Archive for category The Constitution

Congress Must Authorize New Iraq/Syria War

FA-18 Hornet
An FA-18 takes off from the US Navy aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush in the Gulf last Friday

CENTCOM confirms airstrikes against ISIS forces near the Mosul Dam. These attacks were offensive actions that went beyond the stated reasons for U.S. military action, namely to protect refugees and the city of Erbil.

Congress must get involved as soon as possible. Our Constitution does not allow the President to conduct offensive military operations on his own, without congressional authorization.

I get it. Democrats don’t want to vote for a new war in Iraq before the November elections, and the Tea-GOP/neocons are extremely reluctant to approve anything President Obama does or might do, even if they agree with it in principle.

Well, too bad. Congress (and only Congress) has the responsibility to either authorize another war or rein in this President. Mission creep is already underway – soon there will be about 1,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq. The Pentagon has disclosed that a failed hostage rescue attempt last month resulted in a firefight with ISIS on the ground in Syria.

Any decision to wage war on ISIS has to take into account the fact that Syria is their base of operations. Are we going to commit our armed forces to fight, effectively, on behalf of the Assad regime in Damascus?

More info:
Iraq crisis: US strikes aid Kurdish bid to retake dam

UPDATES:
Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal:
US launches 6 more airstrikes against Islamic State

The US has now “conducted a total of 90 airstrikes across Iraq. Of those 90 strikes, 57 have been in support of Iraqi forces near the Mosul Dam.”

…When President Obama “authorized the U.S. Armed Forces to conduct targeted air strikes to support operations by Iraqi forces to recapture the Mosul Dam” on Aug. 14, he permitted the United States military to serve as Iraq’s air arm as Iraqi and Kurdish forces went on the offensive in northern Iraq.

The Obama administration should be very explicit about its goals and objectives in Iraq if it wants to retain the support of the American public for an extended period of time. If the goal is to conduct limited airstrikes in the north to help the Iraqi government and the Kurds regain some lost ground with the hopes of containing the Islamic State, then it should say so. If the goal is to further the defeat of the Islamic State by striking in other theaters and possibly putting advisers, forward air controllers, and special operations forces on the ground, then the administration should communicate that as well.

DSWright on FDL: Secretary Hagel Claims ISIS Is ‘Threat To Every Interest We Have’, ‘Beyond Anything We’ve Seen’

[T]he Pentagon now appears to be on board with launching attacks in Syria if they target ISIS with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey saying ISIS would be a threat as long as they had safe zones in Syria and that “This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of- days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated.” General Dempsey went on to call the Syrian-Iraq border “essentially non-existent.”

So, to recap, the Obama Administration now wants to fight with the Assad government against ISIS. Degrading Assad’s capability to kill his own people no longer a priority because he is also using that capability to kill ISIS forces. There’s still a red line somewhere it’s just not very straight.

ISIS Labeled ‘Imminent Threat’ As US Strikes Set To Expand Into Syria

In the aftermath of the killing of James Foley the Obama Administration has ratcheted up the rhetoric against ISIS now calling the group an imminent threat to US national security and global interests. Part of that label apparently entails attacking ISIS wherever they are including outside of current “limited” US operations in Iraq with plans to expand the US military campaign against ISIS into Syria.

Of course, in the real world there is no way ISIS constitutes an imminent threat to U.S. national security.

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Equal Justice Under the Law – NOT

Ferguson, MO

At the Bundy Ranch standoff, so-called right-wing militia members aimed assault weapons at law enforcement officers. No arrests were made, and Cliven Bundy remains a free man. Last night in Ferguson, Missouri, an overwhelming police force including SWAT teams rampaged through residential streets firing stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets. They attacked peaceful, unarmed protesters and arrested reporters. The city never imposed a curfew, which means citizens were supposed to be allowed to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights.

Something is wrong. The media are blaming so-called “homeland security” and the militarization of even small-town police departments, which can buy a surplus MRAP from the Army for only $5,000 even if they don’t need one. Worse than that, there seems to be a trend of police use of deadly force against unarmed suspects – many of whom are being shot multiple times or shot in the back.

More info:
Ferguson Seeks Answers After Police Shooting Of Michael Brown
Does the Second Amendment Only Apply to White People?
Alderman, 2 reporters arrested as Ferguson erupts for 4th night
Did Police Use Excessive Force Against Ferguson Protesters?
Ferguson’s Police Got Free Military Gear Straight From The Pentagon

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Think Progress: Right-Wing Public Land Seizure Movement Funded By Tax Dollars

Public lands
Actually, they’re called “public lands” because We The People own them.

Think Progress has investigated the use of millions of dollars of our tax money to promote the unconstitutional seizure of public lands. The money goes to litigation funds, so-called “studies,” to ALEC and to the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states claim ownership of federal lands, in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The President of the ALC is Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory. In 2012, Ivory sponsored HB 148, the Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act, which asserted that the federal government must turn over all public lands in Utah to the state government by the end of this year. Ivory receives a $40,000 a year salary from ALC, and his wife is on the payroll too.

The majority of Utahns disapprove of this naked land grab but “our” legislators are onboard with ALEC and ALC and the Koch brothers, not the citizens.

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The War Power, The Sergeant, the Senator: Treason or Heroism

The Sergeant who some years ago left his post in that unnecessary and unwinnable war in
Afghanistan is either a hero, a traitor, or just a terribly young man in the wrong war at the wrong time. He spent terrible years of torture and probably said things he didn’t really mean.

Some years ago in Vietnam, Senator McCain was shot down over Vietnam, another unconstitutional war, and equally unwinnable war, confessed repeatedly to things he later recanted, once safely in the United States, and is, quite rightly regarded, despite his confessions to American war crimes, a hero. The two cases are not quite completely on all fours, as we say in the law. But the similarity is sufficient to compare with each other and with the undergirding of law.

Presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama, who are visited by war, either their own or, like Obama, inherited from another (in Obama’s case two other) fools who preceded them, have always had this power. While not yet president, and without this act may well not have become president, Ronald Reagan communicated with Iran, telling them, in effect, just to refuse to deal with Carter on releasing our citizens from the U. S. Embassy in Iran, and await his presidency. Their deal (which killed Jimmie Carter’s hope for a second term and by the way was treason, meriting a firing squad.)

The 30, 60, 90 day notification of Congress is also unconstitutional, but not for the reasons the Republicans and Democrats alike, trumpet. Saint Paul, as I recall, said “this trumpet has an uncertain sound.” And I know he said that some leaders have “zeal without knowledge.” This is Republican and Democratic leaders on steroids, just like my former wife.

The reason the War Powers Act is unconstitutional is not what is now said by either Republicans or Democrats, as I told Joe Biden when he was both Minority Senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate and when he was chair. I testified before his committee a few times, and he called me at the law school sometimes to chat about this. The reason is simple. Due to both a few but very senior Democrats and almost all Republicans, Congress forced the Demo’s to give the president 30, 60, or 90 days to play with Congress’ army while he picked his nose. War has not been officially declared since FDR did it in WW2. George Bush (the first) and Colin Powell, in my opinion, got it right, constitutionally, by voting 50-50 in the Senate, and then the Dark Lord, Vice President Cheney, broke the tie and we went to war in Iraq the right way by law; and they had the smarts to stop when their limited mission was accomplished. And until this time, the President, as Commander in Chief, has no constitutional power to use the United States armed forces, save self-defense.

In the Framers’ mind that means only when the United States of America, not our allies, are attacked. For Utahns, the reason J. Reuben Clark, my hero and a great patriot, a rock-ribbed Republican who served under many Republican presidents, served variously as chief legal adviser to the Department of State (then, as an deputy Attorney General on loan from Justice to State,,,,,,now called Legal Adviser to the State Department; and Vice Secretary of State, and Ambassador to Mexico; and advised many presidents between world wars one and two, on all arms control treaties between those to dreadful wars) opposed NATO was because it delegated the war power to a generation not yet born and for the defense of people, and nations, not yet born. Neither the United Nations (Korean War) nor NATO (Ukraine?) can declare war for the United States of America. This is the statement of law, the War Clause, that makes this beyond debate. Remember, that it is also the sole right of Congress: not the President of the United States, nor NATO, nor the United Nations, that decides what constitutes International law, as well. So, both Constitutional Law and International Law, save an attack on the United States, inform us that Congress, not the president or these international bodies, who determines for war or peace.

So screw the people and the Congress and president now living. When the president, any president, has this army to use, that army will never return to Congress’ care. This is unconstitutional because it is an illegal attempt to delegate to the President a plenary power, given exclusively, textually, to the Congress. Like the power over interstate commerce (the road by which most civil rights legislation is constitutional), along with the equal protection and due process of law clauses of the 5th and 14th amendments. It’s as if Congress were to say to Obama, “Say, friend, we’re so damned tired of life in Washington, despite the cherry blossoms, we will do what the Supreme Court does, and reconvene when good weather returns. We’re going to go to Balboa Island, California, where it’s nice and sunny, in ocean or on the beach, and pick our nose and scratch our butts. And better yet, we have one in eight chances not to pick both with the same finger. Even though we’ve proven, time out of mind, that we in Congress cannot chew gum and pick our nose, simultaneously (a great blessing). So, pres., you now have the taxing and the spending power, and we’ll sweeten the loaf by throwing into the pot, since you do have to stick around in this shitty weather, and give you the power also to fund and provide for the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Navy. And don’t sweat it about financing things by the provision in the Constitution that spending bills begin in the House. Since you already have the taxing and spending power, do all this in the White House. P.S. please instruct the Treasury Department to deliver our checks, our salaries, and all the REALLY big bucks from the armaments industry and all those other lobbyists. We really have earned this right by selling our souls to the devil. Have a good life.

I say that both Senator and Soldier are bona fide heroes. Ed Firmage xoxox

3 Comments

TPP Sidetracked?

Coporatocracy

While a major media news blackout provides cover, Congress is debating whether to give the president the authority to fast-track a massive free trade agreement, the secretly-negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Members of Congress haven’t even been able to read it even though corporate lobbyists have.

President Obama is at odds with Democrats in both houses of Congress concerning reauthorizing a procedure called the “trade promotion authority” (TPA), that would grant the White House power to submit free trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is strongly against it.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has now publicly opposed giving President Obama fast track authority.

“We need transparency. We need a seat at the table to understand what they believe they are doing, so we can make it better. And if we don’t make it better, then we will not accept a path that is a job loser.”

TPP is part of the plan for global corporatocracy run by and for the 1 Percent. Unelected lobbyists and trade representatives are at the table, while representatives from the public at large and businesses other than huge monopolies, are conspicuously absent. From what little we know of the agreement, it would violate the U.S. Constitution, weaken environmental protections, and lead to more job losses, erosion of wages, and worsening inequality. TPP also threatens freedom of speech on the Internet because it would extend restrictive intellectual property laws and rewrite international rules on enforcement.

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Trestin Meacham Versus Equal Rights

Item:

Former Constitution Party Utah State Senate candidate Trestin Meacham began a fast the day after District Judge Robert Shelby released his ruling that Utah’s Amendment 3 prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying is unconstitutional. He is attempting to draw attention to what he says is an option for the state: Nullification.

Nullification is a far-right theory that has repeatedly been rejected by the Supreme Court. Article VI of the United States Constitution contains the Supremacy Clause that states, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

Utah’s Amendment 3 was a clear violation of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (emphasis added).

…No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Says Meacham:

“This has nothing to do with hatred of a group of people. I have friends and relatives who practice a homosexual lifestyle and I treat them with the same respect and kindness that I would anyone. This is about religious freedom, and an out of control federal government.”

H/t Think Progress

More info: Trestin’s Fast

UPDATE: Utah Man Starving Himself To Stop Same-Sex Marriages

UPDATE: U.S. Supreme Court on Monday put same-sex marriages in Utah on hold, granting the state’s request for a stay pending appeal.

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New poll: Syria intervention even less popular than Congress

WaPo:

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll has finally found something that Americans like even less than Congress: the possibility of U.S. military intervention in Syria. Only 9 percent of respondents said that the Obama administration should intervene militarily in Syria.

FACTS on SYRIA:

  • There is absolutely no evidence or confirmation that the Assad government carried out the alleged chemical attack.
  • United Nations weapons inspectors are in Syria at the direct REQUEST of the Syrian government to prove that they have not used chemical weapons. The attack took place a mere 3 miles away from the inspection team, on the very day they arrived.
  • Carla Del Ponte, a United Nations Human Rights investigator, has stated that there is no proof the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, but evidence suggests the rebels have.
  • In May, 12 members of the Syrian rebel forces were arrested in Turkey. The rebels possessed 4.5 pounds of Sarin, the neurotoxin alleged to have been used in the recent attack.

Here’s an idea: How about a congressional resolution prohibiting unprovoked military action against Syria? The President has the authority to defend the USA and our allies, but under our Constitution only Congress can authorize a war of aggression (which would still be illegal under the U.N. Charter).

UPDATE: 4 of the Most Awful Arguments for Attacking Syria Made So Far. There is no reason that makes any sense.

UPDATE: Boehner Predicts ‘Whale Of A Fight’ Over Debt Limit. So instead of paying the bills or doing something popular, the Speaker of the House wants to go back to threatening to shut down the federal government.

UPDATE: Petition the President and Congress: No Attack on Syria

UPDATE: Intelligence On Syrian Chemical Weapon Attack No ‘Slam Dunk’

UPDATE: State Dept Admits It Doesn’t Know Who Ordered Syria’s Chemical Strike

UPDATE: If the British Can Stop Their Government From Waging War in Syria, Why Can’t We?

UPDATE: U.S. Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013

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Utah Republicans Vote to De-Fund NSA Domestic Spy Program

Reps. Bishop, Chaffetz, and Stewart all voted in favor of H R 2397, the Amash Amendment. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) voted no.

Glenn Greenwald:

The amendment was simple. It would de-fund one single NSA program: the agency’s bulk collection of the telephone records of all Americans that we first revealed in this space, back on June 6. It accomplished this “by requiring the FISA court under Sec. 215 [of the Patriot Act] to order the production of records that pertain only to a person under investigation.”

The amendment yesterday was defeated. But it lost by only 12 votes: 205-217. Given that the amendment sought to de-fund a major domestic surveillance program of the NSA, the very close vote was nothing short of shocking. In fact, in the post-9/11 world, amendments like this, which directly challenge the Surveillance and National Security States, almost never get votes at all. That the GOP House Leadership was forced to allow it to reach the floor was a sign of how much things have changed over the last seven weeks.

More significant than the closeness of the vote was its breakdown. A majority of House Democrats supported the Amash/Conyers amendment, while a majority of Republicans voted against it.

Kudos to Utah’s Republicans for voting in favor of our Constitutional rights — and shame on Jim Matheson and President Obama.

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The US Needs to Start Unraveling the Homeland Security Mess

A good place to start is repealing the disaster that is the Patriot Act.

However, a proposal before Congress right now would limit the scope of the NSA’s information gathering.

The amendment [pdf] basically defunds the NSA’s dragnet collection of every bit of metadata on all phone records as well as other bulk records that have not yet been revealed. The amendment still would allow the NSA to collect information under the original intent—and understanding—of the law, that is information actually related to actual investigations.

Of course NSA supporters are pushing back, including, unfortunately, the Obama administration.  Like too many people in positions of power, the administration and the President seem to in the grip of fear about terrorism and have convinced themselves that any means necessary to keep us “safe” (what that means) are acceptable.  They are mistaken.  Such an attitude only feeds a creeping tendency toward authoritarianism in our culture, one which seems to be growing stronger because too few people in elected office see it as a threat.  We see it in the militarization of police forces, in spying on Americans, in the absurd theatre that is the TSA striptease in airports.  It is fueled by fear and it fuels fear.  I believe it is dangerous.

 

12 Comments

Sean Hannity Suddenly Concerned About The Constitution

Via Media Matters, the funniest thing I’ve seen today. I don’t watch the Faux News Channel, but sometimes it can be very entertaining.

Sean Hannity is warning that data mining and surveillance are “very clear violation[s] of the Fourth Amendment,” a drastic change for the Fox News host, who was a loud defender of National Security Agency surveillance during the Bush administration.

To be fair, some Democrats have also switched positions out of pure partisanship: Mika Brzezinski: ‘I’m Probably Guilty’ Of Hypocrisy Over NSA.

Seriously, every President takes an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Doesn’t matter who the President is — the job is the same. Some have claimed that widespread surveillance of Americans is OK now under President Obama because the FISA Court issued a warrant. But the Fourth Amendment does not allow a blanket warrant to search everybody for everything.

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Edward Snowden, NSA Whistleblower: ‘We Hack Everyone Everywhere’

Boundless Informant heatmap

Glenn Greenwald posted an interview with Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA’s history.

Q: Why did you decide to become a whistleblower?

A: “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.

“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”

Q: What do the leaked documents reveal?

A: “That the NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America. I believe that when [senator Ron] Wyden and [senator Mark] Udall asked about the scale of this, they [the NSA] said it did not have the tools to provide an answer. We do have the tools and I have maps showing where people have been scrutinized most. We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians.”

Q: What about the Obama administration’s protests about hacking by China?

A: “We hack everyone everywhere. We like to make a distinction between us and the others. But we are in almost every country in the world. We are not at war with these countries.”

Q: Is it possible to put security in place to protect against state surveillance?

A: “You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is horrifying. We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place.”

Thanks to this courageous man, we are now getting some official acknowledgement and confirmation of the continuous, widespread warrantless surveillance of Americans (not to mention the rest of the world) by the National Security Agency (NSA). To be continued.

More info:
Revealed: The NSA’s powerful tool for cataloguing global surveillance data

UPDATE: ‘I DID ANSWER YOUR QUESTION!’ Mika Brzezinski plays dumb to defend White House talking points.

UPDATE: Greenwald Says ‘There’s A Lot More Coming’

UPDATE: ACLU Suing Obama Administration Over Phone Call Surveillance

123 Comments

Can the US Stop Being a Blundering Giant?

Perhaps the most painful part of the wildly ill-conceived response to 9/11 was the way in which the US behaved like a blundering giant, lashing out at the world, smashing things like Iraq that had nothing to do with the attacks.  The Bush administration’s policies – arrest, torture, secret prisons, drone attacks, two failed wars – were seductive and disastrous and arose from a worldview formed by the Cold  War that saw the world in stark, dualistic ways.

The Obama administration had been stymied by Congress in its efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  They’ve managed to unwind our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and this week the President delivered the kind of speech that reminded me why I liked him in the first place – morally, ethically he seems to understand the issues, to speak them eloquently.  Too rarely, he’s matched his rhetoric and his action.  But at long last, it seems he wants to move our nation in the right direction, giving up the seductiveness of the imperial presidency and its vast powers.

In an article for the AP, from KSL, for example:

Some call it wishful thinking, but President Barack Obama has all but declared an end to the global war on terror.

Obama is not claiming final victory over extremists who still seek to kill Americans and other Westerners. Instead, he is refocusing the long struggle against terrorism that lies ahead, steering the United States away from what he calls an equally frightening threat – a country in a state of perpetual war. In doing so, Obama recasts the image of the terrorists themselves, from enemy warriors to cowardly thugs and resets the relationship between the U.S. and Islam.

The point is that the tools needed to successfully combat terrorists aren’t armies and drones.

Maureen Dowd, channeling her inner smart person, wrote about the President’s speech.

After four years of bending the Constitution, the constitutional law professor now in the White House is trying to unloose the Gordian knot of W.’s martial and moral overreaches after 9/11.

Safely re-elected, President Obama at long last spoke bluntly about the Faustian deals struck by his predecessor, some of them cravenly continued by his own administration.

The rest of her article describes her visit to Bush’s presidential library, with more than few choice phrases:

You could fill an entire other library with what’s not in W.’s.

And:

Decision Points Theater — a whiny “Well, you try being the Decider” enterprise — lets you make the decisions after getting taped briefings on W.’s crises from actors playing experts. But it is rigged with so many false binary options that the visitors I voted with ended up agreeing with Bush’s patently wrong calls on Iraq and Katrina.

I’m reminded that throughout his Presidency, Barack Obama has been a maddeningly cautious and centrist leader.  The result has been a slow, but steady, progression in the right direction.  No whiplash policy changes for this president, instead a constantly calibrating and recalibrating movement away from the disastrous policies of the Bush administration.

The War On Terror was always a misnamed, mishandled, misconceived thing, a disaster from beginning to end.  It was a fatally misconceived adventure that did more damage than good.  If at long last the Obama administration is turning away from it, rejecting its tactic and premises, I’ll suffice to say better late than never.

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