The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bush to criminalize protesters under Patriot Act as "disruptors"

Bush to criminalize protesters under Patriot Act as "disruptors"

Wed Jan 11, 2006 at 07:27:26 PM PDT

Bush wants to create the new criminal of "disruptor" who can be jailed for the crime of "disruptive behavior." A "little-noticed provision" in the latest version of the Patriot Act will empower Secret Service to charge protesters with a new crime of "disrupting major events including political conventions and the Olympics." Secret Service would also be empowered to charge persons with "breaching security" and to charge for "entering a restricted area" which is "where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting." In short, be sure to stay in those wired, fenced containments or free speech zones.

Who is the "disruptor"? Bush Team history tells us the disruptor is an American citizen with the audacity to attend Bush events wearing a T-shirt that criticizes Bush; or a member of civil rights, environmental, anti-war or counter-recruiting groups who protest Bush policies; or a person who invades Bush's bubble by criticizing his policies. A disruptor is also a person who interferes in someone else's activity, such as interrupting Bush when he is speaking at a press conference or during an interview.

What are the parameters of the crime of "disruptive behavior"? The dictionary defines "disruptive" as "characterized by unrest or disorder or insubordination." The American Medical Association defines disruptive behavior as a "style of interaction" with people that interferes with patient care, and can include behavior such as "foul language; rude, loud or offensive comments; and intimidation of patients and family members."

What are the rules of engagement for "disruptors"? Some Bush Team history of their treatment of disruptors provide some clues on how this administration will treat disruptors in the future.

(1) People perceived as disruptors may be preemptively ejected from events before engaging in any disruptive conduct.

In the beginning of this war against disruptors, Americans were ejected from taxpayer funded events where Bush was speaking. At first the events were campaign rallies during the election, and then the disruptor ejectment policy was expanded to include Bush's post election campaign-style events on public policy issues on his agenda, such as informing the public on medicare reform and the like. If people drove to the event in a car with a bumper sticker that criticized Bush's policies or wore T-shirts with similar criticism, they were disruptors who could be ejected from the taxpayer event even before they engaged in any disruptive behavior. White House press secretary McClellan defended such ejectments as a proper preemptive strike against persons who may disrupt an event: "If we think people are coming to the event to disrupt it, obviously, they're going to be asked to leave."

(2) Bush Team may check its vast array of databanks to cull out those persons who it deems having "disruptor" potential and then blacklist those persons from events.

The White House even has a list of persons it deems could be "disruptive" to an eventand then blacklists those persons from attending taxpayer funded events where Bush speaks. Sounds like Bush not only has the power to unilaterally designate people as "enemy combatants" in the global "war on terror," but to unilaterally designate Americans as "disruptive" in the domestic war against free speech.

(3) The use of surveillance, monitoring and legal actions against disruptors.

Bush's war against disruptors was then elevated to surveillance, monitoring, and legal actions against disruptor organizations. The FBI conducts political surveillance and obtains intelligence filed in its database on Bush administration critics , such as civil rights groups (e.g., ACLU), antiwar protest groups (e.g., United for Peace and Justice) and environmental groups (e.g., Greenpeace).

This surveillance of American citizens exercising their constitutional rights has been done under the pretext of counterterrorism activities surrounding protests of the Iraq war and the Republican National Convention. The FBI maintains it does not have the intent to monitor political activities and that its surveillance and intelligence gathering is "intended to prevent disruptive and criminal activity at demonstrations, not to quell free speech."

Surveillance of potential disruptors then graduated to legal actions as a preemptive strike against potential disruptive behavior at public events. In addition to monitoring and surveillance of legal groups and legal activities, the FBI issued subpoenas for members to appear before grand juries based on the FBI's "intent" to prevent "disruptive convention protests." The Justice Dept. opened a criminal investigation and subpoenaed records of Internet messages posted by Bush`s critics. And, the Justice Dept. even indicted Greenpeace for a protest that was so lame the federal judge threw out the case.

So now the Patriot Act, which was argued before enactment as a measure to fight foreign terrorists, is being amended to make clear that it also applies to American citizens who have the audacity to disrupt President Bush wherever his bubble may travel. If this provision is enacted into law, then Bush will have a law upon which to expand the type of people who constitute disruptors and the type of activities that constitute disruptive activities. And, then throw them all in jail

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/1/11/212726/954

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Frank Rich - The Wiretappers That Couldn't Shoot Straight

The Wiretappers That Couldn't Shoot Straight
By Frank Rich
The New York Times

Sunday 08 January 2006

Almost two weeks before The New York Times published its scoop about our government's extralegal wiretapping, the cable network Showtime blew the whole top-secret shebang. In its mini-series "Sleeper Cell," about Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in Los Angeles, the cell's ringleader berates an underling for chatting about an impending operation during a phone conversation with an uncle in Egypt. "We can only pray that the N.S.A. is not listening," the leader yells at the miscreant, who is then stoned for his blabbing.

If fictional terrorists concocted by Hollywood can figure out that the National Security Agency is listening to their every call, guess what? Real-life terrorists know this, too. So when a hyperventilating President Bush rants that the exposure of his warrant-free wiretapping in a newspaper is shameful and puts "our citizens at risk" by revealing our espionage playbook, you have to wonder what he is really trying to hide. Our enemies, as America has learned the hard way, are not morons. Even if Al Qaeda hasn't seen "Sleeper Cell" because it refuses to spring for pay cable, it has surely assumed from the get-go that the White House would ignore legal restraints on eavesdropping, just as it has on detainee jurisprudence and torture.

That the White House's over-the-top outrage about the Times scoop is a smokescreen contrived to cover up something else is only confirmed by Dick Cheney's disingenuousness. In last week's oration at a right-wing think tank, he defended warrant-free wiretapping by saying it could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Really? Not with this administration in charge. On 9/10 the N.S.A. (lawfully) intercepted messages in Arabic saying, "The match is about to begin," and, "Tomorrow is zero hour." You know the rest. Like all the chatter our government picked up during the president's excellent brush-clearing Crawford vacation of 2001, it was relegated to mañana; the N.S.A. didn't rouse itself to translate those warnings until 9/12.

Given that the reporters on the Times story, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, wrote that nearly a dozen current and former officials had served as their sources, there may be more leaks to come, and not just to The Times. Sooner or later we'll find out what the White House is really so defensive about.

Perhaps it's the obvious: the errant spying ensnared Americans talking to Americans, not just Americans talking to jihadists in Afghanistan. In a raw interview transcript posted on MSNBC's Web site last week - and quickly seized on by John Aravosis of AmericaBlog - the NBC News foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell asked Mr. Risen if he knew whether the CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour might have been wiretapped. (Mr. Risen said, "I hadn't heard that.") Surely a pro like Ms. Mitchell wasn't speculating idly. NBC News, which did not broadcast this exchange and later edited it out of the Web transcript, said Friday it was still pursuing the story.

If the Bush administration did indeed eavesdrop on American journalists and political opponents (Ms. Amanpour's husband, Jamie Rubin, was a foreign policy adviser to the Kerry campaign), it's déjà Watergate all over again. But even now we can see that there's another, simpler - and distinctly Bushian - motive at play here, hiding in plain sight.

That motive is not, as many liberals would have it, a simple ideological crusade to gut the Bill of Rights. Real conservatives, after all, are opposed to Big Brother; even the staunch Bush ally Grover Norquist has criticized the N.S.A.'s overreaching. The highest priority for the Karl Rove-driven presidency is instead to preserve its own power at all costs. With this gang, political victory and the propaganda needed to secure it always trump principles, even conservative principles, let alone the truth. Whenever the White House most vociferously attacks the press, you can be sure its No. 1 motive is to deflect attention from embarrassing revelations about its incompetence and failures.

That's why Paul Wolfowitz, in a 2004 remark for which he later apologized, dismissed reporting on the raging insurgency in Iraq as "rumors" he attributed to a Baghdad press corps too "afraid to travel." That's also why the White House tried in May to blame lethal anti-American riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan on a single erroneous Newsweek item about Koran desecration - as if 200-odd words in an American magazine could take the fall for the indelible photos from Abu Ghraib.

Such is the blame-shifting game Mr. Cheney was up to last week. By dragging 9/11 into his defense of possibly unconstitutional bugging, he was hoping to rewrite history to absolve the White House of its bungling. And no wonder. He knows all too well that the timing of Mr. Bush's signing of the secret executive order to initiate the desperate tactic of warrant-free N.S.A. eavesdropping - early 2002, according to Mr. Risen's new book, "State of War" - is nothing if not a giant arrow pointing to one of the administration's most catastrophic failures. It was only weeks earlier, in December 2001, that we had our best crack at nailing Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora and blew it What went down that fateful December is recalled in particularly gripping fashion in a just published book, "Jawbreaker," which, like Mr. Risen's book, is rising on the best-seller list at an inopportune moment for this White House. "Jawbreaker" is the self-told story of a veteran clandestine officer, Gary Berntsen, who was the pivotal C.I.A.i ld commander in the hunt for bin Laden. Mr. Berntsen is a fervent Bush loyalist, but his honest account doesn't do the president any favors. "We needed U.S. soldiers on the ground!" he writes, to "block a possible Al Qaeda escape into Afghanistan!" But his request to Centcom for 800 Army Rangers to do the job went unheeded. We don't know whether the Bush order relaxing legal controls on the N.S.A. was in part a Hail Mary pass to help compensate for that disaster. Either way, all the subsequent wiretaps in the world have not brought bin Laden back dead or alive. Though the White House says that its warrantless surveillance has saved lives by stopping other terrorists since then, Mr. Bush has exaggerated victories against Al Qaeda as often as he has the battle-readiness of Iraqi troops. After he claimed in an October speech that America and its allies had foiled 10 Qaeda plots since 9/11, USA Today reported that "at least" 6 of the 10 had been preliminary ideas for attacks rather than actual planned attacks.

The louder the reports of failures on this president's watch, the louder he tries to drown them out by boasting that he has done everything "within the law" to keep America safe and by implying that his critics are unpatriotic, if not outright treasonous. Mr. Bush certainly has good reason to pump up the volume now. In early December the former 9/11 commissioners gave the federal government a report card riddled with D's and F's on terrorism preparedness.

The front line of defense against terrorism is supposed to be the three-year-old, $40-billion-a-year Homeland Security Department, but news of its ineptitude, cronyism and no-bid contracts has only grown since Katrina. The Washington Post reported that one Transportation Security Administration contract worth up to $463 million had gone to a brand-new company that (coincidentally, we're told) contributed $122,000 to a powerful Republican congressman, Harold Rogers of Kentucky. An independent audit by the department's own inspector general, largely unnoticed during Christmas week, found everything from FEMA to border control in some form of disarray.

Yet even as this damning report was released, the president forced cronies into top jobs in immigration enforcement and state and local preparedness with recess appointments that bypassed Congressional approval. Last week the department had the brilliance to leave Las Vegas off its 2006 list of 35 "high threat" urban areas - no doubt because Mohammed Atta was so well behaved there when plotting the 9/11 attacks.

The warrantless eavesdropping is more of the same incompetence. Like our physical abuse of detainees and our denial of their access to due process, this flouting of the law may yet do as much damage to fighting the war on terrorism as it does to civil liberties. As the First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus wrote in The Huffington Post, every defense lawyer representing a terrorism suspect charged in the four years since Mr. Bush's N.S.A. decree can challenge the legality of the prosecution's evidence. "The entire criminal process will be brought to a standstill," Mr. Garbus explains, as the government refuses to give the courts information on national security grounds, inviting the dismissal of entire cases, and judges "up and down the appellate ladder" issue conflicting rulings.

Far from "bringing justice to our enemies," as Mr. Bush is fond of saying, he may once again be helping them escape the way he did at Tora Bora. The president who once promised to bring a "culture of responsibility" to Washington can and will blame The Times and the rest of the press for his failures. But maybe, if only for variety's sake, the moment has come to find a new scapegoat. I nominate Showtime.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/010806C.shtml

Monday, January 09, 2006

Weldon Berger - Bush signs bills but keeps his fingers crossed

Bush signs bills but keeps his fingers crossed

weldon berger

When George Bush signed the defense appropriation bill containing John McCain’s amendment removing torture and other human rights violations from the official repertoire of the armed forces, he added his own little amendment: “Unless I say otherwise.” The vehicle through which he reserved the option to break the law is called a bill-signing statement, and as Knight Ridder’s Ron Hutcheson revealed on Friday, the McCain bill was far from the first victim of the practice: Bush has used it some 500 times since taking office.

I’ve speculated on a few occasions that the White House has had a tacit agreement with Congress: So long as Congress doesn’t interfere with the administration, the president won’t interfere with the drunken-sailor pork bender that distinguishes this Republican Congress from all others. The thesis was based on Bush’s historic reluctance to veto a bill, or even to threaten one; he’s the only president since James Garfield to go an entire term without vetoing a bill, and Garfield was only in office a few months before he was shot.

Apparently, though, the explanation is much simpler. Bush doesn’t veto bills because in his view, he doesn’t have to; he can simply ignore the ones he doesn’t like.

The administration have made that argument explicit, but only in terms of the president’s capacity as “commander in chief” during an endless war, as with the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping, the decisions to ignore various Geneva Conventions and the selective suspension of habeas corpus. According to the Hutcheson story, though, it isn’t only legislation dealing with national security issues that the White House asserts the right to ignore.

In 2003, lawmakers tried to get a handle on Bush’s use of signing statements by passing a Justice Department spending bill that required the department to inform Congress whenever the administration decided to ignore a legislative provision on constitutional grounds.

Bush signed the bill, but issued a statement asserting his right to ignore the notification requirement.

I have a request in to the White House for a list of the legislation to which the president has appended bill-signing statements, along with the text of the statements. We’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, Hutcheson provides a bit of background on the brief but sordid history of bill-signing statements.
The roots of Bush’s approach go back to the Ford administration, when Dick Cheney, then serving as White House chief of staff, chafed at legislative limits placed on the executive branch in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and other abuses of power by President Nixon. Now the vice president and his top aide, David Addington, are taking the lead in trying to tip the balance of power away from Congress and back to the president.

[…]

Reagan adopted the strategy and used signing statements to challenge 71 legislative provisions, according to Kelley’s tally. President George H.W. Bush challenged 146 laws; President Clinton challenged 105. The current president has lodged more than 500 challenges so far.

Cheney has done an admirable job of tipping the balance of power; at the moment, the only power Congress appears to have is that of the purse, and the purse is jammed open, at least if you have a bridge in Alaska you want to sell.

Hutcheson also notes that Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito supported expanding the practice during his stint in the Reagan justice department, although he questioned the legality of it. One of our honorary legislators might want to ask him about that during his confirmation hearings.

The upshot of this is that until someone gets around to challenging the White House, Congress is just an advisory body with the authority to dole out bucketloads of cash. For now, we have a coup.

http://www.btcnews.com/btcnews/1185