Archive for December, 2005

Wishing You and Yours A Happy Holiday Season

Sunday, December 25th, 2005

Peace on Earth from SoonerThought.com.

Denying Lunch Breaks Costly to Wal-Mart

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

ABC News: Jury Awards $172M to Wal-Mart Employees

A California jury on Thursday awarded $172 million to thousands of employees at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. who claimed they were illegally denied lunch breaks.
The world’s largest retailer was ordered to pay $57 million in general damages and $115 million in punitive damages to about 116,000 current and former California employees for violating a 2001 state law that requires employers to give 30-minute, unpaid lunch breaks to employees who work at least six hours.
The damages were originally tallied as $207 million after a court clerk misread the punitive damages as $150 million. The amount of punitive damages was later clarified.

Where’s the Outrage?

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

Bush’s defense of his phone-spying program has disturbing echoes of arguments once used by South Africa’s apartheid regime. Why Americans should examine the parallels.

WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY
By Arlene Getz
Newsweek
Updated: 3:33 p.m. ET Dec. 21, 2005

Dec. 21, 2005 - Back in the 1980s, when I was living in Johannesburg and reporting on apartheid South Africa, a white neighbor proffered a tasteless confession. She was “quite relieved,” she told me, that new media restrictions prohibited our reporting on government repression. No matter that Pretoria was detaining tens of thousands of people without real evidence of wrongdoing. No matter that many of them, including children, were being tortured—sometimes to death. No matter that government hit squads were killing political opponents. No matter that police were shooting into crowds of black civilians protesting against their disenfranchisement. “It’s so nice,” confided my neighbor, “not to open the papers and read all that bad news.”

I thought about that neighbor this week, as reports dribbled out about President George W. Bush’s sanctioning of warrantless eavesdropping on American conversations. For anyone who has lived under an authoritarian regime, phone tapping—or at least the threat of it—is always a given. But U.S. citizens have always been lucky enough to believe themselves protected from such government intrusion. So why have they reacted so insipidly to yet another post-9/11 erosion of U.S. civil liberties?

I’m sure there are many well-meaning Americans who agree with their president’s explanation that it’s all a necessary evil (and that patriotic citizens will not be spied on unless they dial up Osama bin Laden). But the nasty echoes of apartheid South Africa should at least give them pause. While Bush uses the rhetoric of “evildoers” and the “global war on terror,” Pretoria talked of “total onslaught.” This was the catchphrase of P. W. Botha, South Africa’s head of state from 1978 to 1989. Botha was hardly the first white South African leader to ride roughshod over civil liberties for all races, but he did it more effectively than many of his predecessors. Botha liked to tell South Africans that the country was under “total onslaught” from forces both within and without, and that this global assault was his rationale for allowing opponents to be jailed, beaten or killed. Likewise, the Bush administration has adopted the argument that anything is justified in the name of national security.

Botha was right about South Africa being under attack. Internally, blacks and a few whites were waging a low-level guerrilla war to topple the government. Externally, activists across the globe were mobilizing economic sanctions and campaigns to ostracize Pretoria. By the same token, we all know that Bush is right about the United States facing a very real threat of further terror. Yet should Americans really be willing to accept that autocratic end-justifies-the-means argument?

For so many around the world, the United States is as much a symbol as a nation. Outsiders may scoff at American naiveté in thinking that their conversations are private, but they envy them for growing up in a society so sheltered that it made such a belief possible. Among those who feel this way is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African Anglican leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his principled fight for justice in his native country. “It’s unbelievable,” he told me in an interview, “that a country that many of us have looked to as the bastion of true freedom could now have eroded so many of the liberties we believed were upheld almost religiously.”

Tutu recalled teaching in Jacksonville, Fla., when Bush won re-election in 2004. “I was shocked,” he said, “because I had naively believed all these many years that Americans genuinely believed in freedom of speech. [But I] discovered there that when you made an utterance that was remotely contrary to what the White House was saying, then they attacked you. For a South African the déjŕ vu was frightening. They behaved exactly the same way that used to happen here—vilifying those who are putting forward a slightly different view.” Tutu made these comments to me exactly a year ago next week. I haven’t seen any reaction from him about the latest eavesdropping revelations, but I doubt he is remotely surprised at the U.S. president’s response: a defense of the tactic, together with a warning that the government would launch an investigation to find out who leaked the news to The New York Times.

It’s not fair, of course, to suggest that all citizens are indifferent to violations of their privacy and their rights to free speech. Yet as I’ve watched this debate play out, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that not enough Americans really care. Like my Johannesburg neighbor, they seem to hope that unpleasant news will disappear if you just ignore it. It didn’t then, and it won’t now.

U.S. judge on spy court resigns post

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005

Chicago Tribune | U.S. judge on spy court resigns post
Letter follows reports on Bush wiretap OKs

By Carol D. Leonnig and Dafna Linzer, The Washington Post. Post writers Jonathan Weisman and Charles Babington and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report, as did Tribune news services
Published December 21, 2005

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush’s secret authorization of a domestic spying program, according to two sources.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. late Monday notifying him of his resignation without providing an explanation.

Two associates familiar with his decision said Tuesday that Robertson privately expressed deep concern that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the president in 2001 was legally questionable and may have tainted the work of the FISA court, established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Robertson, appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and later was selected by Chief Justice William Rehnquist to serve on the foreign intelligence court, declined to comment Tuesday.

Word of Robertson’s resignation came as two Senate Republicans joined the call for congressional investigations into the National Security Agency’s warrantless interception of telephone calls and e-mails to overseas locations by U.S. citizens suspected of links to terrorist groups.

Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine echoed concerns raised by Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has promised hearings in the new year.

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan was asked to explain why Bush last year said that surveillance required court approval.

“Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires–a wiretap requires a court order,” Bush said at the time. “Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.”

McClellan said the quote referred only to the USA Patriot Act.

Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday defended the secret wiretaps.

“You know, it’s not an accident that we haven’t been hit in four years,” the vice president said, speaking with reporters on Air Force Two en route from Pakistan to Oman.

Revelation of the program last week by The New York Times also spurred considerable debate among federal judges, including some who serve on the FISA court. For more than a quarter-century, that court had been seen as the only body that could legally authorize secret surveillance of espionage and terrorism suspects, and only when the Justice Department could show probable cause that its targets were foreign governments or their agents.

Robertson indicated privately to colleagues in recent conversations he was concerned that information gained from warrantless NSA surveillance could have then been used to obtain foreign intelligence warrants. FISA court Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who had been briefed on the spying program by the administration, raised the same concern in 2004, and insisted that the Justice Department certify in writing that it was not occurring.

“They just don’t know if the product of wiretaps were used for FISA warrants–to kind of cleanse the information,” said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the FISA warrants. “What I’ve heard some of the judges say is they feel they’ve participated in a Potemkin court.”

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

Bush’s Snoopgate

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

The president was so desperate to kill The New York Times’ eavesdropping story, he summoned the paper’s editor and publisher to the Oval Office. But it wasn’t just out of concern about national security.

WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY
By Jonathan Alter
Newsweek
Updated: 6:17 p.m. ET Dec. 19, 2005

Dec. 19, 2005 - Finally we have a Washington scandal that goes beyond sex, corruption and political intrigue to big issues like security versus liberty and the reasonable bounds of presidential power. President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate—he made it seem as if those who didn’t agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda—but it will not work. We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president’s desperation.

The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists—in fact, all American Muslims, period—have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations. Bush claimed that “the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy.” But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so. And rather than the leaking being a “shameful act,” it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab.

No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.

What is especially perplexing about this story is that the 1978 law set up a special court to approve eavesdropping in hours, even minutes, if necessary. In fact, the law allows the government to eavesdrop on its own, then retroactively justify it to the court, essentially obtaining a warrant after the fact. Since 1979, the FISA court has approved tens of thousands of eavesdropping requests and rejected only four. There was no indication the existing system was slow—as the president seemed to claim in his press conference—or in any way required extra-constitutional action.

This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.

In the meantime, it is unlikely that Bush will echo President Kennedy in 1961. After JFK managed to tone down a New York Times story by Tad Szulc on the Bay of Pigs invasion, he confided to Times editor Turner Catledge that he wished the paper had printed the whole story because it might have spared him such a stunning defeat in Cuba.

This time, the president knew publication would cause him great embarrassment and trouble for the rest of his presidency. It was for that reason—and less out of genuine concern about national security—that George W. Bush tried so hard to kill the New York Times story.
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

© 2005 MSNBC.com

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10536559/site/newsweek/

DUBYA PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY DESTROYED BY FIRE

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

CRAWFORD, TEXAS (Oct. 4) — A tragic fire this morning destroyed the personal library of President George W. Bush.

The fire began in the presidential bathroom where the books were kept. Both of his books have been lost.

A presidential spokesman said the president was devastated, as he had almost finished coloring the second one.

Bush Slammed for Wire Taps

Monday, December 19th, 2005

Bush Defends Eavesdropping Program

“Where does he find in the Constitution the authority to tap the wires and the phones of American citizens without any court oversight?” demanded Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He also disputed Bush’s statement in the news conference that checks on his executive power — such as his authority to order the secret surveillance — came from his oath of office and congressional oversight.
“That’s not a check on the executive branch, notifying some members of Congress — if he did — that he’s taken the law into his own hands,” Levin said. “That is not a check on the executive branch, nor is the fact that he gets opinions from six lawyers in the executive branch, all under his control, that he can do this.”
Levin noted that FISA allows for retroactively seeking the court’s permission for wiretaps in the event of an emergency. “And so he can’t just simply use the necessity to move quickly as an excuse to bypass the law,” he said.
“The president does not have a leg to stand on legally with regard to this program,” said Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.).

Cuckoo….Cuckoo…Cuckoo…

Sunday, December 18th, 2005

Excerpted from At Inland Base, Scientologists Trained Top Gun

In his own spiritual life, Cruise has continued to climb the “Bridge to Total Freedom,” Scientology’s path to enlightenment. International Scientology News, a church magazine, reported last year that the actor had embarked on one of the highest levels of training, “OT VII” — for Operating Thetan VII.

At these higher levels — and at a potential cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars — Scientologists learn Hubbard’s secret theory of human suffering, which he traces to a galactic battle waged 75 million years ago by an evil tyrant named Xenu.

According to court documents made public by The Times in the 1980s, Hubbard espoused the belief that Xenu captured the souls, or thetans, of enemies and electronically implanted false concepts in them to keep them confused about his dirty work. The goal of these advanced courses is to become aware of the trauma and free of its effects.

At Cruise’s high level of training, ex-members say, devotees also are charged with actively spreading the organization’s less secretive beliefs and advancing its crusades, including Hubbard’s deep disdain for psychiatry, a profession that once dismissed his teachings as quackery.

“When you hear Tom Cruise talking about psychiatrists and drugs,” said one prominent former Scientologist who knows Cruise, “you are hearing from the grave the voice of L. Ron Hubbard speaking.”

Bush Gives Another “by the numbers” Speech

Sunday, December 18th, 2005

RE Bush’s speech tonight:

I’ll just say that Bush’s line about the terrorists–the one where he said:

“They want a country that burns books, oppresses women and crushes dissent.” strikes this writer as being descriptive of the American Theocracy he has unleashed here.

As for his request that those who oppose him “support the troops” by supporting this criminal war, I say:

“Mr. ‘President,’ kiss my ass.”

He’s a crook, a liar and a war criminal.

No matter how much he changes his tone to be conciliatory and “reach out” to his detractors (something he would never have down were his poll numbers not in the toilet, I for one will continue to oppose him, his criminal policies and this trumped up war.

John McCain: Bush Apologist

Sunday, December 18th, 2005

On Stephanopolous this morning, John McCain said “since September 11,” and “a new world after September 11″ at least a half dozen times –using that as a reason why W was justified in his (illegal, impeachable offense) use of the NSA to spy on Americans and tap their phone lines.

McCain: So desperate to be president in 2008 he is kissing Bush’s crazy, imperial ass.

King George?

Saturday, December 17th, 2005

Bush: Eavesdropping Helps Save U.S. Lives - Yahoo! News

“I tell you, he’s President George Bush, not King George Bush. This is not the system of government we have and that we fought for,” Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., told The Associated Press.

Treason’s Greetings!

Friday, December 16th, 2005

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Order your Karl Rove Christmas gear here.