Patterico's Pontifications

4/6/2009

Hope, Change and More Secret Wiretapping

Filed under: General — Karl @ 2:36 pm

[Posted by Karl]

Meet the new boss, baby:

President Barack Obama invoked “state secrets” to prevent a court from reviewing the legality of the National Security Agency’s warantless wiretapping program, moving late Friday to have a lawsuit that challenged the program dismissed.

The move — which holds that information surrounding the massive eavesdropping program should be kept from the public because of its sensitivity — follows an earlier decision in March to block handover of documents relating to the Bush Administration’s decision to spy on a charity. The arguments also mirror the Bush Administration’s efforts to dismiss an earlier suit against AT&T.

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The Justice Department also holds that the lawsuit can’t proceed because of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They assert that the US government has “sovereign immunity” against statutory claims that it illegally wiretapped or accessed communications data.

Congress expanded the wiretapping program in 2008 with passage of amendments to the Act, which gave telecom companies immunity for past and future participation in the program and expanded the legal use of warrantless wiretaps from 48 hours to seven days. The revised Act also allowed the government to destroy records of previous taps.

Obama voted for the revised Act while a senator last year.

Nor is this Obama’s first foray into these waters:

In February Obama lawyers used the same “state secrets” tactic to block a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of five victims of extraordinary rendition — the CIA’s famed kidnap and torture program. “This case cannot be litigated,” Department of Justice lawyer Douglas Letter declared on February 9th, arguing that the case, Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan, should be thrown out. “The judges shouldn’t play with fire in this national security situation.”

ACLU director Anthony Romero decried the move. “Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government.” 

Now, warrantless spying can be added to the list.

 “In our case we have no reason to believe that the warrantless wiretapping has ended,” said [EFF legal director Cindy] Cohn, “so at some point we have to call it Obama’s warrantless wiretapping.”

Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?

Update: Glenn Greenwald is apoplectic:

[B]eyond even the outrageously broad “state secrets” privilege invented by the Bush administration and now embraced fully by the Obama administration, the Obama DOJ has now invented a brand new claim of government immunity, one which literally asserts that the U.S. Government is free to intercept all of your communications (calls, emails and the like) and — even if what they’re doing is blatantly illegal and they know it’s illegal — you are barred from suing them unless they “willfully disclose” to the public what they have learned.

In contrast, Andrew Sullivan is silent.  Funny, when Greenwald cut the administrations some slack today, Sully was all over it.

–Karl

TARP Follies: Monsters vs. Aliens edition

Filed under: General — Karl @ 6:44 am

[Posted by Karl]

Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, reportedly plans to call for the removal of top executives from Citigroup, AIG and other TARP fund recipients — and for shareholders in those institutions to be “wiped out.”

Treasury Secretary Timmy Geithner seemed open to the idea of axing bailee execs during his turn on CBS’s Face the Nation yesterday.

In one sense, following Pres. Obama’s intervention with General Motors, this attitude is not surprising:

In any business-government partnership, Obama himself expects to play the dominant role.

“He’s realizing, ‘Hey, the economy’s mine now, and I better do it my way,’” said the official. “So the administration is collaring people and letting them know who’s in charge. The days of saying, ‘It’s not our economy’ have come to an end.”

An Obama administration official said the president’s hard-nosed approach will continue.

Indeed, Obama’s sitdown with bank CEOs — including his opposition to the return of TARP funds by the big banks — has people like Stuart Varney asking whether Obama’s real agenda is gaining control of the financial system to advance his political agenda.  Obama certainly would be in a position to advance the agenda of his old ACORN pals under this scenario.

On the other hand, the Geithner scheme provides that unregulated hedge funds and private equity firms will “bail out” regulated institutions, which will enrich people like George Soros and former Countrywide execs, assuming they are not outbid by the likes of Citigroup and Bank of America, who are aggressively buying up the shaky mortgages that are supposedly at the heart of the problem.  Major banks may even use TARP funds to buy large amounts of toxic assets from one another to inflate their books.  The Obama administration is engineering its new bailout initiatives to allow beneficiaries to avoid restrictions imposed by Congress, including limits on lavish executive pay.  Large shareholders in these firms, such as Obama pal Warren Buffett, actually have been the primary (perhaps only) significant beneficiaries of the TARP.  All of which suggests that the TARP recipients think there is enough benefit to them to stay under the TARP.

People like Glenn Greenwald may be up in arms over the Washington-Wall Street “oligarchy,” but these competing storylines suggest the question of the moment is which side has the upper hand: Monsters or Aliens?  I am pretty sure the answer is not Taxpayers.

___

Update: The bank stress tests currently underway are “a complete sham,” says former senior bank regulator and S&L prosecutor William Black.  Go Monsters! Or is it Aliens?

–Karl


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