Another Swing and a Miss for Congress

 

by Walter Brasch

           A federal grand jury last week indicted retired pitcher Roger Clemens on charges he lied to Congress.

           In February 2008, Clemens, a seven time Cy Young winner, voluntarily met with a House committee and testified he didn't knowingly use steroids or human growth hormones. The only evidence against Clemens appears to be the testimony of his former trainer, Brian McNamee, who claims to have injected Clemens with the drugs about 40 times between 1998 and 2001. Clemens says he was led to believe the injections were Vitamin B-12 and an anesthetic, Lidocaine, both legal under Major League Baseball guidelines. McNamee cut a deal with the Department of Justice to avoid prosecution. Clemens could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.

           Probably half the country thinks Clemens took illegal drugs. Probably half the country thinks he didn't take the drugs and was set up by his trainer. But that's not the important issue.

           First of all, does anyone know why the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform even held a hearing about steroid usage among baseball players? Was there a dry spell and the Committee couldn't find anything in the government that needed to be reformed?

           If the committee thought public figures taking illegal drugs was bad, why didn't it look inside itself first? If it did, there would be a high probability it could easily have found members of Congress and their staffs who also took steroids, snorted coke, or mainlined harder drugs. Stoned and wasted Congressional staffers pose a greater danger to society than any athlete.

           This is the same body of legislators who created the House Unamerican Activities Committee in the early 1950s to strip Americans of their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association. It also ordered contempt of Congress charges and perjury against witnesses who told the truth—but not what Congress wanted to hear.

           This is the Congress that in 1994 didn't ask for convictions for perjury for any of the seven CEOs of major tobacco companies who testified under oath that nicotine wasn't addictive. But that, and much more, is history. The present 21st century Congress has much more to answer about its actions.

           This is the Congress that ran in fearful circles, put its tail between its legs and in 2001 passed the PATRIOT Act, which stripped Americans of six Constitutional amendments and the constitutional right of habeas corpus. Four years later, Congress reauthorized the Act to prevent several sections from automatically expiring. The terrorists had done their job well—they put so much fear into Americans that the Americans created their own terrorism.

           This is the Congress that failed to question the Bush–Cheney administration's claims of why it needed to spend about a trillion dollars and invade Iraq.

           This is a Congress that was slow to respond to well-documented evidence that the U.S. was committing torture—and which, against the professional advice of the CIA and FBI, housed large numbers of elected legislators who saw nothing wrong with torturing those who may or may not have been terrorists, the election year "buzzword."

           This is a Congress that had provided negligent oversight of companies that provided billions of dollars worth of service in the war zone—and fraudulently overbilled the taxpayers.

           This is the same Congress that allowed the banking and investment industries to make billions by scamming Americans, gave multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses to its senior management, and helped bring about the greatest recession since the 1920s.

           This is the Congress that by negligence allowed lax oversight of environmental regulations.

           This is the same Congress that was blind to the Bush–Cheney administration's failure to properly regulate the oil industry, and probably should be considered to be an unindicted co-conspirator in the BP oil spill.

           This is the same Congress that has allowed a Republican minority to become the street bully and block needed legislation, including legislation to assist small business. But because of a weak Democratic response and archaic procedures, the entire Congress must suffer a black eye.

           This is the same Congress that did pass health reform, but allowed itself to be sunk by the fear of a Republican filibuster that what was passed was a watered-down version of what was necessary.

           There are so much more important issues than investigating steroid usage among millionaire athletes that it is easy to believe that Congress muffed its responsibility to the American people by its righteous political gesturing to make voters believe their elected officials actually cared about health.

           If Congress is so upset that others lied to them and the American people, maybe it could ask the FBI to investigate and the Department of Justice to bring indictments against not only some of its own members but also some members of the Bush–Cheney administration.

           [Dr. Brasch is author of America's Unpatriotic Acts, the first major book to expose the Constitutional violations of the USA PATRIOT Act. He is also author of critically-acclaimed books about the Bush Administration (Sinking the Ship of State), and Hurricane Katrina ('Unacceptable'). His current book is the witty and probing investigation of the mass media (Sex and the Single Beer Can.) All books are available at amazon.com and other sites.]

 

 

 

Feds may have held off Arizona law, but border law gets the green light

From Restore Fairness blog. Although a federal judge struck down on some of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070’s major provisions in a critical victory, the untrue notion that Washington has lost control of the border remains. Within this atmosphere of hate and misinformation, President Obama signed a $600 million bill that increases appropriations for border security in a piecemeal approach to immigration reform, leading to profound disappointment at Congress’s decision to propose, promote, and pass border enforcement bill HR 6080. 

There's more...

More Warrantless Searches on Their Way

First, the background courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union:

The National Security Letter provision of the Patriot Act radically expanded the FBI's authority to demand personal customer records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions and credit companies without prior court approval.

Through NSLs the FBI can compile vast dossiers about innocent people and obtain sensitive information such as the web sites a person visits, a list of e-mail addresses with which a person has corresponded, or even unmask the identity of a person who has posted anonymous speech on a political website. The provision also allows the FBI to forbid or "gag" anyone who receives an NSL from telling anyone about the record demand. Since the Patriot Act was authorized in 2001, further relaxing restrictions on the FBI's use of the power, the number of NSLs issued has seen an astronomical increase.

The Justice Department's Inspector General has reported that between 2003 and 2006, the FBI issued nearly 200,000 NSLs. The inspector General has also found serious FBI abuses of the NSL power. The ACLU has challenged this Patriot Act statute in court in three cases.

Today, the Washington Post reported that the Obama Administration is seeking "to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual's Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation." According to the Post, the Administration wants to amend the existing section of the law that covers National Security Letters (NSLs) by adding "four words -- 'electronic communication transactional records' -- to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge's approval."

Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user's browser history. It does not include, the lawyers hasten to point out, the "content" of e-mail or other Internet communication.

But what officials portray as a technical clarification designed to remedy a legal ambiguity strikes industry lawyers and privacy advocates as an expansion of the power the government wields through so-called national security letters. These missives, which can be issued by an FBI field office on its own authority, require the recipient to provide the requested information and to keep the request secret. They are the mechanism the government would use to obtain the electronic records.

Stewart A. Baker, a former senior Bush administration Homeland Security official, said the proposed change would broaden the bureau's authority. "It'll be faster and easier to get the data," said Baker, who practices national security and surveillance law. "And for some Internet providers, it'll mean giving a lot more information to the FBI in response to an NSL."

This is the sort of thing that drives civil libertarians on the left to despair and frustration. What the FBI and the Obama Administration want is to force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to turn over information about a user's traffic habits without a warrant. I have to ask just how difficult is it to seek a warrant? I understand the number of NSLs is now running at 30,000 to 50,000 a year but civil libertarians remain concerned after a 2007 Inspector General report found numerous possible violations of FBI regulations, including the issuance of NSLs without having an approved investigation to justify the request.

Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic has more on the implications and the potential for abuse.

False hype about crime in border cities has tragic implications

From the Restore Fairness blog.

On June 7th, a Border Patrol agent allegedly shot and killed Sergio Adrián Hernández Huereca, a 14- year old Mexican boy in El Paso, Texas. While exact details of the incident remain murky, the FBI said that the shooting was prompted when border patrol agents were assaulted by rock throwers across the Mexican border. Even though no border patrol agent was injured, T.J. Bonner, the president of the union representing Border Patrol agents released a statement saying that given the common occurrence and potential danger of rock throwing incidents at the border, he classified it as a “deadly force encounter” that “justifies the use of deadly force.” Susan Lee, American director of Amnesty International condemned the shooting of the young boy saying-

This shooting across the border appears to have been a grossly disproportionate response and flies in the face of international standards which compel police to use firearms only as a last resort, in response to an immediate, deadly threat that cannot be contained through lesser means.

Following condemnation from the Mexican President and government and from civil rights groups in the US, the FBI has launched a full scale investigation into the shooting. At this point it is still not known whether the boy was even involved in the rock throwing. This incident comes only weeks after Anastacio Hernandez, a 32- year old father of five U.S. born children, was hit in the stomach with a baton and then shocked with a stun gun fired by a Customs and Border Protection officer at the San Ysidro border crossing when he resisted being deported. Once again, the officers involved were completely unharmed and insisted that their use of force was necessary given the situation. Last week, the San Diego County coroner ruled his death a homicide.

Speaking to CNN, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley acknowledge that the death of the young Mexican boy is not an isolated incident and committed to a fully transparent, large-scale investigation. He said that the only long-term solution to tragic incidents like these was the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

Instead of working towards comprehensive immigration reform, the White House has succumbed to political pressure to increase immigration enforcement. This tragic incident occurs in the wake of the White House decision to add $500 million to border enforcement and send 1200 more troops to “secure the border” against so-called waves of violence at the border. Bipartisan members of Congress wrote to President Obama about the “urgent” need for increased border enforcement saying-

Violence in the vicinity of the U.S.-Mexico border continues to increase at an alarming rate. We believe that this violence represents a serious threat to the national security of the United States as well as a serious threat to U.S. citizens that live along the 1,969-mile long border.

In spite of numerous reports that constantly disprove such hype about increased border crime rates, politicians continue to take recourse to it time and again. As politicians like John McCain and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer insist on the need for increased enforcement at the border to protect U.S. citizens from crime committed by immigrants, a recent FBI report obtained by the Associated Press on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act has found that the top four safest big cities in the U.S. are all in the border states. According to the new FBI report, San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin are big cities that have the lowest rates of violent crime in the U.S. With respect to killings at the hands of U.S. Border Patrol it is important to note a Customs and Border Protection report that shows that Border agents face far less danger than local law enforcement in most U.S. cities. From the Associated Press:

The Customs and Border Protection study, obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request, shows 3 percent of Border Patrol agents and officers were assaulted last year, mostly when assailants threw rocks at them. That compares with 11 percent of police officers and sheriff’s deputies assaulted during the same period, usually with guns or knives. In addition, violent attacks against agents declined in 2009 along most of the border for the first time in seven years.

In the face of concrete research, evidence and admissions from U.S. Border and Customs personnel themselves stating that the southern U.S. “border is safer now than it’s ever been,” is it astonishing that politicians and lawmakers continue to use the myth of the “immigrant threat” to safety as justification for increased immigration enforcement. Arizona Gov. Brewer, who signed off on the draconian anti-immigrant law, SB1070, made numerous statements justifying the law that relied on the myth of widespread crimes being perpetrated as a result of immigration at the border. Before her meeting with President Obama to express her frustration at the Federal Government’s lack of action in securing the border, Gov. Brewer told the press-

We are out here on the battlefield getting the impact of all this illegal immigration, and all the crime that comes with it.

A few days ago we brought you concrete statistics proving that Arizona’s “crime wave” is nothing but racist hype and fear-mongering. Research released by the Immigration Policy Center proves that immigrants are, in fact, less likely to commit crime than non-immigrants, with crime rates being lowest in cities with El Paso, Texas, with a high population of undocumented immigrants. El Paso, where 14-year old Sergio Adrián Hernández Huereca was killed, is one of the poorest and safest cities in the United States.

It would be useful if lawmakers and politicians took note of police chiefs from around the country who have taken a stance against the implementation of SB1070, Arizona’s new law. 8 police chiefs, including two from Arizona, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on May 27 to urge the Department of Justice to put a stop to SB1070, which they believe will make their jobs harder by diverting resources away from policing actual crime and eroding the trust between the community and local police; trust that is necessary for effective law enforcement. It is surprising that more local law enforcement officials have not spoken out against laws such as SB1070. On June 10th, 55 organizations in NYC, including us at Breakthrough, signed a letter to NYPD chief Raymond Kelly urging him to break his silence and publicly condemn SB1070 just as New York Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council has done.

With states like Arizona taking immigration law into their own hands, and the Federal Government pushing an enforcement only approach appeases politicians and invests in border security and partnerships between Federal immigration officials and local law enforcement, valuable time and energy is being diverted away from the only sustainable solution- humane and comprehensive immigration reform.

Photo courtesy of the elpasotimes.com

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Smog Alert: Hot Air in Congress Could Block Gitmo's Closing

It was an odd sequence of events.

First, on Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed a bill to stop the Obama administration from purchasing a new prison that could house detainees now at the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay under lock and key here in the United States.

Then on Friday, just as the Memorial Day weekend got underway, the House of Representatives voted to stop the president from transferring any of the Guantanamo detainees to the United States for any reason - including a trial.

But then on Saturday, the Washington Post reported that actually, only about 10 percent of the 240 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay when President Obama took office were "leaders, operatives and facilitators involved in plots against the United States." The majority were merely low-level fighters. About 5 percent of the prisoners couldn't be categorized as anything at all.

The report was based on the findings of the administration's Guantanamo Review Task Force, provided to the administration last January. Those findings were never released publicly, and only sent to select committees on Capitol Hill last week. The administration reportedly didn't share the information earlier because, in the wake of the failed Christmas-day bombing attempt, members of Congress had displayed little to no interest in closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Last week's events reveal that many members of Congress continue to show little interest in the real facts about Guantanamo and the detainees held there. How else to explain the stubborn refusal to allow any of them to touch United States soil, even to stand trial, regardless of whether there's any reason to believe that they're actually terrorists?

The Obama administration's task force that deemed most of them low-level foot soldiers was made up of more than 60 career professionals -- including intelligence analysts, law enforcement agents and prosecutors. They reviewed capture information, interview reports, CIA, FBI and NSA records, as well as files on the detainees' behavior since their imprisonment. Notably, the Bush administration hadn't even bothered to look at much of this evidence, the task force reported, so last year was the first time it had been systematically compiled and reviewed. Senior officials from six different agencies, including the defense department and Homeland Security, approved the task force's findings.

Still, that seems to be having little impact on the 282 lawmakers who voted to ban them all from coming to the U.S. for trial. Many persist in portraying all of the 180 remaining detainees as "the worst of the worst," as former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld called them.

"We can't stop every terrorist from coming to the United States but we can stop the ones that are coming from Guantanamo," said Rep. Randy J. Forbes, the Virginia Republican who offered the House amendment prohibiting the movement of detainees to the United States.

Meanwhile, a long list of retired military leaders have said that keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention center open threatens national security, rather than improving it.

While members of Congress blow hot air about threats they imagine from suspected terrorists confined in Supermax prisons on U.S. soil, they continue to ignore some very real national security dangers that they have the ability to do something about. As the New York Times pointed out over the weekend, Congress has failed to streamline its oversight of national intelligence and refused to prohibit or even adequately regulate companies' use of toxic gases that could easily be weaponized by terrorists for use in a future attack.

It's high time for lawmakers to stop posturing around imaginary threats, which prevents the federal government from bringing actual terrorists to justice and releasing those who don't deserve to be in prison. That - coupled with tackling tangible threats to homeland security that loom right here in our own country - would be the real way to enhance U.S. national security.

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