Two Editorials

An editorial in Sunday’s New York Times tears Dick the Dick a new one —

The Associated Press reported that Mr. Cheney’s office ordered the Secret Service last September to destroy all records of visitors to the official vice presidential mansion — right after The Washington Post sued for access to the logs. That move was made in secret, naturally. It came out only because of another lawsuit, filed by a private group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, seeking the names of conservative religious figures who visited the vice president’s residence.

This disdain for accountability is distressing, but not surprising. Mr. Cheney has had it on display from his first days in office, when he refused to name the energy-industry executives who met with him behind closed doors to draft an energy policy.

In a similar way, Mr. Cheney seems unconcerned about little things like checks and balances and traditional American notions of judicial process. At one point, he gave himself the power to selectively declassify documents and selectively leak them to reporters. In a recent commencement address, he declaimed against prisoners who had the gall to “demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States.”

Mr. Cheney is the driving force behind the Bush administration’s theory of the “unitary executive,” which holds that no one, including Congress and the courts, has the power to supervise or regulate the actions of the president. Just as he pays little attention to old-fangled notions of the separation of powers, Mr. Cheney does not overly bother himself about the bright line that should exist between his last job as chief of the energy giant Halliburton and his current one on the public payroll.

From 2001 to 2005, Mr. Cheney received “deferred salary payments” from Halliburton that far exceeded what taxpayers gave him. Mr. Cheney still holds hundreds of thousands of stock options that have ballooned by millions of dollars as Halliburton profited handsomely from the war in Iraq.

Every now and then someone will bring up the stock option issue, and it gets slapped down almost immediately. In any other administration this would be a major scandal. But with the Bushies it barely qualifies as background noise.

Another editorial in the Times discusses the shocking and growing backlog of disability claims submitted by our troops —

Whenever and however American troops withdraw from Iraq, a flood of wounded and psychologically damaged veterans will present the nation for decades to come with costly needs that already are overwhelming government services.

The backlog of disability claims stands at more than 405,000, with cases averaging 177 days to be processed — almost twice the backlog for civilians. Experts estimate that an additional 400,000 claims will be filed in the next two years. …

… Clearly, the administration has failed in more than its battle strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. While talking a lot about supporting the troops and using them shamelessly in Congressional battles and election years, the administration has systematically shortchanged the wounded and maimed who make it back from harm’s way. The nation has a moral obligation to help them face a whole new challenge of survival.

Snark away.

Thrill Rides

Via Taylor Marsh, our local NBC News affiliate says the plot against JFK Airport was not operational or even technical feasible.

Sources said the plot involved putting explosives inside the fuel pipeline but realized that “it was not technically feasible.”

Officials said the plot may also have included plans to hit the JFK terminal buildings and aircraft, in addition to the fuel lines.

Sources said the planning stages of the plot involved surveillance of JFK airport as well as scouting out US properties in Guyana for possible attacks.

Aviation officials said there is no major threat to air travel related to this plot since it was caught in the developmental stages.

One law enforcement official said: “[There was] credible intent to commit violence but it was not operational.”

Officials said the suspects never got hold of explosive devices.

Reuters reports,

The plot was foiled well before it came to fruition and the FBI said there was no threat to the public from the plot.

Mark Mershon, assistant director of in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York field office, said there was no indication of any connection with al Qaeda.

It seems the four plotters were Sunni Muslim men from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. Two of them allegedly were associates of Jamaat Al Muslimeen, an organization that attempted a coup in Trinidad in 1990. One of the four men arrested was a former member of Parliament in Guyana.

Brian Ross, ABC News (emphasis added):

FBI agents feared but never confirmed the three men accused of plotting to attack John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York were linked to one of the most wanted al Qaeda leaders, Adnan Shukrijumah, known to have operated out of Guyana and Trinidad.

Officials tell the Blotter on that they heard repeated references to “Adnan” during the extensive wiretaps conducted on the suspects’ telephone conversations, including calls to Guyana and Trinidad. …

A FBI spokesperson in Miami said the squad assigned to track Shukrijumah was aware of the case but that “no connection” to the wanted al Qaeda suspect was found in the JFK case.

The spokesperson said the best available information is that Shukrijumah is with top al Qaeda leaders along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Authorities in New York today announced arrests in the ongoing counterterror investigation of a plot to blow up the jet fuel pipeline that runs through JFK Airport, officials said.

The plot, authorities stress, was not at an operational stage, and the plotters, who included a former airport employee, had no ability to execute it.

It’s possible that Jamaat Al Muslimeen has some contact with al Qaeda, of course, but several rightie bloggers have already named al Qaeda as the instigator of the plot. Michelle et al. are smokin’ up their keyboards to whip the faithful into a hysterical frenzy.

(It occurs to me that if this same thing had happened before 9/11, these same righties would be making jokes about it. Jokes along the lines of “Ah, too bad these guys were busted. Who’d miss New York?”)

But I have to say the best rightie reaction so far is from the Strata-Sphere. Here’s a guy who still believes in His President, even the immigration policy. He notes that the perps were legal immigrants, not undocumented workers, and says,

Thankfully our law enforcement resources were being diverted to round up nannies and waiters and cooks and painters and taxicab drivers who, while have not committed any serious crimes, are still here illegally. These attacks are going to increase as we stifle al Qaeda’s hopes in Iraq. As I reported al Qaeda is diverting new recruits away from Iraq (probably because it is now a lost cause). And what does the far right propose? Yep leaving us with our poor security situation longer while they ignore everything but their obsessions with workers here who are undocumented, but otherwise non-criminals.

The threat is from people getting here legally so they can operate without much suspicion. Illegal entry, as with 9-11, attracts too much unneeded attention. We have dodged a bullet again. We have probably used the NSA surveillance program to monitor the calls to the overseas partners in this attack. We probably started without a FISA warrant but graduated to one just as Bush said the program would work. And all of this is being missed by the far right which is off complaining about being insulted because they do not have Bush in their corner on one issue. And their solution? Walk away and let more liberals get elected so they can tear down the NSA program and make the illegals citizens immediately.

I love the way he’s got all these issues tied together — terrorism, immigration, and raping the Fourth Amendment. The NSA program? He insists the NSA wiretap program must have been responsible for this bust, because, you know, it must have been. There is no other way that the FBI could have found out about this, especially since the FBI wouldn’t possibly have been tracking members of a known Caribbean terrorist group without having used warrantless wiretaps, see.

Another factor we don’t yet know is what part the NYPD played in this. The NYPD has its own counterterrorism unit that may be more effective in sniffing out these local plots than the FBI. You can read about it in this article from the February 2003 issue of New York magazine. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the NYPD, not the NSA, first alerted the FBI to this.

Too Easy

In today’s Boston Globe, Charlie Savage reports that the Bush Administration has a new “doomsday” plan.

The Bush administration is writing a new plan to maintain governmental control in the wake of an apocalyptic terrorist attack or overwhelming natural disaster, moving such doomsday planning for the first time from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to officials inside the White House. …

… The policy replaces a Clinton-era “continuity in government” post-disaster plan. The old plan is classified, but security specialists and administration officials said the new policy centralizes control of such planning in the White House and puts a greater emphasis on terrorism spurring the catastrophe.

Here’s the juicy part (emphasis added):

The unexpected arrival of the new policy has received little attention in the mainstream media, but it has prompted discussion among legal specialists, homeland security experts and Internet commentators — including concerns that the policy may be written in such a way that makes it too easy to invoke emergency presidential powers such as martial law.

Savage writes that the new policy was “quietly” signed on May 3, and the unclassified parts of the policy were posted on the White House web site on May 9. The unclassified parts really don’t say that much; it’s mostly definitions of terms and statements of intent. I was struck by this section:

(5) The following NEFs are the foundation for all continuity programs and capabilities and represent the overarching responsibilities of the Federal Government to lead and sustain the Nation during a crisis, and therefore sustaining the following NEFs shall be the primary focus of the Federal Government leadership during and in the aftermath of an emergency that adversely affects the performance of Government Functions:

(a) Ensuring the continued functioning of our form of government under the Constitution, including the functioning of the three separate branches of government;

(b) Providing leadership visible to the Nation and the world and maintaining the trust and confidence of the American people;

(c) Defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and preventing or interdicting attacks against the United States or its people, property, or interests;

(d) Maintaining and fostering effective relationships with foreign nations;

(e) Protecting against threats to the homeland and bringing to justice perpetrators of crimes or attacks against the United States or its people, property, or interests;

(f) Providing rapid and effective response to and recovery from the domestic consequences of an attack or other incident;

(g) Protecting and stabilizing the Nation’s economy and ensuring public confidence in its financial systems; and

(h) Providing for critical Federal Government services that address the national health, safety, and welfare needs of the United States.

They haven’t been doing any of those things so far. I don’t know why they’re waiting for an emergency. Anyhow — there is much worry and speculation about what the classified part of the policy might be. Savage continues:

The conservative commentator Jerome Corsi , for example, wrote in a much-linked online column that the directive looked like a recipe for allowing the office of the presidency to seize “dictatorial powers” because the policy does not discuss consulting Congress about when to invoke emergency powers — or when to turn them off.

In addition, specialists at both the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, and the American Civil Liberties Union said they have taken calls and e-mails from people who are worried about what the new policy may portend.

James Carafano , a homeland security specialist at Heritage, criticized the administration for failing to inform the public that the new policy was coming, and why it was changing.

He said the White House did not recognize that discussion of emergency governmental powers is “a very sensitive issue for a lot of people,” adding that the lack of explanation is “appalling.”

Corsi, who writes for Wing Nut Daily, might be better known to most of us as the co-author (with John O’Neill) of the Swift Boat manifesto Unfit to Command. He played a critical role in getting The Creature re-elected, in other words. And given the careful non-attention to “facts” displayed in Unfit, anything Corsi writes must be taken with a truckful of salt.

That said, I believe this is the column mentioned by Savage. He makes a couple of noteworthy points.

When the president determines a catastrophic emergency has occurred, the president can take over all government functions and direct all private sector activities to ensure we will emerge from the emergency with an “enduring constitutional government.”

Translated into layman’s terms, when the president determines a national emergency has occurred, the president can declare to the office of the presidency powers usually assumed by dictators to direct any and all government and business activities until the emergency is declared over.

Ironically, the directive sees no contradiction in the assumption of dictatorial powers by the president with the goal of maintaining constitutional continuity through an emergency.

Now he notices the “irony”? Bushies have been pissing on the Constitution lo the past six years and four months, and now he notices?

Here’s the other interesting part (emphasis added):

The directive issued May 9 makes no attempt to reconcile the powers created there for the National Continuity Coordinator with the National Emergency Act. As specified by U.S. Code Title 50, Chapter 34, Subchapter II, Section 1621, the National Emergency Act allows that the president may declare a national emergency but requires that such proclamation “shall immediately be transmitted to the Congress and published in the Federal Register.”

A Congressional Research Service study notes that under the National Emergency Act, the president “may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens.”

The CRS study notes that the National Emergency Act sets up congress as a balance empowered to “modify, rescind, or render dormant such delegated emergency authority,” if Congress believes the president has acted inappropriately.

NSPD-51/ HSPD-20 appears to supersede the National Emergency Act by creating the new position of National Continuity Coordinator without any specific act of Congress authorizing the position.

NSPD-51/ HSPD-20 also makes no reference whatsoever to Congress. The language of the May 9 directive appears to negate any a requirement that the president submit to Congress a determination that a national emergency exists, suggesting instead that the powers of the executive order can be implemented without any congressional approval or oversight.

Homeland Security spokesperson Russ Knocke affirmed that the Homeland Security Department will be implementing the requirements of NSPD-51/ HSPD-20 under [Frances] Townsend’s direction.

In other words, in the name of “the continued functioning of our form of government under the Constitution, including the functioning of the three separate branches of government” the President has given himself dictatorial powers whenever he gets in the mood to exercise them, and Congress has been relieved of its power to check him.

BTW, Corsi also claims that “Houston-based KBR, formerly the engineering and construction subsidiary of Halliburton Co., has a contingency contract in place with the Department of Homeland Security to construct detention facilities in the event of a national emergency.” Jeez, the wingnut is starting to sound like one of us. Welcome to the Land of the Shrill.

Savage of the Boston Globe provides us with the White House response to inquiries about the new national security scheme. You won’t guess what it is. Well, OK, you will guess: 9/11: “White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that because of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the American public needs no explanation of such plans.”

Savage continues,

[S]ome legal specialists say that the White House should be more specific about its worst-case scenario plans, pointing out two unanswered questions: what circumstances would trigger implementation of the plan and what legal limits the White House recognizes on its own emergency powers. …

… Sharon Bradford Franklin , the senior counsel at the Constitution Project, a bipartisan think-tank that promotes constitutional safeguards, said the policy’s definition “is so broad that it raises serious concerns about when and how this might be used to authorize unchecked executive action.”

When questioned about this, White House spokesperson Johndroe said that the policy had to be loosely worded because there was no way to know what sort of emergency might arise. “I don’t think you want to have anything in the directive that would tie the president’s hands from being able to implement emergency action,” he said.

Don’t presume you know what I want, Mr. Johndroe.