive branch simply assumes these powers"—the powers to collect domestic intelligence and draw up detention lists, for example—"if Congress doesn't explicitly prohibit it. It's really up to Congress to put these things to rest, and Congress has not done so." Fein adds that it is virtually impossible to contest the legality of these kinds of data collection and spy programs in court "when there are no criminal prosecutions and [there is] no notice to persons on the president's 'enemies list.' That means if Congress remains invertebrate, the law will be whatever the president says it is—even in secret. He will be the judge on his own powers and invariably rule in his own favor."

Compared to PROMIS, Richard Nixon's enemies list or Senator Joe McCarthy's blacklist look downright crudeThe veteran CIA intelligence analyst notes that Comey's suggestion that the offending elements of the program were dropped could be misleading: "Bush [may have gone ahead and] signed it as a National Intelligence Finding anyway."

But even if we never face a national emergency, the mere existence of the database is a matter of concern. "The capacity for future use of this information against the American people is so great as to be virtually unfathomable," the senior government official says.
In any case, mass watch lists of domestic citizens may do nothing to make us safer from terrorism. Jeff Jonas, chief scientist at IBM, a world-renowned expert in data mining, contends that such efforts won't prevent terrorist conspiracies. "Because there is so little historical terrorist event data," Jonas tells Radar, "there is not enough volume to create precise predictions."

The overzealous compilation of a domestic watch list is not unique in postwar American history. In 1950, the FBI, under the notoriously paranoid J. Edgar Hoover, began to "accumulate the names, identities, and activities" of suspect American citizens in a rapidly expanding "security index," according to declassified documents. In a letter to the Truman White House, Hoover stated that in the event of certain emergency situations, suspect individuals would be held in detention camps overseen by "the National Military Establishment." By 1960, a congressional investigation later revealed, the FBI list of suspicious persons included "professors, teachers, and educators; labor-union organizers and leaders; writers, lecturers, newsmen, and others in the mass-media field; lawyers, doctors, and scientists; other potentially influential persons on a local or national level; [and] individuals who could potentially furnish financial or material aid" to unnamed "subversive elements." This same FBI "security index" was allegedly maintained and updated into the 1980s, when it was reportedly transferred to the control of none other than FEMA (though the FBI denied this at the time).

FEMA, however—then known as the Federal Preparedness Agency—already had its own domestic surveillance system in place, according to a 1975 investigation by Senator John V. Tunney of California. Tunney, the son of heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney and the inspiration for Robert Redford's character in the film The Candidate, found that the agency maintained electronic dossiers on at least 100,000 Americans that contained information gleaned from wide-ranging computerized surveillance. The database was located in the agency's secret underground city at Mount Weather, near the town of Bluemont, Virginia. The senator's findings were confirmed in a 1976 investigation by the Progressive magazine, which found that the Mount Weather computers "can obtain millions of pieces [of] information on the personal lives of American citizens by tapping the data stored at any of the 96 Federal Relocation Centers"—a reference to other classified facilities. According to the Progressive, Mount Weather's databases were run "without any set of stated rules or regulations. Its surveillance program remains secret even from the leaders of the House and the Senate."

JUST IN CASE The Miami Herald contended that Reagan loyalist Oliver North had spearheaded the development of a "secret contingency plan" (Photo: Getty Images)

Ten years later, a new round of government martial law plans came to light. A report in the Miami Herald contended that Reagan loyalist and Iran-Contra conspirator Colonel Oliver North had spearheaded the development of a "secret contingency plan,"—code-named REX 84—which called "for suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the United States over to FEMA, [and the] appointment of military commanders to run state and local governments." The North plan also reportedly called for the detention of upwards of 400,000 illegal aliens and an undisclosed number of American citizens in at least 10 military facilities maintained as potential holding camps.

North's program was so sensitive in nature that when Texas congressman Jack Brooks attempted to question North about it during the 1987 Iran-Contra hearings, he was rebuffed even by his fellow legislators. "I read in Miami papers and several others that there had been a plan by that same agency [FEMA] that would suspend the American Constitution," Brooks said. "I was deeply concerned about that and wondered if that was the area in which he [North] had worked." Senator Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Iran, immediately cut off his colleague, saying, "That question touches upon a highly sensitive and classified area, so may I request that you not touch upon that, sir." Though Brooks pushed for an answer, the line of questioning was not allowed to proceed.

Wired magazine turned up additional damaging information, revealing in 1993 that North, operating from a secure White House site, allegedly employed a software database program called PROMIS (ostensibly as part of the REX 84 plan). PROMIS, which has a strange and controversial history, was designed to track individuals—prisoners, for example—by pulling together information from disparate databases into a single record. According to Wired, "Using the computers in his command center, North tracked dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States. Compared to PROMIS, Richard Nixon's enemies list or Senator Joe McCarthy's blacklist look downright crude." Sources have suggested to Radar that government databases tracking Americans today, including Main Core, could still have PROMIS-based legacy code from the days when North was running his programs.

In the wake of 9/11, domestic surveillance programs of all sorts expanded dramatically. As one well-placed source in the intelligence community puts it, "The gloves seemed to come off." What is not yet clear is what sort of still-undisclosed programs may have been authorized by the Bush White House. Marty Lederman, a high-level official at the Department of Justice under Clinton, writing on a law blog last year, wondered, "How extreme were the programs they implemented [after 9/11]? How egregious was the lawbreaking?" Congress has tried, and mostly failed, to find out.

HISTORY'S LESSONS Japanese Americans moved to internment camps in World War II

In July 2007 and again last August, Representative Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon and a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, sought access to the "classified annexes" of the Bush administration's Continuity of Government program. DeFazio's interest was prompted by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 (also known as NSPD-51), issued in May 2007, which reserves for the executive branch the sole authority to decide what constitutes a national emergency and to determine when the emergency is over. DeFazio found this unnerving.

But he and other leaders of the Homeland Security Committee, including Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, were denied a review of the Continuity of Government classified annexes. To this day, their calls for disclosure have been ignored by the White House. In a press release issued last August, DeFazio went public with his concerns that the NSPD-51 Continuity of Government plans are "extra-constitutional or unconstitutional." Around the same time, he told the Oregonian: "Maybe the people who think there's a conspiracy out there are right."

None of the leading presidential candidates have been asked the question, "As president, will you continue aggressive domestic surveillance programs in the vein of the Bush administration?"Congress itself has recently widened the path for both extra-constitutional detentions by the White House and the domestic use of military force during a national emergency. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 effectively suspended habeas corpus and freed up the executive branch to designate any American citizen an "enemy combatant" forfeiting all privileges accorded under the Bill of Rights. The John Warner National Defense Authorization Act, also passed in 2006, included a last-minute rider titled "Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies," which allowed the deployment of U.S. military units not just to put down domestic insurrections—as permitted under posse comitatus and the Insurrection Act of 1807—but also to deal with a wide range of calamities, including "natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack, or incident."

More troubling, in 2002, Congress authorized funding for the U.S. Northern Command, or NORTHCOM, which, according to Washington Post military intelligence expert William Arkin, "allows for emergency military operations in the United States without civilian supervision or control."

"We are at the edge of a cliff and we're about to fall off," says constitutional lawyer and former Reagan administration official Bruce Fein. "To a national emergency planner, everybody looks like a danger to stability. There's no doubt that Congress would have the authority to denounce all this—for example, to refuse to appropriate money for the preparation of a list of U.S. citizens to be detained in the event of martial law. But Congress is the invertebrate branch. They say, 'We have to be cautious.' The same old crap you associate with cowards. None of this will change under a Democratic administration, unless you have exceptional statesmanship and the courage to stand up and say, 'You know, democracies accept certain risks that tyrannies do not.'"

CREDIBLE WITNESS James Comey (Photo: Getty Images)

As of this writing, DeFazio, Thompson, and the other 433 members of the House are debating the so-called Protect America Act, after a similar bill passed in the Senate. Despite its name, the act offers no protection for U.S. citizens; instead, it would immunize from litigation U.S. telecom giants for colluding with the government in the surveillance of Americans to feed the hungry maw of databases like Main Core. The Protect America Act would legalize programs that appear to be unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the mystery of James Comey's testimony has disappeared in the morass of election year coverage. None of the leading presidential candidates have been asked the questions that are so profoundly pertinent to the future of the country: As president, will you continue aggressive domestic surveillance programs in the vein of the Bush administration? Will you release the COG blueprints that Representatives DeFazio and Thompson were not allowed to read? What does it suggest about the state of the nation that the U.S. is now ranked by worldwide civil liberties groups as an "endemic surveillance society," alongside repressive regimes such as China and Russia? How can a democracy thrive with a massive apparatus of spying technology deployed against every act of political expression, private or public? (Radar put these questions to spokespeople for the McCain, Obama, and Clinton campaigns, but at press time had yet to receive any responses.)

These days, it's rare to hear a voice like that of Senator Frank Church, who in the 1970s led the explosive investigations into U.S. domestic intelligence crimes that prompted the very reforms now being eroded. "The technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny," Church pointed out in 1975. "And there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know."

UPDATE: Since this article went to press, several documents have emerged to suggest the story has longer legs than we thought. Most troubling among these is an October 2001 Justice Department memo that detailed the extra-constitutional powers the U.S. military might invoke during domestic operations following a terrorist attack. In the memo, John Yoo, then deputy assistant attorney general, "concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations." (Yoo, as most readers know, is author of the infamous Torture Memo that, in bizarro fashion, rejiggers the definition of "legal" torture to allow pretty much anything short of murder.) In the October 2001 memo, Yoo refers to a classified DOJ document titled "Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States." According to the Associated Press, "Exactly what domestic military action was covered by the October memo is unclear. But federal documents indicate that the memo relates to the National Security Agency's Terrorist Surveillance Program." Attorney General John Mukasey last month refused to clarify before Congress whether the Yoo memo was still in force.

Meanwhile, congressional sources tell Radar that Congressman Peter DeFazio has apparently abandoned his effort to get to the bottom of the White House COG classified annexes. Penny Dodge, DeFazio's chief of staff, says otherwise. "We will be sending a letter requesting a classified briefing soon," she told Radar this week.

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