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Saturday, December 24, 2005

NSA Eavesdropping More Widespread than White House Admitted

Merry Xmas everyone. Or for the Bill O'Reilly lovin freaks: Happy Holiday's? Whatever floats your boat. Normally I would not write today, as it is a day to spend with the family. But at some point we all have to stop and say: WHAT??

I think we can all agree that this weeks revelation that President Bush had ordered the NSA to spy on Americans, whether international calls/emails or not, was shocking but not terribly surprising. We can all even agree that, regardless of the arguments for and against warrantless wiretaping, some Americans probably do need to be watched. But when is enough enough? The New York Times printed a story today that provides a lot more insight into the extent of the NSA surveillance. It seems that Mr. Bush and his administration have not been completely forthcoming as to the extent of the spying. What a surprise. I don't deny the fact that some of this information can be extremely valuable in the fight against terrorism. The problem here, though, is that there is a process to follow in these circumstances. White House arguments that the courts are too slow or the new technologies have changed the way we play the game have no validity when you take into account the fact that these warrants can be obtained up to 72 hours after the tapping has taken place, and in times of war, which we can qualify for now, the government has up to two weeks. This is a process that takes a few hours, so there is no excuse to not apply for warrants (unless the reason is to not leave a record of who they are watching, that might another story onto itself).

These procedures are in place for a reason, and that reason is checks and balances. You cannot allow the White House or any other institution to take matters into their own hands because the propensity for abuse in the absence of oversight is almost assured. Particularly this administration. The White House, with a major push from Vice President Dick Cheney, has actively sought to expand upon executive power at the expense of the public. With the occurence of 9/11 they have gotten a free pass for almost everything, and, where Congress should have done its job and kept the Bush administration in check, they went along with it and now they find themselves in a difficult position. What is to say that these current abuses will not escalate into full raids, searches, interrogations, etc., all in the name of National Security (the excuse for everything)? As of now we are a long way from that, but hey, we were a long way from torturing, and now we do (do not be stupid enough to think that we have not tortured some captives, if you don't think we have then you should probably stop reading this blog because I at least expect a reader to be somewhat informed about current events and be able to tell facts from political spin).

Expansion of executive powers of any President is a risk, but for this one it is a disaster. President Bush has definitely shown himself to be someone that will at times choose ideology over law, and rhetoric over logic. It is bad enough that we are hated around the world, that we are conducting two wars, that were are being spied upon, etc., the last thing we need is for our troops to suffer barbarous torture as retaliation for some acts committed under this Administrations watch. When does the time come for government institutions to become accountable to the people who elect them? Is it not time to ask The White House and Congress to rise to the level that this nation should represent? To stand for the ideals that we so proudly boast to the rest of the world, but hypocritically fail to uphold in our homeland? Right, if that were so, we would be a Utopia. We might as well dream on.

NSA eavesdropping wider than W.House admitted: report

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Stay The Course? What is in a Slogan

Stay the course! Stay the course! By now we have all heard the famous White House and a Bush favorite slogan. Stay the course means, I would assume, to stay in Iraq until the mission is completed (if such a thing is possible). But let's examine the appropriateness of the phrase. Stay the course generally means to keep in the same direction, no matter what, also meaning even if you are headed the wrong way. Stay the course? Even if you are headed in the wrong direction? That doesn't make too much sense does it now? Is it not more appropriate, and smarter, to use a slogan that is more restrictive in its interpretation, maybe, accomplish the mission (not mission accomplished), or reach our goals? These too at least do not lend themselves to a negative interpretation like stay the course can. President Bush has been repeating stay the course for a while now, and he still keeps on saying it. Do we really want to stay the current course the war is going? Or do we want things on the ground to improve and troops to hopefully come home soon?

Bush, NSA and Congress Amid Turmoil

The past few days have seen a strong uproar by the U.S. Congress regarding the alleged, and now confirmed usage of NSA powers to spy on Americans. The NSA, National Secutrity Agency, the most secret intelligence organization in the country, was authorized by President Bush to conduct surveillance on American citizens without court orders on more than thirty occasions. The New York Times printed the report this past week and an eruption of outrage resulted in the Congress. In fact, such was the uproar that the schedule vote to end a potential filibuster on the Patriot Act renewal ended in a flop for the Bush Administration. Several senators directly expressed that their vote had been swayed by the Times report. This, of course brings up the question of the articles timing, specially after the Times admitted that it had held off on the report for more than a year. Why was the report held? The Times says it is because the White House asked them to not print it for reasons of National Security (what else would you expect). The Times says that even with the printed report, they still withheld some information deemed too sensitive. I'm not suggesting that the Times timed the printing of the article with the Bush Administrations biggest success in Iraq (the elections) to thwart any good news, but it certainly raises some eyebrows. Let me also point out that The New York Times has been particularly hurt in the past couple of years. Beginning with the false reporting by Jayson Blair, to the skewed reports by renegade reporter Judy Miller, the Times credibility has taken a huge hit. Maybe they were thinking that with such an explosive report, if timed correctly, they could restore some juice to the wounded paper. Again, this is just a theory. I am an avid Times reader.

The Bush Administration initially declined to comment, but has now come out full force attacking the Times and staunchly defending its actions. President Bush angrily defended and justified his actions authorizing the NSA to spy on Americans. He called the Times irresponsible and accused them of endagering National Security. Bush also vowed that he would not stop using these methods to "protect the american people". The way in which the President came out swing very aggresively might end up hurting him, specially since he is viewed as vey arrogant. It might not be the best idea to come and say basically: I am the President and I can do what I want. A more humble approach and explanation of why he decided to use his authority in that way, and why he feels that he still needs to use it, could be more fruitful. But hey, the White House has been misfiring for months now, another misfire won't matter. Or will it?

Several members of Congress have called for an investigation, and Senate Judiciary committee Chairmen Arlen Specter has stated that he will begin investigative hearings early next year and that they will have top priority. The President might be in trouble in this case. Whatever justification the White House decides to use regarding the legality of the orders, they are most certain a violation of U.S. law. They might argue that going through the secret court takes too long, but that argument falls by the wayside because it only takes a matter of hours to get a court approved warrant. I am not going to say that it is not necessary to investigate Americans at times. Of course it is, but there are ways to do it and laws protecting these kind of actions for a reason. Who is to say that this particular order has not been abused by the NSA, or that it won't be abused in the future? That is why there are checks and balances, to protect us from the possible abuses by government organizations. This is a democracy, we should behave like one. No one is above the law, or is the law for that matter.

Bush Approved Eavesdropping, Official Says

P.S. Certain members of Congress cannot escape the fact hat they were briefed by the White House, at least on some of the activities being conducted. So they cannot act completely shocked and not bear some of the blame for failing to fulfill their responsibilty of oversight.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Delay Backed Texas Gerrymandering Case Goes to Supreme Court

Ever since I can remember the redrawing of district lines for the purpose of political gain has had a name: gerrymandering. And it is ILLEGAL for a reason. Gerrymandering dilutes the minority rights in a district. So, redistricting, a less inflamtory name for the redrawing of lines, is effectively the same as gerrymandering. That is exactly what happened here in Texas. Engineered and supported by Tom Delay, district lines were redrawn in Texas resulting in a gain of six congressional seats from the 32 that Texas represents. That margin effectively gave the Republicans a 21-11 majority in the state. I.E. political gain: 6 seats for the Republican party, pushed through by: Tom Delay, a Republican. The plan was approved by the Justice department even after staff lawyers concluded that the plan hurt minority voters. Since then, all opinion memos on similar cases are forwarded without an opinion or recommendation. Another example of the abuse of legislative power by Delay is the fact that the redistricting lines were drawn at a questionable time. Under the constitution, states are required to redraw their district lines every ten years to account for population shifts. Texas' was redrawn in 2000, then again in 2003 with Delay's proposal. That alone should point out the motivation and illegality of the proposition. That the Justice Department overruled its staff's recommendation and supported the redistricting is even more troubling, seeing that if they supported a clearly outlined case of gerrymandering, who is to say that another state might not try in the future... and succeed (point to fact, it has already happened, Georgia and Colorado took to redrawing their district lines). That is, unless the Supreme Court rules that the redistricting violated the constitution. The court will hear the case in April , so until then all this talk is moot. I will address the matter once again when the time is right, or when something of interest in the case happens.

Supreme Court to Review Texas Redistricting

Bush Fields Questions

In the past few days President Bush has done something that he has never done before: he has admitted mistakes, he has talked in front of a non-military crowd, and today he actually fielded questions from the audience. I give him two thumbs up for actually getting in the line of fire. But why should he get props for doing what a president should do? Shouldn't all Presidents answer to their people? President Bush is known for not being media friendly, and judging by his past performance I do not blame him or any in his staff for limiting his press conferences. Widely considered to be one of the worst public speakers to ever hold office (I do not mean this in a disrespectful way, it is just a fact), it is a testament to how things are going with the administration that they have to send the President to a press conference and actually field a few questions (which he hates doing). Still, the President has had it easy. He has not hosted a real pack of wolves. Indeed, it would be ineteresting to see Mr. Bush host the most aggresive reporters, those who will ask the tough questions. Oops, I forgot, that breed hardly exists anymore. One thing is for sure, whether the President performs well or not in the press conferences, it will be good for his ratings. They are at an all time low, and anything that remotely resembles an attempt to level with the public will benefit him. I think the public wants to hear from him, even if he mangles the english language or stutters more than he actually talks. It is good to see the Commander in Chief talk to the people. Now is he telling the truth or twisting it I will not comment on, you can do your own research regarding that matter and make up your own mind.

Bush Says 30,000 Iraqis Killed in War

Friday, December 09, 2005

McCain on Verge of Victory with Torture

It looks like a victory for Senator John McCain. After relentless pressure, he has won the battle and it looks like his torture ban bill will go ahead. Along the way he has fought a hawkish Cheney (the VP is for torture, otherwise he wouldn't lobby for it), a defiant White House, and a clueless House of Representatives. After public disapproval and McCain's powerful case against the use of torture (the Senator was a POW for 5 years and he was tortured often) the White House has relented and NSA Stephen Hadley has apparently agreed to language in the bill that is almost entirely like McCain's bill. I figure that McCain's experience being tortured had a lot of weight (maybe if Cheney and Hadley had been tortured themselves they would have a different view... oh, that's right you have to serve in the military to possibly be captured during war.) in the White House's retreat. The House of Representatives also backed off from its opposition to the ban. Initially the House Armes Services Committee Chairman Duncan hunter claimed that there were already laws banning torture. After wide public support for McCain's bill, both the White House and the House of Representatives caved under pressure. Interestingly enough, this entire episode is more indicative of Cheney's declining power in capitol hill than it is of McCain's standing in Washington.

Congress near deal on bill that bans torture

Delay's troubles worsen

Ex-House Majority leader Tom Delay's hopes for a swift trial are in jeopardy. The judge presiding over the case stated that he would not schedule hearings for motions filed by the defense until Dec. 27 at the earliest. That deals a blow to Delay's hopes of having a trial in early January. The Delay team strategy is to have the trial early so it can be done with before Congress reconvenes at the end of January and the House of Representatives is forced to elect a new majority leader. The judge also denied Delay's request to hold separate trials for the charges against him, the idea being that if he is acquitted of money laundering, then the conspiracy to launder money charge would be moot. This means that the defense will not be able to speed up the trial process by trying one case first. Lastly, Judge Priest addressed Delay's request for a trial in the first week of January by saying that it would depend on the whether the prosecutor would appeal his dismissal of the conspiracy to violate Texas electoral law charge. Ronnie Earle has until December 20 to file an appeal. If he chooses to do so, it will most certainly delay (no pun intended) the trial date considerably, making it almost impossible for Delay to reclaim his majority leader post.

This is where it gets a bit sticky for Earle. One of Delay's motions is to address alleged prosecutorial misconduct by Earle. One of the speculated reasons why he indicted Delay several times over is that he did not have a strong enough case to warrant indictment in the first charge. That charge was indeed dismissed. And that is the charge that Earle can appeal until December 20. Here's the thing, if Earle appeals the charge and his argument is weak, he will give validity to Delay's argument of prosecutorial misconduct. It might look like Earle filed the weak appeal knowing fully well that it would delay the date of the trial and effectively eliminate Delay's chance of regaining his old post.

I do not know whether this is a vendetta against Delay or not, and if it is, it is not my problem. Earle certainly is not the only one going after Delay. The Justice Department is investigating Jack Abramoff, the crooked lobbyist and at one time one of Delay's best friends (until he got in trouble), and this investigation will most assuredly ensnare Delay too (an ex-aide of his has decided to cooperate with authorities). So if Earle does have a personal grudge against Delay, as long as it is a justified indictment of wrongdoing, I don't care. But Earle must be very careful if he decides to file an appeal. His argument must be of sound mind and strong enough to justify the motion. Whether it would be denied or not will not be of much issue. The issue will be that Delay's trial will not be held early enough for him to regain his post. That is what Earle must protect himself against, because his argument will be scrutinized and any weakness used to prove Delay's accusation of prosecutorial misconduct.

DeLay Hearings Put Off Until After Holiday

Rice vs. Europe

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice traveled to Euroipe this week amid rising scrutiny over the alleged secret CIA prison in some European countries. The Washington Post put the White House and the State Department on the defensive when it printed reports that the CIA had secret prisons across Europe that they were using to hold and torture terrorists suspects. Also alleged was the extraction of some of these prisoners and their transport in secret flights. The European Union is very upset at the allegations and several countries have begun their own investigations. Of particular interest is Germany. Rice met with the new German Chancellor and avoided questions regarding a German citizen that mistaken for a terrorist and transported to one of these secret prisons, where he was allegedly tortured. Subsequently the CIA discovered they had the wrong man and held him two more months trying to figure out a way out of the mess. The Chancellor undercut Rice's avoidance by stating that the U.S. government had admitted to abducting the man. This gentleman has proceeded to sue ex-CIA Director George Tenet, but was denied entry into the country last week. The ACLU has inquired as to why the man was denied entry but no concrete response has been given.

Throughout the rest of the trip Rice proceeded to press on what seems the new White House stance on the torture issue in foreign soil: "the United States does not torture". Although we all know, and this is a fact, that acts of torture have occurred fairly often under this administration, this new approach is very different from the position the White House held previously which was that legal protections did not apply to detainees held in foreign soil. The line coming from the Bush Administration since 9/11 has been that these enemy combatants are not protected by the Geneva Conventions' treaties because they do not fall under the standard definition of POWs. This particular policy has caused a lot of outrage across the international community, as it is seen as an abuse of power and a human rights violation. The White House has been unapologetic about its policy, but recently, with all the problems it is facing, the WH has softened a bit. They do not seem to think so. WH spokeman Scott McClellan denied any change in policy and said that this has been the Administration's position all along. Well, anyone can read between the lines and see that the White House position is a lot more flexible now than it was before. In fact, some say that this move is a tacit endorsement of the McCain torture ban bill, but you won't hear that aloud. The debate will be over why the stance changed.

P.S. All these torture denials are being stated while VP Cheney touts Congress to stop the
torture ban bill. If we don't torture, why is Cheney (and the WH) worried about a ban on
torture? I think you can logically answer that one.

Rice Words Hit Home From Europe

What's the buzz?

It has been a busy past few days during which a flurry of activity has ensued. Beginning with Secretary of State Rice's trip to Europe and ending with the air marshal shoot out in Miami International Airport. Also during this time, ex-House Majority Leader Rep. Tom Delay was dealt a major blow by the judge presiding over his case. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has come under fire, President Bush has gone stumping campaign style to stop eroding support for the Iraq war, the economy's numbers have looked good (though people still believe it is not doing well), the CIA Leak investigation pressed on forward with new testimony that threatens Karl Rove and keeps the White House on edge, the investigation into convicted Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham has ensnared more political names (although no wrongdoing has been alleged, only questionable ethical behavior), a german wrongly accused of being a terrorist (he was rendered to Afghanistan where he was subsequently abused) sued ex-CIA Director Tenet and was then barred from entering the U.S. to support his lawsuit, a new deal on the Patriot Act was reached, and just today Congress is very close to reaching a deal on torture ban. Let's begin.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A White House in Turmoil

Since I last had the opportunity to post we have seen a shift in direction by the White House. The Bush administration adamantly opposed any reduction in troop numbers from Iraq and heavily critiqued what they have been calling a cut and run strategy by Rep. Jack Murtha. While I am not even going to get into the fact that they completely misrepresented Murtha's proposal and made it seem cowardish, I am going to get into the issue that the WH has had to make concessions, forcibly, and moves to position itself to order a troop reduction in Iraq, possibly next year, without seeming to bend to public demand. A White House that considers itself above the rest and that it answers to no one has been humbled slightly by large public opposition, and growing discontent within its own party. It is no secret that Rep. Murtha's call struck a cord with the American public and raised a sense of urgency within the President's own party. Senators and House Representatives, faced with re-election next year, are jumping ship. They recognize the danger in supporting a highly unpopular President supporting a highly unpopular war. They also see the mistakes made during hurricane Katrina and the corruption within the WH, exemplified by the CIA Leak case, and do not want to be associated with it (although it may be too late). Washington is a place for interests, not friends. Politicians will turn on you when you are no longer of any use to them.

The Bush WH is facing much tougher challenges than an eroding party. They are faced with legal investigations that threaten to ensnare Bush's top adviser Karl Rove, and there has even been mention of possible involvement as high as the Vice-President. The Iraq War continually proves how incompetently the war plan has been handled. The lead up to war by the likes of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Libby (already indicted in the CIA Leak), Wolfowitz, and the neo-conservative cabal within the cabinet is slowly being exposed and more focus is falling the question of whether information was manipulated. A large majority now believes that information was manipulated, and the WH misfires by sending Cheney, the most disliked politician in Washington, out to counterattack. The President also faces the worst ratings a President has ever had this early into his second term. His domestic agenda for this year fell apart, his main issue , Social Security reform, now a joke. Next year's agenda will depend heavily on whether Iraq improves, and more importantly the withdrawal of troops. They are already positioning themselves to pull out some of the armed forces. That is how strong the pressure is on the White House. But yesterday, President Bush still forcibly argued that he would not withdraw until there was complete victory. I highly doubt that is possible, which means that more soldiers will die before he is forced, by public demand, to pull out of Iraq completely. At that time, I would not be surprised if the White House does a take straight out of the Vietnam, Nixon and later Ford White House book: declare victory and leave. Even though everyone knows we lost Vietnam.

The public supports the military staying in Iraq a bit longer, as I do to. But my support is for trying to at least stabilize the situation enough so we can possibly pull out and not have the country descend into civil war. The public on the other hand still wants a victory and they are not at their wits end (if I thought a victory were possible I would support it, but I just don't think it is possible). They are willing to hold on a bit longer, but as the casualties continue to mount, the support for the war will erode and they will begin demanding immediate withdrawals. One thing is for sure, the troops will have the public's support, regardless of support for the war. The American people understand that these young men and women are doing their jobs and risking their lives for someone else's bidding. Sadly those someones have never really understood what it is to go to war, to them it is just orders, it is standing before a crowd and sounding tough, no real sacrifice, just words. The only sacrifice they will ever make for a war of their own causing is low poll numbers.

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