Open Letter Update

By: Harry Waisbren

We are making some major progress on our new open letter to President Obama. However, this is a crowdsourced effort, and we are seeking out as much input on it as we can!

Make sure to let us know what you think of this open letter and/or what you would do differently. We suggest posting any ideas/suggestions/edits/anything else in the comments of this blog post or through any other communication method you prefer.

We had a short conference 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 hear that, and I know that the more participation we get the greater degree to which such positive impressions about this effort will be proven true!

Update: Below you’ll find our current version–thanks to Amy, Jim, and Jon for their editing tonight!

Dear President Obama,

In July 2008, in your response to our previous open letter, you committed to have your Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all current surveillance programs while making further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse. 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.”

With USA PATRIOT Act and FISA reform once again before Congress, now is the perfect time to follow through on this commitment. 

Two bills that were the subject of Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee Patriot Act hearing specifically deserve your attention and support. HR 3845 contains a substantial number of significant new checks and balances to the government’s spying authorities under the PATRIOT Act. HR 3846 would prohibit the “bulk collection” of Americans’ emails and phone calls under the FISA Amendments Act, and it would repeal the Fisa Amendment Act’s telecommunication immunity provision — a provision that you voted to repeal as a Senator.

When Senators Feingold and Durbin introduced similar legislation in the Senate last month, Attorney General Holder flatly stated that there is “certainly a conversation that can be had about do [certain Patriot Act provisions] need to be re-examined, do they need to be modified in some way to be more sensitive to civil liberties concerns.” Disappointingly, much of the conversation happened in a classified briefing. Even worse, published reports say that your administration worked behind the scenes to introduce a package of amendments to strip privacy and civil liberties protections that you had voted for in the past. //BleuZ00m: This is excellent!

As the debate continues in Congress, we ask you to work for changes to the Patriot Act and FISA to preserve our civil liberties and reestablish checks and balances. Please support HR 3845 and HR 3846 and the amendments that restore similar protections when they are introduced into the Senate.

We also ask that you and Attorney General Holder discuss the issue more transparently. While closed door sessions and private briefings that respect genuine security issues may be necessary, we, the people, need to know that you are still our ally on civil liberties. We ask again that our private information be held in confidence. Further, can we, the people, expect that we will remain innocent until proven guilty?

In today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, Representative John Conyers restated your quote,
“As a citizen, I know that we must never, ever, turn our back on [the Constitution’s] enduring principles for expedience sake.”
// citation: check the flyover. speech at the National Archives. ///
“I’ve studied the Constitution as a student, I’ve taught it as a teacher, I’ve been bound by it as a lawyer and a legislator.  I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never, ever, turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake.”

In contrast, Representative Lamar Smith today repeatedly sought to defend National Security Letters and 215s for any and all, without scrutiny, targeting people who are not terrorists. Sir, we are not all terrorists. Yes, we are listening and, as this letter professes, we do care about security and civil liberties. As you stated to us in your July 2008 response to our letter to you, “In a dangerous world, government must have the authority to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people. But in a free society, that authority cannot be unlimited.” //citation:

The proposed reforms in HR 3845 and HR 3846 do not take any powers away from law enforcement; they simply introduce stronger checks and balances, measures that you have supported in the past. Respectfully, why do you argue against these now? We would appreciate hearing the reasons for your change in position. If there is new information that has changed your outlook, please share it.

Many of us were among your strongest supporters as you ran for the Presidency, and we celebrated when you were elected. You have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, and we had every reason to believe that you — as a professor of Constitutional law — would honor that pledge. We hope you do not betray our trust.

As you requested, we’re doing our part to shape our country’s destiny. We kindly ask again that you do yours. Please replace the politics of fear with a restoration of our Constitutional rights.



14 Responses to Open Letter Update

  1. harrywaisbren says:

    Jeff Frontz sent the following via FB:

    I’m not sure of the intended audience of your letter– is it to be spread around to educate folks or are you actually trying to communicate with Obama? If the latter, you need an “executive summary” as the first paragraph– no more than 2-3 sentences that tell him exactly what you want from him. [see? like I just did right there.] A restatement of the summary should be the last thing in your letter before the signature.

    He doesn’t need to be told about what you don’t want him to do or what he did or what you think about what he did or what you think he might be thinking or anything else. Why would he even need to read rhetorical questions? He needs to hear/read exactly what you want from him. If he (or, rather, one of his aids) actually take the time to read your letter and they have to sift through rhetoric to figure out what you want– well, there’s no “if”, because they’re not going to do that. They’ll spend about 5 seconds trying to get the gist of it and then they’ll just put it on the “send them a ‘pat on the head’ letter” pile. [are you still reading? then you’re not presidential aid material; they’ve already gone on to the next letter.]

    If your intent is to educate folks, you should do something similar– put in an executive summary of what you want the reader to get Obama to do, then go on with the supporting stuff.

    Folks don’t have time to read long diatribes and histories–if they can’t figure it out from the first couple of sentences, you’re doomed. [only die-hard political junkies are still reading this]

    Oh, and make sure you not only open, but also close with essentially a re-statement of what you want from him. That way the people who skip to the bottom instead of just reading the first few lines won’t get left out. [just like that right there.]


    P.S. If you’ve got something extra to re-iterate, you can put it in a post-script just to make sure he gets it. Oh, and you should get a professional editor to edit the thing. They’re not that expensive and they can make all the difference between an effective letter and what appears to be a high school term paper written by a committee of people who seem to like run on sentences way too much which is what you’ve got going on right now and it makes it really hard to read and you’re surely not really still reading this sentence because nobody else is going to try and figure it out.

    P.P.S. Avoid being snarky [I can’t help myself; I’m differently-abled that way.] Oh, and don’t use post-post-scripts.

  2. harrywaisbren says:

    Via eggy1943 posted on the GFR wiki:

    I agree with ddearborn and suggest adopting her suggestions.

    The tone of the letter seems derogatory to the President.
    We should be able to site concerns than suggest changes politely.

  3. korkie says:

    Jeff made some valid points …

  4. […] we are pushing forward on our Open Letter to President Obama in a big way, and are striving for as much input as we can get for this crowdsourced effort. We […]

  5. Ted Voth Jr says:

    I’m so disgusted with the man I can’t even stand to watch him on TV. He’s as great a disgrace to the Black race as the similarly spineless Nancy Pelosi is to her sex. What a pathetic pair; totally owned Corporate subsidiaries

    I’m noe the one to vet your letter. Stylistically I would rather you say ‘you committed yourself to have your Attorney General’ than ‘you committed to have your Attorney General’, but that’s about it.

    I’m a Constitutionalist, and Obama’s interest in the Constitution is as a quaint old document of academic interest only.

    His negotiating style is that of a crayfish, which is a small invertebrate that can back down faster than a cheetah can run forward.

  6. Craig Nazor says:

    Personally, I like the letter. I think the tone is forceful, but not disrespectful. It is also personal and frank, yet remains formal.

    I do not think that this is the kind of communication that needs an executive summary. If you add one of those in, it is quite likely all that will be read by the President. It might be a good idea to edit the letter for length – there seems to be a bit of redundancy between the sections, and brevity helps to ensure that the entire letter will be read.

    I like the electronic citations very much. This should be done throughout whenever a communication or event is mentioned. It really adds seriousness to the discussion – very powerful to anyone with a scholarly, intellectual bent, and allows those new to the issue to quickly come up to speed (like the aide assigned to draft a response!). It will require a more thoughtful, focused answer.

    Whatever opinion anyone harbors towards President Obama at this time, he is the sitting President, and if we want to lobby for change, he is the go-to guy. I also still find him light years better than his predecessor. As a group, we already have a relationship established. A letter such as this seems a very good way to move forward.

    I have had to follow events from a bit of a distance because my teaching schedule is such that it has been hard for me to be present for any of the virtual events. I greatly appreciate being able to follow along nonetheless. Thanks for all of the great work!

  7. […] will be utilizing a tweetchat to launch our open letter to President Obama. We will be making final edits to the letter over the next few days (with more integral help from […]

  8. Linda Young says:

    The letter contains some good information. As we move forward, we should consider changing the tone of the letter to be caring and concerned, educated and understanding while asking the President to kindly adopt changes to protect civil liberties in America.

    Words like kindly, hopefully, supportive, understanding, respectfully, and others help us to connect and help the President to hear us more openly.

    The tone of the letter now reflects more of an egoic stance rather than one of conciliation and working together.

    Peace to all, Linda

  9. harrywaisbren says:

    From Michael Gill via the wiki:

    I’ve missed or missed out on the conference calls so if this been there, done that please ignore. These are the questions I would ask myself: Who can we working with on the committee staff? What is the Chairman’s position? If he’s anti-, do we have a member who can be our champion? Who do we know at JoD? Do we know who is staffing this at DoJ? Do we know who the WH’s point person is for this? Is it Legislative Affairs? NSC? CoS? Do we have the names of the reporters working this story? Are there advocacy groups who’s collective brain we can pick? Is there anyone group/org/PAC that has the exact same goal? If they are better funded can we leverage our effort by offering our help in addition to doing what we are doing? That’s off the top so If all these are obvious, then chalk it up to great minds thinking alike. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think any progress is going to come from the WH until they get HCR through. But hitting those congressmen on the committee with phone calls to their office is still the best way to ring their bell. Maybe you’ve already contacted the hometown papers editorial board in their districts to see how many we can get to write an editorial. “It will take an act of patriotism to fix the problems with the Patriot Act” Good Luck! I’m keeping my fingers crossed. @mgill006

  10. harrywaisbren says:

    From ddearborn via the wiki:

    I agree that the NPP paragraph should be scrapped. However, if it is decided that we should reference the NPP, the intro should be short and to the point. Perhaps something like…

    “Congratulations on winning the highly esteemed NPP; we proudly believe that you are a man on the cusp of greatness.”

    Also, imho, the second paragraph should be scrapped and it’s points should be inserted into other sentences as needed.

    Perhaps the first paragraph in this open letter should be like the third paragraph in the current draft… try something direct to the purpose of this letter… without a long rambling preamble… perhaps…

    “Patriot Act and FISA reform are once again before Congress; now is the perfect time to follow through on your commitment to preserve American civil liberties and to curb executive branch abuses against the US Constitution.”

    Once the first sentence is settled, it will set the pace and tone of the remaining letter.

  11. harrywaisbren says:

    From anonymous via the wiki:

    Totally agree – get right to the subject at hand and then fill in the individual messages – and get rid of the word “betray”; replace with “disappoint”.

  12. […] We have made a lot of ground on some of our final conceptions for our open letter to the president, both during our November 10th Patriot Act and FISA organizing call and through messages voiced to us through a variety of communications channels aggregated in the comments section of our last update. […]

  13. Recommended changes:

    Paragraph One, sentence one – replace ‘executive’ with ‘Executive’

    Paragraph Three, sentence one – restructure the sentence so that the specific date can be included, as in:

    “Two bills were the subject of the House Judiciary Committee Patriot Act hearing on Wednesday, XX/XX/2009”

    Paragraph Four, sentence one – include the specific month, after the phrase: “last month”

    Paragraph Seven, sentence one – can we just say: “In the House Judiciary Committee Hearing of XX/XX/2009, “?

    Letter overall: let the word ‘liberty’ stand by itself. Preceding it with ‘civil’ just weakens the word; we have a Statue of Liberty, not a Statue of Civil Liberty. This is the sweet land of liberty and that is what gets people out of the chairs to sing about!

    These may all seem to be at the level of a nit-pick and perhaps they are; so herewith:

    We need this letter to make clear in no uncertain terms, that the trade-off between security and liberty is false. Can we include the Franklin quote, even just by reference or allusion? Before our Republic was even Declared, much less founded, Franklin was in the Pennsylvania Assembly, noting –

    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    Yet this is the very tradeoff that FISA asks us to make? We must always question the Executive, when they attempt to usurp authority from the other, co-equal branches of our federal authority! How can it be, that lawyers in the Executive branch can be completely convinced of the necessity for a search and yet lawyers in the Judicial branch cannot be similarly convinced? And lawyers in the Legislative branch need not even be consulted or informed?

    How is that possible?

    And we cannot be cowed by exigent circumstances – not in a world in which I can get 24/7/365 answers to questions as mundane as “who was the Red Sox first baseman in 1987”; not when children as young as four have cell phones; not when people read tomes as lengthy as ‘War and Peace’ on screens that fit in the palm of their hands – no! ‘Exigent circumstances’ is naught but a process question and any society that has a 911 system to reach police officers at any hour of the day, is surely adept enough to divine a means to reach a judge from anywhere at anytime.

    So, I hate to say: “Take it back. Make it stronger.” – but there it is. We did not knock on doors and cajole our neighbors, so that this president might stand by an acquiesce to all of the inane ideologies that pass for conventional wisdom, within the confines of the four corners that are the design of our nation’s capital – if no longer the practice.

    We put in that work, to elect this President, as we had some specific actions we needed him to take. One of those actions – just one and perhaps the most important one – was to restore our republic to a nation made of laws and not of men. We have bourn the brunt of what it means to be led by the hearts of men and we know that even the heart of the best of us can be turned by the darkest of circumstance.

    We did not vote for that.

    No, we voted for a republic (if not a Republican) and a republic that holds dear and uplifts the notion of liberty.

    Apologies for missing the calls; life interrupts. Thanks for pulling this letter together. You have made great progress with it – irrespective of my cranky commentary. This issue is just so vital, it’s hard to put passion into words.

  14. Frank Swift says:

    Jeff’s suggestions for structuring the letter should be taken seriously. That format is used by copywriters who write the most successful direct mail pieces. Be sure to ask for the President’s action in implementing your requests in both the opening and closing summaries.

    Frank Swift

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