Daily Roundup Feb 17, 2008 -- Did the Tort Lobby Block FISA?
After the Read More! Musharraf's party is predicted to lose seats at the polls. The Church of Euthanasia tries to attract members. Bill Clinton spars with an Obama supporter. Has the NYT violated the Espionage Act? Michael Totten tours a police dungeon in Fallujah. Robert Fisk finds a way to compare George W. Bush to Imad Mughniyeh. And those Chinese "poison" products: can we get away from them?
Plus, Robert Novak asks, did the tort lobby block the FISA bill?
Bloomberg reports that there may soon be enough opposition MPs to impeach Musharraf. "The national mood clearly indicates that political parties opposed to Musharraf will win a clear majority," said Hassan Abbas, a Harvard University political scientist. "Even in moderately fair elections, anti-Musharraf parties will have an upper hand."
Samizdata displays the publicity photograph of a clergyman named Nagasiva Yronwode from the Church of Euthanasia, headquartered just north of San Francisco and remarks that he is somewhat emblematic of the times. "Yes, Nagasiva Yronwode is a man for our times. He just doesn't know it yet." I wonder what he knows at all.
Pro-Obama heckler Robert Holeman and Bill Clinton almost literally came to blows after closing with the former President after heckling him continuously.
“I think he even hit me in the face with his hand,” he said. “He did give me a little pop. It was okay, because I understand his tenacity for his wife.” Clinton did engage Holeman for a few minutes, at times pointing directly at him. It was unclear whether he did make physical contact, however.
Maybe Holeman's audacity is the surest sign that the Clintons are finished -- psychologically at least. They're no longer feared.
Gabriel Schoenfeld, the senior editor of Commentary asks whether the NYT violated the law by revealing a top secret surveillance program.
The President, for his part, has not only stood firm, insisting on both the legality and the absolute necessity of his actions, but has condemned the disclosure of the NSA surveillance program as a “shameful act.” In doing so, he has implicitly raised a question that the Times and the President’s foes have conspicuously sought to ignore—namely, what is, and what should be, the relationship of news-gathering media to government secrets in the life-and-death area of national security. Under the protections provided by the First Amendment of the Constitution, do journalists have the right to publish whatever they can ferret out? Such is certainly today’s working assumption, and it underlies today’s practice. But is it based on an informed reading of the Constitution and the relevant statutes? If the President is right, does the December 16 story in the Times constitute not just a shameful act, but a crime?
The interesting question is whether any line exists which journalists may not cross in the name of the Freedom of the Press. And if such a line exists, where does it lie? Those who feel the NYT didn't cross the boundaries should, as a mental exercise, imagine where it would. Maybe the only way to find out is to take it to court. But does it have to come to that?
Michael Totten looks at the inside of an Iraqi prison and finds it incredibly harsh. He asked his escort, Sergeant Dehaan, what he thought of it.
“It's bad in there,” he said as we walked toward the jail. “But I've seen worse.”
“Where have you seen worse?” I said. He looked like someone who had been around. The hard lines in his face looked as though they were carved by sobering experience as much as by time.
“In Latin America,” he said. “In Colombia. I was a DEA agent there. The jail here is bad, and it might be the worst you'll ever see. But you need to know it isn’t the worst in the world.”
“Actually,” I said. “This will be the first time I've ever been inside a functioning jail.”
Functioning jails are dense human environments in which the physical conditions of the buildings count for less than the organizational culture of the guards and the mood among the prisoners. There's a pecking order at everything. Anyone who wants to survive knows exactly where he is.
“Can you believe this building is only three years old?” Sergeant Dehaan said to me.
“What?” I said.
No, I didn’t believe it. The building looked at least sixty years old, and it looked as though no maintenance work had ever been done. Floor tiles were broken, the foundation was cracked, the stairs were uneven, and the walls were utterly filthy as though they hadn’t been painted once since I’ve been alive.
Read the whole thing.
Robert Fisk recalls the suffering of his friends at the hands of Imad Mugniyeh but finds a way to understand him. Mugniyeh had an excuse for his brutality: a hatred of America. And that's always an extenuating circumstance.
Mougnieh, Lebanese by birth, was a man of frightening self-confidence, of absolute self-belief, something he shared with Osama bin Laden and – let us speak frankly about this – with President George W Bush. Islamic Jihad, it was said, tortured its enemies. So does al-Qa'ida. And so, as we all now know, does Mr Bush's army.
Mougnieh – and again we should speak openly about this – was a valued, respected and senior figure in Iran's security apparatus. "Islamic Jihad" was a satellite of the Lebanese Hizbollah, the old un-reformed Hizbollah, whose leadership would now like to forget – even deny – its association with abductions. In that sense, Mougnieh was a man of the past, pensioned off in Damascus, safer for the Iranians there rather than cosseted in a Tehran hotel room.
But back in his days as an intelligence officer, he was a powerful man. Because of the suffering he had caused Terry, I should have hated him. But I did not hate him. In the course of our conversation, he would become angry, stabbing his right fist in fury as he condemned America for its support for Israel and for shooting down an Iranian Airbus civilian airliner over the Gulf in 1988. I had seen this kind of fury before, at cemeteries and at mass graves. If he had allied himself with Iran, his passion was genuine.
Fisk says, "his passion was genuine ... but I did not hate him." Then maybe the better comparison is not between Muggniyeh and Bush but between Mughniyeh and Robert Fisk. The Hezbollah terrorist hated enough to fight America. Fisk only hated it enough to call himself a journalist.
The China Law Blog looks at Trader Joe's decision to stop carrying some Chinese foodstuffs. The reputation of Chinese goods has taken a beating lately. The AP looks at the case of the China poison dumpling factory. FP passport worries about Chinese components in American pharmaceuticals, like heparin. Contaminants in medicine can be potentially deadly. FlagGranny looks back at the poison cough syrup that killed more than 300 people in Panama.
Part of the popularity of Chinese goods comes from their low price. And considering the volume of their output the quality of goods made in China is broadly acceptable. But on occasion they're just garbage. One of my best friends shorted out the electrical system of his entire apartment when he plugged a Chinese-made appliance into a power socket.
So why not stop buying Chinese goods? Because we don't always know when we're buying Chinese manufactures. Many familiar brands contain components sourced from China. Usually they work out well. But every now and again they don't and the house burns down or the patient keels over.
Robert Novak asserts that the FISA extension had extensive bipartisan support in Congress and would have passed easily. But it was tabled for a more mundane reason. "The true reason for blocking the bill was Senate-passed retroactive immunity to protect from lawsuits private telecommunications firms asked to eavesdrop by the government. The nation's torts bar, vigorously pursuing such suits, has spent months lobbying hard against immunity." In other words he suggesting that it was more important to pander to a private interest group than to protect national security.
The recess by House Democrats amounts to a judgment that losing the generous support of trial lawyers, the Democratic Party's most important financial base, would be more dangerous than losing the anti-terrorist issue to Republicans. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the phone companies for giving individuals' personal information to intelligence agencies without a warrant. Mike McConnell, the nonpartisan director of national intelligence, says delay in congressional action deters cooperation in detecting terrorism. ...
Big money is involved. Amanda Carpenter, a Townhall.com columnist, has prepared a spreadsheet showing that 66 trial lawyers representing plaintiffs in the telecommunications suits have contributed $1.5 million to Democratic senators and causes. Of the 29 Democratic senators who voted against the FISA bill last Tuesday, 24 took money from the trial lawyers (as did two absent senators, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama). Eric A. Isaacson of San Diego, one of the telecommunications plaintiffs' lawyers, contributed to the recent unsuccessful presidential campaign of Sen. Chris Dodd, who led the Senate fight against the bill containing immunity.
Whether Novak is correct in this specific case will be debated. But in principle money interests beat out public interests all the time. Consider the border fence. Consider the visa-free program for Saudi Arabia. So if the tort-lawyers want their share from the candy store, why not?