Thursday, March 05, 2009

Conflicting Signals From Obama on What He's Doing About Bush's Abuses of Power

The New Administration Is Right to Expose the Full Extent of its Predecessor's Blatantly Unconstitutional Actions in the 'War on Terror' -- But Is Dead Wrong to Continue Seeking to Halt Lawsuit Aimed at Holding Bush Accountable for His Warrantless Wiretapping Program

In step toward "greater transparency in government," the Obama administration last week made public nine declassified legal memos issued by the Bush White House that claimed sweeping executive authority to ignore constitutional and statutory limits in its pursuit of the "war on terror" following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But at the same time, the Obama White House is continuing its predecessor's legal fight to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Bush administration's controversial warrantless wiretapping program, on the grounds of national security. A federal appeals court late last week refused to dismiss the suit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, in the case of a now-defunct Muslim charity.(Image courtesy

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, March 5, 2009)


Dear Readers:

The Obama administration issued two contradictory messages in recent days over the Bush administration's abuse of its executive authority and its outright violations of the Constitution in its pursuit of the "war on terror."

On the one hand, the Obama White House made public a raft of previously-secret Bush administration memorandums that claimed sweeping presidential authority to override constitutional and statutory constraints when rooting out suspected terrorists on American soil.

The Justice Department has promised to declassify and make public other top-secret legal opinions by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other Bush administration lawyers to justify harsh interrogation, surveillance without court warrants, and other national security policies.

On the other hand, the Obama administration is continuing -- despite losing in a federal appeals court -- a legal fight begun under its predecessor to stop a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program by keeping secret key government evidence on the grounds of national security.

The move sets up a likely constitutional confrontation between the executive and judicial branches of government over whether national security can be invoked to bar judicial review of the constitutionality of the warrantless eavesdropping.

It also casts serious doubts on whether the Obama administration will hold Bush officials accountable.


The nine previously secret memos by Bush administration attorneys issued in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington make chilling reading for anyone who cares about the government upholding the Constitution and the rule of law.

The memos assert that the president has blanket authority to employ the armed forces inside the United States in the "war on terror" -- including raids on suspected terrorists -- without congressional approval or court warrants.

The legal opinions also asserted that:

# the president could unilaterally abrogate foreign treaties -- in spite of the fact that since Congress has the sole authority under the Constitution to ratify treaties, it likewise has the sole authority to terminate them;

# ignore any guidance from Congress in dealing with detainees suspected of terrorism and ignore provisions of bills passed by Congress that he signed into law -- a clear breach of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches and a dereliction of the president's responsibility to "faithfully execute the laws;"

# conduct a program of domestic electronic eavesdropping without court warrants -- despite a unanimous 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that such warrants are required under the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable government searches and seizures.


While the Obama White House has reversed many Bush policies, it remains mystifying why it is continuing to fight against a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Bush's warrantless surveillance program -- despite losing a round in a federal appeals court late last week.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused Friday to dismiss the suit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two attorneys who represented a now-defunct Muslim charity based in Saudi Arabia and whose telephone conversations were wiretapped without court warrants.

The attorneys, who represented the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, sued the Bush administration after the Treasury Department erroneously released a top-secret memo that showed that their telephone conversations with their former client were eavesdropped on without a court warrant having been issued for the wiretaps.

The documents were subsequently returned to the government. The attorneys say they need them to prove their case. The government says their release in public would harm national security.

I say the greater damage to the nation is a government that abuses its authority and power -- and officials of that government are allowed to get away with it. officials of the Bush administration abused their authority and violated the law.

When Barack Obama took the oath of office in January to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" as the nation's 44th president, he also took on the responsibility to make sure that those officials who violated the law and abused their power under his predecessor be held accountable.

It's high time the new president carry out that responsibility.

Skeeter Sanders
Editor & Publisher
The 'Skeeter Bites Report

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Volume IV, Number 18
Copyright 2009,Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, March 02, 2009

Foggy Bottom to Get Much Bigger $$ Hike Than Pentagon Under Obama Budget

In Another Break From Bush, President Aims to Make Good on His Campaign Pledge to Strike a Balance Between 'Soft Power' and 'Hard Power' in Pursuit of U.S. Foreign Policy; Budget for State Department Is Hiked by 10 percent, While Defense Department Sees Only a 1.4 Percent Increase

Copies of President Obama's first budget for fiscal 2010 are ...

He wasn't kidding about bringing change to America: Copies of President Obama's first budget for fiscal 2010 are picked up Thursday at the U.S. General Printing Office in Washington. The president promised that there would be sweeping changes in the way the federal government does its business, and his budget shows that he's serious about it. Little noticed, however, in Obama's fiscal blueprint are a proposed 10 percent increase in the budget of the State Department and its various agencies, while at the same time, the Defense Department's budget is projected to go up by only 1.4 percent. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, March 2, 2009)


Inter-Press Service

WASHINGTON -- While most mainstream press reaction to President Obama's whopping $3.5-trillion budget for the 2010 fiscal year has naturally focused on its far-reaching -- even historic -- implications for the U.S. domestic economy, experts here say it also marks at least the beginning of potentially important shifts in U.S. foreign policy.

The budget, which will now be taken up by Congress, suggests that Obama intends to follow through on his campaign pledge to achieve a better balance between the civilian and military institutions that are used to pursue U.S. foreign policy goals by increasing spending on diplomacy and aid while curbing the exploding growth in military spending under his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Indeed, the proposed budget, whose precise details will probably not be filled in for at least another month, calls for a nearly 10 percent increase in spending by the State Department and its various agencies -- including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) -- from $47 billion in the current fiscal year to nearly $52 billion.

By comparison, Pentagon spending, including the costs of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is set to increase by just 1.4 percent in real terms, to $663.7 billion -- but still some 14 times greater than the State Department's budget.

"While it's not the kind of sweeping shift in priorities and resources that we have urged, it does show signs of a modest course correction," said Miriam Pemberton, a research fellow at the liberal-leaning think tank, the Institute for Policy Studies, who co-authors an annual report by progressive defense experts that urges more spending on diplomacy and homeland security and sharp cuts in the Pentagon budget.

"A military budget of titanic proportions -- larger than the next 14 countries put together, and 45 percent of the world's total -- can't be turned around on a dime," she added.


The budget also suggested key changes in U.S. nuclear weapons policy, consistent with Obama's expressed interest in substantially reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal as part of a broader effort to tighten the international non-proliferation regime and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons.

Rejecting the explicit position of his own defense secretary, Robert Gates, Obama's budget statement announced that development work on what is called the "reliable replacement warhead" -- new, theoretically more precise, nuclear warheads to that would replace existing systems -- "will cease." And the flatline proposed for the Department of Energy's budget next year also hinted at major cuts in nuclear weapons-related programmes.

"The administration is already committed to major increases in non-proliferation programmes and in clean-energy projects [in the Energy Department's budget]," said David Culp, a nuclear specialist at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a lobby group affiliated with the pacifist Society of Friends -- better known as the Quakers.

"Since the DOE budget request for fiscal year 2010 is the same as the current FY 2009 budget without any inflation increase, I believe we will see big decreases in nuclear-weapons programs when the details come out in April," he said.

Reaction to the proposed 2010 budget -- which, if approved, will take effect next October 1 -- has focused almost exclusively on its size and ambition, particularly in tackling the country's exploding health care costs, its failing public education system, its economy's persistent reliance on fossil fuels, and the steadily growing gap between the rich and both the middle class and the poor, not to mention the ongoing financial crisis -- all at the same time.


"The budget that President Obama proposed on Thursday is nothing less than an attempt to end almost 30 years of economic policy dominated by the ideas of Ronald Reagan and his supporters," wrote David Leonhardt, an economics columnist for The New York Times.

William Galston, a widely respected public-policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, compared Obama's plans to those of three of his predecessors who altered the course of American history and policy: Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1932 New Deal, Lyndon B. Johnson's 1965 Great Society, and Ronald Reagan's 1981 program for limiting the size and power of government.

"Just as the Great Depression created the political and psychological conditions for Franklin Roosevelt's transformation of America from laissez-faire to the beginnings of the welfare state, the current crisis gives Obama the political space to move the still [relatively] modest American welfare state toward European-style social democracy," wrote Charles Krauthammer, the neo-conservative columnist at The Washington Post about both the proposed budget and the speech given by the president to Congress earlier in the week.


On the foreign-policy and national-security implications of Obama's budget, analysts were considerably more restrained in their assessments, even as they saw suggestions of important changes in the U.S. approach to the rest of the world, beginning with a reiteration of Obama's campaign pledge to double foreign aid during his tenure and "significantly increase" the number of foreign service positions at both the State Department and USAID whose ranks have been badly depleted over the last two decades.

"The big increase for the international-affairs [State Department] budget signals a real commitment that, despite the economic problems they're dealing with, this administration intends to engage a lot more constructively with the world," said Steven Radelet, a senior fellow at the Centre for Global Development. "In some ways, the increase implies that we have to provide more support to developing countries because of the economic difficulties we face."

He warned, however, that the specific details of how the administration proposes to spend the $52 billion it has requested for the State Department remain to be disclosed.

Of particular concern is the extent to which the additional aid will be concentrated on the three countries that top the Pentagon's current agenda -- Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan -- as opposed to other poor countries, particularly those which have qualified for help from the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

The five-year-old agency provides enhanced aid and debt relief to countries that implement far-reaching economic and political reform - where the immediate geo-strategic stakes may not be as high, but the need is nonetheless compelling.

In a brief budget statement released Thursday that already has drawn bitter denunciations by anti-abortion groups, the administration said it intends to increase spending on population programs -- that were disdained under Bush -- and on other global health problems and to clear up Washington's arrears to the United Nations and other multilateral agencies.


On military spending, analysts also said they were waiting for details to be released in April to see whether the new administration is prepared to cancel expensive weapons systems, such as the F-22 fighter jet, the V-22 Osprey helicopter, the Virginia Class submarine, and the Army's hi-tech Future Combat Systems Program, whose utility has come under question even by Gates and other high-ranking Pentagon officials.

The budget statement said Obama remained committed to increasing the size of the Army and the Marine Corps by 65,000 and 27,000, respectively, as well as hiking pay to all service personnel by nearly three percent, so the relatively small increase in overall defense spending suggests that such systems may well be cut.

"The good news is that he didn't buy into the entire Pentagon wish list which would have added another $40 billion or $50 billion beyond what he's requesting," said William Hartung, an arms specialist at the New America Foundation. "That should mean that weapons systems will indeed be cut in the new budget, and that will hopefully set the stage for getting actual spending reductions in the next few years."

Of the total FY 2010 Pentagon budget, $130 billion will be earmarked for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has set a deadline of August 31 of next year to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq -- leaving a force of 3,000 to 50,000 support troops -- while sending an additional 15,000 troops to Afghanistan.

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Volume IV, Number 17
Special Report Copyright 2009, Inter-Press Service, LLC.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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