Archive for category The Constitution

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.”

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Federal Judge Enjoins NDAA Because It Violates The Constitution

NDAA

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?

UPDATE:
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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Obama Derangement is All They Have Left

Remember when anyone who dared to criticize President George W. Bush’s policies was automatically accused of “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” as if no sane person could possibly be unhappy with the Bush administration? Well, there were a lot of perfectly rational reasons to be against Bush — and some of the same objections can be raised against the right-wing corporatist Obama administration.

But that’s not where President Obama’s major party opponents are coming from. Willard (“Mitt”) Romney, Newton (“Newt”) Gingrich, and Rick Santorum all offer a made-up version of the Obama administration which blames every American problem, real (the worst economy since the Great Depression, skyrocketing health-care costs) or imaginary (nonexistent Iranian nukes, nonexistent oil shortage, not enough religiosity) on Obama’s alleged “socialist” hard-left rule.

The Santorum campaign has produced a masterpiece of post-logical Obama fear-mongering, the phony “Obamaville” video. I guess they finally realized that campaigning against contraception and threatening to outlaw pornography wasn’t going over well with either women or men.

John Brabender, the Santorum strategist who made the video, said it was a trailer for an eight-part series that will start in two weeks. Each of those videos will show how various Obama policies, such as those regarding health care and energy, have affected everyday life.

“It’s just a little teaser to get people to start watching our episodes and do it in a way that piques their interest,” Mr. Brabender said. “It’s all about driving traffic to the Web site.”

The trailer is set in a desolate town called “Obamaville.” Here, gas prices soar so high that people seem to want to kill themselves (a man puts a gas nozzle to his head). The flame of a candle symbolizing religious freedom is blown out. A girl sits glumly on a bench in extreme poverty.

“Every day, the residents of this town must come to grips with the harsh reality that a rogue nation, a sworn American enemy, has become a nuclear threat,” intones a narrator as the viewer is plunged into a cold war fallout shelter with old television sets and an air raid siren.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s image appears, quickly interspersed with one of Mr. Obama. Mr. Brabender said the coupling was meant to suggest the constant conflict that will ensue if Iran develops nuclear weapons.

Fear is an effective political tool, especially when legitimately scary stuff is happening to the American middle class as a result of Washington policies that favor the 1% at the expense of the 99%, and Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. It makes sense to be afraid of a government that asserts the right to kill or imprison American citizens anywhere in the world without a shred of due process, put us all under constant surveillance, and make protest illegal– all in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Why can’t somebody make a video about all that? It would have the additional advantage of being true.

UPDATE: Provo artist depicts Obama torching U.S. Constitution. But the title of the painting is “One Nation Under Socialism.” Can anyone name one “socialist” policy of the Obama administration? They even want to cut Social Security and Medicare.

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Notice: Peaceful Protest Is Now A Federal Crime

Protest sign

Congress has again voted to cancel the Bill of Rights. Peaceable protest anywhere in the U.S. is now potentially a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. I’m talking about H.R. 347 (and its companion Senate bill S. 1794); aka the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011,” better known to those in the DC beltway as the “Trespass Bill.” This unconstitutional legislation passed unanimously in the Senate, and 388-3 in the House. President Obama signed it into law last Thursday.

It is now a federal crime to protest at a presidential event or a campaign stop by Newt Gingrich, Willard (“Mitt”) Romney or Rick Santorum. In addition, anything the U.S. Department of Homeland Security decides to designate a ‘National Special Security Event’ (NSSE) is now illegal to protest. In the past, these have included sporting events, state funerals, meetings of the World Trade Organization, NATO and G-8 Summits. The new law makes it a crime to enter or remain in an area even if the person does not know it’s illegal to be in that area and has no reason to suspect it’s illegal.

Under the act, protesting in areas covered by Secret Service could land a demonstrator behind bars, and the thing about the Secret Service (in case you couldn’t tell by their name), is that they don’t always make it clear where they are. You could even say that the service they provide, at times, is kept secret.

… [T]he president can now detain you for getting too close to his front yard, order your assassination if the country considers you a threat and lock you away for life with no charge if you’re alleged to be a terrorist. You, on the other hand, can’t yell obscenities at Newt Gingrich without risking arrest.

Do they still teach elementary school students about the Bill of Rights, or do teachers mention it only as an historical document from the 18th Century?

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S.B. 63 Would Give Utah’s Electoral Votes to Winner of National Popular Vote

Senator Howard Stephenson (R-Draper) has introduced S.B. 63, which proposes that Utah join with a coalition of other states totaling 270 electoral votes in order to allocate them as a block to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote. This coalition, called the National Popular Vote, would effectively change the way we elect a President when the electors meet after Election Day in December at the state capitols (constitutionally, that’s when it’s decided). In fact, if this system had been in place in the 2000 election, Utah would have been helped make Al Gore the President — despite the fact a majority of Utahns voted for George W. Bush.

The National Popular Vote law has been enacted by states possessing 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate it.

In an e-mail to constituents, Rep. Greg Hughes supported S.B. 63, saying:

The electoral system does create some unintended side effects. Since the number of electors varies greatly by state (Utah has 6, Florida 29, California 55) consistently red or blue states are accepted as such, and taken for granted in a presidential race. For example, no Republican candidate spends much time in California, and no Democrat candidate spends much time in Utah. As a matter of fact, no candidate spends much time in a state that has historically leaned strongly to either party, instead dedicating most of their time to the eleven or so swing states which could go either way and deliver large numbers of electoral votes. As a consequence, smaller states get ignored –along with states whose majority can be easily predicted. That’s two strikes against a state like Utah.

If the focus were on individual votes (which a mechanism like S.B. 63 would provide) instead of ten swing states, “fly-over land” would suddenly become infinitely more valuable.

S.B. 63 raises an interesting constitutional question.

How can a coalition of states do this without a constitutional amendment that would allow for direct election of the President? States have the right to set the rules governing electors, who are free to vote for anyone eligible to be President. Utah’s electors are not bound to follow the majority popular vote. However, electors traditionally vote for the winning candidate in their state. The few who have broken this unwritten rule are referred to as “faithless electors”.

Given the difficulty of amending the Constitution, it makes sense to try to reform the electoral system on the state level. The National Popular Vote coalition would ensure that that every vote in every state will matter in every presidential election. OTOH you can say the new system would be as undemocratic as the present system, and an election such as the 2000 election would still be highly controversial, except in a different way.

Under the proposed new system, presidential candidates would likely concentrate their campaign efforts in the most populous states instead of the swing states. Utah would not be totally ignored any longer (and would keep its disproportionate 6 electoral votes), but the two major party candidates still might not come here.

Utah Democrats and progressives could go to the polls in the knowledge that their votes might make a difference. At the same time, third-party candidates might lose votes. Voters could worry that voting third-party might hurt the chances of one of the major-party candidates.

Is S.B. 63 a good idea? Any thoughts?

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South Carolina in Brief

South Carolina primary

I have stopped watching the GOP presidential candidate debates in favor of the less time-consuming alternative of watching the post-primary speeches. Willard (“Mitt”) Romney’s New Hampshire speech was clearly an attempt to set an all-time record for the lie-to-word ratio. Last night he repeated a lot of those same lies, but I just jotted down his main message and that of the other contenders.

Shorter Willard:

“If you don’t like me, then you must have something against PROSPERITY. And maybe you’re also one of those weaklings who doesn’t like the Warfare State.” Says the guy who spent the Vietnam War in France.

Shorter Ron:

“Paper money is UNCONSTITUTIONAL, and we won’t need any if we cut the federal budget by $1 trillion and stop the wars.” Amazingly, Gingrich came along later in the evening and agreed with Paul about fiat money.

Shorter Rick (not James, the real Rick):

“We need to get back to WORKING-CLASS VALUES and blue-collar jobs. Plus shotgun weddings, gotta love those.” Probably the most sincere candidate, although clueless.

Shorter Newton:

“Get the country back on the right track by rejecting the NEW YORK-WASHINGTON ELITES, and the news media. It’s American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.” Tell me how Gingrich is not part of the elite. And I’m still wondering who the hell Saul Alinsky might be – besides a GOP punching bag.

None of these guys has laid out a practical plan for recovering the economy, and getting back the jobs and homes lost in Bush’s Great Recession. Only Ron Paul has opposed the pointless wars, the unconstitutional USA PATRIOT Act and all the other assaults on the Bill of Rights, but then again he thinks everything the federal government does is unconstitutional. Not one of them will concede that climate change is happening, much less propose solutions.

BTW the cable news channels failed to report that Herman Cain (or Stephen Colbert) came in fifth place in South Carolina, with 6,324 votes. Cain actually received more votes than Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Michele Bachmann combined.

UPDATE: According to the exit polls, Mitt Romney lost all income levels with the exception of those making over $200,000 a year.

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Voter ID = Voter Suppression

Voter ID

Right-wing voter suppression is with us. Thirty states now have voter ID laws. There is no reason why anyone should be asked for identification on Election Day. There is no reason to hold up the line. Why not simply sign next to your name on the list of registered voters like we used to? Has there ever been a case in Utah of a voter using an assumed name?

Voter picture ID laws are designed to cause voter disenfranchisement. About 10 percent of eligible voters do not have any photo ID, and these are disproportionately low income and people who don’t own cars. That’s why Utah’s right-wing politicians made it a requirement for registered voters to produce ID before being allowed to cast a ballot.

In Utah, you must present a current valid Utah driver’s license, or current valid identification issued by the state or federal government (or a Utah concealed weapon permit). Some forms of non-photo ID are allowed, but you have to know the rules. If you can’t produce acceptable ID on the spot, you may cast a “provisional ballot” that will not count unless you provide valid voter identification to the election official within five days after the election (it takes three weeks to obtain a Utah ID card).

Those who say it’s no big deal to obtain a driver’s license or an official ID card might not have been to the DMV lately:

As a new resident of Utah, I have been attempting to acquire a Utah driver license. The Utah Driver License Division website lists the identification requirements: (1) legal status (birth certificate); (2) Social Security card; (3) residency verification (two statements proving your Utah address, such as a bank statement, utility or property tax bill); and (4) driving experience (valid driver license from another state).

First attempt: I was rejected because both my bank statement and utility bill had been printed from the Internet (only one Internet document is allowed). I then had my nearby bank print out a statement, and it was rejected because it had not been mailed to me.

Second attempt: I brought my property tax bill instead. It was rejected because it was older than 60 days, even though the website says property tax bills have to be dated “within one year.”

Third attempt: They took all of the above, but rejected me again because I did not have my 40-year-old marriage certificate. Is every married Utah woman required to show her marriage certificate?

Why doesn’t Utah simply accept two government-issued identifications (California driver license and Social Security card) as proof of citizenship and identity?

All this is of course unconstitutional because it’s a poll tax. The fee for a Utah ID Card is $18.00. A driver’s license costs $25.00. Forcing an American citizen to pay in order to vote is a clear violation of the Constitution’s 24th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or the other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”

Of course,Republicans claim that voter ID laws are designed to prevent voter fraud. This claim is easy to debunk. Brad Friedman:

[I]f “voter fraud” was truly a concern of the Republican Party, surely they would require that Iowa caucus goers present a photo ID before casting their vote. But, because such laws have never been about “voter fraud,” once again this year, the Party will not bother to require Iowa Republicans to present any such ID before voting in the all-important caucuses next week.

UPDATE: Election Law Experts Say James O’Keefe Allies Could Face Charges Over Voter Fraud Stunt

More info:
Wikipedia: Voter ID laws (United States)
Tennessee Agency Charges 86-Year Old Veteran An Unconstitutional Poll Tax To Obtain Voter ID
93-Year-Old Tennessee Woman Who Cleaned State Capitol For 30 Years Denied Voter ID
Republicans Require No Photo ID To Vote In Republican Iowa Caucus

Related One Utah Post:
ID-ocracy in Utah?

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Utah At Forefront of National, Political Realignment: Run Rocky Run!

I think I’ve just eye-witnessed the spontaneous birth of a new political party and in the most unlikely of places – Utah.

But, hey. Why not Utah? Are we not the home of political mavericks?

Did we Utahns not replace a senior, sitting senator at convention (Bennett R-UT) with an insane, tea-party nobody?  Did we not also deliver the only sane GOP candidate for president (Jon Huntsman)?

That’s right. So no one should be surprised widely popular, 2-term, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson is running for President. And its about time. Even if this time around is just a warm up, it will be fun.


Here’s why: How many progressive, red-state mayors can say they handed Bill O’Reilly his ass on O’Reilly’s own show …/anderson-spanks-bill-oreilly/, or provoked Sean Hannity into to a live debate televised on Fox News! (…that one turned into a professional wrestling match. Make some popcorn its a 2-hour brawl.)

So the news of Rocky’s intentions leaked far too soon and Rachel Maddow got the scoop and the new party’s name – Justice Party – was chosen on Facebook in the hours before the announcement on Maddow.

That was two Wednesday’s ago. The next day, folks began to gather at Rocky’s house in Salt Lake. Paul Zieitz came out from Washington and a nascent steering committee kicked into high gear. The first state committee was tele-formed and a plan to get on the ballot in all fifty states was hatched around a dining room table and a speaker phone. (If you would like to form a committee in your state, contact Paul (end of press release)

This is not at all how I expected a third party to form. I always thought it would be a well funded, meticulously-planned, institutionally sponsored effort. Instead, it just happened. And like the Occupy Movement, no one owns it and it has no platform…yet.

The founding and interim steering committee are made up of the most unlikely characters: more women than men, all busy and passionate, but otherwise ‘unremarkable.’

The first, monumental task ahead is to get on the ballot in California. That means 103,000 Justice party registrations or approx 200K signatures BY JAN 2…two weeks? If that miracle happens, the other 49 states should be a cinch. Stranger things have happened.

Hey, people are winter camping in public parks in every major city in the world and one of the major American political parties seems about to crash and burn along with its media arm (Murdoch). A political vacuum is forming.

Its crazy. Everything is crazy. The rules are changing. A Dkos recommend can change the world. But it feels right and it feels unstoppable.

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Rocky Anderson Seeking Justice Party Nomination for President

So Rocky has announced a run for president. And in predictable fashion, the Salt Lake Tribune has fed the fly fodder to its anti-Rocky fans. Pathetic. Rocky was a widely popular 2 term mayor of Salt Lake City and remains a widely popular former mayor.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Rocky addressed the subject of the Occupy movement to reporters.

Onward!

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Senate Votes To Let Military Detain Americans Indefinitely Without Charges

Flag behind wire

The Senate voted Tuesday to keep a controversial provision of the massive National Defense Authorization Act that would let the military detain Americans on U.S. soil and hold them indefinitely without trial. The legislation was authored by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), and would require the military to dedicate a significant number of personnel to capturing and holding so-called “terrorism suspects.” It was attached to the authorization bill without any hearings, in a closed-door committee meeting.

In a chilling statement on the Senate floor during yesterday’s debate, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said: “America is part of the battlefield. We firmly believe the war is coming back home.” This is a “war” without a defined enemy, goals, timetable, or victory conditions which grants vast unconstitutional powers to the government to “protect” us.

Both of Utah’s senators voted in favor of the military detention program.

The White House staff has issued a statement (PDF) threatening a presidential veto:

This unnecessary, untested, and legally controversial restriction of the President’s authority to defend the Nation from terrorist threats would tie the hands of our intelligence and law enforcement professionals. Moreover, applying this military custody requirement to individuals inside the United States, as some Members of Congress have suggested is their intention, would raise serious and unsettled legal questions and would be inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets. We have spent ten years since September 11, 2001, breaking down the walls between intelligence, military, and law enforcement professionals; Congress should not now rebuild those walls and unnecessarily make the job of preventing terrorist attacks more difficult.

In other words, President Obama doesn’t like this legislation because he doesn’t want any laws that might restrict the Executive Branch’s currently unlimited power to imprison Americans without any charges. This power stems from the Military Commissions Act of 2006, an unconstitutional law that suspended the right of habeas corpus.

Nevertheless, Jack Goldsmith has doubts about whether Obama will follow through on his veto threat.

So this is where we are now. The Washington politicians are nearly unanimous in the belief that government ought to be able to imprison U.S. citizens indefinitely without even having to say why. Their only disagreement is over the details of how this happens.

BTW the next time the DSCC calls to ask me for money to keep the Big Bad Republicans from taking over the Senate, I’m going to be even less polite than I was the last time!

More info:
Indefinite Military Detention of Citizens on US Soil Still in Pentagon Spending Bill

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald:

This is the war-hungry U.S. Congress acting preemptively to ensure that there is no sense in the citizenry that the War on Terror — and especially all of the vast new powers it spawned — can start to wind down, let alone be reversed.

UPDATE: Indefinite Military Detention Of U.S. Citizens Is A Win For Terrorists, Former Admiral Says

UPDATE: Dear Mr. President: Please Put a Veto Under the Tree and Keep America Free

UPDATE: Obama will not veto indefinite detention bill ACLU deputy legal director: NDAA ‘still awful’ despite changes

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DOJ Goes After H.B. 497, Utah’s Unconstitutional Immigration Law

BREAKING, via TPM:

In a suit filed in federal court in Utah late Tuesday, Justice Department officials argue that the government “has preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters.”

“Utah’s adoption of its own immigration policy disrupts the federal government’s ability both to administer and enforce the federal immigration laws including as set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), and to establish and pursue federal policies and priorities pertaining to, inter alia, the identification, apprehension, detention and removal of aliens unlawfully in the United States,” the suit claims.

We told you so. Rep. Stephen Sandstrom thought that it was OK for Utah to ignore the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution in an attempt to score political points with right-wing opponents of immigration. The DOJ has already sued Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina. Now it’s our turn.

More info:
US Dept. of Justice sues Utah over immigration law

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And here I just ordered a new irony meter.

Avi Asher-Schapiro reports for Salon that the Egyptian military is using teargas made by an American company, CSI, based in Jamestown, Penn.

So, to sum up the irony: We invade a country in the middle east, Iraq, because they had nothing to do with a terrorist attack made, at least partly, because many people felt America is an imperial power, and has too much military influence. Since we know they had nothing to do with the attack, we have to add talk about “spreading democracy” into the mix. We don’t actually spread democracy, rather we bomb a couple hundred thousand Iraqis into the next world. This is totally not an example of the afore mentioned military influence or imperial behavior. Just sayin’.

Read the rest of this entry »

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