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The Revolt Against the NDAA Hits Congress

House Republicans say they’re going to fix controversial provisions in Obama’s defense spending bill. Don’t believe it.

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By Adam Serwer
Fri May. 4, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

Facing a serious civil liberties backlash, Congress is considering changing a controversial counter terrorism law it passed last year. Yet the leading fix, backed by House Republicans, may not be a fix at all.

Last year, during consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress came close to authorizing the indefinite detention of American citizens captured on US soil who were suspected of terrorism. Ultimately, the House, the Senate, and the White House agreed on a compromise that would let federal courts decide whether such detentions were constitutional. That is, when confronted with the knotty question of whether the US government can detain its own citizens within the nation’s borders without charging them with a crime, Congress decided not to decide. Still, activists on the left and right remain concerned, because although President Barack Obama promised not to use that power, the law does not explicitly prevent him from doing so. In the months since Obama signed the bill in January, a strange-bedfellows alliance has raised such a ruckus over the legislation that Congress is now considering three separate proposals to amend the law.

“There has been significant constituent concern” over the NDAA, says Claude Chafin, a spokesman for Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee.

The revolt against the NDAA has brought together organizations and activists that disagree on almost every other issue—tea party activists, the states’ rights Tenth Amendment Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Occupy Wall Street protesters. The NDAA is “waking people up to the idea that the federal government shouldn’t have this kind of power,” says Michael Boldin, the director of the Tenth Amendment Center. “We’re seeing this weird mishmosh coalition of people.” In mid-April, Boldin’s group joined a number of other conservative organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of liberal journalist Chris Hedges’ anti-NDAA lawsuit against the Obama administration.

The NDAA backlash has already fueled action on the state level. In Virginia, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell recently signed a bill that could prohibit state authorities from “knowingly” aiding in the military detention of a US citizen. The Arizona Legislature passed a bill making it a misdemeanor for state officials to help the feds detain US citizens under the NDAA, and the Maine Legislature passed a joint resolution urging Congress and the president to amend the law to make it clear that Americans apprehended on US soil can’t be detained without trial. All three states have legislatures with Republican majorities.

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Congress is now considering three bills designed to quiet the uproar. One, sponsored by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), would repeal the detention sections of the NDAA entirely. Another, sponsored by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), would ensure that suspected terrorists captured on US soil, whether they are citizens or not, could not be detained indefinitely without trial.

Then there’s a third bill, proposed by Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), called the Right to Habeas Corpus Act. Rigell’s bill, which has 32 cosponsors, would do basically nothing. That’s because all it does is affirm the right of American citizens to have a judge evaluate the legality of their detention, and there has been no disagreement over that right since the Supreme Court affirmed it in 2004. The question has been whether the United States could hold suspected terrorists without ever charging them with a crime. Under Rigell’s bill, a future president could still potentially indefinitely detain an American citizen arrested in the United States on suspicion of terrorism, while Smith’s bill would prevent them from doing so.

Rigell’s bill is “addressing a habeas problem that doesn’t exist, and ignoring the real problem, which is indefinite detention without charge or trial,” says ACLU legislative counsel Chris Anders.

Rigell’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Anders notes that detention authority can be a “confusing” and “difficult” area in which to legislate, partially because many of the issues aren’t entirely settled. Of the two bills that would actually alter the NDAA, Smith’s has 56 cosponsors in the House. Paul’s bill has five cosponsors.

Republicans in the House, however, seem much warmer to Rigell’s mostly symbolic legislation, with Chafin insisting it would “put to rest any doubt to the…purpose of last year’s NDAA.” The law’s critics don’t believe that. “We don’t trust Congress, who just passed this thing into law, to all of a sudden say, ‘Oh, we were wrong; we’re going to change it,’” Boldin said. That’s probably a safe bet.

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Criminal charges and $22 Billion in Lawsuits Raise Questions About Brazil

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Dilma Rousseff, Image: Agência Brasil

 

By John Lyons, Wall Street Journal

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Dow Jones)–U.S. President Barack Obama is set to meet with Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff in Washington on Monday amid optimism for closer ties with South America’s rising economic power.

The issues in play reflect Brazil’s growing economic reach. Brazil’s biggest trade partner these days is China, not the U.S., and U.S. officials want Brazil as an ally in nudging China to let its currency rise. Brazil’s bigger economic presence in regional neighbors such as Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba could allow Brazil to act as a moderating force in a region that has become more anti-U.S. in recent years.

Mostly, U.S. interests in Brazil are fueled by a growing consensus that the commodity-rich nation has put its history of periodic economic meltdowns behind it and will play a bigger role in world affairs as its economy grows. Brazil passed the U.K. as the world’s sixth-largest economy recently and is seeking a bigger voice in global forums such as the United Nations and the G-20 grouping of big economies.

Indeed, Rousseff’s U.S. trip comes a year after Obama traveled to Brasilia to meet her, a diplomatic overture that, observers say, underscored the Obama administration’s desire to hit the reset button on relations that became strained under Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

(This story and related background material will be available on The Wall Street Journal website, WSJ.com.)

Under da Silva, U.S. officials complained, Brazil’s attempts to flex growing economic weight on the global stage often created headaches for U.S. diplomats seeking to resolve regional and global issues. Brazil refused to recognize U.S.-backed elections to resolve a Honduran coup; Brazil opposed U.S.-backed sanctions to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Though Rousseff is da Silva’s protege and hails from his left-wing Workers Party, she introduced a more pragmatic foreign-policy agenda tuned to providing direct economic benefits to Brazil, rather than carving out a protagonist role for the nation in the Middle East and elsewhere. The result, observers say, may be fewer distractions as the countries tackle increasingly important economic issues.

Rousseff’s “priority is the domestic economy,” said Tovar Nunes, a senior Brazilian diplomat who acts as a foreign-policy spokesman, in a recent interview.

At their White House meeting, the leaders are expected to discuss a range of issues, from global economics to regional security and the environment.

The U.S. is likely to seek Brazil’s support on regional issues ahead of a summit of hemispheric leaders later this month in Colombia. Some analysts say Brazil will urge Obama to add star power to a major U.N. environmental conference planned for Rio de Janeiro this year. Obama hasn’t yet committed to attend.

All the same, the potential for tense moments remains. Rousseff is expected to criticize an expansive U.S. monetary policy that many in the emerging economies blame for creating imbalances such as overvalued currencies and asset bubbles. Rousseff made a similar complaint to Germany’s Angela Merkel last month. Europe, like the U.S., has interest rates near zero to spur growth.

Not much is expected to be accomplished on long-standing bilateral trade issues. Brazil wants to sell more of its beef, orange juice, steel and sugar to the U.S., but those politically sensitive industries are mostly protected by U.S. policies that are unlikely to budge. The U.S. wants more access to Brazil’s growing economy for manufactured goods, but Brazilian factory owners are already complaining of foreign competition and clamoring for more protections.

One chance for goodwill: The U.S. let its tariffs on ethanol, an important Brazilian industry, expire last year.

But other economic issues have become tricky. Vast new Brazilian oil finds mean the country may become an important source of regional crude as production in Mexico and Venezuela declines. But criminal charges and some $22 billion in lawsuits against Chevron Corp. following a deep-water oil leak last year raise questions about Brazil as an operating environment for U.S. firms.

Meantime, Boeing Co. is competing with manufacturers in France and Sweden for a contract to sell some $30 billion in fighter jets to the Brazilian military. A recent U.S. decision to cancel an order of Brazilian-made military training planes is a strike against the American effort in deeply nationalistic Brazil.

Rousseff’s economic focus may foster deeper ties in unexpected ways. Consider one program, called Science Without Borders, which provides scholarships for thousands of Brazilians a year at top U.S. graduate schools. The immediate goal is to make Brazil more productive. But such exchange programs also pay diplomatic dividends as top-educated Brazilians forge bonds in the U.S.

On Tuesday, Rousseff travels to Boston, where she will visit Massachusetts Institute of Technology and meet with Brazilian scholarship students already studying at Harvard University.

More than any single agreement, Rousseff may be seeking something that was a scarce commodity for the volatile nation in past decades: Respect. The country’s leaders have sought to be treated as a partner with the U.S. to be consulted on important regional issues since U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower visited Brazil in 1960. Brazil has sought a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council essentially since the council came into existence.

Such demands used to draw mostly laughs. But that has begun to change amid Brazil’s economic growth. Obama is speeding up Brazilian travel-visa applications, in part because Brazilians are starting to outspend Europeans in key U.S. tourist destinations such as New York and Florida.

Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

By gCaptain Staff On April 8, 2012

USA: Environmental Groups Join Forces Against LNG Fracking

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Yesterday multiple environmental organizations called on the US President’s chief environmental advisor asking for a full environmental analysis of plans to export liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The letter to the Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency sounds the alarm that the agencies considering these export plans are not analyzing or disclosing the environmental impacts of the increased hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ that would be necessary to support major LNG exports.

Exporting liquefied natural gas means more dangerous fracking, a secretive and toxic part of the production process that the Sierra Club has no confidence in,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.With the health of our communities and our environment at stake, it’s up to our leaders at EPA and other agencies to keep their commitment to protecting Americans from the toxic threats to our air and water that come with liquefied natural gas.”

LNG facilities like the one proposed for Cove Point are intended to ship natural gas extracted in this country off to foreign lands, said Michael Helfrich of Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper. “The result is that gas drillers can ship American gas overseas in order to make more money, but this increases the price of natural gas for us, and our communities and environment get ravaged by the shale gas “gold rush”, including thousands of miles of new pipelines and new compressor stations through the Susquehanna Watershed. It may be a win for the gas drillers but it throws the idea of American energy independence out the window.”

Gas drilling is devastating the communities where it is happening; the claim of environmentally friendly fracking and shale gas drilling is just another expensive messaging campaign” says Maya van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper.People are losing their drinking water, their clean air, their health, and the beautiful landscapes they call home. The assertion of cheap gas and energy independence is just another marketing campaign – drillers are investing heavily in building and expanding LNG facilities in order to ship American extracted gas overseas. Americans are suffering all of the pollution and harm from gas drilling while foreign countries get to use the gas and drillers get to reap the profits. It’s a lose lose for Americans.

On February 7th, 2012, The Sierra Club filed the first formal objection with the Department of Energy against the export of domestic gas produced from fracking. This objection called the export proposal an unwise plan which would make a dirty fuel even more dangerous and would cost families money by raising gas and electricity prices. The Sierra Club also intervened in proposals for LNG export facility permits in Sabine Pass, LA and Coos Bay, OR.

The letter is signed by the Sierra Club, the Columbia Riverkeeper, the Delaware Riverkeeper, Earthjustice, Friends of Living Oregon Waters (FLOW), Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and the Rogue Riverkeeper.

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CAGW Names Energy Sec. Steven Chu 2011 Porker of the Year

image(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) announced the results of its online poll for the 2011 Porker of the Year.  Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu won with 43 percent of the vote.  Second place went to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) with 27 percent, and third-place honors were awarded to Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon with 16 percent.  Honorable mentions go out to Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.

Sec. Chu’s weak oversight of DOE’s loan guarantee program (LGP) resulted in huge losses to taxpayers when solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, the recipient of a $535 million loan guarantee, filed for bankruptcy in September, 2011.  Solyndra was granted the $535 million loan through a green energy technology section of the LGP, which received a massive increase in funding on the 2009 stimulus package.  The LGP program itself has been the subject of three Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports since its inception, all detailing its management weaknesses, arbitrary selection process, and vulnerabilities to manipulation and politicization.

To make matters worse, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that Solyndra’s former employees qualify for federal aid packages worth $13,000 each under DOL’s Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which compensates and retrains American workers who can prove that their jobs were lost as a result of foreign competition.  The TAA benefits far exceed normal unemployment benefits.  The DOL granted TAA to Solyndra’s employees by accepting the company’s claim that it went belly up as a result of unfair competition by Chinese solar panel manufacturers, rather than from mismanagement by company executives.

Unfortunately, Solyndra was not Sec. Chu’s and DOE’s only ill-fated LGP recipient.  Beacon Power and Evergreen, Inc., both of Massachusetts, along with Ener1 of Delaware and SpectraWatt of Oregon, have filed for bankruptcy after receiving DOE loan guarantees.  In addition, Fisker Automotive, which was awarded a $529 million loan guarantee, announced layoffs at its Delaware plant after the government halted payments due to “delays” in its production schedule.  A July, 2010 GAO report concluded that the LGP lacked clear goals and failed to hold all applicants to the same standards.  GAO said that the LGP “has treated applicants inconsistently, favoring some and disadvantaging others,” and that “some applicants … receive conditional commitments before incurring expenses that other applicants had to pay.  It is unclear how DOE could have sufficient information to negotiate conditional commitments without such reviews.”

“Sec. Chu dismissed numerous warning signs that the LGP was a ticking time bomb,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz.  “The dramatic program expansion in 2009 and the continued funneling of taxpayer dollars toward poor investments reeks of poor management and crony capitalism, since Solyndra’s major investors were among the President’s largest campaign donors.  If this is the Obama administration’s idea of how America can ‘invest’ in its economic recovery, taxpayers would much rather keep the money and do it themselves.”

For acting as if winning a Nobel Prize in physics also magically confers the title of venture capitalist, and for frittering away taxpayers’ hard-earned money, DOE Sec. Steven Chu is CAGW’s 2011 Porker of the Year.

Citizens Against Government Waste is the nation’s largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.  Porker of the Year is a dubious honor given to a lawmaker, government official, or political candidate who has shown the most blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers throughout the year.

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