November 13, 2013

The environmental damage from “green” ethanol production

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:46

Ethanol was supposed to be an environmentally friendly substitute for gasoline, and it was renewable … but it’s not living up to promises:

With the Iowa political caucuses on the horizon in 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama made homegrown corn a centerpiece of his plan to slow global warming. And when President George W. Bush signed a law that year requiring oil companies to add billions of gallons of ethanol to their gasoline each year, Bush predicted it would make the country “stronger, cleaner and more secure.”

But the ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today.

As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.

Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.

Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.

Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.

September 18, 2013

The transformation of the Presidency to a “dictatorship”

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:36

In the October issue of Reason, Matt Welch talks to Jeremy Scahill about the changes in the role of the President from mere executive branch head to virtual dictator:

Jeremy Scahill has emerged in 2013 as one of the most trenchant and scathing critics of President Barack Obama’s prosecution of an open-ended war and unprecedented tactical framework launched by George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney. “Obama,” Scahill writes in his new bestseller Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield (Nation), has gone from a candidate campaigning against Cheney’s War on Terror abuses to a president guaranteeing “that many of those policies would become entrenched, bipartisan institutions in U.S. national security policy for many years to come.”

Scahill’s 642-page critique, and the accompanying IFC documentary of the same name, picks up the journalistic baton from late-Bush-era books such as Charlie Savage’s 2007 Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy and Jane Mayer’s 2008 The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. But while those books helped galvanize an anti-imperial, pro-civil liberties left in opposition to Republican politicians, Scahill’s tome, and his ongoing commentary on Twitter and for The Nation, stands as a harsh rebuke to those on the left who sold out those principles once Democrats regained power in Washington. “I think if McCain had been elected,” Scahill explains, “liberals would be crying impeachment over some of the stuff that Obama has done.”

Scahill, the 39-year-old author of the 2007 bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (Nation), is steadfastly a man of the left — he has worked in the past with documentary polemicist Michael Moore and progressive Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman. But he’s also a skilled and intense reporter with good sources inside the shadowy worlds of American special ops, rendition, torture, and assassination. If Democrats finally begin to hold the Obama administration to the standards by which they once judged its predecessor, Scahill will be a prominent reason why.

July 30, 2013

The real, long-term source of damage to American interests from the NSA revelations

Filed under: Business, Government, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:10

In The Atlantic, James Fallows explains why the NSA’s digital overreach has likely harmed US long-term interests in many different ways:

In short: because of what the U.S. government assumed it could do with information it had the technological ability to intercept, American companies and American interests are sure to suffer in their efforts to shape and benefit from the Internet’s continued growth.

    American companies, because no foreigners will believe these firms can guarantee security from U.S. government surveillance;

    American interests, because the United States has gravely compromised its plausibility as world-wide administrator of the Internet’s standards and advocate for its open, above-politics goals.

Why were U.S. authorities in a position to get at so much of the world’s digital data in the first place? Because so many of the world’s customers have trusted* U.S.-based firms like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, etc with their data; and because so many of the world’s nations have tolerated an info-infrastructure in which an outsized share of data flows at some point through U.S. systems. Those are the conditions of trust and toleration that likely will change.

The problem for the companies, it’s worth emphasizing, is not that they were so unduly eager to cooperate with U.S. government surveillance. Many seem to have done what they could to resist. The problem is what the U.S. government — first under Bush and Cheney, now under Obama and Biden — asked them to do. As long as they operate in U.S. territory and under U.S. laws, companies like Google or Facebook had no choice but to comply. But people around the world who have a choice about where to store their data, may understandably choose to avoid leaving it with companies subject to the way America now defines its security interests.

Update: Also in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations, you’d think that Senator Ron Wyden would get the credit he clearly has been deserving all this time:

For many, many years we’ve covered Senator Ron Wyden’s seemingly quixotic attempts to signal to the American public (and press) that the NSA was doing a hell of a lot more surveillance than most people believed, even those who were carefully reading the laws. Because secrecy rules meant that he couldn’t directly reveal what he’d learned while on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he had to issue vague statements, documents and speeches hinting at things that were going on that he couldn’t actually talk about. Of course, now that Ed Snowden leaked a bunch of documents, it’s shown that Wyden was absolutely correct in what was going on (and that the American public wouldn’t like it).

You’d think that would lead people to have a lot more respect for the incredible efforts he went through to alert people to these issues without breaking the secrecy laws. And, in fact, many more people are aware of those efforts. The Washington Post has a nice article about Wyden’s attempts to bring these issues out and to get a real debate going on them.

However, towards the end, the reporter talks to two different former top lawyers at the NSA, who both appear to be really, really angry about Wyden daring to suggest to the public that the NSA wasn’t playing straight with the American public. First up, we’ve got Stewart Baker, the former NSA General Counsel and top Homeland Security official, who is so anti-civil liberties and pro-surveillance that he’s almost a caricature of himself — including claiming that the Boston bombings prove that Americans need less privacy and that civil libertarians complaining about too much surveillance are the real cause for the September 11 attacks.

May 1, 2013

A quick primer on crony capitalism

Filed under: Business, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:58

In The Atlantic, Timothy P. Carney gives us a thumbnail sketch of the rise and rise of crony capitalism in the United States since 2004:

The 2005 and 2007 energy bills required drivers to buy ethanol, created a government loan-guarantee program for private sector green-energy projects, and effectively outlawed the traditional incandescent light bulb. Ethanol and the green-energy finance programs are pretty naked corporate welfare. General Electric and the light-bulb industry lobby supported the light-bulb law, which forces consumers to buy higher-profit-margin high-tech bulbs.

Then, 2008 saw an avalanche of corporate bailouts: Bear Stearns, AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Then the TARP bailed out all of Wall Street, and later General Motors and Chrysler.

Obama came to power in 2009 and signed an $800 billion stimulus bill supported by the Chamber of Commerce and loaded with goodies for the likes of Google and Solyndra. Obama pushed cap-and-trade with the support of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a corporate coalition led by GE, which had set up a business to create and trade greenhouse-gas credits.

In June 2009, Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, a regulatory measure that Philip Morris supported and reportedly helped write — smaller competitors called it the “Marlboro Monopoly Act.” That same month, Wal-Mart, the country’s largest private-sector employer, publicly endorsed the employer mandate in health insurance that became part of Obamacare. The drug lobby wrote significant parts of Obamacare, and the hospital lobby liked the bill enough to file an amicus curiae brief with the Court defending the law from its challenge by states and the small business lobby.

Boeing and the Chamber of Commerce launched a full-court lobbying push in 2011 to save and expand the Export-Import Bank, the government agency Obama loves using to subsidize U.S. Exports — including lots of Boeing jets. In a lesser-known case of regulatory profiteering, Obama hired H&R Block’s CEO to a top position at the IRS, where he crafted new regulations on tax preparers — rules which H&R Block supported and small tax preparers sued to overturn.

April 22, 2013

Torture under the Bush administration

Filed under: Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:00

Steve Chapman on the brutal legacy of torture of suspected terrorists during the Bush years:

The autopsy gave a spare account of how the 52-year-old man died. He suffered blunt force injuries on his torso and legs, and abrasions on his left wrist indicated he had been tied or shackled down. One of his neck bones was fractured. Death came “as a result of asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) due to strangulation,” and it was ruled a homicide.

It’s too much to hope for justice in this case, though. That’s because the homicide came at the hands of the administration of George W. Bush. The victim was an Iraqi whose demise occurred while he was in American custody. He was one of some 100 people who since 2001 have died while our government was holding them, some of whom were tortured to death.

The advocates of “enhanced interrogation” make it sound simple and effective. An uncooperative terrorist gets waterboarded and quickly agrees to spill vital secrets, or gets weary of being cold and sleep-deprived and divulges plots in time to stop them.

Dick Cheney and Co. never dwell on the captives who were subjected to prolonged and escalating brutality that failed to elicit the desired information — possibly because they didn’t have it. Those who favor this approach don’t mention the inmates who will never talk because they are in their graves.

Some of the tortured survived the ordeal. But living or dead, they have been consistently ignored by the American people, few of whom realize what cruelties have been inflicted in our name.

The victims were ignored again last week when an independent commission issued a report that said, “Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture.” The report was released Tuesday — as the Boston Marathon bombs were eclipsing all other news.

March 21, 2013

How Russians view American foreign policy moves

Filed under: Government, Middle East, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

In short, they don’t believe it’s mere ham-handedness, arrogance, and incompetence — they think it’s only supposed to look that way:

It’s instructive to view ourselves through a Russian mirror. The term “paranoid Russian” is a pleonasm. “The fact is that all Russian politicians are clever. The stupid ones are all dead. By contrast, America in its complacency promotes dullards. A deadly miscommunication arises from this asymmetry. The Russians cannot believe that the Americans are as stupid as they look, and conclude that Washington wants to destroy them,” I wrote in 2008 under the title “Americans play monopoly, Russians chess.” Russians have dominated chess most of the past century, for good reason: it is the ultimate exercise in paranoia. All the pieces on the board are guided by a single combative mind, and every move is significant. In the real world, human beings flail and blunder. For Russian officials who climbed the greasy pole in the intelligence services, mistakes are unthinkable, for those who made mistakes are long since buried.

From a paranoid perspective, it certainly might look as if Washington planned to unleash chaos. The wave of instability spreading through the Middle East from Syria is the direct result of American actions. [. . .]

If the Russians sound mad, consider this: there is another substantial body of opinion that sees an evil conspiracy behind American blundering in the Middle East, and it votes for Ron Paul and Rand Paul. I am not suggesting that Sen. Rand Paul is a paranoid, I hasten to clarify: I have never met the man and don’t presume to judge his state of mind. But his popularity stems in no small measure from conspiracy theorists who think that the U.S. government really is planning to criss-cross the continental United States with killer drones and pick off American citizens on their home soil. A lot of the same people think that America invaded Iraq on behalf of the oil companies (who would make a lot more money if Iraq were zapped by space aliens) or by the Israelis (who never liked the project from the outset). A fair sampling of such paranoia gets posted on the comments section of this site.

Thus we have the strangest pair of bedfellows in modern politics, the Russians and the rubes. Try to explain to them that George W. Bush was a decent and well-intentioned man without a clue as to the consequences of his actions, and they will dismiss it as disinformatsiya. Tell them that the New York Times and the Weekly Standard both believed in the Arab Spring as the herald of a new era of Islamic democracy, and they will see it as proof of a conspiracy embracing both the Democratic and Republican establishments. How, the paranoids ask, could two administrations in succession make so many blunders in succession? It stretches credibility. I wish it were a conspiracy. The truth is that we really are that dumb.

February 20, 2013

It’s a valid concern, you have to admit

Filed under: Government, Humour, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:49

Frank Fleming has a minor, niggling concern that we should pay some attention to:

I believe I have noticed a problem with President Obama’s declaring that he can blow up Americans with drone strikes without due process.

Stick with me here; this is a bit of an esoteric argument. Now, like most people, I celebrate every time Obama obtains more power. Now he can do whatever he feels needs to be done for the country and not be burdened with getting the approval of his lessers first. So the more powerful the presidency, the better for us all. But I had a terrible thought: What if one day we get a bad president?

For instance, take this power to kill Americans with drones. No one worries that Obama will abuse such a power — I mean, we’re talking about a man who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just for existing. It’s not like he’s ever going to use that power to blow us up (though, according to his lawyers, he legally could… and if he did, we’d just have to assume he had really, really good reasons). But just imagine if that power wound up in the hands of a president like George W. Bush. He’d probably blow up people with the drone all day, thinking he was playing a video game (“I’m gettin’ me a high score!”). Or worse yet, think of handing Dick Cheney that power. He’d most likely declare a unilateral war on kittens and puppies, blowing them up from the sky and then collecting the tears of children for some evil Halliburton project.

And the power to incinerate people isn’t the only power I fear could fall into the wrong hands. Like, what about the new authority the government has under President Obama to force people to buy things? That’s great for Obama to have, because he can force people to buy things they really do need to buy, like health care (and maybe in the future other things we all should really have, like hybrids or his memoirs). But think of what could happen if a president not as enlightened as Obama wielded such a power, backed by a Congress full of Republican troglodytes? They could make us all buy AR-15s or Big Gulps or Bibles or other dangerous, awful things.

February 8, 2013

Pinpointing the exact moment that the principled anti-war movement packed up its tents and decamped

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:34

Nick Gillespie helps us find that mystical moment when honourable, principled dissent became treason again:

Remember back in what was it — 2006 or thereabouts — when left-leaning critics of President Bush couldn’t stop talking about how nothing was more red, white, and blue than good old-fashioned American dissent? Why, our very country was founded by an act of dissent, didn’t you know! So back when Vice President Dick Cheney — routinely likened to Darth Vader and Voldemort — was running things, the very air was filled with cries of “not in our name” and all that, because it was so damned important that the United States not contravene its basic principles even in the name of self defense!

Those were good times, friends, and they stopped pretty much the minute that liberals and Democrats took control of the federal government. The antiwar movement disappeared once it became clear that Barack Obama wasn’t going to shut down Gitmo or stop bombing places or give a rat’s ass about that constitutional stuff he used to teach in law school.

But cheer up, because things can always get worse, as the last few days have demonstrated.

[. . .]

It’s sad, though never unexpected, when leaders such as Obama flip flop like a fish on the sand once they ascend power. Cromwell did it, the French revolutionaries did it, Castro did it, the Sandanistas did it, and on and on. It’s one of the oldest plots in history and infinitely adaptable to new conditions. How else to explain, as Jacob Sullum notes, that candidate Obama rejected the Bush administration’s position that it could detain U.S. citizens as enemy combatants without pressing charges while President Obama claims the right to kill U.S. citizens without laying charges? The guy may not be able to pass a budget but christ, give him credit for ingenuity and brass balls.

But Obama is a politician — what do you expect? Politicians are not just the bottom of the barrel — they’re what’s under the bottom of the barrel, right?

February 7, 2013

QotD: The greatest success of the anti-war movement

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:10

The invasion of Iraq was treated as the greatest crime against humanity in the history of the world, denounced far more frequently and loudly than any act by Saddam Hussein, Bashir Assad, the Iranian regime, or North Korea.

Giant protests in lots of American cities. Giant protests in every foreign capital. The 2004 Guinness Book of Records described the anti-war movement around the globe as the largest mass protest movement in history — eclipsing any popular opposition to any act of the Soviet Union or any other totalitarian regime around the globe, ever. Among the elites in Paris, Berlin, and most corners of London, the Iraq War was the single-most important issue, and denouncing the evil of George W. Bush was the most important goal, not building a stable and peaceful Iraq. You recall Kofi Annan denouncing it, and the United Nations delegates scoffing when Hugo Chavez called our president the devil.

You recall the cries of “Bushitler,” the ubiquitous Code Pink interrupting every event in Washington, as if some ninny shouting during a press conference ever spurred sudden reversals in U.S. national security policy. You recall Hollywood’s relentless cavalcade of movies demonizing the war and those fighting it: In the Valley of Elah, Stop Loss, Green Zone, Redacted, Grace is Gone, Fahrenheit 9/11.

[. . .]

The Davos set is horrified to learn that after spending the better part of a decade screaming at the top of their lungs that an American intervention to topple a bloodthirsty Arab dictator is the absolute worst thing imaginable, suddenly Americans are no longer interested in toppling bloodthirsty Arab dictators.

(Slap, slap) Wake up, anti-war movement! You’ve got what you wanted! The United States is out of the armed intervention business, besides the occasional “leading from behind” in Libya, or the occasional covert mission in Pakistan.

Jim Geraghty, “The Demonization of the Iraq War Ensures No Syria Intervention”, National Review Online, 2013-02-07

January 31, 2013

Blaming “austerity” for most recent slowdown

Filed under: Economics, Government, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:47

David Harsanyi discusses the named (by the mainstream media) culprits for the unexpected drop in US fourth-quarter GDP:

So, U.S. consumer confidence unexpectedly plunged in January to its lowest level in more than a year. The U.S. economy unexpectedly posted a contraction in the fourth quarter of 2012 — for the first time since the recession — “defying” expectations that economic growth is in our future.

If the economy were as vibrant as President Barack Obama has told us it is, a belt tightening in a single sector of government surely wouldn’t be enough to bring about “negative growth.” But one did. Unexpectedly. No worries, though. Pundits on the left tell us that this contraction was good news — possibly the best contraction in the history of all contractions. The White House blamed Republicans and, I kid you not, corporate jet owners because — well, who else? But mostly, the left is bellyaching about the end of temporary military spending and a brutal austerity that’s enveloped a once great nation.

There’s a small problem with that argument. There is no austerity. In the fourth quarter of 2012, Washington spent $908 billion, which was $30 billion more than it spent in the last quarter of 2011 and nearly $100 billion more than it spent in the third quarter of 2012. Taxpayers took on another $400 billion in debt during the quarter. If this is poverty, can you imagine what robust spending looks like?

As always, for “austerity” to take the blame, there’d actually have to have been some austerity to start with. The US government certainly hasn’t been practicing austerity over the last four years.

January 16, 2013

The odd concept that is “money”

Filed under: Economics, Government, History — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:03

In his nominally NFL-related column, Gregg Easterbrook talks about the phenomenon that is money:

Currency is surprisingly abstract as a concept. Money is whatever you agree to accept in trade, with the understanding that others will accept it in turn. If there’s a $20 bill in your wallet or purse, you view it as valuable because you know that others will as well. If you have $1 million in a bank account, you view it as valuable because you know that others will as well. But you can’t eat a $20 bill or sleep under a bank account. Money is valuable only if others agree that it is.

Even if money is backed by some precious substance such as gold, the abstraction doesn’t change much. You can’t eat or wear gold. You view gold as valuable only because you know that others will as well. Whether a thin sheet of linen-like paper or a gold ingot or a string of digits on an electronic financial statement, money is, itself, worthless.

That money has value only when others think it does is why currencies collapse. The ruble and the Zimbabwean dollar lost value when no one wanted them, because a person holding this currency couldn’t be sure that others would also view it as valuable. But if Barack Obama ordered the minting of a trillion-dollar platinum coin, and it was viewed as having a trillion dollars’ worth of value, then it would.

[. . .]

Bear in mind, that’s how the past six years of irresponsible debt-based federal giveaways — two years under George W. Bush, now four years under Obama — have been funded. The Federal Reserve keeps buying Treasuries, or mortgage-backed securities issued by Fannie Mae and similar federal agencies. That gives the executive branch money to spend. One division of government tells another, “Here is a new string of numbers,” and money comes into existence.

What’s underlying these transactions? Nada, beyond the belief that strings of numbers issued by the United States are more likely to be useful in trade than strings of numbers issued by, say, Greece. Because the credibility of the United States is so high, its strings of numbers bear heft. But if government keeps printing money and talking about obvious gimmicks such as trillion-dollar coins, how long will that credibility last?

Economists including Friedrich Hayek have contemplated the idea that privately issued money would be more solid than government-issued money, since privately issued money would be cross-checked by market forces, while government is run to please campaign donors. Governments from the Roman emperors of the far past to the liberal Scandinavian democracies of today insist that they alone control the supply of money. One reason is to ensure taxation. At a deeper level, governments know how easily it could all unravel, and money be viewed as worthless.

October 28, 2012

On foreign policy, Romney and Obama sing from the same hymnbook

Filed under: Government, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:42

At Reason, Sheldon Richman explains why there seemed to be so little difference between President Obama’s foreign policies and those of Mitt Romney:

If we needed evidence of the impoverishment of American politics, the so-called debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney gave us all we could ask for.

We normally expect a debate to highlight some disagreement, but in American politics disagreement is reserved for minor matters. The two parties — actually the two divisions of the uniparty that represents the permanent regime — agree on all fundamentals. If you need proof, observe how the establishment media treated Ron Paul, who challenged the permanent regime’s basic premises on foreign policy, civil liberties, and monetary control. He dug too deep.

It’s been noted, mostly by humorists, that Romney continuously expressed his agreement with Obama across a range of issues: drone warfare, Iran, Afghanistan, even Iraq. He tried to manufacture differences by suggesting that he would have done more sooner. But this all sounded flaccid; Romney seemed desperate to draw some contrast with a foreign policy that he embraces.

What does Romney really believe? Who can say? What we do know is that he’s taking his foreign-policy advice from a team of neoconservatives, formerly of the George W. Bush administration, who helped dig the hole the country is in.

October 8, 2012

Warren Ellis: A common thread between two political debates

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:31

An uncharacteristically serious column from Warren Ellis this week:

John Kerry, for our younger readers, was a politician who strongly resembled a reanimated Boris Karloff in a badger-pelt wig. He was a distant, charmless waffler who blew every political point he tried to score in the debates by either garbling the headline or shovelling on so much detail that people lost track of what he was trying to say. President Bush, in contrast, rolled up as the smiling ranch boss who weren’t too big to have a laugh an’ a joke with the hands, and whipped the shit out of his opponent on the floor.

The room was actually more excited by a Senator from Chicago who had a speech excerpt broadcast just as the polls closed. This was my first exposure to a dynamic orator called Barack Obama. More than one of the assembled group (which was mostly artists and sex workers, as I dimly recall) said that they’d rather Obama was running for President. John Kerry’s appeal centered largely on the fact that he wasn’t George W Bush. Which was nonsense in many respects. These were both American Patricians, who had even belonged to the same secret society at university. They were facing each other not because of any deep-seated critical political commitment, just a certain conviction that the world is run by people like them and so they were entitled to the Presidency.

[. . .]

By the end of his presidency, Bush was visibly tired, and said in an interview that he was really ready to not be President any more. He was one of the least popular Presidents in American history, the Tea Party (launched in part by his signature of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008) had begun to corrode the GOP, and he was eager to go away and live quietly.

The first of the 2012 Presidential debates aired a little under a week ago, as you read this. I was unpleasantly surprised by what I saw. The dynamic orator was gone. In his place was a distant, charmless waffler who blew every political point he tried to score by sounding either confused or incredibly boring. And he also looked tired. While the boss at the other lectern laughed and lied and outright told the debate moderator he was fired when the boss got to trade up to the White House… President Obama looked like a man who was really ready to not be President any more.

July 9, 2012

Bush vs Obama: degrees of imperialism

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:07

Jacob Sullum responds to a Wall Street Journal editorial on whether Obama’s presidency has been more “imperial” than that of George W. Bush:

The first bogus distinction has to do with drug policy. Strassel claims “Obama disagrees with federal law, which criminalizes the use of medical marijuana.” If so, why has the Obama administration steadfastly refused to reclassify marijuana so it can legally be used as a medicine, a power it has under the Controlled Substances Act? Instead it absurdly insists that marijuana has no medical applications, cannot be used safely, and poses a bigger abuse risk than cocaine, morphine, and methamphetamine. Notwithstanding the fact that Obama opposes loosening the federal ban on marijuana, Strassel says Congress’ refusal to do so has led the president to “instruct…his Justice Department not to prosecute transgressors.” This will come as news to the hundreds of medical marijuana suppliers shut down by federal raids or threats of prosecution and forfeiture since Obama took office. By some measures (frequency of raids, for example), Obama’s crackdown on medical marijuana has been more aggressive than Bush’s, and both administrations have in practice taken essentially the same approach, going after growers and sellers rather than individual patients. That policy does not reflect tolerance or compassion so much as the feds’ customary allocation of resources: The DEA, which accounts for less than 1 percent of marijuana arrests, has never shown much interest in minor possession cases.

The second bogus distinction between Obama and Bush has to do with “auto bailouts,” one of the examples Strassel (correctly) cites to illustrate Obama’s power grabs. She seems to have forgotten that it was Bush who initiated the illegal use of money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to rescue American car manufacturers from their own mistakes (a policy that Obama welcomed as a senator and expanded as president). That episode followed precisely the pattern that Strassel is decrying: The Bush administration unsuccessfully sought congressional approval for bailing out car companies, then did it anyway. This example also undermines Strassel’s mitigation of Bush’s abuses: She incorrectly states that “his aggressive reading of executive authority was limited to the area where presidents are at their core power — the commander-in-chief function.”

May 31, 2012

Bush violated US constitution by authorizing drone strikes

Filed under: Government, Law, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:50

At Reason, Judge Andrew Napolitano on the presidential “kill list” and the limits of presidential power under the constitution:

The leader of the government regularly sits down with his senior generals and spies and advisers and reviews a list of the people they want him to authorize their agents to kill. They do this every Tuesday morning when the leader is in town. The leader once condemned any practice even close to this, but now relishes the killing because he has convinced himself that it is a sane and sterile way to keep his country safe and himself in power. The leader, who is running for re-election, even invited his campaign manager to join the group that decides whom to kill.

This is not from a work of fiction, and it is not describing a series of events in the Kremlin or Beijing or Pyongyang. It is a fair summary of a 6,000-word investigative report in The New York Times earlier this week about the White House of Barack Obama. Two Times journalists, Jo Becker and Scott Shane, painstakingly and chillingly reported that the former lecturer in constitutional law and liberal senator who railed against torture and Gitmo now weekly reviews a secret kill list, personally decides who should be killed and then dispatches killers all over the world — and some of his killers have killed Americans.

[. . .]

The president cannot lawfully order the killing of anyone, except according to the Constitution and federal law. Under the Constitution, he can only order killing using the military when the U.S. has been attacked, or when an attack is so imminent and certain that delay would cost innocent American lives, or in pursuit of a congressional declaration of war. Under federal law, he can only order killing using civilians when a person has been sentenced lawfully to death by a federal court and the jury verdict and the death sentence have been upheld on appeal. If he uses the military to kill, federal law requires public reports of its use to Congress and congressional approval after 180 days.

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