Constitution Daily Update: Boehner’s latest gambit; a global threat to journalism

NCC Staff

John Boehner is moving forward with the September budget fight; President Obama talks politics and pets; Al Gore makes a claim about a new hurricane scale.


Items To Watch                                                           

1. President Obama’s press offensive continues with an early morning appearance on CNN. The leader of the free world spoke about Egypt, Libya and the progress of Sunny, the new White House dog.

2. John Boehner will push for a temporary spending measure that keeps the government in business past September but leaves sequester cuts in place.

Developing Questions …

Here are some updates on new discussions about top-of-mind constitutional issues.

1.  Secrecy vs. Liberty as a global story

In a column this week, The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, told how the British government had threatened to go “to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working,” to keep the paper from continuing to report on leaks from Edward Snowden, unless the paper met the government’s demand to “hand the Snowden material back or destroy it.”

Rusbridger tried to convince the official delivering this message that it would be a futile gesture, since the Guardian was largely reporting on this story elsewhere and not in London, but that didn’t convince the government:

“And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts” – from General Communications Headquarters, a British intelligence agency – “overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents.”

The point of Rusbridger’s column is that, “The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes – and, increasingly, it looks like ‘when.’ ”

This is not an abstract point. Rusbridger made it in explaining the significance of the nine-hour detention at Heathrow Airport of David Miranda, the partner of the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, who has broken most of the stories about the National Security Agency’s surveilliance programs based on the Snowden leaks.

British anti-terrorism laws give broad authority for stopping, searching, and questioning anyone even with no connection to terrorism. The government is not required to arrest or charge anyone to detain them. They have no right to legal counsel.

While Miranda and Greenwald live in Brazil, Rusbridger explained, the reporting Greenwald has done and that Miranda has helped with “is immensely complicated by the certainty that it would be highly unadvisable for Greenwald (or any other journalist) to regard any electronic means of communication as safe. The Guardian’s work on the Snowden story has involved many individuals taking a huge number of flights in order to have face-to-face meetings. Not good for the environment, but increasingly the only way to operate.”

The detention of Miranda, Rusbridger said, came about because of one of those meetings—and, to the editor, is an example of “the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance.”

Closing Notes

1. Al Gore is in warm water after claiming the global warming has forced the government to create a new category for hurricanes on its storm scale.

2. Also facing criticism is Sen. Tom Coburn from Oklahoma, who told a town hall audience this week that President Obama is close to impeachment. He also floated out the idea of rewriting the Constitution at a national convention.

Editor’s note: The Update is a summary of news and commentary about the Constitution and related issues, as reported around the digital world. Guest contributors and our editorial staff add to the daily update, and we welcome your suggestions (and reports) at

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