Monthly Archives: January 2009

What Obama’s Inaugural told me about His Immigration Policy

With all his rhetorical might, Barack Obama in his Inaugural Address endeavored to pull the country back into the realm of the rule of law.  Although this sisyphusian task will require a great deal more work than rhetoric, this is where it starts and already perhaps this indicates a reverse of course. It certainly feels good to see the new president playing to his strength and using his force of his words to serve notice on the planet that the false choice between security and liberty is over and the constitution has returned.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.  Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.  Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.  And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born:  know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

 Similarly, Obama also served notice that

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, not does it entitle us to do as we please.  Instead they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Such is his attack on the sovereignist approach to power that is derisive of the rule of law. Obama reminds us that such power is doomed because it is discordant with the “justness of our cause, the force of our example.” Obama here is referring to the integrity of our institutions in their treatment of individuals when integrity is measured against the American character which is recognizes is rooted in the immigrant and slave experience.

Obama also reclaimed the immigrant basis for its own identity, appealing to the small town in Congo where his father was born.  The ideal for Obama is to be found in the immigrant experience.

His use of the immigrant experience in this speech is anathama to the immigrant control system that has been developed over the past eight years.   Put simply, Obama entered office with a strong commitment to end the injustices experienced under the Bush Administration.

It seems clear that an Obama Administration will use much different tropes when framing the immigrant.  than the ones the country has been forced to endure under Bush.  The question I have is whether this is enough of a commitment to actually reverse course, given the inordinant amount of government resources already exhausted on immigration control.  Keep in mind his address bore no refere3nce to immigration reform; it spoke of cleaning up other messes in concrete terms but his references to immigration were vague and abstract.  America’s greatness lies in its immigrant past; its character built on the backs of immigrants and slaves.  But will his appreciation of immigration translater into concrete policies that reverse the Bush abuses of power?   It remains to be seen if the President’s attack on sovereign approaches to power will translate into concrete efforts to extend constitutional law into the immigration field. 


Barack and the Georgia 300

Barack picked up Joe this morning in Wilmington Delaware aboard the Georgia 300, the last car attached to the Amtrack run from Phila. to D.C.  I wanted to drag Steph and the kids up to Wilmington, but we would have stood in the freezing cold for several hours.  

We stayed in Newark and made it a neighborhood deal, five minutes from home. Along with several hundred fellow Newarkians, we stood outside for about 1/2 hour. Olivia’s toes froze, mine hurt and Julian’s fingers were freezing.   Steph didn’t complain. I didn’t want this moment in history to result in frostbite, and it didn’t, of course.

What we captured instead was a fleeting moment in history, about 10 seconds worth.  We were hoping for a slow roll through Biden’s alma mater town, but to no avail.  With Olivia dancing her feet to stay warm, we huddled along with a woman who told me she remembered standing at the same tracks (she thought) during the bobby kennedy funeral procession. she was eleven and still remembered it clearly, she said.

Well, I hope Olivia remembers something about this moment. Little brother Julian won’t, but that doesn’t matter. He had a good day.  Afterwards he got to go to an arcade and play skee-ball and then with his sister had pancakes with lots of syrup.  He’s happy.

For me, it’s a moment that i wanted to connect to the avalanche of events we are going to experience during the next several years. It’s a grounding moment for me. I caught a glimpse of Joe and Barack. Okay. it’s real. Let’s go.


Obama/Biden passing thru Newark DE on way to D.C.

Obama/Biden passing thru Newark DE on way to D.C.

Napolitano Confirmation at DHS

Janet Napolitano will be easily quickly confirmed as the new Secretary of Homeland Security, according to Joe Lieberman and ranking member Susan Collins.

Napolitano promises to help create a system for border control at homeland security that will consist of three parts: boots on the ground; technology: ground sensors and SBInet; and interior enforcement.

This is incredibly disappointing because it promises more of the same dangerous militarization of the border that the border has endured for the past 8 years.

Napolitano’s “system” is almost entirely enforcement-oriented.  If the right track is adhering to constitutional norms and treating border crossers like human beings,  Napolitano’s track is to continue treating them as “other” and seeking to discipline, detain, monitor and control immigrants coming into this country.  It’s the wrong track. 

She would like to rely on a national guard presence at the border, and says she will work with Defense Secry. Gates to find a way to create a permanent national guard presence. This mix of military and domestic law enforcement was outlawed over a century ago by posse comitatus.  In Arizona where Napolitano was one of the first governors to call for the national guard,  the national guard presence also presented serious chain of command problems and ended up wasting millions of taxpayer dollars. Napolitano says it was a deterrent. It wasn’t. the number of undocumented entries in and around arizona entry points increased during the national guard tenure.  So much for boots on the ground.

Next, Napolitano also favors SBInet, which according to Congress, the GAO, CBP and independent observers, has been an abject failure.

Finally, interior enforcement is code for federalizing border enforcement. In her state, such efforts endangered the rights of undocumented immigrants, legal immigrants and US citizens. 287(g) programs in Arizona resulted in hundreds of vigilante volunteers raiding hispanic neighborhoods at rooting hispanic people out of their homes and places of employment.

I would hope that prospective Secry Napolitano  re-imagines the mission of DHS with a commitment to the constitution and rule of law being front and center. I didn’t hear this commitment   during her testimony today.

Her current three-pronged approach is all too likely to continue  condoning abuses of power  that we saw under Chertoff and Ridge.

That’s not the “change” I want to believe in.

Hey PEBO, Please hold Bushies to Count

When Barack Obama takes the oath of office next week and issues an executive order banning torture and perhaps also closing gitmo he’ll be taking a huge leap towards making sure the lawless outrages of his predecessor are a thing of the past.

But unless he okays war crimes investigations and perhaps also prosecutions against former Bush officials, Obama will be holding onto some of the skewed structures of Bush malfeasance. It is one thing to replace personnel responsible for abuse, but if the abuse is systemic, and it was, then personnel changes and new policies do nothing to fix the underlying kink in structure. Prosecutions show the system works and the structure has been repaired.

Roland Burris and the Hole in Law

So what happens when state law and federal senate rules don’t gibe? 

The State’s of Illinois’  right to be represented by two US senators hangs in the balance. The Illinois Supreme Court just ruled that as far as it is concerned, Roland Burris is already senator, and the Illinois Secretary of State does not need to sign Burris’ appointment to make it offical. The secry of state intentionally did not sign the appointment letter, an act of resistance against Blago, and has no plans to sign the the appointment. the Court says no mandamus here.  but the US Senate says: no signature, no seating.

Here’s the situation:  the senate is in its rights. the secry of state is in his rights. the supreme court was in its rights.  With each of these actors in the right, the people of illinois lose theirs.

what to do?

Leon Panetta Questions for Obama

When it was announced that Leon Panetta would be nominated to head CIA, I thought it was a mistake. I was blurring administrations. Who was this guy Panetta and what is he doing back in DC. Isn’t he heading some think tank in Monterey, California with is wife.  Isn’t he in his seventies by now. Hey, wasn’t he the guy who was Clinton’s chief of staff during the Monica-thon.  How’d he smell after all that?

Well, yep, same guy, and you know what. He smelled pretty good after the taint of Monica-gate. One of the few to have maneuvered around impeachment and keep his own reputation and dignity intact.

Also, one heck of a manager. he led OMB as well as the White House staff. He’s a former congressman, knows his way around DC and is not afraid to tell the president what he thinks. Too old and perhaps too wise for these games now.

So, what does a Panetta appointment tell us about the CIA and about Barack. Several things and here’s where it gets interesting.  The CIA will be the subject of several investigations during the new administration. It blew it big time on Iraq, and even more so in its inability to speak truth to power to an administration that didnt hide the fact it wanted to cherry pick intelligence and go to war on false pretenses. So, the key thing here is for some reputation and image enhancement. Leon is a clean guy. No taint from Monica and no taint from Tenet/Cheney/Bush. GIve Barack a point here. CIA needs an outsider at this critical juncture to restore some semblance of integrity (oxymoron?) 

Next the question goes to how Obama played this appointment with Congress, who has oversight responsibilities here and during the past 8 years was guilty of one oversight after another when it came to holding the CIA and BUsies accountable to the rule of law.  Two things jump out at me here. First. Obama sent a clear message about torture. Panetta has spoken forcefully and clearly on the topic. No torture. No way. No how. People on the other side of this moral and constitutional issue, like senator’s feinstein and jay rockefeller better watch out. AS Rachel maddow said, they were on the wrong side of history here, and the fact they were not consulted on the Panetta nomination is not important. Fair enough. BOld move for Obama. I give him another point.

But, here is my concern having to do with the relationship between the executive and legislative branch during the next administration. The president-elect ignored the two highest ranking members of his own party on the very appointment over which they have oversight responsibilities.  Bad form on Obama’s part. also scares me to think that Obama will not turn away from some of the “unitary” presidential powers that Bush/Cheney claimed for themselves during the past 8 years.

Let’s stay tuned.

Why Harry Reid will Backtrack on Seating Burris

Now that Al Franken has been declared the winner in Minnesota, it is in the Senate  democrats interest to also seat Roland Burris.  As explains, seating Burris would get the democrats a little closer to the filibuster-proof 3/5 vote they need to push through the Obama agenda without fear of the Jon Cornyn’s of the world.

At the moment, Nate Silver reminds us, the dems hold 57 seats out of 98 seats in the senate. 3/5 of 98 is 59. If Franken is seated w/o Burris, they get 58 seats out of 99 seats. 3/5 of 99 = 60, leaving the dems 2 votes shy of overriding a Cornyn filibuster. With Burris seated alongside Al, the dems get to within one of the magic 60.  It will be much easier to convince one of Maine’s 2 republican moderates to join the dems. than to convince both. 

So, assuming Harry Reid comes to see Roland Burris as the man who could help President Obama enact his New New Deal, Roland Burris  I think we can rest comfortably in thinking that Burris shall indeed be awarded the seat.