John Nichols on Sarah Palin’s “vindication,” David Cole on phone sex and national security, Danielle Douglas on Haiti.



Sarah Palin

has a weird definition of “vindicated.” The Republican nominee for vice president claims to be “very, very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing, any hint of any kind of unethical activity there.” In fact, the 263-page report by veteran prosecutor

Stephen Branchflower

on the Alaska governor’s firing of a top state law enforcement officer who refused to fire her former brother-in-law, a state trooper, found that “Governor Palin abused her power by violating (the section of) the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act” that says “any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust.”

The Anchorage Daily News labels the governor’s attempt to spin the report in her favor “Orwellian.” That’s true. But be careful about getting lost in the Palintological details of the governor’s attempts to tamp down discussion of her wrongdoing in Alaska. What ought to concern voters this November is not merely Palin’s status as an officially confirmed abuser of power but, more important, the fact of her enthusiasm about further upsetting the federal system of checks and balances. In the vice presidential debate, the governor declared herself to be “thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president.” Only Vice President

Dick Cheney

‘s copy of the Constitution allows the flexibility that Palin imagines, and remarkably, after eight years of Cheney’s power grabs, the Republican nominee to succeed him proposes “a bit more.” Of all the disqualifiers for the McCain-Palin ticket, this one merits consideration for the top of the list.   JOHN NICHOLS


To the many novel questions that the Bush administration’s “war on terror” has raised regarding security and liberty, add a new one: what does phone sex have to do with preventing terrorism? An October 9 ABC News story based on independent accounts of two former military intercept officers with the National Security Agency reported that the NSA surveillance program routinely intercepted extremely private calls of Americans abroad having more to do with sex than security. Giving “information sharing” new meaning, officers would tag the conversations and pass them around to their fellow intelligence officers.

According to

David Murfee Faulk

, a former Arab linguist for the Navy, he’d be told by another soldier, “Hey, check this out, there’s good phone sex…pull up this call, it’s really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say ‘Wow, this was crazy.'” A linguist with the Army Reserves assigned to the NSA told of listening in on hundreds of conversations of Americans abroad, including many workers for the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.

The administration’s response was predictable: A spokesman for Gen.

Michael Hayden

, head of the NSA at the time these incidents occurred, asserted that “the notion that General Hayden sanctioned or tolerated illegalities of any sort is ridiculous on its face.” Really? Isn’t Hayden the man who oversaw the NSA spying program at a time when the whole program was criminal on its face because it violated Congress’s criminal prohibition on any foreign intelligence electronic surveillance undertaken outside the purview of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act?

In July, Congress amended FISA to authorize the NSA to conduct massive electronic surveillance with no individualized suspicion or warrant, so long as the surveillance is targeted at people or organizations believed to be located abroad and the purpose is to gather foreign intelligence. Under this bill, the collection and sharing of “pillow talk” calls by Americans overseas with their spouses or lovers back home would be perfectly lawful.

Defenders of the NSA spy program have often dismissed critics with the argument that if you’re not talking to Osama bin Laden about plans to blow up a shopping mall, you have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. But the latest revelations make clear that we all have something to fear when government officials are authorized to intercept our most private forms of communication without the safeguards of a judicial warrant based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. Privacy is an invaluable aspect of our everyday lives, not just a tool for those committing or planning crimes. And when government programs abandon their focus on suspected illegality, as the NSA spy program did–and as the new Attorney General guidelines for FBI investigations, released October 3, do–“pillow talk” is no longer something between spouses or lovers but between spouses, lovers and General Hayden.   DAVID COLE


A little-known bill languishing in the House Judiciary Committee could spare some 20,000 undocumented Haitian immigrants the ordeal of returning to a country crippled by storms and food shortages. The Haitian Protection Act of 2007 would allow Haitians currently residing in the United States to apply for “temporary protection status” (TPS)–a quasi amnesty for immigrants from politically or environmentally unstable countries. When Congressman

Alcee Hastings

introduced the legislation in January 2007, he cited the country’s ongoing political unrest and devastation from tropical storm Jeanne in 2004.

The recent barrage of storms have further ravaged Haiti’s already fragile infrastructure. Flash flooding has washed out roads and bridges, drowned crops and displaced as many as 1 million people. The country is in no shape to absorb deportees.

Late last month, Hastings testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s hearing on disaster relief for Haiti, insisting that TPS was a necessary part of the package. Shortly after, the Congressman, backed by thirty-one of his colleagues, sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary

Michael Chertoff

requesting TPS for Haitians. For now, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has temporarily suspended deporting Haitians. The agency did the same thing after Jeanne and then recommenced expatriation a year later. Haiti was unstable then, as it will likely be in the coming year.   DANIELLE DOUGLAS

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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