Friday, August 18, 2006

Opinion: Does the warrantless surveillance program violate the Bill of Rights?

By SARAH KARUSH, Associated Press Writer Fri Aug 18, 6:56 AM ET
DETROIT - A federal judge decision's to strike down
President Bush's warrantless surveillance program was the first ruling over its legality, but surely not the last.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit ruled that the program violated the rights to free speech and privacy, as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.
The administration said it would appeal to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

"We're going to do everything we can do in the courts to allow this program to continue," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a news conference in Washington.

Taylor was the first judge to rule on the legality of the National Security Agency's program, which the White House says is a key tool for fighting terrorism that has already stopped attacks.
"Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution," Taylor wrote in her 43-page opinion.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the Bush administration "couldn't disagree more with this ruling." He said the program carefully targets communications of suspected terrorists and "has helped stop terrorist attacks and saved American lives."
Taylor ordered an immediate halt to the program, but the government said it would ask for a stay of that order pending appeal.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit, said it would oppose a stay but agreed to delay enforcement of the injunction until Taylor hears arguments Sept. 7.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in January on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it difficult for them to do their jobs. They believe many of their overseas contacts are likely targets of the program, which monitors international phone calls and e-mails to or from the U.S. involving people the government suspects have terrorist links.
The ACLU says the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which set up a secret court to grant warrants for such surveillance, gave the government enough tools to monitor suspected terrorists.

The government argued the NSA program is well within the president's authority but said proving that would require revealing state secrets. The ACLU said the state-secrets argument was irrelevant because the Bush administration already had publicly revealed enough information about the program for Taylor to rule. The administration has decried leaks that led to a New York Times report about the existence of the program last year.

Taylor, a Carter appointee, said the government appeared to argue that the program is beyond judicial scrutiny. "It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights," she wrote. "The three separate branches of government were developed as a check and balance for one another."

ACLU executive director Anthony Romero called Taylor's opinion "another nail in the coffin in the Bush administration's legal strategy in the war on terror."
While siding with the ACLU on the surveillance issue, Taylor dismissed a separate claim by the group over NSA data-mining of phone records. She said not enough had been publicly revealed about that program to support the claim and further litigation would jeopardize state secrets.
Associated Press writers Katherine Shrader in Washington and Jeremiah Marquez in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Analysis: What will the impact of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah be on U.S. politics? Will the U.S. government continue to get more involved?

Israeli commandos renew attack on Tyre
AP - Via
TYRE, Lebanon - Israeli naval commandos battled with Hezbollah in the southern port city of Tyre early Saturday (8-5-06), while Israeli air raids killed at least eight people in multiple strikes across Lebanon and a Hezbollah rocket barrage killed three in northern Israel. After days of negotiations, the U.S. and France reached agreement Saturday (8-5-06) on a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at getting a cease-fire, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said.

Opinion: Should the estate tax be cut? Why or Why not?

GOP Bid On Wages, Estate Tax Is Blocked
Democrats Prevent Vote on Senate Bill
By Charles BabingtonWashington Post Staff WriterFriday, August 4, 2006; Page A01

Senate Democrats blocked a Republican bid to combine a tax cut for the wealthy with a wage increase for the working poor, adding a volatile economic issue to this fall's congressional campaigns.

GOP leaders fell three votes short of the 60 needed to cut off debate and bring the package to the Senate floor, where it was considered certain to pass on a simple-majority vote. Republicans said Democrats will pay a price in November, contending that most Americans support the bill's call for an increase in the minimum wage and deep cuts in the estate tax. But Democrats said rich Americans have received enough breaks from the Bush administration and the GOP-led Congress. Voters, they said, will see the Republican-backed bill as a ploy to further enrich upper-income families while trying to usurp the Democrats' role as champions of the working poor.

Under the bill, "8,100 of the wealthy and well-off hit the jackpot, while millions of working families get $800 billion in [federal] debt," said Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who led the opposition to the measure.

The official Senate tally was 56 to 42 in favor of proceeding to a vote on the wage-and-tax bill, short of the 60 required. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) supported the package but switched his vote -- reducing the final number to 56 from 57 -- to enable him to seek a reconsideration later. Republicans Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) and George V. Voinovich (Ohio) joined one independent and 38 Democrats -- including the two from Maryland -- in opposing the bill by backing the filibuster. Four Democrats and 52 Republicans -- including Virginia's two senators -- signaled their support for the bill by voting to limit debate.

Republican leaders in Congress have long wanted to eliminate or slash the taxes levied on estates left by wealthy people, but the Senate has repeatedly refused. Hoping to attract enough Democratic support, House leaders last week added a sweetener: the first increase in the federal minimum wage in nine years, plus an extension of several popular tax breaks for businesses. The House passed the complex measure -- dubbed "the trifecta" because of its three main facets -- and sent it to the Senate, which planned to vote before adjourning this weekend for the August break. Frist agreed to the deal, hoping that several Democrats could not resist a chance to raise the minimum wage, in three phases, to $7.25 an hour from the current $5.15. The bill would also have exempted from taxation all estates worth as much as $5 million -- or $10 million for a married couple -- and applied a 15 percent tax rate to inheritances above that threshold and up to $25 million. The value of estates exceeding $25 million would have been taxed at 30 percent.

Most congressional Democrats support raising the minimum wage and oppose cutting the estate tax. Most Republicans take the opposite view, although some from both parties support both proposals. Democrats said they will keep pushing to raise the minimum wage with no strings attached. GOP senators had practically dared Democrats to vote against the package with the minimum-wage increase. All but four Senate Democrats took the dare, heeding Reid's plea to deny Frist a victory as lawmakers go home to campaign. Republicans predicted that Democrats will regret their decision.

"I certainly wouldn't want to vote against this bill" and then face the voters, Sen. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) said in an interview. Polls show overwhelming public support for raising the minimum wage and for eliminating "the death tax," he said. Voting against the package, he said, "is bad for the country, and bad politics, too." Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said all three elements of the bill could have survived simple-majority votes had they been allowed, and he accused the Democrats of being obstructionists. "How can we have bipartisanship in the Congress if Democrats won't take 'yes' for an answer?" he asked.

But Democrats expressed confidence that voters will see the package as a cynical effort to help wealthy GOP supporters by making the estate tax cut the price for a wage increase that the nation's lowest-paid workers deserve.