Political MoJo

"Enough with the carrots. It's time for the stick."

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 10:44 AM EDT

Yesterday, as the Senate cleared the controversial detainee bill and the House passed legislation authorizing the president's warrantless wiretapping program (with some restrictions), a little-noticed bill moved the nation a step closer toward a reckoning with Iran. Passed by the House, and now making its way quickly through the Senate, the Iran Freedom and Support Act, which would reauthorize existing sanctions against Iran, stops short of calling for outright regime-change but states that it should be U.S. policy to back "peaceful pro-democracy forces in Iran" and "to support efforts by the people of Iran to exercise self-determination over the form of government of their country."

The New York Sun reports:

The measure specifically does not authorize military action, but in the same way the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 foreshadowed events in the Gulf, the latest bill may come to be seen as an upping of the ante with the Islamic regime — or a step or two short of war.

As Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who sponsored the bill, told the AP, "Enough with the carrots. It's time for the stick."

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Free Trade Love

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 4:17 AM EDT

Via PR Watch (whose other current endeavor is "The Best War Ever," a book exposing disinformation and deception around the Iraq War), this lovely bit on Seoul's efforts to promote the Bush administration's latest free-trade idea, a pact with Korea:

The "Korea-U.S. FTA Love Corner" established in the lobby of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in downtown Seoul symbolizes the government's belief that aggressive publicity would result in a successful FTA pact.

Response so far, reports the Korea Herald, has been "lukewarm."

Rwanda Abolishes Death Penalty to Get Justice

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 1:39 AM EDT

If there's any nation that should be thirsting for extreme measures against murderers, it's Rwanda, site of a genocidal rampage in 1994 that left nearly one million people dead. But the tiny African country's Justice Minister recently announced that the government plans to scrap capital punishment at the end of this year. It's less a matter of principle than practicality: many Rwandans suspected of involvement in atrocities are currently being held in countries like Belgium and Sweden that refuse to extradite prisoners if they face the death penalty. By abolishing it, Rwanda could gain custody of those prisoners and put them on trial, bringing "closure", as the Justice Minister put it. So far, the only Western country to have extradited suspects to Rwanda is - surprise! - the United States.

Why Did Bush Want the NIE Released When It So Obviously Contradicts His Happy Talk?

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 8:05 PM EDT

This kinda makes you wonder why Bush was so hot to get the full intel report out in the open.

Portions of the report appear to bolster President Bush's argument that the only way to defeat the terrorists is to keep unrelenting military pressure on them. But nowhere in the assessment is any evidence to support Mr. Bush's confident-sounding assertion this month in Atlanta that "America is winning the war on terror.''

While the spread of self-described jihadists is hard to measure, the report says, the terrorists "are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion."

It says that a continuation of that trend would lead "to increasing attacks worldwide'' and that "the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities.''

Cue lapidary quote from terrorism expert. "I guess the overall conclusion that you get from it is that we don't have enough bullets given all the enemies we are creating,'' said Bruce Hoffman, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University.

What to make of this? Either Bush truly believes that stuff about how we're an empire now and we make our own reality through action and wishful thinking; or he hadn't read the report, relying on "the filter" of Cheney et al., or he has entered a state of self-protective delusion. Whatever the explanation, the more important point is that the answer to the question Are We Safer? is pretty obviously "NO." So what to do about that?

Going Postal on George Allen

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 3:12 PM EDT

Here's an, um, unique response to the allegation that the young Sen. George Allen stuck a severed deer's head in the mailbox of a black family. "George Allen hates the U.S. Mail," according to Letter Carriers for Truth, which is proposing that the postal service go after Allen for vandalizing federal property, i.e., a mailbox. Or as LCT puts it, "This mailbox belonged to you and me ... the federal taxpayer ... and frankly I don't like it when people go around sticking severed heads in my slot."

Presidential Signing Statements Revisited

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 2:45 PM EDT

There's an interesting new report [PDF] from the Congressional Research Service (leaked to the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News) on presidential signing statements, a practice introduced by James Monroe and now used by George W. Bush to keep his fingers crossed while signing bills into law. CRS confirms the Boston Globe scoop that counted more than 700 examples of presidential pushback on specific legal provisions. But as the CRS points out, Bush's objections seem to be less about constitutional principle than the (questionable) assertion of presidential preeminence:

... the large bulk of the signing statements the Bush II Administration has issued to date do not apply particularized constitutional rationales to specific scenarios, nor do they contain explicit, measurable refusals to enforce a law. Instead, the statements make broad and largely hortatory assertions of executive authority that make it effectively impossible to ascertain what factors, if any, might lead to substantive constitutional or interpretive conflict in the implementation of an act. The often vague nature of these constitutional challenges, coupled with the pervasive manner in which they have been raised in numerous signing statements could thus be interpreted as an attempt by the Administration to systematically object to any perceived congressional encroachment, however slight, with the aim of inuring the other branches of government and the public to the validity of such objections and the attendant conception of presidential authority that will presumably follow from sustained exposure and acquiescence to such claims of power.

Translation: Dubya issues signing statements because he can. It's part of the big ol' executive power play cooked up by Cheney, Addington, Yoo et al. And as today's headlines make clear, in the absence of opposition, the power's there for the taking.

The CRS report also contains a couple of tidbits that hint at how the Supreme Court might line up if this issue winds up there: Back when he worked for Reagan, Samuel Alito argued for signing statements' "rightful place in the interpretation of legislation." And in a 1991 decision, Antonin Scalia heartily affirmed the president's "power to veto encroaching laws ...or even to disregard them when they are unconstitutional."


All of which raises a question that no one has answered to my satisfaction yet: If a president thinks a law is unconstitutional—or wants to puff out his chest at Congress—why not simply veto it? Or has Bush rendered the veto—like other bothersome checks and balances—obsolete?

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Al Qaeda in Iraq: Calling all Weapons Experts

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 2:44 PM EDT

iraqi_scientist.jpg

AP reports:

In a new audio message Thursday, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq called for explosives experts and nuclear scientists to join his group's holy war against the West. "We are in dire need of you," said the man, who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir — also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri — the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.

"The field of jihad (holy war) can satisfy your scientific ambitions, and the large American bases (in Iraq) are good places to test your unconventional weapons, whether biological or dirty, as they call them."

Very much apropos, check out this piece by Kurt Pitzer in Mother Jones about how the U.S. refused to secure Iraq's only real WMDs, its nuclear and bioweapons scientists, with the result that they're now dispersed and more dangerous than ever.

Nobody knows how many Iraqi scientists may have been lured over the borders into Iran, Syria, or beyond. Nobody knows because no one is keeping tabs. But several observers agree that so little attention is being paid to Iraq's scientists, the war may actually have increased the chances of nuclear capabilities proliferating beyond the country's borders. Between its unemployed scientists and the disappearance of large amounts of WMD-related materials from former weapons sites, Iraq now poses a nightmare scenario, according to Ray McGovern, who spent 27 years analyzing intelligence for the CIA and afterward cofounded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. "The danger is much more acute, both from the proliferation side and the terrorism side," McGovern says. "Before we invaded, there was no evidence that Iraq had any plan or incentive to proliferate. They didn't even have a current plan to develop WMDs. They just hadn't been doing it. Now, my God, we have a magnet attracting all manner of foreign jihadists to a place where the WMD expertise is suddenly unprotected. It just boggles the mind."

The Fine Print in the Military Tribunals Bill

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 10:23 AM EDT

The House passed the Bush administration's military tribunals legislation yesterday, which clarifies the rules for how terrorism suspects can be interrogated and tried, and the Senate is expected to vote on the bill today. The bill, which was rushed through Congress as the legislative session comes to a close, includes a host of troubling provisions. Among them, the bill, for the first time, defines the meaning of "illegal enemy combatant" and it does so in a very broad way. As The New York Times notes in an editorial: "...The bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted."

As The Baltimore Sun reports, this under-the-radar provision would also "for the first time legally endorse the fight against terrorism as equivalent to war," which would "give the fight against terrorism the legal status of an armed conflict." "Does it allow the president to basically define the war on terrorism as broadly or as narrowly as he wants?" Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat, told the Sun. "The answer is yes."

Another provision, dealing with the rights (or, in this case, lack of them) of detainees to challenge their imprisonment in federal court, would effectively "strip green-card holders and other legal residents of the right to challenge their detention in court if they are accused of being 'enemy combatants,'" according to the Boston Globe.

The part of the bill that worries advocates for immigrants most is the one stating that "no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination."...

In the original bill, the section banning "habeas corpus" petitions applied only to detainees being held "outside the United States," referring to the roughly 450 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. But in recent days, the phrase "outside the United States" was removed.

Yet another provision makes "coerced evidence" admissible in court proceedings "if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant," according to the Times. Further, "coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses."

And that's just for starters.

Hurricane W

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 1:32 AM EDT

Climate science censorship, Chapter MMCVIII: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reviewed the latest hurricane science and, like everyone else in the universe, has concluded that the data suggest that climate change is creating bigger and worse storms. But the White House, reports Nature (via the AP) feels the report is too "technical" and has blocked its release.

Nuff said.

Update: Whistleblower Sisters Sued By Their Company

| Wed Sep. 27, 2006 7:57 PM EDT

Kerri Rigsby and Cori Rigsby, the independent insurance adjusters who blew the whistle on State Farm Insurance's allegedly fraudulent practices following Hurricane Katrina, have been sued by a company that contracts with State Farm.

E-A Renfroe and Company, a Birmingham-based adjusting company, alleges that Rigsby and Rigsby broke the law when they turned over State Farm documents to an attorney. The Rigsby sisters also turned these documents over to state and federal authorities.They are now accused of violating the Alabama Trade Secrets Act, as well as breaching confidentiality with the company.