Friday, January 27, 2006

The importance of law

It's Friday night, I've been drinking, and I feel contemplative. It's time for some discourse.

The one thing that has always held America together is the rule of law. Sometimes the laws seem unjust. Sometimes they are unfair. Sometimes they make us feel that our rights are being violated. But the one thing that has always gone on is that Congress has passed laws, and the President signs them into law.

This is not America under President Bush. Law, to him, is an executive order which overrides anything else. Law is what he says it is. If Congress passes a law he doesn't agree with, he'll sign it and then say he doesn't have to obey it. This President believes he is above any control.

It may not be apparent to those blinded by party loyalty, who sit there and look at how to best advance their party agenda instead of how to advance the agenda of all Americans, but this is an incredibly troublesome situation. The media, in their fervor to not be called liberal, have slanted right, where you have a Chris Matthews comparing Michael Moore to Osama bin Laden, where Fox News "anchors" spout opinions that belong on, so much so that they parrot talking points spat out by the ruling party, much in the way that the state-controlled press in the Mideast does.

In every other previous wartime situation, Congress has at least passed the laws that have put restrictions on Americans. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the restrictions on habeas corpus (which Lincoln did by executive order, struck down by the USSC, and then passed by Congress) during the Civil War, the Sedition Act of 1917, and other wartime measures all had the backing of Congress by vote.

This is different. The President ducked Congress, he simply told certain members, he would not give permission for debate and votes to be held on the issue, and whether he wants to call it "terrorist surveillance" or not, it was spying on Americans. One end of the calls took place in America. Millions of calls were intercepted by NSA, piling up on the FBI, who found not one lead in that whole mountain of intercepts that violated our rights. See, who defines a terrorist? Why, it's the President and the Executive Branch who makes that determination in Bush's America. So, anyone that the President deems a terrorist, whether it be an American who converted to radical Islam, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins, John Kerry, they can all be subject to having their rights violated just because Bush says so. Is that a democracy or a dictatorship?

So, what does one do? Well, they can sue, just as the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights did last week, but those cases are decided by the Supreme Court. Funny how the President happens to name an architect of executive dominance, Samuel Alito, as his Supreme Court nominee just as this case is breaking. Alito would be a crucial yes vote to any challenge to these violations of law, and being so young, would stay on the Court for awhile. Kennedy becomes the swing vote, then, and he is more conservative than O'Connor. The big unanswered question is what view he'd take of executive power.

The point I'm trying to get at in my roundabout way is that what the President is doing threatens the very system that has upheld our nation since 1787. We need that rule of law to keep us America. The President has, in his misguided and shortsighted way, played right into the hands of the big picture strategy that any decently smart terrorist would want.

By violating our rights and sidestepping Congress and any oversight, determining that he alone decides what the law means and whether he has to obey it or not, the President of the United States has finished what the terrorists set out to do: destroy our nation as we know it. We have our civil rights violated, we have our privacy shot to hell, we have American citizens imprisioned without any trial, we have our brightest and best dying in a war that distracts us from the real war we should be fighting, our political system has degenerated into a name-calling contest, where any dissenter is called "traitor" and where one-party rule is the name of the game, and the mastermind of it all runs around the mountains pulling strings, instead of looking up at dirt.

Congratulations, sir. Thanks for ruining the nation that allowed someone like you to thrive in the first place.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

He just can't help himself

Here's some Bush to chew over:

"Asked why he wouldn't go to Congress -- even now -- for approval of the program, he said more public knowledge about it would 'help the enemy.'"

Okay, then hold it in executive session, where Congress closes the doors, bars the public and cameras, and discuss it with them then. Once again, this president has contempt for Congress that he just doesn't bother to hide. And, yeah, we're really tired of this "help the enemy" crap that he throws out every damn time.

And this chestnut:

"Now, I understand there's some in America who say, well, this can't be true there are still people willing to attack," Bush said. "All I would ask them to do is listen to the words of Osama bin Laden and take him seriously. When he says he's going to hurt the American people again, or try to, he means it. I take it seriously, and the people of NSA take it seriously. And most of the American people take it seriously, as well."

Well, that's nice, considering that just over a year ago, this same man was saying that he doesn't think about him that much anymore, that he's not so important. Once he's in trouble, though, out comes the bogeyman, and isn't it convenient that he shows up every time Bush is in political danger? Osama knows that Bush has actually been a boon to him, because he hasn't pursued terrorism the way Clinton had prepared to do so. Clinton, as history shows, was shot down by the GOP Congress. Good job over there. Since fearmongering works with so many Americans, all Osama has to do is say, "I heart Democrats" and all the people jump on the Republican bandwagon, when it's all reverse psychology. Iraq has majorly screwed up our pursuit of terrorism. We did the right thing at the wrong time, and we are going to pay a serious price for it. God help us all.

Oh, s**t

Hamas has apparently won in Palestine.

The Palestinian prime minister and Cabinet resigned. Israel and America have both refused to negotiate with an armed Hamas, yet they now run the government, thanks to a free democratic election.

As we discussed in my Mideast politics class at Michigan back in 2004, this was our worst nightmare. Hamas gained traction amongst Palestinians for its social services (they build hospitals and daycare centers) and it makes it hard for us to say we won't negotiate with a freely elected government. Bush wanted to spread democracy in the region, but what does he do when he doesn't get the desired result?

Like it or not, a terrorist group just got elected to run a nascent nation, and we have to find a way to deal with them, because they won on our terms. The nasty question here is: Is this a precursor to Iraq's future?

Apologies....and new talking points to debunk

For being away for so long. It's not that I haven't been online, or keeping track of the news, but I didn't want to sound like a broken record in my outrage over what's been going on.

However, I don't quite think that will be the case today.

If I were in the White House, I'd be seething over the fact that the Senate record from 2002 shows James Baker of the Justice Department arguing against FISA amendments that would allow warrantless surveillance against non-citizens, believing such a move would be rejected by the courts because it bordered on being unconstitutional. Knight-Ridder had this from its Washington Bureau:

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law governing such operations, was working well, the department said in 2002. A "significant review" would be needed to determine whether FISA's legal requirements for obtaining warrants should be loosened because they hampered counterterrorism efforts, the department said then...

In its 2002 statement, the Justice Department said it opposed a legislative proposal to change FISA to make it easier to obtain warrants that would allow the super-secret National Security Agency to listen in on communications involving non-U.S. citizens inside the United States....

James A. Baker, the Justice Department's top lawyer on intelligence policy, made the statement before the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 31, 2002. He was laying out the department's position on an amendment to FISA proposed by Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. The committee rejected DeWine's proposal, leaving FISA intact.

So while Congress chose not to weaken FISA in 2002, today Bush and his allies contend that Congress implicitly gave Bush the authority to evade FISA's requirements when it authorized him to use force in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks three days after they occurred - a contention that many lawmakers reject.

And, lest we forget this old chestnut, I think it could be argued that the spying program violates the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which laid out specific guidelines for use of the military for police functions within the United States. This law was passed in reaction to the military being used to break up anti-Civil War protests and riots.

The Act reads as follows:
From and after the passage of this act it shall not be lawful to employ any part of the Army of the United States, as a posse comitatus, or otherwise, for the purpose of executing the laws, except in such cases and under such circumstances as such employment of said force may be expressly authorized by the Constitution or by act of Congress; and no money appropriated by this act shall be used to pay any of the expenses incurred in the employment of any troops in violation of this section, and any person willfully violating the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be punished by fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars or imprisonment not exceeding two years or by both such fine and imprisonment.

The addendum from the 1947 National Security Act reads:
Sec. 375. Restriction on direct participation by military personnel. The Secretary of Defense shall prescribe such regulation as maybe necessary to ensure that any activity (including the provision of any equipment of facility or the assignment or detail of any personnel) under this chapter does not include or permit direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law.

Finally, we have this from Title 18, Part I, Chapter 6, Section 1385:

Whoever, except in such cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

The National Security Agency is a military agency. It is run by a general in the United States armed forces, it has a large contingent of military staffers, and it answers to the President. The President has argued that the AUMF in Afghanistan applies to the situation at hand, but he is completely off-base. Here's why I think so.

The AUMF reads:


    (a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
    (b) War Powers Resolution Requirements-
      (1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.
      (2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supercedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.

Nowhere in the resolution does it say the President can use military force within the United States. The PCA says that the military cannot be used for search, seizure and arrest. The NSA was conducting a whole host of searches of domestic phone usage under an incredibly broad umbrella. There is nothing stopping NSA from intercepting overseas calls. But anything in this country is subject to different rules, and the President blatantly ignored them.

Whether Posse Comitatus will come into play is an open question. I doubt it will be used as an argument, given that it's a much older law, but I think it has some application here.

In any case, the military has once again been abused by a President who has no idea how to use them. I really wish that Dubya talked to his dad once in a while, because his dad used the military quite skillfully.