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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

December 30, 2005 PERMALINK
Thinking Globally
(posted Dec. 30 1:30 AM ET)

This past Tuesday, the Financial Times published a couple of noteworthy opeds about America's present role in the world, worthy reading for liberals and Dems seeking to articulate an alternative foriegn policy vision.

As they live online behind a subscriber wall, below are a couple of key excerpts, without further comment.

"A World Order Gone Wobbly," by Columbia history prof Mark Mazower, finds America's exertion of unilateral power weakening its stature. (Full text can be found on this Topica email list directory):

The run-up to the Iraq war brought a dramatic transformation of world politics. It revealed a US disregarding the sovereignty of other countries and demanding previously unwanted global executive power.

The Bush administration saw itself as behaving - as Henry Luce, Time magazine founder, once called on America to do - as the "powerhouse" of "the ideals of civilisation". But in so doing it behaved like none that came before it.

The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was still wrapped in the mantle of United Nations approval. But even as the bombs fell on Kabul, the US ambassador to the UN warned "self-defence" might necessitate US action elsewhere.

When the UN Security Council stood in the way of attacking Iraq a year and a half later, Mr Bush reminded it of the fate of the interwar League of Nations.

With its defence budget approaching half of total world arms spending (and still barely 4 per cent of US gross domestic product), the administration has shown little respect for international laws or norms that might hinder the pursuit of its security priorities.

As a consequence, the US is now widely seen as one of the main threats to the existing order.

The spectacle of the world's most powerful state undermining the Kyoto accord, the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and the International Criminal Court confirms this perception.

Under Mr Bush's presidency a new international community has begun to emerge but, rather than being aligned with the US, it is counterposed to it.

Helped by these shifts in the balance of power the UN has just about weathered 2005 in one piece.

Yet an America that stands alone is good news for no one.

"It Is Time For Fine Words To Give Way To Meaningful Action," by Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute, discusses America's role in fighting global poverty (Economist's View has also posted portions):

The key breakthrough in 2005 was the commitment of the European Union donors to achieve the vaunted target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product in official development aid by the year 2015. An intermediate benchmark of 0.56 per cent of GNP in aid as of 2010 was established.

While Europe led, the Bush Administration sulked, refusing to be held to what it called an “artificial” standard.

How cheeky of the world’s richest and most powerful country, one that devotes $500bn per year to the military, yet a pathetic $4bn per year to the hungry and dying of Africa (less than 4 cents for every $100 of US GNP).

Most of that miserly aid to Africa is emergency food aid and US consultant salaries, rather than real development aid...

...The current poverty reduction strategies submitted to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank by the poor countries do not reflect real needs, because the poorest nations are counseled by those institutions to keep their ambitions low, in line with modest aid flows.

The result is a poverty trap, in which donors pretend to help and the recipient governments pretend to lead poverty-reduction programmes.

Cynicism abounds. US ambassadors privately shake their heads in despair, knowing that the US preaches poverty reduction but does not provide the resources to get the job done...

...2006 must be different...donors have committed to doubling Africa's aid by 2010, but that increase in aid will never materialize, or will go into the pockets of rich country consultants, unless it is programmed directly into African investments for infrastructure, health, education and the African "green revolution" in agricultural practices.

December 22, 2005 PERMALINK
Filibusters Are Back In Style
(posted Dec. 22 2 AM ET)

After the awful “Gang of 14” deal, filibusters were officially icky.

With every judicial nomination since, Dems have fearfully insisted that they aren’t even thinking of filibusters.

Not that they ever took it off the table. They just treated it like a disgusting abhorrent tactic that should never be spoken aloud.

But in the past several days, Dems have not only filibustered twice.

They filibustered on behalf of the public.

They filibustered not to obstruct, but to force Republicans to enact better legislation.

And they filibustered successfully.

Polling has shown that the public wants modifications to the Patriot Act so civil liberties will be protected.

Last Friday’s filibuster, blocking a bill renewing the act that did not protect our liberties, represented that majority,

With nowhere to run, Republicans had to take a deal to temporarily extend the current version and allow for more time to negotiate a better bill.

Polling has long showed that the public wants to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling.

So when Republicans cynically tried to tack a rider, opening ANWR to drilling, onto a “must-pass” defense spending bill, Democrats led a filibuster and stopped the bill.

This did not lead to a loss of funding to the military.

It simply prompted Republicans to drop the unpopular drilling provision so the Senate could pass a better spending bill.

With the Alito nomination just around the corner (hearings begin Jan. 9, and the PR battle will likely heat back up Jan. 2), the timing couldn’t be better for Dems to start singing the praises of the filibuster.

Dems should not go back to talking about the filibuster in hushed tones.

Dems should make very clear that they will insist upon a Supreme Court nominee that tells the truth to the Senate, avoids conflicts of interest, knows the Constitution protects privacy, supports the Constitutional principles behind Roe, supports “one person one vote,” believes corporations that discriminate and pollute should be held accountable, respects court warrants, and values checks and balances.

If Alito cannot meet those standards, then Democrats will do what it takes to ensure that the public gets a judge it wants and deserves, an impartial judge who respects Constitutional rights.

By filibuster if necessary.

December 21, 2005 PERMALINK
Iyman Faris: Bush's Greatest Terror-Fighting Success Story
(posted Dec. 21 1:45 AM ET)

The Right tried to pushback yesterday on the rising tide of criticism over Bush’s illegal warrantless wiretapping.

One prong was the “Democrats did it too!” defense, which Think Progress was debunking all day.

Another prong was the "illegal wiretapping works!" defense, which was dutifully carried out by CNN:

Intelligence officials say that the program is very valuable in the tool that they use to fight terrorists, and they say without it, the enemy could gain an edge.

Iyman Faris, an Ohio truck driver, pled guilty in 2003 to plotting with al Qaeda to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge.

Government officials with knowledge of the program tell CNN the NSA's ability to eavesdrop on people in the United States helped authorities move against him.

The Faris defense was also included in the original NY Times story about the illegal program.

This is not the first time Faris has been held up by the Administration when boasting about their terror-fighting record.

In October, when Bush claimed to have “disrupted at least 10 serious Al Qaida terrorist plots since September the 11th,” the White House could only name two actual cases.

One was Jose Padilla, who was the “dirty bomber.”

Except when the Administration finally charged him after two years in jail without a lawyer, they were unable to actually claim he was behind a dirty bomb plot, nor any other plot in America (the indictment doesn’t even mention Al Qaeda).

The other was Faris.

Except that the so-called “plot” was an idiotic scheme to take out the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches,

And according to the feds at the time of guilty plea, Faris had already figured out months earlier that the plot was unworkable.

(Also, for what it’s worth, Faris is mentally ill. He heard voices and suffered from hallucinations, and needed to be given meds once in prison.)

So the plot was not disrupted by the illegal wiretap program. It collapsed under the weight of its own idiocy.

That is, if Faris is actually guilty. He certainly did not get due process.

In June 2004, The Providence Phoenix reported:

He was secretly arrested in March 2003, charged with plotting to destroy the famous bridge, and held incommunicado for two months.

Then he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse: he could either plead guilty and cooperate with the FBI, or President Bush and the Department of Defense would declare him an "enemy combatant."

Once so declared, his criminal case would be terminated without trial, and he would be held incommunicado indefinitely, without access to legal counsel.

Rather than fall into such a purgatory, Faris agreed to plead guilty, sign a statement of "facts," and be sentenced to 20 years.

It was a long sentence, but a 20-year tunnel with light at the end of it was better than the alternative.

Faris told FBI interrogators that the signed statement of "facts" they were going to present to the sentencing judge was a fabrication.

During his public sentencing hearing in October of last year, he interrupted the proceedings to insist, again, that he’d been pressured by prosecutors and agents to sign the false statement of facts.

Faris’s frantic pleas went unheeded by the sentencing judge, who went along with the program.

So did Faris’s lawyer, former federal prosecutor J. Frederick Sinclair, who cooperated with the feds to draft the plea agreement in which Faris waived every single right, including the right to appeal or even to obtain his case records.

Faris then began serving his sentence.

It should be noted that Sinclair did try to get the plea thrown out. The LA Times reported after the 10/03 sentencing:

Sinclair... said at the hearing that he had developed doubts about whether Faris had checked out the structure of the Brooklyn Bridge or even visited New York.

He said Faris' only vehicle was his truck, which was too tall to cross the bridge without hitting cross-beams.

So why do the Bushies keep citing this penny-ante, dubious case about a low-level, mentally ill guy and his aborted blowtorch plot?

Because it’s the greatest success story they have.

Faris at least pled guilty. Padilla’s case is still being prosecuted. And that’s about it.

Back in June, the W. Post went into detail at how pathetic a job the Bushies have done on the terror front:

An analysis of the Justice Department's own list of terrorism prosecutions by The Washington Post shows that 39 people -- not 200, as [White House] officials have implied -- were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security.

Most of the others were convicted of relatively minor crimes such as making false statements and violating immigration law -- and had nothing to do with terrorism, the analysis shows.

For the entire list, the median sentence was just 11 months.

Taken as a whole, the data indicate that the government's effort to identify terrorists in the United States has been less successful than authorities have often suggested...

...Except for a small number of well-known cases -- such as truck driver Iyman Faris, who sought to take down the Brooklyn Bridge -- few of those arrested appear to have been involved in active plots inside the United States.

Among all the people charged as a result of terrorism probes in the three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, The Post found no demonstrated connection to terrorism or terrorist groups for 180 of them...

... a large number of people appear to have been swept into U.S. counterterrorism investigations by chance -- through anonymous tips, suspicious circumstances or bad luck -- and have remained classified as terrorism defendants years after being cleared of connections to extremist groups.

So when the Bushies try to wave Faris around as some great example of the power of illegal warantless wiretaps, the questions they should be asked are:

If warrantless wiretaps are so great, then why is a low-level guy like Faris the only guy in America you caught because of them?

And might it be that the reason why so many people “have been swept into U.S. counterterrorism investigations by chance” is because of your illegal disregard for checks and balances?

December 20, 2005 PERMALINK
Why Checks and Balances Help Fight Terror
(posted Dec. 20 2 AM ET)

If ABC’s The Note weren’t on holiday break, they’d probably say something like: “When will stupid Democrats learn that smart Republicans love it when they focus on terrorism, because it reinforces the Strong GOP/Weak Dem narrative.”

And they would have half a point.

The Strong GOP/Weak Dem narrative, regarding national security, most certainly exists.

It’s not a new problem, and there is no quick fix for it.

But the solution is not to mimic Republican foreign policy principles, if for no other reason that Republican foreign policy is bad policy.

Nor is it to duck the issues and keep quiet when Republicans break the law when conducting foreign policy.

The solution, and it’s a long-term one, is to clearly and consistently articulate what Democratic foreign policy principles are, painting a positive vision of where the party would take the country and the world, and contrasting it with the GOP vision.

(LiberalOasis discussed this in terms of Iraq policy earlier this month.)

If you don’t do that, and you only raise your voice when civil liberties are violated, then you risk looking like you don’t have the stomach to do what it takes to protect the nation.

And you give the GOP the opening to say, Dems won’t go to the mat to stop terror.

It’s not enough to note that the laws were broken, or the Constitution was subverted. It can be shrugged off as mere technicality.

It’s not enough to raise the prospect of people’s rights being violated. It’s too easy to think that will only happen to the “bad guys” and not to yourself.

Both of those criticisms should be made, vigorously so.

But they should be put into the context of a larger, consistently articulated, anti-terror strategy.

And that is, if America is going to be a force for credible democracy, and if it's going to rally the world to isolate and suffocate Al Qaeda, we cannot allow America to lose its moral standing.

The torture, the secret prisons, the warrantless invasions of privacy, that gives our enemies ammunition.

That helps them make a case that we are not on the side of average Arabs and Muslims.

Terror suspects must be investigated, interrogated and imprisoned.

But we don’t wantonly invade privacy and secretly imprison people, because you can get it wrong and you can destroy the lives of innocents.

Not only does that hurt individuals, it hurts the larger cause.

We have checks and balances to prevent such errors and allow for mistakes to be fixed.

So sensitive decisions are not made recklessly and politically. So the fight against terror is as effective as possible.

And we are savvy enough to have created systems that allow for checks and balances without sacrificing speed and efficiency.

Bush in particular has shown how power can be abused, and why checks and balances are so important, by claiming legal authority he simply does not have.

It was that same attitude about unbalanced executive power that led to the blown cover of a CIA agent and the rendition of suspects to countries that torture.

Bush and the GOP are fighting terror and conducting foreign policy the wrong way, which is why the Al Qaeda ideology has dramatically spread since 9/11.

Once it’s clear that our way is the best way to fight terror, then not only will the GOP lose its ability to claim that Dems aren’t willing to do what it takes to protect the nation, it will become clear that the opposite is true.

December 19, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Dec. 19 1:30 AM ET)

Condi Rice was dispatched to the Sunday shows to deliver two pathetic, transparent lies regarding the Administration’s domestic spying without warrants.

The first lie is that Bush has statutory and Constitutional authority to authorize warantless spying.

The second lie is that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which set up a secret FISA court to quickly issue sensitive warrants (even after the fact) isn’t designed to handle the War on Terror well.

Regarding the first lie, Bush initially tried it out in his Saturday radio address:

To fight the war on terror, I am using authority vested in me by Congress, including the Joint Authorization for Use of Military Force, which passed overwhelmingly in the first week after September the 11th.

I'm also using constitutional authority vested in me as Commander-in-Chief.

In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.

This is utter nonsense.

The “Joint Authorization for Use of Military Force” did just that, authorized military force against those involved with 9/11. It didn’t authorize anything else.

And the “constitutional authority” claim is nothing but asserting that the “Commander-In-Chief” can do whatever he feels like as long as he says it’s in the nation’s defense.

Which the Constitution doesn’t say.

Condi, however, didn’t bother leaning on the post-9/11 Joint Authorization part of the argument to make the case for statutory authority.

She merely referred to unnamed statutes.

Witness this exchange with Meet The Press’ Tim Russert:

RUSSERT: Why did the president not get a court order?

RICE: The FISA is indeed an important source of that authority, and in fact, the administration actively uses FISA.

But FISA ... came out of 1978 at a time when the principal concern was, frankly, the activities of people on behalf of foreign governments, rather stable targets, very different from the kind of urgency of detection and thereby protection of a country that is needed today.

And so the president has drawn on additional authorities that he has under the Constitution and under other statutes.

RUSSERT: What are the other authorities?

RICE: Tim, again, I'm not a lawyer, but the president has constitutional authority and he has statutory authorities.

Over on CNN’s Late Edition, Sen. Russ Feingold responded, and did not mince words:

FEINGOLD: I believe it does violate the law... The president has to have a basis for making it within the law...

...Under the FISA law -- which was ... a controversial law as it was -- that created the only other way other than Title III under the criminal code that you could have a wiretap authorized.

And it specifically uses the language that this is the exclusive, exclusive law along with the criminal law that allows it.

So there is no legal authority under the statutes that I know of...

...they've had a couple of days now, and they haven't come up with anything. You know why?

Because there isn't going to be any statute authorizing this. I guarantee it.

WOLF BLITZER: That would assume that the lawyers at the Justice Department and the lawyers of the National Security Agency went ahead and approved this illegally.

FEINGOLD: Well, that's not too surprising to me after we saw the original proposals from these lawyers for military tribunals, when they apparently thought that torture was all right, when we have secret prisons around the world.

On the second lie, Condi had to find something to say to deal with the fact that the FISA court is not only completely secret, but approves practically every warrant request.

(In fact, there have been concerns raised that the court, because of its secret nature, can be too deferential and susceptible to bogus evidence provided by the Administration.)

So Condi had to completely fabricate what the FISA court does. From Meet The Press:

RUSSERT: Well, the [FISA court] very, very seldom [turns] down a request...

RICE: Tim, the circumstances of FISA relate to rather more stable targets, people who are principally acting on behalf of governments.

These are stateless networks of people who communicate and communicate in much more fluid ways, and where the urgency of detecting where the importance of not letting it happen is far greater than I think anything that would have been envisioned in 1978, before we saw the twin towers and the Pentagon go down.

Feingold again corrected the record:

...what I'm watching is the statements that are being made by the White House are false.

Secretary Rice said today that the reason they didn't want to use this FISA court is that you can only use it for people that were employees of foreign governments.

Now, that's just flat wrong.

The law specifically allows [for] this with regard to terrorist organizations and even now, under the law, lone wolf operators, people that are just planning a terrorist attack on their own.

(GOP Sen. Arlen Specter then said to Feingold, “Well, I don't think you hold Condoleezza Rice to a sound bite on a television show.” Duh! Everyone knows if you say it on TV, it doesn’t count. Silly Russ.)

And on CBS’ Face The Nation, Sen. Joe Biden elaborated further:

...I'm the guy that drafted the FISA Act 25 years ago on the Judiciary Committee, one of the three people...

...it's a secret court allowing the president to wiretap anybody, intercept anything for up to [72] hours.

They can in the meantime go into that court and say, "I needed to do this."

If there's a reason the court thinks is under the Constitution permissible, they're allowed to do it. If it turns out they're not allowed to do it, they have to destroy the evidence...

...This is neither, I think, legal, nor is it necessary, what [Bush has] been doing.

It is a little bit frightening how broadly he asserts his authority as commander in chief, where the guy hasn't shown very good judgment on torture or a lot of other things...

...the idea that his Justice Department doesn't act swiftly enough, which is one of the arguments offered, or the not sustainable argument made by the secretary this morning that this is a different kind of war -- ...it's a secret court. It's given him everything he's wanted.

Both Biden and Feingold generally handled this issue the right way.

Not only nailing Bush on the legality of the actions and the veracity of his claims.

But also tying it to his past actions on torture and secret prisons, to drive home how damaging it is to our moral standing and our ability to fight terror when trash the Founders’ system of checks and balances.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Faithful Progressive posts msg from Coalition on Human Needs Exec. Dir.: "Yesterday it was my honor to stand, kneel, and sit with more than 110 splendid people of conscience and faith who were arrested in front of Congress while speaking against the shameful budget cuts our elected officials are considering ... But to be really effective I need to take one more step - I'm going to call my Senators and Representative."

MyDD: "the McCain amendment doesn't prevent torture"

National Journal: Why Novak Called Rove

Wampum is taking nominations for the 2005 Koufax Awards, honoring the best liberal blogs

The Reality-Based Community: "the House ... decided that its first priority is to pass a resolution defending the symbols of Christmas ... several Representatives asked the House leadership to amend the resolution to protect the symbols of Chanukah as well, and it refused."

In These Times: Many of Alito's prominent Yale Law classmates back him out of personal loyalty, despite rejecting his judicial philosophy

Body and Soul: "The headline says: White House agrees to McCain's torture policy. But I'm not so sure."

TomDispatch has gift ideas for your "All-American Christmas"

Baghdad Burning: "More people are going to elect this time around - not because Iraqis suddenly believe in American-imposed democracy under occupation, but because the situation this last year has been intolerable ... Allawi is actually looking acceptable in the eyes of many. I still can't stand him. Allawi is still an American puppet ... There’s a saying in Iraq which people are using right and left lately ... He who sees death, is content with a fever."

Slingshot: Frist's Very Bad Week

Supreme Court Watch: Alito tried to deny a mentally retarded man, who was being sexually harassed at work, his day in court (PDF file)

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