Tag Archives: FISA

FYI: Obama not Opposed to Strong Executive Powers

Yesterday Cass Sunstein, an advisor to Barack Obama and fellow U. Chicago constitutional law teacher, was interviewed (by Amy Goodman) about Obama’s and his view of Bush abuses of executive power, and a few important points surfaced.

First, democrats are not opposed to strong executive power. Think FDR, LBJ, and potentially Obama.  Seldom in american history has a president voluntarily relinquished powers of the office, however these powers might have been usurped or borrowed.   Lesson:  Abuses of executive power have to be revealed, investigated, publicized and then offenders must be held accountable. (message to netroots: Sirota is right! keep pushing impeachment and accountability. hold feet to fire!!!)

As a general rule in american political history, executive powers have been enhanced, usually unilaterally and with the acquiescence of congress, during wartime, tragedy and crisis. These powers have remained quivers in the president’s arsenal unless aggressively removed by the courts or congress (Lincoln during civil war, FDR during depression and WWII serve as grand examples).

It has always been my belief that Hillary Clinton voted for war in the fall of 2002, not so much because she wanted war, but because, having been Bill’s spouse, she knew the allure of power and wanted to reserve Bush’s warmaking authority potentially for herself. in other worders it would be wrong to have viewed clinton’s vote in terms of hawk/dove; or republican /democrat. rather her vote should have been viewed through the lens of institutional self interest. Power for power’s sake for the president. pure and simple.

whcih brings us to Obama. Obama is already thinking like a chief executive, not as a senator, which is understandable but worthy of close scrutiny.

According to Sunstein, Obama will not be inclined to support accountability for the abuses of power during the Bush Administration, unless such broaches of the criminal law were “egregious” This is the wrong standard, as Glenn Frennwald pointd out during the same Amy Goodman interview. Lesson: unless the people and the courts demand accountability, Obama will enter office with an awful lot of concealed executive powers; and he probably won’t give them back.

If nothing else, the American people deserve and the constitution requires accountability for Bush abuses of power, perhaps even a Truth and Reconciliation Commission brearing of the truth.

Problem is, Obama’s vote against telecom immunity and his and Sunstein’s suggestion that only egregious criminal violations will be investigated, leaves buried beneath the shit of the lasdt 8 years an awful lot of abuses as well as secret powers Bush usurped for hs office, and Obama will probably not voluntarily choose to give back.

The people must demand it. The courts must be allowed to run their course.

Democracy demands accountability. how bout it, senator?


Senate Kisses President’s Tush on FISA

Today the Senate will do more to eviscerate fourth amendment privacy protections for American citizens than President Bush ever did during his almost 8 years as this country’s sorriest president.  One of the lasting legacies of Watergate is that it is not so much the crime that gets you as the cover-up.  The Senate is about to help Bush cover-up impeachable offenses.

If there is to be no impeachment this year, what is needed is a ‘truth and reconciliation” commission appointed by the next administration to learn abut the crimes that Bush has committed in furtherance of his neocon coup against the constitution.  With today’s vote, that will never happen.

The Senate is about to pass FISA legislation today that will allow the Bush Administration to cover-up about 30 wiretapping felonies against the American people. The legislation will give telecom giants blanket immunity for helping the NSA break the law and spy on millions of ordinary Americans. The Senate is helping in the coverup of telecom’s breaking the law in concert with the Bush Administration. Let me put this another way, the Senate is about to be complicit in a crime.

It is totally expected that John McCain would support telecom immunity. His campaign has been led by ATT and Verizon lobbyists who, were lobbying Congress on the telecom’s behalf while riding the Straight Talk Express.  Obama’s critique of McCain’s lobbyist-centered campaign here is on point.  All the more reason to be disappointed by Obama’s scheduled vote today for the bill, which he calls a “compromise.”  What I wonder is how did the telecoms get to him?

Rachel Maddow’s suggestion yesterday on Countdown that an exception be designed to allow warrantless spying on overseas-to-overseas communications that happen to cross US switching stations, seems to be the sort of reform that would maintain the integrity of the fourth amendment, hold telecom’s accountable, and allow the courts to delve further into Bush administration crimes even after the president leaves office. 

Instead, the bill will prevent Courts from ruling on the legality of the telecom’s assistance in warrantless surveillance.  Such court stripping is yet another example of this administration’s total disregard for separation of powers. The Senate’s appeasement on core oversight responsibilities here is Chamberlainesque.

Obama & McCain: Tacking versus Flipflopping

During the past couple weeks, left bloggers, myself included, have begun to pile on Obama for appearing to tack right in preparation for the general election. That’s right, tack.  As the sailors out there are aware, tacking is a tactical as opposed to strategic move.  A shift in tactics, or tacking, helps you get to your original destination, albeit while making adjustments to account for prevailing winds.  That is what Obama has been doing.  You see it on campaign finance, perhaps the Iraq War (but not really– see Cleveland debate), perhaps even late term abortions and FISA.  (note, despite what the MSM says, no flipflopping and no tacking on death penalty for child rapists)

You can trust the person tacking because it means they remain open minded while also committed to their stated mission and objectives.  They merely are adjusting to shifts in their own thinking (yes, it happens), and the real world along the way.  Stated another way, a person who fails to tack is susceptible to ideological rigidity (think Bush) or empty headed plodding (think BUSH).

In the alternative, flipflopping or changing course during a political campaign ought to make for a wary voter. Changing course raises the red flag of political expediency and cynical maneuvering to enhance electability.  John McCain has shifted course on tax cuts, campaign financing, immigration, even on the war on Iraq.  Further, there is a blurry line between changing course during the campaign and lying outright. Not too long ago, McCain said he couldn’t balance the budget; today he says he can. He now claims he will balance the budget by lowering taxes and winning the war in Iraq during his first term. This exceeds changing course and enters into flat out delusion, another trait the voter ought be wary of.


To be clear:

Obama= tacking=trust

McCain=changing course/ flipflopper= be wary

Barack is tracking the Wrong Al Gore

When Al Gore “lost” the presidency in 2000, the Supreme Court and even Ralph Nader were responsible but in some large sense, the Court’s actions and Nader’s unfortunate popularity in Florida also were hallmarks of a troubled Gore campaign. This was a campaign that never found its footing; that ran a DLC style campaign with populist rhetoric; that ran on the economic successes of the previus 8 years while keeping the man largely responsible for these successes under wraps. In short, the Gore campaign didn’t deserve to win (his opponent REALLY didn’t deserve to win). It was a weak campaign that routinely fell into the tactical traps laid out by Gore’s opponent and smear support staff.

The principles that set Mr Gore apart from his peers in 2008 were simply not readily apparent in 2000. The political courage that now places him in the rarified airs of folks like Mandela, was deeply hidden by the expedient choices he made while running a presidential campaign against a wily and unprincipled opponent.  sounding disconcertingly familiar to me.

Fast forward to 2008 and Barack Obama. The same threads of character are showing some wear. Obama has been seduced by the nomination and by the likely prize that awaits him at 1600 Pennsylvania ave.  His rhetoric is almost stridently principled, but his campaign tactics are potentially self destructive as were Gore’s.

Look no further than the way he has handled FISA and Wes Clark. Rather than setting a progressive frame that might place a road weary McCain on the defensive, the Obama campaign has let the Roves and Blacks inside the McCain camp devise the frame, for which Obama is now painting a nice picture that has him wearing lapel pins, voting for legislation to give the telecoms immunity, and sacrificing his own potential veep a war hero with real executive experience in order to be seen playing nice with a former POW with no executive experience.

I suggest Obama forget about the Gore of 2000, and get back together with the Al Gore of 2008; the one whose rhetoric matches his actions; whose words match his courage.  Barack, please show us your agenda that will change the structure of our dying rust belt economy into a green one; show us an agenda that speaks truth to the impeachable evils of the past 7 1.2 years.

This is the winning formula. Had Gore stayed on this track back in 2000, he would now be completing his second term

FISA Vote is Obama’s ‘Sister Souljah Moment’

Barack Obama just had his ‘sister souljah moment.’ It is not about race or religion; It is about national security.  By insisting he shall cast his vote in favor of the pending FISA legislation, and against the netroots,Chris Dodd, and Russ Feingold (who likely will lead a filibuster), Obama has signaled to independent (and blue dog dem) voters in the general electorate that he does not want to be seen as beholden to traditional, sometimes unpopular interests associated with the Democratic Party.

This, according to Wikipedia, is a “sister souljah moment,” a term that originates with the Bill Clinton primary campaign of 1992 when he denounced comments made by Sister Souljah (that he took out of context) in a rap video saying, “if there are any good whte people, I haven’t met them yet.” wiki

Back in ’92, Clinton was seeking an opportunity to distance himself from Jesse Jackson, still unpopular with certain groups of white voters for comments he had made back in 1984.  Clinton wanted to appeal to white working class and jewish voters, and used the Sister Souljah moment to distance himself from Jackson, a moment, quite frankly that he replayed to less success this spring.

As for Obama, the FISA vote provides an opportunity to appease centrist and independent voters who might not trust the netroots tide that helped push him to the nomination.  In addition, by standing up for constitutional rights here (by reinvigorating FISA courts), he appeals to the indo national security minded voter who might vote for McCain unless Obama assertively showed some muscle on national security.  Once again this is the white, working class voter in Pa, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio.

It is no coincidence that Obama also appears in the current Rolling Stone saying he “does not do cowering well.” The key here is that Obama is apparently now playing a “strength card.” Only time will tell if this political tactic works.

In the meantime, I believe Obama isn’t fully appreciating the amount of control that voters believe the telecoms have over their lives.  The problem for Obama here is that the same voters who do not want a “jimmy carter” for a president, also do not want to see the telecom industry getting a pass of violating their 4th amendment privacy rights.   

Obama may be taking a principled position in terms of bringing FISA courts back into relevance. During the last several years, they have been all but ignored and the Bush Administrations practice of ordering spying on domestic phone conversations without a warrant is unconstitutional. Obama’s position rectifies this abuse of justice.

But by giving the telecoms a pass, Obama also helps cover up years of government/corporate spying. Without holding the telecoms accountable for their role here, and given a White House that has “disappeared” an untold amount of email correspondences, it is likely the american people will never be made aware of the the full extent of this grotesque abuse of power.  

Regrettably, Obama’s sister souljah moment–his play for national security moms– may win him some votes (or not), but potentially at a high cost.




Obama’s Mistake on Telecom Immunity

Barack Obama made a mistake backing the FISA compromise. He is now on record supporting 1) additional powers to the president; 2) weakening the 4th amendment; 3) I can’t tell if his support of the compromise giving additional powers to telecom corporations which themselves have powers scarily like that of governments but with nearly no democratic accountability, is political expediency or principle. I hope it is not the latter, and am disappointed if the former. 

Now it is one thing to deal with the customer services folks at Verizon and ATT making you wait in line for 2 hours before telling you they are not going to fix your cell phone. It is quite another to think these same folks (or folks just a little higher on the food chain) have the power to listen in on your private phone conversations because the president ostensibly told their boss we are in the midst of a perpetual war and the phone companies have a role to play in fighting the enemy.  They can help the government spy on us with no warrants, to rhymes, no reason. 

The founding fathers feared the tyrrannical power of King George III;   they would have been even more fearful of unaccountable corporate powers, Verizon and ATT, which brings the discussion back to Barack Obama.

Now, I support Obama but believe that Obama, like nearly any president would be hard pressed to relinquish additional powers that a previous congress had allotted to the office of the presidency. As the next likely president this is where Obama sits, as the likely beneficiary of this FISA compromise.

here is my second concern. 

Obama is showing, by his statements and by the persons he has recruited to be part of his economic policy team (disappointingly Chicago school) , that he has not yet cued into the dangers of privatization and outsourcing. The Bush Administration has outsourced war and other crucial/ fundamental components of the state, giving private firms nearly all the powers of government– which has a monopoly on the use of coercive force– and almost no responsibility and accountability. As a result, the likes of Boeing, McDonnell Douglass, Accenture, Unisyss, GE, ATT, Verizon and so forth are making decisions that affect fundamental rights and liberties affecting all citizens, and we know almost nothing about it.

This is scary, and threatens to undermine the “yes we can” power to the people, that the Obama campaign ostensibly stands for.


Five Years of “War at Home” is Enough

Five years after Bush invaded Iraq, it is important to take stock of his “war at home,” which could take generations to repair.A quick snap shot of the Administration’s hubris, incompetence and undemocratic corporatist tendencies reveals all voters need to know to help make sure the “war at home” doesn’t continue another four or eight years.Here is just a quick look at one week (or so) of the war at home.By “war at home” i mean deliberate efforts to weaken the the constitution, civil liberties and the democratic spirit of the american people.The “war at home” starts with hubris. Consider the Administration just this week– and by Administration i include John Mccain who is running for the third Bush term– saying f*#k you to 66% of the American people who oppose the war in Iraq. When reminded of the public’s antipathy to war, the vice president said, “so”? According to him, public opinion can only thwart the administration’s mission.It continues with deliberate deception by Senator McCain (and Dick Cheney also in Iraq) who repeatedly said, over the last 48 hours, that Iran is shipping al-quaeda into Iraq. Even a stage whisper correction by Joe Lieberman in front of the cameras yesterday didn’t stop McCain from repeating the lie today. The only truth this lie reveals has to do with the administration’s intent to go after Iran.Third, is the continuing attack on civil liberties, even more dangerous because it has been done by proxy: Verizon and AT&T assumed illegal powers in the government’s name (and at the government’s behest), spying against every day citizens and residents. Telecom immunity is really a red herring because these companies would not have signed on if they were not already indemnified. Basically, Bush’ telecom immunity ploy is a symbolic f*#k you against the Constitution.Finally, although the telecom immunity scandal shows the administation’s real constituency are corporate cronies not people, this excludes the cronies’ own employees, who are as invisible and worthless to the administration as anybody else. $ is the administrations only real ally. Consider the 1,123 private contractors who fought and died in Iraq (likely undercount), but whose deaths are not counted in the official body count. (Labor department stats recorded as result of family’s insurance claims, accoding to FAIR–fairness and accuracy in reporting) As if they never fought and died for Bush’s privatized war.As for incompetence, please see all of the above, and lots, lots more.& all this in the last week!Just one week of this war is too much. Five Years?!