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Once a Catholic, always a Catholic – that’s me, alright. Despite the fact I have long since left the Church, God, Jesus, the Holy Ghost (changed to “Spirit” in my youth; so much for the immutability of the divine), organized religion, and the idea of the supernatural altogether, I am still a Catholic.

I think like a Catholic. My worldview has been shaped – though not dominated – by Catholicism. In this, the nuns, the priests, the brothers, and probably a monk or two have left their mark on my intellectual, social, and spiritual development. And I will thank them for it till my dying breath. There is great beauty to be found in the strands of logic and insightful, penetrating analysis of humanity by Catholic thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, Newman, and other Catholic theologians and philosophers.

Conversely, this makes me a lousy atheist. I don’t hate people of faith although making fun of them is sometimes too much of a temptation to resist. Nor do I see religion as “an opiate of the masses” as Marx and Barack Obama (“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed…”) view this all too human phenomena. Belief in a supreme being does not disqualify someone from engaging in rational thought otherwise, although the contradictions can get hairy at times. To this day, Catholic thinkers have, for the most part enriched our inner dialogue as we struggle with the most basic questions of right and wrong.

After 12 years of Catholic education, it is hard to slough off habits of thought that force me to see the world through a prism shaped by my Catholic upbringing. My parents were what used to be called “good Catholics.” They went to church every Sunday with their 10 children in tow (drawing little amazement from the other boomer families made up of 5,6,8, or more kids). They gave us a Catholic education through high school and college if desired. We followed Catholic rituals and practices. (To this day I will not eat a fish stick thanks to meatless Fridays during Lent.)

They say you can always tell what a man believes and how he thinks by going through his library. I challenge anyone to make that adage good in my father’s case. It would be hard to glean anything specific of my father’s politics or religious beliefs from the astonishing breadth of philosophical tracts that lined the shelves of his 3,000 book library. In this, he did the 10 of us a favor by not foisting any particular political or moral view of the world on us. Free to explore ideas from Marx to Martin Neimoller, the Moran children grew up free thinkers – just as my parents intended.

That said, as I grew to adulthood and rejected organized religion, I nevertheless still thought like a Catholic even though I didn’t live like one. In fact, I trace my conversion to conservatism based largely on the fact that in many respects, Catholic teachings line up very nicely with conservative principles although the Jeffersonian ideal of liberty doesn’t translate very well. But in the establishment of a moral and just society – one being just as important as the other – conservatism and Catholicism seemed to me a match made in, well, heaven.

That is why I feel it necessary to defend the Pope and to some extent the Catholic faith from this kind of attack:

“Whenever a cult leader sets himself up as God’s infallible wing man here on Earth, lock away the kids,” said Maher, comparing the Catholic Church to the polygamist cult authorities raided in Texas last week.

“I’d like to tip off law enforcement to an even larger child-abusing religious cult,” Maher said. “Its leader also has a compound, and this guy not only operates outside the bounds of the law, but he used to be a Nazi and he wears funny hats.”

That was Bill Maher speaking shortly before the Pope came to the United States in case you missed it. Maher continued to put his foot in it:
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Bill, you shouldn’t be saying that the Catholic Church is no better than this creepy Texas cult.” For one thing, altar boys can’t even get pregnant. But really, what tripped up the little cult on the prairie was that they only abused hundreds of kids, not thousands, all over the world. Cults get raided, religions get parades. How does the Catholic Church get away with all of their buggery? Volume, volume, volume!

If you have a few hundred followers, and you let some of them molest children, they call you a cult leader. If have a billion, they call you ‘Pope.’ It’s like, if you can’t pay your mortgage, you’re a deadbeat. But if you can’t pay a million mortgages, you’re BearStearns and we bail you out. And that is who the Catholic Church is: the BearStearns of organized pedophilia—too big, too fat. When the current pope was in his previous Vatican job as John Paul’s Dick Cheney, he wrote a letter instructing every Catholic bishop to keep the sex abuse of minors secret until the Statute of Limitations ran out. And that’s the Church’s attitude: ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,’ which is fine, far be it from me to criticize religion. But just remember one thing: if the Pope was—instead of a religious figure—merely the CEO of a nationwide chain of day care centers, where thousands of employees had been caught molesting kids and then covering it up, he’d be arrested faster than you can say ‘who wants to touch Mr. Wiggle?’

Now Maher is paid to be a clown so perhaps we should ascribe his outburst more to the fact that he was just doing his job shocking the sensibilities of his bourgeoisie audience who are titillated when an anti-establishmentarian like Maher sticks it to an icon like the Catholic Church.

Maher was forced to apologize about the Nazi crack – a patently untrue charge that anyone with a passing familiarity with the battle in Nazi Germany between the Church and Hitler would never have made. The Pope, as a young Joseph Ratzinger, was forced by law to join the Hitler youth despite Hitler’s signed assurances (the Concordant of 1933) that the Catholic Youth Organization would remain an option for families who did not wish their children to join a secular group.

Predictably, Maher was unapologetic about his other “charges” including his weird interpretation of the letter sent by Ratzinger to all the Bishops of the Church when he was Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

Maher grossly misrepresented the contents of the 2001 letter then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to the bishops. He did not tell them to “keep the sex abuse of minors of State of Limitations ran out.” The letter clarified that the Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had jurisdiction according to the Church’s law (canon law) to try clerics concerning abuses of the sacraments, and also, as the letter put it, a “delict against morals, namely: the delict committed by a cleric against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue [thou shall not commit adultery] with a minor below the age of 18 years.”

What Maher’s criticism fails to take into account is that not everywhere in the world where the comedian’s attitude toward Catholics dominates is the Church protected by a document like the US Constitution. In fact, Ratzinger’s concerns that the Church be allowed to deal with pedophile priests only in extremely narrow circumstances was protection for the Church in those places where authorities share Mr. Maher’s less than expansive view of religious freedom. There are dozens of countries in the world that would take Mr. Maher’s supercilious suggestion that the Catholic hierarchy should be locked up to heart and use either real or trumped up charges of abuse by priests as an excuse to destroy the independence of the Church from government.

The Catholic Church operates in a world that is by and large not very friendly to it. But clearly the abuse scandals here and abroad as well as the actions of individual bishops to cover it up, pay off the victims, stonewall secular authorities, allow pedophiles to continue their abuse from posting to posting knowing their propensity to “sin,” – all of this dark chapter in the Church’s history must be aired out and exposed (with due diligence made to respect the privacy of victims) before the breach that has opened up between the hierarchy and the congregation is closed.

Does this validate Maher’s over the top, exaggerated, hateful rant? As any good satirist, Maher has taken the germ of truth and blown it up into impossibly overstated and wildly embroidered bombast – all for a few laughs and the notoriety that comes to those who deliberately offend people in order to get attention; much like a 5 year old who tells his parents he hates them.

Perhaps Mr. Maher believes religion should be regulated by government. He doesn’t say so outright but the threat inherent in his diatribe is clear. Is that simply part of his shtick? Or does this angry atheist actually believe that government should find a way to “regulate” against these sorts of outrages?

To place those institutional sins in the context of the modern Church is difficult. The Pope, in his visit to the US has tried to reconcile the Church’s interests with those of the victims – pleasing some and not others:

It is in the context of this hope, born of God’s love and fidelity, that I acknowledge the pain which the church in America has experienced as the result of sexual abuse of minors,” Benedict said.

“No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention.”

During the Mass, the pope said the church has worked “to deal honestly and fairly with this tragic situation” and to ensure that children are safe.

That last has come to pass only recently and ignores the years of neglect prior to the last few years of the John Paul II pontificate and Benedict’s ascension. This doesn’t erase the problem and much more needs to be done. But it does make a start that any fair minded person would have to admit that while long overdue is a necessary and vital step on the road to reconciliation.

I have expressed my admiration in the past for this Pope and his remarkably supple intellect with its subtlety and depth. But this is a case where the Pope needs to show leadership and compassion – a test he has passed to this point. What he does when he returns to Rome will determine whether his American flock continues to distrust their bishops. They certainly have reason to – a fact not lost on this Pope who will seek to heal the breach caused by the abuse scandals and make the Church whole again.

By: Rick Moran at 7:49 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (10)


This article originally appears in The American Thinker

Maybe it’s something in the water. Or perhaps it’s a virus that only infects politicians and their cronies in the state in which Barack Obama chose to build his poilitical base.

Personally, I prefer the “politicians being inhabited by aliens” scenario where the outrageously corrupt behavior of our political leaders in the state is the result of an invasion of extraterrestrials who have taken over their bodies and minds.

If so, they certainly have moved in and made themselves right at home. The recent political history of the state is replete with some of the most jaw dropping examples of illegal shenanigans one can imagine.

No less than 3 of the last 7 governors of Illinois have gone to jail for corruption. The most recent inmate being previous governor George Ryan who pressured state workers to raise money for his campaigns when Secretary of State, while overseeing a “pay for play” scheme at drivers license bureaus where unqualified truck drivers bribed state employees to get licenses. One such driver was involved in a horrific accident that killed 6 children. The resulting investigation into that crash unmasked the conspiracy. More than 70 lobbyists, state employees, and government officials have been convicted in connection with the scheme.

And to list the corruption associated with Mayor Daley’s Chicago Democratic Machine would require an encyclopedia-length dissertation. The most recent example of Machine sleaze was the conviction of one of the Mayor’s closest aides in a city hall patronage scandal that had Barack Obama praising hizzoner for beginning to “clean up” city hall.

Frankly, I believe the Augean Stables would be an easier place to start cleaning up. Might as well start with something less taxing than trying to clean up Chicago politics.

The sleaze is not limited to Chicago—not by any means. The sad fact is, the entire state is in some ways a gigantic cesspool of bid rigging, kickback schemes, cronyism, and outright bribery greased by campaign contributions, and where the businessman, the criminal, and the politician merge into a seamless, corrupt beast that greedily feeds at the public trough.

The beast survives due to an apathetic public and, despite some noble exceptions, a curiously quiescent press who seem to have adopted the blasé attitude in some cases that everyone does it so what’s new?

What is new is that someone has stepped forward and under oath, given chapter and verse of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To Political Sleaze in Illinois. For seven long days prominent Republican fundraiser and financier Stuart Levine has been in the witness chair at the trial of Antoin “Tony” Rezko—Chicago political “fixer” and star fundraiser for both Governor Blagojevitch and Senator Barack Obama. Levine is the primary witness in the federal trial alleging massive fraud and extortion on Rezko’s part, shaking down firms doing business with the state by forcing them to make contributions to the Governor’s campaign in return for state contracts.

Levine is a character out of Dante’s Purgatorio—a tortured soul addicted to cocaine, crystal meth and other drugs while leading a secret life filled with drug fueled day long parties at a suburban hotel. At age 62, Levine proves the adage you’re never to old to act like an immature idiot. Details of what really went on at these all day sybaritic trysts with Levine and up to 5 male friends are sketchy because the judge has refused the prosecution permission to get into the sexual aspects of Levine’s romps.

No matter. It is on the drug use that the defense will concentrate, hammering home to the jury that Levine’s story is not believable because he very well could have imagined it all. And what gives impetus to the defense claim of Levine being a first class fantasist is the unreal scope of the corruption that he, Rezko, and a few cronies spread throughout the state government in order to raise money for Blagojevitch as well as line their own pockets with “finders fees” and other kickbacks.

Tony Rezko had his fingers in an extraordinary number of money making pies—property developer, slumlord, pizza franchise owner, and friend and patron to dozens of the most prominent politicians from both parties in Illinois. He even went in on a money making scheme with a former Chicago cop to train Iraqi “power plant guards” in security techniques—a contract signed by a school chum of Rezko’s who is a former Iraqi Minister of Electricity, currently under indictment in Iraq for embezzling $2.5 billion in reconstruction funds.

The gig with Levine was just one of many projects with which Rezko was involved where he used his connections with politicians to enrich himself—legally in most cases. But the way Levine describes the shakedown operation, Rezko could have no illusions about the legality of what he was doing.

Levine was in a perfect position to initiate the kickback scheme. Not only was he a power in state politics, he sat on two prominent state boards where he was able to handpick members who would pretty much do as he asked. And what he asked was that they steer state contracts to companies that gave money to Blagojevitch. Rezko was very helpful in this regard as he recommended Levine’s cronies to Blagojevitch for positions on the two regulatory boards—a hospital expansion board and the Teachers Retirement System.

Levine also received what he euphemistically refers to as “finders fees” from the companies for assisting them in getting the contracts. The feds call them what they are: illegal kickbacks. Until the government swooped down on him in January 2006, Levine carried on with his scheme, using Rezko’s clout with the governor to staff the two regulatory boards he served on with cronies who would do his bidding.

But things didn’t go so smoothly always. On Wednesday, jurors listened to testimony from Levine that may put Governor Blagojevitch himself in legal jeopardy. Stephen Spruiell from National Review sums up the story of one investment company who refused to play ball:

Levine used his positions on various state boards to steal as much money as he could from people with business before those boards. One of those people was a Hollywood producer and financier named Tom Rosenberg. Rosenberg was a principal at a firm called Capri Capital. Capri managed over a billion dollars for the Illinois Teachers Retirement System, of which Levine was a trustee.

Through a variety of corrupt means, including allowing TRS executive director Jon Bauman to write his own (glowing) evaluations, Levine wielded a disproportionate amount of influence over TRS investment decisions. Levine used this influence to steer TRS contracts to whomever would pay him and his associates the biggest “finder’s fees.” Levine decided that Rosenberg was getting far too much TRS business and paying far too little in the form of kickbacks to him and his cronies—an arrangement that Levine saw an opportunity to amend when Capri sought a new contract from TRS in early 2004.

According to his testimony, Levine and an associate named Bill Cellini (both Republicans) conspired with two of Governor Blagojevich’s top fundraisers and advisers—Tony Rezko and a roofing contractor named Chris Kelly (both Democrats)—to offer Rosenberg a choice: Either pay a $2 million bribe or raise $1.5 million for Blagojevich’s re-election campaign. Rosenberg was to be made to understand that all of his business with TRS was at stake.

As you can see, when it comes to political corruption in Illinois, there is only one party: “The Green Party”—as in the color of cash.

But Rosenberg was not someone they could threaten or push around. In a phone conversation taped by the government, Rosenberg angrily denounced Cellini and Levine and promised to “take them down” if they didn’t back off.

This set off alarm bells with Rezko, Levine, Cellini and others involved in the kickback schemes. Clearly, if Rosenberg tattled, they’d all go to jail for a very long time. So in the end, they only backed off putting the arm on Rosenberg, but they made good on their threat to deny Rosenberg any more state business.

In this, they had the blessing of the Governor of the State of Illinois Rod Blagojevitch.

Apparently, Rezko related the entire story to Blagojevitch, who it appears agreed with the crooks that Rosenberg should be frozen out of doing future business with the state. Levine is heard in another taped conversation saying that “the big guy” himself had given the word.

This would be a clear misuse of his office and, depending of what the governor knew of Rezko, Levine, and their cronies, it could lead to possible conspiracy charges as well.

NRO’s Stephen Spruiell interviews Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica, a Republican who says that Blagojevitch’s indictment is “inevitable:”

“What we have,” Peraica says, “is a level of corruption that is integrated both vertically and horizontally across all layers of government: city, municipal, county, and state.” To him, the Rezko case illustrates that corruption in Illinois is a bipartisan problem. “We have a corrupt political combine, where the members of the two parties… have come together, not pursuant to a public interest, but to pursue their own financial interests, which they have done with great zeal and ingenuity.”

And what of Barack Obama? A couple of the players in this little drama have close connections to the Senator. In addition to Rezko, there is the case of Allison Walker, Obama’s old boss at the law firm of Davis Miner Barnhill & Galland who was also a business partner of Rezko. Davis’s firm handled an unknown amount of business for Rezko’s property management company—the same company under investigation for illegal activities in connection with government contracts used to rehab low income housing (an unrelated investigation to the Rezko trial).

Davis, a friend of Rosenberg’s, acted as a go-between, carrying the investment manager’s message to Rezko that he might raise some money for the governor’s campaign if that would help keep his business in the mix for a contract with the teachers pension fund board that Levine ran as his own little fiefdom. This didn’t satisfy Rezko who told Davis to have Rosenberg call Levine. From there, Levine put the squeeze on Rosenberg as described above.

Neither Obama or Davis will get very specific about how much work the law firm did for Rezko or what Obama did over the years to assist Rezko in the management of several low income properties that by all accounts were barely habitable. Most of them have been condemned as of today. And the government wants to know just what Rezko did with those millions in rehab funds and loans he received from the city, state, and federal government.

Obama may not be an intimate part of all this corruption. But it is equally clear that he has benefited politically from his association with the sleaze artists like Rezko. He has also eschewed attaching himself too closely to the reform movement in Cook County politics by endorsing for office not only Mayor Daley, but the notorious former Cook County Board Chairman John Stroger and the equally corrupt Alderman Dorothy Tillman.

It appears that when principle collides with political expediency, Obama has chosen to ally himself with those who can do his career the most good – even at the expense, as Commissioner Peraica says of “principles and morals and good government.”

By: Rick Moran at 7:55 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (3)


I don’t expect too many of you to agree with me about the shame I believe that John Yoo and the Bush Administration has brought upon America as a result of their attempt to legally justify the torture of prisoners. From what I’ve been reading for years on other conservative sites, I know that many of you believe that any treatment we hand out to terrorists is too good for them, that they deserve to suffer and besides we need the information that only torture will elicit. Beyond that, there is a troubling rationale used by many conservatives that posits the notion of reciprocity; that because the terrorists treat prisoners in a beastly manner, it is perfectly alright for us to do the same to them.

It vexes me that conservatives believe such nonsense – believe it and use it as a justification for the violation of international and domestic law not to mention destroying our long standing and proud tradition of simply being better than that. Why this aspect of American exceptionalism escapes my friends on the right who don’t hesitate to use the argument that we are a different nation than all others when it comes to rightly boasting about our vast freedoms and brilliantly constructed Constitution is beyond me.

But for me and many others on the right, the issue of torture defines America in a way that does not weigh comfortably on our consciences or on our self image as citizens of this country. I am saddened beyond words to be associated with a country that willingly gives up its traditions and adherence to the rule of law for the easy way, the short cut around the law, while giving in to the basest instincts we posses because we are afraid.

I do not wish terrorists to be tortured. I wish them dead. But if they must surrender themselves to our custody or if we find it to our tactical advantage to hold them, then we have no alternative but to treat them as Americans treat prisoners not as the terrorists themselves treat their captives. This is self evident and it is shocking at times to be reviled as a “terrorist lover” just because I wish that our tradition of human decency and adhering to the rule of law be upheld.

The specifics of what is or what is not torture matter not. Inflicting pain is not something you can put on a scale and judge whether an interrogation technique crosses some invisible line between just being a little painful and outright agony. Mental and physical pain inflicted on purpose is a crime according to international law and our domestic statutes. It is pure sophistry to argue otherwise.

Let’s be clear on this; John Yoo’s memo does a tap dance around the Constitution, the UN treaty banning torture, and domestic laws prohibiting our public officials from engaging in acts that cause bodily harm to another person.

I am not a lawyer. But I can read. When a document is written in order to justify what otherwise would be illegal acts during peacetime (something that is clearly on Yoo’s mind throughout much of his memo), one would hope that something besides expanding the power of the executive to grant immunity to those who carry out the erstwhile illegalities would be used as a legal framework. Yoo makes little attempt, from my reading, to do so.

One example of this breathtaking and troubling expansion of executive authority:

On Page 47 of the Yoo memo, if I’m not mistaken, there’s the amazing assertion that the Convention Against Torture doesn’t apply whenever the president says it doesn’t. “Any presidential decision to order interrogations methods that are inconsistent with CAT would amount to a suspension or termination of those treaty provisions.” Doesn’t this mean that whether or not a treaty has been ratified, with or without express reservations, Yoo is saying that the president can implicitly and on his own authority withdraw the United States from the treaty simply by not abiding by it? Is there precedent for such a claim? In my quick scan so far of the tortured (sorry) reasoning here, I can’t find anything other than ipso facto—because I say so, the president says so.

From the memo Part II, page 41, we see a similar justification for defense against charges of torture, i.e. the president says it’s OK:

As we have made clear in other opinions involving the war against al Qaeda, the Nation’s right to self-defense has been triggered by the events of September 11. If a govenunent defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network. In that case, we believe that he’ could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions. This national and international version of the right to self-defense could supplement and bolster the government defendant’s individual right.

How can any conservative believing in limited government not at the very least look twice at such an expansion of government authority?

I believe that Vice President Cheney is correct when he says that executive power suffered as a result of naked power grabs by the Democratic Congress back in the 1970’s. But this goes far beyond redressing any imbalances that occurred as a result of abuses of executive authority uncovered in Watergate and Viet Nam. It does not appear that Mr. Yoo has deigned to supply any limits whatsoever to executive power during wartime.

As for his justifications for torture, some of Yoo’s reasoning is positively Orwellian:

As to mental torture, Richard testified that “no international consensus had emerged [as to] what degree of mental suffering is required to constitute torture[,]”but that it was nonetheless clear that severe mental pain or suffering “does not encompass the normal legal compulsions which are properly a part of the criminal justice system[:] .interrogation, incarceration, prosecution; compelled. testimony against a friend, etc,-notwithstanding the fact that they may have the incidental effect of producing mental strain.” Id. at 17. According to Richard, CAT was intended to “condemn as torture intentional acts such as those designed to damage and destroy the human personality.” Id. at 14. This description of mental suffering emphasizes the requirement that any mental harm be. of significant duration and supports our conclusion that ( mind-altering substances must have a profoundly disruptive effect to serve as a predicate.act.

It is a mindset like this that can justify barbarity.

I don’t buy the argument that because it only hurts “a little” that it’s not torture. The difference between having your fingernails pulled out and being forced to stand for 24 hours is irrelevant. It is the intent that matters. And if the intent is to cause suffering in order to get a prisoner to talk, that is torture whether it is chaining a terrorist to the floor and turning up the heat or making him believe he is drowning as a result of waterboarding.

Ed Morrissey, Christian gentleman that he is, wrestles mightily with this issue and comes up short. First, he attempts to spread the blame for torture authorization to the Congress:

First, the 2003 memo didn’t authorize the start of coercive techniques. As early as September 2002, Congressional leadership of both parties got briefed on interrogations of three al-Qaeda operatives. The CIA gave members of both parties dozens of classified briefings which detailed such techniques as waterboarding, stress positions, and other controversial methods that Congress later acted to ban. This obviously predates the Yoo memo.

Yoo also didn’t occupy any position that could have authorized any interrogative techniques. He provided a legal analysis when asked, but the responsibility for relying on the analysis falls to the CIA, Pentagon, and White House. Congress certainly appeared to agree in that same time frame; the reporting on the briefings notes that none of the Congressional delegation raised any objections during the briefings. One specifically asked whether the interrogations should be made tougher.

I would say to Ed that just because two branches of our government signed off on torture does not make it right. Whether it makes it legal or not may be another question. But it seems to me that Ed is trying to spread the blame for the US using torture techniques around and include Congress. If that is what he is trying to do, I find it irrelevant.

And I would agree with Ed that Yoo is hardly a “war criminal” as Lambchop would have us believe. There was no force of law behind this memo. As Ed rightly says it was the CIA, the Pentagon and especially the White House who relied on this memo to justify acts that would ordinarily violate international and domestic laws. Yoo was asked to give an opinion nothing more. This was no “Wannsee” scenario where justification for implementing the Nazi “Final Solution” were developed and discussed. Yoo himself may have been surprised that his memo became policy although I’m sure he didn’t mind it at the time.

The fact that his memo was withdrawn a year later and others substituted for it makes me think that the liberal criticism of the memo being a slap-dash, insufficiently fleshed out document with poor or non-existent justifications for such a massive change in policy to be pretty close to the mark. Again, I’m no lawyer but in reading it, I was struck again and again by how almost everything could be squeezed into the broad executive authority that Yoo was creating by expanding the limits of executive power. Ed Morrissey says in his piece that Yoo defined the president’s limits. This he did. But Ed did not mention that Yoo vastly expanded those limits from where they were in peace time. Did he expand them too much? I believe he did.

At some point in the future, we will be able to look back at the decisions that were made in the aftermath of 9/11 and make judgements based on how history unfolded. Some of those judgements will almost certainly meet with near universal approval. Others may prove to be less than efficacious.

But I sincerely doubt whether history will be kind to John Yoo or the president he thought he was serving when he used his considerable legal talents to justify throwing the law, the Constitution, and our good standing in the world out the window by giving a “legal” basis for torture.

By: Rick Moran at 3:29 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (60)


I make no bones about the fact that I am obese. I could lose 50 lbs and just barely get below the standard BMI (Body Mass Index) indicator for obesity. According to this chart, I am “severely obese” which is just a hairsbreadth from me being “morbidly obese.”

My “ideal weight” ranges from an impossibly thin 149 pounds to a reasonable 183 pounds. I spent most of my 20’s in the 160-170’s, most of my 30’s in the 180-190’s and since I was about 42 I have been over 200 pounds.

So yes, I am a enemy of the state – a borderline morbidly obese American who greedily uses health care resources that would be put to better use by thin people. (Haven’t been to a hospital for illness since I was 6 months old.) To make my crime even more heinous, I am a smoker, a couch potato (thus not contributing to the gross domestic product by purchasing all that useless exercise equipment), and a red meat eating, potato chomping, cold cut binging, mayonnaise slathering, coca cola swigging criminal mastermind who wants to overturn the established order in America and corrupt the young.

Fortunately for you, I am not contagious:

It has actually happened. Lawmakers have proposed legislation that forbids restaurants and food establishments from serving food to anyone who is obese (as defined by the State). Under this bill, food establishments are to be monitored for compliance under the State Department of Health and violators will have their business permits revoked.

House Bill 282 was introduced in the 2008 Mississippi legislative session on Friday by Representative W.T. Mayhall, Jr., a retired pharmaceutical salesman with DuPont-Merk. Its co-authors are Bobby Shows, a businessman, and John Read, a pharmacist.

This is a joke, right? In America? How could this happen in the land of the free and the home of the busy-bodying, do-gooding, well meaning health Nazis?

Is this a tongue-in-cheek bill, meant to point out how absurd the war on obesity has become? Or do lawmakers actually believe the myths that gluttony is the cause for obesity and that it is the government’s role to force people to eat and live how it deems best?

I called lead author, Rep. Mayhall, and asked if this was serious legislation or tongue-in-cheek to make a point. He kindly took a moment to answer my question while the legislature was in session. He said that while, regrettably, he doesn’t believe his bill will pass, this is serious. He wrote it, he said, because of the “urgency of the obesity crisis and need for government action.” He hopes it will “call attention to the serious problem of obesity and what it is costing the Medicare system.”

Ah, yes. What it is costing the government run health care system. Let’s get a peek of where this kind of deep thinking will lead. Let’s go to Great Britain and look in on their version of Hillarycare or Obamamedicine:

Doctors are calling for NHS treatment to be withheld from patients who are too old or who lead unhealthy lives.

Smokers, heavy drinkers, the obese and the elderly should be barred from receiving some operations, according to doctors, with most saying the health service cannot afford to provide free care to everyone.

Fertility treatment and “social” abortions are also on the list of procedures that many doctors say should not be funded by the state.

The findings of a survey conducted by Doctor magazine sparked a fierce row last night, with the British Medical Association and campaign groups describing the recommendations from family and hospital doctors as “out­rageous” and “disgraceful”.

It may be “out­rageous” and “disgraceful” to contemplate withholding treatment from the obese, the old, those “undeserving” of help in order to allocate resources to the pretty people but that doesn’t mean that Great Britain’s national health care program isn’t headed toward a day when those kind of decisions won’t be necessary.

But the issue here is not so much sticking it to the obese as it is forcing private businesses to enforce the government’s disapproval of obesity.

Should this pass, scales will appear at the door of restaurants, people with BMIs of 30 or higher won’t be allowed to be served. And to comply with government regulations, restaurants will have to keep records of patrons’ BMIs.

The Crusaders who believe they have the absolute right to tell us what we can eat, drink, ingest, or smear on our bodies will never stop. It is not about “health.” Nor is it about “the children.” For them, it has always been about control – the ability to tell others what to do and get the emotional satisfaction of being, in their own mind morally superior to the rest of us.

Their current target is the obese. And as long as they target one minority after another – smokers, fast food overeaters, sugar addicts – they can continue with impunity.

One day, they will come after you – probably for something you can’t imagine being harmful or anti-social. But their need for control knows no logic nor no bounds.

And then where will you be, my friends? Where will you be?


Pretty much of a first. James Joyner is at a loss for words.

And from Misha’s “You just can’t make this sh*t up” file, his highness has some high quality photos of a gaggle of BBW’s doing their best imitation of “piling on.”

Talk about meat on the hoof…

By: Rick Moran at 6:05 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (19)


I see from Memorandum that the only people writing about this at the moment are on the left. I sincerely hope that changes because this is a very important story and I would hate to think that a sense of partisanship would intrude on what is a probable violation of the law.

There may be good reason to destroy DVD’s of interrogations. But not when they have probative value in a potential court case nor when they are destroyed to cover up wrong doing by employees of the government:

The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Al Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about the C.I.A’s secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.

The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terror suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. custody — to severe interrogation techniques. They were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy, several officials said.

The C.I.A. said today that the decision to destroy the tapes had been made “within the C.I.A. itself,” and they were destroyed to protect the safety of undercover officers and because they no longer had intelligence value. The agency was headed at the time by Porter J. Goss. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Goss declined this afternoon to comment on the destruction of the tapes.

This is bad enough. But what makes this a budding scandal for the CIA is that both the 9/11 Commission and attorneys for Zacarias Moussaoui specifically requested such evidence and the CIA denied they had it:

The recordings were not provided to a federal court hearing the case of the terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui or to the Sept. 11 commission, which had made formal requests to the C.I.A. for transcripts and any other documentary evidence taken from interrogations of agency prisoners.

C.I.A. lawyers told federal prosecutors in 2003 and 2005, who relayed the information to a federal court in the Moussaoui case, that the C.I.A. did not possess recordings of interrogations sought by the judge in the case. It was unclear whether the judge had explicitly sought the videotape depicting the interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah.

Granted the judge may not have asked for the specific tapes nor did the 9/11 Commission request anything specific. But if the CIA is going to hang its hat on that defense, damn them. Their failure to turn over potential exculpatory evidence may open an avenue of appeal for Zacarias Moussaoui to at least grant him a new trial. And they impeded the 9/11 investigation by failing to fully cooperate with the Commission’s requests for information.

It is against American law to torture prisoners – even terrorists. And American law’s definition of torture mirrors that of the definition given by the Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention prohibits the kind of “severe interrogation techniques” that were used on Zubaydah. It’s not a question of whether waterboarding isn’t really “torture” because our special forces guys go through it as part of their training. Or other “stress techniques” aren’t really torture because they leave no marks or don’t really distress the prisoner. The law is the law and these special interrogation techniques are in violation of the Geneva Convention and hence, American law.

If one plus one still equals two, that would mean that the officials who were concerned that the tapes “could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy” and went ahead and destroyed them anyway are up for obstruction charges.

We can argue – and I have in the past on this site – that the Geneva Convention is ridiculously out of date, moldy in its thinking and laughably naive about men at war and the exigencies of the times. And the fact that we and other western countries are the only ones who even make an attempt to conduct ourselves by its rules is patently unfair and revealing of a sickening double standard abroad in the world.

But until and unless it is amended, those officials who authorized the interrogations and who carried them out could be in violation of the law and subject to prosecution. Destroying the tapes therefore is destroying potential evidence in a criminal trial.

I don’t write much about the torture issue anymore because it sickens me to have my friends on the right trying to excuse it and it nauseates me when the left moralizes about it. It is wrong and will come back to haunt us. Not because, as some argue, that it puts our own soldiers in danger. That argument flies in the face of history. We have never fought a war where the enemy we were fighting followed the Geneva Convention. In fact, most of the enemies we have fought have been flagrant violators of human decency in their treatment of prisoners much less paying any attention to the strictures in the GC.

We should not torture because of who we are not because of what the Geneva Convention says, or the left says, or the hypocritical third world moralists say. It is wrong for Americans to do it. And yes, waterboarding is torture. Putting a prisoner in stress positions is torture. Sleep deprivation is torture.

Forget the hysterics from our political opponents and examine the issue not as a partisan but as question of simple human decency. If we Americans have lost that – if we’ve forgotten that we hold ourselves to a higher standard than the brutes we are fighting and their allies in the hypocritical third world, then we will have lost a very important component of what makes us an exceptional nation.

I don’t know if we have the courage to face this issue and bring the violators to some kind of justice. I totally reject the idea of allowing any kind of foreign tribunal to judge Americans for the simple reason I wouldn’t trust them to be fair and objective, anti-Americanism being a dominant ideology in much of the world where the efficacy of such tribunals is acknowledged. And facing the music on torture opens a chasm beneath our feet in that the techniques used on these prisoners were approved at the highest levels of the American government. The idea that these officials will walk away scott free is troubling. But if you put Bush on trial, what does that do as far as limiting the options of his successors? And is it the kind of precedent we really want to set?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. And those on the left, blinded by their unreasoning hatred of this president, are not the ones to judge the best course of action. But there clearly must be some kind of accounting for what has been done in our name. How that plays out will say a lot about us as a nation that purports to stand for the best in humanity and not the worst.


More from the Times here.

And The Blotter is reporting that DCIA Hayden issued a statement to CIA employees before the Times article broke, giving a rather disingenuous reason for the destruction of the tapes:

CIA Director Mike Hayden sent a message to CIA employees today saying “the press has learned” that the CIA videotaped interrogations in 2002 and that the tapes were subsequently destroyed in 2005. The decision to destroy the tapes was made by the CIA, but he says the leaders of the congressional intelligence committees knew about the tapes and the decision to destroy them.

Hayden offers an explanation for why the tapes were destroyed—“no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative, or judicial inquiries” and offers another defense of the interrogation techniques used by the CIA.

John Sifton, a human rights attorney who is active in cases involving the CIA’s secret prison program, said today that the destruction of the tapes is a scandal.

“This is a major piece of the mosaic of evidence, and now it’s gone,” said Sifton. “They should be ashamed of themselves.”

If the CIA didn’t have a history of stiffing Congressional Committees, judicial proceedings, and special tribunals like the Warren Commission, we might be more inclined to believe General Hayden.

But it is ridiculous for Hayden to say that the decision to destroy them was made in a political vacuum. As the Times article points out, the tapes were destroyed at the height of Congressional interest in the CIA’s interrogation techniques. To then go ahead and destroy a tape that may have been instructive of how the CIA carried out interrogations would seem to infer cover-up rather than some kind of standard operating procedure.

That is, unless you trust what Hayden and others are saying about the subject. And frankly, they lost the right to get the benefit of the doubt long ago.

UPDATE: 12/7:

Jamses Joyner also sees obstruction of justice as a problem for those who ordered the tapes destroyed. He also points out that there was Congressional oversight of a sort in that the Chairmen and Vice Chairs of the House and Senate Intel Committees were informed of the plan to destroy the tapes. (No mention of informing the Speaker and Minority Leader in the House and the Majority/Minority Leader in the Senate which would also be the custom in these cases of limited notification.)

James pretty much takes Hayden at his word as far as why the tapes were destroyed but points out the discrepancies in his explanation. Any way you slice it, someone needs to be held accountable for the tape’s destruction.


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The long expected indictment of baseball slugger Barry Bonds has come down as the four year investigation into his shady dealings with steroid supplier Victor Conte and his sports supplement company BALCO resulted in charges that Bonds lied to a grand jury and obstructed justice:

“During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained including positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances for Bonds and other athletes,” the indictment read.

In August, the 43-year-old Bonds passed Hank Aaron to become baseball’s career home run leader. Late in the season, the San Francisco Giants told the seven-time National League MVP they didn’t want him back next year. He is currently a free agent.

While Bonds was chasing Aaron, the grand jury was working behind closed doors to complete the long-rumored indictment.

“I’m surprised,” said John Burris, one of Bonds’ attorneys, “but there’s been an effort to get Barry for a long time. “I’m curious what evidence they have now they didn’t have before.”

The indictment charged Bonds with lying when he said that he didn’t knowingly take steroids given to him by his personal trainer, Greg Anderson. He also denied taking steroids at anytime in 2001 when he was pursuing the season home-run record.

Bonds told the grand jury that he thought his friend and personal trainer Greg Anderson was injecting him with vitamins, not steroids. His ex-girlfriend, who will almost certainly be a key witness against him at any trial, told the grand jury that Bonds knew exactly what was in the injections, even joking about how much muscle the steroids and human growth hormone regimen that BALCO was supervising at the time put on his physique.

There were other incredible lies told by Bonds, according to leaked grand jury testimony. He said that be believed one of the anabolics he was taking – “The Clear” – which was administered by placing a small amount underneath the tongue, was actually “flaxseed oil.” And he testified he thought his trainer was applying an arthritis treatment when actually, the creme Anderson was rubbing into Bonds’ arms contained a potent and unregulated anabolic steroid.

As I made clear in my article back in August for PJ Media, today’s indictment was a foregone conclusion:

The Feds have him cold. Not only grand jury testimony from a dozen people connected Bonds directly to steroid use, but Victor Conte—owner of the sports “supplement” company BALCO—produced voluminous records tracking Bonds steroid use over several years. The ledgers and calendars Conte gave the Feds show exactly what steroids Bonds took, his levels of testosterone from month to month, and other evidence that left absolutely no doubt that Bonds used banned substances to enhance his performance.

And so another superstar athlete goes on trial. I’m dead sure we can expect another media circus, another wall-to-wall cable free for all. The case will be analyzed ad infinitum until we and the press are so sick of it that the inevitable “Whither the Press” stories begin to come out and the media wrings its hands and bemoans its inability to resist the siren call of scandal. They will blame us, the viewer, for their dilemma, taking us to task for our compulsion to watch these train wrecks masquerading as trials, whining that they are only giving the people what they want and it’s not their fault if the American people are obsessed with celebrity.

Meanwhile, the world becomes an even more dangerous place and real news is confined to 5 minute updates at the top and bottom of the hour. And 24 hour news channels can’t find the time to outline what is at stake in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, or any of the half dozen other vital areas of the world that will lose out to Barry Bonds and his soap opera trial for lying to the grand jury that he cheated while playing a kid’s game.

Just thought a little perspective might be in order before the circus begins…

By: Rick Moran at 6:28 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (8) Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Bonds indicted on perjury, obstruction charges...

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By elvenstar522
Citizens of Chicago salute their overseers and slavemasters – the City government – and breathlessly await the arrival of their beloved Gauleiter, Richard Daley.

Resent the Nazi analogy, my Chicago friends? Too bad. If the shoe fits, goosestep in it:

Chicago Park District commissioners approved a smoking ban Wednesday for the city’s beaches and park-run playgrounds.

The ban takes effect immediately. If caught smoking within 15 feet of a beach or a playground, smokers can be fined up to $500.

Park officials made their plans for the ban public Tuesday, saying the restriction would not only protect children from second-hand smoke but also keep beaches free of cigarette butts. The nicotine-containing cigarette butts can be ingested by children, are eaten by wildlife and can leach into the water, according to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, which does beach cleanups that sift out thousands of discarded cigarette butts every year.

Parks Supt. Tim Mitchell said Wednesday he’s received a few complaints from smokers.

“To these people, I’m very sorry,” he said. “For me, it’s about the children.”

No, Mr. Superintendent you lying weasel. It’s not “about the children.” If it were “about the children” YOU WOULD BAN SMOKING AND MAKE IT ILLEGAL TO SELL AND USE CIGARETTES!

And just to carry the Nazi analogy one step further, guess how this law is going to be enforced?

The penalty for violating the ban is a $500 fine.

Enforcement relies on citizens to turn smokers in to police.

I wonder if the Citizen Enforcers are going to be wearing brown shirts when patrolling the beaches and parks looking for smoking scofflaws?

And as long as you’re doing it “for the children,” maybe we should involve the little tykes and get them to become government informants. Nothing like getting the kiddies started early, that’s what I say. By the time they’re grown-ups, they’ll be used to turning in their fellow citizens for a variety of crimes.

This is not about protecting children, or wildlife, or the water supply. The towering hypocrisy it takes to make that argument with a straight face makes me sick to my stomach. This is about government trying to regulate behavior – to control the personal lives of others. Why? Because they can, that’s why.

The fact that you might wholeheartedly agree with the efforts to control the personal behavior of others when it comes to smoking only shows you are as ignorant as you are a threat to liberty. Ignorant because these same busybodies who are running around telling people how to live their lives have their sights set on “curing” obesity now.

And there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that before long, they will be digging in to your personal choices about what to eat – all “for the children” of course. They will be hectoring you about your snack habits, your choice of soft drink, perhaps even ban a few of your favorite food items. Think I’m kidding? You obviously haven’t been paying attention. Regulating fat content is only the beginning. Before long, you’re going to try and put your foot down, saying “Enough!” but it will be too late. The momentum is all on their side plus, “it’s for the children” is usually enough to close off the argument then and there.

To those who can’t see the threat to freedom these bans entail – bans not really related to public health or environmental concerns but to the idea that government has the capability to ride roughshod over individual rights whenever it sees fit – I pity you. You will go on, thinking yourself smugly superior to those second class citizens who smoke, cheering on your government as they strip them of their liberty bit by bit – all the while totally oblivious to the threat to your freedoms growing on the horizon.

A tipping point is approaching – a point of no return where these behavioral Nazis will have accumulated so much power and influence that all of us will be at their mercy. Whatever they deem inappropriate or unhealthy or even just undesirable, they will go after with a vengeance. The smoking bans are just whetting their appetites. And I hate to think what will happen when they start feasting on you.

By: Rick Moran at 5:01 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)


No debate in Congress. No rules published in The Federal Register. Not a whisper of any opposition from the intelligence agencies, DHS, or any domestic law enforcement departments. They simply went ahead and did it:

The Bush administration has approved a plan to expand domestic access to some of the most powerful tools of 21st-century spycraft, giving law enforcement officials and others the ability to view data obtained from satellite and aircraft sensors that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers.

A program approved by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security will allow broader domestic use of secret overhead imagery beginning as early as this fall, with the expectation that state and local law enforcement officials will eventually be able to tap into technology once largely restricted to foreign surveillance.

Administration officials say the program will give domestic security and emergency preparedness agencies new capabilities in dealing with a range of threats, from illegal immigration and terrorism to hurricanes and forest fires.

I guess that part in the Constitution which says “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” is just too old fashioned for some people. Not when we have all these marvelous little toys in space that can see through walls, eavesdrop on our conversations, and take pictures of our backyard barbecues.

Those of you familiar with this space know that I am far from being a civil liberties absolutist. I have recognized in the past that programs like the Terrorist Surveillance Program – if it is properly administered – is a distasteful but necessary price to pay to fight al-Qaeda and its offshoots in this country. I have supported these programs because for the most part, a citizen’s right to privacy is maintained by the fact that the overwhelming amount of information gathered in these digital dragnets is never seen by human eyes. It is digested by supercomputers, examined by algorithmic computer programs for relevancy, and then discarded back into the ether from which it came.

But this is different. This is real time imagery scanned by snoops looking for illegal activity. At the present time, they anticipate using it against (they say) drug smugglers and terrorists. But make no mistake, gentle readers. We are in true slippery slope territory here. Ed Morrissey spells out the consequences:

While some conservatives undoubtedly would argue that they see nothing wrong with giving law-enforcement agencies access to existing technology, others will rightly object on two grounds. First, the obvious application for the sneak-peek technology would be to avoid search warrants. If probable cause existed for a warrant, law enforcement wouldn’t need the satellite technology; they’d simply enter. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and has worked well for over 200 years. Civil liberty is based in part on judicial oversight of law enforcement encroachment on private property, which the sneak-peek technology would obliterate.

Second and perhaps more importantly, American legal tradition has separated military and foreign-intel collection from domestic law enforcement, and for good reasons. The Posse Comitatus Act forbids the military (except the Coast Guard, for certain purposes) from acting in a law-enforcement role, except under emergencies specifically requiring martial law. This law keeps the federal government from usurping power from local and state authorities. Since these satellites were launched with strictly military and foreign-intel missions in mind, using them as tools for law enforcement may not entirely cross the PCA, but it gets too close for comfort.

“Some conservatives” who might support this program aren’t very conservative at all. Militarizing law enforcement, however well intentioned, smacks of fascism. Mr. Morrissey is too much the Christian gentleman to say so but I challenge any conservative to defend this anti-democratic, anti-privacy program in terms of classic conservative dogma. It cannot be done. And the reason is quite simple; conservatives invented the right to privacy.

It is a shame that the debate over privacy rights has been tied to the debate over abortion and gay rights. Prior to Roe V. Wade, Justice Harlan, a conservative through and through, foresaw a time when an implied right to privacy would have to be accepted:

Justice Harlan took a view of privacy that rested on a general and expansive reading of American traditions. He did not expect people claiming rights to point to some specific tradition or some specific body of law. He understood that the questions were more difficult than that. The right of privacy now, if anything, is more important, indeed much more important than it was when Justice Harlan wrote, “With changes in reproductive technology and end of life technologies that make these questions all the more acute.”

The question whether we will have a Justice Harlan-like approach to the right of privacy or a skeptical approach to the right of privacy that questions whether it even exists and evinces a desire to confine it as narrowly as possible, that question it seems to me is very much on the table, and will be a question that will be with us for the next generation.

The consequences of traditional conservatives allowing social conservatives to hijack the debate over privacy can now be seen in the context that this implied right to be safe and secure in our private spaces is under attack largely because the social cons have rejected the entire argument in favor of privacy in order to fight abortion, gay marriage, and other social concerns. This is more than “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” It simply cannot be defended on the basis that we can trade off one constitutional right in order to support another.

My respect for those who advocate a right to life – at least those who believe such a right exists from the moment of conception – has always been tempered by their advocacy to overturn Roe V. Wade. This is because I recognize that the privacy rights granted by Roe have now been expanded far beyond that envisioned by Justice Blackmun when he penned the decision in 1973. Roe has become a cornerstone of privacy law. Remove it, and the entire edifice of protections against unreasonable invasions of our privacy by government, our employers, our next door neighbors, or even total strangers would be affected. It is decidedly un-conservative to deny that basic fact – regardless of whether you believe abortion should be legal or gays prevented from marrying.

I have no desire to start a war with social conservatives over this issue. After all, there are some parts of the social con agenda I can support – end of life issues and their standing alone against the coarsening of our culture are two areas we can agree on. But my friends, without privacy, we have no true liberty. Destroy the right of privacy and you invite all sorts of mischief from those who would use modern technology like satellites as well as stuff you can buy at any Radio Shack to intrude in places they have no business going in a free society.

And I also want to make it clear that I do not believe in the “one more step on the road to dictatorship” meme being advanced by the left. Their paranoia regarding the Bush Administration disqualifies them from engaging in any kind of rational debate on the subject. The Bush Administration has sought from the beginning to redefine executive power more robustly than their predecessors, seeing (many believe quite rightly) that some powers of the executive had been appropriated or weakened by Congress since Watergate. The courts have always adjudicated these inter-branch arguments and I trust such will always be the case. But to posit the notion that we are slipping into some kind of anti-democratic nightmare is just plain silly.

Withdrawing this dangerous proposal will not affect our ability to fight terrorism in any significant way. I would hope Congress will take this issue in hand quickly and prevent this stupid idea from advancing very far.

By: Rick Moran at 6:44 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (19) Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Domestic Use of Spy Satellites To Widen...
CATEGORY: Ethics, The Law

If you haven’t heard about it, a free speech controversy is about ready to erupt that is going to make the Mohamed cartoon imbroglio look like a walk around the Ka’aba.

A 23 year old and Ukranian immigrant, Stanislav Shmulevich of Brooklyn, has been charged with two felony counts for throwing a Koran into a toilet on two separate occasions. The incidents occurred last year when Shmulevich was a senior at Pace University in New York. He left school a couple of credits short of graduating and now works for an international banking firm in New York city.

There are a couple of aspects to this matter that need clarification before a definitive judgment can be made about Shmulevich’s actions. First, what was his intent? If it was to show his disgust for the Islamic faith and knowingly hurt Muslims by tossing what they see as the word of God into a toilet, he should definitely be criticized as an ignorant lout.

But a felon? And this is where the second missing piece of information that will allow us to judge the situation rationally comes into play; just what is it the prosecutor hopes to accomplish?

Ignoramus or not, the fellow was making a statement expressing his beliefs. And Michelle Malkin (in what is sure to be the most controversial post of the day) asks the right question. Using some powerful visual examples, she wonders “Which of these is a crime in America?”

A) Submerging a crucifix in a jar of urine.
B) Burning the American flag.
C) Putting a Koran in a toilet.

And yes, she has a picture of a Koran in a toilet.

Michelle will no doubt be vilified by the usual suspects who will almost certainly miss her larger point for posting such a disturbing image. Malkin haters don’t do nuance nor do they grant Michelle the same luxury of being a controversialist as they do their own rabble rousers on the left.

The crucifix in urine is but one example of the outrageous anti-Christian “art” that has been shown over the last decade or so. What was the “intent” of the artist in creating such a display? Nothing less than to knowingly inflict emotional pain on those who believe in Christ as God. Artistic expression is rightly protected under the first amendment. But if we are going to use the standard of a Koran in the toilet provoking the exact same reaction among Muslims as the crucifix in urine did to Christians, why does one form of expression get a pass and the other doesn’t?

Isn’t this what the first amendment was created to protect? It doesn’t matter that your idea of free speech is different than mine. The first amendment guarantee is that all speech (with very limited exceptions) – yours, mine, and Mr. Shmulevich – is protected regardless of its affect on others.

Or it was anyway. Now we have “hate crime” statutes where we ask prosecutors, judges, and juries to play at being psychic in order to reach into the mind of defendants and glean their “intent” in committing an act.

If that act is to do violence against someone for their race, creed, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation, the defendant is judged more harshly and receives a longer prison term for what was in his mind at the time he committed the crime. This may be an efficacious rationale for protecting the lives and health of minorities through deterrence although I have yet to see any statistics that would lead me to believe this is so. What disgusts me is the shameless pandering by politicians in passing hate crime legislation in the first place. Posturing to win votes by playing to the interests of special pleaders is not a good way to make law under any circumstances.

And Mr. Shmulevich’s case is a perfect example. Using hate crime legislation to deal with violence against another for who they are is one thing. But using the statute to prosecute people who offend someone’s beliefs? This is an entirely different kettle of fish for which we are about to have a much needed and long overdue debate.

Does one have a right not to be offended in America? Or are only certain groups granted that right? If I write “Muslim go home” on a bathroom wall at a Christan church, can I be tried for a hate crime? Or, if a Muslim spits on a bible and burns it, is he subject to the exact same standard of justice if it was a Christian doing the same thing?

Instead of over generalizing, let’s look at this specific case involving Mr. Shmulevich. He’s a devout Jew who actually defended the Koran when the first instance of its desecration came to light 10 months ago:

The suspect’s roommate in Gravesend, Brooklyn, said she was stunned by the charges.

“It’s impossible. He was defending the Koran,” said Ola Petrovich, 24, an online saleswoman. “We had that conversation. He said, ‘Don’t criticize the Koran if you haven’t read it.’

“Why would he do something so stupid?”


“He read the Koran,” she continued. “He was telling me, ‘You should read it.’ He’s Jewish, but he’s theologically sound. Both his parents are ballistic over this.”

The Korans Mr. Shmulevich threw in the toilet were school property taken from a “meditation room” on campus. Now I’m not a lawyer and will make no attempt to analyze the legal issues regarding this case. But Allah has the language of the statutes under which Mr. Shmulevich is being charged with a hate crime and to these layman’s eyes, it is perplexing to me why the prosecutor would be charging Mr. Shmulevich under either of these statutes. Instead, it appears to be a case where the prosecutor files more serious charges in hopes the defendant will plead to lesser ones.

Charge him with stealing the Korans, yes. Perhaps even charge him with a misdemeanor for vandalizing school property. But charging the man with two felony counts under dubious circumstances smacks of prosecutorial overkill.

Beyond the legal troubles of Mr. Shmulevich, there is the issue of double standards in the equal application of the law. Evidently, the law views artistic expression in a different light than other free speech issues. A crucifix in urine and putting a Koran in the toilet being done for the exact same reasons are evidently seen as separate matters all because the individual who placed the crucifix in urine says he is an artist and actually received grant money for the piece from the National Endowment for the Arts. In this case, “intent” becomes meaningless because the artist – Andres Serrano – is protected by virtue of tradition and law regarding art and the necessarily broad definition of it.

There is a strong sense among conservatives that this double standard is patently and grossly unfair. How can you protect one form of speech and prosecute another when the intent is similar? So far, there has been no case that I know of where a Muslim or anyone else has been prosecuted for desecrating the bible in this country although this fellow appears to have equalled Mr. Shmulevich’s act. I’m sure “Vile Blasphemer” would argue that he’s either engaging in satire or other forms of free expression that would protect him from the zealous prosecutor who is currently after Mr. Shmulevich. But does it really matter that much if Shmulevich was deadly serious in his protest? Suppose his defense is he was just trying to be funny? Are we to believe that this should be a mitigating factor when determining if a hate crime has been committed?

It seems to me we have not thought through all the ramifications of hate crime legislation of this type. When we skirt this close to punishing people for expressing their most passionately held beliefs – even if those beliefs offend – everyone loses a little freedom. Perhaps the statutes are drawn too broadly. In any event, an act such as that carried out by Stanislav Shmulevich must be seen in the same context we would view anyone exercising their rights granted under the first amendment. To do less, weakens the first amendment and consequently, our most cherished and fundamental freedoms.

By: Rick Moran at 8:22 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (31)

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A faithful liberal reader of this site sent me an email asking me to do a post on the charges of perjury being leveled against the Attorney General of the United States. He was extremely worried about the implications such charges had for the country:

As a citizen, the implications of the alleged behavior terrify me. Most Conservatives I personally know don’t defend Mr. Gonzales, but they essentially get off the topic as quickly as possible.

To me, “Rightwing” always had a connotation of Rebellion against Government. If anybody was going to use a shotgun to tell a government official to get off their property, it sure as hell wasn’t a liberal. The very likely extension of the perjury (if true), would have unbelievably damning implications for the W Bush Administration—the type of implications that I would have assumed would have “Rightwing” conservatives stocking up on ammo.

Excellent insight – save the shotgun toting conservative telling the “government” to get off his land. As a metaphor for conservatives wishing to have government take a back seat in people’s lives, it’s fine. However, I’m not sure even a liberal wouldn’t stand up to the government if they felt their private property was threatened.

“Mike” is correct about the right’s relationship with Gonzalez. As with just about anything regarding the Bush Administration these days, he is very difficult to defend. And I don’t think it’s necessarily because of what he’s done as a member of the Administration. One problem is that he may be the most incoherent public official I’ve ever heard. His testimony before Congress on just about anything reveals a man who can’t seem to finish a thought before moving on to the next one. This causes all sorts of problems. It is amazing how many times he is asked to clarify or repeat something simply because it is so difficult to follow his meandering, disjointed responses.

Incoherence is not a criminal offense. Neither is incompetence. But the way the firing of 8 US Attorneys was handled does not reflect well on Gonzalez and his management style. Allowing so much leeway to subordinates in such an important matter and then not being aware of what they were doing (if you believe that) bespeaks a boss without much of a clue as to what was going on in his own office.

The fact is, the Administration has sought to politicize the Department of Justice as they have tried to stamp politics on most every other aspect of government. Of course, few President’s politicized their Justice Department more than Clinton. And given the angry, partisan mood in Congress, this may be the wave of the future for Presidents; taking what used to be a semi-independent cabinet department and turning it in to an adjunct to the White House. In fact, since the Carter Administration, DOJ has progressively become less and less independent with the Clinton Administration going over the top in making Justice just another federal agency.

Anyone remember Johnnie Chung, Charlie Trie and the slew of illegal fundraising cases that the Clinton Justice Department, according to an Inspector General’s audit did not handle correctly? Ties to Chinese intelligence, money laundering at a Buddhist Temple, Commerce Department waivers in exchange for cash – all of these cases were either not pursued or followed up. Clearly, Democrats have extremely short memories about politicizing DOJ actions in the wake of Clinton Administration’s outrageous fundraising activities.

But that’s in the past. What we have today is an Attorney General who can’t seem to explain to Congress the various intelligence activities being carried out by the NSA to catch terrorists before they can strike here in the US. Part of that is certainly the fact that much of it is classified (something the AG offered to clarify in closed session – Democrats refused, wanting their circus to be televised). But beyond that, Gonzalez can’t seem to summon the coherence to differentiate between the already acknowledged “Terrorist Surveillance Program” and “other intelligence activities” being carried out by NSA.

Here is the basis for what the Democrats are calling perjury. They point to Gonzalez testimony in May on the visit to John Ashcroft’s hospital bed to re-authorize the terrorist surveillance program. The story was told by James Comey who, due to Ashcroft’s illness, was Acting AG at the time. He refused to sign off on what appeared to be a routine re-authorization of the program. And other top DOJ officials and career DOJ attorneys threatened to resign if it was given the go ahead without modifying some of its technical aspects.

Ashcroft preferred allowing his deputy Comey to do his duty because he was in no shape physically (as the left likes to paint the picture, Ashcroft was being browbeaten into approving something while on his deathbed). As Comey testified, he and Ashcroft had decided the morning the AG went into the hospital not to re-authorize the program. Not being aware of this, the White House’s Andy Card and Gonzalez went to the hospital hoping the AG would over ride what they thought was Comey’s decision.

Be that as it may, Gonzalez testified in May that what was being sought from the AG was a re-authorization of the already revealed NSA program and that there was no dispute over that “program” (the word “program” is important as we shall soon see), that the dispute was over another related classified program. Gonzalez exact words:

“[t]here has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.”

It turns out today, that the “other matters” involved in the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program related to a massive, legal, data mining operation:

A fierce dispute within the Bush administration in early 2004 over a National Security Agency warrantless surveillance program was related to concerns about the NSA’s searches of huge computer databases, the New York Times reported today.

The agency’s data mining was also linked to a dramatic chain of events in March 2004, including threats of resignation from senior Justice Department officials and an unusual nighttime visit by White House aides to the hospital bedside of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, the Times reported, citing current and former officials briefed on the program.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, one of the aides who went to the hospital, was questioned closely about that episode during a contentious Senate hearing on Tuesday. Gonzales characterized the internal debate as centering on “other intelligence activities” than the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program, whose existence President Bush confirmed in December 2005.

Data mining is not illegal as long as the identity of the person whose records are being mined is not captured or revealed – we think. I use that caveat because no one knows exactly how the NSA data mining operation – carried out as a part of the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program – actually worked. The speculation on why DOJ attorneys balked at re-authorization of the program at that time centers around the idea that although the data mining was legal, what the NSA wanted to do with the results may have crossed the line of legality.

So is the data mining operation a different “program?” If so, that would seem to put Gonzalez in the clear as far as perjury charges are concerned:

The report of a data mining component to the dispute suggests that Gonzales’s testimony could be correct. A group of Senate Democrats, including two who have been privy to classified briefings about the NSA program, called last week for a special prosecutor to consider perjury charges against Gonzales.

The report also provides further evidence that the NSA surveillance operation was far more extensive than has been acknowledged by the Bush administration, which has consistently sought to describe the program in narrow terms and to emphasize that the effort was legal.

Again, this goes back to Mr. Gonzalez incoherence in trying to differentiate between the NSA efforts at terrorist surveillance (where one party in the communication was overseas and the other here in America) and the massive collection of data which all took place in the US with the cooperation of phone giants like AT&T and Sprint. They allowed NSA to tap into their “switching stations” in order to feed the monster computers who were chewing on trillions of bits of information in order to discern patterns of communication that could have led to a terrorist cell in this country.

But if the data mining were a part of the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program, how can they be two separate programs?

I think the most logical explanation is that they were separately reauthorized by DOJ, although probably at the same time. Separate paperwork could mean a separate program to many bureaucrats even though on the surface, it would appear to a lay person that both were part of the same program.

Another logical but unprovable explanation is that the technical aspects of the data mining operation were handled by a different entity than NSA. ABLE DANGER’s data mining was done in Florida out of the headquarters for Special Operations. Whether such a distinction would legally constitute a separate “program,” I haven’t a clue.

Marty Lederman has another explanation:

There was some sort of data mining program going on. Probably not of content, almost certainly not content reviewed by humans. That is to say, it involved computers searching through “meta-data” related to calls and e-mails, looking for certain patterns that might suggest connections to Al Qaeda or to suspicious activity that might be terrorism-related. (I have my theories as to what the programs might have been looking for, but don’t want to get into such speculation in this forum. And in any case, my theories are probably way off.)

This data-mining indicated that it might be valuable to do more targeted searches of particular communications “pipelines” (John Yoo’s phrase), looking for more specific information. But that’s where FISA came in. In order to target a particular U.S. person, or to wiretap a particular “facility,” FISA requires that the NSA demonstrate to the FISA court probable cause to believe (i) that the target of the electronic surveillance is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power, and (ii) that each of the facilities or places at which the electronic surveillance is directed is being used, or is about to be used, by a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. 50 U.S.C. 1805(a)(3).

Perhaps, as John Yoo suggests in his book, FISA would have prohibited following up on the leads revealed by the data mining with more targeted wiretaps of suspicious “channels” or “pipelines,” “because we would have no specific al Qaeda suspects, and thus no probable cause.”

Besides all of this, Tom McGuire points out that it would be virtually impossible to make any perjury charges against Gonzalez stick for the simple reason that to do so would expose massive amounts of classified details about our intelligence gather efforts:

Let me ask an obvious question that seems to have eluded some of our Senators and is not broached by the Times – how in the world is a perjury prosecution going to proceed without a massive declassification of these classified and presumably ongoing programs? Will the jury and the public see what Sen. Feingold saw?

The greymail issue was reported by the Times in the context of the Libby trial, so let’s use their definition (if not their spelling):

Graymail is the practice of discouraging a prosecution from proceeding by contending that a defendant may need to disclose classified or sensitive information as part of a full defense. Such an approach can force the government to choose between dropping the prosecution or allowing the information to be disclosed at a trial.

In the Libby case the classified issues were somewhat tangential to the question of whether Libby lied about his interaction with various reporters, but in the Gonzales situation, I can’t imagine how a jury could rule on whether this reasonably be characterized as more than one program without a fair amount of information about the underlying activities.

God knows what a determined Democratic Congress would be willing to do in order to get Gonzalez. But I think McGuire has a good point; the downside in revealing classified data would probably prevent even the Democrats from trying to make the case.

Josh Marshall is unconvinced and believes there’s much more lurking beneath the surface that the White House is desperate to cover up:

As you can see, we now have the first hint of what was at the center of the Ashcroft hospital room showdown. According to the New York Times, what the White House calls the ‘terrorist surveillance [i.e., warrantless wiretap] program’ originally included some sort of largescale data mining.

I don’t doubt that this is true as far as it goes. But this must only scratch the surface because, frankly, at least as presented, this just doesn’t account for the depth of the controversy or the fact that so many law-and-order DOJ types were willing to resign over what was happening. Something’s missing.

Marshall is speculating based on his take of the Bush Administration’s past “illegal” activities (quotes are necessary because no one has proven anything the Bushies done is “illegal”). But to be honest, how such speculation can be considered valid when there is so much we don’t know about the warrantless surveillance and why those same attorneys who were willing to resign over these “other matters” relating to the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program had no problem with Ashcroft re-authorizing the program 20 times previously. Marshall is right. Something doesn’t fit. But whether it involves a “cover up” of other, more intrusive or illegal intelligence programs or a simple desire to hold close the most important secrets vital to our national security cannot be said with anything approaching certainty or even intelligently be guessed at.

Gonzalez should have been allowed to resign months ago over the US Attorney firings. Not because of anything illegal he did but because of the incompetent way it was handled. But Bush stuck with him and now must weather another storm of controversy that weakens him politically (if he could get any weaker). Some might admire the President’s steadfastness (I call it stubbornness) in standing behind his Attorney General. But there must come a point when doing so harms the office of the President as well as the country. That time has long passed. It’s time for Gonzo to go.