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July 27
, 2008


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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July 27, 2008

Spitting On The Bill Of Rights

Both Michael McNulty and Barack Obama voted against the Fourth Amendment by voting for the unconstitutional FISA bill

Earlier this year I signed a petition demanding that my Congressional representatives vote against the then pending FISA Amendments Act of 2008. This bill before Congress was a set of modifications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which created a system that watched over and regulated the activities of clandestine operations by secret police agencies. The 2008 bill effectively destroys FISA, shoves oversight down the toilet and “legalizes” spying on you and me without a warrant.

I didn’t give the petition much thought at the time, actually I can’t remember where I signed it. I figured that only an idiot who hates the US Constitution would give the White House and their secret police the power to secretly spy on any American any time, effectively for any reason.

Apparently the petition made its way, as promised, to our lame duck congress man Michael McNulty. Shortly before the House of Representatives vote on FISA in June, I received an official letter from McNulty. I’ll give the man credit for that. He consistently replies to letters and petition signatures, explaining his votes and his positions to any constituent.

I stood in my dining room blinking with astonishment at the letter. In it McNulty proudly declaimed that he supported the FISA bill because it “strengthened oversight” of clandestine surveillance activities by the secret police against American citizens.

Michael McNulty Onboard The USS Slater
Michael McNulty Onboard The USS Slater

I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked. When it comes to the Bill of Rights, the foundation upon which our nation stands or falls, McNulty has a horrible and inexcusable record. One gets the impression that McNulty thinks that the Bill of Rights is a bad idea and ought to be eliminated.

For example, back in 2003 some of us concerned citizens here in Albany formed a local chapter of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) to fight against and inform the public about the so-called “PATRIOT” Act. Supposedly this legislation was meant to “fight terrorism” (whatever that is.) In reality, the “PATRIOT” Act redefined most political activity in America that runs contrary to the ruling regime as “terrorism.” And it took the first steps toward making “legal” secret warrantless spying against any citizen.

At the time, all of our local Democratic Congressional representatives happily obeyed the Republican Party bosses and loudly supported this assault upon the foundations of our society. So we of the Albany BORDC sent our most respectable member to talk to our errant politicos. That would be the intrepid and dedicated Melanie Trimble, the then new head of the Capital District New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU.)

Melanie Trimble
Melanie Trimble

Senator Hillary Clinton, despite repeated inquiries, pointedly refused to make any reply to us. As I recall, we considered Senator Charles Schumer hopeless on civil rights, so we only made a token request for his ear, to which he did not respond. But Michael McNulty granted Ms. Trimble an audience in his office.

As I understand, Melanie carefully explained in terms that McNulty could understand how and why the “PATRIOT” Act made every American less secure. In reply, McNulty babbled some standard nonsense about standing firm against terrorism, and he laughed at her. He laughed at her. Then he politely told her to get lost and don’t bother him again.

Over the next year or so, as the general public became more informed about the “PATRIOT” Act, McNulty became visibly baffled by the backlash from his constituents. At first I heard and watched him respond with anger, then act defensive. Eventually he began to duck and hide from the issue.

Actually, at that time McNulty also hid from his constituents because of his stupid and mindlessly enthusiastic endorsement of the unpatriotic War Against Iraq. Eventually, as is well known, he turned against the White House and became one of the earliest members of the House of Representative’s Out of Iraq Caucus. By itself, this prescient political reversal brought him wide acclaim and ensured him an overwhelming victory in what turned out to be his last reelection.

Unfortunately, McNulty has never substantially changed his long standing opposition to the Bill of Rights.

McNulty Voting Record Graph

It is certainly true that in 2005 he voted against making the “PATRIOT” Act permanent. But this clearly was a Safe Vote, a symbolic action meant to impress the gullible folks back home, a vote that had no danger of affecting the outcome. I’m sure that he had to get permission from the House leadership to vote that way. As it happened, an ever so slightly modified version of the obnoxious “PATRIOT” Act was overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives.

As far back as 1996 McNulty voted to deny habeas corpus in death penalty appeals. Basically, habeas corpus means that you need evidence to convict somebody of a crime. This is guaranteed by the US Constitution, one of those assumed rights that define us as Americans and that nobody bothers to think about.

I really seriously do not understand why anyone would object to presenting evidence at a trial. The only reason I can think of is if someone deliberately wants to undermine the US Constitution and inject pain and uncertainty into the lives of ordinary citizens. Citizens like you and me.

I recall at the time of McNulty’s 1996 vote against having fair trials that there was a lot of chatter in the corporate media about “streamlining death penalty cases.” The stated idea was to kill people faster without allowing appeals and objections. This was a key component of the Republican Contract Against America which Democrat McNulty quietly followed.

Take a look at some of McNulty’s more dismal votes against the Bill of Rights during his sorry career:

Voted YES on giving federal aid only to schools allowing voluntary prayer. (Mar 1994) Effectively the beginning of establishing a mandatory state religion.

Voted NO on maintaining right of habeas corpus in Death Penalty Appeals. (Mar 1996) Voting against habeas corpus is unpatriotic and unamerican.

Voted YES on military border patrols to battle “drugs” & “terrorism.” (Sep 2001) Our borders are not being sealed to keep foreigners out, it’s to keep us from leaving without permission. Note how the military is being authorized to do police work.

Voted YES on constitutional amendment prohibiting flag desecration. (Jun 2003) Not only would this have completely degraded the flag by reducing it to an official fetish object, it would have introduced the idea of Thought Crime into the US Constitution.

Voted YES on requiring federal identification for all citizens, known as the Real ID Act. (Feb 2005) Pretty soon we will all be required to carry cards with RFID chips so that anyone with a scanner can obtain our personal information without our knowledge. Thanks a lot, Mike.

Voted YES on continuing intelligence gathering without civil oversight. (Apr 2006) Words fail me. How can anyone be so blatantly unpatriotic?

Voted YES on gutting FISA oversight of wiretaps in US. (Mar 2008)

Of course, McNulty was hardly alone. The interesting thing about the FISA vote in the House of Representatives is that most of the Radical Republicans voted against the bill because it did not include retroactive immunity for telecom corporations from citizen’s lawsuits. The White House petulantly insisted that this be attached as an amendment, or else Dick Cheney would tell his boy Bush to veto the bill.

Like, it wasn’t enough that our House of Representatives boys and girls were giving vast power to the secret police in defiance of the US Constitution. They were also being ordered by the White House to defend international corporations from outraged American citizens.

But don’t worry kids, the Senate came through. Not only did our senators grant sweeping powers to the secret police, they made sure to protect the telecoms. Sixteen so-called Democrats happily joined every single America-hating Republican to pass FISA, and also grant corporate immunity. The White House responded with sheer giddiness over this unexpected victory against the American people.

Senator Clinton Senator Schumer
Senator Clinton
Senator Schumer

Odd to say, our two New York senators, Ms. Clinton and Mr. Schumer, surprised everybody by voting AGAINST the FISA bill. I have to say that my low regard for both of them has gone up a notch. But the real shock is that senator Barack Obama, the effective Democratic candidate for president, voted FOR the bill.

Everyone I’ve talked to who is following this has asked the same question, what the hell is wrong with the man? This has been followed by disillusionment, and the sad realization that “Change” is just a meaningless slogan. Once again, for one more election, patriotic Americans have been reduced to voting for or against the lesser of two evils for president.

I can’t say that I’m shocked to find out that Barack Obama is just another corporatist. Like so many others who have been supporting him, I’d been hoping that Obama was more than a modified Republican. But politicians can talk all that they want, it’s their actions that count. And for every elected representative, final votes are action.

Illegal Wiretaps We Can Believe In

By the way, Insane John MCain, the Re-pub presidential nominee, didn’t have enough spine to show up for this important and closely watched vote. This absence even though he is very much on record supporting increased surveillance of citizens and giving away telecom immunity. i would guess that this means the old flip-flopper can later plausibly claim that he did not vote for the bill.

It’s very possible that Barack Obama may have lost the November election with this vote. It has been said that Hillary Clinton lost the recent Democratic primary contest because of her hypocritical 2002 vote to give the White House carte blanche to start a war against Iraq. I sure as hell have never forgiven her for that. Perhaps in this same way the FISA vote will undermine support and enthusiasm for Obama just enough for him to achieve defeat.

It is clear to those of us who follow these things that anybody and anything would make a better president than a Republican traitor... like the one we have now. Obama is counting on this attitude. All I can say is that he damn well better stop counting his chickens before he takes over the barnyard.

In the end, us regular folks don’t have much say over presidential candidates, but each of us, if we work at it, can positively affect the outcome of our local congressional race for the 21st District. We need a representative who has a strong spine and a set of principles, who can stand up to the prevailing powers without turning into a chucklehead. We’ve had more than enough of that sort of “compromising” from McNulty.

Well, the candidates for the 21st district have filed their qualifying petitions, and we know who is actually running for the seat. Only one of the candidates has forthrightly advertised opposition to the FISA amendment. Just one. Phil Steck immediately published his position in Metroland:

I do not support retroactive immunity for any industry that violates the law and I do not support secret courts. Judicial power may be abused like any other.

Phil Steck
Phil Steck

However, the immunity provisions are not the worst aspect of the FISA revisions. There are two major problems with the new law. First, the new FISA revisions extend the time under which the NSA may conduct a wiretap from 72 hours to a week. No need has been demonstrated to increase this time period.

Second, the bill gives wholesale approval to bulk monitoring of electronic communications (primarily email and phone calls). This monitoring is based on software algorithms of dubious validity that determine whether or not a person’s behavior patterns suggest that he or she is acting in a way that merits eavesdropping.

This concept, which is really a form of profiling, flies in the face of our long-standing mandates of probable cause and reasonable suspicion that require attention to individual circumstances. As a civil rights attorney, I am aware of no conceivable constitutional basis for this type of surveillance.

Okay, is that clear? No wonder the corporate media desperately excludes mentioning Mr. Steck’s name as much as they possibly can. Even the independent Daily Gazette engages in suppression of Mr. Steck. Metroland is the only local non-internet media that reports on details of his campaign.

We’re losing the Bill of Rights, folks. We’re not going to like living in a country without basic rights. And once our rights have been taken away by the corporatists and spineless compromisers like Michael McNulty, there will be only one way to regain our rights.


In 1775 the citizens of Boston took up arms against The Empire. Thus began a long, violent revolution to throw off a lawless oppressor, an overlord who abused search and seizure of private property without proper warrants, used “asset forfeiture” to fund police, detained citizens without trial, enforced corporate (East India company) decrees by using the military against the citizenry, arbitrarily imposed new taxes, suppressed the economy, and consistently kept the majority of citizens from participating in the political process.

Do we really want, or need, to go through this again?

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If you are having difficulties posting a comment, please email Daniel Van Riper. We are experimenting with our spam filters, and we do not want to exclude any legitimate commenters, just spammers!

Posted by: Roger Green
Posted on: 07/28/2008
A reasonable person might ask of Obama: why does he hate America?

Posted by: Dan Van Riper
Posted on: 07/29/2008

By request, I've posted this email from Ryan Streeter, communications director of Darius for Congress:


I was reading your most recent posting on the Albany Weblog and you mention that Phil Steck is the only candidate in the 21st Congressional race who has come out on record against FISA. I would just like to point out that the TU's Capitol Confidential posted an entry on June 20th, the day the bill was passed in Congress, that discusses Darius' opposition to FISA. This occurred about 3 weeks before Phil Steck's letter to the editor ran in Metroland.

On July 3, a week before Phil's letter ran, there was also an article titled "A Time to Fight" (which Phil Steck quotes in his letter). The article discusses FISA and also quotes opposition from both Darius Shahinfar and Paul Tonko. While Phil Steck has spoken out against the bill, he should not be listed as the only candidate to have done so when Darius had spoken out about it 3 weeks prior and Tonko a week before.

Attached is the release we sent out to news outlets the day the bill passed Congress and which we were quoted.

Thank you,
Ryan Streeter
Communication Director
Darius For Congress

Posted by: hailstorm
Posted on: 07/31/2008
i've never really been able to grasp how mcnulty has been able to get himself re-elected so easily every election cycle. being as though he represents a strongly democratic region, but is a democrat by name only.

maybe it's because i grew up elsewhere and am not used to "albany politics", but it seems as though even the republicans in albany are registered democrats. both the voters and the candidates.

so i guess as long as voters around here keep blindly pulling the levers along party lines w/o bothering to research the candidates actual positions at all, then this is what we'll be stuck with.

and it's for this reason that i don't think that his vote on the FISA bill will affect obama'a campaign in the least. there simply aren't enough people paying that close of attention. surely, there are some (such as you and i) but not enough to make a huge difference.

and even if people DID know about his vote, and it drops obama to a 3 on a scale of 1-10, that's still better than john mccain's big fat zero on a scale of 1-10...

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