Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 29th, 2007

Murder 17 people, with immunity

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Nice. The Bush Administration has already promised Blackwater that the men who shot down the 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians will not face trial or punishment:

The State Department promised Blackwater USA bodyguards immunity from prosecution in its investigation of last month’s deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians, The Associated Press has learned.

The immunity deal has delayed a criminal inquiry into the Sept. 16 killings and could undermine any effort to prosecute security contractors for their role in the incident that has infuriated the Iraqi government.

“Once you give immunity, you can’t take it away,” said a senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

State Department officials declined to confirm or deny that immunity had been granted. One official, who refused to be quoted by name, said: “If, in fact, such a decision was made, it was done without any input or authorization from any senior State Department official in Washington.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2007 at 4:22 pm

The Bush style

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From Dan Froomkin today:

In the wake of last month’s shooting of 17 civilians by Blackwater gunmen in Baghdad, the Bush administration is finally acknowledging — more than four years late — that private security contractors in Iraq should operate under the law.

Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted to Congress that the State Department had inadequately supervised those contractors. As Karen DeYoung wrote in Friday’s Washington Post, “Pressed to express regret for what Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) called “the failures of your department, your failures,” Rice said, “I certainly regret that we did not have the kind of oversight that I would have insisted upon.”

Rice agreed that “there is a hole” in U.S. law that has prevented prosecution of contractors.

But did we really need an apparent massacre to point out this giant loophole and its perils?

As it happens, President Bush has been aware of the hole for some time — and deserves some of the blame for not fixing it earlier. Confronted about it in public more than a year ago, Bush literally laughed off the question — and then, tellingly, described his response as a case study in how he does his job.

The setting was a question-and-answer session after Bush spoke at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in April of 2006. (Here’s a video clip.)

One student, a first-year in South Asia studies, told the president: “My question is in regards to private military contractors. Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to these contractors in Iraq. I asked your Secretary of Defense a couple months ago what law governs their actions.

Bush: “I was going to ask him. Go ahead. (Laughter.) Help. (Laughter.)”

Student: “I was hoping your answer might be a little more specific. (Laughter.) Mr. Rumsfeld answered that Iraq has its own domestic laws which he assumed applied to those private military contractors. However, Iraq is clearly not currently capable of enforcing its laws, much less against — over our American military contractors. I would submit to you that in this case, this is one case that privatization is not a solution. And, Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?”

Bush: “I appreciate that very much. I wasn’t kidding — (laughter.) I was going to — I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I’ve got an interesting question. (Laughter.) This is what delegation — I don’t mean to be dodging the question, although it’s kind of convenient in this case, but never — (laughter.) I really will — I’m going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That’s how I work. I’m — thanks. (Laughter.)”

He’s the Decider. That’s why he gets the big bucks.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2007 at 2:49 pm

More on telecoms and illegal surveillance

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From The Anonymous Liberal:

Did the Senate Intelligence Committee Disclose Key Evidence of Telecom Illegality?

It sure looks like it. Empty Wheel highlights this important and largely overlooked passage from the Senate Intelligence Committee report that accompanied its proposed FISA bill:

The Committee can say, however, that beginning soon after September 11, 2001, the Executive branch provided written requests or directives to U.S. electronic communication service providers to obtain their assistance with communications intelligence activities that had been authorized by the President.

The Committee has reviewed all of the relevant correspondence. The letters were provided to electronic communication service providers at regular intervals. All of the letters stated that the activities had been authorized by the President. All of the letters also stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Attorney General, except for one letter that covered a period of less than sixty days. That letter, which like all the others stated that the activities had been authorized by the President, stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Counsel to the President. [my emphasis].

In other words, one of the certifications provided to the telecoms (presumably the one issued during the period in 2004 when James Comey refused to sign off on the program) was signed not by the Attorney General, but by then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales.

Why does that matter? Well, as Empty Wheel explains, under the current law, 18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(a)(ii), telecommunications providers are permitted to provide information and assistance to the government only if they are provided with:

(A) a court order directing such assistance signed by the authorizing judge, or

(B) a certification in writing by a person specified in section 2518 (7) of this title or the Attorney General of the United States that no warrant or court order is required by law, that all statutory requirements have been met, and that the specified assistance is required

And as you’ve probably already guessed, the White House Counsel is not one of the people specified in section 2518(7), which includes the Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, and various state law enforcement officials in the case of a state-related investigation.

Why couldn’t the Bush administration get the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, or the Associate Attorney General to sign the certification? Because they all thought the program was illegal and were prepared to resign over it. That’s why.

So, unable to get any of the proper people to re-certify the program, the Bush administration appears to have simply provided the telecoms with a facially defective certification. That means that for at least a period of 60 days, the telecoms were providing information to the government without a court order and without a valid certification. Those who have been following this issue closely have long suspected that this was the case, but the Senate Intelligence Committee has confirmed it in no uncertain terms (though nowhere in the report does the committee acknowledge the significance of this fact).

I doubt that the significance of this disclosure was lost on the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the various lawsuits, however. As I write this, they are undoubtedly discussing how best to utilize this new and valuable piece of evidence.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2007 at 2:44 pm

Rumsfeld flees France to avoid arrest

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It is apparently untrue that he boarded a train wearing a dress, disguised as a woman. Here’s the story:

On Friday, while former Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld was visiting France, human rights groups based there and in the United States filed complaints against him, charging him with approving torture:

The French complaint accuses Mr. Rumsfeld of authorizing torture at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and says it violated the Convention Against Torture, which came into force in 1987.

As part of their complaint, the groups submitted 11 pages of written testimony from Janis Karpinski, the highest-ranking officer to be punished in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. She was demoted to colonel from brigadier general and lost command of her military police unit. She contended that the abuses at the prison had started after the appearance of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was sent by Mr. Rumsfeld to assist military intelligence interrogators.

French prosecutors were said to have the power to pursue the case while Rumsfeld was in the country.

One source cites unconfirmed reports that Rumsfeld was abruptly whisked away from a breakfast meeting on Friday in order to avoid his arrest:

U.S. embassy officials whisked Rumsfeld away yesterday from a breakfast meeting in Paris organized by the Foreign Policy magazine after human rights groups filed a criminal complaint against the man who spearheaded President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” for six years.

Under international law, authorities in France are obliged to open an investigation when a complaint is made while the alleged torturer is on French soil.

The report said Rumsfeld fled to Germany because similar charges were dismissed against him there in the spring.The German court ruled that Rumsfeld’s criminality was an internal matter for the United States.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2007 at 12:58 pm

Social Security is in good shape

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Why is this fact so hard to grasp by so many on the Right? A former commissioner explains again:

In the Oct. 19 editorial ” Mr. Giuliani’s No-Tax Pledge,” The [Washington] Post stated: “It’s no more responsible for Republicans to rule out tax increases [to strengthen Social Security] than it is for Democrats to insist on no benefit cuts.” The Post praised, as a “bipartisan blend,” President Ronald Reagan’s acceptance of a 1983 fix that included both.

I take exception. It’s the essence of responsibility, in my view, to insist on no benefit cuts.

In 1983, I served on the National Commission on Social Security Reform (better known as the Greenspan Commission) and represented House Speaker Tip O’Neill in negotiations with the White House. What was right in 1983 — a balanced package of benefit cuts and tax increases as part, roughly half, of the final agreement — would be wrong today.

Social Security benefits are modest by any measure and are already being cut — by raising the age of eligibility for full benefits and by deducting ever-rising Medicare premiums from benefit checks. So the benefits provided for under present law will replace, on average, a lower percentage of prior earnings than in the past. To cut them further would undermine all that Social Security has achieved — exposing millions of vulnerable people, both elderly and disabled, to needless economic hardship.

Social Security has never been more important to more Americans than it is now. Private pension plans continue to dwindle — currently covering only about 20 percent of private-sector employees — and the national rate of savings hovers around zero. We just can’t afford to cut Social Security benefits further. There’s no way to make up for the loss.

Social Security benefits are vital to nearly all recipients. About a third of the elderly rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income; two-thirds count on it to supply at least half of their income. The program lifts 13 million elderly beneficiaries above poverty.

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2007 at 11:40 am

Posted in Government, Washington Post

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Millsaps, unfortunately, loses…

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But the way they lost is surprising.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2007 at 11:28 am

Posted in Games

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Water shortages

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It looks bad. Check out this post. Some facts from that post:

Some U.S. Water Shortage Facts/Stats:

  • An epic drought in Georgia threatens the water supply for millions
  • Florida doesn’t have nearly enough water for its expected population boom
  • In the West, the Sierra Nevada snow-pack is melting faster each year
  • The Great Lakes are shrinking
  • Upstate New York’s reservoirs have dropped to record lows
  • The government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within five years because of a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess.

Some Global Water Shortage Facts/Stats:

  • Australia is in the midst of a 30-year dry spell
  • Population growth in urban centers of sub-Saharan Africa is straining resources
  • Asia has 60% of the world’s population, but only about 30% of its freshwater (this stat cries — dry tears, no doubt — “investing opportunity!”)

About California and Florida, from the cited Yahoo article:

“Coastal states like Florida and California face a water crisis not only from increased demand, but also from rising temperatures that are causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. Higher temperatures mean more water lost to evaporation. And rising seas could push saltwater into underground sources of freshwater.”

Some General Worldwide Water Facts/Stats:

  • 97% of the world’s water is in the oceans, so only 3% is fresh
  • Of the 3% fresh water, 2/3rds is locked in glaciers and polar ice caps
  • Of the remaining 1%, about 1/2 is located beneath the earth’s surface
  • Rivers and lakes contain only about 1/50th of 1% of the earth’s water
  • Of the 3% fresh water, a significant portion is severely polluted or biologically contaminated
  • On any given day, more than 50% of the world’s human population is ill, with the majority of these cases caused by waterborne contaminants
  • The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of this illness is caused by contaminated drinking water

Price Tag for Upgrading U.S. Water System?

“Experts estimate that just upgrading pipes to handle new supplies could cost…$300 billion over 30 years.”


As per a utility director quoted in the article,“NOT GOING TO BE ANY MORE CHEAP WATER.”

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2007 at 11:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Global warming, Government

Tagged with

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