President Obama Needs To Rein In DOJ Regarding Warrantless Wiretapping

The passion that I feel for limiting the excessive enlargement of presidential executive power has not faded only because Barack Obama is sitting in the Oval Office.  If anything, given President Obama’s deep knowledge of constitutional law, and his brilliant mind, I expect much more from him on the matters that touch so many critical parts of our civil rights and personal liberties.  President Bush did not know better given his shortcomings, but there are no excuses for President Obama.

Consider the news this week.

Yesterday, the Obama Justice Department asked a judge to dismiss a case that was initially brought against the Bush administration for their warrantless wiretapping program. The Justice Department said that if the claim were to move forward it would risk disclosure of classified or sensitive material. Basically they state that regardless of the actual merits of the case, the mere risk of the release of government records should be enough to dismiss the claim. That is only the first of their reasons for asking for this dismissal.

The other grounds for dismissal is that, according to the Obama Justice Department, no lawsuit should be allowed to be brought against the government for wiretapping unless they somehow publicly release information that they have gathered, irrespective of whether the means of gathering that information was legal or not. It seems that the Obama Justice Department is not only seeking to immunize the Bush administration from any claims of wrongdoing based on their warrantless wiretapping program, they are also seeking to expand the right of the government to the point that they can invade the privacy of its citizens at will.

This is not the way I want my country to operate.  Reason and logic steer us to a different shore than the one the DOJ is dragging us to at this time. 

All thoughtful citizens should support their President in times of crisis when often drastic actions need to be taken for the greater good, as was the case in the Civil War.  There are those times of genuine crisis when some relaxation of civil/legal rights occurs for the larger goals.  President Lincoln demonstrated that this can be done, and should be done, in times for the preservation of the Union.    It should be noted that we are not in one of those types of crisises at this time.  It was vitally important during the Civil War, as it is now, for the citizenry to remind the government with sternness that power must be exercisable within acceptable boundaries.   

The raw power grab of President Bush regarding wiretaps, torture, and other excesses was blasted by people such as myself as we understood how hard it is to wrestle these away from future elected people to that office, and put it all back in the bottle.  That is what made  Bush’s White House such a national tragedy.  When raw power is grabbed so unethically as Bush did, it has a tendency to grow if left unfettered and uncriticized.    When the Bush White House allowed for the warrantless wiretaps to take place the result was a proportional, and now we understand incremental reduction of personal rights of the citizenry.

President Bush was horribly wrong to accumulate and expand presidential powers of this kind, but President Obama will be equally wrong to hold onto them.  I hope and trust that Obama will place the values in his heart with the logic of his mind, and reverse course with these wiretaps while reining in his Department of Justice.

President Obama’s Trip Overseas Not Easy

It may look easy, but the trips abroad by a President of the United States can be very long, arduous, and frustrating.  Even coughing can make for a news story.

For the U.S. president, it may not have been the most pleasant of trips. He battled a cold all week, at one point leaning over in his limousine to hack as first lady Michelle Obama patted his back and whispered in his ear. He told reporters he felt like he had an acorn up his nose.

The lavish attention, successive rings of security and speed didn’t make for relaxed sight-seeing. After a Heidelberg student, Enis Otto, told him his name is Hungarian for “peach,” the young German asked Mr. Obama on Friday if he ever regretted his run for the presidency.

“It used to be when I came to Europe, that I could just wander down to a café and sit and have some wine and watch people go by, and go into a little shop, and watch the sun go down. Now I’m in hotel rooms all the time,” Mr. Obama lamented.

Before a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in Prague, Mr. Obama appeared befuddled by a staged photo opportunity, at which photographers were instructed to assemble in a hallway, walk 20 feet, stop, and wait for the two men to walk toward the media. Once they got halfway there, the photographers were supposed to turn around, walk back (but not backward) another 20 feet, and wait for the leaders to come toward the pool.

“I think we’re supposed to walk towards them,” Mr. Obama told the Spaniard dubiously, as the choreography came apart.

But beyond the first lady’s gentle touch of Queen Elizabeth II’s back, there were no obvious protocol breaches, faux pas, trips, gaffes or Ugly Americanisms — even after eight exhausting days.

Even the queen was sympathetic. After hearing the first couple’s first-day itinerary, she exclaimed, “You’re just trying to stay awake!”

Americans Take Back Ship From Pirates

The pirates and their outlandish activity need to be addressed in a very firm manner so that these hijackings stop.  Bravo to the American crew for re-taking the ship, and may the captain be returned soon from captivity.

The American crew was back in control of a hijacked cargo ship off the coast of Somalia, officials said, but the ship’s captain was reportedly still being held hostage by fleeing pirates.

A crewmember aboard the Maersk Alabama told the Associated Press that the 20-member crew had managed to seize one pirate and had retaken control of the ship. The man, who answered the ship’s satellite phone but did not identify himself, said the pirates were now in a lifeboat, but he said that they were holding the ship’s captain hostage.

A person answering the ship’s satellite phone later in the day identified himself as a crewmember said the ship was “in the middle of a situation right now.” He said he couldn’t talk further, and hung up the phone.

The ship’s owner, Danish shipping giant A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, confirmed that a crewmember was still being held hostage, but it didn’t specify whether it was the captain.

“We are able to confirm that the crew of the Maersk Alabama is now in control of the ship,” the company said in a press release. “The armed hijackers who boarded this ship earlier today have departed, however they are currently holding one member of the ship’s crew as a hostage. The other members of the crew are safe and no injuries have been reported.”

This Is Why Newspapers Matter…Reason #714

Let us see why the Minneapolis Star Tribune matters.

In the Hollywood image of journalism, reporters like me run in noisy packs, elbowing each other to ask the snarkiest “gotcha” question. I suppose that may actually happen. I do a far more boring job. I think it’s worth doing.
For example, a little over a year ago the Star Tribune agreed to send me, day after day, to a cubbyhole in a small government office. There, alone, I sifted through piles of reports about old industrial waste sites. It took weeks, and much help later from others on the Star Tribune’s staff, but eventually the paper
reported something nobody knew. Groundwater fouled by chemicals lies beneath vast sections of the Twin Cities. The affected zones are equivalent to an area 2½ times the size of Minneapolis.

People who live in the 35 communities above these zones had a right to know.