Thursday, June 26, 2008

McCain adviser may have struck a nerve

Candidate distances himself from terror comment, but does it ring true?

By Jonathan Weisman and Anne E. Kornblut

Sen. Barack Obama and his surrogates continued to criticize Charles R. Black Jr., a top adviser to Sen. John McCain, on Tuesday for saying a terrorist attack before the November election would help the presumptive Republican nominee. But behind their protests lay a question that has dogged Democrats since Sept. 11, 2001: Was Black speaking the truth?

"I don't think anyone knows the answer to this question," said Tad Devine, a senior strategist on Sen. John F. Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, which confronted the same internal debate. "On the one hand, Republicans say they made America safe. That argument goes by the wayside if there's an attack. On the other hand, an attack would change the entire framework of this election."

Black's comment to Fortune magazine that a terrorist attack "certainly would be a big advantage" roiled the presidential campaign for a second straight day. Obama -- who has made a determined effort to shore up his credentials on national security since clinching the Democratic nomination, arguing that the United States is less safe now than before President Bush took office -- wasted no time in trying to counter Black's statement. Obama dispatched Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, to hold a conference call with reporters in which he called Black's comments "a candid and very disappointing glimpse into the thinking of one of McCain's closest advisers." He did not directly call for Black to step aside.

"I think the remarks were so out of place that they call for some recalibration in the thinking and perhaps a greater adherence to principle here in staying away from the politics of fear," Ben-Veniste said.

McCain has distanced himself from Black's comments, saying, "If he said that -- and I don't know the context -- I strenuously disagree."

An ‘obvious’ claim?
But radio host Rush Limbaugh said aloud what other Republicans have been saying privately for months. Black's comments were "obvious," Limbaugh said yesterday on his program as he criticized McCain for distancing himself from them.

Limbaugh said in no uncertain terms that Obama would be weak in the face of terrorism. "We know damn well it's Obama who would seek to appease our enemies. We know damn well it's McCain who won't put up with another attack," Limbaugh said.

To this day, Kerry (D-Mass.) has blamed an Osama bin Laden videotape released on Oct. 29, 2004, for his defeat in the election the following week. And McCain, while campaigning in Connecticut for Rep. Christopher Shays that week in 2004, described the bin Laden video as a boost for Bush. "I think it's very helpful to President Bush," McCain said at the time. "It focuses America's attention on the war on terrorism. I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but I think it does have an effect."

Fears of an ‘October surprise’
Devine said Kerry campaign officials always feared an "October surprise" -- the capture of bin Laden, a terrorist attack or some other maneuver that would thrust terrorism into the forefront of voters' minds.

"We certainly were concerned that an administration that had shown itself willing to do almost anything would do almost anything," he said. "We weren't planning around it. There were no meetings around an October surprise, but were there discussions? Certainly."

Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of the 2004 nominee, went so far as to tell a business group in Phoenix late in the campaign that she "wouldn't be surprised if [bin Laden] appeared in the next month."

In his first debate with President Bush that year, Kerry tried to confront the issue head-on, accusing the president of a "colossal error of judgment" in "taking his eye off" bin Laden with the invasion of Iraq.

But the fight against terrorism remained Bush's key strength, even with an electorate that had begun to sour on his stewardship of the economy and his conduct of the Iraq war.

Dems appear to embrace terror debate
Obama advisers insisted yesterday that the Democrats can win the terrorism argument this year, even if there is an attack.

"I think the American people have gotten sensitized to the politicization of the war on terror by the Republican Party," said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), an Obama adviser. "Republicans have gone to the well too often, and the American people are seeing through it."

Obama has already begun the process of building a profile on national security issues. Last week's appearance with former military officers came after he had talked tough about al-Qaeda and promised action against the group's sanctuaries in western Pakistan. He has also begun a shift to the political center, saying he would support a compromise bill to authorize warrantless wiretapping of terrorist suspects over the strenuous protests of civil libertarians and party liberals. The Senate will vote to break a Democratic filibuster of the measure today.

"If something like an October surprise would happen, it would remind people about many of the Bush administration failures, that Osama bin Laden is on the loose, that al-Qaeda is stronger, that we've not been successful in pursuing foreign policy objectives," said former congressman Timothy J. Roemer (D-Ind.), another former 9/11 Commission member and an Obama homeland security adviser. "And I think those are strikes in favor of our argument for change."

But the sensitivity is still there. Davis, saying he was speaking personally and not for the campaign, advised Obama to choose a seasoned foreign policy veteran with strong national security credentials as his running mate. He mentioned former senators Sam Nunn of Georgia and Bob Graham of Florida.

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

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Bush's Third Term

This year, we're facing the most important election in a generation. As Americans, we must ask ourselves which candidate will bring about the change our country so desperately needs. In my opinion, Barack Obama is the only candidate with the judgment to move our country forward.

The disastrous consequences of George W. Bush's poor judgment over these last 7 1/2 years are all too apparent. Now, John McCain is offering 4 more years of Bush -- while Barack Obama offers the change in direction our country so desperately needs.

Barack had the judgment to oppose the war in Iraq before it began, and he is ready to bring our troops home and end the occupation of Iraq in a responsible way. John McCain has said that American troops should be willing to stay in Iraq for 100 years.

Barack will engage in the diplomacy that is necessary to bring stability to the Middle East. Just like George Bush, John McCain repeatedly resorts to saber-rattling and threats about invading Iran while revealing a startling ignorance of the basic issues that define the politics of the region.

Barack knows we have to invest in renewable energy to end America's dependence on foreign oil and fight global warming. And like George Bush, John McCain is in the pocket of big oil.

It's about judgment -- and I think the answer is clear.

Join me today. Support Barack Obama's campaign for change by making a contribution before the June 30 deadline!

While I respect John McCain's service, I know exactly what he stands for -- Bush's third term. And in national security terms, John McCain is largely untested and untried. He's never been responsible for policy formulation. John McCain is calculating that he will use the national security debate to his advantage. He's wrong.

Like Bush, McCain has always been for the use of force, force, and more force. In my experience, the only time to use force is as a last resort. When John McCain talks about throwing Russia out of the G8 and makes irresponsible comments about bombing Iran, he reveals his own disrespect for the office of the presidency.

And while he's all too willing to continue putting our troops in harm's way, John McCain initially refused to support providing benefits like the new GI Bill to our veterans because he believes that providing good education opportunities to our troops will hurt retention. That's ridiculous.

We need new leadership in the White House -- not George Bush's third term.

Last week I sat down with Barack Obama. I know he's the right person to lead our country forward. Now we need to come together and support his campaign for change.

As I see the sacrifices our troops and their families make every day; as I see Americans buckling under the weight of record high gas prices; and as I see families struggling with sky rocketing health care costs, I know this:

We simply can't afford another 4 years of the McCain-Bush-Cheney agenda.

We must change the course of our country's future. We must elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States.

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McCain vs. Obama: Ten Reasons Why Age Matters

By: Kate Carter (Little_personView Profile)

Our nation, so recently transfixed by race and gender, has narrowed its eyes to scrutinize yet another cultural issue—age.

Consider the presidential contenders. John McCain, a seventy-two-year-old who spent more than five years as a POW in Vietnam and whose physical scars include the vestiges of a protracted battle against melanoma pitted against Barack Obama, a lean forty-seven-year-old who proclaims himself to be post-Boomer, post-race, and post-partisan.

Conventional wisdom might hold that the older candidate has an edge, as older voters traditionally turn out in numbers far greater than younger voters. But so far, this election has been about proving conventional wisdom, well, conventional.

Let’s take a look at the reasons age does matter—reasons that may make a White House residency elusive for the senior citizen in the race.

10. Social Security
John McCain told the Wall Street Journal in March that he supports privatizing Social Security—President Bush’s initiative that failed miserably. Baby Boomers and their elders, facing retirement and plunging stock market portfolios, will be wary about voting for someone who wants to reinvent Social Security.

9. Swing States
Pundits may focus on who can win Florida and Pennsylvania, two swing states that the Population Reference Bureau ranks number one and number two, respectively, for the number of elderly residents. But let’s turn the paradigm around and look at the swing states with the youngest populations, and those therefore more likely to go for Obama. Take Georgia, for example: the third youngest state in the country (behind only Utah and Alaska in terms of youthful population), one with a very large African-American population, and with half the state’s population residing in the Democratic-leaning city of Atlanta. Georgia voted for Bill Clinton in 1992. Let’s not forget the battleground states of Nevada and Virginia, the seventh and eighth youngest states.

8. Recent History
Consider the last time the general election candidates represented different generations. It was 1996, and a fifty-year-old Bill Clinton ran for reelection against Bob Dole, who was seventy-three. Bob Dole’s embarrassing tumble at a California rally agitated concerns about his age—and seemed to catapult him to his next career hocking Viagra on TV.

7. Media Spin
Whether or not it’s fair, the media is now parsing the words of McCain and Obama for ageist cut-downs. Take the recent New York Times article by Adam Nagourney, who implied that Obama’s supporters said McCain seemed “confused” as a way to call into question his mental lucidity. Likewise, Nagourney asserted that when McCain and his advisers “refer to Mr. Obama as uniformed, or inexperienced, or unsophisticated in the ways of the world, the underlying message is that Mr. Obama is too young to be president.” Look for the media to pore over the phrases used by both campaigns to paint a war of words over age.

6. Debates
If Obama takes McCain up on his invitation to a series of debates and town hall forums, we may be reminded of the famous 1960 debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. It was the first-ever televised presidential debate and, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, Nixon arrived at the debate in an ill-fitting shirt and refused makeup to improve his color and lighten his five o’clock shadow. Kennedy, on the other hand, was tan, confident, and well rested. The visual contrast was extreme—despite an evenly matched debate—and Kennedy experienced a bump in support.

5. Vice Presidential Nominee
Because of McCain’s age, there will be more pressure on him to pick a strong vice presidential candidate. If he picks someone who is younger than he is, thereby adding youth to the ticket, it could exaggerate his own advanced age. If he picks someone who is his age, voters may feel uncomfortable about the ticket’s advanced age. Meanwhile, if Obama picks someone who is closer to McCain’s age (or at least splits their twenty-five-year age gap), it will likely help his ticket seem more experienced, and less green. The only way Obama can fumble on this account is by picking a vice presidential candidate as young as he is.

4. Changing Voter Demographics
Young voters nearly doubled turnout from 2000, with 6.5 million votes cast by people under the age of thirty, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Among Democrats, Obama collected 60 percent of the young vote, while McCain captured only 34 percent—barely beating out Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Young voters participating in the general election could challenge the notion that the most powerful political block is the elderly.

3. Pop Culture IQ
While McCain references the song “Barbara Ann,” which the Beach Boys popularized in 1965, Obama gets dirt off his shoulders Jay-Z style. This could, of course, backfire on Obama, but considering our US Weekly-obsessed nation, it’s more likely that references to 1960s all-white pop bands might start to seem a little out of touch.

2. Prejudice
If you don’t think there is widespread (albeit largely subconscious) prejudice in America against older people, you should check out the Project Implicit Web site. Run by researchers at Harvard, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington, the Implicit Association Tests demonstrate that although you may not have conscious prejudices, you likely still have underlying subconscious prejudices. Take the test and see whether a deeply rooted preference for younger faces impacts how you make decisions.

1. A Well-Crafted Message
As much as we like to gab about how candidates look, how their personalities unfold, and what their wives are like, most of the American electorate really wants to hear the right message. In this election, look for McCain to stumble as he campaigns against a message of change, of post-Boomer unity, and of transcendence. It may be that his message is just too old—not that he’s too old. And even the oldest slice of the electorate may want to take a chance on a new era.

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McCain: World War III Would Justify Draft

John McCain said last night during a campaign tele-conference that he would bring back a military draft in the United States only in the case of a 'World War III' scenario.

Reuters reported:

Many Americans are fearful the U.S. government will be forced to reinstitute the draft given the prolonged Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Asked about that possibility by a potential voter in Florida during a telephone "town hall meeting," McCain said: "I don't know what would make a draft happen unless we were in an all-out World War III." ...

McCain, a Vietnam veteran, said the draft during that conflict weighed most heavily on lower-income Americans, and that this should not be repeated.

But McCain may be more open to the draft than it seems. During a July 2006 interview on CNN, McCain was asked about the following statement by Newt Gingrich: "We're in the early stages of what I would describes as the Third World War and, frankly, our bureaucracies aren't responding fast enough." Asked whether he agreed, McCain said:

"I do to some extent. I think it's important to recognize that we have terrorist organizations which -- who are dangerous by themselves, are now being supported by radical Islamic governments, i.e., the Iranians, which makes them incredibly more dangerous because they are trained, equipped, motivated and assisted in every way by the Iranians."

Also, as ThinkProgress noted, "Last October, President Bush himself warned of a coming 'World War III' with Iran. 'I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III,' said the President. 'It seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.'"

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Dr. Dobson Has Just Handed Obama Victory

Senator Obama just took another giant step toward winning the presidency. Actually, someone who considers himself a sworn enemy of Senator Obama took the step for him. Dr. Dobson of the Focus On the Family radio program (and evangelical media empire) has aired a program in which he attacks Senator Obama, the Senator's theology and his credentials as a Christian. With enemies like this Senator Obama doesn't need friends.

No, I'm not talking about Dobson energizing liberal Democrats. I'm talking about Dobson energizing his fellow evangelicals to vote for Senator Obama.

I first met Dobson when I was on his program back in the early eighties. At that time I too was an evangelical right wing agitator. I describe my encounter with Dobson and my journey from the heart of the Republican/evangelical right to sanity in my book CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back.

In the bad old days Dobson gave away 150,000 copies of a shrill bestseller evangelical screed of mine called A Time For Anger. (There was a lot more money in the God business than working as a legitimate author let me tell you! If any of my novels made the kind of money my evangelical books did I'd be set! ) Along with my late evangelical leader father Francis Schaeffer, like Dobson we were busy welding the evangelicals and the Republican Party into what amounted to a new party of soft theocracy. I changed my mind and got out in the mid eighties. But I have plenty of friends still in the evangelical movement, and they say unequivocally that Dobson's time has passed.

Dobson is one of the Evangelical religious right old guard. He's to the right what Nader is to the left. Like the late Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others Dobson has alienated as many evangelicals -- let alone moderate Christians -- as he's inspired. In fact, ever since he tried to get Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) fired last year Dobson has found himself painted into a reactionary corner. Many evangelicals still fear him and so won't denounce his posturing power-plays but they also despise him.

Cizik is the future of evangelicalism. Dobson is the past. Cizik is a strong environmentalist advocate on the issue of global warming. Dobson tried to get the board of the National Association of Evangelicals to fire Cizik because of that fact. Dobson said that Cizik's environmental beliefs ran counter to what Dobson thought was in George Bush's best interests. He also said that the environment distracts from the favorite issues Dobson raises most of his funds on: abortion and gay bashing. But Dobson failed. The board of the NAE rejected Dobson's power play, for the same reason many evangelicals will reject his telling them how to vote this year. Dobson also failed in stopping John McCain (who failed to kiss Dobson's ass sufficiently) from becoming the Republican nominee.

If you're one of many Americans who thinks that the war in Iraq was a mistake or believe that the Republicans have run the economy into the ground or think that perhaps the chaos George Bush unleashed in our foreign affairs has something to do with the price of gas at the pump... then you have Dr. Dobson to thank -- personally. No one worked harder to get Bush elected then reelected. Dobson delivered his millions of dupes. But now many of them see through him and like most Americans, are appalled by Bush.

Nevertheless Dobson has -- for eight years -- been George W. Bush's personal shill. In return Dobson has had ego-stoking "access" to the White House, or rather to the lackeys in the White House laughing at him but charged with stroking Dobson and the other pompous asses masquerading as religious leaders.

But the new generation of evangelicals is sick of being labeled as backward rednecks because of their association with fossils like Dobson. There are many evangelicals like Cizik too who are not all about homophobia, nationalism, war-without-end and American exceptionalism or the Republican Party. Like Cizik they believe that the America has a responsibility to do something about global warming, poverty, AIDS, human trafficking and other issues. They see through Dobson and the other so-called pro-life leaders, who have actually done nothing to reduce abortion. In fact Dobson has increased abortions because of his "abstinence only" crusade.

As a result of his power grabs and bullying of other evangelicals, not to mention his telling people how to vote and pointing them to the failed W, Dobson & Co. have zero credibility with a growing number of otherwise conservative evangelicals who happen--this year--to be looking favorably at Senator Obama's holistic Christian-based world view. Unlike Dobson they like Obama's theology just fine.

All that was missing to put the frosting on the Obama cake was for Dobson to attack him. For Obama to win all he needs to do is peel off a chunk of heretofore solid evangelical Republican votes. Dobson just handed Obama those votes.

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Elizabeth Edwards On The Inequitable Individual Market»

Our guest blogger is Elizabeth Edwards, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and wife of former Presidential candidate John Edwards.

eliz David Lazarus, in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, brought us a fresh reminder of the challenges posed by preexisting conditions by raising a new one – being a woman.

Senator John McCain’s health plan is based on the idea that everyone should be on their own to buy their health insurance on the individual market. And it’s an approach fundamentally at odds with the point of health insurance: that we share risks. People with preexisting conditions, like McCain and myself, would pay much more for health insurance under his health plan, if we could get coverage at all.

Insurance companies have all sorts of characteristics they look at in order to increase premiums, such as preexisting conditions, occupation, age, and residence. But I hadn’t realized that the McCain plan would enable insurers to “rate-up” my insurance bill for not only my status as a breast cancer patient, but also my gender.

The ability to become pregnant has long been understood as an excuse to charge women more for health insurance (because, of course, men have nothing to do with that particular health condition). But what makes the Lazarus column interesting is that he tells us that insurers are charging women higher premiums even if pregnancy benefits are excluded. Blue Shield of California (Blue Shield) is now charging woman more in the individual market because:

“Our egghead actuaries crunched the numbers based on all the data we have about healthcare,” explained Tom Epstein, a Blue Shield spokesman. “This is what they found.”

That women get sicker than men?

“It’s all about the statistics,” Epstein said.

That doesn’t really inspire a sense of fairness. Doctors recommend that women have mammograms and other preventative screenings. Is Blue Shield really trying to discourage health screenings? Do they think that women are more accident prone? Whatever their reasoning, one thing is clear – they don’t want to enroll too many women:

We don’t want to get a disproportionate share of high-risk people,” added Epstein.

As Lazarus noted, “by ‘high risk people,’ what he means is ‘women.’”

Blue Shield, a not-for-profit company, says they are just following the trend of for-profit insurers in California (at least two competitors already adjust premiums based on gender). Blue Shield exists in a competitive market that rewards insurers for doing the wrong things. In that sense, it isn’t fair to pick on Blue Shield in particular, especially since Blue Shield’s CEO speaks constructively on health reform.

The point is that the insurers have given us just another example about how the individual market is fundamentally broken. Embracing it as the solution to our health crisis – as the McCain plan proposes to – will only make matters worse.

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McCain links wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to oil, gas prices

This appears to be a classic Kinsley Gaffe:

YouTube link

I noticed McCain's comments earlier today while watching video of his town hall yesterday in Fresno. A local woman asked him a question about gas prices, and McCain answered by making the case for his gas tax holiday. He then added this:

I also want to make sure that we will take concrete steps towards eliminating our dependence on foreign oil. And I am confident that uh, the, the conflicts that we are in in both Iraq and Afghanistan have also a bearing on that.

It's not entirely obvious to me what exactly he was trying to say, but however you slice it, this is the most explicit connection McCain has made between our current war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan and oil and gas prices.

Last month, McCain also connected war policies and oil, but his campaign dubiously argued he wasn't talking about current policies, but rather past and future policies. The media largely accepted this interpretation -- an interpretation that his latest comments should cause them to reevaluate, especially in light of the recent news that U.S. oil companies are now returning the country.

(I've also posted an extended video of his comments, including the entire question he was asked, and a transcript of his comments.)

H/T: Fresno Bee for the raw video.

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Senate Gets Cloture, Grassley Still Needs to be Stopped

For more what Chuck Grassley is trying to do, click here to read more.

McCain's Campaign Funding Hypocrisy

In March 1908, an unemployed black man named Green Cottenham was arrested in Alabama and found guilty of the vague charge of vagrancy.

Unable to pay exorbitant fines and fees that accompanied the conviction, he was sentenced to a year at hard labor and "sold" to a mining subsidiary of U.S. Steel, which agreed to pay his debts in return for his services and sent him in chains into a coal mine.

There, as Douglas A. Blackmon writes in his groundbreaking "Slavery by Another Name," Cottenham and more than a thousand other black men "toiled under the lash." In the mines of northern Alabama, "convict slaves" were beaten viciously, shackled to their beds at night and literally worked to death. In 1908 alone, almost 60 convict slaves died in the mine where Cottenham labored.

The story of Green Cottenham, his ancestors and his family's descendents form the central thread of Blackmon's extraordinary book. The writer, Atlanta bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, weaves a horrifying tale of Southern convict labor policies that perpetuated slavery for almost a century after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Almost as soon as the Civil War ended, powerful white politicians, plantation owners and industrialists began reinstituting slavery through laws intended "to criminalize black life," Blackmon writes.

Countless thousands of blacks were arrested on the flimsiest of charges, thrown into jail and, in effect, sold to plantations, railroads, mines, factories, mills and lumber camps.

In addition, millions of blacks, if they wanted to work, were forced to do so under labor contracts that prevented them from leaving without written permission from their employers. Many of these men and women were also treated like slaves, subject to the harshest discipline.

Blackmon focuses on Alabama, which, between the Civil War and the early 20th century, "eviscerated black citizenship more completely and enthusiastically than any other" state, not only through convict labor policies but by denying blacks access to education, voting and other benefits of citizenship.

But he does not spare the rest of the Deep South in his blistering indictment. This is an important book, uncovering decades of crimes that helped prevent African-Americans from advancing in American society.

In 1903, a federal investigation of the convict labor system in Southern states, spurred by President Theodore Roosevelt, revealed what Blackmon describes as "peonage and involuntary servitude of the most vicious character."

A few white men were convicted of violating federal laws, but in a couple of years, after the furor had died down, the convict labor system resumed across the South.

By 1930, at least one state, Georgia, "had more forced labor slaves than ever," he writes. The use of labor on farms and in factories and mines as well as onerous employment contracts that were tantamount to slavery continued in some parts of the South until well into the 1940s.

"Slavery by Another Name" is a formidably researched, powerfully written, wrenchingly detailed narrative of the mistreatment of millions of blacks in America, mistreatment that kept African-Americans in shackles of the body and mind long after slavery had officially ended.

The decades of "re-enslavement," Blackmon argues, must be taken into account when trying to assess the damage done to African-Americans by centuries of involuntary servitude.

"Certainly, the great record of forced labor across the South demands that any consideration of the progress of civil rights remedy in the U.S. must acknowledge that slavery, real slavery, didn't end until 1945," he writes.

Harper Barnes is the author of "Never Been a Time," a history of the 1917 East St. Louis race riot to be published in June by Walker & Co.

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Court rejects death penalty for raping children

The US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The US Supreme Court announced Monday it will hear the case of the brother of a murdered Iranian dissident who is seeking to collect 2.8 million dollars in terrorism damages.(AFP/File/Mandel Ngan)
AFP/File Photo: The US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The US Supreme Court announced Monday it will...

By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court has struck down a Louisiana law that allows the execution of people convicted of a raping a child.

In a 5-4 vote, the court says the law allowing the death penalty to be imposed in cases of child rape violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

"The death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion. His four liberal colleagues joined him, while the four more conservative justices dissented.

There has not been an execution in the United States for a crime that did not also involve the death of the victim in 44 years.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday also cut the $2.5 billion punitive damages award in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster to $500 million.

The court ruled that victims of the worst oil spill in U.S. history may collect punitive damages from Exxon Mobil Corp., but not as much as a federal appeals court determined.

Justice David Souter wrote for the court that punitive damages may not exceed what the company already paid to compensate victims for economic losses, about $500 million compensation.

Exxon asked the high court to reject the punitive damages judgment, saying it already has spent $3.4 billion in response to the accident that fouled 1,200 miles of Alaska coastline.

A jury decided Exxon should pay $5 billion in punitive damages. A federal appeals court cut that verdict in half.

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Feingold, Dodd planning filibuster of wiretap bill

By David Edwards and Nick Juliano
In a last-ditch attempt to fix a surveillance bill critics say would essentially legalize President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, Sens. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Chris Dodd (D-CT) have promised to filibuster the bill as long as it offers telecommunications companies retroactive immunity.

“This is a deeply flawed bill, which does nothing more than offer retroactive immunity by another name. We strongly urge our colleagues to reject this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation and oppose any efforts to consider this bill in its current form. We will oppose efforts to end debate on this bill as long as it provides retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that may have participated in the President’s warrantless wiretapping program, and as long as it fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans,” the senators said in a joint statement Tuesday.

“If the Senate does proceed to this legislation, our immediate response will be to offer an amendment that strips the retroactive immunity provision out of the bill. We hope our colleagues will join us in supporting Americans’ civil liberties by opposing retroactive immunity and rejecting this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation.”

A Dodd-led filibuster in February attracted just 29 supporters, short of the 41 necessary to keep a bill from coming to a vote. Speaking in Washington Monday, Feingold was pessimistic about their chances this time around.

Speaking on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now radio program Tuesday, Feingold reiterated his planned efforts.

“We are going to resist this bill. We are going to make sure that the procedural votes are gone through. In other words, a filibuster is requiring 60 votes to proceed to the bill, 60 votes to get cloture on the legislation. We will also, Sen. Dodd and I and others will be taking some time to talk about this on the floor,” he said. “We’re not just going to let it be rubber-stamped.”

Goodman asked, specifically if he would filibuster.

“That’s what I just described,” Feingold said.

UPDATE: Senator Chris Dodd delivered prepared remarks in opposition to the FISA bill. Full text of the speech is available here.

This video is from Link TV’s Democracy Now!, broadcast June 24, 2008.

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