Guess which beleaguered public official is poised to grab even more power—Alberto Gonzales. A hidden provision in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act allows states to opt in to a program aimed at expediting the federal appeals process for death row inmates. This provision gives the attorney general the authority to deny an appeal before it even reaches federal court for review. The attorney general's job is to present such a case before the court, not to decide it.

Sound familiar? There was another provision that was quietly slipped into the reauthorization of the Patriot Act granting Gonzales excess power. You know, the one that allowed him to appoint interim U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation? Shouldn't we be scouring that bill for more sneaky power-granting amendments?

And it's not difficult to predict what Gonzales will do with this newfound control over capital litigation. As gubernatorial counsel to Bush for three years in Texas, Gonzales advised him on 57 executions. Clemency was denied in all of them.

—Celia Perry

What a week. First Rove, now Dennis Hastert, who, until last year, was the most powerful man in Congress. As recently as January, the former Speaker of the House had emphatically denied that he was thinking about calling it quits. "I just think that was wishful thinking on the part of some people," the Illinois Congressman had told the local CBS station in Chicago. But now CBS says its sources "expect Hastert to announce he will not seek reelection next year."

It's too early to say why Hastert is calling it quits, and we'll probably never know for sure (I'll bet, like Rove, he'll be wanting to get in some quality time with the family). I'd guess Hastert might be tired of hearing about how he helped squander the Republican majority with his botched handling of the Congressional page sex scandal. And it probably hasn't helped that the scandal refuses to go away: the Rev. KA Paul, who was widely discredited even before Hastert discussed the page woes with him last year in a private meeting, was recently arrested in a Beverly Hills hotel on suspicion of "lewd and lascivious acts with a minor." Still, many in Illinois will be sad to see Hastert go, if for no other reason than his ability to bring home giant slabs of pork. While it's true that Speaker Pelosi is also sprinkling some bacon bits these days, at least she hasn't been accused of self-dealing. Hastert won an earmark for a freeway through the middle of nowhere, driving up the value of an adjacent property that he owned, which he then sold at a profit.

"Hastert was one of the key players in rewriting how business on the floor of the House of Representatives is done," says John Laesch, a Navy veteran who ran against Hastert last year and came closer to winning than anyone had thought possible. "The pay-to-play system that he and Tom DeLay created puts the people's business behind closed doors. I think that is probably ultimately what he will be remembered for in Washington, D.C." Laesch is one of three Democrats making a bid for the seat this year in the Illinois primary. What would he do differently if he gets elected? "Well," he says, pausing to think for a moment. "Everything."

When we live-blogged the glorious 2006 midterm elections, we posted a blog saying buh-bye to each nefarious member of the Republican delegation as they fell. Santorum and George Allen were particular favorites. Today, we've got a headstart on 2008. Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert will announce that he is retiring. It is unclear if his retirement is effective immediately or at the end of this session of Congress.

As the man who presided over the Republican House when it (1) whole-heartedly supported one of the greatest foreign policy debacles in our country's history, and (2) swung widely out of control in terms of corruption, graft, ethics abuses, and preying on congressional pages, Hastert leaves with a legacy tarnished. Awfully common these days.

The Newark mayor's office has raised more than $3 million for a state-of-the-art surveillance system within days of the slaying of three college students. The homicides, which brought the 2007 citywide total up to 60, inspired political foes to make friends and corporations to make donations, all in the name of mitigating the alarming levels of violence in their city.

Meanwhile, no such strides have been made in New Orleans, where in the first four days of this year, seven people were murdered. By Saint Patrick's Day, 37. With less than half of the city's population around, the odds of getting killed in New Orleans made it the deadliest city in America.

A few months after I moved out of New Orleans last year, someone was shot with an assault rifle on the very corner on which I stood waiting for the bus every day. Hopefully the situation in Newark will inspire a certain mayor's office on the Gulf Coast, too, in a city in which there have been twice as many murders—literally, 120 so far this year—among a population less tens of thousands. Hopefully it'll happen soon, before more good and desperately needed New Orleanians, evacuating from a different kind of threat, move out.

Behold, another super-cool gadget from Google. It's called Gapminder World, and it was developed by the Gapminder Foundation, which describes itself as "a non-profit venture for development and provision of free software that visualise human development." You can track almost any country in the world on a chart where you can make the x- and y-axes any one of more than a dozen development indicators. You can color the points differently based on region, or resize them based on population. You can see which countries are making progress and which are lagging behind. You can scale data logarithmically. Basically, it's the coolest thing I've found on Google in a while. That's saying something.

Just check it out.

— Nick Baumann

Yet another problem for General Petraeus and the American military to worry about: the Italian mafia is selling weapons to insurgent factions in Iraq. It just got caught trafficking "100,000 sophisticated machine guns." Wonder if that's in the vaunted counterinsurgency manual...

Mitt Romney is rich. So rich that his wealth is estimated to be between $190 million and $250 million. Want to know how he made all that money? Here are some of his current and former investments:

  • An Italian oil company doing business in Iran. (former)
  • A Chinese oil company doing business in Sudan. (current)
  • Philip Morris U.S.A., the world's largest cigarette manufacturer. (current)
  • A half dozen casino companies. (former)
  • Wal-Mart. (current)

There's enough in there to anger both the right and the left, particularly because Evangelicals are getting all worked up about Darfur these days. Mo' money, mo' problems, I guess.

Worth reading: Jay Rosen on how Karl Rove figured out that the national press would never cover the extent of his extremism and tactics. Rosen cites from Joshua Green's 2004 Atlantic Monthly profile of Rove:

He seems to understand—indeed, to count on—the media's unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove's skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media's unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others.


Meantime, the Weekly Standard is now playing Joseph McCarthy. Figuring in the same way as Rove that the press and polite establishment will never call them on the depths of their extremism and propaganda. (Remember "Case Closed"?) Which is why, as he relentlessly mocks and exposes this absurd and dangerous state of affairs, Atrios is right, a wise man, if not a Very Serious Person.

Dozens of Iraqi artists have been painting murals along miles of concrete blast walls throughout Baghdad, and the American military is paying a portion of the bill. To learn more, read this post on Mother Jones' arts and culture blog, The Riff.

The government concluded its case against Jose Padilla today. Gone is any real talk of the dirty bomb that Attorney General John Ashcroft made such a splash with just as the administration was taking heat from the 9/11 Commission for ignoring the warnings of Coleen Rowley and others (go to our Iraq War Timeline and look at June 2002). After spending 3 1/2 years in solitary confinement without access to an attorney, Padilla's been charged with attending an Al Qaeda terror camp, and thus being part of a conspiracy to murder. Via Reuters:

The main evidence against Padilla is what the government calls an al Qaeda application form bearing his fingerprints, birthdate and similar background. It was recovered in Afghanistan and says the author speaks English, Spanish and Arabic, graduated from high school and trained as a carpenter, as Padilla did.
It used a name prosecutors contend was Padilla's alias, and lists as his sponsor a man whose name was in Padilla's address book when he was arrested.
Padilla's defense is expected to argue his fingerprints could have got on the form when investigators handed it to him to examine after his arrest.

Attention trilingual journeymen carpenters everywhere: Watch your back! Now Padilla may have been an Al Qaeda wannabe or even the real deal. But it seems unlikely we'll ever get to the bottom of that given that

Padilla was held without charge for 3-1/2 years before being indicted in a civilian court in November 2005 on charges that do not mention any bomb plot. The bomb allegations came from alleged al Qaeda operatives who have said they were tortured during interrogation before being sent to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Anything Padilla might have told interrogators in the military brig about such a plot would be inadmissible because he was denied access to an attorney for most of the time he was there.

Just an update from the war on terror. You can find all of Mother Jones' extensive coverage of the Padilla case here.