Archive for category The Constitution

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.

 

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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

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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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Former FBI Agent Tim Clemente: Government Is Recording All Phone Calls

Via Glenn Greenwald:

On Wednesday night, CNN’s Erin Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations between Katherine Russell, the 24-year-old American widow of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and her husband. He quite clearly insisted that they could:

BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It’s not a voice mail. It’s just a conversation. There’s no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?

CLEMENTE: “No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.

BURNETT: “So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.

CLEMENTE: “No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”

On Thursday night, Clemente again appeared on CNN, this time with host Carol Costello, and she asked him about those remarks. He reiterated what he said the night before but added expressly that “all digital communications in the past” are recorded and stored. “No digital communication is secure,” said Clemente.

Despite the extreme secrecy behind which these surveillance programs operate, occasionally somebody in a position to know tells us the U.S. Constitution is being violated on an unprecedented scale. So what can we do about it?

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CISPA Violates the Fourth Amendment

CISPA

The “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act” (CISPA) passed the House of Representatives 288-127, with 92 Democrats voting for it despite the threat of a Presidential veto.

What’s wrong with CISPA?

As it’s written, CISPA won’t protect us from cyber attacks, but it will violate our 4th Amendment right to privacy.

  • It lets the government spy on you without a warrant. (read more)
  • It makes it so you can’t even find out about it after the fact. (read more)
  • It makes it so companies can’t be sued when they do illegal things with your data. (read more)
  • It allows corporations to cyber-attack each other and individuals outside of the law. (read more)
  • It makes every privacy policy on the web a moot point, and violates the 4th amendment. (read more)

We’ve had to listen to a lot of wailing from the Gun Lobby about imagined attacks on the Bill of Rights. This is what a real one looks like.

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Ten Years Ago Today . . . And No It Was Not Worth It

I hate looking back.  Ten years ago today the US invastion of Iraq began. 

The push for war with Iraq felt like a time of public madness.  The American media has never been less absolutely incompetent than in those months.  Yeah, the media pretty much sucks now, but back then they were awful beyond the telling of it.  The largest peace rallies in history got no coverage.  American media has spent the last decade hoping no one reminds them how bad they were, how gullible, how insanely biased for the Bush administration they were and how they mindlessly lapped up any lie they were told. Read the rest of this entry »

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Does The President Have the Power to Execute Americans Without Any Charges or Due Process?

Somebody has leaked a 16-page “white paper” (PDF) to NBC News’ Michael Isikoff. Prepared by the Obama administration’s Department of Justice, it tries to justify President Obama’s claim that he has the power to target even Americans for assassination without due process. This is not the primary Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo justifying Obama’s kill list – that is still classified – but it appears to track the reasoning of that memo as anonymously described to the New York Times in October 2011.

Glenn Greenwald:

This new memo is entitled: “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force”. It claims its conclusion is “reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a US citizen”. Yet it is every bit as chilling as the Bush OLC torture memos in how its clinical, legalistic tone completely sanitizes the radical and dangerous power it purports to authorize.

According to the “white paper,” if the US government simply asserts without evidence or trial that someone is a terrorist, then they are assumed to be, and they can then be punished as such – with indefinite imprisonment or death. The paper states that presidential assassinations are justified when “an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US.”

What is “an imminent threat”? The paper expressly states that it is inventing “a broader concept of imminence” than is typically used in domestic law. Specifically, the president’s assassination power “does not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack… will take place in the immediate future.”

Basically, the Obama administration has asserted the power to kill anyone (including American citizens) anywhere, for any reason (or no reason – how do we know, because the decision is secret?), anytime they want to. And they are claiming that this is constitutional and legal.

I’m encouraged that not all Americans are buying this outrageous claim. A recent poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University found 48 percent of Americans think it is illegal to “target US citizens living in other countries with drones,” while 24 percent think it is legal. But the same poll found majority approval for the use of drone attacks against “people and other targets deemed to be a threat to the US” whether carried out by the CIA or the military, as long as those targets are not American citizens.

Ever since George W. Bush took power as a “unitary executive,” it seems that federal law, our Constitution and Bill of Rights have been all been subject to repeal via secret OLC memos. Illegal government actions became routine, mostly carried out in secret but sometimes we find out about them. The Obama administration hasn’t done much if anything to restore the rule of law, and they have instituted an unprecedented crackdown on whistle-blowers.

The trend is toward more illegality and less transparency.

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Reid: Filibuster Reform Within 36 Hours

Mr. Smith
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939)

I am still wondering why the Democrats didn’t rewrite the Senate rules in 2009 or 2011. But now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he wants to end what amounts to a Republican minority veto power via the “silent filibuster” or the “60-vote rule” that isn’t really a rule. Under our Constitution, all it takes is a 51-vote majority to change the rulebook, and Reid says he has the votes.

“I hope that within the next 24 to 36 hours we can get something we agree on. If not, we’re going to move forward on what I think needs to be done,” Reid told reporters. “The caucus will support me on that,” he added.

There is a package of reforms on the table that will make the Senate able to legislate again. Those reforms are:

  • Eliminate the ability to filibuster the motion to proceed;
  • Require that those wishing to block legislation or nominations take the floor and actually filibuster— i.e., mandating “talking filibusters”;
  • Assert that 41 Senators must affirmatively vote to continue debate rather than forcing 60 Senators to vote to end debate; and,
  • Streamline the nomination process so that nominees will get a yes or no vote on the Senate floor, including a reduction of the required 30 hours of post cloture debate on a nominee to 2 hours.

In the last Congress, only 3 percent of the bills introduced in the Senate made it to final passage. This was the most dysfunctional Senate anyone can remember.

UPDATE:
Reid To McConnell: Make A Deal Or Dems Will Weaken The Filibuster Ourselves

UPDATE: No talking filibuster, no 41-vote rule. To say Harry Reid and the Dems folded like a cheap suit is an insult to cheap suits.

UPDATE:
Minority rules: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will continue to control the Senate after so-called Majority Leader Harry Reid agrees to a deal that does almost nothing to restrain the abuse of the filibuster.

UPDATE:
Senate Leaders Finalize Scaled-Back Filibuster Deal

UPDATE: HuffPo nails it with their headline (see continuation)
Read the rest of this entry »

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National Rifle Association Has Turned the Second Amendment Into a Cruel and Deadly Hoax

The NRA is the enabler of death-paranoid, delusional and as venomous as a scorpion. With the weak-kneed acquiescence of our politicians, the National Rifle Association has turned the Second Amendment of the Constitution into a cruel and deadly hoax. – Bill Moyers

NRA Enabler of death

NRA Enabler of death

Bill Moyers Essay: Living Under the Gun from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

The procession of funerals of innocent children under the casual gaze of the gun lobby and 2nd Amendment zealots, reminds us that our public spaces are no longer safe. This is the antithesis of freedom and civic life. Americans must rise up now against this terror and demand basic security for unarmed people.

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WikiLeaks Releases Prisoner Treatment Manual From Guantanamo

Guantanamo

By Agence France-Presse

Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks website on Thursday started publishing more than 100 US Department of Defense documents including the first prisoner treatment manual for Guantanamo Bay.

…Among the documents is the 2002 manual for staff at Camp Delta at Guantanamo, shortly after it was set up by US President George W. Bush to house alleged Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees from the “war on terror”.

“This document is of significant historical importance. Guantanamo Bay has become the symbol for systematised human rights abuse in the West with good reason,” said Assange, the founder of the website.

He added: “‘The ‘Detainee Policies’ show the anatomy of the beast that is post-9/11 detention, the carving out of a dark space where law and rights do not apply, where persons can be detained without a trace at the convenience of the US Department of Defense.

“It shows the excesses of the early days of war against an unknown ‘enemy’ and how these policies matured and evolved, ultimately deriving into the permanent state of exception that the United States now finds itself in, a decade later.”

UPDATE: WikiLeaks Releases US Military Policies for Detention & Avoiding Accountability for Torture

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