Archive for category The Constitution

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.

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.

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.

Senate Leaders Finalize Scaled-Back Filibuster Deal

UPDATE: HuffPo nails it with their headline (see continuation)
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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 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


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


‘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!


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…

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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?

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.”


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!


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.”

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


Petition President Obama: Create a ‘Do Not Kill List’ For U.S. Citizens

Create a Do Not Kill List

The New York Times reports that President Obama has created an official “kill list” that he uses to personally order the assassination of American citizens. Considering that the government already has a “Do Not Call” list and a “No Fly” list, we hereby request that the White House create a “Do Not Kill” list in which American citizens can sign up to avoid being put on the president’s “kill list” and therefore avoid being executed without indictment, judge, jury, trial or due process of law.

Created: May 30, 2012

To sign the petition you have to create a account – this is easy to do. The petition, which was posted Wednesday, requires 25,000 signatures by June 29 in order to be “reviewed by the Administration” and receive an official response.

More info:
Jason Linkins: Concerned Citizens Petition President To Not Kill Them With Drones, Pretty Please
Glenn Greenwald: How Extremism Is Normalized: The Obama administration has converted once unthinkable government claims into permanent political fixtures
Ruben Bolling: “Hello! You’ve Been Targeted For A United States Drone Assassination!”

UPDATE: Meet the Little Girl Killed by a US Missile: Tracing One Tragic Story in Our Horrific Drone War

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Internet Pseudonyms Are Protected Speech

Via Raw Story. Ill Doctrine’s Jay Smooth explains why New York State legislators are idiots for trying to make anonymous (or, really, pseudonymous) comments illegal.

Voltaire never wrote, but probably agreed with the statement, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Why can’t everyone accept that in a free society?


Master of Assassins

Master of Assassins

WASHINGTON (AP) — White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in choosing which terrorists will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure for both military and CIA targets.

Move over, Thufir Hawat (from Frank Herbert’s Dune). The title of Master of Assassins now applies to a real person. In the United States Government.

Glenn Greenwald:

Needless to say, all of this takes place in total secrecy, with no legal framework and no oversight of any kind. Indeed, even after they had Brennan publicly defend the CIA drone program, the Obama administration continue to insist in federal court that the program is too secretive even to confirm its existence. It’s just a tiny cadre of National Security State officials who decide, in the dark, whom they want dead, and then — once the President signs off — it is done. This is the Change with which the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate has gifted us: ”some of the officials carrying out the policy are equally leery of ‘how easy it has become to kill someone.’

Reuters previously described the secret process used to determine which human beings, including American citizens, would be targeted for due-process-free death-by-CIA: they “are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials” with “no public record” nor “any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules” — an actual death panel, though one invented by the White House rather than established by law. And now John Brennan has even more control over the process, and fewer checks, when issuing these death sentence decrees.

Remember in the Bush era when little things like the Patriot Act and warrantless eavesdropping and military commissions were the Radical and Lawless Assaults Trampling on Our Constitution and Our Values? Now, all those things are completely normalized — controversies over those policies are like quaint and obsolete relics of a more innocent era — and we now have things like unelected Death Sentence Czars instead.

Really, once the Executive seizes power like this, there’s no going back to the Constitution. Which, as George W. Bush famously remarked, is “just a goddamned piece of paper.”


Federal Judge Enjoins NDAA Because It Violates The Constitution


There is unexpected good news in the losing battle to defend our Bill of Rights. A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction late Wednesday to block Section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the U.S. government to indefinitely detain anyone without charges. U.S. federal district Katherine Forrest issued a ruling that found the NDAA in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.

Glenn Greenwald:

The ruling was a sweeping victory for the plaintiffs, as it rejected each of the Obama DOJ’s three arguments: (1) because none of the plaintiffs has yet been indefinitely detained, they lack “standing” to challenge the statute; (2) even if they have standing, the lack of imminent enforcement against them renders injunctive relief unnecessary; and (3) the NDAA creates no new detention powers beyond what the 2001 AUMF already provides.

…Significantly, the court here repeatedly told the DOJ that it could preclude standing for the plaintiffs if they were willing to state clearly that none of the journalistic and free speech conduct that the plaintiffs engage in could subject them to indefinite detention. But the Government refused to make any such representation. Thus, concluded the court, “plaintiffs have stated a more than plausible claim that the statute inappropriately encroaches on their rights under the First Amendment.”

This is a rare instance of a federal judge defending our Constitution against both Congress and the Executive Branch. It would have been easy for Judge Forrest to rule against accountability by agreeing with the government on “standing” because the plaintiffs had not been detained. Of course anyone who is locked up without any rights wouldn’t have access to the courts at all, would they?

Plaintiff in NDAA case: U.S. has ‘gone insane’ in its war on terror

Bolen said she was a moderate Democrat who voted for Obama, and expressed her disappointment that the President signed the law despite threatening to veto it.

UPDATE: Bill To End Indefinite Detention Fails In House

The measure, sponsored by Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.), had been backed by a mix of conservatives, moderates and liberals who argued that letting the president decide to detain anyone — including Americans — deemed to be a terrorist was granting the executive too much power. And they argued that with more than 400 terrorists having been tried and convicted in civilian courts while dozens of plots were prevented, the law was unnecessary.


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