Upcoming open letter to Obama: what’s our ask?

Here’s the current draft-in-progress for our Fall 2009 open letter — a combination of excerpts from letters Nancy, Lois, and Sally wrote, along with a few points from our discusson on last Tuesday’s phone call and a quote from his previous letter to us.  There are several excellent comments on the wiki with various suggestions that we still need to incorporate — please check them out, and jump into the discussions, or leave your opinions here on the blog.

Dear President Obama,

With FISA reform once again in Congress, we’d like to take the opportunity to continue our dialog.

In July 2008, in your response to our previous open letter, you committed to have your Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in.  You also told us of your intent as President to run “a White House that takes the Constitution seriously, conducts the peoples’ business out in the open, welcomes and listens to dissenting views, and asks you to play your part in shaping our country’s destiny.”

We have a hard time seeing how your administration’s work behind the scenes with Senator Sessions to weaken privacy and civil liberties protections during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Patriot Act reform manifest this commitment.   In the courts, too, your administration’s repeated backing of Bush Administration arguments for hiding information is troubling.

We urge you to live up to the stated goals of your campaign and avoid continuing the horrific practices of the previous administration. You have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, and we had every reason to believe that as a professor of Constitutional law, you would honor that pledge.  Please, do not betray our trust.We ask you to …

Please, Senator Obama, reject the politics of fear on national security, and take the lead in restoring our Constitutional rights.

Signed,


Hmm.  Just what do we want him to do?

jon

PS: Other feedback welcome too, of course!

Advertisements

13 Responses to Upcoming open letter to Obama: what’s our ask?

  1. harrywaisbren says:

    I think we can use the public option fight as a guide for dealing with Obama. Similarly, Obama rhetorically is very progressive, but tactically claims to want to let congress bring a bill to him and generally refuses to utilize the bully pulpit. However, his progressiveness comes into question when looking at what his administration is doing behind the scenes—in our case, working with Jeff Sessions to water down reform legislation during the past SJC hearing.

    I worry that Obama was pressured as much as he could have been to twist arms in congress for the public option, yet as of yet is to break from this pattern. I’m not precisely sure how this should affect our particular “ask”, but I think we must keep this way of doing business in mind—if only to be prepared for the same kind of excuses and behind the scenes manuevering that has been seen during the health care fight.

  2. Peter says:

    Putting aside the main question–what do we want– I have a few stylistic suggestions. To be a little lazy about it, I’ll just paste my edit of the first part of the letter:

    Dear President Obama,

    With FISA reform once again on the agenda in Congress, we’d like to take the opportunity to continue our dialogue.

    In July 2008, in your response to our previous open letter, you committed to having your Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of Federal surveillance programs, and to making further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties.  You also told us of your intent as President to run “a White House that takes the Constitution seriously, conducts the peoples’ business out in the open, welcomes and listens to dissenting views, and asks you to play your part in shaping our country’s destiny.”

    We have a hard time seeing how your administration’s work behind the scenes with Senator Sessions to weaken privacy and civil liberties protections during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Patriot Act reform manifest this commitment.   In the courts, too, your administration’s repeated backing of Bush Administration arguments for hiding information is troubling.

    We urge you to live up to the stated goals of your campaign and avoid continuing the horrific practices of the previous administration. You have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, and we had every reason to believe that as a professor of Constitutional law, you would honor that pledge. Please, do not betray our trust.

  3. jonpincus says:

    Thanks Peter, great edits — I cut-and-paste them into the main post.

    jon

  4. Craig Nazor says:

    How’s this?:

    Please support changes to the Patriot act that reestablishes judicial checks and balances (through the FISA court and other appropriate avenues) so that governmental coercion of the telecommunications industry to violate the Constitution is no longer possible, and so that past abuses can be investigated. It will be impossible to fix this without a clear assessment of what went wrong and of the extent to which Constitutional rights were violated. If this is not done soon, then the taint of former abuses will be assumed by your Administration.

  5. Derrick Gibson says:

    In the hope that we can tweak the President’s adherence to his first, last and sole responsibility, I might introduce our ask like this:

    Dear President Obama,

    On a bright and cold day from earlier this year, ’round the world was heard a man to utter this oath:

    “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    Was that man you? Our ask is not impudent. We ask because our Constitution was written to constrain executive power – not to expand it; it was written to ensure that the people retained as much of our Natural Rights as were granted to us by the very presence of Life itself – and to reserve to government solely those rights as needed to ensure to – as our Constitution describes our work in forming “a more perfect union”:

    “. . . establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity[.]”

    You sir, as someone who has spent many years teaching the meaning, the core concepts that guided the development of the document that defines our very Republic, know far better than most how central the idea of restrained and contained Executive authority is to our Republic; and as such you know full well the scope of the crime that was foisted upon our Republic by the passage of that Orwellian-named USA PATRIOT Act. No, with your history you need not citizens such as us to remind you of either the Tenth Amendment – and its closing clause – or even of the Ninth Amendment and its import to our Republic, along with every other word contained within our Constitution; words are the means to meaning and you have this knowledge already within you. With this knowledge and with your words across the long campaign season of 2007 and 2008 and with your actions as President of these United States – you know full well that the time to change our errant Path has come.

    And with that, we ask of you the following:

    – begin now, work on repealing the USA PATRIOT Act;
    – task your legislative director with drafting language that will restore to us our Fourth Amendment protections and end the fallacy that presumes merely because communication is electronic, it has naught the power of these words –

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    – explain to the public, the scale of the insanity that has taken ahold of our body politic and of our agents we have put forth to serve our nation now, in this new, “national security” era; an insanity that has engendered the fear that merely because communication is electronic in form rather than on paper that somehow the government is then gifted with the authority to rifle through personal communications, with naught but unsubstantiated allegation in hand;
    – and finally, we ask that you prepare to announce your proposed legislation – including a summary of the text and a full discussion of the supporting rationale – during your first State of the Union Address next year.

    Mr. President, when you step before both Houses of Congress, on that last Tuesday in January, we need you to commit to us that you did not only recite the oath of office, but that you understood the meaning of the words you uttered. Mr. President, we need you to convince us of your intentions and that you are indeed committed to the faithful execution of your duties as President of the United States of America. Mr. President, you should not leave that platform before our assembled Congress on that night until you have spoken exhaustively, on how – from the moment you awake each day and through to until you return back asleep each night, across every single day of your Presidency – you have done, intend to and will do: “. . . to the best of [your] ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    Show your commitment to us by showing your commitment to upholding the Constitution that defines us as a Republic. Demonstrate your understanding of the principle that you cannot “save us” by acts that destroy the very fabric that unites us as a people.

    Thank you, Mr. President. We are praying for your success and for the continued success of our nation. We make these prayers not at the expense of others but in concert with them, for we seek shared success with all of the children of the world, for we know that these political constructs are but comforting fictions and the Truth is that we are all one human Family. Mr. President, we hope you do wish as we do wish, that God continues to shed his grace on this nation we call, America and upon all of the Peoples of the world.

    You have much work to do.

    Godspeed, Mr. President.

    The Assembled Citizens of the United States of America

  6. I am sure my goal is not clear, so let me place it here: raise the level of the debate from over any specific legislation up to a call to act to save our Republic itself.

    2009 appears like it will close with a legislative victory on health care and that auger well for more legislative victories to come, but we know these things to be true:

    – 2010 is an election year;
    – Republicans are addicted to running on a meme of, “Democrats are traitors”.

    What better way to launch into an election year with a call to restore our Republic? Why cannot Democrats wrap themselves in the Constitution and make the simple case that the USA PATRIOT Act needs to be repealed as it is un-Constitutional. Furthermore, why should not Democrats turn the tables and reveal the hypocrisy that underpins FISA itself: the notion that communication – merely because it is electronic as opposed to paper – is insulting to our Constitution and completely unnecessary to our security.

    Think about it: the original FISA legislation is predicated on the notion that one branch of our government is absolutely convinced that somebody is about to do something extraordinarily dangerous to the lives and the health of American citizens and so they need to surreptitiously surveil this somebody.

    The Constitution absolutely considers this case. The Judiciary is also a branch of our government. If the left hand cannot convince the right hand that the stove is hot, then maybe the stove is not hot.

    Access to Judges or time to wait before Judges can rule is naught but a worse case scenario used to define an entire solution – but the original FISA approach ignores the very technology that can provide a simple solution: we have 911 lines staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week – it is more than plausible to see how we could construct a hotline to access judges. With the technology we have today, we can set up an instantaneous online conference call, with video capability and audio recording as well. A shared workspace can be put up to allow the Judge to see just what the agent of the Executive in need of a warrant is seeing and this workspace – and the edits made to it by both the Judge and the Agent – can be recorded as well.

    Heck, if we need to ensure that an on-call attorney is there to represent the interests of the person (perhaps even anonymously) who owns the property to be searched, that can be accommodated with just one more line added to the bridge.

    This is America; surely we have a surfeit of lawyers to fill these roles and all of them easily can be outfitted with proper technology – phones, computers, PDA – to enable them to fulfill these roles.

    You want a search, get a warrant. If you cannot convince an “unelected judge” of the necessity for your warrant, then your information is not as good as you think.

  7. g says:

    grammar point in this sentence:
    “We have a hard time seeing how your administration’s work behind the scenes with Senator Sessions to weaken privacy and civil liberties protections during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Patriot Act reform manifest this commitment.”

    stripping out modifying clauses:
    We have a hard time seeing how [] work [] manifest this commitment.

    work is the noun, verb to manifest, should be —

    … how [] work [] manifests this commitment.

    But I think manifests is awkward. A more direct phrasing would be

    We have a hard time seeing how [your A’s] work [] squares with this commitment.

    So the full sentence is

    “We have a hard time seeing how your administration’s work behind the scenes with Senator Sessions to weaken privacy and civil liberties protections during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Patriot Act reform squares with this commitment.”

  8. I look forward to today’s call with anticipation! Perhaps the pending legislative victory (and it is only that, legislative) in healthcare reform will free the administration to focus on FISA!

  9. Peter says:

    Good point, g. And “squares” does sound better. I told you I was being lazy! 🙂

  10. jonpincus says:

    Excellent points, all, thanks much for the feedback. We’ll work on incorporating it.

    Thinking a little more about the ask, here’s a couple of key short-term points:

    – legislatively, support H.3845 and H.3846 and equivalent amendments in the Senate
    – have the discussion in the open, rather than behind-the-scenes deals and anonymous sources in the press

    Derrick, it’s a great point about the longer-term picture. However, today, politicians don’t see standing up for the Constitution as a winning strategy. Civil libertarians don’t yet have the political clout of health care reformers. So it’s important to focus on the short-term legislation is to show our increasing strength and organizing skill.

    jon

  11. jonpincus says:

    Some email feedback on the two short-term asks:

    Maybe highlight in the second point explicitly that they have never really addressed the point of why they are opposing and a dismissive ‘trust us we need them’ is ridiculous. And the question has never been whether cong should take the power away altogether, but why can’t reasonable checks and balances be put in.

  12. In my opinion. our ask should be simply to reinstate the constitution which stands suspended. Having visited Gunatanamo Bay last month, I underdtood the battle is between military rle vs constitutional rule.
    Under the Patriot act, they have Americans detained also. Maybe a line stating how can the Americans trust on a government who is spying on them?

  13. […] call earlier to go over the letter, and Amy mentioned that our last blog post like this one about the open letter was what inspired her to begin working with us in the first place. It’s quite gratifying to […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s