Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Friday, December 23rd, 2005.


Meme of Fours

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big picture stuff, blogging

From Roy, to Kevin, to Digby, to Peter D., now to moi — doing this list meme made me realize I haven’t vacationed enough —

Four jobs you’ve had in your life: Editor, production manager, reporter, mother

Four movies you could watch over and over:
Last of the Mohicans (1992), The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (counts as 1 or 3?), Amadeus

Four places you’ve lived: Flat River, Missouri, since renamed Park Hills; Cincinnati, Ohio; Bergenfield, New Jersey; current undisclosed location somewhere in New York

Four TV shows you love to watch: The Daily Show, Countdown, Animal Precinct, Law & Order

Four places you’ve been on vacation: Wales, Washington DC, San Francisco, various Ozark Mountain locations

Four websites you visit daily: Eschaton, The Sideshow, Whiskey Bar, Hullabaloo, many more

Four of your favorite foods: chocolate, cheese, scallops, pasta

Four places you’d rather be:
Snowdonia (Wales), London, any good Italian restaurant, a pretty mountain cabin near a lake with good friends and lots of beer and snacks

Passing the ball to … my buddy Bob Geiger of Yellow Dog Blog!

Update: Bob posted here, then punted to Jane at firedoglake. Feel free to add your own lists to the comments!

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No Answers

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Bush Administration, Civil Rights

Glenn Greenwald asked Bush defenders to “explain how there can be any limits at all on his power under the theories of Executive Power which they are advocating to argue that Bush had the right to violate Congressional law.”

In response, there are two posts from Leon at Red State.org and two posts from Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom, one of which largely relied on what Jeff reverently calls “a long and meticulously argued post” from John Hinderaker at Powerline. Leon also alerted me by e-mail to the issuance yesterday of a Memorandum from the Department of Justice (.pdf) which sets forth the Administration’s legal defense of its behavior.

The “long and meticulously argued post” includes these representative paragraphs:

The starting point, of course, is the Constitution. Article II of the Constitution sets out the powers and duties of the President. Some people do not seem to realize that the executive branch is coequal with the legislative and judicial branches. The President has certain powers under the Constitution, and they cannot be taken away or limited by Congressional legislation any more than the President can limit the powers of Congress by executive order. …

… This brings us back where we started, i.e., the Constitution. The only constitutional limitation on the President’s power to intercept communications by Americans for national security purposes is that such intercepts be “reasonable.” Is it reasonable for the administration to do all it can to identify the people who are communicating with known terrorists overseas, via the terrorists’ cell phones and computers, and to learn what terrorist plots are being hatched by those persons? Is it reasonable to do so even when—rather, especially when–some portion of those communications come from people inside the United States? I don’t find it difficult to answer those questions; nor, if called upon to do so, would the Supreme Court.

In other words, the President is not bound to follow laws passed by Congress if (in his discretion) he believes they infringe on his powers, and he can engage in warrantless searches that he (in his discretion) deems “reasonable.” And these decisions may be made in secret.

That’s pretty much absolute power, is it not? So the answer must be, no; there are no limits to the President’s powers.

The rest of the blog posts boil down to “you lefties don’t understand that we’re at war.” And Judd at Think Progress addresses the DoJ memo here. Be sure to read the rest of Glenn Greenwald’s post; it is outstanding.

The righties continue to churn out turgid screeds of legalosity to defend Bush’s warrantless search policy. And they continue to use the straw man argument that we lefties are opposed to surveillance of potential terrorists. (Once again, no one is arguing against surveillance, just that it be conducted within the law.) But after all this time the righties have yet to provide satisfactory answers two simple questions: Why not comply with FISA? And if FISA is cumbersome, why not ask Congress for changes in the regulations?

Hello? Righties? Anybody ….. ?

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“That’s How Richard Nixon Got in Trouble”

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Bush Administration, Civil Rights

Crypto Man” by Michael Scherer in Salon (and Truthout) focuses on James Bambord, a respected journalist who has covered the National Security Agency for 25 years.

… President Bush has admitted to ordering warrantless NSA wiretaps of American citizens, an admission that blindsided Bamford just as it shocked many in Congress. While politicians bicker over legal shades of gray, Bamford believes the president clearly broke the law, and he has called for a special prosecutor to investigate. “What you have here is the administration going around the only protection the public has from the NSA, and doing it on their own,” Bamford told CNN during a marathon of interviews for MSNBC, NPR, C-SPAN, CBS News and NBC News. “That’s how Richard Nixon got in trouble, and one of the reasons he left office.”

For Bamford, there is only black and white when it comes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a 1978 law that specifically requires warrants for any NSA wiretapping of U.S. citizens. “If you want to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens, you go to court. If you don’t, you go to jail,” Bamford says. “If you want to change the law, you go to Congress.”

You might also be interested in Bamford’s comments on MSNBC’s “The Abrams Report” on December 21.

ABRAMS: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today again saying that President Bush has the authority to order the super secret National Security Agency to eavesdrop on foreigners and Americans without getting a warrant from a court. NBC News has confirmed that a federal judge who serves on the court that‘s supposed to approve requests to spy has quit over the warrantless program.

The remaining judges on the panel will meet and discuss the Bush spy program in the next two weeks. But now claims on numerous conservative Web sites that Bill Clinton did the same thing when he was president. They cite a 2000 “60 Minutes” report where a Canadian intelligence analyst said the NSA routinely monitored innocent civilians.

So, is it true that it‘s been going on for a long time? James Bamford is an expert on the National Security Agency, his latest book is “Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War Through the Dawn of a New Century”. Thank you for coming on the program.

And so I ask you, is it true?

JAMES BAMFORD, AUTHOR, “BODY OF SECRETS”: No, I‘ve written two books on NSA and looked very closely at the NSA spying on Americans and I haven‘t found any evidence of NSA doing that since the Nixon administration. Once the Nixon administration was discovered that they were doing massive illegal eavesdropping, they created this new court, this Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and until the Bush administration, every president as far as I could see, had been following the law.

ABRAMS: Well this was—this is one of the quotes that‘s being cited from that “60 Minutes” report. This Canadian intelligence analyst Mike Frost telling Steve Kroft how an innocent civilian winds up in a terrorist database. This is under the Clinton administration.

A lady‘s son had been in a school play. Next morning she said to her friend, oh Danny really bombed last night. The computer spit that conversation out and an analyst listed that lady as a possible terrorist.

I mean if that‘s true, it sure sounds like they are listening to everybody.

BAMFORD: I have read a lot of Mike Frost material and I don‘t give a lot of it credibility, so I think I‘ll stick with my own analysis of the agency.

ABRAMS: So the bottom line being, though, that you know that report, and that is—again I think that is the one that is being cited most, is the “60 Minutes” report which suggested that back then the NSA was listening to everyone. You‘re saying it‘s just not credible?

BAMFORD: No. Listen, the way it works is NSA pulls all those communications from satellites. International communications coming off of communication satellites and filters it through this huge, basically a big net. But most of that goes through without being listened to or read, about probably 99 percent of it.

The few items that are picked out, actually more than a few, but those are the items that are actually the subject of warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, so it‘s a very complex procedure how it‘s done.

ABRAMS: But just so we‘re clear…

(CROSSTALK)

BAMFORD: Believe me, if I had seen any illegality on the part of Clinton or Carter or anybody else, I certainly would have written about it.

ABRAMS: The ones they—just so we understand the logistics of it. So you‘re saying that the ones that they listen to are the ones that they have gotten a warrant to listen to. Meaning, they get all this information in, but that information is basically thrown away unless they have a warrant?

BAMFORD: That‘s right. It‘s just like a big fishing net with certain size holes there. And the only—virtually all of it goes through those holes except for the fish that are too big for those holes. So are the ones where they actually get the warrant for.

There‘s millions and millions and millions of communications coming and going from the United States every hour. And they can‘t possibly listen to all of that. So most of it goes through without ever—anybody ever reading the e-mails or listening to the phone calls. But the ones that are picked up…

ABRAMS: Right.

BAMFORD: … at least domestically are the ones that are the subject of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrants.

ABRAMS: And that‘s different than what the administration is doing now?

BAMFORD: Yes. This is the first time since basically the ‘60‘s or early ‘70‘s when the Nixon administration illegally did a lot of domestic spying with the NSA and again, that was why they created the FISA Court. What the Bush administration is doing is flaunting the law. The law clearly says if you want to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens, you only have one choice. That choice is to go to the court and get a warrant or don‘t do it.

ABRAMS: We will continue to debate the law on this program. But James Bamford, thank you very much. We appreciate you coming on.

BAMFORD: My pleasure. Thank you.

I also want to say that Abrams is wasted on celebrity trial news. When he gets an opportunity to focus on serious issues he can be sharper than most of the other bobbleheads on cable television.

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All the King’s Men

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blogging, Bush Administration, Civil Rights

Former Senator Tom Daschle writes in today’s WaPo,

In the face of mounting questions about news stories saying that President Bush approved a program to wiretap American citizens without getting warrants, the White House argues that Congress granted it authority for such surveillance in the 2001 legislation authorizing the use of force against al Qaeda. On Tuesday, Vice President Cheney said the president “was granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that’s what we’ve done.”

As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel’s office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.

Now, was that so hard, Tom? Why couldn’t you have talked like that while you were still in the Senate?

I can see from WaPo‘s handy-dandy “Who’s Blogging” links that the spineless, potty-mouth cowards known as “Bush supporters” are arguing that the Senate authorized warrantless wiretaps when the Senate “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided” the attacks of 9/11.

So, the word force includes ” warrantless surveillance.” I wouldn’t have known that, would you? I even looked it up in the dictionary. Nope, not there.

Reminds me of what Humpty Dumpty told Alice:

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”‘ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”‘ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – – that’s all.’

So righties can fudge the meanings of words to change the meaning of legislation and cause the Senate to approve of something they hadn’t intended. There’s glory for you. By which I mean “righties are sniveling cowards who will destroy everything America ever stood for to save their own skins, and call it ‘patriotism.'”

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Heck of a Job, All Around

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Bush Administration, FEMA

Be sure to read Part II of the Michael Grunwald and Susan B. Glasser report on the DHS in WaPo. Today they focus on the turf wars between Michael Brown at FEMA and the rest of the Washington establishment. Jaw-dropping stuff. A sample:

Long before his e-mails portrayed a befuddled bureaucrat who fretted about restaurant reservations and his Nordstrom wardrobe while New Orleans drowned, he [Michael Brown] was known at DHS as a fierce turf warrior whose griping about FEMA’s role alienated superiors and marginalized his agency.

“The biggest danger in the department was tribalism,” said Bruce M. Lawlor, Ridge’s initial chief of staff, “and FEMA was the number one tribe.”

In many ways, Brown is a cautionary tale of what can happen to Washington officials who make mistakes in the public eye after making enemies behind the scenes. Brown spent two years trying to use his contacts with White House officials to undercut DHS, but the White House rarely backed him, and DHS leaders responded by shifting FEMA’s responsibilities and resources to more cooperative agencies.

Ridge stripped FEMA’s power over billions of dollars worth of preparedness grants as well as the creation of a national disaster response plan. Most of the agency’s top staff quit. And after he arrived at DHS in February, Chertoff decided to take away the rest of FEMA’s preparedness duties.

Brown was actually right about many things, but the whole Bush bureaucracy is a joke. Chertoff is just as clueless as Brown is; possibly more so. And it is obvious hardly anyone in Washington took disaster preparedness seriously. It was all about power and politics to them.

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