Democrats, Primaries etc - Since I'm not sure where to put this one

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Postby jsmalahy » Mon Sep 15, 2008 4:15 am

Sonic Youth wrote:I disagree that Obama could be the next Reagan. I see Obama as the next G.W. Bush.

Wow, I guess people on this board did a complete 180 since Obama nabbed the nomination huh?

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Postby Greg » Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:23 pm

Clinton Donors Warn on Superdelegate Fight

By JEFF ZELENY
Published: March 27, 2008
WASHINGTON — Leading contributors to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton intensified their effort to keep the Democratic presidential contest alive on Wednesday and urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi to stay out of the superdelegate fight, admonishing her for suggesting that the candidate ahead in pledged delegates — now Senator Barack Obama — should become the nominee.

“This dynamic primary season is not at an end,” said a letter to Ms. Pelosi, which was signed by 21 top Democratic fund-raisers. “Several states and millions of Democratic voters have not yet had a chance to cast their votes.”

The letter, which carried threatening overtones in noting that many signatories were major Democratic donors, highlighted the deepening rift inside the party among supporters for Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama. While Ms. Pelosi has declared her neutrality in the race, she has said that she believes that the party’s superdelegates should not overrule the will of the voters and should back the candidate with the most pledged delegates.

As former President Bill Clinton warned voters in West Virginia to “saddle up” for a heated duel between the candidates, the Clinton supporters asked Ms. Pelosi to “reflect in your comments a more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates” at the convention. In a statement Wednesday evening, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi said the speaker believed that the fight should be resolved before the convention.

“The speaker believes it would do great harm to the Democratic Party if superdelegates are perceived to overturn the will of the voters,” said Brendan Daly, the spokesman. “This has been her position throughout this primary season, regardless of who was ahead at any particular point in delegates or votes.”

In her remarks on the matter, Ms. Pelosi said earlier this month on the ABC News program “This Week,” “If the votes of the superdelegates overturn what happened in the elections, it would be harmful to the Democratic Party.”

In their letter, the Clinton donors reminded Ms. Pelosi that they had contributed to House Democrats and urged her to be “responsive” to their argument on Mrs. Clinton’s behalf.

The letter was signed by some of Mrs. Clinton’s largest fund-raisers, including Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, and Maureen White and Steven Rattner, longtime friends of the Clintons. They called the position of Ms. Pelosi and a growing number of uncommitted superdelegates “untenable,” and warned against any effort to cut short the race.


Mr. Obama is almost certain to maintain his lead in pledged delegates after the remaining 10 contests are finished on June 3. Mrs. Clinton is working hard to close the gap, making the case to superdelegates that she is the more electable Democratic candidate in the general election.

The letter was the first public indication, in the party’s prolonged nominating fight, that hard feelings in the presidential race could spill over into other Democratic campaigns.

As he campaigned in Parkersburg, W.Va., on Wednesday, Mr. Clinton dismissed concerns that the increasingly bitter nominating fight could wound the party. He said the race should not end until all voters — and superdelegates — had a chance to weigh in.

“I think your vote should be counted, don’t you?” Mr. Clinton said, speaking to voters who are scheduled to cast their ballots May 13. “I know Hillary’s gaining on them when they say, ‘Oh, let’s shut this down now; we don’t want to be divided.’ ”

Mr. Obama’s campaign released a statement calling the letter “inappropriate.”

Aboard his campaign plane Wednesday evening, Mr. Obama called the proposal by Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee for resolving the nominating contest in June “a good one” — though Mr. Obama seemed to be endorsing a June conclusion more than Mr. Bredesen’s idea of convening a meeting of superdelegates to settle the nomination.

“I think giving whoever the nominee is two or three months to pivot into the general election would be extremely helpful, instead of having this drag up to the convention,” Mr. Obama told reporters as he flew to New York.

Patrick Healy contributed reporting from Greensboro, N.C.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/27/us/politics/27dems.html

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Postby criddic3 » Sat Mar 22, 2008 7:04 pm

"Apportionment of electors

Further information: United States congressional apportionment

The size of the Electoral College is equal to the total membership of both Houses of Congress (435 Representatives and 100 Senators) plus the three electors allocated to Washington, D.C., totaling 538 electors.

Each state is allocated as many electors as it has Representatives and Senators in the United States Congress.[6][7] Since the most populous states have the most seats in the House of Representatives, they also have the most electors. The five states with the most electors are California (55), Texas (34), New York (31), Florida (27), and Illinois (21). The smallest states by population—Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming—each have three electors. Because the number of representatives for each state is determined decennially by the United States Census, the amount of electoral votes for each state is determined concomitantly.

Under the Twenty-third Amendment, Washington, D.C. is allocated as many electors as it would have if it were a state, except that it cannot have more electors than the least populous state. The least populous state (currently Wyoming) has three electors; thus, D.C. cannot have more than three electors itself. Even if D.C. was a state, its current population would still only entitle it to three electors. In fact, based on its population per electoral vote, the District of Columbia is the second most highly represented portion of the electorate, after Wyoming.[8]

Choosing of Electors:

Nomination of electors

Potential elector candidates are nominated by their state political parties in the months prior to Election Day. The U.S. Constitution allows each state to choose its own means for the nomination of its electors. In some states, the electors are nominated in primaries, the same way that other candidates are nominated. Other states, such as Oklahoma, Virginia, and North Carolina nominate electors in party conventions. In Pennsylvania, the campaign committees of each candidate name their candidates for Presidential Elector (an attempt to discourage faithless electors). All states require the names of all electors to be filed with the state's Secretary of State (or equivalent) at least a month prior to Election Day.


Election of electors

Federal law sets Election Day for federal offices on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. The electors pledged to a particular candidate are formally chosen in the popular election held on that day. That is, while many people believe they are voting for a particular candidate on Election Day in November, they are, in fact, casting their vote for that candidate's electors.

All states—except two—employ the winner-takes-all method, awarding their Presidential Electors as an indivisible bloc. The exceptions, Maine and Nebraska, select one elector within each congressional district by popular vote, and additionally select the remaining two electors by the aggregate, statewide popular vote. This method has been used in Maine since 1972, and in Nebraska since 1992, though neither has ever split its electoral votes in any elections since implementing this method."

-Wikipedia




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Postby OscarGuy » Fri Mar 21, 2008 12:36 pm

criddic3 wrote:I think that if there is the risk of fraud in the current system, your proposal widens that risk.

So, you want it to continue such that a Wyoming resident's vote is worth 3 times more than a California resident's vote? Because that's how the inequality of the current electoral system works.

It's like saying Blacks are half a person. If you're from a populous state, you are a third of a person.
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Postby criddic3 » Fri Mar 21, 2008 12:04 pm

I think that if there is the risk of fraud in the current system, your proposal widens that risk.
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Postby OscarGuy » Fri Mar 21, 2008 6:49 am

You are absolutely correct, Damien. But since the Republicans are the ones who favor the Electoral College because it gives more power to the states that vote for them, it's not surprising that Criddic supports a winner-take-all attitude. I say eliminate the electoral college and lets go to the one voter-one vote democracy.
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Postby Damien » Fri Mar 21, 2008 1:19 am

I think open primaries are ridiculous. There's no reason to allow people to vote if they're not even members of the party -- why should anyone who doesn't officially identify with one party and what it stands for be allowed to have a say in whom that party nominates.

In fairness, Daily Kos and other liberal voices urged Democrats to vote in Michigan's Republican primary for Mitt Romney because "Republicans Deserve The Very Worst." If a state party is myopic enough to have an open primary, I see nothing wrong with crossing over to commit mischief.

criddic, awarding delegates proportionately is much more fair and democratic than the Repugnants' winner take all. It gives all voters more of a say, and especially makes sense when there are a number of candidates and the winner ends up with 30 or 40 percent of the vote. If 30 percent of the voters in a state's party support a candidate why should they have no voice at the convention just because another candidate received 31 percent?




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Postby Big Magilla » Fri Mar 21, 2008 12:49 am

It is unethical, but this is not news. MSNBC talked about incessantly running tinto the Texas/Ohio primaries. I think the other news channels ignored it so as not to add fuel to the fire.

I have to believe that the number of idiots who would do such a thing are in the minority. They haven't and won't cause much of a ripple.

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Postby criddic3 » Fri Mar 21, 2008 12:30 am

It's not unethical, since the rules allow for open voting in many of these primaries. If Democrats don't want to see Republicans choosing their nominee, then they should have Democrat-Only primaries and caucases.

Their whole primary system is completely loony. They have mostly split-decision states, where in a close race no one can get a real advantage by carrying a state. This year they stripped states completely of delegates (to which the candidates agreed, oddly enough). And to top it all off, they have Superdelegates to negate their own voters' wishes. I mean, come on! To blame Republicans for their current primary confusions and troubles is simply ridiculous.




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Postby flipp525 » Thu Mar 20, 2008 3:26 pm

Laura Ingraham is a two-bit whore and Rush Limbaugh has been irrelevant for so long it's laughable. Unfortunately the dumb-fuck hick-a-billies of the country follow their broadcasted lead like drones. Stupid is as stupid does, said Forrest.
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Postby OscarGuy » Thu Mar 20, 2008 3:05 pm

Not that it matters one way or another (this contest is going to be determined at the convention), but talk about unethical.

Can GOP Voters Spoil the Dem Race? By HILARY HYLTON/AUSTIN
Thu Mar 20, 11:25 AM ET



As if Democrats didn't have enough problems deciding upon their presidential nominee this year, now they must contend with the possibility that Republicans are deliberately crossing party lines to prolong the bitterly contested race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In recent weeks, conservative talk radio stars Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have urged loyal listeners to vote for the much-despised Clinton in open Democratic primaries so as to prevent Obama from sealing the nomination, and there are some indications that their calls have already been heeded in states like Texas and Mississippi.

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Even in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania, where the April 22 primary is closed to independents and Republicans, there are signs that some Republicans are going so far as to switch their party registration by the March 24 deadline to participate in what Limbaugh has dubbed "Operation Chaos." In the last five months, there has been a 2.2% increase in the number of registered Democrats in Pennsylvania versus a tiny dip of 0.12% in Republican numbers. Veteran Pennsylvania pollster Terry Madonna expects some 100,000 new Democrats to vote on April 22, about 5% of the total expected to vote. In historic Gettysburg, Adams County Elections Supervisor Monica Dutko told the local newspaper, The York Daily Record, she was a seeing an unprecedented steady stream of switchers, some of whom volunteered they were changing registration from Republican to Democrat at the urging of Limbaugh.


Madonna, however, believes most of those new Dems will go for Obama, which goes against the Limbaugh conspiracy theory. It is also exactly what the upstart candidate himself been working toward. Obama, who until recently was winning the lion's share of Republican votes in open Democratic primaries, is running radio ads in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia calling on voters to register as Democrats this week.


The first clue that Republicans might be making this kind of mischief came in the crucial Texas primary on March 4, a contest that most observers claimed Clinton had to win - along with Ohio - to keep alive her hopes for the nomination. Dave Mann, a political writer for the progressive Texas Observer, was driving to Fort Worth on that primary day when he heard various callers to the Laura Ingraham radio show claiming they had followed her and Limbaugh's call. One even admitted he would now have to go to confession and repent his sins. As he listened, Mann dismissed the idea that Republicans would have a significant impact on the Democratic outcome in Texas.


But the next day, after examining the exit polls from Texas and earlier states, he changed his mind. "As Republican participation increased, Hillary got more votes," Mann said. Some of them came from Allison Cavey's family. "My whole family actually voted for Hillary in the Texas primaries and we are all McCain supporters," said Cavey, 32, a Dallas resident who works for a medical software company. "We all thought it would be easier to beat Hillary in the fall. Also, we all agreed that if for some reason a Democrat won the election we would be better off with Hillary than Obama...scary thought!"


In both Ohio and Texas, Republicans and independents were a higher percentage of the votes than in other states. "Based on past results, you would think that favors Obama, who has done well in 'open' Democratic primaries where Republicans can crossover on election day," Mann said. Obama won among California independents 58-32%; Virginia Republicans went for him 72-23; and he won Missouri Republicans 75-21. But in Texas and Ohio the two Democrats split the Republican/independent vote. "The Hillary Republicans cost Obama Texas," Mann said. The Mississippi results a week later confirmed the trend. "There was a complete reversal," Mann said, and Obama was now losing Republicans and independents two to one to Clinton. "Without a doubt, Rush, and to a lesser extent me, had some effect on the Republican turnout," Ingraham told Fox News. "When you look at those exit polls, it is really quite striking."


Proving that claim is still not easy. Prior to Texas primary day, longtime political numbers cruncher Royal Masset, a former GOP state party political director, dismissed the notion of a talk radio impact as "hogwash" and "urban myth." But during the two-week early voting period, down ballot Republican officeholders were nervous as they watched a record number of early voters ask for Democratic ballots, even in traditionally red counties. On election day, poll officials reported record requests for Democratic ballots in the reddest areas of the state. In Collin County, just north of Dallas where there is not a single Democratic officeholder, more voters chose to cast Democratic ballots - some 72,543 - than had voted in the November election for John Kerry, who got 69,000 votes. In 2000, only 3,735 voted in the Democratic primary, and the number was not much higher in 2004, some 6,493. "I can't put my finger on it," Dennis Simmons, a political scientists at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said on election day as he saw red counties recording big blue turnouts.


After looking over the election day numbers in detail, Masset concluded that half a million Republicans had voted in the Democratic primary, but that many had done it not to support Clinton, as urged to by Limbaugh, but for Obama. In Collin County, for example, 57% voted for Obama, but declined to cast a vote in down ballot races. Only 41,894 - a dropoff of 43% - voted in a competitive Democratic U.S. Senate primary race.


"Those 500,000 Republicans who voted in the Democratic party couldn't even bring themselves to vote for a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator," Masset said. He believes some crossed over at the urging of talk radio, but more crossed over to vote for Obama, caught up in the excitement of a horse race; still, only detailed follow-up polling might provide more insight into the Republican crossover votes.


Not all pollsters agree with Masset's analysis. Citing his respect for both Masset and Limbaugh, Republican pollster Michael Baselice said his examination of the numbers leads him to believe the number of Republicans participating in the Texas primary this year was similar to past primary elections. "The bigger story," Baselice said, "is how many people came out and voted in a primary for the first time." In Dallas County 58% of the voters had never voted in either party's primary, while in Harris County, home to Houston, an astounding 64% of the primary voters had no primary voting history record. Obama won in those two large urban areas.


But while pollsters crunch the numbers, Limbaugh is relishing the Democratic battle. On primary day in Mississippi he told listeners: "I'm not going to tell Republicans to go over there and vote, because I don't think I have to anymore. I think everybody understands here. But I want Obama to win this tonight. I want Obama to win Mississippi. I want Obama to win everything 'til we get to Pennsylvania. Then it's a different ballgame. Then we start being "un-American" again, to quote liberals," Limbaugh said laughing. "Then we start to sabotage all over again. The key about that, though, is you've gotta be registered with the party you intend to vote in Pennsylvania by March 24th. That's early. That's almost a month before the election date, which is April 22nd. So be thinking about that, folks."


Other talk radio hosts have taken up the cause. In Oregon, where voters must register by party by April 29 to vote in the May 20 primary. Conservative talk radio host Victoria Taft has been pushing Republicans to re-register as "dummocrats." Elections officials are seeing an increase in switchers, but voters' motives may not be divined until the Oregon exit polls are released. Meanwhile, Limbaugh opened his program Wednesday with a victory cry: "Operation Chaos is exceeding all objectives...this is just fabulous." Dubbing the Obama-Clinton face-off a "soap opera," Limbaugh says he will carry his campaign through to the final primaries in early June.


"I want our party to win. I want the Democrats to lose," Limbaugh said. "They're in the midst of tearing themselves apart right now. It is fascinating to watch. And it's all going to stop if Hillary loses." View this article on Time.com
Wesley Lovell

"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." - Benjamin Franklin

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Postby Nik » Mon Mar 03, 2008 5:29 pm

You guys should totally check out Haaretz.com -- Israel's far left newspaper. Good for them for saying the truth (and doing a better job than the U.S. mainstream media! Wow. Not only is the so called "liberal" mainstream America media good at spinning stories and selling untruths about America, it's also good at doing the same about other countries!) This is especially good http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/959643.html

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Postby Nik » Mon Mar 03, 2008 4:52 pm

Akash wrote:Speaking of Palestinians, neither of these douchebags will touch that issue (and when they have in the past, it's always the wrong touch). If Josh is embarrassed by Jews in Florida, then I'm embarrassed by the Democratic candidates.

Forget the lame candidates, what about the U.S. mainstream media, which is even further up Israel's ass and controlled by the Israeli Lobby? The NY Times headline this weekend read: “Worst Israeli - Palestinian Clashes in a Year as Air and Ground Forces Enter Gaza," which makes the struggle sound equal. Yet Palestinian deaths this week outnumbered Israeli deaths 30 to 1!! And of course, there was no mention in the media about Hamas' repeated calls for a case-fire and peace negotiations. This is so disgusting, and totally par for the course whenever Israel terrorizes and kills Palestinians. (What's even sadder is that polls show that most Israelis FAVOR a truce with the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls Gaza. Yet Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak says, "Hamas and those who fire rockets at Israel are responsible and they will pay the price.") We should start a thread for the true Palestinian death count, but it may be too depressing and too real for many of us to handle.

The New York Times and the American mainstream media should be ashamed of themselves. The BBC is doing a more honest job covering it.




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Postby Akash » Sun Mar 02, 2008 4:57 pm

I totally don't agree with all of her optimism and fawning over Obama but I think this is an important window into why we can expect young voters to turn out for him in November (not a validation of his merits, mind you).

COMMONDREAMS.ORG
Sunday, March 2, 2008
The Obama Generation - He’s No Pied Piper
by Bethany Woolman


He’s been called an empty suit. A hack. A panderer. He’s faced absurd allegations that he has no specific policy initiatives, no meaningful experience, and no fighting spirit. But of all these distortions, the one that galls me the most is the comparison of Barack Obama to a modern-day Pied Piper. You know the story- some guy in a colorful get-up comes to town and lures all the children into the river with nothing more than a catchy melody.

Sound familiar? Well, I understand how Barack Obama’s popularity among young people could be misattributed to a “cult of personality” or a “messianic” campaign.
After all, he is pretty darn hip.

But as a young supporter in a sea of other young supporters, I can tell you, we don’t support Obama because he reminds us of that popular guy in high school. Sure, we all loved ‘The Matrix’, but that doesn’t mean we actually believe in “The One”. And even if we did, Barack Obama can’t fly or teleport through phone booths, so that pretty much takes him out of the running. We know Obama is human. We know he can’t be our savior. However, we also know that his policies,
message, and world-view represent us. We’ve taken the time to examine his candidacy. And we’re anything but blind followers. To the contrary, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is inspiring a new generation of leaders.

Look at it this way- just as my generation was growing into our political consciousness, our world fell apart. Two weeks after I started high school, I woke up to find my parents standing motionless in front of the television in our living room. Two of our buildings were burning in New York City. In that moment, I couldn’t imagine that the destruction on that screen could be anything but an accident.

A few hours later, I knew better. And the grief began. I grieved for the loss of life, for the loss of innocence, and for thought that my five year-old sister would have to grow up in a time of war.

Just a year later, the build-up to the Iraq War was revving into gear. I was beside myself. Like many young people I knew, I took the time to look into the justification for the occupation, and came out against it. Many of us knew what Barack Obama knew. It was a “dumb war.” A “rash war.” But despite the letter writing, the protests, the organizing, I felt powerless. My generation watched the greatest foreign policy tragedy in our nation’s history unfold before our eyes
while being told that we were to young too understand, too young to stop it. Five years later, Americans too young to be dying are still making the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq.

Soon after my high school graduation, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. And then the entire world knew what some Americans have been aware of their entire lives. Race matters. Class matters. Even in America, it can mean life or death. Even in America, poor people with dark skin can be labeled as refugees in their own country. Even in America, a nation can forget quickly. The outrage was universal, but on college campuses, it lingered. Students from the Gulf Coast
relocated to our universities. Campus clubs organized community service trips to help rebuild over spring break. Hurricane Katrina remained visible a little longer for us, and the outrage got under our skin.

Try to understand. The events of this new century have affected all Americans. But they have struck to the heart of my generation. When the twin towers fell, our nation came together in healing. But soon after, we rebuilt a bitter reinterpretation of those two towers in our national politics. We became a nation divided. A nation of acidic duality. A traumatized nation with a gulf of uncertainty between every human relationship. And my generation felt this scar running deeply through each of us. The first terrorist attack on American soil occurred at a time when we still viewed our country as some mix between the womb and the ultimate patriarch. Our country was home, it was infallible, it was just and true and loving. But lately we have become orphans of our own idealism. And we are looking within ourselves for a new leader.

This is the true genius in the Obama campaign. Barack Obama is inspiring our better angels, catalyzing our inner healing power. He takes the grief, the sense of powerlessness, the outrage, and inspires us to turn it into hope. We are not Obama followers. We are Obama supporters, and the distinction is important. We are coming into our own, and taking Barack Obama with us. We work to support him because he speaks to the wounds in our identities and in our nation. And he
inspires us to help him heal them.

Barack Obama’s ability to inspire is not the only the only thing that attracts us. In a post-9/11 America, we need a leader who has international experience and is willing to communicate for peace, even with leaders whose policies are objectionable. Our generation is more internationally minded than any before us, thanks to the power of the
internet. And we know that behind every bad leader is a nation of citizens who would choose peace over destruction if they had the ability.

In the face of a continuing War in Iraq, we need a leader who opposed this war from the beginning. Barack Obama can take that credibility to the international community, whose support we desperately need for a conclusion to this chaos. Because my generation was powerless to stop the Iraq War, we are eager to elect a leader who had the integrity to speak wisdom to power from the very start.

And finally, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we need a leader who understands. A leader whose life story is one of dedication to that cherished American aspiration, equality. Barack Obama is this leader. He overcame obstacles of class, race, and identity to get to where he is today. He has been a community organizer in neighborhoods whose hopes were dreams deferred. He is an expert on the constitution, and knows its wisdom, its limitations, and the potential it holds for this nation. As president, he will take us farther down that winding road that leads to the realization our nation’s original creed- that we are all of us created equal.

In the end, it is Obama’s intelligent and heartfelt approach to change that resonates with my generation. He is the full package- charisma and content, wit and wisdom, energy and experience. This weekend I’m flying to Texas to help get out the vote. The race for Ohio and Texas is close, and I hope he wins. But if he doesn’t, I’m not too worried- we’ll be right there behind him with our support. Generation O is fired up, and ready to go.

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/03/02/7411/

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Postby Sonic Youth » Sun Mar 02, 2008 4:33 pm

Obama would not rule out Blackwater in Iraq
Obama's Mercenary Position
by JEREMY SCAHILL
The Nation


[from the March 17, 2008 issue]

A senior foreign policy adviser to leading Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has told The Nation that if elected Obama will not "rule out" using private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq. The adviser also said that Obama does not plan to sign on to legislation that seeks to ban the use of these forces in US war zones by January 2009, when a new President will be sworn in. Obama's campaign says that instead he will focus on bringing accountability to these forces while increasing funding for the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the agency that employs Blackwater and other private security contractors. (Hillary Clinton's staff did not respond to repeated requests for an interview or a statement on this issue.)

Obama's broader Iraq withdrawal plan provides for some US troops to remain in Iraq--how many his advisers won't say. But it's clear that Obama's "follow-on force" will include a robust security force to protect US personnel in Iraq, US trainers (who would also require security) for Iraqi forces and military units to "strike at Al Qaeda"--all very broad swaths of the occupation.

"If Barack Obama comes into office next January and our diplomatic security service is in the state it's in and the situation on the ground in Iraq is in the state it's in, I think we will be forced to rely on a host of security measures," said the senior adviser. "I can't rule out, I won't rule out, private security contractors." He added, "I will rule out private security contractors that are not accountable to US law."

But therein lies a problem. The US Embassy in Iraq is slated to become the largest embassy in world history. If Obama maintains that embassy and its army of diplomats and US personnel going in and out of the Green Zone, which his advisers say he will, a significant armed force will be required for protection. The force that now plays that role is composed almost exclusively of contractors from Blackwater, DynCorp and Triple Canopy. And at present, these contractors are not held accountable under US law. Obama and a host of legal experts, including in the Justice Department, acknowledge that there may be no current US law that could be used to prosecute security contractors for crimes committed in Iraq, such as the killing of seventeen Iraqi civilians last September in Baghdad's Nisour Square.

Obama's proposed increase in funding to the diplomatic security division would ostensibly pave the way for a protective force composed entirely of US government personnel, but the process of building that force would likely take a long time. Short of dramatically reducing the US civilian and diplomatic presence in Iraq that necessitates such a security force, Obama may have no choice but to continue the contracting arrangements with firms like Blackwater if he is elected President.

The irony is that it was Senator Obama who sponsored a bill in February 2007 defining a legal structure to prosecute State Department contractor crimes in US courts. Obama staffers say they will "fight like hell to get it passed." But it may not pass before the next President takes power. Even if it does and Bush signs it, serious questions will remain unresolved about how contractor crimes can be monitored effectively. The senior adviser acknowledged that Obama could find himself in a situation where, as President, he continues using forces he himself has identified as "unaccountable." The Obama campaign, in other words, may have painted itself into a corner.

Obama campaign and Senate staffers characterize this as an inherited problem with no good alternatives. "We are in a situation where, because of bad planning and a series of disastrous policy choices by the Bush Administration, we're forced to rely on private security contractors," says the senior adviser. "What we're focused on at the moment is getting the legal architecture in place that will hold these guys accountable to the same standard that [applies to] enlisted US military personnel."

In Iraq right now, the number of private contractors is basically equal to the number of US troops. While Obama advisers say they plan to "have a serious look" at the role of contractors in Iraq, one adviser seemed to indicate that unarmed contractors would continue to operate at significant levels. "These contractors are not only providing private security functions like Blackwater. They're rebuilding schools, they are serving food, they're doing logistics, they're driving trucks, and the important question is, If you take those 100,000-plus contractors out of Iraq, what do you replace them with? Inevitably the answer is, You replace them with US military."

But, the senior adviser notes, "ideally we would have diplomatic security personnel, US government personnel, not subcontracted but US Bureau of Diplomatic Security agents providing security to all our ambassadors."

Says another Obama adviser, "If we could start this whole war from the beginning, what would we have done versus what can we do now, now that we're in the middle of it? In an ideal world, we would not have these contractors, but that's not the world we operate in right now."

The State Department has only an estimated 1,450 diplomatic security agents worldwide who are actual government employees, and only thirty-six are deployed in Iraq. In contrast, Blackwater has nearly 1,000 operatives in Iraq alone, not to mention the hundreds more working for DynCorp and Triple Canopy. Moreover, the State Department says it could take years to identify prospective new agents, vet them, train them and deploy them. In short, this would be no small undertaking by a President Obama. As Ambassador Ryan Crocker said in late 2007, "There is simply no way at all that the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security could ever have enough full-time personnel to staff the security function in Iraq. There is no alternative except through contracts."

Making diplomatic security a military operation would pose serious challenges as well. As the New York Times reported late last year, "the military does not have the trained personnel to take over the job." Even if the military trained a specialized force for executive protection and bodyguarding in Iraq, this arrangement would mean more US military convoys traveling inside Iraq, potentially placing them in deadly conflict with Iraqi civilians on a regular basis.

The private security industry knows well that it has become a central part of US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Extricating the firms from this position would require a major and aggressive undertaking with significant Congressional support, which is by no means guaranteed. In fact, Blackwater appears to see a silver lining in the prospect of US forces being withdrawn or reduced in Iraq. Joseph Schmitz, chief operating officer of Blackwater's parent company, The Prince Group, said, "There is a scenario where we could as a government, the United States, could pull back the military footprint, and there would then be more of a need for private contractors to go in." The Obama senior adviser called Schmitz's comment "an unfortunate characterization."

Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, one of Congress's sharpest critics of the war contracting system, says of Schmitz's remark, "That's why some of us have been really careful about not just talking about a troop withdrawal but a contractor withdrawal as well." Obama, she says, should make it impossible for Schmitz and others "to think that Barack Obama would be creating new opportunities for Blackwater after our troops are withdrawn." The clearest way for him to do that would be to endorse legislation banning the use of Blackwater and other mercenary firms in Iraq. In November Schakowsky and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act, which mandates that US personnel undertake all diplomatic security in Iraq within six months of enactment. The bill has twenty-three co-sponsors in the House and one--Sanders--in the Senate. Sanders said he'd "love" it if Obama and Clinton signed on. "If either of them came on board, we'd certainly see more Democratic support," says Sanders. Will Obama do that before November? "The answer is no, in all candor," says the senior Obama adviser. "Obviously it's a dynamic situation, and he'll continue to analyze it."

Schakowsky is pressing Obama to support the bill and says that if he becomes President she will urge him to "cancel" any remaining Blackwater contract in Iraq: "There's plenty of justification to say this company is trouble, and there's no point in continuing our contract with them."

The senior adviser said, "Senator Obama is concerned that Blackwater remains in Iraq, and he's concerned that they remain in Iraq and other countries totally unaccountable to US law and totally unaccountable to the law in the country in which they are operating." Which raises the question: If he's so concerned, why not throw his support behind a ban on the use of these forces in Iraq?

Update from Jeremy Scahill: A day after this story went live on TheNation.com, Senator Hillary Clinton, whose staff refused for a week to answer my questions about her position on private security forces, released a statement announcing that Clinton is now co-sponsoring legislation to "ban the use of Blackwater and other private mercenary firms in Iraq," saying, "The time to show these contractors the door is long past due." Read her full statement here. Her timing was interesting, to say the least. Why February 28, in the middle of a tough political campaign? Why not after last September's Nisour Square massacre, when Blackwater operatives killed seventeen Iraqi civilians? Or, better, before it? Regardless, this makes Clinton the most significant US political figure to date to issue such a call. We will be monitoring closely how much of a legislative priority this becomes for Senator Clinton.
"What the hell?"
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