Archive for May, 2009

Blogojevich-Burris Pay-to-Play: Chapter 2

If anyone still believed that Sen. Roland Burris, appointed in January to the Senate seat vacacted by now-President Barack Obama, was a rocket scientist, such misperception should be dispelled by the May 27th interview that Chris Matthews conducted with the senator on MSNBC’s “Hardball.”  The topic of the program was electronic surveillance tapes from November 2008 between former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s brother, Rob, and Roland Burris who at the time was seeking to have the then-governor appoint him to the Obama senate seat. 

While he successfully dodged allegations during his nomination process last winter that he was enmeshed in the “pay-to-play” scandal then enveloping Blagojevich, the recently released tapes of the Rob Blagojevich-Roland Burris conversations raise those allegations anew.  In fact, the most recent evidence indicates clearly that the then-senator wannabee engaged in discussions with the then-governor’s brother to raise money for the governor and to at …

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Sotomayor introduction lacking in substance

So President Barack Obama has nominated a liberal woman judge to replace Supreme Court Justice David Souter on the nation’s highest court. Clearly no surprise there. A careful analysis of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s judicial record will follow in a few days, but first, allow me to offer comment on yesterday’s public event at the White House at which the president formally announced his choice of Judge Sotomayor.

One of the first interesting things to note was the presence, for no apparent reason, of Vice President Joe Biden at the ceremony. Importantly, the veep said nothing audible to those present, and if the president and his staff are smart, they will do everything in their power to keep Biden from saying anything about the judge and the confirmation process until she is sworn in, robed, and ensconced in her office in the Supreme Court Building.

The president’s remarks in introducing Sotomayor were remarkable for what they did not say as well as for what he emphasized. …

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It’s time this drug ‘war’ ended

Even though the administration of President Obama has championed “change” as its hallmark, many of its domestic policy and funding programs reflect more a “continuation” of the big spending ways of his predecessor. However, in the area of drug control policy, early signs are that Obama is serious about charting a new course — and a better one.

Barely moved into his office in the nation’s capitol, Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, more commonly known as the office of the “drug czar,” signaled a bold change in direction and emphasis in the federal government’s long-running anti-drug program. In one of his first public statements, Kerlikowske officially jettisoned the term “War on Drugs” to describe the federal effort to combat mind-altering drugs. The short-hand nomenclature had been in common usage since 1971, when then-President Nixon first attached the term to the national anti-drug program.

Kerlikowske’s law enforcement career began …

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Irrational Fear Behind Guantanamo Detainee Decision

The manner in which grown men and women in the United States Congress are fretting over the possibility that some of the Guantanamo detainees may wind up being incarcerated in federal civilian and military prisons on the mainland, illustrates yet again how tight a grip FEAR has on public policy in post-911 America.

Earlier this week, the Senate blocked President Barack Obama’s request for $80 billion to begin the process of closing down the detention facility at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. Six Senate Democrats voted against the president, even though those same Democrats earlier had called on Obama to close the facility. The only reason for this bizarre behavior by members of the president’s own party (and many Republicans) was the fear that some of the 100 or so detainess the Secretary of Defense said would have to still be incarcerated in facilities elsewhere would in fact . . . be incarcerated elsewhere. This lack of faith in the ability of the Bureaus of Prisons …

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Cyber bill squelches speech, curtails liberty

The Internet — arguably the most empowering and important innovation of the modern era — is in danger of being stifled by the heavy hand of government control. Legislation now pending in the U.S. Senate would give the president, the Department of Commerce and other federal bureaucracies absolute power to define the Internet’s usage and to close it down at will.

While the “Cybersecurity Act of 2009” so far has only a few sponsors, it appears on a fast track for hearings, mark-up and passage.

This cybersecurity bill presents itself as a necessary and carefully considered response to a legitimate problem — the lack of adequate security measures for national security programs and infrastructure sectors. It is, however, a cyber-wolf in sheep’s clothing. As introduced by Democrat Jay Rockefeller and Republican Olympia Snowe, the legislation’s scope and power to reach every corner of the vast Internet system — including individual, private Internet usage — raises extremely troubling …

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FDA Needs to Get a Life

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) employs thousands of bureaucrats and spends billions of dollars annually in a supposed effort to ensure various food products, drugs and cosmetics are safe. However, like virtually every federal regulatory agency, the FDA has a pronounced tendency to take itself far too seriously, and to constantly overreach. It did this several years ago, for example, when it attempted to force a Georgia mother who had assembled a simple kit to afford parents a cheap and private way to test their children for illicit drug usage, to submit her home drug-testing kit to the FDA as a sophisticated “medical device” on par with a pacemaker heart device.

Well, those wild and crazy guys at FDA are at it again. Apparently some FDA regulator was pouring his kid or himself a bowl of Cheerios recently, and noticed that the box containing one of the most popular cereals of all time contained a claim that the product could help reduce cholesterol. Realizing that …

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Legalize Online Gambling

In 2006, the Congress which was then still controlled by the Republican Party, passed legislation (then signed by President George W. Bush) that explictly restricted internet gambling. The “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act” (UNIGEA) did this by prohibiting banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions from processing or transferring gambling-related funds. While the 2006 law has made it virtually impossible for people wishing to place bets online for any activity other than horse racing to do so lawfully in the US, online gambling remains a multi-billion dollar industry offshore and in other countries.

Recently, Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation that would largely nullify the effects of UNIGEA and legalize non-sports, online gambling. The GOP and many right-wing lobby groups such as Focus on the Family and the Christian …

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Protecting spies wasn’t meant to protect torture

In the mid-1970s I was a young analyst with the CIA. A friend then serving undercover as the station chief in a European country was gunned down by terrorists. His assassination followed unauthorized disclosure of his CIA identity by people opposed to American intelligence activities. Later spy scandals involving traitors Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen and others showed even more dramatically the devastating consequences of unauthorized disclosure of sensitive intelligence information.

This is the primary reason post-WW II era laws establishing the CIA provided extensive and unique authority for the CIA director to protect “intelligence sources and methods.”
In the 21st century, our country’s foreign intelligence capabilities are focused not against a major, adversary superpower such as the former Soviet Union , but against a variety of state and nonstate actors of more limited but still deadly capabilities. Clearly, however, the need for developing, using and maintaining …

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Flight 93 Memorial Victimizes Property Owners

More than 7-1/2 years after Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing 33 passengers and seven crew members on September 11, 2001, the tragedy is claiming more victims — this time, at the hands of the U.S. government. Because a number of landowners who own land at or near the crash site have not caved into government demands that they sell their land and the businesses located thereon to the government so the National Park Service can build a $58 million, 2,200-acre monument, the Justice Department is preparing to condemn the land and take it forcefully from the owners.

Leaving aside questions about why on earth the government (or anyone, for that matter) would need over two thousand acres and nearly $60 million for a simple monument — forcing landowners to sell their property to Uncle Sam for such a project is outrageous. Yet, thanks to the Congress two years ago enacting legislation authorizing such a condemnation, this is precisely what is …

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Who’s Watching The Watch Lists?

The FBI’s own Inspector General has just concluded a comprehensive study of the massive “Terrorist Watch List” maintained by the Bureau, and the results should worry us greatly. The report issued at the conclusion of the IG’s study describes a process of developing and maintaining the Watch List that is so flawed as to actually pose a “risk to national security.”

Let’s start with the basics. First of all, maintaining a watch list containing names and identifying information on persons who are known terrorists, suspected terrorists, or associates of known terrorists, makes sense. Such a list containing fewer than two dozen people — as was the case prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001 — would be a joke. But maintaining a list with more than 1,100,000 entires with only some 68,000 of those entries constituting “known or suspected terroriost identies” — which is what the current watch list is comprised of — is ridiculous. The first list was far too under-inclusive; the …

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