Friday, March 07, 2008


Let the voters decide -

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The banality of the surveillance state

by Glenn Greenwald

Independent of revelations yesterday that the FBI has been abusing its NSL powers for years, it was also reported that the Federal Government is now launching "a domestic intelligence system through computer networks that analyze vast amounts of police information." The system will store broad new categories of data about the behavior of Americans -- from the mildly suspicious to the perfectly innocuous -- and will create "new power to discern links among people, patterns of behavior and other hidden clues."

When asked yesterday during her weekly chat about the dangers of this new system, The Washington Post's intelligence reporter Dana Priest, one of the country's few truly great investigative journalists, said this (typos corrected):

Savannah, Ga.: Dana, what's the flap about this new info sharing system? From what I read in the article, it only shares existing data. . . . Anyway, this seems to be merely a case of reality catching up to Hollywood . . . after all, we've been watching "CSI" and "NCIS" for years where they make a few keystrokes and a suspect's entire life comes pouring out. This was supposed to be one of the things put in after Sept. 11, correct?

Dana Priest: Ah ha -- but was is "legal" information? Sure, if you get arrested that's one thing; or even picked up as a suspect in a crime. Let's use the example in the story: You have a flat tire near a nuclear power plant. The cop puts that into the data bases and discovers you've had three flat tires outside nuclear power plants in the last year. Now that's interesting and worth looking into, right?

But does that mean something as simple and innocent as a flat tire gets added into the data base. Would that be legal? Switch out "flat tire" for "defaulting on a loan" or "attending a political rally" or "gun purchases" -- all legal things. Does it bother you that the police could link up your political rally attendance if they had some other reason to query your information? You see where it's going . . . . lots of questions. Would have to have safeguards to make it acceptable, I'm certain.

The amount of data which the Federal Government now collects and stores regarding the behavior of innocent American citizens is truly staggering. It is just literally true that the Government now maintains sweeping digital dossiers on its citizens, including ones who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any wrongdoing of any kind. And without much debate or attention of any kind, the amount of monitoring and the scope of the data just keeps growing. Since when was sweeping domestic surveillance and keeping records about innocent Americans ever supposed to be a function of the Federal Government?

Read the rest here

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


If the SuperDelegates Pick Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Nominee and thwart the popular will... I'm voting for John McCain.

It's 3 A.M, and Hillary's Dreaming...

Marc Cooper

Huffington Post March 5, 2008

To be a winner you have to win. And Tuesday night Hillary Clinton unreservedly won three out of four states. Barack Obama, however, has won twice as many primary and caucus states overall, leads substantially in the popular vote and continues to hold a mathematically insurmountable lead in elected delegates.

For two or three days, the Clinton campaign will spin itself -and the media--silly, breathlessly celebrating her overwhelming victories in Rhode Island and Ohio and her squeaker in Texas.

After the confetti is swept and the champagne bottles are tossed a more sober reality will take hold. Not just that her net gain of delegates this week will be, at most, in the single digits. But worse. There is no plausible scenario in which Clinton can win the nomination. At least not democratically.

Seven more weeks of campaign slog through Wyoming, Mississippi and into Pennsylvania. And then maybe tack on six more weeks, if you can believe it, into Indiana , West Virginia, and a handful of other states and into Puerto Rico on the 7th of June, quite literally into D-Day. Whatever the outcome, even if Clinton wins all 16 remaining contests -and some of them by veritable landslides, she will still be dozens of elected delegates behind Barack Obama.

She will not be the winner because she will have not won the majority of elected Democratic delegates. Clinton will be exactly where she was the night before Ohio and Texas: in second place and with no way to become the nominee unless enough unelected Superdelegates defy the popular will of the electorate and throw her the nomination (or unless you somehow believe that she can every coming primary with a 20 point margin).

Indeed, as Jonathan Alter has pointed out, Clinton can't win an elected majority even if she triumphs in what are now likely to be re-scheduled primaries in the cranky states of Michigan and Florida. Again, we'd be back to the Superdelegates and, therefore, back to a dicey game of chicken by the Democratic Party elite. How many Superdelegates are willing to politically die, or willing to spark an intra-party party civil war, just to save Clinton's bacon?

"The 1968 Chicago convention would look like a picnic compared to what Denver would become," a long-time political biographer said on election eve, predicting a youth uprising at the site of this summer's Democratic Convention if the election is thrown to Clinton. "This isn't 40 years ago," he said. "Now, everyone's got a car. And everyone who believed in the change that Clinton scoffs at would wind up surrounding that convention."

Maybe. Maybe not. Who am I to predict that the Democrats are too smart to self-destruct in what should be, by all other measures, a watershed year? The more steely-eyed amongst us, then, would do well to psychologically prepare for the nomination going, somehow or another, to Hillary Clinton. Which means, in turn, that Democrats ought to simultaneously prepare to be beaten by John McCain.

Clinton regained her footing this past week primarily by running a classic, Republican-style campaign of negative, fear-based ads. She blanketed the airwaves with a detestable spot that, stripped to its core message, warned that if Obama were selected, your children could be murdered in their beds in the middle of the night. Somewhere up above (or more likely from down below), departed GOP mudmeister Lee Atwater is cracking a grin.

The spot worked so well - with exit polls showing that voters who made a last-minute decision went in droves for Clinton-- that she couldn't resist reprising the line during her Tuesday night victory speech delivered to a cheering throng in Columbus. "When that phone rings at 3 a.m. in the White House," she said. "There's no time for speeches or on on-the-job training."

Perfect. Clinton's done McCain the favor of cutting his best general election campaign spot for him. All he has to do is cut her answering the phone out of the last 5 seconds of the ad and splice his own mug in there instead. If Clinton succeeds in making what's politely called the "national security issue" the center of the campaign by arguing she's a safer choice than Obama, then why wouldn't McCain argue that he's even better than she? McCain's already begun that effort. If Hillary's nominated, he'll most likely succeed.


Monday, March 03, 2008


House Democratic leadership: not just complicit but also self-destructive

by Glenn Greenwald

The signs are unmistakably clear that what was always inevitable -- full compliance by the House Democratic leadership with Bush's demands on warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty -- is now imminent. House leaders spent the week floating their specific proposals for how they intend to comply in full, and yesterday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes went on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, refused to criticize the President or the Senate FISA bill, and repeatedly and meekly expressed his willingness "this week" to give what he called full "blanket immunity" to telecoms (C&L has the video of Reyes' astoundingly weak and incoherent answers in response to Blitzer's Bush-mimicking questions).

This is, of course, everything except surprising. No rational person who has watched Congressional Democrats since they took over Congress could possibly have expected them to do anything but what they always do: namely, whatever they're told to do by the White House. The last thing they were ever going to do was stand their ground over Americans' basic liberties and the rule of law, concepts about which they couldn't possibly care less.

The whole drama they started when they refused to pass the Senate bill by the deadline was never about anything substantive. They were just throwing a little petulant tantrum because they felt they were being treated unfairly again because they were given only a few days to comply with the President's orders, when they wanted a couple of weeks to comply.

And their irritation wasn't even directed at the President as much as it was at the Senate for being so unfair in waiting until the deadline to pass a FISA bill, thus giving the House only a small amount of time to capitulate in full (on CNN, Chairman Reyes refrained almost completely from criticizing the White House, instead reserving his criticism for the Senate over this procedural insult). The only "principle" the bulk of Congress believes in is the preservation of their own ceremonial customs. That's all this drama was ever about.

There's very little point anymore in writing about how the Congressional Democratic leadership is complicit in all of the worst Bush abuses, or about how craven they are. All of that is far too documented and established at this point to be worth spending any time discussing. They were never going to take a stand against warrantless eavesdropping or the destruction of the rule of law via telecom amnesty for one simple reason: many of them don't actually oppose those things, and many who claim to oppose them don't actually care about any of it. That's all a given.

But what is somewhat baffling in all of this is just how politically stupid and self-destructive their behavior is. If the plan all along was to give Bush everything he wanted, as it obviously was, why not just do it at the beginning? Instead, they picked a very dramatic fight that received substantial media attention. They exposed their freshmen and other swing-district members to attack ads. They caused their base and their allies to spend substantial energy and resources defending them from these attacks.

And now, after picking this fight and letting it rage for weeks, they are going to do what they always do -- just meekly give in to the President, yet again generating a tidal wave of headlines trumpeting how they bowed, surrendered, caved in, and lost to the President. They're going to cast the appearance that they engaged this battle and once again got crushed, that they ran away in fear because of the fear-mongering ads that were run and the attacks from the President. They further demoralize their own base and increase the contempt in which their base justifiably holds them (if that's possible). It's almost as though they purposely picked the path that imposed on themselves all of the political costs with no benefits.

Even with their ultimate, total compliance with the President's orders, they're still going to be attacked as having Made Us Less Safe -- by waiting weeks to capitulate, rather than doing so immediately, they opened up critical intelligence gaps, caused us to lose vital intelligence, made us less safe, etc. But now, they have no way to defend themselves against those accusations because, at the end of the day, they are admitting that the President was right all along, that telecom amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping are good and important things that the President should have had all along. So why didn't they just give it to him before the law expired? It was a loss for them on every level.

I doubt there are very many Americans who expect at this point that the Democratic leadership will take a stand against the President due to any actual beliefs. But shouldn't politicians be at least a little bit shrewd about their own political self-interest? As craven and ugly as their capitulation will be, the political "strategy" they chose is actually just more self-destructive than it is anything else. Obviously, they have no real political principles, but don't they have any strategic instinct at all?

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Telecom immunity is Bush immunity - the proof

by dday

We really have to look at this FISA battle in a completely new way in the context of today's New York Times story (emphasis mine).

The warnings from President Bush and his senior aides have grown more urgent over the last few weeks, now that Congress has let a temporary wiretapping law expire. But there is little sign of anxiety among many intelligence and phone industry officials.

Yes, the telecom industry is largely unconcerned about nullifying billion-dollar lawsuits against them.

At the Pentagon and the military’s Central Command, senior officials gave no indication of any heightened concern about the lapsing of the law. In Congress, staff members with access to updated briefings said they had not been given any specific information about lost intelligence that might endanger national security. And in the telecommunications industry, executives said it was largely business as usual.

Indeed, for all the heated rhetoric in Washington about the government’s wiretapping powers, the debate over what a new surveillance law should look like has little to do with the present or the future and almost everything to do with the past.

We all knew that the intelligence leadership was fudging the truth about how they needed unlimited surveillance powers or else we'd all be strangled by Al Qaeda and the Symbionese Liberation Army while walking through Central Park. The FISA law, which has been revised over 50 times since its inception in 1978, is prefectly capable to handle any intelligence gathering of overseas threats while at least building in some basic judicial review to ensure compliance and civil liberties protections under the Fourth Amendment. What's been assumed is that the phone companies were demanding amnesty for going along with Bush Administration requests to circumvent FISA before and after 9/11. In the wake of this article, along with the news that Republicans are all grumbly that the telecoms aren't showering them with cash for helping their cause, you can only conclude that the phone companies really don't care whether they're getting amnesty or not. And they really shouldn't. The executive branch has proven pretty adept at shielding them from prosecution by invoking the state secrets privilege, and the courts have been extremely deferential in waiving cases due to lack of standing. Even if cases passed through the initial stages, it's simply unlikely that the phone companies would ever be successfully sued, and even more remote that they would have to offer financial restitution. They're simply not concerned about it.

So if the intelligence community doesn't care about this, and the phone company executives don't care about this, there's only one constituency for which this legislation is designed. And that's the Bush Administration itself. As Glenn Greenwald noted the other day, it's not like this is even well hidden.

In his Press Conference yesterday, Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush candidly explained why he was so eager to have Congress grant amnesty to telecoms:

"Allowing the lawsuits to proceed could aid our enemies, because the litigation process could lead to the disclosure of information about how we conduct surveillance." [...]

Bush is finally being candid about the real reason the administration is so desperate to have these surveillance lawsuits dismissed. It's because those lawsuits are the absolute last hope for ever learning what the administration did when they spied on Americans for years in violation of the law. Dismissal via amnesty would ensure that their spying behavior stays permanently concealed, buried forever, and as importantly, that no court ever rules on the legality of what they did. Isn't it striking how that implication of telecom amnesty is never discussed, and how little interest it generates among journalists -- whose role, theoretically, is to uncover secret government actions?

That's all this is about. The telecoms don't want the amnesty. The overriding goal is to shut down these lawsuits and, most important, eliminate the discovery phase so that the full extent of Administration lawbreaking is permanently hidden. This is about burying the evidence, as every single action by the White House since the Democratic takeover of Congress has been. Bush may have a soft spot in his heart for his corporate buddies, but he's really not interested in indemnifying them. He's interested in immunity for himself.

As the Democratic leadership in the Congress floats trial balloons about capitulating on this bill, it's important to keep this end goal in mind. Official Washington really doesn't want to reveal a lot of its secrets. Immunity has a certain pull for the Democrats as well, particularly those who were briefed about the program, even in part. They either made no objection or failed to ask the proper questions or in some way became complicit to this lawbreaking that has occurred for almost SEVEN YEARS now, and if the truth ever came out, my guess is that nobody would come out looking so noble.

I'm sure this is what's being discussed in back channels all over Washington. There aren't any lobbyists pushing for this, no citizens groups, no grassroots organizations. This is about the Village, mostly from inside the White House but really the entire structure of elites, trying to put up walls around itself. There is a powerful institutional urge to conceal.

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