Tag Archives: constitution

Delay the Election? Presidents Often Do Things They Can’t Do

Trump Won't Steal the Election, but Your Governor Might | The NationThe stock response to President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the general election might be delayed because voting during a pandemic would involve a record number of mail-in ballots, a format he argues is unreliable and susceptible to fraud, is that he doesn’t have that power.

NBC News is typical: “The president has no power to delay an election.” [Emphasis is mine.]

What the president understands, and most mainstream commentators fail to accept, is that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission. That goes double when the powers in question are limited by a document that lies in tatters, repeatedly ignored.

            Liberal politicians and news outlets point out that the Constitution assigns the scheduling of elections exclusively to Congress. Republicans tepidly (and troublingly) stopped short of denying Trump’s power to push back the big day, while insisting that the election ought to take place on time. “Never in the history of this country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time. We will find a way to do that again this November 3rd,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

In an era of rampant cynicism it is sweetly naïve and the amusingly charming to see Americans put so much faith into the constitutional checks and balances they learn about in high school civics class. “‘Trump can’t delay the election,’ experts say,” reads a headline in The Washington Post.

            Since when has a 221-year-old piece of paper stopped presidents from doing anything?

I think first of war powers. Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that the right “to declare war” resides exclusively with Congress. Such key founders as George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton—men whose right to define original intent can hardly be questioned—believed that presidents could not dispatch troops without legislative approval except in cases of immediate self-defense. Congress signed off on sending soldiers and sailors to the Quasi-War with France in 1798, naval conflicts with the Barbary States of Tripoli and Algiers, and clashes with Native American tribes in the West.

Congress has since abdicated its war-making powers to the executive branch. Congress hasn’t issued a formal declaration since World War II. Yet we have fought countless wars. Presidents have launched military attacks against Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Serbia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these wars of aggression were legalistically constructed as “police actions” or “peacekeeping missions” under the aegis of the UN. The fact remains, this is not what the drafters of the Constitution intended. And it has never been amended. Presidents do what they want; lawyers twist logic to justify their illegal slaughters.

President Abraham Lincoln earns democracy points for holding the 1864 election during the Civil War. Yet he suspended habeas corpus and ignored a ruling by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court saying that he didn’t have the power to do so. George W. Bush’s Military Commissions Act of 2006 also suspended habeas, for anyone the U.S. government arbitrarily defined as an “enemy combatant.” Until the Supreme Court ruled against him two years later, Congress was complicit with the MCA. Even after the court ruling, the internment facility at Guantánamo Bay remains open; 40 men remain there, not one of whom has ever been charged or tried under basic constitutional standards.

FDR almost certainly didn’t have the constitutional right to send 127,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II. Yet he did.

From domestic surveillance by the NSA that violates the agency’s founding charter to asset forfeiture programs that allow the police to seize money and property from people who have never been charged, much less convicted of a crime, Americans live in a society oppressed by a political class that takes no notice of constitutional limits it deems inconvenient.

Does the president have the legal right to delay an election? No.

Does he have the power? Yes, unless We The People refuse to accept it.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

If This is a Democracy, Why Don’t We Vote for the Vice President Too?

            Let’s say you owned a house and needed extra cash to make ends meet, so you decided to rent two of your bedrooms. Would you agree to lease those rooms to two people, but under the condition that you could only meet and run a credit check on one of them? Would you allow an anonymous rando move into your second room, no questions asked, not even their name?

            It’s an absurd question. No one would do that. Yet that’s exactly what the parties ask millions of voters to do in American presidential primaries.

            Thanks to debates and news reports we’ve gotten to know Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and the other presidential contenders pretty well. Democratic voters have the information they need to vote for their party standardbearer. But they have no idea who will represent their party for vice president.

            We don’t even know what kind of veep the candidates would pick. Would Biden balance his centrism with a progressive, or someone younger like Pete Buttigieg? Would Sanders double down on progressivism by pairing up with Warren, or vice versa?

            Since four out of ten vice presidents have become president, this is not an academic question. (I include those who ran for the presidency using the formidable springboard of incumbency and the name reconciliation it bestows.)

            You might think no big deal, my choice for president will select a running mate with a similar temperament and ideological leanings. History shows that “balance,” i.e. contrast, is a common strategy. Bush, an affable moderate Republican, went with maniacal hardliner Dick Cheney—and by many accounts Cheney was the one in charge. The US (and Iraq!) lost a lot when Bush prevailed over Al Gore; whereas Gore was a staunch environmentalist and a thoughtful liberal, his running mate Joe Lieberman was a charmless Republican in sheep’s clothing. Whatever you thought of John McCain (in my case, not much) it would have been a tragic day for America had he croaked and been succeeded by the shallow imbecile Sarah Palin.

            It is strange—nay, it is insane—that a self-declared democracy allows, effectively, 40% of its future leaders to be elected not by the voters but by one person, the presidential nominee of one party or, at most, by a half-dozen of his or her confidants.

            Sometimes it works out. The assassination of William McKinley gave us Teddy Roosevelt, who set the standard for the contempt with which a president ought to treat big business. How long would we have awaited the Civil Rights Act had LBJ not been prematurely promoted? Still, this is not democracy.

            It is time for the United States to require that candidates for president announce their veep picks at the same time they announce their intent to run. It’s truth in advertising.

            Candidates’ terms don’t expire with them. If a president succumbs to an assassin’s bullet, a foreign drone or an aneurysm prior to the end of their four-year term, voters—primary voters—ought to have the right to know who would finish it out. Toward that end, they also ought to pre-announce their cabinet picks. Many cabinet positions are in the line of succession. And they can make a big difference. I would not have voted for Barack Obama if I had known he would appoint Goldman Sachs’ Timothy Geithner to run the Treasury Department.

            Announcing veeps early enough for voters to take them into consideration before casting their primary ballots would deprive political conventions of their last remaining bit of drama, but lower TV ratings are a small price to pay compared to what is to be gained: transparency and choice.

            It’s not like revealing the number-two spot ahead of time is a crazy idea no one has tried before.

            “Nowadays, once a candidate has locked up the presidential nomination, we expect them to choose their running mate by whatever process they choose to employ, introduce him (or, in two recent cases, her) to the public a few days before the convention, and we all understand that the convention will rubber-stamp that choice, and the veep nominee will make a televised speech, which will occur on Wednesday night, the third day of the four-day TV show that conventions have become,” Eric Black wrote for the Minnesota Post.

    “In the earliest days of the Republic—and this was the way the Framers of the Constitution intended it—whoever finished second in the Electoral College voting would become vice president. That’s how John Adams, the first vice president got the job. Even as the two-party system (which is not mandated by the Constitution) developed, that remained the case, which is how Adams (when he succeeded George Washington in 1796) ended up with his chief rival in the presidential race (Thomas Jefferson) as his vice president.”

            The parties usurped the voters’ role in the choosing of the vice president in 1832.

            We’re a weird country. Few electoral democracies elect a president the way we do and even fewer deal with succession the same way. Most nations replace their departed presidents with a temporary fix, typically an acting president who is a parliamentary official analogous to the Speaker of the House pending a special presidential election, or a quickie election to find a replacement. We’re pretty much on our own when it comes to figuring out a better construction.

            What’s clear is that nothing would be lost and much would be gained by requiring presidential candidates to declare their running mates, and their cabinets, up front.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Trump is Crazy. Invoke the 25th.

Image result for crazy trump           Never mind the policies. For the purpose of this discussion—a discussion our country desperately needs to have—politics are an annoying, distracting rabbit hole.

Donald Trump should be removed from office under the 25th Amendment.

The reason Trump should be de-presidented has nothing to do with his legislative actions or foreign policy initiatives. Unlike George W. Bush in 2000 (and arguably in 2004), Trump won fairly. Unlike Barack Obama, he has kept his promises. His presidency is legitimate.

It has nothing to with his alleged ethical and legal breaches. Impeachment is the proper instrument for charging and possibly removing a sitting president.

The 25th Amendment was ratified in 1965 following the Kennedy assassination. It provides a mechanism for replacing a president who has become incapacitated physically—or, as seems to be the case for Trump, mentally.

“Section 4 stipulates that when the vice president and a majority of a body of Congress declare in writing to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House that the president is unable to perform the duties of the office, the vice president immediately becomes acting president,” according to the History channel. Currently then, Mike Pence and a majority (currently Republican) either of the House or the Senate would write to Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Nancy Pelosi of California will probably replace Ryan after the new Congress is sworn in January.

The VP and a majority of Trump’s 24 cabinet members could begin the process instead of Congress. “It would only take 14 people to depose the president” in that scenario, according to Business Insider.

Trump could appeal. “The president can then submit a written declaration to the contrary and resume presidential powers and duties—unless the vice president and a majority body of Congress [i.e. both houses] declare in writing within four days that the president cannot perform his duties, in which case Congress will vote on the issue.”

High-ranking officials inside the Trump Administration have been so concerned about the president’s fitness to serve that they thought about invoking the 25th Amendment just two weeks after Trump’s inauguration. After the president fired FBI director James Comey, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein went to Comey’s then-acting replacement Andy McCabe, whom he told he thought “that he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John F. Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security and now the White House chief of staff, to mount an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment,” according to The New York Times.” Rosenstein floated the idea of wearing a wire to catch audio of Trump talking crazy.

An anonymous Times op-ed by a Trump official claimed that several cabinet members had considered invoking the 25th Amendment.

Trump has called himself “a very stable genius.” Genius? This is a native-born American who attended college, who said his mom “gestated” her Thanksgiving turkey. But stable?

Trump’s manic blizzard of strangeness on Thanksgiving 2018 made the case for the 25th Amendment better than anything I’ve read in an inside-Trump tell-all book.

Asked what he was most thankful for, he said himself: “I made a tremendous difference in our country.”

Trump’s CIA had just issued a report concluding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. “I hate the crime, I hate the coverup,” Trump told reporters. “I will tell you this: The crown prince hates it more than I do, and they have vehemently denied it.” Why would the prince hate his own crime?

Bizarrely, Trump blamed “the world” for the killing. “Maybe the world should be held accountable because the world is a very, very vicious place,” Trump said insanely. For the record, “the world” did not kill Khashoggi. Bin Salman did.

Later he discussed one of his favorite topics, The Wall with Mexico.

“We took an old, broken wall and we wrapped it with barb wire plus,” Trump said. “I guess you could really call it barb wire plus. This is the ultimate. And nobody’s getting through these walls. And we’re going to make sure they’re the right people because that’s what you and your family want and all of your families. That’s what they want. And that’s why we’re all fighting. You know, we’re fighting for borders. We’re fighting for our country. If we don’t have borders, we don’t have a country. So we’re doing very well on the southern border. We’re very tough. We get a lot of bad court decisions from the Ninth Circuit, which has become a big thorn in our side. We always lose, and then you lose again and again, and then you hopefully win at the Supreme Court, which we’ve done. But it’s a terrible thing when judges take over your protective services, when they tell you how to protect your border. It’s a disgrace. So we’re winning. And you’re winning. And I appreciate very much.”

Oh. My.

God.

Psychiatrists have openly speculated that Trump is mentally ill or suffers from at least one serious personality disorder, typically severe narcissism. One even calls him a sadist, “the essence of evil.”

I am a cartoonist and columnist, not a psychologist. I don’t know what exactly is wrong with Trump. Former presidential aide Omarosa Manigault Newman thinks he is succumbing to dementia; it’s certainly possible. Trump is 72. His father developed Alzheimer’s, which points to an increased chance for the president.

It’s probably several things.

What I know is that Trump is not mentally fit enough to serve as president. I think those closest to him know it too. The vice president, his aides and advisors, his cabinet members, members of Congress—they all know that this behavior does not fall within the normal range for a 72-year-old man and that it puts the nation and the world at risk.

It is grossly irresponsible to allow a crazy person to sit in the Oval Office.

“In a time like this of unusual crisis, one has to count on leaders in the executive branch and Congress to really be patriots, not partisans,” Joel Goldstein, a constitutional expert at St. Louis University, told a symposium where the 25th Amendment was discussed.

Republican leaders should act soon. Trump’s mental deterioration, so evident now, will only become worse by the height of the 2020 reelection campaign. If Trump is removed now, Pence will have more than a year to earn the voters’ trust and make his case for four more years.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: On the One Hand, Gun Violence. On the Other Hand, Gun Control. It Never Ends.

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On the one hand, the news that another psychologically damaged man shot 17 schoolchildren to death with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle is not news. Put it on page 27 below the fold, maybe?

On the other hand, you have to be shocked because these are kids and who do we become if we stop being shocked? Congress and the president should put their heads together and act now.

On the one hand, the Second Amendment is an essential safeguard against government tyranny. While an authoritarian state (any state) will always have police and troops with better training and arms than its enemies at its disposal, owning a weapon will give many resistance fighters of the future the courage they need to fight back.

On the other hand, the population of Americans who live in rural areas was 95% when the Founding Fathers ratified the Constitution. Now it’s 15%. Once a major source of food necessary for survival, hunting today is mere sport. Considering the daily carnage of gun violence, the Second Amendment may be as obsolete as the flint-lock rifle. Perhaps we should repeal?

On the one hand, military-style weapons like the current mass shooters’ gun of choice, the AR-15, were designed for one purpose: to kill people efficiently. Until 2008 they were banned. Why not renew the assault weapons ban?

On the other hand, people really do use them to hunt. Having been on the receiving end of more than my fair share of death threats, I’d rather defend my homestead with an AR-15 than a less efficient, less accurate gun. Sorry, liberals, but gun rights people have a point: ban AR-15s and the next step will be a push to ban other weapons. Slippery slopes are a real thing; look how the pro-life movement has rolled back abortion rights via incremental, reasonable-seeming moves like bans on late-term terminations.

On the one hand, there are 270 million guns in the United States — almost one for every man, woman and child. Even if we banned guns, how would we force the gun genie back into its bottle of death? Send government goons to kick down every door in the country to search for them?

On the other hand, existing guns could be grandfathered into a ban on the manufacture and sale of new guns (including from one individual to another). Guns would get old. They’d rust. Those used for target practice would wear out. Trigger mechanisms are often the first to go. Like the fairly effective ban on ivory, the effect would become evident over time: a nation awash in weaponry would become less so with the passage of time.

On the one hand, states like Florida seem crazy for not requiring gun purchasers to register their weapons. Florida actually bans such regulations. Cars, boats, even bicycles and cats and dogs, must be registered. Why not devices that kill people?

On the other hand, gun ownership is different. It’s a constitutional right. Automobile ownership, operating a boat and having a pet are privileges guaranteed by state and local laws. Mandatory gun registration would be no more constitutional than forcing media outlets to apply for a state license before publishing (they do this in other countries).

On the one hand, many if not most mass shooters are mentally ill. Wouldn’t it make sense to prohibit sales of firearms and ammunition to people suffering from mental illness?

On the other hand, who gets to define what constitutes mental illness? Federal law bans sales to anyone who “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.” New York, where I live, goes further, banning sales of guns to one “who has stated whether he or she has ever suffered any mental illness.” That’s very broad: “Heathers” and “Stranger Things” actress Winona Ryder, singer Mariah Carey, artist Yoko Ono and actress Roseanne Barr were all institutionalized. But no one thinks they’re going postal any time soon — frankly, I’d trust Winona with the nuclear codes more than Trump. The metric is also highly subjective. Gays were officially classified as mentally ill until 1987. Transgender people are still on the list.

On the one hand, people who knew him say they’re not surprised that Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz went berserk. The signs were there all along: violent Internet posts, ties to white supremacists, erratic behavior like threatening people with a BB gun. People saw something; why didn’t they say something?

On the other hand, this isn’t “Minority Report.” You can’t jail someone for what they might do. People are entitled to their opinions, no matter what they are. If you jailed everyone who acts strange or right-wing or loopy, half the country would be locked up. And anyway, who trusts the police or the government to decide which half?

On the one hand, if anyone deserves to die, it’s Nikolas Cruz.
On the other hand, what kind of society executes a “broken child,” possibly autistic, almost certainly emotionally damaged, absolutely wrecked by the recent death of his mother, his last surviving parent?

How does killing a killer send the message that killing is wrong?

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

CORRECTION: This piece has been corrected by the deletion of “because it’s the 18th school shooting so far this year, ” from the first sentence. I fell victim to a widely disseminated, now known to be untrue, statistic. Please see The Washington Post here for details.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Would the U.S. Look Like If We Built It From Scratch?

Image result for outdated u.s. constitution

Imagine that there was another revolution. And that nothing big had changed. Demographics, power dynamics, culture, our economic system and political values were pretty much the same as they are now. If we Americans rolled up our sleeves and reimagined our political system from scratch, if we wrote up a brand-new constitution for 2017, what would a brand-spanking-new United States Version 2.0 look like today?

A lot of stuff would be different. Like, there wouldn’t be an electoral college. (Only a handful of countries, mainly autocracies in the developing world, do.)

There probably wouldn’t be a Second Amendment; if there were, it would certainly be limited to the right to own pistols and hunting weapons. And the vast majority of gun owners believe in regulations like background checks.

Does anyone believe we would choose the two-party duopoly over the multiparty parliamentary model embraced by most of the world’s representative democracies?

Our leaders fail us in innumerable ways, but perhaps their worst sin is to accept things they way they are simply because that’s the way they have always been. Whether in government or business or a family, the best way to act is determined by careful consideration of every possibility, not by succumbing to inertia. Don’t just imagine — reimagine.

We live in the best country in the world. That’s what our teachers taught us, our politicians can’t stop saying (even the critical ones), and so most Americans believe it too.

But it isn’t true, not by most measures.

Americans suffer from drastic income inequality, massive adult and child poverty, an atrocious healthcare system, higher education affordable only to the rich, blah blah blah. Plus the candidate who gets the most votes doesn’t necessarily get to be president. It doesn’t have to be this way. We just need a little imagination.

Probably because I have a foreign-born parent and thus dual citizenship, and also because I have been fortunate enough to visit a lot of other countries, I bring an internationalist perspective to my political writing and cartoons. Like RFK I don’t accept things how they are. I imagine how things could be. Why shouldn’t we learn from China’s ability to build infrastructure? Why can’t we improve food quality standards like the EU? Aiming for the best possible result ought to be the standard for our politicians. For citizens too.

New New York Times columnist Bret Stephens called for repealing the Second Amendment following the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. His piece made a splash because he’s a conservative. Setting aside whether banning guns is a good idea, no one followed his suggestion to its logical conclusion: it won’t happen. Not just because guns are popular (which they are), or of the influence of the NRA’s congressional lobbyists (who are formidable), but because it’s impossible to amend the constitution over any matter of substance. In fact, the U.S. has the hardest-to-amend constitution in the world.

Girls can join the Boy Scouts and women can fight our wars, yet we live in a country that never passed the Equal Rights Amendment. We The People have moved past our ossified, stuck-in-1789 Constitution.

So has the rest of the world. In days of yore, when the U.S. was still that shining city on a hill, newly independent nations modeled their constitutions on ours. No more. Rejecting our antiquated constitution because it guarantees fewer rights than most people believe humans are entitled to, freshly-minted countries like South Sudan instead turn to documents like the European Union Convention on Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Other nations replace their constitutions completely an average of every 19 years. By global standards, our 228-year-old charter is ancient. More recent constitutions cover the right of every citizen to education, food and healthcare. Unlike ours, they guarantee the right of defendants to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

I’m not suggesting that we convene a second constitutional convention. Not now! Two hundred twenty-eight years ago they had Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; we have Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan. This political class isn’t fit to rubberstamp a routine raising of the debt limit, much less figure out how this More Perfect Union could become new and improved.

I’m saying: it’s time to shed the illusion of the U.S. as some cute wet-behind-the-ears nation-come-lately. The frontier has been conquered. Even though 97% of Puerto Ricans want in, there will be no new states. In spirit and by chronology we are old, old as the hills, old like Old Europe, and we’ve gotten stuck in our ways. If we don’t want to get even more fogeyish and dysfunctional and incapable of progress, we have got to consider things with fresh eyes.

Look at a map. Would anyone sane divide administrative districts into 50 states whose populations and sizes varied as much as inconsequential Delaware and ungovernable California?

Citizens of Washington D.C. can’t vote in presidential or gubernatorial elections. Why the hell not?

You can fight and kill in the military at age 18. But you can’t drown your PTSD in beer before age 21. And you can’t rent a car until you’re 25. WTF?

Oh, and we can probably do away with that part of the Bill of Rights about not having to billet troops in your home.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The NSA Loses in Court, but the Police State Rolls On

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Edward Snowden has been vindicated.

This week marks the first time that a court – a real court, not a sick joke of a kangaroo tribunal like the FISA court, which approves every government request and never hears from opponents – has ruled on the legality of one of the NSA’s spying programs against the American people.

Verdict: privacy 1, police state 0.

Yet the police state goes on. Which is what happens in, you know, a police state. The pigs always win.

A unanimous three-judge ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, states unequivocally that the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the USA Patriot Act is fatally flawed. Specifically, it says, Congress never intended for Section 215 to authorize the bulk interception and storage of telephony metadata of domestic phone calls: the calling number, the number called, the length of the call, the locations of both parties, and so on. In fact, the court noted, Congress never knew what the NSA was up to before Snowden spilled the beans.

On the surface, this is good news.

It will soon have been two years since Snowden leaked the NSA’s documents detailing numerous government efforts to sweep up every bit and byte of electronic communications that they possibly can — turning the United States into the Orwellian nightmare of 1984, where nothing is secret and everything can and will be used against you. Many Americans are already afraid to tell pollsters their opinions for fear of NSA eavesdropping.

One can only imagine how chilling the election of a neo-fascist right-winger (I’m talking to you, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker) as president would be. Not that I’m ready for Hillary “privacy for me, not for thee” Clinton to know all my secrets.

Until now, most action on the reform front has taken place abroad, especially in Europe, where concern about privacy online has led individuals as well as businesses to snub American Internet and technology companies, costing Silicon Valley billions of dollars, and accelerated construction of a European alternative to the American dominated “cloud.”

Here in the United States, the NSA continued with business as usual. As far as we know, the vast majority of the programs revealed by Snowden are still operational; there are no doubt many frightening new ones launched since 2013. Members of Congress were preparing to renew the disgusting Patriot Act this summer. One bright spot was the so-called USA Freedom Act, which purports to roll back bulk metadata collection, but privacy advocates say the legislation had been so watered down, and so tolerant of the NSA’s most excessive abuses, that it was just barely more than symbolic.

Like the Freedom Act, this ruling is largely symbolic.

The problem is, it’s not the last word. The federal government will certainly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take years before hearing the case. Even in the short run, the court didn’t slap the NSA with an injunction to halt its illegal collection of Americans’ metadata.

What’s particularly distressing is the fact that the court’s complaint is about the interpretation of the Patriot Act rather than its constitutionality. The Obama Administration’s interpretation of Section 215 “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” said the court ruling. However: “We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”

Well, ain’t that peachy.

As a rule, courts are reluctant to annul laws passed by the legislative branch of government on the grounds of unconstitutionality. In the case of NSA spying on us, however, the harm to American democracy and society is so extravagant, and the failure of the system of checks and balances to rein in the abuses so spectacular, that the patriotic and legal duty of every judge is to do whatever he can or she can to put an end to this bastard once and for all.

It’s a sad testimony to the cowardice, willful blindness and lack of urgency of the political classes that the New York court kicked the can down the road, rather than declare the NSA’s metadata collection program a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Backdate

For nearly a year, the Obama Administration has waged a high-intensity air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, killing thousands of Iraqis and Syrians, including many civilians. Now they’re finally asking for retroactive authorization from Congress, as mandated by the Constitution, for doing what they’ve already done. So much for a nation of laws.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Professionals Behaving Badly

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The Drone Memo’s Hack Author Should Be In Prison. Instead, He’ll Be a Judge.

Conservatives say, and this is one of their more successful memes, that poor people are immoral. The proles have sex and kids out of wedlock and expect us (i.e., upstanding middle- and upper-class patriots) to pay for them. They steal Medicare and cheat on welfare. They don’t follow The Rules (rules written by, let’s just say, not them). Which makes them Bad.

This was always hogwash, of course. Though it is true that poverty causes people to do bad things, class and morals are uncorrelated. But who’s worse, the poor thief or the wealthy person who refuses to pay him a living wage?

America’s professional class has traditionally enjoyed a privileged position at the top of middlebrow America’s aspirational hierarchy. At the core of our admiration for doctors, lawyers and bankers was the presumption that these learned men and women adhered to strict codes of ethics. Doctors healed, lawyers respected the law and bankers didn’t steal.

When they did, there’d be hell to pay, not least from their brethren.

Evidence abounded that the clay content in the professional class’ metaphorical feet was no lower than anybody else’s. Thanks to recent developments, not least since 2008’s save-the-banks-not-the-people orgy of featherbedding at taxpayer expense, the fiction that we should look up to the technocracy is dying fast.

Not only are some physicians crapping on their Hippocratic oath by carrying out executions of prisoners and participating in the horrific torture of innocent concentration camp inmates, the associations charged with enforcing professional ethics sit on their old-boys-club hands. Big-time judges, depicted in movies as moral giants who love to get medieval on evil dirtbags whether in the mafia or the CIA, act like wimps instead, grumbling under their mint-flossed breath as they sign off on the federally-funded insertion of needles into innocent men’s penises.

Thurgood wept.

I got to thinking about the fall of the professional class after hearing that the White House has finally relented in its incessant stonewalling on the Drone Memo. Finally, we peons will get a peek at a legal opinion that the White House uses to justify using drones to blow up anyone, anywhere, including American citizens on American soil, for any reason the President deems fit.

When the news broke, I tweeted: “This should be interesting.”

I’m a cartoonist, but I can’t imagine any reading of the Constitution — left, right, in Swahili — that allows the president to circumvent due process and habeas corpus. I can’t see how Obama can get around Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12333, even after Bush amended it. Political assassinations are clearly proscribed: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” (Yes, even bin Laden.)

I have no doubt that David Barron, who is a professor at the very fancy Harvard Law School and held the impressive title of Former Acting Chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and who furthermore is President Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, did his very bestest with his mad legal skillz to come up with a “kill ’em all, let Obama sort ’em out” memo he could be proud of.

Still, this topic prompts two questions:

What kind of human being would accept such an assignment? Did anyone check for a belly button?

How badly would such a person have to mangle the English language, logic, Constitutional law and legal precedent, in order to extract the justification for mass murder he was asked to produce?

I haven’t seen the drone memo, but Senator Rand Paul has. Whatever legal hocus-pocus Barron deployed didn’t convince Paul. “There is no legal precedent for killing American citizens not directly involved in combat and any nominee who rubber stamps and grants such power to a president is not worthy of being placed one step away from the Supreme Court,” Paul said in a statement.

I’ll bet my next couple of paychecks that Paul is correct — and that Barron’s sophistry wouldn’t withstand a serious court challenge, not even before a panel of a dozen Antonin Scalias. After all, we’ve been here before.

Shortly after 9/11, Dick Cheney and his cadre of neo-con fanatics ordered the White House Office of Legal Counsel, the same entity behind Barron’s drone memo, to come up with a legal justification to give Bush legal cover for torturing suspected terrorists. When they emerged, the Torture Memos were roundly derided by legal experts as substandard, twisted and perverse readings of the Constitution, treaty obligations and case law. Read them. You’ll see.

In 2010, the Justice Department decided not to file charges against Torture Memo authors John Yoo and Jay Bybee on the grounds that the two men weren’t evil — just dumb. (Can’t they be both?) The Torture Memos, they ruled, were shoddy. That, I’m as sure as I can be about something I haven’t seen yet, will be the case with the drone memo.

As with Yoo and Bybee, both of whom went on to prosper in the legal profession rather than warm the prison cells they both richly deserve, Barron probably won’t lose anything as the result of his work on the drone memo. He’ll be a federal judge.

Yet another heavy stone on the grave of America’s once-vaunted professional class.

(Ted Rall, staff cartoonist and writer for Pando Daily, is author of “Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the New Middle East.” Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

Guest Post: Sometimes You Just Gotta Let It Out

I think this lady deserves a hearing here at the Rallblog. Because it’s where we’re at right now. She’s reacting to Obama’s “Syria” speech.

Susan

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Stuck

Why Can’t the U.S. Move Forward?

“Your dearest wish is for our state structure and ideological system never to change, to remain as they are for centuries. But history is not like that. Every system either finds away to develop or else collapses.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote that in 1974, in his famous “Letter to the Soviet Leaders.” But it could just as easily be addressed to President Obama, Congress, members of the media, corporate chiefs, and others who lead and maintain the power structure in the United States.

The United States is as ossified as the USSR was before its collapse.

Shortly after the start of the financial meltdown which began in 2009, polls found American citizens disgusted with the capitalist system. Tens of millions said they would prefer socialism. When the Occupy Wall Street movement took off in 2011, mainstream pundits began using the “R” word, revolution – but only to ask a question with a predetermined answer. Regime change, they said, was neither desirable nor possible.

Too bad.

We used to be a growing country. Not any more. We used to welcome new states into the Union. It’s been 53 years since we added a star to Old Glory; Puerto Rican statehood isn’t a subject of serious consideration. We used to amend the Constitution to suit changing mores. The last major amendment, granting the vote to 18-year-olds, was ratified in 1971. Apparently equal rights for women is too much to ask.

We don’t build anymore. Think about infrastructure. The last major public works project in U.S. history was the Interstate Highway System, built in the 1950s – not coincidentally when the economy was booming.

Our political system is ossified too. The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut prompted calls for tighter gun control. But nobody – not even liberals, the traditional enemies of gun rights – argued for getting rid of the Second Amendment which, depending on your interpretation of the prefatory comma, allows us to join a militia or carry guns in our waistbands. “I have no intention of taking away folks’ guns,” President Obama has said.

Well, why not? Personally, I’m against gun control and I’m glad that very little is going to change. Yet I find it disturbing that the Second Amendment is considered sacrosanct, even by the 24% of Americans who want to ban handguns. Pointing out that the country is very different now than it was in 1789 seems reasonable. Maybe we don’t need guns any more. A smart country, one willing to weigh the alternatives when trying to solve a problem, should be able to discuss the possibility of repealing the Second Amendment.

Look at our national political dialogue, which ranges from center-right (Democrat) to right (Republican). Whole strains of ideology – communist, socialist, nationalist, libertarian – are off the table. We pretend most of the ideological spectrum doesn’t exist. Not smart.

Our national unwillingness and/or inability to have a wide-ranging debate reminds me of New York City, where I have lived for many years. There are no public restrooms. Restaurants and other businesses post “Restrooms for Customers Only” signs on their doors. Yet peeing outside is against the law; in fact, it’s public exposure, a sex offense that can land you on a Megan’s Law-style pervert registry. So where are you supposed to go?

A child could tell you this is insane. You know what’s even more insane? That we New Yorkers don’t even talk about it. Like Germans on their way to work in the early 1940s, wondering what that funny smell coming from the camp down the road might be coming from, we pretend that this is all perfectly normal.

As a recent New York Times article by Louis Seidman pointed out, we have foolishly elevated the Constitution to the status of a sacred text, fetishizing a supposedly “living document” that in truth has been dead for years. (Congress, for example, has the sole right to start wars. President Bush ignored the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions concerning POWs at Guantánamo. And so on.) The result, Seidman argues, is endless petty bickering about what the meaning of “is” is – and what that stupid comma was supposed to be for.

The question for any society is not how to figure out how to conform ourselves to rules and assumptions laid down by our forebears, but to come up with the smartest solutions to our problems and the best systems to make things run smoothly now and in the future. If we were revolutionaries, if we were inventing the United States from scratch, would we create the Electoral College? Doubtful.

The people of the United States are changing all the time, but the United States government and power structure are stuck. The political “culture wars” date to the 1960s and 1980s. Our military thinks the Cold War is still going on.

Our economy reflects our national congealing.

Once a “land of opportunity,” the U.S. is now anything but. If you’re born into a poor family, your chances of elevating yourself into the middle or upper class are lower in America than in other industrialized countries. “It’s becoming conventional wisdom that the U.S. does not have as much mobility as most other advanced countries,” says economist Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution. “I don’t think you’ll find too many people who will argue with that.” Aside from the unfairness and the instability caused by inequality and lack of social mobility, we’re losing the talents of tens of millions of Americans who will never be able to live up to their potential, share their ideas and contribute to the making of a more perfect union.

We haven’t had a major social or political revolution since the 1960s. It’s been too long. Like the Soviet Union, we must develop – scrapping long-held assumptions and reconsidering everything from scratch – or collapse.

I think we’re headed toward collapse.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL