The NDAA Is A Horrible Bill, And Why Obama Is Going To Sign It

I wish I could feel good about the National Defense Authorization Act which is heading to the President’s desk. I can’t. On the other hand, there is a whole lot of hyperbole swirling around the internet, even from typically reasonable sources.

It does seem that the truth about this bill, while still a stab to basic civil liberties, and possibly unconstitutional, is that the version that the President is going to sign is better than the version he was going to veto. From Mother Jones magazine:

It (the revised bill) says that the president has to hold a foreign Al Qaeda suspect captured on US soil in military detention—except it leaves enough procedural loopholes that someone like convicted underwear bomber and Nigerian citizen Umar Abdulmutallab could actually go from capture to trial without ever being held by the military. It does not, contrary to what many media outlets have reported, authorize the president to indefinitely detain without trial an American citizen suspected of terrorism who is captured in the US. A last minute compromise amendment adopted in the Senate, whose language was retained in the final bill, leaves it up to the courts to decide if the president has that power, should a future president try to exercise it. But if a future president does try to assert the authority to detain an American citizen without charge or trial, it won’t be based on the authority in this bill.

So it’s simply not true, as the Guardian wrote yesterday, that the bill “allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.” When the New York Times editorial page writes that the bill would “strip the F.B.I., federal prosecutors and federal courts of all or most of their power to arrest and prosecute terrorists and hand it off to the military,” or that the “legislation could also give future presidents the authority to throw American citizens into prison for life without charges or a trial,” they’re simply wrong.

To debunk even more myths about the bill, Milt Shook on Angry Black Lady Chronicles sums it up pretty well. I recommend reading the whole article, but here’s a snippet:

Lie #1. There is no such thing as an “Indefinite Detention Bill”. To imply there is means you’re also implying that Obama can veto this bill without killing the entire NDAA. He can’t.

Lie #2. Obama did not announce his intention to sign the “Indefinite Detention Bill” and for Greenwald to claim it’s “embedded” in the 2012 NDAA is an obfuscation, if not an outright falsehood, because it implies a possibility for him to veto just that “bill.”

Lie #3. “Until the end of the hostilities” does not necessarily mean “indefinite detention.” It’s entirely possible, even likely, that Obama will declare an end to al Qaeda within the next year, and he has already all but declared an end to hostilities against the Taliban. In fact, if we oversee an election of Democrats in 2012, and they declare both “wars” at an end, guess what happens?

(Note; that does not mean I want this part of the bill to survive. I want to see it repealed, which will happen if assholes like Greenwald start going after the perpetrators of this nonsense, and stop attacking Obama and Democrats incessantly. I’m just saying, there are other ways around it, and to declare such a thing as essentially “true” is a lie.)

Lie #4. As you can see when you read both d) and e) in section 1021 above, the “bill” does NOT expand the scope of the AUMF, and explicitly does NOT expand it.

Lie #5. The “bill” DOES explicitly exempt US citizens from its provisions. Strangely, Greenwald cites Section 1022 as proving his point.

I know that progressives don’t like politics. Really, who does? Politics are an ugly, messy, often deceitful game. It almost always means choosing one bad option over a worse option (no, I’m not saying ‘lesser of two evils,’ because the word ‘evil’ assumes nefarious intentions, and I believe that is usually not the case).

In some ways a benevolent dictatorship is the best form of government. A dictator doesn’t have to worry about reelection. (S)he doesn’t have to worry about the election of predecessors or of the election of others within the government. (S)he doesn’t have to worry about obstructionist Congresses or about dysfunctional Supreme Courts. But, our founding fathers, wise as they were, realized that few dictators are benevolent and even fewer stay benevolent, so they gave us an elected government. They also gave us checks and balances. As much as we like to believe that the President has superior power, he does not.

With an elected government comes elections. With elections comes the necessity to please the masses, and unfortunately, most of the masses, on both sides of the aisle, are, let’s just say, low-information. I’ll be lucky if most people read beyond this headline before forming an opinion.

The NDAA is not just a bill that theoretically grants authority. It is, first and foremost, the military budget. Out of the NDAA comes VA benefits, soldier pay and needed armor for the troops. So, let’s imagine for a moment that Obama vetoed the NDAA. Progressives would be thrilled, for a few days. Then, Congress would most likely override his veto. The bill would become law, even without the support of the White House. Then, campaign season would kick in. There would be commercials showing hypothetical soldiers losing their homes to foreclosures, but not because of the foreclosure crisis, because the President didn’t want them to pay their mortgage or even eat. He didn’t want to pay their salaries. There would be commercials of hypothetical soldiers with traumatic brain injuries, or worse, not because of the horrors of war, not because the Bush administration didn’t provide them with necessary equipment, but because President Obama didn’t want them to have the equipment…all so he could make a political statement to please his progressive base…us. Pretty freakin’ ugly, huh?

Why do we always get the short end of the stick, you ask? Why does he listen to his corporate masters over us? It’s because our electoral system sucks. In order for anyone to achieve national political office in this country, they need millions and millions of dollars. Imagine this. Mitt Romney has half a billion dollars as his net worth. If he bankrupted himself, he still would likely lose the Presidency for being outspent. It is estimated that the winner of the Presidency in 2012 will need to spend $1 billion or more. I don’t know about you, but I’m a victim of this economy. I’m in no position to significantly help a candidate raise $1 billion, no matter how great they are.

Citizen’s United was, in my opinion, the worst thing to come out of Washington, perhaps since Dred Scott. With Citizen’s United, the Supreme Court gift wrapped our democracy in the finest gold leaf and gleefully handed our government over to multinational corporations…corporations with no real allegiance to our country. Without equal time requirements in the media, third-party candidates would fade into obscurity for all but the best informed voters. A poorly financed second party candidate would lose the media war, and the hearts and minds of low-information voters.

One important distinction to be made between the NDAA and Citizen’s United, is that there will be a brand new NDAA in 2013 and again in 2014. A new Congress could give us a significantly different bill for 2014 (we’ll still have the same Congress for 2013’s bill). Even the current Congress can do something about 2012’s version. Dianne Feinstein has proposed a bill guaranteeing every Citizen the right to due process. You thought our Constitution already did that? It does, and a non-activist Supreme Court would surely agree.

How do we fix our system? How do we ensure that 2014’s NDAA gives us more civil liberties, not fewer? How do we get a President and a Congress who will listen to progressive causes? It’s time to get the fu&%ing corporations out of our democracy! The first step is to change election law and legislatively overturn Citizens United. As progressives, we are passionate about a lot of issues. We are passionate about the underdog. We are passionate about civil rights. We are passionate about fairness. We are passionate about the environment. But, for this election, we need to have laser focus on a single issue, Citizen’s United. It’s so much easier to have real power with lesser offices. Support candidates who are committed to amending the Constitution to allow for fairer elections. Some members of Congress are already trying to do something about it. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a Senate that allowed Sanders’ amendment to be debated? Wouldn’t it be nice if John Boehner didn’t lead the House?

Actually, getting corporations out of our democracy might not even involve Congress. There’s a pretty damn good chance that within the next two to three years, the SCOTUS will rehear Citizen’s United. The City of Los Angeles has voted to overturn it. It will likely next be heard by the California Supreme Court, who will probably side with Los Angeles. Then, it will eventually make its way, once again, to the US Supreme Court. We must get a more balanced Supreme Court. Use that laser focus when you enter the voting booth next November. Go to the voting booth next November. Yes, there’s a lot to be pissed off at Obama about…a whole lot, although frankly, he’s accomplished a hell of a lot more than we give him credit for. But he has a good track record in Supreme Court nominations, and in this political climate, that is a President’s true power. You can absolutely guarantee that a Romney or Gingrich Supreme Court nominee will make things a thousand times worse, if that’s possible. The only way to get back our democracy is with Obama’s help…like it or not.