The Demise of the Bulk Collection of Data

fbi_wiretapRarely do I heap any praise on a politician. I always keep a skeptical eye toward them and am not afraid to call them out when necessary. But today, that praise is necessary. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky (and also a 2016 presidential candidate) was a wrecking ball in the past couple of weeks when it came to allowing certain provisions in the Patriot Act to expire.

The Patriot Act was passed by Congress out of fear in the days after the 9/11 attacks. The way it had been interpreted by the National Security Agency (NSA) was that it legally allowed them to spy on everyday Americans. Most of the time it was without a warrant, but if one was needed, it had created a secret FISA court that basically granted one each time (only 11 times was one rejected) as it only heard the government’s side.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to collect “any tangible things” that the government proves are “relevant to” an investigation into suspected terrorists.

A lot of what the NSA was doing was brought to light when Edward Snowden blew the whistle about the operation. I don’t consider Snowden to be a patriot or a traitor. I consider him to be an American who saw the federal government overstepping its authority and letting the public know what was happening.

So if the law states the government can collect the data then what’s the problem? The problem is that it violates your right to privacy which is guaranteed under the Constitution. Law enforcement must request a specific warrant, not a blanket warrant that encompasses everyone, from an actual court… not some secret court that the public knows nothing about nor has any defense in. If Congress really wants to do this then they need to go about the proper way of amending the Constitution to allow it.

Republicans are tearing him apart for allowing the Patriot Act to expire. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has gone so far as to claim that it was a publicity stunt since Senator Paul is running for president. I can’t say whether that is true or not, but it has been one of his biggest issues since he entered the Senate back in 2011.

Senator Paul may also have something else to back him up. In early May, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the NSA’s bulk, warrantless collection of Americans’ phone records was illegal though stopping short of deciding its constitutionality. This came almost a year after a lower court ruled the program “almost-Orwellian.”

“Because we find that the program exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized, we vacate the decision below dismissing the complaint without reaching appellants’ constitutional arguments.”
Judge Gerald Lynch

The public has been undecided on what should be done. On the one hand they don’t want the government overstepping their constitutional authority and violating our right to privacy. However, on the other hand they want to feel protected from terrorists as it was born out of the fear from that. In the past several weeks, national security analysts have been hitting the media airwaves stating that the bulk collection of data has been worthless and has had no result on anything.

So what should be the path forward? In the past month the House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act. Is it perfect? No. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be added to the debate on how we proceed forward. POLITICO posted an article recently that reported how this new piece of legislation would “reform” the Patriot Act.

However Congress chooses to proceed forward in the days and weeks ahead, they should be mindful of our constitutional rights when deciding on national security. Though we take national security very seriously, we will not allow our rights to be disregarded.

“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
Benjamin Franklin

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Of High Crimes and Misdemeanors: An Act of Treason?

There’s nothing like a slight treasonous scandal to pull a political writer out of a little sabbatical. When hearing of this, I didn’t think it was something that I could sit on the sidelines for. So here I am immersing myself in a political debate that should have bigger ramifications than it probably will.

Treason is defined in the dictionary as:

1. the offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
2. a violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state.
3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

It is the only crime that is specifically mentioned in the US Constitution. (Article 3, Section 3)

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”

Keep your mind on what you just read as there is a possibility that you will be contemplating them as we go through this whole ordeal.

The United States has been negotiating for a nuclear agreement with Iran since 2006 along with 5 other countries which is known as the P5+1 group. The five countries are the US, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China, and the +1 being Germany. The goal is to keep Iran from having nuclear missiles. In 2013, and interim agreement was reached with a comprehensive agreement due later this month.

With the deadline approaching some Senators have expressed concern over what a final comprehensive deal might look like and have a desire for the final deal to be debated on voted on in the Senate as a treaty would be under Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the US Constitution. However, freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark) has gone even a step further by submitting a letter with 46 other signatures of Republican Senators to the leader of Iran expressing that any nuclear treaty with the country would not be upheld once President Obama leaves office.

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Now let me bring in the Logan Act which was passed by Congress in 1799. It prohibits unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. Violation of this act is a felony.

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

Under Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the US Constitution, “[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur…” The President has the power to appoint ambassadors and to conduct negotiations with foreign governments. The Senate does not come in to the equation until the vote for approval is needed. By this, Senator Cotton does not have the authority to approach Iran on any subject that is concurrent with the ongoing negotiations. To have done so is a violation of the Logan Act.

According to a recent article on Politico, this is not the first time that one party has accused the other of violating the Logan Act. Republicans screamed it in 1987 after Congress cut off aid to Nicaragua’s Contra rebels. Democrats ran (and ultimately won both chambers of Congress) in 2006 on forcing then-President George W. Bush to come up with a timetable for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Speaker Pelosi would also go against the wishes of the White House in 2007 and travel to Damascus to meet with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

So where does all of this then fall in? If it has been done before then should we just brush it aside again? In this case, I would suggest no. It does violate international law. It does undermine the full faith and credit of the US, which is already shaky in the world as it is especially in regards to Iran where neither side completely trusts the other. Senator Cotton had no authority to write and send that letter which was in an effort to derail negotiations with a foreign government before a final deal is reached. It was out of his jurisdiction as a US Senator.

Remember those definitions of treason at the beginning? If this isn’t it then it comes dangerously close to that line. The overall goal of the letter was to do harm and to instill a sense of a betrayal of trust and confidence against our country.

The Fight for the Senate: Who Will Win Control?

The main talk of the 2014 election has been which political party will control the Senate after the votes have been counted.  Democrats have been on defense throughout most of the country as President Obama’s approval rating has been low. So with just a little more than a week to go, where do I think the numbers will fall?

create_your_own_senate_map1

Colored: Safe Seats; Gray: Toss-Ups

In this election cycle, Democrats have 38 seats that are safe or not up for reelection while Republicans have 42. So that is where my numbers start.

Democrats are projected to win the elections in Illinois (Durbin), Michigan, Minnesota (Franken), New Jersey (Booker), New Mexico (Udall), Oregon (Merkley), and Virginia (Warner).  Republicans are safe in the elections in Mississippi (Cochrane), South Dakota, and West Virginia.  This brings the total to 45-45 with 10 states that will determine the balance of the Senate.

In their latest forecast as of the time of writing this column, Nate Silver and those at fivethirtyeight.com give the Republicans a 62.1% chance of retaking the Senate.  The race is on for either side to grab 6 of the 10 toss-up seats.  It is going to be close, and it might just hinge on one thing we would not have predicted even 6-months ago.

It seems likely that Republicans will win seats currently held by Democrats in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, and Louisiana.  Though in Louisiana, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu will win on November 4, she will not cross the 50% threshold sending the top 2 into a run-off in December in which she will fall.  Republicans will also hold onto their seat in Kentucky.  This gives the GOP a total of 50 seats.

So what about the Democrats?  I believe they will hold onto their seats in New Hampshire and North Carolina.  I’ve watched over the polls of Colorado, and they have given me a headache just as they did during the 2012 election.  I will go out on a limb that Colorado will stay in the Democratic column but just barely.  There is still a state that was a surprise for this grouping.  Even a month ago, I had not included it here but my gut tells me to do so now.  Georgia.  Again, I believe this will be extremely close, but that the Democrat will come out on top.  Total for the Democrats… 49.

This leaves one seat remaining.  Republicans need it for control; Democrats need it for a tie with Vice-President Biden (Democrat) being the tie-breaker.  I hinted at this earlier, and it is Kansas.  As the election year started, Republicans saw Sen. Pat Roberts as a safe seat.  He had a tea-party challenge in the primary which he defeated.  He was being challenged by the Democrats and an Independent candidate Greg Orman.  Then the Democrat, basically seeing the writing on the wall, dropped out leaving only Orman to challenge Sen. Roberts.  The race has tightened up, but I’m predicting that Orman will pull off the upset and join Independents Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) in the Senate.  So it will come down to where he caucuses: with the Republicans to give them majority, or with the Democrats to give them a tie (and thus majority off the tie-breaker).

My 2014 Prediction

My 2014 Prediction

This is how close it is going to be.  The Senate will be 50-50 or 51-49 Republican.  The Senate may need to learn how to compromise and function a little bit better with the chamber so evenly divided.  Despite all the polls and predictions, it will all still be determined by who shows up to vote.  So make sure to vote on November 4.

** This column is my sole opinion based off examining various polls.
** Special thanks to RealClearPolitics for allowing me to create my own map.

The Day After

The election is finally over.  A winner has been announced, and the parties have all ended.  Now we must ask ourselves, “What now?”  The country is still facing some very large issues between now and then end of the year.  These range from taxes, the debt ceiling, and many more things.  The lame-duck Congress, the one that has been one of the least productive in history, is charged with dealing with these topics with President Obama.  It remains to be seen if the two sides can put aside major differences to hammer out a compromise for the good of the nation.

Pundits have already started talking.  Blame and finger pointing has started on the losing end while the winning side basks in the glory of the moment.  But both sides should stop for a moment and remember something.  The electorate is more divided than ever, and we didn’t think it could even get more divided than it already was.  Though President Obama cruised easily to an electoral vote majority (Electoral College) though it was smaller than in 2008, and though Democrats picked up a seat in the Senate and might pick up a few in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, it was the popular vote that gives us the biggest indication of  what the people were thinking… 50% in favor of Obama and 48% in favor of Romney.  (These numbers could change as not all votes are in at the time this is being written.)  As of right now, somewhere close to 3-million votes is what separates the two main candidates.  The Senate is still fairly evenly divided and the House is just a bit moreso.  After all these grueling months, the people decided to leave the country with a divided government… Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and Democrats in control of the Senate and White House.  This means that both sides are going to have to work together come January to face some major issues that are in front of our country.  And the outgoing Congress can’t let the ball drop either.  Even though several members will not be returning, they still must do their job until the end.  The two sides aren’t always going to agree.  We know this, and we expect it.  That’s what divided government is all about.  But the two sides must communicate and work through those differences for the good of the country.  Talking of working together across the aisle is one thing and action is another.  The time for talk has passed, and the people are demanding action.  Divided government is supposed to be more difficult in its design, but it’s not supposed to be an all-out roadblock.

While the Republican Party must figure out where it goes in the future, one thing is absolutely clear.  They must start finding ways to attract minority voters.  Though independent voters mostly swing to Mitt Romney in the election, the Republican party lost even more of the minority vote than it did in 2008.  And the minority vote is quickly on the rise.  The white vote was only at 72%, though it’s hard to judge where that level really is since voter turnout was well below 2008 and even 2004 levels.  As a result, neither party should go around talking of any mandate.  I’ve written about that before. (The New Mandate)  If half of the population isn’t voting, that means 3/4th didn’t vote for you.  So it is nearly impossible to declare a mandate when looking at those numbers.  And with the popular vote so close from those that did vote, it means that we want to be governed from the middle and not from the extreme left or the extreme right.

The dust has now settled, and its long overdo that our government, and its leaders get to work.  There is too much at stake on the future of our country.  This should no longer be about political grandstanding.  The voters have spoken, and they have signaled that they want a little from the left and a little from the right.  They want common sense solutions, and they want you to act like grown-ups. So now get to it.  Show us that work can be done across the aisle and between the two chambers and two of the branches of government on the big issues.  We need you to govern for once, especially in these next two months of the lame-duck Congress.  With the new Congress in January, I hope it works better than the last one.  Show the people that you can rise above partisan bickering to get the job done.

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