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John Yoo defends Obama’s war powers in Libya

Cal law professor John Yoo – who as a Justice Department attorney helped build a legal framework for the “enhanced interrogation” techniques many consider to be torture and for other perceived Bush Administration transgressions – has found a new way to make Bay Area liberals mad: supporting President Barack Obama’s stance on his power to attack Libya.

In an op-ed piece that appeared in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Yoo argues House Republicans are sacrificing constitutional principle for partisan advantage in battling the President on Libya.

John Yoo “By accusing President Barack Obama of violating the War Powers Resolution, House Republicans are abandoning their party’s longstanding position that the Constitution allows the executive to use force abroad, subject to Congress’s control over funding,” Yoo wrote. “Sadly, they’ve fallen victim to the siren song of short-term political gain against a president who continues to stumble in national-security matters.”

OK, so he’s not an Obama fan by any stretch of the imagination. But Yoo wrote that “Mr. Obama’s constitutional position today on war powers is little different from that of President George W. Bush, whom Democrats portrayed as a warmongering dictator.”

“If the Constitution gives the president the executive authority to use force abroad, Congress cannot take it away,” Yoo wrote. “Surely Mr. Boehner agreed with this proposition before the current president took office. He, for instance, never claimed that President George W. Bush’s exercise of broad executive powers in the war on terror violated the Constitution. Nor does he appear to have thought that legislative authorization of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was constitutionally necessary in 2001 and 2002.”

If Republicans want to end U.S. involvement in Libya, Yoo concludes, they should cut the operation’s purse strings; refuse to lift the debt ceiling until they get what they want; or even start impeachment proceedings. “But holding hands with isolationist Democrats out of political convenience is no way to defend the Constitution.”

So, Yoo’s tally is: House Republicans are wrong; antiwar Democrats are wrong; and the President is wrong but constitutionally protected.

UPDATE @ 9:50 A.M.: Liz Cheney and Karl Rove agree.

Posted on Monday, June 20th, 2011
Under: International politics | 1 Comment »

Boxer, Lee differ on Obama’s Libya policy

Even after President Barack Obama laid out his rationale for military intervention in Libya’s civil war yesterday, lawmakers from the Bay Area who are among the most liberal members of their respective chambers remain split on whether it was a wise move.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last week said she felt the President had the Senate’s support in launching the air attacks, and had this to say after the President’s speech yesterday:

“President Obama reminded the country tonight of why it was critical for the international community to take action to prevent the mass slaughter of innocent men, women and children by Moammar Gaddafi’s forces.

“I am pleased that NATO is now assuming control of the mission, and it is important that partners in the Arab League, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, continue to play an active role in enforcing the no-fly zone and ensuring the protection of the Libyan people.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, an early and ardent supporter of Obama’s candidacy who since has parted ways with him on many military matters, today said:

“The President’s speech yesterday was an important opportunity to address many of the unanswered questions about U.S. military involvement in Libya, and he was able to explain why his Administration felt compelled to intervene in Libya. Like the President, I am deeply concerned with the serious humanitarian crisis in Libya and Gaddafi’s reprehensible treatment of the Libyan people, and I believe that the U.S. should work with the international community to protect the well-established fundamental international recognition of civil and political rights. But I maintain my belief that an increased U.S. military presence in Libya could inflame the situation and, ultimately, prove counterproductive to the end goal of sustainable peace.

“I am pleased with the news that soon NATO will be leading the military effort in Libya, and I share the President’s praise for our courageous troops. But a more thorough discussion about the ramifications of U.S. military engagement in Libya should have occurred before the recent action was taken. Congress must have an opportunity for a robust debate on the risks associated with committing our military resources to Libya, especially with two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still being fought.”

Posted on Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, International politics, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 13 Comments »

Boxer speaks on Libya & nuclear safety

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer called her news conference today in San Francisco to blast Republicans’ budget cuts, but she touched on Libya and nuclear safety, too.

Boxer, D-Calif., praised the Obama Administration for working through the United Nations Security Council – and at the behest of the Arab League – to act to halt Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s promised attacks on his own populace. The international community had an obligation to react to such a crisis, she said, though that reaction “should be limited in scope,” remain an international effort, and retain the Arab League’s support.

Asked whether the President overstepped his constitutional authority by committing U.S. military forces without Congress’ approval, Boxer replied that the Senate unanimously resolved to urge the U.N. Security Council to act in protection of Libya’s civilians, including establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone. “So I did vote for this, and this is what the President did.”

Bringing it to Congress might’ve meant people such as Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio – who said Obama’s action was unconstitutional and has pledged to try to block any funding for military activities in Libya – could’ve debated it for weeks, she said. Kucinich is eloquent and some might agree with him, she said, but “anyone who said he (Obama) should’ve waited don’t feel the sense of urgency that many of us felt” about imminent harm to innocent Libyans.

Boxer also spoke about the “very worrisome” aftermath of Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, particularly new reports that Tokyo’s drinking water might contain enough radioactive iodine to put infants at risk. It’s “a powerful wakeup call for our nation” to review our own nuclear safety, she said: The U.S. has 23 reactors of the same design as the damaged ones at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, as well as 54 plants built before 1980. And she noted the U.S. also has two nuclear power plants sited in areas with the highest degree of seismic risk – both located in California.

About 7.4 million people live within 50 miles of the San Onofre nuclear plant in northern San Diego County, she noted, while about 500,000 live within 50 miles of the Diablo Canyon plant in San Luis Obispo County. Significant new earthquake risks have been discovered since both plants were built.

She said she doesn’t believe PG&E, which operates Diablo Canyon, should be granted the permit extension it’s seeking until it has completed new seismic safety studies.

Boxer chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the nation’s nuclear industry through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The committee already has received a briefing from the NRC and other experts, and will hold a full hearing on nuclear safety next month, she said. She said her priorities are immediate reviews of U.S. reactors with the same design as the embattled Japanese reactors; U.S. reactors in seismically active areas; and storage of spent fuel rods. “This is serious business – I’m going to be all over this issue, and Senator (Dianne) Feinstein and I are working together.”

UPDATE @ 3:25 P.M.: Boxer’s stance on Libya is at odds with at that of least several Bay Area House members. Representatives Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, joined by Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., issued this statement yesterday:

“The decision for the United States to engage militarily in Libya is one that should have been debated and approved by Congress.

“We have serious concerns about whether or not an effective and thorough case for military intervention in Libya was made. Too many questions remain. What is our responsibility now? Do we own the situation in Libya and for how long? Where does this dramatic acceleration of military intervention end?

“There is a serious humanitarian crisis in Libya, and Gaddafi’s reckless, indiscriminate use of force on his own people in response to grassroots calls for change is unacceptable. But there are serious consequences for rushing to war with a limited understanding of the situation on the ground and no exit strategy or plan – we learned this lesson through two ill-advised wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“With the potential for protracted civil war in Libya, and similar circumstances of unrest and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Yemen, and elsewhere, we cannot afford to sidestep critical diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to rely solely upon the deployment of more guns, bombs, and troops. This represents a dangerous path toward perpetual U.S. military engagement around the world.

“The United States must immediately shift to end the bombing in Libya. Rest assured we will fight in Congress to ensure the United States does not become embroiled in yet another destabilizing military quagmire in Libya with no clear exit plan or diplomatic strategy for peace.”

Posted on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011
Under: Barbara Boxer, energy, International politics, U.S. Senate | 6 Comments »

A former San Franciscan’s trip to Cairo

Samuel Vengrinovich, a former San Francisco State University student, sent us this video of his experiences visiting Cairo, Egypt, one week after dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign by a popular, peaceful uprising.

From Vengrinovich, who currently lives in Israel:

“I get asked all the time why did I want to go to Tahrir Square? And I think, who wouldn’t? I’m sure there are millions of people around the world who would have loved to experience and witness what I saw. I made this documentary video to share that experience, to provide an opportunity for people who were less fortunate like me of being so close to Egypt, or daring enough like me to even go to Egypt, to experience the Egyptian revolution. I wanted to share what I saw, felt, and experienced. I wasn’t scared at all in Cairo. In fact, the minivan ride to Cairo was perhaps the scariest part of my trip. I could have sworn that a few times the driver was going to flip the minivan, as he was driving like a maniac around corners and turns. But I got used to his driving as we got closer to Cairo. In fact, I even edged him on a few times to go faster”

“Before my trip materialized, the Egyptian protests that were happening in Tahrir Square mesmerized me. I knew this was big. I was watching live footage morning and night, following the ebb and flow of the tug and pull between the regime and the people. I knew what they were going through in some ways. When I was 19 years old, I was at the WTO protests in Seattle dodging rubber bullets, tear gas, and armored carriers. I could relate.”

[snip]

“I witnessed the physical and emotional release of decades of pent up emotions by Egyptians under Mubarak’s authoritarian rule, their desire to guard and protect their revolution from being hijacked, and the sensitivity Egyptians displayed about their revolution being positively viewed by the international community.”

“I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness a nation breathe democracy and freedom for the first time in their lives. I was so close, being here in Israel. I knew I had to get there.”

“I wanted to take the viewers on a journey, unlike the stale and often sometimes cold presentations major news networks display. I think I got some really cool shots. I was jumping into crowds, getting pushed and shoved, going under people, dodging cars and fireworks, to get some of the shots you see in the video. Before I got involved with politics, I was an artist, songwriter and musician. When I was filming and editing the video, I tried to do what I do when writing music—to make people experience through art, sound, and visuals the creative process of my mind. This time, it was experiencing the Egyptian revolution.”

Posted on Thursday, March 10th, 2011
Under: International politics | 1 Comment »

Tom Lantos played key role in U.S.-Libya relations

As the world watches dictator Moammar Gadhafi fighting to retain control of Libya, it’s time to recall that a late Bay Area House member played a key role in recent U.S.-Libyan relations.

Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, who died in Feburary 2008, was the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee in January 2004 when – with the Bush Administration’s blessing – he became the first U.S. elected official to visit Libya in almost four decades, and the first ever to meet face-to-face with Gadhafi. He and I spoke about that trip soon afterward:

Upon his return, Lantos met with State Department officials and committee chairman Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, to recommend that the United States lift its ban on travel to Libya and — if Gadhafi’s disarmament cooperation continues — eventually lift sanctions and restore diplomatic relations. It is a stunning recommendation, coming from a lawmaker who helped author the U.S. sanctions against Libya and often has railed on the House floor against the country’s human rights abuses.

“I am rational enough to recognize that we must accept ‘yes’ for an answer,” Lantos said. “Gadhafi’s record speaks for itself — it’s an abominable record — but the current actions also speak for themselves. He has now made a 180-degree turn.”

Lantos would return to Libya several times in subsequent years. This week, Reuters reported that diplomatic cables made public through Wikileaks now reveal Gadhafi had urged Lantos to sow division in Saudi Arabia.

One cable recounts how, in 2006, Gaddafi had urged the United States to call for “self determination” for tribal groups of Saudi Arabia, “who would presumably choose a government other than the present monarchy.”

Gaddafi’s comments came on a visit by the late Democrat Congressman Tom Lantos, then a member of the U.S. House Foreign Relations Committee, and were made in Gaddafi’s desert encampment on the outskirts of Sirte, according to the cable from August 2006 headlined “Congressman Lantos stresses bilateral achievements and regional challenges with Libyan officials.”

In an hour-long meeting, Gaddafi mainly expounded on the rise of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, “which has become one of his standard topics,” said the cable; he also lobbied for support for a plan to create “Isratine” — a secular Jewish-Palestinian state — as the best solution for lasting peace in the Middle East.

The cable separately recounts how a speech on political and economic reform by another of Gaddafi’s sons, Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi, had earned a rebuke from Egypt’s leader Hosni Mubarak. Lantos had congratulated Seif on his speech, it says. “Seif immediately noted that President Mubarak of Egypt called his father, the leader, to express his displeasure with the speech, saying it called for ‘too much change and too much freedom’ and warning that the country should be more conservative in its approach to change.”

Seif claimed not to know what his father’s reply to Mubarak was, the cable says, commenting that since the speech was broadcast widely on state-run media, it must have had the tacit blessing of the leader.

Lantos himself talked about his meetings with Gadhafi during a June 2007 committee hearing – by which time he was the committee’s chairman – about “U.S. Policy Challenges in North Africa.”

lantos.jpgMuammar Qadhafi of Libya, a leader I have visited half a dozen times in the last three years, wisely turned his country on a more reasonable path in its external relations a few years ago. The Qadhafi of this century is a more sensible reincarnation of the terrorist revolutionary of the past.

I was the first high-ranking U.S. public official to visit Libya after Qadhafi announced his intention to abandon Libya’s nuclear weapons program. I have also helped foster a student exchange program between our two nations. I am very proud of America’s success in convincing Qadhafi to become a decent citizen of the global community.

Our relations with Libya today are in a much better place than they were just five years ago. Our engagement with Qadhafi and the prosperity it has brought Libya serves as a model to countries currently sponsoring terror or compiling weapons of mass destruction. They should know that they, too, can come in from the cold.

Despite the progress, our relationship appears to have come to a standstill. I will be interested to hear from our distinguished witness today what plans the State Department has to address the absence of both a fully-accredited Libyan ambassador here and a fully-accredited American one in Tripoli – one year after the establishment of full diplomatic ties. We need to allow Libyans to get visas to the U.S. without having to travel to Tunisia, and we need to broaden the Libyan study abroad program here beyond the small number of students currently participating.

There are a few other discordant notes. Libya has moved slowly to resolve the bombing cases of Pan Am Flight 103 and the LaBelle discotheque, even though it has agreed to pay compensation to victims’ families in both cases. The country sentenced to death five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian medical intern accused of infecting 426 Libyan children with HIV even after it became clear that such a plot was absurd and the charges were drummed up.

While our progress with Qadhafi over the past three years has been outstanding, his rhetoric sometimes strikes a shrill note that is reminiscent of the past. So I would only submit that if Qadhafi is going to embrace the West fully – and if we are to accept him fully – both his actions and his words must consistently reflect this new attitude.

Posted on Thursday, February 24th, 2011
Under: International politics, Tom Lantos, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Bay Area human rights activists are in Cairo

Human rights activists with CODEPINK – including cofounder Medea Benjamin of San Francisco and San Jose Peace & Justice Center president Sharat Lin of Fremont – are amid the protestors on the streets of Cairo calling for the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Click here to see their photos.

From CODEPINK’s news release:

The activists report that Egyptians have been excited to see their message of solidarity from the American people. Many Egyptian protesters are carrying signs that say “My address is Tahrir square until Mubarak leaves” and they are holding firm. The activists also report that many Egyptian youth seem ecstatic that President Obama has acknowledged their voice in Egypt’s political affairs but they want him to put more pressure on Mubarak to step down. Women are in the streets and have played a major role in the grassroots movement for democracy in Egypt. Today, as violence towards peaceful demonstrators escalates, the activists said rumors have circulated that the pro-Mubarak agitators are paid supporters of the dictator.

CODEPINK is calling on President Barack Obama, the State Department, and Congress to stop funding the Mubarak regime, which now receives over $1.8 billion per year in military assistance from the United States.

CODEPINK says theirs is “perhaps the only international solidarity delegation on the ground in the country,” and plans to demonstrate at the U.S. Embassy tomorrow.
The delegation – CODEPINK’s ninth trip to Egypt and Gaza in the past two years, including people from the U.S. Canada, Australia, the U.K., Switzerland and India – had intended to travel through Egypt to Gaza, but was foiled by the closing of the Rafah border crossing; they now plan to stay in Cairo until safe passage to Gaza is possible.

CODEPINK and other groups plan a protest and march in solidarity with the people of Egypt and Tunisia at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5th at 1 pm in UN Plaza at Market and Eighth streets in San Francisco), and then a march across the Golden Gate Bridge on Sunday, Feb. 13.

Posted on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
Under: International, International politics | 2 Comments »

Dueling BART ads on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the rhetorical side of the conflict, at least – is visible in the Bay Area again as organizations for and against Israeli policy have bought dueling ads in several BART stations.

cov_bart-BeOnOurSide_SF_Poster_011411Jewish Voice for Peace – an Oakland-based group that “seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East” – co-produced an ad launched Dec. 5, urging commuters passing through the Downtown Berkeley, Oakland-12th Street and San Francisco Civic Center BART stations to “End U.S. military aid to Israel.”

“Our ads are not about repeating the same old paradigms, where one side (Israelis or Palestinians) is good and the other (Palestinians or Israelis) is bad. Our ads are about the common ground that we have,” Sydney Levy, Jewish Voice for Peace’s campaigns director, said today via e-mail. “It is about asking Americans to stand together with Israelis and Palestinians on the same side, not opposite one another.”

Poster-10[1]StandWithUs, a Los Angeles-based international pro-Israel group, this week launched ads of its own in the same BART stations plus three more – Embarcadero and Balboa Park in San Francisco, and Oakland’s MacArthur – depicting both the “rage-filled eyes of a terrorist” as well as Palestinian and Israeli children playing soccer together, directing readers to a web site that blames Palestinians for obstructing the peace process.

“The anti-Israel ad confuses and deceives the public. It declares it represents the side of ‘peace and justice’ and shows happy pictures of an Israeli father and a Palestinian father with their little sons. These images and words appeal to all people of good will. But the real message is that Israel is the obstacle to peace and that the U.S. should stop all financial assistance to Israel,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said in a news release. “The ad tries to hide the real obstacles—Hamas, Palestinian terrorism, and decades of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish hate education. We cannot let this message, with its deceptive, velvet-gloved rhetoric, influence unsuspecting commuters who may not know the facts. Our ads will provide the needed facts.”

Levy, of course, disagrees. “Sadly, the Stand With Us ads are simply about demonizing and delegitimizing Palestinians. They say that Israel has no partner for peace. They ignore all the Palestinian nonviolent anti-occupation activists languishing in Israeli jails, including Abdallah Abu Rahmah, an Amnesty International Palestinian prisoner of conscience.”

Posted on Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
Under: International politics, Israel | 4 Comments »

Bay Area finalists in ‘Democracy is…’ contest

Two Bay Area residents – a third-grade teacher, tech-trainer and aspiring photographer/videographer from Pleasanton, and a video technology developer from San Jose – are among finalists in a State Department-sponsored international competition to build a global discussion on democracy.

The Democracy Video Challenge asks people around the world to complete the phrase “Democracy is…” through short online videos, submitted online. Since its launch two years ago, more than 1,600 people from 111 countries submitted entries and spurred the online engagement of at least 1.5 million people.

The challenge is part of a larger “Democracy is…” project, described as “a global conversation created by a unique public-private partnership that includes democracy and youth organizations, the film and entertainment industry, academia and the U.S. government. It leverages social networks and various creative tools to engage people around the world to share, consider, debate, and learn from diverse perspectives on democracy.”

There are 18 finalists; people around the world can now vote for their favorite videos until midnight GMT (that’s 5 p.m. PDT for us) next Tuesday, June 15. Six winners, one from each geographic region of the world, will be announced during the week of June 21 to receive all-expense-paid trips to Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC in September. Last year’s six winners are from the United Arab Emirates, Zambia, the Philippines, Poland, Nepal, and Brazil.

Here’s the entry by Nicole Dalesio of Pleasanton:

And here’s the entry by Franklin Pham of San Jose:

Posted on Wednesday, June 9th, 2010
Under: International politics, Youth in politics | 1 Comment »

Israeli diplomat to speak in SF Thursday

This should be a hot one.

Northern California’s top Israeli diplomat will make a public appearance this week, even as Middle East tensions spike following Israel’s ill-fated decision to board activist ships challenging the blockade of Gaza, leading to the deaths of nine activists on a boat where activists attacked the boarding troops.

Akiva Tor, the Counsul General for the Pacific Northwest Region, will speak on “Middle East Peacemaking, the Iranian Crisis and U.S.– Israel Relations” at 6 p.m. this Thursday, June 10, in the Commonwealth Club of California’s offices, on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco. Tickets cost $12 for club members, $20 for nonmembers or $7 for students with valid ID, and are available online.

In an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, Tor defended the need for a blockade on the Gaza Strip. “Simply put, we don’t have much choice….If we allow unfettered access to the Gaza Strip, Gaza will become an Iranian-armed missile base on our doorstep, much as Lebanon has become under Hezbollah.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties e-mailed out an “action alert” today urging people to go support Tor at Thursday’s event: “We understand there are plans to protest and possibly disrupt the lecture. Attend this event and show your support for Israel and its outstanding Consul General!”

Posted on Tuesday, June 8th, 2010
Under: International politics, Israel | No Comments »

Tauscher makes East Bay appearance

Former congresswoman Ellen Tauscher delivers a very different kind of speech to a very familiar audience this morning.

Watch the full speech below of Tauscher, now the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, as she speaks to the Contra Costa Council in Concord.

Posted on Tuesday, January 19th, 2010
Under: Contra Costa County, International politics | No Comments »