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BREAKING: Attorney General Voted in Contempt of Congress

Breaking news this afternoon –

"A House panel voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt for failing to cooperate with a congressional inquiry into Operation “Fast and Furious,” hours after President Obama asserted executive privilege over related documents. On a party-line decision, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 23 to 17 to hold Holder in contempt for failing to share documents related to the operation run out of the Phoenix division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives between 2009 and 2011, with the backing of the U.S. attorney in Phoenix. The move makes Holder the first member of Obama’s Cabinet held in contempt by a congressional committee."

Columnist Al Kamen wonders why Holder should be concerned about the vote

"While he would be the first Obama administration official to undergo such a vote, he would be joining a long list of well-known officials from prior administrations who lost committee — or even full House or Senate — contempt votes, including two former attorneys general, according to a list compiled by the Congressional Research Service last month."

It’s also not the first time a President has invoked executive privilege to prevent Congress from getting internal administration information, just another round in the perpetual White House vs. Congress struggle.

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DRONE WATCH: Drones in Court

Several years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents from the administration related to the drone program. The request seeks any memos that explain the legal justification, the basis for strikes against American citizens, and an explanation of the process for targeting individuals.

The deadline for the administration to respond – either by turning over the documents or an explanation as to why they are not being turned over – is today. Now that several high-level officials, including President Obama, have spoken publicly about the program, it is hardly plausible for the administration to deny its existence.

Jameel Jaffer, the director of ACLU's Centre for Democracy said:

"They may not release anything at all, they might continue to say it's a secret. It's possible but it's absurd. On the one hand there's extraordinary public interest in the drone program. On the other hand they recently filed a legal brief claiming it's too secret even to acknowledge. It surprised me that they were willing to say that to the appeals court in DC.”

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DRONE WATCH: It’s Not Just The U.S.

More than four years ago, the U.K. Ministry of Defence bought 6 Reaper drones from the U.S.  The Guardian  reports.

"The British military is increasingly relying on unmanned drones to wage war against the Taliban, and has fired more than 280 laser-guided Hellfire missiles and bombs at suspected insurgents, new figures reveal. … The Ministry of Defence says only four Afghan civilians have been killed in its drone strikes since 2008. However, it also says it has no idea how many insurgents have died, because of the "immense difficulty and risks" of verifying who has been hit."

Chris Cole, founder of the website Drone Wars UK, responds that it is:

“Kafkaesque of the MoD to repeatedly claim that only four civilians have been killed in UK drone strikes while at the very same time insisting they do not know how many people have been killed."

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DRONE WATCH: U.N. Investigator Asks U.S. to Justify Drone Policy

Christof Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, urged Washington to clarify the basis under international law of its policy:

"The (U.S.) government should clarify the procedures in place to ensure that any targeted killing complies with international humanitarian law and human rights and indicate the measures or strategies applied to prevent casualties, as well as the measures in place to provide prompt, thorough, effective and independent public investigation of alleged violations."

The Special Rapporteur again requests the Government to clarify the rules that it considers to cover targeted killings ... (and) reiterates his predecessor's recommendation that the government specify the bases for decisions to kill rather than capture 'human targets' and whether the State in which the killing takes places has given consent,"

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Catholic University vs. Catholic Social Teaching on Unions

Adjunct faculty in today's colleges and universities are often, to put it mildly, not treated well in terms of income and job security, so it's not surprising to me that the adjuncts at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University are considering unionizing. After first agreeing to a union election, the university filed a legal movement last Friday to kibosh the process by claiming labor law doesn't apply to Duquesne as a religious institution.

I don't know whether Duquesne's professors' job is religious enough to make this legal claim stick, in the same way  the "ministerial exception" means anti-discrimination law doesn't apply to religious employees (as Melissa Scott explained in "A Hire Law for Churches" in the April Sojourners). But I do know that it seems ironic that the professors may have a better grasp of Catholic teaching regarding labor unions than the university administration does:

From Inside Higher Ed:

"Joshua Zelesnick, an adjunct who teaches English composition at Duquesne, said he was taken aback that the university signed an agreement to follow all NLRB rules and regulations and was now trying to back out of it. ...

“'They have a history of bargaining with other unions on campus -- for instance: they're not too Catholic to bargain with the Teamsters, who represent the campus police; not too Catholic for other unions.  How are they all of a sudden too Catholic for the USW?' Zelesnick said, adding that if the university wanted to exhibit its Catholic identity, 'upholding the papal encyclicals would be a great place to start.'

"Robin Sowards, an adjunct who teaches composition and linguistics at Duquesne, pointed out that the Roman Catholic Church has said that unions are an 'indispensable element of social life.'”

The school's full name is Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit. Is this a case of  "Spirit" vs. the letter of church teaching?

Read more at the Inside Higher Ed website.

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DRONE WATCH: New Weapons of Shadow Wars

U.S. military strategy is changing. From Associated Press:

"After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile.

Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm's way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint. It's war in the shadows, with the U.S. public largely in the dark."

In Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Iran:

"The high-tech warfare allows Obama to target what the administration sees as the greatest threats to U.S. security, without the cost and liabilities of sending a swarm of ground troops to capture territory; some of them almost certainly would come home maimed or dead.But it also raises questions about accountability and the implications for international norms regarding the use of force outside of traditional armed conflict."

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Religious Violence In Nigeria Continues: 52 Dead In Latest Attacks

Agence France-Presse report on the lastest incidents of Christian-Muslim fighting in Nigeria:

"The streets of Nigeria's Kaduna city were mostly empty Monday a day after suicide blasts on three churches carried out by Boko Haram Islamists and subsequent rioting killed at least 52 people.

Banks and offices were shut while rescuers combed through streets looking for the bodies of those killed by armed Christian mobs that targeted Muslims after the blasts at churches in Kaduna city and the nearby city of Zaria.
 
Boko Haram, responsible for more than 1,000 deaths since July 2009, said the church blasts "were reprisals for the many atrocities Christians perpetrated against Muslims," in an email from purported group spokesman Abul Qaqa."
 
Learn more here
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Robert Redford: Quit Funding Dirty Energy!

Writing for The Huffington Post, actor and environmental activist Robert Redford argues:

"Every year, around the world, almost one trillion dollars of subsidies is handed out to help the fossil fuel industry. Who came up with the crazy idea that the fossil fuel industry deserves our hard-earned money, no less in economic times of such harsh human consequence? We fire teachers, police and firemen in drastic budget cuts and yet, the fossil fuel industry can laugh all the way to the bank on our dime? Something doesn't add up here.

We should not be subsidizing the destruction of our planet. Fossil fuels are literally cooking our planet, polluting our air and draining our wallets. Why should we continue to reward companies to do that?"
 
Read the full piece here
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Affordable Care Act: What Could Happen?

CNN examines some of the possible outcomes of the Supreme Court's imminent decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act:

"The election-year rulings will not only guide how every American receives medical care but will also establish precedent-setting boundaries for how government regulation can affect a range of social areas. Your health and your finances could be on the line.

The outcome's possibilities are myriad: a narrow or sweeping decision? A road map to congressional authority in coming decades? Which bloc of justices, which legal argument will win the day?"
 
Read more here
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DRONE WATCH: We Cannot Kill Our Way to Victory

Vietnam vet and author Terry McDermott sees parallels between the B-52 bombings of Cambodia and the drone strikes in Pakistan.

"Simply put: American technology — B-52s then, drones now — makes it far too easy to unleash holy hell on our enemies. We live in an age when American might can overwhelm the defenses of entire countries with barely a drop of American blood spent. It is, in a way, too easy. Because there is so little risk, there is no political cost to be paid for the drone wars."

But he asks:

"We've been trying to attack Al Qaeda with missiles, bombs and drones for 25 years now. Shouldn't we at some time stop and ask ourselves: What's the point? As good as we've become at killing people, the larger problem persists. … That larger problem is that we cannot kill our way to victory in the war on terror."

 

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