Monday, June 30, 2014

The /Redacted/ Case for Killing Americans

Was it really congress that murdered a US Citizen abroad?

That's the administration's argument, which makes sense because the supporting evidence appears to be off limits to the public.

I've been out of town on business, but I did catch a whiff of news last Monday, the White House finally released a memo used to justify drone attacks on U.S. citizens, and even though it appears to be rooted in what many are calling sound legal precedence. To me, it confirms some of the worst suspicions I've held about this administration and this country that is getting harder and harder to recognize.

The Obama administration had sought to keep the memo secret, and now we know why: The memo revealed that there are literally no checks and balances; there are no classified courts, no appeal process, no opportunity for a defendant to meet their accuser, and several other blatant violations of a citizens rights. Indeed, the memo reveals that the President of the United States can, and has, ordered the targeting killing of U.S. citizens overseas in violation of their constitutional right to due process.

The 41-page Department of Justice memorandum outlining the administration’s attempt to justify the killing of U.S. citizens accused of plotting acts of terrorism abroad was released under order of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York. The court did so in response to a Freedom Of Information Act request submitted by both the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times.

The memo, entitled “Re: The Applicability of Federal Criminal Laws and the Constitution to Contemplated Lethal Operations against Shaykh Anwar al-Aulaqi,” was written by the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice and was addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder. The Office of Legal Counsel was asked to weigh in on the matter after the Obama administration decided that it might choose to pursue a lethal operation against a U.S. citizen living in Yemen who the administration accused of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism.

A good chunk of the memo is devoted to 18 U.S. Code § 1119. The statute says that if an American kills another American overseas, that's considered murder under US law. Anyone who does it can be tried in the same way as an American who murders someone inside US borders.

To justify the Awlaki killing, The administration relies heavily on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), the law that Congress passed to permit striking al-Qaeda post-September 11th, and which was used to justify the US-led investigation of Afghanistan.

Awlaki, according to the memo, was a leader in al-Qaeda's Yemen-based branch, which is known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The intelligence supporting this claim is redacted from the memo and the entire memo ignores the issue of introducing this evidence in a courtroom (even if it was a secret one such as the FISA courts). The memo claims that, because Congress authorized using "necessary and appropriate force" against al-Qaeda, the AUMF would thus give the US legal cover to target Awlaki.

The memo also redacts any evidence about the U.S.'s ability to capture and detain Awlaki instead of killing him.

The logic we are supposed to be seeing here is like a police man breaking the speed limit to catch a bad guy. Only in this case the speeding is likened to killing an American citizen and the bad guy posed an imminent threat to the United States. The evidence of this threat... is also redacted.

There is one final point to this memo. The AUMF was intended, as the 'M' would indicate, as a military declaration. Yet, it was the CIA that carried out the use of force. The memo addresses this also by establishing the legal basis of how the CIA can operate unter a military docutrine.

This too, was redacted.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Lessons of Walmart

It's a purely political argument that seems to flare up every 5 or 6 years. How do we help the working poor? The plan the President has put forward as a talking point during the midterm election cycle is the idea that if we raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, everyone will benefit, yet people on the right tend to disagree.

The statistics can be skewed to show pretty much any outcome that you want. Does it increase the standard of living? Does it increase unemployment? Does it increase the cost of goods and services? In the end, does it help or hurt the economy? 

Well, right now the economy sucks, we are growing at paltry rates, household income is dwindling, and unemployment is at generally unacceptable rates. It's been six years since a minimum wage hike so let's just say that the economy sucks because the economy sucks and that the only way to fix it is to start forcing businesses to pay their employees more.

Yeah, I didn't think that you would stop reading with that point. The point I do want to make is this, there is a place in America where the economy is booming, and they don;t care about the national debate on the minimum wage. You know why? Because you could raise it to $10.10 per hour and it wouldn;t change a thing. You could change it to $11, $12, $13, heck, even Seattle's new $15 per hour wouldn't change a lot in one part of the country.

I'm talking about the boonies of North Dakota. We're an energy boom has caused the modest-sized town of Williston to rise above the fray of this issue that is marched out  a Wal-Mart in Williston, North Dakota is offering starting salaries of $17.40 per hour.

The reason that this particular Wal-Mart is offering $17.40 an hour has nothing to do with unions, social justice, compassion, or any other such thing.

Instead, it’s simple supply and demand.

In particular, the article says that fracking has made it possible to access oil which had previously been unobtainable. This has driven the unemployment rate to less than 1% in the city where this Wal-Mart is located. With that much money flowing through the local economy at such a high rate

This is the anecdotal situation that allows someone to want to see people make more money without the burden being pushed on to every business in America. There is no political courage in demanding a higher minimum wage be paid to someone else by someone else. The goal should be an economy where there should be no need for a minimum wage. At a time when real wage growth has been behind the growth of CPI and inflation for several years running. Demanding a minimum wage increase now is like hiring a maid service for your house when you know there is a dead skunk under the deck, you are not addressing the main problem.

We need to address the economy. The approach set forth by Obama back in 2009 and 2010 was not a solution. It was to subsidize the shortfall of a down economy for a short while in the hope that the economy would correct itself. Well, that didn't pan out.... at all....

Now the plan being put forth isn't much better, short term projects trying to kick start long term employment. Again, he just doesn't seem to understand that with new EPA regulations, Healthcare regulations and taxes, and an administration that attempts to take away almost every and any tax for businesses under the guise of 'paying their fair share'. There is nothing about this current economic environment that says 'Hire me!' Especially when you don't even know how much that new hire is going to cost you between the debate of what the minimum wage and if there will be another delay in the Obamacare mandate.

Stop passing laws that only have one or two years of effect. Stop adjusting due dates for mandates. Stop threatening any and every tax credit under the sun year after year. At this point, I think that the best thing we could do for the economy is somehow just freeze everything for 10 or more years. It's wishful thinking at this point as I've never heard of a President trying to change so many things as far as regulation and tax code in such rapid succession.

Take a hint from North Dakota and the town of Williston. Look for ways to get out of the way of capitalism and production. Creating mandates doesn't increase production. Raising taxes doesn't make more money. And trying to solve a wage problem through wage laws makes as much sense as losing weight by demanding diet food at McDonalds.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Amusing Friday the 13th Facts

Thirteen trivial facts about Friday the 13th.

1. Feer of the number 13 is triskaidekaphobia; fear of Friday the 13th is friggatriskaidekaphobia (after Frigga, the godess who gave her name to Friday).

2. The first referince to an unlucky Friday the 13th came in an 1869 biography of the composser Rossini who died on Friday November 13, 1868.

3. A 1993 research paper published in the British Medical Journal found there was a higher risk of road accidents on Friday the 13th than on other Fridays.

4. Every year has at least one Friday 13th and at most three.

5. In any 400-year period, there are Friday the 13ths toteling 688. Sunday and Wednesday are next with 687.

6. Exactly 200 characters have been killed in the 12 Friday the 13th films

7. Only five of the "Friday the 13th" films have been relesed on Friday the 13th.

8. The longest period that can occor without a Friday the 13th is fourteen months.

9. Taylor Swift considers 13 her lucky number. She was born on Dec. 13, 1989 (a Wednesday) and turned 13 on Friday the 13th in 2002. Her first album went gold in just 13 weeks.

10. On streets in Florence, Italy, the house between No. 12 and 14 is adressed No. 12 1/2. Italy has also elimenated the number 13 from their national lottery.

11. In San Francisco, there is no 13th Ave. The street between 12th and 14th Aves. is called Funston Ave.

12. President Franklin D. Roosevelt apparently suffered from triskaidekephobia: According to The Huffington Post, he refused to traval on the 13th day of any month and would not host a dinner party with 13 guests.

13. The seals on the back of a doller bill include 13 steps on the pyramid, 13 stars above the eagle's head, 13 war arrows in the eagle's claw and 13 leeves on the olive branch. So far there's been no evidence tying these long-ago design decisions to the present economic situation.

Bonus: There are 13 spelling errors in this post, can you find them all?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Castration is Now a Campaign Issue

Joni Ernst, the winner of the Iowa Senate Republican primary on Tuesday, has gained her the support of prominent conservatives like Sarah Palin and a broad coalition that included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Senate Conservatives Fund to rally behind her: She took some pretty definitive stances that would make your typical liberal voter throw up a bit in their mouth such as; no same-sex marriage, no reform of immigration, no federal minimum wage, no Education Department, no progressive tax code and supporting the idea of private accounts for Social Security. Bust the most surprising thing about her campaign, she blew away the competition.

Ernst, 43, was a relatively unknown state senator in a crowded but uninspiring field who made national headlines when she used a memorable ad about hog castration to get on voters’ radar. The end result was Joni not only clearing the 35 point threashold to avoid a convention vote, but actually beat Mark Jacobs who dolled out over 3 million dollars by more then 35 points.

The big question becomes, is Iowa’s Senate race is now in play?

Most pundits tactical maps for Republican control of the senate didn't take put a lot of stock in picking up a seat in the Hawkeye State. Truth is it's been a long time since a senate election here has been anything but a certain thing, With retiring Senator Harkin (D) being elected to 5 terms and Sen. Grassley (R) currently serving his 6th. Couple this with Governor Brandstad (R) running this year for a 6th term, Iowa senate races are less of a choice and more of a time to catch up on some house hold chores. With an established candidate vying for a seat that seemed to have a 'D' imprinted on it, not a lot of attention was focused on Iowa. Now, however, the GOP has a candidate that is turning heads, and GOP operatives love the contrast between her and Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley. 

Brayley's a lawyer turned politician who has been in Washington for almost a decade, during which congresses list of accomplishments couldn't even be counted on a single finger for most Americans. He's had it on easy street the last year with no one contesting him for the Democratic ticket. Allowing him to raise over $5 million dollars, but he had to start writing checks to television studios when attack ads started popping up against him last winter and a pretty major gaffe at an out of state fund raising event that kind of came across as bad mouthing farmers. Not the keenest of strategies when running in Iowa.

Meanwhile, Ernst could be the first Iowa woman ever elected to Congress, which might boost female turnout. She served in the military; he didn't. She grew up on a farm; he’s a trial lawyer. She's a Lt. Colonial in the Guard, he looks like he couldn't hold his own in a rough game of bad-mitten. She apparently likes to castrate things, he (presumably) has something to castrate.

She does have some positions that will have to be defended during the general election, such as saying  she said she would have voted against the farm bill, and she named the Clean Water Act as one of the most damaging laws for business, and denied that global warming is causing climate change. Making her still very vulnerable to much of he play book that democrats have drafted up for the midterm. 

I await the statements how yet another lawyer turned politician already in Washington is going to help clean up Washington better then someone who doesn't support same sex marriage. Or how a $30 thousand donation from the Koch Brothers tips the scales in favor of the candidate who is currently over $4 million behind in fundraising. Perhaps the war on woman will resonate well with Iowa voters. Perhaps advertisements letting voters know what the candidate can do to farm animals will become the new standard for Iowa elections. However this plays out, the political spectator in me is curious to see how this will play out.