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Honduran Coup: The US Connection August 6, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Thursday, August 6, 2009 by Foreign Policy in Focus by Conn Hallinan
While the Obama administration was careful to distance itself from the recent coup in Honduras — condemning the expulsion of President Manuel Zelaya to Costa Rica, revoking Honduran officials’ visas, and shutting off aid — that doesn’t mean influential Americans aren’t involved, and that both sides of the aisle don’t have some explaining to do.The story most U.S. readers are getting about the coup is that Zelaya — an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — was deposed because he tried to change the constitution to keep himself in power.

That story is a massive distortion of the facts. All Zelaya was trying to do is to put a non-binding referendum on the ballot calling for a constitutional convention, a move that trade unions, indigenous groups, and social activist organizations had long been lobbying for. The current constitution was written by the Honduran military in 1982, and the one-term limit allows the brass-hats to dominate the politics of the country. Since the convention would have been held in November, the same month as the upcoming presidential elections, there was no way Zelaya could have remained in office in any case. The most he could have done was to run four years from now.

And while Zelaya is indeed friendly with Chavez, he is at best a liberal reformer whose major accomplishment was raising the minimum wage. “What Zelaya has done has been little reforms,” Rafael Alegria, a leader of Via Campesina, told the Mexican daily La Jornada. “He isn’t a socialist or a revolutionary, but these reforms, which didn’t harm the oligarchy at all, have been enough for them to attack him furiously.”

One of those “little reforms” was aimed at ensuring public control of the Honduran telecommunications industry, which may well have been the trip-wire that triggered the coup.

The first hint that something was afoot was a suit brought by Venezuelan lawyer Robert Carmona-Borjas claiming that Zelaya was part of a bribery scheme involving the state-run telecommunication company Hondutel.

Carmona-Borjas has a rap-sheet that dates back to the April 2002 coup against Chavez. He drew up the notorious “Carmona decrees,” a series of draconian laws aimed at suspending the Venezuelan constitution and suppressing any resistance to the coup. As Chavez supporters poured into the streets and the plot unraveled, Carmona-Borjas fled to Washington, DC. He took a post at George Washington University and brought Iran-Contra plotters Otto Reich and Elliott Abrams to teach his class on “Political Management in Latin America.” He also became vice-president of the right-wing Arcadia Foundation, which lobbies for free-market policies. Weeks before the June 28 Honduran coup, Carmona-Borjas barnstormed the country accusing Zelaya of collaborating with narco-traffickers.

Carmona-Borjas’ colleague, Reich, a Cuban American with ties to right-wing factions all over Latin America and former assistant secretary of State for hemispheric affairs under George W. Bush, has been accused by the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization of “undeniable involvement” in the coup.

This is hardly surprising. Reich was nailed by a 1987 congressional investigation for using public funds to engage in propaganda during the Reagan administration’s war on Nicaragua. He is also a fierce advocate for Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, both implicated in the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1973 that killed all 73 on board.

Reich is also a ferocious critic of Zelaya. In a recent piece in the Weekly Standard, he urged the Obama administration not to support “strongman” Zelaya because it “would put the United States clearly in the same camp as Cuba’s Castro brothers, Venezuela’s Chavez, and other regional delinquents.”

One of the charges that Reich levels at Zelaya is that the Honduran president is supposedly involved with bribes paid out by the state-run telecommunications company Hondutel. Zelaya is threatening to file a defamation suit over the accusation.

Reich’s charges against Hondutel are hardly happenstance, as he is a former AT&T lobbyist and served as Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) Latin American advisor during the senator’s 2008 presidential campaign. McCain has deep ties with telecom giants AT&T, MCI, and Qualcomm and, according to Nikolas Kozloff, author of Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge of the United States, “has acted to protect and look out for the political interests of the telecoms on Capitol Hill.”

AT&T, McCain’s second largest donor, also generously funds the International Republican Institute (IRI), which has warred with Latin American regimes that have resisted telecommunications privatization. According to Kozloff, “President Zelaya was a known to be a fierce critic of telecommunications privatization.”

When Venezuelan coup leaders went to Washington a month before their failed effort to oust Chavez, IRI footed the bill. Reich, as then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s special envoy to the Western Hemisphere, met with some of those leaders.

Republicans in Congress have accused the Obama administration of being “soft” on Zelaya. Sen. Jim DeMint (SC) protested the White House’s support of the Honduran president holding up votes for administration nominees for the ambassador to Brazil and an assistant secretary of state. Meanwhile, Zelaya’s return was unanimously supported by the UN General Assembly, the European Union, and the Organization of American States.

But meddling in Honduras is a bipartisan undertaking.

“If you want to understand who is the real power behind the [Honduran] coup, you need to find out who is paying Lanny Davis,” says Robert White, former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and current president of the Center for International Policy. Davis, best known as the lawyer who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial, has been lobbying members of Congress and testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in support of the coup.

According to Roberto Lovato, an associate editor at New American Media, Davis represents the Honduran chapter of CEAL, the Business Council of Latin America, which strongly backed the coup. Davis told Lovato, “I’m proud to represent businessmen who are committed to the rule of law.”

But White says the coup had more to do with profits than law. “Coups happen because very wealthy people want them and help to make them happen, people who are used to seeing the country as a money machine and suddenly see social legislation on behalf of the poor as a threat to their interests,” says White. “The average wage of a worker in free trade zones is 77 cents per hour.” According to the World Bank, 59% of Hondurans live below the poverty line.

The United States is also involved in the coup through a network of agencies that funnel money and training to anti-government groups. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contribute to right-wing organizations that supported the coup, including the Peace and Democracy Movement and the Civil Democratic Union. Many of the officers that bundled Zelaya off to San Jose were trained at the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, the former “School for the Americas” that has seen torturers and coup leaders from all over Latin America pass through its doors.

The Obama administration condemned the coup, but when Zelaya journeyed to the Honduran-Nicaragua border, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced him for being “provocative.” It was a strange statement, since the State Department said nothing about a report by the Committee of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras charging 1,100 human rights violations by the coup regime, including detentions, assaults, and murder.

Human rights violations by the coup government have been condemned by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the International Observer Mission, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protest Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders.

Davis claims that the coup was a “legal” maneuver to preserve democracy. But that’s a hard argument to make, given some of its architects. One is Fernando Joya, a former member of Battalion 316, a paramilitary death squad. Joya fled the country after being charged with kidnapping and torturing several students in the 1980s, but he has now resurfaced as a “special security advisor” to the coup makers. He recently gave a TV interview that favorably compared the 1973 Chilean coup to the June 28 Honduran coup.

According to Greg Grandin, a history professor at New York University, the coup makers also included the extremely right-wing Catholic organization, Opus Dei, whose roots go back to the fascist regime of Spanish caudillo Francisco Franco.

In the old days, when the United States routinely overthrew governments that displeased it, the Marines would have gone in, as they did in Guatemala and Nicaragua, or the CIA would have engineered a coup by the local elites. No one has accused U.S. intelligence of being involved in the Honduran coup, and American troops in the country are keeping a low profile. But the fingerprints of U.S. institutions like the NED, USAID, and School for the Americas — plus bipartisan lobbyists, powerful corporations, and dedicated Cold War warriors — are all over the June takeover.

Copyright © 2009, Institute for Policy Studies

Conn Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus.
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Obama Lawyers Invoke “State Secrets” to Block Warrantless Spying Lawsuit April 6, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Posted by Liliana Segura, AlterNet at 10:15 AM on April 6, 2009.

It’s not the first time Obama’s DOJ has employed the tactic so often used by the Bush administration to block accountability for government crimes.

Oops, they did it again: lawyers for Barack Obama’s Department of Justice have invoked the “state secrets” privilege to block a lawsuit seeking to reverse one of the most scandalous policies of the Bush administration.

In a motion filed in a San Francisco court on Friday, attorneys for the Obama administration moved to dismiss a challenge to the National Security Agency’s notorious warrantless wiretapping program. “The information implicated by this case, which concerns how the United States seeks to detect and prevent terrorist attacks, would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security,” DOJ lawyers argued in the 36-page brief, echoing an argument made ad nauseum by the Bush administration.

 

 

The case, Jewel v. NSA, was filed in September of 2008 on behalf of five AT&T customers “to stop the illegal, unconstitutional, and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records,” according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the civil liberties organization that brought forth the suit. “Evidence in the case includes undisputed documents provided by former AT&T telecommunications technician Mark Klein showing AT&T has routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA.”

Klein, the whistleblower who blew the lid off AT&T’s participation in the NSA spying program, was an employee at AT&T for 22 years but showed no qualms about exposing the company. “If they’ve done something massively illegal and unconstitutional — well, they should suffer the consequences,” Klein told the Washington Post in 2007. Teaming up with EFF, Klein has played a critical role in furnishing the evidence for multiple lawsuits brought against the NSA’s spying program, including Hepting v. AT&T, a class-action lawsuit against AT&T itself. (That case was brought forth in 2006, before Congress passed legislation granting immunity to telecoms that participated in the government’s warrantless wiretapping program.)

Although Jewel v. NSA is not a lawsuit against AT&T, the DOJ’s court motion displays its full support for the company. “All of plaintiffs’ claims require the disclosure of whether or not AT&T assisted the Government in alleged intelligence activities, and the (Director of National Intelligence) again has demonstrated that disclosure of whether the NSA has an intelligence relationship with a particular private company would also cause exceptional harm to national security”

It may have been fantasy to imagine that the Obama DOJ would allow AT&T — whose corporate logo graced the official goody bags at the Democratic National Convention this summer — to be at all vulnerable to litigation for its role in the warrantless wiretapping scheme, particularly after Obama himself cast a vote for telecom immunity. But its invoking of the state secrets privilege is a disturbing move — particularly because it is not the first time it has done so.

 

 

On Monday EFF sent out a press release condemning the Obama administration’s use of state secrets privilege to conceal the government’s criminal activity. “President Obama promised the American people a new era of transparency, accountability, and respect for civil liberties,” Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston said in a written statement. “But with the Obama Justice Department continuing the Bush administration’s cover-up of the National Security Agency’s dragnet surveillance of millions of Americans, and insisting that the much-publicized warrantless wiretapping program is still a ‘secret’ that cannot be reviewed by the courts, it feels like deja vu all over again.”

Why is the Obama Administration Protecting Bush Officials?

Over e-mail, Cindy Cohn, legal director of EFF, called the legal filing by Obama’s DOJ “very significant.” “Obama is attempting to block the courts from considering serious constitutional issues raised in this case entirely,” she said. “This is the sort of disdain for the rule of law and the role of the courts that he campaigned against.”

 

 

Cohn added, “It’s also a continuation of the outrageous secrecy claims that Bush was criticized for — after all, the warrantless wiretapping is hardly a secret. We presented a box of Congressional testimony, Congressional admissions, news stories, and even a few books to the court describing it. The argument that this is still a secret really strains belief.”

 

 

Jewel v. NSA is not just a lawsuit against the NSA. It is also a lawsuit against the individuals who created the government’s spying program, including George W. Bush and his senior staff.

 

 

As Raw Story’s John Byrne points out, “in attempting to block a San Fransisco court from reviewing documents relating to the NSA program, the Obama Administration is also protecting other individuals named as defendants in the suit: Vice President Dick Cheney, former Cheney chief of staff David Addington and former Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.” These, of course, are the same individuals many Americans would like to see prosecuted for their role in implementing the government’s “harsh interrogation” policies. But on the question of torture, the Obama administration has shown no inclination to bring former Bush officials to account.

Quite the opposite. In February Obama lawyers used the same “state secrets” tactic to block a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of five victims of extraordinary rendition — the CIA’s famed kidnap and torture program. “This case cannot be litigated,” Department of Justice lawyer Douglas Letter declared on February 9th, arguing that the case, Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan, should be thrown out. “The judges shouldn’t play with fire in this national security situation.”

ACLU director Anthony Romero decried the move. “Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government.”

 

 

Now, warrantless spying can be added to the list.

 

 

“In our case we have no reason to believe that the warrantless wiretapping has ended,” said Cohn, “so at some point we have to call it Obama’s warrantless wiretapping.”

Liliana Segura is a staff writer and editor of AlterNet’s Rights and Liberties and War on Iraq Special Coverage.

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Obama’s Black Widow December 25, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, George W. Bush.
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Thanks to Bush and Obama, the National Security Agency now knows more about you

By Nat Hentoff, the Village Voice

Tuesday, December 23rd 2008

Barack Obama will be in charge of the biggest domestic and international spying operation in history. Its prime engine is the National Security Agency (NSA)—located and guarded at Fort Meade, Maryland, about 10 miles northeast of Washington, D.C. A brief glimpse of its ever-expanding capacity was provided on October 26 by The Baltimore Sun’s national security correspondent, David Wood: “The NSA’s colossal Cray supercomputer, code-named the ‘Black Widow,’ scans millions of domestic and international phone calls and e-mails every hour. . . . The Black Widow, performing hundreds of trillions of calculations per second, searches through and reassembles key words and patterns, across many languages.”

In July, George W. Bush signed into law the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which gives the NSA even more power to look for patterns that suggest terrorism links in Americans’ telephone and Internet communications.

The ACLU immediately filed a lawsuit on free speech and privacy grounds. The new Bush law provides farcical judicial supervision over the NSA and other government trackers and databasers. Although Senator Barack Obama voted for this law, dig this from the ACLU: “The government [is now permitted] to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and e-mail addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why it’s conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing.”

This gives the word “dragnet” an especially chilling new meaning.

The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, director of its National Security Project, adds that the new statute, warming the cold hearts of the NSA, “implicates all kinds of communications that have nothing to do with terrorism or criminal activity of any kind.”

Why did Obama vote for this eye-that-never-blinks? He’s a bright, informed guy, but he wasn’t yet the President-Elect. The cool pragmatist wanted to indicate he wasn’t radically unmindful of national security—and that his previous vow to filibuster such a bill may have been a lapse in judgment. It was.

What particularly outraged civil libertarians across the political divide was that the FISA Amendments Act gave immunity to the telecommunications corporations—which, for seven years, have been a vital part of the Bush administration’s secret wiretapping program—thereby dismissing the many court cases brought by citizens suing those companies for violating their individual constitutional liberties. This gives AT&T, Verizon, and the rest a hearty signal to go on pimping for the government.

That’s OK with the Obama administration? Please tell us, Mr. President.

Some of us began to see how deeply and intricately the telecoms were involved in the NSA’s spying when—as part of an Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit—it was revealed by a former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, that he had found a secret AT&T room in which the NSA was tapping into the telecom giant’s fiber-optic cables. On National Public Radio on November 7, 2007, he disclosed: “It’s not just AT&T’s traffic going through these cables, because these cables connected AT&T’s network with other networks like Sprint, Qwest [the one firm that refused to play ball with the government], Global Crossing, UUNet, etc.”

What you should know is that these fruitful cables go through “a splitter” that, as Klein describes, “just copies the entire data without any selection going on. So it’s a complete copy of the data stream.”

Under the new FISA Amendments Act, there are no limits on where this stream of data can be disseminated. As in the past, but now with “legal” protection under the 2008 statute, your suspicious “patterns” can go to the FBI, Homeland Security, the CIA, and state and local police that are also involved in “fusion centers” with the FBI.

Consider the enormous and bottomless databases that the government—and its NSA—can have a ball with. In James Bamford’s The Shadow Factory (Doubleday)—a new book that leads you as far as anyone has gone into the bowels of the NSA—he notes: “For decades, AT&T and much of the rest of the telecommunications industry have had a very secret, very cozy relationship with the NSA.” In AT&T’s case, he points out, “its international voice service carried more than 18 billion minutes per year, reaching 240 countries, linking 400 carriers, and offering remote access via 19,500 points of presence in 149 countries around the globe.”

Voilá! Also, he notes: “Much of those communications passed through that secret AT&T room that Klein found on Folsom Street in downtown San Francisco.”

There’s a lot more to come that we don’t know about. Yet. In The Shadow Factory, James Bamford quotes Bush’s Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell as saying that this wiretapping program was and is “only one program of many highly secret programs approved by Bush following the attacks on 9/11″ (emphasis added). McConnell also said of the NSA’s nonstop wiretapping: “This is the only aspect of those various activities whose existence has officially been acknowledged.”

Come on, Mike. Bush acknowledged the NSA’s flagrant contempt of the First and Fourth amendments only after The New York Times broke the story in December 2005. When the Times executive editor, Bill Keller, first decided to hold the explosive story for a year, General Michael Hayden—the former head of the NSA who is currently running the CIA—was relieved because he didn’t want the news to get out that “most international communications pass through [these telecommunications] ‘switching,’ ” Bamford reports. It would blow the cover off those corporate communicators. Now, AT&T, Verizon, et al., don’t have to worry, thanks to the new law.

There are increasing calls, inside and outside of Congress, for President Obama to urge investigations by an independently bipartisan commission—akin to the 9/11 Commission—to get deeply into the many American and international laws so regally broken by Bush and his strutting team.

But there is so much still to find out about the NSA’s “many highly secret programs” that a separate commission is sorely needed to probe exclusively into the past and ongoing actions of the Black Widow and other NSA lawless intrusions into our privacy and ideas.

President Obama could atone for his vote that supported the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 by appointing such a bipartisan commission composed of technology experts who are also familiar with the Constitution.

Bamford says that the insatiable NSA is “developing an artificial intelligence system designed to know what people are thinking.” Here come the thought police!

Bush Spy Revelations Expected When Obama Is Sworn In November 10, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush.
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by: Ryan Singel, Wired.com

photo
More details regarding the Bush administration’s domestic spying program are expected to come out once President-elect Barack Obama takes office. (Photo: AFP / Getty Images)

  

 

  When Barack Obama takes the oath of office on January 20, Americans won’t just get a new president; they might finally learn the full extent of George W. Bush’s warrantless domestic wiretapping.

    Since The New York Times first revealed in 2005 that the NSA was eavesdropping on citizens’ overseas phone calls and e-mail, few additional details about the massive “Terrorist Surveillance Program” have emerged. That’s because the Bush administration has stonewalled, misled and denied documents to Congress, and subpoenaed the phone records of the investigative reporters.

    Now privacy advocates are hopeful that President Obama will be more forthcoming with information. But for the quickest and most honest account of Bush’s illegal policies, they say don’t look to the incoming president. Watch instead for the hidden army of would-be whistle-blowers who’ve been waiting for Inauguration Day to open the spigot on the truth.

    “I’d bet there are a lot of career employees in the intelligence agencies who’ll be glad to see Obama take the oath so they can finally speak out against all this illegal spying and get back to their real mission,” says Caroline Fredrickson, the ACLU’s Washington D.C. legislative director.

    New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour Hersh already has a slew of sources waiting to spill the Bush administration’s darkest secrets, he said in an interview last month. “You cannot believe how many people have told me to call them on January 20. [They say,] ‘You wanna know about abuses and violations? Call me then.'”

    So far, virtually everything we know about the NSA’s warrantless surveillance has come from whistle-blowers. Telecom executives told USA Today that they had turned over billions of phone records to the government. Former AT&T employee Mark Klein provided wiring diagrams detailing an internet-spying room in a San Francisco switching facility. And one Justice Department attorney had his house raided and his children’s computers seized as part of the FBI’s probe into who leaked the warrantless spying to The New York Times. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales even suggested the reporters could be prosecuted under antiquated treason statutes.

    If new whistle-blowers do emerge, Fredrickson hopes the additional information will spur Congress to form a new Church Committee — the 1970s bipartisan committee that investigated and condemned the government’s secret spying on peace activists, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other political figures.

    But even if the anticipated flood of leaks doesn’t materialize, advocates hope that Obama and the Democratic Congress will get around to airing out the White House closet anyway. “Obama has pledged a lot more openness,” says Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which was the first to file a federal lawsuit over the illegal eavesdropping.

    One encouraging sign for civil liberties groups is that John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, is a key figure in Obama’s transition team, which will staff and set priorities for the new administration. The center was a tough and influential critic of the Bush administration’s warrantless spying.

    Among the unanswered questions:

  • Were there quid pro quo promises made to the phone companies and internet carriers who cooperated with the secret spying? For example, were co-conspirators promised lucrative government contracts?
  • Did the program appropriate the CALEA wiretapping infrastructure? Under CALEA, Congress forced telecoms to build surveillance capabilities into the phone and internet network, but promised it would only be used with court orders.
  • What did the first version of the surveillance program sweep into its net? In March 2004, a squadron of top officials at the Justice Department, including then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI head Robert Mueller, threatened to resign over the illegality of the program. The program was subsequently scaled back, but nobody knows what the NSA was doing that was bad enough to horrify Ashcroft.
  • What was the legal rationale for the surveillance? FISA explicitly made warrantless domestic eavesdropping illegal, but the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a series of memos justifying the spying anyway. The ACLU is fighting the Bush administration for access to the documents, as well as secret memos justifying torture.
        “It’s difficult to see how Sen. Obama could call his administration transparent if his administration continues to suppress non-sensitive information that should have been released a long time ago,” says the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer.

        The other looming question is whether, as president, Obama will continue the warrantless spying himself. Obama voted with the majority in Congress to legalize the Bush spying program in July, but the constitutionality of the measure is yet untested. An Obama administration is less likely than Bush to devise convoluted legal end-runs around the Constitution, according to Marc Rotenberg, the head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

        “Keep in mind that Obama is a constitutional scholar and has a deep understanding of checks and balance,” says Rotenberg. “It’s hard to imagine that an Obama administration would support … warrantless wiretapping.”

        With the financial markets and the economy in deep trouble, it’s unlikely that Obama will quickly turn to the issue of warrantless wiretapping. But the EFF’s lawsuit against AT&T over the surveillance could force the new administration to pick a side quickly. In December, a federal judge in San Francisco will hold a hearing on whether the retroactive immunity granted to AT&T and other telecoms as part of the FISA Amendments Act is Constitutional. Obama voted for the act in order to legalize the spying program, but tried unsuccessfully to strip out the immunity provision.

        EFF’s Opsahl hopes that if EFF prevails in December, an Obama administration might let the decision stand, clearing the way for EFF’s lawsuit to proceed.

        “If we are victorious in our constitutional challenge, I would hope the Obama administration would accept that loss and move on without an appeal,” says Opsahl. “But we will have to see.”

  • Can You Hear Me Now? Telecoms Paid to Give Team McCain More Bars October 16, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in John McCain, U.S. Election 2008.
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    Posted on Oct 15, 2008
    Flickr / Jeff Kubina

    It’s hard to get cell reception in an out-of-the-way place like Sedona, Ariz., but it helps if you sit on the Senate committee that oversees the telecommunications industry. The Washington Post has learned that AT&T and Verizon, both of which have lobbying ties to the McCain campaign, provided cell towers for the McCains’ ranch at no charge to the couple.

     

     

    Washington Post:

    Verizon delivered a portable tower know as a “cell site on wheels”—free of charge—to Cindy McCain’s property in June in response to an online request from Cindy McCain’s staff early last year. Such devices are usually reserved for restoring service when cell coverage is knocked out during emergencies, such as hurricanes.

    In July, AT&T followed suit, wheeling in a portable tower for free to match Verizon’s offer. “This is an unusual situation,” said AT&T spokeswoman Claudia B. Jones. “You can’t have a presidential nominee in an area where there is not cell coverage.”

    Over the course of the past year, Cindy McCain had offered land for a permanent cell tower and Verizon embarked on an expensive process to meet her needs, hiring contractors and seeking county land-use permits even though few people other than the McCains would benefit from the tower.

    Ethics lawyers said Cindy McCain’s dealings with the wireless companies stand out because Sen. John McCain is a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the Federal Communications Commission and the telecommunications industry. He has been a leading advocate for industry-backed legislation, fighting regulations and taxes on telecommunications services.