Tag Archives: FISA

Legal, but not constitutional: how the government is weasel wording the public about Edward Snowden and the NSA

Homeland Security PrecrimeThe Edward Snowden/NSA/PRISM uproar continues, and in the argument over whether or not he’s a Real American Patriot or your basic criminal vigilante the whole fucking point is getting lost. In fact, that argument is precisely the one that the Obama administration and the GOP’s security-state architects want us waging because it distracts us from the actual issue we need to be discussing.

You may have noticed, in reading the various statements from government officials, the recurrence of a theme: the program that Snowden exposed is legal. Keep track of how many times you hear that word. It’s. All. LEGAL.

Yes it is. And the effectiveness of the government’s rhetoric right now is unfortunately due, in part, to the language employed by the left over the past decade, which has lambasted the Bush administration’s illegal domestic spying program. Illegal. Legal. Therein lies the problem. (I have to admit that I have been culpable in this – somehow I didn’t quite grok how that framing was inadvertently legitimizing the Patriot Act and FISA.)

The problem isn’t legality, it’s constitutionality, and there’s a huge difference. The programs that Snowden dropped the dime on are legal because they’re defined by laws passed by Congress. Period. If Congress passes a law, it is by definition legal until such time as it is either overturned by either the Supreme Court or subsequent legislative action. It sounds, from what I can gather, like the NSA program is functioning as designed (it’s hard to be certain since everything about it classified, but let’s play along for the moment). The law passed both houses of Congress, was signed into law by the president, is administered by a court and has not been turfed by SCotUS. Done and done.

The thing is, the process I just described means that if Congress passed legislation explicitly banning free speech, or establishing Catholicism as the official state religion, or banning blacks and women from voting, or granting police the right to enter your home anytime they like without a warrant, or eliminating habeas corpus, and if the president signed the law, and if the Supreme Court found nothing wrong with it, then that law would be legal in the same way that current domestic surveillance programs are legal.

So when an Obama mouthpiece or a Capitol Hill Republican screeches that the program is legal, understand that for what it is. A law can be immoral, unconstitutional, racist, sexist and oppressive in a hundred different ways while being perfectly legal.

And when you get the corrupt leaders of two parties in agreement over the need for and value of a security state, and they’re able to install five or more like-minded individuals on the nation’s highest court, they have assumed the ability to ignore the Constitution whenever they feel like it.

The NSA spying program is legal, but it is unconstitutional. I suppose you could, in the spirit of tedious technical accuracy, say that it’s constitutional if the Supreme Court says it is. But Edward Snowden, like a lot of us, believes that the Bill of Rights means what it says. A lot of people believe that when a government uses its legislative and judicial apparatus to pretend that words don’t mean what they clearly say that it has forfeited its legitimacy.

How many people believe this and what are they prepared to do about it? This is the tipping point upon which we are balanced, and only time will tell whether the citizenry will demand that its government stop hiding behind a corruption of the word legal and begin behaving in accordance with the principles unambiguously codified in the Constitution.

In the meantime, whenever you hear the words “legal” and “illegal” being used to damn Edward Snowden, understand: you are being manipulated and lied to.

Shootout at the DC Corral

The independently minded political animal always wrestles with times of transition, and the changeover from the Bush to Obama regimes has been worse than most. During the Dubya years it was easy to identify the enemy and to hate him with a blinding passion. Sweet Jesus, George II and his sidekick, The Dick Cheney, played their roles with less nuance than the bad guy in Rambo 12: Return of Ming the Merciless (directed by Roland Emmerich), making it easy to identify with the loyal opposition just on principle.

But it’s important to remember that the enemy of my enemy isn’t necessarily my friend. They might just be fighting over which one gets to eat my tender bits. Read more

Obama: hope, change and reality

I believe I recall Barack Obama quoting Otto Von Bismarck’s edict that “politics is the art of the possible,” and evidence of that optimism abounds everywhere I look in Denver today. The two words we seem to be hearing more than any others are “hope” and “change,” and we saw a wonderfully eloquent articulation of this enthusiasm last night in Wendy Redal’s post on starstruck idealism.

There’s no question (among rational people, anyway) that change is sorely needed, and after the last eight years hope is a precious and endangered commodity. Hope is the fuel of change, and sadly a lot of our traditional reserves are running dry.

I want to hope, and I’m being implored to hope, but really, should I? Read more

We’ve been compromised

Those of us who sounded off on Mark Udall’s capitulation on the FISA bill apparently all got the same nice form letter in response to our concerns. He’s happy to hear from us. Let me begin with what he wrote.

Dear Sam:

Thank you for letting me know your views on H.R. 6304, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments of 2008. I appreciate hearing from you.

This bill is designed to update FISA while putting an end to abusive domestic spying, and I voted for it in order to prevent a future program of warrantless surveillance by the executive branch. Read more

Mark Udall helps hold the Constitution down while Bush and his corporate buddies drive the bus over it

Yesterday we here in Colorado learned a little more about our Democratic candidate for Senate, Congressman Mark Udall. And what we learned wasn’t pretty. Udall, along with 104 other collaborationist Dems, voted in favor of Bush’s latest Constitution-gutting initiative, a FISA “compromise” that makes all our talk about freedom in the US ring even hollower than it did already.

Russ Feingold’s take on the sell-out is spot-on:

“The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation. Read more

George Will can’t stop lying!

I now know why Elvis shot that TV set.

If you missed it, Stephen Colbert’s special guest last night was conservative pundit George Will. I almost typed “addle-headed pathological liar George Will,” but didn’t because I think a cursory look at what he actually said will make that clear enough.

Show, don’t tell, as I always instruct my writing students.

So let’s start by watching the segment.

WARNING: people with above-average intelligence who have eaten a greasy meal in the last couple of hours should grab a barf bag before clicking play. Read more

The Reyes Doctrine: speak loudly and cower like a whipped cur

On February 14 Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, crawled up in Dubya’s grille and dropped some righteous nard-stomping pro-democracy rhetoric on his punk ass. We were as happy as we were stunned to see a Democratic leader swinging an actual set of cojones in the face of Mr. President’s fragrantly anti-liberty pro-corporate full-monty assault on our freedoms.

Talk, as they say, is cheap. Read more

“We will not fear George W. Bush”

President Bush yesterday took as harsh a one-two beatdown as he has endured in the entire seven cynical, corrupt years of his doomed presidency.

First Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, sent him a damning letter on his stubborn and hypocritical position on FISA. The letter not only outlines the facts of the law and the circumstances surrounding it for those who might only be familiar with the overt lie that Bush has been pandering to the American public, it concludes with a statement of intent that every single Member of Congress would do well to adopt: Read more

Telecom immunity: how stupid do you think we are?

It’s FISA Day in your Senate – amazing how this was scheduled for Potomac Primary Day, huh? – and Matt Browner Hamlin has the agenda up at Holdfast.

My big issue is item #4: retroactive immunity for telecoms. Verizon and AT&T have done all they can to pretend that they had no idea that their participation in warrantless wiretapping might be, you know, a full-monty assault on the Constitution itself. I mean, shucks, they wuz just doing what the president wanted them to, and if you can’t trust the White House who can you trust?

Here’s what Sen. Russ Feingold had to say on the matter: Read more

Dodd filibuster teaches a valuable lesson about the American Mess

As Martin noted earlier, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) is filibustering ill-conceived legislation that would give telecommunications companies a pass for engaging in illegal spying activities on behalf of the Bush administration.

Those of you who were hopeful in the wake of last year’s sweep of both houses of Congress by the alleged opposition party, and those who are hopeful that the Democrats will also take the White House next year, should take note of something: the filibuster is being conducted against Democratically driven legislation by a member of the majority party. Read more

There is no opposition party in Washington

In describing the Democratic response to Bush’s sabre-rattling toward Iran, Power of Narrative’s Arthur Silber summed things up neatly:

They don’t object because — they don’t object.

The only thing wrong with Silber’s assessment is that it was limited to Iran. In truth, you could just as easily use those seven succinct words to characterize the Democratic Party in general. Time and time again, on critical issue after critical issue, the Democrats fall in line with their Republican leaders and do what they’re asked. They do the will of the GOP instead of the will of the people. They act in the interests of the nation’s narrow power elite instead of in the public interest. They follow instead of leading. And they do so because – they don’t object.

Some examples illustrate the point.