United States News Digest
Administration Wages War on Constitution, Congress
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales led an Executive Branch blitz, beginning Jan. 24, in defense of the National Security Agency's unconstitutional warrantless surveillance of American citizens, with a speech at Georgetown University Law Center declaring that it is both legal and necessary. The previous day, Gen. Michael Hayden, deputy to the Director of National Intelligence, spoke at the National Press Club, where he too stomped all over the Constitution: "I have two paths in front of me," he said, "both of them lawful: one FISA, one the President's authorization. And we go down this path because our operational judgment is it is much more effective. So we do it for that reason." When a reporter noted that the FISA law states that this is the exclusive means for allowing wiretapping, Hayden said the legality was cleared by the Attorney General.
White House Counsel Dan Bartlett was also part of the blitz, appearing on all of the network morning talk shows on Jan. 23. Asked by NBC's Norah O'Donnell about Republican opposition from Senators Arlen Specter (Pa) and John McCain (Ariz), Bartlett said that McCain was "not a lawyerhe hasn't been read into the program." O'Donnell then asked about the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service report that found that the program was "inconsistent with the law." Bartlett let it all hang out: "The Congressional Research Service is an arm of the Congressthat's their clientand I don't think it should surprise anybody that they came to that conclusion."
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Bartlett's remarks suggested would be ignored by the White House, is preparing its own inquiry. Committee chairman Specter reportedly sent a list of 15 "sharply worded" questions to Gonzales in preparation for a Feb. 6 hearing on the NSA domestic spying program. The Baltimore Sun reported that Specter also took issue in the letter "with major themes of Bush's legal defense of the program, including that Congress gave implicit approval for it in a 2001 resolution authorizing the use of force against terrorists." The New York Times reported that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is calling for former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Deputy Attorney General James Comey also to be called, subpoenaed if necessary, to testify. Ashcroft was Attorney General at the time the NSA program was initiated; then-Deputy AG Comey suspended parts of the NSA program in 2004 while Ashcroft was hospitalized, and refused to reauthorize them.
Democrats Want Special Counsel in Abramoff Investigation
Democratic Senators Charles Schumer (NY) and Ken Salazar (Colo) wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Jan. 26, requesting the appointment of a special counsel to take over the Jack Abramoff investigation. "Given the possible ties between Mr. Abramoff and senior government officials, we believe the appointment of a special counsel is not only justified, but necessary," they wrote. Their letter follows more revelations in Jan. 22 press reports about Abramoff's corruption as well as his ties to two Members of Congress, both Republicans: Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio and Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana.
Congress Pushes Nuclear Reprocessing
The Bush Administration is planning a "multi-decade effort dubbed the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership" for new technologies, including spent fuel reprocessing, that lower the risk of weapons proliferation, according to the Jan. 26 Washington Post. Reprocessing has been advocated by nuclear supporters on Capitol Hill and the industry; $50 million is included in the Department of Energy's FY06 budget. Officials told the Post that the FY07 budget will include $250 millionless than DOE requested. Energy Committee chair Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) says that if the FY07 budget doesn't include enough money for reprocessing, he will "pursue it aggressively," in the Committee. While the U.S. should reprocess spent fuel and reuse it, rather than bury it in caves, the Administration's global purpose is to offer "cradle-to-grave" nuclear enrichment and reprocessing, to prevent other countries from developing their own capabilities.
Scandalously describing this international gambit as a "modern version of [President Eisenhower's] Atoms for Peace," Administration officials say the U.S. could "lease" nuclear fuel to a country, then take it back for reprocessing. Self-contained reactors can be developed which cannot be opened, are never refueled, and are removed when they run out of energy, giving the U.S. complete control of a country's nuclear plant.
White House Refuses To Turn Over Documents on Katrina
In yet another instance of abuse of powerthis time using the pretext of executive confidentialitythe White House refused in a statement Jan. 25, to turn over e-mails and other material to Congressional committees, or to allow senior officials to give sworn testimony that would reveal minimally the Administration's negligence in making proper preparation for Hurricane Katrina. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn)the best friend the White House has among Congressional Democratssaid during a Jan. 24 hearing of the Homeland Security Committee, that he will ask for a subpoena if the White House does not comply.
During an interview with CNN the next day, Lieberman said Senators have been asking for the documents since October. He said that witnesses who testified to the committee were "told by the White House not to answer" Senators' questions. It is clear, he stated, that the warning of the seriousness of the impending storm went to the White House Situation Room. "We want to know who got it."
A day earlier, the Washington Post reported that two days before Hurricane Katrina hit, the Department of Homeland Security's National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center provided a 41-page report to the White House warning of the expected devastation from Hurricane Katrina, including the breech of the levees.
Patriot Act Creates Federal Police
Paul Craig Roberts, in a Jan. 24 column on antiwar.com, warned that a provision of the Patriot Act reauthorization bill would create a new Federal police that would have the power to violate the Bill of Rights. Roberts quotes Section 605 of House Report 109-333 USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005: "There is hereby created and established a permanent police force, to be known as the 'United States Secret Service Uniformed Division.'" The new police are empowered to "make arrests without warrant for any offense against the United States committed in their presence, or for any felony cognizable under the laws of the United States if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing such felony." The new police are assigned a variety of jurisdictions, including "an event designated under section 3056(e) of title 18 as a special event of national significance" (SENS). Thus, the Administration, and perhaps the police themselves, can place the SENS designation on any event. Once a SENS designation is placed on an event, the new Federal police are empowered to keep out and arrest people at their discretion.
NAACP President Calls for Halt to Executions
NAACP president Bruce Gordon called for a halt to executions in every state, until questions of accuracy and fairness can be addressed, the Death Penalty Information Center reported Jan. 23. "African Americans represent 10% of the population and 42% of the population on death row," said Gordon. "That to me illustrates the inequity of the system and the appropriateness of a need for a moratorium.... We are going to make our position and presence known in every state, every time a prisoner is set to be executed. We will call governors, we will lobby legislatures. I intend to mobilize the NAACP around thiswe feel strongly about it."
Wolfowitz Brings GOP Cronyism to World Bank
According to the Jan. 23 Financial Times, World Bank Director and über-neo-con Paul Wolfowitz has "triggered a bitter conflict with the Bank's senior career staff by empowering a group of close political advisors to pursue aggressively what he sees as widespread corruption surrounding bank projects." At the center of the furor is one Suzanne Rich Folsom, the counsellor to Wolfowitz at the Bank (and to former Bank chief James Wolfensohn), whom Wolfowitz appointed on Jan. 17 to be Director of the Department of Institutional Integrity at the Bank. Folsom is the wife of George Folsom, the head of Project Democracy's International Republican Institute (IRI), better known as the International Regime-change Institute.
Folsom was already under attack at the Bank for bypassing internal rules in investigating e-mail records of several employees. Wolfowitz responded to the charges by pounding his chest: Those complaining are "trying to get me not to be tough on these issues. I just would like to say I don't intend to be intimidated."