Monday, July 07, 2008

A plague on both their houses: Part....oh, hell, I've lost track

The state legislature is on summer break, which means civil liberties are safe once again. And it means I can get back to the most important part of my job- blogging.

About a month ago, I said that both candidates for president will likely provide opportunities for criticism throughout the course of the campaign. That was said in the context of criticizing Senator McCain. As if on cue, Senator Obama has provided not one, not two, but three opportunities for critique over the last three weeks. In no particular order...

Faith-based initiatives. Obama announced his intention not only to continue President Bush's faith-based initiative program but to expand it by giving more tax dollars- your money- to it. Unlike Bush, Obama also said that those receiving the federal funds may not discriminate in hiring.

Let's be clear. Faith-motivated folks do a lot of great work. I talk with clergy and others motivated by faith on almost a daily basis. But giving tax dollars to faith-based programs, even with Obama's pre-conditions, tap dances dangerously close to the line of government-endorsed religion. Under Bush, this program was largely a giveaway to his evangelical friends.

And enforcing Obama's requirements is tricky. Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United was on The Bill Press Show last week, and he said that a recent report from the Government Accountability Office showed that one-third of recipients of faith-based initiative funding did not know that they are not supposed to proselytize in carrying out their programs.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette responded with an editorial on Sunday.
This costly course is headed for the choppy seas that the founders wisely avoided. Sadly, it seems Mr. Obama needs his own wall of separation between pandering and policies.

The death penalty for child rape. Must the senator from Illinois pander to the lowest common dope, errr, denominator? It's not possible for someone who has been through the Illinois death penalty experience to support expanding capital punishment, is it?

It is well-known and well-documented that the death penalty is falling apart. Since SCOTUS reinstated the DP in 1976, 129 innocent people have been sentenced to death (that we know of). Some innocent people have probably been executed. There are all kinds of problems on indigent defense, the impact of race (of the defendant and the victim), the costs of carrying out capital punishment, the negative effects on victims, and on and on. In fact, just last week, a state commission in California- the state with the largest death row in the country at 600-plus- released a report showing that Cali's system of capital punishment is "close to collapse."

And, most telling of all, advocates for children and sexual assault victims do not support the death penalty for child rape. This from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault:
Victim advocates have long been concerned that the death penalty for child sexual assault cases could backfire and result in lower reporting rates and fewer convictions of sex offenders.

The issue of child sexual abuse is complex. Most child sexual abuse victims are abused by a family member or close family friend. The reality is that, child victims and their families may feel greater reluctance to come forward, knowing that doing so could effectively send a grandparent, cousin or long time family friend to death row. In addition, capital punishment trials are notoriously stressful for the witnesses involved, and typically face a lengthy appeals process. This forces the child witness to relive these painful events over and over again, severely disrupting their healing process.

FISA. The night of the Potomac primary, Obama gave a speech in Wisconsin in which he went on a riff about protecting the Constitution. Four months later, he'll vote for a bill that expands the government's power to conduct surveillance without a warrant and allow those who broke the law in previously conducting such surveillance off the hook. Apparently, the Obama campaign sees the Constitution as a tool to win primary votes, rather than rock-solid principles to stand by. Following the Arlen Specter model, Obama will support efforts to strip telecom immunity from the bill...and then will vote for the bill if/when that amendment fails.

Obama has been getting hammered for his position and, to his credit, replied to his critics. Then Glenn Greenwald pointed out everything that's wrong with Obama's stance on the issue.

This is why I do issues work, rather than partisan politics.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Andy. Like you, I was quite disappointed in Obama's FISA bill position. It's important that we hold our candidates accountable on issues of civil liberties - even (especially?) those whose positions we might otherwise support.

4:47 PM  

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