Illegal Immigration Hardliner Mitt Romney Hires Undocumented Workers To Tend His Lawn
The Boston Globe reports today that for the past decade, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has employed a landscaping company that relies heavily on undocumented Guatemalan immigrants. The company, Community Lawn Service with a Heart, also tended to the lawn at Romney’s son’s house.
When asked by a reporter about his use of Community Lawn Service with a Heart, Romney said, “Aw, geez,” and walked away. But in the past, Romney has been a vocal hardline critic of illegal immigration:
“You have to have a wall or a fence or electronic surveillance. And you have to have a tamper-proof document to make sure that people who are here are aliens are identified and registered, and people can not hire them unless they’re here legally.” [Fox News, 9/19/06]
Governor Mitt Romney is seeking an agreement with federal authorities that would allow Massachusetts state troopers to arrest undocumented immigrants for being in the country illegally. … “It’s one more thing you can do to make this a less attractive place for illegal aliens to come to work,” said Romney. [Boston Globe, 6/21/06]
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Congress to look at voting problems
By Jeremy Wallace
Sarasota's voting controversy has given new life to election reform advocates in Congress, prompting the incoming leader of the House to make the issue a top priority for the new year and triggering hearings in the U.S. Senate.
More than being just a battle over who won the 13th Congressional District, officials on Capitol Hill say what happened in Sarasota has wider implications for the nation, giving a more substantive edge to what previously was mostly a theoretical debate over the reliability of touchscreen voting machines.
"What happened in Sarasota really does highlight the issue," said Howard Gantman, communications director for U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, a Democrat from California who is already vowing to hold hearings on the voting issues early in 2007.
With Democrats winning control of the House and Senate this year, Feinstein is in line to become the chairwoman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal election regulations.
Gantman said he is certain Sarasota officials will be called in to testify.
Feinstein also intends to re-introduce legislation in the new year to require all voting systems to have verifiable paper trails, Gantman said.
In the House, two members have called for new legislation mandating paper trails and a spokesman for incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the issue is high on her agenda for the new Congress. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said what happened in Sarasota underscores why the need for paper trails will be a priority for the speaker-elect.
The national attention on the voting machines and the upcoming hearings on the matter are critical if the public is to be reassured that the machines can be trusted for the 2008 presidential elections, said Larry Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
Congress needs to find out exactly what happened to the 18,000 undervotes in the 13th District race between Republican Vern Buchanan and Democrat Christine Jennings. Buchanan was certified the winner by 369 votes, but the unusually high undervote has prompted Jennings to challenge the results in court.
"We need to know what happened to those 18,000 votes," Sabato said.
But while Democrats are pushing for reforms, it doesn't mean they are anxious to inject themselves into the legal dispute between Jennings and Buchanan.
Federal law gives Pelosi, as House Speaker, the power to seat Jennings over Buchanan, citing the disputed election. But political experts say such a move would be toxic politically for her relationship with the GOP.
When Democrats sat a Democrat over a Republican in a disputed election in the early 1980s, the bad will from the move lingered for years afterward and made it hard for the parties to work on anything, said former U.S. Rep. Bill Paxon, R-N.Y.
Sabato said he doubts Pelosi would want to start the Democrats' first week in power in a dozen years in such a partisan way.
Pelosi's spokesman said the California Democrat is watching the legal process in Sarasota, but isn't prepared to comment further on what she will do on Jan. 4, the first day of the new Congress.
Although Sen. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, was a supporter of Jennings, his staff says the issue is bigger than who won the Jennings-Buchanan contest. Nelson has already signed on to help Feinstein and has offered to testify before her committee when it revs up in early 2006.
"There is a broader issue here," said Bryan Gulley, a Nelson spokesman. "There were 18,000 undervotes. How can this be? What needs to be done to make sure that it doesn't happen again."
Republicans aren't dismissing the call for reform outright even though they are fighting for Buchanan to hold the seat in Congress. U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Florida, is willing to "take a look" at the reform measures, but isn't ready to commit one way or the other, said his spokesman, Ken Lundberg.
Even before election day, Feinstein was trying to bring attention to the problems with touchscreen voting. Based partly on some of the early problems that were reported in Sarasota during early voting and a handful of other states, Feinstein put out a statement to the media warning of bigger problems to come.
"It is imperative that Congress does everything it can to help ensure that votes cast by American citizens are recorded accurately," Feinstein said in a statement on Oct. 27, the end of the first week of early voting in Florida.
Sarasota could prove to be the "canary in the mineshaft," for the nation, Sabato said.
He also said if investigators can pin down what happened with the undervote it will help reassure voters who will still be using the machines in some counties and around the nation in 2008 if Congress can't act fast enough.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:59 AM
TSA's revealing X-ray screening raises privacy concerns
By Thomas Frank, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The federal government plans this month to launch the nation's first airport screening system that takes potentially revealing X-ray photos of travelers in an effort to find bombs and other weapons.
Transportation Security Administration screeners at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport will test a "backscatter" machine that could vastly improve weapons detection but has been labeled a "virtual strip search" by the American Civil Liberties Union. Backscatter can show clear images of nude bodies.
At Phoenix and another yet-to-be-decided test airport, the machines will blur or shade images to obscure body parts and medical devices. The TSA also will look at using the machines in subways.
"It's time to get them out and get feedback from [screeners] and the traveling public," said Randy Null, TSA assistant administrator. The TSA has been considering the machines since 2002 while struggling with privacy issues.
Null said the TSA is now "very comfortable" with privacy protections manufacturers have built into the machines, which scatter low-intensity X-rays to peer under clothing for hidden items.
Barry Steinhardt, head of the ACLU's technology and liberty program, said operating the backscatter machines at airports will pave the way for widespread use — and abuse. "As this technology becomes commonplace, you're going to start seeing those images all over the Internet," Steinhardt said. "These images are going to have high commercial value."
In the upcoming airport tests, the machines will be used only on travelers who require extra screening beyond a metal detector. Those passengers will be offered the option of being photographed from the front and back by the backscatter machine or undergoing the customary pat-down by a screener.
Null said the machines could some day replace metal detectors if they can operate faster than the 15-20 seconds backscatter takes to screen one passenger.
Backscatter machines, used in prisons and at Customs checkpoints to find drugs, have been touted as an improvement to metal detectors, which don't sound alarms for plastic or liquid explosives or ceramic knives. The Homeland Security Department inspector general singled out backscatters last year as a way to close a loophole at checkpoints.
The Phoenix airport, the nation's eighth busiest, will get a machine made by American Science and Engineering of Massachusetts. In a nod to privacy considerations, the machines will show only blurred outlines of travelers but will enable screeners to see weapons.
The blurred images "trade off detection for a level of privacy," said Richard Mastronardi, company vice president. The fuzzier photos "start to lose the ability to see … C4" plastic explosives, he said.
The TSA will test a similar machine that generates blurred images using electromagnetic waves. Using the machines on suspicious subway passengers is "a ways off," the TSA's Null said. The TSA could recommend but not require them in subways.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:57 AM
Treasury Undersecretary's Dual Roles Raise Questions
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Robert K. Steel is a Washington oddity. He holds two high-powered jobs, one inside and the other outside government.
As the new undersecretary of the Treasury in charge of domestic finance, Steel supervises thousands of federal employees and helps oversee the nation's multi-trillion-dollar financial markets. At the same time, he moonlights as the unpaid chairman of the Board of Trustees of Duke University, a major recipient of federal funds and one of the country's most richly endowed colleges.
Experts say it is rare for a senior executive branch official -- in this case a Treasury official ranked just below the department's No. 2 -- to hold a significant position outside government. Top federal executives customarily drop their nongovernmental posts to devote themselves to their time-consuming federal tasks and to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest with their public responsibilities.
"This situation is unusual," said Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at New York University and an expert on federal bureaucracy.
Steel insisted that he keep his chairmanship at Duke -- his alma mater and that of his parents -- as a condition of taking the Treasury job. Government and university ethics officials approved the combination as long as Steel did nothing that had a "direct and predictable effect" on Duke's finances, a stipulation that he accepted.
The Senate Finance Committee was also informed about the pact, a Steel spokeswoman said.
Still, watchdog groups and others have expressed concern about Steel's situation. They worry that he will inevitably have to choose between his fiduciary duty to Duke, which has an endowment of $4.5 billion and about $3 billion in other investments, and his role at Treasury. His position there makes him privy to often-sensitive price-moving information about U.S. markets, especially those involving management of the government's $8.6 trillion in debt.
They also doubt that a senior Treasury official, whose hours are grueling, would have enough spare time to also chair a major research university. In addition, they question the propriety of allowing a top federal official to head an organization that in fiscal 2006 alone, according to Duke, received $1.1 billion in federal funds, including $45,543 from Treasury for a clinic for low-income taxpayers.
"It's a conflict of interest," said Thomas J. Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group. "In his role as the chairman of the Board of Trustees, there will be decisions he will make that will be in conflict with his role as a high-level government official."
Melanie Sloan, executive director of the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, agreed. "The concept of having a government job is that you work only on behalf of the American people, and being a trustee creates a divided loyalty," she said.
Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America, added: "He's creating the very real possibility that he will face situations where he has not just the appearance of a conflict but the reality of a conflict and then will have to decide how to behave. There will always be questions about whether he handled that kind of situation appropriately."
The Senate is keeping a close watch on the Steel-Duke arrangement. "I intend to monitor this situation," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Treasury. "I also want to make sure that serving as Duke's board chairman doesn't take time away from Treasury duties. I've learned from my review of nonprofit organizations that serving on a board can be very time-consuming if the board takes its responsibilities seriously."
Steel, a former vice chairman of the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, does not foresee trouble. His spokeswoman, Jennifer Zuccarelli, said Steel's deal was blessed at Treasury and the Office of Government Ethics and was disclosed to the Senate, which confirmed him in October. Steel has agreed not to raise funds for Duke and is no longer directly involved in its endowment or investments. Any effort he puts into Duke, she said, comes out of his private time.
Duke's trustees were consulted about Steel's new job and decided to retain him as chairman. According to minutes of the board's executive committee meeting in August, Steel explained what his role in Washington would be and said he would have to step away from direct dealings with Duke's funding. After a discussion without Steel in the room, the executive committee "agreed that Mr. Steel's service in Washington would not have a negative impact on his service to Duke."
Still, the board requires plenty of his attention. It meets four times a year for two days each time, usually Friday and Saturday. In addition, the board's executive committee, which Steel also chairs, meets seven times a year between board meetings.
The board is responsible for the school's well-being, financial and otherwise. "In essence, the Board of Trustees owns Duke University," said John F. Burness, a Duke senior vice president. "The trustees have ultimate responsibility for the university in all of its aspects, including financial."
As undersecretary, Steel has one of the largest portfolios at Treasury. He supervises the assistant secretary for financial markets, the assistant secretary for financial institutions, the fiscal assistant secretary, the deputy assistant secretary for community development policy and the director of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. He also oversees the Bureau of the Public Debt and, through the fiscal assistant secretary, the Financial Management Service.
The Bureau of the Public Debt borrows the money needed to operate the federal government and services the debt by issuing trillions of dollars in Treasury securities. The Financial Management Service receives and disburses all public monies, maintains government accounts and oversees a daily cash flow of $50 billion. The Community Development Financial Institutions Fund was created to expand credit in distressed communities.
Steel is not the first Duke chairman to hold federal office. In the 1990s, John Koskinen kept his Duke post when he became deputy director for management of the White House budget office. He removed himself from all higher-education issues and did not raise money for Duke. But even with those restrictions, he said, the double duty was unusual. "Generally, you have to give up everything if you get into a high position," he said.
Light, the NYU professor, said that there is good reason for the rule and that Steel should resign from Duke's board. "The potential conflicts are significant," he said. "His positions violate the spirit of the law that separates public and private service."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:54 AM
Security Of Electronic Voting Is Condemned
Paper Systems Should Be Included, Agency Says
By Cameron W. Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Paperless electronic voting machines used throughout the Washington region and much of the country "cannot be made secure," according to draft recommendations issued this week by a federal agency that advises the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
The assessment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, one of the government's premier research centers, is the most sweeping condemnation of such voting systems by a federal agency.
In a report hailed by critics of electronic voting, NIST said that voting systems should allow election officials to recount ballots independently from a voting machine's software. The recommendations endorse "optical-scan" systems in which voters mark paper ballots that are read by a computer and electronic systems that print a paper summary of each ballot, which voters review and elections officials save for recounts.
Voters in Maryland cast ballots on electronic machines that produce no paper record of each vote; in the District and Loudoun County, voters can choose between using such machines and optical-scan systems. Other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, and many counties across the state, use electronic voting systems exclusively.
NIST's recommendations are to be debated next week before the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, charged by Congress to develop standards for voting systems. To become effective, NIST's recommendations must then be adopted by the Election Assistance Commission, which was created by Congress to promote changes in election systems after the 2000 debacle in Florida.
If the commission agrees with NIST, the practical impact may not be felt until 2009 or 2010, the soonest that new standards would be implemented. The standards that the Election Assistance Commission will adopt are voluntary, but most states require election officials to deploy voting systems that meet national or federal criteria.
State election officials in Maryland and Virginia declined to comment yesterday on the NIST report, which they were reviewing.
Alice P. Miller, executive director of the District's Board of Elections and Ethics, said through a spokesman that she would not comment because she is a member of the Technical Guidelines Development Committee.
NIST says in its report that the lack of a paper trail for each vote "is one of the main reasons behind continued questions about voting system security and diminished public confidence in elections." The report repeats the contention of the computer security community that "a single programmer could 'rig' a major election."
Fears about rigging have animated critics for years, but there has been no conclusive evidence that such fraud has occurred. Electronic voting systems have had technical problems -- including unpredictable screen freezes -- leaving voters wondering whether their ballots were properly recorded.
Computer scientists and others have said that the security of electronic voting systems cannot be guaranteed and that election officials should adopt systems that produce a paper record of each vote in case of a recount. The NIST report embraces that critique, introducing the concept of "software independence" in voting systems.
NIST says that voting systems should not rely on a machine's software to provide a record of the votes cast. Some electronic voting system manufacturers have introduced models that include printers to produce a separate record of each vote -- and that can be verified by a voter before leaving the machine -- but such paper trails have had their own problems.
Printers have jammed or otherwise failed, causing some election directors to question whether a paper trail is an improvement. Maryland state elections administrator Linda Lamone, in an undated video snippet that her critics have circulated on the Internet, says that voter verification is unnecessary. "I'm not going to put this paper on my machines -- it'll be over my dead body, because I just don't think it works. It really is a false sense of security," she said.
For critics of paperless electronic voting, the report is vindication. "I think I got it right," said Aviel Rubin, a Johns Hopkins University computer scientist who has long questioned the security and reliability of some electronic voting systems.
Linda Schade, a founder of TrueVoteMD, which has pressed for a system that provides a verifiable paper record of each vote, said, "These strong statements from a credible institution such as NIST add yet another voice to the consensus that paper electronic voting as used in states like MD is not secure. We hope that the [Election Assistance Commission] formally adopts these improved standards."
Even critics of paperless electronic voting have grown disenchanted with the practical problems of adding printers to electronic "touch-screen" voting machines.
"Why are we doing this at all? is the question people are asking," said Warren Stewart, policy director of VoteTrustUSA, a group critical of electronic voting systems. "We have a perfectly good system -- the paper-ballot optical-scan system."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:53 AM
GSA Chief Seeks to Cut Budget For Audits
Contract Oversight Would Be Reduced
By Scott Higham and Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
The new chief of the U.S. General Services Administration is trying to limit the ability of the agency's inspector general to audit contracts for fraud or waste and has said oversight efforts are intimidating the workforce, according to government documents and interviews.
GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan, a Bush political appointee and former government contractor, has proposed cutting $5 million in spending on audits and shifting some responsibility for contract reviews to small, private audit contractors.
Doan also has chided Inspector General Brian D. Miller for not going along with her attempts to streamline the agency's contracting efforts. In a private staff meeting Aug. 18, Doan said Miller's effort to examine contracts had "gone too far and is eroding the health of the organization," according to notes of the meeting written by an unidentified participant from the Office of Inspector General (OIG).
The GSA is responsible for managing about $56 billion worth of contracts each year for the departments of Defense and Homeland Security and other agencies.
Doan compared Miller and his staff to terrorists, according to a copy of the notes obtained by The Washington Post.
"There are two kinds of terrorism in the US: the external kind; and, internally, the IGs have terrorized the Regional Administrators," Doan said, according to the notes.
Through a spokesman, Doan said she respects the inspector general's role and is not doing anything to undercut his independence. She also denied that she had referred to Miller, a former terrorism prosecutor, or his staff as terrorists.
"She's trying to reduce wasteful spending," said GSA spokesman David Bethel. "Just like any other office within GSA, she has asked the OIG to live within his budget, and she's hopeful that the IG is going to embrace that concept. She is not singling him out for this attention. She's not challenging the IG's independence. This is about fiscal discipline and reducing wasteful spending and creating a business environment that can be embraced by everyone.
"By law, she can't reduce the IG's independence, and she's aware of that."
Doan, who was confirmed as administrator May 26, has publicly criticized Miller on other occasions. In her Nov. 10 annual report, Doan stated there was only one GSA manager unwilling to "confront programs and policies that had outlived their usefulness and were wasting taxpayer money." She later told Miller that she was referring to him, according to officials familiar with Doan's statement who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.
Doan also complained in the annual report that Miller was being "unsupportive of recent changes" and said vendors and government contracting officials had reported that his auditors and investigators were exerting "undue pressure."
Bethel said yesterday that Doan's statement in her annual report "speaks for itself," and he declined to elaborate.
Miller declined to discuss his relationship with Doan.
"Let's keep our eyes on the larger picture, which is that GSA's $60 billion operations need to have objective and independent scrutiny," Miller said. "My office provides that public scrutiny. Not everyone is happy with this level of scrutiny. Nevertheless, my task is to keep our office focused on fulfilling our mission of working with GSA to enhance the quality and effectiveness of the services it provides, protect the integrity of GSA operations, and to keep fraud, waste and abuse away from its doorstep."
Before joining the GSA in August 2005, Miller served as a federal prosecutor and worked on the government's case against al-Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has written to Doan expressing his concerns.
"The primary mission of the IG in your agency and every other government agency is to be a sentry standing guard against fraud, waste, and abuse wherever it occurs regardless of circumstances," Grassley wrote on Oct. 20. "This cannot be accomplished if the IG's independence is impaired or hindered by the agency in any way, shape, or form."
Doan responded by acknowledging his concerns and saying she was mainly focusing on balancing her agency's budget.
"Please be assured that I do not -- and should not -- decide which audits or investigations the IG pursues," she wrote to Grassley. "That would be inappropriate."
Inspector general's offices were given by Congress a mandate to operate as independent watchdogs in the executive branch, working on behalf of taxpayers to guard against wasteful spending. The Inspector General Act of 1978 stated: "Neither the head of the establishment nor the officer next in rank below such head shall prevent or prohibit the Inspector General from initiating, carrying out, or completing any audit or investigation."
The GSA inspector general's office's audits have helped the agency recover billions of dollars in recent years from flawed or fraudulent contracts. Some vendors and government workers have complained that the audits have made contracting more cumbersome than necessary.
Soon after Doan was nominated to lead the GSA this spring, she promised outside vendors that she would make contracting with the agency much easier for both government bureaucrats and corporations. After she assumed the post, she began trimming the budget proposal of the inspector general's office. She wrote in her annual report that the office's budget and staff had "grown annually and substantially" in the past five years.
Since 2000, the number of employees in the inspector general's office has grown from 297 to 309, according to the office.
In August, a budget official in the inspector general's office described Doan's efforts to cut funding and to limit the number of audits as "unprecedented," according to an e-mail obtained by The Post. The official, John C. Lebo, said that "for the first time in memory, the Budget Office changed or deleted portions of our budget without notifying us prior to their changes."
Lebo, who has since left the agency, said the changes were troubling.
"The Administrator's Office wants to change the IG's overall approach from independently rooting out crime, fraud and abuse, to one in which the OIG is a team player working with GSA," he wrote.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:51 AM
First Muslim in Congress Wants Quran for Swearing-in Ceremony; Controversy Sparked Over Traditional Role of Bible
First Muslim in Congress Wants Quran for Swearing-in Ceremony
Controversy Sparked Over Traditional Role of Bible
By JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG
Dec. 1, 2006 — - Newly-elected congressman Keith Ellison, who'll be the first Muslim to serve in Congress, sparked a heated debate this week after he revealed his plans to use the Quran during his swearing-in ceremony. But the Minnesota Democrat isn't exactly proposing a Biblical change in the way Congress welcomes its members.
Ellison will stand on the House floor, along with all 434 other House members, on Jan. 3 for his official swearing-in. He'll raise his right hand and solemnly swear -- or affirm -- to support and defend the Constitution "so help me God."
His left hand will remain at his side, empty.
"The point is that for what actually happens on the floor of the House, with 435 people, you won't see a Bible, you won't see a Torah, you won't see a Quran," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.
It's during a private ceremony later, when new members of Congress stand with the speaker and re-enact their swearing-in, that religious texts sometimes appear. And that's when Ellison will pick up the Quran -- and other new members will bring in their family Bibles or new ones bought just for the occasion.
"That's when you will see a hand on a religious text," said Fred Beuttler, deputy historian of the House of Representatives. "But that's an informal ceremony for the members or the members' own purposes. It's not the official swearing-in ceremony of the House, when no religious text is used."
A spokesman for Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., put it a little more bluntly: "The photo op with the speaker is nothing more than a photo op. They are not sworn in then."
Still, Ellison's decision to use the Quran -- whether in a public or private ceremony -- swept across the Internet and cable news channels this week. Some decried him as un-American and said his decision was undermining American civilization. Dennis Prager, writing on Townhall.com, said only a Bible was appropriate and had this message for Ellison: "If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress."
But others just as ardently defended his choice as shining proof that America is a nation of religious tolerance. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh wrote a lengthy counterpoint to Prager, arguing he had misread the American constitutional system.
"A nation should both create a common culture and leave people with the freedom to retain important aspects of other cultures -- especially religious cultures," Volokh wrote. "That notion is deeply American, and expressly enshrined in our Constitution."
In fact, swearing-in ceremonies -- be they for Congress or the White House or other offices -- tend to involve a lot of pretty personal choices, and politicians have approached them in different ways. Linda Lingle, Hawaii's first Jewish governor, took the oath of office on the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.
And there's precedent for taking an oath on the Quran. Osman Siddique, a Virginia businessman born in Bangladesh, reportedly used the Quran in 1999 to take the oath as U.S. ambassador to Fiji and three other Pacific nations. The News-India Times reported that Siddique, the first Muslim to serve as a U.S. ambassador abroad, took the oath on both the Bible and the Quran. The Quran was on top, the newspaper said.
The president generally is sworn in with a Bible, but not always. Teddy Roosevelt didn't use one in 1901, but he brought one out in 1905.
George Washington's inaugural Bible has been on display a number of times at the National Archives, and George H.W. Bush used it in his inauguration. Son George W. wanted to use the historic Bible for his inauguration, as well, but he was stymied by bad weather. Washington's Bible stayed inside the archives that wintry day.
Office holders don't even have to swear to uphold the Constitution. The Constitution itself gives them the option of affirming their support, in order to accommodate people, such as Quakers, who believe the Bible prohibits the swearing of oaths.
Presidents Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover, who was a Quaker, affirmed their oaths instead of swearing them. Hoover used a Bible for his affirmation, as did Richard Nixon, also a Quaker.
Nixon, in fact, swore on two Bibles, but as Volokh points out, "this didn't seem to help."
In the courtroom, the Federal Rules of Evidence require witnesses to declare, by oath or affirmation, that they will testify truthfully. But that's not always as simple as it sounds, either.
Convicted 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui was asked to stand and take an oath during his trial, but he refused and showed utter contempt for the judge. He said he stood by his Islamic oath and claimed he was telling the truth -- a claim that ended up being about as truthful as much of his testimony.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:46 AM
The New York Times
Next Chairman for Intelligence Opposed War
By MARK MAZZETTI and JEFF ZELENY
WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 — Representative Nancy Pelosi, the incoming House speaker, sent a strong new signal on Friday that Democrats intend to confront the White House by naming a Texas congressman who opposed the war in Iraq as the next chairman of the House intelligence committee.
This choice, of Representative Silvestre Reyes to head one of Congress’s most important committees, ended weeks of closed-door lobbying and public posturing among Democrats who had been competing for the post. By choosing Mr. Reyes, a former Border Patrol agent and Vietnam combat veteran, Mrs. Pelosi passed over the panel’s top Democrat, Representative Jane Harman of California, a more hawkish figure who voted to authorize the war in Iraq and a political rival with whom Mrs. Pelosi has long had a stormy relationship.
Mr. Reyes, an affable West Texan, has a far lower profile in national security circles than does Ms. Harman, an outspoken and strong-willed centrist who has become a regular guest on Sunday talk shows since the Sept. 11 attacks.
But Mrs. Pelosi chose him over Ms. Harman in part because he has repeatedly taken a more combative stance toward Bush administration policies like the invasion of Iraq, military tribunals for terrorist suspects, and the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program.
Mr. Reyes voted against authorizing President Bush to go to war with Iraq, and in June he said that the failures in Iraq “cry out for oversight.”
In September, Mr. Reyes blasted the White House’s justifications for the National Security Agency wiretapping program.
“I take very seriously our obligation to provide the president with the tools that he needs to provide for national security,” he said, “but I also reject the notion that the authorization for use of military force allows the president to ignore the Fourth Amendment and conduct warrantless surveillance on American citizens.”
The choice of an intelligence committee chairman had emerged as the second controversial decision in the early leadership tenure of Mrs. Pelosi. Committee chairmanships are normally decided by seniority, but it is Mrs. Pelosi’s prerogative to choose someone else.
Last month, the Democratic caucus soundly rejected Mrs. Pelosi’s choice for majority leader, electing Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland over John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania. Then, the signal by Mrs. Pelosi that she intended to bypass Ms. Harman for the intelligence post stirred dissent among moderate Democrats, particularly members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, who mounted a campaign for Ms. Harman.
Ms. Harman made the case publicly that the centrist course she had taken on national security issues would be crucial to the Democrats maintaining a majority in Congress. Alcee L. Hastings, a liberal Florida congressman who was one of Ms. Harman’s competitors for the position, had also been marshaling support to his side, and had the backing of the powerful Congressional Black Caucus.
But Mr. Hastings, who was impeached and removed from a federal judgeship in 1989 because of a bribery scandal, was opposed by conservative Democrats and ultimately deemed by Mrs. Pelosi to be too controversial for the position.
Mrs. Pelosi called Ms. Harman on Friday morning to deliver the news, and the two Californians spoke for about 10 minutes, according to people familiar with both sides of the conversation. Mrs. Pelosi thanked Ms. Harman for her “service and intellectual contribution.”
Ms. Harman, though, beat Mrs. Pelosi to the punch in announcing the news. In a break of political protocol, she sent out a statement congratulating Mr. Reyes before Mrs. Pelosi’s office had even made the appointment official. In a statement on Friday, Ms. Harman gave her “full and enthusiastic support” for Mr. Reyes and pledged to “stay actively involved in security matters.”
Representative Lincoln Davis, Democrat of Tennessee, was one of the Blue Dog Democrats who signed a letter to Mrs. Pelosi last month urging her to select Ms. Harman. It was Ms. Harman’s instruction on intelligence matters, he said, that helped several Democrats win election and defuse the charge that Democrats are soft on national security.
“Obviously, some of us would have been happier with Jane Harman. She has a grasp of national intelligence issues,” Mr. Davis said in a telephone interview on Friday from his district in Middle Tennessee.
“I really don’t know what the problem is,” he added. “They are both from California, you know.”
But Mr. Davis also said that Mr. Reyes was an excellent compromise and he predicted the storm would quickly blow over inside the Democratic caucus.
Representative Anna G. Eshoo, a California Democrat who sits on the Intelligence Committee and is close to Mrs. Pelosi, said that Mr. Reyes’s low profile would serve him well in the new job.
“He doesn’t shoot from the lip. He’s not a showboat,” Ms. Eshoo said in a telephone interview Friday from California. “He doesn’t alienate people when he offers his views. He’s firm, yet he’s open-minded.”
Born and raised in Canutillo, Tex., a town on the outskirts of El Paso, Mr. Reyes was drafted into the army and spent 13 months in Vietnam as a helicopter crew chief. He lost hearing in his right ear when an explosion rocked his bunker there. Shortly after returning from Vietnam he began what would become a 26-year career in the Border Patrol.
After retiring from the Border Patrol in 1995, he was elected to Congress the next year and has served on the Intelligence Committee since 2001. He will become the seventh Hispanic representative to lead a full House committee.
But he will inherit a committee that in recent years has become one of Congress’s most dysfunctional and partisan panels.
The past two months have been particularly rancorous, beginning in October when Ms. Harman released the findings of a committee investigation over the objection of the panel’s chairman, Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan.
Soon afterward, Mr. Hoekstra suspended the access of a Democratic staff member to classified material on the suspicion that he was the source of a leaked National Intelligence Estimate on global terrorism.
The staff member, Larry Hanauer, was later cleared of wrongdoing.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:44 AM
Friday, December 01, 2006
AP: Feds rate travelers for terrorism
By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer
Without notifying the public, federal agents for the past four years have assigned millions of international travelers, including Americans, computer-generated scores rating the risk they pose of being terrorists or criminals.
The travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments, which the government intends to keep on file for 40 years.
The scores are assigned to people entering and leaving the United States after computers assess their travel records, including where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered.
The program's existence was quietly disclosed earlier in November when the government put an announcement detailing the Automated Targeting System, or ATS, for the first time in the Federal Register, a fine-print compendium of federal rules. Privacy and civil liberties lawyers, congressional aides and even law enforcement officers said they thought this system had been applied only to cargo.
The Homeland Security Department notice called its program "one of the most advanced targeting systems in the world." The department said the nation's ability to spot criminals and other security threats "would be critically impaired without access to this data."
Still, privacy advocates view ATS with alarm. "It's probably the most invasive system the government has yet deployed in terms of the number of people affected," David Sobel, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group devoted to electronic data issues, said in an interview.
Government officials could not say whether ATS has apprehended any terrorists. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Bill Anthony said agents refuse entry to about 45 foreign criminals every day based on all the information they have. He could not say how many were spotted by ATS.
A similar Homeland Security data-mining project, for domestic air travelers — now known as Secure Flight — caused a furor two years ago in Congress. Lawmakers barred its implementation until it can pass 10 tests for accuracy and privacy protection.
In comments to the Homeland Security Department about ATS, Sobel said, "Some individuals will be denied the right to travel and many the right to travel free of unwarranted interference as a result of the maintenance of such material."
Sobel said in the interview the government notice also raises the possibility that faulty risk assessments could cost innocent people jobs in shipping or travel, government contracts, licenses or other benefits.
The government notice says ATS data may be shared with state, local and foreign governments for use in hiring decisions and in granting licenses, security clearances, contracts or other benefits. In some cases, the data may be shared with courts, Congress and even private contractors.
"Everybody else can see it, but you can't," Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration lawyer who teaches at Cornell Law school, said in an interview.
But Jayson P. Ahern, an assistant commissioner of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection agency, said the ATS ratings simply allow agents at the border to pick out people not previously identified by law enforcement as potential terrorists or criminals and send them for additional searches and interviews. "It does not replace the judgments of officers," Ahern said in an interview Thursday.
Ahern said ATS was first used to rate the risk posed by travelers in the late 1990s, using personal information about them voluntarily supplied by air and cruise lines. A post-9/11 law vastly expanded the program, he said. It required airline and cruise companies to begin in 2002 sending the government electronic data in advance on all passengers and crew entering or leaving the country.
This targeting system goes beyond traditional border watch lists, Ahern said. Border agents compare arrival names with watch lists separately from the ATS analysis.
In a privacy impact assessment posted on its Web site this week, Homeland Security said ATS is aimed at discovering high-risk individuals who "may not have been previously associated with a law enforcement action or otherwise be noted as a person of concern to law enforcement."
Ahern said ATS does this by applying rules derived from the government's knowledge of terrorists and criminals to the passenger's travel patterns and records.
For security reasons, Ahern declined to disclose any of the rules, but a Homeland Security document on data-mining gave an innocuous example of a risk assessment rule: "If an individual sponsors more than one fiancee for immigration at the same time, there is likelihood of immigration fraud."
In the Federal Register, the department exempted ATS from many provisions of the Privacy Act designed to protect people from secret, possibly inaccurate government dossiers. As a result, it said travelers cannot learn whether the system has assessed them. Nor can they see the records "for the purpose of contesting the content."
Toby Levin, senior adviser in Homeland Security's Privacy Office, noted that the department pledged to review the exemptions over the next 90 days based on the public comment received. As of Thursday, all 15 public comments received opposed the system outright or criticized its redress procedures.
The Homeland Security privacy impact statement added that "an individual might not be aware of the reason additional scrutiny is taking place, nor should he or she" because that might compromise the ATS' methods.
Nevertheless, Ahern said any traveler who objected to additional searches or interviews could ask to speak to a supervisor to complain. Homeland Security's privacy impact statement said that if asked, border agents would hand complaining passengers a one-page document that describes some, but not all, of the records that agents check and refers complaints to Custom and Border Protection's Customer Satisfaction Unit.
Homeland Security's statement said travelers can use this office to obtain corrections to the underlying data sources that the risk assessment is based on. "There is no procedure to correct the risk assessment and associated rules stored in ATS as the assessment ... will change when the data from the source system(s) is amended."
"I don't buy that at all," said Jim Malmberg, executive director of American Consumer Credit Education Support Services, a private credit education group. Malmberg noted how hard it has been for citizens, including members of Congress and even infants, to stop being misidentified as terrorists because their names match those on anti-terrorism watch lists.
Homeland Security, however, is nearing an announcement of a new effort to improve redress programs and the public's awareness of them, according to a department privacy official, who requested anonymity because the formal announcement has not been made.
The department says that 87 million people a year enter the country by air and 309 million enter by land or sea. The names of passengers and for all flights and ships entering and leaving are entered into the system for an ATS analysis, Ahern said. He also said the names of vehicle drivers and passengers are entered when they cross the border and Amtrak is voluntarily supplying passenger data for trains to and from Canada.
Ahern said that border agents concentrate on arrivals more than on departures because their resources are limited.
"If this catches one potential terrorist, this is a success," Ahern said.
On the Net:
DHS privacy impact statement: http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/privacy/privacy_pia_cbp_ats.pdf
Associated Press writer Leslie Miller contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:26 AM
Accused terrorist Jose Padilla wants to describe how he was treated in a military brig. The government is trying to keep him quiet.
Terror Watch: Showdown Over Padilla
Accused terrorist Jose Padilla wants to describe how he was treated in a military brig. The government is trying to keep him quiet.
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
Nov. 29, 2006 - A looming court fight over claims that one-time enemy combatant Jose Padilla was “tortured” by the U.S. military is threatening to create new difficulties for one of the Bush administration’s most high-profile terrorism cases.
In a motion last week, the Justice Department asked a federal judge to block any public testimony about the circumstances of Padilla’s interrogations during the more than three years he was detained and interrogated in a military brig in South Carolina. For most of that time, Padilla, a 35-year-old Brooklyn-born U.S. citizen who was raised in Chicago, was held incommunicado, unable to meet with his lawyer or any other visitors.
Even permitting Padilla’s lawyers to raise the issue of his alleged mistreatment, prosecutors argued, may “inflame the jury” and invite “jury nullification”—the term used to describe what happens when rebellious jurors declare a defendant not guilty, no matter what the evidence, because they are so offended by the government’s conduct. (The prosecutors also say there is “not a shred of record evidence” to back up Padilla’s claims that he was tortured and asserted that the “conditions of his confinement were humane and designed to ensure his safety and security.”)
But defense lawyers are convinced that given the seriousness and the specificity of Padilla’s claims of mistreatment—many of which involve the use of aggressive interrogation techniques virtually identical to those the Pentagon has confirmed using at Guantánamo—the judge in his case, Marcia Cooke, may have little choice but to order a pretrial hearing on his allegations.
Padilla’s lawyers say they will soon file “additional material” to back up their torture claims. And if Cook grants them a hearing, it could open the door for the first time to questioning in a U.S. courtroom about controversial interrogation methods that were used against one of the most sensitive detainees in U.S. government custody. Padilla's fate is all the more important because his incarceration by the U.S. military was directly ordered from the White House by President Bush.
The matter could prove even more awkward because, according to a source close to Padilla’s defense team—who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters—any hearing could end up requiring the Pentagon to turn over highly classified video and audiotapes allegedly made of Padilla’s interrogation sessions at the U.S. military brig in Charleston, S.C. The content of the tapes has been the subject of recent discussion among lawyers in the case, the source said.
Cmdr. J. D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on the existence of any secret tapes made of Padilla’s interrogation sessions. “We don’t comment on cases that are under litigation,” he said. Asked about interrogation tapes, Anthony Natale, one of Padilla’s defense lawyers, said: “It would be unlawful for me to make any comment about that matter.” The court docket in Padilla’s case shows that a number of recent motions have been filed in the case under seal in order to avoid public disclosure of material that remains classified.
Padilla’s story first became public on June 9, 2002, when Attorney General John Ashcroft announced in a press conference from Moscow that the former Chicago gang member had been apprehended a month earlier coming into the country because he had plans to carry out a radiological “dirty bomb” attack on behalf of Al Qaeda. That same day, President Bush signed an extraordinary order declaring that Padilla, who converted to Islam while living in Florida, was “closely associated with Al Qaeda” and was “an enemy combatant” in the war on terror. Padilla was then removed from the criminal justice system, stripped of his constitutional rights—including the right to consult with his lawyer—and dispatched to the military brig.
But last year, in what was widely seen as an attempt to avoid a potentially adverse U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of President Bush's actions, Padilla's case was abruptly transferred back to a regular criminal court, where he was indicted on charges that he was part of a North American “jihad” cell that supported Islamic extremists overseas. The indictment made no mention of any plans to set off a “dirty bomb”; law-enforcement officials have since acknowledged that the supposed dirty-bomb attack, which was based on claims made by other Al Qaeda detainees, never got beyond the talking stage anyway.
But the Justice Department’s efforts to criminally prosecute Padilla have run into repeated problems. Judge Cook dismissed the most serious conspiracy count against him, removing the possibility that he will receive a life sentence. The case took a further unexpected turn last month when Padilla’s lawyers filed a highly detailed 20-page motion alleging that all the criminal charges against him should be dismissed because of “outrageous government conduct,” including a claim that he was forcibly administered mind-altering drugs in an effort to get him to provide information about his alleged Al Qaeda accomplices.
Among the specific allegations made in the motion were claims that Padilla was kept in a state of “complete sensory deprivation,” confined for months at a time in a “tiny cell” where the temperatures were manipulated to “extremely cold” levels and “noxious fumes” were introduced, causing his eyes and nose to run. Loud clanging noises were repeatedly heard making it impossible for him to sleep, the motion stated. Padilla himself was hooded, forced to stand in uncomfortable stress positions and kept “shackled and manacled with a belly chain,” the motion further states. He was also threatened with being forcibly removed from the United States to another country, including the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo as well as threatened with being cut with a knife and having alcohol poured on his wounds, it says.
“Often, he had to endure multiple interrogators who would scream, shake and otherwise assault Mr. Padilla,” the motion states. “Additionally, Mr. Padilla was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylmamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PACP) to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations.”
Gordon, the Pentagon spokesman, said in response: “The government in the strongest terms denies Padilla’s allegations of torture—allegations made without support and without citing a shred of record evidence. It is our policy to treat all detainees humanely.”
But at least some of the allegations in Padilla’s motion mirror claims that were first made by FBI agents and lawyers for detainees held at Guantánamo and which were later confirmed by the U.S. military. An investigation ordered by Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, found last year that military interrogators at Guantánamo did in fact subject some detainees to yelling and loud noises, disrupt their sleep patterns, lower the temperatures in their cells to make them uncomfortable—all in an effort to “lower their resistance” and get them to provide interrogators with more information. The report found that in 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld himself approved sleep deprivation as an authorized technique to use against one particularly high-value detainee, a Saudi prisoner named Mohammed Qahtani who was suspected of being the 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attacks. Rumsfeld also approved the use of adjusting the air conditioner to extremely cold levels in the interrogation of a second Guantánamo detainee, the report found.
It is still far from clear that, even if Judge Cook orders a hearing on Padilla’s claims, it will make a difference to the outcome of his case. Prosecutors have argued that because they are not planning on using any evidence derived from Padilla’s interrogations, the circumstances of how he was treated make no legal difference. Cook would essentially have to find that the treatment of Padilla “shocks the conscience” of the court—a heavy legal burden—for the case against him to be dismissed.
But defense lawyers may have hinted at the ultimate significance of their claims in a portion of their motion last month, when they referred to the “psychological damage” done to Padilla as a result of the aggressive methods used against him. Natale, Padilla’s lawyer, said the defense will expand on this reference in a court filing that may be filed by the end of the week. One possibility is that Padilla’s lawyers will ask that he be deemed incompetent to stand trial, said the source close to Padilla’s defense team who declined to be identified. In court hearings and in private meetings, the source said, Padilla has shown signs of being withdrawn, unable to communicate or respond when questions about what happened to him arise. “It’s almost like you’re dealing with a turtle,” the source said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:25 AM
W.House will defy Democrats on security: Republican
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration is unlikely to allow the incoming Democratic majority in Congress to learn details about its domestic spying program and interrogation policy, a Republican senator said on Thursday.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who has criticized the Bush White House's secrecy about national security issues, said he would welcome detailed congressional oversight of the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping.
"It would be ideal," said Specter, whose committee was blocked by the administration this year from conducting a full review of the program, despite an outcry among some lawmakers that the spying was illegal.
"We have to really get into the details as to what the program is, as to how many people they are tapping, what they're finding out," he told an American Bar Association conference on national security.
But he said he had "grave reservations" that Congress would end up getting the information from the administration.
The eavesdropping program, which was exposed by The New York Times nearly a year ago, allows the NSA to eavesdrop on the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without first obtaining a warrant.
Specter and other critics say the program has violated U.S. laws, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which requires warrants for all intelligence surveillance.
The Bush administration contends the program is legal, narrowly focused on suspected terrorists and authorized by President George W. Bush's constitutional powers as commander in chief.
When his Republican party was in control of Congress, Specter launched an unsuccessful legislative bid to have the program reviewed by a secret federal court.
Now, after victory in the November 7 election, Democrats will take control next year and are vowing to press the White House for greater cooperation on domestic spying as well as the CIA's detention and treatment of terrorism suspects.
"Only then, can we conduct thorough oversight of these programs and determine whether they are legal," Sen. John Rockefeller, incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a recent statement.
But Specter said such oversight may not succeed.
"I look forward to what will happen next year on that subject. I have grave reservations as to how successful we will be here, given the administration's unwillingness to share those secrets," he said.
The Pennsylvania Republican said the White House was also unlikely to divulge details about its treatment of detainees to the Democratic-controlled Senate intelligence and armed services panels, despite lingering concerns among lawmakers that U.S. interrogations could still violate torture protections.
"We still haven't resolved the issue of torture," Specter said. "The new leadership on armed services will be pushing a lot harder for answers. What they will get remains to be seen. I would expect the president will resist giving information."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:21 AM
Hot Supreme Court Battle Brewing
Government and 12 States Square Off Over Global Warming Case
By ARIANE DeVOGUE
Nov. 29, 2006— - The Supreme Court is set to enter the debate on global warming for the first time today when 12 states and several environmental groups argue that the Bush administration should regulate the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles.
The states are challenging a 2003 Environmental Protection Agency finding that, under the Clean Air Act, the agency does not have the authority for such regulation.
Government lawyers argue on behalf of the EPA that even if the administration had the authority to regulate, it would decline to do so at this time. They note the administration's policy aimed at global climate change in general does not include setting emissions standards for new cars.
In the briefs the lawyers write, "As ongoing scientific studies provide additional information about the problem and potential solutions, the United States stands ready to take further measures and to work with the rest of the world to address the phenomenon of climate change."
The 12 states believe that the effects of climate change caused by global warming will wreak havoc on coastal properties and increase emergency response costs due to sudden storms and floods.
In their briefs, they argue that the EPA does indeed have the authority to regulate the emissions. The lawyers charge, "The proper approach to discerning the Clean Air Act's meaning reveals that carbon dioxide and other air pollutants associated with climate change fit exactly within the Act's definition of 'air pollutants.'"
The states -- Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Vermont, Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island, as well as the District of Columbia and American Samoa -- accuse the EPA of trying to "ignore" and "distort" the language of the Clean Air Act.
The stakes are high in the case. Environmental groups like the Community Rights Counsel hope the Court will send the case back to the EPA for reconsideration.
Executive director Douglas T. Kendall says, "This would force the agency to finally confront the science of global warning, which points only toward a need to regulate greenhouse gas emissions."
The government is urging the court to reject the case without even ruling on the merits by finding that the 12 states have no right to sue because they haven't shown sufficient proof that they would benefit from the regulations they seek. The government charges, "Nothing in the record suggests that so small a fraction of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions could materially affect the overall extent of global climate change."
The automobile industry fears a ruling against the government could eventually mean severe financial consequences.
William O'Keefe of the George Marshall Institute, which is aligned with the administration's position in this case, says "if the auto industry had to meet some standard for reduced auto emissions it would have to radically alter its fleet." O'Keefe worries that the implications of an adverse ruling would lead to additional regulations in other industries: "It could certainly open the door to other industries with costs not in the millions of dollars, but in the billions."
The case will be decided sometime next year.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:18 AM
US warns of al-Qaeda cyber threat
The US government has warned of an al-Qaeda call to attack US online stock market and banking services.
The threat, seen on an al-Qaeda website, applied to the whole of December.
It was said to be in revenge for the continued detention of suspects at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay.
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, Russ Knocke, said there was no evidence to corroborate the threat.
He said the US Computer Emergency Readiness team had issued a "situational awareness report to industry stakeholders".
However, he said it had been issued out of what he called "an abundance of caution".
The warning said the threat called for attacks to begin Friday and run through the month of December.
It is described as an "aspirational threat" and the nature of the warning is particularly vague, the BBC's Guto Harri in New York says.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:17 AM
Lawmakers warn White House on air ownership plan
By John Crawley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers led by an incoming Democratic committee chairman has warned the White House not to proceed with a proposal to ease restrictions on foreign investment in U.S. airlines.
Rep. James Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who will lead the House of Representatives Transportation Committee beginning in January, and three other House members suspect the Bush administration may be planning an end run around Congress and urged White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten to withdraw the plan entirely.
"Making the rule final in the face of bipartisan congressional opposition would be a very poor start to the 110th Congress," Oberstar wrote in a letter to Bolten on Wednesday.
New Jersey Democrat Jerry Costello, the incoming chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, and Republicans Frank Lobiondo of New Jersey and Ted Poe of Texas also signed the letter.
The Bush administration proposal a year ago to reverse a World War Two-era law and give overseas interests say in how the carriers they invest in are run stalled in August when Congress voted to block any attempt to change ownership rules.
European Union negotiators want greater leeway for international airline investors before approving an agreement with the United States that would, among other things, give American carriers more opportunities for transatlantic service, including greater access to London's Heathrow airport.
But the congressional vote to delay U.S. action has no teeth yet because it was included in transportation spending legislation that will not be finished before lawmakers adjourn after the lame-duck session in December, and will not likely be addressed again until February at the earliest.
Oberstar now suspects the administration may try to exploit the congressional leadership change and the unexpected inaction on the spending bill to quietly finalize the investment proposal.
Oberstar and his colleagues said it was their understanding that transportation planners could act soon on the change that has some support among U.S. airlines. There is little to no foreign investment in U.S. carriers now.
Transportation Department officials would not discuss their plans for the rule they say could inject new capital into the U.S. airline industry and invigorate competition, lowering prices and improving service.
Andrew Steinberg, the agency's assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs, told a conference of airport executives on Thursday the administration was committed to more robust international aviation markets for U.S. airlines, especially in Europe.
"We must, whenever possible, reach global solutions," Steinberg said.
Daniel Calleja Y Crespo, the European Commission's air transport director, told the same conference that the Europeans are willing to wait longer for a U.S. decision. "We have to be a little bit patient and hopefully in coming months make progress."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:13 AM
Thursday, November 30, 2006
The New York Times
FEMA Ordered to Restore Evacuees’ Housing Aid
By SHAILA DEWAN
FEMA has to restore housing assistance and pay back rent to thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees who had been deemed ineligible for long-term housing assistance, a federal judge ruled yesterday.
The judge, Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, wrote that the agency also had to improve an appeals process that evacuees had long said was confusing, contradictory and amounted to an arbitrary denial of help.
“It is unfortunate, if not incredible, that FEMA and its counsel could not devise a sufficient notice system to spare these beleaguered evacuees the added burden of federal litigation to vindicate their constitutional rights,” Judge Leon wrote.
The suit was brought by Acorn, a housing advocacy group that runs the Katrina Survivors Association. Michael Kirkpatrick, a lawyer with Public Citizen who represented Acorn, said that as many as 11,000 families could be affected based on numbers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided in court papers.
A spokesman for the agency, Aaron Walker, said it had not decided whether to seek a stay of the decision.
Last spring, the agency began notifying thousands of families given emergency shelter that they did not qualify for long-term help with rent and utility payments. That surprised many families who had been given housing vouchers valid for a year.
For months, families who had lost everything struggled to understand why they had been rejected and how to appeal that decision.
In a process that Judge Leon called Kafkaesque, families received notification letters with “reason codes” instead of actual reasons, were given different information each time they called the agency help line or found that the agency had erroneously determined that their house had “insufficient damage” or that someone else in their household (often a roommate) had already applied for assistance.
Mayor Bill White of Houston, where many evacuees fled from the Gulf Coast, was so outraged that he sent building inspectors to New Orleans to certify that the evacuees’ houses were uninhabitable.
“Some families were told, ‘Reason for denial: Other,’ and there’s no explanation for what ‘other’ means,” Mr. Kirkpatrick said.
Some families received two letters with two different codes.
The judge said that the lack of clarity deprived evacuees of their rights of due process, pointing out that the agency had conceded that thousands of families had been incorrectly ruled ineligible.
In a statement after the decision, Mr. Walker of FEMA continued defending the process, saying the agency had given applicants 60 days to appeal and had listed the requirements.
“Additionally,” Mr. Walker wrote, “FEMA established a team dedicated to handling appeals on an expedited basis and initiated calls to applicants in an effort to help them understand what documentation was needed to process their case.”
The transfers of families from emergency housing to long-term help began last spring. Mayor White repeatedly persuaded the agency to delay evictions while it reviewed each family’s file.
The families who managed to stay in apartments financed by the agency until the end of August are entitled to the reinstatement of rent payments and reimbursement for three months’ back rent, the judge said.
All families deemed ineligible, no matter when, will receive more thorough explanations of the reasons and how to appeal their cases.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:18 AM
Powell says world should recognize Iraq at civil war
By Diala Saadeh
DUBAI (Reuters) - Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Wednesday Iraq had descended into civil war and urged world leaders to accept that "reality".
Powell's remarks came ahead of a meeting between Bush and Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki in the Jordanian capital to discuss the security developments in Iraq.
"I would call it a civil war," Powell told a business forum in the United Arab Emirates. "I have been using it (civil war) because I like to face the reality," added Powell.
He said world leaders should acknowledge Iraq was in civil war.
Powell outlined the case against Iraq at the U.N. Security Council ahead of the war, which was based broadly on intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
President George W. Bush denied on Tuesday that sectarian violence had reached the scale of civil war. He said the latest wave of violence was part of a nine-month-old pattern of attacks by al Qaeda militants aimed at fomenting sectarian tension.
Bush and Maliki are scheduled to hold crisis talks on Wednesday and Thursday.
Bush is under growing pressure to find a new policy to curb sectarian strife in Iraq and to secure an exit for 140,000 U.S. troops.
Powell, speaking at a world leaders forum in Dubai, said Washington should adopt a more balanced policy toward Iraq's political parties and sects to avoid marginalizing Sunni Muslims.
"We have to accept what all Iraqis accept, not to end up seeing a Shi'ite-dominated regime," he said.
However, Powell said troops had to continue their job in Iraq until their mission is done, but not to remain too long.
"The coming strategy has to be an Iraqi strategy, not American strategy," said Powell.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:16 AM
Iraq panel recommends U.S. move away from combat role
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Iraq Study Group has decided to recommend the U.S. military transition from a combat to a support role in Iraq roughly over the next year, a source familiar with the panel's deliberations said on Wednesday.
"The main thing is (the group is) calling for a transition from a combat role to a support role," said the source, who spoke on condition that he not be named. "It's basically a redeployment."
The source said the idea was to shift U.S. combat forces both to bases inside Iraq as well as elsewhere in the region as the military gradually moved away from combat operations, adding that this should happen over the next year or so.
The New York Times earlier reported that there was no timetable for the proposed U.S. pullback, but the source said: "there is a kind of indication in the report as to when that ought to be completed ... sometime within the next year."
The independent, bipartisan group also decided to call for a regional conference that could lead to direct U.S. talks with Iran and Syria, both accused by the United States of fomenting violence in Iraq, the source added.
Many in Washington have held out hope that the group's report would provide a way for the United States to extricate itself from an increasingly deadly and unpopular war or, at least, a set of recommendations on how to move forward that could attract support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Their conclusions are likely to carry significant political weight even if President Bush chooses to ignore them, especially after his fellow Republicans lost control of the U.S. Congress in November 7 elections largely because of deep public discontent with the Iraq war.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:15 AM
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Judge strikes down Bush on terror groups
By LINDA DEUTSCH, AP Special Correspondent
A federal judge struck down President Bush's authority to designate groups as terrorists, saying his post-Sept. 11 executive order was unconstitutionally vague, according to a ruling released Tuesday.
The Humanitarian Law Project had challenged Bush's order, which blocked all the assets of groups or individuals he named as "specially designated global terrorists" after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
"This law gave the president unfettered authority to create blacklists," said David Cole, a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Constitutional Rights that represented the group. "It was reminiscent of the McCarthy era."
The case centered on two groups, the Liberation Tigers, which seeks a separate homeland for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, and Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan, a political organization representing the interests of Kurds in Turkey.
U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins enjoined the government from blocking the assets of the two groups. The same judge two years ago invalidated portions of the Patriot Act.
Both groups consider the Nov. 21 ruling a victory; both had been designated by the United States as foreign terrorist organizations.
Cole said the judge's ruling does not invalidate the hundreds of other designated terrorist groups on the list but "calls them into question."
Charles Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said, "We are currently reviewing the decision and we have made no determination what the government's next step will be."
A White House spokeswoman declined to immediately comment. At the time of his order creating the list, Bush declared that the "grave acts of terrorism" and the "continuing and immediate threat of future attacks" constituted a national emergency.
The judge's 45-page ruling was a reversal of her own tentative findings last July in which she indicated she would uphold wide powers asserted by Bush under an anti-terror financing law. She delayed her ruling then to allow more legal briefs to be filed.
She also struck down the provision in which Bush had authorized the secretary of the treasury to designate anyone who "assists, sponsors or provides services to" or is "otherwise associated with" a designated group.
However, she let stand sections of the order that penalize those who provide "services" to designated terrorist groups. She said such services would include the humanitarian aid and rights training proposed by the plaintiffs.
The Humanitarian Law Project planned to appeal that part of the ruling, Cole said.
"We are pleased the court rejected many of the constitutional arguments raised by the plaintiffs, including their challenge to the government's ban on providing services to terrorist organizations," Miller said Tuesday. "However, we believe the court erred in finding that certain other aspects of the executive order were unconstitutional."
The ruling was still considered a victory, Cole said.
"Even in fighting terrorism the president cannot be given a blank check to blacklist anyone he considers a bad guy or a bad group and you can't imply guilt by association," Cole said.
In 2004, Collins ruled that portions of the Patriot Act were too vague and, even after Congress amended the act in 2005, she ruled the provisions remained too vague to be understood by a person of average intelligence and were therefore unconstitutional.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:12 AM
Bush says troops will stay till task accomplished
By Alastair Macdonald
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - President Bush said on Tuesday the hand of al Qaeda lay behind sectarian violence racking Iraq, and he would not pull troops out "before the mission is complete".
Bush, speaking in the Baltic republics before a NATO summit, deflected talk of "civil war" -- a description which could increase pressure on him to withdraw U.S. forces.
"There is one thing I'm not going to do. I am not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete," he said in a speech at the University of Latvia.
In Baghdad, U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said there had been a "dramatic spike" in killings and said violence would rise but still did not meet the military's definition of civil war.
Car bombs close to west Baghdad's main Yarmouk hospital killed four people and wounded 40 on Tuesday. Five young Iraqi girls were killed in Ramadi and in Kirkuk a suicide bomber attacked the governor's convoy.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the visiting Iraqi president the U.S. occupation and U.S.-backed "agents" in the region were to blame for Iraq's violence.
Ferocious sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shi'ites since the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in February has eclipsed the Sunni insurgency as the main source of turmoil.
The New York Times and other U.S. news outlets have now adopted the term "civil war" to describe the violence.
The White House acknowledged on Monday Iraq was in a "new phase" but denied it amounted to civil war.
Asked at a news conference in Estonia what the difference was between the bloodshed and civil war, Bush said recent bombings were part of a pattern of al Qaeda attacks aimed at provoking conflict between religious groups.
"The plan of Mr. Zarqawi was to foment sectarian violence," he said, referring to the former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq killed by a U.S. air strike in June, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
"What you're seeing on TV started last February," he said. "It was an attempt by people to foment sectarian violence."
Caldwell said Iraq was not in a civil war because the government was functioning, it had the loyalty of its security forces and no group was trying to overthrow and replace it.
But he predicted "elevated levels of violence in the next couple of weeks ... al Qaeda, foreign terrorists and extremists do not want to let Iraqis decide their own future".
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was visiting Iran in the hope it can help stem the bloodletting. Anti-American President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday Iran would do what it could.
Iranian television quoted Khamenei as telling Talabani on Tuesday: "The first step to resolve the insecurity in Iraq is the withdrawal of the occupiers and handing over the security issues to the Iraqi government, which is backed by the people.
"Some U.S. agents in the region are the middle men for implementing American policies and creating an insecure Iraq."
Bush said the Iraqi government was free to talk to Iran, but U.S. conditions for direct talks with Tehran remained unchanged -- it must suspend nuclear fuel enrichment.
Washington is keen to stop Iran's nuclear program, which it suspects aims to produce atomic weapons. Iran denies it.
The United States is facing calls to engage Tehran to help end the bloodshed, and Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki are due to meet in Jordan this week. U.S. officials say contacts with Iran and Syria will be on their agenda.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed on Tuesday an international conference among Iraqi political parties and said again that Syria and Iran, needed to be engaged.
"We should bring them (Syria and Iran) in and get them to work with us in resolving the issue, and let them assume some of the responsibility," Annan told reporters in New York.
Six Iraqi's, including five girls ranging in age from infant to teenager, were killed on Tuesday during a firefight between a U.S. patrol and suspected insurgents in Ramadi, western Iraq, the U.S. military said.
"In a very tragic way, today reminds us that insurgents' actions throughout Iraq are felt by all," said military spokesman Marine Lt. Col. Bryan Salas.
A man blew himself up next to the convoy of Kirkuk governor Abdul-Rahman Mustafa, killing a passerby and wounding 12 people.
"It was the third assassination attempt on my life, but it will not stop me doing my job," Mustafa told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan and Paul Taylor in Tallinn)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:11 AM
Immigration files missing
About 30,000 applications from immigrants seeking citizenship were processed by the government even though thousands of background files used to determine eligibility were missing, congressional investigators found.
Details of the investigation by the Government Accountability Office were released by Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Susan Collins of Maine Tuesday.
According to the GAO, 14 Citizenship and Immigration Services offices were missing 110,000 so-called alien files, or A-files. Such files contain applications and other documents of some noncitizens and serve as the primary file for the immigrant and help determine eligibility.
Grassley and Collins said the citizenship and immigration offices, which are part of the Department of Homeland Security, rely on A-files to help determine eligibility for immigration benefits. The files are used by homeland security and law enforcement agencies during criminal investigations and to decide whether someone should remain in the U.S.
The GAO said the citizenship and immigration agency may not have consulted A-files when processing 30,000 naturalization applications in 2005. A-files were checked in 96 percent of the naturalization cases processed that year. The agency manages 55 million A-files.
In addition, the number of applications processed without consulting A-files could have been less because workers sometimes don't record whether they've consulted the files, the GAO said.
Spokesmen at Department of Homeland Security and Citizenship and Immigration Services could not be reached immediately Tuesday evening.
Grassley and Collins said they requested the investigation after the Homeland Security agency granted U.S. citizenship to a suspected terrorist, without checking an A-file, in 2002.
"It only takes one missing file of somebody with links to a terrorist organization to become an American citizen," Grassley said in a news release.
The missing files also cause delays for immigrants with no security issues from becoming U.S. citizens, the senators said.
The senators said the agency agreed with the GAO to require workers to record whether an A-file was used to process a naturalization application and to use an automated file tracking system.
On the Net: To read a copy of the report: http://grassley.senate.gov/
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:10 AM
Judge rules insurance covers New Orleans homeowners
By Jeffrey Jones
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A Louisiana federal judge has ruled many New Orleans homeowners whose houses sustained water damage after Hurricane Katrina are not excluded from coverage under their insurance policies, a judgment that represents a loss for the insurance industry.
In an 85-page judgment, U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood Duval denied motions by some insurers seeking to stop policyholders from receiving claims they said were prevented by exclusion language spelled out in the policies.
The insurance companies argued the industry standard wording for what constitutes a flood covers any inundation of dry land by water.
But in his decision, which insurers are expected to appeal, Duval drew a distinction between flooding that occurs naturally and the destructive force of the water that rushed into the city when the levees gave way.
He also said insurers' definitions of the word "flood" were ambiguous and did not necessarily include man-made causes, such as levee failures.
"It is the considered opinion of the Court that because the policies are all-risk, and because 'flood' has numerous definitions, it reasonably could be limited to natural occurrences," Duval wrote.
One exception was State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., whose policy language specifically spelled out exclusion of flood coverage regardless of the cause.
Several levees and footwalls in and around New Orleans breached after the deadly August 29, 2005 storm, submerging 80 percent of the city and causing severe damage to more than 150,000 homes. Some studies have blamed the failures on poor design and maintenance of the flood barriers.
The judgment covers four separate cases under an umbrella for levee and canal failure proceedings and involved State Farm, Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America, Encompass Insurance Co. and a host of others.
"In the New Orleans area, everyone who bought insurance from a company other than State Farm at the moment now stands the prospect of getting full coverage under their homeowners policy for their damages, to the extent those damages were the result of water being released from the levee," John Ellison, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said on Tuesday.
The decision runs counter to that of a judge in Mississippi, who ruled in August that a couple from that state, whose home was hit with $130,000 of damage from Katrina, was not covered by their policy due to the exclusion of flood coverage.
One insurance industry official said he believed the ruling will be overturned on appeal, as it appears to ignore that companies are using the well-established standards accepted by federal regulators.
If it stands, it will force insurers to restrict coverage and raise rates in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast and slow the recovery, said Robert Hartwig, chief economist with the Insurance Information Institute.
However, companies have already raised rates even without paying the water damage claims yet, Ellison said.
Katrina cost insurers about $41 billion in claims, the largest event in the history of the industry, with homes accounting for nearly half of the total.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:08 AM
Hail to the chief
By Charlie Savage
Dick Cheney's mission to expand -- or 'restore' --the powers of the presidency
ANN ARBOR, MICH. -- In July 1987, then-Representative Dick Cheney, the top Republican on the committee investigating the Iran-contra scandal, turned on his hearing room microphone and delivered, in his characteristically measured tone, a revolutionary claim.
President Reagan and his top aides, he asserted, were free to ignore a 1982 law at the center of the scandal. Known as the Boland Amendment, it banned US assistance to anti-Marxist militants in Nicaragua.
"I personally do not believe the Boland Amendment applied to the president, nor to his immediate staff," Cheney said.
Most of Cheney's colleagues did not share his vision of a presidency empowered to bypass US laws governing foreign policy. The committee issued a scathing, bipartisan report accusing White House officials of "disdain for the law."
Cheney refused to sign it. Instead, he commissioned his own report declaring that the real lawbreakers were his fellow lawmakers, because the Constitution "does not permit Congress to pass a law usurping Presidential power."
The Iran-contra scandal was not the first time the future vice president articulated a philosophy of unfettered executive power -- nor would it be the last. The Constitution empowers Congress to pass laws regulating the executive branch, but over the course of his career, Cheney came to believe that the modern world is too dangerous and complex for a president's hands to be tied. He embraced a belief that presidents have vast "inherent" powers, not spelled out in the Constitution, that allow them to defy Congress.
Cheney bypassed acts of Congress as defense secretary in the first Bush administration. And his office has been the driving force behind the current administration's hoarding of secrets, its efforts to impose greater political control over career officials, and its defiance of a law requiring the government to obtain warrants when wiretapping Americans. Cheney's staff has also been behind President Bush's record number of signing statements asserting his right to disregard laws.
A close look at key moments in Cheney's career -- from his political apprenticeship in the Nixon and Ford administrations to his decade in Congress and his tenure as secretary of defense under the first President Bush -- suggests that the newly empowered Democrats in Congress should not expect the White House to cooperate when they demand classified information or attempt to exert oversight in areas such as domestic surveillance or the treatment of terrorism suspects.
Peter Shane, an Ohio State University law professor, predicted that Cheney's long career of consistently pushing against restrictions on presidential power is likely to culminate in a series of uncompromising battles with Congress.
"Cheney has made this a matter of principle," Shane said. "For that reason, you are likely to hear the words 'executive privilege' over and over again during the next two years."
Cheney declined to comment for this article. But he has repeatedly said his agenda includes restoring the presidency to its fullest powers by rolling back "unwise" limits imposed by Congress after the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.
"In 34 years, I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job," Cheney said on ABC in January 2002. "I feel an obligation...to pass on our offices in better shape than we found them to our successors."
Cheney's ideal of presidential power is the level of power the office briefly achieved in the late 1960s, the era of what historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called the "imperial presidency."
Early in the Cold War, presidents began invoking national security to seize greater power from Congress. This concentration of authority peaked under President Richard Nixon, who famously asserted that "when the president does it, that means it's not illegal." But Watergate reawakened Congress, which passed new laws to regulate presidential power.
Cheney was a close observer of that era. He landed his first job in the federal government in 1969, when Donald Rumsfeld hired him as an assistant at the Office of Economic Opportunity. The antipoverty agency, set up by Congress during the Johnson administration, was unpopular among conservatives, and Rumsfeld's and Cheney's job was to help Nixon impose greater political control over the office.
A chief target was the agency's legal aid program, headed by Terry Lenzner. Now a private investigator, Lenzner said in a recent interview that the White House pressured him to fire lawyers who filed class-action lawsuits on behalf of the poor. But Lenzner said he could not fire them because of the way Congress had written the agency's statute.
"I was being told, 'You have to put a stop to this, you have to control these lawyers,'" Lenzner recalled. "But I said that 'If I do what you want me to do, it will violate the law.'"
The orders to fire lawyers, Lenzner said, came from other White House aides, not Rumsfeld or Cheney personally. Still, in November 1970, Rumsfeld summoned Lenzner to his office, and, with Cheney at his side, fired Lenzner because he was unwilling to follow orders.
In August 1974, Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment by Congress. The new president, Gerald Ford, asked Rumsfeld to be his White House chief of staff, and Rumsfeld again made Cheney his deputy. A year later, Rumsfeld became secretary of defense, and Cheney replaced him as Ford's top aide.
In his new role, Cheney was exposed to national security issues from the perspective of a White House that wanted to preserve secrets in the face of congressional demands for more openness. Soon after Rumsfeld and Cheney took on their new posts, Congress passed a bill to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act. The bill allowed judges to review classified documents to determine if they were being shielded for political purposes.
In October 1974, Ford vetoed the legislation, telling Congress that the bill "would violate constitutional principles." Congress, however, overrode his veto, and lawmakers soon threatened to impose further limits on presidential power.
In December 1974, The New York Times reported that the CIA had engaged in an illegal domestic spying program for two decades, tapping phones, opening mail, and breaking into homes of antiwar protesters. The article, by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, prompted a congressional uproar.
In a memo to Ford, obtained at the Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Mich., Cheney urged the swift creation of a presidential commission to investigate the CIA. Cheney wrote that doing so was "the best prospect for heading off congressional efforts to further encroach on the executive branch."
Ford created the commission, but Congress moved in anyway. A Senate committee chaired by Idaho Democrat Frank Church began demanding access to secret documents. But Cheney soon saw a chance to convince the public that investigating intelligence operations was dangerous and unwise.
In May 1975, Hersh wrote an article discussing how US submarines eavesdropped on the Soviet Union's undersea cables. Fearing that the article had damaged national security, Cheney pushed the idea of indicting the reporter using the 1917 Espionage Act.
Making an example out of Hersh, Cheney wrote, would "create an environment" that might intimidate both the press and Congress. "Can we take advantage of it to bolster our position on the Church Committee investigation? To point out the need for limits on the scope of the investigations?" Cheney wrote. The idea, however, was scrapped to avoid attracting the Soviets' attention to Hersh's article.
The next spring, after revelations that the National Security Agency had monitored the phone calls of American civil rights and antiwar activists, Congress drafted legislation to require warrants for domestic surveillance. Cheney's allies, including Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and then-CIA director George H.W. Bush, opposed such a bill as a derogation of presidential power. But Ford decided not to fight it.
Congress passed the warrant requirement as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 -- the same law that the Bush-Cheney administration later bypassed with its warrantless wiretapping program.
After Ford lost the 1976 presidential election to Jimmy Carter, Cheney returned to Wyoming and in 1978 won a seat in Congress, where he specialized in intelligence matters. During the Iran-contra hearings, Cheney failed to convince a majority of his colleagues that the Reagan administration was justified in ignoring the Boland Amendment, but he moved quickly to block new congressional encroachments on what he saw as a president's exclusive turf.
When the Senate passed a bill forcing presidents to notify Congress of all covert operations within 48 hours, Cheney led a successful fight to defeat the bill in the House. He argued that Congress was prone to leaks and had no authority to force the commander-in-chief to share information about covert operations.
"The 48-hour bill would 'get back' at President Reagan by tying the hands of all future presidents," Cheney wrote in a May 1988 Wall Street Journal column. "That approach will achieve nothing useful."
The next year, Cheney became defense secretary under President George H.W. Bush. In his new position, Cheney again pushed for an expansive view of presidential power -- most dramatically in late 1990, when Cheney urged Bush to launch the Gulf War without asking Congress for authorization.
For all major overseas wars from 1789 to 1950, presidents obeyed the constitutional provision giving Congress alone the power to declare war. But in Korea and Vietnam, Presidents Truman, Johnson, and Nixon defied this constraint. They asserted that the commander-in-chief had "inherent" power to take the country to war on his own.
Seeking to restore its constitutional role, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973, requiring presidents to consult Congress when sending troops into battle.
After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Bush sent 500,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia. As they prepared to attack the Iraqi forces, Cheney told Bush that it was unnecessary and too risky to seek a vote in Congress.
"I was not enthusiastic about going to Congress for an additional grant of authority," Cheney recalled in a 1996 PBS "Frontline" documentary. "I was concerned that they might well vote 'no' and that would make life more difficult for us."
But Bush rejected Cheney's advice and asked Congress for a vote in support of the war. The resolution passed -- barely. Had Congress voted no, Cheney later said, he would have urged Bush to launch the Gulf War regardless.
"From a constitutional standpoint, we had all the authority we needed," Cheney said in the 1996 documentary. "If we'd lost the vote in Congress, I would certainly have recommended to the president that we go forward anyway."
As the Gulf War proceeded, Cheney fought with Congress on other fronts. After civilian Pentagon lawyers clashed with military attorneys over the handling of any bodies contaminated by biological weapons, Cheney asked Congress to change the law to place all military attorneys under the control of civilian political appointees. Congress rejected Cheney's proposal. But in March 1992, Cheney's deputy issued an administrative order defying the expressed will of Congress.
At the same time, Cheney was thwarting Congress by refusing to issue contracts for the V-22 Osprey, a plane that was plagued with technical problems. Cheney opposed the V-22 program, but Congress appropriated funds for it.
By refusing to issue contracts, Cheney revived a Nixon-era tactic of "impounding" funds -- refusing to spend money for programs that he didn't like. Congress had passed a law in 1974 to ban impoundment. Cheney, who later said he believes the anti-impoundment law unconstitutionally infringes on executive power, ignored it.
But Congress forced Cheney to back down in July 1992, when his top assistant, David Addington, was nominated to be the Pentagon's general counsel and came before a Senate confirmation hearing.
"How many ways are there around evading the will of Congress? How many different legal theories do you have?" Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, thundered at Cheney's aide.
"I do not have any, senator," said Addington. He was confirmed only after promising that the Pentagon would restore the military lawyers' independence and issue V-22 contracts as quickly as possible.
Cheney left government after Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, but he returned as a deeply influential vice president eight years later. His aide Addington became a dominant member of the administration's legal team, and together, Cheney and Addington made the assertion of sweeping executive powers a hallmark of George W. Bush's presidency.
One of Cheney's first acts as vice president was to convene an energy policy task force, inviting energy company lobbyists to suggest a package of tax breaks and other incentives for their companies.
When Congress and watchdog groups requested his task force's records, Cheney successfully fought a court battle to keep them secret, arguing that presidents needed greater power to solicit candid advice. The decision gutted the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a 1972 law in which Congress tried to require such policymaking to be subject to public scrutiny.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, military lawyers objected to the administration's assertion that a president has the power to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects outside the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions. In response, the administration renewed Cheney's attempt to put military lawyers under the control of civilian appointees.
Citing a need for secrecy, the administration also erected new roadblocks to Freedom of Information Act requests, restricted access to historic presidential records, and threatened to prosecute journalists who published classified information using the 1917 anti-spying law -- the same idea Cheney toyed with in 1975.
In signing statements and legal memos, the administration, with Cheney and Addington as its driving force, has repeatedly used the war on terrorism to advance the idea that the president has vast "inherent" authority to bypass laws enacted by Congress. Even when Congress voted, a week after the 9/11 attacks, to authorize the use of military force against Al Qaeda, the administration quickly seized the moment to lay down its marker.
"[Congress cannot] place any limits on the president's determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response," the Justice Department asserted in a September 2001 memo solicited by the White House. "These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the president alone to make."
The following year, the administration drew up secret legal opinions informing military and CIA interrogators that the president has the power to authorize them to violate laws banning torture.
"In order to respect the president's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign against Al Qaeda and its allies, [the anti-torture law] must be construed as not applying to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in-chief authority," said an August 2002 memo, which was leaked to the media only after the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib came to light.
Then, in December 2005, The New York Times revealed that the administration was wiretapping Americans' international phone calls and e-mails without warrants, violating the 1978 surveillance law.
Three days later, Cheney sat down with reporters and laid out his belief "in a strong, robust executive authority." Bypassing the warrant law, he asserted, was "consistent with the constitutional authority of the president."
Cheney also indicated that he hopes to establish further precedents for the expansion of presidential authority. Listing other statutory constraints on presidential power, he said they "will be tested at some point." When Cheney was asked whether he believed that the pendulum of executive power had swung back far enough in the direction he desired, or whether it needed to swing back further, he demurred.
"I do think that to some extent now, we've been able to restore the legitimate authority of the presidency," he replied.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:06 AM