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March 29, 2006 - Issues on the Table, and Odd Ideas

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The Local News Becomes National

"The founding fathers didn't trust George Washington with unlimited power. Why should we trust George Bush?"

Now there's a slogan.

That came up in an item, Thursday, March 23rd, in the New York Times, about doings in that state –


Sean P. Maloney, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, will begin broadcasting campaign television commercials today that take on the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program.

With the advertisements, Mr. Maloney, a lawyer who was an aide to President Bill Clinton, becomes the first of the candidates for attorney general to broadcast a television commercial. The 30-second ad will begin running this evening on stations in New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and Buffalo, campaign officials said. It will begin in other areas of the state tomorrow.

"Hey, let's talk about what's happening in America," Mr. Maloney says in the ad. "George Bush is secretly tapping American phones without a court order. Under New York law, that's illegal and wrong."

Mr. Maloney then says that if elected, he will file a complaint in federal court demanding that the eavesdropping program be stopped. The ad concludes with Mr. Maloney stating: "The founding fathers didn't trust George Washington with unlimited power. Why should we trust George Bush?"

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Maloney said that filing such a complaint might force the Bush administration to disclose some details of the surveillance program. The administration has strongly resisted calls for a full review, saying such inquiries could disclose national security information that could help Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.


What? Use New York State law to counter the president?

That seems to be the idea, in another news item noted here (emphases added) –


March, 23rd. New York City - Today Sean Patrick Maloney, former senior Clinton White House official and investigative attorney running for the Democratic nomination for New York Attorney General, revealed a fresh idea to "legalize" the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program using a complaint that can be filed in federal court.

The complaint would seek a federal court order requiring the Bush Administration to comply with the law. The plan does not stop, compromise or hamper ongoing operations but instead compels the Bush Administration to appear in federal court, in secret session, to show cause for wiretapping any citizens of New York.

It is against New York state law to monitor communications over the phone without consent of the parties or without a court order. The benefit to New Yorkers, who cannot sue on their own behalf because the wiretapping is secret, is to initiate judicial oversight of the Bush Administration's program.

Maloney said, "As a New Yorker, I am committed to stopping, capturing, punishing or killing the terrorists who target America for attack, but I am also committed to the rule of law in this country, or at least this state. George Bush is not above the law.

"My plan both fights terrorism and protects New Yorkers' privacy from unauthorized or unconstitutional government intrusion. It does not compromise or halt ongoing anti-terror operations. It legalizes them. It's clear the Bush Administration is operating outside of New York law without legal federal authority."

There is recent case law and precedent for state attorneys general to act against federal actors who break state law and are acting outside of congressional authority. The Oregon Attorney General successfully sued then-United States Attorney General John Ashcroft, stopping him from undermining that state's assisted suicide law (analogous to New York's wiretapping law) without Congressional authorization to do so (as with the NSA's actions here).

The Maloney campaign is supporting this idea with the first paid television ads of the campaign for Attorney General. Entitled "Good Question" the 30-second spot, which airs statewide starting today, makes the charge that the President is outside his authority in using warrantless wiretaps and is violating New York state law. ...


The ad can be seen here, surrounded by stuff that only applies to those who live in New York, the state.

But if the argument of Senator Feingold, that the president needs to be reminded he is breaking a very specific law and really should follow the law, has any merit, then censure, symbolic and without any penalty, may not be the only approach. This is better - explain why you're breaking New York state law.

No censure motion would ever pass anyway - the president's party controls both houses of congress, and all but two or three other senators from the minority party are also against the idea, fearing if they oppose anything the president does they'll be called sympathizers with al Qaeda, haters of America, torturers of puppies and never get another vote.

They would? Well, you could check out this, the video of Senator Feingold explaining what he's up to to Jon Stewart. Stewart runs a clip of the man who replaced Tom Delay as House majority leader, John Boehner, saying just that - Feingold doesn't want America to be safe, and he's somehow on the side of the enemy. Feingold says the President needs to get the bad guys, and he needs to be responsible for his actions and has to follow the law. Both.

Can he make that argument? Maybe, but there's the new radio ad from the Republicans (go here to listen) - "Democrats want to censure President Bush for fighting the war on terror." Not what Feingold said, but they are assuming people are too dumb to know that. Heck, it's worked before. Will it work again. "When you ordered that salad at lunch it meant you hate the beef industry and probably all big business and probably America values in general, and you probably want al Qaeda to run Disneyland." Whatever.

We shall see how that works out. The polling is showing more than forty percent of the public agrees with Feingold. Even one big Republican Senator agrees with him, Specter of Pennsylvania saying things like this - "They want to do just as they please, for as long as they can get away with it. I think what is going on now without congressional intervention or judicial intervention is just plain wrong." The majority of senate Democrats are bit too frightened to agree with the growing tide of anger. Not safe yet.

The New York complaint may help them decide popular opinion, the overwhelming majority of Democratic voters, and the law are all things that matter, along with doing the right thing. But then they're politicians. Doing the right thing needs to be considered very carefully. It's tricky. Do the right thing and people might not like you. Scary, scary, scary...

And as Tim Grieve notes here, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman made this statement at a fundraising solicitation sent to GOP supporters - "Democrat leaders' talk of censure and impeachment isn't about the law or the president doing anything wrong. It's about the fact that Democrat leaders don't want America to fight the War on Terror with every tool in our arsenal."

What? Impeachment? The Democrat leaders never proposed that, but then, they might have - "When you ordered that salad at lunch it meant you hate the beef industry and probably all big business and probably America values in general, and you probably want al Qaeda to run Disneyland." Whatever. John Conyers of Michigan had floated the idea. The whole of the Democratic Party ran for cover. Impeaching Clinton was one thing - who could be in favor of an older powerful man seducing an innocent sweet young thing, however giggly and willing she was, and then trying to pretend it was nothing? Nothing scary there. But this?

Grieve, dealing with reality, notes virtually every Democrat he's heard has said, "Keep spying on suspected terrorists - just follow the law when you do."

Mehlman says he knows what they really meant. And he says the American people know the same. We'll see. Depends on your news source, one supposes.

But then there is Howard Fineman in Newsweek with this - the polls are miserable and the current run of I'm-not-really-incompetent speeches to explain why not are going nowhere, so "at some point, even Bush's advisors have to realize that the problem with Iraq isn't that the president hasn't explained it enough - the White House is making a pivot to Plan B: Forget the Global War on Terror; now it's time for the War Against Terrorists Inside the Homeland. And as part of the usual "with us or with the terrorists" theme, the War Against Terrorists Inside the Homeland also means the War Against the Traitor Media and those Spineless, Security-Hating Democrats too."

The idea now is to present the president as some sort of tough-guy cop, as Fineman puts it, battling the "wussie lovers of legalistic niceties that get in the way of investigations and MSM news organizations that focus obsessively on explosions and mayhem in Iraq, even as they print or broadcast classified information and ask nasty, argumentative questions at hastily called press conferences."

Will this Gary Cooper in High Noon surrounded by cowards thing work? We'll see. It has its appeal. We've all seen the movie. Real heroes don't play by the rules. Traitors and cowards do.

That may be a winner. The problem is the sixty percent of the public who think the war was a mistake may not like being lumped in with the traitors and cowards. And there's the forty-plus percent who think Feingold's censure is a good thing, and that has some momentum. When the majority thinks you're on the wrong side of things, the argument that anyone who thinks that is at best a nitpicker, and at worst a coward who hates America, has its risks. If we're all going to be in the cast of High Noon who wants to be playing the part of the sniveling guy in the crowd scene? Maybe that's not the movie anyway. Seems more like Doctor Strangeglove these days, where the second characters in the bit parts were the sane ones.

It doesn't matter. We're all doomed anyway.

The End of the World

The end of the world? So it would seem, as many are now talking about this, an item that appeared in Fortune, December 26, 2005. It's about "peak oil" - we're at the point supplies will be decreasing and there's no way, as it becomes scarcer and more expensive, and it gets ridiculously more difficult to extract the last bits of it, the world we know is done. Economies just collapse, the dark ages return - all of that.

Why now? There have been scattered articles about this here and there.

Now because Fortune is profiling a personal friend of the president –


Richard Rainwater doesn't want to sound like a kook. But he's about as worried as a happily married guy with more than $2 billion and a home in Pebble Beach can get. Americans are "in the kind of trouble people shouldn't find themselves in," he says. He's just wary about being the one to sound the alarm.

Rainwater is something of a behind-the-scenes type - at least as far as alpha-male billionaires go. He counts President Bush as a personal friend but dislikes politics, and frankly, when he gets worked up, he says some pretty far-out things that could easily be taken out of context. Such as: An economic tsunami is about to hit the global economy as the world runs out of oil. Or a coalition of communist and Islamic states may decide to stop selling their precious crude to Americans any day now. Or food shortages may soon hit the U.S. Or he read on a blog last night that there's this one gargantuan chunk of ice sitting on a precipice in Antarctica that, if it falls off, will raise sea levels worldwide by two feet - and it's getting closer to the edge.... And then he'll interrupt himself: "Look, I'm not predicting anything," he'll say. "That's when you get a little kooky-sounding."

Rainwater is no crackpot. But you don't get to be a multibillionaire investor - one who's more than doubled his net worth in a decade - through incremental gains on little stock trades. You have to push way past conventional thinking, test the boundaries of chaos, see events in a bigger context. You have to look at all the scenarios, from "A to friggin' Z," as he says, and not be afraid to focus on Z. Only when you've vacuumed up as much information as possible and you know the world is at a major inflection point do you put a hell of a lot of money behind your conviction.

Such insights have allowed Rainwater to turn moments of cataclysm into gigantic paydays before. In the mid-1990s he saw panic selling in Houston real estate and bought some 15 million square feet; now the properties are selling for three times his purchase price. In the late '90s, when oil seemed plentiful and its price had fallen to the low teens, he bet hundreds of millions - by investing in oil stocks and futures - that it would rise. A billion dollars later, that move is still paying off. "Most people invest and then sit around worrying what the next blowup will be," he says. "I do the opposite. I wait for the blowup, then invest."

The next blowup, however, looms so large that it scares and confuses him. For the past few months he's been holed up in hard-core research mode - reading books, academic studies, and, yes, blogs. Every morning he rises before dawn at one of his houses in Texas or South Carolina or California (he actually owns a piece of Pebble Beach Resorts) and spends four or five hours reading sites like LifeAftertheOilCrash.net or DieOff.org, obsessively following links and sifting through data. How worried is he? He has some $500 million of his $2.5 billion fortune in cash, more than ever before. "I'm long oil and I'm liquid," he says. "I've put myself in a position that if the end of the world came tomorrow I'd kind of be prepared." He's also ready to move fast if he spots an opening.

His instincts tell him that another enormous moneymaking opportunity is about to present itself, what he calls a "slow pitch down the middle." But, at 61, wealthier and happier than ever before, Rainwater finds himself reacting differently this time. He's focused more on staying rich than on getting richer. But there's something else too: a sort of billionaire-style civic duty he feels to get a conversation started. Why couldn't energy prices skyrocket, with grave repercussions, not just economic but political? As industry analysts debate whether the world's oil production is destined to decline, the prospect makes him itchy.

"This is a nonrecurring event," he says. "The 100-year flood in Houston real estate was one, the ability to buy oil and gas really cheap was another, and now there's the opportunity to do something based on a shortage of natural resources. Can you make money? Well, yeah. One way is to just stay long domestic oil. But there may be something more important than making money. This is the first scenario I've seen where I question the survivability of mankind. I don't want the world to wake up one day and say, 'How come some doofus billionaire in Texas made all this money by being aware of this, and why didn't someone tell us?'" ...


This guy questions the survivability of mankind? He and others have briefed the president?

James Wolcott here suggests we have a bigger reason to impeach the president than anything that has to do with wiretapping. The president knows what's coming.

And why is he doing and saying nothing?


The only explanation, apart from Bush's cognitive disability in facing reality, is that he sociopathically doesn't care about the coming calamity endangering the planet because he and his cronies will be financially prepared even as most Americans lose their standard of living.

There are so many reasons that Bush's name should be dragged through the dust of his post-presidency for the harm and disgrace his administration has inflicted, and so impeachable offenses for which he would prosecuted today if we had a Congress worthy of the Founders. His malign indifference to Peak Oil and global warming may be the greatest of his crimes, because it will lead to the misery and deaths of untold millions of people, animals, and natural resources.

... It is part of the job of leaders to foresee problems and either steer around them or prepare for them. A head of state is analogous to the captain of a ship, who is responsible not only for keeping his vessel on course but also for avoiding hazards such as storms and icebergs. Some problems are not foreseeable; others are. A ship's captain who loses his vessel to a freak 'perfect storm' may be blameless, but one who steers his passenger liner directly into a foggy ice field, having no sonar or radar, is worse than a fool: he is criminally negligent.


So the idea is Feingold and Conyers are on the wrong track. There's something bigger.

Some are jumping on the idea, here and here.

But then this is a long-term threat. It won't happen next week. No one much is going to pay attention, and anyway here another reaction is there really is no need to worry, there's plenty of coal around.

We'll worry about it later. There are personal matters.

The Legal Stuff

There's a knock on your door. The police are there, asking if they can come in and search. They don't have a warrant. They're asking for your cooperation. What if you and your wife answer the door. Your wife says yes, you say no. Can the police come in and search? Who gets to say it's okay and you waive your Fourth Amendment rights and any right to protect yourself from self-incrimination?

That was what the Supreme Court decided. They said no, if one party objects then the police cannot come in. In this case the state of Georgia and the federal Justice Department got slapped down hard.

And the justices got all testy and said some pretty nasty things in the ruling and the dissents. The new Chief Justice, that nice Roberts man, may be a problem.

A friend sent along the New York Times account, calling it "a most disturbing assessment of Chief Justice Roberts' first dissenting opinion on the high court –


While the thrust of the report focuses on broad philosophical "alignments" on the court, when you read below, you'll see this guy - in his infinite legal wisdom - jumps from a case of POLICE searching a home - with permission of one inhabitant - to the logic of guests traveling miles to a birthday party to BE INVITED into a home?

The Times, as is often the case, presents this specific quote without subjective comment, but I can only ask in horror, who is this guy?

What monster has been unleashed in and on our highest court?


What is our friend tiling about?

From the Times' "Roberts Dissent Reveals Strain Beneath Court's Placid Surface" –


A Supreme Court decision on Wednesday in an uncelebrated criminal case did more than resolve a dispute over whether the police can search a home without a warrant when one occupant gives consent but another objects.

... Writing for the majority, Justice David H. Souter said the search was unreasonable, given the vocal objection of the husband, Scott Randolph. True, Justice Souter said, the court had long permitted one party to give consent to a search of shared premises under what is known as the "co-occupant consent rule." But he said that rule should be limited to the context in which it was first applied, the absence of the person who later objected.

The presence of the objecting person changed everything, Justice Souter said, noting that it defied "widely shared social expectations" for someone to come to the door of a dwelling and to cross the threshold at one occupant's invitation if another objected.

"Without some very good reason, no sensible person would go inside under those conditions," he said.

"We have, after all, lived our whole national history with an understanding of the ancient adage that a man's home is his castle," Justice Souter said. "Disputed permission is thus no match for this central value of the Fourth Amendment."

Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the majority opinion, as did Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who explained himself in a concurring opinion notable for its ambivalent tone. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. did not vote, as he was not a member of the court when the case was argued.

The dissenters, in addition to Chief Justice Roberts, were Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. In his opinion, the chief justice took aim at the majority's description of social custom, as well as its reliance on that description to reshape "a great deal of established Fourth Amendment law."

Every lower federal court to have considered the issue, as well as most state courts, had concluded that one party's consent was sufficient. The Georgia Supreme Court, in its 2004 decision that the justices affirmed, was in the minority, ruling in this case that the evidence of Mr. Randolph's cocaine use was inadmissible.

"The fact is that a wide variety of differing social situations can readily be imagined, giving rise to quite different social expectations," Chief Justice Roberts said. For example, he continued, "a guest who came to celebrate an occupant's birthday, or one who had traveled some distance for a particular reason, might not readily turn away simply because of a roommate's objection."

Noting that "the possible scenarios are limitless," he said, "Such shifting expectations are not a promising foundation on which to ground a constitutional rule, particularly because the majority has no support for its basic assumption - that an invited guest encountering two disagreeing co-occupants would flee - beyond a hunch about how people would typically act in an atypical situation."


Souter, who wrote the majority opinion, criticized Roberts' dissent. And he wasn't nice. Under the dissent's view, he wrote, "The centuries of special protection for the privacy of the home are over."

Welcome to the new world. This was a close one but you see where things are going.

Curiously there was this reaction from a staunch Republican –


The right wing of the Republican Party has sold the libertarian/centrist wing of the party a bill of goods, and the modern 'conservatives' are clearly nothing more than statists who, rather than redistributing wealth like their brethern on the left, instead have decided that the state must have excessive rights in order to 'protect' us all from whatever the imagined fear du jour might be. Meanwhile, no one is left protecting us from the religionists and the state itself.

In the new Republican era, only fetuses, tax shelters, and 'traditional' marriage deserve protection. According to the actions of the current Republican Party, the rest of us need to be wiretapped, monitored, have our homes inspected for whatever reason without warrants, and are incapable of making decisions on our own. My 20 year affair with the Republican Party is coming to an end. I am not voting for any Republican in 2006 at any level, and I will be hard pressed to vote for this party in 2008 - unless, of course, Cindy Sheehan is the Democratic candidate. These 'conservatives' need about 10-15 years in the wilderness.


Okay, that's from the right. From the left there's this - "Just wait till Alito gets to vote. Fourth Amendment rights won't just be over - they'll be a relic."

So who is with the administration these days in its effort to change how things are done and, in this case, reinterpret the Bill of Rights?

Well, a theocratic police state is a safe state. Want one?


The same day, this


American's increasing acceptance of religious diversity doesn't extend to those who don't believe in a god, according to a national survey by researchers in the University of Minnesota's department of sociology.

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society." Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. "Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years," says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study's lead researcher.

Edgell also argues that today's atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past-they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. "It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common 'core' of values that make them trustworthy-and in America, that 'core' has historically been religious," says Edgell. Many of the study's respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.


Got it.

As Andrew Sullivan says - "If you were to listen to O'Reilly, you'd think atheists run this country and Christians are persecuted. The opposite is closer to the truth. Religious freedom must emphatically include the right to believe in nothing at all. I wish our president said that more often."

The president's father - August 27 1987 - "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God. Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists." (See this for the whole thing.)

The son is actually more moderate. You don't want to cut out Mark Twain, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank, and James Smithson, the founder of the Smithsonian Institute.


None. Things are very strange. And that's a warp on the buzz, and the issues on the table, and odd ideas. Make of it what you will.

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik

The inclusion of any text from others is quotation for the purpose of illustration and commentary, as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.  See the Legal Notice Regarding Fair Use for the relevant citation.
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