Recently in The Rule of Law Category

The Cheney Legacy

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Via Sully, comes this bit of information on the Bush/Cheney administration from the Washington Post:

From 2003 to 2006, the Bush administration quietly tried to relax the draft language of a treaty meant to bar and punish "enforced disappearances" so that those overseeing the CIA's secret prison system would not be criminally prosecuted under its provisions, according to former officials and hundreds of pages of documents recently declassified by the State Department.

How many years will it take to uncover the damage to our government and to treaties with our allies -- damage which was master-minded by Cheney and his cabal?

Respect for the Rule of Law

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David Waldman points out what's really significant about Alberto Gonzale's response to Dan Abrams' question about the release of the torture memos. Here's what Gonzales said:

They may be necessary in the future. And by disclosing it, means you take them off the table and they can never be used again.

Here's some excerpts from what Waldman wrote with an assist from Andrew Sullivan in selecting some of them.

They may be necessary in the future.

Let's unpack that. Republicans are unapologetic about the use of torture. We knew that. Republicans think it might be necessary again in the future. We probably knew that, too. But it's the implications of that statement I think Congress and Democrats in particular are unprepared for.

First, it is a reminder of the fact that while the U.S. is supposedly not currently engaged in such practices, they've been suspended under executive order. It is, in short, a reminder that the United States only honors its legal and constitutional prohibitions against torture when the chief executive wills it to be so. And politically, that appears to mean we only honor those obligations when Democrats are elected to the White House.

As tiresome as it can sometimes be to see people frame matters so that it all comes down to one issue and one issue only, I find myself returning to this one again and again. Whether or not torture is your issue. Or wiretapping. Or indefinite detention. Or signing statements. Or anything, really -- environment, global warming, abortion, health care, taxes, terrorism, the war. No matter what your issue is, at heart, you're dependent on a continuing and consistent respect for the law. Because without it, none of your work on politics and policy is worth anything the moment the White House falls to someone who's not you.
You can pass all the environmental laws you like, but if it's accepted as a legitimate tenet of Republican governing philosophy that all of those laws can be safely ignored or otherwise set aside, you'll have gained nothing from your work with a friendly Congress and administration.
And if you can set aside all statutory and constitutional law on something like torture, I'm unsure what barriers you think remain in the way of doing the same on any other issue...
They are telling you they will torture again in the future. They have already told you that it is their belief -- their interpretation of the four corners of the Constitution -- that they have the right to order it if they can win just one national election (versus Democrats' constant scrambling to win 300+ localized contests).
There is nothing "backward looking" about giving serious consideration to a live threat that has just been renewed.

David's post was cross-posted at Daily Kos.

Torture: If Charles Graner is in jail...

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Albert Mora was featured prominently in a NYT article that discussed torture and what should happen or not happen now with regard to what may or may not have been done by the Bush administration and those attempting to carry out its directives.

The article opened with this:

Alberto Mora says it's "politically unthinkable" to criminally prosecute the top Bush administration officials who sanctioned torture. He also says it's "legally unthinkable" not to hold them accountable.

And then goes onto to somewhat hazily discuss the pro's and con's for each viewpoint. The author does point out that there were a great number of senior officials in the Bush administration and in the military who were not in favor of torture though none of them managed to stop it or convince the advocates within the Bush administration that it was wrong or for that matter, ineffective.

But Andrew Sullivan's one-liner in response sums it up so succinctly and so well.

If Charles Graner is in jail for following orders, why is no one accountable for giving them?

Precisely. Are we a nation of laws or not?

Rerouting Air France flight in the air to avoid US airspace

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The "No Fly List" strikes again. This time it forced Air France to reroute a flight from Paris to Mexico City, adding 4 hours and a stop in Martinique to refuel just so a journalist who's been highly critical of US government tactics in South America would not fly through US airspace.

I hope that the NY Times, Washington Post, McClatchy, NPR or another US media outlet pursues this story (translated here) and gives us more information on what happened and why. Here's what happened in the journalist's own words.

Once again it sounds like American paranoia has gone a little bit too far though I'd like to see what "justification", if any, is offered by the US government for such an action.

Border Patrol tazes & beats up Baptist minister & smashes his car when he insists on 4th amendment rights

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Looks like the Border Patrol picked the wrong Baptist minister to beat up and taze. He names names.

[via BoingBoing]

NSA whistleblower speaks up

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Now that the Bush administration is history, Russell Tice has decided to step forward with more information about the illegal warrantless surveillance that Americans have been subjected to by their government during the last 8 years. Keith Olberman interviewed him on Countdown last night and has asked him to come back again tonight. Wikipedia has a good summary of Mr. Tice's past revelations in the section titled "Whistleblower".

Dkos diarist RiderOnTheStorm who has written explanatory diaries on the general topic of surveillance before has taken the time to explain what is inferred by Mr. Tice's statements last night. He identifies what can be determined from examining metadata. Update #5 on "positioning of assets" is particularly illuminating.

Transparency and the rule of law

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The traditional media are all talking about the rule changes regarding lobbyists in the Obama administration which was announced during Obama's first gathering of senior staff and cabinet secretaries. But they've missed the real story in Obama's statement.

Which is this:

But the way to make a government responsible is not simply to enlist the services of responsible men and women, or to sign laws that ensure that they never stray. The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they're being made, and whether their interests are being well served.

The directives I am giving my administration today on how to interpret the Freedom of Information Act will do just that. For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.

To be sure, issues like personal privacy and national security must be treated with the care they demand. But the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it. The Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent, and of holding it accountable. And I expect members of my administration not simply to live up to the letter but also the spirit of this law.

I will also hold myself as President to a new standard of openness. Going forward, anytime the American people want to know something that I or a former President wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the Attorney General and the White House Counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law. Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution.

Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.

This is why we elected President Barack Obama.

Echoing Krugman

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Like thereisnospoon, I've been on hiatus during the holidays but dipping back in now and then to see what's going on. And like thereisnospoon, I must urge you to read Paul Krugman's column, "Bigger Than Bush".

He has so succinctly described the moral bankruptcy of the Republican party. His indictment follows John Dean's in Conservatives without Conscience.

Let's hope Mr. Krugman's column breaks through the wind barrier in the chattering classes. Of course, this has been discussed before on dkos as thereisnospoon points out in his post. Perhaps if they read dkos, they'd have better input for their crystal balls.

"A criminal enterprise launched by madmen"

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Paul Krugman picked out this quote from Matt Yglesias' post about confusing support of the troops with criticism of the missions selected by the Commander in Chief and his cronies.

The harsh reality is that this was not a noble undertaking done for good reasons. It was a criminal enterprise launched by madmen cheered on by a chorus of fools and cowards. And it's seen as such by virtually everyone all around the world -- including but by no means limited to the Arab world.

Krugman notes that Yglesias is both shrill and correct in opposing the tendency of many to rush past the faults, misdeeds and crimes of the Bush administration. As Krugman puts it:

Right now, there's a major effort underway to flush the sheer crazy/vileness of the Bush years -- and the cravenness of those who enabled it -- down the memory hole. We shouldn't let that effort succeed. The fact is that an American president deliberately misled the nation into war, probably for political gain -- and most of the country's elite went cheerfully along with the scam.

Yglesias and Krugman are both right. We must hold criminals responsible for law breaking. We are a country formed and based on the rule of law. It is the essential foundation of our country's existence and success. It necessarily includes criminals within government as well as without.

Yglesias made another point about the misdeeds of the last 8 years and their impact on the US role in world affairs.

But it's impolitic to point this out in the United States, and it's clear that even a president-elect who had the wisdom not to be suckered in by the War Fever of 2002 has no intention of really acting to marginalize the bad actors. Which, I think, makes sense for his political objectives. But if Americans want to play a constructive role in world affairs, it's vitally important for us to get in touch with the reality of what the past eight years of US foreign policy have been and how they're seen and understood by people who aren't stirred by the shibboleths of American patriotism.

The world is watching to see how we deal with putting our house in order and restoring the rule of law within the United States. President-Elect Obama's primary focus will likely be on restoring our economy and the people of the United States. But there must be some attention paid to the restoration of the rule of law. And the chattering classes who are so anxious to let bygones be bygones would do our country a huge favor if they would shut up.

What's wrong with the Q-poll?

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The Arena over at Politico posed this question recently for its Arena participants.

Should the DOJ consider prosecuting Bush administration officials for detainee abuse as the NYT and others have urged?

Scrolling through the responses revealed this one by Maurice (Mickey) Carroll who's the director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Is it a good idea for a new administration to look for prosecutable crimes by the old administration? Even if their opinion is that there WERE crimes? By and large, the answer is no. Even if the true believers (and the true-believer editorial writers) are pestering the Obama administration to do it. One of the strengths of the American political system is that it's not a blood sport. We disagree without looking to put the other guys in jail. Which is a longish way of saying: There'll be a new slate. Shouldn't we wipe the old slate clean?

There have been times this year when I've wondered at some of the phrasing utilized in the Q-poll surveys and at some of the comments made by Mr. Carroll on the local NPR news outlet. But this comment seals the deal. Mr. Carroll is specifically saying that it is okay for people in government to break the law. That it's okay for those responsible for investigating and prosecuting law-breaking to ignore the activities. That a government administration that has broken the law is above the law.

I cannot imagine a more irresponsible position for Mr. Carroll to take. Why is someone with such a spurious view in charge of a what was a well-regarded university research center? If Quinnipiac University wants its polling research center to maintain its position, it would do well to identify a new leader.

Goldman Sachs Pays 1% Tax Rate

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The Morning Reaction post by kula2316 at dkos starts off summarizing all the news about welfare applications skyrocketing around the nation and then moves onto a report of Goldman Sachs' year-end results:

Um... with all the news about welfare applications skyrocketing, more and more Americans needing food stamps or food banks, numerous states slashing their budgets, and our national debt increasing by the second, what is wrong with this picture?

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which got $10 billion and debt guarantees from the U.S. government in October, expects to pay $14 million in taxes worldwide for 2008 compared with $6 billion in 2007.

The company's effective income tax rate dropped to 1 percent from 34.1 percent, New York-based Goldman Sachs said today in a statement. The firm reported a $2.3 billion profit for the year after paying $10.9 billion in employee compensation and benefits.

$14 million, eh? On profits of $2.3 billion? After receiving assistance from the federal government?

The rate decline looks "a little extreme," said Robert Willens, president and chief executive officer of tax and accounting advisory firm Robert Willens LLC.

"I was definitely taken aback," Willens said. "Clearly they have taken steps to ensure that a lot of their income is earned in lower-tax jurisdictions."

This is insane. The article mentions $14 million in worldwide taxes. I wonder how much of that will actually go to the government that bailed them out?

"This problem is larger than Goldman Sachs," Doggett said. "With the right hand out begging for bailout money, the left is hiding it offshore."


Oh, but I certainly hope all those Goldman Sachs execs enjoy their holiday bonuses, as The Guardian (UK) reports:

A multimillion-pound bonus pot will still be shared by workers at Goldman Sachs, which benefited from a US bank bail-out and yesterday posted its first loss since going public nine years ago.

The payout, worth around £55,000 per employee, was confirmed as the Wall Street bank blamed "extraordinarily difficult operating conditions" for a fourth-quarter loss of $2.12bn (£1.4bn). It still achieved a $2.32bn profit for the full year to November, although this was sharply lower than last year's $11.6bn.

I know there are so many things to be outraged about lately, but this really sets me off. Working and middle class Americans are losing their jobs and relying, in ever increasing numbers, on welfare or food stamps or soup kitchens. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs takes $10 billion of taxpayer money and pays barely any taxes and then distributes its profits for bonuses. Am I missing something here or is this definitely an outrage?

What she said.

Sabotage at Gitmo

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Scott Horton raises the alarm on the last-minute machinations by the current administration and individuals within the Pentagon to present the incoming Obama administration with a fait-accompli. It isn't pretty.

John Brennan, Glenn Greenwald and the State of the Media

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Glenn Greenwald deserves an award for his efforts at keeping the media honest about their reporting on John Brennan and why his name was withdrawn from consideration as director of the CIA. As one of the "liberal bloggers" whose name is maligned in some of the reporting, I greatly appreciate his efforts at setting the record straight. His conversation with Tom Gjelten of NPR over his reporting is the epitome of such efforts. It culminated in this statement by Tom at one point:

Okay. That would be fair. That's how I should have said it. You're absolutely right. I should have said it that way. That's a little bit - and I'm sure you recognize this - I short-handed it and sometimes it's necessary to short-hand things and sometimes when you do that, you over-simplify what is a more complicated issue. I acknowledge that.

Unfortunately, NPR isn't the only media organization that's engaged in this misrepresentation and the conversation between Tom and Glenn begs the question, "Who's manipulating who and for what purpose?" Glenn goes into more detail in this post, "The CIA and its reporter friends: Anatomy of a backlash":

The backlash from the "intelligence community" over John Brennan's withdrawal -- which pro-Brennan sources are now claiming was actually forced on Brennan by the Obama team -- continues to intensify. Just marvel at how coordinated (and patently inaccurate) their messaging is, and -- more significantly -- how easily they can implant their message into establishment media outlets far and wide, which uncritically publish what they're told from their cherished "intelligence sources" and without even the pretense of verifying whether any of it is true and/or hearing any divergent views...

Glenn goes onto to quote example after example of media verbiage which explicitly misrepresents what the liberal bloggers actually wrote. How difficult is it for journalists to actually go out and read the liberal blogs? Had they actually done so rather than taking John Brennan's word for it or that of his supporters, one hopes they would have found it much more difficult to write what they did.

Mr. Greenwald goes onto point out just why this is such a serious affront to good journalism and democracy in 5 well-made points that should trouble any thinking person.

All of this illustrates the unparalleled power which the "intelligence community" exerts over our political debates, how easy it is for them to manipulate intelligence reporters who depend on cooperation with their intelligence sources and who thus identify with them and happily amplify whatever they are fed, and -- most of all -- how profoundly unrealistic is the expectation that, now that Democrats are "in control," they're just going to blithely proceed to impose all sorts of new restrictions on the CIA and the rest of the Surveillance State -- let alone launch probing investigations and impose accountability for past crimes -- without much of a major fight.

Just consider what all of this "reporting" has in common:

(1) All of these reports rely exclusively on pro-Brennan sources, allies and friends of his in the CIA who have fanned out to plant their storyline with their favorite reporters. [...]

In all of these accounts, Brennan's false claims of unfair persecution -- that he was attacked simply because he happened to be at the CIA -- are fully amplified in detail through his CIA allies, most of whom are quoted at length (though typically behind a generous wall of anonymity). But Brennan's critics are almost never quoted or named ... The "reporting" is all from the perspective of Brennan and his CIA supporters. None of these journalists even entertain the idea of disputing or challenging the pro-Brennan version.

(2) None of this reporting even alludes to, let alone conveys, the central arguments against Brennan and the evidence for those arguments.  Unmentioned are his emphatic advocacy for rendition and "enhanced interrogation tactics."  None of the lengthy Brennan quotes defending these programs are acknowledged, despite the fact that not only bloggers, but also the much-cited psychologists' letter, emphasized those defenses (that letter complained that Brennan "supported Tenet's policies, including 'enhanced interrogations' as well as 'renditions' to torturing countries").  The seminal article on these CIA programs by The New Yorker's Jane Mayer -- who interviewed Brennan and identified him as a "supporter" of these programs despite "the moral, ethical, and legal issues" -- does not exist in the journalists' world.  

What instead pervades these stories is the patently deceitful claim typified by Newsweek's Michael Hirsh, who asserted that the case against Brennan was made "with no direct evidence" and then chuckled that this is "common for the blogging world" -- an ironic observations given that Hirsh himself is either completely ignorant of the ample evidence that was offered or is purposely pretending it doesn't exist in order to defend the CIA official Hirsh lauded as "the first-class professional."  That's how the persecution tale against Brennan is built -- by relying on mindless reporters to distort (when they weren't actively suppressing) the evidence against him.

(3) In these accounts, Brennan is described in reverent terms ("first-class professional"; a "natural candidate"; "the guy who's most qualified for the job") while his critics remain unnamed and unseen though dismissed with derogatory, demonizing terms ("some ill-informed bloggers"; "ill-informed but powerful activists"; "a few obscure blogs"; "bloggers" who don't "have that familiarity").

(4) Concerns over torture and rendition -- despite being widespread among countless military officials and intelligence professionals -- are uniformly depicted as nothing more than ideological idiosyncrasies from the dreaded Left ("left-wing hit job on Brennan"; "largely on the left"; "left-leaning bloggers and columnists"; "Obama's liberal base"; Obama's "most ardent supporters on the left"; "liberal critics"; "liberal bloggers"; "confined to liberal blogs"; "the Democratic base").

Thus:  non-ideological, pragmatic, Serious centrists (which, as everyone knows, is what we need now) are free of this nattering fixation on all this "torture" talk.  Serious adults know that it's time to move on and not hold grudges.  It's only the shrill ideologues on the Left who care about such things and want to hold it against those who defended these programs.  Depicting one's critics as confined to "the Left" is a time-honored Beltway method for rendering the criticisms unserious, and it's in full force here (and, as Digby ironically notes, it is the Right, far more than the Left, that has waged war against the CIA in recent years; the Left has largely defended the CIA against manipulation and abuse by the Bush White House). 

(5) What all of this is -- more than anything else -- is a clear warning to Obama from the CIA about the dangers of paying heed to anti-torture and pro-civil-liberties factions, and they're not really even hiding that.  They're explicitly expressing the message as a warning:  "the President-elect risks sending a troubling signal to the intelligence community."  As Mazzetti and Shane put it after speaking with their favorite sources:    Obama risks "alienating an agency with a central role in the campaign against Al Qaeda."

Those warnings are issued with an eye towards the events they know full well are imminent:  debates over how legally restrained the CIA should be in its interrogation and detention powers; demands that light be shined on what the CIA spent the last eight years doing at the behest of Dick Cheney and with the legal imprimatur of David Addington's cabal; and, most of all, efforts to hold those who committed war crimes accountable (efforts which would and should be directed at high-level Bush policy makers and legal advisers who enabled those crimes, not lower-level intelligence agents, but which the CIA nonetheless fears).

His conclusion should wake more than a few of us up.

What happened with John Brennan is very straightforward and ought not be particularly controversial. This is someone who explicitly defended some of the most controversial Bush interrogation and detention policies. Everything that Obama said about such policies, and everything his supporters believe about them, should, for that reason alone, preclude Brennan from being named to any top intelligence post, let alone CIA Director. It's just as simple as that.

But, as has been historically true, many in "the intelligence community" are outraged by what they perceive as outside "interference" -- as though the CIA shouldn't be subjected to the same set of oversight, limitations, and democratic accountability, debate and restrictions as every other part of government. That something as straightforward as the John Brennan controversy can produce this level of backlash from the intelligence community is a very potent sign of the formidible barriers to real reform of our interrogation and detention framework and, especially, to the prospects for meaningful disclosure of, and accountability for, past crimes.

It appears as if some of the Cheney-Bush attitude about accountability has infected government agencies and the management of our national security. We need some one at the CIA who is willing to put it back on the right track; not use his "influence" to push access journalists into PR journalism on his behalf, which in the end, only demonstrates just how unqualified John Brennan is for the position based on ethical grounds.

Bush Admin Incompetence Strikes Again

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The GAO report (pdf) on management of the bailout released on Tuesday follows an oh-so-familiar pattern evident in the litany of failures of the Bush administration that begins with Katrina, the management of the Iraqi occupation, the DOJ politicization, and goes on and on.

TPMMuckraker, specifically Zachary Roth, has been doing an excellent job of tracking through the report and reaction to its contents. Zach made three posts in a row whose content is guaranteed to make any US taxpayer nervous if not outright sick and angry.

His first was from "page 15 of the GAO report on how Treasury is spending the bailout money":

[Treasury's Office of Financial Stability] has not yet determined if it will impose reporting requirements on the participating financial institutions that could enable OFS to monitor, to some extent, how the financial institutions are using capital infusions.
In other words, Treasury may not force banks even to tell the department how the banks using the billions of dollars they're getting. It's a no-strings-attached deal, it would seem.

Next, he notes the report's comment on oversight:

The GAO report makes clear that the urgency of the crisis has meant that oversight procedures have taken a backseat. It concludes in part:

Treasury has not yet set up policies and procedures to help ensure that [Capital Purchase Program] funds are being used as intended.

And then, this one which makes one want to weep with frustration:

Here's a bit more detail, from page 25 of the GAO report, on what seems like the Treasury's utter aversion to requiring banks to offer any information whatsoever on what they're doing with the billions of dollars of taxpayer money they're getting.

[I]t is unclear how OFS and the banking regulators will monitor how participating institutions are using the capital investments and whether these goals are being met. The standard agreement between Treasury and the participating institutions does not require that these institutions track or report how they plan to use, or do use, their capital investments.

With the exception of two institutions, institution officials noted that money is fungible and that they did not intend to track or report CPP capital separately.


The banking regulators indicated that they had not yet developed any additional supervisory steps, such as requiring more frequent provision of certain call report data for participating institutions, to monitor participating institutions' activities.

So it seems to come down to this: the banks won't say what they're doing with the money, and Treasury is too polite to ask.

Too polite? There are other words for this breach of the public trust by the Treasury Department officials. Incompetent seems mildest of them.

There's more in the report. On limiting outrageous executive compensation, Zach noted that "Treasury officials aren't even on the same page with each other about how to enforce the limits -- and some think it can be left to the banks, fox-henhouse concerns be damned."

Conflict of interest issues have surfaced as well:

The GAO report sheds light on another interesting angle to the conflict of interest problem with Treasury's administering of the bailout.

The department has hired outside private contractors to administer parts of the bailout program, notes GAO. Given the reports we've seen about Treasury lacking staff -- and lacking the right staff -- to implement the program, that may be a good move.

But as the report explains, outside contractors aren't subject to the conflict of interest rules that govern Treasury staff. As a result, Treasury asked the contractors to identify potential conflicts. There were many.

Zach goes on to quote a few of the relevant issues and conflicts and it's bad. It essentially says that the contractors hired have said there are conflicts, that some of their clients are entities that will be receiving TARP money, and yet the Treasury people have essentially said 'we trust you'll do the right thing'.

Finally TPMMuckraker reports that Pelosi and Frank had similar negative reactions to the report.

In a statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said:

The GAO's discouraging report makes clear that the Treasury Department's implementation of the (rescue plan) is insufficiently transparent and is not accountable to American taxpayers."

And Rep. Barney Frank, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, agreed, saying in his own statement:

The American people received two kinds of news about the TARP program - bad and worse news.

The bad news was confirmation by the GAO in its first report about the program that Treasury has no way to measure whether taxpayer funds invested in banks are being used in accordance with the purpose of the law - to increase lending. The much worse news is Treasury's response that it does not even have the intention of doing so.

Frank added: "A public hearing on the issues raised by the GAO report is now essential."

Combine that with the willful obstruction of bailout oversight by a Republican senator, likely Jim Bunning of Kentucky, and one must conclude that Republicans want to destroy the US economy and its citizens.

The old truth "By their fruit, ye shall know them" is most germane. Based on their actions, Republicans sure as hell aren't interested in any form of responsible government and no amount of words can conceal that fact.

Torturing Democracy converts a talk radio host

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Via Sully, NION reports on Gene Burn's reversal of his stance on our government's culpability in torture.

[KGO talk radio host Gene] Burns has consistently opposed impeachment proceedings against George [Bush] and [Dick] Cheney as frivolous and unwarranted: these men have not, to his mind, committed impeachable offenses. Challenged by callers contending that these men approved the torture of fellow human beings, Burns has maintained that the United States has not tortured; even waterboarding, to him, does not constitute torture.

Wednesday night, all this changed. After viewing on his local PBS affiliate the documentary Torturing Democracy, Burns told his listeners, he realized he had been wrong. The United States has tortured. It has also engaged in extraordinary renditions, for the purpose of torture. While Burns still believes impeachment to be a non-starter, he has concluded that, in the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in other sites overseas, Dick Cheney is guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and should be brought to trial before an international tribunal at The Hague.

I've always said that I've thought that even at Guantanamo Bay the United States was careful to stay on this side of torture. In fact, you may recall that on a couple of occasions we got into a spirited debate on this program about waterboarding, and whether waterboarding was torture. And I took the position that it was not torture, that it was simulated drowning, and that if that produced information which preserved our national security, I thought it was permissible.

And then I saw Torturing Democracy.

And I'm afraid, now that I have seen what I have seen, that I was wrong about that. It looks to me, based on this documentary, as if in fact we have engaged in behavior and practices at Guantanamo Bay, and in these illegal renditions, that are violations of the international human rights code.

And I believe that Dick Cheney is responsible. I believe that he was the agent of the United States government charged with developing the methodology used at Guantanamo Bay, supervising it for the administration, and indulging in practices which are in fact violations of human rights. [...]

I really found this documentary, Torturing Democracy, very, very disturbing. And I guess the reason that heretofore I have not been such an easy mark on the matter of this kind of charge is that I don't think I ever saw an organized, systematized review of what we did, and how we did it, as well presented as it was in this documentary.

And it grieves me to say, as an American citizen, that I believe the leadership of our country is responsible for crimes against humanity. But, you know, we can't be trumpeting about the behavior of others, like Milosevic, and others, if we do not expect ourselves to be held to a similar high standard.

And no matter our desire to preserve and protect our national security, which is uppermost in the minds of all of us, and something which our leaders are sworn to do by oath, if to do that we have to engage in torture, we should not do it.

The complete documentary is available online here along with a schedule of local stations and additional supporting material and documentation.

APA Informs Bush -- No Psychologists at Military Interrogations

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Valtin, one of the resident psychologists in the dkos community who keeps us up to date on what's happening on that front, reports that the American Psychological Association has sent a letter to Bush:


Prohibits psychologist participation in interrogations at unlawful detention sites

WASHINGTON--The American Psychological Association sent a letter today to President Bush, informing him of a significant change in the association's policy that limits the roles of psychologists in certain unlawful detention settings where the human rights of detainees are violated, such as has occurred at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at so-called CIA black sites around the world.

"The effect of this new policy is to prohibit psychologists from any involvement in interrogations or any other operational procedures at detention sites that are in violation of the U.S. Constitution or international law (e.g., the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture)," says the letter, from APA President Alan E. Kazdin, PhD. "In such unlawful detention settings, persons are deprived of basic human rights and legal protections, including the right to independent judicial review of their detention."

The roles of psychologists at such sites would now be limited to working directly for the people being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights, or to providing treatment to military personnel. The new policy was voted on by APA members and is in the process of being implemented.

Valtin has more details and discusses the implications in the diary. Go read. To see more of Valtin's previous reports on the APA and the torture issue, check here.

Here's the worrisome bit

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Atrios is so good at locating the nugget of importance in all the words. And he's done so this time. Here's the worrisome bit:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Here's a draft of the complete proposal courtesy of CalculatedRisk.

It pretty much has the sound of "The secretary can do anything he damn well pleases regardless of what the law says and no one will be able to review it or reverse it. So there."

Stirling Newberry on the economy, the Constitution and the bailout

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This is one of those topics where any person not an economist or a Wall Street trader feels at a loss to discuss intelligently though all have opinions. Something must be done. But the inside word on Secretary Paulson's proposal is that it puts all the power in the hands of the Treasury Secretary with no oversight or regulation. New Deal Democrat rounded up the economists that write columns or blog in this post. Take the time to click through and read their original pieces and the message comes through pretty clearly. What's been proposed by the Bush administration is not good for our country.

It reminds one of Brownie aka Michael Brown of FEMA / Katrina fame or Monica Goodling or Alberto Gonzales. We cannot afford to place so much power in the hands of one individual with the hope that someone knowledgeable and competent is nominated for the position.

A story that someone out canvassing in northern Virginia this weekend told makes the point most clearly:

"Are you the Obama folks who just left the literature at my door?" asked the women walking purposefully down the sidewalk. [...]

"I need to tell you how I feel," said the woman as she came up to us. "I'm a Republican... well I was a Republican. I've always voted Republican in the past... but not anymore. We need to clean house. I'm voting for Obama... you need to know that. This country needs to know that!!! I've had enough!!!!!!"

"So, you're voting for a total Democratic slate?" I asked, hesitantly.

"Yes," she replied. "I work in a small government agency, and after 7 years, I've come to the conclusion after trying to deal with these Republican appointees that there are just very few of them that are competent or care a thing about what they are doing. In fact, if they screw things up, it just confirms their beliefs, since they don't believe in government. They simply need to be sent packing."

"OK, would you say you have historically voted Republican, but are going to now vote for all Democrats," said my wife as she filled out the canvass sheet. "How would you describe yourself then, a Democrat, Republican, or Independent?"

The woman thought for a few seconds, and then finally replied, "I can't describe myself as a Democrat yet... but there's no way I'm a Republican anymore. They are bankrupt. I guess I have to say that I am now an Independent."

We cannot afford to turn over so much authority to the executive branch without any oversight or supervision.

Roughing up the RNC protesters, Beijing style

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Funny how much St. Paul this week looks like Beijing in the last month or so. Police intimidating peaceful people because they're afraid they may present the wrong image. It's yet another RNC convention whose organizers and supporters so fear the presence of any who might present messages contrary to their own that they are willing to violate, or have violated on their behalf, the First Amendment rights and civil liberties of American citizens.

It's just like Philly in 2000 or NYC in 2004. The Philly 2000 story by dengre provides a highly revealing look into how these actions come about and I strongly encourage you to start with it. The comprehensive NY Times report on just how extensively the police infiltrated and spied prior to the convention, issued in March 2007, gives some clue as to what is happening now. The Wikipedia summary of the police actions at the 2004 RNC convention gives an idea of the scope of the activities they viewed as suspicious.

White House to Eviscerate Endangered Species Act

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Via LithiumCola, It seems that Bush has decided to that agency officials have enough knowledge to replace scientists in evaluating impact of actions on species. Per the AP:

Under current law, federal agencies must consult with experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether a project is likely to jeopardize any endangered species or to damage habitat, even if no harm seems likely. This initial review usually results in accommodations that better protect the 1,353 animals and plants in the U.S. listed as threatened or endangered and determines whether a more formal analysis is warranted.

The Interior Department said such consultations are no longer necessary because federal agencies have developed expertise to review their own construction and development projects, according to the 30-page draft obtained by the AP.

"We believe federal action agencies will err on the side of caution in making these determinations," the proposal said.

Right. And I own a bridge in Brooklyn.

There's more good detail in LithiumCola's post as well as in another post by Patriot News Daily Clearinghouse which has more analysis:

Bush's proposed rules would allow federal agencies to determine for themselves "whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants." This means any project a federal agency would fund, build or authorize (e.g., federal agency approval or permits needed) would no longer have independent, scientific review.

Under existing law, mandatory and independent reviews have been conducted by government scientists for the past 35 years. Under current law, federal agencies must consult with the Fish & Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service which must determine whether a proposed project is "likely" to jeopardize any endangered species even if no harm appears likely. This initial review enables experts to require accommodations or mitigation measures that provide protection to the threatened or endangered species and determines whether more extensive analysis is needed. A federal government handbook from 1998 concluded that consultations are "some of the most valuable and powerful tools to conserve listed species."

To get some idea of impact, government wildlife experts currently conduct "tens of thousands of such reviews each year:"

Between 1998 and 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service conducted 300,000 consultations. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which evaluates projects affecting marine species, conducts about 1,300 reviews each year.


Bush knows that the new ESA proposed rule will be litigated and will likely be overturned by the courts. In 2003, Bush issued similar rules to allow agencies to approve new pesticides and projects to reduce wildfire risks without the pesky inconvenience of needing to obtain consultation from government scientists on whether threatened or endangered species or habitats may be affected by the project. The pesticide rule was rejected by the court and the wildfire prevention rule is currently being litigated.

In the pesticide case, the federal district judge concluded that "to ignore the wildlife agencies is to ignore the law." The judge was also concerned that the pesticide rule was drafted with a "total lack" of "scientific justification" and that there were "disturbing indications" that the Bush administration "deliberately muted dissent from government scientists." This new Bush rule to kill ESA similarly was drafted by attorneys without any input from government scientists, who were first briefed on the new rule last week.

So the Bush administration attempts another backdoor strike at our natural resources on behalf of their business cronies who complain that evaluating impact slows down their projects. Per the Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse post, what's most important to note is how quickly the administrative rule change could be put into place.

The new rules will be formally proposed in the near future. If Bush abides by the usual regulatory rule-making process, then the federal government must publish the proposed rule in the Federal Register to enable the public to read and review the proposed rule.  The public then has 30 days to submit comments on the proposed rule, and the government must consider and provide responses to the public comments.  

The proposed rule could be accepted by the Interior Department as a final rule in only 60 days. This means a final rule could be issued before the November election.

Keep your eyes open for action alerts on responding to this assault on endangered species.

And if you're wondering why it's important, here's another reminder that I saw just yesterday. Basically, the brown snake "all but destroyed bird life on the northern Pacific island of Guam" after its introduction in the 1940s. But what's of interest now is the recognition that the impact of the snake population has changed the way forests grow and may lead to some trees becoming extinct or nearly so which will impact other species.