Monday, April 04, 2005

News for April 4th: Coming Back Again

Welcome back to the Junkheap of History. My voice has fallen silent the past week, as I’ve sat in stunned disbelief at what is being done to the American system of checks and balances. For the past week, I’ve literally found myself without words to describe how I feel when it comes to what’s going on in our country these days. No more. I have to find the words; I can’t just sit back and let it happen.

The biggest threat to the U.S. right now is not President Bush, though he’s up there. The biggest threat is, without a doubt, one Tom DeLay. And it all starts right here, right where I’ve always believed this was going: a push of the judiciary to the Political Right. They couldn’t achieve it by any other means than by false crisis, yet again. From the St. Pete Times:

WASHINGTON - For all the attention her case has brought to the difficult issues of life and the end of life, the first legacy of Terri Schiavo may arise in the U.S. Capitol, by providing new momentum for Republican attempts to push the federal judiciary to the right.

Conservative activists and members of Congress believe that state and federal courts essentially ignored the law Congress passed on her behalf last month.

The case has brought national attention to the favorite conservative cause of reining in the judiciary, as well as to the Republican push in the Senate to overcome Democratic opposition and install more conservatives on the federal bench.

"I think the Schiavo case dramatized the need to do something to restrain the judiciary," said Richard Lessner, executive director of the American Conservative Union in Washington.

"So when we get to the coming battles over judicial nominees in the Senate, perhaps the public will be somewhat more engaged, in realizing what's at stake. In this case, literally life and death."

Schiavo's death Thursday came as senators prepared to address the most contentious issue brewing on Capitol Hill: whether Republican leaders will change a long-standing Senate rule that requires 60 votes to confirm a presidential nominee to the federal courts.

Republicans are threatening to change the rules so that judges could be confirmed with a simple majority, or 51 votes. Republicans hold 55 of the Senate's 100 seats.

Those who support the change call it the "constitutional option," because they contend that filibustering Democrats have overstepped the Senate's constitutional duty to "advise and consent" on judicial nominees.

Democrats call it the "nuclear option," because it would break the long-standing Senate tradition, unlike in the House, of allowing the minority to retain some measure of control.

Both sides acknowledge the Schiavo case has inflamed passions, because state and federal courts did not make the rulings anticipated by lawmakers who wrote the bill allowing federal review of her case.

"The lasting dispute isn't going to be between Terri's parents and her estranged husband. It's going to be between the branches of government," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

"The courts are at the very center of this, and I think that's going to increase the public pressure on the part of their elected representatives to take action. ... Just because someone dressed in black makes a decision, that is not the final word."

Congress returns this week after a two-week break. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is expected to discuss the issue with his Democratic counterpart, Harry Reid of Nevada, recently issued a letter outlining his desire to reach a compromise rather than change the rule.

"But any compromise must include an up or down vote" on the president's nominees, Frist spokeswoman Amy Call said.

Americans can expect the same sort of campaigning that has marked the battle over changing Social Security, as Democratic-leaning groups, including organized labor, seek to marshal a coordinated defense. Last week, the People for the American Way, a liberal group, launched a $5-million ad campaign that urges against changing the rules.

The Family Research Council is running ads in favor of it, and a coalition of conservative groups is expected to urge Frist to implement the change. They want the Senate to act before there's a vacancy on the Supreme Court, to ensure confirmation of the president's nominee.

"The end goal of accountable judges is what we want. And I can't imagine this judicial fiasco with the Schiavo case will lessen the urgency for something to happen here," said Carrie Gordon Earll, a senior policy analyst at Focus on the Family, an evangelical public policy group.

Schiavo, she said, "may be putting a face on the whole discussion of judicial activism for many people in the country who before didn't really know what we were talking about."

The president brought the fight over the judiciary to the forefront earlier this year by renominating seven of the 10 appellate court nominees the Democrats rejected during his first term.

Schiavo's death raised the heat of the rhetoric, with some lawmakers and conservative leaders now calling for Congress to wrest more control from the courts.

"This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said the day Schiavo died. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today."

In denying to hear the Schiavo case last week, Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr. of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said Congress and the president had overstepped their constitutional boundaries.

"We must conscientiously guard the independence of our judiciary, even in the face of the unfathomable human tragedy that has befallen Mrs. Schiavo," Birch wrote.

Birch also dismissed complaints about judicial activism, writing that, "Were the courts to change the law, as (Schiavo's parents) and Congress invite us to do, an "activist judge' criticism would be valid."

Mike Allen, an expert in constitutional law and civil procedure at the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, agreed that Schiavo "is going to be used as a poster child for this argument of judicial activism."

But as a matter of law, he said, her case was a lousy example. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer, who ordered that her tube be removed, followed state law in allowing Schiavo's husband to make decisions for her. And the law Congress passed didn't require the federal courts to reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube; it just allowed them to.

Conservatives' anger toward the judiciary has grown over the past two years with several court rulings, especially the approval of same-sex marriage by the Massachusetts high court; a lower-court ruling against the federal ban on late-term abortion; and the U.S. Supreme Court case, Lawrence vs. Texas , that overturned a Texas law outlawing sodomy. The case involved a gay couple.

Several conservative lawmakers have advocated laws that would restrict the power of the lower federal courts to rule on specific matters, including public display of the Ten Commandments. Those ideas haven't gained much traction on Capitol Hill. But Perkins of the Family Research Council said the Schiavo case provides ammunition for advocates of a more strident approach.

"If necessary, and it shouldn't be often, the legislative and the executive branch should refuse to acknowledge a judicial decision, just as the judiciary sometimes ignores the legislature," Perkins said.

"The message that we've seen to date is that the judicial system is suffering from a persistent state of arrogance. And that's going to have an impact on the debate over the judiciary."

But Allen and others said Republicans fuming in Congress should consider this, too: Political persuasion doesn't guarantee popular decisions, nor should it.

Greer is a conservative Christian and elected Republican. And among the federal courts that reviewed the Schiavo law, Republican appointees, including Birch, were just as likely to say no as Democrats.

And Mr. DeLay? Where does he come in with this? The courts "had thumbed their nose at Congress and the President," he said. He also threatened the Courts. Threatened them! "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behaviour." Excuse me?

James Dobson, the conservative evangelist went further: "It's time that the congress fulfill its constitutional responsibility to rein in the courts, the Constitution, Article 3, Section 1, gives the congress responsibility for all courts below the Supreme Court level. They can end the franchise, if you will, of a particular court. They can bring judges who make off-the-wall decisions to congress to explain what they've done." The "court is arrogantly thumbing its nose at every other form of authority."

The good news is, this hasn’t come without a price for the self-righteous prick:

Poll Finds DeLay's Support Has Slipped
Sun Apr 3, 9:10 PM ET

HOUSTON - Support for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has slipped in his district, and a majority of voters surveyed disapprove of his decision to lead Congress into the Terri Schiavo case, according to a Houston Chronicle poll.

Forty-five percent of 501 voters questioned last week said they would vote for someone else if a congressional election were at hand, while about 38 percent said they would re-elect DeLay.

The powerful Texas Republican maintained that his constituents backed his decision to take Congress into the dispute over whether to keep the severely brain-damaged woman alive. But nearly 58 percent of those surveyed said they opposed his decision, while about 33 percent expressed support.

"There seems to be no question that there has been an erosion in support for the congressman," said John Zogby, whose company Zogby International conducted the poll. "These are not good re-election numbers."

DeLay spokesman Dan Allen defended the congressman's record.

Voters have been electing DeLay for more than 20 years "because he's getting things done for the area. He's also earned their support because they know he's guided by principles not polls," Allen said Sunday.

DeLay, who has been admonished three times by the House Ethics Committee, won his 11th term in 2004 with 55 percent of the vote, his lowest share ever. The poll findings come about a year-and-a-half before he faces re-election.

About 40 percent of those polled said their opinion of DeLay has grown less favorable in the last year. Eleven percent said their view of him has improved, and about 47 percent said their opinion has not changed.

More at Yahoo! News

I missed coverage of this, but the Panel on Scapegoat…I mean WMD concluded that intelligence was at fault for the non-existent WMD that precipitated the invasion of Iraq. Big surprise. It’s not hard when you cherry-pick the intelligence. But don’t let reality challenge you. You go, boy!

Ex-CIA Chiefs Rebut Bush Panel Conclusions
Sat Apr 2,10:24 AM ET White House - AP Cabinet & State
By KATHERINE SHRADER, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Two former CIA chiefs on Friday disputed claims cited by a presidential commission that agency officials warned them that the government's leading source on Iraq's biological weapons had a reputation for making things up.

In a scathing report released Thursday, President Bush's intelligence commission found that the CIA "failed to convey to policy-makers new information casting serious doubt on the reliability of a human intelligence source known as 'Curveball.'" The commission found that several agency officers said they had doubts about the source and raised those doubts with senior leadership, including then-CIA Director George Tenet.

In separate statements Friday, Tenet and former acting CIA Director John McLaughlin denied the accounts.

"It is deeply troubling to me that there was information apparently available within CIA as of late September or October of 2002 indicating that Curveball may have been a fabricator," Tenet said in a detailed seven-page rebuttal. "There is nothing more serious or galvanizing in the intelligence business than associating the word fabricator with a human source."

McLaughlin said "unequivocally" that he wouldn't have allowed Curveball's information to be used "if someone had made these doubts clear."

Despite the apparent concerns, the commission found that information from Curveball remained a centerpiece of former Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations about the need to attack Iraq, as well as in an authoritative intelligence estimate prepared for policy-makers in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Curveball was an Iraqi defector living in Europe who became a source for German intelligence officials, who then passed the information to Americans. He provided detailed accounts of Iraq's purported mobile weapons labs and other aspects of the fallen regime's biological weapons programs that turned out to be false.

The report said interviews with Curveball's childhood friends revealed he had a reputation as a "liar" and a "con artist," according to one CIA analyst.

"Worse than having no human sources is being seduced by a human source who is telling lies," the commission said.

More at Yahoo! News

Yeah, the Patriot Act will never be abused. Sure. I believe all of these warrants were necessary. Just look at all those terrorists out there!

Record Number of Terror Warrants Approved
Sat Apr 2, 9:56 AM ET White House - AP Cabinet & State

By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The government requested and won approval for a record number of special warrants last year for secret wiretaps and searches of suspected terrorists and spies, 75 percent more than in 2000, the Bush administration disclosed Friday.

Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella revealed the figure in an annual report to Congress. Last year's total of 1,754 approved warrants was only slightly higher than the 1,724 approved in 2003. But the number has climbed markedly since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as authorities have moved aggressively against terror suspects. In 2000, there were 1,003 warrants approved under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Since passage of the Patriot Act, the FBI can use such warrants in investigations that aren't mostly focused on foreign intelligence.

Operating with permission from a secretive U.S. court that meets regularly at Justice headquarters, the FBI has used such warrants to break into homes, offices, hotel rooms and automobiles, install hidden cameras, search luggage and eavesdrop on telephone conversations. Agents also have pried into safe deposit boxes, watched from afar with video cameras and binoculars and intercepted e-mails.

Details about some FBI surveillances last year emerge from court records spread across different cases. But only a fraction of such warrants each year result in any kind of public disclosure, so little is known outside classified circles about how they work.

Last year, for example, the FBI used a special warrant to search the home of Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield, who was jailed in May after his fingerprint was incorrectly matched to one found on a bag of detonators near the scene of train bombings in Spain that killed 191 people in March 2004. He was released after the FBI admitted its mistake.

The Justice Department acknowledged the search as part of a lawsuit Mayfield has filed against the U.S. government in which he contends his rights were violated by his arrest and by the investigation against him.

More at Yahoo! News

More to come later. Just so busy…

Posted by crimnos @ 8:55 AM