Sunday, May 07, 2006

Political news of the week, take 12

[See also: political news of the week takes 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Bush challenges hundreds of laws - A detailed article in the Boston Globe that documents Bush's attempts at concentrating power by issuing "signing statements."
President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ''to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to ''execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.


Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation's sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.

Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files ''signing statements" -- official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register.

In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills -- sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed.


In October 2004, five months after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in Iraq came to light, Congress passed a series of new rules and regulations for military prisons. Bush signed the provisions into law, then said he could ignore them all. One provision made clear that military lawyers can give their commanders independent advice on such issues as what would constitute torture. But Bush declared that military lawyers could not contradict his administration's lawyers.

Other provisions required the Pentagon to retrain military prison guards on the requirements for humane treatment of detainees under the Geneva Conventions, to perform background checks on civilian contractors in Iraq, and to ban such contractors from performing ''security, intelligence, law enforcement, and criminal justice functions." Bush reserved the right to ignore any of the requirements.
Taliban Threat Is Said to Grow in Afghan South:
Building on a winter campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations and the knowledge that American troops are leaving, the Taliban appear to be moving their insurgency into a new phase, flooding the rural areas of southern Afghanistan with weapons and men.

Each spring with the arrival of warmer weather, the fighting season here starts up, but the scale of the militants' presence and their sheer brazenness have alarmed Afghans and foreign officials far more than in previous years.

"The Taliban and Al Qaeda are everywhere," a shopkeeper, Haji Saifullah, told the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, as the general strolled through the bazaar of this town to talk to people. "It is all right in the city, but if you go outside the city, they are everywhere, and the people have to support them. They have no choice."

The fact that American troops are pulling out of southern Afghanistan in the coming months, and handing matters over to NATO peacekeepers, who have repeatedly stated that they are not going to fight terrorists, has given a lift to the insurgents, and increased the fears of Afghans.
Bush Speaks of Closing Guantánamo Prison:
President Bush said yesterday that he would like to close the United States-run prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a step that has been urged by several foreign leaders. But he said he was awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on where the terrorism suspects held there might be tried.


"Of course Guantánamo is a delicate issue for people," Mr. Bush said, in remarks that were translated by Reuters from a German transcript. "I would like to close the camp and put the prisoners on trial."

"Our top court must still rule on whether they should go before a civil or military court," he continued. "They will get their day in court. One can't say that of the people that they killed."
Guard Faces Phase-Out of Combat Role:
National Guard troops in Iraq, which once constituted half the Army's fighting force, have been dramatically reduced and could be largely phased out of major combat responsibilities next year as military officials debate their performance and what role they should play in future conflicts.


Some active-duty soldiers argue the most capable guardsmen have served in combat support units — military police companies or engineering battalions. In these units, Guard members often had civilian skills that complemented their military training and made them more adept, knowledgeable and flexible than active duty counterparts.

With 351 Guard soldiers killed in Iraq and another 2,867 wounded, many active-duty officers avoid criticizing the force. But some regular Army officers have suggested that many of the Guard units were too cautious, overly concerned with casualties and simply did not have the intensity of training to match the active-duty force. Guard units were not able to as quickly master the difficulties of the counter-insurgency fight, say some Iraq veterans.

"Iraq showed what we have really always known, that the more complex combined arms operations that take extensive training and considerable experience are more difficult for units that get two weeks of training a year," said one Army general, who spoke on condition of anonymity because publicly criticizing the Guard is frowned on in the military. "We need to be honest with ourselves. Six months of preparation does not provide the same foundation as five, 10, 15 years of full-time experience."
Plan for $100 Gas Rebate Appears to Be Dead:
A Republican proposal to provide taxpayers with $100 rebates to compensate for higher fuel prices appeared all but dead on Tuesday, with leading Congressional Republicans saying that it had quickly fallen flat.

"I just think that trying to satisfy voters with a $100 voucher is insulting," said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House majority leader. "Over the weekend, I heard about it from my constituents a few times. They thought it was stupid."
Kaiser Put Kidney Patients at Risk: An LA Times article reporting on Kaiser's new kidney transplant center.
In mid-2004, more than 1,500 Kaiser Permanente patients awaiting kidney transplants in Northern California got form letters that forced them to change the course of their treatment.

Kaiser would no longer pay for transplants at outside hospitals, even established programs with thousands of successes. Instead, adult patients would be transferred to a new transplant center run by Kaiser itself — the first ever opened by the nation's largest HMO.


Kaiser's massive rollout in Northern California endangered patients, forcing them into a fledgling program unprepared to handle the caseload, according to a Times investigation based on statistical analyses, confidential documents and dozens of interviews.

Hundreds of patients were stuck in transplant limbo for months because Kaiser failed to properly handle paperwork. Meanwhile, doctors attempting to build a record of success shied away from riskier organs and patients, slowing the rate of transplants performed.

National transplant regulators apparently did not notice the program's failures, though some were obvious in the statistics the regulators themselves posted on the Internet.

In 2005, the program's first full year, Kaiser performed only 56 transplants, while twice that many people on the waiting list died, according to a Times analysis of national transplant statistics.

At transplant centers statewide, the pattern was the reverse: More than twice as many people received kidneys than died.
Kaiser Denied Transplants of Ideally Matched Kidneys:
Twenty-five Kaiser Permanente patients in Northern California were denied the chance for new kidneys that were nearly perfectly matched to them last year during the troubled start-up of the giant HMO's kidney transplant program in San Francisco, a Times investigation has found.

The patients missed this opportunity because they were in effect stranded between two transplant programs.

Kaiser never properly completed the paperwork to transfer the patients' cases to its program from UC San Francisco Medical Center, which had been under contract to care for them until September 2004. At the same time, Kaiser would not authorize UC San Francisco to continue accepting kidneys and transplanting them into Kaiser patients, according to interviews, internal memos and transplant records.

UC San Francisco transplant officials said they asked Kaiser if they could transplant some of the offered organs and Kaiser representatives told them no, said Dr. Stephen Tomlanovich, medical director of the university's renal transplant service. An e-mail from Tomlanovich to a UC San Francisco colleague in February 2005 confirms his account.

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