MyDD Conversation with CT-Sen Candidate Ned Lamont
by Jonathan Singer, Thu Jun 01, 2006 at 07:53:51 AM EDT
Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to chat with businessman Ned Lamont over the telephone about his challenge to Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic Senatorial primary this year. The offer to interview Senator Lieberman has been on the table for months and I would certainly still be open to interviewing him.
Lamont and I covered a range of issues during our conversation, including Iraq, Iran, telecommunications, judges, the environment and why the progressive blogosphere should get involved in the campaign. You can listen to the interview here (warning: a large .mp3) or read the rush transcript below.
Jonathan Singer: With the news coming out of Haditha, it seems to many that the window of opportunity is quickly closing in Iraq. But the administration officials and their allies say the next sixth months will be key to the success of Iraq - a response we have heard time and time again. What can America do at this point to salvage the situation in Iraq?
Ned Lamont: Wow. That's my question?
Singer: Yeah. Or what would you like to see done?
Lamont: I don't believe that our very visible frontline military presence is making the situation better. In fact, I believe that the situation is deteriorating. I think that only the Iraqis can solve this. I think it will be a political solution. We can't impose it at the barrel of a gun, which is why I believe now is the time to start pulling our frontline troops back to the periphery, as Jack Murtha said, and start bringing them home. We'll be there in the background to continue to provide logistics support, humanitarian assistance. We'll have an embassy there. Hope the political process keeps going. But we're not able to impose a military solution. And every six months for the last three years has been a key three months, and it's just been getting worse.
Singer: Iran, which of course is Iraq's neighbor and which Iraq seems to be getting closer and closer to, is by most people's estimation edging towards getting a nuclear weapon, though how far they away is subject to great debate. What's more, the country's leadership has been ramping up its anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric in recent months. What, if anything, should the US be doing to deal with Iran and President Ahmadinejad? [I promise I can pronounce his name - it was just that the interview was a little early in the morning.]
Lamont: Ahmadinejad. I believe that direct negotiations are long overdue. Hopefully in concert with our allies starting with Western Europe, Russia and even India. Those countries have longstanding economic ties with Iran. India and Iran are building the national gas pipeline, Russia has historic ties with Iran that go back decades.
So I believe that now is perhaps a unique time for the United States to engage diplomatically with Iran. I would tone down all the bellicose rhetoric. "The military option is on the table. The military option is on the table," which early on both President Bush and Senator Lieberman were wont to repeat. I think that plays into Ahmadinejad's hands, it fuels the nationalist urges in Iran, and I think now is the time to lower the rhetoric and have some quiet diplomacy. Look what quiet diplomacy did over time in Libya, which really was a terrorist organization. And I think there's a chance that if we work with our allies we can turn the corner in Iran as well.
Singer: You come from the telecommunications industry. One of the measures that the Bush administration has claimed that it has used to enhance America's national security is both wiretapping certain Americans' telephones without warrant and also collecting data on tens of millions of Americans' telephone records, again without warrants. Do you see that as a constitutional or legal move, or would you like to see Congress step in and slow down that effort of data collection?
Lamont: The President is acting as if he is above the law. And the illegal wiretaps... the American Bar Association, Senator Lieberman, most legal scholars that I have heard from or talked to say that what de did on those wiretaps in all probability illegal. And I think that those who break the law should be held accountable.
First and foremost, if the Democrats take control of Congress again, we'll have some long overdue hearings to debate just that. And frankly, I thought short of that, a few months ago when Russ Feingold stood up and said that censure may be an appropriate remedy for a President if he breaks the law when it comes to these wiretaps, I was sympathetic to that. It seemed like a short and finite way of saying, "Mr. President, you're not above the law."
That doesn't mean that we don't need a process by which we can tap phones, by which we can go into internet and email and get access when there's really due cause and when there's judicial approval, which is what the process is and it's clear. I don't think the FISA courts inhibit our ability to do that. And if you do think we need some changes, let's take a look at it. But the President had no right, and his administration had no right, and the Justice Department had no right, and Mike Hayden of the NSA had no right to just unilaterally say, "We're going to go ahead and do this despite the clear rulings of the FISA courts and the law."
Singer: Let's talk a little bit more about telecommunications. Again, your background is in that area. Specifically, you've worked in the cable industry. I was wondering if you had some thoughts on so-called "network neutrality." I know a number of cable companies, the cable industry in general, is pushing for an opportunity to make more of a profit off of data that is sent over their wires, over their cables, over their fiber optics. Yet there is a concern that by allowing them to tier the internet, it will decrease Americans' access to certain information, perhaps on political reasons or perhaps just because companies don't have the money to pay the big Comcast and AT&T, etc. Where do you come down on the net neutrality debate?
Lamont: As you point out, I started up a company some years ago and we compete with the largest cable companies out there. You mention Comcast and AT&T. We primarily provide service to college campuses. We build systems at probably a couple hundred campuses around the country.
It's very important that you don't allow the ISPs and the large operators out there to determine who gets access to what content. When it comes down to net neutrality, this is a pipe and we're providing equal access to all of the content providers out there. And the last thing you want is large conglomerates picking and choosing who gets access to what.
I can understand where if there's some services that use up a lot more bandwidth than others, there's a tier or cost that's associated with that. But when it comes to content, when it comes to what people can see, everybody has equal access to that, and again you can't have, again, conglomerates picking and choosing and making those choices on behalf of consumers. That would be wrong, like de facto censorship.
Singer: One more question on the telecommunications industry. There is a move to amend the Telecommunications Act of 1996 right now in Congress, and one of the possibilities that both Senator Stevens in the Senate and Congressman Barton, who I believe has jurisdiction in the House, have been talking about are regulating the content of cable television just as the content of broadcast television is already regulated. Would you like to see that in telecommunications bill?
Lamont: I've got to learn a little more about that. I don't think they're regulating the content. I'm pretty darn sure that's not what they're doing. But I have heard some discussion about the ability to offer a family tier or the ability to have more flexibility in terms of what's provided in the basic service and what's provided in expanded basic or premium services. Is that what you're referring to?
Singer: There's that, but there's also talk of putting indecency standards, those types of regulations, on cable as well, making it so perhaps nudity, perhaps certain levels of violence, language are regulated for cable and satellite television - the HBOs, etc. - just as they are for broadcast channels like NBC, Fox, CBS. [For more, check out thisWashington Post article from 2005.]
Lamont: Let me tell you what I believe. I believe that we need more flexibility in allowing people to pick and choose what programming they want. And once they can pick and choose what programming they want and they're not obligated to take programming they don't want, then they're able to self-censor in terms of what they want to see and what they don't want to see.
Right now the way the cable television industry is structured, you're forced to take in a large package of channels. Included in that package is program you want and a lot of program you don't want. And you may not want it because you think it's inappropriate for your kids.
So I think rather than sitting around having a bunch of Congressmen in an oak paneled room determining what people can see and what they can't see, a much more appropriate response is allow consumers to buy the programming they want and don't make them pay for they don't want.
Singer: I very much understand. I personally have a parental block on Fox News just in case any children come by the house.
Lamont: I love it.
Singer: Let's talk judges. Senator Lieberman was a part of the so-called "Gang of 14" that some would say saved the ability to filibuster but some would also say neutered the ability to filibuster. Were you in the Senate, or I guess starting in January, would you associate yourself with that group or would you like to voice a stronger sentiment on judicial matters?
Lamont: The latter. I was a little disappointed that the Democrats, particularly the pro-choice Democrats, didn't stand up taller when it came to the Samuel Alito nomination. As far as I could figure out, he's had an agenda going back to the Reagan administration where he really wants to chip away, outlaw Roe. v. Wade. And I think that deserved a lot more attention. I think he fundamentally tilts the balance of the Supreme Court and I think that George Bush, President Bush is fundamentally trying to load the Court up.
Look, it was Ronald Reagan who appointed Sandra Day O'Connor, and when you go from Sandra Day O'Connor to Judge Alito, you're really tilting the Court in a way that we're going to have to live with for the next generation. So I fault Senator Lieberman for not taking a leadership position on that, for not challenging the Alito nomination, for not stating in clear terms why it was wrong for the country. I would have been supportive of a filibuster. I think this deserved more debate. We live with this for a generation and I think it's important that we air those differences and make sure that the Senators are voting with their eyes wide open.
Singer: One area that Senator Lieberman has been applauded among progresses has been the environment, talking about some of his historical successes but as well in the recent past with the move, along with Senator Cantwell, to stop or not allow for the drilling of oil in ANWR. Do you see yourself as being fundamentally different from Senator Lieberman on issues of the environment or would you take a similar tack?
Lamont:I think you phrase the question right. Historically, he's been pro-environment, which is why so many of us were surprised that he supported Dick Cheney's energy bill.
The most important environmental piece of legislation coming out of the Bush White House was the energy bill that was passed last year. As you remember, energy lobbyists behind closed doors in the Vice President's office produced this bill, some of it wholesale from their written position papers. It included billions of dollars in subsidies for big oil, for the nuclear power lobby. It did very, very little for conservation.
I think the bill was exactly wrong - dead wrong. Chris Dodd and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and even most of the New England Republicans opposed it because it didn't make conservation front and center a priority for this country. And if we had done that under that energy in the post-9/11 environment, we wouldn't have $3 gasoline today. I thought it was a bad bill and I was really surprised that Senator Lieberman supported it.
Singer: Aside from what we've talked about, or perhaps including it, could you name one fireable offense that Senator Lieberman has committed?
Lamont: Fireable offense...
Singer: Or is it just a cumulative?
Lamont: I think that those who got 132,000 troops stuck in the middle of a bloody civil war should be held accountable. I think those that approved "Heckuva Job Brownie" for FEMA in 42 minutes should be held accountable. I think that those believe that the federal government should intervene in the Terri Schiavo case should be held accountable. That's the last place I want the federal government going, into my hospital room and into my bedroom. I think those who supported Alberto "The Geneva Convention is Quaint" Gonzales should be held accountable.
Lamont: Should I keep going?
Singer: No that's fine. There's an argument that some political theorists and no doubt some voters and of course the Lieberman campaign might forward that there are some positives about having Senators in the middle. It moderates the Senate as a whole, it helps the Senate function having people in the middle who are able to work across the aisle, and it helps legislation get passed. Others would say it's important for "blue states" to have Senators who are more reflective of the party's base. Do you see any merit in the first argument or do you tend closer to the second argument?
Lamont: Neither. I think that President Bush is way outside of the historical mainstream of this country. I believe that a unilateral invasion with no allied support of a small country in the Middle East that was of no immediate threat to us violates our historical bipartisan foreign policy traditions. And I don't think that supporting the President's position on that makes you bipartisan; I think it makes you an enabler.
I can say that I believe... Where else do you want me to go? I believe that on this energy bill, where this President is wrong, I think on some of his judicial nominations and executive nominations. Some of these positions are wrong. I think splitting the difference with the President when he's wrong is not what we're about. We'll work with him when we're right, we'll work with him when we can make a bill better, we'll work with him on immigration, but where he's wrong you should challenge him on that. You should stand tall. And I think the Democrats have been a little remiss there, and I know that Senator Lieberman is too often giving cover to the President of the United States on policies that I think are harmful to this country.
I fundamentally believe that we should be working to protect Social Security and provide healthcare for all Americans. That rather than abandon our struggling public schools with a position on vouchers or a position on education savings accounts, I think we should be investing in quality education for all of our kids, especially those kids in Bridgeport and New Haven and Hartford. This is what we need to allow them to compete, to give them a fair shot at the starting line of life. And I think that splitting the difference with the President where he's wrong is wrong, and I think we should stand up and say so.
Singer: Final question. If there's one message that you'd like to send out to the progressive blogosphere, the netroots, what would that be?
Lamont: What I like about the internet and the netroots and the blogosphere, as you say, is it's unfiltered. It gives politicians - or budding politicians like myself - an opportunity to hear directly from people who care about issues. I get an awful lot of instantaneous feedback, and some of it's constructive and some of it is atmospheric. But I appreciate it. I think it is good for Democracy.
Secondly, I say thank you because when I got into this campaign it was folks like MyDD that said, "Look we know where Joe Lieberman stands. We believe he's wrong on the issues of the day. We don't know where Ned Lamont stands. Before you make up your mind and before you focus on poll numbers and delegate counts, take a look at this guy and see what you think. And all of the sudden instead of having 25 people we had 75 people and then 125 people showing up at Naples Pizza in New Haven. And that's important and that's what grassroots democracy is about. And I think we need more democracy in the Democratic Party and that's why I'm in this primary.
Singer: Terrific. Well thank you so much for your time and good luck in your campaign.
Lamont: My pleasure. See ya.
[THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.]