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James Bovard

Trump Must Expose Obama-era Power Grabs

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President-elect Donald Trump will face pervasive doubts about his legitimacy from the day he takes office. His opponents will likely portray him as governing in unprecedented and reckless ways. The best response to such charges is to open the books and expose how the Obama administration commandeered far more power than most Americans realized.

Trump should follow the excellent precedent set by President Obama. In 2009, shortly after he took office, Obama released many of the secret Bush administration legal memos that explained why the president was supposedly entitled to order torture,deploy troops in American towns and cities, and ignore the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on warrantless, unreasonable searches. The disclosures signaled a new era in Washington and helped give Obama a reputation as a champion of civil liberties.

Turnabout is fair play. Trump should quickly reveal the secret memos underlying Obama’s “targeted killing” drone assassination program.

Administration lawyers defeated lawsuits by the ACLUThe New York Times, and others seeking disclosure of key legal papers on how the president became judge, jury and executioner. A Trump administration could disclose the memos and white papers without endangering anything other than the reputation of the soon-to-be former president and his policymakers.
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The Fraudulent Obama War on Corruption

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The Obama administration wants Americans to believe that it is fiercely anti-corruption. “I have been shocked by the degree to which I find corruption pandemic in the world today,” declared Secretary of State John Kerry at an Anti-Corruption Summit in London last May. Kerry sounded like the French police chief in Casablanca who was “shocked” to discover gambling. Six years ago at the United Nations, Barack Obama proclaimed that the US government is “leading a global effort to combat corruption.” Maybe he forgot to send Kerry the memo.

Much of the teeth-gnashing at that summit involved tax evasion. Politicians pledged to share more data on tax records and corporate ownership to help boost government revenue around the globe. Summit attendees castigated hidden offshore bank accounts — ironically, the same type of accounts used by both British Prime Minister David Cameron and Kerry. A joint communique solemnly pledged to “drive out those lawyers, real estate agents, and accountants who facilitate or are complicit in corruption.”

Kerry proclaimed, “We have to get the global community to come together and have no impunity [sic] to corruption.” But the summit largely ignored the brazen corruption of politicians or how it is fueled by western governments, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Foreign aid has long been notorious for breeding kleptocracies — governments of thieves. Economic studies have revealed that boosting aid directly increases corruption. Fourteen years ago, George W. Bush promised to reform foreign aid: “We won’t be putting money into a society which is not transparent and corrupt.” (He probably meant “corruption-free.”) But the US aid programs — which cost taxpayers more than $40 billion a year — continue to bankroll many of the world’s most crooked regimes (according to ratings by Transparency International) — including Uzbekistan, Haiti, and Kenya. There is no “Tyrants Need Not Apply” sign at the entrance to the US Agency for International Development.
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Twenty Years of a Dictatorial Democracy

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The 2016 election campaign is mortifying millions of Americans in part because the presidency has become far more dangerous in recent times. Since Sept. 11, 2001, we have lived in a perpetual emergency, which supposedly justifies routinely ignoring the law and Constitution. And both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have signaled that power grabs will proliferate in the next four years.

Politicians talk as if voting magically protects the rights of everyone within a 50-mile radius of the polling booth. But the ballots Americans have cast in presidential elections since 2000 did nothing to constrain the commander in chief.

President George W. Bush’s declaration in 2000 that America needed a more “humble” foreign policy did not deter him from vowing to “rid the world of evil” and launching the most catastrophic war in American history. Eight years later, Barack Obama campaigned as the candidate of peace and promised “a new birth of freedom.” But that did not stop him from bombing seven nations, claiming a right to assassinate American citizens, and championing Orwellian total surveillance.
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The Census Bureau's Latest Peril to Freedom

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The Census Bureau is sending its hefty American Community Survey to more than three million households a year. I recently received this 28-page tsunami of questions about everything from my plumbing to my profession to my ethnicity and income. But as a former Census taker who has written about Census controversies for more than 25 years, I distrust this blunderbuss.

In 2005, the American Community Survey replaced the long Census form that was sent to a minority of respondents as part of the once-a-decade population count. Many congressmen are irate that the Census Bureau threatens $5,000 fines against anyone who refuses to answer all the questions. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) denounced it as an “unnecessary and completely unwarranted government intrusion.”

Unfortunately, citizens’ compliance with Census demands does nothing to ensure that the government itself will respect their privacy or obey the law.
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Obama's Global Anti-Corruption Cops Should Call Internal Affairs

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The Obama administration wants Americans to believe that it is fiercely anti-corruption. “I've been shocked by the degree to which I find corruption pandemic in the world today," declared Secretary of State John Kerry at last week’s Anti-Corruption Summit in London. Kerry sounded like the French detective in Casablanca who was “shocked” to discover gambling. Six years ago at the United Nations, President Obama proclaimed that the US government is “leading a global effort to combat corruption.” Maybe he forgot to send Kerry the memo.

Or maybe Kerry lost the memo. By the time he got to Egypt on Wednesday, judging by his public comments, he seems to have forgotten about corruption despite standing in one of its capitals.

Much of the teeth-gnashing at last week’s summit involved tax evasion. Politicians pledged to share more data on tax records and corporate ownership to help boost government revenue around the globe. Summit attendees castigated hidden offshore tax havens — ironically, the same type of accounts used by both British Prime Minister David Cameron and Kerry. A joint communique solemnly pledged to “driv(e) out those lawyers, real estate agents and accountants who facilitate or are complicit in corruption.”
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The Cover-Up of the Damning 9/11 Report Continues

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Do Americans have the right to learn whether a foreign government helped finance the 9/11 attacks? A growing number of congressmen and senators are demanding that a 28-page portion of a 2002 congressional report finally be declassified. The Obama administration appears to be resisting, and the stakes are huge. What is contained in those pages could radically change Americans’ perspective on the war on terror.

The congressional Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, completed its investigation in December 2002. But the Bush administration stonewalled the release of the 838-page report until mid 2003 — after its invasion of Iraq was a fait accompli — and totally suppressed a key portion. Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) chairman of the investigation, declared that “there is compelling evidence in the 28 pages that one or more foreign governments was involved in assisting some of the hijackers in their preparation for 9/11.” Graham later indicated that the Saudis were the guilty party. But disclosing Saudi links to 9/11 could have undermined efforts by some Bush administration officials to tie Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks.

Almost everyone has forgotten how hard the Bush administration fought to torpedo that report. In April 2003, controversy raged on Capitol Hill over the Bush administration’s continuing efforts to suppress almost all of the report by the Joint Intelligence Committee investigation. Some intelligence officials even insisted on “reclassifying” as secret some of the information that had already been discussed in public hearings, such as the FBI Phoenix Memo.
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My Too-Intimate Relations With The TSA

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Airport security or Gitmo? Transportation security requires competence not sexual assault.

The Transportation Security Administration finally obeyed a 2011 federal court order March 3 and issued a 157 page Federal Register notice justifying its controversial full-body scanners and other checkpoint procedures. TSA’s notice ignored the fact that the “nudie” scanners are utterly unreliable; TSA failed to detect 95% of weapons and mock bombs that Inspector General testers smuggled past them last year while the agency continues to mislead the public about its heavy-handed treatment of travelers.

The Federal Register notice is full of soothing pablum about how travelers have no reason to fear the TSA, declaring that “passengers can obtain information before they leave for the airport on what items are prohibited.” But it neglects to mention that TSA can invoke ludicrous pretexts to treat innocent travelers as suspicious terrorist suspects.

Flying home from Portland, Ore., on Thanksgiving morning, I had a too-close encounter with TSA agents that spurred me to file a Freedom of Information Act request. On March 5, I finally received a bevy of TSA documents and video footage with a grope-by-grope timeline.
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Obama Speech Ignored His Death Toll at Home and Abroad

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The White House kept one seat vacant in the gallery during Obama’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday “for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice.” This was part of Obama’s campaign for new federal restrictions on firearms ownership.

But shouldn’t there have also been chairs left empty to memorialize other casualties – including those “who no longer have a voice” thanks to Obama administration policies?

While trumpeting the private death toll from guns, Obama ignored the 986 people killed by police in the United States last year according to The Washington Post‘s database. Many police departments are aggressive — if not reckless — in part because the Justice Department always provides cover for them at the Supreme Court. Obama’s “Justice Department has supported police officers every time an excessive-force case has made its way” to a Supreme Court hearing, The New York Times noted last year. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently said that federally-funded police agencies should not even be required to report the number of civilians they kill.

To add a Euro flair to the evening, Obama could drape tri-color flags on a few empty seats to commemorate the 42 medical staff, patients, and others slain at a last Oct. 3 when an American  AC-130 gunship blasted a French Médecins Sans Frontières‎ hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The US military revised its story several times but admitted in November that the carnage was the result of “avoidable … human error.” Regrettably, that bureaucratic phrase lacks the power to resurrect victims.
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TSA Bombs the Holidays

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If you use hand sanitizer when traveling, the Transportation Security Administration can badger you as if you were a terrorist suspect. TSA is one of the biggest hassles many Americans will encounter this holiday season. I learned that firsthand while flying home from Portland, Ore., on Thanksgiving morning.

I arrived at the airport two hours before my flight. As usual, I opted out of going through TSA’s Whole Body Scanners. The agency’s prize possessions are incompetent at detecting terrorist threats; the inspector general reported that they fail to detect 96 percent of weapons and mock explosives in smuggling tests. The machines take birthday suit snapshots of each traveler; TSA claims photos are not retained, but the agency has less credibility than Congress.

A TSA agent took me aside and gave me a vigorous patdown. This is the usual routine I experience at airports and a small price to pay for a silent protest for my constitutional right to be free of unreasonable, warrantless searches.

I was surprised when the agent claimed his glove showed a positive alert for explosives. “What type of explosive was it?” I asked. “I don’t know — it’s a code,” he replied. I asked how often the detection machine generated false positives. He said that was classified information. It was not like I had been hanging out at shooting ranges or missile launch sites in Oregon.
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The Washington Intellectual Gravy Train

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Intellectuals have long been glorified as champions of truth and defenders of society’s highest values. But in Washington, they serve as Leviathan‘s Praetorian Guard. Intellectuals are thriving in DC thanks in large part to the ruinous policy advice they proffer.

The District of Columbia has 120 times more political scientists per capita than the rest of the nation. But rather than producing “good governance,” the 3,200 political scientists and legions of other would-be Brain Trusters provide endless excuses to further extend the federal sway. Intellectuals usually come to Washington to help politicians leash other Americans, not to leash the government. And since they presume their preferred policies are better than freedom, intellectuals propel government programs to force their inferiors to “take their medicine.”

Washington think tanks have proliferated at the same time federal policies have become far more intrusive and harebrained. There are now roughly 400 think tanks in the Washington area, some of which are little more than “cash machines for power” for politicians. Clifford May, the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, commented in 2005: “It is the job of think tanks to create political capital. It is the job of politicians to spend it.” May’s think tank extols politicians who advocate bombing Muslim nations.
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