Senators To Obama: Hey You Can End Bulk Phone Data Collection Today; Obama: Ha, Ha, Ha, Nope!

from the well,-that-was-an-idea dept

This morning, a group of Senators, Mark Udall, Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich, sent President Obama a letter reminding him that he can live up to his promise to end bulk phone record collection today by simply having the DOJ not seek to renew the court order from the FISA Court getting the phone operators to hand over that data.
We welcome your proposal, announced on March 27, 2014, to end the bulk collection of Americans' phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. We believe as you do that the government can protect national security by collecting the phone records of individuals connected to terrorism, instead of collecting the records of millions of law-abiding Americans. We also believe that you have the authority to implement your proposal now, rather than continuing to reauthorize the existing bulk collection program in 90-day increments.
And, of course, just hours later, James Clapper responded, not to the letter, but in a Tumblr post, which again mentions how President Obama promised to end such bulk collection, but then saying that the administration is still seeking the next 90 day extension to keep collecting those phone records. The post even calls out the passage of the totally watered-down USA Freedom Act in the House as "prohibiting" such bulk collection (even though it doesn't really do that, since it allows broad selectors that give the NSA effectively the same power). However...
Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the Section 215 telephony metadata program, the government has sought a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program, as modified by the changes the President announced earlier this year.

Consistent with prior declassification decisions, in light of the significant and continuing public interest in the telephony metadata collection program, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, has declassified the fact that the government’s application to renew the program was approved yesterday by the FISC. The order issued yesterday expires on September 12, 2014.
Wait. Given what importance of maintaining the capabilities? So far, every analysis of the program has shown that it wasn't important at all. How could anyone in the administration still claim with a straight face that the Section 215 bulk phone records collection is "important" when everyone who's seen the evidence agrees that the program has been next to useless in stopping terrorism.

Either way, even though President Obama has already said that he wants the program ended, and he could do so, he's still keeping it going.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    That One Guy (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 3:15pm

    Some honesty would be refreshing

    Rather than the political tip-toeing, it would be nice if they publicly sent a letter, or commented to the effect that while he could end such programs, and has even claimed to want to do so, they, and everyone else knows that such claims are a lie, and that he never will.

    But I suppose calling out a president for lying would break one of those 'barely-unofficial' rules of politics, where even when you know the other person is lying, you still have to pretend otherwise.

     

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      zip, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 3:43pm

      Re: Some honesty would be refreshing

      " ... and everyone else knows that such claims are a lie, and that he never will."

      Obama has been caught breaking so many promises that I really don't think he even cares in the least if he is caught breaking another. It's not like he has any kind of reputation to uphold.

      And now it looks like his biggest broken promise of all was the centerpiece of his campaign -- pulling the US military (all of it) out of Iraq -- as fast as possible, with no looking back. (So now he sends military "advisors" ... echoes of the Vietnam war.)

       

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    Sheogorath (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 3:24pm

    Obama to American people

    Okay, guys, bend over while we just search your phone records. Oh, that's not where you keep your data? Oops, sorry for the 'mistake'.

     

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    Gordon Wainwright, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 3:27pm

    Who said anything about terrorism?

    given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the Section 215 telephony metadata program,


    And it is important to keep it going ... what would happen to their embryonic police state if they let it lapse?

     

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    Applesauce, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 3:32pm

    Important for what CONSTITUTIONAL purpose?

    > "So far, every analysis of the program has shown that it wasn't important at all."

    Translation: Not important in stopping terrorism or any of the constitutional purposes, but vital in expanding a program of unchecked surveillance of the plebeians.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 3:34pm

    Up... is down.

    White... is black.

    Honesty and truth... is deceit and lies.

    I want to end this unconstitutional spying program... is I intend to keep this unconstitutional spying program.

    This is how our government operates. They are 100% corrupt and they deserve to be handed life sentences in a maximum security penitentiary. Starting with Clapper and Alexander.

    Until there are real consequences to their behavior, they won't change. Until the people in power have the permanent loss of their freedom to fear, until they fear spending the rest of their natural lives in a 6x6 cell, the people will not get relief.

     

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      AC, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 5:59pm

      Re:

      Unfortunately you have it exactly right.

      Now for the next question which states would like to come and join Canada? Oh and no we will not take DC, dont need a city of corruption.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 3:49pm

    Future employment?

    How about a pledge from businesses to never hire any techs that are the backbone of this program for the NSA/FBI/DOJ?

    The dinosaurs in charge could never achieve what they have without the younger techs assistance at those agencies.

    Maybe the risk that no one wants to be affiliated with the sellouts and will publicly refuse to hire them would do something.

    In the end, it is the 20 year old tech that is acting at the foot soldier for the NSA, not the higher ups who couldn't turn on a computer if their life depended on it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 3:54pm

    Superfund for leakers?

    How about we create a super fund for attorneys fees and court costs for leakers? Maybe something thru the EFF or ???

    If people who wanted to leak information they believed was in the best interest of the citizens knew there was a fund already set up to handle their defense, they may be more willing to take a chance.

     

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      That One Guy (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 4:18pm

      Re: Superfund for leakers?

      Something like that would have to be handled very carefully, as I believe offering monetary incentives for people to leak sensitive data strips away the (theoretical) protections afforded to whistle-blowers.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 3:55pm

    Rome is falling.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 4:06pm

    ahhh...
    ...sometimes I reflect on how completely duped I was by all Obama's pretty talk of Hope and Change...
    ...and how bright and shiny he seemed when compared to the treachery that was the Bush administration.

    If only I had known then what I know now - in Obama's world, it is forever Opposite Day.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 8:33am

      Re:

      I am certain that McCain/Palin would have been so much better, had they been elected, the financial meltdown would not have happened, there would be world peace and everyone would be happily employed.

      But noooo. All those hopey changey communist nazi librals had to go exercise their right to vote 'n stuff. Sheesh.

       

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    Whatever, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 5:06pm

    executive orders

    Executive orders can do all sorts of things, and the Senators know it. It's a sneaky and somewhat dishonest piece of political gamemanship to make a statement like this, it shows that the congress itself is apparently unwilling to address the issue directly.

    They would rather make political mileage out of it than actually deal with the issue in their own forum. That's called playing to the grandstands, rather than worrying about the actual score.

     

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      That One Guy (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 5:24pm

      Re: executive orders

      That's called playing to the grandstands, rather than worrying about the actual score.

      Otherwise known as 'Politics in a nutshell: Why solve the underlying problem when you can make a lot of noise 'doing something' regarding the symptoms?'.

       

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        Whatever, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 7:10pm

        Re: Re: executive orders

        I think it's worse when the document has the Senate letterhead, but it's really just a personal letter signed by three senators. It's a real attempt to end run the process and put the burden on the President to do something that the politicians don't want to get their hands dirty with.

        See, the problem here is simple: nobody wants to be the one that defunds / disables / blocks the NSA and then have a terrorist act happen that could have been stopped. No matter how bad the methods, no matter how outraged certain online pundits get, the politicians don't want to take the chance of being the ones who "helped" something happen.

        They would rather dump that no win choice on the President, who is wisely not taking their bait.

         

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          That One Guy (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 8:17pm

          Re: Re: Re: executive orders

          Are they or are they not Senators? If 'yes', then sending a document with the 'Senate letterhead' is perfectly acceptable, unless you're going to claim that the only acceptable use of such 'official paper' is when the entire Senate agrees on a topic(which should happen the next, oh, never.)

          nobody wants to be the one that defunds / disables / blocks the NSA and then have a terrorist act happen that could have been stopped.

          There are 428 people who would seem to disagree with you, they seemed to be perfectly fine with defunding the NSA at least in part to reign it in.

          Also, 'could have been stopped'? Like they stopped 9/11? Or the Boston Bombing? Their current spying programs have been found multiple times to be completely useless at their stated purpose(when you gather all the hay, it's kinda hard to spot the needles in time, who'd have guessed?), so if they were defunded the idea that that was the cause of it would be tenuous at best.

          They would rather dump that no win choice on the President, who is wisely not taking their bait.

          Oh, you mean the president who lied about how he wanted to end the bulk phone collection, and is now getting called out on it? That president?

           

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            Whatever, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 9:39pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: executive orders

            Are they or are they not Senators? If 'yes', then sending a document with the 'Senate letterhead' is perfectly acceptable, unless you're going to claim that the only acceptable use of such 'official paper' is when the entire Senate agrees on a topic(which should happen the next, oh, never.)

            I think it should be on the Senate's letterhead when a majority of the senate is either signatory or requesting it be written. This came from 3 and only 3 senators, should have been on their letterhead.

            There are 428 people who would seem to disagree with you, they seemed to be perfectly fine with defunding the NSA at least in part to reign it in.

            More like 428 people grandstanding knowing it will never actually make it into law.

            you mean the president who lied about how he wanted to end the bulk phone collection

            It's a question of national security. What he might think personally may not add up to much if it's shown to have a benefit. It's easy to say "Shut it down" when you aren't privy to all that it does, harder perhaps when you actually know what is being accomplished (but not discussed openly).

             

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              That One Guy (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 10:14pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: executive orders

              I think it should be on the Senate's letterhead when a majority of the senate is either signatory or requesting it be written.

              If they're speaking in their positions as senators, then I'm still not seeing the problem using the Senate letterhead.

              Also, you really think you'd ever be able to find that many politicians willing to put their necks on the line criticizing the president, or rocking the boat with a public letter, no matter how they might actually feel about the matter?

              More like 428 people grandstanding knowing it will never actually make it into law.

              You ever hear the phrase 'Self-fulfilling prophesy'? Because that's the feeling I get every time I run across someone commenting like that, the idea that 'Oh it'll never happen', leading to them not doing anything about the problem in question, and lo and behold, their lack of action led to nothing being done! It's as though they could see the future!

              Problems only get solved if you put the effort into solving them, just sitting back and saying 'Oh it'll never be fixed, why bother trying?' will accomplish a big fat nothing. So when politicians, in a rare show of doing their freakin' job, actually make a move towards fixing a problem, it should be applauded, not just dismissed outright. Politicians tend to be lazy and risk averse, they need all the encouragement they can get when it comes to actually serving the public, which will hopefully motivate them to do it more often.

              Also, looks like I got the numbers wrong, it was actually 293, which may seem like less, but the total voting was 416, so about 75% of them were in agreement on at least partially defunding the NSA.

              ...harder perhaps when you actually know what is being accomplished (but not discussed openly).

              That would be nothing. Nothing is being accomplished with these programs, and pretty much every independent, non-NSA based investigation into them has found this.

               

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                Whatever, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 5:46pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: executive orders

                Problems only get solved if you put the effort into solving them, just sitting back and saying 'Oh it'll never be fixed, why bother trying?' will accomplish a big fat nothing.

                Grandstanding gestures seem to have about the same success rate, generally because they aren't done with any hope of success either. They are done with full intent to fail, fail big, and to blame the other guy when they do.

                Also, looks like I got the numbers wrong, it was actually 293, which may seem like less, but the total voting was 416, so about 75% of them were in agreement on at least partially defunding the NSA.

                Even the wording is grandstanding. They voted to remove funding from one small part of the overall system, didn't say anything to condemn the system or change it, and did it knowing that the senate is unlikely to pass it.

                Defunding is the chicken way of dealing with things. It's knowing that you don't have the support and votes to actually deal with the issue, so you instead try to take the funding out of a legal program rather than changing the laws about it.

                It would be much more impressive if they passes a law to deal with what they see wrong, rather than trying to choke it out by pulling the funds out of it. The Republicans learned a big lesson trying to use that method to kill Obamacare - not only did they lose the argument, they also made themselves look like idiots for even making it.

                 

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                  That One Guy (profile), Jun 21st, 2014 @ 6:39pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: executive orders

                  Grandstanding gestures seem to have about the same success rate, generally because they aren't done with any hope of success either. They are done with full intent to fail, fail big, and to blame the other guy when they do.

                  Again, 75%, bi-partisan support. That seems to be pretty clear support for it, 'grandstanding' or not, and if it does fail in the House, that will be due to those in the House, not the ones that voted for this in the Senate.

                  While I agree making a law, or changes to the law, to deal with the issue would be a better step, it would also be much less likely to work, as you can bet the NSA and WH would do everything in their power to either water it down to the point of uselessness(as they've done recently), or just ignore it altogether.

                  After all, all the laws in the world mean nothing as long as the NSA has a 'court' full of pet judges that have no problem coming up with secret 'interpretations' of existing laws that allow the NSA to do whatever they feel like, so at least for the moment, and while it doesn't fix everything, at least defunding a useless but problematic program is most certainly a good first step.

                  Also, even after I pointed it out your comment is still steeped in self-fulfilling defeatism, the idea that 'Oh it's too big to stop, there's no point in trying, and even those that do don't actually mean it'. With an attitude like that, how would you expect to solve any problems, ever?

                   

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                    Whatever, Jun 22nd, 2014 @ 9:22am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: executive orders

                    Also, even after I pointed it out your comment is still steeped in self-fulfilling defeatism, the idea that 'Oh it's too big to stop, there's no point in trying, and even those that do don't actually mean it'. With an attitude like that, how would you expect to solve any problems, ever?

                    I am more of a realist. I don't see trying to empty the ocean with a spoon as being better than doing nothing, I think it's busy work for people who want to claim to be doing something but are in fact accomplishing nothing.

                    You have to ask yourself the simple question: Why would 75% of the members pass this weak tea bill, while a bill to actually do something (like specifically outlawing certain aspects of the NSA operations) wouldn't pass? That gap there is the political reality, not a defeatist attitude. You have to ask why that gap exists, and then work on fixing it.

                    Realism looks like defeatism if you aren't paying attention.

                     

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              AnonyBabs, Jun 23rd, 2014 @ 11:16am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: executive orders

              It's a question of national security.

              Ohhhhhhhhh, "national security." Well, that makes it all right then.

               

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 5:59am

      Re: executive orders

      Executive orders can do all sorts of things

      While true, nothing in this story has to do with executive orders.

      It's a sneaky and somewhat dishonest piece of political gamemanship to make a statement like this

      To make a statement pointing out to the President that he doesn't need to renew the program he's already admitted the US doesn't need? Really? How so?

      it shows that the congress itself is apparently unwilling to address the issue directly.

      You either have no idea how this works or are being deliberately obtuse. Given your history on the site, I'll vote with the latter.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 8:36am

      Re: executive orders

      Hold on a second ... this post is not full of bullshit.
      Amazing.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 6:10pm

    If you had any doubt where the orders were coming from this should remove all of it. It's always come from the top which is why it's where it is now. It's easier hidden from public eye when only one is sending the commands.

    No need to cry for help from Obama. He's the one you have to nail to really get it to slow down... and after that Biden as he is of the same mindset.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 8:42am

      Re:

      "It's always come from the top"

      And just who/where is this nebulous "top"?
      Illuminati? The Family? The Free Masons?

      No, of course not. It is the moneyed interests. Your politicians, all of them, are pressured by these self proclaimed control freaks. Some elected officials are more susceptible than others. Laying the blame for whatever ails you at the feet of one person is rather silly don't you think? The real world is somewhat more complex than that.

       

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    Padpaw (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 6:55pm

    I do not know what is worse. That Obama lies every time he opens his mouth. or that people still believe him when he promises to do something

     

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    Mr Big Content, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 8:19pm

    If You Criminalize Warrantless Wiretaps, Criminals Will Wiretap Warrantlessly

    Trying to ban this sort of thing will just drive it underground.

     

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      That One Guy (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 9:02pm

      Re: If You Criminalize Warrantless Wiretaps, Criminals Will Wiretap Warrantlessly

      Better than legitimizing it and accepting it. Theoretically at least, if bulk phone data collection is banned, and they do it anyway, there would be enough of a fuss raised(I won't even entertain the idea that the courts would ever hand out a real punishment, given how impossible such an idea is) to stop them from doing it, even if only for a while.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 9:05pm

    it seems like the President is, yet again, telling lies!

     

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    john doe, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 10:40pm

    The government should not be seen as a separate entity of that to the people, it represents the people. Therfore if the people collectively voice a big fat NO to something the government needs to implement it instantly there should be no votes there should be no bullshit of any kind. IF EVERYONES SAYS NO IT NEEDS TO BE IMPLEMENTED RIGHT THE FUCKING MINUTE!

     

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    abmstudio, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 3:44am

    Obama has been caught breaking

    so many promises that I really don't think he even cares in the least if he is caught breaking another. It's not like he has any kind of reputation to uphold.

     

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      GEMont, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 11:02am

      Re: Obama has been caught breaking

      "its not like he has any kind of reputation to uphold"

      Nope. But you should see the size of his off-shore bank accounts. His reputation in history is already secured against opinion.

      When the planned financial shit storm is over, the opinion of anybody who does not own a ton of cash will not matter one iota.

      In the coming "Ownership Society", Obama and family will be heralded as the best of the best, for his assistance in bringing about the New Order and ending the threat of the Adversary.

      ---

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 4:39am

    Obama is a puppet

     

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    Personanongrata, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 4:51am

    Treason

    Both the Bush (the lesser) and Obama administrations have done more harm to the US than any terrorist could have ever hoped to accomplish.

    The real terrorists can be found at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave Washington DC.

    We have met the enemy and he is us. ~ Pogo

     

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      GEMont, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 10:52am

      Re: Treason

      You think they've done more harm to America than any terrorist group could accomplish?

      Hell.

      Just wait till you see what they got planned next.

      It'll make what they've done so far look like a bad hair day by comparison.

      If I've got this game plan figured right, the middle class now holds a huge bucket of money that the upper class is planning to "take back". A sort of "redistribution of wealth" game that will see the poorest Americans and eventually the poorest citizens everywhere, literally mowed down like grass in the coming financial shit storm.

      A necessity really, because the middle class is about to replace them at the bottom.

      And the coolest part of it all, is that, it will ALL BE 100% LEGAL.

      (Or perhaps "condoned by law" might be a better term, now that the crooks are writing the laws.)

      ---

       

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    GEMont, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 10:41am

    What's in a name...

    "How could anyone in the administration still claim with a straight face that the Section 215 bulk phone records collection is "important" when everyone who's seen the evidence agrees that the program has been next to useless in stopping terrorism."

    "Stopping Terrorism" is the code name secretly adopted by the NSA for its secret Enemy of the State Blackmail and Dirty Tricks Program (used to destroy the lives of anyone who gets in their way), and its secret Joint Wall Street Innovation Accumulation Program (used to steal foreign research data for American Corporations, in return for special "considerations" involving taxation and criminal investigation relief).

    So the "Bulk Phone Record Collection Program" is extremely important to "Stopping Terrorism", doncha see.

    ---

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 1:14pm

    How sad. But on a brighter note, Mr. Clinton was impeached also, not that anything ever came of it. Where I come from we call behavior like this sedition.

     

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    GEMont, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 11:43pm

    How Sad....

    Mr. C was busted for sex crimes. SOP.

    He wasn't playing ball anymore, so his masters simply scandal-ed his ass out of the Oval Orifice - its the easiest way to get the public on side against any delinquent politician of any rank.

    For some reason John Q Six-pack still has the morals of a 16th century Elizabethan Sunday-school teacher, where a public official is concerned.

    A dead hooker in the bed and even the most popular politician up to and including the POTUS, is history.

    But.... Ye can't impeach Obama for anything because his masters make sure there's a law in place - or a secret interpretation thereof - that makes all his activities legal before he acts.

    Obama could literally look America in the Eye and say:

    "I am Not a Crook." and he would be effectively correct.

    ---

     

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      nasch (profile), Jun 23rd, 2014 @ 1:12pm

      Re: How Sad....

      Mr. C was busted for sex crimes. SOP.

      He wasn't playing ball anymore, so his masters simply scandal-ed his ass out of the Oval Orifice - its the easiest way to get the public on side against any delinquent politician of any rank.


      He left office because he was term limited, not because he was removed from office.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2014 @ 5:27pm

    Your ignorance on the matter is astounding, I think you need to stop pretending to be a political blog until you read up on the issues instead of just grandstanding nonsense issues and being a pawn of the Republican party.

     

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      GEMont, Jun 22nd, 2014 @ 9:17pm

      Re:

      You might want to put a name on the end of that finger you're pointing, Mister Anonymous Coward.

      Otherwise, none of the ignorant pawns, pretending to be political blogs, while grandstanding nonsense for the Republican party will know which one should respond.

       

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      nasch (profile), Jun 23rd, 2014 @ 1:14pm

      Re:

      Your ignorance on the matter is astounding, I think you need to stop pretending to be a political blog until you read up on the issues instead of just grandstanding nonsense issues and being a pawn of the Republican party.

      Your comment contributes nothing to the discussion. If you don't have any specifics about where TechDirt is wrong on this issue, then it doesn't do any good to just rant about it. And calling them a pawn of either party is a joke. Speaking of ignorance, I suspect this is the first TechDirt article you've ever read.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2014 @ 9:27am

    Could Obama close Gitmo without Congress approval? Yes.
    Could Obama stop the collection of telephone records? Yes.
    Could Obama pardon Snowden? Yes.

    He chooses not to, maybe for political reasons sure, but in the end, HE CHOOSES NOT TO

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      GEMont, Jul 1st, 2014 @ 3:57pm

      Re:

      "...but in the end, HE CHOOSES NOT TO"

      Perhaps.

      Perhaps there is a really big cash&property payoff for him at the end of his term, if he accomplishes certain goals set by other members of the Ownership Society.

      .... or, perhaps he is just following orders, knowing full well he will simply be replaced by another similar minion if he fails to fulfill the desires of his financiers.

      ....or..... maybe ..... Obama is really George Bush's secret bastard brother-in-law, Tim Laden ..... and the birth certificate really was a fake!!!!! :)
      ---

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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