Six Degrees of Speculation: July 2006: Archives
On the heels of an errant bombing in Lebanon that is believed to have killed in excess of 50 civilians, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has decided to return to Washington without completing the balance of her diplomatic mission. After the bombing, the Lebanese Prime Minister Faud Saniora called for nothing less than an immediate cease fire, a move that signaled little room for further negotiation at the moment. MSNBC has the full story here.
The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the diplomatic situation, said Rice would work from Washington on a U.N. Security Council resolution to end the crisis.
Rice said on Sunday she was “deeply saddened by the terrible loss of innocent life" after an attack on a village in southern Lebanon. But she did not call for an immediate cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militias.
Israel’s attack, which killed scores of civilians while they sleep, led Rice to cancel an expected visit to Beirut for a meeting Sunday with Lebanese Prime Minister Faud Saniora. Rice said she called Saniora to postpone; angry Lebanese officials said it was their government that called off the meeting.
The bombing mishap is expected to harden calls for a cease fire as well as continue the trend of growing public outrage within the region at the continued actions of the Israeli army. Since the start of the conflict, when Hezbollah provoked Israel by abducting two Israeli soldiers and killing three others, public opinion has shifted from anger at Hezbollah to anger at Israel which has made it more difficult for Israel and the United States to delay efforts to bring the military actions to an end.
Daniel DiRito | July 30, 2006 | 9:05 AM |
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In an expected move, House Republicans passed a minimum wage increase but the measure includes significant changes in the estate tax structure...removing the tax altogether for many wealthy Americans and capping the tax rate at 30 percent for estates exceeding 25 million dollars. The Washington Post has the full article here. Thought Theater previously discussed the measure and the tactics being employed by the Republican controlled House.
The House, at about 1:30 a.m. yesterday, voted 230 to 180 to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, from the $5.15 rate on the books since 1997. The bill also would exempt from taxation all estates worth as much as $5 million -- or $10 million for a married couple -- and apply a 15 percent tax rate to inheritances above that threshold and as much as $25 million. For estates exceeding $25 million in value, the tax rate would be 30 percent.
Most congressional Republicans support the estate-tax cuts and oppose the minimum wage increase. Most Democrats take the opposite positions. Democrats said they saw a two-edged strategy in the GOP decision to couple the issues.
Democrats' eagerness to raise the minimum wage might attract enough support in the Senate as well as the House to pass the estate-tax cut, a major GOP goal. But if Senate Democrats block the bill because of their aversion to the estate-tax cut -- as their leaders have vowed to do -- House Republicans may at least be able to blunt Democratic accusations that they made no effort to help the working poor.
The move, by Republicans, is simply an attempt to neutralize an issue they see as a vulnerability this November. They see a benefit whether the bill is passed or rejected in the Senate. If the bill is rejected they believe they can argue that they sought to help low wage workers but the Democrats refused to endorse the proposed legislation. If the bill is passed, they not only enacted a minimum wage increase but passed their long sought estate tax reform. This will be a key test for Senate Democrats and may signal whether the Party can muster the consensus needed to defeat this measure as well as begin the process of speaking with a strong and united voice.
Daniel DiRito | July 30, 2006 | 8:37 AM |
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The recent Supreme Court ruling on detainees held by the United States stated that they were to be treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions guidelines and that they were entitled to be processed under current military legal proceedings or some other legitimate legal process that Congress may choose to enact. The Washington Post reports that Attorney General Gonzales, in light of the ruling, is discussing new legislation to shield those who were responsible for the handling of the detainees during the period of time that was the focus of the Supreme Court ruling.
An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts.
Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.
Prior to the passage of the McCain bill establishing guidelines on torture and the proper handling of detainees, the Bush administration repeatedly asserted that the U.S. did not engage in torture. Nonetheless, once the bill was passed, the administration attached a signing statement to the bill that basically exempted the President from the legislation should he determine a situation was a matter of national security. The signing statement along with the Supreme Court ruling has apparently raised concerns that there may be ample evidence to make accusations of war crimes. The larger problem, in my opinion, is the added damage the legislation sought by Gonzales would do to an already dismal view of the United States around the world.
Gonzales told the lawmakers that a shield is needed for actions taken by U.S. personnel under a 2002 presidential order, which the Supreme Court declared illegal, and under Justice Department legal opinions that have been withdrawn under fire, the source said. A spokeswoman for Gonzales, Tasia Scolinos, declined to comment on Gonzales's remarks.
The Justice Department's top legal adviser, Steven G. Bradbury, separately testified two weeks ago that Congress must give new "definition and certainty" to captors' risk of prosecution for coercive interrogations that fall short of outright torture.
Language in the administration's draft, which Bradbury helped prepare in concert with civilian officials at the Defense Department, seeks to protect U.S. personnel by ruling out detainee lawsuits to enforce Geneva protections and by incorporating language making U.S. enforcement of the War Crimes Act subject to U.S. -- not foreign -- understandings of what the Conventions require.
The Supreme Court, in contrast, has repeatedly said that foreign interpretations of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions should at least be considered by U.S. courts.
The law that concerns Gonzales was sponsored by a conservative Republican legislator, Walter B. Jones, from North Carolina, and was motivated by his conversation with a pilot who had been a prisoner of war during the Vietnam era. Clearly, the Jones bill, as with the McCain bill, were enacted because it is prudent to oppose torture in order to minimize the likelihood that our own soldiers would be subjected to such treatment and to allow the U.S. to bring charges should American soldiers be mistreated.
The law initially criminalized grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions but was amended without a hearing the following year to include violations of Common Article 3, the minimum standard requiring that all detainees be treated "humanely." The article bars murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, torture and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." It applies to any abuse involving U.S. military personnel or "nationals."
Since September 2001, however, Bush administration officials have considered the law a potential threat to U.S. personnel involved in interrogations. While serving as White House legal counsel in 2002, Gonzales helped prepare a Jan. 25 draft memo to Bush -- written in large part by David Addington, then Vice President Cheney's legal counsel and now Cheney's chief of staff -- in which he cited the threat of prosecution under the act as a reason to declare that detainees captured in Afghanistan were not eligible for Geneva Conventions protections.
But the Supreme Court's ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld effectively made Bush's order illegal when it affirmed that all detainees held by the United States are protected by Common Article 3. The court's decision caught the administration unprepared, at first, for questions about how its policy would change.
Several officials said the administration's main concerns are Article 3's prohibitions against "outrages upon personal dignity" and humiliating or degrading treatment.
While I fully appreciate the outrage that followed 9/11 and support the objective of bringing those responsible for the attack to justice, I simply can't endorse the abandonment of our long held principles to achieve that outcome. The costs of such actions are more and more apparent as each new violation is exposed. At some point, the damage to U.S. credibility and moral authority will be such that we can no longer be an influence for integrity and democracy within the world. It is simply too high a price to pay.
Daniel DiRito | July 28, 2006 | 12:01 PM |
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Daniel DiRito | July 27, 2006 | 9:13 PM |
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It appears that Republican leaders in the House may allow a vote on increasing the minimum wage. However, as the final version of the bill is negotiated, it appears that Republicans may attach small business tax cuts to offset the increased costs. As I analyze the measure, it seems like an opportunity for Democrats to turn the tables on Republicans. I'll explain after excerpts from the article that can be found here.
Republican leaders haven't yet decided on how far to boost the federal minimum wage, now at $5.15 an hour, or which tax cuts will be included in the package, Madden said. Democrats and some Republicans are pushing to boost the wage to $7.25 over 30 months.
Republicans are under pressure to accept an increase pushed by Democrats as the November midterm elections loom and lawmakers prepare to accept a $3,300 automatic pay raise for themselves.
"We aren't quite there yet but we are getting very close,'' Republican Representative Sherwood Boehlert of New York said in an interview today. “If we don't deal with it, some people would argue it's going to hurt some Republicans,'' he said.
House Democratic leaders say the pairing of a wage increase with tax cuts threatens the prospects of the legislation, because many Democrats may not be willing to support further tax reductions that could yield a larger federal budget deficit.
Basically, the Republicans appear to be trying to back Democrats into a corner while allowing their own House members in tight races to vote in favor of the wage increase. If the bill were to fail because Democrats opposed added tax cuts, Republicans could neutralize the wage issue for the November election while providing needed cover for their House members.
If I were asked how the Democrats can turn the tables on the Republicans, I would argue they need to point out the hypocrisy evident in the GOP's tax cutting strategy. By giving small businesses tax cuts to offset the wage increase, they are actually enacting a subsidy that is ultimately funded through taxpayer generated revenues...in essence they are creating a new tax funded social program...even though they repeatedly espouse the need to cut back on such funding. The measure would ultimately becomes an added burden for the already struggling middle class while at the same time shielding corporations from sharing in the cost of the much needed wage increase.
As such, the proposed bill would continue the trend of fostering profits for the wealthy while shifting further burden for government funded programs to the average middle class taxpayer...who already pays a disproportionate share of the federal tax burden. The Democrats need to reframe the tax equation for the voters by pointing out that the total dollars needed to run the government have not actually been reduced...the burden for that funding is merely being shifted amongst the various income brackets...which is a tax increase…because it either takes more money from some income brackets or creates debt that has to eventually be repaid.
As the national debt increases, the economic growth needed to sustain the debt will eventually be eclipsed...leaving little choice but to collect more revenues...which will no doubt have to come from higher taxes. Until that point is reached, the government is subsidizing the wealthiest Americans while continuing to tax average citizens at virtually the same rates...what little reduction they may be receiving is likely offset by inflation, especially in the form of energy costs (which are creating record profits for large corporations).
The bottom line is that Republicans are not the Party of tax cuts...they are the Party that restructures tax burdens in order to provide added wealth to those who already posses the lions share of the wealth...while at the same time creating astronomical debt that will ultimately be apportioned to all Americans...a simple case of double dipping in my estimation.
Daniel DiRito | July 27, 2006 | 5:52 PM |
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Ayman al-Zawahri has issued a new video calling on Muslims to rise up and defeat all those who are aligned with Western civilization. Clearly, al-Qaida sees the turmoil in the Middle East as an opportunity to recruit new members...and by portraying the struggle as a religious war they are much more likely to be successful. The current world conflicts may be the beginning of a much broader struggle that could potentially expand well beyond the confines of a war on terror. The Associated Press has the full story here.
CAIRO, Egypt -- Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader issued a worldwide call Thursday for Muslims to rise up in a holy war against Israel and join the fighting in Lebanon and Gaza until Islam reigns from "Spain to Iraq."
In the message broadcast by Al-Jazeera television, Ayman al-Zawahri, second in command to Osama bin Laden, said that al-Qaida now views "all the world as a battlefield open in front of us."
"It is a jihad (holy war) for the sake of God and will last until (our) religion prevails ... from Spain to Iraq," al-Zawahri said. "We will attack everywhere." Spain was controlled by Arab Muslims for more than seven centuries until they were driven from power in 1492.
He also called for the "downtrodden" throughout the world, not just Muslims, to join the battle against "tyrannical Western civilization and its leader, America."
"Stand with Muslims in confronting this unprecedented oppression and tyranny. Stand with us as we stand with you against this injustice that was forbidden by God in his book (the Quran)," al-Zawahri said.
Kamal Habib, a former member of Egypt's Islamic Jihad militant group who was jailed from 1981 to 1991 along with al-Zawahri, said the al-Qaida No. 2's outreach to Shiites and non-Muslims was unprecedented and reflected a major change in tactics.
"This is a transformation in the vision of al-Qaida and its struggle with the United States. It is now trying to unite Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and calling for non-Muslims to join the fight," he said.
The rhetoric seems to be an attempt to recruit from all the various sectarian groups as well as Muslim's native to other regions, likely a key to being able to successfully execute attacks around the world. In the United States, there is ample concern that U.S. born sympathizers will establish terrorist cells in order to conduct attacks. Recent terrorist activity in other regions seems to indicate that al-Qaida is achieving success by attempting to characterize this conflict as a battle of religions.
While I understand Israel’s right of self-defense, it seems apparent that a larger issue is unfolding. Since 9/11, a point in time when the U.S. had the sympathy and support of much of the world, the effort to extinguish terrorism has unfortunately been transformed into an ideological conflict with religious beliefs as the point of focus. Sadly, the Bush administration has fueled the conflict with ill-advised remarks such as the oft cited use of the term "Crusade" and increasing accusations of Islamic extremism...instead of remaining focused on the illegitimacy of terrorist acts. This administration seems determined to jump over the politics of this conflict despite their obvious existence.
The invasion of Iraq marked an important turning point in the war on terror. When the invasion began, the argument made by the administration that Iraq had WMD's, although subsequently found to be inaccurate, kept the conflict focused on terrorism. As it became evident that there were no WMD's and that the Bush administration had manipulated the intelligence to support the invasion, two unfortunate things occurred.
First, the motives of the U.S. were suddenly met with suspicion, thereby allowing al-Qaida and others opposed to Western culture to begin the process of reframing the conflict for their supporters. Second, once the administration realized that the WMD rationale would no longer suffice, they shifted the focus to spreading democracy...with the argument that democratic states don't, by their design, promote the conditions that lead people to support or engage in terrorist activities. While that argument may be valid, it was a key tactical error because it allowed our extremist opponents to reframe the conflict on an even broader basis. All of a sudden, the U.S. efforts to defeat terrorism could suddenly be characterized as the exportation of Western beliefs and culture...and of course an affront to Islam.
The U.S. continues to ignore the well established realities of the tipping point perspective. While we believe our efforts to bring democracy are noble and that in time the benefits and the outcome will be positive and accepted, we ignore the environment and the associated perceptions that support a movement in an equally motivated, but opposite direction. Once that perception becomes reality in the minds of those we seek to influence, the battle is virtually lost. Unless people accept and adopt that which we offer or impose, the noble intention is irrelevant. Further, if the noble effort becomes the language that permeates the oppositions rhetoric, the noble goal is self-defeating.
In this nuance one can see how fine the line is that separates the perceptions of reasoned diplomacy and unbridled imperialism. The danger is such that what may have been motivated by good intentions is subsequently defined differently by the intended recipients and thus corrupted and destined for failure. Once religion is inserted into the equation, dogma and doctrine are applied to politics and the conflict will necessarily be tainted by the propensity for absolutist rationale...hence the likelihood of a holy war or a jihad.
Once this polarization is cemented into the dialogue, such conflicts are rarely resolved absent the sword and history can document this succinctly and repetitively. As both sides begin the process of demonizing the enemy and expressing their beliefs in absolutes...whether originally intended or subsequently implied, the process of moving back to diplomacy is immeasurably more difficult.
In the end, the consolidation of power in the hands of a select few...the underlying premise of the neoconservative philosophy and the converse of detente...is self-defeating. When power eclipses or abandons persuasion, the amount of power needed to maintain the status quo increases exponentially as those upon which power is being exerted or imposed believe their autonomy is subrogated to the tenets of those in power. This administration may believe that democracy is on the march...but in reality they may simply be providing the drumbeat for those that seek to see its demise.
We are told we are safer now that Saddam is out of power and that fighting the war there is better than fighting it here at home. The problem is that while we are fighting in Iraq, we are seeing the Middle East as well as a number of other countries moving towards extremist ideologies. As we are attempting to install a democracy in Iraq, radical groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have captured more power...and they've done so through democratic means.
While our democracy, in the hands of the neocons, moves towards using force to export and expand democracy, those we deem as extremists are using persuasion to democratically assume power. That, in my opinion, is perhaps the epitome of irony. Worse yet, it is an indication that our foreign policy is an unmitigated failure that may well alter the world order for decades.
Daniel DiRito | July 27, 2006 | 8:11 AM |
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The latest NBC Wall Street Journal poll indicates that voters are far from optimistic about the direction of the country as well as the prospects for the situation to improve. In an indication of the depth of the negative mood, those polled were doubtful that the situation would improve for their children. Of the 60% that feel the nation is headed in the wrong direction, some 81% believe that the problem is a longer term decline. Read the full article here.
According to the poll, 65 percent say they feel less confident that life for their children's generation will be better than it was for them.
In addition, only 27 percent think the country is headed in the right direction, while 58 percent say they are less confident the Iraq war will come to a successful conclusion.
And among those who believe that the nation is headed on the wrong track, a whopping 81 percent believe it's part of a longer-term decline and that things won't get better for some time. Just 12 percent think the problems are short-term blips.
President Bush continues to receive negative marks as the latest poll shows his job approval at 39%, a 2% increase over last month but not statistically significant. His handling of the war in Iraq continues to be a critical factor in his overall approvals. Only 34% believe he is doing a good job with the war while 61% disapprove. The war in Iraq continues to lead the list of issues of concern to voters with 29% choosing it as the top priority. That is an increase of 7% in the last 30 days...an ominous increase and a good indication that patience with the effort in Iraq continues to erode.
Daniel DiRito | July 26, 2006 | 6:54 PM |
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In a curious move, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for a cease fire in the conflict in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah. Given the belief by many Middle East experts that Iran encouraged the actions that led to the conflict, it seems a bit odd that Iran would feel compelled to comment on the issue. The Associated Press has the full story here.
DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for a cease-fire in Lebanon and criticized U.S. policy in the Middle East on Wednesday, saying Washington wants to "recarve the map" of the region with Israel's help.
Ahmadinejad's nation is a major backer of Hezbollah and a sworn enemy of Israel, but he denied that Tehran provides military support to the militant group.
He said Iran only supports Hezbollah politically and morally.
Note that he clearly states that Iran's support for Hezbollah does not include weapons or other military support...only "politically and morally". Recent reports from Israel have indicated that some of the missiles fired into Israel by Hezbollah were produced in Iran. While impossible to determine the significance of the statement, one must wonder if the President is concerned that Iran may soon be the target of further actions on the part of Israel or the United States.
Some regional experts have felt that the conflict in Lebanon would ultimately benefit Iran and elevate the country's stature within the Middle East. I've read speculation that Iran may have been seeking leverage with regards to its nuclear program that has been the object of international concern. Additionally, some observers have noted that the absence of a powerful Iraq, which had previously been a counter force to Iran, has allowed Iran to assert greater influence within the region.
Daniel DiRito | July 26, 2006 | 10:55 AM |
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The long awaited ruling from the Washington state Supreme Court has just been published. The findings of the court held that the definition of marriage being between a man and a woman is constitutional and that DOMA is also constitutional and that there were no compelling reasons to uphold lower court rulings to the contrary. To read the full opinion, link here.
Washington’s long-standing definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman and DOMA are both constitutional. Respondents’ numerous challenges under the state and federal constitutions all fail. We conclude that the legislature was justified in enacting DOMA to clarify and reaffirm Washington marriage law by a compelling governmental interest in preserving the institution of marriage, as well as the healthy families and children it promotes. This conclusion may not be changed by mere passage of time or currents of public favor and surely not changed by courts.
Finally, we conclude that neither the due process or right to privacy clauses in article I, section 3 and section 7 nor the equal rights amendment to our state constitution creates a right to marry a person of the same sex. Indeed, these claims are even less persuasive when viewed correctly through the eyes and understanding of those who authored and ratified our constitution (and the ERA amendment).
We add the important conclusion that this decision is required by the relevant constitutional provisions, the history of our laws and precedent in this court, and the United States Supreme Court. This decision is final. 54 The decisions of both trial courts are reversed and these actions dismissed.
On a brighter note, the Court made it clear that nothing prevented allowing for same-sex marriages through the legislative process or through voter initiatives that might be placed on the ballot. The Court sought to make clear that the scope of their ruling was to simply determine if DOMA was constitutional and not to offer their opinions as to what they may believe the law ought to be.
While this ruling will be viewed as a loss within the LGBT community, it may not in the long run be as bad as it appears. The timing of this ruling made it particularly volatile and had the court ruled against DOMA and concluded that same-sex couples could marry, it would have likely provided the Republican Party with a highly charged issue heading towards the crucial November midterm elections. Nonetheless, it is another defeat for same-sex marriage within the court setting. Despite the disappointment, polls do show that the voters are moving in the right direction with regard to same-sex marriage. Even those opposed to same-sex marriage concede that it is merely a matter of time before a majority of voters will support same-sex marriage.
In the meantime, the LGBT community and its supporters must continue to win the hearts and minds of those with whom they associate. This battle is going to be won on a person by person basis and it is essential for each gay American to engage those who they encounter in an honest and open dialogue such that it becomes evident that gays have the same concerns and endure the same hardships and have the same hopes as all Americans. Once that happens, gays will no longer be viewed in the abstract as a group of people who seek to impose an unreasonable agenda. Only then will the fear that drives opposition to same-sex marriage subside.
Daniel DiRito | July 26, 2006 | 9:10 AM |
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In a move that may signal a greater willingness on the part of Congress to challenge the continued expansion of executive authority that has been one of the hallmarks of the Bush administration, Senator Arlen Specter is about to introduce a bill that would allow Congress to use the courts to test the constitutionality of the signing statements used by the Bush administration to minimize the impact of legislation. While this would be an important and significant move to reign in the Bush administration, Senator Specter has a history of initiating such measures and then ultimately agreeing to terms that effectively neuter the effort. The full article can be found here.
"We will submit legislation to the United States Senate which will ... authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of "signing statements" with the view to having the president's acts declared unconstitutional," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said on the Senate floor.
Specter's announcement came the day that an American Bar Association task force concluded that by attaching conditions to legislation, the president has sidestepped his constitutional duties to sign a bill, veto it or take no action.
Mr. Bush has issued at least 750 signing statements during his presidency, reserving the right to revise, interpret or disregard laws on national security and constitutional grounds.
"That nonveto hamstrings Congress because Congress cannot respond to a signing statement," said ABA president Michael Greco. The practice, he said, "is harming the separation of powers."
Specter's committee came up with the 750 figure for the number of statutes passed by Congress and signed with reservations by Mr. Bush. The ABA estimated Mr. Bush has issued signing statements on more than 800 statutes, more than all previous presidents combined.
The signing statements finally garnered significant media attention when the President attached one to the McCain anti-torture bill that Bush reluctantly signed. That particular statement basically asserted that the President retained the right to use torture methods if it were determined to be essential to national security. The American Chronicle has a good analysis of the practice of signing statements and the future implications here.
From American Chronicle:
On March 9, Law was enacted declaring the Justice department MUST give reports to Congress by certain dates on how the FBI is using the Patriot act to search homes and secretly seize papers. Bush signed the legislation but afterward,on his signing statement wrote, the president can order Justice Department officials to withhold any information from Congress if he (Bush) decides it could impair national security of executive branch operations.
On Dec. 30, Congress said, When requested, scientific information "prepared by government researchers and scientists shall be transmitted (to congress) uncensored and without delay." Bush's statement: the president can tell researchers to withhold any information from Congress if he (Bush) decides its disclosures could impair foreign relations, national security, or the workings of the executive branch.
Note the assertion in the signing statement that would allow the President to withhold information from Congress if he (Bush) decides the disclosure could impair "the workings of the executive branch". That statement is so broad that it virtually allows the executive full discretion with regard to disclosure. With regards to scientific information, the Bush administration has been accused of removing data about global warming and many administration critics fear that data about efforts to curb HIV through abstinence programs has also been misinterpreted. Thought Theater previously reported on the impact of abstinence only with regard to increasing infection rates in Uganda here.
More from American Chronicle:
Enactments by the Congress are presumed to be constitutional as the Department of Justice has so often stated. In a government brief extracted from the U.S. v Morrison, the statement "It is well established that Congressional legislation is entitled to a strong presumption of constitutionality," says it all. That makes Bush's use of statements come into direct confrontation with the Justice Department.
It is unbelievable that Bush thinks himself above the law and can ignore what he decides is unconstitutional and then think his signing statement will protect him when called on the action. There is a more serious long-term danger to be considered here that is being ignored by the administration, and that is defiance of Congressional lawmaking.
It is important to note that the only time the President has used a veto to object to legislation has been with regards to stem cell research. I'm convinced that this lone veto is significant and indicates that the administration likely realizes that the signing statements will be declared unconstitutional. With that belief, it was essential he veto the stem cell bill in order to preserve the position of those who seek to overturn Roe v. Wade and ultimately outlaw abortions. A signing statement on stem cells would have potentially jeopardized that position and allowed for the further institutionalization of the current definitional factors that form the basis for the legality of an abortion...that being that an embryo is not afforded the rights of a citizen and is not construed to be the point at which we define an entitlement to those rights.
There can be little doubt that this President is motivated to utilize any and all methods to push forward those issues and beliefs that he supports. I respect his convictions and support his right to seek the enactment of his agenda...but only within the existing constitutional frame work. Unfortunately, his actions may soon be determined to be the most egregious abuse of executive authority since Richard Nixon. I'm hopeful the actions of Arlen Specter are the beginning of that process.
Daniel DiRito | July 25, 2006 | 10:27 AM |
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Despite clear evidence to the contrary, a majority of Americans still believe that Sadaam Hussein had strong links to al Qaeda and that U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The results point to the success of the Republican Party to craft and deliver messages that are clearly designed to manipulate the beliefs held by the public. It clearly points out that the repetitive delivery of short and consistent messages that either infer facts or omit facts have been a mainstay in the Karl Rove strategy. Read the full article on the latest polling here.
(AXcess News) New York - Despite being widely reported in the mainstream news media that the US and other countries have not found any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, as well as Democrat talking points that Bush lied about WMD, more Americans (50%) think that Iraq had such weapons when the US-led coalition invaded Iraq, according to the latest Harris Poll.
-- Seventy-two percent (72%) believe that the Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein (slightly down from February 2005 when 76 percent said this was true).
-- Just over half (55%) think history will give the US credit for bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq (down substantially from 64% in February 2005).
-- Sixty-four percent (64%) say it is true that Saddam Hussein had strong links to Al Qaeda (the same as 64% in February 2005).
The public's views on Iraq have not changed substantially in the past year.
Not all of the polling reflects success for the Republican messages. The war effort still remains unpopular and the public is skeptical that the United States is safer as a result of the Iraq invasion.
-- A majority (56%) thinks that spending huge sums of money to invade and occupy Iraq has meant that a lot less money has been available to protect the United States against another terrorist attack. This has decreased from April 2005 when 62 percent agreed with this sentiment.
-- Still, six in 10 (61%) adults agree (59% in April 2005) that invading and occupying Iraq has motivated more Islamic terrorists to attack the United States.
-- By 58 to 41 percent, a clear majority does not think that invading Iraq has helped to reduce the threat of another terrorist attack against the United States. This is similar to the 61 to 39 percent majority that felt this way in April 2005
It remains to be seen how this sentiment will translate at the voting booth this November. The mixed results make it difficult to gauge whether voters will hold their elected officials responsible for their misgivings with regard to the President's handling of the Iraq war. The fact that the administration continues to equate the war in Iraq with 9/11 and the war on terror is a troubling indication. The 2004 presidential election seems to indicate that the ability of the administration to maintain that connection proved to be a winning strategy. Whether that will translate into voters supporting Republican candidates may be a key factor in November.
Daniel DiRito | July 25, 2006 | 9:39 AM |
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On Meet the Press this past Sunday, Josh Bolton, White House Chief of Staff, struggled to answer the questions about the President's position on stem cell research. Bolton was obviously uncomfortable when attempting to finesse Bush's position, as previously stated by Press Secretary Tony Snow, that the destruction of frozen embryos is "Murder". In 2004, just before the presidential election George and Laura Bush were interviewed by Larry King. In that interview, Bush stated the following with regard to stem cell research and the use of human embryos.
G. BUSH: That's the big debate, Larry, and this country has got to be very careful on destroying life to save life. And it's a debate that needs to move forward in a very careful way. And I listen very carefully to ethicists who impressed me about being cautious and respecting human life, I guess, is the best way to put it. And that's one issue, embryonic stem cell.
G. BUSH: These are embryos that represent life and the fundamental question, as a society, is: Does society continue to take life, destroy life?
The following video is from Bolton's appearance on Meet the Press.
The Washington Post has a good article on the retraction offered by Tony Snow on Monday here. It was clear from the Bolton appearance that the White House would be unable to rationally explain the position taken with regard to the embryos which are the focal point in the debate. Note that Russert backed Bolton into a corner on why the President hasn't banned in-vitro fertilization clinics if he in fact believes that the destruction of an embryo is in fact "murder".
White House press secretary Tony Snow said yesterday that he "overstated the president's position" during a briefing last week but said Bush rejected the bill because "he does have objections with spending federal money on something that is morally objectionable to many Americans."
The shifting terminology underscored the sensitivity of the issue, especially heading into midterm elections. Many antiabortion conservatives strongly oppose stem cell research involving the destruction of embryos, viewing it as killing human beings. But polls show that most Americans see such research as a potential key to treating Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and other afflictions.
Supporters of the research said the shift reflects White House concerns that it is alienating mainstream Republicans. "What Tony Snow was doing was calling them all murderers, and that doesn't do much for close midterm elections," said Michael Manganiello, former president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research.
In another segment of the interview, Russert challenged the Karl Rove assertion that adult stem cells have "far more promise" that embryonic stem cells. Russert's challenge highlights the distortions being offered by those on the right with regards to stem cell research. The reality is that adult stem cells have been the focus of research for a far longer period of time and while some of that research has been developed into treatments, it remains far more limited in its potential than embryonic stem cell research.
The often unspoken issue that underscores much of this embryonic stem cell debate is once again abortion. Those opposed to abortion see the easing of restrictions on embryonic stem cell research undermining their belief and assertion that human life begins at conception. If embryonic stem cell research were to be fully funded by the government, it would make it increasingly difficult to hold the strict definitional distinction that anti-abortion activists seek to advance.
The rationale of their argument seeks to define conception as the point at which human life begins which could then be argued to afford the embryo the same rights to protection as all other citizens. Clearly, they do seek to define the destruction of an embryo as murder which they see as the ultimate means to achieving the goal of making abortions illegal and overturning Roe v. Wade.
I find it interesting that the President felt that he needed to clarify his position. It points out that there is some realization that the majority of Americans do not agree that the use of frozen embryos, which are otherwise apt to be destroyed, is the same as murder. Further, it points out that he is concerned with how the issue will impact Republican candidates in the November election. Note the following statement from Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a religious right advocacy group.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a group that opposes embryonic stem cell research, said he does not see much significance in the White House revision. "I'm not troubled by that at all," he said. "The president's actions speak louder than words."
The remark clearly points out that those who seek to make abortion illegal have a clear understanding of the basic legal arguments. The Bush veto holds open the legal line that opponents of abortion feel is essential to their efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade and make all abortion illegal.
A cynic might even conclude that the entire situation, in which Snow made the assertion of murder only to follow it up with a retraction, may have actually been a fully orchestrated strategy. It has all the characteristics of a Karl Rove manipulation. It looks similar to President Bush's seemingly back and forth triangulation with regard to same-sex marriage in the lead up to the 2004 presidential election. He offered both a call for an amendment to the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman but then also suggested in an interview with Larry King that he had no problem with individual states providing same-sex couples with many of the same benefits and protections that come with marriage.
I've previously argued that the Rove strategy is to offer carefully tailored messages to the various voting constituencies in order to develop a majority coalition of voters. This stem cell issue looks like more of the same.
Daniel DiRito | July 25, 2006 | 7:54 AM |
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The following video is a great follow up to the original posting discussing our Middle East strategy. It is a good discussion between Pat Buchanan, Chris Matthews, and Bob Schrum in which they discuss the neoconservative strategy and whether their hawkish strategy is leading the United States into further conflicts.
There are many opinions on the recent Israeli assaults on Hamas and Hezbollah in Gaza and Lebanon. The military actions were initiated in response to the killing and abduction of Israeli soldiers. Clearly Israel was provoked and one must question the motivations of those who engineered the abductions. At the same time, some have questioned the depth and degree of the retaliation especially with regard to the assaults within Lebanon. The Nation has an interesting article that discusses the rationale and the ramifications of the current conflict here.
It makes no sense for Israel to destroy the civil infrastructure of the Palestinians and of Lebanon in response to the kidnapping of its soldiers, or to further weaken the capacity of the governments of Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority while at the same trying to hold them accountable for the actions of groups and militias they cannot reasonably control. This collective punishment of the Palestinian and Lebanese people is not only inhumane and should be condemned but also leads to more radicalization and to more chaos.
As I've listened to an array of experts comment on the situation, I found the comments of Pat Buchanan, with whom I normally disagree, to be a reasonable assessment of the situation and an even better analysis of the failure of the Bush administrations efforts within the region. Buchanan, who has been accused of being anti-Semitic, actually has a coherent position worthy of consideration. Buchanan has made the distinction that he is a "traditional conservative" as opposed to a "neoconservative", the term given to many within the Bush administration who frequently support the use of that military intervention.
He has argued that Israel has the right to exist and to defend its security but he also believes that the Middle East would have fewer problems if and when the Palestinians were in fact given an independent state. With regards to the "war on terror" his position can be distinguished from the Bush administration by his belief that terrorists hate America for what we do, not what we are. The Bush administration has chosen to assert that terrorists are opposed to the freedoms that America and democracy represent and support. The distinction is essential to understanding Buchanan's criticism of U.S. foreign policy, whereby he contends our propensity to meddle in the affairs of other nations and regions fosters the negative feelings that have led to the development of an expanding anti-American sentiment.
With regard to the current situation, Buchanan and The Nation agree on a number of points.
The big beneficiaries of American policy have been the more radical wings of Hamas and Hezbollah and the Iranians, who more and more look like the champions of the Palestinian people. The big losers are the so-called moderate Arab regimes, which again look helpless in the face of what is seen as Israeli aggression, and the moderate Israelis, Palestinians and Lebanese who hoped for some normalcy of life with the prospect of peace, especially when the Hamas leadership appeared to be moving toward recognition of Israel. The United States and the larger world, too, are losers, for no one benefits from this mindless escalation of violence, particularly at a time of growing sectarian violence in Iraq and rising oil prices.
The events of the past two weeks should remind us that the peace and stability of the region is too important to be left to Israel and to Washington. There is a need for much greater and more forceful UN and European Union involvement and for the kind of diplomacy that the Europeans and the UN conducted in the late 1980s and the early '90s that led to the mutual release of prisoners and eventually to the Oslo peace process. The UN Quartet--consisting of the UN, the United States, Russia and the EU--has been far too deferential to the Bush Administration's failed road map strategy, and it is time for more active and comprehensive G-8 and UN-led diplomacy.
Until the United States and those who seek to shape the outcome in the Middle East realize that recent efforts have simply served to further radicalize the mindset of the people in the region, there will be increased tensions, violence, and instability. The fact that both Hamas and Hezbollah have been democratically voted into the respective political structures of the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon are clear signs that the current approach has only expanded the anti-Israeli and, by association, anti-American sentiment.
The U.S., in shifting its Middle East strategy since the Bush administration was elected, has lost its standing as an impartial broker of peace and stability within the region. The horrific events of 9/11 should have provided the United States with the moral authority to demand and dictate resolutions within the region. Instead, the neoconservative mentality has served to undermine our ability to bring peace to the region and has led to the further radicalization of its occupants.
Daniel DiRito | July 22, 2006 | 2:53 PM |
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In a move that signals the delay of plans to reduce troop levels in Iraq, the U.S. now plans to move troops from Kuwait into Baghdad. Additionally, it appears that the plan to cancel some deployments to Iraq will not materialize at this time given the escalation of violence. Read the full article from The Associated Press here.
The deteriorating security situation — especially in Baghdad — has alarmed U.S. officials, who had hoped that the new national unity government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would be able to ease tensions so that the U.S. and its international partners could begin removing troops this year.
But the situation has gotten worse since al-Maliki took office May 20. Security is likely to top the agenda when al-Maliki visits the White House this coming week.
The Baghdad area recorded an average of 34 major bombings and shootings for the week ending July 13, the U.S. military said. That was up 40 percent from the daily average of 24 registered between June 14 and July 13.
Much of the violence was due to sectarian attacks. Months of worsening violence has deepened the distrust between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis.
A review of the situation seems to suggest that most of the violence stems from long standing sectarian differences. There should be little surprise at the rising violence in the absence of adequate security and a functional government that provides a degree of authority to each of the various factions.
Clearly the calculations prior to the invasion virtually ignored or wholly discounted the underlying sectarian animosities...despite the fact that Sadaam and the minority Sunni's were reviled by many within the majority Shia population. It remains to be seen if a functional consensus government can be established and maintained. As it now stands, the establishment of a democratically elected government entity has done little to quell the hatred that exists. Reports of government sponsored violence serve to further undermine the current government.
Instead of cutbacks, a senior U.S. defense official said the Pentagon was moving ahead with scheduled deployments to Iraq next month and was moving one battalion to Baghdad from Kuwait, where it was in reserve, U.S. officials said.
The U.S. command had drawn up plans to reduce the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from 14 to 12 by September. But that plan has been shelved for the time being because of the security crisis in the capital.
Daniel DiRito | July 22, 2006 | 8:08 AM |
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While the Bush administration touts the war on terror as "democracy on the march", NATO's commander believes Afghanistan is "close to anarchy". Many have argued that the U.S. shifted efforts and resources to the Iraq invasion before having completed the job in Afghanistan. Thought Theater previously reported on the situation in the troubled country here. Read the full story on the NATO assessment at The Guardian here.
The assumption within Nato countries had been that the environment in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2002 would be benign, Gen Richards said. "That is clearly not the case," he said yesterday. He referred to disputes between tribes crossing the border with Pakistan, and divisions between religious and secular factions cynically manipulated by "anarcho-warlords".
Corrupt local officials were fuelling the problem and Nato's provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan were sending out conflicting signals, Gen Richards told a conference at the Royal United Services Institute in London. "The situation is close to anarchy," he said, referring in particular to what he called "the lack of unity between different agencies".
The picture Gen Richards painted yesterday contrasted markedly with optimistic comments by ministers when they agreed earlier this month to send reinforcements to southern Afghanistan at the request of British commanders there. Many of those will be engineers with the task of appealing to Afghan "hearts and minds" by repairing the infrastructure, including irrigation systems.
General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the British army, said recently: "To physically eradicate [opium poppies] before all the conditions are right seems to me to be counter-productive." The government admits that Helmand province is about to produce a bumper poppy crop and is now probably the biggest single source of heroin in the world. Ministers are concerned about criticism the government will face if planting over the next few months for next year's crop - in an area patrolled by British troops - is not significantly reduced.
Clearly, without added infrastructure and economic assistance, the country will continue to be the largest opium producer in the world. Unfortunately, in the absence of other types of economic development, the population will remain dependent upon the illegal crops as one of the few sources of income. The lack of progress in the absence of a strong security presence has made the country vulnerable to a resurgence of Taliban activity and influence.
Daniel DiRito | July 22, 2006 | 7:36 AM |
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The following posting is the fifth entry in a continuing Thought Theater dialogue on political strategy. The first posting, Political Strategy: The Opening Dialogue, can be found here, the second posting, Political Strategy: Beyond Extremist Labels can be found...
Daniel DiRito | July 21, 2006 | 10:21 AM |
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James Dobson and his organization Focus on the Family (I call it his "Wingdumb") stand by their interpretation of research on gay parenting despite the researchers assertion that the data has been manipulated for political usage. Thought Theater previously...
Daniel DiRito | July 20, 2006 | 11:34 AM |
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Today George Bush vetoed the stem cell bill that had been passed by overwhelming majorities in the House and the Senate. Tony Snow, the White House Press Secretary, when explaining the Bush position stated "The simple answer is he thinks...
Daniel DiRito | July 19, 2006 | 9:10 AM |
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Despite the Bush administration mantra that Democracy is on the march, there is little evidence that anything resembling American democracy is taking hold in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, in an indication that Afghanistan may be slipping back towards...
Daniel DiRito | July 18, 2006 | 6:56 PM |
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Daniel DiRito | July 18, 2006 | 10:30 AM |
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The IRS has issued a warning to churches that they risk their tax exempt status if they fail to observe the requirement that they not engage in political activities. The 2004 presidential election marked a turning point in churches...
Daniel DiRito | July 18, 2006 | 8:37 AM |
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Following on the heals of the Thought Theater posting on the stem-cell debate that points out that those aligned with the religious the right have been misrepresenting the scientific data, the Associated Press is now reporting on an accusation...
Daniel DiRito | July 17, 2006 | 10:18 PM |
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It was recently reported that the no-bid contract with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, & Root (KBR) to provide a variety of services in Iraq would be cancelled. Since early on in their contract, Halliburton has come under scrutiny for...
Daniel DiRito | July 17, 2006 | 9:33 PM |
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The prevailing opinion is that the Middle East is a very complex and complicated region rife with centuries of sectarian, tribal, cultural, and religious differences. I agree with that characterization with regards to attempting to summarize the area historically....
Daniel DiRito | July 15, 2006 | 5:23 PM |
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Gay marriage suffered two setbacks today...one in Nebraska and one in Tennessee. A Federal Court of Appeals reinstated a Nebraska amendment banning same-sex marriage that had been struck down by a lower court. The Tennessee Supreme Court also ruled...
Daniel DiRito | July 14, 2006 | 12:26 PM |
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With the recent flurry of polling data, I thought I might attempt to look at some of the numbers in order to gauge the direction of the voters and how the data may be connected to current and future...
Daniel DiRito | July 14, 2006 | 8:27 AM |
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Arlen Specter, the master of bait and switch, is once again touting his efforts to champion a bill that he characterizes as meaningful reform and substantive cooperation on the part of the Bush administration with regard to the NSA...
Daniel DiRito | July 13, 2006 | 4:49 PM |
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The concept of detente, a feature of the Nixon years under the direction of Henry Kissinger, may be the most viable alternative to the spiraling conflict that now grips the Middle East. Standing clearly in the way of such...
Daniel DiRito | July 13, 2006 | 1:57 PM |
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Daniel DiRito | July 13, 2006 | 10:16 AM |
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Brian is one of Thought Theater's regular readers and I always enjoy his thoughtful and engaging comments and observations. In his most recent comment, he begins with an apology...the details are, for the most part, irrelevant to this posting. First,...
Daniel DiRito | July 12, 2006 | 11:31 AM |
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I hesitated to post this video on the chance that it would be found offensive. Nonetheless, I decided to post it because I believe Dave Chappelle did this skit to demonstrate that prejudice is primarily a function of choice....
Daniel DiRito | July 12, 2006 | 9:38 AM |
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Bill Clinton appeared this past Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival. While he covered numerous topics, I took particular notice of his remarks about the upcoming midterm elections and the Iraq strategy of the Democratic Party. The remarks received...
Daniel DiRito | July 11, 2006 | 8:13 PM |
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The latest Gallup poll indicates that President Bush has an overall approval rating of 40% while some 55% disapprove of his performance. These numbers reflect a string of recent gains for Bush who had been at a record low...
Daniel DiRito | July 11, 2006 | 2:02 PM |
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In an apparent response to the recent Supreme Court ruling as to the handling of detainees held by the U.S. military, the Pentagon has issued a policy memo in which it acknowledges that those held at locations like Guantanamo...
Daniel DiRito | July 11, 2006 | 8:33 AM |
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Representative Pete Hoekstra, the powerful Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, sent President Bush a letter in May expressing his concerns that the failure of the administration to provide Congress with information and updates on secret intelligence activities...
Daniel DiRito | July 9, 2006 | 9:49 AM |
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The following posting is the fourth entry in a continuing Thought Theater dialogue on political strategy. The first posting, Political Strategy: The Opening Dialogue, can be found here, the second posting, Political Strategy: Beyond Extremist Labels can be found here,...
Daniel DiRito | July 6, 2006 | 9:50 AM |
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The following posting is the third entry in a continuing Thought Theater dialogue on political strategy. The first posting, Political Strategy: The Opening Dialogue, can be found here, and the second posting, Political Strategy: Beyond Extremist Labels can be found...
Daniel DiRito | July 4, 2006 | 9:41 AM |
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