Federal Judge Strikes Down Gag Orders Under Patriot Act

The portion of the Patriot Act which makes it a crime to reveal that one has been investigated under the Act has been called unconstitutional by a federal judge:

A provision of the Patriot Act that requires people who are formally contacted by the FBI for information to keep it a secret is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero sided with the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit and argued that an FBI letter requesting information — called a National Security Letter — is effectively a gag order but without the authorization of a judge.

The FBI tells people who receive the letters to keep them secret, but recipients can challenge the secrecy order in court under a 2006 congressional amendment to the NSL law.

The law says judges must defer to the FBI’s view that secrecy is necessary, undermining the judiciary’s check on the power of the executive branch, the ACLU said.

In a written ruling issued on Thursday, Marrero said the gag order violated the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and was unconstitutional.

Marrero based his ruling on the seriousness of the potential intrusion on privacy and on “the significant possibility of a chilling effect on speech and association — particularly of expression that is critical of the government or its policies.”

According to the ACLU, more than 143,000 National Security Letters were issued between 2003 and 2005. The U.S. Attorney’s office is considering an appeal of this ruling.

Edwards Evades Question, Then Attacks Clinton for Triangulation

Some presidential candidates, such as every Republican running, are unacceptable due to the views they promote. Sometimes a candidate such as John Edwards is unacceptable regardless of his views. Beyond his bases of support in portions of the blogosphere and the trial lawyers, many have recognized that John Edwards is simply a know-nothing political hack who will say anything for votes. I believe that this is why the media concentrated so much on issues such as his haircut. While trivial on the surface, it was their way of noting that Edwards is a light weight.

Since then many more stories have come out, often characterized by displays of hypocrisy. For example, we’ve seen Edwards attack his opponents for taking lobbyist money, only to find that he’s the major Democratic candidate who has both been the most secretive about his fund raising and who is most indebted to a single special interest. Edwards made lots of noise about foreclosures on Katrina victims until it was discovered that he not only invested in a company responsible for this but actually worked for one. Edwards has claimed to be holier than the other Democrats on Iraq, only to be shot down by Obama who actually opposed the war which Edwards supported. Edwards both attacks other candidates for attacking each other, and, besides often attacking the other candidates himself, runs the most divisive campaign which at times appears to be designed to ensure the Democrats become a minority party for another generation.

As the race continues I suspect the media will continue to attempt to warn the country about what they see in Edwards. An example of this can be seen in The New York Observer. They quote Edwards in criticizing Hillary Clinton for triangulation. His criticism may be valid, but comes off as less meaningful when they note a similar fault in Edwards:

At a press conference in midtown to announce the endorsement of the Transportation Workers Union for his presidential campaign, Edwards told reporters that he would be labor’s greatest champion.

TWU president James Little said that the more than 200,000 national active and retired members of the union–including about 36,000 in the New York local, led by Roger Toussaint of MTA-strike fame–were endorsing Edwards because he would not “triangulate” and would be a clear voice for labor.

During a short question-and-answer period after the announcement in the Broadway headquarters, a Daily News reporter asked the seemingly straightforward question of whether TWU members and other public workers should be sanctioned if they strike. The champion of labor dodged the question.

He said the law should be changed in America to make it easier for workers to organize. He said the collective bargaining process should be strengthened. He said he had walked on 200 picket lines in the last two years.

“Those are the things that I would focus on,” he said.

But, the reporter insisted, should public workers be allowed to strike without fear of sanctions? “I stand by my answer,” said Edwards.

He took another question. It was the same one, this time from a New York Post reporter.

“I’ll stand by my answer,” he said.

All candidates evade questions and this might not be so newsworthy if not for the manner in which Edwards attempts to portray himself as superior to his opponents. At least he might think twice before attacking another candidate after he has evaded a question such as this, especially as reporters are reporting the connection.

Novak Premature In Predicting Clinton Advantage in Michigan and Florida

Robert Novak believes that the decision of the major candidates to abstain from campaigning in Michigan and Florida, in response to their change of caucus and primary dates in violation of party rules, will help Hillary Clinton.

Assume Clinton starts by losing Iowa and New Hampshire after more than a year of campaigning. That could be nullified by campaign-free Michigan, where a public poll gives Clinton a 19-percentage point lead over Obama. Assume Clinton also loses in heavily campaigned South Carolina. That could be nullified by campaign-free Florida, where polls show Clinton’s lead as high as 30 percentage points.

The logic is that, in the absence of having candidates campaign, the candidate who currently leads in the state polls will win. This fails to take into account the effects of the early primary votes assuming that Iowa and New Hampshire move up their votes as necessary to remain first and second. I wonder how many state polls showed John Kerry leading as of September 2003. If Clinton loses in Iowa and New Hampshire the results in Michigan and Florida could be heavily influenced by such votes.

I suspect that there will be a resolution to this situation before winter, but if not I wonder how it will affect Obama’s decision to limit debate appearances. If he is unable to campaign in Michigan and Florida, media coverage becomes more important. Obama’s original decision only affected debate appearances for the remainder of 2006. It would be surprising if he also stays out of any debates in early 2007 should he remain obligated to refrain from campaigning in Michigan and Florida. I doubt there will be any debates in late 2006 due to decreased attention around the holidays, but if there are any he might be better off participating in them as well.

Dawkins on Hitchens; American South Found Not To Be Know-Nothing Theocracy

Richard Dawkins reviews Christopher Hitchen’s book God Is Not Great for the Times of London. It comes as no surprise that Dawkins gives it a favorable review. The review may be of interest for those who want to choose between the several recent books on atheism as it does give a good over view of the topics discussed. Besides reviewing the book, Dawkins provides a hopeful sign that “America is far from the know-nothing theocracy that two terms of Bush, and various misleading polls had led us to fear.”

With characteristic effrontery, he took his tour through the Bible Belt states – the reptilian brain of southern and middle America, rather than the easier pickings of the country’s cerebral cortex to the north and down the coasts. The plaudits he received were all the more gratifying. Something is stirring in that great country. America is far from the know-nothing theocracy that two terms of Bush, and various misleading polls, had led us to fear. Does the buckle of the Bible Belt conceal some real guts? Are the ranks of the thoughtful coming out of the closet and standing up to be counted? Yes, and Hitchens’s atheist colleagues on the American bestseller list have equally encouraging tales to tell.

Posted in George Bush, Religion. Tags: . No Comments »

Charlie Reese on Experience and Obama’s Foreign Policy Statements

Charlie Reese argues that experience is not always a virtue:

Would you really prefer an experienced killer? An experienced crook? An experienced con artist? An experienced whore? An experienced grifter? An experienced politician? An experienced liar?

I doubt it. For one thing, you can’t expect a fresh look at old problems from experience. Experience often means that the person has developed fixed opinions and fixed ideas. Experienced people tend to be the kind who “know” the situation long before they hear any evidence. Most of the time, they are the kind of people who don’t want to hear any evidence that contradicts their own ideas. I would even say that choosing a president with a lot of experience is a guarantee of maintaining the status quo, and, as I hope you know, the present status quo stinks.

Reese is not endorsing Obama, but he also defends Obama against many of the attacks and distortions of his positions:

I was just incensed at the cheap attempt to distort what the man said. He said he would talk to our so-called enemies. Those are exactly the people a president should talk to. The Cold War ended because American presidents talked to Soviet leaders, who were certainly our enemies at the time. There are only two ways to resolve a conflict – by negotiation or by force. I hope none of you is looking forward to a new century of war.

He also said that if we developed definitive information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and the Pakistan government refused to act, he would. Isn’t that what a normal person would want in a commander in chief? Someone who would act decisively in pursuing America’s goals? He didn’t say he would declare war on Pakistan. He simply said he’d go after our chief enemy, who has eluded the Bush administration for six years now.

Deliberate distortion of an opponent’s statements is a standard tactic among dishonorable politicians. That seems to be the majority of politicians these days. However, the American people deserve the right to choose their candidates based on what they actually say and do and not on the basis of lies and distortions spread abroad by their opponents and their hired truth-twisters.

Secondly, you should realize that today there are no Lone Rangers running for president. They all are surrounded by advisers, and the winner will enter the White House with an entourage. Presidents not only get bombarded with advice, they have at their disposal the world’s largest, if not the most effective, intelligence apparatus.

Thirdly, keep in the mind that the worst members of the Bush administration are the most experienced. That includes Vice President Dick Cheney, who often has had no doubt about things that weren’t so, and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who boasted that “we know where the weapons are.” Their collective experience amounted to disaster.

Finally, what you want in a president is intelligence, an open mind, energy, curiosity, courage, honesty and sound judgment. None of those is a product of experience. A modern president can collect data up the yazoo. That’s not the problem. The problem is in analyzing the data and deciding what, if anything, to do about a situation.

Walter Cronkite Returning to Television?

Retirement Living TV is trying to expand their cable network and to do so is going after a name well known to their potential audience–Walter Cronkite. Cable360.net reports:

RLTV President Brad Knight confirms the Columbia, MD-based network is in talks with Cronkite. One scenario would have Cronkite presenting a weekly commentary “about anything Walter wants to share with us,” Knight says.

And it could be a family affair. Walter’s son Chip Cronkite is a segment producer on RLTV’s The Art of Living. It’s possible that Chip would produce whatever projects his father does with RLTV, Knight said. (Another Cronkite connection: RLTV producer Dean Love won an Emmy while working for Cronkite’s production company.)

For the benefit of those both too young to watch Retirement Living and to remember Cronkite, television news was quite different in his era. There was no cable news, no cable propaganda like Fox, and even ABC was still a small scale operation. Walter Cronkite was a major source of news for the nation which was far beyond the influence of more recent anchors. When Cronkite questioned the wisdom of the Vietnam War, it had a real impact on public opinion. It’s a shame he wasn’t around during the build up to the Iraq War.

Posted in News Media. Tags: , . 1 Comment »

Bush: Lying or Delusional on WMD?

Reviewing George Bush’s statements on Iraq leads to only two possibilities. Either the guy was lying about WMD in Iraq or he is as incompetent as his worst critics have argued in believing this regardless of the evidence. A liar or delusional?There has been recent evidence released for each possibility.

Writing in Salon, Sidney Blumenthal reported evidence that Bush had squelched evidence which contradicted his public statements on WMD in Iraq:

On April 23, 2006, CBS’s “60 Minutes” interviewed Tyler Drumheller, the former CIA chief of clandestine operations for Europe, who disclosed that the agency had received documentary intelligence from Naji Sabri, Saddam’s foreign minister, that Saddam did not have WMD. “We continued to validate him the whole way through,” said Drumheller. “The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy.”

Now two former senior CIA officers have confirmed Drumheller’s account to me and provided the background to the story of how the information that might have stopped the invasion of Iraq was twisted in order to justify it. They described what Tenet said to Bush about the lack of WMD, and how Bush responded, and noted that Tenet never shared Sabri’s intelligence with then Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to the former officers, the intelligence was also never shared with the senior military planning the invasion, which required U.S. soldiers to receive medical shots against the ill effects of WMD and to wear protective uniforms in the desert.

Instead, said the former officials, the information was distorted in a report written to fit the preconception that Saddam did have WMD programs. That false and restructured report was passed to Richard Dearlove, chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), who briefed Prime Minister Tony Blair on it as validation of the cause for war.

Secretary of State Powell, in preparation for his presentation of evidence of Saddam’s WMD to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, spent days at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and had Tenet sit directly behind him as a sign of credibility. But Tenet, according to the sources, never told Powell about existing intelligence that there were no WMD, and Powell’s speech was later revealed to be a series of falsehoods.

Blumenthal goes on to discuss how the evidence that Saddam did not have WMD was suppressed with the justification that, “This isn’t about intelligence. It’s about regime change.”

The CIA officers on the case awaited the report they had submitted on Sabri to be circulated back to them, but they never received it. They learned later that a new report had been written. “It was written by someone in the agency, but unclear who or where, it was so tightly controlled. They knew what would please the White House. They knew what the king wanted,” one of the officers told me.

That report contained a false preamble stating that Saddam was “aggressively and covertly developing” nuclear weapons and that he already possessed chemical and biological weapons. “Totally out of whack,” said one of the CIA officers. “The first [para]graph of an intelligence report is the most important and most read and colors the rest of the report.” He pointed out that the case officer who wrote the initial report had not written the preamble and the new memo. “That’s not what the original memo said.”

Despite all the efforts to cook the evidence, there is some evidence suggesting that Bush continued to believe his own false statements. Think Progress quotes from Robert Draper’s book Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush which reveals that Bush was still claiming that there was WMD in Iraq in 2006 despite a series of reports finding no signs of WMD.

Bush, for his part, was not disposed to second-guessing. Throughout 2006, he read historical texts relating to Lincoln, Churchill, and Truman — three wartime leaders, the latter two of whom left office to something less than public acclaim. History would acquit him, too. Bush was confident of that, and of something else as well. Though it was not the sort of thing one could say publicly anymore, the president still believed that Saddam had possessed weapons of mass destruction. He repeated this conviction to Andy Card all the way up until Card’s departure in April 2006, almost exactly three years after the Coalition had begun its fruitless search for WMDs.[p. 388]

There is room for arguing that Bush was lying or delusional. Either way he is unfit to be president.