Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Jonathan Alter was not entirely clear when discussing a Supreme Court case on presidential authority

Jonathan Alter likes to talk about the wiretapping story as a potential "constitutional crisis" and the grounds for the possibility of presidential "impeachment."

Alter wrote a column in this week's Newsweek in which he brought up Justice Robert Jackson and the famous Youngstown Sheet case involving President Truman...

I wasn't expecting Alito to say whether he thought that President Bush broke the law when he admitted authorizing warrantless wiretaps on American citizens, which is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Alito is right not to comment on a specific case that, with any luck, will soon go rocketing toward the Supreme Court. I can even understand why he failed to offer an opinion on why Bush didn't simply seek to amend FISA (which Congress would have eagerly done after 9/11) if he believed his tools for catching terrorists were insufficient.

Even so, the nominee's "no person is above the law" platitudes did not suffice. Alito endorsed a famous 1952 concurring opinion from Justice Robert H. Jackson that the president's power is at its "lowest ebb" when he operates without congressional authority (the case involved whether President Truman could seize steel mills during the Korean War). But we never heard whether the brainy New Jersey jurist believes (like Bush) that the Constitution entitles the president to break the law in wartime.

However, Alter has to be more careful when he is discussing Jackson's famous concurrence. Discussing how a president operates "without" congressional authorization is a tad misleading because "without" can either signify silence or expressed proscription, on the part of Congress, when dealing with a relevant issue.

Jackson wrote that there were 3 ways to analyze a president's powers in regards to power that conflicts with that of Congress. 1) When the president acts under implicit or explicit authorization he is operating with authority "at its maximum." 2) Congress is silent on the issue. The silence creates a "zone of twilight" and the outcomes of controversies are "likely to depend on the imperatives of events and contemporary imponderables rather than on abstract theories of law" and 3) The president's power as its lowest ebb because he is defying Congress.

So, using Alter's terminology, "without congressional authority", do you apply the 2nd or 3rd scenario? The term "Without" can either signify the "zone of twilight" or that the president is defying "the expressed or implied will of Congress."

Alter likes to think that the Bush administration's program of monitoring communications between terrorists abroad and our homeland is a "power grab." He thinks the NSA intercepts mean that "our whole system" is imperiled.

However, members of Congress were briefed on the program from the very start. Anonymous leakers told the NY Times about the program during the 2004 presidential campaign but no one objected about the program until it was finally revealed last month. Yet no one is advocating the program stop, immediately. And finally, the Bush administration has acknowledged the existence of the program since it was uncovered. Plausible arguments can be made in favor of the NSA program - it's legality is not as stark as Alter makes it out to be.

Alter chooses to ignore what are the salient issues when a president is exercising his constitutional authority as commander-in-chief. If Jonathan Alter thinks all this public debate about how to stop terrorists in their tracks is an indication that our country is in mortal danger he should change the name of his column from "Between the lines" to "Chicken Little."

Jonathan Alter A Power Outage on Capitol Hill



Enlightened wisdom from a talking head on VH1's "I love the 80s"

Much has been written of what Stein had to say. But how about when he claimed he was too smart to join the military?

I know this is all easy to say for a guy who grew up with money, did well in school and hasn't so much as served on jury duty for his country

This week's column was not the first time that Joel Stein popped off on the military. This is what he wrote in the New Yorker last year...

Some of you might still be thinking that though the Army sounds neat, you're not so keen on getting killed overseas in some country you couldn't find on a map, if for some reason you accidentally clicked on a map. No worries. We've been fighting for three years now, and—get this—we've racked up so many points that we've got tons of bonus lives. You could actually die in two or three suicide bombings and be totally fine.

Others weighing in: Michelle Malkin, Jim Treacher, Instapunk, SISU, Captains Quarters, Right Wing News, Pet Jawa, Protein Wisdom and Evangelical Outpost.

LATimes Joel Stein: I don't support the troops

New Yorker Joel Stein: The New Army Recruiting Pamphlet



Sunday's New York Times had an article about the conditions that illegal aliens face when they work in the United States

- 117,600 day laborers on a typical day
- 75% of day laborers are illegal aliens
- 49 percent of day laborers were employed by homeowners and 43 percent by construction contractors.
- Day laborers earned a median of $10 an hour and $700 month. The study said that only a small number earned more than $15,000 a year.

The authors of the study were disturbed by how the day laborers were treated.

"We were disturbed by the incredibly high incidence of wage violations," said one of the study's authors, Nik Theodore of the University of Illinois at Chicago. "We also found a very high level of injuries."

Forty-nine percent of those interviewed said that in the previous two months an employer had not paid them for one or more days' work. Forty-four percent said some employers did not give them any breaks during the workday, while 28 percent said employers had insulted them.

Another of the study's authors, Abel Valenzuela Jr. of the University of California, Los Angeles, said: "This is a labor market that thrives on cheap wages and the fact that most of these workers are undocumented. They're in a situation where they're extremely vulnerable, and employers know that and take advantage of them."

A day laborer position is truly the quintessential entry level job in America.

The survey found that 59 percent of day laborers were from Mexico and 28 percent from Central America, while 7 percent were born in the United States. Sixty percent of the immigrant workers said that day labor was their first occupation in the United States.

But, day laborers do not work every day. It's impossible for them to find work on a daily basis.

Nearly three-fourths of the day laborers surveyed said they gathered at day labor sites five or more days a week, with the average laborer finding work three to three-and-a-half days a week. In good months, day laborers earn $1,400, the report found, and in bad months, especially winter months, $500.

Cesar Ramirez is one example of how a day laborer struggles to feed a family of six kids.

[Ramirez] said he makes $15 an hour when he works on plumbing or electrical jobs, but $8 or $10 an hour when hired to do landscaping. Many weeks, he said, he does not earn enough to support his six children.

"I come here every morning and sometimes I leave at 3 p.m. without work," said Mr. Ramirez, who said he had worked as a day laborer since arriving from Oaxaca, Mexico, four years ago. "I keep doing it because I can't find a permanent job. I'd like to find something better."

He said a contractor had recently failed to pay more than $500 due him after he had spent five days doing electrical and plumbing work. Mr. Ramirez asked a workers' rights group to help him get paid, but he was unsuccessful because he did not have the contractor's name, telephone number or address.

There are family issues involving day laborers. Most of them have kids but few of them are married. Despite not having health insurance they do suffer injuries on the job.

The report said that 36 percent were married, while 7 percent were with living with a parent. Two-thirds said they had children. The study found that 73 percent said they were placed in hazardous working conditions, like digging ditches, working with chemicals, or on roofs or scaffolding.

The report said that employers often put day laborers into dangerous jobs that regular workers were reluctant to do - often with minimal training and safety equipment. One-fifth said that in the past year they had suffered injuries requiring medical attention, and 60 percent of that group said their injuries caused them to miss more than a week of work.

Despite the fact that immigration laws are not being enforced activits for the day laborers are advocating that labor laws, that would benefit the workers, be enforced.

"The first thing to do to improve things for day laborers is to have more of these centers," said Pablo Alvarado, national coordinator of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, an advocacy group for such workers. "The second thing is to have the government enforce the labor laws more consistently."

Update: Karol says Mexico is handing out maps.

NYTimes Broad Survey of Day Laborers Finds High Level of Injuries and Pay Violations


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