Regime Change at Home

From The Progressive Populist

Popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have some on the left wondering why we can’t accomplish regime change in the United States.

But a big difference between restive North Africans and Americans is that Americans, by and large, have the right to vote and we can change the regime if we can muster the will and overcome the corporate noise machine. 

Many of us thought we were accomplishing regime change in 2010, with the election of Barack Obama and large Democratic majorities in Congress, but even after the switch of Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) from Republican to Democrat and Al Franken (DFL-Minn.)’s election finally was certified seven months after he won at the polls, giving the Democratic caucus the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural roadblocks, we found that a cabal of Republicans and corporatist Democrats in the Senate were still able to block progressive initiatives from becoming law. 

Even after a compromised health-care reform bill made it through Congress, it still faces a review from the politically divided Supreme Court, where opponents are believed to have lined up at least four votes to overturn the law, including one justice, Clarence Thomas, who is untroubled by conflicts of interest with his wife, Ginni, who has been a conservative fundraiser and is now a lobbyist who boasts of her “connections” to help clients with “government affairs efforts.”

However, a coalition of House Progressives and Teabaggers Feb. 8 at least delayed the plans of congressional leaders to renew several key provisions of the Bush-era PATRIOT Act without giving them serious review. George Zornick of ThinkProgress.org noted that key provisions expire at the end of February, including language that gives the FBI authority to use roving wiretaps; a “lone wolf” provision that allows the government to monitor targets who are not connected to an identifiable terrorist group; and, most troublingly, a provision allowing the FBI access, without judicial review, “any tangible items” such as library records that it deems relevant to an ongoing terrorism investigation. 

Reforms to the PATRIOT Act have been debated every year but never enacted. The new Republican House leadership put the one-year extension on a fast track for passage without any reforms — or even hearings.

The ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) opposed the extension and urged his colleagues to vote no, calling the act “one of the worst laws” Congress had ever passed. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) challenged Tea Party conservatives to stand up for the First and Fourth Amendments when the bill came up for debate in the House and 26 Republicans voted with 122 Democrats against the measure, while 67 Dems and 210 Republicans supported it. That left supporters short of the two-thirds needed for immediate passage.

That means the bill will get a committee hearing and come back under regular rules, when a simple majority can pass it.

In the meantime, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has put forth a bill that would extend the provisions, but with some important safeguards. For example, “when library or bookseller records are sought via a Section 215 order for business records, a statement of specific and articulable facts showing relevance to an authorized investigation must be produced.” The Department of Justice has already agreed to enact most of these reforms voluntarily, but Leahy’s bill would also sunset use of National Security Letters, a dangerous practice that gave the FBI authority to demand personal customer records from Internet service providers, financial institutions and credit companies without court review.

Unfortunately, Senate “conservatives” are prepared to fast-track a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that extends these provisions for two years without any reforms, under a rule that allows them to bypass the committee process.

There ought to be at least 41 senators who would stick together to block the fast-tracking of PATRIOT renewal, but don’t count on it. Tell your senators that the PATRIOT Act, if it should be renewed at all, should be extended only long enough to allow a sober hearing of Leahy’s bill. 

Regime change begins at home. But the White House is only the start. We also need better senators and representatives. Too many Democrats talk about protecting working people’s interests before the election but bow to corporate benefactors after the election. And plenty of Republicans are in favor of keeping the government out of your business before the election, but after the election are perfectly willing to let the FBI seize your files without giving you recourse to a court or even your own attorney. 

We don’t need to occupy the National Mall to restore democracy. We just need to pay attention to what’s going on, encourage good people to run for office and then vote for them in our neighborhood precincts. The Supreme Court has said that corporations can flood the airwaves with ads during election campaigns — and we should organize around reversing that infamous Citizens United court ruling — but first we need to do a better job of getting the truth out over the din.

(And Diane Feinstein needs a Democratic primary challenger. California really can and should do better.)

See the entire editorial at The Progressive Populist. Reprinted by permission.

 

Regime Change at Home

From The Progressive Populist

Popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have some on the left wondering why we can’t accomplish regime change in the United States.

But a big difference between restive North Africans and Americans is that Americans, by and large, have the right to vote and we can change the regime if we can muster the will and overcome the corporate noise machine. 

Many of us thought we were accomplishing regime change in 2010, with the election of Barack Obama and large Democratic majorities in Congress, but even after the switch of Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) from Republican to Democrat and Al Franken (DFL-Minn.)’s election finally was certified seven months after he won at the polls, giving the Democratic caucus the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural roadblocks, we found that a cabal of Republicans and corporatist Democrats in the Senate were still able to block progressive initiatives from becoming law. 

Even after a compromised health-care reform bill made it through Congress, it still faces a review from the politically divided Supreme Court, where opponents are believed to have lined up at least four votes to overturn the law, including one justice, Clarence Thomas, who is untroubled by conflicts of interest with his wife, Ginni, who has been a conservative fundraiser and is now a lobbyist who boasts of her “connections” to help clients with “government affairs efforts.”

However, a coalition of House Progressives and Teabaggers Feb. 8 at least delayed the plans of congressional leaders to renew several key provisions of the Bush-era PATRIOT Act without giving them serious review. George Zornick of ThinkProgress.org noted that key provisions expire at the end of February, including language that gives the FBI authority to use roving wiretaps; a “lone wolf” provision that allows the government to monitor targets who are not connected to an identifiable terrorist group; and, most troublingly, a provision allowing the FBI access, without judicial review, “any tangible items” such as library records that it deems relevant to an ongoing terrorism investigation. 

Reforms to the PATRIOT Act have been debated every year but never enacted. The new Republican House leadership put the one-year extension on a fast track for passage without any reforms — or even hearings.

The ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) opposed the extension and urged his colleagues to vote no, calling the act “one of the worst laws” Congress had ever passed. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) challenged Tea Party conservatives to stand up for the First and Fourth Amendments when the bill came up for debate in the House and 26 Republicans voted with 122 Democrats against the measure, while 67 Dems and 210 Republicans supported it. That left supporters short of the two-thirds needed for immediate passage.

That means the bill will get a committee hearing and come back under regular rules, when a simple majority can pass it.

In the meantime, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has put forth a bill that would extend the provisions, but with some important safeguards. For example, “when library or bookseller records are sought via a Section 215 order for business records, a statement of specific and articulable facts showing relevance to an authorized investigation must be produced.” The Department of Justice has already agreed to enact most of these reforms voluntarily, but Leahy’s bill would also sunset use of National Security Letters, a dangerous practice that gave the FBI authority to demand personal customer records from Internet service providers, financial institutions and credit companies without court review.

Unfortunately, Senate “conservatives” are prepared to fast-track a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that extends these provisions for two years without any reforms, under a rule that allows them to bypass the committee process.

There ought to be at least 41 senators who would stick together to block the fast-tracking of PATRIOT renewal, but don’t count on it. Tell your senators that the PATRIOT Act, if it should be renewed at all, should be extended only long enough to allow a sober hearing of Leahy’s bill. 

Regime change begins at home. But the White House is only the start. We also need better senators and representatives. Too many Democrats talk about protecting working people’s interests before the election but bow to corporate benefactors after the election. And plenty of Republicans are in favor of keeping the government out of your business before the election, but after the election are perfectly willing to let the FBI seize your files without giving you recourse to a court or even your own attorney. 

We don’t need to occupy the National Mall to restore democracy. We just need to pay attention to what’s going on, encourage good people to run for office and then vote for them in our neighborhood precincts. The Supreme Court has said that corporations can flood the airwaves with ads during election campaigns — and we should organize around reversing that infamous Citizens United court ruling — but first we need to do a better job of getting the truth out over the din.

(And Diane Feinstein needs a Democratic primary challenger. California really can and should do better.)

See the entire editorial at The Progressive Populist. Reprinted by permission.

 

Regime Change at Home

From The Progressive Populist

Popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have some on the left wondering why we can’t accomplish regime change in the United States.

But a big difference between restive North Africans and Americans is that Americans, by and large, have the right to vote and we can change the regime if we can muster the will and overcome the corporate noise machine. 

Many of us thought we were accomplishing regime change in 2010, with the election of Barack Obama and large Democratic majorities in Congress, but even after the switch of Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) from Republican to Democrat and Al Franken (DFL-Minn.)’s election finally was certified seven months after he won at the polls, giving the Democratic caucus the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural roadblocks, we found that a cabal of Republicans and corporatist Democrats in the Senate were still able to block progressive initiatives from becoming law. 

Even after a compromised health-care reform bill made it through Congress, it still faces a review from the politically divided Supreme Court, where opponents are believed to have lined up at least four votes to overturn the law, including one justice, Clarence Thomas, who is untroubled by conflicts of interest with his wife, Ginni, who has been a conservative fundraiser and is now a lobbyist who boasts of her “connections” to help clients with “government affairs efforts.”

However, a coalition of House Progressives and Teabaggers Feb. 8 at least delayed the plans of congressional leaders to renew several key provisions of the Bush-era PATRIOT Act without giving them serious review. George Zornick of ThinkProgress.org noted that key provisions expire at the end of February, including language that gives the FBI authority to use roving wiretaps; a “lone wolf” provision that allows the government to monitor targets who are not connected to an identifiable terrorist group; and, most troublingly, a provision allowing the FBI access, without judicial review, “any tangible items” such as library records that it deems relevant to an ongoing terrorism investigation. 

Reforms to the PATRIOT Act have been debated every year but never enacted. The new Republican House leadership put the one-year extension on a fast track for passage without any reforms — or even hearings.

The ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) opposed the extension and urged his colleagues to vote no, calling the act “one of the worst laws” Congress had ever passed. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) challenged Tea Party conservatives to stand up for the First and Fourth Amendments when the bill came up for debate in the House and 26 Republicans voted with 122 Democrats against the measure, while 67 Dems and 210 Republicans supported it. That left supporters short of the two-thirds needed for immediate passage.

That means the bill will get a committee hearing and come back under regular rules, when a simple majority can pass it.

In the meantime, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has put forth a bill that would extend the provisions, but with some important safeguards. For example, “when library or bookseller records are sought via a Section 215 order for business records, a statement of specific and articulable facts showing relevance to an authorized investigation must be produced.” The Department of Justice has already agreed to enact most of these reforms voluntarily, but Leahy’s bill would also sunset use of National Security Letters, a dangerous practice that gave the FBI authority to demand personal customer records from Internet service providers, financial institutions and credit companies without court review.

Unfortunately, Senate “conservatives” are prepared to fast-track a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that extends these provisions for two years without any reforms, under a rule that allows them to bypass the committee process.

There ought to be at least 41 senators who would stick together to block the fast-tracking of PATRIOT renewal, but don’t count on it. Tell your senators that the PATRIOT Act, if it should be renewed at all, should be extended only long enough to allow a sober hearing of Leahy’s bill. 

Regime change begins at home. But the White House is only the start. We also need better senators and representatives. Too many Democrats talk about protecting working people’s interests before the election but bow to corporate benefactors after the election. And plenty of Republicans are in favor of keeping the government out of your business before the election, but after the election are perfectly willing to let the FBI seize your files without giving you recourse to a court or even your own attorney. 

We don’t need to occupy the National Mall to restore democracy. We just need to pay attention to what’s going on, encourage good people to run for office and then vote for them in our neighborhood precincts. The Supreme Court has said that corporations can flood the airwaves with ads during election campaigns — and we should organize around reversing that infamous Citizens United court ruling — but first we need to do a better job of getting the truth out over the din.

(And Diane Feinstein needs a Democratic primary challenger. California really can and should do better.)

See the entire editorial at The Progressive Populist. Reprinted by permission.

 

Obama's Ironic Legacy Might be That He Continued an Unconstitutional Act

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            The U.S. House of Representatives this week did something it should have done years ago—it blocked the continuation of three of the more controversial parts of the PATRIOT Act. The vote was 277–148 to continue the Act, but a 2/3 majority (284 of those voting) was necessary for the bill to move forward. The PATRIOT Act sections are scheduled to expire Feb. 28 unless further action is taken by Congress.

            The Republican leadership had placed the bill on an expedited agenda, believing it had the necessary votes. It didn't count on a loose coalition of liberals and extreme conservatives to oppose the Act. Twenty-six Republicans, including seven who are allied with the Tea Party, voted against the bill. Had those seven Tea Party members voted for the continuation, the bill would have passed.

            The PATRIOT Act was passed about six weeks after the 9/11 attacks. The 342-page bill was drafted in secret by the Bush Administration, had minimal discussion, and most members of Congress hadn't even read it when they voted for it. Only one of 100 senators and 66 of 435 representatives voted against it, claiming that it sacrificed Constitutional protections in order to give Americans a false sense of security. Most of the Act is non-controversial, an umbrella for previous federal law; the controversial parts taint the entire document.

            The PATRIOT Act's "sunset" clause required 16 of the most controversial parts to expire unless Congress renewed them before December 31, 2005. However, in July 2005, Congress voted to extend the entire law.

            The PATRIOT Act butts against the protections of six Constitutional amendments: the 1st (freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances), 4th (freedom from unreasonable searches), 5th (right against self-incrimination and due process), 6th (due process, the right to counsel, a speedy trial, and the right to a fair and public trial by an impartial jury), 8th (reasonable bail and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment), and 14th (equal protection guarantee for both citizens and non-citizens).

            The PATRIOT Act also violates Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to petition the courts to issue a writ of habeas corpus to require the government to produce a prisoner or suspect in order to determine the legality of the detention. Only Congress may order a suspension of the right of the writ, and then only in “Cases of Rebellion or Invasion.” Congress did not suspend this right; nothing during or subsequent to the 9/11 attack indicated either a rebellion or invasion under terms of the Constitution.

            Among the provisions of the PATRIOT Act, which 277 House members apparently believe is necessary for American security, is Section 215, which allows the government to seize all library records of any individual. Apparently, the government believes that reading is just another part of a wide terrorist conspiracy. A white-haired grandmother who checks out murder mysteries from the library could be a serial killer, according to the government's logic.

            Several federal court cases, including decisions by the Supreme Court, with most of its members politically conservative, ruled that provisions of the PATRIOT Act are unconstitutional. Implementation of those rulings are slow or under appeal.

              Among organizations that oppose the PATRIOT Act are the ACLU, American Bar Association, American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, and the National Council of Churches.  Among liberals who have led opposition to the Act are Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). Among conservatives opposing the Act are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who had been a U.S. attorney, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Among conservative organizations that oppose the PATRIOT Act are the American Conservative Union, Free Congress Foundation, and the Second Amendment Foundation.

            Some of society's denser citizens have claimed that not only must the nation sacrifice some of its civil liberties in order to defeat terrorism, but that they personally have never had their own rights suppressed. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of cases of persons whose civil liberties have been threatened. In only the first three years after the PATRIOT Act was placed into law, there were about 360 arrests, with only 39 convictions, half resulting in jail sentences of less than 11 months, indicating minor infractions. Reports from the inspector general of the Department of Justice revealed that the government had consistently exceeded its authority to investigate and prosecute civilians under guise of the PATRIOT Act. Numerous arrests for non-terrorist activity include a couple aboard a flight who were charged as terrorists for having engaged in "overt sexual activity," and a woman who was jailed three months in 2007 as a terrorist for raising her voice to a flight attendant.

            In March 2010, President Obama signed a one-year extension on the Act, and now says he wants the Act to continue through 2013.

            And that may be the worst part of the President's legacy. The constitutional law scholar and professor, who has strong beliefs for human rights but who has not been forceful in speaking out against the Act's most heinous sections, is now a leading proponent to extend the very document that conflicts with his principles and the nation's Bill of Rights.

 

[Dr. Brasch is author of the critically-acclaimed America's Unpatriotic Acts, the first book to look in-depth at the PATRIOT Act and its effect upon American citizens. The book is available through amazon.com, as are his 15 other books, most on history and contemporary social issues.]

 

 

'No Drama Obama' Needs a Strong Second Act

by Walter Brasch

           The Obama administration is a welcome change from the Bush–Cheney years. Against severe Republican opposition, President Obama has kept campaign promises to reform health care, curb Wall Street excesses, create a federally-funded stimulus program to help bring the nation out of the recession, and to remove American troops from the needless Iraq war, which has already cost Americans more than $740 billion and 4,400 lives. He has also pledged to eliminate the Bush–Cheney tax cuts for the rich, while not raising taxes on the middle- and lower-classes.

           However, much of what the President is doing appears to be little more than an extension of Bush–Cheney values. And that is not what the Americans voted for when they elected him to office.

           Candidate Obama ran, and won office as an anti-war politician. President Obama has increased American presence in Afghanistan. In July, 66 American soldiers were killed, the highest number for any month during the war.

           Candidate Obama pledged to end the PATRIOT Act, which has done little to protect American safety and much to destroy American Constitutional rights, including freedom of expression, due process, and protection against unreasonable governmental invasion of privacy. However President Obama signed legislation to extend the Act for yet another year.

           During the 2008 campaign, both candidates Barack Obama and John McCain promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. However, President Obama, apparently scared by the right wing paranoids, hasn't transferred any prisoners to maximum federal security prisons in the U.S., any one of which should have little difficulty dealing with suspected enemy combatants among the general population of killers and rapists.

           President Obama had failed to clean up the corrupt Minerals Management Service of the Department of Interior, which under the Bush–Cheney administration had become little more than feckless advocates for Big Oil. About a year into the Obama administration, the MMS exempted BP from filing a full environmental impact statement. Against the advice of environmentalists, and his own statements while a candidate, President Obama allowed continued deep water drilling in the Gulf, claiming that safety concerns were met. About a month later, the BP oil rig ruptured, killing 11 workers and leading to the worst oil spill in U.S. history. It took five weeks before President Obama finally placed a six month moratorium on deep well drilling, only to have that moratorium overturned by a Louisiana judge with financial ties to the oil industry. The Obama administration appealed that order and issued a broader moratorium. By then, more about 200 million gallons of oil had spilled into the gulf, killing wildlife, the fishing industries, and tourism.

           Although Candidate Obama  promised better transparency in government—and to a certain extent has succeeded—as President he allowed BP and his own government to place severe restrictions upon the media that were trying to give full coverage to the spill. 

           The transparency credibility issue surfaced again this month when the Defense Department rejected the application for Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings to accompany troops in Afghanistan. Hastings had accurately reported the political statements by Gen. Stanley McChrystal that led the President to fire him for the nature of his comments that "undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of the democratic system."

           Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama had said he believed in gay marriages. However, President Obama, although extending the rights of gay couples, has yielded to the fears of irrational conservatives and says he opposes same-sex marriages, but believes in civil unions. Unlike President Obama, supporters of same-sex marriage include Bill Clinton, Laura Bush, and Cindy McCain.

           The Republican leadership tried to block extending unemployment benefits during the Recession; it was weeks until President Obama spoke forcefully against the Republicans, which has earned its label as the "Party of 'No.'" Hopefully, President Obama will be quicker to denounce the prattle of Republican leaders who are mounting a campaign to reduce Social Security benefits.

           Solely for political reasons, the Bush–Cheney administration took gray wolves off the endangered species list one week before Barack Obama became president. Slightly more than a year after taking office, President Obama officially continued the Bush–Cheney policy. The action by both administrations allowed the killing large numbers of the 1,600 wolves in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho and Montana, often by state officials from helicopters and often into the dens that housed pups. No matter what the federal government said about wolves not being endangered, there were two realities. First, the Cattle Industry lobby wanted wolves removed, although federal subsidies reimburse ranchers for any livestock killed by wolves. The second issue is that wolves are competition for hunters, a majority of whom tend to be conservatives or supporters of Republican philosophies. While wolves kill for food or to protect their pack, human hunters may claim they hunt for food, but go to extraordinary lengths and expense to stuff and display their "trophy kills," and often will kill animals, such as bears, prairie dogs, and coyotes that have no food value. Unlike their human competitors, wolves usually don't use guns with telescopic sights, buy all kinds of whistles and electronic calls that mimic the cries of other animals, use elevated shooting stands, send out decoys, or even create elaborate steel-jaw traps. They never take their prey back to a cabin, consume 6-packs, and tell stories with other wolves. A federal court this week ruled that gray wolves in the Rockies were not only an endangered species, but stopped state-supported wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana.

           Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, against severe opposition, pushed through some of the most critical social legislation in the nation's history. Harry Truman stood up for his principles and for the benefit of the people when he lashed out at a "do-nothing Congress." Candidate Obama was elected on a forceful campaign mantra of "Change you can believe in," and not "A slight variation of present policies that you can maybe live with."

           President Obama is known as "No Drama Obama" because of his quiet intellectualism.  He needs to be more forceful, both in fully supporting social legislation he and his base believe in as well as attacking the vicious smears, lies, and distortions from the extreme Right Wing. If President Obama continues to pandering to the conservatives, and continues a slide into compromise that dilutes necessary social justice legislation instead of trusting the millions who voted for that change he promised, especially when he has both the power of the presidency and the votes in Congress, he will be a one-term president, hated by both the right and the left.

 [Assisting on this column was Rosemary Brasch. Walter Brasch's latest books are the witty and probing Sex and the Single Beer Can, a look at American culture and the mass media; and 'Unacceptable': The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina, which discusses governmental neglect that magnified both the damage from the hurricane and the BP oil spill. Both books are available at amazon.com, and other stores. You may contact Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu.]

 

 

 

 

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