Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cheney: Deploy the U.S. Military Against U.S. Citizens on U.S. Soil (update below)

A new tale from the Bush administration, as chilling as it is unsurprising. The New York Times reports today that
"Top Bush administration officials in 2002 debated testing the Constitution by sending American troops into the suburbs of Buffalo to arrest a group of men suspected of plotting with al Qaeda, according to former administration officials."
Such an operation would, of course, be completely illegal. Those who worked on the report seemed to realize the significance of it:
"A decision to dispatch troops into the streets to make arrests has few precedents in American history, as both the Constitution and subsequent laws restrict the military from being used to conduct domestic raids and seize property."
The debate inside the administration grew out of Bush's position that he had the fascistic ability to operate entirely outside of constitutional and legal restraints, as documented in memos released earlier this year.

Among those urging Bush to use the military was Vice President Dick Cheney. In the Times' reconstruction of the debate, the Justice Department was concerned that it may have insufficient evidence to successfully prosecute a legal case against the suspects, so Cheney advocated sending in the military, on the grounds that "the administration would need a lower threshold of evidence to declare them enemy combatants and keep them in military custody." This is the Times obfuscating the fact that the "enemy combatant" designation invented by the Bush administration required no evidence and wasn't subject to any oversight. As those in the administration asserted the power, they could so designate anyone they wanted and hold them forever. That Cheney explicitly argued for this approach based on a concern that there may not be enough evidence to show that the individuals in question were guilty of anything points directly to why this dictatorial "power" was explicitly banned by the Constitution and U.S. law in the first place.

The plan to use the military never went forward; Bush opted to send in the FBI and all of the suspects in the case eventually pleaded guilty. From the Times recounting of the debate, the decision to use the FBI was made because, on the one hand, the Justice Department, which considered such matters their turf, resented and argued against encroachment into it and, on the other, some officials thought it would be bad public relations to send tanks into an American suburb. There seems to have been no concern at all with the matter of constitutionality or legality. If it even came up, no one who described the debate to the Times seems to have mentioned it.

These days, Cheney is the loudest voice crowing about how Obama's abandonment of Bush policies would put the country at risk but as this revelation demonstrates yet again, Cheney and his ilk are a far greater threat to the U.S. than al Qaida could ever be.


UPDATE -- Glenn Greenwald is all over this story, and, as usual, demonstrates why he's the best political blogger on the internet:

"All of this underscores why it is so important to vigorously oppose the efforts of the Obama administration (a) to continue many of the radical Bush/Cheney Terrorism programs and even to implement new ones (preventive detention, military commissions, extreme secrecy policies, warrantless surveillance, denial of habeas corpus) and (b) to endorse the core Orwellian premise that enables all of that (i.e., the 'battlefield' is anywhere and everywhere; the battle against Terrorism is a 'War' like the Civil War or World War II and justifies the same powers)... It's the nature of governments that powers of this type, once vested, rarely remain confined to their original purpose. They inevitably and invariably expand far beyond that. Powers that are endowed to address a limited and supposedly temporary circumstance almost always endure for years if not decades... Worse still, if--after eight years of Yoo memos and theories of presidential omnipotence and denial of habeas corpus--a Democratic President with a Democratic Congress implements his own kinder, gentler version of such programs, then they will cease to be a twisted aberration from the post-9/11 Bush era and will instead become the new bipartisan, American consensus approach to justice. We'll have a national (rather than right-wing) endorsement of the 'principle' that national security threats justify denial of the most basic rights when it comes to detention and imprisonment."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sotomayor Hearings Dull, Just Like The Nominee

The current U.S. Supreme Court lineup features four reactionaries, three conservatives and two liberals--by party, 7 Republicans, 2 Democrats. And their rulings have born out this imbalance for years. When a slot opened, the post clearly called for a flaming liberal, or as close to one as could be managed. Instead, we got another conservative. Not a "moderate," as everyone is so quick to say. A conservative. If the White House and the Senate Democrats are to be believed, this is someone who votes with the Republican-appointed of her fellow judges judges 95-97% of the time and a few days ago, I quoted info that suggests she's not terribly big on the First Amendment, support for which is probably the best litmus test, as far as liberalism goes.

Rather than being overjoyed by this nomination (which could have just as easily come from one of their own presidents)[1], Repulbcans decided to launch a smear campaign. They had their own reasons for doing so, and had made them plain before the nominee had even been announced. As Media Matters noted at the time,
"According to reports in The New York Times and Politico, conservatives and Republicans have said they intend to use the confirmation process to 'help refill depleted coffers and galvanize a movement demoralized by Republican electoral defeats'; 'build the conservative movement'; provide 'a massive teaching moment for America'; 'prepare the great debate with a view toward Senate elections in 2010 and the presidency'; and 'hurt conservative Democrats'--all motivations that have nothing to do with criteria senators should consider in exercising their constitutional responsibility to provide 'advice and consent' on judicial nominations. Indeed, conservative activist and law professor Robert George reportedly acknowledged, 'For [the conservative base], this is about the future of the Republican Party, not who is going to sit on the Supreme Court,' and another conservative activist, Manuel Miranda, reportedly said of the confirmation process: 'It isn't just about the nominee.'"
The Republicans were trying to use it to rally their troops and the mission was to label Sotomayor as some kind of wild-eyed radical.

The problem they ran into, of course, is that Sotomayor isn't some kind of wild-eyed radical whose record can be used to rally their troops. Indeed, the biggest argument one can muster against her is the one they can't touch--that she's just like them and is being nominated to a court that is already just like them and has been for years. With Sotomayor, they had one of the longest records as a judge of any Supreme Court nominee in recent memory--literally thousands of cases on which she's sat. The strategy that emerged was to portray her as an Hispanic-supremacist racist. With such a massive record from which to choose, the full extent of their "evidence" for this was a single court case--one relating to a test for firefighters in New Haven that excluded racial minorities--and a tiny handful of comments Sotomayor had made in speeches outside of court, comments they'd taken out of context in order to make them sound like exactly the opposite of what she'd actually said.[2]

It would be difficult to understate how excruciating this became--the same small set of questions from practically every Republican present. The committee's chief Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, emerged as Sotomayor's loudest interrogator, the racist charge being his line of attack. Unmentioned in virtually any press report was the fact that this forthright stand against the racism of the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee in U.S. history was being staged by a man who was, himself, denied a slot on the judiciary two decades ago because of his own racism.[3]

Sotomayor herself proved to be a very dull witness; bloodless, unemotional and patient to the point of being rather boring. The hearings passed without a single spark to make it stick in the brain in the years and decades to come. It's difficult to believe the conservatives got much use of the hearings. It's also difficult to believe the country will get much use of the nominee when she's confirmed.



[1] And, in fact, it had; Sotomayor began her rise through the federal judiciary with an appointment by George Bush the Senior.

[2] Nevertheless, the U.S. conservative elite fell in lockstep in echoing the "racist" charges--it could be heard everywhere from Glenn Beck to the Buchanan siblings (Pat Buchanan being one of the worst racists among that elite)

[3] Also left on the cutting-room floor is the fact that Sessions had, some years ago, voted to confirm Sotomayor, this dreadful racist, to the federal bench.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"The Crown Jewel of the United States National Security Administration"

Today's San Francisco Chronicle has a brief news story on the Obama administration's effort to undermine and destroy an attempt to sue the government over the Bush administration's illegal wiretapping program:

"Obama 'does not intend to use the state-secrets privilege to cover up illegal activities,' said Justice Department attorney Anthony Coppolino. But in exceptional circumstances, he said, the president will invoke secrecy to protect 'the sources and methods of detecting terrorist attacks... the crown jewel of the United States national security administration.'

"Coppolino said the administration will cite national security in seeking dismissal of a lawsuit by telephone customers accusing the government of illegally intercepting phone calls and obtaining phone company records."
And we get this, a little later:
"The Justice Department lawyer replied that the plaintiffs will have to air classified information in court about 'the nature and scope of the government's surveillance program' to prove their case, and the government will have to do the same to defend itself. That "would risk exceptional harm to the national security," Coppolino said."
It would be bad enough that The Obama, who vigorously condemned the behavior of the Bush administration on such matters right up until he was elected, has shown absolutely no inclination toward any effort to bring to justice those in the previous administration but he's done far worse--he's actively obstructed every effort by anyone else to try to do so. It's becoming a depressingly familiar story. In this case, the surveillance program in question was both 100% illegal and 100% unconstitutional, a top-to-bottom criminal enterprise operating out of the White House. That, alone, should strip away any pretense that revealing information about it could endanger "sources and methods" relating to "national security" (a nonsense concept in the first place). Instead, we get a representative of the Obama administration branding these sources and methods "the crown jewel of the United States national security administration."

I get a peculiar smell from that crown--somehow, I don't think it's gold.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

More Sotomayor

"Of the many responsibilities granted to a President by our Constitution, few are more serious or more consequential than selecting a Supreme Court Justice."
--The Obama, 26 May, 2009

And lo, the Obama didst nominate Sonia Sotomayor to fill the latest vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Submitted for what it's worth, the Center For Individual Freedom, a right-wing think-tank (if such a thing can rightly be said to exist) offers the following assessment of Sotomayor's rulings in First Amendment cases:
"While Sotomayor has been involved in hundreds of First Amendment cases since her appointment to the federal bench, a review by the Center for Individual Freedom found that she has personally authored only nineteen cases that bear directly on issues of free speech and association, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. Of those nineteen cases, Sotomayor sided with the individual (the First Amendment) only five times, or a mere 26.3 percent."
To be fair, the Center is a right-wing organization and one of the cases on which they claim Sotomayor ruled against speech (Landell v. Sorrell) was in upholding Vermont's limitations on campaign donations, which is very questionable as a "speech" matter. A lot creepier is another case cited by the Center (Doninger v. Niehoff), in which she ruled that "students could be subject to school sanctions for off-campus speech that 'would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment,'" in that case, a student who had criticized school officials in a personal blog!

Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a press conference today to argue that Sotomayor was "moderate" on criminal cases. His evidence is that a review of Sotomayor's decisions in more than 800 criminal cases prepared by the Democratic staff of the committee showed that she ruled with her Republican-appointed colleagues 97% of the time.

Leahy cites this approvingly.

Sort of says something about what's considered "moderate" these days, eh?


Monday, July 6, 2009

Palin Addio

Only days after I raked over the coals former Republican VP wannabe Sarah Palin for her remarkably stupid public behavior, she comes out and trumps even my low estimation of her, announcing in a rambling, incoherent mess of a speech--a mess even by her standards--that not only is she declining to seek re-election, she's actually resigning from the governorship entirely. Not even finishing her term.

Everyone has been speculating about why--her babbling dissertation certainly did absolutely nothing to clarify the matter. Her Republican fans among the punditry are actually portraying this as some sort of brilliant first step toward a presidential race! Palin has already been established as an erratic imbecile. Somehow, I can't see this--quitting the only substantial government post she's ever held in the middle of the first term--adding much of a positive spin to her resume, even if we are talking about the Republican party.[*]

No, the much more likely scenario is that she's leaving office ahead of some looming scandal that would have driven her from it anyway in order to pursue a more lucrative career as right-wing pundit before her 15 minutes of fame expire. As if to bolster this speculation, Palin has now issued a public warning to those in the press who may report negative--or, as she calls it, "defamatory"--stories about her, threatening lawsuits. Good luck on that.



[*] A party whose unofficial voice (Rush Limbaugh) said today of the military coup in Honduras that just ousted the elected government, "If we had any good luck, Honduras would send some people here and help us get our government back."