WP: Bush declares himself above the law

No, I’m not kidding.

For those of you who haven’t been following the case of the fired attorneys, Congress recently subpoenaed several former White House aides to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about their role and their knowledge of the actions of others. The President ordered the former aides not to testify, citing an executive privilege. Congress replied that he has no right to do such a thing, and started criminal contempt proceedings against the people who refused to appear.

Today, the administration made an interesting reply: they argued that “Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases… in which the president has declared… executive privilege.” The idea is that the Department of Justice is part of the executive branch, and so if the President has declared something to be the policy of that branch (e.g., claiming executive privilege) the DoJ cannot be forced by anyone else to act contrary to branch policy.

David B. Rifkin, who worked in the Justice Department and White House counsel’s office under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, praised the position and said it is consistent with the idea of a “unitary executive.” In practical terms, he said, “U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president’s will.” And in constitutional terms, he said, “the president has decided, by virtue of invoking executive privilege, that is the correct policy for the entire executive branch.”

Got that? It means that the entire executive branch, including all prosecuting attorneys, are “emanations of a president’s will,” and therefore can never be caused to act against said will — and therefore, a president can never be prosecuted for an act of his own will.

Which is to say, the official position of this administration is that the president is ipso facto above the law.

I wonder if they consider this reasoning to apply to future presidents as well?


Published in: on July 20, 2007 at 18:26  Comments Off on WP: Bush declares himself above the law  
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Buying votes or time

Very interesting op-ed piece by Shankar Vedantam in the Washington Post today about the effect of “campaign contributions.” He argues that the main impact of these contributions on elected officials isn’t to get them to change their mind about issues (which is why groups rarely contribute to politicians on the opposite side of the aisle from them) but rather to change their prioritization. He gives an interesting example, recounted by a former aide to Sen. Daschle about how they were working on a hunger relief bill when a drought started in South Dakota, and they context-switched to work on a relief bill for dairy farmers. According to this aide,

Daschle did not stop caring about hunger because he was working on dairy issues. And he did not start working on dairy issues merely because of campaign contributions. He genuinely cared about dairy issues, too. Money that people in the dairy industry spent on campaign contributions and lobbying did not have to buy Daschle’s views — he was in their corner to begin with. But what campaign contributions and the subsidization of legislative work that lobbyists provide do obtain is a subtle alteration in politicians’ priorities

The article further backs this assertion by noting that the distribution of funds by groups favors politicians who already favor them, not politicians who are on the fence or on the other side.

The conclusions that derive from this are interesting: it means that you shouldn’t care too much about who’s funding politicians you don’t like (except insofar as you can use that to make political hay), but you should be very alert to see which other groups are funding the ones you do like; they’re the ones competing with you for actual slices of the politician’s efforts.

Published in: on July 16, 2007 at 13:25  Comments (10)  
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Two Important Pieces

There are two things on the internet which are very worth your time at the moment.

The first one has to do with US politics. I’ll simply refer you to this post by Brad Hicks, since he wrote an excellent summary of what’s really important. It has to do with James Comey’s testimony to Congress a few days ago. The short version is that, when John Ashcroft was AG and critically ill, Alberto Gonzales (then the top White House lawyer) and Andrew Card (Bush’s Chief of Staff) went in to the hospital to try to force Ashcroft, while under sedation, to re-authorize mass wiretapping, even though he had concluded (while conscious) that it was illegal. Comey was acting AG while Ashcroft was sick, and rushed to the scene to try to stop them. He succeeded, the program was declared illegal, and the next day Bush ordered it to continue anyway, despite the formal advice of the Department of Justice. Comey’s testimony is stunning, and you should at least read the transcript — but if you have 20 minutes, it’s worth watching the video and seeing for yourself. If this is not cause to open an impeachment hearing — the deliberate and knowing violation of laws, the doing of such an action to attempt to expand police powers in direct and specific contravention to a law (FISA) designed to prevent that, and even the simple human action of browbeating a man under sedation to abet them in so doing — then nothing is.

(Edit: The most moving section of the testimony may be the earlier part, where Comey talks about the night meeting in the hostpital. But the key statement happens at [end of tape minus 4:31])

The second one is a bit lighter, but really great: The 26 Most Common Climate Myths. From the New Scientist, a detailed discussion of the 26 most common misconceptions about climate change, together with explanations, figures, graphs, and references to the original papers. This is a great bit of science journalism.

If you have any free time today, and are at all interested in either the political future of the US or in climate change, these are good things to look at.

Published in: on May 17, 2007 at 11:25  Comments (10)  
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OK, this is just surreal.

From the Daily Herald, a bit about the Utah County Republicans convention.

Utah County Republicans ended their convention on Saturday by debating Satan’s influence on illegal immigrants… Don Larsen, chairman of legislative District 65 for the Utah County Republican Party, had submitted a resolution warning that Satan’s minions want to eliminate national borders and do away with sovereignty.

In a speech at the convention, Larsen told those gathered that illegal immigrants “hate American people” and “are determined to destroy this country, and there is nothing they won’t do.” Illegal aliens are in control of the media, and working in tandem with Democrats, are trying to “destroy Christian America” and replace it with “a godless new world order — and that is not extremism, that is fact,” Larsen said.

Published in: on May 3, 2007 at 14:24  Comments (5)  
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What a difference an election makes…

Right now, Alberto Gonzales is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the firing of 8 US Attorneys. And what a difference. The last time I heard him testify about potential serious wrongdoing was before the election; the chair of the committee basically said “oh, we can trust him, we don’t need to swear him in” (and didn’t), the Republicans on the committee basically used their time to make speeches about Gonzales’ probity and judgement, and anyone who asked hard questions got evasive – and I suspect, outright false – answers.

Now? He was sworn in immediately and without discussion, and Sen. Leahy started asking him detailed, factual questions (“when did you have this conversation?” “on dates X and Y you publicly stated your absolute faith in [US Attorney] Iglesias; on date Z you stated that you dismissed him because you had lost faith in him. When and why did you lose faith in him?”). And Gonzales was on the ropes from question 1.

We’ll see what comes out of this. But it’s damned good to see our Congress taking their oversight role seriously.

Published in: on April 19, 2007 at 09:46  Comments Off on What a difference an election makes…  

News clippings

Monica Goodling, Alberto Gonzales’ senior counselor, took the fifth and refused to testify before Congress about the prosecutor scandal. It’s a bit surprising, since nobody’s mentioned criminal charges as yet, but as Sen. Leahy (D-VT) said, “The American people are left to wonder what conduct is at the base of Ms. Goodling’s concern that she may incriminate herself in connection with criminal charges if she appears before the committee under oath.”

Horse-race coverage of the upcoming (as in, almost two years from now) election is going on in full force. Clinton brought in $2.6M at a fund-raiser, twice what Obama got at his recent fund-raiser, and this is of course worth being in the papers right now.

Please, in the name of the dog, if we are doomed to have a campaign season that lasts two years, could we at least spend the first part of it — say, the first year or so — finding out something about issues and people’s platforms, instead of watching the daily statistics? (My urge to strike pretty much the entire media in their collective nuts is waxing again, and I suspect it’s going to get pretty high before this is over)

My current take: Edwards, as always, has well-thought-out and well-conceived plans about things like health care, poverty, and so on, far above the rest of the field. I’m not convinced that he has any deep plans for things like foreign policy, though. Times like this, I wish we could have two presidents. I can’t actually tell you what any of the other candidates stand for, because they seem to be carefully avoiding discussing any real issues this far in advance — after all, why alienate potential voters? The media stories about Clinton raking in the money suggest to me that the press may start describing Obama’s campaign as “insurgent” (which is a kiss of death, meaning that it will be popular among younger voters and not have enough support from the party elites — cf. Howard Dean) and coalescing behind something like Clinton / Edwards as “inevitable” early on in the game; which, given the primary schedule, would make it so. It could be worse, I suppose, but I’m really sick of having to say that every election cycle.

Published in: on March 26, 2007 at 18:02  Comments Off on News clippings  

Vote in Congress

The bill to strip the President of the authority (granted by the PATRIOT act) to appoint prosecutors without consulting Congress, the abuse of which is part of the current scandal in Washington, passed the Senate on a vote of 94 to 2, with four abstentions. Here’s the roll call.

Interestingly, one of the two “Nay” votes came from Chuck Hagel, R-NE. Hagel is very likely to run for the Republican nomination for President, and is considered one of the strongest candidates in that field. Remember this vote for future reference. This scandal is probably going to expand somewhat more, we’ll have some high-profile resignations, and probably a few prosecutions for perjury or obstruction of justice. So later on, if and when Hagel enters the race full-force, this will be a good question to ask him: Why, even after the nature of the abuses of authority became publicly clear, did he vote against restoring to Congress the right to approve the appointments of federal prosecutors?

Unfortunately, the Democratic party — at least, the main machine part of it, that’s pushing so hard for Clinton — seems to be run by spineless fools, and I seriously doubt that they will have either the presence of mind or the courage of their convictions enough to actually remind the American people of the details of a scandal once the media is no longer focused on it. They’ll make it sound like a question about his vote on some minor technical issue, and the larger issue, of subversion of the democratic process by a sitting president and Hagel’s tacit encouragement thereof, will go unnoticed.

On the subject of the machine of the Democratic party, I don’t know how many people have seen this ad that some unknown person made for Obama. (It wasn’t made by Obama’s organization, as far as anyone can tell) It’s based on Apple’s famous “1984” ad:

Apart from being a lovely little hatchet job, it’s been making me realize how strongly I dislike the idea of Clinton running for president. (Which, media furor to the contrary, has nothing to do with Clinton’s gender, or Obama’s race, or whatever the fuck else is the “interesting topic” of the moment) Clinton represents what in my mind is a failed generation of Democratic leadership, one that Bill Clinton succeeded in as a shining exception rather than by any design. I see her as the emblem of a party that’s incapable of defending itself against even idiotic accusations, that allows another party to lie, cheat, and harm the interests of the country without having the brains or the balls to publicly say that this is wrong, and that in general has no clue of which way it would like to lead the country. Nothing that Sen. Clinton has said or done in the 15 years that she’s been in national public life has convinced me that she’s any different.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think she’s a good senator — in fact, I think she has the potential to be an extraordinary one, a powerful force in that house for many decades to come, and a key player in making the United States successful. But I don’t think she’s a good leader for the party, much less for the country as a whole. Her entire generation, AFAICT, has blown it badly, with one side running half-witted demagogues and the other side unable to tell why that’s a bad idea.

I don’t know much about Obama’s politics, yet. His speeches are all well and good, but he hasn’t really gotten down to brass tacks so far. But I do know that he seems to have a clear understanding of the mess, and to not be infected with the mental malaise that seems to permeate the party. If the primary were held today, he would get my vote. For basically the reasons that this ad hints at.

Published in: on March 20, 2007 at 13:55  Comments (10)  

Random snippets of news

Bush affirms his “strong backing and support” for Gonzales. Let us hope this is the latest equivalent of the “heckuva job” kiss of death. (For those who haven’t been following the news: Congress is investigating the firing of 8 US attorneys, apparently as part of a scheme to force prosecutors to actively investigate charges against Democrats, especially ones in the midst of reelection campaigns, and ignore charges against Republicans. The White House’s explanations of this have shifted on a day-to-day basis, but at this point it’s become clear based on internal memos that Rove and Gonzales were both intimately involved in the process, and the process was very explicitly based on the attorneys not being “loyal Bushies.” (The words of a memo) Gonzales’ chief of staff has already resigned, and the cover-up alone is likely to bring various charges of perjury)

Interesting editorial by Nicholas Kristof on Cheney and Iran (requires real subscription) The gist is that Cheney’s actions as VP have been so systematically towards Iran’s benefit (deposing the governments of all of Iran’s chief enemies, dismantling the Ba’ath party and installing a pro-Iranian regime in Baghdad, etc) that it brings up questions about his loyalties. Brad Hicks has an editorial suggesting much the same about our President, titled “George Bush: #2 in al Qaeda?,” which requires no special login and frankly is somewhat better written than Kristof’s.

Now, both of these editorials are using the allegation as a rhetorical device, saying at the end that they don’t really believe that either of these men are traitors. But when the number and scale of derelictions of duty and malfeasances of power (such as, say, the deliberate use of federal prosecutors to manipulate elections by investigating only political enemies and shielding friends) exceeds a certain threshold, at what point does intent become irrelevant? Is there a notion of “willful blindness” in betrayal?

Published in: on March 20, 2007 at 10:30  Comments (4)  
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We live in a strange world.

From the news today: In response to a mounting scandal over the firing of federal prosecutors for failing to prosecute enough Democratic candidates and political targets, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said that “mistakes were made,” presumably by space aliens or some other third party.

Halliburton, the contractor formerly run by now-VP Dick Cheney, and recipient of over $25B in no-bid Iraq contracts (several of which are under investigation for things like fraudulent cost overruns) has announced that it plans to move its corporate headquarters to Dubai. Predictably, people are not amused.

And Israel recalled its ambassador to El Salvador after he was found drunk and wearing nothing but bondage gear and a ball gag in the embassy complex. (You know, Israeli politics is just fascinating some days…)

Published in: on March 13, 2007 at 13:49  Comments (24)  
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Revocation of authorization

A friend recently brought up an interesting point in a thread: the recent Congressional non-binding protest vote against the war in Iraq was a pretty half-assed (in fact, kind of cowardly) measure; it doesn’t actually require anyone to do anything. But there’s an alternative.

The War Powers Act requires that the Congress explicitly authorize any use of force, either by a declaration of war or other explicit statutory authorization; in the absence of such authorization, the President is required to report to the Congress every 60 days, and the Congress must explicitly (by passing a law) authorize a further 60 days of operations, or the President is legally required to withdraw forces. The Authorization for Use of Force in Iraq is such an explicit statutory authorization.

But what if the Congress were to pass a bill rescinding said authorization, and returning to the 60-day period required by the WPA? It’s not clear from the text of the WPA that such a rescindment is possible, but nor is it clear that it isn’t, and I think that given a clear Congressional intent to do so the courts would agree that it is within their power (and the spirit of the WPA) to do so. It could be drafted to restart the War Powers Act clock at the effective date of the bill, so that the President would be granted 60 days’ authorization immediately, but would need to re-apply at the end of that.

This would give the Congress direct, non-financial control over the conduct of the war: they would have the power, by simple non-passage of a bill, to “terminate any use of United States armed forces.” They would have a regular review authority, so they wouldn’t be required to simply withdraw immediately or later; in fact, they could even negotiate directly with the President about terms such as when withdrawals would occur. (Hopefully they would have common sense in not trying to micromanage a war, but I suspect that Congress’ innate avoidance of personal responsibility for controversial things will protect us from that)

What do people think about this? Should we start trying to prod our representatives to introduce such a measure?

Published in: on February 22, 2007 at 18:03  Comments (31)  
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