I’m A Uniter, Not A Divider, Except When….

May 19, 2006

Jack Cafferty from CNN call out Frist and Specter over Senate committee's constitutional ammendment to ban same-sex marriage:

Jack Cafferty: Wolf, Today's lesson in hypocrisy comes to us courtesy of the Senate Judiciary Committee. They met in a different private room behind closed doors today and approved a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage. at one point the thing got pretty ugly. A shouting match, between the Republican Chairman Senator Arlen Spector and Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who said he was against the Amendment as well as Spector's decision to hold the vote in a private room out of the public's view.

These guys are shameless. Feingold eventually stormed out telling Spector "I've enjoyed your lecture Mr Chairman. See ya."

Senator Spector in a real show of courage, says that he is "totally opposed to the Amendment", but he voted for it anyway saying that it deserves a debate in the Senate. Majority Leader Bill Frist says the full Senate will now debate a Constitutional Amendment which has absolutely no chance of passing. Frist hopes to have a vote by June 5th.

This is all being done by the republican majority in an effort to appeal to Right-wing nuts in the Republican Party ahead of the upcoming mid-term elections. Ignore all of the pressing issues facing the country, and instead go grovel at the feet of the lunatic fringe. Senator Frist should be very proud of himself. That's leadership.  Here's the question: Is now the time for the Senate to consider a constitutional Amendment on gay marriage?

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BellSouth Denies Giving Records To NSA

May 16, 2006

Senators Frist and Lott apparently believe that if you "aren't doing anything wrong" you should not be worried about being illegally wiretapped.  So much for preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution.  I wonder of they think only guilty people "pleed the fifth"?  Perhaps they shuld both enroll in a remedial constitutional law class?

–DS

From CNN:

Despite media reports to the contrary, BellSouth said late Monday it had not participated in any effort by the National Security Agency to collect customer phone records.

"We have provided no customer information whatsoever to the NSA," said BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher.

In a statement released Monday, Atlanta-based BellSouth said it had conducted an internal review after reports surfaced last week that the company and two other telecommunications firms, Verizon and AT&T, had provided information to the NSA.

"Based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract [with the NSA] exists, and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA," the statement said.

The newspaper USA Today reported Thursday the companies had provided the NSA with records of billions of domestic phone calls since shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

According to the report, the NSA does not record or listen to the conversations, but uses data about the calls — numbers, times and locations — to look for patterns that might suggest terrorist activity. (Full story)

Bush: Privacy 'fiercely protected'

In the wake of the report, President Bush and other administration officials neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such a program.

But Bush insisted that NSA intelligence activities are lawful and target only suspected al Qaeda operatives.

"The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval," he said Thursday. "The privacy of ordinary Americans is being fiercely protected."

Verizon and AT&T each issued statements saying they could neither confirm nor deny they had given customer records to the NSA.

Both companies insisted, however, that data would have been provided only with safeguards to protect customers' privacy.

According to the USA Today report, Qwest, a Denver, Colorado-based telecommunications company, refused to cooperate with the program.

In March, San Antonio, Texas-based AT&T announced it would acquire BellSouth in a $67 billion deal that will create the nation's biggest phone company.

Calls for hearings

Lawmakers from both parties said the USA Today report raised new questions about the extent of the administration's surveillance efforts.

Some warned it could complicate Bush's nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden, a former NSA director, to replace Porter Goss as head of the CIA.

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would call phone company executives to testify about their involvement.

Specter has complained the administration has been reluctant to provide details of the previously known surveillance program since its disclosure in December.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, told reporters he "strongly" agrees with Bush and said, "We'll discuss whether hearings are necessary." Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi said Specter should back off his call for hearings.

"What are people worried about? What is the problem?" asked Lott, a former majority leader. "Are you doing something you're not supposed to?"

Hayden, now deputy national intelligence director, faces a confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee for the CIA post on Thursday.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee, said Thursday's disclosure presented "a growing impediment" to his nomination.

"I happen to believe we are on our way to a major constitutional confrontation on Fourth Amendment guarantees of unreasonable search and seizure," said Feinstein, who had expressed no reservations about Hayden earlier this week.

White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said the Bush administration would continue to push Hayden's nomination "full steam ahead."

"All I would want to say is that everything that NSA does is lawful and very carefully done, and that the appropriate members of Congress, the House and Senate, are briefed on all NSA activities," Hayden said last week.


GOP Senator Comes Out Of The Rabbit Hole?

May 4, 2006

From The Boston Globe:

Hearing vowed on Bush's powers
Senator questions bypassing of laws

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing the White House of a ''very blatant encroachment" on congressional authority, said yesterday he will hold an oversight hearing into President Bush's assertion that he has the power to bypass more than 750 laws enacted over the past five years.

''There is some need for some oversight by Congress to assert its authority here," Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said in an interview. ''What's the point of having a statute if . . . the president can cherry-pick what he likes and what he doesn't like?"

Specter said he plans to hold the hearing in June. He said he intends to call administration officials to explain and defend the president's claims of authority, as well to invite constitutional scholars to testify on whether Bush has overstepped the boundaries of his power.

The senator emphasized that his goal is ''to bring some light on the subject." Legal scholars say that, when confronted by a president encroaching on their power, Congress's options are limited. Lawmakers can call for hearings or cut the funds of a targeted program to apply political pressure, or take the more politically charged steps of censure or impeachment.

Specter's announcement followed a report in the Sunday Globe that Bush has quietly asserted the authority to ignore provisions in 750 bills he has signed — about 1 in 10.

Over the past five years, Bush has stated that he can defy any statute that conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. In many instances, Bush cited his role as head of the executive branch or as commander in chief to justify the exemption.

The statutes that Bush has asserted the right to override include numerous rules and regulations for the military, job protections for whistle-blowers who tell Congress about possible government wrongdoing, affirmative action requirements, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Bush made the claims in ''signing statements," official documents in which a president lays out his interpretation of a bill for the executive branch, creating guidelines to follow when it implements the law. The statements are filed without fanfare in the federal record, often following ceremonies in which the president made no mention of the objections he was about to raise in the bill, even as he signed it into law.

Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said via e-mail that if Specter calls a hearing, ''by all means we will ensure he has the information he needs." She pointed out that other presidents dating to the 19th century have ''on occasion" issued statements that raise constitutional concerns about provisions in new laws.

But while previous presidents did occasionally challenge provisions in laws while signing them, legal scholars say, the frequency and breadth of Bush's use of that power are unprecedented.

Bush is also the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, an act that gives public notice that he is rejecting a law and can be overridden by Congress. Instead, Bush has used signing statements to declare that he can bypass numerous provisions in new laws.

The statements attracted little attention in Congress or the media until recently, when Bush used them to reserve a right to bypass a new torture ban and new oversight provisions in the Patriot Act.

''The problem is that you have a statute, which Congress has passed, and then the signing statements negate that statute," Specter said. ''And there are more and more of them coming. If the president doesn't like something, he puts a signing statement on it."

Specter added: ''He put a signing statement on the Patriot Act. He put a signing statement on the torture issue. It's a very blatant encroachment on [Congress's constitutional] powers. If he doesn't like the bill, let him veto it."

It was during a Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the FBI that Specter yesterday announced his intent to hold a hearing on Bush's legal authority. Another committee member, Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, also questioned Bush's assertions that he has the authority to give himself an exemption from certain laws.

''Unfortunately, the president's signing statement on the Patriot Act is hardly the first time that he has shown a disrespect for the rule of law," Feingold said. ''The Boston Globe reported on Sunday that the president has used signing statements to reserve the right to break the law more than 750 times."

Feingold is an outspoken critic of Bush's assertion that his wartime powers give him the authority to set aside laws. The senator has proposed censuring Bush over his domestic spying program, in which the president secretly authorized the military to wiretap Americans' phones without a warrant, bypassing a 1978 surveillance law.

At the hearing yesterday, Feingold pressed FBI director Robert Mueller to give assurances that the bureau would comply with provisions in the Patriot Act and to tell Congress how agents are using the law to search homes and secretly seize papers.

Mueller said he saw no reason that the bureau couldn't share that information with Congress. But he also said that he was bound to obey the administration, and declined to promise that he would ''go out there and fight" on behalf of Congress if Bush decided to override the Patriot Act's oversight provision and ordered the FBI not to brief Congress.

Feingold also said Bush's legal claims have cast a cloud over a host of rules and restrictions that Congress has passed, using its constitutional authority to regulate the executive branch of government.

''How can we know whether the government will comply with the new laws that we passed?" Feingold said. ''I'm not placing the blame on you, obviously, or your agents who work to protect this country every day, but how can we have any assurance that you or your agents have not received a secret directive from above requiring you to violate laws that we all think apply today?"

Mueller replied: ''I can assure with you with regard to the FBI that our actions would be taken according to appropriate legal authorities."

Specter said that challenging Bush's contention that he can ignore laws written by Congress should be a matter of institutional pride for lawmakers. He also connected Bush's defiance of laws to several Supreme Court decisions in which the justices ruled that Congress had not done enough research to justify a law.

''We're undergoing a tsunami here with the flood coming from the executive branch on one side and the judicial branch on the other," Specter said. ''There may as well soon not be a Congress. . . . And I think that most members don't understand what's happening."