Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

July 10, 2008

The FISA Capitulation

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 10:26 am

The Senate voted to help cover-up the crimes of the Bush administration and the telecom companies, and presumably some elements of complicity on the part of democratic party leadership.  If Nixon were alive today, he would no doubt be wondering why he couldn’t have been so lucky.

Barack Obama voted for cloture and the final bill, thus reneging on his campaign promise to filibuster any bill that had telecom immunity.  Notably, Clinton voted against cloture, cementing my suspicion that she is vying for the VP spot.

Some are holding their breath that some type of criminal investigation will be launched after Bush leaves office.  This is like hoping that the United States won’t bomb Iran.  We are already in a heads we win, tails you lose scenario on that one.  If McCain is elected, Bush will probably put it off.  If Obama is elected, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Bush went ahead.  At this point, what does Bush have to lose?  Impeachment is off-the-table.

This isn’t just about Congress looking the other way, or performing ineffectual oversight.  It is about covering-up Bush’s previous crimes and vesting the executive with even more power.  We all know how the Bush administration set-up a vast legal framework about executive power which is laughably unconstitutional.  Nevertheless, Congress is doing its part to ensure that a case that challenges Bush’s legal theories is never ruled upon.  Again, this isn’t about some sort of passive indifference.  Democrats are the key enablers in an active cover-up.

Honestly, what do you think fascism looks like?  Is our understanding of it merely superficial?  Is fascism just swastikas, marches, and salutes? Does Bush need to grow a mustache before we start to catch on?

It is important to remember that this capitulation didn’t happen inspite of democratic victories in 2006, but rather because of their victories in 2006.  This Congress has proven its willingness to go along with unpopular policies while cynically pleading for more power.   Just maybe if they had a few more seats, or the presidency, they could have stopped this.  Screw that.  Nader/Gonzales ’08.

July 2, 2008

The Obama FISA Fiasco

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , , , — codesmithy @ 9:16 am

Keith Olbermann gave a “Special Comment” on Monday encouraging Obama to do the right thing on FISA.  Olbermann’s suggestion to try to strip immunity, vote for the bill when that fails, then promise a full criminal investigation if Obama were to become president is a rather ineffectual gesture as Olbermann describes in his comment.  Olbermann is correct when he says it frees telecoms from civil, not criminal prosecution.   However, Glenn Greenwald points out the glaring flaw in the analysis.

That the FISA bill only immunizes telecoms from civil but not criminal liability isn’t some mystical discovery generated by John Dean’s Talmudic examination of the fine print, but rather, is something that was crystal clear and known to everyone for a long time. Indeed, from the start, the Bush administration only proposed, and telecoms only sought, immunity from civil — not criminal — liability. That’s because criminal prosecution would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, and beyond that, Bush could and likely will simply pardon telecoms from prosecution before he leaves office (nobody who has watched the last seven years would believe that Bush would be deterred because pardons are deemed by courts to be technical admissions of some level of guilt, and those asserting that pardons can’t be issued until there are charges brought simply don’t know what they’re talking about).

Immunizing telecoms from civil liability will ensure that the vast lawlessness of the Bush Administration is never aired in a court of law.  They have already knowingly broke the law.  We already know that they have a vast array of legal opinions from the likes of John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales that basically say the president can do what ever he wants in a commander-in-chief capacity.  The executive branch has turned any congressional oversight into a complete and utter farce.  This is precisely because Congress is unwilling to use the one tool they have for curtailing an out of control presidency: impeachment.

That said, it is not the case that the legal opinions of the presidential advisers are law.  In fact, they are most likely intended to shore up plausible deniability, to give the president fall guys.  The facade of legality only last as long as the doctrines are tacitly accepted and unchallenged.  Their true test is within a court of law.  There is no doubt in my mind that they will crumble under judicial scrutiny.  The legal opinions were always just pretense.  This is precisely why the Bush administration is so keen on getting the civil lawsuits dismissed.  With a pardon it is just he said, she said, Bush will come up with something lame like: “I don’t want to see members of my administration having to defend their actions in order to protect our nation.  I know they did the right thing under difficult circumstances.”  And that will be it.  Dismissing civil liability is giving Bush a trump card.  Is Olbermann really going to be that surprised if and when the president plays it?  THE DEMOCRATS ONLY GAVE IT TO HIM!  IT WAS ONLY WHAT HE OBVIOUSLY PLANNED ALL ALONG!  After all this time, does Olbermann really believe Bush cares what the public thinks of him?

Of course, there is Obama’s stance in the whole matter.  Krugman did a good job summing the current problems with the Obama agenda.  Obama might actually be centrist.  However, the one attribute I thought Obama had that Clinton lacked was moral courage.  The ability to stand by a principle and unabashedly defend it.  Clinton seemed too willing to compromise principal to meet some political end, which I felt was particularly displayed in her attempt to get the Michigan and Florida delegates seated.  So, even if Clinton had better policy papers, I thought Obama would be more effective in actually implementing something.

Telecom immunity is one of those issues that has no constituency outside of K Street.  Congressional oversight has proven itself to be a complete failure because punishment is off the table.  I want this administration judged in a court of law.  Any other issue is largely irrelevant.  What is the point of enacting new provisions when the president wasn’t following the old ones?  Really, what good does that do?

For a campaign that seems to be planning on continuing popular support as part of their fund-raising strategy, Obama surely demonstrates his willing to bite the hands that feeds him.  This isn’t to say Obama is worse than McCain.  However, a lot of my enthusiasm for his candidacy has certainly dissipated to a degree.  If his fundraising drops, he shouldn’t be wondering why.

June 27, 2008

Welcome to Corporate America

Filed under: capitalism, politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 9:01 am

There have been three items in the news recently that at first look distinct, but nevertheless related.

  1. The reduction in damages for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
  2. The FISA “compromise” and telecom immunity
  3. The failure to close the so-called “Enron Loophole”

First, there was the supreme courts decision to reduce damages by 1/10th the original amount, from $5 billion to $500 million.  As The Seattle Times states, Exxon’s profits were $40 billion for the last-year.

Punitive damages are the only way to curtail corporate negligence, make them internalize the costs.  As The Seattle Times editorial states:

A 987-foot oil tanker runs aground after its captain turns the helm over to an unlicensed subordinate and leaves the bridge….

Thirteen-hundred miles of Alaskan shoreline are fouled, an estimated 30,000 birds are killed, and the rest is brutal history.

The potential for disaster was there. Exxon knew Hazelwood had a drinking problem.  The jury found that the institution had its own dereliction of duty and fined it for its inability to prevent this disaster.  But like most corporations, they fought it.  And after years of fighting, they won.  The people die, the corporation lives on.  This is what passes for justice in Corporate America.

Next we have the FISA compromise, although Obama might consider the prosecution of the telecoms as secondary, I see it as primary concern.  These corporations knew, a priori, that they were breaking the law by allowing government wiretaps.  However, the executive branch went with the carrot and stick approach.  Those that helped the government spy got contracts.  Those that didn’t got prosecuted, like Qwest’s Joe Nacchio.  Now, after a heroic struggle to uncover the wrongdoing, Congress comes in to save the phone companies for their complicity in the misdeeds.  The executive branch gets to say the magic words and the lawsuits are dismissed.  Congress wants to substitute its own ineffectual oversight mechanism.  The prime reason it is so ineffectual is because impeachment is off the table.  The executive only has to resist and obstruct, meanwhile Congressmen of the supposed opposition party lie to their constituents and quickly try to let all players effectively off the hook, but especially the corporations.  This is what passes for justice in Corporate America.

Finally, we have the “Enron loophole.”  One has to be borderline retarded not to see the relationship between high gas prices and the record profits the oil companies keep raking in.  Much like the Calfornia energy crisis caused by Enron, it would not be surprising to find some market manipulation.  To be sure, global demand and a falling dollar are both playing a role.  However, market manipulation is playing a part also.  As Enron proved, energy companies couldn’t care less about the broader economy.  Enron didn’t implode because of their energy trading, they imploded because of the patch work of financial instruments they employed to hide mountains of bad risks from the balance sheets.  Manipulating the California energy market was remarkably profitable.  It just goes to show how deeply unprofitable the rest of the company turned out to be.  Right now, we are allowing a huge wealth transfer from the working people of this nation to the stock-holders and primarily the executives of oil companies.  America’s continuing oil dependence is disappointing, but, right now, American citizens are being taken to the cleaners for record profits of oil companies.  This is what passes for justice in Corporate America.

June 18, 2008

FISA: Not This Again

Filed under: politics, protest — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 8:42 am

Glenn Greenwald writes about Steny Hoyer’s back room dealing to enable telecom amnesty.

Keith Olbermann had a special comment about the matter back in February.

As is usually the case, I’ve eventually come around to Olbermann’s use of terminology.  There is increasingly no other way to describe our government other than fascist.  Back in February, I thought the word was too much of a distraction.  However, as the 5-4 decision to restore Habeas Corpus demonstrates, we are only hanging on by a thread.  5-4, think about what that means.  Four judges on the Supreme Court endorse the notion that the leader can jail a person without any charge, indefinitely.  Their dissent isn’t based on any constitutional principle but rather the chilling belief that placing our complete trust in the executive leader is the only way to keep us safe.  Their utter contempt for the legal system which they are a part of is palpable.  So I ask this not the least bit rhetorically: how would a fascist argue differently?  Can anyone demonstrate a tangible difference in the thinking beyond the superficial?

Next comes Steny Hoyer, working to ensure if the glorious leader told you to break the law, then it is legal.  As Glenn Greenwald shows, Hoyer argued for the rule of law when it applied to Libby and now stands opposed to it.  That rank corruption and cynicism is only exceeded by his seeming plan to vote against the legislation once he feverishly ensures there are enough votes to guarantee its passage.

The only way to change this behavior, including but not limited to lying about the role they are playing, is to make them pay a political cost.  With an election closing in, this is the best time to affect change.  The plan to run an advertising campaign against Hoyer seems to be as good of a tactic as any.  Complaining about Hoyer on a blog is fine, but injecting something into the mainstream media via advertising is sure to get notice, not just from Hoyer, but from all the people like him.  Please consider donating some money to Act Blue for the campaign.  This isn’t a democrat versus republican issue, it is a people versus the fascists issue.  Do you want the government secretly spying on you without warrants?  Do you want the leader to be able to throw you in jail without charge indefinitely?  Do you want those who break the law to be able to get away with it if they are politically connected?  One set of laws and rules for us, another set for our rulers?  Unless you do something about it, your tacit answer to all those questions is yes.

$5?  Is that really going to break the bank?

Here are some quotes to ponder while you decide:

Eternal vigiliance is the price of liberty.

Freedom isn’t free.

April 4, 2008

Mukasey’s Afghanistan Revelation

Filed under: media, politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 10:35 am

As Glenn Greenwald noted on Saturday and again on Thursday, Attorney General Mukasey made a startling admission. The basis of the posts is this New York Sun article.

Attorney General Mukasey, in an emotional plea for broad surveillance authority in the war on terror, is warning that the price for failing to empower the government would be paid in American lives. Officials “shouldn’t need a warrant when somebody with a phone in Iraq picks up a phone and calls somebody in the United States because that’s the call that we may really want to know about. And before 9/11, that’s the call that we didn’t know about,” Mr. Mukasey said yesterday as he took questions from the audience following a speech to a public affairs forum, the Commonwealth Club. Mr. Mukasey said yesterday as he took questions from the audience following a speech to a public affairs forum, the Commonwealth Club. “We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn’t know precisely where it went.”

At that point in his answer, Mr. Mukasey grimaced, swallowed hard, and seemed to tear up as he reflected on the weaknesses in America’s anti-terrorism strategy prior to the 2001 attacks. “We got three thousand. … We’ve got three thousand people who went to work that day and didn’t come home to show for that,” he said, struggling to maintain his composure.

As Greenwald points out the 9/11 commission report never mentions a call from a safe house in Afghanistan. There were calls tapped from Yemen under the existing FISA law. This is confirmed by Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission Executive Director in the following response:

Not sure of course what the AG had in mind, although the most important signals intelligence leads related to our report — that related to the Hazmi-Mihdhar issues of January 2000 or to al Qaeda activities or transits connected to Iran — was not of this character. If, as he says, the USG didn’t know where the call went in the US, neither did we. So unless we had some reason to link this information to the 9/11 story ….

In general, as with several covert action issues for instance, the Commission sought (and succeeded) in publishing details about sensitive intelligence matters where the details were material to the investigative mandate in our law.

The Attorney General of the United States is aware of a call that he sternly believes could have prevented the 9/11 attacks and yet it wasn’t tapped.  Why not?  As Greenwald points out, FISA does not and never did require a warrant for eavesdropping on foreign targets.  Does the Attorney General not understand the law he is in charge of enforcing?  Did this misunderstanding permeate the government?  Even if there was a misunderstanding, why didn’t the intelligence agency in charge of the surveillance ask for a warrant from the FISA court?  Why did they feel  they couldn’t monitor the call right away, since FISA already allows 72 hours of surveillance without a warrant.  And why wasn’t this call included in the 9/11 commission report?

The proper thing to do is to get Mukasey to testify under oath about these issues.  House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers sent a letter to Mukasey asking some of these questions along with others.  It is a good start.  But, this story needs more attention.  So, share it.  Show some interest in it.  Write letters to the editor asking for them to cover it.  Demand answers.  If we want a better government, now is the proper time to start applying some public pressure.  If they don’t listen with an election approaching, it should be easy enough to rectify the problem come November, especially in the House.

February 15, 2008

Keith Olbermann FISA Special Comment for 2/14/08

Filed under: politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 2:25 pm

Keith Olbermann had a special comment on efforts to revise FISA and President Bush’s role.  Some portions are repeated from a previous comment.  I don’t want to get too hung-up on the word fascism.  Fascism, in American politics, has become a caricature and a pejorative term.  A term thrown out at political enemies at seemingly trivial disagreements.

However, it is increasingly difficult to describe what is happening in American politics without invoking the illustrative and disastrous example from the past.  When a Supreme Court Justice defends the use of torture as an interrogation tactic, what is the substantive difference?  How can due process exist if the judicial system will torture you until you confess?  What good is the protection against self-incrimination before trial if the state can torture you beforehand and use it against you?

Telecom immunity, torture, contempt of oversight, these are all symptoms of a common theme: the glorious leader can do no wrong.  However, if the last seven years has taught us anything is that the leader is wrong, about a great many things, quite often.  What do we call it then when these leaders and their enablers blatantly and knowingly violate the law?  They may insist they did it for a good reason and act demonstrably hurt when we have the nerve to question their integrity.  However, we are not going to get anywhere by capitulating and looking for a fundamental change of heart.  There are two things we need to do.  One, call a spade a spade.  Two, stop being afraid every time George W. Bush says “boo!”  Keith Olbermann displayed both of these qualities in his special comment tonight.  It is time that more of the people in positions of power, especially in the opposition party, consistently showed the same qualities.

February 13, 2008


Filed under: politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 12:05 pm

Glenn Greenwald has some analysis on the failure of Dodd/Feingold amendment to strip retroactive immunity from FISA Amendments Act of 2007. 18 Democrats joined the Republican in ensuring the provision stayed in.

Senator State Up for Re-election
Evan Bayh Indiana 2010
Thomas Carper Delaware 2012
Kent Conrad North Dakota 2010
Dianne Feinstein California 2010
Daniel Inouye Hawaii 2010
Tim Johnson South Dakota 2008
Herb Kohl Wisconsin 2012
Mary Landrieu Louisiana 2008
Blanche Lincoln Arkansas 2010
Clair McCaskill Missouri 2012
Barbara Mikulski Maryland 2010
Bill Nelson Florida 2012
Ben Nelson Nebraska 2012
Mark Pryor Arkansas 2008
Jay Rockefeller West Virginia 2008
Ken Salazar Colorado 2010
Debbie Stabenow Michigan 2012
Jim Webb Virginia 2012

Roll call is here.  Hillary Clinton didn’t vote on the measure.

This is more evidence that the D beside the name is just a label.  Yes, Democrats are more likely to defend fundamental principles such as the rule of law, but it in no way guarantees that they will actually fight for them as a whole.  Ironically, it took the 2006 Democratic election victory to enable this affront to occur.

The ray of hope in this mess is Donna Edwards successful primary challenge of Albert Wynn in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District.  Through primary challenges, people can ensure the D next to the name actually means something.  However, nothing will change as long as outrages like this aren’t incorporated into an institutional  memory.  This vote needs to haunt these Senators.

Thankfully, not all is lost yet, although the window is almost shut.  The House passed the RESTORE Act which does not have retroactive immunity.  It is now up to the Senate and House to reconcile their differing bills.  We need House Democrats to stand behind their version.  Firedoglake has an online petition to tell the Democratic representatives to stand-firm.

Make no mistake, the United States is in a massive hole right now.  However, even the birth of this country was tenuous and took struggle to achieve.  It was the people who fought off tyranny and established this new governance.  It will take the people to reform the government and put it more inline with principles upon which this nation was founded.

December 18, 2007

Dodd Takes Down Retroactive Immunity for Telecoms

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 10:54 am

Chris Dodd flew back Washington D.C. from his campaigning in Iowa to filibuster retroactive immunity for telecom companies.

Retroactive immunity is a polite way of saying that there should be no consequences for patent law-breaking as long as one was following orders from the President. A similar line of thinking was a classic Nuremberg defense, and one that was by-in-large patently rejected. Politicians that support retroactive immunity trash the standards and foundation that justice stands on. In this respect, any one who supports retroactive immunity is no better than a thug, an unscrupulous usurper of power, protector of cronies and tarnishes the principle and history of this nation. The actions of today do cast shadows on the past. If we allow the only following orders defense then this country is guilty of mass murder after World War 2. We condemned people to die and threw down righteous denunciations of their actions that continue to this day. However, when push came to shove under much less extraordinary circumstances, there are those who actively try to hide behind the same rationale.

If the President is to believed, failure to update FISA could cost Americans their lives. He has also promised to veto any FISA bill that does not contain retroactive immunity. Therefore, the President is willing to allow Americans to die to protect telecoms from any consequences of their lawbreaking done on his behest. Democrats, like Reid, seem more than willing to help the President in this regard.

The pattern of behavior is clear. The President used carrots and sticks against telecom companies to allow the government to illegally spy on Americans. Now, when the extent of the lawbreaking is starting to be known, the President rushes to protect the telecom industry that so dutifully did what he asked knowing full well of its illegality. Scooter Libby is just another variation on this general theme.

This President is out of control, the best the Democratic leadership seem to be able or willing to muster is a bunch of non-binding oversight and perhaps a strongly worded letter, denunciation, or meaningless, capitulating objection. The President has proven to be the number one domestic enemy to the rule of law and the Constitution, yet the Democratic leadership seems more than willing to go along. They tacitly and often actively support this Presidents efforts to shred the Constitution.

So where were the Democratic front-runners, Senators Clinton and Obama, when it counted: campaigning in Iowa. Is this their idea of leadership? When it was time to stand-up and be counted, they couldn’t be bothered to stop campaigning. However, they were more than happy to offer a meaningless denunciation from afar. How are they qualified to lead the country again?

Thank you Chris Dodd for displaying what true leadership really is.

October 16, 2007

The Effects of a Politicized Justice Department

Filed under: media, politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 9:35 am

With the exiting of Alberto Gonzales, the controversy of the firing of U.S. attorneys in the justice department seems to have faded. Despite the fact that they were almost certainly politically motivated . Although, we shouldn’t forget its context in light of new information.

One case is examined in the Time’s article, “Selective Justice in Alabama?” which investigates the prosecution of Former Democratic Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. The gist of it is Lanny Young admitted giving gifts to not only Don Siegelman but also Republicans in the state Jeff Sessions (now a U.S. Senator) and William Pryor Jr. (now a federal judge).

Certainly in Young’s statements about Sessions and Pryor, he did not allege a quid pro quo for his money laundering of their campaigns. And whatever the involvement of their campaigns, Sessions and Pryor both assert they were completely unaware of his confessed chicanery. But the U.S. Attorney’s office chose to prosecute Siegelman in no small measure on the basis of Young’s word and chose not to investigate Sessions and Pryor — or their campaigns — on the basis of that same word.

The New York Times has some more background information on the situation.

Into environment comes ex-CEO of Qwest Joe Nacchio who apparently refused to go along with the governments warrantless wiretapping scheme in direct violation of the FISA act. Nacchio was convicted of 19 counts of insider trading. This was done on the basis that he know the stock was going to go down. His claim is that he expected the stock to go up because he was in negotiations with the NSA for a multi-million contract. However, there was a sticking point and Nacchio refused to go along.

The topic itself is redacted each time it appears in the hundreds of pages of documents, but there is mention of Nacchio believing the request was both inappropriate and illegal, and repeatedly refusing to go along with it.

The NSA contract was awarded in July 2001 to companies other than Qwest.

To be clear about this, George W. Bush has actively stacked the justice department.  There is evidence that this stacked justice department has selectively prosecuted political opponents and has been used as a tool of retribution to ensure collusion between corporate and state power.

Calling it a conspiracy is an insult to the intelligence because it is so badly guised.  The only remarkable aspects are how bold-faced the lie is, how those in power refuse to do anything about it and how opinion makers in the media routinely dismiss or defend it.

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