The Watering Hole, Saturday, June 8, 2013: Mother, Should I Trust The Government?

When your government, one that is supposed to be of the People, by the People, and for the People, appears to violate the Constitution and invade the privacy of the People without probable cause, should you really just trust them when they can just say they can’t tell you exactly what they’re doing because it would harm national security? Especially when, most of the time, they are not required to prove to any judge that national security really is involved? And this is despite the fact that when the Supreme Court ruled that the government can invoke such a privilege (it was not the first time it was used, simply the first time the Supreme Court said they could do it), they stressed that the decision to withhold evidence is to be made by the presiding judge and not the executive. Unfortunately, judges generally defer to the Executive. This is a bad idea. The government doesn’t always tell the truth, which is what happened in the very case that led to recognition of the state secrets privilege. “In 2000, the [withheld classified information from the 1953 case was] declassified and released, and it was found that the assertion that they contained secret information was fraudulent.” So the right of the government to claim that information shouldn’t be released because it contained details whose release might be harmful to national security was based on a case where the government lied and said the release of certain information would be harmful to national security when it really wouldn’t. Doesn’t that mean they can keep anything they want secret just by invoking “state secrets,” even if it doesn’t really apply? How do you convince a judge to look at the information and challenge the government’s claims?

We recently learned that our government has been collecting “telephony metadata” on every phone call made by Verizon customers (and let’s not assume that it only applied to Verizon customers) for several years now. It is important to note that they stressed that it was important to note that they were not listening to the phone calls themselves, nor were they recording the calls so they could be listened to later, and that they were only collecting the phone number of the caller, the phone number being called, the time of day, the length of the call, and possibly the location of the parties involved (! emphasis mine). Here’s why I’m concerned (from the second link):

“But civil liberties lawyers say that the use of the privilege to shut down legal challenges was making a mockery of such “judicial oversight”. Though classified information was shown to judges in camera, the citing of the precedent in the name of national security cowed judges into submission.

The administration is saying that even if they are violating the constitution or committing a federal crime no court can stop them because it would compromise national security. That’s a very dangerous argument,” said Ilann Maazel, a lawyer with the New York-based Emery Celli firm who acts as lead counsel in the Shubert case.

“This has been legally frustrating and personally upsetting,” Maazel added. “We have asked the government time after time what is the limit to the state secrets privilege, whether there’s anything the government can’t do and keep it secret, and every time the answer is: no.”

That’s not how our country is supposed to work. We’re not supposed to have a Constitution that defines and limits our government’s powers, but then decide we’ll ignore it when it gets in the way of doing what we want to do. If you want to do a search on private information without a warrant and without probable cause, then amend the part of the Constitution that says in order to do a search on private information, you have to have a warrant and you have to have probable cause. And if you read the Constitution (which I know many Americans have not, as evidenced by what we’ve seen at Tea Party rallies), you will find that the only mention of secrecy in our government is to the part of each House of Congress’ daily journals they think should be kept secret. It mentions nothing about Executive Privilege, or state secrets, or even of any right of the President (or Vice President) to hold secret meetings and keep the advice of the unnamed guests secret. People (and by the term “People” I’m generously including Justices of the Supreme Court) seem to forget that the President of the United States, for all the power we give that office, is a Public Servant. So any advice given to the President, by anyone at all, that concerns what might be in the best interests of the People ought to be both available to the public and actually in the best interests of the people. Otherwise, the President is not being a servant of the public but a servant of a private interest, and this can not be allowed. But in order to make sure that isn’t happening, we have to have access to what was discussed in those meetings. [Discussions with military personnel would be an obvious exception, but only because the military personnel would be addressing their Commander in Chief, and would not be having domestic policy discussions.]

The argument that if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to worry about is a ridiculous one because that isn’t the point. The point is that our Constitution clearly says that not only do you have a right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, but that if they want to begin one, they have to get a warrant, supported by oath or affirmation, and “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (The Constitution is unclear on whether the search they can now conduct can be an “unreasonable” one. If the TV shows I’ve seen showing cops cutting open furniture, spilling powders on the floors and tables, and emptying anything that might be a container are in the least bit realistic, then it seems they are then allowed an “unreasonable” search.) So who gave the FISA Court judge a statement under oath or affirmation that says it’s necessary to know what number was called from your phone, when the call was made, how long it lasted, and where the two of you were when the conversation was taking place? The authority to conduct any such search is supposedly granted under the USA PATRIOT Act, but that law, if you know what the letters mean, is about tools for fighting Terrorism. Is there some reason the government should have the idea that you’re a terrorist? Then what business do they have keeping track of how your phone is being used?

Another false argument is that you already give your personal information away to private corporations, so what’s wrong with the government asking them to give that same information to you? What’s wrong is that a private corporation does not have the authority to throw you in jail based on what it knows about you. And for all anybody knows, it’s probably in the tiny print of that credit card agreement that you gave them permission to share everything they know about your credit card use history the first time you used it. I think it says somewhere in there that you agree to any new Terms of Use by using the card. But that’s because you didn’t equate the private corporation with your government. Perhaps that’s where you went wrong. Is there really any difference any more?

A line from the following was the inspiration for the title:

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss government surveillance or anything else that keeps you up at night.

Watering Hole: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 – And So It Begins

Monday, January 21, 2013 was a historic day.  It was the 50 year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous “I got a dream” speech and it was the second Inauguration of America’s first African American President.  If someone would have suggested that history would merge on that date 12 years ago, I would have laughed at the idea.

Anyhow, I hope that you got to hear President Obama’s second Inauguration speech.

Congratulations to President Obama and Vice President Biden.  America is fortunate to have such strong and intelligent leaders.

This is our Open Thread.  Speak Up!  It’s your First Amendment right.

Across the Pond: January 20th, 2013 – Sunday Round Up

Right. Well, I’m up anyway, so let’s check the webs.

The Hostage Crisis in Algeria seems to be over. But it ended in a bloodbath. The situation is still not quite resolved while I am typing this, but one thing is clear: All attackers and the hostages remaining in the hands of their captors are dead.

The Algerian government seems to not have thought twice about getting this done, never mind the cost. It reminds me of the Beslan massacre where a hostage taking by Chechen rebels in a school was ended by the Russian forces without any consideration of the hostages’ fate.

“The terrorists were prepared to commit a collective suicide; the army’s intervention led to their neutralisation. Unfortunately, the hostages were executed,”

said El Watan a local newspaper. Well, the public will hear the truth about this at some point.

There is, of course, the war in Mali headlining over here in Europe. You can find a very useful summary of the players involved on the BBC News website. The French are involved in a situation, which, in my humble opinion, may land them in their own version of Afghanistan. Germans are discussing what kind of contribution they can make but there’s the fact that this is a super election year which will be kicked off today in Lower Saxonia. Chancellor Merkel will, obviously, not be getting into any military adventures this year if she can help it at all. President Obama does not show any inclination to get the US involved either. 

Neu ist, dass die USA nicht instinktiv zu einer Führungsrolle innerhalb einer solchen «Koalition der Willigen» drängen. Bereits im Libyen-Krieg hatten sie nach aussen hin den Franzosen den Vorrang gelassen. Die Amerikaner übernahmen damals aber, ohne dies an die grosse Glocke zu hängen, einen beträchtlichen Teil der Lufteinsätze und halfen den Europäern aus, als diesen die Munition ausging. Obama nannte dies «Führung von hinten», was ihm einigen Spott eintrug – aber um einen Führungsanspruch handelte es sich gleichwohl. Davon kann in Mali keine Rede mehr sein.

(It is new, that the US does not instinctively claim a leading role in such a “coalition of the willing”. In the Libya war they had already let the French have the leading role, at least outwardly. The Americans, however, have at that time without making any fuss about it taken over a considerable number of airstrikes and helped out when the Europeans were running out of ammunition. Obama called this “leading from behind” which caused some ridicule, but – nevertheless – included the will to lead. In Mali there is no mention of it. Translation by yours truly

When it comes to foreign politics, looking at it from our side of the pond, New Obama, is naturally a topic of interest. The sudden change in his handling of the Republican opposition does not go unnoticed:

After being widely criticised in his first four years for a lack of savvy during negotiations with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Obama has suddenly taken a much harder line. In debates over the so-called “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending cuts at the end of last year, Obama’s team secured a deal widely seen as a victory. That tougher stance has also been matched by Obama staking out a strong position on forthcoming talks with the Republicans in Congress over raising the debt ceiling. Indeed, only days after Obama gave a speech on the issue marked by stern language the Republicans last week appeared to cave in and moved to extend the ceiling for another three months. (read the whole post here)

About time, I’d say.

Have you finished your coffee? Not yet? Well, there’s more for reading found in the old world:

Oil and the interests of Canada’s First Nations

Catholic Hospitals refuse Aid to Rape Victim (Germany has its own bible belt, methinks)

Boeing’s Dreamliner is grounded

and

The Swiss are fretting over what will happen to their banks.

I hope you’ll enjoy your Sunday Morning reading.

This is an Open Thread! Join in. What is important to you today?

This is How I Feel Today

Unfortunately, the Republicans in Congress will continue to obstruct progress and try to keep the country from moving forward.  The GOP has not learned that the tide is changing and that the younger, more diverse population does not accept their right wing conservatism. The rule of the old, angry, white man is beginning to fade into the past.

Yesterday showed that money can’t buy the Presidency of the United States.  Guess Sheldon Adelson investigation by the FBI will continue.

Watering Hole: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 – The Town Hall Debacle

Tonight is the second in the 2012 Presidential debates and the format will be the town hall.  Which Romney will show up?  That’s a good question.  There is speculation that Romney will try to show that he “feels our pain” by telling stories of woe from the people that he met somewhere in his life.  Obama needs to share his stories of how people are better off during his presidency.  The President’s message should remain positive and he should speak truth to Romney lies.  President Obama needs to knock Romney off of his game.  This will be challenging because Romney is well practiced at changing the game just to close the deal.

If you have the time to read the many falsehoods spoken by Romney, here is a link to “Romney tells 533 lies in 30 weeks”.  With this many compulsive untruths being told by one person, could this person (Romney) be a pathological liar?

H/T to DailyKos for putting together Romney debating Romney.

This is our Open Thread.  Speak Up!  And if you have a favorite “Romney Lie”, let’s hear it.