Political MoJo

Teenage Embed Helps Convict CIA Contractor in Beating Death of Afghan Detainee

| Fri Aug. 18, 2006 2:45 AM EDT

Dave Passaro was found guilty today of beating Afghan detainee Abdul Wali to death, based in large part on the testimony of Hyder Akbar. Hyder is the young Afghan American whose memoir Come Back to Afghanistan recounts the first few years of the Karzai administration—in which Hyder's dad served as spokesperson and then governor of the Kunar province. Pitching in as translator to U.S. troops, Hyder accompanied Wali to a U.S. Army base to undergo questioning. Hyder assured the terrified Ali the Americans would treat him fairly. Three days later, Akbar returned to collect Wali's corpse.

You can read some background of Hyder's testimony here. Hyder's amazing series of "This American Life" episodes (produced by Susan Burton) can be found here. And you can read my interview with Hyder, in which he talks about the Wali episode, here.

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Sign of the Apocalypse (Or: Kerry's Running Again)

| Fri Aug. 18, 2006 1:52 AM EDT

Always ahead of the pack, John Kerry is trying to regain some political traction by sending out letters attacking Joe Lieberman.

So he's running. Need more evidence? Follow the money.

Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) is willing to use nearly $14 million left over from his 2004 presidential bid to narrow the fundraising lead of his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).His 2004 nest egg has given Kerry the luxury of focusing his efforts on raising money for Democratic candidates rather than worrying about money for his own 2008 Senate reelection race or about courting donors for another presidential run....

But using 2004 funds in a Democratic primary is certain to spark criticism from Democrats still angry that Kerry didn't spend all of his available resources to defeat Bush.
"The money is available. It's a loaded gun, whether he runs for president or Senate reelection," a Kerry aide said. "But Kerry's focus in 2006 is delivering for the party and getting Democrats elected, as evidenced by his aggressive fundraising for critical House and Senate seats and local races across the country."
Kerry's aides are highlighting the funds to dull the glitter of Monday's news that Clinton has raised $44 million for her reelection race against weak Republican competition and has $22 million in her Senate campaign's bank account.
Make it stop.

"There are No Hereditary Kings in America"

| Fri Aug. 18, 2006 1:12 AM EDT

The legal logic in U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's opinion that the NSA wiretapping program is unconstitutional may be weak, as some con-law scholars are claiming, but you gotta admire her flair for rhetoric:

"It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights…. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all 'inherent powers' must derive from that Constitution."

And even if her argument were airtight, would the GOP spin be any different?

Congressional Republicans quickly condemned Taylor's ruling, and the Republican National Committee issued a news release titled, "Liberal Judge Backs Dem Agenda To Weaken National Security."

U.S. only country to ban funding for clean syringe programs

| Thu Aug. 17, 2006 8:30 PM EDT

"Give Them Dirty Needles and Let Them Die" is the title of a new piece in AlterNet, inspired by a remark once made by Judge Judy when she went to Australia and was asked her opinion about the distribution of sterile needles to drug injectors to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.

In her report, author Roseanne Scotti maintains that the judge's remark is actually a reflection of the federal government's attitude toward the clean needle program. Opponents of syringe access programs, Scotti points out, say that providing such programs "condones" drug use. The fact that several studies have shown that needle programs do not actually encourage drug use are probably irrelevant to the opposition, who not only turn their noses up at scientific research, but who also oppose anything that they can claim condones a behavior they do not like.

This is not to argue that anyone likes the idea of drug addiction, but drug addiction is a reality. One cannot help but wonder whether Judge Judy and her followers likewise condemn Rush Limbaugh to a painful death, or whether they wish former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist had died of AIDS.

According to the AlterNet piece, the rate of HIV related to shared syringes is 4% in Australia, 6% in the UK, 17% in Canada, and 22% in the U.S. Even Iran has started a syringe exchange program. In 2002, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher concluded in his report to Congress:

After reviewing all of the research to date, the senior scientists of the Department and I have unanimously agreed that there is conclusive scientific evidence that syringe exchange programs . . . are an effective public health intervention that reduces the transmission of HIV and does not encourage the use of illegal drugs.

Satcher's conclusion was corroborated by the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Institutes of Health Concensus Panel, and the AIDS Advisory Commissions of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. However, the U.S. remains the only country with a ban against the federal funding of clean syringe programs.

Depends on what the meaning of "hoax" is

| Thu Aug. 17, 2006 5:05 PM EDT

Following in Al Gore's footsteps, earlier this month former President Bill Clinton launched an effort with 22 of the world's largest cities to cut emissions, a bigger move on the global warming front than anything our current administration has offered. Others, though, are taking up the reins including:

California Governor Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger is in talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair about trading carbon dioxide pollution credits.

22 states and the District of Columbia have set standards demanding that utilities as much as 33 percent from renewable sources by 2020.

11 states have set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

California has passed legislation mandating that automakers reduce their vehicles' carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2016 (10 other states have committed to adopt the same standards if the law survives in court).

As many as 13 states are working to get power plants to trade pollution credits for carbon emissions while cutting greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by 2019.

Meanwhile, Congress can't get it together to pass the Climate Stewardship Act which has been around since 2003. That one of the bill's pioneering authors, Joe Lieberman, just lost his primary, is a less than promising sign.

Global Warming a Hoax? Don't Buy it!

| Thu Aug. 17, 2006 4:15 PM EDT

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In case you doubted it, there are still those arguing that global warming is a figment of Al Gore's fevered imagination. Our local Contra Costa Times, for instance, ran an opinion piece the other day that began:

[Challenge] global warming hysteria next time you're at a cocktail party and see what happens.

Admittedly, I possess virtually no expertise in science. That puts me in exactly the same position as most dogmatic environmentalists who want to craft public policy around global warming fears.

The only inconvenient truth about global warming, contends Colorado State University's Bill Gray, is that a genuine debate has never actually taken place. Hundreds of scientists, many of them prominent in the field, agree.

Gray is perhaps the world's foremost hurricane expert. His Tropical Storm Forecast sets the standard. Yet, his criticism of the global warming "hoax" makes him an outcast.

"They've been brainwashing us for 20 years," Gray says. "Starting with the nuclear winter and now with the global warming. This scare will also run its course. In 15-20 years, we'll look back and see what a hoax this was."

Yes, well, the reason the guy's an outcast--if you take "outcast" to mean "disagreed with because holding views at odds with the overwhelming scientific consensus"--is that the vast majority of scientists disagree with him, on scientific grounds.

Anyway, more on the "hottest hoax around" from Mark Fiore. (Click on the cartoon to watch.)

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Monsoons, flooding and landslides, oh my! El Paso's finally an official Disaster Area

| Thu Aug. 17, 2006 1:53 PM EDT

President Bush finally declared El Paso County a disaster area, more than two weeks after major flooding hit his home state. The border city was hit with 15 inches of rain in the span of a week (including seven inches in one day), nearly twice the annual precipitation. Including in neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, more than 5,000 homes have been damaged and preliminary estimates put the damage at more than $100 million.

Flash flood warnings are still in effect and the Army Corps of Engineers has said that an aging earthen dam holding back 6 million gallons of water from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, could flood El Paso in as little as three minutes. Mayor John Cook told the El Paso Times, it would be "like a tidal wave hitting downtown El Paso."

Two years ago John Walton, a hydrologist at UTEP, tried to get the city, the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA to do something about the rapid development in arroyos and the resulting poor drainage systems in the city, telling top officials, "failure to address these issues could lead to flooding of homes and businesses during a large storm event." His pleas were ignored.

Federal Court Strikes Down NSA Wiretap Program

| Thu Aug. 17, 2006 1:40 PM EDT

A federal judge in Detroit has ordered the Bush administration to halt the NSA wiretap program, saying it violates free speech rights, protections against unreasonable searches and the constitutional check on the power of the presidency.

From the opinion:

This is a challenge to the legality of a secret program (hereinafter "TSP") undisputedly inaugurated by the National Security Agency (hereinafter "NSA") at least by 2002 and continuing today, which intercepts without benefit of warrant or other judicial approval, prior or subsequent, the international telephone and internet communications of numerous persons and organizations within this country. The TSP has been acknowledged by this Administration to have been authorized by the President's secret order during 2002 and reauthorized at least thirty times since. ...

"[T]his court is constrained to grant to Plaintiffs the Partial Summary Judgment requested, and holds that the TSP violates the APA; the Separation of Powers doctrine; the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution; and the statutory law."

Yale's Jack Balkin isn't impressed by the court's reasoning, though.

It is quite clear that the government will appeal this opinion, and because the court's opinion, quite frankly, has so many holes in it, it is also clear to me that the plaintiffs will have to relitigate the entire matter before the circuit court, and possibly the Supreme Court. The reasons that the court below has given are just not good enough. This is just the opening shot in what promises to be a long battle.

Bush's Summer Reading: The Stranger (?!)

| Thu Aug. 17, 2006 1:29 PM EDT

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Why would Albert Camus's classic novel strike a nerve, John Stewart wonders. (Click on the image.)

West Virginia school fights to keep painting of Jesus on the wall

| Wed Aug. 16, 2006 9:25 PM EDT

Some kids raise money to buy sports equipment for their school. Some raise money to help Katrina victims. At Bridgeport High School in Clarksburg, West Virginia, the kids raised $6,700 so that a picture of Jesus can remain on the wall. They had some help from the local Christian Freedom Fund, which raised over $150,000 to pay for legal fees.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Harrison County Board of Education two months ago because the presence of a painting, "Head of Christ," which hangs outside the principal's office, sends a message that the school board endorses Christianity as an official religion. The sepia-toned painting has been there for thirty-seven years.

Eigfht national legal groups with constitutional law expertise have volunteered to help the school board, and "You Can't Take Our Jesus Down" T-shirts were spotted at a recent public meeting of the school board. The plot took a new twist a few days ago, however, when school board member Mike Queen was asked by the West Virginia Ethics Commission to stop soliciting money for the Christian Freedom fund. Queen maintains that he contacted the board, and not the other way around, when he learned that others were interested in asking the board for an opinion on his fund-raising efforts.