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Archive for April 6th, 2009

Very, very bad from Obama Administration

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This is very bad—I am losing hope about "transparency" with Obama. Glenn Greenwald:

When Congress immunized telecoms last August for their illegal participation in Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program, Senate Democratic apologists for telecom immunity repeatedly justified that action by pointing out that Bush officials who broke the law were not immunized — only the telecoms.  Here, for instance, is how Sen. Jay Rockefeller justified telecom immunity in a Washington Post Op-Ed:

Second, lawsuits against the government can go forward. There is little doubt that the government was operating in, at best, a legal gray area. If administration officials abused their power or improperly violated the privacy of innocent people, they must be held accountable. That is exactly why we rejected the White House’s year-long push for blanket immunity covering government officials.

Taking them at their word, EFF — which was the lead counsel in the lawsuits against the telecoms — thereafter filed suit, in October, 2008, against the Bush administration and various Bush officials for illegally spying on the communications of Americans.  They were seeking to make good on the promise made by Congressional Democrats:  namely, that even though lawsuits against telecoms for illegal spying will not be allowed any longer, government officials who broke the law can still be held accountable.

But late Friday afternoon, the Obama DOJ filed the government’s first response to EFF’s lawsuit (.pdf), the first of its kind to seek damages against government officials under FISA, the Wiretap Act and other statutes, arising out of Bush’s NSA program.  But the Obama DOJ demanded dismissal of the entire lawsuit based on (1) its Bush-mimicking claim that the "state secrets" privilege bars any lawsuits against the Bush administration for illegal spying, and (2) a brand new "sovereign immunity" claim of breathtaking scope — never before advanced even by the Bush administration — that the Patriot Act bars any lawsuits of any kind for illegal government surveillance unless there is "willful disclosure" of the illegally intercepted communications. 

In other words, beyond even the outrageously broad "state secrets" privilege invented by the Bush administration and now embraced fully by the Obama administration, the Obama DOJ has now invented a brand new claim of government immunity, one which literally asserts that the U.S. Government is free to intercept all of your communications (calls, emails and the like) and — even if what they’re doing is blatantly illegal and they know it’s illegal — you are barred from suing them unless they "willfully disclose" to the public what they have learned.

There are several notable aspects to what happened here with this new court filing from Obama: …

Continue reading by all means. This is a very, very bad development. Where are the Democrats? What has happened to them?

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2009 at 4:59 pm

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) is a snake

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ThinkProgress:

Earlier today, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) announced that she would oppose the Employee Free Choice Act — which would make it easier for workers to organize unions — should it come up for vote in the Senate in its current form. Lincoln, who is running for reelection in 2010, is the first Democratic Senator to openly oppose the legislation. The AP reports:

“I cannot support that bill. I cannot support it in its current form,” Lincoln told those gathered for the luncheon at the governor’s mansion. “I may not have said that as clearly before, but I’m saying it now.” … “It is one of those issues that creates great division, as well as distraction, at a time when we need all hands on deck,” Lincoln said. […]

“We need workers and we need business at the table, if we’re going to put this economy back on track, and I don’t think the discussion on the Employee Free Choice Act has helped us do that.”

The Arkansas-based Wal-Mart corporation had hired a former Blanche Lincoln staffer to lobby against the Employee Free Choice Act. Notably, Lincoln waited until after Vice President Biden helped her raise $800,000 before announcing her opposition to a piece of legislation that both Biden and Obama strongly support.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2009 at 4:56 pm

Harold Koh background

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This is from ThinkProgress, written by Henry Fernandez:

As ThinkProgress recently noted, a small number of conspiracy-theory, far-right conservatives have raised concerns about Obama’s appointment of Harold Koh to be Legal Adviser to the Department of State. Their nutty views have been trumped up by Fox News and the NY Post, with extremist Glenn Beck leading the charge. This despite there being no basis in reality for the charges against Koh.

Today on his Fox News show, Beck ranted some more against Koh. Beck conceded, “There is a big debate on the internet, in the New York Times and everybody else, saying that I’m a crazy nut-job because of Harold Koh.” Watch it:

Koh is currently Dean of Yale Law School, with an international law and human rights resume that makes him uniquely qualified to be the top lawyer at the State Department. Unfortunately, these stellar qualifications have not been sufficient to move him quickly through the Senate, as he is one of several appointees being delayed by conservatives.

The right’s fabricated concern is that Koh would allow international law to trump U.S. law. This is based apparently on Koh’s speech to the Yale Alumni Association of Greenwich Connecticut, from which observer Steve Stein gathered that Koh wanted Islamic sharia law to govern in U.S. courts. But there is good reason to not believe Stein. The organizer of the event and head of the Alumni Association, Robin Reeves Zorthian, wrote to the NY Post:

The account given by Steve Stein of Dean Koh’s comments is totally fictitious and inaccurate. I was in the room with my husband and several fellow alumni, and we are all adamant that Koh never said or suggested that sharia law could be used to govern cases in US courts. The subject of his talk was Globalization and Yale Law School, so, of course, other forms of law were mentioned. But never did Koh state or suggest that other forms of law should govern or dictate the American legal system. Hopefully, your readers are interested in the facts.

More facts: Koh has consistently used US federal law in the U.S. federal courts to go after the leaders of military juntas that have killed Americans and citizens of other countries. This is the exact opposite of allowing foreign laws to trump U.S. law. He has also used US law to protect those who face persecution at the hands of powerful dictators.

Koh’s commitment to the rule of law is what really offends the hard right. His belief in the supremacy of US law has put him in direct conflict with some of the conspiracists’ favorite folks. Dean Koh testified before Congress against the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General because of Gonzales’ support for torture. He also challenged the right of George H.W. Bush to house innocent Haitian refugees at a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Koh’s opponent — then-Solicitor General Ken Starr — argued that US law did not apply at Guantanamo, and thus the Haitians had no rights. Koh argued that both U.S. law and U.S. morality certainly applied there.

Harold Koh should be appointed, while liars and crazy people should be ignored.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2009 at 4:54 pm

Spencer Ackerman examines the Gates budget

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Well worth reading. It begins:

Defense Secretary Gates took a major step toward rebalancing U.S. defense priorities on Monday, announcing a budget request that would severely cut or restrict cherished and expensive Cold War-era programs and institutionalize support for counterinsurgency and irregular warfare.

The long-awaited fiscal 2010 budget request, which has a price tag of $534 billion and climbs to $663.7 billion when the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are factored in, cancels the Army’s major vehicle-modernization program, stops the production of the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor fighter jet, halts the increase of ground-based missile defense programs in favor of more limited missile defense approaches, and treats the Navy’s large surface-warfare platforms like the DDG-1000 with skepticism. It gives priority to the needs of a military at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gates said, by providing $11 billion to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps and expanding intelligence, surveillance and helicopter programs that have performed well in the two ongoing wars — including the Predator drone used by the CIA to attack extremists in Pakistan — as well as to support partner militaries’ counterinsurgency development. “This is a reform budget,” Gates, who was Pentagon chief under George W. Bush and remained on in the Obama administration, told reporters Monday.

Several defense reformers agreed. “The boom finally lowered on the Pentagon’s budget today,” said Laura Peterson, defense budget analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense. “We applaud [Gates’] rigor in wielding the budget axe.” Robert Work of the Center on Strategic and Budgetary Assessments called it a “very, very encouraging first step.” Winslow Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information was more cautious, but said “Secretary Gates deserves much good credit,” especially for making warfighter support “his first priority.”

The White House indicated its support for the budget request, though it has already come under fire from some members of Congress…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2009 at 4:34 pm

Afternoon break

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Thanks to Beth for the pointer:

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2009 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Gates proposes radical overhaul of Pentagon budget

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Noah Schacntman in The Danger Room at Wired:

Defense Secretary just proposed the most sweeping overhaul of America’s arsenal — and of the Pentagon budget — in decades.  Major weapons programs, from aircraft carriers to next-gen bombers to new school fighting vehicles, will be cut back, or eliminated. Billions more will be put into growing the American fighting force, both human and robotic.

For a year and a half, Gates has been trying to force the American military-industrial establishment to concentrate on the dirty, irregular wars America is actually in — instead of tomorrow’s hypothetical showdowns with China or Russia. After 18 months of jawboning the generals, the defense executives, and the Pentagon bureaucracy, Gates is now backing up his words with a truly radical reworking on the Pentagon’s $1.6 trillion weapons portfolio. Troops and low-cost tools to fight insurgencies and terrorists are in. Gold-plated weaponry for tangling with another superpower are out. Critics will try to paint this new budget as some kind of kneecapping of America’s ability to project power around the world. But really what we have here is the Defense Secretary trying to shake the defense establishment free of the Cold War, finally.

None of this is a done deal — Congress will push back on Gates’ budget, hard. But under his proposal, the Navy will have its new aircraft carrier program slowed, and its hulking destroyer effort cut short. The Air Force will see the production of its prized stealth fighter, the F-22 Raptor, ended at 187 planes — almost two hundred less than what the air service wanted. The Missile Defense Agency’s interceptor portfolio will be reoriented around the threat from rogue states. But the biggest change, perhaps, will be in the Army. Gates is gutting "Future Combat Systems," the $200 billion behemoth modernization project. (More on that, in a sec.)

Instead, Gates will pour $11 billion into increasing the number of troops in the Army and Marines while halting manpower reductions in the Air Force and the Navy. $2 billion will go towards increasing the number of drones and manned surveillance planes in the skies above Afghanistan and Iraq. Special forces troops will grow by five percent, or 2,800 commandos…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2009 at 12:39 pm

Defense Dept threatens Gitmo lawyer with jail

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

This story, which was reported in The Guardian and confirmed by publicly filed court documents, is one of the stranger means the Obama administration has used thus far to keep quiet the sins of its predecessor.

As I’ve written before, lawyers representing the ex-Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed have been complaining that the U.S. government is forbidding the release of evidence that the Ethiopian-born U.K. resident was tortured in U.S. custody.In February, Clive Stafford Smith, executive director of the nonprofit organization Reprieve, which represents many Guantanamo Bay detainees, sent President Obama a letter saying that the Defense Department was not letting Obama see the evidence. Smith suggested that, as the commander-in-chief, Obama may want to change that.

Well, officials from the Department of Defense who make up a “privilege review team,”  which monitors and censors communication between Guantanamo prisoners and their lawyers, didn’t like that at all.  So in March, they filed a report with a federal court in Washington, D.C., calling the Reprieve lawyers’ letter “unprofessional” and charging that they’d violated the court’s protective order, which protects classified evidence. The odd thing about it was the letter to President Obama contained no evidence, and the attached memo discussing the torture was entirely blacked out — illustrating what Smith called the “bizarre reality” of the court’s order, which forbids even the president from seeing the evidence.

So how his this violating a protective order? The Defense Department’s report isn’t clear, but Judge Thomas Hogan has ordered Smith and his colleague Ahmed Ghappour to appear in his court on May 11 and explain why they should not be held in contempt of court — and perhaps jailed for up to six months — for their alleged transgression.

“What is particularly irksome about this is the issue involved,” Smith wrote in an e-mail this morning. “The government is covering up evidence of torture against Binyam Mohamed, while accusing us of violating a rule in (bizarrely) NOT revealing that evidence.” He added: “What this is really all about is official embarrassment at looking bad.”

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2009 at 12:34 pm

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