Saturday, December 31, 2005

Investigating the Leak Rather Than the Crime

When the news broke yesterday that the Department of Justice had been formally requested by the National Security Agency to investigate the source of the leaked information that the NSA was engaged in warrantless domestic spying, I wasn't surprised. The Resident had promised as much in a speech shortly after the NY Times article on the spying was printed.

The first reports were fairly skeletal.

The U.S. Justice Department has launched an investigation to see who disclosed details about a secret domestic eavesdropping operation, department officials said Friday.

"We are opening an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified materials related to the NSA," one official said, referring to the National Security Agency.

...Justice Department officials would give no details of who requested the probe or how it would be conducted.

I decided to wait until I saw just how the mainstream media would handle the news, and how much further information would appear. Most major outlets (NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times) gave the story prominence and rehashed the story leading up to the story. The real story, that the President of the United States had approved, perhaps even ordered the warrantless "eavesdropping" received scant mention, that he in fact had violated statutory law and the Constitution, both impeachable offenses, was almost entirely avoided. The effect? Attention to a real crime was diverted to discovering the name(s) of the dastardly leaker.

Then, this morning, a commentator at Eschaton pointed me to a blogger who had really done his homework on the issue. Glenn Greenwald's post made it clear just what was at stake here. I urge you to read his entire post because besides being extremely detailed on the legal and historical aspect of the issue it's very informative.

Perhaps the most salient portion of Mr. Greenwald's post is the executive order issued in 1995 regarding the classification (secret-making) process itself:

[The]classification process specifically prohibits classifying information in order to conceal governmental wrongdoing:

(a) In no case shall information be classified in order to:

(1) conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error;

(2) prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency;
[Emphasis added]

The whole point of whistle blower statutes is to enable patriotic public servants to reveal when and how the government violates the law of the land, even if the violation is committed by the Chief Executive. Seen in light of this Executive Order, the pending investigation can only be seen as a means of intimidating and punishing the people who called bullshit on the assault on the civil liberties guaranteed by the Consitution.

What will be interesting to see is how the NY Times will handle this investigation. They went to the mat for Judith Miller and then had to admit they were wrong to do so. Unfortunately, they never made clear why they were wrong. Miller's source was violating the law by doing the leak. That's not whistle blowing. Here, the source or sources were leaking information about a crime committed by our government. This is where the NY Times should dig in and dig in hard. Hopefully they will not wimp out because of the Miller debacle.

In any event, well done, Mr. Greenwald. And, thanks, Tracy, for the tip.

Another Round of Recess Appointments

The Resident has just announced some end-of-the-year recess appointments. He is no different than his predecessors in reaching into the presidential tool box for this handy little way to get his friends jobs. The recess appointment route has been used by most presidents anxious to get a nominee with a potentially embarrassing history onto the job without extensive hearings that might jeopardize the nomination. Mr. Bush, however, seems to be using that tool a bit more frequently than most. The NY Times describes his latest appointments.

President Bush has announced four nominees for the Federal Election Commission, moving to keep the policing of campaign abuses firmly in the hands of party wheel horses. The timing of the announcement - the president waited until the Senate had gone home - is likely to allow the nominees to avoid the full hearing and confirmation process needed to evaluate them properly.

The most objectionable nominee is Hans von Spakovsky, a former Republican county chairman in Georgia and a political appointee at the Justice Department. He is reported to have been involved in the maneuvering to overrule the career specialists who warned that the Texas gerrymandering orchestrated by Representative Tom DeLay violated minority voting rights. Senators need the opportunity to delve into that, as well as reports of Mr. von Spakovsky's involvement in such voting rights abuses as the purging of voter rolls in Florida in the 2000 elections.

Both parties suggested candidates; the Democrats include a union lawyer and a trusted political associate of the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid. By endorsing them, the president has finally shown his commitment to bipartisanship in the worst of ways: by installing another undistinguished group of factotums to referee the democratic process.
[Emphasis added]

Sadly, most Americans will probably ho-hum the appointments since the FEC isn't nearly as sexy as Ambassador to the UN. It is, after all, just a commission. This commission, however, is the one that is charged with making sure that elections in the nation are run cleanly and fairly, that keeps track of campaign donations and their use, that enforces the election rules.

We deserve better than political hacks of either stripe on that commission. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear we are going to get that this time around.

Friday, December 30, 2005

And Things Just Keep Getting Worse for Iraq

The current US regime promises to pull out of Iraq just as soon as the government of Iraq can effectively govern. Then it does just about everything it can to make sure that never happens. The BBC points to the latest problems facing the post-invasion Iraq.

Iraqi Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum has been temporarily released from his post amid a dispute over the government's petrol pricing policy.

He is to be replaced for 30 days by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi.

Mr Bahr al-Uloum had publicly objected to the Iraqi government's decision earlier this month to raise petrol prices threefold.

...The Iraqi government cut subsidies on petrol earlier this month after it reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on reducing its debt burden.

...Although billions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure since Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled, fuel and electricity production have not reached the levels maintained before the invasion.
[Emphasis added]

First of all, it never bodes well for Iraq when Ahmed Chalabi's name pops up in a news report. As a reward for garnering almost 1% in the recent election, it appears he has gotten himself a promotion, albeit "for 30 days." Putting an embezzler in charge of the only real money-maker for Iraq is just like giving a python cat-sitting duties. A lot can happen in 30 days.

The real important part of the article, however, is the fact that the cost for fuel has just been trebled for the people of Iraq, all at once, at the insistence of the IMF (over which the US has considerable influence). This means that it becomes very expensive to fuel police cars on patrol to keep down the violence. It also means that the average Iraqi, who can't depend on electricity, much less heat, now may not be able to get to whatever job he or she may have found. And this is supposed to help bring order to a nation ravaged and ravished by US imperialism?

I guess the regime had to justify the building of permanent US military bases somehow, eh?

Way to go, George.

The New CIA: Kidnapping, Rendition, Assassination

Dana Priest's lengthy article in today's Washington Post shows in great detail how the current regime has returned the CIA to the days when the CIA freely disrupted the political affairs of Latin America. This new CIA, however, has none of the traditional oversight that it had in the past. Congress has not been allowed to pierce the secrecy to find out just what it's funding.

The effort President Bush authorized shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to fight al Qaeda has grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War, expanding in size and ambition despite a growing outcry at home and abroad over its clandestine tactics, according to former and current intelligence officials and congressional and administration sources.

GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.
[Emphasis added]

All of this, of course, is the current regime's response to the 9/11 attacks. Because of the CIA's very nature, just what exactly is going on has been difficult to discover, secrecy being the hallmark of the agency. However, Congress has not been called in to discuss the parameters of the new activities, much less to approve or disapprove of it. Only the White House is in the know and in control.

The administration's decisions to rely on a small circle of lawyers for legal interpretations that justify the CIA's covert programs and not to consult widely with Congress on them have also helped insulate the efforts from the growing furor, said several sources who have been involved.

"Everything is done in the name of self-defense, so they can do anything because nothing is forbidden in the war powers act," said one official who was briefed on the CIA's original cover program and who is skeptical of its legal underpinnings. "It's an amazing legal justification that allows them to do anything," said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues.

Written findings are required by the National Security Act of 1947 before the CIA can undertake a covert action. A covert action may not violate the Constitution or any U.S. law. But such actions can, and often do, violate laws of the foreign countries in which they take place, said intelligence experts.

The presidential finding also permitted the CIA to create paramilitary teams to hunt and kill designated individuals anywhere in the world, according to a dozen current and former intelligence officials and congressional and executive branch sources.
[Emphasis added]

The article also mentions a very interesting detail: the decision on who and when to assassinate has been passed down from the White House to the Director of the CIA (George Tenet initially, now Porter Goss), thereby insulating the President from any fall-out from the assassination.

What is so troubling is that the whole set-up and execution has not been the result of discussions and recommendations involving a wide range of security experts (including legal experts). Instead, the regime has relied only on those who already agreed with the White House desires in the matter.

The entire article is well-worth the read. While it is long and complicated, it clearly sets out just what 'justification by self-defense' can result in.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Even Some Conservatives Get It.

Paul Mulshine is certainly not a left-wing moonbat by any stretch of the imagination, so it was with some shock that I read his most recent column in the Star Tribune.

This is an amusing time for observers of democracy in America.

President Bush, in reaction to revelations about domestic surveillance, expresses outrage at those who would leak classified information to the news media. "My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war," Bush said.

...The leaker, or leakers, seems to have been motivated not by a desire to score political points, but a desire to make the American public aware of a program of dubious constitutionality. The executive branch seems to be claiming almost unlimited power to tap into phone calls, e-mails and other electronic communications. Even if you trust the current Republican administration to use this power wisely, what constraints are there on a future Democratic administration?

"You can't do these things on a basis of trust. There have to be some sort of checks and balances."

That opinion comes not from a liberal but from David Keene of the American Conservative Union. Keene, who worked in the White House under Vice President Spiro Agnew, knows a thing or two about executive overreaching. He is among a number of prominent conservatives who worry about the unchecked growth of presidential power in the Bush administration.

...Keene is among a number of conservatives you could call either "hard-core" or "paranoid" about this sort of thing. So am I. The suspicion among us right-wing nuts is that the government is involved in what is known as "data mining." That would involve not just a finite number of wiretaps, all perfectly fine under FISA, but a wide net collecting vast numbers of phone calls and e-mails, all of which could be sifted through computers to sort out various data.

Such a program would produce all sorts of interesting information, very little of it related to terrorism. The executive branch might, for example, learn that a member of the legislative branch has a sweetheart in the suburbs of D.C. That information might then be used to secure the cooperation of this congressman on matters crucial to the administration.

...As for this administration, can the same people who leaked the name of a CIA agent for political gain be trusted not to use other secrets for political gain?

That's certainly possible. In fact, I believe that there is a perfectly satisfactory explanation for this entire endeavor. But I'm looking forward to those Senate hearings just the same.
[Emphasis added]

This is one time I'm not going to sing out "even a broken clock is right twice a day," because I think more than that is going on here.
Mulshine really does get it, as will any thoughtful American if the press would just report this without the fear-mongering and 'fair and balanced' coverage the current regime depends on.

Nicely done, Mr. Mulshine. Nicely done.

Mistakes Happen

(And if you believe that, I've got a bridge in Alaska I'd be happy to sell you.)

The NSA can't buy a break these days. Plenty of ink and electrons have been spilled the last two weeks about the agency's warrantless spying on residents of the US. Now it's been discovered in further illegal activity. An AP article in the NY Times details the 'innocent mistake.'

The National Security Agency's Internet site has been placing files on visitors' computers that can track their Web surfing activity despite strict federal rules banning most files of that type.

The files, known as cookies, disappeared after a privacy activist complained and The Associated Press made inquiries this week. Agency officials acknowledged yesterday that they had made a mistake.

"Considering the surveillance power the N.S.A. has, cookies are not exactly a major concern," said Ari Schwartz, associate director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy advocacy group in Washington. "But it does show a general lack of understanding about privacy rules when they are not even following the government's very basic rules for Web privacy."

Until Tuesday, the N.S.A. site created two cookie files that do not expire until 2035.

Don Weber, an agency spokesman, said in a statement yesterday that the use of the so-called persistent cookies resulted from a recent software upgrade.

Normally, Mr. Weber said, the site uses temporary cookies that are automatically deleted when users close their Web browsers, which is legally permissible. But he said the software in use was shipped with the persistent cookies turned on.

"After being tipped to the issue, we immediately disabled the cookies," Mr. Weber said.

...In a 2003 memorandum, the Office of Management and Budget at the White House prohibited federal agencies from using persistent cookies - those that are not automatically deleted right away - unless there is a "compelling need."

A senior official must sign off on any such use, and an agency that uses them must disclose and detail their use in its privacy policy.

Peter Swire, a Clinton administration official who had drafted an earlier version of the cookie guidelines, said that clear notice was a must, and that "vague assertions of national security, such as exist in the N.S.A. policy, are not sufficient."

Daniel Brandt, a privacy activist who discovered the N.S.A. cookies, said mistakes happen, "but in any case, it's illegal."
[Emphasis added]

The cookies persist until 2035? Are they trying to tell us something?


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Radical Gay Agenda

The front page of the LA Times contained some good news today.

Infighting, voter fatigue and a slow fundraising start appear to have plagued efforts by conservatives to place a measure on the 2006 ballot banning same-sex marriage in California.

The attempts to amend the California Constitution suffered a setback in recent days when two groups conceded that they would not qualify for the June 2006 ballot.

One group,, gathered fewer than half the 598,000 signatures required by Tuesday's deadline. Organizers said they might still decide to press ahead for the ballot next November, but a confluence of events has made it unlikely.

While the battle against same-sex marriage was an issue to conservatives this summer, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's September veto of a bill to legalize such unions defused the issue for the time being. Furthermore, the California Supreme Court is not expected to rule until 2007 on whether the existing law limiting marriage to heterosexuals passes constitutional muster.

"Everything we need to educate voters about the need for such a measure has been temporarily taken away," said's legal counsel, Andrew Pugno. "I think it is very unlikely there will be any measure on the ballot this coming year."

I have never understood why the Religious Reich gets their knickers in such a frist on this issue. Is heterosexual marriage as an institution so fragile that it is in danger of collapsing entirely if another sector of the population gets to enter into the same social contract? If so, it probably needs to be hauled off to the dumpster even without the help of gays and lesbians.

The entire paranoia over the 'radical gay agenda' is also a puzzlement. As Mario Solis Marich (the substitute for vacationing Al Francken here in Los Angeles) mentioned today, if you look at just what gays and lesbians have been demanding over the last ten years (the right to serve in the military, the right to adopt unwanted children, the right to marry), the agenda looks to be more white bread than radical. Gays and lesbians just want basic human rights.

At any rate, Californians, who clearly support domestic partnership benefits, will be spared another foolish proposition in the April, 2006 election. One fewer measure on the ballot is always a good thing.

Fence Building

Yesterday I got an email from Congressman David Dreier (R). He still thinks he represents me, but according to the last time I voted in a congressional election, my ballot assured me that I was represented by Adam Schiff (D). At any rate, Mr. Dreier's end-of-of-the year recap of how hard he worked for me was primarily about the passage of HR 4437, the immigration bill.

Getting Control of the Border

Illegal immigration imposes enormous costs on California, undercuts the rule of law in our country and undermines legal immigration. What’s more, in an age of terrorism, border security is a national security imperative.

With the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, Congress is making our country safer and reinforcing the principle that no one is above the law. The bill is tough, it’s bold and it’s another step towards control of our borders.

While a couple of recent studies indicate that in fact illegal immigrants pay taxes and spend money to the extent that they more than pay their way in this country, Mr. Dreier persists in the belief that they are a drain on the California economy. He also conveniently overlooks the fact that California, like many other states, depends on the illegal immigrants to provide services that the local work force simply can't or won't.

An editorial in today's Washington Post doesn't overlook this fact.

Some of these provisions, as part of a larger reform, might make sense. But none will do much to change the fact that 11 million people live illegally in this country, in an economy that cannot function without them. No immigration bill that fails to realistically approach the country's dependence on immigrant labor will fix anything. A serious bill would have to spell out how people looking for work can come here and, in the light of day, find businesses that wish to employ them. It must illuminate some road to legality for those already here. Talking only about enforcement may play to anti-immigration sentiment in the short term. But unless border security measures are a part of comprehensive immigration reform, the goal of secure borders will always remain elusive. [Emphasis added]

And then there is the pork involved in building that damned fence to the tune of over $1 million dollars per mile.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Heartland Does Get It

The 'conventional wisdom' has it that the liberal elites, those who traitorously insist on criticising the current regime, are located on the coasts. 'Real Americans' live in the heartlands and are perfectly happy with the current regime's programs. A recent editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune puts the lie to that so-called wisdom. Real Americans, no matter where they live, are terribly concerned with the trend towards demolishing constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties in the name of security.

The president wanted a vote making the soon-to-expire Patriot Act permanent. After impassioned negotiating, a filibuster and a last-minute fight between the House and Senate, lawmakers instead opted to extend the law for one month -- a move that buys time to explore whether the Patriot Act is actually worthy of America's law books.

Propelled through Congress by Republican leadership in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the law has never undergone the thoughtful scrutiny any such measure merits. More and more lawmakers -- even some of the president's most dependable Republican backers -- are wondering whether the Patriot Act is all it's cracked up to be.

The president couldn't be surer that it works. "In a war on terror," he said last week, "we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment." So the president asserts, but what moves him to say so? He's not cited a single instance in which the Patriot Act has proved pivotal in averting terrorism. Yet somehow, even in the absence of proof, the assumption prevails that the Patriot Act is all that stands between American tranquility and terror.

It's a dangerous assumption to make -- especially when American liberty is at stake. That's the point the president seems to miss -- and that the skeptical seek to emphasize. Many of the Patriot Act's provisions, they grant, raise no concerns at all. Their misgivings focus on a few provisions that have greatly broadened the government's power to invade personal privacy.

This law expands the ability of law enforcement to conduct secret searches and surveillance. It permits the FBI to paw through citizens' medical, financial and mental-health records without notification or permission. It enables investigation of citizens even if they're not suspected of criminal conduct. Perhaps worst of all, it permits noncitizens to be jailed for the most threadbare of reasons -- and authorizes indefinite detention without public judicial review.

It's hard to see the patriotism in that arsenal of repressive tactics. Indeed, it's hard to imagine liberty-loving Americans condoning such strategies. Those who do surely must believe they'll never be the subject of the government's gaze. But what leads them to think so? History teems with stories of innocent people enduring persecution by unrestrained government. This country's founders wrote the U.S. Constitution to shield its people from such suffering.

When lawmakers gather in the New Year, they'll have only a month to explore the legitimacy of the law's most worrisome provisions. It's up to the White House to prove that the sabotage of freedom is in fact necessary to safeguard it -- that the Patriot Act is indeed patriotic.
[Emphasis added]

Once again, the STrib nailed it.

When Supporting the Troops Ends

Support for US troops, as symbolized by the made-in-China magnet ribbons for cars, is desireable while the troops are in the field. Once they get home, eh, not so much. The latest manifestation of this on/off switch was detailed by the Washington Post

The spiraling cost of post-traumatic stress disorder among war veterans has triggered a politically charged debate and ignited fears that the government is trying to limit expensive benefits for emotionally scarred troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the past five years, the number of veterans receiving compensation for the disorder commonly called PTSD has grown nearly seven times as fast as the number receiving benefits for disabilities in general, according to a report this year by the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs. A total of 215,871 veterans received PTSD benefit payments last year at a cost of $4.3 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 1999 -- a jump of more than 150 percent.

Experts say the sharp increase does not begin to factor in the potential impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, because the increase is largely the result of Vietnam War vets seeking treatment decades after their combat experiences. Facing a budget crunch, experts within and outside the Veterans Affairs Department are raising concerns about fraudulent claims, wondering whether the structure of government benefits discourages healing, and even questioning the utility and objectivity of the diagnosis itself.
[Emphasis added]

The Veteran's Administration has had to face budget cuts in past years while the US was waging two wars at the same time. As a result, they've had to review just where the benefits they are obligated to give wounded and disabled veterans are going, and this is not in and of itself an outrageous stance. What is disturbing, however, is the conclusion by many that the problem is that too many soldiers are engaging in fraud. The fact that Viet Nam veterans who were never treated for PTSD in the past (mainly because the disorder was never properly diagnosed when they came home, when it could have been more effectively treated)is treated as evidence of this burgeoning fraud.

The concern by Frueh and Satel about overdiagnosis and fraud -- what researchers call "false positives" -- has drawn the ire of veterans groups and many other mental health experts.

A far bigger problem is the many veterans who seek help but do not get it or who never seek help, a number of experts said. Studies have shown that large numbers of veterans with PTSD never seek treatment, possibly because of the stigma surrounding mental illness.

"There are periodic false positives, but there are also a lot of false negatives out there," said Terence M. Keane, one of the nation's best-known PTSD researchers, who cited a 1988 study on the numbers of veterans who do not get treatment. "Less than one-fourth of people with combat-related PTSD have used VA-related services."
[Emphasis added]

The federal government spent years denying that PTSD did not exist, just as it maintained Agent Orange-related illnesses were bogus and Gulf War Syndrom was a figment of Gulf War I vets' imagination. Now it wants to redefine a clinical diagnosis to save a few bucks.

How shabby is that?

Support the troops, indeed.

Monday, December 26, 2005

A Year (Plus) Late and Billions of Dollars Short

It always amuses me to see an editorial that harumphs its way into stating the obvious. If the editorial in today's Washington Post hadn't been on a subject that involved the loss of hundreds of lives and made thousands of people homeless, I would be laughing my backside off.

But it did, and I am not laughing. After describing the tragedy of errors in the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, WaPo sanctimoniously refers to the causes of the screw-up.

Although both Mr. Chertoff and Mr. Brown made mistakes during the storm, far more fingers should have been pointed at the haphazard, irrational and unabashedly political process that led to the creation of DHS, as well as the inept leadership of the department's first boss, Tom Ridge.

Four years ago, there was a case to be made for a government department that would group together different elements of border security -- the Coast Guard, the immigration services and customs -- in a more streamlined way. But, as the Post series documents, that wasn't what happened. Instead, White House officials anxious to prove their boss was more gung-ho about preparedness than congressional Democrats threw a lot of agencies together without much consideration of whether they belonged together, even at one point including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which carries out nuclear weapons research. Other agencies and tasks that should belong to homeland security, such as managing the nation's emergency vaccine stockpile, were left out. The result was bureaucratic redundancy and a mystifying command structure. One example: Even today, it still is unclear who in the government -- the White House, DHS or the Department of Health and Human Services -- is really in charge of defense against bioterrorism.

...By far the most disturbing aspect of the DHS saga is how familiar it sounds: After all, the administration's attempts to reform the intelligence services have been no less political, and apparently no less clumsy. It stumbled in Iraq for two years. Will incompetence be remembered as the salient characteristic of the Bush presidency?
[Emphasis added]

Pulleaze...if it was so damned familiar, where were the articles, the columns, the editorials on the regime's incompetency last year before the election when it might have made a difference and saved the lives of so many residing on the Gulf Coast.


Four Months Later

Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast at the end of August. Here it is the end of December, nearly four months later, and you would expect that after all the promises and all the speechifying and all the money budgeted for reconstruction that area of the country would be well on its way to recovery. Unfortunately, and as usual with this regime, you would be wrong. In four months very little debris has been removed and almost no reconstruction started. A brief survey on some news articles that appeared yesterday and today will show the extent of the problems.

First, the Washington Post:

Where rebuilding New Orleans and Gulf communities was seen as a national priority in the days after Hurricane Katrina hit -- most tangibly when lawmakers approved $62 billion in aid just two weeks later -- Congress's race to complete a new round of reconstruction aid this month became fodder for politics-as-usual in the capital, and in increasingly strong tones.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) lumped Congress's slow rebuilding response into an attack on a Republican "culture of corruption and cronyism, coverup . . . and incompetence," which she later said "caused so much more loss of life and damage in the Gulf Coast."

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) faulted President Bush's efforts to restore housing, small businesses, health care, education and minority voting rights to storm victims. Pelosi applied the word "failure" or some variant to the administration 44 times in an 11-page report.

Republicans have responded in kind. Condemning a Democratic push to subpoena top administration aides for e-mails as part of a House investigation into the Katrina response, Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) said, "Let's pierce the political veil here. There should be no doubt that the purpose of this motion" is to protect Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) and New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D) "to try to somehow shift all this back over to the White House."
[Emphasis added]

Is it just 'politics as usual' warming up for the election season? In unquoted sections of the article the writer suggests that what the hold-up is really caused by is differing philosophies and differing views on the best way for the government to spend tax dollars. That would be tenable but for the realities on the ground as noted by the other two articles, such as this NY Times piece.

There are many reasons for the difference between the lack of progress in Pascagoula and the quick cleanup in the Biloxi area. But officials here point fingers at what they consider the No. 1 culprit: the federal government and, in particular, the Army Corps of Engineers.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harrison County, the home of Biloxi, and Jackson County, where Pascagoula is located, each had about 10 million cubic yards of debris to clean up. Both counties took up the federal government on its offer to foot the bill.

But while Harrison County and all but one of its cities hired contractors on their own, Jackson County and its cities, at the urging of the federal government, asked the Army Corps to take on the task. Officials in Jackson County said it was a choice they had regretted ever since.

The same appeared to hold true in Louisiana: The cleanup from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was 45 percent finished in jurisdictions that called in the corps, and nearly 70 percent complete in communities that employed private contractors, state records showed. The imbalance remained even when New Orleans, where the cleanup has been particularly complex and slow, was removed from the tally. Across the Gulf Coast, the cleanup was, on average, about 60 percent done, records showed.

Pascagoula and other Jackson County cities are sticking with the corps. But City Manager Kay Kell of Pascagoula said she was disappointed. Her city had a private contract to clean debris for $7.80 a cubic yard, but now relies on the corps, which is paying its contractor $17 to $19 a cubic yard for the same work.
[Emphasis added]

Keep in mind that the Army Corps of Engineers is not doing the actual debris removal, it, as a government agency, has contracted the work out to private companies, often under no-bid contracts. This means there is an additional layer of bureaucracy coupled with the additional costs attendant to the rather 'unusual' contract procedures.

The result, of course, is that many Gulf Coast residents are still without homes, some even without housing of any type, and reconstruction keeps receding further down the road. The effect, particularly during the holiday season, is disheartening, as noted in this story from WWL TV.

Plastic snowmen sit among mountains of rubble in nearly deserted neighborhoods. Refrigerators spray-painted with "Merry Christmas" lie on street medians. And signs in front of crumbling houses implore, "Santa, stop here."

In many places, time seems to have stood still since late August when Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast.

The upended cars and sludge-covered refuse suggest that the hurricane hit hours – not months – ago.

The Crescent City remains a shell of its former self this Christmas, with only slivers of the city up and running.

If it is indeed a matter of differing philosophies on government, I know which philosophy I hope wins out. Not the one that just dribbles out aid to Katrina victims because more money is needed for the Iraq misadventure and tax cuts for the have-mores. That other one, the one that cares about the welfare of Americans, that cares about housing and jobs for them, that cares about their civil liberties, even in the face of a huge crisis. I just hope the victory comes soon.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

What the World Sees...

... and what they are saying about the US.

I would imagine that the rest of the world sees the uproar caused by the Resident admitting that he has been spying on Americans "for their own good" as having its humorous side. The hypocrisy of a nation that publishes reports on the state of human rights in other countries while diminishing it in its own is always fun to expose. The Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates) zeroed in on the hypocrisy in a December 21 editorial.

US VICE President Dick Cheney is always ready to defend the indefensible. Even as the administration is finding it hard to deal with the political storm over domestic spying, Cheney has been bold enough to justify the practice.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the outraged public opinion, the vice president has slammed the previous administrations saying if they had allowed domestic surveillance (or spying on the Americans) September 11 attacks could have been averted.

...It’s absurd to suggest that eavesdropping on its own citizens could have saved America from the terrorists. The Soviet Union collapsed like a house of cards despite the fact that it had turned spying on its own people into an art. America, the nation that was built on the ideals of democracy, freedom and individual rights cannot turn to abominable practices such as surveillance and phone-tapping to protect itself. America’s strength lies in its free spirit and respect for civil liberties.
[Emphasis added]

Once again the Bush regime has exposed the nation to justifiable ridicule by the rest of the world.

Way to go, George.

Finally Paying Attention

In the roughly ten days since the NY Times published the original article describing the NSA's domestic spying program, the White House and its supporters have twisted themselves into pretzels to make the case for the legality and neceesity of the program. The contortions do not appear to have worked, because the NY Times has continued to publish articles on the program, and now Congress is looking to expand its inquiry into the matter. In yet another NY Times article, word is emerging about congressional concerns.

Congressional officials said Saturday that they wanted to investigate the disclosure that the National Security Agency had gained access to some of the country's main telephone arteries to glean data on possible terrorists.

"As far as Congressional investigations are concerned," said Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, "these new revelations can only multiply and intensify the growing list of questions and concerns about the warrantless surveillance of Americans."

Members of the Judiciary Committee have already indicated that they intend to conduct oversight hearings into the president's legal authority to order domestic eavesdropping on terrorist suspects without a warrant.

But Congressional officials said Saturday that they would probably seek to expand the review to include the disclosure that the security agency, using its access to giant phone "switches," had also traced and analyzed phone and Internet traffic in much larger volumes than what the Bush administration had acknowledged.

"We want to look at the entire program, an in-depth review, and this new data-mining issue is certainly a part of the whole picture," said a Republican Congressional aide, who asked not to be identified because no decisions had been made on how hearings might be structured.

Current and former government officials say that the security agency, as part of its domestic surveillance program, has gained the cooperation of some of the country's biggest telecommunications companies to obtain access to large volumes of international phone and Internet traffic flowing in and out of the United States.
[Emphasis added]

The discovery of this double-super-secret program in which the NSA eavesdropped on American residents without first obtaining a warrant is troubling in and of itself. However, the further discovery of the extent of the illegal eavesdropping is absolutely shocking. Frankly, it appears that the government wants us to believe that there are more terrorists here in the US than in the rest of the world combined, which certainly puts the lie to the regime's meme that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here.

The tortured explanations on the justification for such activity haven't really impressed too many folks, for good reason. Anyone with half-a-brain must surely be left cold by the constitutional exceptions carved out by the Resident and his minions.

Lisa Graves, senior counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said, "There's no data-mining loophole in the Fourth Amendment."


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Where Bad Ideas Come From

Congressional Republicans have been scrambling to return campaign donations emanating from Jack Abramoff and his clients and have been grabbing every microphone in sight to provide justification for the White House's decision to spy illegally on American citizens. It's no wonder that they had little time this close to the holidays to keep one of their wackier members on a tight leash. The result has been one of the most unAmericanly bizarre pieces of legislation ever to come from the House of Representatives: the new build-a-fence immigration bill sponsored by Rep. Tom "We should nuke Mecca" Tancredo of Colorado. The NY Times has the story.

For nearly a decade, Representative Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, has been dismissed by his critics as little more than an angry man with a microphone, a lonely figure who rails against immigration and battles his own president and party.

So radical were his proposals - calling for a fence along the United States border with Canada, for instance - and so fierce were his attacks on fellow Republicans who did not share his views that many of his colleagues tried to avoid him. Mr. Tancredo said Karl Rove, President Bush's senior adviser, had told him not "to darken the doorstep of the White House."

But last week, the man denounced by critics on the left and on the right suddenly emerged as an influential lawmaker. Pressured by conservative constituents angered by the continuing flow of illegal immigrants into the United States, Republicans rallied around Mr. Tancredo to defy the president and produce the toughest immigration legislation in more than a decade.

Mr. Tancredo and his allies fought successfully to strip the measure of any language offering support for Mr. Bush's plan to provide temporary legal status for illegal immigrants working in the United States. And he helped win support for provisions that once seemed unthinkable to many lawmakers, like the construction of five fences across 698 miles of the United States border with Mexico.

...With midterm elections looming,[Arizona Rep. Jeff] Flake said, many Republicans simply wanted to address voter concerns about securing the border.

"We weren't so much making law as making a statement here," Mr. Flake said. Mr. Tancredo's allies countered that his support from fellow Republicans was more than a matter of political expediency; they said it signaled a shift in the immigration debate.
[Emphasis added]

Whatever the reason behind the bill's passage, and I personally favor the the theory of the upcoming election season, the bill itself has raised a firestorm, and not just with immigrant rights groups. The US Chamber of Commerce is not happy with the bill, and corporate agriculture (which depends heavily on cheap seasonal labor to harvest crops from California to Florida)must be fuming.

What is especially noteworthy about the bill, which was passed during the "Merry Christmas" season, is its sheer mean-spiritedness.

The border security measure would make it a federal crime to live in the United States illegally, which would turn millions of immigrants into felons, ineligible to win any legal status. The bill would make it a crime for employees of social service agencies and church groups to shield or offer support to illegal immigrants.

The legislation would also require the mandatory detention of some immigrants, would withhold some federal aid from cities that provide immigrants with services without checking their legal status and would decrease the number of legal immigrants admitted annually by eliminating a program that provides 50,000 green cards each year.

What's next from Mr. Tancredo, racial purity laws?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Expert Opinions...

...paid for by K Street.

As a lawyer, I know that expert witnesses called for testimony at trial are usually nothing more than hired guns. Each party calls the expert that will support its side of the case. The tactic is not nearly as sleazy as it sounds because the opposition has the tool of cross-examination to pick holes in the expert's credentials and opinions. The jury, if it is paying attention, can determine which expert opinion is worth relying on in determining a verdict.

Unfortunately, readers of op-ed columns don't have quite the same mechanism to assist them. The most they can rely on is the little italicized section which 'identifies' the writer, and too often that little section is composed by the op-ed writer. An article in today's NY Times points out what can happen in this system.

Susan Finston of the Institute for Policy Innovation, a conservative research group based in Texas, is just the sort of opinion maker coveted by the drug industry.

In an opinion article in The Financial Times on Oct. 25, she called for patent protection in poor countries for drugs and biotechnology products. In an article last month in the European edition of The Wall Street Journal, she called for efforts to block developing nations from violating patents on AIDS medicines and other drugs.

Both articles identified her as a "research associate" at the institute. Neither mentioned that, as recently as August, Ms. Finston was registered as a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry's trade group. Nor was there mention of her work this fall in creating the American Bioindustry Alliance, a group underwritten largely by drug companies.

The institute says Ms. Finston's ties to industry should not have prevented her from writing about those issues. Nor is there a conflict, it says, in the work of Merrill Matthews Jr., who writes for major newspapers advocating policies promoted by the insurance industry even though he is a registered lobbyist for a separate group backed by it. "Lobbying is not a four-letter word," said the institute's president, Tom Giovanetti.

The issue of whether supposedly independent writers and researchers are having their work underwritten - directly or indirectly - by lobbyists and other special interests is hardly new.

But the payments by Mr. Abramoff and a closer review of the work of the Institute for Policy Innovation, a group founded in 1987 by a former House Republican leader, Dick Armey of Texas, are evidence that the ties may be much closer than research organizations, conservative and liberal, would prefer to admit.
[Emphasis added]

I'm not suggesting that Susan Finston has no right to write a column expressing an opinion on the need for protecting drug patents. I just think it would be helpful if the editors of newspapers and magazines let the readers know that Ms. Finston has direct financial ties to the drug industry and its lobbying mechanism. It would give the reader, sympathetic or not, some clue as to the potential bias of the writer.

That doesn't seem too much to ask, does it?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Happy Freakin' Holidays

In their rush to get home for the holiday break, senators found enough spine to defeat the amendment to a spending bill which would open up the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, but they couldn't find enough spine to defeat the Patriot Act-2005. According to the NY Times, a last minute 'deal' was struck extending the current act for six months.

With time running short on Capitol Hill, the Senate breathed new life late Wednesday night into the moribund USA Patriot Act, agreeing to extend it by six months. President Bush said he appreciated the move, but it was unclear if the House would approve it.

"No one should be allowed to block the Patriot Act," Mr. Bush said in a statement, referring to a bipartisan coalition of senators who last week derailed a measure to update the act, the nation's main antiterrorism law.

...Senators on both sides of the debate seemed to agree that some form of the antiterrorism law was necessary, but they differed deeply on how much latitude the government should have in searching homes and obtaining business, medical and library records of terrorism suspects.

"What we're trying to do is achieve a balanced and effective Patriot Act, one that promotes our security and preserves our freedom, a bill that's going to earn and deserve the widespread support of the American people," said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who led the filibuster and pushed for the extension.
[Emphasis added]

You would think that with all the media ink spilled on the latest revelations of government spying on its own citizens without any Constitutionally guaranteed oversight that the Senate would have had the ideal argument against allowing further intrusions into our civil liberties. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

All sixteen of the sunsetted provisions should have been allowed to expire and the congress should have started from scratch next year when Congress reconvened in the midst of hearings on the NSA activity. That would have put the Patriot Act in the proper perspective. Still, I suppose a six month extension is better than a ten year extension on some of the most egregiously intrusive provisions.

What galls me the most is the arrogance of the White House in demanding the bill be passed. "No one should be allowed to block the Patriot Act." I'm sorry, Mr. Resident: that is precisely the role Congress was meant to take on bad bills. You may feel the Constitution is just a piece of paper, but real patriots feel otherwise.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Enlarging the White House

The NY Times is on a roll. Last Friday (a year late) it broke the story on NSA eavesdropping on telephone calls made or received in the US. Since then, it has published almost a story a day on the White House's spying on Americans. Today's story deals with the fact that contrary to assertions by the White House and the NSA, some of the eavesdropping was on calls that were totally domestic.

A surveillance program approved by President Bush to conduct eavesdropping without warrants has captured what are purely domestic communications in some cases, despite a requirement by the White House that one end of the intercepted conversations take place on foreign soil, officials say.

The officials say the National Security Agency's interception of a small number of communications between people within the United States was apparently accidental, and was caused by technical glitches at the National Security Agency in determining whether a communication was in fact "international."

Telecommunications experts say the issue points up troubling logistical questions about the program. At a time when communications networks are increasingly globalized, it is sometimes difficult even for the N.S.A. to determine whether someone is inside or outside the United States when making a cellphone call or sending an e-mail message. As a result, people that the security agency may think are outside the United States are actually on American soil.

...questions about the legal and operational oversight of the program last year prompted the administration to suspend aspects of it temporarily and put in place tighter restrictions on the procedures used to focus on suspects, said people with knowledge of the program. The judge who oversees the secret court that authorizes intelligence warrants - and which has been largely bypassed by the program - also raised concerns about aspects of the program.
[Emphasis added]

It seems to me that one of two things is going on here. Either the NSA, which has bragged at how careful it is and how sophisticated it is, really doesn't have the tech savvy to ensure that only international communications are monitored; or the NSA is intentionally not being too careful about the calls having an international nexus. Whichever is going on, the results are distressingly the same. People on US soil are being spied upon by their own government without any Constitutional restraints.

Buried within the story is what I think an interesting analysis of what is really going on here:

Vice President Dick Cheney entered the debate over the legality of the program on Tuesday, casting the program as part of the administration's efforts to assert broader presidential powers. [Emphasis added]

And that is the most frightening of all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Oh, The Humanity!

Sometimes you just have to read newspapers published outside the US to find some really good news. One of the posters at Eschaton pointed us to this article in the Scotsman.

THE upmarket tourists and their luxury yachts that once swarmed the idyllic Marina Hemingway complex in Havana now find everything is booked out for months ahead. More than a dozen Havana hotels have been temporarily closed to tourists.

The reason is not a political crisis but a massive influx of a different kind of visitor to Cuba as Venezuela's petro-dollars fund "Operation Miracle" - a remarkable undertaking to take planeloads of the poor to Cuba for eye-surgery.

...Since July 25, more than 3,000 people from ten Caribbean countries have had eye operations in Cuba funded by oil-rich Venezuela. Other patients from Central and South America bring the total to 100,000 free eye operations this year.

...But one of Castro's most respected achievements is the establishment of a comprehensive health system producing one doctor for every 170 people, compared to 188 in the US and 250 in the UK. Teams of Cuban doctors assess applicants for eye surgery before sending patients to Havana on special flights from ten Caribbean countries and more than 15 Latin American nations. On August 20, Cuba achieved what is almost certainly a world record - performing 1,648 eye operations at 20 hospitals in a single day.

All flights, accommodation and food are funded by the Venezuelan government as a result of various trade agreements. Cuba has been paying for vital shipments of 90,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil a day by helping President Chavez establish a free national health service in his country with the aid of 17,000 Cuban health professionals.

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are two of George Bush's least favorite people. Of course, both men have enjoyed poking at Mr. Bush with a stick at every opportunity, most recently at the Free Trade Talks with Latin America that got almost nothing accomplished. Given the not so subtle attempts at undermining their presidencies by the Bush regime, one can hardly blame them.

Our media tends to protray both Castro and Chavez as clowns and dictators, even when generous offers are made to the American people by these neighbors. Chavez offered cheap heating oil to the US in anticipation of high heating costs. Castro offered 1,500 medical professionals to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. Our administration just sneered at the thought of "third-rate nations" offering their assistance.

Well, these "third rate" nations are providing health care to all of their people, something the US apparently is incapable of doing. It's unfortunate that our media isn't up to covering these kind of stories.

Monday, December 19, 2005

More Cops Than Robbers

There are more people watching Americans than we thought. Way more. The big revelation on Friday was that the National Security Agency was eavesdropping on citizen telephone conversations without a warrant. Today, we have confirmation that the Defense Department is keeping an eye on us as well, holding the Posse Comitatus law to be as outdated as the US Constitution. Walter Pincus's story in the Washington Post indicates not only is the Pentagon spying on us, it is doing so without Congressional oversight.

The Pentagon's newest counterterrorism agency, charged with protecting military facilities and personnel wherever they are, is carrying out intelligence collection, analysis and operations within the United States and abroad, according to a Pentagon fact sheet on the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, provided to The Washington Post.

CIFA is a three-year-old agency whose size and budget remain secret. It has grown from an agency that coordinated policy and oversaw the counterintelligence activities of units within the military services and Pentagon agencies to an analytic and operational organization with nine directorates and ever-widening authority.

Its Directorate of Field Activities (DX) "assists in preserving the most critical defense assets, disrupting adversaries and helping control the intelligence domain," the fact sheet said. Those roles can range from running roving patrols around military bases and facilities to surveillance of potentially threatening people or organizations inside the United States. The DX also provides "on-site, real time . . . support in hostile areas worldwide to protect both U.S. and host nation personnel from a variety of threats," the fact sheet said.

...CIFA manages the Pentagon database that includes Talon reports, consisting of raw, unverified information picked up by the military services on suspicious activities that could involve terrorist threats. The Pentagon acknowledged last week that the Talon database contained reports on peaceful civilian protests and demonstrations that should have been purged long ago under Defense Department regulations.

...A former senior Pentagon intelligence official, familiar with CIFA, said yesterday, "They started with force protection from terrorists, but when you go down that road, you soon are into everything . . . where terrorists get their money, who they see, who they deal with."

He added, noting that there had been no congressional oversight of CIFA, that the Defense Department is "too big, too rich an organization and should not be left unfettered. They rush in where there is a vacuum."
[Emphasis added]

One of the findings of the 9/11 Commission was that there was no integration of intelligence findings and analysis. Because of certain regulations on the books, the CIA was not allowed to talk to the FBI (and vice versa) and the result was that knowledge about Al Qaeda operatives in the US didn't get to the right people.The Patriot Act and other post-9/11 laws were supposed to fix that. I somehow doubt that with the proliferation of federal agencies now engaged in domestic spying any such integration is going on. In fact, because of the sheer numbers of people watching US citizens, that integration may not even be possible.

More importantly, however, is that without Congressional oversight, the Pentagon is now watching us. Peaceful anti-war demonstrators exercising their constitutional rights are filmed by the Pentagon which now admits that they are not removing such reports from their records even after they discover the actions are protected.

I guess the current regime has learned something from history. Unfortunately for us, what it has learned is from the Soviet Union on how to control the civilian population.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Some Dusty Old But Still Unused Documents

So, after the revelation that the NSA has been spying on US citizens without even the prefunctory whiff of judicial review had put a large segment of the political community in an uproar, the Resident used his Saturday morning radio address to reassure America on the issue. The reassurance? "Yes, I did it, but I did it for you, America." Left unspoken was the rest of the sentence, "...and what are you losers going to do about it."

Well, I've been thinking long and hard about that. I rummaged though some old mental and electronic drawers, and I finally found some stuff that folks about thirty or so years ago were working on. They tied things up real pretty, but then never got to use it. Maybe it will come in handy right now.

Articles of Impeachment:

RESOLVED, That Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, and that the following articles of impeachment to be exhibited to the Senate:


Article 1: Obstruction of Justice.

In his conduct of the office of the President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, in that: On June 17, 1972, and prior thereto, agents of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President committed unlawful entry of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, District of Columbia, for the purpose of securing political intelligence. Subsequent thereto, Richard M. Nixon, using the powers of his high office, engaged personally and through his subordinates and agents in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede and obstruct investigations of such unlawful entry; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities. The means used to implement this course of conduct or plan have included one or more of the following:

(1) Making or causing to be made false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employes of the United States.

(2) Withholding relevant and material evidence or information from lawfully authorized investigative officers and employes of the United States.

(3) Approving, condoning, acquiescing in, and counseling witnesses with respect to the giving of false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employes of the United States and false or misleading testimony in duly instituted judicial and congressional proceedings.

(4) Interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force and congressional committees.

(5) Approving, condoning, and acquiescing in, the surreptitious payments of substantial sums of money for the purpose of obtaining the silence or influencing the testimony of witnesses, potential witnesses or individuals who participated in such unlawful entry and other illegal activities.

(6) Endeavoring to misuse the Central Intelligence Agency, an agency of the United States.

(7) Disseminating information received from officers of the Department of Justice of the United States to subjects of investigations conducted by lawfully authorized investigative officers and employes of the United States for the purpose of aiding and assisting such subjects in their attempts to avoid criminal liability.

(8) Making false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a thorough and complete investigation has been conducted with respect to allegation of misconduct on the part of personnel of the Executive Branch of the United States and personnel of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, and that there was no involvement of such personnel in such misconduct; or

(9) Endeavoring to cause prospective defendants, and individuals duly tried and convicted, to expect favored treatment and consideration in return for their silence or false testimony, or rewarding individuals for their silence or false testimony.

In all of this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.

(Approved by a vote of 27-11 by the House Judiciary Committee on Saturday, July 27, 1974.)

Article 2: Abuse of Power.

Using the powers of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, imparting the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposes of these agencies.
This conduct has included one or more of the following:

(1) He has, acting personally and through his subordinated and agents, endeavored to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposes not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.

(2) He misused the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, and other executive personnel, in violation or disregard of the constitutional rights of citizens, by directing or authorizing such agencies or personnel to conduct or continue electronic surveillance or other investigations for purposes unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office; he did direct, authorize, or permit the use of information obtained thereby for purposes unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office; and he did direct the concealment of certain records made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of electronic surveillance.

(3) He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, in violation or disregard of the constitutional rights of citizens, authorized and permitted to be maintained a secret investigative unit within the office of the President, financed in part with money derived from campaign contributions to him, which unlawfully utilized the resources of the Central Intelligence Agency, engaged in covert and unlawful activities, and attempted to prejudice the constitutional right of an accused to a fair trial.

(4) He has failed to take care that the laws were faithfully executed by failing to act when he knew or had reason to know that his close subordinates endeavored to impede and frustrate lawful inquiries by duly constituted executive; judicial and legislative entities concerning the unlawful entry into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, and the cover-up thereof, and concerning other unlawful activities including those relating to the confirmation of Richard Kleindienst as attorney general of the United States, the electronic surveillance of private citizens, the break-in into the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, and the campaign financing practices of the Committee to Re-elect the President.

(5) In disregard of the rule of law: he knowingly misused the executive power by interfering with agencies of the executive branch: including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Criminal Division and the Office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force of the Department of Justice, in violation of his duty to take care that the laws by faithfully executed.

In all of this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.

(Approved 28-10 by the House Judiciary Committee on Monday, July 29, 1974.)

Article 3: Contempt of Congress.

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of the President of the United States, and to the best of his ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, had failed without lawful cause or excuse, to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, on April 11, 1974, May 15, 1974, May 30, 1974, and June 24, 1974, and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas. The subpoenaed papers and things were deemed necessary by the Committee in order to resolve by direct evidence fundamental, factual questions relating to Presidential direction, knowledge or approval of actions demonstrated by other evidence to be substantial grounds for impeachment of the President. In refusing to produce these papers and things, Richard M. Nixon, substituting his judgement as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry, interposed the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, thereby assuming to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by Constitution in the House of Representatives.

In all this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore, Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial and removal from office.
[Emphasis added]

Oh, sure, it needs cleaning up and tweaking, but a little cut-and-paste, a little editing, a little fill in the holes, and voila!, a workable document. As the British publican would say, "It's time, please."

Time indeed.

The Allegedly Free Press...

...can be bought.

No surprise there, eh? I mean, Armstrong Williams sold out. And I think Judith Miller sold out, although probably not for money, just power, deflected or real. Her zeal in "protecting her source" in the Plame affair was as misguided as it was cynical, and the fact that the NY Times used her as a poster child for a Federal Shield Law for reporters was laughable. She wasn't protecting a whistleblower who wouldn't speak openly for fear of losing his or her job, she was protecting an administration who was using her to wreak vengeance on a recalcitrant truth speaker.

The NY Times is not laughing much right now as various Republican members of Congress and the Resident are calling for an investigation into the leaking of the illegal monitoring of American citizens' phone calls by the NSA (scroll down to "Absolutely Chilling") for a story the paper printed on Friday. This would have been the ideal case to push for a Shield Law, and the paper who gave us the Pentagon Papers could have made a good case for the new law. Even though the paper sat on the story for over a year, and even though the paper allowed the White House to "edit" the story, the news itself was sufficiently startling that it provoked a firestorm and caused the Resident to change his Saturday radio address to deal with the issue.

Unfortunately, it may be too late. The Times, like most of the press in this country, no longer has the credibility it once enjoyed. The press no longer emjoys the trust of the public. Too many reporters have become the news instead of reporting it. Judith Miller, Matt Cooper, Bob Novak, Viveca Novak, Tim Russert and a host of others have been reduced to panderers for the regime and they got caught.

They are no different than Armstrong Williams, or even the
latest journalist
to get caught selling out:

Also yesterday Copley News Service syndicated columnist Doug Bandow admitted accepting money from Abramoff for writing as many as 24 op-ed articles favorable to some of Abramoff's clients. Copley suspended the column pending a review and Bandow resigned as a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute.

I guess it's time for Atrios to call for another panel on bloggers' ethics.

A Different War

Besides the GWOT (Global War on Terror), we also have the WOD (War on Drugs, which is also global in nature, but didn't get the G when it was first initiated, so doesn't have one now). We're not doing so well on the latter these days, mainly because the current regime hasn't done so well in its dealings with Latin America.

Bolivia, the third largest producer of cocaine, is pushing back on the US's demands that it root out the coca crop, according to the Scotsman.

...Yungas, an almost inaccessible area, has become the country's main coca-growing area. The government allows 12,000 hectares of legal coca cultivation in Yungas, but real production is nearly double that and growing - explaining the 35 per cent increase in cocaine production last year from 2003, according to the latest UN World Drug Report, and consolidating Bolivia as the world's third-largest cocaine producer.

The US now seems determined to put an end to this situation, despite stern opposition from Evo Morales - a leader of the Chapare coca growers and favourite to win next Sunday's presidential elections - who defends the legalisation of coca for traditional uses such as medicinal tea.

A senior member of Mr Morales's party said the American embassy had told them Yungas was one issue the US would stand firm on. The US ambassador to Bolivia, David Greenlee, warned that Mr Morales' idea of legalising coca would have repercussions.

But Mr Morales refuses to budge. "We'll have zero cocaine but not zero coca," he told The Scotsman. "The US isn't really interested in cocaine eradication - it uses the war against drugs like the war against terror in Iraq, as an excuse to dominate other countries.

"The fact that it doesn't really target the demand for drugs demonstrates this."

Influential members of Mr Morales' party are even pushing to expel US anti-narcotics police from Bolivia.
[Emphasis added]

While the US arguably has a legitimate interest in ending the drug traffic inside the US, and stopping the flow into the country is one part of that interest, the current tools used to effect that interest clearly need to be returned to the tool box. Threats from an ambassador and bullying tactics from the narco-cops just aren't working anymore. The Bolivians, at least, have had enough.

Perhaps the US should stop building expensive fences at the border and start engaging in some old fashioned diplomacy in which a sensitivity to the role the coca plant plays in various countries in Latin America might be more helpful. Of course, that would mean the regime would have to start paying attention to more than the money that can be sucked out of the hemisphere into the coffers of US corporations.

I am not optimistic.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Price of Fences

This has been a very interesting week. Senator McCain held his ground and got the Resident to back off on his threat to veto McCain's anti-torture amendment to a military spending bill. The Senate refused to extend the Patriot Act which the Resident wanted in place before key provisions expired at the end of the year. Leaders of both parties are screaming for more information from the White House after the NY Times (finally) broke the news that the NSA has been spying on American citizens via a super-secret Executive Order issued by Bush (scroll down to "Absolutely Chilling"). Last night the House passed an immigration bill that clearly rejected the Resident's concept of a guest worker bill.

The first three items are great news because they seem to show that the Congress is finally willing to put limits on the White House. The last item, eh, not so much. The bill, staunchly supported by Rep. Tancredo of Colorado, is a vicious one, based as it is in what can only be seen as rank racism. The Washington Post has the story.

The House last night passed tough immigration legislation to build vast border fences, force employers to verify the legality of their workers and tighten security on the nation's frontier, but it rebuffed President Bush's entreaties to include avenues for foreign workers to gain legal employment.

The bill passed 239 to 182, with 36 Democrats joining 203 Republicans to vote yes. Seventeen Republicans, 164 Democrats and one independent opposed the measure.

The bill was designed to demonstrate to voters a new resolve on border security before the House adjourns for the year. But it also revealed deep divisions in the Republican Party between lawmakers who agree with Bush that a strict clampdown alone cannot work without a guest-worker program for noncitizens, and others resolutely opposed to any plan that would keep undocumented workers flowing into the country.
[Emphasis added]

Tancredo and his buddies are convinced that getting the undocumented workers out of the American workforce would be a boon to the economy and to the country. What he apparently fails to realize (or cheerfully refuses to acknowledge) is that large segments of the economy depend on the cheap labor that these immigrants provide. One of the big critics of the bill is the US Chamber of Commerce. Business leaders actually agree with union leaders and immigrant rights groups that this is a terrible bill.

What is shocking to me is that 36 Democrats voted for the bill. What is up with that?

But wait: there's more!

Under an amendment approved Thursday night, the nation would spend more than $2.2 billion to build five double-layer border fences in California and Arizona, totaling 698 miles at $3.2 million a mile. Another amendment approved last night would empower local law enforcement nationwide to enforce federal immigration law and be reimbursed for their efforts. [Emphasis added]

While Congress has been cutting the budget for medicare and the school lunch program, the House figures there's room in the budget for $2.2 Billion to erect a fence to keep the Mexicans out. That's one expensive fence at $3.2 Million per mile of fencing. I guess the high price tag is so that some Halliburton subsidiary can afford to pay non-immigrant workers to put the thing up.

Yeah, that's the ticket. After all, "fences good neighbors make," right?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Absolutely Chilling

Expecting good news two days running (scroll down for the "Two-fer" post)from the NY Times is foolish, I guess. Still, the lengthy article in today's NY Times is well worth the read, even if that reading is complicated with what should be arched eyebrows.

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.
[Emphasis added]

First of all, the fact that yet another agency has been spying on Americans here at home without congressional or judicial oversight is horrifying, especially in light of the revelation this week that the Pentagon has essentially been doing the same thing. What is it about this regime that allows it to believe it can use every intelligence gathering organization (and there appears to be an endless list of such outfits) at hand to spy on us? The NSA is supposed to be gathering that information abroad, along with the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. Why the focus on us? Are we all somehow complicit in 9/11, which, by the way, changed everything.

But even more horrifying is that the newspaper that is supposed to be the leader in delivering news to this country, the newspaper that faced down another regime by publishing the Pentagon Papers thirty or so years ago, held back this story for over a year at the request of the regime and then allowed it to edit the story.

There is something dreadfully wrong with this picture.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Today's Two-fer Times Two

I don't know which surprises me more: Congress defying the White House twice in one week or the NY Times reporting that news in two articles in one day's edition. I will say that having both occur at the same time started this Thursday off right for me.

First, the Times reported that the House had a very non-controversial (albeit non-binding) vote on Senator John McCain's amendment to a military spending bill.

In an unusual bipartisan rebuke to the Bush administration, the House on Wednesday overwhelmingly endorsed Senator John McCain's measure to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners in American custody anywhere in the world.

Although the vote was nonbinding, it put the Republican-controlled House on record in support of Mr. McCain's provision for the first time, at the very moment when the senator, a Republican, is at a crucial stage of tense negotiations with the White House, which strongly opposes his measure.

The vote also likely represents the lone opportunity that House members will have to express their sentiments on Mr. McCain's legislation. The Senate approved the measure in October, 90 to 9, as part of a military spending bill. But until Wednesday, the House Republican leadership had sought to avoid a direct vote on the measure to avoid embarrassing the White House.

The vote was on a motion to instruct House negotiators, who had just been appointed to work out differences between the House and Senate spending bills, to accept the Senate position on the McCain amendment.
[Emphasis added]

Although the vote in favor of the motion (308 to 122) did not reflect the two-thirds majority needed for a veto over-ride, it was close enough to the mark that a veto is not likely by this image- conscious White House. McCain is now in a position to tell the White House that further negotiations on 'exceptions' are unnecessary. Hopefully, he will have the spine to do so.

The second bit of good news comes from the US Senate and is clearly related to the first.

The Senate is poised to approve a measure that would require the Bush administration to provide Congress with its most specific and extensive accounting about the secret prison system established by the Central Intelligence Agency to house terrorism suspects.

The measure includes amendments that would require the director of national intelligence to provide regular, detailed updates about secret detention facilities maintained by the United States overseas, and to account for the treatment and condition of each prisoner.

While the C.I.A. has provided limited briefings to members of Congress about the detention facilities, the information has generally been shared with only a handful of Congressional leaders, who are prohibited from discussing the information with their colleagues. The Senate measure would widen that circle considerably, by requiring the director of national intelligence to provide reports each 90 days to the House and Senate intelligence committees. Among other things, the reports would be required to address the size, location and cost of each detention facility; "the health and welfare" of each prisoner there, and whether the treatment of those prisoners had been humane.
[Emphasis added]

A vote has not yet occurred on this measure, but the article points out that it is on the 'unanimous consent' track. Although this tactic traditionally provides cover for vulnerable senators without the spine to vote openly, on this occasion it would have the effect of showing a united Senate on this issue. The White House would have to notice, as would the world.

This is getting to be a very interesting holiday season.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Department of National Confusion

I freely admit to having maintained my juvenile love for slapstick comedy. That said, however, I don't find the current regime's productions terribly amusing. In fact, I find it downright embarrassing for the nation.

In today's NY Times we learn that the Army is about to issue a highly classified addendum to the new Army field manual which deals with allowable interrogation techniques.

The Army has approved a new, classified set of interrogation methods that may complicate negotiations over legislation proposed by Senator John McCain to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees in American custody, military officials said Tuesday.

...The addendum provides dozens of examples and goes into exacting detail on what procedures may or may not be used, and in what circumstances. Army interrogators have never had a set of such specific guidelines that would help teach them how to walk right up to the line between legal and illegal interrogations.

Some military officials said the new guidelines could give the impression that the Army was pushing the limits on legal interrogation at the very moment when Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, is involved in intense three-way negotiations with the House and the Bush administration to prohibit the cruel treatment of prisoners.

The new manual, the first revision in 13 years, will specifically prohibit practices like stripping prisoners, keeping them in stressful positions for a long time, imposing dietary restrictions, employing police dogs to intimidate prisoners and using sleep deprivation as a tool to get them to talk, Army officials said. In that regard, it imposes new restrictions on what interrogators are allowed to do.
[Emphasis added]

The problem? Even though Mr. McCain's amendment to a military funding bill that bans cruel and inhumane treatment has been in the news for months now and is currently in conference committee to reconcile the bill with the House version (with the inestimable help of the Vice President, who wants the CIA exempt from any such limits on torture), no one from the Army has bothered to brief the senator on the contents of the new guidelines. This is a bit odd, especially since the senator's amendment contains language specifically tying it to the new Army field manual.

But wait: there's more.

During her trip through Europe, [Secretary of State Rice] made several statements about the administration's policy on torture, culminating with one in Kiev Wednesday when she said the United States prohibits "cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment" of suspects, "whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States."

She reiterated that in a truncated form on Tuesday but added that "we should be prepared to do anything that is legal to prevent another terrorist attack."
[Emphasis added]

Anything? I guess it depends on what the definition of is is.

The Three Stooges would be so proud.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Short Attention Span

The American media and current politicians have many things in common, among them the belief that Americans have short attention spans. The result is that Americans rarely see the ending of stories that affect us all. Plenty of ink was spilled for about two weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. The stories showed not only the damage caused by the storm but also the damage caused by the inept governmental response to the storm. A major city was completely wiped out, and we heard about it in detail. Since then? Eh, not so much.

Congress and the administration made a lot of vague promises to the Gulf Coast residents, many of whom are still living in hotels and temporary shelters, without jobs, without money. Not much has happened since those promises have been made. New Orleans, for example, can't really start the massive reconstruction required until the levees are repaired or rebuilt. While Congress found time to pass tax cuts to the rich to the tune of $75 billion, it simply couldn't find the funds required to do the work on the levees, which would be roughly half of the money given back to the rich.

An editorial in the NY Times comments on one tiny baby-step taken by the House of Representatives which will help alleviate the worries of those who are still suffering.

In the rush before Congress's holiday break, the competition for space on the legislative calendar is fierce. But before they leave the capital, House and Senate leaders need to hold a vote on a bill to bolster unemployment benefits for the people left unemployed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

To its credit, the House committee in charge of the matter unanimously passed a good bill last week. ...

The bill would also commit the federal government to extending hurricane-related unemployment benefits for an additional 26 weeks, if needed, when those benefits start to expire toward the end of February. We hope that many of the people who still lack jobs because of the hurricanes will be back at work by then. But if not, the least the country can do is give them the peace of mind of knowing that they won't be cut off.

The House bill to improve disaster unemployment benefits is utterly noncontroversial. But its lack of controversy appears to be a disadvantage. In the waning days of this Congressional session, divisive, headline-grabbing measures - like tax cuts and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska - are eclipsing bipartisan efforts.

The House speaker, Dennis Hastert, and the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, mustn't let that continue. Using special procedures for unopposed bills, both the House and the Senate could pass the House's disaster-unemployment bill by week's end, and the president could then sign it into law. There is still time to do this before Christmas, but there is no time to waste.

The extension of unemployment benefits and providing a floor for those benefits is only a temporary help and is clearly a drop in the bucket for what is needed. What passage of that bill might do, however, is remind Congress of the promises made to New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast, promises they must start keeping.

Monday, December 12, 2005

More Orwellian News

Yesterday, Atrios posted a link to a Kevin Drum article at the Washington Monthly site which contained some very frightening news about 'secret' laws on the US books which were so secret that a Justice Department lawyer refused to tell the judge what that law was unless the information could be placed under seal.

After getting my jaw back up into its socket, I followed the link that Mr. Drum used as the source and went here. The case in which this issue came up involves John Gilmore, who is suing the government because he was denied entrance on an airplane because he refused to show proper identification at the airport.

The libertarian millionaire sued the Bush administration, which claims that the ID requirement is necessary for security but has refused to identify any actual regulation requiring it.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals seemed skeptical of the Bush administration's defense of secret laws and regulations but stopped short of suggesting that such a rule would be necessarily unconstitutional.

"How do we know there's an order?" Judge Thomas Nelson asked. "Because you said there was?"

Replied Joshua Waldman, a staff attorney for the Department of Justice: "We couldn't confirm or deny the existence of an order." Even though government regulations required his silence, Waldman said, the situation did seem a "bit peculiar."

"This is America," said James Harrison, a lawyer representing Gilmore. "We do not have secret laws. Period." Harrison stressed that Gilmore was happy to go through a metal detector.

...On the courthouse steps after the arguments, Gilmore said he felt confident about the case and welcomed a verbal concession from the Justice Department. "I was glad the government admitted it was 'peculiar' and Orwellian to make secret laws," Gilmore said.

The Justice Department has said it could identify the secret law under seal, which would be available to the 9th Circuit but not necessarily Gilmore's lawyers. But any public description would not be permitted, the department said.
[Emphasis added]

In short, Mr. Gilmore was denied air passage because he refused to obey a law that was so secret that he didn't know about it and the court didn't know about it, and so secret the government's attorneys couldn't reveal its contents in open court.

Has Congress passed such secret laws? Initially I thought probably not. What is being discussed here is no doubt a regulation issued under an executive order, not that where the law came from makes any real difference. What was really troubling to me was that such a "secret" law could exist at all. Apparently it can. A helpful poster at Eschaton pointed us to yet another link which explains what probably is the basis for the secret regulation.

Thus, in a qualitatively new development in U.S. governance, Americans can now be obligated to comply with legally-binding regulations that are unknown to them, and that indeed they are forbidden to know.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service describes with welcome clarity how, by altering a few words in the Homeland Security Act, Congress "significantly broadened" the government's authority to generate "sensitive security information," including an entire system of "security directives" that are beyond public scrutiny...
[Emphasis added]

Congress is in fact at fault for this incredibly frightening fact of "secret laws" because it gave the authority to the current regime to issue them. Whether intentional or unintentional, the practical result is that we are now living in a country that looks amazingly like the one envisioned in Orwell's 1984.

Now how many fingers am I holding up?