Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

President_Barack_ObamaUnknownThe Brennan Center is an impressive public interest organization with an equally impressive staff of lawyers who advocate for legal reforms. While widely viewed as a liberal and pro-Obama organization, it often offers well-reasoned and compelling legal analysis. It is out of this respect for its work that I have to take a moment to criticize an aspect of its recent publication of “15 Executive Actions” for President Obama to take to counter opponents in Congress. Authors Michael Waldman and Inimai M. Chettiar are both highly credible and respected individuals in this field. I clearly do not agree with them on their view of Obama’s unilateral actions. I recently testified (here and here and here) and wrote a column on President Obama’s increasing circumvention of Congress in negating or suspending U.S. laws. However, one argument appears to have become a “talking point” with the White House and, in my view, should not appear in any serious academic or legal analysis: the simple comparison of the number of executive orders by presidents as a measure of their relative circumvention of Congress.

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1369987959_USAIDOur government has long seemed to be descending into a type of Orwellian universe of double speak. The Libyan War was not a war but a “time-limited, scope-limited military action” under Obama. Torture of detainees was not torture but “enhanced interrogation” under Bush. Now it appears open bribery of foreign officials is not bribery but “incentives” to implement policies favorable to their own people. Congressional members are moving to address what is being called a “slush fund” with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) where millions are paid to political figures in foreign countries. We have previously discussed such payments by the CIA to the openly corrupt Afghanistan government, including suitcases of cash to President Helmit Karzai. What is most interesting is that an act that is a federal crime for citizens doing business abroad can be not only legal but an official program by government officials. It appears that in the handshake shown on the USAID seal, there is often a sawbuck or two in the palm.

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article-2599165-1CEA7EA000000578-754_306x423220px-Vance_McAllister,_Official_Portrait,_113th_CongressThis week, U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister was faced with the scandalous release of a security video to his kissing his married aide, Melissa Anne Hixon Peacock, at his office in Louisiana. That would normally be the stuff of scandal, but it is even worse when you are married and ran as a religious conservative. McAllister went public with an apology to everyone (except personally to Peacock’s husband who is now divorcing his wife). He asked forgiveness but is now demanding an investigation to potentially jail whoever revealed his conduct: a curious path for a self-proclaimed redemptive sinner.

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article-0-1CC4CE2700000578-597_306x423article-0-1CC4CE2200000578-659_306x423There is a disturbing case out of Northern Virginia where Braulio Castillo, the CEO of a computer company, is accused of beating his wife and then hanging her from the ceiling to make it look like a suicide. Castillo has been under investigation by Congress over $500 million in contracts secured through a special service-disabled veteran status law.

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250px-Michael_Hayden,_CIA_official_portrait225px-dianne_feinstein_official_senate_photoFormer CIA and National Security Agency director Michael Hayden has long been the face and voice of the growing security state within the United States. While many of his representations have been challenged, he continues (like Dick Cheney) to create his own reality to justify powers viewed as authoritarian and unlawful. Now, with the approaching release of a comprehensive report on the torture program, Hayden is out in the press denying the findings of the report that torture did not result in any meaningful new intelligence and that the CIA tortured people who were already cooperating with conventional (and legal) interrogations. Hayden took to the airways to champion torture by attacking the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D, Cal.) and said that she was just being “emotional” and should not be involved in such a serious debate.

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ChiefsThere is an interesting story below on the nationwide trend of Native American tribes to exclude potentially thousands from membership on the basis of their not being “Indian enough.” Critics charge that the move comes as casino profits have increased and tribes are seeking to increase per capita payouts by reducing their membership rolls. Tribes insist that they are simply trying to police their ranks and reinforce their tribal identities. This has left it as a fight over whether the rejections are driven by casinos or culture.

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250px-46_Dick_Cheney_3x4A secret recording has surfaced of Vice President Dick Cheney speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition where he held forth on various subjects — assuming that the session was closed to the public and press. Cheney appears to be intent on, again, revising history to get people to embrace a security state. You may recall how Cheney (who is often cited as a potential defendant in a torture prosecution) publicly assuring the nation that the Bush torture program produced valuable intelligence. That assertion has been previously dismissed by experts and insiders. However, as we discussed recently, the forthcoming Senate Report goes into great deal to show that not only is that assertion untrue but that the CIA actively sought to hide the fact that the torture program produced insignificant intelligence (and that detainees were tortured despite their cooperation in conventional interrogations). Cheney is now fighting to defend the massive surveillance of citizens — again dismissing even the concessions of intelligence officials about abuses and violations under the program. Cheney told a rapturous crowd that all such accounts were “hogwash.” He further pumped the crowd with support for an attack on Iran to add yet another war to our current international conflicts.

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CIAsenate_large_sealWe previously discussed how CIA officials were accused of trying to intimidate Senate staffers working on an investigation into allegations of torture and lies by the agency officials. Now the details of that still classified report have been leaked to the media. For the Senate Intelligence Committee (long accused of being a rubber stamp for intelligence agencies), the report is quite damning. The Senate found a pattern of misinformation knowingly released by the CIA to convince the public that its torture program yielded valuable intelligence — and new forms of torture that have never been previously confirmed. What is most striking however is what is not in the report: a recommendation for criminal prosecution. Indeed, consistent with its past approach to intelligence abuses, the Committee does not recommend any action be taken against a single CIA official.

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President_Barack_Obama220px-Nytimes_hqI recently wrote a column on the wholesale attack on press freedoms under President Obama that parallel his attack on other civil liberties and privacy principles (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). I testified on the erosion of press freedom under President George W. Bush but the assault on the free press has worsened under President Obama while Democratic members and supporters remain conspicuously silent. Reporters have not been so silent or reticent and have repeatedly tried to educate citizens of the danger to press freedoms under this President. Now one of the most respected journalists in the country, New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Risen, has declared that the Obama Administration is the greatest threat to a free press in a generation.

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw) Weekend Contributor

If the title of this piece shocks you, I apologize.  On second thought, I won’t apologize for asking a legitimate question about a prominent politician who has made his proposals to harm the poor and middle class and give tax cuts to the wealthy his calling card in the conservative movement. Recently, Rep. Ryan made a statement about the people who inhabit the inner city claiming that those residents are less than motivated to work for a living.

‘ “Paul Ryan triggered a firestorm of recrimination this week. Speaking recently on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America radio program, the Wisconsin Republican and self-styled budget wonk linked poverty to “this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” ‘ Bill Moyers

It seems obvious to me who Paul Ryan is talking about here. What do you think he is saying here?    Of course, Mr. Ryan tried to walk back from the statements, but how can you unring this bell? (more…)

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NeildeGrasseTyson - CopySubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Weekend Contributor

Last week, I wrote a post titled “Cosmos” Host Neil deGrasse Tyson Speaks Out about the News Media, Flat Earthers, Science Deniers, Climate Change Skeptics, Religion, and Dogma. Tysonan astrophysicist, director of the Natural History Museum’s Hayden Planetarium in New York City, and the host of Fox Networks’ new science series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odysseyappeared on a multi-part series on Moyers and Company in January. Tyson and Bill Moyers explored a variety of topicsincluding the nature of an expanding, accelerating universe (and how it might end), the difference between “dark energy” and “dark matter,” the concept of God in cosmology and why science matters.

In the final episode of the series—which I’ve posted below the fold—the two men discuss science literacy and why it’s so critical to the future of our democracy, our economy, and our country’s standing in the world. Their discussion lasts about twenty minutes.

 

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President_Barack_ObamaUnknownRemember that politician around 8 years ago who promised the most transparent Administration ever? Well, long ago, President Obama distinguished himself by withholding documents, pictures, and documents from the public and Congress. This includes the withholding of photos for the simple reason that they will embarrass the government or be used by critics like the pictures of Osama Bin Laden. (In the case of Bin Laden, it appears that the account glamorized in movies like Zero Dark Thirty may not be true and that U.S. forces allegedly riddled the body of Bin Laden with countless bullets, according to a new report). However, the Administration has gone well beyond the simply embarrassing. It has defied Congress in refusing to turn over documents to oversight committees, prompting a vote to demand that Attorney General Eric Holder be prosecuted for obstruction. (The Administration then prevented prosecutors from acting on the charge). A new analysis by the Associated Press shows what is already well known in Washington, President Obama has created the least transparent presidency in decades. The AP found that the Obama administration more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.
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By Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

AP090422054982.jpgWell, Captain Phillips hit the small screen at the end of January and the DVD supposedly captures everything good in America. Courageous sea-captain battles ruthless Somali pirates to save crew and cargo bound for parts unknown. Navy sharpshooters end hostage stand-off with might and right. Danish shipping line, Maersk, vindicated for its caution in protecting its freight. All hunky dory!  Hunky, that is , until you start asking why are all those Maersk container ships floating oh so near the coast of East Africa and into harm’s way. Well, a significant number of them are carrying food aid from the U.S. to the nutrition-deprived people on the African continent and getting a hefty above-market price in return.  Still, you must ask, what’s wrong with that — corporate citizen conducting a business that helps people and makes a profit for its shareholders. All’s right with the world, everyone must agree. Not every one.

A new article in Foreign Policy Magazine details the intense fight Maersk Lines is waging in the halls of Congress to scuttle a key feature of this year’s farm bill. That provision would likely feed a conservatively estimated 2-4 million more souls and perhaps up to 10 million. Yet, Maersk and its flotilla of lobbyists is fighting it tooth and nail. To understand why, you have to understand the basis and process of America’s food aid program and acquaint yourself with the history.

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Weekend Contributor

This session the record is 7-1.  Since October of 2011, the record is 28 wins and 4 losses. That is a record that any team would be proud of and evidence of a significant amount of work and effort to improve its performance on the court.  However, I am not talking about any particular basketball team currently involved in March Madness and the upcoming NCAA Men’s Basketball tourney.

I am talking about the record a team called The United States Chamber of Commerce has in cases it has argued or filed a brief in front of the Supreme Court.  Even Coach K or Coach Izzo would be jealous of that record. (more…)

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President_Barack_ObamaI recently testified (here and here and here) and wrote a column on President Obama’s increasing circumvention of Congress in negating or suspending U.S. laws. This week, President Obama went even further with the announcement of a new sweeping exemption that not only has no foundation in the federal law but directly contradicts the law. It also happens (again) to be a change debated but not accepted by Congress. The exemption appears an effort to blunt growing criticism of Obama for a false assurance given to citizens before the enactment of the ACA. It is also coming at a time of new polls indicating that Obama is not only hitting a record low in popularity but Republicans appear poised to gain seats in both houses (and potentially could retake the Senate as well as add seats in the House). [Update: The White House is now denying that it will implement the hardship exemption despite the article in the Wall Street Journal and other media]

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225px-dianne_feinstein_official_senate_photoCIAWe have previously discussed the irony of Senator Dianne Feinstein expressing outrage over the fact that her staff was subject to warrantless CIA surveillance. Feinstein’s outrage over the spying on her staff is only matched by her lack of outrage over the spying on the rest of America. However, she does have an good point to raise with regard to the role of one lawyer who seems to be dancing along the edge of both ethical and legal standards. He is the acting CIA general counsel Robert Eatinger who is believed to have played a large role in the programs and actions under investigation. Eatinger is well known to civil libertarians as someone involved in past abuses by the agency.

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220px-Nytimes_hqSupreme CourtBelow is a longer version of my column that ran today in USA Today. The column was originally written for a longer format but had to be reduced to fight the page. The column looks at state of the Fourth Estate on the 50th anniversary of the decision in New York Times v. Sullivan. I do not wish to understate the threat against the media in 1964 but it is hard to overstate the threat against the media in 2014.

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Screen-Shot-2013-03-01-at-1.19.00-PMYouTube was posted a bizarre melee that erupted at a fashion show and competition where tables and chairs became weapons between disgruntled onlookers. One woman, showing remarkable strength, actually tosses a huge table across the room. What is fascinating is that not a single criminal charge was filed despite the clear video and evidence of assault and public disturbance.

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220px-US_Capitol_Building_at_night_Jan_2006248px-WhiteHouseSouthFacade.JPGBelow is my column in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. I recently testified on this issue in three separate hearings before Congress (here and here and here). Last week, President Obama proceeded to add yet another suspension order to the health care law. It is part of a broader array of such unilateral actions that raise disturbing constitutional issues under the Separation of Powers. This goes beyond the usual discretion in “filing in the blanks” or ambiguities of laws. These were not delegated or unanswered questions. These were largely core issues — dates and coverage issues — that were the subject of intense congressional debate. Indeed, in a number of cases, President Obama asked for reforms and was denied the changes by Congress — only to order the very same reforms by executive action. That is why this is not an administrative law but a constitutional law issue in my opinion.

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Weekend Contributor

As the son of a fallen Air Force pilot whose remains were never found, I am sensitive to the plight of family members of servicemen and women whose remains may be recoverable, but yet are still not identified.  There are multiple military and defense department agencies who are responsible for locating and identifying the remains of veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam and Cold War missions.

The purpose of this article is to examine the efforts of just one of those agencies.  The Joint Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command, or J-PAC, is an example of an agency that is crucial to both locating and identifying remains, but because of bureaucratic constraints, outdated methods and the possible stubbornness of its scientific head, has produced very little results at a very expensive cost to the taxpayers. (more…)

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225px-dianne_feinstein_official_senate_photoCIAThe CIA is in a rare confrontation with the Senate Intelligence Committee, a committee widely viewed as a rubber stamp for the intelligence community and headed by Senator Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein has been ridiculed for her defense of the intelligence services, attacks on whistleblowers, and support for the expansion of surveillance operations. Feinstein also helped cover up past intelligence scandals from the torture program to the recent alleged perjury by National Intelligence Chief James Clapper. After dismissing concerns over the surveillance of ordinary citizens, Feinstein is now dealing with surveillance of her own committee and staff. Staff members allege that the CIA violated core constitutional and statutory protections by monitoring their computers in an oversight investigation. The CIA has accused Senate staff members of sneaking out classified documents — documents that the staff say prove that the CIA lied to the Committee in its investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogation and detention program.

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Weekend Contributor

The Fifth Amendment protects all United States citizens by guaranteeing us all the right of due process of law. The Fifth Amendment is meant to ensure that the government has to at least prove to a court that a citizen is guilty of any crime that he or she is charged with.

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Cornell Law

Without the Fifth Amendment, the government could grab any citizen off the street and proceed to jail them or execute them without a trial of any kind where the accused could mount a defense to the government’s charges.  It seems that the Obama Administration is once again in the process of deciding whether it will unilaterally execute an American citizen believed to living in Pakistan.  Or at least, preparing us for a kill decision that they have already made. (more…)

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260px-capitol_building_full_viewYesterday’s hearing on legislative and executive powers before the Judiciary Committee has generally a great deal of media and blog discussion. However, one of the more curious takes was written by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post. Entitled “Activism on the Court? GOP Wants To Be The Judge,” the article portrays the hearing as a hypocritical and “newfound love of activist judges.” Having testified at the hearing, I was mystified by the spin on the hearing. Ironically, Milbank was criticized in the hearing by a member for allegedly distorting a prior hearing’s content and focus — an issue that we discussed in December. In a tense moment, Milbank (who was sitting a few feet from the members at the press table) was criticized for his prior column where he portrayed a Judiciary hearing as largely about impeaching President Obama. He was challenged as misrepresenting that hearing which contained only passing reference to impeachment as one of the various options left to Congress by the framers in serious conflicts with presidents. This now appears a continuing battle between the columnist and the Committee that will only grow more intense with this latest column. Here is the video link to the testimony so you can reach your own conclusions.

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BobCorkerSubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Weekend Contributor

Last week, Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee “ramped up his anti-union rhetoric” in hopes of persuading workers at Volkswagen AG’s plant in Chattanooga to vote against representation by the United Auto Workers. According to Reuters, on February 12th, Corker said he had been “assured” that if workers at the Volkswagen plant in his hometown rejected representation by UAW, the company would “reward the plant with a new product to build.” Bernie Woodall of Reuters said that Corker dropped that “bombshell” on the “first of a three-day secret ballot election of blue-collar workers” at the Chattanooga plant. The most troubling part—as I see it—is that Corker’s claim actually ran “counter to public statements by Volkswagen…”

The following day, Corker said that he was “very certain that if the UAW is voted down,” the automaker would announce new investment in the plant “in the next couple weeks.” It seems Corker hadn’t heard—or chose to ignore—a statement made earlier by Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW Chattanooga, “that there was ‘no connection’ between the vote at its three-year-old Tennessee plant and a looming decision on whether VW will build a new crossover vehicle there or in Mexico.”

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300px-The_Pentagon_January_2008We have yet another report of the mind boggling waste and mismanagement by the Defense Department in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. In the most recent investigation, the U.S. government continues to hand out no-bid contracts worth billions to companies with histories of ripping off the U.S. taxpayer. One foreign company, Supreme Foodservice should be remained Supreme Fraudservice after the company based in Switzerland overcharged the government by $757 million. Nevertheless, the company has been given contracts worth more than $5 billion to feed the troops in Afghanistan.

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220px-Mel_ReynoldsRemember former Chicago Representative Mel Reynolds? If you recall, he resigned from his congressional seat in 1995 after he was convicted of 12 counts of statutory rape, obstruction of justice and solicitation of child pornography. Well, he is back in the news after an arrest in Zimbabwe. You guessed it. He is charged with allegedly possessing pornographic material and violating immigration laws.

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President_Barack_ObamaNSA logo smallWe have previously discussed how many Democrats and liberals have stayed relatively silent as the Obama Administration has launched attacks on privacy, press freedoms, and civil liberties. In addition President Obama has engaged in military interventions, declared the right to kill citizens on his own authority, refused to investigate the U.S. torture program, and repeatedly violated the separation of powers. Now, we can add the violation of attorney-client privilege and confidentiality. Once again, the disclosure came as a result not of congressional oversight or Executive reforms, but the Snowden disclosures.

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170px-Sheep_shearingHoward “Jack” Aleff and Reena Slominski, of Knoxville, have been found guilty of receiving $303,890 in wool loans for unsheared sheep. The problem is that the sheep were not only not sheared, they did not exist. The couple told the government that they had the sheep in 132 fraudulent applications for loans for their company L & J Wool & Fur.

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Weekend Contributor

Is there anything more fundamental to a democracy or democratic republic then the ability of its citizens to vote for their representatives at every level of government?  The privilege or as many state, the right to vote is essential for citizens to control who is running the local and state and national governments and controlling what direction they want their community and country to go in.

As I write this article, there are groups and indeed, national political parties attempting to restrict the right to vote and restrict the early voting opportunities and attempting to restrict the ability of registered citizens to vote at all.  In the past few national elections, we all witnessed the horror stories of people waiting for hours in line to vote on election day.  Instead of increasing early voting days and installing additional voting machines in crowded precincts, just the opposite seems to be happening.  (more…)

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Submitted By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

FHP Stops MHP officerMany are aware of the incident in October of 2011 when the Florida Highway Patrol stopped a speeding Miami Police Department vehicle operating without emergency equipment, weaving through traffic and reaching speeds up to 120 MPH. The MPD officer driving claimed to be late for an off-duty assignment at an area school. The police officer was eventually fired by Miami PD. Dash-cam video was uploaded to Youtube and witnessed by many. The incident also made national headlines. The Miami PD officer involved had no emergent or law enforcement justification for driving at this speed and doing so without emergency lighting is considered hazardous. Dash-cam video quotes the trooper as saying one of the reasons for her concern was that a day prior a police vehicle was stolen and was involved in a tragic incident.

Now the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper, Donna Jane Watts, has filed a civil suit against several officers and police agencies alleging her driver license information had been unlawfully accessed and that she had been subjected to harassment by other law enforcement officers due the incident involving the Miami Police Department officer.
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President_Barack_ObamaWe have previously discussed the attack of President Obama on press freedom. As with the comprehensive attack on privacy, there has been little outcry from Democratic or liberal voters to the placing of journalists under surveillance or the treatment of reporters as potential criminals for receiving information from whistleblowers. Even those who express disappointment have not let these policies alter their continued support for the Administration. Many simply buy the White House argument that the other guys are worse. Well, international groups view the matter a bit more objectively and this month released a report that should be an utter embarrassment for every American. The United States — once the world champion of press freedoms — have called to forty-sixth in the world, according to the World Press Freedom Index. The drop is tied directly to the anti-media policies of President Obama.

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praying_hands[1]hurst_sIt appears that Alabama legislators want to trigger yet another legal challenge to the ban on prayer in public schools. A new piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford would require teachers to read a prayer every day. However, this bill has an interesting twist: it would have the teachers pick a prayer given in Congress. The point is obvious that if such prayers are permissible in one government setting, it must be permissible in this public setting. That assumption is misplaced and the timing for the bill may be as ill-conceived as its constitutional interpretation. There is a pending case dealing with legislative prayer before the Court and this controversy will only remind justices that the legislative prayer cases may collide with school prayer cases unless it draws a clear line in the constitutional sand. This however is an improvement for Hurst who has moved on to prayer from his prior interest in castration.

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President_Barack_ObamaUnknownPresident Obama has continued the practice of selling ambassadorship off to wealthy friends and donors — a practice that many used to denounce during Republican administration but has been dismissed with a shrug in this Administration. I have long been critical of the practice which places a president’s and a party’s interest ahead of that of the nation. I was at a dinner party a few years ago where an Obama donor spoke openly how the White House gave him an ambassadorship and he decided to just give it to his wife who he said is delighted that she is now called “ambassador” wherever she goes. As discussed this weekend, donor Noah Bryson Mamet has been nominated for ambassador to Argentia but has never even visited the country. This follows an embarrassing hearing with Obama bundler George Tsunis, who was nominated for ambassador to Norway. Tsunis showed as striking lack of knowledge of that country.

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Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

"To the victors belong the spoils" A. JacksonRecent nominations highlight the continuing spoils system of politicians returning favors for fundraising. A few appointments highlight this practice has not ended. Appointing the unqualified to the diplomatic service on the mere reward for political fundraising raises the question of importance our government places on foreign policy between the United States and other Nations. Some recent appointments highlight the fact that diplomatic credentials are not necessarily the most important criterion. (more…)

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Weekend Contributor

On February 7th, 2014, the sad reports were compiled from the deadly day before.  On Thursday, February 6th, at least 24 people were shot and 14 of them were killed.  Two of the dead were small children.  The shootings and killings were from cities and towns all across the country.  A 17 month old girl was accidentally shot by her 3 year old brother in North Carolina.

A 13-year-old was accidentally shot and killed while playing with a shotgun in the state of Washington.  In Seattle, Washington, a man was shot and killed by a fellow tenant.  A man in his 30′s was shot several times and critically wounded in Owasso, Oklahoma.  A 18 year man was shot and killed at his uncle’s home in South Carolina.  These and others were all wounded or killed by gunfire on February 6th, 2014.  Just one sad day out of many. (more…)

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228px-Picture_of_Edward_SnowdenMembers of Congress are shocked, shocked this week. No this Claude Rains moment was not over the hundreds of billions spent on unpopular wars or the creeping economy or the evisceration of civil liberties in America. No, that stuff is just fine. What had members struggling in front of reporters to avoid being sick in the halls of Congress was Edward Snowden. Yes, it is the latest classified hearing and the latest unclassified outrage to convince Americans that it is Snowden that they must fear despite polls saying that Americans fear their own government as much or more than terrorism. Thus, House Armed Services Committee members left the meeting and called again for Snowden to be captured and thrown in prison for life, if not executed. I previously wrote a column that a strong argument could be made for a presidential pardon, but the renewed effort to turn public opinion likely reflects a growing international view of Snowden as a whistleblower.

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225px-hamid_karzai_2004-06-14Our erstwhile ally Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is back reminding American citizens of the waste of thousands of dead and wounded U.S. soldiers and hundreds of billions of dollars. Karzai has refused to sign an agreement to keep a significant number of troops in the country for training and counter-insurgency operations — an agreement guaranteeing more U.S. losses in lives and treasure that the Obama Administration wants signed. Karzai however has been negotiating with the Taliban to force the U.S. out and return them to power in a sharing arrangement with this government. In the meantime, he is repeating his condemnations of the United States as a “colonial” power and alleged that insurgent attacks were actually staged by U.S. forces. I understand that the “enemy of our enemy is our friend” but what about the friend of our enemy?

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220px-Mumia03debo-adegbileThe confirmation hearing for Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has many of the standard elements and witnesses on Adegbile’s career as a lawyer and an advocate. One witness however is not like the other: Maureen Faulkner, the widow of a Philadelphia police officer gunned down in 1981. Now, Adegbile is not accused of gunning down Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner or even being an accomplice before or after the act. No, the witness is being called to suggest that Abegbile should not be confirmed because he represented the man convicted of the murder. Faulkner is being joined by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and the Fraternal Order of Police in saying that such representation is relevant in determining if he should be confirmed. It is move that strikes at the heart of the notion of the right to counsel and due process. Many law students become prosecutors because they fear that representing criminal defendants or controversial clients will bar or hinder their professional advancement while the presidents and members of Congress continue to favor prosecutors for judicial appointments (making the federal bench a sometime hostile place for criminal defense counsel).

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)–Weekend Contributor

In the years since the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War began, there have been some sizeable protests and demonstrations, but not quite to the level seen during the Vietnam War.  We have seen several significant protests during various economic and political summits and conventions in the United States and around the world, but they have been met with severe police crackdowns.  The Occupy Movement is one example of a long-term protest that on more than one occasion suffered through severe police restrictions and in some cases, brutal police tactics.

In response to the 9/11 attacks, the United States passed so-called anti-terror legislation that many claim have usurped and restricted personal liberties.  However, several  states also jumped on that bandwagon and passed their own anti-terror legislation. The State of Illinois is one of the states that passed its own anti-terror legislation and the use of that legislation prior to the NATO Summit meetings held in Chicago on May 20 and 21st, in 2012 is currently being litigated right now in Chicago in a criminal case brought against 3 protestors known as the NATO 3 under the Illinois anti-terror statute. (more…)

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USPostalServiceLogoSubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Weekend Contributor

Back in May 2012, I wrote a post titled Going Postal in Washington, D. C.: The USPS, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, Union Busting, and Paving the Road to Privatization. In it, I noted the main reason why the USPS is experiencing financial problems—a mandate included in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 that required the USPS to pre-fund employee healthcare benefits for seventy-five years…in just tenDarrell_Issa years time. That legislation was passed “on a voice vote by a lame duck Republican Congress.” As Josh Eidelson wrote in a March 2012 Salon article titled Congress’s war on the post office, the Postal Service’s greatest threat isn’t email or economics. He put the blame where it rightly belongs—on Congress. So did Jeanette P. Dwyer, president of the Rural Letter Carriers Association. Dwyer was quoted by the New York Times last November as saying, “Congress created the problems, and it can fix them by taking away the requirement that no other government agency or business has to face.”

This legislative requirement that the USPS must prefund healthcare benefits for three-quarters of a century in one decade means that it has had to cough up $5.5 billion annually since 2007—and will have to continue to do so through 2016. Congress has not required any other government entity or agency to do the same. Why has the Postal Service—an institution that provides valuable services to businesses and to millions and millions of Americans—been singled out? Why indeed…when one considers that the USPS does not receive any tax dollars? It relies on the sale of postage and other products and services to fund its operations.

Both Alison Kilkenny and Matt Taibbi think that the purpose of the legislation “was to break a public sector union and privatize the mail industry.”

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200px-Non_Commissioned_Officers_of_the_Afghan_National_ArmyWe have previously discussed the obscene amount of money — in the hundreds of billions — spent in Afghanistan and Iraq as we cancel or curtail educational, scientific, and environmental programs at home. The sheer waste and corruption in those countries is breathtaking. We can now add a five-year program where we have spent $200 million dollars to teach Afghan soldiers to read but is now considered a total failure — after almost a quarter of a billion dollars. As we discussed earlier, there is again no word of any actual discipline for the people that approved and managed this colossal failure.

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i83969661._szw270h3500_Washington has been rocked recently by the news of a high-ranking congressional staff, Jesse Ryan Loskarn, was arrested for possession of child pornography. Loskarn was the long-time director of the office of Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. He recently committed suicide by hanging himself. A letter has now been released where Loskarn explains his demise and his shame. In the letter, he refers to abuse as a child but does not identify the culprit. Psychiatrists have long documented the tendency of victims of child abuse to be drawn to child pornography. I was personally involved with such a case of a man with documented such abuse who downloaded such images — a reaction that a respected psychiatrist testified was extremely common. You may or may not believe the final account of Loshkarn but it is a striking letter from a man clearly struggling with the shame of his action.

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4e660720-2698-4db1-ba61-d8baef403de5_UnTVm-Em-138There are health care nightmares and then there is what happened to Eric Fergusan, 54, in North Carolina. Fergusan was bitten by a snake on the foot while putting out trash last August. He drove himself to the hospital and was given anti-venom medicine that can be purchased online for as low as $750. The bill” $89,227 bill for an 18-hour stay.

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220px-1973_Colt_AR15_SP1220px-Paul_Broun_Congressional_PortraitGOP Georgia congressman Paul Broun has a slight variation on Herbert Hoover’s 1928 presidential campaign of “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage?” Broun would like to add an AR-15 in every home or at least one home. Broun is offering a drawing to his supporters to win an AR-15 to show his unparalleled support for gun ownership.

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Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Contributor

Washington Legislative BuildingThe Washington State House of Representatives have crafted House Bill 2272 titled “The Fourth Amendment protection act” with the purported purpose of protecting state citizens from unwarranted collection of data that is provided to various agencies of the United States government without a search warrant. The act includes provisions that allow for a citizen to be arrested for complying with the U.S. government and sanctions local agencies and employees with even harsher penalties. One has to wonder which is a greater threat to individual liberty, the actions of the federal agencies targeted or this potential state law.
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755px-Jamie_Dimon,_CEO_of_JPMorgan_Chase

Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty-Weekend Blogger

In the past we have discussed the allegedly illegal and fraudulent practices of the Big Banks that helped bring the economy into Recession, but until now, we have not seen such a blatant example of how it pays for Big Banks to break the rules and get ahead at the same time.  As you may recall, JP Morgan Chase Bank recently agreed to a $13 Billion dollar settlement with the Justice Department for allegedly defrauding customers.  That sounds like a big number, but that was only part of the total fines and penalties JP Morgan Chase was liable to pay in 2013 due to its less than honorable business practices.

It may surprise you that after agreeing to the $13 Billion settlement and having to pay other large fines, the CEO of Chase is getting a big raise. An $8.5 Million dollar raise! (more…)

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NSA logo smallPresident_Barack_ObamaYesterday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board released a report concluding that the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance program is “illegal and largely ineffective.” The report agrees with a prior federal court ruling that the program is facially unconstitutional. President Obama continues to defend the program and refuse to end it. What is most notable is, like the earlier federal court, the board found no evidence of the program being used to prevent a single terrorist attack despite statements from the Administration claiming the contrary. Civil libertarians are often opposed by people claiming such success of classified programs. However, now a federal judge and a board with access have debunked such claims.

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125px-National_Football_League_2008.svg220px-Roger_Goodell_at_Super_Bowl_43There has long been a controversy over the tax-free status of the National Football League, which racks in massive profits while claiming to be a charity. The latest figures will only deepen that controversy. In 2012, the NFL gave only $2.3 million to charity and virtually all of that went to the NFL Hall of Fame. In the meantime, it gave NFL commissioner Roger Goodell $29.5 million for what many consider the greatest – and easiest — job in the world. Through creative bookkeeping, the NFL is also claiming to be actually in the red by some $316 million.

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Supreme CourtToday, the Supreme Court will consider a case that has not attracted national attention but remains in my view one of the most important of the term, a classic “sleeper” case where the legal issues have sweeping potential. The case involves Doyle Randall Paroline, who pleaded guilty in Texas in 2009 to possessing child pornography. He downloaded hundreds of images and two were found to be child pornography dedicating the abuse of Amy. After pleading guilty, Paroline was hit by $3.4 million in restitution damages for Amy even though he had no role in her victimization nine years earlier or any role in the production or distribution of the two photos. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the federal restitution law does not require “proximate causation” — a critical limitation in torts and criminal law that ensures that liability is confined to those parties immediately responsible for injuries. I have criticized the expansion of restitution in this area for years and I spoke with NPR’s On The Media on the case.

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210px-Seal_of_the_US_Air_Force.svgWe have been discussing how the U.S. military continues to waste billions with little accountability for failed programs or unneeded equipment. This includes tens of billions wasted in our ongoing wars. Much of this waste or lost resources has been covered up by intentional accounting tricks. No one appears to be disciplined, let alone fired, for billions of lost money and over-charges. And the beat goes on. The Senate Armed Services Committee has decided to actually investigate waste and is looking into a failed $1 billion software project for the U.S. Air Force that was implemented by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. It was scrapped after it was disclosed that we would have to spend an additional $1.1 billion just to fix the unused system.

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