Waterboarding a “professional interrogation technique”

The Chicago Tribune has the story:

“There is no doubt that waterboarding is torture, despite the administration’s reluctance to say so,” argues Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales recently told CNN that “Congress has defined what torture is, and it is intentional infliction of severe–I emphasize the word `severe’–intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”

Asked whether “waterboarding” would be allowed under that definition, Gonzales replied that “that would be something that would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

Bush “a lot closer to Nixon than … to Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton”

I’ve heard about this before. Not just talking about Bush, real tensions can arise even within a political party between a president in his second (and constitutionally final) term and members of congress who will seek re-election.

But, talking about Bush’s authorization of the National Security Agency to spy on Americans:

“What’s wrong with it is several-fold,” former GOP Congressman Bob Barr says of the domestic spying. “One, it is bad policy for our government to be spying on American citizens through the National Security Agency. Secondly, it’s bad to be spying on Americans without court oversight. And thirdly, it’s bad to be spying on Americans apparently in violation of federal laws against doing it without a court order.”

In his Rant, Doug Thompson writes, “Barr, one of the most conservative members of Congress when he served in the House, leads an increasing group of disenchanted Republicans who have had enough of Bush’s misuse of the law and encroachment of civil liberties that are supposed to be protected by the Constitution. He has joined with fellow conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly and the ultra-liberal American Civil Liberties Union to fight renewal of many of the rights-robbing provisions of the USA Patriot Act.” This isn’t even just a split within the Republican Party. It’s a split amongst conservatives, some of whom retain a distrust of government, even when led by one of their morally superior own.

But Bush continues to see anyone who opposes his policies as a traitor. It’s an all or nothing position.

[A] political scientist, the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato, says Bush has problems and knows it.

“Things are bad,” Sabato says of Bush’s situation. “Really bad.” Sabato says you can tell that Bush knows this because it is “written all over” Bush’s face when he appears in public.

So he has a message for the President.

“The lesson is obvious, Mr. President: You’re a lot closer to Nixon than you are to Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton. And that’s not where you want to be. Nixon’s second term ended rather badly, as you will recall.”

Nixon, facing imminent impeachment, resigned. Today, it still seems a stretch to imagine a Republican Congress impeaching a Republican President. But this spying has to be a real problem for anyone who has spent a career rationalizing a senseless nuclear buildup and a bizarre policy towards Cuba by denouncing Communist police states. An important civics lesson is in the making here and I’m honestly wondering how it’s going to come out.

Bush the hypocrite, a disgrace to emperors

Steve Chapman writes in the Chicago Tribune:

[President Bush] thinks the scope of the federal government should be limited but the powers of the president should not. He wants judges to interpret the Constitution as the framers did, but doesn’t think he should be constrained by their intentions.

He attacked Al Gore for trusting government instead of the people, but he insists anyone who wants to defeat terrorism must put absolute faith in the man at the helm of government.

A conservative Christmas greeting

The following has been making the rounds:

To the liberals I know:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, My best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2006, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. And without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee. By accepting these greetings you are accepting these terms.

This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself or himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

To My Conservative Friends:

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

In their preference for a simpler image, conservatives are reacting to a reality they find uncomfortable or unnecessarily complicated by ridiculing a recognition of the increasing diversity in our society:

It is worth noting that the evangelical Protestant movement gained force in this country in the latter half of the 19th Century as middle and upper-class white women began to limit their own reproductive rates, and as large scale immigration from southern and eastern Europe began to challenge the image of this country as populated primarily by fair-skinned whites (and their slaves) who spoke English as a first language. The greeting aimed at liberals above clearly prefers an image perpetuated in the mass media of a largely fair-skinned, white, and Christian America and thus seeks to perpetuate white male hegemony. It is entirely consistent with the notion of a woman’s body as an object, a place for others, be they embryos cast as unborn babies, or men seeking sexual gratification. It is the reaction of a frightened people, a reaction exemplified by the Ku Klux Klan and in lynchings.

And it comes in the form of a Christmas greeting, on a holiday celebrating the birth of one who reputedly advocated peace on earth and goodwill towards men, from those who appropriate the religion founded in his name to justify their own image of themselves as privileged to exploit the earth and all its peoples, all its creatures, all its life, and all its resources, for their own profits. The message of this greeting is that we who are not members of the socioeconomic elite exist only for them, and that our own lives are to be mocked.

Alito favored wiretap immunity, while NY Times reports breadth of spying

“Judge Alito’s memo regarding a purely domestic threat is completely different from N.S.A.’s efforts to thwart threats from foreign terrorist organizations,” said Steve Schmidt, a White House spokesman.

Where the NSA is expected to spy on foreigners, and President Bush has controversially authorized it to intercept communications between people in this country, and therefore under constitutional protection, and people overseas, whose human rights are not being recognized, Alito wouldn’t recognize any constitutional or human rights concerns whatsoever. Alito demonstrates a faith in the moral supremacy of politicians which the founding fathers certainly didn’t share. For Alito, there is no right of privacy, yet here is the fourth amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Supreme Court rulings cited in FindLaw’s annotations specifically relating to electronic surveillance clarify the meaning of unreasonable, pointing out that “the Court held that at least in cases of domestic subversive investigations, compliance with the warrant provisions of the Fourth Amendment was required. Whether or not a search was reasonable, wrote Justice Powell for the Court, was a question which derived much of its answer from the warrant clause; except in a few narrowly circumscribed classes of situations, only those searches conducted pursuant to warrants were reasonable. The Government’s duty to preserve the national security did not override the gurarantee that before government could invade the privacy of its citizens it must present to a neutral magistrate evidence sufficient to support issuance of a warrant authorizing that invasion of privacy. This protection was even more needed in ”national security cases” than in cases of ”ordinary” crime, the Justice continued, inasmuch as the tendency of government so often is to regard opponents of its policies as a threat and hence to tread in areas protected by the First Amendment as well as by the Fourth. Rejected also was the argument that courts could not appreciate the intricacies of investigations in the area of national security nor preserve the secrecy which is required.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times also reports, “The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, [current and former government] officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system’s main arteries, they said.”

So where the Supreme Court only allowed for warrantless searches “in a few narrowly circumscribed classes of situations,” the NSA, at Bush’s direction, gained access to switches providing huge amounts of data. And for Alito, it’s all good.

Senate cuts funds for home heating oil assistance

At the same time as it dropped an amendment to a defense authorization bill which would have permitted drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the Senate also removed “an unrelated provision appropriating $2 billion to the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program — funds that are badly needed to help low-income families pay heating bills, which are rising dramatically this winter because of sharp increases in energy prices.”

[C]onservative Republican Sen. Charles Grassley told the American Petroleum Institute, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Natural Gas Supply Association: “You have a responsibility to use these record profits to invest in more exploration, production, and refining capacity to increase the supply of petroleum products. … Beyond that, you have a responsibility to help less fortunate Americans cope with the high cost of heating fuels.” Sen. Grassley suggested that it is reasonable to expect companies “with 50, 75 or 100 percent growth in earnings this quarter to contribute a mere 10 percent of those profits” to fuel-fund programs that supplement the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. “This is especially true,” he wrote, “in the case of some of the largest integrated oil and gas companies that currently have tens of billions of dollars in cash on hand.”

Now the only help for poor families in the Northeast comes from CITGO, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan Oil Company, in a program to sell “12 million gallons of heating oil at 40% below market prices to needy residents in Boston and the Bronx,” started at the behest of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, in his public relations war with the Bush Administration. Chavez has “claimed that President George W. Bush is planning an invasion to gain control over Venezuela’s oil reserves, the largest outside The Middle East,” while the Bush Administration has seemed hell-bent on repeating with Venezuela mistakes that have already been made with Cuba.

CITGO also sells gasoline. And TrueMajority.org has suggested the people find stations and “help [their] Northeast neighbors by supporting Citgo on [their] holiday drive.”

Post-Katrina racial tensions rise amid reports of weaker hurricane

Amid reports that hurricane experts now believe that Katrina was only category 3 strength when it hit–within the rated strength of the levees which collapsed–Gina Blandin, a bartender at Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter, believes “they blew up those levees and let the water come in … to get all of us black people out of the city.”

The plot, according to those who believe it, was to use the deadly hurricane to transform this majority-black city into a whiter, richer place. And everything that has happened since–the delays in reopening the poorest districts, the shuttering of the city’s public housing projects, the sluggish delivery of federal storm aid, the mass layoff of the city’s mostly black municipal workforce–has only reinforced the fear of many exiled black residents that New Orleans will be reconstructed without them.

The New Orleans area is known for racism; a neighboring county elected David Duke to the state legislature as recently as 1989.

After Katrina hit, officials of the nearly all-white parish of St. Bernard, bordering New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, ordered rail cars dragged across the roads as a blockade. In Gretna, a majority-white suburb just across the Mississippi from New Orleans, police officers stood guard to turn back New Orleanians trying to flee across the Crescent City Bridge.

The Urban Land Institute has “bluntly recommended writing off huge swaths of the city and postponing their resettlement far into the future so that less heavily damaged neighborhoods might be resuscitated first.” To be written off are “some of the city’s most historic and vibrant black neighborhoods.” According to Blandin:

“The hurricane was completely over, and you go to sleep and the next morning there’s water everywhere. How did that happen?” she said. “Why else would it have happened at night? The French Quarter got no water. They knew what they were doing.” … “I was on my front porch,” Dyan French told the House committee probing the response to Katrina. “I have witnesses that say they bombed the walls of the levee. And the debris that’s in front of my door will testify to that.”

Abolish the CIA

John B. Judis argues in the New Republic that CIA miscalculations should challenge assumptions on its necessity:

The distinction between insiders and outsiders not only insulated CIA analysts from obvious questions that outsiders without security clearances might ask; it also bestowed a special status upon the findings that were produced. Their very secrecy made them appear more likely to be true…. In such a culture, dissenters risk isolation and even losing their clearances. That, in turn, serves to reinforce conventional wisdom on any given topic.

On the legality of NSA wiretaps

Geoffrey R. Stone writes in the Chicago Tribune:

The facts of this case: In early 2002, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to monitor international telephone calls and international e-mail messages without any showing of probable cause to believe that a participant in the communication was involved in unlawful or terrorist activity, and without obtaining a search warrant from a court of law. This action was a direct violation of federal law and the United States Constitution.

John Schmidt replies in the same newspaper:

In the Supreme Court’s 1972 Keith decision holding that the president does not have inherent authority to order wiretapping without warrants to combat domestic threats, the court said explicitly that it was not questioning the president’s authority to take such action in response to threats from abroad.