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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Friday, 10 February 2006
Our Man In Paris: Visa, Don't Leave Home Without It (Or Don't Leave Home)
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Our Man In Paris: Visa, Don't Leave Home Without It (Or Don't Leave Home)

You had to assume this item from Reuters on February 9th would get some play in Paris - the French anti-globalization activist José Bové just got the Farley Mowat treatment. He was denied entry into the United States. As you recall, in April 1985 the Canadian nature writer Farley Mowat - Never Cry Wolf (which Disney later made into an odd little film) - was barred from entering the US ever again (discussed in these pages here). A bit of indignation over the Mowat case in both the United States and Canada played a part in a major revision of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 - in 1990. Most curious. Naturalist? Communist? Whatever. Think of Mowat as a beta version of José Bové.

What is it with these "nature people" that gets us all upset? They seem to be tagged as dangerous. Well, although both Bové and Mowat smoke pipes (danger of second-hand smoke), Bové is the far more dangerous - he doesn't just denounce globalization and junk food, he had a hand a hand tearing apart a French McDonalds restaurant (six weeks in jail in 2003, and yes, they do have those over there). He got a four-month prison sentence last November for destroying a field of genetically modified corn in southern France (he makes cheese near Roquefort, even if he went to UC Berkeley). Hong Kong wouldn't let him last December when the WTO met there. Unlike Mowat, he does things. (Yes, writing amazing books is doing things, but no one reads books anymore, even while eating alone in McDonalds.)

Here's what Reuters reports (without diacritical marks) -
French farmer Jose Bove, a prominent protester against genetically modified food and agricultural free trade, has been denied entry into the United States, officials of an event he was due to address said on Thursday.

Bove arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport with a valid U.S. entry visa on Wednesday afternoon but was detained for several hours and later returned to Paris, according to William Kramer, a spokesman for the conference.
So instead of speaking at the conference Thursday and Friday, he was on the red-eye back to CDG. That conference, organized by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute among others, was "Global Companies - Global Unions - Global Research - Global Campaigns."

Does that sound subversive?

The conference people called Immigration and Homeland Security, and told Reuters this was "ridiculous" and "illegal" and a violation of free speech. But he is French, isn't he? Reuters reports they couldn't get any comment from Immigration.

They should have called Monsanto, as what was on the agenda for Friday was Bové's address - "The Struggle Against Monsanto in Europe." Monsanto makes all those genetically modified seeds. They have the lobbyists in Washington.

Reuters quotes Sean Sweeney, director of Cornell's Global Labor Institute - "This speaks volumes about where the United States is in terms of free speech."

Not exactly. It says more about old line, the business of America is business. His entry visa may have been valid, but Monsanto matters more.

And things are getting tighter. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 - as revised in 1990 - has be trumped by Homeland Security with its TSA and the NSA listening to everything, and reading all the emails and blogs, and all the rest. (Reading blogs? Note a logon here - 06 Feb, Mon, 08:20:53 CIFAGB01.CIFA.MIL - this is the military domain - Counterintelligence Field Activity - so if you've logged onto the latest issue of Just Above Sunset they've opened a file on you too! Everyone wave!)

So how tight are things getting?

From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis (and born in Canada) -
PARIS, Friday, February 10, 2006 - As it so happens I will get to test the efficiency of the NSA watchdogs myself on Tuesday, 21 March when I am scheduled to arrive at JFK for a three week stay in the city. Especially since last night, when I watched a documentary on Arte-TV about how farmers in India are killing themselves because they've been ruined by using Monsanto's genetically modified seeds. Too bad Bové won't be there in person to spread the gloom.

In the Reuters story you may have noticed that Bové traveled to the United States after getting a visitors' visa. New Homeland Security rules call for passports containing biometric information, but the French don't produce these yet. As a citizen of a country in the visa-waiver program he must either have the new passport or get a visa. Most French, when confronted with this hurdle, change their destinations, perhaps going to Cuba instead. To get a visa all French travelers must apply to the US Consulate in Paris. Finally, even with a valid visa, costing about a hundred dollars, a traveler may still be refused entry.

Citizens of Mexico and Canada do not require visas. Neither country is in the visa-waiver program. Canadian authorities strongly advise Canadians to carry passports for their visits to the United States even though they are not legally necessary. According to the Canadian consulate in Paris the new 'e-Passport' is now available to comply with new US regulations. Application can be made in Paris but it takes a month for Ottawa to produce the high-tech travel document.

The deadline for the new passports was set late last year by the United States, and then the deadline was extended to the end of 2006 because nobody can comply. In theory the old style non-biometric but machine-readable passports are still acceptable for travel to the United States - which should mean that French travelers do not require visas for US visits.

My Canadian passport was therefore valid, but would have expired less than six months after my return from this upcoming visit. The United States effectively declares that all passports are invalid if they expire less than six months after a traveler leaves the United States. My Irish passport is valid until 2009 but I can't use it because it is handmade and looks fake. Another US rule says that new passports issued after a certain date are useless, so a visa is required. But the Irish are exempt from the visa-waiver program, like Mexicans and Canadians. Joseph Heller called it, 'Catch-22.'

Final Canadian government advice for travelers to the United States - 'Switchblade knives are prohibited, except those owned by persons with only one arm.'

En garde!
Will Ric get to the Big Apple, with that attitude? With the NSA logging the emails from Hollywood to Paris and back? With CIFA.MIL reading these words?

We'll see.

Ric also pointed to this item the same day from Nina Bernstein in the New York Times -
One is a second grader in Manhattan. Over the protests of his American mother, immigration officials have been trying to deport him ever since he returned from a brief visit to his native Canada without the right visa. Another is an Irish professor of literature invited to teach at the University of Pennsylvania last month. He was handcuffed at the Philadelphia airport, strip-searched, jailed overnight and sent back to Europe to correct an omission in his travel papers.

Then there are the seven Tibetan monks who were visiting Omaha two weeks ago. After their church sponsor abruptly withdrew its support, their religious visas were revoked and a dozen immigration officers in riot gear showed up to arrest them.

The details in these cases vary, as do the technical visa infractions committed by each of the foreigners. But they all testify to a larger issue looming on the front lines of immigration enforcement: how low-level gatekeepers and prosecutors in the customs and immigration system are using their growing discretionary power over travelers who pose no security risk.

Officials of the Department of Homeland Security have acknowledged that intensified efforts to keep out terrorists since the 9/11 attacks have sometimes led to the heavy-handed treatment of foreigners whose only offense was an inadvertent paperwork error or being caught in a bureaucratic tangle. In memos issued in 2004 and 2005, agency officials encouraged officers to use discretion and legal shortcuts to resolve such cases quickly, saving resources for more important tasks and showing the world a more welcoming face.

But immigration lawyers say the effort is not working. ...
It would seem not. The professor, John McCourt, a James Joyce specialist at the University of Trieste in Italy, arrived at Philadelphia International and he was soon off in handcuffs to the Montgomery County jail, along with another one they caught, Kerstin Spitzl, "a pregnant German woman who says that immigration officers abruptly canceled her visa, insisting that she was planning to violate its terms by working." She says that wasn't her intention, but people can change their minds, right?

Note this:
In Italy, Professor McCourt quickly fixed his paperwork at the American consulate in Florence, and returned to start his classes at Penn a week late. But in New York last week, where he spoke at Fordham University on "Joyce and Judaism," he said his experience had confirmed his European friends' worst fears about America.

"At the moment, America is easy to hate," he said, "So people say, 'That does it for me. I'm not going to risk that happening.'"
And so it goes. Of Kelly Klundt, the pregnant German woman, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, which is also part of Homeland Security, said the workload is heavy and "there are unfortunately going to be a few instances that do not demonstrate perfect discretion."

Who wants perfect discretion? Common sense would be nice.

But then, for those of us who live here there are other worries.

Remember the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798? (If not, the refresher is here.) Note this - a nurse working for the Veterans Administration in New Mexico is under investigation for sedition, after writing a letter that said some critical things about the war in Iraq, and about the federal response to Katrina. She was displeased. The letter is here, your basic grumpy letter to the editor. But they thought she wrote it on government time, on her government computer at the VA offices, thus the sedition thing. They seized the computer and it seems she didn't write it on the government's dime, so they're deciding what to do.

People want visas to visit here?

Posted by Alan at 17:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006 17:41 PST home

Thursday, 9 February 2006
A Day at the Beach
Topic: Photos

A Day at the Beach

Thursday is photography day, not a day for political commentary. That meant a drive west to the beach, to seek out the unusual.

The results are in two photo albums –

The Edge of the Pacific - as photographed Thursday, February 9, 2006, the very edge of the Pacific, at Venice Beach. The Santa Ana winds are blowing in off the desert and on the sand it's in the eighties just before noon. Late morning the shops are just opening, the dancing rollerblade folks aren't there yet, but the surfers have been out there in dawn, and the surf isn't bad. (Sixteen shots.)

Walls and Folk Art, Venice Beach, California - murals, architectural detail and general oddness, photographed Thursday, February 9, 2006, at Venice Beach. Tourists flock here for the madness on the strand - skaters and oddballs and Muscle Beach and all the little shops and strange food and loud music. Here are the details they often ignore. (Thirty shots.)

Many of these, and a few others, including the usual botanical shots, will be posted Sunday in the new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is the parent of this daily web log. There they will be in much higher resolution.

From the first album - love and madness on the edge of the Pacific -



























From the second album, this ominous fellow -




Posted by Alan at 21:14 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Wednesday, 8 February 2006
Connecting Dots: They're Laughing at Us
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Connecting Dots: They're Laughing at Us

Do these disparate items in the news create at pattern? All this below was reported Wednesday, February 8th, and there may be a pattern here.

Just Kidding, Folks!

Tom DeLay lost the House leadership. That happens when you're indicted for a crime, particularly a felony or two, particularly felonies concerning shady financial trickery. But those are the house rules. The Majority Leader must step down when that happens. Makes sense. DeLay had the rules committee change that rule last year, but there was such a stink they went back to the original rule. Oops.

Of course Tom DeLay is still a sitting congressman, as, after all, he's not been convicted of anything. He's up for reelection this November and thinks he'll win, in spite of polling that shows any hypothetical Democrat would trounce him. His ace-in-the-hole is that a hypothetical Democrat will not be running against him. The person, whoever it is, will be a specific Democrat, and thus can be demonized one way or another. Politics is specific, not hypothetical. You can't attack a theory, but you can destroy a real opponent.

But it is a worry, and the house Republicans are helping out. The news is here - the house Republicans leaders put DeLay on the Appropriations Subcommittee, as there was an open seat. This Appropriations Subcommittee are the folks who hand out the funding to keep the government running, and there was an open seat as one committee member is gone now. That would be San Diego congressman Duke Cunningham. You might have seen his tearful confession on television as he admitted that he did take well over two million in bribes to steer contracts to the folks paying him. He was sorry. He was sorry he said the charges were false and mean people were just picking on him. He asked for forgiveness. He resigned. He's gone.

Tom DeLay will take his seat on the subcommittee. The ace-in-the-hole here is this subcommittee is in charge of the NASA budget, and NASA's headquarters, the Johnson Space Center in Houston, is in his district. Very nice. But the subcommittee controls lots of budgets, including the Department of Justice, the folks investigating the Abramoff lobbying scandals. They could lose a whole lot of funding if "the hammer" does his notoriously convincing arm-twisting.

The Republicans are making a big noise touring how they will reform all the obvious corruption that's been uncovered in the last few months. But they're laughing at us.

Keeping Us Safe

A lot has been made of the story George C. Deutsch, the young lad who put the NASA climatologist, Hansen, in his place. No speaking engagements for Doctor Hansen if he's going to talk about global warming. Deutsch is twenty-four, and used to be an intern for the Bush-Cheney campaign. After the campaign they found him a slot as an information officer for NASA, not just riding herd on world famous climatologists, but also making sure the web designers were on track. The "big bang" entries all had to note this was only a theory, and God may have done something else to start the universe. Heck, the are four versions in Genesis, so one never knows. See "Dateline NASA" here for details of that tussle, and how Deutsch has to resign because he lies on his job application - he not only had no science training, which didn't seem to bother the administration, but he said he had a college degree and didn't, which did bother the administration. You can mislead everyone - from an excess of zeal or patriotism or your need for power - but you don't tell outright lies. Bad form.

Michael Crowley here tips off his readers to another odd appointment. One of his readers notes this press release from the White House the appointment of Nicole Nason to head the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Yes, fifty-thousand die annually in car and truck wrecks, and she will be the new "car-crash prevention czar." We're talking auto safety - structural requirements and features and all that.

Big deal? Crowley notes the official bio - liaison to congress for the Department of Transportation, and before that the same for Customs, but before that she was a press aide to Porter Goss, the congressman who now runs the CIA, and before that spokeswoman for the Republican effort to impeach Clinton. But the Washington Post adds more -
Nason, as assistant secretary of transportation, acted primarily as a lobbyist for the Bush administration in opposing safety proposals that the agency now has the responsibility to enforce, said Joan Claybrook of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. Claybrook headed NHTSA during the Carter administration.
Who set energy policy? Who better than Cheney and the executives of the big oil companies? Who sets mine safety standards? Who better than executives from the coal industry appointed there? The EPA? Don't ask. Now this.

Yep, they're laughing at us. Drive safely.

Employment Opportunity

Tim Grieve here that the federal government just posted this opportunity -
Assistant Civil Liberties Protection Officer: "The Civil Liberties Protection Officer assists the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in ensuring that the protection of civil liberties and privacy is appropriately incorporated in the policies and procedures developed for and implemented by the ODNI and the elements of the intelligence community (IC) within the National Intelligence Program, and in performing other statutory and assigned duties."
They didn't have one? But they do care about civil liberties and privacy, don't they? The Attorney General said so when he explained wiretapping citizens without warrants to the senators.

Right - and some of what you'd have to do here -
Develop or recommend changes to policies and procedures to protect privacy and civil liberties ... oversee compliance by the ODNI with legal requirements relating to civil liberties and privacy ... ensure reporting and related requirements are met relating to civil liberties and privacy ... review and assess complaints of possible abuses of civil liberties and privacy in the administration of ODNI programs and operations, and as appropriate, investigate any such complaint or information ... ensure that the use of technologies sustain, and do not erode, privacy protections relating to the use, collection, and disclosure of personal information ... conduct communication and outreach initiatives on behalf of the ODNI on civil liberties and privacy issues ... [and] congressional relations and public affairs coordination with media outlets and civil liberties and privacy advocacy groups.
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Somebody should do it.

Grieve fills in the history of all this - "The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 created the position of civil liberties protection officer within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Bush signed the act into law in December 2004, but he didn't name anyone to fill that post until December 2005."

Well, he did get around to it. The high-level position was filled some weeks ago, and now the assistant position is open for applicants. Apply by the 28th of course.

Yep, they're laughing at us.

It's Your Fault If You Took Us Seriously

As you recall, in the most recent State of the Union address, among other things, the president said we were "addicted to oil" and that had to end. Reduce the importation of oil from the Middle East by seventy percent in the coming decades! Switch to ethanol made from cellulose - from woodchips and magic switchgrass! Pull out all the stops! To the research labs!

The Saudis weren't happy and within twelve hours the Secretary of Energy was saying, well, the president was speaking metaphorically, and the switch away from oil was only offered as "an example" - as the president only meant to say reusable sources of energy were generally a pretty thing.

So how metaphorically was he speaking?

Everyone seems to be noting this - the National Renewable Energy Laboratory - the Department of Energy's "primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research" - is downsizing. Budget problems. They're laying off thirty-two people, eight of them research staff. The budget has been cut again.

He was speaking metaphorically.

And no one was supposed to notice this detail. But with hungry reporters and pesky bloggers on the net, things get noticed.

Oops.

Terrorist Nuns from Florida!

Not really. Just this from a Tampa paper - the nuns at Holy Name Monastery had their bank account frozen. The bank was helping out by taking the Patriot Act seriously -
The sisters say the monastery's main bank account was frozen without explanation in November, creating financial headaches and making the Benedictine nuns hopping mad. They were told the Patriot Act was the cause.

"I think the Patriot Act is unwise, let's say, and that if it happened to us, it can happen to anybody," said Sister Jean Abbott, the monastery's business manager. "I think people need to know that nobody is safe from, in some cases, really ridiculous scrutiny."
Well, you can read all the details. There was a mix-up with a missing Social Security Number on one check, and the bank reported that to the feds, and the feds shut down the nuns. Bills didn't get paid as checks bounced. Incoming checks couldn't be deposited. The feds say it was the bank's decision. The bank says that was what the feds told them to do. The nuns are mad, but it's all straightened out now.

We are told the NSA wiretapping is very narrowly done, and no one need worry about their privacy because they know what they're doing. No warrants necessary, no laws from congress necessary. These guys are careful and professional. You can trust them.

Items like this don't help that argument.

But what if the nuns had been terrorists? Or, really, what if they and the bank cooked up this whole thing with the help of some nefarious Democrats to influence the vote on the extension of the Patriot Act!

No. This was a screw-up, and predictable. Something like this was bound to happen sooner or later.

There's a reason a major studio is about to release the remake of the "Pink Panther" movie in a few weeks - with Steve Martin playing the bumbling detective Peter Sellers used to do so well. Something is in the air. Perhaps the White House will pressure the studio to delay the release till the matter of the extension of provisions of the Patriot Act is resolved.

But we do get the bad guys...

Our friend, the high-powered Wall Street attorney, with that office high over lower Manhattan, studied constitutional law at Seton Hall under the late Peter Rodino, who chaired the committee that voted to impeach Richard Nixon. Seton Hall is a strange place of course. They still have interesting faculty, like the law professor Mark Denbeaux, who, with attorney Joshua Denbeaux, counsel to two of the detainees at our Cuban prison at Guantánamo Bay, produced a new report, heavy on statistics, reporting more than half of the 517 detainees are not accused of hostile acts - they're mainly unlucky. The Associated Press story is here, the report itself here (PDF format, from Seton Hall University), and the Department of Defense raw data is here. Yeah, they're not making this up -
1. Fifty-five percent (55%) of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies.

2. Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% are have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.

3. The Government has detained numerous persons based on mere affiliations with a large number of groups that in fact, are not on the Department of Homeland Security terrorist watchlist. Moreover, the nexus between such a detainee and such organizations varies considerably. Eight percent are detained because they are deemed "fighters for;" 30% considered "members of;" a large majority - 60% - are detained merely because they are "associated with" a group or groups the Government asserts are terrorist organizations. For 2% of the prisoners their nexus to any terrorist group is unidentified.

4. Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies.

5. Finally, the population of persons deemed not to be enemy combatants - mostly Uighers - are in fact accused of more serious allegations than a great many persons still deemed to be enemy combatants.
That summary is from defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt here and she has much more to say.

There's this question - "If 92% of the detainees were not fighters, and 55% committed no hostile act, why were they designated as enemy combatants in the first place? And why are they still being held?"

Yep, just what is an "enemy combatant?" And we captured only five percent of these guys - the rest we took on someone's word or paid a bounty hunter for the guys. The are the worst of the worst? "We got the small fry. And we put them in a black hole."

Read Merritt for a tight summary of the details. This brings a whole new meaning to the words "close enough for government work."

Seton Hall no longer has Rodino around, but the young guys are onto something.

Our friend, the high-powered Wall Street attorney, with that office high over lower Manhattan, who studied constitutional law at Seton Hall under the late Peter Rodino, is also distantly related, on his mother's side of the family, to the late Rod Sterling, who created "The Twilight Zone."

Given that he might also want to read Jeralyn Merritt here - a discussion of why the McCain Amendment won't ban torture, but, in fact, may legitimize it. The amendment allows admission of evidence gained by torture into US courts, and the implications are curious. We'd be one of the few countries in the world to allow that.

Times change. We've changed.

So?

How does all this tie together?

The day all these items appeared, Andrew Sullivan - traditional (but gay) conservative, not neoconservative - said this -
I'm not a Democrat and don't think I ever could be, but here's what I'd say if I were in opposition right now. These guys are corrupt and incompetent. They have screwed up the Iraq war, turned FEMA into a joke and landed the next generation with a mountain of debt. We're for making the homeland safer, winning back our allies, and taking on the Iranian dictatorship. We're for energy independence, universal healthcare and balancing the budget again. Now, let Rove do his worst.

Hey, we need Democrats who relish the fight, not timid ones who cower at the prospect. Bring back the happy warriors. Please.
The day all these items appeared the New York Times ran this, a long item on how the Democrats just can't seem to gain any traction - they just can't seem to take advantage of all that's happening. They're all afraid to appear weak on national security. Rove has them boxed in. Criticize anything, suggest any improvement or better idea, and you're supporting the terrorists. And they buy it. Who knows why? They do.

Someone else will have to take up the slack. Thus this post and all the others like it on the web.

Posted by Alan at 22:42 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006 22:44 PST home

Tuesday, 7 February 2006
Something Is Up: Odd Doings Across America, and Around the World
Topic: Dissent

Something Is Up: Odd Doings Across America, and Around the World

What to make of all this?

Dateline Charleston, West Virginia

So what's up on the banks of the Kanawha River in the capital city? More on the mining disasters?

No, Tuesday, February 7th Charleston became one more front in the political war, and this time it was a matter of who really supports the troops. Our here in Los Angeles a comedy writer recently offended the nation mightily, when, in the Los Angeles Times, he suggested that if you have decided this war was a bad idea, and was based on manipulation of facts (either lying outright or the self-delusion of the righteous, born-again and Texan), then all your mouthing off about supporting the troops was illogical, as they were cheerfully implementing a policy with which you disagree. (That was discussed in these pages here.) As "the war a bad idea" and "we were fooled" are majority opinion now, as all polls show, this upset a whole lot of people.

And the ante went up in West Virginia, when the Charleston Gazette-News published an odd story. Who reads that paper?

Well, in this interconnected world, where just about every newspaper is online and you can use Google or any other search engine to find what you seek by combinations of key words, people with definite views found this story about First Lieutenant William "Eddie" Rebrook IV, a West Point honors graduate. After four years of active duty, the last six month of that in Iraq, he was really badly wounded there in a roadside bombing a year ago. He left the Army because of that. He was discharged through Fort Hood in Texas.

What's the story? The Army said he owed them seven hundred dollars for "lost body armor." He said the medics pulled the armor off when he was wounded, to treat him, and the last time he saw the stuff he was, according to this story, "lying on a stretcher in Iraq, his arm shattered." He says they burned it so the bad guys wouldn't get it. The Army says there's no record of any of that, and as there was no body armor - he wasn't turning any in - that'd be seven hundred dollars. The News-Gazette says he "scrounged up the cash from his Army buddies and returned home to Charleston last Friday."

But his mother was ticked off - as in "soldiers who serve their country, those who put their lives on the line, deserve better - 'It's outrageous, ridiculous and unconscionable. I wanted to stand on a street corner and yell through a megaphone about this.'" Did she contact the News-Gazette reporter, Eric Eyre? Probably.

She was no doubt happy this story was picked up all over, as were the folks at the Charleston Gazette-News, although all the traffic on their website crashed their server a few times, and it's unlike this is anything more that a "one shot" and won't make them a major news source.

But it got really interesting when John Aravosis at his Americablog posted this from Washington, DC -
I've had it with the Bush administration. Enough is enough. Now they're charging US soldiers injured in Iraq for their lost body armor. Enough is enough. We liberal folk may disagree with the Bush administration over the reasons for going to war and over how they're fighting this war, but one thing you'd expect no disagreement over would be the treatment of our soldiers. They fight for their country and they deserve some respect in return. And that means not charging them for their body armor because someone blew them up on the battlefield.

That's it.

This soldier had to pay $700 for his armor, and now is out trying to find work. He has friends who have faced the same cruel, ridiculous policy. Let's finally raise some cash for these guys and show the Bush administration how compassion really works.

I'm serious. I've set up a special PayPal donation fund. If you click the button below and donate, it will be earmarked with a special code so I'll know it's for the body armor fund. All the money collected, ALL OF IT, will go the soldier who was forced to pay for his armor, and if we get more than $700, I'll give him that as well to help him get back on his feet (he's now unemployed, and he says he knows other soldiers who have faced the same problem, if he wants, he can reimburse his pals who also had to pay for their armor).

I'm pissed. Please help.
He got more than four thousand in the first two hours, from nearly two hundred people - twenty bucks was the average donation - and closed the drive when there was more than five thousand. He's going to call the guy - "I'm going to suggest it might be nice to share the money with other service members he knows have faced the same problem."

But the Charleston Gazette-News reported this -
Now, Rebrook is sending out résumés, trying to find a job. He plans to return to college to take a couple of pre-med classes and apply to medical school. He wants to be a doctor someday.

"From being an infantryman, I know what it?s like to hurt people," Rebrook said. "But now I?d like to help people."
Medical school will take more than five grand, but it's a start.

Of course, all this was followed by a lot of the left taunting the right - you guys have your yellow magnetic ribbons on your SUV's but we actually support the troops. So there!

Interesting. And go here for information on the dozen or more Iraq war veterans running for congress or the senate, as Democrats, opposing the administration.

Something is up.

Dateline NASA

Previously people were a bit upset when the New York Times reported this -
The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.
That, from Sunday. January 29, was discussed in detail in these pages here, but there is now a companion story.

That is the story of George Deutsch - the same George C. Deutsch who put Hansen in his place. He's twenty-four, and used to be an intern for the Bush-Cheney campaign. After the campaign they found him a slot as an information officer for NASA, not just riding herd on world famous climatologists, but also making sure the web designers were on track. And February 4 the New York Times reported this - he instructed a NASA web designer to add the word "theory" to every reference to the Big Bang -
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."
It's religious issue? Whatever. The administration, of course, claims we are now in the post-Enlightenment era, having evolved (oops, wrong word) to the point where we see faith is as important as facts, or some such thing.

So who is this young man who now tells eminent scientists what is correct to publish? What is his background in science?

He has a degree in journalism from Texas A&M. That's it. Expect he doesn't (see this from February 7th) - he dropped out of college. He has no degree in anything. But he's the gatekeeper, making sure what is published by uppity scientists is accurate.

Well, it's not like Michael Brown at FEMA. No one died. It's only theoretical cosmology, after all. And global warming. If the State of Kansas can define science to include the supernatural, as they have regarding the teaching of evolution, religion gets inserted here of course.

Sigh.

We shall become a very odd country. The president in the State of the Union speech had some words on making sure America is always the technological leader in the world. Yeah, we'll design faith-based microchips.

The Times, by the way, follows up on George C. Deutsch, here, Wednesday, February 8, noting he resigned. His résumé did list "Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Class of 2003" - so he lied. That university in Texas says he never completed the requirements for a degree. It's a federal crime to lie on a job application for a position in government, isn't it? Oops.

Not to worry. They'll find someone with a real degree to keep religion in science.

Dateline New Orleans

What does one make of this? -
Shortcomings in aid from the U.S. government are making New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin look to other nations for help in rebuilding his hurricane-damaged city.

Nagin, who has hosted a steady stream of foreign dignitaries since Hurricane Katrina hit in late August, says he may seek international assistance because U.S. aid has not been sufficient to get the city back on its feet.

"I know we had a little disappointment earlier with some signals we're getting from Washington but the international community may be able to fill the gap," Nagin said when a delegation of French government and business officials passed through on Friday to explore potential business partnerships.

Jordan's King Abdullah also visited New Orleans on Friday and Nagin said he would encourage foreign interests to help redevelop some of the areas hardest hit by the storm.

"France can take Treme. The king of Jordan can take the Lower Ninth Ward," he said, referring to two of the city's neighborhoods.
Some might see this as humiliating - "Being a charity case is not a pleasant experience" - but it's actually pretty cool. If the administration isn't that enthusiastic about rebuilding New Orleans (too black, too funky, too odd, and never "middle-American" in any way), then maybe it gets its eccentric cosmopolitan nature back when the French and Jordanians pitch in and rebuild it. And the mix will be even odder this time, driving the white-bread Republicans even further up the wall. It always was a mix of folks from everywhere - was there a few years ago for a nephew's wedding in Houma where the bride's family was originally Lebanese but had been there for generations in the shrimp business - and this will make things even more a mighty fine gumbo. Heck, the restaurant scene alone would be amazing. Bring it on. George can have dull Houston and glass-towered Dallas, and the fresh New Orleans will have a MonoPrix for every Wal-Mart. Cool.

Dateline Mexico City

Another story about immigration policy? Not at all.

The idea is this this -
Mexico and Cuba criticized the United States on Monday for demanding that the Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel here order a group of Cuban officials, who were meeting last week with representatives of American oil companies, to check out of the hotel and leave the premises.

On Friday, the United States Treasury Department contacted the company that owns the Sheraton and warned them that they were violating federal laws against trading with Cuba by allowing the meeting to take place in their hotel.
What?

Here, from Jeanne at Body and Soul, is some commentary -
Cuban officials have been meeting with representatives of American oil companies to discuss developing oil fields off its coasts. Canadian, Chinese, Brazilian, and Spanish, Indian, and Norwegian companies have already signed exploration and services deals, but interest from companies like Exxon would have the added advantage of creating lobbyists against the trade embargo who have a bit more power and influence than most people against the trade embargo.

Here's where it gets really strange. The meetings were held in Mexico City, in an American-owned hotel. The Treasury Department contacted the company that owned the hotel and warned them that they were violating the Trading with the Enemy Act and the Cuban Democracy Act.

An agency of the American government is enforcing American law on Mexican soil. This is how we promote democracy in Cuba.

This administration has some real problems understanding the meaning of the word "democracy."
The hotel not only kicked the Cubans out, it sent their deposit to the Treasury Department!

I'm not sure precisely the name of the law that's violating, but I think the layman's term is theft.

The arrogance of this is mind-boggling. A country's sovereignty doesn't receive a moment's consideration. (Yeah, I know, what did I expect?)
Well, it is pretty odd, and as odd as the whole embargo on anything Cuban is concerned, most illuminating. Yes, there are a lot of solid Republican votes in the Cuban exile communities in south Florida - so no trade or travel ever with Cuba - but the OIL COMPANIES are being sneaky and doing an end run here. If you're a Republican, and especially if you're a Texas oilman Republican, this poses a dilemma - someone is going to be unhappy. If you break the embargo your oil friends love you, and the Cuban vote disappears. If you don't, Exxon-Mobile won't bankroll the next election campaign, and add to that they've got an army of natty lobbyists ready to call on everyone in congress.

It's kind of amusing. Exxon-Mobile is undermining our foreign policy, that trade and travel embargo that clearly will drive Castro from power one day. After almost fifty years it hasn't, but the concept is appealing. What do you call doing something that just doesn't work, over and over, believing it might work this next time? Yep.

As for the international issues, what are we doing stopping meetings of private firms in a foreign country? We can do that? And weren't Cuba and Mexico feuding not that long ago?

And then too, will we decimate that Alaska wildlife refuge for a few weeks worth of oil before we ever deal with Cuba?

Yeah, we'll show them.

Dateline Atlanta

Tuesday, February 7, was the funeral for Coretta Scott King, the wife of Martin Luther King. It was impressive - four presidents attended: Bush, Bush, Clinton and Carter. The current Bush said some nice things, as expected.

Unfortunately he was followed Reverend Joseph Lowery, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group King one led. At eighty-four Lowery, as Frank James of the Chicago Tribune notes here, had nothing to lose, so he let it rip.

"How marvelous that presidents and governors have come to mourn and praise. But in the morning, will words become deeds that meet needs?"

James says he saw the president say something then to his wife. He knew what was coming. This happens when you don't get to screen the audience.

The eulogy was in verse, and just fine, until it turned - Lowery spoke of the departed and said, "She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there."

A two-minute standing ovation. Bush looked uncomfortable.

That was followed by this: "But Coretta knew and we knew that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor."

More cheers, the day after the administration released the proposed budget - higher national security spending and cuts to most domestic programs.

Well, the next speaker was Bush's father, who knew Lowery from old battles over civil rights and domestics spending - "They used to send this guy to Washington and I kept score in the Oval Office desk. Lowery, 21 - Bush 3. It wasn't a fair fight." (See, son, the guy was going to scores some points so take it easy and don't do anything rash.)

Jimmy Carter was next. "It is always a temptation to forget that we worship the Prince of Peace." What was that supposed to mean? And the Carter brought up the way the Kings were targeted by the federal government in the sixties - "It was difficult for them personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping and other surveillance and, as you know, her harassment by the FBI." What was that supposed to mean? Yeah, obvious isn't it.

But you don't want to get this younger Bush guy mad. He's one mean fellow. There may be trouble in the coming weeks.

The right was appalled of course. Samples - I am so very tired of Democrats turning serious occasions into opportunities to bash Bush, Less Than Zero Class ..., Can We Have Some Dignity, Please? - and there was Kate O'Beirne on Hardball (video here, with comments).

Black commentator Oliver Willis here - "I'm sure the cons will get all hot and bothered over this denunciation of Iraq at the Coretta Scott King funeral, but they really need to stop pretending that Dr. King and his wife were apolitical people. They were progressive activists fighting against the closed minds of conservatism."

Sometimes your staff doesn't get to screen the audience and script the event, and you find out what's going on outside the bubble. Score one for reality. Everyone is not happy.

Dateline London

Everyone is not happy? Surely the Brits are still with us?

Well, not exactly -
The British government will today publicly defy the United States by giving money for safe abortion services in developing countries to organisations that have been cut off from American funding.

Nearly 70,000 women and girls died last year because they went to back-street abortionists. Hundreds of thousands of others suffered serious injuries.

Critics of America's aid policy say some might have lived if the US had not withdrawn funding from clinics that provide safe services - or that simply tell women where to find them.
But they died pure? Or something. Since 2001 we've had that "global gag" rule - Bush proclaimed it. Any organization applying for US funds must sign an agreement not to counsel women on abortion - other than advising against it - and they cannot provide abortion services. Otherwise, no money, folks.

The Brits on Monday became the "founder donor" of a fund set up specifically "to attempt to replace the lost dollars - and increase safe abortion services."

The Department for International Development and International Planned Parenthood also published a supporting report - an estimated nineteen million women will risk the consequences of an unsafe abortion this year, and seventy thousand will die - thirteen percent of the half-million maternal deaths each year.

International Planned Parenthood Federation will get money now. But you don't want to get this younger Bush guy mad. He's one mean fellow. There may be trouble in the coming weeks.

Dateline Washington

To add to all this, people were still talking about the Monday hearings where the Attorney General defended secret warrantless spying on US citizens, without any oversight by any court or congress.

You got summaries like this -
What we did was legal, or, in our opinion, could have been legal. Since there are arguments on both sides, we will rely on our opinion. However, we won't let a court decide the question, because then we wouldn't be able to rely on our own opinion.

We won't answer hypothetical questions about what we can do legally or constitutionally. We also won't tell you what we've actually done or plan to do; hence every question you ask will about legality be in effect a hypothetical, and therefore we can refuse to answer it.
Close enough.

But it was like that -
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy lost his patience during yesterday's Senate hearings on NSA wiretapping after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, for the umpteenth time, that he would not be able to answer a question because he didn't want to get into "operational details." "Oh, I'm sorry," Leahy said. "I forgot - you can't answer any questions that might be relevant." Leahy had seemed grouchy from the start. But after a marathon session that was long on theories of statutory interpretation and short on specifics about the wiretapping program itself - much less reliable assurances that the program is not being abused - it was hard not to sympathize with the senior senator from Vermont and detect in Gonzales' rote evasions and implacable smile a faint note of smugness.

Throughout the day, Gonzales did not stray from the explanations of the intelligence program already enunciated in the Justice Department's White Paper on the subject. The program targets terrorists and protects civil liberties. How does it select those targets, the senators wondered. Gonzales didn't want to get into specifics. How does it protect civil liberties? "There are guidelines, minimization procedures," he said vaguely. Could he make available those guidelines and procedures? Nope. "They're classified."

After outlining an expansive interpretation of presidential power, Gonzales suggested that in practice the best check on the executive is ... the executive. When questioned about what, if anything, the president could not do, he refused to get into "hypotheticals." The problem for the administration is that without specifics about targeting procedures and safeguards, any defense of the legality of the NSA's program is itself hypothetical. In a rare revealing moment, Gonzales said that the people who make the determination about whom to listen in on are "career professionals" at the NSA?eavesdroppers, in other words. They know better who should be targeted, he said - "certainly than any lawyer." But as Durbin pointed out, alluding to the Japanese internment camps set up during World War II, historically "career professionals" have made some pretty bad decisions about who presents a security threat. With the administration refusing to furnish Congress with any set of guidelines that eavesdroppers must adhere to, Gonzales' "trust us" assurances demand an inordinate amount of trust from Americans and from their elected representatives.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., conceded that the judiciary committee might not be the forum in which to discuss all the details of the spying program. But she pointed out that to date, the administration has not briefed the intelligence committee either. "You haven't let us ask the question, what is a link? What is an affiliate? How many people are covered?" she said. "What are the precise numbers? What happens to the data?" When asked about the legal standard that the NSA uses to determine when to listen in, Gonzales replied that the standard is probable cause but that he preferred the term "reasonable grounds." He glossed over the important difference between the two and when asked to clarify the semantic shift merely repeated that the standard is both.
And so it goes.

The day after the hearings, one of the senators who was upset, Russ Feingold, spoke from the senate floor with this -
The President was blunt. He said that he had authorized the NSA?s domestic spying program, and he made a number of misleading arguments to defend himself. His words got rousing applause from Republicans, and even some Democrats.

The President was blunt, so I will be blunt: This program is breaking the law, and this President is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program.

How is that worthy of applause? Since when do we celebrate our commander in chief for violating our most basic freedoms, and misleading the American people in the process? When did we start to stand up and cheer for breaking the law?
There's much, much more. Everyone is not happy.

But there is humor. Feingold elsewhere put it this way - "This administration reacts to anyone who questions this illegal program by saying that those of us who demand the truth and stand up for our rights and freedoms somehow has a pre-9/11 world view. In fact, the President has a pre-1776 world view. Our government has three branches, not one. And no one, not even the President, is above the law."

Well, we'll see.

These guys play rough, as shown in the big political story of the day, from "Insight," the magazine of Reverend Moon's hyper-Republican newspaper, the Washington Times - Rove Counting Heads On The Senate Judiciary Committee. The gist of this is if you vote against the president on any of these NSA matters, or say the wrong things, and you'll be cut off from the party. No money. No support. You political career is over. There's a blacklist.

Worried about impeachment? That's what the item says. Probably just a warning. They can't do anything about the eight-four-year-old at the funeral (maybe), or do anything about the Brits, and who cares what Jimmy Carter says? But they can get the team working together.

But then six hours after the unfortunate words at the funeral, this -
Representative Heather A. Wilson of New Mexico, chairwoman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, said in an interview that she had "serious concerns" about the surveillance program. By withholding information about its operations from many lawmakers, she said, the administration has deepened her apprehension about whom the agency is monitoring and why.

Ms. Wilson, who was a National Security Council aide in the administration of President Bush's father, is the first Republican on either the House's Intelligence Committee or the Senate's to call for a full Congressional investigation into the program, in which the NSA has been eavesdropping without warrants on the international communications of people inside the United States believed to have links with terrorists.
Something is up.

Posted by Alan at 23:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006 18:17 PST home

Monday, 6 February 2006
Question Time: The Attorney General Smiles
Topic: The Law

Question Time: The Attorney General Smiles

Each week should start off with a dramatic political event that sweeps all the other news off the table. Monday, February 6, 2006, we got that - a Watergate-style senate hearing with big issues, angry words, evasions, posturing - and, after the hearings, more of the same as the participants popped up on all the cable new talks shows with refinements of the big issues, angry words, evasions and posturing. The New York Times summary opened with this - "Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told skeptical senators today that the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program is legal, constitutional and vital to national security in a time of terrorism."

They were skeptical (some of them, even some key Republicans). It didn't go that well, but it was a fine day for political junkies and folks who think about where this country is headed - full of heated exchanges about the constitution and the law and who has the power to decide what they mean, and who doesn't. These are core issues, and the event made up for the dreary big story from the previous evening, the Pittsburgh Steelers winning Super Bowl XL in Detroit. (Even those of us born and raised in Pittsburgh were forced to admit it was a sloppy game by two teams playing badly, with bad calls from the officials - not an XL game but more of a S.)

Of course there was other Monday news. The Cartoon Wars became even more intense and deadly, as the BBC reported Four Killed In Cartoon Protests. Yes, that's a terrible headline with a badly placed modifier, evoking the film "Who Framed Rodger Rabbit" and all that careening through Toontown - but this is serious stuff.

See Christopher Hitchens here and his "case for mocking religion" -
As it happens, the cartoons themselves are not very brilliant, or very mordant, either. But if Muslims do not want their alleged prophet identified with barbaric acts or adolescent fantasies, they should say publicly that random murder for virgins is not in their religion. And here one runs up against a curious reluctance. ... In fact, Sunni Muslim leaders can't even seem to condemn the blowing-up of Shiite mosques and funeral processions, which even I would describe as sacrilege.

... The question of "offensiveness" is easy to decide. First: Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it "pixilated" the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be "offended" will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.
Hitchens, addressing all the threats of violence for what was published, argues civil society means that "free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient," and says it's "depressing to have to restate these obvious precepts," and of our government's tut-tut reaction says it's "positively outrageous that the administration should have discarded them at the very first sign of a fight."

On the other hand, a long item from Tristero at Hullabaloo argues this about the cartoons as a "statement" about the absolute rightness of free speech -
The events of the cartoon riots, in all their mad senselessness and fatal tragedy, reflect - epitomize - some of the worst but most virulently widespread presumptions of our time: the arrogance and shallowness of white boy moralizing; the maniacal self-destructive sense of sheer helplessness that descends into pointless murder, destruction, and horror.

As I see it, both the decision to commission and publish the cartoons and the riots that followed simply defy comprehension not because one couldn't predict the consequences but because one could, with depressing ease. Unless they come to their senses, the white do-gooders are gonna get us all killed in their crusades. And the recipients of all this do-gooding are gonna do the exact same thing when their fury at the do-gooders is cynically stoked and channeled into senseless destructiveness and murder.

In short, no more cartoon riots. No more cartoon editors. No more cartoon evil cavemen. And no more cartoon American administrations. It's time not to listen to what our gut says, it's time to give it some Alka-Seltzer and get it to shut up so we can think.
And on and on it goes.

There was other news - Bush Proposes $2.77 Trillion Budget, with the subhead "More money sought for defense, cuts in most other areas..." That's the plan. Big boosts for defense spending - and cutbacks for education and Medicare and programs for the poor and for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and for all the other stuff for the unlucky and "irresponsible." And Bush insists that current and upcoming tax cuts for the very wealthy be made permanent. The consensus seems this one will be hard to get through congress. Some of the unlucky, and many who earn less than five hundred grand a year, actually vote - and this may look, to them, like a plan somewhere between mean-spirited wrong-headed nastiness and sheer madness. Congressmen and some Senators face the voters late in the year, and even with clever gerrymandering and electronic voting machines they sense potential trouble. Will this fly? In the House, Tom DeLay is no longer around to twist arms, and, in the Senate, Bill Frist lost his mojo a long time ago. It's a story in the making.

And Iran is still there, seemingly on its way to building nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) late the week before referred Iran to UN Security Commission for some sort of action. Iran tossed them out, shut off all monitoring, dropped out of the nonproliferation treaties, and threatened sanctions, and we said diplomacy was necessary but suggested military action was possible. (Sounds familiar.) Wesley Clark explains here what the military action would look like - over four thousand precision bombings as all the sites are so scattered, and, where the sites are co-located with hospitals and schools, the insertion of special-ops teams on the ground for even more precision. No invasion. Norman Solomon here explains what happens next - regional war or worse - and says, given who's in charge here, and there, that'll happen. It's another story in the making.

The immediate story was the Senate hearing.

Of course, to set the stage properly for that, one should note this from Newsweek hit the wires over the weekend before Monday's print distribution, just a little something from the administration, specifically the Justice Department -
Steven Bradbury, acting head of the department's Office of Legal Counsel, went to a closed-door Senate intelligence committee meeting last week to defend President George W. Bush's surveillance program. During the briefing, said administration and Capitol Hill officials (who declined to be identified because the session was private), California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Bradbury questions about the extent of presidential powers to fight Al Qaeda; could Bush, for instance, order the killing of a Qaeda suspect known to be on U.S. soil? Bradbury replied that he believed Bush could indeed do this, at least in certain circumstances.

... A Justice Department official, who asked not to be ID'd because of the sensitive subject, said Bradbury's remarks were made during an "academic discussion" of theoretical contingencies. In real life, the official said, the highest priority of those hunting a terrorist on U.S. soil would be to capture that person alive and interrogate him. At a public intel-committee hearing, Feinstein was told by intel czar John Negroponte and FBI chief Robert Mueller that they were unaware of any case in which a U.S. agency was authorized to kill a Qaeda-linked person on U.S. soil. Tasia Scolinos, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told NEWSWEEK: "Mr. Bradbury's meeting was an informal, off-the-record briefing about the legal analysis behind the president's terrorist-surveillance program. He was not presenting the legal views of the Justice Department on hypothetical scenarios outside of the terrorist-surveillance program."
Ah, theoretical contingencies.

You see, the Justice Department and the administration claims the president has the authority to declare citizens "enemy combatants" with no appeal of that declaration (you can't claim a mistake has been made), to hold them without charges or council for as long as the Justice Department and the administration deem necessary, and to hold them with no communication with anyone, and never have a trial or hearing of any kind - and neither the courts or congress can object, as this in one of the plenary powers a president has in time of war, or in this case, in time of what everyone seems to think is pretty much the same as a war, given that "authorization of force" to deal with terrorism almost five years ago. Close enough. Now on the president's word alone, citizens can be selected and killed, as due process would not apply? So says the Justice Department's acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel. Theoretically.

See this - "...lettres de cachet were letters signed by the king of France, countersigned by one of his ministers, and closed with the royal seal, or cachet. They contained orders directly from the king, often to enforce arbitrary actions and judgments that could not be appealed." It's a fourteenth century French thing, but really made useful by Louis XVI - but then they had that revolution. But then Napoleon brought them back. Then on April 3, 1814, they were gone again. So was he.

They're back - and you didn't think these guys in Washington liked anything French.

Also to set the stage, the day before the Gonzales hearing on the NSA program, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, the Republican from Pennsylania set to run the hearing went wild (sort of), saying the administration's legal justifications for its warrantless spying program have been "strained and unrealistic" - so far. And he opened the hearing (see here) with the idea the administration may have violated federal law's "forceful and blanket prohibition against any electronic surveillance without a court order."

Well, CNN covered the hearing fairly - who said what - and Emily Bazelon offers Cowardly Lions: Congress talks tough to Gonzales - and then turns and runs.

The hearing was odd.

Gonzales said what everyone expected - congress cannot override a president's battlefield decisions, as the constitution says the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, so what he did was legal, as all the world is a battlefield now, even Akron and Tulsa one assumes, and anyway, congress told him to act as commander-in-chief of the armed forces when they overwhelmingly passed that "authorization of force" thing a few years back. So it's all "legal and reasonable." That was the whole of what Gonzales had to say - and no, congress could not have access to the administration's internal legal findings that this was how things were.

Case closed? Hardly.

Gonzales got hammered. No, the "authorization of force" in no way posited all the world is a battlefield now, including here at home - the administration asked for that and it was denied. Gonzales smiled. Everyone knows (he assumes) all the world is a battlefield now, including here at home.

Gonzales was asked why not use the existing law and get the warrants. He smiled - takes too much time, and not relevant anyway.

Why not ask for a change in the law if the NSA was using new techniques not covered in the 1978 law as amended so many times. He smiled. The law was not applicable here.

Why not inform congress of what was up, as required by law? He smiled. The law was not applicable here, and they really did inform a few people - not the ones listed in the law, but close enough.

Senator Leary - "No man is above the Law." Gonzales smiled - as that obviously depends on how you read the constitution.

Senator Kennedy said that Democrats and Republicans are "united in their desire to keep Americans safe" but suggested if it turns out that this warrantless spying program is ruled illegal - if a court is forced to throw out evidence against an accused terrorist because it was obtained unlawfully - then wouldn't we all be less safe? The question was blunt - "What if you're wrong?" Kennedy didn't mention it but two defendants actually charged with crimes last week filed motions for suppression of evidence based on the claim that the evidence was obtained illegally by the NSA sweeps. Gonzales smiled he said the administration wasn't wrong.

Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter - "There are a lot of people who think you're wrong. What do you have to lose if you're right?"

Gonzales - "Obviously we would consider and are always considering methods of fighting the war effectively against al Qaeda."

That's an answer?

Senator Russ Feingold had another axe to grind. Last year during Gonzales' confirmation hearing he asked Gonzales, directly, whether Gonzales believed that the president has the power "to authorize warrantless searches of Americans' homes and wiretaps of their conversations in violation of the criminal and foreign intelligence surveillance statutes of this country." Gonzales shrugged off the question then as "hypothetical" - but obviously Gonzales knew that was just what was going on at the time. Russ was not pleased - so he asked about that

Gonzales said, now, that of course the president had authorized "warrantless wiretaps" - but since he hadn't done anything "in violation of the criminal and foreign intelligence surveillance statutes of this country," asking about the power to engage in such a violation had been in fact a "hypothetical" question back then - and he told the truth then, and he was telling it now.

The guy is good.

Next was Lindsey Graham, Republican, South Carolina - if the administration thought congress somehow or other "implicitly" authorized warrantless intelligence work when it adopted that use-of-force authorization way back when, next time you guys ask for one you may not get it, as that was not what congress authorized - and anyway, where are the boundaries here - does the Constitution also allow the president to ignore that new McCain law that prohibits the United States from engaging in torture? Gonzales smiled - torture wasn't the topic, was it?

And on it went. The full transcript is at the Washington Post site, in two parts, here and here, if you really need more detail.

The best part needs to been seen, however. That would be here (Windows Media Player) and here (QuickTime). As things were getting underway, Senator Feingold said he wanted Gonzales be put under oath. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, good Arlen Specter, said it wan't necessary. You could trust the guy. Feingold insisted. Gonzales said he had no problem testifying under oath. Specter no oath, period - and it's not the decision of the witness - as HE was chairman. Feingold forced a vote, and lost - all Democrats voting for the testimony to be under oath, and all Republicans voting against that idea. The Democrats lost - they are the minority party, after all.

This was somewhat academic. False testimony to congress is against the law - very bad - but then, it's not the same as perjury (lying under oath) - which is really, really bad.

Specter - "This is really not a very good way to begin this hearing." No kidding.

The whole event might strike some, on one side of the national debate, as absurd, and on the other side, more than a tad ominous.

From that other side, note this from Digby at Hullabaloo (go there for links to all the supporting documentation) -
I'm beginning to wonder if the Democrats might not have some information that the administration has done domestic surveillance without a warrant. They keep asking. Pointedly. And Gonzales keeps saying that he isn't "comfortable" acknowledging the question.

It is indisputable that the administration has engaged in surveillance of political groups. We know this. It has been verified. We also know that they believe that political dissent gives aid and comfort to the enemy. The president says so himself.

Therefore, it is entirely reasonable to suspect that this administration would use this illegal surveillance program for purposes other than that to which they have admitted, particularly since they consider political dissent to be bordering on treason. This is, remember, an administration that has made a fetish of the politics of personal destruction. The gathering of "oppo research" is the life's blood of their political strategy and it goes all the way back to the Big Kahuna.

... Remember: Watergate was about bugging the Democratic National Committee. The "3rd rate burglary" was to replace an illegal bug that had been planted on the telephones of prominent Democrats.

The lesson of Watergate for the chagrined Republicans was that they needed to be more forceful in assuming executive power and they needed to be more sophisticated about their campaign espionage. This is what they've done.

Anybody who even dreams that these guys are not using all their government power to spy on political enemies is being willfully naive. It is what they do. It is the essence of their political style. This is Nixon's Republican party and they have finally achieved a perfect ability to carry out his vision of political governance: L'etat C'est Moi. If the president does it that means it's not illegal.
What's with the Louis XVI stuff? Is everyone seeing that now? But he has a point.

The there is this - you letthe firemen in when the house is burning but that's not what we have here now -
Taking the most extreme powers granted under emergency conditions - and interpreting even those powers as extremely as possible - the current administration has undertaken a vast backfill operation. On 9/11, they jumped to the very bottom of the civil liberties-limitation ravine and have systematically shored up, over the past four-and-a-half years what I'm now thinking of as Operation Backfill. For example, in the past few days I've run across repeated accounts of how they considered shooting down Flight 93 on the fateful day. Well, if we were willing to do that, the reasoning seems to go, what's wrong with torture, surveillance, killing without trial an individual suspected of plotting terror? Isn't granting the administration the right to shoot down a plane with a majority of innocent civilians aboard evidence enough that we can undertake namby-pamby warrantless surveillance? In other words, we already turned over, in our panic after 9/11, the right to do anything - anything - to protect us. Any objections we make now to lesser violations than loss of life (which we implicitly agreed to), the administration intimates, are silly.

Aside from continuing actions that are appropriate during an emergency - an attack happening this very minute - there's been a dilution and spreading of definitional terms on the proverbial slippery slope as well, making the slope not only steeper, but wider. Consider how we've gone from discussing a foreign terrorist piloting a plane to foreigners suspected of actively planning to pilot a plane to foreigners vaguely wishing they could pilot a plane into a landmark. And notice too the smudge between foreign and domestic, as well as the intentional blur from known terrorist to suspected terrorist to anyone who aids a terrorist to anyone who is "affiliated" with a terrorist (with "affiliation" totally defined by the executive branch), and from Al Qaeda to Al Qaeda enablers to Al Qaeda affiliates to people who mighta sorta kinda agree with Al Qaeda to American citizens who don't agree that the proper response to Al Qaeda's attack was invading Iraq (like Quakers).

What we are faced with is, as numerous observers have pointed out, is a perpetual, never-ending war, kind of a general war declared on "bad stuff" - bad people who think bad thoughts about America. This is declared to be an emergency situation, and one that will obviously never end because people will always resent and have bad feelings about the most powerful nation on earth, and thus the crisis is deemed - conveniently for the executive branch - eternal.

In short, this administration wants to argue that we will never, ever, ever be in a rational, analytical prevention phase, but more of one in which an arson unit is trying to come up with detection and preventive standards while the roof is raging on fire above their heads.

I'm not buying it.

Someone's got to tell Mr. Bush the fire's out and that what this country needs more than boogeyman visuals from its attorney general are firm, well-reasoned, coordinated, legal policies to ensure we don't catch fire again. Don't like the surveillance restrictions in FISA, Mr. Attorney General? Well, now's as good a time as any to offer calm rationalizations in front of the cameras of this country, using old, verifiable, truthful instances (the Brooklyn Bridge plot doesn't fly, Mr. Gonzales) or clear-cut, specific hypotheticals in which these "backfilled" rights violations should be legalized to spare us an attack. Then we can have a national conversation about what rights we're willing to give up in the trade-off for personal security. Simply relying on crisis-granted powers - and even those considered by most legal scholars as illegal - is not selling me.
This writer isn't buying it any longer. The question is, will more and more people not buy into the-sky-is-falling don't-think run presentation of the world right now? We'll see. There will be another day of hearings in a week or so. We'll see who's as unflappable as Gonzales.

As for Gonzales, he may be facing a post-post 9/11 world, not the world of 1784 in Versailles. This was a hard sell. If so, he should be glad he wasn't under oath.

Posted by Alan at 22:35 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006 22:44 PST home

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