Archive for category The Constitution

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.


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.


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?


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?


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.


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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