Archive for category The Constitution

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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‘Papers Please’ Now Can Be Enforced in Arizona

Thanks to our partisan right-wing Supreme Court, Arizona’s un-American “Papers Please” law is now going to take effect despite being ruled unconstitutional by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton signed the formal order this afternoon dissolving the injunction she issued more than two years ago blocking the state from enforcing key provisions of the 2010 law.

Police can now demand to see proof of citizenship or legal residence. You will be arrested and taken to jail if your “papers” are not in order. If you visit Arizona, bring a passport. Or better yet, don’t visit Arizona!

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Actual Factors in Gun Violence

The Atlantic has a completely unsurprising look at gun violence stats in America. Which means the gun nuts will all scream and yell and say the stat and conclusions are all wrong…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Confirmed: NSA Conducting Blanket Electronic Surveillance on Americans

NSA data center in Utah
Utah NSA data center

Via Raw Story:

Three National Security Agency whistle blowers told Viewpoint host Eliot Spitzer on Monday that the agency was gathering information on every person in the United States.

The FISA Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008 gave the NSA broad powers to monitor international phone calls and emails, and granted legal immunity to telecommunication companies that had participated in the Bush administration’s wiretapping program prior to 2008. But former senior official Thomas Drake, former senior analyst Kirk Wiebe, and former technical director William Binney said the NSA was not only monitoring international communications — the agency had been spying on “the entire country.”

Drake said there was a “key decision made shortly after 9/11, which began to rapidly turn the United States of America into the equivalent of a foreign nation for dragnet blanket electronic surveillance.”

Widespread domestic electronic surveillance without a warrant violates the U.S. Constitution. The secret FISA court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act may issue warrants, but the Constitution clearly prohibits the issuance of blanket warrants.

The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The NSA simply does not have the authority to do what they are doing. Who can stop them?

UPDATE:
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals answered my question. The warrantless surveillance of Americans is accountability-free. Even if you can prove you were under secret government surveillance (which is almost impossible), your case can still be thrown out of court using the so-called “state secrets privilege.”

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Rep. Chaffetz: ‘We’ve Got to Get Past This So-Called Precedent’

Congressman Chaffetz, we get it. You don’t like the Obama administration, and you’re frustrated that all the investigations of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have failed to turn up any wrongdoing. But you are not going to find a way to arrest the U.S. Attorney General for the first time in history. Especially because the Bush administration created this mess, and AG Holder shut it down as soon as he found out about it.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz

Appearing on a Friday afternoon Fox News broadcast, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) suggested that House Republicans may direct the House Sergeant at Arms to arrest Attorney General Eric Holder, provided they exhaust all other options for obtaining Justice Department documents that are now protected under executive privilege.

“If you actually look at the statute… [it] does say that you shall do this,” he explained. “And they’ll say, well, the precedent is that it hasn’t been done in the past. Again, we’ve got to get past this so-called precedent and do what the law says. The law says [the Sergeant at Arms] shall pursue it, so [Holder] has got a difficult situation on his hands.”

Interrupting him, Fox News host Megyn Kelly noted that “there is an option” before House Republicans that could see Holder arrested. “You gonna do that?” she asked.

“That would be fairly dramatic, but yes,” Chaffetz said. “Three options: going through the U.S. attorney, going into civil court or have the Sergeant at Arms take control of the situation — which I think some people are going to say we ought to do — but we’re going to exhaust the other ones first.”

While he is correct that a contempt citation could lead to an official being arrested, it has never happened before in U.S. history. Even during the Bush administration, when prominent Republicans were held in contempt, the House leadership refused to go that far.

If the country ever again should elect a Republican President, I truly hope Democrats will remember. During the Bush administration, it often seemed that the Dems didn’t want to take any action against high officials, the President or the VP — no matter how many crimes they committed in broad daylight. By contrast, when in opposition the GOP doesn’t hesitate to initiate impeachment or contempt of Congress proceedings without any evidence whatsoever!

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Arizona Can Do Without My Tourist Dollars

This morning, the partisan right-wing U.S. Supreme Court went against all precedent and upheld the constitutionality of part of the Arizona “papers, please” law (SB 1070). [It may be an exaggeration to say the law was upheld, see comments and update below]. I assume this law will now go into effect in Arizona. The only thing I can do about it will be to stay the hell out of Arizona as long as they have this racist policy in place. I wrote an e-mail to the Arizona Office of Tourism this morning.

It remains to be seen if copycat laws in Utah, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina will be allowed to go into effect. Every person in Arizona and states that pass S.B. 1070-like legislation will be required to carry proof of their legal status at all times or face the possibility of being detained. In practice it will be people of color that bear the brunt of these policies.

The encouraging news is that the first year after passing S.B. 1070, Arizona saw an estimated $141 million in losses from conference cancellations. The impact on the tourist industry from this first year alone totaled more than $250 million in economic output and close to 3,000 lost jobs. Ongoing economic impacts on Arizona tourism might encourage them to rejoin the Land of the Free.

UPDATE: David Dayen on FDL:

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer put on a brave face and described the ruling as a “victory,” because it did not quite invalidate the entire law. However, it left wide open an overturning of the one key provision that remains. That’s the “show your papers” part of the law. If actual Arizona implementation violates federal statutes or results in unconstitutional equal protection violations, it can be challenged again. In Arizona, the home of Joe Arpaio, that is almost certain to happen; this law can and will be revisited at a later date. Having most of the law thrown out before implementation isn’t anything that could conceivably be described as a “victory.”


UPDATE:
Media Matters: Fox News not giving up.

Fox News reacted to news that the Supreme Court struck down most of Arizona’s controversial immigration bill, SB 1070, by citing arguments that the one provision that was not immediately thrown out is “the heart of the entire bill,” while Fox Nation claimed the decision was a “defeat for Obama.” Fox’s attempt to find a silver lining is unsurprising, as it has long been a staunch supporter of the statute. But the court’s decision was overwhelmingly against the bill and the remaining provision could eventually be overturned.

UPDATE: Women immigrants tell of life in fear thanks to ‘Papers, please’ laws

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