Archive for 2009

Pelosi Biographer: Why I Believe Her On the CIA and Waterboarding

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

nancypelosiBy Marc Sandalow
Calbuzz Special Report

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s much-ridiculed explanation of her CIA briefings on waterboarding is entirely plausible.

Pelosi has made a rare spectacle of herself with her account of why she never objected to torture, opening herself to attack by Republicans and ridicule by no less a revered figure on the left than Jon Stewart.

She initially denied being briefed, then explained that her briefers only talked about the possibility of waterboarding in the future, and finally acknowledged that a top aid was specifically told that Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded.

So, basically she’s gone from “I definitely was not told” to “I was told, but they used an auxiliary verb with a slightly more passive mood,” Stewart chuckled last week.

It’s entirely reasonable to ask why the San Francisco liberal didn’t scream to the heavens the moment she heard about “enhanced interrogation techniques.’’ Which is why Republicans –- who are about 0 for 20 in their long effort to bring down Pelosi –- have made the Speaker’s involvement their No. 1 talking point.

“Nancy Pelosi stepped in it big time,” declared GOP Chairman Michael Steele, who knows a good deal about “it’’ but does not know much about intelligence briefings or Pelosi’s involvement.

This much is clear. Someone is not telling the truth. Either the Speaker of the House or someone at the CIA is lying or badly misrepresenting what transpired. Only those with the highest security clearance can know for certain what happened behind the steel-encased safe rooms under the dome where briefings take place.

Nevertheless, here are four solid reasons to believe Pelosi’s account.

1.CIA director Leon Panetta wouldn’t hang Pelosi out to dry. Pelosi and Panetta have worked closely together for three decades. They met when Pelosi was chair of the California Democratic Party and Panetta was a young congressman from Monterey. When Pelosi came to Washington in 1987, Panetta was living with Reps. George Miller, Marty Russo and Charles Schumer and along with Pelosi were part of a Tuesday night dinner clique. Panetta squeezed into Pelosi’s car for hair-raising dashes to National Airport on many Thursday afternoons as the Northern California delegation raced to make the last flight back to San Francisco. He accompanied her on dozens of flights, recalling her demand for extra gobs of hot fudge on the sundaes they served on cross country flights. Pelosi urged Panetta to run for governor in 1998, and her daughter made up “Panetta for Governor’’ hats. Panetta has new obligations as CIA director, and he made clear his professional loyalties when he issued a statement Friday saying it is not CIA policy to lie to or mislead Congress. But the statement did not say that Pelosi was lying nor did it specifically contradict her claim about the contents of the Sept. 2002 CIA briefing. If the CIA has internal documents which show Pelosi is wrong, it is hard to image Panetta wouldn’t have warned her off.

2. Her story is consistent with other Democrats. Senators Jay Rockefeller and former Senator Bob Graham of Florida each received briefings during the same time period as Pelosi, and, like her, say they were not told about waterboarding. Graham — who political junkies might remember was passed over as a possible running mate for John Kerry in 2004 in part because of his seemingly pathological habit of keeping a meticulous journal — went back and checked his records and said that three of the four dates the CIA claims to have briefed him are wrong.

3. Pelosi is a creature of protocol and her account follows protocol. Why didn’t Pelosi do something dramatic to stop waterboarding when she – by her own admission – found out about it in February 2003? Conservatives say it is because she already knew and was complicit in its practice. Some of her own supporters on the left accuse her of being spineless. For anyone who prowls the halls of Congress – which Pelosi first did as a toddler when her father represented Baltimore’s Little Italy – her response was completely in line with her role as the House Democratic leader. Pelosi says she first learned that waterboarding had taken place from her aide Mike Sheehy in February, 2003. Sheehy told her that Rep. Jane Harman, D-LA, who had taken Pelosi’s spot on the Intelligence Committee had been briefed on the use of waterboarding, and had written a letter voicing her objection to the White House. Pelosi’s response: Good. She supported Harman’s objection. It would have been illegal for Pelosi to have exposed the secret practice. It would have been poor form for Pelosi to have overruled Harman and insisted that she write the objection herself. And it would have been foolhardy to believe that either of their objections would have made a difference. Only months before, Pelosi had led 60% of the House Democrats to vote against the war in Iraq, insisting that evidence from other intelligence briefings did not support President Bush’s claim that Iraq was an imminent threat. The White House response hardly suggested a willingness to heed the warnings. The only recourse available to Pelosi was to rally a majority of the House to pass legislation banning enhanced interrogations techniques. Which is exactly what she did, a year later. Bush promptly vetoed the legislation.

4. Pelosi is not a liar. During 21 years’ reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle, I encountered elected officials whom I regarded as friendly sources who looked me in the eye and lied. Pelosi is not one of them. Pelosi can be awkward, suspicious and at times disdainful of the press. She shunned me when I wrote her biography, refusing to grant me a single interview. But I have never seen a shred of evidence of her being untruthful. She is a meticulous woman who speaks carefully, even if it doesn’t always come out in complete sentences. Longtime staffer Mike Sheehy was with Pelosi in the Sept 4, 2002 briefing in which Pelosi adamantly insists she was told waterboarding had not been used. She would not have said so without Sheehy’s concurrence. Columnist Charles Krauthaumer noted Pelosi’s uncomfortable performance and tortured syntax at a news conference last week, calling it proof that she was not telling the truth. Clearly Krauthaumer has never been to a Pelosi news conference before.

Of course the political consequences of this episode may hurt Pelosi regardless. Shouts of “what did Pelosi know and when did she know it’’ ring through Washington at a time when Democrats want to be talking about cap and trade, health care and education. Democrats would rather attention be focused on President Obama than Pelosi. The headlines look bad for the Speaker. The facts, however, do not

Marc Sandalow is the author of “Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi’s Life, Times and Rise to Power.” He is now an analyst for KCBS-radio and KPIX-TV, director of UC Merced’s Washington Program and director of journalism programs at the University of California’s Washington Center.

Campbell v Poizner in Sacto, While eMeg Visits With Wolf

Monday, May 18th, 2009

A Calbuzz tip of the hat to Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle click click and Brian Joseph of the Orange County Register click for on-the-spot recaps of the Great Debate between Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell and for noting that Her Megness was too busy swatting marshmallows from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer to appear before the Sacramento Press Corps. Also on the spot: Peter Hecht of the SacBee and Juliet Williams of AP.

Can Baseball Arbitration Solve California’s Budget Mess?

Monday, May 18th, 2009

richierossWhen Richie Ross recently shared with us an essay he’d written about an intriguing idea to break through the endless, dreary deadlock over California’s budget, we asked him to excerpt it for a Calbuzz op-ed. As voters prepare to stay away from the polls in droves on Tuesday, it’s way past time to try to re-frame the state’s ideologically gridlocked fiscal debate. One of California’s most venerable political consultants, Ross argues that replacing the annual budget kabuki dance with a system of “Baseball Arbitration” would introduce some political accountability into a process that now has almost none. We figure that putting a generic Democratic proposal on the ballot against a generic Republican idea favors the Dems, and that having voters choose a budget provides full employment for consultants. That said, here’s a creative idea from a guy who’s always thinking around the next corner. You can read Ross’s whole essay here.
Baseball Arbitration: An Elegant Solution

By Richie Ross
Calbuzz Special Report

I didn’t appreciate baseball arbitration until I experienced it.

In his Indian Gaming Compacts, Governor Schwarzenegger added a “baseball arbitration” dispute process to use whenever an Indian Tribe and a local government couldn’t resolve differences in negotiating an “Intergovernmental Service Agreement” to mitigate the impacts a casino could have on local government services.

In the case of the Buena Vista Rancheria and Amador County, the sides were so far apart in 2006 that the County Supervisors put an advisory measure on the ballot and 80% of the voters opposed the Tribe’s casino no matter what they offered to local government.

The “negotiations” went on for 3 years until the Tribe triggered the arbitration provision in the Compact. Baseball arbitration.

Unlike most arbitrations, in which a neutral finder of fact weighs the two sides, looks for middle ground, then crafts a solution to impose on the parties, baseball’s version is an all-or-nothing proposition. The arbitrator looks at the final position of each side and chooses one. Each side only knows its own final position, not the other. One side’s position is chosen in its entirety. The other is rejected.

The results in the Buena Vista Rancheria-Amador County dispute were fascinating — after all, I get paid to fight with people. Even though I believed the Tribe was right and the County was wrong, I found myself looking for ways to help the Tribe moderate its position to enhance its appeal to the arbitrator (and avoid a final position that could end up losing everything).

Reacting as wisely as she could based on best guesses about what the county’s final position might look like, Tribal Chairwoman Rhonda Morningstar Pope knew that winning in baseball arbitration meant giving up some strongly felt positions in order to achieve a successful deal from a County Board of Supervisors that didn’t want a deal at all.

In the end, the Tribe guessed right. Their final position never had to be arbitrated at all. The County accepted it. No one won. No one lost. Both sides moderated their positions and behavior.

So here’s how the idea would work step-by-step:

1. Institute a two-year budget process. The idea’s been around for a long time. It’s used in a number of other states. Seems to work fine.

2. Start the fiscal year on December 1. There’s nothing magical about the current July 1 start. The Feds start in October. A lot of businesses start in January. So let’s move the state’s to December 1 of the even-numbered years.

3. Make Republicans and Democrats write a complete budget. Right now, Republicans hang on to the 2/3rds majority requirement because they say it’s the only way they can be relevant. But they never have to write a complete budget plan, they just potshot the Democrats’ plan. That’s an accountability-free zone. And Democrats tell their groups how they wish they could raise the taxes to save programs but the Republicans won’t let them.

4. Put both budgets on the general election ballot — baseball arbitration style. Neither needs a majority. The one with the most votes wins.

Voters and the “winners” will live with the outcome for two years. If we like the budget we had, we’ll reward them with re-election and another budget. If they sold us on a turkey, we’ll punish them at the polls and probably give the other side’s budget a chance.

Prediction: Republican politicians will have to moderate their political position and pledges because they might win their “all-cuts” budget battle and risk getting wiped out at the polls when they stand for re-election. And Democrats will finally have to face the fact that voters may not want to cut but sure as heck won’t want to raise every tax that every interest group asks for.

I think both parties would find themselves modifying their positions on budgets because a political “victory” in one-year might mean election losses the next.

Consequences will moderate behavior. Voters will have to live with their decisions. And so will both parties. A budget process with consequences. Consequences of rejection now if you are extreme, or rejection later if you get what you want now. That just might work. It’s worth a try.

Richie Ross has nearly 40 years experience, in and out of government, as a political strategist and campaign consultant.