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“Once Again Senators”: Obama Prosecutes Terrorist Suspect And The “Little Generals” Complain Again

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and an al Qaeda spokesperson, appeared in a New York courtroom this morning, and pleaded not guilty to plotting to kill Americans. It was his first court appearance after having been captured on Feb. 28 and flown to New York last week.

Of course, there apparently has to be a political angle to the proceedings, and as Adam Serwer noted, several congressional Republicans are “furious” at the Obama administration for “prosecuting an alleged terrorist.” And why might that be? Because the GOP officials disapprove of the use of the federal court system.

Several Senate Republicans are slamming the administration’s to move its latest terror suspect through the federal court system, bypassing the military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. […]

“Military detention for enemy combatants has been the rule, not the exception. By processing terrorists like [Ghaith] through civilian courts, the administration risks missing important opportunities to gather intelligence to prevent future attacks and save lives,” according to a joint statement by Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Lindsey Graham (R.S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Do we really have to explain this to Congress again?

Look, we have a very capable system of federal courts, which have tried and convicted plenty of terrorists. We have also have a terrific system of federal penitentiaries, which have a record of never, ever allowing a convicted terrorist to escape.

On the other hand, we also have a system of military commissions, which tend to be an ineffective setting for trying suspected terrorists. It’s why every modern presidential administration has relied on civilian courts for these kinds of trials. It’s why the Pentagon, Justice Department, and intelligence agencies are unanimous in their support for trying accused terrorists in civilian courts. It’s why folks like David Petraeus and Colin Powell — retired generals McCain, Graham, and Ayotte tend to take seriously — agree with the Obama administration and endorse Article III trials.

So why must Republicans rely on stale, misleading talking points?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 8, 2013

March 10, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Routine Securities Taken For Granted”: Essential Government Tasks Need Reliable Funding

Here’s hoping that Stewart Parnell goes to prison.

The former president of the now-bankrupt Peanut Corp. of America, Parnell ran a filthy Georgia processing plant contaminated with salmonella that injured more than 600 people in a 2008-2009 outbreak, killing nine. Last month, federal prosecutors charged Parnell and three others with criminal offenses, claiming the executives intentionally shipped out contaminated peanut products.

It’s about time that white-collar criminals whose actions result in death or horrible injuries have to do the perp walk, just like the leeches who sell narcotics to kids. Former workers and federal inspectors say the plant, located in the small southeast Georgia town of Blakely, was a breeding ground for bacteria — with a leaky roof, dirty floors, mold on the ceiling and walls, and rats and roaches everywhere.

Still, it’s not enough to know that Parnell is finally going before the bar of justice. I also want a vigorous and assertive government that will help ensure that plants like Parnell’s Blakely facility won’t be free to operate in the future.

With President Obama battling Republicans over government spending, it’s easy to forget the important functions that federal agencies carry on every day. The Washington commentariat has concluded the agreement — known as “sequestration” — that produced shortsighted budget cuts hasn’t caused any harm to the majority of Americans, an indication, in that view, that Obama oversold the consequences of the cuts.

Is that true? The fact is we may never know how much harm will be done by those cuts. We don’t know how many children will miss their vaccinations, how many Head Start teachers will be laid off, or how many food inspections will be skipped.

The line between cause and effect is especially hard to draw in the work of those federal agencies whose jobs are aimed at prevention. The inspectors at the Food and Drug Administration have done their jobs well when you don’t hear of a food-borne illness or a faulty medical product. That sort of work is essential, but its results are hard to measure. And it never attracts public attention of the sort that ensures big budgets.

After the Blakely fiasco, Congress passed laws beefing up the powers given to the FDA. The agency used that new authority to shut down a New Mexico peanut processing plant that was implicated in a 2012 salmonella outbreak.

That decision came after the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (another federally funded agency) and state and local health departments tracked the outbreak to that specific plant, run by Sunland Inc. That outbreak sickened dozens.

I don’t know — and neither do you — whether the CDC will continue to have all the resources it needs to track deadly diseases with the across-the-board spending cuts dictated by GOP intransigence. I don’t know whether the Consumer Protection Agency will be able to track down all the lead-tinged toys coming in from China. I don’t know whether the FDA will be able to shut down the next Sunland before hundreds are hurt.

But I do know this: When I fix my 4-year-old a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, I should not have to worry about whether she’ll get food poisoning. When you buy peanut butter crackers from a convenience store to placate your growling tummy on a road trip, you shouldn’t fear that eating them will send you to an emergency room.

Those are routine securities that we take for granted because we live in an affluent, developed nation with government regulations for food safety. However, those protections cost money. They don’t come free.

I’ve eaten in countries where there were no pesky government regulations keeping the milk pasteurized and the water free of parasites and the cooked meat free of harmful bacteria. I’ll take more government — with its higher costs — any day.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, March 9, 2013

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Public Health, Sequestration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Exhaustion”: The Strongest Reason For Hope And A Way Out Of Our Budget Wars

There are, believe it or not, grounds for hoping that the so-called sequester, stupid as it is, might open the way to ending our nation’s budget stalemate.

Hope is in short supply right now, but the case for seeing a way out of the current mess rests on knowable facts and plausible assumptions.

It starts with the significant number of Republicans in the Senate — possibly as many 20 — who think what’s going on is foolish and counterproductive. The White House is betting that enough GOP senators are prepared to make a deal along lines that President Obama has already put forward.

Obama’s lieutenants argue that, while Republicans are aware that the president is seeking new revenue through tax reform, many did not fully grasp the extent to which he has offered significant long-term spending cuts. These include reductions in Medicare and a willingness (to the consternation of many Democrats) to alter the index that determines Social Security increases. Obama has proposed $930 billion in cuts to get $580 billion in revenues.

Senior administration officials note that Obama cannot stray too far from his existing offer, which was already a compromise, without losing the Democratic votes a deal would need. But his framework, they believe, could create a basis for negotiation with Republican senators, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who dislike the deep, automatic cuts in defense spending, and others, such as Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Bob Corker of Tennessee, who dislike government-by-showdown.

Graham was especially bullish, declaring that Obama’s outreach to Republicans — the president invited about a dozen GOP senators to dinner Wednesday night — was “the most encouraging engagement on a big issue I’ve seen since the early years of his presidency.”

If the Senate actually passed a bipartisan solution, it would still have to clear the House, requiring Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to allow yet another bill through with a large number of Democratic votes. But the sequester almost certainly marked the high point of solidarity among House Republicans. Letting it take hold was an easy concession for Boehner to make to more militant conservatives; it kept them from pushing toward a government shutdown or a politically and economically dangerous confrontation over the debt ceiling.

Now comes the hard part for Boehner. Already, more moderate conservatives are pushing back against the depth of the budget cuts that Rep. Paul Ryan will have to propose in order to balance the budget in 10 years. At least some House Republicans may come to see a bipartisan Senate-passed deal as more attractive than the alternatives.

In the meantime, the House passed a continuing resolution on Wednesday to keep the government functioning until the fall. It provided the Defense Department with greater flexibility to handle the automatic cuts. The Senate and the House must agree on a bill by March 27, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the Appropriations Committee, argues that flexibility on defense should be matched on “compelling human priorities” and in other domestic areas, including science and technology. Yet both sides seem committed to keeping the government open, which would create a kind of cold peace.

This, though, would not prevent the automatic cuts from becoming more noticeable, and they are likely to get more unpopular as time goes on. Their effects would be felt by, among others, air travelers, school districts, state governments, universities and the employees of defense and other government contractors. House Republicans representing districts with large military bases are apt to be especially eager to reverse the cuts.

From Obama’s point of view, engaging with Senate Republicans now to reach a broad settlement makes both practical sense, because there is a plausible chance for a deal, and political sense, because he will demonstrate how far he has been willing to go in offering cuts that Republicans say they support. In the process, he would underscore that the current impasse has been caused primarily by the refusal of House Republicans to accept new revenues.

While it’s the GOP that has been using serial, self-created crises to gain political leverage, many in the party are no less worn out by them than the Democrats. “Even we are tired . . . of lurching from one cliff to another,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “I think that’s lending some pressure towards trying to come up with some kind of a grand bargain.”

Thus does the strongest reason for hope arise from one of the most basic human responses: exhaustion.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 6, 2013

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Sequestration | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Senators Bearing Arms”: It’s Inexcusable For Lawmakers To Trot Backwards On Gun Control

Whenever talk turns to gun control in Congress, lawmakers feel compelled to mention their love of weaponry.

“I’m probably one of the few who have a pistol range in my backyard,” said Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont on Thursday, as he led a meeting of the Judiciary Committee on gun legislation.

“I have an AR-15,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, referring to the nation’s best-known assault weapon.

“I’m not going to do anything illegally with it,” Graham added. There were no audible sighs of relief from the audience, but I am sure everybody was glad to have the reassurance.

People, do you think Congress is actually going to do anything about gun violence in the wake of the Newtown shootings? Judiciary is going to vote on two big proposals next week: a ban on assault weapons and an expansion of gun purchase background checks. If the Democrats stick together, the bills can pass on a party-line vote. But to go any further, they need Republican support, and there wasn’t a whole lot of it in evidence this week.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chief sponsor of the assault weapons ban, seemed less than optimistic. “I want to thank those who are with me,” she said. “I don’t know that I can convince those who are not, but I intend to keep trying.” She looked exhausted. At one point, she referred to Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut as “Senator Delvanthal.”

“Senator Feinstein has been consistent. She is sincere, and she has the courage of her convictions and what more could you ask,” said Graham. This may have been an attempt at consolation. Perhaps he was only being incredibly patronizing by accident.

The public’s interest in reducing gun violence may not have abated, but some of the lawmakers seem to be trotting backward. After Newtown, Senator Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia, said: “I don’t know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle.” He told CNN that he wanted to create a “dialogue that would bring a total change,” adding, “and I mean a total change.”

Manchin now says that anybody who took that to mean he was favoring some kind of ban on assault weapons totally misunderstood him. “I said everything should be on the table,” he explained in a phone interview. “Everything is on the table. I don’t agree with the things on the table, but they still have the right to put them on.”

On the plus side, the Judiciary Committee approved a modest bill raising the penalties for “straw purchasers” — people who buy guns in order to give them to someone barred from making the purchase, like convicted felons or Mexican drug runners. One Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, voted for it. However, Senator John Cornyn of Texas expressed concern that it would “make it a serious felony for an American Legion employee to negligently transfer a rifle or firearm to a veteran who, unknown to the transferor, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Personally, I would rather not have American Legion employees negligently transferring guns to anybody. But then I am not trying to run for re-election in Texas without being primaried by the Tea Party.

The best hope for serious change involves fixing the background check law so that people who buy weapons at gun shows, online, in flea markets and other nonstore venues are included. Bipartisan negotiations seemed to fizzle this week, but Manchin, who was among those backing out, expressed confidence that something could still be worked out. And the assault weapons bill might have a little better chance if it was less complicated. (Feinstein’s bill lists 157 makes and models of guns that are prohibited.) It might be easier to just go with the part banning magazine clips that allow shooters to fire off 15, 30, 100 or more bullets without reloading.

You may be wondering what conceivable argument gun lovers could have about hanging on to those monster bullet clips. For the answer, let us turn to — yes! — Lindsey Graham. The senator from South Carolina wanted to know what people were supposed to do with a lousy two-shell shotgun “in an environment where the law and order has broken down, whether it’s a hurricane, national disaster, earthquake, terrorist attack, cyberattack where the power goes down and the dam’s broken and chemicals have been released into the air and law enforcement is really not able to respond and people take advantage of that lawless environment.”

Do you think Graham spends a lot of time watching old episodes of “Doomsday Preppers?” Does he worry about zombies? That definitely would require a lot of firepower.

We should forgive every lawmaker who will go on the record as saying they refuse to support gun control because of the zombie threat. Otherwise, it’s pretty inexcusable.

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 8, 2013

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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